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!!!
Bit of a hybrid this time out. It’s a little bit European and a little bit American. Something for everyone! Also, Batman! Everyone loves Batman! Unfortunately it’s kind of terrible. But, wait! I’m getting ahead of myself… BATMAN: EUROPA by Parel, Camuncoli, Casali, Azzarello and Brosseau
BATMAN:EUROPA #1-4 Art by Jim Lee, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Diego Latorre and Gerald Parel Layouts by Giuseppe Camuncoli Written by Brian Azzarello and Matteo Cassali Coloured by Alex Sinclair Lettered by Pat Brosseau BATMAN created by Bill Finger with Bob Kane DC COMICS,$3.99 each (2015-2016)
Tellingly the most interesting thing about BATMAN: EUROPA is its appearance some ten years and change late. Announced in 2004, the series finally slouched out in 2015. What? Yes, Jim Lee is involved. However did you guess, Holmes! I guess Jim Lee struggled to find the time to draw an actual comic in between his high level corporate gig of wearing baseball caps and smiling his sunshiney smile. Maybe it’s unfair to blame Jim Lee though, maybe it was Brian Azzarello who was busy earning more money than I’ll ever see, vigorously, and ill-fatedly, palping the withered dugs of Frank Miller and Alan Moore in an attempt to express one last squirt of milky, milky cash; all for a company so bereft of ideas they mistake having Batman fight Rorschach for creativity. Or maybe it was one of the other folk involved that we’re not interested in because they sound a bit foreign and haven’t made awesome comics like, uh, that one that’s only any good because Eduardo Risso drew it, or whatever comic it is that makes people like Jim Lee’s scratchy tedium. (If you really need to like an artist who works at the pace of tectonic shift then I still think Barry “Windsor” Smith’s your best bet.) I don’t really know Matteo Casali but I hear Matteo Casali has written some Dylan Dog comics I’ve never read, so maybe he’s a byword for tardiness; maybe our continental chums are all like, “Dylan Dog would be a good comic if only it ever came out. Damn Matteo Casali’s eyes! That Mateo Casali makes Jim Lee look like a Japanese Rocket Train. Mateo Casali! Pah!” Ah, but do you want it now or do you want it right, someone who thinks I don’t know a diversionary tactic when I hear one is saying. Look, the Sistine Chapel ceiling took Michelangelo four years. Four years. Therefore it took DC Comics six years longer than it took Michelangelo to paint the Sistine chapel ceiling to produce a comic about Batman in Europe. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that a Batman in Europe comic that takes 10 years had better be some brand new high in Batman comics, if not a fresh peak for the very medium of comics itself. It isn’t.
Unsurprisingly BATMAN: EUROPA is mostly set in Europe. And so it’s called EUROPA, which sounds a bit like Europe. But I don’t know why it’s specifically called “EUROPA”, since that’s the website for the European Union (which we aren’t to speak of lest we be hung, drawn and quartered for Treason against Brexit Britain. TAKING BACK CONTROL!!!!) Or maybe Brian Azzarello thinks people in Europe all put ‘a’ on the end of words; like Italians in an old Chris Claremont comic (“I-a welcome-a you-a to-a Europe-a, Bat-a man-a! Bella! Bella!”) Anyway, whatever, as the kids are wont to spout. Or maybe it’s one of Brian Azzarello’s “amazing” puns (e.g. it’s Brian Azzarello on Batman, he probably got paid a shitload so EUROPA it’s good. Geddit! EUROPA it’s good! Diamonds, baby! Diamonds.) I should probably move on now, since I don’t get to be ten years and then some late; you know, like professionals do. BATMAN: EUROPA is four issues, each set in a different European city (Chisinau, Podgorica, Heidelberg and Chichester; no not really, it’s Berlin, Prague, Paris and Rome), each has a different European artist and, uh, that’s it. Well, except for the first issue which starts in Gotham, which is in America, which is not part of Europe, (also, it's not real) and so has Jim Lee tepidly involved before the series flings itself across the Atlantic to Berlin where Camuncoli picks up his pen. The premise, or the (inch) high-concept if you must, is: The Batman and The Joker are both infected by a deadly virus and have to team up and travel round Europe for a cure. And so EUROPA starts off with Batman and The Joker rolling about on the floor all bloody and kind of weightlessly sketched in that way Jim Lee will continue to do for the rest of his stint on the book. Hey, Jim Lee fans, does Jim Lee have some kind of clinical aversion to suggesting weight in his art? I’m just asking; he’s clearly talented, but everything looks too samey, and this together with the failure to allot weight to any of his visual elements just leaves his work looking like half-hearted sketches. I don’t mind Jim Lee’s art, but I’m not all that excited by it, basically. I see a picture of Jim Lee smiling in his latest baseball cap and I don’t begrudge him, you know. Equally though, I don’t get all tingly round the prepuce when I see his name. Despite Lee’s signature dreariness Azzarello/Casali try to create a mood of finality about this opener as though this time Batman will have to do the ultimate and…smash cut to splash page flashback! Ooh! What could it be? Four very disappointingly written issues will have to pass before you find out. And it’s not a bad punchline, but really four issues of set up require a punchline with a lot more, uh, punch.
You heard me right, pilgrim, four issues! Four issues this bumptious thing is! Four whole issues! Back when you could hate women openly in the street, this whole Batman and The Joker in Europe device would be the kind of throwaway gimmick Bob Haney would do in 22 poorly coloured pages of The Brave And The Bold, probably with some Jim Aparo goodness to boot. You know the kind of goofy borderline racist awesome that would result, but let’s go through it anyway because I’m fighting off sleep just thinking about this Mogadon® of a comic. In a better world, in a Haney world, in Paris they would face stripy jumpered, beret sporting thugs armed with onion bolas ; in Rome they would be homicidally wooed by stiletto armed lotharios; in Berlin they would attend an Einstürzende Neubauten concert (Blixa would be felled by a rogue blow and The Joker would have to chip in on “Keine Schönheit (ohne Gefahr)” to thunderous applause) and foil the cloning of Hitler’s dog, Blondi; in London they would discover it had all been a plot by Oliver Cromwell’s great, great, great, great, grandson, Barry; and it would all end with Buckingham Palace being attacked by bowler hat helicopters, the narrow averting of the assassination of King Henry XXIV and the escape of Barry Cromwell into a sudden pea-souper, only for him to be killed in a bitterly ironic last panel by a passing Jack the Ripper. The antidote would turn out to be a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, and all the while the Joker would go “Hoo! Hoo!” a lot. It would in short be very silly, not a little casually racist, and a ton of fun. Because Bob Haney comics were very silly and a lot of fun. Bob Haney not only survived the battle of Okinawa (01 April 1945), he also wrote the best Batman: Brave And The Bold comics ever; talk about The Greatest Generation! But Bob Haney was Then and this is Now, and North American genre comics are nothing if not needlessly po-faced, drab and kind of, well, insipidly joyless these days. Say, I bet Bob Haney wished he’d been 10 years late to Okinawa, but he didn’t get that option. Not everyone gets to be 10 years late. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying today’s comics writers would benefit from passing through the fiery hell of Okinawa. Mind you, I’m not exactly ruling it out either.
We’re all busy people so let’s not beat about the bush here; the writing is just bloody poor. The plot is a mere wisp of a thing and the actual events clinging weakly to it are so deeply unthrilling that they barely register. At one point there’s a giant robot for not much of a reason, and all it makes you think is, I wish Bob Haney was writing this. I love me some Bob Haney but I shouldn’t be missing him so hard in 2017. I mean, I won’t lie, I can’t even remember what happened in this comic it’s so relentlessly leaden. I remember a human plot shortcut in the form of a lady hacker. She hasn’t got any character as such but I remember her because at one point she is wounded and Batman leaves the Joker to tend to her. Guess how that works out. I guess they never bill him as “Batman – The World’s Greatest Judge of Character” with good reason. Ooh, there’s a mystery villain behind it all! Yeah, that reveal had all the dramatic weight of a meringue in space. I thought it was KGBeast, but I just checked (professionalism!) and it wasn’t. That’s how exciting it was. I’ve forgotten who it was again. As for motivation, well, I don’t know. Sure, killing Batman is kind of on any decent Bat-villains to-do list, but The Joker? You’d hand feed Cujo before you got that looney tune involved. And why such a needlessly protracted and highly unlikely method? I think the idea is the virus gives them a reason to follow a trail of, cough, clues so that by the end that are all tuckered out and the Guest Villain can best them. It’s a Bob Haney plan in its unlikely roundaboutness but it’s played like it’s Shakespeare. Bob Haney’s Macbeth, now there’s a thought to conjure with. Probably about a jillion times more entertaining than Azzarello/Casali’s Batman. But it’s not just Batman, it’s Batman and The Joker! “Hoo!” and indeed “Hoo!” Yes! Batman and The Joker together! Like Bing and Bob in on The Road To Europa! What a gift to a writer. Think of the cracklin’ dialogue and sinister mind games you could fill the pages with. Having to trust your life to a man who can’t even trust himself! It’s the very stuff isn’t it? The premise practically comes with a bow tied round it. Time to get your Shane Black on. More like bloody Shane Ritchie. Predictably enough nothing memorable occurs and it’s all largely page wasting, occasionally enlivened by a coughed up furball of facts about whichever city the undynamic duo are in. Basically the interaction is about as vibrant and electric as that of a long-married couple on a lengthy coach trip. Odd, isn’t it what with all these master dialogists in comics that there’s very little masterful dialogue around. Some people have an ear for dialogue, but most people in comics seem to have an arse for it; and more than one of those people are called Brian. But I digress. Frequently and with great vigour.
The art’s okay, sometimes it’s even really, really good; these guys are all Eurotalents after all; and I don’t want to upset anyone in North American genre comics, but the bar for art seems a bit higher abroad. True, I don’t want to upset anyone, but since it’s true I don’t actually mind upsetting anyone. Giuseppe Camuncoli is a known known since he drew much of Peter Milligan’s underrated run on Hellblazer. As ever his art here has a pinched and repressed air which I enjoy, and everyone looks hungry on a really deeply unpleasant level that goes way beyond the appetite for food. Creepy, in sum. His colours are a bit heavy and rob his images of energy but as individual images they are certainly pretty. But comics is all about the sequential image and he dips a bit there with a lack of flow. Diego Latorre is, sadly, not the Argentinian footballer known as the “New Maradonna”, but is still impressive in a murky way. Maybe too murky. He makes up for the murk with an experimental brio that makes it look like he's running a sizeable charge of electricity through his panels. Alas, I was more impressed than seduced by the effect. If you've ever had a migraine (no not a headache, a migraine!) then you'll probably agree that Latorre has successfully represented that visually here. Arresting stuff but maybe a bit too much so. Gerald Parel is less than fresh to me as he also illustrated the original Iron Man graphic novel I looked at HERE. He’s gone for a really lush and soft edged look. It’s a kind of accumulation of colours blossoming across the page without the hindrance of holding lines. I liked this smeary expressionism just fine, but I can’t shake the suspicion that this is what sight is like when cataracts start to kick in. He gets some real beauty going though, I'll give him that. And then there’s stolid old Jim Lee, cap at a jaunty angle and smiles for miles. His art’s boring though. Yet what does it matter how good any of these artists are when the writing’s as weak as a politician’s excuses. Your eyes feast on an image only to be brought up short by the Joker alluding to pissing on a woman (my, how edgey!) or a pun as poor as it is predictable (“Vaud-Villain.” Yeah, really). Here's the big secret about puns: they should be used sparingly, otherwise it's like reading a lushly illustrated Christmas cracker joke.
BATMAN: EUROPA is not a good comic. The first three post-splash pages (or whatever; I’m not checking) consist entirely of Batman smacking Killer Croc about. This is excellent stuff, but only if the script directions asked for as unengaging a depiction of violence as possible, and the artist was asked also to ensure that the location was never identified beyond some rudimentary lines suggesting bricks, maybe a wall if needs must, a trash can if absolutely necessary. I think they are fighting in an alley in this scene, but if so, it’s an alley with remarkably elastic dimensions. Azzarello/Casali seem to think alleys are odd in a city based on a grid, and they draw special attention to this in the reliably problematic narration. However, alleys are only odd in a grid based city if the city in question is New York; a city notable for its scarcity of alleys due to the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 omitting rear service alleys. Gotham is often taken as a stand in for New York sooooooooooo, okay, but I’m not sure many people have any clue about the distinctive absence of alleys in New York City, and this is Gotham so it could have loads of alleys, you know, what with it not being real and people making up its geography on the fly; so I don’t know why it needs special mention, particularly as by way of contrast no mention whatsoever is made of why Batman is smacking Croc about. What I’m getting at is, the storytelling priorities here are all skew-iff, basically. Sure, there’s mention, as Croc is loaded into an ambulance, of “victims” but of what? Usually Azzarello has Croc eating people because – EDGY! And sometimes crocodiles eat people or something. Christ alone knows what Croc’s been up to this time because Azzarello/Casali don’t deign to tell us, despite having had three pages to do so. Instead they keep telling us the same thing: Batman is off his game. It’s a good job they tell us, mind you, because there’s no particular visual indication of this fight being any tougher than any other Killer Croc and Batman fight. It’s not good comics, in essence. Unusually for comics where the art often picks up the writer’s/writers' slack all parties are at fault here; it’s a failure on two fronts. I don't know exactly what's happening and I have no idea why it is happening. It's like being at work! Presented with a visual spectacle as tedious as this a writer might attempt to punch things up with captions; maybe give it some context, some stakes, at a bare minimum some reason for the scene to be occurring. I guess that’s beneath Azzarello/Casali as what they supply instead is a load of sub-Miller tough-guy guff, which takes a whole lot of space to say very little indeed. It’s difficult not to imagine that the Azzarello/Casali team isn’t itself undermined by Azzarello’s compulsive need to avoid crafting a clear sentence, so much so here that it occasionally makes you think it’s a particularly poor translation from another language (any other language). That’s the first few pages, I’m not going on through the rest of the comic but, be warned, I could do because it’s not very good.
BATMAN: EUROPA, then. Bit like that time you went inter-railing round Europe with your mate, but you both got the trots and fell out just past Rouen after someone (naming no names, Terry Blesdoe) was sick on your copy of Camus’ The Outsider (US: The Stranger), and you had to suffer each other’s sulky presence for the remainder of the trip because you’d booked everything in advance. And your train was ten years late. Yeah, a bit like that, but BATMAN: EUROPA is, quite possibly, if anything even less thrilling. I’ve read some of them there European comics and, while there is a variety, mostly I think I’m safe in generalising wildly and saying that European comics can tend towards the grandiose, with large pictures and outsized ideas which kind of sweep past in a lustrous rush, one you have to plumb for meaning at a later date. It’s this kind of Euro comic BATMAN: EUROPA seems to seek to emulate. But Batman isn’t The Metabaron. And Brian Azzarello/Casali aren’t Jodorowsky. And Moebius is dead, baby. Moebius is dead. Four issues of big pictures and tiny ideas is what you get. Um, but some of the pictures are nice. I’m uttering a very Continental – “EH!”
NEXT TIME: We talk about the elephant in the…road? Ah, it must be the how you say – 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!
I sure hope everyone loves my unwieldy and turgid exercises in overkill, because here’s another one coming up right about now. But, hey, Batman’s in it. I know I said comics (plural) last time but this got out of hand so I’ve split the other bit for later, plus I couldn’t quite get that part to work. It’ll turn up though; nothing gets wasted. And now it’s over to…Batman! DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE by Romita Jnr, Steigerwald, Azzarello, Miller and Robins Anyway, this…
DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE Art by John Romita Jnr & Peter Steigerwald Written by Brian Azzarello & (yeah, right, whatever; if you say so:) Frank Miller Lettered by Clem Robins Coloured by Peter Steigerwald Cover by John Romita Jnr., Danny Miki & Dean White Variant covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee & Alex Sinclair, Lee Bermejo and Bill Sienkiewicz with John Vernon as "The Mayor" Based on The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller - WITH KLAUS JANSON AND LYNN VARLEY (See, it's not that difficult is it DC? “with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley”, that's all it takes. Try and put “with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley” in the credits for The Dark Knight Returns before this slipshod cashgrab ends, ey? There's a good multinational corporation. Cheers, from your big pal, John.) Batman created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane The Joker created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger & Bob Kane Robin created by Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger & Bob Kane Jason Todd Robin created by Don Newton & Gerry Conway Killer Croc created by Don Newton, Gene “The Dean” Colan & Gerry Conway Poison Ivy created by Sheldon Moldoff & Robert “Bob” Kanigher DC Comics, $6.99/£4.99 (2016)
We all know what happened to Jason Todd in The Dark Knight Returns timeline; we’ve known since 1986. Not precisely mayhap, but enough. So a comic in 2016 about what happened to Jason Todd in the Dark Knight Returns timeline seems about as necessary as a loblolly boy. Ah, but, luckily Brian Azzarello is on the case with his very special reverse Rumpelstiltskin (Nikstlitslepmur?) gold-into-straw magic. What he plumps for is to fill in some of the pre-history for The Batman and The Robin. Turns out that in this timeline Jason Todd is Commissioner Gordon’s nephew, and inspired by The Batman’s example the plucky young fellow takes to the roofs, vigilante style. One night the dynamic duo’s paths cross, and, senses heightened and inhibitions shattered by the visceral thrill of night time crime fighting, they fall upon one another in a throbbing heap of sweat, muscle and appetite. Alas, Batman gets post-coital regrets and blanks The Robin, who cries and is sad. Then the Joker jumps out and smashes his head in like an egg filled with mince and jam. Ha ha ha ha! Only joking. That would be stupid! Not to mention monumentally crass. What kind of a dunderheaded poltroon would write something like that? Ha ha ha ha! Might work with a chick though, huh, guys? Yeah, a chick would fit. Chicks are all emotional and needy, yeah? Chicks, huh, go figure. Okay, yeah, that doesn’t happen here but there’s enough dodgy stuff on show to suggest someone’s a bit confused about this whole sexuality lark; little things like men frequently being taken roughly from behind and the main female character manipulating men into giving her stuff without giving up her, uh, stuff, her, er, you know, her, uh uh uh, sexy nectar. Now I wouldn’t want to read too much into all that, Heaven forfend, but some people might imagine such a toxic combo of hostility towards the opposite sex and tortured self-loathing could, if unaddressed, manifest in later life. For example, in the tawdry sight of a grown man insulting someone much younger who has paid money to be in the same room, and has simply asked a question about the tired rehash of a better writer’s work our (hypothetical and wholly imaginary) adult individual is shilling; most likely by calling the innocent questioner a rude name, quite possibly a derogatory term for female genitalia more suited to the playground. In his 1953 paper “Repression and its Expression: Pundits and Pussies.”, the behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner dubbed such conduct “classy”.
So that’s what Brian “Maturity” Azzarello doesn’t do, but what does he do? Stuck with pages to fill Azzarello does a nifty swerve around expectations, dodges the whole Joker business for the most part, and instead writes a fairly mediocre Batman comic primarily concerned with demonstrating Batman’s feet of clay. If anything Azzarello’s a bit too good at the feet of clay business, because throughout the comic Batman seems to be in the wrong job. Because throughout the comic Batman is basically a bit shit. Sure, he does his bit of detecting, but otherwise he should be renamed Bit Shit Man. I get that this is Batman losing a step just before he hangs his trunks up, but there’s losing a step and staggering about like a drunk who has just hopped off a roundabout going at full tilt. When he’s not being surprised from behind by big men in small rooms, Batman’s being pounded to paste and spectacularly failing as a mentor. There’s something wrong with Robin, see, but Batman just can’t quite put his (Bill) finger on it. Just little things, like literally disarming a man, or standing on a thug so that his face bubbles like cheese on the griddle of a burning car roof. Tiny cracks, hairline fractures, I trust you’ll agree. I’m a ridiculously liberal (i.e. lazy) parent (so I’ll be regretting that in a few years no doubt, officer) but even I might take Jason Todd aside for a talk after he’s just bataranged a guy’s arm off. Seriously, it comes right off in a whoosh, a gush, a sploosh even, of blood. I mean, the whole thing of what exactly a batarang is made of so that it can sever an arm aside, Batman just wrinkling his nose and basically going, “Bit much, old chum, don’t you think?”, seems a bit light on the old response stakes. Dude’s arm just comes off. SPLASH! Seriously. Best case scenario: that guy’s crippled for life, worst case: he just bled out all over his traumatised for life wife. Sweet crime fighting skillz, guys. The streets feel safer already. This, of course, is the kind of stupid horseshit you get when someone wants to be all realismy with something as unrealistic as Batman, and hasn’t got the skill to pull it off. Frank The Tank could pull it off, and that’s part of his genius. But this…Jesus. It’s all over the place, like vomit after a teenage party. Yeah, like a lot of modern North American genre comics THE LAST CRUSADE is sophistimacated stuff.
Because I made it up I should probably define that scholarly term a bit. Sophistimacated is when comics want to be sophisticated, but can’t be arsed to do the hard graft that sophisticated involves. There’s a lot of sophistimication about in comics these days, and Brian Azzarello is a dab hand at it here. In a deluded attempt to seem to be Really Sayin’ Somethin’ (Bop bop soo-be-do-wa!) there’s some silly business about whether or not Batman is guilty of child endangerment. Smack Frank The Tank up all you like, but the satire in THE DARK KNIGHT was genuinely funny and had a point. (Whoa, I didn’t say it was subtle. C’mon, It’s The Tank.) Azzarello tries his hammy hand at a similar thing but…Glycon preserve us! There’s a surfeit of stupid hooey running through the comic which I think is supposed to be satirical, but it isn’t. Satire doesn’t need to be funny, but it does need to have a point. This comic has no point to make about anything. It is squarely set in the la-la land of comics. It has no relevance whatsoever to anything in the real world. Look: A grown man dressed as a bat aided by a teenage acrobat dressed like he’s colour blind. Is it child endangerment? Golly, I better book a day off work just to mull that one over. Deep stuff, huh? No. Why are you even wasting my time with this shit? Is it child endangerment? Yes, yes it is. But it’s a comic; so it doesn’t matter. It not being real and all, you dig? In the real world disturbed American millionaires don’t fight crime dressed as nocturnal mammals, they run for the presidency and insult Mexicans. Ho ho ho! Topical me! Now, I don’t know about you, but I think one of the costs of writing about a young man dressed like a pantomime Peter Pan fighting crime with a grown man dressed as a bat, is that you don’t get to draw attention to that. And you don’t draw attention to that because it is fundamentally ridiculous. That's part of the appeal, genius.
Despite Christopher’s Nolan’s pompous cinematic attempts to convince us otherwise, the concept of Batman doesn’t work on any realistic level. The last thing a Batman writer wants to be doing is chucking that mutually agreed suspension of disbelief overboard, particularly for boneheaded point scoring about child endangerment shorn by its very context of any actual relevance whatsoever. Woken from slumber the reader starts to ask questions about this whole Batman deal. That’s the last thing you need. Some smartarse asking questions. Better slap him down with a nasty sexual slur, right? But, alas, this reader isn’t in the same room, so your brave and manly verbal abuse won’t work. Nothing can stop the ungrateful fool of a reader now they have awoken. For starters how does Batman get anywhere? By Batmobile? Really? In the city? Have you tried driving around a city at speed? It’s not on is it? Even at night, even in, say, Chesterfield; chances are if you start haring about like your arse is on fire you’ll end up with a drunk smeared across your windshield. It’s simply not do-able. And Chesterfield’s no Gotham, and your family hatchback is no Batmobile. So major carnage is on the cards either way. (“Car”-nage and “car”-ds and, yes, I’m talking about – “car”s! Two can play at rubbish word games, Brian Azzarello! But only one of us gets paid a small fortune for it.) Maybe, you say, Batman travels by swinging about? He’d be Bat-knackered before he got anywhere near his destination. Then upon arrival (at the docks, or the reservoir, or the charity ball) he has a fist fight with a bunch of goons and has to swing back for a Bat-brood in his Bat-cave, before having a Bat-nap and then overseeing a successful multi-national Bat-corporation. Bat-Christ, my Mum’s a work-horse but Batman makes her look like a right Bat-slacker. All this is only possible because, and look, I’m sorry to have to be the one to break this to you (and I certainly don’t want to steal the thunder of that guy who studies Batman (the one in the 2000AD documentary who wears eyeliner and gels his hair like a fourteen year old on his way to his first Cure concert. Aw, bless.)) but…brace yourself…Batman isn’t real. Sorry about that. You know THE KILLING JOKE (which may not be Alan Moore’s finest hour (as he himself admits) but is a lot better than this addlepated guff) isn’t going to work as soon as you hit the panel of the “Bob Kane” signed picture on Batman’s Bat-Desk. In a world where The Joker dresses Commissioner Gordon as an S&M gimp and shoots Barbara Gordon before taking snaps of her in nude distress, there’s no room for an Ace The Bat-Hound or a Bat-Mite. Nor, crucially, is there any place for a gaily costumed child. Robin isn’t in THE KILLING JOKE. Did you notice that? Oh, I know you noticed all the stitches Alan Moore (self-confessedly) dropped in THE KILLING JOKE (Boo! Alan Moore! Boo! Yawn.) but did you notice what he got right? Robin isn’t in The Killing Joke. That’s not an accident. Even Alan Moore on a bad day got that much right. Brian Azzarello? Not so much.
For the most part DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE isn’t even a Batman vs The Joker comic as you might expect. (You fool! Why do you persist with such notions!) No, bizarrely it’s a not wholly awful Batman and Robin versus Killer Croc & Poison Ivy comic. People familiar with Azzarello’s Bat-work have my sympathies, but they also have probably noticed his fondness for using Killer Croc and Poison Ivy. Those uncharitably inclined might say that this is because Croc allows him to dabble with questionable racial stereotypes without risk, and because Ivy lets him have Batman slap a woman about. Which is all kinds of creepy but I think Azzarello often seems to mistake being creepy for being edgy, but then so do Mainstream North American Genre Comics as a whole, so there you go. I really liked the Killer Croc & Poison Ivy bits for the most part, not for themselves, mind; but because they were a throwback to those Gerry Conway, Dough Moench, Gene Colan, Don Newton, Alfredo Alcala, Klaus Janson etc etc Batman comics of my squandered youth. You know, when Batman did a bit of detective work? Sure, here in DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE all he does is find the common denominator between the victims, but credit where it's due, that’s Sherlock fucking Holmes compared to his usual modern day manoeuvres; where he just looks at a computer screen and then pulls stuff out of his Bat-backside. It’s getting to the point where I think Batman is only The World’s Greatest Detective because he exists in a world where his nearest competition is a chimp. And back then, in those old comics, he’d always have a girlfriend who would be thoroughly uninteresting and usually also part of some evil plot; her larger function being to avoid people going on about Batman and Robin having Bat-bum fun. And here, again, in THE LAST CRUSADE Batman has a girlfriend, although it’s Catwoman obvs, because then we can have a reference to them rutting in costume like sexy cosplayers. Yeah, there was a lot of Killer Croc and Poison Ivy back then, I think. My memory could err, but I’m pretty sure they popped up a lot. Black Mask was over everything like a rash, I remember that. Bloody Black Mask. Jesus, it got so it was like, why not just call it Black Mask Comics, people! I don’t even remember who Black Mask turned out to be. Harry Truman? Barbara Cartland? Sandra Bernhardt? A Dog Named Boo? Probably Tom bloody Hardy. Tom Hardy’s in everything. He was in my toilet yesterday; I told him to shut the door because no one wants to see that, Hollywood bigshot or no. Anyway, stop distracting me, so I went on The Comixology to check who made those old comics and found a listing which said DETECTIVE COMICS (1937 - 2011) #255 featured a “tiresome” encounter with Killer Croc. Seriously. “Tiresome”. I do not think that word means what you think it means, Comixiology Precis Writer. That was funny, but not as funny as the fact that the encounters with Killer Croc in DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE are actually tiresome, as in “tiresome”. To be surprised from behind by Killer Croc once may be regarded as a misfortune, to be so surprised twice seems like you’re in the wrong job.
Alas, if you bought this for the Joker you probably bought the wrong comic. Everyone bought this for The Joker, yeah? To see the penultimate donnybrook between Batman and his maniacal nemesis of murderous mirth. Well, tough titty to you. You don’t get that. What you get mostly, is a Killer Croc and Poison Ivy comic. As demonstrated at soul sapping length above. When Azzarello does deign to show The Joker it’s not even Miller’s creepily withered Camp Bowie, just a wearisome rehash of the old Silence of The Lambs business. You know, the bit where Multiple Miggs flicks man-fat at Clarice, and in return Hannibal induces Miggs to swallow his own tongue via loony whisperiness? That bit (the death by suggestion, not the flying man-fat) is strip-mined once again. More than once. Mrs Leeds in Human form – do you see? Mrs. Jacobi changing – do you see? Brian Azzarello – laughing all the way to the bank – DO YOU SEE? Man, remember when everyone was ripping off Thomas Harris? All those serial killers with their grand pianos and jones for Goethe? Complete bullshit perhaps, but Harris (at least for two books) gave us chillingly well done stuff. Good serial killing times; and here they are again. Only rubbish. Oh, it’s not all stale sub Alex Cross (ugh!) guff though, Azzarello brings his celebrated wordplay to bear to his portrayal of the homicidally jocular one. Mind you, I’m not sure who celebrates Brian Azzarello’s wordplay at this late stage in the game; people who hate the English language? There’s some prime wordshittery on these pages; wordshittery which I’ll not spoil because recoiling in alarm at the latest word turd thrust at your face is one of the few pleasures (if pleasure that be) of this thing. And no, I don’t think I’m missing any subtleties here, thanks. This is a book where a psychiatrist says “You want to tell me why you PULLED OUT YOUR EYES?” And, yes, it is in ITALIC BOLD CAPS. Nice bedside manner there, pal. Credit to the profession. Yup, subtle has done a bunk, old chum. So, maybe you were wondering what the Joker’s madcap scheme is; the one which succeeds in catching the Boy Wonder? Get this strategic shit: he sits in a chair reading, with his gang outside. That’s it. A regular Rommel, eh? Robin tries to pick the lock, but the gang creep up behind him and smash his head in. Worth waiting around forty years, for, eh? That’s right, They sneak up behind Robin and smash his head in. BAM! POW! BIFF! Holy twaddle, Batman! Holy Hole-in-a-cranium, Batman! Azzarello leaves what happens afterwards to your imagination, which is awfully sweet of him, but this comic might have been a bit better if Brian Azzarello had stooped to using his own imagination a bit more, instead of relying on mine.
Reading this book may well be a miserable experience, but looking at it is quite delightful. There’s something seriously bizarre about the art in this. I’m pretty sure the book was solicited as having inks from Battlin’ Bill Sienkiewicz, but there’s no sign of The Sink, or even of inks, at least not as I know them. It looks like John Romita Jnr did his chunky stuff in pencil form and then Steigerwald hurriedly smeared colours atop it all to give it some semblance of finish. Since the book was delayed, a cynic might think this was some rush job stuff to get it out. (Cynics are just awful, aren’t they just.) Wild and unfounded speculation aside, I don’t know why it looks like it does, but I know I like it. The soft haze of the colours blur everything into a dreamlike state; a bad dream to be sure, but one where the writing’s bad and the colours are dreamy. People give Romita some stick these days but I don’t know, I think he’s pretty great. Look at how the smoke curls from the Joker’s mouth; how the blood swings from his nose as his head moves; how Romita repeatedly gets the shock of impact just so; it’s good stuff. And the colours may(?) be the result of desperation incarnate but, you know, sometimes art just happens; things just work. Because this is good looking stuff. I was particularly taken with how Steigerwald gives Joker skin tones with all the allure of a mixture of guano and fag ash, and the liquid chaos of the police lights/flares were another delight. Romita Jnr’s work deftly balances brutality and delicacy, giving the whole thing a visual conviction far in excess of anything the shambolic and self-satisfied mess of a script deserves. Like the kids whom comics are no longer for, the art’s alright; it’s the writing that drags DARK KNIGHT: THE LAST CRUSADE down to CRAP! Or Bat-CRAP! If you will.
NEXT TIME: It’s time to cheer the f*** up, so up next is a bit of Howard Victor Chaykin during which we’ll discover how bananas changed history.
Or something else, because guess what just arrived in the post – COMICS!!!
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!!!
Of late I've been a regular Chatty Cathy and no mistake, so as a change of pace I've scanned in some House Ads which ran in DC Comics from (and it's totally arbitrary this) March 1989 to August 1990. I always enjoy looking at these things when I dig out my back issues; they remind me of stuff I have tucked away (and even sometimes forgotten), or nudge me about stuff I mean to pick up at some point before...I come to my senses and start acting my age. Sometimes they just make me shake my head and wonder how that turned out for everyone. Heck, it's just fun looking at them, basically, and I hope you share my fascination...
While this is an image heavy post, and so you do get off lightly, you don't get off Scott-free as I have some words as well. Looking at the ad for SKREEMER I am reminded of one of several reasons why I will always be happy to give Peter Milligan a hug i.e. the ferocious passion with which, early in his career, he sought to make James Joyce an influence on comics. Now with most (mainstream North American) comic writers rarely straying to any level higher than that of Glen A. Larson or The Disney Channel his example is missed more than ever. Also, SKREEMER is not only violence and intelligence beautifully and cheekily intertwined via Milligan's script and Dillon/Ewins' art, but it is also still in print today. So go and buy a copy before I do a more in depth write-up on it, is what I'm getting at there.
JUSTICE INC. by Helfer & Baker isn't in print and (AFAIK) has never been reprinted. This is bad. However, you can pick up both prestige format issues for pennies. Which is good. Particularly if you want a comic which wades into the same troubled waters of America's History as Ellroy's UNDERWORLD USA trilogy and Don Winslow's POWER OF THE DOG. Not only that, but it does so by avoiding Ellroy's grating (if historically accurate) racism and Winslow's risky dalliance with cliché. JUSTICE INC. is also funnier. Not only that but Helfer's scripts show that if your dialogue is going to make the art play second fiddle, then it better be pretty immaculate dialogue. Which his is. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a stylistic chameleon like Kyle Baker on board either, and he makes every artistic inch begrudgingly allotted him work like a pastel shaded dream.
Additionally, from this aged vantage, I well recall Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle's Batman run(s). As well I should, as it's the only comic I allowed myself while, ahem, studying due to the fact that Guinness doesn't buy itself. (Sometimes I weakened and bought SHADE THE CHANGING MAN as well. Shhhh.) Those were some rock solid Batman comics and I'm pretty sure I can't be alone in being keen on a comprehensive collection of them appearing one day.
I note also that there's an advert for THE ART OF WALTER SIMONSON down there, and that volume is packed full of Simonson's early DC work, and is a humongous joy for any Simonson fan (which should really be any fan of Comics). It's also cheap to pick up today; so you just ran out of reasons for not owning it, chum. The magnificent Gil Kane's there as well; still alive back then, and fulfilling his personal dream of adapting (with Roy Thomas) Richard (not John) Wagner's The Ring Cycle. That's easy to find too in 2016, and if you like Gil Kane (as well you should) then that's you sorted. I never read Pepe Moreno's BATMAN: DIGITAL JUSTICE, which was probably for the best as I believe it's now considered to be to DC Comics as E.T. THE VIDEO GAME was to Atari.
There's lots of other stuff there, and feel free to share your recollections and misgivings regarding them. But before I go, it has always struck me as a bit of a dick move on the part of The Flash to challenge Superman to a race. Do you not think? And on that note, stick your face right into The Past and enjoy...COMICS!!!
NEXT TIME: Take a wild guess, that's right - 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!!!
It's the 7th October 2015 and that means it's been 65 years of the chunky wee thermodynamic miracle Howard Victor Chaykin! Today is his day, so I'm going to shut my yapper and below the break you can feast your eyes on 65 images culled from The Chaykin Section in The Kane
Garage Archives. Raise your root beers high and let's all drink to another 65 years of the amazing Mr. Chaykin!
THE SHADOW by Chaykin, Bruzenak & Wald
Happy Birthday, Mr. Chaykin and thanks for all the - COMICS!!!
Batman. Michael T. Gilbert. Stories. Anyway, this... BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #94 'Stories' Art by Michael T. Gilbert Written by Michael T. Gilbert Lettered by Willie Schubert Separations by Digital Chameleon DC Comics, $1.95 (1997) Batman created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane
I’ve liked Michael T. Gilbert’s work ever since I noticed his inks energising P. Craig Russell’s Elric for Pacific back in (Ack! The years, they fly like the leaves!) 1982(?). There his enthusiastic disorder prevented Russell’s work from resembling too strongly the statuary it can often ossify into. When Russell departed to be awesome elsewhere Michael T. Gilbert carried on the series for First! with George Freeman; together they produced line work as seemingly casual as silk in the wind but in fact each silky line was tethered securely to a stout tree of storytelling chops. No, wait - Gilbert & Freeman brought just the right balance of Order and Chaos to Elric. Good stuff; certainly good enough stuff to be slated for a series of Titan reprints starting in 2015 (Hoo-HA!). But Michael T. Gilbert made his real mark on comics with Mr. Monster, a Golden Age obscurity resurrected as a tender comedy-horror tribute to all that was trashy, camp and old. Mr. Monster recently appeared in a number of issues of Dark Horse Presents which made me glad all over. Mostly I was covered in glad because the thing I like best about Michael T. Gilbert was still there; his energy. And in the following comic his energy is in full effect. Yes, yes, basically, I’m going to tell you about some old crap I found because you can’t stop me. (Cackles maniacally.) By the time 2015 rolls ‘round you’ll all love Michael T. Gilbert as much as I do!
Lovably enough "Stories" is literally a story about stories, and these stories are told by a group of people stuck in a lift on the 13th story of a building. You can see already that Michael T. Gilbert has already carried his conceit way too far for serious pipe smoking consideration, which is good as his work here eagerly spurns solemnity and dances the lambada with lunacy. The set-up is that a guy who wrote a book about some religious extremists is trapped in a lift with a few other people. They are all unawares that the impromptu stop is man-made and that the cause is on its way up the stairs to demonstrate the Love of God by machine gunning the author to death. It’s good the stalled folk don’t know that because just being stuck in a lift is enough to make the author come unstuck; everyone else trusts Batman will save them but, pointedly, the panicking author doesn’t believe in Batman. Everyone rallies round and tells him a Legend of The Dark Knight to keep his pecker up.
All that, though, is just there to shore up Michael T. Gilbert’s manic and lopsided gallop through the history of Batman. It’s a lot of fun is what I’m getting at from hereonin. First up is an elderly dame claiming to be Julie Madison whose insane ramblings are entirely Golden Age in their overwrought and energetic appropriation of the most sensational aspects of pop culture. In the space of four pages there are werewolves and vampires and robed maniacs and gorilla wrasslin'and gorilla strangling and The Bat-Man enthusiastically shooting people in the head and all while rationality rings in, rolls over, and takes a duvet day. It’s pretty crazy stuff but I don’t think even Michael T. Gilbert’s frothing dog approach makes it much crazier than the actual Detective Comics #31 (1939). There’s just so much crazy in any Golden Age tale that any more is just a case of straitjackets to bedlam. A cop then waves things down and launches into a story ("The Bulb Boss of Gotham City!") set after Batman has dropped the definite article and teamed up with a young boy dressed like the female lead in a panto. Oh, and they are scrapping a guy with a giant light bulb on his head who nabs things like implausibly valuable tulip bulbs. This is as absurd as the Golden Age tale but in a more sedately charming way. Next up in "Age is Unhealthy to Children and Other Living Things!" some hippie with a brain fried like bacon yammers on in a Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams’ “Damn The Man!” vein and it’s another layer of humour how Good Michael T Gilbert is at evoking Neal Adams’ signature Hysterical Realism©®. This one was my personal highlight because while I laud and appreciate O’Neil & Adams’ Relevance NOW! stuff, let’s face it, it's not aged any better than the stuff where Batman dressed as a zebra and fought dinosaur clowns on the planet Cher. Throughout none of the humour is mean-spirited or patronising; Michael T. Gilbert clearly loves this stuff, but he also knows you can laugh at something and still love it. Although I think his patience is thinner with the ‘90s Exxxtreme Killer Batman as he only spends a couple of pages with that iteration as though in recognition that that stuff mocks itself just by existing.
While it clearly makes not a lick of sense for someone in a Batman comic not to believe in Batman it works in this Batman comic. That’s because “Stories” isn’t intending at any point to flirt with realism. “Stories” is a story about stories; a story about Batman and how he changes with the times; a story about faith and blindness; mostly though “Stories” is the type of story that if Neil Gaiman had written it, it would be anointed as post-modern, as meta-textual, any inconsistencies would be due to magical realism and everyone with a mortgage could feel a lot better about reading Batman comics. Actually, hang on, Neil Gaiman did write this, as "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" and it was a foppish porridge of constipated whimsy with perhaps the most precious ending in comics’ history. Sure, before "Stories" ends you’ll already know the exact words it is implacably intent on finishing with and while, yes, that is predictable it is also satisfying, as everything clicks into place with the final period. But any sense of neatness is illusory. "Stories" is loose and messy and ultimately refuses to be tied to a single interpretation. It may look like a crazed babble of yelping tomfoolery but, okay, it is, but under all that "Stories” is still serious and seriously GOOD!
NEXT TIME on Everybody Loves Michael T. Gilbert…Superman! (but he’s naughty, not nice!)
Soberingly, I suddenly realised that they've been around longer than any of us - COMICS!!!
OK, spam on the site locked down, new store pretty close to squared away, maybe I am now in place to start reveiwin' again. I've certainly been missing it somewhat. I can't promise this will be every week (in fact, I think I feel confident in announcing that this will NOT be each and every week... unless I do one of those Patreon thingies, in which case then it would be a paid job, and thus an obligation. But I'm not thinking about doing that until I can prove to MYSELF that I can stay on this horse for a little while. Let's just go full capsule-style under that jump.
AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #6: Man, talk about a crazy good issue of a crazy good comic book. I wish these came out more frequently, sure, but damn if this isn't worth waiting for! EXCELLENT.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #4 SIN: The "weird" thing is that the Doc Ock stuff was really really really working, and there wasn't exactly a great creative reason to bring back Peter; and so much of the "what's next" appears to be tied up in multiple versions of Spider-Man, anyway, which less reason to bring back Peter, right? "Secret other spider-person locked in a vault for 10 years" is, I guess, a thing, but it strikes me that it is a thing that absolutely takes focus away from Peter and having's Peter's stories be about PETER (because, otherwise, why bring him back?). I guess that's a long, tangled way of saying: EH.
BATMAN #33 (ZERO YEAR): Oh, oh, finally "Zero Year" ends. I'm sure it will read pretty swell as a book, but as individual comics I mostly thought it was meandering and plodding. However! I liked the end if only because it it was a generally cerebral conclusion, with a battle of wits at the core. I've got a strong GOOD in my heart for this.
BATMAN AND ROBIN #33 (ROBIN RISES): I have to say that I prefer a Batman who tries to, y'know, sneak around the JLA, to one who just quits when he doesn't get his way. And damn if I don't think this book looks crazy fabulous, too -- but I'm having a great deal of cognitive dissonance with the DC universe insisting to me that Darkseid is actually a scary threat when I and you both know that he was always just All Talk in the previous continuity, while at the same time insisting that everything that had to do with Ras' al Ghul DID happen just like they've shown it before. So this storyline has me torn between "awesome!" and "Yeah, but no!". A slightly less enthusiastic GOOD then?
BATMAN ETERNAL #16: With some more artistic consistency, this could be the greatest "big" Batman story ever (It's certainly more coherant than, say, "Knightfall" or "Cataclysm"), but, man, do I get whiplash of the art when reading this. I'm really liking the little game they're playing with the spectre here, and I like the "new" additions to the cast, and, yeah, I just generally think this is a golden age to be a Batman fan, I guess, so, here's a solid GOOD, too.
NEW 52 FUTURES END #12: I've lost the thread of this. I felt like I skipped an issue or something? But I didn't? Mostly I just don't care? Sales are horrific on it at both stores, too, so I guess I am not alone. AWFUL.
STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES GI ZOMBIE #1: And now for thirteen words I never thought I would type: I was genuinely impressed with STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES FEATURING GI ZOMBIE #1. Absolutely, positively not what I was expecting (felt very much like a gritty HBO pilot, not even slightly "Star Spangled"; had extremely realistic art, and low SFX, which is the opposite of what the covers promised). Color me shocked, this was VERY GOOD. It will, however, be cancelled before a year is out, I'm sure. The cover and title is entirely wrong for the book.
SUPREME BLUE ROSE #1: If you're going to follow up on the Alan Moore notions of "The Supremacy", and so on, then this was nearly a perfect 90 degree turn away from the last version, I think. I am intrigued by where this might go, but at the same time I am worried that Warren Ellis is only on for his usual six issues, in which case, why bother talking it up? It was clearly GOOD, though.
Hey, how about a graphic novel review?
SECONDS GN: You know, I kind of loved Bryan Lee O'Malley's Chibi-style art here, and the narrative flow, but I absolutely hated the end of the story -- the protagonist learns not a thing, and rather things being driven by "Well, maybe I shouldn't change time/space because it hurts other people", the narrative is all driven by the protagonist's feelings and imaginary magical beings. "A Wizard Did It" is, at the end of the day, crappy storytelling, and while one could totally forgive the shallow SCOTT PILGRIM for that (because I read that shallowness as an essential part of the story), one expects a little more from the "sophomore" work, doesn't one? I really liked the style and most of the execution of the work, but I thought as a piece of art it kind of failed the test of Humanity. Strongly OK is about as good as I can muster.
Right, so that's me this week. What did YOU think?
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!
Hey there, everyone! You miss us? Well, good news, we're back--all three of us (Graeme, me, and my terrifying vocal echo that haunts much of this podcast). After the jump: show notes and promises to do better!
So, yeah. there's a bit of an echo and we're damn sorry about it. Steps are even now being taken to make sure it doesn't happen again. I was pretty sure in this case it was caused by generous application of our good friend Levelator, but in fact I think it may be the volume in my headset. Or Graeme's headset. Or Graeme's head. It's a thing we're working on, honest.
And because I want to get this to you as early as possible (which is, you know, an entire day early), let me get on those show notes...although before I do, let me remind you to jump over and check out Hibbs' analysis of the annual Bookscan numbers: I'm always a bit stunned by the amount of sheer statistical elbow grease Hibbs put into the piece. Although publishers and some bloggers are generally quick to poo-poo the accuracy of the results, I feel like there are very few places where people not on the publishing end of the industry get any chance to look at how the comics industry interacts with "the real world." It's a helluva service (and even if Hibbs were getting paid big money to write it--which I doubt--that would still be mitigated by the amount of time it takes to do it).
Anyway, off the soapbox, let's get on with the vaudeville:
00:00-10:12: Greetings! We have simultaneous hellos, which may well be a first for us. Graeme checks to make sure Jeff is recording and then fills you in on what you missed with our lost episode: super-quick coverage of Ms. Marvel #1, Loki #1, Empowered Vol. 8, The perils of being “neggo” (I think we passed on the “Leggo of my neggo” joke for reasons probably related to good sense). There’s also beard talk! Beard talk! We actually compare notes about growing beards, voluptuous or otherwise. Thank god this thing we call the Internet was developed to allow two men in different states (in both the geographic and beard-growing senses of the term) to discuss their beards and allow people from all over the world to listen in. Then we talk weather, Jeff’s snowaphobia, Dr. Who time travel sounds, all the usual stuff you’d expect. You do expect it, don’t you? You should.) 10:12-36:24: Graeme was re-reading The Best of Milligan & McCarthy and has a question for us: are we somehow past the point of non-ironic fun comics? Under discussion: Archer &Armstrong, Quantum & Woody (more ampersands in this paragraph than I've typed in a month), and a significant chat about four books by Kyle Baker (Cowboy Wally, Why I Hate Saturn, You Are Here, and Undercover Genie) which leads us down a pretty deep Nostalgia-Hole where we discuss books like Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children and Wasteland. As John Kane would say: Comics! Sometimes they are obscure and old (like the people who talk about them)! [Edit: Someone brought to my attention an interview with John Ostrander about Wasteland conducted by Copra genius Michel Fiffe over at The Factual Opinion. You should check it out! I am doing so right this very minute.] 36:24-50:28: Since Graeme has already written somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty thousand words on the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer (this one being my personal favorite), Jeff decides to take advantage of that and get the man's impressions about it. 50:28-1:14:44: From new movies to old! Prometheus made its way to HBO so Jeff got a chance to see it and…hoo boy. Fascinating enough that we are compelled to pick it apart, but don’t let this fool you into seeing it. Oh no, please. We don’t want that on our heads. Mentioned: Buck Rogers, Tom Hardy, A Reverse Man Who To Fell To Earth, prequels, The House on Haunted Hill, a secret challenge to Sean Witzke, Smallville, Marc Bernardin’s take on Gotham, The Savage Hawkman by Tony Daniel and more. 1:14:44-1:21:32: Batman #28! As the podcast’s current bat-nerd, Jeff has thoughts. He also has thoughts on the last few issues of Batman & Two-Face. Oh, yes. Yes, he does. 1:21:32-1:36:48: And we both have thoughts about “Titan,” the excellent Judge Dredd storyline by Rob Williams and Henry Flint that just wrapped up in 2000 A.D. Graeme calls it “Trifecta-level quality” so that is very high praise. Jeff also loves it but actually feels the last few issues of the mag have been perfectly balanced and thoroughly enjoyable. We talk more about the storyline, the mag, what’s happening in the Megazine, conflicting feelings re: singles v. trades, DRM v. non-DRM, and more. 1:36:48-2:05:35: Yes, we did keep up with our reading on Avengers…somehow! So we talk about issues #26-50 by Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Don Heck, John Buscema, George Tuska, a bunch of really good inkers, and others. Also discussed: the mysteries of Hawkeye, story twists, terrible continuity, why Inside Llewyn Davis should have Hercules in it, and more. 2:05:35-end: Closing comments! Hilariously, we talk about doing a closing section with added reverb, utterly unaware that for some reason Jeff’s voice has been doubled during the podcast to a truly terrifying degree. This is a thing we vow to resolve! (Well, not in the podcast, we don't. I’m vowing it right now, here in the show notes. See? Watch me vow!)
Okay, so this is a thing that is up on iTunes and our RSS feed, but is also the sort of thing we'd be more than happy for you to listen to below, if you want:
Again, our apologies for the delay and we will see you in another fortnight! We thank you for listening and hope you enjoy.
BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #55-57 Artist: Mike McMahon Writer: Chuck Dixon Letterer: Willie Schubert Colourist: Digital Chameleon DC Comics, $1.75 each (1993) Batman created by Bob Kane
These three issues comprise the self contained and out of continuity Batman tale Watchtower. The comic itself, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, specialised in such tales. This title delivered a surprising number of accomplished tales from a talented and varied array of creative minds and hands; certainly at least for as long as Archie Goodwin was at the editorial helm. The attraction in this arc for me was very much the magic of Mike McMahon. Now, Chuck Dixon does a fine job, don’t get me wrong. Like a TV version of Miller’s Dark Knight Returns Dixon’s story is of a near future Bruce Wayne pining for the colourful criminals of the past. Here though none of the colourful loons conveniently return and so Batman must confront the banal but no less evil prospect of Privatisation (and its co-joined twin Corruption). Craft wise it’s spot on; Dixon hits all the beats. You know, those beats the comic book writers are always going on about. He doesn’t use narrative text either; just dialogue. I know! It turns out you can write a well paced entertaining story which makes sense by combining just dialogue and art. (Actually it turns out people have been doing it for decades, but shhhh!) Yes, Chuck Dixon provides a strong script; one so strong I suspect it would have succeeded in entertaining the reader had most anyone drawn it. That’s not faint praise but that’s all he gets because most anyone didn’t draw it; Mike McMahon did.
Before I demonstrate my love for McMahon’s work on these pages (work he has dismissed as awful) in the usual storm of horseshit hoping to pass for art appreciation let’s talk about Mike when he was but a tyke. The first time ever I saw Mike McMahon’s art was on Judge Dredd in the weekly British comic 2000AD in 1977 AD. Turned out that was his debut. McMahon, the scent of Chelsea Art College still lingering in his puppyish nostrils, was called in to pinch hit due to editorial shenanigans centering around Carlos Ezquerra. That’s why his early stuff looks like Ezquerra – that’s what he was told to do. And, bless his gifted mitts he did it. But, leisurely, he stopped doing it.
As the years passed it was clear McMahon was developing his own style under cover of The Carlos. Initially grubby and giving the impression of portraying a world made of compacted scabs there was soon a sense of flakiness to McMahon’s art, as though a slow act of shedding was underway. In strips like Ro-Busters and A.B.C. Warriors there is a definite impression of McMahon’s Ezquerra-isms swelling as though from internal pressure. It’s true, I tell ya; his figures become bloated and even have strange flecks drifting off them. And then his art, primarily on Dredd in this period, seems thereafter to suddenly retract, fitting itself tautly around a new wholly McMahon framework of geometric precision. But it didn’t stop there; McMahon’s art kept going (and it is still going), kept fresh with refinements both calculated and accidental. (How his outstandingly appropriate woodcut style on Slaine was the unexpected result of a new method involving Bristol board, markers and tracing paper has now passed into Legend.) Then he got ill. A couple of years passed and he came back strong with The Last American for Goodwin’s EPIC imprint. McMahon, being notoriously self critical as he is, was unimpressed by his work there but Goodwin knew the real stuff when he saw it and so (I assume) threw McMahon this assignment. But like San Francisco’s favourite cop you don’t assign McMahon you just turn him loose.
Loose being the last word you’d apply to McMahon’s work here. Meticulously constructed from the most basic level as it is to reflect the comprehensive vision of Mike McMahon. A vision which embraces the two dimensional nature of comic art like no other. Looking at Mike McMahon’s art is like looking at the world through the eyes of an alien creature. You can tell what everything is but everything is off. Yet in relation to each other every element is clearly related to the same perceptual set. It’s the flatness that gets me. Usually that would be a pejorative term obsessed as comic book art can tend to be with verisimilitude Here though realism is out of the window. Indeed, McMahon’s art seems to imply that if you want realism then look out the window because right here, pal o’ mine, is something better than reality. Something other. Something no one else could produce. Something that you won’t get anywhere else. I could have just said it was unique but I have a reputation for going on a bit to maintain. Standards and all that.
Surprisingly given its unique nature McMahon’s art isn’t hampered by the involvement of other hands. I have no idea whatsoever if there was any level of communication between the various parties but if there wasn’t then what we have here is the happiest of artistic accidents. Willie Schubert’s font in the speech bubbles and the Sound FX, with their slanted angles and hand crafted air have a very McMahon feel to them. They seem a part of the art. There’s a killer sequence where a hood is beaten by security specialists and the SFX appear in the panel showing a witness quailing in fear, but they are then absent from the next panel which shows the risen clubs. I described that quite tediously but the actual success of the effect is indisputable. You’ll notice there is only the slightest indication of motion in the image of the clubs (the blood on te rearmost club). McMahon eschews motion lines throughout. Usually he’s designed the image in a panel to lead the eye in such a way that the implicit motion is conveyed. Sometimes though ,as in a panel where a club strikes a head, the only clue to motion is the presence of a SFX (“WOK!”).
Digital Chameleon’s colours are noticeable even to me and I am notoriously inert in my appreciation of comic colouring. However, they don’t stand out because they jar or if they jar they are meant to. The palette of lime greens, midnight blues, soiled yellows and popping reds all provide another level of visual interest at the very least. And at their very best they collaborate with McMahon’s images in achieving the effects he’s reaching for. Particularly when it comes to the layering of the image. McMahon’s very keen on layering the elements in his panels. His panels can be many layers deep but each layer is distinct and the illusion of depth is the result of their distance being adequately conveyed. It's akin to those fuzzy felt pictures you used to do as a kid; if you are super-old like me. Anyway, there are panels where the colouring quite blatantly enhances this effect. In these issues i was pleasantly surprised to find that McMahon’s work adapted well to the many hands make light work ethos of North American genre comics; something everyone involved gets a high five for.
So, yeah, Mike McMahon did a Batman comic back in the day. Mike McMahon probably doesn’t like it and I can’t conceive what fandom of the day made of it, but I thought it was VERY GOOD!
But then again Mike McMahon is – COMICS!
THANKSGIVING! CHRISTMAS! NEW YEAR'S! THE TERROR NEVER ENDS!
Actually, it's not really that bad, but all these holidays and holiday related get-togethers are keeping us very, very busy. So! After the show notes, please join us for two hours of desperate comics blabbity-blab and the show notes dedicated to same!
So...right, then. Where were we? Ah, yes...
00:00-16:29: We are off and running, with a weirdo greeting, an equally weirdo response about the news of the death of Nelson Mandela, before moving on to discuss the Wonder Woman casting, so recently announced: what did we think? Our answers will surprise you! Unless you figured our answers were gong to be a rambling, incomplete personal anecdote from Jeff and a disagreement between Jeff and Graeme about box office earnings, in which case you can pick up your winnings at Window Seven. (One day, I'll tire of the "people gambling about when Jeff and Graeme bring up a specific topic they seem obsessed on" joke, but that day is, I fear, a long, long way off.) 16:29-20:26: Graeme has been rereading the Villains Month issues to supplement his reading of Forever Evil, and schools Jeff on DC’s event. 20:26-45:42: A transition from the DC event to the Comixology Cyber-Monday sale of New 52 trades: what first volumes trades of the New 52 would Graeme have bought? Which ones did Jeff buy? Why did Jeff use “what” for one of those questions and “which” for the other? Why so many rhetorical questions? Whyyyyy? Also discussed in this segment: a ton of Batman talk, and a long, shameful admission from Jeff about his love for Tony Daniel’s Detective Comics, the tragedy that is Hawkman, whether the awful is preferable to the competent, Jeff’s comics capriciousness this week, Rogues Rebellion by Brian Bucellato and Scott Hepburn, Suicide Squad by Matt Kindt and Patrick Zircher, and more! 45:42-1:12:14: From there we get to Letter 44 from Charles Soule by Alberto Alburquerque, Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma, the Lost school of storytelling, epic stories vs. small stories, the awesome Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart. Also discussed: Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern, what’s going on with the upcoming Inhumans series?, and more! (About Forever Evil.) 1:12:14-1:34:24: And this actually leads us quite nicely into a discussion of the Hunger Games movies—the first two films, the books by Suzanne Collins, storytelling, how they tie into Marvel movies exposition, this terrific review by Peter Rosenthal, and more. 1:34:24-1:57:11: The Spider-Man 2 trailer: worth talking about briefly? We think so? The draw of Marvel characters as cinematic, as opposed to comic book, characters, the secret of Crocodile Dundee 2, and a very funny throwaway joke from Flight of the Conchords (Season One, of course!). Also, Jeff finally talks about the Wonder Woman casting, there is a surprisingly robust squabble where we end up yelling about the Hemsworth brothers, not letting the Internet cast movies, and... 1:57:11-end: Closing comments! A reminder that we will be off, yet again, next week…so remember to listen to Graeme and I argue about the Hemsworth brothers at least twice more!
Pretty snazzy, am I right? Over two hours of comic book podcasting insanity -- actually, I don't think it's cool to talk about insanity as a value-added bonus, so maybe we should say "over two hours of comic book podcasting neuroses"...and really it's less than a minute and a half more than two hours, so... I kinda feel like maybe I should just leave it at snazzy, I guess.
Nonetheless! It's on iTunes, and it is here for you as well:
As always, we thank you for listening and hope you enjoy!!
Anyone remember in what book Tolkien references the Battle of the Open-Faced Sandwich? Infographic/opening salvo by the invincible Kate McMillan.
Oh, man. I hope that infographic does not hog up too much of our precious SavCrit real estate--please don't miss Abhay writing about Lazarus or that piece about how DC ran its print runs for Villains Month, or other fine entries!
Also, do join us after the jump for shownotes for our latest "Reunited-and-it-feels-so-good-except-Graeme-and-I-exchange-words-about-Game-of-Thrones-so-how-good-can-we-feel-really?" podcast!
0:00-22:17: Hey, we are back and we are discussing some of the groovy NYCC announcements that the savvy Mr. McMillan knew at the time of recording. Among the various bombshells dropped: Priest and Bright back on Quantum & Woody; DC's announcement of the Batman weekly, Batman Eternal; and a huge block of time wherein Graeme tells us about the Marvel announcements, including Trial of The Jean Grey; the Black Widow's new title; Al Ewing on a new Loki title; Ales Kot taking over on Secret Avengers; Avengers Undercover; All-New Ghost Rider #1 (which sounds pretty ridiculous but as I've since found out Felipe Smith of Peepo Choo fame is writing it, I'd be into it, and ditto on the Disney title written by Witch Doctor's Brandon Seifert); and much, much more. 22:17-55:14: But there were also some pretty great comics that came out in our semi-skip weeks too and we sit down to talk about those too: a very brief discussion of Paul Pope's Battling Boy (Graeme had read it; Jeff hadn't); Saga #14 (see? It's been a while, hasn't it?) which leads into a talk about…TV(?) including the season debuts of Parks & Recreation, Nashville, New Girl, and others; The Star Wars #2 (with some impressive kvetching from Graeme) and which features this:
Empowered: Nine Beers with Ninjette; Fatale #17; IDW's Powerpuff Girls #1 by Troy Little; Rocket Girl #1 by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare; and Batman #24 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. 55:14-1:07:50: Additionally, Graeme has read Superman Wonder Woman #1; Green Lantern Corps #24, Forever Evil: Arkham War #1; and the first issue of Coffin Hill by Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Miranda, and goes on to discuss them, thank goodness, otherwise I would've really wasted some time typing those names out. 1:07:50-1:13:01: Graeme has also read Kings Watch #2 by Jeff Parker and Mark Laming, and a copy of First Second's Fairy Tales Comics in which Chris Duffy has assembled a powerhouse of comic talent--it is worth looking out for. By contrast, Jeff scratches his weary head over Walking Dead #115. 1:13:01-1:17:33: And yet, we were both surprised and delighted by Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla (The interview with Aguirre-Sacasa that Jeff calls out is available here. The image Jeff chooses to babble about briefly that you can't see because we are an audio podcast is this one:
1:17:33-1:21:16: Compare and contrast with Shaolin Cowboy #1 by Geoff Darrow from Dark Horse Comics? How can one? And yet, Jeff does. 1:21:16-1:39:56: Lazarus #4. Lazarus has received a pretty good drubbing on this site, but Jeff continues to read it. If you want to hear a new, far-more-inarticulate set of frustrations with the title, these are the few minutes for you! 1:39:56-1:45:16: Our most controversial topic yet--the open-faced sandwich! (See above.) Little did Jeff know when he recorded his solocast that he was inviting tremendous dissent from many…most especially the formidable Kate McMillan. (Again, see above.) 1:45:16-1:59:44: And, finally: we talk about the long-gestating secret project that's been keeping Jeff busy seemingly forever -- the electronic imprint Airport Books and its first title, the reprint of E.J. Ehlers' never-before-printed Erotic Vampire Bank Heist. Although we aren't the type to shill heavily (for ourselves, anyway), Graeme is kind enough to help Jeff do so here, and we do hope that if this is the sort of thing you're interested in, you consider picking up a copy for your Kindle or Kindle reading app. 1:59:44-end: Closing comments! A bit of excited blurbing about the Zombo trade leads to the promise/threat of a Zombo book club for next week! Here's the cover so you know what to look for:
And but so!
The podcast is on iTunes (probably, maybe, probably) but it is also here for your audible delectation:
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go celebrate the launching of my imprint in fine style and go get my teeth cleaned and drilled. (On the plus side, the nitrous will probably give me hallucinations of chatting with Amanda Urban over some choice canapes, so maybe that's the perfect launch party.)
Thank you for your kindly attention, and we'll be back with ep. 137 next week!
Howdy, Whatnauts! The good news is: I think I fixed the recording levels for this episode so your eardrums will not bleed whenever I speak. (Though I'll miss feeling like Black Bolt.) The bad news is: I started on this kind of late and so powered on through the show notes. They are....very, very brief. If last week's notes were a leisurely feast, this week's notes are a shaky handful of peanuts devoured standing up by the sink.
And with that effortless bit of salesmanship out of the way, join me behind the jump!
0:00-25:25: Introduction comments! We have just a few minutes talking around Graeme's incandescent rage, before talking about the news of Karl Kesel taking over scripting duties for Matt Fraction on Fantastic Four…all of which leads us to ponder the Fantastic Four. Is it a book past its prime, or is it still possible for the title to resonate in the marketplace? 25:25-53:15: There was a discussion the other day on Twitter about why people should care about the sales of comics. It seems germane to the stuff we talk about, so we talk about it. And I guess it moves to become a discussion about how Marvel is selling their books, marketing their books, and making their books since we end up discussing stuff like: Captain Marvel, Variety Magazine, the Direct Market and the comics Internet, Hawkeye, All-New X-Men, Uncanny Avengers, Indestructible Hulk, and more. 53:15-1:04:19: Speaking of Indestructible Hulk, Jeff has read the last five issues and we revisit our previous discussion of the book's strengths and weakness. 1:04:19-2:01:11: And other comics we have read: Adam Warren's story from A+X #10! Infinity #1! The Trinity War crossover event! (Plus, a brief anecdote about DC 3-D.) Saga #13! Buffy Season Nine! Angel and Faith! Batman #23! Suicide Squad issues #22 and #23 by Ales Kot, Patrick Zircher, and Rick Leonardi! More Rogue Trooper! More Cat Shit One! The FCBD Judge Dredd comic! Jack Kirby's adaptation of The Prisoner! 3 New Stories by Dash Shaw! When I'm tired and over-extended, exclamation points are my crutch! Oh, and some point, I took a picture of the screenshot I checked out of the library. Here it is, in part because I'm so ashamed of stiffing you people on show notes content, and in part because Graeme and I look like some sort of hilariously ominous comic book cabal committed to forcing dopey manga on an unsuspecting world:
2:01:11-end: The Center Cannot Hold! Shenanigans! Apologies! Skip Week! Closing Comments! Something like an attempt to provide coming attractions! More Shenanigans!
(And holy crap, did I enjoy those first three volumes of Yakitate!! Japan... Can't wait to read the rest...)
The show is on iTunes! The show will be on iTunes! The show was on iTunes! But it is also here, hovering snug in the center of the Nexus of All Realities:
Remember, next week is a skip week so feel free to catch up on all of our past episodes (thanks to my esoteric numbering system, there are more than 190 entries available on our RSS feed) and tune in two weeks from now. As always, we hope you enjoy this thing we do, and thank you for your patronage!
Yeah, this is as close as you're going to get as podcasting in real time, Whatnauts -- Graeme and I talked for half an hour just a few hours ago, and I decided I'd get this edited and uploaded for you to enjoy. Super-brief show notes for a super-brief SDCC special after the jump!
0:00-10:23: Very scattered greetings! Graeme is directly outside SDCC and Jeff is….not. We have thirty minutes to talk which of course is a stunningly short period of time for us, so this is far from us at our sharpest. Although the connection is a bit echoey at various points, Graeme gives up the big update on the DC All-Access panel: Aquaman vs. Sharknado -- who does Geoff Johns think would win? Also mentioned: the state of Preview Night 2013; the crazy low prices over at the 2000AD booth; the state of cosplay; the awesome people at Fantagraphics; the upcoming Comic Blogging Panel; and more. 10:23-17:48: Comic books --we do in fact read 'em and decide, hey, why not talk about them? Covered in today's talk Justice League of America #6 (Graeme's read it, Jeff hasn't); Walking Dead #112; Batman #22 by Snyder and Capullo; Batman & Catwoman #22 by Tomasi and Gleason; The Invincible Haggard West one-shot by Paul Pope; Deadpool #13; and Batman '66 #3. 17:48-19:16: Whoever had 16:47 in the betting pool for when Jeff would start talking about 2000AD, pick up your winnings at Window No. 2! 2000AD Prog. 1841 as well as Judge Dredd Megazine #338 hit the apps yesterday and Jeff really liked the Dredd stories in both. 19:16-23:45: There is a brief chat about the upcoming Al Ewing Avengers book (Jeff is a bit bummed he will not be able to buy it), Avengers books back in the '90s, and Irredeemable which Jeff had followed for a while and is now giving another try. Graeme read Extermination by Si Spurrier and Jeffrey Edwards. 23:45-end: Back to SDCC talk. Running into people at SDCC, as well as not running into people at SDCC; Graeme as Dr. Doom; Jeff wussing out on a more extensive part two to this talk. More bits about what Graeme has coming up (which I guess might make it possible to… stalk him, I'm just now realizing?), some great passerby (or is it passerbys?), and closing comments.
It is on iTunes (maybe?) and it is also right here (definitely):
So yeah, clearly, we're not going to be replacing Twitter anytime soon, but since Graeme was willing to talk, I was willing to do what I could to get it up in a timely fashion. Obviously, we hope you enjoy!