Swamp Thing 1 (March 2016)

Swamp Thing #1

Len Wein. Creator, with Bernie Wrightson, of Swamp Thing in the seventies. Len Wein. Editor of various other Swamp Thing projects in the eighties. Relaunching the book forty-four years later. Wow, right?

He writes Swamp Thing as a pro-wrestler. A bad, eighties pro-wrestler who talks trash and sells beef jerky. It’s startling. Because the rest of the comic isn’t a gag, it’s a very straightforward–if bright–callback to the mainstream chiller comics of the seventies. Only with Kelley Jones art and out of sync Kelley Jones art. Jones has done Swamp Thing before, to great effect (I think), but… here? No. The colors are wrong, but no. Still no. Jones and Wein are out of sync.

The comic isn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting much better, not Swampy talking trash to an alligator named Albert, not cruddy narration, not too cheap exploitative cliffhangers. Swamp Thing is dumb.

Plus, Wein’s got very limited imagination for what he can do in the book. Swamp Thing on a case. Who cares?

It’s a complete and utter misfire, which is simultaneously comforting and distressing.

CREDITS

The Dead Don’t Sleep; writer, Len Wein; artist, Kelley Jones; colorist, Michelle Madsen; letterer, Rob Leigh; editor, Rebecca Taylor; publisher, DC Comics.

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Batman Arkham: The Riddler (May 2015)

rid.pngMost Bat-fans glorify and self-identify with The Joker, but in actuality the average DC Comics fanboy is closer to The Riddler: needy, nerdy, narcissistic and way too smug about the lifetime of meaningless trivia they’ve accumulated.

That said, I love the guy. His gimmick is basically self-sabotage disguised as grandiosity. He’s every overweight dork in jean shorts and a fedora who just spent six months in the gym and studying how to be a Pickup Artist, whose core of vicious insecurity is barely inches below his flamboyantly confident new exterior. There’s a neurotic underdog aspect to his criminal insanity, as opposed to the anarchist self-indulgence or melodramatic tragedy of so many other Batman villains.

Chuck Dixon’s 1995 origin story Questions Multiply the Mystery formally introduced this angle on Edward Nygma, and it’s a real pity it wasn’t included in this first official Riddler “greatest hits” trade paperback. Why not? Where also is the other key Riddler appearance of the modern era, Neil Gaiman’s deft little post-modern 1989 tale When is a Door? Essentially a monologue by an aged, wistful Riddler, he reflects on how everything in Gotham’s gotten so grim and gritty of late and there doesn’t seem to be a place anymore for super-criminals like him who just want to have some goofy fun – rather than rack up a body count. A simple observation, but the entire key to Riddler’s role in a post-Dark Knight Returns world: compared to the rest of Batman’s increasingly depraved Rogue’s Gallery, Eddie is relatively something of a gentleman.

Batman Arkham: The Riddler doesn’t include either of those gems, or even a single story from 1984 to 2006. As if there wasn’t a decent Riddler comic for 22 years! Absent any apparent legal reprinting issues, this yawning historical gap seems to have been caused simply by editorial ambivalence. The laziness is there at first glance, from the recycled New 52 cover art to the title – who’s “Batman Arkham”? I gather the idea that the collection is akin to a trip to the E. Nygma cell at Arkham Asylum, but there’s not even an introduction describing the character’s legacy, let alone some “Heh, heh, heh! Welcome to Arkham, kiddies!” kind of Cryptkeeper curtain-opener. Of the 14 compiled issues, the first 9 are from the Golden, Silver and Bronze ages of DC and that alone probably makes the book worthwhile overall, especially for Riddler’s 1948 debut by Bill Finger & Dick Sprang, and 1960s revival by Gardner Fox.

The Riddle-Less Robberies of the Riddler from 1966 is a particularly memorable bit of introspective villain psychoanalysis: Riddler decides to stop leaving riddles and just be a normal thief, only to discover his addictive obsession won’t let him quit. A definitive story, but its inclusion is probably chance. Why, for instance, if you’re only going to reprint two Riddler stories from the whole decade of the 1970s, wouldn’t you want to include the one that Neal Adams drew? It’s like they were picked at random. Even the modern age choices feel arbitrary – like an abysmal 2007 Paul Dini issue of Detective Comics which is primarily a Harley Quinn timewaster using Edward Nygma as mere supporting player. No respect. How appropriate.

The contemporary stuff isn’t all bad, however. Scott Snyder & Ray Fawkes’ 2013 Riddler one-shot Solitaire is the only Batman comic I’ve read since the Animated Series spinoffs to build thoughtfully on the conception of Edward Nygma as a conceited intellectual who doesn’t realize he’s also a lunatic.

Batman Arkham: The Riddler is far from the ideal compendium for one of Batman’s oldest, most unique and iconic adversaries, but asks a fair enough price for all his earliest classic battles of wits in one volume.

CREDITS

Writers, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, David Vern Reed, Len Wein, Don Kraar, Doug Moench, Paul Dini, Peter Calloway, Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Charles Soule; artists, Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Frank Springer, John Calnan, Irv Novick, Carmine Infantino, Don Newton, Don Kramer, Andres Guinaldo, Jeremy Haun, Dennis Calero; editor, Rachel Pinnelas; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Dollar Bill 1 (March 2013)

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It’s Steve Rude doing forties superheroes, so Dollar Bill always looks phenomenal. But it’s Len Wein writing and apparently he had a bunch of homophobic statements he wanted to make so he gave them to this forties superhero so he could get away with them. Lots of anachronisms–oh, and some good, old fashioned Jewish banker jokes.

But besides being mildly offensive, Bill isn’t a bad comic. The story of a newsreel superhero pretending it’s for real makes for an interesting read. Rude has beautiful compositions, whether static shots or action scenes. It’s just occasionally offensive. Well, maybe more dumb than offensive.

And the finale suggests magic in the Watchmen universe. Very special unoriginal narrative device magic. Wein’s a lazy guy.

It’s surprising all the Minutemen didn’t get one-shots. This guy isn’t even particularly interesting but they got a decently paced, beautifully illustrated, bad mainstream comic out of it.

CREDITS

I Want To Be In Pictures; writer, Len Wein; artist and letterer, Steve Rude; colorist, Glen Whitmore; editors, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Comedian 2 (September 2012)

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Yeah, Azzarello definitely enjoys writing Comedian. There’s a lot of Vietnam War history here, a little American political history and almost no Watchmen connection. The Comedian could just be anyone. Azzarello never gives him anything superhero specific.

So, as a comic, it’s good, but–and I can’t believe I’m saying it–it fails as a Before Watchmen title. Eddie’s a corrupt, kill-happy advisor. Azzarello gives him no special personality, not even a real character moment in the entire issue. There’s a little with him hanging out with Bobby Kennedy, but not enough to make an impression.

It’s a war history comic. Jones’s art isn’t great for the subject, but he handles it better than superhero stuff I guess. There’s definitely a morose tone to it.

I’m hoping Azzarello doesn’t even try tying into the original series.

The pirate backup, shockingly, has a plot point. I didn’t they even bothered.

CREDITS

I Get Around; writer, Brian Azzarello; artist, J.G. Jones; colorist, Alex Sinclair; letterer, Clem Robins. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Eight; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Comedian 1 (August 2012)

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I thought J.G. Jones was a better artist. I don’t know why exactly, but I did. His figures in Comedian are terrible. People change size, make no sense when standing next to one another. And his faces are even worse. It’s an ugly comic. I guess the editors didn’t think they could tell him to actually work at it.

Reading the creator team, I thought I’d have the problems with Brian Azzarello, but no. It’s all Jones. Azzarello does a really good job with the writing. Eddie’s still unlikable, but Azzarello gets how to make an unlikable character interesting to read.

There’s a great finish; the issue’s got a couple big historical moments. The first is somewhat slight, but Azzarello does wonders with the second.

I can’t imagine he’ll be able to maintain this level of quality plotting.

The pirate backup’s not the worst ever, but strangely annoying here.

CREDITS

Smile; writer, Brian Azzarello; artist, J.G. Jones; colorist, Alex Sinclair; letterer, Clem Robins. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Three; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Rorschach 1 (October 2012)

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Wait, am I really supposed to take Rorschach seriously? Brian Azzarello’s writing of the narration suggests he’s never even seen the Watchmen movie, much less read the comic. It’s like he heard there was crazy narration and did a terrible job approximating it.

The series is set in 1977, in New York City. Taxi Driver would be the most obviously influence on Lee Bermejo’s art, except the art is slick and shiny. Rorschach looks desperately fake.

There’s an inexplicable, goofy lack of reality to the writing. Rorschach gets his ass kicked, but the bad guys don’t kill him. They don’t make sure he’s dead, even after they lay an elaborate trap to catch him. Instead of doing a hard boiled Rorschach comic, Azzarello writes one with less teeth than an episode of “Simon & Simon.”

The only teeth Azzarello gives this one are poorly constructed dentures.

And pirate backup is terrible.

CREDITS

Damn Town; writer, Brian Azzarello; artist, Lee Bermejo; colorist, Barbara Ciardo; letterer, Rob Leigh. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Evil That Men Do, Part One; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 6 (April 2013)

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So Adrian has constant video surveillance of Dr. Manhattan but he gets important news from the newspaper? Shouldn’t he have agents or spies or… own a newspaper?

I’m being too kind. I mean, if one assumes the finished scripts represent edited versions of Wein’s original draftings–assuming this situation might be a stretch, given the terrible editing on this series–I can’t imagine how bad Wein’s first drafts must read. How exceptionally insipid.

After suffering through five issues of this tripe, all Wein does with the last issue is do scenes of things Alan Moore summarized in the original series. The content’s no different.

Even as a cash grab, Ozymandias makes no sense. It’s mind-numbingly dumb and even one likes Jae Lee’s art, it’s not like Wein gives him much good to draw.

I’m left without anything nice to say about this comic. Even the last page is atrocious.

CREDITS

Nothing Beside Remains; writer, Len Wein; artist, Jae Lee; colorist, June Chung; letterer, John Workman; editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 5 (March 2013)

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A few issues ago, Wein did a bunch of foreshadowing of the eventual reveal in Watchmen–Adrian’s master plan. This issue he has Adrian trying to figure out that master plan, which means all the obvious details from before were just for the reader’s benefit.

Wein never can figure out how or when to make Adrian the smartest man in the world.

This issue covers the police riots, sadly not doing much more with them than the original series does, only with Lee’s too design-oriented view of New York. He sucks the personality out of it, though Adrian’s tropical island works out.

There’s also a lot of terrible dialogue from Adrian’s assistant. Wein writes these characters’ conversations like it’s a back and forth from Clerks. Surely he doesn’t think that film’s characters are examples of geniuses.

Who knows… It’s so close over so I find it hard to care.

CREDITS

These Lifeless Things…!; writer, Len Wein; artist, Jae Lee; colorist, June Chung; letterer, John Workman; editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 4 (January 2013)

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Where to start… when Wein brings up Rorschach in 1960 but then later says he doesn’t show up until a few years later? I hope the editors didn’t get paid for this one in particular.

The only distinct thing in the comic is Wein’s handling of the Kennedys. Adrian’s very judgmental of them, but then turns around and tries to solve the assassination. In another of Wein’s dumb moves, Adrian can’t figure it out. Wein sets up everything for Adrian’s easy success; Adrian actually having to think would be a nice change.

The dead girlfriend pops up. Apparently she’s been haunting him. Wein never mentioned it before, as his characterization of Adrian is completely inept.

Some weak art from Lee. His rendering of Silk Spectre is the most memorably bad (and she’s only in the comic for two panels).

At least, the pirate backup’s worse than the feature this time.

CREDITS

Shattered Visage…!; writer, Len Wein; artist, Jae Lee; colorist, June Chung; letterer, John Workman. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, Wide Were His Dragon Wings, Part Five; writer, artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 3 (November 2012)

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Len Wein has been writing comics for decades. He’s definitely an adult. Why does he write dialogue Yogi Bear would find infantile? Except the stuff with the Comedian making gay jokes about Adrian. Those comments read a little meta given Wein’s awkward handling of Adrian’s sex life.

Though Wein does write Eddie’s double entendres like he’s just seen his first “Dynasty.” Ozymandias is so poorly written, it’s occasionally embarrassing to read.

There are a few red herrings to kill time before Wein makes his big reveal–Adrian had the plan for Watchmen way back in 1959. Because he’s so smart. This series would have been better spent going through the books on Adrian’s shelves than Wein’s lame attempts at a narrative.

It’s awful.

However, Lee finally does find something he can draw. The scenes in Antarctica do look awesome.

And the pirate backup is once again better than the feature.

CREDITS

The Heart That Fed…!; writer, Len Wein; artist, Jae Lee; colorist, June Chung; letterer, John Workman. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Evil That Men Do, Part Seven; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 2 (October 2012)

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Wein seems to think giving Adrian very purple narration suggests intelligence. It doesn’t. Adrian’s of “sleek” as an adjective is laughable.

Then there’s the problem of the thugs oscillating between ostentatious dialogue and traditional moronic thug dialogue. Wein is trying really hard; it kills any chance the series has–which isn’t much, given Lee’s painfully static art.

Speaking of Lee, his rendition of the Comedian is some of the worst comic art I’ve seen in a while. There’s only the one reveal page, but it’s truly hideous.

Wein rips off some details from the Shadow–the agents of Adrian (maybe Moore had those too)–but it’s otherwise indistinct superhero stuff. Lots of cursing to show it’s a grown-up comic book and not for kids.

As for the ties to the rest of Before Watchmen, a good editor would’ve made them more integral.

The pirate backup’s got really lazy art.

CREDITS

The Hand That Mocked Them…!; writer, Len Wein; artist, Jae Lee; colorist, June Chung; letterer, John Workman. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Ten; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias 1 (September 2012)

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I don’t know what’s more amusing in Len Wein’s wordy exposé of Ozymandias–the idea of majoring in Alexander the Great in post-graduate work (seriously, did no editor explain to Wein how higher education functions) or Adrian being ashamed of his homosexual dalliances.

Wein has Adrian recording his memoirs during the final events of the original Watchmen and Adrian hides the gay adventure. Jae Lee’s art shows it while the text obscures it. If you’re going to be vaguely homophobic about it, why put it in? Unless it’s because Adrian’s just the bad guy.

Speaking of Lee’s art… It’s bad. Every page is meticulously designed like a cover–even the part where Adrian hallucinates on hash (the world clearly operates differently in the Watchmen universe)–but boring. And Lee’s incapable of drawing Adrian’s eyes. It’s a funny looking comic.

The pirate backup may actually be better than the feature.

CREDITS

I Met a Traveler…!; writer, Len Wein; artist, Jae Lee; colorist, June Chung; letterer, John Workman. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Five; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl 2 (October 2012)

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Why didn’t they just combine this series with the Rorschach one? Straczynski probably gives Rorschach a third of the issue anyway. He’s juxtaposing Dan and Rorschach’s differing Mommy complexes, which would work for a combined book. But for one called Nite Owl? Doesn’t make any sense.

There’s not a lot of callbacks to the original series here, except Rorschach getting his sign. Why doesn’t he get in his own series? Because Straczynski doesn’t have a story for Dan, not really. He’s got Dan chasing down some leather madam–gratuitously topless woman in a DC regular comic alert–because of his Mommy issues.

There’s also a lot of stuff Straczynski should have included in the first issue regarding Dan’s home life. It’s unclear how he’s a millionaire when his family lives in a very middle class home. Straczynski definitely should have addressed it.

The art’s real bad this issue. Real bad.

CREDITS

Some Things Are Just Inevitable; writer, J. Michael Straczynski; penciller, Andy Kubert; inker, Joe Kubert; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Nick Napolitano. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Nine; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Nite Owl 1 (August 2012)

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Given the problems, Nite Owl is a lot better than it should be. Straczynski writes Rorschach and Nite Owl well together. The humor of a gentler Rorschach helps it.

Now for the problems.

It’s trite and obvious; no surprise from Straczynski. He’s got Dan blathering about his fate with Laurie. Then there’s a line to tie-in to the Minutemen series, only that series didn’t set this one up. Then there’s the retcon regarding Dr. Manhattan perving on Laurie.

Oh, and Dan’s abusive father. It reads a little like “Dr. Phil meets Watchmen” for the beginning. Straczynski introduces one bold move but then backs off immediately.

As for the art… Joe Kubert inking Andy… It’s a mess. It has a retro feel, with Andy really pushing for his dad’s style. At its best, the art’s mediocre. At its worst? The backgrounds look photoshopped.

It’s a breezy read and not atrocious.

CREDITS

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch; writer, J. Michael Straczynski; penciller, Andy Kubert; inker, Joe Kubert; colorist, Brad Anderson; letterer, Nick Napolitano. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Four; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Mark Doyle, Camilla Zhang and Will Dennis; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre 2 (September 2012)

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Cooke and Conner set up Laurie as a hippie superhero; it’s kind of cool and definitely a decent look at sixties San Francisco. What’s interesting–and something I don’t think the original series ever established–is Laurie goes the “with great power” route. She turns into Silk Spectre because she can help people if she does. It deepens the character quite a bit.

And she needs it, because Cooke and Conner spend almost half the issue on the supervillains plotting to get kids tripping and consuming. It’s an incredibly boring scene and it goes on forever and ever.

Her boyfriend’s not much of a character either. I haven’t determined if they’re supposed to be teen runaways, but one would think his parents might be concerned.

The ending cliffhanger’s either going to be awesome or some terrible way to be grim and gritty.

Shockingly, Wein writes an okay pirate backup too.

CREDITS

Getting Into the World; writers, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner; artist, Conner; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Seven; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Chris Conroy, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre 1 (August 2012)

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For Silk Spectre, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner go the romance comic route. Or at least closer to it than I was expecting, but it makes sense given Laurie’s age during the high adventuring days of Watchmen.

She’s got her teen story going while Sally deals with aging and raising a kid to be a costumed adventurer. Cooke and Conner make both women utterly sympathetic, but it only works on Sally’s side because the reader knows her story.

Without it, she’d come across as a tiger mom. Except maybe the phone call to Hollis, which is as close as the comic gets to self-indulgence. It needs a little more, but it’s quite good as is.

Conner’s art never gets too cute, but always maintains the romance comic tone. It’s rather good and hard to imagine Spectre without it.

Higgins’s backup art, however, is severely lacking. It’s a muddled mess.

CREDITS

Means Goodbye; writers, Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner; artist, Conner; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Carlos M. Mangual. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Two; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Chris Conroy, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen 2 (September 2012)

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And now I’m not sure with where Cooke takes things. He turns Minutemen, in its conclusion this issue, into a really tough, uncomfortable book. It’s like I can’t decide if it’s homophobic, if Cooke’s just using the material or if he’s just being straightforward about it. There’s probably no comfortable way to handle it.

I’m talking about the superheroes, not the bad guys. For the bad guys, Cooke goes even more subtle and poetic even. He’s really playing with his format this issue; not just how his style doesn’t seem to lend itself to grit, but also how he occasionally mimics the original Watchmen panel arrangement.

It’s a good issue, well-written and well-illustrated, but I’m not sure how much I like it.

He also has a meta allusion to the Before Watchmen series at the open.

Higgins’s pirate art is too slick this time, sinking the backup story.

CREDITS

The Minute of Truth, Chapter Two: Golden Years; writer and artist, Darwyn Cooke; colorist, Phil Noto; letterer, Jared K. Fletcher. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part Six; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Wil Moss, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen 1 (August 2012)

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I’m a little surprised, but I only have one problem with Minutemen (at least the Darwyn Cooke material). Who the hell is Hollis Mason talking to? He’s basically summarizing his book, right? It doesn’t make any sense.

The only surprises are Silk Spectre and the Comedian–she’s a model faking being an adventurer and he’s already a vicious psychopath. The revelation of a rough childhood reads like giving his behavior an excuse, even if Cooke doesn’t intend it. But it doesn’t really matter because it’s Darwyn Cooke doing period superhero art.

There’s not much better, except maybe Darwyn Cooke doing really violent period superhero art and he does that art here. The issue’s a feast for the eyes and Cooke’s got the time period down.

The pirate backup has good art from John Higgins, but two pages isn’t enough space for Len Wein to do anything in terms of writing.

CREDITS

The Minute of Truth, Chapter One: Eight Minutes; writer and artist, Darwyn Cooke; colorist, Phil Noto; letterer, Jared K. Fletcher. The Curse of the Crimson Corsair, The Devil in the Deep, Part One; writer, Len Wein; artist and colorist, John Higgins; letterer, Sal Cipriano. Editors, Wil Moss, Camilla Zhang and Mark Chiarello; publisher, DC Comics.

The Untold Legend of the Batman 3 (September 1980)

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Untold Legend limps across the finish line. Aparo’s art doesn’t even maintain interest (his “handsome man” standard is really boring and in this one a lot). But it’s mostly because Wein doesn’t have any interesting flashbacks this issue.

There’s Commissioner Gordon, which should be more interesting–it briefly recounts Gordon’s time spent hunting Batman–but Wein doesn’t give it enough time. Then Batgirl gets a few pages. Again, not paced well and quite absurd. Gordon’s standing around his office talking to himself about his daughter being a superhero.

Then the final flashback is Lucius Fox for a page. It’d be pointless if there were any point to Untold Legend except as a primer for new or returning readers.

But Wein’s writing isn’t even on par for marketing material. Hostess Fruit Pie ads are better written.

The ending’s nearly iconic though, maybe the quintessential (good) Aparo Batman story closer. Very memorable.

The Untold Legend of the Batman 2 (August 1980)

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With Byrne gone–and Aparo taking all the art duties–Untold Legend actually becomes visually distinctive. While Aparo’s faces aren’t compelling, he does a lot of nice work this issue. Wein’s script covers a lot of events and Aparo has a particularly nice time with Alfred’s flashback. The war panels are excellent.

This issue, Wein covers Robin and Alfred’s origins and also Two-Face and the Joker. The most interesting historical continuity details? Wein’s Joker isn’t insane, he just thinks being funny looking will scare people. Also Alfred… he wasn’t always the Wayne butler. Wein should have told the whole series from Alfred’s perspective.

Somehow having the comic less from Batman’s perspective works better. Wein’s Batman is obnoxious.

Like I said, the series is worth a look just for historical interest with the mashed together origin events, but Wein’s framing story is just plain lame.

It’s not even a mystery.

C 

CREDITS

With Friends Like These…; writer, Len Wein; artist and letterer, Jim Aparo; colorist, Glynis Wein; editor, Paul Levitz; publisher, DC Comics.

The Untold Legend of the Batman 1 (July 1980)

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The Untold Legend of the Batman might have good art… but it’s hard to tell. Each page is packed with panels–except one pin-up page, which is pretty good–and it’s hard to get a handle of John Byrne’s pencils (with Jim Aparo inking).

Some of the pages are pretty good though, but it’s certainly not a comic to read for the art. Sadly, it’s also not a comic to read for the writing.

Untold Legend is a streamlined retelling of Batman’s original, adding in all the Earth-One origin developments. It’s excellent as a curiosity (I’d forgotten teenage Bruce Wayne was Robin to some police detective) but Len Wein’s writing is atrocious.

Most of the comic is Bruce retelling his history to Alfred. One would assume Alfred would know some of these events, if not all.

The issue’s painful at times, a shopping list of contrived origin events.

Swamp Thing 33 (February 1985)

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So while Swamp Thing has his adventure in “Pog,” Abby has her own one here. Except she’s mostly just in a framing sequence, not quite an adventure.

For whatever reason, Moore brought the original appearance of Swamp Thing into continuity with this issue. So there’s a few pages of Abby with Cain and Abel–Moore’s starting to explore the nature of storytelling a little, something he’d later expand on in Promethea–and then a reprint of the Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson House of Secrets Swamp Thing.

The end ties it all together, but the story isn’t consequential at all. It’s Moore mixing playfulness and good humor. He ends it on a joke. Moore’s often his most startling when he’s doing light comedy. It’s nice.

Ron Randall does the Abby bookend art. It’s the best work I’ve seen from him.

But he’s nowhere near Wrightson.

And Wein’s nowhere near Moore.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing 18 (November 1983)

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Hey, wait a second, I’ve already read this story….

This issue reprints the tenth issue of the original Swamp Thing series, when Arcane swims across the ocean and attacks Swamp Thing only to be defeated by the spirits of dead slaves. Wrightson art, one of Wein’s last good unsettling issues, it’s a good comic book. Wish whoever had been in charge had at least changed the editor’s notes so it didn’t refer to the second issue of the original series here in a Saga of the Swamp Thing book.

There are bookends, of course, and I guess they’re were the issue has problems. The flashback isn’t particularly important, at least not as a full reprint. Pasko, Bissette and Totleben could have retold it in a page or two. It’s an awkward fill, since it doesn’t do anything to resolve the previous issue’s cliffhanger.

They should’ve just taken a month off.

CREDITS

The Man Who Would Not Die!; writers, Martin Pasko and Len Wein; pencillers, Stephen R. Bissette and Bernie Wrightson; inkers, John Totleben and Wrightson; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

DC Retroactive: Batman – The ’70s 1 (September 2011)

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Once one gets past Len Wein’s expository narration—and his way too self-aware Batman thought balloons—Retroactive is a good bit of fun.

The story’s got two possibilities for predictable revelations and Wein plays with it. He fulfills one of them but then completely ignores the second. Instead, he does something utterly goofy in the context of a one shot but perfect if it were a “missing” adventure.

However, having Tom Mandrake do the art for a seventies Batman book is a little odd. Mandrake’s artwork is utterly fantastic. His Batman is big and scary and his Bruce Wayne is urbane. He’s got some amazing panels of people and I wish he’d do a talking heads series; it’d be beautiful.

But it’s not seventies Batman style. He’s way too good for the absurdities Wein sometimes lobs at him (and the reader).

It’s a surprisingly okay issue… with fantastic art.

CREDITS

Terror Times Three!; writer, Len Wein; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Wes Hartman; letterer, Dezi Sienty; editors, Chynna Clugston Flores and Jim Chadwick; publisher, DC Comics.

DC Special Series 27 (Fall 1981)

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The issue opens with Len Wein’s nearly incomprehensible expository narration. While the comic is written almost more as a tie-in to the “Hulk” TV show and an introduction to Batman, one almost needs an English degree to figure out what Wein’s trying to say.

But his plotting isn’t much better; in fact, it’s worse. At one point, Batman teams up with the Joker. You know, instead of arresting him for the mass murders and so on. Not to mention the big Marvel villain (the Joker’s partner) is this stupid space alien who looks like a jack in the box.

Actually, it’s too bad—the Hulk and Batman go together because they’re so different. The Hulk’s all about lack of control, Batman’s the opposite. A better writer would have found a good story.

However, the Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez art makes the comic worthwhile. It makes up for the writing.

CREDITS

The Monster and the Madman; writer, Len Wein; penciller, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez; inker and editor, Dick Giordano; colorist, Glynis Wein; letterer, John Costanza; publisher, DC Comics.

The Phantom Stranger 14 (July-August 1971)

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen pre-eighties Jim Aparo before. It’s absolutely stunning. The tight faces are present, but there’s also a bunch of energy. I never would have thought he’d be a great Phantom Stranger—or any supernatural story—artist, but he excels.

Len Wein comes up with two good stories for the issue, though the Stranger one is better. This villain figures out a way to capture the Stranger and then takes out his heart, figuring transplanting it into his body will give him immortality. Of course, it doesn’t work out as planned (does the Phantom Stranger actually need a physical heart?). Wein has some purple narration, but the plot moves fast and Aparo makes it damned creepy.

The Doctor Thirteen backup is a little silly (Wein opens with a swamp monster and ends with a sci-fi thing), but Tony DeZuniga’s art makes it simply wonderful.

CREDITS

The Man with No Heart!; artist and letterer, Jim Aparo. The Spectre of the Stalking Swamp!; artist, Tony DeZuniga. Writer, Len Wein; editor, Joe Orlando; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Swamp Thing 13 (November-December 1974)

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Even though the issue ends with a teaser of the next one, it reads a little like Wein was preparing for it to be Swamp Thing’s finale. Swamp Thing reveals his identity to Matt Cable and then, instead of setting off with Matt to adventure, heads back to the swamp. It takes Swamp Thing a night to walk from Washington D.C. to Louisiana. Wein’s not so great at geography apparently.

This issue features Redondo’s best work so far. Besides integrating horrific into his tragic renderings of Swamp Thing, he also gets to do a lot of regular action. Matt and Abby put on SHIELD uniforms to break Swamp Thing out, for example.

Wein starts off stronger than he finishes, opening with Swamp Thing discovering his serum, in the swamp water, has been mutating the wildlife. It’s interesting, but Wein moves on immediately.

It’s goofy and pointless, but never too bad.

CREDITS

The Leviathan Conspiracy; writer, Len Wein; artist, Nestor Redondo; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, Marcos; editors, Paul Levitz and Joe Orlando; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 12 (September-October 1974)

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I’ve decided what Redondo does so differently from Wrightson (and how it effects the book). He draws Swamp Thing not as a muscle-bound, ideal specimen… but rather a lumpy, awkward creature. No wonder he looks forlorn all the time. It changes how the book plays. One wouldn’t think Arcane would be after Swamp Thing’s body if he’d seen it as Redondo conceives it.

The issue is a depressing affair, with Swamp Thing tied to an unfortunate man who’s cursed to live forever… starting at the dawn of time. It apparently gets lonely when one’s alive billions of years. Wein plots it a little like a mystery, which works, but Swamp Thing’s inglorious departures from various time periods leaves something to be desired. Oddly, the internal thoughts start poor and get better, like Wein’s getting back into the groove.

Speaking of upping the grooviness… Wein gives Cable a black sidekick.

CREDITS

The Eternity Man; writer, Len Wein; artist, Nestor Redondo; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, Marcos; editors, Paul Levitz and Joe Orlando; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 11 (July-August 1974)

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Nestor Redondo has the somewhat impossible task of following Bernie Wrightson. He does pretty well, though he could have gotten more help from Wein. Redondo recasts Swamp Thing as more of a lumbering superhero (Redondo’s expressions of Swamp Thing’s frequent dismay are startling, given the character is genetically predisposed to stoicism). But he does fine. The cliffhanger’s fantastic and his people are good.

But Wein’s plot and his details (the dialogue, Swamp Thing’s thoughts) are all questionable. The issue’s a sequel to a Phantom Stranger issue Wein wrote three years earlier… it ties Swamp Thing to the greater supernatural DC universe, but it’s an odd fit. There’s only so much one might believe could happen in Swamp Thing’s particular swamp.

There’s a lot of cruelty; Wein explains why it’s okay later, but it’s a cheap excuse. He also objectifies Abby here (for the first time).

It’s all right, just… off.

CREDITS

The Conqueror Worms; writer, Len Wein; artist, Nestor Redondo; colorist, Tatjana Wood; letterer, Marcos; editors, Paul Levitz and Joe Orlando; publisher, DC Comics.

Swamp Thing 10 (May-June 1974)

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I love this issue. I only sort of remembered it, but I love what Wein and Wrightson do with it. Wrightson gets a story credit so maybe he’s the one who came up with the concept. Swamp Thing’s back in his swamp, basically just hanging around, when he comes across an old black woman. A very old black woman; she used to be a slave on a plantation nearby. She tells him a story about how the swamp is protected by the ghosts of slaves.

Then Arcane and his Un-Men show up and attack Swampy. You get a few pages of beautiful Wrightson fight art, then the slaves’ ghosts show up to save Swamp Thing. He sleeps through the fight; it happens unseen.

The issue has a dreamlike quality to it. It’s this haunting little story where Swamp Thing isn’t even the lead when fighting his nemesis.

Just wonderful.

CREDITS

The Man Who Would Not Die; writer, Len Wein; artist, Bernie Wrightson; editor, Joe Orlando; publisher, DC Comics.

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