Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Timm’

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Near as I can tell, 2017 looks like it’s gonna be a pretty rough year — what with an insane, mouth-foaming lunatic in the White House and everything — but on the plus side, it’s also the 100th anniversary of the birth of the greatest genius to ever grace the comic book medium with the fruits of his imagination, the one and only Jack Kirby. From all appearances, Marvel appears to be doing fuck-all to honor the man who created 90-plus% of the characters they’ve built a multi-billion-dollar empire off, but at least DC seems to be willing, perhaps even downright eager, to give “The King” his due, so kudos to them for that. First item up in the year-long celebration? Kamandi Challenge, a 12-part “round-robin”-style series that revives the old DC Challenge conceit of having a different creative team solve the “pickle” left for them by the previous one.

Truth be told, though, the rules of the DC Challenge were considerably more difficult — back then, writers and artists would lay down subplots and cliffhangers that the next folks had to solve using entirely different characters, while this time out, it’s strictly a cliffhanger-only affair and, of course, The Last Boy On Earth is the star of each and every issue. So, I mean, yeah — as far as “challenges” go, this one’s pretty easy. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be a hell of a lot of fun.

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DC co-head honcho Dan DiDio and veteran artist Keith Giffen get the ball rolling in this extra-sized first issue with a “prelude”-type story that sets the ground rules and provides a reasonably decent introduction of sorts to the characters, but before you all head for the hills, let’s remember that, for all his numerous and obvious flaws, DiDio is a massive Kirby fan and he and Giffen teamed up for an OMAC series in the early days of the “New 52” that was one of the best offerings that now-concluded (I guess?) revamp had to offer. DiDio also has at least a decent surface-level grasp of Kirby’s writing style and can turn in a respectable approximation of his absolutely unique dialogue, and Giffen, for his part, knows how to impart his illustrations with a certain amount of Kirby-esque dynamism and flair without being slavishly beholden to the idea of aping his style outright. All in all, then, the two of ’em do a more than adequate job of laying out the particulars here and then getting out of the way and letting post-catastrophe Earth take center stage.

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Enter scribe Dan Abnett, artist Dale Eaglesham, and colorist Hi-Fi, who bring us a brightly-hued, dare-I-say-magnificently flowing action spectacle that pits all the characters fans of the series love — Kamandi, Prince Tuftan, Doctor Canus, King Caesar, etc. — against all that the future world of intelligent animals and danger lurking around every corner has to offer, beginning with a fight to the finish against the giant ape, Tiny, and racing at breakneck pace from there to a less-than-imaginative, but staggeringly appropriate in its simplicity, “countdown clock” cliffhanger. Abnett’s dialogue is more than a  bit overly-expository by contemporary standards, but that’s all part of the fun as far as I’m concerned, and “fun” is definitely the operative word of the day here — a point driven home nearly relentlessly by Eaglesham’s gorgeously fluid art, which Abnett wisely allows to do the bulk of the storytelling. Does it “look like Kirby”? Hell no, but it fits Kirby’s world nicely, and besides, if straight-up homage is your bag, there’s always Bruce Timm’s splendid cover to make you (probably more than) happy. In short, I think that if “The King” himself took a look at this book, he’d be downright pleased to see what these guys have done with his characters and concepts.

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What if you’re a “Kamandi Virgin,” though? Hmmm — good question. I’ll be perfectly honest — longtime fans are probably bound to get much more enjoyment from this comic than newbies, but my best guess is that anyone and everyone, regardless of “experience level,” will find more than enough here to make the five bucks they plunked down for it seem like a fair trade. If “high adventure in a world gone mad” is a premise still capable of entertaining you, then Kamandi Challenge #1 is more or less stone-cold certain to be up your alley. It’s got highly likable characters in far-out and far-flung situations, cool monsters, and amazingly illustrated action, so I don’t care who you are — this is a comic that damn near forces a smile onto your face, and then dares you not to keep it there. Whether it can continue doing so is up to the creators that will be stepping up to the plate to handle future installments, but given that Peter J. Tomasi and Neal Adams are up next, something tells me it’s safe to assume that we’ll be in very good hands indeed.

So — how much did I love Kamandi Challenge #1? I’ll put it to you this way : Jack Kirby’s original Kamandi is quite possibly my favorite series of all time, and while this has absolutely no hope of supplanting of superseding that, it feels like a very worthy successor. Strap in for the duration, then — this promises to be an exhilarating ride.

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“Go ahead and cripple the bitch.”

Those were the words of then-DC executive editor Dick Giordano to editor Len Wein, who in turn relayed them to Alan Moore, writer of the seminal Batman/Joker tale Batman : The Killing Joke, and the subject of the order was Barbra Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl. Moore had originally planned for he and Brian Bolland’s one-off story to be something of an “Elseworlds”-style tale (before there was such a thing), set apart from standard DC continuity and positing both a potential origin of The Joker (draped over a skeletal framework that dated all the way back to the Clown Prince of Crime’s first appearance ) and a potential conclusion to comics’ most famous feud — one that would ultimately be left to the reader to discern for themselves, but that strongly hinted that Batman flat-out snaps at the end and kills his most troublesome and famous adversary. What could possibly drive Batman to this extreme? Well, The Joker was going to murder Batgirl.

But as the script pages starting arriving at the DC offices, editorial got the strong feeling — correctly, as it turned out — that they had not just a hit on their hands, but a bona fide comic book blockbuster. A story that would be hotly debated for years, if not decades, to come, and sell in the millions of copies.  Moore’s idea may have been to do his ultimate take on the Batman/Joker relationship, but his bosses wanted to morph it into the ultimate take on the Batman/Joker relationship — and so they decided to play it coy when it came to the question of whether or not this would be an “official” DC Universe story. They figured that they wanted The Killing Joke to be able to be woven into regular Bat-continuity if fan reaction proved to be as strong as they suspected it could be. And you can’t kill Batgirl in a comic that they might decide to shoehorn into the established Batman mythos. Or can you?

Apparently there was some heated deliberation on this question, and in the end, a calculated compromise was reached — they wouldn’t kill her, but they would cripple her. That way, their asses were covered no matter what happened — if fans howled in outrage after reading the book they’d simply say it was a “non-continuity story” after all, but if fans loved it, then Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair would be the new status quo.

We all know what happened next — the book sold out multiple printings, was re-issued in any number of new formats (each more expensive than the last), and the story went down in history as, in the minds of most, the single-greatest Batman/Joker tale ever told, while Barbra Gordon, for her part, was eventually afforded the opportunity to have a long and prosperous “second act” as Oracle, a super-hacker who provided key “mission intel” to various and sundry DC super-heroes from her hidden computerized command center, also becoming something of an icon for disability rights advocates along the way (so much so, in fact, that many readers were downright outraged when she regained her ability to walk thanks to an experimental spinal cord surgery and re-assumed the mantle of Batgirl as part of DC’s “New 52” relaunch).

It’s worth remembering, though, that this fan-favorite character — this strong representation of disabled empowerment and even feminist empowerment — was once viewed so cavalierly by her corporate owners that they told the most talented and celebrated writer to ever work for them that they wanted him to “go ahead and cripple the bitch.” The Killing Joke would prove to be Moore’s last original work for DC. Gee, I wonder why?

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I bring all this up in relation to the new animated version of Batman : The Killing Joke from WB Animation (a project that, looking back, I’m surprised didn’t happen well before 2016) because, hey, we like to think that we’ve moved on from the dreary misogynist mindset of the late 1980s, right? Dick Girodano has passed away. Len Wein is a mostly-retired occasional freelancer. A whole new gang is in charge at DC. And yet, if anything, Barbara Gordon is treated even worse in this film (which I purchased digitally, but is also available on Blu-ray and DVD — and may even be playing a theater in your area, depending on where you live) than she was in the comic.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why they had to pad out the runtime of this one — for all the years DC has spent insisting that The Killing Joke is a “graphic novel,” 46 pages of story and art is anything but. Shit, the old Annuals of days gone by gave you more bang for your buck at 80 pages or so. But the way in which they “extended” the story here — well, leave it to Brian Azzarello to fuck that up royally.

Remember when this guy was good? Well, the writer who gave us 100 Bullets seems very far removed indeed from the writer who’s currently doing Dark Knight III : The Master Race, the screenplay for this monstrosity, and a tie-in comic for a beer company currently being published by Image, but once upon a time he was really on top of his game. His run on Hellblazer, in fact, was so superb that none other than Alan Moore broke with his long-standing policy of not endorsing any DC product in order to provide a glowing “pull-quote” for a trade paperback collection of the Azzarello-penned Constantine stories.

And good old Brian has been “thanking” him by pissing in his face ever since, first with his participation in the debacle that was Before Watchmen, and now with this. How do you do Barbra Gordon even worse than she’s already been done? You tack on a pointless extended “prelude” where she and Batman, more or less out of the clear blue and despite their obvious age difference,  have sex on a rooftop and he doesn’t call her back — then you cripple her.

Yes, friends, not content with merely putting a bullet through Barbara’s spine, she’s now a jilted lover, as well. And Batman is a massive douche.

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All of which undercuts what is otherwise a very strong production. Animation living legend Bruce Timm is back onboard as executive producer for this one (although the actual nuts-and-bolts work is still being farmed out to a Korean animation studio that pays its workers something like 90 cents an hour), and as such the film has the depth, quality, and texture we’ve come to expect from projects bearing his imprimatur. Veteran WB director Sam Liu guides the proceedings with his usual steady hand. The voice cast is every Batman fan’s dream with Kevin Conroy back under the cowl in the lead, Mark Hamill reprising his role as The Joker, Tara Strong as Batgirl, and the great Ray Wise (“one chance out between two worlds — fire, walk with me!!!!!!!!”) breathing more life than ever into a tested-to-his-limits-and-then-some Commissioner Jim Gordon. On a purely technical level, then, this flick is a marvel to behold.

And, ya know, once all that offensive-beyond-words new material is out of the way, this is a very faithful adaptation of Moore and Bolland’s work. In fact, it’s a note-for-note cribbing. The problem is that, given the greater context of what has now come before, scenes that packed an emotional wallop in the original printed work like Batman’s visit to Barbara in the hospital after she’s been shot by The Joker now have so much troubling subtext surrounding them that one scarcely knows where to begin when pondering the question of “Dear God, what were they thinking?”

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It’s all such a shame,really. DC had the chance to do something very rare indeed here : actually unite all of fandom behind a quality adaptation of a beloved story while addressing its inherent problems head-on. Instead, they’ve magnified them tenfold. And  a lot of people who did a lot of great work did it in service of a product that is, at its core, indefensible.

Barbra Gordon deserved better, absolutely. But so did Alan Moore. And Brian Bolland. And Sam Liu. And Bruce Timm. And Kevin Conroy. And Mark Hamill. And Tara Strong. And Ray Wise. And so many others who voiced, drew, animated, produced, or otherwise poured their hearts into this film.

And so, dear reader, do you. Ugly warts and all, Batman : The Killing Joke in its original printed interation is still very much worth your time to read if you haven’t — and to read again if you have. The film, unfortunately, is best ignored — and if it’s too late for you to do that, maybe just look at it like I’ve chosen to : as an “Elseworlds”-type story that never “really” happened at all. How fucking ironic is that?

 

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I hope I’m not giving too much away right off the bat here, but Frank Sinatra is dead in the so-called “Watchmen Universe.”

Okay, fair enough, he’s dead here in the real universe as well, and has been for a good long time now, but he died a lot sooner — and a lot more hilariously — in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ fictitious world than he did in ours. As a matter of fact, the Tarantino-esque one-two punch that does in the Chairman Of The Board in the fourth and final issue of Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke’s Before Watchmen : Silk Spectre miniseries is the single-most effective sequence in any of the BW books to date as well as being the only laugh-out-loud funny moment in any of them so far (it honestly wouldn’t feel out of place at all in, say, Marvel’s new ultra-absurdist Deadpool book) and it’s worth the $3.99 cover price in and of itself.

Fortunately, this book has some things going for it, as well, most notably Conner’s superb artwork, which started out great and has been getting more confident and assured with each issue. She’s saved her best for last, however, and really hits it out of the park with this concluding chapter. My only slight quibble is that in the final splash-page page panel that winds things up (the only splash in this series, come to think of it) she depicts Laurie as being considerably younger than she had appeared previously, which could be explained away as a realistic-enough choice on Conner’s part since this is an image of her iconic first meeting with Dr. Mahnhattan and depicting their age difference in such a stark manner would really drive home Janey Slater’s famous “chasing jailbait” line, but — she makes Dr. Mahnhattan look like some sort of love-struck teenager, as well. Seriously. He looks more like a blue kid sidekick than the most powerful man in the world. So the image, while amazingly well-rendered, is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Still, that’s it for gripes as far as the artwork goes. Conner’s pencils and inks, coupled with Paul Mounts’ superb colors, are all in top form here and I hope the two of them are teamed up on another project in the not-too-distant future. Now, as far as the story is concerned —

Well, whaddaya know? I don’t really have much cause to bitch on this front, either. Yeah, things get wrapped up a bit quickly and conveniently, and it does at times feel like Cooke and Conner are rushing to get things in the can ASAP before they run out of pages, but it at least all makes a kind of sense, and the characterization of Laurie and Sally Jupiter and Hollis Mason is spot-on throughout. Even when Mason is stoned off his ass (yes, you read that right). All in all, it’s an admittedly inconsequential, but nevertheless damn fun little read.

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And that word right there — fun — is what sets apart not only Silk Spectre #4 (variant covers by Conner and Bruce Timm, respectively, as shown), but this entire mini- series as a whole from the rest of the Before Watchmen pack. Conner and Cooke didn’t set out to trump Moore and Gibbons here, nor were they so slavishly beholden to what had  gone before that they were hesitant to add their own stamp on the character. They just seemed content to tell a simple story well and have fun while they were doing it. The end result? The BW series that I frankly had the lowest expectations for going in has ended up (at least to this point) being the best of the bunch.