Monday, December 29, 2008

The Weekly Chain Reaction: December 24, 2008

One of the advantages of living in the United States is that I get to go to the comics store and buy new comics there every week. So, for the duration, here's a new capsule review column, for your perusal.

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Batman #683, by Grant Morrison, Lee Garbett, et al. Kick me silly, it's the Kurt Vonnegut Batman! "[W]hat I am doing," Morrison said on his "Batman RIP" story back in April, "is a fate worse than death." In an eponymous 1982 speech, Vonnegut pondered "Fates Worse Than Death," and the only thing he came up with was crucifixion. And what do we get now, in this comic here? Crucified Batman. Told you so. Well, kind of. Batman looks kinda crucified, but it's more of a Kirbytech brain-drain kind of thing: one of those stories where the hero has to relive his greatest tragedies and comes up all the stronger for it. Morrison does the routine reasonably well, but, hey. It's still a routine, right?

(DC Comics, 24 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: C+

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Captain America: Theater of War: America First! #1, by Howard Chaykin, et al. Howard Chaykin writing and drawing the 1950s Commie-Smasher Captain America? Sign me up. Good news: The artwork is fantastic. Bad news: The story is trying too hard. "How many political prisoners do we have to pull from the Gulag, dress as yankees, and kill in the crossfire before I'm satisfied?" Gah. And why is McCarthy called McMurphy? Does he still have fans, or what? The 1950s reprints are fun, though. In the first one, the Red Skull wears a cape. In the second one, Chinese characters are all colored yellow, and it ends with Captain America being heroic by not telling a guy that his twin brother just jumped off a roof, face forward. Unfortunately, Marvel neglected to include credits for the reprints, although one seems to have been drawn by John Romita.

(Marvel Comics, 44 pages, plus 12 pages of reprints, $ 4.99)

Grade: C

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Daredevil #114, by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, et al. Here's a question: If Matt Murdock doesn't want anyone to think that he's Daredevil, why the heck are his glasses tainted red? Isn't that, you know, counterproductive? Is it his way of giving them the middle finger? "I deeply resent your insinuations that I am secretly a vigilante clad in red. To let you partake in the depth of my resentment, I shall wear glasses which are tainted red." I don't get it. Anyway, hats off to Mr. Brubaker and friends for giving us the twenty-eighth Frank-Miller-style Daredevil vs. Ninjas story and still making it seem fresh and entertaining somehow.

(Marvel Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: B

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Thor #12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Olivier Coipel, et al. The Asgardian Goddess of Hell lives in Las Vegas, apparently. I've never been to Las Vegas, so I don't know what to say about that. Then again, I've never been to Detroit, either, and that would have been my first choice. Like in this short story called "The Disappeared," by Charles Baxter, where this guy from Sweden comes to Detroit and it smells like something's burning and then ... no, Thor. (If you're in Detroit: Sorry! Just kidding!) This issue has "set-up" written over it so large that it makes me want to make little felt patches for the characters, just to stop the loud clicking noise as Mr. Straczynski moves them on the board. Oh, and we get Emo Loki, his fingernails painted green and everything. Très extravagant.

(Marvel Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: C+

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The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2 of 6, by Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá, et al. Speaking of Emo. (Har har har.) Let's call it Pinteresque: At a diner, two guys in business suits wearing big-honking, primarily colored funny-animal masks are maniacally fond of the pie. In a cheap hotel room, a six-year-old boy in an old-fashioned, blood-stained sunday suit takes sips from a glass of whiskey, maniacally staring at a monkey dressed up as Marilyn Monroe who, slowly and hypnotically, is shaking his (her?) hips to the tune of "Happy Birthday, Mr. President." This is a superhero comic.

(Dark Horse Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: A

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RAB said...

What an absolutely wonderful Vonnegut link. When you said this was "the Kurt Vonnegut Batman" my first thought was you meant to compare Bruce Wayne's involuntary review of his life experiences with that of Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five. Which would be interesting to discuss, so it's too bad that turned out not to be what you were saying.

Actually, this climactic two-parter reminded me quite a lot of The Prisoner -- a series Morrison has been known to reference before -- for example the episode "A, B, & C" in which the warders of the Village make the Prisoner dream about alternate versions of the same party to discover his hidden motives. Ah, but the Prisoner is onto them, and takes control of the dream scenario to incriminate his captors instead. In fact the whole of R.I.P. seems VERY Prisoner-like, don't you think? The hidden mastermind is trying to break our hero's psyche by every method of manipulation and torment he can devise, but our hero ultimately prevails and turns the tables on his tormentor...oh, and a lot of people say the last installment didn't make any sense...

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...

Arguably, what Vonnegut did in SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, to an extent, was simply to substitute "time jumps" for flashbacks, so, yeah, there are some definite similarities there - although they work towards two completely different meanings, of course.

Billy Pilgrim bounces through time to escape a present that's beyond his power to change. For Morrison's Batman in the new two-parter, it seems to be more of a quest to rebuilt and reaffirm his personality after it had been dismantled and deconstructed.

And for both, the touchstones that come up are mostly the big tragedies in their lives, for that matter.

I've never seen THE PRISONER, unfortunately, but I think I'll have to sooner or later - it's everywhere, after all.

Gloria said...

There was something frightening in "Captain America: Theater of War: America First! #1" ... I mean (SPOILER), saying that senator "McMurphy" was actually a Communist fifth columnist?!!??! Pardon me, it is like saying that Hitler, Goeriang and Goebbels were actually jews, or the Salem witchhunters were actually a satanic sect.

Some cool scenes, tho', like Cap jumping to a plane... But I'd rather choose the original "frozen" Cap.

As for DD's red glasses, well, he can't perceive colours, so my bet is that Foggy bought them for him (one of the patented "nelson Practical Jokes)