One of the fascinating things about binge-reading twelve years of Will Eisner’s The Spirit over the course of the last month or so has been seeing the natural arc of the series; unlike many such long-running series, it isn’t something with peaks and troughs, as such, as much as a clear arc that coincides with Eisner’s interest and involvement with the strip.
While the sudden upswing in the strip when Eisner returns from service in World War II has often been commented on — and it is remarkable, akin to the sudden bump in quality around Fantastic Four #48 when Lee and Kirby seem to suddenly, out of nowhere, realize how to make the series work perfectly after four years of trying — what’s far more interesting to me is the other side of that, the run from late ’50 through ’52 when Eisner is clearly looking for ways not to get bored… and failing.
It’s hard to fault him for needing to do something to shake things up; from ’45 through ’49, he’d been producing the strip on a weekly basis non-stop with only a handful of collaborators (One introduction to the DC hardcover collections I’ve been plowing through suggests that Eisner wrote the bulk of the stories throughout this period, as well as heavily re-writing material from others; art wise, it’s more difficult to discern as he had some pretty faithful ghosts), and that’s a body of work that goes from “impressive” through to “exhausting.” After 200-or-so humanist noirs, it’s hardly surprising that it seemed time to shake things up.
There’s also a lack of historical context that makes the stories read particularly oddly today. As we move from ’49 into 1950, the Spirit keeps ending up shipwrecked/abandoned/somehow abroad and on some kind of multi-part quest to get home from exotic climes. Was this because Eisner and/or his ghosts kept on returning to the same idea because they couldn’t think of other “new directions” for the series, or because it was a particular then-contemporary bandwagon they were trying to jump on? (It’s post-Terry and the Pirates, so was Eisner trying to scoop up that audience?)
Similarly, as Eisner becomes more obviously disconnected from the strip, the visuals change considerably — it happens midway through ’51, at a point where the strip just starts plummeting down in quality to the point where the back cover copy goes from “Will Eisner was at his peak,” which it reads for about eight of the hardcover collections, to admitting that the series “was winding down” — and it suddenly starts looking like a far more generic comic book. It’s not just that the lifework changes, suddenly resembling some odd mix of Carmine Infantino, Mike Sekowsky and Dick Sprang, but the pacing of the page changes; everything opens up and the page looks… slower, if that makes sense, as a result. The shift is so obvious, that again there’s a sense of, was Eisner trying to chase an audience for other material that he thought would make the strip more popular?
When Wally Wood comes on for the Outer Space stories in 1952, his style is arguably closer to what Eisner had been doing previously, to the extent that the series almost feels more Spirit-esque again after a year or so of it being “off” in some indefinable way. In a strange way, that “off”-ness re-energized me as a reader, because — and this sounds terrible to say — the experience of just reading so much Eisner genuinely at his peak was overwhelming, to the point where I started to just skim strips if they didn’t grab me straight away. Say what you like about precipitous drops in quality, but at least they make you sit up and take notice (and then go back and read the earlier stuff that you skimmed, because you know that it’s better than what you’re reading).
In its last couple years, The Spirit is something that’s not just on borrowed time, but seems to know it’s on borrowed time; it’s a strip that keeps tentatively moving towards some kind of reinvention and then scurrying back to an approximation of its glory days before trying out something else (that may look very like the last attempt in all but name of exotic locale). There’s something that’s just fascinating about that to me. Given how flawless some of the stuff not that long ago had been, it’s surprising how dull the new material feels, and eventually how alien and tone-deaf the new creators’ attempts to “do” Eisner is; there really is a sense that everyone involved should be able to do better, somehow.
It’s a failure despite those involved, not because of, and that just makes it all the more curious and confusing.
Housecleaning note: Jeff isn’t dead, although he was in Portland last week, which may have felt a little like heaven to him (Expect the next podcast to include some references to that visit. And, by some, I mean “a lot”). I know he’s got posts in the works, so they’ll appear soon. Also, posting on the Wait, What? Tumblr will soon get back to something resembling “a real schedule” after a very busy month on my behalf. Thank you for all your patience, Whatnauts.
The final week of Futures End issues! Hold on! We’re almost finished…!
Booster Gold: Futures End #1: For the longtime DC reader, there’s a lot to unpack in Dan Jurgens’ return to the character he created, way back when we were all more innocent and had more hair in the 1980s. Admittedly, that’s my polite way of saying “As a standalone issue, and especially one that’s created as part of a stunt month set in the future of the DCU, this issue fails almost entirely,” but it sounds so much nicer, doesn’t it?
The problem is this: if you haven’t a basic grounding in DC history, then this issue is likely just going to be utterly confusing and nonsensical. Hell, I’ve been reading DC comics for three decades, and there’s a bunch about it that’s confusing to me (For those who didn’t read the Justice League International Annual from 2012, there’s one scene in particular that might make absolutely no sense, as opposed to the little sense it made to me having read it).
The gimmick of the issue is that Booster is being thrown throughout both time and the multiverse by a mysterious, unknown force (Spoilers: It’s Brainiac, which isn’t even made clear through the issue, but you can tell from the word balloons), with each new era/planet illustrated by a different artist. In theory, it’s a good idea, and with Steve Lightle drawing the Legion again, and Ron Frenz channelling his greatest Kirby for a trip to Kamandi’s time, it should work — but it doesn’t, because Jurgens’ writing isn’t coherent enough, focusing too much on Booster going “What is going on? I don’t understand?” before introducing an entirely second Booster who, apparently, comes from a parallel earth — which one, if either, belongs to the regular DC earth isn’t established — and then the issue ends with the other Booster telling the unseen Brainiac that he’ll give him access to Vanishing Point. Which hasn’t been introduced or established anywhere else in the issue, making it entirely weightless as a cliffhanger. For all newcomers know, the issue ends with Booster offering to lend the villain his favorite Primal Scream album.
It’s an entirely missed opportunity that doesn’t even have the lightness of tone that Booster’s solo series used to have — or, indeed, much of the personality of the character at all, with him reduced to a confused, powerless cypher in an attempt to introduce the multiverse and a villainous threat that doesn’t really get established at all. It’s a very pretty issue filled with cameos that might thrill older readers, but really? This is a bit of a disaster.
The Flash: Futures End #1: There’s something to be said for the way in which The Flash, regardless of who’s writing it, manages to use the stunt month books to set up or pay off long-running storylines in the regular title; last year’s Reverse Flash issue was an integral part of the storyline in the series at the time, and this issue ties into the ongoing Wally West/time-travel arc from the main book. Of course, as someone who isn’t reading the main book right now — blame it on Brett Booth’s art, which doesn’t work for me purely because of the faces, as arbitrary as that is — this makes the issue a little bit less of a draw than it otherwise would have been.
That said, it’s not bad in any sense. Writers Robert Venditti and Van Jensen actually make the issue a good introduction to the ongoing storyline, and even though it’s clearly a middle issue — there’s definitely no resolution at the end of the story, instead a cliffhanger leading into next month’s issue — it’s something that could be picked up by a newcomer and understood, despite four different Flashes of different varieties showing up. What it doesn’t really do is add anything to the Futures End five years later gimmick, nor gain anything from it, either. It really does just feel like a regular issue of The Flash. So… points for consistency, perhaps, but I’m not sure those coming to the book hoping to see Future Flash would necessarily appreciate what they find here.
Harley Quinn: Futures End #1: And, to the surprise of no-one who’s been paying attention to the regular Harley Quinn book, this is pretty much a quiet triumph. Like the Flash issue, it’s as much a regular issue of the series as it is a “special issue,” but unlike the Flash issue, it’s also a pretty good little done-in-one that doesn’t require any further investment in the book.
It helps that it’s an issue that gets to bring in the Joker for the first time in the series, and does so in a way that both (a) features him with his face again, thankfully, and (b) restores some of the fun to the character instead of leaving him as the psychopath he’s become in recent years; this issue is really just a screwball comedy that just happens to feature Batman characters, and it’s so much better for it. “Fun” might be somewhat out of place in the otherwise grim Futures End event, but this issue demonstrates very well why more fun wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
Superman: Futures End #1: The second Dan Jurgens book of the week, and the second book where the art is great, and the writing less so. Although, it has to be said, the colors chosen by Dave McCaig for this issue are weirdly muted and feel at odds with both Lee Weeks’ art and the story being told. It’s not that it’s bad coloring, exactly — there are some lovely effects he chooses, and I’d like to see this approach used elsewhere — but it doesn’t necessarily fit the “Future Metropolis!” feel of the setting (Weeks’ art, though, is just flawless; I wish we could see more of him on a regular title somewhere).
As with the Booster Gold issue, this is less a standalone issue than something that ties in very specifically with an ongoing storyline, with Lois Lane talking to Billy Batson about why he took on the role of Superman (Spoilers!) and, accidentally, talking him out of keeping that role. It’s something that feels like an overextended scene from the main Futures End series, and arguably belongs there — especially if this means that the Masked Superman will never appear in that series again after receiving so much attention in earlier issues. It’s also something that underscores how gratuitous the Masked Superman plot line was to Futures End as a series, if its explanation and resolution can be farmed out to another book without too much effort.
More than anything, though, there’s a sense of this issue being… an advertisement, or a trailer, perhaps for something else. The main action scene is something that sets up a bunch of further questions that will, I assume, be answered in Futures End with a lack of subtlety that suggests that they are Important Questions tied in with the resolution of the series. But between that and the thinness of events in this issue itself, it feels as if this was created at the last minute to fill a gap in the publishing schedule, rather than having any reason to exist otherwise.
Even moreso than last year’s Villains’ Month, that’s been the overriding impression I’ve gotten from the Futures End month issues this month, sadly — the idea that it’s something people had to do instead of wanting to do, with only a few exceptions. Even without reading all of the issues, it’s been an oddly exhausting experience. Time to leave the future behind — well, aside from the main Futures End series, which I am reading and enjoying, moreso than many of these one shots — and come back to the present. How soon is now, anyway?
Hmm, that required more clarification than I had planned. Nonetheless, it is true. So, you know, I’ve got to pack my special waffleware, my Graeme McMillan cosplay outfit, my map of the maze of secret passageways in Powell’s Books, that special shrug I only use when somebody mentions Voodoo Doughnuts, and more.
Thus, here are the show notes just the way Thomas Hobbes conceived of them: Nasty, Brutish, and Short. (Also the name of the unsuccessful competitor to Bone Thugs-n- Harmony I was in back in the day.) We hope you enjoy them, us, the accompanying podcast, and your place in the universe. (Oh, which reminds me, I gotta get the address of that floatation tank place near Graeme!)
OH, AND HOLY HELL, BEFORE I FORGET: Graeme and I are BOTH guests on the only movie podcast that has ever existed or will exist in pan-dimensional spacetime: Travis Bickle on the Riviera! Listen to Sean Witzke, Graeme, and Jeff talk Carrie, Funny Face, The Trip to Italy, and even a little bit of….superheroes! We may not be on that link when you first click on it, but keep following up. That sucker is going up today, giving you a double dose of Wait, What action! (And only a single dose of Sean Witzke, but that’s okay, you only need a single dose of Sean to clear up that nasty infection, as well as most of the helpful bacteria in your GI tract.)
Where was…oh, right. The notes for this show:
00:00-23:07: This podcast, as you will soon discover, was recorded on Jeff’s wedding anniversary and the day of Scotland’s historic vote for independence. We don’t talk so much about the former, but about the latter? We have some thoughts. And for those who would actually like some comic book talk with their comic book podcast, tune in around 10:28 to hear Jeff talk about the “insights” the debate over Scottish independence has given him about Mark Millar and Grant Morrison. Discussed: conservative liberals, liberal conservatives, lying liars, liberal opportunists, and many more permutations of same. 23:07-41:03: And here come some comics! More specifically, Grant Morrison comics. Super-specifically, Annihilator by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving,G and Multiversity: Society of Super-Heroes, by Grant Morrison, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, Walden Wong, and Dave McCraig. Graeme has yet to read Annihilator, so you get to hear a lot of Jeff, but we’ve both read Multiversity: SOS so there’s a lot of excited yapping and verbal scrambling around the furniture from both of us. Come for the Morrison talk, stay for the weary tone in Graeme’s voice when he talks about the Darkseid War! 41:03-47:18: Speaking of DC, a bit of discussion about Batman Future’s End #1 and Batman and Robin: Future’s End #1, and a dissection of how the two books work, as well as what the two titles do differently. 47:18-51:38:Batwoman: Future’s End #1 sounds pretty terrible, but almost appealingly so? Warning: Graeme spoils the whole issue for us (but….almost appealingly so?) necessitating a certain amount of covering your ears and going “la, la, la! can’t hear you! la, la, la!” if you want to go into it cold. 51:38-55:42: Graeme also goes full metal spoiler on the Wonder Woman/Superman & Wonder Woman Future’s End issues by Charles Soule and Co., which he touched on in an earlier W,W? post and develops a bit more here. 55:42-1:03:25: Zen koan: if you tell a story about playing superheroes with your nieces at a park playground…and if your story has a cameo from an award-winning cartoonist…and that cartoonist tells a story about that award and the difficulties it presents getting into the Smithsonian…are you still talking about comics? Jeff humbly attempts to answer this timeless riddle. 1:03:25-1:09:31: All of the above was an intro to Jeff quickly talking about talking two books he’s read in the last week or two including: Demon by Jason Shiga and Sirens #1 by George Perez. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t confuse one for the other and then just pretend like he was talking about both the whole time.)
Yikes! Glad this is just a comic book…
1:09:31-1:50:49: Which bring us to….Avengers time! Yes, Graeme and I read Avengers #201-225 for your sins (and for our sins, you have to hear us talk about it). Discussed: the betrayal of Bill Mantlo; Who Weathers The Weathermen; Graeme turns into a bowl of Rice Krispies at one point; The ghost of Jim Shooter; the destruction of Hank Pym; the handling of The Wasp; the romance of Tony Stark and Jan Van Dyne; whether we should keep paying for Marvel Unlimited; strange cameos; Beast and Wonder Man a la Infantino; Moondragon and the inversion of the Shooter narrative; how to make superheroes grow up; and more. Here, have a screenshot or two!
Yikes (the finale)!
1:50:49-2:06:01: Trying to figure out if there’s comic news we should be discussing, we turn our gaze to the wonder that is Alison Bechdel winning a MacArthur Genius Grant and ponder other cartoonists we’d love to see get the award. (Don’t worry: only one of us picks Jim Shooter.) [Disclaimer: neither of us pick Jim Shooter.] [Further disclaimer: both of us talk like Ms. Bechdel is the first cartoonist to receive the Genius grant, completely overlooking Ben Katchor. We regret the error.] 2:06:01-end: Moving toward closing comments! Graeme tells us what he’s got on his desk to read, what we hope to talk about in the future, and Jeff’s upcoming trip to the PDX. And then: closing comments! Including places to look for us at—Stitcher! Itunes! Twitter! Tumblr! and, of course, on Patreon where, as of this count, 78 patrons make this whole thing possible.
Okay, so here is a link to the podcast for those of you who don’t like the play button thing we have going on:
I’m a little worried about this: Graeme and I podcast this very week so there’s a chance, if I do it wrong, I’ll writing about stuff here that would really benefit by me talking about it there…and yet, I think that’s a risk worth taking since I don’t want my posts to just be reviews of books “unworthy” of being talked about.
That said, there are a few stinkers talked about here, so…you’ve been warned, I guess.
LOW #1 & 2: A lof ot Image’s current line-up feels like if you’d managed to refract the eighties incarnation of Heavy Metal magazine through a prism, then sprayed the resulting spectrum across a comic book rack: heady science fiction, funny science fiction, oddball fantasy, grimy fantasy, portentous science fiction. Remender and Tocchi’s Low is very much the latter for me—those eight or ten pages I used to thumb through as a desperate teen in search of female nudity are now blown out into a full $3.99 comic book.
So there’s a certain irony to me being annoyed by the amount of nudity in the book? It’s fine nudity, I guess, but in each of the two issues when it happened I found myself deeply annoyed. Remender isn’t an especially subtle writer (which is actually the kind of thing I tend to appreciate), but it makes the first issue’s opening game of strip exposition ring especially false, kind of a “hmm, what can I do to make this crazy-ass exposition dump visually interesting in the slightest? Oh, yeah: boobs and butts!”
There’s a lot of “this world is dying!” stuff in the first two issues (in fact, it’s supposed to be so important to the optimism vs. despair dynamic Remender talks about in the back pages that it’s an essential piece of the cliffhanger at the end of issue two). But there’s no real sense of the world, just a lot of pretty sets, and the family is uninteresting: there’s no depth to any of them, which makes the “five years later” zing of issue #2 utterly without impact.
Or… maybe I’m responding to the literal flatness of the art? Greg Tocchini has an extrarordinary sense of color and composition but I’ve never been a fan of watercolor art. Even as the color heightens my emotional response, specific details end up only suggested in the overall smear of expression. So the art here made me feel like I was reading a comic book through a fishbowl at the same time I was suffering from faceblindness, which isn’t the best way for me to develop an emotional attachment to characters.
But ultimately the problem rests with Remender, who has a lot of ground he wants to cover: the way he’s chosen to do so isn’t just inelegant, it’s inefficient. I think he might’ve been better starting us off with issue #2, teasing out a significant backstory between an optimistic-to-the-point-of-being-bonkers mom and her cynical-to-the-point-of-being-corrupt cop son.
I feel like I’m only adding to Rick Remender’s therapy bills by saying this, but I thought this was crazily dull and I’m probably off the book unless something in.
ANNIHILATOR #1: I suspect Graeme and I will talk about this book more on the podcast, but I had to mention it here in part because it’s such a fitting contrast to Low: at least at first blush there seems to be a very similar set of thematic concerns, what with all the hedonistic despair on display. But, of course, Grant Morrison is the King of Four Color Manic Depression, and so while he not only has way more experience steering a story into grimmer waters than Remender, I admittedly have way more experience reading these kinds of stories from Morrison.
And so while depraved screenwriter Ray Spass isn’t really any deeper a character than Low’s “my family is in tatters but oh boy an inhabitable world!” mom, Morrison at least uses those flatter characters as a way to jam in more thematic concerns and leitmotifs in a short period of time. (Also, Frazier Irving’s art works for me in so many ways Greg Tocchini’s doesn’t.)
Mind you, Morrison’s portrait of a successful screenwriter is so diametrically opposed to just about everything I’ve ever read on the subject that I genuinely wonder how much screenwriting work he’s even tried to do in L.A., but I think it’ll be excusable if he really develops the “romantic conception of despair vs. very genuine despair” thing going on here.
And who couldn’t be charmed by “Diabolik by way of Shade The Changing Man, as told in the manner of Clive Barker”? That’s a very fun daisy-chaining of influences. I kinda can’t help but come back for the second issue of this.
FINDER: THIRD WORLD: And this, the latest trade paperback by Carla Speed McNeil collecting the Finder pieces originally anthologized in Dark Horse Presents, shares a certain amount of thematic concerns with Low and Annihilator—I guess it’s unsurprising how much discussions of climate change and diminishing resources may be influencing works of popular fiction, right?—but, of course, both Morrison and Remender are going to pale in comparison to Carla Speed McNeil when it comes to speculative fiction.
Unfortunately, I don’t know how it is for everybody else but my volume came with a pretty large printing error: my copy includes pages 129-152 twice while excising pages 97-128 altogether. Hilariously, not only is McNeil one of those storytellers who likes to keep you on your toes with big jump cuts, but she’s also *wayyyy* smarter than I’ll ever hope to be…so when I first encountered the resulting storytelling shift, I just figured I’d hit the inevitable point in every Finder volume where I get confused and baffled. But, uh, nope. Printer’s error.
Hopefully, by the time I podcast with Graeme, I’ll have a chance to exchange this for a properly printed volume. Those first 96 pages are ace, though!
BEE AND PUPPYCAT #3: The book’s still cute as hell, but this is my final issue: the stories are stunted, fragmented things, and even more so when you break them across two or three issues Everyone working on the book have chops, but it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of craft on display, if that makes sense? Or maybe I’m just missing how much of the humor in the book works on anticlimax? If so, it shouldn’t be too hard to do a complete anticlimactic story in one issue, right? I mean, I admit it’s actually funnier to take a completely anticlimactic story and stretch it across several issues…but that’s what I read superhero comics for, damn it.
THE WHEDON THREEWAY: Cringe-inducing name, but a great bit of comics marketing: three full-length issues for $1, and a chance to check in on the Buffyverse? As a fromer BTVS fan, I’ll take that ride!
That said, I’m apparently not enough of a fan, because these all failed to hold my interest in some crucial way. As I wrote all the way back on the Savage Critic about Buffy Season 8 (and, wow, great, I can’t even find one of my own posts, nice work), those comics tended toward big action beats and sweeping developments to the mythos. While I myself tend to pick up the books in the hopes of seeing more of the character interaction that hooked me on the TV show.
Both of the first issues for Buffy and Angel & Faith are heavy on the spectacle—which really seems like a sensible alternative to the traditional “frozen status quo” of a lot of licensed comics (though I think maybe the Season 8 series has changed that dynamic across the board)—but it didn’t seem especially interesting to me. Considering how much Buffy (the TV show) bit from Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, I kinda figured Buffy (the comic book) would move closer to that dynamic. But, I dunno.
Maybe it was because the big emotional beat in the issue resolves some stuff with Giles not in any way on my radar? Or maybe because this title’s last season was more about the emotional stuff and this issue is tnow rying to bring back a lot of big action? But either way, it was an issue of Buffy that convinced me that I’m doing right by me to keep passing on the title. And I’ve just never really been especially interested in the characters of Angel or Faith on their own, so it’s going to be doubly hard to rouse my interest in a title starring both.
One thing worth noting is I thought the Buffy and A&F issues both had really good art: Rebekah Isaacs manages to have a style that manages to strike a nice balance between cartoony looseness and a fidelity to the character’s features. She may not be well-suited to the larger scale action in the issue, but I’m not sure if it’s her fault the script doesn’t really make clear why the heroes are losing until they’re not. And Will Conrad’s work on Angel & Faith is pretty remarkable by having a far more photo-realistic take on the characters without having the usual problems of stiffness or inappropriate expressions you can get in heavily photo referenced work. He seems like someone DC would particularly eager to put through the New52 meat grinder, but some of his DC stuff I’m peeping at on the Web seems kinda generic. Maybe his chops have developed since then?
Anyway, I thought both Isaacs and Conrad’s contributions were noteworthy.
You may notice I’m keeping pretty mum about Leaves on the Wind #1, the Firefly issue? I figure I’ve done enough carping for one 60+ page dollar promotional issue. I don’t like Zack Whedon’s work, Georges Jeanty’s work leaves me cold, and I’m now starting to wonder if I ever really liked Firefly? I watched the show, saw Serenity in the theater, so I must’ve been emotionally invested in somehow, right? But by the time flashback Wash shows up to utter the (quasi-)titular line, I found myself all-but-groaning aloud . “Jesus, get over it already,” muttered Crabby-Man. “That movie is almost a decade old, let it go already,” he thought, explicitly ignoring the point that the book is set nine months after the events of the film (and so also ignoring the entire hook of the miniseries).
So yeah, the Firefly issue is really not for me. But…I still think it was a great way for Dark Horse to promote these books? Assuming there are still people out in the world who aren’t so crabby and particular, this is a great way to get the material into their hands. If one of the books had really rung my chimes, there’s a good chance I would’ve hunted down at least the next issue.
TEEN DOG #1: Bad decisions made all the way around here. Why did they make a comic about Poochie? Why did I buy a comic about Poochie? I mean, they made a comic about Poochie because they clearly believed people would buy a comic about Poochie, and I did indeed buy a comic about Poochie, so in theory Boom!’s logic was actually flawless, but…?
And it’s worth pointing out that Jake Lawrence is doing a very post-modern “Teen Dog as the Fonz” comic, with visions of mind-melting transcendence intermittently popping up among all the deliberately generic all-ages high school comic strip gags. I mean, if Jim Starlin suddenly started writing and drawing Archie, you wouldn’t hear me complaining, would you? (Graeme, yes, but me and Chad Nevett? No.)
It’s possible Lawrence has bigger fish to fry, and there’ll be some kind of meta-commentary on how mass market pop culture renders the crazily bizarre (talking skateboarding dog obsessed with pizza) into the utterly unnoteworthy, and so stifles our ability to apprehend with wonder and awe and thus keep us from the genuinely transcendent? But, honestly, it just seems to me like the kind of ironic re-appropriation needed these days required to move con merch. “What is it?” asked Crabby-Man, leaning on the cane he didn’t even need to use. “Did everyone decide Scott Pilgrim’s emotional and thematic issues just got in the way of all the great pop references?” I gave Bee and Puppycat three issues; Teen Dog isn’t even going to get to issue number two with me. Sorry, Teen Dog!
Let’s get this out the way first: All of this week’s Futures End one shots suffer in comparison to another book on DC’s release schedule today — namely, The Multiversity: Society of Superheroes #1, which manages to do exactly what the Futures End books are meant to (Tell a more-or-less one-off story with alternate versions of familiar characters that also ties in with a larger narrative in such a way that doesn’t interrupt the standalone nature of the story at hand) with more style, humor and invention than anything that takes place five years later. If, as they say, you buy only one DC book this week, it should really be that one. If you plan to buy more, however…
Batman and Robin: Futures End #1: One of the problems with the Futures End one shots is the seeming lack of consistency; this is the third Batman book I’ve read this month, and there’s a certain inconsistency between them (especially Detective and the other two, which seem entirely disconnected; this at least shares a writer and vague thematic relationship with last week’s amazing Batman issue). Instead of really following up on what’s already been established in other issues, this issue acts as both a hint of things to come and payoff for earlier events in the larger Batman mythology (The new Robin introduced in this issue calls back to Scott Snyder’s Batman more than anything in this series, while the villain is directly from Morrison’s Batman, Incorporated).
The confusion of “Does this even relate to the other issues?” is, at best, a distraction from an issue that’s slight but perfectly serviceable. It’s tempting to think of the issue as a showcase for Dustin Nguyen’s art — certainly, the amount of silent panels would suggest as much — but it’s not his best work, with only some panels reaching heights of material he’s done elsewhere. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the issue, in terms of quality, but it feels very light and inconsequential, failing to resolve the larger plot it invents. A mis-step, then.
Batwoman: Futures End #1: Of course, even a mis-step is better than an outright mess, which is what this issue feels like. I don’t doubt that it’s something that will appeal to regular readers of the title, but for someone like me who dropped out early in the series and then only returned irregularly since, this issue was like a bad X-Men comic from the 1990s, with sibling conflicts, returns from the dead, vampires and heroes corrupted. Add in some flat, almost parodic dialogue (“Your bag of tricks is running low, sister,” struck me as very sub-Claremontian, to say the least) and what’s left is very much something that does not appeal to me in the slightest.
Justice League: Futures End #1: It’s difficult to know what to say about this issue, after multiple readings. Imagine a 1970s Gerry Conway Justice League of America issue where the Legion of Super-Heroes guest-starred, only the villain was Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen, and that’s pretty much what’s on offer here. In some ways, it reads like the middle issue of a Morrison JLA issue, only slowed down some, with all that means (i.e., it’s full of a clash of familiar characters and ideas, but doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense despite seeming very attractive).
Add to that art by Jed Dougherty that feels off somehow — there’s a bit of Michael Golden in there at times, but the inks lack the crispness and three-dimensionality of his work, flattening things at times (He inks himself; I do wonder what he could look like with a Karl Story or the like finishing his work). All in all, it’s a comic that feels surprisingly off-kilter, but in an inviting way. In five years, the Justice League will be in one of those periods that will appeal to longtime fans but seem agonizingly dull and weird to everyone else, it seems.
Wonder Woman: Futures End #1/Superman Wonder Woman: Futures End #1: Finally, a two-parter from Charles Soule, Rags Morales and Bart Sears that manages a lot of nice tricks — in particular, a good shift at the start of the second issue that resets the status quo of the story in a surprising way — and, for once, uses Wonder Woman as the focal character of the series. Unfortunately, that comes at the cost of ultimately undermining material from the Azzarello/Chiang run; the climax of the story is, literally, a rejection of one of the major developments from that run. There are also some awkward decisions made to service the story that, sure, make sense in light of other Futures End requirements but nonetheless seem ludicrous enough when reading to stop the reader short.
Again, there’s the problem of this not being a complete story — I suspect that it might be, were I paying more attention to the series as a whole — with a nemesis so undefined that the various actions they’re responsible for might as well be magic. While there’s a throughline of intent that tracks, the story’s focus means that what should be larger, more earned moments instead become weightless and unsatisfying. There’s an ambition to this story that’s impressive, but the execution is lacking.
Next week: The last of the Futures End reviews! The last time I’ll be running reviews on Wednesday, I hope!
Who am I to second-guess a theme column? While piling up a bunch of stuff I haven’t talked about on the podcast (or didn’t talk about much), I recognized a pretty solid connection in the following. I’m sure you’ll pick up on the connection much faster than I did (what with it being in the title and all).
ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #16: In so many ways, this is exactly the kind of thing I want from my Superman title: working with a crew of artists and colorists, Joe Keatinge tells a Superman story that begins at the end of the world and ends at the end of the universe, filled with people telling stories about Superman, and along the way you get Frankenstein’s Forbidden Army, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Kamandi (the Last Astronaut on Earth), and a variation on the Unknown Superman. It has a golden-age, silver-age, and I guess what you’d call Wildstorm-age Superman, and it’s ambitious as hell, a lot of Morrison, more than a little Moore, with a sly spritz of Gaiman.
I really wish I’d liked it more.
As with the three issues I’ve read of his Marvel Knights: Hulk book, Keatinge openly rewrites continuity, which is an efficient way to shorthand: (a) anything can happen in the story since it’s out of continuity; (b) helps draw attention to the aspects of the character Keatinge is playing up; and (c) paints Keatinge himself as a bit of a cheeky bastard. All well and good, but this issue really didn’t deliver anything to me to justify that kind of gamesmanship: a thesis about the sense of possibility and surprise and delight Superman (and, by extension, superhero comics) are capable of is going to suffer when the evidence provided to support the thesis feels a bit too much on the derivative side.
Also, unfortunately, there were way too many artists working in way too many styles without, frankly, the chops to make those styles satisfying or expressive (even the stuff I responded to the most strongly–Brent Schoonover’s Darwyn Cooke-esque golden age stuff on pages 2-9–fell short by the end), so the book read as more of a muddle than a melange.
So it didn’t really fry my burger, but…I also appreciated it and I’m glad it’s out there?
BATMAN ’66 #14: Oh, good will, what a fickle thing you can be! I mean, I loved pretty much everything about this issue, including how deceptive the cover is: there, the “BatRobot” is thirty feet tall or more, promising all kinds of kaiju-esque battles. Inside, however, the “Robot Batman” is somewhere between seven to ten feet high.
The Robot Batman is The Batman’s Robot.
And yet, like I said–that somehow makes me love this issue even more. Writer Jeff Parker is much smarter than me, so a lot of times his more sly jokes bounce right off my thick, fat head. But I felt like everything really clicked here for me and everyone working on this was on the same page: this is very much a Silver Age Batman story, with Silver Age concerns (rejection, obsolescence, anxiety about change) and Silver Age tropes (duplicates, scientific wonders), disguised as an Adam West Batman story, so the deceptive cover really works. I mean, sure, eventually it got pretty roundly beat by Marvel, but…DC’s Silver Age formula worked devastatingly well for a good long period of time. Why aren’t there more conscious attempts to recreate it when doing the all-ages books?
There’s also some really good Batman ’66 stuff in here too (a perfect celebrity cameo for the window-climbing scene, pitch-perfect dialogue from the villains, I loved the rowboat Bruce and Dick go fishing in is called “Old Chum”), but…yeah. This worked for me really, really well and is in many ways is *exactly* what I want from my DC Digital books. Protip: it’s a dollar cheaper to get the print copy than it is to buy it digitally? (???)
SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #6: Okay, I thought I’d get into this at the end of all the reviews but here’s a thing I find confusing: if I’d bought the three parts to the Adventures of Superman story above, it would have cost me $2.97 instead of $3.99 for the print copy. That Batman ’66 story would’ve cost me $3.98 digitally, instead of $2.99 in print, and this issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up will probably cost me $1.98 digitally, but is $2.99 in print. I’m paying $0.99 digitally for each installment of Sensation Comics, which probably means it’ll be $2.97 for each digital issue that’s $3.99 in print.
Now, I’m sure there are a lot of factors to take in consideration as to why those prices break down the way they do–I’m not sure if it’s this way every month, but the $3.99 print books are 30 pages of story, and the $2.99 books are 20 pages–but I feel they send out a very weird message. If I’m feeling generous, that message is probably “don’t price by the line, price by the product” or maybe “don’t worry about the print editions, we’ll price them as needed to cover our nut.” But it feels more like “we are either not paying any attention to how our digital line looks to any customers in the direct market, or we are not paying any attention to how our digital line looks at all.” If nothing else, I think good marketing and sales practices should be about reducing the number of obstacles a potential customer has to clear between picking up the product and paying for the product, right? So why would you put a system in place where the digital customer has to consider whether or not they should wait for the print version and save money, as I would’ve with Batman ’66, or a direct market consumer has to wonder if they’re shouldering the financial burden for a company not hurting for cash to build a presence in a different marketplace?
Admittedly, more than forty years of binge-purchasing brightly colored disposable pop product probably has me a little more sensitive to most to the feeling the people who are selling me said product view me as a sucker, but…I think it might be healthier for all involved if DC Digital had a little more branding or sub-branding or something. The truth is, I do feel like a bit of a sucker for paying more than ninety-nine cents per installment of a digital comic, even one where I know there are great justifications for the higher costs (like Bat-Manga‘s translation fees) or there’s a case to be made that I’m getting the digital book “first.” Like nearly everyone else on the Internet, I’m more than able to argue out of both sides of my mouth, so the “shelfless” nature of digital is a huge advantage to me… until I feel like it’s an advantage I’m being charged for, and then I’m quick to break out the fact that I can re-sell hard copies of comics and therefore digital should cost less. Maybe I’m alone in that regard–god knows I’ve had discussions with people who told me they thought ninety-nine cents was too much to pay for a digital copy of a comic–but, if nothing else, I do wish it didn’t seem like I spent more time thinking about this than whoever’s got their hands on the wheel over at DC Digital.
Oh, and Scooby-Doo Team-Up #6? It’s great. Sholly Fisch knows how to craft a script that riffs on the history of both the Scooby gang and their guest-stars (in this case, the Super Friends) while rarely moving getting clogged with in-jokes, and artist Dario Brizuela has a clean, attractive style with a lot of old school virtues (man, remember when comic artists used to be able to draw to scale? boy, do I miss that). I also really appreciate how Fisch keeps the action high in this book–there’s a lot of running around, a lot of action, while also keeping a sense of there being something at stake. We had our niece over for a sleepover last weekend, and I broke out a couple of comic books to read aloud and it was a little surprising to see how quickly she got bored by stuff that was too frenetic as much as she did by stuff where there was too much talking. This was one of the few that hit the sweet spot, and kept her absorbed all the way through. Really top-notch. I’d be happy to be paying $3.99 in print for it (to the extent I’m actually happy paying $3.99 for any comic?) because it does what it’s supposed to do so well.
SENSATION COMICS #1-5: Sorry, let me move back to my Monday morning quarterbacking chair because it’s very, very comfortable (although I’ve never cared much for the design of the splat, I have to say). I think it’s absolutely great that they’re doing a Wonder Woman comic that’s coming out weekly for digital at ninety-nine cents a pop. I don’t doubt there are people at DC Digital who care about this project and are trying it as a way to see if there is indeed more of a market for different approaches to Wonder Woman stories out there.
I feel like handling Wonder Woman on digital the same way you handled Superman in digital is a good way to end up with the impression that digital customers find Wonder Woman just as uninteresting as they did Superman.
Sort of the same way Superman’s weakness is the planet that birthed him, I sometimes see superhero books as being super-vulnerable to the same free-market brute capitalism that allowed them to initially thrive. If the goal of a Wonder Woman anthology book is to test interest in Wonder Woman, I think it’d be a good idea for the company to do more to suggest it is actually interested in Wonder Woman. In short, although I did not like the initial story very much at all, I thought it was fantastic DC launched with Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver. Even though the story read to me like something that had sat in a drawer for a good long time, and even though Van Sciver starts relying on a lot of silhouettes to get through the second half of the story, there was at least a glorious illusion given by Part One that DC takes Wonder Woman seriously enough to pay top-drawer talent top-drawer prices to create a comic.
Again, maybe this was just me, but the digital Adventures of Superman comic was such a mix of barely-tested talent and established names slumming for a check I never seriously thought I’d subscribe to the book digitally. Now, I can list several outright successes on that title for me (Parker & Samnee’s debut, the Rob Williams and Chris Weston story, that Ron Marz & “Doc” Shaner story, the Ordway & Rude OMAC story), some interesting failures (Keatinge & Co., Landis & Jock), and probably some stuff that was great that I just flat-out missed. But there were a lot of issues that felt more like one step in the circle of life for the comic book industry–try out new talent at new talent prices and see what happens. Maybe that’s supposed to look like a vote of confidence? You know, “we can have anyone write or draw Superman because the only people who will read a Superman anthology title are the people who will buy Superman no matter what.”
All of which is to say: although I enjoyed the second story by Amanda Deibert and Cat Staggs much more than I did Simone and Van Sciver, it was a little bit rough around the edges, and the next two installments that have come out–“Brace Yourself,” by Jason Bischoff and David Williams about how Princess Diana got her bracelets, and the first part of “Taketh Away,” by Ivan Cohen and Marcus To, about the gods stripping Wonder Woman of her powers–are flat-out rough as hell, yeoman’s work. I’m absolutely super-thrilled Kristy Quinn has Gilbert Hernandez writing and drawing a Wonder Woman story for this title…but if ever there was a time to run an exclusive preview story by David and Meredith Finch, a one-shot by Geoff Johns (you know he has one) illustrated by Tim Sale, or entice Greg Rucka back for an arc or two, or now that Amanda Conner’s name has more heat to it…
I mean, I get it: when you’re paying top-drawer (or, hell, even really good mid-drawer) talent to work on a title you’re serializing in ninety-nine cent bites? The chances of you making your money back are probably slim. But the question is: do you really want to see whether or not your character can find a new audience in a new marketplace? Or is this just what it looks like when a few people push their passion project through a cookie cutter?
This isn’t just me Monday Morning Quarterbacking for the love of it, by the way. Remember how I told you there were only a few comics that completely absorbed my four year old niece? Wonder Woman is her favorite superhero, and there was indeed a Wonder Woman comic that was perfect for her: Wonder Woman issue #0 by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. I grabbed a digital copy of the book when Comixology had it on sale for (yup) ninety-nine cents. I more or less had to read it to her twice she was so into it. I still don’t know if Azzarello was taking the piss when he wrote that story, but it’s one of the ones I’d gladly buy all involved a beer or two for.
Ultimately, when DC sends out a press release and does a round of interviews talking about Sensation Comics and how important Wonder Woman is…but then pays Darwyn Cooke to do all their alternate covers for a month? It sends a very clear message what DC really has their faith in. If they could bring that kind of faith to the digital market–a faith in more than green strips adorned with the pictures of dead presidents–maybe we’d really have something.
Week two of DC’s Futures End month, and even fewer comps come through this week; of the ten issues released this week, only three were in the comp package (I did, however, get “review copies” of the cereals whose packaging was redesigned by DC artists the other month. No, really). Of the three I read, though, one was a definite hit, one was playing to its audience, and the final one was… well, I’m not sure whatever audience it was intended for, to be honest.
(Also: This is running late for the simple reason that I didn’t even get a chance to read all these books until this morning. I’m sorry, I’ll try to do better next week…)
Batgirl: Futures End #1: While I’ve not really kept up with Gail Simone’s Batgirl run as a while — I’ve been reading occasional issues and slowly following it in trade — there’s a wonderful sense of this issue being the ultimate Gail Simone Batgirl, in some way.
In one sense, of course, that’s entirely true; Simone herself described it as “the last Batgirl issue [she’ll] write, ever,” but there’s more to it: characters return from earlier in the run for desperate final gambits, characters appear who fans have been asking for for the length of Simone’s run to date — hey, remember Stephanie as Batgirl? What about Cass Cain? Here they are again! — and a sense of thematic closure to Barbara’s darkness (and arguably, her time as Oracle) is present throughout.
All of that makes the issue great for Batgirl fans, but for the rest of us, I’m unsure. There’s a lot of stuff happening in this issue, and at times it feels too ambitious, too packed with story and big dramatic events that arguably don’t even belong to the character — there’s a mini-arc with Bane that feels very much stolen from Batman, as opposed to organic to Batgirl in any way — or disposed of without due consideration. You can tell that Simone has a plan and is working towards a specific conclusion, but there’s a sense of this issue in particular being too rushed, too eager to get there. One for the fans, definitely — and one that arguably points towards where Simone’s going to go in Secret Six at times — but I’m not sure how it works as a standalone for newcomers.
Batman: Futures End #1: And here’s where I contradict myself to an extent, because this issue is filled with, if anything, more shout-outs, easter eggs and direct references to a whole bunch of DC comics — it’s a prequel to Scott Snyder’s story for Detective Comics #27 with Sean Murphy, for one thing, but it pulls in references to current Justice League stories, a set-up from Futures End and even shout-outs to the “Knightfall” storyline and a Villains Month issue from last year — but it nonetheless feels more complete, and more successful overall, than the Batgirl issue.
That’s almost entirely down to the execution which is, put simply, great. Grayson may be the more technically-accomplished of the Futures End books to date, but I think that this one may be my favorite overall: it takes a cue from the approach of Snyder and Capullo to the main series — an over-the-top-ness, for want of a better way to put it, a desire to play with tone, genre and visual aesthetic with the character that’s resulted in a series as over scale and colorful as anything Dick Sprang could’ve thought up — but isn’t a slavish copy. More than anything, this issue reminded me of a sci-fi version of Hawkeye over at Marvel, at least in terms of the way it looked (ACO’s art and FCO Plascencia’s colors are genuinely wonderful here).
In terms of writing, though — this is a fun book, despite the fact that it deals with Bruce Wayne’s obsession with his mission and his inability to surrender to anything, even death. It is, in its way, Batman Beyond as buddy comedy heist movie, if you can imagine that, and somehow it works despite everything. Ray Fawkes, who’s responsible for the script and co-plotting with Snyder, comes out of this issue really well; more than anything else he’s done at DC to this point, this is something that makes him seem like someone to look out for in future (Yes, I know his Oni books are great; they’re a different beast to his DC work, though).
Worlds’ Finest: Futures End #1: Coming after that, Worlds’ Finest couldn’t help to be a letdown. Definitely the most pedestrian of the three books, and also the one that ties in closest to the main Futures End series — perhaps there’s a connection, he says, despite being a fan of the latter — it’s just a very bland issue that does nothing to advance any plot or character, but instead reiterates character beats (Power Girl is determined! Fifty-Sue is powerful and kind of a dick!) for twenty pages and kills time. There is so much more than could be done here, as either of the other two books I read this week demonstrate, but instead what we get is a book that feels as if it was constructed to fit into every “New 52” cliche even as the line is expanding way beyond that elsewhere. Very much a disappointment.
Oh, man. I would not trade my chance for my wife and I to have a sleepover with our niece for anything, but I look forward to the day when we can do it without me having to replace a few hundred dollars of electronics or visiting the doctor afterward.
All of which is to say: the podcast is here! And it is more or less timely, but the show notes are (as ever?) on the speedy side, the kind of thing that might make you snicker once or twice, and help you figure out which part of our show to avoid…but not much more than that. (Yeah, that brilliant endnoted show note pastiche of Infinite Jest still sounds like a good idea to me, damn it.)
But enough of that. Here’s this:
00:00-3:08: Greetings! Our greetings include talking about greetings so maybe it’s more appropriate to say: meta-greetings! But we get to the comic book talk PDQ (Bach). 3:08-8:05: See? Here we are with Graeme talking about post-WWII era The Spirit, by Will Freakin’ Eisner! Boom! Not even four minutes in and Graeme’s talking about SOME OF THE GREATEST COMICS EVER MADE. 8:05-9:41: Does Graeme compare The Spirit to Judge Dredd? Why, yes, he does! And does he shame Jeff for being behind on reading 2000 A.D.? Oh my yes, he certainly does that as well, by telling us about the stellar-sounding stuff currently going on in those pages. 9:41-21:20: People who’ve heard Jeff try and talk about “what’s in his future but will be your past by the time you listen to it” know that he would make a pretty terrible Time Lord, and here’s another piece of proof: mentioning his and Graeme’s guest appearance on the only movie podcast in the world, Travis Bickle on the Riviera, which he figured would be up by the time this podcast was completed but, uh, is not at all.
Anyway, what is the mysterious reason Jeff brings it up? Listen in and find out! (Hint: it does *not* involve Heat Vision and Jack…even though we end up talking about that a lot in this segment.) But all of it is basically a swerve to talk about The Spirit some more, so don’t be too fooled.
Watch that first page, it’s a doozy.
21:20-47:59: Care to hear about some more recent comics: how about Grayson: Future’s End #1? Wow, what an amazing issue cooked up by Tom King, Tim Seeley and Stephen Mooney! Seriously, if you haven’t picked it up yet, it is a really amazing one-shot that you don’t need to know about the Future’s End weekly series in order to enjoy. (In fact, you really don’t even need to have been following the previous two issues of Grayson.) Graeme calls it an “amazingly finely-structured comic,” and he is not wrong, Whatnauts. He is not wrong. Graeme also walks through some of the other 5YL one-shots, like Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Action, Detective Comics—which is a transition for Jeff to gripe about the ongoing stylistic inconsistencies of Batman Eternal (which has a full spoiler alert on for the most recent two issues since Jeff blabs about one of the big villain reveal), for Graeme to talk about Future’s End, and for both to discuss the joys and pains of weekly superhero titles. 47:59-58:45: Speaking of weekly experiences, Batman characters, and DC—Graeme has seen the pilot for Gotham! The whole thing! And he imparts some of his initial impressions here, which gives us a bit of scoop since Graeme will be recapping this show and Agents of SHIELD for Hollywood Reporter this fall.
58:45-1:04:10: Back to comics! Jeff read and very much enjoyed Batman ’66 #14, “The Batrobot Takes Flight/Bat-Villains Unite,” by Jeff Parker, Paul Rivoche, and Craig Brousseau. Yeah, if you want a classic Silver Age DC story with a giant Batman robot involved? This is indeed the comic for you. Jeff is also loving the current digital series of Jiro Kuwata Bat-Manga stories. The Human Ball! (And Professor Gorilla! Which Jeff didn’t mention in the podcast but is telling you here as he’s also fantastic.) 1:04:10-1:12:09: Because Excalibur Comics, Graeme’s local shop, was having a huge sale in celebration of its fortieth anniversary. And because Graeme picked up all the rest of Steve Englehart’s run on Justice League of America and tells us about it. The Secret Origin of the Justice League? The Construct is to Red Tornado as Ultron is to The Vision? Wonder Woman—mind-controlled feminist? All of it proudly proclaims: ENGLEHART 1:12:09-1:38:04: Fun, apologetic, shameless and incisive comics? In that case, it’s well past-time we talked about Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #2 by Tom Scioli and John Barber. Also mentioned as in the same neighborhood, if not more or less under the same roof: Copra by Michel Fiffe; Captain Victory by Casey & Crew; and Nightworld #2 by Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri; and we talk about Flash Gordon #5 which mixes up the art team for half an issue with surprising results. Also, thanks to Marvel Unlimited, Jeff has read the first issues of Ms. Marvel and Moon Knight which were very good, and the first two issues of She-Hulk by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido and Muntsa Vicente, which is *terrific*. Graeme talks about the second story arc of Ms. Marvel, we discuss the long shadow of the Inhumanity event, and more. Also discussed: Lumberjanes #5 (which Jeff has maybe turned around on); Scooby-Doo Team-Up #6 featuring the Super Friends and the Rainbow Ghosts; and that other fantastic all-ages book, Southern Bastards #4. 1:38:04-1:49:45:Saga #22, read and discussed by both Graeme and Jeff, and the Death-Defying Dr. Mirage, by Jen Van Meter and Roberto De la Torre, which Graeme has read and recommends. For his part, Jeff read and highly recommends Lose #6 by Michael DeForge. And Jeff has just started (still hasn’t finished) Finder: Third World by Carla Speed McNeil (with colors by Jenn Manley Lee and Bill Mudron) which is also pretty damn amazing. 1:49:45-1:59:17: Plug and a contest! PLUG:Graeme is moderating the Judge Dredd panel at Rose City Comic-Con in Portland Oregon, Saturday, September 20th, with guests Douglas Wolk, Arthur Wyatt, and Ulises Farinas. If you are in Portland, Oregon on that day, the Power of Dredd compels you to attend! CONTEST: We really liked “The Russia Shift,” that first arc of The Fuse, the crime procedural by Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood set on a space station in the near future. We liked it so much that we are giving away a trade paperback collecting that very same arc (see above), and that trade is furthermore signed by aforementioned artist Justin Greenwood. Want to win it? Listen in here to find out how! (Super-thanks to Justin Greenwood, of course, and the ever-awesome Leef Smith of the ever-awesome Mission Comics and Art. 1:59:17-2:04:56: Closing comments! (Part 1) Graeme realizes we haven’t given you any details about our upcoming crossover with Travis Bickle on the Riviera and fills you in on what it was like to record with me and Sean Witzke (the Internet’s most terrifyingly knowledgeable film expert). You should definitely be listening to that podcast if you like movies…but if you like us (and let’s say for the sake of argument that you do) and you like movies, you should definitely give that episode a listen (we will mention it when it goes live, don’t worry!) 2:04:56-end: Also super-worthy of mention—our first $20 patron over at Patreon, Kris Peterson! Check Kris (not Chris) and his buddy Chris (not Kris) as they blog and podcast about comics over at The Gravy Age! He is a good egg, and we promise to do him proud. (And of course, we are grateful to our patrons who are keeping us fired up and productive!) Places to look for us at—iTunes! Stitcher!Twitter!Tumblr, Patreon! (where, as of this count, 77 patrons make this whole thing possible) You are…our Super Friends!
Oh, and here it is below, acting a little bit different from previous entries, but…hopefully you can still right-click and download? And stuff?
In case that doesn’t work, I’m going to take supergodmasterforce’s advice and throw in the link to our RSS feed here. It’s very easy to grab it there, I promise you!
I have a very deep fear that I’m afraid to tell you about.
No, it’s not the fear related to cannibalism, or the phobia I have about snow, or this weird image I’ve had the last few weeks about being chased by zombies and having to flee barefoot through the pit of a rattlesnake farm. (Gah, I couldn’t even type that without doing a full-body cringe.)
It’s about…well, any comic geek worth their salt can tell from my post title that it’s about Batman. And it is. You see, it’s…well, let me give you some context first.
Most nights when we got to bed, Edi and I have a little pre-sleep ritual that I’ve begun calling (to myself) “Who’s Kidding Who?” (Because it’s a ritual that happens right before bed, I think it’s allowed to be exempt from the rules of grammar.)
In “Who’s Kidding Who,” Edi and I get into bed (as previously established). I lie down and close my eyes, usually because (a) I get up really early on mornings where the day job is involved; and (b) I need more sleep than Edi does, anyway. Edi, by contrast, picks up a book or a magazine or even a Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer and begins to read. After a certain amount of time (during which I pray to God she turns out the light so I can go to sleep and God reminds me Edi’s her own person and he wouldn’t dream of telling her what to do), I decide to open my eyes, sit up, take a book out of my nightstand and start reading.
And now, my friends, it is on. Because now that I am up and reading, I have anywhere from 15 seconds to four minutes before my wife decides to put down her reading material and go to bed. “You can keep reading,” she murmurs as she now does what I’d been secretly pleading for her to do.
(Wondering about that very deep fear that’s related to Batman? Don’t worry, my friend, it’s coming.)
Of course I join her almost immediately. And but so the trick is: what book can I have on my bedstand that I may only be able to read between (at least) fifteen seconds and (at most) four minutes but will nonetheless somehow be enjoyable, and which I will always want to read but have no problem putting down in a hurry.
This is a pretty good choice, right? Depending on how long I think I have—PROTIP: longer when she’s reading a magazine than when she’s reading a book (which seems counter-intuitive), and, depending on what day of the week it is, the Trader Joes Fearless Flyer will either be longer or shorter than either—I will either tuck into an early action-packed ten pager, or a later, longer eighteen pager. (Good thing I already read you many times, “Player on the Other Side,” because I will never, ever even turn to you under these conditions.)
There is just one problem.
I cannot stop hate-reading “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” by Brad Meltzer and Chip Kidd.
My Secret Fear.
For those of you who don’t know (and how I envy you, Mr. and/or Ms. Blissfully McIgnorant), Brad Meltzer and Brian Hitch took a swing at retelling the very first Batman story for the New 52 Detective Comics #27, an issue from earlier this year that is an all-star salute to corporate paychecks. I was not crazy about that particular story—there is no faster way for me to lose interest in a comics page than to realize it is drawn by Bryan Hitch—and so cannot believe that it was made worse…and made worse by Chip Kidd, no less. CHIP KIDD.
I mean, sure, I have some vague memories of him saying something kind of condescending and bitchy once. (Oh hey, look, it’s my podcasting partner explaining the whole situation!) (Although weirdly, I feel like I was thinking of something else? Didn’t he say something at some talk he was giving about the comic book logos he designed or something?) (And then Chip Kidd saw his best friend drown? And there was a guy nearby who could’ve helped save Chip Kidd’s best friend from drowning but he didn’t? And so then when Chip Kidd gave his TED Talk on cover logo design, he invited the guy who didn’t help his friend to the Talk and he sat him in the front row?)
But I’m insanely grateful to Chip Kidd for rescuing Jiro Kuwata’s Batman comics from obscurity: I feel a little crest of gratitude literally each and every week as a new issue comes up on DC Digital. And don’t even get me started about how I probably wouldn’t even be a fan of either Cormac McCarthy or Haruki Murakami if the covers to both All The Pretty Horses and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle hadn’t been so amazing I had to pick them up. And I was reading Ellroy before him, but ooftah that cover to White Jazz, and—well, anyway, here’s a cover gallery from his website, you’ll see what I mean.
So I’d like to say that in this scenario what happened is Chip Kidd, in taking the dialogue and captions from Brad Meltzer’s story and then working them into a high-quality scan of the original Bob Kane/Bill Finger story, did his very best but just couldn’t trump the terribleness of Meltzer’s storyteling…but Chip Kidd actually made it worse. Much, much worse. In an article over at Comics Alliance about the creation of the remix, Kidd says:
[I]t became a real interesting puzzle for me, because I had to make a lot of what I would call editorial decisions. Brad just sent me his script for the story that ran in the New 52′s Detective Comics #27 that was drawn by Bryan Hitch. And there’s lots of things in there that don’t correspond to panels in the original story, i.e., Commissioner Gordon has an assistant who has dialogue…well, that sort of had to go. So it was interesting.
But the main conceit of the text of that story, is that mantra that Bruce Wayne/Batman keeps repeating in different versions: “I do it because…” So that all stayed intact, and that to me was the core of what Brad brought to that.
This is why, before I go to bed, I keep picking up the book and flipping back to this story. The “mantra” that Brad Meltzer writes is the absolute worst kind of writing exercise horseshit, a bad idea he saw through to the end because, I don’t know, he had to make another crazy conspiracy show for people to enjoy at a deeply ironic level. (Shout-out to my podcasting partner again! Man, this post has managed to get all passive-aggressive about Graeme, Edi, and Chip Kidd. Hey, everyone, look at how hilariously I am failing at this whole “humanity” thing!) I mean:
“I do it because I’m brave. I do it because I’m terrified.”
I mean…how can you even use the word “brave” with Batman and not follow it with the word “bold.” Right? I mean it was only a comic book that ran for more than fifteen years with Batman in it, and then as a recent cartoon series from 2008 to 2011 with Batman in it. Is Meltzer’s idea of a crazy swerve to make you think he’s going to use “bold” and then when he breaks out “terrified,” you’re supposed to turn to your wife, perusing the latest information about frozen potato pancakes, and utter, “I say, my wife, Mr. Meltzer certainly beaned me with a narrative knuckleball, figuratively speaking”? If so, then perhaps Mr. Meltzer should not have bothered to with countless earlier “I do it because I am [one thing] / I do it because I am [antonym of the first thing]?” “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” a la Meltzer isn’t a Batman story, it’s an Alanis Morrisette song: it’s fucking “One Hand in my Pocket” set to awkward Bob Kane art! Don’t get me wrong, “I do it because I’m brave. I do it because I’m bold.” would be hilariously awful, but all the more reason to spend that extra minute and reconsider the word choice altogether.
And, of course, the whole horrible capper is that the remixed story makes far less sense to me than the original—okay, I admit it, maybe because I’m reading it with one eye on the way my wife is lingering on the description of cookie butter ice cream (not her thing)—but I have no idea why things are happening in the remixed story, because Kidd has to cut all that pesky stuff like Commissioner Gordon’s assistant. Because there are two different style of captions and both are Bruce Wayne but that’s not really clear at all, it is actually possible to read this story and come to the conclusion that Commissioner Gordon is The Batman!
Yet, night after night, I turn to this god-damned 31 page “story,” the one displacing another, better story that could’ve been in this collection (my current pick is Batman #47, where Batman confronts Joe Chill, but I’ve also considered Batman Inc. #7, the Chief Man-of-Bats issue, or The Brave and The Bold #118 where, as Mark Andrew so memorably and accurately put it:
Batman and Wildcat are forced into boxing (complete with ring) each other with Cestus (spiked metal gloves from the Roman Coliseum, apparently) to stop the Joker from shooting THE ONLY PUPPY IN THE WORLD whose blood contains antibodies that can save a prison full of sick inmates, including one former boxer who lost the title to Wildcat on a technicality and is now a henchman of the Joker, poisoned so he can’t talk.
You know what that’s called in a Haney/Aparo story? Page 13.
Yeah, sure, that’s pretty terrible, you say. But what about the fear, Jeff? We were promised some very deep fear!
My fear is this: decades ago, back when I was a kid, there was this crummy paperback book I bought of old Spider-Man reprints, and there was a story in it about a robot that gets set loose in Peter Parker’s high school. “This is a really dumb story,” I thought the first ten times I read it. “All these people look creepy and ugly,” I said to myself somewhere around the thirtieth time. “I don’t even know why they chose to republish this story,” I scoffed as I finished my fifty-eighth or fifty-ninth reading. “It’s pretty dumb.”
And that is how I was introduced to the magic of Steve Ditko.
I’ve got sadly similar stories about Jack Kirby. Jim Aparo. Joe Kubert. Guys who I just didn’t like, or easily disregarded, but there was some primal chip of comic book magnet that kept pulling at some ferrous part of my soul. I kept coming back to their work, all but helpless, again and again.
So now you see it, don’t you? My very deep fear?
What if I keep going back to that god-damned story night after night…not because I hate it, not because it always seems like by the time I decide to start “Who’s Kidding Who” there’s already less than forty-five seconds to go; not because, seriously, there are, like, half-a-dozen Haney/Aparo stories I would love to see in that collection…but because it’s actually Ditko-level brilliant and I can’t see it? That it touches on the way Batman is a palimpsest, the way that all superheroes are just palimpsests, and we just erase a layer and rewrite that layer (and we do so more and more terribly as we grow more successful)? That every comic book creator is really just telling one story over and over again, and the brilliance of “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate (the Ignition Remix edition)” is that it makes you think it’s the first Batman story the creators have to re-tell but it’s not: the story you have to re-tell is the one that never made any sense to you, the first time you encountered a work of art and you didn’t understand. That’s the piece that stuck with you more truly than all the other works you did.
Is that because your blind spot with that piece of art is the same blind spot you have about yourself? Will one unlock the other? Or are both of them perfectly and distinctly sealed, unable to allow you to use one to access the other?
Clearly, DC’s PR department is learning. In previous Septembers, it’s sent out each of the event month books as review copies — yes, I own and have reach each and every one of the Villain’s Month books — with only a handful of exceptions that I’ve always put down to mailing errors instead of an attempt to prevent spoilers on a specific issue from coming out (After all, I’m not sure anyone was concerned about what happened in Resurrection Man #0).
This year, though, it’s different; with ten Futures End one-shots in stores, only half were sent to me as comps, meaning that if I want to know what happens in Action Comics, Aquaman, Batwing, Swamp Thing or Phantom Stranger, I’ll have to buy them myself. As far as the others go, though…
Detective Comics: Futures End #1: I’ve been disappointed with the Francis Manapul/Brian Buccellato Detective run to date following their Flash — it’s seemed visually conservative in comparison, with writing that’s just felt very rote and filled with tropes we’ve seen before — and that sense of familiarity runs all the way through this issue. After Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s whole “Zero Year” storyline, now we get to see Batman and the Riddler again, except they’re older! And neither is anywhere near as interesting! There’s an art change midway through the issue from Scott Hepburn to Cliff Richards that hurts things, as well; both of them are fine artists, but their styles are hardly similar and the switch makes no sense narratively. All told, this one feels like it was rushed and is fairly inessential — for those still following the core Futures End series, it is on the face of it, utterly inessential, in fact. Unless you’re a Batman completist, probably safe to avoid.
Earth-2: Futures End #1: This is a really strange issue, insofar as it appears to contradict things from the main Futures End series in terms of the portrayal of Mister Terrific — not a bad thing in and of itself — and exist more to set up the Earth-2: World’s End series more than anything else. It’s also somewhat narratively unclear, throwing a lot of things at the reader that, I presume, will be explored elsewhere but feel very, very crowded and unnecessary in the space of 20 pages here. It’s frustrating, ultimately, because there’re things here that feel as if they should be followed up on, or mentioned at least, in the central Futures End series (The question of who Terry Sloan is and what he’s up to, at least, feels as if it’s a bigger deal than most of the plot lines in that book; me, I’m also super-curious about Jimmy Olsen becoming Metron from Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle, but I suspect that’ll never be mentioned again), but never will be, because this was created after-the-fact and aside from what was invented for that series. It’s messy, it’s overly busy, but it’s not dull. File under “What is your tolerance level for inexplicable continuity porn?”
Grayson: Futures End #1: Continuing this series’ trend of being better than expected, this issue is kind of… really good…? And part of that is the fact that it’s pretty much got nothing to do with the gimmick of the month. Sure, it starts five years in the future of the current DCU, but each successive page of the story takes place earlier in the character’s timeline, so by the end of the story, we’ve gone all the way back to Dick in the circus before his parents were killed. What we’re left with instead, then, is an issue that begins with Dick’s death (spoilers!) and then proceeds to unpick the reasons for that death, drop hints about the future of the regular Grayson title and act as a one-off meditation on who Dick Grayson is. Like I said, it’s surprisingly great.
Green Arrow: Futures End #1: And here we have the one issue of the five I read that explicitly ties in to the main Futures End series — and does so in a massive way, retconning one of the plot points of that series and suggesting that the retcon is going to be revealed in a future issue. Does that make this issue a spoiler? Maybe so, maybe no, as Chris Claremont would’ve put it, but it definitely makes this issue unsatisfying in its own rights, which feels like a shame. It’s so balanced between Green Arrow continuity (As someone who doesn’t read the title, all of the discussion about the Outsiders made little sense to me and carried no weight) and Futures End continuity (Who is the new Green Arrow? What happened to Oliver Queen? Where is OMAC Island?) that I feel as if it’ll only really have any impact if you’ve been faithfully reading both titles — or, perhaps, if you’re Jeff Lemire and have been writing both.
Green Lantern: Futures End #1: And this is just… I don’t know. Actually, that’s not true; there’s a lot I like about this issue, and the way in which it acts as epilogue to both Robert Venditti’s current GL run and also Geoff Johns’, with a return for the Black Lanterns, Relic and Hal’s father, surprisingly. But, again, I’m not entirely sure if this was set-up for future stories or a strange standalone that requires readers to fill in a bunch of blanks — there’s a sense of incompleteness here, and not merely in the ending of the issue that feels far more like a cliffhanger than a conclusion. As with the Detective issue, there’s a sense that some more time and another couple of passes might have provided some more clarity of intent and storytelling, even if this issue doesn’t feel quite as unnecessary as the Batman one — just one that very much plays into its existing audience.
Based on this batch of issues, the Futures End branding on the event month feels like a mistake — only one of the issues is really connected to the series of the same name, yet I think it scares off those who might’ve been interested in the flash-forward gimmick but doesn’t follow the main series. Thematically, there’s not a lot connecting these issues to the Futures End event, either, which feels like a missed opportunity for all involved — there are larger themes of the definition of heroism, technological paranoia and global xenophobia to be played with, but for the most part, little of that makes it into the books so far. It’s not quite a missed opportunity yet, but I’m not sure how this month is going to turn out just yet.