REVIEW: "DC Universe: Rebirth" #1 Makes the Future of DC Comics Look Genuinely Bright
Sunday? Again? Already? Here we go, then. Links, cartoon review, ruminations on the cud of the industry.
CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: Invent a sidekick for a superhero who has never had a sidekick.
BRAVE AND THE BOLD DEPT: “The Last Patrol!” Written by J.M. DeMatteis
Every story this show has told since it came back from its hiatus has turned into a treatise on death and heroic sacrifice. In this episode written by current Doom Patrol scribe Keith Giffen’s heterosexual lifemate, J.M. DeMatteis, we get a relatively faithful retelling of the last Silver Age Doom Patrol story, including an exact recreation of that final scene right down to Elasti-Girl under a net and everybody talking about “all men as brothers.” (If you need more evidence that this is the nerdiest show on television, look no further than the various recreations of famous Doom Patrol covers, such as the one above and also the one with the evil robot jukebox, as well as all the cameos in the circus scene, including ape-faced Dorothy Spinner and Shasta the Living Mountain from the Doom Force one-shot). The irony in those final moments, of course, is that no man was the Doom Patrol’s brother. Like the X-Men, they were misfits and outcasts, but they took it even further, sequestering themselves from mankind. Batman seeks them each out in turn in this episode, each one having done their best to avoid society and normalcy at any cost. Elasti-Girl disguises herself as an obese woman on vacation, Negative Man joins a circus sideshow, and, in my favorite sequence, Robotman (voiced by Henry Rollins, which is so perfect I can’t even believe it) hires himself out as a living crash test dummy, continually recreating the automobile accident that turned him into a robot in the first place.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much to the plot of this episode. The Doom Patrol, vanished and retired since they sacrificed one hostage to defeat their archnemesis, are sought out by a motley crue of ridiculous and weird enemies (including my favorites, Mallah and the Brain (who speaks with an outrageous French accent like John Cleese) and the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man), and then bullied back into heroic service by Batman. Of course, that comes back to bite Batman in the ass when he gets them all killed. Even Zahl, the Nazi bastard who set them up to die, mourns their loss, and ends up turning them into martyrs, sparking a worldwide “We are all the Doom Patrol!” movement. In death, they find acceptance. In death, they have each other. Doomed, they find purpose.
Also Batgirl shows up and uses the phrase “larcenous lepidopterist,” so it’s awesome.
RANDOM THOUGHT! I have yet to read a comic written by Nick Spencer, but that guy is everywhere. Soon all comics will be written by him, and I will have no choice.
RANDOM THOUGHT! Speaking of Spencer– and the imminent death of his Jimmy Olsen back-up strip I was excited to read– how about this DC price drop? Naturally, cheaper things are better– but that cutting of two pages reminds me of the 17-page issues from the 1970s, and in today’s economy, creators losing two pages of income per book per month is probably a bad thing, overall. Either way, it’s a very temporary stop-gap measure, and the future of comics pricing most likely depends on the digital marketplace.
PURPOSEFUL THOUGHT! I think the real way to make comics worth the price is to increase the inherent narrative value thereof. Noel Murray of the AV Club thinks TV “should start taking some storytelling cues from comic books, where serialized narratives are divided into shorter story arcs”– with shows renewed by “arc” rather than season, thereby circumventing sudden cancellation. My view is the Bizarro spin on that; I think comics need to learn some lessons for TV, giving us more bang for our buck by treating issues as “episodes,” condensing the ongoing narrative into more palatable chunks, rather than pacing everything out for the trade paperback– which, in this analogy, is the DVD set. Yes, your box set of Breaking Bad or whatever works as a single unit (and the series itself, when finished, will presumably do the same), but it’s also composed of 13 units, each of which is designed to function as a satisfying piece of TV in and of itself. If comics companies want us to keep buying single issues, they need to make those single issues worth buying. Tell me a story in 20 pages– let it be part of a larger story, or several larger stories, sure, but tell a story, not a scene or a chapter. I’m all for narrative compression. (Look to Grant Morrison’s “Seven Soldiers” as the perfect example of how I want all my comics to read.)
GO, READ: The Mindless Ones have been very busy putting a PDF ‘zine together, and finally, it’s here! So go check out The Prism, which includes a Casanova piece by Sean Witzke, a comic strip, and a massive “annocommentations” bit on the latest League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
ITEM! I have missed Jog’s mighty criticism, but over at Comics Comics, he talks about the new issue of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Neonomicon, which is probably vying for weirdest comic of the year:
Amorality is important. Critical, even. Burrows can be a visceral artist, but in this issue’s finale his characters only bob and hump, lumpy and non-idealized as genuine participants in real sex parties tend to be. It’s funny seeing a woman hanging out with a tiny, precisely detailed double-headed strap-on in position, even without Moore’s deliberately banal dialogue. In this space, trapped as Agent Brears is, nothing really matters, except to her. The horror isn’t that something looks awful, it’s that an awful act is sharing space with such relaxation, so that the reader is trusted to understand that it’s awful, because Moore are Burrows, good as they are to allow horrible dripping mascara and occasional bursts of awkwardly panicked dialogue to appear, don’t really push the issue.
ITEM! Tucker Stone. Darwyn Cooke. The Outfit. Comics Alliance. Words (18,000):
Yeah, there were a couple of critics who referred to “The Hunter” as “bloodless.” That the violence is antiseptic. I don’t think those people have read the book. It’s a reflection of the character, of Westlake, that they never dwell on this stuff. Even at the end of “The Outfit,” I make a lot more out of the death than there is in the book. In the book, Parker pulls the trigger, the guy clutches his chest, and he slumps over. Those moments of violence are non-events in the book. They’re simply there to punctuate or catalyze another set of hurdles. That really works in the books, but to a certain degree in the graphic novels, you want to feel these guys get shot. It’s why I have him strangle Mal Resnick in nine panels, blocked off in a wide shot. It’s because those scenes are completely emotionally dislocated in the books. They never have anything to do with emotion. There’s no passion behind them, it’s ruthlessness and efficiency. I didn’t want to get sexy with it. [Laughs]
ITEM! Remember The Curse, a Mike Norton 24-Hour Comic I have a good review? Well, now there’s Curse II: The Cursening, which features a pug PI that is also a pirate, man-eating parakeets, David Bowie (from Labyrinth), and David Bowie’s crotch (also from same). It’s the perfect comic, and you can read it all online for nothing:
ITEM! Gizmodo tells us how our favorite comic book sound effects become real sounds when translated to those motion pictures I hear are quite popular. (Now I’d like to see them attempt “Bowie!” or any Walter Simonson or Incredible Hercules effect.)
OBLIGATORY ETC DEPT: Sims on Parker, the “Atlas” Exit Interview! Parker makes a salient point here:
[T]he challenge was [that] no one in the current market really grew up with these characters, and this current market — as it pertains to Marvel and DC — are all about what they grew up with. It’s tough, because I think the Agents would have good mass appeal outside our industry, if they were to appear on TV or film. But you hear that a lot from low sellers, so it’s conjecture on my part.
The current readership (of Big Two books) is wildly conditioned to respond to “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENT IN THE OVERALL SUPERSTORY WE ARE TELLING.” I’ve railed on this zillions of times, it’s an emphasis on WHAT happens rather than HOW it happens. Downplaying Story in favor of Development — it’s the televisionization of comics.
ITEM! Colin Smith’s latest– okay, one of his latest, the dude writes faster than I can link to him– is about a recent issue of Captain America, the dearth of words in modern comics, and whether said paucity of verbiage has led to comics that don’t make narrative sense. Or something. We get into it a bit in the comments, and by “get into it a bit,” I mean, I come off like an asshole:
The problems associated with presenting old-fashioned plots and characters without an old-fashioned measure of thought balloons, speech bubbles and narrative captions can perhaps be best illustrated by examining Baron Zemo’s various pronouncements in “No Escape: Conclusion” concerning the purpose of his nefarious master-plan. Because there are so many inconsistencies on display in this one single script where Zemo is concerned that the reader is left completely lost as to what the super-villain in the purple-and-gold helmet thought he was up to. Indeed, the only rational conclusion to draw after reading this conclusion is that Zemo is not only mad, but mad in quite different ways on quite different pages, and that his insanity is such that he never realised there was any discontinuity between his state of mind in one scene and that in another.
ITEM! Gavok of the 4th Letter recaps Rick Remender’s rip-roarin’ Runisher (ruh roh, Raggy) run to date, with specific emphasis on the Franken-Castle issues. I am linking to this just to show Greg Burgas that this run was, indeed, awesome.
ROOFTOP/REMODEL: Project Rooftop had a couple neat things this week. Firstly, their JLA Invitational is complete! Behold my new desktop wallpaper (I really love that Martian Manhunter):
Also, the winners and runner-ups for their Captain America redesign contest were announced. Here are a couple designs, the first by our own Canaan Grall, the second disco daredevil look by Joe and Rob Sharp:
Out of town next weekend, so I doubt there will be a Brunch. I could not dare miss a triple 10 in the headline for this week, though! See you when I see you.
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