Category Archives: Comic Book Reviews

Saint Bruce and the Batman

As mentioned previously I haven’t been buying 52 on a weekly basis, prefering to read it in collected format, but I did give in and pick up the issue for Week 24 given Jim Roeg’s allusive review. Given that precedent, then, all it took was J.G. Jones’ ingenious cover to make me pick up Week 30 no matter what was inside.

The icon of Bruce Wayne slaying his cape and cowl a la Saint George and the Dragon is perfect on so many levels, I think it is the best cover of a series without a single bad one, if not the Image of the Year outright.

sidebyside.JPG

Since I bought it, I figured I might as well read the insides, and while doing so I had exactly the same thoughts as Caleb Mozzocco, but since he posted them first I’ll quote him:

The history of the Batman, for example, sounds an awful lot like what Grant Morrison told Newsarama.com in an interview was his vision of Batman’s personal history, and some of the lines read like they poured right out of Morrison’s finger tips (Not only the “Defeat me and the ten-eyed surgeons of the empty quarter will come to slice out your demons,” but even the offhand comment about the Joker being “this crazy, brilliant clown running around”).

That last phrase reminded me of the same interview, in which Morrison conceived of the past 62 years of Batman continuity as fitting into Batman’s career overall. We can now see that this interview basically functions as a gloss on the first three pages of this issue, a more self-conscious elaboration of Batman’s timeline:

So before starting the book [i.e., he flagship Batman title], I read through every Batman story I own and tried to synthesize all of the portrayals — from the ’30s to the present day — and all that history into the real life of a single extraordinary man. When you condense nearly 80 years [No idea how he figures that. –Nobody] of Batman’s adventures into a little more than ten years of Bruce Wayne’s life, his descent into grimness becomes not only clear but quite understandable! And the need to get him out of it is even more urgent.

The very rough timeline I have in my head runs as follows — 19 year old Bruce Wayne returns from his journey around the world and becomes the (1930s style) Dark Avenger Gothic Vigilante Batman for his first year of adventures. Then, aged 20, he meets Robin and his whole outlook changes — now he has responsibilities, he becomes less reckless, now he has a partner, he lightens up and learns to have fun again for the first time since his parents died. The police stop chasing him, the Joker stops killing and becomes a playful crime clown, and Gotham is bright and crazy like Vegas. Batman’s having the time of his life in his early 20’s, fighting colorful villains and monsters with his irrepressible young pal.

In 52, Dick Grayson narrates:

I made him laugh, and he was like the greatest big brother you could ever imagine. Those were pretty colorful years in Gotham, when it seemed like anything could happen and it was our town. The Joker gave up being a murderer for a while and there was just this crazy, brilliant clown running around.

It’s not surprising that his terminology in the interview should match the language used in 52, since he specifically mentions issue #30 below, so he was probably working on or had recently finished the issue when he gave the interivew. To continue then:

But by the time he’s in his mid-20s things are starting to go wrong — the first Robin leaves to go to college and hang out with the Teen Titans. Batman enjoys a period as a swinging bachelor for a couple of years but it’s not long before the hammerblows start to fall — in rapid succession, the now-homicidal Joker kills Jason Todd, the new Robin, and maims Barbara (Batgirl ) Gordon, Bane breaks Batman’s back, then Gotham is devastated by earthquakes, plagues and urban warfare, the Joker kills Jim Gordon’s beloved wife, Jason Todd returns corrupted, and a betrayal by his superhero friends leads Batman to the creation of Brother Eye and leads him on to Infinite Crisis where Batman winds up pointing a gun at Alexander Luthor’s head before deciding to leave Gotham for a year.

So it turns out that this was literally a panel-by-panel description of pages 2 and 3 of 52 #30, except that the comic book leaves out the Joker killing Sarah Essen Gordon and adds the death of Tim Drake’s father.

Thinking about it this way, the grim Batman of the last decade or so makes a whole lot of sense — the guy went from cool, assured crimefighter to shattered ***-up, barely clinging on with his fingernails. His mission, his life and his sanity had all gone off the rails. His confidence was shot. After a few years of relentless pain, bad luck and betrayal like Batman’s had, any normal man would be canceling the papers, pulling the blinds, then pulling the trigger. We had to address the effect of these tragedies and then move him beyond them.

In the upcoming issue #30 of 52 we see the post-Infinite Crisis Batman reaching rock bottom. The story of how he starts his comeback is revealed in a later issue of the weekly and it’s that revitalized Batman Andy and I are picking up on in our book.

If anything, this is a lesson to us to study every word of interviews with Grant Morrison because the man’s memory is so good he can’t help but reveal the content of future issues in detail.

Intentional Crisis: Original vs. Final

The hardcover edition of Infinite Crisis — originally published in seven periodic issues — presents an intriguing case of textual revision. For some purists it might seem a half-hearted attempt at gap-filling (to be charitable) or sales-boosting (to be cynical) that, if not misrepresents the series’ original state (after all, DC advertised the hardcover’s additions), then perhaps betrays the integrity of its first intended presentation. But I find such a revised edition utterly in keeping with the essence of Infinite Crisis. Why shouldn’t the text’s history of production match its narrative of historical revisionism?

infinitecrisis06prelimcrop.JPGThe first thing that stands out on casual perusal is that the colors on every page are both deep and vivid. This is a beautiful book that I think will prove a satisfying read, especially after last month’s softcover edition of Identity Crisis that I waited two long years to read. In the end, my disappointment with the styles of both Metzler’s writing and Morales’ art wound up justifying my holding out for the paperback instead of being tricked into the hardcover of Identity Crisis twelve months ago.

The Infinite Crisis hardcover, by contrast, looks every bit the worthwhile investment and it will be good to read it in such a format only six months after its conclusion. This edition itself concludes with a couple pages of Jim Lee’s cover sketches and a 12-page interview with Geoff Johns, Phil Jimenez, Eddie Berganza, and Jeanine Schaefer.

One of the nicest things about this single-volume edition is that there are no wasted pages, sometimes required in other collections to align double-splashes onto facing pages. They must have made a concerted effort to regulate advertisement placement in the pamphlet format so that there would be no interruptions when collected as here. [See the note on pages 226-27.] The contents of each issue are separated only by single pages, with the George Perez cover on the recto side and the Jim Lee cover on the verso in each case.

There are 242 pages of consecutive art (paginated 7 to 248 ) which I count as 14 covers, 222 pages of original story, and 6 new pages. Inspired by Collected Editions and using Wizard’s description to guide me, here is what I think are the additions to the hardcover edition of Infinite Crisis. Though I followed along with the basic plot every month I didn’t buy the individual issues (waiting for the trade!) so I don’t have the original text for comparison, but using my memory and common sense I think I can identify the seams of the retailored version.

Pages 140-41: Two-page spread by Phil Jimenez immediately following the first page of issue #5, showing 80 heroes gathered in the cathedral.

The last line of dialogue on page 139 is the Ragman saying to Mr. Terrific, “Wish I could say the same about mine.” Page 141 has a caption of an “off-camera” character saying “God works in mysterious ways”, presumably the voice of Zauriel who on the next page is speaking from the pulpit (bizarrely in the center in place of an altar). His dialogue on this page would be abrupt without the “mysterious ways” line so I don’t think it was added just to fill space on the new page. Because of the room at the top left of page 142 it would seem that the line originally went here, but there is a slightly uneven panel border at the bottom right of page 139 that I’m betting was a touch-up after the overlapping caption had been removed from here.

Page 223: Single recto page by Phil Jimenez following the twelfth page of issue #7.

The last word balloon on page 222 is Hal saying “Guy. It’s Jordan. We got a problem” and the first image of 224 is Batman “WHAMM”-ing Deathstroke’s head against the ground and pronouncing “it’s over”. The inserted page fills in what lead up to Deathstroke getting knocked out, with Batman, Nightwing, and Robin teaming up against him. The dialogue is:

Batman: You joined the Society of Villains. You killed Phantom Lady. You destroyed Bludhaven. Why DO it, Deathstroke?

Deathstroke: Because they’re PAYING me, Batman. [WHAKK]

Batman: No, it’s something else.

[BLAMM]

Batman: You’ve abandoned your code of honor.

[shhnggg]

Batman: WHY? [KRAKK]

Nightwing: Because his family abandoned him. He lost his sons. His daughter.

Deathstroke: Because of YOU. It’s always been because of YOU.

Robin: You need to take some responsibility, Slade. [THOKK]

Batman: We ALL do. [KRAKK]

Page 230: Single verso page by Phil Jimenez following the (originally) eighteenth page of issue #7.

I’m guessing this is the new page because it just doesn’t match the style of the pages surrounding it. The layout of four page-width panels is very foreign to the rest of the book, and the inking (as on page 223) makes Jimenez’ art seem mismatched with the rest of his own art.

The last panel of page 229 is of the two Supermen apparently grabbing Superboy Prime while shouting “For tomorrow!” while page 231 is back on earth beginning with Alex Luthor saying, “We’re not so different, Bruce”, and ending with Batman pointing a gun at him.

Inserted between these two pages is more of the battle in Metropolis, with the top forty percent of page 230 being a single large panel showing about sixteen characters fighting each other. In the next panel down Killer Croc says to his companions, Metallo and Mr. Freeze, “Look what we got here, Robin and Nightwing. Fresh meat”, but in the following panel, eight Teen Titans and the Flash send them tumbling like bowling pins as Beast Boy says “Not with the Titans around” and Flash adds, “Later, guys.”

In the final panel of the new page, Robin is kneeling beside Nightwing, asking, “Dr. Mid-Nite? Is Nightwing–?” to which the Doc replies, “He’ll be all right. I give you my word.” Considering that the very next page (originally 19) features a floating panel of Dick’s bloodied face in a giant pool of more blood, which was the last image of Nightwing shown in the story, it seems that Didio really did intend for Nightwing to die, and that the inserted page is an interpolated explanation for why such a bloody mugshot shouldn’t be interpreted as the corpse it was originally intended to be.

NOTE: I just noticed that pages 226-27 are a two-page spread from the first version (pages 15-16 in the original format) that would have required blank pages or spacers on either side if not for the new pages 223 and 230. Since there are also spreads on 212-13 and 216-17 that work as-is, it was the spread on 226-27 that had to be adjusted with spacers. So I think it’s safe to say it was a desire not to have wasted pages that prompted DC to propose adding two new pages of story.

UPDATE (8 Oct.): I could have just read the interview in the back of the book, in which Anton Kawasaki (Collected Editions Editor) explains:

We’re also adding two new pages to this issue [#7] to “fix” the awkward way the Green Lantern spread originally fell. Damn you periodicals people for not paying attention and making us poor Collected Editions guys work harder! But I’m actually really happy that we could include these pages, and even more happy that they’re not just “filler” and actually add something to the story.

So apparently pages 15-16 in the original issue were published on recto and verso sides of the same page instead of on facing pages to make the spread work. End of update.

But it’s kind of hard to advertise “addtional pages!” when it’s just two, so I think to make it seem worthwhile they decided to find a couple more places where they could squeeze in a couple of double-page splashes, and invite George Perez to do one of them. With a half dozen new pages then DC could feel justified in trying to sell the hardcover on this point. And since the first spread depicts a scene happening in the story, they could techincally count them as part of “four all-new story pages”. The final spread, however, just couldn’t be included with the “story pages” in good conscience:

Pages 246-47: Two-page spread by George Perez immediately before the final page of issue #7.

I can only estimate between 100 and 150 heroes on these pages. Though it is technically before the end of the story, it is more of a poster style image because every character has completely recovered (including Nightwing) and the large disembodied faces of Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman hover in the top corners. Its abstractness is emphasized by the caption which is a “voice-over” lingering from Clark’s dialogue on the previous page.

The last line of dialogue on page 245 is Clark saying to Lois, “I’m sure we’ll figure out something. But until we’re back–” which is continued in a caption on Perez’s page 246 that reads “–I’d say things are in good hands.” With only the revised version in front of me it’s hard to tell whether this last fragment of dialogue was moved from a similar caption on the original issue’s ultimate page or a word balloon on its penultimate one, but it doesn’t look like there was room for it on the last page since the caption reading “Oa. The Center of the Universe” is in the top left corner.

So much for reverse engineering the text’s original state!

IRON WEST

ironwestcover.jpgI read Iron West in a single sitting. Not because it’s short, but because Doug TenNapel tells the story visually foremost, using dialogue only when necessary. I would love to list my favorite moments (the use of “engines” for instance) but they are good enough to warrant me not spoiling them for you.

Iron West represents TenNapel’s most streamlined storytelling. It is pure story. Gone are his trademark digressions on hobbyhorse issues that, whether you agreed with his point or not, sometimes interrupted the narrative a bit. Perhaps because this is a period piece, such references to our culture were simply impossible. But whatever the reason for their absence, the result is TenNapel’s most efficiently told tale, whose implicit applicability to current politics remains completely subtextual.

It’s also TenNapel’s best piece of extended sequential art for two reasons. First, his style (I believe) has improved, in both drafting and inking. His cartooning is better (compare Iron West’s lead female character to her counterpart in Creature Tech) and his shading technique sometimes resembles the look of a woodcut (particularly appropriate for a Western-themed comic).

Secondly, his unmistakable style matches the story better than any of his previous graphic novels. Though none of his comics can be categorised within a single genre, TenNapel seems to have been born to draw whatever genre Iron West belongs to.

Though it includes them, “Cowboys and Robots” is not a sufficient description of Iron West, and I was surprised a number of times by the ingredients TenNapel adds at regular intervals to his wonderful stew. My only reservation about reading Iron West: don’t read the blurb on the back cover in which Moriarty spoils the magical recipe, because it’s best discovered in the course of experiencing TenNapel’s confection firsthand.

DETECTIVE COMICS #821

I wasn’t going to buy the new issues of Detective Comics by Paul Dini and J.H. Williams III but, like Jon Cormier, when I discovered their debut was a single-issue story I no longer had a good reason not to get it. As both Cormier and warlock note, Detective Comics used to be about mysteries requiring Batman to do some actual detecting, and with #821 Dini puts the Detective back in DC. Furthermore, Batman exploits his connections as Bruce Wayne, as well the persona of Bruce Wayne “himself”, to draw out and discover the villain du jour.

The story begins with a strong narration on the first page that turns out to be Batman himself, and is continued throughout in a tone that sounds very natural to the character. Chalk it up to Dini’s years of experience on Batman: The Animated Series and its subsequent spinoffs. And I haven’t even mentioned the visuals.

But what is there to say except relish the JHWIII art, reminiscent of Jae Lee’s style but made great due to Williams’ sophisticated sense of design. As Tom Bondurant advises:

Savor its done-in-oneness, and remember the years of line-wide crossovers. Notice the painted scene transitions, the deco-font captions, the fact that Robin (!) gets a dramatic reveal. Ponder whether the opening two-page spread, with its judicious use of white impact marks and sound effect, is an homage to the Adam West show. Everything about this comic feels right.

Superman: For Tomorrow (Volume 1)

I've just read the new softcover of the first half of Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee's year-long "For Tomorrow" arc in Superman that began April 2004 (issues 204-215). Though the title was first given to Lee, who then picked a writer, one still can't help but think another artist would have been better suited to draw the subtleties of facial expression that inevitably make or break dialogue-heavy scripts such as this one. Even worse, the look of the cliched-90s villain Equus seems like Lee's self-parody of Image character design — a cyborg Killer Croc wearing Oakley shades — but the visual faults of the first five issues are instantly absolved in the sixth by the perverse but ingenious image of an elemental earth monster whose four heads are the actual Mount Rushmore!

Lee_Rushmore.jpg

(Sorry to spoil it but it was too good to keep to myself.)

Though I don't think its execution was perfect, there is no question that Azzarello's script is ambitious and provocative, asking a question as ancient as it is contemporary. Though I am skeptical of Jim Roeg's interpretation of Infinite Crisis as a political allegory, there is no doubt that Azzarello uses Superman to represent America's active role in the world and address the implications that accompany it. Not content with limiting its scope to political commentary, however, Azzarello extends the analogy from national superpower to supernatural power. The question "If you are able to prevent evil, should you?" is relevant as both a political and theological question, and the book seems to offer more than one answer by comparing Superman not only to the United States but to God himself.

Politically, the foreign policy of the US since JFK's inaugural address has been that since America has the ability to prevent evil around the world — including "tyranny, poverty, disease, and war" — it therefore has the responsibility to do so. Perhaps it is not coincidental that Spider-Man was invented only a year later with his guiding philosophy that "with great power there must also come great responsibility."

Theologically, the question of why a God would let bad things happen begs the further question, if God ought to interfere to prevent great evils, why shouldn't he intervene to prevent every act of minor evil as well? But if God intended to directly interfere with every human choice on an everyday basis, what is the point of history at all if humanity is not permitted to create its own?

Analogously, then, why should Superman prevent disaster only in Metropolis? Why not also in other cities or other countries, since he can? As a resident of earth he feels obligated, like the US, to do what is within his ability as the world's greatest superpower. But as a foreigner, what right does he have to interfere with sovereign nations? Indeed, as an alien, what right does he have to interfere even with Metropolis? Furthermore, as a practically divine being, what right does he have to interfere with the sovereignty of personhood and individual choice, whether good or ill?

Azzarello references both Christ and America in association with Superman, as he questions his appropriate relationship with the human world, but Azzarello's answer(s?) are yet to be revealed since this volume collects only the first six issues. I hope the next six live up to the profound trajectory established so far. I would not be surprised, however, if the soundbite-favoring format of the comic book prevents a sophisticated enough response to such philosophically complex questions.

On the positive side, since Superman is practically omnipotent, ethical issues are his only credible challenges, so Azzarello is using Superman as he is best used — as an allegorical representation of either divine or American superpower — and he is doing both simultaneously. But on the other hand, extended Socratic dialogue does not fully exploit sequential art, which is better suited to iconic than to dramatic narrative. In that sense, the title's immediately preceding arc, Godfall, was (contrary to the appearance of its covers) a superior exploration of the Superman-as-Christ allegory, cleverly depicting a condescension resembling the incarnation of God in human form. Azzarello's arc is no doubt an appropriate follow-up, highlighting the transcendent rather than immanent Superman, though its ultimate success will be dependent on Volume 2.

All Star Batman and Robin #3

The Letdown.

I gave the last two issues the benefit of the doubt, and even praised them for being different and doing unexpected things, but NOTHING HAPPENS in the third issue.

The first 15 pages are a kind of new origin for Black Canary but it is tedious and repetitive. It’s extremely overnarrated from a third-person perspective. When you think about how much information Miller was able to fit on a page of the Dark Knight Returns, it’s actually amazing how many words are used to develop so little here. It’s like Frank “Terse Noir-ration” Miller was raped by Brian “Dia(rrhea)logue” Bendis and produced a neverending afterbirth of faux-noir verbiage.

Running out of room (but most likely time) to develop the primary plot, Miller returns to Batman and Robin for four pages. At the end of issue #2 he showed how much could be squeezed into just a few pages, but here gives Jim Lee TWO full-page splashes followed by a TWO-PAGE splash, which gives Batman’s narration only enough room to re-cap what he did in the previous two issues. Their relationship is not advanced in the few seconds that elapse here since the end of #2, and the only thing that happens is that the Batmobile (which sprouted wings and flew in the previous issue) dives into the water and becomes a submarine. But we still don’t know where they are going. Since kidnapping Dick Grayson in the first issue, at this rate it will be a miracle if they reach the Batcave by the fifth.

The next two pages (narrator- and dialogue-free, supporting my ran-out-of-time theory) introduce Clark Kent, who is inordinately angry at the news of Dick’s abduction. He’s so pissed, he destroys the newspaper (and his glasses) with his heat vision. Big bitch-fight next issue over who gets Dick apparently.

Miller and Lee then cheat with their 22nd page, nothing but a giant S-symbol to tease the next issue. Thieves!

The timeline is also screwy because it says Clark read the morning paper (with the news of Batman kidnapping Grayson) 15 hours before the scenes with the Batmobile. Which means Batman and Dick have been driving around for at least 24 hours, if not two days. If the Batmobile doesn’t surface in the Mediterranian next issue I’m going to wonder what’s been going down in those unaccounted hours.

All Star Batman and Robin #2

Even though it takes place entirely in the Batmobile (except for four pages which include Vicki Vale’s recollection of last issue’s events), the first issue’s comparative lack of content is made up for in the second, which has 44 panels on the last three pages.

Jim Lee’s visual references to Frank Miller’s past work continue in this issue from the first page, which is an imitation of a Sin City panel:

In fact, the cars used by the GCPD — still thoroughly corrupt at this point — seem to be the same make and model as those used by the Basin City PD. But enough about the pictures.

After reading the first issue I wrote that “Miller seems to have ingenuously realized that the only way to make Robin work with regard to Batman is not to tell the story apologetically, but to totally embrace the idea with confidence and jump in gung-ho.”Even so I underestimated Miller. Everything he hinted at in the first issue erupts to the surface in this one. It is over-the-top in every way: plot, dialogue, and subtext. The suggestive undertones of the first issue explode into full-blown disturbing imagery and dialogue.

I suspect a lot of people will hate this Batman, say it’s not the real Batman, he’s too obsessive, even perverse, but we’ve seen the real Batman for over 65 years now and I say it’s about time somebody accepted the inherent absurdity of the premise and pushed it “to the MAX.”

Miller might have invented a new genre here: Camp Noir. After all, Miller insisted “Boy Wonder” be included in the title. From Vicki Vale fainting in the arms of a shirtless Alfred in the rain, to Batman hissing “sleep tight, my ward” through his teeth, every page couples the melodrama of a soapy newspaper strip with Fredric Wertham‘s fever dreams. Even if it ends up a glorious disaster, I think this is the most interesting experiment to happen to Batman in a long time and I can’t wait to read the next chapter.

All Star Batman and Robin #1

This being the first monthly comic published by Frank Miller in 18 years, I couldn’t resist buying both covers, but hopefully the successive issues will only give me one choice. Award-winning book jacket designer and Batman memorobilia fanatic Chip Kidd has provided a title design that unequivocally favors Robin’s name on both covers, whether depicting Batman or Robin. And though there are three narrators used in this issue — Dick Grayson, Vicki Vale, and Bruce Wayne — the first page reinforces Kidd’s logo by making clear this is indeed Dick’s story.

After the obligatory statement of the 12-year-old trapeze artist’s trust that his parents will always be there to catch him during their aerobatic performances, Miller uses the reader’s knowledge of past depictions of the Flying Graysons’ demise to absolutely surprise us. For the unfamiliar, in every previous account of Dick Grayson becoming orphaned, his parents fall to their deaths when their trapeze breaks during a routine, the rope being cut because the circus refused to pay the protection racket. The surviving Grayson is then comforted by coincidental crowd-member Bruce Wayne, who lets Dick live at his mansion because of his obvious sympathy with instant orphans.

Miller’s version begins by-the-book: During a routine, Dick lets go of his trapeze but when no one is there to catch him, he falls towards the ground and we already know what’s happened. [Highlight for spoilers:] But then Dick whips out a tiny grappling hook and throws it up at the last minute; it wraps around the empty trapeze and he swings to safety, kind of a lot like Batman. A clever twist, you muse to yourself. Then you turn the page and can’t believe Dick is standing proudly with his parents, arms raised in triumph as the crowd cheers the heartstoping routine.

Okay, ya got me, Miller! you think to yourself. I guess they’re gonna buy it next time. Then your eyes move on to the next panel and see Mr. and Mrs. Grayson get shot in the back of their heads by a sniper. Holy crap, Batman! I warn’t ‘spectin that. The next page, showing Dick between his parents lying in their pools of blood, overtly evokes the cover of Batman #404, the first issue of Miller’s own Batman: Year One story, but a quick consultation of my hardback edition reveals that Jim Lee did not slavishly imitate the positions of the Waynes’ bodies.

One of Miller and Lee’s improvments of Robin’s origin is simply making the Flying Grayson’s acrobatic costumes solid green. In previous versions of his history, Robin’s crime-fighting costume is usually an only slightly modified version of his Flying Graysons outfit, which is a good explanation for the notoriously garish costume, but you’d think somebody would notice the similarity and figure out Robin’s identity. Even if you don’t care about Dick Grayson’s safety, living with Bruce Wayne would make his costume an obvious liability. It’s about time somebody dissociated it visually from the colors of the Flying Graysons.

The other improvement, which Miller has hinted at, but which is already clear from the first issue, is that Batman is more of an active agent. One of the ways writers have tried to excuse Batman of the sin of having a Robin is by either having Dick discover the Batcave independently or, even if Bruce intentionally reveals his alter ego to him, by having Dick sort of foist himself on Batman and insist on being Robin. Miller seems to have ingenuously realized that the only way to make Robin work with regard to Batman is not to tell the story apologetically, but to totally embrace the idea with confidence and jump in gung-ho.

The last page of the first issue is actually inspiring, and inspired. [Highlight again:] Rescuing Dick from corrupt cops (after all, Sergeant Gordon hasn’t cleaned up the force just yet) Batman picks him up by the collar and shouts: “On your feet, soldier. You’ve just been drafted. Into a war.” Until now, it has always been Bruce Wayne who is Dick’s first contact (shut up, already!), and stories always focus on Bruce’s compassion for Dick losing his parents, then the Robin thing becomes an accidental result. Here, Dick first meets Batman, who is no longer a passive agent, as if a babysitter unable to say No to the demands of a rambunctious kid, but is a man with a plan, however counterintuitive it seems.

Though Miller has described it in interviews, by the end of the first issue we still don’t know what exactly Batman’s plan is, the only hint being Bruce’s sly comment to his date at the circus, Vicki Vale, that “I’ve had my eye on him for awhile. He’s something, all right.” Maybe because it serves to reinforce the aura of mystery around the aloof billionaire, Miller doesn’t shy away from suggestive undertones when Vicki asks what he means and Bruce ambiguously smirks, “I’ve got an eye for talent.” A minor one, but it’s yet another example of Miller’s unapologetic take on the relationship between Batman and Robin, that ignoring its inherent absurdities is not a solution. Whether he succeeds remains to be seen, but in an issue where not much actually happens, Miller has been sufficiently innovative to guarantee I’ll be there every month to find out.

Superman: Godfall

Remember the terrible covers on those Superman comics a year and a half ago? I mocked them as toilet paper and laughed at everyone who bought them, even as every issue sold out and DC ran rare second printings of each, then sold out of those.

Well, it turns out only the covers were shitty, because they were penciled by Michael Turner and inked by someone worse. But the interior art of all six issues was done by Talent Caldwell, who — though his style is undoubtedly in the Turner vein — is simply a much better artist. And his inker doesn’t have Parkinson’s, which is another big plus.

But it’s the story that makes these issues great. In fact, this is the most theologically provocative Superman story since Marlon Brando liturgically blessed his one and only son and sent him to Earth in a Nativity Star-ship. Joe Kelly’s script finally exploits the rich mythological potential inherent in Superman and makes you wish you’d thought of it first.

A standard issue of a monthly comic book, if you take out the ads, contains 22 pages of story artwork. But for some reason, in February and March 2004 when the Godfall arc ran through them, Action Comics, Superman, and Adventures of Superman evidently contained only 16 pages of story. The effect is that, while the collected story is the page-equivalent of only 4⅓ standard-sized issues, the pacing is actually improved with major story beats occurring at five semi-cliffhanger moments instead of three spread out through the arc.

The first two issues are admittedly slower while the premise is set up, but it’s worth the payoff. After rolling my eyes a few times early on, the last page of the second issue made me go “Wha…!?” and from then on I was hooked. My mind raced throughout the mind-warping third issue, pausing after each caption, trying to integrate the allusive narration piece-by-piece as I gradually realized what was really going on. After that, the second half of the arc flew by as I couldn’t wait to see how the unusual predicament would play out.

In the last month I’ve read Miller’s Year One, Sam Hamm’s Blind Justice, Loeb’s Long Halloween, Dark Victory, and Hush, Azzarello’s Broken City, Wagner’s Trinity, and even Kevin Smith’s prolix resurrection of Green Arrow; yet, though not the most perfect, Godfall seems the most innovative of all 70-issues-worth of comics. It has its flaws — you feel something missing between panels on occasion — but they are overshadowed by how much is accomplished in just 96 pages. Having dwelt perhaps too long in the gritty realism of Batman’s world of late, it felt great to be awed for a moment by a cosmic Superman story whose philosophical suggestiveness lingers even after the last panel.

Though collected in hardcover for the devoted fan with $19.95, a paperback edition was released last month setting you back just $9.95 — cheaper than buying the issues originally. Some of the plot elements suggest that it might not be welcoming to first-time Superman readers, but as long as you read the synopsis of what immediately preceeded it you should be okay.