Nate Bulmer: set the tone.
Abhay Khosla? Turn it up a notch.
Since April 5th, there have been bombings in the U.S. and abroad, manhunts, obnoxious poems written about the manhunts by untalented narcissists, way-better written letters by sorority girls, the failure of Congress to pass gun control, an explosion of a goddamn fertilizer plant, and a factory collapse that killed at least 161 people. There were international incidents, pirate attacks, axe rampages, hunger strikes, child-rape scandals, and Justin Bieber-Anne Frank scandals. An issue of Saga was purportedly banned from the Apple app store, people got angry at Apple on Twitter, comiXology announced a day later that the issue of Saga in question had never been submitted to Apple to begin with, and Mark Waid tried ridiculously to scapegoat “comics journalism” for not having asked enough questions; one week later, DC Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras and Editorial Director Bobbi Chase got asked questions by Comics Journalism (specifically about Jerry Ordway’s complaints about ageism), refused to answer them, and ended the entire process by which Comics Journalism could ask them questions; better luck guessing the correct number of questions next month, Comics Journalism.
A new species of giant tarantula was discovered, a teenager with Down syndrome climbed to Mount Everest’s base camp, a man was arrested at a hospital just for refusing to leave the bedside of his sick husband, two women were beheaded based on accusations that they were engaged in sorcery, and Superman turned 75 years old. Roger Ebert, Annette Funicello, Carmine Infantino, Robert Morales, and many others died, and people mourned. Margaret Thatcher died and “Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead!” climbed to #2 on the UK pop charts. The Eisner nominations were announced, Jimmy Palmiotti complained that his wife didn’t get nominated, someone brought up that Frank Santoro wasn’t a fan of the repulsive Before Watchmen cash-grab she’d nauseatingly participated in, and this all snowballed into the Great “Frank Santoro: Threat or Menace?” Controversy of 2013.
Former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf was arrested, as was Reese Witherspoon. Science revealed that men who wear kilts have the “ideal physiological scrotal environment”; science revealed that stress makes squirrels grow faster; science announced they’d found two planets that might support life elsewhere in the universe. Mark Millar and Frank Quitely released “The Greatest Superhero Epic of This Generation” (i.e. another Squadron Supreme retread) which featured the lines, “She doesn’t give a damn about endometriosis. Chloe couldn’t even spell endometriosis.”
Records were broken in the sport of cricket. Another teenage girl who’d been raped by jock(s) killed herself because adults failed her. Other teenage girls flocked to Twitter to declare that they believed the Bombing Suspect of Boston to be (a) innocent and (b) “very cute.” There were ricin attacks, a donkey attack, an Elvis impersonator was arrested for the ricin letters, the Elvis impersonator was exonerated, a second man who seems to the Elvis impersonator’s archenemy then became Suspect #1 (and promptly “went missing“), and comic fans debated whether Marvel Comics suffer from “being TOO well made.” (See also, “Young Avengers Goes All ACME Novelty Library“).
Back to me:
The first thing I thought when I saw this cover was that I was glad that the cover artist hadn’t succumbed to the temptation to swipe a picture of a young black woman being dragged by two white cops from the photographic annals of American civil rights protests, but my second thought was that maybe they did and I just didn’t recognize it, as I was educated in a public school in the South and I believe we spent even less time talking about Watts than this year’s Eisner committee spent talking about how wonderful Crossed Badlands can be. (So wonderful!)
That Catwoman cover is part of this thing that was going to be called the “WTF” month until some people went to DC and complained that America might not be ready for a brand-wide promotion built around the phrase “What The Fuck”. The covers are double sized, with the surprise part of the image being on the half that’s folded inwards. In most situations, this would be where a reviewer tells you which one was his favorite.
This one is probably as close as I could get, but to be honest, the most interesting thing about the cover to Batman Incorporated 10 is that it completely spoils the conclusion of the comic while still failing to rob that conclusion’s final moment of any of its punch, wit, or charm. Otherwise, it’s a pretty ordinary cover.
The comic itself tells the beginning of what one has to assume is the final battle between Batman and Talia al Ghul, who was revealed sometime in the last year as the ringleader of a series of attacks that date back to the beginning of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman. (That simple explanation doesn’t hold true for all the tangents and blind alleys that were written into these comics, but “the plot” isn’t the best or most memorable part of Morrison’s work. Moments, transitions, twisted declarations and punchline dialog, coupled with great art: that’s where he shines the brightest.) That battle would have strode towards its upcoming conclusion just fine, pleasing those of us who had given the writer another try after the plummeting creative fortunes of 2011 and his sorely misguided foray into prose writing saw him at the lowest creative point of his career. After all, these last six months of Batman Incorporated have seen the comic humming along at a consistent pitch, expanding (and thereby deflating) the overwrought seriousness of some of its concepts, spinning a strange, exciting story out of a bunch of hoary Batman concepts. It’s not a very funny comic … except it sort of is, something cut from the same cloth as Axe Cop, a popular webcomic reportedly written by a small child, who likes his stories to include mustaches, dinosaurs, and whatever else the kitchen sink provides. Batman Incorporated couldn’t have had less to do with the DC Universe if it tried, and considering how almost all of Grant’s ideas have been shuffled off into cold storage (the good ones as well as the bad), it’s likely that he’s trying very hard.
Which is why it’s too bad that the comic will be most remembered for what one (admittedly major) part of its story has produced. The panel above is from Justice League 19, a comic that is about a very large number of things. It is not, despite the savagery of the emotions in Alfred Pennyworth’s face, about the death of Damian Wayne, who died in the 8th issue of Batman Incoporated when he was shot multiple times with arrows before having a sword the size of a Golden Retriever shoved through his tiny 10-year-old ribcage. That’s merely the backdrop for the story, which is about the return of the alien Despero, a very old Justice League villain, and the theft of Batman’s various anti-Justice League failsafes (a Kryptonite ring to kill Superman, a regular gun to kill the Flash, etc.). The Batman-doesn’t-trust-us story has showed up multiple times in various Justice League comics, the fact that it’s making its appearance here is merely an indication that Geoff Johns likes the story and wants to write it himself–that’s not a negative for this comic, it’s part of its designated appeal: Geoff Johns isn’t just writing DC’s biggest characters, but he’s also restoring and refining those character’s most popular stories.
I don’t care about that, actually. I just wanted you to know all that stuff so you’d have a better understanding of these pages.
Put this together: Batman’s 10-year-old son has just died. In the world of Batman Incorporated, he died in this nightmarish, heavily cartooned world of mayhem and noise, an elastic place where everything is sort of a gigantic game of tragedy and insanity. He’s dead, but in those comics … it doesn’t matter, really. It’s a candy land, a 2013 attempt to recreate those sorts of old Batman comics where the villain is a giant eraser who hates Bruce Wayne for going to the school dance in a princely sled, or comics where Batman travels to a space planet to teach an alien race how to fight a tyrant centipede.
But in the world of Justice League, you have to hold your cape down like Marilyn Monroe on a subway grate or its going to blow up and make you look ridiculous. In the world of the Justice League–which, again, is the actual DC continuity that matters–Alfred is crying like that because he’s remembering that a ten-year-old boy’s chest got a freight train driven through it, and later on Batman is going to borrow some future technology so he can sneak up on Wonder Woman and Superman and congratulate them about their relationship. I just buried my son, whose body sort of fell apart in my hands while I was screaming his name, but I wanted to cut out and say I’m really stoked you two found each other: also, I apologize that somebody discovered my private hobby … which was to figure out the easiest way to murder ya’ll and then place those answers in little sunglasses cases that have your respective logos on them. Again: I’m really, really happy that you two are seeing one another. It’s great to have people you care about, especially when tragedy strikes.
Let’s be frank though: this is a lot of pointless observation to avoid what one might have assumed would have been this column’s moistest interest: Jupiter’s Legacy 1.
The first major work from Frank Quitely since a three-issue stint on Batman & Robin with Grant Morrison (ignoring Dan Nadel’s fondness for some drawings of Fourth World characters hanging in a shitty apartment), Jupiter’s Legacy sees the Scottish superstar teamed up once again with Mark Millar, reforming the team that helped shepherd one of the most popular–and controversially, most influential–post-Watchmen super-hero comics ever, The Authority. (Hell, if you go through that Justice League page above, what do you see? Geoff Johns taking dialog and themes straight out of … you guessed it.)
It’s not that good. Unfortunately, it’s not that bad, either, and that’s the worst with Mark Millar. At his best—Enemy of the State and Ultimate War–Millar is pure candy floss, the sort of super-hero comic that you probably want to read if you’re ever the type of person who thinks they might want to read a super-hero comic. They give off consistent heat, they withstand derision: most of all, they render their peers unnecessary. Nobody needs a Wolverine story, sure, but if you do, it’s easiest if you can meet the need without lugging a stack around. And at his worst, Millar can still be interesting. His obsession with contemporary celebrity and disinterest in actual politics can churn out a bit of on-point contemporary pulse-taking, like his Prozac-versus-Islam twist in Ultimate Avengers (it’s cool that you missed it), while his general, all-around bad taste–bad taste he’s totally unaware of–can mean that he’ll finish a hugely popular run on Wolverine by having Steve McNiven draw page after page of bloody entrails offset only by the kind of low-rent white trash humor you usually have to cook crystal meth to experience.
Jupiter’s Legacy is neither. It’s not a bad comic, it’s not offensive, just a limp retread of ideas, all of which are stripped of their original punch and then plastered across the page like they came out of a Dymo label printer. There’s an intriguing two pages by Quitely, but they come in the middle of a comic that consists of the same people-talking-to-people stuff you’ve seen a million times before, so generic that it’s vaguely aggravating that this is what has taken up the guy’s time. This is it? A comic where super-heroes argue about whether they should support their elected officials? Where others worry about how to keep their endorsement deals?
And yet, like all boring comics, it’s impossible to even maintain irritation–this isn’t doing enough wrong to be mad at, and isn’t doing enough bad to slow one down. Everything in here is textureless and bland, and it goes down so quickly you’ll feel like you didn’t give its creators a fair shake.
Trust me though: you’re not the one who isn’t doing the work.