World’s Funnest (April 2016)

 worldsfunnestMr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite are arguably DC’s greatest creations. As respective foils to Superman and Batman they’re perfect critiques of the characters: Mxy the childish trickster-god to a godlike man, and Bat-Mite a child playing god with the man he worships…who is still a child inside, at least emotionally. They’re both insanely powerful and also stand-ins for any precocious young comics readers, trying to imagine the most impossible situations to challenge these men who can do virtually anything. Bat-Mite’s version of the routine underscores the irony with an ill-fitting fan costume – he’s the original comicon cosplayer. World’s Funnest collects Evan Dorkin’s one-shot of the same name from 2000 along with the imps’ first Golden Age appearances and several other quality stories, and it’s a nearly perfect greatest-hits showcase for these uniquely irreverent characters.

The titular story alone is worth the price of admission. With a stunning list of guest artists doing either parodies of their own style (Frank Miller re-creating The Dark Knight Returns) or perfect imitations of classic styles from DC history (David Mazzucchelli doing Jack Kirby’s New Gods), Evan Dorkin sends Mxyzptlk on an apocalyptic death hunt for Bat-Mite across the DC Universe, offhandedly obliterating continuities and timelines with all the slapstick ferocity of Milk and Cheese filtered through an Eltingville Club level of inside-joke comics geekery. Arguably the only flaw is how some of his best jokes rely on the reader’s familiarity with obscure DC references like Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew, but Dorkin goofs on so many other, better known targets like Superfriends and Kingdom Come that there’s something for everyone Like Eltingville Club, this is Dorkin spinning his fanboy self-hatred into comedy gold, subversively under the official DC banner – Batman and Superman are literally murdered within the first few pages, and then murdered several more times before the story is finished, as the Brian Bolland cover promises. It’s a breathtakingly hysterical, once-in-a-corporate-lifetime event that seems even more audacious sixteen years later.

mxy-first
Note the early alternate spelling

This is followed up by the first appearances, with Siegel and Shuster’s “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk” from 1944 and “Batman Meets Bat-Mite” from 1959, written by Bill Finger and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. These stories have been reprinted a lot over the years but are obviously essential to an official Bat-Mite and Mxy compendium. Joe Shuster’s original design for Mxy is the most adorable he ever looked, as if a 1920s newspaper comic strip character came to visit Superman’s (slightly) more realistically-rendered world. Bat-Mite skirts the uncanny valley a little closer, resembling a midget in a Batman costume rather than a child – which is technically correct, since as he points out, he’s not an elf but comes from a dimension where all men are his size. This explanation is preceded by one of the greatest panels in comic book history:

batmite
HI!

Their debuts are followed by another oft-reprinted but essential landmark: Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s first crossover story together from a 1960 issue of World’s Finest with art by Batman luminary Dick Sprang, by which point Mxyzptlk was redesigned to be an uglier imp, something more akin to Coiley the Spring Sprite. The story by Jerry Coleman is an inconsequential spectacle, but established the dynamic between the two pests for every subsequent meetup: Bat-Mite as the annoying goody-two-shoes to the more malevolent Mxy. Sightings of either character were pretty scarce afterwards, as the collection’s next story is plucked from nearly 20 years later – an odd six page back-up story from a 1979 Detective Comics entitled Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure! In what’s basically just an excuse for some DC staff to put themselves in a comic, Bat-Mite poofs into the offices of, yes, DC Comics and cajoles the vintage 1979 nerds (not a one without glasses, several with sideburns) to put him in Detective Comics. Which is the comic you just read. Get it? While the joke fails to have a punchline, at least the art by Michael Golden features a disgustingly cute version of Bat-Mite. And to give credit writer Rob Rozakis, while his story fails to be funny it may be the first to realize the self-referential, fourth-wall breaking possibilities of Bat-Mite as a fifth dimensional imp, and by corollary Mr. Mxyzptlk.

batmitegolden
Michael Golden’s Bat-Mite is just too adorbs

DC wasn’t yet ready to full dive into post-modernism, however, as Bat-Mite’s sole appearance in the 80s was a one-page cameo in a 1983 anniversary issue of The Brave and the Bold. Just as in his prior outing, he demands recognition from the corporate overlords (this time breaking the fourth wall outright by addressing the reader) only to be erased by a giant pencil a la Duck Amuck. The art is by Stephen DeStefano, although it’s such early work in his career that his personal style isn’t yet recognizable – unlike the page he contributed 16 years later to Dorkin’s World’s Funnest. While not quite a hidden gem, the inclusion of this forgotten rarity is definitely the kind of bonus indicating the volume’s organizers relished their task. The next two stories are Mxyzptlk tales from the late 80s era of Superman, first with writer/artist John Byrne’s re-introduction of the character and then a later appearance by writers Roger Stern and Tom Peyer, with art by Paris Cullins. Byrne’s story is as exemplary of high quality mainstream superhero comics as anything else he was doing during the 80s, while Stern & Peyer pit a fun novelty matchup of Mxy against Lex Luthor for a change. Cullins, whose art I wasn’t previously familiar with, has a style similar to John Byrne’s only more unhinged – he gets some wild expressions into his human characters, while Mxyzptlk often looks like a demonic gremlin. In other words, cool stuff.

mxy
The gloriously gross 80s: Paris Cullins’ Mxyzptlk

The second best comic in the collection after Dorkin’s is Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s post-Crisis reintroduction of Bat-Mite from 1992, Legend of the Dark Mite, which I cajoled Andrew into reading and reviewing here. Surprisingly, generously also included is Grant & O’Neill’s perennially unpopular follow-up from 1995, Mitefall (it’s great, but shops are still trying to get it out of their discount bins to this day) which continues the adventures of Bob Overdog and Bat-Mite in order to take the piss out of Knightfall storyline. Between this and Dorkin’s story, Bat-Mite really achieves his full potential as an avatar for writers seeking to mock DC from within. Sandwiched between these tales is a more sedate 1999 World’s Finest meeting of Bat-Mite and Mxy, which actually isn’t out of order thanks to an opening caption declaring it to take place “five years earlier” so the continuity commissars can’t complain. The Imp-Possible Dream has a humdrum plot but a surprisingly wry and snarky script by Karl Kesel – only Mxy could really get away with a Batman/Robin gay joke, right? Artist Peter Doherty’s versions of the imps kind of resemble Sylvester P. Smythe of Cracked magazine, while his human figures and faces are unfortunately stiff by comparison. Overall, it’s okay. Really, the book’s sole offensive inclusion is the concluding two-parter from 2008, Lil’ Leaguers, from the series Superman/Batman. In what Mxyzptlk admits to be a sales-generating gimmick (the most crass use of fourth wall breaking), superdeformed chibi versions of the DCU invade Batman and Superman’s world to run around being cuter, more marketable versions of them. Bat-Mite shows up for two pages at the conclusion to explain his collusion in the prank. It’s not a Mxy story, it’s not a Bat-Mite story and there’s a creepy lolicon vibe when lil’ Catwoman jumps on regular-size Batman. While not a bad comic – Rafael Albuquerque’s art is certainly appealing – it feels like unnecessary filler.

batman-legends
Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s Legend of the Dark Mite: comics in the 90s assumed you’d read the classics

Born of the era in comics when superheroes excelled at flights of fancy, Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s history is almost as long as Superman and Batman’s. In 1986, the year of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns when superheroes were being put to bed, Alan Moore’s revelation of a malignant Mxy as Superman’s ultimate nemesis in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow spoke slyly to the genre’s sea change; that powerful forces once joyful and innocent were degenerating into something sinister. Bat-Mite has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, with media such as the animated Batman: The Brave and the Bold employing him as a post-modern mouthpiece for multiple generations of Bat-fans, with the inspired casting of Paul Reubens. As superheroes are ultimately creatures of the comics medium no matter how many movies and cartoons are shoveled out for the illiterate masses, Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk are creatures representing the medium’s unlimited possibilities for pure anarchic imagination. The talents who contributed to this book are many of the greatest in the industry. World’s Funnest  both the Evan Dorkin story and now the expanded collection bearing the same name, is an absolute must-have.

CREDITS

World’s Funnest; writers, Evan Dorkin, Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, Bob Rozakis, Stephen DeStefano, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Tom Peyer, Alan Grant, Karl Kesel, Michael Green, Mike Johnson; artists, Mike Allred, Frank Cho, Stephen DeStefano, Dave Gibbons, Jaime Hernandez, Stuart Immonen, Phil Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, David Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller, Sheldon Moldoff, Glen Murakami, Alex Ross, Scott Shaw, Jay Stephens, Ty Templeton, Jim Woodring, Joe Shuster, Dick Sprang, Michael Golden, John Byrne, Paris Cullins, Kevin O’Neill, Peter Doherty, Rafael Albuquerque; collection editor, Robin Wildman; publisher, DC Comics.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Batman: The Killing Joke Special

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)

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Judge Dredd 19 (May 1985)

Judge Dredd #19

Wagner and Grant amp up the block war storyline, but turn it into a long investigation. Dredd is trying to track down the person responsible for the block war mania. It’s strange, once the suspect is identified, he also refers to the condition as block mania. It’s a small thing, but it does show where Wagner and Grant aren’t paying attention.

The investigation is exciting, with some very nice art from Smith and Steve Dillon. There’s enough content the issue feels very substantial, especially the way the story of the suspect goes. The cliffhanger is a good one and kind of cool to be the aftermath of a mundane investigation. It’s well-done, but it’s not as interesting.

So a good feature. Then the second, shorter story has Dredd stopping criminals while the people around them respond with apathy. It’s neat one.

The big story was far more impressive though.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writers, John Wagner and Alan Grant; artists, Ron Smith, Steve Dillon and Brian Bolland; colorist, John Burns; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 15 (January 1985)

Judge Dredd #15

The issue has Wagner looking at various aspects of the future–block life, block wars, reasoning apes, what happens when a judge needs to retire–but none of them really stand out.

The first story, resolving the Judge Child storyline while Dredd deals with a block war, has art from Brian Bolland. It’s gorgeous, but too static, too constrained. Bolland doesn’t have any fun with the future, but he also doesn’t have any fun with his composition.

In contrast, Mike McMahon goes crazy in the other pages. There’s humor built into the panels and the composition is inventive. The McMahon stories–even Mills’s pointless ape one–come off a lot better; there’s something distinctive about them, whereas Bolland’s is purely functional.

Of course, Wagner’s handling of that first story is a lot more functional and less narratively playful than the rest.

It’s a mixed bag, but with some definite pluses.

B- 

CREDITS

Writers, John Wagner and Pat Mills; artists, Brian Bolland and Mike McMahon; colorist, John Burns; letterers, Tom Frame and Tony Jacob; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 14 (December 1984)

Judge Dredd #14

It’s a really weak issue. Both writers–Wagner and Mills–go as melodramatic and sappy as possible. How can Judge Dredd be sappy?

For most of the issue, Wagner focuses on Dredd’s sidekick robot, Walter. The joke with Walter is he is annoying and an issue of Walter stories seems a little too much. The Judge Dredd Christmas story, for example, is about as saccharine as Judge Dredd should ever get it but the subsequent stories take it even further.

In some ways, Mills’s story with Judge Rico’s return is even worse. Most of the story is told in summary with Mills focusing on tender moments from Dredd’s life. The ending is even worse. The difference between Wagner and Mills being Wagner makes Dredd sympathetic in the context of the comic, Mills tries to make him sympathetic overall.

Some nice art from McMahon but this issue is a stinker.

C- 

CREDITS

Writers, John Wagner and Pat Mills; artists, Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland; colorist, John Burns; letterers, Tom Frame and Tony Jacob; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd: The Judge Child Quest 4 (November 1984)

Judge Dredd: The Judge Child Quest #4

It’s another strong issue, with Wagner giving Dredd a series of imaginative sci-fi encounters. The first one is the most traditional, with Dredd trying to track down a human visitor to a strange alien world. But Wagner has already established the character–who has contracted a strange alien disease–so Dredd has to enter that story.

But there’s also some drama with Dredd and his fellow judges based on his treatment of one of the other judges. Wagner probably could tell this subplot better but it works well enough.

The second big story has Dredd and company against an intergalactic salesman. It’s s silly story, but s fun one. Some very nice start throughout it too. Smith handles the action well.

The last story has the Angel family on a desert planet. It’s a little too much how Wild West Wagner makes the planet.

But it’s still real strong.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; artists, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith and Mike McMahon; colorist, Ian Stead; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd: The Judge Child Quest 2 (September 1984)

Judge Dredd: The Judge Child Quest #2

Wagner takes Dredd and company–though the company is rather indistinct–on an intergalactic quest. They’re in pursuit of the Angel family, who have kidnapped the Judge Child. There’s not a lot on the pursuit, but rather a series of imaginative sci-fi encounters.

The first has Dredd encountering a space station where the computer has taken over. Kind of 2001 with a lot of action. Not entirely original, but it works.

The second encounter, on a planet where the humans can download their consciousness into chips to live forever (another person loans out their body for the consciousness’s usage), is the best. This section is where Dredd gets a sidekick and Wagner gets to write the most.

Since Dredd is hopping from planet to planet, it never feels episodic.

The finale has him against a living, hungry planet.

Some great art from McMahon, Bolland and Smith throughout.

Excellent stuff.

A 

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; artists, Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland and Ron Smith; colorist, Ian Stead; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd: The Judge Child Quest 1 (August 1984)

Judge Dredd: The Judge Child Quest #1

Judge Dredd heads into the Cursed Earth looking for a mutant child who’s going to have to save Mega-City One, or so one of the pre-cogs says. Writer John Wagner comes up with some decent encounters for Dredd–this issue’s primary villain is a “garbage god” who has thousands of slaves mining antiques from pre-apocalypse Memphis for him. There’s an ancient Egypt thing too; it doesn’t make much sense, but the Brian Bolland and Ron Smith are is excellent so it doesn’t need to make any.

The series is more compiled entries from 2000 AD but never feels too bumpy–with Wagner so focused on Dredd trying to find the child, it’s mostly action. The biggest bump comes after the end of the Garbage God episode, with Dredd continuining his hunt into Texas.

That finale, which leads to the cliffhanger, makes the issue seem a tad bloated.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; artists, Brian Bolland, Ron Smith and Mike McMahon; colorist, McMahon; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 12 (October 1984)

Judge Dredd #12

It’s a surprisingly awesome issue, with Wagner giving Dredd a big dumb sidekick, but one with a lot of character and comic relief value. They have to get back to the surface (Dredd and company escaped underground), so there’s a decent action sequence when Wagner brings them up against some other judges.

He also explains why the rest of the judges are falling in line with evil, crazy Chief Judge Cal. It’s sort of obvious and should have been handled better, but once Wagner has it out of the way, the rest of the issue’s smooth.

Especially once the focus turns to Dredd’s annoying robot. Wagner is able to follow it through the evil judges’ side of the story and since Chief Judge Cal is crazy, it’s very amusing. His jokes are a lot less forced now.

There’s some great art from Ewins at the end too.

Real good issue.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; artists, Brian Bolland, Garry Leach, Ron Smith and Brett Ewins; colorist, John Burns; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 11 (September 1984)

Judge Dredd #11

Somehow, even though Bolland and McMahon alternate the chapters in this issue–so it’s always very clear when moving from one to the next–the story flows a lot smoother. Maybe because Wagner has gotten into the middle of the story, he’s established the lunatic rule of Chief Judge Cal. He’s moving through instead of building up.

He also focuses a lot less on Dredd and his plans. Instead, it’s mostly Cal and his lunacy, though without as many new absurd jokes. Or, if there are absurdities, Wagner backgrounds them instead of bringing them out front as his focus. It works much better.

And Cal’s lunacy gives McMahon a real chance to show off. In the craziest parts of the issue–usually involving Cal having an episode, sometimes on the air, sometimes just for his weary supporting judges–McMahon just goes wild. It looks great.

It’s a sturdy, steady issue.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; pencillers, Brian Bolland and Mike McMahon; inkers, Bolland, Garry Leach and McMahon; colorist, John Burns; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 9 (July 1984)

Judge Dredd #9

It’s something of a lackluster issue.

The opening resolves the Cursed Earth storyline, but it’s the final chapter and probably should’ve somehow been fit in with the rest of the Cursed Earth issues. Especially since it’s extremely anticlimactic, though Mills does attend the character relationships he’s developed.

Then Wagner takes over with Dredd on trial, followed by Dredd as a fugitive, followed by Dredd redeemed, followed by Dredd versus a conspiracy. The compiled nature of the series comes through way too much–every few pages it stops and starts, sometimes going in a wildly different direction.

And Wagner’s characterization of Dredd, who’s shouting off one-liners, seems too forced. Wagner’s characterizations of the rest of the cast is similar–he’s rushing. There are some occasional high points, like Dredd’s showdown with a robot duplicate, but otherwise it’s a problematic outing. The constant Dredd in danger cliffhangers get tiresome really fast.

B- 

CREDITS

Writers, Pat Mills and John Wagner; pencillers, Brian Bolland, Brendan McCarthy and Mike McMahon; inkers, Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Brett Ewins and McMahon; colorist, John Burns; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 8 (June 1984)

Judge Dredd #8

The resolution to the Las Vegas cliffhanger is a little lame. Dredd just happens to get there in time to challenge the sitting judge and there just happens to be a good resistance movement in place to help out. The whole subplot–the mob being the corrupt judges of Vegas–is weak anyway.

But then Mills does a long flashback of Tweak (the alien) and his full story. It’s a nice diversion, leading to some nice character moments in the present action, as well as some affecting ones in the flashback. It’d be the highlight of the issue, if not for the finale.

There’s a contrived battle scene in Death Valley. Dredd and company versus war robots. The setup stinks and the actual sequence is fantastic. Great pacing and writing also make up for the art getting too confused.

Although the open is rough, the issue turns out quite well.

B 

CREDITS

Writers, John Wagner and Pat Mills; pencillers, Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland; inkers, McMahon, Dave Gibbons and Bolland; colorist, John Burns; letterers, John Aldrich, Gibbons and Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 6 (April 1984)

Judge Dredd #6

It’s an excellent issue. Mills sends Dredd on something of a self-discovery; he encounters all different types in the Cursed Earth, with the villainous gangs being the only bad guys. It comes as a surprise to Dredd, but not the reader. Mills has a way of trying to surprise the reader with Dredd’s humanity. He’ll give Dredd a choice and one of them seems obvious if Dredd is just a caricature, then Dredd’ll choose the other option and Mills will gently explain.

Or not so gently. The issue goes out on a real obvious note, but it’s also a strong one.

One of the chapters–the stories take place on different days of Dredd and company’s trip across the Cursed Earth–has Dredd against robot vampires, with some odd developments, but is particularly well-written.

The finale, with an sympathetic alien, devastates. Good work from Mills, McMahon and Bolland.

A 

CREDITS

Writer, Pat Mills; artists, Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland; colorist, John Burns; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 5 (March 1984)

Judge Dredd #5

Mike McMahon does the art for the first three quarters of the issue, with Dredd getting ready to go on a mission through the Cursed Earth. Writer Pat Mills does a decent job setting up the back story, though once it moves on to preparations for the mission, he and McMahon get wrapped up in showing off the goofy hardware Dredd’s going to have. It’s relatively short sequence–the initial double-page spread of a militarized RV–but it stops the story cold.

And Mills is extremely episodic so every few pages, the story feels a little different (this Dredd series being collections from 2000 AD), but most of those differences are good–if not smooth. Mills’s enthusiasm for setting construction helps one ignore his more derivative details.

For the last few pages, Bolland takes over. He gets a goofy Mount Rushmore battle sequence with mutants but it’s visually gorgeous.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Pat Mills; artists, Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland; colorist, John Burns; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 4 (February 1984)

Judge Dredd #4

The feature story, with Mega-City One under attack from mutants from the Cursed Earth, is fairly strong. Wagner foreshadows throughout the story, but gently enough it just looks like he’s doing a lot of texture. He’s enthusiastic about describing the various settings; even when connections seem obvious later, when he’s introducing them, Wagner never draws too much attention.

There’s a weird bigotry against the mutants. It’s very matter of fact and institutionalized. While Dredd is harsh, Wagner–and the comic–subtly work to make sure it isn’t glib. In the second story, a short one about a judge getting killed, Wagner has an unsurprising plot twist at the finish. But Dredd’s reaction to the twist and the story’s resolution are where Wagner most visibly gets to show the sincerity.

Some excellent Bolland art at the beginning–and for the disaster scene; Ron Smith does okay enough on the rest.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; artists, Brian Bolland and Ron Smith; colorist, John Burns; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 3 (January 1984)

Judge Dredd #3

It’s an awesome issue with Judge Death getting freed. The story has clear chapters, from the original 2000 AD progs, but the way Wagner brings it together–the changing focus on the first few–the both awesome and lackluster finish… it works out beautifully.

The issue also brings back Anderson, after her brush with Judge Death, and gives her and Dredd a rather amusing reunion. There’s no tenderness to it, which just makes it all the better. Wagner does get in some tenderness–not really towards one another, but Dredd letting his guard down for a moment–towards the end.

The cohesive story–the lackey breaking Death out, the revelation of the rest of the villains, the revelation of their plan. Wagner does really well with his plotting. He never rushes, never tries too hard.

And the Bolland art is gorgeous; both futuristic and horrific. It’s a great comic book.

A 

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; artist, Brian Bolland; colorist, John Burns; letterers, Tom Frame and Tony Jacob; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 2 (December 1983)

Judge Dredd #2

This issue has stories where Dredd is stationed on the moon. There’s a bit too much of the Wild West mentality to it–which early 2000 A.D. progs often did with Americans in the future, so I guess it fits; the cowboy hats are still annoying.

The first story has Dredd dealing with a disaster caused by some bank robberies. Their comeuppance is a little lackluster–Wagner really likes the dry humor in this issue’s four stories. He goes too far with it most of the time.

In a two-part story, Wagner compares televised athletics and war on the moon–it’s supposed to be more humane, of course. Dredd keeping his helmet on while in a soldier uniform is goofy, but it’s okay.

Even the best story–Dredd’s robot gets a romantic interest–has its problems.

The last story’s a predictable, if amusing, bank robbery one.

Great art throughout.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; artist, Brian Bolland; colorist, John Burns; letterers, Tom Frame and Tony Jacob; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Judge Dredd 1 (November 1983)

Judge Dredd #1

Of the three stories in this issue–this Judge Dredd series being a reprint series, the first one is the best, but the third one has the best writing from John Wagner.

The first story introduces Judge Death. With Brian Bolland on the art–for all the stories–Judge Death is extremely detailed, extremely realistic, extremely creepy. The story takes an interesting turn at the end, with Wagner deftly letting Judges Dredd and Anderson in on something the reader (and everyone else) finds out later. Wagner just doesn’t do the “Dredd coda” well.

The second story is a futuristic murder mystery/conspiracy thing. It’s perfectly fine, with some nice art from Bolland. It just isn’t memorable past some of the future details.

The final story–Dredd versus a street gang–has Wagner presenting the series’s mindset beautifully. And he scores with the “Dredd coda,” the stories’ capstone on the law.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writer, John Wagner; artist, Brian Bolland; colorist, John Burns; letterer, Tom Frame; editor, Nick Landau; publisher, Eagle Comics.

Batman 400 (October 1986)

830781

I hate this comic. I hate how DC used it, I hate how Moench writes it, even if it was an editorial decision.

There are nods to Moench’s run, but only so far as he gets to give each of his characters a page to sort of say goodbye. There’s no closure on any of the story lines, not a single one.

There’s also a lot of crappy art. It’s an anniversary issue with a lot of big names drawing either poorly or against their style. Rick Leonardi and Arthur Adams are some of the worst offenders, but not even Brian Bolland does particularly well. Ken Steacy is the only decent one.

Moench’s writing for a different audience than usual, the casual Batman reader, not the regular. Apparently he thinks the casual readers like endless exposition and incredible stupidity. It’s a distressing, long read; a terrible capstone to Moench’s run.

D- 

CREDITS

Resurrection Night!; writer, Doug Moench; pencillers, John Byrne, Steve Lightle, George Perez, Paris Cullins, Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams, Tom Sutton, Steve Leialoha, Joe Kubert, Ken Steacy, Rick Leonardi and Brian Bolland; inkers, Byrne, Bruce Patterson, Perez, Larry Mahlstedt, Sienkiewicz, Terry Austin, Ricardo Villagran, Leialoha, Kubert, Steacy, Karl Kesel and Bolland; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterers, John Costanza and Andy Kubert; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Camelot 3000 12 (April 1985)

4085.jpg

So, I’ll just spoil a little of Camelot 3000‘s finish, not all the details, though there are a lot and all of them are dumb. Anyway, the comic ends with a somewhat cute alien pulling Excalibur from a stone in the far flung future.

It’s kind of like the end of 2010. It’s an amusing scene and Bolland gives it a lot of grandeur. Too bad the pages previous to it are lame. Not the art, of course, but Barr’s story. It’s dreadful.

He also seems to have done the whole subplot with the gender-changed Knight to give Bolland an excuse for a lesbian sex scene. It’s nearly tasteful, but there are some really tasteless additions to plummet it.

The ethnic supporting Knights both get weak send offs and the Modred conclusion’s silly.

It’s a bad finish to a bad series. Bolland and Austin deserved a much better project.

CREDITS

Long Live the King!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Terry Austin; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

Camelot 3000 11 (July 1984)

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Why would Morgan LeFay resurrect Isolde and let her work against Morgan’s evil plans? It makes absolutely no sense, but I guess it doesn’t matter because the Earth events this issue have no bearing on the actual story. Barr’s just filling space.

The adventures on the mysterious tenth planet aren’t bad though. I mean, they get bad at the end, when Barr reduces his cast to two or three important characters and ignores everyone else… but it’s not bad at the start. For once, Barr has something for the Knights to do. Shame it took him until the second to last issue.

There’s some cool stuff with the aliens too. Barr’s a lot bigger on gender equality than his soft handling of his historically rapist protagonists suggests. He gets so close this issue, I expected him to address it.

He does not.

This issue is probably a whole third good.

CREDITS

War!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Terry Austin; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

Camelot 3000 10 (March 1984)

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I get Barr’s dramatic thrust now–Merlin’s been kidnapped, Modred has the Grail, but I can’t remember what the series’s initial dramatic thrust. What was Arthur back to fix? Was it the unhappiness of human race or was it to drive the aliens off the planet?

He failed the second in the comic and I assume the first too, even though Barr has basically forgotten there are people in Camelot‘s world besides his main cast.

This issue has visual throwbacks to both Tron and the Flash Gordon movie. Not sure either of those films should be a visual source guide; also not sure who’s to blame, Bolland or Barr.

The art’s decent, though it shows signs of a rush again. Austin apparently can’t work miracles.

There’s a neat implication Morgan LeFay can’t have any contact with other people because her back fungus eats them. Makes one wonder if she’s lonely.

CREDITS

Prelude to War!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Terry Austin; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

Camelot 3000 9 (December 1983)

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Barr really doesn’t know what to do with a big cast, does he? I keep forgetting about the Japanese Knight of the Round Table and the black one. The Japanese guy is actually Lancelot’s son, but Barr hasn’t explored the subplot, which is too bad.

The art, from Bolland and Austin again, is great. Too bad the story isn’t. Some of the problems do come from Bolland’s composition though. It was unclear the Earth had been overridden with the aliens; Bolland could have established that setting better. He doesn’t.

There’s a lot of flashbacks to Old Camelot this issue, most of them revealing how awful the characters behaved. Arthur tried to drown his son? The transgender (now female) knight used to rape peasant girls? Barr doesn’t acknowledge they don’t seem any better than Morgan LeFay. A lot less amusing in fact.

At least it’s a relatively fast and painless read.

CREDITS

Grailquest 3000; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Terry Austin; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

Camelot 3000 8 (September 1983)

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The art this issue, with the Austin inks, reaches an outstanding level. It makes the comic worthwhile, which is good, since Barr’s plotting is a disaster.

He continues the betrayal subplot, then decides to force an entire issue out of it by contriving a complication. Worse, he keeps complicating the situation to contrive more pages. Sure, the art’s great, but it’s an utterly pointless narrative.

One can see Barr’s outline–this issue ends with the quest for the Holy Grail returning. Why is the Holy Grail important, because of Arthurian legend… but Arthurian legend only has as much to do with Camelot 3000 as Barr forces it to have.

He’s also got this relatively new character (the girlfriend for the girl who used to be a guy) who’s the stupidest human being on the planet. And Barr’s future has a lot of overpopulation.

Or maybe it’s just Barr being lazy.

CREDITS

Betrayal; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Terry Austin; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

Camelot 3000 7 (August 1983)

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Terry Austin takes over inks and immediately the art starts looking great again. Bolland (or Austin) even manages some backgrounds. Too bad the comic’s really, really dumb.

First off, the battle scene. Maybe Merlin magicked the Knights to survive in space without protection, but he didn’t magic all the supporting cast they meet to survive.

The two subplots Barr works on here–former Sir Tristan, current Lady Tristan, betraying the Knights for a sex change from Morgan LeFay and then Guinevere gleefully cuckolding Arthur–are exceptionally lame. The Tristan decision has no weight, but it’s not monumental (yet). But Guinevere and Lancelot? There’s no narrative purpose other than a melodramatic one. Barr’s got to keep the characters shallow and poorly written to excuse his goofy plot turns.

The art does make up for some of it, and Morgan LeFay continues to amuse, but the writing’s painfully weak.

Camelot‘s a bore.

CREDITS

Betrayal; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Terry Austin; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

Camelot 3000 6 (July 1983)

Dick Giordano pitches in to help ink (or finish) and it’s a small disaster. This issue takes a completely different tone thanks to the art change. It’s the faces, really. The detail is gone from them.

After what’s so far the series peak last issue, Barr returns the comic to a middling affair. Arthur and Guinevere are getting married, which brings in questions about Arthur as the savior of the human race. Barr hasn’t thought it out. He also mucks around with the duality between being a regular person and a reincarnated one. Like I said, middling.

Barr doesn’t even keep up the tension through the comic. There’s a lot of drama, but it relieves, then tenses again. Barr never gives the reader enough information to know what’s going on with all the characters.

Camelot 3000 was DC’s first twelve issue maxi-series; I think Barr needed some more issues.

CREDITS

Royal Funeral; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland, Bruce Patterson and Dick Giordano; inker, Patterson and Giordano; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

Camelot 3000 5 (April 1983)

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Well, it’s only taken Barr to the fifth issue but he’s finally made Camelot 3000 a compelling read.

He opens with Morgan LeFay’s story and it’s a good one. The finish is ludicrously contrived–without any acknowledgment of the contrivance–but the idea of a medieval witch who goes off to space and revolutionizes an alien race is a gleeful homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Then Barr moves on to the Knights of the Round Table, who are bickering amongst themselves and generally unhappy with their newfound lot in life. The characters all of a sudden become interesting with all this turmoil and the issue benefits from it.

As for Barr’s characterization of Arthur as slightly deranged and a hopefully murderous cuckold… it’s interesting for a mainstream comic to say the least.

And Bolland does well in this contained setting. He’s not lazy here and he has some fantastic panels.

CREDITS

The Tale of Morgan Le Fay!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Bruce Patterson; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

Camelot 3000 4 (March 1983)

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Bolland’s art gets downright lazy quite a few times this issue and not with his white backgrounds either. He’s losing control of faces here; no matter how many iconic double-page spreads he does, he’s not going to make up for lazy faces.

The issue’s weak overall. Barr’s vision of future governments is incredibly similar to modern ones–the United States, China, some vague Soviets and even more vague Africans. And for all the multiculturalism of the resurrected Knights of the Round Table, Barr’s not above an evil gay dude at the United Nations out to spoil the heroes’ fun.

As for the heroes, Barr uses the human character to state the obvious. It’s annoying at the start of the issue and insufferable by the end.

Bolland also shows another weakness… the inability to make a big battle scene interesting. It’s sad seeing such good illustrating with such weak composition.

D 

CREDITS

Assault on New Camelot!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Bruce Patterson; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Camelot 3000 3 (February 1983)

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What a goofy ending. Barr’s going for fifties sci-fi, which doesn’t seem appropriate, especially since he doesn’t have any humor about the book. Camelot 3000 is all very straight-faced, even Queen Guinevere’s futuristic battle garb being comic book female hero trampy. Meanwhile, Lancelot gets a bitching set of space armor.

Barr handles the love triangle unexpectedly, which starts the issue off on better footing than it finishes. He also reveals the source of the alien invasion, contriving a connection to the resurrected Knights of the Round Table. Why’s it contrived? Because he didn’t write the first issue with the revelation incorporated. The series would be much stronger if he had.

Bolland draws a lot of different stuff this issue, lots of future Earth locales, but he continues to ignore backgrounds once he’s done an establishing panel or two. The comic suffers for that decision.

Still, it’s mildly engaging.

CREDITS

Knight Quest!; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Bruce Patterson; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

Camelot 3000 2 (January 1983)

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This issue’s goofiness isn’t all Barr’s fault. For instance, Bolland’s the one who reduces a riot scene to three people against a white backdrop. Guess he didn’t want to take the time on backgrounds.

But amidst the combined, considerable goofiness, there are a couple good things coming through. First is the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot and the queen whose name I can’t remember. Guinevere? Anyway, Barr continues it straight–they’re all reincarnated or resurrected, but the history exists. It gives Camelot some actual volume, which the series desperately needs. The human protagonist from the first issue is barely present here. Barr uses him to do a Marvel-style recap of the first issue but nothing else.

The other good part is Merlin and Arthur’s bickering. Merlin treats Arthur like a moron. It’s funny, especially since Bolland draws Merlin so mean.

The art’s masterful, but boring. Maybe it’s the subject.

CREDITS

Many Are Called…; writer, Mike W. Barr; penciller, Brian Bolland; inker, Bruce Patterson; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.


Contemporaneously…

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