More often than not, a fifth Wednesday in any given month means a “slow week” for comic book readers. Not so this time around, though, so let’s take a look and see what the LCS and the US Mail had in store for yours truly —
Spain Volume 1 : Street Fighting Men is the first in a multi-volume retrospective from Fantagraphics of the career of legendary, trailblazing underground master (and Zap Comix co-founder) Spain Rodriguez. His famous allegorical “stand-in” character Trashman takes center stage (and rightly so) in this book, and you already know all these strips (presented here in their entirety) are beyond fucking awesome, but also worthy of note here is the inclusion of “Manning,” a superb 1969 story about police corruption that originally ran in The East Village Other, as is the richly-detailed text history of the artist’s life and times authored by underground scholar par excellence Patrick Rosenkranz. $29.99 cover price, but you know you can find it for less than that easily enough. Buy this or die.
“Thems” is an intriguing and typically idiosyncratic one-shot written, drawn, and self-published (in magazine-sized format, no less) by Denver-based cartoonist Alex Graham (she of Cosmic BE-ING renown) featuring three of her extra-terrestrial (or should that be extra-dimensional?) characters who have a long history together going back multiple lifetimes and are re-united here on Earth. How best to consummate this rekindled eternal bond? How about a menage-a-trois? Drawn in somewhat-thicker-than-is-her-norm black ink and printed on yellow paper, to call this a “sex comic the likes of which you’ve never seen before” is to give it short shrift. I can’t claim to entirely understand everything Graham is depicting here, but I do know that I like it — and I think you will, too. Seven bucks very well spent, available from Porcellino’s outfit at http://www.spitandahalf.com/
Batman Annual #2 might be something you’d be surprised to see me drop five bucks on given my frequently-stated antipathy toward Tom King’s run on this series in general (there have been a couple notable highs, but far too many lows), but here he’s re-teamed with artist Lee Weeks (for the most part, at any rate — Michael Lark does the final seven pages), and their collaboration on Batman/Elmer Fudd Special #1 was terrific, so what the hell, am I right?
This one’s an Earth-2 story focused on an early meeting meeting between Batman and Catwoman, then it jumps to the future and shows their life as an elderly married couple, complete with tear-jerker ending. On first reading I was damn impressed with this yarn, I admit, but on second (hey, it only takes 10 minutes or so) its calculated and contrived cynicism is easy to spot. The “flashback” segment that forms the bulk of the book basically only exists to add emotional “punch” to the epilogue and isn’t much on its own (apart from a gorgeous two-page center spread by Weeks), and conversely said epilogue only serves to remind us of what we’re never gonna get from the Bruce-Selina relationship in the “main” Bat-book, because who are we kidding? Editorial simply can’t or won’t allow it to develop into the warm, loving, long-term marriage we see here. If I pick this thing up again six months or a year from now, who knows? I may like it all over again. But right now it basically looks like a one-trick-pony “Elseworlds” kinda thing — albeit a gorgeously-illustrated one. Extra props to colorists Elizabeth Breitweiser (on Weeks) and June Chung (on Lark) who give the book a lavish, moody look.
I’m thinking that the genesis of Batman : Creature Of The Night (the first issue of which just hit shelves in the old “Dark Knight Format,” priced at $5.99) went as follows:
“Yeah, Kurt Busiek here.”
“Hey, Kurt, it’s Dan DiDio (or Jim Lee, take your pick — doesn’t really matter either way). Remember that Superman : Secret Identity thing you did maybe 10,12 years ago? That “real world” story about that kid whose life was kinda like Superman’s? People liked that, so I was thinking — you wanna do it again? This time with Batman?”
“Uhhhhmmmm — what’s it pay?”
“$(redacted). And we’re gonna get John Paul Leon to draw it, so you know it’ll look great.”
“Sure, what the fuck — I’m in.”
And thus is a self-described “spiritual companion” born. And yeah, it does look good — great, even. But the whole thing has the stench of “been there, done that” about it — you know, like pretty much everything else coming out of DC these days.
This, of course, is the point at which I’d normally launch into a “what’s it gonna take until we get something new and genuinely innovative”-style diatribe, but I dunno. I think the “Big Two” have been so successful at narrowing down their audience to nothing but the crustiest, most developmentally-stunted nostalgia addicts that a creative dead end like this will probably get great reviews, win Eisners, and sell reasonably well (by today’s standards, at any rate). The “target audience” for this thing is clearly 40-60-year-olds who want to feel good about the fact that they still read superhero comics and occasionally even need to be flat-out congratulated for it. “No, you haven’t wasted thousands of dollars and years of your life — here’s a reminder of why you love this stuff that hits every emotional and story ‘beat’ you could ever ask for. That’ll be six bucks — you’re welcome. Oh, and you’re cool with us, no matter what anyone else might think.” Needless to say, I won’t be back for the second issue. in fact, I feel pretty damn stupid for buying this one.
And on that snide and derisive note, I think I’ll call it a wrap before I piss off every single reader out there. Next week we’ve got — shit, I don’t even know. Haven’t checked the advance solicits yet. But I’m sure there’ll be at least a few things worth talking about, so hopefully I’ll see you back here then.