Shameful/Shameless: Jeff Looks at Batman Eternal and Superman/Wonder Woman

June 12, 2014

Batman Eternal 6-10 or something: Look, I’ve learned a lot of things about myself from doing the podcast with Graeme, things that I’m more than a little mortified by—and while I can’t say that learning what a complete and utter idiot I am for Batman is the most mortifying, it should probably be mentioned first because it is arguably the mouth of the river Nile: whenever I find myself picking up some irredeemably stupid shit, chances are good I’m doing it because of Batman.

[BEHIND THE JUMP — MORE SHAMEFUL CONFESSIONS!]

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ALFRED FACE

For example, even though I refuse to sign up on the (sensible and smart) subscriber’s pull list for DC’s weekly Batman book, I am pretty much hitting the store every Wednesday because I can’t even bear the resulting psychic damage from missing an issue. Even just rereading that sentence (to ensure I didn’t drop a noun or a verb, like I inevitably) caused some uncomfortable and utterly involuntary grimacing.

(And, yes, I cheesily and intentionally left out a word in that previous parenthetical.)

Similarly, even though I read issue #9 and thought it was some pretty weak sauce—although with some very lovely art by Guillem March, I should add, for those of you who want a dash of Tim Sale level art but only want to pay Philip Tan prices—I knew even as I got to that “shocking” last page, where Alfred pulls an amazingly great stunned face (that I’m actually kind of bummed isn’t an Internet meme yet: Head of FCC tries to put a stake through the heart of net neutrality? ALFRED FACE Marvel cancels Fantastic Four after making noises like it won’t? ALFRED FACE Jeff and Graeme do a podcast where they list the forty-plus books they’ve read but then discuss everything else but those books ALFRED FACE FOREVER), that I’m probably going to be back for the next fucking issue. Because I’m weak and sad, but also because DC has figured out the secret to a weekly comic—taking a character that has infinite potential, like Batman, and squandering that potential infinitely.

That’s what keeps me on the hook: here is a character with 75 years of supplementary characters attached, an urban setting that is simultaneously unique and generic, and the freedom of 52 fucking issues to go somewhere. Just like the crazy Winchester house out in San Jose (a.k.a., the house with the bunny rabbit ghosts Swamp Thing visited during Alan Moore’s run), Batman has been under continuous construction, month in and month out, via multiple titles, for years now. The sound of the hammers must never stop.

Compared to the mansion that is Batman, Superman—bless his big Kryptonian heart—is basically living in a tight double-wide, half of which he recently had to sell to General Zod. Lex, Lois, Jimmy, Perry, Cat Grant, Steve Lombard, that guy who looks like Popeye, the Cadmus Project, uhhh…. Jose Delgado, and—shit, I don’t know—Whiny Priest from For Tomorrow? Did anyone do anything with Whiny Priest? Maybe in the New52, he has a different, more hip kind of cancer and actually has different things to whine about, other than that crazily flyweight Rapture? I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of people—Lois’s dad?—because I don’t read a lot of Superman, but it just doesn’t seem as half a deep a bench as Batman’s. Throw in the number of heroes and characters who’ve previously been established as having a base in Gotham City, and it’s clear who has more supporting character fodder to power through a weekly comic.

And so but anyway, I have to give it up to head writers Scott Snyder and James Tyrion IV, along with staff writers Ray Fawkes, John Layman (who exited early), Kyle Higgins, and Tim Seeley for doing what I think most people would do when faced with such a smorgasbord—they go totally apeshit with it. The first two and a half months have had Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, Jason Bard, Jim Corrigan, Detective Bullock, Harper Row (jesus, that name trips me up every time) and her brother Cullen (really, they should’ve given her three nephews Harcourt, Brace, & Jovanovich instead), Catwoman, Batwing, Red Wing, Vicki Vale, Carmine Falcone, The Penguin, Doctor Phosphorous, Deacon Blackfire…and that’s before you even get to “new” characters like Spoiler, lady ninja Alfred, Cluemaster, and the totally annoying corrupt acting commissioner I would prefer to pretend doesn’t exist.

In short, they are taking the fat dude in tight pants that is the Batman mythos and feeding him hoagie after hoagie after hoagie. Unsurprisingly, however, the more they do so, the less focused it is, and the less interesting it is to read.

Metaphors via my unpleasant food and body issues aside, I don’t doubt some of this stems from Snyder & Co. rushing to get all the characters and storylines put into place while feeling the pressure of doing so in an “interesting way,” (a.k.a., making sure Batman gets a chance to punch evil bros every issue), but more than a little of it appears to suffer from the industry’s current malaise of “Walking Dead Syndrome,” where every issue has to try and deliver a last page that can out-cliffhang the previous cliffhanger.

Now, although I’ve never manifested any visible signs of it myself, I’m a fan of ambition. I like where ambition can take a creator, and I like it when it’s in the service of corporate properties because it tends to be the only way you can work something interesting into the mix with all the material the fans love and demand from their corporate properties.

But at ten issues in, Batman Eternal’s relentlessness suggests ambition in the abstract, but the actual page-by-page of it reads more like a good old game of Three Card Pictorial Monte, where no effort is spared to keep the mark distracted from the palming of the queen. (Why, I do believe I have coined a new erotic thriller title right there, I do indeed.) And I know I’m a snarky shit, but experience suggests the conclusion is going to be Snyder (& Co.) once again giving us a less-than-subtle retread of Grant Morrison and breaking out “I’m Dr. Hurt, and yes I really am the DEVIL, and also something something something YOUR PARENTS! And that’s why something something YOUR BROTHER! And something something something YOUR COUSIN WHO HAS BEEN PRETENDING TO BE YOU ON INSTAGRAM ALL ALONG!!”

And I’m not opposed to that, you know? I just…keep hoping the team will get its act together. Bring some depth, rather than resorting to breadth, and maybe throw in some riffs that have a new twist on them, rather than the same riffs played faster and faster: Punk rock gave us Green Day, and I’d like to think it’s not too late to learn a lesson from that.

Superman/Wonder Woman #1-3: Another painful lesson that Whatnauts know I’ve learned: I…like Tony Daniel? I still can’t type it without some distancing ellipses and a question mark. I’m sorry to keep negging you, Tony Daniel! Let me show you a card trick and my pet iguana while I talk about how pretty your hair could be.

Anyway, so, yeah. Once I was able to be honest with myself about the uncomfortable fact, it was probably inevitable I would at least give this series a try. I mean, a lot of people are saying very good things about Charles Soule’s writing, and I greatly appreciate that the guy is an attorney and broke into comics, and he seems like a non-asshat, and he kinda has a face like a ventriloquist’s dummy. You know, prominent smile lines, very round eyes, disquietingly bushy eyebrows. (Jeezis, now I’m negging Charles Soule!)

And I had that five dollar gift certificate from Comixology, and although Comix Experience doesn’t have a Comixology storefront, Mission Comics and Art does and Leef the owner is a totally great guy so I grabbed the first three issues. What did I have to lose, really?

Well, I don’t know what I lost, but I can tell you what I did not gain, and that is any desire to read beyond the first three issues.

Now to be fair—hey, sure, why not start now?—it’s worth pointing out I was totally against this Superman/Wonder Woman romance malarkey in the first place, so the book already had a big first strike going against it. As I put it back when it was announced, going from having Lois Lane, Superman’s Girlfriend on the stands to having Wonder Woman, Superman’s Girlfriend does not feel like a step forward for the American comic book marketplace. In fact, it feels like a grande Turd Latte of a step backward because the former title featured a supporting character getting her own book, and the current title is one of the more idiosyncratic and recognizable superheroes jammed into second billing. Also, I’m a big fan of romance in comics—especially in superhero comics—but no matter how hard you squint, Wonder Woman and Superman feel less like a genuine romance and more like editorial fiat. Also, bless his heart, Soule keeps working very dutifully to make Superman and Wonder Woman seem like equals who are equally invested in their romance.

But…

The very first issue of S/WW #1, there’s Clark and Cat Grant talking about keeping their business afloat, and the very next page is Diana talking about the departure of the Amazons for a page…and then talking about her relationship with Clark. In the second issue, Diana gets punched by Doomsday so hard both arms get broken, whereas Superman gets to lift a boat, grab Hephaestus’ hammer in a show of strength, and gets into a punch-up with Apollo. In the third issue, Superman gets two pages to talk to Batman, one about his over-amped powers in the wake of his fight with Apollo, and one about the differences between Clark and Diana, and Wonder Woman gets one whole page to talk about… what to get Clark for Christmas.

Bleah

Bleah.

You see what I’m getting at here? Even with Soule working pretty damn hard, the first three issues of this is a book about Superman doing all kinds of super-stuff, and Wonder Woman looking pretty and telling everyone she could do all kinds of super-stuff..but she really wants to show Superman how much she trusts him. BLEAH.

But I also admit the real factor for me was, as admitted above, the Tony Daniel-ness of it. How much Tony Daniel can you find in Superman/Wonder Woman? If the answer had been “none more Tony Daniel,” then I probably would’ve just kept buying issues until Graeme was able to shame me into talking about it on the podcast.

But the answer for me is very much, “maybe there’s a lot of Tony Daniel here, but it’s not really the Tony Daniel I like.”

I feel like the Tony Daniel DC likes, and the Tony Daniel they wanted for Superman/Wonder Woman, is the Tony Daniel that’s like a

Snake? Snake??? SNAAAAAAAKE!!

Snake? Snake??? SNAAAAAAAKE!!

slightly less dynamic Jim Lee:  better at hitting his deadlines and worse at hitting DC in their pocketbook. But the Tony Daniel I like is the guy who seems like he played a shit ton of Metal Gear Solid, the guy who likes giving mysterious new characters dramatic introductions and weird fashion accessories, who likes having larger than life characters get all angsty, and who isn’t afraid of stupid ideas. There’s that one storyline in Detective where he introduces Gas Man, Mr. Combustible, Hypnotic, Snakeskin—all of them cool-looking villains, even if they perhaps belie a fear of modern industrial energy on Tony Daniel’s part, which is fine—and still most of it revolves around a character that looks like Sniper Wolf. In a maid’s uniform. With an eyepatch. I’m so in the tank for that Tony Daniel, I can’t even tell you.

But, at least in the first three issues of Superman/Wonder Woman, Daniel is drawing some of Superman’s mustier status quo—I suppose if General Zod bought half of Superman’s double-wide, Doomsday must be kicking in a little money to park his ATV in the back because that guy is also always around every time I drop by—and doesn’t seem to show much interest in Wonder Woman’s supporting cast of Greek gods…which is a bit disappointing since Cliff Chiang’s designs of same are so wonderful. Without his passion, Daniel’s flaws begin to pop: everyone looks like they’re silently enduring a really bad charlie horse, and the action scenes occasionally lack a coherent flow from panel to panel.

I admit there’s something interesting about Superman/Wonder Woman, if not particularly appealing—DC has been such a hot mess recently, it’s (sorry to repeat myself) interesting watching something where people continue to work at it simply beyond the first editorial meeting of “Okay, which villains can we have–” “ZOD AND DOOMSDAY OMG YES,” but it’s not interesting enough in a “$2.99 on Comixology” kind of way.

Anyway, if you think it gets better or something, let me know. But otherwise, I think I’m just gonna have to wait until Tony Daniel gets a project he can put more of his heart into.  His crazy, crazy, not-especially-original-but-genuinely-entertaining heart.

 

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13 comments on “Shameful/Shameless: Jeff Looks at Batman Eternal and Superman/Wonder Woman

  1. Kwame Jun 13, 2014

    I so like your writing style Jeff, you make great points and your humor is my kind of humor. Not reading any of the books reviewed at present but…I’m right with you in the enjoyment of absurd and over the top concepts in my entertainment. Maybe that’s another reason I like your opinions, you can enjoy classy and trashy entertainment. I wonder where Graeme falls on the classy-trashy scale, or said another way subtle-blunt scale.

    • Jeff Lester Jun 16, 2014

      Thanx, Kwame! I appreciate you dropping by and posting this.

      As for Graeme…I think my trashy tastes may be a little trashier than his, and I think his classy end is a little classier than mine, but….eh. We both read a ton of comic books, so really how far apart are we going to be on that spectrum, really?

  2. Brendan Jun 13, 2014

    Had to google so much to read the first half of this (well, I could’ve guessed what three card monte is but I had to find out how to do it, didn’t I?) and I feel better for having done it.

    On to the Superman/Wonder Woman. I am, in theory, so team Diana. It was one of the things with the New 52 where I thought hey, something new and different. Let’s do that. It’s a chance to explore a Supes/Wonds relationship without having Superman divorced or brainwashed or seem like the asshole he so clearly is. (Poor Lois and Steve).

    Two problems are, the New 52 was not a clean slate (or was it? it wasn’t), and you need conflict in a romance, I suppose. So if you have two characters like WW and S, who are invulnerable and perfect for each other, the romantic conflict is pretty forced, making the relationship just seem very dysfunctional. Maybe they should have a session with Dr. Quinzel. Now I’m pretty sure every character in the DCU is terribly incompetent.

    Good stuff here Jeff! Please let this site be your comics confessional.

    • Jeff Lester Jun 16, 2014

      Brendan: *finally* got the chance to reply to you now that the new podcast is up, and I wanted to thank you for posting on each of my columns! You deserve at least four replies! (I’m a master of over-compensation….)

      I see your point about conflict and I think it’s a good one. It points to a larger problem about this kind of romance in fiction, overall, I think: in a lot of stories about romance, most of the story is about the striving for the romance to be attained. Once it has been attained, the story either ends or somebody dies. (Or both, like Romeo & Juliet.)

      Like you said, once two people are in love and in a relationship, it’s really hard *not* to fall back on the dysfunctional to generate conflict. In some ways, I thought Soule had a clever solution with Wonder Woman’s family in issue #2: having the gods interfere with a perfect romance is a trick that goes back a long time. I kind of half-hope they take advantage of it here rather than making the couple be dicks to each other.

      • Brendan Jun 22, 2014

        Thanks for the reply!

        …and yes, well, dickishness is the status-quo. We can’t let heroes be nice to each other all willy-nilly.

  3. “really, they should’ve given her three nephews Harcourt, Brace, & Jovanovich instead”

    You win, sir.

    • Jeff Lester Jun 16, 2014

      So glad someone dug that joke besides me. Bless you, Marc!

  4. Neil Kapit Jun 21, 2014

    Now I have to read more Tony Daniel comics to see if there’s the Metal Gear Solid influence, since I’ve enjoyed Metal Gear as a superhero story far more than any actual superhero stories of the past three or so years.

    • Jeff Lester Jun 21, 2014

      As someone who played MGS: Snake Eater through like six times or so, I’m totally with you as to the epic-ness of MGS. That said, I should warn you that you probably won’t see the influence in anything more than a certain type of character design and a similar inelegance with exposition. As someone who hasn’t played any MGS since that one weekend I rented MGS 4 (and almost killed Graeme’s cat), though, I’m probably especially starved for it.

      • Neil Kapit Jun 21, 2014

        I would kill to see your thoughts on MGS4, Jeff. Especially how you feel the meta-text about the video game industry might also apply to the comic book industry. (If you don’t want to play through the game and watch its nine hours of cutscenes, it’s summarized in these articles; http://www.metagearsolid.org/reports_mgs4_soldout_1.html)

        • Jeff Lester Jun 22, 2014

          Thanks, Neil! Of course, I actually would love to do exactly that, but I found I couldn’t have a game console in the house and be anything like productive.

          But I will check out the articles: what I remember from MGS4 way back when was that, at the very least, Kojima had some sort of point about the exploitation and objectification of women–you equipped Snake’s camera during boss fights and the women’s behavior would change and they’d give you model sessions or something, right?–which I remember was a little bit like being lectured about the perils of cake by a guy whose mouth was full of cake.

          Anyway, thanks for the link–I’ll check it out!

          • Neil Kapit Jun 22, 2014

            Thank you Jeff! It means a lot to me that you’ve responded to this.

            One thing the article doesn’t mention, but is what I was getting at the most about MGS4’s meta-commentary and how it applies to comics, was the revelation about the Patriots’ identity. It turns out that the people behind the evil super-conspiracy running the world are just AIs, super-computers that have long since outlived their human creators. They regulate global civilization based on the data they have available, with no deviation from the established parameters– that’s why their efforts are meant towards maintaining the war economy status quo, because that’s what they interpret as the solution to the human equation. When they’re under threat, they always fall back on the same old strategies– calling in Solid Snake (despite his poor health from clonal aging), supporting him with a Cyborg Ninja (with Raiden now shoehorned into the role), injecting Snake with another FOXDIE virus, etc.

            An established but soulless body of power who can’t do anything but repeat the same patterns, regardless of their efficacy in the modern world? Sounds exactly like Marvel or DC. Especially DC these days; just replace “war economy” with “crossover economy”, “Snake” with “Batman”, “Cyborg Ninja” with “Aquaman revamp”, and “FOXDIE” with “reboots” 😛

          • Jeff Lester Jun 23, 2014

            My pleasure, Neil! It helps that I really am a sucker for every level of Kojima’s MGS: the military porn, the childish pranks, the ultra-serious melodrama…seriously, all of it.

            So this is really interesting to me about the Patriots: it’s one of the things I loved so much about MGS2 (the critique of video games as simulations tied too closely to the military industrial complex) and kicking it all up a notch. I love that, as I think Kojima does a lot, it’s a self-criticism that also reflects on the culture at large. Like you said, it sounds exactly what Marvel and DC are doing these days. Thank you for passing this along! It’s going to have me watching youtube videos online all day, probably, but it’s still appreciated.

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