Saturday, December 31, 2011

Comic shop comics: December 28

Once again, I bought and read very, very few new comics this week. Just two, actually, one from each of the Big Two. I wanted to get a third, DC Comics Presents: Elseworlds 80-Page Giant, but my regular shop didn't order any copies of it. So then I ventured to a second shop, a little further away, only to find that they had ordered a few copies for the rack—but they were all sold out.

Fortunately/unfortunately, they were having a year-end 20% off graphic novel sale, so I ended up buying a whole bunch of stuff I wouldn't normally have purchased, but that was on my too-read list. Here, then, are all the comics I bought at the comic shop this week...

Aquaman #4 (DC Comics) Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis conclude their first arc of the relaunched Aquaman with title character exterminating the man-eating humanoids called The Trench that he's been fighting when not exhibiting an adolescent-like concern with whether or not people think he's cool. To Johns' credit, Aquaman realizes it's not like he's just squishing bugs here, and that he's faced with an extremely difficult decision of essentially choosing to let one group (The Trench) die in order to save another (the humans they were attempting to feed on). Rather than having to have Aquaman make a choice, Johns allows fate to intervene, and fate chooses us over the monsters.

Somewhat ironically, this story couldn't have been told in quite the same manner that it was if Johns hadn't changed Aquaman's powers to the extent he did. In the first issue, Aquaman is offended that people thinks he "talks" to fish, and he makes it clear that he's not communicating with them so much as psychically dominating them, hijacking their nervous systems and controlling them.

There's a scene where the Trench try to explain themselves to Aquaman while fighting him, and the hero laments not being able to understand them. "I wish we could talk," he says, "I wish I could make you understand, I can't allow you to use us as food." Pre-reboot Aquaman could have done that with his powers, but the new, Savage Aquaman has to resort to deadly violence, even if he does regret having to do so.

It's worth noting that this issue has 21-story pages instead of the now-customary 20, and includes a four-panel "Coming Up This Year in Aquaman teaser that is essentially a 22nd page, giving readers a heads-up that the cause of Atlantis' seeking will be explored starting with the next issue. (Which seems to be another very clear case of a "New 52" title evidencing a hard continuity reboot, in opposition to what was originally said about the initiative keeping the original continuity with a few tweaks.)

Captain America & Bucky #625 (Marvel Entertainment) Writer James Asmus and artist Francesco Francavilla join co-plotter Ed Brubaker for the second story arc of the new series, which has an issue in the low 600s already because, um, Marvel, I guess. The book jumps forward in time to the present, then back to the late '40s to introduce Captain America II and Bucky II, whom the president charged with secretly filing in for the dead originals, so as not to demoralize the country, then forward again.

The new Cap and Bucky are pretty new to me—I think I've read maybe one other story to feature 'em before—so I was interested in meeting them, although I wonder if some of this will seem like an unnecessary retread to more experienced Cap fans. In the present, the original Captain America, Steve Rogers, teams up with the grandson of the late Cap II and the original Human Torch to begin investigating an attack a Golden Age villain seemingly initiated on the still-living but rather elderly Bucky II. Also, there's a Bucky I clone or android or something on the last page.

It's pretty hectic and confusing in summary, but its an engaging and exciting sort of confusion when read. It helps that Francavilla is one of the greats, and is, in fact, so good that I don't even miss Chris Samnee, the artist he replaces. Given that I started picking this book up to see Samnee's art on a monthly basis, I consider that fairly high praise.

Classic G.I. Joe Vol. 7 (IDW) This trade collects issues #61-70 of Marvel's G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero series, comics originally published between 1987-88. This would be have been getting pretty damn near the time little Caleb stopped playing with G.I. Joes—in this volume, I see appearances by only about four or five action figures I used to have—but I'm still fascinated by these comics, which were produced using characters and concepts during a time when I was absolutely head over heels in love with those characters and concepts, but before I had any real interest in reading comics. Now I've lost that sort of obsessive interest with the characters, but feel about comics the way I used to feel about G.I. Joe.

Larry Hama's scripting is still superior, only semi-silly army guy and ninja soap opera, but man, the art in these things is rough, floating just below "awful' and just above "unreadable." It's also incredibly lazy for a a book based on a toy line, as characters will refer to things like, say, their jacket or their shoes, when they are drawn without a jacket and barefoot. Stuff like that. The covers were all pretty great, but the interiors are nothing any of these guys can be too terribly proud of (And there are some pretty great artists involved, like pencil artists Ron Wagner and Marshall Rogers, and inker...Russ Heath? For real?!)

IDW's presentation doesn't do it any favors, either. According to the back, the comics were all re-mastered for color, but the coloring is pretty bad, in some pages near the back of the book, blobs of color overtake the lines of the figures, resembling the results of an exceptionally bad kindergartener with crayons who can't quite stay in the lines (Maybe I had a bum copy though...) I do hesitate to say anything bad about IDW's doing these books though, as I super-happy they decided to reprint these comics after Marvel quit doing so, and I hope they actually do end up printing the whole run, right up until those crazy-looking early '90s issues.

I think my favorite bits in this particular volume were those featuring Raptor (I had his action figure!), who has trained hawks and falcons and whose costume is a Hawkman-like cowl that sits atop his head, a feathered cape he usually wears over bare shoulders, and talons on his feet.

He's an accountant.And he apparently dresses like that, like, all the time, not just when in the field fighting G.I. Joe with trained birds. For example, after driving to San Francisco, while wearing his cape and talon shoes, he uses the pay phone:
And the worst part? The worst part is probably issue #63, in which Hama has couples Snake Eyes and Scarlett and Flint and Lady Jaye vacationing in Grenada together. There are multiple panels of Lady Jaye in a skimpy bikini, and artist Ron Wagner draws her either far, far in the background......or, in the single panel where she's shown in a medium-shot, stupid Flint's stupid elbow is blocking our view of her...Damn you, Flint!

Full Metal Alchemist Vol. 26-27 (Viz Media) This is it! The penultimate and ultimate volumes of Hiromu Arakama's feverishly addictive adventure series in which brother alchemists Edward and Alphonse Elric search to unlock the mysteries of the Philosopher's Stone and find themselves key players in a gigantic plot that gets bigger and bigger, as more and more players are introduced, and grander and grander schemes are revealed.

I wasn't 100% satisfied with the conclusion, which I think suffered a bit from a Return of The King (the movie) like pile-up of too many endings, and re-sets the Elric brothers with a new status quo that doesn't necessarily end their story and seems a little too easy to continue. The journey to those conclusions was amazing—this has ended up being one of my favorite manga reading experiences—and Arakawa did a fairly astounding job of working his way up to the final battle, in which the Dwarf in the Flask essentially kills the whole world and absorbs God, and having the heroes fight back from such a total defeat.

Everything gets tied up rather neatly too, although, as I said, some of the plot threads could have used a tad more finality...that, or more ambiguity, I guess. It just seemed a little too open. But maybe it was just weird to see the narrative return to something more quiet after what was probably about 800 consecutive pages of almost every single character in a cast of dozens battling for the fate of the world.

I'd highly recommend this manga series. (It's a lot better than the anime, too, if that's your only exposure).

Quality Companion (TwoMorrows) Okay, I'm not actually done reading this yet, but I'm including it here anyway, as I purchased it. I was pretty excited when I first heard about it, and actually considered trying to get a review copy just so I could read it without having to pay for it (at $32, it ain't cheap). But it was 20% off, and seeing it right on a shelf in front of me, well, I couldn't resist. Quality was home of some of my favorite Golden Age superheroes, as regular readers no doubt know, including Plastic Man, Uncle Sam and The Red Bee (they, and most of the rest of Quality's characters were eventually purchased by DC Comics and gradually folded into the fabric of the DCU...although after the New 52-boot, I'm not sure how many of them are actually even still around. I know there are books using the names Blackhawks and The Ray, and I heard there was a one-panel Plas cameo in Justice League International. Is that it so far? Geoff Johns mentioned using Lady Luck in his Justice League book after its initial six-part story arc wraps up...)

The Companion is a compilation of several types of books I would like to read, all rolled into one. There are nine original comics reprinted (featuring The Ray and Black Condor by Lou Fine, Midnight by Jack Cole and stories starring Phantom Lady, Human Bomb, Uncle Sam, Firebrand, Wildfire and Madam Fatal), there's some Golden Age history (Quality was home to some of the era's very best artists, including Fine, Cole and Will Eisner), and encyclopedia-like entries on the various characters, which take into account everything from their original adventures up through their 2010-ish status at DC (There are entries on all the various Ray characters up until the one that appeared in the Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray-written Freedom Fighters series, but no mention of the one who just appeared in a new Ray miniseries), and encyclopedia-like entries on the artists at Quality.

There are also some Q-and-A interviews with the DC writers who made most use of the Quality characters—Len Wein, Roy Thomas, James Robinson—but I haven't read any of those yet. I've basically been flipping through and reading an entry here and a chapter there.

So, um, I can't really offer much of a review, per se, other than that this is a fantastic book, allowing for several of my favorite types of reading experiences between a single set of covers, and covering some of my favorite creators and characters in the history of comics.

Wonder Woman Chronicles Vol. 2 (DC) I've already read all of these stories thanks to DC's fancy-schmany archive editions, but I would never be able to afford them. That's why I love the hell out of these Chronicles reprints. My only complaint is the Wondy ones don't come out fast enough, and there aren't any Plastic Man or Captain Marvel ones...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

I have a review of Deepak Chopra's prose book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes up at Robot 6 this week. It's a fairly negative review, but I would recommend the book (as something you borrow from a library, at least). I think there’s a lot of fairly insightful stuff in it, and I don’t think it would hurt anyone to practice anything Chopra recommends. That is, I think the message is good, I just didn’t think it was delivered all that effectively, and it's essentially a confusion of two books between a single set of covers ( I do suspect "laypeople” might find it more engaging, of course, lacking the “that’s not how I’d do it” or “Storm’s powers don’t work that way” hang-ups some of us writers-about-superhero comics might).


Deepak's son Gotham Chopra, a name that may be familiar to comics readers from his involvement in the now defunct Virgin Comics, writes the foreword, and is on hand as the superhero expert throughout. In that foreword, he shares an interesting anecdote:

A couple of years ago when I helped facilitate a discussion at the San Diego Comic-Con between my dad and comic icon Grant Morrison, an audience member asked my father a question about "quantum consciousness." He turned and stared at me with wide eyes and a grin. I knew what he was thinking: He was among his own.
It seems like the younger Chopra brings that up in part to burnish his fathers superhero bonafides, but it's also true that there's a rather remarkable overlap between Eastern philosophy, science and superhero comics, as evidenced in the work—comics and prose—of the non-Chopra on that panel.

I like the image of someone with expertise in one field being sort of surprised by the interests and knowledge of some of the folks at Comic-Con, I guess. (Although, cynically, it does make one wonder if Chopra was expecting something else and, if so, what was he doing there, you know?)


I didn't really have room to get into it in the review, but the artwork in the book is pretty nice. The image above, which you can see in full in the body of the column at Robot 6, is of one of the several superheroes who appear at the start of each chapter, to illustrate the seven laws (That guy is from the chapter on transformation). I believe there are seven in all, with the super-lady who appears on the cover in color re-appearing in one of the interior full-page, black-and-white illustrations.

These were all provided by Jeevan Kang, one of the artists who illustrated some books for Virgin (7 Brothers, Devi, Snake Woman, Ramayan 3392 AD), although he's probably best-known for his work on Marvel's neat 2005 series, Spider-Man: India.

The heroes he designs for the book are fairly generic—the above, the gal on the front with a shimmery energy cape of some kind and the Iron Man-like guy at the front of the creativity chapter being the best and most distinct—but a lot less generic than one might expect in a book like this. It probably helps that Kang is a comic book artist illustrating a prose book, rather than an illustrator trying to ape comic book artist style for the book.


This is my favorite anecdote in the book:

"You know, Papa," Gotham started one mrening as we both sipped our coffee, "your story is a lot like Doctor Strange's."

I stared at him blankly. Was this a compliment or something else?

"Do you know the story of Doctor Strange?" he asked curiously.

I shook my head.

"I can tell you if you want," he smiled.

Surely this was his plan all along. I nodded, intrigued, and he began.

The Chopras have weird breakfast conversations.

The elder Chopra's story is like Doctor Strange's in at least one way. Strange began as a medical doctor, but turned toward sorcery and eastern mysticism after his surgical career was ended by a car accident.

I don't know enough about the particulars of Chopra's career to know if he was all that much like Strange in any way other than the fact that he was a medical doctor who at some point turned toward eastern philosophy and is now better known for that than for the work of his former life.

I like imaging Chopra wearing those neat-o yellow spotted gloves and big red cape with the pointy-collar though. Or imagining the Deepak Chopra of the Marvel Universe befriending Doctor Strange and talking about all that crazy Ditko magic and how it parallels certain aspects of Hindu philosophy and yoga or whatever. "What you call the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, Stephen, is really just another aspect of the universal consciousness," and like that.


The book ends with both Chopra's collaborating on a "Superhero Reading List" of "modern Western comics" that "have something to say about the spiritual laws that drive great superheroes."

It's an interesting list. I was all set to rag on it, as there are some pretty poor comics on it—I can barely stand to look at the pages of Invincible Iron Man long enough to read the dialogue balloons, for example, and the Dini/Ross Batman: War On Crime is nice-looking, but pretty run-of-the-mill for a Batman comic otherwise—but each is accompanied by a sentence or two that explains why each was chosen, making it harder to complain about.

For example, Chris Claremont and Frank Miller's old Wolverine comic gets "Even the greatest superheroes can't always contain their shadow selves," and All-Star Superman "No one knows quantum consciousness like Superman."

Also recommended for various reasons are Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Silver Surfer, Ex Machina, Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga, World War Hulk, Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt, The Death of Captain Marvel and Strange (The J. Michael Straczynski and Samm Barnes one, not the Mark Waid and Emma Rios one).

It's not a list I likely would have assembled, but I think it avoids any out-and-out stinkers or anything that makes superhero comics look as depraved and degenerate as they can often be, and it actually provides a pretty good sense of what the Big Two superhero comics field is like these days, mixing still-relevant and inspirational (to other comics) eighties comics with some generally well-received modern ones. That Silver Surfer probably sticks out the most as the one that is not like the others, and I wonder if it was included simply to get Lee to provide a blurb (Ha! I bet Lee would blurb anything if you asked him) or simply because of how well character embodies a lot of the stuff Chopra talks about in the book.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Watchmen comics I'd be totally okay with:

1.) Tiny Watchmen by Art Baltazar and Franco

2.) Watchmenstruation by Johnny Ryan (If you're going to take a crap on a classic comic, why not turn to the expert?)

3.) Watchmice by Art Spiegelman

4.) The Watchmen Strike Again by Frank Miller (You might think I'm kidding, but I'm totally serious. They have to use this exact title, though)

5.) Watchmen Gallery (I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before, but I think DC's best strategy for exploiting Watchmen further than they already have would be to publish one of those Gallery books they used to do in the '90s—I remember buying ones featuring Batman, Death and the Justice League, although I know there were others out there too—in which they would basically have a bunch of great artists contribute pin-ups. It would give them a new comic book, or even comic book series—Mike Allred had a Madman miniseries like this, and DC's JLA-to-Z was essentially a pin-up collection with short bios of various characters offered as a primer to Marvel readers during the JLA/Avengers crossover—that wouldn't actually be a new story. I think that would allow prominent creators to "cover" Gibbons and Moore's work without feeling like jerks, and even those appalled by the idea of a Watchmen 2 something they could comfortably purchase or, at the very least, not feel the need to organize against. Hell, I'd drop $3 on 20-pages of pin-ups of Paul Pope drawing Silk Spectre and Geoff Darrow that squid-thing and Joe Kubert Ozymandias and his genetically-engineered cat thing or whatever. Slap an Alex Ross or Jim Lee or Brian Bolland cover on that sucker and ship away. On a similar note, I guess they could do like some popular manga series like Death Note and Full Metal Alchemist have done and publish some sort of guidebook, with, like, character bios or profiles and suchlike, although I think that would still seem pretty crass compared to a straight-up gallery, which could at least be interpreted as a tribute in addition to a cash grab).

6.) Watchmen Vs. Justice League (I was only 3/4ths kidding when I said that if DC were gonna do it, they should just do it and make it as crass and silly as possibleWatchmen vs. V For Vendetta, etc. Following Watchmen on its own terms is just silly. But what if they get someone like Grant Morrison—probably the only creator of Moore's stature who both works for DC and conceivably wouldn't mind needling the hell out of Moore by doing this—or Geoff Johns—who is synonymous with DC Comics in 2011-going-on-'12 and is an ideal awesome comics/stupid comics writer—and pair them with an unimpeachably talented drawer of superhero comics like, say, George Perez, and do a semi-silly, Gardner Fox style heroes of two worlds crossover in today's super-serious melodramatic style. Where, I don't know, having failed to save their world from nuclear war, Ozymandius sends a handful of his fellow heroes to the DC Universe to try saving it, only to find that its got like 200 guys who are all as powerful as Doctor Manhattan. They could fight, and then team-up. I'd buy that before I'd buy Comedian: Year One or Rorshach Begins)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On those Watchmen-related drawings that showed up on the Internet on Christmas

(Please note: This is not one of them).

As you've probably heard about by now, gossip-monger Rich Johnston, who has been talking about rumors of a comics project of some kind expanding on the characters and universe of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' 1986-1987 series Watchmen for years now, posted a drawing of the character Nite-Owl by Joe and Andy Kubert and a drawing of The Comedian by J.G. Jones online, offering them as evidence of the project's existence.

Several other sites linked back to Johnston's post (the first I saw were at Robot 6 and Comics Alliance) before all were hit with cease-and-desist requests from DC. As some have noted, including Blog@Newsarama's Graeme McMillan and, the wording of DC's communication with the various sites seems to confirm the existence of the project (and, as The Beat notes, means someone at DC must really, really not like the project...that, or Johnston either hacked or "hacked", as in guessed, into DC's server to get the images for himself).

You know what's weird about DC attempting some sort of further exploitation of the Watchmen characters? I mean, aside from everything else that's obviously super-weird about it?

Over the last few years, DC has invested considerable effort and resources into new comics featuring characters or groups of characters owned by other publishers or entities, characters whose temporary acquisition by DC was announced with great fanfare.

And none of these characters from beyond the traditional DC Universe managed to take off in any significant way with either DC's core customers or the direct market in general.

Think Will Eisner's Spirit (beneficiary of not one but two volumes of a solo book), the Milestone Media characters (of whom Static is the only one appearing in a book), the Red Circle characters, Doc Savage and The THUNDER Agents. The creative success of the comics to feature any of the above can be debated, but, from a financial stand-point, from a sales stand-point, from a simple "Is this a big deal? Is it anything approaching a big deal?" stand-point, they were all pretty dismal failures.

The people who read DC comics don't seem terribly interested in reading about non-DC Comics characters being published by DC Comics, whether those characters are integrated into the DC Universe shared setting proper, or are in their own little universe or publishing line.

And in the above examples—The Spirit, Doc Savage, the THUNDER Agents, the Milestone and Red Circle characters—comics readers seemed mostly neutral to the idea of DC publishing new books featuring them. There wasn't any sort of virulent opposition to the very idea of them the way that there is toward Watchmen sequels, prequels or expansions.

Chances are the very controversial nature of the project might be more than enough to counteract the opposition to it on ethical or moral grounds (or the fact that it just seems too crass for even a lot of superhero comics fans) and DC's customers' long-evident complete disinterest in any comic books featuring extra-DCU characters being published by DC. And God knows the publisher's poor track record of selling comics not featuring some variation of the characters created in their National Comics Golden Age is the least of the concerns facing a potential Watchmen 2—I would think the biggest obstacle would be finding enough comics professionals who are both talented and esteemed enough to be considered worthy of following Moore and Gibbons and willing to do so for the paycheck despite the deserved and widespread mocking and bile they will receive for it—but I still think it's really, really, really weird that DC would consider another stab at something somewhat similar to something they have had such difficulty pulling off in the last half-decade or so.

(Although I think the argument can be made that DC's readers are naturally resistant to characters from outside the original DCU, as it had formed by those Gardner Fox Justice League stories, no matter how long DC has owned them. It's not like Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, the Charlton characters or the WildStorm characters have ever received a level of prominence equal to that of even the B-Listers like Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman, or C-Listers like Aquaman and Hawkman, you know?)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Good one, Superman.

Of course, your sarcastic remark might carry more weight if you were doing something more productive than just standing around juggling bricks...

(Panel from 1958's Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #5, collected in Showcapse Presents: Superman Family Vol. 2, which is where this was scanned from; drawn by Kurt Schaffenberg)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Comic shop comics: December 21

So I guess this new, brutal, stab-and-decapitate-and-ask-questions-later version of the Justice League is here to stay then? Their official stance on lethal force in the "New 52" is, "Yeah, cool, whatever"...? Because the above image of a heavily-sideburned Aquaman just cold SHUNKING something to death with a trident to the face is from last Wednesday's Justice League #4, on the splash page immediately following a scene where he summons a bunch of great white sharks to eat more of Darkseid's minions. Apparently. I didn't actually buy and read the issue because, come on, $4 for 20 pages that read more like 10 pages? I am not made of money. (If I was, I would have long ago been captured by someone and probably caged in a vault, where I would be periodically visited to have a piece of my body removed). DC is so proud of this new bad-ass Aquaman, and his spot on the new bad-ass Justice League, that this was among the scenes excerpted for a preview of December 21's releases, which you can read here.

You know what else is weird? Apparently the Conan O'Brien of the new New 52 U. does Aquaman jokes, and was doing them before anyone had ever even known there was an Aquaman...? That's kinda weird, isn't it?

Anyway, let's not dwell on the comics I didn't buy and didn't read, because that is actually the exact opposite of the point of this recurring feature...

Daredevil #7 (Marvel Entertainment) There's a neat twist here, as Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera put our hero and a group of children in a surprisingly tense, life-threatening situation that's far, far removed fromt he world of superheroes and -villains that he usually finds his life-endangered in. Perhaps it's the removal from the usual that makes the threat seem so effective...? Another great issue of a pretty great series.

Tiny Titans #47 (DC Comics) Art Baltazar and Franco have been choosing organizing principles by which to write issues of this title for a while now, and this time there are two: A scout-like meeting of Team Nucleus (a gathering of all the tiny Tiny Titans: The Atom, "Ryan", "Adam", Molecule, The Ant and Bumblebee), which leads to Bumblebee (and Miss Martian) babysitting the various baby characters (Aquaman's kid Arthur Jr., Kid Devil and Batman's brats Damian and "Jason Toddler"). It's cute and funny, if that's not a completely redundant thing to say about a Tiny Titans comic.

I'm not so sure about the dancing tiger gag, though. Was that meant as silliness for silliness' sake, or is there a riff on DC trivia or a pun on an expression that I'm just not thinking of...?

Wonder Woman #4 (DC) Hey, Wonder Woman and Daredevil on the same day means the two best Big Two super-comics are out on the same day! That makes for a much more pleasant Wednesday afternoon reading experience than usual. In this issue Brian Azzarello does what amost every modern Wonder Woman writer does at some early point in their run on the series—decimates the population of Paradise Island as a way of alienating Diana from her sisters. But Azzarello does so in a more unique way, one befitting the interference of the Greek gods (and one that's a lot less bloody and hard to reverse than some of the previous purges).

Azzarello also gets around to using Ares, one of Wondy's most consistent foes since the Perez reboot, and he's redesigned to look like a regular human being instead of the armored giant Perez designed him as, just as was done during Greg Rucka's run on the title, yet this version is even different than the redesigned version—That is, he's a redesign of a redesign, that looks rather radically different from both of the previous ones. Also, he goes by the name "War" instead of "Ares," further distancing the character from the previous iteration.

But the best part of Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang's fourth issue of the promising new series? That may be Diana in "plain" clothes (still wearing WW-branded chocker and arm-ringlet, though) going to a rock club with Zola, Stryfe and Hermes, the last of whom is so badly disguised that he might as well be wearing a brown trench coat and wide-brimmed hat, Thing or Ninja Turtle-style. (You can see Chiang's Ares and Wondy and Hermes' club-wear in this preview at Comics Alliance).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Meanwhile, in Las Vegas...

I have a review of Jim Henson's Tale of Sand in this week's Las Vegas Weekly. You can read it here. That's all you'll be reading from me the rest of the week, as I'll be traveling home to spend Christmas with my family and not thinking as much about Batman and the X-Men as I do the rest of the year. Daily blogging will resume on Tuesday. Thanks, and have happy Christmas/cool next four days.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The worst Noel

It’s easy to see the logic behind Batman: Noel, a new original graphic novel by Lee Bermejo, who teamed with writer Brian Azzarello to deliver the well-received, rather successful Joker graphic novel (Which I didn’t like, but it’s not like something selling a lot of copies and me not liking it is all that rare an occurrence).

In addition to providing a sort of visual sequel that allows DC to put “From The Co-Creator of The New York Times Best-Selling ‘Joker’” on the cover, the new $23, 120-page hardcover probably makes a decent gift purchase for bookstore shoppers looking for something to get the comic book reader or Bat-fan on their list.

Creatively, the logic behind publishing Batman: Noel makes little to no sense to me. It’s a pretty awful comic book, of the sort that makes one feel a little embarrassed for its creator while reading.

You can’t tell from the generic title or generic cover, but this is actually the inevitable Batman version of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol…actually, it’s at least the second.

Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale did a far superior version in 1995’s Batman: Ghosts—A Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special (a $5, 48-page book that was later collected with the other Loeb/Sale LDK Halloween specials in the 1996 Batman: Haunted Knight, which is a better trade with more story for less money than this goofy Noel book, Christmas shoppers!).

That transposes the basic structure of Dickens’ holiday classic so that it's essentially A Halloween Carol. A young Bruce Wayne seems to be embracing his role as Batman at the expense of living and enjoying his real life as Bruce. After the Penguin attacks him and he eats some bad sea food, he sleeps fitfully the night before Halloween.

He’s visited by the ghost of his father, then Poison Ivy, The Joker, and a mysterious cloaked figure and, upon waking to discover it was all just a crazy fever dream, he decides to spend a little more time as Bruce Wayne (This was the introduction of Sale’s incredibly idiosyncratic versions of Poison Ivy and The Penguin and, I believe, his first Joker story; all three would show up in his “Year One” era series with Loeb, Long Halloween and Dark Victory).Bermejo, writing his own story, does the same "Dickens + Batman" premise, but in a very different way. First, it’s a Christmas story again.

Secondly, there’s no "it was all a dream" twist; that excused Loeb’s borrowing the plot from Dickens (Batman would be familiar with the story, and could have been dreaming along that template) and allowed for the artificiality of the plot reflecting that of the novel. The events in this story all "really" happen, although this is essentially an un-labled Elseworlds or Imaginary Tale, as Bermejo’s costume designs and continuity signifiers make clear.

Thirdly, the story arc is different. Whereas Ghosts saw Batman needing to rediscover the, um, Spirit of Bruce Wayne, Noel finds Batman needing to stop being a savage, scary asshole who never un-grits his teeth and doesn’t risk the life of an innocent boy by using him as bait to capture The Joker and, ultimately…not being that guy…? I don’t know; it’s not really clear. Bermejo basically presents Batman as a Frank Miller-inspired ‘90s-style Dark Knight, dialed up to eleventeen and, after his visitation by the “spirits,” he…well, he basically just buys Tiny Tim a Christmas tree and hires Bob Cratchit as a janitor at Wayne Enterprises. We're not privy to whether or not he's changed, as after capturing The Joker he promptly falls asleep and we don't see him conscious again in the book.

Most bizarrely, the story Bermejo tells through his images and dialogue is a Batman adventure which is parallel to certain elements of Dickens’ story...which is different from the loose adaptation of A Christmas Carol Batman: Noel offers.

For the former, Batman’s trying to catch The Joker, and is using The Joker’s bagman as bait. The bagman is the story’s Cratchit, and he has a sick little boy named Tim. Sick with fever himself and battling pneumonia, Batman thinks he sees the ghost of an unnamed dead Robin, in for Marley. Catwoman is in for the Ghost of Christmas Past (Her conversation allowing Batman to flashback in his mind to the past), Superman is in for Christmas Present (his superpowers allowing him to fly Batman around and show him stuff) and The Joker in for Christmas Future, burying Batman alive, so that our hero can hallucinate the future (Before ultimately fighting his way to the surface, as in the conclusion of "The Black Glove" storyline from Batman).

For the latter, Bermejo has the Cratchit character re-tell A Christmas Carol quite badly to Tim, updating it to modern times. This narrative, told all in prose that appears in big white text over the artwork, isn’t the Batman story, Bermejo just lines them up with one another. It’s really quite poorly told, as it’s essentially what you would get if you asked a random person on the street to summarize A Christmas Carol for you, but to set it in the 20th century instead of the 19th. And I’m confused as to why it’s even included. They already removed all reference to Dickens’ story from the title, why keep a retelling of it? With it removed, the book becomes a super-subtle adaptation—one that works remarkably well, given the care with which Bermejo chose his ghosts and the sources of the visions they give his protagonist—and it becomes somewhat more readable.

But it still has problems. My favorite part happens right after Batman jumps on the Cratchit character and screams at him for a few pages, spit literally flying out of Batman's mouth and onto the terrified bagman's. Batman tells him he's going to let him go rather than bust him, since he'll make better Joker bait than "jail bait."

I don’t think we’re meant to laugh at Batman here, but surely a smart guy like him knows what “jail bait” actually is, right? It’s not someone who goes to jail. I would imagine the most common response to this book will be along the lines of Chris Mautner’s: Terrible story, nice art.

I found it more than a little undercooked myself. Bermejo’s style isn’t to my taste, as it’s quite representational—sometimes filmic, sometimes photo-realistic—and there’s a defensiveness about the costume designs that betrays a bit of embarrassment or shame on the part of the artist in embracing them (Robin, for example, has long pants, because shorts are just silly; he also had chain-mail in his costume. Batman is wears armor that makes the Arkham Asylum game Batman and Christian Bale’s Batman look vulnerable; and his mask looks like Midnighter’s).But at the end of the day, too much of it (with “any” being “too much”) is just plain hard to read. Look at this image, with Alfred in the background and foreground simultaneously. Does Batman have twin butlers, or does Alfred have super-speed in the Noel-iverse?

That said, the costume designing was my favorite part of the book. I liked seeing how Bermejo thought through various aspects of various costumes, coming up with unique tastes that seemed like compromises between the original comic designs and what Hollywood costume designers would outfit the characters with in potential live-action films. It’s all little stuff, but I like seeing where Bermejo put the buckles, or how his Catwoman’s boots might differ from other Catwoman boots.I could find no such silver lining in the writing, however. It was just too hard to believe, from Batman being so amoral as to dangle people in front of The Joker in order to catch him, to Batman being so plain stupid about the way in which he does so (he uses the Cratchits as bait for The Joker, but then goes home to the Batcave and undresses, watching them on his Bat-computer, God knows how many miles away, while he has no idea where The Joker is), to Superman flying in to check on Batman, and not offering to help find The Joker with the amazing powers he has, or to stand guard over the kid Batman was using as bait (remember, Batman's plan is to wait for The Joker to show up to kill Bob and Tim in order to catch him).

Check out this page:Superman doesn't even look over his shoulder when the Batmobile explodes in Batman’s face (“I heard you coughing all the way from Metropolis,” Superman says when he first appears, reminding us that he has super-hearing).

And Bermejo and co-publisher Jim Lee, who writes an introduction (Oh, there’s a silver lining! There’s an introduction! I think all graphic novels of this sort should have one), are just daring people to take issue with it.

First, Lee writes that Bermejo is one of those few lucky talents whose work (Joker) is both popular and well-reviewed.

And here’s how Bermejo starts the story:No, no you’re not. But you don't have to be that honest about it.

Nice costume designs and buildings, though. This would be a pretty strong second draft, but it still needs a lot of work.

Marvel's March previews reviewed

I had intended to put this post together and publish it last night as my Monday post, but for some reason I ended up falling asleep around 9:30 p.m. last night. Was this because I was so exhausted from my long, six-hour day checking books in and out at my library day job? Or because the solicits themselves were so boring they put me to sleep?

You'll have to read them for yourself to decide.

The thing that jumped out at me in this month's batch as the most interesting is that before Brian Michael Bendis will finally step down as the writer of two ongoing Avengers titles, he will first add a third (Actually, counting the ".1" issue of Avengers schedule for March, there will be four new Avengers comics written by Bendis on sale).

That will be Avengers Assemble, which appears to star the Marvel Universe equivalents of the Avengers in the upcoming movie, and it will feature art by Mark Bagley, who previously teamed with Bendis during his Mighty Avengers run.

To help promote the book, Marvel will be offering "Retailer Variants", which, judging by the blank spaces on a couple of the previews, look like bad riffs on IDW's idea of having store-owners allow Godzilla to step on their store on the cover of Godzilla #1, as long as they order enough copies.

So I guess if you order enough copies you can pretend you have the sort of terrible comic shop that is small, cramped and stocks exclusively Marvel comics and overpriced statuettes? Or you can have your name on a pedestal, surrounded by a poorly drawn Hulk and Captain American pumping his fist in the air for some reason? Also of note this month? To me, anyway? I hate these new-format solicits of Marvel, with non sequitur bullet points offering a few salient facts about each, and every single world beginning with a capital letter. Write paragraphs, you damned solicitation elves, you!

Okay, let's see what we got...

Astonishing X-Men #48
Marjorie Liu (W) • Mike Perkins (A)
Cover By Dustin Weaver
Amazing Spider-Man 50Th Anniversary Variant By Tba
• New Creative Team! Best-Selling Author Marjorie Liu And Mike Perkins (The Stand).
• The X-Men Return To New York City, But It’s Not A Social Call.
• Don’t Miss The First Chapter Of What Will Be The Most Controversial Story Of 2012!
32 Pgs./Rated T+ …$3.99

…in which it’s revealed that Wolverine slept with Northstar in the past…?

Why not? He's slept with just about everyone else in the Marvel Universe...

Avengers Vs. X-Men #0
Brian Michael Bendis & Jason Aaron (W)
• Frank Cho (A/C)
• The Return Of The Scarlet Witch! What Does This Mean For The Mutant Messiah Hope?
• Three Of The Hottest Names In Comics Kick Off The Biggest Event In Marvel History!
• And Did We Mention Frank Cho On Art?!
40 Pgs./One-Shot/Rated T+ …$3.99
*Issue Will Be Polybagged

Oh so that’s Hope (as Kate said in the comments the other day). That makes sense then, to have the deus ex machina that reduced the mutant population of the Marvel Universe down to less than 200 X-Men and their villains (and put one of Joe Quesada's genies back in one of his bottles) and the deus ex machina that can restore the mutant population of the Marvel Universe and let that genie of Quesada's out of the bottle, on the cover together.

I guess I just didn’t realize that the grown-up Hope had such a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible costume.

I like the background of Cho's cover, if not the overall structure and rendering of the characters in the foreground.


Wait, did they say "pollybagged"...?


Jeez Spidey, how could you miss at such close range…? Your web-shooter is only inches away from Cable!

And speaking of Cable—I assume that's him, since this is the cover of that Cable vs. The Avengers miniseries—I guess his character design isn't hopelessly ugly after all. To make it look cool, all you have to do is simply redesign him into Colossus, I guess.

Look at this cover. Look at this cover.

New Avengers #23
Brian Michael Bendis (W)
• Mike Deodato (A/C)
• The Shocking Conclusion To The Dark Avengers Saga!
• Will One Of The Dark Avengers Become A New Avenger?!
• …And Will There Be A Shocking Fatality In The Avengers Battle Of The Year?!!
32 Pgs./Rated T …$3.99

Well there had better be a shocking fatality, if you include a question like that in the solicitation. If someone reads New Avengers #23 in March and finds there isn't a shocking fatality—that is, if the answer is "No, of course not"—then they're probably going to be sort of disappointed.

This is a really rather nice cover by Deodato (I actually thought it was by Neal Adams until I saw the signature), which provides a good example of the basic appeal of Hulk's son. The Hulk + A Sword is a pretty good formula.

Wow, that cover looks stupid.

Nice Arthur Adams cover. It even manages to make Lady Deathstrike look kinda cool.

Ew. What is Kaare Andrews doing?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Links and sundry

In addition to a scene where Batman gets his ass kicked harder than at pretty much any other point in his career—including being set on fire and having the pointy side of a shove embedded in his chest cavity—Batman: Birth of The Demon features something else I don't recall seeing in any other Batman comics I've ever read: Ra's al Ghul's bare ass. That's him above, fighting the dark, winged monster he encounters in his dreams, which gradually takes the shape of Batman through the centuries of dreaming. The image is, of course, by Norm Breyfogle.


I didn't end up using the above image in that piece I wrote about Ragman for Robot 6 this week, opting instead for an image from a house ad that Ragman creator Joe Kubert did for the original 1976 series, but I really like it, and went to the trouble of cropping it, so I'll just stick it here.

It's from the cover of the second issue of 1993 miniseries, Ragman: Cry of The Dead and, of course, by Joe Kubert. Kubert provided all six covers for the series, and they are all really beautiful. (Look here at, if you like). Kubert's now at the point in his career where he can draw anything he wants, or nothing at all, if he wants, so I imagine whatever's on his drawing board at the moment is exactly what he wants to be there. Still, I would love to read a full Ragman story drawn by Kubert now...


Speaking of images I prepared but didn't ultimately use, here are two weird scans from that X-Force collection I wrote about early in the week. I singled those images, both from the same scene in the Clayton Crain-illustrated "Angels and Demons" storyline, because I didn't understand them at all. That is, of course, Rahne "Wolfsbane" Sinclair, whose mutant power is that she is basically just a werewolf who can control her transformations.

In every other scene, Crain drew her with a pretty standard wereolf head, an organic-looking head with furry brown flesh over a face with a long canine snout (although in some panels it look more like that of a rodent). At any rate, in the above images, Wolfsbane looks like an entirely different animal. The first image made me think of an Egyptian hieroglyphic version of a jackal head, but, in the second, her face seems to be made out of black PVC, and her mouth has disappeared. That humanoid-shaped figure is also here and, again, rather than having a human face with human flesh, she's drawn with a weird black, plastic face, and missing features like a nose or mouth.

That scene confused the hell out of me when I first read it, and I went back and reread it immediately to see if I was missing something.

Don't get me wrong, it's kind of cool-looking—and it's additionally cool in that it differentiates her mutant ability to turn into a wolf-like monster from just being a garden variety werewolf—but it's so different from Crain's previous depictions of her that it seemed like I was missing something.


Jerry Robinson died last week. I didn't ay anything last week, as I didn't have anything to say that dozens of others couldn't say better. I'm thankful for the work that Robinson did and the way it enriched my imaginative life, and I'm even more thankful for all the work Robinson did that I wasn't even aware of until I had already grown up. Here is Tom Spurgeon's "Collective Memory" round-up of various eulogies and remembrances.

As it turned out, Robinson's passing was only the beginning of what became a pretty rough week for the comics community, as his fellow Golden Age giant Joe Simon also died this week, as did the much-too young Eduardo Barreto . Here is Spurgeon's collection of Simon posts and articles, and here is his obituary for Barreto. (I imagine a Collective Memory post will follow tomorrow).


Hey, who wants to read something else depressing?

Then check out this piece by Gerry Alanguilan, about how the changing technology and trends in comics-making can mean there's less and less work for comics artists who specialize in inking and lettering.

I know that, on a certain do-it-yourself level, it's simple desperation that leads folks to turn to computers for things like lettering. I wanted to hire a talented letterer to hand-letter my comics, but, having no money, I then decided to try and teach myself to computer-letter them. But it was way too hard for me to do so, so I ended up poorly hand-lettering them myself (I'm still pretty rotten at it, and I have particular trouble with the bubbles and tails, but I've decided I like even my own shitty hand-lettering better than computerized lettering. But, in a perfect world, where I had millions in lottery winnings to pay folks to help me produce my shitty little comics about hobbits and Mothman? I'd hire Steve Lavinge or someone to hand-letter things for me).

Alanguilan discusses computerized inking and lettering vs. the old-fashioned way in terms of jobs, but I'd also like to point out that eight times out of ten, computer-driven stuff looks fucking terrible compared to old-fashioned inks on top of pencils, and/or letters drawn right into the panel before it's inked. Especially the lack of inks in favor of coloring from pencils (Unless the artists are using computer programs that replicate the application of inks to pencils, anyway). In general, the colors-on-pencils style tends to look fuzzy, soft and—to me—nausea-inducing. A lot of publishers and editors seem to prefer that fumetti-like look, and it must sell, but It doesn't produce any excellent comics. (Via Comics Reporter)

Hey, look at these lovely Richard Sala Christmas images! Nice to see Peculia hanging out with a nicer sort of supernatural figure than she usually gets to...


Retailer, blogger and Swamp Thing-er Mike Sterling conducts an impromptu survey of DC's "New 52." I started with five (Justice League, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Justice League Dark) and I've dropped two (Justice League, due to price, and Justice League Dark due to the art style).

Wonder Woman is the only one of the three I'm still reading that I would go to the mat for and argue is good-good; Green Lantern and Aquaman both hit that sweet stupid/awesome spot that Geoff Johns so often hits with me, and features pretty good (Aquaman) to really great (Green Lantern) art.


Hooray! Given the creative team, I hope this Superman Family Adventures is more in keeping with their Tiny Titans than with their work on Magic of Shazam or Young Justice. From the very little we can see in that cover, I'm assuming it is.

Hey, three months after "The New 52" debuted, DC unveils a book aimed at new readers! (And that I am legitimately excited to start buying and reading as soon as possible!)


Here's the trailer for the next G.I. Joe movie.

Here was my original reaction: What the F...?

The 2009 G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra spent so much time—waaaayyy toooooo much time—setting up a franchise,including origin stories for Cobra Commander and Destro, and those guys aren't even in the sequel? Also missing, Scarlett, General Hawk, The Baroness... Jeez. Something obviously went really wrong between the first and second installments.

I'm still bummed most of my favorite characters still don't seem to be in in it in any capacity, with the exception of Lady Jaye, who joins the cast of this second installment. Unfortunately, it looks like she'sbeing played by TV actress, Ohioan and almost-Wonder Woman Adrianne Palicki, instead of my first choice, Hannah Spearritt.

No one ever asks my advice on these pressing matters...


Okay, I give up. Who is that lady with guns on the cover of Avengers Vs. X-Men...?


Here's a well-timed piece from NPR's Monkey See blog, "The 20 Unhappiest People You'll Meet In The Comments Sections of Year-End Lists."


Yeesh, check out the choices on USA Today's list of the best graphic novels of 2011, relatively few of which qualify as such, unless they're using the loosest definition possible for "graphic novel"; that is, bound comics with a spine.

Two of them are collections of comic strips (xkcd, Hark! A Vagrant), at least one is a collection of a miniseries telling a story that doesn't even really begin or end between its own covers (Flashpoint), another is an anthology collection of various shorts by a single author (Bob Powell's Terror) and the even included DC's The New 52 collection, which is every #1 issue of their 52 September-launched monthlies between a single set of covers. Its inclusion on the list should make eve DC Comics uncomfortable; that's about as far away from a "graphic novel" as you can get while still being comics; it's the first chapter of 52 different "graphic novels," if one wants to consider eventual trades collecting story arcs as graphic novels.

Given those choices, whether or not it matters that The Death-Ray and Walt Simonson's Thor comic are reprints from comics that range from a few years to a few decades old doesn't even seem worth considering when it comes to assessing the best work of the year 2011.

Three different guys put the list together, and each includes something that is totally not a graphic novel, no matter how you look at it the work chosen or the definition of "graphic novel." The list reads like a list a newspaper would put together if the feature editor looked at the pile of unread comp copies publishers sent them in the last few months and simply picked the ones with the covers they liked best and copied some copy from the back-covers.

Man, don't even click on that link, which will take you to Robot 6's link to the USA Today article and, if you do, don't click on their link to the USA Today list. Not unless you wanna read a newspaper feature that will make you wanna punch some motherfuckers in the face.

Jesus. The New 52. Better than 99.9% of all other bound comics published in 2011!


By the way, I'm totally dreading putting together a best-of list for the year. That shit is hard work. If only I wrote for USA Today, I could just name the last few comics I read, call those the best graphic novels of 2011 and collect my paycheck....


Holy shit. Holy shit.


Kiel Phegley threw questions at Marvel Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso in Comic Book Resources's regular column devoted to that, and one of them pertained to Gambit playing a role in the upcoming Avengers Vs. X-Men event/story. Alonso answered:

Though he's on the cover of "AVX" #1, Gambit doesn't yet have a strong presence in the story. But we have been discussing the possibility of a "Gambit" ongoing series. On second thought, maybe not. I mean, who likes Gambit…?

No one, that's who!

There are some interesting tidbits in there. Those features are always very, very hard to get real, valuable information out of, because someone in Alonso's position can only be so honest/volunteer so much information, but it's nice to hear his thoughts on a few of the subjects brought up. Even if some of the answers—like the one about why there will be more Avengers and X-Men comics than Truth or X-Statix-like projects—are kind of super-depressing.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Reveiw: Batman: Birth of The Demon

I can’t tell you exactly why I didn’t read original graphic novel Batman: Birth of the Demon in 1992, or at any point during the next two decades.

I recall seeing a full-page house ad for it in Batman comics of the time, featuring a rather shocking image from the climax of the book that, at the time, I didn’t really process as representational, given its content. And it featured fully painted art by Norm Breyfogle, who was then one of my favorite comics artists (and he remains the definitive Batman artist for me).

I suppose it might have had something to do with the villain, Ra’s al Ghul, who I never really cared for, or the fact that it was presented as the concluding part of a trilogy of …Of The Demon books I hadn’t read or been at all interested in (1987’s Son of The Demon and 1990’s Bride of The Demon, if you’re curious; Mike Barr wrote both, while Jerry Bingham provided art for the first and Tom Grindberg for the other).

I suspect a lot of it had to do with the simple fact that graphic novels of any kind seemed rare, strange, even alien in 1992, certainly to Teenage Caleb, who could regularly find 22-pages of Batman in any number of places—book stores, drug stores, grocery stores, comic shop—for around two bucks then.

I saw Breyfogle’s name on the spine in the library a few weeks ago though, and picked it up. I’ve missed Breyfogle’s art a lot since he sort of drifted out of the Bat-books during the early bits of the “Knightfall” storyline, and I’ve missed his work even more in the last few years, when DC started handing plum art assignments like Grant Morrison’s Batman run or relaunching Detective Comics to fairly terrible artists. (And the recent-ish DC Retroactive: Batman—The ‘90s #1 made me feel all the more nostalgic for it).

Birth of The Demon seems to be only nominally part of the …Of The Demon books; it’s not by Barr, but by Denny O’Neil, who created the Ra’s al Ghul family of characters and was then editor of the Batman line. Additionally, it’s Ra’s origin story, so much of it is set well before Batman was even born, and thus well before the events of the other two graphic novels, although Batman does appear in the framing sequences that do seem like they are climactic of an ongoing conflict between Batman and Ra’s.

It’s a hardcover, and an over-sized one, eight inches wide and eleven inches high. Breyfogle’s art is fully painted, which, along with the hardcover, high quality of paper and dust jacket, contributes to the special-ness of the book’s presentation. While trade collections and even original graphic novels weren’t unheard of during 1992, the were still awfully rare compared to today, and DC seemed to approach this as something special.

I was such a fan of Breyfogle’s pencil work, that I was unsure if what I liked about it would necessarily translate to painted comics work (note that, other than the basic figure in the pool in the immediate foreground, the cover doesn’t really look like a Breyfogle image).

It looks amazing. The figures, the faces, the action, it all looks, moves and flows like Brefygole’s comics, the main difference being a softer, rounder look that moves the needle ever so slightly toward representational, and the coloring is just lovely. It’s neither the flat, bright “comic book-y” coloring that can be found on the bulk of Breyfogle’s pencil work from that decade, nor is it that sickly, computer effect-driving faux video game or airbrushing look of most modern super-comics.

The palette is often quite limited—the pages not set at night or in a desert really jump out because of the amount of different colors in them.

The panels are essentially border-less, with thick white gutters separating them from one another. The format of the pages then doesn’t really look like anything of Breyfogle’s I’ve seen before, or anything from the monthly super-comics of the time. I’m trying to think of other painted-projects that used this technique, but I’m coming up empty—it seems usually the gutters are black in painted projects.Of course, the way in which this is painted is itself kind of unique, I think. Unlike, say, the work of Alex Ross or Daniel Brereton, it looks more like Breyfogle penciled a Batman comic as he normally would, but colored it himself using paint, rather than having constructed the panels as individual paintings. Does that make sense? If not, the point is this: It’s a really beautiful-looking comic, and unlike anything else that I can think of off the top of my head, at least in terms of superhero comics.

The story is this: Ra’s al Ghul is elderly, ill and near death, and his followers are trying to prepare a Lazarus Pit in which, will restore him to youth and health. Batman is stopping them.

At one, he meets Talia al Ghul and they discuss Ra’s’s before-this secret origin, which occurred in ancient times in a Middle Eastern locale that Ra’s had obliterated from human history.

Broadly, the man who would become Ra’s al Ghul was a physician who had discovered a secret power within the earth, accessible via certain points (which would become known eventually as “Lazarus Pits”), that can heal the sick, and restore even the dying and dead, with the unfortunate side effect of the person emerging being temporarily insane with rage.

Ra’s is caused to suffer greatly because of his discovery and the wicked rulers he serves, so he rebels, destroys them and their city and then embarks on his centuries as an immortal.

Back in the present, Ra’s arrives, and he and Batman take off their capes and shirts for a shirtless fistfight to the death.

It’s pretty brutal. Both Batman and Ra’s al Ghul are kinda crazy and desperate by the climax of the story, and Batman takes probably the most brutal beating of his life, up to and including that one time Bane broke his back.

Ra’s pushes him into a fire, which they role around in, and then Ra’s hits him in the face with a torch, setting his hair on fire. Then a sandstorm kicks up, and while Bruce Wayne is clearing the sand out of his eyes, Ra’s hits him across the face with a shovel and then stands above the prone Wayne and then, pausing only long enough to look at Talia as she begs him not to, he does this:Holy shit, Ra’s al Ghul just totally killed the hell out of Batman!

And, as you can see in that last panel, Ra’s hears someone say his name in a small, rough voice and he turns around, shocked to see:Batman got back up. With a shovel still in his chest!

And then he stalks over to Ra’s, grabs him by the throat and they both plunge into the Lazarus Pit and are restored to life (Ra’s and Talia have disappeared by the time Batman wakes up, his skin and hair re-grown).

That’s a pretty big, intense moment in Batman history, and I felt weird reading it for the first time so many years after the fact. I didn’t realize Darkseid wasn’t the first person to “kill” Batman…

O’Neil’s Batman is a pretty idiosyncratic one, although it was a lot of fun to revisit his take on the character after being so far removed from the O’Neil-written and/or O’Neil-edited Batman.

For example, the book opens with some hired thugs trying to uncover a pit, only to be interrupted by a very dramatic appearance by Batman, first as a voice from nowhere saying “Go Home,” then as a weird shape silhouetted against the night sky. He warns them to leave, he lets a few bullets bounce off of his bulletproof cape to scare them, and warns them again.

O’Neil’s Batman is obviously capable of sustaining and dishing out a lot of violence, but he’s very slow to do so, only fighting when he’s attacked, at which point he quickly and efficiently dispatches his enemies, and he is, in fact, so eager not to hurt them that he leaves himself open to an attack, getting hit with a shovel and knocked down a hill.

In addition to being a kind of scary Zen-like reluctant warrior, O’Neil’s Batman is also fallible and vulnerable, which makes the climactic battle so believable, even if the injuries get so unbelievable the reader knows Batman will be in a Lazarus Pit before it’s over.

O’Neil also goes to the trouble of characterizing the bit parts of the Guys Who Fight Batman in the opening scene. Thugs for hire, they’re in no hurry to fight Batman either, and only decide to do so for desperate, financial reasons.Sure, they’re only given a character trait or two, but man, that’s a hell of a lot more than characters like that tend to get in scenes like that in stories like this.

The bits in the distant past are pretty far-removed from what we normally see from O’Neil, but because he goes so far as to make Ra’s a character from a fantasy culture, it doesn’t have to read like anything more than a broad, melodrama, which is easy enough for O’Neil to accomplish.

All in all, it’s pretty great stuff and, surprisingly so, given how far from the creators’ respective comfort zones so much of the book is, and how little one seems to hear about it these days. I’m still not terribly interested in tracking down Barr’s two …Of The Demons graphic novels—although DC will be making it awfully easy to do so, packaging the them along with Birth in a huge, 300-page collection due out in March—but I’m now kind of curious to see the goofily titled 2005 series Year One: Batman/Ra's al Ghul by Devin Grayson, Paul Gulacy and Jimmy Palmiotti, which presumably told some form of parts of this story.