Tagged: Batman

Box Office Democracy: The Lego Batman Movie

I wonder if there’s a pop culture franchise I wouldn’t be excited to see turned in to a Lego production at this point.  The Lego Batman Movie could have so easily been an uninspired cash-in to take advantage of how profitable Batman is as a character and the good will we all still feel from The Lego Movie but instead we have a movie chock full of funny jokes, intriguing themes, and most importantly a monumental amount of effort.  This is such a strong children’s movie that I saw it in a packed house on a Saturday night with basically no children, and it was the most boisterous crowd I’ve been a part of in recent memory.  Lego Batman is a triumph, a shining beacon, that every other DC movie should be trying to reach the same level of competence or at least figuring out how to fake it to the studio executives.  Perhaps Ben Affleck is not actually trying to get out if his obligation to play Batman not because of creative differences but because he’s worried about being overshadowed by Will Arnett.

There’s nothing to the plot of The Lego Batman Movie that you haven’t seen elsewhere— it’s just kind of unique to see these elements in a superhero story and, perhaps more importantly, in a movie about a hero so associated with hypermasculinity.  This is a story about Batman needing to connect with people, to construct a family out of the people in his life to replace the one he lost.  Interestingly, instead of making this a source of external conflict, it’s only a source of internal conflict; almost every important supporting character is falling over themselves to become an essential part of Batman’s life, from the obvious examples of Alfred and Robin to the quasi-adversarial Barbara Gordon who might not approve of Batman’s methods but wants to be close to him, and even the Joker wants to destroy all of Gotham City but more than that he wants Batman to acknowledge that he’s important in his life.  The actual plot elements are a little thin, many elements of the evil plot seem designed to shoehorn in as many other licensed characters as possible, and while those are some fun cameos it doesn’t make for a complex story.

One thing that kind of bugged me about The Lego Batman Movie is that it doesn’t play with the idea of being toys the way The Lego Movie did.  It’s clearly supposed to be the same world and all the weapons make “pew pew” sounds like a child is making them, but it never pulls back to the “real world” layer to see Will Farrell’s kid.  I’m not sure what it would have been— the obvious answer seems to be about the death of a parent and that may have been a little dark, perhaps giving this story a chance to reflect a slightly more real situation would have helped it land a little harder.  As it is we get a great movie, but one that fails to land with quite the same impact as The Lego Movie.  Not that “slightly worse than The Lego Movie” is a particularly stern critique; I just wanted a bit more depth.

Will Arnett is an absolute treasure as Batman.  I’m not entirely sure how strong any of the material he was given was in an objective sense because it feels like he could reenact the end of Old Yeller in that voice and it would get huge laughs.  I would watch a live action Batman movie starring Arnett and I would promise to ignore the fact that he would never be in the kind of shape you expect to see The Caped Crusader in.  Rosario Dawson is a pleasant surprise as Barbara Gordon making a deep character at what could have been a thankless role.  Michael Cera is great at awestruck and overly affectionate, I wonder if we couldn’t have seen a little more range from him as that bit can wear a little thin.  It’s so thrilling to hear Billy Dee Williams voice Two Face that you can easily overlook that the part has fewer than five lines.

It is so refreshing to get a DC Comics movie that isn’t taking itself so seriously.  The Lego Batman Movie is fun before it’s anything else.  It isn’t obsessed with continuity (although it does reference in some way almost every other on-screen depiction of Batman to date), or with having a dark tone, or with proving the comics are for grown-ups.  This is a movie that just wants to be fun— and that’s so refreshing after two Superman movies that seemed fixated on generating the biggest body counts.  I need some childlike wonder in my superhero movies; I can get gritty nihilism from the real world.

Dennis O’Neil: Ha Ha Ha

Here’s the plan. You’ll wait until the office is closed for the day and the lights are all out and then, possibly wearing a tool belt, you’ll sneak inside and remove the appliance from its place near the big chair and take it home and put it on the couch and sit next to it. Then you’ll tune in NBC’s new comedy, Powerless. (Did I mention that this will be on Thursday night?) You’ll turn on the laughing gas machine, the one that belongs to your dentist and place the mask over your nose and mouth. This is necessary, according to you, because you might not find the show funny and yet it’s supposed to make you laugh and if it doesn’t you’ll feel frustrated and to avoid this ugly feeling you can sniff the laughing gas and have yourself a good chuckle and maybe a gas-induced laugh is better than none at all.

Enough of that.

I know very little about Powerless, not much more than it’s about an insurance company that deals with the collateral damage that would inevitably accompany the damage superheroes cause while doing their superstuff. Not the worst premise I’ve ever encountered.

This is not new, this conflation of humor with superheroics.

A few weeks back, I mentioned Herbie the Fat Fury, who appeared in the American Comics Group titles, and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, part of the Captain Marvel posse,  and The Inferior Five which, if memory serves, was about a quintet of costumed goofballs who did superheroish feats of the goofball variety. And on television there were Captain Nice and Mr. Terrific, whose live action adventures may have been inspired by Batman.

Ah, Batman. Saving the best for last, were we? Batman, of course, was a comic book crusader for years before he made his way to the tube. He had also appeared in two movie serials, in newspapers, and as an occasional guest star on the Superman radio series. So it was probably no great surprise that he’d pop into your living room sooner or later. But how he popped – that may have qualified as a surprise. This Batman was not merely a dark clad vigilante who prowled the city ever seeking to avenge his parents’ murder by assaulting crime wherever it was found – he was a dark-clad comedian who assaulted crime. Yep. Funny ha-ha kind of dude.

I won’t burden you with my opinions on how Batman’s comedy was achieved. Let’s just agree that is was achieved, for a while quite successfully. Then public taste moved on, leaving Batman to a protracted afterlife in rerun city. Quirky thing: Adults coming to the show for the first time tend to see it as what is was intended to be: funny. Kids, though, are more likely to enjoy it as action-adventure. I await explanations but not, I confess, on tenterhooks.

Meanwhile, we have a new show to sample.

Maybe we’re lucky.

John Ostrander’s Spare Plots

More than once over the years I’ve been approached by someone who says that they have a great idea for a story and that I should write it and then we split any money evenly. The problem with this (aside from the fact that the work is not even) is that I have plenty of ideas of my own that, for one reason or another, never get written. Having ideas isn’t the problem; executing them is.

Here are a few ideas I’ve had in my journal that haven’t seen the light of day.

  • Spectre/Batman Alt Worlds

An alternate DC Universe idea set back in the Thirties, we start with the Waynes getting gunned down in an alley, but this time young Bruce is killed as well. This sets off such a furor that something has to be done. Commissioner Gordon decides on someone from the outside and so brings in a tough as nails New York plainclothes detective named Jim Corrigan to clean things up.

Corrigan tears things up pretty well but finds himself as hamstrung as Gordon does. Frustrated, he gets the idea of an alternate identity and becomes the Bat-Man; however, this one carries .45s and shoots to kill.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne’s spirit rages in the afterlife about the injustice of what happened to him and his family. A voice offers him a chance at retribution and he takes it. A 10-year old Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham as the Spectre.

Inevitably, the paths of Bat-Man and the Spectre collide and leads to the ultimate confrontation. Corrigan dies and Bruce is stripped of the Spectre powers but given a chance to live his life again. He becomes Gordon’s ward. In the meantime, Corrigan is given the mantle of the Spectre.

Why didn’t it go? This would have fallen under the “Elseworlds” banner and DC has stopped doing those.

  • Star Wars: Han Solo miniseries

This one is set between Episodes IV and V when the Rebel Alliance is hidden on the ice planet Hoth. Mon Mothma, trying to negotiate for another planet to join the Alliance, is grabbed by some space pirates and held for ransom. If the Alliance doesn’t want to pay up, the kidnappers will sell her to the Empire.

Leia and Luke are off on separate adventures but Han, Chewie and the Millennium Falcon are on hand. Han knows the kidnappers and tells the Alliance leaders he should bring the ransom and get Mon Mothma back. He figures that the Princess would like that and, who knows, he might be able to claim at least part of the ransom as a reward. The plan includes double crossing the pirates, including some old acquaintances.

It all gets more complicated when the Empire learns that the pirates have Mon Mothma and dispatch a Star Destroyer with Darth Vader to grab Mon Mothma and dispatch the kidnappers. Han gets a hold of Mon Mothma just as the Empire shows up and its all a mad scramble to escape the pirates and the Empire.

The tone was meant to be light and fun and focus on Han as a rogue.

Why didn’t it go? Right around the time that I came up with the idea, Dark Horse was losing the license to the franchise. Marvel, who got it, doesn’t appear to be interested in those who did Star Wars for DH. I don’t blame them; they want their take on it.

  • Legion

DC has/had been having trouble re-launching its venerable Legion of Super-Heroes (LSH). Is the concept – teen superheroes routinely saving the galaxy – outdated?

I like jumping stories down their own timeline; witness Star Wars: Legacy.  I thought I’d jump this narrative down its timeline by 500-1000 years. The United Planets no longer exist; the LSH is nowhere to be found. The Khund Empire rules and Earth itself had been shattered and is an asteroid ring around the sun. Super-powered beings were barred or restricted to their own planets.

In all this a young man emerges; the only name he gives is Legion. He has with him several LSH flight rings and he travels through the galaxy trying to find super-powered beings to join him in an attempt to overthrow the Khunds.

Since I like what I call narrative alloys, this was an attempt to cross the concept of LSH with Star Wars.

Why didn’t it go? DC had its own plan for the LSH and I guess they thought this would muddy the waters. Or they just didn’t like my take.

There’s lots of other ideas and concepts in my journal and/or my computer. Two of them will be up this year; Tom Mandrake and I (with Jan Duursema) are preparing Kros: Hallowed Ground for the printer right now and then Jan and I will be completing Hexer Dusk. Both are independent projects funded through Kickstarter. Both have taken a lot of thought, energy, and effort to realize.

So, as you see, the problem is not a lack of ideas. Everybody gets ideas. The problem is what do you do with them. Some just never come together and some never get an okay. So you file it and move on to the next. You work at what’s working but you don’t lose track of the ideas you’ve had. You just never know.

 

Dennis O’Neil: Hunky Dory on the Potomac?

So this is the bardo, huh? Let’s look around… big Dick Sprang Batman print on the wall, lots of books, big repro of a Green Lantern/Green Arrow cover. Statuettes of comic book characters here and here, exercise gear, computer… You know, it looks a lot like my house, this bardo does.

Whoa! You, over there, perched on one of the Himalayas (can never tell the damn things apart) – yes you, the Tibetan dude, stop with the sneering, okay? I mean, how do you know that a bardo doesn’t look like my house? You ever seen a bardo? Has anyone seen a bardo and returned to report on it? No and no!

So keep your attitude to yourself!

Is that a hand I see raised? Okay, we have time to kill. (In fact, if we’re really inside a bardo, time may not exist.) You have a question?

What the heck is a bardo?

Where’d you learn to speak italics? Never mind. To address your question: I’ll give you a rough, back-of-the-envelope definition and you can resort to Google if you want more. According to Tibetan beliefs, a bardo is where your soul goes after it sheds its body and is not yet reincarnated in another. A region of waiting. Waiting for what? For whatever comes next.

(No more dumb questions, please.)

Bardo is one of my favorite tropes because it expresses situations in which we sometimes find ourselves. It’s a bit stronger than plain old “waiting” because, for me, it expresses not only waiting, but not knowing what you’re waiting for.

And doesn’t that just about say it all! I’d offer the proposition that, ever since November 7, most of us have been existing in a bardo state. Let’s agree, at least until I finish this sentence, we human Americas have lived through the worst case scenario. And?

Most everything in daily life is as-per-usual. But if we’re the kind of anachronisms who read newspapers or are the more common variety of carbon-based American life forms who get our news from television, we’re aware that things aren’t hunky dory on the Potomac. Those questionable appointments, that chumminess with Russia, that skipping of important meetings and ego-fraught tweets and belligerence toward China… Nothing has happened to give us hope that the situations won’t get worse after the inauguration when a huge lump of power lands in the lap of the guy in the red tie.

Meanwhile… hey, nice bardo we got here! But could we eliminate whatever’s tainting the air? It smells a lot like anxiety… and I don’t like it at all.

Dennis O’Neil: PI’s

Now as I was young and easy and gentlemen still trod the Earth and politics still made sense (a little… sometimes) I held that private eye fiction was about righteous men who had the courage to be alone. I was, at the time, living by myself in a small Manhattan apartment and so I guess I was seeking identification with heroes (and maybe seeking an excuse for my isolation.) But I was, I now think, wrong.

Which fictional gumshoes did I have in mind? My two favorites were Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and they were, indeed, solitary beings walking the mean streets seeking truth. And there were others sprinkled through the pop culture regions of pulp magazines, radio, B movies. (Comic books? Patience, please, we’ll get to them.)

If you’re looking for antecedents, cast a glance at the King Arthur stories. Arthur’s knights mostly roved without companionship on their quests for the holy grail or whatever. But they did have a whole posse of clanky buddies waiting for their return at that round table, not to mention the odd fair maiden.

And from the very beginning of detective fiction, the heroes often had assistants, sidekicks, companions, homies – you pick the terminology – and these did a lot more than wait at home for the questers return. Edgar Allen Poe published the first private eye story way back in 1841. His hero was not a cop; he was a gifted amateur sleuth and here Poe established a much-imitated prototype, and not the only one. His good guy was a Gallic dilettante named C. Auguste Dupin whose exploits were related by an anonymous narrator whose name Poe did not share… and a mere 46 years later behold!

Dr. John Watson delighting us with the wizardry of his roommate and constant companion, the world’s first “consulting detective” and by now you know that I refer to the master, Sherlock Holmes. Then, a lot of others, some lone wolves, some with healthier social lives.

Comics have not been congenial hosts to the consulting detective crowd..There have been a few, including a pre-Superman toughie named Slam Bradley who, by the way, had a sidekick, Shorty Morgan. Slam was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the team much better known for Superman.

Superman did not have on-the-job companionship, at least not in his early days, when he was supposed to be the only survivor of a doomed planet. (That changed. Considerably.) But Batman, the character Superman’s publisher commissioned to repeat his success, though originally a loner, had, within 11 months of his debut, an official assistant, Robin The Boy Wonder. Costumed vigilantes thereafter often came equipped with young acolytes.

And that brings us to now. These days, the superheroic genre is evolving a new paradigm. There is a kind of boss hero and several attractive helpers who take an active part in the quelling of antagonists. They aren’t gathering dust at that stupid table, they’re doing stuff! This, I think, is to accommodate the needs of television, which reaches a much bigger audience than print media ever did , specifically, a certain demographic, millennials old enough to have disposable income and young enough to identify with having lots of friends and getting involved with romances and disapproving parents and such woes. Of the five comics-derived weekly shows, only Gotham violates this pattern; its creators are going with the earlier Holmes-Watson template.

And say! Did you hear about Sherlock’s girlfriend? Elly Mentary?

Yes. Inexcusable. Bye.

Michael Davis: “I don’t grab pussy. It grabs me.”

motu-tubman-face-on-20-bill

I was so stunned by the election I just couldn’t bring myself to write a damn thing for the last few weeks. Hell, in the case of Bleeding Cool it’s been months that I blame on my depression and trying to figure out how to fix a problem no one sees yet but with depression I couldn’t care less.

Then something magical happened. Call it a Thanksgiving comic book miracle. It was no less than that. So I hope to be reset at Bleeding Cool, ComicMix and my site Michael Davis World. MDW had an outstanding and loyal following.

I messed that up big time a week after I began talks to partner with a massive site. Shit. That was stupid. 

Stupid, stupid, stupid. My depression was/is a motherfucker.

Once I become fixated on something I just kept at it regardless if I’d achieved my goals. I’d change or add new goals. I’m told this allows me to spend less time thinking about putting a bullet to my head.

I haven’t written for my site in almost three years, and one by one lost every columnist except for Martha Thomases. She singlehandedly kept MDW afloat. I haven’t told her thank you. I can’t muster up the balls to call because (it sounds nuts) but as long as Martha is owed my gratitude I’ve got a marker and I never welch on a promise, a bet and especially not a friend.

Or in Martha’s case… family.

She’ll read this and think it’s a thank you. In a way it is, but to me it’s a promissory note. I’m not 100% well and never will be, but I know I can do a bit better and besides it’s almost Christmas…

I do know that Martha does love a ridiculous MOTU story and Lord knows in three years there has been few. Well, thanks to Joe Illidge here’s one just for you Martha consider it a down payment.

Thanks Joe. BTW – My New Boo, Lois Lane copyright Michael Davis 2016

Joe asked this question on Facebook: As a writer, name one thing you would do with Lois Lane in the comics, if you could do anything.

So here’s my answer:

MY NEW BOO, LOIS LANE

…or how I gots me a white woman

Lois is pissed. Instead of date night with her, Superman choose to save Donald Trump from a crowd of angry maids upset because he said “Cleaning is for losers; those domestics chicks are ugly, fat, most likely Mexican rapist criminals who are responsible for the one missing sock from the dryer. I mean who else could it be?”

Lois would be hurt and Michael Davis the black new owner-publisher of the renamed Mostly Daily Planet (remember, black new owner-publisher) would be there for her.

Then one night listening to her sob stories I would give her the real skinny…

“Why, oh, why didn’t he do what any sane person would do? Let those maids tear his little hands to bits? I mean miss date night??” Lois said this while sipping on what she thought was a wine cooler. It wasn’t. It was 100 proof down right up right Colt 45 I kept next to the wine coolers. She’d been crying, so it was apparent to me with bleary eyes she may mistake one for the other.

No, I didn’t tell her when she did and when asked why it tasted like beer, I said I didn’t know and I don’t. Do I look like a damn brew master?? No idea WTF barley is and if it there is no hip in front of it I could give a fish what a hop is.

“He’s just not into you Lois.” I began while refilling her class with Mad Dog 20 20, the wine cooler of the hood. I continued “I hear, not that I have a problem with it. I just like pussy; he’s into men. I’m convinced he’s doing Clark Kent. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Clark running into a closet tugging at his belt and tie while unzipping his pants. I’m a man Lois, only two give or take situations make us run like that while taking off our clothes it’s the ole S and P index someone gotta take a shit or someone giving up some pussy…or in Clark’s case…well you know.

What? Were you were expecting Standard and Poor’s? You foolish reader, this is a Michael Davis article. There are no standards because I grew up poor.

Yeahhhhhh, that was a pretty broad reach for that yuk.

But I digress. Yeah Peter, I used it. So what?  You killed Jean Dewolf, so what?  Denys Cowan and I killed Jason Todd. Robin! Not only that we did it from a phone in DC’s offices. Gangsta.

But I Digress… Lois inched closer…because I was slowly pulling her now drunk ass towards me. Keep your mind out of the gutter if not she would have fallen on the floor.

I proceeded. “Now, I’ve come close to shiting in a closet only once in my life. Then I decided the hell with that. She said her husband wouldn’t be home, but there he was. I ask you, Lois, why should I have to crap like an animal in a cage when she got his schedule wrong? I simply opened the closet door, picked up my Black and Decker condoms from under her pillow said, “Send me some of those photos,” smiled at her husband and left. I’m not an animal, so unless Clark is one filthy nasty mother sucker, then he and ‘Kal-El’ be knocking them red boots because guess who comes flying out the closet fixing his belt?”

“Yep, the man of ‘steal.’ Yes, Lois. Steal. Why? Because he’s out the door maybe two seconds after Clark runs in. Clark comes out of the closet sometimes minutes sometimes hours later looking like he’s been in a fight and seems like he carrying a weight of massive, dare I say, super load of tension with him.”

“Why can’t I be in love with Batman?” Lois slurred as I poured her some vintage Thunderbird an extraordinarily expensive and rare wine made by Hindu monks but drank only when lighting hits a bird on Budda’s Birthday.

Most of you won’t get that. I wrote it for my boys in the hood. So just assume it’s true. I mean y’all idiots think Donald Trump is fit to be President so what the hell do you have to lose if you don’t get the joke?

“Batman??” I said not believing my luck; I’ve waited years for this moment!

I reached under the couch for a copy of Seduction Of The Innocent. I kept one there as well as under my bed I have a travel copy also.

I found the page where Batman had Robin locked in a deep French kiss (What?? So I took it upon myself to illustrate the damn thing). I then looked at Lois with sad eyes and told her “Oh Bats is ooooh sooooo gay. Not that there is anything wrong with that; I just like a side order of tits to go with my main course of well you know.”

“Oh poo!” Lois spits out while looking at my closet. “Pussy, Lois, not poo, pussy,” I said.  But just in case she meant poo I spoke while pointing to the bathroom and front door simultaneously not taking any chances she was not one filthy nasty mother sucker.

Now she was lit, and I was looking for some matches to do the same in case she was with fart. She looked at me and said “I can’t have Batman?”  Well, she literally said, “Eyes clamp clad atman” but I speak drunk.

“Cope bults dew cam clad blazman.” (Nope but you can have Blackman). I told her and she smiled.

“Clump fluLks zee bigger!” She screamed.

I won’t insult you with the translation. I responded “Oh, shit! You must be out of your damn mind you crazy drunk ass female puppy dog!”

I said that but she heard “I love you and always will.” That’s advanced drunk. It’s harder than Japanese and you have to have game to begin with so no. No fan by, no. So far only Joe Illidge and I have mastered it, so you have no chance nor a girl so you really don’t need it remotes don’t speak drunk.

No, I didn’t take advantage of her that night. Only a punk ass bitch would ply a woman with drinks or regale them with tales of wealth to pry their way into their undergarments, flip a tick tack into their mouth, or kiss a woman without her permission.

I don’t grab pussy. It grabs me.

However telling her someone is gay is perfectly acceptable as is inventing a wife and family he deserted. I don’t use those tactics but Joe Illidge…

Lois and I are doing very well. But damn if that sister, the new Iron Woman don’t be looking kinda foxy. That could be the kind of gal that will make a brother an egg sandwich or Clark some … Martha wait for it… wait for it … wait… for… it

… you know

The End

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What Peter? You feel strong? Bring it!

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Applesauce.

 

Dennis O’Neil: Mayor Green Arrow? Really?

mayor-oliver-queen

What’s the pothole situation in Starling City? And the re-zoning hassle – that still a headache? And the business with the access lanes to the bridge – was that ever settled?

Since Oliver Queen’s been elected mayor, it’s reasonable to think that this kind of mayoral busyness is the better part of his days. At night, of course, he puts on a mask and hood and grabs his bow and arrows and kicks (or maybe punctures) miscreant ass. Oh, and his also training a bunch of wannabe vigilantes to help with the kicking/puncturing – and not always being Mr. Nice Guy while he’s doing it. (Maybe he’s got some marine drill sergeant DNA?)

The question is, who is better for Starling City, the politician or the archer? If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’d probably choose the archer because obviously anybody would be better than a politician.

But that can of worms will be left unopened. Tell you what: let’s reframe the question. Who’s more useful to a storyteller, archer or pol? I guess it depends on the kind of tale being told. A story by…oh, say, Aaron Sorkin or Robert Penn Warren or Allen Drury would perhaps fare best as political drama. The kind of fantasy/melodrama/action tale we’re considering here is better with an ass-kicker as its protagonist. Which leaves our man Ollie where?

mayor-green-arrowA kind of hybrid, one who favors the arrow shooting part of his persona, is where. That’s pretty much how it has to be. Nobody with a taste for adventures – that is, nobody who’s Arrow’s natural audience – is going to tune in to watch a guy in a three-piece suit behind a desk reading policy papers. We want to see some arrows shot and some of that good martial arts action! Leave that other stuff to CNN.

Casting a superhero as a civic leader, it seems to me, strains the genre. Part of the appeal of costumed superdoers is that they can do what duly constituted authorities can’t. Where a mayor’s job ends, theirs begins. One explanation for adopting a second persona – and it’s not a bad one – is that the disguise keeps the bad guys from knowing who to wreak revenge on. The other reason for a civic leader hiding behind a costume and fighting crime is that he couldn’t do as mayor what he does as vigilante because the vigilante must break the law to do his deeds. But whoa! Don’t mayors swear to uphold the law? We got us some hypocrite mojo working here?

Another deep appeal of double-identited heroes might require some psyche excavation. The idea is, we all have more than one identity lurking within us – we behave differently in different situations – and we might feel that the real us is one of those unseen lurkers. Costumed heroes manifest this idea and also give us a hook into identifying with the good guy.

I think part pf the storyteller’s task is to make the two identities distinct and that’s often a failure. I tried and pretty much failed to convince my Batman writers that Bruce Wayne should present himself as a tough-as-nails businessman, but as a good-natured bumbler. And I never liked Clark Kent as the best reporter in town. (Didn’t he win a Pulitzer?)

Of course, as always, the secret is in the recipe, not the ingredients. If the story entertains, the creators have done their jobs and they’re free to go watch tv. Wonder what’s on the CW?

John Ostrander: Listing To One Side

gal-gadotGeek Culture Rules!

We all know that Geek Culture has taken over our American civilization. Young’uns may not realize there was a time when the Geek was looked down on and sneered at and frequently beaten up for their lunch money… which is embarrassing when you’re 24. Now, superheroes have taken over the movie box office and can be found in one version or another all over television.

Further proof: the current issue of Entertainment Weekly not only has Benedict Cumberbatch on the cover as Doctor Strange, the majority of the double-sized issue is taken up with a listing of the Fifty Most Powerful Superheroes. How much more geeky can you get? The very quintessence of geekdom is arguing about which superhero icon is better.

EW set up a rating system and asked staffers to rank the superheroes accordingly. The nine categories were Cultural Impact, Bankability, Design, Modern relevance, Mythology, Nemesis, Originality, Personality, and Powers. They could get up to ten points in each category except for Cultural Impact which was worth up to 20. Total: 100 Pts. The emphasis, I think, was weighted towards superheroes who have appeared in movies; witness bankability. Given it’s EW, that makes sense; they, like the movies, are trying to appeal to the broadest audience.

Their #1 is Wonder Woman. This might surprise more hard-core comic geeks. Given the rise of the awareness of women and Gal Gadot’s appearance as Diana in Batman V Superman, perhaps not so surprising and not unwarranted.

entertainment-weekly#2 for EW was Spider-Man, followed by Batman and Superman with Wolverine rounding out their top 5.

For myself, I would have made Superman at the top of the list by virtue of the fact that none of the others exist without him. Superman was the first and set the standard – the colorful costume, the secret identity, the larger than life exploits – every hero or heroine that followed used that template is some fashion. Bankability? It was the huge financial success of the Last Survivor of Krypton that spurred the other publishers (not to mention Superman’s publisher) to get more of the same out there on the newsstands.

Look, I know that there were other superhero types before Supes or around the same time such as the Phantom and the Spirit or, over in the pulps, the Shadow. In comics, however, it was Superman who set the standard. In feature-length movies as well; the first Superman movie debuted in 1978. The first Batman film followed more than a decade later. As good as they are, none of the other superheroes has had the same cultural impact as the Man of Steel.

Don’t get me wrong; I’d also place Wonder Woman high up on the list. I think Batman is my #2 but WW would never be lower than #3. Spider-Man? Yeah, he’s important enough to be #4 but I think I would make Iron Man my #5 given the fact that the film launched the Marvel Cinema Universe, sometimes known as the Might Marvel Money Making Juggernaut. Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr are its cornerstone; if it had flopped (and some thought it would), it would have been tough to make the others… fly.

But that’s what makes this issue of EW so geeky. Listing the heroes according to some criteria is at the very heart of geek culture. Since every list is subjective, there is no one list that is right and final and definitive, no matter how much some geeks might insist that their own list is all that. I know my list isn’t the final word on the subject; it’s just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

The very fact that EW’s list exists, that they devoted so much time and space and attention to what is essentially a very geeky enterprise, shows that Geekdom has conquered the world.

So – who is stronger? The Hulk or The Thing?

Ed Catto: Frank Robbins

detective_429_pg4_1000When I was a kid I’d make the trek to Lewis’ Drug Store to buy comics with my allowance money. Maxwell’s Food Store had a better selection, but that was on the other side of the treacherous “Five Points” intersection, and I wasn’t yet allowed to cross that on my own.

Detective Comics, starring Batman, was a favorite, and you can make a case that some of the very best Batman stories were appearing each month during that early 70s period. They were fantastic thrillers by Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, with the occasional Michael Kaluta or Bernie Wrightson cover. I didn’t know how good I had it.

So you can imagine my surprise when I picked up Detective Comics #429 and looked at the interior story’s artwork by Frank Robbins. I remember thinking “Is this a joke?” and “Is this a Golden Age reprint?” His cartoony figures and heaving brushwork was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was not my cup of tea, to put it mildly. In fact, I thought it was hideous.

johnny-hazard-ad“Besides, isn’t this ‘artist’ Frank Robbins guy really a writer?” I thought. I had recognized his name as the writer credited to so many cool Batman mysteries. My pre-teen brain immediately declared he should stick to writing. I thought he was an awful artist.

I seem to remember a few issues later, in the letter’s page, a fan wrote that he felt the same way. Like me, that fan didn’t know what to make of Robbins’ artwork. One of his snarky comments stuck with me: he said that Batman looked as if he had just finished working on the Batmobile’s engine and was covered in grease!

But things change. And in this case, it wasn’t the artist and it wasn’t the artist’s work. It was me.

Over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate Frank Robbins. He’s now one of my favorites.

As my tastes have matured, I’ve grown to realize that there are so many types of art. It’s so much more than just “who can draw the most realistically.” Way back when, Neal Adams was probably my favorite artist. He probably still is one of my very top favorites (as both an artist and as a person). But with age, one develops an appreciation for different artists’ skills and visions.

I’m not the only child of the 70s that has learned to love Frank Robbins’ work later in life.

hazard-sundayFrank Robbins has a flavor that’s all his own. Oh, many will point out that he’s from the same school as Milt Caniff and Noel Sickles, but I think he’s more than that. I think he’s gone beyond that wonderful style and his artwork has established its own coherent universe.

Contemporary artist Chris Samnee is the same way. He’s clever and pushes the envelope routinely. When I read a Samnee story, I feel like there’s a whole Samnee universe out there. A universe where all the visuals fit together and more importantly, are fascinating and beautiful to behold.

Mark Waid, Samnee’s frequent collaborator, recently told me “Chris Samnee is one of the most talented storytellers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. His linework is spot-on, the way he spots blacks and uses contrast is masterful, but it’s his ability to tell the most story with the least amount of extra lines that I most appreciate. It’s a lean look without an ounce of fat.”

As usual, Mark is spot-on.

I’m not yet ready to argue that Frank Robbins is the Golden Age Samnee or that Chris Samnee is the modern age Frank Robbins, but I’m getting close. In reality, both artists’ work is brilliant and can be enjoyed without any forced comparisons. But you get the idea.

And that’s why I’m loving Hermes’ Press Frank Robbins’ Johnny Hazard: The Newspaper Dailies collection. This adventure strip ran for an astounding 33 years – from 1944 to 1977. Again, it was initially cut from the same cloth as Caniff’s Steve Canyon or Sickles’ Scorchy Smith. But in reality, Johnny Hazard started more like Indiana Jones and ended up more like a Sean Connery 007 movie.

johnny-hazard-vol-1-coverThis wonderful newspaper comic strip jumped right into the action, as Johnny Hazard was a WWII pilot. These gorgeous Hermes volumes start with the very first strips.

I’m very appreciative of the format of these books. They are landscape style with two daily strips per page. Robbins artwork has an extreme sense of urgency, but there’s so much detail that the reader is caught up in this wonderful push-pull. On the one hand, you can’t wait to find out what happens next, but on the other hand, the eye is lured into lingering over the figure work, the lush backgrounds, the stunning aircraft art or Robbins’ pretty girls. These books fulfill each of these artistic interests.

And while I’ve been gushing about Robbins’ artwork, I’m surprised how much I enjoy the characterization of the initial female lead. Brandy, a love interest introduced early in the Johnny Hazard continuity, is fresh and fun. She’s a plucky mix of Eve Arden’s confident wit mashed up with Veronica Lake’s stylized sexiness. She’s a memorable character and I want to see more of her adventures.

an-inky-samnee-illustrationI recently spent some time reviewing original Frank Robbins pages from the 60s. By that time, his style had progressed and he became masterful with his rendering and pacing of the globetrotting adventures. It’s astounding how comfortable Robbins was rendering everything from downtown Hong Kong to mountain climbing adventures – sometimes back to back.

But the Hermes collection showcases work from years before that. Right now, four volumes are available and the fifth one is scheduled for this November. The good news is that with the abundant adventures that Johnny Hazard enjoyed, there’s years of material to be collected.

In retrospect, it’s a shame that it never made the leap to other media. A radio adventure or a 60s TV show seem like no brainers. Johnny Hazard toys and merchandise would have been fun. Why wasn’t there a Big Little Book? Why were his forays into comic books so rare? At the very least, in ’66, Johnny Hazard should have had his own Captain Action costume set.

My younger self wouldn’t believe that my middle-aged self would be so enthusiastic about Frank Robbins artwork. But then again, I used to think girls were icky and wine tasted awful. I’m grateful for my maturing tastes.

Hermes Press Johnny Hazard: The Newspaper Dailies Volume 5 is available November 29, 2016. Like all this series, this is reproduced entirely from the King Features Press Proofs.

 

Martha Thomases: Who Is Batman’s Accountant?

batman-c-p-a

Sometimes I think the most difficult job in the DC Universe is Bruce Wayne’s accountant.

Bruce Wayne doesn’t go to H & R Block. Who takes care of him?

I mean, I assume that all the Wayne businesses, including WayneCorp and the Wayne Foundation, use one firm, and the person who does Bruce’s personal tax returns is part of that firm. Or there are accountants and tax lawyers who work directly for the company, and one of them is assigned to Bruce. Whatever the arrangement, one hopes that they strive for an impeccable separation of business, philanthropy, and personal finances.

Because if they don’t, it’s sloppy, mistakes get made, and the public gets bilked.

Bruce rarely seems interested or involved in his corporate financials. The Nolan movies established that Lucius Fox uses an unobtrusive division of WayneCorp to develop various Bat-tech under the guise of government military research. Those expenses won’t show up on Bruce’s tax forms.

Bruce is extremely interested and involved in Wayne Foundation charities. He is often shown to be an active donor and fund-raiser. Almost as frequently, he is shown learning about the potential recipients of his charity, studying how to best help them. He does this so often that it seems unlikely that anyone would connect his generous impulses in general to the innocent victims of Batman’s specific activities.

Neither his corporation nor his charities would raise tax questions. I’m thinking about his personal tax returns. All the equipment deliveries to the Manor. All the repairs after on-site fights. Even the medical supplies that Alfred keeps on hand. All of these things leave a paper trail, the kind that the IRS wants to know about.

My tax returns aren’t as complicated as I imagine Bruce Wayne’s to be, but they do stack up to be several inches tall. I know that I need to have receipts and more on hand. I can’t believe that Bruce (or, more likely, Alfred) doesn’t have file cabinets and/or hard drives full of the stuff.

Bruce Wayne needs to hire the best possible people to take care of his taxes. His wealthy playboy persona demands it. And I do believe that because he’s Batman, he would only hire the most ethical. And smart, honest accountants ask a lot of questions. And they want to see receipts.

I don’t believe Batman is trying to cheat the federal government. Bruce Wayne is not using his position to amass personal power. He’s not on the ballot. His taxes are none of my business.

But I’d like to hire his accountant.