Sometimes I wish that I was as smart as Grant Morrison seems to think I am. One of the defining features of Grant’s comics work, at least that of the last decade or so (excluding All-Star Superman and the excellent WE3), is the tendency to leave out important connective tissue in the anatomy of his scripts, leaving us, his highly intelligent (he assumes) readers, to do our due diligence in order to parse exactly what he’s trying to get across. It’s going on via the helter-skelter time/place scenes back-and-forth in his Batman and Robin, it was a hindrance in much of his Seven Soldiers magnum opus, it damn near sunk Final Crisis, and if he’s not careful, it’s going to make this much-ballyhooed “Batman Returns” event as shrug-inducing as I felt his Batman: RIP turned out to be. It’s like he submits his scripts in shorthand. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not just bitching to be contrary- I like involved narratives. Starstruck is one of my favorite comics, ferchrissakes. I don’t mind reading between the lines to try and figure out who’s who and what’s what, as I did with the likes of Thriller and even Grant’s own Flex Mentallo. But more often as not, I’m finding myself backtracking and rereading and finding this even more of a chore than I suspect it really ought to be. Be that as it may, what emerges is a decent enough idea, especially given that Morrison is trying to reincorporate gimmicks and ideas from Batman’s crazy years, in which he’d don rainbow color suits and travel to distant worlds to fight zebra men. Time travel is another of these gimmicks, tossed out there by the early 60s writers because space travel and alien monsters were all the rage among the 6-year-olds back then, and that’s what Grant’s established- that when Bruce Wayne was zapped by one of the reconstituted Darkseid’s Omega Beams at the end of Final Crisis, that it sent him back in time (a result established by Kirby himself in Forever People), conveniently amnesiac, and instinctively working his way back to the present, the Justice League in pursuit.
This issue, we get Caveman Batman, wearing an improbably large cowl made from what had to have been a hellaciously big bat, and helping a peaceful group of cave people to defend themselves against a hostile one, led by an early incarnation of immortal catchall DC badguy Vandal Savage. The peaceful cavepeople fear the strange man who lives in a cave full of bats, we know because Grant has them speak to us in a decipherable, if stilted, English and has our man Bruce speak in runon, hard-to-read sentences, a trick which doesn’t come across as clever as I think it was supposed to. This kinda reminded me a little of the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, if nothing else but for the conflict between primitives…and perhaps Morrison meant this to serve as a similar prologue. Don’t know. Entirely an assumption on my part. That’s what you have to do when you read most of Grant’s scripts, you see. One good thing, and the main reason I decided to sample it in the first place, is that the underrated and excellent Chris Sprouse illustrates it, in tandem with longtime inker Karl Story, and their clean, dynamic style helps this along immensely. Sprouse is an artist whose work will always lead me to pick up a title, it’s just that good- he always makes excellent staging choices, and his body language and expressions on the people he draws are first rate. I guess if I had to quibble, I’d make a comment about how all these fine cavepeople were so ruggedly handsome, not an ugly one in the bunch, and that was kinda distracting…but that’s the only criticism I have. I’ve been overly critical here, I know, but Morrison frustrates me as much as he entertains me…and while he may be pleased to know he can be provocative, I don’t think this is what he has in mind. This will, of course, bear watching, and Sprouse and Story will help out on that point…but all I can do at this point is hope for the best and wait for the trade.
Certain creators, as we all know, get identified by a segment of the fandom with certain properties…and no matter what else they do with their careers, there will always be a hue and cry for this creator to return to the character they know them for the best. For Gail Simone, despite her fine work on Wonder Woman and Secret Six (which does have its hardcore fans as well), that series is Birds of Prey, which she scripted for fifty-two issues and which features Black Canary, Oracle (the former first Batgirl, now the wheelchair-bound superperson coordinator/computer whiz), and the Huntress. Over the years, she expanded the rotating roster to include such characters as the time-dislocated Lady Blackhawk, the Kate Spencer Manhunter, and Kirby’s Fourth World warrior Big Barda. To say she has a fervent following on this title is to understate severely, and there was much rejoicing by that following when she announced that she would be returning to a relaunched BoP. Now, to be honest, I was not among that number; I have nothing but love and respect for Simone as a person- she’s done a lot of good for the comics community through her work with the Hero Initiative and other venues, and she’s always friendly online (and as I understand it, in person). That said, I’ve always found her scripting, despite some good storylines here and there in different titles, relentlessly ordinary, with no real distinctive voice to set it apart from the run of the mill. Which is not to say that I think she’s bad, mind you- she’s no hack. Her characterization is good, and she knows how to put superheroes through their paces as well as anyone. But there’s just something lacking there, a spark or something which apparently is obviously there for many, many readers- but I can’t see it.
Anyway, this is your basic “putting the band back together” first issue; some mysterious someone has made it known to Oracle that he/she has information on not only her but the other Birds that no one should have access to, and is threatening to kill their loved ones one at a time until they stop him or her. First, we get a couple of establishing scenes in which Black Canary rescues a kidnapped girl in Iceland in big noisy fashion, and Lady Blackhawk (people love this character online, and I have no idea why) manages to recruit the resurrected Hawk and his partner Dove to the group. At the end, the Birds face off against a new badass martial artist adversary named “White Canary” (can’t believe it’s taken this long for someone to use that name). Art is provided by Ed Benes, who gets a lot of flak for his style…but to be honest, it looks pretty much like the standard issue for artists getting steady work at DC these days. His figures are stiffly posed, he has one face for all his females and males, and it’s all heavily Photoshopped by colorist Nei Ruffino to cover up a lot, but like I said, many DC (and Marvel) artists have similar Jim Lee-influenced styles, and he’s just giving them what they want, I guess. I wouldn’t want him within 100 feet of any title I want to read, but for the audience, I guess it works. Besides, Jim Aparo and Jack Kirby, to name just a couple, also had one face for all their women, and nobody complains about them! So if you’re the type of comics reader who is deeply invested in the kind of comics that DC is giving their faithful these days, well, this is as good an example of it as any and you can read this without any trepidation, knowing that it will most likely go in the exact direction you want it to go. For those who look for something a little different, well, keep looking.
As a longtime fan of what many affectionately (not so much the braintrust at DC) refer to as the “Bwah-Ha-Ha” Justice League books that Giffen and DeMatteis gave us for many years, I will automatically check it out anytime they choose to return to those characters and this style. Booster has been coming out for a while now, with a more straightforward approach that was a continuation of the role the time-displaced jock with the Legion flight ring and super-suit adapted after the 52 maxiseries, that of time-hopping Mr. Fixit of sorts. That’s about all I know of the character prior to this issue; I didn’t read any more of this, his most recent series, after the first issue. Apparently at this point, in the wake of Brightest Day, someone felt like changes were in order, and the fellows who once put Booster through his paces back in the day were recruited once more and teamed with Batista, who’s done good work here and there on a number of different DC books. He seems to be channeling Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez a little as we find Booster is on the planet Daxam, which means we’re talking 30th Century and Legion of Super-Heroes, and he’s managed to arrive in time to get caught up in the Great Darkness War. No battle with Darkseid or Mordru, though- he’s supposed to pick up an artifact and he finds himself trying to protect a group of survivors from the Emerald Empress (I’ve always liked that character) in the meantime, and somehow Giffen and DeMatteis manage to dance back and forth between laughs and pathos in the resolution- no mean feat. Nothing against character creator and former scripter Dan Jurgens, but this title becomes twice as interesting with G and D on board, and I think this bears watching while they’re around.
Captain Britain and MI-13, by Paul Cornell and (mostly) Leonard Kirk, was one of the best titles Marvel published in the last decade. Typically, it didn’t sell for shit and was canceled before it got to issue 20. None of the characters have been seen much since; or if they have, it’s been the pages of a title I don’t buy (which admittedly is a pretty large sample size), and I missed it. Anyway, I read Cornell’s tweet the other day, informing his followers that his (I assume) friend Rob Williams was having a go at the Captain in this series, so I thought “what the heck” and checked it out. I’m not a fan of the book’s lead, Deadpool- he’s firmly in that grand Lobo “What the heck do they SEE in this character and why do they cancel better series but keep him in print” tradition, a weird mix of Ambush Bug, Wolverine, Bullseye, and the Creeper, a deadly assassin with a penchant for non-stop jokes and chatter, and I suppose his wackiness- and high body count, not to mention his X-book origins- keeps him in good standing with the fanman community. Anyway, the latest in a series of one-book team-ups, you know, the old Brave and the Bold formula, finds some powerful nutcase in search of the weapons cache of one of the Captain’s longtime archfoes; MI-13 coordinator Pete Wisdom lets the Cap know, he flies off to investigate, and encounters Deadpool, who is also looking to help himself to “Slaymaster” ‘s equipment. Much would-be hilarity ensues as all three tangle; the Cap and DP even wind up switching bodies at one point. Not particularly elaborate or deep, just an old-school team-up template production. Sometimes it’s even amusing, and Scalara draws it up well with his somewhat manga-inspired, energetic art. I don’t think anything here is going to make me anything more than just tolerant towards Deadpool, but it’s nice to see the Captain and Pete Wisdom again, so for me it’s worth picking up. For you, well, as they say- your mileage may vary.
That’ll do for this week! What do you say we do this again next week? Fine. See you then.
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