The Doomino Effect for the week of Nov 18, 2009

It’s taken me five issues to confirm my suspicion that The Flash just isn’t for me.

It’s easy enough to read “The Flash: Rebirth” and think that maybe The Flash is just a downright stupid character based on utter ridiculousness, but that doesn’t take into consideration the longevity of the character or the fact that there are people out there who buy the books. That’s why I have to believe that there are people out there who think this stuff isn’t moronic, and that I just don’t get it like how my dad didn’t get my fascination with C&C Music Factory in 1990.

I feel like Geoff Johns is trying so hard to make this book drip with sugary sentimentality that he’s gone overboard and created some kind of comic book diabetes, in which any more sweetness will send me into fits. I get that Barry Allen is supposed to be like the nicest person ever. I really do get that. And I also have no problem with good guys who are also goody-two-shoes upstanding citizens. But I just feel like that’s all there is to Barry Allen 2009 — flashbacks to just what a swell dude he is. It’s as if his babysitting business hasn’t taken off like it should have, and DC really needs everyone to understand just how great he is as a human being.

I’m conscious of my sour mood toward comics in general lately, and trying to figure out if my displeasure with this series is because of the series or if it’s just a reflection of overall grumpiness. But there are a few books out there I’m genuinely enjoying, so I’m inclined to think it’s not me. Maybe it’s funnyman Ethan Van Sciver’s art. It’s kind of intense on a superficial level — lots of muscles and cross-hatching — but it just seems so stiff and lifeless. If anything were a visual metaphor for an overly sentimental and melodramatic script about a guy I just can’t bring myself to care about, this would be it.

But moments like the “Girl power” splash page and the “Let’s stop in the middle of battle and redesign our costumes!” seem strangely rooted in the worst of the 1990s for a character whose existence was limited to the ’80s and before. I don’t like groaning in the middle of a fight, but good grief — how can you look at this cast of characters, post-costume redesign, and not groan? I just don’t get it.

Speaking of not getting it, that leads me to Amazing Spider-Man #612, the opening chapter to The Gauntlet. I decided to give this series a chance this week and try something new. And speaking of not getting it, this will end as a one-issue experiment.

It’s pretty hard to mix real-life events into a comic story and not make it come off forced or, as is the case here, really dumb. Being the commie pinko that I am, I am quite sympathetic to the metaphor at play when an actual villain is the beneficiary of populist anger at the gentry. I mean look at what’s driving this story — a super villain is mad that he lost his retirement fund, so he’s going to take it out on the wealthy. And Spider-Man is seen as the bad guy because he enters the scene with his fists flying. As a reader, privileged with the benefits of omniscience, I am left thinking “Spider-Man was kind of a douche there.”

And when the point is that a villain has successfully corralled the furious masses into thinking he is a hero, do you really want to make an actual villain out of the would-be hero? Isn’t the gimmick of Spider-Man that everyone thinks he’s the bad guy when he’s really not?

So as much as I love someone making fun of the Glenn Beck / Teabagger crowd, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit like I do when watching Saturday Night Live attempt political satire. You can tell that they think they’re really onto something, but you end up just kind of feeling embarrassed for them.

My postscript to this is that I think I would’ve been prepared to take this story a lot more seriously had it not looked like it was drawn with a crayon. I understand from the letters that Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta worked on something together before that was quite well-received, and I am not afraid to embrace expressive, non-traditional art styles, but there were times where I was honestly surprised an editor at Marvel didn’t step in and say “Okay, enough.”

Speaking of having enough and wishing that someone with authority would step in and put an end to it, that leads me to Adventure Comics #4. No lie, I opened this book, saw the splash page of Superboy Goddamn Prime reading Adventure Comics #4 with a Batman R.I.P. poster, as he says “Oh, great,” and I thought to myself “Finally, I can relate to Superboy Prime.” Then I closed the book and moved it down in my stack.

Eventually, I picked it back up. On page 2, Superboy Prime goes on about how people hate him, and wondering why he couldn’t be left out. I agreed completely. The problem is, breaking the fourth wall and having Superboy Prime acknowledge how nobody wants to read about him doesn’t make that any less true. If anything, it makes DC look stupider because they can’t plead ignorance.

The idea of Earth Prime is stupid enough as it is, but why they keep on dragging real DC Comics into this mess is beyond me. It’s now so stupid that The Legion of Super-Heroes is tainted with Prime stupidity, as they want to dig through the ruins of Old San Diego to find copies of Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. Seriously! This seems like a lot of work, considering the Legion can travel through time and the multiverse — they should just go back to 2009 and read it as it comes out. But think about how low these characters have sunk when BRAINIAC is saying they should’ve read a comic book written by Geoff Johns and George Perez to figure out how to save Sun Boy and Element Lad.

I mean really, think about it. Can you think of decisions made by a comic writer that are as downright stupid as this? The worst part is that Geoff Johns seems to like getting himself into this mess.

I think my favorite part is when Zombie Alexander Luthor blasts Superboy Prime with his Black Lantern ring, which burns off Superboy’s clothes to reveal THE GIANT CLUNKY ANTI-MONITOR SUPERBOY PRIME SUIT (with cape)! The issue ends promising that Superboy Prime dies next issue. I hope so, but I’ll have to take their word for it.

Speaking of being excited about what happens next issue, that leads me to Batman Unseen #4, the penultimate issue in this fan-freaking-tastic miniseries.

A big part of why I got off my rear and did reviews again was because I wanted the record to show how much I’ve loved this series, and I didn’t want to keep dragging my feet and have the whole thing pass me by before ever declaring this love.

Doug Moench and Kelley Jones have put together this brilliant sci-fi / horror / detective tale of Batman hunting an Invisible Man. It’s quirky, sometimes campy, but beautiful and constantly awesome. It’s got a fun quality, almost Silver Age in tone, but without ever devolving to hokey. I really wish detective arcs like this came standard in the ongoing Batman books, but at least this one has a good excuse, being that it stars the Bruce Wayne Batman.

I think what I enjoy so much about it is the characterization of Batman. He’s frustrated and almost grumpy, because he’s realizing his powers of intimidation are not as strong as they used to be. He’s also kind of hard on himself for continuously being bested by the Invisible Man and for failing to crack the case any quicker. It’s a cranky, mysterious take on the character that I really like, because it’s such a contrast to how Batman had almost become chatty and sociable in recent years. And Jones’ art is just so perfectly suited to a weird story like this.

And speaking of artists well suited to the project, that leads me to Spider-Woman #3. I became a big fan of Alex Maleev’s art back in the Daredevil days, and reading a book that pairs him with Brian Michael Bendis is a geeky joy. I’m very much enjoying this series so far, but I do have a thought on the art:

Maybe it’s in my head, or maybe it’s a growing sophistication in terms of how this is done, but I’m becoming increasingly aware of Maleev’s reliance on Photoshop to construct what seem to be more like photo illustrations than drawings.

As a reader, I enjoy that lifelike sense of being there. As a professional artist who uses things like pens and pencils, I feel a little less useful as a human.