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Give the Boot to Reboots

7 Feb

It’s been about a year and a half since DC Comics restarted their entire line-up of titles with The New 52, a company-wide event that did away with the past histories of their diverse line of characters and started all over again to attract new readers. I thought it was a hare-brained idea at the time, but being that I don’t buy floppy comics and I’m fairly used to DC making incomprehensible business decisions, I decided not to opine. Sure, I was pessimistic, but that’s my nature. What the hell do I know about a good Flash comic anyway? The best thing you could do for a Flash comic, in my opinion, is cancel it.

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Well, the dust has settled, trade editions of the first New 52 comics have trickled out, and what we see isn’t a more tempered, sensible universe than the one that preceded it, but the same confuddled claptrap as always. Some origins have been changed, Barbara Gordon has overcome her paralysis to become Batgirl again, but there’s no sense that we’re seeing anything new and fresh. And why should we? DC Comics has a history spanning nine decades, one they periodically try to omit with little success. DC’s concern with its past seems to revolve around the fact that their characters have been portrayed in many ways over the years. This makes sense because different people have written and drawn the comics, and public sensibilities have changed radically in the last century. For some reason, this doesn’t sit well with the powers that be: they feel that Superman should never be depicted changing clothes inside a phone booth when we live in a cellular phone world.

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I think that DC Comics should embrace their storied history, and not in the cornball way they usually do by dragging kitschy characters like Challengers of the Unknown and the Bat Mite out of storage for a “modern” revamp. A “reboot” usually means the male heroes will all have stubble and wrestle with their consciences while they clobber globs of snot from outer space. Instead, DC should admit that they have a lot of characters spanning a healthy person’s lifetime and let writers do what they fucking want. You want to write a story about the early days of Wonder Woman? Go ahead. You want to depict Batman with an iPhone and a Bat-Segway? Let’s see what you’ve got. Many of these characters have become archetypes for our culture and personal gratification. The important part about Superman is that he can punch people through walls, not whether or not his adoptive Earth parents wore spectacles. Cut it out with these title-spanning events that change DC continuity and make Superman have to wear ridiculous costumes.

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What I’m saying is that a fictional world of people who can fly unencumbered through space and fire laser beams from their fingertips doesn’t need a reboot. It’s fantasy, and as such writers should feel free to depict these characters in any fashion, from any era, and respect the readership enough to take these stories at face value. I know DC has its Elseworlds line, but I’m talking about having fun with these heroes and villains in series. Maybe depict the Joker with some humanity. Allow Superman to fight alongside Aquaman with the bureaucracy of the Justice League getting in the way. Let the Green Lantern cut a fart now and again. His uniform already leaves little to the imagination, it’s not a far leap to begin showing his endocrine functions.

Forget the Stupid Justice League Movie Already

14 Dec

Hey, there’s been some recent news about the long-rumored Justice League film, due out 2015! Isn’t that exciting? Haven’t you been waiting for a movie about the Justice League for like freaking ever?! You know the Justice League, right? That collection of DC Comics properties that includes Superman, Batman…I think Wonder Woman is in it…also the Flash and Green Lantern, and…that green guy. No, not Green Lantern, I already mentioned him. The other one. The guy that’s as strong as Superman plus he turns invisible. Also the guy with the wings, Hawkman is in it. I think that’s it. Oh wait, Aquaman, he’s got to be in there. Basically everyone from the SuperFriends except the non-white characters.

Wait, there’s more heroes in the League? You say that the Justice League contains every hero belonging to DC Comics, going back to 1938? Well, fuck me. There’s something lackluster about a specialized league that anyone with a talent remotely approaching a super power can join. They have two heroes with the power to stretch themselves like taffy. There are about four that can run faster than the speed of sound. And there are so many meta-humans with the power of flight, that their base of operations has to be held on a fucking satellite. Otherwise, they’d have to employ air traffic controllers, opening up a host of labor problems. There are more people in tights in the Justice League than the Ringling Bros. circus. And every time they hold a meeting, there’s a rift in the space-time continuum or something that spells imminent disaster for the cosmos. I mean, I’m not saying there’s a causal relationship, but it’s a coincidence worth investigating since the fate of the universe seems to depend on it.

Why Warner Bros., parent devils to DC Comics are so gung-ho for a Justice League movie, I have no idea. It’s not like their other attempts at comic books-turned movies in the new millennium have been successful excepting Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and, to a lesser extent, attempts to turn Alan Moore’s graphic novels into movies. Green Lantern was an irredeemable piece of shit. Superman Returns was almost as confusing as it was boring. What DC has proven is that when they have a lot of input into how one of their characters is represented in movies, the result is garbage. Only when more talented people take the ball and run with it, like Nolan did, are the results satisfactory. “Perhaps,” you begin, pushing your coke-bottle glasses up the greasy bridge of your blackhead-specked nose, “comics are already in their perfect medium and require no film representation at all.” You might be right, despite the cloud of halitosis you belched in making that comment. But Marvel comics has made a bunch of superhero movies in the 2000s that are entertaining and enjoyable. They even made a pretty good movie around their clown costume conglomerate, The Avengers, which collects a bunch of well-known Marvel heroes, many of them already established in their own films.

That’s the first reason that the Justice League movie shouldn’t be made: we haven’t seen decent representation of the heroes involved outside of comic books and cartoons. And let’s face it, only nerds and fatties watch cartoons and read comic books. The rest of the world will be scratching their heads wondering why a hero like the Flash exists when there is already an even buffer dude named Superman who can move at super-speed. Batman as represented in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy obviously doesn’t exist in a universe populated by other superheroes, and besides–spoiler alert for this movie that’s been out for six months–Bruce Wayne gives up the Batman mantle at the end of The Dark Knight Rises. It would seriously taint an otherwise solid trilogy if DC dragged the same character out of retirement so he could fight space fish with Dr. Fate and Plastic Man. The implication of the article linked in the first paragraph is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play Batman in the Justice League movie, tying it to the Nolan trilogy since Gordon-Levitt was in the last movie. But that strikes me as totally unnecessary and stupid. For one thing, this would mean that Bruce Wayne will not be Batman in the Justice League movie, which will thoroughly befuddle and irritate the average person who is familiar with popular representations of Batman. For another thing, it’s entirely unnecessary. The tale of Batman is timeless, it can be (and has been) told and re-told a lot of ways, provided the basic tenet–that the son of wealthy socialites deals with the trauma of having watched his parents get gunned down before him by dressing up like a bat–remains the same. Jospeh Gordon-Levitt could fit that bill well enough, particularly if he’s to be surrounded by other heroes in their technicolor dreamcoats. He would be a cog in the Justice League machine, so a fully fleshed-out character may not be necessary.

But even given that fact, a Justice League movie would only serve the highlight the fact that DC has made little progress ingratiating their characters with the general public. Where is the long-rumored Wonder Woman movie? How about an attempt at telling Hawkman’s fairly intricate origin story outside of a film that will have to squeeze in the characterizations of at least half a dozen super folks? Baby steps, people. This apparent need for DC to skip to the end of the story was the main flaw in the Green Lantern movie. Yes, as I wrote before, Ryan Reynolds was mis-cast in his role as Hal Jordan. But it might have been a serviceable movie had his character not gone from ordinary test pilot to a cgi space cop battling the oldest evil in the universe in the space of one movie. In the comics, Hal Jordan doesn’t even get contacted by the Intergalactic Nerd Cops until he’s dicked around with his new ring for a while. They might have stretched the Green Lantern story into two and three movies, instead of making one largely incomprehensible piece of shit. And that’s what we’re looking at in a Justice League movie in two years.

It’s the movie few people understand and nobody wants. Maybe if I thought they’d do the Justice League from Keith Giffen’s run in the 1980s, I’d get on board. That was a group of secondary heroes doing a kind of Moonlighting/Hill Street Blues type of thing, and the characters were evinced through dialogue with each other. I guess I fear that the Justice League movie in 2015 might open with Batman and Superman standing on the bridge of their satellite headquarters, then during the credits they get attacked by Starro the space monster. Twenty minutes later, they’re already on an alternate earth fighting Owlman and Ultraman. By the last half hour of the movie, they’re replaying the events of Infinite Crisis to a thoroughly bewildered and bored audience. But maybe I’m too pessimistic. Or maybe I ACTUALLY WATCHED THAT FUCKING GREEN LANTERN MOVIE WITH RYAN REYNOLDS AND I WANT MY GODDAMNED TWO HOURS BACK.

Mormons: Morons, or More “On?”

26 Jan

Growing up in New York City, I didn’t get the opportunity to interact with a lot of Mormons. In fact, until I was in my late twenties, I encountered exactly zero Mormons, at least to my knowledge. I was aware of Mormonism, however, through a series of awesome commercials that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would run on Saturday mornings during my cartoon time. When I was very young, I thought they were another of the morning’s public service announcements, like the one where a bunch of sock puppets warned you not to take your mother’s Sucrets. By the time I was nine years old, I realized that I was actually being pitched to by a religion, and a Christian one at that. It didn’t really bother me, except that religion was cutting into my personal Saturday time, when everyone knows that church and evangelical television programs belong on Sunday.

My first exposure to actual tenets of the Mormon religion–besides their famous and salacious allowance for polygamy–was from watching the movie Plan 10 From Outer Space. This remains on the list of weirdest movies I have ever seen, and I could spend this entire essay trying to explain the plot. Pertinent to this piece were some of the facts about Mormonism as presented in the movie: that God came from a planet called Kolob, and every Mormon gets his own planet in the afterlife. It was starting to sound more like science-fiction than spirituality. A couple of years later, I started dating someone who had a copy of the Book of Mormon, which I promptly borrowed and read and never returned.

I truly think that every literate person should read the Book of Mormon, because it is one of the funniest and most insane books ever written. If you’re like I was, you probably think the book is full of a bunch of new age baloney and pseudo-holy mumbo jumbo that isn’t worth your time. But you’d be wrong. The Book of Mormon is the unbelievable and ludicrous story about Jews living in America during biblical times, how they warred among themselves, and how a faction of the Jews named the Lamanites angered God were turned into red-skinned Native Americans as punishment. The book claims that, during the three days between Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and his resurrection, he zipped over to what would become America and imparted some sage wisdom to its multitude. I mean, that just blows my mind. That means the Book of Mormon is partially an account of Jesus’ “lost weekend.”

In 2003, I read Jon Krakauer’s wonderful book Under the Banner of Heaven. It’s a compelling, well-written account of the history of Mormonism interspersed with a more current story about a Mormon woman murdered by her brothers. The book is really about a Mormon sect that is not part of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints–that would be the “official” Mormon church, but like any religion there are lots of splinter groups with their own ideas. Some of them still practice polygamy and engage in incest as proscribed by scripture, and Under the Banner of Heaven makes clear that these practitioners comprise the smallest portion of Mormons. In fact, they would not even resonate as Mormons as we know them. Turns out that the ones practicing incest and killing their wives were a far cry from the short-sleeved, starched shirt missionaries with precise haircuts and shit-eating grins that one would normally associate with Mormonism. I still came away with the notion that Mormons are a strange, backwards people, well worthy of my ridicule.

It was around this time that I actually met a guy who was Mormon, the idea of which tickled me to no end. Imagine my disappointment when he didn’t try to explain that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson, Missouri, didn’t tell me about Heavenly Father’s plan to give me my own, personal planet in the afterlife. He was, annoyingly, a very pleasant, polite person that liked a lot of the same comic books that I do. I plied him about his faith, and he pretty well pulled my card: “You’ve read the Book of Mormon,” he said, “you know what we’re about. If that doesn’t appeal to you, then fine. It doesn’t make me want to stop talking about Batman.” I was very embarrassed. Here I was, hoping to meet a kooky, wacky Mormon that would regale me with ridiculous stories about Jesus visiting America, all along I was the nut job hovering around, pressuring him to say something that I could laugh at. It occurred to me that practically every creed and belief sounds like complete bullshit when you voice it aloud: “I believe that the universe was spontaneously created and that the invisible air around us actually contains tiny particles whose structure and movement matches that of our solar system.” Weirdo. I lost touch with this Mormon friend a while ago–he lost touch with me, actually, probably because I was such a pain in the ass about his church. But I resolved from then on to judge people by the things they do, not by my regard for their beliefs.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway. I’m a fan of Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and really enjoyed the episode of South Park which details a basic history of Mormonism. The musical was hilarious, too, and if you’re not shy of some seriously blue language, you should check it out. However, the play ends implying that working together and helping each other are the real major tenets of Mormonism, not the stuff about golden plates and multiple wives. The important things are the values that they espouse, because everyone believes in some retarded-sounding shit whether they know it or not. The episode of South Park dealing with Mormonism ends in much the same way. Many people I’ve known say that they respect religious scripture and spirituality, but reject churches as inherently corrupt. Mormonism kind of turns that idea on its ear, a religion based on scripture that sounds like a load of donkey loafs, but realized in a church that actually fosters community, family, and good works. You really can’t hate on that.

Babs, They Did You Dirty

12 Apr

Batman is often projected as an inconsolable loner, someone so emotionally distant and single-minded in his crusade that no one can ever get close to him. Funny thing, really, since Batman works with a gang of no fewer than half a dozen superheroes at any given time. Suffice to say, if you slip on a pair of tights and a domino mask in Batman’s town, you’ll be working for him soon enough whether you like it or not. It’s a wonder that criminals even attempt to cause mischief in Gotham, it being the best-patrolled city in the fictional DC Universe.

Batman’s cadre of muscular weirdos are organized via a high-tech Bluetooth (or maybe Bat-tooth) system of intelligence gathering and dissemination. This system is controlled by the enigmatic Oracle, who we, the readers, know is Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner James Gordon and one-time Batgirl. Barbara “Babs” Gordon was the first Batgirl, she whose fiery tresses streamed from beneath her cowl and whose reversible skirt could turn into a cape. All that changed with the publication of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, a Batman story where the Joker shoots Babs in the spine and photographs her naked in an attempt to drive her father insane. That doesn’t work: Commissioner Gordon is seemingly none the worse for the wear after enduring a surrealistic ordeal at the hands of the Joker, Batman captures the Clown Prince of Crime who presumably gets carted off to Arkham Asylum. Everything is as it was before, ready for the next installment of Batman where he’ll probably slap Killer Croc around while Robin hops about making whimsical puns.

Except for Barbara Gordon. She wound up crippled for life.

I have to thank the brilliant and wonderfully talented Sarah Velez for opening my eyes to this inconsistency. Because, for people whose lives are too full of joy to scrutinize such things, characters become critically damaged and bounce back to a full recovery on a regular basis in comic books. In fact, superheroes routinely die and come back to life. There are very few permanent changes to the status quo in comics: whatever given facts you know about a character are almost always immutable in the long run. To make this point even more cruelly, within the Batman universe alone there have been so many miraculous recoveries and lives after death that Barbara Gordon sticks out like a sore, wheelchair-bound thumb. Batman, himself, had his back broken and still resturned to full power to kick the crap out of a pretender to his throne. Yet Babs sits behind an array of computer screens, sending intel to any garish acrobat that skirts the rooftops of Gotham with an earpiece in.

I didn’t notice this inconsistency at first because, well, by and large I never gave a shit about Batgirl. Similarly, I never cared about Ace the Bat-Hound or Bat Mite or any of the other ancillary characters that padded out Batman Family. It just seems uncreative, really, to hit paydirt with Batman and then saddle anything that has a pulse with a pointy-eared cowl and a bat silhouette across its chest. It’s ironic, because if Batman was real–which is to say if dogs wore bedroom slippers and people walked on their hands–there certainly would be scores of Bat-wannabes. But as long as I am believing that there is a reality where citizens condone a maniac shooting zip lines along the roofs of Gotham City, I prefer to believe that he’s the only one doing it.

I would be remiss to sell Batgirl short, however. Batgirl is one of the most recognized characters in Batman’s many media incarnations. And unlike quickie characters like Bat Woman (the original one, not the post-Crisis lady), Barbara Gordon has a rich back story and a tight DNA connection to one of the main people in Batman: Commissioner James Gordon. So while I was never a huge Batgirl fan, I never mocked her stories like I did, say, Alfred Pennyworth’s. I took it for granted that she hung around, and suffered the occasional romantic tension between she and Robin whenever that cropped up.

But the bigger reason I didn’t notice how fucked up it is that Barbara Gordon has been left in a wheelchair is because her newer incarnation as Oracle is so awesome. Using her as a conduit for information has made Batman almost totally unstoppable: through Oracle, he has access to city plans, blueprints, surveillance camera feeds, and just about anything else that can be divined via computer. I think Batman is the first hero to make such use of the information superhighway, and it would be difficult now to imagine him doing his work otherwise. Oracle is so awesome, she’s even spawned her own successful and long-running comic book series, Birds of Prey where she’s the point person for a team of lady heroes. The comic birthed an awful television series that died after thirteen episodes, but I don’t blame Oracle for that.

Oracle has become something of a handi-capable idol to comic book fans everywhere, making her miraculous recovery an even more remote possibility. That, claims DC, is reason enough not to return Babs to her walking state, particularly since a few other waifs have adopted the Batgirl name (if not the precise mantle) with reasonably good effect. And for handicapped fans, I’m glad for them. But it’s still fucked up. There’s no reason an entirely new character couldn’t have been introduced, or even dredged up from days of forgotten comics lore, who could have become Oracle. Alan Moore himself was shocked that DC decided to keep Barbara in a wheelchair: he never intended The Killing Joke to be canonical, and even if it did become part of Batman’s continuity, he assumed she would be repaired and walking around right as rain like every other fucking hero in comics. But that didn’t happen. The Flash died and came back to life twenty years later, but Barbara Gordon still rolls around on dubs.

I think it all boils down to misogyny, personally. While there have been plenty of female heroes who have been battered and broken only to make a full recovery, it’s safe to say that they’d never leave Green Arrow in a wheelchair. Hell, they’d never leave Jimmy Olsen in a wheelchair, and he’s not even a superhero (well, most of the time he isn’t). But Batgirl, being a kind of second-string female in a very macho comic where a grown man horses around with a teenage boy, she’s okay to make an example of. It’s fucked up, and despite that I think Oracle is a great and integral character to the Batman universe, I can’t read the comic anymore without thinking about the disservice that’s been done to this fictional person.

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t click hotlinks, then please visit Sarah Velez’s website at She’s really talented.

Who the Fuck Decided Ryan Reynolds Would Be a Good Hal Jordan in the Green Lantern Movie?!

17 Feb

I know what you’re thinking. “Who the hell are Ryan Reynolds, Hal Jordan, and Green Lantern?” If you’re part of the one percent of the world that cares about comic book superheroes and their characterization in other media, then you might be thinking, “Here we go again, another vitriolic blog about how untalented Ryan Reynolds is and how unfit he is to wear the emerald ring of the Green Lantern.” If that’s you, I’m picturing you wearing a plastic viking helmet and a tight Camel cigarettes t-shirt from 1992 while sipping a 64 oz. Slurpee from 7-11. Just so you know.

This is not another essay about how Ryan Reynolds is a talentless hack who isn’t fit to wear Green Lantern’s domino mask. I mean, Ryan Reynolds is a talentless hack, but that isn’t why he’s poorly suited for the role. It’s not like I expected Harrison Ford to get it, there’s no point in using a good actor for a role that consists mainly of feigning astonishment at the cgi objects your magic ring will create in post-production. No, my problem isn’t with Ryan Reynolds being Green Lantern at all, it’s with his being Hal Jordan. Because anyone that knows anything about Green Lantern would say that Ryan Reynolds would make a better Guy Gardner.

It’s not exactly common knowledge that there’s more than one Green Lantern. There are dozens, in fact, each belonging to the Green Lantern Corps, an interstellar police force that keeps people from parking spaceships in the wrong dimension or something. Space is divided into sectors, and each sector has one Green Lantern to patrol it, except (of course) whatever sector contains Earth. For some reason, our sector requires several Green Lanterns to patrol it, Hal Jordan being only the first (well, second really…but I’m not going to get into that bullshit again). There’s also John Stewart, a rare Black superhero that doesn’t have the word “Black” in his name, and there’s a relatively new Green Lantern named Kyle Rayner, who is a cartoonist or something. There was even a chick Green Lantern named Jade and a leprechaun Green Lantern who served for a special issue called Ganthet’s Tale.

You really have to wonder why unemployment is so high when the Green Lantern Corps is hiring left and right. Who isn’t a member of this goddamned space clique? Anyway, yet another Earthling member is named Guy Gardner. He’s kind of the hard ass of the Green Lantern Gang, he’s got red hair (and is therefore a fiery, temperamental Irish lad) and wears a leather jacket and generally clashes with authority. He’s kind of a wry prankster with a violent streak, which is exactly the kind of role Ryan Reynolds was born to play! He’d be like Van Wilder meets George Lutz from The Amityville Horror. His brand of quipping douchebag would fit the role nicely.

Why there are so many fucking Green Lanterns patrolling Earth is really beyond me. The Justice League cartoon switched over to John Stewart as their primary Green Lantern because the producers knew that his being Black is the only thing that makes the character remotely interesting. With this summer’s movie we’ve got a mediocre actor portraying a fairly boring white dude. I hope there’s a lot of space boob in this movie.

Whoa! Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne is Pretty Ill!

12 Feb

Buying individual comic books is out for me. I’m a shut-in comics nerd in his mid-thirties, the last thing I need is another periodical or six to clutter up my cramped apartment. So like many of my peers, I wait for trade collections of comic books, usually (and very gratifyingly) grouped by story arc and available within a few months of the last comic in the storyline’s publication. Such is the case with Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, collecting the six-issue mini-series of the same name that came out last year.

I’ve been following Grant Morrison’s work on Batman as well as Final Crisis through their trade editions, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve liked Grant Morrison ever since Batman: Gothic, which is where I first heard of him. I feel Morrison is a great talent, and should certainly be mentioned among other great comic book authors, particularly those who can weave epic, complex stories over many issues (and sometimes, through many titles) like Neil Gaiman. However, there’s always something a little off in his stories.

I noticed it in Batman: Gothic as well. That story, which is a trade collection from the Legends of the Dark Knight series that ran after the success of Batman: Year One, is about a four-hundred year old Satantic sorcerer who sold his soul in order to survive the Black Death, and now intends to release the plague on Gotham City and barter the city’s souls against his own. We learn that, while waiting around four centuries for this prime opportunity, the Satanist has been a total prick, killing children at his whim and generally being a lecherous creep. Turns out he actually had a stint as headmaster at Bruce Wayne’s boarding school, and it was an argument with this weirdo that caused Thomas Wayne to pull his son from the school and bring him home to Wayne Manor, an event celebrated with a night out to the movies… [SPOILER ALERT: THAT’S WHEN BRUCE’S PARENTS GET KILLED IN FRONT OF HIM, INSPIRING HIM TO BECOME BATMAN.]

Which is a swell story by itself, doesn’t need a lot more to color it in. But there’s this extension of the plot where it shows that the long-lived villain was once a devout monk living in a monastery in Austria. He was corrupted, convinced his brothers that Satan was cool, then they raped a nun…then I think the monastery was drowned…something about Batman had to bring back the Satantic monk’s heart? It was just a bit overboard, like a lovely cake that was ruined when it was served with lug nuts as a topping. The result is one of mild confusion, yet it did not keep me from enjoying the story as a whole.

I fear that Grant Morrison’s gone over the deep end now, folks. I saw it in New X-Men, we all saw it in Final Crisis, a story so dense it needs several publications and websites to annotate, deconstruct, and effectively understand it. And it’s happened here in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, though it has done nothing to dampen the Batman geek in me–in fact the story, by and large, has tickled me to the core of my Batman geek penis.

So the setting of this story is that Batman was shot by this evil god Darkseid’s laser gun, which everyone thought killed him but it actually sent him back in time. This six-issue series deals with Bruce Wayne finding his way back to present-day Gotham City (turns out every solar eclipse makes him jump forward in time), each issue concentrating on a different time period. My inner Batman fanboy salivated and clapped with glee over this nod to the 1950s era Batman, a campy, tamed version who was at times a chivalrous knight, a cowboy, or a viking. Morrison has skillfully resuscitated this much-maligned period of Batman over the course of his writing, lending gravity to once silly notions like Batmen of All Nations and the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh.

However it’s not as simple as Bruce Wayne merely fast-forwarding a few times, no there’s chicanery afoot. Darkseid, in his infinite wisdom, counted on Wayne having the tenacity to, you know, travel through time, so he somehow made it so that Bruce would gather Omega Energy each time he zapped forward, until he had enough to destroy the present day. It’s unclear what Omega Energy is, but suffice to say it is bad and you should not let it build up too much. To hasten Wayne’s advance through time, Darkseid also tossed out this killing, time-traveling monster to chase him through the fourth dimension. Oh, and also Superman and a few pals are cruising through time, trying to catch up to Batman before he kablooeys the present day. Who isn’t traveling through time in this fucking comic? It seems like the time stream is getting more traffic than the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

In the sixth issue, the story runs off the rails a little with that overblown redundancy I was talking about earlier. Yes, it does add information and color to the story somewhat, but I found it confusing and a little disappointing as a conclusion. I’m not going to spoil the whole ending, but the main part I will spoil: turns out Batman was instrumental in his own creation. The particulars of this and the way the story is told, however, are crucial and worth your scrutiny. It’s just this whole scene at the end, there are these weird robots cataloging time…I’d worry that I was giving important plot points away if I fully understood what was happening. Much of the sixth issue of this series is Batman talking to robots, a real decline in what had been an action-packed and compelling comic book.

Still, even with that extra stuff, the general story is great and satisfying on many levels to the avid Batman fan. If you’re a fan, you’ve already been reading the shit and you’re just reading this to see if my opinion aligns with yours. If you’re not a Batman fan, I can’t say this is a good place to get into Batman, but then if you’ve gone this far along not reading Batman then you can probably just keep on rolling and skip it. Me, I love the shit, Grant Morrison rules. Even if I might not be smart enough to understand what the hell he’s writing about.

Popeye is the Shit and You Know This

2 Feb

I was raised to like Popeye from a very young age. It isn’t difficult for a young boy to enjoy Popeye, what with the ass-kicking and chick-getting (well, one chick, multiple times) and generally outrageous greatness of the character. To instruct a child to like Popeye is to tell them to eat a heaping bowl of sugared cereal and run around screaming all morning, until a lunchtime temper tantrum lands them in the Naughty Chair. Though my initial liking of Popeye was wholly instinctual and natural, a deeper, nerdier understanding of this fictional character was imprinted upon me by my father, his own obsession with Popeye seemingly unique and not passed down by my grandfather.

It is difficult to describe my father. It seems that whenever I talk about him, I paint a picture of a relatively unpleasant guy. He isn’t really unpleasant at all, he’s just passionate about the things he enjoys and entirely dismissive of everything else. This is not unlike any other pompous type who has refined their tastes to the ultimate, except my dad doesn’t have extremely refined tastes. He likes classical music and has a tremendous collection, and he likes depressing Russian novelists. He also likes Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons from before World War II. He loves Doctor Who. He giddily enjoys underground comix from the 1970s and once had a huge collection of National Lampoon magazines (until I pilfered and destroyed them through poor storage). He enjoys Marx Bros. movies and slapstick shorts from the 1940s and 50s.

My point is that my dad has a pretty eccentric taste which runs the gamut from high art to commercial design and fart jokes. And so it is with Popeye, a franchise he has been waxing about since I can remember. I don’t actually recall the precise moment he decided to school me on Popeye, but if it was like the other times he dropped his brand of condescending science, I suspect the scene was: me watching a post-World War II Popeye cartoon from Paramount on television, he walks in the room and calls it a piece of shit, then alludes to older, better Popeye cartoons, implying that they are so great so as to be withheld from my moronic generation, lest we be too dazzled by their brilliance and stab our eyes out with Transformers toys. The fact of these legendary cartoons having been established, he would then proceed to tell me more about their undeniable awesomeness whenever he happened to catch me watching an inferior Popeye cartoon in television syndication. He’d tell me that the good cartoons were done by the Fleischer Bros., an animation studio that handled Betty Boop and Superman cartoons (not the crappy Superman cartoons that you remember, but other, better, more secret Superman cartoons…)

Then my dad would eventually tell me that these other great cartoons that I hadn’t seen weren’t even the best evidences of Popeye. No, the first, best version of Popeye ran in a comic strip called Thimble Theater in the 1920s through to the 40s (the strip would eventually be retitled Popeye.) Drawn by a guy named E.C. Segar, they captured a movement and wildness that was as indescribable as it was unparalleled. Would that I could see these comic strips, finally I would know beauty. But alas, I am presented with only the inferior, “white sailor’s cap Popeye” as opposed to the incredible “captain’s hat Popeye,” as my dad put it. And so my life was already rendered a pale version of his, a simulation of a much fuller, more interesting time when things mattered.

Around 1987, Fantagraphics Books released some of the old Popeye strips, in a very bad reproduction. The printing was so bad, the ink was barely fixed to the paper and could be rubbed off with your finger. Still, I could see glimpses of greatness through the smudges and blotches, even detecting that elusive movement my father couldn’t stop jawing about. Of course, even staring right at the strips wasn’t good enough for my father, who reminded me over and over that the poor reproductions of the comic strips I was seeing were meager facsimiles of this dimension-shattering piece of serial art. However, I had to admit: my dad was right. These early Popeye comic strips were awesome, as Popeye swore and fought and instructed the reader in proper moral fortitude, they really did kill the Paramount cartoons I was raised on. Right around the same time Fantagraphics released their reproductions, there was a film festival downtown of old Fleischer Bros. cartoons. And you know what? They were fucking awesome. Fuck you, dad, not for being smug but for being right.

Fantagraphics began re-releasing the old Popeye comic strips a couple of years ago; right now they’re about to put out volume five of six. I’m not sure if they’re using original plates or even the original mock ups, but the reproduction is incredible. Well worth checking out if you like Popeye. Chances are, you weren’t instructed to like Popeye as a kid, so you might be unaware of this other, greater character that’s been kept from polite society for decades. Check him out, I think you’ll find him a lot more interesting than that white sailor’s cap Popeye that used to hawk fried chicken.

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