Monday, October 01, 2007


Although I don't regularly read any DC superhero books currently (and follow only a handful of Marvel's superhero series), in my early days of comics-collecting I was an avid reader of all of the various Superman and Batman series, starting with the shock-value "Death of Superman" and "Knightfall" stories and continuing for a few years until my interest in the characters, their changing creative teams and their meandering adventures came to an end. Since then, I've occasionally checked in with those characters, mostly in stand-alone miniseries or graphic novels.

DC's in endless-crossover mode these days, but they've still handed the reins of Batman over to Grant Morrison, and his most recent arc is a stand-alone piece with art by J.H. Williams III (the reason I picked it up). Morrison is about to be one cog in a Bat-books crossover resurrecting villain Ra's Al Ghul, but for now he's allowed to sort of be off in his own universe, which is of course the place where he functions the best. He focuses here on the Club of Heroes, also known as the Batmen of All Nations, a relatively obscure and odd concept for which Morrison clearly has much affection (he previously used two of the characters in a JLA Classified arc). Of course, I had to resort to Wikipedia to learn about the history of these characters, since Morrison just drops the reader right into the story with virtually no explanation of who the players are, which was especially frustrating since the story he presents is a closed-door murder mystery. Called to a remote island by their onetime benefactor, the Club of Heroes start getting picked off one by one, presumably by one of their own.

Morrison maintains an eerie, distant tone here, one that makes it hard to engage with the story, and Williams' unconventional page layouts (one of his greatest strengths) add to the sense of disconnect. So although I felt a little uneasy while reading the story, the reveal of the murderer at the end elicited more of a "Huh?" reaction from me than any sort of satisfaction. (Then again, I found the first issue of the JLA Classified story with some of these characters entirely incomprehensible. DC-continuity buffs might find more here to appreciate.)

If Morrison's problem is that he knows too much about obscure Batman continuity and is too eager to show that off, Sam Kieth has the opposite problem in his two-issue miniseries Batman/Lobo: Deadly Serious. This is the third Batman-related mini that Kieth has done for DC in recent years (after Batman: Secrets and Scratch, which featured the Dark Knight in a supporting role), and I can only guess that he does them for the paycheck so that he can finance his more personal indie projects - although it's been over a year since the first issue of his latest Oni series, My Inner Bimbo, came out, with no second issue yet in sight.

Whatever his motivations, it doesn't seem that Kieth has a whole lot to say about Batman, instead using the character to explore his own pet themes, primarily the way that strong women can be threatening to insecure men, and the way that femininity can be an almost mystical force, especially when perceived from outside. Deadly Serious is, on one hand, a complete throwaway of a team-up story between two characters who have no reason to work together. It's got a flimsy premise and a contrived set-up, and it all ends abruptly. On the other hand, it's a weird metaphor for how macho men like the title characters are disturbed and frightened by the natural processes of women's bodies, featuring a sort of grotesque exaggeration of PMS that finds perfectly innocent women going nuts and slaughtering large numbers of people.

Kieth best examines these ideas when he's not shackled to the conventions of the superhero story (even though this is not an especially conventional superhero story), so other than providing him the chance to create some very pretty full-color art (his recent indie work has been in black and white) this series doesn't have a whole lot to offer. It's better than the derivative, unfocused Scratch, but not nearly as successful a marriage of character and creator as Secrets was in its best moments. Both of these books, though, are far more appealing to me than one long, neverending superhero crossover.

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