“We … do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; …” That’s a truncation of President John F. Kennedy’s famous Rice Stadium speech exhorting the American public to support the Apollo space program. It’s one of my favourite speeches, not just because it talks about the attempt to land a man on the moon, but because it answers why people are compelled to do the difficult things in life.
It’s axiomatic that we do what we love, but it’s in us to take on challenges to test ourselves. We want to succeed and stand out because it is a virtue that we expect to see in our heroes, and hopefully, within ourselves.
That’s the theme for this week’s comic review. So, let’s get to the list.
Batman Annual #3
I like how Tom Taylor holds the title of this Batman story back until the very end.
The devotion that Alfred has for Bruce Wayne is something of legendary proportions. He his not just his manservant, but he is a weaponsmith, technical support – he is literally Batman’s complete support team.
The question is: why?
This story answers that question in a touching, heartfelt way that demonstrates this devotion on a level that we can all appreciate and aspire to. Extraordinary times create extraordinary people. Alfred has a greater capacity than just sewing buttons, organizing schedules and deciding Bruce Wayne’s menu. Part of that capacity is his ability to love Bruce Wayne.
The reason for his devotion is simple but not reduced in terms of his status as an employee. He’s the only father that Bruce Wayne has ever known. What well-meaning parent would do less?
We have all wanted, at some point, a parent like that. However, for those of us who have kids, I think we have all wanted to be a parent like that.
That’s the gold standard right there and this is a wonderful story to make you feel good about Batman. That’s a challenge that is not only present in writing the story itself, but also present in parenting. “Father’s Day” is a tiny modicum of respect that long overdue to Alfred.
The Batman Who Laughs #1
In contrast, this isn’t a story to make you feel good about reading Batman. In fact, this story is so intricately crafted that it goes from mildly mysterious, to pressing danger to downright creeped out at the end. Luckily, this is a mini-series, so I’m sure the psychological damage will be recoverable. However, if you’re one of those readers who worries about continuity, then this might have you fretting about possible harm to the Batman history. If you’re a solid Batman fan though, then you have to see this thing through to the end regardless of the consequences.
I enjoyed this first issue. It was a well-crafted story with a premise that is simple enough in its inception but will have a great deal of entertaining ramifications in the end.
Jock and Scott Snyder … there’s a cool team. how can you resist that?
Star Trek: Waypoint Special #1
I wonder why they didn’t categorize this book as an annual?
Even so, it’s a bit over-priced if they did. $7.99 for an anthology of short stories of fairly unknown contributors. I’m not complaining though, after all, it’s Star Trek and in Khan Noonien Singh’s own words: “we are one big, happy fleet.” That alone means that it HAD to be published despite the lack of anticipation around it. In all honesty, I thought that the Waypoint series had been discontinued, and around the time of John Byrne’s departure from IDW (taking his Trek books with him), it just seemed to herald a decreased commitment on the part of IDW to Star Trek.
However, Chris Ryall’s return as top dog to IDW means that maybe there’ll be a turnaround in this regard. And as for John Byrne, does this mean that he never really left? Time will have to tell.
But I digress. This is about the book.
The first story, “Only You Can Save Yourself” is a wonderful look at the fusion of the different Dax entities within Ezri Dax as she shepherds a group of Starfleet survivors of a beleaguered station attacked by Andorians. I don’t remember when the Andorians were no longer members of the Federation or if there were rogue elements of the species with anti-Federation tendencies, so that was a bit fuzzy. Written by Dave Baker and drawn by Nicole Goux, I wasn’t overly fond of the art style but the story captured my attention.
The second story, ‘Consider Eternity’ by Brandon Easton and drawn by Josh Hood, is a great ‘whatever happened to …’ type of tale that imagines the meeting between the Vger lifeform from Star Trek: TMP and the Q. I have to say that while the art was truly great (Hood does a great likeness of John DeLancie), I have always been fascinated by Vger and enjoyed seeing a return to a cool Trek storyline.
‘My Human is Not’ by Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly and drawn by Sonny Lew was a touching examination of the relationship between Data and his cat, Spot. It’s interesting how the Lanzing and Kelley suppose that to the cat’s perception, Data is indeed human.
Matthew Dow Smith takes on both pencilling and scripting duties with ‘Histories’ and takes us to a planet a thousand years after the Federation has disappeared from the galaxy and that has a violent perception of the first contact between Starfleet and its population. When one member of their race sees a different interpretation of those historical events, his integrity is called into question.
This is a familiar theme revisited, but I had issues with the end of the story. For me, it fell a little short and it just didn’t really enthuse me.
Out of them all, I’d have to say that I enjoyed ‘My Human is Not’ out of them all. Why? Well, I just liked the affirmation of Data’s humanity. Even though he cannot perceive it, we know that his actions and concern for the cat are the human things to do. Even though he may not know why, Data is forced to do these things in pursuit of that ideal and that is the most accurate exploration of a character out of this anthology.
Star Wars: Han Solo – Imperial Cadet #2
Leonard Kirk and Robbie Thompson for the win with this great background story to one of Star Wars’ greatest adventurers.
I love looking back into this hero’s background as the movie has shown us, it’s a rich field that definitely needs more examination. Kirk’s art is always top shelf for me and I enjoyed Thompson’s gift with banter.
What was really cool to learn though is that Kirk has a gift for drawing tech. His work on TIE Fighters has been such a great discovery and though I already have two pieces of his work adorning my study walls, I think I’m going to have to ask him to draw a starfighter combat scene for me.
Yeah – that’s one of my compulsions coming through now!
Fantastic Four: Wedding Special #1
Loved this book. I think I just can’t resist a good anthology. But a good wedding needs a good send-off party and ‘(Invisible) Girls Gone Wild’ definitely fit the bill with a satisfying examination of the supportive friendships in the Fantastic Four and a touching affirmation of love from Ben Grimm for his bride. It had everything: friendships, a good monster donnybrook and even a few laughs in between. This was a great story from Gail Simone and Laura Braga.
‘Father Figure’ from Dan Slott and Mark Buckingham was not only another touching examination of how old-world and schmaltzy Ben Grimm can be as he approaches Alicia Masters’ step-father, the villainous Puppet Master, for permission to marry his step-daughter.
It’s a great premise and a really entertaining read that hits the right note when talking about the dynamics of a prospective marriage. Ben Grimm is characterized by his desire to simply do the right thing; it’s not just because of his experience and relationship with one of the premiere superhero teams of all team, it’s just his nature and if there’s one thing a person can’t resist: it’s his nature.
But it’s also important to see a collaboration between Slott and Buckingham. Both are two of my all-time favourite creators and it’s awesome to see them work together on a story.
‘The Puppet Master’s Lament’ is a throwback to those incredibly entertaining moments when Fred Hembeck used to amuse us with cartoons of well-known superhero, or in this case, super-villain talking heads. Now we get to hear the Puppet Master’s thoughts on the matter and sure enough, it takes a negative to prove a positive and Ben Grimm’s character is validated once more. Great stuff and this entire book was an absolute delight.
Don’t bait and switch us on this one, guys. I need more happy books!
As we return to the land of Ttereve, there’s one compulsion present in every fantasy story that this comic illustrates: good will always triumph over evil. In order for a society to flourish, the right will always have to prevail. There’s a sense of the ideal in this story that makes us all want to believe that we can live up to doing the right thing in our own lives.
But it’s always a battle.
Druscilla is the evil and Rose is the last chance that good has in order to bring peace to the embattled and corrupted land.
Meredith Finch and Ig Guara never fail to disappoint with this story; that’s what makes this a compulsive read for me.
Hey Kids … Comics! #5
There is something about this book that forces Howard Chaykin to write it. It makes me wonder about his motivations though. Is this pent-up rage against all those creators who either got more recognition than him or a slap in the face to all those executives who made their fortunes off the backs of creators like him? I also wonder if there is some sort of personal animosity against one of these particular characters who stand in for the real-life historical figures or is Chaykin just feels its his responsibility to inform the millennial generation about where all of the ideas they read today came from.
Yeah, lots of burning questions in this one and lots of levels of appreciation.
The first level: did I like it? Of course. Even soaked in vitriol from unknown sources, it’s a compelling historical read about the sordid background of this industry, in which creators of the latter half of the twentieth century began with hopes and dreams of creating and getting paid for their craft. Anyone who is thickly rooted in this industry knows of the antagonisms and jealousies that paved the way for the multi-million dollar enterprise comics has become. History needs to be appreciated and I like this story for this simple fact alone.
The second level: the origins. Like I mentioned earlier, I have a lot of wonder about Chaykin’s reasons for writing this story. He could very well be one of his own characters. He came up through the industry the hard way, either being screwed over or at least knowing friends who were screwed over. Whatever the reason though, it’s clear that it is a compelling one that rises above the sheer simple need to be paid – although, if there’s anything that Chaykin has taught us in this book is that the pursuit of the almighty dollar could very well be the noblest pursuit a comic creator can make and should not be underscored.
Finally, where does Chaykin fit in all this? Chaykin wasn’t born in the 40’s but in the 50’s when the comics industry in America was going through one of the harshest decades of acceptance of it being a valid artform and medium. It was a time of great embarrassment to be a comic writer or artist. Mentored by the legendary Gil Kane (who Chaykin would probably tell you would scoff at such a grandiose appellation), the comparison that Chaykin makes between then and now makes me wonder how he regards himself as an artist. Chaykin can be a combination of brutally self-deprecating and also appreciative of his own accomplishments. It’s a curious mixture that I think that somewhere in the middle is the answer to that question. Chaykin is a bit of a mystery in that regard, but I think I tend not to take him personally in my own conversations with him.
He is affable, engaging, crushingly honest and an irascible personality that I find challenging and entertaining. I mean, his evolution of conversation dances from one topic to the next, interconnected by a thread so sublime that I have been, at times, hard-pressed to keep up with him.
And I think that describes his writing style. His books are the type of books that one cannot turn away from and that need to be read. The force of personality in his narrative is so strong that it demands your attention and when the title screams: “Hey Kids … Comics!”, it is not a mere throwback to a yesteryear style of advertising, but a command to the kid in all of us who grew up with comics to sit back and read about Chaykin’s perception of the industry’s history and the way it was, instead of some gilded, puffed-pastry piece of what the industry of today would have you believe.
It’s Chaykin. Chaykin’s compulsion to tell the unvarnished truth married to his love of the comics medium is what sets this book apart for me for this week. It’s a compulsion borne out of the two traits that I think identify him the most in my list of favourite creators. I can’t think of another instance of greater recognition of the various dimensions of this medium, nor can I think of a greater tribute.
That’s why it’s the pick of the week for this list.
Until I’m compelled to write again – see you next week.