September 22nd, 2009
Before the sun sets on the comics week.
Batman and Robin #4
Published by DC Comics
Story – Grant Morrison
Art – Philip Tan, Jonathan Glapion
This was always going to be a let down from where I’m sitting. Batman and Robin under the pen of Quitely was without a doubt my favourite Superhero comic of the year, and very possibly my favourite superhero comic since the last time those two collaborated. Scratch that, truth be told I preferred those three issues to All Star Superman, because not only were Morrison and Quitely producing fabulous work, they were producing fabulous work on a Batman comic, and I do so love a bit of Batman. So, yes, I always knew this was going to be a letdown and that I would have to struggle to give it a fair hearing.
After four read throughs I think I’m in that place. I don’t love it, but I think Phillip Tan acquits himself more than adequately – his vertiginous towering Gotham has real presence, and he’s more than a dab hand when it comes to the city’s grotesques – and the rest of the art team put in a solid enough performance even if the inking does get a little heavy handed from time to time. There’s a lot of wit in the issue too, and a few of those well judged character moments, but it’s on the issue of character, however, that the switch from Quitely to Tan is most acutely felt, because if there’s one thing everyone seems to agree on it’s that Quitely’s character work has been simply astonishing on this title, and Tan, for all his efforts, doesn’t get close to matching Quitely’s performance. Granted, Tan does put in his best work where it counts, most notably in a bonding scene between the Red Hood and Scarlet, but the rooftop party sequence is full of the kind of impossible to decipher body language and facial expressions that I expect to find in far too many superhero books.
Ultimately though the most disappointing component isn’t Tan’s art, it’s how the art rubs up against the issue’s conceptual basis. Morrison’s turned the prism and we’ve got yet another Batman analogue: an anti-Batman who goes in for gunishment and revenge. It’s not exactly a new idea, and it’s not exactly a million miles away from the Bat-tulpas earlier in Morrison’s Bat-run, but I was prepared to give it a shot thinking that Morrison might inject a bit of new life into the concept. Unfortunately the juxtaposition of the art team’s dark, ninetiesque style with such well worn nintiesque ideas is all a bit too knowable and flat, even when given that special Morrison sheen. There are those that would argue that the art suits the subject matter, and they’d have a point, but that’s one synthesis I’ve had more than my fill of.
Had a more leftfield art team been chosen for this arc, were the colouring a little brighter, the inks a little less heavy and the lines cleaner I suspect I would have been much happier with the resulting product because it would have been in some way novel and suprising. Sadly for the book Quitely and Sinclair’s brief forays into Red Hood territory set up those kinds of expectations. As it is I’m now struggling to care about the next issue, which is a real come down from the giddy heights of the last three and a bit months. Still, two more issues to go – things might start to look up.
But for now, roll on Cameron Stewart.
Blackest Night #3
Published by DC Comics
Story – Geoff Johns
Art – Ivan Reis, Alex Sinclair
Unnnnnnnnnh. I want to say that I care one way or another about this title but I’m not sure I can honestly say that I do. The only thing that I can be certain of is that Blackest Night has failed to engage me each and every time I’ve tried to read it. I know some stuff happened in the last issue, zombie Ralph Dibny was back with his zombie wife, zombie Firestorm turned someone into salt and said some pervy stuff, Green Lantern and the Flash had an argument that seemed to go on for far too long and was full of weird johnsian attempts to enoble character, some indigo lanterns showed up in the nick of time with a truckload of exposition.
What I don’t have in my head is a clear picture of how it all fits together and I simply can’t be bothered to try and generate one. I wasn’t thrilled, or amused, or gripped by the drama of GL telling the Flash like it is (I especially wasn’t gripped by that). I don’t care about most of these characters, at least not as they’re written here. I have no investment in the idea that there’s sacrilege going on, the corruption of wonderful legacies and/or heroic heroes, because I don’t dig Johns’s take on any of that stuff (fuck orf with your Ralph Dibnys!). And I’ll tell you what, and this is very important so pay attention, I am absolutely baffled by the idea that I should find any of this remotely scary. Distasteful? Yup – the extremely strange way that the DCU is regurgitating a raped and murdered non-character in particular – scary? Nuh-uh.
Before the Phantom Menace came out a friend commented to me that just seeing R2D2 would in some way make the movie for him. Just having that little guy on the screen scurrying around would be a pleasure in an of itself. He and I both recognised that this is a common fan reaction and that it certainly doesn’t guarantee the quality of a work. As far as I can see Blackest Night is littered with R2D2 moments, but many of those moments reference things that I will never, ever, ever care about (Ralph Dibny as the embodiment of a happier age before rape), and even if I did they still wouldn’t justify a positive review.