Tuesday, April 29, 2014

(Not a comics) Review: Ken Ham's Creationism-for-kids book, Dinosaurs of Eden

See anything wrong with this picture?

If your answer is "No," you can probably stop reading this post now. More likely than not, you are Ken Ham, "young Earth Creationism" advocate, president of the Answers In Genesis apologetics ministry that operates The Creation Museum in Kentucky, and author of many books, including the kids book Dinosaurs of Eden, in which the above image appeared. You  therefore won't agree with, or even be mildly interested in, any of the words in the post below.

If you answer was, "Wait a minute! That looks like a Sunday school version of the Noah's Ark story from the Book of Genesis, but what the fuck are dinosaurs doing there?!", then I'd like to introduce you to maybe the craziest book I've read in my entire life, the aforementioned Dinosaurs of Eden (Master Books; 2001).
It's illustrated by artists Earl and Bonnie Snellenberger, witout whom it wouldn't be quite as funny, because while it's one thing to hear someone writing matter-of-factly in prose about the co-existence of human beings and dinosaurs in times as recently as within the last millennium or so, it's quite another to see drawings of men and women from Bible times or the Middle Ages standing side-by-side with dinosaurs, drawn in a style that is meant to be representational.

Now Ham's entire argument regarding the co-existence of human and dinosaur, and his related Creationist theories, depends entirely on pretty circular logic. We know that every single word in the Bible is true, he argues, because God himself was its ultimate author and God does not lie. How do we know those things? Because it says so in the Bible.

What it does not say in the Bible, anywhere at all, is anything at all about dinosaurs, a cryptic passage in the somehwat troublesome book of Job aside (more on Behemoth and Leviathan, the dinosaur candidates from Job, later).

Now, as I've mentioned before, I grew up and was educated as a Christian—a post-Vatican II Catholic, which I suppose isn't even really and truly Christian in the eyes of certain fundamentalist sects or dominations of the broader Christian faith. I believe in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit; I think the Jesus of the Gospels is a great example of how to live one's life that, an example that if more people followed, we'd likely have a happier and better world. I think Jesus gave some pretty great advice, and compelling challenges to everyone who heard him on how to better themselves and their world (Particularly in the Book of Matthew; the Jesus of Matthew is my favorite of the two-to-four different Jesuses that appear in the Gospels). And I think the Bible is a foundational document in Western culture that is full of awesome stories and pretty much everyone should have at least some passing familiarity with. I just want to get all that out there up front. (Although Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, "But when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you," when discussing public vs. private professions of faith in Matthew 6: 5-7...another thing I like about Matthew, actually).

Now I have a lot of trouble and sturggle alot with Christianity and its practice today, in main part because in the public sphere of America, Christianity has become synonymous with the faith of the sort of trumpet-blowers Jesus dissed in the above lines from Matthew, and of all sorts of other a-holes. In America, Christianity has become a faith of bedroom policing, in which birth-control, abortion and who has sex with whom and in what ways has become the number one concern, a bizarre blending of cherry-picked Old Testament passages and early Christian community letters being given priority over the actual words of the guy who Christianity is named after. The new pope is changing that, trying to restore the focus on helping the poor as the main concern of the Catholic church, and that's awesome.

I say all of this just because I want to point out that I've spent my entire life pretty much surrounded by Christians (albeit Christians of a particular sect), and I've never personally met anyone who objected to major tenents of evolution or geology or biology, who found Creatonism (i.e. that God created everything) and Darwinism were somehow incompatible, believed that man and dinosaur co-existed (the possibility of surviving relic species like Mokele-mbembe aside), or that the world was only 6,000 years old.

Since childhood—so, first grade at least, when we started learning about dinosaurs in school at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in science class, just a few periods before Religion class—I've not had any problem at all reconciling evolution with the Bible. I've never, nor have any of my teachers between first grade and my last year at a Catholic college, ever had any trouble wrapping our minds around, or explaining the fact that the process of evolution can have an omnipotent, omniscient author we'll call God as the author behind it. Popularly understood science essentially "stops" at what happened before the Big Bang, and what exactly sparked life. Again, an omnipotent, immortal, all-knowing intelligence with no beginning or end, completely divorced from the human understanding of time, could not only be those things, but it seems kind of small-minded to think God couldn't plan out a path of life that involved billions of years of cosmic goings-on and evolution through various forms of life. It actually kind of sounds insulting to God to say something like that the universe and origins of life as science understand them is just too big for God to handle.

As for Genesis, the concern of Ham (and I'll get to funny pictures of dinosaurs and man in a little bit I swear), is rather bewildering to me. He says earth was created in seven days, and those were day-days, 24 hours, and not, metaphorical days, the way the creation story is generally understood, in which "day" can mean an eon or an age or an indeterminate amount of time. Again, I've never had any intellectual difficulty, nor did any of my teachers, in reading the creation stories of Genesis as myth and metaphor, pointing to the truth through non-literal, poetic imagery.

In fact, you know the first place I encountered myth and metaphorical language? Jesus. The man who put the Christ in Christianity was infamous for speaking in parables, a word used repeatedly in the Bible to refer to the various anecdotes and symbol-laden stories that Jesus told his followers. He wasn't necessarily trying to be obtuse, but there was a degree of coding to Jesus' use of parable, simile, metaphor and story. Certain truths were delivered that way so that those wise enough or open enough to receiving that knowledge would, while those too close-minded to do so would not. Many of the Bible passages that Ham himself brings up throughout the pages of Dinosaurs of Eden include similies and metaphors, and yet he seems unwilling to extend the Word of God as spoken in the Book of Genesis, dictated by God himself (Ham believes) the same level of latitude extended to the words of Jesus, who is but God in one of his forms (as Ham himself presumably believes).

And there's a pretty big problem with that, when it comes to something like arguing over exactly how many hours or minutes the word "day" might refer to in the first of Genesis' two creations stories (Yeah, there are two of 'em, and the second contradicts the order of creation set forth in the first; the Bible makes it all of a page or two before the whole literalist reading runs into trouble). What, after all, is a "day?" Well, it's 24 hours, and we arrived at that time because that's how long it takes the Earth to complete a single rotation as it revolves around the sun.

Even those who thought the world was flat, long before it was universally agreed upon that the the earth itself was slowly rotating, and that it was orbiting the sun (rather than vice versa), a day was measured in the same way. A day was the sun coming up and going down, a night was the time in between those two events, and it didn't matter that the reason was that the world was round and in constant motion (Allegedly; I have not seen it myself from outerspace, nor have I circumnavigated the world, but I'm willing to take Everyone Else's word on it); the amount of time that elapsed was the same.

But, as Ham explains, on the first "day" God created time, space, Earth and light, and it's not until the fourth day that God created the sun, moon and stars. How does a day exist before the creation of time, or, to read Ham's reading more generously, during the creation of time? Where did the 24-hour period come from before there was even a sun or a moon or stars by which to mark a day?

Ham explains:
By the way, some people think that the six days of Creation were not ordinary days as we know them, but were long periods of time. This is wrong. The Hebrew word for "day" (yom) always means an ordinary day when used with the words "evening" or "morning," or used with a number. When you read Genesis chapter 1, you will see that the word "day" is used with "evening," "morning," and number for each of the six days. This means they must have been ORDINARY days as we know them. They were not long periods of millions of years.
He therefore makes a linguistic argument, based on a human language, that a 24-hour day existed before time...but we're still four "days" before the creation of human beings, and a long, long way from the creation of historical languages like Hebrew (The Tower of Babel story is in Genesis 11, and set a long time—hundreds of years, I guess—after the first creation story...even if you're reading the Bible literally).

I'll give Ham this, though, he does seem to have an answer for everything, which means this book may actually be able to influence the thinking of children who happen to encounter it without an adult around to explain that everything they read in non-fiction books is necessarily non-fiction.
Take teeth, for example. Ham's basic argument boils down to "It says so in the Bible," and therefore, a lot of the science of dinosaurs has to be rewritten. For example, not only were they created about 6,000 years ago (Ham measures the lifespan of the Earth by the adding up the lifespans in the geneaology of Genesis 5: 3-11). He reasons dinosaur and man co-existed because dinosaurs are land animals, and land animals, along with man, were said to have been created on the sixth day ("Do you know what this means?" Ham writes. "We can say, 100 percent absolutely for sure, that people lived with dinosaurs!"*). And all dinosaurs must have been vegetarians, even those with jaws and teeth like Tyrannosaurus Rex, because God told Adam and Eve and the land animals that they were to eat only plants, in Genesis 1: 29-31, "And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so").
So why does T Rex have a huge maw filled with a small armory of bone swords, and powerful jaws that seem capable of crushing a lot more than coconut shells? Ham points to bears, some of which "are almost totally vegetarian," and giant pandas and marine iguanas. "You see, just because an animal has sharp teeth doesn't mean it's a meat eater," he writes. "It just means it has sharp teeth!"

Now what about Noah and his ark during the Great Deluge, an event that, by the way, Ham says happened only 4,500 years ago (!!!!). Factor in about 2,000 years between now and the time of Christ and, good God, the Deluge predates Jesus by only 2500 years?

Now I, in my ignorance of Creationism, always assumed that Creationists believed that man and dinosaur were created at the beginning of time together, and the mass extinction that killed off all of the dinosaurs was the Great Deluge that killed off just about everything during the time of Noah. After all, there couldn't have been any dinosaurs on the ark. It already strains the credulity of the most credulous to believe that not only was there room on an ark whose dimensions we're given—300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high, or 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high**—was big enough to contain not only every species of animal alive today (which could be as high as 8 million, many of which remain undiscovered), but every species of animal that ever was, including all of the many species of dinosaurs, of which it is estimated there were 700 different species, many of which, as you may be well aware, were quite large.

I thought the Flood was used by Creationists as both an explanation for the lack of dinosaurs alive today and and explanation for the abundant fossil record of dinosaurs, as water, sediment and sudden flooding are all factors in ideal fossil creation.

Well, I was wrong in my supposition as to what Creationists believed happened to the dinosaurs (But not the bit about fossils; Ham does believe a lot of the fossilized dinosaurs found are those that died in the flood; I'm not sure how this would explain layers of fossils from different time periods, as there should be human and dinosaur fossils intermingled in large masses if this was the case). According to Ham, there were dinosaurs on the ark. He arrived at that belief the same way he arrives at all the beliefs in this book: The Bible quotes God as telling Noah "And of every living thing of flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee." Since dinosaurs were animals, then they were on the ark.

How did they all fit? Well, Ham says only some of the dinosaurs were very large, and those may have been older dinosaurs. Rather, Noah probably took teenage or baby dinosaurs with him on the ark, which would have saved a lot of space. Ham further argues that there probably weren't actually that many different kinds of dinosaurs; he doesn't really say why the people who study dinosaurs are so off base, but he second guesses them thushly: "Although scientists have made up over 600 names for dinosaurs, there were probably less than 50 actual KINDS of dinosaurs. Many of the names are given to just a piece of bone, or a skeleton that looks like another dinosaur but it's a different size, aor it's found in a different country." Scientists are dumb, basically.

It's when we get out of the flood narrative and start to consider what happened to the dinosaurs that Ham's theories go from sounding crazy to sounding insane.
Why settle for camels and donkeys when you could have dinosaurs pull your wagons? Those ghostly children, by the way, are time travelers visiting the past, a conceit Ham uses throughout the book.
Despite dying out within recorded history—i.e. the last 4,500 years—there's no recorded history of what happened to these large, bizarre and endlessly fascinating animals. It's like human beings didn't much notice them during their time together, certainly not enough to mention them very often, or note what happened to them.

Ham simply states that they died out, in the same way that animals are always dying out:
Because of sin, the Curse***, and the Flood, we now have such things as famines, droughts, floods, fire, diseases, people killing animals, and animals killing each other. In other words, the same reasons taht animals become extinct today, are the SAME reasons taht dinosaurs died out. And it wasn't millions of years ago; it was probably just hundreds of years ago. There is no mystery whatsover.
Hundreds of years ago! Sooooo, somewhere between 1814 (200 years ago) and 1114 (900 years ago) then...?

If dinosaurs co-existed with man in historical times, where's, like, any sign of 'em at all? Ham mentions one, a petroglyph in Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah made by Native Americans that somewhat resembles a suropod, or at least a very fat snake; others exist (like the image of the Sirrush that appears on a Babylonian gate alongside real animals like a lion and an ox, or this vaguely Stegosaurus-like image from a Cambodian temple). But even taking into account references to dragons in the historical record, which Ham does, there aren't really very many mentions of dinosaurs or dinosaur-like animals, relative to the very many other animals they supposedly shared our very, very young world with, from horses to eagles to oxen to dogs to turtles.
Dinosaurs don't appear in art or fiction or science (or what passed for science) as often as, um, all the other "real" animals...and quite a few fantasy animals. Think of all the human animal hybrids and other chimeral creatures of Classical Myth, civilizaitons we'd have to radically re-date to fit into the 4,500-year timeline of Ham. And even if we give Ham dragons as stand-ins for dinosaurs in the whole history of human culture—all 4,500 years of it—that doesn't explain the relative lack of mention of dinosaurs anywhere, and why dinosaurs existing alongside human beings should have more validity than other creatures that appear in legend and myth.

But there should be more than fossils, a few puzzling bits of ancient art and some vague stories of reptilian monsters (many of whom also had six limbs, talked, horded gold and, oh yeah, were able to fucking breathe fire). There should be specimens. Life drawings. Oral stories. Dinosaurs should appear on cave art in similar numbers to other exticnt animals like the megafauna. If they survived until just hundreds of years ago, well, no historians or naturalists who lived during that time saw fit to write about them in their bestiaries, their diaries, their works of science and history. Dinosaurs referred to as anything other than dragons—if we're going to go ahead and give Ham dragons as a code word for dinosaur in human history, even though we probably shouldn't—don't start to appear until they're discovered (or, I suppose, a Creationist would say re-discovered, in the 1800s).

I'm tempted to say that the fact that dinosaurs and human beings cohabitated until the first millennium, some 1,000 years after the death of Christ, strains credulity, but there is no credulity in this argument, which includes at least some out and out falsehoods, as when Ham imagines a scientist explaining the death of the dinosaurs thusly, "Dinosaurs! What happened to them? We don't know! We haven't really got a clue. It's a mystery! They died out millions of years ago!" In addition to claiming that scientists have never formulated any theories for the extinction of the dinosaurs or mustered evidence to support those theories, Ham claims there have never been any transitional forms discovered, which is also untrue).

So, who cares?

That's the question, really.

Just as I'm often confused by Christians who devote themeselves with fervor to the pro-life/pro-choice debate or working to deny rights to gays and lesbians (neither issue of which Jesus had anything to say about at all) rather than all of their energy on helping the poor, up to and including selling all their own possessions (which Jesus couldn't shut up about), I don't understand the zeal some Christians devoted to defending Creationism. What particular species of animals were around during what particular time period doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things...not unless you have a faith so fragile that if a single thing you believe is said to be un-true, it somehow unravels the entire thing (And how someone with a fundamentalist, every-word-is-true understanding of the Bible can make it as far as the second chapter of the first book and reconcile those contradictory narratives, but not be able to accept hat maybe there's some metaphor and poetry in there somewhere, well, I can't fathom that. How do you get to Jesus saying he was the lamb of God then and not thin, "Wait, he was God, man and lamb...all at once?! That is miraculous!").

Personally, I suspect it all has something to do with dinosaurs being awesome, and therefore a good preaching tool. I read this book, after all, and I wouldn't mind visiting that crazy Creationist Museum, simply because dinosaurs are awesome, and I am fascinated by them. The book certainly seems to recognize that fact, and use it as a sort of outreach tool to children. As Dinosaurs of Eden reaches its climax, dinosaurs are forgotten for quite a while (relative to the rest of the book), as apocalyptic literature (including Revelation, which does mention dragons, but Ham doesn't say if that means a dragon-dragon, or a T-Rex or what), which he attributes to John, to discuss the importance of being saved and being a faithful Christian in order to avoid damnation. Before ultimately bringing things back to dinosaurs with the closing lines, "Do you think God will ever make dinosaurs again so we will see them in the new Earth? I hope so, don't you?").
The time-traveling Future Children visit a peaceable kingdom-style new world, where predators and prey live together in peace. I don't know, are the jaguar and wolf affectionally licking the baby donkey and lamb, or are they tasting them? And that lion sure doesn't seem all that happy about having a mouth full of grass, does she?

As for why I care?

I just like dinosaurs. I like the idea of them living with man, even if I don't believe it ever happened. I like the Bible. This stuff fascinates me, even if it also scares me. If Ham was just one cooky guy with a cooky belief, that would be one thing, but he's hardly the only man in America who believes some of these cooky things, and there are movements to have Creationism of this sort, often rebranded as "Intelligent Design" which, frankly, is even crazier****, taught in schools.

One thing I've never really been able to get my head around is the fact that I was taught evolution only—no Creationism, no "Intelligent Design," no "teaching of the controversy"—in Catholic schools in the last two decades of the 20th century, while public school children in the second decade of the 21st century are being taught Creationism, or "Intelligent Design," in their science classes.

As Jesus said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." I always thought that had something to do with the separation of church and state, the division of spheres of influence that comes with living in a pluralistic society with people who may have different views and ways than your own. But then, I assumed it was Jesus speaking in metaphor. If he was being literal, then I guess he just meant to pay your taxes, first century Palestinian Jews!

*********************

As for dinosaurs in the Bible, there aren't really any. The most popularly referred to passage is the one that discusses "behemoth," Job 40: 15-24. The creature is mentioned as a way of dissuading Job from questioning or challenging God, as only God was powerful enough to create and tame creatures like Behemoth and Leviathan.

The passages Ham quotes are from the King James translation, and the describe the creature thusly: "Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox. Lo now, his strength is in his loins, and his force is in the navel of his belly, and he moveth his tail like a cedar...His bones are as strong pieces of brass; his bones are like bars of iron...He lieth under the shady trees, in the covert of the reed, and fens. The shady trees cover him with their shadow...Behold, he drinketh up a river."

What animal is being discussed? Presuming it is a real animal and not a symbolic animal or a fantastic fabulation, it's been one of the more popular Biblican guessing games: The elephant, the hippopotamus, some sort of water buffalo or ox, and even the crocodile are popular guesses, although each has its drawbacks. Creationists point to a sauropod, which would have been big and powerful, ate grass and which, most crucially, had a tail that is indeed like that of a cedar, whereas the elephant and hippo have tiny little tails (unless, "like a cedar" refers to the bushiness of the animals' tails at their ends, like a cedar trees leaves growing at the very top of a long, smooth, straight trunk, rather than the size of them).

Ham suggests a Brachiosaurus.

I would like to pause here to note all of the metaphorical language in the passage, only parts of which I've quoted: "as an ox," "like a cedar," "as strong pieces of brass," "like bars of iron." And there's some deliberate hyperbole, as surely no creature, no matter how big, drinks up an entire river, can "draw up Jordan into his mouth." Here is rather unequivocal poetic language, not to be taken literally. There's just something special about Genesis, though, that means it has to be taken literally.

And Leviathan? Ham doesn't discuss it at the same length as Behemoth. So let's turn to the Bible I have at hand. Leviathan is described in the same manner as Behemoth, his powers hyped up as a way of describing the power of God, who can make and tame such beasts, in Job 41: 1-34: "I will not fail to speak of his limbs, his strength and his graceful form. Who can strip off his outer coat? Who would approach him witha bridle? WHo dares open the doors of his mouth, ringed with his fearsome teeth? His back has rows of shields tightly sealed together; each is so close to the next that no air can pass between them...Firebrands stream from his mouth; sparks of fire shoot out. Smoke pours from his nostrils as from a boiling pot over a fire of reeds."

For a while, it seems like maybe Leviathan is some sort of giant crocodile, but eventually he becomes a sort of super-dragon...if he's meant to be some sea-going reptile from the time of the dinosaurs, he's a so far undiscovered, heavily armored one, that can breathe fire. And maybe even shoot eyebeams! ("His eyes are like the rays of dawn.")

Again, a lot of metaphorical language in there.

Ham also mentions a few passages he thinks may refer to creatures like Peleisosaurus or Kronosaurus: Isaiah 27:1, "and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea," and Psalm 74:13, "thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters." He also quotes a clipping of one he thinks could refer to some form of flying reptile, Isaiah 30: 6, "fiery flying serpent" (That's one of the verses author Jonathan David Whitcomb discussed in his book Searching For Ropen: Living Pterosaurs in Papua New Guinea, which I discussed at some length in this post; pterosaurs as we think we know them can't be described as "fiery," but Ropen, which are said to give off light and/or sparks at night, could be).

And that's pretty much it for dinosaurs in the Bible.


*********************

Dinosaurs of Eden does not answer the sea life question of how the fresh water and salt walter fish and other water-going creatures survived the Flood. Unless there was some kind of perfect, Baby Bear "just right" mixing of salt water and fresh water, there should have been a mass extinction of one entire set of fish and marine animals. I'm assuming it would have been all the fresh water animals, as there's more salt water than fresh water on Earth, but I don't know, as the Flood also involved so much rain and water bursting from the ground that I couldn't guess as to the salt content.

Hey, I wonder if Ham and company address that on their website, AnswersInGenesis.org...Hey, they do!

That's...not that convincing. Creationists believe in natural selection...they just think it only takes an extremely short time to work, then, and it isn't part of evolution, which doesn't exist...?

********************

Something else Deluge-related I was thinking about while watching the recent Noah movie (And reading the graphic novel) and was reminded of during this book. If you believe in the Bible literally, and have a "young Earth" understanding of the Bible, in which all of humanity descended from the handful of survivors of the Deluge just 4,500 years ago, then where do races come from?

How did just eight people from the Middle East, most of whom were from the same family, a) produce 7 billion people in just 4,500 years, and b) produce all the various races in that short time?

In the movie, it was just six white people—Noah, his wife, his three sons and Emma Watson—that were responsible for repopulating the Earth.

AnswersInGenesis.com discusses this too, but it is a long and boring discussion. Apparently, there is really only one race, the differences in appearance come down to...I don't know. But definitely not evolution! Or hundreds of thousands of years of people in isolated parts of the world breeding with one another and thus passing on similar traits to their children with less variation than if all people everywhere were constantly breeding regardless of where the were born!



*Because, he goes on to say, "The reason we can be so sure is that God, who doesn't tell a lie, told us in His Word that land animals and Adam and Eve were made on the sixth day of Creation!" That's followed by a "Bible memory verse," which appears at the bottom of most of the pages of the book, this one from Numbers 23:19: "God is not a man, that he should lie."

**Ham's book cites the dimensions as 437 feet long, 73 feet high and 44 feet high. I'm going by what the Bible in my hands, the New International Version, published in 1988 by Zondervan Bible Publishers, says. Ham is using the King James version, which is why many of the above quotes sound like things Thor might say in a Marvel comic. The New International Versions uses feet in the text, and relegate the cubit measurements to the footnotes, where they also site the metric measurements: "about 140 meters long, 23 meters wide and 13.5 meters high."

***"The Curse" refers to the state of affairs after Adam and Eve at the forbidden fruit, and bad things started happening on Earth—death, disease, etc. After the Deluge, God made a covenant with Noah allowing him to eat animals. After this point, carnivores stopped eating vegetables and starting eating herbivores. I'm not sure why, if this is true—and it's not—herbivores remained herbivores, rather than also becoming carnivores or omnivores, but hey, God moves in mysterious ways, right?

****The difference between Creationism and Intelligent Design? Well, the former would posit God as responsible for creating Earth and all life on it, where as the latter, in an attempt to seem at least pseudo-secular, would suggest an unnamed intelligence. So, if not God, space aliens, I guess...?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Marvel's July previews reviewed

Maybe it's all the "CLASSIFIED" books, and maybe it's simply that reading fewer and fewer of Marvel's monthlies as more and more of them reach the $3.99 price point pushes me more and more out of the loop, as it were, but there didn't seem to be a whole heck of a lot that was that exciting in their solicitations for July of this year (which you can see in their entirety here).

Well, except, of course, for this:
Other than Lego Stan Lee variant covers though, here's what jumped out at me this time around...

Reminder: Tradd Moore is a good artist. That big, hulking figure in the foreground of this cover for All-New Ghost Rider is not, in fact, The Hulk, but rather "a modified MRyt. HYDE," so don't too excited: This is not the first chapter of "The All-New Defenders/All-New Champions War" or anything that awesome.


David Nakayama provides a nice cover for All-New Ultimates #5.


DAREDEVIL #0.1
Mark Waid (W) • Peter Krause (A)
COVER BY Chris Samnee
For the first time in print, the story that bridges the gap between the last Daredevil series and the all-new ongoing!
• A cross country flight pits The Man Without Fear against a man without a heartbeat!
• Plus, TWO DAREDEVILS (for the price of one)!
• Mark Waid (Daredevil, Insufferable) and Peter Krause (Insufferable) bring you the first leg in Daredevil’s journey to a new life!
48 PGS./One Shot/Rated T+ …$4.99


I like how, when revealing past projects Mark Waid has written in parentheses, they choose two of his dozens of credits, and one of them is this comic, which anyone reading this is probably already aware that he's writing, since he's credited as the writer and all...


Ohhhhhhh... That's Sue "Invisible Woman" Storm on the cover of this issue of Fantastic Four. From afar—i.e. before I clicked on the image—I thought that was Carol "Captain Marvel" Danvers.


MS. MARVEL #6
G. WILLOW WILSON (W) • Jacob Wyatt (A)
Cover by Jamie McKelvie
...
• On the run from the Inventor, Kamala needs all the help she can get. Did someone say Wolverine?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$2.99


That's a great cover by Jamie McKelvie, but I can't help but notice that "Jacob Wyatt" is a different name than "Adrian Alphona"...has Marvel already over-shipped this book to the point that the original artist, and strongest selling point, can't keep involved with each and every issue? That's unfortunate.

Also, this may seem like a really ignorant question, but why does the new Ms. Marvel have the codename and costume of another character, but a seemingly different power set?


NEW WARRIORS VOL. 1: THE KIDS ARE ALL FIGHT TPB
Written by CHRISTOPHER YOST
Penciled by MARCUS TO & NICK ROCHE
Cover by RAMON PEREZ
Warriors reborn! Speedball and Justice gather a group of young heroes including Sun Girl, Hummingbird, the new Nova and a couple of fresh faces to stop the latest threat to the Marvel Universe! Atlanteans, Inhumans, Morlocks, clones and hundreds of other so-called “superior” beings are living among normal humans — but not everyone is pleased about that. The High Evolutionary has raised an army to combat the evolution of humanity — and the New Warriors are locked in his deadly sights! If it’s not human, it dies — but why? And what do the mighty Evolutionaries want with Nova? As worldwide genocide approaches and Nova encounters the captive Scarlet Spider, the Second Evolutionary War begins! Can the Warriors stop worldwide genocide? Should they? How many lives would you sacrifice to save all of humanity? Guest-starring the Avengers! Collecting NEW WARRIORS (2014) #1-6.
136 PGS./Rated T+ …$17.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5453-2


That's a pretty funny title. Um, that's all I have to say about this.


REVENGE: THE SECRET ORIGIN OF EMILY THORNE PREMIERE HC
Written by ERICA SCHULTZ
Plot by TED SULLIVAN
Art by VINCENZO BALZANO
Cover by DUSTIN NGUYEN
A new graphic novel inspired by ABC’s popular television series REVENGE, co-written by series writer Ted Sullivan! Emily Thorne is a wealthy and good-natured philanthropist who recently befriended the powerful Grayson family. But Emily’s real name is Amanda Clarke. Twenty years ago, the Graysons’ elite social circle framed Amanda’s father for a horrific crime — and Amanda plans to destroy the lives of those who stole her childhood and betrayed her father. Now, experience Amanda’s first mission of revenge! After training in Japan, the untested heroine finds herself infiltrating high society in Geneva. There, she uncovers secrets about her past — but her future will be short-lived unless Amanda can defeat a surprising enemy with ties to the people who destroyed her life! Prepare for a thrilling ride into the previously unexplored past of television’s most dynamic — and dangerous — girl next door!
112 PGS./Rated T+ …$24.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9039-4
Trim size: standard
© 2014 ABC Studios


Marvel is apparently expanding its relationship with parent company Disney's TV channel, ABC, beyond those awful-looking Castle-related tie-ins (And I love Castle, the TV show).

Sooooo, when are they gonna do a Dancing With The Stars graphic novel, in which "stars" from the Marvel Universe (Dazzler, Patsy Walker, Tony Stark, Mary Jane Watson, umm...) compete with the real pro dancers from DWTS...? Because I think that just replaced Caleb-written Godzilla/DC Universe and Transformers/Justice League crossovers on my fantasy list of crossovers.


ROCKET RACCOON #1
SKOTTIE YOUNG (W) • SKOTTIE YOUNG (A/C)
...
As defenders of the cosmos go, Rocket Raccoon has faced his fair share of galactic battles. He’s been a hero to the weak, a champion of good, a protector of the innocent, a heartthrob to the many intergalactic female species and now--a raccoon on the run?! ( I’m sorry, I’m sorry, a “formidable-and-expert-Guardian” on the run. Rocket is NOT a raccoon, okay?) Rocket’s high-flying life of adventure and heroism may soon be a thing of the past when he becomes a wanted man—and the authorities are not the only one on his TAIL! (We’ll definitely be overusing that pun!)
Superstar creator Skottie Young brings his A-game as writer and artist on the series we’ve been waiting decades for. Because let’s be real, this is the only Guardian of the Galaxy you actually care about. Am I right?
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

I've actually wondered before why they didn't just cancel Guardians and replace it with a Rocket Racoon monthly, co-starring Groot. This seems like a pretty good marriage of creator and character and I'll look forward to checking...Oh, another $4 book. Well, I'll look forward in checking the trade out from a library in late 2014/early 2015, I guess.

Please note that Mouse Guard David Petersen is providing one of the first issue's 45 different variant covers.


SECRET AVENGERS #5 & 6
ALES KOT (W)
MICHAEL WALSH (A)
CoverS by TRADD MOORE
Issue 5 - “THE DROP”
• Death on the Helicarrier. The killer is at large. Hill leads the investigation.
• Another incident on board. No-one expects a proper acid bath.
• Coulson goes rogue. Hawkeye wonders. Spider-Woman talks with a new friend.
Issue 6 - “ACT TWO/THE SPEEDING REIGN OF COLLAPSE”
• Black Widow, Spider-Woman and Hawkeye go after Lady Bullseye and Artaud Derrida.
• What does S.H.I.E.L.D. want with the Fury? M.O.D.O.K. will show you!
• Coulson’s investigation takes him to Peru.
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T+ …$3.99 (EACH)


I've probably mentioned this three or four times before, but I really wish that cover artist Tradd Moore were providing interior art as well, as the covers for this series, the 18th or so incarnation of the Secret Avengers title, are awesome.


ULTIMATE FF #4 & 5
JOSHUA HALE FIALKOV (W) ANDRÉ ARAÚJO (A)
Cover by CHRIS STEVENS
SUE STORM. IRON MAN. FALCON. TOGETHER WITH XXXXXXXX
MAKE THE STRANGEST TEAM OF ALL!
• Trapped outside the Universe, an old friend returns to help.
• The Secret Origin of XXXXXXXXX REVEALED!
• Something unimaginable comes through the rift.
32 PGS. (EACH)/Rated T+ …$3.99 (EACH)


I don't know who "XXXXXXXXX" is, but he or she must be three times as x-treme as either Vin Diesel or Ice Cube.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Review(s): Three comics by Lilli Carré

Illustration from Beasts! 2
The recent release of Tippy and The Night Parade, a typically high-quality kids comic from Toon Books, made me want to revisit the work of its creator, Lilli Carré (only relatively little of which I had previously written about). So I went looking for all of her comic books I could find— 2006's Tales of Woodsman Pete (Top Shelf), 2008's The Lagoon (Fantagraphics) and 2009's Nine Ways to Disappear (Little Otsu)—and read or re-read them back-to-back-to back.

I don't know that doing so necessarily gave me any great insight into Carré as a writer or artist, or to her body of work in general. She's naturally really good at drawing. She has a great sense of humor, and excellent pacing when it comes to telling a joke in a comic format. She's particularly adept at regulating the amount and style of the humor of her comics to fit the subject matter and the tone she's going for—All three books are very funny, despite quite elegiac moments in each, and despite the fact that at least one of them is a straight gag comic, while the other two are more serious in nature. Carré's a gem of a cartoonist, a national treasure and one of the many, many, many women whose books I'd like to throw at the the head of anyone online decrying the lack of women making comics, when what they really mean is there aren't enough women making DC and Marvel superhero comics of the particular sort the decrier wants to read.

Tales of Woodsman Pete is the most straight comic (meaning "of, or pertaining to, or characterized by comedy") of the above-mentioned comics (meaning "comic books"). The title character is a little old man, whose littleness seems assured by the size in which he appears in the many little square panels that make up most of the stories in the little square book, which is only about the size of my hand.

He has a long beard and lives in a remote cabin in the wilderness, he dresses in old-timey clothes that makes the precise setting seem rather timeless, and he's surrounded by hunting trophies: A bear rug named "Phillipe" that is actually his best friend ("It's kind of a shame to be inside," he tells Phillipe after seeign what a gorgeous day it is out, and he drags the rug outside with him. "Yessir...makes you feel good to be alive, doesn't it?," he tells the rug, before realizing his faux pas, "Oops--Sorry, Philippe.") In addition to Philippe, Woodsman Pete's other conversational companions include the many stuffed and mounted deer and moose heads along his walls.

Perhaps an odd subject for a comic strip, but Pete and his dead animal friends star in the majority of the 20 or so short strips of varying lengths that fill the little book, many of the jokes revolving around death, loneliness, the passage of time and the mundane nature of life. You know, comics material.

Pete's Tales are occasionally interrupted by tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe, The Big Blue Ox. Although Bunyan's the greatest lumberjack of all time, he's not really feeling completely fulfilled by his job of kicking over trees all day, and his giant size occasionally makes him quite blue (Not blue like Babe, but blue, like, emotionally). This is visually communicated in a short, two-page strip in which Paul accidentally kills a woman by kissing her.

The longest, and most serious, of the strips is in which Pete has propped Phillipe up against a tree and made a fire for them, where he tells him a mythic-sounding story about salt hills and the ocean Paul Bunyan made. It's maybe a perfect Carré story in the way it blends incidental, organic but completely absurd humor with an evocative legend about much more than what its exact verbiage communicates.

The Lagoon is probably the most serious, most literate and most visually accomplished of these three. If you didn't read my previous review, and/or forgot what I said in it, as I have, The Lagoon is the story of a family of four. There's a young girl, her mother and father, and her grandfather, who seems to be starting to lose it a bit, that or he's reached a sort of shamanic point in old age, where his eccentric behavior can be dismissed as dottiness, but is actually evidence that he knows more than other's think he does.

They share a little house near a lagoon, where a strange, humanoid fish or reptillian like creature—The Creature from Lilli Carré's Lagoon—occasionally rises from the surface to sing a strange, siren song that calls people to hide in the reeds and listen...and some to come too close and disappear beneath the surface of the water.

As a comic about a particular song, The Lagoon is pretty powerful in the way its narrative is filled with very familiar sounds—fingers tapping, a metronome ticking, a piano being played or stepped on by a cat, an owl hooting, cats yowling a dying fire crackling—some communicated through the traditional onomatopoeia sound effects, others simply suggested by the visual. But it revolves around a sound that is completely alien and foreign, a sound that, as the visuals can attest, travel far and wrap itself around a listener, but, as to exactly what it sounds like, well, that's up to the reader to imagine.

Carré's artwork is in the same style of Woodsman Pete, but with much bigger panels, and it is much more refined, as much of the art isn't really meant for comedic effect (Although Grandpa does some funny things, and has some unfortunate timing; a few images of the Creature acting rather human are also pretty funny). Additionally, much of it is white on black rather than black on white, during the scenes set at night, giving the book a more highly-crafted, labored-over look than a simple matter of applying ink on paper.
Nine Ways To Disappear is the comics collection equivalent of a short collection of poems. A tiny, square hardcover—significantly tinier and squarer than Woodsman Pete—it contains nine short works of varying shortness, with each page devoted to a single panel. Of these stories, some are short, visual jokes, others short stories, at least one of them is told from the point-of-view of a storm drain (who appears again in another story). All are stories that could only really be told in the form of a comic though. Some might be translatable into prose, but would lose a majority of their impact, as some of the more magical realist of the stories need to be seen as much as they need to be read. And some stories would simply be impossible; like for example, the one in which a blue speech balloon gradually transforms into a hippopotamus.

Like Tippy, there are all good comic, and are all worth tracking down and spending some time with.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

I have a review of Max Brooks and Caanan White's The Harlem Hellfighters. It's pretty good, but merely pretty good instead of, you know, great.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

DC's July previews reviewed

The weirdest part of DC's solicitations for the products they plan to release in July of this year, as seen here at Comic Book Resources, comes at the very end, where there is a long list of "Advanced" solicits for their books shipping in September, each of which will have a 3D cover (like last year's Villains Month issues, I guess), and will tie-in to their Future's End weekly series. Each of those books will be a one-shot, with a title like Aquaman: Future's End #1.

I counted 41 titles, 40 of which are regular monthlies, one of which is Booster Gold: Future's End #1. What's weird about these pre-solicitations, other than their very existence, which likely has something to do with the way comics shop owners order comics, and with some of the difficulties reported with the ordering of the Villains Month specials, is that there are no creators attached, just plot synopses.

That's a little worrying, as it sounds like DC is just handing out index cards with a few sentences of plot to whichever work-for-hire creative teams end up working on Batman/Superman: Future's End #1 and Constantine: Future's End #1 and so on. Now, it might always be that at DC, with editors handing out index cards with plot points to random, interchangeable creative teams, but, even if it is, let's at least maintain the illusion that it's not, and that individual writers and artists are bringing their own imaginations, inspirations and talents to each comic, and giving it their all month in and month out, okay?

Additionally, no images are provided yet, so with no creators and no pictures to look at, it was very weird just reading through those Future's End solicitations (I actually got bored doing so, and quit after 20 or so). Reading through them reminded me quite a bit of the solicitations for the Flashpoint tie-ins though: Familiar character names scrambled around in random, often unexpected ways, but with the mutually agreed upon understanding that these were just temporary, possible future, Elseworlds/Imaginary Story style comics that would have no real bearing on our favorite characters and books, and were therefor skippable (Unless you really like the creators involved on the project, of course).

But that's September; in two more months, I'm sure we'll get creative teams and cover images. For now, let's look at what DC has in store for July.


It's actually been quite a while since we've seen a boobs-and-blood cover from DC. This one, in fact, is much heavier on the boobs than it is on the blood, which is an unusual ratio for the company.


AQUAMAN ANNUAL #2
Written by JEFF PARKER
Art and cover by YVEL GUICHET and JASON GORDER
On sale JULY 30 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
During his battle with Hercules, Aquaman unleashed an ancient evil from the days of the Greeks -- so he’s called in Wonder Woman to help him clean up the mess! You can be sure the Queen of the Amazons and the King of Atlantis have plenty to talk about…if they can hear each other over the bloodcurdling screams of the Giant-Born!

AQUAMAN AND THE OTHERS #4
Written by DAN JURGENS
Art by LAN MEDINA and ALLEN MARTINEZ
Cover by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
On sale JULY 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Who is the mysterious armored figure that wants Aquaman’s trident and the Others’ Atlantean relics? And more important, why?


Counting the July issue of Aquaman, which is of course where that cover image of Mera in her shredded costume is taken from, there will be three Aquaman comics, for a total of $11, released in a single month. I'm a fan of the character, yet I find that to be an alarming amount of Aquaman.


Cool cover for Batman and Robin #33. I think Patrick Gleason is criminally underrated. Criminally. People should go to jail and do hard time for not appreciating his art more.


BATMAN ‘66 #13
Written by GABRIEL SORIA
Art by DEAN HASPIEL
Cover by MICHAEL ALLRED
On sale JULY 23 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E • DIGITAL FIRST
A new hit TV show based on Batman’s crime fighting exploits is on the air, but it hardly meets with the Caped Crusader’s approval. And the show’s producer has more in mind than just high ratings! A set visit from Batman and Robin reveals the producer’s true agenda and puts all of the action behind the cameras in this story by guest writer Gabriel Soria.


They had me at "Dean Haspiel."


EARTH 2 #25
Written by TOM TAYLOR
Art by NICOLA SCOTT and TREVOR SCOTT
Cover by ANDY KUBERT
...
On sale JULY 2 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
...
In this extra-sized issue, Val-Zod finally accepts his role as the new Superman of Earth 2 as he faces the twisted, brutal original Superman, who once protected the planet but now prepares it for Apokolips and the forces of Darkseid.


Huh. So the black Superman of Earth-2, who first appeared on a teaser image for an upcoming Earth 2 weekly series, is an actual Kryptonian? I suspected that it might be Michael Holt, Mr. Terrific, in a new costume with a new codename, given the fact that Holt was the only black hero on Earth 2 so far, and that he was embracing Power Girl, who Holt was apparently lovers with for at least a little bit.

I like the costume.

It's strange how far this book has drifted from it's original remit of Golden Age characters reinvented for the modern age in their own, distinct setting. That solicitation is all Superman and Fourth World, no JSA or Golden Age.


GRAYSON #1
Written by TIM SEELEY
Art by MIKEL JANIN
Cover by ANDREW ROBINSON
...
On sale JULY 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
...
Dick Grayson. Former sidekick. Former Super Hero. Former dead man. And now...agent of Spyral?! A thrilling new chapter of Dick Grayson’s life begins in this new, ongoing series. It’s a super-spy thriller that will shock you and prove one thing: You might think you know Nightwing – but you don’t know Dick.


Kudos to whoever wrote "you don't know Dick."

I think this book really works in The New 52-iverse the way it would in the old DCU. I mean, by "former sidekick," they mean "was Robin for maybe a year or so." I can't even really guess how this all works out after the events of Forever Evil, in which Dick Grayson was outted as Nightwing (And given the fact that Bruce Wayne publicly announced himself as the man funding Batman and Batman, Inc., well, couple that with Wayne's former ward being Batman's ally Nightwing and, well, how hard is it to figure out who Batman really is? I guess his death will be faked in the conclusion to Forever Evil, forcing him into this super-spy business but, man, I can't really see who this is meant to appeal to. As I said last week, the New 52 reboot basically reduced Dick Grayson to the familiar codename of "Nightwing" and not much else; here he's losing that too.

I'm not sure what's up with Dick Grayson holding a gun on these cover either; that's not a very Dick Grayson thing to do, and while New 52 Dick may be different than original Dick, surely New 52 Batman is still as anti-gun as pre-New 52 Batman is.

I'm not sure I really care what happens with all this anyway, though. I've read some Seeley comics before, but he's not a writer I'd go out of my way to read. I don't really care for Janin's style, although he's good at that. So character, premise, creative team—nothing about this really grabs me, aside from mild curiosity.


HARLEY QUINN INVADES COMIC-CON INTERNATIONAL: SAN DIEGO #1
Written by AMANDA CONNER and JIMMY PALMIOTTI
Art by AMANDA CONNER and others
Wraparound cover by AMANDA CONNER
One-shot • On sale JULY 16 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
The title says it all! Our favorite little troublemaker, Harley Quinn, takes on Comic-Con International: San Diego in this over the top issue! She’ll have to battle long lines, crazy crowds and the dread con crud, all in the quest to get her own comic book published!

Harley Quinn is now officially to DC Comics what Lobo was 20 years ago:
That said, if they do a Harley Quinn Invades SPACE #1 next year, I'll be all over that.


INFINITE CRISIS: FIGHT FOR THE MULTIVERSE #1
Written by DAN ABNETT
Art by CARL POTTS, SZYMON KUDRANSKI and others
Cover by GENE HA
On sale JULY 16 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
DIGITAL FIRST
...
In the tradition of INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US, a new videogame sensation makes its comics debut. Developed by Turbine and WBIE Games, INFINITE CRISIS brings together unique versions of DC Universe heroes from across the multiverse to head off a crisis that threatens to destroy all of their worlds! Heroes and villains from Gaslight, Atomic, Arcane, Mecha and other worlds battle and join forces with Prime Earth Batman in this rapidly escalating conflict!


They lost me at "Kudranski"


NEW SUICIDE SQUAD #1
Written by SEAN RYAN
Art and cover by JEREMY ROBERTS
...
On sale JULY 9 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
...
The world has changed for Task Force X, a.k.a. the Suicide Squad. Director Amanda Waller no longer has the autonomy she once had. New members disrupt the team dynamic. And the team takes on an international scope. New members Joker’s Daughter, Deathstroke and Black Manta join Harley Quinn and Deadshot for a mission in the most dangerous and unpredictable place in the world: Vladimir Putin’s Russia!


I've said many times before that Marvel steals DC's good ideas, while DC steals marvel bad ones. Here's a good example: Canceling a title to replace it immediately with a new #1. The only justification I see here is a new creative team (maybe?) and a new-ish direction, but then, I've lost count of how many new creative teams Suicide Squad has had already, and this is the first time that they've gotten a new #1 and the word "New" in the title. Imagine if DC had been doing that all along, relaunching books every time their creative teams changed. Superman and Green Arrow would probably never make it into double digits!


ROBIN RISES: OMEGA #1
Written by PETER J. TOMASI
Art by ANDY KUBERT and JONATHAN GLAPION
Cover by ANDY KUBERT
...
One-shot • On sale JULY 16 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
The hunt for Robin is over, and the battle joined! But Batman’s family feud with Ra’s al Ghul is about to erupt into something bigger when it’s interrupted by the forces of Apokolips! This epic story continues in this month’s BATMAN AND ROBIN #33!


I'm intrigued. At this point, it seems like the easiest fix for giving Batman a Robin would be to resurrect the dead Damian Wayne. I would have thought bringing Tim Drake back as Robin, which I assume was Grant Morrison's original plan when he originally conceived of the Damian Wayne plotline (which wasn't meant to last as long as it did), but after the New 52 reboot, DC implied that Tim Drake and Batman weren't ever really that close, Drake was never actually Robin (going by "Red Robin" all along), and, like all the others, he couldn't have been Robin more than a year, so it would actually be kind of super-weird if Tim Drake were the one, true Robin again (Even if he's my Robin).

Additionally, Tomasi's spent sooo much time on this hunt for Robin business, and they've yet to cancel or rename the Batman and Robin title, that it seems appropriate to have Damian returnty to life (He already has a pretty science-fiction-y origin story, and if they can restore Jason Todd to life, really anything should go at this point).

I think the fact that it was revealed in the last issue of TEC that Bruce Wayne is covering up the death of his own son sort of points to the fact that Damian Wayne is really only temporarily dead, because otherwise that's a really strange thing to have Batman do.

I'm a little concerned and confused by this mention of Apokolips, as DC seems to have no real unified plan for the Fourth World in their new universe, various characters appearing in various books by different creators (Darkseid in Justice League and Batman/Superman; Steppenwolf, Mister Miracle and Barda in Earth 2; Orion, Highfather and New Genesis in Wonder Woman, and then there's the upcoming Infinity Man and the Forever People).


SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #5
Written by SHOLLY FISCH
Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
On sale JULY 2 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E
Wonder Woman’s homeland is under attack by mythological monsters that vanish into thin air before the Amazon warriors can fight back! Scooby, Wonder Woman and the gang must work together to solve this mystery…assuming Daphne and Velma complete their Amazon training in time!


If there is a more exciting sentence in the history of comic book solicitations than the second one above, I defy you to find it.


STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES FEATURING G.I. ZOMBIE #1
Written by JUSTIN GRAY and JIMMY PALMIOTTI
Art by SCOTT HAMPTON
Cover by HOWARD PORTER
...
On sale JULY 23 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
...
Meet the soldier they call “G.I. ZOMBIE,” a man who is neither dead nor alive, who fights for his country again…and again…and again!


Great idea, DC! If there's one thing the modern marketplace has really embraced, it's comics written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. And if there are two things its embraced, the second one is definitely military comics set in the New 52 DCU. Should we just moved this to the "cancelled" category alongside Blackhawks, Men of War, and G.I. Combat now, or pretend that it won't be canceled in eight issues, just to be polite?


SECRET ORIGINS #4
Written by AMANDA CONNER, JIMMY PALMIOTTI, JEFF LEMIRE and PETER J. TOMASI
Art by STEPHANE ROUX, DENYS COWAN, BILL SIENKIEWICZ and IAN BERTRAM
Cover by LEE BERMEJO
On sale JULY 23 • 48 pg, FC, $4.99 US • RATED T
The latest explosive origins from DC COMICS – THE NEW 52 include Harley Quinn by Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotti and Stephane Roux; Green Arrow by Jeff Lemire, Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz, and Damian, Son of Batman, by Peter J. Tomasi and Ian Bertram!


Weird. They're still focusing on popular characters. We've seen Harley Quinn's new, New 52 origin at least twice now, told slightly differently each time (in Suicide Squad and a Villains Month special), Green Arrow's we've seen "live," as we have Damian's (and Damian's was also re-told in Batman and Robin #0).


SUPERMAN UNCHAINED #8
Written by SCOTT SNYDER
Art and cover by JIM LEE and SCOTT WILLIAMS
Backup story art by DUSTIN NGUYEN
...
RESOLICIT • On sale JULY 30 • 32 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
...
It’s all going to hell as cosmic-level war breaks out! The full truth of who — or what — Wraith is finally comes to light!


No joke: I actually forgot this title even existed.


TEEN TITANS #1
Written by WILL PFEIFER
Art and cover by KENNETH ROCAFORT
...
On sale JULY 16 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
...
Red Robin, Wonder Girl, Raven, Bunker and Beast Boy step out of the shadows of the adult heroes of the DC Universe to offer bold, exciting and sometime dangerous ideas on how to protect a world full of superpowered teenagers – any one of whom could be the next heroic figure or major villain!


Well, this new volume of the title seems to have a better creative team, but it still has rather lame line-up (I don't think a fourth-generation team of teen superheroes even works in a one-generation DCU, personally). I'm really surprised that DC didn't let the title lay fallow longer, and that the only substantial changes beyond that of the creative team seems to be ditching Superboy, Kid Flash and the two new female characters, while adding Beast Boy, (and making him green again instead of New 52 red).

I don't know if anyone's pointed this out before (he said, jokeing), but Wonder Girl's babe-i-fication has gotten completely silly at this point (and that is a dumb costume, unless that's some kinda sci-fi, superhero unstable molecule material that offers the sort of support man-made materials here on Earth-Prime aren't capable of yet; it's particularly odd given how much of the New 52 redesign has been about creating more realistic costumes, with seams, ribbing, grip, plates and armor).

Remember when John Byrne first introduced us to Cassie Sandsmark?
It's kinda...gross to see how that character evolves through group-think/group-creation to the long-haired, leggy, buxom blonde on that Teen Titans #1 cover.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: Jellaby: Monster in the City

I read several short stories by about big-headed little girl Portia and her big-headed, purple dragon friend in various volumes of the Flight anthology between 2004-2011 or so. I read (and reviewed) the original graphic novel Jellaby that Hyperion published back in 2008. And I just re-read (and re-reviewed) that original graphic novel, now renamed Jellaby: The Lost Monster and published by Capstone.

It was during the re-reading of the new edition that I realized that I never did get around to reading (or reviewing) the second volume of Kean Soo's Jellaby comic, Jellaby: Monster in the City (published by Hyperion in 2009; not yet republished by Capstone, if it's even going to be). So as I was preparing to write about artist Kean Soo's purple monster again, I took the opportunity to finally read Monster in the City, and find out just what happened after the cliffhanger ending of the first volume (You may recall that ended with Portia and Jason pretending to go trick-or-treating, but actually taking Jellaby on a train ride to Toronto, where they hoped to find his home, but they ended up being ejected from the train and having to walk towards the city).

Visually, all of the charms present in the first volume are also present in this volume. Soo retains the limited color palette, with everything being black and white but mostly purple, with only occasional dashes of red (on Jellaby, Portia and the new, second monster in this volume) and orange (on Jason's sweatshirt, and on his carrots). Soo continues to use his inspired monster design, with its big round head and dinner plate-sized eyes, like a sort of Golden Age silent movie comedian.

The story component in this volume is very, very different than in the first, however, as some of the conflicts in Portia's life merely alluded to or foreshadowed in it come to fruition, and there is a rather elaborate explanation for Jellaby and his relationship to the kids, one that sort of drains the character of some of his mystique and, therefore, his appeal (This may simply be a result of my having lived with the character for so long not knowing exactly what his whole deal was, but I do feel the character works better without a back story).

So Portia and Jason take Jellaby to a fair in Toronto, because Jellaby recognized a door on a building there in a newspaper article about that fair. After some rather scary misadventures—being very little kids, Portia and Jason aren't much more experienced with the ways of the big city than the monster, who is able to walk around out in the open because it's Halloween and everyone assumes he's a man in a costume—they eventually find the door, and follow it and a mysterious stranger from Portia's dreams to the bottom.
There they find another monster that does indeed look a little like Jellaby. It's much, much larger, and white with red in its eyes, a purple fin and a purple fin or sail along its back (Actually, it looks like a cross between Jellaby and a Spinosaurus...with an dead octopus on its head). Its not actually related to Jellaby, at least not in the familial sense that the kids thought any monsters they might find on the other side of the door might be, and while Portia deals with her fears and hopes, as manifested in magically indued dreams, the other monster tells her genuinely sad and tragic story, and tries to force Jason to be her friend.

It's all kind of complicated, but this monster, like Jellaby, apparently, are some breed of imaginary friend monsters that aren't really imaginary, but bond with children the same way imaginary friends might, and tend to get left behind as adulthood comes on, as imaginary friends do.

There's a lot of awfully high drama and tense moments in this second half of the story, and a battle at the end that seems at odds with the gentle humor of the Jellaby shorts from Flight (and many of the goings on in the first volume), but once all of Portia's fears are faced, she and Jason resolve their issues and the bad monster vanquished, things end rather happily, with Portia sharing the secret of her monster with her mother.

Not every single mystery and conflict is resolved, which leads me to believe Soo had or still has some more Jellaby stories in him, but this does go a rather long way toward explaining what Jellaby is and of bringing Portia's personal conflicts to a head in a satisfying manner.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Uncanny X-Force: The Dark Angel Saga Book 1

No, nothing confusing about that title at all. This book collects Uncanny X-Force #8-13, and is therefore actually Uncanny X-Force Vol. 3, but nowhere on the "Premiere Edition" hardcover sitting next to me as I type this can I find a volume number: Not on the cover, not on the spine, not on the jacket, not in the fine print below the credits and the "previously" recap.

I'm not sure why Marvel would make it so difficult to find out what order to read their books in—if you don't look in the fine print to see what particular issues are collected here, and remember which issues were collected in the previous volume, there's no real way to tell where this falls in the little library of Uncanny X-Force collections—but whatever their reasoning, the "Book 1" makes this sound like this is the first collection of a new series, or perhaps a spin-off or miniseries, featuring the Uncanny X-Force.

Whatever. Writer Rick Remender continues his very strong, very intense, rather suspenseful long-form story about a top secret, black-ops X-Men squad of assassins, all of whom are deeply conflicted about the whole killing people thing, and are still reeling from the climax of the first volume, in which only one of their members was able to go through with murdering mutant Hitler when he was still a child, before he could grow up to start mutant World War II.

While the previous volumes have been somewhat light on continuity, in that a relative lack of familiarity with the characters' long histories and tangled relationships with the rest of the Marvel Universe didn't do anything to hinder my enjoyment of the comics, with this issue I got a real sense that I probably wasn't enjoying this story arc to its absolute fullest. It rather heavily revolves around past stories involving Apocalypse (which I'm only really familiar with from their adaptations on the awesomely horrible '90s cartoon), and this volume even includes a rather substantial-in-length detour to a popular crossover event from the mid-90's.

The ever-changing art teams change again in this volume, with Billy Tan drawing the first half of the book, and Mark Brooks penciling most of the second half (Scott Eaton helps out on one issue, and two inkers join Brooks, who also inks). I hate to say something as ignorant as the art doesn't really matter here, but it is true that a substantial number of the characters are visually defined almost entirely by their costumes (Deadpool and Fantomex, for example, are covered head to toe in their costumes, making them planes of black and white and gray), and the coloring is purposefully dark and murky, no matter who is doing the penciling or inking, the shadows only pierced by the gray of the costumes, neon coloring effects around computer monitors and technology and, of course, splashes of red for blood.

The art matters, but the changes in particular style don't grate here as much as they might in other books, given the fact that the character designs are so consistent, there's little in the way of "acting" and most of the emotion in expressed through medium shots of acts of violence.

There are four distinct story beats here, all but one of which continuing the ongoing story that Remender has been telling since the first issue—and will keep telling until the end of the series.

First, we learn a little bit about Psylocke's ongoing efforts to help cleanse her lover Angel/Archangel/Warren Worthington of the bit of Apocalypse that's still inside of him—while Wolverine and Deadpool share a moment, and Deathlok and Fantomex talk about the previous story arc and allude to future ones. That's all interrupted when Deadpool goes missing on a mission, and the team takes their flying saucer to a nuclear base that's been taken over by a powerful psychic bad guy—the extremely goofy-looking, fez-wearing Shadow King. He and Psyclocke psychic fight, and while the good guys seemingly win, Shadow King has released Angel's evil "Archangel" persona.
Second, Magneto, wearing an extremely ill-fitting helmet, infiltrates X-Force's X-Cavern HQ in order to ask a favor of Wolverine—he wants Wolvie to kill a former Nazi officer for him. It's all played rather mysteriously, and is a rather quiet issue for the series. Wolverine complies; doing it all by himself, out of costume, and with a samurai sword rather than his claws.

My main take away was that Tan's Magneto needs some work, and there's a scene or two that would have been funny if staged a little better.

Third, we get back to the Apocalypse-rising-in-Angel story, as The Shadow King gives a journalist the "story" of X-Force (which is, remember, a top-secret, off-the-books endeavor), and then Archangel tries to kill the story by killing the journalist. Wolverine and Psylocke stop and cage him, but realize they need to "fix" him before he becomes Apocalypse (And this, incidentally, puts the team back in the same conflict as the first story arc, whether to kill someone in order to prevent the evil deeds they will likely commit in the future; in the first story, it was an innocent little kid, whereas here it's their friend and teammate and, for Psylocke, lover).

To figure out what's going on, they kidnap Dark Beast (Who is, as far as I can tell without turning to Wikipedia, just like Beast, but a bad guy from a different dimension), and he explains that Apocalypse planted his death seed in Angel (ew), and now that Apocalypse is dead, Angel is experiencing his "ascension" as the "heir of Apocalypse." The only way to save him is to cleans the death seed with a life seed, and the only place they can get one of those is...The Age of Apocalypse. (Which X-Men fans of a certain age know is the name of some crossover series or another from the mid-90s, in which Gambit temporarily had a less idiotic costume than he usually wears).

This begins "The Dark Angel Saga" properly, although Angel, Dark or otherwise, is absent from it. Dark Beast leads Wolverine, Psylocke, Deadpool and Fantomex to the dystopian world of the "Age of Apocalypse," joining whatever previous storylines occurred there already in progress. There, dead X-People like Nightcrawler and Jean Grey are still alive, bad guys like Sabertooth are good guys, and Wolverine is Apocalypse, which promises a climax that will include, as Deadpool puts it, "Hot Wolverine on Wolverine action!" (I don't generally like Deadpool, but I like the serious version in a serious milieu that Remender writes in Uncanny X-Force; his Deadpool is more of a Spider-Man like quipper than an out-and-out cartoon character, and I was surprised to find myself so completely agreeing with him when Dark Beast started talking about the Age of Apocalypse and Deadpool interrupts with, "Oh, hey, I'm sorry, you must have mistaken us for people who care about your stupid fake world's history").

Also, the non-mutant heroes on this world are pretty crazy. There's an Iron Man/Ghost Rider amalgam? And an Orange Hulk, who is just the Hulk, only orange...?

Anyway, our world's X-Force teams up with this world's X-Men in order to fight Wolvapocalypse and steal his life seed, which isn't as dirty as it sounds, and with which they hope to save both of their worlds from X-Men-turned-Apocalypses. It doesn't go according to plan, but the whole endeavor made for an interesting clash of the more old-school, goofy X-Men characters and plotlines that I always found impenetrable and off-putting with the more modern, new-reader friendly (or friendlier, anyway) storytelling of this title.

Also, I never realized that I wanted to read a Fantomex/Gambit team-up until I saw the pair sharing panel space in this storyline:
Now I want our Gambit to hang out with Fantomex for a while, and if they threw in Rogue, had them all team-up to fight Batroc The Leaper, and wrote all the dialogue phonetically, that would be awesome.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The good, the bad and the ugly of Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 3: Mad

(Okay, let's try this again.) Please forgive the title for this too-long-in-the-works blog post. I'm not crazy about it, but it seems apropos given the subject matter: The collection of a Gregg Hurwitz-written, Ethan Van Sciver and Szymon Kudranski-drawn story arc from Batman: The Dark Knight. You can't tell from the cover that DC chose for the collection, but the story arc details the origin of, and an epic confrontation with, the villain The Mad Hatter, so the "Mad" of the sub-title refers to a Victorian brand of insanity, and not the child-like angry emotion the grumpy Batman posing on the cover seems to be projecting.

There's an awful lot of solid craft on display throughout the book, and, for the most part, Hurwitz's script is inventive, fairly tightly-plotted and boasting a few original ideas and even some nice, sharp writing. It has its problems though, probably more and bigger problems than it has attributes, and it read to me like a very strong second-to-last draft to an excellent Batman story arc, with those problems in the script being rather easily repaired after a conversation with an engaged editor (Mike Marts, the book's editor, apparently didn't see or have the same problems with the story that I did...and I imagine successful prose novelist and professional comics writer Hurwitz wouldn't place much value on the criticisms offered by a semi-professional comics critic he's never heard of, but I'm going to go ahead and write them up anyway).

I previously reviewed Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 3: Mad at Robot 6, and that short-ish, eight-paragraph review accurately reflects my reading and opinion of the book, but I did want to re-address it here, as I can devote more time, space and attention to it—as well as share some images from it—in a way that wouldn't have been quite as feasible at Robot 6.

This format also for a better enumeration of the books many virtues, its many more problems and, of course, its occasional ugliness. It's one thing to talk about how poor Kudranski's artwork is in places, but it's much easier and more effective to show you an image and say, "Look at how ugly this is."

So....


THE GOOD


1.) I really, really like how Ethan Van Sciver draws Batman's cape. Van Sciver has drawn Batman on several occasionas in the past, at greatest length in the 2004, two-part miniseries Batman and Catwoman: Trail of the Gun.

The Batman he draws here is technically dressed in the over-fussy New 52 costume, complete with huge metal gauntlets (with grooves corresponding to the scallops on the forearms) and the bat-shaped kneepads.

Van Sciver sells the armored-up Batman costume pretty well in general, though. There's a scene where we see Batman suiting up, and what used to be his cowl is shown to be a standalone helmet and neck brace now, complete with a visor that lowers the mask portion over his face.
Where Van Sciver deviates is in the drawing of the cape, which, like the one he's drawn on Batman in the past, resembles enormous bat-wings. Now, having Batman's cape flare out like giant bat-wings is an artistic flourish that pretty much everyone who has ever drawn Batman has engaged in before, but Van Sciver goes a step further, drawing the cape with umbrella-like structures running through it, as if it were built by Batman to resemble bat-wings, rather than simply being a cape that an artist can draw to look more like bat-wings during dramatic scenes.
Additionally, Van Sciver's Batman can wrap his cape around himself, occasionally resembling a bat with its wings folded around itself. I think that looks pretty cool.

2.) Van Sciver's adventurous lay-outs. Did you know that Batman has been dating a concert pianist named Natalya Trusevich since...well, for about two years now? (Our time; about a year his time). If you haven't been reading Batman: The Dark Knight, chances are you didn't. While I haven't been reading all of the Bat-books religiously, I think I'm pretty well caught up on them all at this point, and I don't recall Trusevich appearing anywhere other than Dark Knight.

About halfway through the first issue of this story arc, Bruce Wayne and Natalya have an intense conversation in which she expresses her displeasure at his secretive lifestyle and apparent unwillingness to commit; she also hints that she might know what his big secret really is. Eventually, they decide to part ways. The entire three-page sequence is layed-out in two tiers, with smaller, square panels running across the tops of the pages, and the rest of the page dominated by a close up drawing of piano keys, with the white keys serving as additional panels, broken up by the black keys.

I don't know that it necessarily worked better than it might have otherwise, but it was interesting at any rate, along the lines of what J.H. Williams III was always doing in Batwoman.

There's another sequence later, a two-page splash in which Batman is seated at the Bat-computer, surrounded by floating holographic "windows" representing different pages or screens, akin to what Tony Stark was using in the Iron Man movies, in which Van Sciver draws the scene from a high angle, looking down, and we see Bruce in the middle of this whirlpool of data and he does his computerized detective work.

Say what you will about Van Sciver's work (I generally like it, myself), but here it's exceptionally interesting looking.

3.) Hurwitz and Van Sciver fairly completely re-create The Mad Hatter, for a higly original take. Hurwitz similarly gave new, not-really-needed origin stories to The Penguin (in 2011's The Penguin: Pain and Prejudice miniseries with Kudranski) and The Scarecrow (in 2012 Batman: The Dark Knight story arc "Cycle of Violence," with David Finch).

Debuting way back in 1948, The Mad Hatter is actually one of the oldest and vital of the Batman villains one's likely to see in usage these days. While his portrayal has changed over the decades and from medium-to-medium the same way so many of the other Batman villains of a similar vintage have, he was generally a man obsessed with committing crimes having to do with hats (his desire to possess Batman's distinctive cowl being one source of their conflicts), or having to do with Lewis Carroll's Alice books, or some combination of the two.

As for his modus operandi, he's an ingenious scientist who has created a means of effecting limited mind-control, generally by putting a mind-control device near the head of another person. Like in a hat, for example.

The Carroll obsession has been the dominant portrayal for the last few decades, perhaps owing to the influence and success of the Batman: The Animated Series episode that served as his origin story ("Mad as a Hatter," which is right up there with the Mr. Freeze episode in my esteem). Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale gave him an origin story in 1994's Batman: Madness—A Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special (collected in Batman: Haunted Knight), in which it was rather heavily implied that he was a pedophile and in which the character was dramatically reduced in size.

As for other Hatter stories, he played a minor role in the two Loeb/Sale "Year One" epics Long Halloween and Dark Victory, hearned an arc in the Greg Rucka-written, limited color pallete of Detective Comics (2001's #758-760), was spotlighted in the second Joker's Asylum miniseries and Gail Simone used him in one of her early Villains United/Secret Six stories, mostly to make jokes about him having sex with hats.

Hurwitz's new origin finds young Jervis Tetch as the good-hearted son of a good-hearted Gotham City haberdasher, who one day hopes he will take over the family business. He has a lot of friends, including a beautiful blond girl named Alice Dee, with whom he shares on perfect little-kid date. When he reaches adolescence however, it becomes apparent that he's just not growing as fast as his peers, and Alice only likes him as a friend.

He starts wearing a top hat and lifts to look bigger, and he starts taking an experimental drug to make him grow. It doesn't work, but it does have some pretty dramatic side-effects, including making him irrationally angry and causing him to start losing his hair at a young age.

He grows up to become a Gotham City supervillain, of course. His grand scheme here is to use his mind-control technology to stage a grand re-creation of that one perfect day he spent with his Alice, which means sets need constructed and actors need cast. Despite his ability to control minds, he also coerces people through threats and violence.

In addition to his origin tweaks and his new-ish, altered appearance—which include eyes that don't look in the same direction at the same time—Hurwitz's Mad Hatter drinks various teas, each of which creates a particular effect on him. For example, before his climactic battle with Batman, he blows a handful of "Special Tea Psycho" in Batman's face, making the Dark Knight hallucinate. The Hatter drinks the same blend to give him adrenaline and get him ready for a fight.

I don't necessarily like all of the differences between this Mad Hatter and previous ones, in the same way I don't think Hurwitz improved either The Penguin or The Scarecrow by his tweaks to those characters, but I appreciate the fact that he is taking advantage of the New 52 reboot to reinvent characters, to do something new instead of simply doing something over.

4.) Van Sciver's covers are really good. You can't really tell from the one that DC used for the cover of the collection, which is really only the right half of the cover from the issue that shipped during gatefold cover month, which they almost called "WTF? Certified" month.

But a few of them are full of creepy, crazy, sometimes grotesque imagery. For example:


I particularly like the little "Cheshire Bat" in the second of those covers above, the one for issue #17 (Wow, looking at the covers as published, DC sure covered up a lot of Van Sciver's art with text, didn't they?)

5.) I thought this was funny. Even if I have a hard time imagining Batman saying "nope" when a "no" would do just as well.

6.)"Bata-Mining." The second issue opens with the perviously mentioned two-page spread of Batman in the middle of a maelstrom of glowing, holographic computer windows, with Alfred approaching to deliver a cup of steaming hot tea.

"There's no record of Jervis Tetch anywhere, but the Bata-Mining software traced a few wire transfers from his account before he disappeared."

When Alfred responds, "Down the rabbit hole?" and Batman shows that he's not in the mood with a simple e of "Alfred," our favorite super-butler responds with the barb, "Apologies. But is it really worse than 'Bata-mining'?"

I love the idea of Batman as an obsessive-compulsive brander, slapping Bat-logos on everything and making his tools and possessions his by adding the prefix "Bat-" to them. That said, when I first saw the word "Bata-mining," I thought it was a typo, because "data" is a real word, and Batman's usual pattern would be to simply refer to what he's doing as, say, "Bat-data-mining."

But it was just a set-up for an Alfred zinger, so that's cool.

7.) "He's a freakin' pterodactyl." In the final issue of the story arc, Batman arrives at police headquarters and finds his Natalya Trusevich's corpse embedded in the glass of the Bat-signal (more on that in the "bad" portion below). After taking an entire panel to mourn for his murdered girlfriend...
...Batman grits his teeth, leaps to the roof, dashes across it in a Neal Adams-style run, his cape stiffening around him like bat-wings while an enormous bolt of lighting fills the night sky.

"I've never seen him like that," Commissioner Gordon says to one of the several anonymous police officers around him.

"He was like a stealth bomber," one of them replies, offering a simile that makes no sense at all (Other than the fact that Batman and a stealth bomber both have wings and are black in color, I guess...?). "The Bat's gone insane."

"He's not a bat anymore," Gordon says. "He's a freakin' pterodacytl."

That bit of dialogue reminded me of Geoff Johns' writing, as it occupies that same rather dumb/sort of awesome territory that Johns' writing so thoroughly owns. I can't tell if Hurwitz means it to be funny, I can't tell if if he means it to be funny in the precise way that I find it to be funny and I can't tell why exactly I find it so hilarious, but the "he's a freakin' pterodactyl" line cracked me up.


THE BAD

1.) The Tweedles as henchmen. Golden Age Batman villains who have been around even longer than The Mad Hatter (and The Riddler), the Tweedles debuted in 1943. They don't actually have a lot going for them; they were basically identical twin criminals who fought Batman and Robin by rolling and bouncing around on their fat bodies. I can't really recall reading many stories to feature the Tweedles, let alone good stories (Garth Ennis/John McCrea's four-part Demon arc "Hell's Hitman" featured them in a minor role, and Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen's TEC #841, featuring "The Wonderland Gang," was nicely drawn and kinda clever). So it's really not that big a deal that Hurwitz here reduces them to mere muscle—Van Sciver has drawn them as big, bulky, egg-shaped men resembling slightly more realistic, tougher-looking versions of the Tweedles in the Tim Burton directed Alice In Wonderland—but it still seems, at least conceptually, off or wrong to so demote the characters.

2.) The savagery of The Hatter. In this story arc Hurwitz essentially turns The Mad Hatter into a differently-themed Joker; a soul-less mass murderer with a three-figure body count who kills calmly, casually and on a frequent basis (All of Batman's rogues seem to be turning into Joker-like mass murderers these days, which really rather stretches one's ability to suspend disbelief regarding the state and federal government's willingness to keep passing out not guilty by reason of insanity verdicts to men and women who are no longer just serial killers, but mass murderers and terrorists. Hell, even Harley Quinn recently murdered what had to be scores of people when she bombed children all over Gotham City in the pages Detective Comics #23.2).

In a flashback, The Mad Hatter kills a pet rabbit as a child. During the "casting" process for his memory re-enactment he guns down anyone whose forced audition he doesn't like. He snaps the neck of one underling with his bare hands. In one particularly memorable scene, he has the Tweedles set a stepladder down in front of one of his underlings, and then climbs up it and plunges his thumbs into the man's eye-sockets.

When he finally tracks down Alice Dee and finds that she's now a middle-aged wife and mother of three, smoking a cigarette while ironing laundry in front of the television, he beats her to death with the iron (This scene is actually staged somewhat tastefully, as Van Sciver draws the Hatter striding away from the murder scene still clutching the gory iron, blood splatter on his face, while the bashed-in head of the corpse on the floor in the background is obscured by The Hatter in the foreground. Yes, that actually counts as tasteful for DC Comics in the 21st century).

At one point in the narrative, he orders all of his mind-controlled thralls to drown themselves. When Batman asks how many, Gordon responds, "Hundreds. All ages, genders, ethnicities. And kids, too. Children.."

And, of course, The Hatter has Batman's girlfriend Natalya Trusevich killed. He kidnaps her and tries to beat Batman's secret identity out of her, calling in one of the Tweedles to take over punching her for him (This scene is drawn by Kudranski, so its dark, blurry and doesn't make much in the way of realistic visual sense, so it's not as upsetting as it could be. There are a few red panels with black blood splatter, and the sound effect WHAM!, and then we see an image of Trusevich with liquid, presumably blood, on her face.)

Finally, they throw her out of a helicopter with terrific aim, her body landing directly atop the Bat-signal on the roof of police headquarters.

3.) The cliches of Natalya's death. So the reason superheroes usually give for justifying the fact that they keep their identities secret is that, if their villains ever discovered their true identities, they would immediately go after their friends and loved ones, hurting these innocent associates as a way to get at the heroes. In Batman comics and other stories, this is usually played as a sort of tragic, romantic tension: Aflred and others worry that Bruce Wayne will never truly fall in love or find a romantic partner with whom to spend his life, Bruce always meets amazing women and comes close to forming a real relationship with them, only to pull back, not wanting to jeopardize his life's work of dressing up like a bat to fight crime and/or endanger them.

Sometimes he does actually share his secret identity, and then the women totally get killed.

As mentioned previously, Batman breaks up with Natalya early in this arc because his secret life is coming between them.

Later, Batman has a creepy dream or memory about his parents, in which his mother tells him that what the really wants for him, above all else is "to be known. Really known, by another person." Like, Biblially? "There's a fear in showing all the parts of ourselves to someone else," but when you do, and they accept you, "that's the most wonderful thing in the world."

So Bruce Wayne gets in his Batplane, flies over to Natalya's, drags her to the window, where he's left it in park and flies her to the Batcave, saying "THis is who I am" over and over again.

They then do it in the Batcave. This is another Kudranski-drawn passage, so there's no telling where or what they did it on—does Batman keep a mattress or Bat-futon down there for such occasions? Is there a big bed behind the giant penny? Who knows?

Natalya frets that she's late for her concert performance, and that she'll never make it in time, but Batman flies her there in his Batplane and drops her off—one of the perks of being Batman's girlfriend.

But wait, what's this? One of The Mad Hatter's many hat-wearing, mind-controlled spies has seen Natalya exiting the Bat-plane, and he calls it in. The Hatter sees Natalya, and immediately thinks she would be the perfect person to play his Alice in his memory re-creation. So he kidnaps her.

And, as previously stated, attempts to cajole and beat the secret of Batman's identity out of her, tortures her and, ultimately, kills her. So, in, like, a matter of hours Hurwitz reenacts the worst case scenario justifying Batman never telling anyone his secret identity: Better to simply bang broads and keep secrets from them.

It's cliche and it's a bizarre example of fridging a supporting character to one of the few superheroes who has absolutely no need to be motivated by the death of a lover or loved one because that's kinda sorta always been his whole deal and it makes Alfred and Batman's mom look like a couple of dumb a-holes for suggesting Batman pursue a relationship not built completely on lies sometime.

The speed of this whole cycle of events really makes the cliches seem even worse, too. There's no drama, this isn't something anyone struggles with; Batman shares his secret identity, and before the day's over the woman he shared it with is totally dead.

4.) Batman on the warpath. Also as previously stated, when Batman sees what The Hatter and Tweedles have done to Natalya, he loses his shit, turning into a "freakin' pterodactyl" (Hundreds of anonymous victims? That's sad and all, but it's not the same and losing your lover, I guess).

He hops in his Batplane and flies straight from the murder scene to The Mad Hatter's secret base. When Alfred suggests that Batman maybe wait a bit, as he's in no state of mind to tackle the villain, Batman responds, "Let me be clear, Penny one. If you try to stop me, I will run you over."

What a dick.

So Batman beat the shit out of a bunch of mind-controlled muscle, and brutally attacks the Tweedles: One he shoots with some kind of Batarangs-on-a-Batline bolo thingee that pins him that entwines him in wire and pins him to the wall, leaving him begging "Please...the pain...don't..."

The other he punches so hard that he knocks his jaw off, leaving it dangling grotesquely by the skin.

And then he gets to the Mad Hatter who, remember, despite all his evil acts, is still a spindly, four-foot-tall guy wearing platform shoes.

Our hero flying kicks him. He picks him up and throws him. The Hatter starts to crawl away on his knees, and Batman kicks him in the face, dislodging two of his teeth. "P-Please!" Hatter begs, and Batman gets on top of him and just starts pounding him in the face; The Hatter cries and begs him to stop, Alfred shouts in Batman's ear piece "Good God. You're going to kill him!" And Batman's angry face is covered in the Hatter's sprayed blood.

Batman gives him one more uppercut, sending him flying unconscious into a nearby pool, where the bleeding villain begins to sink face first. Batman turns away, and Alfred starts cajoling him through his earpiece:
Pull him out.

This isn't you!

You don't do this!

You can't. You can't do this. Because then it will be true. Then you'll be no different than them.
It's that last bit that apparently got through to Batman, as it caused him to stop, then turn around and dive into the water to rescue The Hatter.

Having Alfred talk Batman out of killing a foe in a vengeful rage is all well and good, but Alfred's particular argument here isn't very compelling, and it's hard to imagine that getting through to Batman at that particular point in time.

Alfred is essentially finding equivalency between The Hatter (and his ilk's) killings and Batman killing The Hatter. But, remember, The Mad Hatter has killed hundreds of innocent Gothamites, including children, for no reason. The Batman, had he gone through with killing the Hatter, would have killed one—just one—person, a person who had murdered hundreds of innocent people and would, in all likelihood, continue to kill. The scales aren't exactly even in this case, Alf.

A police officer would have shot The Hatter the moment the fight began. The President of The United States would have ordered a remote controlled drone to fire a missile at him for killing far fewer Americans, had he done so in a different country. Batman drowning the Mad Hatter here, even under these circumstances—in which Batman clearly has the upper-hand and comes across more as a bully than a righteous warrior—is hardly in the same ballpark as what The Hatter has done.

I know "Should The Batman Kill?" is a popular topic of conversation for comics fans and Batman fans, and I'm strongly in the "Hell no, never" camp. Practically, it doesn't make a lot of sense, as if Batman did kill, his rogue's gallery would end up looking more like The Punisher's than that of, say, Spider-Man and The Flash. Personally, my explanation for why the Batman shouldn't kill would be that he swore an oath to his dead parents, maybe as a child, that he would never take a human life, never put anyone through what he went through (even if The Hatter or The Joker deserve to die, maybe they have friends and family?); I imagine that as he faces more and more evil, Batman will realize the practicality of occasionally having to kill his most monstrous foes, but he would take that vow to his parents so seriously that he wouldn't bend or break it, no matter how illogical it might seem (Because Batman's crazy; I used to like the "broken" conception of the character, but Grant Morrison andDean Trippe and other's have convinced me that Batman-as-crazy person may not be as good or even as likely a reading as the Batman-as-super-sane person, so now I think of Batman as an extremely mentally healthy genius, with only two real manifestations of insanity: His obsessive-compulsive need to label everything with a bat, and his pathological refusal to kill under any and all circumstances, up to and including doing really crazy shit, like resuscitating a dying Joker).

Anyway, Batman got so mad he almost killed someone here, which is fine—we've seen that happen, what, 9,000 times before? This instance struck me as a little apalling mainly because of what a mismatched fight it was—The Hatter, like The Penguin, isn't exactly in Batman's weight class, and here he doesn't even have any weapons or get in any good blows; it's a beatdown more than a fight. And because of the particularly false-sounding rhetoric that Alfred used to talk him out of it; surely a "What would your parents think if they saw you now?" or something in that vein would have been better than a "If you do kill this one mass-murderer, you're practically committing an act of terrorism." (Alfred, unlike Gordon or any of the Robins or the folks that generally talk Batman out of beating people to death when he's really pissed off is actually in the unique position to be able to effectively evoke the memory of Batman's parents).

5.) Batman doesn't do anything to stop The Mad Hatter. The weirdest thing about this story, for me anyway, was that once Batman learned that it was The Mad Hatter behind the rash of kidnappings discussed on the very first page of the story arc, and that he knows the Mad Hatter is using his mind control technology to "take" people, Batman doesn't sit down and start working on a way to counteract the mind-control tech.

They never really get in to how it works (radio waves? Wi-fi?), but a signal is sent from somewhere to all the other where's, giving The Hatter control of the actions of anyone wearing one of his hats. Batman figures this out pretty quickly, but he doesn't sit down at his work bench with some generic circuit boards and a little electrical tool with a blue light on the tip of it as expected, coming up with a countermeasure—some way to block are override the signal.

Instead, he spends him time searching for The Hatter via raiding warehouses and interrogating a Tweedle (why, couldn't he track the hat-signals?), and then going on a date.


THE UGLY

Van Sciver draws four of the six issues in this arc, and Kudranski the remaining two (The collection also includes Dark Knight Annual #1 by Hurwitz and Kudranki, in which Batman psychologically tortures but doesn't capture or arrest villains The Penguin, Scarecrow and Mat Hatter).

Kudranski is fucking terrible.

Beyond that, though, his art doesn't look the least bit like Van Sciver's, and he doesn't even stick to the designs Van Sciver has established for the characters, so no one and nothing looks alike in the two distinct views we're given within the storyline.

I think this might have been the very worst part of the story; if you haven't read this comic, what do you make of this rorschach of a comic book panel?
Did you guess that it's obviously a bunch of drowned corpses being washed out of a drainage pipe...? If so, you sure made sense out of that image quicker than me. I had to puzzle over it for a while, eventually gave up and read the narration and dialogue for clues, and then went back to figure it out.

Compare it to Van Sciver's drawing of the same thing, from one of the covers to the story arc:
The human bodies washing out of a drain pipe are a little easier to recognize there, huh? Even though on the cover t hey are merely a bit of background design and not, you know, the whole point that the image is devoted to conveying.

Here is a bad scan of the maybe the worst of Kudranski's work in the book, which is from the annual that serves as a sort of back up to "Mad":
If you need context, Batman has tricked The Penguin, The Mad Hatter and The Scarecrow to meeting at The Arkham Detention Facility For Youth.

There, Batman scares the bejeezus out of them through various means; I think he doses them with Crane's fear gas, but it's not entirely clear. At any rate, after they relive their greatest fears and aspects of their new, Hurwitz-conceived origin stories, they all end up unconscious at the bottom of a big, grand staircase. The above page shows them waiting for the night to end and the sun to come up.

As you can see, Kudranski just dropped the same image of the background in, and then placed the same image of the three characters atop it, only altering them slightly in the last panel (and messing with the lighting).

What he doesn't do is position them in anyway that makes any sense. So that The Penguin, supposedly lying on his back, is levitating above the floor. The Hatter, in the backgorund, is drawn as if kneeling on his knees, but, as you can see, he's actually floating above the ground as well.

That is not a good page. It's not even a bad page. It's...well, I went with ugly, because "The Good, The Bad and The So Appalling I Can't Believe It Even Saw Print" didn't have the same ring to it...