Wednesday, January 31, 2007

10 Things Batman Should Never Say

I take back everything I said about Mike Sekowsky during Widowmaker Week, because it's by far the best story in the recently released Brave & Bold Showcase edition.

I'd not read much Bob Haney before, and my impression of his work stemmed largely from other people's perceptions (such as H and Devon). So I wasn't really prepared for the experience of reading this volume. No matter, I suppose, for one could no more effectively steel oneself against Haney's writing than one can mentally prepare oneself to fall into a wood chipper.

It's not that it's bad, per se. A lot of people write comics badly; at Marvel, it's a job requirement. It's that it's so perversely and haphazardly bad. Villains like "the Collector", "the Molder", and "the Cannoneer"; French farce betrayals and love triangles that wouldn't have been believed on Three's Company; heroes acting and talking wildly out of character.

I kind of get what Haney the Hippy was trying to do. Haney was trying to bring a dose of Marvel-style "coolness" to DC comics. You'll notice oblique references to Spider-Man and the Hulk, there's lots of romance, and characters speak very -- well, I'll call it "casually".

Now, I've never heard Haney, never seen him, never even seen a photo. I can only picture him as a comic-book writin' Sammy Davis Junior, all angles, sharkskin, and sharp creases. Always wears a hat. Calls everybody "baby". Bloody Mary for breakfast.

He's probably not like that, of course; he's probably just a member of the generation that thought that's what "cool" look liked. So his attempts to coolify characters means that everybody talks just like Metamorpho.

Which leads me to the real point of this post:

(At Least) Ten Things Batman Should Never Say

1. "Why was that bow buzzard trying to ventilate your beautiful torso?"

Actually, I think we're pretty safe from ever hearing this one again, since occasions for saying it would be pretty rare. Unless, you know, he's talking to Black Canary.

2. "Have you flipped your badge, Commissioner? It's me, Batman -- your humble obedient servant and all-around crimestopper!"

This is the kind of talk that makes me want to beat Spider-Man to death with hammer. Besides, Batman is not a supporting character and so should never stoop to introposition.

3. "Sure, fella, and my best bat-wishes with it."

No, I'm not going to complain about "bat-hyphen" nouns. Haney was writing during the height of TV's Batmania, so I won't pick on him for that. It's "fella". Batman should never say "fella". Bruce Wayne is a blueblood billionaire not a salty stevedore.

4. "Brucie boy."

Another faux Spider-Man moment. What kind of person would have heroes with secret identities and loved ones to protect use someone's first name while they're in costume rather than codenames? I mean, other than Brad Meltzer? Let alone do it to yourself? Scipio does not approve of Batman referring to himself in third-person.

5. "Follow, follow, follow the gleam."

Batman should not be singing the song that won the 1920 Silver Bay prize at Bryn Mawr. Or any other. At least, not while swinging on a batrope.

6, "I'm a chemical pheenom."

This goes without saying (I hope). This is from the infamous "Bat-Hulk" story, which wastes appearances by the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler on some goofy "Batman becomes a monster with a bad personality " story. Maybe that's where Frank Miller got the idea for All-Star Batman?

I would say that Haney wrote this because he missed Metamorpho so much except--oh, wait that's right: Metamorpho's the co-star of this story!

7. "UHH ... Grip like .. a ... king crab's ... bite!"

I'm at a loss to imagine anyone saying or thinking this, let alone Batman. Maybe this is the same Batman who said, "Step away from the lobster trap?"

Oh, and pardon my adolescence, but I dare you to look at the panel without thinking something naughty and giggling: "The tall man grabbed Bruce firmly from behind..." . I think it's the word "slither" that puts it over the top. Well, that and "but he FEELS him ..."

8. "I'm being hit by a plastic deluge ... and it's hardening!"

Speaking of naughty pictures; oh ho, how ribald! As bad as the quote itself is, the picture (below) really completes it. It's Bob Haney meets slash-pic. C'mon, DC; break down and publish these in a 365 Days of Really Gay Batman Panels desktop calendar and you'll make millions!

9. "Commish".

Okay, I've performed emergency tracheotomies while lost in the Southeast Asian jungles and armed with nothing but a pen-knife and a box of Kleenex (I travel light). Yet I almost fainted when Batman calls Jim Gordon "commish". In any sensible Golden Age story, this would be the point at which a thought balloon would inform you that Robin is starting to catch on that Batman has been kidnapped and replaced by a criminal lookalike named Knuckles Brenneman as part of some byzantine scheme to gain access to the Batcave where an item kept as souvenir in the Hall of Trophies secretly contains information as to the location of unrecovered swag from the Amalgamated Gum Co. payroll heist that the Lefty Lochner gang pulled a few years ago before Lefty got sent to Joliet and the chair.
"Gosh, I bet that's the real reason 'Batman' didn't want to use our batropes and is letting me drive the Batmobile! I'd better wait and see what's he up to before I expose him! I won't expose him till we're alone in the Batcave and we're not surrounded by police who could help me -- that way, when the real Batman escapes he'll be just in time to save me!"
But in the Haney Age, it's the way everyone talks. No one should say "commish", except Harvey Bullock, who is allowed to do so precisely because it makes him sound cloddish.

However, Batman should say "I've got to get him! I want him so bad, I can taste it". Frequently. In fact, from now whenever I say that phrase at the bars, I will precede it with "As Batman said..." .

10. "Why, Commissioner, under that rocklike exterior of yours beats a rocklike heart!"

Actually, I'm less disturbed at Batman's flip disrect of the commish, than at the news the Batman apparently ogles his rocklike physique. Guess Bruce has daddy issues; let the slashfic begin!

Still, to his credit, while Bob Haney may not have known how to write Batman, he sure knew how to write Hal Jordan:

Monday, January 29, 2007

Fall From Grace

Today I watched "It's Trad, Dad!", a bizarre British film from 1962 about some kids trying to gather performers for a Dixieland jazz festival in their hometown. Odd as that is, it's made even odder by full on-stage performances with Chubby Checker, Gary U.S. Bonds, and other contemporary artists squarely outside the province of Trad jazz.

Oddest still, it actually works even though it shouldn't. It's kind of like watching someone successfully pull off wearing pearls with corduroy or discovering that raisins taste great on pizza.

It was pretty much the earliest real film of director Richard Lester, best known for his work with the Beatles on Hard Day's Night and other films. If you set aside the goofy sense of humor, he does an amazing job of capturing the experience of each performer (with what I assume were innovative approaches at the time, but which have since become staples of the music video genre).

You, however, might remember Richard Lester for only one thing: he's the person the Salkinds replaced Richard Donner with on Superman II (and who then directed Superman III, something we'd all like to forget everything about).

Since I (and most decent people) think those films are awful, I'm left pondering whether it was the fault of the material he was given. Was he simply out of his element? Or had Lester's light faded so severely that he went from brilliant innovation to hackwork in15 years or so?

My question to you today isn't really about Lester; it's about the Fall From Grace syndrome among comic book writers and artists. Who has suffered such a fall and why?

Frank Miller will seem a likely candidate to many. But I think upon sober reflection I've concluded didn't become a hack; we all simply finalized realized it. Some may say Jim Aparo's worked faded badly, but I would disagree; I still say it was always terrible.

Pardon me if this question seems too negative. But many of you have followed the careers of writers and artists more closely than I (who have been more preoccupied with the history of characters) and I seek your wisdom... .