Direct Message 01: A&C: DC Part Two

[Chad Nevett and I have started our own conversation series to discuss, you guessed it, comics. This time around, we're tackling the DC Comics Relaunch because you obviously have not heard enough about it. Seriously, though, we've gone through Month 1 of the event and have discussed as much as we can. This turned out to be a massive conversation, so we've split it into 4 parts. Part 1 can be found over at Chad's blog. Check it out and come back here for Part 2 ...]

Alec Berry: If you look at it, Snyder really is one of the few strictly horror comic book writers. American Vampire. Severed. Even his Detective Comics work danced the line of psychological horror.

I agree that Paquette uses a smooth, polished approach, but I feel he can still generate the necessary tone for this Swamp Thing comic. I found the neck snappings quite effective in their depiction. His figures are crisp and clear, but  I think the clear depiction only heightens the uneasiness. The characters’ nuanced facial expressions sell the pain and fear of the situation, and to top it off, Paquette allows his panels to bleed together by only separating them with scattered black blots. The sequence is very ominous because of those panel gutters. The panels appear to be sinking into some unknown void.

I guess this marks our first disagreement, sir.

I find it odd Snyder took the approach he did. Swamp Thing, a character with such a revered background, screams fresh start. At least to me. So why then, when offered the opportunity of a brand new beginning, would you tie your story to the highly revered previous events? Playing armchair writer, I would so start new and make Swamp Thing my own rather than build off of continuity and precedents. I would think such approach might free you of the given traps and snares. New continuity allows a writer to escape Moore’s shadow. At least, to some extent. The work still exists, so the context is there for anyone familiar with Moore’s work. But on a technical, in story level, new continuity frees you as a company writer. Why throw that freedom away unless you feel you can add something worthwhile to the Moore work? If that be the case, Snyder must be pretty confident.

Of course, DC did make quite an effort to bring the character back via Brightest Day. The decision could relate to a desire keep that event in canon. Cause, you know, fans care.

As for your point on mismatching “reboots” and “relaunches” … I think such a method could easily work. We knew certain stories and concepts would stick around going into the New 52. The big sellers, like Johns’ Green Lantern and Morrison’s Batman, are big sellers for a reason. People care about those plot lines, so DC would be wrong to dissolve them.

Is it confusing on an in story level? Maybe, but I think it makes fine sense. I’m looking at the line as a New DC Universe, and I’m coming to it as it continues its daily routine. This DC plane exists with or without me. I’m just peeking in, and I have no idea what it already contains. So there’s a Batman Incorporated? Oh, that’s interesting. Hal Jordan usually is the Green Lantern, but not at the moment. Why? Those plot lines we know of the old DC line give the new DC line a little history while only being a month old. I enjoy that. The DC 52 seems self-sustaining and organic in an odd way.

Also, Justice League takes place 5 years in the past of this DC Universe while the other books are in the present, so this detail somewhat explains the “reboot” versus “relaunch” feel you mention. Really, a reader must only understand one thing – some of DC’s old stuff worked and some of it did not. The working parts get to stay. The glitches get a reboot.

But back to Scott Snyder …

I find him a good comics writer, but I would not label him “best of the business” as I see some people doing. His early Detective issues impressed me with their tight plotting and entertaining mysteries, and, to give credit to my Chemical Box co-host Joey Aulisio, I found Snyder’s approach to the Morrison details fun. If anything, his best work involved the Jim Gordon character, and for awhile his ability to evoke the Frank Miller Batman/Gordon relationship felt exciting and bold.

His Detective run really lost steam towards the end, though. The final issue literally bored me. American Vampire is consistent enough each month, and I might even reach to call it one of the better mainstream comics out each month because of said consistency (and Rafael Albuquerque).

I don’t know, though. Snyder just seemed to hit hot at first, and now he’s struggling to keep me entertained. To bring up David Brother’s point once again … you really notice Snyder’s use of that technique when you read several of his comics in one sitting. I couldn’t imagine reading this work in a trade paper back and not rolling my eyes. His method for setting up an issue, by telling some old wise man story, is fine enough, but after a while the constant recycling of said method resembles a novelist who constantly uses prepositional phrases. And it’s not exciting, and it really wears on you. Writers cannot rely on the same techniques page in and page out, and I feel Snyder needs to work this out soon because already, with only a year or so under his belt, you can map out his formula for a single issue comic book.

That said though, I enjoyed Batman #1 quite a bit.

Chad Nevett: Snyder has said he’s a GIANT Swamp Thing fan, that this is his dream book, and I think that’s where the problem lies. I’ve always been very wary when someone comes on board a title and says that this is their favourite character, their dream book, the one thing they’ve wanted to do in comics since they were a teenager… I don’t trust that quality writing will come out of that mentality. I think I’m the only guy who reads interviews and cringes when writers mention loving a character. I like a bit more objective approach to the material than someone who’s been thinking about what they’d do for years and years. That fan approach could explain his approach; he doesn’t want to ignore everything he loves about the character and his world. Another writer without the same attachments probably wouldn’t hesitate to cut 95% of it, go back to the basics, and try his best to forget that Alan Moore exists.

Batman doesn’t have the same fault. It’s actually fairly economical a first issue. Very on point and direct. That newspaper bit was both laughably inane and actually quite in tune with Gotham, I thought. No actual paper would keep running a feature that seems to trash the city week in and week out; then again, no actual city is as horrible a place as Gotham. I made a joke recently that Superman’s ‘never-ending battle’ tagline makes him seem like a failure and deluded fool. Well, Batman’s continued war on crime in Gotham that never actually makes the city better is right up there. I don’t know if everything in Gotham’s past is still in play, but, if it is… yeesh. Plagues, earthquakes, mob corruption, homicidal maniacs that enter Arkham one day and exit the next… and a guy who dresses up in a costume and beats them up without actually preventing them from doing the crazy things they keep doing over and over again. If that city actually existed, I could see its paper running that “Gotham is…” feature even though the responses are horrible. The publisher is clearly trying to tell everyone to kill themselves or move far away, because living in Gotham is living in Hell.

Um… maybe now I’ll get back on point?

Batman #1 was fine. The art was very hit or miss for me (more miss than hit) and the writing was fine. Nothing really jumped out and grabbed me, but nothing made me want to run screaming for the hills. Middle of the road superhero comics and an average first issue. I’m sure you liked it more than that, so why not tell the readers of your love for Batman and why I’m wrong?

AB: I wouldn’t call it love, but yeah, I enjoyed Batman more than you because I actually like what Greg Capullo does here.

I’m not sure what your stance on this guy was prior to this comic. I’ve kind of always had a thing for his work because I bought such books as Spawn and Haunt. Not my classiest purchases … although, early Spawn still offers some amount of fun. Capullo certainly rocks a McFarlane influence, and I am completely unashamed to admit my personal enjoyment of Todd McFarlane’s artwork. His drawings still excite and entertain while hitting me in some visceral, gut-jabbing way. (I blame my childish, nerdy affection for Spider-man and his connection to the character.) But Capullo manages to do one thing McFarlane can’t, and that’s design pages laminated in motion and fluidity.

My friend Joey has said before that Capullo made him realize the importance of comic book pages and their layouts. Reading this issue of Batman, I can’t help but understand what he means. I look at these Batman pages, and all I can see are the efforts of an artist who puts the flow and feel of story first. Capullo pulls off what I feel most readers are after – the cool, individual style – with ease, but he spends time on his page layouts. Yeah, I don’t necessarily know that for sure. Maybe he whips these things up in two seconds. But, reading this comic, I sense a time and focus put into how the story tells itself visually. Capullo wants your mind to work and move and blend itself with the story like you’re actually there within the book. He takes into account the big moments and finds sure-fire ways to convey them. He ensures the comic pages move your eyes along in an fun fashion.

For the sake of example, view the first page. Three separate views of Gotham City, yet Capullo makes our eyes descend over the page like we’re descending on the same location or view. Someone could say this is a fault of Capullo’s – a lacking ability to clearly illustrated different locations – but I find this intentional. Gotham is a shit town that its citizens or even Batman cannot escape. If you lived there, you would see shit in every direction, and no building or alley would be individual nor provide escape. Capullo communicates this idea to me. Three different buildings but they look the same and feel as one because they’re all dubbed in trash, smog, and shadows. Three different buildings blend together to feel like one image transposed over three panels. The page works so well as a tool to bring the reader into the world because you see the buildings and the darkness, but the page also literally moves the reader’s eyes to the next page as they descend to the bottom right corner – or figuratively, descend into Gotham. It’s a nice example of atmosphere as well as movement within a comic book.

But, yeah, Scott Snyder wrote this. I agree with your assessment of Batman being a very economical first issue. I’d term it the DC Comics version of a pop song, but a good pop song you could unabashedly bounce your head to. Batman contains all the necessary elements:

1.) Batman
2.)Joker
3.)SideKicks
4.) Jim Gordon
5.) Shit town
6.)Dreams of better
7.)Arkham Asylum
8.)Mystery/Crime

Like all pop songs, there’s an equation to balance out. Snyder does such with this comic book, and I’d say he does it well. The book touches all the right beats to make any fan smile (see list above). One thing Snyder mentioned (in an interview somewhere) was how determined he was to make this book as, I guess, self-contained or un-reliant on other Batman material as he could. I believe he said something to the rift of, “I want this run to be an easy trade paperback pick up for someone in a random ass book store.”

It’s funny because he does so, and it’s such an opposite from Swamp Thing and what we decided it was. If anything, I think Snyder was pulling his best Jeph Loeb on this comic. The caption boxes, the rogues gallery, the clean separation from other books, the splash and flash – all trade marks of Mr. Loeb and his approach to comic books, which again, are all pop songs.

So, for fans of Batman: Hush, I’d say this book is your best bet.

CN: I’m not a Capullo guy. I, like all good internet fanboy critics, have evolved past the Image style… though, haven’t evolved enough to start appreciating it again in what people think is an ironic stance but is actual genuine enjoyment.

Moving from Batman to Superman, Action Comics was almost like Batman’s opposite. It wasn’t a ‘greatest hits pop song’ in any way. It wasn’t an angry punk song either despite that partly being what Grant Morrison was going for, I think. It was, like, a happy folk song done on an electric guitar maybe? Young, righteous Superman is a Superman that I can get behind. He’s taking on corruption and having fun doing it. He comes off as a character that’s genuinely enjoying his life. Strangely, it reminds me of All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder where Batman so obviously LOVES being Batman. He loves going out and hurting people and that’s why he’s so over-the-top. Superman is similar, except he doesn’t call himself the ‘Goddamn Superman’ or narrate in stilted Frank Miller hard-boiled sentences. Still, the idea is the same.

Me, I enjoy comics where the heroes seem to be enjoying themselves. That Spider-Man “Oh woe is me” concept works, but to a point. Spider-Man can do that forever and I’m cool. Superman enjoying himself is almost novel at this point. For so long, he’s been stoic, practically burdened by the responsibility of being Superman. The idea weighing him down as he lives up to the image of the ‘S.’ Here, that’s not a problem. He rushes around, a smirk on his face, and fucks shit up for the Man.

Lex Luthor’s reasons for wanting Superman gone also make sense: an alien lifeform is not good for the planet. There are the usual elements of jealousy thrown in, but, otherwise, it’s a logical reason that we can get behind. What dangers are inherent from Superman simply existing on Earth? What unknown/unseen consequences?

The weakness of Action Comics is clearly Rags Morales who seems incapable of delivering an entire issue of polished art. For every panel that looks great, there are three that look thrown together and altogether lacking in refined detail. He nails the goofy smirk of Superman while delivering a Lex Luthor that’s a vague pudgy bald creature that we know is Lex Luthor because he’s bald and kind of evil. I wish Doug Mahnke were drawing this comic. I really do.

AB: I would honestly take anyone other than Rags Morales. I’m sure he’s a nice person, but his artwork makes me shake my head. The way he composes some of his panels makes me question his idea of what is visually interesting and everything simply comes off as stiff and uninspired.

And I really dislike how he draws faces. Everyone in a Rags Morales comic appears to be malnourished and cross-eyed. I have no desire to look at anything like that.

As a script, Action Comics #1 succeeds. I wouldn’t call this the greatest Grant Morrison comic book, but I dig his approach of making Superman an urban legend or folktale. Almost similar to Batman in some regard. Or more like a Robin Hood type. It’s interesting for the character because Superman never seems to step down from that high pedestal he’s placed on. Everyone treats the character as a god, and I’m fine with that. I like Superman as god, but after having such interpretation be the norm for so long Working Class Hero Superman sounds like a welcoming bellow. And, hey, for the time and spirit of the 99%, this take makes a lot of sense. I know Morrison has received some shit for his “statement” on the Siegel and Shuster situation, but I honestly feel the guy speaks what he speaks through his work. Morrison could probably be an activist. I’m sure he has the resources to do some good in the way most would expect. I just think Morrison does good for the world in another fashion: through story. Maybe story activism disappoints some people, but if Morrison can inspire a few by way of his Superman interpretation I’d call it a good day. Stories last longer than most things anyway. Stories possess more power and influence than money any day. I find it telling Morrison wants to bring power and relevancy back to Siegel and Shuster’s creation.

The decision says everything if you ask me.

Morrison does a nice job building the environment too. Without really seeing it, I sense characters in this Metropolis walking about the street whispering to each other of “him.” You feel a certain energy in this fictional city. Things buzz. The concrete takes care of itself.

I also agree that Action #1 is a very fast paced, free wheeling and dealing super hero comic book, and I too am a fan. The title of the book is, well, ACTION Comics. Morrison lives up to the title. You feel a bit out of breath when you finish reading the comic because the book runs and runs. I say such feeling is a good one. Like you put it, Superman comics usually focus on the pressure and overbearing responsibility of being the ultimate man. A fun, care free Superman comic sadly feels revolutionary. Or maybe revolutionary is a bit strong.

Action Comics isn’t one of the most complex Morrison works (not yet at least), but it’s entertaining. I feel in time the book could develop into a nice package of social commentary. Just ditch Rags Morales …

[Part 3 is on Chad's blog.]

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Direct Message 01: A&C: DC Part Two

  1. Spangle

    Very good thoughts here, both you guys. I really liked Chad calling Action Comics a “happy folk song done on an electric guitar,” that’s totally spot-on.

    Personally I think that it’s fine that Snyder kept Swamp Thing in continuity with past stories, just because there’s an opportunity to cleanly reboot doesn’t mean you have to. If Moore’s stories still happened, then you can build on that; but if you erase Moore’s stories, then it seems like you have to TOP him, to prove why your story deserves to overwrite his. That seems pretty tricky.

    Anyway, interesting thoughts. I came here from Graphicontent, and I’m enjoying your writing, Alec. I think you’ve got yourself a new reader!

  2. Isn’t Kubert coming on for AC #4?

  3. I like what you guys tend to be up too. This type of clever work and exposure! Keep up the awesome works guys I’ve added you guys to blogroll.

  4. Pingback: Comics A.M. | Comics market on the verge of a turnaround? | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  5. Pingback: Random Thoughts! (November 8, 2011) | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources

  6. Pingback: Direct Message 02: Sleeper: Part One | alec reads comics

  7. Pingback: Direct Message 03: Moon Knight by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources

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