Posts Tagged ‘andy kubert’



Before we get rolling on our look back at 2016 in the world of comics, let’s take a brief moment to acknowledge the passing of two masters, shall we? Darwyn Cooke and Steve Dillon were  very different artists with very different visions and very different styles, no doubt about that, but both were among the very best at what they did, both entered this undeserving world in 1962, and both exited it, leaving it a decidedly poorer place for their passing, in 2016. Both gentleman turned the medium upside – down with their brilliance and created bodies of work that are more than guaranteed to stand the test of time, so I feel it’s only appropriate, prior to diving into our annual retrospective (which, you’ve officially been warned, will take a minute, so buckle in) to say “thank you” and “we miss you” one more time to this pair of undeniable greats. And now, onto the business at hand —


Wow, it’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? In a year when both of the “Big Two” decided to hit the “reset” button again, it’s probably fair to say that DC Universe : Rebirth #1 — and the entire Rebirth initiative in general — will go down as the major “event” of 2016, given that it essentially catapulted the publisher from a distant-second-place competitor to Marvel to “Top Dog” in the industry in the space of one month. That doesn’t mean that the comic itself was any good, of course — my feelings on it are well-known and I believe that Geoff Johns and his artistic collaborators Gary FrankEthan Van SciverIvan Reis and Phil Jimenez essentially churned out a stinkbomb here that will ultimately do both the DCU “proper” as well as the so-called “Watchmen Universe” no favors by setting them on a collision course with each other — but at this point, what’s done is done, and in the short run that means we’ve got a two-horse race for the top spot in the Diamond sales charts every month as DC’s decidedly mediocre twice-monthly efforts compete with yet fucking another round of “Marvel Now!” relaunched books that by and large are, in their own way, every bit as uninspired and predictable as their rivals’ four-color “floppies.” Honestly, this has been the most convoluted path back to the status quo that I’ve ever seen, and just goes to show that a bunch of hype is all that’s needed to sell readers on the same old crap. Of the two reboots, Marvel’s is the most promising, given that they’ve made an effort to carve out some space for genuinely interesting and off-beat titles, but you know most of ’em aren’t going to last, as the so-called “House Of Ideas” is putting far more promotional muscle behind crap like this —


than they are behind intriguing and potentially subversive fare like this :


So, yeah, on the whole, count me as being more or less completely uninspired by both major initiatives by both major publishers. Marvel’s in the awkward position (although it’s one they’re well used to after last year’s Secret Wars) of rolling out a raft of new books hot on the tail of a major crossover that hasn’t even ended yet, given that Civil War II was beset by the usual delays we’ve come to expect from these things, but I do give ’em credit for having about a half-dozen or so pretty good books stemming from “Marvel Now!” 2016 — and that’s roughly four more than post-Rebirth DC is giving us. For all that, though, once you move outside the Rebirth realm, DC is actually putting out a fair number of quite good books, which brings us to our main order of business here —

Ryan C.’s Top 10 Comics Series Of 2016

Same rules as always apply : these can be either “limited” or “ongoing” series — as long as they came out within the past 12 months in single-issue format (our preferred consumption method around these parts), we don’t discriminate. But it’s not a “real” Top 10 list without at least a couple of “honorable mentions,” though, is it? So let’s look at those first —

Honorable Mention #1 : American Monster (Aftershock)


Brian Azzarello — whose name will be coming up again later for decidedly less complimentary reasons — is proving he’s “still got it” and then some with this decidedly sleazy, amoral small-town crime series that features a cast of pedophiles, gun-runners, neo-Nazis, corrupt preachers, and other fine, upstanding citizens. And Juan Doe‘s animation-cel inspired art is absolutely killer. Unfortunately, this book has seen so many publication delays that we only got three issues all year. If it was coming out on anything like an even remotely consistent basis, this would not only be “Top 10” material all the way, it might be “Top 2 Or 3.” I love this comic. Now feed me more of it.

Honorable Mention #2 : Power Man And Iron Fist (Marvel)


David F. Walker is The Man. You could ask for no more perfect writer to chronicle the exploits of Luke Cage and Danny Rand. And Sanford Greene and frequent fill-in Flaviano Armentaro are doing a nice job on the art. Unfortunately, this title got sidetracked for no less than four months into the creative black hole that is Civil War II, and while these issues weren’t bad for tie-in nonsense, they were still — well, tie-in nonsense. Now that we’ve got the real story rolling again, all is right with the world, and you can blame this one narrowly missing out on the Top 10 squarely and solely on Marvel editorial, who steered the ship into “event” territory before it even had a chance to properly get its feet off the ground. It was a real momentum-killing decision, and I sincerely hope it won’t prove to be a fatal one, as well — but it may turn out to be just that given that sales on this series have been tanking in recent months. So much for the notion that cross-over “events” boost interest in a book.

Honorable Mention #3 : Love And Rockets (Fantagraphics)


I’m not too proud to admit it — seeing the first issue of this new series from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez on the shelves of my LCS, and back in its original magazine format at that, was enough to make me tear up just a little bit for a second. It was hardly an issue for the ages or anything, but everything about this just feels right. I love it when life comes full-circle, I love Los Bros., I love their characters, and I love this world. It’s a shoe-in for the Top 10 next year, but one issue is simply too small a sample size for me too include it in good conscience this time out. Not that I wasn’t tempted.

Honorable Mention #4 : The Fix (Image)


Nobody does fuck-up criminal low-lifes like Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, and in the pages of this book they up the ante by making their fuck-up criminal low-lifes cops, to boot. This comic is all kinds of perverse and depraved fun, and I’d dearly love to have found a spot for it in the Top 10, but there simply wasn’t room for more than — well, shit, ten titles. Nevertheless, it’s a series you absolutely should be pulling.

And now onto the main event —

10. Doom Patrol (DC’s Young Animal)


The flagship title of Gerard Way‘s new “art comics” imprint, this book is proving a mere three issues in that it’s gonna push these characters in directions even Grant Morrison never dreamed of. Way and artist Nick Derington are doing the genuinely unthinkable here — producing a well and truly experimental comic with the full blessing of one of the “Big Two” publishers. All may not be lost, after all.

9. Deadly Class (Image)


Rick Remender and Wes Craig gave us the “Holy Shit!” moment of the year in comics when they actually fucking killed their protagonist (doubly shocking when you consider he was an obvious stand-in for a youthful Remender himself) twenty-some issues in, but the new crop of students at King’s Dominion Atelier For The Deadly Arts is decidedly less interesting than was the last, hence the drop for this series from its loftier perch last year.

8. Southern Bastards (Image)


Jasons Aaron and Latour just don’t let up. This deep-friend southern noir is loaded with so much gallows humor, spot-on characterization, and low-rent evil that not even a spotty publication schedule and a lackluster fill-in issue could keep it outta the Top 10. A legend in the making, even if it ends up taking a decade for it all to get made.

7. Jacked (Vertigo)


As near as I can determine, nobody other than myself actually read Eric Kripke and John Higgins’ superb six-part tale of pharmaceutically-charged super-hero revisionism, and that’s a damn shame as it’s one of the single finest and most honest portrayals of mid-life crisis that this beleaguered medium has ever produced, and the art is simply sensational. Do yourself a favor and grab it in trade — you won’t be disappointed, and you won’t hate yourself for that beer gut and receding hairline anymore, either.

6. The Vision (Marvel)


Enough ink — both physical and digital — has been spilled in praise of Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta‘s admittedly Philip K. Dick-inspired techno-Shakespearean tragedy that adding to it just feels like piling on against the rest of the industry at this point. Suffice to say all the superlatives you’ve heard are true and then some and yeah, this one has “destined to be talked about for years to come” written all over it.

5. Hip Hop Family Tree (Fantagraphics)


Ed Piskor put the wraps on the 12-part single-issue reprintings of his cultural history milestone earlier this year, and while I’ll certainly continue to collect and enjoy his oversized hardcover volumes, there was just something about having these previously-told stories presented on cheap, pre-yellowed newsprint that was beyond awesome. And the last issue even came packaged with an old-school floppy record — that was actually a code for a free digital download, but whatever. This book was more satisfying than a 40 of Olde English on a hot summer day.

4. Glitterbomb (Image)


Jim Zub and deliriously-talented newcomer Djibril Morissette-Pham came out of nowhere with this series about Lovecraftian horror intersecting with the seedier side of post-fame Tinseltown (with bloody results) and just blew me the fuck away. The surprise hit of the year for this armchair critic and a book I can’t stop thinking or talking about. The first trade should be out soon enough and collects the self-contained story presented in issues 1-4,  and they’re coming back in late 2017 with a new arc that — man, I just don’t even know where they go from here. But I’m dying to find out.

3. The Flintstones (DC)


Believe it. Mark Russell and Steve Pugh are putting out the most socially- and politically-relevant comic on the stands, and the satire in this book is by turns hilarious and heartwarming. A truly “mature” take on characters we thought we already knew everything there was to know about, and consistently one of the smartest books you’ll have the pleasure of reading. I don’t know that I have words to adequately describe how unexpectedly awesome this series is — when I said that DC was actually putting out some damn good stuff outside its main Rebirth line, this is exactly what I was talking about. If you’d have told me a year ago that one of the books I was going to be most eagerly looking forward to month-in and month-out was going to be The Flintstones, I would have thought you’d lost it. In fact, I probably would have said that Donald effing Trump had a better chance of being elected president. And yet, here we are — ain’t life crazy? And shitty? But at least we have this comic, and as antidotes to a new age of right-wing anti-intellectual barbarism go, you won’t find much better.

2. The Sheriff Of Babylon (Vertigo)


The Vision may have gotten all the attention, but Tom King‘s best series of 2016 — by a wide margin, in my view — was this Iraq-set murder mystery drawn heavily from his own experiences as a CIA case officer during that bloody boondoggle of a war. Every aspect of this comic is almost painfully authentic, and Mitch Gerads rounds the package out with artwork so gritty you can feel the sand underneath your fingertips. This. Shit. Was. Amazing. Or maybe that should be “is” amazing, since — well, more on that in a minute.

1. Providence (Avatar)


I’m out of superlatives, honestly. I review each issue of this series as it comes out, and my mind is blown more completely every time. I said last year that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows were potentially creating the comic of the young century with this volume of their “Lovecraft Cycle,” and with one installment left to go in this 12-parter, I think it’s safe to say we can take the “potentially” qualifier out of that statement :  Providence is, in fact, the best comic of the century so far.

Wait, though! We’re far from done —

On the graphic novel front, it’s gotta be said that 2016 was a banner year, as well, in many respects — but I’m always a bit perplexed on how best to assemble a “best-of” list when it comes to the GN format because it only seems fair to subdivide it down into wholly original works, trade collections, old-school vintage reprints, etc. Throw in the fact that may “original” graphic novels got their start as serialized installments on the web, and things get even dicier. What really constitutes “new” work anymore? Still, there is definitely plenty outside the realm of the single-issue “floppy” that deserves a mention, and so —

Original Graphic Novel Of The Year : Patience By Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics)


Five years in the making, and it shows in every panel on every page. Clowes outdoes himself with each new project, it seems, and this is jewel in his creative crown — until the next one, at any rate. Love, obsession, longing, time travel, regret, loneliness, desolation — even optimism? This work encompasses all of it and then some; a monumental achievement of staggering proportions.

Best Collected Edition Of Recent Work : American Blood By Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics)


Anyone who’s read Terror Assaulter : O.M.W.O.T. knows that Ben Marra exists on a planet of his own, and this collection of the self-published works issued under his awesomely-named Traditional Comics imprint runs the stylistic gamut from insanely exaggerated pseudo-“realism” to Gary Panter-esque primitive id-channeling. WaPo columnist Maureen Dowd as a sexy super-spy? Bloodthirsty barbarians from distant worlds? Gang-bangers who do nothing but fuck and kill? Freed slaves who can tear white men apart with their bare hands? It’s all here, in suitably gaudy purple-and-white.

Best Collected Edition Of Vintage WorkMarvel Masterworks : The Black Panther, Volume 2 By Jack Kirby (Marvel)


In recent years, the awesome body of work produced by The King Of Comics during his second, late-’70s stint at Marvel has finally been given its due as the visionary output it so clearly was, but while books like Machine ManThe EternalsDevil Dinosaur and “Madbomb!”-era Captain America have now taken their rightful place among the rich pantheon of Kirby masterworks, Jack’s Black Panther run from that same period still doesn’t get anything like the love it deserves. Hopefully this handsome hardbound collection will finally start to clue readers in to what a magical and imaginative Wakanda Kirby created in this high-flying techno-fantasy epic.

It wasn’t all good news, though, and since we’re on the subject of T’Challa, we might as well segue into some of 2016’s lowlights —

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #1 : Black Panther (Marvel)


There’s no doubt that Ta-Nehisi Coates is a literary and journalistic genius, and his voice in this ugly new Trump-ian era is more necessary and urgent than ever. Unfortunately, he can’t write a comic to save his life, and his dour, humorless, self-absorbed, navel-gazing take on The Panther reads like a relic of the worst sort of over-wrought 1990s excesses. This is a genuinely lousy title, and it doesn’t help that neither of its usually-reliable artists, Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse, are delivering anything like their best work.

Most Disappointing Series Of The Year #2 : Batman (DC)


Tom King giveth, and Tom King taketh away. We’ve already covered the great stuff he’s given readers in 2016, but he’s also taken one of the most consistently-good super-hero books and turned it into a massive fucking train wreck. Lots of people were jazzed when he was announced as Scott Snyder‘s replacement on the “main” Bat-book, but King has struggled to find a “voice” for Bruce Wayne either in or out of the cape and cowl, his two major storylines to date have featured ridiculous plots, and 13 issues in all we can really say is that he writes a pretty good Alfred. The illustration by David Finch on the first five-issue story arc was atrocious, and the only thing that saved this title from being dropped from my pull for the first time ever was when the magnificent Mikel Janin took over art chores with the second arc and delivered work of absolutely breathtaking scope and grandeur. Still, at this point, I have to say — when he goes, I go. And I think he’s gone after next issue. And yet, horseshit as this book has been, it’s nothing compared with our —

Worst Comic Of The Year : Dark Knight III : The Master Race (DC)


Unmitigated garbage that plumbs new depths of hopelessness with every issue, Brian AzzarelloAndy Kubert and Klaus Janson (with nominal involvement from Frank Miller) are doing something here no one thought possible : making fans yearn for the days of The Dark Knight Strikes Again!  (which, admittedly, I’ve always liked, but no one else does). Also, they seem to be doing their level best to match that title’s glacial publication schedule. At this rate, we’re gonna wait three years to complete a story that’s been a total waste of time from the outset. This series is honestly starting to rival Before Watchmen  in the “artistically-bankrupt blatant cash-grab” category. I expected nothing from it, true — and yet somehow we’re getting even less than that.

I’m going to close on something of a high note for DC, though, if you can believe it, because they also get the award for —

Best Development Of 2016 DC’s Young Animal


I’m still not sure what the hell a “pop-up imprint” is, but Gerard Way has one he can call his very own, and so far all four series released under this label’s auspices — Doom Patrol (as previously discussed), Shade, The Changing GirlCave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye and Mother Panic — have been not just good, but great. While at first DCYA sounded like little more than a stylistic heir to vintage-era Veritgo to my mind, in fact its aims seem to be much different, while admittedly utilizing a number of characters and concepts from that fan-favorite period. This is an imprint where anything both goes and can happen, and we’ve sorely needed that for waaaaayyy too long. In short, this is the most exciting thing either of the “Big Two” have done in — shit, as long as I can remember. Long may it continue.

So — What About The Year To Come?

By the sound of it there’s plenty to be excited about, from Warren Ellis spearheading the re-launch of WildStorm to the debuts of much-publicized new series from Image such as God Country and The Few, but my most-anticipated events of 2017 (at least as far we know now) would have to be —


March 31st (seriously, guys?) is slated as the provisional release date for Providence #12, and to say that I can’t wait to find out how it all ends would be an understatement of criminal proportions. It would also be an equally-proportionate understatement to say that I’ll simply “miss” this series when it’s over. So, ya know, maybe take your time with that last issue, after all.


The so-called second “season” of The Sheriff Of Babylon is due to hit sometime in the latter part of the year and, simple as the “teaser” image shown above was, it was still enough to get me excited. And finally —


January sees the release of the first installment of Kamandi Challenge, a “round-robin” 12-part series from DC starring The Last Boy On Earth that features a different creative team on each issue trying to solve the cliffhangers left by the folks the month before, as well setting up new messes for the next bunch to get themselves out of. This is the first of what I hope to be many releases commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kirby that we can look forward to over the next 12 months — in fact, DC has just also announced an omnibus hardcover reprinting of Kirby’s entire original Kamandi run, so let’s hope that 2017 really will be a vintage year for fans of The King.

Whew! Okay! We’re done for the year! Enjoy your holidays — or what remains of them — and we’ll see you back here in January, when we get to start the whole thing all over again!



So — here it is. The conclusion (that’s no longer a conclusion) to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns epic that, at least according to DC’s promotional blurbs, “you never saw coming.” Probably because after The Dark Knight Strikes Again! most people really didn’t want to see another installment in this saga coming, but hey — we’ve got one anyway. And now that we do, I’m honestly shocked at how little the finished product differs from the admittedly dim impression I had of it in my head back when it was first announced that they were going back to this well one more time.

Before we get to that, though, I have a few things to say about how we got here — and even where we’re going from here — so let’s take care of all that first, shall we?


The word “legendary” is, of course, a horribly overused one these days, but 1986’s Batman : The Dark Knight Returns was just that. I’m operating under the assumption that most readers of this review don’t need any sort of briefing on either what it was or the long-lasting effects it had on the superhero comic medium, but even if you do, sorry — you’re not going to get it here. All I’m going to say is that its reputation is well-deserved and that, yes, it really is at least as good as everyone’s always said it is.

Where I do part company with conventional wisdom, though, is in my absolute love for its 2001 sequel, the already-mentioned The Dark Knight Strikes Again! Yes, it’s every bit as haphazard, frenetic, tonally all-over-the-place, and gleefully sadistic as its detractors claim, but what of it? No less an authority than cartoonist extraordinaire James Kochalka has said that DK2, as its more commonly known, reads like it’s the creation of “a 12-year-old kid who knows he can make a better comic than Frank Miller,” and I can’t really think of higher praise than that. This book positively crackles with youthful recklessness and exuberance from the outset and never lets up, despite the fact that its author apparently suffered something of a guilt-related mental breakdown halfway through its creation due to the fact that in the second issue he showed Batman flying a plane into the LexCorp tower and, just a few months later, a handful of terrorists went and did much the same thing in the real world. Miller became a strident Islamophobic jackass after that, as evidenced not only by his decidedly racist and xenophobic graphic novel Holy Terror (which actually started out as a Batman comic until he decided to replace the Caped Crusader with a stand-in character of his own devising), but also by a good number of inflammatory statements he made about Muslims in various interviews at the time of the book’s release — but guess what? Those reactionary views don’t impinge on DK2‘s conclusion in any way and, if you go back and read the third and final issue of that series again, you’ll see that it’s actually one of the most bombastic critiques of the Bush administration and its then-newly-launched “War On Terrorism” to ever see print in any “entertainment” medium. The book had a “rap” for being a glorification of fascism and some of the ugly right-wing conceits at the heart of vigilantism in general, but you know what? The same is true of The Dark Knight Returns, only that takes itself waaaaaaayyyyy more fucking seriously. The entire Dark Knight series is politically and socially problematic, and actively relishes its own confrontationalism, but only the sequel seems to get accused of engaging in that sort of brusque artistic brow-beating, and this despite the fact that Miller’s worst excesses all came to light well after its release. I’m just gonna come right out and say it, and you can reserve my padded cell for me anytime, I guess : I’ll take DK2 over its more-celebrated predecessor any day of the week. To me, it’s the closest thing we’ll ever have to an “underground” Batman comic and yeah, while it’s definitely a much “uglier” and less “professional”-looking book in a visual sense, it’s absolutely bristling with righteous creative zeal that can’t be faked. Rumor has it that DC paid Miller a million dollars to do it, and he took their money, unzipped his fly, and pissed right in their face. Why do so many people have such a hard time respecting that?dkiii-p1-157314

Still, one thing I think we can all agree on is that a natural assumption was made at the end of DK2 that the story was over. If you liked the book, chances are that you figured Miller had said everything he had to say about the future “Batman Universe” he’d created, and if you’re among the majority who didn’t just dislike, but flat-out loathed it, you probably guessed that there was just no freaking way DC would even allow him anywhere near a Dark Knight project again.

As it turns out, everyone was wrong. Sort of.


As you can see from the two pages reproduced above, the editorially-directed (by Miller and his publisher’s own admission) Dark Knight III : The Master Race looks as different to its two forebears as Strikes Again! did to Returns, and there’s a damn good reason for this — yes, DC’s gone back to the world he initially envisioned, but our guy Frank is only on hand as a ” story consultant” of sorts/very part-time artistic helping hand, and the art on this new eight-part series is being handled by penciller Andy Kubert, original Dark Knight inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Brad Anderson, with the scripting being entrusted to Brian Azzarello. Most folks have made the reasonable inference that this is due to Miller’s obviously-failing health, but with his recent announcement that there is, in fact, going to be a Dark Knight 4 that he intends to write and draw himself, I’m of the opinion that he’s actually sort of outfoxed his own bosses here.

Consider : Miller signs off on the idea of a Dark Knight III and even agrees to draw a couple of the near-infinite number of variant covers (his is reproduced as the second image in this review, while Jim Lee’s 500-to-1 variant is shown below) adorning the comics (as well as the first of the Dark Knight Universe Presents mini-comics being glued inside each issue, this one starring The Atom) in order to appear to give the project even more of his imprimatur. Why not? He knows damn well, from observing the Before Watchmen debacle, that DC’s gonna go ahead with this with or without his blessing, and he also knows that they really don’t want him doing it. They’re just too chickenshit. How, then, to make sure that he really does get to do another Dark Knight book, and to do it his way? Piggy-back onto this project, give it his full-throated blessing, deposit DC/Warner’s check,  and then announce that his involvement on it has actually been quite minimal and that he’s got his own fourth installment in the works. What’s DC gonna do at that point? Tell him “no”? They literally can’t. And so, by appearing to go along with their game, he actually got them right where he wanted them. Well played, Mr. Miller, well played.





All of which relegates the provocatively-titled Dark Knight III : The Master Race (a name, it should be said, whose significance is in no way even hinted at, much less explained, in this first issue) to something of a stop-gap measure, or the story that takes place in between “real” Dark Knight stories. And maybe that’s just as well, because this seems to be a very un-ambitious comic that exists merely to fit into some dull editorial remit to create a book that picks up after DK2 while aping the feel of DK1. As far as the art goes, it appears that Kubert was given a bit more leeway to illustrate things in his own style, but the cover (as seen at the top of this review) certainly looks like it could have come right out of Miller’s Sin City, and the interior pages show a much sleeker, more noir-influenced look than we’ve seen from him in the past. It’s probably fair to suppose that the orders from on high were something along the lines of “don’t copy Frank’s style per se, but make sure that whatever you do fits in with the look of the first Dark Knight series.” And so it does.

As does Azzarello’s story, but here things get a bit dicier, because this really does read like a pale approximation of The Dark Knight Returns done by a lesser talent. We’ve got some nods to the current social media landscape thrown in from the outset,  and a few knowing glances are cast in the direction of mass movements like Black Lives Matter in that police brutality seems to be the issue that brings the once-again-retired-Dark Knight back to the streets of Gotham (a topic the same author explored in a recent fill-in issue on the main Batman title), but everything here really is piggybacking onto events in the 1986 original moreso than it’s taking its cues from the modern world. Azzarello tries to mimc some of the “Batman is back” excitement of the first issue of DK1, but it feels rushed and incomplete in terms of the buildup involved and so largely falls flat, and the same can certainly be said of the double-page spread of TV talking heads that you just knew was gonna be in here someplace. The subplots involving Wonder Woman and her infant son, and that of  her teenage daughter (with Superman, don’t forget!) Lara seem marginally more interesting, but no sooner do we get some brief exposure to them than we find ourselves thrust back into the “A” narrative and see the GCPD violently bringing Batman down after he proves to be a sensation on twitter and shit. His final (for this issue, at any rate) confrontation with the cops comes the closest of anything in this opening installment to delivering that old-school DK wallop, and no doubt the presence of Janson on inks helps to authenticate some of the more blatant, but successful, stylistic thievery that Kubert finally succumbs to in this penultimate sequence, but it still isn’t quite the “real deal,” nor is it clever and/or totally shameless enough to let you forget it. The unmasking of Batman provides for a doozy of a cliffhanger, sure, but even that’s not all that terribly surprising once the initial wave of “holy shit!”-ness subsides. Come to think of it, one could argue that it succeeds largely because you do, in fact, “see it coming,” but it’s so fucking cool that you’re willing to go along with it because it steers a story you never really wanted to see anyway into a direction that you could potentially be  happy to have it going. One brief heads-up, though : don’t read the mini-comic either first, or in the middle of the book as its presented, because it gives the ending of the main story away completely. DC probably should have glued the thing into the back rather than the center of the comic, just in case, but  given that they’ve sort of made lousy decision-making into an art form over there in recent years,  what else could you really expect?


Speaking of the mini-comics — and the physical format of the series in general — Miller’s caught a lot of heat for showing “Superman’s junk” on the cover (shown above) for Dark Knight Universe Presents The Atom, and why not? It really is a lousy piece of illustration, any way you slice it. But his art on the interior pages — which sees him paired with Janson for the first time since DK1 — is actually surprisingly good in the strictest formal sense of the term, and when you combine that with the fact that the script for this little “side-step,” revolving as it does around a mystery of sorts developing within the Bottle City of Kandor, is actually fairly interesting, you could make a pretty strong case for the notion that the mini-comic is, in actuality, the best thing about Dark Knight III : The Master Race #1. In fact, I believe I did just that. I’ve gotta be honest, though — the old “Dark Knight format,” as it used to be called, gave you a lot more bang for your buck than the 32-pages-for-$5.99 thing that they’re putting this new series out in. Yeah, you get a glossy cover and there are no ads, but it’s still a standard stapled format rather than the squarebound binding of old, and while the paper’s good and all, it’s not nearly as good as we’re used to in a Dark Knight comic.

These problems, of course, will all be corrected in two weeks, when the so-called “deluxe edition” is released that consists of a hardcover version of the comic with the mini-comic “blown up” to full size, but the $12.99 price point for a re-packaged version of a comic that just came out 14 days previously shows what a naked cash-grab this whole enterprise really is. I mentioned DC’s other notorious naked cash-grab of recent vintage, Before Watchmen, previously, and I suppose it should come as no surprise that both the writer and artist on Dark Knight III : The Master Race are “alums,” if you will, of that cynical, year-long, slow-motion disaster. I’m not ready to say that their newest project is anywhere near as artistically worthless and morally deplorable as BW was — and despite the breezy, thowaway nature of the first 3/4 of this issue, the ending gives me at least a shred of hope that we might be in for an interesting, if hopelessly derivative, time here — but who knows? It’s early days yet, and they could still surprise me with the depth of their creative bankruptcy. Their publisher, however, no longer can, and the sad truth is that the mere existence of a Dark Knight III proves that DC not only has nothing left in the tank, but has given up altogether on even trying to convince us otherwise. Having spent 20-plus years trying — and failing — to find the “next Dark Knight” and the “next Watchmen,” they appear more than happy to simply snatch up the last few dollars an ever-dwindling readership is willing to fork over to watch them kick the corpses of their once-greatest triumphs.



I was of two minds going into the latest DC Universe straight-to-video animated feature, Son Of Batman — on the one hand, I’m a tremendous fan of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s sprawling, multi-year epic upon which this movie is based , and why not? It’s supremely good stuff. On the other, well — when you condense a story that took that long to tell down to roughly an hour and 14 minutes, something’s bound to be lost in the translation, right?

As it turns out, my concerns were pretty well-founded. To put things as succinctly as possible, director Ethan Spaulding’s adaptation isn’t just hopelessly truncated, it’s also hopelessly messy.

It’s not entirely — or probably even primarily — his fault, of course : this was definitely a pretty poor choice of “source material” from the outset, given that it relies so heavily on audiences warming to Batman’s heretofore-unknown son, Damian Wayne, over time. And time is one thing these DCU flicks don’t have a lot of. So I think I’ll give Spaulding a pass for his role in this debacle — after all,  at the end of the day, he was tasked with a pretty thankless job. I’m less forgiving when it comes to some other folks, though, so let’s get into that — as well as the requisite plot synopsis —  now, shall we?


For those unfamiliar with the essentials, the basic set-up for Son Of Batman goes as follows : some years ago, Batman/Bruce Wayne (voiced here by Jason O’Mara, who’s no Kevin Conroy by any stretch and never manages to be very convincing either in or out of the cape and cowl) was drugged by Talia Al Ghul (Morena Baccarin, who does serviceable work here) and basically functioned as a one-night-stand sperm donor. The result of that less-than-blessed union was a baby boy, Damian (Stuart Allan, who does what he can with a lousily-written part), who was raised from birth to eventually take over the League of Assassins from his grandfather, Ra’s Al Ghul (Giancarlo Esposito, who sounds like he’s mailing it in), but this little family plan goes astray when Ra’s is killed by Wilson Slade, a.k.a. Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson, who also turns in less-than-inspired work), who has his sets set on usurping control of the League from the Al Ghul dynasty. Sensing things are probably getting a bit too hot for Damian (especially after he takes out Deathstroke’s eye in combat), Talia decides to unload the murderous little tyke on his old man for awhile, and it’s up to Batman to essentially “de-program” the junior psychopath and turns his — what shall we call them? — talents toward the cause of good.

All that’s probably more than enough material for a movie right there, but Son Of Batman  makes the mistake of lumping in various other storylines Morrison had going in and around this time, as well, and that’s where things get messy. The subplot involving Kirk Langstrom (Xander Berkeley, whose work stands out noticeably from the rest of the pack here) becoming Man-Bat and being strong-armed into creating an army of similar creatures never really manages to engage viewers, nor does its attendant “mystery” as to how and why established Bat-villains like Killer Croc have suddenly become steroid-pumped super-monsters. It’s all just too damn much.


The real tragedy about shoe-horning all this excessive material in, though, is how the filmmakers are consequently forced to give short shrift to Damian’s character development. Morrison’s original story had our little Bat-tyke slowly transform from being an unlikable, untrustworthy little shit into a semi-responsible, even-more-semi-mature youngster who earned his way into taking on the role of Robin. In the movie version, he just flips a switch after fighting Dick Grayson/Nightwing (Sean Maher (who does reasonable enough voice work, but dear God — what’s with that horrible costume?) and assumes the mantle of his daddy’s masked sidekick more or less instantaneously. To say this sudden shift doesn’t work so well would be the understatement of the century.

Obviously,  a tighter (and frankly less ambitious) focus would have benefited the proceedings here to no end, and while biting off more than you can chew can sometimes make for one of those overly-sprawling, but agreeably risky, ventures we all know and love, in this case that’s just not in the offing. Son Of Batman (which I caught on DVD from Warner Premier — picture and sound are both quite nice, but apart from a trailer for another forthcoming animated Bat-flick extras are non-existent ; perhaps the Blu-Ray offers a bit more) plays out like a poorly-researched, unevenly-performed Cliff’s Notes take on a monumental, character-defining work that ends up feeling depressingly small and hopelessly abridged. Think of an animated version of one of those old Reader’s Digest condensed books performed by a cast who’s only marginally interested in what they’re doing and you won’t be too far off the mark.


Still, if you’re new to this story,  on the off-chance that this flick doesn’t totally put you off the material bastardized to make it, might I humbly suggest picking up either the Batman And Son and/or Batman : The Black Glove  hardcover or trade paperback collections by Morrison and Kubert — they’re infinitely more satisfying,  and, who knows ? You may even walk away from them liking Damian Wayne — something this movie never really gives you the chance to do.



It occurs to me that I probably should have written a review for 2013’s direct-to-DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Download animated feature Justice League : The Flashpoint Paradox before the one I wrote yesterday for Justice League : War given that events in this one directly lead to the creation of the “New 52” universe that film takes place in, but oh well, I’ve never been one to follow convention (or, let’s face it, logic) too closely —so here we are, better late than never, I guess.

Based on the comic book “event” mini-series Flashpoint by Geoff Johns (again) and Andy Kubert, this is the story that re-booted the DCU into its new form, and while the end result of said re-boot hasn’t, by and large, been to my liking, this adventure has a suitably “epic” feel to it and generally delivers the goods. Plus, let’s face it, we owe the original comic a debt of gratitude for, at the very least, putting an end to the “one-Crisis-after-another” treadmill that DC had been stuck on for so long. It was getting to be well past time for the former National Periodical Publications to put its collective houses in order, and while I may have numerous bones to pick with how they chose to do so, the core idea certainly seemed sensible enough at the time.

Let’s get one thing straight, though : this really isn’t a Justice League story at all. It’s a Flash story.


Which isn’t to say that the other League members don’t have their part to play in the proceedings here — they surely do,  but they’re largely consigned to the margins while the Scarlet Speedster (voiced by Justin Chambers) takes center stage. And why not? He’s the one who gets trapped in an alternate reality, after all. And while that may seem like a “narrowing down” of the story’s scope, it actually helps to have one central point of audience identification for a series of events this earth-(okay, universe-) shattering.

So, yeah. Flash is trapped in a dimension not of his own making (not that he made the one he inhabits, either, but I digress) — one where, among other things, Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas (Kevin McKidd) is Batman. There are plenty of other window-dressing details that serve to differentiate this reality from DC’s “main” one, of course, and these differences are assaulting Flash’s consciousness and replacing his “actual” memories with ones that he knows he didn’t have previously. It’s all so very confusing for our fleet-footed protagonist.

Meanwhile, events on Flash’s native Earth are spiraling out of control as a war between Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall)’s amazons and Aquaman (Cary Elwes)’s undersea kingdom of Atlantis draws ever nearer. The shit’s about to hit the fan in a big way, and all the efforts of fellow heroes Superman (Sam Daly), Green Lantern (fan-favorite Nathan Fillion), Captain Atom (Lex Lang), Batman (Kevin Conroy), and Cyborg (Michael B. Jordan),  as well as the members of their various supporting casts like Lois Lane (Dana Delany),  can’t seem to stem the tide of inevitable conflict that’s quickly crashing in.


How is all of this connected? What do villains like Lex Luthor (Steve Blum, who also lends his vocal talents to a new character called Captain Thunder) and Deathstroke (the always-awesome Ron Perlman) have to do with anything? How and why is Jack Kirby’s seminal (and criminally under-utilized) Etrigan, The Demon (Dee Bradley Baker) involved, albeit at the margins?  What’s the deal with “alternate” Flash-type character Professor Zoom (C. Thomas Howell)? Ah — that would be giving too much away, my friends. Suffice to say that, fortunately for us all, Justice League : The Flashpoint Paradox  does, at the very least, provide reasonably satisfying answers to damn near all of the questions it raises.

The big one, though, is how Flash is going to reconcile  the titular paradox at the center of our story and restore the trans-dimensional balance that’s been tipped, for while characters like Aquaman and Wonder Woman have bit more to do here than usual, at the end of the day the fate of the universe(s) really does rest more or less entirely on Barry Allen’s admittedly broad (all the heroes in this flick look like they gobble ‘roids for breakfast) shoulders.

Old hand Jay Oliva is back on board to direct things here, and while the overall pace does, in fact,  lag a bit here and there in spots, on the whole he keeps events moving along pretty briskly and manages the delicate task of keeping audiences interested in resolving the continuity problems that make up the heart of his plot without dwelling too intently on minutiae. Sure, anybody wish a vested interest in any and/or all of these characters is going to be more intrigued in seeing how this all plays out than viewers who are coming to this stuff for the first time, but things never get so dense as to become impenetrable to all save for the previously-initiated.


Please don’t get me wrong — it’s not like Justice League : The Flashpoint Paradox is by any means a perfect animated super-hero feature. A few members of the voice cast seem to be mailing things in by and large, and some of the differences between realities seem a bit superficial and contrived.  All in all,  though, it’s a brisk, fun ride that performs its table-clearing task in an efficient, engaging manner. It’s just a shame that DC hasn’t put as much creativity or effort into creating their new universe as they put into destroying their old one.


So — this one’s done. J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Kubert’s Before Watchmen : Nite Owl series has been the book fans love to hate, even the ones who didn’t hate the whole BW “concept” from right outta the gate, and why not? Truth be told, it’s been pretty wretched, and while no single subsequent issue has been  the complete waste of paper that the first was, the sad fact is that it would take a pretty remarkable parts 2-4 to make up for that dreadful debut, and “pretty remarkable” is something this just hasn’t been.

Which isn’t to say that this wrap-up is altogether unsatisfying, simply because, well — it satisfies me to know that this series is over, and that JMS will, hopefully, never get a chance to write Rorschach again, because, if we’re honest, that’s been the real problem here : Staczynski’s take on Dan Dreiberg’s “Nite Owl 2.0” hasn’t been all that actively bad, per se, but dear God — his characterization of Rorschach has been flat-out atrocious.

In this issue, we learn that a youthful Walter Kovacs actually — SPOILER ALERT! — killed his own father, while the guy this book is ostensibly about gets relegated to second-fiddle status once again, and ends up with a broken heart to boot by the time all is said and done. Oh, and we also get served up a limp and unnecessary tie-in with a throwaway line from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series after our Nite Owl/Rorschach/Twilight Lady triumvirate brings down the demented preacher who’s been bumping off hookers in grisly fashion, too, that pretty much serves as a textbook illustration of how pointless and ultra-pedantic true “fanwank” can be, and that’s it — we’re done.

On the artistic front, Bill Sienkiewicz takes over on inks for the late (and sorely missed) Joe Kubert in this issue, thus completing his career decline from full-fledged Alan Moore collaborator on Big Numbers to last-second fill-in inker on a book that’s cashing in on Alan Moore’s creative legacy against The Bearded One’s wishes, and to say the results are unimpressive is to be too goddamn generous. Joe’s richly detailed linework, the unquestioned highlight of this series, is sorely missed. The covers aren’t anything too remarkable, either — the Andy n’ Bill combo provides the “main” one shown at the outset of this review, while Ethan Van Sciver is responsible for the variant reproduced immediately below:


And speaking of wrap-ups, this is gonna do it for Trash Film Guru in 2012. It’s been an interesting year of blogging, and while I certainly didn’t foresee the extent to which reviewing comics would take things over around here, the good news for those of you who haven’t enjoyed this admittedly lengthy side-step (and let me say a very profound “thank-you” to those of you who have) is that 2013 will more than likely see movie reviews rise to prominence around these parts again, although I do plan on finishing out this whole Before Watchmen thing, my sanity be damned.

So hey, Happy New Year one and all, and I look forward to seeing any and/or all of you back here on the other side of the calendar flip. Stay safe on New Year’s Eve, and if you insist on doing something stupid, please — do it at home, willya?

What happens when you devote the first issue of a four-issue mini-series to pointless set-up and needless backstory that achieves nothing? Well, not only do you get a crappy first issue, you end up with something on the other end like Before Watchmen : Nite Owl #3, which has to do waaaaayyy too much because that opening installment didn’t even get the overall plotlines that are being set up for conclusion here going in any way, shape, or form.

Seriously, if J. Michael Straczyski had just started with the second issue, and split the various components of this third issue into two, we’d be in a much stronger position as readers to actually give a shit about how this is all going to wrap up — instead what  we got was a first issue that didn’t need to exist, followed by a second issue that finally decided maybe this series had better have an actual point to it after all, followed in turn by a third issue that actually isn’t all that bad but has to cram an awful lot in before we finish up next month. All this, as is the case with all these BW titles, from a series that has three fucking editors working on it, none of whom seem to actually show up for work.

Anyway, what we’ve got going this time around is Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl 2, working side-by-side with costumed criminal/madame Lady Nightshade to crack the case they’re working on involving the murders of several prostitutes, a case the cops obviously don’t give a shit about. Meanwhile, Walter Kovacs, aka Rorschach, has taken a job as a janitor at the church he attends, while elsewhere on planet Watchmen, for reasons we don’t know, grief and anguish are eating away at Nite Owl 1,  akaHollis Mason, who’s taken to hitting the bottle. By the time the issue is over, we’ll see Dan and Lady Nightshade get it on (although essentially get nowhere on their case), Dan get some free bedside psychoanalysis from his surprsingly well-adjusted new ladyfriend, Mason turn the first draft of his by-now-legendary Under The Hood autobiography over to Dan (it’s apparently far more confessional than anything we’d previously been led to believe, ‘cuz reading through it seems to send Dan to the edge of a nervous breakdown himself), and Rorschach come much closer than his erstwhile crime-fighting partner to solving the murdered-hooker case when he makes a seriously grisly discovery in the church basement.

Like I said, compared to that first issue especially, it’s all quite readable. But it would read a lot better spread out over a couple of issues, where Rorschach’s grim find in the basement and Dan’s heartbroken reaction to Mason’s book could both have served as pretty solid little separate cliffhangers. Instead, what we get is  Dan breaking down as he reads Mason’s manuscript (which, let’s face it, probably has a lot more to do with the supposed “big revelation” coming up in Minutemen #5 than it does with anything going on here, and in fact won’t be “resolved” in this series at all) while there are still a few pages to go, and then Rorschach’s —- uhhhmmm — “situation” serving as the cliffhanger at the end of this book, which is pretty absurd when you think about it because — this is supposedly Nite Owl’s book, not his!

Ain’t that just the breaks for poor ol’ Dreiberg, though? Always kind of an “also-ran” character in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series, here in his own fucking book he can’t even score the penultimate issue three cliffhanger, and is effectively reduced to being of secondary importance in a series that bears his name on the cover! Again, I gotta ask — three editors “worked” on this?

On the creative front, Before Watchmen : Nite Owl #3 (variant covers, as shown, by the Andy and Joe Kubert and something called Chris Samnee, respectively) sees, sadly, the departure of the late, great Joe Kubert on inks about halfway through the issue. Not sure if his health had taken a turn for the worse and he literally couldn’t continue beyond that point or if these pages by his son Andy weren’t inked at all before he passed away, but whatever the case may be, the remainder of the issue is inked by — Bill Sienkiewicz? Holy shit there’s a name I haven’t heard in ages, and I just have to ask — what happened, Bill? To go from Elektra : Assassin and Stray Toasters to last-minute fill-in work like this where your primary job is to ape another guy’s tyle? Man, it just hurts to even think about a fall that steep. Bill gives  Joe’s incredibly distinctive look his best effort, sure, but it’s still nowhere near the same because, well — it just can’t be. But Bill, seriously, if you’re ever reading this (ha! as if!) — dude, you’re better than this. You really are. You’ve written and drawn some of the most unconventional, envelope-pushing stuff ever published by the “Big Two.” I know a paycheck’s a paycheck, but seriously : this kind of thing isn’t your forte, man. I’m as sorry as anyone that Big Numbers didn’t work out, but to go back to work-for-hire quickie cash-grabs like this? Well, I’m gonna remember you as you were, rather than what you’ve been reduced to.

Anyway, don’t get me wrong — this series has, on the whole, improved dramatically, apart from the immeasurable loss of Joe Kubert on “inks” (I still think he was essentially drawing the book over Andy’s rough breakdowns), but that waste of a first issue put Straczynski’s story in such a hole that climbing out of it’s been a pretty steep endeavor and left us with a cliffhanger in the book’s biggest moment that , again, absurd as it sounds, doesn’t even feature the (at this point nominal, truth be told) title character. It’s not so much that this is a bad series per se, just that it could have been so much better and stronger with  a few quick fixes that are so readily apparent that anyone can see them.

Except, apparently, a DC editor.


I did, in fact, warn you all — I said at the outset of “Comix Month Take II” that I might do a third,  and so it’s come to pass. This is gonna be it, though, I promise — apart from keeping up with all the various Before Watchmen books, which I’ll continue to write about for as long as I’m buying ’em. September will be business as usual apart from that, though, as we go back to the grindhouse in a big way. And as last month proved, I haven’t neglected film reviews entirely — I still did a few for Through The Shattered Lens and duly linked to them on here, as promised/threatened. The same will go for this month, and in fact I’ll “tease” that a bit by saying this much in advance — I’m working on a series of interconnected posts (yes, movie-related) based around a single theme for TTSL, and hope to have the first one up in the next handful of days. I’ll say no more for the time being apart from this — comics fans should (I hope) find them interesting, as well.

All of which brings me back to the business at hand, which is of course taking a look at the second issue of Before Watchmen : Nite Owl, and I do so with a very heavy heart, indeed, because as it turns out this was the last comic featuring art by the now late, great Joe Kubert to see publication while he was still among us. Mr. Kubert passed away at the age of 85 the other day, and to call him a giant is an understatement indeed. While DC’s horribly shoddy initial press release mentioned only his Before Watchmen work, anyone who knows anything about comics knows better. Kubert was the premier war comics illustrator of all time, the premier jungle adventure comics illustrator of all time, one of the two or three premier superhero and sci-fi comics illustrators of all time, and frankly right up there in the pantheon with names like Kirby, Wood, Eisner, Hogarth, Foster, Ditko, etc. when we comics fans are discussing the always-debated subject of “who was the greatest American comics artist ever, period.” His contributions to this medium can never, I repeat never, be adequately or accurately measured, and he will be sorely missed by hundreds of thousands, even millions, of fans in addition to friends, family, and the legion of comics talent he trained at his Kubert School, the institution that gave us the likes of Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben, to name just a few illustrious alumni.

Rest in peace, Mr. Kubert, and know that history will judge you very kindly indeed.

And while we’re talking of Joe Kubert, I mentioned last time around the block with Nite Owl #1 that I honestly wondered how much of the art in this series was down to his son Andy, who’s credited as being the book’s penciller, at all, and this second issue does nothing to quell that curiosity. The classic Kubert mastery of layouts is on full display here, as is the rich, heavy linework in the inks/finishes. My best guess —and mind you it’s only a guess — is that Joe was responsible for the layouts on this book, Andy did some rough pencils, and Joe did finished pencils as well as inks. We’ll probably never know, of course, but that’s sure what it looks like to me.

All of which is to say that the art in this book is top-notch. While fandom in its assembled “wisdom” seems to be crowning Ozymandias artist Jae Lee as the king of the Before Watchmen art universe, I say it’s Joe K. all the way — and it’s not even a close contest. Just look at that cover (the main one up top, not the secondary one by David Finch underneath it, although that ain’t bad, either) and tell me that’s not the finest Watchmen-related illustration not done by Dave Gibbons you’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately, however, we’re still waiting for the first great Watchmen-related script not written by Alan Moore. J. Michael Straczynski does a heck of a lot better job this time around than he did in the go-nowhere, do-nothing first issue, and this secondary installment at least moves the plot forward a bit (it’s apparently going to center on Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg’s developing costume fetish as he gets involved with a masked “villainess” called Lady Nightshade, and juxtapose that with Rorschach(who’s really a full-fledged co-star here)’s slow-burn mental breakdown), but Straczynski is still writing Rorschach all wrong given the time period, he’s apparently never even heard of the concept of subtlety, and a couple of scenes (where Rorschach yells “whore!” at Lady Nightshade while attempting to attack her and teenage Dan, in a flashback scene, asks his mother whether it was her or his abusive old man who wanted to abort him before he was born when he learns one of ’em did) are somewhere between cringeworthy and laugh-out-loud bad.

Still, there’s some hope. An extended sequence detailing how Dan first used a mask to deflect away the painful reality of bullying and ass-kicking while growing-up is melodramatic, to be sure, but it’s also handled with a fair amount of sensitivity and realism, and a sequence with Nite Owl the first, Hollis Mason, hinting at some darker reason as to why the Minutemen broke up is both genuinely intriguing and, thankfully, not overplayed (even if I have a pretty solid guess as to what happened based on a single panel alone). It’s far from a great script, no question, but it’s certainly miles ahead of anything I was expecting/dreading after that flat-out abysmal first issue.

Still, of all the books to serve as a capstone to one of the undeniably greatest and most influential careers in the history of this medium, it’s a shame that it’s gotta be this one. Before Watchmen : Nite Owl #2 is head and shoulders above the first issue, but it’s still nowhere near even the top, oh, 500 single issues in Joe Kubert’s illustrious oeuvre, and reading it again the other night, the thought foremost in my mind ,as it was after the first issue, is still “this would have been so much better if Joe had written it himself.” It’s too bad that it’s too late for that now, but I look forward to the final two issues of this miniseries, assuming they’re already “in the can,” so to speak, not for anything Straczynski has done/is doing — his scripting is so wildly uneven that I don’t have the first clue what the quality of next issue’s story is going to be like — but because, unless there’s some mystery project buried somewhere in the “industry pipeline” that we don’t know about — they will, in all likelihood, mark Joe Kubert’s last comics work ever. And if you’re looking for the single saddest sentence I’ve ever had to type out, that one’s right up there near the top.

First off, my apologies for the fact that things have been a bit quiet around these parts for the past couple of weeks. I offer no excuse other than the fact that things have been insanely busy at your humble host’s “real” job — which, as far as excuses go, is actually a pretty good one, especially since it also happens to be the truth. However, I’m pleased to report that things have, for the most part at any rate, settled back into their normal groove, and I intend to make up for lost time by reviewing a boatload of stuff here over the next couple of weeks.

Notice I said “stuff,” not “movies,” which brings me to my second point — I didn’t get all the comics I was hoping to do last month done, so we (okay,I) have elected to extend “comix month” here for another 30 days — even 60, if need be. Which doesn’t mean I won’t be reviewing films. I’ll still be doing a fair amount of that while comics continue their takeover here, I’ll just do it over at my other main online haunt, Through The Shattered Lens, and I’ll repost them here, as well, so you won’t miss a thing if you’re not following that site (even though you should be). Sound fair? Good.

And a last bit of business before we jump back into the swing of things here — and a very sad bit of business it is, at that. In case you hadn’t heard (and even if you had), it’s with a very heavy heart that I note the passing of Sage Stallone. More than just a garden-variety vacuous celebrity’s kid, Sage was one of the guiding forces behind Grindhouse Releasing, along with veteran film editor Bob Murawski. I sincerely doubt that there are any regular readers of this blog who don’t have one or two GR titles on their shelves, and while they were never the most prolific of companies, what they lacked in quantity they more than made up for in quality. think about it — whether it’s Cannibal HolocaustPiecesA Cat In The BrainI Drink Your Blood — Grindhouse releasing DVDs were always loaded with superb and relevant extras and were unparalleled in terms of their technical quality. Sage and Bob’s stuff was the gold standard in exploitation, period, and while I do regret that his passing means we’ll probably now never see the likes of Gone With The PopeAn American Hippie In IsraelDeadly Games,  S. F. Brownrigg’s Scum Of The Earth, or any of the other long-promised titles that GR owned the rights to ever come to pass, I’m extremely thankful for the masterful releases that Sage and Bob did manage to get out there, and all of us who are fans of exploitation cinema lost a friend when Sage passed away the other day at the far-too-young age of 36. Circumstances of his death are still unclear, and frankly don’t interest me in the least. We lost a passionate connoisseur of B (and lower) grade films who shared his passion with the rest of us through his work, and we’re all of us poorer for his departing. My thoughts go out to his family, friends, and loved ones, and even though he’s gone I just wanted to say “thanks, Sage” one more time.

Now. To the business at hand. I’ve fallen behind by a few weeks on my Before Watchmen reviews, but that’s all gonna change over the next few days, starting right here and now. I don’t know a whole lot about J. Michael Straczynksi, except for the fact that he was one of the creators (hell, maybe the only one for all I know) of the TV show Babylon 5, which I never watched. Apparently some time after that ended or got cancelled or whatever, he decided to come play big fish in a small pond by, to paraphrase LeBron James, “taking his talents” to the world of comics writing. Evidently some of his stuff has been very well-received and some of it  — uhhhmmm — considerably less so, and that rather unsteady track record, combined with a reputedly oversized ego, has led him to become something of a divisive figure in the industry.

Well, there’s no need for any divisiveness when it comes to his work on the Nite Owl portion of this whole Watchmen prequel “saga” — it sucks, plain and simple. Honestly, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons should actively look at suing the guy for misuse of intellectual property, except I don’t think there’s any such thing. The first issue of this book is everything those of us who had qualms about this project feared, and more.

But before I go any further down that road, I want to say for the record that none of what’s wrong with this book is the fault of the artists, namely Andy Kubert (pencils) and his legendary father, Joe (inks). The art on this first issue is flat-out great, and the heavy linework and thick, almost syrupy (in a good way) look to everything has me actively wondering how much Andy did at all. Maybe he just did rough breakdown and the old man took it from there, because this stuff looks like pure, unfiltered Joe all the way, and to my mind that’s always a good thing.  The comic itself may be unreadable, but it sure is a pleasure to look at.

But sheesh, enough with the compliments. The story here’s a complete mess. Dan Dreiberg’s nite Owl character is the only one that didn’t get a dedicated “origin issue” back in the original Watchmen series, and they should have taken that as a sign. There’s just not much of a compelling tale to be told here. We see young Daniel, who we knew came from a well-to-do background, survive an abusive upbringing — the kind where his old man beats the shit out of his mom right in front of the kid — and emerge apparently not all that bitter about it all, we see him track down the original Nite Owl, Hollis Mason, and essentially blackmail him into becoming his junior partner, we see Mason pretty quickly take a shine to the whole idea and retire ASAP to hand full reins over to the kid, we see Nite Owl go into action during the New York police strike, we see him team up with a terribly written Rorschach (in the original miniseries he was still shown as being pretty lucid at this point, but Straczynski has him “hurm”ing and dropping the articles off the front of words from the outset — I’m all for contradicting established continuity (see my review of Comedian #1) if it actually achieves something, but to have it happen as the end result of a writer just being too fucking lazy to reread the scenes that he’s structured his entire book around is just plain inexcusable — and I gotta ask, where were the editors when the script was submitted in this shape?), we see the two of them go to the first-and-last ever “Crimebusters” meeting, where Dan has a needless and frankly cheapening-to-the-original series “premonition” about a future with Laurie Juspeczyk that I guess Straczynski thinks will reek of profundity rather than desperation, the meeting ends, and that’s it.

If you’re searching for a point to Before Watchmen : Nite Owl #1 (with — yawn! — three variant covers, as shown above, by the Kuberts, Kevin Nowlan, and Jim Lee, respectively), and feel silly for not having found one, rest assured — there is none. Apart from a neat little three-panel sequence where the heroes at the “Crimebusters” meeting are drawing names out of a hat to see who they’re partnered up with and Dr. Manhattan manipulates the molecules on the slip of paper Captain Metropolis is holding to ensure that he’s paired with Silk Spectre rather than Rorschach, this is a story that has absolutely nothing to recommend in it. to call it “pointless” is being too kind, really — it strings a few needless new details over a framework composed of scenes we’ve seen done both a)before and b)much better. The story seems to have no actual trajectory of its own and what we’re apparently headed for here is just a by-the-numbers overview of Dan Dreiberg’s time in costume. Even if you’re one of the folks who thinks there’s nothing morally or ethically reprehensible about the whole idea of opening up the Watchmen “universe” to other creators, based on the evidence of this book alone — a literal dead end from the outset — you’d have to concede that the critics who have been trashing the project since the moment it was announced probably have a point. This is the Seinfeld of comics — 25 pages about nothing, going nowhere, with absolutely no purpose whatsoever.