Tag Archives: DC Comics

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.

Sins of the Father

18 Apr

For as long as I could remember, my dad’s evening commute included a one-mile walk from the 7 train’s terminus at Main Street, Flushing to our two-family home in Auburndale. Usually, he would come sauntering through the door, whistling some complicated tune and swinging his canvas briefcase like a happy grade-schooler handling his lunchbox. He’d maintain this jocular mood while walking up the steps to our second-floor apartment, then his happiness would disperse and he’d adopt his regular sour puss in preparation for what was to come–for very often, there was some situation involving my brother. Adem was caught cutting class again. Adem drank all the beer in the house. Adem punched the bathroom mirror, shattering it and lacerating his hands with the shards. In the ten seconds it took for my father to traverse the hallway between the front door and the door to our apartment, between his guises as Employed Guy and Punitive Father, you could catch a glimpse of the man in his natural state, unencumbered by responsibilities and ethics and harsh realities. And you know, I’m glad he had that much. Because as bad as my brother could be, there are plenty of dads who don’t get even that time to be themselves, to be absolved of their own anger and guilt and whatever other stupid feelings parents have towards their wayward children. For want of a twenty-minute walk home from the subway, other dads have no respite at all.


Take, for instance, Commissioner James Gordon, that well-known fictional character from the Batman universe. Doggedly devoted to his job and a high-minded concept of justice, Gordon is commonly depicted sympathetically by applicable funny book writers, sort of the “good cop” to Batman’s “bad cop.” But he is not without his faults, and along with his awards and trophies and commendations for stellar police work, Gordon is also the owner of one failed marriage, one second wife tragically murdered in the line of duty, a handful of crooked cops making merry on his watch, and other assorted failures and derogatory accusations. These hurdles, they wear on any man, even dads. And Commissioner Gordon is a dad, to his adopted daughter (in the current iteration) Barbara Gordon and his biological son, James Gordon, Jr.


Oh, you don’t know about James Gordon, Jr.? You don’t remember when, as a baby, he was rescued by Bruce Wayne in Batman: Year One? That act of heroism is why then-Captain Gordon started trusting Batman in the first place. See, now you remember, but you didn’t remember before because James, Jr. appears in Batman: Year One and practically nowhere else. He figures prominently in the well-done graphic novel Night Cries by Archie Goodwyn–in which we actually see Gordon’s first wife separate from him and move to Chicago–but otherwise, we don’t learn too much about the lil tyke. We’re so intimate with Barbara Gordon that we can predict her menstrual cycle, but James Gordon, Jr. remains an enigma.


Until the story arc contained in Batman: The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder. Perhaps you’ve been avoiding reading recent Batman fare because all of the established constants of the mythological world he inhabits are perpetually shifting as of late. Or maybe you never gave a shit about Batman and are asking yourself why you’ve read this much of my review. For the purposes of The Black Mirror, it’s only important to know that the usual Batman, Bruce Wayne, has taken leave and left his ward, Dick Grayson (aka Nightwing, aka the first Robin) to wear the Batman costume. Get all that? So where the Bruce Wayne Batman is all brooding and large swaths of black ink, the Dick Grayson Batman is more convivial and happy, preferring the high-flying trapeze routines recalled from his youth as a circus performer to wallowing in the filthy streets, violently separating miscreants from their teeth. Got all that? Any questions? Good. You should have questions.


So in The Black Mirror, you’ve got Dick Grayson playing Batman, trying to fill the shoes worn by his adoptive father, Bruce Wayne. You’ve got the bastard daughter of mafia boss Tony Zucco, now a bank manager trying to escape from the shadow of her biological dad’s criminal past. And you’ve got James Gordon, Jr., who approaches his poppa with an apparently sincere desire to reconnect with his family. The rub is that James Junior is a psychopath, he does not feel empathy for his fellow man, and is suspected by his dad of having committed several violent crimes. Intertwining all of these characters, The Black Mirror challenges the idealized nature of father/son relationships, affirming the dichotomy of being any member of a family and its contradictions. Parents are sometimes required to dole tough love, children need to be self-reliant and independent in order to prove that they’ve been raised with due attention. Dealing with members of your immediate family can sometimes be like looking into a mirror, a black mirror at that, a very similar reflection turned unfamiliar by obfuscating the features we expect to see.


And that, my patient readers, is where The Black Mirror fails. For while I was able to create an adequate metaphor for the story based on the title of this trade collection, Todd Snyder goes on for the entire run about how Gotham City is “hungry,” how it feeds on pain or whatever trite bullshit you want to assume about a city that’s positively famished. Sure, Gotham City is hungry, it’s also sleepy and sneezy and Doc if you sit and think about it long enough. You can apply virtually any metaphor on a fictional city, so why Snyder insisted on going to the long way around to describe its hunger is beyond me. It’s called Black Mirror, many parent/child relationships can be construed as each person being a mirror for the other, and sometimes that mirror is blackened in that we see things about ourselves that might not be pleasant. How does a starving city play into this? What does a corrupting, peckish city have to do with fathers and sons? Very little, I think, and Snyder doesn’t seem to care enough to draw even those parallels. It’s more like he wanted a noir concept to run through the series in order to tie the narrative together, but either didn’t see or care to acknowledge the lay-up concept. No matter. It’s disappointing to see an easily-fielded ball dropped, but it doesn’t mar this engaging story terribly. Check it out, Batman fans.

Comics Worth Avoiding: Piranha Press

24 Jan

I have a confession to make: I never really liked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I got into the comic book around 1987 because I had a crush on some girl who was into it. Wanting to impress her, I made an investment of time and money (the former mine, the latter my parents’) to get the first four trade editions of the comics and become an expert overnight. There were aspects I enjoyed, such as the unsubtle satire of Marvel Comics’ writing and the fact that it was independently-produced, but by and large I felt it was boring. The only thing oddball about the series, in comic book terms, was the title. The characters went through the same one-dimensional foibles and well-timed action scenes as any other dumb superhero book on the market, and did it worse than a lot them besides. But for an excuse to hang around this girl, I got into the Turtles and acted like a devoted fan. We even assumed the characters’ monikers as our nicknames: I think she was Donatello, I was Raphael.


The massive popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the industry-wide shit storm that followed has been well-documented and opined upon. I don’t want to do that. I want to relate my memories of the time, and to my recollection, virtually all of that black-and-white comics shit was awful. In the wake of the Turtles’ direct market success were dozens if not hundreds of sub-par, cheapo action comics, seemingly written by retards and drawn by spastics. I remember a direct Turtles’ knock-off about radioactive hamsters or something, a third-rate parody of second-rate satire. I recall a comic with the tantalizing title of Reagan’s Raiders. I didn’t take any of this shit seriously, and neither did anyone I knew. Maybe I was a little too young to appreciate this crummy renaissance of underground comix, and it was all enjoying robust sales and positive critique among the older high school crowd. But the prepubescent set that I ran with thought the black-and-white comic books revolution was a load of bullshit.


Even worse than these black-and-white action comics were the black-and-white “artsy” comics, each attempting to emulate American Splendor in its own way, most of them falling well short of that relatively attainable goal. If we weren’t buying Hamster Vice, we sure as fuck weren’t going to check out some girl’s maudlin poem framed by a bunch of doodles she made while chatting on the telephone. It was just a lot of garbage that got play during a brief sliver of time when speculating on comic book collecting was profitable and trendy. And that’s where I remember Piranha Press stepped in, DC Comics’ answer to the unasked question that was the chaotic landscape of comic books in the late 1980s. Again, someone more knowledgeable and capable than I can detail the wherefores and particulars of how the imprint began. I was only familiar with the title because (as mentioned before) my father worked in comic books and brought home every Marvel and DC title, every week. That meant I was taking crap like Secret Wars II and Piranha Press titles along with the Batman.


Like I say, I don’t know the specifics behind how Piranha Press began, but I can guess that it was DC’s attempt to exploit the burgeoning black-and-white comics market. They probably appointed someone eccentric to head it up, and he hired a bunch of his friends, regardless of their talent and acumen. What resulted was a sporadic but runny stream of shit that spewed forth from DC like a million continuity reboots. DC was enjoying some great success in the adult comics market with graphic novels like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, yet the stuff coming from its “funny books for folks what don’t like funny books” line was the most puerile, forgettable claptrap. There was a series called Gregory by Marc Hempel that was a study in wasting the reader’s time. And there was this ridiculous series called Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children that featured these rejects from a introductory creative writing class printed alongside grotesque–and possibly well-rendered–pen and wash drawings, however you couldn’t tell how good they might be because the black-and-white pulp printing turned them into featureless grey smudges. And I was ostensibly getting copies direct from the printer, not handled and shuffled around by some distributor or store owner. I’m guessing the hapless fools who actually purchased copies of Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children thought it was a story interspersed with a series of Rorschach blots.


No comic exemplifies the backwards stupidity of Piranha Press and its low standards than Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn. I’ve hated this comic for years, but before writing this essay, I did a search online to see how many people agreed with my accurate and unassailable assessment of this junk. I was surprised to find mostly positive reviews of the work, describing it as quirky and innovative and a whole bunch of other shit that flat out does not apply. I like Kyle Baker, I think he’s a terrific draftsman, and Why I Hate Saturn is, for the most part, meticulously drawn and well-paced. The lettering is also kind of fun. But the story is so meandering and pointless that you end up wishing the words were excised altogether so you could flip through the nice pictures unmolested. It’s clear that the deadline was approaching fast while creating this book, since the last half of the story is jammed in the last eight or so pages. The comic, like Piranha Press as a whole, is a nice experiment that ultimately fails miserably. However, Piranha Press did sort of morph into the Vertigo imprint, so it did some good in the world.

Make Mine Brand Echh

13 May

At one time, my father worked for DC Comics. He isn’t anyone famous, he wasn’t a high-profile employee, but one of the “perks” of this job was that he’d bring home each comic from both Marvel and DC every month, a gigantic pile of comics which soon littered my bedroom floor and cascaded down the staircase to the living room, an uncontainable flood of pulp paper. This was during the mid 1980s, when direct sales of comics through a burgeoning comic book store network revitalized the flagging industry. As a result, there were lots of experiments in comics at the time, some good like The Dark Knight Returns and Walt Simonson’s run on Thor, while others were sort of retarded, like Amethyst and the Fraggle Rock comic. I mean, here’s a comic about a television show that features puppets. It’s the comic book equivalent of broadcasting a ventriloquist on the radio.


It’s true what they say: too much of a good thing can be not so good. Or something like that. What you need to understand is that every title from both DC and Marvel (and Marvel’s adult [read: boobs with nipples] imprint, Epic) totaled a couple hundred comic books per month. Because it wasn’t just Detective Comics Presents Batman and The Amazing Spider-Man, but Batman & Robin and The Spectacular Spider-Man as well. Every big name hero gets at least four titles, one per week, with many branching off into other titles like The Avengers and World’s Finest where they pal around with other, lesser superheroes. Then there’s the titles for those assholes, and then you’ve got berserk shit like the Heathcliff comic and Ambush Bug specials just to apply more pressure to my old man’s aching back. He’d complain about bringing them home, but bring them home he would, to some degree because, as part of his job, he was expected to read every fucking comic from both comic book publishers in order to maintain overall continuity. So basically, you’re asking a grown man to read Power Pack. I don’t think he read all or even most of them and I don’t blame him a bit.


I, on the other hand, read each and every comic, each and every month. When they cost money, I didn’t give a shit about comic books, but since they were free I was happy to paw through every retarded page in every issue I could lay my hands on, before my brother could hermetically seal them in acid-free comic book bags with coated cardboard backing. I actually read more Marvel comics this way, because the copies from that publisher that my dad brought home had COMPLIMENTARY COPY stamped across the front in purple ink, thereby rendering them valueless. I didn’t care about collecting comics, I just wanted to read them. It was part of my voracious desire to read continuously and about a variety of subjects. Periodically, my mom would come into my room and nearly faint dead away at the sight of the foot-high pile of comics that comprised my bedroom floor. We’d shovel them into big black garbage bags and leave them at the curb for garbage trucks. This was before the planet was dying and people had to recycle.


Despite the fact that I was able to read Marvel comics with greater freedom, I preferred DC’s fare much more. I can’t really explain why. It certainly has nothing to do with loyalty to my dad, who never felt or expressed any loyalty to DC in the first place. Had I enjoyed The Incredible Hulk over Legends of the Dark Knight, I don’t think he would have noticed or cared. But I didn’t, I always thought Hulk’s plots were stupid and drawn out, while Batman comics contained neat story arcs that didn’t require my purchasing every back issue in existence to figure out what the hell was going on. It’s funny to me that Marvel is considered by many to contain the better human stories, because I couldn’t disagree more. I do understand that when Marvel first hit the scene in 1960, their in-depth explorations of many superheroes’ alter egos was revolutionary. However, by the time I was checking comics out, DC had long since caught up and their characters were likewise having crises of conscience on every other page.


It’s probable that the time I got into comics, when DC was first printing “FOR MATURE READERS ONLY” on the covers of some of their more salacious titles, has a lot to do with my preference. The first comic book I remember really enjoying was Swamp Thing, and I began reading it precisely when Alan Moore first started writing the series, beginning with the brilliant story The Anatomy Lesson. Here was a comic book with big words, literary pacing, and a science-fiction twist which turned Swamp Thing from a big strong guy covered in moss to one of the most powerful and ethereal characters in the DC universe. Watchmen by Alan Moore also came out around this time, and I’ve already written about its impact on me. Keith Giffen was writing for The Legion of Super Heroes which made a ridiculous idea of a super-powered, futuristic police force somewhat compelling. And then, of course, there was Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which is probably the singular cause for my ongoing Batman obsession.


My dad wasn’t thrilled about me reading these “mature” comics, but by the time I was ten I had already read The Catcher in the Rye and Go Ask Alice, so the adult themes presented in these comics books–largely copious amounts of cleavage and light sexual innuendo–seemed pretty tame in comparison. I mean, I saw Revenge of the Nerds in the theater when I was nine, for crying out loud, and that had full frontal nudity. I think that the reason I preferred DC over Marvel is because I am a fan of reading more than I am a fan of looking at pictures, and while the drawing for many Marvel comics was far superior to DC’s at the time (no dis to George PĂ©rez), I found the stories inane and stupid. A good comparison would be between Marvel’s Secret Wars and DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Both are company-wide crossover events involving every character in their respective continuities, but Secret Wars was a kind of gimmick that had few repercussions on the Marvel universe after it was done. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a complete revision of DC’s continuity, killing off many characters and rebooting the origins of others. It’s like the former took an easy way out while the latter really worked to make a cohesive plot. Which is not to say that Crisis on Infinite Earths was perfect, by any means. I could deride that particularly overburdened Dear John letter to Julie Schwartz all day.


Pop eventually quit working at DC, and the deluge of comic books ceased instantly. I got over it. Comics were a nice diversion, but nothing I really wanted to spend money on. Except for Batman, which I followed in various forms throughout my twenties, I pretty much abandoned comics until I got nostalgic for my wasted youth and started buying up trade collections of titles I remembered, and reading ones lent to me by friends. And you know what? I still prefer DC by far. I’ve amassed a good collection of Superman and Justice League books, a lot of titles under their Vertigo imprint, a bunch of Green Lantern paperbacks, and the bulk of collections that survived the nearly thirty years since my dad worked at DC are from that publisher. In fact, I don’t have any more comics with the purple COMPLIMENTARY COPY stamp on the front at all. I wish I had held on to the complete run of Atari Force that my brother bagged, though.

Identity Crisis Leaves You Feeling a Little Fucked Up

4 Apr

I’ve often wondered why so many superheroes bother with secret identities. An otherwise normal human in a silly get up, I can understand. If everyone knew Bruce Wayne was actually Batman, he’d probably get laughed out of every Wayne Enterprises board meeting and snickered at by the local newspaper vendor, never mind the hate mail he’d receive from Arkham Asylum. But a guy like Superman, why does he bother holding down a day job at the Daily Planet? Does he need the money or something? Seems like he could save himself a lot of aggravation if he’d just go Superman full-time and leave his personal relationships behind. It’s not like Supes would be hard up for loving, you know. The guy could be banging multi-tentacled outer space supermodels if that was his preference.


But my assumption that Superman would want to be screwing interstellar hotties helps define why I am a sweaty, smelly, gruff man-ogre and not a sensitive, progressive humanist, because when I think of Superman, it’s of him punching Mongul through an oil tanker and not of him sharing a smooch with Lois Lane. That human connection is ostensibly why Superman hangs around to protect Metropolis and Earth in the first place. So the Clark Kent alter ago, as unbelievable as it may be, is necessary, both as a reason for Superman to bother fighting space crimes and to protect his loved ones from warranted super villain attacks. Same goes for folks like Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Ray Palmer/the Atom, and Ralph Dibny/the Elongated Man.


I really liked the Elongated Man when I was younger, far more than Plastic Man and Jimmy Olsen as Elastic Lad (I swear the three of them teamed up to become the Rubber Band in the 1980s, though I have never seen any evidence other than my own faulty memory). The Elongated Man is, first and foremost, a detective, while Plastic Man and Olsen are pretty much hapless dopes who are lucky to have a super power because otherwise they’d be long dead. I also liked that he was happily married to his wife, Sue, and that he went public with his super identity. So I was very pleased to find that, upon reading the trade collection of Identity Crisis, that this public life was immediately exploited in the very first pages of the comic when Sue Dibny is murdered. I mean, I’m not pleased that Sue Dibny was murdered, just that Ralph’s option to absolve himself of a secret identity was going to be a plot point.


Following Sue’s death, events ramp up pretty quickly as members of the Justice League scatter across everywhere to solve the mystery of how she was killed. A select few, voiced mainly by the venerable Green Arrow, go to find Dr. Light who they believe is responsible for killing Ralph’s wife because–brace yourself–they performed a magic lobotomy on him after he stole aboard the Justice League’s secret clubhouse years earlier and raped Sue Dibny. And with that, it’s like the whole happy world of the Superfriends and the Batman TV show with Adam West just falls apart, every issue of Power Pack and Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen is deemed irrelevant as we learn that the superheroes tasked with protecting mere humans are no less vindictive and spiteful than we are on a daily basis. And that, for the citizens of Fictional Comic Book Land, is a scary prospect.


Comic book stories have tackled the issue before, but it is implied that the only reason certain people are allowed to prance around in leotards while others are incarcerated or worse is because the former stands in defense of the status quo, while the other hopes to destroy it. Moreso, the former group of heroes are expected to act above and beyond the common mores because there’s a lot more at stake when you can shoot lightning from your eyeballs or talk to marine animals or whatever. I mean, if I found out that my friend had the ability to freeze things with his mind, and he was using it solely to keep his beer cold, I’d be a little leery of getting on his bad side. Lord knows I like my beer cold, too.


What was my point? Oh yeah. With great power comes great responsibility. In a reality where being attacked by laser-spewing planet eaters is the norm, one would hope that the superhuman strike force being deployed won’t be swayed by creature comforts or a threat against their pet Fluffy. From superheroes we expect self-sacrifice, adherence to a strict moral code, and for fuck’s sake we can’t let them kill people. Seriously. Once Green Lantern gets that blood lust he’ll be snipping our heads off with giant emerald pinking shears. In Identity Crisis, we see very fallible heroes who justify some pretty fucked up acts in the name of protecting their secret identities and, by extension, their loved ones.


So yeah, I recommend this collection to anyone already pretty aware of the DC Universe, and who doesn’t mind watching the fictional characters they may have once looked up to act like heart-wrenching douchebags. There is one nagging inconsistency about this whole mess that I feel I have to mention: if the Justice League feels okay with performing ethereal brain surgery on friend and foe alike (Seriously. Read the book.), then why the fuck haven’t they killed the Joker? If any DC villain (that isn’t an immortal of some kind) ever deserved death, it’s him. The Harlequin of Hate has killed so many and caused so much misery, what is the purpose of keeping him around? Besides for product licensing, I mean.

Yeah I’m Pretty Into Gotham Central

31 Mar

I don’t think I’ve ever watched a full episode of a police show other than Police Story starring Leslie Nielsen. I’m just not interested, really, in the interpersonal relationships of overworked police officers and their frightening, dangerous lives. I like some forensic detective shows and I’ve read plenty of true crime pulp paperbacks, but it’s the cop drama shit that leaves me cold. I love the theme song to Hill Street Blues yet never sat through an episode.

However, due to my uncontrollable man-lust for Batman stories, I was very interested to read Gotham Central, described as “NYPD Blue meets Batman” by DC’s own publicity copy. The series ran some years ago, I just never got around to reading it. I finally read the series in its collected hardback editions, and it’s pretty righteous.


I think that a series like this could only work for Batman (at least in the DC Universe) because Gotham is the only city where the police have the luxury of resenting its protective superhero. In Metropolis you’ve got Superman clobbering mountain-sized aliens and swatting away nuclear missiles while people are milling about on their lunch breaks. Even though he causes incredible amounts of property damage, what are you going to tell Superman? Knock it off? Besides leaving yourself open to innumerable monster attacks, Superman is someone you want to keep on your good side. Batman is just a man in a funny costume who beats the snot out of a lot of other human beings in funny costumes, which is what the cops are supposed to do. I think that this same series set in Metropolis would be an insider’s look into a Superman Fan Club. Gotham Central, not so much.

The story centers around the Major Crimes Unit of the Gotham Central Police Department, which is notorious for its corruption and inefficiency. The M.C.U., mostly hand-picked by Commissioner Gordon, are the only stalwart defenders of justice on the whole force, unwilling to take bribes or legal shortcuts to get their perps. They resent the Batman for, well, making them look silly essentially, and the rest of the GCPD resents the M.C.U. because they can’t be bought.


The first problem with this series is that Commissioner Gordon isn’t in it. Faithful followers of Batman will know why, but any casual fan who decides to pick up the series will want to see Jim Gordon. Harvey Bullock, the slovenly one-time foil for Batman also isn’t on the force, though he does figure prominently in one story arc. Again, there is a perfectly cogent reason why Bullock isn’t a cop, but if you don’t follow the overall Batman continuity religiously, then you might miss him. It could definitely be argued that Gotham Central is not a series for the occasional Batman reader, being that it’s a sort of meta story within the overall Batman series. But that’s lazy, I think. Any comic book should be able to stand on its own merits and appeal to new readers consistently, rather than manifest as some overworked, entrenched plot line only obsessive compulsive types can enjoy. Save the headier stuff for graphic novels.


A more interesting character omission is Batman, who makes a few cameo appearances but is otherwise barely seen at all. This is clearly by design, since Batman is considered to be a myth by most citizens of Gotham City and many of its rank-and-file police officers. The only ones who know for sure about Batman are the detectives in the M.C.U., being that they have control of the famous bat spotlight on top of the police station (though a citizen, an intern of the M.C.U., must turn it on and off since the GCPD publicly disavows any knowledge of the hero). Of course, Batman still figures prominently into every storyline, being that the detectives are either chasing down one of the members of his rogues’ gallery, or they are actually chasing him.

Gotham Central is a look behind the scenes of the Batman universe: what happens when supervillain evidence gets misplaced, how much emotional damage is caused by the haphazard actions of goofy-looking psychopaths, how police officers feel about being relegated to being Batman’s backup squad. Notably, Gotham Central ran during Batman’s War Games story arc, when the Caped Crusader commandeers the GCPD to combat a citywide gang war, resulting in some casualties and a lot of police resentment. The M.C.U. dismantles the spotlight on the station roof and emotions boil over as we see police officers’ helplessness against this high-flying vigilante. It was some compelling drama for a comic book.


And that it was a comic book is really my one gripe: Gotham Central did not need to be a comic book. It could have been served just as well–perhaps better–as a series of novels that delve into the inner minds of these characters. It might have also made a good cop show (and could have, if Warner Bros. hadn’t put a moratorium on Batman TV shows at the time). But for a comic book, there isn’t a whole lot of action and a there is quite a bit of people standing around saying “$@#!” to each other. However, as my girlfriend pointed out to me, would people have bothered to read it if it wasn’t a comic book? And the answer is that I would have, but I would be the exception. Batman is a comic book superhero, no matter how much I wish he was my pal.


As a fan of Batman, I really enjoyed Gotham Central. The writing was tight and well-paced, the art served the story well, and I pretty much devoured the whole series in two evenings. The series ends on a sad note as the DC universe started to reorder itself through the incomprehensible events of Final Crisis, which ironically put Jim Gordon back as Commissioner of the police department and reinstated Harvey Bullock’s badge. So it’s like Gotham Central was all a dream, a nuanced, gritty dream where everyone speaks in symbols and punctuation.

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