Today on the site, Tom Kaczynski returns with his Event Horizon column, this time focusing on a Batman comic he finds particularly revealing.
Batman: Son of the Demon (BSOTD) falls squarely into the "traditional" camp. Batman was one of the few characters that was not hugely affected by the Crisis of Infinite Earths (Apr 1985-Mar 1986, more on that next column) continuity reboot. The monthly Batman titles were not numerically reset to #1, unlike, say, Superman. Batman’s origin was tweaked a bit in Batman: Year One, but that come out after BSOTD and had no effect on its continuity. The key revisionist Batman, The Dark Knight Returns, came out just a few months before BSOTD. The other key Batman title from that era, The Killing Joke, would not come out until 1988; post-Event.
BSOTD occupies an awkward position in the Batman canon… and in the Event. On one hand, M.W. Barr tries to disrupt the Batman mythos by introducing new elements into the canon, and takes new liberties with violence and brutality. On other, in execution, it’s a nostalgic callback to the then already classic Denny O’Neil & Neil Adams era of Batman. (That run itself was a callback to the original pre-camp, pre-TV-show Batman). The artist Jerry Bingham may have put it best. Bingham was “half-way through working on Batman, Son of the Demon, when Frank Miller’s first Dark Knight hit the comic shops. My brain nearly exploded. I felt like Roger Corman watching a Spielberg movie, and I had to force myself to pick up the pencil again.” This is an interesting admission. All around him, creators like Miller, Sienkiewicz, Mazzucchelli, and others were competing with each other to innovate comics storytelling. Meanwhile, Bingham felt like a dinosaur drawing in the classic Batman style.
Brian Nicholson is here, too, with a review of Mike Taylor's In Christ There Is No East or West.
Mike Taylor’s book In Christ There Is No East or West begins with its lead character having what is possibly a panic attack, before the rest of the narrative unfolds in an oneiric state, where he wanders a landscape that might be best understood as a Bardo, a space between death and rebirth, though it’s never explicitly identified as such. It is from the very beginning as gripping as the cataclysm it describes, impactful as a car crash, a jolt you will remember.
Taylor’s artwork is visceral and impactful, occupying space on the Raymond Pettibon/Gary Panter continuum. It is pretty easy to see the debt to Panter on any page of this comic, but Taylor also has a substantial body of single-image “fine art” that incorporates the use of text in a Pettibon-like way. This is the lineage of the good kind of “punk art,” and Taylor is definitely the good kind of punk, committed to the exploration of diverse bodies of knowledge without entering into or replicating hierarchical systems. I recently learned, from a Twitter thread Nate Powell posted about his formative influences, that a decade before I encountered Taylor’s work he was collaborating with the now deceased zine-maker and zine-library-maintainer Travis Fristoe, to whom this book is dedicated, and had work published in the zine HeartattaCk. (The H and C are both capitalized to signal coverage of hardcore.)
—News. This year's National Book Critics Circle award winners have been announced, and Nora Krug's Belonging won in the autobiography category.
—Interviews & Profiles. Ty Burr at the Boston Globe talks to Bill Griffith.
Q. Was making “Nobody’s Fool” a way of paying back the success you’ve had with Zippy the Pinhead?
A. Well, yeah. I always periodically feel I owe my public an explanation for Zippy. Like, what’s this all about? I even have another book in mind that I’ll probably never do, it’s just a joke book to me, called “The Key to Zippy.” Like “The Key to ‘Finnegans Wake.’” And I would absolutely, dead seriously, completely explain Zippy in infinite detail. I’ve done it satirically a number of times in the “Zippy” strip. [But] this book has some quality of that, of me saying “Here’s the inspiration for Zippy.”
Paul Morton at The Millions interviews James Sturm.
James Sturm: With historical fiction there is more of an element of excavation to the undertaking. Switching gears to contemporary fiction, I enjoyed being more attentive to the current moment and my immediate environment, especially because the story was set in a place similar to where I live. There were times while writing Off Season that it felt like I was working on a documentary.
TM: What do you mean by documentary? Do you see similarities between the methods you employ in Off Season and those employed by non-fiction comics creators?
JS: After working on the book a year, my characters felt real to me. With characters set in another era you have a sense of the history they are moving through. When I decided to set this book during the election season, I didn’t know what was going to happen, I had to let things unfold and record my character’s response.
Roz Chast appeared at The Strand:
—Misc. At Hyperallergic, Natasha Seaman writes about a Botticelli exhibit at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner museum that incorporates interpretive comics by Karl Stevens.
Beyond harnessing the illustrative advantages of images, as demonstrated by Stevens’s work, the show is also making the point that Botticelli’s paintings are a lot like cartoons. His forms are wired into taut outlines, his characters’ gestures are theatrical and expository, his palette prefigures mid-century Disney, and his trick of containing different episodes of a story into architecture is just like the multiple panels of a strip. However, Stevens’s work, here entirely in black and white, and like all his pen-and-ink drawings, obsessively cross-hatched, offers instructive contrast rather than mere parallel to the Renaissance master’s paintings.