Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nerd Business

For the first time in a long time I actually bought a Batman comic. More than one, in fact -- with the advent of the new creative teams of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert on Batman and Paul Dini and Joe Benitez on Detective, my interest was piqued enough to inspire a trip down to the local Nerd Emporium.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out so well. My hopes for Batman were not especially high. I can't think of another person in the entire blogosphere with less of a tolerance for Morrison than myself -- my interest in his work basically flatlined with We3 and the first couple Seven Soldiers books, which I read before realizing that I was very viscerally not enjoying myself. I have bought a few things of his since then, but mostly out of a vestigial interest, as well as a no-doubt misguided desire to keep up with the general discussion, however limply. All-Star Superman is OK, but hardly a revelation. I have never warmed to Frank Quitely's art on anything but a grudging basis -- he's certainly got an eye for design and interesting page layouts, but other than an extremely antiseptic appreciation for these aspects of his work, I am left unmoved. My hopes in picking up Batman were simple: maybe Morrison could set aside his metatextual, formally-expansive ambitions long enough to write a good adventure comic book.

Well, with only two issues on the shelves the jury is still out . . . but Morrison's run has hit an unexpected snag, in that Andy Kubert does not know how to draw. Or rather, let me put it another way: he surely does know how to draw nice pins-ups of Batman scowling or kicking things, but any attempt at actually drawing two panels in a row containing clear, concise storytelling that easily communicates the action on the page fails miserably. Formally ambitious sequences featuring Batman fighting flying ninjas in an art gallery surrounded by pop art paintings that give sly commentary on the story's action are simply too much for Kubert, and attempts at deciphering the action in a coherent fashion have proven only partially successful. Both Kubert brothers' work has always possessed superficial similarities with that of their father, but in terms of storytelling sense -- you know, the actual nuts-and-bolts of cartooning -- the apple could not have fallen further from the tree. So much so that based on the evidence of these books I'm halfway tempted to suspect that Rob Liefeld built a time machine to go back and seduce Mrs. Kubert way back when.

I must admit that while I bought Batman out of sheer morbid curiosity, I was honestly looking forward to Dini's Detective. As has been very copiously documented, I don't care for Batman, but I do quite like Batman The Animated Series, quite possibly the best cartooning-to-animation transfer in the history of the medium (yes, even better than Fritz the Cat). As the man partially responsible for arguably the best and most coherent interpretation of Batman in the character's history, it was not perhaps too much of a stretch to imagine that Dini would bring a similar sensibility to Detective. Maybe that's a tall order for any creator to have to fulfill, but dammit, there's only one reason why anyone would ever consider Dini to write a Batman book in the first place.

However, these first two issues of Detective just aren't that impressive, not compared to any number of Batman stories written throughout the years by any number of firmly competent but completely uninspired creators. Everyone is excited that Batman is actually using his detective skills again -- apparently this is rare? -- but the stories themselves just aren't that great. The problem with the Poison Ivy issue (#823) was not the cheesecake pictures of Poison Ivy or the tentacle rape, but the fact that the story itself was pretty dull and lazy -- a series of pin-ups, some sloppy exposition and then a deus ex machina on literally the next-to-last page. Now, sure, you can't say it was a cheat because he telegraphed the herbicide's potency halfway through the story, but damn, that was just lazy -- pull a lever and kill the villainous monster, story over. Benitez's work is competent but completely uninspired -- I can only wonder how he got such a high-profile assignment in the first place.

Although I am unimpressed, I'll probably pick up the next couple issues of each run to see if they improve. My affection for Dini's Batman is such that I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt in assuming he might be having growing pains stemming from never having written a monthly comic before (or at least I'm pretty certain he's never written a monthly before -- I could easily be proven wrong). The story in Morrison's Batman seems fairly interesting, as long as he's given a free hand to follow through with all the logical consequences of his big reveal. Kubert's art is . . . problematic, but perhaps he will improve under Morrison's tutelage. Say what you will about Morrison, but he does tend to bring out the best in his collaborators.

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