New funnybooks! Old funnybooks! So many funnybooks!
Batman Inc 12, by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham
Poignancy. That’s not a word I expected to apply to a comic featuring Batmanbat…
…in final battle with Talia Al Ghul, her squad of ninja manbats, and genetically-enhanced Super-Damian. But when Talia sees Our Hero flying toward her and asks “Why won’t he stop?” I sense genuine sorrow and regret in her voice. And not just for herself, but for Batman, too. For Batman, their son, and their whole messed up relationship going back to the moment she decided to step out of her father’s shadow and become a genuine A-List super villain. I’d thought her beyond that at this point, but there it is. Just for a second before it gives way to desperation, and she cries out (not shouts, but cries out) for her men to “MAKE HIM STOP!” Poignancy.
That’s page one.
The issue goes on more or less as I expected from there, of course, as Cyber-Batmanbat dukes it out with Super-Damian and gets help from his friends whether he wants it or not. “I thought I told you to stay out of this,” Bruce tells Dick. “And I ignored you,” Dick replies. “Like every other time.” Looks like Dick knows the Final Lesson of the Batman, too, even when Bruce has put it aside.
Then we get this:
Holy crap that’s creepy. That’s the face of Super-Damian, grown too quickly in Talia’s clone-vats. An adult body with the clean, innocent face of a child. It’s the face that’s responsible for the deaths of so many, for skewering a ten-year-old boy on the end of his sword. The face of Batman’s other son. Again, poignant.
Hell, there’s even a touch of poignancy in the not-reveal of Kathy Kane as the head of Spyral. Her past as the woman who broke Batman’s heart has been well-established in previous issues, but she remains in the shadows here, I presume because she no longer exists thanks to the DC Reboot. So Morrison plays it cagey:
I fear that’s the most acknowledgment of the original Batwoman we’re going to get. Which is a meta-fictional sort of poignancy, but poignancy nonetheless.
At any rate. While Kathy Kane wants to help Our Hero, and is willing to use Batman Incorporated to do it, she obviously feels that Batman’s operations are limited and unsubtle in comparison to her own. And I suppose they are. She uses secrecy to weave plots within plots within plots, while Batman pretty much just deputizes people to punch evil. Still, when she tells the Robins to “leave the international super-criminals to the experts,” it stings a bit.
That’s similar to (if kinder than) Talia’s estimation of Our Hero as a grown man playing childish cape-and-cowl games. Interesting that both the major love interests of Batman’s life (as opposed to Bruce Wayne’s) feel not just that they’ve outgrown him, but that he’s in a state of arrested development. Of course, Jezebel Jet said much the same thing when she was trying to break him down for the Black Hand. So is it that he’s really just a little boy living out a violent do-gooder fantasy, or is it that these Machiavellian women can only see his dedication to good over shades of gray as a sad refusal to grow up?
It’s something to chew on, and I suspect there’s a bit of truth in both perspectives. It’s a sad disconnect, in any case. You might even say… poignant.
Lazarus 1, by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark
A new comic from Rucka and Lark is reason to sit up and take notice in and of itself. That they launched it at Image is even more reason. And that it’s a science fiction series in which the world has returned to feudalism under corporate rule kind of completes the picture. The funnybook industry is in a fascinating state of transition, and these guys have decided to go topical.
But maybe I should back up and explain myself. Greg Rucka is just the latest in a string of long-time employees at Marvel and DC who’s taking his work to Image. What makes this move particularly interesting for Rucka is that he’s a successful novelist. He works in comics because he wants to, and if he doesn’t like the editorial regime at his work-for-hire gigs, well… There’s always prose to fall back on. If he’s going to Image, a publisher that’s essentially set up to facilitate self-publishing, it means that Greg Rucka is willing to take some financial risks to see his funnybook work in print. It means that he believes in comics (or at least his ability to make his own money in comics), and that’s nice to see.
And considering some of the things he’s said in interviews of late, I can’t help but think that this book’s premise isn’t at least a little bit informed by his recent experiences in corporate comics. Not that it doesn’t ring true of things happening in society as a whole these days. We’ve been slowly legislated toward corporate control since the Reagan era, and that’s only accelerated in the wake of the financial crisis. I mean, when the same banks whose irresponsible business practices caused the problem in the first place are dictating terms of austerity to governments… and doing so with an arrogant tone that implies it was all somehow our fault instead of theirs… How far away from corporate control are we, anyway?
Ahem. Sorry. This isn’t Political Blog. It’s Funnybook Blog. Still… When the workers in this issue were referred to as “serfs,” and treated as disposable property by their corporate overlords… I couldn’t help but think about how DC’s been treating its talent lately. Ahem.
Alright. Moving on to the personal… Lazarus centers on Forever, aka Eve, the family enforcer for the Carlyle corporation. Through intense training, genetic manipulation, and a mix of mood-altering drugs, Eve has been turned into a remorseless killing machine with a healing factor that puts Wolverine to shame. But she’s starting to question her corporate programming, and (worse) showing remorse for the things she’s asked to do. The rebellion can’t be far behind.
We’ve seen this sort of thing before, of course, and for that reason I won’t say that it’s god’s gift to comics. But it’s nice work. The book feels crisp and modern, Rucka’s developing his world well so far, and Michael Lark artwork is always a treat. I’ll definitely be back for more.
Jupiter’s Legacy 2, by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely
How best to describe this book? The Justice Society meets the Authority, maybe? That is, the multi-generational Justice Society of a decade ago, and the Authority as done by this same creative team at around the same time. In other words, Millar’s using the history and mythos of super hero comics to explore the differences between the “for the greater good” mindset of the generation that survived the Great Depression and the self-centered, celebrity-obsessed party animals of the generation that’s making its way through the current one.
That’s not as one-sided a comparison as it might sound. Sure, the new generation of super-people are a bunch of lazy arrogant drunkards. But one reason for that is that the older generation was so tied up with making the world a better place that, like many driven careerists, they neglected their duties as parents. There’s all the other usual reasons for it, too, of course: born to privilege, the younger generation’s never had to step up, and so they haven’t.
The older generation’s far from perfect, themselves. It’s unclear exactly how much they’ve helped the world, and debate rages among them about how far they should go. Under the leadership of the Utopian, the series’ resident Superman figure, they limit their interference to major physical crises and super-crime, which they have under control to the point that anytime a threat shows up, they simply dogpile the poor fool who’s been dumb enough to act up. But on things like the current economic depression, they maintain a hands-off approach. Or at least, that’s what the Utopian wants. His brother has other plans, though, and therein lies what seems to be the real conflict in the series.
The first two issues have been mostly set-up, and that’s fine. I’m enjoying the slow build, and the insanely pretty Quitely art. In fact, I could happily read months of meandering super-family drama if Quitely drew it all. But there’s little chance of that. I forget how many issues this book’s set to run, but I think it’s four or six. So Millar’s bound to start kicking things over soon. If this issue’s cliffhanger pays off, in fact, I’m pretty sure things are gonna start moving fast next month. Millar being Millar, of course, there’s no guarantee that his themes will be satisfactorily dealt with, or that the conclusion will even make sense. But I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’ve got my fingers crossed…
Satellite Sam 1, by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin
This is the best Howard Chaykin comic I’ve read in years, maybe since American Flagg! The complex storyline, the large cast, the interlocking dialogue, the head-first dive into an unfamiliar environment… It’s just classic Chaykin. That it was written by Matt Fraction, and only drawn by Chaykin, may not speak well of the older man’s work in the last decade, but it speaks volumes about his influence. Fraction’s spoken numerous times about what a game-changer Flagg! was for him, and about how much of modern comics storytelling language was invented there. So if nothing else, he’s showing how well he’s learned those lessons with this book.
A murder mystery taking place on and around the set of a live TV space opera in the early 1950s, Satellite Sam includes all of Chaykins obsessions (period settings, retro-futurism, elaborate lingerie) without being controlled by them. Likewise, it’s got his signature cynicism, but Fraction doesn’t allow it to infect the narrative the way it too often does in Chaykin’s later work. Which is, I think, the real problem I have with Chaykin’s writing anymore. That devil-may-care, FTW attitude so many of his characters have tends to get mirrored in his writing, to the point that the plot winds up feeling as aimless and without point as the cast seems to think the world itself is. Which is a fine point to make, I suppose. And it’s not that I don’t find his work to be at least an entertaining ride. But there’s always something just a tiny bit disappointing about Chaykin’s writing. Like there’s supposed to be a point to it all, but it just gets lost behind all the… excess.
Based on this first issue alone, of course, it’s impossible to tell whether or not Fraction will pull the same trick in the end. But already Satellite Sam feels more focused than much of Chaykin’s recent work has been, and with a wider array of personality types on display. It’s the Ur-Chaykin, Chaykin-plus, the platonic ideal of Chaykin. And if they can hold it together for the duration, it may turn out to be something rather special.
EDIT: The series also has a Tumblr. It’s NSFW, but wow.
Catalyst Comix, by Joe Casey, Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, and Ulises Farinas
I picked this book up primarily because it looked pretty.
The Rafael Grampa cover is what caught my eye, and a quick flip-through showed me colorful vistas of fine cartooning. My eyes drooled, and I barely even bothered to check the writing credit. Joe Casey’s name turning up when I did briefly glance at that box assured me that it wouldn’t be an unreadable mess, and so into the stack it went without a second thought.
I didn’t even know what the book was about, to be perfectly honest. So I started reading thinking that I was coming in at ground zero on a new series, only to find that there was apparently some backstory here. I was halfway through the issue before it hit me that I’d picked up part of the relaunch of the “Comics Greatest World” spandex franchise. Apart from having maybe the worst name for a line of comics I can remember, the only other thing that ever impressed me about these comics was… Well, really, nothing about these comics ever impressed me. I know next to nothing about them, and don’t care to learn. Luckily, that doesn’t matter. Whatever backstory there is seems to be generic enough that I can take it as rote and just enjoy the craziness in the new stuff.
Besides, with art as good as the stuff Dan McDaid’s turning out on the lead feature…
…who cares about anything else? The other two strips here (because, yes, this is an anthology title with three on-going separate-but-interlocking features) are drawn by Paul Maybury…
…and Ulises Farinas…
…whose work, though a bit uneven, is like a cross between Geoff Darrow and Kevin Maguire. The display of firepower above is impressive, but that’s nothing compared to big character splashes like this one:
I mean, holy shit! Not only does that guy have the most hysterical laced-up-the-front leisure suit ever, he’s also got a giant wrestling belt, and his shoulders sprout insanely detailed ordinance that includes a little dog robot with his own set of blaster pistols! Plus… PLUS! His name is Elvis Warmaker! I don’t know whether to thank Joe Casey for that, or the guys who did these strips back in the 90s, but holy shit that’s awesome! Joe Casey’s been full of awesome lately, though, so I’ll thank him until I learn better.
Seriously, Casey’s recent output really has been magnificent in some ways. Impatient with the noir stylings and self-referential pablum that have dominated super hero comics for the past decade, Casey’s been out there going big, bigger, biggest every chance he gets. And there’s something beautiful in that. He’s been channeling the best aspects of Jack Kirby, with HUGE ideas and POWERFUL verbiage that don’t always make complete sense, but that FEEL right on the whole.
Unfortunately, though, he tries to channel Grant Morrison at the same time. So it’s a bit like reading Final Crisis, but written by somebody who’s not quite as good at wrestling those big quantum concepts down into the muscular direct statements that make Kirby’s writing sing. He always hooks me in with this stuff, because it really is magnificent on the surface. But he also inevitably loses me, because it winds up feeling kind of run of the mill beneath that surface, and the pay-off is never as good as I think it should be.
Will that be the case here? Hell, I dunno! It’s just the first issue! I stuck around for six or seven before I decided that Butcher Baker wasn’t hitting the sweet spot for me, and that had a cosmic fertility hermaphrodite! We’ll just have to see what happens. But for now, Catalyst Comix looks pretty nekkid, and that’s enough for me.