Archive for September, 2012

Posted: September 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

Resuming my “How I’d Relaunch ‘Batman’ Series For Through The Shattered Lens —

Through the Shattered Lens

It’s funny how life works, isn’t it? Three weeks ago I said I’d be back here in a week to continue this series on how I think the Batman film franchise should be relaunched, and that week off became two, became three — anyway, I apologize, but I’m back. I could bore you with the usual litany of excuses as to why my absence was longer than expected, all of which are, in this case, true — busy at work, lots of shit going on outside of work, etc., but I’ll spare you all that (whoops!, guess I sort of subjected you to them in an off-handed manner already), and simply say for those of you who actually look forward to these little rants of mine, I sincerely apologize for the delay.

That being said, not all my time between posts has been wasted. For example, I had the good…

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I admit that it’s been a long time since I followed any comic series from either of the “Big Two” publishers, so maybe this kind of thing is a more common phenomenon these days than I realize, but I swear to God, I’ve never seen the quality of a book fall as far as fast as Brian Azzarello and J.G. Jones’ Before Watchmen : Comedian miniseries. In the space of three short issues we’ve gone from promising to pointless to downright embarrassing, and frankly at this point continuing to follow this endeavor is getting downright painful. I almost don’t know where to begin the litany of complaints here, so let’s just go the usual dry nuts-n’-bolts recap route and hopefully I can get this thing finished without actively reliving too much of the actual experience of reading this pablum in my mind before I’m finished here. In other words, this this one’s gonna be quick, because I just plain can’t really stand to think much about this book.

If you’ll recall, last time around Eddie Blake, aka The Comedian, was dispatched to Viet Nam, got in a lazily-scripted gun battle at night, and then headed off with some other hapless souls into “the shit” at the end of the issue. Like I said, pretty pointless.

So where do we pick things up in this third installment? Do we go into “the shit” with ’em and maybe see how the war changed Blake and made him into an ever bigger amoral, sociopathic asshole than he was going in? Nope. That might threaten to actually be interesting, and we can’t have any of that. Instead, we’re dropped off in Hawaii, where Eddie’s trying out some of the lamest sexual innuendo you’ve ever seen on a waitress at a beachfront watering hole. I swear, Ron Jeremy wouldn’t even try this kind of shit with a straight face. Not that it stops her from leaving with him at the end, because women are basically nothing but interchangeable pieces of meat in this book. But in the 18  or so pages between that absurd start and even more absurd end, we are literally regaled with more or less everything a book that wants to be taken seriously, as this one obviously still does, shouldn’t do under any circumstances.

First off, Blake gets a call at the bar in Hawaii from Bobby Kennedy, who’s quite clearly displeased with how his favorite mercenary recently went about some rather dubious business in Watts, California. So you know what’s bound to happen next — it’s flashback time. We see The Comedian returning to the US, his actual adventures of any import in ‘Nam never expounded upon, and he’s greeted by some protesters upon his return, one of whom clearly reminds him of his estranged (to put it kindly, seeing as how she doesn’t even know who her real old man is at this point) daughter, Laurie. That particular scene is almost involving for a moment, but then all is shattered when the flower-power girl in question is — what? Well, it turns out she’s hit by a tomato pelted at her from some knuckle-dragging right-wing neanderthal, but Jones depicts it so fucking poorly that you think she might have been shot before flipping the page over. Anyway, it’s a decently-scripted little vignette, but so ineptly handled visually that any and all dramatic potential is lost.

From there, believe it or not, things only get worse. Eddie heads into Watts and, as you’d expect, ends up playing a key role in redirecting the notorious riots there from a genuine political uprising into a pointless looting spree. How does he manage this feat? Get this — he shows up with a yellow smiley-face grin painted on his face (I guess straight-up Al Jolson-style blackface would have been too unsubtle even for Azzarello, though the end result is essentially the same), scratches his armpits and “ooks” and “eeks” like monkey, shoots up the windows of some local shops so the folks will start helping themselves to TVs and stereos and shit, torches a throwaway sofa and pushes a black kid into it (what happens to the kid after that is never shown, but I hope he gets the fuck out of there with nothing but a burned shirt because nobody deserves to lose their life in a story this stupid), and then — wait for it, wait for it — throws dogshit at the chief of police.

So let’s just take a minute and consider the world according to Brian Azzarello, at least as presented in Before Watchmen : Comedian #3 (variant covers, as shown, by Jones and John Paul Leon, respectively) — the Watts rioters, who really did have about a million and one legitimate political grievances, were so stupid that one guy in overtly racist facepaint who commits heinous race-baiting crimes right in front of their faces and acts like a fucking monkey while doing so is somehow persuasive enough to get them all to start looting local businesses rather than revolt against the powers that were oppressing them simply by shooting up some store windows and saving his biggest insult not for them, but for the cops. Message? African Americans are stupid, and furthermore, they’re actually stupid and greedy ‘cuz at the end of the day they just want a bunch of electronics and shit for free. How DC’s editorial staff let this thing get published in this form is, frankly, beyond me. If I’m working DC editorial and I have a writer hand me a racist pile of nonsense like this, I’m sending it back to him with one simple note : “complete rewrite or you’re fired.”

Which is not to say that The Comedian, as portrayed by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in the original Watchmen miniseries, didn’t do worse than this. He shot a woman pregnant with his own child, for christ’s sake! But it all comes down to authorial intent. Moore and Gibbons quite clearly were out to show us what a bastard Blake was — here, this much-less-thoughtfully-handled meltdown comes after two issues where Azzarello and Jones spend a fair amount of time essentially rehabbing, or at least softening up and humanizing, The Comedian’s image! All of which is enough to make you wonder — if Eddie Blake’s not, according to Azzarello and Jones, quite the monster we thought, then are they tacitly saying that this kind of racist behavior on his part really isn’t that big a deal?

It’s tempting to say yes, but you know what? That would require a level of thought about what they’re doing that I just don’t think went into this thing. Leaving Jones out of it since he’s just drawing the script he’s given in exchange for his page rate, and instead focusing all of our well-deserved contempt on Azzarello, I’m actually going to let him off the hook a bit — putridly racist as this script is, I don’t think it “proves” he’s racist on a concscious level at all : just that he’s so fucking lazy that he can’t be bothered worrying about how all this might come across, and DC’s editors are so sheltered from reality that they didn’t have enough smarts to nip this thing in the bud before publishing it.

None of which actually excuses the finished product here — it is the crap that it is — I’m merely trying to put my finger on the underlying motivations as accurately as possible, which have more to do with just churning out product, regardless of said product’s actual quality or message, than they do with openly promoting retrograde, horseshit racial attitudes. Azzarello just flat-out doesn’t care enough about his readers’ sensibilities to go beyond shock value for its own sake (which may be the only way he knows how to write stuff designed to shock, anyway) regardless of how lots of folks might perceive it, and DC’s “editors” don’t care enough about what they’re putting out under the auspices of their corporate logo to stop him. All of which begs the question — if the people making and publishing this book don’t give a flying a fuck about what’s in its pages, then why should readers, either?

Offensive on every level — artistically, culturally, politically, and even economically — Before Watchmen : Comedian #3 is well and truly one of the absolute worst comics I’ve ever read in my life.

 

While I’m understandably quite hesitant to say which of the various Before Watchmen series is the “best of the bunch” yet — for a couple reasons, one being that none of them are over and the other being that it’s frankly impossible to tell if some of them are even good or not at this point (although it’s fairly obvious that a couple just flat-out aren’t) — I do think it’s entirely fair to state that at this point Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke’s Silk Spectre has slowly, even imperceptibly, managed to establish itself as the most interesting of the bunch, which is rather saying something given that it suffers from one of the same narrative weaknesses so apparent in Cooke’s Minutemen series, namely : he gets what looks for all intents and purposes to be a coherent overall plot rolling in the second issue and then all but abandons it in the third.

If you’ll recall, last time around we were made privy to a scheme engineered by no less than Frank Sinatra himself to turn all the hippies in the Haight into rabid consumers thanks to a new strain of acid that the Chairman of the Board was going to distribute to all the “flower children” thanks to his stooges within the “flower power” scene, legendary LSD “cook” Owsley and offensively-lecherous-black-hippie-cult-leader-who’s-really-just-there-to-bang-all-the-white-chicks Gurustein. In this third installment, which starts with an extremely well-drawn-by-Conner acid trip that Laurie’s taking, we get to see just what effect said new strain of everybody’s (well, mine, at any rate — back in the day) hallucinogen has on the young Ms. Juspeczyk, and she has a brief confrontation with monsieurs Sinatra and Gurustein about it, but most of this issue is taken up with another new plot wrinkle altogether —

Apparently, after sitting last issue out, Sally J. decides she’s fed up with waiting and that it’s time to bring her daughter home. “Uncle” Hollis Mason’s “soft touch” approach isn’t yielding the desired result quickly enough, so our gal Sal decides it’s time to bring in the heavy hitters — in the form of The Comedian, who’s pretty much done a guest turn in every one of these books now. And while Conner draws Eddie Blake in an almost cartoonishly innocent fashion for reasons that, frankly, escape me, his characterization in her and Cooke’s hands in much more spot-on than it is even in his own series, never mind the others. The lengths he’s willing to go in order to insure his still-unbeknownst-to-her (of course) daughter’s return home are well and truly frighteningly amoral, and for those wondering just where the Alan Moore-Dave Gibbons Comedian has been hiding in any of the BW books, the answer is — right here.

 

The last point worth a mention here (guess this write-up’s gonna be quicker than I thought) is that Conner and Cooke close out — well, almost close out — the book on a very curious note indeed : they show us the origin of The Comedian’s “smiley face” button, which yes, sounds like absolutely pointless fanwank of the highest order, and in the hands of J. Michael Straczynski certainly would be just that, but here, in the unlikely pages of Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre #3 (variant covers, as shown, by Conner and Mike and Laura Allred, respectively) of all places, it’s handled just about pitch-perfectly and maybe even threatens to be a little bit — dare I say it? — touching.

So, that’s where we’re at with three issues down and one to go here, which means that Silk Spectre will be the first of these mini-series to end. Conner and Cooke have a fair amount to tie up, and I’m fairly certain that a number of key points will be left dangling for the other series to pick up on, but at least it looks like we’re going to have a story that follows something like accepted linear plot progression here and not the kind of ducking-in-and-out-of-various-career-highlights-and-lowlights that we’re getting over in MinutemenNite Owl, and, most unforgivably given its rather auspicious (as far as any of these books go) start, Comedian. We’ve had some decently-handled character development mixed with an unexpected amount of high weirdness, all presented, I must say, with rather lush visuals from Ms. Conner, and so far this is the one BW title that has managed to surpass my (admittedly limited) expectations for it. Strange as it feels to even type these words, I find myself actually, and actively, looking forward to seeing how this one’s going to end.

Which, of course, means that they’re probably going to end up fucking the whole thing up. But I guess a guy can dream.

 

Okay, so September’s nearly 2/3 of the way over and I haven’t blogged about squat here all month, but all that’s about to change. Here’s the plan, for those of you who may be interested in such things — yes, the never-ending “Comix Month” is finally over around these parts, with two exceptions — I have one book left over from last month I still need to write about, and I’m going to be keepin’ on keepin’ on with the Before Watchmen reviews for as long as I’m buying the books. Which may not be a lot longer, we’ll see. But I do admit I have some serious catching up to do on the BW front and that’s what the next few days are all about. We’ll be examining the third issues of MinutemenSilk SpectreComedian, and Nite Owl, respectively, then diving into the one last “indie” publication I meant to get around to last month but didn’t, then it’s back to my “How I’d Relaunch The Batman Movie Franchise” series for at least a week or so — reblogged, as always, thanks to my good friends at Through The Shattered Lens, who I’m scribing said series for in the first place — and then we should be either at the start of October or pretty close to it, at which point, like every other fucking blog out there, we’re gonna talk nothing but horror flicks here for 30 days solid, with an emphasis on grindhouse horrors.

Sound good? Glad you approve.

So, without any further ado, let’s jump into the third issue of Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen  series, which is now officially at the halfway point, and see just what your host had to make of things, shall we?

 

First off, let me remark on the fact that even though this book has no less than three people serving in some sort of editorial capacity on it — an editor, assistant editor, and associate editor, respectively — there seems to be very little actual editing going on, to wit : the first issue, which we already determined was essentially a complete waste of time, was pure set-up, and clearly intended to serve as an introduction to these characters for the, I dunno, two or so people out there who were buying this thing who hadn’t previously read the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons original. Yet come this third installment, we get a scene involving the Minutemen deciding what sort of punishment to dole out to Eddie Blake, aka The Comedian, for trying to rape Sally Jupiter, aka the original Silk Spectre, that is completely dependent upon intimate foreknowledge of the first Watchmen series since those events aren’t recapped here in the least! Talk about schizophrenic —

All that aside, though, Before Watchmen : Minutemen #3 (with variant covers, as shown, by Cooke and Cliff Chiang, respectively) isn’t a half-bad little read on its own merits, even though it pretty much completely brushes aside the entire plot “trajectory” that seemed to be forming in the last issue vis-a-vis the child abduction/murder the team — well, part of it at any rate — had been investigating. Instead, here Cooke plunges us into the Silhouette’s essentially solo investigation of a completely unrelated child exploitation case, and shows us how our erstwhile narrator, Hollis Mason (aka the original Nite Owl) gave her a helping hand. Along the way we get some glimpses into the pages of an old 1940s Minutemen comic that are kinda neat to look at even if the existence of said book rather contradicts established Wachmen continuity that superhero titles never really took off in this world where spandex-clad crimefighters were an actual phenomenon and instead pirate comics were all the rage — and we see a little bit more of the torch our guy Hollis was obviously carrying for Usula/The Silhouette on display, but there’s really not much more than that going on here. Cooke spends a lot of time playing the “ooh, what’s this mysterious scene I’m showing you glimpses of here” card with a sequence that basically has no mystery surrounding it whatsoever — the Silhouette’s lesbian lover is washing her up in the tub after a scrape with the bad guys, as is fairly evident from the first “teaser” panel and only gets more crushingly obvious with each successive one — and then, bang, it’s issue over once she recounts her story into a tape recorder and calls it a night.

All of this, apparently, is leading up to some major shake-up of the known foundations of the “Watchmen Universe” (a term I’m still getting used to using and, frankly, hate), but whatever that is — and I’ve got a pretty good guess — you can bet one thing’s for certain : we’ll pretty much be dropped right into the middle of it rather than be lead up to it in any kind of standard-plotting sort of sense, because this series is one incredibly disjointed affair that seems content to flit around and show us whatever brief “highlights” of various Minutemen capers that Cooke wants us to see before moving on to — well, more of the same. It’s competently, if less than compellingly, written, and the period-piece art remains a treat to look at, but on the old dramatic tension scale the whole thing still rates more or less a zero. Halfway through any series some sort of fundamental driving force behind the actual plot itself isn’t too terribly much to ask for, and so far Before Watchmen : Minutemen doesn’t really seem to have one. The fan geek inside me is still looking forward to whatever this big “revelation” that’s forthcoming turns out to be — again, even though I like to think I’ve more or less got it sussed out already — but it would be so nice if we got an actual, honest-to-goodness, goes-from-point-A-to-point-B story tying the whole thing together. Instead, it feels like Cooke had one big idea that he wanted to drop on us, and the other five issues surrounding it aren’t so much lead-up and aftermath to said “big idea” as they are just filler material to pad it out with. Granted, even one idea is more than some of these BW books have going for them, but on the whole it still ain’t a lot, especially if it’s been telegraphed throughout the various titles as obviously as I think it has. Darwyn Cooke’s got three issues left to prove me wrong and make a complete mockery out of everything I’ve said here, and I honestly hope he does so.