Labor Day Comic Haul

Man, the early 90s was a hectic time in the DC Universe! Superman was dead and several other competing Supermen were filling in, Batman was out of commission because Bane had taken over Gotham City, AND an alien invasion of spinal-fluid drinking monsters took place smack dab in the middle of it! I have also learned that I love creepy robot Superman. He is like if Batman was robot but had Superman’s personality… it’s cute how he’s sad that everyone is creeped out by how horrifying he is.

I had a chance to pick up some new old comics over the weekend, as the Vintage Stock in the town I was visiting was having a BOGO sale on their backstock.

I REALLY wish more stores that sold comics bothered to, if not fully alphabetize, sort them by first letter in the title so that you didn’t have to go through each and every box. What often ends up happening is that you find a couple issues you might be interested in, only to decide that you don’t want just the one or two and would only be interested if there were a few more, and then, twenty minutes and two or three long-boxes later, find enough issues that it would’ve been worth grabbing those others, but now they’re hidden away two or three boxes back and not worth sifting through to get. There MAY have been a complete set of Robin Vol 1. scattered across 20 boxes, but when the first issue you find is #2 of 5, you tend to pass over it.

On the other hand, going through ALL of the boxes gives you a chance to see some weird stuff you might not have been looking for and end up picking up. Still, good lord was there a lot of Rai, W.I.L.D. Cats, and I swear, there must be more polybagged copies of Blood Syndicate #1 out there in discount bins than any other comic in the world.

With the hot, hot savings, I snagged as many various Outsiders issues as I could find, so that if and when Outsiders 2.3 shows up again at Midtown, I’ll have a good solid run. I also picked up several issues of the Bloodlines event, because why not?

For some reason, I’d avoided it, because I think someone I knew had said it was really bad, but I’ve been loving it.

I love the concept of an “event” that is mostly stand-alone stories. I can read any of the Annual issues that make up the event and get a full story. Sure, it doesn’t resolve the alien invasion, but each offers a pretty good action-packed adventure and the origin story of a new super hero. The one thing that makes me kind of sad is that I haven’t heard of ANY of the new heroes created from the event, which probably means they all flopped. One of the few other full cross-title events I have to compare it to is Millennium, which to me showed that there have been attempts at diversity for diversity sake coming at the expense of titles that actually featured diverse characters for decades. So far, Bloodlines has been better in every imaginable way. Now I need to see if there are any more comics featuring the Psyba-Rats, because I love them.

 

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Batman #39: “Revealed! The Secret of the Eternal Vow” and Pulling Off Brilliant Cliff-Hangers

For those of you not following DC comics, Batman recently proposed to Catwoman: Bat & Cat are engaged. Tom King’s run has been solid thus far, and parts one and two of his “Superfriends” mini-arc did well to capture the characters of both Batman and Superman and show why they are so beloved, having stripped away the dark layers of edgelord some writers put on them and showing why the two are friends: they are both men who try to do the right thing in spite of (or because of) the adversity they’ve faced, and they have a tremendous amount of respect for one another. Respect AND humility, because each feels deep down that the other is truly the better man.

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There’s trouble in paradise, however, and fandom is prepared to be outraged by Batman and Tom King’s betrayal:

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(Note that much of this issue is a call-back to a JLA from about 15 years ago, with Bats & Wondy’s “first kiss“)

Part 3 of “Superfriends” in Batman 39 shows the power of the cliffhanger. And the danger.

Wonder Woman and Batman have been called to spell the eternal battle of The Gentle Man. The Gentle Man is constantly fighting hordes of demons for aeons, and once Bats & Wondy promised to fill in and take his place if he ever needed a break. Well, GM needs it, and Bats & Wondy don’t go back on promises (brilliant foreshadowing, if King doesn’t drop the ball!). Unfortunately, time passes incredibly slow there, so GM’s quick vacation on Earth will be ten years for Bats & Wondy.

#39 ends with a tease that Bats & Wondy might kiss! Bats may cheat on Cat! Needless to say, there’s been a good amount of furor over this. However, there have been certain hints dropped in #39: Cat’s belief that Batman is a “Good Man”; The Gentle Man’s own devotion to his wife—he hasn’t seen her for one year in earth time, but a thousand years to him, yet he still loves her; Wonder Woman does have an intimate connection with Bats, but the Temptress role is out of character.

At the end of Thomas Burnett Swann’s The Dolphin and the Deep, the witch Circe offers the hero a choice: he may have her but abandon his friends forever, or he may keep his friends and lose her. He chooses his friends—‘Good’ Circe tells him. ‘If you had chosen me, I would have killed you.’ As his reward for choosing correctly, the hero is rewarded with true love when Circe grants the dolphin its wish to become a real girl.

I can see something similar happening in Batman #40.

If it does, Tom King will have pulled off a brilliant fake-out with his cliff hanger. If Bats stays true to Cats, he’ll be able to say to the worriers “Come on, guys, it’s BATMAN! He’s a GOOD GUY!” It will have been a nail-biting two weeks for reader, and the catharsis will be fantastic.

If Tom King drops the ball and Bats cheats on Cats with Wondy, not only will readers be disappointed at the betrayal of a fictitious character’s trust and, more importantly, the betrayal of Bats & Wondy’s core characters by a writer, he will have missed out on the chance for that brilliant cathartic moment when, after three weeks suspense, Batman says “No” and Wonder Woman says “Good, that’s what you were supposed to say”.

So, what am I getting at here? Cliff-hangers are an INCREDIBLY powerful tool in a writer’s arsenal. But the payoff of the conclusion has to meet reader’s expectations of the character. Make the “will he/won’t he?” question believable enough to cause genuine suspense (and it’s working here, Tom!), where it brings doubt into the reader’s mind, but fulfill your reader’s expectations for the characters. Tarzan doesn’t get trampled by the aurochs, John Carter doesn’t get run through by a Thark, and Batman doesn’t cheat on Catwoman with Wonder Woman. The conclusion of your cliff-hanger is what will lead readers to judge whether the cliff-hanger itself was brilliant or hackneyed.

Right now, I’m crossing my fingers that Tom goes for brilliant.

DC Metal’s Dark Knights Ranked

As promised, I am ranking the Dark Knights from DC’s Metal event.

First, I’d like to note a few things about the other cross-over/tie-in titles:

Gotham Resistance was the real gem of the event. It picks up with Damian right after Batman’s disappearance, and brings in the Teen Titans, Suicide Squad, Green Arrow, and Nightwing for an all-out-assault on a Gotham City that has been transformed into a series of Malebolges by the Batman Who Laughs and a number of Gotham Rogues he’s empowered with Nth Metal Joker cards. The story flowed well across all four titles and, despite the fact that they’re titles I’m not interested in, made me consider giving them a shot because they were ALL GOOD!

Bats Out of Hell was a disappointment. While the B-team heroes brought an A-game story, the A-team heroes’ writers brought their B-game. Despite a shot to have some really great fights between the Dark Knights and the Justice League, or some good character development to build on some of the stuff established in the one-shot tie-ins, Bats Out of Hell was largely wasted. The first two issues felt like a muddle mess of clips, failing to establish much of story in its own right. Part 3 had a decent idea of primarily featuring a Knight interacting with his counterpart, but gets an F for execution. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps 32 literally uses Dawnbreaker’s power as an excuse to not draw half the comic. “Oh, he has power over light AND darkness? Let’s make ever other panel solid black and not draw backgrounds!” This meeting was nothing but wasted potential, and I much rather would’ve seen a Wonder-Woman tie-in devoted entirely to her and Merciless.

Batman Lost was really good. It may not have been a work of genius, but it’s easy to mistake a competently done Batman story in this vein as being genius because they’re so easy to mess up. It reminds me a bit of those navel gazey and introspective Bat stories that Grant Morrison is prone to writing; you know, the ones that that are tie-ins to his Bat Saga but are so off the wall that they don’t get collected in context of the works that would allow them to make the remotest amount of sense? It was like that, only you could follow it and it was enjoyable enough. It didn’t feel like a complete waste of time as a Bat story, even if it was kind of filler.

Now, onto the rankings of the Knights!

7. The Drowned – The Drowned is by far my least favorite of the Dark Knights. The gulf between the 6 and 7 slots are tremendous. The art wasn’t bad, but other than the whole “Batman is a woman in this world—also she is Aquaman,” it didn’t really do much to look at the character in any sort of unique, insightful, or exciting way. It had a nice aesthetic, but it failed to do anything with it and just was not an interesting book.Batman-The-Drowned.jpg

6. Red Death – Okay, Red Death is down here in number 6, but not because it was bad, just the others were better! Batman fuses with the Flash to gain access to the Speed Force. It’s kind of Cronenbergesque. The reason why it’s ranked so low is Red Death book really just portrays one brief scene between the two. I liked the concept, but wanted something meatier.Batman-The-Red-Death.jpg

5. Dawnbreaker – Dawnbreaker gets a lot of hate because Dawnbreaker is dumb. The premise, that is. The Green Lantern ring went to Bruce Wayne, who used it for revenge against criminals and went insane with power (like that one time Green Lantern went insane, except worse, because he’s Batman and has Maximum Willpower + 200%). He ends up killing everyone and everything, plunging his world into total darkness. It’s dumb, yeah, but his book tells a complete story with beginning, middle, and end, and it features some really great artwork of Lantern-Ring horrors; which is what makes HJ&tGLC 32 that much more disappointing.Batman-The-Dawnbreaker.jpg

4. Batman Who Laughs – Batman Who Laughs falls in the middle because it met expectations. And meeting expectations was not easy to do, and this could’ve been a big let-down. As it is, though, we got a pretty gruesome Bat story that gives us a decent canonical reason for why, at the end of the day, Batman CAN’T kill the Joker. Imagine Return of the Joker, only with the real Batman being possessed and not schlubby middle-aged Tim Drake. Had a real “Oh, man… Oh, shit…” vibe to it; not for the faint of heart.

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3. Murder Machine – Murder Machine was kind of bizarre and surreal, but oh my gosh it had some amazing art! In MM’s universe, Bane killed Alfred instead of breaking Batman’s back, and an AI Alfred program goes crazy, Batman along with it. This is one I need to reread so it’ll make more sense in context of the rest of the Event, but it was good enough that I decided to pick up all of Metal even though the Outsiders were a bait-and-switch in The Casting.Batman_The_Murder_Machine_Vol_1_1.jpg

2. Devastator – This one was a real surprise; I expected Devastator to be in the middle, but whoa. Here we have a Batman who had to deal with a Superman who went crazy, so he injected himself with the Doomsday virus. I was not expecting that what sent this Batman off the deep end was seeing Superman kill Lois. Devastator’s interactions with Lois were some of the most powerful in the whole event (the “I’m doing this for you, Lois…”), in part because, unlike with some of the Knights, we don’t really have an “evil” Batman so much as a Batman who is broken by his worst fear—Superman going full murdergod and no force on earth able to stop him—coming true.batman devastator.jpg

1. Merciless –Another big surprise and the best of the bunch. I’m a DCAU Wonder Woman x Batman OTP guy, so this one really tugged at the heart strings. Bats and Wonder have been leading the force of good in an extensive war with Ares. Wondy dies, and it breaks the Bat. Bats takes up Ares’ Helm of War, and goes all death knight crusader. And it’s awesome. Merciless is one of the only ones of the bunch who I could see having worked as a standalone villain. In fact, a Batman corrupted by Ares would make a pretty good recurring Wonder Woman villain, especially given the weakness of her own rogue gallery. The biggest letdown of Metal so far has been that Merciless and WW haven’t gotten much page time together, and the couple panels they got Bats Out of Hell were bland and even kinda spoiled some of Merciless’ depth. But still! Of the whole bunch, this is the one I want to see more of after Metal is over.

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Addenda: Mom-Jeans Lois is smokin’ hot.

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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 Search

Thanks to Midtown Comics and my own local Comic Book store, I’ve got all but the last two uncollected chapters of Knightsquest: the Search.

Justice League Task Force. Obviously, this is a Justice League title for the inclusion of D-listers, so I can understand why the comic store guy said they’d banished them all to the $.50 boxes because ‘we just couldn’t move them’. The art is pretty bad; I know Bruce is supposed to look a bit rough after being beaten by Bane, but here he’s drawn like Dustin Hoffman dying of AIDS in Midnight Cowboy. The cameo of Tim Drake makes him look like he’s in his 40s; now, I know how Tim is drawn is hella inconsisten throughout the various titles, but this is the worst I’ve seen him look. The coloring was pretty bad, too, with the villain’s mustache being brown only half the time and fleshtone pink the rest. Bruce was obviously here to raise awareness of a mediocre new title before continuing his story in higher quality lines.

The Shadow of the Bat arc with the Hood, however, is pretty great. In fact, I’ve come to learn from the Knightfall Omnibuses that Shadow of the Bat is a consistently high quality title, and SotB interludes in the main story were often high points. The Shadow of the Bat: Bruce Wane mini-arc is no exception. The art and writing were far superior to the JLTF portion. The villain is pretty WTF evil. Cripple Bruce is cane-wielding faux-british badass, though I’ll admit that I would’ve never thought the dude with the mutton-chops on the cover was the same guy as Batman.

I’ll probably start the Quarry once I get the last two issues of Legends of the Dark Knight, which have proved somewhat more elusive. How good the QUarry is will determine a lot of my feelings for the Search. The JLTF was lousy, the SotB was great, so my opinion hangs in the balance! I do have a feeling that it will make me appreciate the Crusade a bit more. Because Abattoir and Tallyman were both pretty good villains. It’s just nice to have the full story.

Anyway, I’ve decided that I’m going to go all out on “modern” Batman stuff. I figure checking out all of the ‘important’ stories and arcs from between Crisis and Flashpoint gives me a reasonable 25 years of stuff to choose from. If anything, I can be thankful that the “New 52” gave me a nice hardline cut-off point, where I can say “And after 2011, I can stop caring, because that’s not the Batman from my childhood anymore.” Thanks, Dan DiDio!

Christmas Reading pt 2: Knightquest & Knightsend

Also over the holidays, I finished reading Knightfall. By which I mean the Trade Paperbacks of Knightquest and Knightsend/Prodigal. It had been so long since I’d finished volume 1, I’d forgotten that Azbats had soundly thrashed Bane. I’ll get ahead of myself and point out that Bruce beating Azbats was not quite the closure that Bruce beating Bane would’ve been. I’m sure that happens later. In another trade.

Knightquest was rather tedious and I’d even say skipable. We know Azbats is an asshole, we know he’s crazy, we know he is the edgy 90s New Coke that needs to be smacked down and replaced once and for all by Classic. There are a few good bits, particularly the development of Gordon as he questions his relationship with vigilantes, and Abattoir IS a really creepy villain, as is Tallyman. But the inevitability of Azbat’s fall hangs over the whole story. Which, if Azbats were the real protagonist, would be deliciously tragic. But he’s not. Bruce’s Batman is, so Knightquest is just killing time until real Batman comes back.

Unfortunately, “the Search” is omitted from the Trade, meaning that Batman’s part of this story of Batman is missing. Apparently since VERY BAD THINGS happen to the only non-white girlfriend Bruce has ever had in this arc, it has been stricken and hoped forgotten. I don’t know how bad it is, but I’d rather have read the story of how Bruce was cured with psychic magic than watch Azbats flail. As collected, Bruce disappears at the end of Volume 1 to go on a wheelchair-bound adventure and reappears at the beginning of Volume 3 walking, all “Man, what an adventure I just had!”

One thing that is interesting to me is the Batman morality that is justified to reel in Azbats. The mayor has pointed out that since Azbats took over, Gotham’s crime had gone down by 42%. Considering how crime-ridden Gotham usually is, that’s an astronomical number of crimes that have not been committed. The line Azbats crosses is when he lets Abattoir die, which means that his hostage dies before he can be found. Azbats fails to save 1 and allows another to die. Forget for a moment that Batman lets Quigon die in Batman Begins ; that hasn’t happened yet. The point is that an innocent died because of Azbats. Here is where we’re again faced with the question “Is Batman morally culpable for the lives taken by criminals he leaves to the Gotham justice system that perpetually fails the people?” The answer (we’re told) is no. It’s always no. It’s not Batman’s fault that Gotham’s liberal justice system has a revolving door prison/mental health system and does not believe in the death penalty for capital offenders and terrorists. Batman is doing his job; it’s the rest of the system that’s failing. Still, that Bruce would let it go that Shiva murdered some dude to kickstart his training to re-Batman up is kinda screwed up.

I don’t really have the time to go too deep into Prodigal, but it was probably the best part of second two volumes. Yes, it’s an epilogue, I know. But while Knightquest was biding time and Knightsend had a feel of doom and inevitability to it, Prodigal was a delightful bit of introspection in the the characters of Tim Drake and Dick Grayson, how they relate to one another, how they relate to Bruce and how those relationships affect how they identify with themselves.