Friday, April 24, 2009

Not Dead Yet

So . . . yeah. In my defense, I've got a good excuse: in the time since my last post I had to make an emergency trip to California by way of the Indianapolis Marriot, my last surviving grandparent is in the hospital dying / not dying yet, and I just ran headlong into the last few weeks of classes without a lot of prep time. So . . . yeah.


Stuff I Read

Amazing Spider-Man #592

Well, that's something I didn't think I ever needed to see. Wheatcakes. WHEATCAKES.

Hellblazer #254

I used to love Hellblazer - there was a stretch when it was my favorite title, through Garth Ennis and Paul Jenkins' runs. (I'm serious - as bad as Jenkins is now - and regardless of whatever hijinks he got up to with Big Numbers that I know some of you might still hold against him - his run on Hellblazer really is remarkable, subtle and melancholy and downright hilarious in places.) But then Warren Ellis' run was just repulsive; Ennis' periodic returns were grotesquely bad; Brian Azzarello actually got me to drop a book I had been reading for almost ten years; and whenever I checked in on successive writers - Mike Carey, Denise Mina, Andy Diggle - the results were so monotonously, stupefyingly banal that I basically stopped paying attention. If there is a Vertigo "house style" - defined by putrid browns, "understated" but actually quite tawdry sensationalism, "gritty" sub-Paul Pope urban atmospherics - well, this last decade or so of Hellblazer certainly appears to have exemplified such a style.

But on a lark I flipped through this issue, and what did I find? Something I never thought I'd see again: an issue of Hellblazer that actually felt like something from the book's first decade, and not just a portfolio piece for Random Splatterpunk Urban Horror Setpiece Monthly. Here was Jamie Delano's John Constantine, back in the saddle again, walking through the same kind of pre-Vertigo British mainstream house style defined by John Ridgeway, David Lloyd, Steve Pugh, etc. You can tell the classic Hellblazer stories by the fact that they all look like BBC dramas, shot on lousy film but making a virtue of the watery color and dodgy lighting - hell, right down to exterior and interior shots being filmed on different stock. You could criticize the issue for being such a conscious throwback but then you'd have to argue that the last decade of the book wasn't absolute garbage, and in my opinion you'd have a tough road to hoe on that score.

Reading a good story with an old favorite who's been so mishandled in recent years you'd practically forgotten about him really is an awesome sensation. Rats off to you, Peter Milligan and Goran Sudzuka.

Detective Comics #853

The first part of Neil Gaiman's "Death of Batman" riff really wasn't very good at all, and from what I heard the second part was no improvement. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding is in the eating - this actually was really good. It's funny - I used to think Gaiman had a problem with endings. Look back at Sandman and you see a whole bunch of great stories with some not-so-great endings - until, by the end of the series, the paucity of endings became an integral theme. (For all of Gaiman's shortcomings in comics, his sure-footed ability to account for his own weaknesses as a writer is pretty enviable.) But his last significant comics work, that Eternals series, had a pretty meandering beginning and middle which was effectively saved by an extremely strong final chapter. When I finally got around to actually finishing the damn thing, I thought 1602 actually ended fairly well - a good capper to a mostly mediocre exercise in wheel-spinning.

Again, here, we had a first chapter that didn't seem like much, and a final chapter that somehow pulls it all together. Yeah, it's not a patch on Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? - but was anyone expecting it to be? It's different. Back in 1986 Alan Moore saw that the default mode for Superman stories was still early 60's Camelot-era optimism, so his story tapped that vein mercilessly. The problem with Batman in 2009 is that there is no default style - if any one trait defines Batman the character and Batman the corporate property it is his ruthlessly chameleonic endurance. There is no one Batman - there are not even any dozen Batmen. There is a multiplicity of Batmen, all equally valid and all shedding light on different facets of the idea. So Gaiman gives us a story about just that: there are an infinite number of Batmen, and even though all the stories end the same way the best part is that they always begin again. You're either going to think that the ending is the cheesiest bit of cheap sentimentality you've ever seen or sheer brilliance - I tend to err on the side of risk-takers, so the rather ballsy conceit worked for me. (I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you.) In what should really be a tired exercise in corporate nostalgia, Gaiman actually manages a poignant gesture: no matter how different all the Batmen are - from Frank Miller's urban Oedipus to Neal Adams' swashbuckling romantic to Dick Sprang's pre-atomic Caped Crusader - they're all, every single one of them, a kid trying to get back something he's lost, striving against impossible odds - the most cynical of all super-heroes, nevertheless driven by blind, childish hope. Nice one.

However, the art leaves something to be desired. And I don't know if I can lay the blame at Andy Kubert's feet. Sure, he's nowhere near the stylistic magpie he really needed to be to pull of these effects - were JH Williams and Gene Ha not answering their phones? - but looking at some of the actually-pretty-nice pencil art in the back of the book, it really seems as if Scott Williams is responsible for sapping a lot of the life out of these pages. Bad show, that.

Marvel Zombies 4 #1

I will modify my initial negative reaction to the announcement that this series would focus on the Midnight Sons, since the series really isn't about the Midnight Sons. I had a massive 90s flashback, and was dreading all the old shit - Zarathos and the Nightstalkers and Vengeance and Blaze with his hellfire shotgun - but thankfully this is just Werewolf By Night, Son of Satan, Jennifer Kale, Simon Garth and >ugh< Morbius. But Morbius is balanced by the inclusion of Zombie Deadpool - or rather, the decapitated head of Zombie Deadpool. Good fun for the whole family.

I mean, it's OK, right? Everyone is pretty much out of the closet on the whole loving Deadpool thing, right?

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