Marvel dropped three books this week that are all examples of their constant, never-ending and yet often contradictory mandate to keep coming up with fresh takes on characters at least 40 years old, while keeping these fresh takes from alienating the existing, aging readership.
First X-Men #1 (of 6)
Writers: Neal Adams & Christos Gage
Artist: Neal Adams
For those George Lucas types out there who think that there’s nothing cooler than filling in backstory on favorite characters, even if that backstory undoes a lot of what made them interesting in the first place, here’s…this.
So we have beloved comics legend, crusader and kook Adams apparently being shepherded by young, solid, within-the-lines writer Gage on one more retcon fiesta that noone was really asking for, and that has a subtitle, “Children of the Atom,” that at least one other retcon fiesta already bore. Here, we have Wolverine/Logan, as yet not part of Project X but still running with his bro, Sabretooth, kind of like in that Wolverine movie and Origin, but he’s not conflicted because he doesn’t seem to be an assassin. He has a friend and agrees to help find the friend’s kid, who is a mutant like himself. He enlists Sabretooth, who here is just a slightly rougher big brother and not really evil, and then the rest of the issue continues the putting-together-the-team formula. As one might expect, there are some new players, just like in that Wolverine movie, because of course they’re going to die and be forgotten and not have to be tied into modern continuity. We’ve got Holo, a teenage girl who makes people see what they want to see, and the fourth would-be member is young Charles Xavier, though he sees the murder in Logan and Victor’s hearts and won’t join them. At the end, we see the future Magneto, Erik Lensherr.
It’s all familiar, unnecessary and at best, just competent. Gage working with someone else means a professional but less personal job, and to be honest, I would have preferred Adams given more rope to hang himself than doing a mini nobody needed. Adams can still draw, with some great depth and forced perspective and his typical fetish for overly rendered hair, as well as the more recent fetish for drawing bodies torn apart by weapons, but his trademark for triangular, jagged panels has become a little stilted.
Peter Parker, Spider-Man #156.1
Writer: Roger Stern
Artist: Roberto De La Torre
As he admits in the Afterword, Marvel asks Stern to write a Spider-Man story once or twice a decade now. Stern had a very solid run in the early ’80s with John Romita, Jr., including a terrific issue with the Juggernaut that illustrates the never say die quality of Spider-Man to a T, and a whole bunch of issues about the corrupt Brand Corporation. That provides the connective tissue to this, a .1 issue for a series that no longer exists, which finds Daily Bugle reporter Norah Winters enlisting Peter Parker to take some photos while she investigates what’s going on at the abandoned Acme Warehouse. Brand is going down the tubes with litigation and wants to get the tech that’s locked up in their labs at the warehouse. Norah doesn’t know this is the same place where the killer of Peter’s Uncle Ben was found, which has him bummed out most of the issue.
Stern has a great collaborator in De La Torre, who has a kind of Alex Maleev-like photoreference thing going on but draws faces and figures seemingly mostly from his imagination. A lot of Matt Hollingsworth filters keep things from looking too grainy and grey. The art, and Stern’s way of writing Peter Parker capably, focusing on his core of responsibility and guilt rather than nonstop wisecracks, make this one work despite not adding up to a whole lot other than beating up some average thugs and calling back to not a classic villain but a vaguely defined corporation that was notable thirty years ago. Not to mention that Parker hasn’t been a photographer for some time now, and, past favor aside, could still be nice guy Peter and tell Norah politely that he’s got a great job he should be working at and to go find some other guy to dig around a dusty warehouse full of bad memories. It’s a nice enough book, I’m glad Stern got a gig, and you can take it or leave it. Unfortunately, by making these issues adjuncts to defunct rather than existing Spider-Man titles (there’s a two-part Sensational Spider-Man story next), Marvel’s underlying message is to leave it.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: David Aja
The thing about being a critic is that sometimes you can enjoy something the first time you experience it, and then the second time the flaws reveal themselves. To be sure, Fraction is one of Marvel’s bright lights, and any chance to see him work with his Immortal Iron Fist collaborator again is a good thing, and a smartass like Hawkeye is more in line with his strengths than Thor. This is pretty much a guarantee to be at least a decent superhero comic, and so it is, well-drawn and with some good bits in the first-person narration that paint Hawkeye as a likable, almost blue collar kind of superhero.
Unfortunately, while the choice to set uncostumed Hawkeye in an urban environment, just a regular guy who goes to work, pays his rent, and enjoys barbecues on the roof with his neighbors is a sound one, the execution is off on nearly every story beat.
After falling several stories onto a car, regular guy Hawkeye breaks a bunch of bones like you or I would (if we didn’t die), but do we see him suffer? Do we see him go through physical therapy? No. We see him leave when he feels like it, all better, and dumping his wheelchair in an intersection to be destroyed and cause traffic delays, with a spoiled celebrity’s solution of, “Bill me for it.” And then we see him handle his Russian landlord’s raising of the rent to exorbitant levels (though legal) with a spoiled superhero’s solution of intimidation and then, failing that, a spoiled rich guy’s solution of taking out his checkbook and overpaying for the building by 50%. With Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark, that kind of thing can be very funny, but if you’re trying to establish that this is a blue collar type of superhero, a guy who came from nothing, has no powers, but somehow has the character and tenacity to stand as an equal with gods, mutants and living legends, then you need to come up with a better way than just throwing money at a problem. Maybe Fraction is going to explore this in future issues, like maybe now that the tenants know he’s rich and their new landlord, it will change their relationship with him, and what he thought he had in this low-key setup is gone. We’ll see, but for now, it kind of leaves a bad taste.
Sometime this year, and I am not exactly sure when, I passed a milestone of having read comics for forty years. The first time I remember being given a stack of comic books was at the age of six, recovering from having my tonsils out. Ice cream and comic books in the recovery room — yes, America, our health care system has really deteriorated since 1972.
Over these four decades, some comics have blurred into obscurity to me. I am pretty sure that that first stack included Spider-Man and Archie titles, but I can’t pinpoint which particular issues they might have been. I suspect the Spider-Man was an Amazing Spider-Man in the 120s, but that’s as close as I can get it.
Other comics stand out in my memory like they came out yesterday. Some because they were so good, others because they were somehow significant in some way to my development as a comics reader. Here are the most memorable of those comics.
* Daredevil #181 - In the 9th grade, my best friend Donny and I shared a love of comics, and there was no comic we looked forward to more every month than Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s Daredevil. Miller had begun drawing the book with issue #158, really started to cook art-wise around #164, and when he took over as writer with #168 (first appearance of Elektra, true believer) Miller began a long ramp up to the explosive, apocalyptic #181. I remember the cover blurb word for word — “Bullseye vs. Elektra…One Winss. One Dies.” And for once, it wasn’t just hype.
Bullseye had bedeviled Matt Murdock since, I think, #159 (back when Roger McKenzie was still writing the book), and the climax of this issue sees the assassin murder Daredevil’s first love Elektra in as brutal and final a manner as had probably ever been depicted in a Marvel comic up to that point. Elektra’s death, brief as it was (she was resurrected in Miller and Janson’s last issue together, #191), felt much more realistic and portentous than the usual superhero comics death, and although she’s died and come back a number of times since, no one could ever hope match the visceral gut-punch Miller and Janson delivered with this issue.
Additionally, with a few decades reflection, I’ve come to believe that this issue marks Miller’s absolute peak as an artist (his peak as a writer was either Batman: Year One or Daredevil: Born Again). After this, every comic book Miller drew seemed to be an exercise in experimentalism, or just seeing how far he could get his head up his own ass (culminating in the graphically bankrupt Dark Knight Strikes Again). These days I can’t find any interest at all in anything Frank Miller is involved with, which is amazing to me when I look back to Daredevil #181 and remember how very much it seemed like a new high for comics, and certainly a signal moment for Frank Miller as a writer/artist.
* New Teen Titans #1 - To say I was a huge fan of George Perez in the late 1970s and early 1980s would be a colossal understatement. The only two comic books I ever subscribed to through the mail were Avengers and Fantastic Four, both at the time being regularly drawn by Perez. So when he moved to Marvel and overhauled Teen Titans with writer Marv Wolfman, I was all over that book from the moment the preview story appeared (in DC Comics Presents, I think?), and my interest really sustained itself for a good long while — certainly through The Judas Contract, which had the somewhat shocking revelation (for a DC comic of that era) that the 50ish Deathstroke was sleeping with the 15ish Terra.
If you were the right age and reading comics, it was almost impossible not to fall in love with Claremont and Paul Smith’s Kitty Pryde, or Wolfman and Perez’s Tara Markov. The difference was, of course, that Terra was designed from the get-go to turn on the Titans, and Wolfman’s long-term planning of Terra’s story arc struck me at the time (I was in my mid-to-late teens) as extraordinarily sophisticated for a superhero comic book. When New Teen Titans split into two titles, one in the regular format and one in the Baxter Paper format, I think my interest began to wane, and by the time Perez left as artist, I was gone too.
But for quite a few years, New Teen Titans was THE monthly superhero book, stealing a lot of thunder from Marvel in the fan press and in the minds of readers. These days the books seem hopelessly overwritten and the melodrama is all a bit much, but the truth is, those comics were written for 12 year olds, and as such, they provided an exciting, seemingly more mature look at what was possible within the superhero sub-genre.
* Reid Fleming, The World’s Toughest Milkman #1 - “78 cents or I piss on your flowers.” If that means nothing to you, you weren’t there, and I can’t help you. Literally the funniest thing ever published in a comic book, and that line sticks with me, all these years later. David Boswell was an outsider artist creating a comic unlike any other before or since, and Reid Fleming’s world needs to be experienced by everybody, everywhere.
* Uncanny X-Men #137 - My first issue of Uncanny X-Men had been the one where Mesmero brainwashed the team and turned them into carnival acts, with Magneto showing up at the end in probably the most impressive full-page panel I had yet encountered — I mean, dude looked scary. I had very little clue who most of the characters were, but I was instantly engaged by Claremont’s writing (slightly better than Wolfman’s, but certainly as wordy if not moreso) and more urgently by the artwork of John Byrne and Terry Austin.
Although the team was around a few months after #137, this double-sized issue really was the climax of the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Austin era, with stunning superhero battles, heartbreaking drama (I was hugely invested in Scott and Jean’s relationship, for some pathetic adolescent reason) and a sense at the end that a genuine drama had played out and a price had been paid. I was fascinated a few years later when Marvel released the original version of the story in a Baxter Paper edition (also included in Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Vol. 5) including a roundtable discussion among the creators and then-editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who had demanded that Jean Grey be punished for her misdeeds as Dark Phoenix. I never get tired of re-reading such Claremont/Byrne/Austin classics as The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past, and apparently neither does Joss Whedon, who pretty much borrowed those storylines whole for his TV shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse, respectively.
* Thor #337 - In my early years reading comic books, it was a fascinating process to learn to discern different art styles. Gil Kane and Vince Coletta were two I learned to spot almost immediately, one because he was so dynamic and skilled, the other because he turned almost everything he touched to shit. I’ll let you guess which is which, although it should be said Coletta Thor appropriately rustic natural blah blah blah BULLSHIT oh my, God, Colletta was a horrible fucking inker.
But anyway. Walter Simonson and Howard Chaykin I noticed both about the same time, from their work on DC books, and in Simonson’s case, especially on Manhunter with writer Archie Goodwin, which, just, there’s almost no words for how good their Manhunter was. Almost the perfect comic book story, regard in its time as a classic and it has only improved with age, a claim few other series from the 1970s can claim. So by the time I heard Simonson was taking over Thor, I was ready for some gorgeous comics. What I wasn’t ready for, had no idea I’d be getting, actually, was the wit and invention Simonson brought to the writing end of his writer/artist tenure on the book.
There was buzz on #337 from the moment it hit the stands, and I can remember having to search high and low to find a copy, I think, in a drugstore somewhere in Saratoga Springs. The book sold out fast, and for the first year or so, Thor became something it had never been, the toast of superhero comics readers everywhere. Simonson is a talent that has continued to grow in his decades in comics, never soured like Frank Miller or gotten too baroque for the audience like Chaykin has sometimes managed to do. Thor #337 was a big, dividing moment in 1980s comics. There was everything before, and there was everything after.
* Nexus #1 - This one came seemingly out of nowhere. I had never heard of the publisher, the writer, or the artist. Even the format — oversized, like a magazine, for the first few issues, and black and white to boot — sent a message that Nexus was not your average superhero funnybook. But for all its more mature concerns — betrayal, obligation, fascism — Nexus felt very purely like comics, in the same way Lee and Romita’s Spider-Man did, or Englehart and Rogers’s Batman. If I could go back and whisper in Baron and Rude’s ears, I would say things like “Never use a fill-in artist,” and “Never renumber the book.” If, retroactively, I could make those things happen, I probably would always have kept up with the adventures of Horatio Hellpop and his wild gang of friends and enemies and frenemies. But no, somewhere what made this book got lost, and I lost track of it, and we’re probably both the poorer for it, Nexus and I.
* Cerebus #1 (Counterfeit) - This was probably the single most significant single issue of my formative comics-reading years. In one weird moment, my interest in artcomix, my fascination with the Direct Market and my love of comics in general all came together. Cerebus had been gaining in popularity for a while — I think around this time it was in the mid-20s to mid-30s numbering-wise, and everyone was reading it. There had never been anything like it. I can’t remember if the Swords of Cerebus collections had begun yet, but the early issues were going for serious cash on the back issue market. A plot was hatched by unknown conspirators who went from one northeastern U.S. comic shop to the next, telling the same story to each shop about how they had stumbled across a stash of Cerebus #1s. (I know Roger Green will correct me if I get any of the details wrong here.)
It wasn’t long before the shops realized they’d been had, that the books were fake, and they were stuck with God only knows how many copies of Cerebus #1, The Counterfeit Edition. In a move that could never, ever happen today, my local comic shop, I believe with the consent of Dave Sim, offered up the fake #1s (with signage making it clear they were fake) for, if I recall correctly, ten bucks each. Later there would be guidelines that became known so buyers could determine if a copy was real or a phony, and these days I don’t have either, but I kind of wish I had held on to my counterfeit Cerebus #1, because in all my four decades of reading comics, I think that was the strangest and most surreal incident I can recall. And also the one that really clued me in that comic shops were businesses, and businesses obviously vulnerable to fraud and wrongdoing, at that. Previously I had just thought of them as a little slice of Heaven, right here on Earth.
— Alan David Doane
And another series drops off my list as Brian Wood’s The Massive #2 shows that Wood, at times, forgets how to write anything someone would want to read. Dystopic adventure on the high seas, motherfucker! You have to work to make that boring, but Wood succeeds, with still-empty characters and almost nothing happening. Exotic names like Kamchatka and some statistics aren’t what readers want. Give us something happening, and happening to people we care about. I really wanted to like this series, and I say this without any rancor, because I know Wood can write good work sometimes, but it’s terrible.
I’ve been doing more of my own fiction-writing these days, as well as a lot of reviews of movies and other things at my other blog, so it really seems like a modest but achievable goal is to do maybe one or two comics posts here every month. Thus, since I’m going on vacation this weekend and not likely to write anything else for a week or so, my Comics July.
It’s just under a year for DC’s New 52, and despite trying at least the first issue of about 49 of them, the only ones I am still reading are Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., The Shade, Action Comics, Batman, and Batman Incorporated (this last one having only relaunched in the last month). What you can infer from these is that I still have some affection for Grant Morrison’s writing and will see his exit from superhero comics (Batman Inc. is fun, Action more miss-than-hit, and the upcoming Multiversity stuff sounds interesting). I also somewhat enjoy Scott Snyder’s writing, though I’m not that interested in tying in old business like Arcane to the somewhat fresher Red/Green/Rot stuff. I guess it’s fair to say that’s just an expansion of stuff Alan Moore came up with many years ago when he wrote the series, but at least it’s a little new and not something that has been explored much before. I am pretty tired of the whole Court of Owls stuff on Batman, but you know, I like Batman and it’s not a bad book, though not a good one.
Jeff Lemire has done all right on Animal Man and Frankenstein, though the art on the former, while distinctive and great at the weird, disturbing scenes, is also distancing for what seems to be a comic that wants to be about familial strength and those bonds being stronger and more important to the lead character than doing superhero stuff. Frankenstein started with some interesting ideas but seems to be treading water, or maybe it’s more accurate to say it has digressed into the Rot stuff when it should be working more on making its characters distinctive. I still don’t really get Frankenstein, much less the rest of his groovy ghoulies. Overall, even with just two writers on these three series, I think tying them all together with the same menace has made each book less special.
I still read a lot of Marvel, though not much has stood out. Daredevil has regained some of its footing with Chris Samnee on art, a good choice, and Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man, though unfortunately uneven artistically, has been consistently entertaining and presented a recognizable but more mature Spider-Man. Avengers vs. X-Men has improved of late, with nice Olivier Coipel art and a few chunks of issues that made sense, though a lot of the plotting is stupid and/or redundant. Why would godlike X-Men fear Scarlet Witch so much, and why is essentially dressing up some Avengers to look like her a good idea when the X-Men have telepaths who should be able to figure out who’s who?
I’m reading more Image books than I have in maybe ever, mostly creator-owned stuff. I can’t confess to loving any of it, but Saga has been imaginative and amusing if not immensely engaging yet, and I’ve also enjoyed the sort of arty take on superheroes and apocalyptic sci-fi in Glory, Prophet, while The Manhattan Projects feels so far like Jonathan Hickman going back to the well and getting S.H.I.E.L.D. right. I was into Hickman’s Secret at first, but the second issue was kind of insulting, with a cliched gangster scene and an obvious reveal stretched out to the end of the issue with four panel pages of not much going on.
I suppose, given how much his work has meant to me, that I should write more about the latest Alan Moore League of Extraordinary Gentleman book, Century: 2009, but it was just okay. Some lovely ideas, typically good Kevin O’Neill artwork and of course, it feels like good value because you read it slowly, trying to pick up on all the pop culture references. But while I appreciate that pretty much all of Moore’s work has some terrific layers to it (I’ve not doubt there’s a great story behind even garbage like Deathblow: Byblows), here, the meta-story about Moore’s disillusionment with the comics industry and the rest of popular culture is more interesting than the plot. Making fun of Harry Potter should have been more fun, right?
Having boycotted Darwyn Cooke’s latest Parker adaptation, The Score, and with no really memorable Hellboy or B.P.R.D. books this month, the only book to really excite me was IDW’s Artist Edition of David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again. I’m not like ADD—I don’t read even my favorite comics over and over again, so it had been probably 20 years since I read this story. It still holds up very well, with an absolutely bulletproof first issue, although I think once it gets to the Nuke/Captain America issue, Daredevil is kind of a guest star in his own book. But while you can see some signs of writer Frank Miller’s eventual shock and awe style, he keeps things relatively restrained here, relying on Mazzucchelli to convey Captain America’s disgust and shame and the mental breakdown of Nuke. The main story of Daredevil/Matt Murdock’s ruination by the Kingpin and subsequent rebirth is not perfect, either. Matt’s flirtation with paranoia and despair is a little too brief, and how does he survive for so long on the streets? Was he homeless? And sure, seeing old girlfriend Karen Page now a junkie whore may have seemed like a progressive move for superhero comics then, but now feels a little cheap and mean. Of course it’s the woman who wrecks things for the hero. Since there was nothing to really be done with Karen once she came back to Matt, better to maybe have left her out entirely and make Matt’s downfall come from his own hubris. I don’t know, maybe I’m just blaming a lot of lesser grim and gritty comics on this early example, which doesn’t get nearly the blame as Miller’s Dark Knight Returns or Moore’s Watchmen and The Killing Joke. Despite its flaws, it’s still one of the better superhero stories ever written, and Miller and Mazzucchelli work so well together they can pretty much pull off anything they try here. The presentation of this book is exquisite, with oversized, heavy-weight black and white pages and a few vellum overlays to show the reader some of the more complex effects Mazzucchelli used on covers and some interior pages. Seeing what amounts to faithful photographs of the original boards makes this not only the most exciting way to experience the story but also the most intimate. Without distracting from what is a real page-turner, one still takes away the immense effort, the will to do something memorable, on the part of the artist. I can’t really imagine reading this again in the small, color format.
Just a short note that the site that spawned Trouble With Comics, Comic Book Galaxy, is back as a daily blog of news and commentary written by myself. So if that sounds like something you might be interested in, have a look at the new version of Comic Book Galaxy. It’s a modest beginning, and will likely remain modest, but it’s there, and I thought you might want to know. A lot of the old stuff is still there too.
— Alan David Doane
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Dexter Soy
Carol Danvers is like a lot of Marvel females. A sort of love interest who gained superpowers and then went through a lot of shit like power loss, rape, and alcoholism, because that’s what happens to women in the Marvel Universe. Maybe worse in the DC Universe.
Writer DeConnick has a lot to either work with, avoid, or synthesize with Danvers’ history. She ends up choosing a strong version of Carol, not touching on her addiction or emotional problems, but there are problems with the execution. The first section of this issue is a fairly typical fight scene that shows off DeConnick’s wit and then just keeps going, with Carol making one wisecrack after another. Spider-Man would tell her to dial it down. Choosing The Absorbing Man as the bad guy is smart, because he’s historically dumb and a chauvinist, so he can make her look good and deserving her own book again. But there is a problem, because as soon as you see Captain America’s shield and think, “Hmm, if he absorbed that, maybe he’d be invincible,” Carol is thinking the same thing, but in a way where you know there’s a twist. But damn if I can figure out why absorbing the shield leads to his defeat.
Now that we’ve sort of established Carol’s competence via a confusing tactic, it’s time to resolve the issue of how a former Air Force colonel is going to be called Captain Marvel. Captain America plays on the fact that it wasn’t really Mar-Vell’s name, either, and that it’s a legacy that not only has Carol already assume (as Ms. Marvel), but that it’s one Mar-Vell wanted for her. After a filler scene where Spider-Man compliments her hair, she decides to take the name.
Then we’re into the third and most confusing act of this little comic play. It turns out Carol wasn’t lying to Spidey to get out of a date—she really is going to take care of a sick friend, only before that we have a confusing recollection of the wit and wisdom of Carol’s friend Helen, who isn’t the one she’s caring for. Once we get to her actual friend, who seems to be suffering from cancer, that’s a good scene, but then we get to old Air Force buddy/mentor Helen and we end on a weak note, the promise of a fighter jet duel (or maybe Carol is just going to race her with her superpowers). Why do we care about that? Also, why go in the last third with the use of first person narration when you haven’t used it earlier in the issue?
It’s a well-meaning book, with basically good ideas and spotty execution. It does have a distinctive look, or at least distinctive now but ubiquitous in the mid-’90s when Marvel cranked out lots of painted or pseudo-painted Marvels clones. It’s not bad, Soy’s art, but I’ve always found that painted style a little stiff for humor. Or maybe Soy just isn’t very good at facial expressions and body language. For the jokes and dialogue and no overtly stupid ideas, it’s better than half the superhero reboots out there, but I think we should expect more.
So, The Dark Knight Rises. I had zero desire to see the movie based on the incomprehensible trailer. I had not much cared for Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and felt pretty strongly that the director had failed to truly confront or address the issues he danced around in his second Batman movie, the Heath Ledger one. (Was it called The Dark Knight? I feel like it was but can’t remember for sure, and I feel like that in itself is significant in some way.) I’d spent some time evaluating reviews and deciding that Roger Ebert’s 3 and a half star review nonetheless indicated that the movie isn’t very good and doesn’t hold together well.
Oh, by the way, there will be spoilers herein.
So I had no intention at all of seeing TDKR. Then my best friend from high school, visiting from Japan, where he’s lived since the mid-1980s, says to my wife and me yesterday, “How about a movie?” The next thing I know, we are at Albany’s superb independent movie theater The Spectrum (they spell it theatre on the tickets — we were in theatre 3 in case you’re wondering) getting our tickets, me, my wife, and my best friend from high school (who was also the only person I knew in high school who read comics — we used to breathlessly discuss the wonders and merits of Miller’s Daredevil, Simonson’s Thor…but I digress).
I don’t know that it’s a smart movie — it feels quite run-of-the-mill in its intentions and execution. In their best stories, villains like Bane and Ra’s Al Ghul and his daughter Talia are motivated in the comics by fairly sophisticated ideas compared to most comic book supervillains. Bane’s drive here seems simpatico in a way with the Occupy movement, but far more violent and nihilistic, and perhaps capitalistic, since he and Selina Kyle talk about the equitable redistribution of wealth (not that they ever use that term) and the movie shows the excesses of the rich to the detriment of the poor, yet you never really get the feeling that Nolan cares much about the issue, which actually is one of the most important questions of the 21st century. He’s far more wrapped up in showing us the suffering Bruce Wayne has endured for eight years, since the death of ol’ what’s-her-name in the previous Batman movie.
Nerdy Batman fans will inform you that Batman’s paralysis here, lovingly demonstrated through Bruce Wayne’s complete lack of knee cartilage and failure to continue funding orphanages (I wish I was kidding — and by the way, doctor, can you really walk with no cartilage in your effing knees?) demonstrate a profound failure to understand Batman as a character. But that’s understandable, since there are so few comic books about Batman. How was Nolan to know any better?
Once Catwoman starts doing her stealy thing and it quickly turns out (surprise!) she’s somehow connected to Bane (as is everyone in the universe, apparently), Bruce Wayne straps on a magic cartilage thingy on his thigh, shaves off his utterly unconvincing goatee and washes that gray right out of his hair. Then shit gets real, lots of stuff blows up, and why is Robin called John Blake? I bet someone thought that was an awesome reveal. And it might have been if he had, at some point, say, the end of the movie, come face to face with the Robin costume, say, in a big glass case. At some point costumes in the Batcave stored in big glass cases became all portentous and thrilling, so how could Nolan have dropped that particular ball?
All this is not to say I didn’t enjoy watching The Dark Knight Rises. Despite my never, ever buying into Christian Bale as Batman, despite the plot holes here and there (how did Bruce Wayne know exactly when the bomb was going to blow, upon returning from his 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness? How did he survive a nuclear explosion?), the sheer will of Nolan to end this thing, and a soundtrack that is astonishingly LOUD LOUD loud propels us to the end of the movie. And no, dear, there’s no after-credits teaser scene — that’s Marvel, honey. I know Avengers had one. No, that’s Marvel. Yes, and Amazing Spider-Man. Still Marvel. Batman’s DC. They’re different. Yes they are, believe it or not. (I was hoping for an after-credits scene with the aforementioned glass costume case revealing Robin’s duds or better yet Terry McGinnis’s, but no).
It’s more watchable than I expected. It’s longer than hell, and it’s noiser than an elephant fart to a gnat hanging on the ring of its anus, but it’s watchable and Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman always make these movies seem more important and meaningful than Nolan ever remembers to actually make them.
In the end, after three overblown and undercooked Batman movies, the only thing we’ll remember, the only thing that felt right and transcended genre, was Heath Ledger’s Joker. I hate all the goofy Batman villains like The Riddler and The Penguin and The Joker, preferring above all Ra’s Al Ghul in all his moral and ethical shades of gray. But Nolan’s Ra’s, interpreted by a poorly-chosen Liam Neeson, never did it for me. Ledger’s outsized Joker felt terrifying and awful and like chaos itself embodied in one sick, random psychopath. Ledger’s Joker made you feel something, which is the only time that happened for me at all in Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies. I like movies that make me feel things, and that honestly earn the right to make me feel those things. Maybe the next guy who directs a Batman movie will get that part of it right. Because that’s how truly classic movies, timeless storytelling, works. Nolan’s made some great and intriguing movies, and he’s also made three Batman movies, and that’s about all I can tell you.
— Alan David Doane
Entertainment Weekly has the exclusive news on Marvel Now!, the wave of relaunched series in the wake of Marvel Comics’ latest hit comics event, Avengers vs. X-Men. The facts as presented in the article: At least three new or relaunched books, including Avengers by Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena, Uncanny Avengers by Rick Remender and John Cassaday, and All-New X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen. Avengers will be twice-monthly. Avengers has the largest team, up to 18 characters for Hickman to work with, including what may be for some a surprising choice, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu. Uncanny presents a Captain America-led team of Avengers that includes some mutants, as Cap realizes he didn’t do enough for them before. And All-New finds the original X-Men of Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman and Marvel Girl Jean Grey plucked right out of their youthful, Xavier Academy days and plopped down in a future (our present) more horrible than their worst fears, and seeing adult versions of themselves they don’t want to become. The new titles will spell an end for Bendis on the Avengers franchise, an end for Hickman on his Fantastic Four and F.F. titles, and an upgraded status for Remender.
So what to make of all this? Well, the optimistic side of me that read nearly all of DC’s New 52 titles when they began has kind of gone back in his hole like a groundhog. Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso is quoted as saying he likes to take creators out of their comfort zone, but that seems a little disingenuous to me. He’s taking talent he’s familiar with, who have been writing team books for Marvel for years, and just playing some musical chairs. I sure didn’t see Alonso goosing Bendis out of his comfort zone during his much-too-long run on the various Avengers, taking a, “if it’s breaking but still sells, don’t fix it” approach. I still think he has his moments, but try to read New Avengers and tell me he isn’t just marking time. And as much as I like Stuart Immonen, I’d rather they put Bendis outside his comfort zone with a new artist he’s not that familiar with. I realize these two have sold a lot of books together, but at the same time, I think it’s harder to sell this as something “all-new” with the same Bendis/Immonen lineup. The premise for All-New X-Men is different, but I’m not sure I want to spend $24 on a first arc where Jean Grey & Co learn about the internet. It also begs the question of just how long ago they were supposed to be kids, for the world to have changed this much.
I think Hickman is a good writer when he keeps characters in mind more than conspiracies and complicated history, so a huge cast for Avengers sounds like it could be troublesome. But I like Opena and have pretty high hopes for this one. As for Remender, I think he’s pretty good as well, though I’m a little surprised he has what is called in the article the flagship book. How is Uncanny Avengers and not Avengers the flagship Avengers book? I think the answer starts with John and ends with Cassaday, as it seems the talented artist wants to sequential art again after the last four years or so mainly provide covers for Dynamite Entertainment and others. Cassaday is always worth a look, and I like that he’s working with what I believe is a new writer for him. As far as the concept, with its mix of both Avengers and X-Men villains, including a rebooted Red Skull clone by Arnim Zola with his ’40s Nazi mindset, it sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Remender is good at goofy, over-the-top stuff, and after eight years of mostly talky Avengers ribbing each other at the dinner table, I’m ready for some crazy stuff.
What does it mean for the rest of Marvel? I’m sure we’ll hear more soon, at SDCC and elsewhere. I would guess New Avengers is gone, replaced by the twice-monthly Avengers, and Secret Avengers (which Remender was writing) is probably gone as well, with some of those b-listers ending up in Avengers. Avengers Academy? Who knows? Hopefully if it goes, Cristos Gage will have other work lined up, as he’s done a good job on that book. What’s more interesting is what the effect is on solo Avengers books like Mighty Thor and Iron Man, and if there are changes coming to the X-Men books. How much or how little is Marvel architect Matt Fraction involved in Marvel Now? And depending on the outcome of AvX, there may be little reason to have Wolverine and Cyclops still at odds and with separate books. Finally, while Marvel still has a stronger talent pool than DC, they’ve taken a bit of a hit with Ed Brubaker now only writing one mostly stand-alone book, Winter Soldier, and folks like Bendis and Mark Millar who still sell books but who arguably were at their zenith several years ago, the question remains whether Marvel is going to keep bringing over fresh talent. Where’s the next Hickman? Is Cullen Bunn the next big guy, or will people unfavorably compare his Captain America to Brubaker’s?
The best thing to happen in June might very well have been Tom Spurgeon’s series of posts on comic books he read in serial form in the 1980s. The best thing for me, anyway — your mileage may vary.
But for me, the 1980s was the decade I matured into comics — I reached adulthood and started buying them with my own money, and my tastes were codified by many of the titles Tom wrote about (Thriller, X-Men, Mechanics, American Flagg, Reid Fleming, Miracleman, Saga of the Swamp Thing). It was almost as thrilling as being there in that era and buying them monthly to be able to revisit them through Tom Spurgeon’s writing. I often find his memories of comics in that era hew very closely to my own, and this long series of posts really brought that home. If you missed this retrospective series, or if, like me, you didn’t realize just how many posts there were (or why he did it, which Spurgeon explains), I strongly urge you to click the link above and take a stroll through what might very well be one of the most useful and entertaining series of articles about comic books yet written. If nothing else, Tom Spurgeon has given newer readers something of a canon from which to begin investigating a landmark era of comics, really the beginning of the modern era in comics creation. Certainly he’s given this older reader a solid reason to remember what I loved about comics during a very formative time in my life, and a solid guide to how to relive it again, if I choose.
— Alan David Doane
I love tributes to artists, and believe me, I would never speak ill of anyone who takes the time to publicly appreciate a Nora Ephron or Andrew Sarris or Tony DeZuniga or any other important artist, critic, or entertainer who has died. But the older I get, the more death I see, and the more I regret not telling, or at least not putting the thought out there into the world, how much I love an artist—while they’re alive!
So, no obituary or lengthy tribute here, but today I was reminded of how great Klaus Janson’s inking/embellishing is, from some rather humble, almost forgotten comics he’d worked on, The Defenders (’70s). I was chatting with a coworker today in his cubicle. Our tastes don’t overlap all that much, and while he’ll often put an old comics image on his computer, he never seemed to have a vast knowledge of old comics. But I noticed, next to a small pile of contemporary stuff like some Avengers vs. X-Men tie-ins, that he had three consecutive issues of Defenders comics, #44-46. I have only read maybe the first year of the original series, but my understanding is that after Steve Englehart’s run ended a few issues earlier, the book entered its long and painful period of mediocrity and then outright awfulness. I can’t speak to the stories in these issues, but having three writers credited, and those writers being Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer and David Anthony Kraft, doesn’t sound promising.
But the art really stood out, even on this yellowing, faded old newsprint from 1976. Within the haphazard Kirby covers is some really attractive work by the chameleonic Keith Giffen on pencils, but what makes it great is the effort of Janson. I just flipped through it, but nearly every panel was magical. Panels of Craftint suggesting deep, rich fabric in drapes, with great care taken to make a metal desk gleam. It could have been just drapes, just a matte finish wood desk, you know? Half-silhouettes of women with star-stuff in their hair. A master at techniques almost nobody even does anymore. Janson is, of course, forever linked with Frank Miller for his Daredevil and Batman work, but really, for Marvel in the ’70s, and Marvel and DC in the ’80s and ’90s, the guy enriched anything he worked on. Janson, I believe, is more of an educator and commission artist now, but still takes on the occasional assignment. Thank you, Klaus.