Wacky Raceland 3 (October 2016)

Wacky Raceland #3

Once again, I’m left a little perplexed by Wacky Raceland. It’s still not wacky, unless they’re trying to rebrand “wacky” as something out of a Mad Max movie, which would make sense. Wacky Raceland feels like corporate synergy on overdrive but it doesn’t matter because writer Pontac’s ideas are engaging enough. Oh, and because Leonardo Manco’s art is awesome. There’s not a lot of original design, just good execution of the standards for post-apocalyptic societies with old cars. Lots of examples for that setting.

And Pontac does try to build the characters. He has a pattern now–a few characters get a story, the other ones fight well-drawn but a little too obscure monsters, then things wrap-up. Every issue is kind of a done-in-one.

This issue’s character is some girl who ran away from a bad situation and things went even worse because of the apocalypse. Manco does that story as a Greek fable. It’s not successful. It’s well-intentioned, but it’s not successful.

But it barely slows the comic down just because of the momentum Pontac and Manco work up in the rest of it. Wacky Raceland’s a cool comic.

CREDITS

Poseidon’s Toilet; writer, Ken Pontac; artist, Leonardo Manco; colorist, Mariana Sanzone; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

I Hate Fairyland 8 (August 2016)

I Hate Fairyland #8

How much magic is there in I Hate Fairyland? An endless amount. Young’s reinvigorated on the book, with Gert doing a done-in-one where she tries to get out of Fairyland again. Does it work, does it not, doesn’t matter so much as the comic is actually moving. It might not be moving overall, but it’s giving this great “questing” illusion of moving.

Plus there’s the wacky video game fight sequence by guest artist Jeffrey “Chamba” Cruz. It shows how well Young actually writes this book. The banter is just as good when the art style is completely different. Fairyland just fires on all cylinders.

I can’t even think of a complaint. It’s the perfect length, the ending is hilarious. I like this new approach to the comic–it’s Young not just giving readers what they want from Fairyland (namely Gert being a badass), it’s the best way to tell this story. Gert’s like Conan. Conan needs lots of adventures.

CREDITS

Writer, Skottie Young; artists, Young and Jeffrey “Chamba” Cruz; colorist, Jean-Francois Bealieu; letterer, Nate Piekos; publisher, Image Comics.

Manifest Destiny 22 (August 2016)

Manifest Destiny #22

No way, Sacagawea gets something to do. Not a lot, but Dingess actually gives her something to do. Then he skips out on the leads of Manifest Destiny and heads into the past for the flashback. Lots and lots of flashback. The longer it goes on, the more fantastic Dingess is going to have to tie it into the present action. Something really lame with the journal from the flashback, perhaps. Though it makes no sense at this point how the guy could be journaling his adventures.

There’s some great art from Roberts and Tony Akins and Stefano Gaudiano because there’s always great art in Manifest Destiny. This issue doesn’t have much but great art. Well, it does have one surprise choice. I mean, there are a lot of “twists” this issue in the flashback, but it only has one surprise. Unfortunately, Dingess has used up any goodwill when it comes to expecting his cliffhanger moments to go somewhere good. Destiny is a plodding book these days.

The present action is extremely minimal. Lewis and Clark are interchangeable. Dingess has killed the pace of the comic. Yet it’s hard not for the book to compel on some level–Roberts doing this Corps of Discovery Expedition with monsters, it’s really a cool thing. There’s also some really uncool magical stuff.

Manifest Destiny desperately needs editors who can reign Dingess in, who can help break out a story, who can keep the book on track. Until then, I go into every issue expecting it to be my last.

CREDITS

Sasquatch, Part Four; 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.

Spidey Zine (2016)

Spidey Zine

Spidey Zine, a fan made “little comic collection” from Hannah Blumenreich, is wonderful. Some of the strips run a couple pages, some run longer. Blumenreich identifies the adorable and the admirable in Peter Parker. Reading Spidey Zine, you totally understand why Betty Brant went for him back in Amazing #7.

Yeah, a bit of warning–Spidey Zine makes you proud of all your Spider-Man knowledge, whether you’re happy to have it or not. Blumenreich even makes some fundamentally uncool things like the Ben Reilly Scarlet Spider costume design wonderful.

But Blumenreich isn’t as interested in Spider-Man as the superhero as she is in Peter Parker, the awkward teenager who puts on a costume and defends Queens. There’s a poignancy to the comic, an fundamental understanding of not just what makes the character tick, but what makes the character so beloved. The idealism.

While Spidey Zine does focus on exploring Peter Parker as Spider-Man, there is still quite a bit looking at how Spider-Man exists in the world. For Peter, for May, for the people Spider-Man helps. Blumenreich perfectly balances everything in these strips. How much verisimilitude, how much danger, how much humor.

Basically, Marvel should start throwing money at Blumenreich.

You can read Spidey Zine for free. If you read Spider-Man, if you watched “Amazing Friends”, if you know what the “Clone Saga” means, if you just like good comic strips–Blumenreich’s style feels like a long-form comic strip….

Spidey Zine is spectacularly amazing.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Hannah Blumenreich.

Freely available, https://gumroad.com/hannahblmnrch/.

Kong of Skull Island 2 (August 2016)

Kong of Skull Island #2

This issue of Kong of Skull Island is a moderate disappointment. The book was off to a surprisingly strong start after its premiere issue, only to stumble through every page of this second one. Occasionally, Asmus and Magno hit a stride for a couple pages, but there’s always another drop off. Asmus loses his strong protagonist for the issue, whether she’s present or not. The opening has her, but it’s a mess of an action scene. Magno has some really cool art of the Kong, but not much else. He’s rushing through what should be the character moments.

There’s way too much with a royal wedding involving the protagonist’s boyfriend. He’s marrying a more appropriate princess. It’s annoying stuff and paced entirely wrong. When the Kong trainer does show up again, the comic’s almost over. She’s just there to have a fight with the prince dude before something else happens.

Asmus doesn’t connect with any of the material this issue. He’s adapting, so the plot isn’t his fault, just his inability to find a way to write it with personality.

I really wish the comic had been better. It’s almost there on the art–Magno has some great stuff, he really does, but better art isn’t going to fix the writing.

CREDITS

Writer, James Asmus; artist, Carlos Magno; colorist, Brad Simpson; letterer, Ed Dukeshire; editors, Alex Galer and Dafna Pleban; publisher, Boom! Studios.

Cinema Purgatorio 4 (July 2016)

Cinema Purgatorio #4

Holy shit, is Gillen’s Modded a GamerGate thing? Are we supposed to hate the women for telling the sweet little dude what to do? I really hope not. I hope it’s just a dumb scene. Gillen’s writing on this story is already so lame, I’d feel even worse if he were actually trying something subtle with political commentary and just failing at it. Fine enough art from Calero as usual.

Way too short Vast from Gage and Andrade. Again, fine art, crap writing. But Gage really doesn’t have any time to do anything. It’s almost not fair to call the weak writing weak.

And then the Max Brooks thing. DiPascale’s greyscale digital art is too flat this entry. It’s a weak script with the giant ant fighting but there should have been more personality to it.

Notice I went through all the weak stories in this issue of Cinema Purgatorio first? Because the good stories are worth their own time and some due respect.

First, Garth Ennis. And Code Pru, the most disappointing thing in Cinema Purgatorio. Ennis and Raulo Caceres started it as its own thing, got to a promising place, flubbed it when they went to this anthology. It’s not a supernatural book anymore, it’s a monster comic. Maybe Ennis is doing a movie tie-in, who knows. It doesn’t come across. What does come across is good writing though and this issue’s entry of Pru has some great Ennis dialogue. It just doesn’t involve Pru or her partner. He’s not interested in them because all they do is exposition. It’s a mess but there’s still some Ennis goodness. Caceres’s art is too dark for black and white though.

Finally, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill doing an homage to Willis H. O’Brien and King Kong. It’s lovely and makes me wish Moore and O’Neill could do this book forever. It’s a shame the other stories in the anthology have anything to do with movies. Moore and O’Neill deserve far better co-creators. Great art on it, some wonderful writing from Moore. It has to be seen to be believed. It makes the issue–this somewhat disastrous Avatar anthology–an essential comic book. Moore’s a show-off with Purgatorio. O’Neill less but he’s still very confident, but Moore’s having a great time with reader expectation. They’re doing great work.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, A King at Twilight; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Mommy’s Boy; 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.

Johnny Red 8 (August 2016)

Johnny Red #8

Garth Ennis has made me cry before, I’m sure of it. Definitely wet eyes at some tragic war story. Not what I was expecting from Johnny Red, especially the way he brings in the present day stuff, which I’ve never liked in the book. But Ennis has this licensed property and he goes very big with it for the final issue. He gets schmaltzy, he gets as close to saccharine as he probably gets. But then he pulls back a little and starts talking about the idea of the comic–the idea of Ennis doing a Johnny Red comic in 2016, being the Garth Ennis who puts so much work into his war stories.

And he goes somewhere else. He and artist Keith Burns have already softened the reader. Burns’s art isn’t strong on the open, either. He rushes through the cliffhanger resolution and just throws the schmaltz at it. It’s not artful schmaltz. It’s pulpy and Johnny Red is supposed to be pulpy, right?

No. It’s supposed to be serious and Ennis spends the last three-quarters of the book being very serious. He talks to the reader about the war story, asks the reader to look at it in a certain way, not another. To question the whole idea of the comic. It’s really deft, really great stuff from Ennis. It puts Johnny Red high up on his post-Punisher work. It gets to be the longer form war comic Ennis does right.

And out of nowhere, right? Titan Comics! Who knew.

CREDITS

Za Rodinu; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Keith Burns; colorist, Jason Wordie; letterer, Rob Steen; editors, Jess Burton and Steve White; publisher, Titan Comics.

Deathstroke: Rebirth 1 (October 2016)

Deathstroke

All right, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve got to open this discussion of Deathstroke: Rebirth with the following disclaimer–I’m probably not going to read another one of these comics. I hope other people buy it, I hope other people read it, I hope Priest sticks around at DC. I would love to read more new Priest books, especially ones with good artists like this series. Carlo Pagulayan draws a beautiful espionage thriller with a little bit of DC Universe connection.

It’s a modern day spy thriller, nothing more, nothing else. Slade is haunted by whatever happened to his two sons and whatever happened to his old handler. But he’s a mercenary in Africa now and there’s this whole Deathstroke mystique going with the locals. It’s kind of cool. Priest writes the dialogue well. But it’s nothing a solid Deathstroke story from twenty years ago wouldn’t have had.

And that solid feel is where I can’t get excited, can’t get motivated for the monthly commitment. I’m glad DC can make this book though. You go back a few years, they wouldn’t have–pretty sure I read the New 52 Deathstroke. It would’ve either been lame or terrible. Not a good mainstream super-anti-hero book.

I just need to remember to check in when the first arc gets collected.

CREDITS

The Professional, Part One; writer, Priest; penciller, Carlo Pagulayan; inker, Jason Paz; colorist, Jeromy Cox; letterer, Willie Schubert; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Alex Antone; publisher, DC Comics.

Providence 10 (July 2016)

Providence #10

Well. Providence. Robert Black gets his comeuppance for a lot of inept behavior earlier in the comic. He also finds out Lovecraft is a bigot, not to mention how sometimes the universe rewards endeavors. It’s not a weird comic because what’s so great about the reveals is how Moore started building towards them so long ago, but still keeps them relevant. It’s a masterfully written comic book. The only thing Moore takes more seriously than the Lovecraft stuff is the humor. It’s so sad and it’s so funny.

Burrows plays into that success–he’s got a lot of wonderful detail on protagonist Black as he’s having revelations about what’s really going on. There’s visible intensifying of the character’s stress; it might be as obvious as sweat or just how he’s holding his hands. Burrows’s art is phenomenal, which is even more impressive when one takes into account how strange the comic gets.

Moore opens with horror, then he goes over to uncomfortable social stuff, only to go further and start thinking about the end of the world. Then he closes with a horrifying, hilarious final reveal–amid what should be the ominous ceremonies to bring back an Elder God or whatever. It’s nuts.

And then the back matter is awesome. Moore and Burrows have fully trained the reader by this point to accept the comic book narrative as truer than the commonplace book back matter, so when they flip how it works, it’s just great.

It’s an excellent comic; of course it’s an excellent comic, it’s Providence.

CREDITS

The Haunted Palace; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Jacen Burrows; colorist, Juan Rodriguez; letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

The Flintstones 2 (October 2016)

The Flintstones #2

What a weird, wonderful comic book. Entirely unexpectedly–unless you think about Pugh being on the art and then you know at least the art will be amazing–but, otherwise, The Flintstones is a pretty unpredictable place to mine great material. Only Russell does it. There’s something very Afterlife with Archie in all these Hanna Barbera comics but Flintstones is the one where lighting is striking over and over.

Pebbles doesn’t even talk. Bam Bam doesn’t talk either, but Pebbles is in the comic a lot. Russell and Pugh give Pebbles the annoyed teen persona without ever having a scene with her. Okay, I guess I now hope Pebbles is amazing when she does get an issue. Anyway, the way Russell constructs the narrative is this almost reflected approach to adapting “The Flintstones” cartoon in the twenty-first century.

Only Russell isn’t asking deep questions, he’s asking traditional sitcom questions. He’s playing into the plotting of the original cartoon–while also employing a lot of comic book storytelling devices to get the scenes across. When the comic gets to its final, unexpectedly tender reveal, it’s a comic book moment. With a bit of a cartoon vibe. Only less “The Flintstones” than “The Simpsons.”

And the art. There’s so much for Pugh to do in this issue. Not just in terms of realistically realizing some Stone Age gadgetry, but in how he’s conveying the narrative. Pugh’s a storyteller. There’s an inherent pacing to his panels. It’s a perfect storm of timing, intent and talent, which is about the only way to explain this Flintstones book is such a dabba doo time.*

CREDITS

Buyer Beware; writer, Mark Russell; artist, Steve Pugh; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Brittany Holzherr and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Suicide Squad: The Movie Special

Suicide squad joker poster

Matt talked me into seeing Suicide Squad, which I actually forgot to give him crap about on this podcast special.

We talk about the movie, we talk about the comics, we talk about comic book movies. It’s Marvel Comics movies vs. DC Comics movies from a couple DC Comics fans (definitely more so than not, anyway) who don’t even like the Marvel Comics movies too much. Suicide Squad is just so objectively bad, it forces uneasy alliances and unlikely sympathies.

In hindsight, however, the Suicide Squad trailer did have Jared Leto’s Tony Montana meets Patrick Bateman rendition of The Joker promising to hurt someone really, really bad. And the movie delivers. It hurts your brain, really, really bad. Because it’s really, really bad.

So join Matt and I as we relive the lows and lowers and lowests of David Ayer’s 2016 Suicide Squad.

Right-click and save as MP3

Kill or be Killed 1 (August 2016)

Kill or be Killed #1

What if the Punisher weren’t an ex-Marine, what if he were just some emo rich(ish) white dude grad student who had to kill to keep a demon from killing him? As punishment for trying to commit suicide. There’s the gimmick to Kill or be Killed. The draw is gorgeous Sean Phillips New York City artwork–he seems more taken with the setting than the characters, in fact. The characters he rushes with occasionally, the setting is always perfect.

But how’s Ed Brubaker’s writing? It’s not great. It might not even be good. Kill or be Killed is a really strange way to do this story. Not in how Brubaker structures it–the narration from the protagonist is obvious but not in a bad way. No, it’s in what Brubaker does with that narration. He makes the protagonist really, really, really annoying.

It’s not even clear if Brubaker is just making him annoying for melodramatic purposes or if he’s making him annoying because the reader is supposed to find him annoying. It’s up in the air. At one point, the lead is talking about cops killing innocent black kids, then next he’s whining about being a trust fund baby who didn’t get to go to NYU grad school until he was twenty-eight. And, guess what, the girl he likes didn’t like him back.

It might work out, it doesn’t seem impossible it could work out. But it seems unlikely. Especially since Phillips has got no time for the demon. Kill’s demon is a visual tranquilizer.

The comic’s not terrible, it’s just terrible obvious. But the art’s real good. It does have the art going for it.

Oh, no. It’s an ongoing series.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Dark Night: A True Batman Story (June 2016)

Dark_Night_A_True_Batman_Story_2016Superheroes appeal to children because, as Paul Dini points out in this memoir, they’re a child’s power fantasy. This book is about how he got brutally injured in a mugging while working as a writer on Batman: The Animated Series and his irrational shock that Batman wasn’t there to save him. Therefore the book is also about the fragile mental state of adults who still idolize superheroes beyond childhood, but Dini skims over that. He still idolizes funny underwear men for a living to this day, and that perceptual limitation is really the only thing keeping this very good comic from being great. Still, it’s probably the best Batman story of the year by far. They should’ve gone all out on promotion, instead of making it a Vertigo Book and arbitrarily consigning it to second-tier notice, for the sin of admitting Batman isn’t real.

A young man’s interest in fictional superheroes as objects of sincere admiration, rather than entertainment, grows inversely to their maturation, including the ability to physically defend themselves. This is the true stereotype of the 98 pound weakling who’d rather read Batman comics than play sports growing up – and now it’s worse, they’d rather play the Arkham Asylum games which Paul happened to write. Batman wins every millennial’s popularity contest for being the so-called “most realistic” superhero. His lack of superpowers suggests the illusion that if his geekiest admirers were sufficiently motivated by the most primal early trauma (premature loss of parents) and had access to unlimited time and money, they too could become strong enough to scare bullies. To step back and chart one’s enjoyment of Batman over time is to graph one’s personal growth or lack thereof. For those lucky enough to land a job writing the character, reality can get even more confused if you’re not sufficiently grounded. Paul Dini was vicariously living in Batman’s world for a living before reality kicked the living shit out of him.

Dark Night is about his rehabilitation and the wisdom garnered, only he didn’t seem to learn all that much in the final analysis. So he uses Batman, who has more moral authority than Jesus to people of my generation, as one of several licensed characters serving as an imaginary chorus whose words can convince us, and himself. It’s a very well done comic, but also a bit of a therapy session that’s overly self-congratulatory. Big questions about the power of myth or the actual danger of crime are sidestepped in favor of solipsism. At the conclusion he postures towards sharing some greater knowledge from the experience, but it winds up a fatuous “shit happens, dust yourself off and don’t be bitter” kind of message, after frequent avoidances of weightier aspects touched briefly and then ignored. The only one he devotes any attention to, since it figured most prominently into the difficulty of his recovery, is the low self-esteem of the average nerd. Even one whose dream of writing Batman cartoons came true.

I grew up on Batman: The Animated Series and as many fans will tell you, Dini wrote several of the most memorable episodes. What seems obvious in hindsight is how many of his episodes were either about bullied wimps or the lovesick: Joker’s Favor, The Man Who Killed Batman, Heart of Ice, and especially Mad as a Hatter – an effective origin tale for The Mad Hatter in which Jervis Tetch plays White Knight to his own workplace Alice and becomes a Dark Knight villain. At the episode’s climax, Alice is rendered comatose by mind control and Batman enrages the lovelorn geek by pointing out that what he truly wants is “a soulless little doll,” not an actual three-dimensional woman. Dini makes a big point of establishing his unsuccessful love life as the catalyst of fateful evening, albeit indirectly – it happened after he walked home from a bad date, rather than accepting a ride from the young would-be starlet who’d just given him the kiss-off. As Dini points out, the walk was through wealthy West Hollywood so it wasn’t an irrational assumption that he’d be safe. As he imagines various Batman villains anthropomorphizing his inner demons, the face of womanly torment is Poison Ivy rather the perhaps more apt choice of Mad Hatter. When narratively taking stock of his poor life decisions, chief among them is his pursuit of dating actress/model types whom he could brag about to his friends, rather than a woman he could someday marry. Soulless little dolls. As the adage goes, Hollywood is high school with money and a writer for Tiny Toons with ties to Steven Spielberg is like a dork whose rich parents are lending him their Bentley.

Dini puts so much weight into his lack of validation by beautiful women before getting jumped – and then, weirdly, the only follow-up is the unsurprising detail that one of these gold diggers barely cared about his situation when called up for sympathy. By this point we’ve already read the chilling page where, bloodied and beaten, he realizes upon staggering home that there will be no one inside to comfort him. Later in a flashback sequence during his hospitalization, he recalls being stood up by another pretty girl as his date to the Emmys. Despite winning and taking home one of the awards, his self-loathing apparently ran so deep he proceeded to cut himself in front of the mirror using the statuette, expressing disgust with his own chubby bespectacled nerd self. It’s a stunning and powerfully symbolic admission. He prefaces the night of his attack with all this fear of sexual inadequacy, but fails to draw any connection between the twin injuries to his masculinity: romantic rejection and getting your ass kicked. It doesn’t get any worse than that for the male ego, especially in the course of a single evening. His subsequent despair that he somehow deserved what happened, as karmic balance to his artistic success in life, is a crisis of manhood that he thinks himself too unique to grapple with. As his own narrator to this chapter in his life, he never lets on any understanding that the reader might have endured the same fears and sufferings, including his soon-to-be lowest point.

Recuperating from the horrific attack, holed up in his apartment and descending into depression, the principal question quickly becomes how Paul will find the will to continue writing Batman in a world where Batman doesn’t swoop in to save you IRL. The most striking passages of this comic aren’t Dini imagining Batman as a stern father figure, telling him to get up and stand tall after being knocked down. They are of The Joker insidiously urging him to wallow in self-pity and retreat into comforting overindulgence – fast food, video games, movies, et cetera – after the world has traumatized him. Joker even sells this retreat as a return to the “childhood bedroom” of Dini’s “invisible” youth, fleshed out in a few autobiographical pages at the start. This is particularly fascinating when taking into account how The Joker has equaled or eclipsed Batman’s popularity in mainstream culture by embodying narcissistic hedonism. (The 1989 film puts the sensitive creative person’s spin on this: The Joker as the dark power fantasy of the insensitive artist who “makes art until someone dies.”) Paul’s apartment is a den of toys, animation cells and “the trappings of geek nirvana.” Holy Target Audience, does he even realize he’s describing a large section of his readership? What’s disappointing is that he took what could have been a widely relatable true-life parable for every superhero fan about the limits of their escapism, and the soul death of arrested development, and instead portrays the restoration of his professional status quo – product output at the dream factory – as the crucial triumph.

Probably the most fascinating and telling scene is Dini’s anecdotal rebuttal to the traditional methods of manning up. As the wounds start to heal, Batman recommends that if he feels unattractive and physically vulnerable, he could lose weight, get in shape and start learning how to fight. In response to this completely reasonable proposal, Paul does a shock jump-forward to the day he almost bought a gun. Batman then mocks him for wanting to be like James Bond. In an evasive obfuscation, Paul retorts that he could never be like Batman. Now, Batman wasn’t implying that Paul become a real life Batman, just that he could regain confidence by dropping a few pounds and looking less of an easy target. Batman, who is of course Paul Dini writing a dialogue with himself, accuses Paul Dini of engaging in a power fantasy. It’s circular and manipulative; Paul is actually reassuring himself that there’s no middle ground between being totally defenseless and deluding yourself into thinking you can become James Bond by buying a gun, or Batman by taking karate lessons.

In the introspective wrap-up of the book’s conclusion, The Scarecrow taunts Paul with the potentiality of living his life in fear of future assailants, to which he retorts that he can’t live his life in fear of lightning strikes, either. He seems oblivious to the fact it is an extraordinarily privileged position to regard potentially fatal assault and battery as a statistical freak occurrence, no more predictable than natural disasters. For pity’s sake, one of the best scenes in the comic is the LAPD’s indifference to Paul’s plight after the incident, and his incredulousness that they’re not even going to dust for prints like The Dark Knight Detective™. He certainly admits to the hard-learned fact that the police aren’t always going to be there for him, let alone Batman, but he still won’t take any personal measures to feel safer in the future, still regarding violence as something unreal. Rationalizing to Batman that he’d have been murdered if he’d “tried anything physical,” he’s more or less alluding to the “one bad day” trope of The Killing Joke every Bat-fan knows by heart, telling The Joker that to “embrace anger and cruelty and try to use them to feel powerful” would be going down the path of Joker rather than Batman. Jeez, Paul, we get it, you didn’t want to start lifting weights. It’s a bit socially irresponsible to promote the idea that taking measures towards self-defense is tempting fate, just because you never thought you’d have your life threatened and don’t want to believe it could ever happen twice.

There’s an awkward racial component in Dark Night, injected but never acknowledged, which may help explain why Dini depicts himself as so guilty over his instinct to somehow toughen up after his bloody beating. Yes, the two guys who stomped him bore the curse of Ham and moments before their paths cross, Dini’s inner monologue chastises himself not to “be the dick who changes direction just because he sees a couple of black guys.” Later, Batman criticizes him for not thinking like Batman would upon seeing “two figures huddled close together, faces obscured, moving toward toward you in a predatory manner!” Hey, Bats, you don’t really need to profile when you live in a fictional city unstuck in time where all the criminals still wear fedoras. Batman then blames Paul for not changing direction from the two thug-lyfe looking gentlemen because he was “too worried about looking scared or judgmental.” It’s worth considering that at the time, it had only been a year since the Rodney King riots and Los Angeles was still on edge about black-on-white violence. One page later, a black colleague at the Warner Brothers Animation office bluntly asks Paul if the guys who did it were black. And he lies – he says only one of them was. “Damn it” the staffer says, and offers Paul a handshake, an implicit apology on behalf of all brothers. The matter is never brought up afterwards, and Dini doesn’t feel it incumbent on himself to explain to the reader what it says about him that he felt the need to lie. Later, there’s a suspicious glance cast at a black guy who approaches him in a music store, but whew – turns out he’s just a Tiny Toons fan. Again, as omniscient narrator, Dini never acknowledges any of this racial tension. I’d guess his reluctance to start seeing the world in a harsher light is at least somewhat tied to a fear of racially profiling which his conscience can’t allow. This fits right in to his self-absolving faith that the morally superior attitude towards violent crime is, as he literally states, to think of it as lightning which won’t strike him twice.

Dark Night promises more than it delivers in terms of thematic depth. However, the emotion is all there. The concept of a Batman writer, especially a talented one like Paul Dini, using the characters as invisible friends and enemies throughout his true story of surviving being the victim of a violent crime is such a solid, inspired basis for a graphic novel. It’s the kind of meta-story for which these characters are very well suited after 75 years of exhausting every possible straightforward comic book plot. They function best now as icons, which is why the comic is a clever and enjoyable read and The Lego Batman Movie will make more money than all the other Batman movies combined. It’s always preferable to see more poetic use of the characters than seeing them wedged into ill-fitting “realistic” stories. Dini does muddle around the big questions when he uses Batman for rhetorical stances on actual important matters like guns and criminal justice. What’s genuinely moving are the times when he sincerely exposes his vulnerability, holds his ego to account and examines how creative artistry shapes his worldview, in good times and bad.

Speaking of artistry, there’s really nothing to say about Eduardo Risso’s illustration except that it’s masterful. Dini’s career requires him to visually reference not only Batman: The Animated Series but other pop culture from Beany and Cecil to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and he’s always on-model. His own original designs for the Batman villains are simultaneously ugly and very appealing. He draws Paul past and present, in realistic and caricatured styles, sometimes changing from panel to panel depending on narrative needs, without ever misstepping. The color is also incredible, emphasizing every mood and blending human beings with Paul’s cartoon imaginings seamlessly.

This “True Batman Story” ends on a note of hope, with Harley Quinn welcoming Dini back to work. Harley Quinn is one of the worst Batman characters ever created, a supremely irritating Manic Pixie Dream Girl that could only have been invented by someone with issues around women.

Still, at least she only shows up in the last couple pages. Highly recommended!

CREDITS

Dark Night: A True Batman Story; story, Paul Dini; art, Eduardo Risso; letterer, Todd Klein; publisher, DC Comics.

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