Monday, January 31, 2011

Jeff Lemire at Drawn and Quarterly Bookstore

Last week I went to Drawn and Quarterly to catch an interview and panel discussion with Jeff Lemire to promote his book Essex County, which is currently on the shortlist of CBC's Canada Read contest. This is the first graphic novel to make it this far in the competition, so in order to celebrate this landmark, they recorded a portion of the Homerun radio show at the D+Q bookstore. Lemire was first interviewed by host Sue Smith, then there was a brief Q&Q from the audience. Finally, there was a panel discussion with Montreal comics creators Sherwin Sullivan Tjia and Matt Forsythe, and Drawn and Quarterly head publisher Chris Oliveros.

You can listen to the interview and discussion that followed on the Canada Reads website.

About 12 minutes into the first audio clip, you'll hear me very awkwardly asking the first question in the Q&A. If I could go back in time, I would definitely rephrase that question and get to the point much quicker, but I think it was a good question. Lemire had mentioned during the interview that he'd gone to film school, so I asked him how much that background informed his storytelling. I was thinking mostly of the pacing of his stories, which (to me at least) often has a very cinematic feel, with brief scenes or "shots" dedicated more to establishing mood than advancing the plot. I was thinking in particular of this page from Sweet Tooth #13, where all you see is a helicopter blade moving in and out of the frame:

Lemire replied that while cinema probably does have a big influence on his style, more and more he's looking for ways to tell stories in a way that is specific to the medium, for example by experimenting with layout to do things that you just couldn't do in film. He brought up these two pages from issue #16 as an example:

I also got a chance to talk to him briefly during the break and to ask him about something else that I was very curious about. Ever since the first issue of Superboy, I've been wondering how detailed his scripts are and whether he provides any specific layout instructions to artist Pier Gallo, because I'd noticed some striking similarities with Lemire's own style in books like Sweet Tooth. Lemire confirmed my suspicions and said that he is very specific in the scripts and that he even provides layouts for the artist in some cases. "You can probably tell which parts," he said. I asked if Gallo ever surprises him with the art in those cases where Lemire hasn't asked for something super-specific, and he said no. One of the things he specifically looked for when they chose an artist for the book was someone with a very straightforward storytelling style, but with the skill to get more experimental when the script called for it.

My only regret is that I didn't ask Lemire for a sketch. Somehow it didn't feel like the right context, this being a "literary" event more than a "comic book" one, and I didn't want to come across as an annoying fanboy. Maybe next time.

Is It Wednesday Yet?

Why does Superboy look like he's in his 30s?
New comics this week!

On my pull list
  • Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #2 (Dark Horse)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1 (DC)
  • Superboy #4 (DC)
  • Sweet Tooth #18 (Vertigo)
The first issue of that two-part Hellboy story featured some really nice art by Scott Hampton. This is the conclusion. Preview here.

The Legion of Super-Heroes annual is especially noteworthy because it reunites the classic team of writer Paul Levitz and co-plotter/artist Keith Giffen. This story takes place in current continuity, though.

Superboy #4 is the conclusion of the two-part story arc about Psionic Lad, a new character created by Lemire. I'm curious to find out whether he'll stick around for a while or if this was just a brief appearance before he sinks into obscurity.

And Lemire continues to push his experimentation further in this week's Sweet Tooth, which is "told horizontally with text and images." Preview here.

Also noteworthy
  • Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #1 (Dark Horse)
  • Superman 80-Page Giant 2011 (DC)
  • DC Universe Online Legends #1 (DC)
  • Daytripper TPB (Vertigo)
  • Doctor Strange: From the Marvel Vault #1 (Marvel)
Witchfinder is another Hellboy spinoff. Preview here.

I hadn't quite realized the scope of that DC Universe Online tie-in series, but it looks like this is going to be a 26-issues bi-weekly. Personally, I'm going to pass, but for those who are playing the game, this should provide an additional look at that world and the characters within it. I wonder if any gamers who don't usually buy comics are going to be won over by this. I'm assuming that's the plan.

I'm not sure if I'm going to get the Superman 80-Page Giant, since I don't recognize many of the creators involved. I'll probably flip through it at the store and decide on a whim. 

Daytripper was an amazing 10-issue limited series from last year by brothers Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. It's probably one of the the best things Vertigo put out last year and now it's getting collected in a single volume. I'm working on a review, so check back next week if you want to find out more.

That Doctor Strange comic is apparently the first of a series of stories that were never published or completed, which Marvel now plans to release over the coming months. This one dates back to 1998 and is written by Roger Stern, with art by Neil Vokes and Jay Geldhof. There's a preview here.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

February pull list


  • Action Comics #598
  • Adventure Comics #523
  • Batgirl #18
  • Batman and Robin #20
  • Birds of Prey #9
  • Detective Comics #874
  • The Flash #9
  • Knight and Squire #5
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #10
  • Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1
  • Red Robin #20
  • Superboy #4
  • Supergirl #61
  • Superman 80-Page Giant 2011 (maybe)
  • Teen Titans #92
  • Northlanders #37
  • Sweet Tooth #18
  • Doctor Strange: From the Marvel Vaults #1
  • Iron Man 2.0 #1-2 (maybe)
  • Secret Avengers #10
  • Silver Surfer #1
  • Thor #620
  • Wolverine and Jubilee #2
  • Casanova: Gula #2
  • Infinite Vacation #2
  • Orc Stain #6 (if it comes out)
Dark Horse
  • Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #2
  • Soldier Zero #5
  • Starborn #3
  • Magus #2
(This list doesn't graphic novels or collected editions.)

    Friday, January 28, 2011

    Comic Book Carnage #003: Infestation and Astonishing Thor

    It's time for another edition of Comic Book Carnage, in which Mike (from It's a Bit of a Shame) and I rant and rave about some recent comic books.

    Yan: So I haven't had breakfast, but I found this lonely little piece of bread crust in the cupboard, which I'm now eating. That'll give me enough strength to get through this without fainting.

    Mike: You're eating just crust?

    Yan: I'll be fine. I'll get lunch when we're done. So, should we start with the good or the bad?

    Mike: Hmm. I suppose it would be better to end on a high note.

    Yan: Okay.

    Infestation #1
    Written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning; art by David Messina; IDW

    Yan: Then let me start by apologizing for making you buy this awful, awful book.

    Mike: Why did we pick this again?

    Yan: Well, it sounded like a crazy crossover event and it's totally outside of my usual reading material, so I thought it would be fun. I wasn't necessarily expecting a masterpiece, but I thought it would have Transformers and all those other franchises fighting against zombies, which at the very least could have been entertaining. Instead we got... whatever this was.

    Mike: Yeah, I hear you. Robots shooting zombies should have been brilliant. I guess it wasn't exactly a great idea to start the series off with some random characters I've never heard of. CVO? What the hell are they from?

    Yan: Exactly. That's what really pissed me off about this. I'm just looking at the solicitation from Previews again, just to see if it mentions anything about these characters, and it doesn't. It's billed as a crossover that affects the Transformers, GI Joe, Ghostbusters and Star Trek universes. Which is also what you'd expect from a comic book that has Spock, Optimus Prime, Bill Fucking Murray and what's-his-name from GI Joe on the cover. And none of these characters are in the book!

    Mike: Instead we get the poor man's BPRD. It was naive of IDW to assume that the main draw of the crossover was the story.

    Yan: Well, I don't think they did. I think they knew full well that the draw was those franchises, which is why they promoted it that way. And to be fair, I understand the need for there to be a kind of bookend story that sets up the context of this "infestation." I expected some of that from this first issue. But what I didn't expect was a story about a bunch of characters I've never heard about, but that obviously have some history I was supposed to be familiar with in order to give a shit about them. That was the biggest obstacle for me. Throughout the whole comic, I kept asking myself who these people were and why I should care about what happens to any of them. I cared so little that I actually had a hard time making it to the end of the comic. I kind of skimmed the last few pages, 'cause there was nothing compelling about it.

    Mike: But I feel like even if the impossible happened and you grew to like these characters, it still wasn't a strong read.

    Yan: It's basically an episode of Stargate SG1, isn't it?

    Mike: Yeah, it felt like that.

    Yan: Except they're all vampires, for some reason. I think it would've been better if Macgyver was in it.

    Mike: I would read this.

    Yan: We should probably also talk about the art.

    Mike: The art by David Messina is an example of why I can't read any IDW books. It looks like something from a decade ago.

    Yan: I think it's one of the ugliest books I've ever bought. If it weren't for the fact that we'd already agreed to review it, I would have put it back on the shelf at the store after flipping through the pages based on how ugly it looks.

    Mike: Yeah, after I read it I said to myself, "Y'know, this is what the average person thinks comics are like". Vampires and women with giant boobs blowing up zombies.

    Yan: But it's not just the content or the style. It looks like it was put together by an amateur. Some of it may be because of the colouring. But for some reason, everything looks out of focus, like either someone went crazy with the digital blur effects in Photoshop or they're printing it from some low-resolution jpeg. Whatever it is, it just looks terrible. It made me angry while I was reading it! And it's too bad, because at the end of the book, there's a preview for the Transformers issues in the crossover, and it looks a lot better. The art is nice and smooth by comparison, and it has characters I recognize doing what I expected them to be doing in this book - i.e., fighting zombies. I would totally buy that and probably enjoy it. But now, after this terrible introduction, there's no way I'm spending another penny on this event. In fact, I may never buy another book from IDW again.

    Mike: Wow, harsh words.

    Yan: Well, it's not like I was buying any of their books before.

    Mike: It's books like this that make me wonder how IDW has done so well for so long.

    Yan: I don't know. I probably shouldn't hate on the publisher so much. I think their success can simply be explained by the fact that they have all these very popular franchises at their disposal, which all come with their own fanbases. I don't really have any interest in reading Transformers or Star Trek comics when I barely even pay any attention to those franchises in other media. But if they're doing a good job with those and fans are enjoying them, then cheers to them. I think in this case I was swayed by some of the positive buzz I'd read online, and by the fact that they had big-name writers involved, so I expected some level of quality that just wasn't there.

    Astonishing Thor #2 (of 4)
    Written by Robert Rodi; art by Mike Choi; Marvel

    Yan: Anyway, why don't you say some nice things about Astonishing Thor #2? I'll shut up and let you start on that one.

    Mike: There's been a lot of Thor mini-series coming out lately, and I've actually done the impossible and have read most of them.

    Yan: Impressive.

    Mike: Out of all of them, I would say that Astonishing Thor is the only one anyone should be reading.

    Yan: Really? I guess I lucked out on this one, since it's the only one I've picked up.

    Mike: Well it's by Robert Rodi, who wrote that Loki mini-series some years ago, which easily one of the best Thor stories ever. So yeah, Rodi continues to show he has firm grasp on these characters.

    Yan: Cool. I'm coming at this from a fairly noob perspective. Aside from a few random issues when I was a kid, the first trade collecting Simonson's run, and the recent Matt Fraction stuff, I haven't read any Thor. And as much as I'm enjoying Fraction's Thor, it's pretty weird and conceptual and doesn't really feel like a Thor story very much - or at least not what I expect a Thor story to be like. This is a lot more on the money.

    Mike: It's very much inspired by the epic space odyssey Kirby-era Thor. Which seems to rarely get acknowledged.

    Yan Faction's is, or this?

    Mike: This. Now what did you think about #2's big revelation about Ego?

    Yan: Well, I don't really know anything about Ego. So I'm not sure I really understand the impact of the revelation. Also, I'm assuming the revelation at the end of #1 was a bigger deal? The fact that the Stranger created Ego? This wasn't previously established, was it?

    Mike: No, it was not.

    Yan: And Alter Ego is new as well?

    Mike: Yeah.

    Yan: It's kind of surprising that it took this long for someone to come up with that obvious play on his name.

    Mike: Which I think is kind of goofy.

    Yan: Totally. But it's kind of cool. I'm looking forward to learning more about Alter Ego.

    Mike: What did you think about Mike Choi's artwork? I'm on the fence.

    Yan: I'm pretty sold on it. That's what convinced me to pick this up in the first place. This mini-series was totally off my radar until the guy at the store showed me the art in it.

    Mike: What is it about his art that you enjoy?

    Yan: I like the detail of the line work, I think, and just the style of it. And it's complemented nicely with the colouring. Except in those panels that use digital blur, the bane of my existence, but I'm saving that rant for another time. The only panel I didn't like in this was the full-page splash of Zephyr, which was really cheesecake-y in a way that doesn't appeal to me at all. It felt really out of place with the tone of the book, also. Why are you on the fence about it?

    Mike: My problem is the same problem I have with most photo-realistic artists. I don't feel like there's any sense of movement or action. Like the part where Thor throws his hammer through The Collectors menagerie, I didn't feel any since of chaos.

    Yan: Yeah, I can see that. I usually really dislike photo-referenced art in comics. I'm not sure what makes it tolerable for me in this instance. But this kind of ties into what I don't like about the digital blur aspect. Like in that panel you mentioned where he throws the hammer, it's like they're using the digital blur to create a sense of movement because it's lacking in the art. I really, really hate that. And it's becoming so widespread as a technique. I see it in almost every comic I buy from Marvel and DC these days. I wish someone would realize how ugly it is and put a stop to it. It never works for me.

    At this point, Mike's internet connection was suddenly cut, so I wasn't able to get his concluding remarks. But there wasn't much more to add at that point anyway.

    We're trying to do these every month, but it kind of depends on our schedules and whether there are any books that fall on both our pull lists.

    One-paragraph reviews: Detective, Secret Avengers, Teen Titans, Traveler

    Detective Comics #873
    Detective Comics #873
    Written by Scott Snyder; art by Jock; DC

    Another really strong issue by Snyder and Jock, which brings the first story arc to a satisfying conclusion, in spite of the reduced page count due to DC's "holding the line" initiative. Jock's art is just gorgeous. I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is the best Batman book currently on the stands. AMAZING

    Secret Avengers #9 (Marvel)
    Written by Ed Brubaker; art by Mike Deodato and Will Conrad; Marvel

    Mike Deodato's art continues to be the best thing about this series. This is a very action-packed issue with a couple of really nicely drawn fight scenes. But I still feel like this book is lacking in characterization in a way that makes it difficult for me to get into it as a relatively new reader. People who have been reading Brubaker's long run on Captain America and who are very familiar with the other characters probably don't have this problem, but I have a hard time connecting with the characters or figuring out what their motivations are. I'm still enjoying it, though. GOOD

    Teen Titans #91
    Written by J.T. Krul; art by Nicola Scott, Doug Hazlewood and Scott Koblish; DC

    I loved that first page, mostly because of the cool vintage clothes the boys are wearing. It makes me wish Nicola Scott could draw a coming-of-age comic book set in the 1960s about a creepy homicidal kid. I think I'd want to read that more than I want to read this Teen Titans comic. But let's make do with what we have. This is the sort-of conclusion of the first arc of Krul's run, although a lot of things are left unresolved and will obviously be revisited. It's still enjoyable and I remain onboard, even if I still think Krul's Damian Wayne is a bit out of character. Looking at the solicitations for April, it seems like Damian's going to be out of the book in a few issues anyway. OKAY (but with very GOOD art)

    The Traveler #3
    Written by Mark Waid; art by Chad Hardin; Boom

    This is turning out to be the most frustrating and impenetrable of the three new Stan Lee-created comics Boom Studios is putting out. Three issues in and I still have no idea what the hell is going on. Mark Waid keeps dropping hints that all these random scenes and characters are neatly tied together, but it still seems like an incredibly convoluted way to tell a story. Furthermore, I don't know if this is because the art was inadequate or what, but in every fight scene the main character is constantly explaining out loud what is happening. "Watch this! I'm pressing temporal rewind on every bit of matter Mortar has generated since he attacked. All the junk he's tried to smoosh us with – and I had to wait for him to make enough – it's all rushing back to him in speed-time, i.e., in the temporal rapids, hard and fast enough to knock him unconscious, thus sending him merrily on his way!" For God's sake, haven't you ever heard of "show, don't tell"? I know that's an often abused and sometimes kind of meaningless dictum, but if there ever was a case it applied to, this is it. If the character's powers are so abstract and difficult to draw in a way that the reader can understand them visually, then he's probably just not a very good character. Or you just need a better artist. I think I'm dropping this book. DROPPED

    (new rating scale)

    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    TONIGHT IN MONTREAL: Jeff Lemire panel discussion at D+Q

    I will be attending this event tonight at the Drawn & Quarterly library. I'll report back this weekend.

    Homerun host Sue Smith and arts reporter Jeanette Kelly will be hosting and joining them on stage will be D+Q chief Chris Oliveros, as well as Montreal’s own graphic novelist Sherwin Sullivan Tjia, author of The Hipless Boy, and Matt Forsythe, the award-winning illustrator and comic book artist whose book Ojingogo won the 2009 Doug Wright Award for Canadian cartooning.
    The discussion will be recorded and segments will air on Homerun. Authors will sign their books respectively.

    Refreshments provided.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    Gail Simone on the casting of Tom Hardy as Bane in the next Batman movie

    By now, everyone should have heard the news that Tom Hardy has been cast to play Bane, the villain in Christopher Nolan's sequel to The Dark Knight. People who aren't currently reading comics probably know Bane mostly as the villain in the Knightfall story in Batman comics, where he famously broke Batman's back. But these days his most role is as one of the members of the Secret Six, under Gail Simone's pen. Understandably, therefore, a lot of people have been asking her for her opinion on the news. Here's what she had to say in a recent post on her message board:

    First, I'm pretty much pop culture ignorant. I don't know much about the actor in question.

    And second, I'm conflicted. Here's why.

    I don't know Tom Hardy, I don't know much about him. I'm told he was in Inception and Star Trek, but I don't recognize him or remember him in those films. What I DID see him in, is Branson.

    And he was FANTASTIC in that. He had many qualities that would fit Bane perfectly. The calm intelligence, the ferocious rage and calculated violence, and of course, his amazing body, all those would make him perfect for being cast as Bane. Honestly, I think for those reasons, he would likely do a spectacular job as the character, particularly in light of some upcoming developments coming up in the book. I think he may be an inspired choice for those reasons, and his bravery as an actor could be the fuel that makes it happen.

    However, Bane is a Latino in the comics. More than that, his origin is VERY SPECIFICALLY about a very poor, very brutal South American prison, and being born into that rotten place. I never think of him as a white guy.

    Bane isn't the kind of person to think much about his national heritage. It wouldn't mean anything to him. He doesn't talk about it. He doesn't have any interest in it. There's nothing particularly Latin about him, except his origin and the mask, perhaps.

    But I think there IS a (probably unintentional) power to him being Latin, particularly coming from poverty. The fact that this man is so much the OPPOSITE of privileged, wealthy Bruce Wayne, son of successful, loving parents, and that he comes from a brutal dirt third-world prison, I think that is always in the back of the heads of the readers, and I think it's powerful. In a big way, Bane is the underdog, in a way unlike any of the other bat-villains. I think that message, that socio-economic revolution is out there, is part of what makes Bane different, and even a little bit threatening to the status quo.

    I don't think you get that same friction if Bane is an educated English guy. Where's that class tension? It evaporates.

    There are other issues, of we've seen time and again, there's a tendency to whitewash characters of color when taking them from other media to film, and a real history of de-ethnicizing characters in comics themselves. I say again, I don't think being Latin means anything in particular to BANE, but it does mean something a little bit powerful to his CHARACTER.

    So, I'm conflicted. I think Hardy is a tremendous actor, and may bring a grace and terror to the character that really makes him sing. In that way, he may be the best possible choice. But I do think Bane is South American, and should be portrayed that way.

    I'm not much help on this one, I guess.
    What follows is an 18-page discussion, with a lot of people missing the point and derailing the thread into annoying nitpicking and jumping to ridiculous conclusions. I don't particularly recommend reading through the whole thing, but feel free to do so.

    As for my own take on the issue, I'm just going to repeat what I said on page 18 (which isn't so much a response to Gail Simone as a response to the discussion that followed):
    To me, casting actors that have the same (or at least similar) ethnic background as the characters they play is simply a matter of respect and credibility. I don't buy the argument that there is a "best actor for the role" and if they happen to be of a different race, then they should get the role anyway. Who's the "best actor" is so subjective it becomes meaningless.

    I think there are two separate issues that people in this thread are confusing, or trying to treat as a single issue, which hurts the discussion.

    The first issue has to do with the link between the actor and the character, and whether they are (or should be) of the same race. This can be applied to every role in every movie ever made.

    The second issue only concerns movies that are adapted from some other source material (whether a comic book, a novel, or a previous film). It concerns the link between the character in the source material and the character in the film adaptation, and whether they are (or should be) of the same race.

    These are two completely separate issues.

    If we take the case of Tom Hardy playing Bane, then, and we take for granted that (a) the character of Bane in the comics is Latino, and (b) Tom Hardy is not Latino, then there are two different ways this could play out:

    1. The makers of the next Batman movie have decided to change the ethnicity of the character of Bane. The character is Latino in the comics, but the character in the film won't be. This is a case of whitewashing the character. It doesn't really have anything to do with the casting - it's a writing decision - but it's of course reflected in the casting choice.

    2. The makers of the next Batman movie have decided to keep the character's ethnicity as Latino, but they decided to cast a white actor to play the role. This is a case of... mmm, I don't know exactly what to call it. But clearly, it's not the same thing as the above case.

    For now, we don't know which of these two scenarios is the correct one. But if we're going to comment on the decision to cast Tom Hardy as Bane, we have to keep these two possibilities in mind and recognize that they are different. Otherwise, the discussion gets incredibly muddled and confusing.

    Personally, I feel that both of these possibilities are rather unfortunate. I would have preferred for them to keep the character Latino and to cast a Latino actor to play him. But that didn't happen and it's disappointing. I'm not calling for a boycott. I'm not saying Nolan is a racist. I'm not saying the movie will suck. And I'm not even saying Tom Hardy won't play a great and compelling Bane. I'm just disappointed, that's all. I think people have a right to be disappointed.

    I'm going to say that I will be more disappointed if it turns out to be #1 than if it turns out to be #2. Because I think the character loses something special if you take away his ethnic background. And because, as many people have pointed out, a lot of people from Latin American countries do have pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes, I think they can more or less get away with it as a realistic portrayal of the character. That doesn't make it the ideal casting choice, in my mind, (and it doesn't mean that this isn't part of a larger trend or "problem") but it's probably one that I can live with.

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    Is It Wednesday Yet?

    Infestation #1.
    New comics this week!

    On my pull list:
    • Action Comics #897 (DC)
    • Detective Comics #873 (DC)
    • Teen Titans #91 (DC)
    • Infestation #1 (IDW)
    • Astonishing Thor #2 (Marvel)
    • Secret Avengers (Marvel)
    • Stan Lee's Traveler #3 (Boom)
    As the big Action Comics #900 special draws closer, I'm pretty excited to see how Paul Cornell is going to wrap things up in his Lex Luthor story. Overall, I've been enjoying his run, although not every issue has been good and I do have a few problems with it. The Mindless Ones had a pretty brutal assessment of it in their latest podcast, and I plan to address some of their criticism and compare them to my own in an upcoming post.

    Infestation is the big crossover event about zombies running through Transformers, Star Trek, Ghostbusters and GI Joe! It sounds like an absolutely terrible idea, considering how little these three franchises have in common, and since I don't follow any of these series, I was going to skip the whole thing. But the craziness of the idea and the somewhat high trainwreck potential of it mean that it's probably worth at least checking out the first issue. This advanced review by Greame McMillan at Robot 6 was what convinced me.

    Also noteworthy:
    • Shazam (one-shot) (DC)
    • New York Five #1 (Vertigo)
    • Off Road (graphic novel) (IDW)
    • Magneto #1 (Marvel)
    • Age of X: Alpha #1 (Marvel)
    • Fantastic Four #587 (Marvel)
    I'm not buying that Shazam one-shot because I hate Cliff Richards' art, although I'd love to read a good story about Captain Marvel.

    Kelly Thompson has an interview with Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly about New York Five in this week's She Has No Head column.

    Off Road is a reprint of a story written and drawn by Sean Murphy (best known these days for his work with Grant Morrison on Joe the Barbarian, although he also recently did the art in the Hellblazer: City of Demons mini-series, which I thought was excellent). I can't afford to buy this book right now, but it sounds like a good one. Originally came came out in 2005 on Oni Press.

    Oh, and apparently someone dies in this week's issue of Fantastic Four. You may have noticed some of the minor brouhaha about it.

    Missed it last week!

    If I can find a copy, I might also pick up issues #1 of Wolverine and Jubilee, which came out last week. I hadn't realized Phil Noto was doing the art, and after seeing that it was DC Women Kicking Ass's pick of the week, I really want to read it.

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Tim Drake from the Beginning - Part 3: "A Lonely Place of Dying"

    Well, here it is, at long last, the insanely delayed third part of my ongoing Tim Drake from the Beginning series. This time, I'm looking at "A Lonely Place of Dying," a story that runs through issues of Batman and The New Titans and features Tim Drake's first appearance as a teenager (following his brief cameo as a little boy in "Year Three") and ends with him putting on the Robin costume for the first time.

    If you haven't read them already, you can check out the intro, part 1 and part 2 of this series.

    BATMAN #440-442 (1989)
    Written by Marv Wolfman and George Perez; art by Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo.

    THE NEW TITANS #60-61 (1989)
    Written by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, art by George Perez, Tom Grummett and Bob McLeod.

    (This review contains major spoilers for a story published over 20 years ago, so you should probably read it anyway.)

    I'm going to start with a detailed synopsis before doing a more in-depth analysis of what struck me as the most interesting aspects of the story. You can skip ahead if you've already read the comics and don't need a refresher.


    "A Lonely Place of Dying" picks up where "Year Three" left off, with Batman becoming increasingly violent and careless in the aftermath of Jason Todd's death. Chapter 1 opens with Batman fighting Ravager, while an unseen photographer takes snapshots from a distance. The photographer is Tim Drake, though he remains hidden for now. He knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne and next he goes looking for Dick Grayson, first at Titans Tower, then at Starfire's place, and finally breaking into his apartment, where he finds a newspaper article about Haly Circus's imminent closure.

    Meanwhile, Alfred is getting tired of playing nurse. He scolds Bruce for acting recklessly, reminding him of something he once told Dick when he was first training him in combat: "We're not brutalizers. We've got to think with our heads, not with our fists." Bruce doesn't even bother answering him. He changes into his Batman costume (while simultaneously shaving) and goes out on patrol.

    Still, Alfred's words do sink in when he finds himself ambushed and realizes he hasn't been doing very good detective work lately.

    "What were you thinking with?" says the caption. Batman looks at his fists. "And Batman knows the sad, ludicrous answer. He wasn't thinking." Definitely not Marv Wolfman's best prose. But the point is the clues were there all along: Two-Face is back.

    Chapter 2 follows Dick Grayson to Haly Circus, which has been experiencing serious financial troubles and a string of accidents. During a performance, Tim Drake is in the audience with his camera. He's looking for Dick and he recognizes him when he leaps to the rescue of a lion tamer who's been attacked by one of the animals. Poor Tim! Every time he goes to the circus he witnesses a horrible death! And like the first time, this one was no accident. Tim finds evidence of behind-the-scenes shenanigans and brings it to Dick, who solves the murder. Tim blurts out to Dick that Batman needs his help and shows him the pictures he took of the fight.

    In Chapter 3, Dick returns to Gotham City with Tim, brings him to Wayne Manor and demands an explanation. Tim explains to Dick and Alfred that he was at the circus years ago when Dick's parents died, which had a profound impact on him. He later recognized Dick's signature quadruple somersault move when he saw video footage of Batman and Robin on the news. From this, he deduced that Bruce was Batman, and later that Dick became Nightwing, and Jason became the second Robin and was then killed. Tim argues that Batman needs a partner.

    In Chapter 4, Batman sends Nightwing a message containing all the clues he's been gathering from Two-Face. Nightwing solves the puzzle and meets up with Batman, who is very reluctant to admit that he needs his help. He keeps almost calling him Robin by mistake. The clues have led them to a warehouse. They go in and Two-Face blows the place up, trapping under the rubble. But Nightwing had time to turn on his homing signal, which triggers an alarm in the Batcave.

    In Chapter 5, Tim Drake refuses to sit and do nothing. He puts on the Robin costume and gets Alfred to drive him to the location of Nightwing's signal, where they fight Two-Face. This is definitely the weakest point of the story, as it doesn't make much sense for Tim and Alfred to win this fight so easily, but somehow they do and Two-Face escapes. Tim rescues Batman and Nightwing, but upon seeing this boy in the Robin costume, Batman is pissed. They argue about it for several pages, then they go after Two-Face, fight him and defeat him. In the last scene, Bruce tentatively agrees to give Tim Drake a chance, but without promising him anything.

    Batman needs a Robin

    That Batman needs a Robin is clearly the main point of the story, and Marv Wolfman (with co-plotter George Perez) drives the point home without much subtlety. Tim repeats the phrase over and over like a mantra, presenting his argument first to Dick and Alfred, then to Batman himself. Each time, it's like DC editorial is speaking directly to the fans, trying to justify why there needs to be another Robin.

    At first, Tim has no intention of himself becoming Robin. His plan is to convince Dick to go back to that role. But Dick has no intention of giving up his awesome disco collar.

    Nightwing might as well be addressing the fans directly when he says he can't become a kid again, and that "no matter how much anybody may want it, you can't bring back the dead." In hindsight, of course, we know this is bullshit, and DC will eventually bring Jason Todd back, but that's another story. The point is, at the time DC was looking for a way to bring Robin back without either demoting Nightwing or undoing Jason's death, and that left only one alternative.

    Exactly why Batman needs Robin (as opposed to any other partner) is never given a convincing, practical in-story justification. Tim tells Dick, "You can't let a legend die like that," which only makes sense to us readers because we are aware of Robin's iconic status as a comic book character who's been around for three-quarters of a century. Robin is a legend to us as readers, but it's perhaps debatable whether he should hold the same status to the characters in the story.

    The lack of subtlety with which the argument is presented has an interesting side-effect. Tim Drake's fate as the future Robin was sealed from the moment he witnessed Dick Grayson's parents' death in "Year Three." (I've already written at length about the significance of that moment in a previous installment of this series.) It may not have been immediately obvious to contemporary readers, but they would have surely picked up on it by halfway through this story. Yet, as I said, this is not a role that Tim was actively seeking for himself. Although he admits that he used to fantasize about what it would be like to be Robin, he says it's not something he wanted for himself. He ends up putting on the costume out of necessity, because someone has to.

    When Tim tells Batman that he has to have a Robin, Batman replies: "Where is that written in stone? There's no more need for there to be a Robin--" Alfred finishes the thought for him: "--than there is for a Batman?" So it's not just Tim that gets sucked into this super-hero role. There's a sense that these characters don't have any say in deciding their own fate. Bruce has to be Batman, Dick has to be Nightwing and Tim has to be Robin.

    Harvey's identity as Two-Face also results from a similar deterministic influence. There's evidence of it in the way he addresses Batman: "You can't escape me, and perhaps I can't escape you. We're inextricably linked." This link is emphasized in Chapter 3, "Parallel Lines," which is the centerpiece of the story. In it, Batman and Two-Face are mirror images of each other. They're bound to one another by an uncanny, almost supernatural connection. They go through parallel actions, their inner monologues strikingly similar, while the art depicts them side by side in a symmetrical layout:

    Two-Face has almost no agency in this story. His actions and motivations are literally dictated by a mysterious voice that speaks directly to him through a radio unit. The suggestion at first is that this may just be a manifestation of his split personality, but in the end it is revealed to have been the voice of the Joker, pulling strings from his hospital bed as he recovers from his last encounter with Batman.

    I don't really think that Wolfman is deliberately encouraging a metatextual interpretation of the story, but because of how blatantly he exposes DC's editorial mandate and the way he emphasizes that the characters are not in control of their own fates as heroes or villains, there's a sense that they're all slaves to this tragic farce that keeps repeating itself.

    A few random observations

    Yes, it is, Tim.
    I've already spent way too much time on this piece, so I'm just going to end by pointing out four details I picked up on without elaborating further.

    1. There's a strong motif of related to photography running through the first three issues, which is then unfortunately abandoned just as it was about to get really interesting. The very first scene repeats the "SNAP WHIRRR" sound effect intermittently for several pages until the photographer is revealed and the sound is then understood to be that of the camera. Tim, Dick and Alfred all have a copy of the snapshot that was taken at Haly Circus shortly before Dick's parents died (as seen in "Year Three").

    2. Later in Tim Drake's career as Robin, his amazing detective skills have often been commented upon. This was the boy who figured out Batman's identity! There's this perception among fans that Tim Drake is the smart Robin, whereas Dick was the athletic one. While Tim is certainly portrayed here as very intelligent, his detective skills aren't really that impressive. The unintentionally hilarious "Dick is good" line in Chapter 2 shows how impressed he is with Dick's sleuthing abilities. As for his solving of the mystery of Batman and Robin's identities, it was almost totally circumstantial - he just happened to be at the right place at the right time and to recognize Dick's signature move. He himself admits it wasn't too difficult to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Of course, Tim will eventually become a great detective in his own right, but only after being trained by Batman.

    3. My favourite line of the story goes to Alfred in Chapter 4: "I believe Master Bruce is almost as obsessive about family as he is about preventing crime."

    4. Tim Drake's name was changed by editorial at the last minute, but one mistake slipped into Batman #441. In one panel, Dick accidentally calls him "Jeff." This was later explained in the letters column in issue #445.

    Next time on Tim Drake from the Beginning

    DC editors and writers wonder, "How can Tim Drake be Robin if he's not an orphan? Let's at least kill one of them." And they do, stupidly and lazily, in a story called "Rite of Passage" from Detective Comics #618-621. Ugh!

    And I promise it won't take me six months to write that one.

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    Top Marvel covers for April 2011

    Hulk #32 (Gabriel Hardman)

    Incredible Hulk #626 (Jock)

    Namor: The First Mutant #9 (Phil Noto)

    Spider-Man #13 (Barry Kitson)

    Spectacular Spider-Man #1000 (Paolo Rivera)

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Five Images

    Big Barda, by Batfee@DA.

    '80s Batman, by Ardian Syaf.

    Golden Age Sandman, by Gabriel Hardman.

    Swamp Thing, by Charles Holbert Jr.

    Robin (Dick Grayson), by Joe Pekar.

    DC Comics in April 2011 - Too many crossovers!

    Looking at DC Comics' April 2011 solicitations, I'm seeing an awful lot of crossovers: the three Green Lantern books are interlocked in the awful-sounding "War of the Green Lanterns"; Superboy, the Superman/Batman annual and Action Comics are part of the "Reign of Doomsday" event; Red Robin, Gotham City Sirens and Batman together form an unnamed three-part crossover; and Flash is setting up this summer's big event "Flashpoint," which sounds like it's going to affect DC's entire line of books.

    War of the Green Lanterns

    Green Lantern #65
    This one is easy enough to ignore for me, since I'm not following any of the Green Lantern titles. It's unclear to me whether this story line concludes in April or if it's going to continue in May. But I did notice that they're apparently planning to release the books out of reading order. The solicitation for Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #9, which comes out April 20, says it deals with the consequences of Green Lantern Corps #59, which comes out the following week on April 27.

    Great job, DC editors! I can't think of a worse way to promote your upcoming big blockbuster movie than with a confusing crossover event that you can't even be bothered to release in the proper reading order.

    If I was a Green Lantern editor, I would want to keep these books accessible for new readers who might be excited about the upcoming movie and who'd want to check out the comic. But right now there is no easy jumping on point into the franchise for new readers.

    Reign of Doomsday

    Superman/Batman Annual #5
    The "Reign of Doomsday" crossover has just started and already there are signs that it'll be a prime example of how damaging a editorially mandated events can be for ongoing series that get sucked into them. The Steel one-shot that came out earlier this month wasn't very good, but it's hard to blame writer Steve Lyons for it. Not only had he pitched a completely different story featuring a different villain (Metallo), but he had actually finished the script, which was already in the process of being drawn by penciller Sean Chen, when DC editorial decided to trash it all and repurpose the issue to launch the crossover event. Metallo was discarded as the villain, and Ed Benes replaced Sean Chen as the penciller.

    The result was a 22-page fight scene, with virtually no context, ending with a very unsatisfying cliffhanger as Doomsday drags Steel's limp body away into space. That the one-shot was weak on story is a massive understatement. Lyons said in an interview with Newsarama: "As for why Doomsday is coming after Steel now... well, actually, even I don't know the full answer to that!" What can you expect when the writer admits that he doesn't even know his characters' motivations?

    In February and March, the crossover continues in issues of Outsiders and Justice League of America, neither of which I currently follow. Considering how uninspired the first part of the story was, I wasn't planning on picking those up, but in April "Act 1" of the story continues in the Superman/Batman annual and then concludes in Superboy #6. Since I'm currently following (and enjoying!) Jeff Lemire's Superboy, now I have to decide whether all this additional material is worth buying in order to get the full story.

    Surprisingly, the solicitation for Action Comics #900 doesn't mention "Reign of Doomsday," although a post on DC's blog yesterday claims that it continues the story line. Why they wouldn't include this crucial information in the solicitations is beyond me! What it does say is that "this story will lay the ground for an insanely epic story coming out this summer in the pages of Action." So presumably, this insanely epic story will be "Act 2" of "Reign of Doomsday"?

    Part of the reason these crossovers are so frustrating is that readers are only given little tidbits of information at a time, all of which is constantly subject to change, so it's very difficult for us to make informed decisions about what books to order. I'm lucky enough to have access to a comic book store that orders multiple copies of everything DC and Marvel publish, so even if I don't put something on my pull list, it's pretty much guaranteed that I'll be able to pick up a copy once it hits the stands. But those who only have access to smaller comics stores don't have that luxury.

    As for how this crossover will affect my buying habits, I've decided to just keep getting the books I usually get (Action and Superboy) and hope for the best. I don't really mind that this story is set to continue in the pages of Action Comics after the Lex Luthor arc concludes. If Paul Cornell stays onboard, I'll continue reading it. (But that's another thing DC has been very tight-lipped about. Who's going to be writing Action from May onward?) I'm a little bit more upset about Superboy being sucked into it, because as a newer book, I think it would have been good to let it establish itself at its own pace. But whatever. At worse, it'll be one shitty issue, then hopefully it gets back on track with #7.

    Red Robin/Gotham City Sirens/Batman

    Gotham City Sirens #22
    I was worried when I first saw that Marcus To wasn't listed as the artist for Red Robin #22, but he has since confirmed (via Twitter) that his editors wanted to give him some breathing room and that he will be back on the book with #23. That's good news, as he's pretty much the only only reason I haven't dropped the book after a series of recent weak scripts from Fabian Nicieza.

    It's great that they're giving Marcus To some time to rest in between story arc. He's been doing consistently fantastic work on the book for over a year now, without any delays, which is a remarkable achievement when you compare it to almost every other book that DC publishes. It sounds like a well-deserved break. But why couldn't they just do a stand-alone issue in between instead of tying it with two other Bat books? Wouldn't that have been a better way to attract new readers? Promote the issue as a good jumping-on point, a no-strings-attached, commitment-free issue with a done-in-one story introducing you to the character. Maybe a team-up with another popular character to attract more fans. Instead, picking up this issue forces you to pick up two other books. Sounds like a terrible way to get new readers.

    I guess the point of this crossover is that people already following either one of these three series are going to feel compelled to buy the other two issues in order to get the full story. So DC's making three times as much money as they normally would. That's the theory, but is that actually what people do? Not me. I'm going to skip this book instead. I'd rather have a hole in my collection than be forced to buy extra books I don't want.

    It's a pity, though, because the cover by Guillem March is beautiful.


    The Flash #12
    This last one is a bit different from the other events discussed above, since it's not going to start until this summer. April brings us the end of the prologue and so far the story will have been entirely contained in the pages of a single book, The Flash. And since I  happen to be buying this book already, this will be a good way for me to evaluate whether or not I want to jump onboard for the mega event that will follow.

    So far, I'm intrigued by the premise. It's really too early for me to have an opinion at this point, although I'm a little bit worried by the suggestion that "everything Barry Allen knows and cares about is lost" in April's issue #12. Since it looks like the event is going to be about alternate timelines, I'm assuming part of Barry Allen's motivations will be to go back and fix the timeline to save his wife. Which is something Geoff Johns has been hinting at since early in the series. I'm only worried because I'm bracing myself for another grueling "death of a loved one" scene, which seems to have become DC's trademark. But we'll see how that goes.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Top 10 DC covers for April 2011

    Here are my top 10 favourite covers (in alphabetical order) from DC's April solicitations. Tomorrow, I'll post comments on the books themselves.

    Batman and Robin #22 (Patrick Gleason)

    Batman Incorporated #6 (Chris Burnham)

    Batwoman #1 (J.H. Williams III)

    Birds of Prey #11 (Stanley Lau)

    Detective Comics #876 (Jock)

    Power Girl #23 (Sam Basri)

    Red Robin #22 (Guillem March)

    Supergirl #63 (Amy Reeder and Richard Friend)

    Xombi #2 (Frazer Irving)

    Zatanna #12 (Adam Hughes)

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Is It Wednesday Yet?

    Cover by Fiona Staples.
    New comics this week.

    Definitely (for me)
    • Legion of Super-Heroes #9 (DC)
    • Superman/Batman #80 (DC)
    • Northlanders #36 (Vertigo)
    • Thor #619 (Marvel)
    • Superior #4 (Icon)
    • Soldier Zero #4 (Boom)
    I've fallen way behind on Legion of Super-Heroes and yet I keep buying them. I really need to catch up soon, as I'm not even sure what's going on in the book right now... or whether it's any good.

    Superman/Batman and Northlanders both conclude two-part stories that started last month. Meanwhile, Thor, Superior and Soldier Zero are all about halfway through their arcs.

    Also noteworthy
    • Hellblazer #275 (Vertigo)
    • Invincible Iron Man #500 (Marvel)
    • Age of Reptiles Omnibus vol. 1 (Dark Horse)
    • Mass Effect: Evolution #1 (Dark Horse)
    • Jurassic Park: The Devils in the Desert #1 (IDW)
    • Doctor Who vol. 2 #1 (IDW)
    • Memoir #1 (Image)
    John Constantine is getting married (apparently) in issue #275 of Hellblazer. The special over-sized (and over-priced) issue is the last to feature the art of Giuseppe Camuncoli before Simon Bisley takes over next month.

    Invincible Iron Man hits #500, which of course means it also gets an over-sized and over-priced special issue. In fact, it's so special that there's a trailer for it. I've only read the first 7 issues of Matt Fraction's run, and it was pretty cool. The turn off for me though is Salvador Larroca's heavily photo-referenced art and the awful colouring that makes everything look airbrushed and slick and shiny and 3D-ish. I think a lot of people really love that style, but I hate it and it's one of the main reasons why I  have such a hard time getting into Marvel, as a lot of their books seem to be made in that style. (Or maybe it was just the ones I happened to look at.)

    Age of Reptiles omnibus sounds pretty amazing, but I'm really broke, so I can't afford it at the moment. I'm putting on my list of things to possibly order from Amazon when I have more money. It's a wordless comic about dinosaurs. If you prefer your dinosaur comics with words, you could check out the first issue of Jurassic Park: The Devils in the Desert, a new four-part series written and drawn by John Byrne. There's a preview here.

    Mass Effect: Evolution is a new series based on the video game franchise by Bioware. I'm not really interested in it, but I'm mentioning it because while doing research about it I found out that Martin Sheen apparently plays a role in the video game. Isn't that crazy? Find out more here or check out the preview here.

    Memoir is a new six-part series from Image Comics about a town where everybody wakes up one day with amnesia. There's a preview here.

      Saturday, January 15, 2011

      Brief hiatus / secondary reading

      I'm going to be out of town for a few days, so I won't be able to update this blog until next Tuesday. I'm happy, though, that since my new-year resolution to put more effort into writing about comics, I have somehow managed to post every day. And I've got a few good articles I'm working on, including the next installment of my Tim Drake series.

      I've taken two books about comics out of the library and will be taking them with me to read on the bus. The first is The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History, by Robert C. Harvey. I've read the first chapter so far, about the rise of super-hero comics and Kirby's influence (among other things), and it's very informative. Although it covers a lot of material I'm already familiar with, it's a nice synthesis of a lot of information I'd never quite put together into such a clear historical narrative before. It also goes into considerable depth into some areas that I only had a passing knowledge of before.

      The second book is in French and is more theoretical than historical: Principes des littératures dessinées, by Harry Morgan. It's a pretty big volume and I probably won't have time to read the whole thing before returning it to the library, but I'm hoping it will be useful especially in stimulating a reflection on the formal and technical aspects of the medium. Consider it research for a series of posts I'm working on, but which I'm not ready to announce yet.

      Check back here Tuesday for my "Is It Wednesday Yet?" column.

      Friday, January 14, 2011

      Five Images

      The Atom by Patrick Zircher.

      Thor, by Reilly Brown.

      Birds of Prey, by Jesus Saiz.

      By Joshua Cotter.

      Shadow Lass, by Marcelo Di Chiara.

      Thursday, January 13, 2011

      Webcomics: His Face All Red by Emily Carroll

      Go read the short comic His Face All Red, by Emily Carroll. It only takes a few minutes, but it's one of the most satisfying webcomics I've ever read.

      I found out about it in the "best of 2010" edition of the 3 Chicks Review Comics podcast (which I also highly recommend if you haven't listened to it yet), where Maddy from When Fangirls Attack! picked it as her favourite short story of the year. (It was also mentioned on Robot 6 in November.)

      It's a creepy little story, beautifully illustrated, that makes really great use of its online layout. I'm basically just repeating what Maddy said on the podcast, but you can tell Emily Carroll put a lot of thought into how it would be read. One of the interesting things about reading comics online is that there isn't any designated page size, so one page can be really long and force you to scroll down to reach the end of it, and the next page can be a single panel in the center of your screen. But I've rarely seen online comics fully take advantage of that the way the author does here. The experience of either scrolling down to reveal more panels or clicking through to the next page is part of the design and used to control pacing.

      I haven't found a lot of info about Emily Carroll online. Here website is still under construction with a note saying it's expected to launch this month. Meanwhile, she's posting some nice illustrations and short comics on her blog.

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