I was considering dropping Future Quest based on this issue but Parker takes that option away. Or tries to take it away. He does a fill-in issue with Birdman and the Herculoids each getting an origin story. The Birdman story has Steve Rude art. It’s awesome Steve Rude art too. Even when something is dumb–and it’s really dumb because Parker’s not trying to tone down the Hanna-Barbera dumb stuff. He’s embracing it. Future Quest feels like a cartoon you watched as a kid, only you’re watching it as an adult and the art is a lot better than it should be. But the writing is either on the same level or just being a little too self-aware.
If it were the sensation of watching a Saturday morning cartoon block, it’d be something. But it isn’t. Parker isn’t going for that sensation–he’s just doing a Crisis of Infinite Hanna-Barberas. It’s a very mundane stuff.
I mean, the Herculoids story doesn’t have Steve Rude art and it has more content (and opportunity to be dumb), but it’s still better. Maybe because it’s the second story and it means the comic is over, but Aaron Lopresti and Karl Kesel can do action art, even with dumb actors. Lopresti and Kesel don’t make the Herculoids look cool, but they do make their action sequences competent. It’s action versus the Birdman story, which was iconic superhero action without an iconic superhero. And a dumb James Bond knock-off plot. Herculoids is always dumb, but it’s imaginatively dumb.
But neither story continues the main plot. So do I want to keep reading a comic just for Steve Rude art. Because it’s not a disappointment. No one could do this approach better than Parker. It’s all just too stupid to be taken seriously. With these properties, it’s just a bad idea.
The Deadly Distance; artist, Steve Rude; colorist, Steve Buccellato. Vortex Tales: The Herculoids in Mine-Crash!; penciller, Aaron Lopresti; inker, Karl Kesel; colorist, Hi-Fi Colour Design. Writer, Jeff Parker; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.
Or, as Archie Andrews, as written by Adam Hughes would say, “double-yoo, tee, eff.” Because it kind of pretends to be an all ages comic; the idea of Hughes doing this 21st century good girl art version of Betty and Veronica requires it to be ostensibly all ages. Except Hughes isn’t writing it at all for kids. He’s got a bunch of pop culture references–opening with Archie and Jughead doing a Fight Club riff is only slightly more ambitious than having Jughead’s dog narrate half the issue.
As a brand, Archie Comics is about to crossover. It’s about to be mainstream in a way no one thought Archie Comics could ever be. Hughes isn’t doing anything for that effort. He’s doing this weird pseudo-retro book, smartphones but still the idea the kids of Riverdale are going into the freaking army instead of Oberlin, lots of weak anti-hipster blather while Archie compares Jughead to Wimpy over his hamburger fixation. Sex jokes about Moose and Midge but not really. Hughes also writes Moose like the Hulk, which is dumb.
What should be frustrating is the art is fantastic. Except on Betty and Veronica, who Hughes just does his good girl art poses on. They look like they’ve cut and pasted from a pin-up, not interacting with the scene around them. In the middle of the issue is two empty pages where the characters read the comic–Betty and Veronica, removed from the narrative. How meta. How lame. But how much better than the rest? A lot, it’s a lot better than the rest. The comic is so dumb, the great art doesn’t matter. Hughes not integrating his–air quotes–protagonists into the art or narrative flow (it’s either the dog or Archie or Jughead after the first act) isn’t even a problem. If they were integrated and the art were even better, the writing would still be bad.
And if Hughes’s dialogue weren’t terrible? The plot would still be meandering. He just wants to fill frames and talk.
I’m not sure I wanted to like this comic. But I did want to have some respect for it. Doing a 21st century Betty & Veronica well would be something, even if I didn’t want to read it. But Hughes is wrong for it. He’s bad at writing this comic book, he’s bad at these characters. He’s fine drawing them, of course, but so is almost every artist. There’s even a gallery of the variant covers from a bunch of other artists at the end of the book and they’re all good. So what? The writing isn’t there. Hughes doesn’t take it seriously at all.
Why Can’t We Be Friends?; writer and artist, Adam Hughes; colorist, José Villarrubia; letterer, Jack Morelli; editors, Stephen Oswald, Jamie Lee Rotante and Mike Pellerito; publisher, Archie Comics.
What is this lovely comic? It’s not just lovely in terms of Ennis basically doing an extended happy ending, exaggerated as much as he can, it’s lovely in terms of the pacing. He resolves story threads and then gets things moved along as the reader gets to enjoy the result of all the trauma. And it’s love.
It’s so… nice. And positive. And hopeful. It’s not just slightly hopeful like one thing goes all right, it’s a happy ending where pretty much everything works out all right. It’s comedic, sure, but it’s all really sincere. Ennis has a real affection for these characters.
And the bunny. He and Dos Santos have the cute little bunny in the issue a lot. It’s weird. What the heck is this comic? Ten issues of A Train Called Love and I can’t figure it out. But I hope Ennis and Dos Santos have something else planned. Nothing with zombies or monsters though.
I really hope Dynamite collects this series well because I can’t wait to give it a single sitting read someday. It’s delightful. It’s got a lot of gross-out humor and ultra-violence, but it’s heart is in a nice place. Train’s a wonderful comic. Ennis’s writing is on, Dos Santos’s art is on. The gimmick is the sincerity. They apparently wanted to do a great comedic, ultra-violent, gross-out humor romance comic.
Else the Puck A Liar Call; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Marc Dos Santos; colorist, Salvatore Aiala Studios; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Kevin Ketner, Anthony Marques, Rachel Pinnelas and Matt Idelson; publisher, Dynamite Entertainment.
The very BEST Alan Moore ending in his entire body of work. – Guillermo del Toro, filmmaker
The Killing Joke is a story about Batman and the Joker; it isn’t about anything that you’re ever going to encounter in real life, because Batman and the Joker are not like any human beings that have ever lived. So there’s no important human information being imparted … Yeah, it was something that I thought was clumsy, misjudged and had no real human importance. It was just about a couple of licensed DC characters that didn’t really relate to the real world in any way. – Alan Moore, the original writer, The Killing Joke
Wanna say that again, pussy? – Brian Azzarello, screenwriter, Batman: The Killing Joke
Out of nowhere–well, the questionably sincere loins of 2016 DC Animation–comes Batman: The Killing Joke, the animated adaptation of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s seminal 1988 comic book one-shot, starring Tara Strong as Batgirl, Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill in his much-anticipated return as The Joker. Matthew Hurwitz and I thought it might be nice to sit down and hash over the film, much like we did for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Little did we know Killing Joke wouldn’t just turn out to be terrible, it would find astoundingly terrible ways to be terrible.
So join us now, as we gaze long into Batman: The Killing Joke and peel back each layer of superhero comics, animation and movie history that lead from the original book to a movie that did virtually everything wrong. Yeah, you knew we were the only ones up to the task. While everyone else is ranting about the instantly-infamous Batman / Batgirl hookup sex scene, only The Comics Fondle Podcast gives equal time to discussing the idiocy of this version having The Joker use circus freaks as a gang of deadly goons.
(We do actually get to discuss some good things, like “Batman: The Animated Series” and some comics. It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s whimsy)
Well, isn’t Batgirl and the Birds of Prey a bit of a surprise? It’s a Rebirth tie-in so there’s a lot of exposition setting up post-Crisis, post-New 52 Batgirl and Black Canary (and Huntress), but writers Julie Benson and Shawna Benson pace it pretty well. The Barbara Gordon narration is strong. There’s some awkward points–mostly in how it addresses the Killing Joke and the writers kind of swerve, which is okay because this comic is going for fun. It’s got this dark, noirish art from Claire Roe, but it’s a fun book.
I do wish it were twice as long. Black Canary doesn’t show up until the second half or so, doesn’t get her own origin recap, which makes it seem a little unbalanced (especially since Birds of Prey was Canary’s book originally). But she and Babs are great together. Their bickering is fun to see with Batgirl fighting alongside Canary.
And this Canary is still the punk rock New 52 brawler Black Canary, which is still kind of funny to me because it’s too much. They went too far with it, but they’re committed.
Huntress isn’t impressive so far. Huntress hasn’t been impressive since Earth–2, so there’s not much to be said about it. She’s kind of like “Ultimate” Huntress, but the writers do get her setup done fairly well. They’re quick about it. Maybe too quick because then the comic’s over in a few more pages and I really wanted more story. I’m excited to read more of this comic.
Rebirth; writers, Julie Benson and Shawna Benson; artist, Claire Roe; colorist, Allen Passalaqua; letterer, Steve Wands; editors, Dave Wielgosz and Chris Conroy; publisher, DC Comics.
Has this arc always had the little year tags to toggle between the flashback and present action? Maybe it did, but I feel like it didn’t, because the transitions were confusing. They’re still confusing, what with the guy in the past having a journal and there’s supposed to be a journal in the present action from Lewis or Clark but Dingess has forgotten about it. But there’s an effort to be less confusing. The effort is nice. It’s a shame it’s still visually confusing; maybe it’s colorist Owen Gieni but the transition from flashback and back is still way too gentle.
That problem isn’t the big one with the arc–or the flashbacks–no, it’s Dingess’s writing. He’s so fixated on the story in the past, he’s ignoring the main characters of the comic book. There’s an infuriating moment this issue where Sacagawea basically offers to go kill all the attacking cyclops bigfoot monsters and she doesn’t get to go. Why? Because Dingess never, ever lets her loose, which is weird–as always–because Sacagawea the warrior was a promise of the first issue.
Then again, Dingess also promised Lewis and Clark would be characters. They’re irrelevant to the comic now. This whole story arc idea, which does package the comic a little better, is making Manifest Destiny irrelevant itself. Sure, Roberts’s art is awesome and the concept is still okay and Dingess does have his moments as a writer, but it’s not adding up to anything.
The issue ends with promise of revelation and thrills next time. Whoopie. They’re never do enough to make up for the book running on fumes.
Sasquatch, Part Three; writer, Chris Dingess; penciller, Matthew Roberts; inkers, Tony Akins and Stefano Gaudiano; colorist, Owen Gieni; letterer, Pat Brosseau; editors, Arielle Basich and Sean Mankiewicz; publisher, Image Comics.
This issue of Earth War feels a little like Prophet-lite. At least writers Graham and Roy know where they should be focusing their attention this issue–there’s three plot lines at least, including the tedious Earth War itself–but they don’t have enough space. The story is way too rushed. It’s the Earth War version of a bridging issue. A bunch of fast paced nonsense to move some characters around while doing some expository somewhere else.
And then there’s the art–there are four different artists and no rhyme or reason to what they’re handling. It looks like Prophet art (because it’s by a bunch of great Prophet artists), but not under close inspection. There’s no detail, there’s no joy. Everyone on Earth War is just trying to get it finished, which is unfortunate, because there’s still some great possibilities in the comic.
There’s a page filling backup–I was kind of hoping the issue would keep going to get towards the end of the series faster (the Earth War stuff is really frustrating, Graham and Roy race through it so fast there’s negative personality). As someone how loved nearly every issue of the Prophet series, I just want Earth War to finish without damaging the original’s legacy….
Writers, Brandon Graham and Simon Roy; artists, Graham, Grim Wilkins, Giannis Milonogiannis and Jenna Trost; colorists, Joseph Bergin II, Lin Visel and Graham; letterer, Ariana Maher; back up story, Mike McGhee; publisher, Image Comics.
Funny thing about Young and I Hate Fairyland. It’s even better when it’s toned down a little. This issue isn’t too gross, isn’t too mean, has a handful of really easy jokes, and it’s maybe the most pleasant experience of the series so far. Or maybe Gert is finally just a character. But we’re getting to better meet the citizens of Fairyland and they’re more amusing than the royalty too. It’s almost an entirely different book.
But Young doesn’t lose anything. He’s gotten the series to a point where the implied, off-panel humor is as funny as if he renders it, which isn’t an easy trick. It’s a very comic strip trick and not one he’s previously seemed concerned about. But Fairyland has always had more potential than what Young was doing with it.
Not anymore, though. Now he’s trying with the book and he’s off to a great start. Some of it works because no one’s particularly bright. Not even the bee. He’s kind of dumb too; it makes the relationship somehow more stable. It’s really cool and it helps with the narrative. It lets Young use expository dialogue. He’s good at the expository dialogue, he’s got a lot of wit, but it still should flirt with tedious and it never does.
Because it’s I Hate Fairyland; it’s brilliant in its saccharine putridity.
How to Drain Your Dragon; writer and artist, Skottie Young; colorist, Jean-Francois Bealieu; letterer, Nate Piekos; publisher, Image Comics.
No more Velvet. At least not for now; this arc ends with the end of Velvet’s initial storyline. I really should have known if it was just intended for fifteen issues. I always want that Brubaker ongoing, he always goes twelve to twenty. Or in that range. Enough to make fans out of the book, but then not to fully deliver on its possibilities.
Except with Velvet. The comic has always been very upfront about what it’s doing–it’s a spy thriller, it’s got Epting art, it’s not too creative in terms of the narrative. It’s a “cool” book. Brubaker and Epting doing a mainstream, “cool” indie title. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt Velvet is prime for media development. It is 2016, after all.
And, Velvet, the character, has never been much more than cool. She’s a great protagonist, but Velvet isn’t about her being likable or even relatable. It’s about her being cool and doing cool things, usually involving guns, car chases, subterfuge, explosions and gliding. When Brubaker returns to her narration of the book for the last few pages, it had been so long since Velvet had that kind of internal self-examination, I forgot it was one of the book’s narrative devices. And it’s been fine without it. Less ambitious maybe, but not by much.
Brubaker, Epting and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser deliver, because of course they do. Brubaker’s mastered comics pulp and always has the right artist for it.
The Man Who Stole the World, Part Five; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Steve Epting; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; letterer, Chris Eliopoulos; editors; Sebastian Girner and Eric Stephenson; publisher, Image Comics.
Rucka employs a lot of structure for this issue of Lazarus. There’s a framing device, then a flashback, then a reveal about the framing device. Only that reveal has absolutely nothing to do with what happened in the flashback and it doesn’t really change the initial frame, it’s just there for Rucka and Lark to do something else cool. There’s a sword fight. Lark does a really, really good job with it. He paces it out perfectly–you can hear the swords clanging looking at his panels–and then when Rucka gets around to the reveal on it? Turns out Rucka’s got some really great ideas too. It’s just a perfect thing in the comic.
It also has nothing to do with the main story. It’s like a glorified subplot, only specially rendered. And, wait, there is something else with some returning characters–maybe this arc is going to go a little bit differently in terms of narrative approach? i.e. Forever won’t be the lead. Something the flashback does address. Lazarus is just an expertly executed book at this point. Rucka and Lark have a phenomenal rhythm.
The flashback, which involves the Carlyle family and their sci-fi soap opera (I mean it in a very good way), has some twists and turns of its own. Rucka’s setting up the arc but he’s also making sure to reward the reader’s patience.
And there’s gorgeous Lark art.
Cull, Part Two; writer, Greg Rucka; penciller, Michael Lark; inkers, Lark and Tyler Boss; colorist, Santiago Arcas; letterer, Jodi Wynne; editor, David Brothers; publisher, Image Comics.
Wacky Raceland continues to be a zany, antisocial, mildly disturbing wondrous mess. There’s action all over the place, but Manco keeps it all in check. It’s like he can do wild, but it’s contained wild. It’s the perfect mix.
But Pontac comes through on the story too. He’s got this depressing, awful flashback into one of the racers’ pre-apocalypse lives. Turns out being sympathetic to the characters might be a mistake. This issue’s flashback is for Dick Dastardly and it’s part of the main story instead of a back-up. It works better this way; it makes Pontac have to do expository about the setting and it means Manco gets to draw different things in combination with one another. Manco has a very classical style and his uniform application of it–sci-fi and horror, for example–brings disparate visual elements beautifully. It’s fun to look at Wacky Raceland. It’s well done, but it’s also fun to see this stuff.
There’s also the Hanna-Barbera element. You never take Wacky Raceland too seriously, you never worry about some development being a disappointment. It’s a prime gig as far as reader expectation (if it were bad, it’d be the reader’s fault for buying it–come on, DC doing grim and gritty Hanna Barbara titles), but Pontac and Manco are still doing a great job with it.
A Night at the Opera; writer, Ken Pontac; artist, Leonardo Manco; colorist, Mariana Sanzone; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.
Aguirre-Sacasa starts this issue of Sabrina with some rather showy exposition. The series always has good exposition with a fluid narrative distance, but this opening is something different. It’s Aguirre-Sacasa using some of the goodwill he’s built up; he’s asking the reader to get excited. It’s almost like he’s pep rallying what’s going to come.
And it’s deserved. It’s a great issue, covering the histories of Sabrina’s family’s familiars. Samuel the cat is the focus of the comic, but Aguirre-Sacasa wants the reader to have to wait. He and Hack deliver a fantastic origin for the asps in the house. Then it’s Samuel’s turn and Aguirre-Sacasa starts it off really slow. He’s dragging the reader along, holding them hostage–is this origin going to be worth it? Because Aguirre-Sacasa sets it up to be a big deal–Samuel doesn’t want to reveal his origin and then he makes the asps promise never to bring it up again. That behavior, even for a witch’s familiar in the form of a cat, is weird. Is the origin worth it?
Yes, but not for the plot twists. Sabrina looks like homage to seventies horror, but it’s not. Aguirre-Sacasa does something different with it, mixing the psychological scares and the visual ones in different combination. The “disturbing” visuals in the series aren’t scary (well, maybe somebody mutilated but I mean the really freaky witch designs Hack comes up with). This issue has lovable witches even. Aguirre-Sacasa deals with the witch trials and he goes far making them sympathetic. Samuel might not like them, but he’s kind of a jerk.
While Aguirre-Sacasa is busy showing the reader how to read the comic, Hack is making sure the reader keeps going at the right pace. The creators seem more enthusiastic about the comic than they want the readers to be. But it’s also expertly rendered. Like I said, it’s a great comic.
Familiars; writer, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa; artist, Robert Hack; letterer, Jack Morelli; editor, Jamie Lee Rotante; publisher, Archie Comics.
So, when Dark Horse released Kong: King of Skull Island over ten years ago, I bought it. It wasn’t cheap. And I read it. It wasn’t good. Kong of Skull Island is based on that “illustrated novel.” (It was by Joe DeVito).
Anyway–I wasn’t excited about Kong of Skull Island. Artist Carlos Magno is sort of Boom!’s go-to licensed event guy. He’s incredibly competent, incredibly thoughtful, but lacking in anything particularly dynamic. Kong doesn’t give him anything particularly dynamic. It does play to his strengths, however. He gets to do lots of detailed scenery, lots of carefully posed characters in panels so as not to have to carry the comic with their dialogue, lots of giant monsters, lots of awesome quarter page spreads.
Oh, right. The “awesome” factor to Kong. It’s about a bunch of giant apes–who fight, of course–their intellectually and socially (if not technologically) advanced Polynesian keepers and an island with a bunch of dinosaurs. There’s a cool mythology to it, which works in Kong because writer James Asmus isn’t keeping DeVito’s frame. God forbid he does a sequel series, but who knows, I think they might do an all right job of it.
I went into Kong of Skull Island expecting nothing. Instead, there’s some cool Magno art–he does apes well–there’s dinosaurs, there’s an engaging enough tragic Polynesian romance thing, there’s giant apes fighting. It works. I kind of hope Boom! doesn’t screw up this licensed franchise thing. They’re doing all right by Kong.
Writer, James Asmus; artist, Carlos Magno; colorist, Brad Simpson; letterer, Ed Dukeshire; editors, Alex Galer and Dafna Pleban; publisher, Boom! Studios.
Cinema Purgatorio, the comic I want to be able to love–the comic I want to be able to like–and I just can’t. This issue reveals the series’s two major problems. First, the artists (with at least one exception) aren’t doing black and white well. Their art is meant to be colored at some point, not appreciated on its own. Stories in Cinema Purgatorio have what should be great art, but it ends up being incomplete. Second, the pacing. Each of these stories–even the lamest ones–would be fine as a back-up in a decent comic. Not even a great comic. They aren’t installments for an anthology, they’re back-ups. They’d justify an extra buck on the cover price. They don’t justify a comic to themselves.
Starting at the top, Moore and O’Neill’s Cinema Purgatorio “feature.” It’s good, not great, but really good. It’s a serial, the hero keeps turning back time, there’s a lot of precise work from O’Neill. It’s not deep, it’s not musing. The biggest revelation is Purgatorio’s protagonist uses the ladies room. But it’s good. If it were the intro story to a better comic, it’d be great. Still, it’s Moore and O’Neill riffing on pop culture of the forties, one can’t complain.
Then there’s Code Pru, which is the only comic in the anthology with its own story title. I don’t know why, Ennis isn’t doing anything with them. Maybe if the story title somehow tidied up the poorly paced story, but no. It’s just a title. And Code Pru once again feels like if it had another four pages it’d be great. Instead, it’s an Alien rip-off. Ennis doing riffs on famous horror isn’t a bad idea, but it needs its own book and it needs Caceres’s art with color. It’s too busy and not detailed precisely enough for black and white. It’s not even effective as gore.
On the other hand, Calero’s black and white art on Modded is fine. It’s still really tedious to read because Calero’s visual pacing is all wrong, but his black and white line work seems like line work. It’s worth going through the trouble of figuring out what’s going on to appreciate those lines. Gillen’s script is mediocre but inoffensive.
Next up–A More Perfect Union and I’m done being polite. I was polite about DiPascale because I liked his Ennis dog comic but he’s tried my patience. His art for Civil War vs. giant ants–yes, not zombies, ants–is too pedestrian. Writer Brooks is clearly a Civil War buff, if DiPascale is one too, it doesn’t seem to be in the visual elements of the era. Brooks’s script is weak. Again, if it were a back-up, you’d breeze through it. But not in an overfull, undercooked anthology.
Then there’s The Vast. I dig Andrade’s art. He does incomplete black and white better than anyone else in the book (or Caceres and DiPascale–Cinema Purgatorio always seems like there’s a sixth story, maybe because Moore and O’Neill are doing movies in a frame). Gage’s kaiju but not kaiju script is still lame. But inoffensive.
If Cinema Purgatorio were just three dollars cheaper, it’d be great; as an event anthology, it’s kind of a waste. But it’s Alan Moore and Garth Ennis, so you have to read it.
Cinema Purgatorio; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, A Little Something to Lower Your Spirits; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Ignacio Calero. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Michael DiPascale. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.
This issue of Kaijumax might be my favorite. It’s sort of talking heads–the warden faces off with a bureaucrat about how the prison is run–but there’s also a whole subplot for the robot cop. There’s a lot of humanity to the issue and it’s mostly ugly. Even when it’s not entirely ugly, it’s ugly. It’s harsh and depressing and hopefully it’ll be Cannon’s legacy for Kaijumax.
The warden and the bureaucrat grew up as the kids in a Showa-era kaiju movie. They loved their giant monster until something happened. Cannon’s flashback is perfect, down to the maser cannons. Kaijumax’s version of pulling on the heartstrings lately has been to make readers question their sympathies and this issue is no different. Cannon’s got a complex resolution to the bureaucrat and the warden’s conversation, juxtaposed against the odd sadness of the robot cop.
It turns out the robot cop has her human-sized body too and this issue Cannon introduces a lot of her backstory. He also addresses with the brother issues (her brother is Kaijumax’s version of Mecha-Godzilla) and makes some disturbing observations about people (and kaiju movies) with in regards to her upbringing.
Kaijumax takes a serious look at movies never intended to be serious, which is great and relatively important (relatively because how many English-speaking devote kaiju fans are there out there and how many of them read comics). It’s also really depressing.
Old School; writer, artist and letterer, Zander Cannon; colorists, Cannon and Jason Fischer; editor, Charlie Chu; publisher, Oni Press.
Batman. Judge Dredd. They ought to be an interesting team-up, right? Judge Dredd is the law, Batman isn’t. There’s a lot of gristle for competing philosophies, if one wanted to do a story with a lot of gristle. The Batman/Judge Dredd Files consists of three one-shots and a two-parter. It took DC eight years to get these comics out. The first one-shot, Judgment on Gotham came out in 1991 (I remember buying it, my first exposure to Dredd). The second issue of the two-parter, Die Laughing, came out in 1999. The first one-shot still stands out. It’s an interesting mix of a 2000AD Dredd adventure with a Batman comic, with some truly beautiful art from Simon Bisley. The rest of the Files is a waste of time (through it varies depending on the one-shot).
Since Judgment’s the only one worth spending much time on (or reading at all), I’ll go through its “sequels” first.
Each of the included issues–including both parts of Die Laughing–have different artists. They have the same two writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner, who both wrote a lot of Dredd and a lot of Batman. It seems like they should be the perfect creators for these team-ups, but things go dreadfully wrong with the second special and never get any better.
Vendetta in Gotham, with some rather light art from Cam Kennedy, is mostly about Batman and Dredd fighting while Scarface and Ventriloquist kill some kids. No, really, they’re going to kill some kids. It’s a good Scarface and Ventriloquist story from Grant and Wagner, but it’s a terrible comic. Batman and Dredd’s issue long fist fight is a bore. The whole thing is a setup for the next special, which promises something interesting given the title–Die Laughing.
Only the next special is The Ultimate Riddle, with some incredibly wanting painted art by Carl Critchlow and Dermot Power (they split the special). Judgment on Gotham, with that glorious Bisley, shouldn’t have been the visual standard for the team-ups. Before I forget, it’s interesting how the Batmobiles in each series look like whatever’s in the movies at the time. It’s like DC wasn’t sure a 2000AD reader coming to the team-up would be familiar with the latest Batman continuity.
Except there’s a terrible tie-in to Zero Hour in The Ultimate Riddle, which has Dredd and Batman trying to get out of a Most Dangerous Game-type situation. It’s dramatically inert and often really dumb, but Dredd’s got a criminal along with him and it does provide some comic relief. There’s very little for 2000AD fans in Riddle, so it helps a lot.
Then comes Die Laughing, with the Joker. DC published it as two issues, each with different artists. One wonders if Ultimate Riddle originally had a similar publishing plan. Anyway, Glenn Fabry does the art on the first issue, Jim Murray does the art on the second. Both painted; it’s Batman/Judge Dredd after all. It needs to be painted.
Fabry’s painting is okay. Murray’s is bad. Murray’s is a little more ambitious though. Fabry’s just churning it out as fast as he can. There’s no enthusiasm to Fabry’s issue, just magnificent competence. Murray flops, but he tries for some humor, which is important since the story’s so strange. It’s like a 2000AD Dredd story, with the Dark Judges trying to take over a hedonist biodome (or some such location), but Batman’s around. And he gets together with Judge Anderson. He seduces her, rather creepily. It’s disappointing. (For her; Batman’s a bit of a tool in Die Laughing).
Oh, and the promise of the Joker and Judge Death and Dredd and Batman and so on? It’s lame. Wagner and Grant have no story involving Joker and Batman going to Mega-City One. Did they sign a deal for these series with DC after the success of Judgment and spend almost a decade churning out lame scripts?
Now for Judgment on Gotham, which features Dredd in Gotham hunting down the Scarecrow. Judge Anderson’s along. Bisley’s Anderson is a lot different than Murray’s. She gets to be just as iconic, as a female Judge, as the boys do in Bisley’s Gotham, whereas Murray tries for cheesecake in Die Laughing. Fabry does a little better, but not much. Her writing is terrible in Die Laughing. It’s great in Judgment. Judgment is this great Judge Dredd 2000AD story where Batman guest stars.
The comic has that early nineties Batman enthusiasm–after the movies, DC thought they’d get new readers and went all out creatively. Bisley’s perfect for it. His Gotham is nightmarish but incredibly realistic. It’s scary because Bisley’s got so much reality to the physicality of everything, he can sell the darkness. This approach to the painting is what the other team-up specials choke on (and what Vendetta doesn’t even attempt). Bisley’s engaging in the characters’ iconic natures every page. Even Scarecrow. It’s glorious to behold.
At the time Judgment on Gotham came out–and I was thirteen years old–I remember Scarecrow seemed a strange villain choice for a team-up. But having since read some 2000AD–by Grant and Wagner–Scarecrow makes such a better villain for Dredd. Mean Machine Angel shows up too, facing off against Batman, who’s hilariously out of place. Judgment has the humor of a Dredd comic. The rest of the collection doesn’t.
I didn’t even know there were subsequent Batman/Judge Dredd team-ups. I’ve always had a decent memory of Judgment (Bisley’s art is fantastic), but it’s better than I remember. Even when compared to its entirely lacking follow-ups, Judgment on Gotham is a high point for “event” crossovers.
Judgment on Gotham; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artist, Simon Bisley; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Kelly Puckett and Dennis O’Neil. Vendetta in Gotham; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artist, Cam Kennedy; colorist, Digital Chameleon; letterer, Ken Bruzenak; editors, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O’Neil and Richard Burton. The Ultimate Riddle; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artists, Carl Critchlow and Dermot Power; letterer, Richard Starkings; editors, John Tomlinson, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O’Neil and Steve MacManus. Die Laughing; writers, Alan Grant and John Wagner; artists, Glenn Fabry, Jim Murray and Jason Brashill; letterer, Ellie de Ville; editors, Andy Diggle, Jordan B. Gorfinkel, Dennis O’Neil and David Bishop.
As the millennials like to say, I just can’t. Go on reading The Master Race any longer, that is. Maybe Miller and Azzarrello have something amazing planned for the conclusion, but anyone following this series bimonthly instead of waiting for the trade is throwing their money away. Half the issues so far have been mediocre, but this is the first to be a total waste of time. With the exception of a nice underwater Aquaman double splash page, and some cool panels of the Kandorians finally getting some of the wind knocked out of their sails, all of the imagery is recycled – not only from previous issues of the series; Miller actually swipes from himself by putting us in the cockpit of the Bat-Tank once again, and putting him back in his power suit. The only twist is that he’s now joined, in a lame pseudo-big moment cliffhanger, by Superman in his own powersuit – Superman, whose apparent death in a previous issue has now been revealed to have only been so much pointless padding for the already anemic storyline.
The mini-comic is a real stunner of a disappointment as well. There are almost no backgrounds whatsoever; Superman’s daughter and a Kandorian are flying around trading vacuous quips atop fluorescent gradients. Nothing remotely interesting happens.
The only reason I didn’t ask for my money back is that comic book shops are dying and need all the help they can get, but crap like this is exactly why they’re dying. Monthly comics probably shouldn’t be a thing any longer, unless publishers want to make a real effort towards content that justifies the price tag. Maybe they should focus on publishing “graphic novels” and transitioning the shops into full-on bookstores, while putting more effort into promoting work like Paul Dini’s Dark Night: A True Batman Story which could appeal to both casual and longtime Batman fans. Last month’s double-issue-length Dark Knight Returns: The Last Crusade was surprisingly entertaining – clearly Miller and Azzarello are capable of doing decent, serviceable Batman stories, which only makes a comic like this one so insulting. If the whole trifle were published all at once in one volume, it might be an overall enjoyable read. But at present, this series is a scam.
The Dark Knight III: The Master Race Book Three; story, Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello; pencils, Andy Kubert; inks, Klaus Janson; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Clem Robins; publisher, DC Comics.
I’m going to just have to say it–I’m not digging Future Quest. Yes, Shaner’s art is great, yes, Jonathan Case’s art is great, sure, Ron Randall’s art is fine (I think I’d prefer him on the Jonny Quest arc anyway–he’s more enthused about drawing adolescent adventuring). But Crisis on Infinite Earths or Secret Wars with Hanna-Barbera superheroes and adventurers? The cartoons you didn’t really want to watch because, while technically competent, they were just kind of lame?
Yeah, they’re still kind of lame. Parker just has them banter at each other, which doesn’t help the comic at all, but what else is he going to do? Future Quest has way too many characters, way too poorly contrived teaming-up, way too little graceful action. Future Quest is frantic. It feels like there’s a quota for panel appearances by character. Parker’s script is boring. More fighting in the Everglades. The most boring Battleworld ever. There’s so much going on, there’s not time for the artists do anything. They’ve got to fill panels with characters no one cares about. And not because no one has nostalgia for these properties, but because Parker doesn’t spend any time establishing any of them as characters.
He also cops out of the Space Ghost cliffhanger from the previous issue.
So, like I said, I’m not digging this book. It’s a strange misstep in DC’s otherwise shockingly successful Hanna-Barbara titles. Maybe Parker’s not the right guy for it. The artists are all right on, but Parker isn’t connecting with these characters or their team-up.
Visitors from Beyond; writer, Jeff Parker; artists, Evan Shaner, Ron Randall and Jonathan Case; colorist, Jordie Bellaire; letterer, Dave Lanphear; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.
So, the first issue of The Flintstones seems to be a proof on concept. Can writer Mark Russell use a grim and gritty version of “The Flintstones” socially relevant to today? Sure? Of course? Anyone could. “The Flintstones,” “The Honeymooners,” whichever. A person, their spouse, their friend, their friend’s spouse. Throw in a couple pets and a kid each and you can make just about any social commentary you want.
It’s not a high bar, which is what I think bugs me so much about The Flintstones. It’s bragging about doing a good job at something easy. Steve Pugh’s art is key, no question. It brings a level of significant quality to a rather mercenary concept. Pugh knocks it out of the park on the art. You believe in this idealized sixties version of the past, even though the frame says it’s real, which ties into the social relevancy angle. Russell has a lot of pop culture references and they’re all really, really careful.
It’s a good comic. It’s got beautiful art. But I’m not sure I like it. I’m not sure the point of The Flintstones is to like it. Beyond buying it, which is fine because Pugh’s art is glorious and Russell’s writing is fine–it’s tedious, but it’s fine. It’s worth the time and money to read it, which just seems a little light as far as ambition goes. It’s The Flintstones after all. We all want to have a yabba dabba do time.
A Clean Slate; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.