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.

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