Bruce Wayne Confronts His Assumptions (and Our Own) in Batman 52

by Drew Baumgartner

Batman 52

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

slim-banner

We’ve written a lot over the years about how the disparate tones of various incarnations of Batman have created a kind of range that the character operates in. Maybe he’s light and campy, maybe he’s dark and serious. Maybe he’s a high-tech wizard, maybe he’s a low-tech sleuth. Maybe he’s a bitter loner, maybe he’s cultivating an ever-growing family of friends and allies. That range applies just as much to the look of Batman, as different character designs emphasize different aspects of his character. Is his costume scary, or silly? Is humanity obscured by his costume, or made more obvious by it? In practice, the platonic image of Batman we keep in our minds might be just as diffuse as his mood — a kind of pastiche of the designs from, say, our favorite comics runs, Batman: The Animated Series, and maybe even a few movies. High in the mix for most modern comics fans, though, must be David Mazzucchelli’s distinctively line-smart Batman: Year One, which distilled Batman down to as few brush strokes and dabs of color as possible, creating a kind of shorthand iconography for the character that perfectly suited the early-days nature of that story. It’s a style that Lee Weeks and colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser evoke in Batman 52, though rather than celebrating that iconography, they’re interrogating it. Continue reading

A Fitting End in Kill or be Killed 20

By Drew Baumgartner

Kill or be Killed 17

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Mr. Helpmann: He’s got away from us, Jack.
Jack Lint: ‘Fraid you’re right, Mr. Helpmann. He’s gone.

Brazil

Drew: There are plenty of worthy contenders, but I tend to think of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil as having the most contentious final cut in film history. Indeed, as the film languished in post-production hell, both Gilliam and the chairman of Universal Pictures, Sid Sheinberg took out competing ads in Variety, imploring the other to release their preferred cut of the film. And much of that disagreement came down to the two lines quoted above; the ones that reveal the frenetic, phantasmagoric escape our hero makes is actually his dissociative fantasy — it turns out he never escaped his torture chamber. Since this is a Gilliam film, it’s easy to argue the whole movie is frenetic and phantasmagoric — and it definitely is to some degree — but the ending flies off the rails in a way that really only make sense as a fantasy. It’s an over-the-top “coincidences help the hero” ending that reads as a straight-up parody of Hollywood films, so it’s kind of hilarious that Sheinberg would insist on that ending not being a fantasy. Any savvy viewer would recognize that something is seriously wrong with Winston’s escape, so to insist that there’s nothing is an insult to our intelligence. That is, we know that it’s a fantasy, we just need the movie to be smart enough to agree with us. With their final issue of Kill or be Killed, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips lean into a similarly impossible-to-believe fantasy, along with a twist very much like the one Gilliam always intended for Brazil. Continue reading

Exposure Helps the Cause in Outcast 36

by Drew Baumgartner

Outcast 36

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

For nine years, Koresh had relentlessly drilled his followers to prepare for Armageddon, had preached its inevitability, had forecast its imminence. This was the ending that Koresh had prayed for and staked his reputation on — the final battle, the trial by fire. It didn’t matter if the fire came from automatic rifles or a match and a can of kerosene; this was what Koresh had promised. Anything less would have been a monumental betrayal of his claim to be David Koresh, Angel Warrior of the Armageddon. Did anyone really expect the prophet of Ranch Apocalypse to meekly surrender his sheep to the enemy and come out with his hands up?

Gary Cartwright, “The Enemy Within”

What do you know about the Waco siege? I admittedly don’t know a ton — it happened when I was five years old — but as with any event with conflicting stories, “what you know” may matter less than “who you believe.” In light of the beliefs of the Branch Davidians, the events of the eventual raid, and especially the presence of the stockpiled weapons the ATF was originally there to seize, it’s hard for me to imagine the Davidians as anything other than dangerous zealots. That is, the plausible deniability of their threat dissolved under scrutiny — the more light shed on the situation, the crazier they looked. Rowland Tusk has orchestrated a surprisingly similar situation for Kyle, preparing for a siege of his own religious “cult,” but with the truth on Kyle’s side, it sure seems like things are actually stacked in his favor. Continue reading

Kill or be Killed 17: Discussion

By Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Desaulniers

Kill or be Killed 17

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Don’t bury the lede.

Journalism, Traditional

Drew: Is journalism the opposite of storytelling? Maybe these terms are too sticky to parse, but it’s interesting to me that one of the cardinal rules of journalism — putting the most dramatic part of the story at the start of the article — is essentially the opposite of the basic narrative structure, where the climax arrives very close to the end of a story. Actually, the difference may lie less in where the “climax” (for lack of a better word) occurs as where it’s allowed to occur. While narratives tend to have the climax in their final act, it is by no means as hard-and-fast a rule as “don’t bury the lede,” and precisely where the climax fits in that final act is decidedly more flexible than absolutely, positively occurring in the first paragraph. It’s a simple matter of the purposes of these art forms — the kinds of tricks storytellers use to surprise us or keep us in suspense are totally inappropriate in a newspaper article designed to inform us of what happened where. And it’s those wrinkles in form, unique to storytelling, that make Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Kill or be Killed 17 such a delight. Continue reading

Relishing the Details in Outcast 33

by Drew Baumgartner

Outcast 30

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

One of the most distinctive stylistic choices of Outcast has always been its use of small insert shots, inset into larger panels. Early in the series, those inserts were largely used to capture small scene details and gestures, but as the cast has grown, they’ve increasingly focused on faces, offering us the emotional state of several characters at a glance — especially those who might not be actively participating in the action/conversation of the scene. We might understand that as reflective of Kyle’s own shift in priorities, focusing less on the textural trappings of his life and more on the people he loves, but the effect is a series that now has an audience surrogate on virtually every page, reflecting our own shock and horror back at us. Continue reading

Smooth Transitions in Kill Or Be Killed 15

By Ryan Desaulniers

Kill or be Killed 15

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Despite all of the guessing and theorizing which this title forces upon the audience in regards to the narrative, after fourteen issues of KOBK, it was safe to say that readers know at least a little about the world and its rules. We know there’s a haunted young man who lives in New York who spends time with his on-again/off-again girlfriend who also runs off to murder mob bosses in town. We’re used to some big swerves at the end of any given issue regarding the nature of the Beast that plagues Dylan by now, too. What caught me completely by surprise in issue fifteen, however, is the transition out of New York City, and how cleanly the creative team handled it. Continue reading

Outcast 32 Gets Procedural

by Drew Baumgartner

Outcast 32

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The storytelling of Outcast has always been incremental. Problems are slowly introduced, relationships slowly change, and the series slowly develops over dozens of issues. It’s a storytelling mode that will be familiar to anyone who’s read any of Robert Kirman’s other 100-issue-plus series, but in Outcast, that deliberate pacing is combined with perspectives on both sides of the war between light and dark, lending the series a procedural element that I would argue is unique in Kirman’s oeuvre. Those procedural elements come to the fore in issue 32, as both sides adjust to their new normals. Continue reading

Kill or be Killed 14: Discussion

By Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Desaulniers

Kill or be Killed 14

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

Anton Chekhov

Drew: I feel like we tend to talk about Chekhov’s Gun backwards: we often frame it as “a gun introduced in the first chapter must go off in the third,” but that “must” kind of scrambles the causality — guns don’t go off in narratives because they’ve been introduced; they’re introduced because they need to go off. If the gun doesn’t go off, it’s as irrelevant to the narrative as the rings of Saturn. It’s an essential concept for narrative efficiency, but my awareness of it undoubtedly influences my own understanding of what a story is. While a child may think of a story as “everything that happens to the characters between the beginning and the end” (I know I did), anyone familiar with Chekov’s Gun must recognize that a good story is, at the very least least, pared down to only the relevant events transpiring between the beginning and the end. It’s a notion that assures us that whatever we’re reading is important, which in turn provides some clues about what the narrative finds important. 14 issues in, one might think that we’d already have a great handle on what Kill or be Killed finds important, but this issue managed to surprise me with the details it chose to focus on. Continue reading

(Almost) Normalizing the Enemy in Outcast 31

by Drew Baumgartner

Outcast 31

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Get back to work.

Gus Fring, “Box Cutter”

Is there any scene in modern television more gripping than Gus Fring slowly changing out of his street clothes, unexpectedly slashing the throat of one of his loyalest employees, then changing back, as calmly as before? It’s a shocking show of force from a character that had mostly distinguished himself for his almost quaint professional decorum. He was a drug lord, sure, but he treated it as a kind of regular day job, fully compartmentalized from his familiarly domestic home life. In many ways, Rowland Tusk feels cast in that same mold, separating his home life from his more sinister occupation, and largely keeping his hands clean until — suddenly — he needs to get his hands dirty. Continue reading

Shifting Motives in Kill Or Be Killed 13

By Drew Baumgartner

Kill or be Killed 13

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

This time, it’s personal.

Tagline, Jaws: The Revenge

It’s easy to deride “this time, it’s personal” — even without the association with the fourth Jaws movie, the sentiment has always carried with it a kind of self-parody. Or, I should say: that particular articulation of the sentiment has always felt that way. But the notion of a narrative escalating because of personal stakes is essential to virtually all drama (though, admittedly, not every drama has an impersonal/personal threshold that needs to be crossed). Which makes the implied sneer that goes with saying “this time, it’s personal” somewhat unfortunate — otherwise, it would be the perfect way to express Dylan’s newfound motivation for his war on the Russian Mafia. Continue reading