Two reviews on Tues

September 22nd, 2009

Before the sun sets on the comics week.

bmrob-cv4Batman 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.

bln-cv3-variantBlackest 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.

Stuff.

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.

19 Responses to “Two reviews on Tues”

  1. the red hood Says:

    People have been slagging on Tan, and while it’s understandable, I think it’s unwarranted– one look at the Red Hood’s redesigned costume as a symbolic device, and you know exactly why this comic looks so 90s. For crap’s sake, the dude has a pink skull on his chest, two red guns and goes around saying LET THE PUNISHMENT FIT THE CRIME!

    Tan’s art is *perfect* for this issue; I am possibly the only person alive who would say this, but Quitely would have been a detriment. He’s *too good*. There’s no way he could make it look this totally, unbelievably sleazy– and would he be doing full page splashes based off the work of Jim Lee?

  2. Gunderic Mollusk Says:

    “I agree! BZZZMMNNNNNRRRRRKKK!” >kracklepffffff!<

    That said, the banality of Tan’s art for some reason resonates with the kind of atmosphere that Red Hood generates. With respect and understanding to the Mindless party line of Jason Todd as Robin Empyrean, his reintrociction felt like someone invited the most wretched moments of the early 90s to a party and before they could think better of it, the Frankendouchebag shows up, faded Evil Ernie tattoos, soulpatch and all. It somehow reinforces how much I want Batman and Robin to bludgeon him in some highly embarrassing, emasculating way. I feel like this story’s getting out some rather ugly moments and horrid themes to get them out of the system and out of the way before Irving and Stewart jump in with whatever madness they’re bringing to the table.

    Just being snide, but with the prevalence for exposition Johns has, I’m wondering if his internal monologue each morning starts off with “My name is Geoff Johns.” It’s getting so bad that the Superman Secret Origins, which should by all means excite the fuck out of me, lies limp, silly and strained. Sad robot.

  3. Zom Says:

    I don’t think the Red Hood insists on 90s art. I don’t think sleazy insists on 90s art. Yes the Hood was clearly designed to invoke that decade’s excesses, but we’ve seen soooooo much 90s pastiche (within and without Morrison’s run) in recent years that I’m not interested in going there again. Morrison could, of course, surprise me – there’s two issues to go – but thus far the art just accentuates my disinterest.

  4. David Uzumeri Says:

    I dunno if you guys caught this, but feast your eyes on Quitely’s awesome first design for Red Hood:

    http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2009/09/fan-shares-alternate-look-at-quitelys-red-hood/

    I think it is, as the kids say, pretty fucking cool.

  5. nrh Says:

    Zorn seems right. Imagine a Rafael Grampa-ish take on the character?

    I guess it’s disturbing to me that the first three issues, the Quitely ones, rest on references to imagery and tones that most pop culture savvy adults would get, while the new arc seems designed to make sense to those people who bought Travest Charest comics in the 90s. I remember when you wrote that referencing Killing Joke expands a work and referencing Identity Crisis shrinks it; I fear we’re in for a case of the latter.

  6. Papers Says:

    Damn you, nrh, for making me imagine Grampa doing Batman and then SNATCHING IT AWAY, like a damn dream. Damn you. Mindless Ones, reach for your guns.

    I haven’t read the issue, sadface, but I’m somewhat looking forward to it. Damnable student loan delays and whatnot.

  7. Zom Says:

    I remember when you wrote that referencing Killing Joke expands a work and referencing Identity Crisis shrinks it

    I didnae write that. Sounds like an Amyism. Seems to me that most references can, if done right, open up and/or potentially improve a text. It all depends on the specifics of the reference the lens through which the referenced stuff is viewed.

  8. Zom Says:

    Oh, I hadn’t seen that, Dave. Cheers.

    Cowboy Red hood.

  9. James Says:

    It’s a rationalisation, isn’t it, saying that Tan’s art is perfect because it looks like the bad comics Morrison’s referencing. I’ll never be convinced this comic wouldn’t be better served by looking better. Oh lord, Grampa! Even Charest, who nrh makes fun of: he draws very pretty pictures!

  10. Danoot Says:

    For the curious about a Grampa B+R:
    http://furrywater.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/batmans-70th-birthday-exhibition/

  11. Zom Says:

    It’s not simply a post the fact rationalisation, James, in that nintiesesque art is clearly a good way to generate a 90s vibe. My point is that I don’t want a 90s vibe, or a vibe that’s as straightforwardly 90s as the one we’ve got, and the art would have been a very good way to address that.

  12. James Says:

    If not simply, then maybe partly? By which I mean the art would suit the subject matter just as well if it was good and generated a 90s vibe, which isn’t impossible. You’d still be in the same boat re: not wanting it, of course, but by jove it’d look better.

  13. Zom Says:

    Yeah, for sure, but I’m not convinced that all the art in this issue is bad. In fact I think some of it is quite good

  14. Andy G Says:

    There are several panels where I can’t tell what the f**k is going on, and not in a good way. The art lacks a basic grasp of anatomy that comes from learning to draw from other comics instead of life. Given the quality of artist that preceded and is lined up to follow, these issues will stand out as the poorest once the run is complete. The narrative suffers from the lack of detail, making it seem shorter and slighter (not great for $3.99). Roll on #7.

    The Geoff Johns exposition yic is definetely getting worse, but I wonder if this has been encouraged editorially after Final Crisis, giving those vitriolic few what they wanted: gore filled continuity porn where the action stops every two seconds for a recap. Nice art though.

  15. Papers Says:

    So, children of the atom, I picked this up this morning and read it over coffee afterward. I liked it. Okay, so I’m a little empty-hearted without Quitely (or Irving or Stewart), but Tan was a lot better than say, Tony Daniel. It was uneven artwork to say the least. I really enjoyed the red-lit caverns of the Red Hood and Scarlet and their conversation therein. Morrison has chosen to give them nuance which I wasn’t expecting. “But mostly… I guess this is about the revenge of one crazy man in a mask … on another crazy man in a mask. Heh.” Some Proto-52 “Religion of Crime” like meetings (El Penitente? Who is that? What the Purple Klan gear?). Another nod toward the Batman 666 future with the Flamingo (A Flamingo-plane!).

    Oberon Sexton–Dr. Hurt? The Red Hood? Masks upon masks upon masks?

  16. amypoodle Says:

    the flamingo plane and the colourful electrics of the red hood’s gun blast were by far the best things about this issue, but i’m dreading tan fucking up the flamingo. i so hope he doesn’t. i was enormously excited about seeing him.

    anyway, hope everything improves with the next issue because, as zom says, this one was just…alright.

  17. Papers Says:

    Hmm. “El Penitente is a dance of the Penitentes of the Southwest, a sect which believes in the purification from sin through severe penance.”

  18. Zom Says:

    Kinda what I thought, really

  19. Papers Says:

    Not so much with the acting motif in this issue, the focus seems more on branding and marketing–allegations of Wayne Dynasty corruption have “damaged the brand,” according to Lucius, and the Red Hood’s writing his press release. His pep talk with Scarlet, “It’s cool, scary, modern, edgy, whatever… you give the brand that nu-freak chic these try-hard wannabes just can’t muster.” Never mind Sasha’s anguish and pain, it’s all about how that freaky visage fits with his marketing.

    And, and, and, masks that can’t come off. Is Sexton disfigured (people are already calling him the Joker in disguise) or is there another mask underneath?

    And then the Board Meeting of the Damned explores crime marketing: “My boss, El Penitente, says the new model of crime is grass roots, viral. Adapting, changing shape, ever ready to target and attack any vulnerable and unprotected systems.”

    Brings to mind the Jokerz in Batman Beyond–everybody scrambling for a piece of the pie…

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