Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Comic shop comics: November 19
I was a little unclear as to why Batman reluctantly accepts Julia's help—and doesn't even give her a domino mask!—and why he doesn't call in any one else to help. Even if Red Hood left town and Batwing is all banged-up, Red Robin and Batgirl should still be hanging around somewhere, right?
Not a terribly eventful issue, really, but then, this being a weekly series, it doesn't really have to be all that eventful every issue.
I laughed out loud four times this issue, which is a pretty good number of times to laugh out loud during a single comic book these days.
Therefore it shouldn't be too surprising to see Morrison devoting an entire chapter of his The Multiversity project—a solid 40-pages—to what amounts to a conversation with Moore and artist Dave Gibbons' seminal 1986-1987 work Watchmen. Morrison had the good sense to decline—or good luck to avoid—doing one of DC's risible, reprehensible Before Watchmen comics, but then, if he already had Pax Americana in the works, he didn't really need to—this is as much a pastiche of Watchmen as it is an engagement with it.
And yet, it is still surprising, to a degree, that when approaching the source material for some of the surface details of Moore and David Gibbons' Watchmen, Morrison didn't do something new and original (something the fiercely, volcanically creative writer has never shown any problem doing), or even slightly remix and represent that source material in a way that honors its original form (something else Morrison is fond of doing in his superhero work). Rather, he looks to Moore and Gibbons' take, and extrapolates from that, as if he simply couldn't resist the temptation of taking on Watchmen rather than re-creating the setting and characters that inspired Watchmen into something all his own.
It will certainly make reviews of Pax Americana more interesting to read, it may even garner some more attention than past or future issues of Multiversity did (but I don't know; we may have already spent all our outrage on the subject during DC's announcement and roll out of the now practically forgotten Before Watchmen comics), but it also seems unfortunate in several ways. First, it threatens to warp Multiversity, with this chapter's critic-baiting premise drawing all the focus that should be distributed a little more evenly upon the series as a whole, and, second, it's a pretty huge wasted opportunity, since Morrison isn't re-creating "Earth-4" and The Charlton Comics heroes, but using analogues of Moore and Gibbons' analogues.
In essence, Morrison and his frequent (and best) artistic collaborator Frank Quitely are just deconstructing a deconstructed comic book, using the original characters that the super-people of Watchmen were analogues of as analogues of those analogues. The symbol repeated most often throughout the comic is the sideways "8" of infinity, but it might as well be an ouroboros.
So DC Comics acquired most of the superhero characters originally published by Charlton Comics in 1983, an acquisition no doubt helped along by the fact that former Charlton editor Dick Giordano was at that time a managing editor at DC. The characters—including Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom and so on—debuted in Crisis On Infinite Earths, and, like other groups of heroes acquired from other publishers in the past (Those from Fawcett and Quality, for example), the Charlton heroes were assigned their own parallel Earth, Earth-4.
Alan Moore originally planned to use the Charlton heroes in Watchmen, been when DC nixed that idea, he and Gibbons instead created their own heroes, all of whom had only the most superficial of resemblances to the characters that inspired them (Costuming and powers/skills, for the most part). As for the heroes of Earth-4, they were all folded into the DC Universe proper when The Multiverse was smooshed into a single shared universe at the conclusion of Crisis.
This issue of Multiversity, the series exploring the new, restored Multiverse, is the one focused on Earth-4, and Morrison's Earth-4 bears an incredible, uncomfortable resemblance to that of Watchmen. It's not just the surface details, from the title's allusion to ancient Rome, the close-up image of an innocuous symbol being marred into unrecognizability on the cover, the repeated visual references of drops of blood in the corners of symbols or the alternate real-world history (look, it's President Bush!).
No, Morrison even goes with the same characterizations. So Captain Atom, like Dr. Manhattan, is blue and has an atomic symbol in the middle of his forehead (Dr. Manhattan imagery applied to Captain Atom, despite the fact that the latter is the supposed source of the former), and also a remote, disinterested and dangerous super-god (who talks about reality here in the same way Morrison's 5D creatures talked about it in his "Crisis Times Five" JLA arc almost 20 years ago).
The Question dresses more like Rorshach than The Question, takes Rorshach's vocal ticks and plays the role of the unstable, overly-violent outsider among the heroes, even putting a villain in a pretty shitty set of circumstances in much the same way Rorshach did a villain in Watchmen (though the stakes here aren't as terrifyingly dramatic).
Nightshade is, like Silk Spectre, the second-generation legacy version of the original, a fairly disturbed woman (albeit for different reasons). And Blue Beetle, like Nite-Owl, has problems getting it up.
The comic is, also like Watchmen, relentlessly formal, although it varies a great deal in panel layouts. It is, as you might expect from any Quitely comic, let alone one as interested in the formal ways in which comics work, gorgeous, with characters walking, fighting, flying and falling through panels, which are sometimes read right to left and up to down, as per usual, or in reverse, or all the way across a two-page spread in a series of extra-long tiers, or moving back and forth as if the page lay-out was long, winding staircase (on a page depicting an actual stair case), and, in a few cases, even seemingly atomizing into countless tiny images that offer a semi-cubist POV, only without the cubist style that defined actual cubism (Which is, of course, unnecessary, when you can freeze multiple points of view in different, distinct, individual 2D squares).
The Watchmen allusions really get in the way of a comic book story that is, otherwise, fascinating in the way it reads (although that too, I suspect, is a response to Watchmen; like the graphic novel its obsessed with, Pax Americana is all about how its read, but it reads much more wildly and with greater variance.
I finished this issue and immediately wanted to spend more time on Quitely's Earth-4, if only to see him drawing these characters, and that ship, in action.
This issue, drawn by Patrick Zircher, was a rather rare one in that it was entirely devoted to a single sequence, without any digressions to check in on any of the other sub-plots.
Brian Hibbs noted how horribly the cover of Sensation Comics matched its relatively delightful interiors, the former and the latter apparently aimed at two entirely different audiences, each of which would be repulsed by one or the other.
To paraphrase a great American philosopher, Oops, they did it again.
This time the fairly generic Wonder Woman pose image on the cover isn't as violent as last month's Reis image, which showed a close-up of a roaring Wonder Woman charging through a cloud of blood while throttling a orc-like opponent with her golden noose of strangulation. Instead, the uncredited image shows Wonder Woman flying above rose-colored clouds, being lit dramatically by the rising (or is it setting?) sun. The problem? It's not that the cut of her underoos is so high that they seem to be disappearing into her, or that the shape of her nipple is clearly visible through her painted-on costume.
No, it's the fact that you can see both her entire ass and both of her breasts at the same time, making this pose a clear-cut, unequivocal case of a "broke-back" pose. If there's one comic book character that should never be posed that way, it's probably Wonder Woman, and the fact that she's posed that way on the paper, hard-copy edition of the digital-first series Sensation Comics only compounds the wrongness. Sensation Comics is a comic for the Internet, right? Surely its makers should know better than to avoid problems routinely pointed out by the Internet!
(If I had to guess, I'd guess this was an Adam Hughes image, based on the lighting, the figure work and the baggy boots, the latter of which is a sort of Hughes trademark, but try as I might, I can't find the familiar "AH!" signature anywhere on the cover.)
Compounding it further? This issue has the remaining 14-pages of the 20-page Gilbert Hernandez story "No Chains Can Hold Her!", which began in Sensation #3. So that's two issues in a row where they went with something dumb and not a Gilbert Hernandez drawing when they had Giblert Hernandez comics on the inside to sell. Ideally, this issue would have been a $2.99/20-page issue, consisting solely of Hernandez's story in its entirety, and with a Hernandez drawn image on the cover.
I'm pretty sure a Gilbert Hernandez comic book-comic would sell a lot of issues. And gain a lot of attention. To and from people beyond those that normally read DC Comics.
So this issue kicks off with pages 7-20 of Hernandez's Silver Age Wonder Woman vs. Silver Age Supergirl story, with the force of their collisions in the battle being such that they open a portal to a different dimension through which comes Mary Marvel. And now there's three super-ladies slugging it out for the amusement of Kanjar Ro and Sayyar.
It's pretty fucking awesome.
Dr. Sivana, Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr. also make a one-panel cameo.
Too bad colorist John Rauch miscolors Supergirl's hair on the last page she appears in...unless the implication is that Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel hit her so hard they knocked the blond right off her hair...?
That's followed by a ten-pager written by Rob Williams and drawn by Tom "Hey, where's he been?" Lyle, an artist I've always had enormous affection for on account of him being one of the first dozen or so comics artists whose work I encountered (On the first Robin miniseries).
This story has the inevitable title of "Attack of the 500-Foot Wonder Woman" (No one has used that particular riff before?), which sees Wonder Woman teaming up with The Atom and Hawkman and Hawkgirl to taken on shape-changing Thanagarian criminal Byth, taking the monstrous form he did upon his original Silver Age appearance—only bigger.
We join the battle en medias res, with Wonder Woman grown to Godzilla proportions by some sort of growth field The Atom concocted. The action is set in Gateway City, which would seem to suggest that its set in the Byrne era, but everyone's costumes seem to place the story somewhere between the late Silver Age and so-called Bronze Age. Definitely Satellite Era, in terms of JLA history.
Lyle's art, which he inks himself, is a real treat, although I have to say he seems to draw the other characters even better than he does Wonder Woman—not that there's anything wrong with his Wonder Woman, of course.
The final story in the issue teams Wonder Woman and Etta Candy—appearing in a modified, taller version of her Golden Age design—with Deadman, as they attempt to wrest a stolen purple healing ray away from Batman villain Ra's al Ghul (Sensation #4 really reads an awful lot like a Wonder Woman team-up title). Writer Neil Kleid and artist Dean Haspiel pack a hell of a lot of story into a ten-page story, including tons of surface action, the rather fun comedy of Deadman trying to convince Wonder Woman he's real despite the fact that she can't see him, and can only hear him when he's possessing soemone else, and Wonder Woman learning a lesson about respecting the beliefs of others, even if those beliefs are not her own. Like, for example, she doesn't believe in ghosts, which no doubt makes Deadman's attempts to convince her of his presence all the more difficult.
The script is a fine one, but the greatest pleasure here is seeing Haspiel get his pencil and pen on so many characters. In addition to the those mentioned, there's also a neat little sequence in which we get to see what Haspiel's Hawks, Spectre and Ragman all look like.