As the world prepares for The Dark Knight Rises this week (and next week’s similarly-epic Dionysium debate hosted by me on Spider-Man vs. Batman, July 25 at 8pm at Muchmore’s), here’s an inspiring reminder that even Batman writer/artist superstar Frank Miller was once a mere high school student: art from his strip The Fixer, which continues today, forty years later, in a far more polished form. (It’s fascinating, though, how even in its crude high school form, it still has the distinctive noir-ish Miller style.)
Miller’s recent Batman work includes this notorious panel, which I strongly suspect was inspired by this scene from the excellent comedy film Bad Santa (h/t my anarcho-capitalist pals on the Trollboard, which has not only been debating how to end all government but also who’d win a fight between Superman and Goku from Dragonball Z; I swear these people exist and will drink at Belfry at 7pm if you care to join us).
Quick thoughts on several other comics in this momentous season of Avengers, villainous reptiles, and decadent Gothamites:
Several of DC Comics’ bestselling series at the moment are prequels (regarded as sacrilegious by many) to the classic comic Watchmen, sold under the umbrella title Before Watchmen. I’m not reading them, but their existence doesn’t really bother me. Keep in mind that Watchmen, like some other classics such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, was itself a very derivative work, so it’s a bit odd to treat as a pristine thing that can never be imitated or reworked.
Just to take one example of how its characters were derived from or pay homage to earlier ones: in some sense, not only is Ozymandias also a reworking of Thunderbolt (who DC does not even own anymore, last I knew), he is also sort of Marvelman, a.k.a. Miracleman, and thus Capt. Marvel...and thus in some less direct sense Marvel’s character Mar-Vell – and Capt. Marvel, it was argued in a successful lawsuit, was in some sense Superman. It’s all connected.
And it’s about to get weirder...
Grant Morrison publicly vowed that his long-awaited miniseries reworking the DC Universe, Multiversity, will come out in 2013, though he says he dreads the pressure so much he’s “praying for the Mayan apocalypse” to happen instead. And, largely unnoticed by normal mortals, that series will include, in a sense, an After Watchmen story.
Or rather, Morrison plans to unveil five versions of Earth, each home to a variation on one of DC’s superhero teams – including the Charlton heroes on whom the Watchmen are most directly based. And Morrison has hinted this depiction of them will be an attempt to outdo the storytelling techniques used for Watchmen by Alan Moore (with whom he has something of a rivalry).
Morrison’s version of the Charlton team will be called Pax Americana, and other worlds will be home to the Just (youthful analogues of the Justice League), the Society of Superheroes (resembling the Justice Society), Thunder World (a la the lightning-empowered Capt. Marvel), and Master Men (a fascist nightmare blending elements of Justice League and the Freedom Fighters, the hyper-patriotic team I wanted to write myself a decade ago).
DC’s regular ongoing series
Good things come in threes, the gullible pattern-seekers say – and DC’s fictional reality now contains at least five mystically-significant systems of threes, which may have nothing to do with each other for all I know:
(1) the three universes that combined to form the current DC reality (universes previously depicted under the DC, Vertigo, and WildStorm banners)
(2) "the Three Sinners," mystical beings who watch over reality
(3) an impending "Trinity War" that may focus on them – or maybe on Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman – or on three versions of the Justice League, for that matter
(4) a sort of animal-vegetable-mineral war (I wish they called it that – and reintroduced Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man as a peacebroker) between forces called the Red, the Green (served not only by Swamp Thing but by the [gay] Earth 2 Green Lantern), and the Rot (presumably related to “the Grey” of Earth 2, and also intriguingly referred to as Anti-Life, a term associated with Jack Kirby’s characters)
and (5) a so-called Third Army poised to replace the Green Lantern Corps as part of the Guardians' brilliant plan to eliminate free will.
All one massive super-plot or unrelated comics? I don't know, and I don't have time to find out. So, on to our next item:
Lightning Round Reviews
The three-part Red/Green/Rot cosmology (which gradually replaced DC’s old system of mystical elements over the course of the past several years, if one paid an unhealthy amount of close attention) is one of the grotesque-but-cool things making the relaunched Animal Man comic interesting, as I belatedly learned from a trade paperback, one of several such volumes I bought or was given recently.
On a far lighter note, I also got things like a collection of Superman: Secrets of the Fortress of Solitude, though, so things are still fun here.
My copy of Mad magazine I gave away at the last Dionysium, though.
Of three phonebook-sized DC Comics anthologies of old comics I recently received – Batman and the Outsiders, Doom Patrol, and Warlord, I think the one that really brought me joy was Warlord. I had read the character as a kid but had since forgotten just how Edgar Rice Burroughs-like he is – not just the basic premise of an adventurer from our world being stuck in a jungle deep in the hollow Earth full of barbarians and dinosaurs, but also in the unapologetic machismo of exchanges like this one that opens issue #10 (from 1977):
NARRATION: The eternal sun of Skartaris beats relentlessly down upon a small caravan...
MARIAH (Russian scientist): ...which is the basic flaw in the capitalist philosophy! Any fool could see that!
MACHISTE (warrior king): Does she always talk this much?
WARLORD (former Air Force pilot): No, not always...but with a capitalist and a monarchist as a captive audience, I think she feels that it’s her duty to show us the error of our ways. [Machiste and Warlord smile.]
(There’s also lots of Conan-like dialogue along the lines of “Shakakhan!! He lives!!” and plenty of audacious subplots like revealing that Warlord has been reincarnated numerous times and was a superb ass-kicking warrior in every life he lived – a bit where he has to relive all those lives and make his way painstakingly back to the present day, starting from prehistoric times, may well have influenced a similar Grant Morrison plot involving Bruce Wayne.)
Maybe Warlord had more of an influence on my young mind than I’d realized. It certainly influenced whoever picked the illustration for this audio lecture from the Mises Institute on the question of whether anarcho-capitalism would “all devolve into warlords.”
As for the actual Edgar Rice Burroughs, I was sufficiently disappointed when the Burroughs-based John Carter movie flopped – meaning it will have no sequel – that I promptly read a comic book adaptation of the next book in the series, John Carter: Gods of Mars, in which our badass Edwardian hero does things like discover the gods of Mars are mere mortals and respond within minutes by decking their high priest and leading an uprising aimed at killing them and setting his girlfriend free.
Ah, for the days when reading Nietzsche turned men into Teddy Roosevelt instead of into Foucault. I don’t have time to sort out all the political and philosophical cross-currents and tensions in that statement – I leave that to wusses.