Written by Charles Meier
Batman: The Dailies, 1943-1946, various writers, art by Bob Kane and others
While not The Spirit by any means, the Dark Knight’s first, rather unsuccessful stab at a newspaper strip is still worth a look. Not just for its historical value either, ample though that may be (it represents Kane’s last sustained stint drawing Batman, for example)–there are quite a few legitimately good storylines here. It helps that the Silver Age goofiness (which hit the Bat especially hard) was still a good decade or so away; while Batman cannot, in fairness, be described as grim in this strip, there’s still an unmistakable vein of noir brutality running through the proceedings. For proof, just look the antagonist of one storyline, who early on straight-up murders a henchman’s kitten. Scott Snyder’s yet to come up with anything near so messed up, much as he might try (that whole “living tapestry” thing a few months back, for example). That’s what most of this strip is–small-time crooks willing to do horrendous things in pursuit of their own, usually petty aims. Despite what the cover would have you believe, of the recurring Bat-villains only the Joker makes an appearance, and his story is actually among the weaker ones (dude’s not even crazy yet). Sadly, at no point does he attempt to (force anyone into a boner). The fun doesn’t last, sadly, as the stories get progressively more contrived and ridiculous in the latter half of the strip’s run, with Batman and Robin taking up such momentous tasks as…finding a woman an apartment. It’s not hard to see why the strip only lasted three years.
While he doesn’t quite draw the whole run (though his name does appear on every strip, which is never cool), Kane provides most of the art on display here, and certainly the best. He’s not quite a great artist (his teeth all look like poorly-made dentures), but he provides the touch of vertigo and dread to which his co-creation is accustomed. Speaking of “co-creation”, Bill Finger writes one of the stories in this book. Not exactly unusual–he wrote plenty of issues of the comic, after all–but do you think that was awkward? ‘Cuz I bet it was.
The Savage Hawkman (New 52) vol. 1: Darkness Rising, written by Tony S. Daniel and Jack Bonny, art by Philip Tan
I’m of the opinion that every lousy character is one good run away from being a great character. Just look at Grant Morrison’s Animal Man or Brandon Graham’s Prophet for evidence of this. The beauty of this theory is that obscurity and previous track record have no bearing–all it takes is just the right talent taking just the right interest in just the right property, and you’ve got yourself a slice of fried comics gold.
Every rule has exceptions, however, and I’m starting to think Hawkman is one. The guy (or guys, if you prefer) has been waiting 73 years for his big break into the No Longer Crappy League, without result. This most recent, appropriately short-lived attempt is no exception, suffering the ignominy of having Rob Liefeld finish out its run. Which, oddly, can’t even really be considered a step down. As a writer, Daniel has been responsible for some of the lousier Batman comics of the past decade (Battle For The Cowl, anyone?), and a part of me rejoices to see him assigned to a character more worthy of his negligible talents. He deserves some recognition for attempting to expand Hawkman’s power-set beyond “able to fly”, but his plots are derivative and characterization basic. Never mind rewrites–Daniel’s scripts seem not to progress beyond the outline stage, with each character describable with a single word. For example, Carter Hall is “bland”, while Hawkman is “grouchy”–I describe them separately because the two halves of Carter’s life bear surprisingly little resemblance to one another, personality-wise. And I really hate to keep flogging this, but for a purported relaunch this book does a shit job of bringing in new readers (forlorn hope in this case I’ll admit, but still). The very first issue of the series portrays the title character attempting to quit being a superhero, apparently after having been active for some time (incognito it would appear, as nobody he helps later on seems to recognize him). Anyone picking up this first issue blind would be confused as all hell (to be fair, being confusing as all hell is something of a tradition for Hawkman) and never buy the book again. Which, of course, is exactly what happened. It turns out there aren’t enough diehard Hawkman fans (who must exist, despite all sense to the contrary) to support a book all by themselves, even in this age of depressed comics sales.
But the real king of Suck Mountain here is Tan, who turns out what must be the single ugliest New 52 book. His pinched, blobby (yes, somehow it’s both) style seems specifically designed to hate your eyes. And the coloring is revolting, seeming to make use of only two colors–yellow and brown. This book, without jest or exaggeration, looks like someone wiped their ass with it. And it’s claustrophobic as hell, too, something a Hawkman book should never be–when your character’s whole thing is “flies”, you need to milk that as much as decency and sanity will permit.
So, yeah, basically, this is a shit part of a shit relaunch starring a shit character made by shit creators, who were eventually usurped by an even more shit creator. It is, I think, the most compelling evidence that DC just needs to give up on this property. Hawkman is perhaps not completely beyond redemption, but if Joe Kubert couldn’t do anything with the guy I don’t know who the hell can.
Weird Horrors & Daring Adventures: The Joe Kubert Archives vol. 1, edited by Bill Schelly
Speaking of Joe Kubert…this first posthumous collection of the man’s work is 100% Hawkman free, and therefore just the thing you need to chase those Thanagarian blues away. The works on display here aren’t presented in chronological order, which is a little odd. To do so would have marked a definite progression in Kubert’s work, from the stiff pulp workmanship of the early Golden Age to the majestic, emotive landscapes which would define his career. The horror-comic work is especially instructive–Kubert is another one of those guys you don’t think of as a horror artist, and yet his work can be as disturbing as anything you’d see at EC in their heyday. There’s other genres to be seen here as well, of course, though not all of them are necessarily instructive (the humor pieces, in particular, were “only” inked by him). Even the weaker stuff here is fascinating, however–Kubert worked in the field for a long time, and a comprehensive collection of his work would represent nothing short of an entire chronicle of an artist’s progression from apprenticeship to undisputed master.
Superman: The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen, various writers/artists
This is a collection of Silver Age Superman stories, which means it’s a collection of balls-out crazy. In this case at least, it’s the fun sort of balls-out crazy. Everything that’s annoying about Superman during the period is a lot easier to take when he’s a supporting character, as he was in the pages of Jimmy Olsen’s book. This collection sees Olsen’s undisputed status as Official Shit Magnet of the DCU confirmed, seeing him transmogrified into everything from a genie to a giant turtle-person. And sometimes he just plain trips balls (albeit in a Comics Code-safe way) and imagines he has six arms, which he’s unable to see as anything but a gigantic pain in the ass. While the lunacy is the main draw, the characterization is a nice bonus–Jimmy is an incredibly likable character, one who takes everything that happens to him in stride while possessing the maturity to not abuse the privilege of having the most powerful being on the planet for a best friend. If he has a fault, it would be his lousy taste in women–just look at his on again-off again love interest, the truly repugnant Lucy Lane, who’s clearly not that into him and probably doesn’t deserve him anyway. That she hasn’t popped up in the DCnU is one of the few good decisions made during the relaunch. Still, none of this gets in the way of the most purely fun comics I read all week.
Justice League of America: The Injustice League, written by Dwayne McDuffie, art by Ed Benes and others
This book is nothing earth-shattering, but still pretty fun. McDuffie was a pretty great writer, enough so to make the best of this somewhat disposable storyline–enough so to set up the subsequent, more interesting arc at any rate. It’s pretty clear McDuffie in no way deserved to be fired from the book, especially not for the mostly-bullshit reasons he was. His run wasn’t Morrison’s JLA, but it wasn’t Meltzer’s JLA either. Extra kudos for including Dr. Light sans the customary “hot diggety dog, I sure do love rape!” characterization.
The book’s art, on the other hand, is ridiculous. It’s not ugly in any way, it just happens to encapsulate everything wrong with the portrayal of women in mainstream comics. Benes never misses a chance to draw Black Canary’s ass (and he gets a lot of chances, seeing as how she was leader of the League at the time), usually pointed directly at the reader. It’s a nice ass, don’t get me wrong, but after the sixth time or so it just gets silly. A tad insulting, too, given that Simone’s Birds of Prey taught me to like the character as a character, not simply as a clotheshorse. Add in she and every other female character constantly making fuck-me eyes at everything and everyone and things just start getting uncomfortable. Here, let me show you:
Look at how the women are tied up. Now look at how the men are tied up (Red Tornado’s broken again lol). And that’s pretty much everything wrong with this book right there.
Oh well. It’s not like any of this was McDuffie’s fault–it’s still well written. Which is more than can be said of my final entry…
Batman: Crimson Mist, written by Doug Moench, art by Kelley Jones
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGHHHH!!! Look, I’ve never met Doug Moench. I’m sure he’s a stand-up guy. He clearly loves Batman, and lord knows I can appreciate that. It’s just that he can’t write Batman for shit.
Elseworlds stories usually suck, but this one really takes the prize. Vampire Batman seems an obvious story idea (a little too obvious, in fact), but Moench’s ridiculously purple prose does the concept no favors at all. The result is a story exactly like every other vampire story written between 1990 and 2005, wallowing in florid language and faux-gothic self-pity. That the book in no way reminds the reader of Twilight is really the kindest thing that can be said about it. Characterization’s shit, too–when you can’t even get Alfred right, it’s maybe time to pack it in. Nothing about Batman is recognizable here; it’s like a vampire stole one of his costumes.
And the art? Well, let me put it this way: the only thing saving this book from being the ugliest I read all week is that I also happened to read Hawkman. Jones is clearly aiming for unnerving otherworldliness with his off-kilter proportions and perspective, but instead ends up with a laughably bad Eduardo Risso impersonation.
This is, bluntly, the most unpleasant book I read all week, as well as the worst. It aims to be a horror comic, but instead ends up being an inept, unenjoyable grindhouse flick committed to paper. The only thing saving this from being the worst Batman comic I’ve ever read is that I’ve also read Cacophony. There’s a reason Doug Moench doesn’t really get work anymore.
Oh, one more thing…