You are complicit in terrorism in Tom King’s perfect The Omega Men debut

screen shot 2015-06-03 at 3.24.25 pm

Unlike almost any other form of media, comics force the consumer to take an active role in consumption. You dictate the pace. You can linger over panels, taking in detail after detail or you can run right through, turning each issue into a breakneck blockbuster. You know how characters sound and you think you know how they act. Maybe you have a headcanon for them. Maybe you ship characters. You’re a part of their world. You’re overseeing it. You’re an inactive God.

In the last few years, many creators have started to interrogate that relationship and in 2014 and 2015, readers have really been forced to confront their relationship with the comics they consume. More than almost any other book, Grant Morrison’s magnum opus, The Multiversity, is all about the act of creation and destruction that readers bring to every book they open and close. It’s about the life you give to characters in the books you read and the things they put in your head as a result. The Multiversity, however, is more of a thought exercise than anything else. It’s the meal you chew on all day. Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda’s The Omega Men is the gut punch that makes you throw up your lunch.

4557688-1

Drawing on his background in the CIA working with counter-terror operations, King places readers in an unfamiliar situation from the debut which almost acts as a counterpoint to Star Wars, Green Lantern or Guardians of the Galaxy. In The Omega Men #1, we don’t follow the scrappy rebels fighting an all-knowing empire. We’re with soldiers desperately trying to save lives from a terrorist group who has taken a hostage and plans to kill many more. Your relationship with the protagonist is complicated before they make their first appearance and that’s before you know their trump card, imprisoning upstanding former Green Lantern Kyle Rayner in their hold.

Omega-Men-1-002-1024x576

Everything that happens in The Omega Men #1 is intended to make you, the reader, feel ill at ease. Tigorr indiscriminately murders his way through a Citadel hit squad. Scrapps brutally guns down those in her way, sending as much of a message to her enemies as she does to the innocents who meet her gaze. More importantly, however, Bagenda utilizes a traditional nine-panel layout to evoke familiarity that is constantly disrupted by the protagonists.  Every panel is meant to make you feel comfortable, safe with the actions of the Citadel right up until the moment Tigorr enters the scene. It’s a turning point in that first issue and it asks an important and defining question of the reader: who do you sympathize with?

See, that question sits squarely at the center of The Omega Men #2 and it acts as something of a thesis statement for the relationship between Primus and Kyle but also about the relationship between the readers and the protagonists. Primus knows what he’s doing. He’s going to try to break the stranglehold the Citadel holds by any means necessary but he’s accustomed to fighting a war by inches and he harbors no illusions about what he and the Omega Men are capable of. He knows he’s not a hero and he’s realistic about what he has to accomplish to take the fight to the oppressors.

tumblr_nqtyg2KDeV1sicjr5o1_1280

King’s treatment of Kyle Rayner is some of the best since the New 52 launched and he uses that understanding to heartbreaking effect as a counterpoint to Primus objectivity. More than any of his fellow Lanterns, Kyle is a dreamer, someone who believes in the impossible and the best that every person is capable of. Making him a powerless hostage and bargaining chip in the Omega Men’s fight is the right way to take away agency from a character in an effective and illuminating way. Kyle wants to save people but, for now, he can’t and he realizes that he’s complicit in whatever Primus and the others do in pursuit of a better world. Kyle’s vastly in a similar position as the reader, powerless to impact what happens but, ultimately, forced to watch the death and destruction unfold around him.

The Omega Men #2 climaxes with a moment of abject despair which serves to crystalize the relationship between Kyle and the reader as both watch helplessly as the Omega Men leave hundreds of people to die. In any other comic, it’s a moment where the superheroes would swoop in, lay their lives on the line to save the unjustly imprisoned. In The Omega Men, it’s a toll in blood Primus more than willingly pays so he can steal a space ship. You watch, unable to act, unable to move and hoping only to hold onto what’s important as those with the most power do the least good.

tumblr_nr3syeJueG1rxsczro1_1280

On the final page of The Omega Men #2 (showcased above), Kyle tries to hold onto the only morality he thinks he can, blending blood from a recent wound onto his captors’ symbol to form a source of comfort he no longer knows if he has earned. It’s a scene that shows the book’s themes in microcosm. How long can you hold on to what you value when you fail to act? Is it enough for the righteous to simply play witness to atrocity? There’s no easy answer in Kyle’s action and readers should be left to ponder the answers for themselves but it’s certainly some of the headiest questions asked by a comic this year. Let’s hope that this is a book that can keep asking these kind of tough questions for a long time to come.

“Gotham’s ready to commit suicide” – Grant Morrison sets the stage for a finale in Batman Incorporated #12

UZW8v4jFor the last few years, Damian Wayne has been the face of the Batman franchise, a child destined to the be the savior of a twisted future, the son of humanity’s greatest greatest savior, a child of two twisted worlds. His life from conception, to training, to redemption, to heroism is one of the greatest modern stories DC has produced and Grant Morrison’s attention and care for Damian made the character’s death such an emotional gut punch which echoed through the Batman franchise.

It’s been time for Bruce to have his revenge. One of the most interesting things about the death of Damian has been the way Bruce has had to really take the role of a father, one dealing with death. For his entire life, he’s been the child mourning a father and now, he’s finally had to grow up, to stop being a vengeful and wounded son playing at being a man. He’s still struggling, still impulsive but deep down, Batman has another child who needs his protection more than ever. Gotham needs saving and as Bruce says, “she needs Batman Incorporated.”

batman-inc-10-021While many of Morrison’s scripts have been labyrinthine essays exploring the psyches of his characters, this week’s Batman Incorporated #12 is basically a straight fight comic. The showdown between Batman and The Heretic has been a long time coming and Morrison and Chris Burnham devote most of the book’s pages to the knock-down, drag-out brawl between the characters.  It still works, namely with Morrison’s love of all eras of Bat-history and a creative visual language. I mean, Batman is strapped into the most ’90s armor ever, falling onto blimps, yelling about jet-packs and and waiting for Talia in the animated Bat-cave. It’s that attention to all era detail and visual storytelling which elevates the dark, violent subject.

Burnham deserves plenty of attention as well. One of the things he’s not been praised enough for is his unconventional panel work. He’s great at using sized panels with decreasing heights to emphasize the verticality and brutal height of The Heretic and Batman’s battle and each shattered diagonal fight sequence gives a greater sense of impact and force to every blow.

BatmanInc12panel2There are few comic book stories which have maintained such a prolonged sense of tension, menace and intrigue as Grant Morrison’s expansion of Batman beyond Gotham City. While his early work on the character was great, it wasn’t until Batman’s return from the past, the beginning of Dick and Damian’s team up and the formation of Bruce’s world wide war on crime that the series turned from a franchise into a bold, innovative and creator defined must-read comic. I can only hope the final issue offers a suitable end to Morrison’s greatest work to date.

Stray Observationsku-xlarge

  • I’m not the biggest Nick Spencer fan by any stretch of the imagination. Even after a much better issue #5, Secret Avengers is still probably the worst book of Marvel Now. That being said, I didn’t have a bigger laugh this week than the one I found when Shocker and Speed Demon hold up a pet store in Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1. I can’t wait for the next issue.
  • Speaking of series creeping up on their finale, Dial H #14 has continued to expand the horizons of the series’ premise as the team reaches The Operator. I do have some concerns that China Mielville will be able to tie the series together in a satisfying ending.
  • Daredevil has had a creative renaissance in the last few years and the “Dark Nights” miniseries is a suitable companion piece to “End of Days” and “The Man Without Fear.” This week’s #2 explored everything that makes the very human Matt Murdock one of New York City’s greatest heroes.
  • If Superior Foes of Spider-Man offered this week’s biggest laugh, What If…AvX #1 offered the biggest gasp. Even if Magneto’s decision to become the face of mutants doesn’t make much sense, that final splash page packs a punch I wouldn’t have expected in a What If… story.

The Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 4

WolverineXmen17It’s all wrapping up and it’s time to award the single best series of 2012. There was some fierce competition and some of the best titles of the year are left out in the cold but this is the second biggest award of the year. Let’s get to it.

The Next Generations – Awarded to the finest series of pictorials of the year.

Honorable MentionsBatman-Robin-Zone-001

There are really too many to count but a couple of series nearly cracked the top five. Uncanny X-ForceAnimal Man and FF all were in the running but for one reason or another, were left behind. Peter Tomasi’s Batman and Robin recovered from a brief Night of the Owls crossover misstep and focused on Damian’s need to prove himself to Dick, Jason and Tim led to one of the best moments of 2012 as the Robins join together in their own beautiful way. Jason Aaron’s exceptional Wolverine and the X-Men was just beat out for fifth place, mostly on the strength of three issues that defined the X-franchise, both pre- and post- Avengers vs. X-Men.

Fifth Placescan0007Saucer Country

In an election year which inevitably focused on broken promises, preconceptions and verbal badger baiting on both sides of the aisle, Saucer Country focused on an idealistic candidate with a past but the series’ focus on politics all serves the overarching narrative. While Arcadia lets her alien abduction become the focus of her presidential campaign, Professor Kidd focuses on the mythology, a complex series of contradicting narratives that form the body of not only UFO lore, but also of how we understand all stories. In the fantastic issue #6, Kidd’s speech on the way missing time impacts memory is fragmented, broken into increasingly smaller panels, showing the way readers are forced to fill in the blanks themselves through memory, knowledge, intuition and drawing on common myth. It’s an excellent series that showed it’s hand brilliantly in the first issue and continues to be one of Vertigo’s best.

Fourth Placeinc-bannerBatman Incorporated: Volume 2

Grant Morrison’s epic, gripping, poetic magnum opus has been a propulsive, incredibly readable take on Batman’s struggle for the souls of Gotham, his son and himself. It’s a book with a sense of pace that few, even Scott Snyder’s vaunted run on Batman, can’t match and each issue is another incredibly powerful look at a man who cannot and will not be stopped. This is the Batman book of 2012 and when it ends in 2013, I’m sure it will have a chance to hold that title again.

Third Place2719154-hawkeye4_03Hawkeye

Matt Fraction has become one of Marvel’s premier talents and his take on the Avengers’ archer shows why. Taking Clint back to his roots and showing him as the guy next door has highlighted his heroics and in storylines such as “The Tape,” his incredible, “Die Hard”-esque leaps into action are highlighted even more. It’s a series with charm, laughs and plenty of action, weirdly making it unique in a medium that’s increasingly been played for something entirely different.

Second Placescreen-shot-2012-07-09-at-9-52-48-pmManhattan Projects

Jonathan Hickman’s ever-growing cast of scientific geniuses, opportunists, schemers, computers, aliens, talking dogs and inter-dimensional doppelgängers have built a twisted look at the scientific world at the onset of the Cold War. Manhattan Projects is downright scary at times, showing men without ethics manipulate, kill and conquer as they pursue nothing but their own goals. It’s an inadvertent character study, mostly of the sinister, uncontrollable Oppenheimer and the moralistic but tortured Feynman and the ways their ideologies, beliefs and methods differ as a new world is created, corrupted and discarded.

And the Nextie goes to…xlargeSaga

Brian K. Vaughan did it again, creating an instant classic of sci-fi wonder, love, death and life in the first 8 issues of Saga. Vaughan has never produced a bad series and Saga is impressive even by his incredible standards, with instantly relatable characters, complex and morally compromised villains, a believable quest and the sort of adult interpersonal relationships rarely seen in comics these days. Protagonists Marko and Alana have such a believable connection, making their occasional spats all the more painful and their love all the more powerful. The story, told in retrospect by the couple’s newly born daughter, Hazel, has a wonderfully knowing combination of child-like innocence and a bright worldliness, perfectly suiting the space opera style of this majestic, must-read series.

Next Up: The lights are scanning and the drums are rolling as the best single issue of 2012 is crowned.

 

The First Annual Vulcan Quiche Awards: Part 3

tumblr_m957mw3vCa1qij8o7o1_1280

With the Big Two focused on massive crossovers and building up their revamped universes, the fine tradition of the mini-series or one-shot seemed to be forgotten in 2012, Luckily, there were still some fine writers and artists to give those quick, powerful stories more than their due.

The Shorties  – Saluting excellence in a limited series or one-shot.

Fifth PlaceAxeCop_16Axe Cop: President of the World

The Axe Cop stories have always been a gleeful celebration of what comics can be. There’s little devotion to story, characterization or coherence but the pure spectacle and reckless creative abandon are always a joy to behold.

Fourth Placetumblr_m7fe1hTz1c1qky2i3o1_1280Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre

Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke paired the exoticism, drug culture and empty philosophies of the ’60s with the painful mother/daughter dynamic that defined the Spectre to create one of the best books of the controversial series. It’s a book more open to experimentation than any of the other Before Watchmen titles and more importantly, strayed far enough from the source material to give an important new look at defining a life through pain, crime and failure.

Third PlacehappyHappy

Grant Morrison seemed to be going in a bizarre new direction in his story about a hitman who suddenly starts seeing and talking to a blue cartoon horse but it’s still filled with the same sort of bizarre metatextuality the writer brings to much of his work. It’s a bloody, violent, occasionally revolting piece of entertainment but it never makes readers forget about the genius who’s pulling the strings.

Second Placexlarge_d7e937b38e36dd9b2e1b39aaf536375dSpaceman

Film noir meets “Waterworld” meets “A Clockwork Orange” and so much more in Brian Azzarello and Edward Risso’s excellent meditation on the future, reality television, identity, guilt and celebrity culture. Risso’s exceptional cartoony, expressive art sets a dingy tone for a world that reached for the stars only to be burned upon arrival. Spaceman is about how the hopes of an individual are crushed by reality in a story which watches as the past and the present are ground down by the choices we’re forced into.

And the Shorty goes to…leagueLeague of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Century: 2009

What does it mean to fail? What does it mean to be a hero when the world has long since passed you by? Who are you when the people you loved are gone? Alan Moore’s brilliant final chapter of the League’s adventures asks all of these questions of its three protagonists, the immortal gender swapping Orlando, the sectioned vampire Mina Harker and the heroin addicted homeless adventurer Alan Quartermain. The final chapter sees the heroes at their lowest as Prospero asks them to avert the Apocalypse that they’ve already failed to stop. The end is coming. There’s nothing left to do. It’s in that condition that Orlando, Mina and eventually Alan’s actions shine all the brighter as the League has one last chance to keep the darkness at bay and maybe be the heroes the world has always wanted them to be.

Next Up: We’re getting to the biggest awards of the year. Star crossed lovers, mercenaries, killers, companies, schools and scientists are all competing for the title of best series of the year.

“You’re already wearing the ‘R'” – Peter Tomasi brings Batman & Robin back in a big way

Batman & Robin was probably my most anticipated book of the New 52. After Grant Morrison and Judd Winnick’s great redefinition of the partnership, putting Dick Grayson in the cowl and Damian Wayne as Robin, I wasn’t sure that I wanted Bruce to be partners with his son. Morrison’s use of Dick as a second Batman in Batman Incorporated and in the Leviathan Strikes one-shot seemed to hint that this could have been an option.

Instead, Peter Tomasi, mostly known for his work on the Green Lantern Corps books, gave us a very traditional team up between Bruce Wayne and his son. The first six issues were good, maybe even great, with Damian continuing to fight back against his upbringing in the League of Assassins as well as the killer who trained Bruce. It was a taut, involving mystery that didn’t feel like a retread in any real way.

That all changed after the lackluster Night of the Owls crossover. In issue 10, we’re greeted by a new villain, the terrorist Terminus, as well as a promise from Damian that he intends to prove to Dick, Jason and Tim that he is the best and most worthy Robin. That was where the real trouble set in. For most of Morrison and Winnick’s runs on Batman & Robin, Damian was forced to struggle with who he was, deciding whether his role was one of protector or a narcissistic killer like his grandfather. There was a psychological weight to his decisions and having him go through a meaningless challenge of the Robins made the earlier character work feel moot and unimportant. What’s worse, he directly challenges Dick to prove himself as Nightwing, undoing all of the mutual respect the two had developed in the earlier run of the series.

This week’s twelfth issue seemingly puts an end both to Terminus as well as Damian’s need to challenge the other Robins. As Batman shows that his greatest contribution to Gotham isn’t the damage he’s done so much as the people he’s saved, Nightwing, Red Robin, Red Hood and Damian all work together, fending off gangsters and saving civillians. Watching these distinct characters, all in very different places of their superhero careers, bounce off of one another is a lot of fun and the ending, in which Dick both salutes and makes Damian see who he really is, feels earned and appropriate for both characters.Batman & Robin 12 reminded me of what I liked about this series so much in the early issues. Sure, there are still problems with the characterization of Damian and I wish this second arc would have been drawn out a little longer but Tomasi has managed to balance action, great story and dialogue to make one of the most compelling, fun reads of the year.

Batman vs. Radioactive Man – Tony Daniel closes his shameful run on Detective Comics

Perhaps the strangest part of the New 52 is seeing the sharp contrast between the best books of the relaunch and the worst. In a sea of titles that have helped to redefine what superhero comics can do, the titles that continue to stay stagnant.

Tony Daniel’s run on Detective Comics may be DC’s biggest failure of the relaunch. Handing the reigns of their trademark title to a creator who was mostly well known as an artist in the grotesque Image style seemed like a colossal misstep, even after Daniel had worked with Grant Morrison on Batman R.I.P. and Battle for the Cowl, seemed like a strange choice. Making matters worse, Daniel didn’t even attempt to make a book that was anything more than adequate at best.

Its hard to even describe the style that has characterized Daniel’s work on the title. Its episodic, fragmented, violent nonsense, seemingly drawing more from Image heroes such as Spawn and Midnighter and the atrocious All-Star Batman then the great stories both Scott Snyder and Grant Morrison have been turning in. There’s nothing wrong with telling a very different kind of Batman story; its just that over the course of 12 issues, Daniel hasn’t been able to tell a good one.

Its clear that Daniel has been trying to do just that. His first arc mixed an obscenely violent story about the Joker having his face cut off with the Penguin setting up a new nightclub in a way that did justice to none of Gotham. The plots were ludicrous, unsatisfying and messy. I had to go back and reread all of his issues just to tell you as much as I have, and I’ve already forgotten most of what he’s written.

Daniel’s last Bat-book will be the Detective Comics Annual coming out later this month but Wednesday’s Detective Comics 12 is his last real book on the title. There, he concludes his messy science story, bringing back Mr. Toxic and reintroducing Professor Radium, while having both of them being clones for some totally nonsensical reason. Its a mess of an issue, where we’re supposed to have grown to care about a tragic villain we’ve never really met, keep up with a bunch of science jargon that just barely makes sense and a brutally disappointing ending leads to an issue that could kindly be described as a waste of paper.

The backup story isn’t bad, written by future Talon scribe James Tynion IV, but it is unnecessary. I know a lot of people have been wondering about what had happened to the Joker’s face and undoubtedly DC wanted to tease out the upcoming Death in the Family arc but it feels like we should be seeing this in, y’know, Snyder’s Batman book.

I have always hated telling people that there’s no reason to read a certain title. People are going to like what they’re going to like and there are people who’ve surely found something worthwhile in Daniel’s run but for me, this has been an awful run and a blemish on DC’s solid relaunch. I can only hope that the next writer can do something with the dark knight but for now, lets all just try to forget that Daniel’s run has never happened.

 

 

“Feel again the placeness of this place” – What the hell is China Miéville talking about in Dial H #4 and why it doesn’t matter

It’s sort of incredible how little plot development China Miéville has made in four issues of his spacey, nihilistic superhero story. We’ve had a lot of scene setting, very little time with our heroes, even less time with the fascinating main character and almost no explanation as to who the villains were or what they were hoping to accomplish. He plays a lot of cards in the newest issue, setting up X.N.’s plot as well as Squid’s betrayal but he sets the tone of what will surely define the rest of the series in the heroes and villains’ encounter with Abyss, a physical manifestation of entropy.

Miéville has obviously drawn extensively from Grant Morrison’s mind expanding work in series such as Flex Mentallo, Doom Patrol and the loopy dialogue of Arkham Asylum. The Abyss encounter has an intoxicating, thoroughly bizarre feel, filled with lines that ring with promise rather than statements of intent. As the avatar unleashes his vengeance on Squid and X.N., it intones in measured, slightly growing fonts, “Long in deep it will not there will be none I am blindness. IT GLOWS YOU GLOW COME.” It took me a couple read-throughs of this issue before Abyss’ presence makes some modicum of sense but it is a thing of truly bizarre wonder.

The rest of the issue is suitably heroic, somewhat uncharacteristically for Miéville. Without a working dial, Squid encourages Nelson to claim to be a hero as chaos rules in the streets so that he can attempt to rescue the elderly Manteau from the nullomancer X.N. Yes, its all a twisty mess of broken alliances, alternate dimensions, powers that exist beyond human comprehension and witches that turn into mech suits but there are few mainstream comics right now that have this same sense of auteurism.

When Squid and Nelson plan the breakout, its hard to imagine that Miéville isn’t attempting to make a greater point about the nature of what it is to be a superhero. In Squid’s eyes, a chaotic world demands that any man or woman can put on a cape and save the world. All he has to do is prove to Nelson that he has a reason to do this. Watching Nelson’s reunion with Manteau shows how far the suicidal fleshy waste of the first issue has changed and it makes Miéville’s work stronger, despite the perceived slow start.

I have plenty of friends who have thought that the fact that most of my comic reading is in superhero books has blinded me to the real creativity in the genre. I’ve never thought this was the case. The potential for true creativity in all manner of comics, regardless of genre is boundless but only available for those that are willing to experiment with it. As Grant Morrison prepares his exit from monthly superhero stories after Action Comics 16 and Batman Incorporated 12, we’ll be left with nearly no true auteurs superhero comics. For now, Miéville isn’t just one of the few choices, he has the potential to be one of the best.

“The world can be one happy family” – How Geoff Johns still struggles to court new readers

When Geoff Johns became the premier writer for DC, I don’t think anyone was prepared for what they were getting into. Johns has always had a unique vision for the universe, one focused on larger than life threats, updating the silver age threats to become dangerous for the heroes of today and focusing on some of the more forgotten heroes of the universe. In his exceptional history of super heroes and his role in defining them, Supergods,  Grant Morrison describes Johns as the ultimate writer for the fanboys, one that’s interested in exploring really cool shit bumping up against each other with obscure references that can make his work feel like a history text-book.

Pre-New 52, Johns was a writer that I respected but didn’t necessarily find his work that appealing to me. If you haven’t been able to tell, I’ve always been a big fan of the more realistic heroes of the DC universe and his focus on characters such as the Flash, the Green Lanterns and Aquaman wasn’t something that appealed to me, even as he attempted over and over again to redefine these icons, making them appealing and interesting again for an audience that might not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the DCU.

Johns has had plenty of experience with the biggest titles of the DC universe and he’s been able to condense decades of mythology into flashy memorable moments. The first issue of Infinite Crisis allows for one of the best moments of Superman and Batman’s relationship when Bruce tersely criticizes the Clark saying, “The last time you inspired anyone was when you were dead.” Johns ability to fuse these tense character moments with great nods to the past, namely the return of Superboy-Prime and his battle with the Teen Titans, made the crossover one of the most readable and exciting of the Crisis trilogy.

Mostly on the strength of “Infinite Crisis,” Johns was given control of much of the future of DC, giving him the go ahead for “Blackest Night,” “Brightest Day” and “Flashpoint.” While each of them has their own merits and lack thereof, Johns increasingly focused on the characters he was most familiar with. Both “Blackest Night” and “Brightest Day” depend heavily on the actions of Aquaman and the Green Lanterns and “Flashpoint” is almost exclusively a Flash storyline. Its not that this is a bad thing but it did vastly focus the DC universe. Where earlier crossover stories drew much of the universe together into massive catastrophes, rarely letting a single hero drive the story.

With DC relaunching the universe with the New 52, there was a conscious decision to make many of the titles more accessible to new readers. However, noticeably, the Green Lantern universe was not reset in anyway. The labyrinthine storylines, massive cast and constantly shifting alliances were all left for new readers to jump into without a safety harness. No attempt was made to have new readers get into the 4 different series, an especially critical mistake after the failure of the Green Lantern film.

That being said, I have picked up Johns’ most recent Green Lantern title and it is certainly his most accessible work. The first five issues were a taut, suspenseful and violent secret agent/buddy cop story between the hot-headed Lantern reject Hal Jordan and his archnemesis, the delusional and narcissistic Sinestro. The characters’ intense relationship, combined with the lack of trust and intergalactic intrigue made for an exciting, inventive and very fun series.

Yes, there were still problems. Much of the hostile dynamic between the book’s two leads were based on events from Johns’ “War of the Green Lanterns” arc which led to Sinestro gaining control of Jordan’s ring and the book made no attempt to explain how this had happened but it was all readable and interesting.

The problem came when the series expanded past the fifth issue. After the initial run had helped to establish what the series was about, Johns immediately went back to his interests: galaxy spanning epics drawing off decades of continuity. Suddenly, we’re dealing with the Indigo Tribe, a suicidal Starstorm, the return of Black Hand, Sinestro’s dead wife and the constant betrayals of the Guardians. I’m pretty well versed in the DC universe, even in the books I don’t read, but the last 2 issues of Green Lantern had me searching the net to have any idea what the hell was going on.

I think Johns has a real talent for giving readers what they want. His books are consistently exciting, packed with twists, turns and intense action sequences. Somehow, he’s able to make moments such as Hal losing his ability to fly into an awesome and incredibly fun sequence of the Lantern creating motorcycles and ramps to traverse a hostile environment. Black Hand’s attempted suicide goes from a pathetic character moment into a great reminder of the most fun aspects of “Blackest Night.” Knowing the power of his characters lets Johns effortlessly show off these moments but I just worry that his landmark titles could collapse without innovating or even attempting to grab a hold of new readers.

“I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be” – How Christopher Nolan made Frank Miller the least essential member of the Bat-canon

In my years of following Batman, the massive piles of issues, stacks of trades and meticulously calculated opinions on storylines, plot developments and the writers and artists that defined the character, I was sure of one thing.

Frank Miller was king.

I’ve written before that Miller has long been one of my idols in the comics industry. He wrote and drew violent, hard boiled and whip smart stories of brutal heroes who remained just slightly more ethical than the villains they took on. His twin masterpieces, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One” virtually defined the Bronze Age as well as the brooding and troubled hero that Bruce Wayne would become.

Looking back, it is abundantly clear as to why I so deeply associated with Miller’s take on the character. I grew up with comics desperately wanting to be taken seriously. I wanted one of my favorite stories to be viewed as something adult and interesting and something that I could show off. When Image was marketing little but unmitigated id with guns and massive cocks, I wanted a Batman that was doing all that he could just to survive for another day.

That makes it all somewhat surprising that the man to tear down one of the most innovative storytellers in comics was a filmmaker who distilled nearly 30 years of comics history into a smart, dangerous and hopeful movie. Christopher Nolan’s high profile and well received take on Batman was able to show off an adult take on comic films with “Batman Begins” but he really showed off what he wanted to do in “The Dark Knight,” most likely the movie he will be best remembered for.

Initially, it seems as if Nolan’s take on the character owes much to Miller’s hyper-violent Batman but that’s strictly a cover-up. Nolan embraced the darkness of Gotham in order to make a compelling product, yes, but he ultimately was setting up something even more ambitious, a Batman that genuinely is interested in bringing light to Gotham. I think most people forget about the quietest moments of “The Dark Knight” in favor of loving Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker but for me, Aaron Eckhart stole the show as Harvey Dent and his line, “the night is always darkest just before the dawn and the dawn is coming,” is the most telling moment of the film. For Nolan, chaos is temporary, Batman is forever.

I have my fair share of complaints about “The Dark Knight” but Nolan’s theory that darkness pushes people to justice rather than corruption pushing us to anarchy is a potent one. Whether it is the rejection of mutually assured destruction on the boats, the sainthood of Harvey Dent or Gordon’s sense of hopelessness as he destroys the bat signal, this is a film about people being pushed to the heights or heroism by the darkness they are forced to oppose.

Nolan made no secret of drawing extensively from Jeph Loeb’s “The Long Halloween” when he and David Goyer wrote the first two films of his trilogy and the evidence is clear, particularly in “The Dark Knight.” The partnership between Dent, Gordon and Batman, men and women powerlessly watching as an empire crumbles and the ethical ambiguity of fighting crime is all prominent in “The Dark Knight” and shows clearly the cost of fighting monsters. The end of Nolan’s masterpiece even parallels the ending of Loeb’s classic, with Batman and Gordon both wondering what the cost of fighting crime is when they’re forced to lose their brightest of heroes.

Through all of this, Nolan directly contradicts the world Miller created, prominently displayed in “The Dark Knight Returns.” For Miller, anarchy creates anarchy, spawning lawlessness and corruption in a never ending cycle of pain, misery and death. Nolan dares to be positive in the face of chaos. Where Miller’s Batman is forced to brutally murder his archnemesis in a fun house, Nolan’s leaves the Joker hanging. Miller’s Batman is defined by the never-ending battle against crime, Nolan’s knows that the a future is more important than the pain.

The words “I believe” loom over Loeb’s “The Long Halloween” and equally haunts Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Bruce Wayne believes in Gotham, Gilda Dent believes in Harvey Dent, Alberto Falcone believes in Holiday; these are hopeful men and women, even when they’re in the worst places possible. In comparison, the only word that looms over the works of Miller is “goddamn,” in sentences like “I’m the Goddamn Batman” and so many others.

As I prepare for the premier of “The Dark Knight Rises,” I’ve been going through many of the Batman classics and I’ve had to go back to many of Miller’s most well known works. Rereading “Year One,” “The Dark Knight Returns” and the fairly awful “All Star Batman and Robin,” I’ve been struck hard by how violent, ugly and pessimistic these stories are. In the last few years, great writers and artists such as Scott Snyder, Grant Morrison, Frank Quietly, Paul Dini and Jeph Loeb have given us a Batman with pathos, one that is sometimes required to make the hard choices but isn’t defined by them. I don’t want a Batman who has to be one with the night, Nolan and many others have helped to show that the best Batman may be the one that may be able to walk away from the darkness.

When Batman can be everywhere, read the book that’s finally going somewhere

It’d be the understatement of the last five years to say that Grant Morrison’s 6 year run on Batman has been controversial. By some, (me and many, many others) its been one of the worst runs in recent memories. For others, Morrison revolutionized the character and the place Batman plays in the DC universe. Regardless, his recent work has become more accessible than ever, with The Battle for the Cowl, The Return of Bruce Wayne and Batman RIP all available on the cheap or in trades.

All of this was a concentrated effort on DC’s part to rerelease the run for the return of Morrison’s most celebrated series, Batman Incorporated. Regardless of individual feelings on Morrison (he’s pretentious, contrarian and overly focused on trying to be the next Alan Moore), Batman Inc. is an accomplishment, an artistic, smart and imaginative take on Batman’s place in a world outside of Gotham City.

The series focuses on Bruce Wayne’s return to the timeline after being banished by Darkseid in Final Crisis. After witnessing a future of crime and death, he realized that more needed to be done to stop the rise of worldwide crime. Revealing Bruce Wayne to be the financial backer of Batman, although not Batman himself, and began recruiting heroes around the world to join his company, a collective dedicated to protecting the world from the cataclysm to come. It was an ambitious idea, integrating the imaginative silver age style that Morrison was obsessed with as well as the worldly perspective that often seems to elude American writers.

The series began its second, as Morrison calls it, season on Wednesday but before we get into it, its worth reanalyzing the first run. Batman’s attempt to establish a worldwide network of agents is constantly being stopped by a nefarious terrorist organization known as Leviathan, led by the senile ex-Nazi Otto Netz and eventually, Talia al Ghul.

Tons of flashbacks, twisting plans, an ouroboros and a threat against all of the Bat-family, the brand new Batman Incorporated #1 opens with frames reminiscent of the classic animated series episode “Over the Edge.” Bruce Wayne stands at a grave and declares to Alfred that Batman Inc is dead. We then jump a month into the past where Batman and Damian hunt down an assassin named, sigh, Goatman who is attempting to cash in on the bounty Talia placed on her son’s head at the end of the first series.

There’s certainly problems here. Morrison clumsily works in references to the ongoing Batman and Robin series and tries to tie it into Damian’s attack on Netz at the end of Leviathan Strikes. Morrison’s never been able to play well with other authors and his attempt to make goofy stylings and art mesh up with the bloody, violent and cannibalistic stylings of his villains doesn’t exactly match up. It doesn’t work particularly well but if you’ve made it through the original run, you know what you’re in for. Along with that, it takes about half the issue before any other members of the network show up and when they do, they just talk dubiously about what they’ll be able to do now that Leviathan thinks they’re dead. Because of all of this, most of the time, it feels like you’re reading just a strangely pencilled issue of Batman and Robin. For me, that’s not a bad thing but Morrison doesn’t have the same grasp on Damian that some of the other writers, namely Peter Tomasi has had in the last year.

The big talking point has naturally been the ending of the issue. Yes, it was there solely for shock value, probably put there a little bit to distract from how successful Scott Snyder’s Night of the Owls has been and was definitely there for Morrison to show that he is indeed back in the game. I think he’ll be able to show his hand a little more and give the series some of the subtelty that the original Batman Inc showed occasionally. As of now, Batman Incorporated may be for die hard Batman fans and Morrison’s acolytes only. Its a book that’s hard to love but its one that may be worth reading, almost solely to see how Morrison hopes to conclude his time in Gotham City.