By Matt D. Wilson
Each week, Matt Wilson, co-host of the War Rocket Ajax podcast and author of the Supervillain Field Manual, examines at a major comic news item and picks a few winners and (usually) one loser among the week’s comic book releases.
“I’ve plotted 15 issues so far, and I’m going to keep going until I run out of ideas.”
That’s a Grant Morrison quote from a Wizard interview that’s been floating around on Tumblr the past couple days. He said it just before “Batman” #655, the first issue of his world-spanning, time-leaping, perception-altering run on the character. The run ended up going seven years and about 75 issues, so it took Morrison coming up with five times what he had at the beginning to run out of ideas, I suppose.
Morrison is a divisive writer, and I completely understand why. His “New X-Men” run, which is one of my favorites, bucked a lot of established X-Men convention and sort of changed, or maybe forgiving people would say evolved, the whole concept, with all its secondary mutations and Cassandra Novas and Xorn twists. Marvel more or less stuffing all that stuff back in the box and kind of just saying it never happened was understandable, if a little frustrating for those of us that wanting to see the potential of the new direction could be (you might argue that is actually happening now, especially in Jason Aaron’s “Wolverine and the X-Men”).
A lot of readers complain that Morrison’s work is just plain too hard to follow, and I have certainly felt the same way on occasion. I actually felt that way about his Batman work for a while until, right around the time “Batman and Robin” was getting started up, I went back and read all of his “Batman” issues in one sitting. It all clicked then. Dr. Hurt, the Batmen of All Nations, what exactly was going on with the Joker, the “Batman and Robin will never die!” stuff. It coalesced.
Maybe you’d say a comic series that takes an additional, careful reading has failed. Comics are meant to be read and completely digested in one quick perusal, then put in a box and never touched. If that’s your thing, cool. But I’ve rarely had a comics moment of clarity as powerful as the one I experienced when I read those Batman comics. I really mean it. Since then, I have devoured and really loved every issue (well, almost every one; “Batman Inc.” Vol. 1, #8 is still pretty rough).
I’m pretty happy with how it all wrapped up. This week’s “Batman Incorporated” #13 ends with a crazy, superhero/sci-fi twist in an epilogue that almost feels like Morrison daring DC to do something with the new components of Batman he has created. The crazy thing is, one of those components, Damian, has become so popular that DC might just do it. (Actually, they definitely will, at least in a sort of Elseworlds capacity.) And thank heaven it was drawn by Chris Burnham, who really should have been doing the art on Morrison’s run on the book all along (though I’d certainly be OK with keeping Frank Quitely on his issues).
But really, the whole issue is kind of an epilogue. It slows things down, gives Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon a chance to talk things out, and sort of explains what the whole run really was. Batman met his match. He lost a lot. He came to terms with the fact he needed help, and there are challenges beyond what he alone can handle. It’s all spelled out. It’s as if Morrison was giving his detractors a cheat sheet, at least until he pulled the rug out from under them.
And now the comics of the week!
“Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril” #1
Vertigo Comics, by Peter Hogan and Chris Sprouse
Let’s get the bad out of the way first: This issue, the first “Tom Strong” comic to come out in over seven years, at a different publisher, does little to introduce readers who may have picked it up out of curiosity or upon the recommendation of friends to its characters. If you’re not at least somewhat familiar with the world of Tom Strong before picking this up, you’ll be pretty lost. That said, it’s a cracking little story for those readers who do know a thing or two about the character. The first two-thirds or so plays out more or less like a medical drama, which almost seems like a waste of Sprouse except for the fact that the medical emergency involves a baby who can flame up depending on how mad it gets. Sprouse has a ton of, well, maybe not fun, but he’s really creative in the way he depicts the condition. Once the story gets extra crazy with Tom Strong actually picking up the 2003 “Terra Obscura” miniseries to read for background on the super-science planet he plans to visit, things really take off.
“High Crimes” #4
Monkeybrain Comics, by Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa
Speaking of issues that require some prior knowledge, readers who just dip into this series might be convinced this issue is more or less about a woman named Zan who just really, really wants to climb Mount Everest as quickly as possible, for the fun of it. That’s half true, sure, but so much of the story here is in what’s unsaid, and in the flashbacks that occasionally pop in. Zan is a master manipulator, and Moustafa does an amazing job of depicting her “game face” versus all the fear and anxiety she has in private. This is a great series. Read it.
“Adventure Time Summer Special” #1
Kaboom! Studios, by Noelle Stevenson, Ryan Pequin, Emily Partridge, Frank Gibson and Becky Dreistadt
Who would have thought the most prominent place to grab a collection of smart, funny, alternative/indie comics in 2013 would be in an “Adventure Time” book? But here we are, with Stevenson’s wonderful lemonade story, Pequin’s hilarious bird roommate piece, Partridge’s dialogue-free Marceline story, and Gibson/Dreistadt teaming up for a really great Fionna/Cake adventure. None of the stories are particularly “big,” in the comics sense. But they’re a delight.
Marvel Comics, by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred
The same week Tom Strong was reading comics written by the writer of his own comic, Matt Fraction, Mike Allred and Tom Brevoort were coming to the Baxter Building to take a tour of the Negative Zone with the FF and a tiny little tiger. Meanwhile, Bentley-23 and a bunch of the other kids play an insane game of 20 questions with a really mysterious character. The Allreds make it all look spectacular, and as Fraction said on Tumblr, things get meta. What a fun time.
I don’t have one this week! Everything I read was pretty good, for honest.