Friday, November 10, 2006
comics! World's Finest What The Eff?
Two comics for myself this week, and they don't come any more basic: Superman and Batman. Despite what some of you out there might think, this is not rote loyalty on my part. I've almost never followed any of the various Bat-titles. I've only decided to follow this one for the same reason I ever do: the fantastic artwork. Andy Kubert's work here is so damn good, so wonderful in layout and execution, that every time I see him up his game (which he, unlike so many brand-name artists out there, consistently does) I'm tempted to bring up the Forbidden Subject: is he - or his almost-equally good brother - actually BETTER than their revered father Joe Kubert?
The answer's still no - Joe's work portraying Tarzan (perhaps the only other 'superhero' as iconic as Superman and Batman) has a worldly wisdom underlying it that neither of the sons has - yet.
True, I am the world's biggest Superman fan - but buying that title wasn't rote either! There've been plenty of times I stopped buying the title (um, shoulder length hippie hair? Um, big blue energy-being? True, I stuck around for John Byrne - but that was the equivalent of being mesmerized by a horrible highway accident). But Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco are doing such a fantastic job with this title that - despite our rather bumpy courtship - I'm completely hooked.
Both issues were wonderful, and, oddly enough, both issues had a great big What The Eff moment that left me jaw-dropped and hovering between pity and outrage.
The Moment happens at the end of this current Batman issue - the storyline is hugely promising: a boy claiming to be Batman's son by Talia demands to be let into Batman's life. He's brought to the Batcave, where - since he was brought up by the League of Assassins - he proceeds to attack everybody with a pulse, overcoming Alfred and Robin and provoking a lot of Bat-yelling from the big guy. Using the element of surprise, the boy badly wounds Robin (this week's Stevereads award for the most inadvertently creepy detail: the Cave has its own private blood supply), so Batman has no choice but to take him along to Gibraltar, which, um, Talia wants to take from the UK.
Batman and the boy show up to foil the plan, and there's lots of great action, and Talia offers Batman a chance to 'convert' her to the cause of good - a fascinating twist I'm amazed nobody's thought of before. Everything is tense and balanced to go either way. And then ...
BOOM! Our writer, Grant Morrison, slams a British torpedo into Talia's ship, and the issue ends with Batman watching the burning wreckage from shore, and with Stevereads saying, you guessed it, What The Eff?
We can assume that both Talia and the boy survived and will be back (after all, in comics nobody dies but Bucky ... grrrrrr), but even so, what is such an ending but Morrison basically saying 'Mmmmmmm, I'm bored .... I'll come back to this later.'?
Over in Superman, a delightfully snotty Arion is detailing a post-apocalyptic future to our cast, a future in which a small handful of unlikely heroes led by Lex Luthor are making their way through a nearly destroyed world.
And what's responsible for this apocalypse? Why, our second What The Eff moment, that's what!
Or rather, that's who - a new super-villain named Khyber, who's clearly intended to be comics first Islamic villain - certainly the first major villain who's Islamic identity is the biggest part of his villainy.
I know, I know - in the issue, Khyber is never explicitly described as Islamic himself, only as using strife between Islamic extremists and the West to further his own plans. But the wording is so delicately ambiguous that we're clearly meant to make some heavy-duty associations, and I think those associations are dead wrong.
I know, I know - it's been done before. During WWII, wildly prejudicial anti-German and anti-Japanese were all over comics, and there's nothing very subtle about villains like the Yellow Claw.
But this is different. No goose-stepping Nazis ever waved their lugers around Times Square, and no bayonet-wielding Viet Congs ever boarded planes at Logan. Creating a sooper-evil Islamic villain who beats on Superman and causes the end of the world ... well, in its own small way, it's intensely irresponsible. Islamic extremism is the fastest-growing social movement in the world, and it has two salient characteristics: it's unchecked by geographical borders, and it's very, very touchy. Creating a character like Khyber encourages ignorance just to tap into a little topicality, and I wish Busiek had gone a different way in adding to Superman's rogues gallery.
Anyway, I passed on Teen Titans, Green Arrow, 52, and a bunch of other things this week, but I'm sure Elmo and my nemesis Pepito will furnish the gaps in due time. You must be patient, my little marmosets ...
(by the by, for you techno-heads out there, I tried for 30 utterly wasted minutes to find a copy of the cover of the current Superman to post here, totally without success .. if any of you can find such a holy image, feel free to tell me where, so I can avoid giving preferential treatment to a non-superpowered character.... yech ...)