Monday, June 26, 2006

Comics Out 28 June 2006

Nothing caught my eye this week, but let us know if you saw or are expecting anything. And I liked the comics free-for-all we had last time, so anything to discuss this week (comic books or comic book news), discuss. Midtown comics online is the place to check every Saturday for what is coming out in a given week (As opposed to Previews which only tells you when something is supposed to come out). The Midtown comics site will be added to the blog links soon.

Update: since Superman Returns came out this week, this is where we are talking about it (and avoiding spoilers that wouldn't be in a movie review).

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Frank Miller's Batman-Spawn Crossover

As a side note to my discussion of Frank Miller's double reinvention of Bamtan in the 1980s and in the new century, I want to say a quick word about his Batman-Spawn crossover. (Joglikescomics has a pretty good discussion of the thing if you want to check it out). Realizing that there are two squarely defined Miller Batman periods -- the hyper-masculine Batman of the 1980s and the grotesque Batman of this decade -- I now finally get how his 1994 Spawn/Batman crossover fits into his artistic development. I always considered it a fluke. Now I see that it is the transition between the 80s Batman and the present one (it falls right in the middle of the timeline); and what better way to work on making Batman grotesque than with one of the artists famous for drawing grotesque out-of-proportion bodies, Todd McFarlane. McFarlane's cartoon loony-ness heads straight into DKSA. The little green note on the inside cover makes sense after all: "Spawn vs. Batman is a companion piece to DC Comics The Dark Knight Returns. It does not represent current DC continuity." If my comparing Miller's All Star Batman story to Jack Kirby's art seems superfluous -- Spawn/Batman is dedicated to Jack Kirby who died the year it came out; there is a full page picture of him on the inside cover. The ghost of Kirby hovers over the whole thing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Site Update 1

Thanks to Sara (who designed my website and who does tech stuff on the blog) I have added a "links" and "blogs" section in the right column. I tried to link to the sites of people who have sites, and who have provided links to those sites in the comments sections. If I missed you, or if you are a reader who wants to be linked, comment on this post and leave a link to your site.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Comics Out 21 June 2006

A good week for comics: Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's The Ultimates (#11 of 13), Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men (#15) and the cream of the comic book crop, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All Star Superman (#4). With my realization that All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is a work of genius masquerading as madness comes extra excitement: DC's All Star line is kicking ass, seven for seven.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Frank Miller's All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder and the Grotesque

Thanks in part to Ping33, who has been commenting here, I have tried, yet again, to try to like Frank Miller's All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. With the fourth issue, I finally succeeded.

As I discussed in an earlier post on Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Frank Miller has joined a handful of American writers -- like William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor -- that go for the grotesque. I like Miller's absurd art in DKSA, in which, for example, Lex Luthor has huge hands as big as his torso, like a cartoon ape. He is monstrous and so he is drawn like a monster. Dark Knight Strikes Again looks weird and wild, stylish and unique, and these are good things. Batman must be invented again and again, and we should applaud bravery in this arena, and condemn unimaginative stuff like Batman Begins.

All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, written by Frank Miller but drawn by Jim Lee, has a story to match Miller's art in Dark Knight Strikes Again. Everything in the story is grossly out of proportion, like Lex Luthor's gigantic hands. And that's really wild, and a good thing.

The first issue has five full pages -- nearly twenty five per cent of the comic -- in which Vicki Vale dances around in bra and panties. It is the storytelling equivalent of drawing a woman with huge out-of-proportion breasts (a drawing style Jim Lee has some experience with): the time devoted to her is as out of proportion as Miller's women usually appear visually.

Exacerbated by the slow publishing of All Star Batman Robin has been in the car with Batman for 11 months of my life. And don't think it's just a publishing issue: even monthly, four issues is a long time to keep your two title characters in a car. Miller intended this. Drawing attention to the gap, Batman has grown stubble between issue one and two, though surely very little time has passed. That's how much of a man he is. Hilarious. Miller's jacks up his already famously hyper-masculine characters.

Look at the proportions of issue three: the first 15 pages are dedicated to the Black Canary, an aside that violently interrupts the Batman-meets-Robin story with fish-net stockings and nonsense; the book ends with two pages about Superman; in between we get a full page shot of the Batmobile, a full page shot of Batman and Robin in the Batmobile, and a two page splash image of the Batmobile underwater. (The advanced tech of the Batmobile is also intentionally out of whack with Miller's "Year Two" framework). Those three images, which have minimal dialogue, hardly advance the story at all even though they are the only images that star the title characters. It is even more audacious to do this only three issues in.

The hilarious greatness of all this hit me when I saw, in the fourth issue, the six page glamour shot of the Batcave, followed by one more single page glamour shot of the same thing: in a 22 page comic book these pages -- two images of the same thing -- take up nearly a third of the book. Even the title, eight words long, is, like Lex Luthor's hands, completely out of proportion. It's hilarious. (But notice the continuity with Dark Knight Strikes Again: The cave is making the robot T-Rex that Batman will use to attack Superman in that book.)

The writing is not just repetitive, its absurdly repetitive. To quote from the first issue (copying the book's repetitions rather than repeating myself), Robin says "They're always there for me. They always catch me. Mom and dad. They always catch me. They're always there for me. They're always there for me." The identical sound of "They're" and "there" makes it much worse; this is intentional. In the next scene Vicki Vale says "I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. How cool is that? I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. How cool is that?" Cut back to Robin: "They're always there for me. They always catch me." Cut to Vale: "I'm having a date with Bruce Wayne. Hot Damn." Miller wrote those words on paper before they were put in word balloons in the comic books. Try typing them out on Word, as I just did, and you will see that no one can write like that and intend it to be taken seriously. Miller knows what he is doing (which should not surprise anyone who has read Dark Knight Returns).

Complaining about the weird proportions of, say, issue three, or the dialogue, I realized, is like complaining about the weird proportions of the eyes of anime characters, or how ugly Rugrats looks. Miller is developing a new kind of story here, one to match the grotesque proportions so many superhero characters are drawn with, one to match his own visual weirdness in DKSA. Jack Kirby's weird art style leads right here, to Miller's weird story style.

Frank Miller. Batman. The Grotesque. I get it now. Batman has been done to death, even by Miller himself. So this is the next step. Absurdity. Great superhero creators reinvent the genre. Frank Miller reinvents the genre TWICE.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Beowulf, David Lynch, and Evil

The best bit in Beowulf occurs just after Grendel’s monstrous mother attacks and the survivors decide to go after her in her lair. We are told “It is no pleasant place. From it the surging waves rise up black to the heavens when the wind stirs up awful storms, until the air becomes gloomy, the skies weep.” When they get to this “many a lair of water-monsters” it is truly horrible: “Then they saw on the water many a snake-shape, strong sea serpents exploring the mere, and water-monsters lying on the slopes of the shore such as those that in the morning often attend a perilous journey on the paths of the sea, serpents and wild beasts.” What is interesting is its location: the monster Grendel and his mother “hold to the secret land, the wolf-slopes, the windy headlands, the dangerous fen-paths where the mountain stream goes down under the darkness of this hills, the flood under the earth. It is not far from here.” That last sentence is a fantastic anti-climax.

The idea that evil is not far away is picked up persuasively by David Lynch. In Blue Velvet Kyle MacLachlin appears to live in a picturesque suburb, with a sweet old lady, but is warned not to go on Lincoln street. Later in the film, as Dennis Hopper is introduced, we discover that Lincoln Street and the surrounding neighbourhood is composed of dangerous, run down tenement apartments like something out of 1980s New York. In Mulholland Drive the spirit of pure evil lives behind a diner. Evil isn’t in some far away place like the land of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings; it’s (almost literally) right around the corner.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Comics Out 7 June 2006

New feature: Once a week I am going to call attention to notable comics coming out (if I think there are any). I have no idea if the comics will be good, but I will be picking them up.

Allan Heinberg and Terry Dodson's Wonder Woman #1 comes out today. Wonder Woman from the writer producer of The OC. With Joss Whedon writing and directing the upcoming film, Wonder Woman suddenly has my attention.

And bad news for Seven Soldiers #1 on

Monday, June 05, 2006

Alex Ross versus Greg Land

I want to start from two very different but competing images: Alex Ross's Wonder Woman and Greg Land's Phoenix

In 1994 Alex Ross burst on the comics scene with Marvels, a story that retold the early moments of Marvel Comics from the perspective of the little people on the streets below the action; he followed this up with Kingdom Come, in which, in the near future, the classic heroes (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) return to their glory over and against the new grim and gritty anti-heroes. Ross is a striking comics artist because he brings photo-realism to a medium and a genre that had not seen it before. Ross uses real people as models, and the comics, just at a glance, impress people, because the skill involved is very visible to anyone.

Superhero comics are a quirky, strange set of stories, better suited, I think, to art highly mannered, stylized and artificial: Chris Bachalo (whose art can be seen in part six of my online paper), Frank Quitely, Mike Mignola, and Frank Miller (all of whom I have already blogged about). These guys can look less talented to outside observers ("Frank Miller draws like a child"), but are ultimately more rewarding. At the end of the day Ross is quite simple, and his simplicity is part of a simple agenda: Ross thinks superheroes should be moral guides for the young, and he is on record as saying that he doesn't like drawing the X-Men because they are not iconic enough, which I take to mean not enough like Jesus Christ. His conservative stance is mirrored by his influence: Ross's major source is Norman Rockwell.

Recently Ross has been implicitly challenged by newcomer Greg Land, the artist on X-Men: Phoenix Endsong and Mark Millar's Ultimate Fantastic Four. Land makes photo-realistic art as well, but rather than being heir to Norman Rockwell, he is heir to Maxim magazine, the ultimate rebuke to Ross. Superhero comics do not have to be juvenile, but they cannot escape some basis in juvenile material: without the 1939 Superman Watchmen would not exist, and there is something inevatable about the choice in photo-realistic superhero art between Rockwell and Maxim. I don't read Maxim -- I don't like Maxim -- but I think superhero comics should be cool, should be hip, should be sexy, and I will take Land over Ross any day.