Trying something a little new with the way I blog about the comics I read, in order to better reflect the way I'm currently consuming comics (that is, not necessarily on an every-Wednesday-afternoon-basis). This is likely going to be a pain-in-the-ass to read, and I remember learning at the start of my blog that successful blogs post daily instead of, you know, a couple times a month, but it's not like I make any money off EDILW anyway, so I don't suppose it matters overmuch if this endeavor is "successful" or not. Anyway, let me know how much more you hate this than you did the "Comic Shop Comics" or "Weekly Haul" features in the comments...
In this issue, Catwoman and The Joker spend the majority of the page-count trapped together and engaged in conversation. That conversation is mostly quite well-written. They reminisce about the old days, gossip about their peers among Batman's rogues gallery, compare and contrast one another, discuss the way they view the Batman and so on. Little of this is particularly revealing, of course, and if you've read enough Batman comics, chances are you will have read various forms of The Joker's beliefs about himself and Batman.
One rather big thing happens, when Catwoman apparently attempts to kill The Joker--she slashes his throat with her claws somewhere around page five or so--and after a dozen or so pages of them talking, he seems to finally bleed out and die. I say seems to, because it's not entirely clear whether he actually died or not, but the two of them seem to think he will if he goes through with a certain course of action that he engages in here (And also because it's not like DC is actually going to kill off The Joker; in fact, he's currently appearing in Justice League right this moment. I know there are supposedly three Jokers in the DCU, but since DC announced that Geoff Johns will be writing a miniseries sub-titled Three Jokers, I think it's safe to say that none of them will be killed off before that).
If much of the conversational aspects of the comic work fairly well--even if, structurally, it's a bit obvious, and a callback to the irritating prologue to the arc that appeared in DC Nation #0--the structure doesn't from the perspective of basic common sense (this was a problem with King's worst bit of Bat-writing to date, the nonsensically plotted "War of Jokes and Riddles").
The plot for the story is this: The Joker wants to talk to Batman about the wedding, so he attacks an in-progress wedding in a big, fancy Gotham City church and kills every person there. Batman dutifully arrives too late to save the day, and the two archenemies fight one another yet again. Then The Joker activates a bomb he had set beforehand, blowing up a large portion of the church and burying an unconscious Batman in rubble. Catwoman then arrives to rescue Batman, and she and The Joker fight. After he fires 14 shots from his revolver that holds six bullets--I'm no gun guy, but we literally see him reloading it with six bullets at one point near the climax, after those 14 shots--their fight ends in a draw. Catwoman slashes his throat open and he shoots her in the side. They collapse right next to one another, but neither can finish the other one off, as Catwoman has to hold her would to keep herself from bleeding out, and The Joker can't risk letting go of his bleeding throat long enough to reload his finally empty gun, which I guess has -8 bullets at this point, or he'll bleed out.
So they talk. For hours.
As with the DC Nation story, each page or so opens with a caption saying "Later...", which King presumably uses so that the conversation doesn't have to have an organic flow or structure to it; he can just jump from scene to scene of it, giving the reader what are either meant to be the highlights, or to indicate that the two characters fall silent for periods of time and then speak up occasionally.
However much time actually passes, the "Later..." captions makes it seem like a lot of time. So there's a wedding, or maybe wedding rehearsal, at a big, fancy church in Gotham City. A notorious criminal/terrorist/supervillain storms the church, murders, I don't know, maybe a dozen people. Vigilante/superhero Batman jumps through a stained glass window to attempt to capture the The Joker. More shots are fired, more people are killed. Then a bomb goes off. Then another series of gun shots goes off as The Joker is confronted by another vigilante.
Are there no police at all in Gotham City? Are there no citizens? None of the screaming wedding people being gunned down got off a cellphone call to 9/11? (Holy shit, Public Enemy was right!) No one heard gunshots and explosions and more gunshots? Hell, no one drove by the church and thought, "Huh, I don't remember that wall being caved-in and smoking..." Batman has about 15 sidekicks and a Justice League, but the always-plans-ahead superhero doesn't have anything in his suit or belt to call for help if he's under a pile of rubble for over an hour? Alfred didn't call to remind him of a meeting or ask what he wants for breakfast/dinner at any point during the night...?
If the wedding Joker attacked to set this story rolling were a destination wedding at a bed and breakfast upstate, or even an abandoned church near "Monstertown" or some under-populated part of the city, fine, but jeez, it's distractingly weird how the story seems to want a sense of "no one is coming to help" given its very public setting and its "That's the sort of thing that might attract attention" events.
Batman, by the way, spends 19 of the 20 pages knocked out. We see his unconscious body in the second panel, and then don't see or hear from him the rest of the issue...not until the last page, when his dialogue bubbles come from off-panel as he wakes up after, like, a night.
It's the best-made bad comic I've read in a while.
By the way, I really think Mikel Janin draws a swell Joker.
Given the relatively little connective tissue to one another or the events in Batman, each of these one-shots has worked as more-or-less standalone stories, although what pleasure they provide will likely depend much on how fond one is of the characters involved.
This one features Harley Quinn versus her former boyfriend and boss The Joker, and as writer Tim Seeley frames it as an exploration of their relationship to one another, it is essentially a story I've seen told at least twice before in the mainstream DC continuity since The New 52 continuity began (And, in fact, I just read a version of it in the penultimate issue of Bombshells, which was a little weird in that The Joker was introduced into that narrative for the first time specifically for the purposes of Harley expressing his lack of power over her).
That said, this may be the best version of that too-often-told story. Seeley skips over some of the hows in order for the story to begin in a rather spectacularly weird way, and with The Joker back on his heels. Harley Quinn has captured him and subjected him to an old-fashioned death trap. He escapes. And she immediately catches him, plopping him into another old-fashioned, elaborate death trap, while she taunts him wearing different red-and-black costumes.
The set-up goes to an old argument among the pair, and while they talk about their relationship to one another, there's an awful lot of showing, and artist Sami Basri, here colored by Jessica Kholinne, makes sure that everything shown looks gorgeous.
Essentially, it's a fight between who should be Batman Bruce Wayne's best man...by determining who his best friend really is: Childhood friend Tommy Elliott or one-time ward Dick Grayson.
Actually...I'm not really sure if Dick was ever Bruce's ward in the current continuity or not. Batman continuity was left largely un-fucked-with by Flashpoint outside of Barbara Gordon, but when you look too closely at any of his sidekicks and the tenuous timeline, it sort of falls apart. He was only teamed with Dick for something like 10 months or so, even though Dick aged something like three years in that time...? I don't know.
Anyway, it's sort of weird in that I think we tend to think of their relationship as closer to that of father and son, where here they are presented closer to best friends, and while I wouldn't argue that Dick isn't one of the people who knows Bruce best and who Bruce is most comfortable with, the traditional imbalance in their power and age, and the fact that one was the legal guardian of the other for so long, makes that feel somewhat forced.
Not that it matters since, spoiler alert, Superman is going to be Batman's best man after all. That's one of the wedding details that comes out of this miniseries--presented as a series of one-shots--that isn't coming out of Tom King's Batman, where the wedding storyline has been unfolding. As Nightwing recaps in the limo, "Batman and Catwoman are getting married. But Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle arent. Not publicly, anyway."
As for the bachelor party, it is surprisingly small. No Alfred. No Jim Gordon. No Tim or Jason. No Justice League bros. Just Batman, Nightwing and Superman, all in costume, being driven to Bat Burger in a limo by a Superman robot. (Or, as Nightwing puts it, "a driver who's guaranteed to keep his mouth shut.") After a fast food meal, they are going to go fishing together in a pocket dimension, when Hush attacks and the fighting that dominates the issue takes place.
Fast food and fishing. What a boring bachelor party. I feel like these three partied harder on the covers to World's Finest in the 1940s.*
Laila is a rather little girl living an isolated life with her over-busy, over-burdened mother, and kept home from school--and thus away from other kids her age--while her mother wrestles with financial issues and resolving some outstanding problems with Laila's seemingly estranged father.
One day, while looking out the window and into the park, Laila spots a large, bipedal bird picking through a garbage pin. And they make eye-contact. And the bird rushes right over to her house to confront her. The bird is the titular dodo, but it's a little off-model--although how does Laila know what a long-extinct bird who shows up in her modern South American city, living like a hobo in the park, is supposed to look like...? (Personally, I was somewhat struck by how different it looked in the interior art than it did on the cover; its legs move and bend in some ways I found somehow unsettling within the story).
While Laila cautiously attempts to befriend the bird while hiding it from her mother and babysitter, Dodo does not progress as expected. Rather than a touching comedy about friendship, the dodo represents Laila's repressed feelings, and when it eventually explodes, wrecking the house, it uncovers a life-altering secret that transforms Laila's world. It's something of a psychological drama, then.
Nunes' art is great, although highly stylized in a way that doesn't always appeal to me. His lead character has a world-weariness built into her expressions--as do all the other human characters in the short book--and there's a probably not coincidental bird-like aspect to her face. The dodo is extremely expressive and boasts a rather large amount of range given its inherent limitations.
It's an odd book, but one well worth engaging with.
Rather, Snyder seems to have nailed Morrison's vision of the League as a sort of council of peers who are devoted to stemming off the apocalypse...which seems to confront them on such a regular basis that it's almost routine for them...but not so routine that the confrontations become boring. The events are big and insane--the League destroys Earth's moon in this issue, as a single move to help save the day--and they gamble with stakes that are high almost beyond conception. Like, you know, all existence.
In this issue at least Snyder also invents a big, huge threat that requires a large swathe of DC superheroes to deal with it, a conflict that might be a six-issue arc in another Justice League book, but here is something that occurs off in the margins, something to give everyone something to do while building towards the real story. Here, that's immortal caveman Vandal Savage and his sleeper cells of differently-evolved Neanderthals--Neo-anderthals--launching coordinated attacks while Earth's crust is magnetically removed. To combat this, the new League--everyone on the cover, minus John Stewart, who hasn't formally joined the team yet--not only divide into separate teams, but they recruit a bunch of other heroes to help out, some of whom Cheung draws into the background, other of whom are just name-dropped.
Also Morrison-esque? Martian Manhunter is the leader of the League, and they're communicating through his telepathy again, rather than relying on something more technological.
Also striking about the issue was the way in which Snyder has fan-ish elements to his take on the Justice League--Super Friends' Hall of Justice headquarters and The Legion of Doom, Cartoon Network's Justice League cartoon's line-up--but even if they are familiar, they are used for a reason, and he and his artistic collaborators seem to here make them their own. The Hall of Justice is a pretty good example of this, as there are new and unusual elements to it, although the basic concept is familiar enough that it would--without those elements--be downright tiresome.
Weirdest of all, at least for me, is the inclusion of so much pre-Flashpoint, old DCU stuff. The second panels is set "85,000" years in the future, and features the android Hourman and Superman and Wonder Woman One Million (Hourman's costume is his Hourman one, not his DC One Million one, but still!). That first page also includes a Monitor, Kamandi and Dr. Canus and Alex Ross and Mark Waid's Quintessence (albeit with Hera in for her late husband, who has been dead-ish since The New 52 relaunch)
Oh, and on page two, part of a two-page spread introducing the new Hall of Justice, there's a weird panel where there are mannequins wearing the costumes of "everyone" who has ever been on the Justice League, and these include Black Lightning, Black Canary, Green Lantern John Stewart, Gypsy, Firestorm Ronnie Raymond (his original costume, not his New 52 one), Vibe (his original costume, not the one that New 52 Vibe wore while he was on the short-lived, government-sponsored League that was featured in the first of the post-Flashpoint Justice League of America titles) and Ted Kord's Blue Beetle costume. Not only were none of these people ever on the Justice League in current continuity, some of these characters don't exist, nor do their costumes.
After reading the first few pages of this comic, following Snyder's recent League work, I can't help but conclude that the only people who want to pretend that the whole post-Flashpoint, New 52 continuity was nothing more than an over-long Just Imagine...Jim Lee Creating The Ultimate DC Universe! Elseworlds event more than I do are the creators working for DC. And, perhaps, the DC characters themselves, who increasingly ignore recent reboots and continuity rejiggerings in favor of the old stuff.
Anyway, I like everything about this comic book, and am super-excited about the Justice League in a way I haven't been for years and years.
The big change between issues #1 and #2 is, of course, that of the artists. Jim Cheung penciled the first issue of the series, and here the artist he is alternating issues with makes his first appearance. That would be Jorge Jimenez. I like his art quite a bit. It's definitely quite dynamic, and much more so than that of Cheung. The two have such divergent styles though that I question putting them on the same, biweekly book...especially if the plan is to trade alternate issues back and forth like this (the ideal way to have two artists share duties on a more-often-than-monthly book is to have something like a story arc and a half worth of scripts done before they can even start drawing, so that they alternate arcs rather than issues. In a perfect world, the artists would still be within the same universe stylistically, but even if they weren't, if they alternated arcs, it would spare readers aesthetic whiplash. Cheung and Jimenez, while both really good artists, aren't very compatible).
Most notably, Jimenez has some pretty different takes on a few of the characters. His J'onn has an elongated look about him; he's much taller and skinnier than Superman, whose build he usually shares, and he's much more emaciated than he looked last issue (or, if you end up reading this in trade, like four pages ago). His Grodd is much bigger, but with a funnier, cartoonier head, and his Cheetah similarly looks more cute than horrifying in the face.
I like the deepness of Snyder's cuts, and here he introduces a Flash villain I personally like to think of as the character's evil opposite, although Flash creators generally use Captain Cold or a Reverse Flash as his archenemy (actually, Grodd is here as the Flash archenemy on the Legion of Doom...which still needs to add Martian Manhunter, Cyborg and Hawkgirl villains to its line-up). As with the first issue, that deepness seems to suggest that Snyder and company are just going to go ahead and ignore the Flashpoint continuity reboot--here, for example, Batman and Green Lantern John Stewart's conversation sure makes it sound like Cosmic Odyssey is canonical again, Flashpoint/The New 52 be damned.
Nitpicks? I've got some!
--John Stewart punches a captive in the face to shut him up. This is just a personal thing, perhaps, but I don't like seeing superheroes practicing violence against the helpless. It's all contextual, of course; like, seeing Batman punch an already tied-up Joker will obviously feel different than Superman smacking a similarly restrained Toyman. We all know that The Joker is basically Satan himself at this point, and that Batman constantly has to struggle not to lose his shit and murder him. This villain is just some rando alien perp, though, and John Stewart is a space cop and former marine. It's not cool for superheroes to abuse their captives in general, but policeman (their space equivalent or otherwise) and soldiers doing so? That feels so much grosser these days than it might have in the past. Or when I was too young to read/care about the news.
--Saying "Justice League Dark" out loud, as Batman does in this issue, sounds pretty dumb, doesn't it? I've never liked that name much, but man, this really drove home how much better "Justice League Black" might sound...
--I really think the second-to-last word in this issue's script should be "@#$%-ing" instead of "@#$%." That, or "@#$%^&*," as it irritates the @#$% out of me when the number of symbols in a grawlix don't match the number of letters in the word they are standing in for.
Shaner's section touches on the ongoing Rogol Zaar-hates-Krypton plotline and the mystery of Lois within the offices of The Daily Planet, while writer Brian Michael Bendis sends Superman to Coast City to fight Toyman and briefly hang out with Green Lantern Hal Jordan (Ha! When was the last time Hal was actually in Coast City? I haven't been keeping too close watch since Geoff Johns left, but it seems to me that Hal left Coast City somewhere around 2006 and has barely been back from space long enough to sleep overnight there since. I believe he stopped by long enough to fight Convergence's Parallax for an issue or two when he was wearing a trench coat and had long hair...). I really like Shaner's depiction of Toyman, who is here the original design, but tweaked to seem appropriately modern (and like something of a geek who has managed to weaponize his fandom).
Rude's portion also includes some scenes at The Planet, but much of it is focused on space, where we see Superman flying about--there's a really rather elegant depiction of his flying through space at super-speed, using just a nice, thick, ribbon of red to show his flight path--and a bar where Rogol learns that there's still a Kryptonian left alive in the universe. Cameo by Ambush Bug!
Also, the excrutiatingly gradual reveal of the Lois-and-Jon's-whereabouts takes exactly one more baby step forward: There's someone inside the metal bug thing!
I don't really want to spoil the events of the book, but I am curious about the bottle city of Kandor's status quo. Obviously, DC's continuity is, at this point, particularly messy, and Superman's messier than most of the other characters; if I understand correctly, this is the Superman (and Lois) from the pre-Flashpoint DCU, with a year or so added to their lifespans via the events of Convergence, fused with The New 52 Superman (and Lois), but existing in the post-Flashpoint DCU, right? So I guess the bottle city of Kandor is still in a bottle in the post-Flashpoint DCU...? It's been a while, a few continuity rejiggerings ago and I didn't read every issue of every Superman book back then, but didn't the Kandorians all get enlarged in the big "New Krypton" storyline...?
This issue is drawn by Ryan Sook.
So this issue is the one wherein we actually catch up to the events of the Action Comics #1,000 story; in fact, I think it happens about halfway through the issue, right after the longer-than-usual Lois-and-Jon segment. It will be interesting to see how this is collected...if they insert the Lee-drawn story in the middle of this fourth chapter, or if they just include it at the front of the trade, like some sort of in medias res opening scene that the series proper gradually catches up with (As for that Lois-and-Jon scene, we now see who is in the metal bug ship thing, and it is...not so dramatic a reveal that it can sustain three-plus issues of teasing, really. It also made me regret having not read a recent-ish Action Comics story arc, as this seemed like a really big deal to me, even though I know that particular character has appeared recently-ish, and thus isn't actually all that big a deal to the characters themselves).
Green Lantern Hal Jordan reappears in this issue, so we get to see Maguire's current take on current Hal too.
It's weird that Hal introduces himself to a couple of ladies as "the Green Lantern of this sector," right? That seems like the sort of thing a Green Lantern not-native to the planet would say, given that his fellow Earthlings probably know him as "Green Lantern," and not "the Green Lantern of this sector, because obviously there are other sectors of space and there is a Green Lantern or two in each of them."
Wait, is Hal the Green Lantern of this sector...? I thought Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz were the Green Lanterns of this sector, but man, I am so out of touch with the Green Lantern corner of the DCU these days...
After Superman's battle on the moon with Rogol Zaar, the League takes the defeated hero to their new headquarters to recuperate. There's an exterior shot of the Hall of Justice, and three dialogue balloons emanating from it. "Maybe his power source is limited," the first says. The second replies, "Maybe he's full of caca poo poo."
I lingered over the panel for a while, because I couldn't imagine any of the Leaguers saying that line, although Cyborg and The Flash seemed the most likely candidates (but remember, this is the Barry Allen Flash, not the Wally West Flash). In the following panel, we see the League gathered around Superman's bed, and Flash's line is "I meant caca poo poo on some level."
So I guess that is police scientist and grown man Barry Allen talking like Spider-Man in Ultimate Spider-Man or New Avengers circa 2006. Got it.
This is the penultimate issue of Bendis' stage-setting run on the Superman books, and it is mostly dominated by a Superman vs. Rogol Zaar fight, some steps forward with the arson subplot and than a breather with the League leading to double-page splash of a cliffhanging ending. The Jason Fabok-drawn Lois-and-Jon plot gets the most attention yet this issue, with an entire four pages devoted to it. As finally revealed here it...doesn't seem like a very big deal at all. Again, I sat out the last appearance of this particular character, but if everything is as it seems, then Jon and Lois merely seem to be gone for a temporary amount of time, which is all well and good, but it doesn't seem like their temporary absence deserved the weird set-up it was given in the previous four issues. I suppose we'll have to see what happens in the last issue to be sure of that, though.
This issue is drawn by Adam Hughes, whose interior work is rather...infrequent. In fact, the last time I saw it was in the incredibly short-lived reboot of Betty and Veronica, which turned out to be a three-issue miniseries, and even that took something like 45 years to ship in its entirety. His 18 pages are well-drawn of course, but I must confess to finding his Wonder Woman somewhat off-putting at first. She stood out because she looked so familiar compared to all the other characters, and it took me a while to realize why that was: I was so used to seeing Hughes' cover images featuring her on Wonder Woman that she looked like a real person to me, whereas the other people all looked like comic book characters, if that makes any sense at all. Once I realized this, I reviewed all the images of her to see if Hughe still drew her boots all floppy and ill-fitting, as he always did on Wonder Woman covers, but with her new costume, she has, like, well-fitting armor around her lower legs.
Well, there are actually many more "darling" characters in Saga's expansive cast than the one who seemingly gets super-murdered on the last page of this issue, but this particular character has long been one of my favorites...
In the mean time, we've got the JSA in the pages of SDTU which is, in general, the best place to see DC superheroes in their purest form. This particular issue of the series is fun in that it veers so far from anything approaching the Scooby-Doo format; it's a superhero story in which Scooby and the gang appear, and not any form of mystery.
The gang is in Washington D.C., where a time capsule is about to be opened. It turns out the mysterious chest labeled "DO NOT OPEN" is actually full of insubstantial demons, which set about their appointed task of destroying the Washington Monument. Suddenly, Doctor Fate appears, sending them back to 1942 so they can find out how to defeat the demons. So Mystery Inc. finds themselves amidst a JSA that works with the version of the DCU that has been overlapping with Scooby gang throughout this series: Doctor Mid-Nite, Wildcat, Johnny Thunder, Sandman, The Flash Jay Garrick, Green Lantern Alan Scott, The Atom Al Pratt, Wonder Woman Hippolyta and Black Canary's mom Black Canary.
Then-Nazi Vandal Savage shows up with the box full of demons--Pandora's Box, apparently--and opens it, and the JSA splits into smaller teams, each accompanied by a member of Mystery Inc, to foil the demons' plans to disrupt the war effort. These include pretty typical Golden Age plots, like robbing a war bonds rally, stealing materials from a scrap drive and so on, before reuniting in D.C. to tear down the Washington Monument while saboteurs bomb the Capitol Building--with Congress inside!
The JSA save the day, repeatedly, of course, and, in the process, Mystery Inc learns how to put the demons back in the box.
Regular writer Sholly Fisch does his usual fine job with the DC heroes. He juggles a ton of characters here, but each gets a few panels worth of spotlight, and Fisch manages to find gags to mine from them and aspects of their characters to bring to the fore. The JSA characters all seem like themselves, but they also tee up some fun forms of criticism of themselves, their adventures and their world. My favorite bit is probably a brief throughline involving Wonder Woman helping Wildcat getting woke. Daphne is shocked that Wonder Woman acts as the JSA's secretary, to which Wildcat cheerfully responds, "Well... she has the best handwriting..." and Wondy says, equally cheerfully, "Actually, I came to man's world knowing that attitudes here are rather...quaint, Daphne. Part of my mission is to change that."
And she does! Near the climax, Wonder Woman wishes Daphne and Velma the best, telling the characters born of the baby boomer generation that "if you are typical of the young women in the future, I can see that my mission to man's world will succeed." At which point, The Atom asks Wonder Woman to write up the adventure for their casebook, but Wildcat puts a hand on the mighty mite's shoulder, saying he'd like to try writing up the case, as "takin' turns is only fair, right?"
Right you are, Wildcat!
Also, the original, awesome Red Tornado shows up to punch out some lady Nazi saboteurs at one point.
Regular artist Dario Brizuela, as per usual, draws the hell out of everything, keeping the Scooby-Doo characters as religiously on-model as they always are in this book, drawing big, bold, muscular DC heroes that all match one another and don't look out-of-place alongside the mid-twentieth century Hanna-Barbera designs, and creating a world around both groups of heroes that seems to accommodate them all perfectly.
Reviewing the list above, outside of that first issue of Justice League, this was probably the the most fun, and certainly my favorite, new comic I read all month.
It becomes pretty obvious pretty fast that Bendis' long-term planning for the series got interrupted by his move from Marvel to DC, as this volume is far less leisurely and carefully plotted, and gets downright chaotic in the final issues, as Bendis races to a satisfying conclusion.
The Defenders take down Diamondback. But he escapes. Elektra has a long, rather spectacular fight with Iron Fist after exchanging a little dialogue, in which it is revealed that they have never fought one another, a fact they both think is kind of surprising. Me, I was shocked to learn that. Jessica Jones cashes in a favor with Deadpool for the same reason he appeared in Doomwar: In story, because he's a random, crazy element the bad guys won't expect, but in reality just to boost sales a little, and he fights The Punisher and then gets beat-up by The Defenders. We see what Fisk's role in all this actually is. Diamondback hires some low-level super-powered muscle. The Hood appears to make his play to become the new Kingpin.
And then the conclusion: The Hood has re-reorganized organized crime in the Marvel Universe's United States, and is in the middle of explaining how they will all be Kingpins, he will just be the Kingpin of Kingpins, when The Defenders show up with a new and expanded line-up, consisting of, like, all the street-level heroes, or everyone Bendis likes, or everyone that artist David Marquez felt like drawing in a two-page splash, or some combination. If that was the line-up of the future issues of Defenders, it would be quite a series! (Blade! The Gargoyle! Howard The Duck! Night Nurse! Some of the more popular living X-Men! Etc!**)
Marquez draws all of these issues, save for some flashback scenes by Michael Avon Oeming. That sequence, in which we see the moment where Wilson Fisk went from being a lower-level lieutenant in a crime organization to being the boss of it, is really well-executed, as Marquez and Oeming trade time frames, but not pages. So, for example, there's a two-page spread in which there are two panels of Marquez's full-color art showing Diamondback telling the story to his new hires, followed by a black-and-white panel of Oeming's, followed by a panel of Marquez's, then five panels of Oemings, than one of Marquez's, and so on.
Also visually appealing is a three-page court scene drawn in the style of court room sketches.
This iteration of the Defenders was, ultimately, as easy to end as it was to start, given that the four-person line-up consists of a married couple, the husband's best friend and just one other hero who lives down the street from them all. This is the sort of team that could conceivably accidentally form any time any of these four get in a fight. So ending it is no bigger a deal than, say, Daredevil going home for the night. Still, I wouldn't mind seeing more of this particular team, particularly since Netflix is--I hear--not interested in a season two of their Defenders, and, as with Jessica Jones, it would be nice to see a new, non-Bendis voice behind his co-creation of Jessica Jones.
(Actually, what I would like the most would be a new Defenders series in which the original big four team of The Hulk, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer and Namor align with these four, so that Daredevil, Jessica Jones and company take the place of Nighthawk, Valkyrie and company, as that's something that can never happen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, on film or Netfilx. Oh well, maybe next iteration...)
Of these, I only read the two issues bookend-ing the collection's content, Batman: The Red Death #1 and The Wild Hunt. I was only about halfway through The Red Death when I decided I should trade-wait these, and I almost ordered this collection when I decided that since I wasn't 100% I'd actually enjoy it all, I could/should just borrow it from the library.
I ended up enjoying it more than I didn't enjoy it, but the seven stories that make up the bulk of the book are necessarily rather repetitive, and, because the creative teams shift with each, the style and quality tend to vary far more than the stories themselves (I'll discuss this in greater detail and at greater length in a dedicated post in the near-ish future). Each of the Dark Knights who are doing the rising here are Batmen (and one Batwoman) hailing from alternate earths in the Dark Multiverse, "mistake" worlds--phrasing that recalls the original Elseworlds tagline, which referred to worlds that, in some cases, shouldn't exist--that are all doomed to fall apart into apocalypse.
There's one of these Dark Knights for each of the seven members of the Justice League, giving us Batmans that are hybridized with The Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman and Green Lantern (the latter of which has already been done in 1994 Elseworlds special Batman: In Darkest Knight). For the trinity, the alternate Bruce Waynes are hybridized with villains of theirs, so there's a Batman who infected himself with a Doomsday virus to kill his Superman, a Batman who took Ares' helmet and became his world's god of war and, most popularly, a Batman who a dying Joker transformed into The Batman Who Laughs (That's him on the cover, and, unlike the other Dark Knights, he's been showing up post-Metal, in The Immortal Men and, according to solicits, in future issues of Justice League).
So in each of the first seven chapters of this collection, we meet a somehow fucked-up Bruce Wayne--or Bryce Wayne, in the case of The Drowned--who takes some extreme path that "our" Bruce Wayne would never take, transforming him into some sort of hybrid character. At the end of each issue, his or her world starts to fall apart, and they are visited by The Batman Who Laughs. He promises them their greatest wish if they'll only serve his master Barbatos. The comics are therefore pretty formulaic, but then, that's kind of the point; each of them is a riff on a riff, after all.
The final issue features this League of Evil Ex-Batmen in The Authority's Carrier, hunting The Flash, Cyborg and Raven as they try to reach the House of Heroes in the Ultima Thule. This was an unexpected one-shot when it was first announced, featuring as it does co-writers Joshua Williamson and Grant Morrison (whose work pretty directly inspired so much of Metal) joining Scott Snyder, with then future Justice League pencil artist Jorge Jimenez and past Justice League pencil artists Howard Porter and Doug Mahnke.
I can see arguments for and against including it in this particular collection. In favor, it does feature the seven nightmare Batmen all aligned together, and it does give the collection a title, but there's quite a jump between those seven origin one-shots and the story of that particular issue, which, as I say, is more-or-less a chapter of Metal, expanding on a scene that is briefly, almost dismissively covered in the series itself.
On the other hand, it seems important enough to the Metal story to belong in that collection, as opposed to here (Or perhaps in the Resistance collection, which seems to be where all the other tie-ins ended up). Of course, if someone is reading this, chances are they will read the other Metal collections, so it's not like anyone's going to be too terribly lost.
I used to think Bendis' extreme wordiness was born from his often barely-concealed interest in writing for other media, particularly mass media like TV and film (the former of which Jessica Jones has of course broken into, which is why this volume of the book is named Jessica Jones, like the show, and not Alias, like the comic).
But when you stop and look at that layout, it certainly doesn't suggest that Bendis would rather be writing a mystery novel or a film. Because no modern prose novel would just have all those long-speeches; not without descriptive passages and the writer delving into the characters heads to break up the pages and pages of dialogue. And no film or TV show would be staged like that. I mean, it's possible a director might do something similar, tediously cutting back and forth between two unmoving characters as they talk directly into the camera for minutes and minutes, but it would be a deliberate, stylistic choice made specifically to highlight the scene, to tip off to the viewer that this is something very unusual and important.
It's not something a TV show would do, like, every episode, or a film do every twenty minutes or so, but, well, here's a lay-out from issue #18:
I honestly tried to think if there was a medium in which this particular kind of scripting, that of the above scenes, and that sort of hands-off mis en scene actually would be used, and I give up. I mean, even in a stage play where there are just two characters talking, they would get up and move around, they would gesture, the director would have them doing something, unless they were doing some kind of Waiting For Godot While Paralyzed production.
There's nothing inherently wrong with all the talking and, here, the dialogue. Bendis has his quirks in his dialogue, but that first example above is a pretty intense scene, a sort of climax to Jessica's entire story arc from the first issues of Alias. The fireworks in Return of The Purple Man are in the dialogue, so devoting the bulk of several issues to Jessica and The Purple Man talking to one another isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's no reason for Gaydos to stage it like this. Provided, of course, that this is done old-school Marvel method. Maybe Bendis' scripts particularly call for this sort of lay-out, in which case, wow, Bendis is pretty terrible at certain aspects of writing comics.
It's...pretty clearly not a style choice, as he does similar stuff in all of his comics. It's just that those in this title are often worse than when it happens in most of his other titles.
I do wonder if it's Gaydos, though, given that so much of Jessica Jones is built around drawing as little as possible. It's obviously not just those two scenes in which next-to-nothing visual happens. This trade opens with three consecutive two-page spreads, each a collage of headshots that get farther and father away as the "camera" pulls out. I would not be surprised to learn that these headshots were culled from his previous art, as they include so many Marvel characters in very particular poses, and they repeat frequently. Above that, Jones' narration is laid on narration boxes. I'm sure that scene's presentation was a stylistic choice, but when paired with the talking scenes above, or the splash pages where Jessica and another figure just sit next to each other and the blank-ish space above them is filled with ping-ponging pearl-string dialogue, or the fact that everything that is not a human figure seems to be a manipulated photo (and most of those figures also look like manipulated photos)...well, this is a very weird reading experience. It reads like a comic book from a guy who doesn't want to write comics teamed with a guy who doesn't want to draw.
With all of that said, this is a pretty strong last Jessica Jones story. (Or at least last for now. Somewhat to my surprise, Marvel didn't announce a new series, despite the fact that the TV show is still a going concern, and has proven that the character works without Bendis writing her; I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I think a Chelsea Cain or Kelly Thompson Jessica Jones would work just fine.)
Five of these last six issues revolve around a rematch with The Purple Man, her archenemy who dominated the original Alias and was prominently featured in the first season of Jessica Jones (the TV show). Given how central he has been to Jessica's story his very presence is a pretty big deal, and Bendis has done a pretty compelling job of turning a somewhat minor Daredevil villain--it's easy to forget, but he was actually created by Stan Lee and Joe Orlando way back in 1964--into a genuinely scary and threatening character. He does so mostly by the small, cruel acts that the Purple Man uses his powers to engage in, although the fact that the Jessica Jones character and her title was sort of built in such a way to reflect how powerful and scary the villain is certainly helps a lot (And that might be why having he show up here makes him seem like a much bigger deal than when he shows up in, say, Daredevil or Heroes For Hire).
And while Jessica is now much more integrated into the superhero community than she was when she originally encountered him, that means both that she has a lot of people watching her back, but also a lot of people who can be turned against her, like Carol Danvers and Luke Cage. Oh, and now of course she has a daughter, who she wants to keep away from The Purple Man.
So The Purple Man returns, and Jessica and her friends and family all scramble, enacting various contingency plans to protect toddler Danielle Cage, contain the damage the villain can do and, eventually, trap him and take him out (By hiring Kraven pull the trigger, apparently; I guess it's more superheroic if Captain Marvel has a villain sniper rifle The Purple Man while she stands at his shoulder, rather than her throwing an anvil at him when he's not looking or shooting him with one of her energy beams?). Nothing seems to work as it should, and so Jessica has no choice but to hear him out, and what he wants is...unexpected.
A sort of Last Temptation of Jessica Jones, she essentially gets offered the use of his powers for whatever she wants. Bendis does an unusual dance with the villain, showing him trying to do the right thing while continually lapsing into fits of barely restrained evil actions. Oddly, The Purple Man ends up being the hero of the story...or, at least, the hero in addition to being the villain. With an assist from Jessica, of course.
That's followed by a done-in-one, which Bendis writes in a prose piece at the end of the trade was the last issue he had long planned as his last Jessica Jones issue, a story where she takes and solves a very Jessica Jones case in a very Jessica Jones way. It's pretty good, despite how awful the artwork is. Because, in addition to the time-saving not-drawing of lay-outs, Gaydos' use of photographs in his work makes so much of what we see look wrong and unnatural. I've noted this previously, but everything appears to be made out of the same substance, and liquids in particular look off.
That last issue has Jessica calling around the Marvel Universe as she tracks down a lead on The Armadillo, so we get to see Gaydos' versions of a whole bunch of Marvel characters--both Spider-Men, Old Man Logan, The Thing, Ironheart--and none of them are really flattered by his style. It shouldn't be possible for something like an image of Luke Cage taking a cell phone call from inside the jaws of a dinosaur that Spider-Woman and a Wolverine are fighting to look static and dull, but, well, Gaydos pulls it off.
In the early chapters of this book, which collects the five-issue miniseries from earlier this year, there are scenes of the assembled X-teams dealing with strange phenomenon that are presented as mysterious, culminating in appearances of a giant flaming bird shape in the sky at the sites of some of the high strangeness. One supposes that this might be played as suspenseful or portentous if it were occurring in, say, Uncanny X-Men, and Uncanny X-Men were still the main X-Men title. That, of course, is impossible, as the line if currently fragmented into X-Men Gold, X-Men Blue, Astonishing X-Men and a few ancillary titles, and there isn't really a "main" X-Men book; each has its own cast and its own writers doing their own things. So Marvel relegated the return of Jean Grey to a miniseries that couldn't be more obvious in its intention; Phoenix Resurrection was even subtitled The Return of Jean Grey, in case there was any doubt about what the exact nature of the series might be.
Now, a special event miniseries might seem like a way to telegraph this as an important event--too big a story for any of the many extant X-Men titles to contain!--but then you compare it to the return of Wolverine, who hasn't been dead nearly so long (the Death of Wolverine miniseries shipped in 2014), and the most recent round of Marvel solicitations includes a collection of the multiple Hunt For Wolverine miniseries and specials heralding his return, and that added up to some 400-pages of content. Surely they overdid it with Wolverine, but the effect as to make the return of Jean Grey, which should be the bigger deal, seem like it is not.
Unfortunately, the story, written by Matthew Rosenberg, doesn't do much to sell it as a big deal wither. This just reads like an over-long prequel of sorts to X-Men Red, the new X-Men ongoing starring another new X-Men team, this one lead by the now not-dead adult Jean. In fact, it might have been better if this story took place in the pages of the first few issues of X-Men Red, where some suspense, or at least tension, could have been fostered.
So something weird happens, the X-Men investigate, and then all the X-people Leinil Francis Yu can draw in a crow scene gather at an auditorium at X-Men HQ, where Kitty Pryde and her new haircut exposition at them and break them into teams, like Duke addressing the G.I. Joe team back in the day (I understand, thematically, how Kitty being the X-Men leader makes a certain sort of sense thematically, with the one-time new recruit and POV character now taking the Professor Xavier/Cyclops role, but it feels a little off when one-time goddess and actual queen Storm is, like, standing three feet away). They investigate some weird, psychic phenomena that seems to have something to do with Jean and/or The Phoenix and, at the end of the first issue, they are all left looking at the sky, where a flaming bird has appeared.
Also seeing that flaming bird is a young, red-headed young waitress named Jean, who lives sin a somewhat idyllic young town where everyone seems to have the name of a dead X-Man ("How are you today, Mr. Cassidy?" "Hi, Jamie...it seems like you're in ten places at once," etc). While the X-Men run around, trying to figure out what's what, if the Phoenix is back and if they're in trouble, this Jean has strange dreams about another life. By its predictable ending, the X-Men figure out that the Phoenix has brought Jean back to life and then built the town she's living in as some sort of egg, in which it is acclimating her to once again bond with them.
They enter, do some fighting, have some conversation, and Jean comes to terms wit the fact that she's alive again and dismisses the Phoenix, hopefully--but probably not!--once and for all. Okay, so Jean Grey is back to life, and the comic accomplished its goal. Mission accomplished.
There's not much in terms of interpersonal drama, as the character's this Jean are closest too are also all dead or dead-ish, in some cases replaced with younger or older versions of themselves, and all of the psychics have been cleared from the board, mostly off-panel (Only Cable gets some panel-time, only to be similarly cleared).
The art is never consistent for more than 20 pages at most, as pencil artists Yu, Carlos Pacheco, Joe Bennett and Ramon Rosanas each take an issue apiece for the first four, and then Yu and Bennett split the final, fifth issue. Additionally, there are four or five inkers, so Rachelle Rosenberg's colors are really the only consistent factor in the visuals.
I kinda like the Phoenix costume Jean is wearing at the end of the book, which is a red-on-black version of the yellow-on-red one she's wearing on the cover, although I think she'll be wearing a different one in X-Men Red. With Cyclops, Wolverine and Charles Xavier all currently dead, having Jean return now could/should be interesting--although two of those three seem to already be on their way back--but her return was anything but.
Civil War II.
And that's it--The Punisher as War Machine. That's the book.
Rosenberg has to tell a story still, of course, and this volume, which collects Punisher #218-#223 (so this must have been from the short-lived "Legacy" initiative at Marvel, wherein the books all had really high issue numbers that seemed random to anyone who wasn't a Marvel editor or super-fan) does tell a quite cohesive single story with a beginning, middle and end...and a tease for a future storyline. It reads like a graphic novel, but not so much "written for the trade," as we used to say (usually bitterly, and referring to Brian Michael Bendis more often than not), but written as an arc.
The Punisher is doing his thing--that is, mercilessly, brutally murdering criminals in NY--when he's contacted by Nick Fury, who wants to recruit him to go overseas and murder the military dictator who has just taken control of a small, fictional Eastern European country bordering the small, fictional Eastern European country of Latveria. Why does Fury want this? Because there are some former SHIELD agents piloting Iron Man-like armor and serving as mercenary muscle for the dictator. Why does Frank Castle want this? Well, that seems like a bit more of a stretch, and the real answer is, of course, that the story demands it, but Rosenberg has Fury showing him pictures of dead children to get his blood up. ("Kids, Frank. You still care about kids, right?").
So Fury tells Frank where he can steal the War Machine armor from, Frank does so, and then he's off to Narnia or wherever to play Iron Man/Punisher amalgam: Killing soldiers, liberating prison camps, assassinating generals and, by the climax, holding a nuclear warhead over his head and threatening to detonate it to make sure he kills his foe.
It is all appropriately over-the-top, and it probably helps if one doesn't know, think or care too much about Frank Castle's personal history, character or continuity. I am, for example, far more familiar with Garth Ennis' take on the character, wherein he's a basically emotionless, unkillable killing machine, like a Jason or Freddy Krueger that targets criminal ethnic stereotypes, than any of the earlier takes, which attempt to portray him as a human being (like the Netflix show did).
Granted, it's still kind of hard to imagine Frank Castle wearing that armor and operating it--despite the pleasures that come from his interactions with its onboard AI. And that is, in large part, because Rosenberg demonstrates in the first issue/chapter how effective Castle is with guns and explosives. Does he really need a suit of armor to kill his way through a country? Considering his decades of success at killing hundreds, maybe thousands, of criminals, overthrowing the military of a small country seems well within Castle's abilities, no super-armor required (In fact, he's done so before).
Still, it is a big, crazy, simple, even somewhat stupid idea for a comic book series, and it is what got me to pick this up at all (Looking at the "Follow the Adventures of..." reading guide/ad on the inside front cover, I see I have only read one of the six previous Punisher collections from two different runs on the character).
The art is provided by Guiu Vilanova, and it is nice to see that Vilanova managed to draw all six issues, without the need for a fill-in artist. That is, unfortunately, a rarity in mainstream super-comics these days. The style leans very, very hard into realistic, with an awful lot of obvious photo reference, which isn't generally to my taste, but kind of works here, if only in contrasting with the cartoonish elements of the violent action scenes (The Punisher in his armor, swinging the turret of a tank around like a baseball bat, for example, or The Punisher, sans armor, tossing a mortar to someone in armor with a simple, "Catch," and so on). Vilanova draws his Punisher to resemble actor Jon Bernthal so much that it's distracting, and makes me wonder if Bernthal is either getting money for the use of his likeness, or has an in to sue for royalties on it.
Don't get me wrong, I think Bernthal makes a hell of a live-action Punisher--the best of the four actors to play the character so far--but it's weird seeing his mug in this comic.
The book ends with Castle's adventures in Pottsylvania concluded and successful but, much to the chagrin of Fury, the War Machine armor still in his possession. I assume the next arc will involve Fury and/or other super-types trying to wrestle it away from Castle, as he uses it to kill whatever criminal elements are still left in New York City.
This year's DC/Hanna-Barbera crossover specials (DC Comics)
Mickey Mouse: The Delta Dimension/Donald Duck: Uncle Scrooge's Money Rocket (Fantagraphics Books)
Silver Spoon Vol. 1 (Yen Press)
Underwhere (IDW Publishing) While not that great a graphic novel, I should point out to EDILW readers that this is written and "storyboarded" by Kevin Eastman, co-written by Paul Jenkins and the art comes courtesy of Mark Martin. Martin, fans of the original, Mirage-era TMNT will know, created those old Gnatrat Batman parodies of the 1980s, as well as being responsible for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #22-23, Green-Grey Spongesuit Sushi Turtles and one story per issue of the 1991-1992, full-color version of Turtle Soup. Underwhere is obviously not Turtle-related, but it's very Mirage-esque, and a great demonstration of just what a great illustrator Martin is.
**One of the assembled heroes is Ronin. Who's in the Ronin costume these days, anyway? The Kate Bishop Hawkeye is shown here, but not the Clint Barton version. Did he wear the suit to this issue just to bid Bendis farewell?