Monday, May 23, 2011

At Last! A Long, Rambling Discussion of Batman!

So the nerd wranglers have been givin’ me funny, kinda worried, looks lately. Askin’ me if I was feelin’ okay. They were obviously hintin‘ at somethin‘, but I couldn‘t figure out what. But then, just last night, I found an autographed photo of Adam West on the door to the bunkhouse, and it all fell into place. Nerd wranglers are a superstitious lot, afraid of angerin’ the Funnybook Gods. None of ’em wanna work for a man who forgets what’s really important. And well… I guess it HAS been awhile since our last serious discussion of Batman.

There’s lots of reasons for that, and you could probably track them if you went back and ferreted out all the reviews I’ve done on the run of Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. to date. But even I can’t see taking the time to do that, and lord knows I love the sound of my own voice. So just let me boil it down for you now: the book’s seemed a little too… obvious thus far for me to really feel the need to dig in and write about whatever deeper meanings and complexities are folded into it. Now, I’ve been trusting that this obviousness is surface only, and that eventually some keystone issue will drop, shedding new light on all these preliminaries and making them much more than the sum of their parts. And, hey presto, it seems that issue dropped just recently, with…

Batman Inc #6
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham

(And it’s all SPOILER, all the time, from here on out, so… you know… You have been warned.)

Entitled “Niktomorph,” this story really is the capstone for the series’ first arc, the issue that defines the whole Batman Incorporated concept, and what it’s supposed to accomplish. Niktomorph translates roughly as “nightshape,” which is ultimately what Bruce Wayne is building here: an ever-shifting and difficult-to-trace global bat-presence, multiple agents acting as one to fight evil wherever it rears its head. In becoming ubiquitous, he’s also becoming more legendary, spreading the new world-wide Bat-Myth amongst the underworld, using his various agents to generate even more confusion as to who and what the Batman is.

Or, as Bruce himself puts it in the story: “Wayne arrived in Paris, Batmen sprung up … Batman’s in Hong Kong. Batman’s a girl. Batman‘s in Australia … Batman is everything you fear.” He even goes so far as to fabricate (I think?) extreme actions, spreading a story that he tattooed ‘child molester’ onto the forehead of a slave-purchasing celebrity pedophile in Australia. The terror campaign against crime has gone global. Welcome to Planet Gotham.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hey, I Was Reading That!

DC Comics Presents Night Force 100-Page Spectacular #1
by Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, and Bob Smith

So DC recently put out this reprint book of one of my favorite early-80s funnybook series. The team behind Tomb of Dracula, reunited on a new horror series? That was like getting a new Sex Pistols album or something! My young mind reeled! I HAD to have that, and I bought all 14 issues of the series, hanging on right through to the bitter (bitter!) end. Fast-forward 29 years, and this thing comes out. And, since I can't re-read the original comics anymore due to an unfortunate allergy to decaying newsprint, I picked it up.

The story holds up pretty well. Far better than I expected, in fact, especially after reading Wolfman's really kind of dreadful early Tomb of Dracula work last year. Sure. There's still some achingly bad dialogue here and there, and the story's emphasis on the Soviet occult/parapsychology program does make it a bit dated. But Gene Colan's artwork is (as always) just gorgeous. And on the whole, it's a neat little supernatural mystery with interestingly flawed heroes. And it stars maybe my favorite of the corporate spandex magical mystery men: Baron Winters. Part Phantom Stranger, part Barnabas Collins, and part con man, Baron Winters has a pet leopard and a house with doors that open onto other times and places. He's mysterious and cool and just sleazy enough to keep him relatable.

The story concerns an attempt to summon up and harness Evil itself, at the cost of the sanity of a young woman who's serving as an unwitting psychic conduit to the experiments. But a pair of Soviet spies want her, too, and lead Our Heroes (the doctor conducting the experiments, and a washed-up alcoholic hack reporter) on a merry chase back to Russia, where...

Well, this collection doesn't reveal what happens once the story gets to Russia. Because for some reason, DC decided to only collect the first four issues here, and it leaves off with everyone packing off for Commieland, the story an issue or two away from its conclusion. That's right. They collected the first Night Force arc, and didn't reprint the whole thing!

What the fuck, man?! Who thought THAT was a good idea?! If I thought that this was the first of a series of these "100-Page Spectaculars" collecting the series, I'd be fine with it. But the big "One-Shot" logo on the cover says pretty decisively that it's not gonna happen. So again... What the fuck?! I paid eight bucks for this shit, and you're not even gonna give me the whole story?! I can't decide if this is a case of gross editorial incompetence or very poorly thought-out corporate hucksterism. But whatever's going on... I don't cotton to it! Not one damn bit!

Grade for the Story: B
Grade for the Publication: F. Minus.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Back in the Saddle: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!

So it's been a busy coupla weeks 'round here on the nerd farm, and I'm not gonna lie to you: it's still pretty damn busy. But not so busy that I can't strap in for some quick reviews this week...

Invincible Iron Man #503
by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca

Fraction delivers a really nice wrap-up to his battle of wills between Tony Stark and Otto Octavius this time around, with Stark finally giving in and begging Doc Ock to stop the timer on the nuclear device he's holding over New York's head. Which, as it turns out, isn't acually a bomb at all. Ock lied, and Stark fell for it. But in a situation eerily similar to the dark future we saw in issue 500, Stark caved. He caved, and called Octavius "master" to save lives. Which is, of course, the real difference between Stark and the other arrogant geniuses Fraction's compared and contrasted him with over his long tenure on the title. He may have sat back and laughed at the ignorant masses with Madame Masque in his younger days, but when the chips are down, Stark will do anything, including debase himself, to save them.

On the flip side, Fraction does cheat on the conclusion of his Pepper vs Electro and Sandman battle, allowing the bad guys to slip away without any real explanation to make room for a few pages of "Fear Itself" crossover. But the character work that precedes that spandex plot cop-out far outweighs any disappointment I might have felt. This was good work, made better in light of the long-term writing. Or, in other words, it's exactly what I look for in franchise work-for-hire super hero comics.

Grade: A-

Fables #104
by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, and Steve Leialoha

Oy. My happiness with the current Super Team arc lessens with each passing issue. Any time this book goes "meta" and starts discussing the fictional underpinnings of the magic that connects the Fable Homelands with the Mundy World, my eyes glaze over. So this continual discussion of super hero tropes, and how they have to balance the team correctly to make the magic work properly, just makes me want to stop reading. And that's not even mentioning how much I despise fucking Brock Blueheart, the talking animal Boy Blue cultist that also makes me want to stop reading, every time he walks on-screen. It's all far too cute for my taste, and the promise of it being followed by another saccharine story about Bufkin the talking monkey in Oz does very little to make me want to keep buying.