The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 50

We know you’ve been waiting… five months for this episode, which makes us even more embarrassed about the audio quality but the episode’s worth it. All three hours of the episode is worth it.

That’s right, it’s a three hour extra-sized episode… we cover the Best of 2018, a very deep dive into Love and Rockets Volume One, a discussion of media, and then some news about the new amazing.

(Again, very sorry about the audio. It’s been so long since we podcasted, we sort of forgot how. Technically speaking.

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Batman: Gotham Noir (2001)

Batman: Gotham Noir

Gotham Noir is a Jim Gordon story. Only he’s ex-cop Jim Gordon, divorced ex-cop Jim Gordon, just trying to get by as a private investigator. Only he’s a drunk. It’s 1949 and Gordon had a bad time in the war. Bruce Wayne was there. Bruce Wayne knows the secrets. Lots of secrets in Gotham Noir. Writer Ed Brubaker has this endless drawer of revelations to throw in to explain why a character did or said something ten pages before. The Noir is heavy.

Some of the comic is Gordon narrating why he’s on the run from the cops. Corrupt politicians have pinned a murder on him, a murder he’s trying to solve. Because when a man’s partner gets killed… oh, wait, no, wrong story. Gordon’s trying to figure out what happened because he woke up from a bender next to a dead body. Though his motivations waver and do a 180 at some point in Noir. Brubaker likes threatening and victimizing to get a reaction in the book, which is really too bad. There’s a lot of gimmick–the Batman cast back in the late forties, complete with Selina “The Cat” Kyle and a guy named Napier who ends up the ill-advised, last minute supervillain.

And Harvey Dent’s around, of course. And some crime boss. And some dirty politicians. And who knows who else.

Gordon heads to the newspaper stand in 1949 Gotham City.

With Sean Phillips’s beautiful, post-war urban Americana noir art–ably colored by Dave Stewart–Noir shouldn’t be able to go off the rails. Unfortunately, Brubaker runs out of mystery a lot sooner than he should. He goes for sensationalism for impact, instead of ingenuity of solution. It’s not like Gotham Noir’s Jim Gordon is particularly smart. He’s not smart, he’s not charming, he’s just pitiable. Strange setup for a protagonist, which Brubaker enables by keeping the rest of the cast obtuse. They’re obtuse to Gordon, who recognizes it and doesn’t care, and to the reader, who probably should care because it’s supposed to be a mystery after all.

There are some similarities to Batman: Year One in terms of cast list and general plotting. And Phillips’s detailed, lush art… well, it doesn’t break the reminder.

Déjà vu.

But the problems with Gotham Noir aren’t from it cribbing Year One’s climax or Harvey Dent. The problems are with Brubaker’s handle on the whole thing. He sets it up to be interesting with Batman and then has to fall back on a Batman villain to make it interesting. Gordon’s a bystander in much of the story, which is fine for a hard-boiled p.i. story, but the other characters don’t make up for it. They’re boring. Selina The Cat’s a yawn fest–and the hinted love triangle (Bruce, Selina, and Gordon) never manifests into anything. Gotham Noir is a bunch of hints not manifesting into anything.

It’s got some good art and is wholly readable, but Batman: Gotham Noir is “just” another Elseworlds book.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Dave Stewart; letterer, Dave Stewart; editor, Ivan Cohen; publisher, DC Comics.

Kill or Be Killed 5 (January 2017)

Kill or Be Killed #5

I predict this issue of Kill or Be Killed will show the problem with the book is it’s about a millennial Punisher set in present day. The art’s modern, but Brubaker’s handling of the character is basically Reality Bites. It should be set in the nineties.

Drumroll please (i.e. after reading the comic).

Okay, yes and no. This issue has way too many other problems for it to just boil down to Brubaker not having a handle on it. Phillips has lost his handle on the art. This issue’s art is not up to his usual work, but at least it eventually shows some personality. At its worst, it doesn’t show any. Phillips always has some. Until a few pages into this comic. It’s like he runs out of energy for it, which is concerning.

It’s really got a bunch of severe problems and it’s not even amusing to make fun of it because I love Brubaker and Phillips and Betty Breitweiser’s comics. But Kill or Be Killed is–well, with the exception of Breitweiser–it’s kind of like the pod people have gotten them. I’m done. It just upsets me.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Kill or be Killed 4 (November 2016)

Kill or be Killed #4

Brubaker’s really unclear on what he wants to be getting across with his now-masked vigilante emo white guy. The comic raises questions, which Brubaker then ignores to let Phillips do a decent but hurried rushed fight scene or two. It’s not good but better than usual.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Kill or be Killed 3 (October 2016)

Kill or Be Killed #3

Kill or be Killed is cringe-worthy. Not a page of narration goes by where there isn’t something dumb or awful in Brubaker’s writing. He doesn’t have a story–the protagonist goes to wintery Coney Island with his best friend, the girl who’s dating his roommate and pity makes out with him. There’s the story. The rest of it is the lead getting Unbreakable powers from the demon to see the evil men and women do.

There’s occasionally some decent art from Phillips, but even it’s not enough to keep the comic going. Maybe because the characters are so bad; I mean, Phillips draws the protagonist like a tool but Brubaker writes him like a white savior character. There’s even a panel where some cute girl admires his studiousness. Because chicks think it’s hot when you’re all banged up and studying.

As for the best friend, she’s so poorly written I’m beginning to think Kill or be Killed is either a drawer script from when Brubaker was eight or he’s just putting his name on it and has some really lame friend who wants to write comics but Brubaker owes the guy a lung or something.

The only reason to read Kill or be Killed, with the occasional art exceptions, is to be mortified. I don’t read Brubaker comics to be mortified. I’m having a difficult time justifying giving this one any more of my time.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Kill or be Killed 2 (September 2016)

Kill or be Killed #2

It’s definitely a better issue of Kill or be Killed, though Brubaker spends about a third of the issue just writing first person prose from the still obnoxious protagonist. And the prose isn’t particularly good. I mean, if it’s supposed to be the first person perspective from some annoying twenty-something entitled white kid who doesn’t know anything about writing prose, it’s fine. It also seems like Brubaker’s using it to give Phillips less to draw and, it’s already clear Kill or be Killed isn’t going to be one of Brubaker’s successes, so at least let the reader have as much great Phillips art as possible.

And there is some great Phillips art. There’s some paintings even–though it almost seems like they’re matching the story to what Phillips might have already around.

This issue doesn’t have the demon, which raises some questions (is the protagonist just insane?), and the protagonist–who’s so memorable I don’t even remember his name, annoying entitled white dude sums him up just as well (who’s shitty to his mom)–finds his first guilty victim. A thinking man’s Punisher this comic ain’t.

But it’s just all right enough, with Phillips getting just enough to do–a trip to upstate New York, some flashbacks involving the protagonist’s father (the guy’s family life is more interesting than anything Brubaker has for him to do as a demonically empowered vigilante), those awesome paintings of Phillips’s–to keep Kill or be Killed going. But it’s not a good comic. It probably won’t ever be a good comic.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Kill or be Killed 1 (August 2016)

Kill or be Killed #1

What if the Punisher weren’t an ex-Marine, what if he were just some emo rich(ish) white dude grad student who had to kill to keep a demon from killing him? As punishment for trying to commit suicide. There’s the gimmick to Kill or be Killed. The draw is gorgeous Sean Phillips New York City artwork–he seems more taken with the setting than the characters, in fact. The characters he rushes with occasionally, the setting is always perfect.

But how’s Ed Brubaker’s writing? It’s not great. It might not even be good. Kill or be Killed is a really strange way to do this story. Not in how Brubaker structures it–the narration from the protagonist is obvious but not in a bad way. No, it’s in what Brubaker does with that narration. He makes the protagonist really, really, really annoying.

It’s not even clear if Brubaker is just making him annoying for melodramatic purposes or if he’s making him annoying because the reader is supposed to find him annoying. It’s up in the air. At one point, the lead is talking about cops killing innocent black kids, then next he’s whining about being a trust fund baby who didn’t get to go to NYU grad school until he was twenty-eight. And, guess what, the girl he likes didn’t like him back.

It might work out, it doesn’t seem impossible it could work out. But it seems unlikely. Especially since Phillips has got no time for the demon. Kill’s demon is a visual tranquilizer.

The comic’s not terrible, it’s just terrible obvious. But the art’s real good. It does have the art going for it.

Oh, no. It’s an ongoing series.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special (April 2016)

Criminal: 10th Anniversary Special

Wow.

On its own, Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special is objectively excellent. Writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips do the touching story of a boy and his jerk criminal dad. Set in 1978. And there’s a juxtaposing of an old Marvel-esque kung fu comic. It’s scary, it’s funny, it’s sad. It’s a great story.

But there’s so much texture to it all, as the special ties into the old Criminal books. It’s not a haphazard anniversary issue by a couple excellent creators; it’s an excellent anniversary issue, its creators taking it all very seriously. Brubaker and Phillips aren’t congratulating themselves with this Special, they’re awarding the reader with it. It’s this perfectly paced, perfectly conceived gem of a book. It’s got beautiful art from Phillips. He has this way of protecting the son whenever his father is around, implying it through the composition and the panel layouts. It’s such a smart comic.

It’s also fun. The kid meets a girl. She’s precocious. Brubaker hinges the whole comic on her–it’s a pre-teen romance of sorts–and he does a great job on her character. He presents the readers two views into the story, one through the kid’s, one through the girl’s. He does it with this wonderfully prompt pacing–Brubaker and Phillips and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser (who’s become an essential part of the team) take advantage of every page, every panel. It’s flawlessly executed.

The Criminal: Tenth Anniversary Special is a class act and a great comic.

CREDITS

Writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

The Fade Out 12 (January 2016)

The Fade Out #12

Well, it’s definitely great. The last issue of Fade Out is a great comic. And it’s a great close to the series. But does it elevate Brubaker and Phillips to that superior level of comic book creators, the ones only mentioned with hushed tones and reverence? I don’t know.

I don’t know yet.

I’ll have to reread The Fade Out someday, in one sitting, and decide. Because the pacing of this issue is key and I’m reading it in a single dose, but it was clearly broken out in plotting as part of a bigger whole. As a single serving, it’s that great success I just said. Brubaker and Phillips wrap things up and then wrap them up again. In doing so, they take readers through not just a recap of the story, but a recap of the experience of the comic, making them reexamine their own interpretations of the comic.

It’s really good writing. Brubaker’s comfortable with the cast, comfortable readers will get their sometimes abbreviated appearances. There’s a lot going on this issue, with Brubaker dropping two revelations (both make a reread seem like a good idea).

Phillips excels through all those complications. He even has this wonderful “Is that Clark Gable? I know that’s George Sanders” forties Hollywood visual in-joke element. He and Brubaker are doing a film noir as a comic, but stepped back, but still using film noir visual queues.

I don’t know what a perfectly finished Brubaker comic feels like (or, if I do, I can’t remember), but The Fade Out comes the closest.

CREDITS

Tomorrow, When the World is Free; writer, Ed Brubaker; artist, Sean Phillips; colorist, Elizabeth Breitweiser; publisher, Image Comics.

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