Posted by: John Kane on January 25, 2013
Firstly, fans of Jog’s fine writing on the works of Howard Victor Chaykin are directed HERE.
Everyone else gets this. No, there are no refunds. Stop asking me that. Anyway, this…
Plot and art by Gentleman Gil Kane
Script by Howling Howard Victor Chaykin
Coloured by Steely Steve Oliff
Lettered by Worried Willie Schubert
Originally appeared in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT #24,25 and 26
Batman created by Bob Kane
DC Comics, 1991-92 ($1.75 each)
Originally appearing in LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT in 1991/92 Flyer proves that The Past is another country and that continuity is tighter there. Let it suffice to say that the care and attention to detail in the Nu52 continuity is so desultory that it only makes sense when considered as a vile and cowardly attack directed solely at the sanity of Rascally Roy Thomas. Other than a sadistic assault on everything a fragile old man holds dear it makes no sense. Anyway, I don’t want to get into that whole continuity custard pie fight I’m just pointing out that continuity is at the heart of this comic series and although Chayky Kane© get to produce their own tale it is set as firmly and flagrantly in the then DC continuity as the Cullinan I is set in the head of the Sceptre with the Cross. I may be overstating things there, maybe, but be assured that with LOTDK a great deal of editorial effort was expended ensuring the continuity canvas was so tight you could bounce rice off it.
Gil Kane (after David Mazzucchelli)
At this point in the DCU the sine qua non of Bat continuity was Mazzucchelli and Miller’s monumental BATMAN: YEAR ONE (B: YO). Maybe it still is (who the Hell knows!?!) Using B: YO as the root of all sequels worked out okay back then what with it being recognised as being one of the few examples of genre comics perfection. On a more dismaying note it is also one of the even fewer examples of a genre comic’s success being matched by its quality. While the caped crusader’s adventures continued in their usual manner in the usual monthlies LOTDK featured short arcs by high toned creators. Each discrete story focused on a period prior to the then current Batus-quo with a view to filling in the gaps with contradictions being actively discouraged. A commitment to continuity and also to quality; apparently it is possible. Certainly in Flyer both quality and continuity are present. It’s a Chayky Kane© Joint so the quality is self evident to all with the nous to recognise it Actually so is the continuity, so much so it can seem a little stifling. In the end though Chayky Kane© manage to create something uniquely theirs. It’s a very odd thing but it’s recognisably a Chayky Kane© thing.
Flyer answered the prayers of everyone who had read B: Y1 and wondered about the fate of the chopper pilot. Yes, the one whose craft was engulfed by the bats Batman summoned to cover his escape shortly after he punched a cat-hating man through a wall. No doubt crippling the cop from the waist down and leading to the disintegration of his marriage and an empty bedsit life with only a hot plate and tear stained photos of his estranged son as solace. Until that is he was run over in front of some orphans by The Joker (having now cut his own cock off and stapled it to his face like a wee fake nose) in a clown car powered by the blood of Mother Theresa. That’s not this story. That’s a Scott Snyder story and it’s about family. Flyer, however, is about the chopper pilot we were all worried about at the beginning of this paragraph.
Predictably enough he (the flyer!) suffered catastrophic physical ruin and was only saved by virtue of the fact that his Mum was working on a government weapons programme based on advances by Nazi scientists with said advances being brought to bear to build him a jaw, a lower leg and a flying suit or two. As usual in these stories his mother turns out to be an unrepentant Nazi driven insane by her own (hopefully. Jesus, Howard!) unrequited lust for her own father resulting in a mind-soilingly twisted love-hate relationship with her own son. Naturally she uses her own tech-enhanced son to lure Batman into her randy grasp; his physical and mental perfection having made Bats the ideal candidate for helping her turn her well-maintained womb into an Ubermensch dispenser. Babies, there. I’m talking about Bat-babies. Weirdly, Batman declines her kind offer. There’s a fight and it all ends in tears. Mostly hers. And it actually is about family. A lot of HVC’s stuff is about family but a lot more of it is about the monied elite mucking the hoi polloi about as they are charmingly wont to do. Because they can, see. So that’s okay.
Flyer is, in fact, the first Batman tale written by HVC. He would go on to write many others but here we can see the first shaky steps towards laying out the issues he would use the character to explore. Because HVC has a very particular take on Batman, or more precisely HVC has a very particular take on Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne is of course rich and being rich he is powerful. HVC’s work is very concerned with the rich and powerful and the effect they have on the world. I may have mentioned that before. In all likelihood I will mention it again. I’m set in my ways, okay? While HVC usually assigns the monied elite the villainous role Bruce Wayne forces him to stretch a bit and try to find a sympathetic approach to the privileged. This doesn’t come easy to him but he makes this work to his advantage by shunting his concerns onto the Bruce Wayne character. This gives Bruce something to mull over while he isn’t being punched, punching back or being mauled by a bawdy cougar. He doesn’t really come to any real conclusions but it’s enough that Batman doesn’t just accept he should punch people in the face, because. Underneath all the raunchy nonsense and pulp trappings HVC always remembers to provide something to engage the brain. The balance is a bit off here though, largely due to Mrs Eisenmann who steals every scene she’s in and having stolen it probably tries to force it to make Aryan babies.
Gil Kane helps here with a fabulous level of artistry where the demented NILF is concerned. Obviously using Graduate era Anne Bancroft as his cue Kane builds a character whose body language fully plays into the turbo raunch and psychotic mind mess she embodies. Whenever the menopausal supremacist appears with Batman Kane depicts her with eyes glazed with lust and sporting a dirty smirk like a haus frau on a hen do when the boy dancers break out the baby oil. HVC’s overheated and fantastically deranged dialogue is turbid with erotic fervour and in combination with Kane’s body language brilliance result in one of the great lunatics of comics.
This is ‘90s Kane so it isn’t as much to my tastes as ‘80s Kane, but it is Gil Kane and any Gil Kane is good Gil Kane but any Gil Kane after the ‘60s is pretty great at the very least. By the ‘90s though the world is changing and Kane’s art hasn’t kept up in certain areas, particularly the area of technology. So while his architecture, anatomy and action are all as flabbergasting and flowing as ever it’s hard not to agree with the text when it describes the Flyer suit as looking like a “cheap Japanese robot”. HVC hisownself might be having an impish dig here. This strikes me as something he added on seeing the pages rather than an explicit request for Kane’s art to fulfil. After a dense and confident opening chapter Flyer starts to resemble Kane and Wolfman’s (GilWolf©!) Superman work in ACTION comics. Upon reading those delightful comics recently it was hard not to get the impression that Marv Wolfman was being dragged behind the runaway horses of Kane’s art desperately trying to regain the seat and steer the whole shebang in the general direction of sense. Yes, I imagine Marv Wolfman got more than a few new grey hairs trying to explain after the fact how, because Superman had spun around very quickly indeed (for the umpteenth gorgeously illustrated time), everything was okay now. I get the impression here that HVC was a bit on the back foot when the pages came in and had to vamp more than a little. He does it well, I’ll give him that. Nifty footwork all round.
A dead giveaway that HVC’s script is not King is present in Kane’s breaking of HVC’s Golden Rule on more than one occasion. No, calm down, this Golden Rule is not something mucky from a ‘70s bath house but rather HVC’s repeatedly stated belief that a scene should only change on the page turn rather than within the body of the page itself. It’s a simple rule and a good rule and it’s hard not to imagine Kane’s flouting of it as his cocking a snook in HVC’s direction. It’s possible (pure conjecture this) that Kane was gently asserting his authority. HVC had been his assistant in the past on two occasions so there might have been a playful little power game being enacted. A cheeky little reminder. Mischief seems to be present, but good natured mischief rather than its sour cousin malice. Two old friends pissing each other about a bit.
One of the best things about Flyer is a thing that appears on none of its pages but is apparent in every page since none of them would exist without it; HVC and Gil Kane’s shared history. Yes, it appears not only comics have continuity but people too. Before Flyer Kane and HVC had had a parting of the ways. Why is none of our beeswax, what counts is they healed the rift before it was too late. Which is kinda heartwarming, aw yeah. And on that note here’s the popular singer and terrible dresser Mr. Elvis Aaron Presley to play us out ….
A word of thanks now to Mr. Charlie Hodge, who brings me muh towels an’ mah wattah. And mah COMICS!!!
Have a good weekend y’all!