4.22.2009

4.22.09 Reviews (Part 1)

Detective Comics #853 (DC): So, a few years ago I pitched a (solicited) script to a certain Bat-Editor (who shall remain nameless) called The Waynes. The story was modeled after the 12 issue series DC had previously published called The Kents by John Ostrander, Tim Truman, and Tom Mandrake, and similarly chronicled a few generational exploits of the Wayne Family. It began hundreds of years ago near Dunfermline, in the Scottish Highlands with a character named Ciaran Wayne. There were some real world bits woven in like William Wallace and the Battle of Stirling Bridge. It followed the Waynes across Europe, through Silk Road trading, emigration to the New World, and the initial founding of Gotham City by Dutch settlers along the Jersey Coast. It talked about the land grabs and business ventures and the amassing of the Wayne family fortune, touched on a judge in Gotham named Solomon Wayne, the building of Wayne Manor, depicted Bruce’s father Thomas Wayne being born in 1939 (not coincidentally), and listening to the old pulp radio serials like The Lone Ranger and The Shadow in his father’s office near Park Row (before it became Crime Alley). I touched on The Phantom Stranger, because there were some old oblique references in DC lore about Thomas maybe in fact being The Phantom Stranger, and even had a really priceless scene in which Thomas gives Martha the pearls one year for Christmas. Yes, those pearls. The very last panel of the very last page of this series showed Thomas and Martha in the hospital as Bruce was being born. The last words spoken were the couple naming the child in a sufficiently rousing manner: “Bruce. Yes, we'll call him Bruce. Bruce Wayne.” Of course, in the back of my mind I also had grandiose visions for an entire line of DC books done in this fashion. After the (critically) successful The Kents, and my own The Waynes, there could be The Jordans, The Graysons, The Allens, The Princes, and so on and so forth. I got a very cordial rejection letter from said Editor essentially indicating that while the script had some positive attributes and redeeming qualities, there was no way in hell DC Comics would ever publish such a series that would knowingly detract from the enigmatic nature of The Bat by pinning down an actual lineage or birth date/year. That just wouldn’t line up with an already compressed continuity and would ultimately be limiting to the property and stories to be told by other writers. Now, I’m not saying that DC took my idea for the last page of this comic. I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there who have imagined the origin of Bruce Wayne (not Batman per se, but The Waynes, inclusive of Bruce) and may have even dreamed up a birth scene – I mean, this is a pretty common storytelling tool in genre fiction, the end that is not actually the end, but just the beginning. At the time I kind of understood the reasoning. Of course, in my mind I crafted a snotty response to the Editor citing the strength of the Elseworlds line centering on its guiding operating principle being the deliberate rejection of said continuity, which was ultimately liberating, and not limiting. And seeing how this issue ends, I think the point the Editor made is moot all the more. If Grant Morrison is going to reintroduce the multiverse or whatever concoction of storytelling goo he came up with in the Final Crisis milieu (52 worlds of infinite timelines stemming from a single chronal source or some such), then what does it matter if Bruce has a birth year? Everyone will live and die in alternate timelines, repeatedly, in perpetuity; within that context, assigning a fictional character a birth date neither adds nor detracts any value provided any writer can come along and simply choose to embrace or ignore all that has come before. But, I digress… It was however, pleasantly jarring (is that an emotion?) to see something I’d imagined in issue #853 of Detective Comics. I think it’s indicative of one of Neil Gaiman’s core strengths as a writer to tap into some primordial collective consciousness about this character and show the fans something they themselves have felt or dreamed of. Now that I’ve spoiled the end for you, let’s get to the review. Gaiman & Kubert’s tale of lament for the dearly departed wraps up the light speed tour of the many incarnations of the Bat. It’s as if we’re seeing the literal shutting down of all his different lives and deaths; the doors are being closed and locked, the lights turned off. Tonally, it dredged up memories for me of Lucifer Morningstar closing down Hell and giving the key to the front gate to Lord Morpheus in The Sandman. Gaiman was brought in to do to Bats what Alan Moore did to Superman 23 years ago. In my recollection, the Batman story is better, perhaps because of my personal fondness for this character. In typical inter-texutal fashion, I loved Gaiman’s allusions and homages to Goodnight Moon, the revered children’s book by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. Artistically, Kubert shines here as he delivers panels in the style of Dave Gibbons, Tim Sale, Jim Lee, Jerry Robinson, etc., and provides little flourishes like the posture of a seated Nightwing, or the lapel pins of The Mad Hatter. Gaiman’s stories typically carry some meaning about the act of storytelling itself. Not only does he do that here, but he also has a nice callback to Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Bruce utters “Are you real?” reminding us of Moore’s line about fictional stories - “Aren’t they all?” Bruce confesses “I don’t think it matters” which Batman I am. He knows that even if Bruce is dead, Batman will live on because guys like Dick Grayson will “carry on” the costume and ideal. Martha essentially tells Bruce that he’s dead… until next time. It's a nice bit of reflexive self-awareness to pose that Bruce’s death is as real as it can be in a fictional world where reincarnated stories are common with characters not bound by corporeal laws of life and death. Gaiman set out to craft a self-described “love letter to 70 years of Batman stories” and succeeds almost entirely. Though this reveal would have been extremely telegraphed, I was disappointed to learn that the figure Bruce speaks with in his mind was not Death, but his mother Martha. Ultimately, having the character turn out to be Death would have “violated” the continuity segregation between the DCU proper and Vertigo, but I think that act would have nicely proven the point of this entire affair. Continuity is meaningless in the context of great stories and fictional characters. Batman technically met Dream before the Vertigo line even launched, so why can’t he meet his sister Death upon his own? Continuity be damned. Grade A.

X-Force #14 (Marvel): The Messiah War crossover with Cable continues. Clayton Crain’s art is really fun! The dialogue is serious, but not without some perfect played irony: “And Wade, of course. Our fates seem intertwined. God help me.” Deadpool still tries to steal the show with his hail storm of sing song bullets. Dark foreboding with “Sleeping God” and Archangel’s sudden disappearance. The rapport and trust between Warpath and Wolverine is amazing: “James will die before he lets Hope fall.” These lines have a downtrodden, lyrical quality that I really respond to. Laura and Hope’s unlikely bond continues to develop; it’s full of cold truth, but also sort of caring in a way. X-Force has gravitas, humor, and a lot of pure entertainment. It is the perfect summer action flic. I’m going to probably catch some heat for saying this, but I think this might be the best X-Men book coming out at the moment! Grade A-.

Astonishing X-Men #29 (Marvel): This (late) book continues to be all over the place, manic bouts of brilliance mingled with confusion bordering on incompetence. It opens with a very forced monologue from Emma. Really Warren, read your dialogue out loud before committing it to the page. At least the plot is finally advancing, but I have to contend with lines like “I couldn’t pick Logan up without doing myself a near fatal mischief.” Umm. What?! I don’t know what that means. It’s worded so awkward and clumsy. Artistically, Bianchi gives us some very lavish scenes, and then some that are totally devoid of backgrounds with no rhyme or reason. His art is stylish, but that begs the question: is it form over function? Breathtaking shots of Wundagore Mountain. Then Cyclops doing weird homoerotic Playgirl poses. Emma looks like Priscilla Presley. This title is still diverting, but I just expect more from this creative team. I keep wondering if I should drop it, but oh well, it’s not as if there’s any urgency to the decision. I’ll have months to decide before the next issue hits. Grade B.

3 Comments:

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Matt C said...

That was a great review for Detective. Your pitch for The Waynes sounds enormously intriguing to say the least - not only do I not understand the reasons for DC rejecting it (as you say, it could fall under the Elseworlds banner) but I'm equally surprised they haven't tried something similar before. I'm sure if someone like Grant Morrison came up with a similar idea they'd jump for it though!

 
At 4:19 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks for the kind words, Matt. What did you think of 'Tec 853? Seems that either people are loving it or hating it, with no real middle ground.

Also thanks for the feedback on the rejected script. I've written quite a few scripts and honestly felt that was one of my strongest, I really wanted to see it myself, just as a fan! But oh well, some relative nobody is probably not going to get a shot at "The Waynes" origin when DC has all of the big guns like G'Mo and Gaiman to use!

 
At 7:02 AM, Blogger Matt C said...

Big thumbs up for #853, review will be up later.

 

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