Singles Going Steady 6/19/2013: Two Snyders, One Superman

A comic review article by: Tyler Gross, Nick Hanover, David Fairbanks, Shawn Hill, Daniel Elkin

 

Singles Going Steady is Comics Bulletin's weekly single issue review roundup.

 

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Batman #21

(Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, FCO Plascencia; DC)

 

 

If I can pretend for a minute that Comics Bulletin is an ancient, yellowed newspaper in my grammy gram's basement, then allow me to say that I enjoy being "on the superhero beat." The more these characters drift into the mainstream, the more I enjoy writing about them from the primordial paper puddles that gave them birth. Sure, I read other comics, but there's something special about saying, "Yup, I'll take that one," and being able to enter and re-enter this superhuman world created to give us escape and a taste of hope.

 

 

So. A Batman origin. There's a certain weight to all of this because a Batman origin is not something that's been done a ton of times, though it seems like people are always thirsting for his rookie year. This is largely due in part to the classicness of Frank Miller's and David Mazzuchelli's Batman: Year One, but beyond that, it's also because of the way Batman's origin works. For minute, if we can, let's compare to Superman (which we can cause I'm steering this goddamn ship). Superman is a character whose origin is in a constant state of flux and has been told with subtle nuances dozens and dozens of times. By understanding Superman's origin, we can better understand the way Batman's works, using this negative space to create an edge, a defining line. Superman is the sun god in this modern mythology, our fiction technology, powered by the sun and full of brilliance, while Batman is the moon god, "powered" by the night and shrouded in darkness. It only makes sense that even their stories unfold in opposite directions.

Superman's origin has been told so many different ways so many different times because it occurs in conjunction with his developmental cycle. His story starts before he is even born, with his heritage, and then continues onward. By contrast, Batman's origin is a single defining instance. It's two bullets, the click-clack of pearls on asphalt, and streaks of tears down a boy's face as his world is shattered jagged like stained glass windows. Batman is created by death, born of ashes. He cloaks himself in black death itself with a cape and the second he whispers the words, "I will avenge you," the Batman is born. The rest is just semantics.

 

 

But that doesn’t mean semantics can't be fun as fuck. 

So how does this issue measure up? Quite well actually. Snyder and Capullo have reached a state of creator union that's magnificent and every image Capullo draws makes you feel like you're seeing Batman for the first time, the optimum man made cool, like the first time you laid eyes on that black cloak as a child. 

I could honestly write this entire review about how bonkers I am over those first four pages. Great great great. The sense of drama is played up to a degree that is intensely foreboding, and Synder chooses his words carefully, saying, "You want to see the shitstorm that's coming? Well, I will show you some shit and keep you guessing as to how all that shit rained down in the first place." And I personally couldn’t ask for anything more. From that point on, we have action, we have interesting character developments, and new tracks for a Batman origin. There's a Bruce Wayne that wants to stay dead, there's a creepy uncle, and a classic rogue. The story is also told in a rather disjointed fashion, which is just always better all the time.

 

 

My biggest worry here is that this story is supposed to be eleven issues. Yuck. That is almost cringe-worthy. I liked Synder's "Court of the Owls" saga, but it went on too too long. I can't say that some parts of this story don't hold merit until I see those parts, but I am cautious at this point that some of the parts we'll see will be uneven and lumpy.  Wait, did that come out weird?  

This issue definitely seems to have done the best thing that it could do and that is to justify its own existence. But it's not only given itself a reason to exist, it's given you a reason to pick up the next chapter, and truthfully, there's not much more you could want from a story.

- Tyler Gross

 

The Crow: Curare #1

(James O'Barr, Antoine Dodé; IDW)

 

 

The Crow is one of those comic properties I've known about forever but have never really explored. It's not that I have some inherent dislike of James O'Barr's classic gothic noir work but for whatever reason, I've never had an inclination to check it out, other than occasional disconnected viewings of the film adaptations whenever they pop up on tv and I'm somewhere that has cable. So I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when The Crow: Curare #1 was sent my way, but I know the image in my head was nowhere near what O'Barr and artist Antoine Dodé have created.

 

 

Steeped in the light orange and dark blue hues more common to works like Darwyn Cooke's adaptations of Parker than standard revenge horror, The Crow: Curare is a curious hybrid of those Vertigo Crime graphic novels that hit the shelves a couple years back and a somber take on The Frighteners, where an investigator starts running into ghosts with cases of their own. Our noir heavy lead in this outing is Det. Francis Salk, a down on his luck fuck-up cop whose wife and kids left him after they couldn't take his tendency to bring work home with him anymore. More specifically, an especially ghastly combo sex crime/murder is to blame, as the young girl who has been brutalized starts talking to Salk, hoping to push him to expend more energy than normal tracking down her killer.

 

 

O'Barr's writing can be a little over the top at times, with its Ellroy-like lingual jazz stylings and frequently clunky melodramatic leanings, but Dodé's art more than makes up for those extravagances. Dodé's style is minimalist but expressive, with artful framing and brave abstractions and his decision to forgo normal coloring in favor of saturation is a smart one. His is a style that is full of shadows yet subtly light at the same time, bright spots peeking out from all the darkness, details shimmering where you least expect them to. If you've been avoiding The Crow because you too had a weird preconception about what O'Barr does, then you might also benefit from leaping in here and having those preconceptions blown apart.

- Nick Hanover

 

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #1

(Gerard Way, Shaun Simon, Becky Cloonan, Dan Jackson; Dark Horse)

 

 

For me, My Chemical Romance went out on the highest note they could have, with Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys representing the peak of their creative output. That's not that I disliked their earlier works, but nothing felt as cohesive and energetic as Danger Days did. For all the death and gloom hanging over Welcome to the Black Parade, Danger Days brought the glitz and the glam to the post-apocalypse, and I've lost track of how many times I've listened to the album.

 

 

The videos for "Na Na Na" and "SING" teased a conflict between a band of rebels and an oppressive regime, with Grant Morrison and Gerard Way facing off as leaders of the old school and the new cool, respectively. There was world building going on here, and the announcement of a Killjoys comic exploring further into the world of Danger Days had me almost as excited as a third Umbrella Academy series would (am I hinting hard enough for you, Dark Horse?).

We had to wait a while, but news about The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys started to trickle out, and when Becky Cloonan became attached to the project, well, my hopes went higher still. Cloonan brings her A-game to the table pairing with Dan Jackson's colors to create a pop sensibility that is necessary for a Killjoys story. That there are panels with a style reminiscent of a Mike and Laura Allred book is further proof that Cloonan and Jackson are perfect for the comic.

I wish I had such great things to say about the team of Gerard Way and Shaun Simon, but the writing -- both the dialogue and the story -- feel both boring and amateurish. I think that this is what many people were afraid of when Umbrella Academy was first announced, that it was a comic greenlit on the clout of a rock star and that it would be mediocre at best. Way has shown us twice before that he has the chops to tell interesting and inventive stories in comics, and I have to wonder just how the writing duties on Killjoys break down.

 

 

Playing keys for My Chemical Romance since 2002, Simon was apparently involved in the genesis of the Killjoys, and while I do think that means he should be involved here on some level, I don't hesitate to say that it was likely his involvement in the writing process that soured this comic for me. Maybe 12 issues of excellent comics isn't enough for someone to assume that the faults lie with Simon rather than Way, but it was certainly enough for me. It's still not a bad comic, but I really did expect something a bit better.

I dig the world created in Danger Days as well as the art direction for Killjoys enough that I'm likely going to keep reading the series, but I wouldn't blame you if you waited for the trade on this one.

You might want to check out the videos for "Na Na Na" and "SING" before you read the comic, as this isn't a backstory for the Killjoys or their adventures but a story that takes place over a decade after the events of the music videos.

- David Fairbanks

 

American Vampire: the Long Road to Hell

(Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Dave McCaig, Jared K. Fletcher; Vertigo/DC)

 

The cover is rather non-committal. Looks kind of like a Blade comic. It's not Blade in the leather jacket and the shades, though. It's Travis Kidd, and he's not a real vampire.  He does kill them, though. He's the would-be victim who "bites back!" Though he's the star of this issue, it's not his story really. This tale belongs to Billy Bob and Jolene, two mixed-up kids who don't know how much worse the world is than them. They're not the worst kids ever, dancing to rock-n-roll in 1959 and running a mostly non-violent swath as a grifter duo through Nebraska. They're just desperate, and even more so when a vamp attack undoes their fragile harmony.

 

 

I compared an earlier appearance by Travis Kidd

to the movie Near Dark, to what Bigelow achieved with a dysfunctional would-be family of demons. Snyder and Albuquerque (story by the former, script and art by the latter) are at it again with this bunch. Jolene and Billy do their best against a vamp coven, but soon their desperate flight brings them across the path of Jasper, a sad child who "knows things" and isn't exactly what he appears. 

 

 

What he mostly knows is who is good and who is bad, which makes him choose our doomed duo as parent surrogates, and helps them find victims who are far from innocent to feed on. It can't last, as nothing in this story (save the desert and the sun) can last. It's all a shaky ground of moral relativism, though if nobody is really good in a Snyder story, some people are definitely mostly evil.

 

 

It's a rock vs. a hard place, and this long road culminates in a sacred chapel, where two vampires do the right thing as a final act with a stolen ring. That still doesn't explain who Jasper is, though, or how he's connected to a stunt pilot and a Vegas illusionist. All we know, for sure, is that they're all lost souls. You might wonder whether an episodic vignette in the American Vampire mold is worth your $7. The answer is in the dark, moody art; the twisted explosions of action; and just how depressed you feel like being by a story that leaves a few danglers behind.

-Shawn Hill

 

Deadpool #11

(Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan, Mike Hawthorne, Val Staples; Marvel)

 

Deadpool, Deadpool, Deadpool. What do I know about Deadpool? I've never read a Deadpool comic. Maybe you're like me or maybe you are a massive Deadpool fan. Or maybe you are Deadpool, a thought become reality. That seems like a thing we don't really want to get into. At this point, I will only address readers who are not actually Deadpool himself. Anyways, I am along for the ride on this one adventure, prepared for it to become more, but unconvinced that it will. 

What I know about Deadpool is that he wears red and black. He breaks the fourth wall. That's most of what I know. I decided to review this because I like the color red. It's pretty solid, as far as colors go. It's no silver. When I was a kid I told people my favorite color was silver just so they'd think I was weird. Then I fell in love with it. I think Deadpool's comics are supposed to be funny and supposed to be weird. This one wasn't that funny. I think Deadpool comics are also supposed to be violent. This one was sufficiently violent.

 

 

The real redeeming quality of this issue is that it is so weird. So many strange factors have been tossed into this pot that you kind of have to enjoy it, at least a little. There aren't a lot of other places where you're gonna see so much inherent strangeness lumped into a story with a half-assed plot., tossed in front of a superhero backdrop. I feel like the thing that’s trying to be a thing here is that the writers want you to make a WTF face the entire issue. I would like to conduct a study watching the faces of people reading this issue and measure the number WTF faces per page. Harvard has told me they're interested. 

 

 

If Deadpool is allowed to break the fourth wall, then his adventures should honestly be even weirder, more metatextual. How do you deal with the fact that you're a fictional character? How many drugs do you have to take to be capable of writing a story like that? The furthest use of the fourth wall we get here is one Batman joke. And that joke kind of just sounded like the writer sighing and saying, "Gee, I would really rather be writing Batman." 

This issue is okay. I don’t have a ton to say about it, which probably speaks to how okay it is. I might have more to say if I weren't so hungry. Does anyone wanna grab a pizza? Cool. I think maybe I was trying to appeal to the weird people who read comics like these with this weird review because I want to know what your lives are like and to do that I have to pretend to be you. Right? That's probably just a poor excuse for writing a weird review. Hello? Hopefully no one reads this. 

- Tyler Gross

 

A1 #1

(Dave Elliott, W.H. Rauf, Barnaby Bagenda, Rhoald Marcellius, Garrie Gastonmy, Jessica Kholinne, Sakti Yuwono; Titan)

 

 

If there's a consistent motif to the stories collected in Titan's new comics anthology A1, it's grotesque experimentation. Of the three stories within the collection, each has at its heart some kind of bizarre scientific excursion -- Dave Elliott's The Weirding Willows kicks it all off with a whole slew of fairy tale Frankensteining, while W.H. Rauf's Carpediem goes in a monstrous culinary direction before Elliott's second entry Odyssey caps it all off with some good ol' American super soldiering.

 

 

The Weirding Willows has the highest rate of mad science, featuring several literary crazy geniuses, from Dr. Moreau to Dr. Jekyll to Dr. Doolittle, working on a flying monkey experiment for a two letter world you may have heard of. The problem is that the story itself could stand to be less hastily assembled, as Elliott's script in this first outing least heavy on recognition rather than substance. In the world of literary mash-ups, Weirding Willows is slightly above whatever Zenoscope is putting out these days and decidedly below the likes of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Barnaby Bagenda does some great work with the art, particularly in regards to the character design and maybe in the next few outings of the anthology, the writing will catch up, but at the moment it's a weak link in a frankly underwhelming anthology. 

 

 

Still, it's not the weakest link, as that honor goes to Elliott's other entry, Odyssey, which seems to be a magi-science update on Captain America. Elliott doesn't give us much meat to chew on in the introductory chapter, instead he merely establishes that this particular super soldier story won't just involve scientific sacrifices, but human ones, too, as some kind of magic entity is involved in the search for a way to make the perfect soldier. If anything stands out in the first A1, it's the gonzo Carpediem, which feature secret agents named after days of the week going up against a super villain Iron Chef who takes the name a bit literally. Rhoald Marcellius' art is particularly notable, full of vibrant character designs and highly detailed backgrounds. Rauf's script is a little too in debt to Casanova and [insert your choice of Warren Ellis works here], but it's a fun entry that doesn't move at a snail's pace. Here's hoping Rauf and Marcellius' co-conspirators catch up in issue two.

- Nick Hanover

 

Ghost Town #1

(Dave Dwonch, Justin Greenwood, Brian Dyck; Action Lab)

 

 

Okay, so, I have a weakness for puns and stories about scientists, so opening Ghost Town with this was possibly one of the best ways to hook me:

 

 

The only comparison I can think to make for Ghost Town is to Y: The Last Man, with both comics setting up a potentially interesting post-apocalyptic kind of scenario, albeit with Ghost Town having a much smaller stage. I think the comparison is a bit unfair, as Vaughan and company had a fair share of work under their belts before starting their epic Vertigo series, but the premise, that of a terrorist organization sending bombs into the future, is interesting enough that I'd like to see what the creators do with it.

What I think really works here is that this first issue feels almost like a one-shot, effectively setting the scene for a handful of different stories to come out of it. The dialogue was mostly clever, although at times it felt a little unrealistic, and the art, while not remarkable, served the story well. Where Ehmm Theory had me curious where its plot was headed, Ghost Town has me wondering what story is going to come next, as Dwonch, Greenwood, and Dyck have built a pretty big sandbox to play in. 

I'll definitely be keeping my eye on Action Lab to see what other comics they have coming up next.

- David Fairbanks

 

Superman Unchained #1

(Scott Snyder, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair; DC)

 

 

Superman Unchained is kind of a weird entity. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it and my official stance is this: This issue isn't very good, but I think future ones might be. 

 

 

Now that all the people who hate reading are gone, let's dig a little deeper. One of the big problems here is that the two creators don't appear to be meshing well, which has a lot to do with Jim Lee being Jim Lee. I think the idea of Jim Lee has completely overtaken what his actual skills are as an artist. People only remember Lee for his bombastic action scenes and hyper-flexed super muscles, but the truth is, Lee can draw quieter scenes when people give him the chance. Think about Geoff Johns' and Jim Lee's recent stint on Justice League. Easily the worst thing Johns had written in a while, maybe ever. This was largely because he was writing for an artist who doesn't exist. If this book is going to reach out from beyond the bounds of mediocrity, Synder needs to give Lee more credit; allow him to draw scenes with emotion and not just big scary monster fights from space. I'm hopeful they'll get in their groove. Scott Snynder and Greg Capullo started off similarly uneven, but now are functioning at peak capacity. But they've also been able to consistently produce work together, something Lee has a hard time doing these days. 

 

 

Because no one is challenging Lee to be something other than what the people expect him to be, his art comes off as stale, flat. Remember "For Tomorrow"? Love it or hate it, that story is Lee's best work. Ever. He created an entirely new visual language for Superman that allowed him to be static and kinetic, stoic and emotional.

Beyond this, there are also some problems with the way Superman is characterized and the general plot direction. Snyder's Superman is a thinking thing. I had a psychology professor who once told me that the greatest farce of the human condition is to disregard the biological component. Humans are feeling things who think; we feel then we think about it. And then we tell ourselves it's the other way around. Superman should feel and do. We don't need to see him think because we can see the effects of advanced thought in the way that he interacts with the world. A Superman who tells himself to do this or that comes off as weak and questioning, traits unbecoming of a character who debuted in ACTION Comics. The reality is that Superman just knows what to do; he's Superman. Duh.

One of the strangest things with this issue is the presentation of the antagonist, which basically unfolds as, "HEY EVERYBODY! SEE THIS THING?!?! SUPERMAN WILL FIGHT THIS SOON!?! I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!? LOLZ! POW BAM PUNCH TOMATO!" Jesus Christ, can we get some mystery? For an issue that takes up a lot of pages with giant posters, you'd think the rest of the pages would be used more economically. Hide a giant space monster in some shadow, make us wonder what it looks like.

 

 

I guess I'm being unnecessarily harsh at this point. It's not all bad, it really isn't. Synder has already found a way to use Superman's powers like level-ups in video games, the way he does with Batman and gadgets, which is fun. The most exciting prospect is a challenge to Superman's American identity, which I guess is left over from WWII comics a million years ago. This is something that I'll have to wait on to say more about, but if we're getting the answer to why the hell an alien from space stands for "the American way," then I'm happy. Or at least a test of why that's even in there. Also, the scene with Lex is pure gold. 

A lot of what I have to say about this issue is "Dude, I dunno." I'm sure you'll find other reviewers out there in the semen-space of the World Wide Web who flat out loved this issue. And you'll find others who hated it or thought it was mediocre. Or maybe I'm the only one. Please send your feedback to P.O. Box 12a Asylum Ave, Beverly Hills, California. Huh? Apparently I'm being told you can just write directly below this page in a little white box with some grey letters that go away when you start typing. Yeah, that one. Weird. 

- Tyler Gross

 

Ehmm Theory #1

(Brockton McKinney, Larkin Ford, Jason Strutz; Action Lab)

 

 

Right, so, I had no idea what I was getting into here; not entirely sure I know what it is that I've gotten myself into either. A guy and his talking cat fight circus zombie little people while searching for his dad. Oh, and he's a ghost of some kind. That about covers it,

 

 

McKinney, Ford, and Strutz feel like newcomers to the medium, and they bring an energy that has me willing to excuse the lackluster art and skeletal story. Everyone involved could use some more comics work to hone their skills, but the first issue of Ehmm Theory was lighthearted and fast-paced, leaving me curious to see where the story is headed.

- David Fairbanks

 

YUP

 

Six-Gun Gorilla #1

 

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