17.09.2013

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All Batman and DC Universe characters and merchandise are property of Warner Brothers, Dc Comics, or their subsidiaries and licensors. The thing about this boom of live-action superheroes is that, for better or worse, it is actually mimicking the source material to amazing degrees. In that sense, Man of Steel represents uber-violent takes on the genre like Jonathan Hickman’s and Ryan Bodenheim’s Red Mass for Mars or Warren Ellis’ and Juan Jose Ryp’s Black Summer (except that at least those had some wit).
In a way, it’s hard to go wrong with the pair of Batman and Superman, whether they’re friends or enemies. Of all the bare-legged kids who have given Batman a helping hand over the years, Carrie Kelley is probably my favorite. We meet Carrie early on in The Dark Knight Returns, when she and her friend Michelle take a shortcut through a decadent video arcade and almost end up getting knifed by a street gang of mutants (yes, it was the eighties). The fact that we get so little of Carrie Kelley’s backstory plays into the book’s general theme that the world is so obviously screwed up that all it takes is one inspiring figure for people to start acting up and taking matters into their own hands. Charmingly, while Batman is out terrorizing the Gotham City night by severely beating up kidnappers and pimps, Carrie approaches crime-fighting like a cartoon character from the Looney Tunes.
She eventually follows some mutants into the dump where Batman gets his ass handed to him by their gang leader. After bailing out the Dark Knight, Carrie drags him to the Batmobile and makes a splint for his broken arm. Carrie’s first mission is to put on a pink shirt and a bald cap, pretend she’s a member of the mutant gang, and convince all the other members to gather around the sewer pipe at West River and 40, where the Dark Knight will publicly humiliate their leader. Carrie and Bruce have a nice dynamic going on, which basically consists of Batman ordering her to stay put and she just straight-up disobeying him all the time, whether by engaging with a transsexual Nazi in a fight or by breaking into a house with a sentient explosive doll.
That said, she does keep saving Batman’s bacon when he inevitably bites off more than he can chew.
Batman’s final confrontation with the Joker in the county fair has deservedly become legendary.
As if Carrie Kelley wasn’t zany enough already, in The Dark Knight Strikes Back Frank Miller went on to dress her in a leopard spandex and turn her into a rollerblading vigilante called Catgirl. More recently, Peter Tomasi introduced a New 52 version of Carrie Kelley during his run in Batman and Robin.
Even though Archie Goodwin was an amazing writer (not to mention a legendary editor), I’m not as big a fan of his 1970s’ run on Detective Comics as others are. One of my favorite bits was the fact that artists dropped the traditional Batman logo from the opening splash pages and started integrating it in clever ways, like Will Eisner used to do in The Spirit.
In his first splash for Goodwin, Aparo worked in the words ‘The Batman’ as a name on an invitation, which is cute enough. This time around, Jim Aparo screwed the full logo (including that creepy Batman head) into a thunder! In the page above, Sal Amendola managed to fit in the full logo as well, now disguised as a painting. Also, because Chaykin was already Chaykin, it totally says ‘big fat fuck’ on the lower part of the wall. Moreover, Archie Goodwin took his typical trick of using the narration to build up to the story’s title a little bit further this time. Anyway, Walt Simonson uses the word ‘Batman’ to frame the panel, or rather the sub-panel, from the point of view of the killer.
And this is all before we actually get to the title & credits page, which is even more of a knockout!
Besides the gritty mood and aesthetics, I like the fact that westerns usually have something to say about America (and, in the case of spaghetti westerns, about Italian politics as well).
Some horse operas are deliberately celebratory and nostalgic, emphasizing either conservative or liberal values at the core of US history.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and High Noon are not only a joy to watch, but also interesting to decipher politically (the latter is especially fun if you try to read in it a premonitory allegory about Batman comics, since it involves the vengeful return of a terrifying thug called Frank Miller). Speaking of racism, classic westerns do have quite a poor track record in terms of depicting Native Americans.
There are just so many awesome yarns south of the border – and they often get down and dirty in Mexico’s bloody history! Furthermore, there is a whole subgenre of revolutionary Italian oaters – the ‘Zapata westerns’. Finally, the geek in me loves the fact that this is a genre that constantly builds on itself. Still, this self-referential dimension can be quite rewarding for those in the inner circle. Critics are also fond of pointing out that Hawks kind of remade Rio Bravo as the entertaining El Dorado and once again as the lamer Rio Lobo… That is true but it misses the larger point that Rio Bravo was itself basically a loose variation of Hawks’ classic adventure drama Only Angels Have Wings. This brings us to The Hateful Eight, which I think combines all the elements that make westerns great. Regarding comics, if we’re talking mean-spirited westerns, I quite like Hermann Huppen’s Wild Bill is Dead, which is a revenge tale that takes quite a detour. That said, The Hateful Eight’s flair for sardonic dialogue and the focus on post-Civil War racial issues points more sharply to Loveless, by Brian Azzarello, Marcelo Frusin, and Danijel Zezelj.
When I wrote about Quentin Tarantino films last month, I promised to follow up with comic suggestions for fans of The Hateful Eight. First of all, there is something about the time distance and the ‘simplicity’ of the surroundings. Comic writers, used to exuberant spectacle, often get bored with the limitations of western conventions (this is why every few years Jonah Hex finds himself in a post-apocalyptic future, or batting zombies, or flying around in the steampunk airship of Ra’s al Ghul!). Director Budd Boetticher, screenwriter Burt Kennedy, and actor Randolph Scott did a series of unpretentious chamber westerns that got the most out of this sense of simple clarity (the best of the lot is 1959’s Ride Lonesome). Many ‘spaghetti westerns’ followed Leone’s handbook, keeping the words sparse, the mood serene, and the action visually driven. Sure, there are shitloads of duds, but the ingredients are there to make it work fairly easily. Basically, if you add an operatic Ennio Morricone score to the image of a gunfighter on a horse, then you’re halfway there to producing a satisfying movie. And if the sheer number of instantly recognizable tropes makes it easy to use shorthand and achieve intertextual resonance, it also lends itself to obvious parody. Indeed, even if you regard the western as a proper genre (and not merely as a shared historical setting), it is loose enough to easily allow for crossbreeding. The latter are also violent as hell, because no-holds-barred sound and fury is another thing westerns can deliver like nobody’s business. Americans have come up with their fair share of gritty westerns (particularly Gordon Douglas, the man behind Rio Conchos and Barquero). And in terms of pure brutality, there is of course Django – you know, the one with the dude dragging his coffin around and inspiring countless imitations, homages, and kick-ass songs. With Valentine’s Day around the corner and all the schmaltzy faux-romantic mood in the air, I guess this is the time to have a look at half a dozen times when Bruce Wayne said goodbye to the women in his life (and vice versa). In Detective Comics #49, actress Julie Madison becomes a movie star, so naturally she changes her name and breaks off their engagement. Julie clearly looks disappointed by so much nonchalance (especially in that fish-eye lens panel).
Poor Bruce Wayne, he keeps getting dumped… That said, with social activist Rachel Caspian, I’m not sure what he was expecting. I am going to skip the whole thing with radio talk show host Vesper Fairchild (needless to say, it didn’t end well). The former, who could shoot electrical bolts from his fingertips, was one of the first African-American superheroes to take a starring role at DC. As for Metamorpho, the multicolored shapeshifter who could change into any element in the human body, he already had a history of cool team-ups with the Caped Crusader on the pages of The Brave and the Bold. This is Gotham Calling’s 100th post, so I’m celebrating by focusing on one of my favorite aspects of Batman lore, namely the unbelievable amount of obscure, silly villains the Caped Crusader has faced over the years. Nowadays, there is so much speculation across the internet over who is going to show up in the fast-approaching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. As far as I know, Ed Peale, aka the Gong, has only appeared in one tale: ‘The Bandit of the Bells!’ (Batman #55, reprinted in Batman #198).
It sounds like a stretch at first, but Ed Peale proves to be quite creative in terms of getting the most out of his shtick of making bells ‘do evil, criminal things!’ He makes false alarm calls so that the sirens of a fire engine, an ambulance, and a patrol car create a ‘sound cover’ over the alarm of the jewelry store he is robbing. Between all the free love, the hallucinogenic drugs, the hippie movement, and the broader generational clash, the 1960s must have been a damn crazy era. It’s a brilliant homage, not only because it comments on the values of the time, but because both Batman’s speech to Age O’Quarious and the story’s final twist genuinely feel like the kind of stuff you can find in those comics. Also, because this was the fifties, you can be darn sure there was a fight on top of a giant camera (and later one involving a giant slide projector). However, surprisingly almost 60 years went by before the character found his way back to the pages of a Batman comic, with ‘Captured by Mr. This time around, the camera-themed rogue goes after a different vigilante, namely the Huntress, who is a bit freaked out, as I guess anyone would be if stalked by a creepy criminal with a huge camera for a head.
Written by Bill Finger and illustrated by Charles Paris, ‘The Match!’ (Batman #45, cover-dated February-March 1948) introduced the titular villain, an arson racketeer who, for a fee, sets fires for clients in need of insurance money.
All in all, this is a weird little story that reads simultaneously like a lean crime adventure and like an ill-disguised advertisement for the Fire Department. The Bouncer came on the scene with ‘The Strange Death of Batman!’ (Detective Comics #347), first published in 1966. To be sure, the Bouncer wasn’t the most memorable aspect of this tale (more on that below). Gardner Fox goes on to imagine another version of the story… and this time, the Bouncer actually  manages to kill Batman!
Tagged Bill Finger, Carmine Infantino, Charles Paris, David Vern, Denny O'Neil, Dick Giordano, Eric Jones, Gardner Fox, Joe Giella, Landry Q. After the subdued crime drama Jackie Brown, Tarantino abandoned all pretenses of realism and embarked on a series of stylized projects, starting with the surreal revenge opus Kill Bill. In comics, that’s the recipe behind Hard Boiled, the early ‘90s nutso cyberpunk classic written by Frank Miller and deliriously illustrated by Geof Darrow. Then there was Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse, the pastiche of B-movie double bills he did with Robert Rodriguez in 2007. Death Proof definitely comes to mind when reading Bitch Planet, another riff on the cheap thrills of sleazy cinema (in this case blaxploitation, low-budget sci-fi, and above all women-in-prison flicks). And what about Inglourious Basterds, the suspenseful, tightly edited slice of nazixploitation set in Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist version of World War II (in which, naturally, cinema is the most powerful weapon of all)?
It’s hard not to go overboard with this one, since anti-Nazi retribution is such a beloved theme in comics. As for Django Unchained, this incendiary mix of spaghetti western and blaxploitation took the revenge fantasy format of Kill Bill, Death Proof, and Inglourious Basterds to a new extreme by applying it to America’s history of slavery. For a seemingly less transgressive engagement with the issues of Django Unchained, you may want to go with Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner, about the titular real-life African-American slave who led a rebellion in 1831. Django Unchained actually got a sequel of sorts in comics: a crossover mini-series with Zorro written by Quentin Tarantino and Matt Wagner, and illustrated by Esteve Polls. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a neat homage to this iconoclastic director from The Invisibles, Grant Morrison’s metaphysical conspiracy thriller about an international secret society trying to liberate human consciousness. Tagged Chuck Dixon, Esteve Polls, Fabien Vehlmann, Frank Miller, Geof Darrow, Giulia Brusco, Grant Morrison, Jack Kirby, Kathryn Immonen, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kyle Baker, Lee Loughridge, Matt Wagner, movies, Quentin Tarantino, R.M. It makes sense that Garth Ennis chose to put this amusing riff on Reservoir Dogs’ opening lines in the very first issue of Hitman.
That said, Garth Ennis is hardly the only creator to do comics whose style and motifs overlap with Quentin Tarantino’s. Let’s start with Reservoir Dogs, which introduced the director’s distinctive authorial voice while also channeling both classic Hollywood heist movies (like Phil Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential) and their stylish European cousins (like Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Doulos). Fans of Reservoir Dogs should obviously check out Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series, which adapts the hardboiled novels written by Richard Stark. Nick Spencer totally nails this feel in the demented Forgetless, a viciously funny mini-series with lively, if inconsistent, art by Scott Forbes, Marley Zarcone, Jorge Coelho, and Erik Skillman. Some of those themes also show up, with a much more melancholy tone, in Manhattan Beach 1957, where the protagonist (just like his counterpart in True Romance) finds inspiration by talking to the spirit of Elvis Presley. Before 1994, there had been plenty of badass crime flicks with laugh-out-loud scenes (including Tarantino’s own Reservoir Dogs), but  Pulp Fiction tapped into a sweet spot between gangster movie and twisted comedy, with its philosophical hit men, its ill-fated mob boss, its sword-wielding boxer on the run, its climatic Mexican standoff, and its unforgettable monologue about a long-traveled watch. If you’re searching for a similar balancing act in comics, there are worse places to look for it than in Stray Bullets, whose pages are full of eccentric characters and virtuoso narrative twists… After an eight-year hiatus, David Lapham finally returned to his brilliant creation with the mini-series ‘Killers,’ which was as sharp and gutsy as ever.


Despite his Disney-ish cartoony linework, one creator who is particularly skilled at a not-too-distant type of underworld farce is Kyle Baker. As far as vampire-themed comics go, it’s hard to find a more pitch-black comedy than David Lapham’s 30 Days ‘Til Death.
One comic whose mood and aesthetics are quite close to From Dusk Till Dawn is Garth Ennis’ and Steve Dillon’s Preacher.
Jackie Brown is a tricky one since at first glance it looks like just another cleverly told crime story with crackling dialogue.
For all these reasons, Jackie Brown brings to mind some of Ed Brubaker’s work, whether it’s Scene of the Crime, the murder mystery he did with Michael Lark, or Criminal, his and Sean Phillip’s much-admired meditation on the crime genre. Or you can always dig into Brian Michael Bendis’ excellent pre-Marvel noir phase, especially the graphic novels Jinx and Goldfish, in which the Tarantino DNA is particularly striking. Tagged Brian Michael Bendis, Bruno, Darwyn Cooke, David Lapham, Ed Brubaker, Erik Skillman, Fabien Nury, Gabriel Andrade, Garth Ennis, Hermann, horror, Jorge Coelho, Kevin Smith, Kyle Baker, Laurence Croix, Marley Zarcone, movies, Nick Spencer, noir, Paul Azaceta, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Kirkman, Scott Forbes, Sean Phillips, Steve Dillon, Yves H. The world of superheroes can sometimes be seriously dark and sick (as anyone who watched the first season of Jessica Jones can attest). To be sure, when you think of the greatest Christmas stories ever told (Die Hard, Gremlins, Nightmare before Christmas), it becomes clear this is a holiday that lends itself to all sorts of twisted tales.
Given how bombastic and out-of-control the Batman series has become of late, I figure the time is right to revisit the concept of comics as manic, trippy escapades. In a way, Elektra: Assassin is the high point of the explosion of creativity its authors underwent in the ‘80s – there are traces of Miller’s Ronin and hints of Sienkiewicz’s Stray Toasters, but it outmatches any of those works in terms of freewheeling experimentation. Name your favorite pulp genre and you’re likely to find it somewhere on the pages of this comic.
It is impressive enough that we got a solid bunch of highly entertaining popcorn blockbusters telling straightforward superhero stories (especially the Iron Man and Avengers movies). The two characters work well together, since they’re so different and complementary, visually as well as thematically. She’s this spunky teen who just goes ahead and dresses in that silly suit and totally owns it, kicking enough butt to impress the Dark Knight. It’s easy to forget how (intentionally) funny Frank Miller used to be, despite The Dark Knight Returns’ reputation as a serious bastion of the turn towards grim and gritty superhero comics.
Her weapon of choice is a slingshot and the first thing she does is sneak a stick of dynamite into the butt of a con artist who is hustling bystanders with a game of Three Card Monte!
In fact, Carrie actually saves the Caped Crusader’s life when the mutant leader is about to crush his skull with a crowbar (the preferred killing method for costumed heroes in the Batman comics of the time).
Batman is so impressed that he admits he’s Bruce Wayne and shows her the Batcave, practically hiring her on the spot. For example, when the Caped Crusader gets caught up in a struggle with a bunch of cops, Carrie rescues him by flying a damn helicopter, much to his surprise. But it’s a shame that it has completely overshadowed Carrie’s own elaborate, exciting action set piece, on a roller-coaster, facing an armed henchman and yet another explosive doll. In Batman & Robin Adventures #6, when a tabloid newspaper announced that Batman had fired Robin (Dick Grayson), she was one of the many volunteers to audition for the job. But hey, it was written by Ty Templeton and drawn by Rick Burchett, so that pretty much goes without saying! The man knew how to draw an opening that pulled you right in, not least because those skewed perspectives and lettering just seemed like an invitation to let yourself slide. It is certainly not as powerful, but what the hell… I always enjoy these glimpses into Gotham City’s night life anyway! It’s a bit crammed, but what a sense of design… I would totally hang this as a poster on my wall. The best part is that Simonson’s art is so dynamic that the word practically works as an additional sound effect – as far as I’m concerned, the last thing Ndele Kshumbo did before he died was shout for the Caped Crusader to avenge him. Others are more critical, explicitly denouncing past crimes or acting as metaphors for contemporaneous issues, like McCarthyism, civil rights, or the Vietnam War. Tonino Valerii’s The Price of Power is, oddly, a western about the JFK assassination (yep). They started addressing this issue in increasingly complex ways in the 1950s… John Ford’s The Searchers has a reputation for being a provocative revisionist take on the matter, but I don’t think the movie earns it.
Even if you leave out the Franco-Mexican War (the setting for the exciting Vera Cruz) and just focus on the Mexican Revolution, you have the bigger-than-life The Wild Bunch, the amusing Two Mules for Sister Sara, the compellingly schlocky 100 Rifles… the list goes on, but ultimately none of them beats Richard Brooks’ The Professionals, which is an all-out adventure romp with a particularly delicious closing line. They’re usually about some gringo getting involved in the Mexican civil war and feature the kind of sadism you’d expect from late ’60s Italian cinema. I guess the most famous example is how Fred Zinnemann did a downbeat picture about a frustrated sheriff looking for help defending his town from outlaws (High Noon) and Howard Hawks responded by doing a badass flick about a fearless sheriff in the same situation who just shuts up and takes care of business (Rio Bravo). So in this case I think it’s less about westerns commenting on each other than about the fact that Hawks just really liked to tell stories about manly professionals of different generations carrying out their work in inhospitable conditions and about women trying to pierce through their stoic exterior (he went on to revisit this formula in the very lighthearted romantic drama Hatari!). You get an extra kick out of watching Unforgiven if you’ve seen any other western with Clint Eastwood before… Also, you can find plenty of metafictional layers in the work of Sergio Leone. Quentin Tarantino delivers tense Mexican standoffs, violent shootings, and an Ennio Morricone score, while also bringing in elements of other genres (mystery, horror, dark comedy). Hermann had drawn a bunch of westerns before (in the Comanche series), but this was the first one done in the stunning style he began experimenting with in the 1990s, with beautiful watercolors. This series had its moments, but it took way too long to find its feet, so instead I’ll recommend Azzarello’s and Zezelj’s less ambitious El Diablo.
I’ll include a couple of recommendations in my next post, but before that let me share a few thoughts on why I just can’t get enough of westerns! The natural landscapes, the small villages, the whole quasi-lawlessness thing… all this allows for basic themes (honor, revenge, justice, redemption, law and order) to be explored at their core in an almost allegorical way, uncontaminated by the caveats of a more recognizable setting or a more complex context. It pisses me off how every time critics are trying to sell you on a western they try to contrast it with the supposedly clear-cut morality of the old ‘good guys vs bad guys’ formula (it’s the same thing with superheroes, really).
Yet in cinema the relatively limited number of occupations and settings often leads to a kind of economical storytelling that appeals to me… Settled with mostly uneducated characters and unable to hide behind modern pop culture references, screenwriters go for terse dialogue and minimalistic symbols in order to convey plot and characterization. Yet the guy who really elevated this type of craftsmanship to a whole other level was Sergio Leone, especially starting with For a Few Dollars More. My favorite in this mold is actually the French Cemetery without Crosses (also known as The Rope and the Colt). The atmosphere of constant tension because of the ease with which people can kill, the cathartic power of a shot, the feel of chivalrous adventure from all the horse-riding, the gravitas of these archetypes, the scenic backgrounds… There is a reason why the most defining examples of the genre (Ford’s Stagecoach, Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch) are not merely great westerns – they are some of the most freaking iconic cinema masterpieces of all time! At least two beloved westerns simply relocated Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epics to the American Wild West (A Fistful of Dollars is a rip-off of the awesome Yojimbo and John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven is a remake of Seven Samurai), yet they both turned out to be highly entertaining pictures in their own right.
To be fair, it doesn’t even have to be Morricone – many westerns rely on atmosphere stitched together by a cool soundtrack, whether it’s Bob Dylan songs in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid or Leonard Cohen tracks in McCabe & Mrs. Besides genre spoofs (the funniest is still, by far, Blazing Saddles), there are plenty of hybrids that work simultaneously as westerns and as comedies.
In the 1940s, some directors approached it with a cool film noir sensibility, for example in the stylish Winchester ’73 and Yellow Sky (not to mention John Huston’s angry neo-western The Treasure of Sierra Madre).
If you are into raw, visceral insanity, though, few movies can match the power of Italian horse operas like Death Rides a Horse.
I’d rather go straight to  Detective Comics #775, where Greg Rucka wrote one hell of a coda for Bruce and his former bodyguard Sasha Bordeaux. In the 1980s, the Dark Knight took this to the extreme when he brought in all the weirdos he could find and put together his very own super-team, called The Outsiders. I suppose the high-concept behind the Outsiders was that, much like Batman, they were all loners who learned to bond by fighting crime together (as you do). Barr and artist Jim Aparo, two of the characters had actually been around for a while: Jefferson Pierce (aka Black Lightning) and Rex Mason (aka Metamorpho, the Element Man). When he joined the Outsiders, Black Lightning was going through an existential crisis because he had gotten a girl killed while trying to take out a couple of robbers. In Gotham City, it looks as if every gimmick imaginable has somehow been used for evil (especially if you count all the odd foes created specifically for the 1960s’ TV show). He rings the starter’s bell to summon down every elevator operator in a building, so that no-one spots his gang (the Gong’s gang!) crashing a diamond cutter’s office on the top floor. And if there is one Batman villain who personifies this craziness, it’s Age O’Quarious (get it?). Moreover, Gilbert (who, besides writing, also drew and colored the issue) absolutely nailed the trippy visual style of an art job by Dick Giordano and Neal Adams. Camera first showed up in 1954, in ‘The Boy Wonder Confesses!’ (Batman #81, later reprinted in Batman #185). Camera show up every few years, each time engaging with a new visual arts movement, from decolage to postminimalism… At the very least, he deserved a cameo in Andy Warhol’s Batman picture! Camera to return as more of a threat, but so far this foe hasn’t gotten another chance at the spotlight. It actually starts out with the Dynamic Duo joining the Gotham City Fire Patrol and finishes with the Boy Wonder addressing the readers directly, telling kids not to play with matches! In fact, given his ill-defined personality and his limited bag of tricks, fans weren’t exactly crying out for a return. After all, he was a real-life author who wrote thousands of comics, many of which set in Gotham City. Indeed, the whole thing unfolds like a fairly straightforward adventure: the plot wraps up when the Dynamic Duo saves the day through a comic bookish plan involving electrodes and a high frequency beam. That’s right: there is a comic where Gardner Fox is literally shown to be responsible for the murder of the Dark Knight, on a whim. A blast of energy, ultra-violence, and over-the-top aesthetics, this shamelessly schlocky pop culture collage sees Uma Thurman kill and maim her way through an assortment of pulpy archetypes deliciously called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. The plot revolves around a psychotic tax collector who is actually a confused insurance investigator who is actually a cybernetic killer (or maybe not), but the plot is not the point.
It’s a throwback to the ‘70s, including to the original Mad Max, but if you squint, you can see parallels with the recent Fury Road as well, in that they both tell car-centric stories about empowering women. For the first half of this double-feature, Robert Rodriguez provided a cartoonish spin on zombie plagues, Planet Terror, where Tarantino had a small role as a rapist with mutant genitals. Tarantino explicitly drew on the string of macaroni combat productions that followed The Dirty Dozen‘s sadistic footsteps, but he ended up with a spy comedy which, I think, owes just as much to the escalating farce of the original To Be or Not to Be, especially the climax at the premiere of a hilariously crude propaganda film in occupied Paris. Even if one is to resist the temptation of once again bringing up Garth Ennis (who has done *tons* of WWII stories), there is still plenty left to choose from… Regarding the artistic side of the war in occupied France, you’d be hard-pressed find a more thoughtful and well-crafted book than Moving Pictures, by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen. Like its predecessors, the film went for subversive entertainment in the shape of a rollicking ballet of gory catharses and shocking anti-climaxes, but it struck a deeper nerve in the Obama-era zeitgeist of racial identity politics. This powerful graphic novel is more respectfully straight-faced, although Baker doesn’t shy away from vivid sensationalism. This is another thing he has in common with Tarantino, who is happy to pillage film history and turn it into a hip mix-tape. With that in mind, Gotham Calling is celebrating The Hateful Eight’s release with a list of comic suggestions for fans of Tarantino movies! Despite the high levels of testosterone oozing from the all-male cast, for the most part Tarantino’s film debut doesn’t go for macho action. Like the film, these comics take place in a world of career criminals where all the tough guy bonding inevitably ends up in violent post-heist fallouts. Also set in the 1960s and starring a ruthless professional robber, this is Eurocomics’ answer to Parker – and what a kickass, mean bastard of an answer it is! Oliver Stone fully appropriated and transformed the screenplay for Natural Born Killers, turning it into a horrible psycho remake of Bonnie and Clyde as if recalled during a bad trip of LSD.
Although replacing the Gen X vibe with a millennial infatuation with social media and snappy hipster sarcasm, Forgetless is still at its core an edgy tale about young criminals, overflowing with sex and murder (both of which eventually involve a dude in a koala suit). This is a gorgeous book illustrated by veteran Belgian artist Hermann Huppen, who uses contrasting watercolors to great allegorical effect.
Add to this a retro soundtrack and non-linear chronology, and you’ve got yourself one postmodern masterpiece which went on to inspire countless imitators, many of which quite enjoyable in their own right (like Doug Liman’s Go and Guy Ritchie’s Snatch).
And the latest mini, ‘Sunshine & Roses,’ continues to expand this sprawling saga of kinky grown-ups and reckless teenagers, smoothly encompassing crabs-related hijinks, biting character moments, and bursts of horrific violence featuring a harpoon.
This mini-series focuses on a vampire in Buffalo who obsessively tries to keep a low-profile and sees the shit hit the fan in a diabolical crescendo when some unhinged friends drop by (it’s also by far the best spin-off of the otherwise relatively serious 30 Days of Night series).
Although overrated, their magnum opus still resonates as both an iconoclastic ‘fuck you’ to religion and a heartfelt meditation on American identity. Yet this adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch is more ‘mature’ than Tarantino’s earlier stuff in the sense that it’s more leisurely paced and more focused on worn-down characters.
A couple of months ago, I mentioned how the version of Jason Todd, the second Robin, introduced in the late eighties, after Crisis on Infinite Earths, had such a bad rep that comic fans actually voted by phone to have him beaten to death in Ethiopia.
It’s bad enough having to put up with that annoying alternative version of ‘Jingle Bells,’ but the worse part is that, as eccentric as Gotham City’s criminals tend to be, they certainly don’t stop for the holidays!


When I suggested a bunch of Non-Batman balls-to-the-wall adventure comics earlier this year, I focused on recent books, but of course there is a long tradition of ambitious and exciting stories that mix wild action with genuinely mind-blowing ideas! Surprising as it may seem, it’s not really the orgiastic combination of ninjas, spies, demons, cyborgs, mind control, ultra-violence, and Cold War politics that makes this comic such an incredible ride. Hell, as far as sheer exuberance goes, this book makes Frank Miller’s Batman comics from that era appear tame and uninspired in comparison! If you are bored from Gotham Academy comic, you can try surprise me link at top of page or select another comic like Gotham Academy 15 from our huge comic list.
Goyer wrote an Elseworlds Superman horror tale and Zack Snyder shot it like a pompous disaster movie.
The trailer makes it look like a hyperactive kid trying way too hard to be both meaningful and badass, but then again that’s a faithful rendition of many comics with the Dark Knight.
After all, it suggests that, unlike the Robins that came before her (Dick Grayson and Jason Todd), Carrie is not an orphan and she doesn’t need a family trauma to drive her… unless of course you consider having stoner hippie parents a trauma! Also, during the famous Batman-Superman face-off, Carrie helps distract the Man of Steel while driving a tank.
Not only is there a ‘Batman’ graffiti on the wall, but you can see the Dark Knight beginning to crawl out of the sewer, so you know asses are going to be kicked.
Even when they don’t have a clear message, western films tend to illustrate elements of American identity such as individualism, gun culture, and paranoid frontier status. Some people even claim Django Unchained is about racism, but then again people see racism everywhere nowadays. As far as I’m concerned, the unappreciated Dakota Incident and Gunman’s Walk do a much better job!
Some seem more militant, like A Bullet for the General, while others look more like an excuse to blow stuff up, like The Mercenary, but I’m not going to lie: I dig them all. The titular eight characters who hate each other for various reasons, stuck together in a cabin during a blizzard, provide a simple, minimalistic set-up that enables a quasi-parable about larger themes. He also wrote it – and while there is nothing particularly original or charming about Hermann’s scripts, this old-school Belgian author knows how to spin a two-fisted yarn.
It’s a neat little western that for a while seems to be about a manhunt, but it has splashes of horror and noir, not to mention a handful of plot twists up its sleeve.
Some of the greatest westerns, like Henry King’s The Gunfighter or Delmer Dave’s 3:10 to Yuma, are essentially super-suspenseful morality plays.
In fact, filmmakers have been telling murky stories in this genre for more than half a century… If you go back to the ‘50s, you can find loads of thoughtful oaters, from classics like Bend of the River to more obscure flicks like No Name on the Bullet. This means you have to concentrate to make sure you pick up everything that’s going on, which can make for quite an engaging viewing experience. Another worthy French entry is the recent Far from Men, which is not exactly a western (it’s set in the Algerian war) but it sure feels like one! Johnny Guitar may end on kind of a weird note, but that opening half an hour is worth its weight in gold. I’m not a big fan of the lowbrow slapstick of the Trinity movies starring Terence Hill – also known as ‘fagioli westerns’ – but I do get a kick out of the tongue-in-cheek zaniness of Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead (not to mention the third Back to the Future). In the 1950s, the supernatural anthology TV show The Twilight Zone had a bunch of episodes set in the Old West, including ‘Mr. He eventually achieved some closure after talking to the girl’s parents (though not before they hired the Masters of Disaster to go after him).
The villain’s obligatory deathtrap consists of leaving the Dynamic Duo adrift on a loose buoy. Gilbert did a very cool, metafictional anthology issue called ‘Stories’ (Legends of the Dark Knight #94), about an ersatz-Salman Rushdie stuck in an elevator, waiting for a group of fundamentalists to come and kill him. Naturally, the nameless metallurgist used this discovery to make a supervillain suit, turn himself into a human Wham-O SuperBall, and go on a crime spree in Gotham City. For one thing, the story was written by factoid-loving Gardner Fox, which means that not only was it full of delightfully cheesy puns, but halfway through we got a lesson about elasticity! But even as a fictional character, Gardner Fox’s credits list exceeds those of the Gong, Age O’Quarious, Mr.
And things only get wilder from there, as Robin seeks out revenge and eventually teams-up with a Batman from a parallel universe.
It’s split in two volumes, the first one a dazzlingly choreographed bloodbath drenched in orientalist iconography (complete with a sick anime sequence) and the second one a relatively more introspective neo-western – yet both equally basking in geeky Easter eggs and fetishistic mutilation.
That said, while George Miller’s latest masterpiece is a flashy spectacle of relentless chases across a futuristic wasteland, Tarantino settled for a deliberately patchy slasher with long stretches of colorful banter and Kurt Russel as a serial killer called Stuntman Mike (who I assume is a descendant from the truck driver in Spielberg’s Duel). Yet if writer Kelly Sue DeConnick clearly shares Tarantino’s passion for B-movies, she has enough ironic distance towards trashy genre fiction to mock its sexist tropes while giddily rejoicing in its guilty pleasures. While less artsy and pretentious than his partner in crime, Rodriguez doesn’t lack panache – he made the most out of the chosen format, namely through a great gag about missing footage.
But let’s face it, many fans will be less interested in ‘thoughtful’ than in ‘bombastic pulp’ when searching for the comics’ equivalent of Inglourious Basterds. To be fair, as gut-wrenching as Django Unchained can be, it’s still lighter than the Sergio Corbucci westerns that inspired Tarantino, if nothing else because of the inclusion of uproarious humor (at some points nearing the similarly-themed satire of Blazing Saddles). He also takes the chance to indulge in virtuoso storytelling – most of the book is ‘silent,’ with Baker’s expressive art carrying the bulk of the narrative.
So you can geek out if you spot that the leg torture scene in Inglourious Basterds is a nod to the WWII men-on-a-mission classic The Guns of Navarone, or that the image of Jamie Foxx hanging upside down near the end of Django Unchained recalls a shot of Woody Strode in another powerful slave revenge movie, Spartacus. Instead, this story of a gang of thieves trying to figure out what went wrong in their latest job feels more like a gritty psychological drama, or a particularly bloody chamber play. Written by Fabien Nury (whose WWII caper Comment Faire Fortune en Juin 40 is obligatory reading for fans of Inglourious Basterds), the series has a sleekly cinematic mise-en-scene, brought to the page by artist Bruno and colorist Laurence Croix. By contrast, Tony Scott stayed close to the original script in True Romance – and while Scott didn’t favor Tarantino’s angular compositions and extended takes, at least he was not afraid to let the cast savor their talky scenes without resorting to ADHD editing. Dark Horse recently collected it in Trilogy USA, together with two other albums drawn by Hermann and likewise written by his son Yves H., namely the Edward Hopper-looking horror noir Blood Ties and the ridiculously wordy The Girl from Ipanema.
Besides vampires, Lapham has also put his twist on werewolves through the ultra-gory, brutally sexual ongoing Ferals, with art by Gabriel Andrade.
While the TV series is on the way, you can already get a sense of how this comic might feel on-screen if you watch a double-bill of Kevin Smith’s Dogma and, yes, From Dusk Till Dawn. Organically embedded in the film’s post-blaxploitation web of smuggling and double-crosses is a terrifically acted drama about aging, not to mention a surprisingly touching romance. It’s mostly the way the story is told, with overlapping stream-of-consciousness narration and flashbacks frantically discharged onto the page by Bill Sienkiewicz’s unmistakable, impressionistic watercolors. Chuck Austen, Scott Morse, and more recently Mike Del Mundo have all approached the character with relatively unconventional art. This formula allows the series to freely combine all sorts of tropes and aesthetics, from cyberpunk to western to sword-and-sorcery mayhem. You have the tension between the geeky pleasure of world-building and the castrating effects of editorial interference.
Man of Steel is dark, cold, and aggressive – I would say this was Snyder doing the film equivalent of all those proto-revisionist comics that tried to emulate Watchmen without fully getting the point, were it not for the fact that Snyder had already given us the definite version of that… with his own Watchmen movie!
Also, I’ve already gotten my ideal Batman movie (Mask of the Phantasm), so now I’ll just settle for a weird flick. Also, I suppose it helped that she made her debut on the pages of one of the most acclaimed comics in the freaking history of the entire medium! Indeed, one of the running gags concerns the fact that, while Batman acquired his skills through years of intensive training and roaming the earth, Carrie just seems to have picked up all the necessary stuff in school and in the girl scouts. Corral, and Edward Dmytryk’s Warlock are all different variations of the legend of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (and they are all excellent).
Above all, the film offers a meditation on the messed up history of complicated racial relations in the United States, ultimately seeking a glimmer of hope in Abraham Lincoln’s legacy (real or fictitious). In that sense, Wild Bill is Dead belongs next to other gritty adventures he has crafted as a pretext to explore different landscapes and political issues, including Afrika, Caatinga, and the more surrealist Sarajevo Tango. Hell, throw in enough double-crosses and competently crafted set pieces, and even a middle-of-the-road dustraiser like Buchanan Rides Alone can be a darn enjoyable way to spend 78 minutes. And while Destry Rides Again doesn’t make me laugh out loud, I do find it incredibly charming. Denton on Doomsday,’ ‘The Grave,’ and ‘Dust’ (the show’s creator, Rod Serling, also wrote the lesser-known, straight-up western drama Saddle the Wind). While the skeptical writer awaits his death, the other passengers tell him about their personal encounters with the Dark Knight – and each flashback is a riff on a different comics’ period. Walker, with art by Eric Jones, this issue was as packed with fun and zest as any episode of the Brave and the Bold cartoon show (where Mr.
Camera, the Match, and the Bouncer since he enjoyed writing himself into his own stories (like in The Flash #123 and Strange Adventures #140).
Sure, this flick lacks the gravitas of his other directorial efforts, but the thing is that Death Proof – especially the longer version which was distributed separately – still works as a nasty little bare-bones chiller, even if you disregard the fact that it’s a tongue-in-cheek tribute to exploitation films (hey, what Tarantino picture isn’t, to some degree?).
There were also amusing faux trailers by various directors, including one for Machete, which Rodriguez later turned into its own riotous feature film (followed by the even sillier Machete Kills).
And in the mouthwatering absence of what would have been Jack Kirby’s version of the film, one option could be to settle for The Iron Ghost: Geist Reich, an enjoyable whodunit about a Shadow-ish avenger in bombed Berlin during the last days of the war, courtesy of Chuck Dixon and Sergio Cariello.
This left critics to puzzle over what’s more politically incorrect – the notion that the movie is a tasteless genre exercise or the disturbing implications of taking it seriously? The latter team was no doubt picked because of their impressive work in Scalped, the critically acclaimed crime series set in an Indian reservation.
Fortunately, these moments work regardless of whether or not viewers recognize the references – they’re Easter Eggs, not the main course.
The first self-contained volume has already come out in English, but if you read French, don’t wait around before getting your hands on the second one – the Cool Hand Luke-ish ‘Angola,’ in which the protagonist is sentenced to the titular southern prison. The latter movie makes a better job of capturing the kick of an adolescent fantasy where young lovers go on a crime spree and soon find themselves way in over their heads (with the bittersweet score poignantly paying tribute to Terrence Malick’s Badlands).
For all the hyper-realism of Hermann’s art, however, these comics are actually set in a distorted version of America-as-imagined-by-Europeans, so you can look at them as either a cliched caricature of reality or as a transcendental conjuration of cinematic and literary images… just like Tarantino’s work. Yet Ferals is basically one overlong, grim, disturbing story – and decidedly less fun. Like the latter, Preacher is an often hilarious Texas-set adventure that features vampires and revolves around an ass-kicking priest going through a crisis of faith. Even the obligatory inclusion of racial themes and intertextual winks at older movies via casting and soundtrack is not as showy compared to the rest of the director’s oeuvre, both before and after.
If Frank Miller’s aggressive writing style has always bordered on parody, Sienkiewicz’ caricatural art nails the series’ extravagant satire while making every page a delight to look at.
There is even some subversive comedy around Cynosure’s ultra-capitalist system in which, at one point, the only ones with legal rights are corporations! The TV shows have been great at this as well, what with the bouncy spy shenanigans of Agent Carter, the gritty crime drama of Daredevil, and the disturbingly creepy neo-noir feel of Jessica Jones.
Maybe it’s the cheesy sentimentality that does it for me, but most likely it’s those hauntingly weird soundtracks. And he was heavily involved in My Name Is Nobody, which is basically a clash between an old-school spaghetti western and the then-new brand of fagioli western comedies.
And, needless to say, Tarantino pays a heartfelt homage to the history of the genre itself, from the Hawksian sense of claustrophobia to the snowbound visuals of the bleak The Great Silence and the underrated Day of the Outlaw. Among the most accomplished attempts to fuse westerns with a horror vibe, you can find 1970’s And God Said to Cain as well as last year’s Bone Tomahawk.
For the Dennis O’Neil era, Gilbert came up with this doozy of a pastiche, set in the late sixties, about a scientist who was fired for being ‘too old’ and now seeks revenge against ‘youth culture’ by inventing a black-light wand that can absorb youth!
And honestly, if you want an intense, provocative take on the tropes of the western genre, I don’t think anything can beat Scalped.
Honestly, if you’re just in the mood for straight-up horror, you may as well get your hands on Outcast (the comic series by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta, not the preposterous movie with Nicolas Cage). All of these are subgenres that comic fans are familiar with but many were traditionally ignored in the transitions to the screen, so it’s nice to see more people finding out that, while superheroes are generally goofy, they can be goofy in diverse ways! I can appreciate why many people would prefer a safe, sentimental approach to this topic, or even a more complex and profound one, but I find there is something entrancingly mesmerizing about the way Tarantino keeps stretching out the Monsieur Candie dinner scene into ever-increasing uncomfortable directions.
What the synchronicity does reflect is the authors’ common sensibilities, which are evident throughout Preacher, even if the hero gets his pep talks from the spirit of John Wayne instead of Elvis.



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