Secret Origins Special (1989)

Secret Origins Special

I always forget how much Neil Gaiman threw himself into the DC Universe when he’d write in it. This Secret Origins Special is all about Batman’s villains; a TV investigative journalist has come to Gotham to do a special. Gaiman seems to enjoy writing those scenes–the ones with the behind the scenes, the Batman cameo, the anecdotes about living in Gotham City and the DC Universe in general. He doesn’t do well with the characters though, not the TV reporter and his crew. These framing scenes have art by Mike Hoffman and Kevin Nowlan. They do better at the start than they do the finish. By the finish, they’re getting tired and the detail from the opening isn’t there anymore.

Alan Grant writes the Penguin’s origin story, which isn’t a straight origin. There’s something modern to all of the Secret Origins here. Penguin’s grabbed a childhood nemesis–who just happened to grow up to be a gangster too–and Batman’s trying to find the guy while the Penguin’s torturing him. It’s an okay script, not great, but the Sam Kieth artwork is gorgeous. Kieth does action, he does Batman, he does Penguin, he does gangsters–he does kids. The best part of it is the tenderness Kieth shows when he’s doing the kids. I always forget Kieth really does know what he’s doing.

A self-reflected Riddler. Art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.
A self-reflected Riddler. Art by Bernie Mireault and Matt Wagner.

Gaiman handles the Riddler’s origin, which ties in a lot to the framing plot. The TV crew goes to interview him. Bernie Mireault on pencils, Matt Wagner on inks. Gaiman’s enthusiastic but misguided. Lots of monologue from the Riddler, but never particularly interesting. The details about the giant objects used in Gotham’s advertising in the past is more interesting than the Riddler teasing the TV crew with the truth. The art’s solid though and gets it over the bumps.

Then there’s the Two-Face story. Mark Verheiden writing it, Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano on the art. Broderick’s pencils are full of energy and light on restraint. It’s a messy story and a fairly cool one, focusing on Grace Dent (Harvey’s wife) and her side of the story. Verheiden doesn’t write the TV crew well and Grace Dent’s a little too slight, but it’s a solid enough story. The art is brutally violent and full of anger. Everyone looks miserable and angry about it.

Harvey Two-Face and Batman graphically wail on each other. Art by Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano.
Harvey Two-Face and Batman graphically wail on each other. Art by Pat Broderick and Dick Giordano.

The issue would’ve been better with stronger art throughout from Hoffman and Nowlan and either more or less from Gaiman. The TV crew ceases to be characters after the introduction, like one of the stories came in a page or two short and Gaiman was padding it out. But the Penguin story is good, the Riddler story could be a lot worse and is technically strong, the Two-Face story is super-solid mainstream DC eighties stuff. It’s good stuff.

CREDITS

Writer, Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant and Mark Verheiden; pencillers, Mike Hoffman, Bernie Mireault and Pat Broderick; inkers, Kevin Nowlan, Matt Wagner and Dick Giordano; artist, Sam Kieth; colorists, Tom McCraw and Joe Matt; letterers, Todd Klein, Albert DeGuzman, Mireault and Agustin Mas; editor, Mark Waid; publisher, DC Comics.

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham 4 (January 2016)

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham #4

Here’s the concept for the issue (Gaiman loves his concepts)–Miracleman sells his sperm. Women without children can get the sperm and have star children. Saves the trouble of monoliths and killer computers. You can get a star child real easy.

Some of the issue is about this woman who has a star child and she has a boyfriend who has a regular child. If there’s some deeper message in Buckingham drawing the lady and star child as white and boyfriend and boyfriend’s son as black….

I mean, Gaiman’s Miracleman is on the nose. For what should be an indie comic book, it’s really on the nose. But I can’t believe it’s so desperately on the nose. And, if the comic didn’t go terribly bad at the end, I probably wouldn’t have even thought about the interracial romance aspect as far as Gaiman’s protracted symbolism goes. There’s so much of it elsewhere in the issue, one can only look for so much.

Most of the issue is this “in-world” storybook (with really lame interludes of the lady reading it to the two kids–the star child being, you know, a little flying god) about Miracleman’s baby’s journey across the universe. It’s kind of fun. The storybook aspect. Gaiman does a lot better at writing a pseudo-storybook than he does doing a pseudo-Moore.

Then the reveal. The dude is leaving the lady and her star child told her because her star child has superpowers. It’s all about how this woman thought having a baby would make her life whole and it hasn’t because she had a Miracleman-brand star child.

It’s offensively dumb. When Gaiman was just doing lame characterizations to get to the storybook insert, it was fine. But when he’s doing that storybook to kill pages and take a load of Buckingham and he’s really got some message? One he tries to get through with inept manipulation. At least competent would’ve been interesting to experience. Inept just makes it annoying.

I might be done with Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham.

CREDITS

Book Four: The Golden Age; writer, Neil Gaiman; artist, Mark Buckingham; colorist, D’Israeli; letterer, Todd Klein; editor, Cory Sedlmeier; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham 3 (December 2015)

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham #3

Well, it’s easily the best Miracleman from Gaiman so far. Still no Miracleman, but the comic is pretty solid. It’s pretending to be high concept but isn’t (it’s actually the template for lots of the standard, and acceptable, Vertigo series of the early nineties). Gaiman tells the story of Hades in Miracleman’s Golden Age… it’s where the aliens bring back famous dead people.

The lead is the sixth Andy Warhol android. Gaiman avoids the “mystical” skillfully, maybe more skillfully than anything else he does in the comic. A big character reveal in the last few panels changes the comic a little. For the better.

Unfortunately, Gaiman’s Warhol is a weak narrator. The story of an Emil Gargunza android hanging out with Warhol–and Gaiman doing some really obvious looks at how “celebrity” functions–is actually something. Gaiman’s choices are interesting, because Buckingham is more than willing to indulge–and Warhol’s so technically predictable (as an artist), it works for a comic. It’s all on the nose, but it’s a good nose.

Gaiman’s writing of the characters in scene–not that narration–is good. His reserved approach forces involvement and investment from the reader.

It’s a good issue. Even if a solid quarter of Buckingham’s full page spreads are technically wonderful but narrative eye-rolls.

CREDITS

Book Four: The Golden Age; writer, Neil Gaiman; artist, Mark Buckingham; colorist, D’Israeli; letterer, Todd Klein; editor, Cory Sedlmeier; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham 2 (November 2015)

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham #2

Funny thing about this issue of Miracleman–Gaiman lets his didactic storytelling take it over. The issue has a couple stories, both showing the lives of “regular people” living in Miracleman’s “Golden Age.”

How regular? Well, one is a lighthouse keeper who has a secret affair with Miraclewoman. He’s a dumpy British jackass who only wants to date supermodels and has to dump women as they age, or when he discovers any physical imperfection.

Gaiman’s trying really, really hard with it. Does Miraclewoman cure him of his problem? Sure. After giving him superhero sex on multiple occasions and once with her alter ego. It’s painful, watching Gaiman go for something so desperately. The obviousness makes it awkward.

The second story is about kids living in the Miracleman future. There are a couple fun ideas, but nothing for a story. Though Buckingham certainly has a good time with it.

So far, Gaiman isn’t bringing anything special to Miracleman. By not telling Miracleman’s story, he gets to delay any significant action and judgement.

CREDITS

Book Four: The Golden Age; writer, Neil Gaiman; artist, Mark Buckingham; colorist, D’Israeli; letterer, Todd Klein; editor, Cory Sedlmeier; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham 1 (November 2015)

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham #1

Miracleman by Gaiman & Buckingham. Will it be the classic always promised? Given how much Marvel butchered its reprints of the Alan Moore issues, will Neil Gaiman–when finishing the comic after twenty-five years–tone it done to make the Mouse happy?

And what do we–the readers–get for a happy Mouse? Not Miracleman, the movie. Do we even get Miracleman the quality collection, with unedited original writer issues?

I am not a Gaiman fan. I am a Moore fan. Going into Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s Miracleman, I am slightly disinterested. I had forgotten they were going to do it. I had forgotten Marvel had been reprinting Miracleman. They’ve done such a bad job of it, the company clearly stretching its britches past the point of public appropriateness.

What does any of the above have to do with Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham? Not much. A little maybe. But definitely not much. Because, so far, there’s nothing to the comic. Miracleman is the granter of wishes. Gaiman writes about people who go see him. Miracleman makes it hard for people to come and ask wishes. But he installs toilets.

Buckingham’s art is cool. It’s an odd pairing with a superhero, but the comic isn’t a superhero book. It’s a pretentious outside-the-mainstream mainstream comic. And an okay one. But, if I were reading it twenty-five years ago, my thought would be the same–there’s only so much time Gaiman can ride on Moore’s steam.

CREDITS

Book Four: The Golden Age; writer, Neil Gaiman; artist, Mark Buckingham; colorist, D’Israeli; letterer, Todd Klein; editor, Cory Sedlmeier; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Sandman: Master of Dreams 8 (August 1989)

The Sandman: Master of Dreams #8

Either the reader is going to buy into Gaiman’s setup for this issue or the reader is going to reject it. Even before Gaiman gets into the “meat” of the issue, which is basically a lengthy monologue from Dream about the importance of Death. Both as a natural event and as Dream’s sister.

The issue opens with them seeing each other for the first time after Dream’s escape from captivity and his quest. Gaiman goes really far on the self-aware dialogue, using Death to expound on the comic book and on its protagonist.

He also goes with an inanely cheap ending; many of Sandman’s worst moments are just ones cribbed from Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing (without any of the context).

Once again, Gaiman does a montage of regular people who he doesn’t care about. It’s slightly less tedious than the overdone immortal sibling dialogue.

Dringenberg’s art annoys too.

C- 

CREDITS

The Sound of Her Wings; writer, Neil Gaiman; penciller, Mike Dringenberg; inker, Malcolm Jones III; colorist, Robbie Busch; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Art Young and Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

The Sandman: Master of Dreams 7 (July 1989)

The Sandman: Master of Dreams #7

Ah, the big fight issue. Doctor Destiny versus Dream for control of the Dreamworld. Or whatever it’s called. After the two stand-off in the diner, after some glimpses of the world going mad, Doctor Destiny has a trippy dream he’s Caesar and then the big fight. It’s the two of them against a white background. Not the most visceral setting for a comic book fight scene.

Gaiman has a lot of problems trying to make this issue work as a comic. He’s so wrapped up in traditions, he doesn’t just not do anything new, he doesn’t do anything worthwhile. The glimpses to the world gone mad don’t create concern, they create distance.

Dringenberg’s pencils don’t help things. The awkwardly proportioned figures change throughout, without rhyme or reason. Sandman gives the pretense of thoughtfulness and depth, but it’s generic.

There’s no sense of scale or character. Gaiman avoids writing Dream.

C 

CREDITS

Sound and Fury; writer, Neil Gaiman; penciller, Mike Dringenberg; inker, Malcolm Jones III; colorist, Robbie Busch; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Art Young and Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

The Sandman: Master of Dreams 6 (June 1989)

The Sandman: Master of Dreams #6

The issue takes place over a day at a diner. Doctor Destiny is trying to bring about the end of the world and he traps a bunch of people in the diner and slowly drives them mad. Or not slowly.

Gaiman makes the characters distinct, horrific, pitiable. He doesn’t have time to establish them as sympathetic so he doesn’t even try. Some of them he plays for laughs, others for shock value. Dringenberg takes over the pencils; he doesn’t do a particularly good job. There’s no personality to the art, especially not in the horrific scenes. Some of the talking heads stuff is decent.

The issue feels so derivative, so manipulative, it starts to get boring before the halfway point. Gaiman’s using sensational human suffering. Even when he writes a good scene, it’s still just a cheap trick in a bridging issue.

All to avoid giving Doctor Destiny a personality.

C 

CREDITS

24 Hours Diner; writer, Neil Gaiman; penciller, Mike Dringenberg; inker, Malcolm Jones III; colorist, Robbie Busch; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Art Young and Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

The Sandman: Master of Dreams 5 (May 1989)

The Sandman: Master of Dreams #5

Gaiman’s strings show a little too much this issue. The Justice League guest stars–well, just Martian Manhunter and Mister Miracle. Turns out while Dream was away, someone became a supervillain with one of his gadgets. It ties things into the DC universe a little too much. There’s a great bit where Mister Miracle is dreaming of Apokolips and Kieth and Malcolm Jones III do a fantastic Kirby homage.

But most of the issue is this supervillain kidnapping a housewife and having her drive him to the location of this gadget. It’s in Justice League storage, which is just a storage unit somewhere. No security. It’s idiotic, but fits the issue, where Gaiman goes the predictable route every time.

He does have a handle on the humor. And, oddly enough, Dream barely narrates. It’s like Gaiman doesn’t want him to distract from the winks back to previous comics.

Too bad.

C+ 

CREDITS

Passengers; writer, Neil Gaiman; penciller, Sam Kieth; inker, Malcolm Jones III; colorist, Robbie Busch; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Art Young and Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

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