Bug! The Adventures of Forager is a perfectly fine Kirby homage outing from the Brothers Allred. Mike draws, Lee writes. There’s a lot of nice art. There are a handful of funny jokes and the writing never gets in the way of the art. It’s not great, it’s not the best Kirby homage, but it’s not bad and their hearts are in the right place to massage nostalgia. Great colors from Laura Allred.
Domino Effect, Part One: Bughouse Crazy; writer, Lee Allred; artist, Mike Allred; colorist, Laura Allred; letterer, Nate Piekos; editors, Molly Mahan and Jamie S. Rich; publisher, DC Comics.
It’s a double-sized (or at least over-sized) annual for Black Hammer, yay. Colonel Weird goes through the Paraverse pursuing a creature (who looks a bit like Starro) and going into flashbacks with each of the characters, with different artists. It’s good art, it’s sad superheroes, there’s lots of implied depth, it’s moody, it’s Black Hammer.
Writer, Jeff Lemire; artists, Nate Powell, Matt Kindt, Dustin Nguyen, Raw Fawkes, Emi Lenox, and Mike Allred; colorists, Dave Stewart, Sharlene Kindt, and Fawkes; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Cardner Clark and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Mr. 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How does noir work when the villain is a Clayface rip-off. I say rip-off because Catwoman is a Batman spin-off and Clayface is a Batman villain. Brubaker knew the similarity. It also gives Cooke something fantastic to draw. Selina in this gross pink muck–the leftover transformative flesh of the villain? Great stuff. Lots of movement in the art.
The villain does have something of a noir origin though. G.I. injured, army docs turn him into a monster, it’s like a film noir with shades of fifties sci-fi. It’s really cool.
But Brubaker relies on it almost too much. The script tries to showcase the art, which is fine and dandy and marvelous. Only it makes for some rushed scenes. One less page of the fight and one more page with Selina and Leslie would have been awesome.
The issue starts fast and rushes. The last few pages seem so short because of the action sequence pacing. Those last few pages are exceptional. Brubaker and Cooke figure out how to give noir a superhero. It’s great comic book storytelling.
Even if the fight goes long.
Anodyne, Conclusion; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editors, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.
It’s a strange issue. It’s a good issue–though it’s certainly the least ambitious so far–but it’s also a strange issue. Selina doesn’t have as much narration as she had before and now she’s doing much different things. She’s the star of a Bronze Age Batman comic, where Batman dresses up as Matches Malone and investigates on the wharf.
It’s a successful issue. Cooke’s in on the Bronze Age vibe of the issue and the art feels very seventies. The content Cooke’s illustrating, anyway. There’s even a sixties thing with a used car dealer. A lot of thought went into the visual presentation of the book. I just wish Brubaker hadn’t been so quiet.
So far, this series has been about Selina evolving into a do-gooder. This issue continues that evolution, but with the exception of the narration in the first few pages, Selina’s experience is absent from the comic. Even when Brubaker brings back the narration later, it’s to establish that Matches Malone sequence.
Like I said, strange. Expertly, enthusiastically done, but with too much confidence in the narrative effect of the comic to worry about the narrative itself. It’s showy.
Anodyne, Part Three of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editors, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.
Cooke mixes a lot of styles in this issue. Selina lives her non-costumed life in a more angular city, one with more art deco designs than when she’s got the costume on at night. But Cooke also finds this mixed style for Selina herself. She’s got the modern look, but he also goes for Silver Ago influences to make her more sympathetic.
And then there’s what Brubaker’s narration does for her character. This series of Catwoman integrates whatever history the character had since Batman: Year One, so the Jim Balent stuff and whatever else, with a continuation of the character from Year One. Or at least something closer to that characterization. Including the history of prostitution.
The prostitution angle–with Holly, Selina’s sidekick from her Year One days–figures into the story, with Gotham’s dirty cops ignoring a serial killer preying on girls on the street. Selina ends up investigating it. There’s no humor in the comic. Not a moment. Not even when Cooke and Brubaker take the time and care to show Selina’s pure joy in running around the rooftops. It’s serious stuff; Brubaker’s very deliberate in how he works through Selina’s thoughts in the narration too.
Again, it’s noir. It’s a noir comic masquerading as a superhero comic (masquerading as a noir comic). Brubaker juggles the mainstream and more artistically ambitious beautifully. What Cooke does is just as important, but it only works because of how well Brubaker does his bit.
Anodyne, Part Two of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editor, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.
In his ★★ review of Batman Returns, Roger Ebert said, “no matter how hard you try, superheroes and film noir don’t go together; the very essence of noir is that there are no more heroes.” I disagree about the film, but not all of the quote. I agree with the first part, not so much the second. Because it’s a closed vision of heroes.
It oddly doesn’t seem to occur to Ebert how the “junkies and masochists and hookers and those who have squandered everything… [can be] the ring of brightest angels around heaven.” Because a review of a single comic book from 2002 needs this long of a preamble. One with the only time I’ll agree with Ebert this year and a great Rick Moody quote.
But Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke’s Catwoman requires a significant preamble. Because Brubaker and Cooke crack Ebert’s problem. How do film noir and superheroes go together? Well, the superhero can’t be the hero. Batman shows up in this first issue of Catwoman for two reasons.
First, regardless of how progressive DC was being with a non-objectified characterization of Catwoman, they weren’t being so progressive they didn’t want to sell the comic. There’s an exceptionally tasteful, but sexy, suiting up sequence. Cooke can do that kind of thing, thanks to Brubaker selling Selina’s excitement. It’s believable.
That scene is so well-executed, one might just skip over it as a commercialist detail. But Batman is all commercial. You launch a spin-off of a Batman comic, Batman better guest star, especially in the early aughts, especially going from Chuck Dixon and Jim Balent to Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke. You need Batman. And this issue delivers. A full-on Batman action sequence–it’s hard to remember when Brubaker’s mainstream writing was a DC staple, not how he brought the same thing to Marvel to better sales–then Batman shows up for character stuff.
And that character stuff is the second reason Batman shows up. He’s essential to Brubaker’s characterization of Selina. Selina has an informed but seemingly simplistic view of Batman; he’s her dark blue boy scout. It gives Selina better possession over the shared setting, she belongs.
Brubaker and Cooke visualize that setting as a noir. They start with the already noir-ish David Mazzuchelli Year One visuals then develop it, creating a Technicolor film noir. Brubaker’s script follows Selina–the comic’s narrator as well as protagonist–through her last few days of sabbatical. She doesn’t know it, but she’s going to get suited up again.
There’s a lot of noir framing in the flashbacks and so on. The narrative construction is special stuff. It’s meticulous. Meticulously written, then meticulously illustrated.
By the time the most noir element comes into the comic–in its last pages–Brubaker and Cooke have already delivered an awesome read. The way the last two pages and the soft cliffhanger? It’s the chocolate sprinkles on the frosting.
Anodyne, Part One of Four; writer, Ed Brubaker; penciller, Darwyn Cooke; inker, Mike Allred; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Sean Konot; editor, Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.
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.
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.