So we’ve got some reviews to catch up on this week, which means…
by Tom King and Mitch Gerads
I bought this comic because it was pink.
Pink! Inside and out! That’s a bold color choice for a Batman comic, and I thought I should support that.
But I also bought it because of Professor Pyg. He’s one of my favorite Batman villains. One of the last truly great Batman villains, I think, to be introduced to date. I like Pyg. He’s got legs.
But I also bought it because it looked batshit crazy. And I love batshit crazy.
Stream of consciousness Bat-Fight in a meat locker! Yes!
I have no idea what’s going on here. No idea what happened before this, or how Batman got into this situation, or… anything. And more importantly… I don’t care. I mean, the narration above certainly serves as nice exposition, while still feeling like the desperate meanderings of a disturbed mind. But all the details I glean from it sound like a dreadful story I wouldn’t have enjoyed reading, anyway.
Which is what I’m finding with Tom King’s Batman work on the whole. Increasingly, I pop in and out of this book, checking to see if it’s got an interesting artist or a cool villain, or if it looks like something that could maybe be read apart from the larger meta-plot. Because I really kind of hate the larger meta-plot. But individual stories within the run that don’t reference it so much, I like quite a lot.
So, again… I have no real idea what’s going on here, and I don’t care. All I care about is this issue, and how crazy it is, and how much fun it was to read.
Is it a dream?
An imaginary story?
It doesn’t matter!
It’s an entertaining funnybook with fantastic art, all about Batman’s deepest fears.
And that’s all I really need from it.
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Criminal returns to the racks in a new on-going series that represents kind of a departure for the Brubaker / Phillips team: they’re writing toward the monthly comics reading experience, rather than the serialized novels they’re famous for. This frees them up structurally, to explore ideas that might be more suitable to short stories or novellas – in funnybook terms, single issues and short arcs – than to the longer stories they’ve traditionally told.
That’s an interesting choice, to me. I’m sure the creative reasons given for it are entirely true; having the freedom to tell whatever stories you want, at whatever length they need to be, is a luxury you don’t get in many storytelling mediums. That’s proven especially true for creator-owned comics, which often don’t make real money until the trade collections hit the shelf. But Ed Brubaker is a canny enough marketer of his own work (something you have to be in the world of creator-owned comics) that I have to wonder if there’s not also an economic factor at work here. Books like Criminal often sell very well in digital format, and continue to do so long after the actual print comics have disappeared from the racks. And if that’s the case, maybe there’s less economic pressure than there used to be to tell stories in a format that can be collected into handy novel-length packages. That’s really interesting, if so, and it makes those Comixology sales figures that much more important to understanding the overall health of the comics industry.
But none of that tells you if the new Criminal is any good.
I mean, of course it is. It’s Brubaker and Phillips. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t like something those two guys did together. But I guess I shouldn’t take it for granted that everyone else feels the same way, so…
This one’s a story of Teeg Lawless, who’s just out of jail and having to pay for his son Ricky robbing the wrong guy to get the bail money. Then he gets news that an old partner of his has died, and goes to the funeral even though he’s running out of time to come up with the dough. Things get worse from there, but in the end Teeg stumbles across a heist that might get him out of the hole. Like everything else Teeg does, this seems like a bad idea. But, hey. He’s the professional crook. I’m just a fanboy. So I’m sure he knows what he’s doing…
Aw, hell. This is gonna get ugly, ain’t it?
You know what I mean.
Brubaker’s done his usual good work with Teeg here. He’s a fascinating monster of a man, and it’s interesting to see him in what have to be his declining years. Not that he’s any more than middle-aged, I don’t think. But guys like Teeg don’t often live to be old. So I’m thinking he might not make it out of this one. Which might not be the most terrible thing for the world.
Sean Phillips, meanwhile, is turning in far rougher artwork here than what we’ve become accustomed to on some of the recent Brubaker / Phillips work. It’s a look that suits Teeg, mind you, so I’m not complaining. Some of that shift probably also comes down to new colorist Jacob Phillips (Sean’s son), who has a very different aesthetic than previous colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser. Jacob tends toward big chunky blocks of color that flatten his dad’s lines rather than embellishing them the way Breitweiser did. It has sort of a 1960s feel that I kinda like. But it’s going to take some getting used to after the gorgeous work that Phillips and Breitweiser turned in for Kill or Be Killed.
So that’s Criminal, back on the stands after several years away. I can’t say that I missed it, exactly, because we’ve had so very many good comics from this team in the meantime. But it’s still nice to have it back. I’ve kind of missed the Lawless clan while they were gone.
Gideon Falls 10
by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino
I think I said in last week’s column that I was an idiot. And tonight I feel that way again. Because in this issue of Gideon Falls, we got a sequence in which everything suddenly fell into place for me.
On the left, that’s Norton Sinclair, the crazy garbage-collecting derelict (with this psychiatrist Angie), standing in the same spot as Father Fred, the priest who’s lost his faith. The same spot, in two different communities known as Gideon Falls. Different, but occupying the same space. Just in two different realities. Connected by the Black Barn.
And BOOM! Suddenly, a lot of things started to make a lot of sense. I’ve always felt a kind of cognitive dissonance with this series. Like Norton’s story and Father Fred’s story didn’t quite sync up they way they were supposed to. And now, I knew why!
I was so happy.
But I was left with the nagging sensation that maybe I already knew this. Maybe… Maybe something in some previous issue had clued me in to the idea, and I’d just forgotten it. It’s an appropriate way to feel about a series with so much half-remembered dream-like imagery. So I went back and flipped through some previous issues to look for it. Then I found it, in one devastating little detail from the final page of issue six:
Well, hell. So as it turns out, I’d completely forgotten (if I’d ever made conscious note of it to begin with) that Norton’s Gideon Falls is a major city, while Father Fred’s is a rural farming community. I’d be willing to bet that both of them take up roughly the same amount of space (farms tending to be pretty big plots of land). But one of them is far more densely-populated than the other.
I should have known all this since last August, when issue six came out. But what I found when that discovery sent me off re-reading the whole series is that I just haven’t been paying close enough attention. I’ve been taking each issue of this book as it comes, reading it but not remembering it, and not making the connections I needed to be making.
So, yes. I am an idiot.
But I can learn. Yes, indeed, I can learn…
United States vs Murder Incorporated 5
by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming
This is the type of story Brian Bendis excels at. It’s an issue-long conversation between mobster / undercover agent Valentine Gallo and his FBI handlers, after the assassination of the President. They exchange information and, the entire time, you just know the meeting’s going to blow up in their faces. I won’t say it’s a masterpiece of tension like the rathskeller scene in Inglorious Basterds or anything, but it’s still gripping stuff.
Of course, Bendis is aided and abetted in this by Mike Oeming, whose gift for lighting, layout, dynamic staging, and facial expression brings the conversation to life. In the wrong hands, this would have just been page after page of talking heads. But because Oeming frames it all so interestingly…
…even information the reader already has makes for good reading.
by Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, Brandon Peterson, and Jason Fabok
This, on the other hand, was pretty terrible.
Not completely, as we’ll get to in a sec.
Because I’ve been enjoying Action Comics so much, I’ve been giving Bendis a pass on his weird ret-con of Jor-El from “dad whose agenda to teach you about your true purpose on Earth leads him into super villainy” to “dad who maybe has some political beliefs you don’t agree with, but who you can trust to take your kid on summer vacation.” I mean, the super villain version of Jor-El was such a ridiculous ret-con from Jor-El Classic that I kind of welcomed the change, even if it wasn’t explained. So I figured I’d see where Bendis was going with it before passing judgment. Now I have, and…
Uhm… What? The ret-con just puts things back where they already were? What the hell was the point of that? If you’re going to twist around such a recent story, you should at least have the decency to take it somewhere more interesting. And Jor-El as “conservative grandpa” is way more interesting to me. It turns Superman’s core tragedy on its head, and could be used as the source of some fascinating soul-searching, as well as maybe some topical situation comedy. Both of which Bendis handles really well. But instead, we get this. And it’s just kinda stupid.
On a more minor point of complaint, Lobo pops up for a scene, and Bendis absolutely blows his dialogue.
That second bit is a significant moment, I think, considering that Jon Kent ages, like, five years over the course of this issue. But that dialogue is freaking tone-deaf. And it’s not just that Lobo doesn’t talk like that. NObody talks like that.
No one ever done told you?!
It’s like a bad imitation of redneck biker talk written by someone who’s not at all familiar with how humans speak.
Yes, yes. I know. Lobo’s not human. But his dialogue’s written in English, and no real English-speaking people talk like that. It’s just bad dialogue, okay? And since dialogue is the thing Bendis is best at… That’s unforgivable.
As I said, though, the issue’s not all bad. Because Bendis is doing something fascinating with Lois Lane. When she came back to Earth early, if you’ll recall, she told Superman that she’d realized she was only getting in the way, and that Jon was better off adventuring in space with Jor-El without her around. Well, we find out the details of what happened out there, and what I’m seeing is a slightly different story. Not that Lois thought Jon was in any danger. Everything seemed safe, in super hero terms at least, and in those terms, she really was more of a liability than an asset. Jon and Jor-El were operating in situations where she could get hurt just by being there, and her safety was an unnecessary concern. So she didn’t lie, exactly.
But Jor-El gives her a Kryptonian super-suit for basic physical protection, and when they go out into an alien bazaar, amongst a bunch of space refugees, this happens:
And Lois is obviously a little freaked out by it. So this is not just her feeling like a fifth wheel. This is Lois Lane being confronted in a very visceral manner by her husband’s heroic legacy, and feeling completely overwhelmed by it. And so, feeling (or maybe convincing herself?) that her son was safe with Space Grandpa, she came home, sought seclusion, and started working. Because she had stuff to process, and she’s doing it by writing a book about her relationship with Superman.
Now, we don’t know how that’s going to work just yet. I mean, she’s married to Clark Kent, not Superman, and that secret identity of his is still a thing. I would LOVE a story about journalistic ethics and the secret identity, but I’m not sure how deep you really want to get into that in a mainstream monthly Superman comic. That feels like more of an Elseworlds or “Black Label” kind of thing. But we’ll see where it goes.
Oh, one other possible small saving grace of that scene: the story we’re getting here is that the Khunds are enslaving people on the planet Daxam. Except… The people talking to Lois up there aren’t Daxamites. Because the planet Daxam is home to Mon-El, a member of the Legion of Superheroes. And Mon-El looks like this:
The Daxamites, you see, are, basically, Kryptonians. Or a genetic cousin thereof. So this “warlord” the orange guy’s talking about? You’ll notice he doesn’t say that the warlord is a Khund. Just that the Khunds are stealing the children. And he doesn’t say that the children are being taken FROM Daxam. Just that they’re being enslaved ON Daxam. And later, when Jor-El takes Lois and Jon to break up the slave ring, he lets Jon do it by himself, while he stays hidden in the trees.
So I’m thinking there’s something fishy going on here. Is Jor-El actually a Daxamite warlord? Did he engineer that entire scene, just to get Lois on his side and convince her to leave? Maybe, maybe not. But for now, I’m going to put some faith in Bendis and hope this second Superman story arc turns out better than the first one.
Which, considering that I didn’t like this first issue on the whole, might be foolish of me. But I guess we’ll see.
And after that more-lengthy-than-it-deserves review, I find that I’m running out of time. So let’s knock the rest of these out in more of a capsule form…
Brendan Fletcher and Karl Kerschl’s ISOLA returned with issue six last week, and its more of the same Miyazaki-esque fantasy adventure stuff the first book gave us. Which is to say that it’s beautiful, charming and weird, once of the most unique books on the stands today. I like it a lot.
I am woefully late in talking about the fifth and final issue of Howard Chaykin’s Hey Kids! Comics! But this painfully honest airing of the comics industry’s dirty laundry really was one of my favorite books of last year. It drives home the point of how badly the talent’s been exploited in what’s become a billion-dollar industry, as we see comics culture become big business while our cast of industry wage-slaves slowly grows into bitter old age and dies. It ain’t uplifting, but it’s true.
In Donny Cates and Lisandro Estherren’s Redneck #18, all the happiness surrounding the wedding of Julie and Bartlett was a sure sign that things were going to turn to shit. And this issue definitely lowers the boom. Of course, just like the last time things looked really bad for the Bowman clan, things might not be as bad as they look. Because Cates pulls a nice trick on the front end of this issue, giving us a report on the disaster before we see it, and making it sound as bad as possible. But when you really look at the actual action… Though there are a ton of fatalities, most of the definitely dead are characters we’ve never seen before. And I’m thinking most (not all, but most) of Our Vampire Heroes could survive what we see them going through. So I’m thinking that next issue, things will start looking up a little.
But it’s still Redneck, so… Only a little.
Aaaanndd… I still have The Lodger and The Wicked + The Divine to talk about, but you know… I think both of those deserve a little more discussion than I have time for right now. So they’ll have to wait for next week. Hope you’ll join us again then.
(Postscript: Apologies for the weird font switches here. I wrote this column in two different word processors, and even though they were in the same font when I wrote them, sometimes the formatting gets screwy when I cut and paste into Word Press.)