#2 of Something! Score! AND ONE!

August 21, 2008 at 5:06 pm (Comic Books, Movies)

Sorry things have been nonexistent around here. It’s unlikely to change. But in the meantime:

you HAVE to go out and buy this comic #2:

Batman: Legends of The Dark Knight #54

This is a rare beast to come across: a 1993 Mignola story not involving Hellboy or Dracula! It DOES, however, pit Batman against a black magic occultist needing the blood of a murderer to resurrect himself, so it’s close enough, right? And, even though Batman is just a stand-in for Hellboy here, what a marvelous pose we have. Incidentally, this is the only story Mignola co-wrote up to this point in his career as well.

And Mignola’s co-plotting shows! Unlike his earlier freelance work, he gets the chance, TWICE, to devote a page fully to a stylized depiction of events, creating a complete work of art instead of servile storytelling. If I had the money and marbles to buy original comic art instead reproduced, it would likely come from either this comic, Campbell’s Black Diamond Detective Agency, or Kevin Huizenga’s Or Else. And it would probably be page 7, which I can’t scan, but hopefully my words can conjure the paper right in front of you, and hopefully some of what was printed on it!

Batman lies atop rubble, face turned and in silhouette with arms sprawled across debris. In spite of the encroaching darkness, a light flash of deep red illuminates, the cut coming from his heart. Recognizing the perspective of the image, concrete is still falling on our hapless hero, on a broken wooden frame. On top of despondency, we are given a setting for the event: tranquil grass lightly blowing in the wind, graves visible in the background in disarray, some casually tossed aside: a reason for the unconsciousness. And in the foreground, visually and geographically on top of our hero, is a stone slab, top thrown aside with smoke that’s floating out. Such tranquil disarray.

You wouldn’t believe it, but the next page has his wound bleeding just a little bit more. And even more fantastic Mignola fauna, a monster with chubby cheeks dripping water takes our gaze just after a statue of a nun holds an ark above Batman’s head (ready to smash him), and the next panel has a wistful woman fallen as Batman walks past her. These are all statues of course: very few walks through museums are as foreboding and ominous as this.

The rest of the issue is great, too. After the claustrophobic glares of statues, Batman walks into a different room, and the page just opens up completely with bigger panels depicting much more empty space. It’s also when Batman finally realizes his setting: a dilapidated Victorian house. Freedom Follows Realization!

But there’s more delicious bits during Batman’s walk. We are reminded of where he could possibly be, back on that broken wooden frame, bleeding (this time, the blood covers part of his iconic chest symbol). What if this entire event is a dream? and we are getting what is actually happening with this tiny but intrusive panel? It comes up again, but the next time a skeleton grasps Batman, still sleeping, still oblivious!

The actual plot of the issue cannot possibly match up to Hellboy-era Mignola art, and it doesn’t really try. An occultist needs the blood of a murderer to resurrect him, and Batman slayed an insane man earlier in self defense. Batman must come to grips with the murder, but, really, after the villain (Drood) poses the question, he remarks that the killing was kinda sorta accidental. So Batman and we can wipe our hands of the potential drama. It’s an innocuous enough plot, and mostly a showcase for Mignola’s visual storytelling and imaginative settings.

Which is good, because then we would never get Batman breaking outside the house with just a smidgen of deep, blood red between cracks into the full fledged, rubescent flight of the Bat. And those are the real pleasures of this comic, the drenching of scenes in stark colors, wondering what could be hidden in the shadows. It’s absolutely perfect creating a sense of horror from atmosphere and artistry instead of plot and the blunt threat of death, something Mignola may have mastered with ease, but most other artists are still trying to catch up.

I mean, just look at its cover!

Totally Awesome, Right?

Totally Awesome, Right?

And the comic won’t cost that much more than cover, likely less if you get it at an online vendor.

Next issue: Maybe I move away from Batman, maybe not. Therein lies suspense!

In non-this feature news? I will hopefully have the patience to fix the typeface on the last couple of posts and just generally do a little cleanup around here. Also, I bit the bullet and got the OMAC omnibus despite its almost-newsprint paper quality, I’m rereading Omega, and I keep refinding a couple thoughts about Morrison’s Batman and Final Crisis. Also just watched Katsuhiro Otomo’s Metropolis, which is absolutely darling. Metropolis was a manga adaptaion, revision, or maybe remix of Fritz Lang’s wordless classic film by Osamu Tezuka, published in English by Dark Horse when they were going through Astro Boy in one of those cute, innoccuous pocket volumes.

It was a good idea to publish it alongside Astro Boy. Instead of a perfect male robot that goes and fights evil, we have a perfect female robot who, instead of a machine gun butt, has a butt that, when seated on the tower of power, will let her control all. Quite a difference between genders, don’t you think? The male saves humanity by fighting monsters, and the female saves us through her knowledge and guidance. While there are other, important differences to each character (Astro Boy has a father figure nurturing him, whereas the heroine from Metropolis was thrust into nature after birth), their overwhelming similar personalities and background make the works talk to each other, sizing up their own themes through juxtaposition.

I haven’t read any Tezuka besides half of Buddha, a couple Astro Boy volumes, and the entirety (!) of Ode to Kiruhito, but from what I’ve heard Apollo’s Song has a bit to say on gender with a gay male character in a romance with a completely effeminate lover. And there’s almost always a female in Tezuka’s work who can point everyone in the right direction (the girl in Ode who can fry herself ethically aids the lyncanthropic protagonist and the mother in the first volume of Buddha who helps the orphan prince and pariah is definitely their moral center).

What Otomo does with the work is completely subvert Tezuka’s normal gender roles. The perfect female to rule the world isn’t stopped before by male power insecurities, she actually reaches the seat! And THEN she “accepts” her destiny and SITS on it, where ultimate chaos follows, with characters screaming out each other’s names (I think someone sneaked a “Tetsuo!!!” in there, too 😉 while she becomes a gargantuan cyborg monster engulfing everything: Otomo gives his view on Tezuka’s themes, of paradise as a feminine achievement by swiping his own imagery and themes from Akira, which in most other cases would be autoplagiarism, but here, it’s brilliant! The ending to the anime/manga Akira  where the promise of power to a teenager leads to (respectively) an imploded self or subservient rule of a crippled cityscape is given to the manga that doesn’t really have an end: Tezuka’s Metropolis just stops when paradise can’t be achieved, sealed with a lecture to at least offer some finality.

There’s more swipes abound, too, and they are just as tempered through Otomo’s artistic process as themes. Tezuka’s characterwork is aped almost completely, but Otomo gives each character a big gun and neon, urban light shining on each of them. One even rides a motorcycle with trailing red lights! It’s an absolutely delightful monster, Tezuka’s corpus with Otomo’s vitality. Totally worth watching! And worth writing more about, probably talking about Tezuka and gender a lot more than I do here, so Otomo’s different views on it can clash even more spectacularly.

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