Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: Jellaby: Monster in the City


I read several short stories by about big-headed little girl Portia and her big-headed, purple dragon friend in various volumes of the Flight anthology between 2004-2011 or so. I read (and ) the original graphic novel Jellaby that Hyperion published back in 2008. And I just re-read (and re-reviewed) that original graphic novel, now renamed Jellaby: The Lost Monster and published by Capstone.

It was during the re-reading of the new edition that I realized that I never did get around to reading (or reviewing) the second volume of Kean Soo's Jellaby comic, Jellaby: Monster in the City (published by Hyperion in 2009; not yet republished by Capstone, if it's even going to be). So as I was preparing to write about artist Kean Soo's purple monster again, I took the opportunity to finally read Monster in the City, and find out just what happened after the cliffhanger ending of the first volume (You may recall that ended with Portia and Jason pretending to go trick-or-treating, but actually taking Jellaby on a train ride to Toronto, where they hoped to find his home, but they ended up being ejected from the train and having to walk towards the city).

Visually, all of the charms present in the first volume are also present in this volume. Soo retains the limited color palette, with everything being black and white but mostly purple, with only occasional dashes of red (on Jellaby, Portia and the new, second monster in this volume) and orange (on Jason's sweatshirt, and on his carrots). Soo continues to use his inspired monster design, with its big round head and dinner plate-sized eyes, like a sort of Golden Age silent movie comedian.

The story component in this volume is very, very different than in the first, however, as some of the conflicts in Portia's life merely alluded to or foreshadowed in it come to fruition, and there is a rather elaborate explanation for Jellaby and his relationship to the kids, one that sort of drains the character of some of his mystique and, therefore, his appeal (This may simply be a result of my having lived with the character for so long not knowing exactly what his whole deal was, but I do feel the character works better without a back story).

So Portia and Jason take Jellaby to a fair in Toronto, because Jellaby recognized a door on a building there in a newspaper article about that fair. After some rather scary misadventures—being very little kids, Portia and Jason aren't much more experienced with the ways of the big city than the monster, who is able to walk around out in the open because it's Halloween and everyone assumes he's a man in a costume—they eventually find the door, and follow it and a mysterious stranger from Portia's dreams to the bottom.

There they find another monster that does indeed look a little like Jellaby. It's much, much larger, and white with red in its eyes, a purple fin and a purple fin or sail along its back (Actually, it looks like a cross between Jellaby and a Spinosaurus...with an dead octopus on its head). Its not actually related to Jellaby, at least not in the familial sense that the kids thought any monsters they might find on the other side of the door might be, and while Portia deals with her fears and hopes, as manifested in magically indued dreams, the other monster tells her genuinely sad and tragic story, and tries to force Jason to be her friend.

It's all kind of complicated, but this monster, like Jellaby, apparently, are some breed of imaginary friend monsters that aren't really imaginary, but bond with children the same way imaginary friends might, and tend to get left behind as adulthood comes on, as imaginary friends do.

There's a lot of awfully high drama and tense moments in this second half of the story, and a battle at the end that seems at odds with the gentle humor of the Jellaby shorts from Flight (and many of the goings on in the first volume), but once all of Portia's fears are faced, she and Jason resolve their issues and the bad monster vanquished, things end rather happily, with Portia sharing the secret of her monster with her mother.

Not every single mystery and conflict is resolved, which leads me to believe Soo had or still has some more Jellaby stories in him, but this does go a rather long way toward explaining what Jellaby is and of bringing Portia's personal conflicts to a head in a satisfying manner.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Uncanny X-Force: The Dark Angel Saga Book 1

No, nothing confusing about that title at all. This book collects Uncanny X-Force #8-13, and is therefore actually Uncanny X-Force Vol. 3, but nowhere on the "Premiere Edition" hardcover sitting next to me as I type this can I find a volume number: Not on the cover, not on the spine, not on the jacket, not in the fine print below the credits and the "previously" recap.

I'm not sure why Marvel would make it so difficult to find out what order to read their books in—if you don't look in the fine print to see what particular issues are collected here, and remember which issues were collected in the previous volume, there's no real way to tell where this falls in the little library of Uncanny X-Force collections—but whatever their reasoning, the "Book 1" makes this sound like this is the first collection of a new series, or perhaps a spin-off or miniseries, featuring the Uncanny X-Force.

Whatever. Writer Rick Remender continues his very strong, very intense, rather suspenseful long-form story about a top secret, black-ops X-Men squad of assassins, all of whom are deeply conflicted about the whole killing people thing, and are still reeling from the climax of the first volume, in which only one of their members was able to go through with murdering mutant Hitler when he was still a child, before he could grow up to start mutant World War II.

While the previous volumes have been somewhat light on continuity, in that a relative lack of familiarity with the characters' long histories and tangled relationships with the rest of the Marvel Universe didn't do anything to hinder my enjoyment of the comics, with this issue I got a real sense that I probably wasn't enjoying this story arc to its absolute fullest. It rather heavily revolves around past stories involving Apocalypse (which I'm only really familiar with from their adaptations on the awesomely horrible '90s cartoon), and this volume even includes a rather substantial-in-length detour to a popular crossover event from the mid-90's.

The ever-changing art teams change again in this volume, with Billy Tan drawing the first half of the book, and Mark Brooks penciling most of the second half (Scott Eaton helps out on one issue, and two inkers join Brooks, who also inks). I hate to say something as ignorant as the art doesn't really matter here, but it is true that a substantial number of the characters are visually defined almost entirely by their costumes (Deadpool and Fantomex, for example, are covered head to toe in their costumes, making them planes of black and white and gray), and the coloring is purposefully dark and murky, no matter who is doing the penciling or inking, the shadows only pierced by the gray of the costumes, neon coloring effects around computer monitors and technology and, of course, splashes of red for blood.

The art matters, but the changes in particular style don't grate here as much as they might in other books, given the fact that the character designs are so consistent, there's little in the way of "acting" and most of the emotion in expressed through medium shots of acts of violence.

There are four distinct story beats here, all but one of which continuing the ongoing story that Remender has been telling since the first issue—and will keep telling until the end of the series.

First, we learn a little bit about Psylocke's ongoing efforts to help cleanse her lover Angel/Archangel/Warren Worthington of the bit of Apocalypse that's still inside of him—while Wolverine and Deadpool share a moment, and Deathlok and Fantomex talk about the previous story arc and allude to future ones. That's all interrupted when Deadpool goes missing on a mission, and the team takes their flying saucer to a nuclear base that's been taken over by a powerful psychic bad guy—the extremely goofy-looking, fez-wearing Shadow King. He and Psyclocke psychic fight, and while the good guys seemingly win, Shadow King has released Angel's evil "Archangel" persona.
Second, Magneto, wearing an extremely ill-fitting helmet, infiltrates X-Force's X-Cavern HQ in order to ask a favor of Wolverine—he wants Wolvie to kill a former Nazi officer for him. It's all played rather mysteriously, and is a rather quiet issue for the series. Wolverine complies; doing it all by himself, out of costume, and with a samurai sword rather than his claws.

My main take away was that Tan's Magneto needs some work, and there's a scene or two that would have been funny if staged a little better.

Third, we get back to the Apocalypse-rising-in-Angel story, as The Shadow King gives a journalist the "story" of X-Force (which is, remember, a top-secret, off-the-books endeavor), and then Archangel tries to kill the story by killing the journalist. Wolverine and Psylocke stop and cage him, but realize they need to "fix" him before he becomes Apocalypse (And this, incidentally, puts the team back in the same conflict as the first story arc, whether to kill someone in order to prevent the evil deeds they will likely commit in the future; in the first story, it was an innocent little kid, whereas here it's their friend and teammate and, for Psylocke, lover).

To figure out what's going on, they kidnap Dark Beast (Who is, as far as I can tell without turning to Wikipedia, just like Beast, but a bad guy from a different dimension), and he explains that Apocalypse planted his death seed in Angel (ew), and now that Apocalypse is dead, Angel is experiencing his "ascension" as the "heir of Apocalypse." The only way to save him is to cleans the death seed with a life seed, and the only place they can get one of those is...The Age of Apocalypse. (Which X-Men fans of a certain age know is the name of some crossover series or another from the mid-90s, in which Gambit temporarily had a less idiotic costume than he usually wears).

This begins "The Dark Angel Saga" properly, although Angel, Dark or otherwise, is absent from it. Dark Beast leads Wolverine, Psylocke, Deadpool and Fantomex to the dystopian world of the "Age of Apocalypse," joining whatever previous storylines occurred there already in progress. There, dead X-People like Nightcrawler and Jean Grey are still alive, bad guys like Sabertooth are good guys, and Wolverine is Apocalypse, which promises a climax that will include, as Deadpool puts it, "Hot Wolverine on Wolverine action!" (I don't generally like Deadpool, but I like the serious version in a serious milieu that Remender writes in Uncanny X-Force; his Deadpool is more of a Spider-Man like quipper than an out-and-out cartoon character, and I was surprised to find myself so completely agreeing with him when Dark Beast started talking about the Age of Apocalypse and Deadpool interrupts with, "Oh, hey, I'm sorry, you must have mistaken us for people who care about your stupid fake world's history").

Also, the non-mutant heroes on this world are pretty crazy. There's an Iron Man/Ghost Rider amalgam? And an Orange Hulk, who is just the Hulk, only orange...?

Anyway, our world's X-Force teams up with this world's X-Men in order to fight Wolvapocalypse and steal his life seed, which isn't as dirty as it sounds, and with which they hope to save both of their worlds from X-Men-turned-Apocalypses. It doesn't go according to plan, but the whole endeavor made for an interesting clash of the more old-school, goofy X-Men characters and plotlines that I always found impenetrable and off-putting with the more modern, new-reader friendly (or friendlier, anyway) storytelling of this title.

Also, I never realized that I wanted to read a Fantomex/Gambit team-up until I saw the pair sharing panel space in this storyline:
Now I want our Gambit to hang out with Fantomex for a while, and if they threw in Rogue, had them all team-up to fight Batroc The Leaper, and wrote all the dialogue phonetically, that would be awesome.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The good, the bad and the ugly of Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 3: Mad

(Okay, let's try this again>.) Please forgive the title for this too-long-in-the-works blog post. I'm not crazy about it, but it seems apropos given the subject matter: The collection of a Gregg Hurwitz-written, Ethan Van Sciver and Szymon Kudranski-drawn story arc from Batman: The Dark Knight. You can't tell from the cover that DC chose for the collection, but the story arc details the origin of, and an epic confrontation with, the villain The Mad Hatter, so the "Mad" of the sub-title refers to a Victorian brand of insanity, and not the child-like angry emotion the grumpy Batman posing on the cover seems to be projecting.

There's an awful lot of solid craft on display throughout the book, and, for the most part, Hurwitz's script is inventive, fairly tightly-plotted and boasting a few original ideas and even some nice, sharp writing. It has its problems though, probably more and bigger problems than it has attributes, and it read to me like a very strong second-to-last draft to an excellent Batman story arc, with those problems in the script being rather easily repaired after a conversation with an engaged editor (Mike Marts, the book's editor, apparently didn't see or have the same problems with the story that I did...and I imagine successful prose novelist and professional comics writer Hurwitz wouldn't place much value on the criticisms offered by a semi-professional comics critic he's never heard of, but I'm going to go ahead and write them up anyway).

I previously reviewed Batman: The Dark Knight Vol. 3: Mad at Robot 6, and that short-ish, eight-paragraph review accurately reflects my reading and opinion of the book, but I did want to re-address it here, as I can devote more time, space and attention to it—as well as share some images from it—in a way that wouldn't have been quite as feasible at Robot 6.

This format also for a better enumeration of the books many virtues, its many more problems and, of course, its occasional ugliness. It's one thing to talk about how poor Kudranski's artwork is in places, but it's much easier and more effective to show you an image and say, "Look at how ugly this is."

So....


THE GOOD


1.) I really, really like how Ethan Van Sciver draws Batman's cape. Van Sciver has drawn Batman on several occasionas in the past, at greatest length in the 2004, two-part miniseries Batman and Catwoman: Trail of the Gun.

The Batman he draws here is technically dressed in the over-fussy New 52 costume, complete with huge metal gauntlets (with grooves corresponding to the scallops on the forearms) and the bat-shaped kneepads.

Van Sciver sells the armored-up Batman costume pretty well in general, though. There's a scene where we see Batman suiting up, and what used to be his cowl is shown to be a standalone helmet and neck brace now, complete with a visor that lowers the mask portion over his face.
Where Van Sciver deviates is in the drawing of the cape, which, like the one he's drawn on Batman in the past, resembles enormous bat-wings. Now, having Batman's cape flare out like giant bat-wings is an artistic flourish that pretty much everyone who has ever drawn Batman has engaged in before, but Van Sciver goes a step further, drawing the cape with umbrella-like structures running through it, as if it were built by Batman to resemble bat-wings, rather than simply being a cape that an artist can draw to look more like bat-wings during dramatic scenes.
Additionally, Van Sciver's Batman can wrap his cape around himself, occasionally resembling a bat with its wings folded around itself. I think that looks pretty cool.

2.) Van Sciver's adventurous lay-outs. Did you know that Batman has been dating a concert pianist named Natalya Trusevich since...well, for about two years now? (Our time; about a year his time). If you haven't been reading Batman: The Dark Knight, chances are you didn't. While I haven't been reading all of the Bat-books religiously, I think I'm pretty well caught up on them all at this point, and I don't recall Trusevich appearing anywhere other than Dark Knight.

About halfway through the first issue of this story arc, Bruce Wayne and Natalya have an intense conversation in which she expresses her displeasure at his secretive lifestyle and apparent unwillingness to commit; she also hints that she might know what his big secret really is. Eventually, they decide to part ways. The entire three-page sequence is layed-out in two tiers, with smaller, square panels running across the tops of the pages, and the rest of the page dominated by a close up drawing of piano keys, with the white keys serving as additional panels, broken up by the black keys.

I don't know that it necessarily worked better than it might have otherwise, but it was interesting at any rate, along the lines of what J.H. Williams III was always doing in Batwoman.

There's another sequence later, a two-page splash in which Batman is seated at the Bat-computer, surrounded by floating holographic "windows" representing different pages or screens, akin to what Tony Stark was using in the Iron Man movies, in which Van Sciver draws the scene from a high angle, looking down, and we see Bruce in the middle of this whirlpool of data and he does his computerized detective work.

Say what you will about Van Sciver's work (I generally like it, myself), but here it's exceptionally interesting looking.

3.) Hurwitz and Van Sciver fairly completely re-create The Mad Hatter, for a higly original take. Hurwitz similarly gave new, not-really-needed origin stories to The Penguin (in 2011's The Penguin: Pain and Prejudice miniseries with Kudranski) and The Scarecrow (in 2012 Batman: The Dark Knight story arc "Cycle of Violence," with David Finch).

Debuting way back in 1948, The Mad Hatter is actually one of the oldest and vital of the Batman villains one's likely to see in usage these days. While his portrayal has changed over the decades and from medium-to-medium the same way so many of the other Batman villains of a similar vintage have, he was generally a man obsessed with committing crimes having to do with hats (his desire to possess Batman's distinctive cowl being one source of their conflicts), or having to do with Lewis Carroll's Alice books, or some combination of the two.

As for his modus operandi, he's an ingenious scientist who has created a means of effecting limited mind-control, generally by putting a mind-control device near the head of another person. Like in a hat, for example.

The Carroll obsession has been the dominant portrayal for the last few decades, perhaps owing to the influence and success of the Batman: The Animated Series episode that served as his origin story ("Mad as a Hatter," which is right up there with the Mr. Freeze episode in my esteem). Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale gave him an origin story in 1994's Batman: Madness—A Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special (collected in Batman: Haunted Knight), in which it was rather heavily implied that he was a pedophile and in which the character was dramatically reduced in size.

As for other Hatter stories, he played a minor role in the two Loeb/Sale "Year One" epics Long Halloween and Dark Victory, hearned an arc in the Greg Rucka-written, limited color pallete of Detective Comics (2001's #758-760), was spotlighted in the second Joker's Asylum miniseries and Gail Simone used him in one of her early Villains United/Secret Six stories, mostly to make jokes about him having sex with hats.

Hurwitz's new origin finds young Jervis Tetch as the good-hearted son of a good-hearted Gotham City haberdasher, who one day hopes he will take over the family business. He has a lot of friends, including a beautiful blond girl named Alice Dee, with whom he shares on perfect little-kid date. When he reaches adolescence however, it becomes apparent that he's just not growing as fast as his peers, and Alice only likes him as a friend.

He starts wearing a top hat and lifts to look bigger, and he starts taking an experimental drug to make him grow. It doesn't work, but it does have some pretty dramatic side-effects, including making him irrationally angry and causing him to start losing his hair at a young age.

He grows up to become a Gotham City supervillain, of course. His grand scheme here is to use his mind-control technology to stage a grand re-creation of that one perfect day he spent with his Alice, which means sets need constructed and actors need cast. Despite his ability to control minds, he also coerces people through threats and violence.

In addition to his origin tweaks and his new-ish, altered appearance—which include eyes that don't look in the same direction at the same time—Hurwitz's Mad Hatter drinks various teas, each of which creates a particular effect on him. For example, before his climactic battle with Batman, he blows a handful of "Special Tea Psycho" in Batman's face, making the Dark Knight hallucinate. The Hatter drinks the same blend to give him adrenaline and get him ready for a fight.

I don't necessarily like all of the differences between this Mad Hatter and previous ones, in the same way I don't think Hurwitz improved either The Penguin or The Scarecrow by his tweaks to those characters, but I appreciate the fact that he is taking advantage of the New 52 reboot to reinvent characters, to do something new instead of simply doing something over.

4.) Van Sciver's covers are really good. You can't really tell from the one that DC used for the cover of the collection, which is really only the right half of the cover from the issue that shipped during gatefold cover month, which they almost called "WTF? Certified" month.

But a few of them are full of creepy, crazy, sometimes grotesque imagery. For example:


I particularly like the little "Cheshire Bat" in the second of those covers above, the one for issue #17 (Wow, looking at the covers as published, DC sure covered up a lot of Van Sciver's art with text, didn't they?)

5.) I thought this was funny. Even if I have a hard time imagining Batman saying "nope" when a "no" would do just as well.

6.)"Batma-Mining." The second issue opens with the perviously mentioned two-page spread of Batman in the middle of a maelstrom of glowing, holographic computer windows, with Alfred approaching to deliver a cup of steaming hot tea.

"There's no record of Jervis Tetch anywhere, but the Bata-Mining software traced a few wire transfers from his account before he disappeared."

When Alfred responds, "Down the rabbit hole?" and Batman shows that he's not in the mood with a simple e of "Alfred," our favorite super-butler responds with the barb, "Apologies. But is it really worse than 'Bata-mining'?"

I love the idea of Batman as an obsessive-compulsive brander, slapping Bat-logos on everything and making his tools and possessions his by adding the prefix "Bat-" to them. That said, when I first saw the word "Bata-mining," I thought it was a typo, because "data" is a real word, and Batman's usual pattern would be to simply refer to what he's doing as, say, "Bat-data-mining."

But it was just a set-up for an Alfred zinger, so that's cool.

7.) "He's a freakin' pterodactyl." In the final issue of the story arc, Batman arrives at police headquarters and finds his Natalya Trusevich's corpse embedded in the glass of the Bat-signal (more on that in the "bad" portion below). After taking an entire panel to mourn for his murdered girlfriend...
...Batman grits his teeth, leaps to the roof, dashes across it in a Neal Adams-style run, his cape stiffening around him like bat-wings while an enormous bolt of lighting fills the night sky.

"I've never seen him like that," Commissioner Gordon says to one of the several anonymous police officers around him.

"He was like a stealth bomber," one of them replies, offering a simile that makes no sense at all (Other than the fact that Batman and a stealth bomber both have wings and are black in color, I guess...?). "The Bat's gone insane."

"He's not a bat anymore," Gordon says. "He's a freakin' pterodacytl."

That bit of dialogue reminded me of Geoff Johns' writing, as it occupies that same rather dumb/sort of awesome territory that Johns' writing so thoroughly owns. I can't tell if Hurwitz means it to be funny, I can't tell if if he means it to be funny in the precise way that I find it to be funny and I can't tell why exactly I find it so hilarious, but the "he's a freakin' pterodactyl" line cracked me up.


THE BAD

1.) The Tweedles as henchmen. Golden Age Batman villains who have been around even longer than The Mad Hatter (and The Riddler), the Tweedles debuted in 1943. They don't actually have a lot going for them; they were basically identical twin criminals who fought Batman and Robin by rolling and bouncing around on their fat bodies. I can't really recall reading many stories to feature the Tweedles, let alone good stories (Garth Ennis/John McCrea's four-part Demon arc "Hell's Hitman" featured them in a minor role, and Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen's TEC #841, featuring "The Wonderland Gang," was nicely drawn and kinda clever). So it's really not that big a deal that Hurwitz here reduces them to mere muscle—Van Sciver has drawn them as big, bulky, egg-shaped men resembling slightly more realistic, tougher-looking versions of the Tweedles in the Tim Burton directed Alice In Wonderland—but it still seems, at least conceptually, off or wrong to so demote the characters.

2.) The savagery of The Hatter. In this story arc Hurwitz essentially turns The Mad Hatter into a differently-themed Joker; a soul-less mass murderer with a three-figure body count who kills calmly, casually and on a frequent basis (All of Batman's rogues seem to be turning into Joker-like mass murderers these days, which really rather stretches one's ability to suspend disbelief regarding the state and federal government's willingness to keep passing out not guilty by reason of insanity verdicts to men and women who are no longer just serial killers, but mass murderers and terrorists. Hell, even Harley Quinn recently murdered what had to be scores of people when she bombed children all over Gotham City in the pages Detective Comics #23.2).

In a flashback, The Mad Hatter kills a pet rabbit as a child. During the "casting" process for his memory re-enactment he guns down anyone whose forced audition he doesn't like. He snaps the neck of one underling with his bare hands. In one particularly memorable scene, he has the Tweedles set a stepladder down in front of one of his underlings, and then climbs up it and plunges his thumbs into the man's eye-sockets.

When he finally tracks down Alice Dee and finds that she's now a middle-aged wife and mother of three, smoking a cigarette while ironing laundry in front of the television, he beats her to death with the iron (This scene is actually staged somewhat tastefully, as Van Sciver draws the Hatter striding away from the murder scene still clutching the gory iron, blood splatter on his face, while the bashed-in head of the corpse on the floor in the background is obscured by The Hatter in the foreground. Yes, that actually counts as tasteful for DC Comics in the 21st century).

At one point in the narrative, he orders all of his mind-controlled thralls to drown themselves. When Batman asks how many, Gordon responds, "Hundreds. All ages, genders, ethnicities. And kids, too. Children.."

And, of course, The Hatter has Batman's girlfriend Natalya Trusevich killed. He kidnaps her and tries to beat Batman's secret identity out of her, calling in one of the Tweedles to take over punching her for him (This scene is drawn by Kudranski, so its dark, blurry and doesn't make much in the way of realistic visual sense, so it's not as upsetting as it could be. There are a few red panels with black blood splatter, and the sound effect WHAM!, and then we see an image of Trusevich with liquid, presumably blood, on her face.)

Finally, they throw her out of a helicopter with terrific aim, her body landing directly atop the Bat-signal on the roof of police headquarters.

3.) The cliches of Natalya's death. So the reason superheroes usually give for justifying the fact that they keep their identities secret is that, if their villains ever discovered their true identities, they would immediately go after their friends and loved ones, hurting these innocent associates as a way to get at the heroes. In Batman comics and other stories, this is usually played as a sort of tragic, romantic tension: Aflred and others worry that Bruce Wayne will never truly fall in love or find a romantic partner with whom to spend his life, Bruce always meets amazing women and comes close to forming a real relationship with them, only to pull back, not wanting to jeopardize his life's work of dressing up like a bat to fight crime and/or endanger them.

Sometimes he does actually share his secret identity, and then the women totally get killed.

As mentioned previously, Batman breaks up with Natalya early in this arc because his secret life is coming between them.

Later, Batman has a creepy dream or memory about his parents, in which his mother tells him that what the really wants for him, above all else is "to be known. Really known, by another person." Like, Biblially? "There's a fear in showing all the parts of ourselves to someone else," but when you do, and they accept you, "that's the most wonderful thing in the world."

So Bruce Wayne gets in his Batplane, flies over to Natalya's, drags her to the window, where he's left it in park and flies her to the Batcave, saying "THis is who I am" over and over again.

They then do it in the Batcave. This is another Kudranski-drawn passage, so there's no telling where or what they did it on—does Batman keep a mattress or Bat-futon down there for such occasions? Is there a big bed behind the giant penny? Who knows?

Natalya frets that she's late for her concert performance, and that she'll never make it in time, but Batman flies her there in his Batplane and drops her off—one of the perks of being Batman's girlfriend.

But wait, what's this? One of The Mad Hatter's many hat-wearing, mind-controlled spies has seen Natalya exiting the Bat-plane, and he calls it in. The Hatter sees Natalya, and immediately thinks she would be the perfect person to play his Alice in his memory re-creation. So he kidnaps her.

And, as previously stated, attempts to cajole and beat the secret of Batman's identity out of her, tortures her and, ultimately, kills her. So, in, like, a matter of hours Hurwitz reenacts the worst case scenario justifying Batman never telling anyone his secret identity: Better to simply bang broads and keep secrets from them.

It's cliche and it's a bizarre example of fridging a supporting character to one of the few superheroes who has absolutely no need to be motivated by the death of a lover or loved one because that's kinda sorta always been his whole deal and it makes Alfred and Batman's mom look like a couple of dumb a-holes for suggesting Batman pursue a relationship not built completely on lies sometime.

The speed of this whole cycle of events really makes the cliches seem even worse, too. There's no drama, this isn't something anyone struggles with; Batman shares his secret identity, and before the day's over the woman he shared it with is totally dead.

4.) Batman on the warpath. Also as previously stated, when Batman sees what The Hatter and Tweedles have done to Natalya, he loses his shit, turning into a "freakin' pterodactyl" (Hundreds of anonymous victims? That's sad and all, but it's not the same and losing your lover, I guess).

He hops in his Batplane and flies straight from the murder scene to The Mad Hatter's secret base. When Alfred suggests that Batman maybe wait a bit, as he's in no state of mind to tackle the villain, Batman responds, "Let me be clear, Penny one. If you try to stop me, I will run you over."

What a dick.

So Batman beat the shit out of a bunch of mind-controlled muscle, and brutally attacks the Tweedles: One he shoots with some kind of Batarangs-on-a-Batline bolo thingee that pins him that entwines him in wire and pins him to the wall, leaving him begging "Please...the pain...don't..."

The other he punches so hard that he knocks his jaw off, leaving it dangling grotesquely by the skin.

And then he gets to the Mad Hatter who, remember, despite all his evil acts, is still a spindly, four-foot-tall guy wearing platform shoes.

Our hero flying kicks him. He picks him up and throws him. The Hatter starts to crawl away on his knees, and Batman kicks him in the face, dislodging two of his teeth. "P-Please!" Hatter begs, and Batman gets on top of him and just starts pounding him in the face; The Hatter cries and begs him to stop, Alfred shouts in Batman's ear piece "Good God. You're going to kill him!" And Batman's angry face is covered in the Hatter's sprayed blood.

Batman gives him one more uppercut, sending him flying unconscious into a nearby pool, where the bleeding villain begins to sink face first. Batman turns away, and Alfred starts cajoling him through his earpiece:
Pull him out.

This isn't you!

You don't do this!

You can't. You can't do this. Because then it will be true. Then you'll be no different than them.
It's that last bit that apparently got through to Batman, as it caused him to stop, then turn around and dive into the water to rescue The Hatter.

Having Alfred talk Batman out of killing a foe in a vengeful rage is all well and good, but Alfred's particular argument here isn't very compelling, and it's hard to imagine that getting through to Batman at that particular point in time.

Alfred is essentially finding equivalency between The Hatter (and his ilk's) killings and Batman killing The Hatter. But, remember, The Mad Hatter has killed hundreds of innocent Gothamites, including children, for no reason. The Batman, had he gone through with killing the Hatter, would have killed one—just one—person, a person who had murdered hundreds of innocent people and would, in all likelihood, continue to kill. The scales aren't exactly even in this case, Alf.

A police officer would have shot The Hatter the moment the fight began. The President of The United States would have ordered a remote controlled drone to fire a missile at him for killing far fewer Americans, had he done so in a different country. Batman drowning the Mad Hatter here, even under these circumstances—in which Batman clearly has the upper-hand and comes across more as a bully than a righteous warrior—is hardly in the same ballpark as what The Hatter has done.

I know "Should The Batman Kill?" is a popular topic of conversation for comics fans and Batman fans, and I'm strongly in the "Hell no, never" camp. Practically, it doesn't make a lot of sense, as if Batman did kill, his rogue's gallery would end up looking more like The Punisher's than that of, say, Spider-Man and The Flash. Personally, my explanation for why the Batman shouldn't kill would be that he swore an oath to his dead parents, maybe as a child, that he would never take a human life, never put anyone through what he went through (even if The Hatter or The Joker deserve to die, maybe they have friends and family?); I imagine that as he faces more and more evil, Batman will realize the practicality of occasionally having to kill his most monstrous foes, but he would take that vow to his parents so seriously that he wouldn't bend or break it, no matter how illogical it might seem (Because Batman's crazy; I used to like the "broken" conception of the character, but Grant Morrison andDean Trippe and other's have convinced me that Batman-as-crazy person may not be as good or even as likely a reading as the Batman-as-super-sane person, so now I think of Batman as an extremely mentally healthy genius, with only two real manifestations of insanity: His obsessive-compulsive need to label everything with a bat, and his pathological refusal to kill under any and all circumstances, up to and including doing really crazy shit, like resuscitating a dying Joker).

Anyway, Batman got so mad he almost killed someone here, which is fine—we've seen that happen, what, 9,000 times before? This instance struck me as a little apalling mainly because of what a mismatched fight it was—The Hatter, like The Penguin, isn't exactly in Batman's weight class, and here he doesn't even have any weapons or get in any good blows; it's a beatdown more than a fight. And because of the particularly false-sounding rhetoric that Alfred used to talk him out of it; surely a "What would your parents think if they saw you now?" or something in that vein would have been better than a "If you do kill this one mass-murderer, you're practically committing an act of terrorism." (Alfred, unlike Gordon or any of the Robins or the folks that generally talk Batman out of beating people to death when he's really pissed off is actually in the unique position to be able to effectively evoke the memory of Batman's parents).

5.) Batman doesn't do anything to stop The Mad Hatter. The weirdest thing about this story, for me anyway, was that once Batman learned that it was The Mad Hatter behind the rash of kidnappings discussed on the very first page of the story arc, and that he knows the Mad Hatter is using his mind control technology to "take" people, Batman doesn't sit down and start working on a way to counteract the mind-control tech.

They never really get in to how it works (radio waves? Wi-fi?), but a signal is sent from somewhere to all the other where's, giving The Hatter control of the actions of anyone wearing one of his hats. Batman figures this out pretty quickly, but he doesn't sit down at his work bench with some generic circuit boards and a little electrical tool with a blue light on the tip of it as expected, coming up with a countermeasure—some way to block are override the signal.

Instead, he spends him time searching for The Hatter via raiding warehouses and interrogating a Tweedle (why, couldn't he track the hat-signals?), and then going on a date.


THE UGLY

Van Sciver draws four of the six issues in this arc, and Kudranski the remaining two (The collection also includes Dark Knight Annual #1 by Hurwitz and Kudranki, in which Batman psychologically tortures but doesn't capture or arrest villains The Penguin, Scarecrow and Mat Hatter).

Kudranski is fucking terrible.

Beyond that, though, his art doesn't look the least bit like Van Sciver's, and he doesn't even stick to the designs Van Sciver has established for the characters, so no one and nothing looks alike in the two distinct views we're given within the storyline.

I think this might have been the very worst part of the story; if you haven't read this comic, what do you make of this rorschach of a comic book panel?
Did you guess that it's obviously a bunch of drowned corpses being washed out of a drainage pipe...? If so, you sure made sense out of that image quicker than me. I had to puzzle over it for a while, eventually gave up and read the narration and dialogue for clues, and then went back to figure it out.

Compare it to Van Sciver's drawing of the same thing, from one of the covers to the story arc:
The human bodies washing out of a drain pipe are a little easier to recognize there, huh? Even though on the cover t hey are merely a bit of background design and not, you know, the whole point that the image is devoted to conveying.

Here is a bad scan of the maybe the worst of Kudranski's work in the book, which is from the annual that serves as a sort of back up to "Mad":
If you need context, Batman has tricked The Penguin, The Mad Hatter and The Scarecrow to meeting at The Arkham Detention Facility For Youth.

There, Batman scares the bejeezus out of them through various means; I think he doses them with Crane's fear gas, but it's not entirely clear. At any rate, after they relive their greatest fears and aspects of their new, Hurwitz-conceived origin stories, they all end up unconscious at the bottom of a big, grand staircase. The above page shows them waiting for the night to end and the sun to come up.

As you can see, Kudranski just dropped the same image of the background in, and then placed the same image of the three characters atop it, only altering them slightly in the last panel (and messing with the lighting).

What he doesn't do is position them in anyway that makes any sense. So that The Penguin, supposedly lying on his back, is levitating above the floor. The Hatter, in the backgorund, is drawn as if kneeling on his knees, but, as you can see, he's actually floating above the ground as well.

That is not a good page. It's not even a bad page. It's...well, I went with ugly, because "The Good, The Bad and The So Appalling I Can't Believe It Even Saw Print" didn't have the same ring to it...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Meanwhile...

I've got two reviews at places-that-aren't-here to link to tonight. First, I reviewed Batter Up, Charlie Brown! for Good Comics For Kids, and, second, I reviewed Katie Skelly's Operation Margarine for Robot 6.

They are both very good books, in very different ways; the former is a sort of novelty gift packaging of some Peanuts strips along a baseball theme, in a beautifully designed packages, while the latter is a bad girls on motorcycles genre exercise from EDILW favorite Katie Skelly. Guess which book the above image is from.

(Also at R6, Tom Bondurant discusses the history of Dick Grayson and Robin in light of a few announcements of upcoming books made this week; Grayson more than just about any other character suffered from the New 52 reboot and super-compressed timeline, as he went from being the kid raised and trained by Batman before leading a team of superheroes for years, forging his own superhero identity and generally being one of the most well-liked and well-respected heroes in the DCU, the best leader of other heroes to being a circus kid who worked with Batman for maybe a year, changed his codename and went back to the circus. Just about anything of interest about the character—being the adult result of a childhood spent as a kid sidekick, working with and knowing Superman better than any superhero other than Batman maybe, a universe full of personal connections is gone now, so like a lot of New 52 rebooted characters, he's basically just a familiar codename. And I guess they're taking that way in the new series now too? I'm really curious to see how Geoff Johns and DC puts Grayson's secret identity back in the genie bottle in Forever Evil #7, because everyone on earth should be able to figure out that if Nightwing is Grayson, then Batman must be Bruce Wayne).

Comic shop comics: April 9-16

Poor Fabok draws the whole damn issue, and three "consulting writers" are billed above him on the cover.
Batman Eternal #2 (DC Comics) Well, I thought this second issue of the new Batman weekly comic was a substantial improvement over the first, which consisted only of a pair of action scenes, both poorly told by artist Jason Fabok, and a bookend teaser of some terrible events in the future, also somewhat bumbled by the artist.

Fabok's art is still lazier than I'd like here, but the worst bits in this issue are simply an obvious recycling of an image between two consecutive panels (page 10, panels 1 and 2), and the scene near the end where Batman hears someone sneaking up on him and responds by throwing four razor-sharp projectiles hard enough that one embeds itself in the wall; it's Catwoman, who appears with her goggles up and her zipper down, and she manages to pose her way through the barrage (It looks like he repeats images on the last page too, somewhat awkwardly, but its such an extreme zoom-in that it's difficult to be sure).

If this first issue involved a big, splashy, status quo-changing incident and gave Batman a mystery to solve (and it did), then this issue serves to give some suggestion of the size and scope of the cast. Last issue, we met the New 52 version of Jason Bard, and saw Batman, Commissioner Gordon, Professor Pyg and Harvey Bullock, Maggie Sawyer and another police officer who might be a bigger deal in the series as it unfolds.

In this issue, a whole bunch of characters cameo, some more unexpected than others. So we see Batgirl, Jason "Red Hood" Todd, Batwoman, teen roboticist Tim "Red Robin" Drake, Lucius and Luke "Batwing" Fox, Cullen and Harper Row and the aforementioned Catwoman (So the entire extended Bat-Family save Dick "Nightwing" Grayson, who must totally have gotten killed in the yet-to-ship Forever Evil #7). But wait, there's also Vicki Vale (and wouldn't it be nice if writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV spent the year trying to turn her back into Batman's Lois Lane) Doctor Phosphorous, and a trio of big surprises, which I will now proceed to spoil, so quick, click away if you don't want to know yet.

Who are these surprise characters? Look...

It's Jim Corrigan, AKA The Spectre! Probably! (Seriously; the shadow may not be much of a reveal, but he's also wearing all green, The Spectre's favorite color, and he does that thing with his eyeballs where a skull appears in them. I'm not clear on the "rules" of who belongs to what Earth, as, by rights, The Spectre should be relegated to Earth-2 along with the rest of the Golden Age heroes, but whatever).

And who's this, the ghost of Deacon Blackfire?! (From 1988's Batman: The Cult...? Is that still in-continuity? What the hell guys? You excised "Batman Year Two," "Batman Year Three," "Lonely Place of Dying," Oracle, Cassandra Cain and God knows what else to fit all of Bat-history into just 5-7 years, but you kept The Cult?)

And Carmine "The Roman" Falcone! (Where's your tie, hippie? His appearance would be immensely more exciting to me in the "old" continuity; as it stands, I have no idea how much if any of Batman: Year One or Long Halloween or Dark Victory still "count," so there's a tension between thinking, "Oh cool, it's that old-school villain set-up as the symbol of a corrupt, crime-riddled Gotham City before the advent of the superhero and supervillain" and just thinking, "Hey, it's just some guy with the name and scar of another comic book character from other comics I read!").

Anyway, this issue certainly promises a big story, one involving Batman's whole army of fellow vigilantes, and some traditional crime elements as well as supervillainy and supernatural shenanigans, and it's therefore much more promising than the first issue.

After the "Next: Gotham Goes To War" tag at the bottom of the last panel of the last story page in this issue, there's the two-page ad-vertorial "Channel 52" feature promoting the new direction of The Flash, by a new creative team that includes pencil artist Brett Booth, whose two splash-pages make up the majority of the feature.
Brett Booth...where have I heard that name lately...

Oh yeah.

So here's the thing. All-around nice person Janelle Asselin, who writes about comics for some of the places I write about comics, in addition to having worked in an editorial capacity at both DC Comics and Disney, wrote a guest column at Comic Book Resources criticizing a shitty cover for a shitty-looking comic book, New Teen Titans #1.
In the process, she pointed out some of the weak anatomy in the work of Kenneth Rocafort, who is actually one of the better artists on DC's payroll at the moment, some of the ickiness that comes from over-sexualizing teenage girls and the general boneheadedness of DC continuing to chase the same, very small demographic of adult male readers, despite plenty of evidence that they are leaving plenty of money on the table by doing so (Teen Titans was just canceled for low-ass sales; check out David Carter's analysis of DC sales at The Beat, where he notes IDW's all-ages, little girl friendly My Little Pony outsold all but 24 of the however many books DC shipped last month...which is about 52 in their main superhero line, plus all the other stuff. Teen Titans was not one of those 24 comics).

Now, she's right, of course.

As a reader, as me personally, I don't mind the sexualization of teenage characters in my comic books (For example, one of my favorite manga series at the moment is Yoshinobu Yamada's Cage of Eden, which rarely passes up any opportunity for up-skirt or down-blouse staging, and there's generally at least one bathing scene per volume), but I do recognize that there's a place for such content, and an all-ages, DC superhero comic book featuring characters that simultaneously star in a children's cartoon probably isn't that place (Cage of Eden is of course a translated version of a Japanese comic, sold only in digest-sized, $11 trades and rated "Older Teen, 16 and up," if you care).

And DC's decision to pursue their current strategy with the Teen Titans comics is, let's be honest, completely fucking bonkers, as has been most of their decisions to revamp their characters and books far, far away from their popular, easily recognizable versions into more niche, more adult versions.

So the Teen Titans characters, who have been appearing in cartoon shows—and attendant DVD collections, videogames, toys and comic book adapations—for about 10 years now (Teen Titans was 2003-2006, Young Justice 2010-2013 and the Teen Titans derived Teen Titans Go 2013 to present), appeared in the New 52 looking not like this
...or this...
but this
Giving themselves an opportunity for a do-over, DC comes up with that Rocafort image that Asselin assessed.

Now, at least Beast Boy is the same color as he is in all of his cartoon appearances (When he was first introduced into the New 52 line, in the almost-immediately canceled book The Ravagers, he was red).

The person whose face is mostly encased in some sort of stone/bone visor? The one with the claws? That's apparently Raven, if you're wondering.

Asselin's piece did not sit well with Booth, who is not the artist who drew that shitty cover, but instead drew the far, far shittier cover for Teen Titans #1, the cover that, when first revealed, made me think this whole "New 52" thing must be some kind of demented joke.

So Booth, on the eve of his debut as the new artist for The Flash, where he'll be replacing the critically acclaimed and universally beloved art team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, went on a social media charm offensive in which he picked a fight with Asselin, said many, many, many very ignorant things and revealed himself to be not much for spelling or grammar (The Outhousers collect a lot of Booth's tweets, and those of his followers, here).

This sort of thing always boggles my mind, because Booth went pretty far out of his way to make himself into a (comics press, comics social media) news story, and he doesn't look very good. Again, on the eve of his new run on a new comic book. Now, a lot of people were going to avoid reading The Flash anyway because Booth is drawing it, rather than Manapul (or a good artist, period), but I imagine Booth has cost himself (and thus his book, his collaborators and his publisher) a lot more sales this week just by being as ass in public.

I don't know how much that sort of behavior factors into the purchasing decisions of the folks who encounter it, but I can't imagine how it could do anything other than hurt Booth and his book/s.

She-Hulk #3 (Marvel Entertainment) For the third issue in a row, She-Hulk takes on a legal case and ends up fighting killer robots. This time, the particular case is that Kristoff Vernard, the son of Dr. Doom, is seeking political asylum in the United States. So, naturally, the killer robots she fights in this issue are all Doombots.

As in the previous issues, this new iteration feels like a sort of compromise between Dan Slott's early Ally McBeal-in-the-Marvel Universe volume of She-Hulk and Mark Waid and company's previous volume of Daredevil. The mixture of superheroics, the practice of law and, especially, Javier Pulido's art really makes the book read like a funnier version of the Waid-written Daredevil.

SpongeBob Comics #31 (United Plankton Pictures) Another issue, another 33 ad-free pages of funny gag comics by a wide and unlikely variety of cartoonists and comics creators, this time including contributions from Joey Weiser, Vince Deporter, David DeGrand, Gregg Schigiel (Sharkbeard, a pirate who is a shark with a bear, is an awesome creation), James Kochalka, Maris Wicks and Elanor Davis. Oh, and there's a 10-page Mermaid Man story by Chuck Dixon and Ramona Fradon.

My favorite part was the back cover though (above); I just can't get over how cute Davis' Sandy is...

Please note: None of these characters appear in this issue
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #11 (Marvel) Marvel continues its bizarre campaign to try and get Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber's excellent Superior Foes of Spider-Man canceled.

You may recall the last issue shipped just one week after the issue before that, and it was a fill-in issue.

This issue is also a fill-in issue, but unlike the previous fill-in issue, it doesn't even feature any of the characters from the regular cast. Instead it focuses on two different not-so-loveable losers among Spidey's rogues—The Grizzly and The Looter—who are at least given some tangental connection to the temporarily abandoned narrative of the book by having them appear and tell their stories in the Villains Anonymous type support group that Boomerang attended in issue #3.

And it was at this particular point Marvel decided to jack the price of the book up 33%, to $3.99 for 20 pages (that have nothing to do with Superior Foes). Tom Peyer wrote the Grizzly story, while Carmen Carnero and Terry Pallot drew it. The Looter story was written by Elliott Kalan and drawn by Nuno Plati. They're both fine, but I don't think they're worth $2 a piece instead of $1.50 a piece, and I'll be damned if I know what they're doing in this book.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Aronofsky's Noah (the movie) vs. Aronofsky's Noah (the graphic novel)

There's still some eight months of 2014 left, but I'll be surprised if the rest of the year manages to include a less likely film than Noah, a $125 million, special effects-heavy, major studio-produced Biblical epic co-written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, whose filmography includes small, dark, strange films like Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wreslter and Black Swan.

Aronofsky and his regular co-writer Ari Handel pulled off a pretty neat trick with the film in that it's pretty faithful to its source material (at least as faithful to the book of Genesis as Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ was to the Gospels), not subtracting much of anything, but merely adding, and adding between the lines, so that while the Bible story may not mention Noah lashing himself to the door of the arc and fighting off men trying to force their way on board, it doesn't say that didn't happen either, you know?

Aronofsky's visualizes his story in a way that's pretty mythical: The antediluvian world of Noah could be that of Genesis, so many generations after Adam and Eve left their garden. It could be set somewhere in the far-flung future, after our civilization has fallen and was forgotten. It could take place on another planet. Aronofsky's practically pre-historic world has a moon and stars that are always shining in the young sky, day or night, and the animals are all slightly off...out of the corner of a viewer's eye, they look like the animals of our world, but you won't be able to identify particular species.

Most of what will seem most head-scratching to many audiences actually is in the the Bible. There are many-limbed, stone-giants referred to as Watchers, which could correspond to the Nephillim or "sons of God" mentioned in a few cryptic lines of Genesis 6 1-6 (In Noah, these are angels who voluntarily fall to Earth in order to aid mankind, and are thus cursed by God; they nevertheless strive to teach mankind all they know). The villain of the piece, Tubal-cain, is mentioned briefly in one of the genealogical passages, specifically Genisis 4: 22, which refers to him as "an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron." And so on.

Aronofsky's biggest departures seem to be in service of making the story more "realistic," changing the dimensions of the ark into something that would actually be able to contains a pair of every animal on Earth, maybe (the Bible dictates its size at about 450-feet long, 50-feet wide, and 30-feet high), and solving other logistical problems (How did Noah and his sons build such a huge ship so quickly? The Watchers helped. How did they keep the animals obedient, fed and not eating one another? Herbal magic-induced suspended animation).

And then, of course, there's the weird third act, in which Aronofsky's Noah goes crazy and decides God wants to wipe all of humanity off of the Earth, and had only spared Noah and his family so that they could save the animals. When one of his daughter-in-laws, thought to be barren, is miraculously revealed to be pregnant, Noah swears to stab the child to death himself if its a girl, and thus capable of propagating the species. If all the fight scenes weren't enough to convince a viewer, this Noah is hardcore.

Looked at from one angle, this climactic plot seems a little silly, given there's certainly enough drama already in the story at that point, what with all of humanity consisting of just seven humans trapped on a wooden ship while the whole world is flooded. Looked at from another, Aronofsky is apparently looking at Noah as God's deputy and stand-in within the narrative, conflicted over whether or not to wipe all of humanity off the world or not.

Probably wisely, but controversially, Aronofsky chose not to put God in the film as a voice with spoken dialogue, the way he appears in Genesis. Rather, he communicates to Noah via dreams and visions, which may not be quite as clear as giving Noah particular measurements in cubits, but is certainly more cinematic, and relieves the filmmakers of having to depict God.

Paramount was apparently nervous about the way the film might be received, and screened three different cuts of the film to test audiences...without Aronofsky's knowledge All tested poorly, and, ultimately, the version that made it on to the screen was the version Aronofsky wanted. (This according to The Hollywood Reporter).

Or so he says. There is another version of the film available, one that is free of any budgetary concerns or input from actors: Before Noah the film was released, Noah the comic book, written by Aronofsky and Handel and lavishly illustrated by Niko Henrichon, was released.
While the basic story is the same, there are some very, very dramatic differences between the two, and while there's no reason to believe the graphic novel represents a more pure version of Aronofsky's conception of Noah, even if it predates the final film, it is interesting, if not revealing, and would at least seem to suggest concessions, compromises or choices that need to be made in a big, collaborative project involving hundreds of people versus one that involves just three.

Noah isn't the first Aronofsky film project to also become a graphic novel. Aronofsky's original script for The Fountain was adapted into a 2005 graphic novel by artist Kent Williams and released on DC's Vertigo imprint. At that point, the in-and-out-of-development project had stalled out...before Warner Brothers (the studio and corporate parent of DC Comics) resurrected the film, which ultimately saw release in 2006.

Something similar happened with the Noah graphic novel. Aronofsky and Handel gave Henrichon, the artist of Pride of Baghdad, a draft of the script, which he then began working on...years before they started production on the film. That accounts for many of those differences between the two.

Here are a few of the more noteworthy differences I noticed...

1.) Henrichon's Noah is basically Conan. I suppose the artist began designing and drawing before an actor was attached—and according to the IMDb trivia page for the film, Christian Bale and Michael Fassbender were offered the part and declined—but I was struck by how much the Noah he draws resembles the comic book version of Robert E. Howard's barbarian creation.

In the film, Noah's appearance changes rather radically several times. In the beginning, he has a short-ish beard and long hair, much of it pinned up and out of his face. When the time comes to build the ark, he has a close-shaven head and a big, bushy beard. And by the end of the film, his hair has grown out and turned gray-white, as has his beard.

The graphic novel Noah remains this big, hulking, heroic figure throughout, although he eventually sheds the superhero cape he's shown wearing in the earlier scenes.

2.) Noah's first fight. When the film opens, Noah and his two eldest sons are hunting for herbs when they spy three men chasing some kind of dog-like animal down for food. This is a bit ambiguous in the Bible, the most common reading is that in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve at only plants, and lived as perfect vegetarians. It's not until after the flood that God gives humanity "dominion" over the animal kingdom, and permits them to eat flesh. Noah and his family are vegetarian, while the rest of the people are meat-eaters; it's one of the ways Aronofsky contrasts Noah and his family's way of life with the decadent life of the descendants of Cain (i.e. the rest of the world).

So in the film, three men corner a strange creature that looks a bit like a wild dog with scales or dull feathers of some sort on it. Russell Crowe's Noah kicks their asses and totally kills the three of them.

In the graphic novel, the scene is quite different. There's a huge hunting party of men, and their prey is some sort of wooly rhinocerous, a once extant, now extinct animal (in contrast to the fantasy dog-creature). And as that first panel shows, they are seemingly after the ivory of the cratures' horns, moreso than their flesh ("One beast could feed them all, but they hunt for the only useless part," Noah tells his sons. "They think it has power. But it is just like our hair, our nails. Dead flesh. They kill life for this dead thing.").

Noah scares most of the hunters away by throwing bags of something-or-other that explode like fireworks. A small group of armed men remain, and Noah fights them. He kicks their asses, but doesn't kill them...they run off.

3.) The city. One aspect of the film I found disappointing was that it told us off great cities of man that were draining the life from the earth and spoiling all around them, but we never actually see any of these cities...only from a satellite's point-of-view on a computer-generated imager of a globe.

In the graphic novel, after he has his first vision of a drowned world and realizes The Creator means to destroy the world, Noah takes it upon himself to worn his fellow man, despite knowing that, as his wife tells him, they won't listen.

He journeys with his eldest son to "Bab-ilim," "A city so vast it took a planet of spoil to stuff its ravenous maw. And in the center, a great finger poking at the heavens: The tower."
If that sounds a bit like another story from Genesis, I'm sure that's no coincidence.

This is the city that Tubal-cain rules as king. The graphic novel features a seven-page sequence in which Noah visit the city to address its people—some of whom call him "The Mage"—and warn them of the coming judgement. Tubal-cain interrupts him, tells him off, and has him thrown in the gutter outside of town. Tubal-cain and his men mount big, fat, weird, spotted horses. "Your visit to my home is over, Mage," Tubal-cain tells Noah. "Next, I visit yours."

They burn down Noah's camp and slaughter the animals he and his family keep in a sort of makeshift animal hospital, but Noah's family have hidden themselves, and are safe and waiting for Noah to return. Nevertheless, Noah takes his family on their journey to Mount Arrart to see his grandfather.

I'm not sure why this scene wasn't included in the film, as contrasting Noah and his family's way of life with that of the rest of the humanity seems like a pretty important part of the conflict, and, as I said, the film alludes to such cities without ever showing them. I can only conclude that it was a budget thing.

In any case, it's one of the many examples of the graphic novel working as a supplement to the film, showing an interested party things that didn't make it into the film—for whatever reason.

4.) Noah's wife doesn't have much to do. In the film, Jennifer Connelly play's Naameh, Noah's wife. When their family discovers a badly injured, dying girl named Ila (Emma Watson), Naameh looks at her wound and heals her. Throughout the film, Naameh is portrayed as a healer and an expert with herbs and potions—she's the one who concocts the suspended animation incense and, later, an pregnancy test made out of a leaf, water and blood.

In the graphic novel, Noah does all the healing and all the herbalism and magic stuff. It doesn't necessarily hurt the graphic novel that this is the case, but as to why the change was made, I have to assume that at some point someone figured that it was a little weird that the only female characters in the movie were basically just there to have kids and/or occasionally stand by their men; that, or Aronofsky or Paramount or whoever decided if they were gonna have Jennifer Connelly in their movie, they might as well give her something to do.

5.) The Watchers. That's what The Watchers in the graphic novel look like. They are flesh and blood creatures, and very humanoid in appearances, with eyeballs and nostrils and teeth and muscles and fingers and loin cloths and tattoos and jewelry.

The Watchers in the movie are rock giants, stone versions of the Ents from Lord of the Rings. I didn't care for the design (I don't care for this design, either), but their appearance made a sort of sense: As one of them explains when telling Noah of their fallen angel origins, they were once beings of light, and when they rebelled and fell to Earth, they landed like meteors, their bodies of light melting the stone around them into molten rock, which cooled around their angelic bodies, trapping them in awkward stone prison-like bodies.

The scene with The Watchers plays out rather differently here as well; it's longer, and involves a visit to their home, which is another elaborate set that didn't make it into the film.

6.) Methuselah. So, that's the guy they cast Anthony Hopkins to play.

As with Jennifer Connelly's character, he has quite a bit more to do, and quite a few more lines, in the film than the graphic novel. Again, I suspect that has something to do with the fact that they didn't want to hire Hopkins and then only give him two scenes and 25 lines.

7.) The kicking of Ham's "wife" to the curb. Because they too are human, every member of Noah's family has some sin, some blemish, some imperfection about them. Ham's is his envy of his older brother, and his older brother's relationship with their adopted sister, Ila (who, remember, looks like Emma Watson).
He wants to find a wife among the throngs of people camped near the ark, and sets off to do so just before the storm starts.

In the film, Noah runs out into the makeshift refugee camp of humanity in order to find his son and get him on the ark in time. When Noah does find Ham, he has already found, befriended and apparently convinced a young woman to come with him and be his wife. When they are recognized, they are chased back to the ark, and, on the way, the girl's ankle is caught in a booby trap Noah had set to keep people away.

He tries for a second or two to save her, but abandons her to save himself and his son, and she is trampled to death.

In the graphic novel, his responsibility for her death is a lot lets equivocal. Noah rides the shoulders of a Watcher into the camp and rescues Ham and Ham's would-be wife (who were previously rescued by Tubal-cain), and brings them back to the ark. But when the time comes to seal the ark, Noah throws her out to die with the rest of humanity. When Ham protests, he simply responds like a frustrated parent sick of the front door slamming open and shut on a summer afternoon: "In or out?"

Ham stays in.

So here, Noah not only doesn't provide a wife for Ham, he not only fails to save the one Ham chose for himself, but he actually sentences her to death, kicking her off the ark.


8.) The scene where Noah tells his family the first creation story in the Book of Genesis is much more beautiful in the film. Both take the "days" as metaphors, and are pretty blatantly pro-evolution, but it looks a lot cooler the way its presented in the film, as we follow evolving life as it travels over a changing world, rather than these static images.

9.) The climax. This is where things really depart quite dramatically from the film. If you've seen it—and I'm assuming you did, otherwise this post is really just going to spoil the experience of watching it—then you know that Tubal-cain has snuck aboard the ark, and that he's conspiring with Ham to maybe kill Noah or something (In the film, it's not clear how far Ham is willing to go—in the film, Noah wasn't as directly responsible for the death of his would-be wife as comics-Noah was).

And, at the same time, Noah's developed ark madness, and is pissed at his wife for having Anthony Hopkins magically repair Ila's womb, which is now full of a girl baby.

In the film, Ila and Shem plan to set sail on their own two-person ark before her baby is born, so Noah can't kill it, as he says he will. Noah sets their little boat on fire before they can leave. Here, a monstrous fish eats it.

God, it seems, is on Noah's side here...or at least the animals are. In the comic, things get weird.

Now, these plots are all resolved more-or-less at the same time in the film, whereas in the comics, Tubal-cain's attempt to kill Noah and Noah's attempt to kill his newborn grandchild are two distinct beats.

In the comic, when Ila's about to give birth, she and Naameh hole up in a specially prepared corner of the ark. Jap and Ham have lined it with pointed stakes, and stand guard in front of it with weapons. Noah, meanwhile, prays, ritually cleanses himself, puts on a robe and then stalks toward Ila's babies—twin girls, it turns out—with an army of animals.
In the course of the battle, several species go extinct.

If, for example, you're wondering why there aren't any saber toothed cats around anymore, well, this is why:

The animal army takes the birthing chamber, with some big, scary ape-things breaking through the wall and holding down Shem—
—Gigantopithecus, maybe?

Meanwhile, smaller, less savage animals like birds and lizards and a pangolin hold the women down, while Noah takes the two baby girls to the roof of the ark to slay them and...shows mercy.

It's extremely different from how this all plays out in the film, with the exception of the fact that Noah intends to kill the baby girls and relents, convinced by Ila's love for them at the very last moment.

He then retreats into drunkenness—in the graphic novel, his Watcher friend Og gifts Noah with a grape vine-in-a-box, to help him dull the pain he knows Noah will face after his ordeal—here having a bit more to come to terms with.

The bit with animals is cool in that it shows the animals, who are oddly passive and confined to the margins of the film, and so damn weird, but I think it's awfully ambiguous, as it seems to imply that God is right there with Noah every step of the way (particularly the presence of the boat-eating monster fish, which couldn't be under any sort of herbal mind-control in the same way the ark animals might have been).

Of course, not long after this story of the Bible, God does tell Abraham to kill his own son, just to tell him not to at the last moment, so maybe this was simply God moving in those mysterious ways of his?

Anyway, it's quite different than how it goes down in the film, which makes it a welcome and interesting part of the comic.

10.) No rainbow. Actually, the "rainbow" in the movie is replaced by strange rings of rainbows pulsing from an orb. Here Henrichon just draws Noah taking his wife's hand, and a pretty sunset.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Wolverine and The X-Men Vol. 7

Couldn't find a good cover image, so here's this chart.
After the six issues included in this particular volume, which collects Wolverine and The X-Men #30-35, there are only seven issues left of Jason Aaron and company's Wolverine and... series (Although it was relaunched just one week later with a new creative team and a new #1). But of those seven issues, two are spent on the "Battle of The Atom" crossover, and unlike the many issue of this series spent on tying-in to the Avengers Vs. X-Men event series, "Battle" completely took over the title for a few issues, replacing whatever story Aaron might have otherwise wanted to tell in Wolverine and... #36 and #37 with chapters of the "Battle" (I reviewed the book collecting the entire "Battle of the Atom" storyline at the bottom of this post, if you're interested).

I'm not sure what Aaron does with the last five issues of Wolverine and The X-Men (#38-42)–the trade collecting those final issues hasn't been released yet—but I have to imagine it consists of some kind of denouement, because this trade sure as hell reads like a climax for the entire series. It includes the five-issue "Hellfire Saga" story, drawn by Nick Bradshaw (with inks by Walden Wong as well as Bradshaw himself) and a one-issue "Hellfire Saga Prelude," primarily drawn by Pasqual Ferry.

Aaron's Hellfire Club, a group of four super-brilliant, ruthless tweens who are in the business of selling mutant-hunting killer robots, have been the primary antagonists throughout the series, and while they might seem like an odd fit in terms of archenemies for Wolverine, the fact that they are unsupervised kids make them ideal antagonists for Wolverine the teacher, providing an example of what can become of extremely gifted kids who don't have the likes of the X-Men teaching them to use those gifts properly.

Over the past few volumes, the Club has been embarking on a gradually revealed new strategy, and in this volume it is fully revealed: Hellfire Academy, an evil opposite, villains' equivalent of the Wolverine and The X-Men's Jean Grey Academy. Staffed entirely by X-Men villains, some traditional foes like Mystique, Saberteooth, Sauron, Windigo and a version of Mojmo, and some pulled from throughout this particular series' past storylines and Aaron-written Wolverine comics, like Dr. Xanto Starblood, Dog Logan and Lord Deathstrike.

New students include young mutants Infestation, Mudbug, Snot and Tinman, although Hellfire Academy also has its share of turncoats from the Jean Grey Academy, including teacher Husk, janitor Toad and students Glob Herman, the still brain-damaged Broo, Idie and Quentine Quire, who is there mainly to save Idie.

During the Ferry-drawn prelude, we see the Academy making its final recruitment push for faculty and students, while the X-Men begin a worldwide manhunt for the Hellfire Club. And then the "Saga" proper starts, and Aaron and Bradshaw give us a nice, fun tour of this school that is every bit as big, crazy and funny as the Jean Grey Academy, only, you know, evil (Their school uniforms, for example, are less prep school and more Hitler Youth, right down to funny hats and arm-bands.
Fun fact: "Flamin'" is Canadian for "Fuckin'"
By the time the X-Men finally find them and invade, there's a nice Everyone Vs. Everyone climactic battle, made all the more satisfying because it includes so many pay-offs from so many long-running sub-plots: Toad and Husk's relationship, and where the villain-turned-janitor's loyalties really lie; Idie's seeking vengeance for what happened to Broo; the state of Broo's mind; Kid Omega picking a side, and doing so for noble reasons; and the (likely temporary) final fates of all four Hellfire Club kids, two of whom end up forcibly enrolled at the Jean Grey school. Hey, it worked for Quentine Quire...
The volume ends with a tease about Nightcrawler and The Bamfs, which looks like Aaron will actually pick up in Amazing X-Men rather than Wolverine and The X-Men Vol. 8, but I guess we'll see. But as I said, this sure reads like the climax, if not the actual end, of the years in-the-making, 30-some issue epic storyline. It was a blast, and it's rather careful construction also made it narratively satisfying to read.

I'd kind of like to declare this the best run of an X-Men comic I've ever read, but I'm not exactly sure how to rate it against the Morrison run, given that Aaron's Wolverine and... was built on some of Morrison's particular innovations (like turning the Xavier School into an actual school), and that Aaron's run was visually superior, thanks to far fewer artists than Morison's run dealt with.

Whether it was actually better or not though is, I guess, irrelevant: It was an excellent series, and I'm going to be a little sad to read the next and final collection of the series, even knowing there's a kinda sorta continuation of it in the first arc or so of Amazing X-Men.

I did read the rebooted, "All-New Marvel Now" Wolverine and The X-Men #1 by Jason Latour, Mahmud Asrar and Israel Silva which, at least in title, promises to continue this comic book, but I didn't like that first issue at all, and now, a few months later, can't even remember anything that occurred within it, except that Quentin Quire had a conversation with Idie.

This "Animal Variant" of a cat dressed in a Wolverine costume for the first issue of the new series was awesome, though:
(Not sure why he didn't go with a wolverine wearing a Wolverine costume).

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I liked this brief exchange between Sabertooth and Dog:

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The Doop vs. Lady Mojo fight sure is...
...something.

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I had to Wikipedia both The Siege Perilous and Master Pandemonium; the latter of whom seemed so ridiculous I was sure he had to be a recent creation of Jason Aaron's, but I was totally wrong on that count.

I was catching up on this series in trade at the same time I was catching up with the Rick Remender-written Uncanny X-Force in trade, and it was kinda weird that both overlapped in certain ways, including the presence of the Siege Perilous, Sabertooth and Mystique joining a group of villains, and Sabertooth finding himself working with one of Wolverine's blood relatives.