"G'wan And STARE At Me. I KNOW I'm Not Pretty!" COMICS! Sometimes They're So Fine They Blow My Mind! (Hey, Mickey!)

In which I carved out a bit of free time at the weekend and chose to spend it with you worshipping at the altar of Mike McMahon. Just like any sane person would.  photo LoDHimB_zpsbf146653.jpg

Anyway, this...

BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #55-57 Artist: Mike McMahon Writer: Chuck Dixon Letterer: Willie Schubert Colourist: Digital Chameleon DC Comics, $1.75 each (1993) Batman created by Bob Kane

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These three issues comprise the self contained and out of continuity Batman tale Watchtower. The comic itself, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, specialised in such tales. This title delivered a surprising number of accomplished tales from a talented and varied array of creative minds and hands; certainly at least for as long as Archie Goodwin was at the editorial helm. The attraction in this arc for me was very much the magic of Mike McMahon. Now, Chuck Dixon does a fine job, don’t get me wrong. Like a TV version of Miller’s Dark Knight Returns Dixon’s story is of a near future Bruce Wayne pining for the colourful criminals of the past. Here though none of the colourful loons conveniently return and so Batman must confront the banal but no less evil prospect of Privatisation (and its co-joined twin Corruption). Craft wise it’s spot on; Dixon hits all the beats. You know, those beats the comic book writers are always going on about. He doesn’t use narrative text either; just dialogue. I know! It turns out you can write a well paced entertaining story which makes sense by combining just dialogue and art. (Actually it turns out people have been doing it for decades, but shhhh!) Yes, Chuck Dixon provides a strong script; one so strong I suspect it would have succeeded in entertaining the reader had most anyone drawn it. That’s not faint praise but that’s all he gets because most anyone didn’t draw it; Mike McMahon did.

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Before I demonstrate my love for McMahon’s work on these pages (work he has dismissed as awful) in the usual storm of horseshit hoping to pass for art appreciation let’s talk about Mike when he was but a tyke. The first time ever I saw Mike McMahon’s art was on Judge Dredd in the weekly British comic 2000AD in 1977 AD. Turned out that was his debut. McMahon, the scent of Chelsea Art College still lingering in his puppyish nostrils, was called in to pinch hit due to editorial shenanigans centering around Carlos Ezquerra. That’s why his early stuff looks like Ezquerra – that’s what he was told to do. And, bless his gifted mitts he did it. But, leisurely, he stopped doing it.

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As the years passed it was clear McMahon was developing his own style under cover of The Carlos. Initially grubby and giving the impression of portraying a world made of compacted scabs there was soon a sense of flakiness to McMahon’s art, as though a slow act of shedding was underway. In strips like Ro-Busters and A.B.C. Warriors there is a definite impression of McMahon’s Ezquerra-isms swelling as though from internal pressure. It’s true, I tell ya; his figures become bloated and even have strange flecks drifting off them. And then his art, primarily on Dredd in this period, seems thereafter to suddenly retract, fitting itself tautly around a new wholly McMahon framework of geometric precision. But it didn’t stop there; McMahon’s art kept going (and it is still going), kept fresh with refinements both calculated and accidental. (How his outstandingly appropriate woodcut style on Slaine was the unexpected result of a new method involving Bristol board, markers and tracing paper has now passed into Legend.) Then he got ill. A couple of years passed and he came back strong with The Last American for Goodwin’s EPIC imprint. McMahon, being notoriously self critical as he is, was unimpressed by his work there but Goodwin knew the real stuff when he saw it and so (I assume) threw McMahon this assignment. But like San Francisco’s favourite cop you don’t assign McMahon you just turn him loose.

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Loose being the last word you’d apply to McMahon’s work here. Meticulously constructed from the most basic level as it is to reflect the comprehensive vision of Mike McMahon. A vision which embraces the two dimensional nature of comic art like no other. Looking at Mike McMahon’s art is like looking at the world through the eyes of an alien creature. You can tell what everything is but everything is off.  Yet in relation to each other every element is clearly related to the same perceptual set. It’s the flatness that gets me. Usually that would be a pejorative term obsessed as comic book art can tend to be with verisimilitude Here though realism is out of the window. Indeed, McMahon’s art seems to imply that if you want realism then look out the window because right here, pal o’ mine, is something better than reality. Something other. Something no one else could produce. Something that you won’t get anywhere else. I could have just said it was unique but I have a reputation for going on a bit to maintain. Standards and all that.

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Surprisingly given its unique nature McMahon’s art isn’t hampered by the involvement of other hands. I have no idea whatsoever if there was any level of communication between the various parties but if there wasn’t then what we have here is the happiest of artistic accidents. Willie Schubert’s font in the speech bubbles and the Sound FX, with their slanted angles and hand crafted air have a very McMahon feel to them. They seem a part of the art. There’s a killer sequence where a hood is beaten by security specialists and the SFX appear in the panel showing a witness quailing in fear, but they are then absent from the next panel which shows the risen clubs. I described that quite tediously but the actual success of the effect is indisputable. You’ll notice there is only the slightest indication of motion in the image of the clubs (the blood on te rearmost club). McMahon eschews motion lines throughout. Usually he’s designed the image in a panel to lead the eye in such a way that the implicit motion is conveyed. Sometimes though ,as in a panel where a club strikes a head, the only clue to motion is the presence of a SFX (“WOK!”).

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Digital Chameleon’s colours are noticeable even to me and I am notoriously inert in my appreciation of comic colouring. However, they don’t stand out because they jar or if they jar they are meant to. The palette of lime greens, midnight blues, soiled yellows and popping reds all provide another level of visual interest at the very least. And at their very best they collaborate with McMahon’s images in achieving the effects he’s reaching for. Particularly when it comes to the layering of the image. McMahon’s very keen on layering the elements in his panels. His panels can be many layers deep but each layer is distinct and the illusion of depth is the result of their distance being adequately conveyed. It's akin to those fuzzy felt pictures you used to do as a kid; if you are super-old like me. Anyway, there are panels where the colouring quite blatantly enhances this effect. In these issues i was pleasantly surprised to find that McMahon’s work adapted well to the many hands make light work ethos of North American genre comics; something everyone involved gets a high five for.

So, yeah, Mike McMahon did a Batman comic back in the day. Mike McMahon probably doesn’t like it and I can’t conceive what fandom of the day made of it, but I thought it was VERY GOOD!

But then again Mike McMahon is – COMICS!

"Your Uniform Makes You An Erotic SHADOW.." COMICS! Sometimes It's A Family Matter!

Firstly, fans of Jog's fine writing on the works of Howard Victor Chaykin are directed HERE. Everyone else gets this. No, there are no refunds. Stop asking me that. Anyway, this...

Photobucket "Mrs Eisenmann, you're trying to seduce me."

FLYER Plot and art by Gentleman Gil Kane Script by Howling Howard Victor Chaykin Coloured by Steely Steve Oliff Lettered by Worried Willie Schubert Originally appeared in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #24,25 and 26 Batman created by Bob Kane DC Comics, 1991-92 ($1.75 each)


Originally appearing in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT in 1991/92 Flyer proves that The Past is another country and that continuity is tighter there. Let it suffice to say that the care and attention to detail in the Nu52 continuity is so desultory that it only makes sense when considered as a vile and cowardly attack directed solely at the sanity of Rascally Roy Thomas. Other than a sadistic assault on everything a fragile old man holds dear it makes no sense. Anyway, I don’t want to get into that whole continuity custard pie fight I’m just pointing out that continuity is at the heart of this comic series and although Chayky Kane© get to produce their own tale it is set as firmly and flagrantly in the then DC continuity as the Cullinan I is set in the head of the Sceptre with the Cross. I may be overstating things there, maybe, but be assured that with LOTDK a great deal of editorial effort was expended ensuring the continuity canvas was so tight you could bounce rice off it.


Gil Kane (after David Mazzucchelli)

At this point in the DCU the sine qua non of Bat continuity was Mazzucchelli and Miller’s monumental BATMAN: YEAR ONE (B: YO). Maybe it still is (who the Hell knows!?!) Using B: YO as the root of all sequels worked out okay back then what with it being recognised as being one of the few examples of genre comics perfection. On a more dismaying note it is also one of the even fewer examples of a genre comic’s success being matched by its quality. While the caped crusader’s adventures continued in their usual manner in the usual monthlies LOTDK featured short arcs by high toned creators. Each discrete story focused on a period prior to the then current Batus-quo with a view to filling in the gaps with contradictions being actively discouraged. A commitment to continuity and also to quality; apparently it is possible. Certainly in Flyer both quality and continuity are present. It’s a Chayky Kane© Joint so the quality is self evident to all with the nous to recognise it Actually so is the continuity, so much so it can seem a little stifling. In the end though Chayky Kane© manage to create something uniquely theirs. It’s a very odd thing but it’s recognisably a Chayky Kane© thing.


Flyer answered the prayers of everyone who had read B: Y1 and wondered about the fate of the chopper pilot. Yes, the one whose craft was engulfed by the bats Batman summoned to cover his escape shortly after he punched a cat-hating man through a wall. No doubt crippling the cop from the waist down and leading to the disintegration of his marriage and an empty bedsit life with only a hot plate and tear stained photos of his estranged son as solace. Until that is he was run over in front of some orphans by The Joker (having now cut his own cock off and stapled it to his face like a wee fake nose) in a clown car powered by the blood of Mother Theresa. That’s not this story. That’s a Scott Snyder story and it’s about family. Flyer, however, is about the chopper pilot we were all worried about at the beginning of this paragraph.

Photobucket David Mazzucchelli

PhotobucketGil Kane

Predictably enough he (the flyer!) suffered catastrophic physical ruin and was only saved by virtue of the fact that his Mum was working on a government weapons programme based on advances by Nazi scientists with said advances being brought to bear to build him a jaw, a lower leg and a flying suit or two. As usual in these stories his mother turns out to be an unrepentant Nazi driven insane by her own (hopefully. Jesus, Howard!) unrequited lust for her own father resulting in a mind-soilingly twisted love-hate relationship with her own son. Naturally she uses her own tech-enhanced son to lure Batman into her randy grasp; his physical and mental perfection having made Bats the ideal candidate for helping her turn her well-maintained womb into an Ubermensch dispenser. Babies, there. I’m talking about Bat-babies. Weirdly, Batman declines her kind offer. There’s a fight and it all ends in tears. Mostly hers. And it actually is about family. A lot of HVC’s stuff is about family but a lot more of it is about the monied elite mucking the hoi polloi about as they are charmingly wont to do. Because they can, see. So that’s okay.


Flyer is, in fact, the first Batman tale written by HVC. He would go on to write many others but here we can see the first shaky steps towards laying out the issues he would use the character to explore. Because HVC has a very particular take on Batman, or more precisely HVC has a very particular take on Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne is of course rich and being rich he is powerful. HVC’s work is very concerned with the rich and powerful and the effect they have on the world. I may have mentioned that before. In all likelihood I will mention it again. I'm set in my ways, okay? While HVC usually assigns the monied elite the villainous role Bruce Wayne forces him to stretch a bit and try to find a sympathetic approach to the privileged. This doesn’t come easy to him but he makes this work to his advantage by shunting his concerns onto the Bruce Wayne character. This gives Bruce something to mull over while he isn’t being punched, punching back or being mauled by a bawdy cougar. He doesn’t really come to any real conclusions but it’s enough that Batman doesn’t just accept he should punch people in the face, because. Underneath all the raunchy nonsense and pulp trappings HVC always remembers to provide something to engage the brain. The balance is a bit off here though, largely due to Mrs Eisenmann who steals every scene she’s in and having stolen it probably tries to force it to make Aryan babies.


Gil Kane helps here with a fabulous level of artistry where the demented NILF is concerned. Obviously using Graduate era Anne Bancroft as his cue Kane builds a character whose body language fully plays into the turbo raunch and psychotic mind mess she embodies. Whenever the menopausal supremacist appears with Batman Kane depicts her with eyes glazed with lust and sporting a dirty smirk like a haus frau on a hen do when the boy dancers break out the baby oil. HVC’s overheated and fantastically deranged dialogue is turbid with erotic fervour and in combination with Kane’s body language brilliance result in one of the great lunatics of comics.


This is ‘90s Kane so it isn’t as much to my tastes as ‘80s Kane, but it is Gil Kane and any Gil Kane is good Gil Kane but any Gil Kane after the ‘60s is pretty great at the very least. By the ‘90s though the world is changing and Kane’s art hasn’t kept up in certain areas, particularly the area of technology. So while his architecture, anatomy and action are all as flabbergasting and flowing as ever it’s hard not to agree with the text when it describes the Flyer suit as looking like a “cheap Japanese robot”. HVC hisownself might be having an impish dig here. This strikes me as something he added on seeing the pages rather than an explicit request for Kane’s art to fulfil. After a dense and confident opening chapter Flyer starts to resemble Kane and Wolfman’s (GilWolf©!) Superman work in ACTION comics. Upon reading those delightful comics recently it was hard not to get the impression that Marv Wolfman was being dragged behind the runaway horses of Kane’s art desperately trying to regain the seat and steer the whole shebang in the general direction of sense. Yes, I imagine Marv Wolfman got more than a few new grey hairs trying to explain after the fact how, because Superman had spun around very quickly indeed (for the umpteenth gorgeously illustrated time), everything was okay now. I get the impression here that HVC was a bit on the back foot when the pages came in and had to vamp more than a little. He does it well, I'll give him that. Nifty footwork all round.


A dead giveaway that HVC’s script is not King is present in Kane’s breaking of HVC’s Golden Rule on more than one occasion. No, calm down, this Golden Rule is not something mucky from a ‘70s bath house but rather HVC’s repeatedly stated belief that a scene should only change on the page turn rather than within the body of the page itself. It’s a simple rule and a good rule and it’s hard not to imagine Kane’s flouting of it as his cocking a snook in HVC’s direction. It’s possible (pure conjecture this) that Kane was gently asserting his authority. HVC had been his assistant in the past on two occasions so there might have been a playful little power game being enacted. A cheeky little reminder. Mischief seems to be present, but good natured mischief rather than its sour cousin malice. Two old friends pissing each other about a bit.


One of the best things about Flyer is a thing that appears on none of its pages but is apparent in every page since none of them would exist without it; HVC and Gil Kane’s shared history. Yes, it appears not only comics have continuity but people too. Before Flyer Kane and HVC had had a parting of the ways. Why is none of our beeswax, what counts is they healed the rift before it was too late. Which is kinda heartwarming, aw yeah. And on that note here's the popular singer and terrible dresser Mr. Elvis Aaron Presley to play us out ....

A word of thanks now to Mr. Charlie Hodge, who brings me muh towels an' mah wattah. And mah COMICS!!!

Have a good weekend y'all!

Everyone Loses: Hibbs on 9/3's cape comics

Four superhero books below that cut!


AVENGERS VS X-MEN #12:  Man, it would be nice to have a Marvel crossover once that ended right. I don't know what frustrates me more: Captain America's extraordinary hypocrisy in the face of the breaking point he engendered, or why no one is asking about what happens with all of the *good* stuff that the Phoenix Five engineered (food, energy, water, worldwide). but, these are superhero comics, and superhero comics don't like dealing with ramifications, do they? Like I said back at the review of #1, this comic clearly is reviewer-proof; nothing I could say or do would impact it's entire success as a commercial juggernaut -- I'm certainly selling twice or more copies of AvX than I do of either of the component characters any longer.

The thing is, I'm afraid that this series fundamentally broke the X-Men -- what are they any longer?

With Xavier dead, the mutants no longer an "extinct race", Cyclops considered a super-villain, what's presumably the world's stock of Sentinels melted down (along with all of the battleships and nuclear weapons in #6) "Uncanny Avengers", and so on -- well, what's next? Where can you go from here? The core metaphor might still have need today -- but can the X-Men still be the spirit of alienation in any clear way when mutants are now responsible for bringing peace and food and water to Africa, y'know? I have my doubts, especially because the first new x-book off the blocks this week is actually an Avengers title, and the "flagship" X-comic is going to be a time-travel story, which doesn't even sound remotely sustainable to me as an ongoing monthly.

At the end of the day, I thought AVENGERS VS X-MEN #12 was pretty AWFUL. Though I doubt that's any real surprise to anyone out there. I also thought that the X-Men "won", in that Cyclops was right, and his species is now viable again... even though they're left at the end as being a largely irrelevent concept in the Marvel Universe. Funny how those things work out.



AVX #6: As a modern piece of comedy, I thought this was generally pretty darn GOOD. "Captain America is level 15 in Guilt Trips," indeed! Though the Hawkeye sexploitation dream was pretty dang grody, and prevented the book from scoring higher.



DAREDEVIL END OF DAYS #1:  I was originally looking forward to this, because on paper, at least, it sounds good: Bendis, Mack, Janson, Sienkiewicz all back on Daredevil for one final story. Too bad the result is a gory mess, with multiple scenes of people beating each other to death. Yay, comics? Overall the art, mostly Jansen being inked by Sienkiewicz, has the worst of each artist's tics, though there are a few nice and painted panels that entirely work. Seeing those lovely panels make the rest of the book look that much worse, sadly.  Pretty AWFUL.



LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #1: So, this is a collection of  Batman stories that, as far as I know, ran as digital content before being collected here.  This is the fourth (fifth?) "re-purposed" digital comic, and, at my store at least, sales have all been uniformly awful on these books, but I can't tell if it is the chicken, or if it is the egg. Batman, in serialization, is going through a pretty nice period right now -- BATMAN itself is my top selling DC comic. and all five of his monthly books are selling at least 25 copies a month for me. This one? I sold 2 copies in week 1, and I'm not expecting that to grow in any manner I'm willing to carry the risk on. So, is LDK flopping out because it is digital first, and people don't want leftovers? Or is it flopping because it's Batman-led comic #6? Or is it flopping because it is shitty?

There are three stories here, one by Damon Lindelof & Jeff Lemire which is close to the worst Batman story I've ever read being, I think, a "what if?" of "What If Batman was an arrogant drunk?" Hrf?!? The second two stories are kind of  NEW TALENT SHOWCASE teaming newer writers with solid artists (JG Jones, Nicola Scott) -- but the stories aren't any great shakes, neither rising above what you might hope for in a new talent anthology series: not shitty, exactly, but not so great either. At least not for $4.

The bigger problem, for me, is that these comics are kind of the "proof of concept" for the problem of what you do for natively-digital work when the iPad landscape/computer monitor being different proportions from the printed page.  Mark Waid was the first person I ever heard who said, "Duh, just plop the two screens on top of each other, and your back to normal proportions", and I thought he was genius when he said that.

Except... now I've seen what it looks like in practice. It is... not very good.

So, first, if you're even slightly aware of it, you can "see" the weld made on each page as writers are aiming the "beat" for the bottom-rightmost panel of each "page", except each page now has two of THOSE, and it TOTALLY blows the "rhythm" of the comics page.

Second, because you have to present the page smaller than it displays on monitor/iPad, it feels oddly cramped, with too-small lettering.

Third, it really shows just how limited the landscape format is for density-of-content -- It is hard to cleanly fit more than 4 "panels" on any "page", then, which gives you an extremely limited number of choices of page layout and panel arrangement. then you see that twice on each printed page, and it is kind of a mess.

So, I guess now I really don't think that digital comics can be reformatted to print in this way without kind of crashing out the beauty and strength of the real unit of comic books: the page. I thought the Lindlehof story was AWFUL, but the rest was decent enough it could drag the entire book closer to an EH.



That's me, what did YOU think?