Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Comic Book Wednesday: Better Late!

No Hero 3. By Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp. As has been observed, this comic came out last week. But I just got around to it now, and I have to admit, it was worth the wait. In this issue, Joshua goes through the with the "heroing" procedure, and Carrick Masterson's chickens come home to roost. Joshua's trippy drug experience ('cause it just ain't Ellis if there's not a trippy drug experience at some point) consists of a series of splash pages. They're all wonderfully drawn, of course, and chock full of disturbing, even sublime imagery, but I think one would have conveyed the idea--four was overkill, especially since that makes up nearly a third of the entire story. The story itself is excellent--for me, Masterson's musings on just who's out to get them mark the point, for me at least, when the story shifts from an interesting concept to a world I want to see more of. I want to know what happened at to the Frontline at Tianamen Square. I want to hear more about their Russian operations. And I want to see just how far Joshua's going to fall. It took me a while to get fully on board, but however many splash-pages, I'm on for the ride.

Batman: Broken City. By Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso. This is going to take some explanation, so bear with. In the second half of 2008, Brian Azzarello wrote Joker, which was an original graphic novel exploring the character of the Joker through the eyes of an ordinary thug who attaches himself to the Crown Prince of Crime because... well, he's not entirely sure himself, and therein lies the story. The story was also a bit of a gamble on Azzarello's part: he portrayed the Joker not as a wise-cracking super-villain, but as a canny gangster. The gamble paid off, for a few different reasons:
1) The movie Dark Knight had basically paved the way for a darker, more realistic portrayal of the Joker.
2) The artist for Joker,
Lee Bermejo, was excellent, especially when coupled with amazing work on inks and colours performed by others.
3) Even as a gangster, the Joker was unmistakably insane. Azzarello walked a fine line between enforcing that insansity, and convincing the reader that someone would actually follow this looney into a fight--and he pulls it off well.
Azzarello's portrayal of Batman in the novel is noteworthy as well. Batman doesn't even appear until the very end of the novel, but his presence looms everywhere. He's less a man than an unstoppable force, which is exactly how I think he'd appear to the criminals of Gotham City--especially the Joker. It may not be quite as good as Moore's Killing Joke, but it's the closest anyone's ever been.
Aaaaaand then there's Broken City. It was written in 2004, some years ago, and the plot is that Batman is trying to track down a murderer, and when a young boy loses his parents in Gotham, he tends to take it personally. And like Joker, Azzarello goes for the noir approach. It's Batman, but recharacterized as a 40s pulp detective.
And it does not work. Not for me. Joker worked, I think, because it was an outsider's perspective on the Joker, and Broken City fails because it tries to give an inner perspective on Batman that is just inconsistent with any notion of Batman I'm familiar with. To his defence, Azzarello tries to justify his approach, by establishing that this Batman is nearly insane after the death of his parents--the same basic approach that Frank Miller is taking right now in the All-Star Batman and Robin series. But I think he misses his mark. This isn't Batman, with a PI flavour. This is a PI flavour and the Batman part has been jammed onto it. Aside from the thematic connections of dead parents, this case could have been done by any generic detective character.
And the dialogue is really what drives home how out of place it all feels. For example, here's the text boxes given when Bruce Wayne cooks a steak:

I liked mine pink on the inside, not red or grey. I was after the perfect sizzle.
But I'd misjudged.
It was red. Raw. My tastes didn't run that way...
...But I wasn't the only man in town with an appetite.

Can you imagine what every day life must be like for poor old Wayne?
The glass was empty. Empty like the barrels of the revolver that shot my parents.
I'm out of milk. But like the crime that festers throughout my city, it's only a store away.
I looked her up and down, and then down again, for the extra practice. She looks at me like we've known each other our whole lives, but just now realized she never knew my name. She says, "sorry, this toll only accepts exact change."

And for those who think I'm making a mountain out of a noir molehill, here's his conversation with a moll whose in a state of deshabille:
Batman: "I'm looking for Angel."
"Guess I'm not doing my job."
"You are, trust me."
"It's hard to tell."
"Sure is, but you didn't hear it from me."
"Oooh, I love secrets."
"Really? I've got one."
"I bet it's big."
Really? A Batman that flirts with mob girls? It would work for the Operative, or Mike Hammer, but the Caped Crusader? Not so much. You just know if he takes her home, Alfred's going to get sooooo uppity.
All right, time to stop before I get (more) ranty.
To sum up: Joker as gangster. Clever reinvention. Batman as pulp detective. Waste of a perfectly good iconic superhero.

Later Days.

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