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Miles’ Book

Everything wrong with comics can be found within these pages.

Everything wrong with comics can be found within these pages.

 

All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder #10
Written by Frank Miller
Art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams
DC Comics, 2008

Every now and then, society is right. I don’t think I’m that much of a crank, but there’s a lot of things that people like or dislike where I’ll feel the exact opposite about it. I hate the writing of Alan Moore, I think The Matrix is garbage, and that Spider-man 3 wasn’t so bad as everyone says.

But everyone is right to hate this comic book. It’s more vile than a public execution on a pile of raw sewage.

This is a hateful book. It’s a hateful piece of junk that the publisher should not have committed to print. I’m actually thinking about taking DC Comics off the “Random Comics of the Week” rotation — this book offended me that much.

Basically, it boils down to this being one of the most misogynist things I have ever read, on par with Alan Moore (that would be why I hate his writing). Women fit into the roles that Miller is comfortable with: sex objects, things to be protected, fatales. The women in this book include a drunk, suicidal wife; Catwoman beaten to a bloody pulp, looking for Batman to save her; Black Canary as an under-dressed thief; and a pubescent heroine who is constantly swearing and doesn’t seem all that smart. Even Gotham City is “feminine” object to “Batman” and is something he needs to save. Seriously? The city is a woman too? Fuck you, Frank Miller.

And Jim Lee, you’re not helping here either. Did the female doctor need to be wearing that mini-skirt? Most doctors I’ve had don’t dress like they are about to go clubbing — they’re at work saving lives and dress accordingly. Also, that Batgirl you’re drawing is supposed to be 15, you perv.

Seriously, DC Comics employees, why the hell are you working for a company that produces this? It makes me sick to my stomach thinking about it.

MONDO wants Brian Wood's bald babies.

MONDO wants Brian Wood's bald babies.

Isaac’s Book

Northlanders #10
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Dean Ormston
Vertigo Comics, 2008 

Though it says this is part two of the story, the whole issue is beautifully self-contained. I think I’d almost be disappointed if I had read the first part, as it would probably explain too much, just plainly showing us why certain things happen in this comic.

As it stands, we open on 793 A.D. Northern England, in the town of Lindisfarne, a peaceful enough setting — until you notice the dead trees, circling birds of prey, and the sickly wave of dread the yellowed atmosphere inspires. Then you turn the page where the true, bloody chaos is revealed as the Saxons are slaughtered by the Northmen.

I’m not necessarily a history buff, so I’m not sure if this would be part of the Norman invasion of England, or if it’s about Vikings pillaging the land. Maybe those are one and the same. I don’t know. That’s why simply calling them Northmen (or “Northlanders” as in the title of today’s comic) is so appropriate. You don’t need to know any grand history to appreciate that these are strangers come to attack and take what the Saxons have.

The narrative is told to us from the perspective of a young Saxon boy who witnesses the carnage towards his people, yet roots for the Northmen. He feels estranged from his family, land, and religion, and held firmly to a vision of a warrior way of life. When a blond and bearded Northman with blood on his face winks at the boy, it’s as though Thor has cast his approval towards him.

The Saxons eventually make an incredibly stoic attack on the Northmen, with faith that whatever happens is what must happen. A young man, Cerdic, stands against the wall, unsure of himself. Cerdic is called to by the watching boy, who is his brother, and in that moment of distraction Cerdic is killed. This sends their father into a berserker attack, he shrugs off a dagger in the back in his rage, but ultimately he stops to reflect on his son. He allows one of the Northmen, bearing what may as well be Mjöllnir as his weapon, to silence him, so that he can be with his son.

Two days after the battle, the boy comes out hiding. This lone boy challenges the Northmen when they reappear, but not to fight them — for the right to go with them. He’s given his father’s sword to attack with, but when the Northman he fights swings at him it’s as though the boy rejects his family, dropping the sword and snatching the dagger from the towering man’s belt to stab him in the back.

The story shifts to years later, when this boy has grown to an adult in the company of the Northmen, still holding the silver cross he’d been tossed by the Thor-like warrior at the start. Is this a form of sentimentality towards his old people? Or a constant reminder of everything he doesn’t want any part of?

X-Men and angst are better than peanut butter and jam

X-Men and angst are better than peanut butter and jam

James’ Books

Angel: Revelations #5 (of 5)
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Adam Pollina and Matt Hollingsworth
Marvel Comics, 2008

Avengers: The Initiative #17
Written by Dan Slott and Christos N. Gage
Art by Harvey Tolibao and Jay David Ramos
Marvel Comics, 2008

So, I was given a choice between two books to cover this week, since the first one I drew, Angel, was a bit pricey. But, instead of choosing one over another, I’ve decided to do both, in an attempt to make up for missing last week. So, let’s get to it. 

In case there’s any confusion, Angel: Revelations is a mini-series about Warren Worthington the Third’s origin, not a spin-off of IDW’s Angel series. I took a look at it when the first issue came out, but decided against it. I’m a fan of the character, but the series just looked a little too teenage-goth for my tastes — a little too angsty. This issue has surprisingly little of that vibe, though. And you know what? It’s an X-Men origin book, I think I’d be disappointed if it was completely angst-free.

The art is actually the gothiest part of the book, but, I have to say, I enjoyed it. It’s moody and impressionistic, and Hollingsworth nails the colours. Each page looks less like a comic and more like an illustration from a children’s book, which is a novel stylistic choice.

My only real complaint about the book is continuity-wise, I’m not sure it makes sense. If the characters are graduating from high school at the end of the book, wouldn’t that mean Warren joined the X-Men much later than was previously accepted? Also, if his powers only stared appearing seven months ago, as we’re told here, wouldn’t he have hit puberty fairly late? Maybe they’re actually graduating from middle school. That would solve pretty much everything.

 

na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Ant-Man!

na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Ant-Man!

As for Avengers, this is what I’ve been wanting from Secret Invasion. It seems like the main book can’t shove everything in, so it gives us the basics, while the tie-ins cover all the awesome specifics. Here, we get to see how the skrulls are dealing with Camp Hammond, the Initiative’s training camp, and we get to see how the neophyte heroes deal with them.

 

One thing I loved about this book — the amoral version of Ant-Man is the protagonist. I love that instead of just forgetting about him after the Robert Kirkman penned Irredeemable Ant-Man series, Slott and company are trying to make him a real hero. Plus, one of Slott’s main strengths has always been humor, and Ant-Man gives him a good, in-character outlet for it.

There’s a lot happening on every page of this book, and Tolibao shows just how crazy things have gotten at Camp Hammond by packing every single panel with as many characters and as much action as he can. It gives the book a good, frantic energy that serves it well, considering the chaotic subject mater. Tolibao also seems to have an almost caricature like style, which fits. Aliens have invaded a superhero training camp. That’s not supposed to be realistic. It’s supposed to be big and awesome and crazy, and it is.

This book just proves that the best part about “Secret Invasion” is not Secret Invasion. It’s even almost got me reconsidering my stance on registration.

K is for Kingdom Come

Posted by Comics On September - 12 - 2008

The Alpha Review

By Andrew Uys

I’ve heard that trade paperbacks — a run of comic issues collected into a graphic novel — are all the rage today. But which ones are worth your time? This column aims to put the spotlight on the spectacular trades — at least according to this writer. And just for fun, we will start with the letter “A,” and each subsequent review will follow with the next letter of the alphabet. While you might object to my taste or my opinion, I hope that this column will help save you time and money when you are next buying a trade paperback, as well as effort in alphabetizing.

K is for Kingdom Come.
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Alex Ross
DC Comics, 1997

Arguably one of the best comic stories ever, this trade collects the hard-to-find, four issue miniseries of the same name that was published back in 1996. For many, Kingdom Come introduced them to Alex Ross’ spectacular artwork. Actually, it was this book, and one other, that drew me back into comics. If you are looking for a book to restore your faith and wonder in comics, this is it. Combining a dramatic story, superb dialogue, and dazzling art, it’s no surprise that Kingdom Come is constantly in print and has an “Absolute Hardcover Edition,” which, besides having original-size artwork, contains fantastic character sketches from Alex Ross amongst its many extras. The trade will also soon be released as a new TPB edition, with a brand new cover (even better than the original) by Alex Ross, and some hush-hush extras. Though I hate to admit it, I will probably pick it up for the new cover alone.

Before I go into further detail about the plot and art of Kingdom Come, I want to highlight one of the book’s main strengths. When I originally read comics, I was a Marvel fan and, apart from enjoying Batman, never had much time for the DC Universe. Reading this book, after a long time away from comics, I was reminded of what good storytelling can do for characters that too often seem to be trapped by their own continuity.

Set in the future of the DC Universe, Kingdom Come unfolds through the eyes of Norman McCay, a preacher who is losing his faith in the world around him. The heroes of our era have died or retired, and a new breed of hero has risen to take their place. More concerned with battling villains than protecting innocents or upholding the law, they are feared by a public who has seen these beings casually wield immense power. As Superman is pulled out of his self-imposed retirement, factions draw together, each seeking to mold the future of the world. Superman sets about creating a new team that will police the errant heroes, forcing them to either uphold his values or be imprisoned such that they can no longer endanger innocent lives. Set against him is Batman, a man who is shattered from his former battles and yet has an undiminished mind and sense of strategy. Batman creates his own organization, which will not stand for Superman’s imposed order. Finally, slithering in the shadows, are the villains of old, who seek to turn the situation to their advantage. As all the factions battle against one another, Norman McCay’s visions of an apocalyptic battle become more frequent, and he fears that no one will have the strength and determination to prevent the world from being consumed by nuclear fire. To say anymore would ruin the story, but the climatic ending delivers on the powerful rise in action.

As I have already said, the plot and dialogue for this story are amazing, only topped by Alex Ross’ incredible art. Famous for his “human” hero style of art, Ross redesigned many of the heroes’ familiar costumes, and half the fun of reading the collection is figuring out what has become of “our” heroes, and what they, or their descendants, look and act like now. Ross’ art brings a sense of realism and humanity to a story that might otherwise seem too over-the-top and grandiose. The extras found in the Absolute Hardcover are so enjoyable because you can witness Alex’s early designs and inspirations for these characters, along with a guide to who is who. Absolutely the best story that money can buy, this book is relatively cheap in the regular format TPB. Even those who don’t normally enjoy DC or Alex Ross have raved to me about this book after I have recommended it. Groundbreaking when it came out, it is a classic now and a total must read.

Anime Batman in Gotham Knight Reviewed

Posted by film On August - 5 - 2008

Batman has never looked so young or like he might change hair colour and become a Super Saiyan.

Batman has never looked so young or like he might change hair colour and become a Super Saiyan.

 

Batman: Gotham Knight
Directed by Yasuhiro Aoki, Futoshi Higanshide, Toshiyki Kubooka, Hiroshi Morioka, Jong-Sik Nam, Shoujirou Nishimi
Warner Premier, 2008

By Miles Baker

When I first heard that the next straight-to-video Batman animation project would be six interconnected stories each done by a separate anime production studio, I was not all that impressed. Some of the interpretations of the character looked off, and any attempt to adapt Batman into manga has been greeted by a collective sigh and shake off the head by fans of Batman and manga.

But here, it worked.

Here’s why, they got talented guys who know the character to write the segments. Guys who have worked on Batman in the comics, or in other animation projects, or on the Nolan films. What they show us is how many different types of stories you can tell with Batman and Gotham City. And, for me, that helps sell why different studios should be on this project, because each story is so different.

Written by Josh Olson, the first segment “Have I Got a Story for You” is probably the weakest of the bunch, focusing on three kids as they each tell outlandish stories to each other about Batman until he, of course, shows up. The animation, I thought, was the weakest in this segment; there just seemed to be fewer frames than there should be per second. The story has been done before, and this one didn’t do that much new.

Next up was Greg Rucka’s segment “Crossfire.” As a big fan of his and Ed Brubaker’s Gotham Central, I was excited to see Dectective Crispus Allen of the Major Crimes Unit from that series in this short. Allen didn’t disappoint, as he was as mistrustful of the Dark Knight as ever while caught between mob gun fire. We also get to see more about Ramirez, the snitch detective, that might make you understand her character a little more than in Dark Knight

In “Field Test” the highlight was watching Bruce Wayne take centre stage with a couple of really great scenes between him and Lucius Fox and Bruce playing detective during a golf game against a mobster. This story was great for showing what a cocky, yet amazing asshole Bruce Wayne is or can be when he needs to be. This is another stand out for me.

Batman as seen in "Field Test." He's pretty dreamy in this one. Maybe too dreamy.

Batman as seen in "Field Test." He's pretty dreamy in this one. Maybe too dreamy.

“In Darkness Dwells” by Dark Knight screenwriter David S. Goyer is a chasing monsters story featuring Killer Croc and the Scarecrow. It’s definitely the most trippy of the bunch, complete with Arkham Asylum inmates sacrificing a Cardinal in a pit of flames. Other than that, it’s a lot of fighting and some fucked up visuals as Batman fights the Scarecrow’s nerve gas.

My favourite of the bunch was Brian Azzarello’s “Working Through Pain,” which sees a wounded Batman trying to make his way out of the sewers flashbacking to Bruce Wayne’s journey to become Batman. In this story, Bruce meets a woman named Cassandra who tells him about how pain — physical, emotional, spiritual – can be managed and put in its place. I really liked this story because it shows you another path Bruce could have gone down, one that would have been more healthy, but he refuses.

Capping it all off was “Deadshot,” featuring the character of the same name. This was a good conclusion, if only because it actually had Batman conquering something. It’s mostly a solid action sequence, and a bit of emotional resolution.

In all, it’s a pretty entertaining package and will probably scratch that Bat-itch you got after seeing The Dark Knight. It’s even kind of in continuity with it, if continuity is your thing.

As promised, MONDOFilm returns again with more Batman-riddled fantasies, all in the name of eluding any further dalliances with all the harsh, non-Batman filled parts of our lives. Last week saw members of the MONDO staff considering Tony Zucco, Bane, and the Riddler as possible villains for the next Batman film. So, who’s left?

The Case for Clayface

I’d like to propose Clayface as a potential villain. Many discount him, saying he doesn’t fit in a Nolan/realistic Bat-verse, but I imagine those same legions forget there have been several versions of Clayface in the past. Given how much focus has been given to the question of who can be trusted in Gotham, a Chameleon type character could really wreak havoc, and there could also be excellent questions raised about identity- always a concern for these “secret identity” characters.

My brother raised the interesting possibility of Maxi Zeus on account of all the references to a “New Rome” in Batman Begins and “Caesar” in The Dark Knight, but that’s mostly a joke.

What’s not a joke is this fellow Rod Taylor’s idea of Talia al Ghul, which would tie together with Begins so that not a lot would need to be explained about her, and would add the romantic interest thing, which is always important.

- Isaac Mills

The Case for Catwoman

There are a lot of places where further Nolan-directed Batman films could go (though I have a bad feeling that after this movie he may bow out). Nolan has intelligently stayed away from science fiction elements of Batman (the closest they’ve strayed is Scarecrow’s fear gas) and kept it closer to the mob element. The next film should probably continue with this trend. Luckily, there are a lot of smart characters who could be brought in, and who would hopefully live up to high expectations.

At the end of this film the Gotham Police chases after Batman. A pretty logical extension of this would be to have the mob exploit the situation in order to maximize the distrust between Gordon and Batman to the point where they might even become serious enemies.

The villain I most want to see tied into this is Catwoman. First of all, Catwoman is the only interesting potential love interest for Batman. It’s good that Rachel Dawes is out of the way, because not even the amazing talent of Maggie Gyllenhaal could save that character – she was just such a pill. I don’t think an enamoured Batman would be a compelling character unless the object of his love was Catwoman. She’s his equal in many ways: she lives the double life, she has background trauma, she can physically do the kinds of things that Batman can, and she also looks really good in black. The problem for both of them is that her moral compass is a lot looser than Bruce’s. The smartest way to depict Catwoman to make this plot turn credible would be to have her “Robin Hooding” from the mob. Her legal shadiness could also factor into Batman’s tensions with the police. I think it could work.

So it is either this or having all the mob bosses usurped by a half-dozen Joker knockoffs (e.g., Riddler, Penguin, Firefly, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, and the Ventriloquist), who would spread their brand of terror and greed throughout Gotham. All of them are characters with gimmicks that don’t stray too far into science fiction. You’d have to weave an incredibly tight narrative to get them all in, and they’d have to work as secondary characters that the viewer doesn’t need to bother to explain. It would also be neat to see a movie where Bruce is constantly beat down and loses even more ground than he already has.

- Miles Baker

The Case for Robin

I’ll admit, I’m going to cheat a little. First off, Robin is probably the least likely Batman character to appear in a third film. Bale has proclaimed total aversion to the idea, essentially saying he’d do anything possible to escape his contract. In fact, I believe that’s what the argument with his mother was about. But really, such strong aversion is understandable. On a comic book page a young boy keeping up with Batman may seem a little odd, but to actually see it played out on a screen has historically proved very difficult to swallow. Teenage angst just doesn’t combine with leaping across buildings in a believable way. And especially not in Christopher Nolan’s gritty, grounded take on Gotham, right?

Well, here I posit for you the only way I think a Robin film could be carried out effectively, and it builds off themes Nolan has woven quite steadfastly into his characterization of Batman: that only by being completely mentally unbalanced can Batman be unyielding enough to carry out his task. Unlike Harvey Dent, or Jim Gordon, Batman doesn’t feel the need to balance out a normal life with a family. To him, the mere concept is nothing more than a weakness his enemies could use against him. Now mix this with Bruce Wayne’s twisted sense of inadequacy compared to his own iconic father, and imagine this man realistically raising a boy. Bruce Wayne would be the worst father imaginable.

So, imagine a flashback by a mid-20s Dick Grayson recalling events from his childhood. When he’s younger he just remembers the thrill of developing his skills in hopes of earning Wayne’s approval. As he follows in Batman’s footsteps, he yearns to see the hero proud of him. But as he grows older, Grayson begins to understand just how incapable of love Wayne really is, being unable to sacrifice his own quest for anybody at all. And thus Robin strikes out in his own to become Nightwing.

As I said, I cheated a little. I suggest this not as the direction in which the next Batman film should go, but as the only way I could see the Robin character working within Christopher Nolan’s Gotham City.

- Doug Nayler

Breaking from his usual top-heavy covers, Adam Hughes takes a break to focus on Catwoman's ass

Breaking away from his usual top-heavy covers, Adam Hughes takes a moment to focus on Catwoman's ass

Miles’ Book

Catwoman #81
Written by Will Pfeifer
Art by David Lopez and Alvaro Lopez
DC Comics, 2008

I’m pretty sure that this is the second last issue of Catwoman, which is a pretty big shame. I’m a big fan of the Ed Brubaker/Darwyn Cooke relaunch: they made Selina a smart hero/anti-hero and the consistent art tone was a delight. After Brubaker’s departure, I more or less dropped Catwoman and now I kind of regret that because this was a good issue.

I read the first storyline that this creative team rolled out during DC’s One Year Later event/disaster and I wasn’t that impressed. In particular, I thought the radical change in art style didn’t suit the book and Pfeifer wasn’t channelling enough Brubaker.

But this issue shows how a team can evolve. The Lopezes have really come together with a nice, clean, consistent style. The writing has also paid off in this wrapping-things-up story arch where you can see all the seeds that Pfeifer planted take root and grow into little tragedies (though, I feel this cancellation will result in a new relaunch in four months). Pfeifer does what few DC writers can do — effectively write an issue in the middle of a story arch that doesn’t require a recap page. He teases, rather than over explains and it makes me want to go back and read what I missed.

In this issue, Catwoman has started a spree of joy crimes. She’s stealing things and then just dumping them in the Gotham River — just because she can. This all results in a couple of really good chase sequences and then a fight with a neo-Nazi named Ubermensch, and you can’t fault any book where the hero fights a Nazi.

Also, Batman shows up in this issue and I think they’re totally going to french kiss in the next one. So stay tuned.

Isaac’s Book

Meanwhile, Greg Horn fills the void left by Hughes with this subway-appropriate cover.

Meanwhile, Greg Horn fills the void left by Hughes with this subway-appropriate cover.

Ms. Marvel #29
Written by Brian Reed
Pencilled by Adriana Melo
Marvel Comics, 2008

I have certain nemeses in this life, as do we all. Hemingway is a favourite enemy of mine, as is Ms. Marvel. I’m sure I can think of others…though they sure aren’t coming to mind right now.

What I’m saying is that I don’t like Ms. Marvel. She was always a jerk to Rogue (even if Rogue did steal her powers), all she wants is to be a big time super hero, and she keeps whining about not really leading the Mighty Avengers team. I really don’t know why Iron Man keeps humouring her about the position — he is clearly the leader. I know ultimate Ms. Marvel is in the military, so she may have the experience to be a field team’s leader, but does the regular universe character have the same background? I could Wikipedia it, but then I may find out that she does, and I’d rather think not. It makes the hate easier.

I know thus far this doesn’t sound like much of a review — more like a fanboy’s ranting. True enough. But I’m having an inordinate amount of trouble objectively approaching this comic. Do I genuinely dislike it, or am I clouded by prejudice? Do I even maybe like the thing? These are questions for the ages.

I’m going to try and trust myself and say that I didn’t like this comic for fair reasons. The beloved recap page at the beginning wasn’t worded properly, making for a confusing reference about a Skrull Ms. Marvel. It doesn’t really affect this issue’s story at all, but beyond mentioning that there had been a Skrull Ms. Marvel at all, they didn’t say any more than that. Now I’m left wondering how turning herself in (and to who) resulted in exposing Skrull Ms. Marvel. Now that I think about it, Ms. Marvel probably turned herself in to S.H.I.E.L.D. and then they all saw the impersonator on CNN or something, and then they just let Ms. Marvel go, because she clearly can’t be in two places at once. Why am I so concerned about this lone paragraph on the recap page? Couldn’t tell you. It just stopped me in my tracks when I first read the thing.

The issue is mostly a bunch of fight scenes that don’t really engage me; nothing seems to be particularly threatening to Ms. Marvel. You know that issue of Amazing Spider-Man where Spidey is trying his best to stop Juggernaut (the unstoppable guy whose powers are magical) and it’s just an impossible task and you couldn’t put the comic down? Well Ms. Marvel wasn’t that.

However, there is an amazing panel where, after Ms. Marvel blasts into a giant Skrull’s eye, there’s just like a fountain of blood coming out of his eye. Usually when a guy gets his eye poked at, he covers it up with his hand, and says “ow” or something. This Skrull just looks up and yells while fluid is gushing from his eye socket. I can’t explain how hilarious this is to me.

Also, there are ads for a new Skrull Kill Krew comic, and a Marvel Apes comic, which we know is a great thing after the cover of Super Friends #5 taught us a thing or two about monkey super heroes, so that’s good.

James’s Book

Pigeons From Hell #4 (Of 4)
Written by Joe R. Lansdale
Art by Nathan Fox and Dave Stewart

Remember in the ‘80s when a lot of writers stopped using thought balloons? This book brings them back in force, and they feel out of place in a book that’s trying to be an atmospheric, scary horror story. Every couple of panels, one of the characters thinks about what’s happening to make sure the reader is on the same page.

The most annoying thing about this approach is that it’s completely necessary. The very, very Paul Pope inspired art can be horribly unclear. So awful exposition like “The heart… hidden in the canned goods,” is actually needed to figure out what’s supposed to be happening.

I actually like the art. It’s just that, within a narrative context, it runs into problems. A bit more clarity in the story telling would have been appreciated, but I guess that’s just not Fox’s style.

The writing feels like Lansdale’s suffering under the strain of adapting this classic Robert E. Howard story. On the one hand, he wants to be faithful to the original, but on the other, he’s trying to make it his own. In the end, it feels like he doesn’t go far enough in either direction, and it just adds to the general confusion that runs through this adaptation.

The highlight of the book is definitely Dave Stewart’s colours. Every choice he makes is appropriate and perfect for what the book needs. He establishes atmosphere and mood well, and to sound like something of an idiot, his colours are just fun to look at.

There’s a nice little comic strip at the end of the book that takes its text from a letter Robert E. Howard wrote to H.P. Lovecraft. It talks about the standard horror trope of the monster you don’t see being much more frightening than the one you do. It’s a nice, clear little cap in a slightly muddled issue.

J is for Justice

Posted by Comics On July - 29 - 2008

The Alpha Review

By Andrew Uys

I’ve heard that trade paperbacks — a run of comic issues collected into a graphic novel — are all the rage today. But which ones are worth your time? This column aims to put the spotlight on the spectacular trades — at least according to this writer. And just for fun, we will start with the letter “A,” and each subsequent review will follow with the next letter of the alphabet. While you might object to my taste or my opinion, I hope that this column will help save you time and money when you are next buying a trade paperback, as well as effort in alphabetizing.

The Justice League stands on an invisible hill for this group portrait. Not pictured, most of the League.

The Justice League stands on an invisible hill for this group portrait. Not pictured, most of the League.

J is for Justice, Vol. 1
Written by Jim Krueger and Alex Ross
Art by Doug Braithwaite and Alex Ross
DC Comics, 2006

Alex Ross doesn’t disappoint as he re-imagines the Justice League of America in this twelve-part series, now collected in three hardcovers. Considering that most of his career has been re-imagining the Justice League, he has to be good at it now.

Set in an unfixed present, this team features all of the legendary members of the JLA, along with their supporting casts, and a bushel full of villains. In Justice, the villains of the world are experiencing prophetic, apocalyptic nightmares and begin to realize that the heroes will be responsible for this foreseen future. Banding together, they seek to do the one thing that all the superheroes have never accomplished — changing the world for the better. Using their various talents and powers, the villains of the DC universe end poverty, hunger, disease, and disabilities. This is but the start of their schemes though, and as the villains become heroes to the world’s populace, they plot to defeat the Justice League. The first book builds towards the heroes’ darkest hour, while the following two volumes reveal the extent of the villains’ machinations, and the dangers that the Justice League will have to overcome to save both their allies and themselves.

This trade effortlessly blends stunning illustrations and stirring dialogue, creating the desperate feeling that builds throughout the first volume. It pushes the Justice League into their best role — defenders of Earth — as they are forced to fight for all our survival. Yet, from the beginning, there is the threat that our heroes will be responsible for the world’s inevitable destruction.

Another poignant element to the story is the villains’ promise that they can do what no hero has tried before: truly offer us a chance at a better life. Their argument is that, while the heroes of the Justice League have saved the planet many times over, they always leave the status quo unchanged. Superman could easily end hunger, or Batman solve the problem of rampant poverty in the world, but neither do —they merely rescue us from the latest crisis, and then leave us to our difficulty-fraught lives. Instead, the villains offer to really shape the world for the better — and they immediately do so. With the world’s populace turning against the Justice League, the heroes become vulnerable to team-up attacks from their foes. Starting with the disappearance of Aquaman, the JLA begins to fall to their enemies, and the first volume ends with Superman calling out for help, as he is overpowered by a hit squad of villains.

The power and fun of this story isn’t about knowing whether or not the Justice League will overcome their enemy’s plans, but rather it is in the details of how they get there and what they will have to sacrifice along the way. This is an amazing story that doesn’t require the reader to be up-to-date with the latest meta-plot twists going on in the DC Universe. Instead, it offers a fantastic take on all the classic heroes and villains that we have enjoyed over the years.

Fuck Mask of the Phantasm, this is the real lost treasure.

Fuck Mask of the Phantasm, this is the real lost treasure.

By James O’Connor, Caesar Martini, and Leo K. Moncel

Snidely commented on by Doug Nayler

Here at MONDO there’s a reality that we all try to ignore. It may surprise the reader to learn, but there are deep-set truths about this webzine that we try very hard to disguise from you. We use elaborate verbiage, complex run-on sentences, and ironic commentary (just count the number of snide comments in ellipses on this site) all the time to keep you off the scent, but the truth is that MONDO is basically an 11-year-old. We may have traded in Spiceworld for the Sun 0))) and Boris In the Fishtank collaboration, or Pee Wee’s Playhouse sober for Pee Wee’s Playhouse on mushrooms, but really, we’re all just little kids wanting to play with our action figures. And I, for one, am sick of the sham. And I present to you what I’ve decided to do about it.

It really wasn’t that hard. All I had to do was ask our noble comics and film staff one simple question: “With the most realistically plausible Batman villains now exhausted between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, who do you want to see if there’s a third one?” And I’ll be damned if everyone didn’t expose themselves for me. So desperate was the response that I even have to split it into two parts, a MONDOfilm first. So, with no further ado I present you with MONDO getting dangerously close to a fan-fic site.

The Case for Tony Zucco

So, let me preface this by saying that part of what makes Nolan’s approach to these movies great is the fact that he treats the characters like actual people, with real, believable motivations. And as a result, I think he could probably bring any villain we could think of to the screen pretty easily.

That said, who would I like to see in the next movie? Tony Zucco. Which is really a way of saying I’d like to see Robin, but hear me out. One of the best parts of The Dark Knight, to me, was Scarecrow’s cameo. It showed how Gotham’s status quo was changing, with the freaks slowly taking over the underworld.

So, in the next flick, the mob’s even worse off than it was in Dark Knight. And as a result of their desperation, they’re hitting places they normally wouldn’t. Enter Tony Zucco, an up-and-comer desperate for cash and cred. It’s almost impossible for a regular mobster to survive in Gotham at this point, so he has to hit something small-time at first. Something no one’s going to notice. And hey, the circus just came into town.

One of the main pluses to this approach is that, with the freaks taking over, there’s no real limit on the villains you could drop into it. You could have a cameo from the Riddler leading a new gang, or Firefly running an arson racket, stuff like that. Not only would this approach please fans, it would move the franchise in an organic, logical direction. Plus, by centering the story on a regular mobster, you keep it grounded in reality.

-James O’Connor

The Case for Bane

The end of The Dark Knight sees Batman’s relationship with the Gotham Police Department more strained than ever, so there’s always the idea of Batman vs the GCPD. But that’s not a very specific threat for Batman to tackle. And with the death of Heath Ledger and the brilliance of his performance, it’s doubtful that they would use the Joker again in the third one, regardless of what happened to his character at the end of The Dark Knight. The idea of using Two Face again is the biggest question mark.

Director Christopher Nolan definitely prefers more realistic Bat-villains in his pictures, so that rules out characters like Clayface or Mr Freeze. Catwoman and Poison Ivy are good characters, but don’t exude a real quality of menace that Nolan seems to like. The Mad Hatter and Victor Szasz are too obscure. The Riddler would be decent, except he shares a few similarities with the Joker but lacks the psychotic terror; so there’s a danger of him being perceived as a Joker-lite.

I think the best choice for the next Batman villain is clearly Bane. Here’s an adversary that can challenge Batman mentally and physically; someone who can outplan him and someone who can definitely out-muscle him. It’s true his strength is mainly fueled by a chemical called “venom” that makes him superhumanly powerful, but that can be dialed down a little, and an exotic steroid cocktail is not so far out of the realm of possibility as to seem out of place in Christopher Nolan’s Bat-universe. [Note: Certainly not any more than Verizon-sponsored sonar... –ed.] Bane is the man who, in the comic books, used strategy to break Batman down mentally and emotionally, and then finally broke him in a very literal, physical sense by snapping his spine. I think this is clearly a character who can pull his own weight and can be an awesome presence on the silver screen.

-Caesar Martini

The Case for the Riddler

The Dark Knight has shown us just how crucial casting is. While role-related burnout has cost Bale his basic human decency and Ledger his life, the general consensus is that it was worth it for those performances. So, it is with great trepidation that I recommend that Sam Rockwell sacrifice his well being, accept the Batman curse, and play The Riddler.

If you don’t know Sam Rockwell, please have a look at Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, one of the most criminally underappreciated movies ever. Rockwell’s dark charisma and showy presence make him a clear choice for a villain. However, it’s the layers in his work that make him worthy of being a Nolan-series Batman villain. Rockwell has the ability to be slippery and nasty, yet simultaneously exude an unsettling wounded quality that’s even evident in this trailer for Choke. Now, if you question whether he’s got the gravitas for a more serious role like this, I direct you back the scene in Confessions where he meets with Hans Keeler (Batman Begins alumnus Rutger Hauer) to talk about their old work.

So, now I’ve argued for Rockwell, why the Riddler? I think Batman is most interesting when challenged by mindfucks. The insinuation with Bruce Wayne/Batman is always that he hasn’t got it all together upstairs, so the more his antagonists can attack him not just physically but psychologically, the more interesting. We need to see Batman pushed to the brink of really losing it.

What would Riddler do? It goes without saying we’re ditching the spandex and donning something a little simpler. Riddler in the new series could be less of a constructor of elaborate puzzles and riddles and more of a liar, a conman, a fraud. I think he could have a public life where he’s worked his way up to Bruce Wayne’s social echelon through charm and deception. Learning Bruce Wayne’s secret (liars always spot their own) would infuriate him as he’d found a man who had contrived the greatest lie imaginable. As we’re going to have Batman as an outcast and fugitive in the next movie, I’d like to see a villain who specializes at villainizing Batman. The Riddler could frame Batman, disgrace Wayne, and run them both through the wringer — all because he couldn’t stand that Wayne was a bigger liar than he was.

-Leo K. Moncel

Well, that’s enough post-Dark Knight Support Group exercises for one update, so tune in Monday and see if anyone actually thinks that they can take a stab at making Mr. Freeze believable. Hey, The Animated Series didn’t do too bad a job if I remember correctly…

In this issue, the crew of the Excalibur becomes an amorphous solid — with shocking results.

In this issue, the crew of the Excalibur becomes an amorphous solid — with shocking results.

By Miles Baker, Isaac Mills and James O’Connor

James’ Book

Star Trek: New Frontier #5
Written by Peter David
Art by Stephen Thompson
IDW Publishing, 2008

Last week, I commented upon the fact that it can be hard to review the last issue of a miniseries. You’re missing the context of everything that’s happening, and since it’s ending, there generally isn’t enough time to re-introduce all the characters and catch you up on the plot. Now imagine that you not only hadn’t read the previous five issues, you also hadn’t read the 17 previous novels. You’d probably be pretty lost.

And it’s not like I’m completely ignorant of Trek. I’m a fan of Next Generation, and I’ve seen episodes from every series. I just had to randomly draw the comic based in the most esoteric section of Federation Space, where the only characters I might remember are still incredibly obscure.

It’s a damn shame, too. Like I said, I’ve been known to enjoy Trek, and I love Peter David. I should enjoy this issue. But I can’t, because none of it makes any sense without the proper context. But, I will say this: the plot seems to involve mirror-universe doubles, and a character the internet tells me is a descendant of Apollo. So it seems pretty awesome.

As for the art, it’s clean and engaging, and it captures the visual atmosphere of Star Trek well. Thompson’s faces actually remind me a bit of Tommy Lee Edwards, which is high praise from me. If I had one complaint, it’s something I have against every IDW book I’ve read: the art looks like a photocopy. Not being a printer, I don’t really know how to fix the problem, but it just doesn’t look professional. And that’s a shame, because a lack of professionalism cam make books like this feel a lot less like canon and a lot more like bad fan fiction.

Not sure why the guy with the glowing fists isn't taking lead on this mission.

Not sure why the guy with the glowing fists isn't taking lead on this mission.

Miles’ Book

War Heroes #1
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Tony Harris
Image Comics, 2008

Mark Millar has an eye for big-picture stories. Worlds where he gets to set the course of human history and then have his characters do bad ass things in it. Superman: Red Son was like this, The Ultimates were like this, his new Wolverine run is like this. It’s what he’s best at, and there is nothing wrong with that — I just wish he were better at characterization.

War Heroes is set in a very near/alternate future where the American people are getting sick of the war in Iraq, until a terrorist unleashes a chemical bomb in Washington. In response, the United States invades Iran (which is pretty plausible, if you ask me). Soon after, by the beginning of this book, the American people tire of this war as well, and citizens begin to dodge the new draft until the U.S. government comes up with the great idea of giving G.I.s super powers in pill form. The science behind that is smartly ignored, but now the tides begin to turn as real live drugged-up supermen begin to win the war.

This issue follows a group of young kids who are about to enter boot camp, excited about the possibility of becoming a war hero. And this would all be good, if every one of these characters weren’t such cut-outs from a million other stories. The main protagonist of this story is Calvin Pierce, whose brother is now a Purple Heart vet from his super pills, and who is very excited to give up his football dreams to join the army. I think I remember him from Full Metal Jacket.

There’s also a quick montage of people that I expect will be fleshed out in coming issues: the kid with a disability looking for respect, a tough boxing chick, a tattooed womanizer.

But the world is smartly rendered. I find the political climate to be very present in the story as something that makes you say, “Yeah, that’s how it would be.” But there are some things that bug me: for example, how the terrorists are never given a face, and how Tony Harris intentionally hides the face of the bomber in Washington. I know that may be something to be explored further in this series, but it definitely raised my eyebrows, and I kinda doubt that Millar will go there.

Isaac’s Book

Give Monkey Flash his own series. Now, please.

Give Monkey Flash his own series. Now, please.

Super Friends #5
Written by Sholly Fisch
Art by Stewart McKenny
DC Comics, 2008

It’s nice to have a book that’s just fun — that isn’t trying to be the next great thing in the world. The guys writing Super Friends know it’s just a little thing, but they sound like they’re having a lot of fun with this.

The issue has all the humans turning into gorillas and monkeys of all sorts while the Gorillas from Gorilla City (of course) turn human. It’s all a plot of Gorilla Grodd’s to slip through his prison bars and continue to live the kind of non-threatening lifestyle all villains have in the Super Friends universe. Unfortunately he needs the Super Friends’ help when an unfortunate force field keeps Grodd from accessing the device to turn everything back to normal.

Part of me enjoys this book as just a sweet thing for the kid inside, but it does appeal to a more jaded side as well when so much that’s said inside is hilarious when taken with a slightly ironical bent.

For example, up on the Super Friends satellite, when it’s stated that everyone on earth has turned into some kind of ape, John Stewart asks “Then why hasn’t it affected us?”

Superman replies “Probably because we’re NOT on Earth.” When I read that I added the necessary background vocalization of “Stupid!” and suddenly it’s the funniest thing out there.

Bottom of the same page has Superman in a chin stroking thinking pose, while Batman is just standing there pointing up, as though he has something he’d like to share. So the expository world bubble explaining what’s going on could come from either of these two… but the fact that it’s coming from Superman and Batman is just standing there with his hand in the air is so funny.

When the Super Friends land on the planet Aquaman says, “We’re still human! Thank Neptune we didn’t turn into apes” and then proceeds to transform into the goofiest looking proboscis monkey on the planet. Thanks Aquaman.

How did I know he was supposed to be a proboscis monkey, by the way? No, I didn’t do hours of research, but Batman gives an excellent rundown of all these different monkey morphs, and it’s always good to see Batman be the one explaining everything. Maybe even especially when he’s been transformed into a gibbon.

Flash gets to do what he always does; making a whirlwind by moving at super speed — but seeing him just standing there while it’s his tail that whirls around… it’s a great visual all right.

I’m a sucker for good messages in comics (this one has got the classic “being happy with what you are”), and there are some extra activities like “Make a Super Friends Door Hanger” and one about writing as many words as you can think of with the letters in “super-speed” in a minute. It’s a good book for kids, and it’s something a parent could read to their kids for bedtime, which is always a plus.

Counterpoint: I Don’t Like You, Dark Knight

Posted by film On July - 25 - 2008
This is an effective visual metaphor for Jess's point.

This is an effective visual metaphor for Jess's point.

..and I have many adjectives to prove my point.

By Jess Skinner

Author’s note: With the unprecedented public approval of The Dark Knight in mind, if you wish to comment on my derision please focus your reply with your own thoughts about the film. I’m not interested in hearing about how you think I can’t write.

Possible spoilers ahead.

The Short: The Dark Knight is ugly, and depressing. It is sadistically violent but shamelessly hides that fact through editing, to milk as much high-school money as possible. It continuously refers to the concept of morality but never talks about the subject in a way that is intelligent or challenging. It’s an hour too long, bloated by endless disposable characters and red herrings.

The Long: There’s a rule in superhero movies (or at least the ones that I have seen) that I like to call “the falling paradox.” It relies heavily on audience expectation and desire. Some explication: we expect our hero to deliver justice, to prevail, and we expect our villain to fall — to inevitably, as a symbol of evil, cease to exist. There are many moments in countless action films where either hero or villain could just shoot the other in the face and be done with it, but that can’t happen. Obviously the hero cannot die, and alas although the villain can, he cannot be directly killed by the hero. So the inevitable conclusion is hand-to-hand combat (always from a great height) until said villain loses his coordination and goes pathetically tumbling to the distant ground. Splat, end of fight, no blood on hands — ours or the hero’s. After all, no one threw him off. He just fell. This was demonstrated in the climax of Batman Begins, when the titular crusader let enemy Ducard (Liam Neeson) ride a monorail car to his pavement doom. As the thing fell from its great height, Batman slyly remarked “I won’t kill you, but I don’t have to save you” and flew away.

On to The Dark Knight, which suffers horribly because it adheres to the falling paradox at all times. In plainer English, it never steps out of a PG-13 sense of morality. Batman is “good” and does exactly what the audience wants and expects of him at all times. At a key moment, he spares a villain from the falling death, apparently because doing otherwise would be immoral. Huh? What about what happened to Ducard? The scenario is pretty much the same at the end of both films, but for the sake of philosophical contrivance, Batman cannot allow himself to do…what he already did.

His new (or, old?) foe The Joker shares this flip-flopping path of logic, alternately motivated by whatever will make the best set-piece. One minute he’s robbing a bank (an admittedly strong opening sequence), the next he’s burning a pile of money. One minute he’s making a speech about how his malevolence is instinctive, anarchic, and unplanned; the next he’s orchestrating an unbelievably contrived scheme to force one boatload of people to blow up another. If he was really as psychopathic as the film sets him up to be, or if he really just wanted to “watch the world burn” as Alfred the butler puts it, why doesn’t he just blow up both fucking boats in the first place? Because he is simultaneously disordered and meticulous. Because the filmmakers are having their cake and eating it too, substituting thematic laziness for complexity. That, my friends, is a textbook definition of pretentiousness.

Everything about The Joker — his appearance, performance, dialogue — suggests that he wandered in from a far more interesting movie. He seems capable of violating our expectations (and does so at least once, to be fair), and overcoming the confines of a summer blockbuster. His interaction with the other characters, his avoidance of clichés while the rest of the film carries on as if they’re in style, makes the performance of good and evil disturbingly lopsided. It’s like an episode of Lois and Clark co-written by Rob Zombie. Heath Ledger creates the only element of The Dark Knight that is unlike all the other Batman movies. But of course, stuffed into a box by people trying to sell Happy Meals, the true potential, the haunting evil, of both character and performance only sporadically come to the surface.

In its heavy-handed plot and dialogue, The Dark Knight continuously presents itself as a morality tale. To study such a lofty topic well would require a challenging of norms and expectations, in terms of superhero mythologies. No challenge here: Batman is always good, The Joker is always bad, and Harvey Dent is good until he gets horribly mutilated (which apparently is a lot less physically painful and inhibiting than I would have guessed) and then he’s bad.

In my consideration, I’m reminded of a proverb: a full stomach likes to preach about fasting. The Dark Knight preaches about denying the appetite for expectation, but feeds it every step of the way.

The Dark Knight Reviewed

Posted by film On July - 22 - 2008
But why would he hold the button like that?  I can't see his face...

But why would he hold the button like that? I can't see his face...

The Dark Knight
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Warner Bros. 2008

By Doug Nayler

And here it is. After three years of sweaty, mouth-breathing anticipation, it’s here. The Dark Knight arrived in theaters this Friday weighed down with enough baggage to nearly crush it to death on site.

It’s hard to be a highly anticipated movie; to be a highly anticipated comic book movie must be almost insufferable. Each and every nerd the world over is turning his/her dewy eyes towards the screen this weekend expecting nothing less than the Batman film; the film that finally gets it right.

And imagine how crushed, how disappointed the entire Internet is going to be come Monday morning if The Dark Knight isn’t absolutely everything they’ve ever wanted to see from Batman ever? An unimaginable tide of people with too much free time (like myself) would start writing their precocious little reviews (like myself) explaining how hurt, misled, and sexually assaulted they feel at having been so disappointed. Christopher Nolan would become a Joel Schumacher pariah times ten, because unlike Schumacher, people actually believed that Nolan could make it happen.

Luckily for Chris Nolan, Warner Brothers, DC Comics, and Heath Ledger’s restless ghost’s publicist, The Dark Knight is very good. And while it may not be the Batman movie to end all movies, it is no slouch. There is lots here for the casual fan, the diehard virgin-for-life fan, and even the pretentious holier-than-thou art-film nerd. In fact, the only group I feel that won’t be satisfied with this film would be children, because they would just be traumatized.

But making The Dark Knight too disturbing for children to handle is just one of a large list of good decisions made here. The most obvious one is to continue doing what made Batman Begins so much more interesting than the standard superhero fare. So, Gotham continues to be a city with a plausable, familiar problem with corruption and organized crime in which a completely insane man in a bat suit follows his compulsion to clean up the streets. The Dark Knight really just builds upon the last film by creating the Joker as a distorted mirror image of Nolan’s Batman. What sort of man would have the same compulsion towards chaos that Batman has towards order? How would a man have to be to actually get up every morning and be the Joker? It is these questions that effectively drive The Dark Knight. And, as everyone already knows, Ledger’s performance does quite a lot to make this fascinating.

Heath Ledger’s absurdist vaudeville take on the Joker is menacing, at turns darkly hilarious, but never too campy. This is because every time the Joker is in the room, he brings with him an impending sense that things are going to turn very bad very quickly. If I had somehow avoided the massive media clusterfuck memorial Ledger love-in that preceded this film’s release (By the way, did you know he was dead?), and gone into this film not knowing he played the Joker, I never would’ve guessed. Nothing in how the character spoke, looked, or carried himself resembled the Ledger I’ve seen in any other of his films. There is only the Joker, laughing and dancing as he hopes to see the city tear itself apart at his feet.

Ledger’s performance is not the only one of note, however. Aaron Eckhart’s transition takes him from beloved Great White Hope D.A. Harvey Dent to Two-Face, a damaged shell of a man with nothing left but hate in his heart. Gary Oldman also shines as Lt. Gordon, beginning to realize what he stands to lose in Gotham’s escalating war. Unlike the psychopathic, nothing-else-matters drive of Batman and the Joker, these two men want to be normal people with families and homes. In a film filled with duality, Dent and Gordon keep their relationship just as involving as one hopes it would be.

And this brings me to my greatest criticism of the film, and one that will be equally difficult to overcome in any sequels that follow: the problem lies right with the character of Batman. Once Bruce Wayne becomes Batman (a journey given all its due attention in Batman Begins), then it’s really only a question of sticking it out, and finding nifty gadgets that help him do the job better.

While we watch Dent and Gordon torn to shreds in front of our eyes, Batman has almost no personal journey outside of the mechanics of the plot. And even when something (withheld for spoiler purposes) large happens that you think would greatly effect Batman, the emotional fallout is given very short shrift. With a villain so energetic and fascinating that he lights up the screen whenever he appears upon it, and two excellent supporting characters tackling such huge emotional weight, Batman’s daring-do and sleuthery strangely starts to pale in comparison. At no time does Batman (and though I do love Bale, his ‘Batman’ voice sounds even more like Disney’s The Beast here than in Begins) seem to truly have to reconsider who he is as a person. Batman’s existence is only ever threatened by outside forces, not his own internal conflict. And because of this, the audience often finds itself in the strange situation where the man in the giant batsuit with the grappling gun and matchless martial arts skill is the least interesting person in the scene. A problem I’m sure Tim Burton would understand.

So, though I was extremely impressed with The Dark Knight, it is for this reason primarily that I can’t go so far as to call it the Batman movie we’ve all been waiting for. It is, however, the Joker movie. Which is good enough for me.

Miles’ Book of the Month

Local #12 (Final Issue)
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly
Oni Press, 2008

I don’t remember what happened in the first issue of Local. I read it years ago when my comic guy said that if I liked Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s Demo that I’d probably like Local. He was right.

In some ways, Local’s release schedule is to blame; towards the end there it came out quarterly, or something like that. But unlike most serials, that schedule didn’t hurt the book and might actually be why I liked this series so much.

The series is about growing up and each issue tells a chapter in maturation. Even when the issues focused on other characters, growing up was a theme that could tie the books together beyond usual familial ties. Knowing that each issue wouldn’t be followed up by another one in the next week or month, I took time with each issue and read it multiple times. It gave me a chance to reflect on my own life’s chapters and how our protagonist dealt with similar ones. But the great thing is that, in the end, neither Megan or I have really figured it out.

Kelly’s art is cool. Everyone looks hot and… and cool. There are a couple of anatomy problems here and there but you have to go looking for them for the purposes of an even-handed review. Regardless, he really knows how to line and ink Megan’s face, and gets a lot of dramatic mileage out of it.

If you missed the series, there’s a hardcover edition of the books coming out this fall with a beautiful cover. I don’t know if it will collect Wood or Kelly’s essays at the back of each issue, but it does promise excellent bonus features. If you do elect to pick that one up, I urge you to read each chapter twice before moving to the next one — Local deserves your attention and reflection.

Isaac’s Book of the Month

Detective Comics #845
Written by Paul Dini
Pencils by Dustin Nguyen
Inked by John Kalisz
DC Comics, 2008

I’ve been reading a lot of Sherlock Holmes lately… and I’m trying to think if that’s because of this issue, or if it’s just a great coincidence.

This comic is a quintessential detective story, with none of the lame sequences where Batman goes around beating random thugs to save the day; this issue has him playing the armchair detective, taking all the clues of the scene and recent events to reach his conclusions. There’s a really fun sequence where, in a lull between deductive leaps, Batman logs on to a chat room entitled “The Heirs of Dupin” (Dupin being the prototypical detective character as envisioned by Edgar Allen Poe) to discuss the case with fellow sleuths, including the Riddler and oh yes — Detective Chimp!

The narration provided by Batman really drags us into the mystery. I almost felt as if I were helping to solve the case —which is an improvement on the many detective fiction stories whose protagonists disappear for a time to put the pieces together and we’re left to enjoy the scenery until all stands revealed. While it’s true that we the audience aren’t clued into all the necessary facts to figure it out ourselves, the fact that I’m tricked into believing otherwise speaks volumes about the writing.

Helping the atmosphere immensely has got to be Dustin Nguyen’s pencils; he’s probably my favourite bat-artist of them all. It’s dark and relatively simple, but not quite as stylised as say Mike Mignola, whose style can add an unreality to the work, and though that can be a necessary addition for the fantasy/horror of Hellboy, it wouldn’t be helpful in a more “reality”-based issue of Batman. That said, for any issue focusing on Batman as a mythic terror to the underworld, go with Mignola. His stuff is awesome.

The cover of the book is a bit of a stereotype, with a shadowy character in the background and the opaque aphorism of “She’s Back”; it’s only noteworthy because it’s something I would do when drawing my own little comic covers when I was little. It’s exactly what the idea of a “comic” cover should be, trying to jump off the stands with a character’s return or a sudden death-defying stunt, trying to grab your nickel of an entertainment budget. Plus the fact that the “She’s Back” feels only half-heartedly stated seems kind of hilarious to me. So, yes, the cover doesn’t make a lot of sense with this issue in general, but I don’t care, I love the issue, I just wanted to bring it up because it alludes to a really cool moment where Batman runs into Catwoman (who’s back from the prison planet of the Salvation Run series) — who is in a jealous mood because of all the time Batman has been spending with Zatanna (see previous issues of Detective Comics) and Jezebel Jet (see current issues of Batman for her). When Catwoman leaves, the narration says: “She’d like nothing better than if I ran after her. And if I weren’t sure there’d soon be four mutilated bodies in the morgue instead of the current three, I might.”

I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one who finds that cool, but I doubt it. On account of it being so cool.

James’ BookDark, Dark Wolverine

Wolverine #66
Written by Mark Millar
Art by Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, and Morry Hollowell
Marvel, 2008

Up until last month, I really wasn’t a fan of Mark Millar. His stuff usually has a mean streak a mile wide, and I just generally don’t dig that. But when I picked up the first issue of 1985, it was like everything I liked about Millar finally came to the forefront. So, I started picking up most of what he’s putting out right now, and I’ve been loving it. Which brings us to the present.

This book is going to get compared to The Dark Knight Returns, and with good reason. There are a lot of similarities, but more in the way that there are similarities between movies in the same genre. It’s not like, say, Spider-Man: Reign, which takes pretty much all of DKR, then adds Spider-Man and makes everything terrible.

Anyway, this is a story about a Wolverine that got beat, got tired, and got pacifist. He’s married, had some kids, and settled down in a dystopia run by the bad guys. And the way Millar writes it, it seems like the most natural evolution for the character there is. I mean, Wolverine as a pacifist should be a hard sell considering how much he usually loves murder, but reading this book, you buy it.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but the issue ends with Logan driving off in the Spider-Mobile with a blind Hawkeye in the driver’s seat. That’s just awesome. That’s the kind of thing that leaves me with a smile on my face, all excited for next month.

By Miles Baker and James O’Connor

Miles’ Book

Joker’s Asylum: The Joker
Written by Arvio Nelson
Art by Alex Sanchez
DC Comics, 2008

Bad sign: when the lettering is the only thing that slightly appeals to you in a comic.

I know I have said this before and I know I will say it again, but this was the worst comic I have ever drawn for Random Comics of the Week. And there’s a whole lot of blame and shame to be spread around between the heavy handed writing and the monstrously ugly art.

First on the “oh god do I really have to finish this book to review it” block is the art. The Joker doesn’t even have a nose — he has a squiggly line in the middle of his ovoid blob that connects to all the other lines in his blob. I hope that they reveal that this issue is actually about Two Face wearing joker makeup because all that texturing makes it look like the Joker has terrible acid scaring on one side of his face. Every now and then Sanchez will draw a character without a thousand lines on their face and you get the idea of what sensible inking looks like, but then on that same page you see him go back to his standard.

In terms of the other important part of a good comic, the writing, this comic is a disaster. It’s not as bad as the art. But the moral of the story is so heavy handed that the title might as well have been “Who is sicker: society or the Joker?” Which might have been okay if we hadn’t seen this from dozens of Joker stories. This time it’s a TV producer who airs the Joker’s madness because “it’s good for ratings” while ignoring his assistant’s attempts to have the police come and arrest the Joker. Of course that man is an evil prick. You didn’t shock me with that one, Nelson.

Then there is how Nelson writes the Joker’s dialogue, which is as heavy handed as his moral. Nelson probably wishes that each page was like a talking birthday card with canned laughter inside. Sadly, it’s not and all you get are sentences that are a series of one-two cliches like, “Nothing to do except lie around and watch television all day long. It’s enough to drive a person sane!” Really? Exclamation mark? Did we need that to tell us that this is an attempt at a joke? Look at it in your mind without the exclamation mark or bolding and you will see a funnier sentence. Nelson and his editors, however, keep shoving jokes down the reader’s throat as if they don’t understand the concept of humour.

Isn’t there some big blockbuster movie coming out with the Joker in it next month? You’d think that the editors might pay attention to anything the Joker is up to at the moment and ensure that it was a quality product. But apparently not.

Note the lack of an exclamation mark.

James’ BookMystery, yes, House? Not my kind.

House of Mystery #3
Written By Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham (?)
Art By Luca Rossi and Zachary Baldus
DC Comics, 2008

So, I’m trying not to judge this book too harshly for not being what I expected. If you’re not aware, House of Mystery was originally a horror anthology in the vein of EC comics that went through a few different permutations. The most famous took place between 1968 and 1983, and stared Cain as the requisite creepy storyteller.

Now, I love anthology books. Unlike the vast majority of comics, you don’t have to know their entire history to enjoy them. Each issue has a completely new story, and if you missed last month’s issue, it’s no problem.

But in this House of Mystery, the usual anthology formula is reversed. Instead of devoting most of the book to a new plot with a framing device familiar to regular readers, the framing device is the bulk of the book, and the “story” being told to the reader is a meager four pages.

It feels like Sturges and Willingham are trying to pull a Sandman with this book by creating a new property that’s only tangentially related to the original with a few sly winks and references. The problem is, I don’t care about the new property. It’s just your standard “People-probably-stuck-in-Purgatory” plot with the standard Goth imagery. We’ve all seen this plot countless times before, and the generic characters do nothing to make it stand out.

I mentioned Bill Willingham in the last paragraph, but I’m really not sure what his involvement here is. Everything I’ve checked claims he co-writes the book, but his name only appeared on the cover. I searched every page and couldn’t find a trace of him. Do he and Sturges trade off every issue? If so, are Willingham’s issues better?

Similarly, the DC website promises “a tale illustrated by none other than House of Mystery’s distinguished alumnus Bernie Wrightson!” Where is that? Why am I spending more time looking for missing members of the creative team than I did reading the book? Even if DC manages to solve any of these mysteries, I doubt I’ll be making a return visit to this House.

Isaac’s BookShellectro!

Tales of the TMNT Vol.2 #47
Written by Jake Black
Pencils by Jim Lawson
Mirage Publishing, 2008

The whole thing about these ‘Tales‘ books is that they can tell stories from anytime in the Turtles’ long history of comics. According to Dan (probably Dan Berger, managing editor for Mirage) this particular issue recalls a quartet of super-hero turtles from an alternate dimension who appeared back in TMNT vol. 4 #7.

So we’re off to a bad start, because that means I’m reading a comic severely lacking in Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo – I’m reading the origin of Graviturtle, Blobboid, Griddex, and Shellectro (okay, that’s a good one), four characters I don’t know or care for.

I have nothing against getting to know these four, and maybe they’re awesome, but unfortunately we’re not given the time to get to know any of them. Unlike most issues of Tales of the TMNT that I’ve read in the past where the focus is on a single character, allowing for a more intimate story to be told, this issue just throws everything at us with no real depth. If a character appeared in the background of TMNT vol. 4 #7, then I’m sure they were all mentioned here. So, good – we know their names. We don’t really know a whole lot beyond that. There are some motivations revealed, this guy is good, this guy bad, but that’s the most basic idea there is in a story- protagonist and obstacle.

The art is pretty simple, but I don’t have a problem with that.

Ugh – I guess I just wanted a Donatello story, you know?

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