Some say it’s not the journey but the destination. In this case it’s very much about the destination, which is the final issue of the artistically impoverished big ticket cash-grab from DC Comics, Dark Knight III: The Master Race. After this we’ll all just pretend it never happened and get on with our lives. We shall never speak of this again. EVER. DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & MillerRead More
Nearly there. Good soldier. Nearly there. DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #8 Pencils by Andy Kubert and Frank Miller Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson and Alex Sinclair Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Brad Anderson, Bill Sienkiewicz and Riley Rossmo Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics? You should, you really should. You've got one more issue to remember 'em. Then it's spankin' time!) Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2017)Read More
In which I continue to try and make up lost ground by looking at issue 7 (
of 8 of 9) of DC Comic’s big-ticket Bat event. By popular demand! Well, two people, anyway.
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #7 Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert, Frank Miller & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miler & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Dave McCaig, Howard Victor Chaykin & Jesus Arbuto and Chris Burnham & Nathan Fairbairn Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics? You should, you really should.) Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2017)
Make no mistake with issue 7 DKIII:TMR remains a very special comic; special in a wholly awful way. DKIII: TMR is the kind of comic that is so awful it actually makes you genuinely miserable for having sat through it. Maybe it’s the waste of talent that makes the misery sting so hard, for there are talented people here; people who have produced some pretty decent comics but this…thing, is just so awful, so pitiful in fact that to treat it with the disdain it deserves seems unfair, if not cruel. Then you remember how much money this bunch probably got ($$lot$$) for producing this vacuous piffle. It’s hard to decide which bits are worse, the bits with the words or the bits with the pictures. Only joking, it’s definitely the words. As vague and perfunctory as Kubert’s paltry efforts may be, his art’s inadequacies pale before the titanic idiocy of the writing. Azzarello firmly plants his flag in the peak of Mount Awful from the very first page with a tour de farce of faux cleverness. For the author of a comic that has spent far too long buggering about Azzarello certainly doesn’t bugger about in buggering things up. He’s straight in there. In the last characteristically pathetic issue, you will recall (because how could you not), Batman fell in battle. Actually, you might not recall that, because it was delivered with all the narrative vitality of a rural bus timetable. I didn’t see anything on The Internet about it anyway, and that’s where there’s usually some kind of moronic rumpus if a fictional character even coughs persistently enough, never mind finds a rusty red warning in their supertrunks.
So Superman picks ailing Batman up and flies off with him, which is where this issue opens. And Azzarello, for once wasting no time (but unfortunately wasting no time in being awful), in a move you just know made him fire finger guns at his screen, rejigs the old Superman “Faster than a speeding bullet..” spiel from the Siegel and Schuster days, but with a typically modern maudlin slant. “Am I, in fact, all that?” is the undercurrent to this un-Super internal monologue. Azzarello is probably under the misapprehension that this is as cute as that page in All-Star Superman which reduces Superman’s origin to its fundamentals (“Doomed Planet.” ,“Last Son.”, etc). Tragically for tobacco-beard-sporting-finger-gunning writers everywhere it isn’t cute; it’s plain dumb. For starters why would Superman know that speech? Does he make up little ditties about himself, maybe while he’s sat covered in ice (for reasons no one has seen fit to divulge over the seven issues of this blocked toilet of a comic)? Or are there Superman comics in the world of TDKIII:TMR? And were they made by Siegel and Shuster? And did they get royally fucked over like they did in this world? And if I want to read a comic where Superman and Siegel and Shuster occupy the same world why aren’t I reading Rick Veitch’s Maximortal, which is a far, far better comic? Flawed as it is from the off, Azzarello does his self-satisfied conceit no favours at all with his typically tortured syntax. Azzarello’s inept rejig comes off like the empty posturing it is in comparison to Siegel and Shuster’s breezy and effortlessly iconic brilliance. And it just doesn’t work anyway. Superman’s basically bemoaning the fact that even being Superman may not be enough to save Batman (like what’s the alternative, a fucking ambulance? Would a fucking ambulance be better? A flying fucking ambulance even? No, Superman, it wouldn’t.) “I’m only Superman” he sighs, telling us nothing about Superman or indeed anything at all except the utter failure of the writer to “get” the character. Someone should have made Azzarello rewrite this smug baloney until it worked, or until he binned it. It’s not big and it’s not clever; it’s nincompoopery of the highest order. Supernincompoopery!
But where’s Superman going with Batman? To the Lazarus pit! Who didn’t see that coming? Even Karl Marlden in Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails saw that coming! (Note: Karl Marlden plays a blind man in Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails. That’s the joke there.) But because Superman is a thoughtless dick we have several pages of Carrie being all sadznshitz because she thinks Batman is dead. You would have thought Superman would have had the wit to let her know there was…a chance! But although that would be entirely in character for Superman, and not too difficult to work into the story, he instead leaves her to wet Batman’s helmet with her lady tears (not a euphemism). These, typically for Kubert, sparsely arted pages are a complete fucking waste of space unless you like seeing young women feeling all sadznshitz for no reason. That doesn’t speak highly of you, I’m afraid. It does speak to the utterly desperate attempts of this comic to inject some drama into the thoroughly beige goings-on. Carrie’s already been sadznshitz over a not-dead Batman in issues #1 and #2 and here she is again all sadznshitz. Azzarello is so frantic to fill his pages he’s reduced to recycling things that already failed to work. So, Superman drops Batman in the Lazarus Pit. I don’t believe (I could be wrong; I don’t really care at this point) the words “Lazarus Pit” are used in this issue, so anyone unfortunate enough to be reading this without decades of useless Bat-ephemera clogging up their higher functions, would be left wondering why Superman has taken the corpse of his pal to what appears to be a particularly sternly ornamented San Franciscan bath house. Is it because they spent some good times there flicking towels at each other’s taut arses between badmouthing Lois and exchanging smoky glances?
No, it’s because it’s a Lazarus Pit! And, as the advert says - it does what it says on the tin. There’s about 4 pages wasted on Batman going into the healing waters, Superman waiting, and then Batman leaping out like a nude billionaire shaped salmon. Fully two pages of that are just Superman waiting. Just…waiting. Lad de dah…waiting. Just…waiting. Got any mints? Waiting…waiting. Thrilling stuff. If you’re an accountant. So, yeah, Batman’s young again! And we might as well shut up shop right here, because all protestations to the contrary this has been the whole point of the series – to make Batman young again. Now they can have TDKR comics forever and a day! Regular Batman can find Carrie’s soiled knickers in his washbin; we could have a lenticular cover, and when you move it Batman holds the lacy aromatic rag up to his nose! Part 1 of a 50 part event: “The Knickers”. Or Dark Knight Batman could team up with Huckleberry fucking Hound! Or Strawberry Fucking Shortcake! The possibilities are quite literally dreary beyond belief! As ever though, in their sweaty fumble after more money DC miss the point. The USP of The Dark Knight universe was that Batman was old, that Batman could die. Without that it’s all just more Batman. And still just more Bruce Wayne Batman to boot. A writer with any stones would have had Bats die, Carrie take the mantle and that black kid from issue one (the kid we all thought was indicative of some thoughtfulness, some relevance; the kid who died in one of the lumpen fight scenes) should have become Robin (but you know, in more urban attire. More “street”. Not just a Nehru collar and some piping, Jim Lee.) Instead we get the same old, same old. Seven overpriced, ineptly executed issues thus far; all so DC can just switch The Dark Knight Returns off and switch it back on again; restore the whole thing back to factory settings. What was once original and thrilling is now neutered and subsumed into the grey paste of insipid corporate product. See also: Watchmen. There’s going to be a Watchmen TV series! How fucking mundane must you be to be excited about a Watchmen TV series! How arid must your inner life that be to think The Dark Knight Returns was a bit too exciting and could really do with being more like the other umptyfuckingbillion Batman comics. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen - now just as lifeless and drab as everything else! Huzzah! DC clearly need to brush up on their Aesop’s fables. Particularly the one about the goose and the golden eggs. BIFF! BANG! POW! Short stories, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral aren’t just for kids!
A wiser man, a better man, would stop there; the series having essentially declared itself a bleak exercise in corporate box ticking devoid of any and all artistic intentions. Why bother with it anymore? Because it is truly, fascinatingly awful. And it is important that voices are raised against precisely this kind of incompetent high-profile crap. So, I’ll go on. There is a jaw droppingly shit bit where Azzarello tries to inject some depth into the junk tumbling from his characters’ mouths. Carrie and Commissioner Yindel have a rooftop confab which is so full of horseshit I half expected Kubert to have sketched a shire horse next to the smashed Bat-signal. But that would have required some humour, and also horses are hard, and if the art on DKIII:TMR tells me anything it tells me Kubert’s not all that into graft. If there’s a shortcut, Kubert will take it. I’d rather Kubert drove me on holiday than drew my comics is what I’m saying there. Back at the Brian Azzarello Insight Corner: Was it worth it?, asks Yindel who is clearly a moron. All what, asks Carrie because she too is none too bright herself. All this, says Yindel because circuitous drivel takes up space and that’s what writing for comics in the 21st century is all about – taking up space. That and choking the imagination and beauty out of everything. The gist, I think, of all this deep, deep thought is that Yindel is asking Robin if fighting the bad guys was worth it; worth all the death and property damage. This is such a boneheaded question I worry for the state of Brian Azzarello’s mental health. Then, even better (i.e. even worse) there is some mush mouthed mental gruel about how everyone always thinks they are on the right side, so how can they know what they did was right? Deep. Oh, and (buckle UP, Wittgenstein) how masks don’t just conceal – they REVEAL! (Christ. Just…Christ.) The ideas beneath all this overcooked rumbledethumps of inane prattle barely even qualify as thoughts. But important questions are being asked, we are assured. The only important question is how anyone could write this shit and not spend their life puce with shame. This is what happens when people whose talent has really short arms reach for profundity.
Other things happen in the issue and the best I can say about those is they aren’t as hair curlingly terrible as the stuff I’ve highlighted. The Kandorians continue to hang about like a cloud of midges over a stagnant pond, before deciding to go to Paradise Island (“De plane, boss! De plane! De invisible plane!” RIP, Herve Villechaize) for some childnapping. Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter continues to hang about with the poorly motivated Kandorians, like a posh kid slumming it with the scruffs to piss off mom and dad. The guy with the big melted face complains about having a big melted face. And to be honest I think this whole guy-with-a-big-melted-face business isn’t really worth all the space it’s getting. There’s only so much mileage in a guy-with-a-big-melted-face. But then everything (what little there is of it) gets far too much space in this comic, the whole thing is a whole load of nothing spread far too thin. Oh, the Atom’s back! It’s been several weeks now, or something, since he shrunk so he should, by rights, be covered in his own mess, winnowed by starvation and not a little boggle eyed with fear. But Nah, He’s perfectly fine, sat on a molecule working on his techno-bits. I guess he’s sat on a molecule in a piece of ham which us why he hasn’t starved to death. Why, precisely, it’s taking him so long to fix his magic machine (which will no doubt be adroitly deployed at the climax of the book) is anyone’s guess. There’s also a mini-comic, the bulk of the fun of which is in Frank Miller’s enthusiastic pencils, alas much of the fun of these is crushed by Janson’s rigid inks. The best bit (of the whole series so far in fact) is the appearance of Bat-Mite, largely because there is no mention of him on the page; so it’s entirely possible Frank Miller just drew him in there (twice) for shits and giggles. Just that small sight of goofy (possibly improvisatory) fun throws the rest of the joyless crap surrounding it into stark and unflattering relief. Bat-Mite! Yay! Unfortunately, like the main book, it’s all written in Azzarello’s dourly congested style, in which everyone thinks they are being highly insightful while merely being full of shite. Fans of stereotypically sweaty and sinister Egyptians will have a field day, but that’s probably a minority of the Direct Market audience in 2017.
If DKIII:TMR had been a Broadway Musical it would have closed so fast Spider-Man: Turn Out The Dark’s run would have resembled that of The Mousetrap. But it’s a comic, so its audience are even less discerning than a pensioners’ coach trip at a heavily discounted, matinee performance. Also, because its sales figures are inflated by the comics equivalent of sub-prime mortgages (i.e. variants) it gets to preen about pretending people like it, until every last cent has been squeezed out and you can practically hear its pips squeak. DC even added an extra issue! That was about as welcome as an extra in-law. Obviously this decision was to allow the peerless artistry of the series room to excel, and certainly not because DC wished to increase their market share for another month with one of their few regularly well performing titles. I despise this new tendency on the part of Marvel and DC to gift its audience with an extra issue of whatever over-hyped and undercooked craptacular they have induced us all into buying despite the weight of experience. There’s nothing like flagrantly taking advantage of your audience to engender good will. Here’s where that ends up: I’m not buying anymore mini-series. I’ll just get the TPB when they are done. Add as many issues as you like, you short termist donkey haunches; I’ll not be buying them. Craven and underhanded shenanigans in the extreme, as ever from Corporate Comics. There’s no artistic reason for sticking another ish in since the series has no genuine artistry, and from a creative viewpoint could have done with being seven issues less. That might have, you know, focused the minds of everyone involved. The last thing an ill-disciplined, sprawling, and fundamentally empty thing like DKIII:TMR needs is more room. When your kid starts projectile vomiting due to an allergic reaction to a Chinese meal, you don’t wander through every room in the house with him; maybe knock on next door’s as a surprise and merrily spread the trail of vomitus yet further. No, you stick him in the bath and keep him there. Damage limitation, innit. You all know the words by now, so sing along: DKIII:TMR is CRAP!
NEXT TIME: Something a bit less blatantly soulless and worthier of the name – COMICS!!!
Anyway, this... DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #5 Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Alex Sinclair, Paul Pope & Jose Villarubia, Karl Kerschl Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics?) DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2016)
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #6 Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, sure) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Romulo Fajardo Greg Tocchini, Guiseppe Camuncoli & Dave Stewart Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. I'm pretty sure they were all involved too, DC Comics.) DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2016)
I've read these comics several times now, trying to pinpoint exactly what it is about them that gets my back up so. Every time I read them new flaws come to light. So much so that it's got to the point now that I'm afraid if I read them again I'll discover the ink is actually the blood of poor people or they are printed on capybara skin. It's hard to think how a comic could fail so badly at pretty much everything. It's a Batman comic, for goodness sake. We're not talking about PROVIDENCE or HUMAN DIASTROPHISM here. Batman. I've tried to find the bright spots but I can only come up with one: in issue #5 Batman seeds the clouds with Kryptonite and the resulting rain depowers the Kandorians enough for everyone to lay into them. I liked that, it was fun and goofy and pretty much COMICS!!! Everything else made me wonder what everyone was thinking to let this get published. (Besides $$$$!)
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
Eventually I hit upon the answer. Or an answer. It was during one of Brian Azzarello's tedious inner monologues which he characteristically spreads across as many panels as he can, like a miser with margarine, in an attempt to disguise the banality of the thought at its heart. In this particular overwrought paean to intellectual aridity Batman refers to Fear as “My nanny.” Eureka!, I thought. And not because the comic stank no, all had come clear. They were trying to out-Frank Frank but because they fundamentally misunderstood THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS they had outflanked themselves. The ridiculously hyperbolic interior monologue is as much The Tank as wearing a hat that looks bigger than him, but Frank knows when to stop. Azzarello thinks you just keep going, listing things until you've filled enough panels. At no point did it occur to him that the “nanny” was way over the line into bathos. I mean, a fucking nanny. How identifiable. What next? “Fear is my Hedge Fund Manager.” “Fear is my Chauffeur.” “Fear is my Personal Masseur.” Seriously, by the time Batman is telling me Fear is his Nanny, he's no longer the Dark Avenger of the Night and is instead an addelpated overpriveleged fop in need of a hired titty to suck.
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
The Tank would also go so large his ideas dwarfed our minds, but he'd stick to it. He'd fulfill that promise. He'd have a nuclear strike on the American mainland by Golly, and he'd make you feel it too. This clueless bunch trap Superman in a black matter shell which is, apparently, an whole 'nother infinity of bizarreness for eternity. What do we get. Pictures of Superman like he's caked in quick drying scat. The only thing Azzarello can think to do with it is set up a fucking awful play on the words “fork” and “fuck”. Seriously, is Carrie eleven years old? About that, during this series Carrie drawn as being just past Bruce Wayne's waist heightwise. How come everyone in issue #1 thought this flailing munchkin was Batman. And howcum his Bat-suit fit her? It should have hung off her like when Alfred used to wear it in the Adam West series, and be about as convincing. This comic is so terrible it makes previous issue worse retroactively, and they were pretty dire to start with.
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
So this Black Matter dimension, right? There's a load of people telling us how terrible a pickle Superman is in (over a whole host of pages, natch) but he just pops out of it in a stunningly dull splash page (i.e. typically Andy Kubert). I have had balloons from the fair that were weightier than this threat. It's all huffing and puffing this comic, working so hard to avoid doing any hard work that it might have just done the hard work in the first place. Having underplayed everything to a remarkably wearying degree they then have Superman recover from this awesome threat by just touching his face and wincing, and then he feels all better. It's high stakes stuff you can feel in your boots! This wholly unnecessary side road into adventure-as-tedium tries one last time to convince us something of import has happened by having Superman declare that while in the Black Matter Scat he searched his soul. Sorry, his SOUL (because Brian Azzarello's random emphases are in full effect throughout this, sorry, THIS, series). That sounds interesting doesn't it? I wonder what Superman saw in his SOUL. And I'll have to keep wondering because they haven't got a clue with how to do anything with that, and the book strolls into the next scene. Mostly though, I wonder what Brian Azzarello sees when he stares into our souls. His career? (Take your time…geddit?) And because this team can't give without taking away, the groovy Kryptonite rain pays off with Superman in a no-neck-robot suit. This suit is so hilariously drab and perfunctorily designed you wonder if your eyes are having a laugh. Even better it has a fully molded reproduction of Superman's face as the helmet. It's just...shit. Utter, utter shit. Which is two more shits than the people involved in this comic apparently gave.
Ah, the people! Thus far the ridiculously poorly thought out metaphor for Terrorism has floated about in the sky and asked the people of Gotham to bring it Batman. Now, ask yourself what you do when you want to find something. No, not Batman. Just your keys or that picture of Howard Victor Chaykin looking well buff. Okay? Right, do you run around like a screaming maniac smashing things and setting things on fire? No? Well that's what the people of Gotham do. For several days. Batman feels all put out because the poorly thought out metaphor for Terrorism has shown humanity at its “worst”. But Batman is mistaken. The people who made this comic have shown us at our “worst”. It's this nasty, tiny-minded, and thoroughly adolescent view of human nature which is the biggest bellyflop in replicating the spirit (good movie; shut your face!) of DKR. Yeah, the people of Gotham behaved abominably in the original, but there came a tipping point. Humanity came through. Jim Gordon had Sarah, and thinking of her made everything easy;Gotham rioted and looted, but it pulled together and mostly without Batman. Fires were extinguished, people held out hands and lifted others up. Sanity and humanity prevailed. Sure, Batman helped, but after the understandable initial wobble after the nuke hit, people were the best we could be.
"The SPIRIT spreads as fast as the fire. Two NURSES show up out of NOWHERE--they don't have a DAMN thing to work with..The ones they can't COMFORT they get DRUNK. a HARDHAT grabs a LUGWRENCH from the back of his dead TRUCK and smashes open a FIRE HYDRANT. The man at the HARDWARE STORE puts his shotgun away and empties PAINT BUCKETS all over his new tile FLOOR. A LINE forms." Frank Miller in DKR, 1986.
That generosity of spirit (I'm telling you, revisit it) is wholly absent from DKIII:TMR. The people of Gotham are a mob which Batman redirects at the Kandorians. In DKR people were humans, in DKIII:TMR people are weapons. Ugh. Just ugh.
All that is prologue because in DKIII:TMR #6 Batman dies! Yes! You read it here first, effendi! Batman dies! (Well, you know, "dies") OMG! Has Brian Azzarello been crowbarred onto on a US TV talk show where they clearly couldn’t give a tin shit about comics, and been patronised like a precocious child who can recite the Bible backwards? You know, fielding hardball questions like, “And the words, do you write all those yourself?”; “I see, the pictures are drawn by another person? Golly!”; “You are in your forties now and you’re on TV talking about killing Batman, do you sometimes wake up with your face inexplicably damp with tears?”, “Well, Batman sure has changed since I was a kid! Now here’s Chet with news of a dog with a very special talent. Chet…?” If he hasn’t why not? This is important business! The death of comic book characters is seismic stuff! I still remember where I was when I heard Hawkeye had shot the Hulk with a Special Bendisium Arrow. At home. Or at work. One of the two. I don’t get out much, so it was definitely one of those. Titter ye not, non-continuity-poorly-written-Batman dying is a real ball jangler! I hope that guy who studies Batman is paying attention, his reading list just got EDGY! I cannot overstate the importance of this development! These pages are soaked in historical significance like a teenagers tissues are soaked in dead jizz! The game just got changed, my friend. BOOM! My kid tried to pick this comic up, but luckily I roundhouse kicked him across the room before his germy fingers could soil this Near Mint Collector’s Edition. “THIS IS YOUR COLLEGE FEES!!! DON’T!!! YOU!!! EVER!!! TOUCH!!! IT!!! I screamed into his traumatised face as he spat out his teeth like bloody chiclets . Kids don’t get it, comics aren’t for them anymore. They are for death fetishists and preposterously optimistic speculators. Hurrah!
Remember Captain Marvel’s death scene in DKSA? “Where does a dream go?”, “Go out with a lion’s roar!”, all that, yeah? It was about a page if that, he was a supporting player if that, and it resonates through the decades to make my elderly eyes tear up still. Here in DKIII:TMR in stark and daft contrast Batman gets shot in the back by B’al-D'ee’s eye beams . Mind, he mustn’t have hit anything too vital because Bats has time to swoon into Superman’s No Neck Robot Suit arms and tell Superman not to take him to hospital because, uh, I guess he mustn’t have kept up with his insurance? Or maybe he doesn’t like those gowns that tie at the back and leave your arse flapping about? This heat beam takes its sweet time to find anything vital because Bats has chance to tell Supes to tell Carrie…what? We’ll never know. Oh! What gems from the pen of Brian Azzarello have we been deprived of! Possibly, “Tell Carrie…I’m sorry I involved her in this nonsensical belly flop of half arsed execution and poor creative choices.” Maybe it’s “Tell Carrie…I love her, tell Carrie I need her, tell Carrie I may be late, I've something to do, that cannot wait.” I can see Bruce being a big Richie Valens fan. Superman’s more Glen Miller, I think. KRYPTON-65000! Doodly doo doo! Well, that’s about as likely as Batman getting shot in the back by heat vision.
Even worse, because if there’s one thing DKIII:TMR likes to do it’s up the ante on awful, “Clever”, thinks Superman as his Bat pal is felled. “Clever.” Clever, my charred arse. Unless Superman has just realised the answer to that morning’s Daily Planet crossword clue which had him stymied over his java and Lucky Charms ("Closet's opening needs handle, quick" (6)) then I don’t know what he’s on about. “Clever.” That guy shot someone with his eyebeams. Ooh, that’s a smart move! You should write that one down Superman, maybe do that yourself sometime. What else does Superman think eyebeams are for? Reheating his java because he’s spent so long on his crossword that it’s gone clap cold. “Clever.” Sometimes I just despair. Remember Waterloo where it looked like Napoleon had won but The Duke of Wellington said he was going home, and as he walked away he spun round and shot Napoleon with his musket. “Clever”, said the history books. (Or for the Internet generation: This Entitled Elitist White Male Warmonger Won The Battle With This Clever Trick And The French Hate Him! (Picture of a dog with tits)) (NB I know Napoleon didn't die at Waterloo, I sincerely doubt Batman dies here.) The death of Captain Marvel this ain’t. “Where does a dream go?” More like, “Where does a chump go?” “Go out with a lion’s roar!””, nah, “Go out with a wet fart!” It’s not the same really is it? Not “This would be a good death. Good enough” but “This would be a shit death. Shit enough.” Nothing about DKIII: TMR is “good enough”. The “death” least of all. Who signed off on this? Who thought, “Yeah, that’s good that is.” I’d really like to know. Names, I want names. Forget it, I just want it to be over. The best bits of DKIII:TMR are when The Tank draws something, even if it is all messy and wobbly and clearly the work of a man in trouble, it's still obviously COMICS!!! While DKIII:TMR is cynical, idiotic, vacuous and tiresome CRAP!
It's Bwana Hibbs' Birthday! Happy Birthday, Brian Hibbs! Emotion! Ugh. Enough sentimental nonsense and back to things of far greater import: is DKIII: TMR improving? Find out below! DKIII: TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Miller, Anderson & Robins
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #4 Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller, Lynn Varley & Klaus Janson (Yes the FOURTH time out DC again only identify Frank Miller as the author. Tsk. Tsk.) Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Frank “The Tank” Miller Story by Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello Lettered by Clem Robins Colours by Brad Anderson, Alex Sinclair Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson/Jim Lee Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Paul Pope & Shay Plummer, Rafael Albuquerque DC Comics, $5.99 Standard/$12.99 Deluxe (2016) Batman created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane
Man, four issues in and it's clear now why Frank Miller thinks so highly of Brian Azzarello's writing. It seemed odd at first given the fact that the first three issues were so nonsensical (Batman's dead because I said so! Oh, wait some bad guys! No, he isn't dead! I was just fooling!) with pacing as taut as the knicker elastic of an inveterate boil washer. Yeah, because I can be a bit tardy on the old uptake, it resembled nothing less than an insultingly expensive slow motion fart in the face of anyone expecting a decent comic, but it seems there is method in their madness! Because after this sluggardly thing flops to a halt (we're half way through people!) the consensus concerning Frank Miller is due for a somewhat sunnier recalibration. Sure, he said those bad things about demonstrators, and, yeah, he did that thick-witted HOLY TERROR comic which made the entry level error of mistaking Islam for Islamism and thus, despite the savage visual beauty of the thing, kneed his rep right in the crackerjacks, and then there was the thing with the maid and the used tampon, which...um, anyway, even given all that Frank Miller can make better comics than this blasé slouch of vapid posturings. I've not been reading the reviews, but I have been reading the comic so I assume all the reviews are bad. (A little joke there.) However even someone as disconnected as my fair self noticed an uptick of interest with this issue, and the uptick of interest was all down to Frank Miller. To be precise it was all down to the mini comic for which he contributed art like this:
Some people didn't like, some people liked it. (One poor bloke got into trouble for suggesting The Tank's art could have been better served by alternate methods of colouring. And then went on to show what he was talking about. Which was a big no-no because, fuck you very much for thinking seriously about this stuff! Ah, Comics!) Anyway, people were talking about Art! Comic art! And it was all down to Frank Miller. I don't know, but that seemed to me to be a refreshing change, certainly the only worthwhile thing about this cock-knockingly inept comic thus far. What? Oh, I liked Frank's art, I thought Frank's art was just peaches and cream, all grubby and energetic and altogether thrilling and everything absent from Kubert & Janson's overworked tedium in the main book. I read that mini comic and I knew that Frank's still got it, because it had never gone away. Who knew Frank Miller would be the most interesting thing about this truculently dumb thing? Who could ever have guessed? Frank “The Tank” would still, despite whatever the Hell happened to him, draw so astonishingly that comics folk would sit up and take note.
When was the last time that happened? You know, comics folk talked about the comics art? Instead of about how “these waffles shaped like Captain America’s balls will melt in your mouth like creamy Freedom”, or how the latest Marvel variant covers showing the X-Men’s corpses being rudely violated by chat show hosts of today and yesteryear “will be available”, or how “this Groot shaped tumour makes cancer fun again”, or how some comic book editor has to be quarantined from 50% of the Earth’s population because he can’t help getting a bit handsy, or how he only gets a bit handsy with the ladies because he’s overcompensating for his homosexuality. So with treatment, God willing, he’ll be getting handsy with men, however, he won’t have to be isolated then because the men will just break his hands, which will solve the problem. But in the meantime there will surely be a point midway in his treatment when he’ll want to get handsy with men and women both, and so will have to be kept in space or at the centre of the earth, or, call me crazy, he could just take some fucking responsibility for his actions and change his ways. I don’t know, I can’t really comment as I don’t have daughters and only men with daughters understand you shouldn’t press your groin against ladies faces in the gym. I have a sister though, is that enough? No. Oh, if only I could understand why ladies don’t like uninvited hands roaming intrusively over them. I know we all turned a blind eye to those Nazi rocket scientists because we had to beat Russia into space but I’m not sure editing Superman comics is enough of a boon to civilisation to merit special treatment because you can’t keep it in your pants. Um, where were we? Hey, I “know” The Tank hates the muslims and the poor and his cleaner has to be adroit at dodging flung used tampons and yadda yadda yadda. But, I don’t know, I go to The Tank for art, pictures of Batman and that, not incisive and nuanced geo-political insights or advice on employee-employer relations. I wouldn’t ask “master storyteller” Tony S. Daniel his view on whether we should leave the EU (but then I wouldn’t want to look at his art either). And I’m not flush enough to have a cleaner, so all these tampons piled up around me will have to sit unthrown. Er, basically, The Tank wins again. (But Frank, as I’m sure you are reading this, seriously, ask someone the difference between Islam and Islamism. It’ll save you a lot of hearthache.)
The rest of the comic? Oh, it's terrible. Simply awful, darlings. Were it not for the price and prestige of this project it would be hilarious in its failure. As it is it's dismayingly poor. Mostly, Superman's daughter beats Superman up, and Brian Azzarello's whimsical ideas about pacing trip up his story so badly it ends up not only with with scabby knees but also a scabby chin. It does not add up, is what I'm saying. For some reason Superman lets his kid smack him about “for hours” (and many, many thoroughly dull pages). I'm sure Superman has a reason why he does this but alas, I am not as sophistimicated as Brian Azzarello so it just seemed stupid to me. Anyway, what's Batman's response. Batman, the master tactician, Batman the guerrilla genius, what does he do with all this time Superman has bought him? He sits and watches Supes get slapped silly by his kid "for hours" on the TV. Like it's Downton fucking Abbey or something. Christ, over the four issues extant of this regrettable mess Batman has 1) walked to The Fortress of Solitude with a big hammer and 2) snuck into Carrie Kelley's bedroom to caress her sleeping face while telling himself how awesome she is (which might be normal behavior to Superman editors, but strikes old-fashioned me as a bit creepy). He's not exactly pushing himself is he now?
But John what does Wonder Woman do? Wonder Woman gets a call from Batman (probably, “Ur husbnd is gtting crap smcked out of hm! LOL!” and she just...crushes her phone. I know people who have survived apocalyptic divorces who still would lend a hand were their despised partner being kicked to death. Not Wonder Woman, though. Not the Princess of Peace! Fantastic stuff there. It's okay, you might think, because The Flash is around. Get this: Superman's daughter beats Supes up “for hours” and it is playing on every television on earth and The Flash...shows up when it's all over. I'm not exactly Geoff Johns when it comes to the minutiae of DC Comics characters but isn't the whole thing about The Flash that he's very fast? I know there's a bow tie involved, but unless you're a big Bing Crosby fan it's the whole “very fast” thing which defines The Flash. What the crepuscular fuck has The Flash been doing all this time? Brian Azzarello's pacing is so slow even The Flash can't fight it! Brian Azzarello is The Reverse Flash and I claim my five pounds! The Flash! The fucking Crap more like. Oh, and then there's The Atom who has been shrinking since, what, issue two? At what rate is he shrinking? Surely he should have shrunk out of existence by now. But, no, there Ray is, clinging grimly to a molecule, or an (heh) atom or something sciencey like that. “Maybe I can fix this...”, The Atom says. Apparently The Atom not only shrinks but is super-optimistic. More optimistic than I am. The only way to fix this pile of comic book bumblefuckery would be to have let Frank Miller write and draw it all in the first place. As it is DKIII: TMR remains consistently and flagrantly CRAP! Mind you, it's probably all Alan Moore's fault, right DC Comics?
NEXT TIME: Maybe a bit of Howard Victor Chaykin to cleanse the palate. There's a man who does good COMICS!!!
But I still went on about it nevertheless.
Anyway, this… DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #3 Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller, Lynn Varley & Klaus Janson (although third time out DC again only identify Frank Miller as the author. Tsk. Tsk.) Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, John Romita Jnr, Frank Miller Story by Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello Lettered by Clem Robins Colours by Brad Anderson, Alex Sinclair Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Dean White, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, John Romita Jnr, Danny Miki & Dean White Retailer variant cover by Geg Capullo & FCO Plascenia, Gabriel Dell'Otto, Paul Pope & Shay Plummer, Alex Garner DC Comics, $5.99 Standard/$12.99 Deluxe (2016) Batman created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane
Now, I’m not really auf fait with the whole sexy modern Terror thing (torture is awesome, right?) but I was around in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so I have in fact been evacuated from two buildings, watched pubs burn on the teatime news and also had my favourite Saturday shopping centre remodelled by, in all probability, Semtex©®™ (the Czech plastic explosive not the Czech energy drink), and my take away is that the big thing about terrorists is that terrorists are generally perceived (by themselves at the very least) as the underdogs. They are denied the usual channels of protest and don’t have the resources of whoever they are up against, so they by necessity, and I am in no way endorsing this, fall back on terrorist tactics. Given that, I’m not entirely sure why a city full of Superpeople who can fly faster than a fighter jet, balance a city block on each ear, punch through the earth’s crust, shoot fire out of their eyes and make steel shattering cold hiss from their mouths would see themselves as underdogs. In fact they don’t; one of the (very) few things this comic makes clear is that they consider themselves Gods, so c’mon, get worshipping! That’s their whole, like, thing. So why (WHY!?!) they would turn themselves into bombs and threaten to drop themselves hither and yon unless Earth kowtows is almost as inexplicable as the first two issues of this thing, where Batman sought to convince everyone he was dead by reminding everyone of his existence. I’m not sure there was enough air in that bottle these dudes popped out of, because their plan makes about as much sense as beating someone to death with an atom bomb. Or treading on someone whose super power is SHRINKING(!) and believing they are dead. Or trying to convince everyone you are dead by reminding everyone of your existence. Or pretty much anything in this thing. Basically, given the massive imbalance of power on show I don’t think this metaphor is working like anyone involved thinks it is. DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Miller, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins
That is of course if they’ve put any thought at all into it, because this third issue seems particularly begrudging in its display of stale thrills. There’s a half-hearted attempt at continuing the whole social media/talking heads thing, but it’s sprinkled so stingily over the pages you get the impression they wished they’d never started doing it. And the heads that talk are hardly impressive, their likenesses blunted by Kubert’s stubbornly generic approach. I think one of them is Donald Trump, which, yes, well done, is super-timely, but has it no real comment to make about him, except his is a face you’ll have seen on television. It might as well be Cookie Monster or Latka from TAXI. Amazingly in a 21st Century comic there’s actually a “my wife” joke, the best I can say about that is at least it isn’t a “my mother-in-law” joke. On the bright side though, if this whole hacking out cashgrabs thing doesn’t work out, Brian Azzarello could fall back on touring Working Men’s Clubs with Jim “Nick! Nick!” Davidson. Or maybe not, because the secret of comedy is timing, and here Azzarello and Kubert manage to thoroughly fluff a conceptually pretty good joke about how no one’s too fussed about the Kandorians until they interrupt their web service. It’s a good joke, but it just expires on the page before your eyes. Like they just couldn’t be fussed, and this air of enervation permeates the whole issue.
Which is thematically apt since most of this issue is about people being tired. Here even Batman’s a bit tired of it all. He’s not the only one. His fire’s gone out. Reading this book I can think of some other people whose fire has gone out. I’m not saying there’s some psychological projecting going on on the part of the creators but then nor would I rule it out. Batman’s throwing in the towel, my arse. To stop Frank Miller’s Batman you’d need to feed Frank Miller’s Batman into a wood chipper, give the resultant slurry to pigs, fire the Batman-fattened pigs into the sun, drop the sun into a black hole and then maybe, maybe you’d be on the right track to stopping the mad thug from coming back. Even so, you’d probably turn round and the last thing you’d see would be his grin as he unzipped you like a sleeping bag and paddled in your guts. Here, though, Frank Miller’s Batman is tired and he doesn’t want to play anymore. Bless. Fantastic grasp of Frank Miller’s Batman there. Almost as good as the one they have on Superman.
Oh yeah, then there’s Superman – he just gave up one day and sat down and stopped moving. As you do. Fantastic writing there, really gets to the nub of the character. He’s Superman, he’s what’s best in us, and he always finds a way. Of course he’d just give up just…well...er…because. It’s all got a bit much, that’s all the motivation on show here. Hey, it all gets a bit much for me too, Superman, if just sitting down and not moving was an option I’d have grabbed it with both hands decades ago. Anyway he’s sat in some ice (exhibiting truly impressive control of his bodily functions) and although conscious, is unresponsive to stimuli. Look, I’m no professional but I think once the catatonic state is breached we’d try maybe 20 to 40mgs of Citalopram©®™ and a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy initially. Were his state more responsive perhaps a talking cure might be an option, but that’s further down the line. Er, sorry. Anyway, medically Batman is a bit more hands-on and hits Superman with a big hammer. This doesn’t work. Luckily Carrie Kelly wakes Superman up by telling him what the problem is. We are told this is a stroke of genius by Batman, you know, asking Superman to help because there are a lot of Superpeople engaging in a poorly conceived metaphor about Terrorism outside. Who would have thought Superman would respond to a clearly articulated problem. Not Batman. But then he has just tried to chivvy someone out of a mental collapse by hitting him with a big hammer. I liked the big hammer by the way; it’s the only thing in three stubbornly unspectacular and bafflingly self-satisfied issues that has felt slightly “Frank Miller’s Dark Knight”. The fact that Batman carries a massive hammer miles through the snow to break the ice on Superman is just so cartoonishly dumb it spoils everything even more, because you realise all the more keenly how tepid and underwhelming everything around it is. Case in point, next issue is clearly the one where Superman gets a good leathering just like he did in the previous two Dark Knight series, because, well, fuck it, the cheque’s cashed so why not just be totally predictable. Three issues in and this thing remains a pile of stale horseapples. CRAP!
The mini-comic this time out has the typically pacy Azzarellian zip of an arthritic tortoise with a brick on its back struggling up a steep incline, and disdains the immature allure of an actual fight scene in order to favour the more sophisticated alternative of three ladies floating about while passively aggressively sniping at The Sphinx. The Sphinx it should be noted is an ancient pile of stones, so it is understandably less than forthcoming with responses. Undaunted by the futile idiocy of their actions they carry on trolling the inanimate object while chipping away at it, in the process resembling less super advanced beings and more a bunch of bored scrotes kicking a dried dog turd about while waiting for a bus to arrive. Instead of a bus Hal Jordan turns up. Or a pile of sentient broccoli which has chosen to assume the form of “Hal Jordan” (this, like so many things in this comic, is needlessly unclear). The talk turns Super Deep with questions being raised as to whether it is right than women should be unequal to men (no) or whether the colour of one’s skin makes some innately superior to others (no). Strong stuff and given the complexities of the questions it’s understandable that there aren’t any answers given (No, not even “no”), just questions raised. Quail before the philosophical might of Brian Azzarello! (Never mind The Riddle of The Sphinx! What about The Riddle of The Azzarello? “Is it right that men and women should be uneq..”, “No.”, “…Uh, lucky guess. Is it right that people’s skin col..?”, “No.”, “Um. What’s black and white and read all ove..” “Dude, no one reads newspapers anymore. Get a clue. Your riddles are balls nasty.”)
So flummoxed is Hal Jordan by the philosophical conundrums posed by his floating foes that he just hovers there slack jawed until they take him out, with a sudden act of violence clearly designed to make Geoff Johns purr like a dirty cat. However, as pompous and inanely opaque as it all is (and, boy, isn’t it just), this mini-comic is at least drawn by John Romita Jnr with inks by Frank “The Tank” Miller. Which means it is gorgeous, shimmering gloriously as it does between Moebius and DKSA era Miller. It’s like someone cracked a window in a room full of stale farts. A breath of fresh air is what I’m saying there. If these two had drawn the whole book it wouldn’t have made it good, but it would have made it better. Writing –wise the mini-comic is CRAP! But the mini-comic art is VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Something a bit better than this. Something that's bit better at being – COMICS!!!
Abhay's below this, so don't dilly dally, and certainly don't shilly shally, go there! Do it NOW! Me, I'm still trying to get regular, so here's another go at that. There's a lot of toilet humour in this one. It's the only industry we have left. DKIII by Risso, Azzarello, Mulvihill & Robins
Anyway, this... SIR: The critics? No, I have nothing but compassion for them. How can I hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead? The Dresser by Ronald Harwood
2000AD Prog 1964 Art by Mark Sexton, Richard Elson, John Burns, Clint Langley, Carlos Ezquerra Written by Michael Carroll, Dan Abnett, Kek-W, Pat Mills, John Wagner Colours by Len O'Grady,the artists Lettered by Annie Parkhouse, Ellie De Ville, Simon Bowland JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner KINGDOM created by Richard Elson & Dan Abnett THE ORDER created by John Burns & Kek-W ABC WARRIORS created by Kevin O'Neill, Brendan McCarthy, Mick Mcmahon & Pat Mills STRONTIUM DOG created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner Rebellion, £2.55 weekly (2016)
Borag Thungg! Another week, another issue of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic! This week in Judge Dredd (Sexton/Carroll/O'Grady/Parkhouse) the decision is taken to devote the bulk of the seven page installment to a quite bloody and brutal action sequence which leaves Dredd on the edge of death. Also, some plot developments. It's a salutary reminder that when a Judge goes wrong that's way more dangerous than just your average perp. As seven pages go it's lean, mean, gory and crunchily executed stuff. Two parts in and “Ghosts” is shaping up VERY GOOD!
KINGDOM (Elson/Abnett/DeVille) takes time out from hurtling about hither and yon for a quick plot stop. Some fruity swears and mysterious discoveries later the strip is tanked back up with motivation enough to hurtle off, in the final panel of the fifth page, into what promises to be a more typically action orientated episode. Elson art possesses a crisp precision and Abnett's script remains fundamentally derivative but still just original enough to provide undemanding fun. OKAY!
Alas, the major question raised by THE ORDER (Burns/Kek-W/DeVille) so far is what exactly was achieved by the steampunk motorbike that could not have been achieved by a horse. So, obviously this one's not exactly pulling me in. It's not terrible though. And that's despite groan inducing clichés such as the masked rescuer being revealed to be a stunningly beautiful lady (and unless Boots The Chemist was operating in 1560 then her make up skills are a tad anachronistic). As if in balance there's a nifty bit of dialogue on the fifth and final page (the “...empircal evidence..” bit). That alone is enough to leave me optimistic that the ideas underpinning the series will eventually be revealed to have been worth the more predictable stretches. OKAY!
Last week, while struggling to make sense in a short space of time, I , somewhat tenuously I thought, mentioned Blade Runner in connection with the mek-nificent ones. This week Serendipity, obviously in a playful mood, shocks my socks of by having Pat Mills rejig the Roy Batty death speech everyone loves from that selfsame movie, but puts it in the foul mouth of an ailing Ro-Jaws and, thus, appropriately enough, fixes up the references within it to those of a somewhat more scatological stripe. Reader, I larfed. One of the many things I respond to in Pat Mills' writing is his unselfconscious embrace of puerility. It's particularly prevalent in ABC Warriors and is always welcome. In a strip where the authorities (who have been searching for Hammerstein) have just cottoned on to the fact that that robot that looks just like Hammerstein but with a different head is in fact Hammerstein but with a different head, having a giant robot referencing David Lynch films and also yelling about “Big Jobs!” is probably more of a help than a hindrance. (Note for Children of The Now: “Big jobs” was used to refer to babies going “Number Two” back in the day, back in the UK.) Clint Langley's art looks like it's all taking place inside an active bowel and so is perfectly appropriate. VERY GOOD!
You know the bit in every heist movie where the heist gets underway and it's a matter of watching the protagonists evade detection before things go wrong? This week's STRONTIUM DOG (Ezquerra/Wagner/Bowland) is that bit of the heist movie. The fun here is that instead of using specialist equipment provided by a character actor in a minor but showy role, they use their mutant abilities (stretchy arms, super strong fingers, x-ray vision, a Keegan perm, a bumpy heid, etc) and there is still time for a good joke about where one would hide the scared brain of a bizarre cult's founder. Ezquerra's art remains so flawlessy devoted to storytelling it never even hints at the effort and experience underpinning every panel. VERY GOOD!
DKIII THE MASTER RACE BOOK TWO Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller, Lynn Varley & Klaus Janson (although once again DC only identify Frank Miller as the author. Tsk. Tsk.) Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Eduardo Risso Story by Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello Lettered by Clem Robins Colours by Brad Anderson, Trish Mulvihill Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Brad Anderson, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Cliff Chiang, Eduardo Risso & Trish Mulvihill Retailer variant cover by Sean Gordon Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth, Greg Capullo & FCO Plascenia Convention Variant Cover by Jill Thompson DC Comics, $5.99 Standard/$12.99 Deluxe (2016) Batman cteated by Bill Finger & Bob Kane
If nothing else this series has proved to be a thought provoking one. The thought it has provoked in my tiny mind is exactly how bad does the writing in a comic have to get before everyone stops just waving it through? Because the writing in this comic is astoundingly poor. I've not read any other reviews because I don't accidentally want to steal anyone else's thoughts, but unless those reviews point out first and foremost how utterly craptabulous the writing is I'd hesitate to trust anything they have to say. Because, ugh. I mean, ew. Someone wrote this with a big brown crayon, allright. It's no wonder they're so keen to drag Frank Miller's name into it. It's basically the same as blaming the old dog in the corner when you fart in company. “Man, this comic is carved out of stupid!”,“Dang, must be Frank Miller's fault!”Classy behaviour, guys. You know (of course you don't, what a stupid way to start a sentence) I was in the cinema recently, and during the performance someone broke wind next to me. Now let me tell you that was one blue ribbon winner of a fart and no mistake. It was like someone had just put a Sunday dinner under my nose. You ever smell a fart that smelt like you could chew it? This was that fart. It was a heroic achievement, to which I doff my cap; respect is due to someone who can create something like that. However, before we get carried away let's remember it was still just a fart. DKIII:TMR is the comic book equivalent of that fart. It's stink is mighty. Impressively so. But it's still just a big stink.
Oh, that's a bit much, John! Really? Have you read this? Tell me, what is not cretinous about Batman's plan to make the world think he is dead? Let me just recap it for you: After an absence of three years during which the world has probably started to stop thinking about him, Batman rides his Bat-cycle into the middle of Gotham. He then proceeds to engage in a pitched battle with the Gotham PD. At some point the media notice and Batman's return is plastered across every TV screen in the world. Batman suddenly has an asthma attack and collapses. At this point it is revealed that Batman is in fact a young girl dressed as Batman, and she collapsed due to grief and exhaustion rather than a respiratory condition marked by attacks of spasm in the bronchi of the lungs. She is taken into custody and says nothing for twenty seven days, in which time the media speculate about Batman's whereabouts to its heart's content. On the twenty seventh day the girl tells a thoroughly unconvincing story about how Batman died (in bed; maudlin, bed-bound and old). Usually the police would require a body, they are funny like that. But they just take this girl's word, as you would. With Batman now ineradicably on everyone's mind it's a masterstroke of idiocy to have the young girl sprung by the sudden appearance of a massive Bat-Tank, which trashes the part of the GPD which isn't already in traction before disappearing in a thoroughly ill-defined way. Obviously, having now convinced the world of his death Batman is now free to act. Given his fantastic plan to make the world forget him, his first act will probably be to soil himself and dance the Macarena. Christ. Batman the tactical genius there.
That ridiculous horseshit takes up most of the first and second issues but there's still room in this one for Ray Palmer to say something science-y (but not too demandingly science-y) and act like a Batman level moron. Because at no point - AT NO POINT - does it occur to Ray Palmer that introducing to the planet Earth a city full of people who can fly, fire fire out of their eyes and probably fart mustard gas to boot, might be less than stellar thinking. Jean left you because you were an idiot, Ray. There might be pages of this comic which don't insult the reader's intelligence but I couldn't recall any. What about the art? People don't talk about the art! Why should I say anything about the art when the writing is this bad. The writing here is ruinously bad. But okay, Kubert as ever manages that trick of being both fussy and lazy, while in the mini-comic Eduardo Risso's deep contrast talents are wasted on something so superfluous it's barely there. But really, what matters the art when a character describes herself as Batman's “prick”? “I was his PRICK.”, she says. Nice dire-logue, Brian Azzarello! “I was his PRICK.”, she says. She says was an old man's prick. What does that even mean, Brian Azzarello? That she got him up at odd times during the night for a piss? Boom, and indeed, BOOM!
See, the real problem is that this utter drivel is soaking up attention better used on other comics. There are too many comics today, and the good ones risk getting lost in the crush. Instead of writing about Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert's futile attempt to polish the stale turds of greater talents I should have been writing about, say, MONSTRESS, STRAY BULLETS, ISLAND, EGOs, RAGNAROK and SPONGEBOB COMICS. All of which are probably struggling to survive while this bloated, brainless and thoroughly unnecessary thing flails about attracting everyone's attention. I mean, I don't need to write about this comic do I? Everyone else will already have alerted you to how fundamentally poor it is. (Won't they?) Look, my complaint isn't even that DKIII:TMR isn't a Frank Miller comic; it's that DKIII:TMR is CRAP!
NEXT TIME: On September 28th 2015 at 10:44 am “Peter” asked if I would be looking at the US attempts to “do” Judge Dredd. In 2016, he will have his answer! (SPOILER: It's “yes” and it's next up, thanks to my library.) I may be tardy but I will eventually get around to your - COMICS!!!
There was a new Batman comic out. It was an Event because Frank Miller was reportedly involved. I bought it. Frank Miller may well have been involved in actuality but, honestly, I could only detect homeopathic quantities of Frank Miller. Overall, I thought it was a pretty poor Event and only a mediocre Btaman comic. Yeah, that’s it; I thought I’d spare you having to read what follows. You can if you like, but it goes on a bit. Ooh, what a palaver! DKIII by Miller, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins
Anyway this… DK III: THE MASTER RACE BOOK ONE Based on The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley (Although in the comic DKR’s just credited to Frank Miller alone, which is a bit rich, and not something I want to encourage. Cut that shit out, DC Comics.) Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller& Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Klaus Janson Variant covers by Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Dave Gibbons & Brad Anderson, Jill Thompson Retailer Variant Covers by Dave Johnson, Sean Gordon Murphy, Lee Bermejo, Klaus Janson, Rafael Albuquerque, Jae Lee & June Chung, Eduardo Risso, Jock, Walter Simonson & Laura Martin, Ivan Reis & Marcelo Maiolo, Aaron Lopresti, Tyler Kirkham & Tomeu Morey, Brian Bolland, Paul Pope & Jose Villarubia, Gabriele Dell’Otto, John Cassady & Laura Martin, Tony Daniel & Tomeu Morey, Matt Wagner & Brennan Wagner, Michael Allred & Laura Allred, Brian Stelfreeze, Amanda Connor & Paul Mounts, Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson, Jason Fabok & Brad Anderson, Darwyn Cooke, Josh Middleton, Gary Frank & Brad Anderson, Howard Porter & Hi-Fi, Kevin Eastman & Varga Tamas, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Dorman, Greg Capullo & FCO Plascenia, Stanley “Artgerm” Lau, Marc Silvestri & Alex Sinclair, Kelley Jones, Dale Keown & Jason Keith, Neal Adams & Alex Sinclair, Simon Bisley, Tony Harris, David Finch, Scott Hanna & Brad Anderson, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, John Romita Jnr, Danny Miki & Dean White, Adam Hughes, Francis Manapul, J. Scott Campbell & Nei Ruffino, Tim Sale, Bruce Timm and Babs Tarr with John Vernon as “The Mayor” Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC COMICS, $5.99/£4.99 (Standard Ed.), $12.99/£9.99 (Deluxe Ed.) (2015)
PART THE FIRST: Oblique? C’est Chic!
On November 11th, 2015 it was reported in a number of British papers that David Cameron, the Prime Minister, had written to Oxfordshire council leader Ian Hudspeth criticising the council’s proposed cuts resulting from the austerity policies imposed by the very same Government of which David Cameron is Prime Minister. Dave was, we are told, “disappointed”. Dave’s disappointment was mostly because he is also the MP for Witney which is covered by the council. Austerity and cutbacks are okay as long as they don’t affect Dave’s constituency. So far, so Tory. Thankfully though like the great Statesman he is Dave pushed past his disappointment to offer Ian Hudspeth unsolicited assurances and advice on how to best allocate his reduced resources. Showing he is not without humour Dave tried out the old one about how in fact the Council had more money not less. Probably in “real terms” which is always a sign someone is having a laugh. Regrettably and no doubt to his eternal chagrin Ian Hudspeth had to point out the unfeasibility of Dave’s helpful suggestions and indeed also corrected a couple of erroneous underlying assumptions particularly the one about Dave’s government having given him more money; they hadn’t, they had taken some away. But my favourite of these hesitant corrections, and one which will prove pertinent to the Batman comic under discussion today, was Dave's wizard idea that council property be sold off as a solution to the funding deficit. Alas, Mr. Hudspeth had no alternative to remind Dave this wouldn’t work as they are one-off receipts, so you can’t keep selling the same buildings every year. And the moral of this story is as applicable to Prime ministers as it is to Entertainment Corporations: You can only sell the family silverware once.
PART THE SECOND: Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Pandering!
Do you remember those splash pages with a one panel inset Frank Miller did in DKSA? Andy Kubert does. Herein Wonder Woman fights a minotaur for no clear reason except this is how Frank Miller introduced his characters in DKSA – with a big splashy action set piece which had little to do with anything which followed. A lot of the book is like this – Frank Miller did something in DKR or DKSA so DKIII:TMR does it too but takes up more space, has less spark, and has no idea why it’s doing it other than Frank did it first. There’s the Gotham skyline which was used by Miller to give the city a sense of being a huge gaudy (Gaudi? Oh, I can do wordplay too!) cathedral of heat hazed sin. Here the Gotham skyline is used to show us, uh, it’s Gotham. In DKR and DKSA Miller used insets of TV screens to comment on the culture of the time, the events portrayed and also the comic itself, while also employing them to propel the narrative forward and fill in exposition in a graceful and entertaining fashion. Here the same inset TV panels are used because Frank Miller used them, and here bear as much relation to satire as does a knock-knock joke. Like most of the visual language of the book it’s been purloined from the source with no thought as to its original purpose or intent. You could imagine Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert noticing Frank Miller looks natty in a hat and buying themselves a couple only to go out wearing them on their arses. (The only people laughing would, of course, be Haters who had prejudged those hats, or fools who didn’t understand what Kubert and Azzarello were doing. Clearly.)
Then there’s the youth-speak, which in DKR was apparently contributed by Lynn Varley (and her rightly legendary colouring on DKR and DKSA is in no danger of being de-throned by the trendy lens-flare and banal gloss job of Brad Anderson) but here is by Brian Azzarello and…look, I’m inclined to leniency on this one, he has a pop. It’s not as good; it’s clumsy, ineffective and calls attention to itself more than it serves any real purpose. But, still, he has a pop. That scene also show a young POC being menaced by the cops which is so timely and relevant it’s a shame to point out the scene doesn’t go anywhere and is thus shameless attention seeking rather than any useful contribution to the debate about state sanctioned violence and institutionalised racism. I do have a sneaking suspicion that our harassed POC might turn out to be the new Robin (it won’t make the book any better but it might get some coverage; that’s what matters right? “White Man Writes Black Character in Comic Book! All Racist Violence Ends!”) Mind you, it’s reassuring to know that “The Man” is still the problem. If only we could find “The Man” and beard him in his lair! All our problems would be solved! Then we could all go down the “Disco” in our stack heels and “chat someone up”!
A similar sense of worldly awareness is indicated in the bit where Wonder Woman breast feeds her baby. In keeping with the rest of the book this takes a lot more panels than a normal human being might expect, or a writer with any self-respect would risk. Largely, I think here it takes so long to get the kid on the tit so that we all have plenty of time to get upset. Except no one has got upset. Nice try, Brian Azzarello but you failed for the same reason Matt Fraction failed with that outrage baiting issue of SATELLITE SAM which was just blow job central. Try getting out of the house a bit, guys. It’s 2015 not 1986, superstar-comic-book-writers-whose-reputations-and-influence-far-exceed-your-actual-accomplishments, and your notions of what gets people upset are a bit behind the times. Also, calling your book THE MASTER RACE isn’t “provocative” (calling it BATMAN THE DARK KNIGHT: **** ALL YOUR MOTHERS is provocative. Not wise, but provocative.) and nor is seeing Wonder Woman breast feeding. Taking a dump on Superman’s chest? Sure, that’d probably get some tongues wagging even in this fallen age, but breast feeding kids not so much. I’ve sat next to complete strangers breast feeding their kids in cafes on public streets and I managed to neither touch myself lewdly nor call the peelers. Of course we won’t be seeing Wonder Woman laying some tarmac on Superman’s chest any time soon, not in this comic anyway because Superman is having a Supersulk in his Fortress of Solitude. At first I thought he was frozen and I couldn’t understand why his naughty daughter didn’t just unfreeze him with her eye beams. At first, I admit, I was ungenerous in my response and I thought it was just shitty writing. Then I figured he was just Supersulking and the ice had frozen over him. That’s still shitty writing because it’s basically saying in order for this plot to get going we need Superman out of the way so we’ll have him sulk. Batman will turn up and shout at him and Superman will get so angry he’ll break out of his ice and…look, I’m not getting paid for this so let’s leave it to the professionals. Believe you me those dudes are getting paid for it. Otherwise it’s just fan fiction. Which this isn’t. A lot of people get confused about the difference between fan fiction and professional fiction when there’s no need to. Professional fiction is precisely the same as fan fiction it just costs $5.99, or $12.99 for the Deluxe Edition.
INTERLUDE#1: I have seen The Future of Comics And It Is Expensive!
Because, yes, this comic comes in a Deluxe Edition. For $12.99 you get precisely the same comic but at a bigger size and encased in hard covers. I kind of admire the satanic genius of this. This series alone is 8 issues and a couple of “Specials”; that’s around and about $120 dollars from each punter who signed up. Imagine if your entire line of comics were in that format. Sure, there’d be an audience drop off but at those prices you could probably absorb losses of around 70% of the comic buying public. This? This is the comics retailing equivalent of David Warner at the end of TIME BANDITS! This is Concentrated Evil! This is like the comics retailing equivalent of a first strike nuclear attack. (“We’ll lose Washington, but the Eastern seaboard should still be salvageable. Forecasts are bleak for Texas, and Mexico will fall into the sea. Predictions have Lootcrate picking up the slack when the Corn Belt goes. Mr President, those losses are acceptable to our shareholders. Let the prices soar. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”) Holy terror, wait until Marvel get wind of this. Imagine $12.99 for a single issue of a slim wisp of a Brian Bendis comic! And Marvel being Marvel they’ll probably double ship the shitters too. One day all comics will be this way. Are you ready for the world which is coming? Better start saving, kids! As for comics retailers, duck and cover mes amis, duck and bloody cover. Remember WAR GAMES: The only way to win is not to play!
PART THE THIRD: The World’s Finest Splash Page!
My main beef with this comic is it is so badly written. We don’t say we love each other enough and, more pertinently, we don’t say comics are badly written enough. Comics have never been so replete with visual wonders. The standard of art these days is off the scale and we critics find that hard to talk about, but not as hard as we do to point out the failings which are rapidly rotting the craft of writing away from within. Oh, hang on I should in all fairness point out that visually this book is hardly better than average. Andy Kubert’s art is slick but thoroughly unconvincing in terms of spatial dimensions; the size of the minotaur is hard to pin down; at one point there’s a police car parked lengthways in an alleyway which is too narrow for it; a few times Kubert channels Miller and David Mazzucchelli but somehow makes it dull; but you know, it’s slick enough stuff. A bit too slick really. You can just about tell Klaus Janson’s at work here, but you have to really squint. There’s none of that lively line flurry and sparky scribbliness which usually peps his stuff up. He’s saved all that for The Atom mini-comic. Because, yes, for some inexplicable reason halfway through the comic you come to a bit of cardboard affixed to which is a mini-comic about The Atom. I can’t believe Frank Miller wrote this mini-comic. Sure, he probably said “And then the dame, she goes and gets The Atom to make them big. Damn big. Maybe some whores are involved. Not the ones with bruised vaginal walls and PTSD. Fun ones. Fun whores. Big damn fun whores.” But the execution has Azzarello’s tin ear and indecent love of decompression smeared all over it like Deep Heat on an old man’s back. Actually, that’s’ unfair. Decompression is a legitimate narrative technique, this is just pissing about. Brian Azzarello doesn’t use decompression, that legitimises what he does; it plays right into his money filled hands. It’s pissing about. At one point a door opens and we get this:
That’s a full page splash that is. It’s then followed on the page turn by this:
This comic takes ONE AND A HALF splash pages to depict a door opening. Decompression, my pile ridden arse. Sort yourself out Azzarello, you’re a disgrace, man.
Frank Miller definitely drew some of this mini-comic, but mostly, I’d say, it’s Klaus Janson. Which is okay; Janson never gets enough credit for all the weight he carried at the tail end of Miller’s DAREDEVIL run. I like Klaus Janson and it’s nice to see him here, tidying up Frank in his dotage. Dabbing the egg from his chin, artistically speaking. The best bit of the minicomic, the whole comic even, is the cover which is drawn by Frank Miller and features a Superman who’s all creased up like a pug dog’s scrotum. I liked it, but then I like Frank Miller’s art. I’m not shuck, I know he has got old and I think something has undoubtedly taken its toll; both you and I know his line isn’t as sure as it was and there’s just something off about it. It’s a frailer Frank, but it’s still Frank. I guess crumpled-up-and-badly-flattened-out Superman won’t be to everyone’s taste, what with the outline of “Lil Kal-El” (his Superwinklestick!) clearly visible to boot, but, you know, it’s what Frank’s doing now, so I like it because I like to know what Frank’s up to. Shit, I’m just glad he’s still drawing breath never mind drawing Superman. It’s a wrap-around drawing so the back of it is stuck to the cardboard thus providing a physical manifestation for the respect with which the big Two treat the art of even the giants of the industry.
PART THE FOURTH: The Ernest Hemingway Memorial Award for Clarity and Economy of Prose 2015
So, yeah, I was starting to go on about the writing and then I went on about the art. I’m not going to spend much time on this bit because it’s depressing how badly written this comic is. And, yes, people can pretend Frank Miller wrote it but he didn’t, Brian Azzarello did. You can tell because all the flaws are Brian Azzarello’s characteristic flaws. You can also tell Frank Miller didn’t write this comic because Wonder Woman rescues a bunch of stereotypical natives straight out of a 1920s Tarzan serial and no one flinches. Look, if anyone thought for one hot second that Frank Miller had written a scene in which a bunch of POCs in loin cloths with stuff stuck through their noses ran about in big eyed fear, you best believe there’d have been a right ruckus. Oh, I’m sure these natives are well researched and based on currently existent tribes but that’s not really my point. My point is that this comic is badly written and not by Frank Miller, so let’s gets back to that point.
On page 9 we have this:
“They’re afraid. And they will be, until they are what they ARE most afraid of…Dead.”
Now, I don’t know, there might be a way to make that more convoluted and unpleasant to parse but I’m happy to die unaware of it.
On page 15 we’ve got Wonder Woman describing her stroll as “Wonderfully PEDESTRIAN”.
Do you need me to walk (heh!) you through that one? She is saying her walk was both dull and something she did with her feet. It’s funny, see, because she had a fight with a minotaur which is very far from pedestrian and it was, indeed, actually something she did with her feet! O! My aching ribs.
On the first page of The Atom mini-comic we have:
“When Jean divorced me, a fundamental scientific tenet I’d clung to—since being a mind-blown grade schooler hearing it for the FIRST TIME—was DEBUNKED. Everything—from Stephen Hawking’s BRAIN to a molten flash of goo bubbling at the Earth’s core—shared an undeniable COMMONALITY—That being, every damn atom in the UNIVERSE, was made from the SAME basic matter. Well, Having my HEART BROKEN meant NOTHING mattered.”
Sorry, Ray, I nodded off there. Jean left you? You don’t say, Ray! Why? Why would she do that? Why, you are such an interesting fellow what with your oh-so-convincing and not at all crude and excessive shoehorning in of shallow science-isms (fundamental, tenet, debunked, Stephen Hawking, molten, core, commonality, matter, universe, jism) and your pulse quickening randomly EMPHASISED speech patterns. Stephen Hawking’s BRAIN, you say! Golly, Ray, and yet you say JEAN left you? I bet the winter nights just flew BY for you two. An undeniable COMMONALITY, yet! C’mon, Ray, NO tears. It’s Jean’s loss, Ray. Honest. Here let’s make a VOLCANO with some Diet Coke and some MENTOS! SCIENCE, Ray! SCIENCE! Cry into the science, Ray! Science Won’t LEAVE you, Ray! Cry into the SCIENCE!
Seriously the whole things like this. Any chance which arises for characterisation is rudely shouldered out of the way so that Azzarello can parade another of his fundamentally empty linguistic pirouettes, which impress no one more than himself. Dreadful, dreadful, self-indulgent stuff. Personally I pick as the utter nadir of this approach what came on p.10 when Wonder Woman’s brain emitted this tripe:
“How many times have we saved them? A hundred? A HUNDRED hundred? Though the math may elude…the SENTIMENT does not.”
Rushing past the weird innumeracy of “a HUNDRED hundred” we get “…the math may elude…” Seriously? I was under the impression Wonder Woman was a kick-ass feminist Amazon breaking faces in the name of Peace and Love not some Elizabethan dandy-man.
There’s barely enough plot in this comic for half a comic, and then to dollop on top all this obnoxious showboating results in a not terribly well-written comic. That's a pretty basic mistake to make.
INTERLUDE #2: Exclusive Extract from Frank Miller’s John Ford’s “’TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE”!
Scene: The interior of YE OLDE COMIC EXPERIENCE. Scrolls and leather bound volumes festoon the sturdy shelving. A bear of a man (BRIAN A HIBBS) hunkers behind the counter tapping at an abacus, his florid and hirsute face cauliflowered in concentration. A small brass bell tinkles as the stout door opens inward and tumbling into the shop, resplendent in doublet and hose, cassock aswirl, is the slighter but no less furry figure of JEFF OF LESTER.
JEFF OF LESTER: “Privvy, Sirrah, hast thine crusty experience and tender mentals allowed thee to ably scry the quantities required for the 1:200 Jim Lee “Static and Over Rendered Variant”? Pray tell, lest FOC pass ne’er to return! Pray tarry not and fly thine answer on wings fleeter than Hermes!!”
BRIAN A HIBBS: “Hey nonny ho, a ho nonny hey! Nay, sweet Jeff. And ‘tis to fear I shall ne’er do such. FOR MAY THE DEVIL TAKE ME FOR A PAPIST, THE MATH DOTH ELUDE!
PART THE FIFTH: Concluding Remarks
Basically I think I disliked this comic because whatever the faults of DKR and DKSA (of which there are none, clearly, but let’s pretend) they were both at core genuine expressions of a remarkable artistic vision. The DK books were Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s books. I bought them because I wanted to know what Frank Miller & Lynn Varley were up to now. I didn’t buy them just for fucking Batman. There’s plenty of fucking Batman comics as it is, but there aren’t a lot of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley Batman comics. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is more fucking Batman comics. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is a largely inept but still not entirely unentertaining Batman comic set in the Millerverse. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is an unthreatening remix; a toothless rehash of familiar elements which speaks to an ultimately condescending view of the comic book audience and embodies a complacency the source texts actively kicked against. If DC had sold this book as an Azzarello and Kubert book set in the Millerverse I’d have been a lot more indulgent, I think. All its flaws are their usual flaws after all. But DKIII:TMR’s biggest flaw is to pretend it is Frank Miller when it is patently not.
…there is an easily sated part of me that doesn’t mind this comic for all its flaws (which are not small – characterisation, ostentatiously awful wordplay, sluggish pacing and a fatally mistaken sense of self-satisfaction shining up from every adequate page) because I don’t expect a great deal from a Batman comic, but there’s also a part of me that despairs that something so flawed (and they are not small flaws– characterisation, ostentatiously awful wordplay, sluggish pacing and a fatally mistaken sense of self-satisfaction shining up from every adequate page) can be treated as an Event. That what is basically a fan fiction pandering remix can be met with such acclaim. Cue STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS joke. DKIII:TMR as a comic is EH! As an Event it is CRAP!
And that’s it for 2015!
Thanks for all the magic, and I’ll see you in 2016 at some point when, in all likelihood, I’ll be writing about – COMICS!!!
Yeah, so I'm not getting it together at all over here. Sorry. Let's just leave it as I'll be back in the New Year then we all know where we are. But wait! No one leaves empty handed! So until we next meet let me gift you with the pathetic results of what happens when an old man messes with Paint. Yes! Please be seated and feast your eyes upon a tribute to DKIII: The Childishly Trollingly Fascistic Title, with particular emphasis upon the rocket ship pacing and Shakespearean word play of Brian Azzarello and, naturally, the visually scintillating fireworks of Andy Kubert.
I sincerely thank each and everyone one of you for your patience, attention and forbearance during 2015 and I hope to see you all in 2016. Have a great Holiday Season!
All artwork by Andy Kubert & Klaus Janson.
Merry Christmas! See you in 2016 for – COMICS!!!
Well what with all the IT hilarity I don't know whether this will be here tomorrow but let's live for today and look at some Batman comics. That's what they mean, right, when they say live each day like there's no tomorrow, right? They mean read some Batman comics. I mean if people seriously lived life for the moment then there'd be no societal infrastructure and stuff would just never get done; you know what folk are like they would be be looting, murdering and rutting like dogs in the street. It'd be like a prison riot but the whole world would be the prison. Now I think about it, Live each day like there's no tomorrow is some pretty shitty advice. Um, it's very hot here today. Look...it's BATMAN! Well, Damian Son of Batman anyway. By Kubert, Anderson & Napolitano
Anyway, this... DAMIAN SON OF BATMAN #2, 3 & 4 Art by Andy Kubert Written by Andy Kubert Coloured by Brad Anderson Lettered by Nick Napolitano Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger DC Comics $3.99 each (2014)
Due to the vagaries of my comics receipt system I only read three out of the four issues of this series so maybe the first issue totally set up some kind of scenario justifying what appeared to be a beautifully illustrated mish-mash of dream lucidity and bestial sadism. I quite liked the childish story logic; at one point Alfred keels over and dies and his spirit starts talking through the Batcave cat (Nanananananananana…Batcat!) without any explanation whatsoever. Damian Son of Batman is a flexible sort and takes this in his stride, being thereafter advised and supported by a talking cat hosting the spirit of Alfred Pennyworth; clearly a thing of great awesomeness.
A thing of considerably somewhat less awesomeness is the brutality of the book. This reaches a crescendo of idiocy when Damian Son of Batman goes to rescue Batman (Nanananananananana…Batdad!) from a Faux- Joker (Real Joker we are told being permanently indisposed) and Damian Son of Batman gets a tight grip on Faux-Joker’s sternum and pops him open like a big old taco filled with man guts. That splashy bit of magic is in service to what I guess is the point of the series: even under the greatest of duress Damian Son of Batman surprises himself and won’t cross that line (you know; That Line) and kill. This is slightly undermined by the fact that even a medical cretin like myself knows that Faux-Joker will die of shock or bleed out in about ten minutes. Luckily Real Joker (permanency not being what it was these days; this series truly makes no sense) shows up to shoot Faux-Joker in the head before this happens. Tah-dah! No Blood on Damian Son of Batman’s gloves. Totally not his fault. That’s some weaselly shit right there, folks! Yeah, I know that in the Golden Age Batman routinely used to saw people’s legs off and kick them around like a screaming football in front of an orphanage while giggling like a naughty schoolgirl, and yet I remain steadfast in my belief that asking why Batman doesn’t kill says more about the questioner than it does about any imaginary paper vigilante. But I guess I can see why people might wonder because I’m not sure if anyone knows what the point of Batman is anymore.
At the end of this comic a family are threatened at gunpoint and Batman saves them. Usually that’d be it but not here; here Batman only saves them after the mother has been shot in the head (in front of her kids; oh yeah, comics!). What? Yes men get killed but that's different (they're men). So, y’know, Batman saves some of them and the rest are doomed to a future of coping and trauma (but we don’t see that bit, that bit would be realistic but it’s not sexy like seeing a mother slaughtered in front of her children like she’s cattle is; that’s sexy time right there. Mothers shot in the head?; did it just get hot in here or is it me? I only came to read the meter! MiaoooW! Christ, put that thing away, I was being sarcastic. What the Hell is wrong with you people out there?) I guess that happens because it’d be unrealistic (childish, even) to expect Batman to save everyone. Realism of course being the core component of a series about a rich lunatic dressed as a bat solving problems with violence.
Seriously, the writing just shanks this whole thing so very, very badly and I was, I honestly was, predisposed to like this Why? Because Batman! A Kubert! Self-contained series! And because visually this series was right up my (crime) alley being a totally, outrageously opulent parade of images the sumptuousness of which distracted from any panel to panel failings or any slight suspicion that the detail sought to mask some basic structural problems. Even the colouring here is just crazy-good with subtle layering effects giving things almost an extra dimension and just a lovely, textured, pastelly finish to everything. It’s even printed on paper like they had back when you could hold open doors without being spat at. Paper! The kind of paper that if you pissed on it would absorb the piss rather than the piss just bouncing off and back at you like it
does might with that chemical shit most comics are printed on. That stuff’s paper like hot dogs are meat. I’m hiding it well so only my nearest and dearest could tell but I’ll come clean: the mix of the silly but fizzy verve of a Bob Haney and the thuggishly humourless carnage just fell flat for me. Like uncooked ground beef drizzled with Maple Syrup the combination of elements in Damian Son Of Batman was just a bad idea all round and was AWFUL!
It's a post about comics! Is it early? Is it late? Time is in flux!Only if one man can face his Pull List can The Balance be restored!
ACTION COMICS #6 “When Superman Learned To Fly” by By Andy Kubert/John Dell(a), Grant Morrison(w), Brad Anderson(c) and Patrick Brosseau(l) and “Last Day” by Chriscross(a), Sholly Fish(w), Jose Vallarubia(c) and Carlos M. Mangual(l) (DC Comics, $3.99) Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
I like that stuff in my comics but I'm not unaware that in real life that kind of thinking gets you killed.
While there could be said to be many faults with the lead story in this issue such as an apparent attempt to distract from a lack of clarity (or indeed even sense) with a belligerently unslackening pace and art that once again belies Andy Kubert's alleged superstar status it remains a fact that in this story Superman's enemies conduct an auction for Kryptonite within Superman's own brain (physically, literally within Superman's own brain) and Superman uses his own Kryptonite poisoned body as a battery to save his both his own sentient ship and the day entire. Yes, Superman's enemies conduct an auction for Kryptonite within Superman's own brain (physically, literally within Superman's own brain) and Superman uses his own Kryptonite poisoned body as a battery to save his both his own sentient ship and the day entire. That's Superman comics enough for me!
The backup is the kind of sweet and tender emotional snapshot of a transitional moment in life that anyone under forty will treat as though it were sentient dog-muck hellbent on French kissing them; that's okay because I enjoyed it enough for y'all! Yup, ACTION COMICS was GOOD!
STATUS: REMAINS ON THE LIST!
ALL-STAR WESTERN #6 “Beneath The Bat-Cave” by Moritat(a), Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti(w), Gabriel Bautista(c) and Rob Leigh(l) and “The Barbary Ghost Part 3” by Phil Winslade(a), Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti(w), Dominic Regan(c) and Rob Leigh(l) (DC Comics, $3.99) Jonah Hex created by John Albano and Tony Dezuniga. The Barbary Ghost created by Gray, Palmiotti and Winslade
Kids! How many owls can you spot!
Thank the Great Spirit! Next issue ol' bacon face is off to N'Orleans! where there will no doubt be "gumbo" galore but at least there won't be anymore shoehorning of Batman references into a book that doesn't need them. A cave beneath Wayne Manor! Filled with Bats! This cretinous continuity reached a kind of hilarious nadir with the sudden slew of references to Owls: because Batman is currently encountering stress of a strigiform stripe by all accounts in the here and now! So we get about two pages in which the characters can barely move around the mansion setting for all the owls dangling, roosting, flopping and just plain flailing around the place. It's as though Moritat has snapped and gone "You want owls? Here! Here are your owls! Got enough owls yet? I don't think so! Owls! Here! Now! In your face! All! Owls! Touch them! Touch my owls! Tell me they're pretty! Owls!" and then gone for a long lie down. Stupid owls. Anyway I'm a little bit partial to Jonah so it was still OKAY!
STATUS: REMAINS ON THE LIST!
ANIMAL MAN #6 “Tights” by Jean Paul Leon & Travel Foreman/Jeff Huett(a), Jeff Lemire(w), Lovern Kindzierski(c) and Jared K. Fletcher(l) (DC Comics,$2.99) Animal Man created by Dave Wood and Carmine Infantino
Movie Cliche #23415678: Sad Dad at fridge with beer and photo of son. Collect the set!
Tricky one this. Has Jeff Lemire done a pitch-perfect satire of the vapid screenwriting cliches that have run roughshod over comics beautiful storytelling devices or does he actually believe this is a decent film script made comics? It's hard to tell isn't it. Heck, I don't know maybe you thought it was awesome? Luckily it's easy to tell that Jean Paul Leon is an awesome artist and hopefully one day he will draw comics as awesome as WINTER MEN again. This issue is a complete waste of time and is clearly a fill-in so next issue we should be back to Travel Foreman and his nightmarish body horror.
After I read the previous issue I fell into a light doze and dreamt about a man in a chair. I was holding the man in the chair via the power of some unknown threat. The man was crying and peeling his own skin off his own face with a small knife. I was then forcing him to eat it via the unspoken promise that if he did as I asked he could go free. The fact that the man was eating his own face was terrible but the worst thing was that we both knew I was lying and he wasn't leaving alive. But he had no choice but to do as I asked because that was his only hope. Yes, it's been a trying few months. They say there's nothing as boring as listening to someone else's dreams but they forgot about reading film scripts masquerading as comics which is so boring such comics are EH!
STATUS: REMAINS ON THE LIST (BUT WATCH IT)!
BATWOMAN#6 “To Drown The World - Part One” by Amy Reeder/Rob Hunter/Richard Friend(a) J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman(w), Guy Major(c) and Todd Klein(l) (DC Comics,$2.99) Batwoman created by Bob Kane and Sheldon Moldoff (modern version by Greg Rucka and Alex Ross).
"Given the state of your medical insurance talking's about all you can afford so knock yourself out is my advice."
Wuh-hoof! That's certainly a change in artist alright. I'll stick it out for a bit because I always like people to get a fair shake of the critic stick. Initially I'm not finding myself a fan of Reeder's thin line but I appreciate her attempts to step up her layouts. Given the writing is competent at best (actually that's a compliment in today's world o'comics) Reeder's got it all on her to raise this one up from EH!
STATUS: REMAINS ON THE LIST (FOR NOW!)
DAREDEVIL #9 By Paolo Rivera/Joe Rivera(a), Mark Waid(w), Javier Rodriguez(c) and VC’s Joe Caramagna(c) (Marvel Comics, $2.99) Daredevil created by Bill Everett and Stan Lee.
Storytelling in 'Not Dead' shock!
Unless Howard Victor Chaykin has been reactivated without my knowledge I guess this is the only Marvel comic I'm buying. That doesn't seem right, I'll have to check. Anyway, I'm buying this because Mark Waid understands that the bit with the boot is funnier and cleverer because it only takes up one panel. It's because Rivera Jnr and Snr make all kinds of spooky magic happen on these pages. It's because together the team on the book achieve the kind of synergy that results in the storytelling stuff from which the above image is but a sample. Yup, DAREDEVIL is a purchase because it is VERY GOOD!
(Hey, I hear Chris Samnee is coming aboard! I told you all I'd wait for him!)
STATUS: REMAINS ON THE LIST!
DEMON KNIGHTS #6 “The Balance” by Diogenes Neves & Robson Rocha with Oclair Albert(a), Paul Cornell(w), Marcelo Maiolo(c) and Jared K. Fletcher(l)(DC Comics, $2.99) The Demon created by Jack Kirby. Shining Knight originally created by Creig Flessel (modern incarnation created by Simone Bianchi and Grant Morrison). Vandal Savage created by Alfred Bester and Martin Nodell. Madame Xanadu created by Michael William Kaluta.
His reply is actually quite funny but I'm still baling.
Nah. I'm done. It just didn't work for me. Which is a shame as it wasn't terrible as such it just never gelled. Way too diffuse and lacking in focus both from a scripting and art standpoint. I mean, how big was this village, where was everything in relation to everything else? But like I say it wasn't terrible and I wish all involved well and hope the book works out further down the line but there are plenty of books I can read that aren't EH! And that's where my money's got to go. It's the Law of The Direct Market; savage and unrestrained!
STATUS: OFF THE LIST!
FATALE Number Two By Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Dave Stewart (Image Comics, $3.50) Fatale created by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.
...probably because for some odd reason she's drawn to look about 8 years old and acts as subtly as a silent movie siren?
People tend to refer to books by this team as "Brubaker" books don't they? Which is odd as I find Brubaker to be the least of the appeal they hold. I guess it's that whole Cult of The Writer thing or something. Hey now, hang on, I'm not saying Brubaker isn't good. He's got craft/technique/skill/whatever we're calling it now in spades it's just the result is, for me, mostly solid rather than inspired. Except when he gets Meta which is when the wheels start wobbling like they're about to pitch a fit (remember INCOGNITO where working in an office was "like" doing Indie comics but taking to the streets and letting your inner nature run wild was "like" working in the mainstream? Really? Um.). On the whole though I get well crafted genre staples served up with a slight twist but the real pleasure I get from this team's comics is in the form of Phillips and Stewart in conjunction with Brubaker. I'm not going to just roll around showing my belly because it hasn't got capes'n'tights in it, okay?
Here, I guess the High Concept (sigh) is Crime and Horror - together! Like Hope and Cosby! Like Morecambe and Wise! Which is fine because,hey, I like both. I'm not sure they belong smushed together though except as one of those novelty type deals. Y'know, all those Steve Niles things Steve Niles does. I guess Crime fiction tells us about the worst in ourselves and so does Horror fiction; they just use different tools. Using both sets just seems like doubling up and risking the results seeming lesser. Early days though, I mean, look at what porting Horror tropes into Crime did for James Ellroy ($$$$ is what it did, kids. Woof! Woof!). I don't think we're looking at an Ellroy here but we may be looking at an Angel Heart. And that's fine. I got a thing about chickens, Mr. Cyphre; as in I don't like to count them too soon but this one looks GOOD! so far.
STATUS: REMAINS ON THE LIST!
FRANKENSTEIN: AGENT of S.H.A.D.E. #6 “The Siege of S.H.A.D.E. City – Part One” by Alberto Ponticelli(a), Jeff Lemire(w), Jose Villarrubia(c) and Travis Lanham(l) (DC Comics, $2.99) Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E created by Doug Mahnke and Grant Morrison (and Mary Shelley).
I am always happy to see the word "buffoons"!
There's a bit in this issue that is pretty much a stealth WATCHMEN (by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins) reference. It's the scene in the 'Nam bar between The Comedian and Doc Manhattan but here with Franky and a red, bald dude who is, basically, Dr. Manhattan and without any pregnant woman shooting or face glassing. That is to say without any of the actual important or troubling content. I'd call that an Omen were I of a credulous nature. Otherwise it's yet another issue of Hellboy in the DCU and which is Okefenokee by me!
STATUS: REMAINS ON THE LIST!
JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK#4 and #5 “In The Dark - Part Four and Finale” by Mikel Janin(a), Peter Milligan(w), Ulises Arreola(c) and Rob Leigh(l) (DC Comics, $2.99ea) John Constantine created by Alan Moore, John Totleben, Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette. Madame Xanadu created by Michael William Kaluta. Deadman created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino. Shade, The Changing Man created by Steve Ditko. Zatanna created by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. Enchantress created by Bob Haney and Howard Purcell. Dove created by Steve Ditko. Mindwarp created by Peter Milligan.
Stealth WATCHMEN reference#2. We get it, DC! You WIN!
I haven't enjoyed this. It's all been a bit like warmed-over '90s Milligan with stuff like "In Nebraska The Pokemon come alive and the screams of the bread-cakes dance like glass-kneed OAPs." Okay, not as warmed-over '90s Milligan as that DEFENDERS#1 preview perhaps but still not terribly inspired. I mean the sheer scale of events would suggest the body count is in the hundreds of thousands not to mention the country-wide trauma involved but there's no sense of any consequences.
No, I didn't like it. I did, however, enjoy Milligan's skeevy interpretation of Deadman. I would totally read a Peter Milligan Deadman series in which Deadman acted like one of those fantastic men who pressure their missus into all kinds of sexual situations that the missus clearly isn't all that into and it's all just about the guy exerting power over her so that's she's eventually roiling around in moral squalor with only the "fact" that he loves her to keep her sane. At which point the hilarious rogue tells her she's a sl*t and leaves her to fall to pieces while he starts the whole cycle with some other vulnerable woman. I think a comic like that would bring in new readers. Sh*theads mostly, but hey, sales are down! We can't afford to be be proud anymore! Despite creepy Deadman JLA: DARK was EH!
O.M.A.C. #5 and #6 “Occasionally Monsters Accidentally Crossover” By Keith Giffen/Scott Koblish(a), Dan Didio, Jeff lemire & Keith Giffen(w), Hi-Fi(c) and Travis Lanham(l) “One More Amorous Conflict” By Scott Kolins/Scott Koblish(a), Dan Didio & Keith Giffen(w), Hi-Fi(c) and Travis Lanham(l) (DC Comics, $2.99ea) O.M.A.C. created by Jack Kirby.
It's the hot dog that makes it great!
In #5 O.M.A.C. and Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E have a great big slobberknocker which entertains and amuses me on a base level which I have no shame in gratifying since I am okay with comics just being goofy, colourful fun. With #6 I realise that the main reason I like O.M.A.C is because of Keith Giffen's art because with #6 the artwork is by Scott Kolins and the only memorable thing about the issue is the fact that Leilani's breasts are pancaked in the same manner that Caroline Munro's were in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Yes, I realise that reflects badly on me as a human being but, honestly, what reflects badly on us as a society is the fact that we have fallen so low so fast that when you read The Golden Voyage of Sinbad you automatically assumed I was talking about a p*rn film rather than a children's fantasy film from the '7os. So, um, anyway O.M.A.C was GOOD!
STATUS: REMAINS ON THE LIST!
PUNISHERMAX#22 “War’s End” By Steve Dillon(a), Jason Aaron(w), Matt Hollingsworth(c) and VC’s Cory Pettit(l) (MAX/Marvel Comics, $3.99) The Punisher created by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru and John Romita Snr.
"Now that we've solved the Energy Crisis! Who's up for a brewski!"
PUNISHERMAX#22 may just be the most subversive comic I read this year. Oh, not because of the ending because...really, Jason Aaron? Really? That's your ending? We can solve all societies problems by just rising up and killing the sh*t out of other folks? Really? Heck, maybe we just need a strong leader as well? Fancy your chances do you, Jason Aaron? What a crappy ending. Mind you, I live in a country where we only arm The Police, The Army and farmers. What? No, I don't know why we arm farmers, maybe because of all the lions? Or maybe they keep being carried off by subsidies in the night. Stop getting distracted by details. So, okay, maybe that ending is a bit more reasonable over there in The Americas. If it is, I will pray for you all. Christ, that irresponsible ending.
No, PUNISHERMAX #22 may just be the most subversive comic I have read all year because of the scene involving Elektra. Elektra is at the Hand headquarters after a savage battle with Frank. Elektra has served The Hand well for many years but now Elektra needs help from The Hand. Specifically medical help. But I guess The Hand doesn't have Health Insurance for its employees and since Elektra is no longer of any use to them they have no qualms in cutting her loose in the most final of ways. Despite knowing full well the conditions of her employment Elektra is still surprised and dismayed at this turn of events. But she should have expected it, really, because that's what you get for working for Marv..I mean The Hand. Say, is something bothering you, Jason Aaron? Stuff on your mind?
Oh, PUNISHERMAX was entertaining enough and the fact that I could never reconcile the interesting parts with the witless parts of it actually made it more interesting and brought the whole thing up to GOOD!
STATUS: Cancelled or Came To A Natural End When The Author Had Told The One Frank Castle Story He Felt He Was Born To Write. (Oh, yeah!)
RASL #13 By Jeff Smith (a/w/l) (Cartoon Books, $3.50) RASL created by Jeff Smith.
There's a couple of reasons I really like RASL. There used to be pretty much just one reason; that although none of the individual elements actually seemed unique in and of themselves they were combined in such a way as to present a story notable for its novelty and also the freshness of its presentation. There are many scenes in RASL which you have seen in other stories but this is not a problem with RASL because it isn't really a problem at all unless it is a problem with all stories. It is a problem with some stories because they will just go for the default setting of said scene; the one that's floating closest to the surface of the popular imagination due to repetition and exposure via Hollywood blockbusters for example.
Look at the Avengers Vs. X-Men preview and ask yourself whether the life sappingly tedious familiarity of every scene is intentional and while you have your own attention ask also how many pages until The President says "And may God have Mercy on us all." It's all about familiarity, oh yes, I am aware it's all pitifully legitimised by claims of "homage" but that's cockrot, it's all about familiarity; giving people what they already know they like. Of course eventually familiarity forgets to put its rubber on and breeds something; contempt. Not in the case of RASL though. RASL keeps me on my toes, RASL demands something from me - attention. In return it rewards me with quality entertainment. That seems fair enough to me.
The other, more recent, reason for liking RASL is that unless Jeff Smith has some kind of catastrophic breakdown involving his identity he won't be suing himself anytime soon. Yup, RASL is VERY GOOD!
STATUS: REMAINS ON THE LIST!
STATIC SHOCK #5 and #6 “True Natures” and “Unrepentant” by Scott McDaniel/Andy Owens(a), Scott McDaniel(w), Travis Lanham & Dezi Sienty(l) and Guy Major(c) (DC Comics, $2.99ea) Static created by Dwayne McDuffie and Jean Paul Leon.
A DC writer on The Internet: Yesterday.
Well, that was certainly a stinker of a thing. I have no problem with Scott McDaniel's art by the way. Sometimes it lacks clarity but I respond well to the boldness of his line and the chunkiness of his figures. I find it quite pleasing on the whole. His writing has, however, been less than stellar. It's hard to know what to say about this disaster really except if you employ someone to write - let them write and let the artist take care of the pictures. It isn't like there's no room for synergy; the two can be responsible for both of those separate aspects but combine them when it comes to the storytelling. It's a collaborative medium, so I've heard. A mess like this just makes me sad. I'm not very savage at all because it dismays me to say STATIC SHOCK was AWFUL!
SWAMP THING#6 “The Black Queen” by Marco Rudy(a), Scott Snyder(w), Val Staples & lee Loughridge(c) and Travis Lanham(l) (DC Comics, $2.99) Swamp Thing created by Len Wein and Berni Wrightson.
This is horrible in all the wrong ways. It's nice having little shout outs to Dick Durock and Len Wein and my Nana Alice and all but, hey, where's the...well, where's anything? Splash page after splash page of nigh-contextless horror does not a narrative make. Seriously, I need to know what's going on on those pages if it's going to freak me out. Marco Rudy's art works hard to evoke the scabby nastiness of the Bissette, Veitch, Totleben years but what is going on? Something to do with rot, something to do with flesh. I'm sympathetic to the notion that specificity kills horror dead on the page but y'know I need some clue or it's just...stuff. And stuff isn't specific enough to be scary. And... The Parliament of Trees? Apparently you just walk up to them with a box of matches and, hey, game over Parliament of Trees. That's...stupid. Worst of all this turns out have just been one of those crappy origins that take six issues. Sure they could wrong foot us at the last and Abby could adopt the mantle but...it still took six issues. Six not very good issues. So yeah, SWAMP THING is EH! Moley, I just checked and it's six issues and counting to the origin, that doesn't help at all.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #3 “A Godawful Small Affair” by Wes Craig & Walter Simonson/Bob Wiacek(a), Nick Spencer(w), Hi Fi & Lee Loughridge(c) and Jared K. Fletcher (l) (DC Comics, $2.99) T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents created by Wallace (“Woody” not “Wally”) Wood and Len Brown.
STATUS: STICKING IT OUT FOR THE LAST THREE ISSUES!
So yeah, hope that was okay. If you disagree with any of it that's fine just let me know and we can throw it around like a pack of terriers with a rat. If you thought it was all totally spot-on then, Hi, Mom! Whatever happens those were my comics and that's what I thought.
Have a good week and remember to read some COMICS!
The Pact still holds! Another week in 2012, another episode of Wait, What?
We are still experimenting with the done-in-one podcast (although many of you have used our comments thread to weigh in and say you like multiple eps. because it gave you something to look forward to...which I was worried might be the case but nobody articulated it before the change-up). I'm thinking I might get us back to two installments (or more) per ep. because something about it reminds me of the way Marvel U.K. used to chop up stories from U.S. Marvel comics and that sorta fits Graeme and I, in a way.
But, uh, it may be a while because there's something nice about only recording one intro, mixing one episode, etc., etc. So here is all two and half hours of Wait, What? Ep. 70, with the dauntless Graeme McMillan and the all-too-full-of-daunts me talking getting hacked, dreams about comics, Brubaker and Philips' Fatale, the Elseworlds 80 page giant, Chuck Dixon's G.I. Joe comic for IDW and Seal Team Six, Defenders #2, Action Comics #5, OMAC #5, Uncanny X-Men #4, New Teen Titans, Downton Abbey, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Avengers Annual, Freak Angels, Mud Man, Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation and King Cat Comics #72 by John Porcellino (the star of the short embedded above).
Sensible souls surely spotted said spirited show (on iTunes), but for hearty heroes hoping to hear happenings here (hear, hear!):
As always, we appreciate your patronage and thank you for listening!
For pretty obvious reasons we don't celebrate Independence Day over here but you guys sure seem to. Just to show you that there are no hard feelings I read some nationalistic comics and wrote some words about them for y'all. Be nice if you picked up the phone sometime, America. I know you moved out but we still worry about you. Anyway it’s into the fray while the walls ran red, white and blue around me in a patriotic spray:
CAPTAIN AMERICA 70th ANNIVERSARY MAGAZINE: This is a magazine sized doohickey that’s big and floppy like my English teeth, the contents of which provoked the following responses which I am going to share with you despite your flagrant disinterest but it’s either this or I go spend some time with my family. And they don’t like it when I do that. So…
CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1 (1941).
“Meet Captain America” by Joe Simon/JACK KIRBY(w) and (a)
America may be praying for peace but she's also preparing for war! In dark days like these every man and woman will be called upon to do their bit and Steve Rogers is about to find out he's going to be able to do more than most! It all starts here, Effendi!
Yes, this is the savage and mental solid Gold classic that started it all! Like most Golden Age comics reading it is like having your mind hijacked by the hallucinatory visions of an angry man who has drunk too much cough syrup. It’s rough and tumble stuff, obviously taking most of its storytelling cues from the still novel phenomenon of the cinema. If we take the birth of super comics to be June 1938 (Action Comics#1) this places Simon & Kirby’s creation at roughly the third year of the genre’s existence and so it’s unsurprising that this is pretty much like any other comic of the period but there’s clearly something special going on here as 70 years later someone’s spent the GDP of Ireland bringing the character to the very silver screen which so obviously inspired his creators: Joe Simon & JACK KIRBY. Oh, yeah, it’s: EXCELLENT!
“Captain America’s Tales of Suspense”: Being one of those text pieces I can’t actually wade through that are all like: “…But in issue 160 Cap almost met his match in the form of Terry “Eggs” Benedict who, when subjected to a concerted burst of ennui, became The Unsteady Hand Dangler. Jack Kirby left the day after. Pay no attention to that last sentence. There is no deeper meaning. There never was a Jack Kirby. We certainly don’t owe him or his heirs any money. We have lawyers. People disappear all the time. With issue 161 Cap found romance in the form of a peach from another dimension…” Some people like that sort of thing.
AVENGERS (Vol.1) #4 (1964)
“Captain America Joins The Avengers!” by Stan Lee/JACK KIRBY(w), JACK KIRBY/George Roussos(a) and Artie Simek(l)
Freshly thrust from his frozen tomb Captain America is bucking for a ruckus! The strange and swinging new world into which he has been chucked is only too happy to provide! Bonus: Namor’s oddly sexual noggin!
Sure, everyone remembers the tale of Cap’s astonishingly unbelievable resurrection but few people remember the same tale’s revelation that the gorgon of myth and legend was in fact a dressing gown sporting sentient stick of celery from beyond the stars. Funny that. It’s a pretty rocky ride from the modern perspective but on the plus side more happens in its pages than 96 years of NEW AVENGERS and the characters don’t all talk like secure unit patients.
My favourite panel this time through, for I and this tale are friends of old, was on page 10 on the top right. Steve Rogers sits on his hotel bed removing his boots while staring raptly at the TV and uttering: “I wonder if the youngsters of today, who’ve grown up with it, realise what a truly wonderful thing television is…” Judging by the state of the Marvel Architects output I think you can rest assured, Cap, that that is entirely the case. If TVs were made of meat it’s hard not to believe certain people wouldn’t be humping theirs as we speak. Let your mind rest easy on that score, Cap.
At this point JACK KIRBY is pretty much the master of every comic technique existent. He has been at it so long he is growing staples in his midriff but he isn’t about to rest though, no, he’s about to start pushing the form into whole new areas of hyperbolic bombast. That’s later though, so this is just (just!) another fine JACK KIRBY comic of the period which makes it VERY GOOD!
CAPTAIN AMERICA (Vol.1) #250 (1980)
“Cap For President!” by Roger Stern(w), John Byrne/Josef Rubinstein(a), George Roussos(c) and Jim Novak(l)
Will Cap give up being the Star Spangled Avenger in order to become the first kickboxing President of America?
Now say what you like about John Byrne (I’ll wait…okay? Feel better now?) but the guy can draw a perfectly entertaining comic. This is the one where someone suggests that Cap stand for President but he says (**SPOILER!**) “No”. It's very '80s because the characters spend a lot of time flapping their gums (so much so that one may be forgiven for wondering if they haven't been rubbing an illegal substance into them). I like the Stern/Rubinstein run on Cap (what was it #247-255?) a great deal but this is hardly representative of it. It’s only a brief run but it’s littered with Very Special Cap Moments like the one in #253 where an armed robber is cowed into handing over his gun to Cap solely via a stern talking to and a hard stare. It’s Cap-tatstic! Where as this one is just GOOD!
“Red, White and BRU” I REALLY like the title to this interview with Ed Brubaker. (Hey, if he wrote Iron Man we could have “Iron Bru!” That joke probably doesn’t travel well.) He claims to write the current Cap series. I’ve never heard of him but he sounds like the type who wears his hat indoors. I just glossed his interview but it seems like he lived on an army base like Bucky (Do you SEE! It was his DESTINY! He NEVER HAD A CHOICE!), enjoys TV shows, working for Marvel and is really looking forward to the movie. However, if little Ed Brubaker ever burst into the tent of a half-naked GI with life changing results he declines to say. It’s good to be Ed Brubaker, I guess.
MARVEL FANFARE #18 (1985)
“Home Fires.” by Roger Stern/Frank Miller(w), Frank Miller/Josef Rubinstein(a), Glynis Wein(c) and Jim Novak(l)
No, you can’t say what you like about The Tank. My house, my rules. Love it or leave it, pal! Do you remember "Home Fires"? It’s the one where Cap discovers the hidden Evil in the heart of America: independent retailers. I kid you not. It can totally be read as Captain America versus a deranged Mr. Brian Hibbs.
It’s hilarious of course. But in the weird way of being totally hokey yet oddly persuasive that only The Tank can pull off. It left me laughing and yet profoundly moved by its strange message. Y’know If this guy ever does a propaganda comic the earth will shake and the Heavens will quail. It has to be noted that The Tank delivers a master class in narrative storytelling with page design and visual iconography that fair makes the pages hum with life and emotion. It is a beautiful and wondrous performance. In fact the final page is possibly my favourite Cap moment ever. Cap has entered a burning building to retrieve “her”. “LOOK!” cries a man with a pointing arm directing the readers’ eye to a panel which appears to be a pregnant woman carrying a burning piano. This is then revealed, via the magic of being able to effectively convey information to another human mind via the mechanism of marks on paper, to be the form of Cap himself bursting out of the panel borders triumphantly bearing Old Glory herself.
Every time I read this I find myself halfway to the recruiting office before I realise that due to my myopia I’m more of a danger to myself than any enemy, I am not that keen on killing, even less keen on being killed and I am also in fact not American before returning humbled but entertained to my life of sedentary nitpicking. It is a truly incredible comic by a truly incredible talent. He’s The Tank, deal with it, babycakes! Although later developments within the mind of The Tank lend this tale of Cap vs. libertarians a decidedly ironic cast the issue in and of itself can truly be said to be EXCELLENT!
“Flagbearers” is an illustrated text parade of those who have taken the role of Cap through the ages. It is by Sean T Collins, a living colossus who will be familiar to anyone whose brain has not been so sponged by alcohol and soft drugs that they can look at the list of Savage Critics contributors and recognise the letters of the alphabet when they are used to form names. It is therefore the best thing here not by JACK KIRBY or The Tank. I was particularly taken by the puntastic “Patriot Names”. The piece also contains a rare Frank Robbins picture of a man not sweating.
CAPTAIN AMERICA (Vol.3) #22 (1999)
“Sacrifice Play” by Mark Waid(w),Andy Kubert/Jesse Delperdang(a), Gregory Wright(c) and Todd Klein(l)
Captain America is the only thing standing between the utter destruction of Wakanda’s adamantium! Can he stop touching his shattered shield long enough to save the day?
Being the culmination of Mark Waid’s nigh interminable exploration of Cap’s surely unhealthy obsession with his shield. After several pages of Andy Kubert’s very nice but also very big pictures the two are reunited at last. It is very '90s in a '90s comic way but since Waid and Kubert are dependable chaps it still ends up being OKAY!
Both I, having read this magazine, and you, having read my insightful and coherent thoughts concerning said magazine, have, I think it would be fair to say reached some very definite conclusions about the nature of America, the psycho geographical landscape of its people and the importance of The Dream to both. Thus there seems little need to make them explicit as this would serve only to cheapen the profundity of the conclusions we have reached.
Throughout the contents of this magazine though creators change and decades pass two things remain constant: Captain America and his devotion to The Dream. The Dream changes over time but always at its heart is Decency, the kind of decency perhaps embodied by fairly rewarding an old man for fashioning the dream life of millions and enriching the bank balance of all who followed in his footsteps. Yeah, well if nations can dream so can I, right?
Note: JACK KIRBY (Jacob Kurtzberg) was Comics made Flesh. He entered the world on August 28, 1917 and joined The Infinite on February 6, 1994. We dream his dreams still.
As part of the 10th anniversary of The Savage Critics on the internet, and in conjunction with the 4-part discussion of Chester Brown's PAYING FOR IT, a more mainstream-oriented "round-table" discussion of Marvel Comics's multi-title crossover headline series FEAR ITSELF and DC Comics's multi-title crossover headline series FLASHPOINT was conducted between April 11, 2011 and June 19, 2011, covering slightly less than the first halves of both series. As each issue of FEAR ITSELF #'s 1-3 & FLASHPOINT #'s 1-2 was released, a single question was posed.
Both FEAR ITSELF and FLASHPOINT represent the major status quo defining series for their respective companies in 2011. FEAR ITSELF was created by Marvel "Architect" Matt Fraction and artist Stuart Immonen, FLASHPOINT by DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and artist Andy Kubert. Questions were written by Abhay, who has insisted that he be hereafter referred to as "King Shit of Fuck Mountain."
This first part of the round-table covers the questions asked after the release of FEAR ITSELF issues #1 and 2. The second part on Wednesday will cover FLASHPOINT #1 and FEAR ITSELF #3, while the final part on Friday will conclude with FLASHPOINT #2 and a "Big Picture" question. And of course, both crossovers were discussed elsewhere on the site in reviews contributed by Graeme McMillan, as well as in recent installments of the probably-award-winning OH, BEHAVE! podcast from Graeme & Jeff Lester.
ASKED ON APRIL 11, 2011
UPON THE RELEASE OF FEAR ITSELF ISSUE #1
ABHAY: The promotional materials for Marvel crossovers tend to highlight their "relevance"-- at least, that's certainly been the case with FEAR ITSELF. Here are excerpts from CBR's announcement of the comic:
Quesada acknowledged that the state of the economy was rough, and that a number of television pundits “are telling you what to be afraid of. … It's a great time to be fearful. The world has gotten smaller, and fear, above all else, seems to be a great motivator. There are no shortage of frauds, charlatans, and despots looking to fan the fire. ... It's undeniable that there's a certain... something in the air.”
So: how do you feel about the politics of FEAR ITSELF? Or these crossovers generally? I feel like they start out well-meaning, but that the "political messages" tend to become completely fucking nuts as these things go along.
Consider the last "trilogy" of crossovers-- the “Bush Trilogy.” In Episode 1, CIVIL WAR, right-wing heroes use the fear of terrorist acts to squelch civil liberties, but... those opposing that squelching ultimately quit fighting once they realize that the American people hate their civil liberties and prefer security over freedom. In Episode 2, SECRET INVASION, it turns out that we aren’t any more safe because our society was already infiltrated by foreign religious fanatics. The Marvel heroes then begin the eradication of the foreigners, but in the process of that heroic genocide, an even more extreme right-wing despot (also a religious fundamentalist) becomes a hero to the media, and thus assumes control of the Marvel universe. So, finally, in Episode 3, THE SIEGE, the Marvel heroes defeat this right-wing media despot (literally, by turning him off using a remote control)... but then realize that it's not enough to merely defeat the religious right’s figurehead. The Marvel heroes can only create a Heroic Age by murdering the Old Testament God, suggesting to the audience that the only way that a meaningful peace can ever be achieved is the destruction of all religious belief of any kind...?
So, then we arrive on FEAR ITSELF #1, which I thought was just going to be a retread of Jon Stewart’s dopey rally. But instead,
Obama Iron Man’s trying to launch a job program and fix the economy, but is being derailed by violent protests over the Marvel universe version of the Ground Zero mosque. Which-- it's a crossover where a jobs program is at stake? I'm really worried that in issue two, the taxation of trade routes will cause the Trade Federation to create a blockade around the planet Naboo, you guys. But then ... But then as the comic proceeds-- the comic ends with the Gods leaving the United States and then an image of Congress on fire, which-- for me, at least, calls to mind Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps, one of those fucking guys who claim that their God has removed its "protection” of the United States in response to our sins...?
On the one hand, the audience is encouraged to think about these comics through a political lens, but on the other hand... am I the only one who gets made to feel like a crazy person when he does? None of what I just wrote sounded sane! Is this the kind of stuff you folks think about? Is this something that gives you any pause? Or are you just able to enjoy watching Odin yell at the Watcher, and avoid shoving your head up into your own rectum?
JOG: Well first off, let me just say I was more than able to enjoy the stylin’ Marvel Architects photo spread at the issue #1 center. Like, where they’re all dressed in black and posing in front of a goofy blueprint pattern?
I think it’s got real potential to be a superhero equivalent of the immortal Lit Comics Bad Boys Rooftop Luncheon 2004 shot from days of legend. In fact, I’m half-convinced Brubaker is actually trying to ‘do’ Chester Brown’s pose, although I guess Marvel wouldn’t allow Fraction a cigarette to complete the mirror effect.
But anyway, it’s interesting that you emphasize the departure of Gods from humankind; to me, issue #1 only showed disparity between the superpowered or superhuman-affiliated characters and the rabble of humanity, i.e. those balding local pride types prone to stargazing with adorable moppets that use Ds instead of THs -- prudently, Fraction declines to double down with the hazardous R-to-W maneuver, which has never worked for anyone besides Osamu Tezuka, and only then with the psychological distance afforded by translation -- or, y’know, participating in riots. What I found revealing was Cap’s little comments during the latter, insisting that Democracy is in full effect and declining to adopt any specific political position, even though the action makes it very clear that it’s his job (and that of superheroes in general) to take charge in terms of keeping the peace.
In this way, it seems the superhero characters are metaphorically standing in for police officers or the military or something -- in a profoundly idealized state, mind you -- yet their positioning in the story is above humankind. You need only go a few more pages for tacit confirmation, as we find Cap brooding at the front of this big wide heroic introductory panel, with everyone on top of Avengers Tower, literally looming over the concerns of the common folk. And while further on there’s an attempt made to level the field visually by having both the superheroes and assorted undistinguished non-superpowered onlookers beheld and verily spat upon by Odin before his Fuck Thou exchange with the Watcher, that only follows another wide heroic panel depicting Marvel’s finest assembled at a press conference, tense and sweatless, addressing the nation before a baker’s dozen of mics.
They’re elites, albeit not portrayed through any discernible political/cultural point of view; it seems like this mass characterization was only a result of the genre being the genre, and certain characters pinging off one another to best facilitate logical genre expectations. Like, yeah - it’s totally in character for Cap to get frowny over the state of America, and Iron Man would indeed have the in-story resources to launch a jobs program, but all the superheroes here are ultimately presented fundamentally apart from the shared ‘fear’ of humankind, and, at least in terms of allegory, I think that’s what marks the politics here as sort of decorative. Ultimately, it’s superheroes doing superhero things. In contrast, you take something like CIVIL WAR, the central issue there -- political divisions in the U.S. post-9/11 ripping the country apart -- was big and broad enough to subsume the superhero characters into the mass of humanity, so that Cap and Iron Man could double for, say, folks in your office going a little more to the left and right, pulling a little harder. And I think it’s telling that CIVIL WAR was the only one of these things fronted by Mark Millar, who, for whatever his faults, has a real gift for cooking up these pliable concepts.
And that’s a virtue for a tentpole crossover event to have, because they’re the most mechanical fucking things in the genre, they need to accommodate X number of supplements of varying plot importance, they need to officiate the direction of X number of superhero brands for however long a period, they have to feel big and crucial and extinction-level in a manner ideally broader than any of the provincial plot movements building up to them (most of which will have been headed by entirely different writers, or even editors) - it’s really tough. So when I look at FEAR ITSELF #1, I mostly see superheroes in charge, paternalistically tackling (or, this being a contemporary superhero comic, considering the imminent tackling of) some world-killing threat that just doesn’t sync well with the kitchen table worries of Main Street America, as I think they still say, because the mechanics of superhero crossovers aren’t particularly conductive to much else without some real inspiration firing itself off.
Which isn’t to say I don’t recognize details in the allegory; I’d differ a little from you in that I see the story’s Gods as less religious forces than a separate elite from the superheroes, the inward-looking movers & shakers and ultra-rich of the world vs. the civic-minded leaders and philanthropic entrepreneurs of the spandex set that are gonna get sick with the word’s Fear - but, y’know, the latter are gonna get sick for our good. This is a Great Men story, and it sure looks like it’s gonna be the “greatest” getting things done less as avatars for our potential as humans and citizens but on our behalf, because we humans can’t do it. Which admittedly is a potential appeal of the superhero concept, but the feint of FEAR ITSELF points us toward a more humanistic objective, even as the structural necessities of the crossover book set superheroes apart from Us, and Our problems.
Because of this, the on-page political stuff seems like a sop to sophistication, or a backdrop, or even just a more roundabout means of squeezing our sympathies for great heroes that suffer so much, which makes them awesome and mythic and cool, and I don’t see that as too many dozens of feet away from narrative captions and/or expository chatter directly alerting us to the soul-searing virtue of Hal Jordan or Barry Allen or whomever is most in the foreground.
JEFF: I think Jog’s got a really good take on this so I guess all I can really do is come clean: I ignored the politics of CIVIL WAR, then ignored all of Marvel’s big events after I bailed on that mini. (I’m not sure it’s done me any harm, although my understanding is I missed out on some neat-o stuff in WORLD WAR HULK.)
So, reading the first issue of FEAR ITSELF--the first big event I’ve bothered with in something like five years--my reaction to the political stuff was largely one of bewilderment: like, how closely are we supposed to map these things? Like that opening scene with people rioting seemed as close to contextless as could be imagined, so how do I interpret it? Are those people freaking out because the God of Fear is manipulating them even though he doesn’t get freed until later on (provided the sickly dude freed by Sin is indeed the God of Fear)? Or are they just freaking out for the same reason people in our America were, because mainstream news outlets were whipping them into a frenzy? Then we’re told that they’re freaking out over jobs? So...why isn’t the riot taking place in front of an unemployment office, or a Wal-Mart?
Are the Asgardians shown abandoning us supposed to represent the Republican Party turning their backs on any kind of deal with the Democrats? Are they supposed to represent the Tea Party, a generation of entitled Baby Boomers who after wrecking their own fucking magical city with a host of bad decisions, refuse to play nice with the rest of us? Or do they represent me, who at this point regards both Democrats and Republicans as two sides of one ugly, rigged piece of political theater that is either robbing us of our rights very slowly or terrifyingly quickly? Because if you wanted to make a case that I’m a scared and pissed-off Asgardian god with regards to our political situation now, someone who just wants to cut out for a chilly Norwegian clime with good national healthcare and decent housing, rather than hang around to see the whole stupid fucking thing fall apart? You probably could.
I dunno. Maybe issue #2 will make the whole situation more clear, but I say: who cares? Maybe Marvel lost the right to be the political chronicler of our times when it apologized to The Tea Party for offending it?
I mean, sadly, the cleanest way the whole situation maps for me is that Marvel Comics, like a lot of mainstream news organizations, is in the fear-mongering business, and for the same reasons: it’s a reliable way to make a buck. Just as a supposedly moderate organization like CNN makes all kinds of crazy cash by focusing on disaster, Marvel holds its own status quo hostage and floods the comics press with announcements about the coming deaths of its own heroes. Maybe the Asgardians are supposed to represent comics readers, walking away from comics’ biggest titles in droves of one to three percent per month?
Ultimately, I don’t know what to tell you (other than I am clearly turning into a hideous mutant hybrid of Noam Chomsky and Abe Simpson as I age). It seemed kinda dull, FEAR ITSELF #1--lovely art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger, and Laura Martin, to be sure, but kind of a snoozer. Ultimately, the politics were just frosting--hideous, hideous frosting--on a big ol’ heap of snoozy dullcake. I just hope issue #2 has more punching.
BRIAN: I’ve never been a fan of trying to put modern political analogy into superhero comics. If it comes out unintentionally, from the views of the authors, that’s a different thing, but consciously putting it in tends to be fairly embarrassing for all concerned -- everywhere from “you work for the blue skins, but what about the black skins”, to the Englehart era Captain America (I think Jeff and Graeme will hang me for that one), where a decade later it’s all so clunky and self-absorbed reading.
Millar would be, I think, the only one who actually made it work in a crossover, and that’s probably because he isn’t an American.
JEFF: You’re saying Millar made modern political analogies work in superhero comics but Steve Englehart didn’t? Oh, Hibbs...
CHRIS: I agree with everyone that direct political mappings are a fool's errand, both on the part of the creators and the readers. A lot of it stems from taking that whole "realistic Marvel heroes" thing too far: it's great that Hank Pym has an inferiority complex and Spider-Man has girl trouble, but classic Marvel never extended that to have Reed and Sue fighting about Goldwater's campaign platform and Daredevil tussle with tort reform.
Inasmuch as "people worry about their futures" informs Fear Itself, I didn't mind that serving as background flavor. It's understandable that Common Folk would look at the troubles of the Avengers and Asgardians as trifling distractions as best and abuse of power at worst, the same way they might the NFL Lockout or Goldman Sachs bonuses. But that should only be thematic resonance: when the books drill it down to involve the "Ground Zero Mosque" or something equally Ripped from the Headlines it forces readers, consciously or otherwise, to consider Super Heroes in the Real World, which given the relatively ground "world outside your door" status quo both Marvel and DC aspire to, becomes ridiculous. I do think the second issue did a decent job of backing off on that, for what it's worth.
DAVID: Abhay, I was with you on your Bush Trilogy until you got to the Old Testament God, at which point you made my brain explode with frustration. Long story short, I think equating the Sentry with Old Testament angry God outside of anything other than “they were both judgmental dicks” is barking up the wrong World Tree - I doubt that Bendis, the son of a Rabbi, was trying to make any kind of religious statement about the ascension of mankind against false gods who were basically the dude who iced Sodom and Gomorrah. I can’t really think of a way to put this other than that I think it’s so cynical and wrongheaded it makes me cry. I recognize the comparison Bendis makes Dark Avengers #13 regarding Siege and the Plagues of Egypt, but not only was it like two pages long, it’s never been mentioned again.
I don’t think the political relevance scenes in this issue work at all, largely because I think sticking political relevancy into this story was a gigantic mistake. There’s a time that had to come where a Marvel comic had to rely on more than just thinly-veiled metaphors for what’s on CNN, and that was now, and Fear Itself can’t decide whether it’s the future or the past.
It feels like Final Crisis had a really awkward college one-night stand with Civil War and this was the result. There’s an interesting comic about the dissolution of American optimism in here, and there’s also a totally separate, interesting comic about a dark secret at the root of the Asgardian pantheon that threatens to use humans against them. But it’s hard to think of the Asgardian Gods as Gods when they don’t have any worshippers, and it’s hard to equate their presence with any kind of actual religion.
ABHAY: I think you might be giving more weight to intent and the biography of the authors than I do-- though in this case, maybe that’s my fault; maybe that’s something I invited because I was unclear on what I was saying. Namely: by having political themes in the backgrounds of these stories, in a glib way, so that crossovers can be marketed as being “important for our times,” that what tends to result is that those themes tend to not be serviced with the same level of care as the Violent Men with Hammers in the foreground. And as a result, the stories inadvertently tend to seem unintentionally crazy when read in a way that ISN’T the enormously dull, surface-level way they were “intended” to have been read-- but which readings have nevertheless been invited by the marketing (of which, the authors are participants and complicit). Anyways, sometimes, even well-crafted stories have unintended meanings-- I don't put any weight on authorial intent, in general.
Setting aside intent: The Sentry was depicted as being responsible for the Biblical plagues at about the same exact time SIEGE came out, no? One of the two pages you reference from DARK AVENGERS issue #13, you can still find online-- the only words on the page are “there is only one true God” on it, with the art depicting the Sentry/Void about to open a can of Bible-story on some primitive peoples. That scene mirrors the finale of SIEGE-- Sentry/Void laying waste to another city. I don’t know why that scene’s place in continuity-- i.e. that it merely wasn’t mentioned again-- should trump its place in the publication history. I mean, I understand you don’t read that sequence the way I do, but... then how do read it? For me: I liked SIEGE more once I noticed it having that theme to it. Then, at least there was something to it. Otherwise, it was just a series of haphazard, random events. With that theme, it’s at least kind of neat in a weird kind of way. (Well, I still don’t get what was going on with Loki’s character but … Apparently, that’s a thing they’re answering now in Kieron Gillen’s THOR book, which … is helpful... I hope Gillen explains whatever winds up being nonsensical with FEAR ITSELF a year from now, too.)
DAVID: Actually, I’m pretty much with you with regards to Siege having a thematic void at its center (pun intended). It’s just hard for me to attach much actual weight to that original Sentry sequence in Dark Avengers, at least within Siege’s thematic framework, largely because it came off to me less as anything theological and more as Bendis just trying to make something that would look badass. Which was a lot of my problem with Siege, when it was all done - it was almost less a story and more a cathartic process for Marvel readers.
TUCKER: I have to skip to one part of Abhay’s original question here, that being the “kind of stuff you think about” part, to which I say: no, not really. I think it’s interesting in a conversational/bloggy interchange to discuss the broader strokes of what Marvel has tried to do with their event comics (or Fraction’s Israel stuff in Uncanny X-Men, or Millar’s proto-fascism in the Ultimates), but generally speaking, I don’t think about this stuff when I’m reading these because I don’t ever find that sort of thinking to be layered in that well. Like--great art notwithstanding, how horribly put together is that pre-riot scene? Steve and Sharon aren’t anywhere near the two sides of people who will soon be battling back and forth, and half the riot cops are standing around jawing away like it’s a regular day. It’s a crap layout, and while it has some real world relevance in a really earnest n’ dumb high school presentation on legalizing weed kind of way, all I can think about is how silly it is for a super-hero to be in that situation in the first place. Did Steve drive up, walk into the middle of that gigantic construction site, tell Sharon to turn around, and then proceed to speak in a normal tone of voice to a bunch of people on the other side of a barricade that’s far away from him? That’s what I’m thinking about. Why that happened. How that happened. I can’t even start caring when I’ve already been shown the door.
That being said, I get that the politics of these things are what matters to a certain kind of reader, but I feel like that’s a post-Millar type of thing, because Civil War had stuff that was cool to look at in terms of super-hero type of cool, like Captain America fighting a plane and Punisher shooting people in their pumpkin face. Then they went all the way into action and violence with World War Hulk, only to pull back to meandering “politics” and character-killing in Secret Invasion and Siege, because Bendis doesn’t like action comics. Now that it’s Fraction--I don’t know what his shtick is on these things, and that “not knowing” makes Fear Itself compelling in the same way it would be if Brubaker or Aaron wrote one of these things (as opposed to Bendis or Johns or Millar, where you already have an idea of what you’re going to get), although I don’t think Brubaker & Aaron in the same “time to prove it, can’t write Thor guy” as Fraction is. This is it for him, you know? He’s got that architect cred going, he still interviews better than the rest of Marvel, Casanova is good again, but he can’t seem to pull off super-hero comics the way the rest of the crew can. And based off of this issue, which seems to spend a massive amount of time building a concept (the “go make some jobs” idea) only to undercut that and dump it completely as an idea before the issue is over, I’m not sure what to think. Why couldn’t this issue’s content have been handled in the prequel comic? That Watcher confrontation is classic build-up-to-something stuff, and wouldn’t it have been more engaging for an event comic to begin with the bad guy characters IN action instead of being named? Its a truism dating back to elementary school that desperation makes the ugly even uglier, and I sort of wonder if that isn’t the case here, if I’m not looking at a comic that’s trying way too hard to deliver something that the key players involved (both Immonen and Fraction) just don’t have that much interest in, because their current status demands that they do so from time to time.
ASKED ON MAY 6, 2011
UPON THE RELEASE OF FEAR ITSELF ISSUE #2
ABHAY: With FEAR ITSELF #2, what I guess I found myself thinking about is how the big crossovers have so rarely had great villains. CRISIS OF INFINITE EARTHS had the Anti-Monitor-- I don't really remember him much but I guess he was o-kay-ish. CIVIL WAR had Iron Man-- I thought that was pretty neat. Past those two, though...? ZERO HOUR (Extant), SECRET INVASION (the Skrull Queen), SIEGE (The Green Goblin), INVASION (aliens), ARMAGGEDON 2001 (Monarch), INFINITE CRISIS (Superboy)... for me, for my money, that is a lame bunch, right there. Not impressive. (We may have to agree to disagree which bucket you'd put FINAL CRISIS (Darkseid) in...)
So then: are you into the villains in FEAR ITSELF, two issues in? They seemed to be the focus of the second issue: (1) Odin tells us that they're scary, using all of his words; (2) familiar faces are transformed into a villain team called The Worthy; (3) Evil Fear God Guy rants and raves, and uses the word "vermin", and (4) villains blow some monuments up. Oh, also, (5) some weird thing about autism rates rising (?)...
Personally, I don't really understand what's cool about The Worthy. I guess the big news from issue #2 is that Juggernaut and the Hulk are now going to take a break from rampaging through the Marvel Universe to... rampage through the Marvel universe in a brand new set of clothes...? Hulk has Tron-dreadlocks now-- be afraid. "Hulk goes on a rampage" has been the premise of every Hulk comic ever, except for, like, three Peter David issues in the mid-1990's where Gray Hulk was a fluffer on the Bangbus. Why is it special for people now just because he has Tron-dreadlocks? And then at the end of the issue, after this incredibly long and drawn-out introduction of the Worthy, the entire issue ends with "Oh, by the way, Nazis totally have robot-suits now. Fuck you, America!" Where did that come from?? What happened to the guys with hammers?
So, what, all in all, the premise of FEAR ITSELF, if I understand it correctly, is the Marvel Universe takes on some God dude, super-strong villains wearing exciting new fashionz, Nazi mechs, FOX News, autism rates, the Tea Party, the economy, unicorns with herpes, naked old men in gym locker rooms, rich kids from the summer camp across the lake, Andy Dick on PCP, a guy on cocaine who wants to talk about The Who for a couple hours, whoever killed Biggie and Tupac, and Omarosa from the first season of The Apprentice.
Of course, that might be what we should expect, for crossovers to be weak on villains. Assembling all those superheros together-- how hard must it be to think of a threat that Wolverine or Superman can't solve in 5 minutes, let alone one that would take EVERY SINGLE hero assembled to defeat. That must be extremely difficult. Do you care? When it comes to mainstream superhero comics-- would you describe yourself as a sympathetic member of the audience or an unsympathetic member of the audience? What do you make of the villains?
JOG: As a matter of fact, the Bangbus was the villain of FIRE FROM HEAVEN. Alan Moore called it something else, obviously, but all the Wildstorm kids knew what was really cruising through Ideaspace in ‘96, or so I’ve read in my studies of library microfiche. I think Deathblow shot its tires out?
But anyway, now that we’re two issues in, I’m personally thinking less of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and more of its slightly older Marvel counterpart, MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS, which was so ahead of the crossover curve it needed to assess you as to the presence of Marvel Super Heroes as a collective unit in the very title. Especially if you were just popping in from the toy store, since the whole thing was predicated on the development of a line of action figures, and, fittingly, the Beyonder functioned mostly as a means to the end of banging toys together, i.e. getting a whole lot of superheroes to fight a whole lot of villains, with some cool complications continuing into a few ongoing series. It contrasts quite a bit with the fallout from CRISIS -- the ‘model,’ more or less, for huge-ass crossovers to follow -- which had a vast threat that affected the whole of the DC universe, and thus every DC reader, which I think encourages a bit more fixation as to the particulars of the villain/threat, even if not a lot is actually on the page. In contrast, I suspect in the end the personality of the Beyonder wasn’t so much a necessity as the fact that tons of characters were coming together. Novelty!
I get the feeling that’s what FEAR ITSELF might be going for: a more nebulous threat hovering over a lot of character-on-character battles. Granted, I only have a feeling, since this is, again, a contemporary superhero production and I’m not reading any tie-ins, and it’s looking like we’ll be drawing perilously close to the main series’ halfway point before any big fights start up. Issue #2 is mostly about raising the stakes, and I liked parts of it - especially the Bryan Talbot/Chaykinesque news blips that intermittently assess us as to global calamities, or how the similar-looking location titles and introductory labels to the Hammered characters culminate in the BLITZKRIEG U.S.A.: designation for the double-page spread, which could either formally identify the Nazi mech squad or just give a special ‘oh shit’ ID for the image. Or both. That’s pretty cool. I’m a sympathetic reader to stuff like that, less so the specific implications of SKIRN BREAKER OF MEN, since I don’t read a lot of superhero comics, and I suspect I’m meant to fill in some of the space here with my preexisting attitudes toward these characters.
As a result the whole gathering process left the issue feeling both narratively dense and very content-light for me; mostly I wondered if Fraction is planning a long riff on Geoff Johns under the guise of tying elements of the project into a certain motion picture in theaters now, which is totally the toy line of today. I haven’t read a whole lot of GREEN LANTERN, so I might wind up out at sea with that, but it might still be more fruitful subtext than pursuing the political stuff from issue #1, which might be congealing already into a miscellaneous OH FUCK SHIT SHIT SUPERHEROES SAVE US!! Those thankless peons.
Brian: More broadly, I’d say the best antagonist-in-a-crossover would probably be Thanos in INFINITY GAUNTLET. I understood what Thanos wanted, and how he would logically achieve his goal, and that gave the story much greater weight to me than created-for-the-series antagonists like the Anti-Monitor.
To a large extent, I’d say that these kinds of big stories CAN’T work unless the players “have skin in the game”. Oh, sure you can do “well it doesn’t matter, because the entire POINT is to smash the action figures together” kind of stories like MARVEL SUPERHEROES SECRET WARS or, even more prototypically, CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS where the specific antagonist is rather beside the point. On the DC side, INVASION would fall into that bucket, probably, or the not-a-crossover of SUPERMAN VERSUS MUHAMMED ALI (Seriously, can anyone remember anything about the alien race of the McGuffins, except maybe Hunya?) – but I tend to think that the crossovers that really “work” (INFINTY GAUNTLET, CIVIL WAR on the Marvel side; possibly FINAL CRISIS and BLACKEST NIGHT on the DC side) stem from long-standing character’s long standing motivation.
The PROBLEM with doing that, however, is that crossovers tend to remove the antagonist from the Board for a long period of time – sometimes from “after you’ve killed half the universe you can’t rob banks” or just from sheer overexposure (who wants to ever see the Beyonder again, and that was 30 something years ago!). It isn’t entirely impossible to reverse that – Fraction destroyed and rebuilt Tony Stark’s mind in order to make him reasonably palatable again – but Thanos had to “go away” for nigh on 20 years because by the end of the THIRD “Infinity” crossover-thingy, who wanted to see HIM again for awhile?
FEAR ITSELF seems to be trying to walk a thin line here, with making… well do we call her The Red Skull now, or just Sin? godpowered. Presumably, they can un-God her at the end, and still have a viable antagonist (though, dunno, Nazism is pretty played out these days, ain’t it?), but my problem here is more that it took a continuity implant to get her godpowered in the first place.
With regards to The Worthy themselves, there’s something about them that rub me the wrong way. Part of it is the somewhat illogical notion of these magic hammers that need a specific and exact character to wield them (Absorbing Man can’t touch the hammer, but Titania can?), which seems slightly off for a species of gods tens of thousands of years old, and there’s also some weird duplication there. I kind of get “breaker of earth” and “breaker of oceans”, but doesn’t “breaker of worlds” INCLUDE “earth” and “oceans”. We’ll see how the crossovers themselves shake out, but it almost feels like lazy do-what-thou-wilt storytelling, and it wouldn’t shock me if we eventually get a “breaker of [something for plot convenience]” in some book at some point.
I may be wrong, but I think I think that the best crossover stories are ones that have very very specific Big Beats, and every crossover is in specific relationship to those beats – the more specific instances there are, the more the crossover issues themselves can drift into other directions, the less successful the event, as a whole, becomes.
Again, like INFINITY GAUNTLET, maybe – there’s like only one tiny bit of it that takes place “on earth”, and the rest is off and cosmic and not able to be derailed/diluted by other stories.
Take the crossover issue FEAR ITSELF: YOUTH IN REVOLT #1, where, if I read it correctly Steve Rogers finds a leader for, and has him recruit a super team made up of characters from ALL FIFTY of the “state-based initiative” teams from the last cycle of crossovers. They appear to accomplish this between the first hammer’s landing, and the attack on DC, which appears to be, dunno, an hour or so max? This weakens the main story, in my mind.
Also: we never ever ever EVER need to see Washington DC being attacked in another comic ever again. Especially in the DC and Marvel universes where you HAVE to assume they have access to KirbyTech or better. The US government can build a helicarrier for Shield, and Life Model Decoys, and they can’t protect the Washington mall from nazi robot rockets? Really?
Anyway, “The Worthy” seem to me less examples of strong antagonists as an attempt to get a few more action figures released somewhere.
TUCKER: Aw shit, I gotta be that guy on this one? I think I gotta be that guy.
Invasion was the way to do it right, no shit. I can tell this is a Marvel room here, so why not become a sympathetic audience member and let me play this out right now: the thing that makes the bad guys in Invasion work is that they’re all a part of one really sudsy melodrama, and that melodrama is put together in a way that’s engaging even if you separate it from the super-hero stuff that surrounds it, which is something I don’t think that a lot of these comics we’re talking about can claim as well. The creative excitement I find in most of these comics isn’t usually tied into what the villains do, it’s in how the super-heroes react to those villains, and in Invasion, that’s all reversed. All the alien species are teamed up in the face of the common enemy, and they’re wiling to ignore some longstanding grudges with one another because they just hate the hell out of Earth, and wish to see it brought low.
There’s a decent bit of palace intrigue, none of which ever gets as boring or convoluted as that sort of thing usually gets, and it ends up dovetailing right into the conclusion of the series, when the agreements fall apart and people start switching sides. Since we’re dealing with a strength-in-numbers type of bad guy, there’s no reason why they can’t show up again and again, although I’m not sure how often they do outside of REBELS or Lobo comics. Dominators and Khunds can still be baddies in one-shots, they can still randomly team up, and while I hope it never happens, they could still conceivably unite and form a world-threat all over again if they wanted to.
CHRIS: At least the Nazis in Fear Itself mostly spent the past seven decades on ice -- I prefer Unfrozen Nazi Menace to People Who Would've Grown Up Watching The Cosby Show and Are Now Nazi Stormtroopers you often get.
Sometimes just having a Dangerous Force is enough. Secret Wars was a perfectly nice Everybody Fights Everybody event where the Beyonder was a disembodied voice commanding everyone to fight. When it came time to flesh his character out, you got Secret Wars II, where God gave himself parachute pants and a Jheri Curl and Spider-Man had to teach him how to poop.
The important thing for Big Crossover Villain is to establish their goals. The Serpent presumably wants to Wreck Shit and Enslave or Exterminate Humanity, which is something he has in common with Darkseid, the Skrulls, the Alien Alliance in Invasion, the demons in Inferno, etc. I'll also accept the motive of Kill Everything Ever, a la Thanos or Nekron in Blackest Night. Where the Big Crossover Villain often fails is when you really don't know what their endgame is. Can anyone explain what Sinestro and his posse was going for in Sinestro Corps War? Was there a scenario where Superboy Prime would just tire himself out killing nobodies and take a nap? What did Norman Osborn think was going to happen after he goes crazy and commits treason and kills a bunch of people on global television?
And two issues in, I'm still not really sure what The Serpent's plan is, beyond Do Bad Things. It's *probably* to take over the world, but why does he need a crew of seven Hammer Guys to do that? Why is he enlisting Nazi Robots, if he's as fantastically powered as he seems to be? Couldn't he just make more hammers? Is he mind-controlling the non-Hammered villains who are shown tearing up cities? It'd be great, even if it was Geoff Johns style Arbitrary Fart Machine Rules, to know what the Big Crossover Villain is working with.
DAVID: I thought this issue was kind of a mess. There just wasn’t any real gravitas to the Worthy - they had some cool designs, sure, but none of them were particularly surprising and the main plot didn’t really move itself in any meaningful way past what we already saw in the teasers at the end of last issue. We knew Thor would get locked up, the Worthy would get their hammers and Washington, D.C. would be attacked; this isn’t even a matter of reading solicitations, this was all shown in the teaser that ended #1. I was expecting the issue to go past those points and give us something more; something to make the Serpent a remotely compelling villain. But so far, not only is he not walking the walk, he barely talks the talk. Fraction seems like he’s going for one of those grand poetic Shakespearean avatars of evil, the Darkseid take, but the Serpent’s threats seem really hollow. Make them fear us, make them pay, bla, bla, bla. He’s got zero charisma, and his design is just an old suit with a fur cape and a cane. He looks like a lost fucking hobo-pimp, not the God of Evil.
I get that he wants to usurp Odin and take his place as the Allfather again (how the fuck does that work, anyway?) but I can’t really care about whether he succeeds or not. There’s nothing really personal here, except against Odin, who’s acting like a gigantic fucking douchebag anyway. And as for Sin, she’s barely gotten any lines in the book so far, and seems considerably less bloodthirsty and well-defined than she was (even though I hated her character) when she was the jailbait half of Nazi Bonnie and Clyde with Crossbones in Brubaker’s Captain America. I realize this is supposed to feel like a huge threat from the pasts of both Cap and Thor, but so far neither major antagonist has really interested me at all. A Loki/Johann Schmidt Red Skull team-up would be even more boring, so kudos to Fraction to trying to create some new characters and add to the mythology, but so far he’s been spending too much time on montages of dudes picking up hammers and taking up mystifying names (is Absorbing Man going to be “Breaker of Women” with a Kirby-circuit dick like Titania’s fallopian tube pattern?). Stop pulling back from the exposition and make me give a shit.
JEFF: I’m gonna punt on this one, in part because I spent wayyyyy too many words on the next question, and also because I think FEAR ITSELF #2 was too crappy for me to want to think about it very much. On the final page when some transmission is caterwauling “Where are the super heroes? Who’s coming to save us--?” and you realize that the super heroes haven’t gone anywhere, they’re just...in transit or something? That’s when you realize how badly shit has been bungled. I mean, really, the only “heroes” whose absences are accounted for in the issue itself are Hulk and Thor (and Red She-Hulk, whatever they’re calling her); I could almost see if all of The Worthy had been heroes whose compulsion to grab those hammers came at crucial moments of the heroes’ response to mecha-Nazis, but....nah, apparently not.
The villains are flat, the heroes have very little to say, the story beats are repetitive and without impact. It’s bad in a very different way from, I dunno, ZERO HOUR (where all the superheroes talk only to introduce one another, and the crisis only appears to be endangering a status quo, and the reader’s hand is held from one boring event to the next) but it’s equally bad, if not worse. FEAR ITSELF #2 seems to me to be such a profound failure of craft, it’s almost impossible to use it to analyze anything other than the importance of not putting a two page ad for Thor Slurpees immediately after the climax of a five page sequence about Thor and the Asgardians. Even Miller and Mazzuchelli’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE wouldn’t have survived that.
End of Part One; Part Two resumes on Wednesday.