Best Shots Extra: BATMAN INC, ASTONISHING X-MEN, CLINT
Batman Incorporated #1
Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn
Lettering by Patrick Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
While Scott Snyder might bring the grit back to the Dark Knight, Grant Morrison is all about bringing back the flash. Six months after the last installment of Batman Incorporated, Morrison and artist Chris Burnham show that they've still got it, bringing action, mystery and suspense to this dark, pop-infused take on Gotham City.
Considering the heady, continuity-sprawling trajectory of much of his recent work, Batman Incorporated #1 feels like Morrison at his most streamlined. While there's the occasional nod to the past, such as Damian Wayne's parentage or the men he's killed as Robin, Morrison's story is largely about the here-and-now, hurtling forward like a rocket. His gift for creating creepy Bat-villains is on full display here, yet it's tempered with a twisted sense of humor that includes cannibalism and a Bat-Cow. Yet Morrison's great triumph here is the plot, something that isn't always his strength — the beginning and ending of this issue are some truly strong teases, and definitely keep you hooked even more than the action.
But the real star of the show here is artist Chris Burnham. Burnham's rubbery figures and occasionally experimental layouts evoke the same sort of energy that Frank Quitely brought to Morrison's opening issue of Batman and Robin. There's a roundness, a cleanness to Burnham's characters that both invites readers in and makes the moments of violence seem all that much more painful and disturbing. And perhaps even more interesting is Burnham's sense of storytelling — there's a great bit of Batman and Robin fighting in a slaughterhouse, where a piece of shrapnel going through a cow suddenly transitions into a bloody-looking meal with the Brothers Grimm.
In many ways, Batman Incorporated feels like a parallel universe to Scott Snyder's "Night of the Owls" storyline, down to the mysterious cabal gunning for Bruce's head. That said, I'd argue the tone and execution makes Batman Incorporated still worth the read. This story is not the most straightforward thing on the stands today — even diehard Batman Incorporated readers may need a second or third pass to take it all in — but because it looks so good and has so much energy, it's tough to begrudge this book. While Morrison and Burnham may very well prove this cliffhanger to be a fake-out, I'm definitely ready to reinvest with this team.
Astonishing X-Men #50
Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Mike Perkins and Andy Troy
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 1 out of 10
I'll bet that if you've been reading any comic book news sites lately — or, heck, maybe watched a little show called The View — that you've probably heard a little something about Astonishing X-Men #50. And it is an important book, with the mutant Northstar proposing to his long-time boyfriend Kyle. Considering the X-Men's status as Marvel's quintessentially progressive superhero team, it's a milestone to be proud of.
That said, it would have been even nicer if this book were good.
It's rare for me to be this blunt, but it's also rare for me to be blindsided this badly by a book. Astonishing X-Men #50 isn't just saccharine and melodramatic, but it's also a visual bust, as well, coming off as gnarled and over-rendered instead of the dynamic, positive event this should have been.
The problem with Northstar and Kyle, at least in Liu's hands, is that we're constantly barraged with the worst of their relationship, not the best. Kyle's giving off angry, passive-aggressive signals in every interaction with Northstar, which not only kills reader enthusiasm for the pairing, but makes you wonder why Jean-Luc would want to hang out with the guy in the first place (let alone marry him). The dynamics of will-he-or-won't-he, oh-look-Kyle's-out-crying-again, frankly, are so all over the place that you'd think you were watching a daytime soap opera.
Part of that, however, might have been assuaged with more time with the not-quite-happy couple, giving them Liu time to really flesh them out as characters and have them find their way back to one another organically. Unfortunately, Liu has other business she's got to take care of, since no X-Man is an island. With little additional context, we're assaulted with entrances from Wolverine, Warbird, the Marauders, even the Black Widow, all of which are fairly impenetrable for casual readers (or even readers like myself who have picked up the past few issues leading into this). I'll be honest, those scenes made Iceman and Gambit giving relationship advice seem dynamic by comparison.
Yet much of this probably could have been forgiven if the art looked good. I don't know what happened here, but this issue is a big step down for Mike Perkins, whose Michael-Lark-by-way-of-Ethan-Van-Sciver style has degenerated into something dark, uneven, and even ugly. There's a sequence with Wolverine and the Black Widow where Natasha's head is dangling off-balance on an eerily distended neck, while Logan grows and shrinks from panel to panel. Northstar, meanwhile, grows missile-like shoulder muscles as he flies head-first into meadow out of pure angst (with barely a divot to show for it), and his Iceman looks sinister and troll-like rather than, y'know, the shoulder you cry on when you want to talk relationship troubles. Drenched in heavy inks and lacking in any memorable visual beats (including, sadly, the splash page proposal), Perkins's work is really a chore to get through this round.
None of this I like saying, by the way. This should have been a win for everyone involved — a boost for Marvel, for promoting a storyline like this; a boost for this particular title, which hasn't really found a niche since Schism; a boost for Liu and Perkins, who haven't gotten the push that other Marvel creators have; and most importantly, a boost for gay readers, who know that in a world that fears and hates them, at least the X-Men have their back. But I know enough to know that Liu and Perkins are capable of so much better storytelling than this. It leaves you in a weird position: do you avoid the book, and in a way then invalidate the importance of the moment? Or do you plunk down your dollars, no matter what the content, in order to make a political statement? The fact that you have to decide at all means something has gone way off the rails with Astonishing X-Men #50, an anniversary issue that never lives up to its promise.
Written by Mark Millar, Frankie Boyle, Montynero, and Nacho Vigalondo
Art by Leinil Yu, Dave Gibbons, Mike Dowling, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho, Jim Devlin, and Angus McKie
Lettered by Clayton Clowes, Chris Eliopoulos, Dave Gibbons, and Jimmy Betancourt
Published by Titan Publishing
Review by Edward Kaye
‘Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
Launched in September 2010, CLiNT was originally intended as a Mark Millar led initiative to get comics distributed in British newsagents and supermarkets, aiming to attract a mainstream audience with strips by popular British entertainers like Jonathan Ross, Jimmy Carr, and Frankie Boyle. Things didn’t go quite as planned though, and the magazine lost much of its newsstand distribution over the length of its run. At the same time, the magazine found more popularity than expected in traditional comic shops, and also gained a following through international distribution. With this in mind, Titan decided to relaunch the magazine, and refocus the publication’s target audience as the direct comics market.
One thing that hasn’t changed though, is that this is still very much Mark Millar’s magazine. Not only does Millar act as the magazine’s editor, but he also has two full-length comics reprinted in the issue, writes the magazine’s introduction, and is the focus of a three-page article on “Millarworld” movies. Starting in issue #2.2 the magazine will also begin reprinting issues of Millar’s new Hit Girl series.
The first comic in the anthology is a reprint of issue one of Supercrooks - a story written by Mark Millar and co-plotted by director Nacho Vigalondo. The central premise of the series is that a group of supervillains come to the realization that there are too many superheroes in America, and that if they conduct a heist, they’ll be caught almost instantly. They therefore decide to go to Spain, a country which isn’t really known for its superheroes. It’s a fun idea, and definitely has some merit, but where the story falls down is the fact that the whole thing is sparked by a single event that is highly unbelievable - that an elderly supervillain rips off a casino to the tune of 10 million dollars, and that the supervillains who run the casino give him one month to make amends, by giving them 100 million dollars. It’s a ridiculous moment in the story, and there just isn’t enough suspension of disbelief possible to make readers accept the idea. Lenil Yu is the artist on the story, and illustrates the issue in his trademark pseudo-realism style, with highly detailed and descriptive linework that is inked in a scratchy style by regular inker Gerry Alanguilan, and colored in earth tones by regular colorist Sunny Gho.
The second comic in the anthology is Frankie Boyle’s Rex Royd - essentially a superhero deconstruction piece, filled with heavy-handed allegory and psychoanalysis. The installment of the story presented here follows on from those printed in the first volume of the magazine, and isn’t exactly what you’d call new reader friendly. Boyle dumps readers in at the deep end with what is stated to be “episode V of an alien invasion saga, with humanity living in a 1950s suburban fake-reality.” There’s no real way to follow what is happening in the strip, and Boyle even states in his introduction that there is no need to. The big problem with the story is that superhero deconstruction has been done to death, and there’s nothing new or original that makes this story stand out from the legions of similar ones out there. It also feels like it’s trying too hard to be weird and quirky, and just comes off like a reheated Grant Morrison script, filled with heart-hearted meta-fictional references. The best thing about the strip is Mike Dowling’s artwork - he utilizes a very detailed cartoon style to bring to life a script that is essentially a collage of visuals with little narrative thread. He also has a strong grasp of perspective, and spruces up the more dull panels with interesting camera angles and viewpoints.
The third comic in the anthology is a reprint of issue one of the long awaited collaboration between Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons: The Secret Service. The central premise of this story is that British secret service agent becomes tired of using his government credentials to bail his criminal nephew out of jail, and decides to put him on the straight and narrow by signing him up to spy school. Meanwhile, the secret service is investigating the kidnappings of actors from popular science fiction shows. As debut issues go, the plot of this one seems a little dull and uninspired, and the hook of having sci-fi actors being kidnapped seems silly and fanboyish - not to mention that it’s highly doubtful that the British government would care in the slightest if Mark Hamill was abducted. The characters are all two-dimensional and obvious stereotypes, and the dialog is wooden and contrived. As poor as the script is, Dave Gibbons’ artwork makes the whole thing worthwhile - his smooth and rounded cartooning style brings to mind great British comics of yesteryear. His inking on the strip is fluid and dynamic, and makes even the static scenes seem animated. He even manages to breathe life into Millar’s characters by providing them with a great range of facial expressions and body language.
The final comic in the anthology is Death Sentence, an all-new original story created by Montynero and Mike Dowling. The premise of the story is that a sexually transmitted disease arises, which gifts those it infects with incredible superpowers, but also guarantees that they will die within six months of contracting it. In this first issue, we are introduced to three characters who have contracted the disease - a washed up rock star, a sex addicted comedian/actor, and a young female artist who acts as the “everyman” character. The series intends to put a new spin on the question of “what would you do if you only had six months left to live?” and examine what the characters will do with the remainder of their lives, and how they will use their newfound powers in this context. The series also examines how the government would react to superpowered individuals, and how society treats archetypes like rock stars and actors. It’s a brilliantly original concept, and a features an incredibly smart script by Montynero, highlighted by fantastic character work and strong dialog. Mike Dowling is the artist here, and while everything I mentioned about his art on Rex Royd stands true for this strip, he also colors his own work here, which really elevates the final look. He has a great grasp of what colors work best in a scene, and how to use light sources to the best effect. The characters he draws for this story are all fully realized and seem to have their own personalities, which just jump out of the page.
Alongside the comic strip, the anthology also contains a number of articles and features. The aforementioned “Millarworld Movie round-up” is a three-page feature on which of Millar’s projects are currently being optioned, including Supercrooks and The Secret Service, which are apparently both co-owned by the relevant movies’ directors. Elsewhere there is a short feature on Roman Dirge’s Lenore, which is really more of a plug for another Titan property than an actual article, which is a shame, because a feature on Lenore has great potential. There’s also a three-page feature on the London-based vigilante who has named himself after the magazine, and a one-pager on martial arts actor Marko Zaror. Sadly, none of the features are particularly interesting or insightful, and the quality of writing is about equal to what you can find on an average Wordpress blog. Thankfully though, none of the article stoop as low as volume one’s “Hot TV moms.”
CLiNT #2.1 is something of a mixed bag. All of the comics within the issue are beautifully illustrated, but the only one with a strong story is Death Sentence - this is the real stand-out strip of the anthology. If Titan wants this magazine to be popular in the direct market they need to focus less on reprint material from Icon and Image, and put the focus more on original stories by upcoming creators. As it is, this really feels like a Mark Millar fanzine, with guest spots by other creators.