A MONTH IN THE LIFE OF THE BAT
"This Issue: Batman Dies!!!" was a neat idea, but one that ultimately fails under its own weight and the apparent hastiness with which it was planned. In the end, it looks half-baked. When it was announced in San Diego this past summer, I had a good feeling about it. The animated series did a pretty terrific episode, "Almost Got 'Im", wherein a pack of villains are sitting in a hideout around a poker table swapping stories of the times they came closest to killing The Bat. Killer Croc, Joker, Poison Ivy, et. al. It's one of the most memorable episodes of the first season of that show. The comics probably didn't have a chance of living up to that episode.
On the comics side of things, Ed Brubaker did as good a job in BATMAN with it as you can do in a straight action-adventure story, even if the ending was a fait accompli. Greg Rucka did a good job turning his DETECTIVE COMICS #753 into a SPIRIT homage, complete with Eisneresque artwork from Steve Mannion and lettering by Todd Klein.
The weak spot developed when they brought the satellite series into it. Chuck Dixon writes all three -- BIRDS OF PREY, NIGHTWING, and ROBIN, none of which star Batman -- and is well known for handing in his scripts months and months ahead of time. While ROBIN #85 – a fine psychological evaluation of the Joker vis a vis Robin – tangentially touched on the issue in one excellent Pete Woods-drawn page, the BIRDS OF PREY crossover (issue #26) was so slight that it became the highlight of the issue in the sense of disdain you could feel oozing out of the panel. Basically, if you look really carefully, you can see Batman being mauled by a bear in the middle of the desert in the background of one wide angle panel. Really funny.
NIGHTWING #52 had a brief bit in the middle of the opening dream sequence where Batman dies, but it doesn't really trip up the plot at all. It's actually a really good issue between Nightwing and Catwoman with amazing art from Greg Land and Drew Geraci. The story reads really quickly. It might be the quickest comic I've ever read. The story takes place in the time span of about five minutes of action inside a Vegas factory. There's not an awful lot of room in this issue for character development, but Dixon does hit on some interesting character points between the two.
Of course, this non-crossover event leads into next month's mega-Batman-crossover even, "Officer Down!" One should judge books on their own merits, and not based on promotional materials, rumors, and hearsay. There's enough condemnation on the internet of works that haven't come out yet without me adding to it. I just think that this crossover is being poorly handled as a crossover. It's a multi-part story that couldn't be self-contained. Instead, creative teams get juggled around on all the books, and the story carries on from week to week, affecting titles that don't necessarily need to be bothered right away with the story. There's a reason for each of the books in the Batman family. When you have a crossover like this, you gut out the center of those reasons and treat the books as space for rent to service a larger story. I'm not a big fan of that.
KILLRAVEN #1 is the first bit of Joe Linsner's work I've ever read. Most famous for writing/drawing/painting DAWN, who may or may not be a Bad Girl or a Good Girl or whatever classification you might wish to place her under, this is Linsner's first substantial work for Marvel. It's a one shot under the Marvel Knights banner, and uses the same coloring style Avalon Studios used for the early days of BLACK PANTHER and on ARIA. It's basically a colored greywash effect. It looks great here. Linsner's artwork is very smooth. He's not much on sharp edges to anything. Heck, even his robots have a certain amount of cuddly squishiness to them. The story is a clash of cultures, as the dystopian future earth warrior, Killraven, runs across the cryogenically frozen 1970s peacenik. He revives her and the cultural clash becomes evident fairly quickly. Linsner skirts around any sort of romantic interesting in a very clever way. It's left as an exercise to the reader's imagination if there's romantic tension there.
As a one shot story, this one leaves me interested in more. Alan Davis was reportedly working on a KILLRAVEN mini-series earlier this year, which I'm sure has been delayed with his acceptance of the AVENGERS gig. If he does do one, though, I hope it follows up on this issue. If not, I hope Marvel can get Linsner back to tell more of these stories. He obviously has a love of these characters, and it shows through in the work, complete with a two-page homage splash to previous Killraven artists.
Over to ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #4 now. This is the issue where it all starts turning around in a hurry. If you were complaining about what you perceived to be a slow pacing to the first three issues, this one should turn you around. A lot of stuff that you'll remember from the classic Spidey origin starts happening here.
I want to discuss what happens at the end of the issue. Even though the issue is a couple of weeks old now, I'm going to throw in some
In the end of the issue, Peter Parker returns home late at night to see ambulances and police cars surrounding his house. This is the end of Uncle Ben now, isn't it? I mean, earlier in the issue, Bendis and Bagley even introduced a street punk that Peter failed to stop. It's all coming to pass just like the classic origin.
Or is it? I'm torn right now, and either of the possibilities that might come to pass in the opening pages of the fifth issue doesn't bug me, to tell you the truth. Brian Bendis has spent a lot of time in the first four issues of this series setting up Uncle Ben as the kindly uncle we all wish we had to take care of us in the unfortunate event of our parents' death in a plane crash. (Yeesh, isn't that a morbid thought?!?) Everyone loves this guy.
In the meantime, Aunt May hasn't really been developed all that much. She's a little younger than the current continuity's Aunt May, and she hasn't yet been replaced by a clone and killed. ;-)
So couldn't the plot be carried through with Aunt May's death at the hands of the robber from the street? Peter still loves his Aunt May, and Bendis would still be able to build on the strong foundation that he's created with Uncle Ben. Why waste a good character? And wouldn't it be something completely different to see a single father instead of a single mother in some form of modern media?
On the other hand, it's the oldest writer's trick in the book – get the readers to care for a character and that character's death will have the greatest impact. Look at Hal Jordan. People loved that guy and are still petitioning for his return – and they're getting it, finally, in the guise of The Specter. Fans of ULTIMATE SPIDEY have all noticed how much character Bendis has imparted to Uncle Ben, the man in regular continuity known only, really, for a puffy face and a kind smile. Now he's a wise hippie of sorts. If it's Uncle Ben who gets put six feet under at the end of the issue, it would have the most emotional impact on those not familiar, necessarily, with the 1960s Spidey continuity.
Of course, there is a third possibility – this is all a red herring. Aunt May slipped in the shower or something, and this will be a close call, but nothing life threatening in the end. And isn't that the point of the Ultimate titles? Throwing something new into the mix?
Well, yeah, but it might just be bad storytelling unless handled with a wink and a nod.
Storytelling-wise, I think Uncle Ben's death would carry the greatest dramatic emphasis. But the devil inside me wants to see Aunt May bite it, just for the hell of it.
IN THE PIPELINE FOR NEXT WEEK
More reviews are coming next week. The past two weeks have been really expensive ones at the comics shop. I need time to read more, and to justify that spending with some words in this column.
Next Friday, I'll be checking in with Derek Fridolfs. It's been a year since last we talked about how he broke into the industry as an inker. Now that he's getting regular work, how has life and work changed for him? Stop by next Friday to find out!
And the Friday after that? Something manga-ish.
Happy New Year, everyone!