MIA, Post #1: Jeff Talks ASM #574 and Batman #680

Dude .

I'd like to say I've been off acting as an agent of chaos which is why I've been too busy to post, but the fact is I've been a victim of chaos: since SDCC, so many oddball opportunities and possible opportunities have come my way that I've been almost too busy to read comics, much less review them. All the while, possible epic posts keep taking up small bits of valuable space in my brain--I've got this idea for comparing/contrasting Bottomless Belly Button to Chiggers stemming from the way they both use sound effects--making me balk at just reviewing the damn things and getting some entries out in the world.

A real shame, because I think I'm more excited about online comics criticism than ever before: the recent Noah Berlatsky flap, the Tucker Stone interview, Abhay posting pretty much anything on the Internet, the guys at Mindless Ones, Funnybook Babylon, Jog as always...there's a bunch of truly interesting stuff out there and a number of comics reviewers who are producing the most consistently interesting criticism since the heyday of The Comics Journal. It's a great time to be reading, and it makes me all but itch with the desire to jump back in and be part of the dialogue.

But to do that, I'd have to read more books, and read them more closely than I should, and maybe read them in a more timely fashion, too. I mean, Bottomless Belly Button came out in, what? 1984? 1985?

Anyway, I started a mega-super post of stuff I've been reading, but Hibbs made a pretty good case (in his own special, quasi-socialized way) that it'd probably be better to chop that post up and get some kindling into this sputtering fire of a website than one big smothering lump of thick oak. If I work this right, I'll have an entry every day for the rest of this week...and some of the comics may even be from recent memory, to boot.

Behind the jump, my first two reviews, in alpha order:

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #574: Does anyone remember that article Jan Strnad wrote for the Comics Journal, "My Brilliant Career at Marvel"? (Issue #75, according to Google.) In it, Strnad talks about the frustration of trying to craft a dramatic done-in-one for Daredevil (as I recall), where the big problem was...Daredevil. Every time Strnad brought in the guy in tights to whatever conflict he'd set up, it ended up seeming really, really dumb. Issue #574 is probably the first superhero comic I've read where I felt as Strnad must've: everything about this issue is pretty damn good, except the parts where Spider-Man appears, and then it's pretty damn stupid.

(Actually, that's not true. I love that cover, but then I've always had a weak spot for "omniscient giant-head Spidey.")

Honestly. Every time Spider-Man popped up (in isolated panels, as illustrations of where Flash Thompson finds his morale and courage during a firefight in Iraq), I cringed. Flash's story, while presented clumsily, is more than engaging enough on its own, but every few pages--to make sure the fans don't feel too rooked, I guess-we've got Spider-Man fighting the Kingpin or tackling the Sinister Six (OMG, just like the six guys pinning down Flash in a firefight!) and making the whole thing feel more cynical than it needs to.

I can see how you can make a case for it. As recounted on Stephen Wacker's editorial page, there are obviously guys fighting in our armed services who've been inspired by fictional creations like Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, George W. Bush, etc. But it's not quite as cut-and-dry as "I was in a killzone, and I wasn't afraid because Spider-Man once punched a fat, bald guy," and the inelegance of the presentation reinforces how jaded I feel about this whole enterprise. Because everyone involved at every level of this book undoubtedly believes they're providing a tribute to the hard-working men and women of the U.S. services, but this isn't a free issue--unless I missed some notice of donated profits, this issue is taking money from my pocket and putting it in the pockets of people at Marvel, just like every other issue. And every panel ol' web-head pops up in is a visual reminder of that.

If that doesn't come up for you, then you'll find this a pretty Good issue. It was better than any other "relevant" Spider-Man comic I've ever read, certainly. But next time, they should just leave Spidey on the cover, suck up any complaints from the fanboys, and let the story speak for itself.

BATMAN #680: 'Batman, R.I.P.' should really be the subject of one of some epic post from me, as my feelings about it are tremendously conflicted--it's the first thing I read on the weeks it's out, it's one of the few mainstream superhero books I'm at all current on, I think about it quasi-obsessively, and yet it feels like a perpetual disappointment. It reminds me, unfortunately, of my reactions to the first few times I saw pornography--how can I be so obsessed about something so appalling and kind of dull?

A clear sign I've all but checked out of the story was when I finished the end of this issue and then had to go on the Internet to see what happened. Yes, Jezebel Jet is clearly shown putting on black gloves; yes, there are those red and black falling petals; yes, there is the Joker's word balloon shouting (somewhat insultingly) "Now do you get it?" But, in fact, I didn't get it at all. Morrison isn't really insisting that I believe that Jezebel Jet--the dullest, dumbest and least convincing love interest ever set up for Batman--is actually The Black Glove, is he? I had to go online to see if that's what I was really supposed to believe. And until Batman #681 comes out, I guess it is.

Well, fair enough. If I'm being generous with Mr. Morrison (and like many comics reviewers on the Internet, I find it all but impossible *not* to be), my disappointment to this point with Batman R.I.P. may stem from poor Tony Daniels being so far in over his head, I can't think of him without imagining two cartoon feet waggling from a sump hole. Morrison is trying to tell a richly dark Batman tale and he gets a guy who fucks up the storytelling on a double-page spread and doesn't have time to correct it (I'm thinking here of the scene where Batman is crouching on the Arkham gate and the arc of the gate leads the eye to the next page, instead of to the panels below).

But when I'm not being generous, I remember that Arkham Asylum was a big, expensive bat-fart of a story that also failed to do the trick for me, and the artist on that was Dave McKean.

In fact, of all the major comic book writers, I'm hard-pressed to think of one that's had more consistent misfires with his artists than Morrison. He's done consistently great work with Quitely, Jones, Jimenez, arguably Mahnke--there was that Williams story on the first Black Glove story and in Seven Soldiers--and then after that, it seems the best you can hope for is competence. (Sorry, Richard Case and Doug Hazelwood.) At first, I thought this was just bad luck on Morrison's part, or perhaps a disinclination to personally woo top-drawer artists, but now I think it's a symptom of some essential dash-offedness to which Morrison subscribes (or succumbs).

That dash-offedness (and jesus, can't I come up with a better term than that?) is exactly one of the problems for me with Batman R.I.P. If Rucka had pulled a similar reversal with Sasha Bordeaux in his Detective Comics arc that Morrison does here with Jezebel Jet, for example, my heart would've been in my throat.

Maybe the end will be so utterly mind-blowing I'll change my mind about the whole thing, but I can't seem to get beyond OK, despite how obsessed I am with the whole mess.

[Oh, and in case you're interested: I believe it'll turn out to be Alfred as The Black Glove, but it'll be okay because he'll turn out to also be, much later down the road, the White Glove, and this whole thing is a complex shamanistic ritual of destruction and rebirth that only Alfred can administer because Batman's other attempts at purification (in 52 and in the drug trials that got him partially into this mess in the first place) have failed. But, if I'm right, it's gonna be a year down the road before we see any of that later stuff.]

Tomorrow: Brave & The Bold, Criminal, and Coraline.