"Batman's" Gotham Was... Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo
How does it happen that sometimes someone says something and wins someone else over forever? … at times a single word can work miracles. (Manuel Puig, from Kiss of the Spider Woman)
So there I was, opening Butcher Baker #1, ready to dive into the wackiness, and what did I see on the inside front cover? The name of our own English spitfire, Sonia Harris, who designed the logo to this glorious slab of comicbookery. How cool is Ms. Harris? Very cool, if I may so.
Anyway, Butcher Baker is, as you might expect, a pretty insane comic, and I imagine it won’t be for everyone. It’s full of naked women (the only women in the book are naked and having sex the entire time, in fact), on the first page there’s a door knob shaped like a penis, and the hero kills a lot of people after knocking a duly-appointed officer of the law off the road in a high-speed chase. Butcher Baker, a retired superhero, is called back to duty by Dick Cheney and Jay Leno, of all people, who need him to blow up a prison. In order to entice him, they offer him three naked women who are apparently willing to do things that the four other naked women already servicing him are not willing to do. So he jumps in his rig, gets in a car chase with state trooper Arnie B. Willard, and does his job. The “story/art” part of this comic is only 18 pages long, but Casey packs it with information while leaving plenty of story opportunities, which is all you really want from a first issue.
Whether or not you like this issue (and, again, it’s probably a very acquired taste), it’s the kind of thing that would be very nice to see the Big Two do (yes, even with the nudity and swearing). Casey writes a wonderful backmatter story about the time he may or may not have met Steve Ditko (who can tell – the dude is pretty old and hasn’t been seen in a while), and how it, along with the blandness of regular superhero books, inspired him to create this. And he’s right (even if he himself occasionally contributes to that blandness) – superhero comics could use some insanity, and not the kind of insanity we get, which is writers and/or artists mashing together Nazis and zombies and ninjas and thinking it’s cool. Casey is not breaking any new ground with this comic (so far) – it’s a slight parody of Captain America, and it treads ground he’s already covered in Automatic Kafka – but that’s not the point. The point is that Casey goes balls-to-the-wall with the writing, and too many writers play it safe when they’re writing for Marvel or DC. It’s necessary, of course, because Marvel and DC are terrified of someone somewhere taking umbrage (they should remember that if you try to please everyone, you’re probably pleasing no one), but it’s too bad.
I should point out that Huddleston absolutely kills on this issue. He’s always been a good artist, but this issue is a big step forward, as he combines his cartoony style with excellent caricatures, frenetic action, and different linework and colors for different sections of the book. The first scene, where Cheney and Leno convince Butcher to take the job, is pink and red and blue, with Leno and Cheney standing out because they’re not colored, so their blandness contrasts with Butcher’s high-octane fuckathon. The car chase is almost all in beige and black (see below), with Butcher’s American flag paint on his rig popping out from the rest. When Butcher is actually on his mission, Huddleston switches to a scratchier line, turning a wild action book into a grim-‘n’-gritty espionage comic. There’s even a brief section that presumably takes place in the past, where the lines are a bit blurrier, as if we’re looking at the scene on old newsreel film. And, of course, Benday dots are all over the place, most notably in the panel where Butcher parodies Captain America in punching (presumably) Osama bin Laden. Huddleston even paints the final page for good measure.
While the jury is still out on whether Casey is bringing his absolute A game to the book (it sure feels like he is, but it could go sideways), there’s no doubt that this is a huge artistic leap for Huddleston. He’s really the perfect artist for what Casey is trying to do, and he makes the book a hell of a lot of fun, even if you don’t like the naked women and easy targets. Butcher Baker is off to a fine start, and I look forward to more.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I’m not sure if Snyder’s schedule got thrown off by the decision to cut DC’s books down to 20 pages (although it’s nice that this one is 22) or if Jock’s slower than he thought (a distinct possibility), but I know the story with the shark was supposed to begin in this issue (or so I thought) and it’s been pushed back a bit, which makes the ending of last issue a bit odd because it leads into the next longer arc, but this issue has nothing to do with it. I’m not criticizing this issue, you understand, because this is an early candidate for best single issue of the year, but I do wonder about the scheduling.
Yes, this is a fantastic issue. Snyder has decided that James Gordon, Jr. is going to be his pet character, so naturally he has to focus on him a bit. We get two intertwining stories, as Commissioner Gordon stalks a guy who just got of prison (although that bit doesn’t make a ton of sense; Gordon narrates that he did time for arson, but “he was just a stupid kid playing with matches,” and then, a few sentences later, he tells us the guy just got out, even though he’s a much older man, by the look of him) because he knows, in his gut, that he’s a really bad dude, while Gordon also reminisces about a series of kidnappings and the time he took James and Barbara to a lake house, where a friend of Barbara’s disappeared. Gordon can’t help but suspect James, who is, after all, a bit creepy. It’s an amazingly tense issue, because Snyder builds the tension so well – we don’t know if James had anything to do with the disappearance, so when Gordon confronts him, we wonder what’s going to come out, and we also don’t know if Gordon is wrong about Roy Blount, the man he’s stalking. It’s impressive that Snyder is able to do this in 22 pages.
Francavilla, of course, is astonishing. I can’t keep writing the same things about him, because if you don’t know how good he is by now, what more can I say? He does give us two double-page spreads which are simply amazing – one shows Gordon in the center, surrounded by images from his past – one side is James growing up and doing disturbing things, the other is the family arriving at the lake and meeting the girl who disappears. Later in the book, Francavilla gives us Blount walking the streets in the present while, in the past, Barbara’s friend walks along the lake and doesn’t know someone is coming to get her. Both pages are laid out very well, and of course, Francavilla’s colors continue to be a highlight of the book. It’s really a beautiful comic, and the fact that Snyder’s story is as good just makes it more impressive.
If you haven’t been buying Detective, you should give this single issue a look. There are some vague hints about a bigger storyline, but basically, this is a standalone issue, and it gives you a good idea about what kind of writer Snyder is. This really is a fantastic issue.
(Snyder wades into the Gordon family tree here, which is something people should never do. Barbara introduces James as her stepbrother, but that’s not true, is it? Isn’t she not really Gordon’s daughter, but a niece or something? I imagine stepbrother is easier than “cousin,” because that begs the question of why cousins are being raised by the same person. Or is she not even related to Gordon? See, I don’t know these things. Luckily, it doesn’t really matter for this issue. Still – Frank Miller has a lot to answer for! Oh, and Snyder even references “Year One” really obliquely. That was cool.)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
One totally Airwolf panel:
* Wright is usually the colorist, but he’s not listed for this issue, so I’m assuming.
Yes, there are four covers to this special issue, and Starkings was nice enough to send every single one of them to me. My favorite is that first one up above, because I dig that Churchill is homaging his own Uncanny X-Men cover from a decade ago (yes, ten years ago – man, tempus fugit), but the Spirit homage is nifty, too. Here and here are the other two covers. Plus, Duncan Rouleau draws the back cover, so that’s pretty keen, too.
This is a jumping-on point, as Starkings recaps the major points of the elephantmen universe in the first few pages before launching into a very noir-ish tale that, Starkings writes in the backmatter, is much more along the lines of what he initially envisioned for the character of Hip Flask before he went in a different direction. We’ve seen some noir-type stories sprinkled throughout the series, as this is a good one, as it allows Starkings to introduce the major players – Miki, Vanity, Sahara, Ebony, Trench, Obadiah – in a fairly natural way. His story is very science fiction noir – Hip wakes up one morning and he’s a man, so we get the sci-fi weirdness coupled with the fish-out-of-water scenario we often see in noir. Hip loves his life but even though he has a hot and apparently insatiable woman at home, he longs for what he cannot have – Sahara. This is a problem, of course. It all becomes clear in the end (as we knew it would), but it’s fun to go along with the story while Starkings is telling it.
Medellin has been getting better and better on the book, and this is another beautiful issue. When Hip suddenly hallucinates that Yvette (who in this story runs a breakfast kiosk) is set upon by hybrid soldiers, Medellin’s art switches from softer focus to hard-edged. Sahara’s penthouse is drenched in late afternoon sunlight, making her and everything in it a hazy buttery color that becomes more and more red when Obadiah shows up. Medellin was decent when he first got on the book, but he’s been getting better with each issue, which is nice to see.
This is another comic you can pick up just for a nice taste of what Starkings is doing. Considering this has been one of the best comics out there for the past four years or so, you might want to give it a look! I’m just sayin’.
(I haven’t been mentioned the back-up story, “Charley Loves Robots,” mainly because they’ve been one- or two-page pieces of a longer story. It’s by John Roshell, Gabriel Bautista, and André Szymanowicz, and in this issue, we get ten pages of story, and it’s not bad. It’s about a kid who loves robots (duh!) and his grandfather, who doesn’t. They’re on a bit of a collision course, as Charley is sent to his grandfather’s farm for the summer. It’s hard to review it, mainly because it’s only at the very beginning – even with these ten pages – so I’ll have to get to it down the line a bit.)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Some SPOILERS ahead, I guess. I do that sometimes.
This second iteration of Incognito has never felt quite as good as the first, and it’s been hard to really pinpoint why. Now that it’s complete, I can at least wonder why it even existed – Brubaker seems to spend a lot of time to get Zack kind of back where he started, and while nihilism has its place in comics, the fact that this is almost cheerfully nihilistic is kind of odd. One of the reasons I dropped Brubaker’s Daredevil was because is was excessively depressing, and while this isn’t quite that bad, it does seem like there wasn’t much point to this mini-series. Zack got the job done, I guess, but that didn’t seem to be the point – it seemed as if Brubaker was, in this issue at least, trying to show that in this world, there’s absolutely no moral standard and whether or not Zack defeats Simon Slaughter is truly beside the point. That’s all well and good, but that’s not a terribly original idea, and the fact that Slaughter states it so baldly in this issue takes away what little power that message would have. I mean, we know that Slaughter is going to say in his speech even before it comes out of his mouth. Brubaker himself has run with this idea of a man trying to do the right thing but getting sucked down in the muck – he did it to much better effect in Sleeper. The fact that this is a pulp superhero noir is a clever trick, but it’s not really enough. What it really feels like is that Brubaker wanted Zack back in prison, and he couldn’t figure out a way to do it, so he wrote this to get him there. He obviously has more he wants to do with Zack, so he needs him to be where he wants to be, but this series just felt like an overly complicated way to get him there. Sigh. Luckily, there’s a new series of Criminal coming up soon, which is always good to see.
None of this changes the fact that this issue is, of course, gorgeous. But that’s kind of a given!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Jimmy Olsen #1 (“Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week”) by Nick Spencer (writer), RB Silva (penciller), Amilcar Pinna (artist for what appears to be three pages – really, DC?), Dym (inker), Rob Lean (inker), Dave McCaig (colorist), and Rob Leigh (letterer). $5.99, 68 pgs, FC, DC.
I vacillated about getting this, because the one brief chapter I read of it didn’t impress me too much. But the praise of it on yonder Internet – including the fine readers of this here blog – convinced me to give it a whirl. Are you happy now, readers of this here blog?!?!?!?
It’s pretty good, actually. It’s certainly a nice chunk of comics for six bucks. The set-up is from a silly sitcom – Jimmy gets dumped by Chloe Sullivan (who’s – wait – married to Oliver Queen?) because now that Superman is gone, all he wants to do is play “Superman: The Video Game.” So he decides to win her back, especially because he thinks she’s been bedazzled by Sebastien Mallory, the Lexcorp employee who is apparently Jimmy’s Lex Luthor (isn’t that cute?). This leads to a wild week in which he saves Metropolis from an alien invasion, gets engaged to Maggie Mxyzptlk, becomes Co-Superman (which is kind of awesome), and saves the world. Chloe, of course, is usually one step ahead of him, because he’s a doofus. It’s more charming in one big package than I thought from the one chapter I read. It’s not going to win any prizes, but it is a solid story with a lot of fun stuff in it. And yes, Supergirl and the yarn on the cover comes into play.
The one thing that constantly bugs me about comic book writers is the fact that they don’t write someone who is a different age well. From what I can suss out, Nick Spencer is in his early 30s. Perhaps Jimmy is meant to be that old, but it seems like he’s supposed to be in his mid-20s at the oldest. Why is this relevant? Jimmy makes several off-the-cuff comments in this book referencing 1980s cultural events, and I very much doubt that he would have been alive to pick up said cultural references. I’ve written about this before and people have told me to shut it because the writer is writing to the audience, most of whom are in the late 30s or older, but while aliens and genies and Maggie Mxyzptlk and other weird stuff like that in this comic does not ruin my suspension of disbelief, a character making references from before his time would. Look, I don’t make cultural references from the 1960s or even from the mid-1970s, because I was too young. However, I make references to pop culture of the Eighties all the time, because I turned 10 in May 1981, so that decade was my prime time of soaking up pop culture (for instance, someone recently commented on one of Greg Hatcher’s posts that they didn’t know Sheriff Lobo had his own show, which I knew because I actually watched the damned thing). Jimmy Olsen’s would turn 10 around 1995, so he should be making fin de siècle references. He’s actually trapped by a genie in this comic – where’s a Christina Aguilera reference, for crying out loud? Yes, I know this is a silly thing, but it really does bug me when writers write every character as if they’re the same age as the writer. Aren’t you glad I share these things with you?
Anyway, that’s just some small thing that bugs me. Oh, and the fact that DC had to get Pinna to draw what looks like three pages of this. Silva’s art is pretty good, and while Pinna is okay as well, his style is different enough from Silva’s that it’s kind of jarring. Weird that they couldn’t wait a few days or weeks for Silva to draw three pages. Oh well.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Scalped #47 (“You Gotta Sin to Get Saved Part Three of Five: Hearted”) by Jason Aaron (writer), R. M. Guéra (artist), Giulia Brusco (colorist), and Steve Wands (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.
Wow. For the first time in a long time, I don’t like a Jock cover in this series. I mean, this isn’t terrible, but it’s definitely not on par with the majority of the covers of this book. Odd.
It kind of reflects what’s going on inside, too. While Jock’s covers, even uninspired ones, are still better than a lot of what’s out there, so to are issues of Scalped that aren’t quite as good as usual still better than most of what’s out there, and this is an example. Aaron checks in on Dino Poor Bear, whose family has taken in Carol after her abortion and split with Dash. In classic smitten young guy fashion, Dino falls hard for Carol even though she sees him as a brother. Commence crushing of a young man’s soul! The final pages, actually, are fantastic, as Dino walks through the night, pondering why he can’t get the girl and the narration tells us bad things are a-coming. It’s a good ending to a necessary but not a particularly brilliant issue of the series. Aaron hits all the beats that we’ve seen before in these kinds of stories – Carol tries on jewelry that she can’t afford, Carol touches Dino (not like that, you preverts) and Dino misinterprets it, Dino does something to get the money he needs (which is probably one of the more important plot points of the issue), Carol tells him how she feels, totally ignorant of the fact that he’s about to declare his love. Oh dear.
So while it’s not the best issue of Scalped in the world, it still gives us some important information and it still features Guéra’s stunning art. Man, those last few pages, when almost everything is black as Dino walks down the road … chilling, I tells ya!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Oh, Scarlet. Scarlet, Scarlet, Scarlet. What ever are we to do with you?
If I’m ever going to drop this train wreck, I need to do it now. This ends “book one,” and I know if I get sucked into buying issue #6, then I’ll want to know what’s going to happen, and then it will turn into The Unwritten, and nobody wants that! So issue #6 is offered in the latest Previews, and I don’t think I’ll pre-order it. Scarlet is just too much of a mess, and I just can’t keep getting it. It’s really too bad, because Bendis and Maleev are certainly talented (I’ll try Moon Knight even if I fear what they’re planning), but Bendis, especially, just doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing on this book. There’s certainly entertainment value in that, because watching something self-destruct can be compelling, but while I didn’t like the utter implausibility of the premise of this comic, it seemed like Bendis was going to go in some oddball ways. With last issue and then this one, it seems like he’s pulled back from the brink, and the book has become mediocre instead of godawful but still weirdly gripping. Bendis addresses the Arizona shooting in the letters column, as some writers wonder if Scarlet is just too similar to Jared Loughner, but it’s obvious that Scarlet is killing actual criminals (policemen, sure, but criminals), while Loughner is detached from reality, so I don’t think the events in Tucson had anything to do with Bendis pulling back. Perhaps he realized that giving us a heroine who thinks all cops are corrupt makes her far less sympathetic, so in last issue and this issue, characters tell us that not all cops are bad. That’s true, of course (I would argue the majority are not corrupt, but I don’t know for sure), but it also makes this a far less interesting comic. Scarlet has become a dull vigilante, not a visionary, and as Bendis hasn’t spent a lot of time developing her character, she becomes far less interesting just with that shift.
Bendis can’t resist, however, making the cops look stupid once again, as one of them throws a grenade into the crowd at Pioneer Square because he’s pissed off that Scarlet is making a speech. Once again, this is idiotic, not because cops can’t be jerks, but because the authorities made such a big deal last issue about not being provoked by Scarlet. You would think Bendis would show whoever was in charge on the ground at the gathering telling his cops to keep their cool, but apparently the cops were just standing around with no direction at all, and one of them decided to throw a grenade. And then, of course, the higher-ups begin the spin that it might have been a person in the crowd who threw the grenade. Gaaaaaahhhhhhh!
One final thought: Bendis reprints a story about the FBI stopping a bomb threat in Portland – at Pioneer Square, where the “flashmob” gathers in this issue – during the Christmas season. He writes that he doesn’t know what to say about it, just that it struck him. The reason he doesn’t know what to say about it, it seems, is because it doesn’t fit his narrative that cops are corrupt. They just did their job and stopped a terrorist. I know, surprising. I know that Bendis doesn’t necessarily believe in what Scarlet is saying, but it gets back to how simplistic this comic book actually is. It wants to be revolutionary, but so far, it’s falling far short. I just don’t feel like waiting around for it to get any good.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Torres and Hernandez finish their latest horror series, and in some ways, it’s not as good as The Veil, but in other ways, it’s better. I loved the fact that The Veil didn’t punk out at the end, like so many horror stories do, but it also wasn’t as deep as this comic is. Torres and Hernandez don’t quite go for broke on this book, but they do give us a more nuanced look at horror, so there’s that. Ryoko knows what Alan has to do to get them out of the forest, so she helps keep the spirits at bay while he confronts Masami. It’s a tense issue, because we’re not really sure if either of the two principals will survive (we think Ryoko will, but who knows, right?), but Torres manages to write some nice, human moments as well. Ryoko needs to deal with the memory of her father as much as Alan needs to deal with how he treated Masami, so Torres does a good job paralleling their situations (especially on the first two pages, where Hernandez draws both their lives and the narration implies that they are very much the same kind of person). It ends kind of the way we expect it to, although it’s nice that Torres doesn’t telegraph it too much. It’s not as freaky as The Veil, but it’s also better written.
Hernandez has been getting a bit of work from Marvel and Torres is writing some vampire thing for Image, so I don’t know if they have another horror title up their sleeves, but in my book, they’re 2-for-2, so I’ll keep my eye out for any others. I imagine IDW will put out a trade of this before too long, so look for it!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Still great. Duh.
This came out a while ago, but I didn’t order it when it was in Previews because I thought it was just a regular trade instead of a bunch of trades collected in one hardcover. I’m a bit disappointed that Dark Horse didn’t do “Library Editions” of B.P.R.D. but that’s the way it goes. I’ve read a little of this (I got the first thin trade of this series a while ago) and liked it, so I’m looking forward to more hardcovers. I’ve never read anyone who doesn’t love this series, so this should be fun.
The Fish Police volume 1 by Steve Moncuse (writer/artist). $14.99, 104 pgs, BW, IDW.
I have nothing to say about this. I got into comics too late to get the originals, and I’ve been curious about it over the years, so why wouldn’t I take a look at it?
I wrote last week that I was going to see Sucker Punch, but I just couldn’t do it. I don’t mind seeing a crappy but fun movie, but every review I’ve read, plus the guy at my comics shop, who sees a lot of movies and is pretty smart, think it’s absolutely terrible, and even though I could see the matinee (seven bucks plus one dollar for a drink), I actually feel worse about wasting two hours of my life. Is it as bad as I’ve heard, people who’ve seen it? Do you fear for the Superman movie even more now? Fire away! I will say that I’m jazzed about Source Code – I really hope it doesn’t get pounded by the critics!
Let us move on to The Ten Most Recent Songs Played On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle):
1. “Black Boys on Mopeds” – Sinéad O’Connor (1990) “These are dangerous days; to say what you feel is to dig your own grave”
2. “Counting Every Minute” – Foreigner1 (1987) “Can you feel my fingers running through your hair”
3. “All You Need is Love” – Beatles (1967) “There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be – it’s easy”2
4. “Get Out the Map” – Indigo Girls (1997) “I’m gonna love you good and strong while our love is good and young”
5. “Where Have All the Good Times Gone!”3 – Van Halen (1982) “Once we had an easy ride and always felt the same; time was on our side, we had everything to gain”
6. “Man in the Wilderness” – Styx (1977) “Ten thousand people look my way, but they can’t see the way that I feel; nobody even cares to try”
7. “A Question Mark” – Elliott Smith (1998) “Said your final word, but honesty and love could have kept us together”
8. “Blood on the Rooftops” – Genesis (1976) “Better in my day – Oh Lord! for when we got bored, we’d have a world war”
9. “Swallowed in the Sea” – Coldplay4 (2005) “I can only blame myself, you can only blame me”
10. “Words Can Save Us” – Chumbawamba (2008) “World, are you listening now? this fool just had his day”
1 Go ahead. Make fun. I can take it.
2 I was listening to this while taking my daughters to school, and my older daughter started banging her head quite vigorously to it. She often bobs her head or waves her hand when a song has a good beat, but she was really thrashing to this one. Why, I don’t know. She often does things at a slower pace than the rest of us, so perhaps the rhythm was just right for her. Whatever the reason, she was totally rocking out to the Beatles, man!
3 What the hell was up with Eddie and overalls? It’s really weird.
4 Go ahead. Make fun. I can take it. Actually, I’ve long had a theory about why Coldplay is so popular. Chris Martin isn’t all that good a singer; he’s often flat and he doesn’t sing in rhythm with the music. The lyrics are okay but nothing spectacular, and the music is decent but also nothing spectacular. So what’s Coldplay’s secret? Major chords. It’s been a long time since I was anything even approaching a musician, but from what I can pick out of their music, Coldplay uses major chords to huge effect, resolving them perfectly in many of their songs. Lots of bands do this, of course, but Coldplay does it almost obsessively, and they rarely (if ever) use minor chords or strike any kind of dischordant tones, so while other bands might step outside their comfort zones occasionally, Coldplay never leaves it, and that makes their music comforting but not challenging. It’s all about major chords, people!
No one officially got the movie quote from last week (jjc knew it, but didn’t reveal it) – it was from My Dinner with André, a tremendous 1981 movie with Wallace Shawn, of all people. I thought last week’s Community episode was called “My Dinner with Abed,” but it wasn’t, even though Abed set up his meeting with Jeff exactly like the movie. So if you were wondering what the hell was going on last week, that’s what. My Dinner with André is essentially a 100-minute conversation, and it’s fantastic. Anyway, here’s this week’s Totally Random Movie Quote:
“Well, I’m totally over her, all right? Positively!”
“Me too! Definitely! … Great stems, though …”
“Yeah, those were nice …”
Is that too easy? Oh well – they’re totally random!
Enjoy your baseball team’s brief moment to believe they can win the World Series before the Phillies crush their dreams! You know it’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of time!!!!
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