A very special throwback this time out! As requested some time ago by someone whose name I've mislaid I finally look at a series from way back in the mists of 1990-91. This one is for everyone who has a very special place in their heart for John Boorman's ZARDOZ. This one's for all the dreamers! WORLD WITHOUT ENDby Higgins, Delano and StarkingsRead More
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 talk about a kid’s comic featuring Space Ghost and Green Lantern. That’s right, I’m 47 years old. It’s called living the dream, baby. Living the dream! RUFF'N'REDDYby Chaykin, Quintana and Brosseau
GREEN LANTERN/SPACE GHOST SPECIAL #1 Art by Ariel Olivetti and Howard Victor Chaykin Written by James Tynion IV: The Voyage Home & Christopher Sebela, and Howard Victor Chaykin Lettered by A Larger Word Studios and Pat Brosseau Coloured by Ariel Olivetti and Wil Quintana Cover by Ariel Olivetti DC Comics, £2.99 (2017) Green Lantern created by John Broome, Gil Kane, Bill Finger, Martin Nodell & Gardner Fox Space Ghost created by Alex Toth, William Hanna & Joseph Barbera Ruff And Reddy created by William Hanna & Joseph BarberaRead 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!!!
So I took a break and now I’m back! Like rickets! So here’s far more words than anyone sane would ever need to read about a two-issue comic Howard Victor Chaykin did in 2006. Because, that’s why. Just because. Also: because. Because. GUY GARDNER: COLLATERAL DAMAGE by Chaykin, Madsen & Balsman
GUY GARDNER: COLLATERAL DAMAGE #1-2 Art by Howard Victor Chaykin Written by Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Michelle Madsen Lettered by Phil Balsman DC Comics (2006) Green Lantern created by Gil Kane, John Broome, Bill Finger, Martin Nodell and Gardner Fox Guy Gardner created by Gil Kane, John Broome G’Nort created by Keith Giffen & J. M. deMatteis
“Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage” is part of the second of Mount (as in “Mountain”; it’s not an instruction) Chaykin’s twin creative peaks. The first peak, as any fule kno, was in the ‘80s when Howard Victor Chaykin stopped putzing about and found his suave groove. In this period, covering “American Flagg!” thru to “Black Kiss”, Chaykin was amazing. The second, less trumpeted, peak occurred in the ‘00s and marked Howard Victor Chaykin’s full-time return to comics after toiling in the soulless arena of Television for much of the ‘90s. What he did in Television was make money, any more detail and you’ll need someone who gives a shit about Television. A comic writer with an Image book, say. Me, I think a talking car was involved and some Marvel show about mutants; I’m already falling asleep, zzzzzzz. Anyway, everyone needs money so whatever and well done to him. Howard Victor Chaykin burst back onto the comics scene with “Mighty Love”, and followed it with a fiesta of fun concepts, nut-tight art, smart scripting and…no one gave much of a shit, to be honest. Which is a stain on Comics’ collective Report Card. (Also, Comics must try harder in gym and stop being so easily distracted, there are no jobs out there for class clowns.) Luckily I am here to heroically, singlehandedly and, above all, modestly rescue Howard Victor Chaykin’s ‘00s output from the ignominy of thoughtless neglect. I picked “Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage” because as we’ll see it is an unlikely place (a continuity burdened Event tie-in) for his characteristic strengths to find purchase. But, like Nature, Howard Victor Chaykin finds a way. Also I’d just bought it on The ‘Ology.
Yes! This aptly named series originally appeared in 2006 as two “prestige” format comics and is now available in 2017 digitally (and, crucially, cheaper) on the ‘Ology. This means I can write about it without breaking the spines of my originals while scanning them. (Such are the trials which mar my life!) The book lived up to its title (“Collateral Damage”, see) by being barely noticed on publication due to most eyes being filled to the brim by the rest of the “Infinite Crisis” lardfest, of which this was but one small part. In the same way that “House of M” (2005) sounded the death knell for my interest in Marvel’s output, “Infinite Crisis” would place the pillow over the face of my interest in DC and begin to apply pressure. Lest we forget, because after all it was 11 years ago now, “Infinite Crisis” was the core series in which Geoff Johns wrote a load of typically mawkish continuity-chuff drizzled in saucy gore, and peppered with his childish resentment at internet commentators; all in an attempt to hornswoggle the audience into believing something of merit and depth had occurred. (It hadn’t.) Worse, there were ancillary mini-series like “The Rann-Thanagar War”, which, while decently written, was a waste of the unique talents of Dave Gibbons. Getting Dave Gibbons to write corporately mandated tie-ins to short-term sales bloating events is a bit like getting Isambard Kingdom Brunel in to unblock your sink because the boss is coming round for dinner. It’s unseemly, and speaks to a total lack of appreciation of his gift. Which is the ability to draw real well, DC Comics. I thought I should spell that out for you; although I guess for DC the real gift of Dave Gibbons is his ability to maintain a dignified silence while they fart once more into the face of “Watchmen”’s corpse. Although there is a certain grim irony in the fact that DC’s latest attempt to reduce one of the (very few) decent cape comics into something they can eventually team-up with Scooby fucking Doo starts with Batman finding a “Watchmen” promotional button in his cave. After all DC’s underhand antics with promotional badges are what started the whole sorry “Let’s All Hunt And Kill Alan Moore” shitshow off aren’t they? (Yes.)
But this isn’t about that, this is about a Howard Victor Chaykin comic which was secreted somewhere within muddled parpstorm of a terrible Event. An Event so larded in extraneous chaff that I’ve hardly even begun to scratch the surface. I can’t even be arsed to look it up, so demoralising is the memory of all that Trex, so I may have a few facts wrong when I say there was also “The OMAC Project” which involved Greg Rucka, so it was probably a bit like drowsing while watching a TV show about a strong! independent! female! written with all the élan and excitement of a spreadsheet macro; “Villains United” which tried to make Catman a sexy badass, so enough said there, and a series about the return of Donna Troy (imaginatively and thrillingly entitled “The Return of Donna Troy”) which I imagine no one read, since no one shares DC’s insane belief in the character of Donna Troy. Although it is sobering to note that they have treated Donna Troy, a fictional character, with more love and respect than they have treated Alan Moore, a real human being. Maybe Alan Moore should start wearing a tight cat suit with little stars on it; it wouldn’t change anything but I think the world would be fundamentally a far sexier place. He could maybe jump around a bit and giggle for Peak Sexy. Uh, anyway, Donna Troy, I don’t know; that probably went about as well as expected, I think they found her weeing in a grate outside IKEA while singing showtunes. I could be wrong. Oh, and then all the regular DC series had a tie-in of some description, that description probably involving the terms “irritating”, “disruptive” and “unwelcome”. Best of all (i.e. worst of all) every title then zipped forward 12 months and the series created specifically to fill in this blank, “52”, didn’t. But everyone writing it had fun and readers did get to see small child torn to pieces by a talking crocodile, which is worth more than rubies to Geoff Johns. In essence the “Infinite Crisis” Event turned out as well as any Event could which starts off with the chirpy schmuck Blue Beetle’s brains being blown out. Fucking grown up stuff, that. If I have made any errors in that brief rundown I want to assure you now that I don’t care. Not a jot. What is undeniable is that the only worthwhile reason to brave this blizzard of inconsequential pablum was Howard Victor Chaykin; who, working diligently away in a neglected corner of the DC Universe, produced another Howard Victor Chaykin comic.
Given the nature of the Event beast Howard Victor Chaykin must here sup from the cup of continuity somewhat deeper than is his wont, yet Chaykin still ably finagles his way into writing what he’d rather be writing about: a horny jackass accidentally doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons. First though he has to pay lip service to the corporate tie-in friendly setup, which is that G’Nort (AKA G'nort Esplanade G'neesmacher the canine looking alien Green Lantern) is looking for an independent entity to broker peace between Rann (the planet of boffins Adam Strange knocks about with) and Thanagar (the planet of winged fascists like that Hawkman). Caught between these two cheeks of the same warmongering arse G’Nort’s home planet has fared poorly. What with his family having being offed the usually played for laffs character is thus portrayed as a bitter champion of peace. An upright talking dog with a magic wishing ring rancorously lamenting its slaughtered family is a pretty good joke about “gritty” superheroes, I think. So, back at the point: G’Nort chooses Guy Gardner, who is the “edgy Green Lantern”. Since the only Green Lantern I have any familiarity with is Hal Jordan, in comparison to whom even I appear “edgy”, I don’t really know how “edgy” Guy Gardner is usually. I’m not really interested either. Here Howard Victor Chaykin writes Guy Gardner as “Howard Victor Chaykin” (Legal Note i.e. not really Howard Victor Chaykin but the cartoonish exaggeration he uses as his default protagonist. Hence the rabbit’s ears round his name.) Or “Howard Victor Chaykin” if he owned his own bar (namely Warriors: “…the finest meat rack the world’s ever seen”) and had a magic wishing ring. It goes without saying that this is the single best set up for a series ever, ever, ever and the very real tragedy is we only have two issues. To recap for Green Lantern newbs: If you stick your finger in Guy Gardner’s ring and make a wish, that wish briefly becomes a physical, but green, reality. But should you stick your finger in Howard Victor Chaykin’s ring and make a wish you end up with a few less teeth and a restraining order. A little lesson in the difference between fantasy and reality there, kids. So, yeah, since there’s a six-issue mini-series occurring somewhere beyond these pages about the Rann-Thanagar War the whole peace process business is a bit of a McGuffin. Okay, a lot of a McGuffin. Everyone gathers in Guy’s bar and then the Tormocks burst in and wreck it and the comic forgets what it was supposed to be about while Guy goes and finishes off the Tormocks. The Tormocks having just finished off the Vuldarian race. I just looked on Wikipedia and, oh wow, it turns out Guy Gardner is the first successful example of the merging of Vuldarian (the Tormock’s hated enemies) and human DNA. Guy was also born in Baltimore, Maryland. There are people out there who know all that but don’t know who their MP is. Think about that for a minute. This comic is a lot of fun but not quite as much fun as imagining Howard Victor Chaykin’s face as he read Guy Gardner’s backstory. Bojemoi!
Given his oft expressed preference for comics’ form over comics’ content I was amazed that Chaykin had immersed himself in Guy Gardner’s typically ridiculous (not a criticism) continuity to the extent he had, but it’s all part of Chaykin’s sleight of hand as he refocuses the tie-in not too subtly onto his pet concerns. Basically the Tormocks allow him to provide his arrogant schmuck of a protagonist with the usual “moral cripple” opposition. Since Guy Gardner is the “hero” it’s important he come into conflict with someone demonstrably worse. Which is kind of tough because Gardner is a leering oaf, a blunt concoction of braggadocio, poor impulse control and genitally driven self-interest. And he also has the worst haircut in comics. The guy’s a walking pile of soiled jock straps with all the self-awareness of a stump. Much of the comedy comes from Chaykin nakedly embracing Guy’s faults, with only Guy’s wishing ring’s sardonic commentary, acting as a kind of unheeded conscience, as a balm to the buffoonish sexism on display. I kid you not when I say there are no less than three panels in which Gardner is clearly ogling a boob while talking to its owner, and his interest in heroism is a poor second to his interest in troilism. Even back when it was just called dickheadedness Chaykin showed a concern with toxic masculinity, a concern which persists in his work. Because he doesn’t actively undermine it to the extent people expect someone to I think he gets a raw deal, and people interpret his depiction as an endorsement. (Also it’s easier to dismiss him that way.) Chaykin’s mature (i.e. Flagg! onwards) work is festooned with protagonists hampered by their toxic masculinity. Usually violent, sexually aggressive and emotionally restricted many of Chaykin’s male leads are walking (but charming) embodiments of toxic masculinity. But the stories they inhabit are often misinterpreted as celebrating this, because Chaykin doesn’t tut and shake his head enough to sate political correctness. Yet Chaykin’s usually kneecapping male bravado as thoroughly as a bolt gun. in “American Flagg!” our cocky protagonist is brought firmly down to earth, only prevailing through fear driven violence and ending a weeping wreck in the arms of a woman despite all the swagger of preceding issues. “Midnight Men” is as much about a man breaking out of the emotional inertia of maleness so he can finally mourn his father, as it is about the joys of punching assholes in the face. Blackhawk doesn’t win by fighting, he wins by thinking. Cass Pollack in “Black Kiss” is thoroughly punished, emasculated even, for his moral feebleness. And Guy Gardner, well, Guy Gardner is just an unrepentant prick. And remains so. Which is fine, but it makes it hard to root for him. Hence the Tormocks. This bunch of charmers are basically engaged in ethnic cleansing on a universal scale, and not only kill people but turn them into a kind of paste and then get schwifty while rolling about in it. So, yeah, as unrepentant as he may be Guy Gardner doesn’t look too bad in comparison. I’ll take toxic males over space Nazis anyoldday.
Visually, Chaykin returned from Television with a new lucidity and boldness which the pages of “Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage” testify loudly to. His figures are big and his layouts regimented. It’s easy to rip the piss out of the predictability of his layouts, with their strict regime of vertical or horizontal panels interrupted by insets, but it works because his aim is clarity, not pizzazz. Sometimes his aim’s off though. No, it’s not all unrestrained gushing from my end (ooer!), Chaykin’s pages definitely work best on the horizontal pattern; the vertical doesn’t give him enough space to stage action, which he forgets sometimes. Confusion ensues. (A dependency on vertical panels would somewhat tarnish, and for some fatally undermine, the many other pleasures of the later “Century West” OGN) Mostly though it’s good lookin’ stuff! There’s a real bounce to it all, a real sense Chaykin’s having a good time. This pleasure is particularly evident in the glee with which he yanks back the clock on the sci-fi stuff. Chaykin’s space jalopies are fantastically old school, each a knowing throwback to the thrilling days of yesteryear. Specifically 1938-40, when Olympic swimmer Larry “Buster” Crabbe (1908-1983) was so virile he portrayed not just Flash Gordon but Buck Rogers to boot. With their rococo ornamentation and redundant aerodynamic tapering Chaykin’s ships just need a fire cracker stuck up the jacksie and to be hoisted aloft by wires moving in a circular but persistently vertical motion. (Also, I’m pretty sure one of the characters is using a hairdryer as a gun at one point.) This obvious affection for the outmoded, impractical but beautiful would find later and fuller expression in Chaykin’s “Buck Rogers” revamp. Here though it’s super heroes a-go-go and Chaykin goes appropriately brash and big with the figurework. Surely no heart can remain unmoved by the five (count them: five!) double page splashes which open the book in a suitably dynamic and sweeping style. Oh yeah, there’s also some debonair styling going on as Chaykin continues his wholly understandable love affair with the visual of a man in a nice suit. And woven in among it all are some sweet little touches of humour, such as the repeating GL symbol on Guy’s tie. It helps that the book’s coloured by Michelle Madsen, whose contribution to this ‘00s second peak period of Chaykin is considerable. Embracing lurid and fruity colours as befits such a lurid and fruity book, Madsen’s colouring here is delightfully essential rather than dutifully unobtrusive. The lettering is fine, but it’s not Ken Bruzenak. It’s fine though. But not Ken. Okay I’ve run out of time so “Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage” is undoubtedly a minor work by a major talent, but it’s still VERY GOOD! Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power – 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!
Sure, right now the site is just saying: 403: FORBIDDEN. Which is less than ideal, and I think a lot of us can relate. But this isn’t the time to roll over, Savage Critics server, this is the time to stand up and keep, uh, writing self-indulgent “things” about old comics no one cares to remember. That’ll show those Ctrl-Alt-Del Nazis! So, anyway, if you can read this then the site’s no longer 403: FORBIDDEN. Hurrah! Let’s bloviate! Well, I’ll bloviate and you can run out of patience once we hit the bit about Ike.
AMERICAN CENTURY by Laming, Stokes, Chaykin, Tischman, Bruzenak, Rambo and Jamison
AMERICAN CENTURY:SCARS AND STRIPES Penciled by Marc "No Blaming" Laming Inked by John "Doris" Stokes Written by Howard "Victor" Chaykin & David "Tsk" Tischman Lettered by Ken "The Bruise" Bruzenak Coloured by Pam "This Time We Win" Rambo Seperations by Jamison Logo Design by Rian Hughes Original Cover Paintings and Thumbnails by Howard Victor Chaykin Originally published in single magazine form as AMERICAN CENTURY 1-4 DC Comics/Vertigo, $8.95 (2001) American Century Created by Howard Victor Chaykin
Usually I ignore the quotes on books unless it’s from someone whose opinion I respect. Since for comics these are usually sourced from Neil Gaiman, mostly I ignore the quotes on books. (Hee hee!) The TPB of AMERICAN CENTURY: SCARS & STRIPES has a nice, refreshingly non-Gaiman, quote though:
"Now we know what would happen if James Ellroy and Graham Greene hooked up and wrote comics." - Editor's Choice, Entertainment Weekly
Yes, you could dismiss it as glib but it’s actually pretty smart, especially as Graham ‘Brighton Rock’ Greene isn’t the usual point of comparison for Comics’ Greatest Ballroom Dancer, Howard Victor Chaykin. James Ellroy’s name is not so surprising: unpleasant people doing unpleasant things against an unpleasant historical backdrop; the fictional creating literary friction with the factual; ayup, AMERICAN CENTURY is squarely in ‘American Tabloid’ territory. Less liberal-baiting racial slurs than the Demon Dog, though. But, Graham ‘The End of the Affair’ Greene? Yeah, it works. Just as Graham ‘The Human Factor’ Greene’s work took place in Greeneland so does Chaykin’s work take place in Chaykinland; both imaginary lands bearing some resemblance to the real world, but largely defined by the idiosyncrasies of the authors in question. Graham ‘The Power and the Glory’ Greene had Catholicism and Chaykin has Judaism; but whereas Graham ‘The Quiet American’ Greene wore his religion like itchy fetters, Chaykin sports his like a natty hat. Both Graham ‘Our Man in Havana’ Greene & Chaykin evince a healthy interest in the world around them, its history, and how this history affected people and vice versa (emphasis on the vice, alas). As approaches go the whole saying something about the world we all inhabit approach sadly proves, when it comes to comics, to be rare as hen’s teeth. So, despite the eruptions and ructions of the very recent past North American genre comics can be relied upon to continue on their merrily emptyheaded and decompressed way, telling us very little about not very much. Exceptions exist, but I put it to the Court, m’lud, that no one has so stubbornly endeavoured to elevate North American genre comics from insubstantial Pablum to something with some mental traction, than the thermodynamic miracle, Howard Victor Chaykin. (Well, no American anyway.) Of course there are very clear differences between Chaykin and Greene; Graham ‘The Third Man’ Greene definitely wrote ‘Travels With My Aunt’, but let’s face it Chaykin would be more likely to write ‘Travels With My Cock’. Comparisons only go so far, after all.
In many ways AMERICAN CENTURY (the 2001 Vertigo Comics series, of which this TPB collects the first four issues) is a succession of travels with Howard Victor Chaykin’s cock. Or his analogue’s cock at least. This time out that analogue is one Harry Block (later Harry Kraft) by name. Harry’s a Portuguese ginger midget with a wooden leg and halitosis that can stun an ox…oh, okay, Harry’s a tall, handsome, physically fit, dark haired, realistically cynical (or cynically realistic), heterosexual American Jew who might not be too smart, but is pretty wily and kind of self-righteous. That is, it’s the usual Chaykin mix of mensch and schmuck we know and love so much. Harry’s come back from the War and unsuccessfully settled into the suburbs. His wife’s a nag and his life is drab. Then he gets drafted for the Korean “Police (cough!) Action” And like any responsible adult he just ups and fucks off, leaving it all behind and sets out into the…(ta da!) American Century! Because, okay, sure, we have to give America that much; the 20th Century belonged to America. (Sorry, Yanks, the 21st Century is earmarked for Tonga. It’s Tonga’s Century, we’re all just living in it!)
The book is set in the ‘50s which is an interesting period in American history, one when America’s Imperialism, emboldened by the fact everywhere else was just plain tuckered out after WW2, was still a tad heavy handed. The ‘60s of course would force a slicker and quieter approach after Vietnam black America’s eyes (e.g. in 1968: 16,592 American deaths were reported in Vietnam versus, say, in 2014: the first McDonalds was opened in Vietnam. I don’t like McDonald’s, but I’d much rather dead cows than dead people. Sorry, vegetarians.) Of course Howard Victor Chaykin isn’t the only name involved here. Writing wise it’s Chaykin & Tischman, which, well, it’s a gobstopper isn’t it? I was going to go with “C&T”, “Tishkin” or maybe “Chayk-Man” for brevity’s sake. But “C&T” sounds like a cheap cocktail (or a regrettable medical procedure people who respect life but kill doctors want to ban), “Tishkin” sounds like a 19th Century Russian poet (author of ‘The Bronze Cocksman’, perchance) and Chayk-Man sounds like a really bad idea for a superhero (don’t ask). So, I’ll be sticking with Chaykin & Tischman, thanks.
On art there’s Marc Laming, with inks by John Stokes. Laming’s cut quite the rug lately over at Dynamite with his pleasantly solid work on the Kings Features characters, but back in 2001 he was a greenhorn and, alas, it shows. Working from breakdowns by Howard Victor Chaykin, Laming’s work is never less than efficient but hardly more than that either. Problems are apparent on the first page where he fluffs the distance between a coupling couple and a pile of books. The whole point of the scene is their physical infidelity topples the books and causes a crack in a wedding photo (SYMBOLISM!) Yet, the books are either too far away for it to work and the couple appear to throw themselves across the room, or they are comically large books. Perspective, innit. Tricky stuff. (Wittily, one of the books is Norman Mailer’s 1948 novel ‘The Naked and The Dead’, wherein Mailer was swayed into the use of “fug” rather than “fuck”, because, uh, moral decency and all that good stuff. By 2001 Chaykin & Tischman are under no such constraints and revel in it. Swear like fucking sailors they do. Disgraceful fuckers.) Laming’s faces are also less than ideal, tending toward a samey-ness which can confuse. But, hey, that never stopped Jim Lee. And it probably didn’t take Laming 6 months to draw someone’s tear duct. John Stokes’ inks manage to elevate Laming’s art for the most part but, alas, the art is at root the kind of stiff that results from artistic stage fright. Hey, it’s a big gig for someone starting out, and while Laming never excels, he doesn’t disgrace himself either. He’s good on the hardware and environment; cars, houses, offices all have that authentic repressed ‘50s flavour. Racism and homophobia saturated the '50s but they could sure design cars and fridges. Now we stil ahve all the bad stuff but everything looks like cheap crap. Uh, anyway. Fair’s fair, the story gets told; which is more than many can manage first time out. Some established pros still struggle don’t they, Tony S Daniel? Laming and Stokes’ art is given some visual pop via Ken “The Bruise” Bruzenak’s reliably playful lettering, but he struggles to integrate it as smoothly as he can with Howard Victor Chaykin’s art. Luckily with Chaykin & Tischman’s script there’s a surfeit of bawdy energy and surly humour which helps to paper over the artistic cracks somewhat. Unusually for comics then, AMERICAN CENTURY fares better on the writing than the art, with the script retaining the urbane combination of aloof and louche which makes Howard Victor Chaykin’s solo work sparkle so. I don’t know what the actual split on scribing duties were, but if Tischman was just tasked with putting Howard Victor Chaykin into historical scenarios and ensuring the tiny dynamo was waist deep in fighting and fucking, he couldn’t have done a better job. Tischman also writes the introduction to the TPB, and it’s a nice piece of clipped prose, evoking the hard-boiled likes of Cain and Hammett which the series seeks to channel, but also with that undercurrent of self-aware humour characteristic of Chaykin’s work. Even when others are involved.
The post-WW2 period when America was still King Shit of Cock Mountain, all swagger and unreflecting self-righteousness, unsurprisingly provides plenty of grist for AMERICAN CENTURY’s revisionist mill. The book starts off with a swift precis of ‘50s suburban Hell; people living the American Dream, but finding dreams are just fantasies which reality rides roughshod over. These people don’t just play charades at dinner parties, you hear me? People being piss poor fits for perfection, AMERICAN CENTURY shows how everyone is unhappy in a different way despite the air-con, fridges, autos and rictus grins. But the book isn’t interested in everyone; it’s interested in Harry Block/Kraft. A lot of the characters get short shrift because of this, but only in comparison. (And the series swings back in later issues to see how most of them are doing.) Character-wise, considering the set-up takes place in one issue it’s an impressive piece of compression. The book’s cast is swiftly delineated as being an All-American rainbow of racists, repressed homosexuals, sexists, dipsos, adulterers, anti-Semites, moral cripples, physical cripples, and probably a few other things I forgot; all swiftly and ably done in less than one issue to boot. It’s a lot to take in in a short span of pages. But the key here is to read the book slow. Seriously, you can’t breeze your way through AMERICAN CENTURY like most comics; you have to take your time. AMERICAN CENTURY assumes you want to spend time with it and operates accordingly. If you just zip through the book like it’s a chore to be done rather than a pleasure to be savoured you’ll think it’s a jumbled mess. It ain’t. Having done all that scene setting spade work AMERICAN CENTURY then throws it all out of the window as Harry absconds in an aeroplane, and Chaykin & Tischman drop Harry into a fantastical scenario where America is sticking its oar into another country’s business. What utter nonsense! Ah, well, unfortunately it isn’t. For the rest of the book Harry has to fictionally negotiate the factual US backed Guatemalan coup of 1954 in a tale which is both lurid and educational, both fiction and fact, with not a little Howard Victor Chaykin sexual wish-fulfilment on the side. Yes, all the Ladies Love Cool Howard, from the dirt poor hooker to the Eva Perón-a-like. It’s a curse, I imagine. Hang on, John, the US backed Guatemalan Coup of 1954? The US backed What of The When?
Remember Ike, whom buttons proclaim we all like? Well, in 1952 people liked Ike enough that Eisenhower became President of America on the back of a campaign, within which was snugly nestled a promise to actively combat, rather than inertly contain, communism (N.B. America is not a big fan of communism. Just so you know. They hide it well, but they can’t fool me.) The prior Truman administration had been increasingly wary of communist influence in Guatemala but had played largely fair, using only economic and diplomatic pressures. (PBFORTUNE its one attempt at covert action was quickly shelved once it became somewhat less than covert. Oops!) Fairness was off the board post-Truman as McCarthyism (i.e. the hysterical self-aggrandising scaremongering of Senator Joseph McCarthy, not an outbreak of impressions of Edgar Bergen’s ventriloquist doll Charlie McCarthy) was rife within Eisenhower’s Government, the Cold War was escalating and Russia was a totalitarian shitshow giving socialism a bad name (link to Bon Jovi: “BAD NAME!”); all in all things were looking bleak for Guatemala on the non-intervention front. Geopolitically speaking America was cracking its knuckles in an alley waiting for someone to distract Guatemala’s attention. But why? Guatemala? Bizarrely the culprit was a fruit company with its nose bent out of shape. I didn’t even know they had noses!
Because I am largely docile I have spent a large part of my life thinking the United Fruit Company (UFC) was just some kind of CIA front with a typically silly code name, and while the CIA and the UFC were indeed linked, it turns out the UFC was actually and primarily a fruit company, probably a united one to boot. Yeah, fruit; Bananas and that. I find it odd to this day that a fruit company (!) could have such an effect on history as this one. Well, any effect on history besides providing people with fruit. Now, because unrestrained capitalism is just great, just absolutely fantastic, this US based company had basically ended up running a private fiefdom within Guatemala; true this was via concessions from various Guatemalan rulers who liked money rather more than their people. Hold on though, fruit isn’t the only fall guy in this scenario as these bad practices had their root in the 19th Century and the concessions made to plantation owners when coffee demand blossomed. So the humble coffee bean has to shoulder some of the blame. Yes, History makes even breakfast a guilt trip! What larks. In clear violation of anything even remotely close to human decency, land was sold from under the (poorly shod, I imagine) feet of the Guatemalan population to the plantation owners and, acting like monopoly is just a board game, the UFC ended up being the only banana game in town, with control over the communication and distribution infrastructure required by such a business. You know, little things like roads and rail tracks. Things were pretty awesome for the UFC all told, but less so for the average Guatemalan. I don’t know, but I imagine they were controlled by repression and violence, which are all okay obviously as long as they are happening out of the customers’ sight and people get their iPads, I mean, bananas. In 1929 the Great Depression happened and, boy, that was what historians call “a doozy”, there are books about it and everything. Surprisingly though, The Great Depression didn’t just affect America; everywhere was a bit down in the mouth. In Guatemala it was all getting a bit much; life was shit and now this? Finally, the Guatemalan people rose up (hurrah!)…and were pushed back down (boo!). Actually they were pushed even further back and even further down by Jorge Ubico’s (US Supported) regime, for which the word repressive is probably soft soaping it. The important thing here though is Jolly Jorge Ubico not only gave the UFC massive amounts of public land, but also exempted it from all taxes.
Taxes! People fucking hate paying taxes don’t they? I just want to make this point here because currently people seem to think paying tax is some kind of cheeky imposition, some kind of theft. Look, tax puts the money back. Not all of it; you can keep some for being successful, because there’s nothing wrong with success and the rewarding thereof. (Despite what they tell you Socialism doesn’t punish success.) Hey, I’m no economist (SPOILER!) but here’s a clue about trickle-down economics – if you divert all the money into bank accounts in Panama it isn’t going to trickle anyfuckingwhere, certainly not back into society where it is needed. It’s really cute that you can afford someone to cook your books so you avoid paying what you should, but don’t expect us peons who have to pay full whack or face going to prison to be cheering you on. If you are paying someone to get creative with your taxes I’m not sure you should do that. It’s “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” It’s not “From each as little as you can fucking get away with, to each none of mine if at all possible.” Squirrelling your money away off-shore is as Left Wing as Enoch Powell’s arse. Yeah, I do know the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance. And, yeah, I know one’s not illegal, but I also know it is still immoral. So, yeah, my names JohnK, and I think my shit don’t stink or whatever you think will shut me up, but, hey, pay your taxes. It’s not a little game between your accountant and the gubbermint; people die due to lack of adequate funding. You know - human beings. Die. And they don’t come back like in the comics. But of course you’ll never see them die and you’ve got your bananas, right? You’ve got aaaaaaaaaaaalllllll the bananas. Well done you. Hang onto those bananas. Like a big fucking chimp. Man, 2016’s really soured my mood. Sorry about that. No, no I’m not. Scratch that.
So, uh, where were we? (Christ, who was that guy? “Immoral”? Dude, it ain’t the 16th Century. What a fucking “snowflake”. Hurr.) Right, so, if history has shown us anything it’s that The People will put up with far too much shit before kicking back. But eventually kick back they do, and in 1954 the Guatemalan people did so and Ubico valiantly ran off, leaving a Junta in his place which continued his charming policies. This being a less than ideal outcome, the Guatemalan people had another crack at it. Persistence paid off as The October Revolution threw the Junta out. A real kick in the Juntas there and, miracle of miracles, there was a free election. Like, uh, democracy and that. Democracy, which America loves; unless it gets in the way of its bananas. Juan José Arévalo won the election and while he was by no means a communist, he was certainly an improvement and sensibly pragmatic. He shook things up, but not enough to shake them to pieces. Education, health and the labour code all improved, and there was even a minimum wage. Civilised stuff, I trust you agree. Keeping America sweet he was openly anti-communist (America still had its doubts about him, because being anti-communist would be perfect cover for a communist wouldn’t it? Yes, America. Keep taking the pills, America.) Human nature being what it is, for improving the lot of the Guatemalan people Arévalo’s reward was around 25 attempted coups. Over here Jeremy Corbyn (who also only wants to improve people’s lot) has only had one attempted coup so far, but there’s time yet. Jacobo Árbenz was elected next and he started to step on some UFC toes. (Uh oh.) He began to roll back some of the ridiculous concessions granted under Ubico and, worse (i.e. better), his 1952 Agrarian Reform Law (sexy stuff! Batman? Pah! Agrarian Reform Law, that’s the sexy business.) confiscated 100s of 1000s of acres of uncultivated land from the UFC, with compensation based (get this, this is truly excellent, I like this bit:) on the valuation used by the company for its tax payments. I adore the chutzpah of that. Let’s see, who thinks the valuation the UFC used for its tax payments was anywhere in the region of the real worth of that land? Hmmm. Anyone? I’m not seeing any hands. Good, so we all know how the world works. So, hoo boy, that pissed the UFC off. Big mistake. I know; it’s a fruit company (bananas and that) so how come the CIA would help it stage a coup? How precisely do you get from bananas to blood in the street?
Unfortunately, I don’t know. I doubt anyone knows. To this day the reasons why the Eisenhower administration backed a coup in Guatemala due to the discomfort of a fruit company forced to exhibit the barest modicum of decency are shrouded in eerie wisps of mystery. While it is true that Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA Director Allen Dulles had both arranged several deals for the UFC while previously working in Law, and it is true also that Undersecretary of State Bedell Smith later became a UFC Director, and it is additionally true that the wife of the UFC Public Relations Director was personal assistant to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the President of The United States of America, surely to suggest any inappropriate conflation of interests is tantamount to an act of treason, sir. I mean, good luck trying to join those dots, huh? Paging Woodward and Bernstein! Geraldo, even! It’s a two-pipe problem and no mistake, Sherlock. Golly, I guess we’ll just never know. Unless you read about the Guatemalan coup on Wikipedia, where there is also a handy cut out and keep list of all the regime changes America has had a hand in (although it misses off the Australian coup Britain also had a hand in. (Sorry, Australia; poor form on our part there.)) Coups always make for good reading, as there are always unbelievable bits like that part where a force of 60 (US supported) insurgents were arrested by a single policeman before they even crossed the border from Ecuador. Coups also make for sad reading, because they mean something’s gone wrong. In the end the US Sponsored Guatemalan coup won, not because it was well planned, efficient, or in any way professional, but because everyone knew America was behind it (America wanted everyone to know for precisely this reason), and knowing that once you’ve got rid of the "rebels" America is going to start swinging its nuclear powered fists takes the wind out of most country’s sails. Or maybe it succeeded because America is the Hand of God working upon this Earth. Yeah, if you’re a stone cold lunatic, that’s certainly another explanation you could go with. In 1999 the renowned woman botherer and then President of the United States of America Bill Clinton apologised for all the US shenanigans in Guatemala, which made everything okay, and America never messed in other countries’ affairs again, the wicked stepmother recanted, the dish ran away with the spoon and we all lived happily ever after.
Aren’t you all glad I didn’t go all the way back to The Monroe Doctrine? I know I am. Obviously you don’t need to know all that up there to enjoy AMERICAN CENTURY. I didn’t know all that. I had to go and look it up on Wikipedia; it’s not like I carry around ‘Ye True and Fplendide Hiftory of Guatemala’ in my head. But the point (yes there is one) is that Howard Victor Chaykin and David Erasmus Tischman had to know it, and the fact that they succeeded in spinning it into an entertainingly racy tale is even further to their credit. The value of fiction in giving us tools by which to apprehend the nature of the world we live in seems to have been forgotten by most comic creators. Stick your head in the sand too long and history will kick you in the arse. This year History’s been kicking far too many arses, and it might be beneficial if comics remembered there was a world beyond their borders, and helped push our heads out of the sand. Just a thought.
In case you were wondering, AMERICAN CENTURY was VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Less strident half-witted recapping of Wikipedia and more COMICS!!!
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!!!
Sunday, and I've been caught a mite short. So I'll just blast through this and see how we do. It's an old Vertigo/DC Comic you might want to look out for in the dollar bins. And I'll tell you for why after the "More..." MOBFIRE by Pleece, Ushaw & Gaspar
Anyway, this... MOBFIRE #1-6 Art by Warren Pleece Written by Gary Ushaw Lettered by Gaspar Logo and publication design by Rian Hughes Art & Text © Gary Ushaw & Warren Pleece All other material © DC Comicss DC Comics/Vertigo, $2.50 each (1994-1995)
Inheriting the family firm at short notice due to the sudden demise of a parent is always a tricky business. For Jack Kellor it's trickier than usual since the Firm his dad ran was decidedly dodgy, not entirely kosher, a bit on the illegit side, you feel me. And that's putting it kindly. See, John Kellor's business was mucky business. Crime if you must. And if you really must then come tooled up, but mind it's with something a bit tastier than a shooter, because in this slightly-to-the-side-of-reality world the scallywags have got a bit of the supernaturals on their side. See, way back when you could leave your door unlocked at night (or were stupid enough to think you could) Jack Kellor ran into a black fellow in a severe state of duress and saved his bacon. Turned out he wasn't just some bloke over here to fill in the post-war labour shortage by driving a bus. Nah, only a blooming witch doctor wanne? And thereafter indebted to the man who saved his hide (because that's how magic works, and who am I to argue?) this Bocor gave John Kellor a decided edge, at least for a bit. After all, it may well have been magic and all that, but in the wrong hands it was just a new weapon, so the other gangs picked themselves some tasty talent handy with the old hocus-pocus and there you go, Bob's your uncle and Fanny's your aunt. That's the world Jack's now chucked into, bad enough to make you wish you'd stayed in bed. But Jack's a chip off the old block in that he has ambition, but where his dad's ambition was to build it up, Jack's going to burn it down. Unless the Bocor gets a whiff of it, because he owed Jack's dear old dad, not Jack; in fact he owes Jack shit, and it looks like he's going to try his level best to make him drown in it. So, no, inheriting the family business might not be all it's cracked up to be for Jack.
The six issues of MOBFIRE were published in 1994-1995 and thus far remain uncollected. This can only have been due to poor sales as pretty much everything was collected back then. If MOBFIRE did sell poorly it wasn't because of any lack of quality, but probably due to the lack of familiarity with the talent involved. I mean, I have no idea who Gary Ushaw is. I hope he's healthy and life has been kind to him, because he wrote a pretty good comic here. The first few issues of MOBFIRE are the densest and tightest, with by far the best writing which serves to suck you in quite nicely. Ushaw and Pleece then keep you on your toes with a surprising development at the fourth issue point, which then results in a lengthy guest appearance by John Constanine. As nicely written as that part is it's an odd choice for a creator owned series, and won't help the chances of a TPB now the rights have probably reverted. Shame, because for all of its six issues MOBFIRE is a pretty good time ,with a varied cast, some surprises and betrayals and it all ends in a bizarre fiasco of violence which is delightfully insane and resembles a Pampers advert directed by 1980s David Cronenberg.
Whoever Ushaw is and whatever he does now, MOBFIRE shows he could write a tidy little comic. The characters are varied and nicely sketched, including but not limited to the addict sister, the mother whose bitterness is rooted in denial of the filth her life style rests on, the chipper best mate and Jack's lady friend (who is not only a woman of colour, but also clearly stronger than Jack in every way without it coming across as unctuous pandering). Ushaw's also a dab hand at that '90s Brit Talent staple the Stream Of Consciousness Babble. You know , the one Morrison and Gaiman dabbled in, Milligan excelled at, and the ridiculously neglected John Smith claimed as his own kingdom and within which he has since dwelt, seeing off all comers quite successfully. Ushaw holds his own in this tricky arena, but his effort impresses perhaps more than it should as he cleverly uses it to confound any creeping misgivings about his portrayal of the Bocor as a largely monosyllabic slab of black Evil. Dude's got depths, just pray you never see them. While the whole thing's played mainly straight Ushaw's not above a bit of playfulness. At one point the criminal enterprise is explicitly explained in terms which make you momentarily wonder whether Ushaw is in fact describing the Free Market as gangsterism. Which he is. (As they say - it's funny because it's true.) Then there’s a Scots bloke who has spooky mirror powers, and if he isn't a cheeky riff on Mirror Master then I'm Beryl Reid. (I'm not Beryl Reid). Not only that but the wee scunner ends a violently bloody encounter by recreating a visual joke made famous by Harry Worth.
Don't worry if you're coming up blank there. Harry Worth is a particularly British reference point and Ushaw is pretty sweet at including these without over-egging the colloquial pudding. The singularly British references are there, but they don't run around on fire screaming in a catastrophic and self defeating bid for attention (see James Robinson's FIREARM. Or don't). E.g. at one point a couple of thick necked guards are partaking in some manly banter, and one mentions he won't be going “up The Arsenal” because “it's the big wedding on The Street.” Sure, the football reference is pretty basic, but the latter part is interesting because he's referring there to a wedding on the popular British TV soap opera Coronation Street (AKA “The Street”) rather than an actual wedding on his street. Britain not actually being that big on street weddings, since the weather is for shit and the folk are mostly miserable social inverts. Basically, for the duration of the book if you get the reference everything's better, but if you miss it there's no harm done. Best way really.
The uniquely British atmosphere is aided no end by the art of Warren Pleece which makes the book worthy of rediscovery all on its lonesome. Warren Pleece is a talented comic book artist, by which I mean he clearly understand the nuts and bolts of putting a page together, but more than that Warren Pleece is a singular talent, because over and above that stuff he understands the importance of conveying a sense of place. The place here is Britain and it looks like Britain. It doesn’t always, not in the comics. There's a bit more to it than Big Ben and a red bus, hard as that may be to believe. Pleece doesn't get much space to play with, but he makes the space he's given work like work is going out of fashion. In crowd scenes everyone is dressed differently, and there are a range of ages on display, but everyone has that singularly worn out and worn down lack of finish which marks every Brit out in a crowd. The shop signs proclaim “MARKS & SPENCER”, “C&A” and “WOOLWORTHS”. Yeah, Woolworths has gone now, but it used to be there; it used to be everywhere in the UK, and so Pleece's art captures not just a place but also a time. And there's also the infernal golden arches in a nod to the cultural homogenisation only just getting a toe hold back then. And Pleece packs all that in one panel on a seven panel page.
On another page he slides into sight the delights of typical pub grub, discreetly colouring the drinks with a typically urinous wash. Another panel on the same page shows us there’s a man in an England shirt with a tat on his neck (in every pub in England there's a man in an England shirt with a tat on his neck. Either that or he just left, or he's due in shortly. Bide your time and he'll be by, the man in the England shirt with a tat on his neck). Ella, who Jack runs with, lives in a flat and Pleece treats us to the sight of laundry flapping on the balcony and contrasts the visually tedious edifice with a short arsed but far more characterful terrace. In one panel, that is, on an eight panel page. Get the drift? Pleece's faces are distinctive with their porcelain sheen and implacable drift chinward towards Punchinello levels of grotesquery, and it's easily these that make the most marked impression. But the fact Pleece bothers to give them a fully realised world to move through lifts his work from the quirkily accomplished and into the great. Because of course it's a fully-realised world; it's our world and capturing that is a kind of magic I can believe in. Utltimatley though the book works because Ushaw and Pleece are firmly in creative cahoots, any doubts about that are kicked to the curb with the bit of business in #5 on p. 9 & 10 involving the flowers in the cafe. It does nothing to propel the plot, but does everything to assure you Ushaw and Pleece are having fun, and doing a bang up job while they are at it. Look, what I'm getting at is Ushaw's writing and Pleece's places make MOBFIRE VERY GOOD! So if you see it, tuck in!
NEXT TIME: Go on, guess! That's right – 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!!!
Just for a change I thought I’d look at an Original Graphic Novel rather than a British anthology comic featuring a poo eating robot that talks more sense than most public figures. Naturally, I loaded the dice by picking one by one of my favourite writers working with an artist whose work I have much fondness for. And Michael Easton. Guess how well that worked out for everyone. THE GREEN WOMAN (Bolton, Straub & Easton, Klein) Anyway, this… THE GREEN WOMAN Art by John Bolton Written by Peter Straub & Michael Easton Lettered by Todd Klein Starring Peter Capaldi Vertigo/DC Comics, £14.99 (2010)
On the banks of the Milwaukee River squats a bar and in that bar there broods a man who is both more than a man and less than a man. He is old now and senses the fast enchroaching end to the long road paved with his dead. But no man murders without trace and in New York a self-hating cop begins to follow the trail which will end in either his redemption or in his destruction, but it will certainly end in a bar on the banks of the Milwaukee River where a man broods. A man once called Fielding Bandolier.
I know who Peter Straub and John Bolton are, but who is the mysterious Michael Easton? If only there was some easily accessible source of inf...ah. A quick glance at his Wikipedia page shows me that Michael Easton is a master of the smouldering glance and favours large cuffed shirts. He is also an actor (ALLY MCBEAL, MUTANT X, ONE LIFE TO LIVE) in things I’ve never seen, a poet whose poetry I’ve never read, an author of OGNs (the SOUL STEALER SERIES) which I’ve never heard of, in fact all I know for certain is he’s just basically six different shades of dreamy, ladies. And, I guess, gentlemen too; it’s all just friction, you prudes! Now, being a nasty piece of work I would like to blame the failure of THE GREEN WOMAN on him alone. However, that’s probably unfair. Because in the interests of fairness I should probably point out that Peter Straub’s output has somewhat diminished since 2004’s IN THE NIGHT ROOM. Diminished in frequency and scale certainly but, THE GREEN WOMAN excepted, not in quality. This book first appeared in its hardcover iteration in 2010, a year which also saw Straub produce THE JUNIPER TREE AND OTHER STORIES and A DARK MATTER. A healthily impressive output at first glance, no doubt. However, as all readers of supernatural fiction know, appearances can be deceptive; THE JUNIPER TREE was a collection of previously published stories and A DARK MATTER, his first original novel since IN THE NIGHT ROOM, was poorly received (I liked it, but there you go). It basically took Straub six years to produce a single novel, which is par for some writers but not par for Straub. What I’m trying to get at is THE GREEN WOMAN feels like a new short initially intended to freshen up the THE JUNIPER TREE, but one that didn’t make it to fruition and so the basic outline was repurposed into an OGN with help from the dreamy enigma Michael Easton and John Bolton. Alas, this is of course pure conjecture and as a consequence utterly worthless, but it killed some time for us all. And gave me an introductory paragraph. In my opinion, which is basically The Truth of The World by any other name, Peter Straub is a magnificent writer, one whose output I hold in the highest of esteem. (I heartses Peter Straub, basically.) Some of his books may not be as good as others, but they are all better than most other people’s books. This is because he is a masterful prose artist who can make distressingly horrific effects explode seemingly from nowhere following the most sublime of slow burns. His books work because Peter Straub is an unnervingly fastidious author and also because he is in complete control of his prose. This obviously isn’t the case with THE GREEN WOMAN where other hands muck in and, well, things go a bit to pot.
THE GREEN WOMEN is intended to act as a capstone to all the fiction Straub has previously penned regarding one Fee Bandolier. And there has been a lot of fiction from Peter Straub regarding Fee Bandolier. I’ll resist the temptation to list them as sometimes part of the joy of Straub’s work is realising how something you are reading ties in to other works, and such a list while making me feel all superior would edge a wee bit too close to SPOILER territory in some cases; trust me, Fee’s all over Straub’s post-KOKO work like a psychotic yet weirdly endearing rash. Don’t worry though THE GREEN WOMAN recaps everything you need to know about Fee and his…tendencies. Unfortunately it does so in the bluntest possible way, lacking almost wholly Straub’s prose finesse which usually effortlessly ameliorates the clichés which underpin this material. Basically dependent on others to aid his vision this just reads like a not terribly well executed serial-killer-with-‘Nam-flashbacks-hunted-by-rogue-cop-who-is-more-like-his-prey-than-he-wishes-to-acknowledge. It’s just disheartening to see Straub stoop to a cop who is the tiresome Troubled White Guy with a Gun so familiar to us all. But then I recall that he has done that in his novels and it’s worked a treat. See, it’s not the concepts in THE GREEN WOMAN which are at fault, it’s the execution and maybe the limited page count. The core tale of Straub’s (previously brilliantly realised) tragic monster reaching the end of his rope, while being hunted by a man who’s character is swiftly unravelling due to the moral faultlines within him, would have been plenty all on its todd but, no; there’s a secondary plot revolving around a malevolent ship’s figurehead which in the long gone days caused its crew to suicide en masse, and now wants to be reunited with the timbers of the boat it was stuck on, which are currently holding up a pub in Ireland. Yes, that’s right we’re talking here about spooky wood pining (get on that one, Brian Azzarello! Geddit: “pining” wood! That’s GOLD!) Obviously most scary doodahs can be reduced to the laughable via fantastic word skillage as what I has. However was a similar excellence in prose in evidence it could make the concept of haunted wood turn your bowels to water. In a Peter Straub novel this would be the case (see IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW) but this is not a novel it is a graphic novel, so the prose is sparse and far too much rests on the art. Which is terrible. Really bad.
It gives me no pleasure to point out the artistic failings of THE GREEN WOMAN. I have enjoyed John Bolton’s flowing Frazetta-esque art in the past (HOUSE OF HAMMER, WARRIOR) but not here, not in THE GREEN WOMAN. Not unsurprisingly, and entirely to his credit, John Bolton has developed since then as an artist. However, the area he has chosen to take his art into centres around photo manipulation. Unfortunately for my eyes it turns out that I’m a bit picky, and I only like John Bolton’s art when he is actually, you know, drawing, which he isn’t here. He’s doing something with photographs which regular readers (hi, mom!) will recall I welcome like warts on my nethers. Even so, I am usually magnanimous enough to at least suggest the slightest possibility that that might be a matter of taste. Not here though; this is patently poor no matter what your preference. For a start the whole thing looks so blurry I had to keep looking away to focus on other things in the room to reassure me that cataracts weren’t kicking in at a rate of knots. Then there’s the fact that someone has clearly set the resolution wrong on some of the pages, so you’re just left looking at it and wondering how many eyes this passed in front of, and how so many eyes could not care. A lot (all?) of the images are collaged together but sometimes you can clearly see the edges where the elements haven’t quite fitted together, and again those eyes, those uncaring eyes are brought to mind. There are some richly fruity images there for Bolton to play with (the women hung out like fish) but it’s all muffled and lacking in impact. THE GREEN WOMAN is just not a good reflection of John Bolton’s talent, because as sloppy as this stuff looks he’s a far from untalented artist. It’s a real shame because we’ve all had bad days at the office but few of us have those bad days printed up and bound for posterity. Mind you I don’t charge anyone money to look at my bad days at the office, either.
Even were it not ramshackle stuff (and, boy, is it ramshackle stuff) Bolton comes a cropper for me in his choice of model for Fee, our unhinged protagonist. See, he’s based every appearance of Fee here on the popular thespian Peter Capaldi. I mean, sure, Peter Capaldi gives good gurn so he’s a deft choice in that respect; you’re not ever in much doubt about Fee’s emotions at any given point. When the book was originally released (reminder: in 2010, in hardback) Capaldi was a recognised face in the UK thanks (largely but not solely) to his splenetic portrayal of the sweary king of spin Malcolm Tucker in THE THICK OF IT (a political satire which now appears quaintly understated thanks to the idiocies of reality). So I’m guessing America was probably largely still oblivious to his spittle flecked charms when the book premiered, but in 2016 with Capaldi playing the 197th Doctor in DOCTOR WHO pretty much any reader is all but guaranteed to be thrown out of the book every time he appears, which is often. (And FYI: he’s playing “The Doctor” not “Doctor Who”; woe fucking betide anyone who makes that error anywhere near some winner who has tied their sense of self-worth to a children’s TV show).
So often does Capaldi’s emotionally contorted face glare out at you from these pages that THE GREEN WOMAN should in all fairness appear on Peter Capaldi’s Wikipedia page, somewhere between IN THE LOOP and BISTRO. It won’t do though, because it’s not like he owns his own face is it? (This is fine by me as I currently use Capaldi’s sinewy visage on dating websites to lure young women into extra marital filth because I have no respect for my partner, but that’s okay it’s the 21st Century. It sure seemed like a good idea, but every time I try to explain away the fact that I don’t look like Peter Capaldi by saying I’m still currently playing Doctor Who but a different incarnation, they start shouting about how it’s “The Doctor! Not Doctor Fucking Who! What’s wrong with you! I don’t mind being lured into creepy sexual nastiness but what kind of pervert and general failure as a human being doesn’t know that! IT’S THE DOCTOR! You massive nonce!” And then they storm out like I’ve seen ladies in movies do, and I end the evening tearfully wanking into a hanky. Then the head waiter asks me to leave.) Seriously, it’s a total immersion destroyer turning the page and seeing Peter Capaldi fiercely scrunching his face up like a sock ready for the laundry again. I keep expecting him to ask someone if they’d like a jelly baby. (I know that was Tom Baker; I am fucking with you. It won’t be the last time.)
THE GREEN WOMAN is at once overstuffed and undercooked, and everyone involved has done better work elsewhere. Better to seek that out instead, say I, because this was AWFUL!
NEXT TIME: Uh, (SPOILER!) - 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!!!
Abhay's below this, so don't dilly dally, and certainly don't shilly shally, go there! Do it NOW! Me, I'm still trying to get regular, so here's another go at that. There's a lot of toilet humour in this one. It's the only industry we have left. DKIII by Risso, Azzarello, Mulvihill & Robins
Anyway, this... SIR: The critics? No, I have nothing but compassion for them. How can I hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead? The Dresser by Ronald Harwood
2000AD Prog 1964 Art by Mark Sexton, Richard Elson, John Burns, Clint Langley, Carlos Ezquerra Written by Michael Carroll, Dan Abnett, Kek-W, Pat Mills, John Wagner Colours by Len O'Grady,the artists Lettered by Annie Parkhouse, Ellie De Ville, Simon Bowland JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner KINGDOM created by Richard Elson & Dan Abnett THE ORDER created by John Burns & Kek-W ABC WARRIORS created by Kevin O'Neill, Brendan McCarthy, Mick Mcmahon & Pat Mills STRONTIUM DOG created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner Rebellion, £2.55 weekly (2016)
Borag Thungg! Another week, another issue of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic! This week in Judge Dredd (Sexton/Carroll/O'Grady/Parkhouse) the decision is taken to devote the bulk of the seven page installment to a quite bloody and brutal action sequence which leaves Dredd on the edge of death. Also, some plot developments. It's a salutary reminder that when a Judge goes wrong that's way more dangerous than just your average perp. As seven pages go it's lean, mean, gory and crunchily executed stuff. Two parts in and “Ghosts” is shaping up VERY GOOD!
KINGDOM (Elson/Abnett/DeVille) takes time out from hurtling about hither and yon for a quick plot stop. Some fruity swears and mysterious discoveries later the strip is tanked back up with motivation enough to hurtle off, in the final panel of the fifth page, into what promises to be a more typically action orientated episode. Elson art possesses a crisp precision and Abnett's script remains fundamentally derivative but still just original enough to provide undemanding fun. OKAY!
Alas, the major question raised by THE ORDER (Burns/Kek-W/DeVille) so far is what exactly was achieved by the steampunk motorbike that could not have been achieved by a horse. So, obviously this one's not exactly pulling me in. It's not terrible though. And that's despite groan inducing clichés such as the masked rescuer being revealed to be a stunningly beautiful lady (and unless Boots The Chemist was operating in 1560 then her make up skills are a tad anachronistic). As if in balance there's a nifty bit of dialogue on the fifth and final page (the “...empircal evidence..” bit). That alone is enough to leave me optimistic that the ideas underpinning the series will eventually be revealed to have been worth the more predictable stretches. OKAY!
Last week, while struggling to make sense in a short space of time, I , somewhat tenuously I thought, mentioned Blade Runner in connection with the mek-nificent ones. This week Serendipity, obviously in a playful mood, shocks my socks of by having Pat Mills rejig the Roy Batty death speech everyone loves from that selfsame movie, but puts it in the foul mouth of an ailing Ro-Jaws and, thus, appropriately enough, fixes up the references within it to those of a somewhat more scatological stripe. Reader, I larfed. One of the many things I respond to in Pat Mills' writing is his unselfconscious embrace of puerility. It's particularly prevalent in ABC Warriors and is always welcome. In a strip where the authorities (who have been searching for Hammerstein) have just cottoned on to the fact that that robot that looks just like Hammerstein but with a different head is in fact Hammerstein but with a different head, having a giant robot referencing David Lynch films and also yelling about “Big Jobs!” is probably more of a help than a hindrance. (Note for Children of The Now: “Big jobs” was used to refer to babies going “Number Two” back in the day, back in the UK.) Clint Langley's art looks like it's all taking place inside an active bowel and so is perfectly appropriate. VERY GOOD!
You know the bit in every heist movie where the heist gets underway and it's a matter of watching the protagonists evade detection before things go wrong? This week's STRONTIUM DOG (Ezquerra/Wagner/Bowland) is that bit of the heist movie. The fun here is that instead of using specialist equipment provided by a character actor in a minor but showy role, they use their mutant abilities (stretchy arms, super strong fingers, x-ray vision, a Keegan perm, a bumpy heid, etc) and there is still time for a good joke about where one would hide the scared brain of a bizarre cult's founder. Ezquerra's art remains so flawlessy devoted to storytelling it never even hints at the effort and experience underpinning every panel. VERY GOOD!
DKIII THE MASTER RACE BOOK TWO Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller, Lynn Varley & Klaus Janson (although once again DC only identify Frank Miller as the author. Tsk. Tsk.) Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Eduardo Risso Story by Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello Lettered by Clem Robins Colours by Brad Anderson, Trish Mulvihill Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Brad Anderson, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Cliff Chiang, Eduardo Risso & Trish Mulvihill Retailer variant cover by Sean Gordon Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth, Greg Capullo & FCO Plascenia Convention Variant Cover by Jill Thompson DC Comics, $5.99 Standard/$12.99 Deluxe (2016) Batman cteated by Bill Finger & Bob Kane
If nothing else this series has proved to be a thought provoking one. The thought it has provoked in my tiny mind is exactly how bad does the writing in a comic have to get before everyone stops just waving it through? Because the writing in this comic is astoundingly poor. I've not read any other reviews because I don't accidentally want to steal anyone else's thoughts, but unless those reviews point out first and foremost how utterly craptabulous the writing is I'd hesitate to trust anything they have to say. Because, ugh. I mean, ew. Someone wrote this with a big brown crayon, allright. It's no wonder they're so keen to drag Frank Miller's name into it. It's basically the same as blaming the old dog in the corner when you fart in company. “Man, this comic is carved out of stupid!”,“Dang, must be Frank Miller's fault!”Classy behaviour, guys. You know (of course you don't, what a stupid way to start a sentence) I was in the cinema recently, and during the performance someone broke wind next to me. Now let me tell you that was one blue ribbon winner of a fart and no mistake. It was like someone had just put a Sunday dinner under my nose. You ever smell a fart that smelt like you could chew it? This was that fart. It was a heroic achievement, to which I doff my cap; respect is due to someone who can create something like that. However, before we get carried away let's remember it was still just a fart. DKIII:TMR is the comic book equivalent of that fart. It's stink is mighty. Impressively so. But it's still just a big stink.
Oh, that's a bit much, John! Really? Have you read this? Tell me, what is not cretinous about Batman's plan to make the world think he is dead? Let me just recap it for you: After an absence of three years during which the world has probably started to stop thinking about him, Batman rides his Bat-cycle into the middle of Gotham. He then proceeds to engage in a pitched battle with the Gotham PD. At some point the media notice and Batman's return is plastered across every TV screen in the world. Batman suddenly has an asthma attack and collapses. At this point it is revealed that Batman is in fact a young girl dressed as Batman, and she collapsed due to grief and exhaustion rather than a respiratory condition marked by attacks of spasm in the bronchi of the lungs. She is taken into custody and says nothing for twenty seven days, in which time the media speculate about Batman's whereabouts to its heart's content. On the twenty seventh day the girl tells a thoroughly unconvincing story about how Batman died (in bed; maudlin, bed-bound and old). Usually the police would require a body, they are funny like that. But they just take this girl's word, as you would. With Batman now ineradicably on everyone's mind it's a masterstroke of idiocy to have the young girl sprung by the sudden appearance of a massive Bat-Tank, which trashes the part of the GPD which isn't already in traction before disappearing in a thoroughly ill-defined way. Obviously, having now convinced the world of his death Batman is now free to act. Given his fantastic plan to make the world forget him, his first act will probably be to soil himself and dance the Macarena. Christ. Batman the tactical genius there.
That ridiculous horseshit takes up most of the first and second issues but there's still room in this one for Ray Palmer to say something science-y (but not too demandingly science-y) and act like a Batman level moron. Because at no point - AT NO POINT - does it occur to Ray Palmer that introducing to the planet Earth a city full of people who can fly, fire fire out of their eyes and probably fart mustard gas to boot, might be less than stellar thinking. Jean left you because you were an idiot, Ray. There might be pages of this comic which don't insult the reader's intelligence but I couldn't recall any. What about the art? People don't talk about the art! Why should I say anything about the art when the writing is this bad. The writing here is ruinously bad. But okay, Kubert as ever manages that trick of being both fussy and lazy, while in the mini-comic Eduardo Risso's deep contrast talents are wasted on something so superfluous it's barely there. But really, what matters the art when a character describes herself as Batman's “prick”? “I was his PRICK.”, she says. Nice dire-logue, Brian Azzarello! “I was his PRICK.”, she says. She says was an old man's prick. What does that even mean, Brian Azzarello? That she got him up at odd times during the night for a piss? Boom, and indeed, BOOM!
See, the real problem is that this utter drivel is soaking up attention better used on other comics. There are too many comics today, and the good ones risk getting lost in the crush. Instead of writing about Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert's futile attempt to polish the stale turds of greater talents I should have been writing about, say, MONSTRESS, STRAY BULLETS, ISLAND, EGOs, RAGNAROK and SPONGEBOB COMICS. All of which are probably struggling to survive while this bloated, brainless and thoroughly unnecessary thing flails about attracting everyone's attention. I mean, I don't need to write about this comic do I? Everyone else will already have alerted you to how fundamentally poor it is. (Won't they?) Look, my complaint isn't even that DKIII:TMR isn't a Frank Miller comic; it's that DKIII:TMR is CRAP!
NEXT TIME: On September 28th 2015 at 10:44 am “Peter” asked if I would be looking at the US attempts to “do” Judge Dredd. In 2016, he will have his answer! (SPOILER: It's “yes” and it's next up, thanks to my library.) I may be tardy but I will eventually get around to your - COMICS!!!
There was a new Batman comic out. It was an Event because Frank Miller was reportedly involved. I bought it. Frank Miller may well have been involved in actuality but, honestly, I could only detect homeopathic quantities of Frank Miller. Overall, I thought it was a pretty poor Event and only a mediocre Btaman comic. Yeah, that’s it; I thought I’d spare you having to read what follows. You can if you like, but it goes on a bit. Ooh, what a palaver! DKIII by Miller, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins
Anyway this… DK III: THE MASTER RACE BOOK ONE Based on The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley (Although in the comic DKR’s just credited to Frank Miller alone, which is a bit rich, and not something I want to encourage. Cut that shit out, DC Comics.) Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller& Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Klaus Janson Variant covers by Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Dave Gibbons & Brad Anderson, Jill Thompson Retailer Variant Covers by Dave Johnson, Sean Gordon Murphy, Lee Bermejo, Klaus Janson, Rafael Albuquerque, Jae Lee & June Chung, Eduardo Risso, Jock, Walter Simonson & Laura Martin, Ivan Reis & Marcelo Maiolo, Aaron Lopresti, Tyler Kirkham & Tomeu Morey, Brian Bolland, Paul Pope & Jose Villarubia, Gabriele Dell’Otto, John Cassady & Laura Martin, Tony Daniel & Tomeu Morey, Matt Wagner & Brennan Wagner, Michael Allred & Laura Allred, Brian Stelfreeze, Amanda Connor & Paul Mounts, Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson, Jason Fabok & Brad Anderson, Darwyn Cooke, Josh Middleton, Gary Frank & Brad Anderson, Howard Porter & Hi-Fi, Kevin Eastman & Varga Tamas, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Dorman, Greg Capullo & FCO Plascenia, Stanley “Artgerm” Lau, Marc Silvestri & Alex Sinclair, Kelley Jones, Dale Keown & Jason Keith, Neal Adams & Alex Sinclair, Simon Bisley, Tony Harris, David Finch, Scott Hanna & Brad Anderson, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, John Romita Jnr, Danny Miki & Dean White, Adam Hughes, Francis Manapul, J. Scott Campbell & Nei Ruffino, Tim Sale, Bruce Timm and Babs Tarr with John Vernon as “The Mayor” Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC COMICS, $5.99/£4.99 (Standard Ed.), $12.99/£9.99 (Deluxe Ed.) (2015)
PART THE FIRST: Oblique? C’est Chic!
On November 11th, 2015 it was reported in a number of British papers that David Cameron, the Prime Minister, had written to Oxfordshire council leader Ian Hudspeth criticising the council’s proposed cuts resulting from the austerity policies imposed by the very same Government of which David Cameron is Prime Minister. Dave was, we are told, “disappointed”. Dave’s disappointment was mostly because he is also the MP for Witney which is covered by the council. Austerity and cutbacks are okay as long as they don’t affect Dave’s constituency. So far, so Tory. Thankfully though like the great Statesman he is Dave pushed past his disappointment to offer Ian Hudspeth unsolicited assurances and advice on how to best allocate his reduced resources. Showing he is not without humour Dave tried out the old one about how in fact the Council had more money not less. Probably in “real terms” which is always a sign someone is having a laugh. Regrettably and no doubt to his eternal chagrin Ian Hudspeth had to point out the unfeasibility of Dave’s helpful suggestions and indeed also corrected a couple of erroneous underlying assumptions particularly the one about Dave’s government having given him more money; they hadn’t, they had taken some away. But my favourite of these hesitant corrections, and one which will prove pertinent to the Batman comic under discussion today, was Dave's wizard idea that council property be sold off as a solution to the funding deficit. Alas, Mr. Hudspeth had no alternative to remind Dave this wouldn’t work as they are one-off receipts, so you can’t keep selling the same buildings every year. And the moral of this story is as applicable to Prime ministers as it is to Entertainment Corporations: You can only sell the family silverware once.
PART THE SECOND: Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Pandering!
Do you remember those splash pages with a one panel inset Frank Miller did in DKSA? Andy Kubert does. Herein Wonder Woman fights a minotaur for no clear reason except this is how Frank Miller introduced his characters in DKSA – with a big splashy action set piece which had little to do with anything which followed. A lot of the book is like this – Frank Miller did something in DKR or DKSA so DKIII:TMR does it too but takes up more space, has less spark, and has no idea why it’s doing it other than Frank did it first. There’s the Gotham skyline which was used by Miller to give the city a sense of being a huge gaudy (Gaudi? Oh, I can do wordplay too!) cathedral of heat hazed sin. Here the Gotham skyline is used to show us, uh, it’s Gotham. In DKR and DKSA Miller used insets of TV screens to comment on the culture of the time, the events portrayed and also the comic itself, while also employing them to propel the narrative forward and fill in exposition in a graceful and entertaining fashion. Here the same inset TV panels are used because Frank Miller used them, and here bear as much relation to satire as does a knock-knock joke. Like most of the visual language of the book it’s been purloined from the source with no thought as to its original purpose or intent. You could imagine Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert noticing Frank Miller looks natty in a hat and buying themselves a couple only to go out wearing them on their arses. (The only people laughing would, of course, be Haters who had prejudged those hats, or fools who didn’t understand what Kubert and Azzarello were doing. Clearly.)
Then there’s the youth-speak, which in DKR was apparently contributed by Lynn Varley (and her rightly legendary colouring on DKR and DKSA is in no danger of being de-throned by the trendy lens-flare and banal gloss job of Brad Anderson) but here is by Brian Azzarello and…look, I’m inclined to leniency on this one, he has a pop. It’s not as good; it’s clumsy, ineffective and calls attention to itself more than it serves any real purpose. But, still, he has a pop. That scene also show a young POC being menaced by the cops which is so timely and relevant it’s a shame to point out the scene doesn’t go anywhere and is thus shameless attention seeking rather than any useful contribution to the debate about state sanctioned violence and institutionalised racism. I do have a sneaking suspicion that our harassed POC might turn out to be the new Robin (it won’t make the book any better but it might get some coverage; that’s what matters right? “White Man Writes Black Character in Comic Book! All Racist Violence Ends!”) Mind you, it’s reassuring to know that “The Man” is still the problem. If only we could find “The Man” and beard him in his lair! All our problems would be solved! Then we could all go down the “Disco” in our stack heels and “chat someone up”!
A similar sense of worldly awareness is indicated in the bit where Wonder Woman breast feeds her baby. In keeping with the rest of the book this takes a lot more panels than a normal human being might expect, or a writer with any self-respect would risk. Largely, I think here it takes so long to get the kid on the tit so that we all have plenty of time to get upset. Except no one has got upset. Nice try, Brian Azzarello but you failed for the same reason Matt Fraction failed with that outrage baiting issue of SATELLITE SAM which was just blow job central. Try getting out of the house a bit, guys. It’s 2015 not 1986, superstar-comic-book-writers-whose-reputations-and-influence-far-exceed-your-actual-accomplishments, and your notions of what gets people upset are a bit behind the times. Also, calling your book THE MASTER RACE isn’t “provocative” (calling it BATMAN THE DARK KNIGHT: **** ALL YOUR MOTHERS is provocative. Not wise, but provocative.) and nor is seeing Wonder Woman breast feeding. Taking a dump on Superman’s chest? Sure, that’d probably get some tongues wagging even in this fallen age, but breast feeding kids not so much. I’ve sat next to complete strangers breast feeding their kids in cafes on public streets and I managed to neither touch myself lewdly nor call the peelers. Of course we won’t be seeing Wonder Woman laying some tarmac on Superman’s chest any time soon, not in this comic anyway because Superman is having a Supersulk in his Fortress of Solitude. At first I thought he was frozen and I couldn’t understand why his naughty daughter didn’t just unfreeze him with her eye beams. At first, I admit, I was ungenerous in my response and I thought it was just shitty writing. Then I figured he was just Supersulking and the ice had frozen over him. That’s still shitty writing because it’s basically saying in order for this plot to get going we need Superman out of the way so we’ll have him sulk. Batman will turn up and shout at him and Superman will get so angry he’ll break out of his ice and…look, I’m not getting paid for this so let’s leave it to the professionals. Believe you me those dudes are getting paid for it. Otherwise it’s just fan fiction. Which this isn’t. A lot of people get confused about the difference between fan fiction and professional fiction when there’s no need to. Professional fiction is precisely the same as fan fiction it just costs $5.99, or $12.99 for the Deluxe Edition.
INTERLUDE#1: I have seen The Future of Comics And It Is Expensive!
Because, yes, this comic comes in a Deluxe Edition. For $12.99 you get precisely the same comic but at a bigger size and encased in hard covers. I kind of admire the satanic genius of this. This series alone is 8 issues and a couple of “Specials”; that’s around and about $120 dollars from each punter who signed up. Imagine if your entire line of comics were in that format. Sure, there’d be an audience drop off but at those prices you could probably absorb losses of around 70% of the comic buying public. This? This is the comics retailing equivalent of David Warner at the end of TIME BANDITS! This is Concentrated Evil! This is like the comics retailing equivalent of a first strike nuclear attack. (“We’ll lose Washington, but the Eastern seaboard should still be salvageable. Forecasts are bleak for Texas, and Mexico will fall into the sea. Predictions have Lootcrate picking up the slack when the Corn Belt goes. Mr President, those losses are acceptable to our shareholders. Let the prices soar. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”) Holy terror, wait until Marvel get wind of this. Imagine $12.99 for a single issue of a slim wisp of a Brian Bendis comic! And Marvel being Marvel they’ll probably double ship the shitters too. One day all comics will be this way. Are you ready for the world which is coming? Better start saving, kids! As for comics retailers, duck and cover mes amis, duck and bloody cover. Remember WAR GAMES: The only way to win is not to play!
PART THE THIRD: The World’s Finest Splash Page!
My main beef with this comic is it is so badly written. We don’t say we love each other enough and, more pertinently, we don’t say comics are badly written enough. Comics have never been so replete with visual wonders. The standard of art these days is off the scale and we critics find that hard to talk about, but not as hard as we do to point out the failings which are rapidly rotting the craft of writing away from within. Oh, hang on I should in all fairness point out that visually this book is hardly better than average. Andy Kubert’s art is slick but thoroughly unconvincing in terms of spatial dimensions; the size of the minotaur is hard to pin down; at one point there’s a police car parked lengthways in an alleyway which is too narrow for it; a few times Kubert channels Miller and David Mazzucchelli but somehow makes it dull; but you know, it’s slick enough stuff. A bit too slick really. You can just about tell Klaus Janson’s at work here, but you have to really squint. There’s none of that lively line flurry and sparky scribbliness which usually peps his stuff up. He’s saved all that for The Atom mini-comic. Because, yes, for some inexplicable reason halfway through the comic you come to a bit of cardboard affixed to which is a mini-comic about The Atom. I can’t believe Frank Miller wrote this mini-comic. Sure, he probably said “And then the dame, she goes and gets The Atom to make them big. Damn big. Maybe some whores are involved. Not the ones with bruised vaginal walls and PTSD. Fun ones. Fun whores. Big damn fun whores.” But the execution has Azzarello’s tin ear and indecent love of decompression smeared all over it like Deep Heat on an old man’s back. Actually, that’s’ unfair. Decompression is a legitimate narrative technique, this is just pissing about. Brian Azzarello doesn’t use decompression, that legitimises what he does; it plays right into his money filled hands. It’s pissing about. At one point a door opens and we get this:
That’s a full page splash that is. It’s then followed on the page turn by this:
This comic takes ONE AND A HALF splash pages to depict a door opening. Decompression, my pile ridden arse. Sort yourself out Azzarello, you’re a disgrace, man.
Frank Miller definitely drew some of this mini-comic, but mostly, I’d say, it’s Klaus Janson. Which is okay; Janson never gets enough credit for all the weight he carried at the tail end of Miller’s DAREDEVIL run. I like Klaus Janson and it’s nice to see him here, tidying up Frank in his dotage. Dabbing the egg from his chin, artistically speaking. The best bit of the minicomic, the whole comic even, is the cover which is drawn by Frank Miller and features a Superman who’s all creased up like a pug dog’s scrotum. I liked it, but then I like Frank Miller’s art. I’m not shuck, I know he has got old and I think something has undoubtedly taken its toll; both you and I know his line isn’t as sure as it was and there’s just something off about it. It’s a frailer Frank, but it’s still Frank. I guess crumpled-up-and-badly-flattened-out Superman won’t be to everyone’s taste, what with the outline of “Lil Kal-El” (his Superwinklestick!) clearly visible to boot, but, you know, it’s what Frank’s doing now, so I like it because I like to know what Frank’s up to. Shit, I’m just glad he’s still drawing breath never mind drawing Superman. It’s a wrap-around drawing so the back of it is stuck to the cardboard thus providing a physical manifestation for the respect with which the big Two treat the art of even the giants of the industry.
PART THE FOURTH: The Ernest Hemingway Memorial Award for Clarity and Economy of Prose 2015
So, yeah, I was starting to go on about the writing and then I went on about the art. I’m not going to spend much time on this bit because it’s depressing how badly written this comic is. And, yes, people can pretend Frank Miller wrote it but he didn’t, Brian Azzarello did. You can tell because all the flaws are Brian Azzarello’s characteristic flaws. You can also tell Frank Miller didn’t write this comic because Wonder Woman rescues a bunch of stereotypical natives straight out of a 1920s Tarzan serial and no one flinches. Look, if anyone thought for one hot second that Frank Miller had written a scene in which a bunch of POCs in loin cloths with stuff stuck through their noses ran about in big eyed fear, you best believe there’d have been a right ruckus. Oh, I’m sure these natives are well researched and based on currently existent tribes but that’s not really my point. My point is that this comic is badly written and not by Frank Miller, so let’s gets back to that point.
On page 9 we have this:
“They’re afraid. And they will be, until they are what they ARE most afraid of…Dead.”
Now, I don’t know, there might be a way to make that more convoluted and unpleasant to parse but I’m happy to die unaware of it.
On page 15 we’ve got Wonder Woman describing her stroll as “Wonderfully PEDESTRIAN”.
Do you need me to walk (heh!) you through that one? She is saying her walk was both dull and something she did with her feet. It’s funny, see, because she had a fight with a minotaur which is very far from pedestrian and it was, indeed, actually something she did with her feet! O! My aching ribs.
On the first page of The Atom mini-comic we have:
“When Jean divorced me, a fundamental scientific tenet I’d clung to—since being a mind-blown grade schooler hearing it for the FIRST TIME—was DEBUNKED. Everything—from Stephen Hawking’s BRAIN to a molten flash of goo bubbling at the Earth’s core—shared an undeniable COMMONALITY—That being, every damn atom in the UNIVERSE, was made from the SAME basic matter. Well, Having my HEART BROKEN meant NOTHING mattered.”
Sorry, Ray, I nodded off there. Jean left you? You don’t say, Ray! Why? Why would she do that? Why, you are such an interesting fellow what with your oh-so-convincing and not at all crude and excessive shoehorning in of shallow science-isms (fundamental, tenet, debunked, Stephen Hawking, molten, core, commonality, matter, universe, jism) and your pulse quickening randomly EMPHASISED speech patterns. Stephen Hawking’s BRAIN, you say! Golly, Ray, and yet you say JEAN left you? I bet the winter nights just flew BY for you two. An undeniable COMMONALITY, yet! C’mon, Ray, NO tears. It’s Jean’s loss, Ray. Honest. Here let’s make a VOLCANO with some Diet Coke and some MENTOS! SCIENCE, Ray! SCIENCE! Cry into the science, Ray! Science Won’t LEAVE you, Ray! Cry into the SCIENCE!
Seriously the whole things like this. Any chance which arises for characterisation is rudely shouldered out of the way so that Azzarello can parade another of his fundamentally empty linguistic pirouettes, which impress no one more than himself. Dreadful, dreadful, self-indulgent stuff. Personally I pick as the utter nadir of this approach what came on p.10 when Wonder Woman’s brain emitted this tripe:
“How many times have we saved them? A hundred? A HUNDRED hundred? Though the math may elude…the SENTIMENT does not.”
Rushing past the weird innumeracy of “a HUNDRED hundred” we get “…the math may elude…” Seriously? I was under the impression Wonder Woman was a kick-ass feminist Amazon breaking faces in the name of Peace and Love not some Elizabethan dandy-man.
There’s barely enough plot in this comic for half a comic, and then to dollop on top all this obnoxious showboating results in a not terribly well-written comic. That's a pretty basic mistake to make.
INTERLUDE #2: Exclusive Extract from Frank Miller’s John Ford’s “’TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE”!
Scene: The interior of YE OLDE COMIC EXPERIENCE. Scrolls and leather bound volumes festoon the sturdy shelving. A bear of a man (BRIAN A HIBBS) hunkers behind the counter tapping at an abacus, his florid and hirsute face cauliflowered in concentration. A small brass bell tinkles as the stout door opens inward and tumbling into the shop, resplendent in doublet and hose, cassock aswirl, is the slighter but no less furry figure of JEFF OF LESTER.
JEFF OF LESTER: “Privvy, Sirrah, hast thine crusty experience and tender mentals allowed thee to ably scry the quantities required for the 1:200 Jim Lee “Static and Over Rendered Variant”? Pray tell, lest FOC pass ne’er to return! Pray tarry not and fly thine answer on wings fleeter than Hermes!!”
BRIAN A HIBBS: “Hey nonny ho, a ho nonny hey! Nay, sweet Jeff. And ‘tis to fear I shall ne’er do such. FOR MAY THE DEVIL TAKE ME FOR A PAPIST, THE MATH DOTH ELUDE!
PART THE FIFTH: Concluding Remarks
Basically I think I disliked this comic because whatever the faults of DKR and DKSA (of which there are none, clearly, but let’s pretend) they were both at core genuine expressions of a remarkable artistic vision. The DK books were Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s books. I bought them because I wanted to know what Frank Miller & Lynn Varley were up to now. I didn’t buy them just for fucking Batman. There’s plenty of fucking Batman comics as it is, but there aren’t a lot of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley Batman comics. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is more fucking Batman comics. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is a largely inept but still not entirely unentertaining Batman comic set in the Millerverse. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is an unthreatening remix; a toothless rehash of familiar elements which speaks to an ultimately condescending view of the comic book audience and embodies a complacency the source texts actively kicked against. If DC had sold this book as an Azzarello and Kubert book set in the Millerverse I’d have been a lot more indulgent, I think. All its flaws are their usual flaws after all. But DKIII:TMR’s biggest flaw is to pretend it is Frank Miller when it is patently not.
…there is an easily sated part of me that doesn’t mind this comic for all its flaws (which are not small – characterisation, ostentatiously awful wordplay, sluggish pacing and a fatally mistaken sense of self-satisfaction shining up from every adequate page) because I don’t expect a great deal from a Batman comic, but there’s also a part of me that despairs that something so flawed (and they are not small flaws– characterisation, ostentatiously awful wordplay, sluggish pacing and a fatally mistaken sense of self-satisfaction shining up from every adequate page) can be treated as an Event. That what is basically a fan fiction pandering remix can be met with such acclaim. Cue STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS joke. DKIII:TMR as a comic is EH! As an Event it is CRAP!
And that’s it for 2015!
Thanks for all the magic, and I’ll see you in 2016 at some point when, in all likelihood, I’ll be writing about – COMICS!!!
Yeah, so I'm not getting it together at all over here. Sorry. Let's just leave it as I'll be back in the New Year then we all know where we are. But wait! No one leaves empty handed! So until we next meet let me gift you with the pathetic results of what happens when an old man messes with Paint. Yes! Please be seated and feast your eyes upon a tribute to DKIII: The Childishly Trollingly Fascistic Title, with particular emphasis upon the rocket ship pacing and Shakespearean word play of Brian Azzarello and, naturally, the visually scintillating fireworks of Andy Kubert.
I sincerely thank each and everyone one of you for your patience, attention and forbearance during 2015 and I hope to see you all in 2016. Have a great Holiday Season!
All artwork by Andy Kubert & Klaus Janson.
Merry Christmas! See you in 2016 for – COMICS!!!
It's Halloween! Gather round, gather round! O, you lucky children! Feast your tiny dead fly sized eyes on a ghoulish gallery fit to chill even the hardiest of souls! Halloween! Sil-VER SHAMROCK! Oh alright, I just scanned in my incomplete Saga of the Swamp Thing comics run. No tricks here, m'dears; only treats! It's mostly covers but also some pin-ups and even Swamp Thing's death certificate. Morbidly apropos eh, what? I hope you enjoy looking at them while I creep up behind you. HOO-HA! Gonna wear your face like knickers! SWAMP THING by Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Alan Moore, Tatjana Wood & John Constanza
SWAMP THING Created by Berni Wrightson & Len Wein
I started reading Saga of the Swamp Thing (SotST) with # 2 because I was 12 and a morbid little thing. Oh yes, Horror was my jam. I spread it liberally on my toast of terror. I was there, so let me tell you that the 1980s were a pretty awesome time all around for horror in movies, prose and comics. Probably even jam; horror was everywhere. Probably because the 1980s was a pretty awesome time for horror in real life: Thatcher, AIDS, Clause28, The Cold War, Reaganomics, The Miners Strike, Phil Collins; sometimes you just wanted to pull the covers over your head. But then you ran the risk of missing some fab Horror jam. Like SotSW. I stopped reading SotSW with #6. Not because it was rubbish, but because it stopped appearing at my local market cum newstand. Those early issues by Tom Yeates and Martin Pasko aren't the ones people remember but they were pretty decent. Issue 3 with the vampires was nice (nice enough for Moore to call back later in #38 & #39) and #4 had a children's entertainer who entertained himself with children in a bad way. It was far from rote and just about worthy of note. I restarted reading SotSW with #35 when it suddenly reappeared back on my stands. That fella from Warrior and 2000AD whose stuff I liked only turned out to be writing it, didn't he! (It would turn out he'd been writing it for a while.) My surprise and delight at the chillingly efficient tales this Moore fellow was producing was rather upended when Swamp Thing promptly died at the end of #36. Well, fuck a duck, I thought (I was a potty mouthed child).
But then he brought him back. Later on he'd kill Swampy again, but I'd got the knack by then and just hung on til he was back. With #64 Moore moved on and even brought back Tom Yeates for a fitting finale. But Moore didn't push off before he'd written a pile of the most entertaining comics it's ever been my pleasure to read. (And re-read. And re-re-read. Etc.) So much so that I went back and filled as many gaps as I could, before TPBs were a thing at which point I, as they say, completed the set. It took time and it took money but it was worth it. From the early issues which recast old horror tropes in fresh robes of relevance, through the inevitable team up with Batman (one which actually had weight and consequences for once) through the tail end whistle stop tour of the DCU, Alan Moore brought the words. And plenty of them. But that's okay because they were good words. I have a weakness for writers who love language; I'm odd like that. And as ever with any long comics run you could tell he stayed too long, but rather than phone it in he simply concentrated on keeping himself entertained, and in so doing kept me entertained.
But there are more than words in a comic; otherwise it would be prose. There are pictures. And the pictures in SotST are the equal of Moore's words, mostly. From the titanic trio of Bissette, Totleben & Veitch whose jagged, fractured pages seemed to stab the horrors displayed right into your mind, to the stalwarts called in at short notice: Alfredo Alcala, Stan Woch, Ron Randall et al. And of course, Shawn McManus. Shawn McManus who gave Moore's script for POG (#32) a heartwrecking cartoony beauty. Everyone on the book seemed to be having a blast and so I had a blast. John Totleben certainly had fun, fun which culminated in, with #60, his flamboyantly futuristic issue-long recasting of Kirby Collage technique. John Totleben's eyes are tired, so they say, but he can hear well enough, so let's all say that, you, John Totleben rocked, and you rocked never harder than on #60 of The Saga of the Swamp Thing (unless it was that issue of Miracleman (yeah, that one). SotST is often spoken of as being Alan Moore's but that's just convenient shorthand. SotST and its many, many successes belong to everyone on its pages. Most notably those already spoken of, and particularly Steve Bissette's dark swathes of ink. SotSW is a remarkable run of comics; remarkable in its consistency, intelligence and heart. Yes, heart. Because for a horror book it was surprisingly keen to remind us of what it meant to be human; how that can be the worst thing in the world, but also how it can be the best thing in the world. That's not bad for a comic book about a plant that dreamt it was a man.Sage of the Swamp Thing was EXCELLENT!
You've all been very patient so here's the gallery:
Sometimes...I am almost...frightened...by my own – 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!!!