Scooby Doo, What Are You?: Scooby Apocalypse

Scooby vol 1

There had been Scooby-Doo comics before but none like this.
A few years ago, DC Comics entered into partnership with Warner Brothers to create a line based on classic cartoon characters owned by the latter, to be done in a modern and up-to-date style by the former. In short, no matter how child-oriented and funny-absurd the characters were, they were going to be given a dose of the patented DC dark-as-hell approach. The results were mixed.
On the one hand, Space Ghost teamed up with Green Lantern in a serious fight-first-then-join-forces story befitting both heroes’ status as guardian forces. On the other, the Banana Splits re-invented themselves as hip-hop.
Snagglepuss became a gay Southern playwright in the McCarthyite Fifties, with Ruff’n’Reddy (who were just that bit before my time) as a washed-up nightclub duo who hated each other, but The Flintstones because a wonderfully naturalistic socio-political satire that deserved three times the twelve issues it got, at least.
Until now, all I know of Scooby-Doo is the full-page adverts in other DC Comics. They did not fill me with confidence. Now I’m going to see for myself whether there was any merit to this adaptation, or if it was the wholescale abortion I feared it was.
Before we drop into the story, let’s look at the five characters as they appeared on the cover of Scooby Apocalypse 1, the full page advert that repelled me so. Apart from their carrying bizarre SF guns and wearing short-sleeved as opposed to long-sleeved tops, Fred and Daphne looked more or less normal, though if you looked harder you could see that the latter had jettisoned her famous lavender tights for combat trousers (boo! hiss!).
Velma was drawn as virtually a midget, with much modernised and blank-lensed glasses and looked nowhere chunky, whilst Scooby-Doo himself was kitted out with some form of harness that fitted a metal circle in front of his right eye. But it was Shaggy whose look made you want to run screaming away from the title: ears visible, pierced, goatee extended in length and shape to full beard and a moustache added, a curled, immaculately trimmed moustache that spelt complete lack of understanding of character.
There were six alternate covers, including one for each star. Shaggy’s looked even worse.
This was going to be grim.
The creative team was the combination of Keith Giffen and J. M. de Matteis, the old Justice League International pairing on plot and script, with Howard Porter on pencils. The reset involved changing everyone’s characters. Daphne was now a pushy, egocentric TV reporter out to resurrect her career, with Freddie, or Fred, as her devoted but put upon cameraman, an out-and-out cynic who’s invisibly in love with her. Velma is a brainy scientist with contempt for lesser mortals (i.e., everyone else) working on a secret project to Save the Earth that she’s discovered has ulterior and sinister motives and repercussions (what secret Project worth it’s salt doesn’t?), and has solicited Daphne’s aid to expose it. Scooby Doo is the failed prototype Military smart dog, capable of rudimentary talk but totally lacking in viciousness and killer instinct, who gets involved trying to protect Doctor Dinkley, whilst Shaggy is a dog-trainer with a special protectiveness towards Scoob.
As you always knew was going to happen, they, not the four private ‘backers’ ended up in the Project’s Safe Space whilst the Apocalypse was triggered. And that was just issue 1.

Scooby vol 2

Of course, this now being serious comics, nobody likes each other, nobody trusts each other, everybody argues, even when monsters are trying to kill them. There are smart remarks on top of all this but they don’t really carry much weight.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go off on one about darkness. Not just yet, anyhow.
Six issues in, out of an eventual thirty-six, I came to a conclusion about what I was reading. Scooby Apocalypse is nothing but an adventure series obsessed with brutality, monsters and blood. Though I’ve neither read the comic nor watched the television series, it gives off the flavour of being a pretty direct rip-off of The Walking Dead. The story lacks anything genuinely original save the fact that it has been imposed onto the Scooby Doo gang, but their part in this bears no recognisable resemblance to the original cartoons. Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby are no different from football fans wearing flat facemasks of Eric Cantona, or whichever star floats their boat (I should know this as I have just such a Cantona mask myself: fun to wear but it doesn’t make me any more able to kick a ball where I want it to go than I ever could).
In addition, in the world’s least-unexpected twist, issue 6 was a solo delving into Velma’s history and revealing that the Four who were supposed to be behind the Project were actually the Five: her four brothers and her.
Every few issues there’s a back-up story featuring this world’s version of Scrappy Doo. Given that the original version belongs in a gallery of History’s Ten Worst ‘Creative’ Ideas, the transformation of the concept into a vicious, bloodthirsty monster intent on killing Scooby in as disgusting a manner as possible actually represents an amelioration, but like everything else in this series, it hasn’t got an ounce of originality to it.
So far as the ongoing story was concerned, Velma discovered something about the Nanite plague that had her throwing up and running away, in that order, definitely in that order, leaving a note of apology. The next issue was either an extravagant jump into a future where she’d become Queen of the Monsters and was dedicated to wiping humanity out, or else some kind of dream. The fact she was costumed in thigh high boots and a slightly more long-line Red Sonja bikini but otherwise drawn no differently kinda tipped the hand on that (flu: fever dream) whilst delaying the revelation by a cliche-filled month. The wait wasn’t worth it.
What it was was that whilst she had dreamed of elevating humanity, of squeezing out hate and selfishness and all the other ills, her brothers wanted a population of docile sheep, only they fucked it up because she was the genius and they weren’t. At least one is dead, a suicide but the fattest and most self-obsessed one, Rufus, a figure who makes Donald Trump look like a selfless philanthropist, is alive and not in the mood for a visit from the sister he despises and her friends.
Not that brother Rufus lasted long. His perspective on the mutates being a little like 179 degrees out, he ended up doing an Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man. With Brother Hugo already dead, that left at most two more Dinkleys. Not counting Rufus’s put upon but beautiful wife Daisy, who chose to throw in her lot with the Scooby gang, and start flirting immediately with, of all people, Shaggy.
Issue 14, behind a completely misleading cover, was where the Scrappy Doo subplot caught up with the main action. I have to admit that, having got this far, I’m at least curious as to where this thing will go. As for the pestilent pup, his ending in issue 16 was half a surprise and half a cliché, foregoing his own selfish interests to kill the mutated big brain that was organising all the mutates into a single monstrous organism, at the cost of his own life.
The same issue introduced a new back-up strip in a similarly updated, i.e, darkened unmercifully Secret Squirrel, which was one that came along too late for my years of watching Hanna Barbera cartoons in the run-up to The Magic Roundabout and the news.

Scooby vol

Except that Scrappy wasn’t dead: I should have known. Which meant that when he was killed off again, I didn’t believe it.
Meanwhile, Daisy Dinkley had been around long enough to become a permanent member of the team, not that that got her onto any covers. The flirtation died in its own length as Daisy stayed practical, serious and cardboard, the voice of reason and simply cold.
The storyline took a turn for the worse in issue 20 when Velma pronounced the Nanite Plague irreversible. The new direction involved a two month timejump and a coast to coast transition, not to mention Shaggy shaving his beard off without explanation. Now the gang was going to set up a colony in Albany for the human survivors, building up to retake the planet. That originality issue wasn’t getting any better.
In fact, Giffen and de Matteis started slowing their story down, flooding it with undercurrents about personal relationships. With the Scooby element reduced to 17 pages to accommodate the back-up, it was also as if their pacing had gone, with the end of each episode coming over as perfunctory and ineffectual.
And then they dropped the big one. No sooner had Daphne finally accepted one of Fred’s interminable proposals of marriage than they killed him off. Yes, that’s right, killed off one of the Scooby Gang. Now there are some things you do and some things you don’t do, and killing off one of the Scooby Gang is something you don’t do, but Giffen and de Matteis did it. Scooby Apocalypse was one of only four regular HB series produced by DC, and it was already by far and away the longest running, but quite apart from the creative violence already done to so many of its characters, you can see why HB’s thinking on the project might be apt to change.
In fact, what I’m seeing, without benefit of sales figures, is the same old, increasingly familiar series going into the tank. Right after Fred’s death, we jump six months. Daphne’s locked up with grief and rage, Shaggy and Velma have becomes lovers, something I do not want to see in my mind’s eye unless it’s the Linda Cardellini Velma-is-a-babe version from the film, and Scrappy Doo is back. Deep joy.
Incidentally, do you want to know the reason I’ve not been mentioning the Secret Squirrel back-ups since they started? They’re incoherent crap, that’s why.
Issue 28 exemplified both the rut the comic had gotten itself into and the failed level it operated upon, as the first six pages consisted of nothing more than Daphne brutally slaughtering monsters: that was the story, if story you call it. Basically, it was about being a psychotic killer, and ended with the reappearance of a blank-eyed Fred, presumably zombified.
Zombie it was, as things just got more sickening, with glowing-red-eyed Fred chowing down on monsters’ internal organs, Daphne totally gone round the bend etc. It all has the feel of a upcoming Blake’s 7 ending, with everyone having to be killed off because there’s no remotely viable way back from here.

Scooby vol 4

By the way, Secret Squirrel ended in issue 29. No, this was not back to full-length stories, as the back-up slot went to Atom Ant. Then Daphne suddenly fell out of her psychotic break and decided to commit suicide, and a new figure, who’d supposedly been giving instructions to Scrappy Doo, turned up. Yes, it’s the smell of death on a series, all over again.
So what else gets piled in? Daphne gets horribly scarred all down one side of her face. Scooby starts talking intelligently. Velma’s pregnant by Shaggy. Scrappy’s new boss turns out to be Quentin Dinkley, with Rufus still alive though mutated. It’s like a determined effort is being made to pervert everybody to the limit. As for Atom Ant, it wasn’t as all-out offensive as Secret Squirrel, until they brought back G’Nort.
Quentin Dinkley threw in the possibility of a cure. Nanite Fred was out to save everyone by collaboration between human and Nanite. The Nanite King was out to destroy, starting with the fixed base the gang had had since issue 25.
The series came to an end in issue 36, after exactly three years, with a happy ending. Velma found a cure and the Apocalypse was reversed. So much for the Blake’s 7 ending, which would at least have been quasi-realistic, not to mention satisfying in seeing all these perverted monstrosities gunned down. Throw in lots of sappy elements totally inimical to the tenor of the series and that was that, done, gone and never return. Because Hanna-Barbera will never let anything like that be done to their creations again.
There are two ways in which to look at this series which, at 36 issues, was actually longer than the other three series in total (Wacky Raceland 6 issues, Future Quest and The Flintstones 12 each). Looked at as a Scooby Doo story it was the pits. There are ways to do a more serious and more adult version of the Mystery Incorporated Gang, but they involve some form of hewing to the original characters and not the deliberate perversion of the characters in a twisted fashion that reads like nothing more than the ‘clever’ creators showing off how much smarter they are by shattering anything remotely creditable about originals they could never have conceived in a million years.
Looked as as a post-Apocalypse story featuring five brand new characters with a coincidence of names, it was better but not by so much that it deserved any great respect. The middle of the run did hold the interest on a purely what-happens-next basis but even that is overlaid by indescribably awful and self-indulgent violence that forces any more serious ideas out through simple lack of space.
On either level, it just wasn’t good enough. So now I know. I’d rather I didn’t.

A loving gesture

Sometimes, in all the welter of darkness and decay that seems to be the entire order of DC Comics – who are killing off the entire Justice League today, like we all believe that’s going to last – it’s nice to record a moment of genuine tenderness, love and respect.

Veteran artist George Perez, who has worked extensively at both DC and Marvel over the last fifty years, whose speciality has always been fitting more superhjeroes into a single panel than you could shake an infinite number of sticks at, and still making it legible, announced late last year that he has an inoperable cancer, and that rather than prolong his life by a short period through painful treatments that cannot cure but which cause pain and debilitstion, he has chosen to forego any further treatment and instead to make the most of his time left with his wife and family, whilst he can devote himself to them, and they to him.

This has meant ample time for tributes, all heartfelt, from everyone: the companies, his fellow creators, his innumerable fans. Perez knows by how much he is loved and will be missed. HJe deserves to know.

Perez was, of course, the artist on DC’s first monumental continuity-changing series, Crisis on Infinite Earths, for which he worked with writer Marv Wolfman. They were the team that, in 1980, turned round DC’s fortunes when everyone was expecting the compsny to fold and go under, taking comics with it. This was achieved by The New Teen Titans, and it was very probably the most important work he did in his life.

All of this is to explain to you who have not been comics fans for as long as I have just who George Perez is and what he has achieved. Today, in a comic titled Teen Titans Academy no 14, DC have produced the perfect tribute. The series includes a young Latino who is being trained to manage his superpowers. Today, the series writer and artist, Tim Sheridan and Tom Derendick, Diego Perez’s Uncle has turned up. His uncle Jorge.

George Perez has been translated as a character in the DC Universe. In this way, he will be immortal. As indeed he should be.

Such things are rare, and they should be welcomed with open arms and heart. Thank you both.


Fast and Funnious: Impulse – Part 2


In the interests of full disclosure, I would like to say now that, based upon the fact of his being a Comicsgater, not to mention a loud-mouthed proponent of right-wing opinions who operates under the basic misapprehension that his afore-mentioned opinions are actually inviolable truths, I do not like Ethan van Sciver. In that I will, as far as I know, only be dealing with his art, I trust my ability not to be influenced by extraneous notions. If I find myself slipping from that noble intent, I will of course let you know.
When Todd Dezago and van Sciver took Impulse over, I bought their first issue, no. 50 but dropped the title immediately. Twenty years on, re-reading it, it’s easy to see why. Unlike his fill-in art on issue 41, van Sciver here is crude and blocky, though perhaps that’s the fault of inker Prentis Rollins. But it’s the story that’s convoluted and, despite its attempts to conform to the patented Impulse template of silliness, turns out dull and overly serious.
This is down to Dezago choosing, after a promising start involving Bart’s reaction to April Fool’s Day, to get Impulse mixed up with Batman, the Joker and a warehouse full of hostages. Batman is not known for tolerating fools gracefully, which leaves a degree of potential, but Dezago struggles to make the possibilities work. On paper, so to speak, he does a good job, but it just doesn’t take off and be funny in the way Waid, Loebs and even Pasko managed.
Of course, there’s a wider story brewing. The whole thing is observed by a mysterious figure, building a dossier on Bart from beneath a hooded cloak and an electronic device with astonishingly ugly lettering. Who is this? I didn’t stop to find out then, though I found out who it was fairly quickly. For now, let’s take it the slow way.
Which was the big revelation next issue, after a long, meandering tale narrated by the baddie that felt like filling pages until the big finale, that the villain was a near replica to Bart, in a green and black costume, the last of the Thawnes, naming himself Inertia.
Now this had been foreshadowed by none other than Iris previously, but my reaction, then and now, was, how trite. An evil twin. Wally West already had the Thawne family and the Reverse-Flash, do we have to go through the same thing here?
We do, and it drags. It’s plain old comic books. It’s trying to be like Impulse but it has an artificial; feel to it, as if Dezago wants to just do the serious stuff but knows he has to throw in the goofy stuff. The story flags. And nothing against van Sciver, but the highlight of issue 52 is three pages drawn by Walt Simonson. He played a part in the next issue too, as van Sciver got a month off to care for his newly born.
To be fair to Dezago, he tried a change-of-pace, Bart hanging out with his buddies issue in no. 54, that had all the right ingredients and intentions, but again, the feel wasn’t quite right. You know how sometimes you feel in tune with a writer, with his or her ideas and approaches? To me, Todd Dezago is just off-centre: he lacks sparkle.
Ever more rapidly now the series was concentrating on superheroics and ignoring the supporting cast, with the exception of Helen. In issue 58 van Sciver produced a reasonable Bill Watterson parody for a five page back-up. And just as soon as I say that, Dezago writes an issue set at the school dance and Bart making things work out amongst a bunch of hormonal teenagers and a suddenly at least three years older Arrowette.
The first year of this ended with yet another guest superhero appearance, this time Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., written by Geoff Johns of course, making more crossovers in twelve months than the entire four years previously put together. The series was changing focus all right. It was just like Blue Devil all over again, a new take, a different approach but eventually nobody can think of any better idea than making it more and more like all the other comics.


Dezago came back with a much more accomplished five-part arc under the title ‘Mercury Falling’, though it was not without its flaws. The roots went back a long way, into Bill Loebs’ tenure, when Max had gotten shot. He’d been seen as deteriorating ever since until finally his new physician, none other than Dr Morlo, confirmed he was dying. His connection to the Speed Force had been corrupted and it was now tearing him apart. Now, Bart uncovered the news, and he changed.
There was a possibility of reintroducing Max to the Speed Force, but only by the aid of another speedster, namely Bart. But Impulse’s focus and control was short of what was needed until, determined to aid Max, he suddenly caught focus. Not just in his life as Impulse, but as Bart, at home and at school, gathering in all the lessons. It was an idyll, overshadowed by Max’s impending death, but allowing Dezago the room to portray Bart, Max and Helen as a true family, not just on the surface but deep inside.
Then Dezago blew it. The third part was a fill-in drawn by Eric Battle, and it was a dream-sequence, or rather a video game. It was atrocious, cheap, nasty, a complete blow-out. But it conned me, and conned me good, which I do admire (whilst hating 90% of it still). Because this was the real Bart, who’d been trapped in a VCR as of old. The Bart who’d been focussing and getting A+s was really Inertia. And he intended to kill Max in the Speed Force.
Or was he? Thaddeus Thawne, the clone, had made himself into Bart, a Superior Bart and Superior Impulse. He was liked, he was respected, he was appreciated. He liked that, a great deal. It was turning his head. And so he did the complex stuff needed to guide Max into the Speed Force, to heal him. Just as Carol, who was not convinced about the new Bart, worked out who he really was, alerted Helen and they and Bart arrived at Morlo’s lab. Just too late.
It was a clever story but the art is in bringing it off. Despite his lack of focus or control, putting himself at as much risk as Max, Bart went after them. Needless to say, they won, and despite my underlying concern that Max would die anyway, he was re-connected, re-energised and restored. But the way that it was done did not sit well.
It was all about emotions. There were good elements to it, but in the end they were too crudely handled. Max expresses his gratitude and love to Inertia, unknowingly. The clone basks in it, until realising that it’s all meant for the real Bart, who he hates. And he’s ready for when Bart catches up to them, ready and superior to him. Max is torn between the pain of trying feebly to resist a Speed storm, and watching Bart being beaten to death. But Bart refuses to give in. In the midst of his losing fight he reaches for Max, refuses to let go, and he tells Thaddeus that that’s what love and family mean, that you’d rather die with them than live without them.
It’s a powerful moment. These are powerful themes Dezago is pounding upon. But his endgame is for Max to start talking to Inertia, to draw a comparison between him and Bart, who is loved, who is liked, who is respected, all the things that Inertia came close enough to touch and who, if he could change his programming, could have. Does Inertia have that? Has he ever had that? And suddenly, Thaddeus breaks down, quaveringly admits no, and shoots off into the Speedstorm, never to be seen again.
‘Mercury Falling’ was good up to a point but that was the point it was good up to. It’s simultaneously a cop-out and a cliché. Dezago had some strong stuff in there, but he lacked a closer that lived up to it. Definitely worth a B, mind you.
And its coda, a one-off party to celebrate Max’s restoration, with the JLA, JSA and Bart’s schoolmates was a hoot that also did a better job with dealing with the left-over emotions of Max having praised Inertia so much, and letting the pair understand that they do love each other as father and son. It also ended on Carol’s crush not asking her to the dance and Bart cheering her. Remember, they have kissed once. Does this now mean…?


Unfortunately, six more or less strong issues were all we got. A two-part team-up with Adam Strange and Green Lantern (the Kyle Rayner version) tying into a Green Lantern mini-series was every bit as unoriginal as it could be. Eric Battle drew that and Carlo Barbieri followed him, van Sciver having moved on after some mostly solid stuff, whose main issue was that it was more realistic in approach to Ramos and Rousseau before him, contributing to the feel of the series as less light and inventive. (See, I didn’t pick on him, did !?)
Barbieri proved to be the perfect choice, restoring the cartoon element, the exaggeration and the manga influence that was best suited to Impulse. Even Dezago’s story started to brighten as he responded to the new artist’s range.
Remember that comment a paragraph back about Bart and Carol? That was exactly the direction Dezago was turning towards, with Bart starting to have feelings for her and Carol certainly leaning towards being kissed a lot more tenderly this time, until a time-travelling 19th Century genius scientist and implacable foe of Max Mercury (or ‘Blue Streak’ as he was then) stepped in. This led to an unusually intricate sequence with Carol’s kidnapper being, well, Carol Bucklen, aged 32, resident of the Thirtieth Century with Bart, the pair having moved there when the aforementioned time-travelling 19th Century genius scientist and implacable foe actually did manage to kill Max and Helen…
The story, a three-parter, was devastating. As well as the future Carol, we had the future Bart/Impulse, and a rift between them. We had an insane plan from President Thawne to give the entire human race superspeed, at the expense of either killing or driving insane 80% of them. We had Bart and Carol, our Bart and Carol admitting that they loved each other. And in order to save everybody, Carol had to go alone into the future. Our Carol, not the future one. Even though Bart achieved the impossible, changing history and saving Max and Helen, it came too late to bring Carol back. She was gone, accompanied only by Meloni, Bart’s mother. The one who took Bart home to his own time was Granma Iris.
I haven’t thought much of Todd Dezago’s Impulse, as you’ve no doubt guessed, but I thought highly of this story. And hoped desperately that they’d overturn it very quickly.


Not that they did immediately. Bart’s new ability, to generate energy-duplicates of himself and send them back and forward in time came to the fore, as did a crossover with Young Justice. That saw one of the ‘scouts’ killed, causing trauma and shock to Bart. On top of the trauma of losing Carol, it led to his thorough depression, and, having lost the feeling of anything being fun, Bart quit being Impulse.
Then an issue featuring Max Mercury crudely replaced a cliffhanger situation involving White Lightning, who was teetering between staying bad or turning good, and falling in the wrong direction. This nodded to a background story in which Bart, still unbalanced by losing Carol, was on the edge of other of his friends discovering his secret identity just as he’d abandoned it. It was clumsy, to say the least.
The story got back on track in issue 80, with Bart inevitably reverting to Impulse to stop White Lightning, and admonishing her for her unwillingness to put in the work of being good and waiting for its rewards. And yet another of his schoolmates was bordering on guessing his secret.
Bart had managed to talk two of his friends out of their suspicions but the third, Evil-Eye Eddie, was going to be harder to deal with. Meanwhile Bart had to deal with a classmate who was a Ventrilopath, one of two twins capable of projecting thoughts into others’ heads, and who was using that to conjure up monsters for the kids who treated her like an outcast, and Max was preparing to deal with an issue involving the Speed Force, and an entity in it proving difficult to trace, suggesting plans that might not be too beneficial.
Bart solved his problem but Max’s proved to be harder to manage (it’s Savitar, I’m convinced of it). His disappearance led to the kind of new direction that’s a clear indication that a series’ sales are hovering over the toilet: issue 84 saw a complete change, as Bart, notwithstanding some resistance to being ordered about by his cousin Wally, agreed to leave Manchester, Helen, his friends, and move to Denver to be mentored by Jay Garrick. (Not Keystone City, Jay’s wife Joan having developed acute leukaemia and only able to get specialised treatment in that city.
At this point, Impulse had five issues left. One of these was wasted on another Young Justice crossover. All I got from this bit was Bart dressing in Wally’s old Kid Flash costume.
Then Dezago apparently went insane. Spinning off the crossover, in which Impulse defeated the villain by intercepting the magics that had empowered him, Bart was now using them to right every wrong in the world, starting with undoing things like Carol’s disappearance, and Max’s, and saving Granpa Barry and Don and Dawn and then going on to all sorts of crazy, random things whose unthought-through side-effects were destroying the world. It wasted another two issues before The Phantom Stranger and Max talked Bart into relinquishing his powers and restoring everything, including all the personal tragedies he’d undone.
But wait. Bart hedged his bets. He got the Stranger to preserve a notebook, one written in by Carol during that brief interlude. To act as a talisman for finding her? I hope so.
And yes he did, trapped in a Reality TV show in the 63rd Century. And he saved Carol, though Meloni had to stay behind to secure their escape.
Meanwhile, that bold new direction of Impulse living with the Garricks finally got a look-in, with Joan having gone as far as she could, and deciding to accept her condition and her impending death. Which her doctor tried to argue against. Because he wasn’t Dr Lateris, but Dr Edward Clariss, aka Jay’s Reverse-Flash: The Rival.


So we came to the final issue, no 89. It was mostly about Jay having finally reached the point of anger and fear that he intended to kill Clariss, and Bart needing to talk him out of it. About Clariss revealing that, as he was now pure energy, he needed a human host to escape the Speed Force, leaving his victim inside as pure energy, and that victim was Max (so it wasn’t Savitar after all: nice switch). And Carol got to go home to Manchester, and put her relationship with Bart on a slowdown, so that it could grow and expand without being rushed: they are, after all, still only fourteen. And Bart returned to Denver, where Joan’s leukaemia turns out to be eminently treatable after all. Then it’s all over.
Consulting Wikipedia on Bart’s future made me sad to see that that storyline never continued. Carol never appeared again. It was the end for Max as well: Geoff Johns resurrected him in The Flash: Rebirth but he’s not appeared since. Soon after, Bart switched from Impulse to being Kid Flash. He was The Flash for a time. Then both other identities at different times. Yes, that’s right, he turned into a real-life no-different-from-the-rest superhero, with a convoluted history that bores the pants off you.
I really enjoyed becoming re-acquainted with Impulse. In the end, it’s just another of those stories where, as far as I’m concerned, this is the whole of it. I’m finding myself having to do a lot of that lately. Still, it was fun whilst it lasted.

Fast and Funnious: Impulse – Part 1

I already had Impulse 1-50, plus the two Annuals, proper store-bought copies fresh from the shelves of Forbidden Planet in Manchester, but I could use the space fifty-two comics take up by acquiring a DVD, as well as collect the other thirty-nine issues I didn’t buy after the title’s third phase started. So in a sense I didn’t need to write about this series, but on the other hand, having griped so much about the unrelieved descent into darkness that comics has been on since the start of the Twenty-First Century and before, it makes sense to put up an example of what I’m talking about when it comes to a much better balance of light and shade. In short, when comics were still fun.
Though I grew up on Barry Allen, from the early Sixties to 1985, It was Wally West who turned out to be ‘my’ Flash, the only one whose adventures I ever bought on a monthly basis. Even then, it was a long way into Wally’s career in the role, and even a long way into Mark Waid’s tenure as his writer before I started following the series. Not too far that I couldn’t, over time, collect a complete run in back issues, including all of Mike Baron and Bill Loeb’s spells as writer.
I don’t remember exactly when I first started reading Flash, but it would have been pretty close to when Waid and artist Mike Wieringo introduced Bart Allen, Wally’s cousin, Barry’s grandson from the Thirtieth Century, and a speedster like him.
Too much like him: thoughtless, excitable, hyperactive. Things Wally had not been as Kid Flash, things that characterised him as opposed to the blander, more mature Mr Allen, things Wally was slowly growing through. But Bart wasn’t going to be the new Kid Flash. Instead, and for the new series he was very quickly awarded, barely a year after his debut, he was going to be named Impulse. It fit.
Impulse, under Waid, was very different to Flash, though the two series occasionally converged and crossed over. It was set in the South, in Alabama, in a town called Manchester – how could I not want to read it – where Bart was a fifteen year old High School student, living under the guardianship of his ‘uncle’, Max Crandell, aka Max Mercury. School was supposed to teach him about the curriculum, and dealing with his peers. Max had a bigger agenda. Max not only had the job of teaching Bart about his powers and the best use of them, but also that life, unlike all Bart’s prior experience, is not a video game with resets. In short, Max had to teach Bart to think, not merely react.
It was going to be an uphill struggle.


For Impulse, Waid was paired with the previously little-known Humberto Ramos, inked by Wayne Faucher. Ramos was a cartoonist, eschewing photorealism as if it could really screw up your drawing hand. His Bart/Impulse was a big-haired, big-footed skinny kid, and everyone were simplified, exaggerated and vivid representations, posed in all manner of positions, few of them strictly plain. He was perfect, adding to the loose and crazy atmosphere of the series.
The biggest drawback to Max’s plans was that Bart was easily bored. He wanted things to be happening all the time. And yes, things were happening, though in terms of action, Manchester Alabama was a vastly different place from Keystone City, and its crimes and criminals were consequently on a lower, more grounded plane than the ones Wally West fought.
It gave Waid the scope for a great deal more comedy and light-heartedness. Bart really struggled with Max’s teachings, mostly because he could not seriously grasp the point of a secret identity, or basically not doing whatever he wanted the second he thought of it, so brilliantly captured in the line, The Single Synapse Theory. According to Bart, Max was only doing this to him to stop him having fun. Only slowly would he grow, slowly and imperceptibly.
Waid took ample opportunity to play with the situation, ringing the changes without making any underlying changes. It also allowed him to slowly give Bart and Max a supporting cast: for Bart this kid with a video camera named Preston, and a quasi-grunge girl with glasses, and distinctly different attitude, laden on with anti-cool, called Carol Bucklen.
For Max there was a woman, Dr Helen Claiborne, a neighbour, a women of his own age with one white lock at the front of her black hair, who seemed verrry interested in Max and slightly puzzled at his total lack of reciprocation.
It was a setting to give Waid the room to go off into light or shade or, more often, both simultaneously.
Issue 6 contained a story that was a perfect example of what I’m talking about. It was full of Bart being Bart, both as himself and as Impulse, trying to make sense of things that he’s just not used to. It even featured a monster, two in fact, but the real one wasn’t the obvious one.
We’ve already seen Preston turn up with black eyes and bruises once or twice, and now the Principal, Randall Sheridan, who can’t get Preston to tell him what’s going on, asks Bart to stick close, and observe. Bart wants to help, but he’s out of his depth. Preston’s eager to film some sort of hulking swamp monster, get out of town, write his own ticket in Hollywood. But he’s caught out after curfew and his Dad warns him he’s got to be punished.
Bart wants to intervene but Max forces him to think. All he’s seen is a boy told he’s going to be punished for being out too late. Before you hang the name of abuser on a man, and destroy him and his family by it, be sure of what you’re talking about. Bart takes the lesson on board. He’s too concerned with doing the wrong thing. And so it turns out.
The thing in the swamp isn’t a monster. He’s a boy with Agromely, in constant pain, likely won’t live more than another year. His parents look after him, keep him for as long as they can. He’s their son. They allow him to be thought of as a monster because that keeps folks away. That way he can live out his life in peace.
But Preston is still being beaten badly. And it’s not his Dad. It’s his Mom. A skinny blonde woman, highly-strung, on the edge, determined to make a good life for her husband, stop him being made unhappy. She’s the monster but she’s not a monster, rather someone with no self-controls, and a husband who let her handle all the discipline and didn’t pay enough attention.
Bart’s seen all this. But the problem is that he didn’t see it as Bart but as Impulse. And to have it tackled, to have the problem solved, he has to give up his secret identity. It’s the choice he doesn’t want to have to make, but in a moment that impresses us mightily that he is beginning to comprehend, he’s about to do so. But Preston’s Dad has got there before him. He’s been shaken. He’s got a lot to learn, about not being neglectful. But he’s determined to learn.
Preston will stay in school and not run away. He’ll live with his Dad. His Mom will go into an institution where they’ll help her. And Preston will visit her. She’s still his Mom, and he still loves her. All the humour, all the fun, all the action, all the high-speed cartooning, applied to something far more serious than cops and robbers, given a grounded and believable happy(ish) ending. A near perfect combination.

I First_Kiss

Those of you who read my Catwoman posts will be well aware of my attitude to crossovers and, as part of the Flash family, Impulse was due its fair share of them. A Martin Pasko/Anthony Wiliams fill-in, Bart’s 30th Century cousin Jenni Ognats, aka XS of the Legion of Superheroes leading into two parts of the six-part ‘Dead Heat’ arc running in Flash broke things up more than somewhat but I didn’t find that so offensive. Partly because I read and still remember ‘Dead Heat’ at the time, and because XS’s appearance, as well as a later Legion appearance, were self-contained, with no more crossover knowledge required than that the Legionnaires were stuck in the 20th Century.
Waid picked things up smoothly, reinforcing the light-hearted approach with a lovely issue in which all that happened was Bart trying to learn 20th Century sports, amid much teenage bantering over his friendship with Carol, and when and why not they hadn’t tried out a bit of spit-sharing, as we used to call it. This led to Bart hitting a home run, Carol running out to congratulate him and impulsively grabbing hold and kissing him, hard, for several panels.
Of course, this being Bart and Carol, it was just a why not after she’d been riled by them, and it didn’t mean anything except friends forever and collapsing laughing. You could tell they’d both enjoyed it, even if neither of them wanted to take it any further. Lovely stuff.
Another example of how Waid could mix this with more serious stuff was the story in issue 16, which was built on the cliffhanger ending of the previous issue. Helen Claiborne’s brutal ex-husband had tracked her down again and was all set to beat her when Max intervened. If we had wondered why he was so unresponsive to an attractive and intelligent woman like her, which she certainly had, the words he blurted out took care of that. Get your hands off my daughter, Max screamed.
Issue 16 told that story. It was, in one sense, sordid, a story of an adulterous affair. Having been injured in the past saving Manchester from Dr Morlo, who would come to prominence shortly after, Max was taken in and slowly brought back to full health by Dr David Claiborne and his wife, Laura. David was a good man, a hard-working, dedicated Doctor on whom everyone depended. Laura understood that, supported him, but was unavoidably lonely, being her husband’s last and least important priority. Max saw this from the inside. The inevitable happened. Loneliness causes more affairs than people imagine. When they were caught, Max ran away, bouncing into the future once more, a future when Laura had died, leaving a daughter who was not David’s. Who still lived in Manchester. Where Max re-located with Bart, so as to keep an eye on her.
It was a downbeat story, of human weakness. But for Bart, Max would have run away again. He still had to face his daughter, who’d realised just who Bart was thanks to the lad’s mental clumsiness but who wouldn’t tell. She was hurt. Shocked that he had let her flirt with him for so long even if he’d been non-responsive. She didn’t want him near her.
But there was a moment, a line, that caught the story in fragile hands and turned it magical as well as tragic on that level that only ordinary human emotions can be. Oh God, Helen suddenly realised. You were the smile. That line. Her mother had never re-married, remained sad and alone all her life. But sometimes, in the dark, looking at the stars, she would smile. And that memory was the start of healing. To be somebody’s smile…


Up until issue 19, Waid’s mentor, friend and sometime writing partner Brian Augustyn had edited the series but in issue 20 he was replaced by Paul Kupperberg, assisted by Jason Hernandez-Rosenblatt, who did the day to day stuff. Given how committed Waid was to Impulse, I can only connect this change with his decision to leave after issue 28, assuming that to be his decision in the first place.
There had been several fill-in art jobs in recent months, plus a co-plotted and scripter credit for Tom Peyer, but Humberto Ramos returned for the final three-parter before the creative team was completely replaced. It heralded possible drastic changes. Max comes to the realisation that for all his efforts, not a single word has crept into Bart’s head, and that it never will. Just at that moment, a mystery speedster arrives in town. She is revealed to be Meloni Thawne. Bart’s mother. And she wants to take him back with her, to the 30th Century.
And she’s just as impulsive and scatter-brained as Bart himself.
It would have been a perfect story to have concluded the series if it had been in danger of cancellation, but that wasn’t the case. Bart said goodbye to his friends at school, who all genuinely would miss him, none more so than Carol, who have him a parting sketch from her notebook, indicating that she has known Bart’s other identity for a long time. And Meloni did a good thing, finding Helen Claiborne and bringing her to reconcile with Max, because no child should be separated from their parent.
Then it was off to the future. But not for long. Especially not when Bart meets his grandfather, who is President of Earth. A Thawne, as in Professor Zoom/Reverse-Flash Thawne, as in hates Allens, conspires to have Don and Dawn killed, told Meloni Bart was dead, and will kill Jenni if they don’t stop him. Jenni. Who’s still only two in this part of the century.
So Meloni does a deal. In return for her father swearing to end the feud and never harm an Allen again, Bart will return to the 20th Century and never return. It made for a short reunion with his Mom but it was all for the best, not to mention sales figures. So Bart went back to pick up the strings of the life he’d abandoned. There was just one problem: why was Max’s house completely empty?
The short answer was, he’d moved in with Helen, across the street. Bart had looked everywhere around the world but there, annoying Flash, Jesse Quick and Robin along the way, but it all got sorted out, even with Carol, who was genuinely afraid she’d ended their friendship by figuring out his identity. Only for Bart to tell her he’d wanted to tell her all along.
Issue 26 introduced new penciller Craig Rousseau, equally cartoonish but with a lighter, more outline style. Waid’s last issue was co-written with Reuben Diaz and introduced a villainous kid named Evil-Eye who wore a patch and would play a significant role hereafter.
Tom Peyer wrote the next issue, which introduced the new Arrowette, the very young and skinny daughter of the old Arrowette who, in an absolute unique move that did not in any way rip off Batman at all, had been Green Arrow’s equivalent of Batwoman in the Fifties. It was a fun issue, dealing with all sort of child endangerment and pushy parent issues, in a lot lighter vein than the two Silk Spectres in Watchmen.
But Impulse Phase 2 finally got under way in issue 29 with the new permanent writer, Bill Loebs, replacing Waid just as Waid had replaced him years before on Flash. I wasn’t impressed with the editing when Loebs re-named Carol as Carol Trent, but he did bring in Dr Morlo from Waid’s offhand mention, as well as harking back to Helen’s legal father, David Claiborne, still holding a grudge after thirty years.
Loebs was known for more serious stories on Flash though he showed a fine appreciation of the comedic approach to Impulse’s life. But he was on the mark beneath the surface when he brought back Preston’s Mom, still in her institution six months (and 26 issues) later, tracing her violent impulses to childhood experiences at the hand of her grandfather, and giving him a very simple and natural run in to both pointing out the ongoing nature of brutality through generations, and relieving Preston’s own fears that he might have been in some way responsible for his mother’s condition.


Loebs then introduced idiot social worker Jasper Pierson as well as bringing back young villainess White Lightning, or at least she was White Lightning on the cover but inside she was Moonshine, which was once again sloppy editing.
I did notice, through a time travel adventure that included Impulse and Max turning into apes and Gorilla Grodd into a turtle (and he wasn’t even the villain) that things were just starting to get a little bit too silly. It’s the age-old problem with mixing superheroes and comedy: there’s only so far you can go, unless you’re a genius like Jack Cole. You keep having to nudge the silliness that bit higher each time to maintain the impact, and then you find there’s a line approaching that, if you cross it, you lose the whole lot.
And Bill Loebs, for all his abilities, had a fatal flaw for someone working for DC Comics: he just couldn’t take superheroes seriously enough.
For example: in issue 36 he introduced a would-be vigilante calling herself the Song of Justice, out to beat up criminals who escaped the law through technicalities by using sonics played on a lyre. But I was actually impressed by Rousseau drawing her with a costume that incorporated a knee-length skirt: that’s original.
Nevertheless, like Mark Waid, Bill Loebs could combine a very serious story with the inherent silliness of Impulse, which we saw to good advantage in issue 38. Melting excessive winter snows had combined with the infamous floods that covered a great deal of America in the Nineties, to create a crisis situation that threatened to wash Manchester away. There were no villains to fight, or rather there were, because with various ingenious plans by Impulse failing to make an impression, Max confused him terminally by calling on everyone to help, everyone including the villains, to whom he promised temporary immunity. It was a practical example of true community: they lived there too. And to complete the rescue job, Loebs brought back Chester P Runk, aka The Chunk, originally created as a supervillain by Mike Baron in Flash but taken over by Loebs and turned into a much better balanced character, removing the water in exchange for yard services from Bart’s schoolmate, Rolly, the fat black kid who looked up to him as a hero. A sweet tale.
And by concentrating on a combination of human and small town issues, Loebs kept up the standard. Bringing back the new Arrowette in issue 41 was the responsibility of guest team Jason Hernandez-Rosenblatt, ex-assistant editor, now freelancer, and Ethan van Sciver, who would take over the art permanently less than a year later, so I’ll reserve judgement on him for Part 2. Though the bit where he draws Arrowette in her dance dress as jailbait had me pursing up my lips.
Another editorial slip: in issue 42 Helen suddenly becomes Helen Caldicott. It’s not like these are obscure details, these are series regulars, guys, who appear every month. Don’t they write these things down?


Paul Kupperberg actually left as editor on issue 46, just three issues before Loebs and Rousseau would depart. I can’t help but see a connection. The creators had established a light, low-key approach that was at odds with the slowly-prevailing spirits of the time: sales figures were obviously holding up well enough to justify continued publication, but did the new editor, L.A Williams, promoted from Assistant, come with a brief to jack them up?
Either way, there was definitely a late change of plan. A good, fun issue guest starring the Riddler ended with some foreshadowing for issue 49, including Impulse going to the Moon. Instead, we got a story about this would-be bad kid, ‘Evil Eye’, being sent to an overly strict reformatory from which Impulse had to rescue him, with the help of Carol, Preston and Roland.
It was billed as a farewell issue to the creative team, not just Loebs and Rousseau but inker Barb Kaalberg and colourist Tom McCraw who, as a last inside joke, were allowed to portray the vicious guards: nice touch.
So, a complete clear-out. Back in the day, I bought issue 50 with its new writer/artist team and promptly dropped the title. Now, in part 2, I get to look at that decision in a bit more detail.

Seven Shades of Shite: Grant Morrison’s 7 Soldiers of Victory

7 - Soldiers

I hold a certain ambivalence towards Grant Morrison.
I love his early work for DC, his Animal Man and Doom Patrol, both of which I own in the Omnibus editions. Everything since then… not so much. With the exception of his JLA I have found it hard to get into his writing, and since his self-proclamation as a Chaos Magician, and the work he and Frank Quitely did for a very popular entertainment figure about whom I have been shown certain signs I’m not going to repeat because no-one would believe me, I have refused to read anything by him, because I am certain that there is stuff in his writing, embedded, that I don’t think is there for any good purposes.
It’s therefore contradictory to be curious about Morrison’s mid-2000s ‘mega series’, reviving the 1940s Detective Comics Inc. team, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, in drastically different manner, with a radically different structure. The basic idea was that a team of Seven Soldiers, based on actual characters from the Golden Age are killed, leaving their task, to defeat something called the Sheeda, (which I’m guessing derives from the Irish Sidhe) to be carried out by another Seven, consisting of characters with connections to the first set, but who never actually meet, which is an admittedly original approach to a team.
The series adopted the Armageddon 2001/Eclipso: The Darkness Within structure of two book-ending one-offs bearing the series title, either side of seven four-issue mini-series’ (instead of a summer’s worth of Annuals), one for each character. If nothing else, it was definitely a testing notion logistically.
So despite my reservations, I decided to see what it was really like, almost twenty years after the fact, as the number of subjects for DVD collections finally begins to diminish towards that eventual vanishing point. I’ll trust to luck…

7 - Knight

It starts with 7 Soldiers of Victory 0, DC still fetishising the ‘Zero Issue’ thing they’d come up with in 1994. I thought it was shite, frankly. The original Vigilante, Greg Saunders, old but still tough, is out to correct a failing he made in 1875, when he’d been bounced around in time, trying to kill something called the Buffalo Spider, a giant spider. To do so, he recruits a new Seven Soldiers, consisting of shitty versions of old heroes, so thoroughly idiotic and inept that you wouldn’t use them to tackle little Johnny, mugging his schoolmates for marbles.
It really is that bad. I’m only going to give one example, namely Gimmix. She’s a glammed up social media figure, the estranged daughter of Merry Pemberton, the Gimmick Girl. She’s entirely plastic, a total name-dropper, wears a long sexy redhead wig and is also a bitch. If all Seven of the Soldiers were as useless as this, if the team was some modern day Inferior Five, there would at least be internal consistency, but nobody with the experience of the Vigilante would call upon any of these no-hopers for a second.
Of course they all get killed, except for the deserter, I Spyder, the latest incarnation of Alias the Spider, the Archer retconned into the original Seven when continuity was shifted to take out Green Arrow and Speedy. He got perverted into a traitor – well, he comes from a family of villains, The Shade’s Ludlow family – and didn’t die when it turned out that the Sheeda weren’t being hunted, they were luring the Soldiers into a trap to kill them.
The most encouraging thing about issue 0 was that it contained a reading order list so I know exactly how to hopscotch around the mini-series’ to follow the story as it should be read.
That reading order is actually very simple: there are four rounds of Shining Knight, The Manhattan Guardian, Zatanna and Klarion the Witch Boy, each in that order. The first Mr Miracle interrupts the last round of this quartet in between Guardian and Zatanna, followed by the first of Bulleteer and Frankenstein! after which there are three remaining rounds of these three series, again in that order every time.

7 - Guardian

One round on, I’m discovering the complexity of keeping four set-up issues with no instant connection in my head. Interestingly, three of these four Soldiers are the original characters. The Shining Knight is still Sir Justin, transported from fallen comet, though his winged horse – Vanguard, not Victory – is seemingly killed by a fall on arrival, Zatanna is the same Zatanna created by Gardner Fox almost sixty years ago, though he might not quite recognise her if he were here to see her today, and Klarion is the Witch Boy from Jack Kirby’s The Demon. The only ‘new’ character is the Manhattan Guardian, a successor in terms of legal right to Simon and Kirby’s Newsboy Legion Guardian, he and the Legion retranslated in a more orthodox manner than we usually ascribe to Morrison.
Another round of the first four, in the same order, had differing outcomes. The Shining Knight was still next to incomprehensible, with Morrison playing the traveller-from-the-past-understanding-nothing a bit too much on the basso profundo pedal, whilst The Manhattan Guardian actually completed a comprehensible tale in two issues, albeit in the form of a leftover Doom Patrol situation gone soggy in the rain.
On the other hand, I loved every page of Zatanna 2, with its cynically sharp dialogue cutting the atmosphere to ribbons and Zee and her teenage apprentice Misty are followed by a minor demon called the Shapeless One that they have to battle in a magical artefacts shop owned and run by, and here my nostalgia runneth over, the blind ESPer, Cassandra Craft. How brilliant to see her again, though I missed the purple jump-suit – black is so not Cass’s colour – and of course if she’s here, who should come wandering in at the end but our old friend, The Phantom Stranger.
Klarion, on the other hand, made the first hard connection to anything else in the metaseries, rising from his underground limbo to Manhattan and the sky via the daftly named child hunter, Ebeneezer Badde – what a stupid idea – and the same subway the Manhattan Guardian had been fighting in, and indeed retrieving and carrying his golden helmet.
Out of nowhere, a shape started to emerge in Shining Knight 3. The Sheeda are humanity’s adversaries, from Otherworld. It was they who brought down Camelot, destroying the first best hope of humanity to resist them, and now they are returning to do the same. Sir Justin’s or rather Ystin’s, sword is the first of their treasures, seven treasures, that they intend to retrieve. On the other hand, The Manhattan Guardian continued to be the most straightforward superhero series, working from its off-angle beat, and the most clear. Zatanna started to go crazy and Klarion used an ‘As You Know’ on its first page, immediately sinking it into the zone marked worthless.
I am thus far not impressed.

7 - Klarion

So let’s start the final round for four of our characters, starting again with the Shining Knight. I’ve got to say Simone Bianchi’s art has been incredibly good, vivid, powerful and beautiful all in one, but in service to a confused tale that has gone practically nowhere, except deep into blood and degradation (of course). Galahad, the pure, reappears, having turned evil under the Sheeda’s tutelage (and just who or what are the Sheeda anyway, that being the thing Morrison isn’t yet keen on telling us). The big revelation in the last issue is that ‘Sir’ Justin/Ystin is and always has been a girl, a youngster with breasts bound, and either she has them bound so tightly she must have constant trouble with breathing or they aren’t big enough to warrant wrapping in the first place.
The final Manhattan Guardian still didn’t explain about the Sheeda, except to more openly depict them as recurring parasites upon humanity, but it came to the point of everything: the Queen of the Sheeda was concerned by a verse prophecy, that she would be brought down by a ‘spear not thrown’ by someone who was part of a team. A team of Seven Soldiers. That might work if they didn’t recognise themselves as being a team…
So now we move to one of the other three characters, Mister Miracle. Not good and familiar Scott Free, Apocalyptian New God, but his protege Shilo Norman: still a Kirby creation but one more easily to toy with. It started in cliched fashion with Mr Miracle undertaking a escape that leads him to Metron, telling him that the War in ‘Heaven’ was lost, won by the Dark Side, and went on to profound confusion and a general pissing over a great number of Kirby’s concepts.
You see, this is Grant Morrison, whom some acclaim as the ‘God of all Comics’, whose schtick is to revise and update characters for the Twenty-First Century, as what do you think all of this series are doing, but my suspicions as to what he’s aiming to turn all these figures into are going into overdrive. This isn’t turning, tweaking, revivifying, it’s twisting, and I am wary of the end to which Morrison is doing this. The Chaos Magician.

7 - Zatanna

But there are still two more fourth round titles to come. The fun of Zatanna was chucked to one side in preference for a dimension-hopping battle with The Spectre’s old (and I mean old) magical foe, Zor, spaced out with world-weary commentary on being a superhero, before ending with the kind of abrupt non-ending that was rapidly becoming familiar as everyone was being drawn to the big battle. As for Klarion, well, there was more fucking about with Kirby so I shall pass on any detailed comment about that.
So, that makes eighteen issues out of a total of thirty, or sixty per cent, and my conclusion so far is that this is Morrison being arty-farty, and setting out to demonstrate just how confusing he can make things in the name of creative superiority, to a welter of bloodshed – ah, if it were only bloodshed. I may yet be proved wrong by the conclusion, but I’m not anticipating much.
The next round is very short, consisting only of the two first issues of the last two Soldiers, Bulleteer and Frankenstein. The former I knew about, and the first issue pretty much confirmed it, it’s superhero porn. Now there’s a viable argument that all superheroes have an inherent porn aspect to them, being manifestly perfect physical specimens, before you factor in the air of secrecy that always surrounds them. The more so when they’re superheroines, whose bodies and the shapes they get them into go beyond human physicality in a way that it’s not entirely healthy to think about too deeply. Morrison is just making that blatant on every level.
Bulleteer – an update on Fawcett’s Bulletman and Bulletgirl – is 27 year old hot, fit, red-headed Alix Forrester, wife of Lance, who has to put up with his constant efforts to turn them both into superheroes, by cladding their bodies with an impenetrable metal sheath (jeez, even the process sounds pornographic) to enable them to fly and become invulnerable but, most importantly, freeze them at their current level of physical perfection. Or at least freeze Alix, so she will never develop lines, or cellulite or have her perfect tits start to sag. The fact that Alix is happy with her body, sleeps in only a pair of tight knickers, and doesn’t under any circumstances want to be a superhero, is irrelevant.
So naturally he succeeds. It kills him, suffocating him within his metal skin, but it works on Alix. It also fucks up her life. When she looks like a robot, what else can she do but become a superhero, even if her first ‘mission’ is saving people’s lives whilst trying to commit suicide with her metal tits out. And of course she dresses in as sexy and provocative manner as she can. Yannick Paquette draws the hell out of it but I think I’d prefer to get my porn honestly, without feeling that the inside of my skull is crawling with maggots.
So Frankenstein was last to the party, drawn with an obsessive ugliness, speaking in gothic tones that were impressively formal, and the one Soldier fully aware of the Sheeda and the menace they and their dark Melmoth pose.

7 - Miracle

So that left three more rounds of the Last Three (shouldn’t have capitalised that, this is not Dan Dare and ‘All Treens Must Die!’ though it’d be better if it was). Mister Miracle started to unravel itself as another version of the New Gods vs Apokalyps eternal struggle, with all the best known players now twisted into human entities, the New Gods as derelicts and homeless. I am growing increasingly unhappy at Morrison’s determination to roll Jack Kirby’s creations in shit, removing entirely the mythic elements in exchange for something dirty and degraded. Bulleteer started to pull things together into more of a structure, though Alix herself hung around, practically saying and doing nothing except look decorative (and if she has metal-plated tits, why does she still need a frilly pink bra? Serious question) as the story referenced the massacre in 7 Soldiers of Justice 0, and even stopped long enough for Morrison to defile someone else, namely The Vigilante, by inflicting him with the curse of the werewolf.
As for Frankenstein, he went to Mars in pursuit of unholy Melmoth, and also to have the entire Mary Shelley story dismissed by linking the Monster to Solomon Grundy, and making Melmoth into the Monster’s creator, in a literal sense, it being his undying blood that animated the creature, rather than Victor von Frankenstein’s experiments in electricity.
Is it me or is there not a single original character in this entire metaseries, just other people’s creations perverted by Grant Morrison to his own ends, exactly as he owned up to in Animal Man 26?
Speaking of which, round three of Mr Miracle introduced Morrison’s definition of the Anti-Life Equation. I’d already met it, when he repeated it in Final Crisis but it’s no less reductive here, a meaningless collation of negatives and miseries that instantly demythologises Kirby’s concept. It’s always the same. Some thing’s powers depend on never being defined, because definition is axiomatically limitation: this is what it is and everything else it might have been is excluded. It’s like Douglas Adams’ creation of Aggrajag, in Life, the Universe and Everything, to explain the joke about the bowl of petunias: it isn’t necessary, you DON’T do it, it will always be more effective in people’s heads where it is infinite in its possibilities and especially all the ones you haven’t yet thought of. But where the bowl of petunias was ruined forever, Kirby’s Anti-Life Equation is untouched: I never for one second took Morrison’s underwhelming formula as remotely real on any level.

7 - Bulleteer

Behind another cheesecake cover, Bulleteer just flobbed along helplessly, giving Morrison room to vent his disgust at comics fanboys and superhero wannabes, people taking cosplay to the next would-be level, with nothing more than the I’m-superior-to-you sneer to justify it, whilst the third Frankenstein was just nasty for the sake of wallowing in it. Still, not far to go now.
Mr Miracle ended with cosmic whimsy, whilst I was amused to see Morrison on another despoliation job, this time an old Len Wein one-off creation from his period on Justice League of America, just as he would soon resurrect Libra for Final Crisis. This was Oracle, the cosmic entity behind the first three-part Justice Society team-up in issue 100-102, which Morrison had already echoed in Bulleteer 2 by bringing back the Iron Hand – always somebody else’s character, eh?
Unsurprisingly, Bulleteer ended with a catfight with a superheroine porn model. It also had the undead Greg Saunders appear at the end, to identify Alix as the Spear That Was Never Thrown of the prophecy, the world saviour, only for the woman who never wanted to be a superhero, who hasn’t got the faintest idea how to do it and even less desire to learn, to simply up and quit.
The last Frankenstein finally explicitly connected the Sheeda to the Sidhe – what took them so long? – and also presented a vision of Earth as it would be after being subjected to the Sheeda’s Harrowing, before letting the monster loose to eliminate six of seven attacking ships brought by Gloriana Tenebrae, Queen of the Sheeda, Queen of the Fairies.
Could Morrison bring this all together in the final comic, 7 Soldiers of Victory 1? No. It was a mess. Incomprehensible. Anti-climactic. Bulleteer killed the Queen of the Sheeda, who, incidentally, were humanity One billion years on, out to survive by consuming their entire history without any conception of the time paradox they’d create by so doing, by running her over with a car. By accident. Mr Miracle died, shot in the head by Mr Dark Side, but escaped from his grave on the last page, if that’s what all the psychedelia was mean to represent.

7 - Frankenstein

So what was Morrison’s point in writing all this? I do respect him for conceiving of and attempting the technical exercise of the metaseries in the first place: seven interlocking stories that build into an overstory of the team that doesn’t team up. It’s a fascinating idea, but I just don’t think Morrison made it work.
As to his real purposes, again my suspicions, born of certain of his declarations and associations, make me ask just what spells he embedded into the work, because I don’t believe that any such are what I would consider benevolent. Morrison is a self-proclaimed Chaos Magician, whilst he’s shown a superiority complex in everything he’d done here, not to mention his perversion of so many characters, that I find no grounds on which to stand a belief that this was written without an agenda.
If I had bought this work in Graphic Novel form, I would even now be placing it on eBay. You can’t do that with thirty digital files on a DVD containing other series. But you can choose not to read something again, and this is something I shalln’t open again.

When Canaries Cry: Black Canary vols. 1 & 2


I tell myself that I’m immune to adverts, that they don’t affect my choices in any way, except that the more egregiously inane ones sometimes have me swearing never, ever, to buy a product advertised in that way. I tell myself that the only time adverts influence me to buy anything is simply when they reveal to me that it exists. Of course, there are always exceptions.
In 1991 I had read a lot of stories featuring Black Canary, practically exclusively in Justice League of America. She was alright, a nice looking blonde. I had no strong opinions one way or the other. There’d been two Sixties issues of Brave & Bold teaming her with Starman, only one of which I’d read at the time, that was still a favourite of mine. She’d been in The Longbow Hunters, the Green Arrow series that copied the Dark Knight format, when she’d lost that ultrasonic Canary cry through trauma at being raped. When she was announced as starring in her own four-issue mini-series, I had no plans to buy it. Until…
Until I saw the house ad in something. The full page ad featuring the full page image of Black Canary, drawn by Trevor von Eeden and Dick Giordano, reverted to the original costume, the matinee jacket, the black strapless swimsuit, the fishnet stockings, the blue gloves and boots, the whole sexist array designed by Carmine Infantino in 1947 with the instruction to draw ‘his dream girl’. She was in a crouched pose, hands read to strike, eyes wary.
So I bought the series. If I was going to get drawings like that, direct, straightforward but at the same time realistic, it was going to be worth it.
Thirty years on, having re-read the series, I’m of two minds. The mini-series was sub-titled ‘New Wings’, implying a change of direction for the character, or at least a moving out from under the shadow of Green Arrow, whose ‘girlfriend’ she had been practically from the moment she’d been brought over from Earth-2 by Denny O’Neill. It was written by Sarah Byam, and the art was credited to von Eeden as layouts and Giordano as finishes.
I was intrigued by von Eeden’s art to begin with. He’d been associated with Green Arrow for a long time, but I was most familiar with him from the first eight issues of Thriller, seven of them with series creator Robert Loren Fleming. There, he’d drawn in a very subjective manner, experimenting with lay-outs to create an impressionistic absorption in the story. He’d also inked himself in a very dark, blocky style.
Here, he was drawing straight superheroics, with standard objective layouts, focussing on clarity, movement and emotion, using clear, focussed images and body language. It was, in its way, everyday superhero cartooning, with no extraneous or superfluous detail, allowing the story to move ahead, unopposed. If von Eeden was only doing layouts, then Giordano was not adding anything to the art, and wasn’t even imposed the usual sharp clarity he brought to his inking style.
It was an unusual artistic partnership, but it worked brilliantly. And von Eeden made everything solid and natural, insofar as a superhero can ever be natural. There were no over-elaborate movements, no impossible manoeuvres such as you get with Batman or Catwoman: everything the Canary did was perfectly believable for a well-trained and experienced athlete. And von Eeden’s depiction of Dinah, the flowing blonde wig, the slim figure, the long legs, lived up the issue 1’s cover as much as I hoped it would. Adverts don’t affect me, hah!


The story: not so much. It had good, strong, solid roots, though Byam couldn’t resist the urge to cram in too many elements for the best coherence. As befitted the sub-title, the first issue dealt with Dinah’s life with Oliver Queen, the self-centred and self-indulgent bloke, and her entirely natural exasperation with his irresponsibility, especially when it’s her shop, ‘Sherwood Florist’ that makes the income that supports them, with Ollie is frittering away and over-spending.
That sets her up as wanting to get away from him, and facilitating a new life, if the mini-series found favour.
The opening issue also introduced us to Gan Nguyen, half-Vietnamese, half-American. Gan’s a bit of a renaissance man, a translator, a radio talk show host and an informal activist, a crusader against the drugs trade in the Chinatown are of Seattle. With words, with stunts and with his fists if needed, Gan challenges the dealers and tries to rouse the public, which makes him a target.
This is where Byam clogs up the story with too many elements. It’s one thing to have the drug gangs want Gan out of the way, and bring in Black Canary to save his neck and get further involved, and just about ok to have the gang financed by Loren Gerrenger, son and campaigner of Senator Gerrenger, currently seeking re-Election, and even workable to have it suggested but never conformed that the Senator knows of the connection and may even be part of it himself.
But on top of this, Byam introduces proto-Nazis in the form of White Nationalists (an unwelcome foreshadowing) talking racist shit about the non-Americans among them, whilst simultaneous offering them a bone of sympathy over how they come from communities that have been discarded and stagnated. Again, these are good stories upon which to base the series, but Byam has to hurry from one to another, to keep their pots boiling, and she can’t quite get the ingredients to mix. It’s too much for a four issue series, though everything is there for it to work perfectly as a six issue arc.
And whilst there’s very little actual romantic stuff going on, Gan is clearly being set up as a potential new relationship for Dinah, an impliedly more grounded alternative to Ollie. He’s smart, strong, passionate and an obvious ‘Good Guy’ who’s clearly interested in her. And he’s observant enough to quickly work out who’s under the Canary’s wig. On the other hand, to Dinah he’s an amateur, and headstrong. One of his stunts to draw public attention results in two people being killed, for which she rightly berates him: her approach, her experience, is geared to keeping people alive.
Overall, it was an interesting experiment, with cracking art, even if the story was not entirely successful. Byam even found time to debate the life Dinah and, by implication, all costumed heroes live. And the mini-series was sufficiently successful commercially for Byam and von Eeden to be commissioned to do an open-ended Black Canary monthly, starting less than a year later.


This time, the inking was by Bob Smith and von Eeden was credited with full pencils. There was no significant change, but I detected more of the Thriller influence in von Eeden’s poses and movements. The story was still about drugs and dirty politics, with more emphasis on the latter, and the all-levels corruption inherent in poll-fixing.
Von Eeden’s art was even bigger and more active, with the emphasis on large panels, dominant figures in motion, simplified outlines and minimal backgrounds. The first arc re-introduced the 15 year old, spike haired, burly prostitute now named as Sally. Unwittingly, Sally passed out poisonous bootleg hooch that should have made the homeless visibly sick enough to be cleared off the streets at exactly the right moment to bid for the National Convention, but which killed them instead. And despite the Canary’s efforts to save her, Sally got her neck snapped. The assassin was nabbed but wouldn’t squeal on his boss, who the readers knew was named Whorrsman – subtle or what?
But the stories don’t match up to the art. Dinah is still part of Oliver Queen’s world, that is, the version of it being produced by Mike Grell, which means that it avoids superhero tropes and names, concentrates upon grounded issues, but at the same time tries to douse these in would-be grimness. Which would be better presented if Byam cared more about rigorous plotting.
Issues 5-6 have Canary guarding a unique black tulip that’s stolen by a ruthless costumed villain going by the name Blynde, who’s supposed to be blind, yet appears to operate with perfect sight. She can also fly, disappear into thin air and basically kills everyone she comes near who isn’t the boss she’s indebted to. Who. How. Why. These are just some of the questions Byam treats as not even existing.
The stories kept getting more perfunctory and the art larger and more vivid, but there was an odd feeling of irrelevance to them, and then issue 8 was a fill-in by James Owsley (who later took the name of British SF writer Christopher Priest) and James Hodgkins. It featured a guest appearance by The Ray, both the Golden Age and the recently rebooted version as well as some truly horrendous and grossly amateurish infodumping about the new character that killed stone dead any chance the issue had of working, if that hadn’t already been screwed by Hodgkins’ amateurish art.
Anyhow, the story’s a confused mess as far as the plot is concerned, and even worse on Dinah’s misandryst responses to both Green Arrow and the junior Ray’s attitudes towards her, both of which are dismissed in crude, sexist terms.


After that, it was only a matter of time. Byam, von Eeden and Smith were back for issue 9, with the Huntress dropped in to try to boost sales, though their decision to re-outfit the Canary with a variation on her old outfit that ditched the wig, spike-cut the black hair and overall went for the butch lesbian ballbreaker look in a big way was probably not a commercial move. Suddenly, the book was anti-men in the least subtle of ways.
This was a three parter and I’m missing the middle part but that’s fine. It obviously brought in Nightwing to help Huntress get Black Canary, and her old friend Bethie whose marriage to one of your unrefined MCPs was the point of all this, away from the primitive Middle Eastern kingdom where men and men and women would be better off being camels because they’d get better treatment: Saudi Arabia with the knobs turned up way beyond eleven.
It’s difficult to believe that the late Denny O’Neill was editing anything that had gotten this crude and empty, this procession of gestures without any real intelligence behind it, and he wasn’t editing it for much longer as the series was cancelled from issue 12. It had had a year and it had blown it.
For the last issue, which started at Dinah senior’s graveside, von Eeden was replaced by Leo Duranona. I don’t know the timing but it was presented as if Dinah’s mother had only recently died, though the date of death on her gravestone was 1991 and this issue was cover-dated December 1993.
The series ended on a not-quite cliffhanger. Dinah’s Florist’s Shop and her base of operations in Seattle is completely rebuilt by the grateful women rescued in issue 11. Meanwhile, in Gotham, Dinah meets Jack Lynch, an old but very fit fighting guy who was her father Larry’s partner in his Detective Agency, the partner nobody before now had ever heard of, who was in love with Dinah senior though she didn’t know it. Jack’s on the run from one of these illegal, underground geneticists operations out to improve and replace humanity by hybridising it with animals. Dinah brings Jack back to Seattle, they follow, her shop and home is totalled so she declares war on them as Jack’s partner.
There was no follow up to that lead, which comes into the category of small mercies. After the cancellation, Dinah continued to appear with the Justice League in various incarnations, but was more prominently seen as one of the central characters in the long-running Birds of Prey series, even appearing on TV for the first time in the short-lived TV series based on the comic (played by Rachel Skarsten, as it happened, who is Alice in Batwoman).
Black Canary did not get another solo series until 2007, the same pattern being followed: a four-issue mini-series followed, in 2015, by an open-ended series cancelled after 12 issues. But that Canary follows a number of reboots that breaks any real chain of continuity with the character in these two issues.
It’s nice to have the mini-series back, in a convenient form, and that splendid vigorous art by Trevor von Eeden that impressed itself upon me. And it was interesting to see how it was built upon in the second series. The mini-series gave Dinah Lance the chance to grow, to introduce new perspectives, a new milieu, but it crumbled so badly into crude sexual politics that, in their way, were as extreme as those Dave Sim expressed in Cerebus. Just because they went the other way, and the balance is already tilted against that model, doesn’t make them any better to read. Pity.

Kid Gang Comics: The Boy Commandos

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After quitting Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics over his cheating them out of royalties, the team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby moved to Detective Comics Inc. (from Martin Goodman to Jack Leibowitz, frying pan to fire). After taking over the in-progress revamp of Sandman, and creating Manhunter using the existing name of Paul Kirk, Simon and Kirby settled upon their niche, becoming the Kings of the Kid Gang Comic.
The first were the Newsboy Legion, modelled on the Dead End Kids of cinema fame, with a Captain America-figure in the shield-bearing Guardian. Then, in March 1942, they introduced the Boy Commandos into Detective Comics. The Commandos were an instant success, getting a second string in World’s Finest Comics almost immediately and then, in December 1942, their own title, which ran for 36 issues and which was Detective’s third most popular series, behind only Superman and Batman. Imagine that.
The Commandos, orphans all, were a pretty international bunch to begin with, as befitted the nations already involved in battling the Nazi menace. Their adult leader was Captain Rip Carter and the boys – four in number, the perfect kid gang, echoing their civilian equivalents – consisted of tubby Brit Alfie Twidgett, French kid Andre Chavard, the quiet Dutch boy Jan Haasen and their leader, the tough American kid with the barely suppressed aggression and the wise-cracks, who had no other name than ‘Brooklyn’.
(Many years later, DC would decide to link Brooklyn to Kirby’s Fourth World titles featuring Darkseid, et al., by equating him to Dan Turpin, the tough, heavy-built, New York, cigar-chewing detective ‘Terrible’ Turpin, who would not let his town be taken over by ‘Super Muk-Muks’.)
The first issue is a fascinating experience, featuring no less than four quite contrasting Boy Commandos stories, plus the debut and origin of that All-American girl, Liberty Belle, about whom I was so enthusiastic when reviewing Star-Spangled Comics. There’s a ghost story, a metafictional story with cameos from Simon and Kirby’s other DC characters, and a story set in China that freely adapts the real-life exploits of Fred Townsend Ward and the Ever-Victorious Army, casting one of Rip Carter’s ancestors in the Ward role, with equivalents of the four boys alongside him.

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The pair set the story in semi-mythical turns, using an old man dying of brutal mistreatment by the Japanese, who recognises Carter and the boys, and who dies with contentment, knowing that Rip had come again, as promised on his deathbed, with China in his heart.
But the most significant story in the issue was the first. It was a bitter, angry, intense story of, to put it plainly, revenge. The Commandos’ celebration of another successful mission is muted as young Jan, the quiet Dutch boy, sits distracted. Jan has received a message from the Underground in Vannders, the once idyllic small fishing village in Holland where he was born, and he is possessed by memories of what the Nazis destroyed, and the people who were killed, including his parents and the little girl next door who might have been.
Needless to say, the Commandos have a mission to go to Vannders where they lead the Underground to drive the Nazis into the ground, but what strikes home is the anger and hatred in the story. This is personal for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two of the overwhelming number of Jewish writers, artists, editors, managers, who made up the comics industry. Hatred for Hitler and all he personified runs through this story, which was as personal to its creators as if they, like Jan, had experienced the atrocities they depict.
There’s a disturbing element to this, just as, with Twenty-First Century eyes, there’s a concern about the whole concept. Boys aged… what? Twelve, thirteen, fourteen? Going to War exactly the same as adults, guns in their hands. Where’s the morality in that? How can we justify this, especially as entertainment?
But how can we understand the reality of those days? Especially as, being born ten years after, I have no direct line of experience. No amount of reading, of intellectual appreciation, especially when it’s absorbed from balanced sources who can see a greater picture, can tell you what it was like to live that War. I can have the luxury of concern, about the idea and about the emotions that underpin it, but without being there, I do not have the right to question. Nor did I ever have that conversation with the older members of my family, including my Uncle who fought in the Navy, all but one of whom had gone by my twenties.

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Enough of the heavy philosophising. This is a comic I’m reading. But it’s not a superhero effort, and what motivates it can’t be ignored. Issue 2 was shot from an original signed by Kirby himself, a surprising thrill for what is only pixels, but there you go. This was Libby Lawrence’s last appearance in this series as by issue 3 she had been transferred to her long-term berth, to be replaced by an eccentrically drawn supposedly funny feature titled Jitter’s Jeep, all motion and angularity and incomprehension.
The last story in the issue brought back the mysterious and fearful Agent Axis, the black shadow, the club-footed monster of issue 1, and revealed ‘him’ to be a beautiful woman named Sigrid, who jumped from a castle window rather than be captured. But before that, Simon/Kirby delivered a speech, through Rip Carter, of white-hot contempt and condemnation of Nazism, to her face. It was cathartic, passionate and heartfelt. Politics can’t be absented from these stories but this was dynamite stuff that, for a panel or two, took the comic out of the story and put this part of the story on an elevated plane.
Issue 4 broke the mould by containing only one story, broken up into seven chapters, one of them the usual two-page prose story. It was cover-marked Special Invasion Issue and, most of a year before the real thing, it was the Invasion of Europe, from the Dutch coast to the road to Berlin. Though there’s practically no Simon/Kirby art in it, it was a long, stirring story that wisely chose to end on the edge of mythology, with a statement of intent for the world that incorporated President Rooseveldt’s famous Four Freedoms, as the driving purpose behind the whole War.
It’s hopelessly naïve now, especially in light of what the Right is doing, both here and in America, to drive Democracy from the face of the Earth, but it’s no less stirring for all that. It’s what we should all be committing ourselves to, without question.
Though it was credited to Simon/Kirby, the art was not by their hands, though the set of stories in issue 5 certainly was. According to Wikipedia, at this point in his career Kirby was drawing five pages a day, but Detective’s Jack Leibowitz wanted more. The Boy Commandos were amazingly big. Leibowitz correctly foresaw his two hot creators being drafted and pushed them to stockpile. This was done by rushing jobs through the hands of numerous assistants, such as the young Eli Katz, better known by his professional name, Gil Kane.
By issue 8, it was very noticeable that plain, flat-out War stories, attacks on the Nazis and paeans to freedom and liberty were going a bit on the back-burner as stories about dreams, Norse Gods and gold rushes in the Arctic were starting to take over. It was not a good sign.
Simon and Kirby’s names were on each story, now only three per issue, but their ghosts were firmly in charge of the art, and the art they were producing was ugly rather than the creators’ own brand of energetic grotesquerie. It can’t be helped. Jack Kirby had been called up and he couldn’t hold a gun and a pencil at the same time.
Issue 12, the end of the title’s third year, was cover-dated Fall 1945. In practice, that put it in the closing months, with a reference to VE Day establishing how narrow was the gap between preparation and publication. What would the Boy Commandos do when peace came?
But for the moment, Simon/Kirby put on all the burners for a story during the invasion of Europe, reuniting three old friends – a nurse, a soldier and a medical corpsman, a woman and two friendly rivals for her affections – in the middle of the advance, fighting their utmost in their own ways whilst the Boy Commandos tackled a tough, life-saving mission in which all of them, including Rip Carter, were wounded. It was the best thing the series had produced for ages, with the exact right level of care and respect among the three friends to make the story touching without being sentimental.
What would the Boy Commandos do post-War? They’d turn to the War Diary and fight on in previously unreported actions, of course. Detective Comics’ third most popular series was not being let off the hook that easily.

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And just at that moment, with issue 14, Detective could cash in on that success by upping frequency to bi-monthly, now that paper rationing was being lifted. It was at that point that I noticed that the title was being published by World’s Best Comics, not Detective as I had assumed, nor National as it would become when Jack Liebowitz had finished merging everything. Where did this interloper come from? It’s a name I’ve never heard before, and whilst their editorial offices were in New York, their corporate address was in St Louis. It was an address used by a number of different publishers, so almost certainly an accommodation address, to allow the publishers to take advantage of Missouri State tax laws.
To complicate matters further, issue 13, alone, was credited as being published by J R Publishing.
The next issue saw a change in direction for the series as the Boy Commandos turned crime-crackers. The first story saw the introduction of super-villain Crazy-Quilt, an artist and thief who would in due course become a regular foe for Batman and Robin. Quilt’s gimmick was that he lost his sight when blinded by a bullet from a rival gang boss. Coercing a surgeon to operate, he discovered he could only see in bright clashing colours. His mind snapping, he made bright colour a theme of his crimes and had to be stopped by the Boy Commandos and Rip Carter, now in civvies, except for Brooklyn who had never been out of them.
Rip goes on to be Skipper of the Flying Patrol of the New International Police, the boys go home to Brooklyn and street snowball fights, he re-recruits them and there you go. Or rather he recruits three of them: of Jan there is no sign. According to Wikipedia he was given a home in Holland with relatives, but that must have been revealed in a story in either Detective or World’s Finest.
The publishers of record become National Comics as of issue 20, cover-dated March/April 1947.
There was an even bigger change in issue 21, with Simon and Kirby’s name not appearing anywhere, and despite the efforts of the artist, it would have been a breach of the Trades Description Act if they had. The next thing was Alfy’s departure, at the start of issue 22, to go to college, where the rest of the gang were heading west to Texas to pick up his replacement, unsurprisingly called Tex.
At first glance, Tex was a colourless bust. The issue was filled out by a reappearance from Crazy-Quilt and a guest role for radio comedienne Judy Canova, making up to a reluctant Brooklyn whilst being in real life over twice his age. Do you get the impression of a series that has not just lost its way as deliberately chucked it away?

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But Simon and Kirby were back in issue 23, bringing with them boy genius Percy Clearwater, to take the place of Andre, who is badly hurt in a sabotaged plane before the lead story even gets going. There’s the usual appeal to the readers about whether they want to see Percy again, and Andre’s alright by the second, Foreign Legion set story.
And the creators were gone again next issue and couldn’t we tell? In one story, Brooklyn played Superman. You need know nothing more than that.
Every now and then, and increasingly in the Fifties, various DC titles print stories in which the heroes act like dicks towards women, or girls, pulling the old ‘too-dangerous-for-a-girl’ routine. Having agreed to take on a temporary Commando X, the winner of a competition, Carter is horrified to discover ‘Jimmy’ is really Jennie, and plots to cheat her with a fake pirate raid. Instead, old enemy Mr Peg takes the raid over, kidnapping Jennie who is an heiress.
But this one turned out the unexpected way, as Jennie’s sharp-shooting skills enable her to take out Peg’s gang single-handedly, and even twit him about having grown-ups in his outfit, as these kids are pestering her to death… The other two stories simply demonstrated the increasingly silly depths the series was sinking to, with Brooklyn now irreversibly cast as the comic lead wherever the plot took the boys.
The plain truth was that, without the War, the Boy Commandos had no point, and without Simon and Kirby they had no inspiration and the result was any old mish-mash that would fill twelve pages at a time, irrespective of how stupid it was: dreams of the past, trips into the future, two boys as nonentities. Once again, here is a series dying in leaps and bounds, without any idea why.
Amazingly, after far too many issues by inferior hands, Simon and Kirby dropped by to produce the middle story in issue 29, as well as gave a good influence on the art of the first, though their story was another of the undersea city fantasies that were so out of place.
Another real-life guest star in baseball pitcher Bob Feller turned up next issue whilst a temporary group of substitute Commandos was brought in for another story that month.
Westerns were becoming ever more popular at National Comics and so issue 32 saw the Commandos team up with the Queen of the Westerns, aka Dale Evans, or Mrs Roy Rogers, whose own title at the company had already reached issue 5
We were offered a new Commando in issue 34, this time a canine one, or rather half dog, half wolf, accepted as a member of the team and then not appearing again. An issue later, Brooklyn was completely revised. Badly injured saving a little girl from being knocked down by a taxi, Brooklyn underwent plastic surgery to turn his face cute instead of ugly, and subconscious hypno-speech therapy to get him to pronounce his ‘th’s at last.
And in the second story, Andre is summoned back to France as the only person able to take over the family farm and, a mere dozen issues and two years later, enter Percy Clearwater, boy inventor and detective, to become the new Commando.
This kind of radical re-ordering of the leading character spelt only one thing: desperation at falling sales and, like all such things, too damned late: the series was cancelled with issue 36, November/December 1949 and, considering what it had become since the years of the War and Simon/Kirby, not a page too soon.
It was a sad ending, indeed one I’d go so far as to say ignominious, but it was inevitable from the moment the replacements for Simon and Kirby decided to turn Andre and Tex into cyphers besides Rip and Brooklyn, then turn Brooklyn into a smug-talking figure of fun. Joe and Jack were the kings of the Kid-Gang comic alright, the proof being that the schmucks who followed them had no idea how to produce a fraction of the effect.
But when they were hot, only Superman and Batman were hotter.

The Not-So-Great Escape: post-Kirby Mr Miracle

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Jack Kirby’s Fourth World titles were an ambitious attempt to create a new form of comics, by presenting a combination of titles, united by a central concept and a central villain, challenged from different directions and in different aspects over four different series, including the entirely improbable Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen.
It didn’t work. That is to say, it didn’t work commercially. New Gods and Forever People were both cancelled after eleven bi-monthly issues, on the usual grounds that they weren’t selling. I’ve heard otherwise, especially from Kirby’s then-assistant, writer and historian Mark Evanier. He’s not the only one to suggest that Kirby was presented with less-than-accurate figures by DC Editorial Director/Publisher, Carmine Infantino. Evanier has stated that whilst the books were not high-sellers, they were bringing in better-than-cancellation figures.
Given that it was Infantino who worked so hard to detach Kirby from Marvel, his treatment of him once signed up to DC – which was to basically deny him everything he’d been promised and to hinder him from being Kirby in favour of promoting the DC style – was bizarre and perverse, but not necessarily so mysterious.
As well as the Fourth World, Kirby was still the creation machine he’d always been. The idea was always that he would create and start off titles before handing them off to assistants, like Evanier and his colleague Steve Sherman to write, and other artists to draw, under his supervision. But Kirby came up with Kamandi, the Last Boy, Infantino liked it, insisted Kirby continue it himself and, in order to give him time to do so, cancelled New Gods and Forever People. Given Infantino’s track record in the Seventies, it’s horribly believable.

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Mr Miracle lived on. It was almost the most easily detachable from the overall mythos, the super-Escape Artist quickly convertible into a lone wolf. It ran for another seven issues, getting increasingly simplistic, until it too hit the Cancellation Wall, this time probably for sales, culminating in a final issue that brought back practically all the New Genesis and Apokalips characters (save for The Forever People, who’d been stranded in a far distant limbo) to act as witnesses to the marriage of Scott Free and Big Barda. This was, incidentally, the only one of the Fourth World issues I bought when it was published.
Just over three years later, DC revived the series for a further seven issues. I might almost have characterised it as another Infantino’s Follies save for two things. Firstly, that Mr Miracle was revived under Jenette Kahn as Publisher, and secondly that it was actually quite good. Nevertheless, the same thing that dogged Infantino’s mid-Seventies series, was still present, namely multiple creators. In seven issues, we covered two writers, two pencillers, two editors and multiple inkers, not to mention two complete changes of direction, one at the start, the other at the swap of writers. I call this quite good? Oh, but I do.
The New Gods had already been revived, under the title Return of…, as a one-off in First Issue Special under Infantino, and then as a series under Kahn, but as this was being written by Gerry Conway, all right-minded Fourth World fans regard it as never having happened. The Mister Miracle revival followed, under a writer with a better pedigree, Steve Engelhart, working with hotshot new penciller Marshall Rogers.
Engelhart had made his name at Marvel but had walked out on them in a fit of pique at what he saw, rightly or wrongly, as interference with his work, by Conway, ironically. Actually, Engelhart intended walking out on comics, period, but before doing so, in a wonderfully small-minded act of petty revenge, for which I applaud him, whole-heartedly, he decide to go to DC for a year and knock their socks off with his writing in a two-finger gesture to Marvel.
Engelhart wrote a superb year of Justice League of America. He wrote an eight-issue run on Batman, the first two issues a kind of try-out with an unrecognisable Walt Simonson inked by Al Milgrom, and the rest stunning from Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin, done DC style, from full script and unseen by Engelhart until the finished series was sent to him in Europe.

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And Rogers was wonderfully paired with Engelhart for Mr Miracle, albeit without Austin. Instead there was one issue credited to Ilya Hinch, a name representing nine different inkers working on different characters, one of them Rogers himself, and three by the notorious Vince Colletta, who couldn’t quite obliterate Rogers’ art but who made his usual uninterested in wasting time effort to do so.
Engelhart picked things up where Kirby had left off, with Scott and Barda on New Genesis, on honeymoon, effectively in retirement. Scott’s starting to feel a bit out of it, especially as everyone else is in action, and the point becomes extremely pointed when he is attacked via Boom Tube by Darkseid’s hierarchy, namely the same four that tried to kill the pair before their wedding: Granny Goodness, Virmin Vunderbar, Kanto and Dr Bedlam. Scott fights back, but Barda is kidnapped, for reindoctrination as a good little Darkseid trooper, with Scott following her to Apokalyps to get her back. He’s allowed to get to where they are keeping her, but only by separating himself from Mother Box.
That meant Scott having to rely on his human skills. And next issue, having spirited Barda away, despite her having been brainwashed to attack him, he got her away to New Genesis and their version of a hospital there. Unfortunately, when he tried to repair and re-bond with Mother Box, she pushed him off: up till now, he has relied on her, seeming to have no god-like powers of his own, but now he has to draw upon his own strengths.
And Scott decided to fight back against Darkseid by becoming a messiah: on Apokalyps certainly, and maybe on Earth too. Scott started his campaign whilst Barda was recovering.
At which point, after three issues, Engelhart was gone, without warning or explanation. Rogers stayed on for issue 22, which was written by an unknown, John Harkness, and which featured Scott Free, out of the blue and with no foreshadowing, deciding that the only thing to do was to kill Darkseid, Messiah-dom obviously not being cut out for the impatient.
At the time, it caught me by surprise. What I didn’t know, and didn’t learn for several years, was that John Harkness was Steve Engelhart, taking his name off the script because he was essentially doing what was required of him by incoming editor Larry Hama, who had replaced Denny O’Neill: not his idea, not his name.
The fill-in issue isn’t that bad. The first two-thirds is divided more or less equally between Mr Miracle fighting his way across Apokalyps to Darkseid’s personal bunker of darkness, and his friend Oberon desperately trying and succeeding in making contact with New Genesis, Highfather and Himon to tell them what Scott is doing and seek aid for him. Oberon does not have high hopes of Scott succeeding, and the New Genesis high command has even less, since all they do is burst out laughing, treat it about as seriously as you’d treat a ram trying to headbutt a hole in a dam, and suggest he stops broadcasting before someone local homes in on his radio position.
And then Mr Miracle gets there, into Darkseid’s bunker, and suddenly it’s scary shit with full page art, all dark and craggy, and the lack of balance of powers between him and the Master of Apokalyps becomes vividly, visually apparent, and Darkseid just disappears him with a wave of his hand…

MM Golden

Enter a new creative team. This consists of writer Steve Gerber and penciller Michael Golden, paired on inks first time with Joe Giella, and then Russ Heath for the last two issues, by which we can actually see that it’s Golden doing the art, and not just his name being taken in vain.
The first of Gerber’s issues takes up Mr Miracle’s dismissal. He winds up in some sort of limbo land, confronted by an either female or at least androgynous figure calling herself Ethos, and who may or may not be a manifestation of Mother Box. We are drifting even further from Kirby’s conceptions here, especially as Ethos’s teachings are bent to re-orienting Scott’s perceptions, divorcing him from both his godly heritages, Apokaplyps and New Genesis.
Thankfully, it doesn’t start intimating that he is actually human instead, but it does send Scott back to New Genesis, to a) collect Barda and b) blow off Highfather with unfilial rudeness, before heading back to Earth with Barda.
Scott plans to start up a new Escape artist tour as a preliminary to building himself up as messianic figure, helping people escape from their perceptions (a rather trite ambition). He sells up Oberon’s home, moves everyone to California (I know exactly how Oberon feels), re-hires his old publicist Ted Brown and sets about building himself up in the public eye.
Gerber also introduced an interesting young character, by name Aleetha. Aleetha is fifteen years old. Ten years ago, she suffered injuries, impliedly due to a mistake by her weakling father, that leave her in constant pain. Despite this, and under tutelage by her domineering, not to mention sneering mother, she has trained herself to perfect control of her body, fuelled by her pain, and is now to be used as a weapon against Mr Miracle by Granny Goodness.
Aleetha strikes in issue 25. She’s more than a match for Scott Free. Unfortunately, for her parents at least, she is not interested in inflicting pain, in combat of any kind, except against the limitations of her body. This makes her useless to Granny and ensures her parents’ deaths: no loss, as far as I can tell.
Mr Miracle saves her from Granny and was clearly going to take her on as part of his team, but at this point the infamous Implosion occurred. This iteration of Mr Miracle was cancelled, and Aleetha and any plans Gerber had for her went with him. Pity: she was a genuinely intriguing character.
Not, of course, that this was the end of Mr Miracle: far from it. In it’s way, it was a transition series, setting Scott Free both in the context of, and divorcing himself from what Kirby had established for him. He’s still around, forty plus years later – Kirby characters tend to do that – even though, the last time I noticed, Shilo Norman, not Scott, was the one getting out of impossible traps.
But even though this brief run ought properly to be regarded as a travesty, it was a travesty by two superior writers and two great (when not pissed all over by crap inkers) artists. I bought it all then and I’m glad to have it back now. So two cheers from me.

MM 25

Bat and Cat: A Love(ly) Affair

BC 1

I don’t know the whole story, and even if I did it wouldn’t make any sense, any more than any of the character biographies you read for any comic book character in Wikipedia, but especially the ones who have been around for decades. Too many writers, too many editors, too many takes: it doesn’t take long for a history to become irretrievably screwed up.
If I’m remembering correctly, my first exposure of substance to Catwoman came in 1968, in Batman 197, an issue in which, after years and years of the long split skirt and the boots, Selina Kyle re-dressed herself in a skin-tight glittery costume that echoed Julie Newmar’s outfit in the Batman TV series, except for being bright green – and what more cat-like colour could you think of?
I imagine that I’d seen Catwoman before, in reprints of her from the dispiriting Fifties, when Batman had a literally square jaw and Catwoman’s wasn’t all that soft and delicate. And I didn’t even buy this comic for the Feline Felon but because it featured Batgirl. It was a typical late-Sixties Gardner Fox/Julius Schwartz script, in which Catwoman’s crimes were all based on obscure words that began with the letters C-A-T, and in which she was out to humiliate Batgirl in front of Batman in order to demonstrate to the Caped Crusader how much better a bride our Miss Kyle would make.
The Sixties. You had to be there. It helped to be twelve and uncritical.
Times change, and comics characters with them. In the mid Nineties, I read a couple of years’ worth of the first Catwoman title, the one drawn by Jim Balent, which probably tells you all you need to know about my motivations. I read some of the second series in the run up to Infinite Crisis and on for a few issues into the ‘One Year Later’ era. I’ve read odd bits and pieces but nothing consistently. From out-and-out supervillain, to anti-heroine, to someone straddling the line between both sides.


But I’ve most consistently enjoyed the portrayal of Selina Kyle, and of her twin relationships with Batman and Bruce Wayne, as they appeared in Tom King’s Batman series that spun out of the DC Rebirth event. Indeed, it was a review of Annual 2 to that story, and its associated regular issue, that tempted me into buying both books and loving them for the way they were such fun, and for how utterly convincing I thought King depicted the pair as being in love: deeply, passionately, and filled with a bedrock understanding of each other. Or should I say, with her bedrock understanding of him?
Because, let’s face it, Batman may be one of the only two minds in the DC Universe smarter than Mr Terrific, but he hasn’t got half the idea of who he is that Selina Kyle has of Bruce Wayne, and whilst he may be smarter on the subject of Catwoman, in terms of levels of emotional intelligence, she’s still got the boy beaten.
A portrayal of Batman in which Catwoman is not merely his equal but, in many aspects, better than him? Let me read more of this!
But one further, though relevant, digression, to ask myself who is this Catwoman who plays such cat-and-mouse games with Batman? For the lady has, like so many others, gone through multiple pasts. She was created by Bob Kane as a jewel thief, in 1940. Ten years later she gets a knock on the head, restoring her memory of her past as an Air Hostess who discovered a criminal side to herself after a knock on the head. Selina reformed and even helped Batman out a couple of times before being driven back to crime by taunts from crooks about Batman taming her. This revival was brief as only a few months later she was dropped from the series, in the light of the Comics Code Authority’s stupid restrictions on how women could be portrayed!
Catwoman wasn’t seen again until 1966, and even then first in Lois Lane. In 1983, but meanwhile, on Earth-2, their Selina Kyle, still reformed, unconsciously lets slip that the amnesia story was a lie, that it had been a convenient excuse to escape a life she hated, felt trapped in, and which left her unable to find love, and children. It was a neat, poignant story that took the unusual step of treating the two characters as human beings, both desperately lonely because of the lives that had been forced upon them, and the outcome was marriage, of course.
I mention this sidebar idea because of Earth-2’s ability to show different aspects to characters, and for its relevance to the modern era. But the real changes followed Crisis on Infinite Earths. Firstly, Frank Miller (who else?) rewrote Selina as a professional dominatrix – Catwoman in a Cathouse, geddit, geddit? – introducing a piece of griminess, rather than grim’n’grittiness that thankfully didn’t last too many years; you don’t have to degrade every-bloody-thing, Miller, you sicko.
This stark piece of bullshit was soon ameliorated, by a female writer I’m pleased to say, though Catwoman’s history was then made boringly complicated to try to keep things nasty, but not necessarily sexually nasty (Americans…). Then the Nineties saw Catwoman drifting towards antiheroine status as a jewel thief who sort did all sort of right things along the way. And the post-Balent series had her acting simultaneously as a thief and a protector of Gotham’s grubby and down-market East End, until it was revealed that she’s been magically brainwashed by Zatanna to turn good…
There were all manner of stories, including one in which Batman reveals his true identity to her, as well as declaring his love for her. The New 52 just made things worse, as it did for everything, and the next reboot was DC Rebirth in which Selina’s parents died early, she spent years in an orphanage and demands to be executed for causing 237 deaths when her old orphanage burns down, if I’ve understood Wikipedia properly. Now is the time to turn to Tom King’s series, and Read On…
(But is it any wonder I want to reject a history like that?)
Though it’s nearer the middle than the beginning, let me start with that Annual, and its associated two-parter. The Annual is an immediate delight, which hasn’t lost any of its power to amuse and satisfy since. It contains two stories, one from the beginning of Batman and Catwoman’s relationship and one from the end. The first is a comedy, a sweet comedy. It’s all about flirtation by burglary, as Catwoman endlessly demonstrates her ability to defeat every kind of security Bruce Wayne instals in Wayne Manor. She bypasses alarms, then triggers them when she chooses, leading to chases in which she outwits the Bat, disappearing without trace and leaving a souvenir, in the form of a small mouse. King drops in a brilliant line from Alfred, irritated enough to request, in pained tones, that she at least leaves cages and some money to feed them.
It’s a first demonstration, or at least it was for me, that King was going to be writing Catwoman as, in her own way, superior to Batman. He can’t keep her out, of his Mansion, his Batcave and his life. Subconsciously, he doesn’t want to. Selina, in her way, is slightly more detached, more capable of conducting her life without the Bat: she has been independent all her life and has no intention of surrendering that self-possession. But she loves him as much as he loves her. They are, in that sense, made for each other, despite their very different natures and pursuits, and the game she plays with him is far deeper than its superficial playfulness.
The other story was of the end. Of Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle, an old married couple, about to be parted forever. Bruce Wayne has contracted cancer. His family gathers around him. He dies, in bed, the opposite of unloved and unmourned. And she remains, the holder of the Wayne fortune, composed to the last, having come to terms with what is going to happen. Left with her daughter Helena, she shares her feelings about how she had never wanted to be tied down, how her independence had been the only key thing to her, had not wanted children, but it turned out that Helena had stolen from her: had stolen her heart.
This combination of sweet and sour, of joyousness and the ultimate, inescapable sadness, was a perfect combination. When taken in conjunction with the contemporary issue 38, I was hooked.
That issue guest-starred Superman, and Lois Lane. It had the minimum of action, deliberately token. It was about Bruce Wayne introducing his fiancée to his best friend and his wife. It was about the uncertainty on Clark Kent’s part and the instant confidence on that of Lois Lane, about Selena’s concerns about how she would be taken, as Batman’s bride and supervillain simultaneously, against Lois’s immediate acceptance of Catwoman as a new girlfriend.


This was enough to trigger me into buying the bi-weekly from that point forward, one visit to the comics shop a month, two instalments to read on the bus home, and to the embrace of the Deluxe Editions to catch up the earlier part of the story.
I suspect that if I had bought in at any other point, at any of the bits that are Batman the Crime Fighter, the broken boy out to hold the world together, I would not have been seduced into the story. That’s what mattered to me, that King captured a very ordinary, very deep and involving love, such as that I had enjoyed myself, between two very far from ordinary people, and the best stages in the story are those that are about Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle just being a couple, together.
Going back to the beginning, seeing the psychological profile of Batman build up, from the introduction of two short-lived superheroes into Gotham, naming themselves for the city, to the convolutions that led Batman into confronting Bane, yet again, requiring to lead a ‘Suicide Squad’ mission that included a Catwoman on Death Row for 237 murders that she claims to have committed but which Batman is determined to clear her of: these are the building blocks of the overall story, and the foundation of two of the three separate strands that constitute King’s story.
It’s all about breaking the Batman, and it’s about how he comes back from being temporarily broken, because Batman always wins. There’s Bane, out to break him by taking his City away from him, there’s Dr Thomas Wayne, the Batman of a different reality, in which the little boy Bruce was the one shot in an alley, out to break Batman by being a bigger, stronger Batman than him, forcing little Bruce to turn into a human who can be just that: human and untortured.
And there is Selina Kyle, who fears to break him by that ultimate corruption, happiness, who understands Bruce Wayne better than he understands himself, and who builds the Batman back up, and without whom…
Catwoman’s essential to this story. Without her role, without her refusal to accept Batman’s reality as the ultra-grim, deadly-dull thing it is, her playfulness born directly from her love for the Bat, this would be no more worth reading than any of the interminable quagmire of Batman stories generated every minute. She refuses to take it seriously, and she makes it what it is, an exploration of just how deep into people love can go.
There’s more than mere banter between people who have a near-absolute confidence in each other in the constant to-and-fro over where Bat and Cat first met. He insists it was on a boat, she on the street. There’s a meta-textual competition here: Bob Kane’s Bruce and Selina first met on a boat, Frank Miller’s in the street. Two competing versions of reality are facing each other down: I’m prejudiced but despite the lady possessing the greater clarity and sanity, I see Batman’s version as championing a cleaner, healthier lineage: love is not possible in the Miller version of the world.
The part of the series I entered into was the lead-up to the ‘Wedding Issue’, in Batman 50. Yet, unlike Superman and Lois, twenty years before, it was all set-up and no bouquet. Selina was being worked on, to play her part in the breaking of Batman. By the Joker, on the one hand, and her friend Holly Robinson on the other, Catwoman was being led to a particular view of Batman, of Bruce Wayne, one slanted to her fears about how they – crimefighter and thief – can have a life, subject to her need for independence, without control. And one slanted to how much she knows him, knows that he is at heart that scared boy whose world was killed in an alley, the scared boy who made himself into Batman, and who cannot be Batman, the effective Batman, if you take pain away from him.
Bruce Wayne cannot be both happy, and Batman.


None of that changes in the back half of the story. King doesn’t turn things around and come up with some magical reversal that allows Wayne to be both in love and the Batman he has to be if DC’s roster of publications doesn’t instantly shrink by a third. To that extent, his ending in issue 85 is flim-flam, hustling us via action out of asking the awkward question. Selina comes back into Bruce’s life when he is broken, comprehensively broken, by Bane and by Thomas Wayne, and she repairs him, by love, by commitment to him, by partnering him. Batman’s future is to never be alone again. Selina Kyle, wife in all but marriage licence, sees to that.
King’s series was originally to run for 100 issues. Then it was adjusted to 105 issues to take account of Doomsday Clock and Heroes in Crisis crossovers. Then it was abruptly shortened to 85 issues and the final phase, the this-will-change-Batman-for-a-generation bit was separated into the current, ever-so-slow motion Batman/Catwoman Black Label maxi-series, of which nine issues have at this time of writing been published, at ever-increasing intervals, just like everything.
Like King’s other projects, Heroes in Crisis, Strange Adventures and the one I refused on principle to read, Rorscharch, Batman/Catwoman is doing much to undermine my respect for those parts of his Batman that left Catwoman out. Once again it’s tediously nonlinear in its chronology, set in past, present and future. I’m trying not to be too judgemental until it’s all available, but I’m getting increasingly uninterested in reading the remaining three issues. What’s more, it’s held me up so long on my intended stepping away from current comics that Astro City is on the 2022 horizon to drag me back in.
The thing is, once again, logistics. Had this story appeared as Batman 86-105 I would have warmed to it far more. There would have been an instant continuity, and I confidently believe that what we would have read would have been fresher, more absorbing. Severed from its parent story, by more than just time, it has become dessicated, stale by overthought. At least, that’s what I’m getting from it.
Again, as I write, Tom King is setting out to psycho-analyse and destroy another DC character, this time Christopher Chance, the Human Target. The story will be told in non-linear chronology. How dull.
But let’s go back to the lovers of Batman 1-85, who are the basis for all these thoughts. By now, after too much exposure to Batman, I am more interested in Catwoman, but more than him over the last thirty-odd years, she’s been reinvented, usually ineptly, too many times, and there’s only a minority of her solo adventures that were well-handled or entertaining. The problem is that, when handled right, she works beautifully with Batman, but that can never be allowed to develop into a permanent situation, because she restricts Batman’s freedom in too many respects. Firstly, romantically, then professionally, because she is too much of an equal with him in a way that none of the rest of the Bat-Family can be, not even Batwoman, the only other non-protege, and lastly in terms of her greater emotional intelligence. That’s before taking into account the character’s individual commercial viability, which would be taken off the board by making her Batman’s permanent partner.
I don’t really have an ending for this essay, which is appropriate, because DC don’t have an ending for Batman. An ending is the last thing that’s allowed, or should I say it’s the first thing that’s not allowed. World without End. Batman wins again. In this world, this Batman could not win without the woman who is the other and better half of him. Eventually, Superman not only admitted his identity to ‘snoopy’ Lois Lane, but changed his entire existence, entirely for the best. Superman need never be alone again.
DC had the opportunity to do that for Batman, but cannot, because to do so would not not be seen as reinvention and revivication, but an ending. And an ending, no matter how right, is the one anathema in comics.

Death of the Justice League

Dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark, dark…