Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Weekly Haul: October 31st

Action Comics #858 (DC Comics) Great. A Legion of Super-Heroes story. I’ve never been able to keep the various Legions straight, although I’m often told by readers with more experience than I that it’s actually quite simple. It just won’t sink in, for some reason. It’s like calculus. Maybe if I had a tutor, and devoted a little extra time, I’d get it, but, well, it’s not really all that interesting to me in the first place, and no one’s going to be testing me on this stuff, so why bother?

Complicating matters is the Infinite Crisis rejiggering, which threw a whole bunch of question marks at readers, regarding the intersection of Superman and LOSH continuity. This issue is the first part of “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes,” which spins out of the Geoff Johns/Brad Meltzer-penned “Lightning Saga,” one of the worst, most nonsensical comic book stories I’ve ever read with a DC bullet on the front (And which, incidentally, threw even more question marks at us).

On no, I am not looking forward to this storyline.

I do like the new art team of Gary Frank and Jon Sibal quite a bit; Frank’s art has a sketchier quality than I remember it from the last time I saw it somewhat regularly (maybe 10 years ago, at this point), and, stylistically, he’s a perfect replacement for Adam Kubert. Close enough he probably could have gone ahead and drawn that last chapter of the still-unfinished “Last Son of Krypton” story and no one would have cried foul too loudly.

He does a very nice Superman, one that looks slim and trim, rather than bulging with muscles (Since Superman’s strength and thoughness are superpowers and not the result of physical muscles, I’ve never understood why so many artists insist on giving him that hulking physique), and I love the first appearance of the Silver Age Legion…they look like total maniacs, which seems appropriate, from what I’ve read of their original adventures (Still need to hit Showcase Presents: The Legion of Super-Heroes).

Plot-wise, Johns is playing with the idea that the Legion were young outcast Clark Kent’s only real friends, the only ones he could relate to, which he’s hinted at previously. I appreciate the attempt, but it seems a little forced here, as in the scene where Perry White is lecturing Clark about needing to reach out and befriend his fellow reporters at the Planet. Perry, he fucking married one of them; how much more can he reach out?

Then there’s a reference to “The Lightning Saga” and a trip to the future, in which we see a version of the LOSH that seems to be a different one…different even from the one we saw in “Lightning Saga.” Maybe. I don’t know. Damn, I hate Legion stories…

Batman #670 (DC) You won’t be able to tell on the text-free cover image above, but the cover of this issue has a neat band across the top that cuts into the image, forming a sort of Bat-symbol shape. I really like the design of it. From there on, though, this is a pretty rough issue, particularly for something with the name “Grant Morrison” right there on the front.

This is a particularly nostalgia-soaked story, with Morrison throwing out characters and names from decades ago without any attempt at context. He does this all the time, of course, usually implying backstories that may or may not actually exist in foul-smelling, yellowing back issues somewhere. It can be a neat effect—I liked imagining the implied adventures of the Club of Heroes from the last arc, for example—but these characters are a lot less colorful and interesting, assembled from low-points in DC history, and are much more poorly drawn than J.H. Williams’ Club was.

We’ve got Batman talking to I-Ching, Wonder Woman’s mentor/sidekick from her brief mod period, and we’ve got the evil Sensei, former leader of the League of Assassins, planning to go to war with a mummified guy calling himself Ra’s al Ghul, who was totally killed forever in Death and the Maidens. Actually, I thought I-Ching was dead too, wasn’t he? Or was that two continuity reboots ago?

Anyway, how old are these characters? Well, they both appear in stories from Showcase Presents: Brave and the Bold—The Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1, if that’s any indication.

There’s also a trio of scantily-clad villains—Dragon Lady, Silken Spider and Tiger Moth—whom I assume are old characters too, but I’ve never read any stories about them.

They all pass through the story in a collection of scenes that don’t really add up to anything but a bunch of shouting about motivations.

The art is by the new “regular” artist (the third Morrison’s worked with in his four-story tenure on the book), Tony S. Daniel, and he’s easily the weakest of the three. There’s a rushed look to his work, with the mis en scene often incredibly counterintuitive (I had to reread the first scene a few times to figure out what was going on).

Now look at page 18, panel three. Did the mummy claiming to be Ra’s put a hole in his hand that he is now gazing through? Or is there an eye on the palm of his hand? I’m assuming the former, but since the eye isn’t really symmetrical to the other one, and the spatial relations in the panel so flat, it seems more like the latter.

I’m honestly quite surprised that DC gave Daniel a gig with Grant Morrison on Batman. There’s no reason to saddle your super-star writers and characters with sub-par artists…

Biff-Bam-Pow! #1 (Amaze Ink/SLG Publishing) Wow, no one’s ever used this title for a comic book before Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer? That’s kind of surprising, actually. This is a perfectly pleasant anthology comic, featuring the two things the comics industry can apparently never have enough of—superheroes and fighting!

Of course, when Dorkin and Dyer are creating the heroes and choreographing the fights, it’s at least a ton of fun, and told in well-designed black and white art, the panels all spilling over with neat little alien creatures.

The lead story is set somewhere in space or in the future (or perhaps in space in the future), on a world full of funny-looking aliens of various kinds. One Punch Golderberg is a 110-pound, short-haired girl with a Star of David around her neck and dynamite in her fists. She’s now a crime-fighter, but was previously a pro boxer, and when we meet her, she’s telling an interviewer about her title match against Otto Von Ripsnort III. It involves a great deal of punching, not only of boxers, but also a giant monster and several gorillas.

A series of shorter back-ups give us a two-pager featuring a mischievous monkey named Nutsy Monkey (Spoiler alert! In the last panel, someone literally spanks a monkey! Ha ha ha!), a one-page gag about a superhero named Super-Rad and his snotty little brther Billy, and an eight-page story involving Kid Blastoff, who fights a villain with a great comic book-y gimmick that’s a delight to read about (Also, this story features some awesome cool/cute monster designs).

Definitely the most fun read of the week, which is actually a bit of surprise, considering this week also sees the release of a Kyle Baker book.

Infinite Halloween Special #1 (DC) Okay, this is a seventy-page comic, so bear with me here; I may go on a bit long. First off, the title? That is a very, very stupid title. Infinite Halloween Special? What’s that mean, exactly? Well, see, DC had this big miniseries called Infinite Crisis, right? So last December, when they released a Christmas special, they originally entitled it Infinite Christmas Special, because both “Crisis” and “Christmas” begin with the same syllable. It was a joke, see? Ha ha! But then they realized there was one Hanukah story in it, or else thought they might offend non-Christians in their reading audience (Elongated Man’s wife being raped on the Justice League meeting table? Okay. Christmas? Potentially offensive), so they changed it to Infinite Holiday Special. Now, the joke no longer made any sense. This year, they’ve decided to riff on the joke that no longer made any sense with this title.

Lame, huh?

Inside, we’ve got a nice, big, fat collection of short stories, one that reminds me of the 80-Page Giants from a few years back, which I loved. They weren’t always that great, but it was a kick to just have such a huge slab of new superhero comics by so many creators in one place at one time to kill the better part of an hour with.

The conceit for this is kind of inspired. The inmates of Arkham Asylum have escaped their cells, and are waiting till the guards change shifts so they can flee into the night. To kill time, they exchange scary stories, kind of Canterbury Tales style (or, more likely, Batman: The Animated Series’s “Almost Got ‘im” style).

And what do supervillains consider the scariest monsters? Superheroes, of course.

It’s a very interesting assemblage of characters and creators, here. In addition to the Arkhamites, we have Zatanna, Robin, The Red Rain Batman, Lobo, Aquaman II, Young Frankenstein, Batzarro and Bizarro, Jimmy and Lois, Deadman, Blue Devil, The Flash, and an unnamed, unannounced Mitch “Resurrection Man” Shelley (Yay! Now give us some trade collections, damn it!).

Writing the framing sequence are Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, Resurrection Man’s creators, and the various stories are contributed by Mark Waid, Steve Niles, Steve Seagle, Paul Dini, Peter J. Tomasi, Tony Bedard, Dan Didio, and newer writers, including David Arquette and Kal-El Bogdanove (the unfortunately named son of former Superman artist Jon Bogdanove).

Artists include EDILW favorites Kelley Jones, Peter Snejbjerg and Ryan Sook, EDILW least-favorites Ian Churchill, Eric Battle and Tony S. Daniel (Plus, plenty of others).

While I dig the concept, its execution leaves a lot to be desired, and there’s a slapdashedness about the affair. The frame is a good one, but for some reason no two artists can agree on what they inmates are wearing (White prison garb? Orange prison garb? Their supervillain costumes?), some are unidentified, some don’t belong in Arkham at all (What’s Penguin doing there? And The Riddler should be on the outside now, too), and most tell stories that don’t involve them, or reveal things they couldn’t possibly know anything at all about.

Quibbles? Yeah, I guess. That said, relatively few of these stories are good. Most have some aspect I like, but I have a hard time pointing to any and saying, “Hey, this story here is really great!”

In addition to the framing sequence, I enjoyed Bogdanove’s story of “The World’s Shoddiest” team of Bizarro’s, in part because his dad Jon Bogdanove illustrates it in a very loose, cartoony style I’ve never seen him work in before (It reminds me quite a bit of Hilary Barta’s work, actually). Kelley Jones’ story is nicely drawn with neat panel lay-outs, but the narration (by Peter Johnson and Matt Cherniss) isn’t necessary, and it basically amounts to an ad for Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer: Red Rain…and man, am I gonna be conflicted about that. On the one hand, it’s Jones. On the other, it’s Countdown).

Among the worst stories are Arquette’s, co-written by Cliff Dorfman, which imagines a pack of rainbow werewolf vigilantes fighting werewolf-related crime in Gotham City. Their team name? The Watchdogs. Ugh.

Didio and Churchill’s Blue Devil story, “The Pumpkin Sinister,” is a Peanuts Halloween special parody that doesn’t really work.

And then there’s Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman’s story “What Can Scare The Main Man?,” a Phobos vs. Lobo story which tells the same joke that John Wagner and Alan Grant told in Batman/Judge Dredd, only less elaborately).

I don’t know that I necessarily got $5.99 worth of enjoyment out of the thing, but for less than the price of 44 pages of DC comics, you get 70 pages worth of ‘em, so it’s really not a bad dollar-to-page value.

Justice Society of America #10 (DC) If there’s one thing the current incarnation of the JSA doesn’t need, it’s more characters, so the sight of Kingdom Come Superman on the cover there, praying that he will one day be allowed to retire or covering himself in shame after having seen Commander Steel, or whatever he’s doing, didn’t exactly excite me. I mean, Johns has barely even touched Obsidian yet, or reintroduced Jakeem Thunder (seen on the cover of #1) yet—should he really be adding more heroes to the line-up, even temporarily?

The plot itself, the work of both Johns and Alex Ross, who contributes a couple of painted pages of “Earth-22” (i.e. The Kingdom Come-iverse), scans depressingly similarly to Johns’ first story arc on this book (And the Death of the New Gods storyline running through Countdown and other DC books earlier in the year). An unseen adversary is going around killing minor characters like Titans villain Goth and Infinity Inc. villain Chroma.

The rest of the issue is taken up by Superman comparing notes with the JSA about the differences of their Earths, and the JLA being called in.

It’s a pretty scant issue, but I really like Dale Eaglesham’s art, and enjoy looking at his drawings interact with one another, whether what they’re talking about is something I find personally boring or confusing or not. Oh, and Obsidian finally gets a scene in this issue. Eaglesham has messed with his design a bit, and it’s not bad. I hope he ends up having a more active role on the team at some point (And he’s not the killer—all we see of him/her/it is a pair of narrow white pupil-less eyes in blackness, which is exactly how Obsidian is drawn).

Moomin Book Two: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip (Drawn + Quarterly) Okay, in all honesty, I haven’t finished reading this yet, but if it’s anything like the first volume (and everything I’ve seen so far seems to indicate that it is), then we’re looking at a beautiful collection of an incredibly beautifully designed and rendered cartoon strip about funny monster-y creatures having whimsical, almost dream-like adventures. Classic strip fans finding themselves short on things to read while waiting for the next volume of Popeye, Dennis the Menace or Peanuts should definitely give Jansson’s Moomin a look, if they haven’t already.

Robin Annual #7 (DC) Well, that was false advertising. Back in my day, Annuals used to be special, extra-length adventures featuring the stars of monthly books that were published once a year. Lately, “Annual” has come to refer to the place DC publishes the conclusions to abandoned storylines that have missed deadline or special issues published to fill the schedule while delayed books catch up a bit. This one is a little closer to the original model, although it consists of two short stories, a 22-page story featuring the title character and a 16-page back-up featuring Talia and Batman’s son Damian. Basically, it’s a fill-in issue of Robin with a random story stapled onto the back of it. The solicitation for the issue, still up at, promises these two stories, “plus, a special ‘Times Past’ story focusing on Dick Grayson's first Halloween as Robin.” That’s not in here.

The lead story, by writer Keith Champagne and artist Derec Donovan, is serviceable enough Robin solo story, in which the Boy Wonder must solve a series of grisly murders, in which someone is carving human torsos into jack o’ lanterns. It shows Robin’s detective skills off, which is always nice, and allows him to shine on his own without Batman or the Teen Titans shadowing him. I’m glad to see Donovan getting more work at DC; I really dig his art, and would love to see it on a monthly basis.

The back-up is drawn by cover artist Jason Pearson, and it’s another nice looking strip, but it seems more than a little out of place here, seeing as how Robin’s not in at all—It’s a Damian story, straight and simple (There are a few panels in which the ghosts/assassins attacking Damian take the form of various Robins, but that’s the sole Robin connection). It kinda sorta ties-into the “Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” storyline that was kicked off in this week’s issue of Batman, only the two stories kind of contradict each other (A character who expresses surprise upon meeting Damian in Batman is here show stalking him, apparently before that meeting).

Special Forces #1 (Image Comics) It takes only two words to get me to pick up a comic book—Kyle Baker. This is his latest, an extremely pointed, cuttingly sharp jab at the Iraq War. Inspired by news reports of the war’s impact on recruitment standards (to the point where an autistic man was recruited), which are partially reprinted on the back page, the “special” in the title isn’t the sort of “special” that normally precedes the word “forces” in reference to a military squad.

Baker introduces us to a squad of “special” recruits each with a Sgt. Rock-style nickname and a peculiar tic, and then immediately starts whittling them down in the middle of an ambush (The black guy dies first), until we’re left only with Felony, a busty babe whose uniform has shredded into a khaki bra and panties, and Zone, an autistic soldier.

Baker’s Iraq satire is more focused and more over-the-top than Rick Veitch’s Army @ Love, the most obvious work to compare it to at this point, and it features Baker’s more realistic-style of rendering, which is still far cartoonier than what you’d find in the Vertigo series also poking at the U.S.’s current War on Terror (But Mostly on Iraq).

The pages are designed in more traditional comic book style than a lot of Baker's more recent work (the dialogue and sound effects mostly occur inside the panels with the art, rather than outside, in the storyboard-like style he's been using), and on one page it turns into illustrated prose.

This opening chapter, the first of a planned six, actually plays it pretty straight, outside of a few of the zany characters and Felony’s uniform, scanning a bit like a parody of an action movie set in Iraq, with some sillier scenes inserted in via flashbacks (the panel on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was pretty amusing).

It’s always a bit of a minefield addressing a war while it’s still going on, and soldiers and civilians are dying while you’re reading the book, but, at the same time, that’s when commentary on a war is most urgent. And in this first issue, Baker isn’t exactly making a very controversial statement—The Iraq War is straining the U.S. military towards the breaking point, and recruitment standards have nose-dived as a result. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.

You can read the first five pages of this issue at

Halloween Horror!

I can't tell you how many times I've had nightmares that were almost exactly like this. Except without the out-of-control feral children in party clothes wielding weapons. Or the dead dog. Or the guitarist and drummer.

Some of my Favorite Scarecrows #6: Tim Sale's

Now that the comics reading world has seen the actively irritating Superman/Batman, suffered through the early issues of Supergirl, had its collective mind boggled by the revelation that Wolverine is an evolved wolf genetically predisposed to hate blondes and giggled at the overwrought dialogue of Fallen Son, it can be hard to remember that Jeph Loeb used to write pretty good comic books.

Actually, I’m not entirely sure that’s true; having gone back and read some of his earliest work, I see that many of the tics that annoy me about his writing today were still present back then, just to a lesser degree. If I had to offer a theory as to what’s wrong with Loeb’s writing these days, I would take back my previous contention that he lost his mind somewhere during the prep work for Spider-Man: Blue, and offer a new theory instead: Loeb is simply a great case for the role a good editor plays in comic book production, particularly of the assembly line process, corporate-owned character type.

It can’t be a complete and total coincidence that all of his greatest work was edited by Archie Goodwin, can it?

My theory is that as Loeb’s star rose, he received less and less editorial interference, and decided he didn’t need to try quite so hard anymore. On the strength of his early works with Tim Sale (all of which are pretty decent; seriously, The Challengers of the Unknown Must Die!? Good stuff), he became a “name” creator, to the point where he was doing pretty much whatever the hell he wanted on Superman/Batman and continues to do so at Marvel.

In short, it doesn’t matter if his scripts are the work of a good writer anymore; they’re the work of a popular writer, and that’s just as important.

Anyway, that’s my theory at the moment. A popular one I’ve heard is that Tim Sale is just so goddam good that even Loeb scripts read like brilliant work when he illustrates them.

I don’t know, really. I do know that 1993’s Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special #1 knocked 16-year-old Caleb’s socks off, giving us what is, in my opinion, the very best of all the Scarecrow designs, and, not so incidentally, setting the Loeb/Sale team on the path to creating their later Batman epics.

This was the first of three LDK Halloween specials, each pitting a “Year One” era Batman against his redesigned-by-Sale foes. In 1994, it was The Mad Hatter; in 1995, it was a Christmas Carol riff featuring The Penguin, Poison Ivy and the Joker. From there, the pair added every Bat rogue and every holiday they could into the mix, giving us two year-long murder mysteries, Batman: The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory.

The story of the first special was entitled “Choices,” and referred to young Bruce Wayne deciding whether he should devote himself to a life of Batmanning or the love of a woman. Well, we know how that turned out.

Helping him decide was fearsome new foe, Jonathan Crane, who we meet on the first page, riding a horse through Gotham:


Let's take a closer look:

Tim Sale’s Scarecrow didn’t look much like the original “Year One” version of the character, nor any version drawn by previous artists. For one, he eschewed browns for a more stark black and white.

While it’s clearly a man in a costume—we see the bloodshot eyes through the holes in the mask, and his human fingers poking out of the finger-less gloves—the body shape doesn’t always reflect this, with the tattered bits of clothing and the huge, witch-like hat being stirred by and toyed with by winds that don’t necessarily play with the backgrounds or other characters. (In some panels, too, there doesn’t seem to be a human body in the costume, based on the way the neck disappears).

The Salecrow also seems to have whole head of straw hair, something you don’t see very often, and his face is sewed onto the outside of the mask, with patches of various colors forming a nose, and framing his human eyes (In the face, there seems to be a little bit of the Wizard of Oz scarecrow, and a lot of Disney’s Dr. Syn/The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh). He also seems to have a wooden frame in his shoulders, another thing you don't see often in Jonathan Crane designs.

Like I said, this is my favorite version of the Scarecrow, and in high school I used to draw versions of him all the time in the borders of my notebooks during lectures. There’s something enormously satisfying about drawing the stitching around the eyes and nose…

Loeb and Sale’s version of The Scarecrow wasn’t much like previous versions, and he spoke almost exclusively in nursery rhymes, to the point where it would actually be rather jarring when he snapped out of it and started talking directly to the characters again.

In addition to “Choices,” he played a role in both Long Halloween and Dark Victory, teaming up with the other “freaks” to make life hell for Batman and/or the Falcone family. (Loeb and Sale have a really nice scene where The Scarecrow and Mad Hatter are arguing with each other in nursery rhyme gibberish).

Given how popular those two stories are, I’m kind of surprised that the Salecrow version of The Scarecrow never became the preeminent version, and that Blevins’ design still seems to be the most influential one. The only other artist who seems to have taken cues on how to draw Scarecrow from Sale seems to be Sean Murphy, whose version from Year One: Batman/Scarecrow has a hat and fingerless gloves similar to Sale’s, plus some straw hair, but for all around creepiness and awesomeness, it doesn’t hold a candle to Sale’s.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Some of my Favorite Scarecrows #5: Alan Davis'

One Batman creative team I’d love to see more of is the one made up of Mike Barr, Alan Davis and Paul Neary. I’ve only ever actually read two stories these guys have done, both collected in greatest hits style trades (Stacked Deck: The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, Batman in the Eighties), and in both cases they were among the very best stories in the collections (Confidential to DC Comics’ trade program: I would totally buy a trade collecting all Barr/Davis/Neary Bat-stories in one volume).

One of those two stories was 1987’s Detective Comics #571, which featured Batman and Robin vs. The Scarecrow. I won’t go into much detail here, because Dave Campbell has already written a better, funnier summary than I could, but it involves a new twist on The Scarecrow’s traditional fear toxin, and one of the greatest Batman panels of all time.

Let’s take a closer look at Davis and Neary’s Scarecrow:

Man, I love their Scarecrow (Actually, I love all their Bat-character designs…specifically their Robin, who seems like a real little kid).

Davis doesn’t do anything terribly radical with the design, and it’s pretty much your generic Scarecrow, just as Breyfogle’s and Jones’ were. Like them, he also has the face more or less blank, save for a bit of stitching for the mouth, except when some degree of expression is desired, and, also like them, he really draws attention to the hands, which become huge and clawlike—here the fingers moving seemingly at random, as if they have minds of their owns. I can see this Scarecrow’s digits kind of wiggling themselves in between panels, and it’s a pretty creepy image.

Davis seems to have been thinking Wizard of Oz when it comes to his Scarecrow’s posture, because he really seems to be devoid of a human skeleton, and just stuffed with straw, based on the weird angles at which his body bends. Just look at that panel where he shoots Batman (Phoot phoot phoot phoot!). His neck is diagonal between his head and shoulders, and the top half of his torso seems to have hinges right below the ribcages.

This bendy, boneless Scarecrow makes for a great punching bag too:

The Worst of The Scarecrow

While The Scarecrow has been drawn by a lot of great artists over the years, and starred in a lot of pretty good Batman comics, not every appearance is golden. Or bronze. Or tin. There have been quite a few bad Scarecrow stories and sub-par Scarecrow designs, so I’d like to take a break from highlighting some of the best of the Scarecrow to take a look at some of the worst.

You would think his strong visual hook and compelling modus operandi would make him into a popular villain for other DC books to borrow, but the fact of the matter is Scarecrow stories in non-Batman books don’t usually turn out so well.

For example, in 1994, The Scarecrow became the first DCU character to guest-star in brand-new series Anima, one of the many ill-fated attempts to spin something lasting out of the Bloodlines annual event (Hitman was ultimately the only Bloodlines ongoing with any legs at all).

Now, I have a soft spot for this series, and teenaged Caleb was pretty into it. Looking back now, it’s shameless in its pandering, and pretty hilarious in how dated it is (Anima is to grunge as Vibe is to breakdance), but, well, they were pandering to me specifically, and, like a lot of the DC comics I was reading at the time, I was just as enamored by the potential I saw in the characters as the characters themselves.

Someday I’m going to have to force myself to reread this series and write something serious on it, because it is an incredibly weird one. The art in the first few issues alone was so bizarre…almost collage-like, and the book looked and felt more like a bad Vertigo comic than a DCU comic of any kind, even when Hawkman or Superboy showed up.

Anyway, teenage runaway Courtney Mason, whom we’d previously met in New Titans Annual #9 and various Bloodlines branded books, has made her way to Rain City, which is a DCU fake city version of Seattle. In 1994! What cooler place to set a comic book, huh?

She’s befriended a few similar teenage outcasts, including an Asian pickpocket named Pockets and the diverse members of a grunge band called Boojum (Including a lesbian! Who likes her! In 1994!).

One of those bandmates is your typical dunderheaded type, who’s always trying to score with the ladies. Finding a hot chick passing out flyers for a strange new drug rehab clinic called New Dawn, he checks himself into it, in an attempt to score with the chick.

Turns out, New Dawn is actually run by Courtney’s evil aunt, a mad scientist type trying to figure out how Courtney and her mom are able to access some Carl Jungian style mystical mumbo jumbo realm called the Arcana and populated by archetypes (Courtney can summon “Animus,” a big, hairy red monster that beats things up for her). Also on staff? A skinny, bespectacled Gotham psychologist who goes by the name Dr. Egret.

Wait, egret? That’s a kind of bird, isn’t it? Like, a tall, skinny bird? With a long neck and long legs? Not unlike a crane? Oh my God! Dr. Crane! The Scarecrow!

When Courtney and Boojum bust into the joing, Dr. “Egret” captures Courtney, injects her, and puts on his costume for, like, four panels. Animus beats him up, and he goes to jail. Those cover images grossly exaggerate the amount of Scarecrow in the book, but Anima had a bad habit of grossly exaggerating the amount of guest-starrage in it. For example, the first issue was solicited as guest-starring Batman, but, in actuality, Animus simply impersonates Batman in one panel. (Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter do actually guest star later, however).

A more recent not-very-good Scarecrow story was Aquaman #30-#31, “Kiss of Death,” by Marc Guggenheim and Andy Clarke. This was during the last volume of Aquaman, after it quit being a boring book about Aquaman traveling around the world fighting The Thirst (who I’m pretty sure was actually a Kool-Aid Man villain at one point) and became a boring book about Aquaman being the Batman of Sub Diego.

In this particular story, someone is killing Sub Diegans by forcing oxygen down their throats, suffocating them (see, the Sub Diegans were mass-mutated to breathe water and exhale oxygen…which doesn’t make sense since there’s oxygen in water, but let’s not worry about that right now). Eight people have died so far, and Aquaman, Aquagirl II, and a new female police detective character want to solve the crime.

Since the killings are taking place underwater in Sub Diego, which used to be part of the city of San Diego, Aquaman decides he needs to talk to a specialist on serial killing, so obviously he travels all the way to east coast city Gotham to talk with Dr. Jonathan “The Scarecrow” Crane in Arkham Asylum.

Why? I have no idea. The killer isn’t doing anything at all fear related, and Crane is basically just used as a generic smart serial killer, a Hannibal Lecter to Aquaman’s Clarice (But that actually makes it sound more exciting than it actually is; their relationship is just quick and business like, and there’s no sense of Crane gaming Aquaman).

The closest I can come up with for an explanation to this story is that Guggenheim just really likes The Scarecrow (Hey, I don’t blame him!) and just squeezed him in here, since he happened to be writing a fill-in on Aquaman rather than a fill-in on Batman.

And since I can’t find my copy of Hawkman #26, those are all the bad comics guest-starring The Scarecrow that I’ve got.

Anyone have any other recommendations?

To return to the subject of Scarecrow character design, I think the very worst Scarecrow design of all probably belongs to artist Vince Giarrano (whose work I actually like quite a lot) who with writer Dough Moench created an alternate future version of the character that seems kind of amusing for about a second, but, if you look at/think about it any longer than that, you begin to realize how stupid it actually is.

Their Scarecrow appeared in 1996’s Batman Annual #20, one of the “Legends of the Dead Earth” themed annuals. This was undoubtedly the worst idea for themed annuals anyone at DC ever came up with. The gist of it was that sometime in the farflung future, the Earth was dead, and heroes had spread out onto other planets. None of them were really “our” heroes, since so much time has elapsed, but they all coincidentally had the same names and similar powers. I guess the idea was to show how enduring the DC heroes were or something, but the results were kind of unappealing. I think I only actually read two—the Batman annual and the Aquaman annual—so I don’t know, maybe some of them turned out great.

But Batman Annual #20 sure as hell wasn’t one of them.

What we had here was a story within a story. An old man is telling some young kids about the “Bat-Man,” which breaks up into little stories of a crazy looking Bat-Man and Darkwing (I think his name was). The former looked like a man in a werebat costume, as Rick Baker might design for a movie, and the latter looked like Hawkman with Robin’s colors on. Together, they flew around this big future city, capturing alternate future versions of Batman’s classic foes, whom they would then drop down a hollowed out tower into a prison they called Hell.

The villains were all redesigned by Giarrano, and I really loved the style he used on this book (his art was the main reason I bought it). Rereading it in preparation for Seven Days of the Scarecrow week, I was able to pin down exactly what I liked about it.

It was almost as if Giarrano was drawing the whole book sarcastically, in a loose, rough, exaggerated style that showed someone capable of much better aping a sort of post-Image house style not so much to replicate it, but because he thought it was funny. This is just a guess, of course, but given the subject of the story—the old man telling stories of these dark, wicked cook heroes and the silly villains they fought—it sure seems to fit.

Giarrano’s art here is like that of Marc Hempel’s mixed with Rob Liefeld’s, and that certainly makes it something worth taking a look at.

Anyway, for some reason Moench gives the all the villains lame names that underscore that they’re basically the traditionally rogues, only lamer. So the Penguin character is “Ice Bird,” The Joker is “The Jester,” and Catwoman is “Cat-Femme.”

The Scarecrow in this annual? He’s a guy whose job is to literally scare birds away from the crops, and then decides to try and scare Bat-Man and Darkwing, turning to a life of crime.

His design? He’s your classic Scarecrow…except he has the head of an actual crow. And, as Giarrano draws it, it’s a big old Heckle and Jeckle-style head. This Scarecrow is a crow scarecrow.

Finally, this is probably the absolute worst Scarecrow story ever written. Don't read it. Seriously. It's awful.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Some of my Favorite Scarecrows #4: Kelley Jones'

I’ve mentioned my love of artist Kelley Jones’ work here many times before, and it should therefore come as no surprise that his is one of my favorite visual interpretations of The Scarecrow.

Jones’ specialty is drawing scary shit, so a character whose whole deal is to dress up scary and try to scare people? That’s pretty much right up his alley.

The first Jones-drawn Scarecrow I came across was the one on the cover of Batman #494, part of the 1993“Knightfall” storyline in which Batman had to face each and every one of his rouges’ gallery, working his way up to Bane, who freed them all simultaneously from Arkham Asylum and armed them.

The Scarecrow and the Joker teamed up to terrorize Gotham in tandem, and they were the last foes Batman faced before he returned to the Batcave to face Bane, still tripping pretty hardcore on some Scarecrow gas.

The fight didn’t go well for our boy Batman.

At this point, Jones was just the cover artist for Batman, and his designs were more or less the standard character designs, with his own interpretation shading them slightly (His Batman, for example, was the same Batman Jim Aparo was drawing inside; Jones’ just happened to have ears that were three times as long).

His Scarecrow, therefore, was pretty much your standard Scarecrow, not looking any different from Norm Breyfogle’s from a few years before.

But a year and two other storylines beginning with the prefix "Knight-" later, Jones would move inside, to become the regular penciler on Batman, working with writer Doug Moench and inker John Beatty.

I loved this creative team, and though their stint was relatively short-ish (#515-#552), they remain my second favorite Batman creative team of all time, beaten out only by the incomparable Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle team, who served together far longer, and added more new characters to the Batman stable than Moench and Jones.

Jones is most certainly the greater partner in their collaboration, at least in terms of why I like it so much, but if Moench’s stories lacked either verisimilitude or great characterization, they had a neat sort of cartoon artificiality about them. Moench’s scripts seem quite aware that they’re to be comic books, and the characters act like characters in a dark superhero drama, rather than, like, real people, or characters in a novel or TV show, if that makes sense. The stories all tended to be short, and focused sharply and cleverly to define Batman and the characters in Batman’s world, often by contrasting them against one another.

Looking back on their run, it was almost like a Brave and the Bold run, as just about every issue featured Batman either combating one of his major rogues (Black Mask, Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, Man-Bat, The Joker, The Penguin, Clayface, the new Black Spider) and/or teaming up with one of DC’s creepier, more Kelley Jones-ready antiheroes (Swamp Thing, Deadman, The Spectre, Etrigan the Demon, Ragman).

It was almost as if Moench was writing the series specifically to give Jones the things he wanted to draw, which, come to think of it, wasn’t a bad way to write Batman at the time, since, as a reader, I really wanted to see Jones draw all those characters.

The Scarecrow, obviously, was on the list:

Here’s how Moench, Jones and Beatty introduce us to the Scarecrow on the first two pages of part one:

Jones had clearly refined his Scarecrow design since that “Knightfall” cover a few years previously, although it’s essentially the same—The Scarecrow looks more or less like he would have in an old Who’s Who or Batman comic from anywhere in the previous 20 years or so. But under Jones’ pencil, his body takes on a weird shape and nervous energy (check out his descent from the pole in panel 3 up there, or his twisted posture in panel 4).

Jones, like Breyfogle, allows Scarecrow’s expression to show through the mask to varying degrees, depending on how expressive he wants him in a particular panel. Except when he wants a full expression to show through, rather than a subtle, jack o' lantern like expression, it’s something wholly fucking horrifying—The Scarecrow’s face seemingly rotting into a mummified skull in the last panel for his close-up.

As Batman vs. Scarecrow stories go, it’s a pretty standard affair, but Jones’ art elevates it into something special. My favorite parts include a scene in part one where he literally sneaks up on a hobo and says “boo,” scaring the guy away, and the showdown in part two, which is set in an amusement park haunted house type ride. Usually, that’s the kind of place a Joker showdown would be set, but it makes sense for the Scarecrow in certain contexts too, so it was kind of refreshing to see them fight there instead of, I don’t know, Gotham University or a cornfield or barn for the ten thousandth time.

Jones would draw The Scarecrow again in the third part of the Vampire Batman trilogy, Batman: Bloodstorm, in which the vampire Batman rises from the dead to slaughter all his surviving foes. In that, the Scarecrow looks pretty much the same as he does in the DCU comics that Jones drew, except he wields a handheld sickle, and has decorated his costume with severed fingers.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Scarecrow vs. Judge Death

From Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham by Alan Grant, John Wagner and Simon Bisley (DC Comics; 1991)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Some of my Favorite Scarecrows #3: Norm Breyfogle's

I’ve already mentioned how much I love Norm Breyfogle’s work this week, and his Scarecrow is a good example of why I love his art so much. He takes an absolute standard design, with no real deviation, and really makes it sing.

Breyfogle drew The Scarecrow during a three-part story arc by Alan Grant than ran through Batman #455-#457. This is actually a pretty significant story in Bat-history, as it’s the one where Tim Drake, the young man who was just kinda hanging out in the Batcave since “A Lonely Place of Dying,” was officially handed the mantle of Robin.

It’s winter in Gotham City, and someone’s been outfitting random people with these weird cloth skull masks that, once they put them on, turns them into crazy axe murders. Batman’s running around town trying to figure out what’s causing this and who could be behind it, and finds out on the last page of part two, when our mystery villain makes the scene.

Well, it was a mystery to me, and whoever else might have been reading Batman in 1990, but since this is part of Scarecrow week here at EDILW, you can probably guess who’s behind it.

So, Batman has fallen into the Scarecrow’s clutches, and Crane hangs him upside down and opens, one at a time, a series of vial containing particular fear compounds. Unlike his normal fear gas, each of these is attuned to evoke a particular fear. So he opens up eau de arachnapobia, for example, and suddenly Batman’s freaking out thinking he’s covered in spiders.

Meanwhile, Tim Drake has figured out who the culprit is and where he’s at, but is faced with a conundrum. Does he disobey Batman’s orders, thus risking his chance to ever become Robin (plus his own life…and Batman plunging back into pre-“Lonely Place of Dying” madness again if Drake dies on his watch) in order to save Batman’s?

He decides to go into action, not as Robin, but as Drake. Putting on a ski mask and lifting a pole, he storms Scarecrows hidout, fights through his worst fears, and straight knocks a shelf of toxins on The Scarecrow, who freaks out, thinking he’s strung up in a field being pecked and bitten by bats and robins.


Here’s what Breyfogle’s Scarecrow looked like:

As you can see, it's pretty much just the generic Scarecrow costume—aside from the lack of eye holes or a mouth hole, it seems pretty clear that it's just a guy in tattered rags with a bag over his head, as you can see when there's a close up profile of him. Breyfogle does a great job on the hands though, striking a nice balance between making them look sharp and claw-like and making them look like regular old work gloves.

I also like how the face is essentially expresionless, which is always kind of unnerving, except when Breyfogle wants it to have an expression, and then a very simple, minamalist type of expression shows through, of the sort you might be able to carve into a jack o' lantern. This fluctuation between realism and theatrical expressionism are pretty typical of Breyfogle's work, and you see it all the time in his Batman, who will one moment look totally real, and the next seem to be generating shadows, his eyes and gritted teeth glowing.

Note also how exagerrated all the Scarecrow's movements are. He's literally reeling aroud the scene, like a drunken silent movie actor. You can really see him kind of manic with glee at having captured Batman and Vicki Vale and finally winning his feud with Batman.

Seven Days of the Scarecrow: Other Media

I mentioned at the outset of Seven Days of the Scarecrow that one of the things that attracted me to the character was how he was a relative unknown, at least compared to some of the bigger stars in Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery. Part of his lower profile is owed to the fact that he hasn’t appeared in quite as many adaptations of the comics into other media, at least not with the frequency that, say, The Joker or Catwoman have.

But Jonathan Crane has still made it into quite a few different media adaptations, and it’s interesting to look at the different ways in which different designers have tackled the designs for the character.

In the1968 Filmation Batman cartoon, which was well before my time, the Scarecrow didn’t get his name-dropped in the seizure-tastic opening credits scene, but he does appear.

Check it out:

I really like this version of the character. It looks like they’re basically using him as a more rustic version of the Joker, with a sort of clown-like face and bemused, high-pitched voice. I really like the face, and how the costume looks so last minute. Like he literally stripped a real scarecrow in the middle of a pumpkin patch and just put its clothes on before going off to rob the auction.

Scarecrow was also one of the 13 villains who made up the Legion of Doom in 1978 series Challenge of the Superfriends, a cartoon I was alive to watch, and remembered quite fondly.

Well, I thought I remembered it, anyway. I remembered liking it as a wee one, but when I rewatched old episodes on Cartoon Network a few years back, I realized that a) that show was fucking horrible and that b) The Scarecrow was in it. I had no memory of ever seeing him from back when I was little. Did he ever do anything on the show, except fill up one of the seats around Luthor’s podium?

He and The Riddler both seem pretty out of place on that line-up of super-powered villains, seeing as they can’t really, you know, do anything. Anyway, this is what he looked like there:

His…peculiarity among his teammates is underscored in those old Cartoon Network promos featuring the Legion of Doom, like the one where Brainiac demands pants, and Luthor tries to give the Legionnaires little pep talks about they each already possess all they really need to succeed. When thinking of something nice to say to Scarecrow, he stumbles, “Scarecrow you’re-- you’re-- you’re made of straw!”

(In the other Cartoon Network/Legion of Doom short, the Powerpuff Girls totally set Scarecrow on fire and make him scream like a little girl).

He would have a lot more to do in the 1990’s Batman cartoons, Batman: The Animated Series. He had two distinct looks in the original series, and received one of the more radical redesigns when the show redesigned many of the characters (Jeffrey Combs played him in the second iteration of the show).

Here’s a little featurette in which the producers discuss his evolution, with images of all three versions:

Despite my affection for the character, I don’t think the animated series did much for him. At least, his showcase episodes didn’t reinvent him or show him to be full of heretofore unrealized potential the way that episodes focusing on, say, The Mad Hatter or Mr. Freeze did those rogues (Honestly, those first appearances by each of them are probably the best stories to ever feature either character, in any medium). And Two-Face and the Joker always shone like gold in the animated series. Scarecrow more or less was just the same old comic book Scarecrow…except moving.

DC Comics produced a series of ongoings based on the animated series, and the Scarecrow’s appearances there would reflect his animated ones. Of them, the later, Hanged Man look proved to be the most influential. I was honestly quite surprised to see Alex Ross using that version of the character—or at least echoing the design for it—in his Superfriends celebratory series, Justice, since Ross usually hews so closely to the official late Silver Age/early Bronze Age versions of the characters. Ross' Justice version seemd to cut the third Animated Series version into a more standard Scarecrow design.

Scarecrow, like most of the original Bat-villains didn’t show up in Batman Beyond, although in direct-to-DVD movie Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker one of the Joker’s henchmen, Ghoul, resembles a sort of goth, teenage version of the Scarecrow.

I haven’t watched much of The Batman, but it doesn’t look like The Scarecrow ever showed up there, yet…at least, not according to its imdb page. (Odd too, considering they’ve had Bane, Firefly, Killer Croc and The Ventriloquist there).

As for live action, The Scarecrow didn’t make it onto the 1960s TV show or into the first cycle of feature films, but he was, of course, one of the bad guys in 2005’s Batman Begins.

And he was apparently the very bottom of the barrel of the Rogue’s Gallery, along with Ra’s al Ghul. Since they’re starting over with the Joker in the next Batman movie, it seems Scarecrow and Ra’s were like the last two kids picked at recess when splitting up into teams, last resort villains used because all the flashier ones were already used. (Which doesn’t bode well for the likes of Killer Croc, Clayface, Mad Hatter or Man-Bat—those guys are never gonna be in a movie now).

He was played by Cillian Murphy, which makes the live action version of The Scarecrow by far the dreamiest version. Those piercing eyes, those delicate features—why oh why did Dr. Crane turn to a life of crime, instead of a life of fashion modeling?

He didn’t really get all that much screen time, all things considered, and it wasn’t a horribly cinematic take on the character, as Murphy basically just donned the mask over his fashionable doctor’s suit now and then. He did ride a horse though, and that was cool.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Some of my Favorite Scarecrows #2: Bret Blevins'

I admit it—When artist Bret Blevins' work first appeared in Batman: Shadow of the Bat, I was pretty bummed about it. SOTB had been launched as the brand-new ongoing series that would serve as the new home to the Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle creative team, then and now my favorite Batman creative team.

Breyfogle left almost immediately though, and Grant soldiered on with various replacements, some of whom had a quirky style that fit in well with Breyfogle's mildly cartoony expressionism (Like Tim Sale and Vince Giarrano), while others not so much (Dan Jurgens, Joe Staton, Mike Collins). With #16, Bret Blevins became the more-or-less regular artist on the series, and his muscular, rounder, softer version of Batman was too far removed from the sharp, angular, dynamic one I'd grown used to seeing in Grant-written stories.

His first story arc was "The God of Fear," a three-parter that ran through #18, and was sort of a soft tie-in to the ongoing "Knightfall" storyline (it had the Knightfall logo in the upper right hand corner, but wasn't numbered as such). It pitted Batman (now being played by Jean-Paul Valley, though still rocking the old suit) and Anarky against The Scarecrow.

By all rights, it should have been a story I loved, but I just couldn't get used to Blevins' versions of these characters (particularly Anarky, whom Breyfogle co-created and thus pretty much defined visually). I'm sure teenage Caleb pounded out an irate letter or two during this story arc on his word processor.

I didn't much care for Blevins' Scarecrow either, as the design allowed for Crane's real eyes and mouth to peek through the holes in the costume, accentuating the fact that he was just a guy in a suit, rather than a guy doing a convincing job of being a supernatural terror (This is the same reason I always despised depictions of Batman with stubble on his chin).

Looking back now, however, not only do I appreciate Blevins' art a lot more than I did as a teenager with too-few comics under my belt (his toothy Joker, which he drew for an origin story in Legends of the Dark Knight #50, is particularly disturbing), but I actually really dig his Scarecrow.

He's not just tall and skinny, but impossibly so, closer to a stick figure than a skeletal one. With his big round head, he resembles a bit of a lollipop in some panels. Blevins' mask actually looks a little more disturbing than the older, feature-less ones. From an aesthetic standpoint, I like the unreality of the more expressionless or cartoonish expressioned masks, but the madman peeking through the face? That's a bit scarier to me, even if it's not quite as cool looking.

Blevins would draw the Scarecrow again in 1995's Batman Annual #19. If you were reading DC back then, that was the year when all the annuals were tied together by a "Year One" theme, giving the origins of the stars. Since Batman already had a year one story (and a year two and year three), his annuals were all turned over to a few of his villains, and Dough Moench wrote the Scarecrow origin, and the tale of his first battle with Batman (Completely different versions of their first encounter were also told by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, in a Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween special we'll take a look at later in the week, and more recently by Bruce Jones and Sean Murphy in the movie cash-in Year One: Batman/Scarecrow).

Moench played up the relation between Jonathan Crane and Ichabod Crane—two tall, skinny, laughed-at fools who shared a surname—and gave Crane some fighting ability, based on his thrashing, spasmodic dancing (One of these two stories featured Scarecrow boasting of his "Crane style" fighting technique to Batman; I can't remember which now).

Blevins' skinny Scarecrow is super-loosed limbed, and he often moves around as if he doesn't have any bones at all, but is really just clothes and straw. I like the weird angles his body contorts into when he's sneaking around or fighting.

Blevins' version of the character seems to have been the most influential of the last decade or so. Many future Scarecrow artists would apparently look to Blevins' for inspiration—Duncan Fegredo in Scarecrow #1, Carl Critchlow in Batman/Scarecrow 3-D #1, Paul Gulacy in crazy-ass Legends of the Dark Knight arc "Terror," Tom Mandrake in his recent two-issue Dectective fill-in story, even the mask Cillian Murphy breifly dons in Batman Begins looks a bit like Blevins' version—making this more or less the definitive version of the Scarecrow for a period.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Some of my Favorite Scarecrows #1: Jim Balent's

These days Jim Balent is probably best known for his Tarot bad girl comics, of which I don’t even know enough to feel comfortable even attempting a joke about, as I’ve never read a single issue. (In fact, I don’t even know of anyone—either in person or that I’ve encountered online—who reads Tarotcomics, save Chris Sims, who seems to have been reading them simply for blog fodder, until even he lost patience with them).

Whatever your opinion on Balent’s current output, it is remarkable how long he’s been at it—I just saw on his site he’s up to #48 of Tarot, writing and drawing the thing himself—and if he’s making a living doing what he wants and no one’s getting hurt, then that’s cool for him.

Before he started doing his own thing at Broadsword though, Balent put in an utterly remarkable stint on DC’s previous volume of the Catwoman ongoing. It launched with Balent as pencil artist back in 1993 (sort of spinning out of the “Knightfall” storyline), and it looks like he was on board through 2000. That’s seven years, and about eighty monthly issues (counting specials like #0 and #1,000,000 and so forth). I didn’t personally read it monthly, save for Devin Grayson’s run (the high point, if you ask me), so I’m not 100% positive here, but I don’t think Balent ever needed fill-in artists or took any story arcs off, even during crossovers with the other Bat-books (I could be wrong though; I didn’t check every single issue on

He lasted through a small stable of different writers (Grayson, Jo Duffy, Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, etc) and was eventually removed from the title simply because he had been there so long. I remember the online interviews at the time saying that Balent was awesome, everyone liked him, but the editors worried the title was getting stagnant with the same artist month in and month out. So they replaced him…and about a year later it was totally cancelled.

Now, there’s a lot of room to make fun of Jim Balent when it comes to the obvious pleasure the man took in drawing Selina Kyle, giving her a pretty ludicrous Barbie doll figure that didn’t look remotely like the kind of body that should be able to manage all the crazy climbing, swimming, gymnastics and fighting she did in her advetures. (This was also the unfortunate period of Catwoman costuming too, during which she wore that purple suit with the open back for her long, flowing hair. Me, I always preferred the gray-suited version, with the whiskers and tail, and the short, spiky hair underneath).

But Balent also drew a pretty nice Batman, one that was big, scary and covered with sharp points. And he drew a pretty good Robin. And Azrael. And Alfred. And Gorilla Grodd. And Razorsharp and the Psyba-Rats. I know the guy tends to be thought of as a one-trick pony in a lot of corners these days, but the truth of the matter is he’s not such a bad artist.

Flipping through some old Catwomans recently, while thinking about the current trend in DC comics to get “hot” artists with a lot of surface pizzazz and not much foundation (Ed Benes, Joe Benitez, Tony S. Daniel, etc.) to draw top-tier books, I became even more impressed by Balent’s old Catwoman work.

I mean, Balent and Benes may both draw super-idealized (to the point of somewhat repulsive) female forms. But Balent is a much better “actor” than Benes when it comes to emoting, and there’s much greater variety in his designs. Plus, he draws backgrounds and panels full of things. Plus he doesn’t need a fill-in every couple of issues. Jesus, if DC wants to make sure JLoA is full of boobilicious women not wearing any pants, why the hell don’t they just hire Balent? At least the comics wouldn’t hurt my eyes as much to look at.

Anyway, you know who Balent really draws a nice version of?

The Scarecrow, as he demonstrated in 1998’a Catwoman #58-#60, a three-part story written by Devin Grayson that pits the feline fatale against Jonathan Crane.

To my knowledge this is the only time Balent’s drawn the Scarecrow, and it’s a pretty idiosyncratic version.

Let’s look at some pages:

Note how the Scarecrow costume itself seems to belong to a different comic all together, as it sort of behaves according to its own rules and physics—the point of the hat and the corners of its brim forming little curly cues, while nothing else on those pages has such playful stylization.

It’s clear that Balent’s Scarecrow is just a man in a costume—when we first meet him in the story, it’s as Jonathan Crane sans costume—but when he’s got the costume on, it seems to have expressions of its own, the stitched-up mouth and eye holes moving as if the suit itself were alive.

There’s something pretty Seussian about Balent’s Scarecrow, but the more obvious inspiration is the design sensibility of Tim Burton. Balent’s Scarecrow has a very Jack Skellington sort of face, and his leggings and gloves have that horizontal stripe pattern that Burton and his fans so love…in Halloween colors here, of course (I like how the motif carries over to Crane’s dart too).

Balent’s version of the character apparently wasn’t all that popular—I don’t think any future Bat-artists kept any Balent’s tweaks in tact for their own versions—but it’s almost ten years old now, and it’s still one of my favorites.

Seven Days of the Scarecrow

Next Wednesday is Halloween, and to celebrate, EDILW is going to spend the next seven days focusing on a seasonally appropriate comic book character, one who is, incidentally, one of our favorite villains—The Scarecrow.

The Scarecrow is one of those perfect Batman villains, one that has a bizarre visual appearance that ties directly into his sinister modus operandi, not to mention his name.

He’s as straightforward as a comic book villain can be. His name? The Scarecrow. His costume? A scarecrow costume. His schtick? He likes to scare people.

You all know his deal, right? Dr. Jonathan Crane, tall, skinny, somewhat bookish Gotham City psychologist and college professor obsessed with the study of fear? Took his experiments too far and alienated his students and colleagues? Decided to wreak his revenge by dressing up as an actual scarecrow and using various fear toxins to scare his foes? Eventually begins matching his scare tactics versus those of the Batman in an ongoing rivalry to determine who Gotham’s true master of fear is?

Yeah, I love that guy.

Part of my affection for the character is likely simply because he starred in a few of the first Batman comics I ever read (Batman/Judge Dredd, Robin: A Hero Reborn). And part of it is that when I first encountered him, he was a character that was really quite new and intriguing to me because he seemed to have this long history with Batman, and yet I’d never heard of him. Like a few other Bat-villains—The Mad Hatter, The Tweedles, Two-Face—he menaced Batman in the comics for some sixty years, but he never made it onto the TV shows or movies the way The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman and the Riddler did (Actually, Scarecrow was on Challenge of the Super-Friends, but I had no memory of it at the time). So he seemed like a sort of secret, bonus Batman villain to a new reader, if that makes sense. He was one of many treasures that rewarded a young teen who dug on Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film for getting into the comics that inspired it.

The other thing I like about him is how flexible his costume is. Like Batman and all of Batman’s other villains, the Scarecrow can look completely different depending on who’s drawing him, and I think his appearance and costume may actually even be more flexible than, say, The Penguin or Joker, who vary from artist to artist and appearance to appearance, but not quite as wildly as The Scarecrow does.

I think in part that’s simply because his “look” is simply a homemade, head-to-toe costume. It’s taken for granted that the guy has to sew himself a new get-up every time he breaks out of the asylum, which seems to give artists a freer hand to dress him according to their own tastes.

We’ll be looking at several of my favorite versions of the Scarecrow costumes over the course of the next few days, as well as sundry other Scarecrow-related features as we embark upon Seven Days of the Scarecrow.

Ready? Good, because we start in, like, five minutes.

October 25th's Meanwhile in Las Vegas...

This week's Las Vegas Weekly comics review column doesn't actually review any comics, but it does cover a book full of work by comics artists—Clean Cartoonists' Dirty Drawings.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Weekly Haul: October 24th

Action Comics #857 (DC Comics) After sagging quite a bit in that violent, meandering, kinda pointless middle chapter, “Escape From Bizarro World” finishes quite strong, with a brief appearance from the Bizarro Justice League (I do hope Yellow Lantern shows up in Green Lantern sometime), and more backwards foolishness. Plus, there’s a whole lot of more memorable stuff, like Pa Kent sitting his boy Clark down for a talk, and sitting his boy Superman down for a talk, and sitting his boy Bizarro down for a talk. I know that sounds like a lot of sitting down and talking for a single issue, but they’re brief, pointed scenes, and there’s plenty of other fun stuff, like Superman’s new power, Pa’s new powers, the Bizarro Guy From The Cover of Action Comics #1 and the absolute horror with which the Bizarro’s react to a sphere.

Writers Geoff Johns and Richard Donner’s work on Superman comics thus far has been kind of spotty, in terms of how well they get the character and how well they exploit him and his world for good comic book stories. (Keeping in mind, of course, they’ve only told one and a half stories together so far). There’s certainly a lot to like, but they’ve never really been able to distill the good parts of all previous eras of Superman into something that’s fresh and fun the way Superman writer Kurt Busiek or All-Star Superman writer Grant Morrison have been doing consistently. But with this issue, it seemed to me like they’ve finally gotten the hang of it. This was just cover-to-cover fun.

As much as I love that little “DING” as Superman fixes the Daily Planet, my favorite part was Yellow Lantern’s refusal to try and frighten Bizarro Lex Luthor: “Lex Luthor? Pfft! Him am bald so him am scared of nothing!

Oh if only it were true that the bald feared nothing, Yellow Lantern. If only it were true.

Blue Beetle #20 (DC) I’m a little conflicted about this issue, the first I’ve found less than entertaining since I started reading it regularly a few months back. I’m sure from a business standpoint, tying into the enormously successful “Sinestro Corps War” storyline running through the Green Lantern titles seems like a smart move for a struggling book like Blue Beetle, which seems always in danger of cancellation. And it’s not as if the tie-in is an incredibly forced one, as there appears to be some history between the title character’s magic scarab, his background bad guys The Reach (lame name, that), and the Green Lantern Corps. (What that history is exactly, though, I don’t know…I sat out those issues of the series). What it does though is beg a little bit of understanding of what’s going on elsewhere in the DCU, as well as what’s been going on in this series, like what’s up with this tattooed Peacemaker exactly.

Personally, I felt pretty damn lost, which was a bit unusual in that the major strength of the last half-dozen or so issues seems to have been how easily accessible they were. Regular writer John Rogers and regular artist Rafael Albuquerque both do solid jobs here, but Rogers’ usual wit is much less sharp in this ish, as it’s a rather serious story, and there aren’t really any great lines in this issue, but there is a rather tired cliché (the old travel into one of the characters’ minds bits). That this is merely an okay issue is really too bad precisely because this is a tie-in to DC’s biggest, most well liked storyline at the moment. I imagine a lot of GL or DC fans who have yet to try out the new Blue Beetle but have been hearing the Internet ranting and raving about how great it is might look at this as a good point to finally give it a shot and, well, it’s not.

Superman #669 (DC) Kurt Busiek and Rick Leonardi reveal the identity of the Third Kryptonian! (And that’s the third one if you don’t count Kryptonians from other dimensions…or dogs…or microscopic ones stuck in a bottled city). I was pretty surprised by the reveal, simply because based on that outline, I was expecting either another young woman or a young man. But this? This I did not expect. The issue is actually a little dry, as the newcomer tells her life story to visitor Superman, and we get a little history lesson about the rise and fall of the Kryptonian Empire, which is probably cool if you like space opera, but all those hyphenated names and different planets are like white noise to me. I do appreciate the fact that Busiek has put so much time and thought into this, though—he’s been teasing elements of this storyline since as far back as “Up, Up and Away!”—and that he’s consciously adding to and building up the DCU, instead of just moving the same old pieces around or breaking them, like far too many of his peers. If I had any complaints about the story, it was that I found myself furrowing my brow about where the newcomer was during certain past events, particularly the Phantom Zone Invasion from Superman’s sister title, although I wonder if that couldn’t be mentioned because DC hasn’t got around to finishing it yet. Now, if this person gets a new name that starts with Super-, as all Kryptonians should, what will hers be? I’m personally hoping for “Superlady.”

Tales of the Sinestro Corps: Superman-Prime #1 (DC) Technically part of the “Sinestro Corps War” storyline, this reads more like a sequel to writer Geoff Johns’ own Infinite Crisis, particularly the parts where that annoying Superboy-Prime kid, the one that was totally repressing his crush on Alexander Luthor so hard that it drove him murderously insane, beat up the whole DCU.

Round Two? Not quite. Apparently our boy Prime is low on solar energy, and it’s nighttime on Earth (yeah, I don’t know why he didn’t land on the other hemisphere either), so the heroes have a whole night to dogpile and beat on him before he’s able to start punching heads off again.

I enjoyed the Everyone vs. Prime battle scenes, illustrated by Pete Woods, as it allowed Woods to draw all of the DCU (and it allowed me to read it, without having to worry about how bad the story it was illustrating was, as in the last time Woods drew a lot of DC heroes), and, let’s face it, it is pretty cathartic to see Red Star and Krypto come back for revenge (Ditto Risk, although what happens to him seems funny for a split second, and then just really dumb. I wish Prime would have ripped off his moustache this time around).

I was a lot less interested in Prime’s life story, in which we flashback to his life on Earth-Prime and then through Crisis on Infinite Earths and IC (with Jerry Ordway handling the art here) simply because I’d already read those stories, some fairly recently, and the narration doesn’t fill in any holes for us (Like what the Flashes did with him, for example). The back-up is written by Sterling Gates and drawn by Ordway, and it’s another “Tales of the Sinestro Corps” short, this one explaining the Corps member who most boggled my mind when I first saw him…well, apparently her. You know, that one that was full of babies.

Teen Titans #52 (DC) Something seems really, really wrong with a lot of DC’s super-comics of late (note the dwindling size of my Weekly Haul features), and I think I’m at the point where I’m beginning to wonder if maybe it’s not them, it’s me. Have I just been reading them too long now, and am just personally tired of seeing the same stories told over and over (and over…and over) again with negligible differences?

This is the second full-issue of new writer Sean McKeever’s storyline pitting the Teen Titans against the future Titans Geoff Johns introduced in #17-#19. For two issues now, the Teen Titans have been split up and been fighting against a random cadre of villains with old-school, pre-JLA Starro face suckers on them, while their older counterparts squabble with them (In the past few years, Starro’s also recently appeared in different forms in JLA: Classified and JLoA). Then there’s a last page right out of the old Geoff Johns playbook, in which a surprise guest or group of surprise guests appear in a dramatic splash page reveal on a two-panel entrance line. It’s…more future counterparts of more teen heroes, being lead by Lex Luthor in his goddam green and purple Superman/Batman battle suit, with the rainbow Kryptonite knuckles. If Luthor in that outfit leading an army of villains looks familiar, that may be because you just saw it last week. (I know, I know, this is a future Lex Luthor, but that’s a hell of a small difference, and does nothing to eliminate the fact that a lot of DC’s super-books just seem to be blending into one book).

Despite the lack of imagination in the plot and the glossing over of the dramatic bits (Tim’s talk with himself, Flash encountering a future version of his dead friend Bart Allen, etc.), McKeever’s scripting and dialogue are fine (Is this the first time the word “douche” has appeared in a DCU comic? Just curious). The pencil art is by Jamal Igle, and it’s strong, but it’s also not the work of Ale Garza, the solicited artist, making this at least four issues in a row (three in just this storyline) that have had different pencilers. (That’s another respect in which Teen Titans is currently mirroring JLoA; can’t DC find new, regular pencilers to go along with their new, regular writers on their big team titles like this?).

Coupla nitpicks: Unless Prometheus downgraded after his post-Morrison pussification period, the souped-up club he wields should have pulped Tim on page three. And what’s this “Watchtower” Batman is talking about? They hang out in a “Hall” now.

And a coupla questions: Anyone know who that big giant robot on the last page is? Or the big rocky guy? How about the girl with glasses and the fire powers? And is that Stephanie Brown as Huntress II?

Ultimate Spider-Man #115 (Marvel Comics) This is an incredibly dense issue, one that felt like quite a bit happened. Well, quite a bit did happen, it just felt like it was a lot more than is usually crammed into 22 pages. That’s a good thing, by the way. I’m quite used to Stuart Immonen’s art already, and Brian Michael Bendis has several really nice scenes in this issue (I liked Danvers playing with the wrist shooters, and Spidey’s fight chatter, and the kids getting deputized). Man, it’s issues like this that make me think maybe switching to trades on USM will be a lot harder than I thought…