Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Supergirl and The Legion #30 (plus Countdown #49)

Over the past year, I've read every Legion of Super-Heroes comic book story from Adventure #247 to this current Waid/Kitson incarnation. I've joyously experienced the brilliance of Bizarro Computo and the death of Proty. I've thrilled at the introduction of the Fatal Five. I've gasped at the secret identity of the Time Trapper (he's a rogue Controller--no, wait, he's Cosmic Boy from the future--no wait, he's Glorith?!?). I've endured the shopping sprees of Monstress. I've eagerly devoured the mystery of the lost Legionnaires. And now I've read the ultimate defeat of the Dominators and the introduction of the Knights Tempus. So, now that the Waid era has ended, what is my final verdict?

It was pretty good.

Although the ending was kind of strange.

It was strange because the previous issue, Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #29, guest-written by Tony Bedard, didn't feel like the climax of the story, yet this week's issue was obviously the resolution. I wonder what happened. Did Waid write a version of issue #29? It was solicited as a Waid issue, and we were all surprised to see, instead, a Dominator-centric issue. Issue #28 had ended with the Legionnaires invading the Dominators homeworld, issue #29 was backstory on the Dominators, and now, with issue #30 it's all over? What happened?

"We've won the war," says Lightning Lad. "...every one of the Dominators' sciencities has been crippled."

Really? When did that happen? Between issues, I guess. That's strange, right? It's a violation of creative writing rule #1: show, don't tell. And I guess that's been my problem with this whole Waid reboot. I've enjoyed it. I like a lot of Waid's conceptual changes. Kitson's art has been excellent. But, all 30 issues have seemed a bit "tell-heavy" and not showy enough. Characters constantly talk about their plans, then we find out about things that have happened. This wasn't just the problem with the final few issues--it's felt that way pretty much the whole time. And that's too bad.

Waid did include some great moments in his final issue, though (assuming it is, in fact, his final issue). The death of Mon-El was handled well, even though the resonance of that first image on page 1 depends more upon readers' previous affection for the character than anything Waid did to establish Mon-El in this series. Anyone who hadn't read a Legion issue before picking up this new series would probably care very little about Mon-El's sacrifice. He hadn't done much in his few appearances since his escape from the Phantom Zone. But for all of us old Legion fans, that statue is a powerful image.

I also liked Cosmic Boy's approach to outwitting Mekt Ranzz. That was a bit of genius.

And, then, of course, we have the Knights Tempus, whose appearance in the story (and exposition--look, kids, more telling!) gives the rise-and-fall-and-super-awesome-rise-of-Cosmic-Boy storyline the final exclamation point it needed. And it was a pretty cool moment. I just hope we see more of the Knights Tempus. This incarnation of the Legion could always use more time travel goodness.

I'm curious to see where Bedard (and future Legion writers) take this version of the team. I hope we get to see a wider variety of threats (and threat levels), and a bit more emphasis on some of the other characters on the team. I hope we get a bit more action and fun and mystery and thrills and just good-old comic book storytelling. In the future. With time travel. And Bizarro robots.

Besides Waid's farewell issue, we got a bit more Legion goodness this week in Countdown #49. Unlike the mass of internet opinions, I like what I've seen in the first three issues of Countdown. It definitely has potential, and since it's not limited by the "real time" conceit of 52, it could develop into a stronger long-term narrative. The idea of using the Monitors as continuity cops is a great one, especially since it allows DC to acknowledge the inconsistencies within its titles and not only provide a way to fix the problems, but open up so many great storytelling possibilities (some of which involving the Legion) like we've been seeing in the recent JLA/JSA crossover. According to Countdown #49, Nightwing, Supergirl, the Levitz-era KARATE KID, and THE (current incarnation of the?) LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES are "loose ends left by the last Crisis." The rogue Monitor implies that these characters should not exist. Does this open the door for a new Legion reboot? What Legion is supposed to exist in the future of New Earth? (And is some of the inherent coolness of the Legion related to the fact that it takes place in the future of the DC Universe? What if the Legion is just an alternate reality super-team? Does that diminish its potential quality? Readers, tell me what you think!) But Countdown #49 wasn't just a good issue because of its potential (and interesting continuity questions)--it was good because it reintroduced Elastic Lad (yes!) and included some nice banter between Red Arrow and Karate Kid.

By the way, this Countdown issue was written by the very same Tony Bedard who's taking over the Legion for the next few months. That seems to open up even more possibilities, doesn't it? Elastic Lad + old-school Karate Kid + the new Legion vs. the Monitors seems like a good time to me. How about you?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Batman #665--The Doppelgangers Three

Ah, Batman #665. Morrison seems to be disappointing critics with his run on this title, and I find myself constantly defending the work. I trust him enough as a writer to wait and see how it all turns out, before saying it's a failure. It is ridiculous, after all, to judge a complete work on the basis of a middle chapter (or even an early chapter, really--and Morrison claims he's going to stay on this title for another year or so. That's a lot of stories still remaining). So I won't rate this issue (although I did enjoy it, as I've enjoyed all of Morrison's work on Batman thus far); what I'll do instead is offer a perspective on what it all means, as I did for the previous couple of issues (here and here).

1) Morrison contrasts the hard-boiled internal monologue with the pathetic reality of Batman. As I've said before (especially in my book), Morrison is primarily an absurdist, but here, he's in full ironic mode. "Face down in my own blood and vomit in the pouring rain. / Must / Must be. / Must be a better way / to strike terror / into the hearts of criminals," Batman thinks as we see him collapse in front of a bunch of prostitutes. Notice Morrison's line breaks to emphasize the halting (and poetic) rhythm of Batman's internal monologue. Look at the response of his adoring public, as one prostitute diminishes and sense of Batman's grandeur with the lines, "So he fell off his batrope. / So screw him." Later, when Batman returns to action, Morrison leaves him nearly totally silent. His few lines of inernal monologue near the end of the issue are terse and direct. "Everything hurts," he says. That's about it. Perhaps his thoughts are no longer needed because he has Robin to talk to in the climax of the issue, but Batman doesn't say much to Robin either. His purple prose disappears when he needs to get to work. Morrison's Batman strives to be efficient and brutal.

2) Morrison brings back a few of his favorite Batman motifs: doubling and dreams. The Batman doppelgangers, and the mystery of their existence (and agenda), drives the narrative. They seem to be distorted reflections of Batman's psyche. One, a brutal killer with a gun, reflects his the childhood trauma of his parents' murder. Another, the Bane clone, reflects Batman's greatest defeat (and recalls that Batman himself was pumped up with the "venom" steroid at one point as told in a Legends of the Dark Knight story arc). The third doppelganger, who has not yet appeared, reflects a Batman driven by vengeance. Someone who has sold his soul to the Devil, recalling the pact made by Mr. Whisper in Batman: Gothic. In Morrison's cosmology, dreams are essential to the detective skills of Batman. In Arkham Asylum, the entire story is written as a dream. Everything in that story is Jungian dream symbolism. In Gothic, Batman receives clues through his dreams, and he follows a dream logic to track down the origin of Mr. Whisper. In this current Batman storyline, dreams are no less prominent. Bruce Wayne has been tormented by dreams of these Batman doubles, and now he must face them in reality. His worst nightmare, the fear of going to far in his quest for vengeance, is literally embodied by these three twisted Batman doppelgangers.

3) The Black Casebook, an ingenious device created by Morrison to allow Batman to reconcile the supernatural and alien experiences in his past, represents the kind of hyper-continuity Morrison loves. Some readers dislike Morrison's approach to continuity. They say that his stories ignore past continuity and his characters act "out-of-character" (I, myself, have accused Morrison of this in his very last issue of Batman, but I'm not perfect either). Such an accusation is based on a limited view of continuity. It's based on a vague notion of "recent continuity," and tends to ignore the thousands of older, inconsistent stories. Morrison doesn't ignore continuity. He embraces ALL OF IT. It's a hyper-continuity that accepts all inconsistencies and contradictions. As Geoff Klock explains in How to Read Superhero Comics and Why, "Morrison's prose, his rhetoric in both fiction and life, is so sprawling and insane as to be able to contain the mass of signification endemic to the superhero narrative." He's talking about Morrison's JLA, but what Klock means is that Morrison is not bound by a traditional notion of "reality." To Morrison, the contradictions and inconsistencies are not meant to be explained away or ignored, they are meant to be part of the story. The Black Casebook is a physical manifestation of this. Batman cannot logically accept his past experiences where he visited Hell, or where he was turned into a gorilla, but those stories did happen, and he has recorded them.

No matter what Morrison seems to be up to here (and, by the way, I would guess that Jezebel Jet has been created just to kill off, but I could be wrong), we'll have to wait and see how the final puzzle turns out before we rush to a judgment. Let's just enjoy the pieces for what they are.

Keeping the Kevin Colden meme alive

I've written about Kevin Colden on this blog a few times before. He is, after all, the cover artist for my Grant Morrison book.
And he's not only a great artist, but he's a super-cool guy as well. Now he's famous, of course, for being the guy who REFUSED Xeric award money. Who refuses money? Kevin Colden, that's who. And he did so with style. I hope Fishtown gets him a big contract and his work becomes collected in pretty hardcover books someday soon. He deserves it.

Here he is last February at the 2007 New York Comic-Con, surveying a mid-80's photocopy of Legion of Super-Heroes members so he could draw his FIRST EVER CONVENTION SKETCH. That's right, people. I own the very first convention sketch ever drawn by the Xeric-rejecting, badass Kevin Colden. Or so he said at the time, anyway. But obviously he's a man of his word.

Here's what he drew. Supergirl, 1986-style. He really wanted to emphasize the "bouffant hairdo" as he called it. I told him not to forget the headband. Or the shoulder-pad thingies. The result is pure Colden. His first convention sketch. And it's all mine. Don't touch it.