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.

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.

The Sandman: Master of Dreams 4 (April 1989)

The Sandman: Master of Dreams #4

Dream goes to Hell, which requires the Demon as a guest star. Gaiman doesn’t have anything for him to do, past rhyme a little for the protagonist and cause some mischief. It’s a pointless cameo, though Kieth and Dringenberg do fine on the Demon. They don’t do so well later, when they have to draw every demon in Hell. Actually, they do fine on the demons… they lose their hold on Dream at that point. He feels too out of place.

The issue has maybe the most narration from Dream so far and it gets tedious. He needs to outwit the demons of Hell with riddles and so on. Intentionally or not, Gaiman’s so sincere he doesn’t have any wit. It’s all very heavy and very boring.

Just when things should pick up in the second half, the comic slows, getting more tedious. So far, Dream’s boring as a lead.

C 

CREDITS

A Hope in Hell; writer, Neil Gaiman; pencillers, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg; inker, Dringenberg; colorist, Robbie Busch; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Art Young and Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

The Sandman: Master of Dreams 3 (March 1989)

The Sandman: Master of Dreams #3

Dream’s quest brings him into a John Constantine story–and with Constantine comes a return of Kieth’s improbably proportions for people’s legs–but it’s the strongest issue so far. Gaiman writes Constantine really well, with enough nods to his adventures and the DC universe but never to the point he’s just filling in.

And having Constantine and Dream team-up gives the reader a somewhat human perspective on the fantastical things in the issue–especially since Constantine doesn’t know about Dream. He’s experiencing these things for the first time too.

It’s also nice how Gaiman doesn’t go too far outside the issue’s narrative. He doesn’t work on subplots, just the particular quest experience for Dream and Constantine’s strange encounter. It feels more cohesive, but it also feels a lot more organic. Gaiman’s not trying too hard.

Other than the stumpy legs, Kieth and Dringenberg do really well on the art.

B+ 

CREDITS

Dream a Little Dream of Me; writer, Neil Gaiman; pencillers, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg; inker, Dringenberg; colorist, Robbie Busch; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Art Young and Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

The Sandman: Master of Dreams 2 (February 1989)

The Sandman: Master of Dreams #2

For the second issue, with Dream ending up needing help from Cain and Abel–who appropriately bookend the tale–Gaiman doesn’t do a lot except continue to setup Dream’s eventual quest. He needs to regain his talismans or whatnot; all the exposition about what’s happened to his world in his absence is secondary.

Until the end of the issue, at least, because there’s where Gaiman introduces the next steps Dream may take. It’s a promised tour of the DC supernatural universe–with Constantine–but also the superheroes. There’s a Batman connection, including an Arkham Asylum visit.

The result is Gaiman doesn’t really do anything to establish the series, which is fine, but he also has a floundering Dream. For a protagonist, in a second issue, it doesn’t help. It leaves the series–and the reader–without footing when relying on the lead.

Nicely, the art’s consistently strong throughout the issue.

B 

CREDITS

Imperfect Hosts; writer, Neil Gaiman; penciller, Sam Kieth; inker, Mike Dringenberg; colorist, Robbie Busch; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Art Young and Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

The Sandman: Master of Dreams 1 (January 1989)

The Sandman: Master of Dreams #1

Neil Gaiman starts Sandman with the world changing. Except it’s in flashback, so it’s entirely possible the reader has been living in this changed world without realizing it. Except it’s sort of in DC continuity–the Golden Age Sandman shows up–so the reader isn’t really in that world anyway. Gaiman plays with the ideas a little, but doesn’t go particularly far with them.

Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg’s art is fantastic for these parts of the issue. Creepy, gory, but never overboard with it. They find the exact balance–and retain some physical humor in the art. It’s great.

Then the titular character comes in and, all of a sudden, Keith can’t draw figures in the right proportion anymore. And Gaiman’s narrating from Dream’s perspective (he doesn’t get named yet but still), but only from the second half of the issue or later.

It’s disjointed overall, but pretty good.

B 

CREDITS

Sleep of the Just; writer, Neil Gaiman; penciller, Sam Kieth; inker, Mike Dringenberg; colorist, Robbie Busch; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Art Young and Karen Berger; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman Confidential 43 (June 2010)

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I hate this comic book.

Because Kieth kills off his Kieth girl so he can make the story stop. He makes the story about her dying–not even resolving the sulfur monster, who’s never apprehended or destroyed–and how it doesn’t really matter to Batman. It’s beyond cheap.

It’s pretty clear the story–the sulfur monster thing–is stupid and not really worth reading about. It’s also pretty clear Batman going over his inner turmoil about his parents (the big revelation in the story is Bruce Wayne once shot a bird) isn’t worth reading about. So is the Kieth girl worth reading about?

Maybe, maybe not. But when Kieth wrote her with Batman, he made Batman human for a minute. He turned him into a believable, sympathetic character, which almost no one does.

As a further insult to the reader, Kieth ends the comic with his moronic, insensitive Commissioner Gordon.

CREDITS

Ghosts, Part 4; writer and artist, Sam Kieth; colorists, Jose Villarrubia and Kieth; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Janelle Siegel and Mike Marts; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman Confidential 42 (May 2010)

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So Kieth takes away the blindness real quick.

Are all Batman Confidential stories Bruce Wayne? Because Dick might have been a better Batman for this story. Kieth really likes his self-depreciating blind social worker and, while he does write her like he writes most of the other Kieth girls, she is likable (if one forgets he or she is reading a painfully mediocre comic).

So… the big problem with her? She’s got no chance with Batman. No one has a chance with Batman. So her liking Batman just makes her seem desperate and sad, which the character isn’t supposed to be, regardless of her self-depreciating remarks well she’s trying not to flirt with Batman.

Still, it is not entirely Kieth’s fault, only somewhat–I mean, if Batman can’t get horizontal with a female romantic interest, why’s the character at all interesting–he ought to be called Bat-eunuch.

CREDITS

Ghosts, Part 3; writer and artist, Sam Kieth; colorists, Jose Villarrubia and Kieth; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Janelle Siegel and Mike Marts; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman Confidential 41 (April 2010)

bc41.jpg

There’s been a blind Batman story before, right? Oops, spoiler alert. Kieth makes Batman blind at the end of the issue as the twist. He opens it with a bit of a twist too. The Kieth girl is a blind, but we don’t know she’s blind in the first issue. So it’s a surprisingly character trait revelation in the second issue. How exciting.

I thought Kieth had done a Batman comic before, but if he has done so… no one edited him or told him where he was lame. Because he’s got some really lame stuff going on here. Batman’s crushing on the girl. And he can’t shut up about it.

Batman and crushing aren’t two words I think anyone would say should be in a sentence together. Even when Batman has a romance, he doesn’t crush; especially not since Kieth draws the girl to look pretty young.

Icky bad.

CREDITS

Ghosts, Part 2; writer and artist, Sam Kieth; colorists, Jose Villarrubia and Kieth; letterer, Sal Cipriano; editors, Janelle Siegel and Mike Marts; publisher, DC Comics.

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