Trade Post: Simon Dark Ashes & Countdown Presents Lord Havok & The Extremists

SIMON DARK: ASHES (DC)
Written by Steve Niles, drawn by Scott Hampton
Collects Simon Dark #7-12
After spending a lot of time re-reading books like Preacher and Walking Dead, I figured I should get back to burning through the boxes of unread trades I’ve got in my closet. Between working at Wizard, getting stuff from friends, half price boxes at conventions and being an active member of Sequential Swap, I’ve got a lot to read. This weekend I read quite a few books, but I’ll be talking about these two tonight.

I reviewed the first volume of Simon Dark here. As a quick review, Simon Dark is a strange, patchwork boy living in the sewers of a segment of Gotham called the Village. He’s got a strange magical history and keeps bumping into members of Geo Populis, an Illuminati-type group run by demons after a fashion. This volume features the shadowy group infecting Gothamites with a zombie-like disease spread around by soap poisoned with demons. Yeah, it sounds crazy, but it all seems to work thanks to this being Gotham and literally anything can happen and doesn’t seem too crazy, no matter what.

Though there’s a big Matrix-like scene with Simon talking to an old man in a white room who explains a lot of Simon’s origins to him that’s kind of lame, I really liked the originality of the story. Unlike a lot of Niles’ other books, this feels too strange and wild to be too heavily borrowed from other sources. Niles creates some truly awesome looking monsters including a yellow elephant thing that I now love. I believe I read these issues as they came out, but I didn’t remember much of it. I want to get the third volume and see how the story ends. Does anyone know if Simon got canceled or just had a finite run? I’d imagine it’s the former, but I’m curious. Oh, Hampton’s art is still super-sick. I’d like to see him do some Hellboy or B.P.R.D. work.

COUNTDOWN PRESENTS: LORD HAVOK & THE EXTREMISTS (DC)
Written by Frank Tieri, drawn by Liam Sharp
Collects Countdown Presents: Lord Havok & The Extremists #1-6
Woof. While I liked Ashes, there’s very little to like about (deep breath) Countdown Presents Lord Havok And The Extremists. For anyone who doesn’t remember or has sufficiently blocked out the complete pointlessness of Countdown (even if I didn’t think it was such a bad story, it served no purpose whatsoever) the weekly series spawned a bunch of minis and one-shots, many of which involved various characters visiting some of the newly minted 52 Earths in the multiverse. As I’ve said here and there, I think DC completely missed the point by basing a lot of those Earths on old Elseworlds books that no one but me remembers. Anyway, this miniseries–which according to the Wikipedia page takes place on Earth-8–instead took notes from a team created by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis in Justice League Europe called the Extremists who came from another dimension. The team consists of analogs for Marvel’s biggest villains Dr. Doom (Lord Havok), Dreamslayer (Dormmamu), Gorgon (Doctor Octopus), Tracer (Sabertooth) and Dr. Diehard (Magneto), but Tieri and company extrapolated that to basically turn Earth-8 into a giant Marvel analogy that just seems tried and boring to me.

So, as you might expect from a regular DC trade, this collection doesn’t offer any kind of context for the story through an introduction, which is kind of insane considering there isn’t much of an explanation in the story itself. The dimension-hopping Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner and Red Hood show up for a few seconds, but literally disappear in a page. But even if you remembered every aspect of Countdown, this series is still a mess. Tieri tries to balance the series by showing the Extremists planning to take on, essentially, the Avengers who have teamed up with Monarch and his dimension-hopping army with origin stories, but the problem is that, for the most part, the origins don’t really have much to do with the current action. So, instead of a Lost model for flashbacks where a character’s past actions have something to do with what’s going on with them in the present, we’re just seeing origin stories. It’d be like if we saw everything about Jack’s early history in episode one. With only six issues to tell this tale, I don’t know why they bothered with the origins or why characters like Gorgon have such a different origin than the character he’s based on while Tracer is basically Wolverine, but bad. It’s confusing and more than a little annoying. Frankly, a few boxes explaining which characters can do what would have been enough and, that way, we would have actually been told what Dr. Diehard’s powers are.

Even with all its faults there are two interesting aspects of this book. First is the strange Justice League with Soldier Batman, Bizarro Wonder Woman and Zombie Gordon and the second is the idea that the Extremists are now planning on conquering multiple earths. I know they’re waiting for Grant Morrison to clear some of his schedule, but it bewilders me why they haven’t exploited the mutliverse more since then. The longer they wait on this stuff, the less and less interesting it gets (not the Extremists aspect, the multiverse of course).

Halloween Scene: Batman Comics

2008-10-05
3:49:45 pm

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.

JOKER’S ASYLUM

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.