Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately — including comics from the past, present and future.
Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.
Okay, okay, I read Batman: Three Jokers #1 expecting my socks to fly off and my mind to be totally shattered and rebuilt into a higher form of comic book understanding. This is Geoff Freakin’ Johns setting DC Continuity right for a new era of Batman comics that takes from tradition and sets out a new path for the Clown Prince of Crime. The Joker is huge right now, Wolverine-huge and this seems like the perfect comic to grab people’s attention.
Guys, it’s okay. The first thing off the bat (ha ha Bat) I noticed was how claustrophobic the pages are. The square binding does nothing to help you read these cramped nine-or-so panel grids of darkness and detail and I found myself squinting to get at everything the art was trying to tell me within these very cramped boxes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great Brian Bolland pastiche but perhaps a little breathing room might have been in order.
The story is fine, if not a little basic: hey, there are three Jokers and they’re working together to create yet another version of themselves so Batman, Batgirl and Red Hood have to stop them despite their complicated pasts with this dark villain. I have some questions (Joker killed Jason Todd, but not really, and brags that he took him ‘to the brink’?), but the thematics are easy to get behind and are explained enough for more general readers to get the hang of. Let’s see where this crazy train takes us.
Speaking of crazy train, I also read Fantastic Four: Antithesis #1, a new mini-series from acclaimed comic creator Neal Adams with help from Mark Waid. I said “help” because the last mini-series I remember Neil Adams doing is Batman: Odyssey and that is an extremely well drawn bag of chaos; it’s a hilarious ride through whatever Neil Adams felt like drawing that day and has a great breakdown from the fine folks at the former Comics Alliance. I was fully expecting Fantastic Four: Antithesis to be something similar, just a balls-to-the-wall absurd affair through the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe.
Nope, it’s actually a pretty good Fantastic Four story! Easy to get a handle on, traditionally classic in character portrayal, it is an honest-to-God throwback to the Fantastic Four’s best stories. I think Mark Waid has a hand in that (certainly with Johnny Storm’s dialogue being hip with the times), steering Adams’s ideas into coherence. The artwork is, of course, impeccable, if not a little over detailed with the Thing’s teeth, and the panels flow smoothly from one moment of action to the next. If you love a story in the tried-and-true mighty Marvel manner, grab a copy of Fantastic Four: Antithesis #1.
Daredevil Annual #1 (2020) is titled “One More Day” and they should be ashamed of themselves. Don’t use that title, especially not on the cover where people will automatically associate it with the controversial Spider-Man story! Inside is a … kind of equally controversial tale of how an old alternate identity of Matt Murdock (embarrassingly enough ‘Mike’ Murdock, his identical brother) has taken on a life of his own and seeks to integrate himself into Daredevil canon. Magic is involved because, sure, and lo and behold, it works; Matt Murdock ‘officially’ has a brother that is now woven through his original origin.
I don’t know about this. Technically, it’s inoffensive; there’s no deeper meaning to Matt Murdock being an only child. Having someone else around going through similar experiences to him (minus the radioactive blindness) doesn’t inherently change the character of Daredevil. And yet, it still feels false. This feels like self-insert fanfic. This feels like something they can pull out of his origin just as easily as they can slip it in. I trust Chip Zdarsky in that he’s going somewhere with all of this and it’s not just a stunt to sell books or leave a mark on a famous character, but I can’t say I’m excited to read the stories of Mike Murdock now.
I thought Batman: Three Jokers #1 was pretty good. Apparently there’s still a good bit of Alan Moore-channeling in Geoff Johns, because that nine-panel grid put me right back in Doomsday Clock land. I do think that Johns and Fabok have good handles on these characters, although ironically I’m not quite sure where this is supposed to fit in the larger scheme of things. Certainly I’m not the first to point out that this has to compete, continuity-wise, with “Joker War” in the current Bat-books. At any rate, I didn’t see the end of this issue coming, so that’s a point in 3J‘s favor. It also gave me a Jason Todd who’s not instantly annoying – remember when Grant Morrison and Philip Tan made Jason almost a villain, during the Dick & Damian days? – and that’s another plus. Still, I’m never eager to revisit The Killing Joke, so I’m not looking forward to Batgirl working through those issues with “her” Joker.
On a happier note, I have been re-reading a lot of JLA for this week’s Morrison/Waid/Kelly-era post, and I had forgotten how much I like September-October 1998’s JLA issues #22-23. Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Howard Porter and inked by John Dell, it’s a great two-parter which is filled with neat imagery. Basically the Earth is being attacked by a horde of giant Starros, which Morrison describes simply as one consciousness called “IT.” Starro/The Star Conqueror/IT wants to subjugate the planet by invading its dreams, so North America is kept unconscious and the rest of the world is next. You might also remember this story as “the one where Sandman shows up,” and it’s in response specifically to the desperate dream of a boy who wants Superman to save him. The Lord of Dreams invites Supes into the Dreaming to fight IT, and Superman takes Green Lantern (Kyle) and Wonder Woman (Hippolyta) with him. There they have to face a town full of Starro-controlled people, and Superman won’t have his powers until the dramatically-appropriate moment. Meanwhile, the rest of the League has to figure out how to repel the mothership-sized starfish who are already starting to glom onto places like Canada and the ocean floor.
This is an excellent example of the heights Morrison/Porter JLA could reach. It takes place either at night or in an eerie small-town setting; it features face-hugging alien starfish, each with an unblinking red eye; it’s got Zauriel the angel calling out to Jesus to give him strength to save Aquaman; and it’s got Orion in full-on berserker mode zapping a leviathan Starro with the Astro-Force. Most of all, though, it’s got one of Morrison’s favorite tropes, the simple belief in super-salvation. (One character even says “believe and you will be saved,” which is very on-the-nose and also a bit blasphemous for a story which name-checks Jesus.) Morrison and Porter’s JLA was full of arcs which set up near-unstoppable foes and then showed the Justice League rising to stop them, and this was no exception. The fact that Daniel the Sandman pitched in was just gravy.
Finally, I have been working my way through more All Star Comics Archives and am happy to report a couple of pleasant surprises. First, Wonder Woman is getting more involved (although at the moment she’s just “the secretary” – boo!); and second, the Sandman chapters are being handled by no less than Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. When I first saw their work I was like “hey, that’s a pretty good Kirby impression!” Of course, when these stories were published in 1942 they were just Joe and Jack, not “SIMON & KIRBY!!” but still.