The world was saddened by the news yesterday that writer Dwayne McDuffie, a pivotal player in the comics industry when it came to the diversification of superheroes in the medium for the last decade, had passed away from complications arising from a surgical procedure. The man who co-founded Milestone Media and brought us so many wonderful episodes of Justice League died all too soon and an entire industry mourned.
I have to admit it came at a bit of an awkward time. I was about to write an article about his handling of the All Star Superman translation which was not entirely positive. But it’s easy to overlook some of his missteps when stacked against his successes. Let’s not forget that he’s leaving behind a legacy that is comparable to many of the brightest stars working in this industry. His work with Static is truly inspiring and his campaigns against editorial meddling have made him a hero in certain circles. And though he may be remembered just as much for that issue of Fantastic Four where Black Panther put the Silver Surfer in a headlock, we should all remember that he made some simply amazing contributions to the comics industry and we’d be lucky to find anyone as enthusiastic about the work he put out as Dwayne McDuffie.
Here’s the deal. I’ve been busy with a TON of stuff today. Like, just about everything that I need to do in a given month I had to get done today and then some. So you’ll have to apologize when I eschew the typical format of these reviews and go about this a little differently this week. This week’s reviews will be comprised of just two books, Batman and Superman # 701. Basically, the biggest two books to hit this week. I mean, Birds of Prey # 3 was awesome, and a bunch of people who went apeshit over certain events in the second issue had eat some serious crow. I finally picked up a copy of The Sixth Gun which I recommend to anybody who likes Jonah Hex but wants a little bit of mysticism thrown in without being outright terrible like the film. Also Generation Lost made me fall in freaking love with the Rocket Reds.
Let’s start with Superman # 701.
Dear god, this whole issue seems like 32 pages of JMS trying to justify the premise of his arc to us by hammering us over the head with apathetic retreads of tired philosophy and even more tired retreads of scenes that Grant Morrison already did to perfection a few years back with All-Star Superman. Seriously, that suicide jumper scene was basically everything Morrison did but stretched out for a few pages with no sense of gravitas. It’s so mind-numbingly blunt that it looses any and all effect.
I think my biggest problem with JMS’s retread of Hard Travelin’ Heroes starring Superman is that JMS doesn’t seem to write Superman in the classic sense. The Superman I know is not the spiteful, sarcastic, embittered abuser of power that we get in this issue. This feels like Stracynski trying to finish out what he had wanted to do with Thor but couldn’t because he got tossed to the curb by Marvel editorial. I think that a lot of the bitterness that he feels over how that panned out is being transferred onto his Superman. Superman here doesn’t feel like he needs to answer to anybody. Not reporters, not the man on the street, nobody. He is sick and tired of everyone’s impatience and expectations. The problem is, he’s made Superman borderline unlikeable in this instance.
I’ve seen just as much love for this issue as I have hate, so obviously he’s struck a chord with people. But I’ve noticed that a lot of the praise is coming from people who are new to reading Superman on a regular basis. A lot of first timer’s interested by the premise got drawn in, and having no attachment to everything that makes Superman…well, Superman, they find this sort of bland retread to be new and fresh and exciting.
It’s lazy and it doesn’t really work for anyone who has any real understanding of Superman as a character. Some would argue that JMS is attempting to write away the flaws of Superman, but by turning him into a cynical jerkwad doesn’t do anything but create more flaws. It alienates the previously faithful readers and the new readership is not likely to stick around in the long run.
It’s not the worst issue of Superman ever written, it’s just an egregious slap in the face to fans of the character. It collapses under the weight of it’s own self importance and in the end will just be another footnote in the long history of the book that people look back on and sort of chuckle at.
Still better than Electric Blue Supes.
On the flipside, we have Batman 701, which goes back to the moments immediately following Batman R.I.P. and leading up to Batman’s collision course with Darkseid in Final Crisis. This issue is the first time in a while we’ve seen Bruce Wayne in the suit for the main story. I think Morrison was wise to hold off on this issue until now, simply because it gives the audience a broader understanding of his entire overall story and allows for the reader to follow the action with greater ease than if it had come immediately following R.I.P.
The artwork is just amazing, a step-up from Daniel, whose work seemed to be rushed while he had to perform the writing duties as well. There is more definition, more style on display here. It matches the mood of the story perfectly, and I think that goes a long way towards crafting an excellent issue.
The basic premise is centered around Hurt’s declaration that following the events of R.I.P., if Bruce were to wear the cowl again it would be the last time. A prophetic curse that weighs heavy on Bruce. It’s interesting that he takes this to heart the way he does, seeing how he comes down on criminals as being overly cowardly and superstitious and I don’t think that is an accident. Morrison doesn’t do coincidence.
His reaction to the death of a New God shows us exactly how Morrison feels about Batman as a character and it works well within everything that’s come to be associated with Bruce as far as his determination and his psyche. It’s the exact opposite of Stracynski’s Superman in that regard. Nobody will accuse this Batman of not being in character. He is the driven detective, the dark knight and he acts as such.
I’m looking forward to the rest of this arc.