Monday, 31 March 2014

Batman Leg Lamp - You Know, For Kids!

A quick note before we begin - I've set up @CrimeAlleyNotes on The Twitters, so hit it up if you want to know as soon as a new post is up, or read jokes that we're funny enough for actual articles.

So you like those sexy leg lamps, right? Everybody does. They give the room a certain "Burlesque Jeffrey Dahmer" feel, and they're a great conversation starter! I mean, most of the conversations will start with "Why do you have that tacky-ass leg in your house" but that still counts, right?

"I'll just leave this here in the window, where surely it will attract a real woman with a bulb for a torso!"

Maybe, though, you're not comfortable with a single, disembodied female limb in your face all day. I understand, friend; we can't all be Quentin Tarantino. So the sexy-lady-leg is out, but you still need a lighting system that goes with your lava lamp and Route 66 road sign, preferably one that also reaffirms your commitment to costumed justice. Whatever are you to do?

Relax. I have you. It's going to be okay. Like a lonely millionaire staring out the window of his lonely manor and deciding the form of his lonely crusade against the night, your answer will come in the form of a bat.

Just take a moment to drink her in. Glorious, no? Available now at Amazon dot com, this beauty was produced by the good people at NECA, manufacturers of a great deal of movie and pop culture memorabilia which is definitely NOT targeted at the skin-eating-insane. I especially like the fact that somebody decided to stick the Batman logo in the middle of the shade, presumably to ensure that your friends don't think that you're actually celebrating that one issue of The Phantom with a printing error from the knee down.

If you prefer your leg of justice to be a little more Kryptonian in style, there's a Superman model as well. No Wonder Woman, though, which seems like a bit of an oversight, given that it would surely be a slam dunk with the extremely large and influential Hiketeia Batman Cosplay set.

Seriously, just a bit of hot glue on the side of your face and you're set

It's just like Adam West said to Winston Smith: "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever, and with a range of settings so that you can comfortably read without bothering your partner!"

Oh, and if you should happen to have a spare $44.99 plus shipping lying around, my birthday is in May. Just saying.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Short reviews

This post is going to be different from the last one, since I'm new to this business of Internet Web Logs and haven't quite worked out what style suits me best. I buy a lot of comics every month, and while not all of them are worthy of an in depth review, many of them would improve your life by being in your pull list. To that end, I'm going to run through some new comics that I bought recently, focusing on single issues rather than a whole story, and tell you what I thought of 'em. These aren't so much my current favourites as an rough cross section of my current reading habits. That said, I'll mostly be saying good things, because I don't tend to keep picking up books that let me down.

We'll save the spite for my upcoming coverage of SMALLVILLE SEASON 11: LANTERN, which is a real thing that exists.

RAT QUEENS #5 - Kurtis J. Wiebe and John "Roc" Upchurch, Image

Guys, I'll be honest with you. I don't know how to describe this book without making it sound like I'm being paid by the publisher. It has the perfect setup - an all female band of hard drinking adventurers in a D&D style world - and unlike most high concept books it pays it off in spades. It's fast, it's funny, it's bawdy but also extremely sex positive, and every one of the four lead characters is engaging and likable in their own messed up way. On top of all that, art is kinetic and jagged in just the measure. The only caveat I would offer is that it's extremely violent - if you don't like the idea of the adorable rogue waving daggers with a troll eyeball skewered on the end of each one, then it might not be for you. This is the penultimate issue of the first story arc, and I'm eager to see what comes next for this band of misfit heroines.

BLACK SCIENCE #4 - Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera, Image

This one is a bit of an odd duck. The art is fantastic and the monster designs are extremely creative, but the premise is basically Sliders With Unlimited Budget, and so far it hasn't done much more than that. I get the feeling that the protagonist is meant to be a dashing asshole in the mould of John Constantine, but so far there's been too little dashing and too much asshole. I'm sticking with it for now, mostly because the dimension hopping gives Matteo Scalera the chance to draw an amazing range of creepy alien races every issue - something that he excels at - but going forward it might find itself slipping into the Maybe pile.

Also, the implied girlflesh on the cover totally misrepresents the contents of the issue, so that's a bit weird.

ROCKET GIRL #4 - Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder, Image

Rocket Girl is another comic with a deeply familiar premise - a cop from the future who comes back in time to the present day - with a number of twists on the formula; chief among these are the fact that the cop in question is a 15 year old girl, and that she has no interest in a secret identity and a LOT of interest in having jetpack chases through the skies and subways of 1980s New York. The art is bright and kinetic, with a rough unpolished look that actually adds a lot character, and protagonist DaYoung is peppy and likable. My only reservation at this stage is that the series is starting to drag a little; it's four issues in and it still feels as though the pieces are being laid out on the board, when we really should have a lot more narrative momentum by now. Still a great read, though, and one I'm sticking with for the foreseeable future.

BATMAN #29 - Scott Snyder and Dustin Nguyen, DC Comics

I've made no secret of the fact that I love Snyder's work, both on Batman and elsewhere, and the Zero Year epic is my favourite entry in his run on this book so far. Nguyen's art is also among the best currently appearing in comics, the same perfect blend of dark and cartoony as Snyder's writing. I actually plan to put together a bit of a retrospective of what he's done with the old Caped Crusader once this story wraps up, but I wanted to check in here as well. Despite featuring floods, death and a man made entirely of teeth, Zero Year has wound up becoming a neon bright reworking of Batman's origin, showcasing a brash and arrogant Batman who genuinely feels younger than the character we know. This issue features both an extended flashback to The Night His Parents Die that manages to not feel shoehorned in AND some hot blimp-on-blimp action, so it's basically everything that you could hope for from a Bat-book. This story has been a heck of a lot of fun, and is proving to be exactly what the franchise needs to shake it out of its grimdark rut.

VELVET #4 - Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, , Image

I have a mixed relationship with superspy stories. I love tales of international intrigue, the faster and more cynical the better, but tales of a single superhuman agent tend to veer into territory which is silly, fascist, or as in the case of FREEDOM CLOWNS*, both. Velvet walks a fine line - protagonist Velvet Templeton is shown fighting her way out of more than a few seemingly impossible situations over the course of the tale so far, but she tends to end up looking pretty battered by the end of it. More importantly, the setting is extremely morally ambiguous, with the various criminal organisations and intelligence agencies portrayed as being just as ruthless and packed with bastards as each other. Velvet herself is a sufficiently interesting lead to keep me coming back - just the fact that she's a fully capable woman in her late 30s/early 40s is pretty unique in comics - and the central mystery is intriguing enough to be worth unraveling. Brubaker knows his tropes well, and enjoys playing with them, though the "secret agent at the masquerade ball" might be too well worn for even him to inject with new life.

Lets put it this way - when I'm reading Velvet, I only very occasionally wish I was reading Queen and Country instead, and that's probably the nicest thing that I can say about a spy comic.

SAGA #18 - Brian K Vaugn and Fiona Staples, Image

Seriously, do I even need to cover this? Saga is the best comic on the stands today, across every genre, every publisher, every everything. If you're not reading it already then you're wasting your time with blogs, and if you don't like it then I don't know what to tell you. You probably ate paint as a kid.

These are all available via Comixology, or if you prefer something that you can roll up and discipline your cat your, at Better Comic Stores Everywhere.

* not a real comic, but I work cheap...

Friday, 28 March 2014


For the inaugural post on this blog, I want to talk a little about a Batman story arc which doesn’t get as much press as your fancy Year Ones and Dark Knight Returnses, and that’s Snow. It’s a five issue, self contained story about Batman taking on a range of civilian assistants to aid in his war on crime, and what happens when they eventually come up against Mr Freeze and find themselves in well over their heads. It's one that I would recommend to anyone who considers themselves to be a fan of the character, especially the more street level, low powered incarnations of the character.

Snow was published in 2005, in the ‘early years’ anthology series Legends of the Dark Knight, spanning issues 192-196. This was a great series, one that gave a huge range of writers and artists the change to tell short, self contained Batman stories that weren't weighed down by the need to conform to then-current continuity or the pressure of a longer run. To be honest, it’s no surprise that Snow didn’t make a splash at the time, given the heavy hitters that it was up against - not just the critically beloved Gotham Central, arguably the best book on the stands at the time, but also the tail end of the actually-quite-good Catwoman series of the day. Oh, and a little thing called All Star Batman and Robin, a champion in the field of Event Books Literally Everybody Hated But Read Every Issue Of Anyway. What’s more puzzling is that, despite having been issued in trade paperback a few years ago, Snow still doesn’t seem to have been recognised for the classic that it is. That’s what I’m hoping to rectify today.

The first thing that jumps out about this story is that it is GORGEOUS. One of the freedoms that LotDK had was to mix up the visual style and get away from the DC House Style, better known as Be More Like Jim Lee, No Even More, Also Make Everyone Grit Their Teeth. The artist is one Seth Fisher, and he takes the remit for individuality and runs with it, turning in brightly coloured, almost cartoonish art which still contains detailed facial expressions and a fluid yet thoroughly human Batman. Fisher was a real up-and-comer at the time, and Snow should have been his breakout comic, but his career was cut short when he tragically passed away the following year. His clean, bold lines and hyperdetailed panels make reading the book a real joy, not to mention his exquisite backgrounds and gift for cluttered, lived-in locations. His gift for drawing technology evokes Moebius and Geof Darrow, while his goopy, organic linework makes me think of nobody such much as Frank Quitely - and that’s high praise indeed. His work is a perfect match for the subject matter - he clearly relishes the opportunity to make Mr Freeze’s suit and laboratory as complex and wonderful as he can, while never losing the humanity in those bleak, frozen eyes. He even includes little cartoonish touches like 'confusion lines' around a character's head, or enraged smoke coming out of Gordon's ears, without detracting from the gravitas of the events that are unfolding. As the icing on the cake, Fisher also drew the cover of every issue as well, something that I genuinely wish more artists did these days. For a more detailed account of Fisher’s rise and tragic end, see this article on Wizard. 

 Snow’s story is from JH Williams III, who is today known as one of the most original artists in the game, with his kinetic yet painterly style defining both the rebooted Batwoman and the new Sandman miniseries. He’s also a solid writer, and here he collaborates with DC regular Dan Curtis Johnson, with whom he had already  worked on the Chase limited series, another overlooked piece of DC history that I plan to cover at some stage. Snow deals with one of the most compelling aspects of Batman’s character - his limitations, and the hubristic lengths lengths that he will go to in an attempt to overcome them. It begins with him pursuing a criminal, letting his guard down at the wrong moment, and being badly injured as a result. Understanding that he cannot wage war on crime alone but unable to get the unquestioning cooperation he wants from chief allies Gordon and Dent, he reaches out to a number of misfits and outcasts around the city with useful skills, recruiting them to his operation. None of them dons a spandex jumpsuit of their own, but rather become a sort of civilian consultancy for Batman, going places that he can’t and provided specialised expertise that he doesn’t have. Question is, how far can he push them, especially in the face of new villain Mr Freeze? Will they get what they need from the adventure of aiding the Batman, or will they be chewed up and spat out by his monomaniacal pursuit of justice?

Snow is a pretty unique story in that it is actually deeply critical of Batman himself. While making it clear that he is on balance a positive force in Gotham, his willingness to use others with little concern for their safety or needs is presented as being highly questionable. All five of the civilians he draws into his web are fleshed out, each with something missing from their lives that Batman is able to provide - at least at first. The fact that LotDK is set in the early years of Batman’s career gives it the freedom to present a more flawed, less fully formed crimefighter than mainstream Bat-Books tend to prefer, and that's definitely what you get here. Batman as written by Williams has only a limited conception of his own limits, and even less of others. Many of the ‘year one’ stories aim to depict Batman learning an important lesson on the way towards becoming the hypercompetent modern day character, but few pull it off so well as Snow.

One final note - Snow also serves as one of many Mr Freeze origin stories, and is in my opinion one of the best. There has been little consistency over the years in the depiction of Dr Victor Fries, or as I like to think of him, The Only Ice Guy Who Doesn’t Suck. This version is far closer to the tragic figure appearing the Batman the Animated Series episode “Heart of Ice” than the wacky punster seen in the movie Batman and Robin, and the story is the stronger for it. His genius and his hubris provide the perfect foil for Batman, as both characters hurtle rapidly over the edge in pursuit of what they believe is right. This is a grimy, street level Gotham, a world of pool halls and slums and beat up vans. Mr Freeze’s fantastical armaments are just as much of a shocking intrusion into this world as they should be, a contrast which works just as well as it did in the first great Gotham Central story arc, In The Line of Duty.

Snow was collected in trade paperback form a few years ago, and while it’s now out of print, there are secondhand copies floating around on Amazon and AbeBooks. Alternately, if digital comics are your bag, you can get all five issues on Comixology for $1.99 each. However you go about it, you’re in for a hell of a read.