On Things I’ve Been Reading

Recently, I’ve begun buying comic books again.

I used to buy a lot of comics. In retrospect, it’s a bit embarrassing. And then, somewhere in the late ’90s, I stopped buying comics on any sort of regular basis. I’d visit comic shops occasionally if something was coming out that I was interested in — like, say, JLA/Avengers — and I’d keep up with news on the industry through websites like Newsarama or Comic Book Resources, but the impetus to buy comics wasn’t really there.

What changed? It took Doctor Who, honestly.

Last summer, round about this time, I read that the fourth volume of Panini’s collected Eighth Doctor comics had an essay on the regeneration they had planned and then scrapped, to link the eighth Doctor’s era to the ninth Doctor’s era. Well, I had to read that, I decided, so I ordered The Flood from WhoNA. One thing led to another, and then I’d bought a whole raft of Doctor Who graphic novels from Panini, and then IDW started publishing Doctor Who comics, and then…

Well, I won’t say the bug bit, because it didn’t. But now I’m buying comics. Like Captain Britain and MI-13. Like Batman. Like Star Trek.

So, occasionally I’ll talk about the comics I’m reading. Or the comics I’m looking forward to — like Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds. :)

Let’s take a look at some highlights from the latest haul, shall we?

Star Trek: Assignment: Earth #1
IDW Publishing
Written & drawn by John Byrne

Ah, John Byrne. When John Byrne is firing on the genius cylinders — like Next Men, like Batman/Captain America, like Superman/Batman: Generations — he connects, and it’s a solid connect. When he misses — like Spider-Man: Chapter One — you wonder just what the fuck he was thinking.

Fortunately, Star Trek: Assignment: Earth is, for Byrne, the former rather than the latter.

Star Trek fans know that the original Star Trek episode, “Assignment: Earth,” was based off a series pilot that Gene Roddenberry hadn’t been able to sell. Kirk and the Enterprise travel back in time to the 1960s, where they meet the mysterious Gary Seven and his secretary, Roberta Lincoln, as they get involved in thwarting the launch of NASA’s space nuclear missile platform. It owes more to James Bond than Strange New Worlds, and Gary Seven has appeared in several comics and novels over the years.

Now, Byrne does in his comic book what Gene Roddenberry wanted to do — a Gary Seven series, set in the late 1960s as Seven and Lincoln save the world from various threats.

IDW’s Star Trek comics have seemed quite thin. “I paid four dollars for that?!?” has been my frequent mantra. There’s no wasted money here, as Byrne packs a hell of a lot into this first issue. This is a spy story, pure and simple, perhaps more akin to The Saint than to James Bond. This is a one-and-done story, and the action ranges from Seven’s office to a burglary, to a swank restaurant to a nuclear test facility and its environs. There’s a lot going on, the pacing never feels sluggish, and there are unanswered questions at the end that I imagine future issues will deal with.

The issue’s only fault is that, uncharacteristically, Byrne doesn’t letter the story. I knew something was missing, and it was Byrne’s lettering. On most all of his recent projects — and by recent, I mean going back as far as Next Men fifteen years ago — Byrne provides the lettering in addition to his pencilling and inking, and seeing someone else’s lettering was jarring on the page.

The artwork is typical Byrne. Gary Seven looks roughly like Robert Lansing, and Roberta Lincoln looks nothing like Teri Garr. Byrne pitched this project precisely because he didn’t have to deal in likenesses, but the two main characters are identifiable.

The setting makes this atypical for Star Trek, but that’s no reason to ignore Assignment: Earth #1. It’s vintage spy stuff, and John Byrne’s writing and art shows that he’s having fun.

Recommended.

Batman #676
DC Comics
Written by Grant Morrison, art by Tony Daniel

Up until about ten years ago, if DC Comics published something with Batman in the title, I bought it. It was about this time, a decade ago, that I well and truly left comics behind, seemingly forever. Things change.

I bring this up, because the two artists who defined Batman the most for me were Jim Aparo and Norm Breyfogle. Aparo, sadly, passed away about a year ago, and Breyfogle is, by all reports, blacklisted by DC Comics for strange and obscure reasons. I bring this up for no reason, except that Batman, to me, is what those two artists did. As completely different as they were, they defined my Batman.

At various times in the past ten years I’ve thought about getting back into Batman. I bought Greg Rucka’s novelization of No Man’s Land, the storyline where a massive earthquake destroys Gotham City. When I heard that Jason Todd, the second Robin who died at the hands of the Joker (and at the hands of Batman‘s readers back in 1988), had returned to life, I was curious. When I heard that Tim Drake, the third Robin, had been fired and replaced by Stephanie Brown, a young girl (and Tim’s girlfriend), I was curious. Then I learned that Stephanie had been murdered, that Leslie Thompkins, the woman who had helped the young Bruce Wayne, had allowed Stephanie to die in order to teach Bruce Wayne a lesson that his war on crime exacted terrible costs, I was appalled.

Why do I bring this up? Despite a decade of being aware, on the fringes, of what was going on in Gotham City, I didn’t dive back into the pool. But what would get me to dive back into the pool?

“Batman, R.I.P.” got me to dive back into the pool.

Except for some of the early issues of Superman/Batman, I’d not bought a Batman comics in ten years when I bought Batman #676, the first chapter of “Batman, R.I.P.”

So, naturally, I was confused out of my skull.

I’m sure something happened in this issue, but I’m not sure what. There’s a moody introduction with a secret society. There’s a car chase with the latest incarnation of the Batmobile. There’s Tim Drake asking Alfred if Bruce is completely mental. There’s Bruce Wayne’s new girlfriend (whose name isn’t given for several pages, so if you didn’t know who she was, the first page with her is going to be confusing as hell). There’s a scene of Bruce and his girlfriend at the Wayne family cemetary plot. And then there’s a sequence with the Joker, which I’m not entirely sure was a dream or reality. I’m thinking dream.

It sounds like a lot, and I suppose it is. It’s all set-up.

It’s mentioned several times that Bruce Wayne has an unhealthy fixation on a new organization operating in the Gotham City criminal underworld, “the Black Glove.” They seem to be real, but Tim Drake wonders if they’re not a figment of Bruce’s imagination, a mistaken conclusion drawn from insufficient data. I was reminded of Sherlock Holmes’ deductions about Moriarty in The Seven Per-Cent Solution — Holmes’ mind was so far gone from cocaine that he had grafted onto his former maths tutor all the pain and suffering his fair city of London had endured. Could it be that the Black Glove is as innocuous as Professor Moriarty was?

It’s a fair question.

Of course, the Black Glove isn’t innocuous; their leader disposes of a body left on their doorstep by page four. But there has to be a twist. This being a Grant Morrison story, things won’t be what they initially appear to be.

For a first issue of a storyline, questions are raised and none are answered. For a new reader, there’s a lot here that’s impenetrable; there are undoubtedly things that I’ve completely missed. We could be setting up for Knightfall Redux. In that story, Bruce Wayne lost his mental bearings and his physical ability to be Batman, and thus Jean-Paul Valley assumed the mantle of the Bat. There are hints that Batman’s physical state here isn’t the best — Tim refers to Bruce being officially dead for four minutes — and there’s the obvious questioning of Bruce’s mental state. It could be that “Batman, R.I.P.” will strip away everything that makes Bruce Wayne Batman, and either rebuild the character from nothing, or replace Batman entirely.

We shall see.

Tony Daniels artwork was fine. I had no issue with anything it. The Joker sequence was perhaps the best rendered part of the issue. There’s no sense of foreboding and doom that I’d have found in Breyfogle, for instance. And it’s not as naturalistic as Aparo. It does what it needs to do, and in that regard, I have no complaints.

The title alone — “Batman, R.I.P.” — was enough to get me buying Batman comics again, but I don’t know that it’s enough to recommend the issue to a first-timer. Consider this, then, a cautious recommendation, and curious for the future.

Captain Britain and MI-13 #1
Marvel Comics
Written by Paul Cornell, art by Leonard Kirk

There’s only one reason I bought this.

Paul Cornell.

About six months ago, on Steve Mollmann’s recommendation, I bought Wisdom, the trade paperback collection of the six-issue Marvel MAX miniseries Cornell had written about Pete Wisdom and MI-13, the branch of the British secret service that dealt with supernatural and extraterrestrial threats. Mollmann had said that, and this is a rough paraphrase, “Wisdom is Torchwood done right,” and given that I loved Torchwood, I had to see what a Marvel-ized Torchwood would be like.

No sex and swearing, is what I’d decided.

Well, I got that one wrong. Sex! Swearing! Gorgeous redheads! John the Skrull!

Oh, I should mention John the Skrull.

In 1963 the Skrulls decided they were going to take over Earth. By replacing the Beatles with Skrull Beatles. Only, the Skrull Beatles went native, and John the Skrull prefers to think of himself as John Lennon, albeit one rooted firmly in 1968.

I liked Wisdom. It wasn’t quiteTorchwood done right,” but I could see it as a variation on a theme — maybe a bit more UNIT than Torchwood. The first four issues were one-and-dones, and then the slam-bang two-part finale was, to be blunt, brutal. Shit happens, and Pete Wisdom waded through a hell of shit. Cornell’s writing brought the characters to life, and while I didn’t always like the artwork, it did what it needed to do.

So when Marvel announced an ongoing MI-13 series, Captain Britain and MI-13, I decided this was something I had to have. Because it was going to have Pete Wisdom and John the Skrull! Of course, I also wanted to know if it was going to have Captain Midlands, who was pretty much useless in Wisdom, but he made such a good foil for John the Skrull.

And did I like it?

Ehh, not really.

The reasons are multiple.

First, unlike Wisdom, the first issue of CB&MI-13 wasn’t a one-and-done.

Second, there was neither sex nor swearing. No Marvel MAX title, this.

Third, some passing familiarity with Secret Invasion might have been a good idea. Of course, if I gave any sort of toss for Secret Invasion, it might’ve helped…

So, it’s a lot of set-up. The Skrull invasion of Britain has lopped off the government at its head. The Skrulls are trying to take, erm, something. There are a bunch of costumed types running around. Pete Wisdom acts more as a bureaucrat than a field operative, more Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart than Jack Harkness. Captain Britain whines like a sodding wanker.

Fuck, my English has gone completely wonky.

Leonard Kirk’s artwork was more to my liking. Cornell’s ear for characterization remains strong. The revelation about the Skrull Beatles — well, I hope that’s a red herring. And no Captain Midlands, bugger it all.

I’ll stick with CB&MI-13, at least for a while. I’m intrigued by it — I liked Wisdom, after all — but I’m a bit indifferent to where the book is right now. Maybe once the Secret Invasion behemoth is off this book’s chest, then it can soar. For right now, though, the book feels like a superhero team book, and less like a weird secret ops book. I hope the book transitions into something more like Wisdom and less like Excalibur. Though it could be that the book is written for exactly where it’s aimed at, which isn’t where I’m aimed at.

In spite of the caveats, I’ll recommend Captain Britain & MI-13 #1 on the strength of Cornell as a writer.

2 thoughts on “On Things I’ve Been Reading

  1. Loved the post. I got into Batman when Morrison started writing it. I loved the first two issues of Batman and Son, and then it fell apart for me and the ending just seemed to be a rushed mess. Then Morrison took 4 months off and we had a fill-in story, which just put me off. I decided to just buy the trades as they come out or wait for a big one. So far, I’ve only seen the initial storyline offered, but I refuse to pay $24.95 for a hardback that only features 4 issues.

    Batman: R.I.P is supposed to be the big payoff storyline that Morrison’s been building up to, so I can see why it’s dense and hard to get into for the new fan.

  2. Then I learned that Stephanie had been murdered, that Leslie Thompkins, the woman who had helped the young Bruce Wayne, had allowed Stephanie to die in order to teach Bruce Wayne a lesson that his war on crime exacted terrible costs, I was appalled.

    Which, now, isn’t exactly what happened.

    Re. MI-13.
    It’s called Captain Britain and MI13…sounds superheroy to me.
    Captain Midlands gets a shout out.
    No one knows what the Skrulls want, other than to invade. As it’s a Bendis idea, it’ll be really lame…like pistachio ice cream.

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