Archive for July, 2011


did it hurt you when the lovely angels fell out of heaven?

July 19th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Brief Bat-break. Look for the last Miller piece next week.

I’m off to San Diego for a hair under a week in the sensory deprivation colosseum. If you’re at San Diego Comic-con on Friday, check this out:

6:30-7:30 The Best and Worst Manga of the Year— There are a whole lot of Japanese manga, Korean manhwa, and manga-inspired comics out there — but what’s worth buying and reading, and what’s not? Manga/comics bloggers/pundits Christopher Butcher ( and The Beguiling), David Brothers (4thletter!), Eva Volin (School Library Journal), Carlo Santos (Anime News Network), and Deb Aoki ( Manga) share their picks for the best new and continuing manga series for kids, teens, and grown-ups and jeer at the most annoying manga published in 2010-2011. Room 26AB

You can listen to me mangle the pronunciation of a couple books and wax poetic about others. The panel’s got a pretty good lineup, so I think it’ll be pretty entertaining.

There’s also this:

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism
Alter Ego, edited by Roy Thomas (TwoMorrows)
The Beat, produced by Heidi MacDonald (
ComicBookResources, produced by Jonah Weiland (
ComicsAlliance, produced by Laura Hudson (
The Comics Reporter, produced by Tom Spurgeon (
USA Today Comics Section, by Life Section Entertainment Editor Dennis Moore; Comics Section Lead, John Geddes (

CA is nominated for another Eisner. It’d be cool if we win, but awards are… I dunno, it doesn’t feel like something I need to have earned, right? That probably sounds crazy ungracious, which it isn’t meant to be. I’ll be a little bummed if we lose, but all in all? I like me enough for the two of us.

Speaking of manga… I bought volume one of the new Dirty Pair manga by Hisao Tamaki. It’s nuts, man. Dude’s art is nice, and I scanned a few dozen pages out of it for posting here. I may save some til next week, I dunno, but here’s a few pages from the very beginning of it:

I dunno how familiar any of you are with the Dirty Pair. I love that duo, whether Adam Warren’s version or the ones I used to dub off Blockbuster tapes. Kei and Yuri are great, hyper-effective Trouble Consultants code-named Lovely Angels but better known as the Dirty Pair. Where they go, havoc follows. Not just regular havoc, either. I’m talking massive destruction havoc, borderline planetcide havoc, shrugging in the foreground while an atomic bomb goes off in the background and saying, “It’s not our fault!” havoc.

They’re fantastic, is what I’m saying. Real fun and funny comics. One of my favorite bits is how much they hate the Dirty Pair nickname. They’re the Lovely Angels, and even so much as thinking “Dirty Pair” will get you in a world of hurt.

That’s what’s going on in this scene, basically. They crash a party, Batman: Year One-style, and even have some impressive pyro to go along with their introduction. And then, in the middle of their big intro, the crowd screams “DIRTY PAIR!!!” and… well, things go downhill from there. I snipped the bulk of the fight, but I like that dual kick they whip out on the old dude.

This volume actually made me realize what I like so much about the Dirty Pair, and it took those new costumes to do it. Boob tube tops aside, their costumes are blatantly inspired by female wrestlers. I used to watch a bunch of women’s Japanese wrestling, bka joshi puroresu, when I was in school. (Usually instead of being in school.) I liked both puro and joshi puro, because the women’s game was often a little different than the men’s game. It’s been ages–I can’t speak authoritatively about it any more, but that’s what my memory says.

kana goes seriously hard in this video, stiff kicks and butt bumps out the wazoo. 1:40 is either incredible ringwork or v. stiff.

Anyway, the costumes are straight out of wrestling. The laces, the boots, all of it. I got curious and looked up the franchise. It has its roots in All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling, which was a member of the World Women’s Wrestling Association: WWWA. It was like the scales fell off my eyes. And it clicked: Kei and Yuri are a tag team. I don’t know how I never realized it before. Maybe it’s because I got into DP while I was a kid, and puro was an adult thing, so I never had reason to consider them in relation to one another. Either way, they’re a rowdy couple of wrestlers who are crazy talented, but just cursed with bad luck.

In hindsight, what a great idea that is. Kei’s the rough one, Yuri’s sweet, but both of them are consummate professionals… up to a point. You can’t plan for luck, and sometimes luck involves accidentally destroying everything.

Those new costumes are probably way too va-va-voom, but man, I really, really dig this art. The girls are sorta thick (not quite Alicia Keys thighs, but probably about as close as you’ll get in manga), the fight scenes are real cool, there’s this great bit toward the end where Yuri zones out and switches into murder mode (which also features some very cool hair physics), and Yuri straight up Shining Wizards someone to death in one bit.

More soon, but let’s be honest: it’s a must-buy.

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Frank Miller Owns Batman: “my young charge enjoys herself far more than she should. so do i.”

July 19th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Batman is a painful idea, one that is fueled in large part by tragedy.

At the same time, Batman is a healing idea for Bruce Wayne. One thing Miller does that not enough Batman writers do is make it clear and plain that Bruce Wayne loves being Batman. There’s this line I latched onto the first time I read Dark Knight Strikes Again. Batman crashes a flying Batmobile into Lex Luthor’s tower, beats up his goons, slashes a Z across Luthor’s face, and then skates, Catgirl in tow. I mean, he demolishes everyone. It’s thrilling. When he’s done, he leans back in the Batmobile, kicks his feet up on the dash, and says, “Striking terror. Best part of the job.”

Something in my head just clicked when I read that, and I just knew that this is how Batman has to be. Batman has to enjoy what he does on a very personal and deep-seated level. Otherwise, it’s just a job, isn’t it? He clocks in, clocks out, and goes home. Enjoying the “being Batman” parts of being Batman is vital to his character, otherwise he’s mired in misery for no good reason. Even Daredevil loved dancing across the rooftops of Hell’s Kitchen.

If Bruce Wayne enjoys being Batman, then being Batman is more than just a gig or revenge. It’s a calling. It’s something that he’s built to do, something that exercises that little part of your brain that makes you good at things. He’s into being Batman like an artist is into drawing or a writer into writing. He sits down at the crime-fighting equivalent of a drawing board and slips into the zone. If you have the opportunity to do things you like as part of your daily life, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Everything else drops away, and it’s just you and your painting, or essay, or video, or whatever. Things make sense.

Or, it’s something like Rakim said: “I start to think and then I sink/ Into the paper like I was ink/ When I’m writing I’m trapped in between the lines/ I escape when I finish the rhyme/ I got soul.”

That’s what being Batman is, and has to be, for Bruce Wayne. It’s got to be a calling, something that energizes him and gives him the strength to go on. In Dark Knight Returns, after jettisoning the Bat, his life is empty and he bounces from whim to whim. He rediscovers the Batman and the result is striking. “This should be agony. I should be a mass of aching muscle–broken, spent, unable to move. And, were I an older man, I surely would… But I’m a man of thirty — of twenty again. The rain on my chest is a baptism–I’m born again.”

The reference to baptisms and being born again is on the nose, innit? This is Batman’s religion. This is how he gets closer to God. And the bold on “born” but not again is suggestive, too–this is how Batman begins. That thrill that dances up his spine, that impossible stamina, and that feeling of being a man made god. It’s undeniable. It’s seductive.

Dial it back twenty-some years to All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, and there’s this:

You get the feeling that Wayne just wants to get out there and DO something. His captions scream out how empowering and rehabilitative Batman is. “I should be exhausted. I haven’t slept in days. But I can’t get tired. No matter how hard I try. Not with this pulse pounding my ears and dear Gotham calling to me like a sultry siren.”

That sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it? Positively life-affirming As if Batman were a medicine, or steroid, that’s keeping him going. It reads like it revitalized his life and gave him an irresistible reason for being. Everything in the city, from the cold and nasty wind off the river to the jerks laying on the horn at asleep o’clock is perfect. It builds up to Batman’s ultimate playground, the perfect location for a creature like him. He’s where he belongs. He’s in his zone. Batman be to crime-fighting what key be to lock.

I can’t help but love that in a major way. I don’t think Batman should be a happy go lucky type of guy, but he’d definitely have a devil may care grin and take a certain amount of pleasure in doing what he does. He might not show it, but it has to be there. He has to like it. Being Batman has to be fulfilling and something he can enjoy. The enjoyment may ebb and flow, but striking terror has to always, always be the best part of the job.

There’s this really good sequence in Charlie Huston and David Finch’s Moon Knight that sort of relates. It starts with Moon Knight staring down Taskmaster before taking him apart in a major way (“Yes, kill me. See if that works this time.” and Taskmaster crumbles in the wind), getting what he wants, and vanishing into the night. As he leaves, he’s thinking, “I get what I want. Glories. I get glories. Glories such as these.”

Moon Knight is geared more toward reveling in violence and sado-masochism than Batman is, and that’s how he honors the god that gives him his gimmick and/or powers. He puts the boot in, and Khonshu is pleased. Moon Knight’s glories aren’t Batman’s, but Batman, every single night, ends up with glories. Being Batman shows him a side of life that most people never see, where the city speaks to you with the familiarity of a lover, your life and death are always near at hand, and hand-in-hand, and everything is your playground.

Later in the series, Batman and Robin have to get somewhere in a hurry. Batman, indulges himself a bit and says, “We hitch a ride.” This is the ride:

Normal people don’t get to do that. This is what being Batman is all about. You see the city as an entity, you learn the secret paths and language, and most of all, you get to be exactly where you want to be.

“Every inch of me is alive.”

next: i rushed it. i blew it.

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Frank Miller Owns Batman: “i mean, i’ve seen better, but i guess this is okay.”

July 18th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I like Captain Marvel because he’s a boy’s fantasy. Say a magic word and bam, you turn into an idealized version of yourself, people respect you and take you seriously, and you’re a true blue hero.

Batman is a child’s fantasy, too, but a more specific one. It is Bruce Wayne‘s fantasy, and his reaction to the death of his parents. The actual Bat part of the fantasy came later, of course, but the avenging angel saving the innocent from the predations of criminals was born as Bruce watched his parents die.

It’s kind of a childish, or maybe just simple, idea, isn’t it? Batman declared war on crime. Not a specific type of crime, or a certain criminal. He declared war on a nebulous object, something so big that it will never, ever go away. Why? Because it hurt him and took his parents away.

I like how the Mark of Zorro figures into Batman’s origin. It was his father’s favorite movie, and it was the very last thing he did with his family before he died. The Mark of Zorro is the last thing he saw as an innocent, and that’s significant. Don Diego was a man who believed in justice and protecting the downtrodden by night, and pretended to be an affable fop by day. He used a certain symbol as a calling card and to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies. A Z scratched into flesh or cloth was a warning and an admonishment. It’s easy to see why this would be attractive to a six year old kid who just watched his parents die. It’s simple and attractive, with a very clear idea of right and wrong.

Bruce Wayne then dedicates his life and fortune to training himself in the arts of crime fighting and fighting. You can probably assume that he’s an expert fencer, too. He returns to Gotham as a twenty-five year old and attempts to begin his war on crime, but soon realizes that it won’t work without a symbol. The genre demands drama, and a bat comes out of the nighttime sky and pushes its way into his life and psyche. With the addition of that symbol, he’s ready to begin his war.

One of the best bits in All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is the huge fold-out spread of the Batcave. It’s spectacle on overdrive, the sort of thing that only comic books can do, and it’s wonderful. It’s the first time I’ve really seen the Batcave as something incredible, rather than being Batman’s dark, nasty cave. It’s filled with stuff. He’s got a gang of cars in various styles. There are suits of armor that sit in homage to some of the best-respected armies in history–Greek hoplites (presumably Spartan?), Roman Centurions, Japanese samurai, and a Crusades-era Muslim soldier. There are helicopters and jets.

And then, big as life, there’s a giant robot tyrannosaurus rex in the process of being built. This isn’t an arsenal. It’s a toy chest. Every single thing in the Batcave can be mapped to a real-life toy, save for maybe the Bat-computer. The Batmobiles are essentially Hot Wheels in a variety of styles, and the suits of armor are soldier toys, something that would let you make cowboys fight aliens or knights fight tanks. All he’s missing is a giant robotic GI Joe. The cave’s a giant playset.

And Batman, who is twenty-five years old, turns to Dick Grayson, age twelve, and sees the look of pure and utter astonishment on his face and asks him if his cave is “cool or what?”

“Eh, it’s aight.”


Batman: child at heart. I hesitate to call it arrested development because it isn’t, really. It’s a sort of parallel development. He found his calling decades before any of us actually do. It just so happens that his calling springs from a very, very childlike space, and he’s got the money to do exactly what he wants. He can fulfill almost every childhood dream, but most especially the crime fighting one, and he does that by way of his wonderful toys.

Miller and Lee reveal similar origins for Robin. While exploring the cave, he finds Bruce’s cabinet full of weapons, picks up a bow and arrow, tests the tension on the string, closes his eyes, and thinks. The picture that comes to mind is Errol Flynn as Robin Hood on a moonlit night. Robin Hood, of course, is one of the precious few characters more swashbucklin’ than Zorro.

Sidebar: I really like Lee’s storytelling on this page. Panel two, with him looking at the bow leads nicely into panel three, with the “…” implying thought, and then the angle of Grayson’s head lines up with the angle of Robin Hood’s head, as if he’s becoming the character.

When Grayson explains why he’s going to be called Hood to Batman, he mentions that his father used to make him watch an old movie about Robin Hood, and that that’s why he took up archery. So, once again, you have the son attempting to honor the father through deeds and identity. Both characters latched onto something from their childhood, something that is an indelible link to their parents, and made it the focal point of their life.

At first, I thought this was just sort of a nice coincidence, right? “I do this in remembrance of you” sort of thing. But, no: the costumes and gimmicks are a reminder of their parents. Every time Batman goes out and slings a Batarang, or every time Bruce Wayne guzzles ginger ale like it’s champagne, he’s connecting himself to his folks by way of The Mark of Zorro. Every single time he suits up, that’s what he does. Robin, too. When he flips down from a skylight, leading with a joke and following that with a closed fist–that’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. That’s his father. That’s his family. The costumes and identities are like… tokens, or keepsakes. A reminder, a crystalized memory.

Batman and Robin are living memorials, a testament to their love for their family.

(Funny, but unrelated, trivia: Basil Rathbone was in both The Mark of Zorro and The Adventures of Robin Hood, playing opposite Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn, respectively. Batman and Robin/Zorro and Robin Hood have the same enemy, it seems.)

next: every inch of me is alive.

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Fourcast! 92: On Newspaper Comics

July 18th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

-Believe it or not, newspapers still exist!
-No, really. They do.
-So do newspaper comics.
-Esther and I are going to talk a little (a lot) about the newspaper comics that we liked and disliked while growing up.
-There may be surprises!
-We’re taking a skip week next week on account of I’m going to be in San Diego on our recording day this week and I don’t believe in planning ahead apparently
-not only that, but this week’s podcast was briefly last week’s podcast, hooray
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-Here comes a new challenger!
-See you, space cowboy!

Subscribe to the Fourcast! via:
Podcast Alley feed!
RSS feed via Feedburner
iTunes Store

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This Week in Panels: Week 95

July 17th, 2011 Posted by Gavok

Welcome to Week 95. I got the full crew with me. David Brothers, Was Taters and Space Jawa. Oh, also Boco T. I’d have more to say for this intro, but I’m more excited about this happening.

Punk and Christian are the world champs, Daniel Bryan and Del Rio are main event bound, Mark Henry is awesome and John Cena will hopefully be off TV for a while. Oh, and Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli may be signing with WWE. All is well.

Let’s get into character.

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #2
Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy

Batgirl #23
Bryan Q. Miller and Pere Perez

Read the rest of this entry �

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The long, difficult road to liking the Punisher

July 16th, 2011 Posted by Esther Inglis-Arkell



For a few weeks, I house-sat for a friend of mine who has a floor-to-ceiling shelf of comic trades.  While patiently waiting for his cat to come out from under the bed so I could make sure she was still alive, I picked up a few of those trades and started reading.  I started with a massive Marvel hardcover of Garth Ennis’ original run on the Punisher, before he got the Max title, in part because I remembered David mentioning that a character named Joan returned in the run.

After that, I moved on to the ten Garth Ennis Punisher Max trades that comprise the most celebrated run anyone ever had on Punisher.  (What can I say?  It was a long trip and a shy cat.)  I’ve often repeated a saying about the Punisher that I’ve read online, “The more I read about the Punisher, the less I like him.”  After having read all the most loved Punisher stories, I have to say I finally changed my mind.  I do like the Punisher.  I even kind of like his world, although I expect I’ll have to be sparing with my Punisher reading since there are plenty of things that happen in that world that I don’t want to read about.

When I look at my ongoing reaction to the Punisher, and Punisher stories, I think what bothered me most all along was not the Punisher or his world – which I can read or hear about without having too much of an emotional reaction – but the way he’s sold to me.

When I’ve read Punisher reviews by people who are fans of the comic, I often run across the phrase, “You may not like him,” or “You’re not supposed to like him,” or even “I’m not sure I like him.”  Having read the books, I have to say that all those phrases are weapons-grade crap.  I don’t believe even one of them.  Of course you’re supposed to like the Punisher.  He’s the best fighter, the best tactician, the best judge of character, and the most purely committed to his cause without prejudice.  Oh, and he’s a war hero.  Also, when it comes to taking care not to have any civilian casualties, he’s more careful than specially-trained army and police forces.  He gets visas for mistreated undocumented immigrants.  He has a soft spot for damsels in distress.  In scenes when people are freaking out, he acts as impromptu counselor to get them back on their feet.  And is there a cute little kid?  You bet there is!  She loves the Punisher and hugs his knees and he stands over her for days making sure that she’s safe.  And finally, just for fun, he gives a cantankerous old man in a bar a bottle of the man’s favorite vodka, and makes the bartender treat him with respect.  Of course you’re supposed to like this guy.  And of course you do like this guy.  Don’t try to tell me different.

I’m not complaining about liking him.  Everything I said up there about the Punisher can be applied to Batman, Superman, and any other superhero.  As written by Garth Ennis, the characters who exposit just how great Frank Castle is at everything become well-rounded characters who are interesting to listen to when they speak.  The victims have voices, opinions, and speaking styles instead of predictable lines.  These are actual characters, not just props who stumble in and say whatever lines are needed to set the story in motion.  (Except the little kid.  There is no little kid in any fictional medium that even approximates what an actual child is like.  Maybe that’s because no kid lends his or herself to a coherent story.  They’re still too much like little space aliens come down to earth to fit into anyone else’s plot line.)

The reason you like him is he’s the only character who actually makes sense.  The thesis of the Punisher is set up in the first few pages of the Max storyline.  He recounts the story of his wife and kids being killed by chance during a mob shooting, and says that that was the day when the world went insane.  He finishes up with a line that goes (roughly), “I go out every night and make the world sane.”  If a guy in the real world were to say that with a massive gun in his hand, it would be time to run.  In this world, it’s correct.  People are in agonizing situations for which there is no effective help.  Official channels are clogged with corruption, technical procedure, and the need for public approval.  Unofficial channels are too weak and unprepared to be protection against the threats that face them.  And, over it all, there’s societal ignorance and indifference.

Set against this backdrop are, usually, two main sets of players.  There are villains who wow us with their sadism and evil, and who engage us with their petty prejudices and meanness.  And then there’s team Punisher.  As much as the Punisher is spoken of as a Force of Nature who Works Alone, he’s usually paired up with someone in these books.  Sometimes they’re reluctant to help him in any way.  Sometimes they’re insisting he join them.  Either way, the team up works because there is someone to bounce different ideas and opinions off the character, and draw out different sides of him.  Through these characters we see the Punisher’s philosophy, his disgust, his sense of duty, his more emotional sides, and the large part of him that’s still a soldier in the traditional sense of the word.  By going through these books, beginning and ending with military plots that show the Punisher as a soldier, we get a complete sense of his character, why he’s necessary to this particular world, and how he fits into it.

These are very good stories, which is why the ‘selling’ of the Punisher doesn’t work.  In most of the issues, especially the issue of Max, characters are mostnly wrong to the degree that they disagree with the Punisher.  The more they differ from the Punisher, in situation assessment, personal philosophy, background, taste, and opinion, the worse they are.  Characters the reader is meant to respect – not necessarily like, but admire and trust the judgment of – talk up the Punisher’s professionalism, fighting technique, and personal character.  There are times when the Punisher is unaccountably contemptuous of certain characters.  They turn out to be bad.  There are times when he strangely decides to trust – although characters are careful to say that he never really trusts anyone completely.  They turn out to be good.  He’s perfect.  And yet, the whole world is against him.  Almost everyone resists giving him information.  Almost everyone is morally repulsed by him and feels the need to say so, despite being knee-deep in the proof that he’s the only one who can help.  In one story, the cops all hate him and several of them try to frame him for a crime he never committed.  In the next, a bunch of slain mobsters’ wives complain that the police all love him and won’t move against him.  Everyone is against poor Frank, despite him being the best guy ever.

When I read these stories, I believe that the Punisher is the only person in that world who could adequately deal with the problems that are presented.  I also believe that he doesn’t kill a single innocent person.  In the real world, a guy like this would.  But if he did in comics, the character’s justification would collapse, and I like the character, so I’m willing to believe that he’s meticulous enough to never hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve it.  There are plenty of inventive and compassionate characterizations that twist the reader into liking a character they initially hated, or being soured on someone they initially liked.  To have a more crude push towards the Punisher as the be-all and end-all of characters, chopping down other characters or manipulating storylines to get there, feels like a loss of faith in the reader.

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Frank Miller Owns Batman: “it’s better that way.”

July 13th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Superheroes are better, or maybe just bigger, than we are. Their motivations are more pure, their actions are more sure, and their confidence is incredible. Everything is larger than life, even their momentary lapses of faith. They deal with situations that would make normal humans crack under the pressure once a month, and still wake up every morning to go to work.

They love better, too. There’s none of the insecurity and mindgames that orbit our relationships. Superheroes have impossibly beautiful and interesting love interests and have pure and incredible relationships. How can you love anybody the way Superman loves Lois Lane? Does anyone love you as much as Wally West loves Linda Park? Even their breakups are apocalyptic. We break up and spend weeks on the couch, depressed out of our heads. Superheroes fly off into space, change their whole identity, or break up in the middle of apocalypses.

The sex, too, is similarly bigger than sex is in real life.

Thirty-some years ago, Chris Claremont did a really, really good job of mainstreaming BDSM themes or tropes in cape comics. The Hellfire Club was a barely disguised sex club, where the queens wore corsets and capes and sipped wine out of goblets while casually ordering around the help and inflicting pain or receiving at their leisure. Claremont’s stunningly fond of mind control stories, sometimes including body modification (a loss of control for some, a taking of control for others) and sometimes simply being about someone being told what to do or being helpless.

It’s all more than we can manage in real life, and people bounce back from emotional trauma like it was nothing. Superheroes can do that. Superheroes do everything big. They don’t do halfway or normal. They go all the way in. Maximum drama. Maximum excitement.

“We keep our masks on. It’s better that way.”

Without the mask, Bruce Wayne is just a man. He’s rich enough to throw some wild sex parties, the type with dozens of guests, representation for every fetish, and all the cocaine you can fit up your nose, but he’s still just a man. With the mask, he’s Batman, the Dark Knight, avenger of the innocent, savior of the world, and secret weapon of the JLA. The same goes for Black Canary, to an extent. She went from bartender to superheroine, and all it took was a short temper and a costume. A semantic change, perhaps, but a change nonetheless.

Throw some furry handcuffs, role playing, or a blindfold into your normal human sexy times and look what happens. Now, imagine that magnified times a million, amped all the way up to superheroic proportions. The constant threat of violence, the hyper-emotional states you flash through over the course of an issue, and the sheer fact that you’re two people wearing more or less skintight, fetish-y crimefighting gear all add up to something more than we can ever get in real life. Everything is heightened for the story. The mask is the gateway to greatness. Normal relationships are out of the question. Superheroes are too big of an idea to bother with the mundane.

The masks represent their superheroic nature. Batman and Canary are in a comic book. That’s why they can have sex on the docks after fighting off a couple dozen gun-toting thugs, causing some medium-level property damage, and setting the docks on fire with weaponized bleach. That’s what superheroes do, not what humans do. Humans do it with the lights off and under the covers. Superheroes do it while lightning strikes and the earth moves.

What Miller did here was just put what we’ve already learned, or picked up on unconsciously, onto the page as plain as day. We already know that superheroes have mind-blowing love lives. We’ve seen Black Cat fall into a thrill-seeking relationship with Spider-Man, only to utterly reject him when he revealed that he was a normal guy. Clark Kent pined after Lois Lane for years, but she only had eyes for Superman. The Flash is so in love with Linda Park that he came back from being lost in time. Daredevil has tripped over supermodels, sexy assassins, and regular old hot women every single time he falls into a relationship. Spider-Man dated the girl next door and the unattainable party girl turned supermodel.

We’ve accepted the idea that it’s better with the masks on already. This just took the subtext and made it text.

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Frank Miller Owns Batman: “thank you. i love you.”

July 12th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Batman is an idea. Well, several ideas which all sort of intertwine, like a double (quadruple?) helix. He is the idea that there is someone out there who will make the world make sense for us. He is a protector and avenger, someone who lurks the dark alleys and does the hard thing in order to keep us safe. He’s the idea that one person can make a difference. He’s the idea that you can, and should, choose right over wrong and justice over fear. He’s all of these ideas, which, when you boil it down, he probably comes down to being all about safety, both the creation or comfort thereof. The existence of a Batman means that you live in a world where you can, and maybe will, be safe.

Batman is an idea that is both inspirational and aspirational, depending on who you talk to. He either gives you the strength to go on, or mobilizes you to emulate him.

Take a look at the average Jane on the street, one of a species known for walking down dark alleys for no good reason. Three thugs with entirely unlikely knives set upon her in a dark alley… and Batman drops out of the night to save her. He’s in full The Shadow mode, here. The laugh sends chills down the spine of the punks. They know exactly who he is. They’re familiar with the idea of Batman. He brutalizes them. They stand no chance, and he makes it a point to make them pay.

It’s violent, and it’s ugly, but more than anything, it is order imposing itself on chaos. Batman is there to set things right, and right in this situation means that the people who would hurt innocents get what’s coming to them. It’s more than a beating. He makes it a point to give them wounds that will affect their lives for years. It’s psychological warfare. It’s a deterrent. It’s terrorism.

“Striking terror. Best part of the job.”

The woman, our young Gotham professional with extraordinarily bad luck, watches the beating with fear, and then awe, and then admiration. She went from a situation in which she had no control at all to one in which the people who wanted to hurt her where put entirely out of commission. It gives her faith and confidence, but more than that, it gives her an opportunity to regain control, now that she has a guardian angel. She walks past a knife that was just at her throat and delivers a kick to the crotch of a would-be assailant. “I’ve got Batman watching after me,” she says.

The existence of Batman, the idea of him, gives her strength. She witnesses the brutal, ugly violence that is his trademark, and sees the idea behind it. “Evil will not win.” She thanks him. She says she loves him. And she does, in the same way that we love anything that gives us strength, from music to movies to family. He’s inspirational. He’s the father that’s always there for you and can rejuvenate your confidence with a smile and nod.

Next: Batgirl.

Children take to ideas like fish to water. They’re naturally inquisitive, since everything is new, and they’re pliable. If you can convince a kid of something, they’ll argue it with someone else until the cows come home, whether or not. They’re susceptible to new ideas, and more than that, willing to really believe in them.

Batgirl gets Batman. Really gets him. She understands what he brings to the table, and she’s more than willing to take it all the way. Batgirl was Batman, Inc. before Batman, Inc. was cool. She’s taking his symbol and style and remixing it for her own personal use. Where Batman was born in pain and suffering, Batgirl was borne out of inspiration and exhilaration. Life can be better. Batgirl is going to make it better by staking a claim.

It’s about fighting crime as much as it is about getting a thrill. Babs Gordon is cocky and confident, and she’s out to make a name for herself. She claims the arcade (the same arcade from Dark Knight Returns that Carrie Kelly hung out at) in the name of “the fucking Batgirl.” Earlier, she refers to Gotham as “her city.”

If Batman represents the triumph of one many over the injust, Batgirl represents a city that’s willing to rise up and police its own. She’s the civilan who looks at injustice and gets proactive. She even inspires the crowd at the arcade to get in on the action and reject the drug dealers. The encounter turns more violent than she’d intended.

Batgirl is still just a teenager, and she doesn’t have the reputation of Batman yet. He controls the thugs he fights by way of his reputation and prowess. They know that when he arrives, they’re in trouble. They’ve been taught to fear him, and fear spreads like a virus.

There is power in the idea of Batman, but that power isn’t enough in and of itself. You need more than just will and enthusiasm to be a Batman. Batgirl will eventually get there, but in this first stab at taking back her city, she doesn’t quite have the reputation she needs. She hasn’t become an idea yet.

I think that Batgirl is a stronger, or maybe a healthier, idea than Batman. Batman, as an idea, requires a sacrifice. Someone has to be the one to take one for the team and live a broken life. Batman doesn’t get friends or lovers like normal people do. He has family, but it’s a family united in a very specific crusade. There’s a engine made of tragedy driving them. Even Tim Drake, way back when, wanted to be Robin because there has to be a Robin, or else Batman is lost. Sacrifice.

The idea of Batgirl, though, doesn’t have tragedy at the heart of it. She’s doing it because it’s fun, because it’s a thrill, and because it’s the right thing to do. Her parents aren’t dead, she wasn’t beaten into desiring vengeance, and she wasn’t guilted into the gig. She looked up and saw someone else doing the right thing and said, “I want to do that, too.” While Bruce Wayne is Batman, forever and ever, Batgirl can take off the mask if she needs to.

Put differently: Batman is the demon that materializes out of the night. When I think of Batgirl, I think of this Marcos Martin piece:

Dark Knight, meet Dark Angel.

next: trust me, it really is better with the masks on.

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Frank Miller Owns Batman: “no hope at all”

July 11th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

In Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One, Thomas Wayne loomed large. His influence on Bruce Wayne is the genesis of the Batman, rather than a crime fighter. It’s right there. “…yes. Father. I shall become a bat.”

This positions Batman and his crusade as Wayne’s way of honoring his father. The relative lack of Martha Wayne in Year One–and over the course of the next twenty years of Bat-comics–and Grant Morrison’s time-spanning Batman tales in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne suggest that inspiring heroism is something the men of the Wayne family do. They’re following in the footsteps of their fathers.

What about the Wayne women? Ehhhh, they’re cool, I guess. But hey, did you know that the Wayne men freed slaves/fought Nazis/killed monsters/blah blah blah?

Miller and Lee’s All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is interesting, because Martha gets all the attention, barring a mention of The Mark of Zorro being Thomas’s favorite movie. (Which, in a way, ties him to the idea of Batman even more directly, because Bruce’s crime fighting persona and decision to become a crime fighter is a direct result of the movie. The son is attempting to impress the father.) Thomas gets short shrift. It’s a notable shift in focus, and one that passed me by on the first read.

My gut wants me to put a hard label on Thomas Wayne’s influence. Children are a product of their parents, and it just makes sense that the same would hold true for Batman. Off the top of my head, Thomas provided the steel that drives Batman. He was a doctor who saved thousands of lives and was dedicated to his job. He understands the power of a calling. He’s the steel in Bruce’s backbone.

It follows, I think, that Martha is the hope inside Batman, the little voice that elevates him above the Punisher (driven by anger) or Spider-Man (driven by guilt). It is true that his quest is revenge on the nebulous crime. I don’t think that you can argue against that. “I am vengeance. I am the night. I spend a lot of time making people afraid of me.” But at the same time, he’s genuinely trying to protect others from his bogeyman. There’s an altruistic element there, wrapped in a seriously personal crusade.

Bruce Wayne: “I heard her cough her last and I pressed my hand against my mother’s breast just in case there was any hope at all and there wasn’t any heartbeat. No hope at all. Just her blood. On my hand. It’ll never wash off. Never.”

When he says “No hope at all,” that’s the big turning point for Bruce Wayne. That’s the moment his childhood shudders and snaps under the weight of his parents’ murder. There’s an element of guilt in the attention he pays to her blood on his hands, as well.

Miller and Lee attach hope to Martha, and leave Thomas where he landed. There’s something there, isn’t there? It’s the mother as nurturing figure, as support, and when his parents are killed, she’s the one Bruce goes to for comfort. “Maybe they aren’t dead.” But, no: they are. And he is lost.

Martha Wayne is why Bruce Wayne relates to Dick Grayson, and regrets how he’s treating him. Wayne’s facade cracks when he thinks of how the murder of his parents affected his life, and it gets him to show real human kindness to Grayson.

The kicker is Alfred. He was there before and after the murder, and he’s the closest thing we have to an outside observer. He’s the only person in the world who can track Wayne’s progress from child to dark knight. He tells a story about how Bruce was always wild, even as a kid. He was innocent, an “angel” Alfred calls him, but wild. He craved adventure.

I’ve got enough younger cousins to know that each kid really is a snowflake. Two kids raised by the same people will have wildly different personalities and interests. Some kids are active and will climb anything. Others like jokes. Others are divas. Nurture counts, but nature goes a long way, too. Alfred relating how Bruce was always wild and dark suggests to me that his time as Batman was meant to be. When faced with tragedy, he reacted according to his personality. Others (meaning: everyone else in the entire world) would have mourned and gotten on with their lives. Grayson’s arc would have been a natural one, if not for Batman’s influence. For young Bruce Wayne, though, fighting crime was the sanest possible choice. It was his way of coping with the murder.

Alfred says that Martha never knew her son. He’s right. You can never tell how someone is going to turn out. A sweet kid could pull the wings off flies in private, and a bully might be an utter romantic with the right girl. Martha knew her son as a wild child, someone who would climb and crawl and fall. As she died, she watched her son “become a demon,” Alfred says. The murder knocked all of the innocence out of him like a punch to the stomach.

Tie these two scenes together. Bruce Wayne watches and hears his mother die. While that’s happening, she’s looking directly into his eyes. As she dies, as the last vestige of hope in his life slips away, he is lost, and she witnesses it. His childhood breaks in that span of time between her last gasp and her death. What’s left is the wildness, that darkness that haunted his childhood. It brings to mind a line from Dark Knight Returns: “My parents taught me a different lesson… lying on this street… shaking in deep shock… dying for no reason at all. They showed me that the world only makes sense when you force it to.” The cold, hard side of the world poisoned his childhood.

What’s interesting about Miller’s take is how he ties the death of Martha and the idea of hope with Batman’s sadness and softness toward Robin. This is early in his career, and he’s still playacting at being Batman. He’s got a Clint Eastwood growl that he finesses by way of a razor held between his teeth. He laughs like a loon when diving in to fight crime. He’s building a persona, one which will be whittled down over the years into the platonic ideal of Batman.

The hope, the little bursts of sadness here in defiance of his calculated persona, come when Martha slips around and in front of his Thomas Wayne facade. She’s the voice that whispers everything will be okay when his father tells him to buck up and stand tall. She creeps in around the edges of the cape and cowl.

Bruce Wayne is a product of his upbringing, from having loving parents to witnessing their murder, but it was his wild nature that led to the Batman. The result is a creature that’s initially torn between vengeance and hope, a monster who is so sure of what he believes in that he doesn’t think that grief is a valid option, or that acceptance is healthy. No, they’re sacrifices upon the altar of his war. Later, he realizes the error of his ways and manages to reconcile the influences of Martha and Thomas on his methods. For now, he sees himself as a general in a war.

This will change. It has to, really. Will alone can only keep you going for so far.

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Fourcast! 91: Nick Fury and Garth Ennis

July 11th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

-This started out as a typically free-wheeling conversation about Nick Fury through the lenses of Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s Fury and Fury: Peacemaker, along with Jim Steranko’s classic ’60s stuff.
-Garth Ennis definitely dominated the conversation, though.
-Here’s a bit of sexy from STERANKO!:

-Oh er oh my, missus
-Here’s an impression of Steranko’s Fury: :c00lbert:
-And here is Ennis’s: :argh:
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music.
-Here comes a new challenger!
-See you, space cowboy!

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