Friday, March 30, 2007

Batman #664--Bruce Wayne is Cool

So Grant Morrison follows up an intruiging Batman prose story full of dense allusions with...this.

And the internet scratches its head.

Batman #664 sure is interesting, though, but not in the same way the previous issue was. This issue is practically wordless by comparison, and while #663 was all about identity and patterns, this issue is all about action and pimping. What an abrupt shift in tone and style!

Yet, if we explore what's going on here, I think we can find some meaning, even if it's ultimately elusive:

1) Morrison plays on the "millionaire playboy" image of Bruce Wayne by turning him into James Bond times 10. Bruce actually says, "I'm much cooler than he is," in reference to James Bond. Then he proceeds to blow up a helicopter by throwing a ski pole. Pretty badass for a character who has acted like a foppish imbecile in past appearances.

2) Conversely, in his Batman guise, Bruce is shockingly ineffective in this issue. Sure, he beats up a few dirty cops, but his "battle" with this Bat-Bane character (or whomever he is) is over in a hearbeat and the monstrosity throws him around and apparently breaks his back.

What does this mean, though? Well, it shows that Morrison has a sense of humor, for one. By alluding to the famous Bane-breaks-Batman's-back sequence from the 90s, he's recalling a low point in the career of Batman and a low point in the quality of the Bat-books. It's a wink at the audience, for sure. But is there a deeper significance? Surely. It's Morrison. But we'll have to wait and see how the arc plays out to make the final judgment on that. With the inversion of the normal relationship between Batman and Bruce Wayne (traditionally, Bruce Wayne is the weak, ineffective one, and Batman is the ass-kicker, obviously), Morrison recalls his early work like Zenith, where the title character scoffs at the very idea of doing anything heroic (or physical) and Animal Man, where the title character is an active pacifist, and is shown up by his wife (who saves the family from the Mirror Master's home invasion). In those early works, Morrison was exploring the very notion of heroism, and undermining the traditional view of pugilistic superheroes. In Batman, I don't think he's doing that. After all, his Batman defeated a bunch of Ninja Manbats in a previous issue! Once again, we'll have to wait and see what this ineffective Batman and this Bat-Bane character represent. It seems almost dream-like, though. Perhaps he's exploring some Arkham Asylum-style, it's-all-in-his-head type of story. I don't know.

Then there's the question of the narration:

3) Batman has these internal monologue caption boxes in this issue. That's not strange in itself. It's been a normal Batman motif since Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, but Morrison has specifically avoided them in the past (like in Batman: Gothic, for example), and he even spent an entire issue of Doom Patrol mocking these types of captions by having a ridiculous character called the Beardhunter wax poetically about his love for firearms and violence. In this issue of Batman, Morrison seems to over-indulge in the very technique he has ridiculed, giving Batman lines such as "I'm opening a can so full of worms you could bury your dead in there and they'd be bones by morning."

So, what does this all mean? Morrison could, very possibly, be embracing these Batman conventions. He could just be playing in the Batman sandbox, using all the toys without regard for significance or meaning. Or he could be giving us some clues that something's a bit off here. After all, in addition to his internal monologue, Batman also has some uncharacteristic dialogue. He chats with some hookers (whom he seems to know on a first-name basis) and asks them, "What's up?" "What's up?" Really??? That just doesn't seem like Batman. In Morrison's version or otherwise. So, perhaps this Batman is an impostor, or something is going on with Batman (again, could it be a dream-state?). We'll have to wait for more to find out.

Then there's this "Black Casebook" mystery:

4) Batman alludes to a Black Casebook which, in the back of his mind, seems to have some significance to this case. Something which might connect a previous Bat-imposter with this new Bat-Bane who shows up at the end. Something which might, perhaps, explain this Batman acting out-of-character, maybe? Either way, we get nothing more than the name--"The Black Casebook" and a hint of its relevance before he's knocked unconscious. It is nice to see a mystery element in the story, though. We don't get to see Batman's detective skills enough.

Any meaning to this? I really don't know, unless, as I have indicated, that it all ties into to multiple Bat-impersonators and this guy in issue #664 is one of them. Maybe there's a whole army of these guys and they all THINK they're Batman. Could someone like the Mad Hatter have implanted a bunch of Batman cowls with one of his crazy mind-control devices? That's not likely, but Morrison is fond of Alice in Wonderland type of absurdity, so it's not impossible to think that we'll see the Hatter in a future Morrison story. Or, perhaps, as I speculated in a Barbelith thread, the "Black Casebook" mystery will lead Batman on a metafictional quest to the doorstep of Grant Morrison himself. And the Casebook will turn out to be Morrison's notebook and Batman will learn that he's a fictional character in an implicate order and then Batman will kick Grant Morrison in the face.

Basically, I don't know what any of it means, yet, but issue #664 provides a bunch of questions that Morrison will be sure to answer in the issues that follow. That makes it a pretty solid start to a new storyline then, doesn't it?

And, yeah, it's got a pimp wearing golf attire too. I'm sure that's symbolic somehow.

We'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Legion of Super-Heroes: A Critical Perspective

I've convinced the powers-that-be at that they really need to publish a book of scholarly essays about The Legion of Super-Heroes. I pitched them my idea for the book, and they thought it would be a great tie-in for next year's 50th Anniversary of the Legion. Ideally, it would be a book that Legion fans would love, and it would be a book that the casual comic book reader (or the pop culture scholar) could pick up to learn about the fascinating depth of the Legion. So, here we are. I'll be contributing some chapters (as I spend the bulk of my writing time this year working on a sequel to Grant Morrison: The Early Years), but mostly I'll be coordinating the project and editing the book.

I'm really excited about the idea of looking at the various eras of the Legion from some kind of critical perspective. I'd like the book to cover the entire history of the Legion using various approaches and critical lenses. It will make a really cool book--and that's why I need you! I need contributions from writers! I've got a few people on board already, and I've begun to post a few inquiries, but I still need about a dozen more writers to flesh out this ambitious and exciting project.

Here are some details: The book would be published in time to premiere at next year's New York Comic-Con, which means I'd need the first wave of submissions to arrive this summer. I will work with anyone who wants to contribute something, and if your essay is selected for publication (and if you write something I need and work with my feedback, you're pretty much guaranteed publication), you will receive a pro-rated royalty fee for each copy of the book sold. Basically, as I've explained to a few people who've contacted me already, you'll get about a nickel per copy sold (assuming your essay is somewhere around 10 manuscript pages or so). If we sold 1,000 copies, you'd make about 50 bucks (500 bucks if we sold 10,000 copies, for those of you who don't have a fancy calculator to do the math). But you wouldn't be doing it for the money anyway. You'd be doing it because you love the Legion and have something smart to say about the series.

So if you're interested, e-mail me! Put the word "Legion" in the title. Send me an informal proposal telling me what you'd like to write about and what sort of approach you'd like to take (the final essays should be about 3,000-10,000 words in length, by the way, but your proposal should just be a paragraph). I'll give you some feedback and a deadline and then we can make this book happen!

Just to give you some ideas, a few writers are already at work on some things, like:

"Edmund Hamilton as Progenitor of 'Event' Comics"--A close analysis of "The Death of Lightning Lad."

"The Legion: A Sartorial Approach"--A study of Dave Cockrum's contribution to the look of the 30th Century.

"The Art of the Legion"--An analysis of the way various artists have provided different narrative approaches to the Legion.

"Generational Politics in the Waid Threeboot"--An application of the Strauss and Howe generation theory to Waid's Threeboot.

And here are some topics in need of writers--let me know if you want to do one of these:

"Gender Identity in the TMK Legion"--An exploration of transexuality and homosexuality after the 5-year gap.

"Love and Death in the American 30th Century"--An examination of the soap opera aspects of the series, using a thematic approach.

"Shooter's Marvelization of a Universe"--An analysis of Shooter's adoption of Lee and Kirby techniques within the context of his initial run on the Legion.

"Apocalyptic Images from Tomorrow"--A close look at the way the Legion has depicted disaster and apocalypse, provided in the context of literary and cultural history.

"The Inevitable Dystopia"--The way utopian idealism gave way to dystopia in the pre-boot Legion and what that says about society.

"Robert Altman, Paul Levitz and Teenagers from the Future"--An analysis of Levitz's use of characterization and structure, which, he claims, was inspired by the films of Robert Altman.

And if none of that inspires you to write, give me your own ideas!

When I posted my call for ideas at the Barbelith board, one of the members, Papers, came up with a bunch of great topics for inclusion in the book. He can't write all of these essays, so if you're interested in any of the ideas he describes below, contact me:

"Redemption of the Legionnaires"--While Superman had more of a personal code against killing, the Legion had it hardwired into their constitution, and consequently murder/redemption cycles feature heavily in their stories. The big two examples I can think of would be Star Boy murdering an attacker and being expelled (to return as 'Sir Prize') and the TMK Legion's Venado Bay backstory, with Shrinking Violet unwilling to accept her own redemption for events taking place during war-time, especially as they had to do with her former teammate, Cosmic Boy.

"Is the Legion an example of rescue fiction?"--For the bulk of the canon, the Legion has always been presented as a sanctioned law-enforcement group rather than vigilantes (with some exceptions, like the Legion on the run story in the TMK series or various "Universo turns Earth against them" recyclings). Furthermore, almost seventy-five percent of the time they're shown in sweepingly epic settings, saving the day from natural disasters and apocalypses - routinely saving U.P. citizens. Legion squads are sent out to investigate space stations and planets in distress. They were always presented - at least preboot - as being very much involved in rescue and repair after the fact as much as they fought super-villains.

"Genre-bending Legionnaires"--Examination of stories which directly merged other genres of fiction with science-fiction and superheroics. Start off general with a discussion of utopian fiction and super-heroes being blended, move into a discussion of its soap opera elements, and then explore more specific alternates - I'm thinking of the Magic Wars and the Mordru-led alternate dimension from TMK, the "Who Shot Laurel Kent?" annual which used detective fiction tropes and is probably one of my all-time favourite comics books, even beyond the Legion canon as a whole.

"Animation & the other Super-Heroes"--Watching the new cartoon, I'm struck by how boring it is to watch Superman or Lightning Lad use their powers when the comparatively weaker and often ridiculed Triplicate Girl and Bouncing Boy are absolutely STUNNING when seen in animated form. One migh talk about how there's always been a disparity and tension in the Legion (with its much-touted but often ignored "no power duplication" rule) between the bricks (Mon-El, Superboy, Supergirl, Blok, Ultra-Boy) and those "weaker" members who are nevertheless more interesting-looking.

"Secret Identities in the Legion"--Typically, the Legion didn't engage in (a) masks, and (b) secret identities; their names and codenames were publically known and tabloid fodder (think about that wistful Element Lad spotlight Sean Erin read as a wee boy before taking the profem) -- only the result is that the secret identities stand out and become significant. The Legion has a history of unknown members, like that time Supergirl flew through a red kryptonite cloud and ended up thinking she was somebody completely different, and ran around in a lead-lined mask. Star Boy & Dream Girl left for various reasons and returned as Sir Prize and Miss Terrious. Jan Arrah joined as Mystery Lad before swapping out to be in his Element. Discussion could be had of the unfortunate secret identities like Ultra-Boy showing up calling himself Reflecto while being a disembodied presence possessing Superboy. Projectra appearing as Sensor Girl with terribly ill-defined powers. Saturn Girl would be a touchstone for this piece as her telepathy made her privy to a lot of secrets that she had to keep (Element Lad, Sensor Girl)and those she had to reveal (Jo-as-Reflecto). Secret identities are significant to the Legion becaus they are an abnormality, a break from the typical compared to Superman and Clark's constant rigamarole with Lois or Green Lantern's romantic discombulations with Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris. The issue of masks as well, signified chiefly by Sensor Girl (Was she Supergirl? A Supergirl robot? Saturn Queen? Someone else) and Ferro Lad (in a world of wild aliens his face was apparently too horrible to be gazed upon) - masks were an uncommon occurrence and led to other Legionnaires lounging around playing holographic D&D, trying to figure out who someone is. Someone they're supposed to trust.

Thanks, Papers! And Mario, from Barbelith, came up with this idea, which me may or may not expand into an essay:

"The Homogenization of the Future"--Because, with very few exceptions, the 30th-century is often written as basically the 20th century with spaceships.

That's SIXTEEN possible chapters in the book already (some of which are already in progress, but most still need writers). And none of the topics above deal with the Zero Hour reboot, an era which could stand some scrutiny.

So, please let me know which topic(s) you'd like to write about ASAP, so we can make this book an essential part of every reader's library.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Quick Reviews: Week of 03/21/07

I bought a bunch of comics this week, as usual, and because I actually had some free time this week, I read some of them already! (I'm still three weeks behind on some other titles.) So here are some thoughts:

52 #46: I rate this issue as BEST OF THE WEEK, surprisingly. Even though 52 has been weak since the new year, this issue puts a Grant Morrison spin on the climax of the Black Adam story. One of these days, after 52 is complete, I'm going to go back through each issue and break down each section to identify the writers. It's pretty clear that the bulk of this issue, the entire Black Adam sequence on these pages, was Morrison's work. It has the apocalyptic overtones, the absurd moments, the anti-climax, and the central use of extra-dimensional science. It's Morrison's dialogue without a doubt, and I'd be shocked if he didn't write this whole sequence. His writing has been absent from the series for several weeks, except for the brief Animal Man section, so it was a treat to see him return at such a key moment. The Superman and JSA bits at the end of the issue would obviously be attributed to Waid and Johns, respectively, and they didn't quite carry the momentum from the main story, but at least they were short enough and provided some interesting bits. I really liked this issue.

Wisdom #4: With Trevor Hairsine gone, I was less inspired to pick up the newest issue, but my extreme love for the first issue has propelled me this far, and I think Paul Cornell is quite a good writer. He juxtaposes the fantasy worlds with "reality" as well as anyone in comics, and he's made this series work, even though there's not much apparent connection between issues. It's a strange structure for a limited series. It's much more episodic than you'd expect, but the ideas are great fun and the individual issues work on their own terms. Manuel Garcia provides serviceable art, but the best part of this issue is the multi-dimensional Jack the Rippers and, of course, the great character find of the century, Captain Midlands. I recommend this issue (and the whole series).

Army@Love #1: This was my recommendation to Greg Burgas over at Comics Should Be Good, and I'll stick by it even after reading the first issue. In retrospect, 52 was a better read this week, but who could have known that before Wednesday? But Army@Love was definitely NOT a disappointment. It was much better than the preview pages in the back of the recent Vertigo issues would have you believe. It is certainly a much better satire than American Virgin, which isn't even a satire, it turns out, though it was seemingly promoted as such during its launch. Army@Love is Rick Veitch as he was meant to be, slightly sanitized for your protection by DC, perhaps, but's not the Aquaman Rick Veitch on display here, it's the guy who gave us Brat Pack. This new series has great promise, and the first issue sets up the conflict nicely: Motivation & Morale as a corrupt organization (running a corrupt war fought by corrupt soldiers) trying to make it all look good for the public. Perhaps Veitch will give us a (no doubt flawed) "hero" to fight against this corruption, or perhaps he won't. Maybe the whole series will be about bastards being bastards. Either way, I'm going to keep reading, and you should too.

The Spirit #4: Speaking of Greg Burgas and CSBG, someone made a comment over there asking for a more "in-depth argument" for why The Spirit is so good. It seems that some people just don't get it. They don't see why this series, which has no continuity-laden subplots or visceral shocks, is any better than your average Johnny DC title. Here's the answer: Darwyn Cooke. Seriously. That's it. He's just that good. He's the best visual storyteller working in comics today. He's freakin' Kirby and Toth combined for a new generation. What's not to like. And, yes, a comic book is worth buying just for the art. So buy it. The story in issue 4's not half-bad either, with a nice narrative twist that adds to the playfulness of the issue. Yes, I know, the Denny Colt character is underwhelming, but he's basically just a cipher anyway, and he always has been, even in the Eisner stories. He's the excuse for the comic book, but he's not the most interesting character and he never will be. Think of The Spirit as a great anthology book by a comic book master. And buy it!

Justice Society of America #4: I L-O-V-E the Dream Girl appearance and everything that might entail. I H-A-T-E the Kid Wildcat. Hate him.

The Flash #10: After the first issue of the Bilson/DeMeo relaunch, which was notoriously horrible, I told my comic book guy, the loveable James Arlemagne, that I'd keep buying it anyway because I am a sucker and I wouldn't be able to stand a gap in my collection when the inevitable good writer takes over around issue 12. Thankfully, Guggenheim rescued me a few issues early, so I only had to waste $24 instead of $32. Stupid comic book compulsion! But, yes, the book now has a good writer. I'm looking forward to the upcoming issues, because the past two have been excellent.

Ultimate Power #4: You know what I hate? The JMS Squadron Supreme/Supreme Power thing. Man, that whole set up was a disappointment, wasn't it? All the issues led nowhere. Just really, really bad. Am I wrong? And I don't particularly like Greg Land, either, with his creepy Photoshop art and all. It's the eyes. His cropped, retouched photos are angry at him, and it comes through in their eyes. Take a look. Yet I buy this series and I kind of like it. Whatever.

The Brave and the Bold #2: Dear Mark Waid, don't have Hal Jordan think dirty thoughts about Supergirl anymore. It's creepier than a Greg Land pornstar superhero. Even if it's a "plot point" in the issue, it's just not worth it. Thanks.

Y the Last Man #55: Is this the final arc of the series? I think it is. What do I think the odds are that he'll finally find his girlfriend and they will be the new Adam and Eve? 100%. Could I wrong? We'll see.

Ms. Marvel #13: Speaking of porn, the covers on this title could not be more jarringly different than the interiors. It's embarassing to buy this series, it's embarassing to be seen reading it, all because of those fugly airbrushed girlie-mag covers. Yet, it's probably one of the best ongoing series Marvel puts out. It's surprisingly well-written. You should buy it and rip off the cover (give it to Greg Land to use as "reference" or something). But read the comic book. It's a good exploration of what it means to be a hero.

I read some other stuff too. But I don't have much to say about it yet. Here's a teaser, though. Mike Carey should be a better writer than he is. But, unfortunately he's merely mediocre.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Just for fun, I decided to draw a new costume for Supergirl to participate in Supergirl Week over at Project Rooftop. So here's my design, inspired by the snowstorm that may or may not arrive tomorrow. Let me know what you think of her new winter-tastic threads.