Thursday, November 27, 2008

Recent Re-Reads: Batman - War Games, Acts 2 and 3

Okay, better late than never. While I've still got it roughly in my head, I figure I'll talk about what turned me off about the rest of War Games.

I think I mentioned that what I liked was the mass-Gang-Warfare that was tearing Gotham apart, leaving Batman pretty impotent to stop it. He was pretty much going from one place to another putting out fires, without achieving anything noteworthy. It was like Knightfall writ large. In that story, he was chasing down a couple dozen psychopaths, whereas here every street gang in Gotham went to war at the same time.

But after the first act, the story felt like it lost focus on those players. You stop hearing mention of the specific gangs involved. The whole thing seems to just descend into anarchy. And by the third act that's precisely what happens. While anarchy might very well be a more frightening scenario, they never really stated why the gangs fell apart.

Instead, these acts focused on the notion that since this was all based on Batman's plans, then Batman knows what he has to do in order to 'win'... and what happens when that completely backfires on him. Here you have a classic Batman-is-a-dick moment, when he overrides Police Commissioner Akins and basically takes charge of the Gotham police. When he blows it, he's blown any trust that Akins had for him, and made an enemy of the cops. Now, I think this was pretty much an editorial mandate... but so soon after Bruce Wayne: Fugitive when Bruce realizes he needs to soften up a little, let his friends and associates in a little further, and act less like an ass... well, is't it a bit soon for this?

Then there's the torture of Stephanie Brown. While, thankfully, DC decided to spare us the explicit details (a decision they wouldn't repeat in Infinite Crisis, or the DC Universe at large in it's wake) there's still a lot of uncomfortable violence directed her way. But while it's not something I'm comfortable with, it actually sat better with me on the re-read. I shudder to think what we would've seen had this been a little more contemporary. When DC shows us Wonder-Dog mauling Marvin fatally and chasing Wendy around Titans Tower... who knows?

But ultimately, one of the most disappointing things about War Games is that while it was a major crossover event designed to change Batman's continuity... it barely hung in there before it was almost completely reversed. And now that Spoiler has returned, there's almost no element of this story that still stands. In hindsight, War Games is completely skippable, and for something that dominated eight titles for three months, that's kindof sad.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Recent Re-Reads: Batman - War Games, Act 1

So between large boxes of comics once a month, I'm spending a lot of time re-reading stuff I've already purchased. This helps justify my actually keeping my comics, as well as allowing me to help update entries in my database.

So last week, I re-read the three-month, 25-chapter epic War Games. This book occupied every book DC published that was even tangentially related to the Batman universe. Even Legends of the Dark Knight which was usually kept exempt from crossovers was occupied. This story is relevant, considering my recent rant on liking Marvel's crossovers more than DC's because of the lasting impact on their respective universes. Particularly, my gripe was that Marvel accomplished visible goals with their crossovers while DC tends to just use theirs as a reset button.

This one is an exception to that rule. This crossover largely existed to shake up Batman's status quo, revamping his relationship with Gotham's police and set up a new 'head criminal' in Gotham. So in this case, DC was actually doing something I think was worthwhile. The problem is that after the first third, I think the story just flounders.

Here's the gist. I think by now we all know that Batman plans for every possible (and apparently impossible) contingency. I mean, a man who keeps a backup PERSONALITY is probably ready for everything. Including the possibility that every gang in Gotham might go to war at the exact same time. Stephanie Brown, who was Robin for about a week, steals that particular contingency plan, and decides she's going to prove herself to Batman by carrying it out. I mean, if she can make one of his plans work, then he was wrong to fire her... right? Show of hands if you think this was a good idea.

She sets up a meeting with all of Gotham's top (non-lunatic) criminals, and is suitably shocked when they start killing each other. Out of 21 attendees, eight survive. So most of Gotham's gangs are now leaderless and wanting blood. This part of the story highlights Batman's helplessness to contain the chaos. Tim is still retired as Robin, Nightwing isn't even in Gotham yet, so it's basically him, Catwoman and Batgirl versus every crook in Gotham. Nightwing does make it to Gotham in this chapter, but he's got his own baggage. This act basically culminates in a standoff between several gangs of criminals and the police at Tim Drake's high school where one of his fellow students (and daughter of one of the new mob bosses) has been shot. Batman and his crew are able to save the day, but not in time to save the girl, who's bled out.

Throughout this first act, Batman has no idea what's going on, or what prompted all this. He's wondering who's behind it. The audience only learns as Stephanie confides in Catwoman that she set up the fatal gangland meeting, but that the key figure involved didn't show up... some hood named 'Matches' Malone. (Most Batman fans are aware that 'Matches' Malone is a criminal identity Bruce Wayne set up for dealing directly with Gotham's underworld to gather information, etc.)

Through this first act of the story, it's directed and tight. Sadly, that doesn't seem to last beyond the first act. I'll see if I can't post tomorrow to discuss where this one goes downhill in Act 2.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Vaya con Dios, Blue Beetle

One of the books that I’m most disappointed about in that regard is a book like Blue Beetle, which we are cancelling. That’s a book that we started with very high expectations, but it lost its audience along the way. Recently, we felt that it was standing on firmer ground, and was getting a more positive response. The problem is that the firmer ground and positive response is not enough to keep the book afloat. So unfortunately, we had to cancel that series.

So sayeth Dan Didio in a recent interview with Newsarama.

I've been thinking a lot about the Blue Beetle for the past couple of days. While having lunch with a friend yesterday, I remember saying that I just didn't love it as much as I did when John Rogers was writing it but I couldn't really come up with a reason why. And it's not the first time I've had that opinion of the series... I initially dropped it after the sixth issue, learning that the Scarab was a piece of alien technology. I don't know if it was that conclusion specifically, but something in the book failed to grab me at that point, and it took me eight months to give it another chance.

Now, I haven't dropped the book. I thought about it after Will Pfeifer's two issues, but ultimately decided to hang in there to see if Matt Sturges could do anything. I thought about all this while I tried to pinpoint what it was that was missing, and after a day and a half or so, I think maybe what's gone missing is a sense of direction. When John Rogers introduced the Reach in issue #12, he started a story that essentially ran for 14 issues, and provided the Blue Beetle with a threat that only he could sense, much less stop. And the last four issues of his run were a thundering conclusion that cemented Jaime Reyes as a hero... and brought that story to a close.

The thing is... direction requires time and stability. Following Rogers, we got three issues that could essentially have been skipped. Jai Nitz' experiment in Spanish-language comics, and two stories by WIll Pfeifer did more to hurt the book, I think, than anything. Hindsight is 20/20, and it seems to me that following Rogers' run on the book, what it needed was someone who was going to stick with it, and take it somewhere. That's why I've stuck around, even though the book doesn't feel to me that it's 'as good'. I want to give Matt Sturges a chance to get his feet under him with the character, and try to go somewhere. Too bad it sounds like he won't get the chance.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Marvel Comics Events

I'm just pondering before going to sleep late today... what do people think the resolution of Secret Invasion will be? I was talking with Chad about this a bit over lunch today. There's some belief out there that the logical conclusion is a Skrull occupation of Earth. I think this would be cool, but it would be too disruptive to books that have, in recent years, been permitted to go on with their own stories without having to bend the knee to big events. (Captain America and Daredevil spring to mind.)

I got to thinking about it another way... the last two massive events (House of M and Civil War) implemented massive editorially-mandated changes to the entire Marvel Universe. House of M removed almost all mutations from the planet, making mutant-minority stories relevent again. Civil War shook up all of the character relationships, increasing the levels of uncertainty present in the Marvel Universe, while creating a grey-area for unsanctioned heroes to function in.

What kind of editorial goals could be accomplished in Secret Invasion? Is the Hood's recently revealed connection to Dormammu going to lead to a resurgence of mystical characters in the Marvel Universe? (Dr. Strange has been conspicuously absent since World War Hulk.) Is a Skrull occupation (or at least presence) on Earth going to lead to a more prominent connection to Marvel's cosmic heroes like the Guardians of the Galaxy?

One thing I have to give Joe Quesada credit for, is that many of the crossovers and events on his watch have served an editorial function and been used to tweak the Marvel Universe... and while I may kick and scream about the individual changes, it probably IS more interesting to read than it was three or four years ago.

Anybody have any thoughts on where this is all going?