Various Stuff n' Such


So here I was, all set to write a cranky post about how much I disliked a certain high-profile comic book movie that opened this weekend. But honestly, folks, life’s too short, and I’d rather spend the time gabbing about stuff I enjoy. So with that in mind, here are a few random tidbits of comic booky goodness from last week’s offerings:


Other Lives, by Peter Bagge: The Hate-meister returns to cranky form with this original Vertigo graphic novel about four interconnected losers—a writer who despises his racial identity and is haunted by a past act of plagiarism, his fiancée, whose vicarious internet life begins to blur into her real relationships, an online gambling addict desperate to cover up his crumbling domestic life, and a would-be government agent/national hero who lives in his mother’s garage. Fans of Bagge ‘s most famous creation, Buddy Bradley, can draw a straight line to Vlad (Vader) Ryderbeck, the self-loathing, slow-burning, expletive-spewing, booze-swigging antihero at the heart of Other Lives, who discovers that the self-created false identities people hide behind—both online and in real life--are not just a product of the internet era, but in his case at least, a generational affair. Bagge’s rubbery, cross-hatched caricatures may not be for everybody, but there’s truly nothing else in comics like them, and they are perfectly suited to the grotesque lives, both real and imagined, that they depict. The surprisingly violent conclusion is strangely unsatisfying, but the repeated jabs at the characters’ cartoonishly sad-sack lifestyles and the equally ridiculous internet fantasies they retreat into are what stays with you after you’ve finished reading.


The Flash #1, by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul: DC has taken a lot of flack for bringing back Silver Age mainstay Barry Allen—fair enough, considering that most of their current readership grew up reading the adventures of his protégé, Wally West—but here’s the thing; having Allen as the Flash in a new number one issue makes sense because he’s the easiest version of the character to explain to new readers. Hit by lightning, showered by chemicals, Fastest Man Alive. There you go. Sure, he’s got tons of baggage if you start factoring in his death and rebirth, his stint as a married father in the distant future, and all that other crap, but this first issue wisely sidesteps all that, focusing instead on what I hope will set this series apart from the previous run (see what I did there?): the fact that Barry Allen is a police scientist, so he is actually going to be solving mysteries instead of just running around fighting bad guys. Manapul’s art is just as lovely here as it was in his short-lived stint on Adventure Comics, and I hope he’s in it for the long haul. This is a fun, accessible, great-looking debut, with one of those cool two-page teaser ads at the end (like the ones Johns did for Legion of Three Worlds and Sinestro Corps) for an upcoming event called Flashpoint. I have no idea what it could be about, but it looks cool. Let’s hope DC doesn’t water it down with a kajillion crossovers, but who am I kidding? Of course they will.


Kill Shakespeare #1, by Conor McCreery, Anthony Del Col, and Andy Belanger: I know Johnathan already covered this IDW book and its fascinating shared universe, where the Bard’s most famous creations join forces to destroy him, a few days ago, but I wanted to throw in my two cents as well. This is a very cool, original concept, executed with terrific skill and style. There are a lot of comparisons to be made to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen being thrown around in regards to this series, and that’s a pretty big compliment in my book. The premise may be a bit intimidating to anyone not well versed in Shakespeare, but it’s a lot more accessible than you might think at first. For instance, I haven’t read Richard III, but I recognized the hunchbacked, shriveled-armed monarch as soon as he appeared. You could just look at Kill Shakespeare as a simple adventure story framed by a larger literary backdrop if you like, one with witches and pirates and ghosts, and you’d enjoy it just as much. Belanger’s art is detailed and stylish as well, just as impressive in moments of quiet dread (like Hamlet’s father’s ghost appearing from the mists) as it is in action scenes (such as the first issue’s big set piece, a pirate attack on the boat carrying Hamlet to England). And the creators are Canadian! Really, you have no excuse to miss this. 

Superman/Batman Is As Superman/Batman Does.

Superman/Batman is one consistently stupid book. Like its spiritual predecessor, World’s Finest, it teams up DC’s heaviest hitters month after month, and in true Silver Age fashion, there is a bit of an “anything goes” approach, where wild ideas abound but logic is often the first thing to go out the window. It’s a title that began with President Lex Luthor putting a million-dollar bounty on Superman’s head because a Kryptonite asteroid was going to collide with Earth, and became even more idiotic with each successive story. The idea that Superman’s nemesis Metallo had possibly been the real murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne was raised early on in the series, but never resolved. There have been heartfelt but confusing tributes to the Silver Age, Alan Moore, and, for some reason, various Marvel comics (Luthor as Wolverine? Atomic Skull as Ghost Rider?). The book features a supremely annoying house style of writing where the two leads narrate in hilariously homoerotic tandem, constantly commenting on what the other must be thinking right now. In defiance of all odds, it somehow became even stupider when Jeph Loeb wrapped up his 25-issue arc.

However, I submit to you that, despite all these flaws, Superman/Batman is the most consistently accessible and yes, entertaining, mainstream book featuring these two leads a lot of the time. This comes with a couple of qualifiers—neither Grant Morrison or Geoff Johns can be writing Supes or Bats in another title at the time, which makes for pretty short windows. Also, the art is a huge component of the book’s debatable success. Ed McGuinness or Carlos Pacheco can make Loeb’s foolishness a lot more palatable, for instance, and Rags Morales or Rafael Albuquerque will make the proceedings run a lot more smoothly than, say, Whilce Portacio or Shane Davis. While the storylines are often modern glosses on Silver Age tropes—our heroes get shrunk, or their powers goes crazy, or they meet adorable l’il kid versions of themselves—they are usually fun, dumb adventures that only last a few issues at most. It’s also the most self-contained of the mainstream DCU books—this title does not pause to acknowledge Crises, whether Infinite or Final, nobody’s Battling For The Cowl, and there’s nary a New Krypton to be found in the cosmos.

Take this week’s issue #60, for instance. Current writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson deliver the first of a two-parter called Mash-up that finds Superman and Batman suddenly inhabiting a city called Gothamopolis, where familiar old faces are strangely mixed and matched. For instance, our two confused leads almost immediately run into the Justice Titans, a team made up out of amalgamated JLA and Teen Titans members. Among these weirdos are Night Lantern, Donna Wonder, Star Canary, Flash (‘cause he’s in both teams, get it?), Hawk-Beast, and Aqua-Borg. That’s right, Aqua-Borg. There’s an obligatory misunderstanding and fight scene, but they all eventually put aside their differences and go to the Justice Tower to solve the mystery, where we learn that they’ve been saving the silliest JT member for last; Terranado, a mash-up of Red Tornado and Terra (whose alter ego is Terra Mark V, which is actually kind of clever).

Soon, they’re all off to S.T.A.R.kham Labs (I know, right? Seriously!), where they fight Doomstroke, who it turns out is working for evil genius…Lex Joker. Well, why not, I guess. To be continued.

This is a very silly issue of a very silly book, and yet, it was probably my favourite comic of last week. I honestly don’t want to think too hard about what that means for the state of the industry right now, but there it is. It had the two best superheroes ever confronting a weird mystery, it had a couple of cool fights, and a cliffhanger ending that made we want to learn just what the hell is going on. It also had striking artwork by Francis Manapul (Legion of Super-Heroes), who is trying out a cool new style—very brushy and angular—that is lushly coloured here by Brian Buccellato. Manapul is the artist on the new Adventure Comics title debuting in August, which I am now officially a lot more excited about. For more goodness, check out Manapul's official website. You'll be glad you did.

This may all sound like I’m damning this book with the faintest of praise, but it’s sincere—this comic provided a kind of diverting entertainment you don’t see much of nowadays. You don’t have to know what’s going on in a zillion other books, there isn’t any disturbingly adult content that has no business in a superhero title, and there was something new and ridiculous to capture your attention on practically every page. This, by design or otherwise, seems to be the unofficial mission statement of Superman/Batman. As mission statements—or superhero team-up comics, really—go, you could do worse.