Moonday night* reviews

February 17th, 2009

* Bollocks, knew I wouldn’t get this done until Twsday morning.

Whatever. This is me giving up superhero comics.

drac1


Captain Britan and MI13 no. 12, by Paul Cornell and Leonard Kirk, Marvel.

Issue ten already, nearly a year since all that Skrull bollocks started. This series hasn’t done an awful lot since then really, wasting at least two issues too many on the preceding Mindful One arc, but I think this issue is probably the best of the run so far. (Difficult to be sure, it’s not exactly the kind of book that begs for rereads. Not til now, anyway.) It’s getting better, nearing the heights of the Wisdom mini of a year or few ago, but still held back by Kirk, whose art I’m still not really feeling. I get the impression he is improving at the same slow pace that he book itself is, and that, with the current inker anyway, he probably specialises in scenes where fire and grit are important, which could work in the next few parts of this current promising story. He still just seems to get panels wrong though – putting clutter where there should be space; neglecting detail when he needs to sell the credibility of a location; and sometimes just forgetting where all he characters are standing.

So anyway: Count Dracula is launching a big old Authority-style science-vamp invasion of Britain by firing vampires at Earth from the Moon. That’s pretty brilliant of course but it’s also got:

  • Dr Doom and Dracula on the Moon talking about East European geopol, Marvel style (careful how you line up those analogies)
  • Vic calls Vlad a racist, and then ‘an artifact, a mystical viral package’ – no-one talks shit at you quite like Doom does
  • TWO funny pub scenes
  • One of which features the first appearance of a yard of ale in a Marvel comic
  • And Blade chillaxing with a drink
  • Loads of SAS guys, leading into a possible SAS v. vamps scenario next ish
  • SAS are way the best Special Forces
  • Storm from the Xmen sitting on a throne in Wakanda
  • May be old news for some, but it’s so weird how Marvel are sticking to their ‘all the black characters are related’ thing, even if it means having two completely unrelated characters get hitched
  • Lots of good character moments
  • Best of which is a sweet conversation between Black Knight and Faiza where Cornell gently disassembles a whole huge raft of superhero bullshit about how the superstuff operates as metaphor for character by asking – what if the character in question is an errant rogue?
  • And her family are in some trouble by the end.

It’s a really fun issue – light, but with sharp corners in the classic Marvel manner. In fact, it’s almost a textbook example of how a downtime/set-up issue should work, and in this it plays so clearly to Cornell’s strengths – humour, sly double meanings in the dialogue and concepts, the odd blockbuster burst of craziness – that I’m already worried the next ish will disappoint.

Batman no. 686, by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert, DC

alfred

Today’s linking theme is ‘Moon’. Our loyal but stormy satellite has to wait until about ten pages in to this issue before making her grand entrance, but right from the off we’re in a world of cats and mauve tones, signaling with little ambiguity that we’re back in the lunar realms of dreams and the dead, where anything goes, dead and living rub shoulders happily, and where Neil Gaiman made his fortunes.

I’ve warmed to Gaiman’s work recently – for a long time there, as a perhaps too-strident and divisive young man, he seemed to be all that was wrong with comics. The worst thing that could be imagined was that someone could say to you ‘Oh I like comics too. Have you read Sandman?’ But I picked up the last two Sandman trades for mere pennies a few months ago, and found myself having a really good time with them. They’re still not great as comics – the emphasis on words dominates the art totally. The panel arrangements, presumably a result of working to a very close script, are always so tight and controlling that even a bit of a loose wire like Marc Hempel has all the personality in his drawings flattened out (and someone like Michael Zulli, whose art’s got precious little personality in the first place..) Art is very much secondary to the demands of the story. No, not the story, the words. The story itself is similarly lost among the constantly recurring need to dust off an elegant lost old phrase and put it in someone’s plumstuffed mouth This repeatedly leeches all the drama from the narrative – the emo thing – (called it goth back then) I really don’t get. I can find no heart to the series at all, beyond it’s simple, affecting message of ‘stories shape our lives. But they are not the same thing as our lives’. Despite the unappealing texture, this chewiness, there’s still something delicious in the overall Sandman flavour, and unsurprisingly Sandman’s biggest fault is it’s greatest strength. There is something undeniably compulsive and sweet about the dirty love of words, the abundance and variety of pure lexis, that the comic delights in. It can be unhealthy of course, rot the cerebral cortex with all the fizzing puns and forgotten adjectives, but for as long as it lasts, I now feel it’s safe to abandon the fanboy battlelines and enjoy it for what it is. Wordy.

But anyway, I was meant to be talking about Batman, not Sandman. 686 is an excellent little comic. It’s completely tuned-in to Morrison’s run, though with the tacit ‘Imaginary story (aren’t they all?)’ disclaimer, Gaiman can go even further with the Bat-apocrypha, drawing in shameless references to the huge stacks of Bat-ephemera that have accumulated over the decades of toys, movies, cartoons and lunch-boxes and placing it all on the same page. Gaiman clearly enjoys himself playing with all the cool kit, but restrains it with a neat and deftly balanced old-school, forties feel. He also seems to have fun with the superhero milieu in general, even going so far as to poke fun at his own The Dream Weaver rep, and quite unashamedly pulling out his favourite tricks (cats, dreams, stories within stories within yet more fucking stories) for both narative and decorative purposes.  First and foremost though, it’s a Bat-story, and the world’s favourite pulp-myth is quite capable of exerting its influence over even old LeatherJacket.

So we’re at Batman’s portmanteau funeral and we get two nice, unconnected but thematically resonant stories told from the twisted perspectives of the Golden Age Catwoman and Alfred. The dreamy, what-if feel is balanced by the baroque energy of the Gotham environment, and a resolutely ‘real world superheroes’ message: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? He got shot by a schmuck, of course. In the Catwoman story, a bleeding Batman arrives at her doorstep for help, and she ties him up and leaves him to bleed out. It’s a superb, creepy take on the sado-masochism and power struggles of their relationship – Gaiman tries to excuse or prettify this bleak twist by claiming Robin Hood as a mythic predecessor for something similar ( but didn’t the Abbess actually inflict the wound on Robin herself? Bury me where this Batarang falls?) We’re left with a very unpleasant feel – would our cheeky friend Selina, even in her Baby Jane, pre-lib days, really be so messed up in the head as to kill Batman through  neglect and mistrust? Maybe so. That’s cats.

The Alfred tale is great too – it again says something insightful, unsttling and also absurdly right about the relationship between the bat and the Butler: sometimes, your best friend helps you by being your worst enemy. There’s also two great Joker moments, including a scene where Alfred transforms himself into the Joker which is as chilling as anything you’ll read this year, and gets to the root of why that cracked, pervasive cut of a smile has been all over everywhere for the last six months or so.

There’s a couple more nice vignettes promised in the next of this two-parter, and a bit of a mystery lurking in the background, in the identity of the woman, not Death we’re told, thank fuck, who is psychopomping for Bruce as he watches his own funeral from the afterlife of the afterlife. I love a who-is-it? as you know, so I’m taking bets on it being Mrs. Wayne, who’s been disappointingly written out of the Bat backstory by Nolan and others in the past decade or so, since the Oedibat 80s got lost, when the writers of mainstream USian mass-fiction took us to the divorceoverse and everything suddenly was about characters missing their dads. You know what I’d like to see, which we used to get all the time? A bit where her necklace gets broken by Joe Chill and we slo-mo in on one of the pearls, and then in a dazzlingly mature scene transposition the falling pearl becomes the Moon, hanging jewel-like in the cold dark sky. Haven’t had one of those in ages – come on Neil, make me happy, I was even nice about Sandman earlier.

12 Responses to “Moonday night* reviews”

  1. Bill Reed Says:

    Don’t fret. It’s still Monday night over here!

  2. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    the emo thing – (called it goth back then)

    THANK YOU!

  3. Damn the torpedos Says:

    Amen to how awesome Captain Britain #10 was! It’s a nice to read a comic every now and then that reminds me of how great the MU can be.

    For Batman 686, I have to say that I think the Mozzer’s last two issues stole some of the Sadman’s thunder. Wry references to Golden Age Bats? Alfred narrating a tale in which he turns out to be a villain (first the Outsider, then the Lump, and finally the Joker)? Check. This doesn’t really take away from the pleasures of 686, but the story feels a bit stale in comparison.

  4. Thrilltone Says:

    I missed an issue of Captain Britain and Pals, then for some reason or other never resumed buying it. Looks like I’m one of those ‘trade waiters’ for this one. I don’t know how happy I am with Blade joining the cast, I’ve always found him a bit shite (no’ in the first two films, but), but then I’ve only read his first appearance in this comic. Am I to gather he has some sort of shapeshifting robot gun-hand, now, like Death’s Head 2?

    I had a great time with the Gaiman Batman. I was one of those nae-pals teens when I read Sandman, so it was pure right up my alley, and though I know I should not like him now I am an actual adult (whatever that really means), I’ll always have a soft spot for Neil Gaiman and his velvety cat-prose for precocious middle class youths, even if I will read his novels and think “so…smug…and…Gaimany”.

    Sometimes I just want to read the Doll’s House while listening to the Cocteaus and generating a character for Vampire: the Masquerade, y’know? Live that early-90s dream I was a bit too young to fully exploit.

    The Batman issue though, I pretty much agree with the Mindless review (boring of me, I know), though I feel special mention has to go to Two-Face’s car, which was pretty ace, I reckon. Shades of Father Ted in the jalopy side. I also felt a bit of geek pride-then-shame when I spotted Dark Knight Returns Oliver Queen making his way into the funeral.

    ‘Props’ to Andy Kubert, as well. I thought his cover was great, as well as his opening shot of Gotham (I love the whole searchlights and blimps thing), though there’s a certain sort of smug smile he draws that makes me want to hit the characters with some sort of 4D-punch. I guess a smug smile fits a Gaiman script, though, so I’m not complaining (much).

    Am looking forward to the second part, then it’ll be time to decide if I should drop the title until Granto comes back onnn.

  5. p Says:

    ‘emo’ was a concept when i was in high school 15 years ago, but referred then to thick-glasses nerd rock like Weezer and Hum. Goths and emo kids were separate scenes.

    stupid kids today don’t know nothing about nothing!

  6. Thrilltone Says:

    Uh-oh, is a ‘what is emo’ debate a-brewin’?

  7. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    No, I said basically exactly the same thing to the Mindless Ones a fortnight back – ‘emo’ used to be a diminution for ‘emotional hardcore’, bands like, umm, Braid. I can’t remember any of the others – that’s my preferred usage of the term, and when people talk about ‘emoes’, My Chemical Romance fans, they really mean, broadly, goths. Or moshers, as I was reminded today, but I dunno if that’s a local thing.

  8. Thrilltone Says:

    Aye, I remember emo was all about yer Braids and yer Chavezes, then it became all about the poppier stuff like Jimmy Eat World or Saves the Day, noo it seems to mean ‘anything with a guitar and a bit of black clothing’. The term ‘emo’ would suggest ‘emotional hardcore’ to me as well, and not, as you say, the moshers/goths. Though ‘goth’ suggests a different group to me than the ‘moshers’ and and and ARGHGHG it sure does become complicated trying to tie down subcultural/tribal/whatever stuff, eh?

    I’d never call Gaiman’s stuff ‘emo’, anyway, I know that much. I think?

    I feel old.

  9. Bots'wana Beast Says:

    Goths are more prone to the synth and black lacquer, etc., less guitar, but there’s definitely the same undercurrent of death ‘n’ violence fantasia, black clothing – the crossover is like Danzig and Type O Negative. I was a mosher and had about a week’s flirtation with the ‘goth’ model.

    I’d not’ve put Chavez in the emocore cat, because I liked them, but it was just a time – you could do anything with a guitar, and someone would use a one-word descriptor +core and that was the genre; Palace Bros. was ‘slowcore’, etc. You don’t get “slows”.

  10. Thrilltone Says:

    Aye, I’d agree about goths – definitely some synth, I’d hope! I erred on the more gothic side of indie hell for a while (Curve and some vaguely glidey/synthy stuff that’d seem really tame these days, but does that make me a shoegazer or a dreampopper or just a dick or what?).

    I really, really wish there were ‘Slows’! Though that sounds more like it’d describe fans of doom metal or something, these monolithic titans moving their way around like the shifting of tectonic plates, “We…are…slows…” they’d eventually rumble out, like Swamp Thing in a black t-shirt.

  11. Papers Says:

    Was looking at the Gaiman Batissue today in the shop — I ended up picking up the RIP trade and that was it — but it looked appealing, really, and this has sealed the deal that I may end up picking it up at some future date. I loved the Golden Age cat-costume with it’s creepy furry head (And the “But, but you’re beautif–*” sputter as they fall and the mask falls away and she bleeds him). And, yes, Martha’s been rather abused and distorted and vanished in recent times (fucking Nolan!) right down to Hurt’s ridiculous assertions to Bruce, so it might be nice to see her influence again, sans Thomas, floating in the afterworlds.

    The idea behind the issue, well, shit, I’m afraid: I miss hypertime. This 52 worlds bollocks is a might restrictive for these meta-ephemera sessions.

  12. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Tuesday night reviews Says:

    [...] I was rather wrong about this one*. Been looking forward to it and all, liked the first issue well enough, and was expecting a bit more of the same: one or two unchained, crisp, well-framed [...]

Leave a Reply