Cross-Hatchings for March 2013

This and that. Comics, pulps, television, all sorts of things. You know the drill by now.


Dead Robins: I didn't actually READ the damn thing. I went cold turkey off the Bat books a few months ago and I've stayed off 'em. But people keep asking me, as a Bat-fan of forty years' standing, what I think about the death of the latest Robin.

I always reply, "Didn't read it." But they keep after me anyway. So here's my hip-shot, didn't-read-it, man-on-the-street assessment.

First, the "event death" stunt is a lame ploy for ANY continuing serial character, no matter what the series might be. Star Trek and the death of Spock. Dallas and the death of Bobby Ewing. Whatever. Because the audience will instantly get pulled out of the story and start arguing-- with each other, with themselves-- over how long it's going to last and how long it will take for the franchise owners to walk it back. And what that walk-back is going to look like. (All a dream? Clone? Superboy punch? Lazarus Pit?)

And it's especially stupid in superhero comics where the audience is already so jaded. I don't care who's writing it. Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Will friggin' Eisner, I don't care. It's still lame. For a writer of fiction, anything that causes your audience to become LESS involved with your story is a dumb idea.

Secondly, this makes, in DC continuity time, the third dead Robin in a period of, what? Five years? Six?

That just doesn't make sense on any level, not if Batman is as noble and caring about innocent lives as he says he is. Don't forget, in the original Dark Knight Returns (which is actually where I think this let's-kill-Robin! idea first started) Frank Miller also posited that the death of Jason traumatized Bruce Wayne to the point where he quit being Batman.

But in the current DCU, the death of Robin just means that a vacancy's opened up in the Batcave. Time to recruit another kid. Yawn.

Does that make sense to anyone on a character level? Forget for a moment that both Jason and Stephanie got better, that doesn't matter to the internal logic of the story and characters; no one in a DC comic goes around thinking, Well, yes, I might be killed, but chances are that a crazy alternate Superboy will punch an energy wall and I'll eventually return and be fine. The characters treat these things as serious, real events, and that creates huge problems for internal consistency and suspension of disbelief.

Consider this. If Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Tim Drake, even Barbara Gordon or the Justice League... if these people are actually the people we are constantly told they are, it seems to me they all would be reacting, on some level, with "Never again. No more Robins. Not burying any more teenagers." All of them. Including Batman himself. Hell, they would all have been saying that after the first time; but this is the third for Christ's sake. After a third dead kid, how is the JLA not actively trying to shut down the whole idea of Robin at that point? Wouldn't they even be having doubts about Batman himself? (Again, haven't read it, but if that's actually happening in the books no one is talking about it. All the coverage I've seen is speculating on who the NEXT Robin's going to be.)

So, the short version of my response to the Damian Wayne thing is this-- I thought it was a dumb tasteless idea that stank of desperation the first time, with Jason Todd, and my opinion hasn't changed now that it's the third time DC's done it. It probably won't change the fourth or fifth time either. Event Deaths are just a dumb idea, period. It's played out. And with Robin it's getting to the level of South Park killing Kenny.

That's my response....again, without having actually read the thing. It may be genius. But I doubt it. (What was genius was the role reversal of the Dick-and-Damian version of Batman and Robin, and yes, I am still bitter that we didn't get more of that.)


Emerald City Loot: I didn't much chance to go shopping at the Emerald City Comics Convention beyond my customary twenty minutes at Randy's Readers, but I did get to pick up some new titles. A couple of spaces down from us, Andrew Salmons was tabling and he had a few books out. Of those, I was immediately drawn to this one.

Dan Fowler: G-Man volume one is another fun anthology of original stories featuring a classic pulp character that's fallen into the public domain. I'm always interested in the Airship27 pulp revivals, and Mr. Salmons let this one go for ten dollars, which is a pretty hefty discount. Apart from all that, I've had a soft spot for Dan Fowler since I encountered him in the pages of High Adventure.

High Adventure #83 starring Dan Fowler and his hard-as-nails crew of Feds actually was my candlelight reading during a really crappy storm here a few years ago, and it's nice to see Airship27's picked up the character.

The anthology itself consists of four stories-- "The Dungeon of Death" by Gregory Bastionelli, "Harvest of Crime" by B.C. Bell, "The Music of Murder" by Aaron Smith, and Salmons' own "The League of Dead Patriots." All four were enjoyable, and the Salmons entry even had a guest appearance by the Domino Lady. The illustrations from Kelly Everart are very much in the pulp tradition, as well (though to be honest it always throws me a little to see them reproduced so cleanly, which is not in the pulp tradition at all.) I'd recommend this to anyone that's looking for a pulpy good time; the print version is a probably priced a little high for most people, but there's a digital version available at the Airship27 page for a very reasonable three dollars. While you're there, you might want to check out some of the other stuff too.

Another impulse buy came when I was passing Michael Woods' table and he had a little standup sign that posed the question, Do You Like Westerns?

Well, I do like Westerns. A great deal, as regular readers could tell you, and I especially like them in comics. So I had to see what this was all about.

Turns out it was about this.

Outlaw Territory Volume 2 is the second book of an amazing anthology series from Image that, somehow, I had not heard about.

A variety of writers ranging from Len Wein to Robert Kirkman to Greg Pak to Rich Johnston team with an even wider variety of artists-- Joe Staton, Sean Phillips, Rafael Albequerque, along with an array of astonishingly talented folks I've never heard of-- to produce a book full of punchy, well-crafted Western short pieces, all of which feature really terrific art-- there's not a loser in the bunch. I especially dug the stuff from the folks I'd never heard of like Diego Tripodi and Jose Jaro.

You can bet I'll be on the prowl for volume one and I was very pleased to see there's a volume three on the way, too. When he signed it Mr. Woods thanked me for taking a chance on the book but what I really love, as it turns out, is that he and Image are taking a chance on doing it. I hope they keep going for a long, long time.


Super-People on My TV: I admit to being largely ambivalent about it at first but I am slowly getting into the TV show Arrow.

It's not really what I think of as "Green Arrow," but then again, neither is the current DC Comics incarnation. Unlike the comic, though, the TV show has kind of sneaked up on Julie and me. We're enjoying the fumbling beginnings of Oliver Queen's crimefighting career, the crew he's assembled (Like most of America, we fell in love with Emily Rickards as snarky IT girl Felicity, and every week we wonder why Ollie keeps trying to get next to Dinah or McKenna, when Felicity is clearly the girl that's got it going on.)

But never mind all that. The IMPORTANT part is that the Paleyfest panel with Geoff Johns interviewing the producers and cast of the show is now online at Hulu, here, for free. I thought it was interesting and fun and answered a lot of the things that were bothering me about the way they'd set the show up. If it's not MY Oliver Queen, well, it's still a pretty good one and I appreciate the craft and care everyone involved is obviously trying to bring to it.


From The Review Pile: People continue to send me cool books, particularly small-press folks. As usually happens, they're starting to pile up on me a bit so I'm going to try to get through as many as I can here.

I was really impressed with Silence & Co., from Crystal Productions.

As far as I know this is their initial entry into comics publishing and it's set a really high bar for them to match with future efforts, assuming there are any. It's written by Gur Benshemesh with art by Ron Randall. The story is about a Alex, a disillusioned ex-soldier who's currently a career hitman, who finds himself taking on a corrupt international banking organization and trying not to get caught in the crossfire between South American drug cartels and U.S. law enforcement while he does it.

I had mixed reactions to this story. I found it enormously compelling-- it was almost impossible to put down once I'd started. It's very tough and cool, in much the same action-movie, hard-R tradition as other crime comics like 2 Guns or The Losers. Certainly Mr. Benshemish knows how to spin a tale; the writing is as crisp and spare as a story like this calls for, and he keeps things moving along at a good clip with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

And Ron Randall's art is a delight, maybe even a career best for him as far as I'm concerned. He's always been good, in a dependable journeyman-artist sort of way, but here he's really stretching himself.

So let's get all that up front. This is a hell of a nice piece of work, it's really well-done. I admire it enormously and I want to see more books like this. I love that it's a crime novel. I love that it's produced in black-and-white in a relatively inexpensive but classy format. I love that everyone involved is bringing their A-game. I really do think this kind of bookstore original graphic novel is the wave of the future.


There is a 'but.' A couple of them, honestly.

With all this talent and passion that everyone clearly brought to the project, I feel almost guilty for not liking it more. I enjoy a dark crime story as much as anyone and more than most people, but everyone in this book is so relentlessly awful it's hard to care about any of them. Snappy patter and a badass attitude don't really cover up what a horrible human being Alex is. I get that he has reasons for being disillusioned and bitter, but he's still a sociopath that kills indiscriminately for cash.... and he's the hero. Everyone around him is worse. I freely grant you that realistically, this is how hitmen and drug dealers and mobsters and even embittered federal cops really would act... but it nevertheless makes the story less enjoyable when you feel like no one in it deserves to be the victor.

And-- this is my inner production printer guy holding sway for a moment-- the book is way too black. Black title and chapter pages, thick black story page borders, the cover's mostly black.... I can tell by looking at this that every press guy that worked on this book hates Crystal's production designer with a white-hot fury, whether they admit it out loud or not. This would be a production nightmare just because of the way they must have had to fight to keep all that black ink from offsetting from one page to the next, or soaking through. And the net effect is that all that black ink bordering the art washes out all Ron Randall's beautiful linework and makes the pages look too empty. Somebody got a little carried away with the idea of doing a noir book, I think.

All that said, I do recommend it. Silence & Co is well worth your time. But I hope Crystal follows it with something a little less bleak.

Speaking of crime stories that are a little less bleak, I really loved the latest from Hard Case Crime, a terrific Max Collins-Terry Beatty collaboration called Seduction of the Innocent.

This is another mystery set in and around the comics industry of the 1950s, featuring newspaper syndicate VP Jack Starr and his imperious stepmother (and boss) Maggie. There were two previous entries in the series, with both of them also featuring illustrations by Terry Beatty.

The Jack Starr mysteries are not the kind of hard-boiled fare one might expect if you only know Max Collins through Road to Perdition or his Nate Heller books. These are breezy, fun mysteries much more in the spirit of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, or maybe the Ellery Queen TV show with Jim Hutton.

Except the Starr novels are always built around something to do with comics. In this case, as you probably guessed from the title, the mystery is loosely based on Frederic Wertham and the Kefauver hearings on comics. Who killed Dr. Werner Frederick, the crusading psychologist out to destroy comic books? Was it Frederick's nemesis Bob Price from Entertaining Funnies? Or the troubled artist, Will Allison? Or media vulture Harry Barray? Or the senator, or the juvenile hood, or....

You get the idea. It's all in good fun and Terry Beatty's illustrations really help set the mood.

The Starr books are a treat in any case, but especially welcome for those of us that know something about comics history and enjoy seeing Colllins and Beatty working together again. Even if it's not Ms. Tree, it's still a crime book from the same creative team and it's just as much fun.


That's all I've got, this time out. I really am trying to whittle away at the review pile, but this week's column is well into "TL;DR" territory already, so I figured it was better to cut it short. If you sent something and I didn't get to it yet, I will, I promise.

And in the meantime, I'll see you next week.

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