Batman: The Dark Knight vol. 1: Knight Terrors, written by Paul Jenkins, art by David Finch and Ed Benes
Pe-reeeeety bad, this comic. On the upside, it’s the amusing sort of bad. On several occasions I actually burst out laughing while reading it. Now, if it had been intentional on Jenkins’ part, he’d’ve had it made.
Funny that it’s written by Paul Jenkins, really. You may remember him as the writer who had some very choice things to say about DC editorial which, assuming they’re true (and my gut tells me they are, at least in large part) go a long way toward explaining the sorry state of much of DC’s product, this series very much included. In that interview Jenkins specifically describes one issue in this collection, in its published form, as a “pile of turd”, a phrase that describes pretty much all the others as well. This book reminded me a great deal of Hush, possibly the most popular terrible Batman comic ever published. There’s the same sense that this is the Cliff Notes of Batman, hitting all the important points of spectacle without any effort to mold a coherent story. It’s worse than that, actually, because it’s far more compressed–this is Hush on fast forward. Most of those laughable moments I mentioned are the constant blink-and-you’ll-miss them cameo appearances, culminating in a scene in which literally the entire Bat-family shows up one by one over the space of two pages, then just as abruptly disappear. At least that one makes some sort of sense–when frigging Deathstroke (who is, apparently, a Bat-rogue now) does the exact same thing a few issues later, you start getting the sense that of the gazillion or so Batman books DC is putting out now, editorial chose this one to be the infomercial.
The art’s okay I guess–I’ve never really seen the appeal of David Finch (he’s basically a poor man’s Jim Lee, in my opinion), though he is a far better artist than he is a writer. And of course, we have yet another appearance by Ed “Baby Got Back” Benes, who’s at least not trying to fetishize Batgirl getting stabbed in the liver this time around. Still, there are far better Batman comics you can be reading. I’ve never considered Jenkins the greatest writer (this is the guy who created The Sentry, after all), but he’s definitely capable of better than this, at least when paired with not-insane editors.
Green Arrow (New 52) vol. 2: Triple Threat, written by Ann Nocenti, art by Harvey Tolibao
On the brighter side of things…I read the first volume of the relaunched Green Arrow, but didn’t feel much motivated to talk about it. Suffice to say that the surprisingly good art (by the likes of Keith Giffen and George Perez) wasn’t enough to elevate it beyond such flaws as “not being that interesting” and “being written by J.T. Krul”.
But then something odd happened. A new creative team came along, and suddenly this book had something it never quite had before–personality. I really like Nocenti, even as I recognize why people wouldn’t. She is well and truly off in a world of her own, taking self-reference to an entirely new level. Rather than a willful, doomed attempt at irony, Nocenti’s work inhabits a more personal level. Characters in a Nocenti-written comic know, on a certain base level, that every waking moment of their lives is completely goddamn ridiculous. They want to talk about it, to vocalize it, to get it off their chests, but don’t know what to say. So they just talk, as best they know how, hoping they’re getting the point across while understanding they probably just sound like madmen. Which they do, but gloriously inspired madmen. To read a Nocenti comic must be very close to watching someone in the throes of a religious experience.
Tolibao’s art is similar. It looks like a complete mess–there are too many lines, they’re shaky and not drawn strongly. The result should be a blobby mess, but somehow Tolibao keeps the balance, turning out something that looks vibrant rather than amateurish.
It wouldn’t be fair to compare this book to, say, Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye. Not only is it not quite that good (Oliver Queen’s about as likeable as he ever is here–that is to say, not very), the focus is completely different–it’s very much a straightforward superhero adventure comic. Nor is it fair to say you should start picking up the series; Nocenti wasn’t on the book very long, eventually being replaced by Jeff Lemire, whose prodigious talent is suited to the world of capes, tights and DC editors not at all (looking forward to Trillium, though). Suffice it so say that once in awhile even Green Arrow gets his moment in the sun, and these few issues rank right up there with Mike Grell’s run.
Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker, written by Joe Casey, art by Mike Huddleston
I have a real bad habit, I’ve noticed, of complaining about certain things in my reviews, namely explicit sex, violence, and profanity. I realize this makes me sound like more than a bit of a prude, when in reality I don’t have any specific problem with those things, at least in works of fiction. The problem, I think, is that more often than not those things are used as an end in themselves, expected to substitute for good writing and storytelling.
Here, however, we have a happy exception. Problematic as he can be at times, Joe Casey is a reliable creator once you get used to his quirks. While he’s still arguably swimming in the muck here, displaying the usual fascination with fornication (the guy did a miniseries called Sex, ferchrissake), collateral damage and generally antisocial behavior, the end result is more a triumphant black comedy than creepy and rapey *COUGH*Wildcats3.0*COUGH*. This is the simple tale of Butcher Baker, an American super-soldier (picture Watchmen’s Comedian, except slightly less of an asshole) with an engine for a heart, a sweet semi-trailer and an eight-minute refractory period, on one last mission to kill every supervillain on earth. Along the way ladies will be sexed, cities will be demolished, redneck sheriffs will be annoyed and cosmic presences will be tricked into exploding their own heads. A splendid time is guaranteed to all. Well, okay, maybe not all–children, prudes and Leno fans aren’t likely to get much out of this book. But who cares about those people anyway?
This book is the sleaziest sort of fun, the kind that has you giggling all the way through even as you worry about kids reading it over your shoulder. It has nice art, too, being the sort of painted comic that manages not to be pretentious.
Give My Regards To The Atomsmashers! Writers On Comics, edited by Sean Howe
The author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story made his bones with this, a collection of essays by prose writers on their experiences with sequential art. As is typical with this sort of thing, the results are highly variable in terms of quality, ranging from sweet (Jonathan Lethem’s tale of childhood friendships forged in the fires of 1970s Marvel Kirby comics) to bland (Luc Sante’s Tintin retrospective, which tells us nothing a Wikipedia search wouldn’t) to questionable (I don’t think American Flagg! is quite as forgotten as Steve Erickson seems to think it is) to pretentious (Myla Goldberg’s contractually-obligated wittering about Chris Ware, semi-redeemed by a fondness for Renee French). There’s even an offering from The Man Who Ruined DC himself, Brad Meltzer, who turns in a half-cute, half-grating take on adolescent crushes as relating to The New Teen Titans’ most memorable villain. None of this translates to anything half so indispensable as Howe’s later work, but is an alright read as comics analyses go.
Superman: Reign of Doomsday, written by Paul Cornell and others, art by Axel Gimenez and others
I end, appropriately enough, with an ending. This book collects the last four issues of Action Comics prior to the relaunch, and while it’s not the earth-shattering climax the series deserved–and arguably needed–it’s just as solid and entertaining as the Luthor-focused storyline that led up to it. It’s pretty much just Superman–with a little help from his friends/family–punching the hell out of multiple Doomsdays, which goes rather better for him this time around. Also included is the entirety of Action Comics #900’s bonus content, including the infamous “Superman Hates America” story. (He does nothing of the sort, of course, as anyone who’d bothered to read the thing will tell you.) All that stuff is pretty good–even Damon Lindelof acquits himself pretty well. It would seem not even he can screw up too badly when only given six pages to work with (Ridley Scott movies, of course, are another matter). I’m slightly annoyed that the title didn’t get the chance to reach #1000, even as I acknowledge we’re talking about twenty years’ worth of publication here. I’m more annoyed that the storyline at hand isn’t anywhere near the scale of “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?”, but perhaps it’s for the best. This way, at least, we get to remember OG Supes the way he was.