Digital Di

Digital…of a sort.

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.

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? (???)

Rainbow Ghosts

“Rainbow Ghosts.”

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.

But…

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.

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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).

BMFE_1_1 copy

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.

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Listen to us/Win them

Listen to us: Win them.

 

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.

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.

YESSSSSSSS.

YESSSSSSSS.

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!

http://theworkingdraft.com/itunesRSS.xml

in fact lemme try it this way as a hyperlink (duh!):

http://theworkingdraft.com/media/podcasts/WaitWhat158.mp3

As always, we hope you enjoy, and thank you for listening!

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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.

The answer?

Batman

This one.

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

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:

CA_KiddDetective27-630x480

Stop. Just…stop.

“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.

A little too ironic? And yeah, I really do think.

A little too ironic? And yeah, I really do think…

And when I’m not doing that, I’m imagining Brad Melter doing the happy dance from Spaced all the way to the bank with his DC check…even worse, I know that, thanks to Chip Kidd, he is going back for the second time.

HATE.

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?

Who’s kidding who?

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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.

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Dearest readers, I’m about to let you down. I don’t want to sugarcoat it, so I’m just putting it out there.

Thanks to the holiday weekend, the workload remaining immediately after the holiday weekend and a laptop that seems to think that today’s a good day to hyperventilate and offer the spinning wheel of death for far longer than anyone would like, I’m going to be a day late with my review for this week. On the plus side, we… all got an extra long weekend…? Okay, I got nothing. But tomorrow! Just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins. Just you wait.

(Seriously, though: sorry.)

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sin-city-dame-kill

On Monday, I tweeted that I wanted to go see Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, the latest film by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit I called it “Sin City 2.”  Because it was a tweet and because I feel the joke is played out, I did not append “Noir City Boogaloo” to the end. But now I regret that, kinda.

Friends said things like “jeff no you have so much to live for” and “why do that when you can get drunk and fall down a couple flights of stairs instead?”  and Graeme himself told me not to, adding “Friends don’t let friends watch Sin City 2.”

This was all the encouragement I needed, and so, on Wednesday, I found myself in the first matinee (at 1:oo p.m., always a good sign) with five other people (ditto) to watch the follow-up to the popular 2005 film which faithfully adapted four stories from the intermittent series Mr. Miller wrote and drew through much of the ’90s.

Full disclosure time again: I almost used another old joke and wrote “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For starring Whiplash, Robin, Thanos, and Sue Storm” but I think, again, that joke is kind of played out and, again, I kind of regret not doing so.  Many of the Hollywood analysts noted that doing a sequel nine years later might not have been the best idea, financially speaking, for various reasons, but I don’t think any of them really added “you know, because we’ve seen enough of this shit.”  But I think there’s something to that: in the intervening nine years Marvel has launched every movie in its film empire, Christopher Nolan released every movie in his Batman trilogy plus Inception, and Zach Snyder released 300, Watchmen, and Man of Steel (and Sucker Punch!). It hasn’t even been all superhero stuff–we’ve seen some good comic book movies (Persepolis!, Snowpiercer!) , and a lot of bad comic book movies (here is where my The Spirit joke goes).  Whatever was original or surprising about the Sin City film has been cannily appropriated by now.  As we are all aware, there is nothing  groundbreaking or risky or subversive anymore about a comic book movie–just ask Whiplash, Robin, Thanos, and Sue Storm.

And yet, I went into Sin City: A Dame to Kill For with something like the lowered expectations nostalgia brings: while Sin City 2 being only as good as the first movie hurt it in today’s very different landscape, “only as good” would be good enough for me.  I liked the first Sin City.  I’m a sucker for seeing black and white movies on the big screen, especially if there’s some element of excitement and adventure that isn’t defined as, you know, watching Woody Allen sit at a restaurant and wave his hands about. I liked how perfect Mickey Rourke was as Marv, and how even though Clive Owen is a better actor than Bruce Willis, he couldn’t find his way into the film but Willis could. I liked how surprising some of the actors–Elijah Wood, Nick Stahl, Josh Hartnett(!?)–were.  Sometimes quite good, sometimes not, but at least…surprising.

But here’s the problem–Sin City: A Dame To Kill For isn’t as good as Sin City.  It’s not nearly as good.  More or less across the board, it is genuinely terrible.   In under two hours, Rodriller (that’s my attempt to do for “Rodriguez/Miller” what Brangelina did for Brad & Angelina) spins out four stories, two from the original comics (“Another Saturday Night” and “A Dame to Kill For”) and two Miller unfortunately wrote especially for the screen.  All are, arguably, prequels and/or sequels from the first Sin City film, focusing on Dwight, Marv, and Nartigan (that’s Brangelina-ese for Nancy/Hartigan, the heroes of “That Yellow Bastard”).  But because Powers Boothe is the villain of two of the pieces, it almost feels more like he’s the real protagonist of the film: he and Eva Green’s bare breasts are on camera at least as long as Mickey Rourke.  I kind of hope that, at least in some international backwater, the movie is playing as  Adventures of Rack and Mustache (in 3-D).

(Seriously, you see Eva Green’s boobs so much in this movie, and from every possible angle, that I think someone equipped with the DVD of this film and a 3-D printer should be able to build a perfect facsimile of her chest. Which, you know, ew.  But it is theoretically possible.)

Sadly, a lot of the movie didn’t remind me of Miller’s comic: they reminded me of Max Fischer’s plays from Rushmore, actors trapped in hilariously derivative scenes while the author/director looks on, lost in visions of his own greatness.  The sets and effects are terrible, far cheaper than they seemed in the original, and Rodriller muster up no energy for most of their interminable action scenes.  At one point, Jamie Chung (taking over from Devon Aoki as Miho) trots half-heartedly on a green-screen treadmill while chased by the animated silhouettes of thugs firing guns, all of it looking exactly like the kind of late-night commercial a cash-rich car salesman with a cocaine problem might commission from a local shoe-string production company. Throw in the terrible soundtrack, unceasingly festooned with Rodriguez’s soul-crushingly vapid guitar licks,  and you get a cinematic experience that didn’t remind me of the movie Sin City (2005) as much as the video game Max Payne (2001).  In fact, it reminded me of the video game Max Payne (2001) a lot. By the end of the movie, I even doubted Robert Rodriguez or Frank Miller had ever been inside a strip club, which is amazing because if there are two guys you know have spent a lot of time in a strip club…

And yet…I’m almost glad I went?

There’s another reason why I liked the first Sin City movie and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For doubles down on it: you put an actor in front of a camera, and you take away their co-stars, their sets, their props, and, in this movie, any good dialogue, as well as anything that resembles reality as anyone has ever known or experienced it.  Pop quiz, hotshot:  What do you do? What. Do. You. Do?  (Protip:  Don’t quote Speed. That is as hack as “referring to movie stars by their geek movie names,” and the “_________ Boogaloo” joke.)

Like I said, Clive Owen–who I would happily spend hours arguing is, in Croupier, far more Sin City than his role–or  any other role–in Sin City–just couldn’t nail it in the first movie.  I think a lot of it, god help him, was his accent, because the one advantage the leads in Sin City films get in the face of all that deprivation is a voiceover.

But a lot of the actors in these films don’t even get that. It’s down to things like posture, voice, commitment, who they’re cast as and what they do with it.  It’s interesting, probably the closest a filmgoing adult can get to pulling the legs off of ants and burning them with magnifying glasses.  You sit there, thinking in an abstracted way: What are these things, anyway?  What do they do?

Considering Joseph Gordon Levitt as Johnny and Josh Brolin as Dwight were in two of the better quasi-noirs of the last decade–Brick and No Country for Old Men–it maybe shouldn’t be surprising they are intensely watchable, and at times even believable, in their thrice-derived roles.  But it is surprising.  A day later, part of what sticks with me is that look on Dwight’s face when Manute punches in him in the chest for the first time.  (OH YEAH I FORGOT TO MENTION IT BUT JESUS SIN CITY IS RACIST AS HELL.) Or Levitt’s voice as he explains how he’s won even as he’s lost everything.  Both of those guys say things–unbelievable, ridiculous things–and you believe them.  Not all of the time? But that is far better than what the actual score should’ve been, which is: none of the time.

Rosario Dawson as Gail is great. I vaguely remember her in the first movie, but she commands the screen here. And Christopher Meloni does amazing stuff with the role of Mort, the police detective in “A Dame To Kill For” who falls under Ava’s spell: just by the way he handles his glasses, Meloni lets us know his character is dangerously repressed and crazy as a shithouse rat.  It made me remember how much I’d hoped, reading the original series, Mort was going to end up being Dwight’s nemesis at the finale.  Rourke is disappointing as Marv, in part because his makeup here is worse, and they film it from the worst possible angle. (Also, in the same way Levitt and Brolin were in better noirs, Rourke in The Wrestler managed to out-Marv his own Marv.)  I kinda like how the guy at the bar with the crazy hair who was supposed to maybe be Wolverine in the comic looks like he’s maybe supposed to be Jim Jarmusch in the movie?  I thought that was pretty funny.

As for Sue Storm, Miller and Rodriguez do everything in their power to give Jessica Alba a meaty role (except, you know, treat her like an actual human being.  But then nobody else in the movie gets that either) and she’s okay, I guess?  You know she goes crazy because she cuts her hair like Sharon Osborne, and then her stunt double gets to roll around with a crossbow and shoot guys until Alba can finally confront Powers Boothe for causing the death of Bruce Willis.  (And then, of course, it’s really Bruce Willis–who is dead–who makes the difference.  Because although women can be tough, they still can’t be as competent as men, even dead men.)

This summer, I started to suspect movies might really be changing, things like narrative and drama and characterization being these weird evolutionary vestiges from theater and literature that might actually be cast aside. What’s going to remain is spectacle and pageantry, and what’s going to keep us in the seats watching all that spectacle, all that pageantry, will be recognizable expressions of humanity, even as those expressions grow more and more abstract:  a crying raccoon, a tired, angry ape, Mark Wahlberg’s trembling bicep. As capitalism gives us more of everything but time, we will grow ever more eager for the unique experience, that moment that shouldn’t work but does, the second of genuine triumph buried in all the endless hours of flat, bright trudgery.

But then again, I’m probably wrong.  After all, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was a bomb everywhere but in Russia (where reality goes to die), so maybe genuine drama and narrative still has a place in the world.

Or maybe friends don’t let friends see Sin City 2.  Maybe the reason movies fail–especially bad movies–doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

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sm342jpg-ed5f81Reading the third issue of Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr.’s Superman, I found myself both enjoying the issue and fascinated by the ways in which Romita’s art — with the lovely Klaus Janson inks that give it a rougher, blockier edge than other inkers, and Laura Martin’s bright colors — disguise the fact that, in many ways, “The Men of Tomorrow” is both a Greatest Hits of Recent DC Superman Stories and the chance to finally move past a lot of tropes that are beginning to feel a bit tired.

By the end of #34, the third issue in the run (out tomorrow, so I’ll avoid spoilers), we’ve finally met the villain of the piece but the overall arcs of the run remain unchanged: Superman has discovered Ulysses, who is essentially an alternate version of himself but from Earth, presenting us with two very, very familiar Superman themes at this point:

• A Superman (or, in this case, Superman analogue) who might not be trustworthy, and
• A Superman who gets to go home

The former is something that DC has become increasingly fascinated with. Both Earth-2 and Injustice feature Superman-Gone-Bad as a major plot point, after all, and in the “main” DCU, Grant Morrison’s run finished with the New 52 Superman facing off against the weird genericized Superman monster from the alternate world (All-Star Superman also featured the hilariously Scottish Kryptonian heavies).

The latter, meanwhile, may be a lesser Superman trope but one that Geoff Johns set in motion at the very end of his Action Comics run some years back, when he brought back the Kryptonians from the shrunken Kandor and set the “New Krypton” storyline in motion (A storyline that, while it does fall apart at the end, is as close to 52 as DC has managed since that series ended, I maintain).

With “The Man of Tomorrow,” Johns definitely isn’t breaking new ground in terms of plot, but there’s something to be said about the execution. By bringing in Ulysses — and also with the introduction of the villain in #34, who has a certain level of deja vu to those readers who remember Infinite Crisis’ “Sacrifice” storyline — Johns gets to have his cake and eat it too, creating a way in which to explore those themes without actually altering the classic Superman status quo in any way. In fact, as the scene in the Daily Planet in the first issue showed, he’s seeming reconstructing that status quo, which has fallen into disrepair in the New 52.

Superman+#32+Wrap+Around+CoverBecause of this — and, in many ways, because of the way in which Superman is essentially a passive observer for much of these three issues to date — Johns’ Superman is the most Silver Age he’s written so far, and the most traditional version of the character seen since Morrison jumped ship (As I said in the podcast, the Calvin Ellis Superman in Morrison’s The Multiversity is very Silver Age, too, in many ways). He’s not the Silver Age Superman — I suspect that Johns is too enamored with the melodramatic character dynamic and angst of the 1980s to deliver the hyper-competent, paternal Superman of the ‘50s and ‘60s — but he is kinder, calmer and quieter than might have been expected from Johns’ previous outings with the character.

That kind of hero may not necessarily square with Romita Jr.’s artwork, at least in theory — Romita Jr. is an extremely dynamic, overblown artist in the best possible way; his characters overact, and feel constrained and uneasy when not in motion. And yet, there’s enough action in the stories to show off those chops (even if it’s not necessarily the action you’d expect — Superman running through a room changing his costume, say, or flashbacks to Ulysses being sent from Earth), and somehow the tension Romita brings to the quieter scenes adds something to the experience, rather than contradicting it.

That tension also, as I said above, disguises Johns’ story in some way. You expect something to happen at any moment, but the dramatic moment in the scene is Superman being told that he’s welcome in someone’s home, or something equally… small. What should feel like a disconnect in tone between the story and art instead works to the overall comic’s benefit; there’s a sense of uncertainty and surprise in what is, in many ways, an extremely conservative, traditional comic. Johns is putting the toys back where they “belong,” and yet the whole thing reads fresher and more exciting than that exercise should be to jaded eyes. I know where he’s going, ultimately, but I can’t quite tell how he’ll get there.

Whether or not this balancing act will be able to be sustained long term isn’t clear — we have no idea how long either Johns or Romita Jr. are staying on the title for, or whether the bloom will fall off their rose sooner rather than later — but for now, Superman is one of DC’s most curious books, even though it’s not necessarily doing anything new, per se. Whatever happened to the man of tomorrow, indeed.

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Here Comes The Fear Again.

Here Comes The Fear Again.

 

00:00-10:01: Greetings! It’s a very subdued greeting this time around—probably because Jeff tried to outsource all of the introduction work to Graeme. It’s been a tough couple of weeks, and we find ourselves clinging to the potential optimism of current pop nerd releases. Also mentioned for its timeliness: Genius by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman, currently being released weekly from Top Cow.

Wow, he beat up both Ant-Man *and* Yellowjacket!

Wow, he beat up both Ant-Man *and* Yellowjacket!

10:01-1:04:21: Should we talk about Avengers #175-200, first? Yes! Are they some of the dullest comic books we’ve ever read? YES. Join Graeme and Jeff as they wonder how 25 issues with art by John Byrne and George Perez, writing by Steven Grant, Mark Guenwald, Roger Stern and especially David Michelinie, the debut of Taskmaster, an “epic” restructuring of the origin of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, giant robots, and the Absorbing Man can be so distressingly dull. PLUS, the jaw-dropping Avengers #200, an issue involving time-displaced rapey incest and not just some of the worst treatment of a superhero ever. Although we start talking about it earlier, Graeme tries to recount the plot around 37:27, which is followed up with Jeff’s dramatic reading of a truly terrifying infodump. Ever-timely Jeff brings up Luke & Laura from General Hospital, and much-more-timely Graeme mentions the 17th episode of Rachel & Miles X-Plain The X-Men wherein Rachel and Miles discuss Avengers Annual #10 and how it very specifically addresses this story. (Although we didn’t re-read AA #10 for this podcast, we also discuss it but, really, who cares about us.) If you’re interested, here’s a link to the fandom article about Avengers #200 that first addressed a lot of this issue’s problems.
1:04:21-1:30:14: As for comics from this century: The Multiversity #1 by Grant Morrison, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Nei Ruffino. We are indebted to the annotations of the first issue by David Uzumeri, and a stellar post by Cheryl Lynn over at Digital Femme. But don’t worry, we also have our own thoughts about the book. (Boy, do we.) Discussed: Cartoon physics, the forces of pessimism, Bryan Hitch, All-Star Superman, JLA One Million, and the need for fluidity, possibility and the possibility of ideas.
1:30:14-1:36:23: The same week Jeff picked up The Multiversity #1, he also picked up a book from a few weeks earlier with a story that takes many of the same ideas and proceeds down a different path with them: “Grandeur and Monstrosity,” by Alan Moore and Facundo Percio (colors by Hernan Cabrera) in Avatar’s God is Dead Books of Acts Alpha.
1:36:23-1:49:01: Another interesting comparison/contrast to The Multiversity, courtesy of : The Fade-Out #1 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.  Is it the ultimate Brubaker/Phillips book in the same way The Multiversity feels like the ultimate Morrison book? Also mentioned: Abhay’s follow-up discussion over at the SavCrit of the conclusion of Fatale; female agency in Fatale and in Velvet; the conclusion to the first arc of Catwoman as recounted by Darwyn Cooke (and as recounted by Jeff) ; and more.
1:49:01-1:53:23: Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland #1, by Eric Shanower and Gabriel Rodriguez, with colors by Nelson Daniel. A gorgeous book, but how does it read? Is it worth the dosh? Does Nemo end up all a-tumbled out of bed with one leg higher than his head?
1:53:23-2:10:13: Infinity Man and the Forever People #3 by Dan Didio and Keith Giffen, Jim Starlin, Rob Hunter, and colors by Hi-Fi. Jeff appreciated the Starlinisms; Graeme pretty much hated the Starlinisms but what did Graeme really like? Teen Titans #2 by Will Pfeifer, Kenneth Rocafort, and Brown. Ladytron, Manchester Black, and Josiah Power?! Those are some crazy characters to be popping up in a book, dontcha think? And Jeff has some mixed feelings about Batman and Robin #34 and how it leads in to the Five Years Into The Future/Future’s End event. And because of Graeme’s review of Grayson #1 and #2, Jeff picked up those issues and really liked them.
2:10:03-end: Closing comments! Places to look for us at—did you know we’re on Stitcher now? Is that a thing you use? If so, follow and review us there! And, of course, we encourage you to check us out on Twitter (), Tumblr, and, of course, on Patreon where, as of this count, 73 patrons make this whole thing possible.

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Wait, What? Ep. 157: Poptimists!

As always, thank you for listening, and we hope you enjoy!

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Get ready

Get ready.

I’m gearing up to talk to Graeme in just a few hours for Wait, What?, Ep. 157.  For me, there’s a certain amount of forethought leading up to an episode–although I’m sure it doesn’t sound like it–even if that forethought doesn’t end up being much more than “hmm, what the hell do I have to say about comics this week?”  On a good week, it’s really easy:  there’s the first issue of Multiversity and a Little Nemo comic and a comic book creator sending dick pics around, although it helps if I feel like I have something to say that maybe hasn’t been said already (which may make talking about Multiversity kinda difficult).

On a bad week, nothing really stellar comes over the beam on Wednesday and the comics industry holds its torpid little secrets and everything that goes through my head just seems nasty and spiteful and, worse, old.  I don’t know how many of you also grew up with a parent that drank too much and shared confidences better shared with non-offspring, but the only thing worse than the complaint you really shouldn’t be hearing is having to hear it for the fifth or sixth time.  There are times where I worry about bitching about my dysfunctional marriage to comics because if you’re reading this, you also have a relationship with comics: maybe it’s a marriage, or it’s just a relatively new fling, or it feels like something you don’t need to put a ring on because you know you’re in it for the long haul.  There are times when I curse the words in my mouth for being both bitter and stale.

Fortunately, this week I (re-)read Mighty Avengers on the Marvel Unlimited app,  written by Al Ewing, and illustrated by Greg Land for the first five issues, with Valerio Schitti popping up for the sixth. Previously, thanks to the generosity of Whatnauts, I had made my way to issue #4 of Mighty Avengers and I remember thinking at the time the issues were good, not great.  They somehow seemed both too big and too small, simultaneously:  in particular, the first storyline, which ties into Marvel’s Infinity event, brings the team together and has them fight both Proxima Midnight and the return of Shuma-Gorath.  When first reading it, the small misfires kept tripping me up:  I couldn’t fully tell when Ewing was being deliberately or accidentally obfuscatory about his superheroes and their powers, and by the end the team is formed, and yet it doesn’t get much more proactive than that.  As frequently happens with big event crossovers, the items on the to-do list are checked off and then put aside, since someone else is going to be picking up the next page of the story.

What was great about re-reading it this week was how little of that actually mattered–and, in fact, Ewing does indeed have Monica Rambeau say, “Once we’ve taken a moment to catch our breath, we’ll need to help with this Thanos invasion that’s–” right before Luke Cage breaks out a nice “we are all Avengers. You are Avengers” speech.  And since the chances of Graeme and I talking about Multiversity #1 in the upcoming podcast is really close to 100%, it was nice to see Ewing’s speech working on the same thematic wavelength as that book’s.  In addressing the reader, Cage is telling them exactly what we want to hear from big comic book companies more often:  people of color, whether readers or heroes, are Avengers.  There’s not even the privileged speak of allowance, it’s not a “can be Avengers” situation, it just is.  After watching America act like a racist werewolf for the last week–seemingly fine by day, a police state by night–it’s a message I’m really glad is out there, even if it’s in a book that (as of issue #6) was selling half of the regular Avengers title, and (as of 7 hours ago) was still being complained about by racist knuckleheads. While I guess maybe it could be argued that Marvel could’ve done more to promote the book, but I appreciate they put Greg Land on it so that it looks like a book that matters to Marvel.  Like Mike Deodato, Land’s people can seem plastic, unreal, but I feel that, like Deodato, Land is working harder at pushing for more dynamism in his page layouts. And Schitti’s work is similar but in many ways the opposite: people’s faces are more expressive and nuanced, but while the panel-to-panel flow is professional, there’s not much in the storytelling to make you sit up.

The Stuff I Love: Characterization, Life Being Lived

The Stuff I Love: Characterization, Life Being Lived.

I know I’m always a super-huge booster for whatever digital service I happen to be using at the time (Comixology, 2000 A.D.’s app in the iPad’s newsstand, and now Marvel Unlimited) but I do wonder if Marvel Unlimited’s all-you-can eat model helps trick me into being just a comic book reader, not a reader/guy who has to watch his budget/guy who should have a good take for a podcast or a weekly post. When the only investment is time (although let’s not get into the whole “time as the ultimate commodity” thing that more than ever is powering American late-stage capitalism), maybe my internal watchdogs relax more, and I worry less about how small issues #4 through #6 can feel.  As many good jokes as there are packed into issues #4 and #5 (that riff on the Avengers film’s “We have a Hulk” speech was really god-damned clever), a struggle for who’s leading the team feels like too small, too insular a story for what is technically the book’s second story, and issue #6 is an issue super-enjoyably packed with characterization but mighty skimpy on incident.  At another time, I’d be more inclined to cluck my tongue and talk about how team books now that don’t spend their first year trying to grab your attention with epic sweep are going to end up cancelled in the first year.

And maybe I’d be right to make those arguments…or maybe that’s exactly the sort of unnecessary Monday-morning quarterbacking that makes professionals tear their hair? No matter what the state of the industry’s scalp, that is what’s going on in my head, and there are times when I’m just as happy as they are when it finally shuts up.  And yet, for better or worse, that’s the state of nearly all entertainment industries now: there was more drama about the projected opening of Guardian of the Galaxy than there was in the movie itself.  The hustle for a consumer’s attention span is constant and exhausting but seemingly essential:  there’s always a younger, more nubile art form outside the window.

But while re-reading Mighty Avengers #1-6, I did find myself wishing for more time to re-read comics, wondering if some titles didn’t grow better with a re-read, with the patience to forgive the irritating and embrace the admirable.  Certainly, I found that to be the case with Mighty Avengers #1-6.  I hope that even if the title can’t hold on in a vexingly tough marketplace, these issues will continue to be discovered (and re-discovered) by readers.  They deserve it.

One Terrific Moment of Many Terrific Moments.

One Terrific Moment of Many Terrific Moments.

 

 

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