Here we are. The comic that made me care about the whole New 52 reboot in the first place, because I’d worry it was going to get in the way of Grant Morrison’s five-year Bat epic. But I’m playing my hand early. Read on, but beware of spoilers. (Guest-starring in today’s post is Michael Eckett, who described the two of us in an email last week as “the Batman and Robin of Reviews, Inc”. ‘Nuff said.)
I’m kind of falling out of keeping up to date with comics at the moment, diving instead into huge multiple book series either that can be grabbed on the cheap (most recently Morrison’s New X-Men, about which I need to think further and maybe reread) or rereading stuff I’ve already got (Y: The Last Man, which probably has a post forthcoming). I don’t know if this is a comment on the quality of comics at the moment, or on my lifestyle, but just some background on the choices below. Neil Young’s Greendale Sometimes, the term graphic novel actually manages to hit a nail right on the head. Small immersive pockets of pure fiction. Okay, it’s wrong because a work like Greendale isn’t anywhere near the length of a novel. It is, in fact, about half a film in a length. To pick one, it’s Donnie Darko minus the Lynch. But that breathtaking feeling of emerging the other side is exactly the same. It makes sense, perhaps, to talk about it in these terms, comparing it to other media. After all, this was apparently a film already, as well as (obviously, I guess) a Neil Young album. But I know nothing about that, and nothing about Neil Young beyond … Young Neil from Scott Pilgrim. But the magic of the book – and magic is the word that I would hammer repeatedly and forcefully, were this a full-length review – is somehow novelistic. It’s open ended. It’s got the big stuff – the world – and the small stuff – being a teenager – all knitted together. It deals with the weird in a casual, magical-realism-ish way. Most impressively, it makes an interesting story from subjects I’m not necessarily that interested in. The Bush administration and the mess that was ’00s America got chewed up so thoroughly by the culture of that time that I’m not able to take it all that seriously. But that is intertwined with characters that are easy to care about, especially as illustrated in Cliff Chiang’s … okay, I have to say it again … magical brushstrokes. The story opens with a stock tragedy. The composition and colours and lines somehow make you immediately care about it. That’s a perfect microcosm of this book, I reckon. I picked it up quite by accident, nonchalantly, and emerged an hour later breathless. Magic. Batman & Robin/Return of Bruce Wayne It’s boring, because this was the centre-piece of my choices three months ago, but this has been undeniably the dominant force in my reading for a while now. And comics move slower, anyway. A ‘Quarter’, our chosen measure of time, contains 3 titles of a comic if you’re lucky. I’d ban myself from talking about it, but for wanting to talk about it forever and forever like a man infected with a particularly chatty strain of the Joker virus. Morrison’s run on Batman* has been interesting all through, but this is it finally reaching narrative maturity. All the plot threads are finally coming together, and answers to all the craziness that has been the last half-decade of Batman comics are promised. We’re at the perfect point of any story like this, where ideas begin to crystallise and rush around your mind. In rollercoaster terms, we’ve just climbed that final ramp and can just about see the big drop. If it all pays off – and it’s difficult to pay off so much, and Morrison rarely manages fully satisfying endings, and working in an endless serialised story doesn’t help – this will be possibly the greatest superhero story ever told. It’s stunning in its scope and ambition. But for now, all that doesn’t matter, because it’s the story and the mystery that keeps bringing me back. It’s the thing I impatiently check the weekly listings for, every week. That’s thanks to breathless cliffhangers and tightly-cut-together Big Moments, just as much as it is the trademark Morrison craziness. By the next time I write about this, it’ll all be over and I’ll have the scalpel to go at what it all means. See you there. *For more on the idea of ‘runs’ in comics, see last Quarter. And that just about wraps everything up, by my reckoning. I’m leaving games out for now, as it’s hard to be succinct about every game I want to talk about. They’ll get their own pieces, in time. And besides, this has been the biggest one yet, I think. As if I haven’t wasted enough of your time already…
FILMS Kick Ass I’ve written about already. It already seems weird, looking back, how much the world was taken aback by it. Its impact has been somewhat reeled in since. I’m hoping Scott Pilgrim is going to deliver the finisher on comic-book-movies-blowing-peoples’-minds-a-bit, minds softened up by 10 rounds with Kick Ass, Watchmen, and chums. Cemetery Junction seemed so likely to disappoint. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant finally doing a film together, after Ricky did The Invention of Lying (which, though I’ve never seen, maintains a certain … reputation); the long-discussed move into drama (which was definitely the most interesting thing about Extras, in the end); the words “Hollywood does small-town England” apparently supposed to sell it to me. We’ll do small-town England our own way, thankyou very much, and that’s small-minded and depressing. And then it had the gall to go and be really, really good. Full of charming, well-drawn characters; warm in just the right way (a very English way, edged with the right amount of cynicism); a genuinely – damnit – a genuine feel good film. Uplifting and memorable and reinvigorating and traditional but somehow fresh… I eagerly await the next Merchant/Gervais surefire-disappointment. The ‘Staying True to the Source Material’ Award has to go to Iron Man 2 Good solid superhero film which, like a good superhero comic, kept me entertained as I flipped through but has now more or less slipped from my memory. I liked it more than some people I expected to like it more. Sometimes the tone of a film can be completely changed by who you watch it with. Otherwise terrifying horrors become hilarious comedies of errors. Watching Four Lions, the screening swelled, my eyes getting wider with disbelief: a full house for a comedy about suicide bombers? Maybe they were here for the outrage? But, no, an entire cinema screen, fuller than I’ve ever seen in the West Midlands, making the air thick with laughter. I’d gone in expecting that sharp Morris satire, some serious drama and a bit of thoughtfood to chew on otherwise. I got those, in various portions. I just hadn’t expected it to be so funny as well. COMICS Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men being one of the most endlessly recommendable superhero comics I’ve ever read, I was a bit suspicious of the use of the monicker. I’m protective of that comic, in the way of possessive comic book nerds. I don’t really like Wolverine. Yet, here I am, about to call Jason Aaron’s Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine, on the strength of its first issue, one of the best comics I’ve read in a while. …Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine is one of the best comics I’ve read in a while. It out-Morrisons Grant Morrison’s (excellent) Batman & Robin in finding a fresh, weird take on the straight superhero story. It’s full of ideas, both in content (I don’t want to give away any of the set up of this issue) and form (there’s some really nice use of layouts and symmetry which is the kind of thing only comics can do and really isn’t done enough). I write this having only read one issue, but it’s brilliant. It left me, in a way I haven’t had since the early days of Ultimate Spider-Man, dancing round the house and wanting to be Spider-man. Thwip! And, having mentioned it in a way that might, to the unobservant eye, seem negative, I am legally obliged to say: damn, Grant Morrison on Batman (in all its forms: Batman & Robin, Return of Bruce Wayne, even that not-quite-great anniversary issue) is absolutely killing at the moment. We passed the point where you start to realise, oh, this is going to be one of the character’s defining writers a few miles back: a peculiarly comics idea, I must say, this peculiar hall of fame, and one that comes dangerously close to deserving its own essay. In superhero comics, example after example rolls off the tongue, even for stuff I’ve never read. Ennis’s Punisher; Miller’s Daredevil; Simonson’s Thor. You just get to know this stuff after a while. To non comics-reader readers, I’m trying to think hard of an analogue. Occasionally, a writer (generally, one who has already had success elsewhere, often sporadic) clicks with an existing character (often one who has languished out of the spotlight for a while), and the issues shared by that character and that writer are gold, in a way that doesn’t even necessarily align with the quality of the stories. It’s alchemy of the highest order, essentially. GAMES Shh. I’m playing Mario Galaxy 2. Bugger off, I’ll talk to you later. Just need to finish … this … level … Be with you in a minute.
It was a relationship that turned sour quickly. I’d looked at her from across the party, knew her reputation: fun but promiscuous, a quick fling. I’d heard the rumours of violence. A real femme fatale.But dammit if I didn’t want to dress up as Batman, so I rented her. It all turned out exactly the way I’d imagined. Okay, the initial thrills were giddier than I’d ever really considered- laughing maniacally at the complete disdain for physics, that ridiculous ‘hai-hai-hai’ noise Liu Kang makes as he flying-kicks across the screen. Carried away into the night chatting about the crazy beautiful stupidity of superheroes and fighting games.When the lows came, they were deep and dark. I found myself alone, sinking unsatisfying hours into the ‘Story’ mode, grinding towards the one unlockable character I was interested in. But even now, having denounced MK vs DC, I can’t forget the first few games together, where I got to play as Batman. I love Batman. All the gadgets and gruffness, pitched against the sci-fi-mentalist world he lives in. I love the childish escapism of it all, both for me and him. I love the Batcave, its giant penny and an unexplained T-Rex. I’ve never understood those particular parts of the Batman mythos, but damn if I don’t love them.So obviously he was the first character I took for a spin. As I discovered each new move, I giggled with delight. I peered into the background of the Batcave level, murmuring approvingly at any recognisable details. I beat up my friends’ assorted choices of fighter (seriously, who plays as a MK character when you’ve got a load of superheroes at your disposal?) and that was fun, but it wasn’t till we were left alone that the thrill of Being Batman really clicked. Looking back, at the way the gruff interior monologue filled my head and how satisfying each avenged punch felt, I worry about myself. I consider myself a (reasonably) balanced human being, never really been the type for role-playing of any type, yet here I was pretending to be Batman. It wasn’t the game- MKvsDC‘s quite a mechanical affair, stiff, not the kind of fighter you’d ever forget you were playing a game with. It’s just the strength of fantasy (and, I suppose, the simple iconography I was given to project on). I remember being young and naive and dreaming about being able to finally do all the impossible acrobatics and kung-fu-moves I’d seen in The Matrix. Enter the Matrix arrived and, looking back, it was a disappointed. But at the time I consumed it hungrily, playing it over and over again and it fulfilled everything I wanted to do- running from unfightable Agents, backflipping off walls and watching bullet tear that wobbly path through air-turned-to-treacle. It was the same with The Punisher game- although I’ll still defend that game today, if only for the bit where you get to pop out of the coffin in the middle of a funeral and mow down half the mob with an M60. I was in the midst of Garth Ennis’ classic work on the Punisher comic when I bought it and with the game being based on Ennis’ Welcome Back, Frank, I was able to summon Frank’s gritty caption-box voice as I tore through enemy after enemy. I felt no pleasure as I forced thugs’ heads under saws, and threw them into woodchippers. It just needed to be done. There are hundreds of other examples- I remember replaying the first Max Payne over and over, in the style of whatever action hero I’d seen that week- slow and steady like the Terminator, or dashing through the level without stopping or worrying about damage. Swinging around New York as Spider-man. (Which felt subtly different to swinging around as Ultimate Spider-man.) Downloading skins of my favourite characters for The Sims. They always seem to tend towards the geekier end of my interests- I’ve never felt the urge to play an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind game, or dress up as Kilgore Trout. I suppose its that simple iconography that the geeky-media tends to provide you with. It’s easy to project on but, frankly, of course I’d want to be the man dressed as a bat, beating up clowns. Surprise surprise, I cannot wait for the new Batman: Arkham Asylum game. I’m already piecing it together in my head, how I’ll hide in the shadows, spooking out the criminals one by one, then pulling them into the darkness. Just like the start of the Tim Burton film, or Old Batman’s comeback in Dark Knight Returns. I’ll be that Batman, and file it alongside my time as the four-coloured square-jawed crusader, punching gods and spacemen in MKvsDC, and I’ll already about fantasising about the next Batman I get to be. (Confessions: I say I’ve quit MKvsDC forever, but the disc is still waiting to be sent back. And, inelegantly, more-or-less unwittingly, I stole the relationship metaphor from the always elegant chewingpixels.)