Saturday, February 3, 2007

Conan and the Midnight God #1

Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artists: Will Conrad (pencils), Juan Ferreyra (colors)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

This mini-series opens with an older, allegedly more mature Conan, presiding over a kingdom that he once sought to exterminate. Having claimed the throne of Acquilonia, by spilling the blood of his enemies, Conan of Cimmeria presides over the great city with a benevolent hand of iron. In reality, he broods over his kingdom. While his queen slumbers, her belly swollen with his child, Conan’s mind turns to a more adventurous time. Most men would kill to rule Acquilonia, but Conan has killed, and he longs for a return to battlefields and clashing swords.

An envoy from rival Stygia arrives at the massive gates of Tarantia, requesting an audience with the fabled warrior-lord. Ra-Sidh, historian and ambassador of the Stygian high court, announces that his land now seeks peaceful relations with its neighboring lands. With its economy in shambles — due to the corruption of Thoth-Amon, Conan’s old enemy — the once-hostile land is in a compromised position. Conan has little sympathy for its murderous citizens, and remains suspicious of Ra-Sidh.

His skepticism is apparently well-founded. Zenobia, Conan’s queen, is jolted awake that same evening by an ominous nightmare, in which Ra-Sidh plays a central role. The Stygian is unceremoniously ordered to leave Acquilonia, immediately. Shortly after their departure, Queen Zenobia is seized by violent birth contractions. Mid-wives rush to her side, while Conan deploys soldiers to overtake and slay Ra-Sidh’s envoy. He grudgingly remains by his queen’s side.

It's difficult to tell where Will Conrad's pencils end, and where Juan Ferreyra's colors begin. I don't know if Ferreyra is coloring on a computer, or using traditional paints, but it looks magnificent. Frank Frazetta established the visual style, and standard, for Conan artwork in the 1960s with the Lancer paperbacks. Traditional comic book line-artwork just doesn't look appropriate for this character. Dark Horse's Conan titles have benefitted by their continued policy of using painted artwork.

I miss Kurt Busiek's use of narrative captions in the earlier Conan issues. He attempted, rather successfully, to approximate the narrative voice of Robert E. Howard. The frayed typewriter-ribbon font added an extra touch of authenticity, as if we were taking a forbidden peek at a newly unearthed Howard manuscript. Joshua Dysar doesn't employ these devices — although Richard Starkings gives Conan curiously jagged speech-balloons, suggesting the harshness of his voice — but his dialogue is appropriate for the Cimmerian. There's a wonderful economy to Conan's statements. "Have the guard commander let them pass,” Conan barks, ”and make minimal preparations for their arrival." A sea of insinuation lurks behind his terse words.

Conan always preferred brute force, to accomplish short-term goals, over the more tedious aspects of diplomacy. "Civilization," he snarls. Conan displays surprising restraint, while holding court with Ra-Sidh, but his muted hatred toward the Stygians boils underneath the surface.

Perhaps in the next issue, we'll see Conan's restraint gradually melt away, as he pursues his foe across the Hyborian landscape. The real challenge might be in returning to his throne, once the thrill of battle again rushes through his veins.

Posted to on January 26, 2007

Friday, January 26, 2007

Spirit #2: The Maneater

Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Artists: Darwyn Cooke and Jeff Bone
Publisher: DC Comics

“The Maneater” brings Denny Colt, alias The Spirit, into conflict once more with P’Gell, the woman with a past. Born in the slums of Paris, her beauty and cunning advanced her status in life, usually to the detriment of her wealthy, accident-prone husbands.

P’Gell appeared in seventeen of Will Eisner’s original stories. She was always motivated by greed and manipulated men to get whatever she wanted. In his first major deviation from the Spirit cannon, Darwyn Cooke has added a new wrinkle to her background. Eisner fans are certain to debate, and argue over, the merits of this plot twist.

Hussein Hussein is the special envoy to the visiting Prince of Karifistan, and is quite susceptible to all manner of bribery. Using her powers of persuasion, P’Gell acquires an invitation to a formal reception, convincing Hussein to “select” her as Prince Farouk’s escort. She ingratiates herself with Farouk, and their clandestine romance fuels the media rumor mill.

The Spirit suspects that Prince Farouk will join the ranks of P’Gell’s dead husbands, unless he discerns her motives and exposes her. He circumvents embassy security with an ineffectual disguise, but the confrontation with his old nemesis is interrupted by Hussein’s bodyguards. Cooke maintains the old tradition of roughing up our hero -- The Spirit does not emerge unscathed, but he repays the favor. In the climax, he punches his way through embassy security to rescue the unsavory Prince.

“You remind me so much of him,” P’Gell tells The Spirit. “Beautiful. Virtuous. And stupid.”

At this point, Cooke explains away her behavior with a personal tragedy. We are to believe that P’Gell is not inherently evil, but this “tarnished” quality dilutes her femme fatale persona. In Eisner’s hands, P’Gell had ice-water in her veins. She never allowed human sentimentality to dissuade her from material objects, and murder was the price of admission. You can’t walk away from a deal with the Devil…, especially not if you slept with her.

I can’t believe that female readers would cry foul at Eisner’s original P’Gell stories. She was an independent, intelligent woman, using her wily charms to fleece gullible men. She was an inherently evil character, but most of the characters in The Spirit were unsavory types. That’s the cornerstone of nearly all film noir and pulp fiction.

By explaining her behavior through personal loss, thus making her more “motivated,” she becomes a different character. Perhaps someone felt the need to distinguish her from Selina Kyle, who picked up the femme fatale torch as Catwoman, but this back-story hit more sour notes than the Liberty Bell.

In contrast to the lascivious P’Gell, our hero takes a moment to curl up with the lovely Ellen Dolan. Cooke has upgraded Ellen’s I.Q., but he has tinkered with her back-story, as well. She curls up with Denny and then scolds him for ducking out on their weekly movie night. Apparently, she’s unfazed by the fact that he was presumed dead in the original series, whereupon she developed an unrequited crush on The Spirit. Talk about Freudian: Ellen fell in love, never suspecting it was the same man, and he dodged a marriage by faking his death.

Ellen swoons: “Just the two of us, no killers, no weirdoes.” Later she calls up police files on P’Gell’s background, before Denny apologizes and dashes away. I suppose that once your fiancĂ© walks back into your life, you gain automatic knowledge of his nocturnal activities.

Now that he’s established an Eisner-esque tone, Darwyn Cooke is veering off in his own direction. Cooke is keeping his cards hidden, so I’m withholding judgment on these revelations regarding The Spirit’s women. I’ll be very disappointed if he’s rewriting series continuity, unless this is a continuation from where Eisner left off. If so, we should have witnessed the moment when Ellen learned that Colt is alive and The Spirit. You don’t simply toss off a crucial moment like that in a flashback.

As for P’Gell, perhaps her “back-story” was fabricated to catch the Spirit off-guard. Words like “beautiful, virtuous, and stupid” invite suspicion. Maybe it worked on Prince Farouk and Denny Colt … not me, lady. I’ve read too many Spirit comics not to know better.
Originally posted to on Monday, January 22, 2007.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Big Apple Con
Hotel Pennsylvania, New York City
January 19 & 20, 2007

My main reason for attending this show was to distribute cards for the Mid-Jersey Comicon, the one-day comic event sponsored by me and Redhead Fangirl. Usually I would just mail a stack of cards to Brendan Faulkner, a dealer friend, and ask him to put them out. I hadn’t seen Brendan or his wife Robin in months, and admission to this show was free. What the hell? I decided to attend the show.

Big Apple Con is conveniently located across the street from Penn Station. Don’t become too accustomed to this – one of the dealers remarked that the Hotel Pennsylvania might be demolished within two years. If so, a true New York City landmark will be sacrificed in favor of a luxury high-rise apartment building. Hotel Pennsylvania played host to Glenn Miller’s weekly radio broadcasts in the 1940s, and its telephone number (the oldest business number in the city) was immortilized by Miller’s hit tune “Pennsylvania 6-5000.”

Several comic dealers were hawking new and vintage comic books, and offering substantial discounts. One dealer at my Mid-Jersey Comicon has remarked that he LOATHES the concept of “dollar books,” and believes that they “degrade a show.” Judging from the number of discount boxes at Big Apple Con, the Dollar Books have become a fact of life. I wonder how many dealers depend on these discounted gems and dregs to clear their expenses.

A complete 4-issue set of Tarzan: The Lost Adventure (Dark Horse, 1994) set me back by six dollars. These issues originally cost $2.95 each, and were later compiled in a hardcover edition. One dealer had magazines for 50 cents each. I purchased an issue of Starlog from 1989, featuring a Julie Newmar interview, and an issue of Playboy, featuring a pictorial of the woman who seduced Frank Gifford.

Prices seem unreasonably high of other comic books. One dealer had a high-grade copy of The Shadow #1 (DC Comics, 1973) for seventy-five dollars. If you’re patient, and settle for a less-than-perfect copy, you can probably find this for five bucks. Silver-Age copies of The Amazing Spider-Man ranged from somewhat high to outrageous – an issue from 1972 could range anywhere from $20 to $65. Once more, if you settle for “fine condition” you might get these same issues for five bucks each, but then these books aren’t being marketed to people who actually want to read them.

The Special Guest is the section of the convention area where non-comic guests sign autographs. Usually, this is where you’ll find actors, wrestlers, and former porn-starlets, but this section was nearly deserted on Friday. Even the tumbleweed stayed home. My pal CJ Henderson, who has written more books that you have read, was located downstairs, tucked away by the escaltor. Honestly, there were so many empty tables upstairs, they could have allowed him to set up on the main floor on Friday. It’s probably difficult to turn down a table at Big Apple Con, but when you’re safely hidden from view, what’s the point?

There were a few illustrators scattered among Artists Alley, but most of them were unfamiliar to me. Some artists were established pros who hadn’t reached superstar status. Other artists were struggling indie creators aspiring to “established pro” status.

Some of the dealers were making money, but many were hoping that business would pick up on Saturday. Alas, I would have gone back to Manhattan for the second day, but I was loathe to spend another twenty dollars on the round-trip train ticket. It’s unfortunate, since I wasn’t able to hang out with some of my comic pals … and because I missed an opportunity to meet my original heart-throb … Gwen Stacey, the first and only woman for Peter Parker.

But I’ll elaborate upon that later ...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

24: Nightfall — Issue #1 & #2 (6-issue mini-series)

Writer: J.C. Vaughn
Artist: Mark L. Haynes
Publisher: IDW Publishing

24: Nightfall takes place two years, to the day, before Senator David Palmer becomes President of the United States. That makes this six-issue storyline a prequel to Season One of the hit television series starring Keifer Sutherland. In comic book terms, think of it as "Jack Bauer: Year One."

At Senator Palmer's orders, Special Forces leader Jack Bauer and his squad parachute into the former Yugoslavia, under cover of Nightfall (just like the title). Their first objective is to rendezvous with David and Anna Petrovic, a brother and sister.

A minor skirmish with armed soldiers ensues. Emerging victorious, Bauer's team heads for Kristen and their rendezvous with Agent Ellis, alias "Savoy Seven." Ellis is their guardian angel, watching over them via spy satellite and monitoring Serbian radio transmissions. Once his position is compromised, Bauer and the "Savoy" must fend for themselves behind enemy lines.

The previous 24 graphic novels have been one-issue stories, averaging 48-pages, and their pace is relentless. In Nightfall, however, J.C. Vaughn has settled comfortably into second gear. The plot doesn't hurdle forward -- it wades through the quagmire, much like the Special Forces team.

Issue #1 is largely devoted to their approach of the cabin. Vaughn delights in the code-speak over their radios.

"Savoy Seven, Savoy Six. Savoy One is down."
"Understood, Savoy Six."
"Savoy Two, Savoy Six. Anything?"
"Negative, Savoy Six."

I'm at a loss for a "Stompin' At the Savoy" punchline, but the codenames had my head spinning. Don't read Nightfall too quickly, or you'll leave the writer behind and become lost in the woods. Dialogue like this works on television, when voices distinguish themselves, but the Savoy-chatter grows tiresome after a few pages.

"Savoy Six, Savoy Eight, I can't keep track of anyone. Who are you? Who am I?" Thankfully, the team observes radio silence in issue #2. "Savoy Eight, out."

Upon reaching the cabin, the brother and sister superficially introduce themselves. Bauer, but not the reader, receives confirmation that they have inside information on a terrorist cell. Which terrorist organization? What kind of information? I must have missed something, but who are the Petrovics?

Most of the plot is disseminated through dialogue between terrorist-cell leader Victor Drazen and his offspring, Andre. Theirs is a father/son relationship that would warm Hitler's heart. Alerted to their approach, Drazen dispatches their guards into the night to sweep their compound. Judging from Mark L. Haynes' artwork, Dennis Hopper gets the role of Drazen.

Haynes does an admirable job of capturing Keifer Sutherland's likeness. Best of all, Jack Bauer's resemblance to Sutherland is consistent. Joe Corroney and Dave Bryant's covers, however, steal the show. Yeah, that's Dennis Hopper, all right.

According to an IDW press release, Bauer's mission is to take down mass murderer Victor Drazen. Maybe I'm not paying close enough attention, but this plot possibility is barely hinted at. Andre Drazen suggests this possibility to his proud papa -- but it doesn't go any further. There seems to be a pending arms deal in the wind with a Muslim leader.

I haven't seen a complete season of 24 yet, and perhaps therein lies the problem. This story is being touted as a prequel to Season One, but apparently you need to be a club member to comprehend Nightfall. Events in this storyline have a direct bearing on Season One, but there's no background info for the casual fan/reader to climb aboard. I didn't have this problem with 24: One Shot or 24: Midnight Sun. And I'm taking notes while I read.

Every 24 story seems to have an internal mole, and this time it's CIA Deputy Director Webster, European Monitoring Sector. He peers over the shoulder of his operatives, before making some mysterious phone calls, promising updates to an unknown conspirator. CTU seems rife with internal moles; it makes me wonder if they wouldn't be better off just firing everyone.

So, we have a "plot triangle" of sorts: we have Senator David Palmer at one point, terrorist Victor Drazen at another, and now Deputy Director Webster at the other. These three factions play off each other in a lethal game, with Bauer's squad in the middle. But plot specifics are still vague.

24: Nightfall is one of those storylines that prompts me to resolve, for the New Year, to follow current events more closely. Names and places are dropped so casually, that the reader could miss them. You'll want to bookmark your friendly neighborhood Wikipedia search engine.

You may want to construct a CTU character map, just like I did, and throw in some geographical notes. That should keep readers busy until issue #3 is released. By then, J.C. Vaughn may toss out a few more plot crumbs.

*Originally posted to Silver Bullet Comics ( on Friday, December 22, 2006.

Superman: Confidential #1 and #2 (6 issue mini-series)

Superman: Confidential #2 (of 6)
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Artist: Tim Sale
Publisher: DC Comics

The Story So Far: A strange green meteorite plummets to earth, following the trajectory of a rocket-ship from a certain distant planet. Upon entering the earth's atmosphere, their paths separate and the meteor lands in the Himalayas. It becomes a revered object of Tibetan monks.

Shift to present day Metropolis, where Perry White is opposed to the opening of Utopia, a new hotel and casino. White suspects that it’s a front for illegal activities, which owner Tony Gallo will spearhead. At White's orders, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen set up surveillance in an old storefront near Utopia. Under the pretense of writing an entertainment piece, Lois goes "deep cover" by arranging a lunch date with Gallo.

Meanwhile, the Daily Planet is reporting the exploits of Superman, a spectacular new figure in Metropolis. Everyone looks up to him and believes he is invulnerable. Now, if only Superman himself were just as confident. And what of Lois? A stolen moment here and there, in-between saving lives, over-compensating with grand romantic gestures. How much longer can she play second-fiddle to his altruistic never-ending battle?

Issue #2: In another flashback, a mysterious figure attacks the monks and claims the green, Zen-like meteor. Now, it may adorn a chamber of Utopia, Tony Gallo's Hotel and Casino.

At this point, it's obvious that the meteor is a big honking slab of Kryptonite, and it's going to provide the "color" for this Tim Sale-illustrated mini-series. Judging from the looks of things, it's now residing in Utopia, Gallo's oddly-named casino. How this guy came across it, and his background story, are being doled out piecemeal. We're on a need-to-know basis, readers, and Darwyn Cooke is keeping his cards hidden.

Clark and Jimmy continue their surveillance, but Kent is distracted by CNN's coverage of a natural disaster. A long-dormant volcano in the south has erupted, threatening thousands of people. At the first opportunity, Kent becomes Superman and takes to the sky, determined to save innocent lives -- but painfully aware of an approaching date with Lois.

"A woman like this WON’T wait forever," he surmises.

And she doesn't. With Superman a no-show, she accepts Gallo's dinner invitation, while he is overwhelmed by veins of lava. Stood up again, but Lois Lane must hear some interesting excuses.

Confused and humbled by his near defeat, Clark returns to Smallville for some corn muffins and a heart-to-heart with Pa Kent. Clearly, he hasn't suffered a beating like this before. He shambles into the Kent farmhouse like a football hero who just got pummeled at the fifty-yard line. Everyone has to lose sometime, and Supey got his head handed to him. By a volcano, no less.

Pa Kent implores Clark to come to him in the future, whenever something this big troubles him. “Y’see, it’s your mother,” he explains. “She thinks you’re invulnerable, and that’s the way it’s going to stay.” Apparently, Superman’s lungs aren’t as resilient as his exterior, which he discovers while chugging magma. And Pa Kent doesn’t want this burden added to Martha Kent’s shoulders.

In Tim Sale’s hands, Superman looks younger and less bulkier than he appeared in Superman For All Seasons. Jimmy Olsen looks like one of the Dead End Kids. He doesn't say, "Oh, a wise-guy, eh?" Not once. But I'm waiting. He hunts and pecks at a laptop computer, doing stuff that baffles the 30-something Clark, who in turn uses phrases unfamiliar to someone born in the iPod era.

DC dodged the obvious title Superman Green and opted for Superman: Confidential. Within The story is referred to as "Kryptonite," so you know what they’re hinting at. I wouldn’t be surprised if the inevitable trade paperback has a cover design with Green as the predominant color. It will look terrific on your book-shelf, alongside Spider-Man Blue, Daredevil Yellow and Hulk Grey.

Sale must have dibs on anything color-related. Has he worked on Batman: Black & White, or will that throw off the rhythm? Black OR White ... make up yer mind!

His artwork has a peculiar quality that draws the reader into the story. Before you know it, you've accepted his depictions of the characters and their "through-the-looking-glass" qualities. Unfortunately, with a 30-day period between issues, I need to get accustomed to his artwork all over again. I've found it's best to read a Sale mini-series in one-sitting -- get accustomed to his peculiar characters ONCE and just read straight through.

That's shouldn't be difficult, considering that Darwyn Cooke keeps the verbiage to a minimum. Something about Sale's artwork forces a psychological sock into the writer's mouth and carries the story. A determined reader could blast through each issue in about five to ten minutes -- fifteen minutes if you pause to admire the artwork.

Most of these storylines seem constructed around Sale's artwork, playing to his strengths and giving him plenty of room for half-page panels and the occasional double-page splash. Sale relishes the intense close-up, and Darwyn Cooke obliges with scraps of staccato dialogue.

The "camera" zooms in on Perry White, close enough to see every pour in his four-color skin. “Metropolis,” the crusty editor says. "She’s the story." A speckle of dialogue in an ocean of artwork. Makes me wonder what type of comics Sergio Leone might have written.

The volcano storyline is entertaining enough, simple but boldly direct. Cooke’s subplot of Superman discovering his vulnerabilities is gripping, as he struggles with the unfamiliar emotions of fear and doubt. Sale’s artwork excels with high contrast light and shadows; the panels of Superman hovering in the evening sky, the island alive with threads of lava, are breath-taking. It reminds me of the 1942 animated Superman feature “Volcano,” from the Fleischer Studios.

Judging from the last panel (a full-pager), the real eruption will come between Superman and Lois. Knowing how temperamental she can be, he might want to take another swing at the lava.

*Originally posted at on Tuesday, December 12

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Spirit #1 (DC Comics, 2006)

“Ice Ginger Coffee”
Writer: Darwyn Cooke
Artist: Darwyn Cooke (p), J. Bone (i), Dave Stewart (colors)
Publisher: DC Comics

This is the beginning of the anticipated new series featuring Will Eisner’s comic-icon from the 1940s. A few weeks ago, Batman and Robin joined the festivities in Batman/The Spirit #1 as Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke cracked the bottle of champagne on the “S.S. Spirit” with “Crime Convention.” Now Cooke assumes the responsibilities as writer and artist, appropriately enough since Eisner himself pulled double-duty as the Spirit’s auteur. The Spirit may work best with a single creator, walking the fine line between cinema-style comics and pulp-inspired prose.

NNN-News anchor Ginger Coffee promises viewers that she will expose Amos Weinstock, alias The Pill, a leading drug trafficker in Central City. Since this is a comic book, he is appropriately mysterious and – as we later discover – appropriately grotesque. He could have stepped right out of Chester Gould’s Unused Ideas file. A “special guest” will blow the whistle on a live broadcast – but Coffee is kidnapped and held captive, while the Spirit employs a variety of stealthy tricks to rescue her. Now they’re on the run, hoping the police will find them before the hired torpedoes.

The chase goes over rooftops, through back-alleys and sewers, much to the perfumed Ginger Coffee’s distaste. To complicate matters, the reluctant damsel-in-distress undermines their escape attempt for the sake of a live exclusive. Bullets fly in this fast-paced, hardboiled thriller, and the chase sequence is exciting.

There’s a wonderful noir atmosphere, evocative of films like D.O.A. and Gun Crazy, which was desperately needed in the Batman crossover. The whacky hi-jinks of “Crime Convention” are dumped for more sublime humor, as Denny Colt faces off against criminals who are realistic and vicious. One jarring moment in the story, however, comes from one of the thugs. They’re far more realistic in this story, but I wasn’t expecting salty language. I assumed that Cooke would avoid PG-13 dialogue, in keeping with Eisner’s style. Well, this is the 21st Century …

Another concession to the 21st Century is Ginger Coffee, an African-American television news anchor. She’s a ratings-winner and quite spunky. However, her willingness to jeopardize her safety, and that of the Spirit, suggests that she’s not as street-smart as Lois Lane. Ginger probably gained her reporting chops by surfing the internet and sending the interns on latte errands. It’s hinted that she could become a recurring character.

Ginger carries most of the story, and prepares readers for the first appearance of Ebony, the Spirit’s young assistant. This dreadfully unfunny stereotype was the one major blight on Eisner’s corpus. In this new series, Ebony is no longer an Al Jolsen-caricature, speaking fluent “mammy” dialogue. Now he’s presented as a competent, young African American sidekick who isn’t above ribbing the lead character. Some fans felt that he was an anachronism, but Cooke’s make-over seemed a no-brainer to me. At least, he doesn’t resemble Samuel L. Jackson – who, recently, seems to be the model for every black male in comics.

Having cleaned up the supporting cast, the “Ugly Caricature” task falls onto the villains. The Pill is a distorted version of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin, covered with canker sores. He speaks in a courtly manner, before disposing of an interesting stoolie. Mr. Wang’s “memory-card” brain is mentioned in passing, before The Pill’s “acid touch” is demonstrated in passing. Unless these characters are going to surface in future Spirit tales, why did Cooke even bother? The standard “underworld boss” would have sufficed.

For that matter, was it really necessary to kidnap Ginger Coffee? She boasts that she’s “the nation’s TV crimefighter,” but posed no more threat to The Pill than the weather anchor. Once Mr. Wang is fried, Coffee is a reporter with no story, forced to resume arresting internet predators on hidden camera. Besides, killing a beloved television personality, especially one as sexy as Ginger, is bad for business. There’s the possible public outcry to consider; on the other hand, there are the law enforcement officials who feel publicly humiliated.

After making a disparaging remark about The Spirit, one cop gets an earful from Commissioner Dolan, who is presented as far crustier than usual. He doesn’t appreciate witnessing crimes live via satellite, but there’s more than embarrassment behind his gruff exterior. A quiet moment in Dolan’s office demonstrates his concern for Denny Colt, the masked man who could have been his son-in-law. His paternal fear, and the mistrust of the other officers, suggests that these events are occurring early in The Spirit’s crimefighting career.

This series shows tremendous promise, especially Dolan’s quiet reflection on the Spirit and his daughter, in simpler times. Could Darwyn Cooke be planning to explore Denny Colt and Ellen Dolan’s relationship? If he can make Ebony more palatable to modern readers, perhaps Cooke can move past Eisner’s simpler characterization of her as the swooning, unrequited love interest.

This self-contained story is a straight-forward “hero-on-the run” plotline, but it’s also fast-paced and fun. Now that the Spirit has made the leap into the 21st Century, here’s hoping that he finds a new audience.

*Originally posted on as part of the "Sunday Slugfest")

Batman/The Spirit #1

“Crime Convention”
Writer: Jeph Loeb, Darwyn Cooke
Artist: Darwyn Cooke (p), Jeff Bone (i)
Publisher: DC Comics

Remember the Batman television series, starring Adam West? Sure you do. Remember the “crossover” episode, with Van Williams and Bruce Lee guest-starring as the Green Hornet and Kato? Of course.

What you may not remember is how painfully out-of-place the Hornet and Kato seemed, and how Williams and Lee were determined to portray their respective characters straight – in spite of the campy plot and wretched dialogue.

That’s the general impression I got while reading “Crime Convention,” the historic first meeting of two comic-book icons. Everything seems appropriate for The Spirit, who benefits from Loeb and Cooke’s lighter touch.

Unfortunately, Batman comes off like an old fuddy-duddy who’s reading a different script. This isn’t the Caped Crusader of the 1950s, who would have fit right in, but the contemporary, humorless Dark Knight. Everyone is part of the joke, from the supporting cast to the united villains, except Batman. He prowls the shadowy rooftops and alleys, while Denny Colt and Robin supress a chuckle at his expense.

Commissioner Dolan is the honored guest of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association. At the annual convention, to be held in Hawaii, the keynote speaker is his old friend, Commissioner James Gordon. While they prepare for their vacations, Gotham City and Central City’s major villains are leaving town en masse.
This exodus does not go unnoticed by Batman and The Spirit, operating independantly in their home cities. Their investigations lead them to Honolulu, putting them on a collision course with their major enemies and each other. Literally caught in the crossfire, they form a hasty alliance and foil a scheme to kill the nation’s top lawmen. Dolan is the target, sort of. Something about the PBA convention and a bomb -- or perhaps Commissioner Gordon’s speech is the bomb.

Basically, a whole bunch of bad guys from one series team-up with a whole bunch of bad guys from another. Sort of. Those bad guys are always embarking on their own. And double-crossing each other.
The plot drags in the tedious conventions of crossovers. Batman and The Spirit must join forces, of course, but inevitably the supporting characters cross-polinate. The villains socialize amongst themselves: There’s P’Gell and Poison Ivy, wooing the other hero's amicable police commissioner. Ellen Dolan and Babs Gordon are both daughters of said commissioners, right? Haven’t Killer Croc and the Cossak really hit it off?

In a moment of nostalgia run amok, Loeb employs the Old Switcheroo best left behind in the DC Archive editions of World’s Finest. I acknowledge and appreciate the touch, but wasn’t in any hurry to revisit it.

This DC one-shot was planned to introduce a wider audience to The Spirit, Will Eisner’s legendary character from the 1940s, and set the stage for a new continuing series. The concept of teaming Denny Colt with DC’s top-selling crimefighter had been discussed before Eisner’s death, and the Great One gave his blessing to the project. Unfortunately, the two icons don’t work together. Not well, anyway. Neither does the burgeoning cast of villains. The Joker is easily Batman’s most over-used nemesis, but the story might have benefited with him as the sole antagonist. The Joker’s homicidal hi-jinks, and Robin’s gee-whiz holy-explative naivetĂ©, would be right at home in Central City. Most of the bad-guys merely decorate the sets, a la Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy film.

I looked forward to this one-shot, but the final product missed the mark. “Crime Convention” will become a footnote in Denny Colt’s career. Batman is just a celebrity huckster, lending his name and likeness to a new series launch.

As a “pilot episode” for The Spirit, this one-shot shows promise. As a “crossover”, it fails. In a bit of cosmic irony, Batman slips on the same banana-peel that felled the Green Hornet forty-years ago.

*Originally posted on Silver Bullet Comics (