by Terrence St John, Editor-at-Large
So I’m a long time comic fan. A year ago I had to drop the habit of hitting my comic shop and picking up my favorite books. I had moved south and had not yet found the level of employment I was accustomed to, and that lead to me having to choose between family responsibilities and comics. It sounds like an easy no brainer decision that should not be that hard but for me but it was. I had not missed a week at a comic shop or rack in more than 30 years. That’s over 1,500 weeks of a continued practice. Outside of sleeping or eating how many things have you electively done for that long?
A few months back I finally landed a better job and I’m crawling out of the hole I found myself in. I’m at the point where I have begun slowly getting my way back into the comic shop again. I made a point to get all the issues of Fables I’d missed out on. Firstly, because that book is so awesome and secondly, because it was immune to all the NONSENSE that has afflicted all of my favorite characters over the past year. No New 52. No Avengers Vs X-Men.
In the end though, I love superheroes. I love Batman and Spider-Man and The Avengers and the Justice League and almost everything associated with them. Turning my back on Marvel and DC is unfortunately for me what it would feel like to revoke my citizenship because “I just don’t like [whomever the President is] and what he stands for.” I look at the history of both companies and the culture and fond personal memories I have of the good stuff that both companies have generated and I can’t simply walk away. As much as I hate what they have done to the characters and worlds that I have found escape within for all these years, I can’t just quit the attachment I have with these characters. It makes me hate the current Brain Trusts behind these two companies so much because for the moment they win. They have me despite my own personal reservations. They have to realize that we’re kind of sick in that we will follow characters through some terrible art and terrible writing just to honor our connection with those characters.
Someone, a lot of some ones were buying all those Clone Saga issue of Spider-Man. People still bought tickets to the 2nd Joel Schumacher Batman disaster of a film. It’s an illness I guess like obesity, drinking, or drugs. Sometimes you’ll take it any way you can get it.
That said, I’m ready to dive back into the very murky waters of the second year of the New 52 and the launch of Marvel Now. I have picked up about 8 issues of the Zero month of DC’s New 52–mostly Bat family stuff which just confused the hell out of me with the seemingly warped reboot of the former Robins’ ages. I have no words on the subject but at the same time could probably write multiple articles on why I think the current creative team is just wrong about the characters who were Robin. It’s like they never really knew them or what made them special to begin with. Specifically Tim.
This week I decided to pick up 2 books. Both are fairly important and are intended to be great jump on books for their respective companies. The books I picked up being Uncanny Avengers #1 and Batman # 13. The two have been super heavily hyped and a lot is riding on both books.
As much as I wanted to read them, I put off reading them till I could dedicate the appropriate amount of time to truly read them uninterrupted. I had to read Batman #13 first. I had to know what they were going to do with the Joker. What he would look like and what Snyder who has been getting mostly positive reactions would do to show us a new take on a character that has been silly, zany, crazy, insane and even demonic in his interpretations over the years. I think many readers truly love the Joker myself included. I can’t imagine Batman without him. He’s not always present in Batman stories the way Lex Luthor seems to have his place in the forefront or background of most Superman stories. It sometimes feels more like when Joker shows up we get to see the real Batman. The stakes immediately rise. He killed Jason Todd (sort of) He crippled Barbara Gordon (Sort of) He killed Sarah Essen the wife of James Gordon (that one stuck, sorry Gordo.). No one has hurt Batman and those he cares about more then the clown prince of crime. What can he do THIS TIME? That’s the big question. Where can we chart untested waters? Where will it not seem hollow and without a real lasting meaning in the end?
As a reader I feel like he has to kill or commit some act so horrific that it has to have that brutal impact but there’s a line where characters have to tread so carefully. If you cross the line it runs the risk of alienating the fan base. With Joker it’s not simply the hero’s fan base. Joker brings a crowd all on his own. I do not follow the Scarecrow or the Riddler or Mr. Freeze the way I would the Joker. He’s a character as large if not larger then his enemy the title character of the book, Batman.
In Batman #13 the Joker is very dramatic, very creepy and he kills a lot. He has changed his methods a lot. The majority of his victims are fodder. He has at least one kooky dramatic murder that I will probably remember for a while. I wish the scene had been a bit better illustrated so that the narrative hadn’t had to spell out what was actually happening. The art in the scene is lacking enough detail and definition to effectively capture and depict the intended awkwardness of the scene. As a result the intended depiction is a bit lost if you don’t quite catch the reference.
The cliffhanger I called prior to reading it because the target had to be this person. It would be more shocking and hit a lot closer to home. Anyone else would have probably felt like we’ve seen this before.
I think though that Jim Gordon sold this book in a big way. We have always seen a strong stoic Commissioner and in Batman #13 we see a man trying to keep up the appearance of bravery in light of what he senses to be truly insane evil. An evil which he looks pretty powerless against. In two separate scenes we are shown a shaky Gordon I’m not sure we’ve ever seen. Not even in The Killing Joke where Gordon was the target of a massive psychological and physical assault with the goal being to break his grip on his sanity. In The Killing Joke he still has it together enough to tell Batman he wants it to be done by the book. I think this Gordon probably wet himself. I’m not kidding. And I’m okay with that. If Snyder’s goal in those scenes is to lead us the readers to trust Gordon’s instincts on the reappearance of the Joker, it works. We believe that when we see Gordon that terrified there is good reason to fear this new Joker.
Gordon is that kind of character. We trust him. We find him dependable. When he thinks something, like a good friend we might be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt and just go along with him until proved otherwise. Jim convinces me the Joker is scary. The art works here to show genuine fear and a bit of shame in the character I have not often seen. That presents a strong opening storyline due to weave it ways through numerous batman related titles for the next few months. The other aspect is more or less Joker’s speech pitched that Batman has become weak because of his entourage and Joker wants things back the way it used to be so he is dedicated to lightening the burden of the sidekicks, associates and other compatriots of the Batman. It seems pretty ambitious. It initially seems like a strong threat but then you realize most of these characters have their own books and you immediately realize it’s highly unlikely that many if any of these characters will be killed off and sincerely I love some of these characters and don’t want them dead even if it feels like DiDio, Johns and Lee already did that a year ago. (Zing!)
I think the second character that stood out for me in the book was Harley Quinn both is her small appearance in the main story and her much larger role in the back up. She says something in the main story that again essentially tells us…. “Forget what you think you know’’. A clever move since we put a lot of faith in Harley’s intimate knowledge of the Joker and her emotions are also very evident in both what she says and the way she is depicted in having said it. The back up is not really shocking but again shows us just how loyal Harley is to good ole’ Mr. J.
But what about our principal Protagonist Batman and the star of this story the Joker himself? In this opening issue they seemed to be not as important just yet. Both are present and there is nothing poor in the characterization of either but I think the stand out aspects of this book were how a few characters outside of those two were dealing with the news that Joker was back. Seeing their reactions and as I’ve stated Gordon and Harley really sold me on believing the threat of Joker is amplified.
I went into reading Batman #13 asking what could really be done with the character and hoping they’d avoid a Jigsaw type spin on the character. So far I can’t guarantee we’ve avoided that but I can safely say I like this opening issue a lot. I think Snyder made some smart picks in who he uses to tell us what to think and begins leading us on a path that I’m not totally sure where it’s going but I’m hooked thus far in finding out where it will take me and the characters.
ComicsOnline gives Batman #13 4.5 Bat Signals out of 5
As for Marvel’s Uncanny Avengers, it’s decent. It was not nearly as dramatic as Batman #13 but it’s a different book with an entire different dynamic. We see the seeds of who this team will be made up of but we don’t see the team come together just yet. Cassaday’s artwork is good although I sometimes don’t really get his Logan. I also had a hard time believing Logan’s speech/eulogy at the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning. Logan is a rough and tumble character who looks very comfortable in a dingy pub, or the back woods or eating the flesh of a recent kill in the wilderness of British Columbia but he is also charming and intelligent and has honor in the situations that call for it. What I think was intended was to show his familiarity and matter of fact type of personality kind of struck me as Wolverine being a bit disrespectful and squandering an opportunity on such a big occasion. I just don’t buy him calling Charles Xavier, Chuck to an audience that should mostly revere him. Why go so far out of your way to build a monument and gather all these people so you could essentially say Chuck was this and Chuck dreamt that and bottom line he didn’t see the dream come true, I would have gutted Scott but as you can see I respect my pal Chuck so much I rather just bitch about what could have been instead of what we should be doing in his name. By the way his name is CHUCK! He liked everyone to call him Chuck. Chuck, Chuck Chuck!!!
Okay so maybe the Chuck thing got to me. It did. It felt so out of place there in that scene. I think Logan called Charles, Chuck throughout their history together as kind of a pet name probably knowing it wasn’t his preference. Eventually I bet it became comfortable banter between two old friends or associates but I just don’t see him using it so openly with a mixed crowd who may have known him as a colleague, a professional, a public figure but not as a close intimate friend. I’ve buried a lot of people … I’m not saying he could not have said that. I’m just saying it didn’t sound like an appropriate way of addressing him in that setting.
It doesn’t matter anyway since the monument gets destroyed like 5-10 pages later by some of the dumbest characters I’ve seen and heard of. Well drawn yet still dumb characters until they make them less silly looking to me.
Ultimately I like the characters who will eventually comprise the team they are leading with. I see potential in the team. I think using the villain they are with the agenda that is made clear in the beginning is intriguing so far. I’ll even give kind of a thumbs up for trying to establish a new “Fastball Special” type maneuver that looks a bit strange having Havok essentially blast Cap’s Shield to send the Star Spangled Avenger flying toward a target. It’s strange but may be innovative, “May be.” It needs to look better and they need a catchy name for it like “Star blast” or “Shooting Star”. Sigh! I wish I were kidding and not really expecting that to happen. (It’s going to happen. Mark my words.)
The art is good. I say that even if I don’t love his Logan. The writing has potential. I kind of liked the narrative they had going with Scarlet Witch. Thought the battle between she and Rogue was a little out of place at the foot a final resting place of a man who wanted only peace. (SMH) I liked Wanda’s comments even if I didn’t totally understand what she meant about them not honoring the X they wear.
The downside is we don’t fully understand the enemy. We know who he is and we see he’s doing some gross stuff and he has an agenda but it’s not personal yet. It’s as if we were supposed to be sold on the appearance on the villain alone and maybe because I left during the Fear Itself storyline this villain just doesn’t knock my socks off. I’ve read solicitations that make it sound like it’s going to be more interesting (because he’s really a younger more pure version of the original character we’ve come to know as the watered down older possibly cloned, reincarnated, robotic, magically reproduced version over the years who seemed like a lighter shade of racist Nazi) but I didn’t see that stuff here as of yet. The group of animal-esque people who made me think of the High Evolutionary’s Ani-Men (Seriously they are real. Wiki it), but Cassaday’s style didn’t translate them well for me. Heck they probably aren’t the Ani-men. I just thought they looked um, goofy. If they were real they’d be a bit scary because of how unnatural they are but once you got a good look at them and accepted they were real you’d probably die laughing at how wacky they looked. Goat Faced Girl, She’s gonna be the cash cow Marvel’s been waiting for. Watch, you thought Venom was big……Goat Faced Girl the trend is coming. *snicker* (goat faced girl… really??)
The team is not together yet but it took the New Avengers 6 issues to form during a jailbreak that they all seemingly were present for. Did anyone ever tell us who paid Electro to do that again? I can’t remember. It was probably a Skrull. Isn’t everyone?
I’ll give it 6 issues to win or lose my favor. It’s worth reading but it’s not a home run.
ComicsOnline gives Uncanny Avengers #1 3 Cap Shields out of 5. It really might be closer to 2.5 but it’s a team book with some bigger more diversified plotlines so it needs some space to develop.
I can’t tell if Batman #13 makes me think it was just that much better then Uncanny Avengers #1 or if Uncanny just has more work cut out for it and it will get more smooth and cohesive within the next 3-6 issues. Time will tell.