My wife has been urging me to read this one for MONTHS and so I finally decided it was time to do so. This collects a run of early issues of the Batman Confidential series from 2008 or so and (re)tells the story of Batman first encountering The Joker.
There’s some good stuff here, even as Michael Green (“the writer of TV’s Heroes”) rewrites history. In this version The Joker is a very good criminal with a bored death wish named Jack; Harley Quinn is a sympathetic bar waitress who’s in med school studying psychology; and so on. This isn’t cannon, but it’s still a very intriguing take on a familiar story.
The script is handled with a care for the characters – or rather their psyches. Batman may well be just as screwed up and broken on the inside as The Joker is. And as such this book examines closely their symbiotic relationship – something I’ve always appreciated (as in The Killing Joke or Long Halloween, or hell… The Lego Batman Movie).
The story is truly dark. There’s some rather haunting scenes: Bruce’s new girlfriend Lorna being stabbed by The Joker; Batman actually hiring a gang to kill The Joker; or maybe the cringiest – The Joker dressed as a clown, asking a young girl at the circus who to spray in the face (with what is unbeknownst to her, his toxin) – her, or her father.
I was on the fence with the art. It is fittingly dark and works well. Though there’s a bit over overdone line detail for my taste. And things are bit too… angular (?) for me. But the coloring was well done. I will say that some of the layouts confused me. One two-page spread had me baffled as I reread it numerous times before figuring out it was drawn clockwise.
Those few nitpicks aside, I thought this was basically pretty great.
Continuing on with my 90’s reading list, this was a breath of fresh air after the last 90’s Spider-Man book I read, Todd McFarlane’s Torment. Indeed all my issues with Torment – the lack of interesting dialogue; the threadbare story; the over-reliance on narration – are all absent here. Instead we’ve got a totally engrossing story about Doctor Octopus assembling a new Sinister Six with a plot to (you’ll never guess) take over the world.
But what’s great is that The Sinister Six and ultimate showdown are not the total focus. Instead we’ve got interesting side stories. Aunt May must deal with grieving a fiance; Mary Jane is the victim of stalking; Peter and MJ are trying to balance having a romantic relationship with Peter’s day-job AND being Spider-Man; Sandman is struggling with not wanting to be villain anymore. There’s really a lot going on here to make the story feel fleshed out and real. Even some of the twists that come later in the book involving drug addiction seem heavier than expected. Or at least as if the writer (David Micheline) didn’t want to stick with trite plot devices.
The dialogue is solid. There’s plenty of inner monologue stuff, so depending how you feel about that it’s a good or bad thing. It was maybe a bit more than I’d like. But the dialogue was all snappy and felt natural. The artwork was great and really reminds me why I fell in love with Marvel as a kid in the 90’s Hobgoblin for instance looks absolutely awesome here. It’s clear that the artist Erik Larson had a strong love for the source material and that shows in his detail to the villains, the massive single-page spreads of Spidey’s webs and Doc Ock’s arms. He must have also had an affinity for Peter’s “oh so woah wife” Mary Jane.
All in all, I thought this was a great book. I’m really glad I finally got around to reading it.
Whoo. What to say? So I’m still working my way (slowly) through a big giant list of 90’s books that I’m considering a bit of a crash-course syllabus. I originally started reading comics in the late 80’s and early 90’s so a lot of this stuff is either revisiting stuff I was a fan of back then, or finally getting to read the stuff I wanted to at the time. As a kid it was harder to keep up with series, so I’d just get to read random issues whenever I had the chance.
I remember The Infinity Gauntlet stuff from back then. It felt like it was this huge deal – Thanos getting all crazy powerful. My friends and I used to play that TSR Marvel role playing game back in the day and would fight over who could be Thanos. I’m pretty sure we just made up our own rules now that I think about it.
Anyway I think I maybe overhyped this book in my mind. I was so excited to read it but ultimately it felt like a slog to get through. And as much as I can appreciate the comics of this era, this one really feels like it falls into that “Too Much” category of comics from the time that I just can’t get past. Too many characters trying to do too much stuff and with too much dialogue… it all just gets so messy and hard to follow. Hard to read, even! There’s just so much stuff on each page that it feels beyond cluttered.
I also hate the writing style… I’m not quite sure how to describe it but it’s like you have a narrator that’s trying to oh so poetically describe everything that’s going on. I’m a much bigger fan of show, don’t tell. But more importantly I’m a bigger fan of Keep It Simple Stupid. I don’t feel like it does a story any service to write it as if it were a Shakespearean sonnet. I really prefer writing that feels natural and less verbose. ‘Say what you mean’ and whatever other cliches you think I should use here.
Having said all this – I want to disclaim that I didn’t hate Infinity Gauntlet. There were some great PARTS. I liked the whole thing about Thanos suffering because now matter his power; no matter what he did, he could just not gain the affections of Lady Death. The motivation there feels almost human. Unrequited love led to a gigantic war. But mostly I felt like I could have read the first and last issues and been totally fine reading this story in Cliff’s Notes mode.
I also think Adam Warlock is kind of lame, though. And I’m now in no rush to read The Infinity War.
Continuing my list of 90’s books, here’s The New Fantastic Four: Monsters Unleashed from 1991. Ironic that this book showed up in the mail for me the same week as the new Monsters Unleashed started at Marvel.
This one was actually quite good. A Skrull named DeLila comes to Earth and makes it look like the Fantastic Four are dead. She takes the form of Sue and recruits Spider-Man, The Hulk, Wolverine and Ghost Rider to find the FF’s killer. Of course she’s got ulterior motives.
This books spans three issues and in it we get to see more of the Skrull, the Mole Man and some mighty big monsters. Adams’ artwork is really great. And the writing is… mostly good. Some of the jokey writing falls a bit flat. But the story works out well.
I liked this one quite a bit. I didn’t read it as a kid, but it’s one that I would have loved back then I’m sure.
Alright don’t laugh, but I’ve compiled a list of about twenty-five comics from the 90’s that I want to read. It’s sort of a crash-course syllabus in 90’s comics, if you will. I go into this knowing full well that many folks consider the 90’s to be a terrible time for comics (namely, Marvel comics) but I’m not doing this for torture. Nope. It’s because the 90’s are when I was most actively into comic books. But I was a kid. I couldn’t keep up with full series. I’d just read what I could get my hands on. Now I’ve got a chance to go back and read all the stuff that I wished I had back then. Oh, and I’m trying to do this chronologically – at least loosely by year.
I begin with Spider-Man: Torment. The only thing I remember about this series was awesome Todd McFarlane covers. The book itself is full of also awesome McFarlane artwork. But the story… eh.
The short version is that some voodoo witch lady has taken control of The Lizard. And he goes nuts and basically tortures Spidey for five issues. My main problem is the storytelling – or lack there of. There’s barely any dialogue. It’s also just basically being narrated. And a lot of it is just fractured thoughts and single words. Many of which are repeated way too much: “Pain.” “Poison.” “Doom.” Ugh, enough!
Meanwhile Mary Jane is out for a night on the town. She worries about Peter – what he’s doing, if he’s okay, if he’ll be home soon. But really nothing happens with her. She’s just there… because MJ has to be there?
And in the end The Lizard does fall, but that voodoo witch lady? I don’t know. She takes off. And that’s it. We should conclude what? This to me feels like a classic case of a great artist with some great art to show off, but not much story to hold it all together. Oh well.
I found myself caught up on all my new comics this week, so I went to my shelves to pull out something from the backlog. I was in sort of a Jessica Jones mood, so I settled on Volume 1 of The Pulse.
Man, I really enjoyed this one. This series finds Jessica Jones in her post-superhero role and pregnant with Luke Cage’s baby. Because they need health insurance she takes a job working at The Daily Bugle. Basically, she’s a superhero specialist on the payroll. It’s a neat setup. And these first five issues tell a really cool story involving The Green Goblin killing employees of Oscorp, and how Jessica Jones and Ben Urich go on to break this story with the help of Spider-Man.
It was awesome seeing all of these characters together but in a more grounded setting a la the newspaper. The artwork was great and Bendis’ storytelling was brisk and exciting. I really had a blast reading this one. I’ll be on the lookout for more collected volumes of The Pulse for sure.