The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1. This was basically good -- the art work was fun and those time guys had a cool design. Gabriel Ba is why I get this book. The colors on the battle sequence were particularly nice, and I would like to see more comics embrace a really garish color scheme -- garish colors are such a staple of comics, and obviously a book like the JLA is going to have a mess of color, but I do like to see a book that takes it to a new level just to make it feel fresh. Umbrella Academy is not of the caliber of something like Dark Knight Strikes Again, but that is another book that really does a great job with color. Give me the color palate of Courage the Cowardly Dog or Chowder any day. But I am impatient to get to the meat of this post, so I am moving on quickly.
Batman 681. Tim Callahan is a good critic when you give him a good comic book, but in my mind, particularly with Morrison, he is far too forgiving of error. I do not mean for this post to be an attack on Callahan, but since he is one of the few critics I read on a regular basis he is going to have to stand in for some beliefs held by the comics community as a whole that I find frustrating. Here is what he writes about Batman 681 on his blog:
I do think Batman #681 is a three-and-a-half-star book, since it does plenty of things really well (basically all of the Joker stuff until his ambulance-fall-off-the bridge, the Club of Heroes arrival, the super-plans of the Batman, the flashback with the poison, the betting on Batman, the Zur En Arrh/Zorro in Arkham bit) and other things not so well (the rushed fragments of ending, the lack of a resolution or full explanation, some of the artwork). Still, as I mentioned in a comment on my annotations, I think Batman has been "by far" the best Marvel or DC ongoing series over the past six months. There's more to discuss in any single issue of this series than in a year's worth of other mainstream comics. And anything that provokes thought and discussion is better than something that doesn't as far as I'm concerned.
I disagree about the Joker stuff being on the good side: although there is something wonderfully ironic about his chilling speech to the Black Glove about how awesome Batman is and how they are totally unprepared, I was not crazy about his menacing "I'll get you later" fade out after killing a guy Morrison forgot to make me care about. The ambulance fall was, as I think Callahan implies, weak (though Damian's "What was an ambulance?" was a pretty awesome thing to say) -- coincidence is almost always lazy writing even when it is masquerading as a theme with all the gambling (the red and black did not add up to much more than a deck of cards and a color scheme Satan is associated with). I know this is supposed to be a crossover and I was only reading this book, but I hated the Club of Heroes arrival because they showed up heroically to fix a bunch of problems that I learned about the moment AFTER they arrived. The city is practically saved before I knew it was in trouble -- where is the drama there? The coffin flashback to Eastern training improved not at all on Kill Bill, and even the Princess Bride managed to think of a more interesting way to deal with poisoned cups. "ZurEnArrh" turns out to be derived from Thomas Wayne's claim that Gotham would probably put someone like Zorro in Arkham. Zorro in Arkham = Zur En Arrh. I don't hate that, I might even like it. It is an interesting bit of nonsense anyway. But it is such a mess because of the Dr. Hurt/Thomas Wayne connection -- the Batman of ZurEnArrh is derived from the REAL Thomas Wayne and that is what allowed Batman to beat Hurt? But Hurt knew the "trigger word" so maybe Hurt is Thomas Wayne? or I guess Satan just knows everything? What?
But even if I agreed with Callahan that all this was good, I cannot imagine giving a book three and a half stars for bad artwork -- the first thing that bothered me about page three, for example, was that it looks like Batman has a mustache and goatee; then I realized it was just shadow; then I realized that buried alive THERE IS NO LIGHT SOURCE -- maybe Daniel just wants US to be able to see in the dark, which makes sense for the scene (you cannot have three pages of black, because unlike the Tarantino comics have no access to sound), but then how are you determining where shadows fall? One the one hand this is just a quibble. On the other hand Daniels is just to lazy to care; Frank Quitely would never have let such a dumb thing on the page. "Rushed fragments of an ending" is a serious complaint alone worth more than half a star, especially since Morrison has been telling us for a year that his whole run was leading to Batman RIP. Morrison can stick a hell of an ending even on very messy books (New X-Men, Invisibles) but there was no saving this story. Dr. Hurt is who now? Satan maybe, Satan who lies about being Thomas Wayne? Alfred and Batman dismiss the idea, but I cannot tell if we are supposed to take their dismissals of the possibility at face value: if Hurt is OBVIOUSLY not Thomas Wayne why does he say he is? If it is some kind of mess with your enemy tactic it is really ineffective since neither Alfred or Batman seem phased by the issue. If the issue is in doubt why does it not bother Alfred or Batman more?
Tim Callahan writes -- and again I do not mean to go after him specifically, he is just a good example of what a lot of comics fans are saying right now -- "I think Batman has been 'by far' the best Marvel or DC ongoing series over the past six months." I do not know what "by far" is doing in quotes, but I am even less sure that this really the compliment Callahan implies it is.
And now we come to the kicker: "anything that provokes thought and discussion is better than something that doesn't as far as I'm concerned." Any major character written by an ambitious major writer that comes out this messy is going to generate a lot of discussion. A lot of that discussion is caused by a debate between people who see errors ("He implicitly promised us a big reveal on the identity of the Black Glove and Dr. Hurt, and he did not deliver") and justification of said "errors" as virtues ("Do you know how to read? He pretty clearly identified him as Satan. He just did not want to be OBVIOUS about it" or "ambivalence is a hallmark of literary fiction and even the best of recent genre fiction: look at the end of Heart of Darkness, the novel from which this issue gets its title, or even the ending of the Sopranos"). An comic book may spark a lot of debate, and the debate may be good, but that does not mean the comic book is good. If my friend gets shot in the face, it may make me think hard about my life, the brevity of it, and the people I care about, but the fact that it generated some good soul searching on my part does not mean it was a good thing that my friend got shot in the face, yeah?
A few points that I could not fit in the discussion above, just general details about the issue being a mess.
WAS Thomas Wayne and co drug addicts or is that just Hurt messing with Batman?
Batman stops being Batman (Nightwing with the cowl) but then someone else becomes Batman (the Bat-signal at the end: maybe Damian takes up the job? Is this what the next story will be about: Who is the new Batman and where is Bruce Wayne?)
I am pretty sure Bruce Wayne's black glove punching through the glass to get Hurt leader of the Black Glove -- and going down in a flaming helicopter is a lame ending by the way -- is ironic: "The Black Glove always wins" says Hurt, and indeed he is right, though not in the way he intended. There is something I really like about how Morrison wants to end this big epic with Batman punching someone, something of the pure superhero concept there. But the irony of Batman's black glove is marred because Morrison had him thinking for a moment he WAS the Black Glove, his own worst enemy, and this just muddies already muddy water.
Heart of Darkness is an overrated book, but that is a whole other post. Harold Bloom says Conrad ends with this non-sense about "The Horror! the Horror!" not because the character is in the dark, but because the author is in the dark. That seems to me to be going to far, as I think Conrad was genuinely interested in radical ambiguity and did his best with it. How this compares to what Morrison did here I do not know, but I think Morrison is just making mistakes.
I loved the end of the Sopranos, but that ambiguous ending is nothing like Morrison's, as it relied on the worship people had for the Sopranos, and the fact that this was it -- there was never going to be any more. As Brad pointed out to me, the end of the show was like a friend dying -- all you want is just five more minutes with the person, but you are always going to want five more minutes and the thing has to end. Many people thought Tony got killed at the end, and I can see the virtues of that argument, but in a larger way the show itself got killed. People expected a violent and shocking conclusion to a show that had always been about understatement, and Chase delivered tenfold on both levels: nothing was more violent and shocking, but also more understated, than that final, jarring, fade to black.