Posts Tagged ‘dc comics’

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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 —

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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 —

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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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

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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 —

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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.

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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 —

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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!

 

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Question : you’re a comic book publisher and you’ve got yourself a high-profile “superfan.” What should you do about it?

Answer : if you’re DC, and said fan is Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance fame — who interned at your offices and was planning on pursuing a career as a writer and/or artist on your books before his band went and got famous — you give him not just a series, but an entire fucking line. For developmental guidance you pair him with veteran Vertigo editor Shelly Bond (who has since, sadly, left the building), but by and large you leave him to his own devices and let him come up with whatever it is that he comes up with. The end result? A new imprint semi-mysteriously called DC’s Young Animal. Its first title? A(nother) re-imagined take on the original misfit super-team : the one, the only — Doom Patrol!

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For anyone ancient enough to have been there in the late ’80s/early ’90s, when this series — then under the stewardship of Grant Morrison and Richard Case — was the place to be for high weirdness on the four-color page, the news that it was coming back with Way and artist Nick Derington at the helm was reason for much optimism Now that Doom Patrol #1 is here, though, heck — it’s reason to celebrate.

Yes, the book is good. Very good, in fact. But I have no idea what’s going on it or what it’s even all about. Which, to my mind, is exactly how it should be.

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At its best — and later, non-Vertigo iterations of the title were anything but that — Doom Patrol was always a comic that threw you in at the deep end and dared you to either keep up or drown. Morrison tends to get most of the credit for “turning it into” a strange and even dangerous book, but really all he was doing was picking up the baton laid down by the team’s creator, the great Arnold Drake, and his artistic collaborator, the equally-great Bruno Premiani. The DP (quit snickering, porn viewers) were outcasts from the outset, and waaaaaayyyy back in the the 1960s, after a lengthy run that saw the original line-up battle such surreal villains as General Immortus (who was more or less exactly what his name implied), The Brain (who was likewise), Monsieur Mallah (who was a hyper-intelligent talking ape) and The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man (who — well, shit, you just had to see him to believe him), Drake and Premiani decided to end the book by doing the then-unthinkable : killing ’em all in a plane crash and leaving them dead.

Of course, bean-counters and editors can’t leave profitable characters and concepts mothballed forever, and about a decade later a listless new incarnation of the team came shambling along with only one original member (Cliff “Robotman” Steele) in tow, but it would take some time (and, crucially, a certain Scottish writer)  for the property to well and truly get its “mojo” back — once it did, though, it really did. Fictional cities made of bone that over-write our reality, the painting that ate Paris, a hyper-dimensional sentient transvestite street, a man of “muscle mystery,” and catastrophe worship were but a handful of the magnificently memorable ideas introduced during the legendary Morrison/ Case run, which reached its apex with a shattering climax that was appended by a genuinely heart-wrenching epilogue that still stands out as one of the five or ten best single issues of any comic that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Those who’ve read it will know exactly what I mean when I say that the line “There is another world. There is a better world. Well — there has to be” still sticks in my throat every time.

So, yeah — these characters have been around a long time and have seen some lows, to be sure, but have also had their share of breathtaking, consciousness-expanding highs. Way grew up on Morrison and Case’s run, and while the fact that his new take on Doom Patrol promises to bring back characters from that era who haven’t been seen since like Crazy Jane, Flex Mentallo, and Danny The Street warms my crusty old comic-book-lovin’ heart, what really matters more than anything is the fact that — as this first issue makes abundantly clear — he is determined to do his own thing with them.

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And not just with them, thank goodness, but with his own, all-new, creations as well. Like Casey Brinke, an EMT who seems to think she’s Mario Andretti. And Terry None, who — well, I don’t know what her deal is yet, any more than I know why Casey wears Cliff Steele’s old jacket while Cliff himself seems to be trapped in a universe inside a gyro (that you can get a glimpse of if you buy the cover pictured at the top of this review, which literally peels back). And while we’re on the subject of things that can’t, as yet, be explained,  Way is re-introducing readers to the team’s ostensible leader, once affectionately known as “The Chief,” through a series of one-page vignettes called “What’s Going On With Niles Caluder?” that answer that question before raising the inevitable next one of “okay, why?”and I. Am. So. Digging. That.

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Derington, for his part, is being tasked with having to figure out which of the obviously many styles he can draw in that best brings Way’s absurdist sensibility to life, and so far he’s handling the task with flying colors. His rendered worlds range from the blase to the hyper-kinetic to the quite-likely-dystopian, but labeling them sort of takes the fun out of everything, and if there’s one thing that Doom Patrol has always been — even at its darkest, most confusing, or most terrifying — it’s fun. Derington, like Way, gets that. And we feel it in every last goddamn panel.

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There’s a definite synergy, then, going on here between artist and writer here that can’t be faked, and can only take us in new and interesting directions — even if they can’t really be adequately described (at least by someone of my limited skills). There’s dangerous imagining happening in the gloriously haphazard pages of Doom Patrol #1, and that can only mean two things : I have no idea where we’re going, and I’m desperately eager to take the trip.

 

 

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I’ll be blunt — given what a mess otherwise-celebrated writer Gene Luen Yang made of things during his run on the “main” Superman title recently, I was initially in the “think I’ll pass on that” camp when I heard that his next project for DC would involve chronicling the exploits of the Man of Steel’s new Chinese counterpart/knock-off. The idea of a teenager given super-powers in a clandestine government-funded experiment sounded kind of played-out, as well, and the more I heard about it, the more I thought the book sounded like a loser.

But then a few preview pages began to leak online, and I had to admit that Viktor Bogdanovic’s art looked pretty good. The small sampling of the script we were able to glean from said pages read reasonably well. And hey, who knows? Maybe heavy-handed editorial dictates — always a strong possibility whenever supposedly-“reformed” serial sexual harasser/assaulter Eddie Berganza is in charge of a comic — were more to blame for the woeful direction of Yang’s tenure on Superman than anything the writer himself did or didn’t do. The possibility therefore existed that, given a bit more “free reign” with a character of his own semi-creation, America’s newly-appointed Ambassador for Youth Literature (not sure what that job exactly entails, but it certainly sounds impressive) might just come up with something at least kinda good.

Besides, who do I think I’m fooling here, anyway? I’ve given every other DC “Rebirth” debut issue a shot (frequently to my regret),  so what was the harm in gambling another three bucks on New Super-Man #1?

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Granted, one could argue as to whether or not the introduction of a Shanghai-based Superman is any way necessary, given that DC already has a little-used Chinese super-team called The Ten that they seem to have no real clue what to do with, but who are we kidding? Giving that bunch of also-rans a monthly series would amount to nothing so much as a countdown to cancellation from the outset, so it makes a lot more sense, at least from a business standpoint, to foist upon the world’s most populous nation its very own Last Son of Krypton — even if he’s, ya know, every bit the Earthling that you and I are. And if issue one is any indication, it’s that very humanity that will — or at least could — prove to make 17-year-old Kenan Kong a character worth following for the foreseeable future.

He initially comes off as something of an arrogant ass, to be sure — maybe even a bully. But it’s an instinctive act of bravery in service of a schoolmate that he typically picks on (a kid whose family he has a bit of a history with, as we come to learn) that first brings him to the attention of aggressive “new media” journalist Laney Lan (even in China all the women in Superman’s — sorry, Super-Man’s — life get the “LL” treatment) and , later, to a top-secret experimental research division of the Chinese government. As you probably gleaned from the opening paragraph, these are the folks that bestow upon him the “gift” of his new powers, but what he does with them — or perhaps what his would-be “masters” force him to do with them — well, that remains an open question. We find out pretty quickly that he’s not the first “guinea pig” they’ve tried this on, but he is the first to make it out of their lab alive — unless you count the Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman that he meets in the book’s actually-pretty-kick-ass cliffhanger. Yeah, I’d say things might just have the potential to get a little interesting here.

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Whether we’re talking watches, sunglasses, suits, or stereos, the cheaply-made imitation of popular and/or prestigious Western products has inextricably woven itself into Chinese economic life at this point, so it’s no surprise that even the fictitious representatives of the “powers that be” we’re briefly introduced to in this comic would look westward for “inspiration” in the creation of their own super-heroes. American cultural exports are a big business, as everyone knows, but something almost always gets lost in translation in foreign markets, and for those who prefer something with a bit more of a “close to home” feel, the gap between exported image and importing customer base has been closed by any number of “Chinese Madonnas,” “Chinese Michael Jacksons,” and “Chinese Whitney Houstons” over the years. Why should Superman escape the grip of cultural appropriation when Pamela Anderson can’t?

Okay, fair enough, Clark Kent was raised by two loving parents who instilled him with values so unshakable that his status as the last survivor of a doomed planet with literally no one else he can actually relate to only seems to trouble him on the rarest of occasions, while Kenan Kong was raised by a cold and emotionally distant single father who seems constitutionally incapable of showing his son anything even remotely resembling concern, much less actual affection, but for us hopefully-lucky (it remains to be seen) readers, that just means that he might have a more difficult — and consequently interesting — time of it when it comes to adapting to his new status as National Hero Who Can Do Just About Anything (NHWCJ — nah, an acronym just doesn’t work). So far, at least, all evidence seems to be pointing in the direction of a bumpy and memorable ride.

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Bogdanovic’s art, it bears repeating, is really nice here and captures enough of the vitality and optimism of Chinese youth culture to make me think he’s actually visited the place (which, for all I know, he may have), and Hi-Fi’s bright and energetic color palette adds a welcome exclamation point to the book’s visuals. Throw in some cool costume designs and dynamic (if brief) fight sequences and you have a book with sufficient artistic “chops” to match Yang’s rapid-fire pacing, authentic dialogue, and involving characterization. Add all this together with the fact that the Asian and Asian-American fan bases are woefully under-represented in the comics medium (something you’d think Jim Lee would have done something about earlier in his tenure as co-publisher at DC) and I feel perfectly comfortable in calling it : New Super-Man is going to be the surprise hit of the whole “Rebirth” initiative.

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The comics and animation worlds are reeling today with the announcement of the loss of Darwyn Cooke. At only 54 years of age, it’s a good-bye far too soon, and represents something of a “double-whammy” coming just a day after news of his fight with a very aggressive form of cancer had gone public. In a world where the term “visionary talent” is criminally overused, Cooke was exactly that, and reading through the many tributes to the man posted on social media by various comics creators, it’s uncanny how much they resemble the tone and substance of what many musicians had to say in the wake of Prince’s still-shocking passing a couple of weeks ago, essentially : he was the best of us.

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Cooke’s first foray into the world of comics was a brief one, with his artist’s “by-line” adorning a short story in DC’s New Talent Showcase #19 in 1985. With a young family to feed, he couldn’t pursue his dreams on the printed page at that time, and worked as a graphic designer and art director in his native Canada for a number of years before giving comics another try in the early 1990s, finding no takers, and then being hired on by Bruce Timm as a storyboard artist on Superman : The Animated Series and Batman : The Animated Series before eventually working his way up to the position of lead animator on Batman Beyond in 1999.He also found time during this period to direct a number of episodes of Sony Animation’s Men In Black cartoon series.

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Still, he never gave up on his passion for comic books, and in 2000 DC finally “green-lit” a project he had submitted years earlier, the original graphic novel Batman:Ego . From there, the rest is history.

A few assignments at Marvel followed — most notably on X-Force and Spider-Man’s Tangled Web — but his revival of Catwoman beginning in 2001 with writer Ed Brubaker pushed him into the stratosphere of “top comics talents,” and his six-part 2004 mini-series DC : The New Frontier elevated his status to that of “living legend,” reminding us all of just why we love this medium so much along the way.

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After that, every project Cooke was involved with was a genuine event. Batman/The Spirit showed that he was the best Spirit artist since Eisner himself, Before Watchmen:Minutemen (a project he had initially passed on but later decided to accept knowing that DC would be going ahead with it anyway with or without him) proved to be the only series in that unholy mess of an initiative worth following, and his graphic adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels for IDW were a genuine feast for the eyes and a triumph of modern noir. His last comics work was the supernatural mystery series The Twilight Children for DC’s creator-owned Vertigo imprint, a collaboration with writer Gilbert Hernandez that allowed Cooke to infuse his sleek, “deco”-esque style with a distinctly Latin flair.

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And damn, I mean — it was all brilliant, wasn’t it? Sure, once could see dashes of Kirby, Toth, Rude, Timm and others in his work at times, but whatever he came up with was always his own. Nobody else “drew like Darwyn Cooke” — although in their private moments many a comic book freelancer certainly wished they could — and I don’t think anybody else ever will. A one-of-a-kind, revolutionary talent who was also, by all accounts, one heck of a fine human being, as well. This loss hurts — a lot.

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But Cooke’s work? That’ll live forever. And while plenty has been, and is being, said about his art, his skills as a writer deserve some mention, as well. May I present to you, then, my favorite Cooke-scripted sequence, from DC:The New Frontier, which shows without question that he was the first and only creator to really understand the character of Johnny Cloud, from The Losers, since a fella named Kirby worked on him in the early 1970s :

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Cooke’s work honored the past while looking firmly towards the future, and if somebody ever asks you “why do you like comic books, anyway?,” I can’t think of a better way to answer them than to show them a few pages from one of his books. Trust me, they’ll go from questioners to converts pronto.

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Darwyn and his wife, Marsha, ask any interested fans, by way of memorials, to give to either the Hero Initiative, at http://www.heroinitiative.org/ , or to the Canadian Cancer Society, at http://convio.cancer.ca/site/TR?px=6843246&fr_id=20868&pg=personal .

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Rest in peace, good sir. Your friends and colleagues are absolutely right — you were the very best of us.

 

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I could start this with a cheesy pun, I suppose, and say that when I  heard that DC Comics was planning on bringing back Swamp Thing yet again — this time in a six-part mini-series written by the character’s co-creator, Len Wein, and illustrated by Kelley Jones, who probably does the closest stylistic approximation of anyone out there to the work of Swampy’s other co-creator, Bernie Wrightson — that it sounded to me like the big green muck monster was “going back to his roots,” but I dunno — is it still a pun if it’s absolutely true?

When it was first announced, however many years back now (about five, I think),  that the one-time Vertigo “supernatural characters” would be folded back into the “proper” DC Universe as part of the “New 52” initiative, I honestly thought that Swamp Thing was the only one who could potentially benefit from such a move, especially given that Scott Snyder was going to be writing the then-new book, but let’s be honest — the results have been far less than impressive on the whole, with Snyder and his successor, Charles Soule, both doing their level best to immerse the character ever-more-heavily into a shallow contemporary version of the “Parliament” mythology established back in the 1980s by Alan Moore and modified, with ever-diminishing results, by just about every writer who took a crack at the book (in any number of newly-numbered “volumes”) since. I’ve read ’em all, of course, but about the only time I think they came close to getting it right in terms of moving the character forward (by moving him back, but I’m getting ahead of myself) was during  Nancy A. Collins’ criminally-overlooked run on the Vertigo version of the series back in the early ’90s. Her approach was very much a “fundamentalist” one, if you will, essentially choosing to simply ignore the already-convoluted-by-that-time continuity that had been piled on top of her charge and to go back to just telling good old comic book horror stories with a decidedly “Southern Gothic” flair, and ya know what? It worked. But they could just never leave well enough alone, and one failed re-launch after another has left Swamp Thing well and truly bogged down at this point.

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Enter Wein, Jones, and colorist Michelle Madsen (with a nod to variant cover artist Yanick Paquette), who have again chosen to blow off, rather than blow up, what’s come before, and have given us an all-new Swamp Thing #1 that, to be perfectly blunt, feels anything but. And wouldn’t you just know it? I’m not complaining in the least. From page one on, this comic feels like stepping back to about 1976 or so, but it’s not a pale imitation or lackluster approximation of the real thing (I’m looking at you, The Force Awakens), it absolutely is the real thing — and that, my friends, makes all the difference.

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Wein’s prose it still as deliriously purple as ever, with the “show, don’t tell” school of modern comics storytelling  nowhere to be found in these parts, and while that may be frustrating for some given that Jones’ art is more than capable enough to do most of the “heavy lifting,” this is a book that knows what it wants to do from the outset and proceeds accordingly — and as your options as a reader are as immediately apparent as they are simple : go with the “old-school” flow, or put the book down. I chose the former, of course, and so far it’s proven to be a very wise decision.

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The story’s nothing complicated, of course, nor should it be : Swampy, his supporting cast completely absent, is hanging out in the bayou doing nothing more than contemplating his newly-stripped-down existence, when The Phantom Stranger shows up, warns him of some typically-ambiguous bad shit about to go down, and then we get familiarized-by-force with the goings-on at a local college where an unorthodox (to say the least) professor has decided to take it upon himself to resurrect the dead — but first he’s gotta kill one of his student “volunteers” to do it, as you’d no doubt expect. And while some among you may feel that the inclusion of a zombie in this story is indeed some sort of nod to modern horror tropes, I assure you that this typically- tragic villain would in no way be out of place in a 1970s horror comic, be it CreepyEerieTomb Of Dracula or, of course, Swamp Thing, Plus, this particular zombie seems to owe more to Herbert West, Reanimator than to The Walking Dead — thank goodness.

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Look, it’s no secret which way things are going in terms of the overall trajectory here — we’re headed for an extended confrontation between two slow, shambling, supernatural foes, with a bit of dime-store occultism and “secret college cult” shit thrown into the mix for good measure. A guest appearance or two from the likes of Deadman and/or The Spectre is certainly not out of the question. And Jones will have plenty of gooey and gory scenes to sink his still-considerably-sharp artistic teeth into. He and Wein previously teamed up, with unspectacular results, for the two-part Convergence Swamp Thing mini-series early last year, but there they were hamstrung by heavy editorial constraints related to the “one alternate reality vs. another” over-arching theme of the predictably-rancid crossover “event” of which it was a part Here, there’s a definite feeling that they’re just being allowed to do their own thing — and that “thing” hasn’t really changed much in 40 years.

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Look, I won’t kid you — there may not be a ton on offer in this first issue (entitled, awesomely, “The Dead Don’t Sleep!”) beyond pure nostalgia — and certainly as the basis for a new ongoing series, this “throwback” approach would probably get pretty old pretty fast to modern readers, but never fear — Alec Holland will be getting back to his gig as “Avatar of the Green” or whatever in due course, I’m sure. And us old dinosaurs will probably take a pass on it at that point and let you kids have your fun. I hope the next inevitable re-launch of this character will be good, sure — but given the track record of the Jim Lee/DanDiDio regime at DC, I wouldn’t bet on it.

For the next six months, though, there’s absolutely no harm in letting how things used to be play-act at being how they are again (however temporarily). Swamp Thing #1 was a blast, and I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest.

 

 

Okay, so normally I pretty much avoid “top 10” lists because I’m sure they’ll make me cringe later — and when it comes to movies there’s probably a few (at least) deserving entries that would flat-out slip my increasingly calcified and deteriorating mind — but ya know, as far as comics go, this year I think I can do it. One caveat, though : since we’re big believers in monthly (or less-than-monthly, as the case may be) “singles” around these parts, the following list is specifically for comic book series, be they of the ongoing or limited-duration variety,  and therefore you will find no graphic novels, digital comics, or anything of the like here, although I should stress that there were any number of absolutely excellent comics that came out last year in those formats — I just wanted my list to reflect my preference for “floppy” books that are serialized in the good, old-fashioned, printed single-issue format. So without any further ado —

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10. Southern Bastards (Jason Aaron/Jason Latour – Image)

The pacing of this series is certainly unique, with the Jasons (Aaron and Latour) going from extended stage-setting in the first arc to a multi-part “origin” of the series’ chief villain in the second to side-steps focusing on supporting characters in the third, but they definitely seem to be building up to something big and memorable in an unconventional, but certainly appealing, way.

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9. The Twilight Children (Gilbert Hernandez/Darwyn Cooke – DC/Vertigo)

Classic Hernandez “location-centric” storytelling peppered with broadly-drawn, memorable characters orbiting around a truly fascinating mystery/supernatural thriller. Cooke’s illustration is, of course, superb.

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8. Tet (Paul Tucker/Paul Allor – IDW/Comics Experience)

The second series produced under the auspices of Comics Experience’s publishing partnership with IDW, Paul Tucker and Paul Allor’s four-parter is the most harrowing and effective meditation on the human cost of war to appear on the comics page in literally a couple of decades. Now available in trade, go out and grab it immediately.

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7. Deadly Class (Rick Rememder/Wes Craig – Image)

Things seem to be heading into Battle Royale territory here, with the exploits of Marcus and his increasingly-fractured circle of former “friends” taking a number of gut-wrenching twists and turns over the course of 2015. Wes Craig’s art gets stronger and more confident with each issue.

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6. Annihilator (Grant Morrison/Frazer Irving – Legendary)

Morrison’s Philip K. Dick-esque mind-fuck script is brought to grand, cosmic life by Irving’s absolutely spectacular art to create a story of personal tragedy played out on a universe-shaking scale. Now out in trade and definitely worth a purchase.

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5. Big Man Plans (Eric Powell/Tim Wiesch – Image)

The most gleefully anti-social and misanthropic book of 2015, this Powell/Wiesch four-part series embraces the most extreme aspects of the grindhouse without remorse or even apology. A visceral wallop to the face that leaves you reeling — and loving every minute of it. The trade’s available now, so do yourself a favor.

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4. Effigy (Tim Seeley/Marley Zarcone – DC/Vertigo)

Seven amazing issues of “reality”TV/celebrity “culture” deconstruction wrapped around a trans-dimensional mystery story that’s been on a “hiatus” since September that I’m increasingly worried may be permanent. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, because Seeley and Zarcone have barely begun to scratch the surface here.

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3. Crossed + One Hundred (Alan Moore/Simon Spurrier/Gabriel Andrade/Fernando Heinz/Rafa Ortiz – Avatar Press)

Moore and Andrade’s initial six-issue story arc was absolutely epic and arguably the best “zombie comic” of all time, and while it took a little while for Simon Spurrier to find his footing as The Bearded One’s successor, he seems to have finally discovered his own voice while remaining true to his predecessor’s “blueprint” of strong “world building” littered with knowing winks in the direction of various genre fiction classics.

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2. Hip Hop Family Tree (Ed Piskor – Fantagraphics Books)

Piskor has “re-purposed” his oversized hardcover cultural history as a monthly series on cheap paper with intentionally-shoddy production values and the end result is a revelation. Yeah, the gigantic volumes are great, but dammit, this is how the series should have been presented all along. A wealth of new material, including “director’s commentary” pages, definitely helps, as well. Worth the “double dip,” without question.

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1.  Providence (Alan Moore/Jacen Burrows – Avatar Press)

No surprise at all for regular readers of my shit, the latest and greatest entry in the Moore/Burrows “Lovecraft Cycle,” now at its halfway point, is shaping up to be the most literate, multi-layered, immersive comics reading experience of the decade, as well as one of the best pure horror comics, well, ever. I’ve written somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 words on the series already, and it’s nowhere near enough, so expect plenty more single-issue reviews for the now-apparently-bimonthly series as 2016 rolls along. If I only had five bucks to my name and the latest issue was coming out, I’d buy Providence and go hungry — it’s just. That. Fucking. Good.

A few final points — while Image certainly dominated the list this year, their two most popular and acclaimed titles, Saga and Sex Criminals, are nowhere to be found here. I felt that both had “off years” and that their currently-running story arcs are definitely not up to previous standards. Saga will most likely rebound, but Sex Criminals is just getting swallowed further and further down into its own self-created rabbit hole and may very well have, pun absolutely intended, shot its wad by this point.

And while we’re on the subject of list domination, I’d be surprised if Image pulls a “repeat” in 2016, to be honest. Not because their line is getting worse, mind you, but because Vertigo is just getting that much better. They came on strong at the tail end of 2015 with their re-launch, but a one-or two-issue sample size just isn’t enough to earn most of these superb new series, like Slash & BurnRed ThornThe Sheriff Of BabylonUnfollowLast Gang In Town, or the latest iteration of Lucifer spots in this year’s top 10. Next year, however, is another matter entirely, and unless these books go to pot, I fully expect Veritgo to be the publisher to beat in 2016.

So — that’s our (alright, my) 2015 list. I’m a little bummed that female creators aren’t better-represented herein, to be sure (Marley Zarcone’s the only one), but hopefully the increased presence of women in the freelancer ranks will continue apace and my list next year — assuming I do one — will be far more gender-balanced. Kelly Sue DeConnick is certainly blazing a heck of a trail with Bitch Planet, and Gail Simone is in top creative form so far on Clean Room, but both of those books fell just outside my rankings this time around. Still, I’m as unpleasantly surprised as anyone that the comics industry is still as depressingly male-dominated as it is.

As far as more pleasant  surprises go, I never thought I’d be putting together a Top 10 list in 2015 that featured Alan Moore twice. If I was doing this in 30 years ago, sure, but apparently Moore is every bit the creative dynamo at age 63 as he was at 33, and so if I had to single out one “creator of the year,” he’d be it. In fact, he’d earn the nod by a country mile. I only wish that more people were actually, ya know, buying his stuff. Providence is selling great for an Avatar book, but it’s still routinely bested on the Diamond charts by even the most tepid and uninspired “Big Two” fare, so if there’s one thing we know about comics heading into 2016, it’s that the overwhelming majority of stuff coming out will still, sorry to say it, suck.

Okay, that’s it for this time around — here’s to happy reading in the year ahead!

 

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.