Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wednesday Is A Long Day, Yet I Don't Care #94

Batman: Orphans #1
Batman: Orphans #2
The Occultist One-Shot (2010)
Star Wars: Legacy: War #1

Batman: Orphans #1 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
Rick Veitch has Swamp Thing meeting Jesus Christ through the wood on the cross. The Daredevil story after “Born Again” by Miller and Simonson. “Twilight of the Superheroes.” You hear about these great projects that for some reason or another never came off, and it feeds this hunger in fans to raid the file cabinets at the Big Two and liberate the epic unpublished works of their imagining. Yet, the truly great “lost works” rarely get far enough into production to ever be rescued, because they were never approved or even submitted before the deal turned bad. Otherwise, they sound awesome, so why not publish them in full? No, the instances where a company has forked over good money to see a project to completion, and then shelve it are about the same as happens in television and movies. It’s when the finished project is so rancid, so far beneath even our own dismal cultural standards, they figure it isn’t worth the damage to their reputations to (likely in vain) attempt to recoup their investment. However, in these dying days of the comic industry, when a book involving Batman is guaranteed to sell what a black and white indie book did in 1983, that’s good enough reason to reach back to this orphaned four issue mini-series neglected since 2003.

The story starts out okay, even if dead faux Robin initiating a murder mystery is hardly original. It’s kind of cool seeing Renee Montoya and Crispus Allen as memorable supporting characters on the GCPD rather than shitty fill-ins for super-heroes, and a new black reporter named Samantha Locke is a relief from a Vicki Vale appearance. I liked the coloring, and the letterer did this cute “Orphans” logo with a Batman silhouette in the middle of the “O.” Carlo Barberi is one of two artists who picked up Humberto Ramos’ tighter, detailed, more Art Adamsy style from between leaving Impulse and starting Crimson that I missed so much after he got all loosey-goosey. I dug seeing Dick Grayson and Tim Drake in their last good costumes, and a young Latino vigilante was introduced with some potential. The kid getting “jumped-in” by a gang of potential new “Robins” under an ersatz Batman was a nifty idea.

Well, of course stupid shit started stinking up the joint. The reporter’s cameraman is named Sam Jackson, and speaks almost entirely in quotes from Samuel L. Jackson movies. That hurt at least as much to type as it did for you to read. For “credibility,” writer Eddie Berganza peppers dialogue with Spanish while otherwise writing in English, which rang so true with El Dorado in Super Friends. Ai-yi-yi. While I enjoy looking at individual Barberi panels, his style is completely inappropriate for a story about snuffing teenagers, and he had major issues with storytelling. Still, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d been led to believe.

Now, in a bargain so unusual you should be rightly suspicious, the second issue of the planned mini-series is in the first published comic of two for what was DC Comics’ standard price for a few months there. That’s probably because the book jumps the shark from this point. The first splash page of chapter two is a couple of kids having sweaty sex in bed, followed by not-Robin emerging with blood dripping down his face that –whoops—was supposed to be lipstick. His girlfriend then councils a seemingly pre-pubescent Harry Potter looking boy to masturbate, euphemistically-like. Another Orphan juices up on a Venom steroid derivative, and forcibly injects the new teammate. That might have been fresh in Brat Pack, but it’s just ugly, obvious and stale over a decade later in a non-satirical work.
The Penguin gets information from an informant, then lets one of his hot chick bodyguards kill the guy rather than paying for his aid. Do the hot chick bodyguards ever think that maybe the Penguin will sick new giant ninja bodyguards on them some day. Forget it being bad writing—it’s just bad business sense. No wonder the Penguin remains the least popular and most generally useless Batman villain known to general audiences.

The real Robin and Nightwing spend a second issue dicking around on the Batcomputer. They find articles on each of the Orphans, whom they haven’t met yet. The black one is from the ‘hood created by the former Jim Owsley, and the kid’s dead father figure was named Owsley. I’m torn between the 4th wall breaking and the race relations backstepping. The girl in the group was of course molested by her adoptive father, because like the black kid from the hood, that’s how the token girl gets done in this kind of crap.

The dialogue is such a train wreck of exposition, movie quotes, and posturing nonsense that it’s sometimes hard to follow who’s saying what and why. The artist is all-thumbs in the panel-to-panel progression department, so that only compounds the storytelling problems. Then the narcotic dream sequences kick in with these fucking ridiculous manga figures running around. Of course there’s the umpteenth revisitation of Batman and Robin’s origins, but never before has one been so awful as to offer the Joker singing a full length parody version of “Danny Boy.” This is when things get so miserable, you can’t believe this isn’t like some hidden camera comic written by Sasha Baron Cohen where you finally realize a year down the line that they were only trying to get a rise out of you. No way someone leaned back in their chair, checked those words on their monitor, and thought DC Comics would pay them for something this fucktarded. Right?

Batman: Orphans #2 (DC, 2011, $3.99)
The final issue of this micro-series starts off with a third chapter that falls somewhere between the first and second in terms of quality. All of the same problems are present, but the heroes are finally active participants, and it’s at least readable again. There are enormous bricks of dialogue that don’t say much of anything. The violent girl with rape as her motivation turns out to be crazy and promiscuous, the trifecta of throwaway females in action scripts. The other crazy murderous chick (this one working for the Penguin) seems to get killed by one of the least threatening Batman villains, so her being built up is now doubly pointless. In fact, everyone is killing everyone by the end of this, and it becomes clear the Orphans were handled so maliciously because the writer had no affection for his own children. There’s even a betrayal from within their ranks that is kind of sad, because they’re all vicious little shits, so who cares if one is only slightly more bent and self-centered than the rest? At least the traitor is motivated to stand apart.

The last chapter is a clusterfuck of incompetence. Characters who were near death suddenly kick ass again at the plot’s convenience. Fucked up crap happens to bring the kewl, regardless of logic. There are some more supposed reveals, but in a story so uninvolving and scatterbrained, they are just there because that’s how a story is supposed to start wrapping up. There are also elements of tragedy, but since there’s no sense of any progression of time, it’s hard to buy anyone getting wound up over the deaths of people awful people met within the last day or so. Batman throws a fight to prove a point, which in the midst of a gang war seems awfully hospitable of him.

Speaking of which, the scale of this mess expands to include at least the upper eastern seaboard, with requisite cameos, but there’s nothing in the script that sells that level of concern from so many parties. My favorite bit though is the big conclusion where virtually the entire Batman rogues gallery has a group of protagonists surround, but decide to just walk away off-panel empty-handed. Don’t get me wrong, the last page is drowning with overlapping text that’s hard to follow from balloon to balloon (not a new issue) tripping over itself trying to make sense, and there’s even one last gasp of a hopeful continuation, but of what? The chief protagonist is a cipher, the reporters are ultimately generic, there’s no villains to carry on with… there’s just nothing here.

I can see where “Orphans” would have made for a strong pitch to an editor, especially because a fellow editor at DC was doing the pitching. There are a lot of fun ideas with potential here, but they’re peanuts in poop. Once again, intentions are foiled by poor execution from every single person involved in this project except maybe the colorist. Depending on who was responsible for arranging the word balloons, maybe the letter can walk from this one as well… but only maybe.

The Occultist #1 (Dark Horse, 2010, $3.50)
There is absolutely nothing original about Dark Horse Comics publisher Mike Richardson's latest super-heroic creation, so it's a good thing he was smart about his hired hands. I bought this one shot teaser based on my enjoyment of Tim Seeley's Hack/Slash, and he continued to earn my goodwill here. The basic premise is Peter Parker as the new Doctor Fate, and since Richardson didn't get the Valiant characters with the Classic Media/Western Publishing license, the Occultist battles a technomancing-flavored Master Darque. Regardless, Seeley lays out the origin well, the art by Victor Drujiniu and Jason Gorder is fine, and I'd be willing to try an economically priced future trade collection of the inevitable mini-series (as this book ended on a mild cliffhanger.)

Star Wars: Legacy War-- #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $3.50)
Whether this is a mini-series meant to give the several years old Legacy ongoing series a strong send-off or some extra juice in a relaunch, this book is fat with exposition I could not give a rat's ass about. I'm just not the target audience here, as my affection for Star Wars was tapped out by the prequels, and no amount of tribal tattoos or stubble makes up for this being the same old shit. Human history may be repetitive, but we're always inventing compelling new methods of murdering each other, under a wealth of banners. Non-Jedi Luke Skywalker Jr. with a pissy attitude waving the same old lightshlong at terribly familiar Sith (including a big boss he had already killed once) for hundreds of fictional years is just the latest example of a three decade long creative atrophy in real time.

Another thing that bugs me is that so many of the characters are reminiscent of the Rob Liefeld generator model. Luke + Han = Cade Skywalker. There's no Chewie, so Lando has to pull double duty as sidekick, modernized with dreadlocks. Take one of the sideline aliens from an earlier movie, tart him up like Darth Maul, misspell "Warlock," you get Darth Wyyrlok. His second? Stryfe. Of course there's a Lord Havok. How about a dude with one cybernetic eye? Destroyed planets whose fates cannot be taken seriously because their names sound liker baby talk (verbatim: "Dac, Da Soocha, Napdu!") It's bad enough when pop eats itself, but this is like that dance song I heard on the radio the other day with rapper-quality singing and a sample of Jennifer Warnes' vocals from "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" as its chorus. At least pop used to have the good sense to eat its own ass meat, but now its slurping the shit out of its own lower intestine.

Jan Duursema's art is really appealing, possibly her best looking work since she was being inked by Tom Mandrake back in the '80s. Inker Dan Parsons rings a bell, and I suspect he has a lot to do with Duursema's leap in quality. Writer John Ostrander says a lot by saying a lot, in nice thick word balloons of tedious jibba-jabba. It doesn't help to bring me up to speed if I don't care where you're going and get off at the first opportunity.

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