The Titans’ Terrible Timing

“Fuck Batman,” indeed.

DC Entertainment dropped its first trailer Thursday for Titans, a new television series from DC’s upcoming online streaming service, DC Universe, and as is often the case when it comes to the adaptation of a comics property (especially one of DC’s), reaction has been polarized. Many are taking issue with the “grimdark” tone of the new show and its harsher take on some iconic (and not-so-iconic) teen-hero characters.

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This Is No Joke

Batman: The Killing Joke direct-to-video animated film
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Voice actors: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise, Maury Sterling & Nolan North
Directors: Sam Liu
Producer: Warner Bros. Animation
Rating: R

I know I’m well behind the times in turning my attention to this 2016 video release, but a few nights ago, I found myself with some time on my hands, alone at home, and I spotted this listing on Netflix. I suppose with the recent news of a Joker flick starring Joaquin Phoenix, I was open to delving into another piece of work that touches on a possible origin for the Clown Prince of Crime. I read the original graphic novella by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland when it was released in the 1980s, during my teen years, and I remember being impressed with it. But given the evolution in culture today, I’m not sure it holds up. One thing of which I am certain, though, is that this attempt to adapt that iconic comic book is wrong-headed, given that the first act, added to pad out the story, warps a key relationship in the Batman family and adds a pointless villain to the mix.

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Flea-Market Finds: Spider-Man, Power Pack

Spider-Man, Power Pack #1
“Secrets”
Writer: Jim Salicrup
Pencils: Jim Mooney
Inks: Mike Esposito
Colors: Ken Feduniewicz
Letters: L.P. Gregory
“Runaway”
Writer: Louise Simonson
Layouts: June Brigman
Pencils: Mary Wilshire
Inks: Bob Wiacek
Colors: Glynis Wein
Letters: Joe Rosen
Cover artists: John Byrne; and June Brigman & Bob Wiacek
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Publisher: Marvel Comics

As someone who started reading comics in the late 1970s and grew into adolescence in the 1980s, I’d read about this giveaway, public-service comic, published in 1984, and I’ve always been curious about it. When I saw it at a big flea market recently, I plunked it in the growing stack of old comics I was amassing at the show. This unusual footnote in comics publishing was one of the first of those 60 comics I read, and I was struck at how earnest and direct it was about its subject matter.

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Pall in the Family

Superman #1
“The Unity Saga”
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Josh Reed
Cover artists: Reis & Prado (regular)/Adam Hughes and David Mack (variants)
Editor: Michael Cotton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US

I was discussing Bendis’s weekly Man of Steel with the manager of my local comic shop, and we both agreed liked a lot of what the writer was bringing to Superman. However, he pointed out that Bendis had removed the hero’s family — his wife and son — from the equation, and he felt that was a step back, that it removed an interesting dynamic that had been added to the character in recent years. I had to agree that I liked the notion of Clark as a father, but I was waiting to see what Bendis had in store with the plotline. After reading this new issue of the renumbered Superman title, I’m confident the writer knows exactly what he’s doing when it comes to the protagonist’s characterization. The challenge of Superman is making him relatable, given the seemingly limitless nature of his power. Bendis has a great handle on Clark Kent, though, but I have to admit the focus on the man is so strong, I’m not nearly as interested in those elements that dwell on the “super.”

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Boy, They Really Do Like German Definite Articles

Die!Die!Die! #1
Writers: Robert Kirkman & Scott M. Gimple
Artist/Cover artist: Chris Burnham
Colors: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

Die!Die!Die! is one of the most interesting comic books in the traditional mainstream marketplace, not just this week, but this year and perhaps beyond that, but it has nothing to do with the content. It’s for the notion of a surprise comic, a token of appreciation for direct-market retailers and as an experiment in subversion of pop-culture expectations. For those reasons alone, it merits plenty of discussion, but this is a comic review, not an exploration of the culture of marketing and economics in the comic-book business. I didn’t pick up this book for its inherent collectibility or its novel release plan, but rather because I’m interested in the storytelling of Robert Kirkman, who’s achieved actual fame for The Walking Dead. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a number of his other projects, and while Die!Die!Die! doesn’t boast the engaging characterization of TWD or Outcast, it is entertaining. What’s surprising about Die!Die!Die! is that it reads very much like a Garth Ennis book, not a Kirkman comic, so it will appeal to fans of that other writer’s work.

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Russian Interference

Captain America #1
“Winter in America: Part I”
Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates
Pencils: Leinil Francis Yu
Inks: Gerry Alanguilan
Colors: Sunny Cho
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Joe Caramagna
Cover artists: Alex Ross (regular)/Adam Hughes; Joe Jusko; David Mack; Frank Miller; Paul Renaud, Joe Simon & Jack Kirby; Marko Djurdjevic; Ron Garney; Mike Zeck; and John Cassaday
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US

We got a little taste of what writer Ta-Nehisi had in mind with this title in one of Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offerings this year, but it didn’t really hook me. I felt rather the same way about the first couple of issues of his Black Panther run, as I felt it relied so much on Priest’s contributions to the character that it paled in comparison. With this first full issue of Cap, though, Coates has piqued my interest. He explores the notion of a broken America beset upon by a foreign power through the lens of the super-hero genre, and there’s a great deal of potential in it. My only qualm with this issue is the scant amount of exposition that really would have made for a more accessible read, given the amount of recent continuity that factors into the script.

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An Ear of Corn — Literally

Farmhand #1
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Rob Guillory
Colors: Taylor Wells
Letters: Kody Chamberlain
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US

Given the strength of his weird work on the much lauded and successful Chew (with writer John Layman), I knew I had to check out Rob Guillory’s latest project, which he’s written and illustrated. He didn’t disappoint. Chew will relish what they find here, as it boasts the same kind of over-the-top humor and oddball, edgy atmosphere. What’s truly interesting about this story, though, is its relevance, as Guillory manipulates the notion of genetic modification of plants and the notion of more extreme visions of health care to arrive at a thoroughly entertaining and unique comic.

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The Eyes Have It

Batman #50
“The Wedding of Batman & Catwoman”
Writer: Tim King
Artists: Mikel Janin, with Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez; Becky Cloonan; Jason Fabok; Lee Bermejo; Neal Adams; Tony S. Daniel; Amanda Conner; Rafael Albuquerque; Andy Kubert; Tim Sale; Paul Pope; Mitch Gerads; Clay Mann; Ty Templeton; Joelle Jones; David Finch; jim Lee & Scott Williams; Greg Capullo; and Lee Weeks
Colors: June Chung, with Trish Mulvihill; Brad Anderson; Alex Sinclair; Hi-Fi; Tomeu Morey; Paul Mounts; Jose Villarrubia; Jordie Bellaire; and FCO Plascencia
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Mikel Janin (regular)/Jim Lee & Scott Williams, and Arthur Adams
Editor: Jamie S. Rich
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99 US

As I read the narration for this milestone issue — presented in the voices of Batman and Catwoman, by way of letters to one another on their wedding day — one thought kept running through my mind.

“It’s like poetry.”

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What About Bob?

Sentry #1
“Sentry World, Part 1 of 5”
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Kim Jacinto
Colors: Rain Beredo
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Travis Lanham
Cover artists: Brian Hitch (regular)/Kim Jacinto and Pyeongjun Park (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US

I don’t get it.

When writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee introduced the Sentry in 2000, it was an interesting experiment in genre storytelling – a super-hero who’d been erased from continuity because it turned out he was as big a threat to reality as he was its savior. The problem arose when Marvel’s writers and editors decided to make use of the character beyond the initial limited series. The character was wisely killed off in the Siege event book eight years ago. And now he’s back, because… because… Why the hell did Marvel bring him back? Jeff Lemire doesn’t offer an explanation for how Bob Reynolds survived his supposed death, nor is there a clear purpose to this deeply depressing story.

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It’s Not Easy Being Green

A Study in Emerald hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist/Cover artist: Rafael Albuquerque
Adaptation script: Albuquerque & Rafael Savone
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Daniel Chabon
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics/Dark Horse Books
Price: $17.99 US/$23.99 CAN

This comics adaptation of a Neil Gaiman short story from 15 years ago blends the seminal works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft that captures the atmospheres, intelligence and, in the case of the latter, pervasive horror in a riveting read. I hadn’t been aware of the previous piece of prose work by Gaiman, so artist Rafael Albuquerque’s decision to revisit the material opened my eyes to something I’d unfortunately missed. Now, I have to be honest — I’ve not read any of Lovecraft’s writing, only about his writing. The good news is that one can appreciate and thoroughly enjoy this story with even only a passing familiarity with his darkly surreal stories of ancient evil. Though creepy and unsettling throughout, the story is oddly playful as well, and Albuquerque’s loose linework brings the Victorian period to life perfectly.

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What a Dick

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer #1
Writers: Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins
Artists: Marcelo Salaza & Marcio Freire
Letters/Editor: Tom Williams
Publisher: Titan Comics/Hard Case Crime imprint
Price: $3.99 US

I’m of two minds when it comes to this revival of a classic detective character. Writer Max Allan Collins, apparently adapting an original Mickey Spillane story, certainly captures a classic period private-eye piece. Elements that would otherwise come off as cliche instead feel campy and nostalgic. On the other hand, the effort to stay true to the original character and material belies a tone that just doesn’t feel entirely appropriate for 21st century pop entertainment. There’s a blatant misogyny at play that’s understandable given the source material, but it’s also clear there’s a clear choice not to evolve. Combined with some stiff artwork, and I was left feeling a bit let down.

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