content by

Lenny Bailes

A Batman For Every Season

Once upon a time, I had the great privilege of sharing a table with Mike Ford, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Dave Howell, and Neil Gaiman to participate in a Bat-discussion with the following description:

Batman is a rock-solid icon—and changes with the wind. From the 1930s “guy who punches everything” to the cheesy trivializations of the 1950s and the pop caricatures of the 1960s, to Miller’s epochal The Dark Knight Returns and the later movies, this supposedly consistent character has undergone major metamorphoses. What happened, why, and what’s cool about it?

In the course of the discussion, we touched upon a number of caped crusader flavors. Individual preferences were expressed; but a consensus soon emerged—that what makes Batman great is the multiplicity of ways in which he has been, and can be rendered. The Batman character transcends the editorial, story writing, and artistic styles of any given production team. I came away from this discussion believing (and still believe, today) that Batman is an essential piece of American folklore.

[It’s like they’re asking for an insane clown to terrorize them….]

Series: Bat-Week

Who’s Who in Fabletown—and why you might want to know

And you know the sun’s settin’ fast,
And just like they say, nothing good ever lasts.
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye,
But hold on to your lover,
’Cause your heart’s bound to die.

—“Our Town,” Iris DeMent

A quick Google search on the word “fable” yields the following pithy definitions:

  • A short moral story (often with animal characters)
  • Legend: a story about mythical or supernatural beings or events
  • A fable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized (given human qualities), and that illustrates a moral lesson (a “moral”), which may at the end be expressed explicitly in a pithy maxim.

Bill Willingham’s Fables is an ongoing monthly comic book that meets all of those criteria in its storytelling. But the most important thing I want to tell you about Fables is that it always contains really good storytelling and artwork. Once you start in on it, if you’re like me, you won’t want to miss a single issue. The book has been appearing since 2002, but I didn’t pick up on it until several years ago.

[In a fictional land called New York City….]

Series: Fables Reread

Kurt Vonnegut’s Look at the Birdie—the last of the wine?

The fiction of Kurt Vonnegut  is something I always took for granted while he was alive. There would always be more of it, just like the world never runs out of David Letterman. Kurt would be there with Dave on late night TV, too—and at colleges, reminding us to be kind to one another and remember our good teachers.

I miss Kurt Vonnegut now. I was happy to see this slim volume of unpublished short stories appear at my local sf book store several months ago. It’s one more chance to hear his voice. The last one? I don’t know.

Kurt Vonnegut’s  irreverent voice was (is) as natural to the symphonies of science fiction as brass instruments are to an orchestral ensemble. His first published short story, “Report on the Barnhouse Effect,” earned Vonnegut a canonical place in American Literature as a tolerable “representative of science fiction.” After an initial sale to Collier’s Weekly in 1950, the story was dutifully reprinted in English textbooks all over the United States. (It was there in my junior year high school textbook, sandwiched between Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and Bret Harte’s “The Luck of the Roaring Camp.”)

[Those who believe in telekinetics raise my hand …]

Tangent: Superman’s Reign

If you’re troubled and you can’t relax
Close your eyes and think of this

If the rumors floating in your head
all turn to facts
Close your eyes and think of this

Armenia, city in the sky!

The sky is glass, the sea is brown
And everyone is upside-down!

The Who, The Who Sell Out

Are you a comics reader who’s mostly OD’d on superhero books? But once in a while you find something that sends you back to your local comic shop in search of back issues? Are you picky—and get thrown out of a story unless the artwork is good enough to keep your eyes on the page? If so, then Tangent: Superman’s Reign might just be your cup of tea. This 12-chapter story is full of characters with familiar names—but the people behind the names are completely different from the ones you think you know in standard DC comics. I liked the original 12-issue presentation of this well enough to nominate it for a Hugo, last year. But when I plowed into the new two-volume trade edition for this review, it struck me as mysteriously flat. I wondered what was going on until I went back and reviewed the original monthly serial.

I have a small bone to pick with the format and organization of the two trade volumes that collect Tangent: Superman’s Reign. In the original monthly comic books, the story opens with an impressively-illustrated sequence at a dramatic high point:

[We all get what we deserve in life. No more, no less …]

Exploring DC’s Wednesday Comics—Wrapup

Wednesday Comics, DC’s experiment with reviving full-color, large format comic strips in a weekly 11″ x 17″ foldout booklet, has now completed its run.  My initial thoughts on the project (four weeks in) are here.  Now that all twelve weeks have come and gone, I find myself missing it.

DC Editorial Director Dan DiDio characterized the project as a tremendous gamble for the company in an interview given to Newsarama early in the run. Apparently, the DC editorial staff engaged in quite a bit of internal thrash about following through on the groundbreaking concept. But the good news for fans of large-sized comic book artwork is that editor Mark Chiarello stuck to his guns through all of the editorial deflection: “must be large page format, has to have that Sunday morning experience, has to be newsprint.” The project came to fruition as Chiarello envisioned it, and there haven’t been very many negative reviews.

[A meta-human, an alien, and a dinosaur walk into a bar ….]

Green Lantern: First Flight—a review and overview

Green Lantern: First Flight, the latest direct-to-DVD release from the DCAU (DC Animated Universe), shows traces of  the “reduced age” demographic guidelines imposed upon producer-artist Bruce Timm back when Timm was working for television networks. Significant portions of this 77-minute cartoon adventure may be distinguishable from other “blow up the bad guys” manga only to comic book readers already familiar with the myth of the Green Lantern Corps and their amazing power rings.  

But you might also be someone who likes good “blow up the bad guys” manga. (Be warned that GL:FF is an Americanized flavor. It’s space opera for kids, not quite like Teen Titans.)  

[Read more ….]

It’s Sunday on Wednesdays now! (Exploring DC’s Wednesday Comics)

Wednesday Comics  is something new and special from DC Comics: a large-format weekly periodical that offers gorgeous artwork and tightly-paced writing. It presents the serial adventures of 15 popular DC heroes and villains in full-color 11″ x 17″ glory.

Sunday comics supplements in today’s newspapers aren’t really what they used to be. Market forces have reduced the size of the panels, the number of pages, and the quality of what you can see there. The Wednesday Comics reviewer over at SCI FI Wire nails this down eloquently, although he’s more scornful of modern Sunday comics pages than I would be:

… decades before; there were continuing adventure strips, some of them downright glorious, with vistas of art and detail that made their exotic settings live and breathe. [….] It was the time of Alex Raymond and Milton Caniff and Chester Gould and Hal Foster, and it was beautiful.

Speaking of Prince Valiant/Hal Foster, when I first opened Wednesday Comics, my eyes were immediately drawn to Ryan Sook’s vivid rendition  of Jack Kirby’s Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth. Kamandi has been having a bit of a comeback lately. Batman has dropped in on Kamandi’s post-catastophe future Earth twice in the Cartoon Network’s  Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series. If you’ve got a young science fiction fan in your household, he or she might love the Kamandi strip: far-future adventures of the last boy on Earth in a world populated by Jack Vanceian animal-men. (It might not hurt to ask writer Dave Gibbons to add a few high-ranking animal-women to the mix.)

[More below the fold ….]

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