New Super-Man Vol. 2: Coming to America (2017)

New Super-Man Vol. 2: Coming to America

Coming to America collects six issues of New Super-Man. Three different two-parters. Coming to America is the middle one. No idea why they’d have picked it other than Eddie Murphy movie. It’s not the best of the two-parters. Might be the worst. Certainly does have the worst faces. Billy Tan pencils most of the issues, first and third arcs. Regular artist Viktor Bogdanovic does America and it’s lazy faces. No one has any personality in those issues. The expressions aren’t as bad as the lack of detail, but they’re not good. They made me–shudder–miss Tan (thinking he was Bogdanovic because I didn’t want New Super-Man to have art problems).

The middle story is also heavy on DC Rebirth continuity, which is a terribly mean thing to do. I want to avoid that nonsense like the plague. So having Lex and Superman Rebirth guest star doesn’t really do much for the comic. It’s kind of filler, just because writer Gene Luen Yang true desire seems to be introducing the New, Chinese Flash. And also because the relationship between Superman Rebirth and New Super-Man? There’s nothing special about it. It has no personality coming from either of them. Superman Rebirth is patient as Christ, New Super-Man is awestruck. Yawn.

But that brand crossover aside, everything else in Coming to America is a success for Yang. He doesn’t just build New Super-Man–Kenan–he also builds the other members of the JL China. Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman. They get this great arc together involving Bat-Man’s little sister and a nemesis. Excellent stuff. Yang seems to do better in pairs–Bat-Man and Wonder-Woman, then New Super-Man and New Flash.

The finale, which ends–quite frustratingly for a collection–on a big cliffhanger, has New Super-Man Zero returning. He’s the first attempt at a Chinese Super-Man and he’s far more powerful than Kenan. The real overarching story of this collection isn’t the Lex Luthor-funded trip to Metropolis, but Kenan’s relationship with his new mentor as he tries to unlock his superpowers. He’s got all the Superman powers, he just has a blocked qi. Once he’s able to unblock and properly channel his qi, Kenan gets some of the regular powers.

It seems like way too much of a plot device–which the artists integrate into the panels too, showing actual qi meters–but it always works out. Despite his obtuse arrogance, Kenan’s a great protagonist. His heart’s never too far away from the right place and the supporting cast ably brings him around.

Hopefully the art issues get resolved. Someone needs to tell Bogdanovic to slow down and take his time. Because, as distinct as Bogdanovic can be, the mood can be easily duplicated. Tan easily takes over the visuals on the comic. He’s more balanced than Bogdanovic, even if he’s bland. He’s consistent. Consistency is important.

Yang’s got a good pace throughout, he’s got a fantastic attention to character detail, he writes good action scenes. New Super-Man has it all.

CREDITS

Writer, Gene Luen Yang; pencillers, Billy Tan and Viktor Bogdanovic; inkers, Yanqiu Li, Haining, Jonathan Glapion, and Bogdanovic, and Tako Zhang; colorists, Yangfen Guo, Gadson, Michael Spicer, and Ying Zhan; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Paul Kaminski and Eddie Berganza; publisher, DC Comics.

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New Super-Man: Made in China (2017)

New Super-Man: Made in China

New Super-Man is a lot of fun. Writer Gene Luen Yang approaches it like a serious spoof and artists Viktor Bogdanovic and Richard Friend are very much in on the joke.

There’s a secret Chinese agency developing “The Justice League of China.” They need a “Superman” and pick Kong Kenan. Kenan is a high school bully who ends up on TV because of an uncontrollable urge to help people. Yang doesn’t look at that uncontrollable urge, but later in Made in China, Yang does give Kenan some redemption. His bullying, while bad, has its origins in his unresolved pain. He’s deep.

Luckily, Yang concentrates more on the fun than the hints at depth. There are a lot of big reveals in the second half of the book and everytime you have a reveal, it screws with depth. Yang tries, with one of the biggest reveals, to compensate with backstory, but it’s not enough. New Super-Man doesn’t have the wherewithal to do serious political comedy. Instead, it does a reasonable facisimile version. With bickering superhero teams. Because bickering superhero teams are fun.

Young superheroes in trouble.

Kenan has sidekicks in “Wonder Woman” and “Batman.” They both have not as memorable real names. Batman doesn’t like Kenan, which is simultaneously obvious and ingenious. By the finish, when the team is hanging out in their civilian clothes, Yang has completed China’s deftest character arcs. He’s building a strong superhero comic supporting cast, but he avoids obvious bonding moments. It’s cool. The relationships between all three, particularly “Superman” and “Wonder Woman,” are great.

The stuff with Kenan and his dad, which turns out to be extremely important not just for reveals and epical plotting and so on… well, it could be better. The dad’s a little too mysterious, too disinterested. Yang waits too long to work on the relationship. It starts as C plot and waits a real long time before rushing to join the A plot.

New Super-Man is so Justice League there are Chinese knockoff Starro.

Bogdanovic and Friend’s art is good. They handle the action and just the general energy of the book. Kenan’s always antsy, physically impulse, even before he has superpowers. There’s a fine visual continuity to the characters as China goes on. Bogdanovic has an excellent sense of composition. There’s not as much detail as there could be, especially on faces, but the comic’s breezy enough it doesn’t register.

New Super-Man is a good time. Yang, Bogdanovic, and Friend build a solid character, solid pitch, with Made in China. Hopefully they keep Super-Man flying.

CREDITS

Writer, Gene Luen Yang; penciller, Viktor Bogdanovic; inker, Richard Friend; colorist, Hi-Fi Colour Design; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Paul Kaminski, Eddie Berganza, and Bob Harras; publisher, DC Comics.

Superman: American Alien (October 2016)

superamericanalienThe tagline on the back of this book is, “This is not a Superman comic.” Yes, but not because it’s a Clark Kent comic. No, it’s a Max Landis comic. Max Landis thinks he’s Clark Kent and this comic is an alternately banal and nauseating expression of his ego. Maybe it was inevitable he’d write a Superman graphic novel eventually, since his biggest fame has not come from his produced screenplays (including the found-footage superhero movie Chronicle) but from his viral YouTube videos about The Death of Superman and Clark Kent himself, which led to appearances on popular movie geek channels like Red Letter Media and Movie Fights, where he’s amusingly trashed Zack Snyder et all. A lot of people find his personality annoying but he’s at least earnestly articulate in his geek enthusiasms – especially for Superman, since Superman has been considered the uncool runner-up to Batman for about 30 years and needs the boost. But Max Landis’ version of Clark Kent is his own fantasy of being less self-aware, of wanting to be genuinely humble about possessing extraordinary talents, or at least privileges, that are his birthright – while maintaining the veneer of a happy-go-lucky geek.

Liking Superman better than Batman is arguably the Hipster’s preference. Landis actually wrote a Superman comic in 2014, a one issue imaginary first confrontation between Superman and The Joker where the punchline is that Joker can’t torment a superhero with a sense of humor and actual superpowers. Essentially, using the most popular Batman villain to argue that Superman is in another league. That and his YouTube videos have never given the impression he was affecting an ironic love of Superman. American Alien, collecting a limited series of seven issues with different artists for each story and backup one-page fill-ins, confirms Max Landis’ sincere appreciation for Superman – or at least just Clark Kent, in an unexpectedly disturbing reflection of the author’s own self-love. It’s not the kind of thing you’d notice if you weren’t familiar with Max Landis the Geek-Hollywood icon (that ignominious realm where people like Joss Whedon and Chris Hardwick dwell) but if people weren’t already familiar with Max Landis this book wouldn’t be on the New York Times bestseller list.

The first story, Dove, is about a very young Clark learning to fly. He also goes to see E.T. at the drive-in with Lana Lang, as Landis doesn’t know what life in Kansas is like but knows people go to movies. A John Deere trucker hat sees Clark riding on a pickup in cornrows and remarks, “Damn hippies.” What’s the matter with Kansas? “Maybe weird is better” says Jonathan Kent, reassuring his son who punched a mirror in fit of alien self-hate. Someday he’ll be in the big city where weird is normal and the exceptionally weird can flourish. Artist Nick Dragotta’s figures and backgrounds are fine enough but his manga-influenced facial expressions melt all over the character’s heads and their mouths are frequently just monochromatic ovals. Matthew Clark designs and illustrates a more compelling two page spread to ending the issue, with the Kent’s bulletin board collection of personal letters and photos telling the backstory of a prior miscarriage by Martha, their young professional lives as a veterinarian and lawyer, and most tellingly to Max’s unselfconscious elitism, a letter from Martha assuring John that the inheritance of his father’s farm does not mean he’s “‘trapped’ back in Smallville.”

The second story, Hawk, is Clark Kent’s first incident stopping some bad guys. They’re completely loco bad guys out of an exploitation movie, too, whose motivation is purely to kill innocent people. Clark stops them because darn it, that’s just the right thing to do. Passable teen banter between Clark and Pete Ross at the beginning, before the crushingly predictable proceedings. Tommy Lee Edwards does a good job with the art and color which has a gritty true crime feel. The inconsequential, one page Doomsday cameo at the end with art by Evan “Doc” Shaner feels like a reminder that Max’s Death and Return of Superman video is the only reason you’re wasting time reading yet another variation on the most cliched pivotal moment of every superhero’s origin story. Even Batman tried fighting crime without a costume first.

Parrot, the third story, finally finds Clark in an environment Landis knows how to write authentically: a party for stupid, fake rich people. The setup is still extremely contrived: Clark happens to win a Bahamas vacation trip where the plane just happens to crash next to a boat which just happens to be Bruce Wayne’s 21st birthday, who’s not there, so everyone just assumes Clark is Bruce. And it just so happens no one knows what Bruce Wayne looks like? He hooks up with pre-Cheetah Barbara Ann Minerva, whom he tells he wants to be a veterinarian because dumb animals don’t know how to ask for help. I think this is supposed to be touching and not condescending. Deathstroke cameos in a failed assassination attempt which, facetiously, Clark is unfazed by and immediately forgets. The closest the story comes to a meaningful moment is when Clark remarks on the decadence of rich people eating gold flakes on caviar, but the whole issue is like Max Landis doing a PG-rated Brett Easton Ellis where he uses an insider’s perspective to affirm his superior self-awareness towards the rich kids he grew up with. Really appealing art by Joëlle Jones and vibrant colors by Rico Renzi.

The one-pager at the end of this issue is a high point for the series’ creep factor. Mr. Mxyzptlk, a character whom I love, especially for his license to break the fourth wall, is turned into the hideously honest voice of Landis’ narcissism as he imparts to the reader that fame is life:

“Who’s more real, you or me?…How many people know your name?…I was created as a character in 1944…Millions of people have known my name…I don’t need a body…I’m living in your head right now…When you think of me later…I’ll be alive again…And yet, I can promise with absolute certainty that I will never once think of YOU.”

Mxyzptlk wasn’t half as frightening when Alan Moore revealed his true form and set him on Superman. This is Landis trying to do Grant Morrison, Animal-Man-can-see-you kind of philosophical comics, but it’s malicious. There’s a panel where Mxy goes monstrous looking, so maybe this kind of existentialism frightens him, too – but if he’s frightened by the fact he’ll never be as famous as Mr. Mxyyzptlk, he’s also comforted by the fact he gets to be his voice for a moment in time. If you’ve ever met the children of famous people, or even heard them speak publicly, you start to notice this equation of obscurity and oblivion.

Owl, the fourth story, introduces Lex Luthor, and as great heroes are defined by their villains, so too do neurotic writers define themselves by their hero’s villains. Telegraphed as a follower of “Ayn Rand bull” by Lois Lane, Luthor gives a monologue to budding reporter Clark Kent about his philosophy of life, which is basically that geniuses who can work hard are rare, and they don’t tend to be people who’ve had things handed to them, and he doesn’t need people to like him in order to carry on what he thinks is his important work. Sounds like an okay guy, right? Is this what Landis thinks sounds sinister? Sure he’s arrogant about it, but this is the ethos of people who actually exist in real life and want to advance the human race, not a fantasy figure of Christlike selflessness. Christ didn’t need to be liked, either. Apparently Landis just has genuine contempt for the self-made Lex Luthors of the world. Clark then runs into the young Robin, who tells him that Batman needs a counterpart because darkness needs light, and fear needs hope, and I’m so tired of superhero dialogue where they talk about their own marketing strategies.

Jae Lee does great art, even though she draws everyone Asian. Lois Lane looks like Lois Long. Colorist June Chung does really beautiful impressionist style backgrounds.

Steve Dillon illustrates a slick 12 panel silent origin for the Parasite. This was one of the last pages he ever drew. RIP.

The fifth story, Eagle, is a routine as hackneyed as Hawk – Superman’s first encounter with a monster of Luthor’s creation, he shows up at Luthor’s office, Luthor has plausible deniability, yadda yadda yadda. The only interesting detail is how Clark’s inspiration to put an “S” on his chest came from an off-hand sarcastic remark from Luthor in the previous issue (about how special people don’t just put an “S” on their chests) and in this issue he decides that the “S” stands for “Super” based on another sarcastic remark from Luthor. Superman’s whole shtick is a troll on Luthor! Earlier in the issue, Clark says “I’m sincere a lot. It’s my thing” which is a good encapsulation of Landis’ faux-humility he projects onto Clark.

The one-pager closer is a real toss-off: a letter from Jimmy Olsen quitting The Daily Planet for not running a story exposing how Two-Face is really Harvey Dent. If Max Landis is so smart why does he think The Dark Knight is a good movie worth referencing?

Speaking of Jimmy Olsen, in the following story Angel he’s revealed as a gay black man, so maybe Max also thought Superman Lives was worth referencing. Or he’s simply into forced revisionist diversity. Just kidding, I read his Twitter feed; it’s the latter. Pete Ross visits from Smallville to mention that the “S” was also on the side of baby Kal-El’s pod, like Landis realized his mistake in the previous issues about its origin and decided to hedge bets that Luthor’s remarks were a coincidence. Almost the entire issue is Pete Ross telling Clark he needs to take being Superman more seriously. It’s very boring, but with nice art & color by Jonathan Case.

Valkyrie, the final story, is Superman meeting Lobo, whom Landis absolutely has no clue how to write. They fight and it’s kind of a rewrite of the Zod fight from Man of Steel, all over and done with pretty quickly, though artist Jock makes it look cool with his own unique style. A real anticlimax of a finish.

Superman: American Alien manages to be boring, pretentious and derivative all at once. It’s sheer mediocrity propped up by good-to-great artists who deserved better material. Landis likes Superman and has absolutely nothing to say with the character, only about him, without the conciseness of a ten minute YouTube diatribe. The book is a bestseller because its author is Internet famous for talking about Superman, wrestling, Star Wars and other clickbait, not because it’s good. Don’t even wait for the softcover edition. Track down his Joker-meets-Superman story with nice art by Jock – The Sound of One Hand Clapping, instead. It’s a lot better than anything in this waste of shelf space.

CREDITS

Writer, Max Landis; artists, Nick Dragotta, Tommy Lee Edwards, Joëlle Jones, Jae Lee, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Jock; colorists, Alex Guimares, Tommy Lee Edwards, Rico Renzi, June Chung, Francis Manapul, Jonathan Case, Lee Loughridge; lettering, John Workman; publisher, DC Comics.

Superman and Batman: World’s Funnest (November 2000)

Superman and Batman: World's Funnest

Dave Gibbons does the most art on World’s Funnest. It’s not exactly the standard Dave Gibbons art, either, it’s Dave Gibbons doing Silver Age and it’s awesome. What writer Evan Dorkin taps into with World’s Funnest is the experience of being a Batman and Superman fan in the late eighties and early nineties; it’s practically a companion piece for those Greatest [insert DC character here] Stories Ever Told. The hardcover ones with beautiful reprints of the old stories, which weren’t cool in any modern sense, but you had to do the work to appreciate them because you want to be a good fan. You want to understand. And Dorkin’s trip through the DC multiverse is all about understanding, both the multiverse and the way it presents to the reader. Even though the first eighteen or so pages are all set in the Silver Age, Dorkin’s observations about the tropes make it all very modern. It never feels wrong to the characters, but it’s rather self-aware, from injured villains to Robin’s constant need for approval; Dorkin could’ve stopped World’s Funnest with a Silver Age riff and done something awesome, but then he keeps going.

Mxy and Bat-Mite battle for Infinite Earths; art by Dave Gibbons.
Mxy and Bat-Mite battle for Infinite Earths; art by Dave Gibbons.

I didn’t know what to expect from World’s Funnest. I missed it when it first came out, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to open it to discover an impressive list of creators. Unfortunately, it’s an alphabetical list of creators. So I sorted them out in order of their contributions.

First up after Gibbons is Mike Allred, who also comes first alphabetically, so he’s a terrible example. Oh, wait, I probably need to at least acknowledge the premise of the comic, which I wasn’t familiar with either. Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite battle across the DC multiverse and its various time periods and dimensions within universes. Dorkin doesn’t get into the science, which is both awesome and surprising. I can’t believe they got away with some of this stuff.

Allred handles the Phantom Zone, but an Earth–2 Phantom Zone? Like pre-Crisis Earth–2 Phantom Zone. Or maybe just a Silver Age Phantom Zone. Again, Dorkin’s not interested in the locations for narrative purposes, just for homage. It’s a violent, pseudo-cynical homage, but it’s never mean-spirited. World’s Funnest is enamored with the comics it comments on. With the possible exception of some nineties references.

Mxy isn't sure what to make of the Marvel Family, art by Jaime Hernandez.
Mxy isn’t sure what to make of the Marvel Family, art by Jaime Hernandez.

Then Sheldon Moldoff handles the actual Earth-Two visit, Stuart Immomen and Joe Giella on Earth-Three. Frank Cho’s got some lovely art for the Quality Comics universe. Jaime Hernandez does Captain Marvel’s universe, which is a hilarious visit for the battling imps. Dorkin never directly contrasts the different universes, but lining them up and inspecting each does reveal a lot of amusing details. Scott Shaw gets Captain Carrot, Stephen DeStefano does some fumetti, then Jim Woodring gets to do the trip to the Fifth Dimension.

Now, it’s hard to imagine not being familiar with Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite as a DC Comics reader, but it gets more possible with each passing year and each rebranding and each reboot. Dorkin approaches the story with just the right mix of nostalgia and commentary; there isn’t time for introducing the various worlds though–which might actually make World’s Funnest a great primer for DC Comics history. There’s a familiarity curve to the comic book. A daunting one.

Not even Darkseid can keep a straight face during WORLD'S FUNNEST; art by David Mazzucchelli!
Not even Darkseid can keep a straight face during WORLD’S FUNNEST; art by David Mazzucchelli!

After Woodring, David Mazzucchelli does an amazing Jack Kirby trip to Apokolips. I didn’t think it was Mazzucchelli when I was reading it. I’m even more impressed now and I was rather impressed while reading it. Dorkin and Mazzucchelli match Kirby’s enthusiasm and outlandishness without letting it go absurd. Darkseid’s one of the best supporting players in the comic.

Jay Stephens does “Super Friends,” Glen Murakami and Bruce Timm do a storyboard for the animated series, then along comes Frank Miller to do a Dark Knight bit. It’s freaking amazing. And really good art from Frank too; I think the good art from Frank Miller in 2000 was what surprised me the most about it. Doug Mahnke and Norm Rapmund do the nineties flashback, which is the closest the comic gets towards being nasty about its reference points. Then Phil Jimenez does an awesome Crisis section, very Perez. Ty Templeton does a few pages of general universe transporting before the Alex Ross finale. It’s only a few pages, a few panels, but it’s awesome to see what a “Batman: The TV Show” Bat-Mite would’ve looked like (albeit in superior lighting to the show).

It's Bat-Mite by Alex Ross. Really.
It’s Bat-Mite by Alex Ross. Really.

And it’s funny. All of it’s really funny and really smart about how it’s being funny. Dorkin doesn’t have one joke not connect, even the handful I might not have fully appreciated. It’s a lovely tribute to a lot of comics and a lot of comic creators. I’m embarrassed not to have read it until now.

CREDITS

Last Imp Standing!; writer, Evan Dorkin; artists, Dave Gibbons, Mike Allred, Sheldon Moldoff, Frank Cho, Jaime Hernandez, Scott Shaw, Stephen DeStefano, Jim Woodring, David Mazzucchelli, Jay Stephens, Frank Miller, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton and Alex Ross; pencillers, Stuart Immomen, Glen Murakami and Doug Mahnke; inkers, Joe Giella, Bruce Timm and Norm Rapmund; colorist, Chris Chuckry and Mazzucchelli; letterer, Tom Orzechowski; editor, Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

World’s Funnest (April 2016)

 worldsfunnestMr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite are arguably DC’s greatest creations. As respective foils to Superman and Batman they’re perfect critiques of the characters: Mxy the childish trickster-god to a godlike man, and Bat-Mite a child playing god with the man he worships…who is still a child inside, at least emotionally. They’re both insanely powerful and also stand-ins for any precocious young comics readers, trying to imagine the most impossible situations to challenge these men who can do virtually anything. Bat-Mite’s version of the routine underscores the irony with an ill-fitting fan costume – he’s the original comicon cosplayer. World’s Funnest collects Evan Dorkin’s one-shot of the same name from 2000 along with the imps’ first Golden Age appearances and several other quality stories, and it’s a nearly perfect greatest-hits showcase for these uniquely irreverent characters.

The titular story alone is worth the price of admission. With a stunning list of guest artists doing either parodies of their own style (Frank Miller re-creating The Dark Knight Returns) or perfect imitations of classic styles from DC history (David Mazzucchelli doing Jack Kirby’s New Gods), Evan Dorkin sends Mxyzptlk on an apocalyptic death hunt for Bat-Mite across the DC Universe, offhandedly obliterating continuities and timelines with all the slapstick ferocity of Milk and Cheese filtered through an Eltingville Club level of inside-joke comics geekery. Arguably the only flaw is how some of his best jokes rely on the reader’s familiarity with obscure DC references like Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew, but Dorkin goofs on so many other, better known targets like Superfriends and Kingdom Come that there’s something for everyone Like Eltingville Club, this is Dorkin spinning his fanboy self-hatred into comedy gold, subversively under the official DC banner – Batman and Superman are literally murdered within the first few pages, and then murdered several more times before the story is finished, as the Brian Bolland cover promises. It’s a breathtakingly hysterical, once-in-a-corporate-lifetime event that seems even more audacious sixteen years later.

mxy-first
Note the early alternate spelling

This is followed up by the first appearances, with Siegel and Shuster’s “The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk” from 1944 and “Batman Meets Bat-Mite” from 1959, written by Bill Finger and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff. These stories have been reprinted a lot over the years but are obviously essential to an official Bat-Mite and Mxy compendium. Joe Shuster’s original design for Mxy is the most adorable he ever looked, as if a 1920s newspaper comic strip character came to visit Superman’s (slightly) more realistically-rendered world. Bat-Mite skirts the uncanny valley a little closer, resembling a midget in a Batman costume rather than a child – which is technically correct, since as he points out, he’s not an elf but comes from a dimension where all men are his size. This explanation is preceded by one of the greatest panels in comic book history:

batmite
HI!

Their debuts are followed by another oft-reprinted but essential landmark: Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s first crossover story together from a 1960 issue of World’s Finest with art by Batman luminary Dick Sprang, by which point Mxyzptlk was redesigned to be an uglier imp, something more akin to Coiley the Spring Sprite. The story by Jerry Coleman is an inconsequential spectacle, but established the dynamic between the two pests for every subsequent meetup: Bat-Mite as the annoying goody-two-shoes to the more malevolent Mxy. Sightings of either character were pretty scarce afterwards, as the collection’s next story is plucked from nearly 20 years later – an odd six page back-up story from a 1979 Detective Comics entitled Bat-Mite’s New York Adventure! In what’s basically just an excuse for some DC staff to put themselves in a comic, Bat-Mite poofs into the offices of, yes, DC Comics and cajoles the vintage 1979 nerds (not a one without glasses, several with sideburns) to put him in Detective Comics. Which is the comic you just read. Get it? While the joke fails to have a punchline, at least the art by Michael Golden features a disgustingly cute version of Bat-Mite. And to give credit writer Rob Rozakis, while his story fails to be funny it may be the first to realize the self-referential, fourth-wall breaking possibilities of Bat-Mite as a fifth dimensional imp, and by corollary Mr. Mxyzptlk.

batmitegolden
Michael Golden’s Bat-Mite is just too adorbs

DC wasn’t yet ready to full dive into post-modernism, however, as Bat-Mite’s sole appearance in the 80s was a one-page cameo in a 1983 anniversary issue of The Brave and the Bold. Just as in his prior outing, he demands recognition from the corporate overlords (this time breaking the fourth wall outright by addressing the reader) only to be erased by a giant pencil a la Duck Amuck. The art is by Stephen DeStefano, although it’s such early work in his career that his personal style isn’t yet recognizable – unlike the page he contributed 16 years later to Dorkin’s World’s Funnest. While not quite a hidden gem, the inclusion of this forgotten rarity is definitely the kind of bonus indicating the volume’s organizers relished their task. The next two stories are Mxyzptlk tales from the late 80s era of Superman, first with writer/artist John Byrne’s re-introduction of the character and then a later appearance by writers Roger Stern and Tom Peyer, with art by Paris Cullins. Byrne’s story is as exemplary of high quality mainstream superhero comics as anything else he was doing during the 80s, while Stern & Peyer pit a fun novelty matchup of Mxy against Lex Luthor for a change. Cullins, whose art I wasn’t previously familiar with, has a style similar to John Byrne’s only more unhinged – he gets some wild expressions into his human characters, while Mxyzptlk often looks like a demonic gremlin. In other words, cool stuff.

mxy
The gloriously gross 80s: Paris Cullins’ Mxyzptlk

The second best comic in the collection after Dorkin’s is Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s post-Crisis reintroduction of Bat-Mite from 1992, Legend of the Dark Mite, which I cajoled Andrew into reading and reviewing here. Surprisingly, generously also included is Grant & O’Neill’s perennially unpopular follow-up from 1995, Mitefall (it’s great, but shops are still trying to get it out of their discount bins to this day) which continues the adventures of Bob Overdog and Bat-Mite in order to take the piss out of Knightfall storyline. Between this and Dorkin’s story, Bat-Mite really achieves his full potential as an avatar for writers seeking to mock DC from within. Sandwiched between these tales is a more sedate 1999 World’s Finest meeting of Bat-Mite and Mxy, which actually isn’t out of order thanks to an opening caption declaring it to take place “five years earlier” so the continuity commissars can’t complain. The Imp-Possible Dream has a humdrum plot but a surprisingly wry and snarky script by Karl Kesel – only Mxy could really get away with a Batman/Robin gay joke, right? Artist Peter Doherty’s versions of the imps kind of resemble Sylvester P. Smythe of Cracked magazine, while his human figures and faces are unfortunately stiff by comparison. Overall, it’s okay. Really, the book’s sole offensive inclusion is the concluding two-parter from 2008, Lil’ Leaguers, from the series Superman/Batman. In what Mxyzptlk admits to be a sales-generating gimmick (the most crass use of fourth wall breaking), superdeformed chibi versions of the DCU invade Batman and Superman’s world to run around being cuter, more marketable versions of them. Bat-Mite shows up for two pages at the conclusion to explain his collusion in the prank. It’s not a Mxy story, it’s not a Bat-Mite story and there’s a creepy lolicon vibe when lil’ Catwoman jumps on regular-size Batman. While not a bad comic – Rafael Albuquerque’s art is certainly appealing – it feels like unnecessary filler.

batman-legends
Alan Grant & Kevin O’Neill’s Legend of the Dark Mite: comics in the 90s assumed you’d read the classics

Born of the era in comics when superheroes excelled at flights of fancy, Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite’s history is almost as long as Superman and Batman’s. In 1986, the year of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns when superheroes were being put to bed, Alan Moore’s revelation of a malignant Mxy as Superman’s ultimate nemesis in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow spoke slyly to the genre’s sea change; that powerful forces once joyful and innocent were degenerating into something sinister. Bat-Mite has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, with media such as the animated Batman: The Brave and the Bold employing him as a post-modern mouthpiece for multiple generations of Bat-fans, with the inspired casting of Paul Reubens. As superheroes are ultimately creatures of the comics medium no matter how many movies and cartoons are shoveled out for the illiterate masses, Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk are creatures representing the medium’s unlimited possibilities for pure anarchic imagination. The talents who contributed to this book are many of the greatest in the industry. World’s Funnest  both the Evan Dorkin story and now the expanded collection bearing the same name, is an absolute must-have.

CREDITS

World’s Funnest; writers, Evan Dorkin, Jerry Siegel, Bill Finger, Jerry Coleman, Bob Rozakis, Stephen DeStefano, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Tom Peyer, Alan Grant, Karl Kesel, Michael Green, Mike Johnson; artists, Mike Allred, Frank Cho, Stephen DeStefano, Dave Gibbons, Jaime Hernandez, Stuart Immonen, Phil Jimenez, Doug Mahnke, David Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller, Sheldon Moldoff, Glen Murakami, Alex Ross, Scott Shaw, Jay Stephens, Ty Templeton, Jim Woodring, Joe Shuster, Dick Sprang, Michael Golden, John Byrne, Paris Cullins, Kevin O’Neill, Peter Doherty, Rafael Albuquerque; collection editor, Robin Wildman; publisher, DC Comics.

Lois Lane 2 (September 1986)

Lois Lane #2

Newell figures out how to manage the issue better this time–there’s still the informative scenes, a particularly one where Lois goes to a home for runaways–but they feel more natural. The plotting of the comic, which is somewhat confusing just because Lois isn’t a rational protagonist, is fantastic.

There are a lot of subplots–Lucy, Lana, the detective, the rest of the staff at the Planet. While Lois doesn’t have time for them (about the only place where the issue falters is when Lois realizes how isolated she’s become), Newell takes the time. She shows how they’re reacting not just to the distance from Lois, but from their proximity to the events she’s covering.

And then there’s Clark. While a Superman “family” comic, there’s no Superman (something Newell undoubtedly wanted, given the seriousness of the story), but she still gets in the complicated relationship between Lois and Clark.

It’s excellent work.

A- 

CREDITS

When It Rains, God is Crying; writer, Mindy Newell; artist, Gray Morrow; colorist, Joe Orlando; letterer, Agustin Mas; editor, Robert Greenberger; publisher, DC Comics.

Lois Lane 1 (August 1986)

Lois Lane #1

Writer Mindy Newell gives Lois Lane a serious story to cover–a murdered child–which sends her into an obsessive panic. Newell shows not just Lois’s investigative work, but also how the pursuit affects her and those around her.

The Gray Morrow art is elegant and disturbing. It’s a perfect combination; he’s able to handle the talking heads parts and the more emphatic, quiet parts. Newell and Morrow push on the informative angle, but they compensate it with the rest.

Newell explores how disturbed Lois becomes, how single-minded. There are some plot contrivances–problems at work, Lucy in town–but Newell still just uses them to emphasize Lois’s irrationality and drive.

The comic’s also got a great domestic scene with Clark and Lana. Newell’s very deliberate when it comes to the characters, particularly in their thought balloons.

The comic is awkwardly paced, but Newell and Morrow execute it successfully.

B 

CREDITS

When It Rains, God is Crying; writer, Mindy Newell; artist, Gray Morrow; colorist, Joe Orlando; letterer, Agustin Mas; editor, Robert Greenberger; publisher, DC Comics.

Lois Lane 1 (April 2014)

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Pulitzer Prize-winning–not to mention gainfully employed–journalist Lois Lane thinks in hackneyed phrases like “a thief in the night.”

About the only nice thing to say about Lois Lane–her first comic to herself in almost twenty years–is I like how writer Marguerite Bennett keeps the misspelling thing from Superman: The Movie. Sure, it might be a DC New 52 editorial decision and it’s not like Bennett does it well–or gets why it worked in the movie–but whatever.

The art, from a litany of folks who I’m not taking the time to list, isn’t bad. It’s not good, but it’s decent enough DC house style. No crazy proportion problems. The monsters look cool.

The story has to do with Lois being a good sister to Lucy, who’s had a girlfriend for five years and hasn’t told her sister. They need help. Just like this comic.

D- 

CREDITS

Nostalgia; writer, Marguerite Bennett; pencillers, Ig Guara, Meghan Hetrick-Murante, Emanuela Lupacchino and Diogenes Neves; inkers, Marc Deering, Meghan Hetrick-Murante, Ruy Jose and Guillermo Ortego; colorist, Hi-Fi Colour Design; letterer, John J. Hill; editor, Rickey A. Purdin; publisher, DC Comics.

Wednesday Comics 12 (23 September 2009

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One should never hope for too much from finales. Especially not from an extremely uneven anthology series like Wednesday Comics.

Batman’s bad. Kamadi flops. Superman apparently only remembered after twelve installments he had a wife at home.

Deadman is okay. One of the better mediocre strips. Green Lantern is bad. Metamorpho is lacking; Gaiman tries too hard for nostalgia.

Teen Titans is awful, Adam Strange is great. Supergirl is cute again, but Metal Men goes out too dreary. I still have no idea what story Caldwell told with Wonder Woman.

Sgt. Rock’s lame again, but in a syrupy way now. Good Flash comic, though confusing, and an almost okay finish to The Demon and Catwoman. Hawkman is severely lacking too.

The winner of Wednesday Comics is easily Paul Pope for Adam Strange. The losers are just as easy–the inept team of Eddie Berganza and Sean Galloway for Teen Titans.

CREDITS

Batman; writer, Brian Azzarello; artist, Eduardo Risso; colorist, Patricia Mulvihill; letterer, Clem Robins. Kamandi; writer, Dave Gibbons; artist, Ryan Sook. Superman; writer, John Arcudi; artist, Lee Bermejo; colorist, Barbara Ciardo; letterer, Ken Lopez. Deadman; writers, Vinton Heuck and Dave Bullock; artist, Bullock; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Jared Fletcher. Green Lantern; writer, Kurt Busiek; artist and colorist, Joe Quinones; letterer, Pat Brosseau. Metamorpho; writer, Neil Gaiman; artist, Mike Allred; colorist, Laura Allred; letterer, Nate Piekos. Teen Titans; writer, Eddie Berganza; artist and colorist, Sean Galloway; letterer, Nick J. Napolitano. Adam Strange; writer, artist and letterer, Paul Pope; colorist, Jose Villarrubia. Supergirl; writer, Jimmy Palmiotti; artist, Amanda Conner; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, John J. Hill. Metal Men; writer, Dan DiDio; penciller, Jose Luís Garcia-Lopez; inker, Kevin Nowlan; colorist, Mulvihill; letterer, Lopez. Wonder Woman; writer, artist, colorist and letterer, Ben Caldwell. Sgt. Rock; writer, Adam Kubert; artist, colorist and letterer, Joe Kubert. The Flash; writers, Brendan Fletcher and Karl Kerschl; artist, Kerschl; colorist, Dave McCaig; letterer, Rob Leigh. The Demon and Catwoman; writer, Walt Simonson; artist and colorist, Brian Stelfreeze; letterer, Steve Wands. Hawkman; writer, artist, colorist and letterer, Kyle Baker. Editors, Chris Conroy and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

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