Thursday, November 4, 2010

Batman & The Boys – Digging the monthly grind

I keep thinking I’m going to give up monthly comics completely, but they keep pulling me back in. Once upon a time, a copy of New Warriors #1 was enough to keep me in the periodical fold, and while tastes have come a long way since 1990, it still doesn’t take that much to keep a hand in.

A few weeks ago, price rises - both foreign and domestic – were enough to convince me the affair was over. I’ve been buying monthly comics of some description ever since I was 12 years old, but there is no way a new issue of something I still genuinely enjoy is worth ten bucks for 20-something pages, not when the collected version gives far better bang for buck.

But I still love reading new comics every month, there is just something in that immediacy that keeps all these comics fresh and exciting and alive. So that’s why I went back to the comic shop this week and bought new stuff.

One of them was the last issue of Greek Street, which turned out to be quite sweet in the end and left me feeling like I’d been properly Milliganed. But I also got four other comics (or is it two?) which reminded me there are still things monthly comics can do that you can’t find in a book.

(Some of these comics are a bit late and the next issue is already out, but that’s not my fault. No, sir. It’s Qantas’ fault.)

* * *

Batman & Robin #15
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5

Batman was always coming back, but to see him appear in two different places at the same time is a good new trick, especially when he’s getting all incorporated in the near future.

But it is weird to read one comic where he shows up on the last page looking completely mental, covered in a cape made out wire from the end of time, and then see him appear on the last page of the very next comic, looking like the goddamn Bat-God, ready to punch evil in the fucking face.

No wonder Batman has some psychological problems.

It’s weird, but it’s not a bad thing. Non-linear storytelling is surprisingly rewarding, and many of the best comics I’ve ever read in my entire life have been totally out of order. You don’t have to worry about continuity in the endless now of a single comic panel.

And even with its grand metaphysical conspiracies stretching back to the Dawn of Man, Batman is still a great pop comic - funny and clever enough to always entertain, while a good Gotcha! moment is always appreciated.

That cheap thrill is still there. I fell in love with Morrison’s Batman comics years ago, and the little tart is stringing me along pleasantly. It will be nice to follow it for a little while, into the pages of Batman Incorporated.

Of course, the other nice thing about getting monthly comics is that I get to see the art in these things as soon as possible, and when it’s as breathtaking as Frazer Irving’s ongoing efforts, I can’t get it quickly enough.

The art is so important. In one of these Batman comics, there are a bunch of adverts for all the different Bat-books coming up, and there are some inevitable contrasts in there – David Finch and Yanick Paquette and Tony Daniel are all good at what they do, but their easy-going and clear art looks old and boring. When it comes to Batman, stylish kicks rule, and the advert for Detective Comics that features some of Jock’s graceful scratchiness is a thing of advertising beauty – I want to read this comic.

Morrison’s comic are Always Good, but pair him with an idiosyncratic creator like Irving or Quitely or Murphy and it’s a whole other level.

* * *

The Boys #47
Highland Willie #3

Like the Batman, this is one big story being told in two separate comics, leading to some really interesting pacing going on in both books.

In one of them, Hughie has buggered off back home after some unknown heartbreak, and mopes about a bit as people with nasty looking shears lurk in the background. In the other, the story of what happened to Hughie has only just been revealed.

It worked surprisingly well. The first couple of issues of Highland Laddie were vague enough about Hughie’s depression that it didn’t matter what happened, and filled the ongoing Boys title with a suffocating sense of impending doom. The latest story arc was never going to end well.

By the time Highland Laddie reached its third issue, Hughie’s reason for running back home was obvious. All the terrible secrets of his lovely relationship with Annie were exposed and he just couldn’t handle it – walking out of her life and leaving behind a tirade of truly awful insults.

And then, right after all this is shown in The Boys #47, I pick up the third issue of Highland Laddie and Annie is there again, unwilling to give up and turning Hughie’s life all upside down again.

Weirdly, it’s a beacon of hope in the ongoing degradation of The Boys. After the way it ended in the park, I really thought Annie would disappear for a while from Hughie’s life, letting bitter recriminations and anger build until it all came to some kind of explosive climactic tragedy.

But this is a Garth Ennis comic – these fuckers are a lot more complicated than they look.

So Annie comes back, ten minutes after Hughie told her he never wanted to see her again. It’s not that easy, and there is still a lot of shit to work out, but they are actually going to sit down with each other and talk, and that’s a great thing. So much idiotic conflict in comic books (and movies and novels and everything else) could be avoided if people just sat the hell down and talked for a bit, and Ennis comics that feature people trying to explain themselves always end well.

Hughie and Annie haven’t told each other everything, but it’s coming out. It’ll be painful and embarrassing, but they’re going to get it out and move on with their lives, in one direction or another. The Boys is headed towards a terrible and inevitable bloodbath, but there is some hope in those two wee people.

I can’t wait for the next issues of these two comics, to see where it all goes. You can’t get that with a trade.

I was going to give up The Boys in monthly doses because it was too expensive, but that’s not happening now. This kind of comic, this kind of regular thrill, I’ll pay fuckin’ anything for that.

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