Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Weekly Haul: November 26th

Batman #681 (DC Comics) Behind this extremely generic, could-have-been-used-for-any-Batman-comic-ever cover by Alex Ross you’ll find the over-sized conclusion to Grant Morrison’s “Batman R.I.P.,” the culmination of his two-year, seven-arc run on the title, tying in every thread he had previously introduced.

It’s an ambitious, admirable and imaginative story, taking as its starting point the premise that every previous iteration of the Batman “counts,” especially goofier Silver Age concepts like Bat-Mite, Batman volunteering government mental experiments, battles against space aliens, and the Club of Heroes.

Morrison has thus far made that work quite well; if Frank Miller’s popular version of the character worked by stripping away the details, character tics and inherent silliness of Batman comics, Morrison’s works by finding ways to make everything Miller discarded work, while keeping the melodramatic cartoon noir tone of the Dark Knight.

As this story wraps, it’s clear that Morrison not only knows what he’s doing, but has known what he’s been doing all along, and there are some really satisfying moments where the various disparate pieces click together in perhaps unexpected ways.

Does he actually kill Batman? Probably not, bud did you really expect him to? Batman is buried alive in a shallow grave at one point, and rises from it, and Bruce Wayne disappears in an explosion at the end. “Disappeared in an explosion” never means dead in comic books, just that the other characters think the blown-up character is dead…until they return alive.

But the open-ended epilogue, in which one of Morrison’s new villains declares ,“Even Batman and Robin are dead!” (echoing the cheesy declaration that “Batman and Robin will never die!” at the opening of the story), only to see a Bat-signal shining upon him. Clearly there’s still a Batman, if not necessarily The Batman.

If Morrison’s always known what he’s doing, it’s less clear that his collaborators editing and trying to sell the book for him have.

During his two-year, 23-issue run, Morrison’s burned through five pencillers, of such wide-ranging styles and levels of talent as Andy Kubert, John Van Fleet, J.H. Williams III, Ryan Benjamin and Tony Daniel. It’s Daniel that’s done the lion’s share of the penciling, particularly as the run turned into “R.I.P.” I’ve complained early and often about how Daniel isn’t a very good artist, and probably shouldn’t be drawing a DC comic book, let alone the company’s current flagship character’s flagship book written by their greatest talent, although it’s well worth noting that his art looks better here than it has in all of the past issues.

There are no real terrible mistakes in the mis en scene, even if it’s painfully awkward at times, and his storytelling is readable in this over-sized issue, save perhaps for the Robin/mime fight and a scene near the end where Jezebel Jett carries on a conversation with someone who’s never revealed. Or maybe two someones? There’s a panel with a balloon coming from off-panel, then another where a woman who’s either a personal assistant or a stewardess, seen from the waist to the knees, is talking to here.

And then there are all the tie-ins, which, by the stories end, proved to have not actually tied-in at all. A peer has argued that the Nightwing, Robin, Detective and Batman and the Outsiders story arcs labeled “Batman R.I.P.” and appearing on the checklist were all thematic tie-ins, dealing with Batman’s extended family contemplating what it means to follow in Batman’s footsteps and/or responding to the breaking down of the various elements of the Batman, but I’m not quite convinced (I haven’t read them all, either; I read the first issue of each, only following Nightwing to the end).

As far as plotting and events go, none of them matched up at all, which is pretty frustrating, since Robin, Nightwing, Alfred, Damian and Talia al Ghul, Commissioner Gordon and the Club of Heroes are all running around the edges of this storyline, all playing parts but, as is typical of Morrison’s superhero writing style, spending more time talking about some awesome thing they just did off-panel or are about to do off-panel instead of actually doing it.

Why did Robin have a story arc about Jason Todd and youth gangs and the Penguin and Spoiler, instead of one about him fighting the Club of Villains, saving the city from rioting, reading the Black Casebook and rallying the Club of Heroes? Why did Nightwing have an over-long Two-Face story instead of detailing what happened to him off-panel during “R.I.P.,” including his battle with the Club of Villains, his incarceration in Arkham and his near lobotomy?

As to the future of Batman, while this story ends on a hopeful note, it’s pretty unclear what happens next—who Batman will be, and who will be telling his story. Next week kicks off a two-issue aftermath story by Morrison, followed by a two-issue aftermath story by Denny O’Neil, then a fill-in story about Catwoman by Paul Dini, then another two-issue aftermath story by Neil Gaiman. Meanwhile, Nightwing, Robin and Birds of Prey have all been cancelled, suggesting big changes for the Bat-family of books.

All in all, it seems like an awful long time to wait just to find out if Bruce Wayne will continue being Batman, or if one of his sidekicks or enemies will temporarily be Batman for a while.


Batman: Gotham After Midnight #7 (DC) So here’s a Batman comic that is the exact opposite of the Morrison-written franchise flagship. While Batman features a wild, zany plot that probably sounds somewhere between stupid and insane if you’re not willing and able to roll with things like Bat-Mite, The Club of Heroes and a Batman who’s prepared for absolutely everything up to and including his death and afterlife illustrated in straightforward, run-of-the-mill, maybe even a little worse than usual art, Batman: GAM features a straightforward, run-of-the-mill, maybe even a little worse than usual plot and scripting, with wild, zany art that probably looks somewhere between stupid and insane if you’re not willing and able to roll with the fact that Batman has a special Bat-scuba suit, that his computers are all made of out stained glass and the bottom of the Gotham River looks like a coral reef exhibit at a nice aquarium.


Incredible Hercules #123 (Marvel Comics) In the third part of “Love & War,” an arc in which Hercules, Amadeus Cho and their World War Hulk ally Namora find themselves in the middle of a conflict between the Amazons and Atlanteans, the exact nature of the Amazons’ plot (and their backers) comes to light, and it seems like this story about Amazons attacking is going to be a lot more like DC’s Amazons Attack than it seemed at first (in terms of plot, if not quality; this is head, shoulders, torso, waist and knees and maybe even shins above Amazons Attack).



JSA Kingdom Come Special: The Kingdom (DC) Or, according to the cover, Justice Society of America Kingdom Come Special The Kingdom One-Shot. I like this title because not only is it incredibly, ridiculously long, but it’s also redundant—does it really need the word “Kingdom” in there twice? Also, DC already had a Kingdom Come sequel called The Kingdom, and while it wasn’t very good, at least it gave us a Mark Waid/Frank Quitely Plastic Man story. This? It’s just like the last six or seven issues of JSoA (and the last two JSA Kingdom Come Specials). Gog and half the JSA continue to walk around, while the other half of the JSA piss and moan about not trusting Gog.

In a turn of events that likely wouldn’t have surprised anyone even if we hadn’t had the better part of the last year to think about it, the giant space god who came to earth and started granting wishes and curing war and famine turns out to be…not quite as benevolent as he might seem! Duhn-duh-DuhNNN!

On the plus side, this over-priced issues is actually over-sized, so we get additional pages of comics instead of a bunch of pages of Alex Ross talking about his process again. Fernando Pasarin pencils and a whole society of inkers finish his art, while Geoff Johns and maybe Alex Ross (the latter gets a story credit again) show how some of the JSA’s wishes aren’t turning out to be all that great for them, and Damage start proselytizing for Gog like he’s just joined a crazy cult or something.

It’s all quite dumb, but a fun dumb, if you’ve got the patience for what must surely be the longest story arc in the history of super-comics at this point.



Mesmo Delivery (AdHouse Books) This was probably the very best comic book released in shops this week—and insanely beautifully illustrated pulp horror story about a bad-ass truck driver who meets an even badder-ass brawler, who then meets the baddest-assed thing on two legs, who is delivering something that makes the biggest villain of all rub his scary, giant hands in delight. I’ll have a full review of this later in the week, as it deserves a little more attention than my usual, curt “Batman sux, Hercules is the gr8test!” Wednesday evening gibberish.


Superman #682 (DC) Bizarro mourns for Pa Kent and, unfortunately, it’s absolutely nothing like this. In less surprising events, the cold, distant aliens from a science-fascist world who have suddenly found themselves on primitive planet Earth with god-like super-powers have started acting like they know better than everyone and causing problems. Who could have seen this coming?!

Now, why is the George W. Bush, who lost the 2000 election to Lex Luthor, president in the DC Universe in 2008…?


Tiger! Tiger! Tiger! (AdHouse) Another beautiful and challenging release from AdHouse that I’ll review in full this weekend. As an object of design-lust or book porn, it’s great, and everyone knows what an awesome illustrator Scott Morse is by now, right? As for the non-visual content, well, I’d like to re-read it at least one more time and give it some more thought before mouthing off about it.


Trinity #26 (DC) Wow, was this particular issue boring. One of writer Kurt Busiek’s weaknesses when it comes to these kinds of super-comics is the amount of time and space he devotes to delineating the characters and motivations of his villains and assorted minor characters. It’s a noble virtue, to take things like Qwardian politics or Krona’s machinations seriously, but its dangerous to slow down too much around such story points, as it allows readers to realize that, waitaminute, can’t the Qwardian’s just want to destroy the universe because they’re from an evil dimension? Or because they don’t have eyelids and are jealous of Earthlings’ ability to blink? Sadly, this issues is nothing but th eblah blah. Tarot and Charity O’Dare (from James Robinson’s Starman!) blab about the “Worldsoul” and shamanic women throughout history for half a comic book, while Enigma and Morgaine le Fay blab about their plot and the big purple alien’s origin gets told for the second time. I don’t even think there were any superheroes in this issue, which doesn’t make for much of a superhero comic, really.


Ultimate Spider-Man #128 (Marvel) It’s Ultimate Venom versus Ultimate Carnage for…ah, who really gives a shit?


Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 (Dark Horse Comics) For a full review of the first issue of the second miniseries by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, I invite you to refer back to my Monday night post, if you missed it.

All I really have to add today is that this is a 32-page, ad-free comic that is selling for only $2.99. So DC and Marvel, you can go right to hell with your $3.99 23-page Kingdom Come specials and your $3.99 22-page miniseries with the cardstock covers.

And also, I wanted to share this scene, which is emblematic of one of the things I found so appealing about Umbrella Academy, but I didn’t want to post before the issue actually came out, as it is kinda sorta spoiler-y (although it is included in the preview on Dark Horse’s site).

So, as we’ve discussed, the children of the Umbrella Academy do battle with the suddenly animated, eye beam-shooting, fire-breathing Lincoln Memorial. While various plans are in play—including Mr. Pogo’s sack of dynamite—The Rumor finishes the Memorial off with the words, “Mr. President-- I heard a rumor you were assassinated--"

Which, given her reality-warping powers, leads of course to this:
A John Wilkes Booth Memorial appearing and assassinating the Lincoln Memorial!

And this is by far my favorite panel in a comic full of great panels:
I love the background Ba’s drawn, in which the giant stone John Wilkes Booth flees the scene of the crime, the police giving chase as if to arrest him for his monstrous crime, even if he did just save the day. It’s like this absurd sequence of events has just run off to continue in another comic we’ll never read, James Swanson’s Manhunt, only with a giant stone Booth.


Wolverine: First Class #9 (Marvel) On the eve of another showdown with Sabretooth, Wolverine seeks out Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu for guidance on fighting without giving letting his berserker rage overcome him. But all Wolvie gets from his guest-star are riddles, apples and ass-kickings…or does he?! Another nice done-in-one, this one lighter on the laughs, featuring art by regular writer Fred Van Lente’s Supervillain Team-Up collaborator Francis Portela. While this is hardly the best issue in the series—it’s really hard to beat the sleepover issue or the ninja theme restaurant issue—it’s probably the best-looking one.

7 comments:

Rich said...

Thanks for the reviews -- great to read these on Wednesday night.

I balked on 'Mesmo Delivery' because of the cover price. You're making me reconsider that decision though.

johnheaton said...

what must surely be the longest story arc in the history of super-comics at this point.

I don't know if you'd consider this a single arc, but the aftermath of Barry Allen accidentally killing Reverse-Flash lasted 27 issues, from The Flash vol. 1 nos. 324-350.

snell said...

The best part of the current JSA storyline is how it pounds home--again and again and again--how stupid about half their members are. Especially Hawkman, whom you would have assumed had learned something from his prior dealings with alien gods.

I'm actually looking forward to their tortuous rationales (via Geoff Johns' script) explaining why blindly following Gog in exchange for miracles is somehow different than worshipping him...

John said...

hey Caleb, long time reader, first time poster. based on some of your comments on the Weekly Haul, can you answer two questions?

1. with Bats 681, can you at least admit that Daniels pencils during RIP can been purposely confusing per Morrisons script? im actually debating that myself considering you did bring that up in one of an earlier chapters reviews of the story. ive liked Daniels work on Teen Titans OYL and since he started his Bats run, ill admit that his work has been good yet confusing story telling wise. i fancy my opinion on 681 to yours considering i figure 681 has been the most clear BOTH pencils and script.

2. are you a fan of the pre relaunch JSA? the admittedly short albeit throwdown between Al and that total a-hole Grant as writtem by GJohns was awfully satisfying wasnt it? ive been waiting for those two to mix it up since the relaunch, especially since Grants face been cured and has become a total d*ckhead.

Joseph said...

The gag in Umbrella Academy of a John Wilkes Booth statue shooting the Lincoln memorial statue was already used in the South Park Episode featuring the Super Best Friends vs David Blaine and Blainetology that aired waaaaaay back in the summer of 2001. First thing I thought of when I saw the preview.

Caleb said...

I balked on 'Mesmo Delivery' because of the cover price. You're making me reconsider that decision though.

I thought of it more as a graphic novel than a comic book, and then it didn't seem so pricey (I didn't realize how much it cost until you mentioned it being a lot and then looking, actually). There are about 50 story pages in it, and they're the kinda pages you read slowly to savor. But yeah, $12.50--$10 on Amazon!-- is certainly a lot more than $2.99-$3.99


I don't know if you'd consider this a single arc, but the aftermath of Barry Allen accidentally killing Reverse-Flash lasted 27 issues, from The Flash vol. 1 nos. 324-350.

Oh, I'm sure there have been longer storylines, but good God this JSA one feels long. Gog's only been around about a week their time, but it's been, like, a year our time...?


I'm actually looking forward to their tortuous rationales (via Geoff Johns' script) explaining why blindly following Gog in exchange for miracles is somehow different than worshipping him...

I actually laughed in that panel when they looked all surprised when he asked them to worship him. I mean, they've been calling him a god for a long time now, and Damage was talking about him the way some folks talk about Jesus through the whole book.

1. with Bats 681, can you at least admit that Daniels pencils during RIP can been purposely confusing per Morrisons script?

I've heard people argue that maybe it's bad on purpose, to make it look like a bad '90s comic, but I never really bought it. Batman comics in the '90s all looked much better than this.

I do think some of it is probably Morrison's fault, as he doesn't seem to write very specifically to his artists strengths and weaknesses, and a lot of the staging seems left up to them.

That's where I think Daniel is weakest; in the whole who's who, doing what in relation to what side of thngs. There were a few instances of that here, but just, like, two.

I liked his first few issues of Teen Titans too...I wonder how different a Morrison "R.I.P." script looks from your average Johns one...?


2. are you a fan of the pre relaunch JSA?

Oh yeah, definitely. I've been reading JSA since it launched last time, which makes it the monthly series I've been reading the longest now. It was nice to see Atom-Smasher again...I was kinda wondering what became of him after 52. I'd like to see him and Obsidian on the team at the same time at some point...


The gag in Umbrella Academy of a John Wilkes Booth statue shooting the Lincoln memorial statue was already used in the South Park Episode featuring the Super Best Friends vs David Blaine and Blainetology that aired waaaaaay back in the summer of 2001.

I was not aware of taht. I think I'm going to go YouTube "Super Best Friends vs. David Blaine and Blainetology" now....

Anthony Strand said...

Charity O'Dare, really? Really?

I gave up on Trinity a long time ago (not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because I figured it would read better in trade). But I kind of want to run out and buy that right now.