Title, Title, Title: Jeff Does the Capsule Review Thing

April 12, 2015

Savage cover

Huh, Graeme does capsule reviews, and now I’m doing capsule reviews?  I guess my stalkery thing is showing through, that thing where I hang out in my room and talk in my Graeme voice and then reply to myself in my normal voice?  (Actually, the sad thing is that it’s actually me talking to myself in my Graeme voice and then me replying to myself in my Abhay voice.  I’m like the Composite Superman of comics blogosphere writers.  So sad.)

Anyway, join me behind the link for capsule reviews!BATMAN AND ROBIN #40:  Wow.  Tomasi and Gleason bring their “Damian gets superpowers” storyline to a super-quick close, presumably in time for all that Convergence horseshit.  Serious question:  are all New52 comics like this? You know, a three year run filled with interrupted storylines (the Robin resurrection storyline which had the “Hey, Two-Face!’ storyline jammed in there for some reason), abandoned characters (Carrie Kelly), and abandoned storylines?  (This one, apparently.)   I can kind of imagine that being the case but if not, then, man, have these guys in particular mastered the art of persevering while the people who sign their paychecks shower them in shit.

All that said, it was almost fun reading this story and have it end so anticlimactically?  Kind of like, “Oh, you mean, the previous issues of this storyline didn’t really mean anything so the only thing that mattered about them was how much I enjoyed them while I was reading them?  Huh.”  Given a choice between this and a storyline where Batman is forced to kill his only son to save us all, then yeah give me this.

Though I confess, there are so many weird unresolved bits about Robin’s superpowers that the darker latticework is kinda fun for me to contemplate, too.  At one point, Batman is trying to explain how the shard of plot crystal activated Robin’s powers because he was also cloned with residue from the crystal and then Darkseid’s Omega Beams blah blah blah and it was so hard not to go, “Oh, Bruce, no.  Robin has superpowers because Talia also balled Superman and Damian is actually his son and she’s just waiting to drop that on your ass after you’ve raised the kid for years and years and loved him like he was your own.” (I mean, Damian manifests heat vision in this issue, for Christ’s sakes.)

It’s kind of like the “Dr. Hurt is both Satan and Thomas Wayne” option: I like how that obvious option will always be hanging there as a possibility, but nobody will ever be able to choose it.

Anyway, I wish Peter J. Tomasi best of luck getting an actual story told in the future.

BATMAN ETERNAL #52: Ah, jeez. So many thoughts, so few words that aren’t just violent spitting sounds.  It could’ve been worse?  It could’ve been much, much worse  (which, sadly, passes for “good job!” around the DC offices these days).  Let me see if I can sum them up in just a few talking points:

(a) it seems crazy that there were 52 issues of this and every character in it more or less seemed like they had a cameo in it? I mean, nearly every character in here has an arc, but not one felt any deeper to me than whatever got written on the 3×5 card during the planning session.

(b) In theory, I admire Snyder keeping his Batman stories tightly tied around stuff he’s introduced, as opposed to dropping a ton of “oh my god, it’s the New52 version of Hugo Strange!” type reveals on us. But in practice, it makes for a mythos about as broad as a puckered butthole.  The reveal of the big bad behind the big bad gave me that groan of “oh, of course…” because, really, who else could it be? In three years, Snyder’s given us, what, not quite six Batman stories?

(c) Speaking of Snyder, James Tynion IV seems like a really nice guy, and I hope he got paid a lot of money this year because he really did work his ass off but…did I buy 52 issues of a Batman comic with Snyder’s name on the top thinking I would get more than three or so scripts actually written by him?  Yeah, I did, frankly.  Hopefully, this isn’t true for anyone else but seeing James Tynion IV’s name now has me wired to think I’m kinda getting screwed.

(d) Can we please have a moratorium on the “everyone hits Batman at once and he’s so exhausted he’s right on the edge of breaking and then the big bad comes out of hiding to break him” story now, please?

(e) It’s weird how the one part of Miller’s Dark Knight Returns that I never paid much attention to is the part that is basically canon:  Batman really is in command of a small army of child soldiers now.  Between this, and the way everyone in Gotham started hollering “it’s my turn to be Batman now!” in the final issue, and all the safe houses of stockpiled weapons hidden all around the city—which this comic rightly pointed out was really not cool before it not so rightly moved on to its next breathless plot point—Gotham City has become a very weird reflection of the way the media has trained us to see all those war-torn cities of the Middle East:  a corrupt and ineffective civic government is supposed to be in charge, but really everyone worships this mysterious charismatic personality who’s armed to the teeth and has fanatics doing his bidding.

Anyway, DC got a lot of my money but they burned through a lot of good will. And yet, I kind of hope they do better next time? Which more or less acknowledges that I’d buy it again so, really, they win, right?

Linda Carter

WONDER WOMAN ’77 #4 & 5:  I thought the first three issues of this (which comprise one issue of a print comic) were, to be kind, painfully slipshod: check out how Drew Johnson, the main artist on the first two issues, is very clearly drawing layouts designed to be viewed as a full standard comics page, and how he shares art chores on chapter two with Matt Haley before being replaced entirely by Haley in part three.

But! Things seem to be in a much better place with the next two issues: Jason Badower works the Linda Carter photo reference very heavily, which isn’t a bad thing for a comic playing the nostalgia vibe for a TV show that’s almost forty years old.

(Although I guess DC didn’t want to pay to license Lyle Waggoner’s likeness or something because every artist has somehow managed to draw a bland, generic Steve Carter utterly unlike the bland genericism of Lyle Waggoner.  Although, to be fair, Lyle Waggoner is the Sistine Chapel of bland genericism. It may be hard to accurately capture someone that vague.)

Also, writer Marc Andreyko—whose work I have read little of, but have liked even less—has a pretty brilliant hook as far as fan service goes, with Diana finding herself in a world where Wonder Woman is apparently Cathy Lee Crosby from the 1974 TV movie.

Kathy lee

While there’s still one “chapter” left in the story and it could go off the rails, I hope this team gets a chance to do more. (Although  if so, I also hope Badower uses that to refine his action scenes which are pretty messy and confusing.)

I dunno.  It’s not Blankets or anything, but it has kept my pitiable dream of affordable all-ages weekly digital comics alive?

INVINCIBLE #118: This comic is a jumping on point and it’s free on Comixology which is a pretty good sales idea if the creators can afford it (and I think it’s safe to say Robert Kirkman can afford it).

It would’ve been a better idea, though, to actually make it a good comic? I mean, on the one hand, the way artist Ryan Ottley draws facial expressions, it looks like people are either pooping or trying not to poop, and Kirkman does have a scene here of someone backing up a toilet (a space toilet) so, uh, good job playing to your artist’s strengths, I guess?  But then he has Invincible tell his wife how he was raped by a super-chick and everyone makes the pooping faces again even though they’re not pooping (presumably), so I guess it comes out as a wash?

Invincible crying pooping

No matter how good a comic scripter is, they’re going to fail if the art is terrible. But what’s amazing about Kirkman is how his stuff fails if the artist is anything less than exceptional.  This is the 118th issue of Invincible and probably somewhere in the neighborhood of his 300th comic book and it reads as awkwardly as Futurama fanfic about Fry getting raped (and then maybe a baby dying of crib death, maybe).

I find that remarkable—I guess that’s self-evident since here I am remarking on it—and a little dismaying.  So if you have tenacity and luck, you can get to a place of incredible success without ever learning anything of substance about your craft? Huh.

HIS NAME IS….SAVAGE: Back in 1968, Gil Kane tried to break out of mainstream comics by doing a comics magazine about a guy who looked a helluva lot like Lee Marvin in Point Blank beating the crap out of people.  It was a huge failure because comics distribution was handled by the mob, and the mob didn’t like the way they’d been portrayed in Point Blank. It’s a well-known rule of thumb: if you want a group to like you, never cast John Vernon as a representative member of that group.  But that’s exactly what John Boorman did, and now poor Gil Kane was going to pay the price.

(Oh sure, Drunk History.  But where’s our Drunk Comic Book History?)

Two hundred thousand copies of His Name Is….Savage were printed: twenty thousand copies were distributed.  Thanks to a link on The Comics Reporter (I think?), I found myself here recently.  Years ago, I’d passed up an opportunity to buy a copy (of the Fantagraphic reprint Gil Kane’s Savage, which probably printed twenty thousand copies, but only sold twelve hundred) because I hadn’t realized how amazing Gil Kane’s work was and hadn’t seen John Boorman’s Point Blank yet and hadn’t realized how much I wanted to see Lee Marvin beat up cyborgs which is a thing His Name Is….Savage promises.

Now, I realized, with just a bit of patience, I could assemble a PDF of the whole thing to read on the iPad at my leisure.

This is a thing I could do, and this is a thing I did.

As much as I want to tell you how awesome it is to read Gil Kane cutting loose on his  forty page epic of Lee Marvin beating the crap out of people and cyborgs, His Name Is…Savage is, uh, not good?  In his desire to emulate his idols, Kane (and his partner, Archie Goodwin, working under a pseudonym) crafts pages heavy on the captions a la Feldstein’s EC Comics.  But in his fear of boring the readers, Kane lays on the action: by page 12, we’re on the third action sequence of the book.  Minus a few pages of exposition, it keeps up that rapid clip…or tries to, considering each page is buried under text-heavy captions. The effect is remarkably like watching someone insisting on showing off their speedy new sports car while refusing to take off the parking brake.

Also not helping is that Savage is such a non-entity that he makes Richard Stark’s Parker look like Stephen Dedalus by comparison.  Savage is a guy who likes to kill, and likes working for the government that allows him to do what he likes best.  But he is also a guy who loses faith in his mentor, General Simon Mace, because Mace is a mercenary who…likes to kill and likes working for governments that allow him to do what he does best?  Things get a little murky here as they sometimes do in Antiheroville, where antiheroes aren’t good but still have to be better than the villains they face, and while General Mace—being the villain of this book—gets a chance to go a lot deeper on the evil plans, Savage comes off like a pretty undercooked piece of fish.  Apart from his appreciation for killing, his dislike of his mentor, and his love of Sheila, his mentor’s daughter—a love motivated only by Sheila being apparently the only woman alive on the planet—there’s nothing to Savage apart from his awesomeness.

Savage detail

Don’t get me wrong: even if his “.357 Magnum” actually looks a lot more like a .38 Special, Kane draws like a son of a bitch here, with the grayscale color scheme preventing the eye from getting stuck on the overabundance of detail. And there’s something to be said for the fact that although Kane was by every measure an intelligent, erudite guy, when left to his own devices, he basically creates the 1968 version of Image Comics: another unstoppable badass fighting because he loves to fight and loves to get paid to fight and heroic ideals are a load of crap, sob sister!  But, really, even if all two hundred thousand copies had made it to market, Kane never would’ve gotten beyond the three issues he’d gotten a distro deal for.

Finally, I should note the part of His Name Is…Savage that left the strongest impression on me: how much Rich Buckler bit the style for his Deathlok design from the villain.  I mean here’s a close-up of Mace:

Mace intro

and here’s Deathlok:

Deathlok intro

And here’s the robot hand beautifully designed by Kane:

Mace Hand

and here’s Deathlok:

Deathlok hand

Nutty, right?  I’m not sure how I feel about it, frankly. Kind of fun to track the path of influence but, at the same time, having just reread all those Buckler issues recently, I’m a little bummed.  (Although I’m also super-bummed I don’t have all the issues of Master of Kung-Fu on digital, because I’m pretty sure an artist there ripped off that hand design even more openly?)

Lord knows Buckler’s Deathlok was swamped with influences anyway, so I really don’t know why yoinking a bit of character design is any worse than stealing Charlton Heston’s personality or Lee Marvin’s look.  It’s probably not. One man’s failed comic book villain is another man’s cult favorite comic book hero is another corporation’s TV show supporting character, right? (Superhero comics fixate on the concept of a secret origin, and well they should: secrets are all that are left once history is erased.)

Or, I don’t know, maybe it’s impossible to be a fan of comics without ending up just a little bit bipolar, the giddy highs and desultory lows somehow combining into the same thing, caught up as I am in the cycle of the Oblivion Machine.

Anyway.  Next week: more highs! More lows! More comics!


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9 comments on “Title, Title, Title: Jeff Does the Capsule Review Thing

  1. Vernon Wiley Apr 12, 2015

    Good work Jeff. While I enjoy your and Graham’s lengthy diatribes, capsule reviews are PERFECT on books that don’t deserve it. Plus, my shorter attention span appreciates it as well.

    I’m not sure what’s going to happen with DC. They seem to have almost completely forgot how to publish readable comics these days, and don’t show signs of learning how anytime soon. Of course, there are exceptions, but none of them have to do with the companys mainstream offerings. Like many of my customers, I’m afraid I have a two month forced vacation from DC during Convergence.

    In the meantime, I look forward to your capsule views of them. Thanks again!

    • Jeff Lester Apr 12, 2015

      Wow, Vernon. That is some speedy turnaround time, response-wise. Glad you dug ’em. Enjoy yr. DC vacation: there’s so many of us, someone should’ve made branded beach merch!

  2. Eric R Apr 12, 2015

    “Gotham City has become a very weird reflection of the way the media has trained us to see all those war-torn cities of the Middle East: a corrupt and ineffective civic government is supposed to be in charge, but really everyone worships this mysterious charismatic personality who’s armed to the teeth and has fanatics doing his bidding.”

    Given that this is arguably one of the ever so slightly less insane readings on the character and comic I find it amazing that people are still able to take Batman seriously. Every year it seems more and more that the only way to enjoy the comics is to be insane or some kind of deviant. The fact that Batman is the most popular superhero probably does not say good things about…well, a lot of things.

    • Jeff Lester Apr 13, 2015

      Well, maybe you should just blame this on me directly as a potentially insane deviant? I think part of why superhero comics can grow into such stupendously odd thngs is because how most of the readership reads uncritically—they just want to see a guy dressed as a bat punch some dudes. I think they’d be just as appalled to consider Batman that way as you sound.

      I will say, however, the phrase “this is arguably one of the ever so slightly less insane readings on the character and comic” is one I will treasure for a very, very long time.

      • Eric R Apr 13, 2015

        “I think part of why superhero comics can grow into such stupendously odd thngs is because how most of the readership reads uncritically—they just want to see a guy dressed as a bat punch some dudes.”

        Completely understand that but some of the stuff that used be very subtext-y is now so very thinly disguised that it seems like it would take amazing amounts of willful ignorance to the completely avoid all of that kind of stuff. I mean, when you break Batman down the character is basically a libertarian wet dream yet he is still popular even among some of the progressive types of readers. I guess I just find confusing/interesting how people are willing to ignore, to some amazing degrees, some of their values in the name of entertainment when they don’t necessarily have to, especially readers who are quite vocal about them in other instances.

        Personally though the only thing that really interests me in superhero comics anymore is the unintentional weirdness. I’ve been catching up on Hickman’s Avengers from the library and starting with the Original Sin tie-ins Captain America comes off as a self-righteous grumpy old man blinded by his moral absolutism and I can’t tell if this is intentional or not. Captain America is always shown as the moral center of the Marvel Universe and yet is presented in such a bad light that if it isn’t intentional then Hickman and his editors would have to be completely unaware of what they are doing or just not giving a shit in such a bizarre way that is, again, confusing and interesting as the same time.

  3. Murray Apr 13, 2015

    Sorry to be *that* guy, but it’s James Tynion IV. With an “n”. I figured you’d want to know.

    • Jeff Lester Apr 13, 2015

      Shiiiiiiiiiiiit. Thank you so much for pointing that out! I’ll red-facedly correct it now.

  4. Brendan Apr 13, 2015

    I do love your capsule reviews. I would say that Abhay ghostwrote some of these had you not revealed that you are able to channel him at the beginning of your post. Also you don’t have the same jaded hatred of bad work.

  5. Brendan Apr 13, 2015

    Re: Are all New 52 comics like this– Yeah pretty much since issue #1 . Although it was about a year before any big crossover happened, you could tell there was a lot of new continuity being stuffed into otherwise functional stories. There are basically two kinds of New 52 titles, ones that tried to tell some original stories and were interrupted, and ones that wisely floundered until there was an event to latch onto. We got plenty of good half stories though.