I’m not sure about anyone else out there, but I’ve always found myself drawn to certain characters in comics and repelled by others based on nothing more than their designs. I’ve read very few Creeper comics, but can say that he’s absolutely one of my favorite characters based solely on design and aesthetics. As a kid coming up in comics fandom in the 90s, I saw a lot of darker themed characters that I did not want anything to do with. One of those characters was Venom. Back then, the large-tongued symbiote muscle man was the king of of the edgy miniseries and I was admittedly a bit nervous about his whole deal (which, as a die-hard DC fan, I only really knew about from looking at covers and reading Wizard). The great thing about being a human, though, is that we can grow past our early thoughts and evolve into new people who are ready, willing and able to read Venom comics (that’s what evolution’s all about, right?).
Much like Scott Snyder, Jason Aaron is a writer I’ve become a big fan of in the past few years. I haven’t finished his initial Thor: God Of Thunder run just yet, but I did finally check out the wild Original Sin and have now read the first run of Thor starring the Goddess of Thunder!
The first book — aptly called The Goddess Of Thunder — picks up after Original Sin, which saw Nick Fury whisper something in Thor’s ear that rendered him unworthy of picking Mjolnir. Even Odin fails at lifting the weapon of uru, so it’s even more surprising when a woman succeeds where they failed just in time to stop some ice giants lead by Malekith from destroying a Roxxon facility. Continue reading Thor Trade Post: The Goddess Of Thunder & Who Holds The Hammer?
Jason Aaron’s one of those comic writers whose career has interestingly intersected with my career as a writer about comics. When I first started at Wizard one of my buddies and an editor at the magazine was huge on his Vertigo series The Other Side. I didn’t read that one, but I did check out the Ripclaw one-shot he did as part of Top Cow’s Pilot Season not too long after that and the first few books in his Scalped series.
The first of his works that really captivated me, though was Ghost Rider. But it wasn’t until my second attempt at reading it. As I’ve written, I love the down-and-dirty, grindhouse-y tone of that book and the wild places he took it. I assumed for a while that that was pretty much his wheelhouse, but as I’ve learned recently from branching out into X-Men: Schism, Wolverine & The X-Men, Amazing X-Men, Thanos Rising, Incredible Hulk, Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine and Thor: God Of Thunder, this guy has more tricks up his sleeve than all the magicians in Vegas. Continue reading Jason Aaron Is Awesome
Thanos Rising (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Simone Bianchi
Collects Thanos Rising #1-5
I’ve been requesting a ridiculous number of trade paperbacks from the library recently. I’ll sign into the system with an idea about one book to put on hold and the next thing I know, I’ve got a dozen or so books in the hold section and am getting a few messages a week from the library telling me my stacks are in. In an effort to put my thoughts down and get these books back into the system, I’m going to do some brief reviews here and move along.
First up we have Thanos Rising, an origin story for one of Marvel’s most powerful villains (and the driving force behind the fantastic Guardians Of The Galaxy) written by Jason Aaron and drawn by Simone Bianchi. I think this is probably the first interior work by Bianchi that I’ve actually read and I think he did a stellar job bringing the intensity and detail seen on his covers to the interiors.
Of course, it also helps that Aaron wove a compelling story about the bad guy who’s in love with death. This story starts with Thanos’ birth and travels with him as he grows into the genocidal maniac we’ve all come to know and love in Marvel’s cosmic adventures. Heck, there were even times when I felt bad for a character who almost killed Captain America. This feels like a great book to pass to someone who’s seen a Marvel movie and might be interested in getting into comics because it’s very much unattached to the more complicated universe.
Silver Surfer Vol. 1: New Dawn (Marvel)
Written by Dan Slott, drawn by Mike Allred
Collects Silver Surfer #1-5
When I’m sitting on the computer trying to think of books to look up, I try to remember which runs everyone seems to love. Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s Silver Surfer popped into my head and not long after, I had it in-hand. I’ve only just started reading Slott’s excellent Amazing Spider-Man work, but Allred’s an easy sell for me because I love Madman and his work on iZombie (I reviewed volumes one, two and three and have four waiting for a read).
Silver Sufer is an Allred-illustrated book that felt more like an Allred-penned comic, which was an interesting experience. The Surfer is on a vast vacation world, hanging around with a young quirky girl who could easily be played by Zooey Deschanel and having trippy nightmares about being trapped on Earth again. There’s also an awesome appearance by SS’s Defenders teammates Dr. Strange and Hulk. The story itself wasn’t my cup of tea, but how cool is it seeing Allred draw those characters? The answer is that it’s very cool. Overall, this story didn’t really latch onto me, but I liked the art enough that I’ll probably give the second volume a look just to see where it goes.
Avengers vs. X-Men (Marvel)
Written by Jeph Loeb, Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman & Matt Fraction; drawn by Ed McGuinness, Frank Cho, John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel & Adam Kubert
Collects Avengers Vs. X-Men #0-12, Point One #1
Back in my days at Wizard I was fully up to date when it came to the big time Marvel and DC events. But, it’s been about five years since I got the axe and a whole lot of craziness has gone on since then. DC implemented a complete reboot and Marvel rolls out an event roughly every year (plus more character or team-based side events). As I’m trying to catch up and dive into some X-books, it seemed pertinent to check out Avengers Vs. X-Men.
And I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed this book. I worried going in that it might feel like Civil War which, no matter how hard any of the writers tried, always seemed very much in favor of Captain America’s side, but in this case both Cap and Cyclops have pertinent points. Better yet, Cyke gets possessed by the Phoenix Force, so you don’t have to worry about his side making sense. More impressively, though, were the little bits and pieces that hit home. The second issue does a great job of framing these events that might seem commonplace and making them seem cool and huge.
I was also impressed with how well these issues flowed considering six different writers and five artists were working on the issues. I’m not always the biggest fan of events because they can easily get bloated and plot-driven, abandoning character along the way, but that wasn’t the case here so it gets a big thumbs up from me. Oh, also, it resulted in more mutants, so that’s cool!
X-Men: Schism (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron with Kieron Gillen, drawn by Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert & Billy Tan
Collects X-Men: Schism #1-5, X-Men: Regenesis #1
I’ve gone about reading recent X-Men comics a bit backwards. I actually started off with the first volume of Bendis’ All-New X-Men, but was confused about what was going on. Then I read the first Wolverine & The X-Men by Jason Aaron and Avengers Vs. X-Men but realized I needed to go back even a bit farther. I finally figured out that all roads lead back to Schism, so I got that as well as the first Kieron Gillen volume of Uncanny X-Men.
I actually read the X-Men pretty consistently during the run up to Messiah Complex, but that’s about my experience with these characters in this medium. After MC, the X-Men scored their own island, called it Utopia and seemed to be doing alright. Then Schism went down, shook things up and a bold new direction was kicked off in its wake.
In Schism, Quentin Quire, a teen anarchist mutant from Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, kicked off some trouble for the X-Men, but the real brains behind the operation are a bunch of evil, super smart kids who take over the Hellfire Club in an effort to make money and stir things up for mutants. In the process Cyclops and Wolverine come to blows over whether the kids on Utopia should be thrust into battle or be allowed to bail. At the end of the ordeal — which involves a lot of Sentinels sold and designed by the Hellfire Club kids — Wolverine decides to restart the school while Cyclops continues to train the children to defend themselves and mutant kind.
As an event, I thought Schism was well put together and presented. Sometimes these events with a clear endpoint (split the X-teams) feel really telegraphed and weak from a storytelling perspective. In this case, though, by making this an issue with valid points on both sides, Aaron and company do what Civil War couldn’t in my mind: make me understand both sides.
I also enjoyed the Who’s Who of X-artists doing their thing on this series. I’m not always a fan of the idea of splitting up a series like this with different artists, especially ones like this that are very distinct, but in this case, I liked it BECAUSE these artists all have such distinct styles. They all came to play and the results are great superhero action.
Wolverine & the X-Men, Vol. 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Chris Bachalo with Duncan Rouleau, Matteo Scalera & Nick Bradshaw
Collects Wolverine & The X-Men #1-4
As I mentioned, I was a bit mixed up and actually read Wolverine & The X-Men after AVX which is not the best order. After his disagreement with Cyclops, Wolverine has gone off to form his own school called The Jean Grey School For Gifted Youngsters. Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Beast and a few other X-folks including a good deal of the younger mutants all came along for the ride as well.
The first volume features an attack by the new Hellfire Club (a bunch of punk kids) and the introduction of a few new members like the new Krakoa, a nerdy Brood and a boy that sure looks an awful lot like Apocalypse (he’s from Uncanny X-Force which Wolverine also starred in at that time). I also really enjoyed the art by Chris Bachalo (who drew much of the Supernovas story that I’m also a big fan of) and Nick Bradshaw who blew me away with his part in Escape From The Negative Zone (dude’s like a cartoonier Art Adams). My only complaint is that the printing on this particular book didn’t seem to do Bachalo’s artwork justice.
I’m glad that Aaron wrapped up the younger Hellfire Club story, at least partially, because I kind of hate the idea of killer kids in general. I appreciate the idea of balancing the physical superiority of heroes against the smaller-of-stature children, but I always have a hard time buying into the idea that children are these awful, murderous creatures. It’s a personal hang-up of mine that doesn’t reflect on the story at all. Anyway, I’ll definitely be back for more of this book because it had a really fun tone, set up a lot of interesting relationships and makes me want to find out what happens to them next.
Uncanny X-Men By Kieron Gillen Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Kieron Gillen, drawn by Carlos Pacheco, Rodney Buscemi, Brandon Peterson, et al
Collects Uncanny X-Men #1-4
With mutant life hanging in the balance, Cyclops develops a simple plan: make the humans so petrified of his squad that they won’t be jerks to less flashy mutants. This so-called Extinction Team consists of Cyke, Emma Frost, Magneto, Magik, Colossus, Storm, Danger and Hope. In this first outing they go up against Mr. Sinister who has siphoned the power of the Dream Celestial and built a city of his own clones.
The first three issues are pretty tight and do a solid job of both explaining and showing what Cyclops’ mission is. I’ve always had a hard time understanding how the people in the Marvel U can be so bigoted against mutants when they live in a world filled with other people with strange powers, abilities and afflictions, so it was interesting to see Cyke go on the offensive against those people. All in all though, I’m not sure how long I’ll be on board this book. I loved WATX because it was fun and a bit light, but this one, like Cyclops himself, might just be too serious for me at this point. Still, I’ve got the next few volumes of both requested from the library and will let you know how those reading experiences go!
I’m still not quite sure why I decided to buy the Ghost Rider Jason Aaron omnibus a few years back. It was in the heyday of Thwipster and the deal must have been pretty killer. I’d read the first trade of this comic that my pal Jim Gibbons was a super-fan of during our Wizard days together, but wasn’t sold. And yet, I still got the hardcover collection of his entire run along with the icing-on-the-top Heaven’s On Fire miniseries that concluded Aaron’s run. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I did because reading the whole thing, altogether framed it and these characters in my head a lot better.
The key to enjoying this series for me was understanding that it wasn’t just inspired by 70s horror, exploitation, motorcycle and grindhouse fair, but acts as an actual synthesis of those existing pieces of fiction with the comic book format. I think my initial negative reaction to this book came from the fact that I was expecting it to rise above the dirtiness when, instead, the whole point is to dive in with both feet and feel the muck surround you and the characters. A big part of that feel comes from the art by Roland Boschi and Tan Eng Huat (I’ll get to Tony Moore’s stuff in a few graphs). These artists have a style that is exaggerated and maybe a little muddy, the comic book equivalent of screen scratches and over exposed film stock (but clearly done with more intent and skill than using the cheapest film stock you can get your hands on for a three day shoot). Basically, what I’m saying is that Aaron’s Ghost Rider is what I wanted Quentin Tarantino’s disappointing Death Proof to be.
The basic gist is that original Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze has discovered that, as a Spirit of Vengeance, he was actually created by an angel instead of a devil like he’s previously thought. He doesn’t appreciate being lied to and wants revenge for his crummy life, so he’s trying to find his way to heaven in an attempt to kill Zadkiel. In the first arc, Johnny finds a kid who died for a few minutes while being resuscitated and explains that Zadkiel’s waging war on heaven. In the process, Johnny runs afoul of an army of warrior nurses — the angel’s agents on earth — as well as a down-on-his-luck cop and a haunted road.
That general tone continues throughout the rest of the run as Johnny keeps hitting roadblocks on his road to heaven and revenge. One of the biggest happens to be former Ghost Rider Danny Ketch (who’s also Blaze’s brother we’re told). Danny’s lost his marbles as well as his powers and all he wants to do is get them back so he made a deal with Zadkiel. He gets powers as long as he helps kill the other Spirits of Vengeance from around the world.
“OTHER Spirits of Vengeance?” you ask. Why, yes. In a move somewhat similar to the one Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction took with Immortal Iron Fist, Aaron reveals that the world had many Riders, each reflecting the culture they were sworn to protect. Ketch is being played, though as Zadkiel’s using the power let loose by the Riders to fuel his war against heaven. This leads to a huge clash between Johnny, the handful of remaining Spirits of Vengeance and the new Caretaker and an army of evil angels lead by Danny. It’s pretty epic and, at the end of the day, the good guys don’t exactly come out on top.
This leads to a trio of issues that have a different feel than the others. First and foremost, they’re drawn by Tony Moore whose style is a lot cleaner and crisper than Boschi and Huat’s. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get grimy and gross when it makes sense, just that it’s got a much different feel to it. These three stories also have more of a one-off feel as the leads have individual adventures with more of an EC Comics feel that pits the individuals against a supernatural threat that, in turn, shows them that they need to get back out there fighting the good fight. There’s a bit of a disconnect from these issues, maybe it’s because the previous arc ends with the bad guy winning and then we just see these guys kind of hanging out, not worrying too much about an evil angel talking over heaven and dealing with other threats. Still, it’s so rad to see Moore draw these characters!
The festivities end with the two Ghost Riders and Caretaker teaming up with a group of other supernatural Marvel characters like Daimon Hellstrom and Jaine Cutter to not only keep the antichrist alive (if he dies, Zadkiel disproves the Bible and ensures his place as heaven’s ruler) while also fighting off an army of Ghost Rider villains old and new. It’s another epic show down with a good deal of twists and turns that I won’t spoil, but felt like a very satisfying conclusion to this epic story.
As a whole, Aaron’s run on Ghost Rider reminds me of how good corporate owned comics can be if the right creative team with a unified vision is in place. It seems like Aaron was basically able to do whatever he wanted with these characters and the result is a story that, like Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, fits in perfectly with the existing universe and also brings new elements to the table. You can tell from reading these issues that this story came about because someone had a great idea and a solid vision instead of a need to fill pages. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the way to go with these comics.
By now you’ve probably figured out that I’m a fan of this book. You can get it either as the full omnibus or in individual trades. Either one is cool. The omnibus has some cool sketch stuff in the back, but it might be pretty expensive at this point. If you’re worried that you need to be a Ghost Rider expert to get into the series, don’t. I’ve read the first five issues of the 90s Danny Ketch series, the Rise Of The Midnight Sons crossover and a few of the earliest appearances thanks to the Ghost Ride GIT DVD I picked up, but other than that, I’m pretty far from a die hard Spirit of Vengeance fan and I was still able to enjoy this book thoroughly. Aaron has a way of explaining things in quick bites that are easy to swallow and digest while you’re also enjoying demons fighting angels and ghosts ripping a cannibal apart. Basically, what I’m saying is get off your butt and read this run or, if you’re like me and already have it, give it another look!
Doesn’t look like things will be letting up any time soon and seeing as I’ve been falling asleep pretty early these days, I haven’t been able to watch many movies. I will get around to the second part of that Thanksgiving weekend round-up though, because I want to get to my Squirm and Return to Sleepaway Camp (love that movie!). But, I’ve got some time now and I’ve been doing some trade reading so here we go.
SCALPED: DEAD MOTHERS (VOL. 3) (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Jason Aaron, Drawn by John Paul Leon, R.M. Guera & Davide Furno
Scalped is one of those books that I got to late in the game and have yet to actually catch up to the monthly issues, so I’m mostly grabbing the trades from the library as they come out. I dig the story for the most part, especially because it takes me to a world that I’m otherwise unfamiliar with in the form of an Native American reservation. Plus, there’s all kinds of action and intrigue and some great names (I especially like our main character’s Dashiell Bad Horse).
This particular trade focuses mainly on Dashiell working on a dead hooker case because he promised her son that he would while others investigate his own mother’s death. There’s obviously a lot of history between Dash and pretty much everyone else on the reservation and Aaron does a good job of giving just enough details as we read to keep us from getting completely lost but also not overwhelming the reader with needles detail. It’s a harder balance to achieve than you might think. I also like how the villain of the story, Lincoln Red Crow (the guy that Dash, an undercover agent is trying to pin a murder on) is more interested in finding his mother’s killer (they used to be lovers) than Dash himself. But even he’s got problems of his own as various outside forces are trying to push and pull him and the casino he runs.
Really, that’s what I like about the series as a whole: there’s a lot going on, but not too much. Aaron’s got a great sense of pacing and knows when to throw in some kick ass action scenes to balance all the other personal aspects of the book. I’m really curious to see where the series goes (they introduced a new character in the form of honest reservation cop Franklin Falls Down who seems like he’ll have a lot of potential). I’m also looking forward to seeing how Aaron writes a long form story like this one. I’m not sure if there’s an end point in mind that he’s working towards, but I’ve only read a handful of his other books, some I liked, some I didn’t, so I hope he ends this one with a bang.
SWAMP THING: LOVE AND DEATH (DC)
Written by Alan Moore, Drawn by Stephen Bissette, John Totleben & Shawn McManus
This is the second Swamp Thing trade collecting Alan Moore’s run on the book that helped launch his career and shoot comics to whole new levels. To me, it’s one of the last few epic comic runs that I haven’t read yet, so I’m glad to finally get to it (though I don’t have any more of the trades, so we’ll see how that goes), which is too bad because I really dug this book and am curious to see where it goes.
Most of the trade follows the developing relationship between Swamp Thing and Abigale including her short-lived death. There are all kinds of horror elements bouncing around these pages, including Swamp Thing’s visit to the afterlife which boasts guest spots by Etrigan, Phantom Stranger, Deadman and the Spectre. I really like how firmly Swamp Thing takes place in the DCU, proving that you can do Vertigo type stories in the same world that Superman flies around in (Sandman also did this on a few occasions).
I’ve also got to mention the semi sex scene between Swamp Thing and Abigale at the end of the last issue. It’s not as gross as it might sound as Abby eats a fruit that Swamp Thing grows from his chest and then they go on a super-trippy ride that we become voyeurs to.
But I didn’t like everything about this collection. There’s a story called “Pog” which featured some tiny cartoon-like aliens landing on Earth hoping to find a new home to call their own. The story itself is interesting, but the problem is the dialogue. These aliens talk different, making up words that seem and sound an awful lot like English, but took me way too long to read as my brain kept trying to read the words I’m used to. Props to Alan for coming up with this new language, but it drove me a little crazy. Oh well. I’m probably going to ditch these trades in favor of the hardcovers they’re putting out shortly (or is it out yet? I dunno).
DIANA PRINCE WONDER WOMAN VOL. 2 (DC)
Written & drawn by Mike Sekowsky
Man, I love these swinging Wonder Woman issues, each one is like a Roger Corman movie starring my favorite Star Spangled Amazon (missing her stars of course). For those of you who may not know, these Diana Prince tales follow Wonder Woman around after losing her powers and becoming a kung-fu boutique owner hanging out with blind martial arts master I Ching.
This volume not only collects Wonder Woman issues, but also a Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane issue in which the constantly swooning Lois gets jealous of Superman spending so much time with Wonder Woman who appears to have regained her powers. There’s even this hilarious scene where Wonder Woman takes Superman to a club and he starts dancing so intensely that he almost sets the floor on fire, after which he thinks to himself: “Did I goof! I can’t forget myself for an instant! That’s the trouble with being super! I can’t relax like ordinary people!” I don’t want to ruin the ending, but it’s your average cheesy silver age stuff (which is pretty different than the rest of the trade, because this particular story was written by Robert Kanigher).
There’s also an issue of Brave and the Bold with Wonder Woman and I Ching in another country (though I don’t think they ever say which one) in which a big car race is happening. It just so happens that Bruce Wayne is also there racing along with some bad dude (his name’s not really important). Well, the bad dude tries to kill Bruce because he’s such a good driver so Bruce calls Gotham and gets his buddy Batman to come race for him. There’s actual panels with Batman driving and his cape shooting out behind him flapping in the wind. I had literally just watched a Roger Corman movie with similar themes that I had just watched (Young Racers). Man, that movie was boring (hey, look, a movie review!), but this comic is great.
The rest of the trade involves the return of Dr. Cyber along with an adventure to Hong Kong and the addition of a new young lady who Diana saves from THEM (always written in big red block letters) and then gives a job in her boutique. I really love how the series bounces around from somewhat typical superhero stuff to all kinds of other genres without missing a beat. There’s also something fun about seeing Wonder Woman mingling with Superman and Batman even back in the late 60s/early 70s. These are great books for anyone even remotely interested in Wonder Woman or movies and TV from that time period, these are the books for you.
JACK KIRBY’S FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS (VOL. 4)
Written & drawn by Jack Kirby
I’ve had a very on again off again relationship with these New Gods Omnibi (Ominbuses?). Sometimes I’ll get really into them but then I’ll put the book down for weeks or even months at a time, which was the case with this, the last in series. The main reason is that, for reasons that are probably explained in the intro by Mark Evanier that I haven’t read yet, Jack’s books weren’t doing so well and were canned, which means this book collects the last issues of The Forever People (which I liked a lot more than I thought I would), New Gods (my personal favorite of the ongoings) and then a bunch of Mr. Miracle issues (it lasted longer than the others), the new stories Jack created for the reprints and finally the Hunger Dogs graphic novel. The problem is that it’s like watching a TV show that you know doesn’t have a real ending, one that got canceled before it’s time; all the pieces are good, but you’re not sure about the pay off.
I read the FP and NG issues completely but ended up skimming the Mr. Miracle stuff as it wasn’t really my favorite of the books. I did enjoy the final two stories though, because it felt like Jack was finally able to tell the story that he intended to tell years before. But, man, just think of how cool it would have been to see Jack get to do his thing for real. It’s too bad because it feels like that’s a huge missed opportunity, a story only preserved in the library of unwritten books. Oh well, I really like Hunger Dogs, especially the big huge collage spread that Jack did in the middle of it. Check it out and see how many Star Wars pictures you can find (I spotted the rear end of a Star Destroyer first).
Anyway, there’s a pretty interested ending to Hunger Dogs that I’m not really sure how it was resolved later on when the New Gods re-entered the DCU. I did have a basic history explained to me by Rickey. He said that, basically, Jack created the New Gods, but after he left they just kind of sat around and no one used them until the Super Powers cartoon came along and was looking for a villain. They dug up Darkseid and he’s been a dominating force of evil in the DCU ever since. For someone who’s been reading comics since the early 90s, it’s pretty crazy to think that there was a time when Darkseid and the rest of the New Gods weren’t a big deal.
And finally, if you’re like I was when I first started reading these books and think that these older stories don’t really offer up much to a modern, more sophisticated reader, give them a try. Sean Collins helped me realize what I liked about these stories even when I wasn’t quite sure if I actually liked them. The true art isn’t in the words (the dialogue boxes are pretty easily skipped for the most part in my opinion), but in the art and the emotions and gut punches that Kirby is able to convey with his trademark pencils. Plus, if you can’t find a certain amount of giddy joy in tracing the lines of a Kirby machine, I feel bad for you.
Okay, that’s it for now. Hopefully I’ll get another post in this week, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you (seriously, that’d be crazy).
A year or two ago the folks at Wizard decided to do a story of the 25 scariest moments in comics. I kind of had a problem with this because I’ve never really been scared by a comic, I’m not sure if it has to do with the format or what, but it’s never happened. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t read some generally creepy stories in comic book form. Recently I’ve read some pretty cool Batman-related stories that had a good horror elements. For the ongoing series’ I’m probably still an issue or two behind, so take that into account, but here we go.
BATMAN: GOTHAM AFTER MIDNIGHT
This is a 12-issue series written by Steve Niles and drawn by Kelley Jones. I’m not a big fan of Niles, so Jones was the big draw for me here. His art on Batman around Knightfall was the first time I realized that artists had different styles. No one draws a more over-the-top, creepy Batman then him in my book. And that’s basically what this book is, crazy and over the top. #3 was the last one I read in which the creepy zombie-looking villain convinces Clayface that, if he actually consumes people, he can grow to giant size. It’s a pretty cool concept that I haven’t seen done before but really makes sense. There are all kinds of over-the-top moments in the first three issues (Jones’ Batcave looks like a smelting factory, Batman’s building a giant robot suit just in case). Some people find it ridiculous, but to me that’s part of the fun.
A little while ago DC put out these one-shots under the Joker’s Asylum banner showcasing Batman’s biggest villains, probably to tie into the movie because they came out so far ahead of Halloween. I read all of them, but I particularly liked the Scarecrow and Penguin issues.
Scarecrow was written by Joe Harris and drawn by super awesome fantastic artist Juan Doe. With Joker taking on the Crypt Keeper role in all these books, we get presented with a slasher-like tale of a young, nerdy girl getting invited to the popular girl’s sleepover with nefarious intent. It turns out that the girl’s shrink is actually the Scarecrow, who convinces the nerdy girl to go to the party. While she’s there, Scarecrow hunts down the teenagers and poisons them with his fear toxin. It’s probably the best slasher-movie-in-comic-form story I’ve ever read and it’s all done concisely in one issue. And boy oh boy is Juan Doe’s art fantastic. It’s a kind of angular cartoony style that still captures the eeriness of the scene. He also does some really cool little things like taking the old Joker face from his early appearances and using them as decorations on the Joker’s pajamas in the opening scene. Harris also sets up a possible future villain in the form of Lindsay, the nerdy girl. And one last thing, bonus points to Harris for referencing Mean Girls and Heathers (Heather’s the mean girl and Lindsay is the nerdy girl, after Lohan I assume). Well done all around.
The other Joker’s Asylum story I really dug is the Jason Aaron written and Jason Pearson drawn Penguin one-shot. It’s more of an EC revenge tale than a horror story, but it offers probably the best representation of the Penguin I’ve ever seen. If you think that he’s too ridiculous of a character to be a good villain in the next Batman movie, just read this issue and you’ll see what I mean. Instead of being an active threat to people we find that Penguin is much more behind-the-scenes in how his revenge plays out. There’s also a fun nod to one of the most over-done elements in Batman comics that I loved. Penguin’s day dreaming about his new lady friend while Batman’s beating up on his bodyguards. When he’s done Batman says “Just remember that I’ll be watching” to which Penguin responds “Yes, yes…see you next week.” As anyone who’s been reading Batman comics for a while, Penguin currently owns the Ice Berg Lounge where he’s considered a legitimate business man, but Batman still routinely comes there, knocks his guys around and tell Penguin he’s watching him. It’s gotten old fast for us Batman fans and this was, to me at least, a way of poking a little fun at that.
SIMON DARK VOL. 1 TPB
Like I said above, I’m not a big Steve Niles fan, but lately he’s been writing some pretty good comics, so maybe my tune is changing. What I first thought was a retelling of the Frankenstein tale has kind of morphed into something much more involving dark magic and other craziness all set in the backdrop of Gotham City. But don’t expect Batman to pop up every issue, in fact, I don’t think he shows up in this trade at all. I’ve read most of the issues after this one and still dig the story, even if it does drag out a little. A big, big part ambiance of the story definitely comes from artist Scott Hampton. Looking at it actually makes me feel cold. That’s really the best way I can describe it. Crisp. I think Simon may be my favorite new, non-legacy character from last year, especially as he finds more and more out about his weird past.
BATMAN FACES TPB
Really the only reason I even picked this book up is because of Matt Wagner. I’m a big big fan of Mage and really hopes he does the third and final miniseries. So, while waiting for that I decided to give this Batman/Two-Face story a while and I really enjoyed it. Basically Two-Face is trying to take over an island that Bruce Wayne wants to buy and start a new country with a bunch of European sideshow freaks. I laughed as soon as I saw them because I had JUST watched Freaks. It’s another one of those great coincidences like when you’re flipping through channels, stop on a History Channel or Discovery show about something you’ve never really heard of and then it comes up in conversation the next day. I love when that happens. The story itself isn’t all that surprising, but Wagner does some great thing with his art (like a Family Circus-style dotted line splash or the page consisting of a track). The big draw is Wagner’s art, especially his interpretation of classics like Batman and Two-Face and the freak characters. It’s more about the smaller moments, like how the freaks react at the very end of the story than the big plot stuff, but all in all it’s a really enjoyable story.