After spending last week writing about a guilty pleasure, it’s fun to turn around this week and confess how much I enjoyed this latest issue of Batman & Robin by Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Mick Gray, and John Kalisz.
Because this is the kind of book I would’ve been tempted to describe as a guilty pleasure a few years back, though maybe only for the most mistaken of reasons. After all, calling something a “guilty pleasure” is to acknowledge upfront its shortcomings, even if only in the public opinion. And there’s something about this book that continues to make me uncomfortable about recommending it or appreciating it, even while reading this, the best issue of the title I’ve read in a while and probably the book I enjoyed reading the most out of the (counts on fingers and toes) eighteen comics I’ve read today.
[More after the jump, because there’s Graeme and Baxter Building below and you should miss neither, yeah?]
First off, there’s the first episode of Baxter Building, our long-awaited Fantastic Four readthrough, right below this post. I’ll cut the main part of this off under the jump and let you scroll down and enjoy it. Secondly, look at me — my fear about having to delay this until Wednesday this week turned out not to be the case! Continue reading →
What’s that, you say? You were looking forward to Baxter Building, our in-depth look at the first 416-issue of Marvel’s Fantastic Four? We’ll see if you’re still saying that after this uber-sized first episode, in which we talk about the series’ first 12 issues. I remember saying to Jeff “I really want to go deep on the first 12, because the series changes so much during that time.” Little did I know that we’d go quite so deep…! Shownotes below, and for those who want their choice to listen elsewhere, you can find this episode on Stitcher and iTunes. Please be kind. It’s our first time.
Jeff (left) and I (right) plan the first episode of the series.
0:00:00-0:02:27: The origin of the theme music and the title for the podcast. Literally, we were making this up as we were going along, in case it’s not obvious. “People, you’re getting to hear the origins right now,” as I say in the episode itself. 0:02:27-0:05:27: For any newcomers, Jeff and I run down just what we’re reading, and how to read along. (This would probably be a good place to put a link to Marvel Unlimited, considering we mention it for those who’re looking for ways to read along with us.)
Sue Storm fails to realize that actually being visible when in cabs might make her life a lot easier.
0:05:27-0:24:40: The first issue, and the many ways in which it seems unlike the team as we know them today — including the literalness of the the original Fantastic Four flare, Sue Storm’s bad choices when it comes to transportation, the familiarity to both monster comics and Kirby’s own Challengers of the Unknown, the importance of the Human Torch in the early issues, and much, much more. (Also discussed: Stan Lee’s inability to understand science, the early pacing issues and possible reasons for that, and the disconnect between image and text in that first issue. Not to mention, what’s missing from the first issue: Stan Lee being Stan Lee.) 0:24:40-0:28:00: “The first issue is scary!” The ways in which the first Fantastic Four hints at later superhero comics, by making superheroes something just a little less terrifying by the monsters they fight. Is there a Lovecraft connection with the book’s title? 0:28:01-0:33:55: The wonderful fake-out of the opening of Fantastic Four #2, and why it’s a trick that could only work once — and at this particular point in the series. Also, why do the Fantastic Four have so many hiding places, and in what ways is this issue like Lee and Kirby’s Hulk?
Johnny, get your gun.
0:33:55-0:39:10: The first element of Lee and Kirby being meta-textual. It won’t be the last. Also, even more problems with the pacing and potential plot problems, because apparently no-one was really paying attention to what was happening in with the story of these first issues until it was too late.
“Costumes… tights… that’s kid stuff!”
0:39:10-0:48:00:Fantastic Four suddenly embraces the superhero-ness of it all, starting with the third issue. Jeff also brings out the importance of the urban nature of the stories, and the way in which the Fantastic Four have been part of the city, while I suggest that things are starting to change even by this issue. Also: the first appearance of the Baxter Building! The first appearance of the Fantasti-Car and the Fantastic Four costumes, and how off-handed it all seems! Are Lee and Kirby having their cake and eating it by making a big deal of the “new” Fantastic Four even as they have the characters make fun of them? Plus! Who is Jeff’s breakout character of the series to date? The answer will surprise you (because, seriously, who’s ever given this character a second thought before now?) 0:48:00-0:53:10: Referencing Fantastic Four (1961-89) was The Great American Novel, we discuss whether or not the swiftly changing social standing of the FF was a reflection of Lee and Kirby’s success with the book, or simply something that all superhero comics have to deal with. How does Stan Lee deal with the concept of the underdog? (Spoiler: not that well.) 0:53:10-0:57:14: The first letters page brings a handful of great surprises, including the origins of Stan Lee’s self-mythology. Guest-starring a member of the Marvel Bullpen! We then return to the story in progress, with Jeff selecting a scene that he hopes will definitely show up in this summer’s Fantastic Four movie, while also describing the climax of the issue’s plot thusly: “Oh, come on.” 0:57:14-1:00:00: The strange magic of Fantastic Four #4 is revealed for both Jeff and myself, oddly enough. Is this the greatest introduction to the team? In the words of Chris Claremont, “Maybe so! Maybe no!” (If this issue was in Bring On The Bad Guys, let us know? The Internet failed me when I looked into it.)
Kirby’s Bowery is genuinely amazing.
1:00:00-1:15:25: We dig into the sheer Kirby-ness of FF #4, from the weird comedy to both the impressive depictions of the Bowery and a couple of instances where he predicts pop art years before it goes mainstream. Seriously, this is such a great, great issue — albeit an uneven one in terms of tone and a “disquieting” one, to use Jeff’s term. Is that Kirby’s fault? Trigger Warning: this sequence features the words “Then there’s the fucking whale with hands.”
The Tick Tick Tick panels that Jeff and I both love so much.
1:15:25-1:31:22: We reach the first appearance of Doctor Doom, whose very first panel really tells you everything you need to know about him, and how perfectly Kirby captures his origin sequence — just before the story swerves in a direction that no-one could see coming, because what the hell, everyone. Before any of that happens, though, Roy Thomas pops up in the letters page and we ask the important questions: Why do travelers in the past have pirate disguise kits? Is the Thing cursed? And is this the end of the beginning of Ben Grimm?
The Yancy Street Gang’s main purpose in their first appearance? Humanizing the Thing.
1:31:22-1:38:30: Finally, we reach the sixth issue — by now, you’re realizing quite why this episode is as long as it is — just as the Fantastic Four become outright celebrities, and the Yancy Street Gang make their debut. “This is a quantum leap forward!” Jeff says, and impressively neither of us make a Scott Bakula reference. I’m sorry. Despite that, we get through this one relatively quickly because it’s not a favorite, and manages to diminish everyone involved (although Jeff does make a good case for this issue being a stealth reboot of the Sub-Mariner, just two issues after his debut in the Marvel Age of Comics). 1:38:30-1:44:41: Jeff’s not a massive fan of Fantastic Four #7, but I love it. Who knows quite what happened to Lee and Kirby for “Prisoners of Kurrgo, Master of Planet X,” but Jeff’s entirely right when he says that it could’ve been a Simpsons episode. If you’ve been looking for alien Lazy Susans and Reed Richards’ bong, then this issue is exactly what you want, and there’s also the added benefit of Reed revealing that he is, in fact, a massive dick.
Jeff’s favorite part of the issue: Sue Storm kicking someone in the butt while invisible.
1:44:41-1:53:00: I call Fantastic Four #8 “another [issue] full of important shit,” including the first appearance of the Puppet Master — who, for once, is an actual threat and gets the best exit of his fictional life — as well as Alicia, Reed’s quest to cure the Thing and much more. Jeff suggests that perhaps Lee and Kirby have a future in this comic book business, because this is clearly the stage of recording where we’re into hyperbole. (To his credit, he also has some great points to make about why this issue is more fairy-tale-like than the earlier issues.) 1:53:00-2:05:47: There’s a lot going for Fantastic Four #9 — the greatest introduction of the Sub-Mariner in any comic ever, for one — but we talk about the expressiveness of Kirby’s Thing, even at this early stage, the greatness of Kirby’s Hollywood caricatures, and Namor’s willingness to do whatever it takes to fuck Sue Storm. That said, there’re a couple of majorly objectionable things in this issue, with some staggering racism and sexism at play here in a way that’s not been visible in the series before (and it’s hardly been an unsexist series to this point). I also explain to Jeff why Paul Gambaccini isn’t just a pre-Internet troll, but here’s a little bit more context as to why I was familiar with him; his letter to Stan Lee, however, is a thing of greatness. Jeff, meanwhile, likens this issue with the real-world cinematic fortunes of the Fantastic Four. Is Roger Corman the Sub-Mariner?
The Best Namor.
2:05:47-2:19:18: Who is flagging more by this point, Jeff and me or Lee and Kirby? Here’s a clue: Fantastic Four #10 is an issue that features Lee and Kirby actually appearing in the comic itself to bemoan the fact that they can’t come up with another villain as memorable as Doctor Doom. That said, I’m fully expecting someone to pop up in the comments and tell us that we’re very, very wrong when it comes to the science of flames and being able to burn when cold, because that’s what happens when you talk so boldly about such subjects on the Internet. Nonetheless, Doctor Doom returns, with some wonderfully un-Doom-like dialogue and the greatest theory about dinosaurs that has ever existed. Nonetheless, Jeff has theories about the uber-consistency of Doom in a way that you suspect that Doom himself would approve of. Less likely to be approved of: the Sue Storm pin-up in the issue, and specifically, the caption that accompanies it. We also discuss both the rarely-discussed superpowers, and never-discussed parentage, of Alicia Masters, and I make a joke that might be construed as able-ist re: Battlin’ Jack Murdock’s children that I kind of regret. (Sorry, people who might be offended! I didn’t mean to offend you!)
Inarguably the highlight of Fantastic Four #10
2:19:18-2:27:45:Fantastic Four #11 features the Fantastic Four reading their mail and meeting the Impossible Man for the first time. Guess which of those two things we spend more time talking about? Jeff does have some interesting thoughts about possible roots for Impy’s origins, however. There’s also a new origin of the Fantastic Four and an important revelation about Reed Richards’ past, and Stan Lee demonstrates why he really shouldn’t try and tackle sexism as an important topic. (Entirely unrelated to the Fantastic Four, Jeff also discovers the previously-unknown link between Dave Sim and Dim Sum.)
Reed and Ben aren’t going to take sexism lightly — unless it’s THEIR sexism!
2:27:45-2:36:04: Both Jeff and I are fairly non-plussed by Fantastic Four #12, which puts the team on the trail of the Hulk. There are some Avengers re-read flashbacks, and we talk about the need for the series to actually be centered around the Fantastic Four themselves, and the way in which the Hulk defeated the two men who created him. 2:36:04-end: In which we finally reach the end, talk (briefly) about which of the issues worked and didn’t work in the first 12, and tell you where you can find us on the Internet: Twitter, Tumblr and Patreon, where 94 people are helping us record things like this.
This, then, is the beginning of the World’s Greatest Magazine Podcast. We hope you enjoy it, and will stick with us as we power through the rest of the first volume of the series. (We’ll try to make episodes shorter in future, too.)
Is it possible to blame Loot Crate for making me a terrible person?
Probably not, but I thought I’d ask since they’re indirectly responsible for my current predicament. In their last box of charmingly disposable twaddle, I came across a card offering a 30 free premium membership for Crunchyroll. My anime days have been in my rear view mirror for quite some time now but, being the type of guy who can’t pass up a cheap buffet (even with people being carried out on stretchers), I figured I’d give it a shot. Continue reading →
For all that I’ve given Jeff shit on the podcast for his continued support of Batman: Eternal — a series that he doesn’t seem to be enjoying as much as enduring, based upon what he’s said about recent issues — I have to admit that I have kept up my own unhealthy DC weekly fix in the shape of The New 52: Futures End, a series that continues to confound expectations (and, increasingly, understanding) the longer it continues.
By this point in the series — #37 is out this week, with Ryan Sook delivering a cover that looks as if he’s channeling Steve Pugh’s 1990s style, unexpectedly — it’s not an exaggeration to say that the storylines have become so convoluted that I’m not entirely sure why some things are happening anymore, nor what is necessarily has to do with earlier events featuring the same characters. So far, for example, Grifter has gone from being a lone wolf, hunting down alien invaders, to a living lie detector forced to work for Cadmus against his will, to a desperate man hiding on an island filled with robot-controlled superheroes from an alternate Earth, to a surrogate father to an omnipotent genetically-modified clone that thinks she’s an eight-year-old girl. See: doesn’t that just sound like a coherent chain of cause-and-effect events?
Grifter isn’t alone in the almost arbitrary changes: Ronnie Raymond went from someone who didn’t want to be Firestorm to someone who only wanted to be Firestorm, to someone who could never be Firestorm, to dead (Spoiler alert!) in such a way that seemed entirely unrelated to anything other than wherever the plot needed Raymond’s emotional state to be in any given issue. Shazam literally took up the mantle of Superman off-panel, then gave it up when confronted by Lois Lane midway through the series — and, notably, when the real Superman showed in the book as a character — only to appear later, again dressed as Superman.
Admittedly, that’s better treatment than Mr. Terrific, who was supposed to be a major player in the series but who disappears for long stretches of time because it’s clear that his plot isn’t long enough to stretch the entire series if he appeared every issue — although, given his unexplained evolution into an asshole (Once again, comic books mistake “being arrogant” with “being a straight-up dick”), that might not be the worst thing, all told. Similarly, characters like Tim Drake, Lois Lane and the Stormwatch team of Hawkman, the Atom and Amethyst make irregular appearances in the book, their plots dropped and picked back up seemingly at random.
The stuttering pacing, like the increasingly nonsensical plots and the incoherent cast list, are all part of the same central problem with the series: the longer it continues, the more it reads as if no-one expected to burn through story as quickly as they did (or, else, the initial plan for the series consisted of “We know where we’re starting, we know where we’re ending, let’s just wing the middle part while it’s happening”). As difficult as Futures End is to read, there’s a perverse part of me that wishes it were an ongoing, just to see at what point everyone involved just threw up their hands and admitted they’d run out of even the most ridiculous, out-of-nowhere plot twists and would like the chance to start over, please.
At the launch of this series, there was enough of a 52 vibe to get me excited about where it could go, even if the character line-up wasn’t entirely my bag. As we’re approaching the finish line, it could be argued that Futures End has started to approach Countdown to Final Crisis more, except without even the promise of Grant Morrison at the end to make everything feel better. It’s a series that’s gone impressively off the rails, but I know that I’m in it for the long haul.
Occasionally, I get slightly overcommitted with deadlines, and this week — and, I suspect, next — are looking a bit like that, which means that my written posts on here will be shifting to Wednesdays for the next couple weeks. The alternative is, you get the text version of me crying I have so much to do and my brains don’t work anymore, and nobody wants that… or, at least, I don’t. Don’t worry, the important stuff on the site (the podcasts, and Jeff’s posts) will stay as before, and I’m sure I’ll get back to Tuesday posts before too long. In other words, come back tomorrow; there’ll be something worth reading, then.
Okay, so this may well be a bit on the hasty side shownotes-wise (I won’t ever bore you with it, but let’s just say I’ve spend over three hours chatting with tech support in the last few days) but on the plus side: OUR FIRST NEW PODCAST OF 2015! Featuring a great giveaway! Lots of chatter! And maybe possibly the bitchiest Graeme and Jeff have been to each other to date? Check out the notes below, fire up the podcast (remember, we provide just the link itself in the first comment to this post if you don’t want to mess with the RSS feed or the player above), and dive in!
00:00-3:39: Happy New Year Greetings! And, of course, apologies—apologies for not being able to successfully wish one another a happy new year. “Start as you mean to go on,” as Graeme puts it. If I were Graeme, I’d make it a point to explain that when we recorded this, we were both pretty knackered by the week and so therefore a wee bit on the crotchety side…but I’m not Graeme! So I’m going to totally leave you in the dark about it. You’ll never know! 3:39-27:38: This podcast is being recorded on the day of Image Expo 2015 and we have some things to say on the subject: Graeme made a list of all the projects announced at previous Image Expos that still haven’t come out yet (including two from 2012); Jeff kind of just wants to talk about Sandman Overture #4; Graeme wants to correct Jeff about when Sandman Overture first came out; J.H. Williams III’s playlist; the problems with shipping irregularly and perhaps even regularly; bimonthly vs. monthly for six months followed by a break; context after a break; Graeme vs. the third Hobbit movie; feeling weird about the fourth Casanova series that is almost out; our new mantra for 2015: “whatever schedule is whatever schedule” and more. 27:38-29:16: Still part of the above conversation but I’m pulling this section out because we talk a bit about (a) our podcasting schedule for 2015; and (b) how, in February, Jeff is going to screw up our podcasting schedule for 2015. 29:16-42:23: Back to comic scheduling! Would we rather have bimonthly books, or monthly with a break? Which would we rather lose, our hearing or our sight? If we had to choose between having no legs or no arms, which would we choose? Also, less loaded topics: pull lists, the second season of The Wrong Mans; spoiler via TV recap; back to Sandman Overture #4 again; a HORRIFYING PUN; Captain Victory #4; etc. 42:23-56:25:Superman #37 by Geoff Johns and John Romita, Jr. Jeff is pretty annoyed by it and wants Graeme to explain to him (SPOILERS, by which I mean that Jeff describes the entire issue to Graeme): why can’t people tell good Superman stories anymore? (You know, as long as you ignore the people who are?) Why is a Superman story so much harder to tell than, say, a Batman story? Discussed: Superman’s new power (!?) (and, as long as we’re at it, #%$&* as well); Peter Tomasi on Superman/Wonder Woman; and then: 56:25-58:07: Another section pulled out here for your attention: we are super-grateful we have passed the $500 mark; it is an honor and a delight and a humbling experience, and we are especially grateful to the generosity of Audrey the cat, who helped put us over the $500 mark. All hail Empress Audrey! See her above, sitting so regally next to some Legion comics! 58:07-1:04:05: Back to the comic talk! Jeff has read Wonder Woman #37 by Meredith and David Finch and has a theory about it that Graeme does not agree with. [SPOILERS about the issue, obvs.] 1:04:05-1:11:48: There are other things we should be talking about! Such as the Image Expo! Remember, that we started talking about an hour ago? And books Graeme’s looking forward to? 1:11:48-1:18:04: Segue! Pivot! Parkour! Now we’re talking about The Ant Man trailer. Listen to Graeme not so discreetly mock Jeff for basically liking it! (To be fair, Graeme appears to be far from alone in thinking it a very dull trailer. Far from alone.) 1:18:04-1:39:18: Pivot! Transition! Parkour! Top Shelf being bought by IDW! Graeme has some thoughts! Jeff has maybe two thoughts! (Three, if you count, “Is Graeme eating chocolate right now?”) Also discussed: those liquidation sales; direct market consolidation; grinders; is Graeme eating chocolate right now; Alan Moore writing Ghostbusters; Neoconicon; and more. 1:39:18-1:47:38: So which companies should buy out which other companies in the direct market? We brainstorm! 1:47:38-2:17:00: It’s time for that part of the podcast where Jeff realizes he’s never going to get a chance to talk about all those damn comics he read and so just starts blurting out titles and hasty impressions. So: Bucky Barnes, The Winter Soldier #2 and #3 by Ales Kot and Marcos Rudi! Men of Wrath #1-4 by Jason Aaron and Ron Garney! Batman Eternal #36 and #38-40 by a lot of people! Wild’s End #4 by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard! The Humans #1-3 by Keenan Marshall Keller and Tom Neeley! ODY-C #2 by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward! By contrast, Graeme has been reading: Memetic by James Tynion IV (and sorry, James Tynion IV for always calling you James Tyrion IV—it’s the Star Trek fan in me) and Eryk Donovan! Sleepy Hollow by oh my god this Entertainment Weekly link is taking forever to load! the collected Casanova (the first thing) by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon! 2000 A.D. by lots of people! And so: Jeff has also read The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North and Erica Henderson! (by the way, doesn’t a second Inhumans title seem kinda insane?) Scooby-Doo Team Up #8 by Sholly Fisch and Scott Jeralds! Outcast #6 by Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta, and some fantastic coloring by Elizabeth Breitweiser! Deathstroke #3 by Tony Daniel, Tony Daniel and Sandu Florea! Flash Gordon #7 by Jeff Parker, Evan “Doc” Shaner and Jordie Bellaire! Shaft #1 by David Walker, Bilquis Evely, and Daniela Miwa! Star Trek-Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive by Scott and David Tipton, Rachael Stott and Charlie Kirchoff! Abigail and the Snowman #1 by Roger Langridge! McBain #1 by various (thanks, Bongo!)! Lady Killer #1 by Joelle Jones, Jamie S. Rich, and Laura Allred! They’re Not Like Us #1 by Eric Stephenson, Simon Gane, and Jordie Bellaire! (Autmnlands) Tooth & Claw #1 & #2 by Kurt Busiek, Ben Dewey and Jordie Bellaire! 2:17:00-2:18:34: And here’s a transition to the final part of our podcast where we give away stuff. 2:18:34-2:25:21: And now here’s where we return to give away stuff: four copies of IDW’s Rogue Trooper: Last Man Standing, one of them signed by writer and Whatnaut Brian Ruckley! Jeff ended up digging the four issue mini by Ruckley and artist Alberto Ponticelli, so we are delighted to give these away to four lucky listeners. Listen to the rules and enter to win! 2:25:21-end: Closing comments! Things we will be doing in the coming year, things we should be doing, and a head’s up to read those first dozen issues of the Fantastic Four since the next episode of our podcast, dropping January 19, is an exclusive look at exactly that. And then: Gravity’s Tote Bag! Places to look for us at—Stitcher!Itunes!Twitter!Tumblr! And, of course, on Patreon where, as of this count, 94 patrons are keeping us groovy and making this whole thing possible.
[I’m going to be talking about Batgirl #37 from soup to nuts (no pun intended), so please don’t read if you are worried about being spoiled.]
I can be a small and petty person. After being one of the only people on the planet that didn’t love Batgirl #35 and 36, the first two issues of new creative team Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and Babs Tarr, I felt a big smug when issue #37 came out and hit a massive pothole of controversy. I’d wanted to like issues #35 and #36—really, really wanted to like it—but thought both overstuffed issues had paced things weirdly and, more troublingly, the DJ villain in the first issue seemed a bit culturally insensitive.
That insensitivity apparently amped up for their third issue, as Batgirl faced off against Dagger Type, a villainous imposter that turned out to be a man in drag believing himself to be the real Batgirl.
“She’s a man, Babsy!” is the pun I would make if I were a lesser person.
People were upset by the transphobia of the portrayal and a short time later, Stewart issued the following apology on Twitter:
At the time, I’d bought the issue but had yet to read it. But I read the apology with both admiration for the way the creative team owned their mistake—this wasn’t one of those “we’re sorry if we offended anyone with delicate sensibilities” type of apologies—with a bit of the aforementioned pettiness. I thought, ‘What else could you have been intending when you set up a Batgirl imposter as a crazed man in drag, mascara running down his cheeks, waving a gun about?’
(I mean, come on. The running mascara thing is practically a trope in itself.)
Well, the other day I finally got around to reading Batgirl #37 and overall, I liked it a lot more than the previous issue. It was a little frenetic while actually having more action, more zip. And by the time I got to the end, Irealized that in fact Stewart and Team did have an entirely different set of goals with good ol’ Dagger Type and that those goals had kept them distracted from the transphobic reading of the issue.
Now, the imposter villain is an old idea (The Chameleon pops up in issue #1 of Amazing Spider-Man, back in March of 1963, and the idea was far from new back then) but Stewart & Co. are using it to slightly different ends here which is where the drag angle comes into play: from what I can tell, Batgirl #37 was crafted by Stewart and Fletcher as a clever way to address the concept of two men taking over a female led title written for over three years by a popular female creator.
Superhero comics are rife with male creators treating female characters as little more than sexualized images deprived of the depth of characterization accorded male characters. Similarly, Dagger Type appropriates Batgirl’s image with a series of glamorous photos featuring a fake Batgirl…but only Barbara herself and her friend Diana know for certain that the Batgirl in the photos is a fake. Many attending the show believe the Batgirl in the photos is the real deal, just as they believe the actions of the imposter Batgirl out in Burnside to be those of the real Batgirl. And of course, when a creative team takes over a book, not matter how out of character the lead becomes, it is “the real” Batgirl who is doing what the team has her do. At the end, as Type melts down, he bellows, “I am the real Batgirl! The only one who matters!”
Batgirl #37 was a supposed to be a lark, a laugh, where the men writing the character are aware enough of their responsibility to Batgirl and her fandom that they spoof themselves as deluded, self-important comic book creators, ones conceited enough to believe, as Dagger says, “the artist is really the subject, and the subject, his brand!”
(Abandoned at the time of writing this essay: thoughts about Jeff Koons, Matt Fraction.)
He’s defeated (of course) and at the end of the comic Batgirl takes a photo of herself, saying “this is the way I choose to be seen.” It’s an acknowledgment and statement of intent by the creators that their revamp of the character, their difference in tone and theme from Simone’s issues, aren’t a matter of style, artistic conceit or male misappropriation: it’s a way to reframe how the character is seen, a way that is true to the conception of the character.
Of course, in doing all that, they were unaware of the other reading of the issue, the transphobic one. And while I wonder how that might have changed if someone with the right sensibilities had drawn it to their attention, I think the issue would’ve been misunderstood anyway: the Batgirl launch was lauded before it happened, a hit with the fans, so Stewart, Fletcher, and Tarr were defusing a bomb that had never been set. Even when creators and fandom are on the same page, the page is written before it’s read. As the book goes forward, I expect that even if this chapter isn’t revisited later, its lessons will remain learned.
Sigh. The art on this book is so great. Sorry I didn’t spend any time talking about how awesome you are, Babs Tarr!
Oh, dear Whatnauts — we warned you about this, too. Starting January 19 (or so current plans would suggest), we’re going to be doing three episodes a month, with the third* being a dedicated Fantastic Four readthrough, from the very first issue from 1961 through the final issue of the series’ original run, 1996’s #416. It’ll be like the Avengers readthrough from last year, except it won’t be an afterthought at the end of regular episodes, and we’ll be going further than just three hundred issues.
We’ll also not be doing a set number of issues every month, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there are going to be times when we’ll just read through a bunch because there’s not much to say about them (Hello, a chunk of the series in the 1970s!), and secondly, there’re also going to be times when we have too much to say about a small number… like our first episode, which will take in the first twelve issues of the series.
For those who want to read along: please do! It’ll be like a book club where two people dominate the conversation except in the comments (You’ll all leave comments, I hope). You’ve got just under two weeks to read twelve issues. We’ll see you back here Jan. 19 to talk about them. And, I mean, hopefully before then for the “regular” episode that we’ll be going live January 12, and also the written posts between now and then, as well…
One of the unexpected bonuses of Marvel’s increased release frequency is the inevitable discovery, if you’re a Marvel Unlimited subscriber, that you’ve got a bunch of issues to catch up on of whatever relatively-contemporary series you thought you were following. Over the last week or so, I’ve realized that I had issues of All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men and a handful of other books to read, and also the chance to sit down and go through Original Sin #1-5 in one sitting, despite being convinced the first issue had only just popped up before Christmas.
That, it turns out, wasn’t the best idea.
When you read the first half of Original Sin in one sitting, it becomes very obvious that there’s nothing to the series. Or, rather, that there’re too many things going on for it to actually be about anything coherent. In the space of those five issues, the Watcher is discovered murdered, heroes set out to find out who did it which leads them to be whammied by… something that makes them all remember things they didn’t before, which isn’t really followed up in the main book at all, and then Bucky kills Nick Fury only for it to turn out that it wasn’t really Nick Fury because he’s old and by the way, he’s been saving the world from aliens in secret for years and… I think you get the picture.
Based on this chunk of issues, it’s difficult (if not downright impossible) to imagine the series finishing in any kind of truly satisfying way; there are too many things being thrown in the air to imagine them all being tied up in a fulfilling manner with just three issues left. I’ve not even gotten into the appearances of Dr. Midas and Exterminatrix from Marvel Boy for seemingly no reason other than he digs them, nor the amount of page real estate spent on Nick Fury’s backstory in the fifth issue to establish… well, I’m not entirely sure what. His bona fides, maybe? Because… no-one believed that Nick Fury was a bad-ass before that…?
Suddenly, Sue Dibny’s murder almost understated.
The trouble isn’t that Original Sin is devoid of ideas, it’s that it prefers to conjure up something else to distract you instead of developing any of the ideas it’s already presented. I have no problem with comic books as wacky spectacle, especially superhero comics, but for them to work, the spectacle has to have some level of substance to it, some willingness to engage with the reader and do something more than just high concept pitch itself to the last page. There’s a lot of really interesting material on show in these pages, but it’s delivered in a manner that makes the series seem like an easily-distracted kid, over-eager to impress. You almost want to reach into the comic and wipe the flop sweat off Jason Aaron’s forehead, and tell him that he can slow down and we’ll still be paying attention.
(There are problems with the structure of Original Sin that aren’t Aaron’s fault, I feel like I should point out; the whole “everyone remembers something important” thread is almost assuredly created to give the book tie-in potential, but the fact that those revelations only fuel those tie-ins, instead of driving the plot here, makes it feel unnecessary, and a distraction from the Watcher’s death even before that plot morphs into the Nick Fury plot with the series’ fifth issue. There’s a throughline of sorts there, but adding the “Oh no! Shock revelation!” element pulls the balance off.)
(A second aside, for a second; it’s difficult to say Original Sin has leads, per se — maybe Bucky and Nick Fury, but otherwise everyone else is a cypher and likely to cycle in and out of the story as needs and tie-ins demand — but it got me thinking about the casting of event comics at Marvel nonetheless. Remember when the point of events was that all your favorite heroes would get together? These days, that doesn’t really happen in events — the heroes will work in smaller teams, taking on different aspects of a problem — and the home for the massive team-up is in regular titles like Avengers. I read criticism of the Axis event that argued, essentially, that it just felt like an Uncanny Avengers storyline super-sized up, but isn’t that just what all Marvel’s events feel like these days?)
Stuck with an over-active, over-stuffed story, Original Sin needs art that can somehow normalize everything, making the book feel better paced and more coherent than it actually is; sadly, it has Mike Deodato, who certainly gives everything the same look — unfortunately, that look is “overly dark and shadowy, with lots of rendering that almost disguises the fact that his characters are worryingly generic and stiff, thereby killing a lot of the comedy implicit in Aaron’s dialogue.” Deodato’s not a bad artist for some writers (his machismo actually plays well with Bendis’ overly wordy writing, creating an oddly dissonant whole that’s more interesting than either is capable of solo, for example), but he doesn’t play well with the casual, cartoony appeal of Aaron’s superhero writing. Putting him on a book where Aaron is off his game only emphasizes the mismatch.
Original Sin is, then, another event book that fails. If I was paying money for this book alone, I’d likely have stopped buying by this point — but another bonus of Marvel Unlimited is the fact that failures are included in the price of admission. I’m sticking around for the whole thing to play out, even if I’m doing so six months later than first adopters. Why not? All it costs me is time.