Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Start-Ups Rise From the Tomb!!!

Years ago, during the heyday of bare*bones, I would come up with ideas for articles I’d like to write. What usually happened was: 1/ I’d pick a series of books to plunge into, 2/ I’d read some of them, 3/ I’d write about some of them, 4/ I’d burn out on them, 5/and the piece would get shelved. I’ve got dozens of “start-ups” with no home.

‘Til now.

I’ll be popping some of these ont the b*b website now and then. Please feel free to comment (both of you!). Now and then, I wonder if any of these things should be finished.

The following is the start-up of an overview of the BATMAN: LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT title. B:LOTDK showcased “early Batman adventures” written in a “contemporary style” (all quotes mine). The title lasted 214 issues.

The first arc, “Shaman” (Dennis O’Neil/Ed Hannigan/John Beatty) is the umpteenth revisionist Batman origin story. This time, Bruce Wayne is tracking a vicious killer through the raging snows of Northern Alaska when his guide is murdered and Wayne is left for dead. An ancient shaman rescues the millionaire and nurses him back to health.

The Shaman relates the ancient myth of the Bat and the Raven, thus planting the seed of the Batman in Wayne’s mind. As in all the other origin stories, the capper to Wayne’s transformation is the bat flying through his study window.

Years later, it turns out that Wayne has inadvertently funded an expedition that pirates the Shaman’s ancient relics and treasures. Now, as the Batman, Wayne seeks to make things right by going after the bad guys who ruined an ancient tribe for quick bucks and power.

The first thing apparent after reading the story is that Denny O’ Neil must have been really tired of writing Batman origin stories. Despite the fact that the cover hypes the first issue of LEGENDS as the “First New ‘Solo’ Batman Book Since 1940,” did we really need yet another reworking of the old warhorse? Ostensibly, this adventure happens between events first depicted in the early issues of DETECTIVE COMICS. Differentiating between the two Waynes, one of the 1940s and one from the present day, can be confusing and downright irritating at times. I’m well aware that DC (as well as Marvel and most other comic lines) plays with elapsed time, but if these stories fit between the old stories, then perhaps they should have been set in those days, timelines be damned. This is a problem that occurs throughout the LEGENDS run moreso than the other Batman titles simply because LEGENDS was conceived as a title showcasing “lost moments in Bat-history.”

Denny O’Neil’s story lacks anything remotely resembling excitement (half the story, it seems, is set in the back of Wayne’s limo as Bruce and Alfred cruise for trouble on the mean streets of Gotham and trade droll quips) or continuity (the killer Wayne is tracking in the first chapter all but disappears until the climax of the arc where he’s revealed to be the obligatory “misunderstood creature”). Gone is the deep introspective dialogue found in O’Neil’s classic GREEN ARROW/ GREEN LANTERN run of the 1960s, replaced by missives such as “We in trouble! I din’ buy no hassle with no Bat Man! I’m tippin’ (sic)!

Ed Hannigan’s pencils are dreadful. At times it’s hard to tell Bruce Wayne from Alfred. Wayne himself seems to change body size from page to page. One character appears with a receding hairline in one panel and what seems to be a mohawk in the next. Not a good start to what was hyped as an event.

Acclaimed writer Grant Morrison and equally acclaimed artist Klaus Janson couldn’t do much better with the second arc, “Gothic.” What could best be described as a cross between NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FAUST, “Gothic” presents yet another seamy chapter heretofore unknown to Bat-fans: Bruce Wayne attended a boys’ school and barely avoided being molested and murdered by the school’s dean, Mr. Winchester. When local mob bosses catch wind of the atrocities, they chop Winchester into little pieces and dump him in the river. Now, “many years later” Mr. Winchester reappears as Mr. Whisper (his origin relates how he made a deal with the devil three hundred years before), offing the mob bosses one by one and vowing to finish the job he never completed on “little Brucie.”

Though the familiar story elements and inconsistent art weaken the story, there is a wickedly sadistic vein that runs throughout the arc that made me stop and reread lines at times. In the opening chapter, a captive drugrunner, tortured by the mob, begs for the life of his wife and daughter. “Forget them. Your wife and kid are working for us now.” chortles a thug gleefully, “Movie stars. You understand.” Too bad the entire story isn’t that powerful. Alfred continues his sarcastic and unrealistic (in the same way that Arnold Schwartzenneger’s one-liners are unrealistic) exchanges with Bruce Wayne (at one point, Batman remarks to Alfred “Tonight I met the man who’s been murdering Gotham’s gang bosses. It was my old school headmaster, Mr. Winchester. To which the butler replies: “What an interesting education you must have had.”). What we’re left with is a Batman who exclaims “My God” several times and a supernatural second-rate Joker. The foremost impression I’m left with after reading the first two arcs is that if Alfred were my butler, I’d have put him six feet under by now.

1 comment:

John Scoleri said...

As I recall, this was one of the several hundred new Batman titles released in the wake of Tim Burton's Bat-mania in 1989. Like everyone else collecting comics at that time, I bought all four(?) color variations of the first issue. I didn't particularly enjoy any of the stories I read, and your reviews seem to support my otherwise failing memory. Was there ever anything worth reading, or even looking at, in this title?

Oh, and in my opinion, the only thing Klaus Janson should be acclaimed for is worsening any pencils he had the responsibility to have inked. His style, if you want to call it that, should be called 'muddy mess.'