Friday, August 8, 2008

turning point / tales

Swansea Library, bless it, is full of Batman graphic novels. So every time I see one I haven’t read, I grab it. (I do the same for Doctor Who collections; no fears, they are coming up.)

Batman: Turning Points really has only one thing to bind its contents together, the relationship between Jim Gordon and Batman. The cover is a beautiful one by Tim Sale, but he’s not even an artist in the book! To be frank, the art is generally less revelatory, than what I have encountered so far—it’s more functional, a bit old-fashioned, it tells a story. Therefore, the writing takes center stage. My favourite of the stories, then, is Greg Rucka’s “Uneasy Allies.” This takes a (comparatively) young Jim Gordon, whose wife has just left him, and a somewhat newish Batman to a rather straightforward hostage situation. The art is classic, though the inks seem a little garish to me; it’s a simple story, with its tagline being “Everyone needs a friend.” Gary Oldman in the films just plays Gordon so appealingly, when he’s written halfway decent in the comics, I can feel that mentality coming through, and I like it.

Ed Brubaker and Joe Giella’s “And Then There Were Three?” is okay—the story doesn’t grab me, nor does the art, but it’s heartfelt. Gordon looks much older and smokes a pipe instead of cigarettes—pick your poison, I guess. “Casualties of War” by Ed Brubaker and Dick Giordano is grim—suddenly Gordon’s wife Barbara has become his daughter Barbara, apparently she’s Batgirl, and apparently the Joker broke her legs (which is ironic since she’s wearing green and purple in the comic!). Bruce again looks totally like Superman with his bulked-up physique. Please forego these kind of muscled hunks covered in hair and give me Christian Bale any day.

“The Ultimate Betrayal” has beautiful art by Brent Anderson, but it isn’t my cup of tea. One of its virtues is that it manages to make Robin look somewhat threatening, which in my humble opinion is hard to do. “Comrades in Arms” is a beautiful symmetry to Greg Rucka’s first story, picking up some five or so years after that story ended. It’s a wonderfully uplifting note to end on, with totally distinctive art from Paul Pope. There are some humorous touches, and it feels ultra-modern—all the way down to Batman rescuing two young lesbian lovers (MasterBlaster?) in an alley from homophobic thugs.

Now, I know I said I didn’t care for Tim Sale’s art in “Date Knight” by Darwyn Cooke, but I have to say I like practically everything else in the artist’s own collection, Tales of the Batman. As Richard Starkings points out, Sale’s cluttered world feels lived in and his style is painterly, distinctive. His first story, the very amusing “Madmen Across the Water,” really has nothing to do with Batman. As written by Alan Grant, it’s the story of the Arkham Asylum internees being transferred elsewhere because one of them blew up Arkham. It’s told from the point of view of Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, descendent of the asylum’s founder, and a wonderfully human character in his own right. I daresay if you don’t know the Batman universe very well, you’ll miss out a bit on some of the characters in the story—the criminally insane—including Two-Face, Poison Ivy, the Riddler, the Mad Hatter, the Scarecrow, and even some I’d never heard of before. (The Joker, the Penguin, and Harley Quinn are notable by their absence.) Sale has confessed he loves ink, and it shows in his drawings—they’re both good and approachable. The climax is a farcical softball game between the “loonies” and the more mundane criminals. The palette is as colourful as the story—some really lovely close ups—but my favourite part is Scarecrow! Very otherworldly and cool.

“Blades” is a truly unique story by James Robinson, perfectly suited to Sale’s palette. There’s a fabulous character called the Cavalier, Douglas Fairbanks with Cary Elwes’ voice. The story is grim and romantic all at once; the Cavalier’s Zorro-like attributes endear him at first to Batman, who worshipped Zorro as a child, but I think The Dark Knight’s Batman would have been quite grateful to have an assistant like the Cavalier! The art really is outstanding, and Bruce is even a little less Superman-like than usual, thanks to Sale’s unique style. There’s a wonderfully designed villain, too, named Randolph Salt (who could have come from the pages of Wodehouse).

“The Misfits” is likewise a really different take; as it’s crawling with supervillains, it feels a bit like X-Men. Batman’s palette is blue once more, and there are such crazy characters as a villain named Calendar Man and the punning Cat-Man (“Calendar Man said in a daze. A days . . .? Calendar man said weakly. Weekly—get it?”). I’m afraid the panel of Bruce in the shower fails to move me! On the other hand, Sale’s design of Robin goes a long way in making the rather cheesy character more attractive! Last but not least is “Night After Night,” which lacks substance, but man, does it look cool! It’s another for the black and white Batman series, and there’s ink wash for the main action and beautiful pen and ink for flashback. Golly. There’s a really funny panel where Batman looks over at the tied up Joker, who says, “You know you’re insane, don’t you?” (Though I find Sale’s Joker design a bit too cartoonish for my tastes, but . . .) No, I would definitely buy this book.

Now, there’s a reason Sale’s art looks just a bit familiar. He was the artist for Heroes—that’s right, he did all of Isaac Mendez’s paintings. How cool is that?!

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