There’s more fucking than fighting in Midnighter #1 and that’s a very good thing

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Post Convergence, DC stands at an impasse similar to one they stood at in August, 2011. The publisher once again has the option to relaunch old titles and start new ones, correct the state of their recently tangled continuity, present characters in a new, fresh way and tell stories they haven’t been able to in years. This time, however, much of that correcting is mistakes made from their last relaunch.

Few properties suffered under the banner of the New 52 more than the acquired Wildstorm characters. Once champions of the ’90s creator-owned, anything-goes-as-long-as-it sells-aesthetic, characters from Stormwatch, The Authority and WildCats were left under a more controlled, less open publishing initiative where everything needed to work together. While there were successes, few characters and concepts suffered more than Apollo and Midnighter. The pair were forced into Stormwatch, arguably the least successful New 52 book because it was the least essential. In the New 52, a super brutal team watching the events of the world didn’t need to exist; it already existed in Geoff Johns’ inexplicably violent Justice League. As such, the pair were treated as little more than the Batman and Superman pastiches they were originally meant to parody and the role suited neither of them.

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The newest Midnighter series from writer Steve Orlando and artist ACO has a chance to show what makes Midnighter so much different than the character he was meant to pay homage to. Orlando takes the opportunity by taking Midnighter out of every comfort zone he has. He’s far away, physically and emotionally, from his ex and the manipulative Gardener and he’s trying to enjoy being a not-quite-hero as well as an out and on the prowl gay man.

You see, that’s the biggest risk Orlando takes in this issue and ACO sells that risk through bold, extremely modern choices. After an in media res opening, we see Midnighter’s Grindr profile and him on a date with the curious Jason. While he doesn’t appear in the issue, Apollo hangs over the book and clearly, the protagonist’s thoughts, but Orlando knows the value of keeping the character off the table. In a recent Comics Alliance interview, he spoke of the representative power of presenting Midnighter without his partner saying, “Often gay males are shown in mainstream media, but they’re coupled, they’re safe and chastened. And for a while, that alone was bold because gay men could be shown in mainstream media at all. But now that’s primetime family television.”

While allowing Midnighter to exist on his own, without Apollo and a support system puts the character in a new situation worthy of a debut issue, it’s the emotional move that’s more powerful. Midnighter is on his own, confident and on the hunt. He’s defending what’s his but he’s also looking for what he can have for the first time in a long time. When he and Jason have sex near the issue’s conclusion, there’s a real sense of the mix of desperation and desire that makes up the wild courtship this book is trying to sell.

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Where the emotions are wild and dangerous, ACO portrays the violence in Midnighter #1 as an exercise of practiced control. Both in the new issue and the 8-page preview DC released last month, ACO uses loaded, energetic panels as a way to put us in the protagonist’s head. Midnighter’s computer brain is constantly calculating options and the Andrea Sorrentino-esque layouts give readers the same sort of clear-cut, razor-precise framework we need to get inside Midnighter’s head as he deals with bounty hunters and a threat against his very identity at the issue’s conclusion.

More than anything, the comparison between precise violence and wild, passionate sex provides a mission statement for the book. The most dangerous, unpredictable thing Midnighter is going to face is going to be at the dinner table and in the bedroom, not on the battlefield where he is little-less than a god. As he says over dinner and drinks, Midnighter is always game for some “aggressive anthropology” and I’m ready to see exactly what all that entails, on the streets and in the sheets.

“No Fear” – Recent departures drive home DC’s editorial problems

ivampheader-700x300One of the pillars of my belief system is that I always assume whatever Rob Liefeld says is wrong. It’s gotten me this far. When Liefeld went on a Twitter rant in August, announcing his departure from the New 52 due to editorial interference, I assumed he was deflecting. Liefeld has been known to be hard to work with since his early days at Marvel and the formation of Image in the ’90s and I assumed this was another moment of the impetuous writer and artist trying to play at biting the hand that fed.

But, what if he was right? What if editorial oversight isn’t just letting DC bully writers with Liefeld’s name recognition but also anyone willing to sign on for a project?

Two notable creators left DC this afternoon: Andy Diggle, who was solicited for an upcoming run on Action Comics, and Joshua Hale Fialkov, of I, Vampire and solicited for a run on Green Lantern Corps and Red Lanterns in June. Admittedly, I was more shocked by Fialkov’s announcement, as he had received critical accolades for I, Vampire and had garnered excitement for both series in the Green Lantern family after having been announced for the job only a month ago.

shadowlandWhile not speaking to media outlets, Fialkov released an abbreviated version of his reasons for leaving the company on his blog. He writes:

“There were editorial decisions about the direction of the book that conflicted with the story I was hired to tell, and I felt that it was better to let DC tell their story the way they want. I’m grateful for the opportunity and I’ll miss working with the entire Green Lantern team…This was not an easy decision to make emotionally or financially, but, I’m sure it was the right decision for both me, and for the Green Lantern books.”

So, what could those plans possibly be? I wrote about DC’s push for increased serialization as well as easily marketable crossover and event stories as they pertained to Death of the Family but Fialkov seems to be pointing to a much more endemic problem in the company, one that Liefeld and Diggle both alluded to. Writers don’t seem to have any control of the properties they’ve been contracted or hired for.

1063192-guy_1Bob Harras has held one of the most public tenures as Editor-In-Chief at DC and he’s certainly not a name that brings a smile to the faces of a lot of comics fans. Presiding over Marvel during the company’s near bankruptcy as well as the rightfully maligned Clone Saga and Heroes Reborn, Harras has run something of a lodge club at DC since he rose to the editorial position in 2010. While he was clearly comfortable with co-publisher and former co-worker at Wildstorm Jim Lee, Harras seemed to want to get the band back together and brought over plenty of old names from Marvel’s dark days to fill out the New 52, including Liefeld, Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza.

Now, I’m not saying there was anything wrong about Harras early decisions involving the New 52, particularly who would be writing it. Harras assuredly wanted people he knew who would be able to roll out the new initiative rapidly, with the New 52 launching less than a year after he took the position. My problem is those people weren’t going to challenge Harras and it certainly could have had an influence on a sense of editorial control from on high.

1299339418Harras is most at home when he’s tapping into the same forces that mired Marvel in a creative and commercial flop. In a monthly interview on Comic Book Resources, Harras and Editorial Director Bobbie Chase discussed Liefeld’s allegations about editorial control over creators. Harras skirted the question once, saying:

“We’re not going into any specifics, because we can’t address any specifics because of those involved. The thing is, we want everyone who works for DC to be as happy as possible, to feel the creative process is as enjoyable as possible. If there are communication problems with talent, we will always work on it to improve our messaging, but on the whole, I think sometimes there are going to be disagreements. Sometimes there are going to be agreements — it’s all part of the editorial process. But as in anything, it’s something all of us can improve on in terms of communication.”

Harras seems to stress a team spirit in his first quote but he doesn’t really say anything. Of course there are going to be agreements and disagreements in the editorial progress but the way he says it seems to stress that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer to those disagreements. The goal of editorial isn’t to keep the creative process “as enjoyable as possible” but to work together with creative, making a project that suits both the publishers as well as the goals of creative. The role of an editor isn’t to be a mediator or judge but rather to be a co-creator in a work. Harras doesn’t seem to see it that way and he points to editorial successes in the New 52, namely a consistent shipping schedule and the success of massive crossovers, to try to strengthen the relationship between creators and editorial, saying.

“…Everyone should be trying to improve all aspects of communication. Everyone should be looking at the process and ways to improve. But in general, I think we’ve got a very talented bunch of creators working with us, putting out the New 52. We have exciting books every month, and that’s what I want to concentrate on. You always have to look at how you can do things better, but I’d also like to focus on what we do well, which is creating stories like “Death Of The Family,” and even “Rotworld,” that’s exciting fans…”

I think both Rotworld and Death of the Family were underwhelming tie-ins, one designed to boost the sales of a pair of critically successful niche titles and the other to continue to boost the sales of one of the company’s best selling titles, with Scott Snyder being involved in both crossovers. It’s more consolidation with the company putting Jeff Lemire, of Swamp Thing, of additional titles that seem to flag behind, including Justice League Dark and the new Constantine. Both are solid writers and both are company men, willing to be involved with massive tie-in projects such as Snyder and Lee’s forthcoming title Superman Unchained, released at a time obviously intended to capitalize on the release of the “Man of Steel” film.

92482472948294I don’t want to frown on Snyder, Lemire or any of the other talented writers and artists who have turned in great work under Harras, Chase and the New 52. Some of them, including Snyder, have defended editorial against Liefeld and others that have berated the changes in DC but there’s a feel of that control. I don’t think Harras is a puppet master and I don’t think he’s willing to dip into the work of his bestselling projects but I do think Harras has encouraged the long form storytelling that he was involved in at Marvel’s worst.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that approach from a commercial stand point and, as an editor, that’s one of Harras’ biggest concerns. I understand that and don’t blame him for that. My problem is that this approach doesn’t allow for creativity. Writers and artists with a unique perspective like Fialkov aren’t welcome at the table when their ideas don’t fit into a very narrow view for the company and it’s a narrow view that desperately needs widened if DC wants to succeed.

In last week’s interview at CBR, Harras mentions that he wants the New 52 to be open to more than just Batman and Superman titles, saying:

“I think what you’re going to see moving forward, like we’ve done already with the New 52, is that there’s always going to be a mix. We’re not going to give up on the idea of trying new things, new types of genres that led to things like “Animal Man” and “Swamp Thing.” We’re going to continue that: a nice, healthy mix of the bigger heroes, and some new heroes as well.”

It’s a nice thing to say but it implies a necessary risk and it doesn’t seem to be one that Harras is all that interested in taking. Creating comics that allow for consistent growth as well as fan interest and sales requires a partnership between writers, artists and editors, with each being willing to make the sacrifices to create the best products possible. That requires fearlessly allowing creators to tell their story without interference, oversight or the editorial demands.

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.

 

 

The Year’s Finest

This month completes the first whole year of DC’s radical experiment, the New 52. To commemorate the occasion Breakfast With Spock will be highlighting the best and the worst of the last year of DC’s comics, celebrating great characters, better arcs, surprising success stories and much more. If you’ve got an idea for a category to be analyzed, a series or single issue that you’re passionate about or are just looking for a place to sound off about a comics event, consider this a great place to chat with other fans. We’ll be starting the festivities up this Wednesday as I examine Tony Daniels’ last sequential issue of Detective Comics.

 

“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 not going out like this” – Batgirl #11 delivers one of the best issues of 2012

When the New 52 was first announced, Gail Simone writing Batgirl was the title I was more excited about than any other. Her mix of passion for the character, deep and abiding love of Gotham and her balanced, slightly cartoony and so heartfelt take on every character she wrote was something that made for a near irresistible title, particularly for Barbara Gordon. It didn’t even bother me that much to here that Cassandra Cain wouldn’t be returning to the cowl.

What separates Barbara Gordon from the rest of the Bat-Family is her humanistic, relentlessly positive world view. For a character whose history has been relentlessly tied to personal tragedy, she has been able to keep a remarkably able to believe in the capacity for redemption. As she works through the traumas that have defined her life as a hero, she hopes others can do the same to escape their future in villainy.

Simone was able to capture this feeling wonderfully in the first arc of Batgirl but the book seemed to lose its’ way shortly thereafter. A not entirely well thought out villain and a story arc that seemed far too heavy handed definitely stopped the title from really making it unique.

Simone seemed to turn everything around with an exceptional Night of the Owls crossover and followed it up with an issue 10 that introduced the potential of a fantastic new villain. Issue 11 only expanded on what made Knightfall a potentially fantastic arch nemesis for Barbara and the beginning of a great arc for the character.

I mentioned while writing about Star Trek’s “The Best of Both Worlds Part 1” that one of the most satisfying ways in which to develop a satisfying storyline is to have the escalation of tension coincide with the protagonist’s escalation of doubt or dread. So far in the arc, issue 10 begun with Barbara being forced to recognize that at some point, Gotham’s way of fighting crime may have to change. She’s sick of beating lower class punks to a pulp to protect the rich, done with thinking that all the capes might be doing more harm than good and maybe having to deal with thinking that Bruce might not be best for Gotham. That’s, of course, when she looks into the face of the alternative.

Charise Carnes represents the alternative. She’s violent, psychopathic and campaigning to clean up Gotham in the way she views to be right. From the bear trap in the hotel hallway to throwing men off the top of roofs, it Knightfall is willing to transform the city that she feels betrayed her into a forced paradise. Carnes has seen horrors similar to what Barbara has dealt with, she’s just taking something entirely else from it. And it is much, much more dangerous.

Penciller Ardiyan Syaf shows the hard differences between Batgirl and Knightfall in the ways in which the two do battle. The fight between Gordon and Carnes’ battles is punctuated by disconnected and off-sized panels as well as use of lots of whitespace show a disconnect between the way Barbara normally thinks and operates with the way she has to fight. Contrast that with the pages between Alysia and James Jr. is much more focused and overlapping, with darker more heavily lined drawings.

The talk with McKenna is enlightening, revealing some more of what motivates Knightfall but it does a really masterful job at showing the detective’s confusion. Her reveal that there is a mole in the Bat-family and the fact that she thinks Barbara may be involved with Medusa or the DEO is a great way to tie Kate Kane into the story and preview a little bit of next month’s issue.

Its the escalation that makes this issue into one of the highlights of the New 52 and a great way to explore a little more into how Simone is able to get into Barbara’s head. Her ability to explain the mashing of trauma and humor that take place inside of Batgirl is shown wonderfully and it makes for one of the most fascinating issues of the year.

Are we overrating “Night of the Owls?”

HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE RECENTLY RELEASED “BATMAN #10.” SERIOUSLY, WE’RE DISCUSSING THE CONCLUSION OF “NIGHT OF THE OWLS”

I don’t want to really shit on Scott Snyder’s “Batman.” On the whole, its been a rightfully celebrated run on a landmark title. Snyder’s first arc, “The Court of the Owls,” is reaching its conclusion in the pages of his title and for many, this is the first exposure to a Batman monthly.

And that’s where I think the problem is. I can say with confidence that “Batman” is without a doubt one of the most consistent, impressive and well constructed books of the New 52. Its managed an impressively long and in depth storyline and has managed to be both a great entry point for new fans, as well as a great series for longtime readers.

I really think that this is part of why this run has been so critically beloved. The release of today’s issue #10 has received unanimous praise, with IGN giving it a rare 9.5 score. Much of their praise is heaped on the book’s big twist, which is the moment that really prompted me to write all of this.

To get it out of the way, Snyder reintroduces Earth 3’s Owlamn, a classic DC character who has long claimed to be Thomas Wayne Jr. Now, Bruce finds the court destroyed and a man, who once claimed to be mayoral candidate Lincoln March, in the metallic owl costume and claiming to be the long lost brother of Bruce Wayne.

In one way, I really love what Snyder did here (and I’m hardly mentioning what a great job penciller Greg Capullo did in visually setting up the revelation). Reintroducing long lost characters is one of the things that I love about comics because it rewards fans so much and allows for great revelations. Hell, its one of the few high points of “Blackest Night.” That being said, for new readers, the targets of the New 52 relaunch, this is just hopelessly hackneyed twist.

Now, I think that the twist does work both ways, its surprising but well designed and based in the plot rather than coming from nowhere and the conversation that Thomas and Bruce has is great, perfectly meshing with the art. My problem is it seems people are conditioned to be alright with the twist simply because the earlier issues of the series set the bar so high.

Like I said, I liked Batman #10 and I’ve liked the series as a whole. I’m just curious to see what y’all think. Are we giving this series far too much credit based on earlier content or is the twist even more well done than I assumed (it bears mentioning that Snyder has hinted that Thomas may not be telling the truth and that more twists are in store)? Sound off in the comments about issue 10, the mass suicide of the court or the Bat-family titles after Night of the Owls.

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.

Overcoming steampunk stereotypes: How I learned to stop caring and love China Miéville’s “Dial H”

In case the fact that I have recently rebranded my Star Trek Blog into a place for all things terribly obsessive, I’ve lived a relatively pop culture soaked life. Whether I was spending all of my limited time on the internet compiling lists of comics, anime, music and movies that I needed to get a hold of or spending entire pay checks on books of modern criticism and social theory and Dungeons and Dragons sourcebooks.

That being said, just being able to look stuff up wasn’t the optimal solution for a budding obsessive. I had my weekly connection to the newest DC publications and a subscription to Rolling Stone that was only just beginning to piss me off but that was only second to what I was really waiting for every month.

That was Dragon magazine, the now defunct publication from Paizo publishing that offered “100% Official Dungeons and Dragons Content” on the cheap for those that were otherwise stuck buying $40 sourcebooks and then putting tons of time into learning the arcane, often fairly complicated rule sets. Dragon magazine offered all of that in a quicker, more contemporary and varied format that gave everything at least some of what they wanted and could use. For people like me that were looking for cool new stuff to constantly add to their game, it was a godsend.

And that’s why for many years, China Miéville ruined a solid month of my life when in Dragon #352, he consumed a month of my life with content that I would never be able to use.

Now, I know that I was being a dick. I shouldn’t be angry when a magazine decides to dedicate an issue to a influential, innovative and successful fantasy author who was combining steampunk and swords and sorcery in interesting ways. It was something that many players could integrate into their campaigns and enjoy. Me, I was running a rigidly traditional Forgotten Realms campaign (yeah, I was a big R.A. Salvatore fan) that was focused almost entirely on Tolkien-esque fantasy mixed with just a dash of Robert E. Howard’s dungeon-crawling and a healthy dose of undead creatures with links to otherworldly Lovecraftian gods. Naturally, I thought I was far too good to integrate robotic creatures, evil flying imps or semi-sentient half robotic swords that defied physics.

For years, I blamed China Miéville for giving me a shitty issue of a magazine and I only felt more cheated when Dragon ended up going out of publication later that year. I would try to read one of his most celebrated books “The Scar” a year later, and I was still too angry about Dragon’s cancelation to get through it and read one of the smartest fantasy books of the last decade.

Four and a half years after my beloved magazine’s cancellation, I still hadn’t gotten through an entire Miéville book when suddenly he reinserted himself back into my life. As DC began to relaunch the second wave of The New 52, letting one of my least favorite writers complete one of the best series of the last decade, kicking Rob Liefeld off of some shitty books and giving him one of my favorites and pretty much just try to ape Marvel’s “Runaways,” I came to find out that Miéville was being given a shot at my most beloved comic universe. His “Dial H” wasn’t too connected to the established DC cannon that I had invested so much of my time in but it still felt like an intrusion.

That being said, I picked up the recently released first issue of “Dial H,” partially because I’ll read the first issue of just about anything (yes, I even broke my own rules to read this monstrosity. And this one) but also, I desperately wanted to get over my problems with Miéville. I wanted to get over my preconceptions and deal with something that was a little outside my wheelhouse. I don’t know that I’m comfortable with where I ended up but I’m intrigued to see more.

I liked the first issue of “Dial H.” I really did. I had heard good things about the 2003 revamp of the series. That being said, the art always felt really wrong to me, awfully cartoony instead of being dark, stylized and atmospheric, which seemed especially wrong when the whole series focussed on the problems that the average city dwellers come to when they become heroes.

Miéville manages the balance much better, mostly with the help of Mateus Santoluoco, who has done art for “American Vampire,” is able to make the world fresh, wonderfully confusing, atmospheric and very memorable.

The premise of “Dial H” (guy walks into a phone-booth, dials H-E-R-O, morphs into a different superhero every time) isn’t a new one but the twists Miéville ads to the formula make it something that needs to be picked up, at least for the next couple of months. Nelson, the morbidly obese unemployed 20-something, still recovering from his cigarette smoking caused heart attack steps into the booth while his drug dealing friend is attacked by thugs, he changes to Boy Chimney, smothering everyone in the alley in endless clouds of noxious smoke. As he becomes more and more fascinated by the powers of the booth and what he’s capable of, he’s drawn back to the booth and experiences the power all over again.

As has always been the case with the variations of “Dial H,” what’s interesting isn’t the heroes or the crime fighting, its the man who steps into the booth. Nelson manages to to be entirely different from the young pretty boys who have formerly gained power in the booth. He’s more flawed in a thoroughly modern and physical sense, showing an entirely new side to the hero, one who is killing himself every second he’s not saving everyone else.

“Dial H” is ambitious, maybe not as ambitious as Jeff Lemire’s recent work but it is certainly one of the most visually distinctive books that DC is releasing and they seem to be putting some of their best talent on it and in a lineup that’s packed with little but disposable popcorn books and overly-gory schlock titles with the rare moments of thoughtful creation, “Dial H” certainly offers something very different, although it may only be something that longtime fans of the medium will appreciate.