This Week’s Haul

  • Astro City: The Dark Age Book Four #1, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Batman and Robin #7, by Grant Morrison & Cameron Stewart (DC)
  • Green Lantern #50, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy, Rebecca Buchman, Tom Nguyen & Mark Irwin (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #35, by Bill Willingham, Travis Moore & Dan Green (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #19, by Matt Wagner, Joëlle Jones & David Hahn (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead #3 of 6, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fantastic Four #575, by Jonathan Hickman & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #22, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker & Andrew Hennessy (Marvel)
  • Echo #19, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #10, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • The Unknown: The Devil Made Flesh #4 of 4, by Mark Waid & Minck Oosterveer (Boom)
  • Chew #8, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
Batman and Robin #7 is the perfect example of the “average” Grant Morrison book:

  1. The story starts with the current Batman (Dick Grayson) carrying the body of the previous Batman (Bruce Wayne – or as far as everyone in the DC Universe knows it’s his body) out of its crypt. This page is a piece of the setup, but it then transitions to a seemingly-completely-unconnected scene in London, a gimmick Morrison often employs make his plots more cagey.
  2. Obscure guest stars, in this case Knight and Squire, the equivalent of Batman and Robin of England. (Morrison created the current versions of these characters, but their antecedents are from the Silver Age, and John Byrne also used them in his series Generations III.) Knight visually resembles another Morrison creation, Prometheus.
  3. The first two episodes of the story are essentially a blind for Batman’s real goal, which is the revive his predecessor with the help of a Lazarus Pit. This unfortunately tends to make many of Morrison’s stories hard to follow, especially as in this case, where it seems like Batman was well aware of where the pit was (the body preceded him there, after all), and Batwoman turns up for some reason, but the chain of events doesn’t really make much sense.
  4. The characterizations don’t quite ring true: Dick’s speech near the end about his drive to bring Bruce back belies both the rocky relationship between the two men as adults. Dick’s defeated tone of voice – even though he really had nothing to do with Bruce’s death – also feels out of character.

The story overall is intriguing despite its flaws, and Cameron Stewart draws the hell out of it, easily the best artwork the series has yet seen. The issue did have an unfortunate in word balloon placement flaw in one panel, and you might find a glossary of British terminology in the issue helpful, but neither is a detriment to the book.

What’s less encouraging is how the faux body of Batman is being handled, since we know from the end of Final Crisis that Bruce Wayne is still alive, apparently on a parallel world, but Dick says here that Superman confirmed that the body has Bruce’s DNA. Superman is by definition a reliable source in situations like this, so it has to be Bruce. Which severely limits how Morrison can explain that it’s not really Bruce: A clone would be so cliché that it would render the whole thing pointless. Bruce could have traded places with his double from the other Earth (which would be a bit draconian). But any solution which ends up with Superman being wrong or having been tricked means the whole thing fails. (This was a flaw in Mark Waid’s otherwise excellent The Return of Barry Allen, where Green Lantern’s ring verifies that Barry is really Barry, and that undercuts the whole story; this is a problem with having godlike characters running around your universe.) I’m curious to see whether Morrison can make it work.

Fantastic Four hits a mini-milestone this month, issue #575, but I thought the issue was a disappointment. It involves the FF going deep into the Earth to help the Mole Man with a problem he’s having, and they’re not able to help very much, but a highly-advanced underground city is raised to the surface within US territory, presumably to set up future storylines. There are some great visuals by Dale Eaglesham, but at the end my reaction was, “Wait, that’s it?” Something about this issue was just ill-conceived: Not a lot much action and not much of a climax, nor was it very thought-provoking. If it doesn’t end up setting up something big down the road, then I’ll wonder why they bothered with this issue at all.
The second series of The Unknown ends this week, and it’s been quite a bit better than the first series, which ended rather ambiguously and without a lot of satisfaction for the characters or the readers. It turns out that there were several things happening in the first series which were just not clear at the time, and writer Mark Waid reveals a lot of what was going on here: What Catherine Allingham was really after, and a the surprising nature of her former partner, Doyle.

At first, The Unknown seemed like it was going to be a Sherlock Holmes-like series (something Waid has done before in a more traditional manner with Ruse) with supernatural overtones, but in fact it’s turning out to be a fantasy/suspense/horror series which happens to have a detective as its protagonist, in particular, a detective interested in learning the truth about the afterlife because she’s under a death sentence herself.

Yet so much of the series’ status quo has been overturned in this second series that I wonder if Waid is going to send it off somewhere else again in the next series. I could easily see him wrapping up the whole story in one more series if that’s what he has in mind, or peeling back more layers from the onion. I could be happy with it either way, though I think making it a longer, more complex series will make it more likely that it will be a great story rather than an interesting diversion. Especially if he expands on the characters more, as they’re fairly one-dimensional so far.

The biggest surprise in independent comics last year was the series Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory. I missed the boat on it, and picked up the first collection and the next two issues to catch up, so now I’m up-to-date.

The premise is that in the near future avian flu has caused the US and several other nations to outlaw poultry from the market, and the F.D.A. is charged with investigating poultry and food-related crimes. Tony Chu was a cop who has the ability – more of a curse, really – to be able to read the history of anything he tastes. Very useful, but also rather disgusting when what you need to get information about is a rancid corpse. Tony is recruited to work for the FDA, his boss hates him, and his partner has an agenda at odds with Tony’s sense of right and wrong.

The stories are mildly disgusting (and often quite violent), but rather witty. The art is cartoony and expressive, not entirely my kind of thing, but it fits the story well. Overall it’s a very offbeat package, a little bit fantasy, a little bit crime drama. Some people love Chew to bits, while I think it’s entertaining enough but I don’t want to read it while I’m eating dinner. But if quirk is something you appreciate in a comic book, then it might well be for you.