New Lego Batman 2 Trailer

 

The Dark Brick of Gotham is back and this time he’s bringing his friends! The sequel to Warner-Bros’ Lego Batman game features a team up between everyone’s favourite bickering, heterosexual life-partners as Clark Kent enters the mix.

If past form is anything to go by then you should expect more characters, more engrossing puzzles and a storyline that probably still makes more sense than most of the Batman/Superman comics did.

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Practitioners 47: Alan Moore (Part 2)

Having conquered (and irritated) the British comic book industry with his time on 2000AD, Captain Britain and Warrior, Alan Moore was about to cross the Atlantic. DC Editor Len Wein offered him a place in the DC lineup – though reserved judgment carefully and only offered a minor, formulaic, failing title.

Swamp Thing was a stereotypical monster title quite a distance from the mainstream legends of DC. Whether Wein offered it as a low priority title that mattered little if Moore failed or saw the potential in Moore’s alternative and original work in the UK, but nevertheless – few could’ve anticipated the work produced. It remains difficult to know if it is because of Moore’s current reputation retrospectively illuminating old work through association or if the Swamp Thing under Moore really represents timeless writing but along with artists Stephen R. Bissette, Rick Veitch and John Totleben, Moore revolutionised the character. Taking advantage of the low importance of the title, Moore created beautifully experimental storylines addressing environmental and social issues alongside the horror and fantasy, supported further still with research on Louisiana – where the storyline was set.

Moore recognises comic books as a as a mature medium – potentially as influential, challenging and intellectually stimulating as books, theatre, films or television – when at their best. He recognises that there is no limitation to the content that can be applied to any character or situation, whether they wear a spandex jumpsuit or a psychic formation of roots and swamp vegetation with regenerative powers. He elevated the subject matter and the characters and trusts his reader’s intelligence as any writer should. Through Moore’s writing it becomes clear that the base material is not limited in its scope to be elevated and broadened to meet any audience or handle content thought previously beyond it’s remit. In short, Moore fails to recognise limitations. A comic book page is as alive to him as a page of prose, poetry or a painting in a gallery. In turn this elevated him above the rest of his fellow writers.

Using Swamp Thing as an experimental platform to revive many of DC’s neglected magical or supernatural characters, Moore resurrected a number of figures to greater status that even after 3 decades have not seen them recede back into the minor leagues, including the Spectre, the Demon, the Phantom Stranger and Deadman. One such figure was introduced by Moore. John Constatine is a working class magician based visually on the musician Sting, who later became the central character in Hellblazer, DC imprint Vertigo’s longest running title. From January 1984 to September 1987, from issue 20 to 64, Moore guided Swamp Thing to critical and commercial success. Thanks to Wein’s successes with the first UK invasion – featuring Moore and his soon-to-be-counterpart artist Brian Bolland, the doors were beginning to open for UK and European artists such as Grant Morrison, Jamie Delano, Peter Milligan and Neil Gaiman to continue in the same vein. Many were influenced directly by Moore and continued the tradition of brave and successful rethinks of existing titles – such as Morrison’s run on DC’s Animal Man some years later. These titles formed the foundation s for Vertigo comics.

Moore’s two-issue run on Vigilante furthered his credibility as a brave, alternative and unrestrictive writer willing to look at difficult and hard hitting stories. The central figure, Vigilante is rendered sidelined and shocked as a father, having abused his daughter, pursues her until he is chewed up in the back wheels of a vengeful young woman’s car. The daughter, having lost her Mother is traumatised and beside herself at the loss of her Father, offering a difficult, challenging and controversial conclusion more recognisable as literary conventions than the black and white moralism of comics.

Eventually, after consistent successes, Moore was offered some of DC’s most prominent characters, starting with Superman, entitled For the Man Who Has Everything, illustrated by Dave Gibbons, in which Batman, Robin and Wonder Woman arrive at the Fortress of Solitude to discover Superman overwhelmed by a plant that offers up his wildest dreams. Moore followed this up with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? – effectively the first example of A Death of Superman storyline – some 8 years before it was thought up by Jurgens and co, designed as the last Superman story in the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe and illustrated by Curt Swain. The final fates of Brainiac, Lex Luthor, Clark Kent, Superman and Lois Lane are decided, handled masterfully and with a typically deft touch by Moore.

In 1988 came a Batman story that helped redefine the character along with other titles such as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One but was cited as ‘a rare example of a Moore story where the art is better than the writing.’ This was The Killing Joke, a script developed based on artist Brian Bolland’s idea of developing a creation story for the Joker. Escaped from Arkham Asylum, The Joker shoots Barbara Gordon through the stomach, crippling her and then parades photos of her broken body, naked, lying in glass to her Father as part of a twisted fairground ride in a bid to drive him mad. It fails. However, while opinion differs on the effectiveness of the writing – a history for DC’s most famous villain was created, a second tier character was offered a chance to define herself as a central character as Oracle in following years and Batman was darkened and hardened further into the easily recognisable figure we know today. However Moore acknowledges it as not his greatest writing and upset Bolland by referring it to ‘just another Batman story.’ However, Moore had offered Bolland a platform on which to create a defining career project. He’d once again created a wave of success at an apparent low point in his own career. Something that illustrates the power of Moore’s writing and the influence of his involvement.

A set of panels from Tales of the Black Freighter - a comic being read by a character in Watchmen

Another artist gained global fame thanks to Moore’s writing. Dave Gibbons was assigned to a limited series known as the Watchmen, on which Moore asked him to maintain a consistent three tier, 9 panel layout. Collected as trade paperback in 1987, Watchmen is a seminal work and mandatory reading in understanding the history of comic books, cementing Moore’s reputation. A Cold War mystery in which the shadow of Nuclear War threatens the world. The heroes that are caught up in this escalating crisis either work for the U.S. government or are outlawed, all of whom are motivated to heroism by their various psychological hang ups. Using political and social climate to define the history and current state and status of the individual heroes it dealt with subjects like moralism, politicised ethics, loneliness, isolationism, mental illness, sickness, economics and capitalism among others seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly, interlacing the fates of characters defined by templates of central DC characters, but developed well beyond their original’s plotlines. Gibbons met Moore’s recommendations beautifully, allowing his vision to come to life. Watchmen is non-linear and told from multiple point of view, and includes formal experiments such as the symmetrical design of issue 5 ‘Fearful Symmetry’ in which the last page is a near mirror image of the first, the second to last the second and so on. Dr Manhattan, a character unrestrained by the limitations of the laws of physics allowed Moore to investigate the implications to free will if the constraints of linear human perception were removed. His most famous character, Rorschach, named after the basic visual psychological test sets the tone perhaps most effectively, bemoaning, pessimistically, a world entirely lost – to him most specifically. Isolated and increasingly unhinged and appearing early in the book as a seemingly inconsequential background figure, Rorschach represents most prominently the outsider aspect that all of the characters suffer from. A masterpiece, it is seen as Moore’s best work and the only comic book ever to win the literary Hugo Award, in a one-time category of Best Other Form. It is widely regarded as the best comic book ever written. Released around the same time as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets it has been seen as part of a movement in mainstream comic books of the time to reach out to adult audiences. Breifly, Moore became a minor celebrity, causing him, typically, to withdraw from the public eye and refuse to attend conventions. This is unsurprising perhaps as he was said to have been followed into the toilet by overzealous autograph hunters at the UKCAC.

Moore proposed a series named Twilight of the Superheroes in 1987, the title a twist on Richard Wagner’s opera ‘Twilight of the Gods’. A series set in a future DC Universe, ruled by Superhumna dynasties, including the House of Steel (watched over by Superman and Wonderwoman) and the House of Thunder (presided over by the Marvel family). About to combine in a dynastic marriage, a move that could threaten world freedoms, several characters, including John Constatine, attempt to stop them and save the world from the power of the superheroes. Perhaps because the proposition would reinstate the many worlds already eliminated in the Crisis on Infinite Earths it never saw the light of day, though DC retains rights to its contents. Many similar projects have appeared since, Mark Waid and Alex Ross of the most prominent of these, Kingdom Come, admitting to having read the notes but insisting that any similarity was purely coincidental and unintended.

Again Moore’s relationship with DC had deteriorated over rights as Moore and Gibbons were paid no royalties for a Watchmen spin-off badge set as DC defined them as ‘promotional items’. Reportedly, and rather appallingly, Moore and Gibbons earned only 2% of the profits earned by DC from Watchmen. Completing V for Vendetta for DC, which they had already begun publishing, Moore slung his bag back over his shoulder and made his way out into the cold wastes and warm embrace of independent comic writing.

Part 3 – Tuesday, 3rd December 2012

Lady in the Fridge

Morning chaps,

Got a bit of a find for you this week. One of our readers put me on to a couple of recent episodes of the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast in which the hosts were discussing the role of Women in comic books they’re both pretty interesting so I’d suggest having a listen before we carry on:

Female Superheroes part 1 – Girls in Refrigerators

Female Superheroes part 2 – Wonder Woman

(they’re also available on itunes if you, like me, are a slave to your ipod)

If you’re somebody who has a passing interest in comic book history then there probably won’t be a tonne of stuff in the second episode that surprises you, though I will admit that in my innocence I had, until now, remained unaware of the true extent of Wonder Woman’s BDSM roots. The first one however is a veritable treasure trove of interesting ideas.

Green Lantern #54 by Ron Marz - the genesis of WIR

Women in Refrigerators forms the central theme of the episode and is a website that I was previously unaware of and now am totally in love with. Essentially it is a site that was created by Gail Simone (Wonder Woman, Secret Six) back in 1999 and refers (in name at least) to a particular Green Lantern story. It’s goal is to catalogue the various women in comics who have suffered horrible ends, usually for the sake of progressing the plot of a male character.

 

I must admit that as a longtime fan of the Kyle Rayner character, the idea of WIR appeals to me. Over the years Kyle has had so many female acquaintances butchered in so many unusual ways that it’s difficult to keep up. It feels like every time people run out of ideas of what to do with ol Torchbearer, they just off a lady in his life and have him get mad about it for a few issues. It’s lazy storytelling and I hate it.   But that’s missing the point of the site. There are literally scores of women that have been, cut up, raped, depowered etc over the years and the point of this site is to question whether this was necessary or not.

Now, there’s a point which should be raised here which is best summed up by Mark Millar:
“As regards the female characters thing, I’m afraid I think it’s giving male creators a bum deal. The list does read pretty shocking at first until you think of everything the male heroes have gone through, too, in terms of deaths/mutilations/etc.” – (source)

It’s a fair argument but the point is that the deaths of these male characters tend to occur as part of that character’s story, in the case of many of these dead women, they have been killed off in order to further the story of a male character. Finding enough examples of men who have died in order to further a female character to fill such a list would be quite a challenge.

Blue Beetle suffers something of an ignoble death at the hands of Maxwell Lord. Lord was later killed by Wonder Woman.

So what is the reason for this imbalance? Well to my mind it’s all down to marketing. The majority of super hero comic readers are male and as such the majority of superhero comics feature male protagonists. Because these heroes tend to be hetrosexual they will invariably at some point acquire a female love interest and when the story ideas run dry, guess who is the first on the dramatic chopping block? You guessed it. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon isn’t strictly limited to female acquaintances, you could just as easily draw up a list of side kicks, brothers, fathers, co-workers and anyone else. The law of superhero comics dictate that if you are buddies with a hero, you’re only one case of writers block away from a messy swan song.

Stephanie Brown sparked controversy over her violent death and Dan Didio's comments that she "was never a real Robin" but she has finally returned to the DCU as Batgirl. How long she lasts remains to be seen.

Now it should be said that in the ten years since WIR was launched, the scales have balanced out a little. We’ve seen a number of men suffer a number of unheroic deaths and a number of women assume mainstream roles. Even Stephanie Brown, the much debated “Robin that wasn’t”, has recently recovered from her grizzly, drill based death to star in her own series as the new Batgirl (and honestly, in a world where fucking Jason Todd has been brought back, it’s about time).  But the fact that such a list has emerged in such a time should be a cause for concern for comic book writers everywhere. In the cartoon world in which we operate, life is cheap and death buys you fans, but while we have every right to produce books that have commercial appeal we should always remain aware of the way our work may be perceived outside of the narrow demographic to which we are pitching. If we only ever write for teenage boys then how do we expect to appeal to anyone else? There’s plenty of women out there who want to read comics and it’s really hard to do that from inside of a fridge.

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