So I’ve only got two funnybooks to discuss this week, but both of ’em are doozies. Also, due to the nature of the books, things are gonna get a little political up in here. If that’s not your gig, you may want to move on. But that’s okay. The Nerd Farm will always welcome you back…
Dark Knight: The Golden Child
by Frank Miller and Rafael Grampa
This comic makes me so happy.
First, you’ve got a script from Frank Miller, not quite writing at the level of his 80s peak, but doing a nice imitation thereof.
Second, you’ve got art from Rafael Grampa, doing his first comics work in several years, pulling off a gorgeous melding of his own style with Miller’s, capturing the proper feel of Dark Knight while simultaneously making it his own.
Third, you’ve got a story about Darkseid working with the Joker (or… A Joker, anyway), toward the election of a not-even-slightly-veiled Donald Trump stand-in, all in the name of generating the fear and chaos needed to finally crack open the collective skull of the human race and unleash Anti-Life on the universe. And it gets just as cosmic as that sounds.
It’s audacious stuff. A nice continuation of the Dark Knight series’ penchant for social satire (Reagan was still president in the original, if you’ll remember, hiding behind a computer-generated image of his own younger face), coupled with one of the better True-to-Kirby takes on Darkseid I’ve seen. Because this is the thing people forget: Darkseid is not a guy who launches brutal invasions of the Earth. Darkseid is a guy who builds amusement parks that are secret torture chambers. He works through gangsters and con men, petty manipulators whose goal is the undermining of the social order. He destroys the human spirit, and through that, he wins.
So OF COURSE Donald Trump is an agent of Darkseid! They have the same M.O.!
Everything makes so much more sense now.
All joking aside, though…
(Wait. Was I joking?)
(Let’s say I was…)
All joking aside, that’s not a comparison that had ever occurred to me before, but the more I thought about it, the more apropos it became. Putting ideology aside and simply looking at how Trump manages his public persona, he fits pretty well alongside the likes of Glorious Godfrey and Desaad. He’s kind of a melding of those two, in fact: a glad-handing demagogue who inverts traditional morality, and who’s also possessed of a real vicious streak that he directs against his enemies. Not that he’s building torture chambers or anything (unless ICE detention centers count). But that’s because this is the real world, not a world of comic book super-villainy, and (in spite of what some his detractors may say) there are limits to both his depravity, and (not to let him off the super-villain hook entirely) to what he can actually get away with.
My enjoyment of this book is not based entirely on my dislike of our current American president, however. As I said above, Miller writes Darkseid really well here, showing an understanding of the character and his thematic function that seems beyond most funnybook writers. I don’t usually think of Miller as a natural descendant of Kirby, but after Golden Child, I’m gonna start.
Of course, in spite of the cosmic trappings, this is also still a Batman story. Or Batwoman, rather.
Carrie Kelly’s taken up the cowl, and she fights the Joker and his clown posse while fighting Darkseid is left up to Lara and Jonathan Kent, the children of Superman. Both of them are strange and alien (not having had the benefit of that Midwestern farm upbringing their father got), with Lara taking a rather dim view of the humans Superman has taught them to protect. But Jonathan has more of an appreciation for the good in humanity, even as he sees himself as something apart from it. He’s the “Golden Child” of the title, and the thematic crux of the book. He represents the power and optimism of youth, and his worldview is reflected back by the Batwoman’s youthful army.
As above, so below.
(And, yes. That IS Greta Thunberg.)
That revolutionary aspect of this book was raising controversy before it even came out, as protestors in Hong Kong embraced a poster featuring Batwoman hoisting a Molotov Cocktail, and the Chinese government banned the image.
So there’s some more politics for ya. But that’s okay. Comics have always been a political medium, and I hope that never stops. Super heroes, in particular, are a great way to speak truth to power, wrapping the issues up in colorful clothing and cutting through to basic truths with a few well-placed punches.
By those lights (hell, by ANY lights), this is a pretty great super hero comic, and I had a genuine blast reading it. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite single issue of the year, but it’s gotta be in the running.
Immortal Hulk 28
by Al Ewing, Tom Reilly, and Matias Bergara
Along similar lines (at least as far as politically-active youth gangs), we’ve got this book. Where, as you can see, the Hulk’s recent stance against predatory capitalism has garnered him a following. That’s right! It’s the return of the Teen Brigade, this time in a more… militant form.
This is Al Ewing taking the symbolism of the V for Vendetta mask (popular with Anonymous and the Occupy movement of a few years ago) and applying it to the current surge of youth protest, with the Hulk standing in for good ol’ Guy Fawkes. It’s pretty ingenious, to be honest, and Ewing uses it to comment on symbols and how they can be perverted. But the real genius of this issue is in how he chooses to focus that story.
That’s our protagonist, a middle-aged white dad who feels adrift in the world around him. He’s not a bad guy, really. He loves his family, and works hard to provide for them. But that’s tougher than it used to be. The world is changing, and he doesn’t know how to cope. So he takes solace in things that make him feel better. Things that reinforce his view that the world was better when he was young. It’s not hard to understand why he feels that way, either. He just feels lost.
But he also works as a security guard for the Roxxon corporation. Not as part of their evil elite security team with the steroidal super powers that we saw last issue, mind you. He’s just… a guy. With a job. But he works for a super-villain, and that puts him on the front line when the Teen Brigade comes calling.
I won’t spoil the story any more than that. But it’s a nice, very grounded view of the larger issues at play in this series, and I found it quite effective.