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Comics! (Shadowy Conspiracies Edition)

The Shadow / Batman #6: The end of a not uninteresting mini about a deeeeeep mega-conspiracy. It's a nice one, and I'm psychologically unable to not like the ending, but it only works as an Elseworld, in the sense that it's too big to leave much space in the Batman universe for anything else. That's a common issue in universes with long continuities; the accumulation of Events and Conspiracies escalates where, you know, Bruce's life isn't the target of a centuries-long conspiracy that's the retrochronal side effect of having been Omega beam'd by Darkseid Himself, but rather it's the target of a millennia-long conspiracy by the followers of a freaking capital-g god from a different universe. It gets ridiculous. Rather than continuity and reboots, I'd prefer a continuous stream of singles and minis, overlapping in arbitrary and not always well-defined ways; that way the world can change.

The Wild Storm #12: An example of the above, I think. Ellis is able to tell a cohesive variant of the Wildstorm universe, basically because he can start from scratch and keep the bits he wants (also, because he's good at that kind of thing, mind you). A point of interest is that, because you have multiple shadowy deep conspiracies of ultra-competent people (and a couple of semi-independent groups in the middle), nobody quite knows what's going on, butterflies get stepped on, etc. The slowly unfolding chaos adds to the sense of tension.

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James Bond: The Body #1

A quiet, introspective, funny-ish interlude. Recommended.

(I initially wrote slightly funny, but funny-ish lets me keep the word count down to six, which I wasn't trying to do until I noticed the word count was seven — then it became unavoidable.)

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EGO #1-#9

As cynical, self-aware takes on the concept of hero groups go (and by now we don't precisely have a dearth of them), it wasn't an unenjoyable one. The SF elements of the story are interesting on their own, and it's helped by the fact that it's neither too nihilistic nor too closely aimed at any specific cultural touchstone.

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I've been catching a bit of The Mentalist as background TV, and I have to say I had forgotten quite how punchable Patrick Jane is. Clever guy, I like his (pre-Moffat)Doctor Who-ish avoidance of violence, and the amateur-helping-the-police setup isn't more or less implausible than all similar others, but, oh, god, he's a pretentious asshole, even when it makes things more difficult for the people he works with. Part of me wants to headcanon it as a self-destructive reaction to his guilt about his dead family ("suicide by enraged colleague suspect random bystander"), but of course his being a pretentious asshole contributed to their deaths (without going too far into victim blaming, mind you).

He's not as bad as John Luther in that sense; he's sort of broken, and I do feel for the guy. And while Patrick is a walking stressor, Luther oscillates between "breaks the law in violent ways to help innocents" to "breaks the law in violent ways to help himself." But Patrick's grating and insulting in counterproductive ways, and although he gets away with it because he's helpful and, well, the protagonist, I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who are impolite just because they can.

Most of them well-off white male geniuses, unsurprisingly. (Luther is a not well-off black male genius who regularly abuses whatever modicum of power he has legitimately earned through his being good at his job, which makes things more complex, Elba's great acting aside)

Insert here the obvious comment about the World's Greatest Well-off White Male Genius Who's Unnecessarily Irritating To People He Works With, Bruce Wayne, whose overall plan vis a vis the JLA seems to be they think of themselves as good people, so the more they personally want to kill me because they find me obnoxious, the less likely they are to attack me even when technically they would have the right to, or maybe just the newbies don't kill me because they think I'm tough enough to mouth off to the Clark, Diana, and J'onn with impunity, and Clark, Diana, and J'onn don't kill me because they are genuinely good and extremely patient people whose personal lines I've spent a lot of time profiling to make sure I never cross.
I blame Morrison for the not universal but definitely frequent depiction of Talia in contemporary comics as an unhinged, jealous ex-lover (when not a rapist) slash abusive mother. I love a lot of what Morrison did with Batman, but the Leviathan arc should've been kept between him and his therapist.

Take as an example Tom King: unless the last couple of issues of Batman have been a fake-out, his Talia is to a degree a foil for Selina's sanity, which is beneath both Talia and King. The Talia I remember might've felt heartbroken by Bruce's engagement, in that way in which you mourn again and afresh the ending of things lost gone, but that's it.

Perhaps the turning point, meta-textually, was Damian. Comic books seem to have an extremely difficult time dealing with live, sane parents not named Kent, in particular mothers. Maybe they make superheroes "soft" or something.

That would also match Shiva's case, although in her case I think it's simply that she isn't bloody enough for current market tastes. Yes, she's Death incarnate, but she wasn't edgy. She was too well centered for that. Lethal enough, violent enough, but not *angry* enough.
Mister Miracle #3 is still fantastic, even when you see things coming. It's not about the surprise, it's about the walls closing in. Sometimes you see them close in, sometimes you suddenly feel a wall against your back that wasn't there a second ago. Sometimes you fail to forget you're already entombed. It's the kind of mood Dark Metal #3 tries and epically fails to conjure.

The other better-than-Dark-Metal-at-its-own-game comic from this week I wanted to mention is Michael Cray #1, which gives you the skin-crawling worst-fear-about-yourself version of a mainstay DC hero Dark Metal tries and epically fails to come up with

As both trigger warning and compliment, neither is recommended if you aren't feeling very well spoons-wise yourself (unless it sounds like it could be therapeutic)(but, really, Mister Miracle #1 *begins* with the suicide attempt of Scott Free, so keep that in mind).

The Final Deduction

I might be missing somebody, but by my count three people in the DC Universe know that it's fictional: Animal Man, because Morrison's grasp of other realities is better than his grasp of his own, Joker, because he's, by definition, insane enough (and also because Morrison), and Batman, because he's too much a detective, and his life makes far too little sense, for him not to notice.

Joker thinks this is the joke. What can possibly, in any way, matter? It's a universe explicitly build for amusement, so he might as well amuse himself.

To Batman it makes no ethical difference. "Fictional" people suffer just as much, and they matter just as much. Philosophical implications aren't a priority.

It does have tactical implications, though. He always tries to win, always thinks there's a way to win, and he even tells you, us, why: He's Batman.

We just all misunderstand what he means by that (but not the Joker, not him, Joker knows Batman knows they both know).

It's also why he feels personally guilty about every tragedy. It's his book. One way or another, Jason died *because of him*, his parents died *so he would survive them*. Joker or not, tragedy stalks him because that's the nature of the fictional world, that's the nature of Gotham as she's written, but what else can he do? He has to keep trying, save as many as he can whenever he can, plan for the fantastic because that's the kind of world he lives in, take the guilt and the pain because then, maybe, the others will be spared some of it.

Endure the nightmares, the darkness, the endless pain, the insanity, the horror of a battle he knows he'll never be able to win, because that's probably the price of Gotham's existence.

  • The silent moments between Selina and Bruce, her kindness and the way he accepts it, are very realistic and nicely done. You seldom see that kind of unspoken tenderness in superhero comics.

  • This story sets up Nygma as Joker-level crazy. Not just Joker-level capable, but Joker-level insane, far beyond his usual compulsions.

  • In a heartless way, it's nice to see Bruce, for once, traumatized by something sensible that has nothing to do with Crime Alley or Jason. One aspect of maturity is the ability to feel good or bad about more than one or two things.



And the spoilery one...Collapse )
A lot of Hickman's writing (varying by title, but overall quite a bit) consists of visually, conceptually, and linguistically dense world-building infodumps. The term is generally used disparagingly, but for him — I should say, for him, with me — it works, because
  • Hickman's world-building is fantastic; his settings are more interesting than most people's plots.
  • Properly used, comics are a great medium for infodumps. You're forced to use relatively short amounts of text, which makes you concise, while the visuals are great both for emotional tone and for the kind of open-ended suggestive-but-not-explained detail that makes you feel certain that the world is real outside the panels and before and after the story itself.

That's not a Batman, not even a broken one

It's something of a trifle next to the deep ridiculousness of the "metal" plot device, but the way the "dark Batmans" collapse in so psychologically and aesthetically improbable ways makes it impossible to take it seriously.

Batman going "wrong" isn't impossible, or implausible. Owlman is fun (except when they show you how much of a vicious creep he, naturally, is), and I've had enormous amounts of fun with the idea, from a Bruce Wayne who kills to one who built his own prison/asylum under the Batcave. You can even break the current Batman into something worse.

But you have to do it plausibly, and the end result has to be consistent with who he is. These Batmans definitely aren't; at least so far, they aren't shown as Bruce Waynes who went through very different lives, but rather as near-canonical Batmans who had a Bad Day (which is a very Batman thing to happen) and responded to it in an overly dramatic (also a Batman thing) but not Batmanish way.

That also goes to the core of my distaste of Injustice. It's not that I dislike dystopias where a canonical Superman kills somebody and then takes over the world (ah, A Better World, what fun we had); I dislike dystopias where a canonical Superman kills somebody, takes over the world, and starts behaving like a petty, insecure, sadistic tyrant. (I also dislike Injustice in that the worst possible outcome *always* happen; there's a difference between horrendous tragedy and a sadistic universe.)

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