Batman 57 Pushes Through the Looking-Glass

by Drew Baumgartner

Batman 57

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

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In his write-up of Batman 55, our very own Spencer Irwin highlighted the formal differences between the sequences featuring Dick Grayson and those featuring the mysterious “Mr. Zimmerman.” The Dick Grayson layouts are freewheeling and unpredictable, while “The Zimmerman sequences are highly regimented, each and every one depicted as nine-panel grids. This seems to represent how cold and calculated Zimmerman is and how mercenary and transnational his life is, but also how isolated he’s become.” Issue 56 drove that point home further, doubling down on the formal differences between the two stories (even after Dick Grayson stopped appearing). So by the time we read Batman 57 we’re pretty well conditioned to the notion that nine-panel grids = the KGBeast’s story, while anything else = Batman’s. It’s an expectation Tom King and his collaborators upend brilliantly, forcing us to question those conclusions we drew about these formal choices way back at the start of this arc. Continue reading

Superman: American Alien 3

superman american alien 3

Today, Michael and Spencer are discussing Superman: American Alien 3, originally released January 13, 2016.

Michael: Here are two words for you: Max Landis. It’s likely that you have one of the two following reactions: A) “I heard that guy is a conceited ass” or B) “I have no idea who that is.” Consequently, I’d bet that Max Landis himself would say that neither of those reactions bother him all that much. Nevertheless, when it comes to Max Landis I can assure you of this: the man knows Superman. Continue reading

Miracleman 4

Alternating Currents: Miracleman 4, Drew and PatrickToday, Drew and Patrick are discussing Miracleman 4, originally released November 4th, 2015.

Drew: What is religion for? Having not grown up with religion, I’ve never really understood. I can appreciate the origins of religion as a kind of pre-scientific way of explaining the world, but what’s the appeal nowadays, when most reasonable people accept that these stories aren’t literally true? I honestly have no idea, and religious friends can only give vague answers about community and faith. I suspect different people will have different answers, but for me, it seems that religion scratches an itch I just don’t have. That sentiment is sometimes met with pity from those who genuinely believe that a religious life is more fulfilling. I’d never be willing to dig through the stories and traditions that define any one faith, but what if faith wasn’t part of the equation at all? Miracleman 4 asks exactly that, looking into the life of a woman who has no doubt about the validity of her religion. Continue reading

Fables 149

Alternating Currents: Fables 149, Patrick and Drew

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Fables 149, originally released February 18th, 2015.

Patrick: We tend to look at foreshadowing as somewhat virtuosic — especially in serialized stories. The foreshadowing itself is kind of like a promise to the readers, and the payoff is the storyteller keeping that promise. That’s immensely rewarding, because it sorta proves that the creators were as invested in the ending of the story as the readers. But why does that really matter so much to us? In fact, isn’t it more impressive if ideas are creatively recalled from earlier in the story? Like, what’s the real virtue in planting a seed you’re only going to pay off later when anything could be a seed? Fables 149, takes this “everything is a seed” approach, asking questions about what is planned, why it was planned, and whether it matters. Continue reading

Fables 148

fables 148
Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Fables 148, originally released January 21st, 2015.

Once upon a time…

Traditional

Drew: Where would you say your story begins? Your first memory? Your birth? Your conception? Your parents’ first date? Their births? It’s easy enough to trace that back ad infinitum, as the circumstances that allowed you to become the person you are were set in motion at the very dawn of time. The same could be said of when your story ends. Is it your death? The death of the last person who knew you? Perhaps your mere existence influences events until the very end of time. Obviously, the scope of an individual story tends to be a bit narrower — infinite context is rarely necessary or informative — but what about the scope of all stories? The folklore origins of Fables have always given the characters a certain vintage of origin, and the modern-day setting gives them a certain end-date, but issue 148 finds important context stretching further in both directions, effectively widening the scope of the series to the narrative arc of the entire universe. Continue reading

Best of 2014: Best Series Part 1

Best of 2014: Best TitleWe all love a good one-off or anthology, but it’s the thrill of a series that keeps us coming back to our comic shop week-in, week-out. Whether it’s a decades-spanning ongoing or a short-run miniseries, serialized storytelling allows for bigger casts, bigger worlds, and bigger adventures. Indeed, we’re so enamored of serialization that we decided to split our favorite series list into two installments. Here’s part 1 our top 14 series of 2014 (check back here for part 2 tomorrow).
Continue reading

Fables 146

fables 146Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Fables 146, originally released November 19th, 2014.

Drew: I love thinking about art. I know that sentiment sometimes seems sterile to folks who prefer to “feel” art, but I’ve really never seen the two as mutually exclusive. Indeed, I think deep thought about why a work of art invokes the feelings that it does makes for a much more rewarding experience, not only for our understanding of the art and ourselves, but for our own emotional satisfaction. For me, analysis doesn’t distance me from the art, it immerses me in it, allowing for countless stories within our favorite works of art. Surprisingly, the biggest resistance I get to this approach is in music, where most people — including musicians — seem to dismiss analysis as a sterilized intellectual endeavor. I personally think this is the result of incomplete familiarity with the tools and techniques of music theory. Even trained musicians tend to think of “theory” as referring to harmonic analysis almost exclusively, which is effectively like saying literary analysis is just the cataloging of assonance. One tool is not enough to effectively analyze any work of art, and flattens all art to existing in a single dimension. Then again, certain works of art lend themselves particularly well to focusing on one — the orchestration of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, for instance — yielding a rich narrative about the work, even if it isn’t the only narrative. I’d argue that Fables has this kind of relationship with allusions — one that is particularly pronounced in issue 146. Continue reading

Fables 145

Alternating Currents: Fables 145, Drew and PatrickToday, Drew and Patrick are discussing Fables 145, originally released October 15th, 2014.

The term ‘archetype’ is often misunderstood as meaning a certain definite mythological image or motif…On the contrary, [it is] an inherited tendency of the human mind to form representations of mythological motifs — representations that vary a great deal without losing their basic pattern…

Carl Jung

Drew: I’ve spent a lot of time on this site maligning the over-reliance on tropes in comics, but I think I have a clear understanding of why they’re used — sure, we may have seen the loose-canon cop or bumbling working class husband a few too many times, but they’re only used because they’re effective springboards for drama (or comedy, as the case may be). However, I haven’t put very much thought into where the tropes actually come from. The Worf Effect gets its name from Star Trek: The Next Genneration, but it was already a well-established trope by that point — at least as old as Greek myths (where Ares often has his ass handed to him). Again, this makes sense given how effective these tropes can be — an interesting premise/situation/character is bound to be repeated as long as it can bear new narrative fruit. But what if the first attempt at a given premise isn’t particularly successful? As a series built on these very archetypes, Fables has always had an unusual relationship with tropes, which gives issue 145 a unique perspective on that very question. Continue reading

Fables 144

Alternating Currents: Fables 144, Drew and PatrickToday, Drew and Patrick are discussing Fables 144, originally released September 17th, 2014.

Han: How we doin’?
Luke: Same as always.
Han: That bad, huh?

Return of the Jedi

Drew: If I had to point to a line that hooked me on Star Wars, it would be this line from Return of the Jedi. Maybe I should back up. I had somehow made it to age 9 without ever seeing a Star Wars movie when my 3rd grade teacher perplexingly allowed us to watch the first half-hour of Jedi in class. Knowing nothing about the movies, I was thoroughly enjoying my introduction to the Star Wars universe when the above exchange blew my mind straight out of my eyeballs. There are other adventures like this one? I honestly don’t think I could have been as hard up for the other movies if I had seen them in order. I suppose that’s my way of saying beginning a story at the end can be a rewarding, if unorthodox approach. It’s a particularly intimidating prospect in a world as steeped in its own mythology as Fables, but I’ll be damned if issue 144 doesn’t give me that same “I’ve got to go back and read them all” feeling. Continue reading

Fables 141

Alternating Currents: Fables 141, Drew and PatrickToday, Drew and Patrick are discussing Fables 141, originally released June 18th, 2014.

Drew: Long before I ever read a page of Fables, I remember thinking that populating a story with only folktale characters would be incredibly limiting. I had dismissed it as a total gimmick, doomed to occupy a very closed-off little world. Turns out, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Indeed, the massive world-building that Bill Willingham seems to toss off in every single issue has quickly become my favorite aspect of the series. Every detail can support its own myth, creating a nested, telescoping world that seems virtually infinite. Those myths-within-myths can lend even the more mundane “putting the pieces in place” issues a great deal of action — though with Willingham crafting the dialogue, even the talking heads sequences in this issue are thrilling. Continue reading