18 December 2009

BATMAN ALWAYS WINS: My Batman Christmas List

Does Batman celebrate Christmas? I know he's been in Christmas stories over the years, and I'm sure some enterprising fan out there can point me toward an instance where he's been seen reclining next to a little fake tree in the Batcave, sipping egg nog while Dick Grayson runs around with a new puppy. Still, it doesn't seem to fit, somehow.

But that doesn't mean we can't celebrate the season Batman-style! It's not too late for your loved ones to make 2009 a very Bat-holiday. What should the enterprising Bat-fan hope to see under her tree, menorah, or non-denominational symbol of seasonally appropriate joy? Here's a few ideas...

The Batcave Companion
If there is one essential reference-type book on the Caped Crusader's history, this is the one. A terrific TwoMorrows publication in the tradition of their many other comics history and culture volumes, The Batcave Companion dives deep into two of Batman's most popular and acclaimed eras: The "BAM! POW!" sixties and the "Dark Knight" seventies. Co-writers Michael Eury and Michael Kronenberg clearly know their stuff and provide tons of fun and juicy background details, along with an issue-by-issue overview of every Batman comic published during the timespan covered. My favorite parts were the in-depth Q&As with key figures such as Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, and Dennis O'Neill. I've been meaning to write a true full-length review of this great book for a while but in all honesty, I'm still reading it, and I've had it a month. That should give you an idea of the depth and breadth of the information covered. (FYI, it's also a terrific companion read to the Showcase Presents: Batman series, which starts off right where Batcave Companion's coverage starts and tracks pretty much right alongside the book.)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold Action League Toys
I'm pretty much out of the whole toy collecting scene; too expensive and requires way too much space. But every once in a while, something in a Target toy aisle will grab my eye and tempt me to uncork my wallet. I haven't broken down over these AWESOME minifigs from the new Brave and the Bold cartoon series, but it's just a matter of time. They're small and slightly poseable in the style of the Marvel Superhero Squad figures and feature characters who've been depicted on the show. Since the series is plenty quirky, this means you can actually own a GENTLEMAN GHOST ACTION FIGURE. This is an astonishing fact.

An "Official" Burt Ward-Authorized Batman Googaw
The sixties Batman TV series is a controversial era for some, but as I've probably mentioned, I grew up on it and totally bought it as "serious" drama until I got older and started to recognize the camp. I sorta love it for both reasons. Anyway, Burt "Robin" Ward has his own extensive website and collection of Batman-related merchandise. You gotta love some of the splashy bright pop-art images selected for these items, most of them taken from the show's opening and closing credits. Honestly, the items are a bit pricey, but there's no denying their coolness. Well, their relative coolness, as compared to other ceramic coffee mugs depicting comic book characters and sold by aging teen idols from sixties-era television shows.

The Batman Annuals, Vol. 1 (DC Comics Classics Library)
There's gotta be at least one actual honest-to-goodness Batman comic book on this list, right? I've been slowly working my way through this volume of classic Batman reprints, and it's a technicolor high-contrast jolt of pure pop effluvia, bringing together the first three Batman annuals which themselves reprinted a bunch of classic stories from the forties and fifties. This is full-on Batuniverse expansion time, with all the crazy alternate costumes, the full Bat-family in effect, and the occasional bodily transformation, I expect. The reproduction is magnificent and it really has the feel of a nice archival volume. Plus Amazon will knock a few bucks off the cover price and throw in free shipping.

The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told
If you or your loved ones are invenerate cheapskates, what better way to shop than through Amazon's authorized used booksellers? This is an even BETTER sampler of Batman comics than the Annuals volume above, and if you're okay with a used copy, it's available for 79 CENTS plus shipping. That's under five bucks, folks. I read the covers off this thing when I was thirteen. Its initial release was right around the first Batman film, and it's packed with good stuff--not just stories from every era of the Batman's career, including the critical members of his supporting cast and rogues gallery, but informative essays detailing the key points in Batman's history and discussing some of the stories that didn't quite make the cut.

The Hero Initiative
Batman would no doubt highly approve of a donation to The Hero Initiative, the first-ever federally chartered not-for-profit corporation dedicated strictly to helping comic book creators in need. Even better, buy a T-shirt and get sweet threads AND help others. I myself am hoping Santa brings me this Tom Scioli winner.

Giving is truly what the holidays are all about, and not just for Batman, but for everyone who wears T-shirts. Merry Crimble and have a gear new year!

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26 November 2009

Thursday Link Party: Alan Moore Dodgems Logic

Bleeding Cool has the first review I've seen of Alan Moore's new magazine project, Dodgem Logic. Sounds like a fascinating read; like Rich Johnston, it kinda makes me want to try and put together a local version. In Orlando. A true HOTBED of creative innovation and risk-taking. Maybe Disney's Dodgem Logic?

This week's gonna be mostly NOT COMICS, I fear, but you'll be too busy watching the Macy's parade and eating large fowl to even read this, so who cares, right? It's the last day before a four-day weekend. Let's just go with the flow.

This week's "Man, 4thLetter is awesome" post is from Gavok who defends the recent Franken-Castle storyline in Rick Remender's Punisher run. Gotta say, it sounds like fun creepy comics and I will probably track down the trade.

Are you excited that they're actually making an American Gladiators movie? And if so, can I punch you in the face?

One of the great underrated comics bloggers out there, Pillock, offers a philosophical dismantling of Geoff Johns fans.

Charlie Jane Anders at io9 has a pretty comprehensive overview of the history of media tie-in novels, and a link to a detailed & damning tale (warning: link is to a Word doc) of one helpless writer's treatment at the hands of the Roddenberry juggernaut back in the days before the Great Bird of the Galaxy flew away forever. A must-read for long-time Trekkies who like hearing the dirt behind the scenes.

Bookgasm has a picture-packed report from the Toy & Action Figure Museum in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. Who knew?

Finally, in case you're sitting at work practically alone like I am and it feels like one of those YouTube days, here's some viewing material...

Topless Robot linked to this short documentary from the late seventies on the "cutting edge" computer graphics used in the original Star Wars.



Part one of a three-part Mike Wallace interview with TV legend Rod Serling from 1959. Click here to see parts two and three. Fascinating stuff.



I realize this has made the rounds two or three times already. It's the Muppet "Bohemian Rhapsody." If you haven't seen it, see it now; if you have seen it, find someone who hasn't seen it, and make them watch it.

I am thankful for the Muppets. Happy turkey day.

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24 November 2009

Alan Moore Month: Good-Bye, Superman! We'll Miss You!

"Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" is a two-issue comic book story by Alan Moore and Curt Swan, edited by the legendary Julius Schwartz. Its two issues were both published in September 1986.

Watchmen is a twelve-issue comic book story by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that would later be collected into a single trade paperback and become easily one of the best-selling and most-acclaimed graphic novels of all time. Its first issue was published in September 1986.

It's tempting to read boatloads into that largely coincidental symmetry (although I can't prove it's coincidental; I guess maybe someone in scheduling at DC was aware of the rich meaning in the shared month of publication, but I doubt it). Watchmen really begat the modern era of superhero comics, among other things; "Whatever Happened" was designed from the outset to act as the curtain call for a dead era in superhero comics: The Silver Age, as defined by a specific editorial and storytelling style at DC.

If my blogging compatriot Chris Allen is right and "Watchmen is about escaping the petal-soft death grip of nostalgia to live in the moment," then what is "Whatever Happened" about? On its surface, the story seems to have some nostalgia for the past. Moore frames the tale as an "imaginary story," employing this descriptor to poetic effect. Swan's art instantly evokes the Superman of the 1960s and 1970s. The story drags in every element of the Superman mythos and then some, in the style of other "imaginary" tales like "The Death of Superman" from 1961.

Yet even as he's using common silver age story beats, each gets twisted into some dark version of itself. Bizarro isn't a harmless buffoon; he's a mass murderer. The new Luthor/Brainiac "team-up" involves Luthor's death at the hands of the robot, who digs his metal claws into Luthor's brain and takes over his body; it manages to be especially creepy as drawn by Swan in his traditional Superman style.

In fact, it turns out there's very little nostalgia in the nuts and bolts of Moore's "Whatever Happened." Instead, each element from the past is subverted to more sinister ends than ever before. In a sense, Moore is commenting on the transition in mainstream superhero comics from the light-hearted frolicks of the silver age to the more "reality" based storytelling of the modern age. Those elements had already begun to leak into DC's titles but would fully dominate the publisher's storytelling from post-Crisis onward.

For Moore himself, it's an interesting utilization of these building blocks of the silver age, because it's always seemed clear that he has warm feelings toward the Mort Weisinger school of comics; aside from occasional comments in interviews, his Supreme run could be viewed as a massive modernized love letter to Superman's silver age, pulling off a similar trick of repurposing the era's storytelling fundamentals but with more obvious affection.

On the surface, it's a nostalgic wrap-up to the silver age; dig deeper, and it's a dark dissection of the impending era in superhero comics. Moore seems to be illustrating a gradual creeping of the modern into the stories of the past, creating a bridge of sorts between the pre-Crisis tales that have come before and the tone of the post-Crisis era of DC comics. In "Whatever Happened," the true archenemy of superheroes everywhere, "reality," infects the fantasy world of the pre-Crisis DC universe. Through his villains, Superman experiences vengeance and evil at a level he's never before encountered. The "innocence" of the silver age is abandoned forever.

Also infecting the Silver Age is a new fascination with character development and emotional truth. There were certainly emotions expressed between characters in the silver age, but it's all very surface and subservient to the plotting and ideas. To make a possibly unfairly broad generalization that will surely be refuted with gusto by fans of silver age books, those stories are incredibly clever and creative, and scads of fun...but don't seem very interested in creating real emotional lives for their characters.

In "Whatever Happened," Moore shows us Perry White and his ex-wife reconnecting in what they believe is their final living moments, a touching moment between those two characters that would be virtually unimaginable in any silver age Superman story. The sharpened purpose of Superman's villains raises the dramatic stakes; when members of the Legion of Super-Heroes (who seem to have knowledge of Superman's "end") appear for a final encounter, their *chokes* and *sobs* actually pack an emotional wallop for readers.

Or maybe not. Maybe Moore is just taking the piss a bit, slyly messing with the volume controls on the various elements in an average Silver Age Superman story toward making the whole enterprise more dark and "gritty." It could even be read as parody in spots, rather than affectionate satire.

I'd believe that to be the case, if not for Superman's final moments, the sadness with which he seems to step into the gold Kryptonite room, how he vanishes silently into the arctic mists, never to be seen again...except by us, the readers, who see "Jordan Elliot" wink at the readers, as if to say, "Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere."

And he hasn't. Pre-Crisis DC, and the Superman stories created throughout the Silver Age, live on, in reprints aplenty and the fond memories of fans. That attitude of anything-can-happen fun lives on too with modern twists, in books like Incredible Hercules and Batman & Robin.

So is he saying you can take the comics out of fun, but you can't take the fun out of comics? If so, that's a pretty damned nostalgic point of view. Oh, how the ghost of you clings...

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20 November 2009

Alan Moore Month: Batman Always Wins

For a writer largely credited with revolutionizing the superhero comic book, Alan Moore has written precious few mainstream superheroes.

He's written plenty of his own heroes, and then there's that Watchmen thing everyone keeps telling me about, which I simply MUST get to one of these days, after I've finished reading the Twilight saga for the forty-seventh time. (Whooooo will Bella chooooooose???)

But time spent clocking in and out at the Big Two Spandex Adventure Factory? Very little. He wrote a few legendary Superman tales, and a scattered assortment of one-offs and back-ups and fill-ins for titles across DC. He's never written ANY major Marvel character, except those that appeared in his Captain Britain run back in the day.

And he's written Batman. Or rather, he's written stories in which Batman appears. He's never actually written a Batman story.

What's that? Yes, you there in the back, with the fake dreadlocks and the soft-serve ice cream cone. The Killing Joke, you say?

That's a Joker story. Batman's a supporting character at best. And that happens to be true of Moore's two other Batman stories, one of which has never even been printed here in the United States, and isn't comics at all.

"The Gun" appeared in a 1985 UK Batman annual. It's a prose short story by Moore and featuring spot illustrations by Garry Leach, who draws a pretty sinister Batman in spite of the garish coloring that really emphasizes the bright blue of Batman's classic blue and grey outfit. The titular weapon is (SPOILER) the gun that shot young Bruce Wayne's parents, and it's being utilized by Johnny Speculux, a graffiti-tagging thug with the most eighties british nickname in the history of the planet.

It's basically one of those things where the weapon carries all this anger and rage which it then somehow mystically ejaculates through a variety of emissaries, including Joe Chill, before meeting its own demise eventually along with Mr. Speculux. Batman's hardly in it, and when he is, it's not a very distinct or inspired Batman. He has a nice short moment with a little girl who saw her own parents murdered by Speculux at an only-in-Gotham art exhibit of gigantic home furnishings (nice Dick Sprang homage there).

Like Moore's Star Wars stories for the UK Empire Strikes Back magazine, "The Gun" is clever and short. It's one of those fast in-and-out blunt quickie type stories like you'd read in 2000AD or even the EC books. It's even got a "creepy" twist ending that brings the central theme of revenge back to its logical starting point, with Bruce Wayne as just another casualty caught in the crossfire. I very much liked this bit about Batman:

"He was staring at Johnny Speculux, and there was something familiar in his eyes...They had all of the seething, emotional intensity of a child's eyes, but they were set into an adult's face and the effect was terrifying."

There's something about little Bruce Wayne's eyes living on in the visage of Batman; it's a unique evocation of a theme that has since become trite, which is that Batman is little more than the seething wound left open by the death of Thomas and Martha. Back then, it wasn't quite as overdone, and drawing that line through Batman's eyes puts us squarely in Johnny Speculux's shoes, because while we don't know that much about Johnny, we know everything about Batman's vengeance, and we know it is a terrifying thing, even through the eyes of a child.

Moore's other significant Batman story is from Batman Annual 11, "Mortal Clay," with art by George Freeman. This one is a Clayface tale focused on the third villain to claim the title, Preston Payne. It's a full-length comics story, not a four-page prose story, so Moore stretches out a bit and offers a glimpse inside the mind of a man obsessed with a mannequin. His "lover" is "Helene," and the entire story is told from his point of view, so it becomes a series of cuckoldings in which a security guard and Batman both become "the other man" in his twisted brain.

Payne's interior monologue is what provides the thruline for "Mortal Clay," and there's moments where he definitely lets the character ramble on, but it's still a compelling narrative technique, especially since the comics format is so uniquely suited to utilizing voiceover and image to comment on each other.

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All you really need to know to get that he's crazy is that Preston Payne is in love with a mannequin. Seeing it laid out as above, with his "...and neither of us said a word" as counterpoint to the dead chilling face of "Helena," is Moore mining the potential of comics for its full potential.

I think so much of the appreciation of Moore comes down to his exceptional ability to pull off moments just like that one. He is a supreme master of comics as a storytelling vehicle and an art form for exploring themes. Whether it's a minor moment of Clayface hugging a mannequin or the virtuoso construction of Watchmen's fifth issue, where Moore and Gibbbons together build a "Fearful Symmetry" into the DNA of the page layouts themselves, Moore is so completely comfortable with the multiple levels on which sequential art can operate that his stories always redeem multiple readings. Even when he's just telling a Batman story that's not much about Batman for a random annual, meant to do little more than pile onto the limitless and ever-growing mountain of ongoing superhero fiction.

Batman himself doesn't appear significantly until the final sequence of "Mortal Clay," when he shows up to capture Clayface and is mistaken for the latest lover to steal the heart of "Helena." clayface and Batman fight, until Clayface collapses in a distressed heap before his mannequin, and Batman...offers his hand to the villain.

We then learn that while Clayface has been restored to Arkham Asylum, thanks to Batman's intervention, he's been allowed to live in relative happiness with "Helena." It's a side of the Caped Crusader we don't see very often these days, but it's welcome when it does appear; Batman has pity and mercy for many of his sickest adversaries.

These handful of stories don't give us a great idea of Moore's vision for Batman, but they do seem to indicate that like many Batman writers, Moore seems far more interested in the Dark Knight's rogues gallery than in the hero himself. Of course, we could spend some time dissecting the elements of Batman that clearly inspired aspects of Rorschach from Watchmen. That's the thing with Batman: Even if you're Alan Fucking Moore, Batman's never really far away.

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19 November 2009

Thursday Link Party: Alan Moore's Pop Career



That's Alan Moore, who turned 56 yesterday, orating one of his many pop music compositions. Searching for it also pulled up this exceptional blog post about Moore's many recorded contributions to the culture. Happy birthday, old bean. BONUS MOORE: A rare 1999 short comics story.

I haven't read the comic, and my feelings on Mark Millar are...mixed, but the trailer for Kick-Ass looks like it might be wrong-headed and fun. It's certainly one hell of a high concept, one of those head-slapper ideas that you know will be wildly successful and wish you were making money off of it because diapers are expensive and they just keep getting filled up...ah, fine then, where were we? Oh yes. Links.

Jack Kirby. "Psychic Blood-Hound." What more do you need to know? DON'T ASK JUST CLICK. (via Super I.T.C.H.)

A nice companion piece to David Wynne's Killing Joke defense...Gavok at 4thletter! has an interesting theory positioning Jason Todd as Dick Grayson's "Joker," his archenemy/opposite half.

More this week on Grant Morrison's New X-Men run, this time from Tim Callahan at CBR.

Sigrid at Fantastic Fangirls reviews S.W.O.R.D. #1 quite favorably. Have I mentioned I'm excited for this book? I'm excited for this book. It's on its way to me via the US postal service now. I anticipate its arrival.

Over at Alert Nerd, I posted an old dusty spec pitch I wrote for the Thing's short-lived comic series, back in the days when I thought the best way to happiness and success was writing unsolicited pitches for short-lived comics series.

NOT COMICS: Abraham Lincoln moves a few steps closer to gaining sentience and taking over the planet.

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12 November 2009

Thursday Link Party: Alan Moore Goes Gorillaz

Alan Moore ain't happy; he's feeling glad. He's got sunshine in a bag. And a gig to write the libretto for an opera by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett. That sounds satisfyingly weird.

The other big Moore story this week was the crazy lady in Kentucky who kidnapped her library's copy of Black Dossier because she felt the content was unsuitable for children. Reading about it makes me sad for our country and sad for that lady, who should be locked up someplace dark and prayerful where she can't hurt others. On the other hand, there's something satisfying about Moore still being able to create work so provocative to some that it requires this treatment:

The proof is in her knapsack, in a bright yellow flexible file folder, hidden from prying eyes. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume IV: The Black Dossier. It has pink and yellow highlighter tags sticking out, marking the pages that contain explicit sexual content.

Shudder. Anyway. Onward and hopefully upward from the pits of censorship hell. While I'm feeling ranty...

I try hard not to be all pre-judgey when it comes to movies, comics and the like, but the "Sgt. Rock to the Future" movie sounds absolutely idiotic. Inglourious Basterds did pretty well...wouldn't another kick-ass WWII flick with a slightly recognizable property be a safe bet? Why buy the rights to Sgt. Rock and then take away anything that makes the character and stories what they are? Who's serving the Crazy Juice in Hollyweird these days? That crank in Kentucky needs a couple swigs.

I was pleased to find not one but two custom Batmobile links this week. Via Dave Campbell, here's a look at the BatSmart, an ecofriendly Batmobile designed by George Barris, who built the Batmobile for the 1960s Batman TV show. At the ever-reliable Bat-Blog, a more bad-ass white trash take on the Batman's conveyance with this customized 1970s Corvette. Also, Batman-related currency.

NOT QUITE COMICS: My friend Steve Hockensmith announced he's the writer on the upcoming Jane Austen/zombie mashup prequel book, Dawn of the Dreadfuls, which sounds like buckets of fun. Congrats to him; his Holmes on the Range novels (the first one's on sale in paperback at Amazon! Five bucks! Great stocking stuffer!) are absolutely worth a read for any fan of cowboys and Sherlock Holmes, two great tastes that taste great together. Like Kentucky and a nude Allan Quartermain. Mmmmm.

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05 November 2009

Batman Always Wins: Stop The Press! Who's That?


Picture a Pre-Pubescent Mattie (PPM), acne sprouting up like weeds across the oily plain of his face, visiting his local comic book shop.

PPM's eyes dart across the racks. His heart starts to race. His hand adjusts the trucker cap perched awkwardly atop his enormous head, back when those were worn only by actual truckers and the hopelessly unfashionable.

PPM picks up every Batman comic he can find; later that day he devours them voraciously, laying on his bed beneath his Batsignal poster, his Bartman poster, and the poster he took from an old comic book magazine of Adam West and Burt Ward in their Dynamic Duo garb from the sixties.

Yes, little Pre-Pubescent Mattie had Bat-fever.

Considering my sentimental attachment to the Caped Crusader, and of course the fact that this is a BATMAN THEMED COLUMN IN CASE YOU HAVEN'T NOTICED YOU FACELESS RANDOM CLUELESS PERSON I AM JUST NOW MAKING UP TO JUSTIFY USING ALL CAPS AT THIS POINT OKAY ENOUGH OF THAT, I hope you’ll forgive my waxing poetical on the first Batman film.

To describe this film as “seminal” in my development as a geek, a movie fan, and even a HUMAN BEING is to understate its importance. I was absolutely fucking OBSESSED with Batman in 1989. Totally out of my goddamned head. I still remember the exact date that Batman premiered in theaters: June 23, 1989. I remember it because throughout the last half of my seventh grade year, I lived for that date. I. Absolutely. Could. Not. Wait. For. This. Movie. And so the Tuesday after the film came out, my dad took an afternoon off from work and we went to see Batman at the once-beautiful River Oaks Theaters in Calumet City, IL.

My Trapper Keeper the next school year was covered in stickers from the Batman trading cards. My sister and I obsessively collected each and every one of the cards to form a complete set. In art class, I devised ways to incorporate the classic oval Bat-symbol into my projects. That aforementioned trucker-style hat had a Bat-symbol stitched in fluorescent yellow on the front, and I took to decorating it in buttons from the comic book and sci-fi conventions I started to attend in high school. (My favorite? The “Kirk/Spock in ’92” button.)

As a phenomenon, Batman in 1989 was the first time I was aware of a massive pop culture event and decided of my own volition to fully join in, to stand alongside the seething masses in our Bat-signal T-shirts jamming to “Batdance” on our Walkmen headphones. It was everywhere, and so was I, slurping it all up without hesitation and loving every second of it. It was my awakening to the power and potential in films, music, television, stories; it guided me into comics. It kinda made me a geek. (Okay, a BIGGER geek. Happy, grade school playground tormentors?)

As a movie, it’s a simple story, and that’s one of the big reasons it works. Director Tim Burton and screenwriters Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren don’t clutter their film with extraneous villains who are more a lampoon than a serious threat; there’s no Ahnold muttering idiotic quips with his face painted blue, or Danny DeVito limping around with fins over his arms. (Though I do think Batman Returns is largely underrated...more on that in a future column, for sure.) It’s lean storytelling that focuses on what’s important, which is the duality of Bruce Wayne and the viciousness of the Joker.

But it's not watchable because of its awesome story; it's more about a mood, a feeling, all atmosphere. It's really a triumph of style over substance, which is something that can be said about many of Tim Burton's films...and frankly, about many Batman stories over the years. Burton's Gotham is a city on its last legs where nothing but evil seems to exist in primary colors. His Joker is a horrifying lampoon of a circus clown who gets off on combining pure naked bloodlust with his playful exterior. And his Batman is an unrelenting force of justice, consumed by revenge against an enemy he can never defeat. Production designer Anton Furst creates a twisted nightmare version of New York where every corner seems to end in a dark alley and criminals rule the streets.

And yet...there's a distance to it all, a theatricality and artifice that seems rooted in the halting rhythms of comics, not as they had evolved in 1989 but as they were in their birth in the thirties. Burton's Batman emerges from a spiritual connection with the early, primal Batman tales. Plot is largely meaningless; atmosphere trumps all. Images stand out beyond story...Michael Keaton stretching his batwings out over a couple of thugs, the Batmobile snaking its way down a leaf-covered forest road...they live in the mind like that ghostly, silent image of The Bat-Man sneaking into a palatial estate, or the iconic cover of Detective Comics 27, Bat-Man swinging down onto hapless criminals, justice raining down from on high.

This staged feeling, almost as though the characters themselves are performing and not just the actors, fits with the whole identity-as-mask theme that's central to the film, and that's always been a core part of Batman's appeal. As his character has developed, so also has a simple question with no easy answer: Is Batman Bruce Wayne, or is Bruce Wayne Batman? Which is the reality, and which is the disguise? Burton dives more directly into these issues with his second Batman film but it's there in the first film too, in the overall unreality Burton and his crew create--the heightened, yet darkened, sense of drama and action.

My love affair with the Bat didn’t start with Tim Burton’s film...but in a way, my whole lifelong desperate romance with the minutiae and ephemera of pop culture started with the 1989 incarnation of Bat-mania, and the film that inspired it.

So thanks, Jon Peters, for snorting blow and fucking hookers with Jack Nicholson back in the late eighties. If not for that, I might not be the nerd I am today.

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29 October 2009

Thursday Link Party: A More Sincere Pumpkin Patch

Man, I love It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Comics Alliance caught a great image from artist Steven Sanders (S.W.O.R.D., Five Fists of Science) featuring Lockheed and Kitty Pryde doing their best Chuck D and Flavor Flav impersonation. So cool. Have I mentioned lately how excited I am for S.W.O.R.D., basically The Thin Man in space starring the X-Men's Beast and Agent Brand? I am very excited for S.W.O.R.D., yes, I am.

Twitter pal Scott Cederlund has a great review up of a somewhat under-the-radar book from a few weeks back, the Joss Whedon/Fabio Moon one-shot Sugarshock, collecting comics they put together for the online-only compilation MySpace Dark Horse Presents. Reading it, I found myself sharing many of Scott's observations although he's far more articulate in phrasing them than I could ever be. It's a very scattered book, lacking focus and heft, but it has a slight goofy charm, and more Fabio Moon is always a good idea. Guy could draw the phone book and I'd buy it.

I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy James Hem's new comics movie column over at Bleeding Cool, as long as he keeps contributing turns of phrase like this:
Paul Cornell has been hawking his Black Widow series to SFX. It only exists to plug the Iron Man 2 film right? And to get people “ready for” Scarlett Johannsons’ character? Surely what the typical fanboy needs to do to get ready for Johansson in a catsuit is to sit on their hand for half an hour?
Ha ha ha! It's funny cause it's true cause we masturbate.

Sean T. Collins over at Savage Critics has a great defense up of The Dark Knight Strikes Again that puts the work in a really fitting cultural context. I'm still torn on the book myself but I do think it says something that there's still intelligent things to say about it years after its release.

Inspired by a recent post over at
Bat-Blog, I put the term "comic book" into Google's new Life magazine archive and in ten minutes dug up a few gems:
  • A January 1964 profile of Roy Lichtenstein
  • A June 1946 piece on Li'l Abner and artist Al Capp
  • A November 1944 story on "junior geniuses" contributing war inventions to the Captain Midnight comic, including a brilliant machine gun/palm tree mashup that, like DKSA, was years ahead of its time
Anyway, I'm sure there are a multitude of treasures within that archive waiting to be uncovered by other intrepid internet explorers, so have at it.

NOT COMICS: The world's only
analog blog.

(Post image courtesy Cape and The Bat-Blog)

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23 October 2009

BATMAN ALWAYS WINS: Englehart & Rogers

We started our exploration here of all things Batmanish with a simple statement of purpose: There is no "definitive" Batman. It follows, then, that all Batmen are worth our time, whether wacky or gritty or remarkably sane.

That doesn't mean I don't have a favorite Batman, or several; for the longest time, one stood pretty clearly in the lead, and that's Frank Miller's Batman, as depicted in The Dark Knight Returns. Easy answer, but I gotta keep it real.

That's from a character perspecive. Based on visuals alone? Jim Aparo, followed closely by Norm Breyfogle.

After I finally got off my duff and read the legendary Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers run of Detective Comics, it dawned on me that maybe the EngleRogers (does that work, like a "Brangelina" kinda thing? Maybe yes?) version of the Caped Crusader is now my favorite.

Because frankly, Batman's been depressing as hell for a really long time, and EngleRogers' Batman is actually (gasp) FUN.

***
We all know why Batman is. One minute, he's an eight-year-old skipping out of a screening of The Mark of Zorro; the next, he's kneeling in a pool of his parents' blood, which usually also contains bits of pearl necklace and movie theater popcorn as well.

It's an incredibly simple, elegant origin. It's lasted for the better part of seventy years with nary a tweak. It doesn't just work; it RESONATES. You may or may not be the vengeful type, but you can at least understand the cataclysmic event and its emotional fallout. You yourself may not choose to become a Creature of the Night in response to your own parents' murders, but you can sorta see where Bruce is coming from.

The problem with that origin is that sometime round about the emergence of Mr. Miller's vision of the character, the origin stopped being an inciting moment and became far more. Because it's an easily-drawn line connecting li'l Brucie in that alley and Big Bruce dressing up in a bat costume, that line has become everything the character is. The death of his parents grew to be far more than just Batman's origin; it became the totality of his being.

Which is what led us to Bat-Dick, the popular online term for the asshole Batman who prowled the streets of Gotham for something like twenty years, or basically, since the immense commercial and critical success of Miller's Year One and Dark Knight Returns.

There's something about those two stories standing as they do at the dawn and the twilight of Batman's career that underscores the origin-as-essence phenomenon; later creators must have looked at these two towering tales and realized, subconsciously or otherwise, that Miller had already done the heavy lifting for them. Whatever happened to Batman in their stories, it was simple enough to plug it into the template, since the template was not just easy and well-defined, but literally spanned Batman's entire life as a character, as defined by Miller.

So: Miller draws the pearls and the popcorn; a parade of talented creators fall in line; we get two decades plus of angry, vengeful Batman, some of which is perfectly good stuff, but all of which is frankly a fucking downer.

***

Of course, as I do a bit of internet research for my next trick, I discover a far more talented writer has already done an incredible piece on EngleRogers' Batman. Apologies in advance to Peter Sanderson if I eventually follow along the path he carefully cleared through the jungle of Batman, and we'll get back to his essay in a moment.

***

What struck me most powerfully about the EngleRogers Detective Comics run is that their Batman is not a character defined by vengeance. The death of his parents is what drove him to become Batman, but it is not what drives him to continue being Batman.

What keeps him going is a sense of justice, and frankly, a sense of adventure -- you get the sense that the EngleRogers Batman enjoys what he does, and that he's not undertaking some solemn, lonely vocation that would handily destroy most men, and quickly.

There's lots more to love about EngleRogers' Batman; his relationships with Dick Grayson, Silver St. Cloud, and Alfred all seem much more healthy and grounded, and the guy's actually able to deal with police and citizens without terrifying everyone who bumps into him. But it all stems from the central conceit of Batman as dark, heroic adventurer, NOT Batman as brooding, vengeful sociopath.

In interviews just prior to launching his run on Batman, writer Grant Morrison referenced the "Neal Adams hairy-chested love god" version of the character, and that quote certainly stuck in my mind. On reflection, I think Morrison actually aimed for more of an EngleRogers conception of Bruce Wayne, one able to absorb all of the various aspects of the character without becoming too beholden to any of them. Bruce Wayne had an actual healthy romance again (at least, until she went and got evil on him), he had more fully developed relationships with his supporting cast, and he dealt with a wider range of threats than the vicious street scum he would regularly beat to within an inch of their lives as the Deep, Dark Knight.

Then there's the issue of Morrison's run as all-encompassing clearinghouse for ALL of Batman's history -- he's said that he's taking the approach that every adventure we've seen Batman have since 1939 actually happened to this guy over the span of twelve-odd years. That again has echoes of EngleRogers, as Sanderson astutely points out in his essay linked above:

All of this reflects a different mindset than that which prevails in comics today. Englehart believed in drawing from and incorporating the classic stories of the past, presumably not just because they provided him such rich material, but also out of respect for the writers, artists and editors who created those stories. Englehart was presenting his stories as the latest in a long and honorable tradition. How different this is from the current fashion in comics, whereby classic stories are regarded as dated antiques to be superseded by new versions by whoever the current hotshots are considered to be.

Englehart's approach was more of a pick and choose strategy, closer to what Geoff Johns has done with heroes like Green Lantern and now Superman; Morrison's actually dragging it ALL in to see what that does to Bruce Wayne. But the principle's similar.

Morrison took Batman on quite a freaky psychological journey in "Batman RIP," and I enjoyed his Batman more than any I've read in years. It's because Morrison's conception of the Dark Knight owes quite a bit to the EngleRogers version of the character. It's a Batman you WANT to read about, that you want to cheer for, and that you want to see happy.

That's right -- a balanced, HAPPY Batman. Shocking, but as Englehart and Rogers demonstrated, quite possible, and endlessly entertaining.

Next time: If all goes well, we'll have an interview with Norm Breyfogle, the iconic Batman artist for an entire generation of fans. If nothing goes well, then we'll talk about Burton's Batman. Either way, we're going back to 1989.

A version of this column originally appeared at Alert Nerd, where I frequently blog as well. Come on over and check it out!

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22 October 2009

Thursday Link Party: The Webbing Represents Something Else, I Think

Let's take the long way today, a rambling spin through the interwebbes. We'll start a little far from comics but get there quick. Trust me.

This titanic (get it, cause he directed the movie Titanic, and I'll shaddap now) profile of James Cameron is a must-read, especially if, like me, you get a little dizzy when you think about seeing Avatar in a few months. (via Kevin Church)

Didja know Cameron wrote up his own treatment for a Spider-Man movie back in 1991? And it's online? Read and imagine what could have been.

Supposedly Bruce Campbell will have a larger role in Spider-Man 4, which won't be directed by James Cameron but will be directed by Sam Raimi. I'm glad to hear that as Campbell's extended bit role as the enthusiastic French waiter was for me perhaps the most entertaining part of Spider-Man 3.

Ya know who I'd love see writing a Spider-Man movie? Grant Morrison. (Okay, not really but it's a transition. WORK WITH ME PEOPLE.) Ya know whose upcoming series Joe the Barbarian I'm superexcited about? Grant Morrison. Pretty excited about Sean Murphy too, who is already looking to be KICKING ASS on this book.

Morrison's All-Star Superman did pretty well on the Best Comics of 2008 Meta-List, an indispensible resource once created by Dick Hyacinth but this year created by Sandy over at I Love Rob Liefield (title ironic, I think) using the original formula created by Chad Nevett.

Speaking of Superman, I agree wholeheartedly with Kiel Phegley that Hipster Superman sucks and slutty Halloween costumes do not kick ass. As he says:
But boy oh boy is there a big difference between someone, male or female, who is confident with their body and sexuality and looking to explore that and some who just wants to be slutty. And holy shit, will there be a lot of people slutting it up out there on Halloween this year.
I like skin as much as the next dude but I've got a daughter now and if she tries to parade herself around like a hooker one day a year, I swear to Jesus I will ground her until she's at least as old as those ladies in Grey Gardens.

Finally, I just loved this piece of iPod Touch art that Lea Hernandez created. So evocative and beautiful.

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21 October 2009

Mighty Chew

(FAIR WARNING: I'm not 100% sure this will go anyplace substantive. I have questions but no answers. I hope we can discuss in the comments.)

Yesterday's release of the DC Comics solicits for January 2010 revealed that issue 12 of The Mighty will be the series' last.

This bums me out, as I really enjoyed this series; I honestly could not believe it was being published by DC at times, not because it was horrifically violent or featured lots of gratuitous nudity (it had neither), but because the storytelling was so smart and methodical. I won't get too far into it, at the risk of spoiling for those who may read it someday (this would be a GREAT trade paperback purchase and an even BETTER dollar-bin roundup). It's essentially a suspense thriller about a superhero who may or may not be insane, told from the point of view of his all-too-mortal lieutenant and friend. It's a great comic.

Thing is, there's lots of great comics within what I'll term for the purposes of this conversation the American genre mainstream -- basically the Big Two and the other large, medium, and smallish publishers who also publish primarily superhero, action, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc comic books.

It seems universally true (to me at least) that for the most part, the books that sell in the top 50 or 100 are usually not as good as those that fall beneath that rough line of demarcation. I say that as someone who enjoys Bendis and Brubaker a whole hell of a lot, worships the water Grant Morrison walks upon, and even occasionally gets into the gore-infested melodrama of Mr. Geoff Johns.

But if you think about the really great mainstream genre comics out there, it's almost always stuff that is either "comfortably" in the midlist or pretty much always in danger of cancellation. From the past few years alone, so many examples come to mind -- Agents of Atlas, Captain Britain and MI:13, Secret Six, Incredible Hercules, Jay Faerber's books for Image, Checkmate, Blue Beetle. These are just from the top of my noggin. Pick through your own brain, or poke around your longboxes sometime, and you'll no doubt find your own pet favorite series that ended too soon because it sold too little, in spite of high quality, many positive reviews, and maybe even a fan campaign to resurrect it. (Shit, forgot Manhunter. Especially Manhunter.)

So this got me to thinking about not the whole "why don't people really like the good comics that it seems like everyone agrees are good but nobody buys" argument, which is kinda played out, but a more specific argument. To wit:

Why did The Mighty fail, and Chew succeed?

I like Chew, a lot. I like The Mighty better, I think. But this isn't a value judgement on either comic. It's more about two mainstream genre comics, one that sank like a stone over a year, and one that already seems to have drummed up enough buzz and sales to see it through two or three years.

Obviously it's not strict apples to apples, and maybe that's all the answer we need. The Mighty was a superhero book from a superhero publisher that didn't take place in said publisher's mainstream superhero universe. It was marginalized from the start. Chew is not a superhero book and has no aspirations to be one. The Mighty has a much less poppy "hook" than Chew, which is about a guy who eats dead people to find out about how they died. (Damn, that's a great high concept.)

There's also huge differences in the philosophies of the publishers; Image is clearly willing to nurture a title like Chew for long enough to let the book either make an impression or fail to do so, and even after it fails to do so, it may keep publishing it anyway, because those guys are cool like that. I have no knowledge of their inside baseball but one look at a smash TPB hit like The Walking Dead proves that it must be worth it for them to try lobbing out interesting books into the marketplace and trying to see what will "stick" in a similar way.

DC...well, like I said, I have no idea why DC even agreed to publish The Mighty. It's not a DCU book. They rarely publish non-DCU books. This might not have been the best fit for something like Vertigo but it could easily have folded into the Wildstorm line instead, not that doing so would have helped or hurt its chances much, in my opinion.

Does Image just care about comics more than DC does? There has certainly been plenty of press and buzz surrounding Chew, some of it organic to the book and its hooky concept, but some of it definitely stoked and driven by the Image marketing and exec team. On the other hand, I do recall interviews promoting The Mighty upon its initial debut.

Are we just that shitty a readership, that we can't spot the good books from the massive wall of absolute pablum wretched up onto the stands every week? Maybe so. According to estimates The Mighty 1 sold around 17K; by issue 3 it was at half that number; by issue six it was under 6K. So some of us tried it and gave up; fine, it's not everyone's cuppa. But that first issue was so purposefully slow and careful that I wonder if it didn't push people from picking up a second and third installment. I guess that could be our fault as lazy addled readers, or the creators' fault for not putting enough BANG in their big debut; I still thought it was an awesome opening.

Oddly enough, Chew started at around 5K in sales reported for its debut month (with more thereafter as the issue went through multiple printings), and had hit 13K by its third issue. So a nice sizeable climb...but ultimately in the same ballpark as The Mighty, honestly. And frankly, DC just has much deeper pockets than Image, at least I would think they do.

So why not just keep publishing The Mighty for a while longer, put out some trades, try to nurture the book more than just a push off the ledge with a few Newsarama articles to help it fly?

I don't know. I'm running out of questions and I'm pretty absent of answers. I'm bummed; not like indignant and angry, like you are all morons cause you didn't buy this comic book I liked. How sad would that be? Pretty sad.

But every couple years, I'll pull out my meager stack of Mighty issues, and I'll read them again, and I'll wish I had more to read. I don't know why I won't have more, and I don't know if there are easy answers to these questions. I just wish more of the good stuff got more of a chance to be even better, I guess.

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15 October 2009

Thursday Link Party: Sick of Myself


Under the weather this week, so forgive me if this veers too often into non-comics territory. You're tough. You'll get over it.

Comics Alliance has news that all five episodes of the Spider-Woman motion comic are now available for free on Hulu. I'm not personally a huge fan of the format, especially using Bendis' writing; the first episode for me highlighted how unnatural his scripting sounds when actually spoken. But I could see it working with certain comics, and I appreciate the attempt to experiment with major creators and characters.

NOT COMICS 1: Apparently there's an audio-animatronic Remy the Rat who will visit your table at a restaurant in Epcot. If I could afford it, I'd be there in a heartbeat, as I'd love to be entertained by a robotic rat while I eat French food.

Geoff Boucher at Hero Complex writes about the unlikely friendship between Frank Zappa and Jack Kirby, plugging an article by Jeff Newelt in Royal Flush magazine. Also scope that awesome Zappa-as-Kirby-character piece by Rick Veitch. (via Mark Evanier)

NOT COMICS 2: You're a geek, so you probably like They Might Be Giants, right? I know I sure do. Rolling Stone has a track-by-track interview with the Johns celebrating the 20th anniversary of Flood. Blue canary in the outlet by the lightswitch; who watches over you?

I adore the Bat-Blog. There, I said it. Right now you can read an entire Super Powers pack-in minicomic featuring Batman on the site.

NOT COMICS (but it oughta be) 3: Hamtramck Disneyland. See it to believe it.

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12 October 2009

BATMAN ALWAYS WINS: Six Pages

How many Batman stories are there, anyway? I'd be tempted to count, if I could quit my job and get paid handsomely by some eccentric billionaire to do nothing but count Batman stories.

There's at least 690 stories in Batman's eponymous title alone. Of course, some issues had more than one story; others are part of a larger story arc. Detective Comics adds another 858 to the pile. Batman Family, Legends of the Dark Knight, Shadow of the Bat, an endless array of miniseries, one-shots, Elseworlds, guest appearances...like I said, full-time job. And that's just in comics; there's several TV series and movies to consider as well, plus video games, prose adventures, and so on and so on and so on...

Considering the almost unimaginable volume of Batman stories over the past seventy years, it's pretty astonishing to consider it all began with just six pages. Detective Comics #27, cover-dated May 1939, boasted a Batman cover, but only a single six-page interior story devoted to the Caped Crusader. The rest of its 64 pages were filled out by an odd assortment of gag strips, action strips, prose pulp adventures, and some actual detecting here and there too.

So, six pages. Six pages with which to introduce a character who would continue to be published non-stop for the next seventy years. Six pages to spawn a pop culture phenomenon--movies, music videos featuring androgynous pop stars, pillowcases. Six pages that are a landmark in our cultural history.

They're six good pages, scripted by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane. Today Kane is always credited as Batman's sole creator; if Kane created Batman, then Finger brought him to life. It was Finger who became Kane's initial and most influential co-conspirator in building up what we know today as the Batman "mythos," though I'm sure some hate that word. (At least I didn't call it "canon.") "Young socialite" Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon both premiere in this first story, along with the Bat-Man (dash included); it would take several more issues for other bits of Bat-iconography to appear, such as the Batarang and bat-themed methods of motorized conveyance. (In this original adventure, Batman drives a nondescript red car, like he's just borrowing wheels from a particularly boring friend until his pimped-out superhero ride is ready.)

This first story, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," reads to today's eyes like warmed-over second-hand crime fiction, something one of the minor Law & Order shows might whip up for a non-sweeps episode. There's four guys and someone dies, and they're in some chemical business together, and one of them wants the whole money for themselves. Or something.

Who cares, really, when the top of the first page gives us our first look at this Bat-Man, framed in silhouette, promising mystery and intrigue and darkness?

The rest is a dull moan, except when this Bat-Man shows up again, and punctuates the proceedings with the physical violence that even in comics' dawning days was already the visceral payoff to whatever convoluted story had to be serviced to get the reader to the good stuff

As a casual fan at best of golden age comics, a few things surprised me. First, the silence. As in, there is some.

Photobucket

I always imagine golden age stories as heavy with text, whether it's dialogue balloons or looming captions that compress the images in each panel down into tiny tableaus. Even in this initial story, Kane and Finger are already experimenting with moments of pure action, minus any text whatsoever; over the first year of Batman in Detective, they'd push this envelope even further to create moments of surprising and quiet mood.

It's also jarring just how unconnected the sequential art is in this story as compared to any modern comics. It may be the influence that film storytelling has slowly gained over comics storytelling that compels creators today to develop more cohesive scenes that spread out over pages, instead of moving a story forward at a more compressed pace; creators today also have far more space to spread out than these six pages, so they decompress, leading to 22 page issues that read more like a chapter in a book than a filling installment of story. In "Syndicate," the panels are less frames from a film than snapshots of a series of scenes, with stray moments of true "sequence," where you can somewhat follow action from one panel to the next.

You probably already know that at this point in his career, Bat-Man had no trouble with criminals meeting their "fitting end" in the course of his pursuit. He'd change that tune quickly, and he'd meet Dick Grayson, and he'd start looking out for the Bat-signal and settle pretty quickly into a Batman (no dash this time) we recognize as the same one we read about today.

In these first SIX PAGES (sorry, I just can't get over it, so so much from so so little), the Bat-Man is still rough around his edges, and raw. Yet even here, the darkness draws in, and this "mysterious and adventurous figure" already begins to fascinate.

Next time: My favorite Batman, by Englehart and Rogers.

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01 October 2009

Thursday Link Party: Comic Book-Themed Food Tastes Better

Being links I found of interest as I explored the hinterlands of the interwebs this week. Perhaps you've already seen them. If so, I apologize. I will try to read your mind harder next time.

A 1990 exploration of Will Eisner's comics typography. (via Paul Pope)

Denny O'Neil talks about how to write comics, in the first of a series at Bleeding Cool. This is the only place I will ever feel it appropriate to mention that O'Neill has always reminded me of my tax guy, to a scary degree, in both physical appearance and general demeanor.

NPR's Monkey See blog offers an appreciation of HOBODARKSEID that kinda overexplains a joke that's only funny if you get it already. Also, spoiler alert: It reveals HOBODARKSEID's true identity. (It's Hawk from Hawk & Dove, although it was originally supposed to be Captain Atom. I like jokes on the INSIDE!)

Jonah Weiland remembers the short-lived Marvel Mania restaurant at Universal Studios in California. Is it weird or pathetic that I wish I could have spent $34.95 on a Galactus-themed sundae? Does it help if I explain my pleasure at drinking a Warp Core Breach in Quark's Bar at the Las Vegas Hilton? Is anybody listening to me? (via The Beat)

Nothing to do with comics, but funny as hell: Dave Lartigue transforms his computer problems into an Agatha Christie drawing room mystery. Spoiler alert, again: Lady Printer did it. With a USB cable.

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25 September 2009

BATMAN ALWAYS WINS: All Your Batman Are Belong To Us

Let's start here: There is no such thing as a "definitive Batman."

You may have heard different. Perhaps you're under the impression that the grumble & grimy Batman of the past twenty years is the "definitive Batman." Or maybe you grew up in the fifties, and to you, Batman just ain't Batman without some aliens and rainbow-colored costumes. You may believe the earliest Batman stories are the best and most important, or that Grant Morrison's current run on the character is the greatest interpretation yet created by mankind.

There's a good word, "interpretation." This is a bold statement, but Batman might just be the most interpreted character in pop culture. That's not to say he's the one with the most comics, movies, TV series, childrens' underpants, and so on. But when it comes to the sheer variety amongst the many depictions of this one guy who fights crime in a cape and tights--different and varied views of who the character is, how he operates, and why he does what he does--there may be no single modern character who has been conceptualized in so many divergent ways.

Which is good, because otherwise, this column would be about 50 words long.

On a semi-regular basis, this space will be devoted to discussing Batman. Just Batman. Not superheroes in general, or DC universe superheroes, or even DC universe superheroes who live in Gotham City. JUST BATMAN.

And somewhere tangled above rests our essential thesis--rather than cherrypicking through this character's history and deciding which versions of the Bat we prefer, only to discard the rest, we're going to operate under the assumption that it's ALL TRUE. It all happened, because it did. Maybe it's not all there in the current fictional history of the intellectual property published in modern corporate superhero comics as "Batman," but it's all there in the culture--the comics, the movies, the TV shows, the childrens' underpants. We can look at all of it, turn it over, see what makes it work, or not so much. (FULL DISCLOSURE: We will not be looking at the childrens' underpants. At all.)

Batman has been MY FAVORITEST since I was about four years old. At that age, I simply bought into the adventures of Adam West and Burt Ward as though every cliffhanger death trap had an actual prayer of dicing the Dynamic Duo to paper-thin bits. By the time I was old enough to really nurse a comics habit, Michael Keaton was in theaters slapping around Jack Nicholson. I stuck it out through Knightfall and Knightryder and Knightfever; up until a few months ago, I had every single color variant of Legends of the Dark Knight #1. (I kept the turqouise.)

More recently, I was there opening weekend for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, totally jazzed that somehow, the movies had managed to make Batman awesome again. A variation on the greasy & grubby interpretation, to be sure, but still nuanced in its own ways...just like practically every separate take on the character.

These Batmen scattered across my life, the pop detritus I stumble upon in my brain on a daily basis...they all MEAN something, even if it's dumb. Let's crawl down to the Bat-Cave of the blogosphere, pop some punch cards into the Batputer, and see what we can deduce.

***

Okay, so it's no fun to just have some random blabby "here's what I'm gonna do" intro column and not have at least ONE treat, right?

It seems as though the sixties, in addition to being the most turbulent cultural period in our nation's history, were also the years when every two-bit actor with a role on a TV show thought they could record a pop record. Shatner, Nimoy, Sebastian Cabot, Eddie Albert...the list is endless, and the stars of Batman are no exception.

Brian Heater did a fun write-up on Burt Ward's foray into pop music with none other than FRANK ZAPPA (!!!), so let's give a listen to Adam West's single, "Miranda." Wikipedia informs us that this song was actually performed LIVE by West at personal appearances in the 1960s; I don't think I'll encounter a more pathetic factoid today.

Ward actually acquits himself pretty well on this one, so it's not quite at Shatner "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" stature. It's also catchy as hell. You have been warned.


Next time: We return to where it all began: Detective Comics #27.

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24 September 2009

Thursday Link Party: Lonely Astronauts Go To Church

Sam Henderson has pages up from a Kennedy parody comic of the 1960s, "Bobman and Teddy." (via Craig Yoe)

Staying in the sixties, Jog tackles both the Beatles and a rarely-discussed Beatles comic in his latest edition of The Watchman at Comixology.

Kevin Church expands his webcomics empire with The Loneliest Astronauts, collaborating with artist Ming Doyle on the strip. It launches September 29 (but you can set up your RSS reader now). As the site describes it: "They’re light years from home on an airless moon, living on carefully-rationed supplies, and unable to contact Earth. The worst part of all this? They hate each other’s guts." (via Kevin Church)

Graeme McMillan continues his dissection of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men run with a look back at how far the mighty fell after Dark Phoenix.

If you are fascinated by such things, here's a bit more financial corporate nitty gritty on the Marvel/Disney deal. (We need a word like "Kremlinology" for all these behind-the-curtain Marvel type things. I'm open to suggestions.) (via Robot 6)

I am incredibly excited about the new Gabriel Ba/Fabio Moon book for Vertigo (cover shown above). It's on sale in December; here's a preview.

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16 September 2009

Dracula: Superhero

Gavok over at 4thletter! has slowly but surely become one of my favorite offbeat comics bloggers. Covering topics such as Marvel's old What If...? series and an exhaustive history of the character Venom, he's carved out his own unique territory in the blogosphere. Also, Darkseid Minus New Gods is an unheralded masterpiece of pop comedy.

The latest strange and wonderful comic dismantled by Gavok is an old Dell superhero book based on...Dracula. Yep, it's Dracula as a superhero.
Dracula wants to move forward and break away from the bat-based stigma of his bloodline by… uh… experimenting on bats. He has just made a serum out of the supersensory portions of a bat’s brain, with hopes that it can cure brain damage. Ingesting bat brains heals your own brain? I don’t know about that. Ozzy Osborne is still pretty loopy.

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15 September 2009

Bill Clinton Joins Cast of Oni's Resurrection

Former president, humanitarian hero, exceptional saxophone player...and now an ongoing character in a comic book.

Is there anything Bill Clinton can't do?

CBR had the story last week on Clinton joining the cast of Oni's Resurrection, written by Marc Guggenheim and illustrated by Justin Greenwood. The series chronicles the aftermath of an alien invasion, sorta like Walking Dead with UFOs; Clinton was apparently president when the fictional (?) invasion took place.

Guggenheim is of course being coy with details, but I'm intrigued to see how our 42nd president handles himself on the funnybook page. Guggenheim told CBR:

“Clinton was separated from Hillary and Chelsea and he presumes they're dead. You never know, particularly with this series, but I'm very interested in exploring Clinton's reaction to the deaths of his wife and daughter in a very real, human way. That's really my goal with writing Clinton in the book -- to write him as a fully fleshed out and developed 'character' rather than some two-dimensional 'icon.' In other words, I'm writing him as a man and not merely a former (current?) president.”

I need to stop writing now, as I'm desperately trying to avoid any jokes about blue dresses or cigars. It's not easy.

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12 September 2009

Data Sheet: Matt Springer


NAME: Matt Springer

BIRTHPLACE: East Chicago, IN

AMBITIONS: To be Batman.

TURN-ONS: Solid gags, bleeding heart liberalism, chocolate.

TURNOFFS: Lack of self-awareness, the east coast conservative media, broccoli.

GREAT COMICS: Jack Kirby's Fourth World, The Dark Knight Returns, Giffen/DeMatteis JLI, Box Office Poison, Goodbye Chunky Rice, Scott Pilgrim, Brubaker's Cap, Busiek/Perez Avengers, Grant/Breyfogle Batman, many others (of course).

FAMILY LIFE: Married and living in Orlando, FL with a toddler, one on the way, and a dog who just DROPPED ASS TWO FEET AWAY FROM ME. Fucking DOG.

FAVORITE FOOD: I don't eat.

WHAT I LIKE IN COMICS: Trippy concepts, character-based humor, sharp writing, clever twists, and Batman.

WHAT I DISLIKE IN COMICS: X-treme violence in superhero nostalgia delivery systems.

FAVORITE CREATORS: Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Fred Van Lente, Alan Moore, Jeff Parker, Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, probably others I'm forgetting.

FAVORITE MUSIC: Elvis Costello, the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Ben Folds (Five), Art Brut, Wilco, Matthew Sweet, Elton John, Rufus Wainwright, Pulp & Jarvis Cocker, Robbie Fulks, Weezer, the Beach Boys, the Killers, R.E.M., Nina Simone, Bob Dylan, Jenny Lewis, Warren Zevon, Ben Kweller, Steely Dan, Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Fountains of Wayne, JEEBUS this list is long.

SHOWS I WATCH: Big Brother (oh stop), Lost, 30 Rock, The Office, Mad Men.

FAVORITE MOVIES (incomplete): Rushmore, Godfather II, Empire Strikes Back (oh STOP), Jackie Brown, Casablanca.

IDEAL EVENING: Tucking in the kid, a good episode of a great TV show (or a good movie) with my wife, reading time, dreaming of Batman.

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