Friday, May 30, 2008

This just in: Kelley Jones still rules

Since there's no way my words about how cool some of the panels in Steve Niles and Kelley Jones' Batman: Gotham After Midnight #1 were can possibly communicate that coolness as effectively as seeing them for yourself, please enjoy some examples of how cool some of the panels in Niles and Jones' new Batman limited series....

Here's a Scarecrow-inhales-his-own-fear-gas-scene:

That's some scary stuff, right there. Those little Batmen just freak me right the hell out.

Here's the interior of the Batcave, missing some details and slightly lopsided, because I'm not all that great with a scanner:

I like the cathedral-like feel to it, the gothic and baroque look of the technology, and the way some of the science-y looking stuff looks more like stained glass windows.

Also, this compares quite favorably to the Batcave we saw in Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel's Batman this week (I didn't bother to scan it, but there's one panel in which Batman is perched upon some kind of smooth metallic pyramid that doesn't make any sense at all until you turn a page and realize Daniel was apparently trying to draw a metal precipice of some sort). In the background, you can see the foundations of Wayne Manor. It's exaggerated as all get-out, but the architecture least in a way that's consistent with Jones' aesthetic. Would those columns bear the load of a mansion? I don't know, but they look like ones that conceivably could, and that's all that matters.

The bat-computer looks like something that scary organ music should be coming out of:

It looks pretty hard to use, too:

Here's the drawing of an exterior I mentioned in my Weekly Haul review of the issue.

I love how much is going on in this panel (which I've badly scanned), and the amount of wires in the sky especially.

Here is the biggest goddam cape I've ever seen:

Look at the size of it! Imagine how inadequate Spawn would feel if he were in the same panel as Jones' Batman. Jones has always drawn a big cape on Batman, usually somewhere between the length of a bridal train and the length of a freight train, but it just seems to get bigger and bigger. By the time #12 of this series comes out, they mave to do a six-page fold-out like Jim Lee's All-Star Batman Batcave scene just to fit Jones' cape into the issue.

Finally, a detail that may only be of interest to me and whatever north east Ohioans and western Pennsylvanians happen to read this blog. When I first moved to Pennsylvania in the late-nineties, I used to sometimes hang out at a chain restaurant called Eat'n Park, which was your basic Denny's-like, breakfast-at-all-hours chain cafe type place. In general, they tend to look like this:

The climax of this issue takes place at a place called Eat'n Park, and the Gotham location isn't nearly as nice:


Have you seen these things yet? They look awesome. Here’s a picture comparing it to both a human and a giraffe in terms of size. I hope the next big Hollywood movie to prominently feature dinosaurs includes some of these crazy looking things.

—You can see some photos form that Paul Pope talk I covered last week by clicking here

—Earlier in the week, Dirk Deppey posted this link to a Marvel Bunny story in which the rabbit version of Captain Marvel beats up some wild animals, makes them cry and then threatens to kill them. If you’ve never experienced the beauty of Captain Marvel Bunny, often known as Hoppy, give it a read. I love that rabbit. If I could write any one comic book for DC, it would be a Legion of Super-Pets miniseries, prominently featuring the Little Red Cheese.

This sounds like the best value in the history of comics, but I’m torn—should I wait for a possible completely complete version?

—DC released the first trade collection of Countdown this week. I was really excited about the 52 trades, despite having already read the singles, because they promised “behind the scenes” info after each chapter, and I was really curious about the process in that book. As I wondered aloud in my discussion of those bonus features, I was curious if DC would have as many—or any—positive blurbs from mainstream media to plaster the Countdown trades with, the way they did the 52 trades.

Well, they didn’t. The first trade was blurb-free. I flipped through to see if they had a little essay from a creator after each issue or not, and they did not; the space where such a thing would have fit was filled by an entire page devoted to a cover credit.

So, did no one involved with Countdown want to talk about the process once it was over?

Funnybook Babylon predicts a Dr. Doom-calling-Ms. Marvel-a-fat-piece-of-furniture level of outrage over Fallen Darkseid referring to a woman as a “whore” in this week’s issue of Teen Titans.

I guess we’ll know soon enough (Nothing at WFA at the moment). I don’t know; I think Dr. Doom’s voice is a lot more distinct than Darkseid’s, since the former has been around longer, had a lot more appearances and been in more media adaptations. Based on that single panel, “woman” sounds more Darkseid-y to me than “whore.”

It is kinda weird to see that pop up in Teen Titans, though. I don’t find words like “whore” or “bitch” offensive when used in their proper context (and an asshole bad guy being an asshole seems like the proper context), but it does seem kinda inappropriate for one the big companies’ “universe” titles.

DC has taken an odd tack with their Titans franchise of late, with one version aimed at the youngest readers, Teen Titans Go! and Teen Titans: Year One being all-ages books, Teen Titans for grown-ups and Titans for immature grown-ups with, I don't know, no taste. While I know kids wandering into comics shops to start reading comics all of a sudden is only slightly more common than unicorns wandering into Best Buy to adorn their horns with DVDs, is a novice going to accidentally get a comic where Raven wears this? Because that seems like a bad idea.

I would expect (or maybe I should say “hope”) that Teen Titans would always be all-ages. Particularly with Blue Beetle on the team, since his solo book seems to be finding an audience outside the direct market and with libraries.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Weekly Haul: May 29th

Action Comics #865 (DC Comics) One downside of Geoff Johns’ incredibly prolific output is that readers are subjected to so much of his work, that the patterns behind his work are a little more obvious than they are with so many other writers (A problem he shares with Bendis; you can’t read four books a month from the same guy without starting to notice similarities, you know?).

Given that transparency, the ease with which readers can spot the gears of his scripts, and the relative popularity of his work, I’m genuinely surprised more writers aren’t applying the tried-and-true, tested-and-vetted Johns process to their scripts. Perhaps in a few more years, when more of the fans reading his stuff get their chance to write for the majors, we’ll see this.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. I’ve seen little to indicate Johns is, like, a genius at superhero comics or anything—he hasn’t deconstructed the genre or reinvented it the way many of his peers have, nor has he created something original out of whole cloth the way many of his peers have—but he is as dependable and reliable a craftsman as, say, Chuck Dixon, and is a bit more versatile, as long as we’re talking DC superheroes (Johns may be capable of a lot more; I don’t think he’s had either the inclination or opportunity to try delivering something else yet).

As for those patterns, there’s pacing to his narratives that is almost mathematic, and if one spent the time with enough back issues and a calculator, they could probably come up with a formula, wherein x equals old villain re-imagined, y equals surprise character familiar to audience appearing on last page after beginning the first half of a dramatic entrance line off-panel, and so on.

And then there’s the Batmanification of non-Batman characters. He’s done it on Hawkman and The Flash and Green Lantern (at least in the first year in the case of the latter), and he seems to finally be getting around to it on Superman with this issue.

“The Terrible Toyman,” a collaboration with former Superman inker Jesus Merino (who would actually make a pretty great Carlos Pacheco replacement on any title Pacheco can’t do monthly), is essentially one of those “rogue spotlight” issues from Johns’ Flash run, focusing on one of Superman’s bad guys.

As a matter of personal taste, I don’t much care for Johns’ villain “rehabilitations,” as they seem to be a repetitive Joker-izing of Silver Age and older villains. I don’t think every supervillain needs to be a psychotic killer to be taken seriously. Mirror Master being a hired gun with a funny accent and incredibly cool technology works fine for me, he need not be a drug addict on top of that. But that’s just a matter of taste; as far as the craft goes, Johns is good and this sort of thing, and while I found his Toyman pretty skeevy, the story itself is well constructed.

Winslow Schott has busted out of Arkham Asylum and kidnapped Jimmy Olsen, to tell him his story and, of course, us readers. There’s a lot of what some refer to as continuity patchwork here, the bridging gaps, smoothing out wrinkles and all around fixing of tangled or broken character histories that Johns is so good at.

This is a new way to look at the Toyman, one that subsumes and explains a way a lot of the other versions, including Jeph Loeb’s Toyman II Hiro (don’t Johns and Loeb share office space? Will that be awkward?) and the pedophilic Toyman from the Batman/Toyman series (If I’m remembering my old Toyman stories correctly).

Schott takes great offense to people thinking he was a pedophile or child killer (Johns never uses the word “pedophile” or “child molester;” it remains implied throughout, another iteration of the having-it-both-ways-ism apparent in a lot of DC’s attempts to darken their properties). Johns explains that Schott isn’t like that at all.

He does, however, fuck robots. And one of is robots might have malfunctioned and been a pedophile/child killer.

Another fantastic cover by Kevin Maguire.

All-Star Superman #11 (DC) DC released three new superhero comics by Grant Morrison today, and this one is by far the best one. This is the penultimate chapter of what is so far the very best Superman story I’ve ever read, and the cliffhanger ending filled with a feeling that’s all-too-rare in comics reading: Eagerness to read the next issue to find out what happens next, and dread that knowing that the next issue will also be the last, so I kinda hope it never does come.

Note to all DC artists who have to draw Lex Luthor at some point: Frank Quitely’s design for super-combat Lex is much better than Ed McGuinness’; why don’t you start using Quitely’s instead?

Batman #677 (DC) I got all the way to page three of this issue before artist Tony Daniel’s inability to construct a scene or tell a story through sequential art lost me.

In the second panel, Commissioner Gordon is talking to an off-panel Batman, visible only by a corner of dark blue cape. In the next panel, Gordon says “Hff. I only asked,” and there’s a different shaped mass of dark blue in the same corner. Reading the dialogue, it would seem that Batman was offended by Gordon’s question, and disappeared, and that shape is actually the top of a police hat from one of the random officers in the background of the previous panel.

Anyway, you know the drill by now: Intriguing story and awful art resulting in a story with potential being nothing more than an unpleasant sort of mediocre.

Bad editing decisions didn’t just stop at hiring a guy who can’t draw comics to draw a Grant Morrison Batman comic, though. Check out the Spoiler-as-Robin costume in the Batcave in this issue, and compare with last week’s Robin issue about why Batman didn’t put up a memorial case. If you’re going to coordinate any two books in your fictional universe, you’re probably going to want them to be Batman and Robin.

Batman: Gotham After Midnight #1 (DC) Ah, now here’s a guy who knows how to draw Batman comics! Kelley Jones is one of my personal favorite comic book artists, and was the VIP in my second-favorite run on a Batman comic, when he worked with writer Doug Moench and inker John Beatty (First favorite? Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle).

So obviously I was pretty excited to hear that not only would he be drawing Batman again, but that he’d be doing so for an entire 12-issue maxiseries. I was a little less enthused that he’d be working with writer Steve Niles, whose resume strikes me as a bit spotty, but among the weakest items on it that I’ve personally red was his Cal MacDonald collaborations with Jones.

Well, Niles’ writing is a tad over-affected, particularly in Batman’s narration, but it’s not quite as melodramatic nor as affected as Moench’s old Batman narration was, but it hardly matters—affectation and melodrama work quite well with Jones’ Batman, which is exaggerated to the point of being a cartoon gargoyle.

And I mean that as a compliment because, honestly, if you’re going to exaggerate—be it a line, an image, a muscle, an angle—why not just go completely overboard with it?

There’s a scene on the second page, where Batman’s creeping through a dark store, sneaking up on his prey, and he looks like a tip-toe-ing Looney Tunes character. There’s a scene where the end where Batman is apparently killed in a warehouse, and his gigantic cape literally covers the entire room, draping over huge crates at least 25-feet away from Batman’s prone form.

That same page opens with a location shot of the exterior of the building, and Jones takes a storybook approach to filling up the space. The sky has a spider’s web arrangement of telephone wires, knife-wielding silhouettes are visible in two windows, spooky faces peer out from a third window, there’s a red-eyed green face peering out of a sewer grate, a strip of police tape wrapped around a street lamp, a chalk drawing on the cobblestone street, wanted signs on the walls—whew!

Jones makes even the most standard elements of the script look visually thrilling. For example, in one the Scarecrow breathes his own fear gas and imagines Batman as a monster for the 567th time in his criminal career, and after a typical hallucination of a red-eyed, sharp-toothed Batman in one pane, Jones follows it up with a panel in which 22 identical Batman point accusingly at him, including a crowd of full-sized Batman, a few half-sized Batman, and a few tiny little Batman.

The only thing scarier than a pissed off Batman is probably 20 pissed off Batmen, including a two-foot-tall Batman, and a tiny little six-inch Batman. Brrr!

Blue Beetle #27 (DC) The last time an issue of Blue Beetle came out I mentioned that I was planning on dropping it now that writer John Rogers had left and that I was only reading it because I liked Rogers’ writing so much, but that I couldn’t resist the special all-Spanish issue, especially since it featured Traci 13, and I find the Jaime/Traci relationship adorable. Well, #27 also features Traci 13, so here I am again. This is incoming writer Will Pfeifer’s first issue, and it was pretty decent, but nothing remarkable. It lacked a moment of pure joy, like Jaime taking his grandmother for a flight, that made #26 such a fun read, and ended on a down, mysterious note that seemed unusual for what I’ve read of this series.

Final Crisis #1 (DC) In many ways, this is your typical Grant Morrison superhero epic. There’s the concern with the nature of reality, a theme he’s explored again and again, most famously in Animal Man, but also in Seven Soldiers, his other Vertigo works, and, most comparably in this case, his JLA run. The Monitors, here speaking more Morrisonly than throughout Countdown to Final Crisis speak of integrity of reality, and new old big bad Libra’s plot recalls an element of JLA: Earth 2, that of the fundamental qualities of a universe affecting and predicting the actions and actors in it. The conceit of Morrison’s original graphic novel with Frank Quitely was that in the superheroes’ home universe, they would always win, because that was the way their universe was set up, whether you read that to mean the DC Universe or DC Comics or superhero comics in general, whereas in the reverse dimension, evil always triumphed. The mysterious villain Libra’s plan seems to be to fundamentally alter the nature of the DC Universe (or DC comics or superhero comics in general). Why does good always win? Is it because of the “higher moral order?” Because God is benevolent and good? What if Libra could shift the balance to a new order, from a good God to a dark god?

Also present in Morrison’s razor-sharp definition of characters, as in a scene where he takes Geoff Johns’ vision of the Green Lantern Corps as space cops and gives it a deliriously super-serious Silver Age sheen with a few sentences of jargon from the Guardians—“Seal the crime scene…no one must enter or leave the gravity well,” “Dust for radiation prints”—and there are the cast-off great ideas that come at a quick clip, like Sparx and Empress mentioning their “League of Titans” while on the run from some villains.

Morrison almost always plays fair with other writers’ work (even when he was drastically overhauling the X-Men, he did so within the confines of previous stories), and perhaps that’s why the state of the fiction universe so dictates how he writes, and I was therefore a little disappointed that he stuck to things I so hate about the current DCU—there’s Lex Luthor wearing not a business suit or a lab coat or some kind of action suit ala Justice League Unlimited, but the Ed McGuinness redesign of his old Super Friends outfit; there’s super-rapist Dr. Light commenting that two teenage girls are “asking for it in these outfits” before changing the subject to erectile dysfunction drugs for a date he has that night.

And yet, Morrison manages to ignore the events of Countdown almost completely. The Monitors are present, but the scene is perfectly clear without having followed the weekly. And when John Stewart and Hal Jordan find Orion’s dead body, they freak the hell out about a New God dying—as if this wasn’t the fortieth or so such death they would have heard about (Superman found Lightray’s body and was there when Darkseid and Orion seemingly killed each other; John and the rest of the League investigated Barda’s murder, etc.). Final Crisis has had what has gotta be the biggest ramp-up of any comics story ever, judged strictly by page count. Sure, Bendis has been building up to Secret Invasion over the course of several years with two monthlies and a handful of miniseries, but Final Crisis’s prelude consisted of a 51-issue series supported by at least as many tie-ins…and it ignores them all.

The scale is established early as powerfully cosmic, conscious mythmaking with the DC characters, as god Metron gifts cave boy Antrho with the knowledge of fire (and more?) in the first few pages, and we flash forward to the present.

This is a scale that Morrison is quite comfortable working at, and no one does hyperbolic super-comics like him. One of my favorite of his superhero comics—hell, maybe my favorite super-comic period— was that first issue of the JLA vs. the renegade angels story, because it is just so super-operatic. The one with the cliffhanger where Zauriel is ranting and raving about how the scale of heaven is too much for mortals to comprehend—“The light of heaven would slash open your corneas, the music of heaven would puncture your eardrums and drive you insane”—and then Asmodel’s chariot arrives and Green Lantern’s like, “Superman…I’m really gonna have to sign off…I…I think the apocalypse just arrived.” Staving off the apocalypse was what Morrison’s League was devoted to, and it was a nice millennial theme for a book being published in the late-‘90s time between the so-called, post-Cold War “end of history” and the looming Y2K. That was only the sixth issue of Morrison’s JLA, and he kept ratcheting the threat level up from there, until the climax was a villain so powerful it took the conversion of every single person on earth into a superhero to combat—six billion supermen were needed to overcome Mageddon.

What do you do for an encore to that?

The threat of Final Crisis hasn’t reached that scale yet, but Morrison sure evokes that old apocalyptic feeling, in one coy scene set around the Justice League meeting table. After Superman hypes up what they’re facing after the death of Orion—“These are celestials capable of cracking the planet in half and enslaving billions”—he un-ironically ceclares, “Justice League condition amber.” This doesn’t even rate a red for the Justice League yet.

There’s another great scene in which we see post-Fall Darkseid (apparently the falling figure in DC Universe 0 after all), and while I’m sure readers are already sick of this new Darkseid thanks to the “Club Dark Side” tie-ins showing up in Teen Titans, Birds of Prey and The Flash, Morrison does a keen job or redefining him not so much as the alpha-villain of the DC Universe, but as its literal Satan.

Thus far Final Crisis seems to be positioning itself as the thinking fan’s Crisis; like Criseses Infinite, Identity and On Infnite Earths, it seems to be about DC Comics themselves, a subject with perhaps limited limited appeal, but hat theme is widened just enough to seemingly also be about superhero comics in general, the people who make them and read them and are in them.

As I said a few hundred words ago then, this is typical Morrison. And that’s a good thing. DC’s given him a ton of rope though, and he’s still got eight months to hang himself (or be hung by the company).

The writing is, of course, only half of the equation, and if I have (a lot less) to say about the art, it’s because it is good, if a somewhat pedestrian good. Although given that the art has been so generally poor on DC’s “important” titles (52, Countdown, JLoA), either due to the hiring of poor artists or the stress of a weekly deadline, it seems well worth noting that this book represents, in a lot of cases, the very first time some things have looked good at all. The new Hall of Justice, for example, has never been anything other than a hastily sketched, badly referenced fa├žade and blank interior. Here it looks like a place, with backgrounds, statuary, shadows, settings and lamps.

Will Final Crisis be able to stay this nice looking for seven more issues? Who knows. The last capital-C Crisis at DC was badly hobbled by the art, and I’m somewhat worried about this project, as Jones isn’t that fast, and either delaying the story too much so that it seems like the bulk will occur elsewhere (that is, in the copious tie-ins) or pulling in a bunch of artists who aren’t J. G. Jones to finish this Infinite Crisis style will hurt it, just as badly as all those non-Phil Jimenez guys hurt IC (and they killed it, dead). Morrison’s good enough to transcend mediocre art, but his Batman proves he can’t do anything with horrible art, and even a squadron of good artists can turn out horrible art, if there are too many of them on too few pages with too little time (See Infinite Crisis #7).

Confidential to Chipp Kidd: I love you.

Green Lantern #31 (DC) Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis are at the halfway point of their Green Lantern: Year One type story, the point at which they introduce their Hal to the Green Lantern Corps. It’s kinda like a story of Hal Jordan, when he was as green as Kyle Rayner ten years ago. It’s a typically decent read from these creators on this particular title; I’m not much of a Green Lantern or Hal Jordan fan in general, but I really appreciate this book’s good qualities, so I assume fans are especially pleased.

Three things occurred to me while taking in the double-page splash on pages six and seven. First, if the Lantern’s rings don’t work on anything yellow, aren’t the Guardians just asking for it by painting every single building in their Oan city yellow? Second, that whale with arms and legs in the upper right-hand corner looks awesome; my favorite thing about Green Lantern Corps stories is the sometimes crazy aliens the artists invent to fill out crowd scenes. And third, I really, really, really want to see a Green Lantern story by Matt Howarth some day.

Judenhass (Aardvark-Vanaheim) Controversial but brilliant cartoonist Dave Sim’s project dealing with anti-Semitism and the holocaust is out today; it’s a slim, black and white graphic novel about the size and shape of an old DC “prestige format” book, and it’s a steal at $4. I’m going to spend a little more time digesting it before mouthing off about it—in large part because it demands a lot more attention than some of the books on this list, and in part because reviewing it between an issue of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern and Brian Michael Bendis’ New Avengers seems wrong. Look for a full review in next Monday’s edition of Best Shots @

The New Avengers #41 (Marvel Comics) I love dinosaur fighting. I’m a big advocate of dinosaur fighting. I think we need a lot of it, and not just in comics, but all media, and if Brian Michael Bendis wants to have three sets of Avengers fighting a T Rex in the Savage Land, I’m never going to say no about it.

The thing is, this is the third time I’ve read about this exact same instance of that T Rex breaking up a fight between the three sets of Avengers now, and while it’s a nice depiction of a T Rex—this issue’s artist Billy Tan draws it well, and Bendis’ sound effects for it are great—the more I see it, the stupider the scene becomes. Excluding all the Avengers who are most likely Skrulls, we’ve still got Ms. Marvel, Ares, The Sentry and Wonder Man standing around, and any one of them ought to be able to push over a T Rex in the space of a panel or two, so I’m sure why this ends the fight.

This replay of the scene from Secret Invasion #2 is only the first three pages of the book, and this time told from Spider-Man’s perspective. The rest of the book deals with Spider-Man meeting up with Ka-Zar, Zabu and Shana the She-Devil, and the Savage Landers telling Spidey via flashback what they’ve been up to since the firs story arc of New Avengers.

It’s all very typical Bendis; if you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this, and if you don’t, you won’t. My relationship with much of his work is equal parts grudging respect and curiosity (structurally, he’s always trying new things out). He does some things quite well—I love his neurotic Spider-Man for example, and this issue has a nice Spider-Man freak-out—yet hate the way everyone talks the same (even when they dress like Tarzan and live in Dinosaur Land) and the way he takes forever to tell a story, whether its from the cinematic decompression he’s infamous for, or from this sort of covering the same ground over and over and over.

Ultimate Spider-Man #122 (Marvel) The Ultimate Shocker, who has been nothing but a punching bag/punchline over the course of this title, finally gets his revenge on Spider-Man in this stellar one-issue story that nicely balances genuine menace with light-hearted superheroics and character interplay. You may have noticed that a lot of my Avengers reviews tend to be full of backhanded compliments and outright complaints. You may have wondered why I even bother to keep reading Bendis’ Avengers books (I have wondered that myself). Well, this is the reason. Bendis can be a great super-comic writer, and he quite often is. Of course, it’s only here that he is, and the rest of his Marvel work tends to be hit or miss.

Wolverine First Class #3 (Marvel) Hey, it’s a multi-part story! Can they do that in a Marvel Adventures/First Class book? I didn’t think they could. This is a typically richly told story from Fred Van Lente, who uses several different interesting devices here, including a crazy medieval tapestry-format retelling of the history of The High Evolutionary and Wundagore (Is this all real Marvel continuity? I’m assuming it is, since Thor comes up, but this is all way before my time). Wolverine and Kitty Pryde are in the Wundagore area seeking leads on Magneto, and find themselves embroiled in the conflicts involving Marvel’s own race of Furries (Man, Jack Kirby really did see the future, he just misinterpreted a lot of it; the things he saw that foretold grand adventure were really just the sexual kinks of future generations). Perhaps because this is a two-parter, the pace is a little more leisurely than in previous issues (#2, for example, boasted something funny on every page), but this is still the most fun Wolverine book on the stands.

No Sale: Marvel 1985 #1

It takes some real chutzpah for a company to charge $3.99 for a 23-page issue of an out-of-continuity, standalone story while in the midst of a line-wide, you-need-to-read-this-because-75%-of-our-titles-are-involved crossover story that will cost at least $315 to follow completely.

I can’t imagine it makes a whole lot of business sense either. Even if the series is written by the self-proclaimed best-selling comics writer of the 21st century, it will be running concurrent with three other out-of-continuity or continuity light series by the same writer, each of which is being drawn by a bigger name artist (Kick-Ass with World War Hulk’s John Romita Jr., Wolverine with Civil War’s Steve McNiven, and Fantastic Four with The Ultimates’ Bryan Hitch).

Which is a long way of saying I moved 1985 from my store pull-list to my mental wait-for-the-trade (maybe) list when I saw the price tag and page count. I know I’ve said this before, and I doubt anyone who can do anything about it is listening, but I’m going to repeat it because I like the sound of my own voice: A thicker cover stock isn’t worth an extra buck.

If you came to EDILW looking for criticism of the contents of 1985, “Best Shots” team captain Troy Brownfield has a well written—and less than glowing—review of it here.

I do like that cover; it gives off a Star Wars/Indiana Jones movie poster vibe.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Weekly Haul: Memorial Day Week Special

It’s Wednesday evening as I write this, and usually that means I’m getting ready to post reviews of this week’s new comics releases. But because of the Monday Memorial Day holiday here in the states, new comics day was pushed back a day.

So I decided I’d review a haul of something other than comics this Wednesday—children’s picture books, which, like comics, rely on both words and pictures to tell a story. Unlike the comics reviews you usually read in the Weekly Hauls, this isn’t a haul of books I’ve personally purchased (they’re all library borrows), nor did they all get released this week. Some of these are indeed new-ish, but at least one is a couple years old.

The Lonesome Puppy (Chronicle Books) by Yoshitomo Nara Japanese fine artist Nara’s artwork will no doubt be familiar, even if you can’t place exactly where you’ve seen in before. Those of you who run in geek circles (and I’m assuming if you’re reading this, that’d be you) are probably familiar with it from Giant Robot magazine covers and coverage, and various products bearing Nara’s distinctive sense of character design.

This is Nara’s first children’s book, and it’s a beautiful looking one, with the individual paintings each looking more like the sort one would find in a gallery than illustrating a storybook. The format is that of a picture book—single images with prose text floating over or around them—but passages of it read like comics, if you take each full page to represent a panel. There are also several occasions where a single image acts like a piece of sequential art, with multiple images of the same little girl in different positions, implying movement.

It’s strongly enough told through the art that, even if you took out all the words, the story would be the same and very clear, although the moral might be more implied than blunt.

As for that story, it’s told by the lonesome puppy in the title. He is “all alone and lonesome,” and “always hoping for someone, somewhere to be my friend.”

The reason for this loneliness? He is very big. Very, very, very big. Like, you know Clifford the Big Red Dog? He’d be the size of one of this puppy’s fleas.

Well, exactly how big the lonesome puppy actually is is a little unclear. When he first shows us how big he is, his back paws are in Asia and his forepaws in North America. He’s big enough that you can see the curvature of the earth below him, and he would be easily visible from space. He seems somewhat smaller later, when a little girl is able to climb him, and she seems to be only slightly smaller than his nose.

At any rate, he’s too big for anyone to notice him. At least until one day, when a girl notices his back paw. She climbs up it until she reaches his back, then walks to his head, tumbles down the slope of his forehead, and crashes into the big, red nose at the end of his snout. They are equally surprised by one another, but quickly became friends. “Friends forever,” actually; “Though sometimes they fought, as friends do, they still had fun and played together.”

Then here’s the little moral of the story, which I must confess I found quite touching: “No matter how alone you are, there is always someone, somewhere, waiting to meet you. Just look and you will find them!”

Though written as if to address children, it really does sound like a message that a little kid wouldn’t need to hear in the same way an adolescent or grown-up might, as (most) children young enough to be reading picture books—or have them read to them—have family around them most of the time (or, at least, I hope they do).

It’s a really rather romantic story: Freakish, lonely creature no one seems to notice is finally noticed by a girl, and they become friends forever, and the creature finally finds happiness and companionship. It really sounds like a teenager finding their first love as much as it sounds like a giant puppy finding a human to notice it, doesn’t it?

Mr. Monkey’s Classroom (Harper Collins) by Jiwon Oh Here’s another children’s picture book that sensitive adults should steer clear of when feeling blue, as it’s potentially tear-inducing. It’s about two friends/housemates named Cat and Mouse who are a cat and a mouse, respectively. Mouse’s first day of school is coming up, and Cat, who’s already started school, helps her little friend get ready for the big day. But once they get there, Mouse is heartbroken to find Cat immediately begins to ignore him and start hanging out with the other, older kids she knew from last year. Mouse, meanwhile, is having a hard time adjusting to the stress of school, and it culminates in a little breakdown during lunch period, when Cat sits with her school friends and not Mouse.

It all ends happily, but Oh so perfectly captures the emotions of being a little kid in a strange new environment that reading it was a little like having one of those stressful dreams where you’re still in school and you, like forgot an assignment or something.

It’s hard to get a real sense of Oh’s artwork from seeing pictures of it online, as she uses a lot of little collage elements with vastly different textures to give the whole world of hers a very craft-like, hand-made feel. The buttons on the characters’ clothes and, in some cases, their eyes, look like photos of real buttons, and certain fabrics or objects look like scans or photos of real fabric; although the characters are clearly 2D drawings.

That world is one that looks like a sort of pan-Asian fantasy land assembled from bits of pieces of eastern design, with the white, Sanrio-proportioned cat in front of backgrounds of mountains, trees, temples and cranes that seem like they could be from a Japanese woodprint or a Chinese tapestry (Oh is Korean).

This is actually her second book featuring the characters. In 2003 Harper Collins published Cat & Mouse: A Delicious Tale. Oh’s design sensibility was similar—if anything, the previous book seemed more Asian in its visual themes, backgrounds and costuming—but the technique seemed much simpler, with the collage elements used more sparingly (and the influence of computers standing out more).

In this story, Cat and Mouse are best friends who live together, and do everything together. They are quite happy until one day Cat’s old friend Monkey came to visit here, and gave her a cookbook called “World’s Best Cookbook,” which made her realize “Mouse could be the most delicious meal in the world.” (A two-page spread shows Mouse picturing all the different ways her sleeping friend Mouse could be made into a dish, and Oh draws all these treats with mouse ears and/or tails sticking out of them. One shows the sleeping mouse encased in a green Jell-O mold, another has him on a plate, tucked under a piece of thinly sliced meat as if he were tucked into bed beneath a comforter, and so on.

With the thought in her head, she couldn’t help but get hunger every time she saw Mouse, so she moved far away to resist, doing things like meditating atop a mountain and under a waterfall and fasting until she became sick.

Mouse, meanwhile, looks for her, finds her, and drags her back home to nurse her back to health. They have a talk and, later, when playing at the beach, Cat thinks, “Mouse does look delicious, but how could I have thought of eating him? He’s my best friend.”

I’d highly recommend either of these books; they are both very visually rich, with a lot of little background characters and details for kids to pore over while waiting for whoever’s reading to them to finish the sentence and turn the page. But I’m not a parent or teacher or anything, so I don’t really know what I’m talking about: I just think these are nice-looking books that I enjoyed reading.

The Pigeon Wants a Puppy (Hyperion) by Mo Willems The original pigeon book, 2003’s Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. No lie, I laughed all the way through that thing, and read it over and over the first night I spent with it. The absurd situation—Why does the pigeon want to drive the bus? Why does the bus driver ask us to stop him from driving the bus? Why does the pigeon ask us to let him?—alone is such a random conflict, and Willems’ pigeon design is so perfect, looking hastily crayon drawn and fully-realized at the same time. I am literally in awe of how much emotion he gets out of the pigeon’s expressions, seeing how little he actually has to work with. Basically, just the pigeon’s eyes and wing gestures.

Well, this is the new pigeon book. Once again, the pigeon has a particular desire, as he has had in all the other pigeon books (not counting the board books for the littlest readers), and he spends the entire book pleading his case, until the twist ending. Like all of Willems’ pigeon books, it’s really well designed, and the art is brilliant. But this one’s not really all that good.

It might just be that the pigeon asking for stuff is getting a little old, or it could be the fact that the interactive nature of the book isn’t as formal as in the bus book. In that one, the driver specifically asks the reader not to let the pigeon do something, setting them into the conversation, so that every phrase the pigeon utters is directed at the reader, and with a turn of the page, he responds to the “no” answer that Willem intuits his audience will give.

I haven’t, like, focus-grouped this or anything, and only personally know one little kid who has read any pigeon books/had them read to her, and she loved it even more than me. The thing that she liked was yelling at the pigeon; when her mother would read what the pigeon said, the little girl would shout “No!” at the pigeon, while laughing at it.

In Bus, I got the impression that I was in the city, minding my own business, and got put in this extremely awkward position by first a random busdriver, and then a talking pigeon. Here, when the pigeon starts trying to convince me that he should have a puppy, I’m confused as to why he’ talking to me about it, or what he wants me to do about it exactly. Do I look like a puppy salesman or something?

So—not the best pigeon book. But it is still a pigeon book, and I could hang out with Willems’ pigeon (or his elephant and piggie) all day, every day, I think.

Given the simple formula of these things now—pigeon wants something, campaigns vigorously for it—I don’t understand why Willems doesn’t just crank one of these out every two weeks or so. I’d read ‘em. For more on the pigeon, you can check out his home page here. Also, Willems’ blog is a neat source of art, both by him and by children.

Woolvs in the Sitee (Boyd Mills Press/Front Street) by Margaret Wild and Anne Spudvilas Well, this book certainly could have benefited from a more skilled copy editor looking the text over before it went to print. Pretty much every word is spelled wrong, even “wolves” and “city” right there in the title! Okay, I’m just kidding; writer Wild did that on purpose. Her protagonist is a youngish boy named Ben, who writes the whole short book in that mostly-phonetic manner. He seems to live alone in a filthy basement, occasionally visiting his neighbor lady for clean water. He is very concerned about the “woolvs in the sitee,” and she isn’t; until one day she disappears and, fearing the woolvs got her, he prepares to go after her.

What the holy hell is going on here? I don’t know, but that too, seems to be intentional. The hints in Ben’s text indicate that the situation he’s now living in is rather recent, that he used to have a family, that the skies used to be blue and there weren’t always wolves to fear. It’s kind of an implied post-apocalyptic story, and I kept waiting for a resolution of some kind, where this would all be revealed to be a metaphor for some war or drug abuse or something, but it never comes.

This is basically an unnerving, distressing fucked-up book for teenagers and adults that simply looks and reads like a children’s picture book. I didn’t at all care for Spudvilas’ art; it’s fine and she’s competent, but it strikes a strange balance between creepy atmospherics and representational illustration that seems at odds with the misspelled, hand-scribbled looking text. The words look as if they are part of a document Ben himself has created and the reader is looking at, while the pictures look like the work of a professional illustrator.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Batman and Black Canary are just really good friends

Batman and Black Canary are both superheroes and Justice League members, they’re both into martial arts, they both like the colors blue and black, and they’ve both named themselves after flying animals.

Despite all the things they have in common—and despite the fact that Batman likes hanging around with people named after birds, and Canary likes wealthy playboys who fight crime on the side—I don’t think they’ve ever hooked up.

Have either of them even considered it? For the answer to that question, we’ll have to turn to 1970’s The Brave and The Bold #91, a Bob “Zany” Haney and Nick “Arty” Cardy story entitled “A Cold Corpse for The Collector.”

In a dark, smoke filled room, a quartet of cigar-chomping Gotham crime bosses show a film strip to two special guests. The film, taken with a telephoto lens, shows Turk O’Hare, gangster Rhymer’s “top goon” double-crossing their own guy Waxey Till. O’Hare was supposed to pay Till off, but instead he bumped him off, and kept the dough.

They’re contemplating going to war with Rhymer, but want to hear from the experts they’ve gathered—mysterious enforcer The Collector and…Batman?

What’s the Batman doing advising these criminal types? The Collector explains the set-up to us confused readers:

Don’t laugh; that’s exactly how Grant Morrison wrote All-Star Superman.

Shortly afterwards, the real Batman is on a boat with Commissioner Gordon, fishing Till’s body out of the Gotham River. As the World’s Greatest Detective does Commissioner Gordon’s goddam job for him as always, a patrolmen informs them of a stowaway—sleazeball private eye Larry Lance, who was watching Till for a client he won’t name.

Batman and Lance compare notes, with Batman noting this murder is likely to draw The Collector out. The two decide to work the case together.

Meanwhile, Lance returns to his shabby office, only to be greeted by a knockout pair of gams…

…although he’s rather unimpressed by the beautiful dame who apparently broke into his office just to wait for him. Another panel of Cardy drawing her figure, and a thought cloud reveal the true identity of “Myra,” which Haney then goes on to explain, and let us hear the thoughts of, so we can see her plans for the near future:

Huh. I guess that’s one way to try and get a guy to love you. State your feelings as simply as possible—“I like you… I like you a lot!” and then kiss him.

Lance has no time for love though, and he leaves Dinah/Myra in his office, while he works on his case.

At an illegal gambling casino, O’Hare is blowing his ill-gotten gains, only to be killed by the disguised Collector. Batman’s on hand, and thinks he nabs the Collector, but it turns out that he actually grabbed Lance instead, who was also on scene trying to catch The Collector.

As the two discuss the events of the night, Lance’s stalker Black Canary appears:

Note how Batman identifies the disguised canary by her “face, figure” from, like, fifty paces on a dark night. Obviously Batman’s been spending a lot of time studying both at Justice League meetings.

Batman doesn’t let on that he knows Myra is really Dinah Lance in front of Larry, and immediately figures out what she’s up to: “She must’ve fallen for this Larry, who resembles her husband back on Earth Two!”

Once Larry leaves, Batman tries to talk her out of pursuing Larry.

I like the dickishness of Batman’s response in the first panel, implying “No, your foolishness was to be expected.” And in the last panel, Black Canary shows the emotional maturity of a junior high student. “You’re not my dad, Batman! Quit ruining my life! I’ll be in my room!”

The very next moment, Batman nearly falls victim to the old exploding-newspaper-bundle trick; the only thing to save him was the concussive force of the sound effect “WHREEEOOWW.”

Of particular interest here is… No!…must… resist…

Don’t… make obvious, childish…joke…


Whew. Made it. Okay, so that “WHREEEOOWW” was Black Canary’s sonic powers, referred to throughout the story as “the sonic whammy.” She had time to change clothes and wigs and get on her motorcycle before coming back to save Batman, too.

In thanks, Batman offers her one Bat-Life, but she’s in no mood to collect this mysterious prize, having to go change into something “more feminine….for Larry.” Considering that she’s already wearing lingerie, I can’t imagine what this will be.

After Larry gives Batman a tip that leads him into a firefight that nearly claims his life, Batman begins to suspect Larry might be working for the collector, and confronts Black Canary about it.

Naturally, that dizzy dame won’t hear any of it. Larry arrives to hear the tail end of their argument, which culminates in this sweet panel on the right:

And while Canary screaming “You’re jealous! Jealous!” while slapping Batman makes for a pretty good panel, it’s immediately surpassed by the perfect melodrama of the very next panel, in which Batman slinks away without a word and Canary throws herself on her bed to cry.

In walks Larry to comfort her, and propose a team-up of their own.

Meanwhile, Batman went right from his face-slapping to a city-wide dragnet in the hopes of smoking out The Collector. In the backseat of a car, he broods:

Oh wow! Batman is jealous! He does like Canary! But does he, like, like-like her, or just like her?

When Larry provides evidence against all the hoods Batman and Gordon rounded up, it convinces Batman that the P.I. isn’t The Collector after all, and then when Larry gives him another tip, he follows it to a mostly deserted racetrack.

Suddenly, a sonic blast throws him to the ground! He’s been blindsided by Canary! And then Larry emerges, training a pistol on the helpless Batman. Realizing what Larry really has in mind, Canary seeks to intervene.

Batman kicks the Girl Gladiator from behind, knocking her out of the path of the bullet, and disarms Larry with a well-placed Batarang.

Larry seeks to escape on a nearby horse, and Batman and Canary give chase:

Is Batman supposed to be thinking “Wow! The whammy!”? Or is he shouting it out loud?

Whammy-vaulting is one way to get a motorcycle over a fence, but there’s another way, too:

The knife fight in the water ends with Larry apparently accidentally stabbing himself to death. Which seems a little suspicious if you ask me.

Canary realizes she was being a love-sick fool and that Batman was right all along. She gives him a perfect opening to ask her out, to which he replies with a pretty smooth line:

Nice move, Batman! Now all you have to do is seal the deal by…

…making a lame-ass joke, and laughing at your own lame-ass joke in that awkward, slightly creepy “Ha! Ha! Ha!” laugh?!

Well, you blew it this time, Batman.

Still, the two heroes seem pretty compatible, Batman obviously has feelings for Canary, and who wouldn’t want to date mid-seventies, pre-Dark Knight Bruce Wayne/Batman?

I wonder why those two never did end up getting together after this?

Oh yeah, that’s right.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Today's secret word is...

So for the rest of the day, whenever someone says the secret word, scream real loud!

(The above panel was written by John Ostrander and drawn by Walt Simonson, and can be found in Armageddon Inferno, the very best Enemy Ace/Lobo/Starfire/Guy Gardner/Orion team-up story ever told)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Brad Meltzer ruins everything, even retroactively

After reading Meltzer's Identity Crisis, what's a reader supposed to think when he sees this guy

shoot these guys

with a mind-altering beam that results in a panel like this?


(All panels from 1975 story "The Great Identity Crisis" in Justice League of America #122, by Martin Pasko, Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin. Also available in trade paperback collection JLA: The Greatest Stories Ever Told)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tubby + Hobos = Comedy Gold

There's only one way to improve upon the inherent hilarity of Tubby, and that's to have him dress up like a hobo, complete with bindle:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A papal visit

Paul Pope is not from Columbus, Ohio—he grew up in Bowling Green, near Toledo. And he doesn’t live in Columbus now—he’s based out of Manhattan. He did live he for a while, attending Ohio State University between 1988 and 1995, and on that basis I shortly after moving here that the local comics scene was always quick to try and claim him as at least partially theirs.

It’s really no wonder—Pope is easily one of the most amazing artists working in comics today, and one of the first name artists to have developed a truly global feeling style. His characters and scenery look like European than American, and his comics tend to work and read like manga; there’s slim to no chance a viewer would mistake Pope’s art for that of someone else, and no chance in hell one would mistake a Pope comic for the work of another.

Pope returned to Columbus Tuesday night to speak about his work, as part of Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts and Cartoon Research Library Jeff Smith: Bone and Beyond exhibit and its accompanying programs.

“Wow, it’s weird to be on this side of the room,” Pope said from the small stage in the Wexner Center’s Film/Video theater, as when he was there, it was to sit in the audience to hear other artists talk or to see the films the space is usually dedicated to. “And now I know why everyone drinks bottled water on stage,” he added, taking a sip from one stashed on the podium at stage left.

The screen behind him was shrunk from its usual rectangle shape to a slightly smaller square, and had a huge version of his stylized signature over a field of murky off-white with stationary, dark, bubble-like blobs. The lights were dimmed a bit, and the stage and room were rather dark, save for the spotlight on the podium, which Pope stood next to.

He wore a denim jacket over a black shirt and black shirt, and kept his hands jammed into the pockets of his tight pants when he wasn’t gesturing to the screen behind him. His ears peeked out the sides of his longish, somewhat scraggly dark hair, and he looked an awful lot like one of his own characters, something somewhat uncommon in the field.

He had taken the stage after an introduction by Bone and Beyond co-curator and the Wexner’s regular film/video curator Dave Filipi, which consisted of a brief bio: Grew up in Bowling Green, attended OSU, published THB, worked for Japanese manga publisher Kodansha, is known for comics such as Heavy Liquid, 100% and his “most-widely read work” Batman: Year 100, recently featured in a “tongue-twister” of an art book entitled PulpHope: The Art of Paul Pope, and designed a clothing line for DKNY.

Pope emerged from the projection room at the back of the theater, and made his way down the long sloping aisle as the audience of about 150 people clapped for him. We skewed a lot older than those who came to see Smith and McCloud talk about the former’s work; college-aged kids and up, probably twice as many men as women, and lots of familiar faces (well, familiar backs of the heads) from the local comics and art scenes.

“Luckily for all of us, this isn’t my first time speaking,” Pope said, explaining he was going to be showing the presentation he had prepared for “civilians” about comics, how he got into them and what he does, a presentation he gives when attending conventions all around the world.

These are often design-related, but will have in attendance people from incredible diverse fields—like filmmakers and guys writing programs for artificial intelligence programs—which occasionally had Pope asking himself what he was doing there. At least until one of those AI programmer guys told him, “Oh, I get it. You’re the analogue guy.”

“Comics is an analogue art form,” Pope said, “And they’re acquiring a level of magic because they’re hard to do. In the 21st century, as film and computers are opening up new horizons for comics, it’s really important to keep a hold of the hand-made element of comics.”

A hand-held remote changed the screen, which was apparently a slideshow of images running through his laptop atop the podium (That’s the stuff that has a level of magic to me; drawing I understand, but changing the image on the movie screen via a tiny handheld object? It’s like witchcraft to me), and he fleshed out the details Filipi had sketched out.

Pope grew up with his grandparents, and had inherited his dad’s album collection and his uncle’s comics collection, both of which had a very profound effect on him. As a kid, he watched a lot silent films on PBS and, at a very young age, “before I was even ten years old,” he got a hold of a copy of Heavy Metal magazine, which introduced him to the world of European comics artists like Moebius and those Moebius inspired. These were the artists, Pope explained, who had taken what they had learned from the U.S. underground comics of the 1960s and ‘70s, and transformed them into these crazy fantasy stories.

At a young age then, Pope began to see similarities between album art, poster art, European comics art, American comics art, and the relationship between “the iconography of rock and the iconography of comics.” (The screen, meanwhile, presented a slideshow of album covers, a Moebius page, and so on; while talking about the impact of album covers, he said “I thought this guy was really from Mars,” when a Bowie album appeared).

He proceeded using the language of rock music, comparing some comics work to cover songs.

“You shouldn’t cover The Beatles,” he said, “But if you do, you have to add something to it…You can retell the classic stories, but you have to do it in a way to make it fresh, contemporary.”

At that point, the superhero comics equivalent of The Beatles appeared on the screen: A Jack Kirby image. Specifically, it was a page from Kirby’s late-seventies minor DC work O.M.A.C., specifically a page from the first issue, including this:

“I won’t even try to explain this story, because it doesn’t make any sense,” he said, noting that the girl in the box is “essentially a sex doll,” the kind of thing you can buy today, demonstrating Kirby’s “incredibly prescient knowledge of every possible subject.” (A while back, Pope had declared the iPhone a retarded Mother Box)

He then showed his own version of the page, which you may have seen in Solo #3, wherein Pope essentially re-told O.M.A.C. #1; “my cover of Jack Kirby’s O.M.A.C. as it were.”

This was one of his “big budget comics,” since it was done for DC, and thus he got to use color, something prohibitively expensive for self-publishing. When he does something for DC, he likes to think of it as “using their studio, their engineering board,” and thus go big with color and the characters and the like.

Pope talked fast, perhaps to keep up with the slideshow, perhaps because he was delivering a speech rather than talking completely extemporaneously, but interesting ideas about the media came out of his mouth regularly; if he were a comics character, the room would have been full of dialogue bubbles, some of which with thoughts worth exploring.

Like this: “Comics and silent film have no sound, and music has no visual—I think album art puts a face or a skeleton on the music.”


The talk of covers then turned to a pin-up he did for Smith’s Bone, in which he took the handful of panels he thought encapsulated the whole Bone story as he saw and liked it, and drew his own versions on them, reducing Smith’s entire epic into one page. “This is my tone poem on Bone,” he said, as it appeared on the screen.

The screen then turned back to the “Paul Pope” screen that began the show, and as he brought up the subject of his “cover of The White Album,” his name morphed into his logo for Batman: Year 100. He then called up a scowling image of a scowling, Sprang-ian Batman.

“What can you say about his guy?” Pope asked. He described Year 100 as “a nightmare project” and had really burned him out on comics for awhile, due in large part because how hard it is to essentially cover Batman, a character who so many people have covered so often over the decades.

He began by trying to figure out who Batman is, which was problematic because there wasn’t just a Batman, but Batmen. As he was reading through Batman comics, he really started paying attention to the logo, and the screen behind him began displaying close-up images of the Batman logo over the years, specifically the various ones in which Batman’s face was attached to a Bat-symbol behind the word “Batman,” or the bust of Batman drawing his cape around himself was part of the equation. Who is Batman?

“He’s a shadow behind his name, he’s an enigma. The bat symbol is Batman, he’s this,” Pope said, and a detail of a panel from Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One appeared. In it, we see a long shot of Batman on a farway rooftop, his cape flaring around him like batwings, forming his own symbol.

(Two panels from Batman: Year One; Pope used the bottom one as a visual definition of Batman)

That’s how he began to “crack the code of Batman.” The cover of Detective Comics #27 then appeared on the screen, and Pope pointed out how Batman’s very first appearance was as that human bat-symbol shape. The screen then changed to just the image of Batman from that cover, and then a blacked-out, silhouette version of Batman from that cover, which wasn’t too far from the symbol on his chest or the logo on his comic.

(1939's Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of Batman)

From there, Pope began exploring how to turn that shape into a logo for his comic, and a series of his sketches for a Batman-shaped word Batman appeared in rapid succession, until he arrived as his final one.

He then put up his cover for the first issue of the comic, and said the art director was confused by what he turned in, asking what’s wrong with his legs.

“He doesn’t have any legs,” Pope said. “Because Batman didn’t have any legs on the cover of Detective #27. He’s got no legs, a wire, and there are pipes on the side. That’s Batman.”

Pope showed a bit from Nosferatu, of Max Schreck’s vampire rising from his coffin, and again said, “This is Batman.” That’s what inspired one of (what I thought were) the two most ingenious bits of Batman: Year 100, Batman’s fake vampire teeth:

Pope thought of them as functional as both a scare tactic, and the kind of mouthguard a boxer or athlete might wear.

The other ingenious bit? The Bat-cycle folded up and hanging in an alley like a giant, monstrous bat. Pope didn’t get into the Bat-cycle-as-bat thing, but talked a bit about his thought process behind it. Batman driving a tank around a big city struck Pope as impractical (or, as Dave Campbell once put it, “a pain in the ass.”) Pope thought instead in terms of a motorcycle, like the ones in George Lucas THX 1138, and so he came up with this:

That’s what Batman will be driving in this summer’s movie, Pope noted, except that they took the big, huge pipes off the back, and remounted them on the front as guns.

(Pope's "cover" of Mazzucchelli's panel of Batman; Pope said living among the skyscrapers of New York helped give him the perspective of cities seen from this sort of angle)

Pope then spoke briefly about PulpHope, praising publisher Chris Pitzer of AdHouse for his high quality line and how well the art book turned out (they had originally wanted to go with a more album-like 12-by-12-inch size, but settled for a 10-by-9-inch, since the perfect square didn’t suit comics art very well), and his work for DKNY.

The idea was to have him come up with “an interesting way to reinterpret camouflage,” and they gave him a “very interesting” book on the history of camouflage for reference. He ended up studying displacement patterns in nature, the way a moth or other insect’s image can make them appear invisible in the right context, and followed through with that. He said he was very pleased with how they turned out, particularly that they look “aggressively drawn,” and referred to the project more than once as “a new canvas for comics.” (Noting that he’s not the first or only cartoonist to work on a line of comics, namedropping James Jean and a few others).

“And that’s about all I brought,” Pope said, opening the room up for questions. The audience seemed a bit reluctant, with long pauses between each question.

He was asked about THB and his upcoming First Second book Battling Boy, his experience with Kodanasha and the fate of his work for them.

He compared the manga market to American mainstream television, where the audience is huge, but the control is very tight. “That’s the only way I can think to explain Pikachu,” he said, to laughs from the audience. “I got it really bad, actually. I was in Japan when Pokemon was really big there, and then I cam back to the states just when it got really big here.”

Jeff Smith, who sat in the front row with Lucy Shelton Caswell, the other curator of Bone and Beyond, raised his hand, and noted that he’d been to Pope’s studio a few times, and there were drawings everywhere. “What are all these drawings?”

Pope explained he starts everyday doing “ramp-ups,” and segued talk of his own piles and piles of random drawings around the studio to Mazzucchelli, who he noted has been working a secret project since ’95 that’s filling his space with drawings. “He’s like J.D. Salinger; he doesn’t care if it ever comes out.”

One person asked what Pope’s most personally memorable book was, and he answered Escapo, which is about when his artwork really started to feel like his own; where he felt comfortable telling the stories he really wanted to tell.

Another asked for tip on breaking into comics, and Pope said to publish something, even things published at Kinko’s are useful, because it’s the only way to show people what you can do. Like Smith and McCloud did when they were asked the same question, Pope stressed the importance of community; of finding likeminded folks to share your work with and get input and feedback from.

Asked what comics or creators he likes today, he mentioned two European artists whose names were unfamiliar to me (and thus I can’t spell ‘em; sorry), Joann Sfar, John Cassaday, Jim Woodring and Carl Barks, while offering the caveat that “it’s difficult for me to engage in comics as fiction, I don’t care about the story as long as the art is good.”

When the crowd ran out of questions, he suggested they “retire to the boudoir;” a book signing was to occur after the talk was finished. I didn’t stick around for that. I had to get home and reread Batman: Year 100.