Friday, December 30, 2011

Batman: The Grant Morrison Odyssey Part The First

For months, longer actually, essentially as long as I have been writing this blog I have wanted to sit down and re-read Grant Morrison's Batman epic...narrative...saga, whatever your noun of choice may be, and take a look at how it all links together one Hardcover chapter at a time.  First I figured I would just take it from the starting point contained within the above book and run it through to "Batman: RIP".  Then that changed to waiting until Grant's run on "Batman & Robin" was completed, which thus gave way to waiting for "Batman Inc." to wrap up its tale. 

Now given that I will likely be waiting until the end of time for this "Leviathan" story to actually come to a close, assumptions based solely on the asinine delays in getting the last two issues of "Batman Inc." released, combined with the simple fact that the old DC is "dead" in large part, and that the initial phase of "Leviathan" wrapped with the recently released "Leviathan Strikes" book, I have decided that this is my cue.  It is finally time to sit-down and peruse these tomes once again and follow the white rabbit from issue to issue to see how Bruce & his Bat-family go to where they were when Grant's story closed in "Strikes".  I did this as a play-by-play via twitter while I was reading, which kind of gave me some bullet points, this is the long form version.

So to quote what was apparently the most annoying movie quote text alert sound in history (based on the audience approval of friends & family), "Here we go..."

One Batman shooting Joker in the face while another swoops in from overhead just moments after Jim Gordon has been tossed off a rooftop, his face contorted in the stylized smile of The Joker, while "a bunch of  vulnerable, disabled kids" look while the Bat-signal sits there cracked, and the clown prince of crime has apparently killed Batman with an all-too familiar weapon of choice: a crowbar. All that goes down in the span of only 5 pages...welcome to the world of Batman as seen through the eyes of Grant Morrison and brought to life by Andy Kubert, Jesse Delperdang, and more.  This world, as the story unfolds over the course of several years, turns out to be an intertwining, crazy ride where even the most minute of details could have later meaning or significance.  For example:

It seems so trivial, that the spray paint covering the walls, and it would likely be so in the hands of most other writers.  Spray paint in comics has a tendency towards inside jokes, shout outs to other creators, or tags for in-story gangs, but in this case with "Zur en arrh" it is none of the above. It is seemingly gibberish, but when you look closely at just the page above, as well as the proceeding one, you will notice that it is gibberish that is everywhere.  Be it a wall or the dumpster in which Bats throws The Joker's body, look and you will see "Zur en arrh" in 3 out of the 6 panels that make up these 2 pages. Is there meaning it?  Time will tell...

I'm not looking to do a page-by-page here but there are moments on most of them that are worth mentioning, whether be overarching importance, or simply something...simple...that I appreciate.  The hospital scene between Bats & Gordon that follows the Joker encounter is interesting to me for two main reasons, the first being Jim asking "What do you do now, Batman?" in reference to his locking up essentially every major criminal in Gotham save Two-Face, and the second being that as Gordon references Harvey Dent, his face (well recovering from the Joker toxin) actually LOOKS like Two-Face!

Alfred encouraging Bruce to go out and BE Bruce Wayne is great because it had been awhile prior to this, maybe since the "Murderer/Fugitive" debacle (fuzzy memory), that this issue had been addressed. It's a constant pull; this dual identity, which is the reality and which the fiction, so I always appreciate when it gets injected into the storyline.  Also, it is a rarity in ANY comics that the actual sound of a character's voice is every mentioned (if they're gruff, whiny, baritone, etc) so as a result I actually appreciate Alfred referencing the growl of Batman's voice...and how it has essentially become Bruce's voice as well.  There's also moments such as the once below that seem rather innocent, pointless even, but if I learned anything from film classes, and from reading Morrison as much as I do, it is that very little of what sees print is meaningless or accidental.

The work Alfred puts into actually teaching Bruce how to be Bruce Wayne again is endearing, showcasing the familial relationship between the two that, although we know it exists, it is something that should be refreshed every so often, and it helps to demonstrate that Mr. Pennyworth is much more than just a butler. 

Always been a fan of Man-Bat due to the animated series so great to see the Langstrom's brought into play, especially seeing Kirk as the genius scientist he actually is instead of just as the mindless beast. The art show charity function is amazingly drawn, colored, and lettered with great little touches such as a painting of a crying woman saying "I'm in love." hanging over Bruce's head while he hits on three women simultaneously.  And then the big close of chapter one, the first step of the big reveal, a young child in shadow pointing at a monitor with the face of Bruce Wayne on it and saying the words, "That's my father." with Talia Al Ghul's hand on his shoulders, and a legion of Ninja Man-Bats hanging over their heads! WTF?!?!?

And that's how we kick off part two of this arc, introducing a woman who would have a grand effect on the lives of Bruce Wayne & Batman: Jezebel Jet.  Jet's appearance is so brief that you wouldn't expect it to carry much weight, but there is something in the way she departs, telling Bruce "Don't worry. I know where you live." that carries sinister barring in retrospect. Now back to the balloons! 

That word balloon floating over her head reading "WOW!" is exactly what I was talking about with the way the art of the exhibit is intertwined into the action playing out before us.  It's a grand way to make your "background" something more, something alive if you will, and it plays throughout the entire fight with the Ninja Man-Bats. A painting reading "Yikes!" as they crash through the ceiling, another screaming "Ouch!" as Bats punches a Ninja-Bat in the face, a giant "BLAM!" on another as Batman fires a grappling line, and an Andy Warhol style Wonder Woman painting watching the fight unravel...I'm just amazed at the use of background to tell a story in this chapter.  The numbers overcome Bats, he wakes up a hostage for Talia & her Ninja-Bat army, and we get a little insight into what this all about...a little tryst she & Bats had in the desert back in the (until this very moment) non-canon "Son of the Demon" story:

Bringing the non-canon into active continuity....interesting, and it also brings us to our first look at a character who may have ranked amongst the most hated in all of comics for his first few years: the appropriately named Damian Wayne:

The next chapter revolves around Damian's introduction to Alfred, Tim Drake, and the Wayne Manor and to say it does not go well would be an understatement.  This chapter also makes it very easy to understand why Damian was so easy to hate in his early days...he's a little prick, a child raised with no restraint, taught to murder, and told he would one day rule the world.  Of course he's a total bastard!
What's really intriguing for me about this issue is that, aside from maybe 5 pages, the whole of the story takes place in the mansion, the exception being a brief couple page scene where Bats leaves Damian locked in his room to go stop some criminals only to find one of them beheaded.  Prior to that little fight though I appreciate the Bruce-Damian-Tim interactions; how Bruce seems to be handling Damian they way he likely remembers his father coping with him if/when Bruce acted out. It doesn't work, what does seem to work is Bruce talking at him like a drill seargent/sensei handing an unruly solider/student.  Damian is also plays Tim Drake perfectly, where Tim approaches him like a normal child, severely underestimating the kid, while Damian comes at Tim with aggression and intolerance, provoking a fight by unveiling a severed head in a bag, calling Tim a surrogate son, and mocking him for being adopted.  Oh yeah, and then Damian steals a Robin wardrobe and meets Dad on the rooftops, closing this chapter with the following image:

The image of a beaten Tim isn't what's important to me here, it's the case sitting to the left of his unconscious body.  I may be wrong, and I may be reading into things, but that certainly looks like a certain Bat-inspired Thomas Wayne costume that rears its head later in Morrison's tales.

The last chapter of "Batman & Son" is the big, bad fight against Talia & her legion of Man-Bats but reading it closer, I realized there's a lot more going on than that.  This is the chapter that actually sets the stage for Leviathan several years later and it is so inoccuous that the only way to notice is to have read that "Batman Inc" story and then go back to this one.  This chapter also offers great insight into the relationship between Talia and her son, as well as Bruce & Damian.  There are moments of child-like behavior in Damian during the all-too brief period before the arrive at Gibraltar, like the way Kubert draws Damian's face as he tell's Bruce where his mom is hiding out at.  It screams of a desperate desire for his father to approve, particularly when combined with the "See? I can be useful!" proclamation Damian makes as he tells his father.  The smile as he takes off in a rocket with his father, the brief banter during their flight from the Manor to Gibraltar, even his "Do I have to choose? I would much rather we were all togther." line in the closing pages offers some insight into where Damian's head is truly at, and shows some layers beyond the spoiled brat of a child.  There is obviously more to the Damian story than this, and reading closely I can see the foundation of Leviathan being laid out by Talia in the two panels on page 101 where Talia states "Then it's war. And you're responsible...For people like us, the world is the gameboard, and nations are pawns."

Then they all go boom...and it's time for the strangest single issue of a Batman book I have ever read: "The Clown At Midnight"

This is not a comic book, not in any traditional sense of the style, rather it is a prose-piece with some art that is so intricate and gorgeously rendered that it blew my mind.  I think I read this book three time on the day it was first released, in part to truly grasp just what the hell was going on, and in part to take in all the little details worked into the pages.  There are not traditional comic book panels, no flow of words and art necessarily, but some powerful images nonetheless.  One thing I had never noticed before until my re-read of the HC collection is how the actual background contain images all their own, images that simply look like fog but are in truth the faces of mad clowns looming over as the Batmobile enters Arkam Asylum grounds,  as well as in the "Her Special Day" and "Nirvikalpa Samadhi" chapters, and there is text in the background of the "Joker Unbound" chapter, right below the image of The Joker spitting venom into the guard's face, but it's text that I cannot make out for the life of me.  The detail in the images, both prominent and those hidden, is excellent but detail isn't reserved for simply the art. 

The prose scripted by Morrison borders on Hawthorne levels of description in some instances but it gives a life to Gotham City in "The Knight and the City" chapter and gives depth to Solomon & Sheba in their respective chapters that they obviously never had when first introduce (and summarily forgotten about) in "The Killing Joke". In fact, that is a facet of Morrison's work in the Bat-books thus far that is often overlooked.  He manages to give personality, life, to characters that otherwise have none.  The bats in the Batcave in "Batman & Son" are given some identity in their food preferences, the usually faceless & nameless cronies of The Joker are given a sense of self in the "Putting Bozzo to bed" chapter of this story, as are the security guards of Arkham Asylum in those sections.  Even The Joker is given an identity via Morrison, a "superpersona" that explains the constant variations on his character over the years, again showcasing Grant's desire to make everything that has ever happened in the world of Batman be logical and to have some meaning. 

My favorite two scenes in this story are the initial Harley scene in "The Checkerboard Doll" chapter in which the following dialogue takes place:
 "You tried to kill him! You shot him," she works out.
"I didn't shoot him," the Batman is telling her."That was someone else."
"Batman shot him!" her voice is becoming shrill, agitated, and distracted. "And you're Batman, aren't you? Dressed up like that?" Her gaze zigzags around the room as her muscles shift under her costume, making the checkerboard ripple.
"I don't use a gun, Harley." Batman says. She seems to return from a dream and focuses on him with a bellowing snarl. "YOU USED A GUN ON HIM!"
"That wasn't me," he says again, hut he's wasting his time and Sheba's time.
"So now you're NOT Batman?" She can hardly believe his audacity.
"Of course I am."

Identity, Batman versus Bruce Wayne, there's only one Batman....all of these things come into play during that brief dialogue. My other favorite moment is the description of The Joker's "change" that is laid out in the "Joker Unbound" chapter.  His body physically changing, his voice cracking, his brain racing as his newest persona takes hold and we finally get the unveiling of this:

The Thin White Duke of Death, The Clown At Midnight, just two of the names that have been bandied about to label this itteration of The Joker and both are apt.  In addition to this unveiling, the pieces of the puzzle truly come together when Harley Quinn gets to Arkham.  This whole story has been about The Joker eliminating any connections to his previous personas, hence killing off the clowns at the funeral and going after Sheba as well, and now it is Harley's turn to die at the stroke of midnight right in front of the Bat, and she was going to let him...

This whole sequence almost makes you feel bad for Harley, although she is the one to put the bullet in The Joker's shoulder that stops him from leaving Arkham before midnight as she utters the words, "Don'tcha love me no more?" and wipes a tear from her eye.

In addition to being a very ambitious and daring story for a mainstream comic, this story also introduced several plot points, themes, & motifs that would prove to play out over the long haul of Morrison's Bat-Story including the red & black motif, the new Joker juice variation, Joker's desire for Batman to finally get the joke, and this quote, "Life and death. The joke and the punchline." which I am pretty makes a reapperance in the DCU #0 issue, but I'll have to wait until I hit "Batman RIP" again to be certain.

And that brings us to the final three issues of this volume, two that are tied together, and one that is distinctly seperate from everything that comes before yet, yet intimately tied to everything that the future will bring.  We start with Grant taking a dip into the ocean of history once more in "Three Ghosts of Batman", but before we delve into that, it is the return of Jezebel Jet as Bruce parachutes onto a mountain top to meet her skiing, "accidentally" causes a helicopter to crash, and then hits the town for dinner with his newest prospect. 

We hit the streets of Gotham once more with a gaggle of call girls and their pimp trying to deal with the police as someone is killing the girls, someone who turns out to be a cop, but a "Monster on smack" as one of the girls calls him.  Also, as Bats comes crashing back down into his real world of the Gotham City alleyway, you will once more notice a plethora of "Zur en arrh" tags on every wall surrounding him.

The monster cop Bats confronts looks like like Bane in a Bat-uniform, but somehow juiced up even worse, and it harkens back to the man dressed as Batman that began this whole HC, the one that shot Joker, who also happened to be a cop and as Bats puts it "a series of locks open up in my head".  Unfortunately...and unusually...he proves quite distracted, lost in thought about this Black Casebook, leaving Bats open for this:

Battered, beaten, and bloodied, one of the hookers helps Bats to a safehouse where he passes out and dreams of Damian telling him "The third ghost is the worst of them all" only to awaken to find Alfred & Tim caring for him.  What I appreciated most in this scene was Morrison's acknowledgment of fear in Bruce as he flashes back to Bane breaking his back, enhanced by Alfred informing him that the spinal brace in the costume was shattered.  It is rare that Bruce shows fear and it happens once more in these scene as Tim goes off to battle the "ghost" himself, perhaps harkening back to his other primary fear: having another Robin die.

The next scene between Alfred & Bruce finally tells us what The Black Casebook is all about, and also give Morrison a chance to take all the crazy antics that happened to Batman during his life-span and wrap them up in a bow.  All the sci-fi, supernatural, inexpliciable cases chalked up to Joker Toxin & Fear Gas exposure in massive cumulative doses...which leads Bruce into explaining the three versions of himself including one with a gun, a bestial strength enhanced version, and one who sold his soul to the devil & destroyed Gotham.    Obviously we are dealing with the second one...

Combined Bats & Robin beat him, leading to a conversation between Gordon & Bats I find interesting simply for the closing dialogue when Gordon asks, "Why did you have to choose an enemy that's as old as time and bigger than all of us, Batman?" to which he responds, "Same reason as you did, Jim. I figured I could take him. This isn't over."  Doesn't seem like much on its own but in light of the overreaching story arc of good vs. evil, it reads wholely differently than it did years ago.

Also, I find something in the scene of an obviously battered Damian having his organs harvested and replaced.  Whether it is an allusion to a future scene in "Batman & Robin" may entirely be in my own  head, but else is literature if not open to interpretation?

Oh yeah, and Brucie Boy finally opens his heart up to another woman, one not in a cat costume, whilst someone in black gloves holding a pair of binoculars watches them.  End scene, leading to the final part of this collection, issue 666, the future tale known as "Bethlehem":

This is a story set in some future time where Damian is all growed up and has taken on the Mantle of the Bat.  Aside from a quick backstory double-pager, the reader gets tossed right into the thick of it as Damian battles Dollotrons, crucifies Professor Pyg, and then goes home to see his kitty cat Alfred.  Obviously we didn't know this at the time...but this would mark the first apperance of characters that will be a major part of "Batman & Robin" in the years to come.  Damian talks about the last of the three Batman who thinks he's the Anti-Christ, makes reference to his own bargain on the night Batman died, name drops several other villains, and pops pills.  Barbara Gordon, now the Commish, alludes to Damian being responsible for the death of a friend, and then we get introduced to this 3rd Batman who wears a costume that is now all too familiar:

At this point it's a fresh look, but in the months to come it is a visual we will see again, and since it doesn't really crop up again in Grant's run, I want to address the significance of what Damian said about this 3rd Batman.  Damian stated that this Devil-Bats believe he is the Anti-Christ coming to judge Gotham; well as we know now, this costume was worn by Michael Lane until the close of the "Batman: RIP" arc, at which point he aimed to repent, became the new Azrael, and donned the Suit of Sorrows (to be addressed in "Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul") along with a pair of swords.  Well to make a badly drawn, unimpressive story shorter, Lane went nuts again after finding out he was somehow releated to Jesus Christ and tried to destroy Gotham. Hopefully that is an accurate description, my memory of the book isn't the clearest because it was drivel, and it also appears no one on the internet bothered to chronicle Lane's fate much past him first becoming Azrael either.

I bring that all up wondering if this future Devil-Batman is still Michael Lane, or if what goes down in "Batman & Robin" effectively changes this from ever happening?  What happened in "B&R" you ask? Well you will have to wait until I get there! Manical laugh...manical laugh...manical laugh...

Back to the story itself and in the wrap-up we get a cameo from Flamingo (another "B&R" villain making his true first appearance), a reference to Dick Grayson's time as Batman, and Damian basically telling Devil-Bats that he's a cheater because he's not as good as Dick or Bruce at the role.  Oh yeah, and another reference to some deal Damian made with the Devil, or the son of Satan, when he was 14 to guarantee Gotham's survival.  Curious...and with a snapping of Devil-Bats neck, and nice closing line:

...we get the close of the "Batman & Son" HC collection, and what a ride it has been!  The mystery of "Zur en arrh", the secret behind the 3 Ghosts of Batman, the "new" Joker, Jezebel Jet, Damian's future, and the big question of just when that new Batmobile is going to be ready?!?!  There was a lot of groundwork laid out in this first chapter for the years of material to come. 

Whether it was all planned out in advance, came together as it was being written, or whether Grant retroactively used his past stories to establish a foundation for present work, it all comes together quite nicely.  It amazes me that a simple pair of panels from a story done in 2006 work as foreshadowing for a story hitting print at the end of 2011. 

I am sure there are things in this volume that may not perfectly work in the larger scheme of things, as I am sure that will be the case going forward, but that's what intrigues me in doing this.  Finding the connections, the hidden material I never noticed before, or even making my own bonds from story to story that were never intended but work in my reading of the material. 

Next time out: "The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul" & "The Black Glove" collections....

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What I've Been Reading...

 Yeah, that's the place I go buy my books in Bensalem, PA...go give them business cause I said so.

Anyway,  after writing a handful of blogs pontificating on whatever randomness crossed my mind I figured I'd write something of a different tone; not quite a review, just a little look at the various books I have read in the last few months.  It has been an assorted lot of things so let's just delve right into it, and I'll do my best not to spoil too much on the way:

So "Zenith" was a UK-based title written by Grant Morrison (I know what a shock) that originally was published in the 2000AD serial over the course of 1987-1992.  When collected it ends up in a 5 volume series that is insanely difficult to track down at a reasonable price.  Seriously, go check out Ebay right now and IF they are even listed (which some are as I write this on 11/18), they are going for $63.00 at starting bid.  I somehow lucked out and managed to pick Book Two off the UK Ebay store for a relatively cheap price...somewhere in the $20 USD price range.

I believe this would be the oldest Morrison story I have ever read, essentially a tale of a highly reluctant superhero/rock star (Zenith) who is the child of other government-created heroes.  Zenith is a rather obnoxious character, little redeeming value, truly only interested in how he can use his powers to further push his musical career to superstar status.  There isn't much likeable about Zenith in Book Two, and knowing what I do about the future progression of this series that doesn't seem to be anything that changes, but what makes it interesting for me as a fan of Grant's is to read a story that is akin to a mission statement.  There are certain themes that permeate his work, certain character types that appear in nearly every work Grant has penned, and this (since it is the oldest of his works I've read) is a birthplace for those.

Zenith seems like an archetype for King Mob ("The Invisibles") or what Ned Slade ("The Filth", more on that next) may have been before the Greg Feely persona was adopted. Hell, he seems like what Grant Morrison may have wished he was at this point given that he has always dabbled in music to varying degrees. In addition to that character, the villains of this tale (The Lloigor or "Many Angled Ones") could just as well be The Outer Church (again "The Invisibles").

Given that I only have the one small part of this story as a reference point, although I have read a detailed write-up of the series in Timothy Callahan's "Grant Morrison The Early Years", I can only assume that the whole of the series serves as template for some of Grant's later work.  I hope I can track down the other four books soon, at a price point that isn't completely insane, or that they finally get collected into one edition and solicited in the United States.  If you're interested in reading more about "Zenith", check out the wiki page here.

Another of the books I recently read was another Grant Morrison creation in "The Filth".  Originally released in 2002, I read 11 of the 13 issues as they were released but somehow managed to miss a few in the middle.  I'd been sitting on the trade since my Wizard World Philly Morrison TPB binge-buy, but finally had the time to read this story as a whole a few weeks ago.  It was certainly worth the wait...

This story feels a culmination of sorts, as if this is the world that could have resulted if The Invisibles had failed, if The Outer Church had accomplished their goals of neutering everyone and taking away individuality.  This is a world of ultimate control and maintaining the status quo. After all the primary goal of The Hand, of which lead character Greg Feely/Ned Slade is an agent, is to keep "Status Q".  This mini, through a series of "adventures" that could very well  have been written by Garth Ennis given their hyper-violent & hyper-sexualized content, throws a barrage of questions at the reader about identity, sexuality, that damnable fourth wall, control, societal norms, and black devil sperm.  It is a mind-fuck in all the right ways and it certainly had me doing some internal investigation as I read.

Want one example of the deconstructive nature of this piece? The Hand is in fact a giant hand, holding a pencil, and there are instances that involve people breaching the fourth wall of a comic (within the comic) and becoming real people in "Filth" world.  If you're a fan of Morrison who has yet to read this, or if you are a fun of any comic book that is, in some ways, a commentary on the medium itself, then "The Filth" is definitely a book for you. Plus Chris Weston's art is awesome, and the design work on the trade covers may be my favorite ever.

If you want to read more about "The Filth" check out the wiki here, and if you've got interesting purchasing it, then go here.  I don't see a dime from Amazon for the reference so don't think this is just an attempt to make money with that link =)

I am unabashedly a fan of Scott Snyder's since the first issue of "Detective Comics" that he penned. I thought he brought a wonderful feel of detective noir, mystery, and horror elements to Dick Grayson's Batman and explored aspects of the then-former Nightwing that were not being explored in the other Bat-Family books.  He gave Dick a personality very distinct from that of Bruce Wayne, rather than the interchangeable one heaped upon him by Tony Daniel in the pages of "Batman" or Paul Dini in "Streets of Gotham" (Side note: Daniel has done a great job on Bruce since the start of the New 52).

Ever since I started reading Snyder's take on Batman, I have wanted to read something more from the first creator I have totally taken to, probably since discovering Grant Morrison, and was intrigued when I was told that not only did he write "American Vampire", but that it was also a great comic.  So when I received the first HC as a birthday gift this year needless to say I was excited.  

A bit of back story on the premise, "American Vampire" is the story of Skinner Sweet, a murderous criminal who just happens to represent the first of an entirely new breed of vampire, born out of the Old West in the late 1800's, hence the title of American Vampire. I won't spoil too much of what that entails, suffice it to say that Sweet stands as proof of evolution existing even amongst the undead as he, and his progeny that we meet...a silent film actress in the 1920's named Pearl Jones...display some decidedly different abilities than those that have come before.  

Snyder and his co-author, the legendary Stephen King, do a masterful job of wrapping two stories around each other as Snyder's tale explores the life of Pearl Jones in the 20's while King takes us back to the Old West to see how Skinner Sweet first became the creature we meet in Pearl's arc.  Despite Sweet's god awful disposition, it is fascinating to go through the exploration process with him & King as he begins to discover the differences between he & his creator, and given the maker's terrible nature, you can't help but root for Sweet a little as he seeks his vengeance.  

Pearl serves as the antithesis of Sweet in so many ways, the character that you want to scream at during a horror movie "Don't go in that room!" because you can see the road ahead that her naivete, as well as her ignorance of such horrible matters, doesn't allow her to see.  You feel for her when her heart is ripped out both literally and metaphorically, and want to cheer along as she becomes much like Sweet in her search for vengeance.  

So enthralled was I by the story presented in Volume 1 that I read it twice during my flight from MI back to PA and each time picked up on just a few more smaller details that opened up the story that much more.  Volume 2 will be a purchase very soon, and would have been already had I not already slotted a giant task in my reading schedule, the task that I am currently engrossed in every evening and will write about later.  But I will be making that Vol. 2 purchase very shortly, as will I also be looking into the other volumes of "American Vampire" and anxiously awaiting the first collection of "Severed", another of Snyder's books that I have yet to pick up.  

If you are interested in reading more on "American Vampire" then the wiki article is here, and if you want to pick up Volume One,  hit up Amazon here.  And if you're a fan of Snyder's work, I would also suggest picking up his contributions to the New DC 52, "Batman" and "Swamp Thing" because both are excellent reads. You would think I planned this Dr. Holland segue....

Work of art...seminal....must-read....those are just a couple buzz phrases that I had seen attached to Alan Moore's run on "Swamp Thing", a run that I have been intrigued to read for quite some time, and was finally able to partake in, at least the first two books, in the last couple months.  This one is something I wish I would have read a long time ago...and it dumbfounds me to think that this type of book was being written in 1984.  

It just so genre-shattering, despite that fact that I have likely read a thousand comics written post-SW that have tried to ape what Moore did here, this is material that still reads as fresh and innovative creeping on 30 years later.  I don't know what Swampy was like prior to Moore, and I don't know much of what followed Moore prior to my reading of "Brightest Day" (although I do recall some Doug Moench/Kelly Jones "Batman" comics with Swamp Thing), but I feel like I am in the midst of reading the definitive take on the character.  This is a book way ahead of its time in every sense of the word, the style in which Moore wrote and the risks he takes with it, the risks taken in the art and the boundaries Stephen Bisette pushed with 80's comic books, this is Vertigo before Vertigo was an official imprint. This is what made it possible for books like Neil Gaiman's "Sandman", Jamie Delano's "Constantine", or Morrison's "Doom Patrol" & "Animal Man" to ever get published in the first place.  There are only a handful of books I feel are must-read's for every comic book fan and most know what those are: "Watchmen", "Dark Knight Returns", & "Crisis on Infinite Earths" are the universal truths, and I would certainly add in "Infinity Gauntlet" for the Marvel Universe, and now...well now I think Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing" would also join that list.

If you want more info on Swamp Thing, and specifically the Alan Moore run, then check out the wiki here, and if you want to pick it up, go to the Amazon store here.

I've have 4 volumes left of Moore's "Swamp Thing" opus to read, 3 of which are currently available with the 6th, and final, HC coming out soon (it may have actually been this week).  Unfortunately I am waiting on a certain hook me up with his copies to read the rest but it's okay because I have another 6 volume mega-opus to read in the form of...

...James Robinson's "Starman", as I am reading it, is 6 Volumes worth of Omnibuses (I think Omnibi sounds better but spell check doesn't think it's a word) that encompass the entirety of Robinson's Jack Knight epic.  The core series, annuals, Showcase issues, each volume contains the complete story of Jack Knight, Ted Knight, The Shade, and all the assorted characters that make up Robinson's Opal City.  

To further abuse the phrase, to say I was apprehensive about starting this journey would be an understatement. Yes Robinson wrote a Batman story in "Face The Face" that enjoyed and this was an 80+ issue run by a single writer that I had heard nothing but rave reviews about over the years, but this was also the same author who wrote "Cry for Justice" which was one of the worst stories I read in 2010, as well as a JLA run that I gave up on due to boredom and disinterest. 

Still, I had to make myself not look at it through that lens based on what I suppose I could call the "Jeph Loeb Test".  Loeb wrote one of the most god-awful pieces of comic book trash I have ever read in "Ultimates 3" but he's the same guy who wrote "Long Halloween", "Daredevil: Yellow", "Hush", and "Captain America: White"....

....just seeing if your paying attention, that last one never got off the ground after the #0 issue.

Anywho, "Starman" spins out of DC's crisis that wasn't a Crisis, "Zero Hour", after Ted Knight was aged by Extant to roughly his natural age, along with a chunk of other JSA members.  His son David took up the mantle following the event, but this comic is not his story, it's the story of the other Knight son, Jack.  Ain't much of a spoiler at this point to say that David dies pretty much at jump street, forcing Jack to pick up the Cosmic Rod and defend Opal City against the evils that assail it.

Today I started the 3rd Omnibus and I can safely say that I am grateful that this was lent to me.  Thanks Pat!  Robinson is painting a masterpiece with his words, creating an epic all his own out of blank tableau that is Jack Knight.  I don't know the background of the Starman character whatsoever, nor what sort of life had been given to Opal City in the past, but Robinson puts this town on par with Gotham City & Metropolis, the two most distinct fictional cities, in terms of the identity he breathes into the concrete & steel.  Every corner has a story, every alley & shop a history, and the reader is slowly let into these secrets by Jack Knight who seems to know every nook & cranny of Opal City.  When Jack stumbles across something new to him, something unfamiliar, the reader feels almost as unnerved as he does.  How can Jack not know this city?

That life that is put into Opal City with the verbiage is enhanced that much more by Tony Harris' art which is...wonderful, just beautiful but not by standard definition I think.  It's raw and real, light and dark, gritty and pretty all at the same time.  And when Robinson also has the likes of Gene Ha, JH Williams III, Steve Yeowell, and Bret Blevins bringing his words to life, it makes for a throughly engrossing experience.

The blue Starman Mikaal, Solomon Grundy, the original Sandman, obviously the original Starman, have all made appearances so far (this take on Grundy has been awesome I must say), and from the looks of future covers, Batman, Captain Marvel, & the Legion of Super Heroes all appear along the line as well.  Chuck Kim wrote in the foreward to Vol. 3 that Jack Knight could not exist in any world but the one crafted by Robinson, that the outside characters James brings in actually become a part of Jack's world rather than forcing theirs into Opal City, and from what I have seen thus far that is true.  This is a labor of love, the creation of a universe all its own, and anything that enters it truly must confrom to the rules of the Robinson-verse.

One thing I have loved about this book so far, and this is only due to the fact that I'm reading it as an Omnibus, is that every usage of these characters from "Starman" to "Shade" to the old DC "Showcase" books has been penned by Robinson AND I am getting to read them all in the order intended by Robinson.  It's organized in a format where you getting a present day story for an arc, then maybe a flashback "Times Past" that brings to light the history that formed the city of Opal, or a "Talking With David" story that elaborates on the relationship of the brothers Knight while allowing Jack some soul-searching moments & some teases at what's to come.  I cannot wait to see what Vols 3 - 6 bring to the Knight family...

This is another highly recommended run for anyone who hasn't read it yet, and if you have sour thoughts on James Robinson as I did prior to those, trust me when I say to put those aside and give "Starman" a shot, it's damn worth it.  If you want some more info on "Starman" check it out on the wiki here, and you can pick it up on Amazon here.

Oh, and if you're a fan of "Sons of Anarchy", look at these two pictures and tell me you don't see it...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Accessibility & Continuity Part 2 (AKA Random Speculation)

Okay, it wasn't a shock to me to read that at the beginning of October when Dan DiDio posted it to his Facebook.  I don't know about you, but given the simple fact that Barry Allen was alive AND never had a relationship with Iris West essentially screamed that the Original Crisis could not have happened.  Barry could not have perished in the fight against the Anti-Monitor only to be restored from the Speed Force later in "Final Crisis" because that whole swing was predicated on the Allen/West love. That love was the anchor that kept Barry holding on, just as it did for Wally West & Linda Park the times he got lost in the Speed Force.  At least that's how I am remembering it =)

So that got my brain rolling around....wondering what the complications, the fallout, the problems that could potentially present themselves with this edict that none of the Crisis events happened.  Spin that out even further, and I start to wonder what else could go "wrong" if certain key moments in the original DC Universe never happened in the New 52?  This is all purely speculative material on my part as very little about the past of the New 52 has been addressed thus far, and I am sure it will all unravel slowly.  What has been confirmed is very little: 
- Super heroes have been mainstream for something like 5 years
- JLA takes place around year one of that 5 year plan
- Action Comics takes place 5 years before that
- Brucie has been Batman longer than that by a few years
- Superman did die at some point based on Swamp Thing #1 
- Dick Grayson was still Batman for a year
- Jason Todd still died & got rebirthed
- There have still been 4 Robin's
- Hal still got his ring taken
- Sinestro still has his own Corps
- Atrocitus still has the corpse of Krona
- Hell, basically everything tied to the GL-Verse seems the same; I mean Kyle still gets his ring in an alley....

Okay, that is what I know so far that is still the same, but if we go back and start to monkey around with major events let us see how things can unravel.  Let start with a fun one, albeit one that was essentially stated has still happened....

Man that's still such an iconic cover...

Anyway, it can be surmised by these couple pages from "Swamp Thing #1":

...that Superman still suffered some form of "death" in this new continuity, maybe not at the hands of Doomsday, but his conversation with Alec Holland certainly implies that Supes died at some point in the last 10 years or however long it's been since he debuted.  But what would the ramifications have been (BASED ON OLD CONTINUITY) if Superman's death had never occured???  Well the extended least the part I will choose to focus that the entire Green Lantern-verse could not exist in its present state without the Death/Return of Superman storyline.  Here's the play-by-play, in broad strokes:

1) Superman dies
2) 4 Guys looking like Supes run around one being an evil Cyborg
3) Cyborg Superman, along with evil alien Mongul, blow up Hal Jordan's hometown Coast City
4) Real Superman comes back so he, Hal, and the good Supermen beat up Cybory & Mongul for the win
5) Hal goes nuts after The Guardians stop him from recreating Coast City
6) Guardians free Sinestro to stop Hal
7) Hal "kills" Sinestro, destroys Central Power Battery, frees fear entity Parallax who bonds to Hal
8) Hal does a bunch of crazy stuff including trying to reset history & remake the universe
9) Hal sacrifices himself to reignite the sun, becomes Spectre, Parallax tries to take over Spectre
10) Hal is brought back to life, Sinestro is revealed to have never died, Parallax is stopped for now...

That is just a small part of the interweaving tapestry of the DCU without getting into the Sinestro Corps Wars, Infinite Crisis, or Blackest Night, just to cite a few examples, and how all of them are unfolding as they did originally were entirely dependent on Superman's death & Hal's craziness that followed.

So what's that picture there you ask?  Well that is the Anti-Monitor bursting out of the Black Lantern Battery towards the end of "Blackest Night".  Who the hell is the Anti-Monitor you continue?  Well the Anti-Monitor was the Big Bad from the "Original Crisis" who died at the end but whose body parts were used as tuning forks by Alexander Luthor from Earth-3 (a guy who survived the Crisis) during "Infinite Crisis" in a bid to recreate the Multiverse as Alex Luthor saw fit.  By the end of "IC", the multiverse was reborn and apparently so was The Anti-Monitor because he popped back up in "Sinestro Corps War".  In "SCW" he was eventually decimated by Superboy-Prime (Another survivor of both the "Original Crisis" & "Infinite Crisis") and tossed off into space.  Anti-Monitor's broken, dying body eventually landed in Sector 666 on the planet Ryutt and was enveloped by the Black Lantern Battery, which used his Anti-matter energy as fuel I suppose.  He's evicted back to the Anti-Matter universe by Nekron, pops up during "Brightest Day", and then we get a whole new does anyone else see the chain of events if the good old Anti-Monitor didn't exist, or rather if the "Original Crisis" didn't go down.

If Crisis didn't happen, then there's no multiverse dilemma that brings Superboy-Prime, Alexander Luthor, or Anti-Monitor into the storyline. There's no Prime to toss the defeated corpse of Anti-Monitor into space for the Black Lantern Battery to attach itself to, meaning there's no power source for the battery to feed off of, meaning the whole "Blackest Night" story may not have even been possible.  And if there's no Crisis well then this moment has no basis for happening either:

The infamous punch from "Infinite Crisis" that DC could conveniently use to explain away any continuity issues from over the years.  Here's a list from Wiki of what changes these punches wrought:

- Jason Todd restored to life with everyone remembering his death
- Various origins of Superman
- Various incarnations of the Legion of Super Heroes since the Original Crisis
- Various incarnations of Hawkman
- Various origins of Donna Troy
- Multiple origins of the Metal Men
- Elasti-Girl & Negative Man restored to life; Chief restored to his original body & team's history reboot
- Hal Jordan was never an ex-con who served 90 days in jail for drunk driving

There are more continuity changes from "Infinite Crisis" you can read here, and you can read the ones from "Crisis on Infinite Earths" here, and then there is "Zero Hour" which, while not a crisis, wrought changes of its own you can read here. As you can see, DC loves to use these events to mess about with their own history....

Anyway, back to punching the walls...which may be some metaphorical artistic statement now that I think about it.

The most change for me as a fan has always been Jason Todd and his resurrection.  Yeah it's pretty goofy to think that punching the "walls of reality" enacted these cosmic changes, but it's comic books and we are discussing THE WALLS OF REALITY.  No stupider than implying that Barry Allen saving his mom would create such utter havoc to the world as we knew it...

So if the crisises never happened, then the wall never got punched, then what brought back Jason Todd?  In the "Red Hood & The Outlaws" book it is acknowledged that JT still died at some point and that The Joker did it...

So the question still to answered is if Superboy-Prime destroying the Walls Of Reality didn't resurrect JT then what did?  A mystery for the New 52 to answer in the coming months alongside "why is Barbara Gordon walking?" and "who decided to make Mr. Terrific suck?".

I could likely go on for hours pondering the various implications of the history of the New 52 in juxtaposition to the Old DCU, wondering if Bats still got his back broken, if Jack Drake still died the way he did in "Identity Crisis", or for that matter if "Identity Crisis" still happened in any form? How could Wally West apparently never existing make for problems? What about Donna Troy?  The Teen Titans?  The list of maybe's & what if's is quite endless, and I believe that a lot of the logistical problems that could potentially result from the new continuity in DC Comics stem from the Green Lantern corner of the universe. 

The GL-Verse seems, thus far, wholely unaffected by the new status quo of the DCU.  From what we have seen in GL, GLC, New Guardians, and Red Lanterns, everything that happened before still happened.  The Guardians were slaughtered at some point leading to Kyle getting the ring, Krona still slaughtered Atrocitus' people & and his corpse is still in Atrocitus' possession, which means the War of the GLs arc still happened, which means the New Guardians post-BN still existed, which means BN still happened, blah blah blah blah freakin' blah blah.  At least the logistical issues, due to the apparent lack of any real change within the Bat-verse (4 Robins, Damian's age, Batman Inc), only really have an impact on Gotham City.  The nightmare that could potentially be the GL-Verse is directly effected by, and in turn directly effects, the rest of the DCU. 

I don't find it entirely coincidental that the sub-verse with the least amount of change post-Flashpoint is the one headed up by Geoff Johns, arguably the most powerful creator in the company, but I am looking forward to seeing how the tapestry of this new DCU unfolds over the next few years.  And yes I do hope it is years, I want to see DC ride this out and not just cave in to any pressure to return things to pre-Flashpoint status quo.  They made the choice, they better stick with it. They more or less rode out the post-Crisis reboot for 26 years until Flashpoint with some tweeks here and there via "Zero Hour" and "Infinite Crisis", so I hope that the New 52 is at least giving some time to tell its story as well.

DC has not given themselves an easy task by trying to have their cake and it eat too in terms of pre- & post-Flashpoint continuity, acknowledging some moments but not others, some heroes but not others. It would likely have been easier on them creatively to start wholely from scratch with a "Year One"/"Man Of Steel" styled origin book for everyone, but that would actually prove far less interesting for me as a fan since I am kind of enjoying the continuity game, AND I am certain it would have resulted in an even louder reaction from the vocal minority.  It all makes me wish I could step into the brain of a DC Comics fan circa 1985 and see how they felt post-Crisis....

Oh, and as for DC's competition over there at Marvel, if I was part of that crew I think I would stand up and proudly state that Marvel Comics has never had to restort to whole-heartedly rebooting their continuity a single time, much less 2 or 3.  Marvel just creates a billion alternate realities if they want to run roughshod over their own history....

Friday, November 4, 2011

Accessibility & Continuity Part 1 (Or How I Likely Won't Stop Worrying & Totally Love The New 52)

I almost just called this, "I'll take ripping off classic movies titles and calling it an homage for $1000 Alex"...

"We really want to inject new life in our characters and line," DC Comics co-publisher Dan DiDio told USA Today. "This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today's audience."

“I certainly wouldn’t buy a DVD series of a hit show and start at Season 7,” Jim Lee said. “I would want to go back and start from the beginning.”       

"The approach is very much about who they are behind the masks and how they interact together and how these personalities mix," Geoff Johns told USA Today of the title (JLA)

Those are just some of the initial quotes pertaining to DC Comics "New 52" prior to its launch at the close of August with Flashpoint #5 and the new JLA #1.  In the ensuing 2 months, and now entering month 3, the numbers have been good, and DC finally trumped Marvel in sales with the real numbers still coming together due to returns/digital sales/international sales.  There's been critical praise & critical hate, creator praise & creator hate, and a fair share of controversy when it comes to the subject of sexism & DC's overall portrayal of its female characters (who are largely written by men). 

But none of those subject matters are what I'm choosing to write about tonight because quite honestly, I could give a damn about sales figures, the sexism issue isn't one I would choose to address yet, and I'm not looking to heap praise on any one creator or condemn anybody just yet.  I will give a quick plug to what my faves thus far have been when I'm done, if only to maybe turn a reader on to something they haven't picked up yet, but that's not my issue of import right now.  What concerns me, obviously as indicated by the title of this blog, are the concepts of accessibility and continuity...

I know I've pointed it out before, but that right there was the first comic that was ever purchased for me.  Actually, that's probably not accurate as I can recall my grandmother picking me up some black & white paperback collections of old Amazing Fantasy & Spider-Man stories from garage sales when I was really young.  I remember reading the 1st appearances of Spidey, Doc Ock, & Sandman, among others, as well as Peter's first pow-wow with the Fantastic Four, but I'll be damned if I can find this old things online anywhere.  Anyway, let me get this train back on its track...

That was the first comic book of my COLLECTION, the title that started this nearly 30 year obsession with fantastical characters, crazy alien worlds, mutants, batmen, and lately odd swamp creatures, Dada-inspired villains, time-warping secret societies, and at the very moment before I started typing, an odd city named Opal. I am happy to say that I actually still have that very issue, well 2 copies of it actually, but I am still in possession of that first dose of Claremont/Silvestri/Green greatness with a cover that's barely attached at the top staple, but refuses to give up the ghost after all these years.  I tried to find it to put a picture up along with this blog, but pulling it out would require digging through a closet filled with nearly 30 long boxes.  Needle in the haystack and what not...

It was an amazing read to 8 year old me, and who knows how many times I read that single issue during my flight from Denver to Lansing, or how many times I continued to read it in the months after my dad first got it for me.  It was colorful, exciting, descriptive, but one thing it was certainly was not was ACCESSIBLE.  I downloaded the issue & read it over before I started this (I own 2 copies so I don't feel too bad, plus that whole 30 boxes thing) just to insure that my memory of the contents was accurate, and's potentially just as inaccessible as I recall.  That is if you're an adult...

So blow that page up & read it...maybe it's your first time ever seeing it, perhaps you're like me and have been over it a million times, but if it is your virgin read, especially if the World of X is totally alien to you, then tell me what the hell these two women who essentially appear of similar age are talking about.  First timers & X-Novices should wait a few pages when Rogue talks about Mystique being "more my folks than my natural parents" and tell me you're not a bit confused.  And that's just the tip of the iceberg...

See this issue is both preamble to the coming "Fall Of The Mutants" arc that enveloped all three X-Centric books (yes once upon a time there were only 3) but also serves as post-script to the story that brought our merry mutants to San Francisco (yup, Matt Fraction & Ed Brubaker weren't the first ones to bring them to the Golden Gate City...shame this didn't get referenced in their very Claremont-influenced run).

There are layers upon layers of back-story built into damn near every panel of this issue from the Storm,/Naze/Forge triangle to Madelyne Pryor's history to Havok's morose attitude to Longshot's naivete; I could likely find something referential in every sentence given the style in which Chris Claremont writes.  I can safely say that this is pretty dense material now that I'm looking back on it, the type of material that I imagine DC Execs would have looked at in 2011 and promptly decided was too inaccessible to new readers. 

But looking back on it...thinking about how I was 8 years old, picking up my first X-comic probably because I thought the cover was cool, with absolutely zero knowledge about any of these characters to go on, and I still took tremendous joy in those 23 pages.  Accessibility wasn't something that crossed my mind and dense history wasn't something preventing me from finding enjoyment in the story unfolding before me.  I think it would be safe to say that it is BECAUSE of that dense history that I truly became a comic book fan. 

Why is that you ask?  Well I'll tell you...

It's because I was a kid and I actually used my imagination.  I filled in the blanks myself to a degree, and let my curiosity about this brave new world flourish to a point where I harrassed my dad constantly to take me to the comic shop (the late Capital City Comics on Michigan Ave represent) to dig up whatever back issues I could find.  I had this driving desire to fill-in the blanks, to do my homework so to speak, and learn every iota of information I could about these odd X-People.  When Uncanny made reference to the original X-Men (Who?What?) I felt obligated to figure that story out and X-Factor became a part of my rotation; Classic X-Men issues gave me the backstory I needed from the early days of the "All-New, All-Different" while I worked my way backwords from #224, eventually meeting in the middle about the time Classic hit #175, and essentially having a complete story from the debut of the new team.  It spun out into the 1st volume of New Mutants and the 1st Wolverine on-going (2 series I proudly own every issue of) as their stories sprung up or tied into whatever was going down in UXM.  It's easy to see how I went from reading one comic to five in just a matter of a few months.  Hell, if you take that "I need to know it all" mentality out on a long enough timeline, it's pretty easy to see how I was collecting something like 20-30 different books a month at one point.

Point being, I MADE the books accessible to myself even at a young age because I was hungry for information and didn't NEED the author to give me every detail of every relationship or every old story; if I cared enough I could track it down, otherwise it was written clearly enough to know that a past existed and I could use my 8 year old imagination to piece it together.  It certainly helped in the beginning that Chris Claremont is very expository in his writing, the infamous thought bubble speeches listing all of Wolverine's attributes as he leaps into action, or Havok pointing out in every speech that Madelyne Pryor is his brother Cyclops' wife & he'll watch out for her.  The more cynical, jaded readers will look back on Claremont's style and mock it, but damn if it didn't make every issue feel ACCESSIBLE to a new reader. 

The dialogue may not have been the most natural 100% of the time, but it's a damn comic book and even reading it now, it doesn't read forced or out of context.  The moments in which this expository dialogue is spewed are relevant to one another, Rogue is talking about what Mystique told her for example and mentions that she was raised by her in the process, Dazzler puts on a light show using her powers which allows Wolverine to remind her (and tell the new reader) about the current mutant climate, I think you can understand what I mean.  It was a fine line to walk between informing the new readers without making the long-timers feel beaten over the head with information they already possess, but Claremont did it expertly once upon a time.

Now it's not cool to write like that anymore, thought bubbles are passe, and even Claremont jumped the shark on his own style of writing with X-Treme X-Men, forgetting how to make it work like he did in the past.  But just because there isn't a writer who does his job in a style that makes the work easy for this apparent "I need it now" mentality, doesn't automatically make the books inaccessible to new readers, it simply means I did when I was 8....people have to put in some EFFORT, interact with their hobby, and track down the missing pieces of the puzzle themselves if it's that important to them.  And it is easier than ever to get that information if you really want it.

25 years ago the trade market barely existed, now...especially with Marvel'd be hard-pressed to find a major moment that isn't collected in some fashion AND with the prolification of the Omnibus collections for the major books, it is even easier to sit down and read every issue of Uncanny X-Men ever written.  It blew my mind this week when I saw a fellow customer at my local shop buying a Claremont/Jim Lee Omnibus that covered every issue of Uncanny X-Men between Inferno & X-Tinction Agenda including a random Classic X-Men issue from the Dark Phoenix Saga.  Marvel has, or is in the process of, making essentially every X-Men issue ever available in TPB or HC, nullifying a great deal of the back issue market, but making it so damn easy for a real that's the wrong word...a real FAN to fill-in all their storyline blanks.

DC Comics isn't so hot at this in my opinion, and I'm basing this solely on the Batman family because that's my main vein of knowledge, but I don't think they truly take advantage of the collections market as well, or as quickly, as they could.   For example, the Batman Inc. Hardcover comes out at the end of November and collects issues 1-7.  Well issue 7 was released in June, so we waited 5 months for the collection.  Conversely, FF #5 was also released at the end of June and the first Hardcover collection of ishs #1-5 was released in September.  This is just one example, but on the whole, Marvel seems much quicker on the ball to release the collections than DC AND seems much more willing to dig into their back catalogue for trades.  Doesn't logic dictate that when Dick Grayson took over the Mantle of the Bat after "Final Crisis" that DC reissue the "Prodigal" arc where he stepped up to the plate before?  Doesn't it seem natural that some serious Catwoman stuff would already be getting solicited in prep for "Dark Knight Rises"? I know they are dumping out some random collection of Bane stories, as well as reissuing Knightfall just a couple months after pulling Vols. 1 & 2, but Catwoman seems to be a big part of this too. 

And speaking of Knightfall, does anyone else feel like something is seriously missing in that collection with none of the AzBats Knightquest: Crusade & Bruce's Knightquest: The Search stories included?  It just jumps from Bruce being broken & heading off to find Shondra Kingsolving and JPV in his armored suit to Bruce healed and training to fight an uber-crazy AzBats.  Damn it DC, collect Knightquest!

So now that that tangent is over, I'll get back on track.  Point of all this being that it is largely easier than ever to make comic books accessible to yourself with the Trade/HC Market and online research via whatever Wiki pages you can dig up.  Although I must admit that half the fun in my younger days was digging through back issue bins at the Motor City Comic Con looking for that one random issue of X-Men or Batman that was missing from my run, and the feeling of accomplishment when you finally found it after checking a dozen different boxes.  Then you pay for it, and suddenly there's a dozen copies that appeared out of nowhere at someone else's table, and they're cheaper too!!!  Now, largely to due storage space restrictions, I play the same game with collections and get that same exhiliartion from finding Batman "Broken City" in Hardcover for 75% off, or filling the holes in my Grant Morrison collection at 50% off cover price (Vampirella & DC One Million!!!) at Wizard World Philly this year. 

There's work involved in being a true fan of this pop culture niche, and enjoyment should be found in that work.  Sometimes it can be infuriating to get to that reward, sometimes it is easy, but it should always be fun.  If it's not fun, then stop doing it...or at least stop reading the comic(s) that's sucking the fun out of it.  When you started reading, probably as a youth, it was because of the fun and excitement and imagination packed into every page.  As we get older though, we start to impress our aged thoughts onto these pages and likely take a lot of that fun-factor out ourselves. 

Questions of logic, realism, continuity, and possibility aren't something we care about when we pick up that first's a fantasy world after all, no different than sci-fi or swords & sorcery movies; our every day rules don't have to apply.  It is only as adults that we start to impress those ideas into the pages, that we start to question how accessible this is for other adults...but isn't the whole point to bring in new, YOUNG readers, not more adults & lapsed readers?  Don't we need fresh blood to carry this hobby, this passion of ours into the future? And if you're a parent or shop owner trying to open up the doors to a curious kid who has questions about what he's reading, how much trouble is it to help an eager mind get their answers from the plethora of sources available both in-print and online? 

I don't think the answer is in reboots, after all two of the most critically acclaimed runs in recent memory are Grant Morrison's "Batman" & "Batman & Robin" as well as Rick Remender's "Uncanny X-Force" and those are complete continuity porn.  Same goes for the whole basis of "X-Men Legacy" when it first started, the current direction of "New Mutants", it's safe to say that a large chunk of what Marvel is doing is 90's retro as a matter of fact.  A Venom solo book, Carnage solo books, a Scarlet Spider book, an Age of Apocalypse book...all sounds very continuity based to me, so maybe it's just Marvel going in the opposite direction of DC.  But that steers this talk into the continuity realm and I want to save that for part 2 of this blog since I've already been wordy enough. 

So to sum it up, go buy trades & HC's, go dig through some back issue bins, put the work in to learn your comic book history, don't let them convince you that comics are inaccessible.  Let me quick address that Jim Lee quote I opened up with regarding TV seasons; TV season sets are the equivalent of TPBs & HCs, you can always watch the current season while simultaneously getting yourself up to speed with the collections.  How many people do you think have watched Dexter or Breaking Bad from S1E1 versus how many people started in the middle of a later season and played catch up?

You know, al those words up above here and I think I could have summed it all up in three words: Accessibility is overrated...

Friday, October 7, 2011

X-Men: Schism....really? (SPOILERS AHEAD)

Pretty bad ass image right there huh?  Make you think Wolverine & Cyclops are going into a serious throwdown with one another doesn't it?  Makes you wonder just what could drive these two men who have essentially been the two pillars of the X-Community since the move to San Francisco & the founding of Utopia.  Cyclops has been the general, leading his army into war, and Wolverine serving as his first in command, carrying out orders with little question, willing to get down and do the dirty work with his secret X-Force cabal. Yes there have been some rough patches in the road, especially with Cyclops' insistence on X-23 & Wolfsbane being a part of the initial incarnation of his X-Force, but for the most part Wolvie acted like a good soldier, taking care of the wetwork in secret.

Obviously that all got blown to hell when X-Force was outed during "Second Coming" but it didn't stop Wolvie from forming Version 2 underneath Cyclops' radar with a different band of mutants. 

So there's groundwork laid out I suppose for the philosophical tensions between Wolverine & Cyclops that are obviously the basis for Schism, shallow though they may's the depths to which these issues are explored that I find shallow, not the issues themselves.

So there's lots of death in X-Force, there are various attempts to salvage the mutant race as depicted in Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine is running off with pretty much every team that exists in the Marvel U, and there's very little done to push a burgeoning issue between the two X-Leaders, certainly nothing that justifies the image I started this blog with.

"Second Coming" comes and goes, Wolverine has some issues with Hope that are weakly, at best, laid out an issue of Uncanny X-Men, shows a minute interest in the Generation Hope cast as a whole, and then we're dumped into the whole "Prelude to Schism" mini.  I may be skipping some beats here as I am doing this primarily from memory, with a little google referencing for accuracy to issue references (turns out that was actually necessary given that I couldn't remember if the Wolvie/Hope story was a UXM or GenHope story), but that's being done with purpose.  I really wanted to see how much of the build-up to "Schism" actually stuck with me in any sort of relevant manner.  

So the "Prelude" books dance around the impending threat that is heading toward Utopia (I guess this little aside takes place between issues 3 & 4? Sometime during issue 4? During GenHope 11?), but certainly presents that threat as the impending death of everything on Utopia, totally unavoidable annihilation of the mutant species, so much so that is requires four different issues from the perspectives of Cyke, Wolvie, Magneto, and Xavier to decide if it's a fight or flight.  Obviously they decide on fight, now it's just a matter of reading the actual "Schism" story to find out just what they're fighting.  Suffice it to say that when the two stories finally converge, "Prelude" really feels misleading...
Alright now it's time for "Schism"...the big event that we discover (can't quite remember if it's before or after the story starts) will ultimately tear the team asunder, shuffle Wolverine & crew off into his very own team book, and hit reset on Uncanny X-Men with a brand new #1 issue!  Honestly getting all that information prior to the conclusion of the story sucked and certainly sucked the life out of "Schism" for me because it boiled the story down to one question: what cause the schism?

It was a moment I kept waiting for throughout the first 3 issues; with the return of Quentin Quire (which should have felt bigger than it was), the baby Hellfire Club, the mutant museum, the rebirth of the Sentinels, none of it feels particularly important.  The moments of tension with Wolverine & Cyclops feel just like that...moments, moments that could lead to a bigger issue down the line yes (maybe if down the line was a year's worth of stories like this), but nothing to justify the huge rift we all know is coming by issue 5.  Wolverine & Cyke have bonded like never before in the years (Days?Weeks?Months? Who knows in comic book land) since Jean's death and none of this seems like a payoff, just more build-up.  As I read the first 3 issues I found myself constantly wondering "Is that it?", I was constantly waiting for something more to happen to give a logical reason for this rift in the relationship of Scott Summers & Logan.  It never came...

Idie killing the Hellfire Club goons to save lives is a terrible thing for a child to have to endure no doubt, and when that kid already thinks they're the Anti-Christ it only exacerbates the situation.  Idie is most certainly a damaged kid,  but what interest have any of the X-Men shown in these kids since they were introduced?  Cyclops & Hope both want them to be soldiers, Wolverine hasn't given a damn, the end.  Where does Wolverine's sudden interest in her mental state come from?  Yeah it's pretty brutal that she had to kill some people, yes it is awful when she later expresses that she thinks it's just part of being an X-Man, but as the whole foundation upon which a philosophical Grand Canyon is built?  Seriously?  I've been reading X-Books as long as I've been reading comics and Idie killing a few people is far from the worst thing that has gone down between Cyke & Wolvie, to say nothing of incidents that deservedly drove wedges between characters (say perhaps Prof. X hiding the existence of a brother from Cyclops).

And while the visual of a Wolvie & Cyke fighting it out while a giant Sentinel looms over Utopia is quite cool, the two of them scrapping after the robot makes landfall is pointedly ridiculous.  This isn't Wolverine & Angel from the added pages of Classic X-Men #1, these are two men who have gone through hell together for years now who are giving their personal grievances import over the impending doom of Uber-Sentinel.

A quick aside RE: Uber-Sentinel....really? Seriously? Go back to "Prelude" and see that this one Sentinel is putting the fear of annihilation into every living mutant on Utopia, including those on the Alpha power levels of Magneto, Xavier, Storm, & Cyclops?  These are the warriors who faced down Dark Phoenix, the entire Shi'ar galaxy, the Legacy Virus, X-Tinction Agenda, Cassandra Nova & her wild Sentinels, Magneto himself...and they are quaking in their boots over a one freakin' Sentinel!  Now go back to "Schism" proper, issue 5, and now that Sentinel is barely an afterthought, dispensed of by the populace of Utopia without anyone really being in danger of a stubbed toe at the hands of Uber-Sentinel much less death.  Wolverine & Cyclops do more damage to each other (Claws through the hand? Damn!)

The total lack of words, captions, sound effect, etc during the majority of this issue is a neat effect, I assume trying to put the emphasis on the violence being perpetrated by two friends upon one another, and it makes sense given that most people wouldn't speak in soliloquies while spitting teeth in blood.  It's just an odd choice given that X-Books tend to be overly expository, especially in combat situations.

So the Wolvie/Cyke knockdown drag-out ends, Uber-Sentinel gets beat, some caption boxes over the top of moving day lay out the aftereffects, and Wolvie's crew heads back to the mansion that has been left in complete rubble since..."Messiah Complex" I believe.  That was probably the coolest moment of the entire "Schism" series for me right there... but man, you'd think these X-people would care enough to at least rebuild their ancestral home even if they haven't been living there recently.  That's just rude...

So when all is said and done...I think it's pretty obvious I'm let down by this entire experience.  I don't think there was enough meat to justify the Scott/Logan rift, I don't think there is any question that the hype-job the "threat" got in "Prelude" was overkill, and I'm really disappointed that this was how the landscape-changing event went down.  "Messiah Complex" and "Second Coming" were far, far better stories that actually conveyed the possibility of a real threat to the mutant race, that actually paid off LEGITIMATELY built-up issues while simultaneously paving the road for future arcs.  Those stories did not feel forced, did not feel thrown together to accomplish some sales-boosting goal (What else would you call two new #1's?), and I would liken them more to "Messiah War" and "Necrosha" as opposed to the other two recent X-Overs.

All in all, I label "Schism" as a fail, not an absolute fail because I found the art in pretty much every issue to be quite good.  I absolutely hate having a different artist on every ish of a book like they did here (and DC did in "Return of Bruce Wayne") but at least it was good art.  Some small issues here and there, but it would just be nit-picky stuff, mostly with Acuna's art.  It also presented some interesting storyline points going forward as far as the overall fallout from "Schism" & its impact on the rest of the X-Family of books (it can't/won't be as simple as these guys hopped on this bus while the rest hopped on the other bus) as well as providing some intriguing concepts in the L'enfant terrible incarnation of the Hellfire Club, the reborn Quentin Quire, and the reemergence of a Sentinel program amongst governments worldwide.  I guess we shall see what Regenesis brings us in the coming months...I just hope the bricks building this new house turn out stronger than the foundation...