Plowing through Batman Trades

Spent a lot of the weekend reading a backlog of comics I’d gotten across various Christmases and birthdays and made a lot of headway.

I’ve got to say, I’ve actually really been enjoying the Final Crisis era Batman stories, particularly the Dick/Damien pairing (shades of Prodigal?), but I’ve got to say, the continuity of it is damnably confounding.

I’d known that Batman “died” in Final Crisis and that he would eventually pop back up and launch Batman, Inc., but when the story is being told across several titles, including special series and new titles, and collected in trades that don’t give any indication of reading order, it’s been a hassle figuring out which books to read. Sometimes Bruce’s dead, sometimes he’s back, sometimes he’s back but not really back… Early on, it also took me a bit in some of the books to go “Oh, okay, this is Dick”, because for some reason Dick Grayson gets drawn a lot like Bruce Wayne did in the 90s (sickly Dustin Hoffman from Midnight Cowboy).

The Batman & Robin series that picks up after Battle for the Cowl was really good. Trade-mark dark Grant Morrison, sure, but it’s the “good” Grant Morrison. While he’s probably my second favorite Bat writer after Dixon, the pendulum swings wide: when he’s on, he’s on, but there’s always the chance that he’ll churn out some absolutely muddled non-sense that’s damn near impossible to figure out what’s going on. And he’s on for Batman & Robin. Last Rites and Time and the Batman are a damn mess, but that’s probably because they’re respectively tacked on to a trade out of continuity or isolated from the story that would give it the context needed for them to make sense as anything but a fever dream of random Batman panels.

I also enjoy some of the arcs in the mainline titles featuring the Dick/Damian team, like the story of Vicki Vale trying to piece together the connections for her big expose on the Bat Family and the Road Home event that ties into those. Except the thing that bugs me is that they have so many overlapping and intersecting storylines that only some of them make sense.

Everything is building up to Bruce’s dramatic return from TimeTM. The main Batman books do a slow-burn story, working in some of the major threads but with the missing Bruce as a haunting spectre. The Batman & Robin book works on those same threads but in a much more serial manner, with Bruce’s absence becoming ever more pressing as the Black Glove and Joker are both fighting over Wayne’s legacy in their own ways until Batman 1.0 showing up at the last minute is a matter of life and death. Which doesn’t exactly jibe with a Bruce Wayne who has time to dick around subtly and not-so-subtly testing members of the Bat Family around the world while Dr. Hurt is in Gotham pretending to be Thomas Wayne, slandering Bruce as a deviant lunatic, and trying to murder everybody with cultists.

The storylines are good on their own, and I’m interested to see where the Vicki Vale one goes (if it goes anywhere), but when taken as a whole, they are a damn mess as far as any sort of continuity is concerned. I think I’m a few arcs away from covering everything I’m interested in from this period, and will be glad to be going back to the Pre-Knightfall stuff, mostly out of Legends of the Dark Knight.

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Just Another Comics Post

I’ve been binging a bit on comics lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, whenever I can help it, I’ll go for the single-issues over trade paperbacks.

On one hand, it’s an economic issue. Oddly enough, buying a full run of individual issues is generally cheaper than trades—you can get a six issue run of something for about $6, while unless you can score a really good deal on it, a trade of the same run will go for around $10-$20.

The real reason, though, is I love seeing the ads and reading the letters columns, getting a glimpse back at pop-culture and fandom from yesteryear (probably something I’ve picked up on from going through my stack of pulps).

>Really bad advertisements for Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest

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>Some really creepy fanboying for Tim Drake Robin in the letters sections

>Really bad, ham-fisted AIDS PSA

>Some people really excited to buy almost half a dozen variants of the same issue

>Some people really mad about obvious and cynical short term cashing in via half a dozen variants of the same issue

>Editor of DC admitting as early as 92 that with the millions of copies being printed, the collectors’ market was a house of cards, nothing would be worth anything.

Chuck Dixon’s Robin stories are good enough to make me real fan of the character, seeing Gotham through the eyes of some characters close to, but not, Batman. Not enough to make me a squeeing Robin Fanboi, but enough to keep an eye out for any of the Robin mini-series.

Still loving the Legends of the Dark Knight stuff. Destiny makes me hope that there are more stories about Old Norse “Bat Man” (who is basically a deeply introspective version of Dark Wolf from Fire & Ice). There probably aren’t, though.

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As recent as 2015, with the Convergence event, there was a Batman & the Outsiders 2-parter, with Katana in her old costume and Halo with long hair. This makes me optimistic for DC.

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Unfortunately, Suicide Squad looks like the Harley Quinn show and Katana still has her garbage New 52 redesign. I’d like to see her on another team away from the Harley Quinn trashfire.

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Seriously, I’ll be convinced that Suicide Squad is a trash title so long as Harley’s a part of the team.

I know I’d sworn off DC with the New 52, but I may get back in if I find the right title. Until then, though, so long as this #comicsgate mess is going on, I’ll be supporting my local comic shop by buying back issues of 20 and 30 year old stories I’ve missed out on.

Thoughts on Looker and the End of Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 1

I’m nearing the end of Batman and the Outsiders, and though overall I’ve loved it, I have enough future issues to be somewhat wary of the direction that it may go in Outsiders Vol.1.*

The tail-end of Batman and the Outsiders introduces the new character, Looker, and several of the Outsiders solo covers on early issues promise some really hammy villains (the Duke of Oil, the Nuclear Family, and the godawful Force of July**).

 

Even though Looker’s 4 issue origin arc was one of the best runs since Katana’s yakuza arc, there are dark clouds appearing on the horizon.

First of all, the redesign of Halo. It first showed up in Outsiders #1 the previous month, but it shows up for the first time in continuity here. Frankly, she looks awful with a pompadour.IMG_5412

Beyond looking awful, this feels somewhat questionable because it’s coinciding with the introduction of Looker. I guess they couldn’t have two pretty women with long hair on the Outsiders, so they gave Halo this awful do to help differentiate between them?

Outsiders31Emily Briggs’ introduction and the foreshadowing of the character hint at her being a much more interesting character than I’m almost certain she’ll end up being. I don’t want to prejudge too much, but it looks like they’re going to play her up as being a sex-pot despite giving her some potential for real nuance. She’s a plain-jane bank-teller who wishes her husband would notice her more, and the comic sets her up for a friendship with Tatsu, but I spoiled it for myself and find out that once she gets her powers and joins the Outsiders, she ends up being something like the “bad-mom” to Katana’s “good-mom” where Halo’s concerned.

And it’s weird that I can tell I’m going to hate this character despite the fact that she had a perfect origin story. Really, it’s because she has such a perfect origin that I feel so certain I’m going to hate her, because I know that she won’t live up to its potential.

So, Looker’s deal is that she’s a descendant of a god-blooded race of kings from the inner earth; the Abyssian royal family had been growing more and more powerful and warlike until one of them decided to throw on the brakes and preach peace–he’s exiled and stewards rule in the family’s place while searching for a descendant to put upon the throne as a puppet. Briggs turns out to be the granddaughter of the exiled king, and the warring brother and sister pretenders are fighting over her. They unlock her god-blood powers (and beauty), and each magically brainwashes her. Before Halley’s comet can destroy the earth (wait, isn’t that the sort of thing Superman is for?), Looker shakes off the conflicting magical controls and ends the bloody civil war once and for all, naming a couple mooks rulers and ushering in an egalitarian society. While Batman’s more cynical as to how Looker overcame the conflicting brainwashing, Tatsu is certain it was Briggs’ love for her husband that broke the spell (she snapped out of it and wrecked the pretender king after he broke her wedding band and demanded she be his queen). Briggs’ husband realizes he’s been taking her for granted and how much he appreciates and loves her–he spent most of the arc devastated and praying that Batman can rescue his wife (and as a mirror to Sapphire Stagg, whom Metamorpho had just married and is in the same straits); at the end of the adventure, Briggs surprises her husband as Looker happy that she can treat her husband as ‘a woman as beautiful as she thinks he deserves’.

Based on how she’s set up, Looker seems like she could go down a number of interesting paths. She could keep up her friendship with Tatsu and help her dealing with her grief over her husband and child. She could play around a lot with the ‘true beauty is on the inside’ trope, with Looker being Briggs’ “inner self brought out”, as just a really good and loving person trying her hardest. Lots of stuff. But no, she ends up being self-centered and narcissistic and even has an affair with Geo-Force (which is really not a direction I like to see him going as the team’s “Righteous Dude”).

Eventually she becomes a vampire thot or something. :/New_52_Looker

Anyway, of the issues I’m missing out B&tO, it would have to be the two immediately preceding the consecutive run of nearly 20 other issues I own, so it may be a minute before I find out just how wrong or how right I turn out to be.

*:The first several issues of Outsiders vol.1 ran concurrently with Batman and the Outsiders and the post-Batman “Adventures of the Outsiders”, the solo series takes place a year after the events of the original and still ongoing (though wrapping up) title. So, yay for confusing continuity.

**:For what it’s worth, I think that in the right hands, Force of July could be a great property. If they were given their own book in which they were presented unironically as good and earnest patriots who loved and fought for America instead of just being used a cheap punching-bag to attack Reagan Republicans, they would have a ton of potential for great stories as a kind of D or C list Justice League. I love their designs, particularly Mayflower’s. 

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The Force of July: A Villain Team, Obviously!

Lego Batman

This is just a quick review of the Lego Batman movie.

If you’re a fan of Batman, watch it.

Its story is just coherent enough that it manages to keep rolling along while delivering nonstop Batman fanservice.

Like the first Lego movie, it is painfully self-aware, and I really don’t think it’s going to stay a fresh and enjoyable approach into the Ninjago movie they had a trailer for, but if you got a kick out of narcissistic asshole Batman there, this manages to keep the funny coming.

Batman here is a grotesque, all of his worst qualities (particularly those from the 80s & 90s comic incarnations) are exaggerated and played for laughs but also to give a bit insight into just why Batman is so messed up. It ends up looking at a lot of the same themes as Dark Victory, just taking an incredibly gonzo approach to get there.

I don’t know how well it would work as an actual kids movie; there’s plenty of action and explosions and slapstick humor, but much of the comedy and entertainment value revolves around either Batman being a terrible person or Batman obscura in film, cartoons and comics. If you’re a Batman fan, it’s definitely worth a couple of bucks to see.

(Did anybody else think it was weird that they used Carrie Kelley’s character design for a Robin that was supposed to be Dick Grayson?!)

Readin’ Some Batman!

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and game-playing with little mind to how I could blog about it.

While it has been liberating, it certainly hasn’t been good for blogging.

I’ve actually taken a bit of a break from old Sci-Fi and even the Pulps (though I’m managing to stay on top of my column for Castalia House) to plow through the massive stacks of Batman I’ve acquired over the last couple of years.

At one point, I found a list that put a ton of the Batman trades in Chronological order (Year One/Post-Crisis Batman) and entered them into my Amazon wishlist.  Because I entered them in order, that meant that a bunch of the latter day Batman books were at the top of the list, so, when people bought stuff off my wishlist, I tended to get those books close to the ‘end’ of pre-Flashpoint universe. Meanwhile, when I buy single issue runs, I go for early Legends of the Dark Knight stuff when I can, and I also bought someone’s graphic novel collection which includes bookends of the Cataclysm/No Man’s Land arc which I’m currently filling out.

So, where I’m at now, I’ve been reading the post-whichever-Crisis Dick Grayson Batman and 90s Batman, and eventually I will end up in a place where they will meet. Someday. There’s still a lot of Batman in between.

90s Chuck Dixon/Alan Grant Batman is some of my favorite, with some really great story-telling and creepy villains. The 90s stuff really strikes that great balance of crime, horror, and superhero stuff that tonally sets Batman apart from rest of the DC world he’s in.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Bruce Wayne as Batman – he is THE Batman, but I also really enjoyed the Prodigal arc epilogue of Knightfall, during which a Grayson/Drake dynamic duo fill in while Batman gets his head right (and returns with 3-foot ears and terrible artwork in time for Troika). It was a different dynamic with different psychological baggage to unpack. I don’t really care one way or the other for Grayson’s Robin, nor have I ever gotten into Nightwing, but I really enjoy seeing Grayson as Batman and his struggles to fill the enormous shoes of his mentor. I liked it in Prodigal, and I still like it in post-Battle for the Cowl Batman arcs I’ve read.

It does seem like Tim Drake gets a bit hung out to dry, though. In a lot of ways, Tim Drake is the definitive Robin of my generation – he was the Robin in the comics, he was the Robin in the last season of BtAS, he was probably Robin in Teen Titans, while Dick was the “old Robin” and those of us who weren’t as up on the comics had no idea who Jason Todd was. While I enjoyed the relationship between Bruce and Damien, a Batman struggling to figure out what to do with an ACTUAL son, I think I preferred the Grayson/Drake pairing to Grayson/Wayne. BUT, I can understand why Tim has to be shuffled out of the mix – by the time the mantle has been passed on, Drake and Grayson are too close to the same age, so it’s a different relationship (Drake doesn’t need the mentoring anymore the way Damien does).

It’s still kind of sad seeing the exchange during the earthquake arc where Bruce tells Tim that hopes that one day he will take up the mantle, knowing that it is not meant to be. Jean Paul Valley was a disaster, and Bruce himself says that Dick Grayson was the wrong person. Bruce may have changed his mind on that during the intervening years, but Dick probably knew Bruce felt that way at least at one point, and has that, along with all of his other doubts, hanging over him.

Katana!

This is the McDonald’s DC Girls toy that I finally had to break down and buy from eBay. I repainted her using the color scheme from Katana’s original costume from Batman and the Outsiders.

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A long while back on Free Comic Book Day, I grabbed an issue of a title called DC Girls in hopes that would be something akin to Teen Titans Go. I’d say it was kind of like Monster High, except the one Monster High cartoon I saw was deep as fuck. Really, DC Girls is a way to sell the DC IP to little girls by taking the characters in a very “girlie” direction using old-as-dirt tropes, such as putting them in high school together, talking about feelings and friendship and everyday problems, etc. etc. etc. In doing so, the characters are necessarily distilled to their simplest aspects.

This doesn’t really work for Katana. You could say the same thing about Harley, but at least childhood regression and actually BEING a child go hand in hand enough to make it work. While most popular incarnations of Supergirl and Batgirl are, well, girls, Katana was a woman.

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Katana was either intentionally or unintentionally created as a subversion of the Asian ‘Dragonlady’ trope – the dangerous femme fatale seductress from the Orient. Though she’s certainly deadly with her blade, Tatsu Yamashiro is a widow in mourning. She has lost husband, whom she loved and still loves deeply, and her own children. This loss is a big part of what defines her, so she is certainly not around to be played up as an exotic love interest for anyone, nor does she use ‘feminine wiles’ in her arsenal. She projects her motherly feelings onto Halo, the youngest member of the Outsiders, acting as her surrogate mother and guardian while she is recovering from her amnesia and has nowhere to stay, and Tatsu fights tooth and nail to protect innocent children put in harm’s way by criminals.

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Katana was ‘Team Mom’ and Batman’s trusted second. Her driving motivation to protect and see justice was as a wife and mother. These are core elements of her character that I can’t really see working if you rewrite her as a high school teenager who is the same age as all the other super characters.

The Devil is in the (Errors Within Your) Details, or Mike Barr Didn’t Know How Football Scoring Works

I mentioned the other day how at SpaCon I picked up a run of several issues of Batman and the Outsiders.  Let me start by saying that I love this title, and it has better writing than a lot of the comics I’ve read. Katana is one of my favorite DC characters, so you can imagine how annoying it was to see her solo one-shot ruined by a fundamental lack of understanding regarding how scoring in football works.

The conceit of the Katana solo is that the radio broadcast of a game between Gotham and Metropolis is syncing up with the action as Katana foils the heist of a priceless museum artifact.  Sounds cool, right? It would’ve been, but in the first panel, the announcer tells us that Gotham is down 14-18 with only minutes to go in the fourth and Gotham desperately needs a field goal.  Not even Tony Kornheiser would make this call. When the day is saved by Katana making a Hail Mary pass to the museum curator, Gotham scores a touchdown to win the game 19-18.

So what’s my point in this? If you’re going to try to incorporate elements of a game into your story, be sure you can display at least a basic understanding of the rules, otherwise it will pull the reader/viewer out of the story, and they will only be able to focus on the part you got wrong. Or like how I wince every time I hear the line from Punk Rock Girl, “Someone played a Beach Boys song on the jukebox. It was California Dreamin.”*

This is something I’ve noticed that happens a lot when some show or movie tries to portray D&D, and it’s the point where shows get tons of praise for being within the ballpark.

I know, I know, this is kind of like the cultural appropriation argument, you’re thinking, but it’s not. I’m all for including stuff in your stories; you just need to make sure you don’t do it in such a way that people are going to think you’re an idiot or a space alien. If you’re going to include some sort of detail, whether it’s gaming or culture, that’s a key point in your story, you need to do the research to get it right for YOUR benefit so that people who might otherwise be drawn to your work for highlighting something relevant to their interest won’t just write you and your story off off for doing it wrong.

*:And it turns out that Beach Boys did do a weird kinda new wavey cover in the 80s; see? I didn’t do the research!