That someone is, of course, Maxx creator Sam Kieth, who has certainly earned whatever leeway he gets, and the Batman comic he happens to be writing and drawing is Batman Confidential, the publisher’s “Who gives a fuck?”, anything goes, it’s-not-like-anyone-reads/cares/pays attention-to-it-anyway one.
I’m not sure when Kieth first drew the Dark Knight, but the first time I saw his Batman was in 1989’s Secret Origins Special #1, wherein he leant his then highly stylized but still well within the the accepted range of regular superhero art skills to The Penguin segment of the story.
In the 20 years since, Kieth’s work hs only gotten more extreme and more loose—it’s no longer exaggerated so much as expressionistic, an no longer cartoony so much as cartooning. I’m sure it’s not to everyone’s tastes, and he certainly wouldn’t be the ideal choice to draw someone else’s Batman script, but this one, a four-part arc entitled “Ghosts,” is all Kieth—he writes, he draws and he co-colors with Jose Villarrubia.
It’s winter in Gotham and someone or something is killing homeless people (a starting point for Batman stories so familiar that I would conservatively estimate that this is the one billionth time I’ve read about a someone or smeothing killing homeless people in Gotham City). The only clues are the copious amounts of sulphur around the chewed up bodies.
Batman is on the case, and encounters a…something. A ghost or demon or entity of some kinds—a sentient, malignant doodle, as Kieth draws it—that seems to know more about Batman’s origin story than most people inside Batman comics should know.
Also involved is a blind social worker who was similarly a victim to gun violence as a child and who also happens to be a beautiful young woman, giving Kieth the opportunity to focus on one of his favorite subjects for the space of a few panels.
Kieth’s art—his lay-outs, his designs, his staging, his colors—are all so dramatic and, more importantly, particular that the what isn’t nearly as important as the how. At this early stage, it’s difficult to assess the exact story he’s telling, but for now I think it’s worthwhile if for no other reason than the way he’s choosing to tell it.
Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #2 (DC) Writer Greg Rucka is taking an extremely strange tack with this three-part tie-in to Blackest Night, which functions a bit like bonus scenes of a Blackest Night movie, cut from the final version of the story due to their relative unimportance, but available here for hardcore Wonder Woman fans an obsessives who want to know exactly what Wonder Woman was doing when she wasn’t on-panel during in Blackest Night.
The first issue was set before she joined the main narrative in the main series, and followed her as she dealt with a Black Lantern incursion in her home town. This second issue jumps ahead to page 12 of last week’s Blackest Night #6, when Mera has escaped a Black Lantern ring and finds herself facing a Black Lanternized Wonder Woman.
I suppose it’s unlikely that anyone’s reading BL:WW and not also reading Blackest Night—I sure hope not, for those hypothetical readers’ sakes, as Wonder Woman landing in Coast City and being turned into a Black Lantern by Nekron happens between issues and isn’t mentioned or explained at all.
But Rucka’s skipping around isn’t even the weirdest part of this issue. He inserts an extremely brutal fight between Mera and Wonder Woman that apparently took place between panels of the eight pages or between the time the pair of women do battle and the time their fight is broken up by magic rings, a fight that takes up the first half of the book.
The second half of the book has Black Lantern Wonder Woman brutally slaughtering Wonder Girl, Black Lantern Troia and her own mother, making out with Current Batman Dick Grayson, being visited by Aphrodite, The Goddess of Love, and then getting her love-powered Star Sapphire ring and costume.
How come the dead Wonder Girl doesn’t get a black ring and get resurrected as a zombie like all the other fallen superheroes? Why does Wonder Woman’s “love” in Blackest Night #6 seem to be for the Earth itself, whereas here that love is more like lust for Bruce Wayne? Don’t worry about it—it’s all a dream sequence. Explains Aphrodite:
You have done nothing Diana. Nothing. They, like this place, only a figment. A place I made where your possession could run free and without harm…to save you from yourself.
This raises a weird question about the conflict in Blackest Night regarding the Olympians and why they decided to save exactly one person and ignore everything else and how they relate to Nekron, but, more pressingly, it raises a distasteful existential question regarding the whole comic.
A majority of it never “really” “happened,” it was all simply a fantasy creation from someone who wanted to allow the dark, decadent, destructive urges of the forces of entropy a way to vent and kill some time. Aphrodite had Wonder Woman imagine ripping Wonder Girls heart out and battle axing her family to distract the ring, and Rucka wrote it and DC published it to entertain us while we wait for the plot beats in Blackest Night to be struck.
That’s kind of clever, I suppose, but damn that’s cynical. Well, I say it’s clever, because I want to give Rucka the benefit of the doubt, but I’m not sure he deserves it—there is some incredibly poor writing on display here, perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the “argument” between Wonder Womans’ narration box and the Black Lantern ring, which puts a yellow box of a random pleading word next to black circle of one of the five or six words the ring knows at the top of almost every panel.
Unlike the first issue, this one doesn’t even have terribly strong art. Pencil artist Nicola Scott and inker Jonathan Glapion apparently fell a bit behind schedule, as a second art team consisting of Eduardo Pansica and Eber Ferreira are called upon to help fill out the the book, and the two teams don’t mesh well at all. For Scott’s part, the work she does provide here is very strong, but it doesn’t seem like she’s drawing the same events we saw last week in Blackest Night.
Wonder Woman and Mera are supposedly in a Coast City grave yard, surrounded by millions of zombies and a small group of superheroes, but here they’re on the docks and almost completely alone—there’s one panel in which Black Lantern Troia and Black Lantern Ice fight Cyborg and Fire in the background, and that’s it as far as connecting the events and settings.
The art Scott does provide kept this issue from being a complete waste of time—it’s not as ugly as some of Rucka’s previous, snuffier works like that issue of Action where Flamebird who ever just got the shit kicked out of her for 20 pages—but if you’re not into supergirl-on-supergirl violence and puzzling out the ponderous “rules” of the Black Lantern rings, this is a pretty skippable black skies tie-in to the event.
Orc Stain #1 (Image Comics) James Stokoe turns from manga-style, black-and-white digest collections to a more traditional comic book format with this new Image ongoing. The Wonton Soup creator is still working in a sci-fi/fantasy vein and he’s still an incredibly gifted artist, his flair for design making him an ideal world-builder, but this full-color comic book gets his work and his readers’ eyeballs a lot closer together.
The title refers to the mark the orcs have left on their world. A brief, four-paragraph prose prologue explains that the world has “cracked and convulsed under the indomitable mob of the orc” for “a million millenia,” and after centuries an orc known as “the Orctzar” has managed the previously impossible—uniting the world’s orcs from warring factions into a single empire.
The Tzar is after a particular weapon, and he’s told the key to finding it is a one-eyed orc…we then cut to a one-eyed orc, who's is a little bit different than other orcs. All orcs like hitting things,we learn, but this orc likes to hit things for a purpose—not simply to break them, but to open them.
Stokoe’s first issue is a gradual introduction to this strange world, which, despite the word orc and the general negative aspects assigned to them from Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons, isn’t like the stereotypical fantasy setting.
Stokoe builds huge, bright buildings that look like living organs made of stone. His orcs are brightly colored, dressed in garments that seem at once sci-fi and also ancient South American (and seem to have a lot of living or once-living things on them), and the mountains they travel through evoke European adventure comics, video games and maybe a touch of manga.
I can’t say I’ve never seen anything like it, as Wonton Soup is pretty similar, and aspects of the book reminded me of the work of Brandon Graham (particularly King City) and Paul Pope, maybe a little Corey S. Lewis here and there, and definitely Kazimir Strzepek’s Mourning Star, but the things I’ve seen that are kinda like it are just that—kinda like it. Stokoe puts them all together into a package that is excitingly original.
In the first issue, we’re mostly just being given the lay of the land—and what a weird, exciting, fascinating land it is—and it is perhaps too early to make any judgments about where Stokoe is going with the story, what he intends to do with this world he’s building. But I am excited to find out.
Oh hey, check this out:
That’s a safe. The thing in the middle of it’s torso is a door with a locking mechanism. One of the orcs refers to ist as a “bear safe,” but the one-eyed orc says it’s not a bear, but a gurpa. Whatever. That’s the kind of thing you find in Orc Stain.
And by the way, this book is only $2.99 for 32 full-color, ad-free pages (save for one on the inside back cover). That’s a hell of a value in today’s direct market, so you should totally buy the hell out of this.
Weird Western Tales #71 (DC) I had high hopes for this issue—that is, I bought it despite reservations about the writer and unfamiliarity with the artist—that were dashed before I’d even finished the first page.
The reason for those high hopes? Well, this is one of those neat one-issue revivals associated with DC’s Blackest Night event, in which the publisher brought a “dead” (i.e. canceled) book back to tell a story about the dead rising from the grave. This one also promised to feature some of DC’s old western characters, whom I was rather eager to see Black Lanternized.
The reason they were dashed? Well, look at the first page (You can download the first five here, if you like). A cowboy rides his horse into an Old West-y grave yard, to visit the grave of his ancestor, whose name sounds vaguely familiar, although I don’t recognize it. In the first panel, the grave has solid, smooth rounded sides. In the next panel, a big chunk of one of those sides is missing, taking pieces of the name with it. In the third panel, the grave is back to looking like it did in the first panel.
Am I nitpicking? Yeah, but isn’t the very first scene of the book a little early for art mistakes? It’s kind of hard to lose yourself in a story that starts out warning you that it’s no damn good.
“No damn good” is the default state of the book, actually. Artist Renato Arlem’s character designs leave a lot to be desired—save for two pretty incredible Black Lantern designs, which I’ll get to later—and they mostly float over backgrounds that seem to be photos ran through filters.
The story is by Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Dan DiDio, who seems like an odd choice to write anything for the company (if only because he’s such a controversial name among fans), but is doubly odd for a Western-meets-Blackest Night book (A more Hex-centric story by Jonah Hex writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray being the most obvious choice).
So: A cowboy who looks like Wolverine gets a phone call and rides his horse into his old west Ghost town, in which a high-tech facility is built inside a saloon. There he meets Metamorpho supporting character Simon Stagg (who doesn’t look anything like Simon Stagg save for his hair is kinda pointy on the sides) and a line-less Java. They’ve helped Wolverine—Joshua Turbnbull—build this facility for energy research. With the help of light-powered hero The Ray (the DC hero whose power is the ability to create light and even turn his entire body into light, making him an invincible source of Black Lantern destruction, who really oughta be in Coast City killing those things left and right instead of doing freelance work for Stagg), they’ve managed to capture a Black Lantern ring, and want to research it.
Then an army of Black Lanternized Western heroes invade and try to kill everyone in an attempt to get the ring back for some reason, which is never made clear. This is, of course, a one-shot which didn’t start anywhere else and won’t finish anywhere else, so DiDio doesn’t even get the, “Well, maybe it will make sense eventually” benefit of the doubt.
There were probably a couple dozen different ways to tie Old West heroes into the event, but DiDio ultimately decided to go with one in which a bunch of random characters who don’t seem to have anything to do with one another randomly bounce around for unclear motivations for 22 pages, raising questions about whagt Nekron and the Black Lanterns’ whole deal even is, as these Lanterns seem to be working and behaving a bit differently.
Oh, and he also writes homage #586 to Alan Moore’s “Burn” sequence from “For The Man Who Has Everything."
In the plus column, Arlem’s designs for Black Lantern Bat Lash and Black Lantern Jonah Hex are awesome. Probably not worth buying the whole issue just for two panels or so, but those are some pretty cool-looking zombie cowboys.