Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Two For You

It's already the tenth and where have I been? I am still not reviewing for PBR, but I think I am working my way back to it. Here are a couple of reviews I posted in forums. Expect more.

DOKTOR SLEEPLESS, Vol. 1: ENGINES OF DESIRE

Writer: Warren Ellis; Art: Ivan Rodriguez
Published by Avatar 2008

I remember when Ellis first began to promote this work. He made the point of comparing it to Transmetropolitan. Doktor Sleepless is a Spider Jerusalem for the 21st century (not a direct quote, but you get the idea). But it’s a comparison that does this troubled story no favours. Spider was a passionate gonzo journalist, obviously modeled on Hunter S. Thompson. He exposed fools and he sometimes played the fool. The tone of that comic was deeply set in the socio-political revolutions of the 1960s; the last time a large segment of the population believed that positive social change was both possible and inevitable. We may look back and cringe at their naivety - we may not - but their intentions were good. Sleepless is a meglomaniac who seems more concerned with the cyber-punk (or whatever the current nomenclature is) community than with the world in general. Not that he cares about the world. He wants to bring it all down. Maybe literally. There is an odd Lovecraftian turn at the end. What we get is a couple hundred pages of techno babble and a screed about how the world we have isn’t what we thought it would be when we were kids. Just a lot of whining about authenticity. It’s a concept that get bandied about a lot (the cynic in me wonders if its use here isn’t derived from rock music criticism) but it has little practical value. The world you live in is the real thing, however disappointed you are in it. Trust me. Driving jerk boyfriends to suicide and enabling the beating of a rent-a-cop take the place of political action. I like Ellis, and I wanted to say something positive, but there isn’t anything here.

Rodriguez’s art doesn’t add anything either. I was struck by how much alike his characters look. When a women with short blonde hair puts on a brunette wig, she is a dead ringer for another character. She isn’t meant to be. Like a lot of comic artist, Rodriguez relies on costumes and hair to tell the audience who is who, and there aren’t many costumes here.

Ellis seems to be moving away from comics and I would be very surprised if this series went even half the distance Transmetro did. Honestly, I don’t think that’s much of a loss.

GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT: A TALE OF THE BATMAN

Writer: Brian Augustyn; Pencils: Michael Mignola; Inks: P. Craig Russell; Colour: David Horning; Introduction by Robert Bloch
Published by DC 1989

Gotham By Gaslight puts Bruce Wayne and the origins of Batman a hundred years into the past (as of the time it was published) and sets him up against Jack the Ripper. Wayne has spent five years in Europe preparing himself under the tutelage of such men as Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud and now feels ready to take up his mission and save Gotham from its criminal element. We get a quick series of retellings, detailing the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and introducing a familiar cast of Gothamites. It soon becomes apparent that Wayne isn’t the only one newly arrived from the Continent. Jack the Ripper is also in the city, and two - the Bat and the Ripper - quickly have the entire city up in arms.

It’s a good story and it’s well told. I can see why it has remained so popular for twenty years. However, there are a couple of obvious weak points. First, we know who the Ripper is right away. We are not supposed to, but the moment he appears on the page, your first thought will be, 'I bet that’s Jack the Ripper.' And you’ll be right. Second, Batman ignores the Ripper’s actions in Gotham, content to follow his own agenda, until circumstances make him act. I don’t care how many Elseworlds there are, Batman wouldn’t act like this on any of them. It’s a fundamental misreading (mis-writing?) of the character.

This book comes with some interesting contributors. Neither of the artists are associated with superhero comics and the intro is written by Robert Bloch. Bloch was an early Weird Tales contributor, and his career was mentored by his friend H.P. Lovecraft. Today Bloch is best known as the author of Psycho. He takes an original approach, writing the introduction as Jack the Ripper.

I picked up my 1989 edition of this at a recent convention, but DC put out a new trade addition in 2006, which includes a follow up story, also by Augustyn.

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