Born in Vancouver, BC Canada...and after living in a lot of different places since then....has finally returned home.
Hello there, fellow mischief-makers. I was just out getting some groceries this morning, preparing myself for a day full of domestic-like activity; when a sudden electrifying shock blasted through my brain and shivered all the way down my back. No, I was not the victim of some sneak-attack from Doctor Psycho. Also, I was not afflicted by some gut-churning after-effects of that less-than-sufficiently re-heated breakfast burrito either. Rather; this flash of panic in my mind was just a physical manifestation of my realizing I am, once again, late in writing my monthly blog! Yes, sadly, I have detected some derelict in my duty to you, my fine reader(s). Fortunately, at least, that burrito I ate did not cause any additional insult to this particular injury…because that’s a doody I wouldn’t wish to afflict on anyone. Derelict or not.
So, with bowels secured, and after returning home with bags in hand: I hastily stuffed the massive pile of pre-made chimichangas into the ol’ ice-box and settled into my favorite broken-spring couch to begin typing this latest entry of brain-busting vernacular treats. Why does it matter, you might ask? Wouldn’t the world be much better off if the Mekster just curled up in a nest of old comic books and disappeared forever? Why torture humanity with yet another installment of such inane ramblings? Ahh, yes: that does sound kind of nice, really…I could just drift away with the rest of my garbage, like some old has-been pirate in his hyperdrive-challenged Corellian freighter, twirling away from the back of a Star Destroyer…yee-s-s-s…
…but, no. I’m sorry. I’m not going away that easy. Nope. I made a commitment to spend this whole year inundating folks with my mercurial missives and I’d be damned if I stop now. Besides, what better way to celebrate the arrival of Detective Comics #1000 on the comic stands, than with a dive into some of the caped crusader’s more obscure adventures for an entire month…and live to tell the tale. Ah-ha! So, here we go… like it or not…I bring you this month’s greatest humdingers of all!
Here are my five favorite issues from the March reading list:
JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NAIL #1 (1998)
Written and drawn by Alan Davis.
Ever wonder what the world would be like without Superman? I don’t. I see it every day, just outside my window and it sucks. There wouldn’t be any of the never-ending crises we have today if there was Superman around, right? Oh, wait. Hmm…I guess there was Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Infinite Crisis and then Crisis This and Crisis That…nevermind! The world would be more interesting at least, if we had a Superman flying around: that I’m sure of!! Peeping with his x-ray eyes and averting dreaded futures with his super speed and such. It would be great. I’m sure Alan Davis was thinking the exact same thing for decades, while drawing some of the most dynamic figures in the business, before he finally turned in the script for what is now considered a classic…this amazing story called Justice League: The Nail. According to Davis: it seems like a world without Superman would be a frightful place indeed…
This three-issue Elseworlds limited series starts off just like those amusing Marvel What Ifers…what if Pa Kent found a nail in the tire of his old truck just before he made that fateful trip into town? What if…the Kent’s were never witness to the landing of a rocket-cradle from Krypton? Without the kindly Kents’ to discover young Kal-El, there would be no Superboy adventures or teaching the alien-child the morals he would later bring to a bustling Metropolis. Nobody to keep the news in check as intrepid Clark at the Daily Planet. Sure, there would be all the others like Batman and Wonder Woman, but the moral center of the DC Universe has always come from Clark/Superman. If he was never discovered, what would happen to the world? Well, for starters: Lex Luther becomes Mayor of Metropolis. Then, he begins a campaign against all heroes: citing their activities as dangerous and anti-social. It’s a familiar and predictable tract, but one that goes into some very dark territory and even mirrors some less-savory aspects of familiar culture in surprisingly harsh detail.
Suffice to say, issue one is the set-up to provide the reader with every detail needed to understand this altered world. Lex appears to be the big bad-guy at first but then the heroes appear to have lost their grip on appropriate behavior as well. When the Joker appears at Arkham to spring all his pals out of the clink, his actions lure Batgirl and Robin into the fray. After Batman’s teen proteges are murdered in the asylum, the Dark Knight goes off the rails and, in the final pages, kills the Joker on the roof of Arkham as the cameras roll. Acknowledging the problematic natures of their otherness on Earth, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter decide to exile themselves from humanity in attempts to avoid any further public spectacle. This is just the beginning of what turns out to be a real dandy of a tale all the way to the surprising end. Even if you’re not the biggest Justice League fan; The Nail is a great story that bulldozes straight to the heart of what it really means to be a hero, in any circumstance. Highly recommended.
BATMAN: NIGHT CRIES GN (1992)
Written by Archie Goodwin.
Painted by Scott Hampton.
I’m a sucker for painted comics. I will usually gobble up anything that has been produced with some form of brushed on pigment, even when it’s been enhanced digitally (like some of what Sienkiewicz does these days). There is something more dynamic and immediate about physical brushwork that suits comics quite well in my eyes. From the thick, expressive strokes from Jon Muth to the intricate watercolors of David Mack: I love them all. Scott Hampton happens to be one of the best painters still hanging around an industry that has mostly gone digital, and he continues to provide some amazing work (as evidenced from the recent American Gods adaptation from Dark Horse). Back in the early 90’s, when computer coloring was still finding its legs, Scott partnered with Archie Goodwin to produce this luscious graphic novel called Night Cries.
There’s nothing terribly ground-breaking in the framework of the story. There is a string of killings in Gotham and Gordon can’t get a grip on the murderer’s trail, so he calls in the helpful hero for assistance just like a million other Batman tales. The difference here, however, is in the subject matter explored once our famous detective peels away the surface of titillating murders. As the Dark Knight continues to investigate, he begins to delve into some very heavy subjects like child abuse and post-traumatic stress and soon begins to question the validity of his own crusade. It starts out with a shadowy character unable to sleep from the shrieking noises he keeps hearing. Is this Bruce Wayne, still haunted by the death of his parents and the bats that invoked his calling? What are these night cries? As you read along, you discover this is not really about Batman at all, rather the cycle of violence that haunts humanity itself…from generation to generation. The final page is incredibly provocative and endemic to Batman’s eternal plight. I give two bat-ears up, for the Night Cries!
JOKER GN (2008)
Written by Brian Azzarello.
Drawn by Lee Bermejo.
This here is the story of a two-bit hood named Jonny Frost…or as the Joker likes to call him: Jonny Jonny Frost. Jonny is not unlike any other low-life thug from Gotham, but since his wife left him, he maybe feels like he has nothing left to lose. Rather than spiral into debauchery like all the rest of his scumbag associates, however, Johnny instead takes the initiative and fashions himself as the Joker’s number one accomplice. If you have nothing better going on in your life, you might as well hitch your wagon to the only high roller you can get within arms distance to, I guess. But, like anyone else who gets too close to fire, Jonny Frost is likely to get burnt, and badly at that…because the Joker is an inferno. And when I say inferno, I mean he’s totally insane. Insanely obsessed with the Batman that is.
This Joker Graphic Novel has a fairly, straight-forward narrative. There’s no twists or trick endings. It’s totally what you expect from start to finish. The Joker is released from Arkham and deemed completely rehabilitated for some reason…it’s Gotham. Jonny is likeable enough that you start to like the guy as the story moves along, even though you know he is totally misguided. The Joker is funny in a maniacal way and there are a few truly amusing parts as he weaves and forces himself back into the criminal underworld. Just as you think the Joker is about to reclaim his throne as the crime prince of Gotham, with hapless Jonny at his side…the whole thing falls apart. Because it’s the Joker. He’s crazy. He’s obsessed. He’s self-absorbed and homicidal. And in the end, it’s all for another chance to get at the Batman. Poor hapless Jonny is just a patsy in the Jokers plan all along. It’s a fun, yet grimy, little escapade into the world of a loser who ran a little too close to the ever-consuming furnace of madness and obsession that is: the Joker/Batman dichotomy. Lee Bermejo’s gorgeous artwork adorns every page like a poison kiss and Azzarello’s writing serves up a decent companion to other classic tales of depravity such as Arkham Asylum Moore’s Killing Joke.
GOTHAM BY MIDNIGHT #3 (2015)
Written by Guy Fawkes.
Drawn by Ben Templesmith.
Let’s face it: Gotham is packed with weird crazies. You have guys like Zsasz and the Killer Croc, Scarecrow…Mad Hatter. Genuine fearsome dudes. Bruce Wayne donned the cape and cowl to instill fear in the hearts of criminals, but these guys took that trick and made Batman look positively pedestrian in their shadows. In the end, though: they’re all just human. Full of frailty and psychosis and junk. Nothing you can’t punch and send wailing off to the asylum for a term. Batman always has some gadget in his utility belt to inoculate from Poison Ivy or escape the clutches of Clayface. What about the supernatural stuff, though? The spooks and vampires and goblin shit? That’s where the Bat sticks to his cave and hopes it all washes over, I would think…because in the end, Bruce is just a man as well. In times of spooky disasters, there needs to be some specialized help at hand. That’s where GCPD’s Thirteenth Precinct comes in. Lead by Jim Corrigan, this rag-tag group of misfits, nuns and astral-forensic nerds handle all of Gotham’s more ethereal type cases. The spooky stuff.
The first couple of issues in this short-lived series sets up the characters in Precinct Thirteen and establishes their boarded up, ramshackle apartment/base of operations in the slums of Gotham. Some Internal Investigations dude shows up to expose the lot as grifting freaks but is soon wrapped up in Corrigan’s latest foray into the bizarre supernatural threats to Gotham when they all enter the goopy slop of Slaughter Swamp. It’s all kind of silly X-files-lite up until issue #3, where the team encounters their first major threat. Here in Slaughter Swamp, stands an old school house, run by a head-mistress which commands your attention with some strangely-sideways eyes. The children in the house are the lost and the betrayed and the unwanted…all her disciples. All willing to follow her lead to punish every citizen of Gotham for their unrepented sins. After that, Corrigan unleashes the Spectre and there’s a giant battle for the soul of Gotham and one of the team-members dies. Its all very spectacular.
I really wanted to like this series coming into it. Fawkes (Underwinter, Intersection) and Templesmith (30 Days of Night, Wormwood) are well known for their previous weird and fabulously creepy works, and this seemed like a dream-team to uncover the bizarre corners of Gotham. Unfortunately, it starts off rather clichéd with the disbelieving, cynical IO guy poking around and Corrigan having to explain why the team is necessary. Once the real weirdness begins in issue #3, however, the story becomes everything I could have hoped for. The atmosphere gets very dark, uncomfortable and menacing as the gang trudges through the swamp. The part with the school house and all the black flowers cropping up just envelops you in this uncomfortable haze. The horror seems palpable. Then Jim tuns into the Spectre and it turns into more of a normal superhero comic for the rest of it’s run. Although I enjoyed how the whole thing ended, I was hoping for something more swampy, mysterious and dark from the creators associated with this title.
BATMAN: YEAR 100 #2 (2006)
Written and drawn by Paul Pope.
A hundred years after Batman first punched a bad guy and the Dark Knight is still swinging. With this four-issue futuristic tale, Paul Pope unleashes the newest iteration of the Dark Knight into a dystopian Gotham where the capes and criminals have all but been extinguished from society. All that remains is a corrupt, authoritarian establishment intent on keeping the citizens under control while the privileged reap uncounted benefits. This is a world where the original Batman is all but forgotten. A hopeless society. But, from the very start, you can see why a hero is still needed in Gotham. Hunted. Attacked. Running for his life: the new Batman races from a crime scene, while hounded by the federal agents who aim to frame him for a murder connected to the highest levels of government. The first issue is a thrill-ride, adrenaline rush of action from cover-to-cover; all in Pope’s best hyper-kinetic, blazing style. But, even as the new Batman manages to escape capture at the end of issue one, the best parts of the story are still yet to come…
Blown away by the initial issue, as I was, the second was just as cinematically thrilling, and full of action and intrigue. Detective Jim Gordon, the Grandson of the more famous Commissioner, appears on the crime scene but is pushed aside by federal agents: claiming the operation as their own. There seems to be a cover-up involved, and Jim gets knocked around for looking too closely into the details. Meanwhile, Batman finds refuge with his cabal of friends in a safe-house, gets patched up and rushes back into action, in search of the true culprit. There’s a wonderful scene where Bruce meditates before returning to his detective work. There’s a fantastic new Batmobile that folds up into a hanging bat-like-thing. The gadgets, the detective work and the harrowing escapes this character manages to achieve under Pope’s masterful pen are unlike anything I have ever seen before. This is a highly entertaining futuristic caper, worthy of some type of cinematic adaptation if I've ever seen one. My favorite line: "He can't talk right when he has the teeth in". Rrrawwl. Love it!
So, there you have it: five very different stories featuring (or at least associated with) the world’s most famous Dark Knight. It’s no wonder how the character has endured for so many years; thrilling countless generations with his growly face and unparalleled detective skills. Also, the punching. Here’s to another seventy-odd years of swinging from the rooftops with billowy cape, Batman…you weirdo-obsessive freak. Cheers.
Now, the massive April reading list:
GREEN ARROW #29-34 (2014)
SOLO #1-12 (2004-2006)
MULTIVERSITY #1-2 (2014-2015)
ALL THE MULTIVERSITY ONE-SHOTS (2014-2015)
SECRET ORIGINS #48 (1990)
DC COMICS PRESENTS #52 (1982)
DC COMICS PRESENTS #59 (1983)
SUPERGIRL #16 (1984)
DC COMICS PRESENTS #81 (1985)
ACTION COMICS #560, 563, 565 (1984-1985)
AMBUSH BUG #1-4 (1985)
AMBUSH BUG STOCKING STUFFER #1 (1986)
SON OF AMBUSH BUG #1-6 (1986)
AMBUSH BUG: BIG NOTHING #1(1992)
…and finally: time to get back to my regularly scheduled housework.
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