Comic Book Talk (April 4)

Haven’t had a comic book thread in a while, so what the heck. Obviously everyone is all about Avengers v. X-Men at the moment (or AVX as all the kids are calling it) but I’ve never been an X-Men reader and I only started following the main Avengers title recently, so I don’t have much emotional attachment to it.  The #0 and #1 issues do a good job of building up the Phoenix as a world-threatening force so that the stakes are certainly there, but I’m just not feeling it.  What I DO love is Amazing and Avenging Spider-Man.  I am having such a blast with Dan Slott’s work on Amazing, and I love the “Peter working in a think tank” plot so much better than an outdated job as a photographer.  People say he should be miserable and angsty, but this is FUN and reminds me of the much-maligned Ben Reilly run where the clone was single and relatively happy as Spider-Man, and it was another favorite run of mine.  Plus Avenging #5, from the Hawkeye-defaced credits through Spider-Man annoying Captain America with nerd bonding during a mission (and the action shunted to the off-panel transitions in a hilariously off-hand manner), is probably one of the funniest comics I’ve ever read.  Not even “wacky funny” like Ambush Bug, just organically entertaining because the comic has Spider-Man’s voice down so well.  The two Spider-titles (and the solid Scarlet Spider) are becoming must-buys for me.  The time travel issues were awesome, and kept me going through Spidey In Space and now the big Ends of the Earth event that has also kept me hooked.  I can’t say enough great things about how these comics are delivering exactly what I want.  Hulk #50 is a really good intro to Red Hulk, as it actually delves into how much control Ross has over the transformation (and how little Betty has over hers) and explains about Ross being less angry because Hulk offers him an awesome anger expression mode, leaving his human form calmer and younger-looking.  Plus the history of Rulk is recapped at the end of issue, catching you up really effectively.  I once again would like to point out that Marvel makes it SO MUCH EASIER for new readers, like myself, to catch up with storylines, and as a result I spend way more more money on Marvel comics now than I ever did before.  HINT HINT, DC.  You don’t need to reboot the line, just make things a bit less dense and labyrinthine.  I just find Red Hulk such a fascinating character, much moreso than the original Hulk. I also find OMAC fascinating, and I’m quite sad that #8 was the end of the line, both for the title and for the mythos that the title had been building up in between giant fight scenes.  Basically Brother Eye and Cadmus all get wiped out, and Kevin Kho is now trapped as OMAC (but with his own personality) for good.  He’ll be moving to JLI, but that title is getting so dire that I’m probably not sticking with it much longer.  Superman #7, the much-needed creative team swap to Jurgens and Giffen, was OK, but proved stronger when it was focused on Clark Kent’s work life than the rather tiresome action scenes.  I guess the problem I’m having with the reboot in general is that I no longer know who or what Superman is supposed to be any longer.  All three major books (Superman, Action and Justice League) have had three totally different interpretations of him and it just leaves me confused.  But that’s a common problem with DC these days.  By the way, quick back issue recommendation, as I picked up the original Hush TPB recently, and LOVED it.  Unfortunate that the character got so watered down in later appearances, because Jim Lee and co. really hit it out of the park with the initial 12 part epic.  Haven’t got to my favorite one-two punch of the month yet in Animal Man and Swamp Thing, but I don’t foresee either one letting me down any time soon. 

Waiting For The Trade #2

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Batman & Dracula: Red Rain
by Doug Moench, Kelley Jones, Malcolm Jones III &
Les Dorscheid.
A brief introduction: So I want to thank Scott for the opportunity to write
this column on his blog. I figured I’d provide a brief bio, so readers will
know what to expect moving forward.

I’m primarily a
Marvel fan when it comes to comics. My favorite titles are Captain America and the
Avengers, Spider-man and Cosmic Marvel (Quasar, Silver Surfer, Thanos
crossovers, etc). I am of course familiar with DC’s major heroes but the only
DC book I ever seriously collected was JLI (although I did read the whole
Death/Reign of Superman arc in real time as well). From about 1985 (thanks to Secret
Wars) to 1995 I collected most of the Marvel line, although I dropped the
X-books about halfway through that period. Then in 95 the comics I loved were
beyond awful (Spidey’s Clone Saga and Avengers the Crossing) and I dropped the
hobby for about a decade with very few exceptions. Enter 2006, when I read in
the newspaper about Spidey unmasking for Civil War and I entered a comic shop
for the first time in a long while. While ultimately I was not impressed with
Civil War, that same first day back I picked up Annihilation since Quasar was
on the cover and was blown away by it. After about a year I realized I wasn’t all
that enamored with current Marvel except for the cosmic line but one of my
comic shops has a discount trade bin and I was able to pick up some Spidey from
the period I missed at $5 a piece. This got me into the trade paperback habit,
so I began following the few current books I liked (primarily Guardians of the
Galaxy) through trade instead of single issues. Throw in things like Amazon and
online comic dealers and I see no reason to ever pay $4 for a single issue when
half the time I can get trades at that price.
I tend to read
trades like I read real books, generally about a chapter a day on the one I am
most engrossed in and reading chapters of others concurrently when spare time presents
itself. I probably have 20 trades I haven’t read yet, about a dozen of which
are in various states of started so there should be no shortage of material to
review. That brings us to now. I told Scott I’d write reviews as I finish whatever
I am currently reading giving him about three columns a month, maybe more.
Again most of what I write about will be Marvel but in those 20 books I
mentioned I do have some Aquaman, Godzilla and Star Wars on deck so there will
be variety too.

And now on with the review.
Why I Bought This: Dracula is one my favorite characters in fiction. I
also enjoy whenever iconic characters are brought together. There are some
obvious parallels that can be drawn between these two, and I was looking
forward to seeing the execution. Additionally in Dec. 2010 I was given a
Batman-Dracula animated film as a gift and that ended up being very well done
and quite enjoyable, so when I learned about this completely unrelated graphic
novel from the early 90s I decided to track it down on Amazon.
The Plot: The non-spoiler version is contained pretty much in
the title. Dracula comes to Gotham
City and Batman has to
stop him. The Red Rain in the title is a reference to this being an Elseworlds
(i.e. out-of-continuity) story set in the near future in which pollution has
caused the rain to become red. Although ultimately this subplot has little to
do with main story other than a one panel scene in which Dracula explains the
rain is affecting people on a genetic level and thus afflicting him with madness
when he feeds. However, despite saying this he doesn’t seem to act any
different than we would expect Dracula to act anyway. I guess I should add
technically this is not a trade paperback but an original graphic novel but I
figure they’re similar enough, and I wanted a shorter review this time so I
could write the introduction.
For those who want
more of a play by play (spoilers ahead: you’ve been warned) Dracula comes to Gotham and begins feeding on the homeless creating a
vampire horde. Batman begins to have the kind of bad dreams that plague heroes
in vampire fiction while investigating what he believes to be slasher killings
at first. He stumbles upon a female vampire and is surprised by her strength,
and begins to investigate supernatural causes to the crimes. He tracks the
vampires to their lair but is about to be overwhelmed by their numbers when he
is rescued by a group of good vampires. Then Dracula arrives and mentally
dominates the good vampires, giving us our first one-on-one fight with Batman
and Dracula. Despite being wounded Batman fights Dracula to a stalemate by
using his own blood to paint a crucifix on the wall and his force of will to
hold Dracula at bay until sunrise.
We get the origin
of the leader of the good vampires, Tanya, and learn she has been visiting
Bruce in his dreams to give him vampiric powers while keeping him alive so he
can be a physical match for Dracula while being immune to his power to command
the undead. Batman and Tanya lure the vampiric horde into the Bat Cave
where Batman detonates a bomb totally destroying Wayne Manor and thus flooding
the cave with sunlight killing all of the vampires including Tanya.
Dracula does not
take this setback well and kidnaps Comm. Gordon, whom he decides to torture to
death rather than bite in a nod to his Vlad the Impaler days. He also mentally
takes control of the Bat
Cave bats that were freed
in the explosion and sets them loose on the city. Batman, now armed with
vampire-slayer versions of his weapons like silver batarangs, rescues Gordon
and begins the final battle forcing Dracula to retreat to the skies. He then
surprises Dracula by unveiling his own batwings thanks to Tanya and they fight
in the air above the city. Even with his newfound powers Batman finds Dracula
is still far stronger than him. He bites Bruce, who just before passing out
uses his knowledge of leverage to impale Dracula on a wooden telephone pole
that had been split by lightening. Batman then dies in Alfred’s arms. We see
Bruce Wayne’s funeral only for Batman to be reborn on the final page as a fully
undead vampire.
Critical Thoughts: I liked this. I think how both characters are
portrayed when in this sort of crossover/pastiche is always a primary concern.
Dracula comes across as ruthless and evil but also commanding, powerful and
used to getting what he wants; which is how he should be. Batman on the other
hand shines in the fight scenes were he is clearly outmatched but manages to
survive based on resourcefulness and willpower. The scene where uses his blood
to paint a crucifix and then stares Dracula down until dawn is a particular high point in the story.
I liked some of
the quiet moments as well, especially the scene where Batman visits the occult
specialist to research vampires and it leads to a philosophical debate on the
nature of evil.
I should also
mention this story is much bloodier than I would expect from a mainstream super
hero comic. The art in general is more inline with a horror comic than a
superhero comic but it works for the story.
Overall Grade: B+. We’re not reinventing the wheel but then these
types of stories where two archetypal characters meet for the first time are
not intended to do that. Within the confines of this subgenre it is a well-told
engaging story. Both characters are treated with respect particularly Dracula,
whom let’s face it is in the public domain and could easily have been placed
into an in-continuity story where Batman prevails against him like he does any
other super-foe. Instead we get the Elseworlds treatment so that we have a more
human Batman and Gotham isolated from the larger DC Universe suddenly beset by an
iconic unstoppable evil, which when you think about it isn’t that far off from
the atmosphere Bram Stoker used when he sent Dracula into London originally.