Yesterday on Twitter, Clint Hagen said that there was a two page spread in the new issue of Detective Comics that would warm the cockles of my heart.
Yep. That’ll do it.
And what better way than two boots to two faces to start off another round of the Internet’s Most Cockle-Warming Comics Reviews? Here’s what I picked up this week…
…and here’s what I thought about ’em!
Barack the Barbarian #1: All right, look: I know, okay? I know. But bear with me here for a second.
As much of a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal as I am, and as much as I’ve been a supporter of our current president over the past couple of years, I’ll be the first to admit that this whole Barack-Obama-In-Comics thing has gotten way out of hand. The Spider-Man thing was fine (although incredibly poorly promoted to retailers) and the graphic biographies of the major players in the run-up to the election were a decent enough (if transparently cash-grabbing) move, but jeez. It’s worse now than zombies were in ’07, to the point where the dude’s dog is getting his own comic, which makes the line between actual “collector’s item” product and Marvel’s self-parody in the pages of Pet Avengers all but invisible. And in front of the pack, there’s this one, which at first glance is the most egregious of all.
I say “at first glance” because, well, I’ve been holding out hope for this one due to the presence of writer Larry Hama. I honestly have no idea what the guy’s politics are, so I was curious as to the tack he was going to take with the political satire element of it. I mean sure, he did write the Reagan era’s most famous military comic (though “militaryish” might be a better descriptor there), but the more serious issues tended to glorify service rather than combat, which is an idea that even a bleeding-heart Defeatocrat like me would have a hard time shooting down. And yes, Hama’s a guy that famously carried an Uzi in his briefcase and used his concealed weapons permit as his photo ID, but he’s also the dude that told Christopher Priest to “never let the white man take advantage of you.” Any one of those factors taken separately would be a pretty strong clue to some kind of political leaning, but all together, they pretty much just add up to a guy that sounds like he’d be really fun to hang out with.
So yeah, curiosity was a pretty big part of it, as was the fact that in general, I like Hama’s work (excepting, of course, that Batman run), and when I heard that his analogue for Ann Coulter was going to be called “The Shrieking Enchantress,” I thought there might be a chance that this could actually turn out pretty funny.
And much to my surprise, it actually is a pretty sharp political satire.
Admittedly, that’s the MAD Magazine definition of “satire,” but if you’re going into a book called “Barack the Barbarian” looking for anything other than goofy jokes, that’s more your fault than Hama’s. And believe me, most of it is incredibly goofy–it’s a parody recap of a pretty insane sequence of events after all–but there are occasional jokes that just soar. There’s a framing sequence of the whole thing being related as a muddled folk tale passed down to future generations that are suffering through a new Ice Age that leads to cars becoming literalized as chariots pulled around by dead dinosaurs, which is a great sight gag, and honestly? The comparison of Washington under Bush to Robert E. Howard’s Tower of the Elephant might be a groaner, but it’s so maddeningly obvious that I was slapping my forehead for not thinking of it even as I laughed.
And that’s the most important thing: It’s actually funny. And if the rest of the series holds up to the fun of the first issue, it might just be worth reading all the way through.
Plus, there was an Abe Lincoln appearance, and you know how I am about those.
Detective Comics #854: This is a comic book where a bat-themed vigilante takes a double-page spread to kick two people in the face at once, and in the backup story, the Question punches out a dog. Any discussion of why I loved this issue could probably end right there and you’d all understand.
But let’s go on for a minute anyway. I’ve been a pretty big fan of Greg Rucka since he broke into the Batman books in 1999, and with pretty good reason: Queen & Country is an espionage masterpiece, and Gotham Central, which he wrote with the always amazing Ed Brubaker, was probably the best comic DC’s produced in the past decade. His more recent work, though, has been lost on me.
I mean, one would think that criminals getting together with a Crime Bible to worship Darkseid in an occult version of Intergang sounds like a pretty good idea, and so does having the Question track them down and beat them all up with the objectivist martial art known as Ditkarate, but in practice, it all came off as lackluster, and I didn’t even bother to read the Final Crisis tie-in series. Here, though, he takes something of a back-to-basics approach that keeps what works about the Crime Bible cult and ditches the rest of it: There’s no long, faux-King James excerpts to get through this time, there’s just An Evil Cult in Gotham City, and Batwoman is going to stop them by kicking them in the head until they’re beaten. The perfect plot.
Also, Rucka takes a nice opportunity to give us some character development for Kate Kane, who, despite the hullaballoo surrounding her debut, hasn’t really had enough “screen-time” to develop beyond just being Renee Montoya’s ex-girlfriend. Here, though, there are a lot of nice small touches that flesh her out–the scene with the wig is as much an homage to TV show Batgirl as it is a way to show that she’s smarter about being a vigilante than Batman’s giving her credit for–and the idea of her trying to actually balance her life as a socialite rather than just using it as a disguise could make for some interesting bits.
Of course, the real star here is JH Williams III, who is just killin’ it in this issue. That’s not really a surprise, as he drew one of my favorite Batman stories and did an amazing job there too. But in Detective, he’s doing something I haven’t seen him do before: juxtaposing his more painted-style art and interesting, jagged layouts for Batwoman with a more standard art style and gridded pages for Kate Kane in her civilian identity. Both styles are gorgeous, and the transitions are a very neat way to show a more polarized break than you’d see from Batman. Just excellent work all around.
As for the backup, it was enjoyable enough, although–dog-punching aside–not terribly spectacular. As characters, I like The Question and I like Renee Montoya each an awful lot, but Montoya as the Question is something I’ve never quite warmed to, which largely goes back to her apperances being in some pretty lousy books. This one, though, reads like a straight-up story more in the vein of Denny O’Neil’s legendary Question series, to the point where you could pretty much superimpose Vic Sage onto the art and be none the wiser. This of course begs the question of why they bothered to kill Sage off and move Montoya away from the type of stories that she really thrived in, but on the other hand, it’s eight pretty solid pages with some nice art from Cully Hamner, and I’ve always said that I care less about what comics are about than if they’re any good, so who am I to complain?
Overall, it was a good addition to what was already a fantastic, phenomenally well-drawn read, but unlike Streets of Gotham, it’s definitely the main story that’s keeping me interested here.
Batman: The Black Casebook: This one actually came out last week while I was off HeroesConning, but I wanted to draw your attention to it, not just because it contains this gem of a panel, but because it’s quite possibly the first trade paperback to come out because I demanded it.
As to whether you should demand it, that depends entirely on your tolerance for ’50s Batman stories (which occasionally make ’50s Superman stories seem like the model of restraint) and how interested you are in seeing the source material for elements that would later crop up in Batman: R.I.P. Me, I’m a sucker on both counts, but like I said way back when, it’s not strictly necessary to read these to enjoy what Morrison does. They are, however, nice to have, and it’s the kind of collection that I would’ve read ’til the binding wore out when I was a kid, so take that as you will.
I will say, though, that the best part so far has been the introduction, where Morrison talks about writing an imaginary four-issue Knight and Squire series, and seriously? Unless your name is “Chris’s Mother,” there’s a good chance I’d stab you to get that thing published.
Empowered v.5: Hey everybody, there’s a new volume of Empowered out! You should probably go buy it!
That’s about as much of a review as I’m comfortable giving, since–as long-time ISB readers may recall–I’ve been in the tank for Adam Warren since Fatal But Not Serious. Still, if you’re curious about the actual making of Empowered, then you could do a hell of a lot worse than to check out this interview with Warren by Pal of the ISB Benjamin Birdie, who sheds some light on that guy’s maddening creative process.
In the interview, one of the things that really stuck out to me was Warren’s line about how he was hoping to not be drawing at all at this point in his career, which just blows my mind. It’s not that I think it’s ludicrous for Warren to be able to make it as a writer or anything. Far from it, he’s incredibly gifted, as evidenced by the fact that he was able to turn a bunch of bondage commissions into one of the most compelling series of OGNs on the rack today that’s just overflowing with ideas. It’s just that he’s so darn good that he’s done five trades’ worth of stories with pencils so tight that they didn’t even need to be inked, and yet he doesn’t want to draw. But then again, we all kind of hate our jobs, so it’s pretty understandable.
Anyway, Empowered v.5: It’s very good, and Warren’s writing is sharp enough that he telegraphs the ending at least twice, and yet it only serves to build up the tension rather than detracting from it. It’s good stuff. But you already knew that.
X-Men and Spider-Man HC: Every now and then, usually when the subject of the Transformers or Castlevania II is brought up, I’ll make a controversial statement here on the ISB that divides my readership. And tonight, I’m going to do it again:
This is the best story about Mr. Sinister ever.
Okay, okay, so maybe the bar there isn’t set all that high, but still, this thing is a hoot that–despite featuring Marvel’s two most popular properties–managed to slip under a lot of folks’ radars. And that’s a shame, because in addition to the hoot of a story by Christos Gage that works like a slightly more serious version of Dan Slott’s Spider-Man/Human Torch with Johnny Storm swapped everyone’s favorite mutants swapped out, this thing also features the art of Mario Alberti, and that guy is fucking incredible.
I usually stick to talking about writing in my reviews because it’s so much easier for someone to just look at a page and see how good it is for themselves, but man, Alberti’s art on this book deserves all the praise it can get. It’s that amazing combination of the detailed European style that you see on books like Blacksad but with a dynamism that works so well when it’s applied to, say, a scene of Kraven the Hunter blasting Iceman with laser-beams from his nipples.
Yes, that really happens.
And that’s the week. As always, if you’d like to discuss how Viking #2 was even better than the first issue (and still full color and oversized at $2.99!) or whatever, feel free to leave a comment.