Comics bought and read Saturday the 31st of May

As ever the Mindless Ones are late to the party, so let’s get right down to it. In case anyone has failed to notice this week we got not one, not two, but three Grant Morrison penned comics. Now, as I’m sure you’re all aware, we’re often quite keen on Mr Morrrigun’s writing, so bearing that in mind you’ll understand why the confluence of the Lost finale (shut up. I love it), All Star Superman (which I won’t be reviewing here), Batman 677 and Final Crisis forced me to cut off all ties to the outside world, ignore my wife and two-year-old son, and dub Friday Super Horrible Dork-Fest Day.

Win.

the cover to final crisis 1Final Crisis #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by J.G. Jones
Published by DC Comics

Final Crisis, then, the air’s bloody thick with it. I’ve found myself snuffling in so many dirty opinions it’s been rather hard to examine my own clean and pure thoughts, but now that I’ve given my brain a sponge bath and scrubbed off the worst of the filth it strikes me that Final Crisis may have been the weakest of the three offerings. It’s biggest problem being it’s reliance on the reader having a considerable knowledge of, and giving two fucks about, the DCU as a whole, because that’s what the threat, what there is of it in this issue, is aimed at. Granted, individuals face obstacles, suffer and die, but I suspect the majority of readers won’t be have been too bothered about the trials of Dan Turpin, the New Gods, that Monitor chappy, and Anthro The First Boy. Even the “shocking” death of J’on J’onzz (spelling? Give a shit) doesn’t appear to have anyone too worried, with most complaining more about the off-hand execution than the death itself. Of course there’s time for our affections to grow. Morrison does a decent enough job in building Turpin, who looks set to be the gateway character. And Anthro, despite being something of a cipher, gets some of the choicest moments in the book. It’s quite possible that by issue three I’ll have some character investment.

For now, unlike Secret Invasion, the threat hasn’t targeted DC’s superstars, individually or as a group. Instead it resides in pink skies gouged by lightening, in the Black Racer lurking at the edge of the frame – motifs that signpost horror. It’s encapsulated by Libra’s assertion that the universal order is shifting from good to evil*. And surely that’s why an entirely ineffectual Martian Manhunter gets spiked in the space of a couple of panels. What better way to illustrate the change to the ontotological order than to treat the death of a well known character as almost an afterthought? Suddenly we’re not dealing with the JLA as gods (a concept enshrined by Morrison during his run), we’re not even dealing with them as heroes, we’re dealing with them as victims and weaklings. So later when Green Arrow is directing threats at J’on’s killers and swearing, it’s not characterization we’re looking at but the fall of Morrison’s “impossibly moral men”. And it’s this thread that binds the issue together, from the literal death of New God, Orion, through to the introduction of time to world of the Monitors – the only point of interest in a distractingly boring scene.

In opposition to all this dirty sullying, and the threat of more dirty sulliment to come, Morrison also plays up the idea of ascension in the sequences featuring Anthro. First we see him leaping evolutionary hurdles by employing fire (gifted by the ever mysterious New God, Metron), which here takes on the quality of a superpower, to fend off Vandal Savage and his prehistoric evil dudes. Towards the end of the book, he’s painting his face with the New God’s supertechnological sigils (Kirby’s circuits) and travelling, like Metron, through time. Story is being set-up, and set up heavily, the worry is, does anyone care?

Well, if you’re like me and you’re invested in the DCU then the answer is quite possibly yes, if, however, you only have a passing interest in comings and goings of Superman and co, or a narrower focus, then quite possibly no. The creepy, fallen god elements probably wouldn’t play very well to anyone who doesn’t know who Darkseid and Orion are, and Anthro, Kamandi the Monitors and the rest would probably baffle the befuck out of anyone who hasn’t picked up Countdown or read one of Morrison’s recent Final Crisis focussed interviews. And that’s despite an exposition heavy script and some genuinely wonderful stand alone sequences. The problems aren’t helped by some decidedly dodgy breakdowns and flimsily contextualised scenes. I mean, I had to do some research to find out just what is supposed to be going on in that last page. Me. The guy who’s best placed to figure this book out. That can’t be good.

DC are continuing to plough their continuity heavy furrow with this book, only time will tell how that works out for them. I’m having fun, but perhaps you’re not.

*I’m thinking Morrison is riffing on the premise behind his Earth Two graphic novel where he posits that the DCU we all know and love is built on the principal that good always wins.

the cover to batman 677Batman #677
Written by Grant Morrison
Drawn by Tony Daniel
Published by DC Comics

Now this is fucking vintage Morrison. The tits, as they say.

As much as I’ve enjoyed Grant’s run on Batman I’m the first to admit that it’s been patchy, and pregnant with more good ideas than its delivered. Thank God for Batman RIP, then, eh? This feels like the story Morrison’s wanted to tell all along, and if you believe the hype that’s exactly what it is: the first bat-arc he pitched. Assuming that’s true, I’m kinda glad he didn’t get his way, because this is a story that needed the build, standing as it does on the shoulders of brutal ersatz batmen, the wonderful, if flawed, Club of Heroes arc, and the reinvigoration of the Joker, all of which have lent it not only plot details, and some cool concepts but narrative weight and depth. Had Morrison been able to start his run with this it would have felt light and insubstantial, as it is it’s exciting and not a little scary.

But the aforementioned depth isn’t just a product of what has gone before, it’s also a product of the type of story Morrison has chosen to tell. If Batman RIP is anything it’s a mystery, and good mysteries are, by definition, multidimensional and layered. In addition to which, when presented within a serialized form they encourage a truly unique fan experience. One that sucks the susceptible reader in like no other; attempts to figure out the mystery work to submerge us in the story and to build an investment, both emotional and intellectual, that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to attain. Of course, the other thing about mysteries is how quintessentially Batman they are. Unlike so many other creators, Morrison seems to understand that this relationship isn’t merely conventional but aesthetic, hence the iconography associated ith the Black Glove – the graffiti, the demon’s mask, the red hand on the Batcomputer screen, the scary silent gargoyle henchmen. King fucking Kraken rising silently out of the black water. I want to wallow in this stuff, to bathe in the unknown, and Batman 677 is happy to turn on the tap and fill up the bath with murky water. Everything here is a question.

The really clever thing that Morrison does, however, is anticipate the big theories and throw them back in our face. Is a schizophrenic Batman taking on himself? Is the Batcomputer behind the Black Glove’s assault? Is Thomas Wayne back from the dead and out to destroy his only son? Is Alfred the bad guy? It’s all up for grabs. Total. Fucking. Paranoia. Frankly I don’t think I’ve ever been so worried about an unkillable corporate property, and that’s as much down to the art as Morrison’s writing. Say what you like about Tony Daniel, he does a good line in Batcaves as the outward manifestation of mental illness – those countless batvehicles, made to look so techsexy when drawn by Jim Lee, take on an absurd and worrying quality within the pages of this comic. When Jezebel Jett suggests that Batman is an attempt to create the strong masculine figure missing from young Bruce’s life, the sense that all of it – the cars, the computer, the costume – is somehow deeply wrong is overwhelming, and that’s largely thanks Daniel’s work.

What’s being tapped into here isn’t a new idea, but the execution, while to some degree relying on our familiarity with the concept of Batman as nutter / lost child, manages to freshen it up by cleverly prodding our own anxieties as readers: the worry that we should have grown out of this shit. How many bat-gizmos does a man need to see before they cease to be cool? More importantly, when was the last time you saw the batphone – when did that last speak to you? How old are you now?

Risky stuff. Batman falling apart physically and mentally we can take, been there done that, but ripping him to pieces conceptually risks alienating the reader. Morrison and Daniel’s solution is as obvious and it is interesting: the Club of Villains. On one level they pose a horrid sadistic threat in that they’re looking to beat Batman down even further, but on another they’re our lifeline to the four colour world. Without them Batman (as he acknowledges in the script) would have no justification, would just be a crazy guy in a batsuit. With them he starts to look like a superhero. In some fucked up way these scary guys are our friends.

My only anxiety about this arc is that it might well go to places that will demand immediate, hardcore retconnage. As I said over on Barbelith, the problem with ongoing superhero comics is that change takes place at a glacial pace and that any sudden and dramatic shift in the status quo will automatically be tagged by the readership as impermanent. The writer, then, must find away to tell a satisfying story without drawing too much attention to the fact that the corporate vision of the character can and will reassert itself, otherwise the lie is revealed and disbelief becomes very hard to suspend. I really, really don’t want that to happen to this book, not only because I’m enjoying myself, but because this is one of those rare immersive superhero experiences, and I’d hate to lose that.

Time to go.

“KILL THE LIGHTS!”

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18 Responses to “YELLOW EYES are smiling eyes”

  1. Sadcap Says:

    Great review of Batman, it pretty much says all the things I think but would probably not be able to articulate.

    What I can say is that it’s the first time in too long that I have been really desperate to read the next installment of a comic. I’m sort of enjoying the anticipation, though! It’s good to experience one of the strengths of serialised comics, as opposed to reading most things at my own pace, in trades.

    Good point aboot Final Crisis, too. I think I’ve got a decent grasp of the DC universe, but would have no real idea what was going on with Anthro and Kamandi if I didn’t have access to Morisson interviews, and Wikipedia.

    I do like how mid-90s the whole J’onnnn scene was, though, ‘gritty’ new costume and brutal stabbing, where you just KNOW it’s nothing that’ll stick for too long…

  2. Qthgrq Says:

    What I didn’t make clear is that I loved the Anthro sequences. It takes a rock solid creative team to pull off communication by punctuation points, and make it nuanced, witty, and humorous.

  3. amypoodle Says:

    Since the idea’s been introduced, I just can’t ignore it:

    Jezebel – scarlet woman

    Jet – black.

    RED HAIR.

    BLACK SKIN.

    HA HA……………..

  4. Qthgrq Says:

    Yes, it’s good isn’t it

  5. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » June 5, 2008: The grass isn’t greener Says:

    [...] Tucker Stone, Kevin Church and one of the Mindless Ones on a variety of [...]

  6. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    This is the other Jezzy theory – http://comiksdebris.blogspot.com/2008/06/jette-set.html – that’s driving me to distraction. It could work, but I don’t know how?

  7. Qthgrq Says:

    That would be the Darkseid connection again, then

  8. The Satrap Says:

    Excellent reviews, as always.

    Re: Final Crisis. I´m looking forward to this, if only because the rabid fanboy in me wants to follow the further adventures of Shiloh Norman. “Mister Miracle” was flawed, but it was the most underrated of the Seven Soldiers series IMO.

    Re: “The reinvigoration of the Joker”. I still haven´t made up my mind about this. On the one hand, it´s a gutsy and dangerous move on Grimaldi´s part, to stress how mutable the Joker is, because rather than liberating the character this could be deemed to shackle him to the zeitgeist, and because this is the exact opposite of the synthetic “timeless” approach to a beloved franchise that is being so successful over in the pages of All-Star Supes. And since the Joker´s madness is used to explain away his transformations, and Batman is going a bit nutso by being confronted with his contradictory past…shouldn´t other long-running characters have similar breakdowns? Didn´t Superman use to wear a mullet, and hasn´t James Bond gone back and forth between grit and gadgets?

    On the other hand, I´m still not convinced by the idea that the Joker has no core personality. He is IMO as recognizable a superhero character as any, the nightmare extrovert, always hyperactive and colourful, always on the crest of a wave of…let´s say…painful enjoyment of the absurdity of the world.

    On yet another, mutated hand, I think the imagery is a bit off. We haven´t seen enough of him to decide yet, but the idea of the Joker´s face being frozen in a perma-grin and the torturer´s outfit, with sleeveless white coat and all, make me think of a shambling horror movie reject, or a Dark Eldar Haemonculus, of all things. Well, who knows, the Warhammer 40000 universe is every bit as sprawling, fascinating and heartlessly managed a fictional setting as the DC or Marvel universes, so perhaps a cross-over is in order…

  9. The Satrap Says:

    OFF-TOPIC: Some added wank before I (mercifully) shut my trap. The Dark Eldar, of course, are close relatives of the Sheeda. In both cases we have a sci-fi variation on the spindly, pointy-eared fiends of the Unseelie Court, preying from a city at the edge/end of space-time on more vigorous or less jaded primitives. Which reminds me of something: I´m glad to get some more Mister Miracle, and I´m looking forward to the further exploits of Seaguy as much as the next guy, but the most CRIMINAL waste of one of the Green Goblin´s ideas is that “Frankestein and Klarion the Witch-Boy at Summer´s End” buddy comic you will never read.

  10. The Satrap Says:

    Jesus, I´m such a wanker. I forgot to add that in spite of all my quibbles, Genghis Khan seems to be motivated to write the Clown at Midnight, and that´s what ends up carrying the day. There´s e.g. a couple of great lines in the prose issue, about the feverish quality of the Joker´s metamorphosis, and in particular that one where he suddenly stands up from his wheelchair, “unfolding mechanically like a Swiss Army knife”, or something to that effect. That´s a perfect, chilling summation of the character´s protean nature and danger.

    Which comes to show, yet again, that it´s all in the execution. Actual writing always trumps “retooling”.

    I´ll shut up now.

    No, really.

  11. Qthgrq Says:

    I appreciate what you’re saying about the reasoning behind Grant’s approach to Batman, but the reason why you wouldn’t apply it to Superman is because brutal deconstructivist stories aren’t the kind of thing that work well with the Man of Steel. Batman’s an edgy guy that deserves edgy, mental breakdown driven plots, Superman’s a different kettle of wonderment. As is the Flash, as is Wonder Woman, as is Spiderman.

  12. Adam Says:

    I think the rosetta stones for final crisis are the first and last issues of 7 Soldiers (well, for thematic arc at least).

    The brilliant tonal note that the first issue hit on was the idea of taking Super-heros and putting them in a horror story plot (the Gods hunt super-heroes remember). But by the last issue there are unicorns shooting laser beams out of their eyes.

    I would guess that Final Crisis follows the same trajectory.

  13. The Satrap Says:

    …brutal deconstructivist stories aren’t the kind of thing that work well with the Man of Steel. Batman’s an edgy guy that deserves edgy, mental breakdown driven plots…

    This is a perfectly fair point concerning the (in the undying words of Senator John McCain) “psycho stuff”. I’m still not convinced, however, that the Joker is necessarily a more zeitgeist-bound character than Supes.

    I suppose one can argue that Superman is a bit of a square, and therefore out of touch. But that’s explicitly not GM’s take: his Superman is a highly adaptive, aware character, both due to his unique senses and his being “a scientist’s son”. The informational onslaught which GM’s Supes is subjected to must put the Joker’s “hypersanity” thang to shame.

    The notion that the Joker undergoes a metamorphosis every so often does not flow seamlessly from this “hypersanity” idea of Grundy’s. In fact, it can be deemed to contradict it. For the HS entails the existence of stable traits that can be seen to form the basis of a “core personality”. The Joker’s demeanour is a pretty straightforward reflection of the overwhelming sensory input he gets; his utter lack of empathy for his victims may be interpreted as contempt for the clueless boors who don’t see things as he sees them, while his fascination with the Batman is due to the fact that he can “keep up with me”, etc.

    And do we think that the “a Joker for every season” take will have serious staying power? Frank the Tank’s latest version for example, with tattooed back and the return of the henchwoman with swastika tits, is already making more waves.

    I find it to be rather spurious, a glib, contorted “explanation” to accommodate a large body of stories that reminds me of the old Roy Thomas/Mark Grunewald school of anal continuity policing. But, whatever rocks our author’s boat, really. If the writing’s good, I’m definitely on board.

  14. Qthgrq Says:

    I think we’ve gone off on a tangent here. I wasn’t arguing the case for or against the Joker being zeitgeist bound, although I think the case could be made, and would be built on a similar argument.

  15. marcus Says:

    The writing is inspired, but Tony Daniel’s incompetence makes me wish this was a prose piece. It’s like finding the most interesting person at a party has contagious airborne ebola.

  16. Qthgrq Says:

    Frankly I think that’s just silly hyperbole. He’s not brilliant by any means, but I think he’s done a decent job this time around. Sure, he got some details wrong, and his faces are, er… I think *all-purpose* is the most complimentary way of putting it, but on the whole he’s functional enough, and occasionally pulls out a panel that I’m really rather keen on. TBH, I don’t think he lets me down anywhere that counts this ish.

    Of course I’d like to see someone more interesting on the book, but failing that I want a guy that can deliver on time, with a style that reads easy, and that’s what we’ve got. YMMV, I suppose.

  17. marcus Says:

    I’m just of the opinion that a stellar writer deserves a stellar artist, I personally don’t mind delays, if it’s worth it. I just think overall, he’s has substantially poor drawing skills for someone whose been around as long as he has. The hyperbole is rather silly, but I suppose I have a very bad reaction to his work. What does YMMV mean? I’m a little new to cyberspeak abbreviations.

  18. Qthgrq Says:

    Your mileage may vary.

    Need to stress here that I agree. Morrison not only deserves better, very often he needs better, as weak artists tend to fuck up when confronted by the trickier elements in his scripts. The thing is, if I can’t get great art I’ll take functional mediocrity delivered on time.

    Also, and I feel guilty admitting this, there’s something of Jim Aparo’s work about Daniel, and there’s nothing more batnostalgic than a bit of Jim Aparo, if you ask me.

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