Speaking of Batman #686, this was the first of the two-part “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader” story by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert. I can’t quite put my finger on why I loved this, but I loved it.
I would like to make quite clear that I don’t really know what’s going on. In lesser hands, I would assume this to be nothing more than just a two-issue way to make a bunch of inside Batman jokes, like naming a bridge after Jim Aparo and drawing the Joker like he appeared in the animated series. But these are Neil Gaiman’s greater hands, for one thing, and the narrating dialogue lets us know that the strangeness of it is a mystery that will be solved. It was an unnecessary, but appreciated touch, although it’s something that the underwhelmed Chris at the ISB seems to think is a problem.
There’s just something so delightful about the little skits that unfold, like we’re watching a doomed variety show or something. I loved the introduction of the villains by way of the hapless and hopeless alleyway valet, from Catwoman to Two Face to the Joker. I mentioned before the apprehension about this just being a bunch of Batman in-jokes, but it seemed more like an eerie celebration of 70 years with the combinations of characters, disguises and Matchbox-esque cars. Again, in lesser hands, it could have been quite lame. As it was, there was a fantastic uncomfortableness about it.
I think some of that has to be attributed to the ups and downs of the tone. The aforementioned car parking scenes were fantastic, as were the overheard conversations (Harley: “I can’t believe he’s dead, puddin’.” Joker: “Well, I can’t believe that he didn’t die the first time he dressed up as a giant bat and jumped off the roof.”). It reminded me a lot of the strange moments that can result at a real funeral, when people do their best to deal with a situation in which they have no idea how everyone is coping, and so you get all kinds of incongruous attempts at conversations.
Then the issue segues into its frame story role, allowing guests to tell their memories of the Batman and how he died. Fitting with what we’ve seen already — the dead walking, the shapeshifting — the testimonials are out of place and out of time, not to mention they contradict each other. Selina Kyle, the first to speak, tells how she met Batman “a couple of years before Pearl Harbor.” As she tells her story, the Batman who’s observing remarks that he’s seeing it all as she describes it, but it never happened. He finally realizes that it was an adaptation of Robin Hood’s death with his life and characters. The other narrator confuses matters by saying “It was your death. Or at least, it was Batman’s.” That was an okay story.
The next one, though, from Alfred, was totally awesome. The basic premise is that Bruce Wayne was essentially just a deranged rich kid who wanted to fight evil, so all the crazy villains he fought were nothing more than Alfred and his friends acting in order to let Bruce think he was avenging his parents and doing good. I loved the idea of this loyal butler trying to figure out what he could do to help his nutcase master, who had taken to dressing as a bat and buying a bunch of expensive gadgets with no practical way of actually putting it to use. This has to be my favorite alternate take on Batman EVER.
So basically, it ends after Alfred’s story with Bruce’s companion telling him to figure out what’s going on. I have no idea what’s going on and I don’t really care to guess. I have a decent amount of faith that I’ll be satisfied with the conclusion. I’m very happy that it’s not just a retread of “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow,” though I like the complementary Silver Age nods.
Speaking of nod, if you turn a capital N sideways, it looks like a Z, and that would give you Zod, which leads me to Action Comics #874 (it would’ve been way too easy to say “Speaking of Superman…”). General Zod and the Gang are not only out of the Phantom Zone, but they’re full-on rockstars on New Krypton. It’s more of the same stuff with these people, where we want to consider them evil, but then they make the case for why what they’re doing is reasonable. Blah blah blah. But the people of New Krypton say they’d like Superman to live with them, so long as he renounces Earth. Superman thinks that nasty Zod is up to something!
Meanwhile, back in the mysterious bunker 7734, we see that Lex Luthor has apparently stolen Brainiac’s ship from New Krypton. I’m not sure how he did that, given he’s a prisoner and that ship is big, but we already knew that he had Brainiac’s ship from last week’s Adventure #0 Origins and Omens story. Meanwhile, Jimmy Olsen and the sports guy have a really dumb conversation about the way you spell words by flipping a calculator upside down. Obviously 7734 is “hell.” Apparently James Robinson has never actually performed this juvenile feat, however, because he keeps mistaking “9” for the upside-down “b.” Problem is, calculators put the little horizontal tail at the bottom of the 9, so when you flip it over, it looks like an upper-case G and not a lower-case b. If you want to make a b, you use 8. If you want to spell BOOBS you type 58008.
Then Superman pulls Mon-El out of the Phantom Zone because it’s being eaten or something. Man, it’s been one issue and I really miss Geoff Johns.
The Origins and Omens story isn’t much better. It’s just a pointless little introduction of The Guardian. I shouldn’t be so hard on it — it’s not pointless, because it is indeed an “origin.” But when DC announced these Origins and Omens backup stories, I didn’t realize that the main event stories were going to be shortened, and thus weakened, in order to make room for stories that are so far pretty short and pointless. It’s like you look at some guy and say “You’re buff, but you know what would make you more deadly? A baseball bat. So here’s a bat. But we’re going to have to take away your arms now.” It’s exactly like that.
I also loved the Guardian flashback that’s drawn all Jack Kirby-esque, as if to suggest that back in the ’60s, people just looked like how Jack Kirby drew them. Anyway, looks like there’s bad news in store for The Guardian. There’s bad news in store for DC too because I think I’m dropping Action Comics after this turd.
Speaking of comics I’ll never buy again, Nightwing #153 was so bad that I refuse to ever buy another issue. It was our Book of Doom this week if you care to read more about my thoughts.
I don’t think I could be any less excited about Dick taking over as Batman. First Denny O’Neil uses two issues to point out how inadequate Dick is. Now Peter Tomasi is doing essentially the same thing in Dick’s own book.
I have an idea. Maybe you guys could make Dick Grayson seem cool. It’s as if there’s this understanding that, in order to develop a character and give him depth, you have to make him a mopey dork.
Howsabout making him an introspective badass? Is that too much to ask?
Speaking of introspective badasses, that leads me to Incognito #2. I wasn’t extremely enthusiastic about #1, but I trusted my gut and decided to stick with it. I’m glad I did. I can’t say this was a huge improvement over #1, but I do like where the story’s going. I also get a huge kick out of the pulpy names like Dick Deadly and Max Gazer. Brubaker is clearly shooting for a specific tone and he’s scoring on that front.
I’m still adjusting to my relative lack of concern for the well-being of anyone in this story, and trying to explain to myself that that’s part of the point, though I wouldn’t mind a little more of a hook to get me to care. As it is, I’m entirely dependent on the little plot twists to keep me engaged, since I think I’d be totally at peace with everyone just blowing up and then starting from scratch.
Sean Phillips’ art was splendid as usual. No floating telephones in this one.
Speaking of floating telephones, that leads me to Madman Atomic Comics #13. Oh, what’s that? No floating telephones? BUSTED. It’s almost as if I didn’t actually read it even though it came out two weeks ago.
I think this is the last comic that I’m still buying out of pure habit and loyalty. All the others were dropped long ago.
The thing is, I feel too much of a debt of appreciation and inspiration from Mr. Mike Allred to ever let myself drop this book, no matter what I keep thinking. And one of these days, I might have to poop on a Tuesday and I won’t have any comics left to read from that week. That’s when Madman #13 will be there for me.