Saturday, March 31, 2007

Delayed Reaction: Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment

Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment (Marvel Comics), by Roger Stern, Michael Mignola and Mark Badger

Why’d I Wait?: As far as I can tell, this original graphic novel was released in 1989, which was actually a few years before I started reading comics. So unlike a lot of the books I feature in these “Delayed Reaction” segments, I didn’t wait to read it so much as I completely didn’t know it existed until fairly recently. It’s unfortunately long out of print, despite the fact that it features pencils by Mike “King of the Hellboy Multi-Media Empire” Mignola.

Why Now?: Synchronicity, I guess.

A few months back I re-read Cosmic Odyssey and kept thinking how crazy it was to see a big-deal artist like Mignola drawing the likes of the J’onn J’onnz and Orion for DC.

Retailer Mike Sterling at EDILW favorite recently mentioned Triumph and Torment in the context of, “Hey, wouldn’t it make good business sense for Marvel to have this book available for sale?” (With a Dr. Strange direct-to-DVD ‘toon in the works and another Fantastic Four film just months away, the book seems like one that it would be easy to foist on all sorts of readers, not just Hellboy/Mignola fans).

Then last weekend I was selling some old comics to my local Half-Priced Books, I found it sitting among the graphic novels for a scant $8.50 (Also scored: A Killraven graphic novel with art by P. Craig Russell for just $3).

Clearly the universe wanted me to read this story, and who am I to argue with the universe?

(Above: Doom's very nice fire place, as drawn by Mignola and Badger. Richards may be smarter and more virtuous than Doom, but Castle Doom is much more tastefully appointed than the Baxter Building)

Well?: It’s actually a pretty strange artifact, from the days when graphic novels were still pretty brand new. It’s relatively short—only about 80 pages—but it’s a hardcover, and an oversized, album one at that. This is the biggest I’ve ever seen Mignola art, and it’s quite a treat (if Marvel ever gets around to reprinting it, though, I suspect it would sell better as a traditional-sized trade paper back).

Roger Stern handles the writing, and it’s a fairly simple story, with the most complex part being the portrayal of Doctor Doom as a less evil guy than his name might imply. He’s actually a pretty complicated guy.

Stern opens in the Himalyas, where a crazy old mystic by the name of the Aged Gehngis is ranting and raving to his Wong-like servant, and then off he flies to do the work of The Vishanti, whom turn out to be actual deities, and not just an empty swear word Strange uses when frustrated or excited. Once every 300 years they declare a worldwide magic contest, and the winner gets the title “Sorcerer Supreme,” as well as a sacred task—to grant a boon to the runner-up.

Strange wins, naturally enough, but it’s Doom who comes in second, and so Strange must help Doom.

What he wants isn’t any magical assistance getting revenge on Richards or anything so pedestrian. Rather, he needs Strange’s expertise in the realms of the mystic to help him free his sorceress mother’s soul from Hell, where’s Marvel’s Devil Mephisto keeps it.

The rest of the book basically consists of Marvel’s two baddest doctors in Hell, shooting beams at hordes of Mignola-designed demons, while a gigantic Mephisto lounges on his throne in the background.

There’s some very nice melodrama in here, as the title promises there will be, and while I’ve read very little of Stern’s writing in the past—certainly not enough to get excited just by seeing his name on the cover—I was quite pleased with how it reads here. Clearly he approached working on a graphic novel as something a little more special than just another comic book script, and he really upped his game.

Mignola is inked by Mark Badger, and his art has yet to be refined down to the bare essentials that it’s currently at, but it’s awfully close to the style on display in his Hellboy stories (And it’s more Hellboy-esque thant it was even in Cosmic Odyssey).

Mignola’s characters have always had a thickness and a blockiness about them, something which I’ve always felt makes him and ideal artist for Marvel characters, as you can draw a line from the work of Jack Kirby to that of Mike Mignola.

His Doom is therefore unsurprisingly utterly perfect, and his Mephisto is probably the best I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t care for Minola’s Strange all that much, however, in part because Steve had a more ‘80s/Metallica-looking moustache here instead of the Vincent Price one I so like, and, in greater part, because Marcos Martin so spoiled me with Doctor Strange: The Oath that I don’t think I’ll ever like a visual interpretation of the character as much.

Would I Travel Back in Time to Buy it off the Shelf?: Well you’d pretty much have to in order to buy it now, wouldn’t you? In the mean time, you can see several pages of it (and some very colorful color commentary on those pages) at Scans_Daily.

This is not a comic book...

...but it should be.

That image is from the cover of Diane Goode's children's book The Dinosaur's New Clothes, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes. With dinosaurs.

In other words, it's a work of pure genius.

Goode sets her version in an alternate dimension where dinosaurs lived in Versailles, and the emperor role is played by a Tyrannosaurus Rex wearing a powdered wig.

I laugh every single time I see that image above (I think it's the look on his face that does it). And there's a different picture of the Tyrannosaur wearing a different powdered wig and diffeernt outrageous outfit, making that same weird face, on almost every single page of the book.

At least until the end, when two trickster tailors convince him to wear their outfit made from "invisible fabric." With his pea-sized brain, he of course falls for it and it tricked into walking naked in front of all his courtiers.

My sole disappointment in this work was that there was that it didn't end with the emperor biting the heads off of the tricksters, two much smaller and weaker dinosaurs (one was an Iguandadon, and I forget what the other one was...I think it was one of those smaller egg-eating ones that I can never pronounce the names of).

But then, despite my love of powdered wigs and dinosaurs, I'm not the target audience for this book.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Captain Marvel vs. The Animal Kingdom

Mother Nature is no match for the World's Mightiest Man! From fierce jungle predators to harmless barnyard animals, from prehistoric monsters to the dread Venusian Gorillion, the last of its monstrous kind—is there no beast that Captain Marvel can't defeat with a single punch in the face or simple wrestling hold?

Well, except for monkeys, of course. Monkeys can be a bit of a problem. Even for the mighty Captain Marvel.

March 29th's Meanwhile in Las Vegas...

This week's Las Vegas Weekly column takes a closer look at Rick Veitch's gorgeous-looking new Vertigo satire, Army @ Love (and a rather cursory look at the new Fantastic Four line-up).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Weekly Haul: March 28th

52 #47 (DC Comics) This week’s issue sends the spotlight careening all over the DCU, as we check in with several storylines, including a few that have been only touched on thus far. The crime worshippers in Gotham finally get their mitts on Batwoman, and Nightwing and Montoya prepare to rescue her, in “B Space” the yellow aliens mess with Animal Man’s head, in Nanda Parbat Wonder Woman and Batman get their shit together while Robin on the nature of language and reality, in Metropolis the Steels get themselves a shiny, new sign and a shiny new lease on life, and on Oolong Island Doc Magnus flirts with activating Plutonium’s responsomenter. Whew! Strong pencil art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, and a lot of dialogue that sounds like Grant Morrison’s make this a strong issue, even if it doesn’t hit the giddy high points of last week’s climax.

To pick a few nits, I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Montoya looks really, really silly wearing that fedora and trench coat, and I have no idea what she’s doing in the second panel of page 15 (Playing the world’s smallest violin for herself?). Also, I had to laugh when Whisper says, “There can’t be many with both the name [“Cain”] and the resources and training to become the other[“Batwoman”].” Yeah, how many women who dress up like bats to fight crime with the surname “Cain” can there be in the world? I can only think of two, Kate “Batwoman” Kane and Cassandra “Batgirl” Cain.

Regarding the back-up origin story, focusing on the Teen Titans, it’s a tad misleading (it’s actually origin of the current incarnation, not the Titans in general), but it’s the first team origin (discounting the Metal Men’s, which was really just Magnus’ origin) so far, so we’ll let it slide. The art is by Karl Kershl and he just draws the hell out of it. The characters all look great, and we see glimpses four different versions of the team. The teen characters all actually look like teenagers (even Jericho, whom Tony Daniel’s been drawing like an NFL linebacker in the monthly, and the girls, whom he’s all drawn to resemble supermodels). Kerschl’s art strikes a delicate balance between dynamic cartooniness and representational art, and is bright, fun and appealing to the eye. If the monthly booked looked that nice, I wouldn’t be planning on dropping it after the current arc (speaking of which, you can peruse the bad art of Teen Titans #44, now with vastly improved dialogue here, courtesy of Christopher Bird).

The story focuses on Cyborg and, after reading this, his continued presence on the team actually makes a bit more sense; for a while now, it seemed like he really needed to move on and graduate to the Justice League and let Robin or Raven take over.

Action Comics #847 (DC) The stalling action on behalf of too-slow artist Adam Kubert continues! This is actually a very nice done-in-one story, but the set-up is irritating artificial. While Superman fights the Phantom Zone invaders in the oft-delayed Richard Donner, Geoff Johns and Adam Kubert story arc, we check in on the very young-looking Ma and Pa Kent in Smallville, who fret about their sons fight, and flashback to a previous story in which the odds seemed stacked impossibly against their boy. Dwayne McDuffie does the writing, and it’s a really strong story, one that could stand just fine on it’s own without being an “intermezzo” to the Kubert one (I do hope they don’t stick this in an eventual trade of the Donner/Johns/Kubert arc). Of late, the Super books have been turning into anthology titles, to keep them on the shelves while Pacheco and Kubert draw, which would be fine by me if the stories continue to be strong as this one, so long as they quit trying to tie directly into those delayed stories (an even simpler solution, of course, is to ditch Pacheco and Kubert for pencillers who can do 9-12 issues a year).

Anyway, the story within the story involves Superman fulfilling his adoptive father’s wish to see space. It seems like a very simple, very obvious story, and yet I’ve never seen it done before, so kudos to McDuffie. The art by Renato Guedes is fine, and he does some neat stuff with aliens and Superman’s ship’s warp-effect. My only complaint is that we never get a good look at the Suneater Supes is supposedly so unmatched against. This scenario was screaming for a splash page featuring a massive Suneater and a tiny little speck of a Superman, and we never get it. I didn’t care for the design of the Kents, which too closely resemble the Smallville Kents (and seem to have de-aged 20 years in the past few years…Pa doesn’t even need glasses anymore), but that’s not Guedes’ fault, as DC’s been making them look younger and younger for a while now.

Batman #664 (DC) Finally the Grant Morrison-written, Andy Kubert-drawn Batman gets back on track, with the whole creative team reassembled for the first time in five issues. And it’s every bit as good as it was for the first story arc. Seemingly picking up right after “Batman and Son,” Bruce Wayne has a date with Jet, and we learn that the only person cooler than Bruce Wayne, is, in fact Batman. There’s a lot to like in this issue, from Bruce’s comments about James Bond to Batman’s refusal of a freebie from a prostitute (“I’m busy right now keeping the city safe from dirtbags”), from the Pennyworth blue rose to Kubert dressing his pimp in a cartoon version of golfer’s wear instead of the usual ‘70s Hollywood pimp gear. And the cover, featuring father Joe Kubert’s ink on his son Andy’s pencils? Wow. Beautiful stuff. The only thing I didn’t like about the issue? Morrison’s Batman narration can be as tedious as his Batman dialogue is brilliant and, of course, that I’ve had to wait five issues between “Batman and Son” and this issue. Confidential to DC: Get Norm Breyfogle and Joe Rubinstein on the horn to draw every other arc of Morrison’s run if Kubert can’t keep a monthly schedule; their styles are amazingly similar and complimentary.

Black Panther #26 (Marvel Comics) I find myself unreasonably excited about the new status quo for the Fantastic Four, with Black Panther and Storm filling in as the father and mother figure while Reed and Sue get past the whole him being a fascist sell-out prick who built a cyborg murderclone to kill a peer thing. Panther, Storm and Sue making so nice with Reed after the events of Civil War seemed hard to swallow, and little of it is terribly believable, from Panther being civil with either Reed or Stark, or Storm sitting down to dinner with the Richards so soon after Reed’s murderclone destroyed her home and tried to kill her. Also, breaking the news to Thing and Torch in this issue occurs rather differently than it did in Fantastic Four #544, making this Example #432 of things not quite matching up between Marvel books despite the fact that they’re all being devoted to telling one, big story.

That’s all the kvetching I’ve got, though (Well, I would like to see Black Panther get a regular artist at some point; even a crappy one, just so long as the title looks visually consistent for more than 22 pages at a time). Like I said, I find the new status quo pretty exciting, and look forward to months of Thing calling B.P. “T’Charlie.” Reginald Hudlin’s plot seems a little disjointed, perhaps the inevitable art of taking place before and after a story arc going on in Fantastic Four, but it does have a bug-man from the Negative Zone in it, and that’s pretty much an essential element in a good FF story. I love the cover, and if Niko Henrichon were the interior artist as well, one wonders if the title might finally be able to reach the potential it’s been flirting with for a few years now.

Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood #5 (DC) A pretty quick read this month, as the book basically deals with a dragon chasing Connor around while our hero seeks an opportunity to shoot him with an arrow. The scene where Shado hands the magic arrow to him from the other side of the rampaging monster is pretty cool.

Fantastic Four #544 (Marvel)
Dwayne McDuffie knocked his last two FF scripts out of the park, so I was really looking forward to this issue, the official start of the title’s new, post-Civil War direction. As in Black Panther, the relative chumminess between T’Challa and Storm and Reed and Stark seems a little hard to swallow after their deadly ideological battle during “Civil War,” but then, so did the fact that their conflict got so heated in the first place. McDuffie gets an awful lot done in this issue, sending the Richards to Saturn, announcing the new line-up at a press conference, dealing with some plot threads left over from Beyond!, and giving some exciting panel-time to FF mainstays Uatu the Watcher and Silver Surfer, plus a sentient planet and some foreshadowing regarding big guy who likes to eat planets. Oh, and Gravity’s grave is empty. What’s up with that? McDuffie writes all of the characters quite well, and particularly nails the voices of Thing and Torch. The pencil art, by Paul Pelletier, was much stronger than I had anticipated based on his past work, and there was really only one bad panel in the whole book (Panel 1, page four; I dare you to make sense of Storm’s anatomy under Panther’s arm there).

Green Lantern#18 (DC) It’s the debut of the newer, sluttier Star Sapphire (whose costume makes no sense at all on the cover), as drawn by the guy who gave Phantom Lady breasts the size of medicine balls in Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. The story is uncomfortably creepy, dealing as it does with a sentient crystal that wants to mate with Hal Jordan and undresses and possesses women he finds attractive to accomplish it’s goals. Acuna’s art isn’t so bad here, and I actually quite like his version of Hal, although he seems a little too shaggy-haired and young to be the same Hal we’ve been reading about in previous issues. The lead story is only 16-pages long, to make room for a back up “Tales of the Sinestro Corps,” featuring very welcome art by Dave Gibbons.

Sam Noir: Ronin Holiday #3 (Image Comics) “All aboard the Samurai Express! First stop: Swordsville.” How can you not love this comic book? The two pages in which Sam and Eddie cross blades and Sam thinks of colorful metaphors to describe their speed is comic book genius. Genius, I say!

Hawkgirl #62 (DC) Hey comic book publishers, want to know the secret to getting me to buy just about any comic? Put an interestingly shaped giant robot on the cover, and I won’t be able to resist. Case in point: This month’s issue of Hawkgirl, which I haven’t read since the first issue (the one where the book had its name mysteriously changed from Hawkman to Hawkgirl, but retained the original numbering. Sadly, everything after the cover, by Howard Chaykin, was something of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, there was a giant Hawkgirl-shaped robot inside, and it did shoot missiles out of it’s fingertips, but sometimes that’s just not worth the $2.99 you pay for it. The robot was grown from an Apokalyptian “Gizmoid” (and boy do I hope that’s an old Jack Kirby term) that patterned itself off of Kendra. It was apparently activated by the Female Furies, who seem to have the names of the old Furies, but all look completely different. Less Kirby-esque supervillain, more Greg Landian lingerie model. I’m not sure of anything that’s going on with the New Gods these days though, so maybe these are like, the daughters of the originals or from Earth-Two or something.

Anyway, artist Renato Arlem’s art seems overly reliant on computers, as if photo reference was maybe a little too heavily involved, and lacks the cartooniness I expect in a story about a giant robot that shoots missiles out of it’s fingers. The “acting” of the characters is all pretty stiff too, with little flow between panels. Mad props to Walter Simonson for including several sequences with the sound effect “Beyoww! Beyoww! Beyoww!” (You have to read those panels out loud for the full effect), and for the scene where Kendra goes all Tasmanian Devil on the Gizmoid’s giant robot ass. Now deduct points for that last panel, in which Kendra calls up Bruce Wayne. Is she calling Bruce Wayne because she knows the billionaire philanthropist and socialite? Or because she needs to talk to Batman? I suppose Hawkgirl knows Batman’s secret identity now too? Look, I know Brad Meltzer had her hanging out in the Batcave while everyone tossed around their secret identities in JLoA, but just because Meltzer does it doesn’t mean you all have to do it now.

Ultimate Spider-Man #107 (Marvel) Okay let’s see... Um… No…nope, sorry. I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about this issue. Scads of teen melodrama as Kitty Pryde meets her new homo sapien classmates and then she and Peter Parker have their talks, and tons of cool superhero melodrama when Daredevil calls to order a meeting of the New York City-based crazy people. A pitch-perfect superhero comic, month in and month out. Still.

Wonder Woman #6 (DC) Wow, I wasn’t expecting this at all—Very Popular Novelist Jodi Picoult’s first issue of her brief run on Wonder Woman? Not very good. Picoult leaves in place Wondy’s current nonsensical status quo as an agent of the U.S. government’s Department of Metahuman Affairs, and it doesn’t make any more sense here than it did in the previous five issues (Want to learn about humanity? How about waiting tables, serving drinks, driving a taxi or doing some social work? Why hunt superhumans for a living?). Picoult plays her as a fish-out-of-water, which would actually be a great Wonder Woman: Year One story, but it’s hard to believe that after 11 years in Man’s World, Wondy has yet to make sense of turnstiles, credit cards and gas pumps.

I haven’t been reading Manhunter (I’ve been reading it in trade), so I’m not entirely clear on her current wanted status, and no one seems entirely clear on her continuity post-Infinite Crisis, so the pall of confusion that’s hung around her since is still there, hanging heavier each month

It probably doesn’t help that her stories continue to revolve around killing federal employee and human being Maxwell Lord, the evil genius of Checkmate, in a story that is essentially just a giant continuity error.

Or that the last chapter of “Who Is Wonder Woman?” didn’t see print. I think it’s safe to assume she survived the story arc and got her powers back from Circe, but it seems odd that Picoult is herself telling a story in which Circe is masquerading as Wonder Woman too. She used the exact same evil plot twice in a row? What kind of supervillain is she?

The art, by penciller Drew Johnson and Ray Snyder, is okay, but seems rushed is a few spots, like Wondy’s fluctuating breast size in the first few pages, or the tear that appears on her check in one panel for no reason, disappearing immediately. The perspective in the panel that Sarge Steel holds up the fake Wonder Woman’s recovered bracelets is all messed up too, what with the background being bigger than the foreground.

Page 12, a six-panel sequence that shows off all of Wonder Woman’s powers as well as her sense of humor, is very well-done verbally and visually though, and that silver lining to this gray cloud of a book will probably inspire me to give Picoult and company one more chance next month. But man, at this point, I think Wonder Woman is a lot like Flash: The Fastest Man Alive: An ill-considered relaunch driven more by an editorial desire to fix what ain’t broke that’s better off being ignored until DC realize they’ve made a mistake and rectify it.

Texas Strangers #1 (Image) This book imagining cowboy days in a world full of Dungeons & Dragons style magic and monsters features the sort of genre-mixing that pretty much guarantees a look-see from me. Would it turn out to be as great as Sam Noir or Arrowsmith? Well, not so far, but it’s only been one issue. It is off to a fairly interesting start. Writers Antony Johnston and Dan Evans III reimagine late 19th century North America as divided into four different regions, with free Texas smack dab in the middle. Our heroes, ginger siblings Madara and Wyatt, are journeying there with a magical knife of some sort for…some reason. There they run afoul of wicked gang the Lobos Blancos and spell-wielding lawmen the Texas Rangers (though people often add an “S” to the second word). Thus far the story is pretty much just a straight western with fantasy details, though there’s a nice, fun tone to it. Artist Mario Boon’s blocky, cartoony art was definitely the highlight for me personally though. The assignation of the non-human races to non-white races could make things a little weird (according to the map, the Native Americans are all elves and the orcs all live south of the border) but again, it’s early yet.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Six Things I Learned From Justice League of America Hereby Elects...

1). Oliver Queen wears his whole Green Arrow costume under his clothes at all times—quiver, bow and all.

And he can't shoot an arrow, even to save a man's life, until his mask is affixed and he's wearing his hat.

2.) Between the time when she wore her magician's outfit and the time when she wore that ugly blue and white superheroine outfit with the thigh-high boots and lobster shell hairpiece, Zatanna briefly wore a passable costume

(There's no topping the top hat, tails and fishnets look, though)

3.) Visiting Atlantis must suck.

To get there, Superman just suddenly divebombs into the water with you, throwing his cape over your face, and then, next thing you know, Aquaman's slamming an upside down fishbowl over your head saying, "Welcome!"

4.) Green Arrow wants a black person on the team, Flash doesn't want a token black on the team.

Unfortunately, Ollie never gets around to explaining why the fact that B.L. is black is so exciting to him, nor does Barry get around to explaining why he's so opposed to Black Lightning joining on Ollie's say-so, since Black Lightning turns the League's eventual offer of membership down, saying he's more of the solo type.

(I'm sure it had nothing to do with the Justice Leaguers dressing up as supervillains and then beating the hell out of him to test his mettle.)

5.) Superman takes monitor duty very, very seriously.

Even if the entire world is in danger of being overrun by giant rats and he alone has the power to stop them, if he's on monitory duty, he refuses to leave his post. He'll just sit there and watch the stampeding giant rats on the monitor until it's time for Aquaman to spell him.

6.) Superman totally wants Black Canary.

Don't believe me? Check it out. He's willing to waive the normal League admission rules for Dinah...

But he freaks out at Hawkman over the "duplicating powers" clause of the League charter when Hawkman wants to let his wife join...

(And how does this whole "duplicating powers" thing work anyway? Hawkman's power is he can fly—but so can Superman and Green Lantern. And what about Green Arrow and Batman, don't they duplicate one another's lack of powers?)

As soon as her husband dies, he invites her back to his Earth, checking her out on the flight there...

(He's not even tryng to be subtle about checking her out either, is he?)

He built her a motorcycle for a present.

Sure, it's a really crappy looking motorcycle but, still—that shit's handmade.

And, perhaps most tellingly, he thinks about her almost as much as he thinks about Batman.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Actually Essential Storylines: Batman

Rachelle over at Living Between Wednesdays beat me to the punch when it came time to making fun 52's back-up origin of Batman.

In her review of 52 #46 she writes : "Also, there is an origin story for this fellow named Batman, who sounds like quite the hero indeed! I must look into this brave young man and his essential story lines."

Yes, this week DC opted to detail the origin of probably the single most well known and often told origin in all of comics. Hell, even Superman's origin has been tweaked and altered more over the last six decades. Batman started out as a wealthy socialite whose parents' murder drove him to dress as a bat and fight crime, and damn it, that hasn't changed a bit.

While the origins are fun and often allow for interesting artists to draw little-seen characters, they tend to be very poorly planned, big-picture wise. They would be much more useful if they matched up with characters who actually appeared in the issue they run, or in the series at all. Instead of, say, Catman, who has yet to appear, why not let new readers know more about Dr. Sivana, Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family, John Stewart, Alan Scott, Jay Garrick, Obsidian, Zauriel, The Spectre, Natalie Irons, Amanda Waller, Captain Boomerang II, Eclipso or Atom-Smasher?

Now Batman has appeared in the series, in one issue anyway, which gives him a leg up on Catman or Zatanna, but still, what the hell? Who doesn't know who frigging Batman is, or how he came to be?

If these aren't to introduce new readers to the characters appearing in this series, then, at the very least, they could be used to tell us old readers who already know all these origins and have already read all of the suggested storylines what exactly has changed since the "New Earth" continuity rejiggering at the end of Infinite Crisis. Mark Waid's scripts tend to not mention anything that's changed however, so that rather than filling in the blanks, they just kinda highlight the blanks. And, often times, the origins themselves contradict the storylines that are suggested at the end of them, as is the case here with Batman.

The art comes courtesy Andy Kubert, the current "regular" artist on the Batman monthly (although, in actuality, he's only drawn four out of the last nine issues). It's all decent enough and competently done, but there's nothing terribly striking in here. Batman may be the hardest character to draw simply because everyone's drawn him, but that's no excuse for Kubert giving us that generic Batman swinging on a Bat-line image for the title pose; your average Norm Breyfogle sketch is more iconic than that.

Waid's origin is fine, turning on the theme of the usage of fear, which gives the piece, like a lot of Waid's two-page origins, a bit of literary thrust, beyond simply a dry retelling of facts.

It's fine, I should say, except for one point (Two, if you count his decision not to use the phrase "superstitious, cowardly lot," but I suppose that's more an aesthetic call than a logical one). At the climax of the story, and perhaps the most important moment in bat-history—even moreso than his parents' murder, since that only made him a man driven to fight crime, not a Batman drivien to fight crime—a bat flies into his father's tudy, giving him his inspiration.

In this panel, Kubert draws Wayne chilling out in his rich man's robe, writing a letter or journal entry or something. That's how Bob Kane drew the original incident in the Golden Age. It's not how Frank Miller wrote and David Mazzuchelli drew it in Batman: Year One, the official, post-Crisis (um, the first crisis) origin of Batman. It's the same story that "Essential Storylines" recomends reading a few panels later. Did Waid and Kubert both fail to take the "Essential Storylines" feature's advice themselves?

Anyway, it's only of note because in Waid's version, Bruce Wayne’s just sitting there on a lazy evening when he sees the bat that will change his life. In Year One, he's dressed like a burgular and is bleeding to death, having gotten horribly wounded while trying to fight crime while not dressed as a bat.

But enough of that, let's take a closer look at the storylines themselves. Now, usually in this beloved EDILW feature, which I spend forever researching and writing and nobody ever responds to, or, for all I know, even reads, I would take a look at DC's piss-poor suggestions, spend a thousand words or so sniffing at them, and then break out a few thousand words devoted to my own, far superior suggestions.

But this is, however, Batman for crissakes, and you all know his origin, and you all know his essential storylines as well as I do, so what's the point?

There isn't one, of course.

But I've never let pointlessness stop me from posting before, so why start now?

Here's what DC recommends...

BATMAN CHRONICLES: DC’s plan to publish every single Batman story chronologically in affordable graphic novels are a great idea (They’re doing the same with Superman, and God, I wish Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and Plastic Man were getting Chronicles collections of their own, given how pricey the archives collections are. This is a great, great comic, one which has many virtues, including the amount of two-fisted violence.

Batman has been drawn by pretty much all of the greatest artists in comics, and many of them have contributed some wonderfully scary interpretations. There’s Kelley Jones version of Batman as a gargoyle come to life, or Frank Miller’s wild animal version, or Norm Breyfogle and Jim Lee’s man-of-action wearing a mask and cloak of shadow. But no one has really managed to capture that original creepiness that Bob Kane gave “Bat-Man” in his earliest adventures, which are covered here:

Even the Batplane, at the time a “batgyro,” was frighteningly weird back then, and a sighting of it was enough to make Gothamites lose their shit and clutch their infants close to their breasts, lest a giant bat swoop down and gobble them up.

(Somewhat ironically, the only artist I’ve seen come close to capturing Kane’s original weirdness is Tony Millionaire in his Bizarro Comics contributions featuring Batman.)

So these books definitely belong on the “Essential Storylines” list in terms of an essential Batman read, and probably belong on the shelves of fans and/or scholars of comic book, and in the face of anyone who’s trying to figure out just why it is that Batman is so goddam popular—it’s not just that he’s a bad-ass, it’s that he’s a creepy, weird-looking lunatic who dresses like a bat and is a bad-ass.

But if you’re looking for more stories relevant to who Batman is these days and where you can learn more about his current continuity, these are, like, the last stories you should bother reading. Set in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, these are pretty much the definition of out-of-countinuity stories. (Well, they’re in continuity for Earth-2 Batman, who is also out of continuity at the moment, but you know what I mean).

When I saw this book leading off the list of Batman’s “Essential Stories,” I couldn’t help wonder what DC consider to be the “essential” part.

Is it the part where Batman wields a handgun?

Or the part where he smokes a pipe, while listening to the radio news about the death of his latest adversary?

Or maybe the part where he totally kills a guy?

At least three of the stories in the first volume of Batman Chronicles have been reimagined post-Crisis and brought into continuity, in Matt Wagner’s Batman and the Monster Men and Batman and the Mad Monk and the Batman story arc “Batman: Year Three.”

BATMAN: YEAR ONE: The official and current origin of Batman, written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzuchelli. If there is such a person in the world that actually needed to read this two-page origin story, this is the book to read next.

THE GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER TOLD : I actually read this out-of-print collection back in, oh, 1989 or 1990 or so, and haven't read-read it since, so at this point I'd have a hard time saying just how "essential" it is. There's a newer version, published with an Alex Ross cover, but I don't see that on DC's website, so I'm not sure if it's still available or not either.

I found the original version, with a dynamic Walter Simonson cover, at my local library this weekend, and it does seem chock-full of good Batman stuff. Artists include Neal Adams, Bob Kane, Dick Sprang, Alex Toth, Marshall Rogers, Simonson, Sheldon Modoff, Jim Mooney, Michael Golden, Joe Giella, Dick Giordano and Jim Aparo. Villains covered include the Joker, Penguin, Man-Bat, Catwoman, Two-Face, Hugo Strange,The Scarecrow, Deadshot and Calendar Man. There are some pretty awesome stories in here, including one in which Catwoman strips Batman and Robin down to their masks and gives them Tarzan furs to wear and the classic “Robin Dies at Dawn."

A few are quite relevant to current Batman comics, what with the two Golden Age stories Matt Wagner was re-working contained within, and the Denny O’Neil-written illustrated prose story “Death Strikes at Midnight and Three,” which Morrison recently riffed on in his pretty horrible Batman #663

But this was conceived to celebrate Batman’s 50th anniversary (in 1989), and thus none of the stories is any newer 1983, making them all pre-Crisis stories and thus, as entertaining as some of them are, they are all essentially out-of-continuity (although the first few could be considered Earth-Two continuity, and the book actually ends with Earth-Two Batman writing in his diary about how he decided to marry Catwoman.

If you’re not already fairly fond of the Batman, it’s probably worth keeping in mind that DC’s "greatest stories ever told" collections usually aren't actually that but, rather, "The Greatest Stories That Are Too Short To Collect As Their Own Graphic Novel, And We Couldn't Think of Another Place To Stick 'Em Either But, You Know, They're Rather Good Anyway."

THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: Yes, Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s seminal look at a possible future for the Batman, as dated as some of the political commentary may now be, is an essential storyline…for everyone. Part of the 1980’s triumvate that redefined mainstream perception of the comic book (along with Watchmen and Maus), this thing is fucking canon, and there’s no denying it.

It is, however, like Batman Chronicles, pretty much the exact opposite of an “essential storyline” if you want to better get to know the fictional history of Batman. Set in a possible future that is since no longer even possible, it was a post-“Imaginary Story” imaginary story, or a pre-Elseworlds Elseworlds story, if you like. Miller has built on it since, with sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again, he and Todd McFarlane’s collaboration on Spawn/Batman and even All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder. I call the fictional universe in which these stories are all set the DKU (Dark Knight Universe).

And here’s what they missed…

Never mind that these are all nice, short, accessible Batman stories for a moment, and the fact that there are dozens of them in this trade collection, which gathers the original four-part anthology miniseries, plus some extras. Just listen to this list of contributors: Neil Gailman, Bruce Timm, Frank Miller, Matt Wagner, Mike Allred, Howard Chaykin, Michael Kaluta, Walt Simonson, Joe Kurbert, Archie Goodwin, Richard Corben, Kevin Nowlan, Simon Bisley, Klaus Janson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Teddy Kristiansen, Ted Mckeever, Denny O’Neil, Chuck Dixon, Jan Strand, Brian Bolland, Brian Stelfreeze and Katsuhiro Otomo (yes, that Katsuhiro Otomo). It isn’t just a who’s who of Bat writers and artists, it’s a who’s who of comics greats period.

BATMAN: YEAR ONE…ISH: Batman’s first years on the job are thoroughly covered not only in Batman: Year One, but also in Year Two and “Year Three”. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale covered all seven of the Halloweens that occurred during Batman’s first three years on the job (wait, that can’t be right) in the three Legends of the Dark Knight specials collected in Batman: Haunted Knight and in maxiseries Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory. All are highly recommended for Sale’s gorgeous designs of Batman’s rogues, particularly his Scarecrow, Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy and Penguin. The mystery aspects don’t really make all that much sense, but the stories also explain how Gotham crime transitioned from traditional gangsters to costumed madmen, and I admit to laughing out loud almost every time I read Robin’s first in-costume appearance at the end of Dark Victory.

Almost the entire run of Legends of the Dark Knight was also devoted to telling tales of Batman’s first year. Some of my favorite arcs include Matt Wagner’s “Faces” and Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson’s “Gothic". The new title Batman Confidential also tells tales set in the beginning of Batman’s career; I’ve only read the first issue and it was awful, so I can’t recommend the series thus far.

BATMAN HISTORY: These are the stories you have to read to know what’s what in Batman’s very troubled life. Batman: The Killing Joke tells a possible origin of the Joker, features the crippling attack on Barbara Gordon which prevented her from ever becoming Batgirl again (and paved the way for her becoming Oracle) and interior art by Brian Bolland. Batman: A Death In the Family is perhaps the most essential Batman story, featuring the epic story that saw the Joker brutally murder Jason Todd and Batman’s highly unhinged response (this is the story that would establish Batman’s “Dark Knight” direction for almost the next 20 years, and this is, incidentally, the story Judd Winick un-wrote in his dumb ass “Under the Hood” story arc, in which Superboy-Prime punched Todd back to life). Jim Aparo, one of the most definitive Batman artists of all time, provided the pencil art. Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying sends civilian boy detective Tim Drake into crazy-ass, self-destructive Batman’s life, and the two storylines collected in Robin: A Hero Reborn show how Drake becomes the third Robin.

But because nature abhors a happy bat, things get worse and worse. In “Knightfall,” newcomer Bane engineers a mass break out of Arkham Asylum, pushing Batman to his breaking point and then literally breaking him over his knee. Bat ally-in-training Jean-Paul Valley becomes the new Batman, while a wheelchair-bound Bruce Wayne pursues his captured girlfriend, Dr. Shondra Kinsolving. Her metahuman powers employed to heal his back, he returns to Gotham City to forcibly retake his mantle from Valley.

He briefly vacations, leaving Dick Grayson to fill-in as Batman, finally returnging (with an all-new, all-black costume) just in time to face a deadly plague and a cataclysmic earthquake before his greatest challenge, Gotham City being declared a federal “No Man’s Land,” with no law or justice beyond what he and his allies can provide.

Other big events would follow—“Officer Down,” “Bruce Wayne: Fugitive,” and “War Games”—but none of them were very good, and the changes to the status quo have mostly been ignored and/or undone since. Batman: Face the Face set up a new status quo for Batman, Alfred and Robin. Of the rest of his allies, Batgirl went batshit insane in a poorly-written arc of Robin (which is currently being un-done in Teen Titans), Oracle isn’t speaking to him because of some dumb reason that doesn’t make any sense (See War Games: Act Three, but only if you must) and Nightwing moved to New York to suffer a series of sucky stories.

BATMAN AND FRIENDS: Batman’s best friend among the superhero set has always been Superman, and the pair have ven shared titles before, including World’s Finest and the current Superman/Batman. Their early meetings have been chronicled in Man of Steel and elsewhere, but among the best and most thorough explorations of their relationship are probably Batman/Superman: World’s Finest, a ten-part series by Karl Kesel, Dave Taylor and others that checked in on the team once every ten years of their history, and the almost-identically titled (and unfortunately out of print) Superman/Batman: World’s Finest, by Dave Gibbons and Steve Rude, which confused me like never before about DCU geography.

Batman teams-up with Superman and Wonder Woman in Matt Wagner’s superlative Trinity series (Seriously, check that shit out). The first and best real “Trinity” story was Alan Moore’s classic “For the Man Who Has Everything,” which Crisis knocked out of continuity, but Infinite Crisis may have knocked back in. Either way, it’s a fun story, and is available in DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore.

Batman and Wondy also bond during the first story arc of Phil Jimenez’s excellent run on Wonder Woman, when Ares’ children possess some of Gotham’s villains, and the Bat-family and Wonder Woman family unite against them in Wonde Woman #164-#167. Joe Kelley posited something beyond friendship between the two, when a kiss during a battle in “The Obsidian Age” has them considering a romantic relationship through JLA #90. Greg Rucka saw them more as reluctant enemies, at least in Wonder Woman: The Hiketea.

For a lone wolf, Batman has put in a rather remarkable amount of time with the Justice League, including time with the Detroit-based team and the Justice League International team, which Superman and Wonder Woman mostly steered clear of. The story of his joining the team for the first time, as well as his motivation for doing so, is told in JLA: Incarnations #2, but that may not be in continuity anymore (It was post-Crisis but pre-Infinite Crisis, so Wonder Woman wasn’t on the team, but Black Canary was).

JLA: Year One also addressed Bruce Wayne’s relationship with the League, but, again, it seems to have been knocked out of continuity by Infinite Crisis. As for Bat-focused JLA stories, “Tower of Babel” is perhaps the strongest, as it kicked off several story arcs dealing with the League’s trust issues.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dear Marvel,

So I see you guys are starting to get interested in doing inter-company crossovers again. That's cool. Some of the awesome-est comics I've ever read have been inter-company crossovers.

What I don't get is why are you devoting yourself to stuff like this, and continuing to ignore the inter-company crossover that's been begging to be made for over 20 years now:

Without doing any research at all, I think it's safe to say that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a more successful property, in terms of generating dollars, than any that Marvel owns, excepting maybe Spider-Man. In terms of name recognition and all-around Q-rating, the X-Men and Spidey are probably the only properties you own that rival the much, much younger Turtles characters.

I would think that you’d be champing and/or chomping at the bit to do a crossover between one of your properties and the turtles, and that you would have wanted it in comic shop shelves this month, when the movie dropped and the mediascape was temporarily inundated with free advertising for such an endeavor.

And from a storytelling point of view, it's just so damn easy. Easier than JLA/Avengers, and certainly far, far easier than this Spidey/Red Sonja business or New Avengers/Transformers (Which I’m still trying to get my head around, honestly), and, yes, even easier than every single one of the DC/Marvel crossovers of the '90s (By the way, who greenlighted those damn things? I absolutely loathed every single one of them I read).

I mean, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird wrote their characters’ origin story right around Daredevil's. Look at that panel above; there's Matt freaking Murdock, front and center.

The turtles’ ninja enemies were the Foot Clan, named after Daredevil's enemy ninja clan the Hand. Their sensei was Splinter, named after Daredevil's sensei Stick. How hard is it to extrapolate a relationship between these characters? The thing writes itself.

Now, you guys have missed the opportune time to realease such a crossover, but don’t worry. I think a sequel to this weekends TMNT movie is pretty much guaranteed, so try to get your Daredevil/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book ready by then, huh?

And let’s do it right, while we’re at it, huh? These things are supposed to be historic because, honestly, how often do the turtles get to hang out with Daredevil? So let’s approach this as if it were that Daredevil/Batman project Brian Michael Bendis was whining about at a convention a few weeks ago.

Let’s get your top Daredevil writers involved; either BMB or Ed Brubaker, maybe working in conjunction with Peter Laird, who’s been writing the latest volume of turtles comics at Mirage. (And if Bendis and Bru are too busy, put Dan Slott or Jeff Parker on it, because they are both very, very, very, very good writers).

As for pencil art, it would pretty much have to be John Romita Jr.* Not only is he your best guy, but he’s also the highest profile Daredevil artist who’s still able to do monthly comics and whom we know has the chops to draw massive ninja battles.

For inks, you could get either Laird himself or long-time Mirage ink-slinger Eric Talbot.

But we’ll want more than one art team because, if this is going to be treated as the historic event it is, then we’ll want to see every great DD and TMNT artist still working to contribute something—a few pages of flashback here, a few pages of flashback there.

So you’ll want to get Laird, Talbot, Jim Lawson, Michael Zulli, Michael Dooney, Rick Veitch, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev, David Mack, Tim Sale and Bendis himself to all draw something. Joe Quesada is a busy man, as is Frank Miller (who may consider himself above such a thing, anyway), and Kevin Eastman has distanced himself from his creations, but none of that should let them off the hook completely—you’ll just have to settle for covers from them.

Did I say covers, plural? Yes. Because one of the problems with crossovers like Batman/Spider-Man is that there’s just not enough to them. Joker and Carnage team-up and Batman and Spider-Man team-up to stop ‘em…okay, that’s an issue of The Brave and the Bold or Marvel Team-Up, it’s not a world-shaking tale involving two huge characters who have never met before and may never meet again, dig?

So this project should be a sizable one, big enough to get everything anyone would ever want to see in a Daredevil/Ninja Turtles crossover into. Maybe a six-issue long series, but, better yet, a twelve-issue series. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

You’ve got to invent this back story about an ancient ninja clan that, long ago, diverged into masters of two different but related fighting styles, and, as the generations passed, became deadly rivals—The Hand and The Foot.

You’ve got to explain how Stick gave his friend Yoshi a pet rat as a gift, and how Yoshi named him “Splinter” after him.

You’ve got to have a war between the Hand and the Foot in NYC, with DD and the TMNT caught in the middle.

You have to have the Hand use their resurrecting magic to bring the Shredder back to life (after his death in TMNT #1), to serve them as their ultimate weapon against the Foot.

You have to have Elektra and Raphael in a sai fight.

You need to work in as many DD villains as you can, particularly the Hand, the Kingpin, Bullseye and Elektra, but why stop there? Why not throw The Punisher, the Purple Man, the Owl and, hell, Stilt-Man in there too.

You need to have Casey Jones beat up D-Man, and Daredevil beat up Casey. You need an offhand reference to Radical on the Avengers. And then, of course, you need to deal with the fact that the same accident involving the same canister created both Daredevil and the turtles.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Now get to work on it.


*Did I mention that I read John Romita Jr. 30th Anniversary Special? Because I did.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Film Review: TMNT

If one were to ponder the incredible success of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's comic book creations the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which, in less than ten years after there 1984 inception, had conquered comic books, television, the silver screen, toy aisles and had their own breakfast cereal), I think it would all ultimately boil down the name: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There's just something about those four words in that particular order which is, of course, hilarious, but also sublime and, well, true.

So why did Warner Brothers opt to call the latest film featuring the foursome simply TMNT? I have no idea, but it strikes me as a big mistake.

Thankfully, it's one of only a vert few mistakes in the new film, which, when all is said and done, is about as good as you could hope a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film could ever realistically be.

If you'd like to read my review of the film, you can read it here at

In related linkage, click here for my review of the other movie about a sewer-dwelling mutant opening in Columbus this week, here for another piece I did about the movie at the new and improved, and here for my recent article looking at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' comic book history.

And that's the last time I expect to type the word "turtle" for quite a while.