Years in the making, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns was never intended to rewrite the rules for the Caped Crusader or become the template for a generation of storytelling. It was, though, the culmination of a series of events that occurred at DC Comics and in Miller’s professional development that nicely dovetailed together. The right book, character, and creator all arrived at the right time, when an audience was ready to accept the radical re-imagining.
Ever since the four-part story heralded the arrival of the Prestige Format and was the first entry in the current field of graphic novels, The Dark Knight Returns has been an influential touchstone to storytellers. Its use of character, page construction, color, and theme showed that four-color heroes can be used for darker concepts, exploring new ideas. As a result, people have been clamoring to see it adapted for the screen, any screen, so it could continue to thrill us. We were teased with the folk at Warner Animation paying homage to Miller’s art style and now-iconic imagery in Animaniacs and Batman the Animated Series.
At long last, Warner Premiere has delivered their finest effort, paying tribute to the story written and pencilled by Miller, inked by Klaus Janson, and colored by Lynn Varley. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is out on home video, as a Combo Pack (Blu-ray, DVD, Ultraviolet) and shows the affection from the first frame.
Bob Goodman remained utterly faithful to the story, compressing the first half of the graphic novel into a brisk 76 minutes that still contains the moments you want. Commissioner James Gordon and Bruce Wayne have a nice, warm friendship, Alfred remains his acerbic self, and Carrie Kelly is gung-ho and awkward. The first half of the story deals with several threats to Gotham City, first the gang known as the Mutants and their muscle-bound leader who wants to own the town; and Harvey Dent, seemingly physically cured but proving his mind is as fractured as ever. And watching from confinement is a homicidal maniac long-thought drugged into submission.
The best thing director Jay Oliva, who cut his teeth on Man of Steel and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights), did was show us what Miller could only hint at: a 50-year old man who really has to struggle to keep up. He strains to climb a rope and isn’t fast enough to take down the mutant leader the first time they brawl (in fact their two fights is almost a template for the Batman-Bane confrontations in The Dark Knight Rises). This is a 50+ hero who hasn’t seen action in a decade, but we know from the opening scene he remains addicted to adrenaline and action. His return evokes the creature of the night that first established his reputation in the city and once more inspires the populace.
Visually, Miller’s beefed up main characters and gritty style is nicely replicated, complete with making Batman larger-than-life so he dwarfs Carrie and most other mortals. The story remains a future from the fixed point of the 1980s since the story is dependent on that particular view of America, which means so much of the technology appears antiquated by today’s standards but works wonderfully. There’s also a nice meta shout-out to other titles from 1985-87 that helped reshape comics: Crisis on Infinite Earths, Watchmen, and V for Vendetta.
As usual Andrea Romano has assembled a stellar cast for the voices and while most will lament the absence of Kevin Conroy as Batman, Peter Weller more than ably fills the cape and cowl with gravitas. He’s older, wearier. David Selby’s Gordon has much of the same feeling which is nicely contrasted by Ariel Winter’s Carrie. Wade Williams as Dent and Michael McKean as a blowhard psychiatrist nicely round out the cast.
Interestingly, the packaging avoids imitating Miller’s style, a curious choice. Similarly, Miller, Janson and Varley’s lack of participation in the extras is glaring. They are merely represented with a digital comic excerpt from issue one of The Dark Knight. Instead, we get “Her Name if Carrie…Her Role is Robin” (12:00) with Grant Morrison, Mike Carlin, Alan Burnett, Bruce Timm, and others discussing the radical use of a girl as the new sidekick. There are some nice bits placing this in an historic context. The 2008 “Batman and Me: The Bob Kane Story” (38:00) is reused here and we’re reminded of the egotistical Kane avoiding sharing credit with anyone.
On the Blu-ray is a Two-Face two-parter from Batman the Animated Series. There’s also a sneak peek of part two, due out in early 2013.
It’s a shame Miller wouldn’t participate and the film lacks a commentary track since bringing this to life appears to have been a labor of love for all involved.
From the second I saw the original Batman television show I was hooked.
Just that quick, Batman had replaced Spider-Man as my absolute favorite superhero. Bruce Wayne replaced Peter Parker, Dick Grayson replaced Gwen Stacy and the Joker replaced Dr. Octopus.
When the TV show became corny to my friends, I was still a fan. I didn’t care that they had all switched to the Green Hornet. Yeah, Kato was cooler than Robin and the Green Hornet was just, well he was just cool, but Batman was still my guy.
When Michael Keaton was cast in the 1989 film I was all in. When people started bitching that Mr. Mom was going to play Batman like a joke I didn’t care. I just wanted to see Batman on the big screen. Batman the movie was one of the first DVDs I ever brought and this was when DVDs cost a lot more than they do now.
I’ve seen every episode of every Batman animated series. I own hundreds – maybe even more than a thousand action figures. Without a doubt the single action figure I own more of is Batman.
I write this in my office under a framed 1966 Batman movie poster. To the left of the poster is a cabinet full of porcelain and bronze action figures, of the 18 figures in the cabinet there are four Batman’s and that is the only figure that is represented more than once.
I was very close once to buying a replica of the 1966 Batmobile. How close? I was filling out the paperwork when I realized I was buying a fucking Batmobile.
What kind of asshole buys a fucking Batmobile when he lives in Manhattan and rarely drives the car he already owns? Hell, what kind of asshole buys a fucking Batmobile anyhow? For about two hours I was that type of asshole and a few years later I regretted not buying the car and yes, on occasion I still think I’m that type of asshole.
I own every single Batman movie on DVD and some even on VHS. I’ve watched and own every single Batman TV episode. On many occasions during late nights in my studio I watch from episode one until I stop working. I once did more than 24 hours of watching the show. I was high on coffee and Adam West and loved it.
There has not been one Batman movie I have not seen the opening weekend. In most cases I’ve seen the movie the day it opened, except for the current one. I had every intention of seeing The Dark Knight Rises the opening weekend. I wanted to go to an all day screening of all of the Christopher Nolan Batman films with my dear friend and business partner Tatiana El-Khouri that would climax with The Dark Knight Rises but I was too busy.
I missed that boat and with it I think I missed my one chance to see the film I’ve been waiting well over a year to see. I hear the latest Batman may be the greatest yet. I fear I may never know because I have no intention of seeing it.
I was unable to write my column last week and it’s most likely a good thing that I didn’t. Undoubtedly because of the Aurora shootings and my personal experience with violent crimes my article would have been a hate filled call for revenge against the shooter and his friends and family.
Yeah. His friends and family also.
I’m well aware (now) that makes no sense, but in my initial rage it made all the sense in the world. My piece would have been filled with all sorts of reasons to just beat the living shit out of the crazy motherfucker who committed this sick act.
My heart goes out to the victims of the massacre. There is nothing and I mean nothing that can prepare you for the news that someone you love has been murdered. Trust me. I know.
Because of my history and the way my stupid mind works I simply cannot bring myself to go see The Dark Knight Rises.
I hope and pray that I’ll get over this but I fear that is not to be. I have issues and as much as I love my ComicMix audience I’m not prepared to give you the low down on the details of those issues that prevent me seeing The Dark Knight Rises because of that revolting motherfucker’s actions.
Alas, the people the madman killed and their families are what is important and what we should be thinking about. On a much and I do mean much lesser note that coward with a gun also killed Batman for me. My favorite superhero has now been corrupted in my mind.
To many I’m sure it seems silly for me to give that asswipe the power to corrupt one of my favorite things but unfortunately I have no defense over how I feel. If I associate something with something that’s bad I’m powerless to stop it as much as I try to do so.
I take some comfort in the knowledge that America has rejected the bastard and the hold he has over me is insignificant for America has made The Dark Knight Rises a big hit.
Bravo America. USA!! U S Fucking A!
My demons are mine alone and I rejoice in the fact that the film is doing well in spike of the doings of a limp dick psychopath.
I stop people from telling me about the movie. Not because of my issues but because I’m going to make every attempt to see it. If I don’t manage to see it on the big screen then I will endeavor to watch it when it’s available on pay for view if not then I’ll try and see it on DVD. If those efforts fail I’ll try and watch it on HBO.
Somehow, somewhere I’ll see that movie. That sick motherfucker may have won the battle in his demented mind, but America has already won the war and as for me, I’m determined to win my personal battle.
I don’t know a lot but I do know this, crazy sick assholes do not make the rules, they just make noise. Today that bastard may have killed Batman for me but everyone knows that killing a superhero is just temporary.
I’m sure that Batman will be back in my life and I’m just as sure that the shooter will be forgotten and his victims remembered at the same bat time on the same bat channel, forever.
Don’t give us any more of “The Dark Knight Rises”… if you’ve been reading comics for a while, you know what the original stuff was, from Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley. And now, DC Animation (via MTV) is giving us our first glimpse at what looks to be a very faithful adaptation of “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, pt. 1″.
…it’s been a decade since Bruce Wayne hung up his cape, following most of the other superheroes who had been forced into retirement. Facing the downside of middle age, a restless Bruce Wayne pacifies his frustration with race cars and liquor – but the bat still beckons as he watches his city fall prey to gangs of barbaric criminals known as The Mutants.
The return of Harvey Dent as Two-Face finally prompts Wayne to once again don the Dark Knight’s cowl, and his dramatic capture of the villain returns him to crime-fighting – simultaneously making him the target of law enforcement and the new hope for a desolate Gotham City. Particularly inspired is a teenage girl named Carrie, who adopts the persona of Robin and ultimately saves Batman from a brutal attack by the Mutant leader. Armed with a new sidekick, and re-energized with a definitive purpose, the Dark Knight returns to protect Gotham from foes new…and old.
The film stars Peter Weller as Batman, is David Selby as Commissioner Gordon, Ariel Winter as Robin, Wade Williams as Two-Face, and Michael McKean as Dr. Bartholomew Wolper. The film is directed by Jay Oliva, written by Bob Goodman and executive produced by Sam Register and the legendary Bruce Timm.
“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1” hits Blu-ray Combo Pack & DVD and download on September 25, 2012 from Warner Home Video. “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2” is due in early 2013.
There’s an old maxim that says “God is in the details.” So is a story and especially in comics.
I’ve said and I believe that a good writer can write any character. I don’t have to be African-American to write an African-American character; I don’t have to be female to write a good female character. Gail Simone, for example, writes terrific male characters. So did Kim Yale. Our own Mindy Newell does a terrific job as well with this. What you have to be able to do is have empathy and to understand what is universal – the common humanity. If you don’t connect with your characters, neither will the reader.
All that said, there is a need for what is called the telling detail. Something specific that helps the reader feel the story you’re telling is based in some kind of reality. You can do research and come up with a ton of details but not all of them are necessary for the story. It may be necessary for you as the creator to know them but they’re not necessary for the reader to understand the plot or the characters.
It’s what I call the “iceberg theory.” The bulk of an iceberg is underwater. That bulk is necessary for the part of the iceberg that shows. In the same way, you need to know a lot about the characters, the setting, the story but only a certain percentage of it needs to show. So you select which details help make the story real and convincing to the reader. Those are the telling details.
A writer needs to be able to describe the scene to the artist; likewise, the artist needs to pick the details that he or she will draw. An example is what the character is wearing. That is how the character chooses to present him or herself to the world and that says something. What Peter Parker chooses to wear as Peter Parker says something about him just as what Bruce Wayne wears as Bruce Wayne says something about him. They shop in different places. The look, the texture and the drape of an Armani suit is going to be different than something from Wal-Mart. The reader may not be consciously aware of those changes but, if those details are not there, if everyone dresses the same, the reader is going to pick up on that as well. It will feel false.
What we choose to wear says something about us. You may think that doesn’t include you; many guys – and sometimes I am one of them – will say they just pick what is clean, or cleanest. That, however, does say something about that person and how they wish to be perceived. Do you have a power tie? Do you wear something special when going to meet someone important? What are you projecting about yourself? How do you want to be perceived? It’s true in our lives and so it should be true in our stories as well.
In the past few decades, many people have opted to become walking billboards for a particular brand. It might be a cola company or a sports team or even a comic book character or comic book company (be sure to buy your GrimJack stuff at the ComicMix store, btw – end of shameless plug). By wearing that apparel, we claim a tribal affinity. Stuff like that used to be given out as free advertising; now you have to pay real bucks for them – and sometimes its not cheap – to say you belong. It becomes part of the wearer’s identity. Details like that matter.
When I taught classes at the Joe Kubert School, I tried to make the students think about character design, the costume. It’s not just a matter of what “looks cool” or is easy to draw. The character is telling something about themselves when they choose what they wear. It is a choice they make that says something about themselves and what they are trying to project. At least, they should.
When Jan Duursema, my partner of many Star Wars stories, draws the martial arts fights or sword or lightsaber fights, there is an authority there because Jan herself has studied martial arts, including swordplay. Jan thinks out her locales as well and includes all kinds of information in the background.
When I first met My Mary Mitchell and she showed me her portfolio, I was floored by the amount of telling detail in the panels. Her heroine’s bedroom looked like someone’s bedroom – there were details in the pictures and what the woman hung on the wall that made me think of her as a person. A few panels later, when the woman was walking down the street, there were all kinds of people in the panel, all different body shapes, all wearing different clothes. The clothes reflect what the weather is as well.
Mary also was conscious of the buildings in the background; like any real city, there will be different types of buildings one against another. It gives a visual texture. Too many artists draw a generic background and that makes the story a generic story. Cities are characters in the story; New York is different from Chicago which is different from Memphis or Detroit or Los Angeles or Portland. I’ve been in all those cities and you can tell.
It all matters. The storytelling needs to be universal and, at the same time, it all needs to be specific. It may sound like a contradiction but I’ve found throughout my life that truth lies in the seeming contradictions. God is a contradiction; he/she is in the details and so is the story.
Good morning, DC! Please, have a seat. Why yes, this is a new office. Thank you for noticing. Would you like a mint? Oh go ahead, pocket a few to take home with you. Are you nice and settled in? Excellent.
I wanted to stop today – just a bit shy of your one year anniversary as the “DCnU” – and give you an evaluation. And let’s be honest… this time last year? You were phoning it in something fierce. Anyways… I’ve assembled some thoughts about this leaner-meaner-DC you’ve tried to become. How about we take a little time now to go over my thoughts.
I’d like to start with something positive. Frankly, it took balls to announce to the world you were resetting things. Or rebooting them. But not ret-conning them. However you want to phrase it. To take your entire line back to #1 certainly got you the attention you wanted. Suddenly all the Internet was ablaze with rumors and opinions. You even got TV, newspapers, and traditional magazines interested in you again. I bet you hadn’t seen this kind of love since you killed Superman. For a few months. But not really. How is the Eradicator doing these days anyways? Ha ha ha! But I digress. If nothing else, you like to look like you’re a risk-taker. Frankly, we both know you’re not, but that’s a lengthy discussion we’ll have at another time.
Looking over your line, I can’t help but feel like you couldn’t stop yourself from playing favorites. For every amazing Batman you put out, you matched it on the shelf with less-than-stellar clones like Detective Comics and The Dark Knight. Action Comics got the world talking about Superman again. Superman reminded us why we stopped reading his book somewhere between Electric Blue and New Krypton. And four Green Lantern books? I mean, I know you were trying to suck up to me with giving Kyle Rayner his own book… But did you actually read what you put out?
Justice League was your pride and joy. Justice League International was made with scraps from the bottom of the fridge. And for all the love you gave Animal Man and Swamp Thing, you couldn’t match the complexity and depth in Resurrection Man or the abysmal Suicide Squad. I just kept getting the sense that you unnecessarily spread yourself too thin, DC. You published fewer books per month than you had prior… but in getting leaner, you didn’t realize it would make each effort you put out that much more important.
I feel like I’m being a bit harsh on you. Here… stop crying for a second. You did good things too. I mean, let’s talk about Batman, Action Comics, Animal Man, and Swamp Thing, OK? Here you were able to really play with people’s expectations. Your gamble paid off in spades. Grant Morrison proved (well, I should say is continually proving) that he can marry his love of the golden/silver age while still spinning modern yarn for the lynchpin of your universe. Scott Snyder’s pair of books were decidedly different, and elegant in separate ways. In Batman he was able to prove his deft hand at writing a plausible difference between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, when under the cowl. And while I didn’t have the patience or wallet to enjoy the entirety of “The Court Of Owls,” just keeping to the main Bat-Book proved all the epicness I needed to thoroughly enjoy the event. And over in the “The Dark”? Well, all I can say is you’re finding the perfect way to release Vertigo books with a different logo on them. And I mean that in the best way.
See… Don’t you feel better? And hey, also keep in mind that for the first time Aquaman was really selling well. And the core Green Lantern title has never been sharper. Now, of course we both know you slapped a #1 on it, but it never really “reset” after flashpoint. Very smart of you. Well, it doesn’t hurt that Geoff Johns is the one writing it, so he didn’t have to apply his whole “make the universe over” rule to his own book. When you have that many letters in your title, I guess the rules don’t apply. Say, how did OMAC sell, anyways? Cough, cough! Excuse me. Nervous tic.
As I sat to prepare your report card, it became increasingly taxing to determine a final grade. I mean, if I were to be harsh about it? I would just give you a D, and call it a day. The greatness achieved from the top talent you employed just can’t hold up those who only tread water. For all the interest you garnered from the mainstream media, you never figured out a way to hold on to their attention, lest you revert back to the old days of just throwing anything out there in hopes of someone paying attention.
Who did you decide to make gay this week? Whose backstory did you change, just to get the message boards flustered? And don’t even get me started about your “girls should wear pants” fiasco. The continual desire to turn amazing artists into mediocre writers, and your desire to employ Rob Liefeld even after his one book was basically universally jeered. And of course, your commitment to force needless crossovers throughout the line, to bump up sales. All of these things pull your GPA (Geek Projected Approval) down into the gutters.
I could go on, but I see you’ve stopped paying attention to me, DC. I know you want to focus on the future – by raping the past. Batman is about to enter “Nightfall.” There’s all that “Before Watchman” stuff you keep cramming down our throats. Oh, and I’m pretty certain I heard you muttering something about more Justice League teams and the resurrection of WildCATS. I can only hope you learn from your mistakes, in going forward. So for now, I’m ready to give you a final grade for your first year, you get an Incomplete.
Now I don’t have to worry about that chance the court might strike down the individual mandate, which would mean my premiums would have gone up – in New York, if one is self-employed, one pays gigantic premiums. My worrying didn’t make the difference, however, so let’s consider something really important.
Can super-heroes get health insurance?
Barry Allen was already working for the police department when the lightning bolt caused those chemicals to drench him and made him The Flash. Usually, public employees get good insurance. He should be okay. We can only hope that Tea Party pressure hasn’t weakened his union’s negotiating power and force public workers to take a worse policy.
Bruce Wayne not only has enough money to pay any medical bills he might have out-of-pocket, but he also has Alfred on staff, who, in addition to his butler skills, also seems to be something of a battlefield surgeon.
Reed Richards is a doctor. Presumably, he can take care of many of his colleagues. Those he can’t might be cared for by Dr. Strange, or Dr. Mid-Nite.
But what about the others?
Once you’re bitten by a radioactive spider as a teenager, you have a pre-existing condition. And, as a self-employed person in New York (at least when he started freelancing at the Daily Bugle), Peter Parker probably got a policy with a high deductible, if he got a policy at all. Here’s hoping that radiation didn’t cause cancer along with a spider sense.
Can test pilots get insurance at all? Even if he wasn’t a Green Lantern, is Hal Jordan the kind of guy who could get a policy?
Among those without powers, masks or capes, there might be circumstances that make it difficult to get a coverage. It seems that just living in certain areas invites life-threatening accidents. I know that living in the New York area means I pay higher rates, so I guess most of the Marvel Universe does as well. Metropolis, Gotham, Coast City et al. are probably no bargain either.
Who pays for those over-worked emergency rooms, especially after an alien attack?
If ever there were places that could use single-payer health insurance, it’s the DC and Marvel Universes.
This was it. Ragnarok, Armageddon, and Doomsday rolled into one. This was the premier of Batman: The Killer Croc’s Revenge, the latest installment in the greatest movie franchise of all time. Christian Bale as Batman. Gary Oldman as Chief Gordon. Lindsay Lohan as Rachel Dawes. And Sean Penn as Killer Croc.
Wayne Callard stood in line with 1500 other Bat Fans waiting for the Cinegrande Cineplex to open its doors. Wayne had been waiting in line for nineteen hours. He’d camped out on the sidewalk the previous night, swathing his bulk in two double-sized down-filled sleeping bags on a foam mattress. Wayne was five feet seven and weighed 350 lbs. He’d been born Cicero Wayne Callard.
“Man,” said Manny Ramirez standing next to Wayne and blowing on his hands, “I hope they open the doors soon! I could use a tube steak!” Manny wore Bat sneakers and a Batpack.
“Haven’t you heard?” Wayne said. “They pulled all the hot dogs. The fat content was too high.”
Manny regarded Wayne dubiously. “You’re shittin’ me.”
“No sir. The mayor signed the executive order yesterday. He doubled the food tax on all fast food items and mandated the removal of such items as hot dogs, French fries, jalapeno poppers, and deep fried cheese curds.”
“You gotta be shittin’ me!” Manny wailed. “What kind of dumb fuck would do that?”
“An overreaching municipal, state, and federal government that seeks to control all aspects of our lives and treat us like children.”
“I been thinkin’ about that hot dog all night! It’s the only thing that kept me going!”
“Hang, bro,” Wayne said. “I got you covered.”
A shout. A huzzah rose up the line. They had opened the doors. It was ten-thirty in the morning. Excitement was palpable among the faithful, overwhelmingly comprised of adolescent boys with a few sullen adults shepherding their cubs and hapless girlfriends in tow.
Two security guards met them at the door. “Please deposit all liquids, foods, and recording devices here. Sir, would you mind opening your coat?”
Wayne dutifully spread wide his bulky pea coat revealing a round mound covered with a nicely pilled argyle sweater that had belonged to his grandfather. The guard looked away and waved him through.
“Sir, would you mind opening your backpack?” the guard said to Manny.
Manny slipped it off and flipped open the lid. “It’s a Batpack.”
Tickets were nine dollars for the eleven o’clock matinee, twelve dollars for shows after noon. Wayne got his ticket and waited for Manny in the lobby where the snack counter was doing a brisk business in popcorn made with sunflower oil and available with virgin olive oil, tofu on a stick, and fruit smoothies.
Manny entered the lobby. “Ahmina get a Coke and some buttered popcorn, okay?”
“There is no buttered popcorn. It’s available with sunflower oil and olive oil.”
Manny’s jaw crushed a toe. He looked toward the refreshment counters which resembled festival seating at a Who concert. He resigned himself to water. Wayne took off at flank speed. It was imperative to get your seats first and fish for food second. By the time Wayne and Manny gained the theater, the plum rows eight through twelve were taken with sniveling, squirming, texting, snarfing boys and men in a state of perpetual shiftiness emitting a low rumble of conversation punctuated by invective.
Wayne took the third seat in the 13th row except it was labeled the 14th to avoid the onus of superstition. Manny sat on the aisle. The big screen showed a ruddy, cheerful Santa Claus in coitus with a reindeer, guzzling Coke and shouting, “Shake, it Prancer, you hot bitch!” It was a Very Special Christmas.
During the trailer for Punisher IV – Marvel 0, a flat top and his date, who looked like Betty from Betty & Veronica, entered the aisle causing Manny to swing his legs to the side. Wayne had to stand and even then it was like squeezing by a mattress stuck in the doorway.
“Do you smell McDonald’s?” Betty whispered to her date.
“Shhh!” Wayne shushed. Dude gave him the stink eye but Wayne ignored him. The troublesome couple sat three seats away. They watched a trailer for Zits, the new Will Ferrell comedy in which he plays a child/man forced to grow up when he takes over the family summer camp. They watched a trailer for Grits, the new Adam Sandler comedy in which he plays a child/man forced to grow up when he takes over the family plantation. They watched a trailer for Pits, the new Ben Stiller comedy about black holes.
Finally, after ads for plastic surgery and whole grain crust chicken and sun-dried tomato pizza, the lights lowered and the feature began. Manny stared at the screen in fascination until the smell of a Big Mac got his attention. Wayne nudged him and passed over a Big Mac.
“What? How?” Manny said, pleased and delighted.
Wayne reached down and pulled a portion of his belly away from himself like a lid. “Prosthetic belly,” he whispered. “Costume store. Got the Big Macs last night in Jersey. Kept ‘em warm with body heat.”
“Shhhh!” Betty shushed harshly.
I know what you’re thinkin’, Wayne thought to himself. In all the confusion, did he pull out two burgers, or three? The question you’ve got to ask yourself, lady, is do you feel lucky?
Batman had a utility belt. Wayne had a prosthetic belly.
Wayne and Manny ate their burgers. Dude immediately in front of Wayne turned in his seat. He had a buzz cut and a ring in one ear and through his nose. “Dude, like that burger you’re eating is totally horrendous. Take it outside, why don’tcha?”
Other young men swiveled to see the object of wrath. Wayne deftly tucked the rest of the Big Mac into his cavernous maw, chewed and swallowed. Reaching into an inside pocket of his pea coat he withdrew a canned Coke, popped the lid and drank copiously. He belched like the Mother of All Bullfrogs. He rolled it out like a black furry carpet. It just kept on rolling. The belch caromed off the ceiling frieze and tumbled ‘round the room.
Onscreen, Batman foiled an attempt by the Punisher to crash his movie.
Buzz Cut jabbed a finger at Wayne. “Why don’t you get up off your fat ass and go sit somewhere else?”
“Yeah!” said his sidekick, Li’l BC.
With a sigh Wayne heaved himself to his feet and motioned for Manny to do likewise. He had not come to rumble with Nazis. He had come to see the movie. He and Manny moved further upslope until they found two seats in the narrow aisle next to the wall.
Onscreen, terrorists had taken over Gotham Tower and were jamming all radio, Internet, and short wave transmissions. In the theater, a gang of twenty-something boys sitting behind Wayne and Manny had seized control of the 18th row and jammed transmissions from the screen by hooting, making noises, and throwing Junior Mints.
A Junior Mint bounced off the back of Wayne’s basketball-sized head. Wayne slowly swiveled with a steely glare. The obstreperous ones studiously watched the screen on which Bruce Wayne was fending off Poison Ivy’s attentions.
Another Junior Mint sailed past. Giggles emanated from the 18th row. Wayne didn’t bother to turn and look. With a sigh of resignation, he gripped his arm rests and heaved himself from his seat. My city bleeds, he thought. He ponderously made his way up the aisle toward the 18th row.
“Oh oh,” they joked. “Look out now, here he comes!”
“Beware the Fat Fury!”
Wayne wondered if the benighted ones were even familiar with Herbie Popnecker. Without looking at them Wayne reached the 19th row and turned in. He sat behind what he took to be the ringleader, a dude in an Oakland hoodie, pants down his ass and BKs on the back of the seats in front of him as if he weren’t the issue of wealthy white mandarins on the Upper West Side.
“You smell something?” the White Negro said.
“Yeah,” said one of his minions. “Something stinks.”
The White Negro turned to confront Wayne, whose knees were up against the back of the seat. “Whassup, you fat faggot? Why don’tcha move your bulk somewhere else, know what I’m sayin’?”
Wayne reached into his belly prosthetic and brought forth a halogen flashlight and a water pistol filled with dog urine. “Please turn around and enjoy the movie for which you paid nine dollars.”
Onscreen, Batman confronted a crazed Killer Croc in the act of planting a bomb.
Offscreen, the White Negro said, “Or what? You gonna make me?”
Wayne turned the flashlight on the White Negro’s face. He squirted dog urine on the White Negro’s shirt.
“There,” Wayne said. “Now you have a smell to complain about.”
The White Negro heaved himself over the back of his seat and attacked Wayne with both hands, delivering blow after blow to Wayne’s prosthetic belly. The White Negro’s fist penetrated several of the twelve thumbtacks Wayne and pushed through the front of his sweater. Stinking of dog urine, the White Negro stared in horror at his bleeding fists.
The manager, a pale young man with a ponytail, came up the stairs with his own flashlight which he shined on the whole sorry scene. He sniffed. “Okay, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you all to leave. Your ticket money will be refunded out front in the lobby. Let’s go.”
The White Negro turned on him in wounded innocence. “But we didn’t do anything! This fat fuck started messing with us!”
Wayne remained seated. “They threw Junior Mints at the back of my head. I’m sure a police search will reveal the Mints.”
“What’s that smell?” the manager said.
“Smells like dog piss,” one of the minions said. He had the makings of a fine detective.
“All right, that’s it,” said the manager with newly found authority. “Out of here right now or I’ll stop the film, turn up the lights and call the cops.”
There was some grumbling but when two more ushers appeared with flashlights on the landing below the White Negro resignedly got to his feet and led his minions out the door. “It sucks anyway.”
The manager turned his flashlight on Wayne. Wayne turned his flashlight on the manager. “You too,” the manager said.
“Moi?” Wayne said. “I have troubled no one. I have thrown Junior Mints at no one. I merely seek to watch the movie which is ruined for me now, ruined I say because of incessant interruptions and the obstreperous and contumacious nature of your clientele.”
“Let’s go,” the manager said. “You can get a refund in the lobby.”
Wayne rose with dignity. “Fine,” he said and waddled down the stairs, pausing only to glance at Manny, who dutifully joined him. The two lads soon found themselves nine dollars richer individually and out on the street.
“Now what do we do?” Manny said.
Gazing at a poster for The Bourne Natural Killers, Wayne deduced their next move. “Come on. We’ll make our own movie. We’ll shoot it on my phone.”
Last week I bitched and moaned about how we’ve turned our backs on comics that can be appreciated by readers of all ages in order to follow the money that kids ain’t got and some adults might have. I also tied this into continuity impenetrable to newcomers that is spread over about a hundred dollars’ worth of monthly product. I can be snotty that way.
In just the past couple of years, we have seen something of a return to comics that can be enjoyed by readers young and old. Publishers can’t help the self-consciousness suffered by Baby Boomers and some Gen-Xers, but today’s new middle-agers were raised without much of the stigma us old folks suffered during the Wertham rage. So, I am now taking it upon myself to point out a few titles that work for a general audience that is fearless enough to read comic books on the bus, be it to work or to school.
I’ve been quite impressed with Dynamite’s Zorro Rides Again, written by Matt Wagner and drawn (now) by John K. Snyder III. That’s quite a pedigree, and their work lives up to it. You do not have to be steeped in a century of Zorrodom to understand what’s going on: it’s all about a revolutionary with a sword on a horse who fights Spanish oppression in the name of the people of California. Solid action, great storytelling, and an even greater story. You can’t go wrong here; it’s a damn fine book.
Image Comics has been running a little superhero series called Savage Dragon for almost 20 years now – the main series is up to issue 180, for crying out loud – and there’s a reason why writer/artist/creator Erik Larson’s work has endured: it deserves to. Yeah, it’s all about a big hyper-muscled green-scaled head-finned superhero; what’s it to you? It’s chock full of solid characterization and mayhem alike. I think it appeals to the same sort of 11 year old that found Marvel Comics so accessible and so exciting a couple generations ago as well as to older readers get a solid comic book experience that isn’t fraught with sturm und drang. The real old farts will be reminded why we liked comics in the first place without having to hit up 50ccs of nostalgia.
The real surprise here comes from DC Comics. While all the focus and attention has been on the New 52, a line too interconnected and too continuity convoluted to access the broader spectrum of readers, over on the West Coast their editorial operation has been publishing a nice little self-contained universe of superheroes in a continuity that had its roots in a teevee series cancelled long ago. The book is called Batman Beyond Unlimited and for those who are unfamiliar with the proto-show it’s The Old DC Universe – The Next Generation… except some members of the original generation (Bruce Wayne, Kal-El) are still around.
There’s three different series going on in this giant-sizedish monthly: Batman Beyond, Superman Beyond, and Justice League Beyond. The latter group has Superman (the original, a man out of his time), Batman (Terry McGinnis, although Bruce Wayne is still around and more cranky than ever), Warhawk – the son of Hawkgirl and John Stewart, as well as contemporary versions of Green Lantern, The Atom and others. They back-fill the origins while remaining constant with previously established continuity, but – and this is why it works – you don’t need to be Mark Waid to understand who’s who, what’s what, and how everybody got that way. Available as weekly downloads in individual series titles or in the Batman Beyond Unlimited monthly, by avoiding the grim and gritty wallowing in apocalyptic hopelessness, this is a title that can be enjoyed by all but the most anal-retentive cynic.
And when was the last time I wasn’t the most anal-retentive cynic?
THURSDAY MORNING: Dennis O’Neil and the Trilogy Trend
It’s beginning to appear as though we’re moving away from one of the pillars of superherodom, the secret identity. Even though this movement started back in the early 1960s with The Fantastic Four, it’s moved slowly up to the breakthrough moment in the first Iron Man movie.
Of course, that was telegraphed a few years before by my pal Mike Grell during his run on the comic book, but Marvel squeezed that back in the tubes where it sat until the movie people showed them Mike was right in the first place.
Such pettiness aside, I welcome the departure from tradition. The secret identity was almost always a stupid idea. Clark Kent became Superman to protect his friends and loved ones from harm? Okay, fine. I can appreciate that even the Man of Steel can not keep an eye on Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, Lex Luthor (well, they used to be friends…), Linda Lee, Lionel Luthor, and Leslie Luckabee simultaneously, 24/7. But let’s do a little reality testing here: all Toyman has to do is grab Agnes Applebee off of the streets and hold a gun to her head and Superman is in the exact same pickle.
There were worthy exceptions. I can see why Bruce Wayne covers up: he doesn’t want all those people inconvenienced by the Dark Knight’s activities to sue the poo outta him. Going back to the dawn of the pulp era, the incredibly wealthy nobleman Don Diego de la Vega was committing high treason every time he dressed up as Zorro: to the natives of California he was a hero, but to the Power he was a terrorist. Even then, Zorro revealed his identity at the end his first tale, The Curse of Capistrano, but author/creator Johnston McCulley overlooked this aberration in his five-dozen subsequent stories.
Arguably the first costumed hero (Spring-Heeled Jack was a villain, and was further disadvantaged by being ostensibly real) was the Scarlet Pimpernel, created 14 years before Zorro by Baroness Emmuska Orczy in 1905. He had the same excuse as Don Diego: he was committing treason, in this case against the French Revolution. He and his 19-member legion ran around rescuing their fellow aristocrats from the best of times, the worst of times. So, sure, he had a good reason for his secret identity.
But Superman? Not so much. Wonder Woman? Give me a break; army nurse turned Second Lieutenant Diana Prince was wasting her powers as anything other than Princess Diana. The X-Men? They had no lives; did they need masks because “Hey, Beast!” sounds better than “Hey, Hank!”? Doctor Strange didn’t have a secret identity; in real life, he was Doctor Strange. If the wrong people got the right idea, he’d mystically brainwash them. Spider-Man? C’mon, we’d be better off without Aunt May.
The man with one of the most famous secret identities of all time – or, perhaps, two – in fact didn’t have a secret identity at all. Were he to be unmasked, he would be nothing.
I’ll tell you about him next week.
THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil Talks About Mike Gold’s Old Boss
Celebrate free speech at this year’s Book Expo by raising a toast to CHIP KIDD on Tuesday, June 5th in a benefit to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund!
A VIP cocktail reception starts at 7 PM. Kidd will present a behind-the-scenes look at creating this book, and all attendees will receive an extremely limited copy of BATMAN: DEATH BY DESIGN, with an exclusive signed and numbered bookplate, designed by Mr. Kidd. These bookplated editions are extremely limited, and will be available one time only. Hors d’Oeuvres will be served. This is a ticketed event, with limited admission available for a $50 donation to the CBLDF. Reserve your ticket here.
At 8:30 pm, an open release party and book signing will begin. Copies of BATMAN: DEATH BY DESIGN will be available at the venue! (No ticket needed for this portion of the evening, but a suggested donation at the door is appreciated)
The event happens at SMITHFIELD, 215 West 28th Street New York, NY 10001.
Info about BATMAN: DEATH BY DESIGN:
Writer: Chip Kidd, Artist: Dave Taylor
In this new, original graphic novel from superstar writer/designer Chip Kidd and artist Dave Taylor, Gotham City is undergoing one of the most expansive construction booms in its history. The most prestigious architects from across the globe have buildings in various phases of completion all over town. As chairman of the Gotham Landmarks Commission, Bruce Wayne has been a key part of this boom, which signals a golden age of architectural ingenuity for the city. And then, the explosions begin.
All manner of design-related malfunctions – faulty crane calculations, sturdy materials suddenly collapsing, software glitches, walkways giving way and more – cause casualties across the city. This bizarre string of seemingly random catastrophes threatens to bring down the whole construction industry. Fingers are pointed as Batman must somehow solve the problem and find whoever is behind it all.
This event will take place at 7 pm, June 5th, at SMITHFIELD, 215 West 28th Street New York, NY 10001
Tickets for the 7 PM Cocktail Hour Available at http://cbldf.myshopify.com/products/batman-death-by-design-release-party-and-presentation