Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"The Anatomy Of Zur-En-Arrh: Understanding Grant Morrison's Batman" by Cody Walker

It's the CliffsNotes to Grant Morrison's take on Batman, everyone...and it's a very useful book. It answers a lot of questions as to what it was all about and digs around for ingenious insights into the imagery given. Morrison's Batman tenure was ground-breaking and ambitious - every story mattered - which meant stories about Batman chasing drug dealers down alleyways and through warehouses simply wouldn't do; the Dark Knight Detective became acutely self-aware - 70+ years of incarnations were now meant to represent a single decade & a 1/2 in the crazy life of a very busy tycoon, the wealthiest man on Earth, a playboy/philanthropist/detective who beats up people dressed in a costume vaguely resembling a bat...and how he achieved godhood on the whim of the most-powerful embodiment of evil in the DC Comics Universe..

Cody Walker, to his credit, doesn't shy away from the weaknesses of Morrison's storylines. In my opinion, there were many concepts and story elements throughout that read as though Morrison was in a deadline crunch and lacked time to present his ideas with better care and organization. His plot twists also required skill at writing detective stories, which turned out to not be his strong suit. His characterization of the villain Darkseid and his Earth avatar, the "Bat-God" Barbatos/Dr. Simon Hurt might be more varied and colorful than any incarnation we've seen before or after, but this was lost by woefully underdeveloped scripting. At the time, only the main points of each issue registered, not the themes or characters, which may explain why it was so easy for fans to embrace Scott Snyder's back-to-basics approach.

And yet, this book came to the rescue. I have a newfound appreciation for what Morrison was doing and would like to go back and revisit those storylines again, particularly The Return of Bruce Wayne arc, with Batman hopping through different time periods. The section covering Batman Inc. was kind of dull, though..perhaps reflecting that Morrison's run was winding up and had fewer points to make about Batman, aside from the power of the character's totem-like symbolism as a corporate brand..which reminds me of a non-fiction book of criticism about Batman from 2000 titled Batman Unmasked, which was the first I had read argue the same points that Morrison was making throughout..It may have been a source of inspiration for what he would do...I need to look for that book..

Not all questions were answered, however. I remember searching for answers about that goblin creature looming behind Bat-Mite in Batman R.I.P. and finding it in a transcript of a Q&A, where Morrison revealed his take on the imp ( that the creature was the imp's true form, a kindly-yet-grotesque-to-us being, offering what he believed to be a pleasing avatar to appear in his stead , kind of the opposite number to Darkseid appearing by proxy as Barbatos/Dr. Hurt ), so now you know, and can thank me...but we'll never know if there was any significance in Alfred the butler reading a copy of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code...

..maybe Walker has a Volume 2 planned...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"007: Solo" - A James Bond Novel by William Boyd

Solo is a good enough title for a 007 novel..Africa is a nice location for a James Bond adventure...but is busting a drug trafficking ring within Bond's bailiwick? For the most part, the book reads like Doctor No without Doctor No.

Another brickbat is that the Bond featured here doesn't seem like the 007..he reads more like Roger Moore as Simon Templar ( The Saint ) or Patrick McGoohan as John Drake ( Secret Agent / Danger Man / The Prisoner ) in an adventure fitting those characters better than 007. With Bond...even if you want to show him mellow out with age - his OCD-like fussy particularity, immortalized by his request for a dry martini - shaken, not stirred in the films, is mostly absent - he has to be in a casino, playing a round of Texas Hold 'em/Bridge/Baccarat/Candy Crush/golf/Go Fish with a meglomanic, and drive a more luxurious car than a Jensen - sorry, William, but I thought we all learned after John Gardner put Bond behind the wheel of a Saab, that any car replacing the Aston Martin has to rival the Aston Martin...Although I couldn't resist using that fanmade variant cover to headline this post..as opposed to the real covers used for Solo, which resemble a sequel to Norton Juster's The Hole Book ( the UK edition ) or the title sequence in Dynasty/The Colbys.

At least we get a scene with Q, who is clearly meant to be Ben Whishaw's Q, which is kind of confusing, because the novel is supposed to be set in 1969, which means we do get to choose between picturing the George Lazenby Bond of On Her Majesty's Secret Service or the Sean Connery of Diamonds Are Forever as Bond in Solo (I was picturing Connery), or, judging by the cozy gadgets offered, David Niven as Sir James Bond ( from the pseudo-psychedelic adaptation of Casino Royale ), but certainly not Daniel Craig, so why couldn't Q be written like Desmond Llewellyn if you're going pseudo-retro?

So the book isn't really bad..but it's more frog than prince.

And Simon Templar drove a Volvo in the TV series, so the Jensen would be an upgrade for him...better let The Saint Step In...

Bah, da-da, da-da-daaaa, daaahhh...

Monday, May 4, 2015

Catching Up: #FourComics...That I Read In The 2000s

"None of these people have anything interesting to say and none of them can write, not even Mr. Kerouac...it isn't writing at all - it's typing." - Truman Capote, attacking "Beat Generation" writers, circa 1959.

There's some overlap from the late-90s through that first decade beginning with 2000. I recall being willing to give anything a try. I wasn't just looking at what was on the racks now, but going backwards...I was interested in the early-80s Batman villainess, Nocturna...I still can't figure out what her deal was..what did she want?..I checked out the "Clone Saga" in Spider-Man comics, old Marvel Comics' Further Adventures of Indiana Jones...then there's Ebay - before PayPal butted in, that site was the place for stuff - I remember buying a lot of 50 Jughead comics, simply because I was interested in Trula Twyst and the comic shops never really have a good supply of Archie-related back issues...even with the spike from the Afterlife With Archie books.

And "Bendis!" - we can't reminisce about the early-2000s without mentioning Brian Michael Bendis...he wasn't the first writer to use what's now referred to as decompressed scripting, which is really just trimming the purple prose narration and thought balloons in favor of dialogue conveying suspense & tension, then stretching out plotlines over the course of multiple issues what would've once only taken 2 to tell. His approach would make multitasking on scripts a snap, allowing any writer following his lead to write "X" amount of pages for multiple titles...the books were becoming faster reads, but the price point was getting higher..as the trade paperback reprints were being cranked out, faster than ever before, you can't help staring and comparing: I could save money and buy a different comic, then read the trade when it's available to borrow at the public library, or buy the trade if I liked it after reading the library copy, or read the library copy to decide which issues from the storyline it collected I would go back and buy from the shop's back issues and save money that way..new options present themselves..

But is any of this stuff good? - that's why I copied that quote and posted it at the top of this post. The decompressed approach feels more like a change of format than a storytelling style; if you feel like you've read the book while briefly flipping through it, standing in front of the rack at the shop, then it's not something you're reading..it's something that's been cranked out, building to a moment / event...then setting up another moment / event.

So I start getting picky...I become familiar with the concept of walking out empty-handed...that's not fun, but it is what it is.

My favorite issue of Savage Dragon has the titular character mulling over an offer to have a comic book spun-off from his memoir. It gives Erik Larsen a chance to go meta and comment on superhero comics, circa 2003. At the time, Captain Underpants was a very popular children's book series, outselling the superhero comics...and Larsen was toying with the idea of offering a syndicated "Savage Dragon" newspaper comic strip which would have a lighter tone and crossover with the regular series. This experiment lasted 2 or 3 issues (of which this was one of them). The one lasting element was Mr. Glum, the pint-sized villain of the arc - a combination of The Brain from Pinky and The Brain and Stewie Griffin from Family Guy - he's become a recurring foe ever since.

Justice League Adventures was the tie-in to Cartoon Network's Justice League, then in it's first season. The show wasn't popular until it was retooled in it's 3rd season as Justice League Unlimited, but this issue, featuring a menagerie of DC Comics supervillians unwittingly invited to a sting operation organized by the League, is incredibly clever and a lot of fun. This is the comic book script that put Dan Slott on the fast track to writing more material on the 1st tier for Marvel and DC.

I'm one of those fans rooting for Ted Kord to officially be "back" as the Blue Beetle. That current Convergence tie-in is a good read, so Scott Lobdell has my vote for a new ongoing series starring Ted...

..and now I'll write about the book that killed him off. 80 pages of comics for one dollar is a steal, and the mystery of whose corpse Batman was cradling in his arms on that Alex Ross & Jim Lee cover had people guessing for months. Countdown To Infinite Crisis became the definitive Ted Kord tale in showcasing his perseverance in the face of all his friends and allies behaving out of character in order to hype an upcoming crossover that was overshadowed by the events that set it up. We had just seen Sue Dibney get raped by Dr. Light in Identity Crisis, Jason Todd back from the dead in Batman and Ted Kord get shot in the head by Maxwell Lord...we were too shell-shocked to care what Lex Luthor was up to.

And that cover, more than any image I've seen since, encapsulates Batman's eclipsing popularity over Superman in the new decade perfectly.

Spider-Girl had lasted for a decade in spite of it being anachronistic to Marvel Comics then-editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada. Let's not be naive: he co-wrote and illustrated "Spider-Man: One More Day" and wrote "Spider-Man: One Moment In Time"; if a married Spider-Man wasn't his cup of tea, why would he like a book about his daughter? It may have helped prolong the life of the book when it was retooled with a new title, The Amazing Spider-Girl, but it's future in the face of a Brand New Day was unlikely. This issue, #28, has May Parker take stock of her existence amidst storylines wrapping up, like the penultimate episode of an adventure series that's going to leave it's audience wanting more. It was a class act from beginning to end.

And in 2025 my " #FourComics..That I Read In The 2010s" should be all sorted out...