Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hello Cosmic Part 1: Just a Kid at Heart

I mentioned my little buying spree of Jim Starlin's cosmic work for Marvel last week and I've received most of my purchases (still waiting on two packages--one containing Marvel: The End and the other containing Silver Surfer/Warlock: Resurrection). My roommate thinks I'm insane for wanting these books and even more insane because I still have another 50-70 comics left to get. So far, I've gotten: The Life and Death of Captain Marvel trade, the six-issue 1982 reprint collection Warlock #1-6, Thanos Quest #1-2, The Infinity Gauntlet trade, Infinity War #1-6, Infinity Abyss #1-6 and Thanos #1. That just leaves Starlin's run on Silver Surfer, Warlock & the Infinity Watch #1-31 (the series continued on to #42 without Starlin as writer, though, so I may end up getting those other 11 issues), Warlock Chronicles #1-8, Infinity Crusade #1-6 and Thanos #2-12 (Starlin only did the first six issues with Keith Giffen and Ron Lim handling the last six, but they were well done and worth getting). That's quite a few comics, eh? (Not to mention the fact that I'll probably wind up going after Starlin's Dreadstar work after this. Maybe Cosmic Guard/Kid Kosmos as well.)

Now, Adam (the roommate) thinks I have a problem in my obsessive ways as this isn't exactly out of character for me. I began liking Led Zeppelin and within two months, I had everything they'd recorded. It's pretty common for me to go on these binges, actually. But why these comics now?

I think reading reviews of Douglas Wolk's Reading Comics reminded me about Warlock as some were mystified at his inclusion of an analysis of that book. Once I remembered that book, I checked eBay and got the 1982 reprint series for a really decent price from Mile High Comics. But that only explains why I'm getting them now, but not why these comics.

Where my mom helped shape my musical taste, my dad helped shape my comics taste. He's always been the sort of collector who buys the same types of books and obtains long runs on books no matter what. He continues to buy most of the X-books like I always remember him doing, he buys most of Wildstorm's books (the Wildstorm universe books, though), he also tends to get Marvel's cosmic stuff. These books appeal to me on that nostalgic, longing for childhood level. I just finished the Warlock six-issue series today and while this was the first time I think I actually read the entire thing, I must have looked at those comics dozens of times as a kid. Same with the Infinity trilogy (Gauntlet, War, Crusade). I didn't always read the comics, but I read scenes and looked at them endlessly. There's something very cool about these comics for a kid, I dunno.

Take Infinity War for instance: it involves the Magus, Warlock's evil side, creating doppelgangers of all of the heroes and they fight. These doppelgangers all look evil and monsterous and OH MY GOD HOW COOL IS THAT?

So far, I've read The Life and Death of Captain Marvel, the Warlock reprints and Thanos Quest. Tomorrow or Friday, I'll begin posting on this stuff in a more serious way. I will say this: Thanos is strangely one of the most easy-to-relate-to characters in comics. Here's a guy who's motivation is simply trying to impress a girl. Granted, the girl he likes is death, so he does some fucked up shit, but still, it's strangely down-to-earth when looked at in those terms. While I may scour my CD collection for the perfect songs to put on a mixed-CD for a girl, Thanos scours the universe for the six Infinity Gems, so he can be god-like and thus be worthy of Death. The means may be different, but the ends are the same. Kind of weird.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Building a Better Batman: Grant Morrison's First Year on Batman

Grant Morrison has been the writer on Batman for a little over a year now and, soon, the Bat-books will launch into a two-month crossover concerning the resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul. So, that begs the question, how was Morrison's first year (11 issues) on the book?

Batman & Son (#655-658)

Seven of the 11 issues so far have been drawn by Andy Kubert and all I've got to say is "meh." He's wildly inconsistent in that some panels look amazing and others look like something my friends and I churned out in the seventh grade. Besides specific criticisms/comments, that's all I really feel I need to mention about Kubert's art.

Actually, I should also add that it does fit the book. Normally, I would demand a higher class of artist for a Morrison book, but Morrison's approach here is much more traditional than his work elsewhere, so Kubert's art isn't entirely out of place. On my first read of these issues, I was much more put off than my reread these past couple of days, especially in this first arc.

It begins with a bang--quite literally, as Batman shoots in the Joker in the face. But, before that, Morrison gives the Joker a fantastic line: "I DID IT! / I FINALLY KILLED BATMAN! / IN FRONT OF A BUNCH OF VULNERABLE, DISABLED KIDS!!!!" While we don't know it quite yet, this is Morrison's last hurrah for the Joker we currently know and love.

We don't realise that this isn't really Batman lying beaten and bloody until he draws a gun and says "DIE." only to shoot the Joker with the real Batman a few seconds too late to stop it from happening. However, this fits with the larger arc of Batman here as he is ineffectual at times, often resulting in the (seeming) deaths of characters. Except the Joker isn't dead here (somehow). And, thus, Batman throws him in a dumpster.

This issue is devoted to Morrison bringing back the playboy millionaire Bruce Wayne as Alfred insists he relearn that role and Commissioner Gordan suggests he leave his "comfort zone" of Gotham. Meaning, let's head to London for some African charity thing. The charity event is interesting as it takes place at an art gallery where the exhibition is devoted to comic book pop art, which is used magnificantly in part two of the story where the pieces of art in the background often work with or comment on what's happening in the comic.

The first page of issue 656 has Jezebel Jet, a beautiful model approaching Bruce Wayne with the piece of art behind her depicting a wide-eyed person and a thought balloon that says "WOW!" When the ninja Man-Bats attack, Bruce looks up at them and a piece of art has a frightened person yelling "YIKES!" Batman enters the fray, jumping at a Man-Bat with a picture of a city much like Gotham behind him, symbolically leaving his home to fight here, almost like it were a teleporation window or something similarly comic booky. Batman punches a Man-Bat and the woman in the picture yells "OUCH!" He fires his grappling hook with a giant "BLAM!" right behind him. When more Man-Bats arrive from above, there's a picture of a man shouting "LOOK! UP IN THE SKY..." Right before the Man-Bats hit Batman, an army man yelling "INCOMING!" Batman's inner monologue says "FROM TWO STORIES BELOW ME COMES A SOUND LIKE A 21-GUN SALUTE." with a piece of art that just has RATATATRATATAT repeated.

I'm sure I missed a couple of references, but it adds a whole other dimension to the action and I'm not sure if that was Morrison or Kubert's idea. I'm inclined to give credit to Morrison just because he chose the location, but, either way, Kubert lays it out in such a manner as to accentuate these background pictures. As well, if there's one thing Kubert can do, it's action, which this entire issue is pretty much.

An interesting technique used by Morrison is the narration by Batman, which is something he had avoided in his previous work with the character (excluding some JLA moment) as Timothy Callahan points out in his book on Morrison when discussing Arkham Asylum and Gothic. (Callahan's book, by the way, is Grant Morrison: The Early Years. I got it last week and read all of it except for the Doom Patrol section as I want to get the rest of Morrison's run on that book before reading Callahan's thoughts on it. The book itself is a fantastic read and a thought-provoking, in-depth look at Morrison's five well-known early works Zenith, Arkham Asylum, Animal Man, Doom Patrol and Gothic. You should definitely get a copy and I'll probably wind up referencing Callahan a lot as a result of his discussion of Morrison's early Batman work, as well as the three columns he spent discussing issue 663-665 of this run over at Sequart.) The narration doesn't actually begin until the Man-Bats attack, signifying the shift from Bruce Wayne to Batman. Callahan argues that Morrison avoided the technique in the past as, at the time (late '80s), it was such a cliched and overused technique because of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. However, its inclusion here relates to Morrison's current take on Batman, which is the inclusion of all past incarnations of the character. As Callahan points out by quoting Geoff Klock, Morrison doesn't use continuity in a traditional sense where writers often focus on making sure characters are portrayed in-line with recent depictions (such as post-Crisis), he utilises every depiction of the character, which is why nearly every story in his year on the book so far relies on or alludes to past, usually pre-Crisis or seemingly out-of-continuity stories. In a way, despite 52's creation of a new multiverse, Morrison's take on the character relates strongly to his concept of Hypertime where every story ever told actually happened--even stuff like the bleak '80s that Morrison seemed to dislike so much at the time, which means the Batmonologue is back.

The main thrust of this opening arc is the reintroduction of Batman and Talia's son, Damian, who Batman is given at the end of issue 656. The couple's child originally appeared in a seemingly out-of-continuity graphic novel where the two had sex and the child was put up for adoption. Ever since, DC has denied it as being part of the character's official history. But, as I just said, everything is in play as far as Morrison is concerned. And, as we find out here and in issue 666, Morrison alters Damian's past to make it so he was grown in an artificial womb and then trained by the League of Assassins. So, while everything is in play, Morrison still recognises the need to make sure it all works together as a cohesive whole.

With issue 657, Morrison begins to play with an old theme of his while writing Batman: fatherhood. In Arkham Asylum, he was concerned primarily with mothers, but fathers played a role there as when Batman does a word association, his reponse to "father" is "death." In Gothic, fathers are referenced much more as Thomas Wayne actually speaks to him in a recording, which helps him. Or, even in JLA: Earth 2, the relationship between Owlman and the Thomas Wayne of the alternate Earth is contrasted when Batman and the rest of the JLA cross over. Here, Morrison pushes that theme further and does something new by still using fatherhood as a major theme, but with Batman/Bruce Wayne in the father role. Actually, it first pops in #655 with some small interplay between Bruce and Tim, who he adopted as his own son in the previous arc under James Robinson, I believe.

In 657, the question of what kind of father Batman is becomes more prevelent with the inclusion of Damian at the mansion. Damian and Tim immediately becomes rivals as Damian sees Tim as a threat for his father's legacy and, most likely, love. Tim also feels threatened as he questions Batman about their relationship, which Batman says won't change, but Tim rushes off in a huff nonetheless.

The first test of his fatherhood ends with Batman at his most frightening and angry, which is the also the first time we see Damian not insolent and challenging. However, we soon learn that Damian escaped from his room and beheaded a mediocre supervillain only to return to the Batcave to challenge Tim. Initially, Tim makes an effort with Damian, reflecting the way Batman wants him to act, while Damian is aggressive and attacks Tim. The defing moment of why Tim is obviously the true heir to the Batman mantle comes when he saves Damian from being eaten by the giant dinosaur in the Batcave only to have Damian knock him off the dinosaur and send him crashing down to the bottom of the cave. The issue ends with Damian in a Robin costume with the addition of a white ninja hood and Tim in a broken heap on the floor of the Batcave, in between glass display cases of costumes. While the cases at the end of the issue don't depict it, the panel where Tim falls has the top of the case containing Jason Todd's costume (I assume--as we can only see the domino mask), which would have made for a much stronger final image, alluding to the fate of Tim's predecessor and the idea that Damian may, in fact, replace Tim as Robin--semingly by killing him.

While this is the first time Morrison has played with the idea of Batman as a father figure, it isn't the first time Batman has been as such, obviously. Of particular interest, though, is the relationship between Tim and his other "brother," Dick Grayson. I'm not familiar with their entire relationship, but, from what I know, his relationship with Damian here is quite different. Namely, Tim plays the role of the older brother, most likely acting in a similar manner to Dick. While he expresses signs of jealousy to Batman in private, when dealing with Damian directly, he is nothing but friendly and encouraging, trying to make Damian feel at home as much as possible. But, unlike the way Tim no doubt responded to Dick, Damian reacts with violence and sees Tim as a threat rather than a big brother. Tim is the adopted son, while Damian is the biological and was raised on the stories of his father and his greatness. The adopted/biological difference is also a big one as when Dick and Tim first met, Tim still had a father and Dick is not Bruce's biological son, so both were in much more similar positions than Tim and Damian here. Or something like that.

The final issue of "Batman & Son" is entitled "Absent Fathers," referring to Batman not being in Damian's life until recently, the fact that Ra's Al Ghul is dead which prompts Talia's actions at the end of the issue, Bruce's dead father (who is mentioned) and even Tim's dead father who Batman now replaces albeit not in this issue as he leaves Tim at the mansion to recover while going off to fight Talia with Damian in tow, symbolically chosing Damian as his son over Tim in this instance.

The plot is basically, Talia has kidnapped the wife of the British PM in an effort to extort him into turning over Gibraltar to her, and Batman must stop her. The issue begins with Batman and Alfred tending to Tim as Damian does his best to ingratiate himself with his father by pleading to help, revealing Talia's plan.

Batman and Damian arrive, beat up a bunch of ninja Man-Bats and Talia tells Batman that what she really wants is the three of them to be a family. She will give up her legacy as the daughter of Ra's Al Ghul and devote all of her resources to helping Batman's war on crime. He refuses and she blows up the submarine they are on. The issue ends with Batman on the shore and holding the ninja cowl Damian was wearing, which washed up on the shore.

This introductary arc does a couple of things:

1) It introduces the idea that everything we've ever known about Batman is now in-play no matter when it happened.

2) It sets the tone of Morrison's run as much more traditional and action-oriented than one would expect. His work here is more in line with Gothic than Arkham Asylum, which is interesting as the latter is much more known than the former.

That is, until the next issue...

The Clown at Midnight (#663)

First off, here is Tim Callahan's analysis of this issue. I'm trying my best not to steal any of my ideas from him, so forgive me if things get repeated.

When I first read this issue, I wasn't that impressed. I thought it was decent, but nothing special. Like most of the run, this second reading turned things around.

"The Clown at Midnight" is a complete left turn from the sort of stories contained in the first arc and seems a conscious attempt on Morrison's part to recognise Arkhama Asylum and, at the same time, move past it. The issue is told entirely in prose with odd drawings by John Van Fleet that are partially computer generated, specifically the people. It is reminiscent of Dave McKean's art, but also distinct because of the obvious computer elements.

Morrison's choice of prose is interesting. As Callahan points out, it allows him to tell this story in a single issue instead of over several, which I think is purposeful in the allusion to Arkham as it was also a single book. But, also, it seems a response to the current state of comics and suggesting that things just move too damn slow. Let's be honest, all Morrison does here is reinvent the Joker, which seems like a one-issue idea, but the plot points to get there would require more.

The prose itself is very stylised, which was one of the reasons I didn't like this issue on initial reading. This time, it worked for me. Maybe it was the contrast to the morning paper, which I read before it. Maybe it was the bright lights of my office. Maybe I just didn't appreciate it the first time around.

However, I do think the prose is a weakness in one regard: I'm still unconvinced we are given a clear idea of who this new Joker identity is. Yes, there is some interesting stuff on the relationship between Batman and the Joker; yes, he is willing to sacrifice Harley Quinn, thus sacrificing his former lighthearted mirth; yes, he seems more evil almost--but how is this DIFFERENT REALLY? That's still the gaping flaw of this issue: I don't know what makes this Joker different from previous incarnations really. Especially as I'm fairly certain the character has shown up elsewhere since this issue and I'm willing to bet the writers there ignored this issue completely.

Of course, is this issue supposed to matter, or is it an effort for Morrison to further integrate as much of Batman's past as possible? Callahan points out that this issue alludes to another Batman prose story from the '70s; as well, the little psycho midgets from The Killing Joke show up; lists of nicknames for the Joker at various stages are given; Harley Quinn representing a specific era.

Hmm, I wonder--is the idea to kill Harley Quinn a jab at fellow Bat-writer Paul Dini, the creator of the character? Is Morrison drawing a line in the sand that says this is where he is and that's where Dini is? And to what purpose? Harley is left alive and unscarred--although, she is willing to let the Joker cut her face up like his. But, that doesn't happen. Is Morrison attempting to set up a duality between the Joker and Harley? The fact that Harley is the one that takes the Joker down at the end by shooting him suggests that she ultimately makes the break. She recognises that he was progressed, that he's changed and she leaves him, in a sense.

I do like the idea that Batman is the one person that the Joker won't kill. It makes sense in a twisted way. In his mind, there is only the two of them, everyone else is not real. Morrison harkens back to the relationship between Professor Xavier and Cassandra Nova, but here, the two are siblings in a more twisted, psychological sense. Two sides of the same coin as it were.

And what of Batman's personality changes? While Morrison directly addresses the changes the Joker goes through, even arguing (once again) a concept of supersanity as the reason, Batman's various personas remain unaddressed, at least explicitly. But, more on that later with the "Club of Heroes" story.

Hopefully, Morrison will get a chance to do more with this Joker as I am curious to see how this one is different. In the past, the Joker has always been very slapsticky and outgoing, but I wonder if you could push him in the direction of other types of humour. I wonder if a more subtle, dark-humoured Joker could work as well. Really push him into some uncomfortable areas. Is that the Joker here?

And then we return to the Batman we know and love from "Batman & Son"...

"The Ghosts of Batman/The Black Casebook" #664-665

Again, Callahan's analyses of these issues are here and here.

With these issues, Morrison continues his work to reestablish Bruce Wayne as a playboy millionaire as well as integrate various loose threads from Batman's past into a cohesive whole.

Strangely, issue 664 picks up immediately following the end of "Batman & Son," suggesting that "The Clown at Midnight" exists in its own space. However, the beginning of this issue could also be a flashback. In the first half of thise issue, Bruce Wayne goes skiing with Jezebel Jet and establishes himself as cooler than James Bond. Not much is actually accomplished here beyond showing Bruce Wayne being cool and his budding relationship with Jezebel.

Then, almost aburptly, at the mention of the death of his parents and assurances that he got over it, we're in Gotham where prostitutes are being killed by some sort of monster that's protected by the cops. Morrison reintroduces the standard plot of a corrupt Gotham police force. While it never exactly went away, it hasn't been quite this explicit recently (I think--I could be wrong--of course, the Jim Corrigan character in Gotham Central was corrupt as hell, so it has been a plot point recently, but perhaps not to this extent). After Batman beats up the cops and some other thugs, he gets information from the pimp and tells one of the hookers to apply for a job at Wayne Enterprises as a receptionist. Then, he goes after the monster, who is apparently a cop.

Here, Morrison once again uses an inner monologue, but a different type than the one used in the second part of "Batman & Son." This one has large font and looks like computer font almost. As well, the style is more gritty and halting. Sentences are fragmented--and then we meet the monster, which is a man a hybred Batman/Bane costume. He's giant and takes Batman down easily.

Before this, Batman mentions the smell of testosterone, which plays an important role here. One of the major themes of superhero comics is the concept of masculinity and what it means to be a man. In these two issues, this idea is presented in various forms. First, there's Bruce Wayne who is the parachute onto skis and then take down a small helicopter with a ski pole before whisking the girl off to a fancy dinner sort of guy. Then there are the corrupt cops and the pimp, all exploiting women for their own gain. They equate being a man with dominance over women and the gain of money, which isn't exactly that far from the actions of Bruce Wayne. One of the reasons why he's so cool is that he's rich and saves the girl from a potential assassin (turns out to be paparazzo). And then thee's the monster who equates manliness with physical power and, again, dominance over women. We're told that the only thing that pacifies him are the prostitutes who he eventually kills. He does the venom drug and exudes testosterone, which Batman equates to the smell of board meetings, the stock exchange and executive washrooms. This Bat-Bane is pure alpha male and is able to beat Batman by using superior strength and intimidation.

Another key element mentioned here is the black casebook, which we find out in the next issue is where Batman writes down the details of events that don't fit with the presumed nature of reality. His encounters with aliens and the supernatural, etc. are all included there; the things that don't exactly fit with the grim-n-gritty Batman established in the '80s. Morrison reframes these events in terms of that reality and has Batman acknowledge that they don't fit with what he knows. This way, they still don't work within the context of what we think a Batman story necessarily is, but since Morrison and Batman both recognise this, it doesn't matter and, ultimately, works.

Issue 664 ends with Bat-Bane stomping on Batman's back, refencing Bane breaking his back in the early '90s. Morrison here integrates another element of Batman's past, one that is not remembered with fondness by current readers and brings it into the present. While those events aren't out of continuity, Infinite Crisis suggested (quite strongly) that those events were mistakes, a feeling often put forth by readers. The '90s are not looked upon favourably by most and Morrison brings back the key Batman '90s moment, almost saying that it wasn't so bad and that we're judging it harshly. Who are we to pick-and-choose what should count and what shouldn't? Everything is in play with Morrison--and everything has the potential to be cool. (I should add that I don't think the entire Bane/Azrael story is a low-point for Batman--in the same way that I still look upon the death and return of Superman with fondness--and even, to some extent, the Spider-Man clone saga.)

Issue 665 begins where 664 left off, Batman beaten and crawling on the ground. Morrison uses the narration in a fantastic way here, having Batman "say":

Face down in my own blood and vomit in the pouring rain. / Must / Must be / Must be a better way / to strike terror / into the hearts of criminals.

He plays with the convention of Batman's fragmented narration and his cliched catchphrases to poke fun at the seriousness of the character--especially as he is then recused by prostitutes.

Ultimately, he is patched up by Alfred, Tim goes off to fight Bat-Bane, he follows and they defeat the monster. In these scenes, though, we learn more about the black casebook and are introduced to the three Bat-Ghosts. At the end of the previous issue, Batman draws a connection between this Bat-Bane and the cop in issue 655 who shoots the Joker in the face. Both cops, both wearing Bat-costumes and both were figures in a vision he once had of three versions of himself that he took to be warnings of who he could become:

1. An unhinged, gun-toting vigilante.

2. A steroid freak devoted to being as strong as possible

3. And a third, shadowy figure we learn from Bruce sold hissoul to the devil and destroyed Gotham.

Alfred and Tim write this off an effect of the pain medication, but Batman has seen two of these figures in person now. Are the events in the black casebook as far-fetched as Alfred thinks? He actually says about those events, "I'D AZARD A GUESS THAT YOU AND MASTER DICK WERE OFTEN THE VICTIMS OF ONE TOO MANY EXPOSURES TO SCARECROW GAS OR JOKER TOXIN," but Batman dismisses Alfred's scepticism.

Here, Batman begins to towel himself in Bruce's dirty shirts to blanket himself in pheromones and testosterone in order to beat the Bat-Bane on his own terms. As Batman says, "WHAT'S THE ONE THING AN ALPHA MALE IS PROGRAMMED TO RESPECT? / ALPHA MALE PLUS." While the Bat-Bane creates a manly image of himself through drugs and artificial testosterone, Batman relies on his natural masculinity, specifically Bruce Wayne's. Morrison subtly raises Bruce Wayne up to be Batman's equal or, perhaps, superior here.

Tim's speedy exit once again plays with the father/son relationship of the two as he is still eager to prove himself in the wake of Damian's visit. Again, Batman assures him that there is nothing that Tim has to prove to him, of course failing to see that one of the reasons that he is Batman is because he feels he must prove himself to his dead father.

Batman saves Robin from being beaten and then attacks Bat-Bane in a scene that recalls the fight between Batman and the gang-leader in The Dark Knigh Returns. Once again, Batman is fighting a larger, stronger enemy and does so in a construction site not unlike the muddy pit of DKR. Except, before he can finish it, Batman is interrupted by dirty cops that cover for Bat-Bane and threaten to shoot Batman.

Commissioner Gordan tells Batman that something is wrong with the Gotham PD and maybe the corruption of old is back.

The issue ends with Talia and a lead-in to the upcoming Ra's Al Ghul storyline. She learns of Bruce's relationship with Jezebel-and the fact that the two have been seen twice together that week. In Venice, the two are together and Bruce explains his injuries away before kissing Jezebel. The inclusion of Jezebel is another old trope of Batman Morrison reuses. Back in issue 655, Alfred lists some of the women of his past like Kathy Kane, Vicki Vale and Silver St. Cloud. In recent years, the focus has been placed on Batman to such an extent that Catwoman is the only romantic interest I can recall, and that was a relationship with Batman, not Bruce Wayne. The films always follow a pattern where Bruce Wayne meets a girl and ends up revealing his indentity to her. Is Morrison using that same story here?

"Batman in Bethlehem" (#666)

Like "The Clown at Midnight," many have not known what to make of this issue as it stands outside the rest of the run in a very odd way. I was actually tempted to include it with the previous two issues as it concludes that little story, albeit in an odd manner. In this issue, Damian is Batman in the future and fights against the third Bat-Ghost, a Batman who is the anti-Christ. It is suggested that because the Bruce Wayne Batman wouldn't kill him, the apocalypse will come. Damian as Bruce's successor is a necessity as his methods differ enough that he able to defeat someone his father never could.

One question that has to be asked is whether or not this is a real story. And, does that matter? Obviously, it's a REAL story, but is this the future really? Does Bruce die with his son as Robin? Does Damian take up the mantle instead of Tim or Dick? Does Barbara become commissioner? Now, within the context of this run, the story is 100% real and accurate as every story is. However, I wonder if this is meant to be a real depiction of the future or something else entirely. The only problem with that is I'm not sure what else it could be except for an alternate future, but what would be the point of that? Usually, alternate futures are framed in a way that reflect upon the present, but this doesn't. The only pieces of the present we get are in the two-page spread "The Legend of the Batman / Who he is and how he came to be..." where we get Damian's origin--which is Morrison using the comic book staple of retelling origins, especially at the beginning of the issue.

This is Morrison's most inventive issue as little here is known. Damian faces an entirely new rogues gallery with guys like Candyman, Professor Pyg, the Weasel, Max Roboto and Jackanapes--and, of course, the anti-Christ Batman. The issue is devoted to the fight between the two Batmen with a glimpse into Damian's life as Batman. In one panel, he walks through his Batcave and we see two costume display cases. In one is Damian's Robin costume with two Batmen. Is this a suggestion that someone else took up the mantle before him? Is that what Tim did? Maybe Dick? The other display case houses the Joker's suit and his smile--what the hell?

At the Hotel Bethlehem, the two Batmen fight with Damian eventually winning as he also made a deal with the devil. He sold his soul at 14 to ensure Gotham's survival, suggesting that as the age when Bruce died--which can't be too far off from the current timeline, although I don't remember Damian's age being mentioned. Hard to say exactly how old he is now.

During the fight, the anti-Christ Batman says something interesting about the two Batmen sharing the same father, both sons of the Batman. Some have taken this to mean that the connection is through Ra's Al Ghul, but maybe this other Batman is the more traditional son of Bruce and Talia, the one named Ibn al Xu'ffasch? Given up for adoption, he learned his true parentage eventually and was jealous of Damian the same way Damian is jealous of Tim? Or maybe Jason Todd? Who else could it be? Maybe even Tim.

Damian says something interesting when discussing how he boobytrapped various buildings in Gotham: "I KNEW I'D NEVER BE AS GOOD AS MY DAD OR DICK GRAYSON." A subtle jab at Tim?

In the end, Damian kills this anti-Christ Batman and is shot by the police, only to stand up, unharmed, protected by the deal he made with the devil.

What does this story mean? Morrison plays with the obvious Satanic reference with Damian's name, but why tell this story? I think it's partly to provide a conclusion to the Bat-Ghosts story in that we see how the third ghost is eventually defeated. An untraditional method of concluding the story, but interesting. There's the fact that it is issue 666, another devil reference. Is it a true representation of what's going to happen?

It does further a few of Morrison's themes like fathers and sons, which also ties into concepts of masculinity. As well, one of Morrison's recent obsessions has been examining heroes through various doubles. As Jog has said of All-Star Superman, Morrison has the hero confront various versions of himself. Here, Bruce Wayne doesn't confront other versions of himself, but we're given two more to go with the others we've seen (the gun-toting Batman, Bat-Bane, the Joker--who, YES, is another version of Batman, at least the way Morrison depicts them--the ninja Man-Bats, and even the young Damian who recalls a young Bruce Wayne while also doubling Robin). This leads into the Club of Heroes story where Batman deals with numerous doubles.

"The International Club of Heroes" (#667-669)

Earlier, in the section on "The Clown at Midnight," I mentioned the issue of Batman's various personality changes and this arc introduces the issue in an implicit manner. The cover of issue 667 features a picture of Batman, Robin and the original International Club of Heroes in classic '50s or '60s style. The picture is repeated inside the issue and asks the question: does that Batman still exist in the history of the character. In the arc, it is said that Batman only attended one meeting of the group, suggesting that his current personality of a loner and asshole applies then when he was a much more cheerful and fun character. Now, I assume the group only appeared once originally in that typical Silver Age fashion where story ideas were used once and then ignored because the idea of continuity was applied to how a character acted, not the events of the story. Morrison explains that away by applying the post-Crisis Batman personality to a pre-Crisis event. Does that mean all of those old stories happened, but with the modern Batman character rather than the Silver Age one? Or has Batman also changed personality over time like the Joker has? Morrison raises an interesting tension there.

Surprisingly, rereading this arc as a whole left me cold. I found the plot to be very weak, almost secondary to the furthering of Morrison's themes and motifs. The major idea here is Batman confronting all of these alternate versions of himself. The Knight (British Batman) is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic trying to make good by stepping into his father's shoes. The Legionary is a fallen hero, fat and corrupt. Man-of-Bats is also a second generation hero, stepping into his father's shoes. And so on. However, I'm not sure we gain a lot of insight into most of these characters.

The real doubles here are John Mayhew and Wingman. Mayhew is a double of Bruce Wayne, a rich man who instead of becoming a costumed vigilante, bought his own superhero team full of Batmen--except it fell apart partly because of Batman's lack of interest. Mayhew lived the life of the millionaire playboy that Morrison pushes Bruce Wayne into during his run, except without the Batman morality to hold him in check. We find out that he possibly killed his mistress and he is the mastermind of the murder plot here.

Wingman blames Batman for his unknown status, claiming that he thought of the Wingman idea a year before Batman showed up and that the Club of Heroes was his chance to be a famous superhero. Here, his costume has been updated from the odd red and yellow spandex outfit he originally wore to a bluish-black and grey armoured outfit that alludes to Azrael's Bat-costume, but also very clearly resembles Batman's regular costume. He has modelled himself after Batman despite claiming to be ahead of Batman. One of the interesting quirks Morrison adds is having Wingman say "TT" from tie to time, which is a characteristic of Batman that he started in JLA (along with "HH"). He also makes an interesting comment about sidekicks, mocking Batman for needing one--although, he is actually Mayhew's sidekick in a sense.

As well, Robin faces two doubles in the form of Beryl, the female Squire (sidekick to the Knight) and Raven Red (who insists he's not "Little Raven" as his father calls him). All three are not the first to wear their costumes/identities as both Man-of-Bats and the Knight were sidekicks to their fathers, so Beryl and Raven Red have stepped into those roles only when the former sidekicks became the heroes.

The sidekick elements also introduce Morrison's fatherhood themes, especially in a discussion between Man-of-Bats and the Knight where they talk about their fathers and how they seemed like such big heroes when the two were kids--but they were wrong. They weren't heroes, just men. Red Raven and Man-of-Bats also have a strained relationship as we get the sense that Red Raven wants to be respected for his own abilities while Man-of-Bats keeps seeing him as a little kid.

The Knight/Squire relationship is interesting and continues from Morrison's JLA Classified arc where the two were introduced. We get a sense that Beryl watches over Cyril rather than the other way around. Cyril is the dysfunctional father (although I should point out that the two are not father and daughter) that requires the child to grow up quickly and take on a parental role. In this way, Beryl often comes off as more mature than Tim. Tim goes through the story making jokes about the Club of Heroes, which Batman chastises him for.

While Wingman is a double of Batman, he also exists in a father/son relationship with him. Even though Wingman claims to have donned a costume before Batman, Batman tells us at one point that he spent a summer training Wingman. Wingman rebels against his superhero father, siding with his OTHER father, the one who believed in him and nurtured him, John Mayhew.

JH Williams III's art here is fantastic. He conveys a lot of information about the characters by depicting each in their own unique style. He says this was his idea, so it adds to the story, but doesn't necessarily further Morrison's themes. As for the plot, it's pretty standard and seems like it could have used more room to breathe. The ultimate solution to the mystery is partly a surprise, but also a disappointment in that I don't think the necessary clues were there, especially in the killing of the Legionary, which is shown to us.

However, Morrison does explore his major themes more here and further his goal of including every piece of Batman's history in continuity.

Almost at the end

Morrison's first year on Batman is notable for his inclusion of elements of Batman's past that we wouldn't normally think of as "in continuity," but that is because, to Morrison, every story is in play no matter how different it is. He brings back the child of Bruce and Talia, the Club of Heroes and introduces the black casebook as a means to explain the non-noir/gritty elements of Batman's past. He alludes to the '80s and '90s numerous times, suggesting that those "dark" times still have worthwhile elements. He progresses beyond his own Batman stories, pushing familar themes like fatherhood beyond Bruce as son to Bruce as father, as well as continually has Batman face different versions of himself, a subtle means of incorporating the concept of alternate realities and "Elseworlds" stories without explicitly doing so. I'm interested in seeing where Morrison takes the character in the rest of his run, as well as what he will do with his reinvented Joker.

And that does it. Who knows when I'll post again.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fun Fun Fun

Random fun right now:

* Mark Millar has volunteered to write the screenplay to Superman Returns for free. If you aren't cheering him on, because he gosh-darn loves Superman so effing much then you obviously have no soul.

Or, you realised that if he really wants to write the fucking thing, he can just, you know, um, do it. People volunteering to write stuff for free? You're losers. If you want to write it, write it. You give people the idea that writers don't deserve money for their hard work and you're idiots.

But, then again, I've never been impressed with people who do stuff like that. So what if you love the characters? If you love them that much, you wouldn't need the validation of Warner Bros. or Marvel or anyone, you'd just do it and not make a public spectacle of yourself. While I'm not the biggest proponent of fan fiction, at least those people just do it and shut the fuck up about it. There's where the love is. You want to write your Superman movie, just fucking do it. Hell, since you're already a professional writer, just call it a spec script--except that does imply getting paid later.

Of course, this argument seemingly ignores certain self-published works (or stuff done through Image or Dark Horse or Icon) where I know of writers who basically do the work for free, funneling all of the money for art and printing costs. But, again, most of them don't make a show of it. I'm not saying don't do stuff for free, just don't be a self-important asshat about it. Especially in a situation where there's no need for it. Why, oh why, would there ever be a need to write a big budget Hollywood movie for free? That's retarded. The only reason to make such an offer is a possibly recognitition of a lack of talent--off-setting your inability to write at the same level of people who do get paid by offering to forego any fee.

Wait, that makes sense. Smart thinking, Mark.

* I've been fighting the urge for over a month, but, last month, I received the October issue of Harper's and in its Readings section, is a list compiled by Perry Moore of homosexual superhero/villain comic characters and the horrible things that have happened to them. For example:

Apollo: gang-raped
Fauna: dead
Shout Out: thumbs ripped off

My favourite, though, is for Northstar: "killed in three different realities, recurrected as a zombie assassin." (Let's be honest, that sounds a LOT cooler than what actually happened.)

I've been resisting the urge to make a similar list, except using JUST Spider-Man and watch as listing the horrible fucking shit that's happened to him is longer than Moore's entire list.

Now, I understand the point of this list, but it ignores a big problem: horrible shit happens to people in superhero comics--especially in the last twenty years, which is the period in which the number of gay characters has risen. I'm not going to defend the way every gay character has been written as some choices have been pretty stupid, but... what are writers supposed to do with gay characters?

At this point it's always best to recognise that yes, I am a white, heterosexual male and, obviously, cannot fully appreciate what the world is like for someone who isn't. But, honestly, it seems like a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. You aren't supposed to focus on things like a person's race or sexual orientation or gender, but you also aren't allowed to NOT focus on those things. I imagine complaints would eventually pour in if gay characters were handled with kid glovers always as well, because that's not equal treatment within the context of these stories.

It's been on my mind as I find it a fine line to walk--and something people seem very quick to jump on and make noise about. In a vast oversimplification of the issue, I've argued to friends that there are three types of people when it comes to issues of sexual preference/race/gender/etc.:

1) Those who are prejudiced.

2) Those who fight against prejudice actively.

3) Those who do their best to treat everyone equally and fight prejudice in that way.

It's been my experience that type #3 is often mistaken for type #1 by type #2 and I understand how that can happen, but it's frustrating.

* I hate eBay, except not really. I've spent the last week buying up Jim Starlin's cosmic stuff for Marvel. So far, it hasn't been too expensive, but that's only because I refuse to pay a lot for some things. But, there are people out there who actually charge over $100 for a copy of the Infinity Abyss trade. What the fuck? Do they actually expect ANYONE to pay that? And if someone IS paying that much, that person is a moron. I think I picked up the six-issue mini for $20-something including shipping. It's just so depressing to see people charging such insane prices for books--and that there are obviously some who will pay it.

* Tomorrow: a look at Morrison's run on Batman so far.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

JLA V. Avengers

I miss my shop in London. I took a walk to the shop here in Windsor, hoping to get at least one of the FIVE new books I want that came out this week (being The Boys #11, The Programme #4, Captain America #31, Death of the New Gods #1 and Mighty Avengers #5). Yeah, I walked away with none of them. This is what we call a quality shop, people.

However, I did manage to drop a big chunk of change by grabbing some trades I've wanted for a while, but avoiding buying because of the damn Canadian price. But, I gave in and paid the full Canadian cover price for them--another reason why this shop sucks ass compared to the good ol' Comic Book Collector in London where prices are altered to reflect the current exchange rate. I also picked up a few comics because, ah what the hell.

Justice League of America #13-14

First off, whoever it is at DC that thinks these split covers is a good idea needs someone to smack him/her in the face. Hard. This is the cover of the copy of issue 13 I have (minus logo, etc.):


Oh, and the comic itself? Sucks. The Injustice League is beating on the new, shitty Justice League. I don't care, I really don't. Maybe it could be the fact that McDuffie has inherited a League full of loser heroes that don't inspire me with any confidence of winning. Of course these pathetic losers have been taken down with ease! Oh no, Geo-Force is getting beaten up! *yawn!*

The writing itself isn't good. The dialogue is unnatural and the efforts to create little "character moments" don't really do anything. Jon Stewart and Black Lightning have some banter about the latter's old afro. Yeah. Uh... moving on...

I don't know, I'm just getting sick of this shit, I really am. An army of super-villains against this loser League and I'm expected to believe that in the next issue, the JLA will win? I'm sure it will be clever as all get-out and Lex Luthor and the Joker will get away and oh ho ho, isn't it all so much fun? Except how am I supposed to buy this shit after Morrison's Injustice League stuff? No, really, how am I supposed to believe this shit after reading a more intelligent, well-written take on the idea where the JLA was a much better and powerful team, and the villains acted in a more ruthless and sophisticated manner? I can't look at Lex Luthor in his purple and green armour anymore without simultaneously having the urge to laugh and vomit at the sheer stupidity of it.

The most frustrating part of these issues is in #14 where Luthor hints at what makes him great: Superman always wins, so the only way to get him is to act outside of his comfort zone. EXCEPT ALL HE DOES IN THESE DAMN ISSUES IS ACT LIKE A TYPICAL FUCKING SUPERVILLAIN, WHICH IS EXACTLY THE SORT OF ENEMY SUPERMAN IS USED TO FIGHTING AND KICKING THE CRAP OUT OF!

Er, sorry. I... I think I've got some problems...

I picked up these issues on a whim because when McDuffie was announced writer of the book, the entire internet seemed to cream its jeans in sheer joy that after Meltzer someone of quality was taking over.

Oh, and the art is the sort of shit I'd expect to find in some Wildstorm book where they're using some horrible Jim Lee-inspired house artist.

I can see why this book is the flagship title of DC--but that's more a statement about DC right now than anything else.

New Avengers: Secrets & Lies, House of M, and New Avengers: The Collective

Well, now I have all of New Avengers in some form or another. I acually really enjoy Bendis' writing on this book, but, my god, the art--the art is horrible. Maybe it's me. Am I just out of step with what everyone else considers to be quality art? Are David Finch, Olivier Coipel, Steve McNiven and Mike Deodato really that good and I'm just not seeing it? Oh, I liked Frank Cho's two issues that were in there somewhere, but the rest... it must be me. That's the only explanation.


These volumes were pretty decent. We get the introduction of Ronin and the whole "what side is Spider-Woman on?" thing that hasn't actually gone anywhere really, but let's assume Bendis will do more with that in "Secret Invasion" and her ongoing title. House of M was entertaining, but... I don't know, it just seemed like it skimmed along the surface of the story--the same way Civil War did. Like there was SO much that had to be fit in that we just get the highlights.

The Collective was an interesting story just for the dynamics between the Avengers and SHIELD. At one point, Spider-Man is knocked unconscious and then his brain is picked for details about "House of M" by telepaths. And there are no consequences. What happened to the days where doing that would at least warrant a punch in the face?

Mostly what these volumes reminded me of was the "something is wrong with SHIELD" plot, which, again, I'm assuming is coming back in "Secret Invasion," but, Christ, what a slow as fuck storyline. Shouldn't there be some mention of it now that Stark is in charge of SHIELD? But, yes, let's assume that the evil entities fucking shit up are Skrulls. Whoopie.

The weirder thing is looking at these issues in the light that they lead directly into Civil War and the fact that the division of the heroes into those two factions makes less and less sense. At least, the huge fucking brawls between them do. I've always had a problem with the immediate jump from best friends to kicking the crap out of each other over politics--and reading these issues where you have these characters all working together, it makes less and less logical sense. But, that is a problem when you work so hard to create more mature, complex and intelligent characters and then try to push them forward in a similarly mature, complex and intelligent manner--but do so with old superhero comic cliches and plot points that don't quite mesh with the current reality of the comic book world.

But, hey, that's me. The whole "immediately beat the shit out of each other instead of having a conversation" just seems a little juvenile and, well, stupid to me by this point. And that's mostly because of the last decade of writing or so. Strange that. I'll have to think about this some more.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tick tick tick tick tick tick tick BOOM

And to finish things off...

The Programme #3

This is one of those series that will require a full reading before a complete judgement is passed. Things are progressing and it seems like it could be interesting with old Soviet supersoldiers fighting old American supersoldiers. I trust Milligan.

Casanova #9

My roommate Adam doesn't like Casanova. All those in favour of me smothering him in his sleep? Kidding.

I love the bright blue colour of this album. My only complaint about this issue is that I didn't realise it was Ruby with Kaito right away. I wasn't actually 100% sure until Fraction's back matter commentary. Everything else? Awesome. One of my favourite books.

Criminal #9

And so things are set up before issue 10's finale of "Lawless." Tracy does some interesting things here and I'm wondering where it will go. Particularly his confrontation of Simon at the end. We'll have to see. No doubt the end will be well done.

Black Summer #2-3

Okay, so here's Ellis' sequel to The Authority. Hell, it explores one of the major plot points for that book after Ellis left: superhumans executing the president. In this case, John Horus doesn't take over the country, but still, the similarities are there. These superhumans aren't the Authority, though.

I'm slightly thrown off by the fact that we've barely spent any time with Horus. The majority of the series has focused on the other members of the Seven Guns. I do love how they say they won't kill soldiers and then kill soldiers when attacked. Lovely.

I'm really enjoying this book.

Doktor Sleepless #2

But, on the other side of things, we have Ellis' sequel to Transmetropolitan. Is it fair to compare a writer's current work to his or her past work? I don't care, because I do it anyway. Where Black Summer seems like a natural follow-up to The Authority and ably does the job, Doktor Sleepless isn't doing it for me. Where Transmet began a compressed, dense, information-heavy book, Sleepless kind of meanders. Like the Shriky Girls bit in this issue: that would have been a couple of panels, maybe a page AT MOST in Transmet, but here it's three, four, maybe five pages depending on how you count the pages that discuss it.

Now, of course, Transmet and Sleepless are two entirely different books about crazy guys who come down from the mountain and have female assistants and rant a lot--but, oh wait. Oh ho ho.

In all seriousness, I recognise that Transmet was more focused, with more purpose and a much narrower message. It was ultimately a book about the truth. Spider Jerusalem became a cartoon over time, but not on purpose. Sleepless begins a cartoon with no clear purpose beyond a vague idea of changing things. And maybe that's what I miss. I have no idea what this book is about--what it's really about beyond some vague words about how we all live in the future and need to take advantage of that. Fantastic, sign me up.

But, I trust Ellis. This is his newest longform sci-fi series, I trust the guy to deliver some goods. I guess it's unfair of me to lament that Sleepless isn't Transmet. Is it?

Alias and Alias: Coming Home

Got the first two trades of Alias for 35% off... the American price because my shop actually honours the exchange rate. Actually, if I got 35% off the Canadian price, I would have been paying the American cover price basically. Fuck you, Marvel. Assholes.

My only experience with Jessica Jones is in New Avengers, so it's interesting to see where she began. Some interesting stories. No idea what she did to fuck things up with the Avengers, but these stories do turn the old idea that everyone who was ever an Avenger could just show up at the door and they'd all drop whatever they were doing to fix things.

...and did Bendis suggest that the Juggernaut fucks dead bodies? Awesome.

I'll be picking up the final two trades of the series, plus whatever collections exist of The Pulse. Good stuff. Didn't blow my mind the way it seems to have others, but that's okay, my mind isn't blown easily.

Hellblazer: The Gift

Aside from the two issues between Ellis and Azzarello's run on the books, I pretty much own a hundred straight issues of Hellblazer in trade, running from Ennis' Son of Man through Ellis, Azzarello, Carey and ending with Mina's Red Right Hand. Weird.


The Gift finishes off Mike Carey's run on the book with some odd choices. Like killing off the demon bitch who bore Constantine's three evil kids--plus the kids (except for the daughter?). Those characters were some of the more original things about Carey's run, which actually left me pretty cold until issue 200 where Constantine lived out three lives, spawning those three kids. That was some cold shit and Carey took it off the table. Goddamn.

He did fuck up John's life some more, though--which I could see in Mina's run, but wasn't spoiled too much there, thankfully. I love how Carey ends the run with John pissing off a bunch of magicians and facing the fact that he's a douchebag--again. It is a little tiresome to see him do that over and over again. And Carey seems to do that a few times over the course of his run. One of the positives is that each time, he is able to make the reader believe that this new low IS lower than the last. It's probably good he got off the stage after killing John's sister and alienating Chas--where else could he go?

I see that DC has solicited the first collection from Andy Diggle's run and I'm looking forward to that. In the meantime, I should begin buying up the Ennis and Delano trades. Hopefully, between current trades, DC will begin collecting the other stuff that remains in singles only. Even if it doesn't sell the best, Hellblazer is Vertigo's Superman and Batman lines rolled into one book--and it deserves a nice, fat library that is complete.

And that does it for everything I bought while in London. Oh, except for a copy of Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White, which I'll read sometime this week. I've heard good things and a blurb by Fraction was what put it over when I was in the bookstore. That, and the cover price was the same as Secret War, except the page count was MUCH higher. Again, fuck you, Marvel. (I will never let that go, I think.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Baby, won't you keep me happy


Deathblow #7

Okay, I love the cybernetic dinosaur that Azzarello writes here. I still have no fucking idea what's going on in this book really (well, there are various sides and they all want Deathblow to do something for them it seems, but who is who and what is what is still unclear), but any comic that has a horribly evil cybernetic dinosaur is alright in my book. The art is still shit.

The Order #2-3

This book is the natural successor to Milligan & Allred's X-Force/X-Statix, but with a more straight-laced, mainstream sensibility. And it works. Some fun superhero stuff, lots of melodrama, and so on. It does suffer from the fact that the cast is large and I don't really have any idea who these people are. The technique of having a different character talk to the camera each issue works, but even then, you don't necessarily get a good sense of who these people are. In the second issue, I couldn't quite connect the Becky talking to us with the Becky fighting the bad guys. Granted, people act different in different situations, but, somehow, it didn't work. The third issue was much better for that, though. I'm interested in seeing where this goes and whether Fraction has anything new to say or not. So far, it could go either way.

New Avengers #34-35

About damn time Bendis moved on past the whole "who can we trust?" bullshit. It made sense, in a way, for a bit, but doing it beyond a few issues wouldn't make much sense. The cover to ssue 34 had me excited with the alternate team, but that stuff only shows up for a page. I love me some alternate realities. One major problem with these issues is that the whole Venom virus story seems to rely on Mighty Avengers, which still has two issues of the first arc to go before we'll see any of that story.

The other plot involving the Hood and his little supervillain mafia is interesting in that it provides a natural fallout of Civil War. I've read complaints about the characterisation of the Hood, but since this is my first encounter with the character, I can't really comment on that. It works for me.

Another thing I saw mentioned online was the portrayal of Tigra in issue 35 and the manner in which she is dealt with. And, you know, it is pretty fucking harsh. I'm not sure if it crosses a line necessarily--especially as the point of the scene is to demonstrate the power of the Hood and the weakness of heroes. However, I am interested in why Bendis picked Tigra and not some other hero for that scene. And, um, why were the cops assholes to her earlier? She's a registered hero.

I also noticed in issue 34 that characters had little captions saying their names. Perhaps recognising that Yu's art is so stylised that you can't always recognise who is who.

Immortal Iron Fist Annual #1

Um, what was the point of this issue? I know, I know, some back story on Orson Randall, but beyond that--why these stories? I'm assuming what we're told here will have specific meaning in future issues, but I kind of walked away from this book wondering why I should care. It's an alright issue and I think part of my reason for not digging it quite as much is that it's Iron Fist stuff, but with no Aja on art. The random tales nature does fit what an annual SHOULD be, though. I dunno, I just prefer the actual series. While I like the idea of past Iron Fists, getting anything more than a few pages here and there that relate directly to the main story leaves me cold.

Punisher War Journal #11-12

I found it weird to see Leandro Fernadez on art in issue 11 as he's done several issues of Ennis' MAX series. Having an artist from that series here just increases the tension between the books, a tension that doesn't make War Journal look good. This isn't a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, it's just one I can't take seriously in ANY way, because it's so fucking retarded when compared to Ennis' book. Thankfully, with these two issues, Fraction seems to be getting that and isn't trying to be serious with his portrayal of Castle. By giving up his Captain America costume and the mask he took, Castle moves into the World War Hulk crossover issue where he's a cartoony superhero character that looks out for the average person. The Captain America stuff was a bit too heavy for the book, although it was cartoony--just in a serious way. Does any of this make sense? I hope the book maintains a very light tone and never tries to take itself seriously, because it doesn't work.

Question: how does Jigsaw at the end of issue 11 fit in with the Jigsaw in New Avengers?

Batman #669 and annual #26

I think I need to reread the three-part mystery story before I can comment for sure. But, did Batman kill someone here?

The annual was kind of blah. But, it acts a nice prologue to the upcoming Ra's Al Ghul crossover, which I will be buying. The first crossover like this I'll have gotten in a long time. Although, I may end up doing the same for that Secret Invasion storyline at Marvel in 2008. Weird.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Make the beats go harder

Wow, I have read a shitload of comics this past week. Last week, an eBay order containing all seven volumes of The Invisibles arrived, which I devoured over Tuesday through Thursday. I have no idea what I could possibly say about that work that hasn't already been said. I'll do some reading this week, think on it and see if anything comes up.

This weekend was spent visiting home in London, which meant a trip to the shop on Friday. Walked away with 20-someodd singles and a trio of trades. So, let's begin with some of the comics:

Midnighter #12

Um, wow, way to take an interesting storyline and waste an issue on boring boringness. Instead of more on Midnighter's spooky hometown, he fights something and there's a lot of posturing about how metahumans are bad. They really have nothing new to say with these characters, do they? They get the Authority to take over America, realise "Oh no, we have no idea how to make this work" and immediately dismantle that. They do a relaunch of titles and nothing exciting happens. Like Ennis' issues, Giffen's aren't bad per se, they're just not anything amazing. Goddamn, Wildstorm is just a reminder of all that wasted potential, isn't it?

JLA/Hitman #2

Ennis sure can write superheroes when he wants to. In the concluding half of this crossover series, Tommy solves the problem and saves the JLA--with methods they don't condone. What I find most interesting is how Clark Kent explains what happened and that you can tell he really struggles with judging Tommy simply because he was a killer. He recognises that maybe there's more to people than looking at them in such superficial ways. And, yes, judging Tommy here simply based on the fact that he is willing to kill is superficial. The JLA was powerless, Batman was taken over by an alien and all that stood between them and getting nuked were Tommy's guns. He did what he had to and while Batman and the others may be quick to judge, Superman can't do that, because he knows that Tommy had to make the tough call--and while others would have acted differently, it was just Tommy there. A very mature and nuanced portrayal of Superman--which is weird, because the rest of the JLA is pretty flat (except for maybe Green Lantern).

Infinity Inc. #2

As I said with the first issue, I wish Milligan were given the freedom to run with the interesting idea of the book (namely, the psychological damage done to these people who were famous superheroes one day and powerless nobodies the next) without forcing in this utterly boring supervillain plot. Fucking genre conventions can be a pain sometimes. I'm still waiting for someone to point out how Steel was given powers by Luthor like them, but is the same as he always was, basically--especially as it's suggested that maybe the Everyman process itself fucked up their heads. But, then again, maybe he isn't fine. Who knows.

Wolverine #56, 58

I read a lot of good stuff about Wolverine #56, a self-contained issue written by Jason Aaron with art by Howard Chaykin that focuses on a man whose job it is to shoot a guy trapped in a pit. Turns out the guy is Logan, who then turns it all around on the guy and we see just how sad and pathetic his life is. It's a solid issue.

Issue 58, on the other hand, is pretty damn shitty. Marc Guggenheim pretty much fucks up Wolverine's healing factor with some bullshit about him not dying because while his body heals, his soul goes off and fights the angel of death--and wins everytime except for this one, which is why Wolverine is braindead. Um. Yeah. What really fucks it up is how half the issue is Dr. Strange messing with Tony Stark--and then the other half is Strange just telling us all of this information. It comes off forced and breaks the whole "show, don't tell" rule. Big time. Wow. Bad, bad comic.

Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man #24

What the fuck happened in this issue? I know nothing actually happened, but is it just me or was that nothing really fucking confusing? What the fuck?

Omega the Unknown #1

When this came out a couple of weeks back, I think nearly every blog I read had a review or two of it up. And all of them said basically the same thing: cool art, quirky writing, where will it go?, let's wait and see, etc., etc., etc. I have nothing new to add to my fellow bloggers' opinons.

Tomorrow: more comics. Yay.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

I'm all about the pink (Or, damn you, you blew it up! You maniacs! I don't know this quote fully!)

I can't remember when it was, but a while back, Timothy Callahan made some mention of a two-issue Marvel mini and wondered what other ones there were, thinking the series in question (which I also can't remember--way to research posts, Chad!) was a fluke. I added another to the list, Wolverine/Doop, a two-issue mini by Peter Milligan and Darwyn Cooke published as filler (sort of) between issues of X-Statix (I think). And at a time when X-Statix was in the decline as far as sales and general buzz went--it had become old news, that always wacky, often good, indie-cred mainstream book that always dies eventually (watch out, Iron Fist!). But, mentioning the book there made me want to reread it since I got the two issues sometime ago on a trip to the shop that involved little new comics of interest, which meant browsing in an effort to make my journey downtown worth it. I settled on these two issues since I always dug X-Force/X-Statix. My memory of the series then is vague. I think I enjoyed it, but who knows.

Last week, I reread it and, man, it's kind of weird.

The story is very simple: there's this thing called the pink mink, which is basically a mink wrap that's pink. When exposed to oxygen, it apparently causes a pink lady to appear, but only to mutants and even then, probably only crazy disease-ridden mutants. Oh, and it's been stolen. Wolverine is going to get it back and he kind of does, but not really, because he sees the pink lady and Doop thinks he's infected with Code-X and he thinks Doop is infected with Code-X and people are turning pink and zombie-like and showing mutant developments despite being adults and OH MY GOD MARVEL ACTUALLY PUBLISHED THIS! Which I say with affection, but it's a damn fun and wacky comic.

At the end of the first issue, both Wolverine and Doop pretend to be infected with Code-X (which means they're crazy or something) in an effort to see if that makes the OTHER one follow along, proving he's actually the one infected--and then, if so, kill the motherfucker. The issue ends with both of them ready to gut the other one.

The second issue involves the two of them making up MORE things--except those things turn out to be true as coincidences happen more frequently when the pink mink is involved. The secret government agent lady hires a professional hunter to capture the pink mink--and Wolverine and Doop. This guy has killed unicorns and shit and likes to skin stuff. He's evil. And the pink people all go to Toronto--which I wonder was Milligan's idea or Cooke's.

In the end, they kill the crazy hunter, get the pink mink back, learn the pink lady is indeed real and everything is great. Until it looks like both Wolverine and Doop want to have sex with the pink lady--but oh wait, Doop actually wants to fuck the pink mink. And once he does, the mink reproduces asexually, so the pink lady can continue to exist and the government can get its mink back.

What the fuck? Marvel published this. What happened to Marvel?

One of the more interesting ideas thrown out in the book and not really picked up since is the idea of people with low level x-genes that are activated by particularly stressful situations, which is what the pink people are. There's a nice exchange where the Orphan explains it to a cop who is freaked out that his partner is now a mutant when he was normal up until then. Of course, this could only produce MORE mutants, so damn the possibilities for stories, NO MORE MUTANTS!

But, this book almost seems like the last hurrah of the initial stage of the Quesada Era where things were new and exciting and original and damn the torpedos, ramming speed! Was this book what did it? Does the summer of 2003 sound like when it changed and became more like a retread of the '90s for a while? Was pink new-mutants all flocking to Toronto what made Quesada go "Wait--we've gone too far--my god what have I done?" Or was it Trouble, which is advertised in the second issue? But still...


What the fuck?

I actually don't have much to say about this book beyond suggesting you pick it up and see one of the weirder things published in the past four or five years. And wonder what happened.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sleven (Or, Fuck You, Marvel)

Today, my roommate and I went to 7-11. He had to get some stuff, I wanted to get a slushy and some chips. While he was filling out his Proline ticket, I looked at the magazines, specifically the comics. I sometimes look in case there's something there the local shop didn't have on my last visit and this time there was: Thor #3. So, I grabbed it and was kind of happy that I would be taking a comic home because getting a random comic is always nice. Makes me feel like a kid again, like I had saved up my change and had just enough money for one comic and had to choose which one I would be getting--except without the limited money or the tough choice.

I'm paying for my stuff and the manager looks at the comic and says, "You're actually buying that?" Not out of digust, but surprise. Not out of surprise that a 24-year old man is buying a comic, but that anyone is actually buying a comic at 7-11. She then went on to say that she'd been considering getting rid of the comics altogether, because most people go to comic stores for their comics. I agreed, because, well, it's true. In the year and a month I've been in Windsor, I've gotten maybe four comics from that 7-11. Most likely a record.

And when I got home, I realised why no one buys comics at 7-11: the cover price. The first two issues of Thor cost $2.99/$3.75 (American/Canadian) and were purchased from a comic shop. This issue? $3.99/$5.75.


Fuck you, Marvel. There's no nice way to put that. It's just fuck you. I paid almost six dollars for this issue of Thor. Two dollars more than I would at a comic shop. Why is it TWO dollars more, by the way? The American price is a dollar more, but the Canadian is two? Fuck you, Marvel.

That's why kids don't read comics. Or, it's a reason why. I don't usually get all "comics were cheaper when I was a kid," but SIX FUCKING DOLLARS FOR AN ISSUE OF THOR!

Fuck you, Marvel, you fucking price-gouging assholes.

(Really, I would be more intelligent about my argument here, but it's six bucks for a comic. At a 7-11. A regular comic. Nothing special about this one. Goddamn.)

As for the actual issue, I enjoyed it. Not six dollars enjoyed it, though. Not even close. I mean, how could I?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Giant-Sized X-Statix Versus Owen Wilson #1

Now, I'm sure all of you have had dreams that involves comics. They could be dreams about interacting with characters or involving comics themselves or maybe even creators (although, that one is a bit weirder). Last night, I had a weird dream about shopping for comics that I will share only because I feel like it.

I don't remember the narrative of the dream, just that I was buying comics at my shop in London. There are only four comics I remember:

Authority #3. Yes, in my dream, the fabled third issue of Morrison and Ha's run came out. That seems the most likely place for it to happen.

An unknown issue of Midnighter that was part whatever of some storyline that had "fag" or "queer" or something in the title. My subconscious mocks writers for making an aspect of the character the central characteristic of the character.

Issue four of a Captain America mini-series with art by Ashley Wood. It involved a non-Steve Rogers Captain America captured by some bad people. And the art was fantastic.

But, the oddest book was some weird X-Men trade paperback that collected various stories. It was a misprint or non-continuity thing, because it was actually sold in a bag with a note from my retailer that touted it as fucked up. One story had an editor's note to explain an event that apparently happened in a book titled "Giant-Sized X-Statix Versus Owen Wilson #1". I believe, even in my dream, I said "What the fuck? That's awesome!" And it would be awesome. I want that comic.

For some reason, though, the trade cost $129.99 Canadian. My retailer was selling it for thirty bucks, but the cover price was insane. Probably because of Marvel's inability to price their products well in Canada.

So, what we learned:

1. Authority #3 should come out, but probably never will except in our dreams.

2. Yes, Midnighter is gay, but he's more than that.

3. Ashley Wood should draw a Captain America story.

4. "Giant-Sized X-Statix Versus Owen Wilson #1" is the greatest comic idea ever.

5. Marvel price-gouges Canadians.

My subconscious is wise.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

52 Problems, Etc. (Volume Three)

So, 52 volume three.

Week 28 has two pages of brilliance in space. One page is a splash of Lobo towing the ship containing his dolphin buddy, Animal Man, Adam Strange and Starfire. The following is six panels that barely make any sense, cutting in and out of the scene with no rhyme or reason. But, it follows along with the concept of the real time storytelling moreso than any other bit in the entire series. It's week 28, days two and four and we check in on the space story for a bit to see them fleeing a giant one-eyed green head and Animal Man ranting about how the situation sucks.

Still don't care about Montoya or the Question.

Booster Gold as Supernova doesn't make sense, mostly because it involves time travel, which while a reasonable possibility does preclude many of the so-called clues dropped. The fact that the solution is revealed along with the method of pulling it off and it doesn't cause me to go "Oh, now I see!" means it was handled poorly and is not a good mystery. Ideally, seeing how it was done should have made it all Make Sense. It didn't. And I knew already that Booster Gold was Supernova. And still didn't see anything that pointed to that.

Wow, Lady Styx sure was a giant threat--what with being killed quickly in week 36. Although, the Captain Comet bit was also another lovely moment.

In week 32, it seems that Ralph has decided to kill himself. In week 33, he gets a gun. He is not seen again until week 39 where he's getting something in Atlantis. Not sure how much logical sense this timeframe makes. Probably the thing that annoys me personally the most about this series. The number of stories combined with the limited amount of space makes the passage of time very problematic. Especially when you take into account how time passes in regular comics. Regular comics operate in a very compressed sort of time where numerous events take place in very short periods of time, while in this series, very little takes place over longer periods of time. Perhaps a weekly realtime book involving more than two or three plots can't work. Hell, maybe it should focus on one single plot to work properly.

The Black Adam family bores me. So utterly typical. The rise and fall. It would have been much more creative to sustain these characters and push forward.

The mad scientists bore me as well when they're not all mad and doing crazy shit. The serious elements of that plot don't work for me. The Egg-Fu stuff was fantastic, though.

Clark Kent was kidnapped and interrogated for a page? What the fuck? That was a moment where I literally said "What's going on now?" Especially because the artist had neither the skill nor the inclination to make Lex Luthor look like Lex Luthor. Instead, we're treated to generic bald guy who looks kind of Asian.

Lex Luthor is a condemnation of the general public and the fact that we continue to trust people we know for a fact to be evil, corrupt and utterly devoted to their own goals at the expense of everyone else.

That said, Luthor gaining superpowers? Lame. But, as I've often said, I prefer for him to operate on an entirely different level than that of the average supervillain. He's the guy who pushes a button and kills hundreds only to go "Oh no! Something went wrong! Why god why?" Luthor does not get his hands dirty with fisticuffs. How utterly common.

For some reason, I love any comic that has young people telling the founding members of the JSA to fuck off to the old folk's home. I just can't get behind the idea of geriatrics fighting crime. Nor am I a fan of teenagers or kids doing the same. Stories about either seems like an absurdist comedy where lurking beyond the next panel is a broken hip or some horrible mistake from a lack of experience (or memory). Oh, I'm such an ageist.

...they stole Animal Man's jacket! Fuckers.

Oh, and Batwoman is a lesbian, but Dick Grayson doesn't know that. I smell a crazy mix-up coming up!

All in all, this was a lacklustre collection of lacklustre comics with the odd shining moment. There were, like, four. Maybe five.

In November, I'll get volume four and we can see how the entire saga works as a whole.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The State of Things

On Friday, my roommate Adam and I walked downtown to buy comics. I bought a bunch, while Adam bought three. As we walked from the store to Bubble Tea to sit and read our purchases, he lamented the state of comics these days. At one point, he asked if I was a saddened by the state of things since I'm more tuned into what's going on.

And, yeah, at times I am. But, I also think it was a matter of the shop we were at since its selection is rather paltry and limited. I do wonder if there's something wrong with comics (and by comics, he was talking about the more "mainstream" stuff--although, he is strangely anti-DC, so...).

Is there something wrong? Well, let's look at what I bought and see.

The Immortal Iron Fist #9

One of my favourite monthly books, in this issue, Danny Rand gets his ass whooped. Oops. The writing an art are both top-notch. As well, in opposition to most other comics, all you need to understand what's going on is this book.

For some reason, Adam didn't dig this as much as I did. Maybe there's something wrong with him?

Captain America #30

Things progress in the post-Cap storyline and nothing earthshattering happens, but this issue doesn't exactly read like filler either. Strangely subtle in that way. We're so trained to think of issues as either taking monumental steps forward or simply acting as padding for a storyarc, when this issue is neither.

Adam liked this, but wondered about Iron Man's armour being all liquidy and shit.

Batman #668

Yes, somehow, after this issue came out, I visited the shop and they didn't have any copies. Now, I visit on the week #669 comes out and they do--just no copies of 669.

The murder mystery continues. Williams' art is still amazing. I love the character bits between Robin and Squire. Jog apparently discusses issue 669 (and maybe the whole arc) in detail, but since I haven't read 669, I've saved the link. I'll talk about this in more detail when I've read the final part.

Adam didn't like this.

Starlord #3

Wow, this series has been disappointing. Some nice character moments, but the story bores me. Actually, many of the characters bore me. In this issue, one of the characters comes back to life (which is a cool moment) and things go to shit. Even more so. I have no idea what's going on elsewhere in this crossover, but where the first Annihilation story's mini-series seemed to tell solid stories alone, this one just isn't doing it for me. Which I find odd since normally Keith Giffen's writing wows me. The art on this book is very well done. I'll pick up the final issue, because I want to see how it turns out (or, semi-concludes so it can lead into the rest of the crossover).

The Boys #10

That's not quite how I expected the story to end. I can't actually see the point of this arc beyond namecalling and giving Hughie some great moments. I hope future stories expand on the other members of the group a bit. So far, it's been 10 issues of Butcher and Hughie mostly.

JLA/Hitman #1

I never read Hitman, but figured I'd check this two-parter out since I do love Ennis' work. It's a nice little story with some nice little character moments, going back to Morrison's JLA line-up. My only beef with the characters is that Wally West is a fucking asshole here. Whenever he opened his mouth, it wasn't the usual friendly bashing of Kyle that I remember but him just being a giant jackass. Wow.

Overall, not a bad bunch of books. Adam picked up an issue of Fell, the first issue of Ennis' Streets of Glory (or whatever it's called) and an issue of Fables that he couldn't finish because it sucked so much--and then left at Bubble Tea.

Tomorrow, I'll post on the third volume of 52, which I also bought.