BATMAN: MAD LOVE
It was quite an excellent comic, written by Paul Dini and drawn by Bruce Timm. It won a number of awards. We all wondered when and how we could get this thing animated. And through a maze of miracles, it finally happened. This past Saturday morning the animated version of MAD LOVE premiered.
First, the good news: It is the single most reverent comic adaptation I've ever seen. The dialogue is there. The comic reads as a storyboard for much of the episode.
But I have my problems with it. BIG problems. For one, Arleen Sorkin doesn't pull it off for me, which is especially disappointing considering how much Paul Dini raved over the voice work. Mark Hamill does an excellent job, and Sorkin as Harlequin works really well most of the time. But her voiceovers fall terribly flat. Where are the inflections? Where is the naturalness? Often it comes off as someone obviously reading a script and not someone living the lines, as it should be. It's not lively enough.
Second, the animation is horrible. We might just be back to my basic dislike for this new animated style. But it's more than just that. For one, the sexy Harley in a nighty is ruined. Harley's shoulders are way too broad and she ends up looking too masculine through much of those scenes. There's one scene where the Joker is walking towards Harley. And while the two of them are walking, the background NEVER changes! It's a worse effect than the old repeating backgrounds of the Hanna Barbera cartoons.
So I'll stick with the comic, thanks. I appreciate the fact that the WB allowed for much of the material to air. It includes a character being sexy and wearing a nighty, the Joker slapping Harley across the face, and some other previously-forbidden practices not commonly seen on Saturday morning television. In the end, though, it doesn't add up for me.
...sounds like a Sarah MacLachlan tune, doesn't it?
Avalon Studio's ARIA is exactly what a first issue of a comic book should not be. There is no story here, really. There's a lot of set-up and a lot of beginnings of threads, but no real solid story that would make me really want to buy the second issue. However, oddly enough, I still do want to stick around for the next issue of two.
ARIA is a fairy tale set in modern times. Or, rather, it is a story set in the current day with characters from classic fairy tale lore, from the fairies themselves to the merpeople and on and on. Past that, I can't tell you what is going on for the life of me. This is unfortunate.
Well, the art is stunning. I'm talking Dale Keown stunning. Jay Anacleto is a real find for Avalon. Yes, it's excessive cheese-cake. Our female antagonist sleeps in her underwear for us. (Although she was kind enough to change per panties before doing so.) She strips out of her jeans and t-shirt and into just her panties for us. She wears a little sundress -- I suppose that's what it is -- which her bosom bursts out of on the side. She wears no bra, but does have tattoos on her cleavage. And she arches her back, shakes her booty, and in general acts provocatively an awful lot. However, at the same time, she also can act casually. And Anacleto draws some amazingly expressive faces.
I am curious as to what the process used to produce this comic is. Brian Haberlin uses the same technique here as he uses over Mark Texeira's work on BLACK PANTHER at Marvel. It has a rich, painted-looking feel to it. But I also get the feeling that it might be reproduced directly from the pencils. I say this in part because of the rough nature of some of the lines, as well as some of the forgotten ones. (The table's stand on the far right of the double-page panel in the bar has some "x"s on it to indicate the inker should fill it in solid black, but didn't. Did the repro technique change during production, or did Anacleto miss it while inking?) There is also no inker mentioned, just Anacleto on "art."
And the Avalon Comics web site is a complete mess of Shockwave crap. Sorry, I don't go for that kind of flash in a web site. if you care to waste your time, go to http://www.avaloncomics.com
THE ART OF STORYTELLING
A couple books came out this week that, I think, illustrate different points in proper comic book storytelling. So rather than straight reviews, I'm going to tackle them as they show my points.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of this review, I have to throw out the SPOILER WARNINGS. The rest of this column is just lousy with spoilers. Normally, this column strives to remain spoiler-free. Just not this week.
The first point is shown in the inimitable style of Warren Ellis in TRANSMETROPOLITAN #19. I can't explain it fully, but I can tell a Warren Ellis script a mile away. Ellis, for all his cynicism and tawdriness, has one of the most cinematic points of view of any writer working in comics today.
The entire first half of this issue is told with lots of large panels and very little in the way of dialogue or descriptive panels. (The rest of the issue isn't much of an exception, by the way. But I'm leading up to something here, so I'm narrowing my scope just a tad.) For many, this would be the cause of great controversy. Remember of that issue of BONE in which Jeff Smith so beautifully laid out a moody an eerie march through the forest? It was breathtaking in the way it made you feel, but there were those who went straight to USENET to complain that it "read too quickly" and that for $2.95, they expected a lot more. To me, it was just a more cinematic way of telling a story and of making a point.
So it goes here. The first half of this TRANSMET issue is devoted to pointing out Spider Jerusalem's new-found separation from the city that makes him who he is, particularly after the events of last issue. The first six pages are set in the poorest section of the city, home of "The New Scum." Much of it is just open panels of Spider walking through the city. You don't need explanatory captions when the pictures are so vivid and the signs in the background explain so much so easily. The misspelled signs alerting the casual consumer that the bottles of alcohol this particular vendor is hawking are "All special prise!" The downtrodden looks of the men carrying dog carcasses to market. The gatherings throngs of otherwise desperate people smiling and holding out their hands to the ever-so-popular Spider Jerusalem.
From there you enter the sterile-looking apartment building in which Spider now resides. The apartment itself speaks here to illustrate the points, but it is page ten which works best. At first glance, it's a waste of a page. Spider steps out onto his balcony overlooking the city. The following three panels fill up the rest of the page and show his building getting further and further away.
It's only upon second inspection that the reader notices the true effect of the composition. It's something you felt when you 'read' it the first time, but didn't notice or couldn't put into words. The p.o.v. isn't just getting further away, but it's also getting higher up. The 'camera' is both pulling back and angling up. Spider's "above-it-all" apartment now truly fits the phrase. And it's not 5 pages later that Spider breaks down on the very same balcony, distraught over being so far away from "The City" and "The People" and "The Masses" and whatever else you care to read into it. In the backgrounds of the following pages, the skyline of the city looms constantly, reminding the reader of the setting for all the conversation being shown in the foreground.
Meanwhile, over in SUPERMAN & BATMAN: GENERATIONS #3, John Byrne shows us the proper use of the splash page. It shouldn't be used just to fill up a page, or to make for a better piece of art on the resale market. It should be used to make an impact. It should be used for plotting purposes. It should be used to drive home a point in a way a smaller panel -- even a half-page panel -- could not.
In the second half of this series so far, Byrne has give us a number of emotional pushes. It's been a veritable roller-coaster ride so far, as familiar faces reach new roles and relationships go topsy-turvy. The 1979 chapter ends with a parallel to both the Death of Robin sequence, as well as the Death of Supergirl in Crisis scene. Clark Kent's long-thought-dead son returns to kill his sister in a fit of jealous rage. Of course, his sister is Supergirl. And the page is quite possibly the climax of the story, if not the series. There's also a certain amount of poetic symmetry going on here. The other full-page panel (not counting the opening splash page) occurs roughly an equal number of pages from the beginning as this page occurs from the end. It shows Supergirl in full form. It also serves as her introduction in the story.
So between the two splashes, you see Supergirl at the height of her superheroine career as well as the nadir at the tragic end of it. You see her happy with her peer who is to be her husband and at death with the peer who is the long-thought-lost man in her life, her brother.
Heck, it's almost Shakespearean. Someone get me a Greek Chorus!
GENERATIONS is the best work of Byrne's, bar the CAPTAIN AMERICA/BATMAN crossover one-shot which takes place in this same thread of Hypertime, since NEXT MEN. I can't wait for the conclusion and the TPB.
(Tangent: Thanks to Hypertime, Peter David's final issue of THE INCREDIBLE HULK can now be considered canon. Yay!)
(Second tangent: The Tangent Universe now also exists thanks to Hypertime.)
(Third tangent: ...would be the next line to just glance off the parabola.)