Some say it’s not the journey but the destination. In this case it’s very much about the destination, which is the final issue of the artistically impoverished big ticket cash-grab from DC Comics, Dark Knight III: The Master Race. After this we’ll all just pretend it never happened and get on with our lives. We shall never speak of this again. EVER. DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & MillerRead More
Nearly there. Good soldier. Nearly there. DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #8 Pencils by Andy Kubert and Frank Miller Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson and Alex Sinclair Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Brad Anderson, Bill Sienkiewicz and Riley Rossmo Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics? You should, you really should. You've got one more issue to remember 'em. Then it's spankin' time!) Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2017)Read More
In which I continue to try and make up lost ground by looking at issue 7 (
of 8 of 9) of DC Comic’s big-ticket Bat event. By popular demand! Well, two people, anyway.
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #7 Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert, Frank Miller & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miler & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Dave McCaig, Howard Victor Chaykin & Jesus Arbuto and Chris Burnham & Nathan Fairbairn Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics? You should, you really should.) Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2017)
Make no mistake with issue 7 DKIII:TMR remains a very special comic; special in a wholly awful way. DKIII: TMR is the kind of comic that is so awful it actually makes you genuinely miserable for having sat through it. Maybe it’s the waste of talent that makes the misery sting so hard, for there are talented people here; people who have produced some pretty decent comics but this…thing, is just so awful, so pitiful in fact that to treat it with the disdain it deserves seems unfair, if not cruel. Then you remember how much money this bunch probably got ($$lot$$) for producing this vacuous piffle. It’s hard to decide which bits are worse, the bits with the words or the bits with the pictures. Only joking, it’s definitely the words. As vague and perfunctory as Kubert’s paltry efforts may be, his art’s inadequacies pale before the titanic idiocy of the writing. Azzarello firmly plants his flag in the peak of Mount Awful from the very first page with a tour de farce of faux cleverness. For the author of a comic that has spent far too long buggering about Azzarello certainly doesn’t bugger about in buggering things up. He’s straight in there. In the last characteristically pathetic issue, you will recall (because how could you not), Batman fell in battle. Actually, you might not recall that, because it was delivered with all the narrative vitality of a rural bus timetable. I didn’t see anything on The Internet about it anyway, and that’s where there’s usually some kind of moronic rumpus if a fictional character even coughs persistently enough, never mind finds a rusty red warning in their supertrunks.
So Superman picks ailing Batman up and flies off with him, which is where this issue opens. And Azzarello, for once wasting no time (but unfortunately wasting no time in being awful), in a move you just know made him fire finger guns at his screen, rejigs the old Superman “Faster than a speeding bullet..” spiel from the Siegel and Schuster days, but with a typically modern maudlin slant. “Am I, in fact, all that?” is the undercurrent to this un-Super internal monologue. Azzarello is probably under the misapprehension that this is as cute as that page in All-Star Superman which reduces Superman’s origin to its fundamentals (“Doomed Planet.” ,“Last Son.”, etc). Tragically for tobacco-beard-sporting-finger-gunning writers everywhere it isn’t cute; it’s plain dumb. For starters why would Superman know that speech? Does he make up little ditties about himself, maybe while he’s sat covered in ice (for reasons no one has seen fit to divulge over the seven issues of this blocked toilet of a comic)? Or are there Superman comics in the world of TDKIII:TMR? And were they made by Siegel and Shuster? And did they get royally fucked over like they did in this world? And if I want to read a comic where Superman and Siegel and Shuster occupy the same world why aren’t I reading Rick Veitch’s Maximortal, which is a far, far better comic? Flawed as it is from the off, Azzarello does his self-satisfied conceit no favours at all with his typically tortured syntax. Azzarello’s inept rejig comes off like the empty posturing it is in comparison to Siegel and Shuster’s breezy and effortlessly iconic brilliance. And it just doesn’t work anyway. Superman’s basically bemoaning the fact that even being Superman may not be enough to save Batman (like what’s the alternative, a fucking ambulance? Would a fucking ambulance be better? A flying fucking ambulance even? No, Superman, it wouldn’t.) “I’m only Superman” he sighs, telling us nothing about Superman or indeed anything at all except the utter failure of the writer to “get” the character. Someone should have made Azzarello rewrite this smug baloney until it worked, or until he binned it. It’s not big and it’s not clever; it’s nincompoopery of the highest order. Supernincompoopery!
But where’s Superman going with Batman? To the Lazarus pit! Who didn’t see that coming? Even Karl Marlden in Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails saw that coming! (Note: Karl Marlden plays a blind man in Dario Argento’s Cat O’Nine Tails. That’s the joke there.) But because Superman is a thoughtless dick we have several pages of Carrie being all sadznshitz because she thinks Batman is dead. You would have thought Superman would have had the wit to let her know there was…a chance! But although that would be entirely in character for Superman, and not too difficult to work into the story, he instead leaves her to wet Batman’s helmet with her lady tears (not a euphemism). These, typically for Kubert, sparsely arted pages are a complete fucking waste of space unless you like seeing young women feeling all sadznshitz for no reason. That doesn’t speak highly of you, I’m afraid. It does speak to the utterly desperate attempts of this comic to inject some drama into the thoroughly beige goings-on. Carrie’s already been sadznshitz over a not-dead Batman in issues #1 and #2 and here she is again all sadznshitz. Azzarello is so frantic to fill his pages he’s reduced to recycling things that already failed to work. So, Superman drops Batman in the Lazarus Pit. I don’t believe (I could be wrong; I don’t really care at this point) the words “Lazarus Pit” are used in this issue, so anyone unfortunate enough to be reading this without decades of useless Bat-ephemera clogging up their higher functions, would be left wondering why Superman has taken the corpse of his pal to what appears to be a particularly sternly ornamented San Franciscan bath house. Is it because they spent some good times there flicking towels at each other’s taut arses between badmouthing Lois and exchanging smoky glances?
No, it’s because it’s a Lazarus Pit! And, as the advert says - it does what it says on the tin. There’s about 4 pages wasted on Batman going into the healing waters, Superman waiting, and then Batman leaping out like a nude billionaire shaped salmon. Fully two pages of that are just Superman waiting. Just…waiting. Lad de dah…waiting. Just…waiting. Got any mints? Waiting…waiting. Thrilling stuff. If you’re an accountant. So, yeah, Batman’s young again! And we might as well shut up shop right here, because all protestations to the contrary this has been the whole point of the series – to make Batman young again. Now they can have TDKR comics forever and a day! Regular Batman can find Carrie’s soiled knickers in his washbin; we could have a lenticular cover, and when you move it Batman holds the lacy aromatic rag up to his nose! Part 1 of a 50 part event: “The Knickers”. Or Dark Knight Batman could team up with Huckleberry fucking Hound! Or Strawberry Fucking Shortcake! The possibilities are quite literally dreary beyond belief! As ever though, in their sweaty fumble after more money DC miss the point. The USP of The Dark Knight universe was that Batman was old, that Batman could die. Without that it’s all just more Batman. And still just more Bruce Wayne Batman to boot. A writer with any stones would have had Bats die, Carrie take the mantle and that black kid from issue one (the kid we all thought was indicative of some thoughtfulness, some relevance; the kid who died in one of the lumpen fight scenes) should have become Robin (but you know, in more urban attire. More “street”. Not just a Nehru collar and some piping, Jim Lee.) Instead we get the same old, same old. Seven overpriced, ineptly executed issues thus far; all so DC can just switch The Dark Knight Returns off and switch it back on again; restore the whole thing back to factory settings. What was once original and thrilling is now neutered and subsumed into the grey paste of insipid corporate product. See also: Watchmen. There’s going to be a Watchmen TV series! How fucking mundane must you be to be excited about a Watchmen TV series! How arid must your inner life that be to think The Dark Knight Returns was a bit too exciting and could really do with being more like the other umptyfuckingbillion Batman comics. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen - now just as lifeless and drab as everything else! Huzzah! DC clearly need to brush up on their Aesop’s fables. Particularly the one about the goose and the golden eggs. BIFF! BANG! POW! Short stories, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral aren’t just for kids!
A wiser man, a better man, would stop there; the series having essentially declared itself a bleak exercise in corporate box ticking devoid of any and all artistic intentions. Why bother with it anymore? Because it is truly, fascinatingly awful. And it is important that voices are raised against precisely this kind of incompetent high-profile crap. So, I’ll go on. There is a jaw droppingly shit bit where Azzarello tries to inject some depth into the junk tumbling from his characters’ mouths. Carrie and Commissioner Yindel have a rooftop confab which is so full of horseshit I half expected Kubert to have sketched a shire horse next to the smashed Bat-signal. But that would have required some humour, and also horses are hard, and if the art on DKIII:TMR tells me anything it tells me Kubert’s not all that into graft. If there’s a shortcut, Kubert will take it. I’d rather Kubert drove me on holiday than drew my comics is what I’m saying there. Back at the Brian Azzarello Insight Corner: Was it worth it?, asks Yindel who is clearly a moron. All what, asks Carrie because she too is none too bright herself. All this, says Yindel because circuitous drivel takes up space and that’s what writing for comics in the 21st century is all about – taking up space. That and choking the imagination and beauty out of everything. The gist, I think, of all this deep, deep thought is that Yindel is asking Robin if fighting the bad guys was worth it; worth all the death and property damage. This is such a boneheaded question I worry for the state of Brian Azzarello’s mental health. Then, even better (i.e. even worse) there is some mush mouthed mental gruel about how everyone always thinks they are on the right side, so how can they know what they did was right? Deep. Oh, and (buckle UP, Wittgenstein) how masks don’t just conceal – they REVEAL! (Christ. Just…Christ.) The ideas beneath all this overcooked rumbledethumps of inane prattle barely even qualify as thoughts. But important questions are being asked, we are assured. The only important question is how anyone could write this shit and not spend their life puce with shame. This is what happens when people whose talent has really short arms reach for profundity.
Other things happen in the issue and the best I can say about those is they aren’t as hair curlingly terrible as the stuff I’ve highlighted. The Kandorians continue to hang about like a cloud of midges over a stagnant pond, before deciding to go to Paradise Island (“De plane, boss! De plane! De invisible plane!” RIP, Herve Villechaize) for some childnapping. Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter continues to hang about with the poorly motivated Kandorians, like a posh kid slumming it with the scruffs to piss off mom and dad. The guy with the big melted face complains about having a big melted face. And to be honest I think this whole guy-with-a-big-melted-face business isn’t really worth all the space it’s getting. There’s only so much mileage in a guy-with-a-big-melted-face. But then everything (what little there is of it) gets far too much space in this comic, the whole thing is a whole load of nothing spread far too thin. Oh, the Atom’s back! It’s been several weeks now, or something, since he shrunk so he should, by rights, be covered in his own mess, winnowed by starvation and not a little boggle eyed with fear. But Nah, He’s perfectly fine, sat on a molecule working on his techno-bits. I guess he’s sat on a molecule in a piece of ham which us why he hasn’t starved to death. Why, precisely, it’s taking him so long to fix his magic machine (which will no doubt be adroitly deployed at the climax of the book) is anyone’s guess. There’s also a mini-comic, the bulk of the fun of which is in Frank Miller’s enthusiastic pencils, alas much of the fun of these is crushed by Janson’s rigid inks. The best bit (of the whole series so far in fact) is the appearance of Bat-Mite, largely because there is no mention of him on the page; so it’s entirely possible Frank Miller just drew him in there (twice) for shits and giggles. Just that small sight of goofy (possibly improvisatory) fun throws the rest of the joyless crap surrounding it into stark and unflattering relief. Bat-Mite! Yay! Unfortunately, like the main book, it’s all written in Azzarello’s dourly congested style, in which everyone thinks they are being highly insightful while merely being full of shite. Fans of stereotypically sweaty and sinister Egyptians will have a field day, but that’s probably a minority of the Direct Market audience in 2017.
If DKIII:TMR had been a Broadway Musical it would have closed so fast Spider-Man: Turn Out The Dark’s run would have resembled that of The Mousetrap. But it’s a comic, so its audience are even less discerning than a pensioners’ coach trip at a heavily discounted, matinee performance. Also, because its sales figures are inflated by the comics equivalent of sub-prime mortgages (i.e. variants) it gets to preen about pretending people like it, until every last cent has been squeezed out and you can practically hear its pips squeak. DC even added an extra issue! That was about as welcome as an extra in-law. Obviously this decision was to allow the peerless artistry of the series room to excel, and certainly not because DC wished to increase their market share for another month with one of their few regularly well performing titles. I despise this new tendency on the part of Marvel and DC to gift its audience with an extra issue of whatever over-hyped and undercooked craptacular they have induced us all into buying despite the weight of experience. There’s nothing like flagrantly taking advantage of your audience to engender good will. Here’s where that ends up: I’m not buying anymore mini-series. I’ll just get the TPB when they are done. Add as many issues as you like, you short termist donkey haunches; I’ll not be buying them. Craven and underhanded shenanigans in the extreme, as ever from Corporate Comics. There’s no artistic reason for sticking another ish in since the series has no genuine artistry, and from a creative viewpoint could have done with being seven issues less. That might have, you know, focused the minds of everyone involved. The last thing an ill-disciplined, sprawling, and fundamentally empty thing like DKIII:TMR needs is more room. When your kid starts projectile vomiting due to an allergic reaction to a Chinese meal, you don’t wander through every room in the house with him; maybe knock on next door’s as a surprise and merrily spread the trail of vomitus yet further. No, you stick him in the bath and keep him there. Damage limitation, innit. You all know the words by now, so sing along: DKIII:TMR is CRAP!
NEXT TIME: Something a bit less blatantly soulless and worthier of the name – COMICS!!!
Anyway, this... DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #5 Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, right) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Alex Sinclair, Paul Pope & Jose Villarubia, Karl Kerschl Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. Remember them, DC Comics?) DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2016)
DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #6 Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller (Yeah, sure) & Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Romulo Fajardo Greg Tocchini, Guiseppe Camuncoli & Dave Stewart Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller (WITH Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson & John Constanza. I'm pretty sure they were all involved too, DC Comics.) DC Comics, $5.99 or $12.99 (deluxe) (2016)
I've read these comics several times now, trying to pinpoint exactly what it is about them that gets my back up so. Every time I read them new flaws come to light. So much so that it's got to the point now that I'm afraid if I read them again I'll discover the ink is actually the blood of poor people or they are printed on capybara skin. It's hard to think how a comic could fail so badly at pretty much everything. It's a Batman comic, for goodness sake. We're not talking about PROVIDENCE or HUMAN DIASTROPHISM here. Batman. I've tried to find the bright spots but I can only come up with one: in issue #5 Batman seeds the clouds with Kryptonite and the resulting rain depowers the Kandorians enough for everyone to lay into them. I liked that, it was fun and goofy and pretty much COMICS!!! Everything else made me wonder what everyone was thinking to let this get published. (Besides $$$$!)
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
Eventually I hit upon the answer. Or an answer. It was during one of Brian Azzarello's tedious inner monologues which he characteristically spreads across as many panels as he can, like a miser with margarine, in an attempt to disguise the banality of the thought at its heart. In this particular overwrought paean to intellectual aridity Batman refers to Fear as “My nanny.” Eureka!, I thought. And not because the comic stank no, all had come clear. They were trying to out-Frank Frank but because they fundamentally misunderstood THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS they had outflanked themselves. The ridiculously hyperbolic interior monologue is as much The Tank as wearing a hat that looks bigger than him, but Frank knows when to stop. Azzarello thinks you just keep going, listing things until you've filled enough panels. At no point did it occur to him that the “nanny” was way over the line into bathos. I mean, a fucking nanny. How identifiable. What next? “Fear is my Hedge Fund Manager.” “Fear is my Chauffeur.” “Fear is my Personal Masseur.” Seriously, by the time Batman is telling me Fear is his Nanny, he's no longer the Dark Avenger of the Night and is instead an addelpated overpriveleged fop in need of a hired titty to suck.
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
The Tank would also go so large his ideas dwarfed our minds, but he'd stick to it. He'd fulfill that promise. He'd have a nuclear strike on the American mainland by Golly, and he'd make you feel it too. This clueless bunch trap Superman in a black matter shell which is, apparently, an whole 'nother infinity of bizarreness for eternity. What do we get. Pictures of Superman like he's caked in quick drying scat. The only thing Azzarello can think to do with it is set up a fucking awful play on the words “fork” and “fuck”. Seriously, is Carrie eleven years old? About that, during this series Carrie drawn as being just past Bruce Wayne's waist heightwise. How come everyone in issue #1 thought this flailing munchkin was Batman. And howcum his Bat-suit fit her? It should have hung off her like when Alfred used to wear it in the Adam West series, and be about as convincing. This comic is so terrible it makes previous issue worse retroactively, and they were pretty dire to start with.
DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson, Robins & Miller
So this Black Matter dimension, right? There's a load of people telling us how terrible a pickle Superman is in (over a whole host of pages, natch) but he just pops out of it in a stunningly dull splash page (i.e. typically Andy Kubert). I have had balloons from the fair that were weightier than this threat. It's all huffing and puffing this comic, working so hard to avoid doing any hard work that it might have just done the hard work in the first place. Having underplayed everything to a remarkably wearying degree they then have Superman recover from this awesome threat by just touching his face and wincing, and then he feels all better. It's high stakes stuff you can feel in your boots! This wholly unnecessary side road into adventure-as-tedium tries one last time to convince us something of import has happened by having Superman declare that while in the Black Matter Scat he searched his soul. Sorry, his SOUL (because Brian Azzarello's random emphases are in full effect throughout this, sorry, THIS, series). That sounds interesting doesn't it? I wonder what Superman saw in his SOUL. And I'll have to keep wondering because they haven't got a clue with how to do anything with that, and the book strolls into the next scene. Mostly though, I wonder what Brian Azzarello sees when he stares into our souls. His career? (Take your time…geddit?) And because this team can't give without taking away, the groovy Kryptonite rain pays off with Superman in a no-neck-robot suit. This suit is so hilariously drab and perfunctorily designed you wonder if your eyes are having a laugh. Even better it has a fully molded reproduction of Superman's face as the helmet. It's just...shit. Utter, utter shit. Which is two more shits than the people involved in this comic apparently gave.
Ah, the people! Thus far the ridiculously poorly thought out metaphor for Terrorism has floated about in the sky and asked the people of Gotham to bring it Batman. Now, ask yourself what you do when you want to find something. No, not Batman. Just your keys or that picture of Howard Victor Chaykin looking well buff. Okay? Right, do you run around like a screaming maniac smashing things and setting things on fire? No? Well that's what the people of Gotham do. For several days. Batman feels all put out because the poorly thought out metaphor for Terrorism has shown humanity at its “worst”. But Batman is mistaken. The people who made this comic have shown us at our “worst”. It's this nasty, tiny-minded, and thoroughly adolescent view of human nature which is the biggest bellyflop in replicating the spirit (good movie; shut your face!) of DKR. Yeah, the people of Gotham behaved abominably in the original, but there came a tipping point. Humanity came through. Jim Gordon had Sarah, and thinking of her made everything easy;Gotham rioted and looted, but it pulled together and mostly without Batman. Fires were extinguished, people held out hands and lifted others up. Sanity and humanity prevailed. Sure, Batman helped, but after the understandable initial wobble after the nuke hit, people were the best we could be.
"The SPIRIT spreads as fast as the fire. Two NURSES show up out of NOWHERE--they don't have a DAMN thing to work with..The ones they can't COMFORT they get DRUNK. a HARDHAT grabs a LUGWRENCH from the back of his dead TRUCK and smashes open a FIRE HYDRANT. The man at the HARDWARE STORE puts his shotgun away and empties PAINT BUCKETS all over his new tile FLOOR. A LINE forms." Frank Miller in DKR, 1986.
That generosity of spirit (I'm telling you, revisit it) is wholly absent from DKIII:TMR. The people of Gotham are a mob which Batman redirects at the Kandorians. In DKR people were humans, in DKIII:TMR people are weapons. Ugh. Just ugh.
All that is prologue because in DKIII:TMR #6 Batman dies! Yes! You read it here first, effendi! Batman dies! (Well, you know, "dies") OMG! Has Brian Azzarello been crowbarred onto on a US TV talk show where they clearly couldn’t give a tin shit about comics, and been patronised like a precocious child who can recite the Bible backwards? You know, fielding hardball questions like, “And the words, do you write all those yourself?”; “I see, the pictures are drawn by another person? Golly!”; “You are in your forties now and you’re on TV talking about killing Batman, do you sometimes wake up with your face inexplicably damp with tears?”, “Well, Batman sure has changed since I was a kid! Now here’s Chet with news of a dog with a very special talent. Chet…?” If he hasn’t why not? This is important business! The death of comic book characters is seismic stuff! I still remember where I was when I heard Hawkeye had shot the Hulk with a Special Bendisium Arrow. At home. Or at work. One of the two. I don’t get out much, so it was definitely one of those. Titter ye not, non-continuity-poorly-written-Batman dying is a real ball jangler! I hope that guy who studies Batman is paying attention, his reading list just got EDGY! I cannot overstate the importance of this development! These pages are soaked in historical significance like a teenagers tissues are soaked in dead jizz! The game just got changed, my friend. BOOM! My kid tried to pick this comic up, but luckily I roundhouse kicked him across the room before his germy fingers could soil this Near Mint Collector’s Edition. “THIS IS YOUR COLLEGE FEES!!! DON’T!!! YOU!!! EVER!!! TOUCH!!! IT!!! I screamed into his traumatised face as he spat out his teeth like bloody chiclets . Kids don’t get it, comics aren’t for them anymore. They are for death fetishists and preposterously optimistic speculators. Hurrah!
Remember Captain Marvel’s death scene in DKSA? “Where does a dream go?”, “Go out with a lion’s roar!”, all that, yeah? It was about a page if that, he was a supporting player if that, and it resonates through the decades to make my elderly eyes tear up still. Here in DKIII:TMR in stark and daft contrast Batman gets shot in the back by B’al-D'ee’s eye beams . Mind, he mustn’t have hit anything too vital because Bats has time to swoon into Superman’s No Neck Robot Suit arms and tell Superman not to take him to hospital because, uh, I guess he mustn’t have kept up with his insurance? Or maybe he doesn’t like those gowns that tie at the back and leave your arse flapping about? This heat beam takes its sweet time to find anything vital because Bats has chance to tell Supes to tell Carrie…what? We’ll never know. Oh! What gems from the pen of Brian Azzarello have we been deprived of! Possibly, “Tell Carrie…I’m sorry I involved her in this nonsensical belly flop of half arsed execution and poor creative choices.” Maybe it’s “Tell Carrie…I love her, tell Carrie I need her, tell Carrie I may be late, I've something to do, that cannot wait.” I can see Bruce being a big Richie Valens fan. Superman’s more Glen Miller, I think. KRYPTON-65000! Doodly doo doo! Well, that’s about as likely as Batman getting shot in the back by heat vision.
Even worse, because if there’s one thing DKIII:TMR likes to do it’s up the ante on awful, “Clever”, thinks Superman as his Bat pal is felled. “Clever.” Clever, my charred arse. Unless Superman has just realised the answer to that morning’s Daily Planet crossword clue which had him stymied over his java and Lucky Charms ("Closet's opening needs handle, quick" (6)) then I don’t know what he’s on about. “Clever.” That guy shot someone with his eyebeams. Ooh, that’s a smart move! You should write that one down Superman, maybe do that yourself sometime. What else does Superman think eyebeams are for? Reheating his java because he’s spent so long on his crossword that it’s gone clap cold. “Clever.” Sometimes I just despair. Remember Waterloo where it looked like Napoleon had won but The Duke of Wellington said he was going home, and as he walked away he spun round and shot Napoleon with his musket. “Clever”, said the history books. (Or for the Internet generation: This Entitled Elitist White Male Warmonger Won The Battle With This Clever Trick And The French Hate Him! (Picture of a dog with tits)) (NB I know Napoleon didn't die at Waterloo, I sincerely doubt Batman dies here.) The death of Captain Marvel this ain’t. “Where does a dream go?” More like, “Where does a chump go?” “Go out with a lion’s roar!””, nah, “Go out with a wet fart!” It’s not the same really is it? Not “This would be a good death. Good enough” but “This would be a shit death. Shit enough.” Nothing about DKIII: TMR is “good enough”. The “death” least of all. Who signed off on this? Who thought, “Yeah, that’s good that is.” I’d really like to know. Names, I want names. Forget it, I just want it to be over. The best bits of DKIII:TMR are when The Tank draws something, even if it is all messy and wobbly and clearly the work of a man in trouble, it's still obviously COMICS!!! While DKIII:TMR is cynical, idiotic, vacuous and tiresome CRAP!
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!!!
Um, here's a gallery of comic book covers from a series that Marvel published from 1979 - 1984 as a tie-in to a terrible line of toys. It was also, as of issue 38, part of Marvel's first tender dalliances with Direct Market only comics (see also MOON KNIGHT and KA-ZAR). The unfortunate Bill Mantlo scripted the series solidly (as was his wont) for its duration, but the real attraction was the cavalcade of artistic talent who put food on their table drawing this stuff. Michael Golden! Gil Kane! Steve Ditko! (Howard Victor Chaykin even did some innards but, alas, no covers). Because of legal what have you, and the fact it was so heavily intertwined with the Marvel Universe it's unlikely the series will ever be reprinted, so here for your baffled perusment I present without words and purely in pictures, the mighty MICRONAUTS... MICRONAUTS by Michael Golden, Josef Rubinstein, Bill Mantlo, Tom Orzexhowski & Glynis Wein.
They are old and they are yellowed but, by Dallan, they are - COMICS!!!
But I still went on about it nevertheless.
Anyway, this… DARK KNIGHT III: THE MASTER RACE #3 Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller, Lynn Varley & Klaus Janson (although third time out DC again only identify Frank Miller as the author. Tsk. Tsk.) Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, John Romita Jnr, Frank Miller Story by Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello Lettered by Clem Robins Colours by Brad Anderson, Alex Sinclair Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Dean White, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, John Romita Jnr, Danny Miki & Dean White Retailer variant cover by Geg Capullo & FCO Plascenia, Gabriel Dell'Otto, Paul Pope & Shay Plummer, Alex Garner DC Comics, $5.99 Standard/$12.99 Deluxe (2016) Batman created by Bill Finger & Bob Kane
Now, I’m not really auf fait with the whole sexy modern Terror thing (torture is awesome, right?) but I was around in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so I have in fact been evacuated from two buildings, watched pubs burn on the teatime news and also had my favourite Saturday shopping centre remodelled by, in all probability, Semtex©®™ (the Czech plastic explosive not the Czech energy drink), and my take away is that the big thing about terrorists is that terrorists are generally perceived (by themselves at the very least) as the underdogs. They are denied the usual channels of protest and don’t have the resources of whoever they are up against, so they by necessity, and I am in no way endorsing this, fall back on terrorist tactics. Given that, I’m not entirely sure why a city full of Superpeople who can fly faster than a fighter jet, balance a city block on each ear, punch through the earth’s crust, shoot fire out of their eyes and make steel shattering cold hiss from their mouths would see themselves as underdogs. In fact they don’t; one of the (very) few things this comic makes clear is that they consider themselves Gods, so c’mon, get worshipping! That’s their whole, like, thing. So why (WHY!?!) they would turn themselves into bombs and threaten to drop themselves hither and yon unless Earth kowtows is almost as inexplicable as the first two issues of this thing, where Batman sought to convince everyone he was dead by reminding everyone of his existence. I’m not sure there was enough air in that bottle these dudes popped out of, because their plan makes about as much sense as beating someone to death with an atom bomb. Or treading on someone whose super power is SHRINKING(!) and believing they are dead. Or trying to convince everyone you are dead by reminding everyone of your existence. Or pretty much anything in this thing. Basically, given the massive imbalance of power on show I don’t think this metaphor is working like anyone involved thinks it is. DKIII:TMR by Kubert, Janson, Miller, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins
That is of course if they’ve put any thought at all into it, because this third issue seems particularly begrudging in its display of stale thrills. There’s a half-hearted attempt at continuing the whole social media/talking heads thing, but it’s sprinkled so stingily over the pages you get the impression they wished they’d never started doing it. And the heads that talk are hardly impressive, their likenesses blunted by Kubert’s stubbornly generic approach. I think one of them is Donald Trump, which, yes, well done, is super-timely, but has it no real comment to make about him, except his is a face you’ll have seen on television. It might as well be Cookie Monster or Latka from TAXI. Amazingly in a 21st Century comic there’s actually a “my wife” joke, the best I can say about that is at least it isn’t a “my mother-in-law” joke. On the bright side though, if this whole hacking out cashgrabs thing doesn’t work out, Brian Azzarello could fall back on touring Working Men’s Clubs with Jim “Nick! Nick!” Davidson. Or maybe not, because the secret of comedy is timing, and here Azzarello and Kubert manage to thoroughly fluff a conceptually pretty good joke about how no one’s too fussed about the Kandorians until they interrupt their web service. It’s a good joke, but it just expires on the page before your eyes. Like they just couldn’t be fussed, and this air of enervation permeates the whole issue.
Which is thematically apt since most of this issue is about people being tired. Here even Batman’s a bit tired of it all. He’s not the only one. His fire’s gone out. Reading this book I can think of some other people whose fire has gone out. I’m not saying there’s some psychological projecting going on on the part of the creators but then nor would I rule it out. Batman’s throwing in the towel, my arse. To stop Frank Miller’s Batman you’d need to feed Frank Miller’s Batman into a wood chipper, give the resultant slurry to pigs, fire the Batman-fattened pigs into the sun, drop the sun into a black hole and then maybe, maybe you’d be on the right track to stopping the mad thug from coming back. Even so, you’d probably turn round and the last thing you’d see would be his grin as he unzipped you like a sleeping bag and paddled in your guts. Here, though, Frank Miller’s Batman is tired and he doesn’t want to play anymore. Bless. Fantastic grasp of Frank Miller’s Batman there. Almost as good as the one they have on Superman.
Oh yeah, then there’s Superman – he just gave up one day and sat down and stopped moving. As you do. Fantastic writing there, really gets to the nub of the character. He’s Superman, he’s what’s best in us, and he always finds a way. Of course he’d just give up just…well...er…because. It’s all got a bit much, that’s all the motivation on show here. Hey, it all gets a bit much for me too, Superman, if just sitting down and not moving was an option I’d have grabbed it with both hands decades ago. Anyway he’s sat in some ice (exhibiting truly impressive control of his bodily functions) and although conscious, is unresponsive to stimuli. Look, I’m no professional but I think once the catatonic state is breached we’d try maybe 20 to 40mgs of Citalopram©®™ and a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy initially. Were his state more responsive perhaps a talking cure might be an option, but that’s further down the line. Er, sorry. Anyway, medically Batman is a bit more hands-on and hits Superman with a big hammer. This doesn’t work. Luckily Carrie Kelly wakes Superman up by telling him what the problem is. We are told this is a stroke of genius by Batman, you know, asking Superman to help because there are a lot of Superpeople engaging in a poorly conceived metaphor about Terrorism outside. Who would have thought Superman would respond to a clearly articulated problem. Not Batman. But then he has just tried to chivvy someone out of a mental collapse by hitting him with a big hammer. I liked the big hammer by the way; it’s the only thing in three stubbornly unspectacular and bafflingly self-satisfied issues that has felt slightly “Frank Miller’s Dark Knight”. The fact that Batman carries a massive hammer miles through the snow to break the ice on Superman is just so cartoonishly dumb it spoils everything even more, because you realise all the more keenly how tepid and underwhelming everything around it is. Case in point, next issue is clearly the one where Superman gets a good leathering just like he did in the previous two Dark Knight series, because, well, fuck it, the cheque’s cashed so why not just be totally predictable. Three issues in and this thing remains a pile of stale horseapples. CRAP!
The mini-comic this time out has the typically pacy Azzarellian zip of an arthritic tortoise with a brick on its back struggling up a steep incline, and disdains the immature allure of an actual fight scene in order to favour the more sophisticated alternative of three ladies floating about while passively aggressively sniping at The Sphinx. The Sphinx it should be noted is an ancient pile of stones, so it is understandably less than forthcoming with responses. Undaunted by the futile idiocy of their actions they carry on trolling the inanimate object while chipping away at it, in the process resembling less super advanced beings and more a bunch of bored scrotes kicking a dried dog turd about while waiting for a bus to arrive. Instead of a bus Hal Jordan turns up. Or a pile of sentient broccoli which has chosen to assume the form of “Hal Jordan” (this, like so many things in this comic, is needlessly unclear). The talk turns Super Deep with questions being raised as to whether it is right than women should be unequal to men (no) or whether the colour of one’s skin makes some innately superior to others (no). Strong stuff and given the complexities of the questions it’s understandable that there aren’t any answers given (No, not even “no”), just questions raised. Quail before the philosophical might of Brian Azzarello! (Never mind The Riddle of The Sphinx! What about The Riddle of The Azzarello? “Is it right that men and women should be uneq..”, “No.”, “…Uh, lucky guess. Is it right that people’s skin col..?”, “No.”, “Um. What’s black and white and read all ove..” “Dude, no one reads newspapers anymore. Get a clue. Your riddles are balls nasty.”)
So flummoxed is Hal Jordan by the philosophical conundrums posed by his floating foes that he just hovers there slack jawed until they take him out, with a sudden act of violence clearly designed to make Geoff Johns purr like a dirty cat. However, as pompous and inanely opaque as it all is (and, boy, isn’t it just), this mini-comic is at least drawn by John Romita Jnr with inks by Frank “The Tank” Miller. Which means it is gorgeous, shimmering gloriously as it does between Moebius and DKSA era Miller. It’s like someone cracked a window in a room full of stale farts. A breath of fresh air is what I’m saying there. If these two had drawn the whole book it wouldn’t have made it good, but it would have made it better. Writing –wise the mini-comic is CRAP! But the mini-comic art is VERY GOOD!
NEXT TIME: Something a bit better than this. Something that's bit better at being – COMICS!!!
Abhay's below this, so don't dilly dally, and certainly don't shilly shally, go there! Do it NOW! Me, I'm still trying to get regular, so here's another go at that. There's a lot of toilet humour in this one. It's the only industry we have left. DKIII by Risso, Azzarello, Mulvihill & Robins
Anyway, this... SIR: The critics? No, I have nothing but compassion for them. How can I hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead? The Dresser by Ronald Harwood
2000AD Prog 1964 Art by Mark Sexton, Richard Elson, John Burns, Clint Langley, Carlos Ezquerra Written by Michael Carroll, Dan Abnett, Kek-W, Pat Mills, John Wagner Colours by Len O'Grady,the artists Lettered by Annie Parkhouse, Ellie De Ville, Simon Bowland JUDGE DREDD created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner KINGDOM created by Richard Elson & Dan Abnett THE ORDER created by John Burns & Kek-W ABC WARRIORS created by Kevin O'Neill, Brendan McCarthy, Mick Mcmahon & Pat Mills STRONTIUM DOG created by Carlos Ezquerra & John Wagner Rebellion, £2.55 weekly (2016)
Borag Thungg! Another week, another issue of the Galaxy's Greatest Comic! This week in Judge Dredd (Sexton/Carroll/O'Grady/Parkhouse) the decision is taken to devote the bulk of the seven page installment to a quite bloody and brutal action sequence which leaves Dredd on the edge of death. Also, some plot developments. It's a salutary reminder that when a Judge goes wrong that's way more dangerous than just your average perp. As seven pages go it's lean, mean, gory and crunchily executed stuff. Two parts in and “Ghosts” is shaping up VERY GOOD!
KINGDOM (Elson/Abnett/DeVille) takes time out from hurtling about hither and yon for a quick plot stop. Some fruity swears and mysterious discoveries later the strip is tanked back up with motivation enough to hurtle off, in the final panel of the fifth page, into what promises to be a more typically action orientated episode. Elson art possesses a crisp precision and Abnett's script remains fundamentally derivative but still just original enough to provide undemanding fun. OKAY!
Alas, the major question raised by THE ORDER (Burns/Kek-W/DeVille) so far is what exactly was achieved by the steampunk motorbike that could not have been achieved by a horse. So, obviously this one's not exactly pulling me in. It's not terrible though. And that's despite groan inducing clichés such as the masked rescuer being revealed to be a stunningly beautiful lady (and unless Boots The Chemist was operating in 1560 then her make up skills are a tad anachronistic). As if in balance there's a nifty bit of dialogue on the fifth and final page (the “...empircal evidence..” bit). That alone is enough to leave me optimistic that the ideas underpinning the series will eventually be revealed to have been worth the more predictable stretches. OKAY!
Last week, while struggling to make sense in a short space of time, I , somewhat tenuously I thought, mentioned Blade Runner in connection with the mek-nificent ones. This week Serendipity, obviously in a playful mood, shocks my socks of by having Pat Mills rejig the Roy Batty death speech everyone loves from that selfsame movie, but puts it in the foul mouth of an ailing Ro-Jaws and, thus, appropriately enough, fixes up the references within it to those of a somewhat more scatological stripe. Reader, I larfed. One of the many things I respond to in Pat Mills' writing is his unselfconscious embrace of puerility. It's particularly prevalent in ABC Warriors and is always welcome. In a strip where the authorities (who have been searching for Hammerstein) have just cottoned on to the fact that that robot that looks just like Hammerstein but with a different head is in fact Hammerstein but with a different head, having a giant robot referencing David Lynch films and also yelling about “Big Jobs!” is probably more of a help than a hindrance. (Note for Children of The Now: “Big jobs” was used to refer to babies going “Number Two” back in the day, back in the UK.) Clint Langley's art looks like it's all taking place inside an active bowel and so is perfectly appropriate. VERY GOOD!
You know the bit in every heist movie where the heist gets underway and it's a matter of watching the protagonists evade detection before things go wrong? This week's STRONTIUM DOG (Ezquerra/Wagner/Bowland) is that bit of the heist movie. The fun here is that instead of using specialist equipment provided by a character actor in a minor but showy role, they use their mutant abilities (stretchy arms, super strong fingers, x-ray vision, a Keegan perm, a bumpy heid, etc) and there is still time for a good joke about where one would hide the scared brain of a bizarre cult's founder. Ezquerra's art remains so flawlessy devoted to storytelling it never even hints at the effort and experience underpinning every panel. VERY GOOD!
DKIII THE MASTER RACE BOOK TWO Based on THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS by Frank Miller, Lynn Varley & Klaus Janson (although once again DC only identify Frank Miller as the author. Tsk. Tsk.) Art by Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Eduardo Risso Story by Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello Lettered by Clem Robins Colours by Brad Anderson, Trish Mulvihill Cover by Andy Kubert & Brad Anderson Variant Covers by Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Klaus Janson & Brad Anderson, Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Cliff Chiang, Eduardo Risso & Trish Mulvihill Retailer variant cover by Sean Gordon Murphy & Matt Hollingsworth, Greg Capullo & FCO Plascenia Convention Variant Cover by Jill Thompson DC Comics, $5.99 Standard/$12.99 Deluxe (2016) Batman cteated by Bill Finger & Bob Kane
If nothing else this series has proved to be a thought provoking one. The thought it has provoked in my tiny mind is exactly how bad does the writing in a comic have to get before everyone stops just waving it through? Because the writing in this comic is astoundingly poor. I've not read any other reviews because I don't accidentally want to steal anyone else's thoughts, but unless those reviews point out first and foremost how utterly craptabulous the writing is I'd hesitate to trust anything they have to say. Because, ugh. I mean, ew. Someone wrote this with a big brown crayon, allright. It's no wonder they're so keen to drag Frank Miller's name into it. It's basically the same as blaming the old dog in the corner when you fart in company. “Man, this comic is carved out of stupid!”,“Dang, must be Frank Miller's fault!”Classy behaviour, guys. You know (of course you don't, what a stupid way to start a sentence) I was in the cinema recently, and during the performance someone broke wind next to me. Now let me tell you that was one blue ribbon winner of a fart and no mistake. It was like someone had just put a Sunday dinner under my nose. You ever smell a fart that smelt like you could chew it? This was that fart. It was a heroic achievement, to which I doff my cap; respect is due to someone who can create something like that. However, before we get carried away let's remember it was still just a fart. DKIII:TMR is the comic book equivalent of that fart. It's stink is mighty. Impressively so. But it's still just a big stink.
Oh, that's a bit much, John! Really? Have you read this? Tell me, what is not cretinous about Batman's plan to make the world think he is dead? Let me just recap it for you: After an absence of three years during which the world has probably started to stop thinking about him, Batman rides his Bat-cycle into the middle of Gotham. He then proceeds to engage in a pitched battle with the Gotham PD. At some point the media notice and Batman's return is plastered across every TV screen in the world. Batman suddenly has an asthma attack and collapses. At this point it is revealed that Batman is in fact a young girl dressed as Batman, and she collapsed due to grief and exhaustion rather than a respiratory condition marked by attacks of spasm in the bronchi of the lungs. She is taken into custody and says nothing for twenty seven days, in which time the media speculate about Batman's whereabouts to its heart's content. On the twenty seventh day the girl tells a thoroughly unconvincing story about how Batman died (in bed; maudlin, bed-bound and old). Usually the police would require a body, they are funny like that. But they just take this girl's word, as you would. With Batman now ineradicably on everyone's mind it's a masterstroke of idiocy to have the young girl sprung by the sudden appearance of a massive Bat-Tank, which trashes the part of the GPD which isn't already in traction before disappearing in a thoroughly ill-defined way. Obviously, having now convinced the world of his death Batman is now free to act. Given his fantastic plan to make the world forget him, his first act will probably be to soil himself and dance the Macarena. Christ. Batman the tactical genius there.
That ridiculous horseshit takes up most of the first and second issues but there's still room in this one for Ray Palmer to say something science-y (but not too demandingly science-y) and act like a Batman level moron. Because at no point - AT NO POINT - does it occur to Ray Palmer that introducing to the planet Earth a city full of people who can fly, fire fire out of their eyes and probably fart mustard gas to boot, might be less than stellar thinking. Jean left you because you were an idiot, Ray. There might be pages of this comic which don't insult the reader's intelligence but I couldn't recall any. What about the art? People don't talk about the art! Why should I say anything about the art when the writing is this bad. The writing here is ruinously bad. But okay, Kubert as ever manages that trick of being both fussy and lazy, while in the mini-comic Eduardo Risso's deep contrast talents are wasted on something so superfluous it's barely there. But really, what matters the art when a character describes herself as Batman's “prick”? “I was his PRICK.”, she says. Nice dire-logue, Brian Azzarello! “I was his PRICK.”, she says. She says was an old man's prick. What does that even mean, Brian Azzarello? That she got him up at odd times during the night for a piss? Boom, and indeed, BOOM!
See, the real problem is that this utter drivel is soaking up attention better used on other comics. There are too many comics today, and the good ones risk getting lost in the crush. Instead of writing about Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert's futile attempt to polish the stale turds of greater talents I should have been writing about, say, MONSTRESS, STRAY BULLETS, ISLAND, EGOs, RAGNAROK and SPONGEBOB COMICS. All of which are probably struggling to survive while this bloated, brainless and thoroughly unnecessary thing flails about attracting everyone's attention. I mean, I don't need to write about this comic do I? Everyone else will already have alerted you to how fundamentally poor it is. (Won't they?) Look, my complaint isn't even that DKIII:TMR isn't a Frank Miller comic; it's that DKIII:TMR is CRAP!
NEXT TIME: On September 28th 2015 at 10:44 am “Peter” asked if I would be looking at the US attempts to “do” Judge Dredd. In 2016, he will have his answer! (SPOILER: It's “yes” and it's next up, thanks to my library.) I may be tardy but I will eventually get around to your - COMICS!!!
There was a new Batman comic out. It was an Event because Frank Miller was reportedly involved. I bought it. Frank Miller may well have been involved in actuality but, honestly, I could only detect homeopathic quantities of Frank Miller. Overall, I thought it was a pretty poor Event and only a mediocre Btaman comic. Yeah, that’s it; I thought I’d spare you having to read what follows. You can if you like, but it goes on a bit. Ooh, what a palaver! DKIII by Miller, Janson, Azzarello, Anderson & Robins
Anyway this… DK III: THE MASTER RACE BOOK ONE Based on The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson & Lynn Varley (Although in the comic DKR’s just credited to Frank Miller alone, which is a bit rich, and not something I want to encourage. Cut that shit out, DC Comics.) Pencils by Andy Kubert Inks by Klaus Janson Story by Frank Miller& Brian Azzarello Colours by Brad Anderson Letters by Clem Robins Cover by Andy Kubert & Klaus Janson Variant covers by Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, Frank Miller & Alex Sinclair, Dave Gibbons & Brad Anderson, Jill Thompson Retailer Variant Covers by Dave Johnson, Sean Gordon Murphy, Lee Bermejo, Klaus Janson, Rafael Albuquerque, Jae Lee & June Chung, Eduardo Risso, Jock, Walter Simonson & Laura Martin, Ivan Reis & Marcelo Maiolo, Aaron Lopresti, Tyler Kirkham & Tomeu Morey, Brian Bolland, Paul Pope & Jose Villarubia, Gabriele Dell’Otto, John Cassady & Laura Martin, Tony Daniel & Tomeu Morey, Matt Wagner & Brennan Wagner, Michael Allred & Laura Allred, Brian Stelfreeze, Amanda Connor & Paul Mounts, Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson, Jason Fabok & Brad Anderson, Darwyn Cooke, Josh Middleton, Gary Frank & Brad Anderson, Howard Porter & Hi-Fi, Kevin Eastman & Varga Tamas, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Dorman, Greg Capullo & FCO Plascenia, Stanley “Artgerm” Lau, Marc Silvestri & Alex Sinclair, Kelley Jones, Dale Keown & Jason Keith, Neal Adams & Alex Sinclair, Simon Bisley, Tony Harris, David Finch, Scott Hanna & Brad Anderson, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, John Romita Jnr, Danny Miki & Dean White, Adam Hughes, Francis Manapul, J. Scott Campbell & Nei Ruffino, Tim Sale, Bruce Timm and Babs Tarr with John Vernon as “The Mayor” Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane DC COMICS, $5.99/£4.99 (Standard Ed.), $12.99/£9.99 (Deluxe Ed.) (2015)
PART THE FIRST: Oblique? C’est Chic!
On November 11th, 2015 it was reported in a number of British papers that David Cameron, the Prime Minister, had written to Oxfordshire council leader Ian Hudspeth criticising the council’s proposed cuts resulting from the austerity policies imposed by the very same Government of which David Cameron is Prime Minister. Dave was, we are told, “disappointed”. Dave’s disappointment was mostly because he is also the MP for Witney which is covered by the council. Austerity and cutbacks are okay as long as they don’t affect Dave’s constituency. So far, so Tory. Thankfully though like the great Statesman he is Dave pushed past his disappointment to offer Ian Hudspeth unsolicited assurances and advice on how to best allocate his reduced resources. Showing he is not without humour Dave tried out the old one about how in fact the Council had more money not less. Probably in “real terms” which is always a sign someone is having a laugh. Regrettably and no doubt to his eternal chagrin Ian Hudspeth had to point out the unfeasibility of Dave’s helpful suggestions and indeed also corrected a couple of erroneous underlying assumptions particularly the one about Dave’s government having given him more money; they hadn’t, they had taken some away. But my favourite of these hesitant corrections, and one which will prove pertinent to the Batman comic under discussion today, was Dave's wizard idea that council property be sold off as a solution to the funding deficit. Alas, Mr. Hudspeth had no alternative to remind Dave this wouldn’t work as they are one-off receipts, so you can’t keep selling the same buildings every year. And the moral of this story is as applicable to Prime ministers as it is to Entertainment Corporations: You can only sell the family silverware once.
PART THE SECOND: Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Pandering!
Do you remember those splash pages with a one panel inset Frank Miller did in DKSA? Andy Kubert does. Herein Wonder Woman fights a minotaur for no clear reason except this is how Frank Miller introduced his characters in DKSA – with a big splashy action set piece which had little to do with anything which followed. A lot of the book is like this – Frank Miller did something in DKR or DKSA so DKIII:TMR does it too but takes up more space, has less spark, and has no idea why it’s doing it other than Frank did it first. There’s the Gotham skyline which was used by Miller to give the city a sense of being a huge gaudy (Gaudi? Oh, I can do wordplay too!) cathedral of heat hazed sin. Here the Gotham skyline is used to show us, uh, it’s Gotham. In DKR and DKSA Miller used insets of TV screens to comment on the culture of the time, the events portrayed and also the comic itself, while also employing them to propel the narrative forward and fill in exposition in a graceful and entertaining fashion. Here the same inset TV panels are used because Frank Miller used them, and here bear as much relation to satire as does a knock-knock joke. Like most of the visual language of the book it’s been purloined from the source with no thought as to its original purpose or intent. You could imagine Brian Azzarello and Andy Kubert noticing Frank Miller looks natty in a hat and buying themselves a couple only to go out wearing them on their arses. (The only people laughing would, of course, be Haters who had prejudged those hats, or fools who didn’t understand what Kubert and Azzarello were doing. Clearly.)
Then there’s the youth-speak, which in DKR was apparently contributed by Lynn Varley (and her rightly legendary colouring on DKR and DKSA is in no danger of being de-throned by the trendy lens-flare and banal gloss job of Brad Anderson) but here is by Brian Azzarello and…look, I’m inclined to leniency on this one, he has a pop. It’s not as good; it’s clumsy, ineffective and calls attention to itself more than it serves any real purpose. But, still, he has a pop. That scene also show a young POC being menaced by the cops which is so timely and relevant it’s a shame to point out the scene doesn’t go anywhere and is thus shameless attention seeking rather than any useful contribution to the debate about state sanctioned violence and institutionalised racism. I do have a sneaking suspicion that our harassed POC might turn out to be the new Robin (it won’t make the book any better but it might get some coverage; that’s what matters right? “White Man Writes Black Character in Comic Book! All Racist Violence Ends!”) Mind you, it’s reassuring to know that “The Man” is still the problem. If only we could find “The Man” and beard him in his lair! All our problems would be solved! Then we could all go down the “Disco” in our stack heels and “chat someone up”!
A similar sense of worldly awareness is indicated in the bit where Wonder Woman breast feeds her baby. In keeping with the rest of the book this takes a lot more panels than a normal human being might expect, or a writer with any self-respect would risk. Largely, I think here it takes so long to get the kid on the tit so that we all have plenty of time to get upset. Except no one has got upset. Nice try, Brian Azzarello but you failed for the same reason Matt Fraction failed with that outrage baiting issue of SATELLITE SAM which was just blow job central. Try getting out of the house a bit, guys. It’s 2015 not 1986, superstar-comic-book-writers-whose-reputations-and-influence-far-exceed-your-actual-accomplishments, and your notions of what gets people upset are a bit behind the times. Also, calling your book THE MASTER RACE isn’t “provocative” (calling it BATMAN THE DARK KNIGHT: **** ALL YOUR MOTHERS is provocative. Not wise, but provocative.) and nor is seeing Wonder Woman breast feeding. Taking a dump on Superman’s chest? Sure, that’d probably get some tongues wagging even in this fallen age, but breast feeding kids not so much. I’ve sat next to complete strangers breast feeding their kids in cafes on public streets and I managed to neither touch myself lewdly nor call the peelers. Of course we won’t be seeing Wonder Woman laying some tarmac on Superman’s chest any time soon, not in this comic anyway because Superman is having a Supersulk in his Fortress of Solitude. At first I thought he was frozen and I couldn’t understand why his naughty daughter didn’t just unfreeze him with her eye beams. At first, I admit, I was ungenerous in my response and I thought it was just shitty writing. Then I figured he was just Supersulking and the ice had frozen over him. That’s still shitty writing because it’s basically saying in order for this plot to get going we need Superman out of the way so we’ll have him sulk. Batman will turn up and shout at him and Superman will get so angry he’ll break out of his ice and…look, I’m not getting paid for this so let’s leave it to the professionals. Believe you me those dudes are getting paid for it. Otherwise it’s just fan fiction. Which this isn’t. A lot of people get confused about the difference between fan fiction and professional fiction when there’s no need to. Professional fiction is precisely the same as fan fiction it just costs $5.99, or $12.99 for the Deluxe Edition.
INTERLUDE#1: I have seen The Future of Comics And It Is Expensive!
Because, yes, this comic comes in a Deluxe Edition. For $12.99 you get precisely the same comic but at a bigger size and encased in hard covers. I kind of admire the satanic genius of this. This series alone is 8 issues and a couple of “Specials”; that’s around and about $120 dollars from each punter who signed up. Imagine if your entire line of comics were in that format. Sure, there’d be an audience drop off but at those prices you could probably absorb losses of around 70% of the comic buying public. This? This is the comics retailing equivalent of David Warner at the end of TIME BANDITS! This is Concentrated Evil! This is like the comics retailing equivalent of a first strike nuclear attack. (“We’ll lose Washington, but the Eastern seaboard should still be salvageable. Forecasts are bleak for Texas, and Mexico will fall into the sea. Predictions have Lootcrate picking up the slack when the Corn Belt goes. Mr President, those losses are acceptable to our shareholders. Let the prices soar. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”) Holy terror, wait until Marvel get wind of this. Imagine $12.99 for a single issue of a slim wisp of a Brian Bendis comic! And Marvel being Marvel they’ll probably double ship the shitters too. One day all comics will be this way. Are you ready for the world which is coming? Better start saving, kids! As for comics retailers, duck and cover mes amis, duck and bloody cover. Remember WAR GAMES: The only way to win is not to play!
PART THE THIRD: The World’s Finest Splash Page!
My main beef with this comic is it is so badly written. We don’t say we love each other enough and, more pertinently, we don’t say comics are badly written enough. Comics have never been so replete with visual wonders. The standard of art these days is off the scale and we critics find that hard to talk about, but not as hard as we do to point out the failings which are rapidly rotting the craft of writing away from within. Oh, hang on I should in all fairness point out that visually this book is hardly better than average. Andy Kubert’s art is slick but thoroughly unconvincing in terms of spatial dimensions; the size of the minotaur is hard to pin down; at one point there’s a police car parked lengthways in an alleyway which is too narrow for it; a few times Kubert channels Miller and David Mazzucchelli but somehow makes it dull; but you know, it’s slick enough stuff. A bit too slick really. You can just about tell Klaus Janson’s at work here, but you have to really squint. There’s none of that lively line flurry and sparky scribbliness which usually peps his stuff up. He’s saved all that for The Atom mini-comic. Because, yes, for some inexplicable reason halfway through the comic you come to a bit of cardboard affixed to which is a mini-comic about The Atom. I can’t believe Frank Miller wrote this mini-comic. Sure, he probably said “And then the dame, she goes and gets The Atom to make them big. Damn big. Maybe some whores are involved. Not the ones with bruised vaginal walls and PTSD. Fun ones. Fun whores. Big damn fun whores.” But the execution has Azzarello’s tin ear and indecent love of decompression smeared all over it like Deep Heat on an old man’s back. Actually, that’s’ unfair. Decompression is a legitimate narrative technique, this is just pissing about. Brian Azzarello doesn’t use decompression, that legitimises what he does; it plays right into his money filled hands. It’s pissing about. At one point a door opens and we get this:
That’s a full page splash that is. It’s then followed on the page turn by this:
This comic takes ONE AND A HALF splash pages to depict a door opening. Decompression, my pile ridden arse. Sort yourself out Azzarello, you’re a disgrace, man.
Frank Miller definitely drew some of this mini-comic, but mostly, I’d say, it’s Klaus Janson. Which is okay; Janson never gets enough credit for all the weight he carried at the tail end of Miller’s DAREDEVIL run. I like Klaus Janson and it’s nice to see him here, tidying up Frank in his dotage. Dabbing the egg from his chin, artistically speaking. The best bit of the minicomic, the whole comic even, is the cover which is drawn by Frank Miller and features a Superman who’s all creased up like a pug dog’s scrotum. I liked it, but then I like Frank Miller’s art. I’m not shuck, I know he has got old and I think something has undoubtedly taken its toll; both you and I know his line isn’t as sure as it was and there’s just something off about it. It’s a frailer Frank, but it’s still Frank. I guess crumpled-up-and-badly-flattened-out Superman won’t be to everyone’s taste, what with the outline of “Lil Kal-El” (his Superwinklestick!) clearly visible to boot, but, you know, it’s what Frank’s doing now, so I like it because I like to know what Frank’s up to. Shit, I’m just glad he’s still drawing breath never mind drawing Superman. It’s a wrap-around drawing so the back of it is stuck to the cardboard thus providing a physical manifestation for the respect with which the big Two treat the art of even the giants of the industry.
PART THE FOURTH: The Ernest Hemingway Memorial Award for Clarity and Economy of Prose 2015
So, yeah, I was starting to go on about the writing and then I went on about the art. I’m not going to spend much time on this bit because it’s depressing how badly written this comic is. And, yes, people can pretend Frank Miller wrote it but he didn’t, Brian Azzarello did. You can tell because all the flaws are Brian Azzarello’s characteristic flaws. You can also tell Frank Miller didn’t write this comic because Wonder Woman rescues a bunch of stereotypical natives straight out of a 1920s Tarzan serial and no one flinches. Look, if anyone thought for one hot second that Frank Miller had written a scene in which a bunch of POCs in loin cloths with stuff stuck through their noses ran about in big eyed fear, you best believe there’d have been a right ruckus. Oh, I’m sure these natives are well researched and based on currently existent tribes but that’s not really my point. My point is that this comic is badly written and not by Frank Miller, so let’s gets back to that point.
On page 9 we have this:
“They’re afraid. And they will be, until they are what they ARE most afraid of…Dead.”
Now, I don’t know, there might be a way to make that more convoluted and unpleasant to parse but I’m happy to die unaware of it.
On page 15 we’ve got Wonder Woman describing her stroll as “Wonderfully PEDESTRIAN”.
Do you need me to walk (heh!) you through that one? She is saying her walk was both dull and something she did with her feet. It’s funny, see, because she had a fight with a minotaur which is very far from pedestrian and it was, indeed, actually something she did with her feet! O! My aching ribs.
On the first page of The Atom mini-comic we have:
“When Jean divorced me, a fundamental scientific tenet I’d clung to—since being a mind-blown grade schooler hearing it for the FIRST TIME—was DEBUNKED. Everything—from Stephen Hawking’s BRAIN to a molten flash of goo bubbling at the Earth’s core—shared an undeniable COMMONALITY—That being, every damn atom in the UNIVERSE, was made from the SAME basic matter. Well, Having my HEART BROKEN meant NOTHING mattered.”
Sorry, Ray, I nodded off there. Jean left you? You don’t say, Ray! Why? Why would she do that? Why, you are such an interesting fellow what with your oh-so-convincing and not at all crude and excessive shoehorning in of shallow science-isms (fundamental, tenet, debunked, Stephen Hawking, molten, core, commonality, matter, universe, jism) and your pulse quickening randomly EMPHASISED speech patterns. Stephen Hawking’s BRAIN, you say! Golly, Ray, and yet you say JEAN left you? I bet the winter nights just flew BY for you two. An undeniable COMMONALITY, yet! C’mon, Ray, NO tears. It’s Jean’s loss, Ray. Honest. Here let’s make a VOLCANO with some Diet Coke and some MENTOS! SCIENCE, Ray! SCIENCE! Cry into the science, Ray! Science Won’t LEAVE you, Ray! Cry into the SCIENCE!
Seriously the whole things like this. Any chance which arises for characterisation is rudely shouldered out of the way so that Azzarello can parade another of his fundamentally empty linguistic pirouettes, which impress no one more than himself. Dreadful, dreadful, self-indulgent stuff. Personally I pick as the utter nadir of this approach what came on p.10 when Wonder Woman’s brain emitted this tripe:
“How many times have we saved them? A hundred? A HUNDRED hundred? Though the math may elude…the SENTIMENT does not.”
Rushing past the weird innumeracy of “a HUNDRED hundred” we get “…the math may elude…” Seriously? I was under the impression Wonder Woman was a kick-ass feminist Amazon breaking faces in the name of Peace and Love not some Elizabethan dandy-man.
There’s barely enough plot in this comic for half a comic, and then to dollop on top all this obnoxious showboating results in a not terribly well-written comic. That's a pretty basic mistake to make.
INTERLUDE #2: Exclusive Extract from Frank Miller’s John Ford’s “’TIS PITY SHE’S A WHORE”!
Scene: The interior of YE OLDE COMIC EXPERIENCE. Scrolls and leather bound volumes festoon the sturdy shelving. A bear of a man (BRIAN A HIBBS) hunkers behind the counter tapping at an abacus, his florid and hirsute face cauliflowered in concentration. A small brass bell tinkles as the stout door opens inward and tumbling into the shop, resplendent in doublet and hose, cassock aswirl, is the slighter but no less furry figure of JEFF OF LESTER.
JEFF OF LESTER: “Privvy, Sirrah, hast thine crusty experience and tender mentals allowed thee to ably scry the quantities required for the 1:200 Jim Lee “Static and Over Rendered Variant”? Pray tell, lest FOC pass ne’er to return! Pray tarry not and fly thine answer on wings fleeter than Hermes!!”
BRIAN A HIBBS: “Hey nonny ho, a ho nonny hey! Nay, sweet Jeff. And ‘tis to fear I shall ne’er do such. FOR MAY THE DEVIL TAKE ME FOR A PAPIST, THE MATH DOTH ELUDE!
PART THE FIFTH: Concluding Remarks
Basically I think I disliked this comic because whatever the faults of DKR and DKSA (of which there are none, clearly, but let’s pretend) they were both at core genuine expressions of a remarkable artistic vision. The DK books were Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s books. I bought them because I wanted to know what Frank Miller & Lynn Varley were up to now. I didn’t buy them just for fucking Batman. There’s plenty of fucking Batman comics as it is, but there aren’t a lot of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley Batman comics. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is more fucking Batman comics. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is a largely inept but still not entirely unentertaining Batman comic set in the Millerverse. DKIII:TMR thinks all I want is an unthreatening remix; a toothless rehash of familiar elements which speaks to an ultimately condescending view of the comic book audience and embodies a complacency the source texts actively kicked against. If DC had sold this book as an Azzarello and Kubert book set in the Millerverse I’d have been a lot more indulgent, I think. All its flaws are their usual flaws after all. But DKIII:TMR’s biggest flaw is to pretend it is Frank Miller when it is patently not.
…there is an easily sated part of me that doesn’t mind this comic for all its flaws (which are not small – characterisation, ostentatiously awful wordplay, sluggish pacing and a fatally mistaken sense of self-satisfaction shining up from every adequate page) because I don’t expect a great deal from a Batman comic, but there’s also a part of me that despairs that something so flawed (and they are not small flaws– characterisation, ostentatiously awful wordplay, sluggish pacing and a fatally mistaken sense of self-satisfaction shining up from every adequate page) can be treated as an Event. That what is basically a fan fiction pandering remix can be met with such acclaim. Cue STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS joke. DKIII:TMR as a comic is EH! As an Event it is CRAP!
And that’s it for 2015!
Thanks for all the magic, and I’ll see you in 2016 at some point when, in all likelihood, I’ll be writing about – COMICS!!!
Yeah, so I'm not getting it together at all over here. Sorry. Let's just leave it as I'll be back in the New Year then we all know where we are. But wait! No one leaves empty handed! So until we next meet let me gift you with the pathetic results of what happens when an old man messes with Paint. Yes! Please be seated and feast your eyes upon a tribute to DKIII: The Childishly Trollingly Fascistic Title, with particular emphasis upon the rocket ship pacing and Shakespearean word play of Brian Azzarello and, naturally, the visually scintillating fireworks of Andy Kubert.
I sincerely thank each and everyone one of you for your patience, attention and forbearance during 2015 and I hope to see you all in 2016. Have a great Holiday Season!
All artwork by Andy Kubert & Klaus Janson.
Merry Christmas! See you in 2016 for – COMICS!!!
“Tarru!” to you, too!! Just look at the creators on this thing! It’s like the comic book equivalent of one of those Irwin Allen films where Steve McQueen and Paul Newman jockey for top billing, Fred Astaire tumbles burning out of a lift, Michael Caine shouts about bloody, bloody bees and Gene Hackman tells God off with his steam blistered fists raised. It isn't a movie, but is it a disaster? TALES OF THE NEW GODS by John Paul Leon, Kevin McCarthy, John Workman & Tatjana Wood
Anyway this… TALES OF THE NEW GODS Pencilled by Steve Rude, John Byrne, Walter Simonson, Ron Wagner, Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons, Erik Larsen, Howard Victor Chaykin, Rob Liefeld, Art Adams, Jim Lee, John Paul Leon, Allen Milgrom, Eddie Campbell & Steve Ditko Inked by Mike Royer, John Byrne, Walter Simonson, Ray Kryssing, Frnk Miller, Dave Gibbons, Al Gordon, Howard Chaykin, Norm Rapmund, Art Adams, Scott Williams, John Paul Leon, Klaus Janson, Eddie Campbell & Mick Gray Written by Mark Evanier, John Byrne, Walter Simonson, Eric Stephenson, Walter Simonson with Howard Victor Chaykin, Jeph Loeb, Kevin McCarthy & Mark Millar Lettered by Todd Klein, John Byrne, John Workman, Clem Robins, Ken Bruzenak & Richard Starkings Coloured by Anthony Tollin, Lee Loughridge, Noelle Giddings, Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh, Tatjana Wood, Buzz Setzer & Drew Moore Collecting stories from Mister Miracle Special, Jack Kirby's Fourth World #2-11,13-20, and Orion #3-4, #6-8, #10, #12, #15, #18-19. Plus, a never-before-published short story by The Socialist Mark Millar with art by Steve Ditko and Mick Gray DC COMICS, $19.99 (2008) The Fourth World created by Jack Kirby Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster
In 1970 Jack Kirby, finally tiring of Marvel’s inability accord him decent treatment, chose to go to DC Comics. It was there that he began the greatest phase of his many great phases of work, a phase I have taken the liberty of dubbing with fierce precision “1970s Jack Kirby”. While at DC this phase encompassed his majestically epic work on The Demon, Omac, The Sandman, Kamandi, First Issue Special, The Losers and of course, and most pertinently, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books. Jack Kirby’s Fourth World concept took the form of an interlocking suite of books (Jimmy Olsen, New Gods, Mister Miracle and Forever People) which were intended to be collected in a series of bound volumes for bookstores and, thus, a wider audience. In 2015 this is common practice for any old trex but in 1970 this kind of thing never happened. And it didn’t happen with Jack Kirby’s Fourth World either.
Controversy still smoulders regarding whether these books were successful or not but it’s all a bit moot as the last of them was cancelled in 1973. Short lived but much loved, Jack Kirby’s original Fourth World work is currently available in a series of four TPs from DC Comics. Sometimes they are even seen in bookshops as Jack Kirby originally envisaged. Post-Kirby DC has attempted periodically to revive the various Fourth World IPs with, to be kind, varying levels of success. Remember that time Jim Starlin inflated the New Gods’ thighs and killed them all? No, me neither. But, you know, that’s what comics companies do; no harm, no foul. And if they make good comics while doing so, then everyone wins. Tales of The New Gods reprints, somewhat haphazardly, some of the best illustrated attempts at being Jack Kirby. The results are variable, but as awful as a couple of them are they are all better than my attempt at being Jack Kirby, an attempt which starts and ends with not being able to drive.
MISTER MIRACLE SPECIAL (Pages 3 -42)
Given it’s written by Mark Evanier this volume opener is, as you might, expect, an exercise in respect. It doesn’t do anything new but then it doesn’t want to. It’s kind of a primer on Mister Miracle, as though the whole run were truncated to one book. It could work as a self-contained summation of that whole Mister Miracle deal or as a scene setter for a new series. Either way it’s a hectic romp filled with knowingly cornball humour, tinges of darkness, flamboyantly ridiculous death traps and inexplicable escapes from certain death. Mostly though, it’s all about Steve Rude’s art which here is as much of a politely inflamed (sometimes even a tentatively frenetic) collision of Kirby and Toth as it ever has been. It’s wild and wacky stuff adroitly sold. But Rude’s art, like Evanier’s script, as madcap as it all gets remains too tethered to reality to ever risk lifting both feet clear of solid ground and floating “out there!!!” like the King. It’s still wonderful stuff, just different. It lacks the irreverent insanity Kirby would suddenly plunge into without warning. Basically there’s nothing like that bad guy called “Merkin” but then to be honest I’m entirely comfortable with the idea that Jack Kirby knew what a pubic wig was. Rude & Evanier’s strip is happy enough to be a tribute and homage to Mister Miracle and I’m happy enough to have it be such. GOOD!
JACK KIRBY’s FOURTH WORLD #2-20 (pages 43 - 147)
In 1997 John Byrne started vigorously emitting issues of a series entitled Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. This was a dream come true; for John Byrne anyway. I’m not saying John Byrne seems to have an unhealthy fixation with bettering Jack Kirby but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was often mistaken in the street for a 1975 John Huston movie adapted from the works of Rudyard Kipling and starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer. Phew! While John Byrne’s no Jack Kirby (who is? No one.) he’s very definitely John Byrne, and John Byrne is a talented man in his own right. So there’s a certain level of fascination in watching him get stuck into Kirby’s mythology. And then fascination turns to dismay as you realise he is actually stuck in Kirby’s mythos. While (I assume) the main stories in his series progressed Kirby’s mythos what we have here are the back-ups and these are more concerned with regressing and filling in the background to The Fourth World. John Byrne, sadly, suffers from Roy Thomas Disease and so that goes someway to explaining why he backfills the backstory of Scott Free, Metron and The Forever People for example, but only a truly unnerving level of hubris can explain the fact that John Byrne gave Darkseid an origin.
As origins for Darkseid go it’s not bad; there’s even a surprise - it turns out to be someone else’s origin too. Unfortunately, and fundamentally, I don’t think Darkseid needed an origin. I think Darkseid works better as a granite faced mini-skirted embodiment of the fascistic darkness ready to pounce when civilisation becomes complacent. Which, to be fair, none of which Byrne has changed, but after reading his origin the looming brute is forever after diminished by the thought of the henpecked sneak he came from. What’s important is (simply) that Darkseid IS not (convolutedly) who Darkseid was. Whether by design, sheer forward momentum, or a fortuitous combination of the two, Kirby left loads of spaces both within and around the Fourth World; spaces for the imagination of his readers to fill. Kirby’s creations invited reader participation because Kirby believed indiscriminately in imagination. John Byrne also believes in imagination, but only in his. Again and again, with a fixity of purpose that stifles any imaginative flex Byrne returns to the spaces within Kirby’s stories and starts filling them in, like graves.
Of course Kirby would also go back, when able, to show what was past. But when he did it we got The Pact; when he did it they were revelations not explanations. Kirby’s additions opened up his narrative, Byrne’s additions all feel like a door has been slammed shut somewhere. As Byrne’s pages pass there’s a sense of narrative claustrophobia as the characters, characters who more than most characters should have access to the infinite, run out of room, they risk becoming entombed in their own narrative. Visually this impression is also, unfortunately, true; great wodges of stilted and circumlocutious dialogue hem his figures into his badly planned panels with dismaying frequency. Which is a shame because I like John Byrne’s art here, when I can see it. It has an appealingly loose and impromptu aspect which invests it with more energy than can be entirely stifled by the narrative slog it inhabits. Sometimes Byrne will surprise, with the early Apokolips scenes being visually lively, or by drawing more birds in the sky during the old timey scenes, which feels right (I don’t know, I wasn’t there). Then he’ll dismay with a character called Francine Goodbody, and the sudden threat of John Byrne penning some period sauce about dirty earls and bosomy maids turns your ears scarlet with dismay. Byrne's fatal miscalculation is to let Walter Simonson provide one of the backups, whereupon Simonson shows how it should be done. Thanks to a lightness of touch and his usual impeccable storytelling wizardry Simonson explains how Kanto came to dress like a Borgia in tale which is both hilariously obvious and melodramatically arresting. It’s a bit of a shame really as Byrne’s clearly into this stuff. He even goes so far as to update the Kirby collage technique with a couple of images combining his drawn figures with CGI of the time. By the end of this section though we have found a talent capable of invigorating Kirby’s mythos anew. Unfortunately it wasn’t John Byrne. OKAY!
Orion #3-4, #6-8, #10, #12, #15, #18-19. (Pages 148 - 207)
No, in a bitter twist worthy of The Source itself , it was Walter Simonson! In 2000 Walter Simonson began his Orion series. This focused on the angry pup of Darkseid while also flopping happily about in the wider Fourth World concepts. As is usual in Comics quality had nothing to do with sales and it ended in 2002. Taking his cue from Byrne’s series there was a main strip and then a backup. I guess Walter Simonson is a lot more amenable than John Byrne because a cavalcade of comics creators muck in to help him out on them. I know because I typed all their names in up there. That’s my free time that is; you’re very welcome. Rather than the main strips then it is these backups which are presented here. Unfortunately while Simonson made the more sensible decision to have his backups inform and augment events in the main strip rather than compete directly with the King, that does mean that reading them here, divorced from their original context can be less than satisfying.
Some stand alone and read well such as Frank Miller’s typically, and appropriately, brutally drawn birth of Orion which, again opens up rather than closes off story possibilities. The John Paul Leon strip is his usual wonderful balancing act between extremities of light and dark with a script by Kevin McCarthy which is a nice bit of business about fathers, sons, and the place of art under Darkseid (beneath his boot). Mostly though they are just a bit of fun where you enjoy the performance as much as the story. Howard Victor Chaykin characteristically provides pages involving a blue skinned sexy lady which involve domination, badinage and a messy ending. Of most interest there is the crucial part Ken Bruzenak’s letters play in deciphering the climax and the way the printing serves Chaykin so poorly that the climax has to be deciphered. Otherwise Eddie Campbell draws Darkseid, Arthur Adams channels Jean Giraud and, well, it’s just nice seeing most of these folk having fun. There’s a whole two duffers which isn’t bad by any stretch. Liefeld & Loeb remain inept and as much love as I have for the work of Steve Ditko either he isn’t really trying here or the thick inks by Mick Gray destroy any of his signature fluidity. In fact the best bit of this final (previously unpublished!) strip is that Ditko is teamed up with Mark Millar. Pairing someone as ideologically resolute as Steve Ditko with, well, Mark Millar is a black joke worthy of Darkseid his bad self. Overall this section Is VERY GOOD! which by my calculations makes the whole book - GOOD!
(NOTE: But the whole Simonson Orion run is shortly to be released by DC as an Omnibus. Knowhumsayin’? Because that thing will be fat with - COMICS!!!)
It's true: this is indeed the podcast installment where you will hear Graeme and I talk about Debbie Gibson (or Deborah, if you prefer), Tiffany, and New Kids on the Block, along with Frank Miller's Holy Terror and Grant Morrison's Invisibles. I'd like to try and deny that Graeme and I came up with a marvelous piece of speculative audio fanfic showing how NKOTB were, in fact, an early '90s Invisibles cell....but I can't.
(That said? We didn't, don't worry.)
How does that saying go: sometimes we don't get the podcast we want, we get the podcast we need? That's not really applicable here but it's a fun sentence to type, certainly. And it's not even one-tenth the fun you'll have listening to Wait, What? Ep. 59.1, be it through the magic of iTunes, or the rheumy prestidigation of this site:
Ep. 59.2 is right around the corner, don't worry. And, as always, thanks for listening and we hope you enjoy!
Yeahhhh.... so Wait, What? Episode 54 is...kinda long? I've been trying to break these bastards up into two parts so they're a little less daunting, a little more accessible (kinda), but this sonuvabitch presented no easy way to cut into pieces -- the traditional breaking point at around an hour was right when we were in the thick of things -- so I thought it was better, in the end, to just give it to you as one prime piece of just-under-two-hours of auditory real estate.
And what a fine patch of ear-land it is, I must say! Graeme and I talk Black Panther: The Man Without Fear Fear Itself; the Internet backlash on Grant Morrison; whether creators are the new superheroes; Justice League Dark; The Ultimates; Steve Englehart and The West Coast Avengers, and a big discussion on both Frank Miller's Dark Knight Strikes Again and his upcoming Holy Terror. (Do you think we could cover only those topics in almost two hours? If so, I regret to inform you that you are mistaken. We actually talk about even more.)
Like some ignoble desire, this podcast has been lurking in the heart of iTunes, but you are also invited to listen to it here at this very destination:
And I've mentioned it before, but will mention it again: if you would like to email us with gossip, links, stories, and/or pantsless pictures of Abhay Khosla, our super-secret email is waitwhatpodcast [.AT.] gmail.com.
And I guess I always mention this, but because it is always true: thanks for listening, and we hope you enjoy!
For pretty obvious reasons we don't celebrate Independence Day over here but you guys sure seem to. Just to show you that there are no hard feelings I read some nationalistic comics and wrote some words about them for y'all. Be nice if you picked up the phone sometime, America. I know you moved out but we still worry about you. Anyway it’s into the fray while the walls ran red, white and blue around me in a patriotic spray:
CAPTAIN AMERICA 70th ANNIVERSARY MAGAZINE: This is a magazine sized doohickey that’s big and floppy like my English teeth, the contents of which provoked the following responses which I am going to share with you despite your flagrant disinterest but it’s either this or I go spend some time with my family. And they don’t like it when I do that. So…
CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #1 (1941).
“Meet Captain America” by Joe Simon/JACK KIRBY(w) and (a)
America may be praying for peace but she's also preparing for war! In dark days like these every man and woman will be called upon to do their bit and Steve Rogers is about to find out he's going to be able to do more than most! It all starts here, Effendi!
Yes, this is the savage and mental solid Gold classic that started it all! Like most Golden Age comics reading it is like having your mind hijacked by the hallucinatory visions of an angry man who has drunk too much cough syrup. It’s rough and tumble stuff, obviously taking most of its storytelling cues from the still novel phenomenon of the cinema. If we take the birth of super comics to be June 1938 (Action Comics#1) this places Simon & Kirby’s creation at roughly the third year of the genre’s existence and so it’s unsurprising that this is pretty much like any other comic of the period but there’s clearly something special going on here as 70 years later someone’s spent the GDP of Ireland bringing the character to the very silver screen which so obviously inspired his creators: Joe Simon & JACK KIRBY. Oh, yeah, it’s: EXCELLENT!
“Captain America’s Tales of Suspense”: Being one of those text pieces I can’t actually wade through that are all like: “…But in issue 160 Cap almost met his match in the form of Terry “Eggs” Benedict who, when subjected to a concerted burst of ennui, became The Unsteady Hand Dangler. Jack Kirby left the day after. Pay no attention to that last sentence. There is no deeper meaning. There never was a Jack Kirby. We certainly don’t owe him or his heirs any money. We have lawyers. People disappear all the time. With issue 161 Cap found romance in the form of a peach from another dimension…” Some people like that sort of thing.
AVENGERS (Vol.1) #4 (1964)
“Captain America Joins The Avengers!” by Stan Lee/JACK KIRBY(w), JACK KIRBY/George Roussos(a) and Artie Simek(l)
Freshly thrust from his frozen tomb Captain America is bucking for a ruckus! The strange and swinging new world into which he has been chucked is only too happy to provide! Bonus: Namor’s oddly sexual noggin!
Sure, everyone remembers the tale of Cap’s astonishingly unbelievable resurrection but few people remember the same tale’s revelation that the gorgon of myth and legend was in fact a dressing gown sporting sentient stick of celery from beyond the stars. Funny that. It’s a pretty rocky ride from the modern perspective but on the plus side more happens in its pages than 96 years of NEW AVENGERS and the characters don’t all talk like secure unit patients.
My favourite panel this time through, for I and this tale are friends of old, was on page 10 on the top right. Steve Rogers sits on his hotel bed removing his boots while staring raptly at the TV and uttering: “I wonder if the youngsters of today, who’ve grown up with it, realise what a truly wonderful thing television is…” Judging by the state of the Marvel Architects output I think you can rest assured, Cap, that that is entirely the case. If TVs were made of meat it’s hard not to believe certain people wouldn’t be humping theirs as we speak. Let your mind rest easy on that score, Cap.
At this point JACK KIRBY is pretty much the master of every comic technique existent. He has been at it so long he is growing staples in his midriff but he isn’t about to rest though, no, he’s about to start pushing the form into whole new areas of hyperbolic bombast. That’s later though, so this is just (just!) another fine JACK KIRBY comic of the period which makes it VERY GOOD!
CAPTAIN AMERICA (Vol.1) #250 (1980)
“Cap For President!” by Roger Stern(w), John Byrne/Josef Rubinstein(a), George Roussos(c) and Jim Novak(l)
Will Cap give up being the Star Spangled Avenger in order to become the first kickboxing President of America?
Now say what you like about John Byrne (I’ll wait…okay? Feel better now?) but the guy can draw a perfectly entertaining comic. This is the one where someone suggests that Cap stand for President but he says (**SPOILER!**) “No”. It's very '80s because the characters spend a lot of time flapping their gums (so much so that one may be forgiven for wondering if they haven't been rubbing an illegal substance into them). I like the Stern/Rubinstein run on Cap (what was it #247-255?) a great deal but this is hardly representative of it. It’s only a brief run but it’s littered with Very Special Cap Moments like the one in #253 where an armed robber is cowed into handing over his gun to Cap solely via a stern talking to and a hard stare. It’s Cap-tatstic! Where as this one is just GOOD!
“Red, White and BRU” I REALLY like the title to this interview with Ed Brubaker. (Hey, if he wrote Iron Man we could have “Iron Bru!” That joke probably doesn’t travel well.) He claims to write the current Cap series. I’ve never heard of him but he sounds like the type who wears his hat indoors. I just glossed his interview but it seems like he lived on an army base like Bucky (Do you SEE! It was his DESTINY! He NEVER HAD A CHOICE!), enjoys TV shows, working for Marvel and is really looking forward to the movie. However, if little Ed Brubaker ever burst into the tent of a half-naked GI with life changing results he declines to say. It’s good to be Ed Brubaker, I guess.
MARVEL FANFARE #18 (1985)
“Home Fires.” by Roger Stern/Frank Miller(w), Frank Miller/Josef Rubinstein(a), Glynis Wein(c) and Jim Novak(l)
No, you can’t say what you like about The Tank. My house, my rules. Love it or leave it, pal! Do you remember "Home Fires"? It’s the one where Cap discovers the hidden Evil in the heart of America: independent retailers. I kid you not. It can totally be read as Captain America versus a deranged Mr. Brian Hibbs.
It’s hilarious of course. But in the weird way of being totally hokey yet oddly persuasive that only The Tank can pull off. It left me laughing and yet profoundly moved by its strange message. Y’know If this guy ever does a propaganda comic the earth will shake and the Heavens will quail. It has to be noted that The Tank delivers a master class in narrative storytelling with page design and visual iconography that fair makes the pages hum with life and emotion. It is a beautiful and wondrous performance. In fact the final page is possibly my favourite Cap moment ever. Cap has entered a burning building to retrieve “her”. “LOOK!” cries a man with a pointing arm directing the readers’ eye to a panel which appears to be a pregnant woman carrying a burning piano. This is then revealed, via the magic of being able to effectively convey information to another human mind via the mechanism of marks on paper, to be the form of Cap himself bursting out of the panel borders triumphantly bearing Old Glory herself.
Every time I read this I find myself halfway to the recruiting office before I realise that due to my myopia I’m more of a danger to myself than any enemy, I am not that keen on killing, even less keen on being killed and I am also in fact not American before returning humbled but entertained to my life of sedentary nitpicking. It is a truly incredible comic by a truly incredible talent. He’s The Tank, deal with it, babycakes! Although later developments within the mind of The Tank lend this tale of Cap vs. libertarians a decidedly ironic cast the issue in and of itself can truly be said to be EXCELLENT!
“Flagbearers” is an illustrated text parade of those who have taken the role of Cap through the ages. It is by Sean T Collins, a living colossus who will be familiar to anyone whose brain has not been so sponged by alcohol and soft drugs that they can look at the list of Savage Critics contributors and recognise the letters of the alphabet when they are used to form names. It is therefore the best thing here not by JACK KIRBY or The Tank. I was particularly taken by the puntastic “Patriot Names”. The piece also contains a rare Frank Robbins picture of a man not sweating.
CAPTAIN AMERICA (Vol.3) #22 (1999)
“Sacrifice Play” by Mark Waid(w),Andy Kubert/Jesse Delperdang(a), Gregory Wright(c) and Todd Klein(l)
Captain America is the only thing standing between the utter destruction of Wakanda’s adamantium! Can he stop touching his shattered shield long enough to save the day?
Being the culmination of Mark Waid’s nigh interminable exploration of Cap’s surely unhealthy obsession with his shield. After several pages of Andy Kubert’s very nice but also very big pictures the two are reunited at last. It is very '90s in a '90s comic way but since Waid and Kubert are dependable chaps it still ends up being OKAY!
Both I, having read this magazine, and you, having read my insightful and coherent thoughts concerning said magazine, have, I think it would be fair to say reached some very definite conclusions about the nature of America, the psycho geographical landscape of its people and the importance of The Dream to both. Thus there seems little need to make them explicit as this would serve only to cheapen the profundity of the conclusions we have reached.
Throughout the contents of this magazine though creators change and decades pass two things remain constant: Captain America and his devotion to The Dream. The Dream changes over time but always at its heart is Decency, the kind of decency perhaps embodied by fairly rewarding an old man for fashioning the dream life of millions and enriching the bank balance of all who followed in his footsteps. Yeah, well if nations can dream so can I, right?
Note: JACK KIRBY (Jacob Kurtzberg) was Comics made Flesh. He entered the world on August 28, 1917 and joined The Infinite on February 6, 1994. We dream his dreams still.
Yes, dammit. I am currently committed to this capsule review thing, if only because it forces Hibbs and Graeme to also write reviews and my WASPy upbringing inherently enjoys guilting people into stuff. After the jump: comics from last week, last year, and a very cool fan letter.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #169-173: Still pretty much a mixed bag for me, but I do love how loose story plotting becomes during this period: issue #169, for example, teases J. Jonah Jameson showing pictures proving that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but that's barely more than three pages of the story and the rest has Spidey beating the crap out of people he encounters essentially at random. #172 is the debut of the Rocket Racer, but he gets only the opening four pages and then the rest of the book sets up the return of the Molten Man...and even then, interestingly enough, the cliffhanger is Spider-Man being drawn on by two armed security guards. (The first page of #173 is Spider-Man getting shot by one of those cops and escaping, only to get jumped by bystanders, one of whom has been taking mail-order kung fu lessons.)
I know I carp on this again and again but: although none of that shit would pass muster in your basic Bob McKee workshop (or, as I recall, Dan Slott's advice sessions on Twitter), it's very fun in the right doses and it helps contribute to that "man, anything can happen" feeling...even when every issue opens and closes with a fight scene, and you have Molten Man coming back from the dead and then dying for the fifth or sixth time.
All that said, the highlight of this batch of issues for me was the following letter from issue #169:
Yup. It's that Frank Miller, approximately nineteen years old, saying everything it's taken me the last thirty-five years or so to try and articulate...and doing a better job of it. I'm heartened but not surprised to find out Miller's a fan of Andru...but the mention of John Buscema is a little odd. I wonder if that's why the two of them worked on that very odd issue of Daredevil years later?
Anyhoo, it's all pretty low-stakes stuff but I honestly think it's OK or better. The nostalgia factor bumps it up to a low GOOD for me, but I don't think I should really factor that in.
CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT #1: I really shouldn't read interviews. If I hadn't perused Brubaker's interview with Spurgeon over at Comics Reporter, I think it'd be easier for me to see this as an excellent take on the "guy kills his cheating wife" crime tale with the metatextual stuff being a nice little bonus. But having read the interview, I walked into this expecting the metatextual to be meaty and satirical and a brilliant insight on nostalgia and it was...just kinda okay. I'm hoping there will be a way that stuff goes a little further: it seems to me that Criminal has always been packaged in a nostalgic way -- Sean Phillips' amazing covers clearly reference those Gold Medal Books, among others -- and I think it might be uniquely suited to comment on more than the "wow, now we think of the past as somewhere safe but it was fucked up, too" element of nostalgia, but the "we even miss the fucked up stuff" element that is a little more distressing. Is it a form of innocence to pine for something evil? Or is it a sign of corruption? I think this book is going to address this stuff (god, I really hope so), but the first issue didn't really deliver on that for me. It's still GOOD, mind you -- well-written and lovely as hell, but I'd been primed for something great.
FLASHPOINT: BATMAN: KNIGHT OF VENGEANCE #1: Thomas Wayne as Batman? Don't care. The Flashpoint version of The Joker? Don't care. Art by Eduardo Risso, colored by Patricia Mulvihill? I didn't care...until I saw it. Risso's art is just eye-wateringly good and in the sewer fight scene he has this neat trick of using the page turn to up the surprise by reversing the angle or tightening the focus (or, in some cases, both). A fight between Batman and Killer Croc in the sewers isn't anything we haven't seen before but I don't think I've ever seen it quite like this. I wish the story had been more than your usual alt-universe blather, but danged if this didn't strike me as a GOOD stuff, anyway.
HELLBOY: THE FURY #1: Also, in the "Holy Shit, Look At This Art!" category is this book, which somehow manages to be jaw-droppingly beautiful from the first page to the last. Like Flashpoint: Batman, I don't really care know or care what's going on, but the art by Duncan Fegredo (and colors by the amazing Dave Stewart) and the pacing of Mignola's script miraculously negates all that. I felt flashes of dread and wonder and, more than once, something like awe. (I guess this'll sound obvious to you if you've read the issue, but reading it made me feel exactly the way I did when I first watched John Boorman's Excalibur, that same weird mix of the epic and the creepy.) I always feel weird giving books VERY GOOD ratings or higher based on nothing more than just the art but here we are. Amazing stuff.
JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #623: The art didn't fry my burger this time around but I'm still enjoying the story and Gillen's take on Loki. In fact, the mix of classic myth and the story's own sensibilities reminds me of the stuff I'm reading in the Simonson Thor Omnibus. I wish the art didn't look so wispy, but I think I'm gonna give this one a VERY GOOD, nonetheless.
Years ago I came across an eye-opening quote from Jaron Lanier in the liner notes of the reissued Gary Numan album The Pleasure Principle. Google reveals that it was pulled from this Wired essay. Here's what it said:
"Style used to be, in part, a record of the technological limitations of the media of each period. The sound of The Beatles was the sound of what you could do if you pushed a '60s-era recording studio absolutely as far as it could go. Artists long for limitations; excessive freedom casts us into a vacuum. We are vulnerable to becoming jittery and aimless, like children with nothing to do. That is why narrow simulations of 'vintage' music synthesizers are hotter right now than more flexible and powerful machines. Digital artists also face constraints in their tools, of course, but often these constraints are so distant, scattered, and rapidly changing that they can't be pushed against in a sustained way."
Lanier wrote that in 1997. I'm actually not sure which vintage-synth resurgence he was talking about, unless you count the Rentals or something (although everyone and their grandfather was namechecking Gary Numan back then, which was sort of the point of including the quote in the liner notes. Maybe he meant Boards of Canada?).
But golly, it sure seems prescient now, huh? Here we are, in the post-electroclash, post-Neptunes, post-DFA era. The hot indie-rock microgenre is glo-fi, which sounds like playing a cassette of your favorite shiny happy pop song when you were three years old after it's sat in the sun-cooked tape deck of your mom's Buick for about 20 years. And my single favorite musical moment of last year, as harrowing as those songs are soothing, was the part of the universally acclaimed Portishead comeback album that sounded exactly like something from a John Carpenter film score. (It's at the 3:51 mark. It's awesome, isn't it?)
And that's just on the music end. Visually? Take a look at Heavy Light, a show at the Deitch Gallery this summer featuring a murderers' row of video artist specializing in primary-color overload and technique that doesn't just accentuate but revels in its own limitations. Foremost among them, at least for us comics folks, is Ben Jones, member of the hugely influential underground collective Paper Rad and recent reinterpreter of the massively mainstream The Simpsons and Where the Wild Things Are. But the ones with the widest cultural import at the moment are Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim of the astonishingly funny and bizarre Adult Swim series Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!. Their color palette is garish, their digital manipulations are knowingly crude, and their analog experiments are even more so. When they combine the three, god help us all. And let's not forget Wareheim's unforgettable, magisterially NSFW collaboration with fellow Heavy Light contributor and Gary Panter collaborator Devin Flynn.
Yeah, most of these guys are playing it either for laughs or for sheer mind-melting overload, but I think there's frequently beauty in there to rival what some of the musicians are doing. (Click again on that first Ben Jones link.) And (thank you Internet God) this amazing video by Peppermelon shows that you can do action, awe, even sensuality with this aesthetic. The rawness, the brightness, the willingness to let the seams show--it all gives you something to push against again.
When I've written about The Dark Knight Strikes Again I've been fond of saying it was years ahead of its time. Sometime in the past week and a half or so, there was a day when I was listened to Washed Out at work, then came home and stumbled across that Deitch show link in an old bookmark, then watched an episode of Tim & Eric, then came across that Ben Jones WTWTA strip--and suddenly I realized I was right! Not that it matters--at all--whether or not Miller and Varley have any real continuity with any of this material. They certainly didn't get there before Paper Rad, unless I'm wildly mistaken. But then half the fun of DKSA is spotting all the stuff Miller does, from naked newscasters to superheroes ruling the earth rather than just guarding it, seemingly without realizing someone's done it first. What difference would that make? Meanwhile, in all the off-the-beaten-path references Frank Santoro has cited during the production of his Ben Jones collaboration Cold Heat--essentially a glo-fi comic book--I haven't heard word one about this book. But I'm not saying Miller & Varley paved the way for anything. I'm saying that when Miller abandoned his chops (and, for the most part, backgrounds!) for the down and dirty styles he (thought he) saw at SPX, and when Varley decided to use photoshop to call attention to itself rather than to create a simulacrum of something else, they were using the same tools, tapping the same vein, seeking the same sense of excitement, discovery, and trailblazing as these newer movements.
I've also been fond of likening DKSA to proto-punk, taking a cue from Tony Millionaire's jacket-wrap blurb: "Miller has done for comics what the Ramones et al have done for music. This book looks like it was done by a guy with a pen and his girlfriend on an iMac." The idea is that it's raw, it's loud, it's brash, it doesn't have time for the usual niceties--it's getting comics back to their primal pulp roots. I spoke to Miller several times during and following the release of the book, one time for print, and he said as much. (I certainly never would have bought the cockamamie idea that this thing was some sort of corporate cash-grab even if he'd never said word one.) He even mentioned to me his belief that the brightly colored costumes of the early superheroes served mainly the dual purpose of a) telling them apart from one another, and b) proving they weren't naked, so even his thinking in historical terms had him ready to peel back from realism as a form of reclamation. And of course it's not exactly like the story was at all subtle in this regard: Batman and his army came back to overthrow the dictators that kept us fat and happy and turned the superheroes into boring wimps. But ultimately the punk comparisons were just a little off. Born less of despair than of delight, filled less with anger than with joy, The Dark Knight Strikes Again anticipated a way of doing things that is not intended to look or sound effortless, that draws attention to its own construction, but which--with every pixelization and artifact, with every crayolafied visual and left-in glitch, with every burbly synth and sky-bright color--pushes against that construction and springs out into something wild and wonderful.
Frank Miller has a small role in The Spirit, the movie he wrote and directed, playing a cop by the name of Liebowitz. Miller's character dies about ten minutes into the picture; his directing career follows suit ninety-five minutes later. Counting me, there were twelve people in the showing I attended and four of them walked out before the movie ended. (Another one snored audibly when I passed him on the way to the head.) Since Miller considers himself a provocateur in the comics world, I wish I could say the four that left stormed out furious, but no: they left with the resigned air of people cutting bait, already figuring which multiplex theater they'd stop by next.
Me, I was busy trying not to succumb to the myth of linear filmmaking--the first twenty minutes had me convinced I was watching the worst movie ever made, the middle hour was tedious, and the last twenty were basically competent although already scuppered by everything preceding it. It was tempting to think Miller had gotten better as things went on.
[More--by which I mean "more amateur Freud than you can shake your father's stick at"--after the jump.]
Although frequently dull, The Spirit never bored me: the pretty visuals, the constant shout-outs, and the fascinating smear of psychological subtext all kept me preoccupied. I guess that last is to be expected--most of my sub-rudimentary knowledge of Freud comes from Miller's own comics, where I inferred the Oedipal implications of Daredevil's origin by Miller's creation of a female character with a parallel origin named Elektra. (And let's not get into that sequence from The Dark Knight Returns where Bruce Wayne remembers the death of his parents in super slow motion, his mother's string of pearls slowly breaking apart in panels separated by shots of Bruce Wayne's horrified rictus--an evocation of ejaculation in the midst of all that death, the underlying childish Oedipal fantasy become nightmarish reality that causes the guilt that leads Bruce to punish himself with his heroic undertaking.)
So, I admit it. Until I'd seen the first leaked footage of The Spirit from SDCC, the trailers had me thinking Miller's adaptation would be a canny bit of transference: he would adapt the character best identified with Will Eisner--his artistic mentor, sparring partner, father figure--and savvily usurp it. I figured that was why there were so many Millerisms in the first trailer (so many, many Millerisms) and so few Eisnerisms. To put this even more crassly: if Eisner was the father of Miller's inspiration then The Spirit was the mother, and Miller was going to put it to Mom nice and good while all of Hollywood cheered him on. Either the movie would be a hit, and everyone would associate The Spirit--and The Spirit--with Miller, or the movie would be a flop, and the mother (and by extension, the father) would be ruined.
(Yes, yes. As Hibbs would say: "Lester, you have issues.")
But the footage leaked from SDCC made me re-think things: oh sure, The Spirit and The Octopus slugged it out in what appeared to be an overflow of liquid feces--nope, nothing Freudian going on there!--but the banter, the cartoon sound effects, the vaudevillian slapstick...it reminded me, however faintly, of Will Eisner. (Kyle Baker goes on to underline this much more emphatically, and amusingly, than I could ever hope to, here.)
Long before the movie came out, I began hoping that Miller was trying to update Eisner's Spirit for a modern audience and had tumbled to the idea that the closest analogue to Eisner's oddball mix of noir and vaudeville, slapstick and sturm-und-drang, melodrama and high yucks, that the audience might know would be...Frank Miller.
Miller's work--even his later work as a god-damned cartoonist instead of a writer/artist--isn't Eisner's, but you can see in the movie a bridge being made to carry Miller's moviegoing audience of today to Eisner's comic-reading audience of yesteryear. (That bridge, alas, snaps about ninety seconds in, and the remaining hundred and six minutes are watching the interesting shapes made by the wreckage splintering on the shoals.) For a guy who likes to have draw mustaches and Satanic van dykes on the faces of Jim Lee's DC Universe, Miller turns out to be a more dutiful son in the pinch than I might have imagined.
Well, at least as far as the father is concerned, anyway. The one fascinating bit Miller adds to The Spirit mythos, at least as far as I'm concerned, is The Spirit's relationship to women and his city. Although I'm not the best read Spirit fan in the world, I think Feiffer's explanation in The Great Comic Book Heroes (for all the superheroes of the Spirit's time) explains The Spirit's relationship to women nicely:
Our cultural opposite of the man who didn't make out with women has never been the man who did--but rather the man who could if he wanted to, but still didn't. The ideal of masculine strength, whether Gary Cooper's, Lil Abner's, or Superman's was for one to be so virile and handsome, to be in such a position of strength, that he need never go near girls. Except to hep them. And then get the hell out. Real rapport was not for women. It was for villains. That's why they got hit so hard.
Instead of just a modified version of this tack, Miller's Spirit is a man who is catnip for the ladies, but clearly can't help flirting back. While proclaiming to love Ellen Doran (Sarah Paulson)--here, a surgeon who keeps sewing his semi-invulnerable body back together--he is haunted by the lost love he shared as a teen with Sand Saref (Eva Mendes, not nearly as bad here as in Ghost Rider, although I should tell you I consider that one of the worst performances in movie history), but capable of flirting with rookie cop Morganstern (Stana Katic), while having visions of the mysterious and thanatic Lorelei (Jame King), and still finding time to make time with Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega), etc., etc. (etc., etc.).
Factor in The Spirit's voiceover referring to Central City, his city, as a woman that needs him, referred to alternately as his lover and, yup, his mother. The Spirit says he loves women, and I'm sure Frank Miller does too, but then why in this movie is embracing a woman equated with embracing death, and a mother is equated with a couple of garbage cans in an alley? Although Miller offers up his props to Sergio Leone in The Octopus's absurd sombrero in the opening (and the plaintive harmonica near the closing), the parts of The Spirit I enjoyed most--and were disturbed by the most--were when the movie played like Fellini's 8½ done as an episode of the Batman TV show.
There's shitloads of problems wrong with the movie, mind you: Miller spends so much time trying how to shoehorn Eisner's work into a modern context (and it's probably not a good sign that even though I could kind of imagine how the movie might play out on a comic book page by Eisner, I could imagine precisely how it would do so by Miller), he didn't bother to shoehorn a good story into that. But where else can you see stuff like Samuel L. Jackson playing one scene in blackface, or an African American actor and Jewish actress romping around in Nazi outfits (I still don't know what to make of the fact that The Octopus, delightfully jumping about and cutting henchmen in half for the hell of it, or dressing up as a Nazi or a samurai or a glam rocker whenever he feels like it, isn't evil so much as pure unbridled id) or the weird sexual anxiety in a scene where The Spirit loses his pants while dangling from the edifice of a building in the shape of ram's horns? (Yeah, where'd I get all that crazy Freudian nonsense from, anyway?)
That all of this still manages to be so dull and walk-outable is a testament to the world of difference between the pacing of a filmmaker, who must sculpt time, and a cartoonist, who must sculpt space (and then there's the cartoonist's use of their own chops as compared to a filmmaker's use of their actor's, which in the case of Eva Mendes is a very difficult task indeed, the woman being essentially chopless). While The Spirit is more or less terrible, it's interestingly terrible, and even shows promise. With time, Miller could maybe make a movie that could be enjoyed even without the use of vicodin and animal tranquilizers. Hard though it may be to believe, I genuinely hope that, like the title character of his movie, Miller's directing career is harder to kill than one would expect.
Continuing the creator racks, we're on Frank Miller.
Again, there's some stupidly obvious choices here: SIN CITY, BATMAN: YEAR ONE, DAREDEVIL (though much of it is OOP), DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, but I'm going to go with a slightly less obvious one here:
Created with Geof Darrow in 1992, HARDBOILED is a masterpiece of over-the-top detail and carnage. Really the star here is Darrow, with more detail-per-square-inch than any five other comics combined. There are pages here you can stare at for five minutes each, pulling out details.
There's a level of outrageous here that I'd never seen before in a comic before this -- where crazy background details do more for world-building than anything previous. And there's a crazy level of kinetic cartoon violence going on.
I wouldn't say the story is particularly DEEP, but any comic that works out as ROBOCOP-meets-WHERE'S-WALDO is AOK in my book!
ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN THE BOY WONDER #5: Paul Levitz apparently thinks that DC's publication of THE BOYS could do some theoretical harm to their core superhero business, or taint the icons, or something. This makes me wonder what Paul made of THIS.
Since it is the ACTUAL icons.
The strangest thing is that, had Frank Miller been drawing this, I'd probably have found it amusing and satirical and maybe even a little funny. But with Jim Lee? Lee is THE mainstream superhero comic book artist, so it adds a layer of weight and Importance to it all that just absolutely demands it be taken Seriously, and, thus, renders any satire as stone-faced earnestness.
But, really, REALLY, Levitz cancelled THE BOYS and continues to publish this? Really?
What did you think?