Posted by: Joe McCulloch on August 11, 2007
At 4:00 AM, my funnybook reviewing powers at their peak. The good never sleep while there’s funnies to be reviewed!
Batman #667: The secret to J.H. Williams III’s success in superhero comics isn’t that he produces the most thought-through visual work around; with superhero comics there’s a risk of over-thinking things, missing the immediate appeal of the genre while pursuing an inappropriate sophistication. But Williams absolutely grasps the beauty of primal costumed impact, and infuses his relentless experimentation with the joy of direct aesthetic assault. I kind of squealed every time he shaped an evil panel like THE BLACK GLOVE, iconographic villain of the piece.
Williams’ approach here differs from his recent(ish) Detective Comics issue, which got a simpler, campier version of his Desolation Jones style; here, Williams produces an overview of superhero designs, with each of the many characters detailed in their very own homage-powered style, indicative of their discreet worldviews and developments. This is appropriate for Grant Morrison’s story, plus his run on this series. Always, Batman is confronted with alternate visions of himself: Damian, the three evil Batmen, and now many Bat-variants.
It’s the same approach with Morrison’s All Star Superman, though Superman and Batman are opposites – while Superman’s confrontations with his alternate selves inevitably lead to a certain peaceable education, Batman must always bleed and grit his teeth. Also: while ASS contains itself to simple, digestible issues, Batman sprawls across jumpy storylines, making review of a set-up issue like this tricky. I do wish the conversations between the many heroes had been insightful; when a fat Roman hero stumbles to his death, a symbolic tapestry in the background mocking his stumbling death throes, it seems merely banal.
Yet Williams adds a unique level of depth to his projects, and it is he that’s most compelling here. Plus, that last page is one of the nicest Batman pages I’ve seen in I-can’t-remember, and it’s GOOD to behold.
Blade #12: Howard Chaykin is one of the artists whose style Williams adopts, actually. Remember when Chaykin’s art was kind of hard to come by? This here is the second of three Marvel books he’s drawing this month, two of which are double-sized. And boy… parts of The Punisher MAX #50 looked rough (book three will be Wolverine #56). I presume Chaykin’s current style gets things done much quicker than before, but surely there’s such a thing as too quick! This comic, luckily, is a lot tighter; Blade has consistently been the best forum for Chaykin’s latter-day airy superhero style, affording him lots of opportunities to indulge in elaborate costuming and swooping, dancing midnight fight concepts.
But he doesn’t have Blade anymore, since this is the final issue. I’ve really grown fond of the book over this year; sure, writer Marc Guggenheim never did quite get a grasp on keeping the ‘individual’ issues, er, individual, but it turns out he’s pretty adept at layering plot strands into a big, slobbering narrative – this’ll make for a decent hardcover, if one is planned. The book also had a nice sense of absurdity about it, happy to mix up Count Dracula and Doctor Doom and Spider-Man and Civil War into a big, loud Marvel Universe thingy, albeit a thingy occurring on the fringes of more weighty stories.
This concluding issue characteristically mixes ancient prophesies with corny jokes and fairly affecting characterizations, while still taking setting aside a panel to assure us that the Yellow Kid joke vampire from the Civil War tie-in is still alive, I guess in case he’s needed for World War Hulk. It’s a charmingly square thing, pleasingly non-slick, with an oddly satisfying denouement. OKAY all around. The best sort of series to stumble upon in a bargain bin.