By Andrew A. Smith
Scripps Howard News Service
March 23, 2010 -- I don’t like all comics, which is a good thing. It means there’s a variety of product out there for all audiences, as this week’s sample demonstrates.
For example, Batman & Robin: The Deluxe Edition: Batman Reborn
(DC Comics, $24.99) is aimed squarely at me – to my delight.Reborn
collects the first five issues of Batman & Robin,
a new series depicting Dick Grayson (the first Robin) as the Dark Knight and Damian Wayne (Batman’s illegitimate son by Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Talia) as the Boy Wonder. These substitutions were necessitated by the recent Final Crisis,
in which Bruce Wayne was believed killed (temporarily).
These six stories travel on two tracks: They’re decent Batman tales, and they explore the ramifications of replacing the original Caped Crusaders with characters of vastly different temperament. Grayson, for example, is a former circus performer and punster who has trouble fitting into the dark grimness of his new role. Damian, by contrast, was raised by the League of Assassins, and despite wanting to live up to his real father’s legacy, has trouble reeling in lethal force – and his contempt for “Batman.”
This is all quite fun, as written by superstar Grant Morrison (Final Crisis
) and drawn by Frank Quitely (All Star Superman
) and Philip Tan (Uncanny X-Men
). I will mention, as a caveat, that Morrison has so many wacky ideas bursting out of him that he sometimes doesn’t leave sufficient bread crumbs for the reader to follow him. Occasionally we must close our eyes and leap with him from one bizarre idea to another, a little disoriented but enjoying the ride just the same.
One thing I don’t usually enjoy is Peter Bagge. I find his artwork (which owes a lot to Basil Wolverton and Gilbert Shelton) to be borderline repulsive, and his stories in books like Neat Stuff
to be venal, nihilistic and juvenile.
And yet, I quite enjoyed Other Lives
(DC/Vertigo, $24.99), which he wrote and drew. Mind you, I still don’t like the art. But I forgot about that as I became enveloped in the story, which stars a self-loathing writer, his flighty girlfriend, a conspiracy theorist and a gambling addict, whose lives intersect in a seemingly random, and yet almost inevitable, way.
These characters are fleshed out amazingly well, each with more than one life separated by walls that begin to crumble. The story builds with deftness, and slouches agonizingly toward a denouement that the readers dread but to which the characters are maddeningly oblivious. This is good writing.
Geez, I enjoyed a Peter Bagge book. Did he grow up, or did I?
Meanwhile, I continue to absorb Dark Horse’s hardcover reprints of old comics, such as the recent Turok Son of Stone
Vol. 5 ($49.95). I have nothing new to add except the confirmation of my suspicion that Turok’s companion Andar grew younger and smaller as the series progressed. I compared this volume (containing stories from 1960-61) to volume one (1954-56) and it’s evident that, for some reason, Andar was demoted along the way from partner to sidekick.
Now we’re to a book I didn’t enjoy at all: Vatican Hustle
(by Greg Houston, NBM, $11.95). Hustle
is a parody of blaxploitation movies, as Boss Karate Black Guy Jones deals with lethal clowns, a bar-fighting Pope, porn stars and other amusing, extravagant urban lunacy to find a gangster’s missing daughter. Funny.
But I found the art, for which Houston ought to pay Ralph Steadman royalties, distractingly ugly. And, unlike the Bagge book, I couldn’t immerse myself in the story sufficiently to forget that – it was rambling to the point of incoherence.
I’m sure there’s an audience for this, but it isn’t me.
Speaking of which, my wife loved Graylight
(by Naomi Nowak, NBM, $12.95), while I found it a forgettable confection.
It’s about the meeting of two Norwegian witches, one of whom doesn’t know she is one, and (tangentially) the men in their lives. Not much really happens, and the story kind of peters out instead of ending.
The watercolor art shows both European and Japanese influence. It’s attractive enough, but its gauzy, dreamy look and pastel pallet never vary. I understand why (it reflects Norway’s ephemeral “summer” and sets the story’s tone), but good storytelling isn’t static.
However, my wife enjoyed it, which probably means it’s good in ways that simply don’t appeal to me.
And that’s a good thing.
Contact Andrew A. Smith of the Memphis Commercial Appeal at