Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Correcting an oversight

There's a comic book creator whose recent work has impressed me and I've failed to mention it, but today I correct that oversight.

That creator is, improbably, Chip Zdarksy.

Now, I have said plenty of bad words about Zdarsky's work and every word was much deserved.  I take none of that back. In fact, I'm going to start by adding a few more...

His recent "Gotham War" trivializes itself by driving by utilizing the old "Batman Frazzled Beyond His Limits" and "Batman versus Everyone Else" motifs that are somehow both trite and out of character for Batman.  He draws semi-arbitrary lines and puts Bat-characters on either side of moral/stragetic debate in the War Against Crime.  Because, you know, nothing says IMPORTANT drama than heroes, especially ones who work closely together, FIGHTING ONE ANOTHER rather than, I dunno, criminals and because someone still thinks he's writing for Marvel.

It also included silly Morrison-manqué touches (such as the Batman of Zurh-An-Arrrh), laughable plot-twists (like Vandal Savage BUYING Wayne Manor, without Bruce knowing), false deaths (courtesy of Clayface), and... the list goes on.

In some ways, the execution of this storyline simply couldn't be worse.  

But I refuse to let that blind even me, hard-core Zdarksy anti-fan that I am, to the fact that:

the STORYLINE is nothing short of g-d brilliant.

The storyline, in case you have not been following it, is essentially that Catwoman siphons away all the goons that populate the gangs of all of Gotham City's kooky costumed criminals.

DVD: Filmation's The Adventures of Batman Finally Comes To DVD -
The Joker! Clown Prince of Crime!

The Penguin! Pudgy purveyor of perfidy!

and the cool, CRUEL, Mistah Freeze!

Et al., of course. 

She does so to teach them to work ON THEIR OWN as BETTER criminals but NON-VIOLENT ones who target only "worthwhile" scores (that is, to say, rich people).  And violent crime PLUMMETS in Gotham.  

This is so brilliant, for a variety of reasons, even typing it makes my teeth hurt. Here's a few.  This is old-style, Golden Age plotting, where Our Criminal Of The Month has Some New Scheme, Theme, Or Tactic.  This is the **** that MADE most still-used Golden Age villains FAMOUS in the first place.  "The House That Joker Built"; "The Penguin Takes a Flyer Into the Future"; the Beauty Shop of Elva Barr; old comics were FULL of plots where 'some new wrinkle' would be brought to bear against Gotham (or Batman). Instead of having each of these schemes performed by The Ugly Suit gang or some such throwaways, writers used already familiar and popular costumed criminals as the perpetrators.  This made the stories more memorable because of the colorful criminal and made the criminal more memorable by showing, through a new gimmick, that they were more than one-trick ponies.

Detective 128 – The Joker's crimes in reverse | Babblings about DC Comics
What do crimes in reverse have to do with THE JOKER?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It's just an amusingly ironic idea that popped into his head one day.  This is the secret to Batman's longtime villains' longevity: their versatility.

Catwoman running a "school for larceny" is exactly such a scheme.  The Golden Age teams with stories about masterminds who run 'academies' where they teach criminals to Rob Better or who sell 'foolproof' crime-plans to members of the Ugly Suit Gang.

The Faginesque  "Crime College" from Batman #3

As this excerpt from a 1982 story ("The Academy of Crime") shows, the phenomenon was not confined to the Golden Age.

So, look, that aspect of the plot is by no means original.  But Zdarsky is using the Golden Age method of putting this otherwise generic plot under the banner of the Catwoman.  This is another part of the brilliance of the plot: it is rooted firmly in Catwoman's historical characterization as being a THIEF who avoids KILLING.   The plot is character-based.

In Catwoman's case, however, she's not doing it (solely) for profit or power.  It's also her way of FIGHTING CRIME... with CRIME.  She's doing it to help keep Gotham City SAFE.  That's not only NOVEL, it's shear genius.  Catwoman is remaking Gotham's underworld in her own image and IT WORKS, because it has drained away all the raw goon-power that Gotham's kooky criminals

The Single Best Sequence of FILMATION BATMAN | 13th Dimension, Comics,  Creators, Culture
Look out, criminals! Here come...
Batman and Robin!

are dependent upon to cause all the mayhem that they do.  This is painfully clever. As readers, we are just accustomed to assuming the goons are available in plentiful supply to these people; they are just part of the scenery.  Zdarsky smartly goes right to the heart of that assumption and turns it against that: does that HAVE to be the case? What if it's NOT, and what could deplete the supply? And his answer is original and (comic book) realistic; not the reformation or capture of all these goon, but rather their empowerment as independent operators. 

It's also brilliant because, of all people, Chip Zdarsky finally is the writer WHO GETS WHAT CATWOMAN IS.  Catwoman is not a hero; Catwoman isn't even an anti-hero.  She's a criminal, but a practical one with a conscience.  Only simplistic writers (and readers) think that characters must either be All-Good or All-Bad.

BATMAN THE GOLDEN AGE Omnibus Volume 9 – Buds Art Books
If only the Batman mythos had some character that could serve as a constant reminder of this fact.

Zdarsky has some of Batman's team slowly being seduced to Catwoman's way of thinking; violent crime is down, and the victims of the new wave of thefts are, frankly, people who are not objectively harmed by the loss of their excess property.  

Jason Todd Stealing Tires
Three guesses which member of the Bat-Family is most attracted by Catwoman's approach.

And it frees up the Bat-fam to focus on more serious crimes if they simply 'wink and nod' a bit to what Catwoman's doing. What's not to like?

After all, what harm can it really do...?

Batman, naturally, finds plenty to not-like.  Batman is very good at finding things to not-like.  He rightly points how indulging crime, of any type, will not have good results and how inevitably this democratization of crime will lead to unplanned and unpleasant results by those clumsier than Catwoman. Which, you know, is exactly what does happen. Because Batman doesn't do "wrong".

13 GREAT THINGS About Filmation's 1968 BATMAN Cartoon | 13th Dimension,  Comics, Creators, Culture
" protect life, limb, AND PROPERTY as Batman and Robin".
Bruce wrote that himself; doesn't want anybody stealing his Batman stuff.

Too many writers like to depict Batman as stupid or blinded by obsession. But Batman is simply the adult in the room. He is not swayed by your magical thinking, he knows there are no easy solutions. The World's Greatest Detective and has no trouble deducing the mess that will inevitably result from Catwoman's plan.

Batman is the adult in the room.
If you just remember that, every story with him in it makes a lot more sense.

Batman-- despite the "I'm Batman"reputation-- has a much more realistic sense of his limitations than Catwoman, in her criminal egotism, does.  Zdarksy uses this conflict to drive a wedge between the two characters and IT'S ABOUT DAMNED TIME SOMEBODY DID.  Golden Age Batman knew it; Adam West's Batman knew it; heck, even Robert Pattinson's Batman got it: Batman and Catwoman have essential worldviews that render them incompatible.  Are they hot for each other? Do they lurve each other? Maybe; who cares? They truly have--have had-- "irreconcilable differences" for some 80 years and cannot be together as a result.  

JSA Gotham War
There is only ONE reason for Batman & Catwoman to finally "get together" and it's Huntress and Geoff Johns has ALREADY plopped her back into existence (as he does, when motivated), so that reason is GONE.

For that ALONE, Zdarsky deserves my, and everyone's, thanks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023



Now, THAT is something to talk about!

The last time that anyone heard from Jean Loring, she had been stripped of the power of Eclipso (this was after her failed attempt to seduce the Spectre, but it's really best if we just don't go there right now) and fell to her death in the Atlantic Ocean, where she was eaten by a shark.

Poor, innocent shark; doesn't stand a chance.

And by "last time" I mean "last time we saw her alive".  Naturally we saw her LATER after she was dead in one (or two?) of those "Every Dead Character Comes Back as The Evil Dead" crossover events (probably Blackest Night).  

Jean was one of the few characters substantially DOWNGRADED by becoming a Black Lantern.  I remind you that in her heyday she terrified not merely entire civilizations but ENTIRE PLANETS.

I was very disappointed at the time; it was the first and only confirmation that Jean actually WAS dead. I was expecting (hoping?) that she would just pop up alive someday declaring that she had landed ON the shark, which was thereupon knocked unconscious, and then ate the shark.  

Like that guy in Watchmen nobody remembers,
except Jean would have no remorse at what she had become.

That pretty much put a stake through the character's heart.


Courtesy of Geoff Johns, who bends DC reality to his will like a steroidal Fifth Dimensional Imp, she has just popped in the pages of Justice Society as if nothing had ever happened.  And by "nothing" I mean her murder of Sue Dibney, in a wholly unpleasant story that every reader would like to pretend never happened.  But Geoff Johns knows that Jean Loring as a deluded, homicidal lunatic is just too darned compelling a character to leave in back issue dustbins. So back she is, no explanation required.  She is back simply because the DCU is more fun WITH her than without her.

The name "Cold Coast" is absolutely perfect.  As is that IMPOSSIBLE view of the moon, chosen to evoke Eclipso, and the fact that all asylums in DC simply have to look Like That.

Say what you will; nobody can encapsulate a character as efficiently as Geoff Johns, who does it here without even SHOWING Jean.

She's being interviewed by neo-Dr. Mid-nite (Beth Chapel), who you'll remember was one of the most notable victims of the earlier Eclipso in the grand, extremely over-the-top Eclipso crossover of 1992.  Like Jean, Beth is back from the dead because, well, that's just how Geoff Johns wants it.

You'd think Dr. Mid-Nite would use a voice recorder, rather than a note pad as if she's the Silver Age Lois Lane, Gal Reporter.

But Jean Loring is still focused only on Ray "The Atom" Palmer.

This panel, you may note, is an homage to her "oh GOD Jean is STILL INSANE" panel in the prestige story-that-will-not-be-named.

You remember Ray Palmer, of course...

The man whose marriage proposal she turned down AT LEAST 56 TIMES BEFORE WE EVEN MET HER. The man she cheated on after they were married and then divorced. Which is not at all consistent with her obsession, but such is crazy.  Who knows why on earth she's so fixated on him.


Dr. Mid-Nite, Junior, stupidly asks her who she's talking to, even though she literally just said his name, and if you are going to interview JEAN LORING, you darned well know who "Ray" is.  

Skipped those electives in Psychiatry, huh, Dr. M?

Jean has a worldview.  And she's committed.

And if there is anyone who deserves to be committed, it's Jean Loring. Dr. Mid-Nite doesn't even HAVE lapels.

So, although Jean is still the wacky deluded gal we've all come to hate and fear, she is ALSO still the Uber-competent person she always was. As a brilliant attorney, she has always had a way with words.

A randomly chosen example.

Not your average prolix barrister, she had a penchant for pithy, piercing remarks.

Pictured: pithy and piercing.

So I SHOULD have been on the look out for her to mark her return to comics with some virtuosic display of dialog. But I was so overwhelmed by her return, that I completely failed to notice this (until loyal and longtime commenter CobraMisfit pointed it out to me):

I still love you, Ray.
That's why I'm waiting for you.
I'm waiting right here.

Yep. Perhaps the most flawless and beautiful COMIC BOOK HAIKU I have ever featured here on Haikuesday.  And Jean made it seem so normal, so natural, I never even noticed.

Your turn, now! What beautiful haiku can YOU compose to celebrate (?!) the return of Jean Loring to comics?