Thursday, July 16, 2009

But Eventually They'd Better Do That 18-part Ace The Bat-Hound Miniseries I've Been Craving.

So Batman.

I fell in love with the character pretty late in life--my teens, to be exact. And it wasn't the comics that did it. It was Tim Burton's dementedly delightful movie Batman Returns, which bears a superficial resemblance to his imaginative but somewhat hollow first movie but is about a million times more witty and creative on a story level. It's also the movie that started (it seems to me) the tide of fanboy grumbling about how Batman wasn't being done "right". Ironically, it was shortly followed by Batman: The Animated Series, which quickly consumed me with its dazzling production design and near-perfect distillation of all the best Batman tropes. My love for both of these two versions of Batman, which popped up in such rapid succession, caused me to realize quickly that there was no single version of Batman, or indeed any comic book character who's been around that long. He's a great icon to be constantly reinvented, as the comics themselves have been arguing lately.

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's Batman and Robin is a thing of beauty. People have been carping about Morrison's run on Batman for a while now, with the exception of the J. H. Williams-drawn "League of Heroes" storyline, largely because of the artists. The standard line is "Morrison's only as good as his artist", which isn't really true--"Morrison needs a great artist to be really great" is closer to the mark. And the art in the "Son of the Bat" storyline was pretty determinedly mediocre. But I liked where the story was going and the fun Morrison was having with the form. I know nothing about Bat-continuity, but ideas like Bruce Wayne having a son from a previous liason with Talia, or the entirety of his insane 50s-era adventures having been part of a psychological experiment to create a backup personality in case of psychological attack, were pretty nifty as far as I was concerned. It did feel a bit like editorial mandate had swerved things away from the more purely fun and creative work Morrison wanted to do for the sake of "Final Crisis" and who knows what else, but I did like the end result when all is said and done. At the time, the ultra-skanky Joker bothered me a bit (and again, I think he was inserted partly because of the popularity of the movie The Dark Knight--left to his own devices, Morrison might have left the Joker out completely, or at least sidelined him more) but the way he collided with Morrison's utterly, gleefully demented revamp of Batman's Silver Age continuity, culminating in that David Lynch-style final battle that seemed to be taking place deep within Batman's psyche, proved electrifying. At any rate, Morrison seems to have finally cleared the decks for the Batman story he *really* wants to write, something in the mode of All-Star Superman, but featuring a total reinvention rather than a distillation of the Bat-mythos. With Quitely on art, the whole thing is now rocketing forward like the new flying Batmobile. I'll do another review in a few more issues' time, but I can't imagine this continuing to be anything less than great.

And speaking of Batman and J. H. Williams, the new Detective Comics featuring Batwoman by Williams and written by Greg Rucka is pretty awesome too. Here the thrill comes from the art more than the writing, though the latter is perfectly servicable if not solid. I think Rucka's gotten a little bit of an unfair shake from the art-comics types who are far more excited by Williams; the Crime Bible stuff is a pretty cool idea, honestly, and the new villain, Alice, has possibilities. Besides, any writer who can provide a solid, non-flashy underpinning for a comic where the artist is the superstar deserves major credit in my book. Not showing off is its own skill, you know?

But anyway, Williams is clearly the big draw here; one of those clever people at The Savage Critics or The Mindless Ones (both great comics-review journals; the latter is where Lester Bangs would be contributing if he were A) a comics writer and B) still alive) described this work as the modern day equivalent of Steranko, which hit the nail on the head. I do sometimes worry that Williams' style will overwhelm the story, which is, again, why he's such a good fit with this script: it's as straightforward as can be, so he's free to zazz it up. The best part is his reversion to straightforward ligne claire style during the bits where Batwoman, aka Katey Kane, is in her civilian identity, contrasted with the lush and vibrant painterly style and snazzy, stained-glass-window layouts when she's in Batwoman mode. Like Morrison's run, this is an attempt to reinject fun and psychedelic weirdness back into a superhero comic that's been a little too heavy on the dour and dreary of late.

Which is exactly why the main Judd Winnick Batman title doesn't appeal--based on his first issue, the only one I plan to read, it's not technically terrible, it's just plodding and dull. And redundant. (Seriously, why couldn't Morrison's run just be the main Batman title?)

Still, it's exciting that so many people are trying to inject life back into the Bat-Universe, and it's certainly a hoot that so many are doing it in the absence of Bruce Wayne. Of course, Final Crisis teased us with Bruce's inevitable a caveman.

I'll be buying that, too.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Lens Cap of My Blog Was On

OK! The first Lemuria story, "Slaves of the Demon God", is (basically) finished. I'm hoping to complete all the colouring and so on by the end of this week. Then I go full tilt into finishing the backup story for the print comic--which, for you to see, will require you to buy it! This story will be set in Lemuria, but feature a different set of characters--I guess it's a Terry Pratchett sorta thing. (Ironic, because I'm not really a huge fan of Pratchett, and I didn't set out to emulate him in any way.)

However, Swordi and Sorcera will remain the primary characters, and their new adventure will be hitting the web early next month--I'll tentatively say August 3rd, though that may change. The working title is "Entangled by the Tourist Trap".

From there on out, I'll be updating once-weekly, probably on mondays. The pattern will remain the same--Swordi and Sorcera on the web, other stories that fill out the world of Lemuria (and will cross over with the S&S stories eventually!) will be print-only. The first of these is a 13 pager about two other important characters who will also be recurring in the Lemuria stories, Hummu Stitchthrice and Hordo of Atlantis. I'll let you know when this is available to buy!

As for everything else: Freak U. will update twice-weekly when Lemuria isn't running, and downgrade to once-weekly (on Wednesdays, I think) when it is. To be honest, one of the reasons I'm a bit spotty with updating the current storyline is that I'm rehashing the script pretty heavily. I do have an outline worked out for all this, but it's amazing how much it changes and shifts when I sit down to thrash out the details in script form. For instance, there have now been several occasions when a character was meant to be killed, or turn out to be more villainous than they ended up being, but I ended up having too much affection for them and shifted the story. I've mentioned Brandina, who was going to be Smiley's first victim and ended up a major character; Mo was going to die at the end of Book One as punishment for colluding with Smiley; and most recently, we've got Ruy, who was intended as more of an antagonist (though he was always going to be conflicted and sympathetic). But you know what? I'm not Joss Whedon or Brian K. Vaughn, as much as I love those guys. Freak U. is meant to be more simply lighthearted and comedic, and I don't want to fall into what Eric Burns calls "First and Ten Syndrome" (when a formerly lighthearted strip gets really angsty and dramatic and horrible things happen to the characters). There might be room for a sweet or sad moment, but I don't want them to overwhelm the strip.

Which means less struggling with The Dark Side and more rocking out. Of course, there's also the advantage that now I get to introduce the completely ridiculous and completely AWESOME Vatican Vampire Hit Squad to be the main source of conflict, in a last minute addition to this storyline. Of course, now the Ghost of Whedon is once again looming over the proceedings. Damn you, Whedon, get out of my brain!

(For the record--at least one character has actually gotten darker and nastier than they were intended to be originally. I'll leave it to you to look over Book Two and decide who that is, though I'll reveal it pretty unambiguously at the very end of Book Two.)

Oh, and then there's poor Night Shift, my bastard spawn. I always assume it'll take less time for me than it does because it's so easy to draw...but unfortunately, it's probably hardest to write. Because I have to be funny. In four boxes. Every freaking day. But anyway, it's going to update from next week (starting July 20th) through to whenever Lemuria starts up again. That will be the pattern for a while--Lemuria takes a few weeks off, Night Shift fills the gap.

As for Critterville, I'd really really like to do more stories, but obviously it's forced to be a bit of a low priority right now. Maybe once Freak U. Book Two wraps up?