One must assume Batman: Through the Looking Glass was a Legends of the Dark Knight story arc DC didn’t get around to publishing. It’s hard to imagine reading it in issues though, since Bruce Jones’s script is so geared for one sitting. It’s Batman guest starring in Alice in Wonderland, with wonderful art from Sam Keith. It shouldn’t work, yet it does.
A lot of the success is due to Keith. His style fits a Wonderland adaptation, especially this one–characters, depending on the panel, are either fully rendered as anamorphic or their human traits come through. And seeing a forcibly playful rendering of Batman’s habitat is a lot of fun.
Jones’s script has three things going on. First, Batman’s tripping his way through Wonderland. Second, there’s a mystery. Third, there’s Bruce’s damaged psyche. In order for Bruce to solve the mystery–or even recognize it–everything’s got to come together. But it’s a small story; there’s a large, complicated cast, but it’s really just Batman and his sidekick, an Alice stand-in. Splitting the story into issues instead of chapters in one volume would just make it more incomprehensible… and it’s fairly incomprehensible now.
While Jones barely gets personal with Batman–the tripping aside–he and Keith do come up with some interesting “revisions” to the Batman legend. Glass ostensibly tells of Batman’s first encounter with the Mad Hatter, but Robin not wearing a mask is far more interesting.
Glass is wildly creative, bewilderingly confusing and a moderate success.
Writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Sam Keith; colorist, David Baron; letterer, Steve Wands; editor, Mike Carlin; publisher, DC Comics.
Gil draws like a man possessed this issue. It’s his first time pencilling in a while and he opens the issue with this reintroduction to the Savage Land. Very scenic, but also very big–only two or three panels a page. By the end of the issue, Gil’s fitting maybe fifteen panels a page. Major action events happen in two inch tall panels. It’s incredible. Gil’s detail isn’t right for Ka-Zar–he’s more suited for horror work–but the enthusiasm is amazing to see.
Some of it must be Jones’s fault. His script has about two issues worth of content, with Ka-Zar’s Savage Land buddies healing him and Shanna. So there’s the future science medical scenes, but then we learn… drum roll… Shanna’s mind is going. So Ka-Zar and friends go into her subconscious to save her.
It’s a busy issue, but Jones and Gil make it work.
This issue is extremely hectic. The first three-quarters of it pick up immediately following the previous issue–Ka-Zar and Spider-Man duke it out until they decide to be buddies. Then they go save Shanna, which is easier said than done.
But even after Shanna’s rescued, Jones doesn’t let up on the pace. Ka-Zar’s hellbent on getting out of New York immediately and, even though it’s fairly fantastic (and owes a lot to Raiders of the Lost Ark), his scheme works.
The issue’s a particularly nice exercise. Jones establishes Ka-Zar as wanting back to the Savage Land, the cover is clear on the New York exodus… it all comes together quite well.
Except, of course, Frenz’s artwork. It’s not completely awful, but he’s lost the urban touch he exhibited a few issues ago.
The Mayerik-illustrated backup comes to a fine conclusion. Some great artwork in just a few pages.
Since Shanna’s basically out of commission (she’s comatose in the second half and insane in the first), Peter Parker is basically the second protagonist. Jones splits the pages between him and Ka-Zar, though Ka-Zar has a lot more going on.
He escapes from the bad guys–Jones doesn’t, unfortunately, give the villains a satisfying send-off–and heads to New York for Shanna. There are obvious pacing problems as Ka-Zar globe trots, but Jones deftly covers that passage of time with Peter Parker. Peter’s taken with Shanna in a believable mix of protectiveness and chaste lust.
It’s too bad Frenz and Gil are lousy this issue, otherwise some of the quiet scenes would have been much nicer.
Aside from Jones’s usual problems with Ka-Zar as protagonist, it’s a fine issue.
The backup, still with waning Mayerik art, is exciting once again. Not shocking like last time, just exciting.
There’s a lot of action this issue. Jones really puts Hall through the paces fitting it all in. Ka-Zar and his evil lady friend fight the mad scientist and his men in the desert, then in their secret base. There’s also Shanna’s adventures in New York with Peter Parker.
Hall does a lot better in New York than he does with the action scenes. He does okay with them, but having Ka-Zar fighting in the desert, against Bond villains in jumpsuits, requires a creativity Hall doesn’t bring.
Most of the writing is good, though Jones relies heavily on expository thought balloons and narration. He’s got a lot of information to get across in addition to the action; he rushes to make it fit.
It’s good, but not particularly compelling.
The backup is positively disturbing and not because Mayerik’s art is losing detail. Jones reveals an alarming detail from Ka-Zar’s youth.
Jones turns Ka-Zar into James Bond this issue, setting him loose in Casablanca in a clumsy homage to the film. Jones includes lots of little details and nods and is very excited about it, but Casablanca isn’t an obscure film. Instead of witty, Jones’s homage seems overly cute.
His explanation for Ka-Zar’s resurrection is the James Bond stuff and then it’s desert adventure time. Oh, the evil secret agent woman forces herself on him. Ka-Zar is surprisingly risqué (and has been since the first issue).
Meanwhile, Shanna gets to hang out with Spider-Man a little more, but Jones severely reduces her page time in this issue. It’s too bad. Ka-Zar’s story is fantastic, but without emotional connection to the reader, whereas Shanna’s is all about that connection.
Bob Hall’s pencils are occasionally quite good, but usually just okay.
The flashback backup is fine, an excuse for Mayerik art.
Where the heck is Jones going with this comic book?
First off, the issue is a visual delight. Not because of the quality of the artwork, but because of the intricate page layouts. There is a whole page of a car chase from a birds eye view. It’s absolutely crazy stuff. Candido doesn’t do a great job finishing Frenz’s breakdowns, but with layouts like the ones in this issue… mediocre becomes spectacular.
Peter Parker is the issue’s costar, which is kind of fantastic. And Jones even gets away with Peter and Shanna getting busy.
But the threaten of a Parker dalliance is just a pit stop on Shanna’s journey this issue. She’s alone–with everything being taken from her (besides Ka-Zar dying, Zabu the sabertooth tiger is impounded–and she’s in a hostile environment.
Jones does an amazing job with Shanna as the real protagonist.
It’s a great comic.
Mel Candido is great inker for Frenz. For the most part, the issue looks great. Not great great, but great for a Marvel house style book, which Ka-Zar has apparently become. Right down to the Romita-style Peter Parker.
While the issue opens resolving the big Ka-Zar versus Kraven fight, it then becomes a conversation issue. Not quite talking heads, because the pacing isn’t slow enough. For example, Spider-Man and Kraven argue over whether they should fight, seeing as how they both worked together to save Ka-Zar.
The issue is then Shanna talking to Peter Parker about her life.
But somehow, it’s all very traditional. Jones doesn’t include any indulgences, but more… it seems like he isn’t interested. It’s a fine issue, but an unenthusiastic one.
However, the flashback backup is amazing. Mayerick’s art on this installment is singular and Jones writes a surprising hard cliffhanger.
Frenz is far more in his element here, with Ka-Zar having a New York adventure with Kraven the Hunter. They’re swinging around, crashing comic cons and just generally having antics. Jones’s strength is in the details, whether it’s he and Frenz cameoing at the con, the moronic cops Shanna asks for help or Ka-Zar figuring out what’s going on (he’s temporarily mute on top of the bullet lodged in his skull).
It’s the most fun Jones has had writing Ka-Zar as a narrator–he’s too busy trying to figure out his situation to be callous.
There is one major goof–Shanna’s in her jungle outfit, even though she wasn’t last issue. Apparently Frenz wanted her scantily clad.
Kraven’s a weak villain for Ka-Zar, who doesn’t do well in the “grounded” reality of the Marvel Universe.
The issue’s fun, but not particularly special. Though it does put Frenz to good use.
This issue is very full. Not a lot happens, but there are a lot of scenes and most of them have some action. Ka-Zar, an amnesiac mute after his brain injury, roams New York while Shanna tries to save him. She has to surmount government bureaucracy… and buy a new set of clothes. Meanwhile, the villainous hussy from last issue is doing her own thing.
Bringing Ka-Zar and Shanna to New York gives Jones a lot of material. The story itself is sort of secondary to the little encounters both have in the modern world. Jones maintains the characters perfectly–these are people who have left the modern world and are only back in it by force. They don’t fit, regardless of attire.
Unfortunately, Gil’s art has its usual problems, otherwise it’s excellent.
The backup has some beautiful Mayerik art… but not enough. The backup is way too short again.
Well, Anderson’s back in a “layout” capacity. Gil’s finishes are often pretty bad. Jones’s writing is strong enough to get the issue through, but it would have been far better with good art.
A botanist, his straying hussy wife and their sidekicks land in the Savage Land and throw Ka-Zar and Shanna’s day-to-day for a spin.
The hussy’s after Ka-Zar, who’s naively polite, but Shanna gets it. Jones again gives Shanna the most to do in terms of reaction. Ka-Zar might get into a couple fights, but it’s Shanna who figures out what the fights are about.
Unfortunately, the cliffhanger’s weak–Jones wants to take Ka-Zar to the city and is apparently willing to do anything to get him there.
Mayerik is back for another of the charming backups.
Jones clearly does not like Ka-Zar to be too strong a protagonist… and the comic is better for it.
This issue is a nice done-in-one, with Ka-Zar tripping on bad mushrooms and thinking he’s Sam Spade after a double-crossing dame (Shanna).
Unfortunately, Frenz is still on the art–I suppose his noir scenes are a little better than his jungle scenes, but not much. It’s a script tailor made for the departed Brent Anderson.
But what’s interesting about it is how Jones approaches the whole event. It’s clear he identifies more with Shanna. She choses the Savage Land lifestyle, which makes her more interesting than Ka-Zar, who’s bound to it. Half the issue follows her around and Jones does a fine job.
The Mayerik illustrated backup is this lovely story of Ka-Zar’s sabertooth tiger (when Ka-Zar was a kid). It’s all silent, just great, emotive imagery. Disney really ought to be mining this series for movies… but not as much as Marvel should be collecting it.
Ron Frenz. Ron Frenz does the pencils this issue. Ron Frenz doing jungle action. Not just jungle action, but jungle action with shades of Lovecraft.
It’s hideous. Even though Gil can’t pencil, he’s inked Ka-Zar well but there’s nothing he can do on Frenz’s pencils. This issue looks incredibly silly.
But the story’s not silly.
It reminds of the Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson Swamp Thing actually, with Ka-Zar and Shanna getting involved in the fantastic without having any idea what’s going on. The mystery keeps getting more confounding–a pygmy tribe, an adorable lemur and a tentacle monster–until Jones explains it all.
The issue works. Jones pulls it off, particularly because he’s got Ka-Zar alone as the protagonist for a while. And when Shanna is around, Jones comes up with some great character drama for the two of them.
The backup (with lovely Mayerik art) is too short.
Brent Anderson did “thumbnail layouts” for this issue, Gil does the rest. So there are some beautifully composed pages and panels and then not the art to make them work. Gil seems better suited for cartoonist work, not jungle adventure. Especially not a jungle adventure where subtle, poignant emotions are going to play a part.
The issue continues Jones’s pacing problems from the previous one. Even though the issues are immediately subsequent, Jones treats them like time passes. Just because the reader has had a month to sit on a story doesn’t mean the characters have….
As a result, Shanna’s emotional state has moved a lot and the ending, which is exceptionally predictable, falls flat. Jones finally confronts Shanna’s sociological superiority to “savage” peoples and that moment does work. The end could have been so much better.
The Val Mayerik illustrated backup is quite good. It improves the issue overall.