Crisis of Infinite Comics: Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest #1-6

Tempest

Hmmm…where to begin?

Perhaps itʼs better to start at the end.

Alan Moore, perhaps one of the most influential comic book writers of our era, has for some time now announcing heʼs calling it quits. After listing his last few works in comics, he sums it all up in the latest and final LEOG story.

While Moore has certainly had his share of controversy within the comics world, his writing sometimes compared to mere “genre” writers, has transgressed that merely by being perhaps the greatest of all comics genre writers. Whatever direction heʼs taken, you can be rest assured that it will be the most clever, detailed, and at the least, obsessive approach taken to developing fascinating themes for comics. No half assed dips into the pool for Moore, itʼs either full boat involvement in his subject matter, with enough incorporation of concepts to make any other creator of comic tales feel helpless, witnessing an artist taking over completely his chosen subject matter at a level far beyond the capability of most others.

LEOG, which started as an elaborate tribute to stunning fictional characters plucked from various English literary works, spun together in a super team effort made all the more interesting due to their positions in fiction as monsters, failures and oddballs, their anti humanistic paths now working together to prevent cataclysmic disaster. Their ultimate place among humanity and itʼs price are also touched upon as well.

The first two LEOG stories were detailed, shocking tales with world changing outcomes, with the protagonists hardly suited for the lofty goals upon which they were now summoned. Moore then wraps the stories in resolutely English themes, using only characters and most situations with their founding in English literature and fiction.

Over time, his LOEG tales then took on a more distinct route, parlaying formal aspects of comics, bending his characters and the narrative, along with the reader, on a journey that must be really studied to be understood and appreciated, making you work to discover and perhaps understand why he was creating it in the first place. You are bound to Mooreʼs narrative, helpless yet willing to go wherever it takes you, comfortable or not.

This final tale, bringing us up to date chronologically and formally, is an utter distillation of all things metahuman (nee superhero) comics over the last 75 years that have been wrought upon us. Its blending of stylistic nuances, outrageous fictional characters, the inevitable team up of the heroes, all brought up for display, tells us the final fate of these types of venues, using perfectly the tics and tropes of the comics themselves to display his thesis/journey.

The grand motives of superhero comics and their heights and fallacies are all here to behold, to enjoy their miracles, yet at the same time, point to a larger vision, a demonstration of how they work, and the bases they touch upon their way to the most mega fantastic of conclusions. Perfectly linear in its progression, there is perhaps every cliche in the book used here in service of the homage, using as many types of comic approaches seamlessly incorporated into a mass narrative to enjoy and drive you crazy with its scope of ambition as well as the reserve not to take any of this too seriously. An amazing balance is achieved here between contrasting goals.

It’s also a tale not for the simple comics reader weaned on a sugar fed, monthly pulse short attention span of pablum, either. Only the mature and well travelled comics reader will spot most, but probably not all, of the winks and nods shown to its audience. There is a lifetime plus of the superhero genre on view here, and while it’s not necessary to have an encyclopedic knowledge of such things to “get it,” the well-read comics fan will be able to dig deeper and catch on more than the novice.

In this narrative, Moore brings nothing less than the totality of English and American comics history, dozens of literary references, approaches from golden age comics to the Watchmen, and a blazing framework brought together by Shakespeareʼs Tempest, no less. Donʼt be scared to venture here though, as while you may be googling or wiki-ing things you donʼt recognize, you are not penalized for doing so.

And that’s where the point here lies. Moore has taken the lifetime of superhero comics and put them into one final, master, superhero crossover spectacular-stories the big two like to whip out every season, and not only present them in all their absurdity, but in an involving tale with the highest stakes available; the continued existence of the meta human genre, perhaps the greatest threat to our heroes ever imagined.

And succeed he does. While some may not have patience for where it goes, there is no denying this is a well thought out and conceived tale, showing both the polar duality of a great mythical end of times story with a poignant presence, a mature objective point about all these things that are both majestic and more than a little sad. That while we take such things seriously as comic fans, there can be no denying the overstated importance we give them as such, and the passes we give them when they suck and disappoint.

Moore swings from both sides of the pendulum, praising superhero comics goodness, their personal touches of life we experience when reading them, and in its finale, taking its rose colored glasses(or 3D, theyʼre in there too), and confronting the reader about the final realities about such things, while also comforting the reader with a respect for such things and the inevitable conclusion we have when weʼve taken them as far as we logically can.

It is within such parameters Moore demands respect for his chosen idiom as well as demonstrating its shortcomings and their conclusion; superhero comics have gone about as far as they will go. For such a well executed and convincing demonstration I can only make this tale of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (although the members are all women by this point), my swan-song in any kind of involvement with the modern superhero genre at all anymore.

For that Mr Moore, I graciously thank you, and shed a metaphorical tear for my innocence lost and the transformation of my childhood friends.

Before I tie it up, his longest collaborator, Kevin O Neill, delivers a masterful virtuosoʼs worth of cartooning skills, perhaps his best. O’Neill furnishes this endlessly inventive dense pack of info perfectly, with each panel composed to its fullest, with no wasted space and the latest version of Will Elderʼs “chicken fat” art style a feast for the eyes and the brain. Todd Kleinʼs lettering and Ben Digmagmaliwʼs coloring are wonderfully crafted yet almost unnoticeable, contributing more layers to the proceedings to make this a total artistic endeavor of a package. Creative examples of encyclopedic talent at this level are rare, enjoy them.

So this will most likely be the last modern superhero tale I will read because of this. Damn you Moore, for waking me up, but thank you as well, for showing me the sublime beauty of my earliest dreams, and the realization that itʼs definitely time to be moving on.

Cinema Purgatorio 12 (September 2017)

Cinema Purgatorio #12

Moore and O’Neil open the issue with a story about stunt men. It’s set to It’s a Wonderful Life–like the plot beats–only it’s about how George Bailey’s guardian angel is really a stuntman. It’s rushed, without much content–though some real nice art from O’Neil–and Moore concentrates more on the mysteries of the movie theater. It is, however, past the point it can disappoint. Cinema Purgatorio has long since passed that point.

Ennis and Caceres do a bait and switch on Code Pru. The opening graphic is a lot more intriguing than the actual entry, which ends up riffing on a very popular “monster” movie. There’s some okay art, but the strip is too far gone.

Modded has a lot of nonsense speak from Gillen for the gaming and some nice art from Lopez. Not nice enough art its worth reading the comic, but it’s nice art.

Oh, I forgot A More Perfect Union, which actually manages to be the least thoughtful comic in the whole issue. Everyone else is doing something really complicated–or at least somewhat complicated–Brooks isn’t with Union. He leverages Andrade’s art against his “historically accurate” Civil War against the giant ants.

Yawn.

The Vast has evil Russian(?) kaiju. Who cares. It’s funny, Andrade’s art is perfect in black and white on Union, but it really needs color on The Vast. Or better inks.

It’s Cinema Purgatorio; I’m going to keep reading it, but I’m never hopeful it’s going to come through again.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, It’s a Breakable Life; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Clever Girl; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Nahuel Lopez. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Cinema Purgatorio 11 (June 2017)

Cinema Purgatorio #11

This issue of Cinema Purgatorio, at least for the fist two stories, is maximum effort for minimal result. Both Moore and Ennis write the heck out of their stories without much reward.

Moore and O’Neill do the “Black Dahlia” murder case, with victim Elizabeth Short narrating in song. There’s even a Marilyn Monroe cameo. Moore goes through a lot, suspects, intrigue, tangents, but it never really adds up to anything. O’Neill keeps it visually cohesive; it’s just never adds up.

Then Ennis and Caceres’s Code Pru has Pru getting a promotion (or something) after a meeting with a head honcho. Lots of effort from both Ennis and Caceres. Tons of dialogue. None of it adds up. Ennis is sort of better with the length constraint than before, but also sort of worse. It’s not episodic enough.

Brooks tackles some racism and sexism in A More Perfect Union. Not well, but whatever. Andrade’s art is good.

Modded continues to be relatively painless thanks to Lopez’s art. Nothing happens this time, good or bad. It’s not enough, though. Lopez doesn’t have anything interesting to do.

And, finally, The Vast. Some nice work from Andrade, some vague intrigue, some decent talking heads, but no payoff. Just like everyone except Moore, Gage isn’t any good at plotting out these installments. It’s not even concerning anymore, it’s just Cinema Purgatorio.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, My Fair Dahlia; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, A Nest of Anacondas; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Nahuel Lopez. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Cinema Purgatorio 10 (May 2017)

Cp10

Cinema Purgatorio is getting rather long in the tooth, not just for each of the five stories–The Vast might actually be showing signs of rejuvenation, actually–but as a concept. It was always a loose anthology, but when Garth Ennis is writing a cameo for a Predator in Code Pru, it’s clear exhaustion has long since set in.

The Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill feature is about some kids in a British kids movie–there’s history related to the British film industry, which restricts interest on its own–and their encounter with a giant hair thing. I think it’s supposed to have gotten on the film itself and they’re interacting with its physical effect on the print, but whatever. O’Neill’s got some nice establishing panels, but Moore’s beyond phoning this one in.

Then there’s the secret origin–with evil, abusive witches–of Code Pru. Caceres works on the art. It’s just so rushed, there’s not much point in that care. And then that Predator cameo… I mean, at this point, maybe Ennis and Caceres should just do a Predator comic. Why not? Pru isn’t going anywhere.

More Perfect Union gets back into the actual Civil War history, which doesn’t help it. Brooks still has some big ideas; they don’t seem likely to translate to comics any better than his last big ideas on the strip. Andrade’s giant ant art is gross and cool.

Lopez’s art continues to help Modded immensely. Gillen’s story is still meandering, albeit with a monster fight this time, but it’s still meandering. Reading Modded is just part of the Cinema Purgatorio experience.

As for the improving Vast, Gage has moved the action to kaiju training. Still abjectly unoriginal and derivative, but at least it’s more amusing. Andrade’s art does well with the sterile conditions. He can concentrate.

I was really hoping this issue of Cinema Purgatorio would be the last, if not for the series itself, than at least for Moore and O’Neill. They’re hacking out the material without much inspiration lately.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, The Picture Palace Mystery; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Havin’ Me Some Fun Tonight; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Nahuel Lopez. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Cinema Purgatorio 9 (March 2017)

Cinema Purgatorio #9

If Cinema Purgatorio were “shown” in a marathon, I think we’ve hit the point where even Alan Moore’s asleep. Garth Ennis too. But a couple of the backup guys are doing better. Sort of.

Anyway.

Purgatorio is about Thelma Todd’s death. Sadly Moore’s script for it is really boring. It’s like something didn’t work out. He thought it’d be more interesting but, instead, he’s just got occasional Batman visual cues because Todd’s lover made a movie called The Bat, which supposedly inspired Bob Kane (and, you know, Bill Finger) but whatever. So? I don’t think anyone ever doubted Kevin O’Neill could draw a giant bat.

It’s kind of fine, but in an unambitious sort of way. Moore might have peaked on Purgatorio.

So too might have Ennis. He’s got a lot of content for Code Pru but nothing he’s fixated on. It’s zombies. And not even Crossed, so it’s not even cute. Ew. Crossed and cute. But he’s just churning it out. I think there’s even a reference to the Code Pru “pilot” where she was a witch, which I don’t think he’s done before. Caceres’s art is fine. It’s not on him.

Now, I make that complaint and it usually means Ennis is going to do something really cool next issue. Fingers crossed.

More Perfect Union. Brooks doesn’t have his history text piece anymore, which is great, but his exposition is getting more verbose. Are they connected? I don’t care. It just means it’s a lot more maybe made up, maybe just for Civil War enthusiasts’ information. It’s noise. Really nice art from Andrade. He’s got good detail. It’s sort of impersonal, but the strip is also a parade of boring visual concepts.

And then Modded, which I hate having to enjoy, is once again pretty fun. Gillen’s writing characters. They’re obnoxious and thin, but with the personality from Lopez’s art, it doesn’t matter. There’s still way too much lingo and it feels like a dated post-apocalypse, so I don’t love it or anything, but I almost look forward to it. I don’t mind it, which is something; I used to loathe Modded.

And The Vast is The Vast. Great art from Andrade, little kaiju, big kaiju. Again, not personality but this time because it’s so poorly paced. Gage has somehow set up this comic one wants to like, but just can’t because it’s humorless. There’s nothing fun about it. Gage seems miserable and bored.

Cinema Purgatorio is getting to be a chore; I liked the book before Moore showed he could do awesome and amazing comics with it. I also miss liking Pru. She was really cool there for a while.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, Revelations of the Bat; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Night Without Dawn, Day Without End; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Nahuel Lopez. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Cinema Purgatorio 8 (February 2017)

Cinema Purgatorio #8

It’s an okay issue, which–for Cinema Purgatorio–usually means there’s something lacking.

First, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s feature is the history of Felix the Cat “creator” Pat Sullivan, who was a scumbag both professionally and personally. O’Neill does a fine job on the art, but Moore’s script feels like he’s just hitting various details.

Garth Ennis has a similar problem with Code Pru. There’s a long setup involving ghosts for a full page visual gag payoff. Fine art from Raulo Caceres; there’s just no depth.

Gabriel Andrade takes over the art on More Perfect Union. He does all right, though he’s a little too fixated on human character design and not enough on giant ant action. Though the Max Brooks script doesn’t really offer any good giant ant action, just boring giant ant action.

And Modded is a lot less annoying than usual, maybe because Kieron Gillen’s script goes for brevity. Nahuel Lopez’s art is awesome.

Finally, The Vast. Boring, poorly paced, but with excellent art from Andrade. Very different from his Union art; he puts time into Vast. The other was a rush. The Christos Gage script is all right, I suppose, just disposable.

When Cinema Purgatorio doesn’t have a great Moore and O’Neill feature, the whole issue feels a little too rote.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, And the Blackness Moved; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Somethin’ Weird, an’ It Don’t Look Good; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Nahuel Lopez. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Cinema Purgatorio 7 (November 2016)

Cinema Purgatorio #7

Well, it’s not the best issue of Cinema Purgatorio. Not the best at all. It’s not really the worst either, I don’t think. I mean, this installment of Modded is probably Kieron Gillen’s strongest writing. But it’s not a particularly distinct issue.

Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill explore the American Western, which is fine. There’s nothing amazing about it. It’s actually a little obvious; it’s light, which is strange.

Code Pru is okay. Ennis is trying a little harder. It doesn’t really come to anything. Maybe he if he had even two more pages, he’d be able to get someplace better with it. It’s actually an improvement over the earlier stories, it’s just still not clicking.

Like I said before, Modded is Gillen’s best writing. Nice art from Nahuel Lopez. It’s a side story from the main plot, so of course it’s going to be better than usual. Gillen still manages to screw it up at the end, of course.

A More Perfect Union has a really nice double-page spread from Michael DiPascale and some stupid Civil War reference from Max Brooks. I don’t care. No one cares, Max Brooks, no one cares. If they cared, if Avatar is really pitching Cinema Purgatorio to Civil War enthusiasts, well, those guys all left during Code Pru and Ennis’s sex positivity.

And The Vast is a reprint from last issue. I think. I don’t even care. If it’s not, nice art from Gabriel Andrade. If it is, nice art from Gabriel Andrade.

Moore and O’Neill worked up some momentum on this book and if they’re running out… well, Cinema Purgatorio is more often disappointing overall than not, it’s just they had a couple really great stories. And Ennis seemed like he was getting with it. As always, it’s too bad it’s not better.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, After Tombstone; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Men; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Nahuel Lopez. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Michael DiPascale. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

Cinema Purgatorio 6 (September 2016)

Cinema Purgatorio #6

If there’s meant to be an ideal Cinema Purgatorio, this issue comes closer than I’d ever imagine the comic would get. Even with the occasionally phenomenal, usually good, always fine features from Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, there’s not much of a feel to the comic. It’s an anthology without tone, not even in terms of the story selection. It feels like Alan Moore inserted into a bad Avatar idea.

Until this issue. It’s not like Gillen’s Modded is any better, but Nahuel Lopez’s artwork is less complicated than the last artist’s and it makes it read better. It might not make it better, I feel like Lopez isn’t ambitious as much as functional while the last guy was ambitious, but it makes it read better. It makes Modded less of a letdown when you get to it.

Because it’s not just like the Moore and O’Neill feature is great, Code Pru is actually pretty awesome. Pro is having dinner at the Nighthawks diner and she has a talk with a reject from a bad eighties Terminator/Highlander knockoff. It’s funny, it’s kind of touching, it’s kind of strange. It’s Ennis finding something cool to do with this usually devastatingly series. Ennis doesn’t have a handle on this comic, maybe because of the length, maybe because of whatever, but this time out, he finds it. He finds his character. Caceres’s art is fine. It doesn’t end up fitting well enough, but it’s fine.

A Most Perfect Union is dumb but DiPascale’s on a role with his art, both in terms of the narrative pacing and of his character expressions. He’s developing a visual tone for the comic even though Brooks’s script is weak. And The Vast is cute. Andrade’s art gets confusing, but Gage actually paces out a fight scene well.

So Cinema Purgatorio is finally a diverting read. Not rewarding in all its parts, but diverting in them. But it all hinges on Moore and O’Neill. This issue of Cinema Purgatorio opens with a political bombshell. Moore and O’Neill tell the story of the Warner Brothers–you know, the guys whose company now owns DC Comics and has made lots of bad movies off of Alan Moore’s comic books, which he infamously hates being involved with. I actually thought he was going to go further, but he stayed classy. Heinous individuals get proper treatment. There’s a lot in the story–a couple times O’Neill just gives up and lets the dialogue and visual references take over. I couldn’t help reading the feature–Moore casts the Marx Brothers as the Warner Brothers, which brings in even more politics. Today Warner owns the MGM library, including the Marx Brothers movies (at least for home video distribution, I actually have no idea if they lease them or own them or what, not the point)–so is Moore making a deeper jab at Warner? Was his King Kong feature a couple issues ago a jab at Warner? Am I reading too much into it? It’s Alan Moore, after all. Aren’t I supposed to read into it?

Anyway, the feature’s great. Beautifully visually, beautifully in terms of dialogue and the Marxist banter. It flows so nicely into Ennis’s Code Pru, it’s impossible not to be generous with this rest of the comic.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, A Night at the Lawyers; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Big Jimmy C.; writer, Garth Ennis; artist, Raulo Caceres. Modded; writer, Kieron Gillen; artist, Nahuel Lopez. A More Perfect Union; writer, Max Brooks; artist, Michael DiPascale. The Vast; writer, Christos Gage; artist, Gabriel Andrade. Letterer, Kurt Hathaway; publisher, Avatar Press.

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.

Cinema Purgatorio 5 (August 2016)

Cinema Purgatorio #5

The movie fan in me resents Moore’s title for the Cinema Purgatorio story–The Time of Our Lives, just because it reminds me of The Best Years of Our Lives and Moore isn’t doing a commentary on that film. Instead, he’s doing a thing about post-WWII culture in America, but more the fifties than the late forties. That caveat aside, it’s a solid entry from he and O’Neill. Nothing too exciting, just solid.

This issue’s Code Pru is similarly okay. Nowhere near as good as the Purgatorio but a not bad possession story. It’s unfortunate because Ennis can’t help but hint at what might be in a better Code Pru book, not just this truncated version of the concept. Decent art from Caceres but nothing too outstanding.

The Modded from Gillen and Calero is simultaneously awful (Gillen rips off Mad Max this time, not Scott Pilgrim) and competently illustrated. It’s a shame Calero doesn’t get better writing.

Ditto the More Perfect Union entry. Though DiPascale does some fantastic art this entry. Brooks barely has a script, but every panel is gorgeous. Maybe the less writing Brooks does, the better chance DiPascale has to turn the strip into something tolerable. Mildly tolerable.

And Gage and Andrade’s Vast is more tolerable than usual as well, just because there’s a little more story in this Pacific Rim rip-off.

I guess this issue of Purgatorio is something of a let down after the last one, but when doesn’t this anthology disappoint. At least there’s solid art. And Modded goes by somewhat quickly. It’s easily the worst of the bunch thanks to Gillen’s writing.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, The Time of Our Lives; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, Your Mother Knits Socks in Hell; 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.

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.

Cinema Purgatorio 3 (June 2016)

Cinema Purgatorio #3

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.

CREDITS

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.

Cinema Purgatorio 2 (May 2016)

Cinema Purgatorio #2

With the exception of Moore and O’Neill’s lead story, this issue of Cinema Purgatorio is shockingly rough. Even Ennis seems to be phoning in his story, which has paramedic Pru meeting up with Frankenstein’s Monster (called Francis) as the NYPD roughs him up. Ennis only has a few pages so he emphasizes the action, which one wishes the other writers in the issue would do as well.

First, the Moore story. I love how Cinema Purgatorio is a comic about how movies suck life away written by Alan Moore, who’s never been particularly interested in turning comics into movies. This issue is a philosophical musing from a couple Romans turned into an existential nightmare. O’Neill has a good time with it. Moore is comfortable with it. It’s a fine open to a problematic comic.

Then it’s Code Pru. Ennis doesn’t put in enough work on the NYPD brutality, but he still has it overshadow the monster aspect of the comic. It feels like he’s doing this one as a favor, it really does. It’s got a lot of Ennis ideas without space to go anywhere. The Caceres art is fine. Again, it’s rushed; Caceres would probably do better with twice as many pages. Ennis would probably need three times as many for all the notions he has going on.

The rest of the book is a writing disaster. The art is all solid, but the writing is a mess.

Gillen’s gamer thing is a bunch of jargon. Calero’s art is technically good, but he doesn’t have any narrative pacing to it. It’s a whirlwind of visuals and dumb dialogue.

Brooks and DiPascale’s Civil War thing is terrible. Clearly Brooks wants to write some kind of Civil War epic so doing it in a comics anthology probably isn’t the right place. It’s all talking. Two installments in and it’s all talking. When you’ve only got eight pages, it’s not enough. DiPascale’s art is okay. It’s the least impressive in a lot of ways, maybe because it so clearly doesn’t look right in black and white.

Then there’s Gage and Andrade’s incredibly boring Pacific Rim knock-off. Only without the monster fights. Instead, there’s a lot of talking about monster fights. Andrade’s art is fantastic but it’s a complete waste of his time. There’s nothing for him to draw.

Cinema Purgatorio having a significant sophomore slump wasn’t something I would’ve expected. Hopefully it turns around. Or Moore and Avatar find writers who know how to write stories in six or eight page installments.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, And Lost in the Darkness and Distance; 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. Publisher, Avatar Press.

Cinema Purgatorio 1 (February 2016)

Cinema Purgatorio #1

I wonder what Cinema Purgatorio is going to be. The first issue has five stories, all by different creators. It’s Alan Moore’s idea, it’s an Avatar horror anthology. The writers are Moore, Garth Ennis, Max Brooks, Kieron Gillen, Christos Gage. Avatar guys. The artists are Kevin O’Neill, Raulo Caceres, Michael DiPascale, Ignacio Calero, Gabriel Andrade. In other words, Kevin O’Neill and some Avatar guys.

Moore and O’Neill contribute the opening frame. There’s a demented slapstick short, then some musings on film and pop entertainment. I can never tell if Moore knows how strange it is to have him talk about film–when his public comments on film are always about a negative interaction with film–or if he really does just like talking about it grandiosely. It’s a strange kind of grandiose though. Moore’s setting up the concept of the book–demented Saturday matinee.

The other writers approach the matinee differently. With the exception of Ennis and Caceres’s Code Pru, which is sort of sitcom gore, everything else is in some way zeitgeist pop. Gillen and Calero do something with fantasy beasts, cyberpunk and Fury Road villains called Modded (get it, gamer stuff). Brooks and DiPascale do A More Perfect Union, which is probably going to be Civil War vs. zombies because Max Brooks (only with historical “accuracy” for Civil War buffs). Gage and Andrade have The Vast, which is fighter jets versus kaiju and what not.

The Ennis story and the Brooks story are writer pieces. But Gillen and Gage are just setting up their artists for awesomeness. Both Calero and Andrade excel in the black and white sort of horror, sort of fantasy, sort of sci-fi realm. The black and white brings out all the little details, focusing the reader on the violence of the situation. Without color, the fantastic element is gone. The same thing happens with Caceres’s art, but that one is still all about Ennis’s dialogue and scene pacing.

The Brooks and DiPascale story is the least successful. I’m most excited for whatever Moore and O’Neill come up with, but also Code Pru and Vast. Modded will be a fine read with good art.

Cinema Purgatorio is, conceptually, a success. Now they just need to ship it on time.

CREDITS

Cinema Purgatorio, The Fatal Officers in “Hushed Up!”; writer, Alan Moore; artist, Kevin O’Neill. Code Pru, You’ll Never Forget Your First Time; 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. Publisher, Avatar Press.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight 38 (October 1992)

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #38

Kevin O’Neill doing Batman is already a thing on its own, but O’Neill doing a “realistic” Bat-Mite story. Writer Alan Grant is perfect for the material–a criminal recounts his crime to Batman, this time explaining how he wasn’t hallucinating on peyote, but he was actually attacked and then somewhat befriended by an inter-dimensional elf in a Batman costume.

There’s constant drug use from the narrator so it’s never exactly believable, but there’s so much muted enthusiasm in the way Grant presents the story, the reader wants it to be real. More than just real, the reader wants Batman to discover Bat-Mite, even though they have two very separate storylines.

Grant opens the comic with a humorous tag–“this is not an imaginary story”–it’s just the ramblings of someone whose brain has been destroyed by hallucinogens. It’s really strong work from Grant–the art is outstanding and all, but Grant finds the right angle to tell the story. He plays with the Batman mythos without having to address Batman the character at all. This story belongs to the icon, not a man.

And the dimension of elves dressed up as DC superheroes fighting–with the O’Neill artwork (not to mention it being early nineties DC superheroes)–is just wonderful.

Excellent stuff.

CREDITS

Legend of the Dark Mite; writer, Alan Grant; artist, Kevin O’Neill; colorist, Olyoptics; letterer, John Workman; editors, Bill Kaplan and Archie Goodwin; publisher, DC Comics.

2000 AD 24 (6 August 1977)

144914

A not bad issue.

Invasion doesn’t have the best script, but Carlos Pino’s art is really good. Finley-Day’s definitely not writing for the deep thinker–the evil Volgs have these expensive missiles for hitting one target (one human target) a piece. Dumb but fine.

Heroes is mean-spirited but at least about the Aeroball game.

Belardinelli does an awful job on M.A.C.H. 1. Real bad. Roy Preston’s script is more adventure oriented than espionage, which does work better.

Then there’s Kevin O’Neill doing a story about a kid meeting Tharg, the editor of 2000 A.D., and being a little brainwashed into buying more comics. Cool art. The story’s not the point, but the writing’s fine too.

Cruddy art from Arancio on Shako ruins it. The strange Ratched-like nurse flops, but the writers are at least trying.

And then Dredd has a decent case; Malcolm Shaw’s writing is good.

CREDITS

Invasion, Hadrian’s Wall; writer, Gerry Finley-Day; artist, Carlos Pino; letterer, Jack Potter. Harlem Heroes, Part Twenty-four; writer, Tom Tully; artist and letterer, Dave Gibbons. M.A.C.H. 1, King Karat; writer, Roy Preston; artist, Massimo Belardinelli; letterer, Tony Jacob. Tharg the Mighty, Tharg and the Intruder; writer and artist, Kevin O’Neill; letterer, Peter Knight. Shako, Part Five; writers, Pat Mills and John Wagner; artist, Arancio; letterer, Jack Potter. Judge Dredd, The Wreath Murders; writer, Malcolm Shaw; artist, Mike McMahon; letterer, John Aldrich. Editor, Kelvin Gosnell; publisher, IPC.

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