When Words Collide

Mon, November 8th, 2010 at 1:58pm PST

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer
13

FIVE BURNING QUESTIONS: NOW, WITH ANSWERS!

I've spent the whole weekend varnishing nearly 30 feet of built-in bookcases (sure to be spotlighted in one of Robot 6's "Shelf Porn" posts at some point later this year, once the varnish dries and, you know, I actually put books on those shelves), so I haven't had time to read any comics, think deeply about any comics, or, um, I forget what else. The fumes must be getting to me.

But, luckily, my loyal readers – and Twitter followers – had plenty of suggestions. Why don't you talk about this? They asked. Or that? Or this other thing? Good ideas, all, and while I won't be able to answer every question thrown my way, or digress on every topic (for example, I have nothing at all to say about the "Marvel/DC All-Access" crossover from the 1990s, except that it existed, and was terrible), I will provide as many answers and thoughtful responses to these Burning Questions as possible. Before I black out from the noxious chemicals filling my house.

So, thanks to Brandan, Mario, Ryan, Amedeo, Brian, Jim, Cody, Robert, Jason, Tomato, Dean, and anyone else who sent in questions, though I may have reworded or edited or completely ignored what you asked and/or suggested. If I didn't use your question this week, look for it in the future! That's science!

Burning Question #1: What's the deal with Dr. Hurt, why is he so awesome, and how does "Batman: The Road Home," line up with "Batman and Robin" #16?

This question assumes that Dr. Hurt aka El Penetente aka the Black Glove aka old timey Thomas Wayne is, indeed, awesome. And that is a fact, which makes the question easier to answer. Because I would have a much harder time explaining why he's not awesome.

Dr. Hurt, the evil Wayne ancestor who was corrupted by the "hole" in time caused Darkseid's death in "Final Crisis," turned out not to be the Devil, exactly, though he certainly acted as one. But what makes him such a great character is that he drove a compelling mystery plot for years, he caused Bruce Wayne to question his own history (and sanity), and he acted as a boss-level threat for Batman to face. In so many other Batman stories that involve layers of villainy, the big bad is the Penguin, or the Black Mask, or someone who is a schemer with minions and little more. Dr. Hurt not only used other costumed villains to upend and disorient Batman, but he tarnished the character's history and origin story as well. He hurt Batman in the past and the present. The irony – the cosmic joke – is that Hurt's downfall comes not at the hands of Batman, who had barreled through time to come back and make things right, but at the hands of the Joker. He slips on a banana peel and ends up a paralyzed wretch. Incapacitated, harmless, the effect of his schemes buried along with him.

I suspect we'll see more of Dr. Hurt before too long, and we'll be glad when we do.

As to how it all coincides with "Batman: The Road Home"?

It doesn't matter.

"The Road Home" was just a way to sell some ancillary comics. Everyone should know by now that any crossover with a Grant Morrison comic that doesn't have Grant Morrison's name in the credits is actually not much of a crossover at all. Those things are completely skippable. See every non-Morrison related "Final Crisis" or "Batman R.I.P." issues for more examples. Actually, don't bother.

Burning Question #2: In light of Morrison continuing his Batman saga, what were some long runs that ended badly?

Hmm…is this an implication that Morrison's Batman has already gone on too long or will surely end badly? Morrison, as we should know by now, is pretty great with endings, in everything except "New X-Men."

But other long runs that ended badly? The first that comes to mind is Roger Stern's "Avengers" run, which I recently reread – and should do a full column about sometime. But his "Avengers" run peaked with "Under Siege" as Baron Zemo and the Masters of Evil took over Avengers mansion, a superior effort from Stern and artistic collaborators John Buscema and Tom Palmer, but everything after that was so much more soulless, even if it involved Greek gods and assaults on Olympus. Then Stern was shoved off the series – or quit, because of Dr. Druid or something, supposedly – and that was it. It should have just ended with the "Under Siege" finale. That would have been a way to go out.

Honestly, once a long run starts to falter, I lose interest, so I rarely stick around to see how it ends, but one that I did stick with, and love a whole lot, was Neil Gaiman's "Sandman," and as strong as that series is, and I will defend it against anyone, the final issue wasn't all that good. It was fine, and probably appropriate, tonally, but it wasn't a knock-out punch. So it's not that "Sandman" ended badly, but after such a long string of bangs, the finale was a bit of a whimper.

Burning Question #3: What creators have done a good job picking up on Grant Morrison's characters/ideas and running with them?

More questions about Morrison? Man, it's almost as if I'm some sort of go-to guy for these questions. Someone like Patrick Meaney should put me in a movie, playing that role.

It's common knowledge that almost no one has ever done a good job picking up on a Morrison character or idea and running with them. Look at the post-Morrison "Animal Man" or "Doom Patrol," which have interesting moments but are largely unreadable. Look at what has happened to the entirety of the new "Seven Soldiers," mostly unused, basically completely ignored. Even the series launched with "based on an idea by Grant Morrison," like Gail Simone's "All-New Atom" or Duncan Rouleau's "Metal Men," never lived up to their potential. And "Final Crisis Aftermath"? Abominations. Almost.

The most notable exception is "Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance," written by Joe Casey. It suffered from artist inconsistency but it spun the Super Young Team into a direction that was both faithful to the Morrison concept and expansive. It was a series full of ideas, even if it wasn't brilliant in its execution. Still, it's the best post-Morrison continuation ever.

Honorable mention: Jason Aaron's "Dark Reign: The List: Wolverine," which was a curtain call for Noh-Varr and Fantomex and it was the best use of those characters since the ending of "New X-Men." It was only a single issue, though. But a good one.

Burning Question #4: What do you think about "Casanova" in color? Thoughts on the new chapter?

First of all, I hope you all remember "Why 'Casanova' Matters," my pre-WWC essay on the series (which, if the color version is your first exposure to the series, you may want to skip, because it's spoiler-heavy in its celebratory analysis). So, yes, I think "Casanova" is one of the best comics of the past decade, color or no.

I would like to spend some time exploring exactly how the color changes the meaning of some of the scenes, because it surely does, most notably when blood is involved. Casanova Quinn never looked as gruesome in the original series as he does in the colorized version, because that splatter of red we see in issue #1 wasn't, well, red. But, the coloring looks great, and it just means that there are now multiple versions of the story available, with slightly different meanings. I'll have to revisit my original essay. Maybe a revised "Why 'Casanova' Matters, No Matter the Color," is in order.

The new chapter? I assume we're talking about the Fabio-Moon-penciled bonus story in the new first issue? That was cool. Funny, sleek, and an enhancement to the original story. Well-done. If we're talking about the new story arc coming next year? I. Can. Not. Wait.

Burning Question #5: What would you list as the top five most underrated comic book series, past or present?

I'm sure I could come up with a dozen more, but off the top of my head, the five most underrated series would be, counting down:

#5 "Sword of the Atom," by Jan Strnad and Gil Kane. I know it's been collected and praised and fondly-remembered, and I know it's basically tiny John Carter of the jungle, but it's one of the best straight-up action/adventure comics of the 1980s, and it has the artistry of Gil Kane to make it so much more. Is it one of the masterpieces of Modernism like "Watchmen" or "Swamp Thing"? No, but I think I love it almost as much. Ray Palmer riding a frog while brandishing a sword? How is that not genius?

#4 "Breach," by Bob Harras and Marcos Martin. Five years before his promotion to DC Editor in Chief, Bob Harras wrote eleven issues of an alternate reality Captain Atom with some phenomenal art by Marcos Martin. Captain Atom can't even support his own series – most likely – so it's no surprise that a parallel version of the character would stand a chance in the marketplace, but, man, was this a good series. It didn't have a chance to really get as big as it seemed to want to get – it is an implied epic, if not a realized one – but the stellar art of Martin makes the series worth grabbing from the discount bin. And now that Harras is in charge, maybe we'll see a "Once More into the Breach" sequel. (But I doubt it. Still, you should read the original series. It's good!)

#3 "Omega the Unknown," by Jonathan Lethem, Karl Rusnak, and Farel Dalrymple. The Steve Gerber/Mary Skrenes/Jim Mooney original had a brilliant start and a tragic derailment, but the Lethem and company retelling was a distinctive work of all with its own unique voice. Even without the Gary Panter pages – though, yes, it had Gary Panter pages! – the charm of "Omega the Unknown" was in its oddness and its superhero moments juxtaposed with the awkwardness of teenage life in the big, dirty city. The farther we get away from "Omega the Unknown," the more months that pass since it wrapped up its run, the more I grow to appreciate its narrative power. It was coming out amidst a strong crop of comics, and yet it's the one I can't stop thinking about the most.

#2 "The Jam," by Bernie Mireault. I've written about "The Jam," in this column before, and I stand by what I said back then, but since that time I haven't seen much of a resurgence of interest in the series. I haven't seen other readers go back and dig it up and write about its greatness. So, yes, it's still underrated. It's still a declaration from a forgotten herald of the modern.

#1 "Crossfire," by Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegle. I've only read a few issues of "DNAgents," which "Crossfire" spun out of, but this series about a bondsman/superhero is well-deserving of the "most underrated" tag. I've rarely heard anyone mention it, and rarely seen anyone write about it at all, but it was a gritty, thrilling, high-concept-with-meat comic book series that should get more attention from everyone. It's pulpy (serious) fun, with noir lighting. It's a bail bondsman that's pretending to be a superhero, people! Maybe it's the lingering fumes, but that sounds like the greatest idea for a comic ever, and it actually existed, for a little while at least.

In addition to writing WHEN WORDS COLLIDE for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen regularly at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

Follow Tim on Twitter: TimCallahan

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TAGS:  when words collide, batman, grant morrison, bob harras, bernie mireault, casanova, matt fraction, gabriel ba, fabio moon

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