27 July 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XXXII: DC Comics Classics Library: Batman: A Death in the Family

Comic hardcover, 271 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 1988-89)

Borrowed from the library
Read January 2016
DC Comics Classics Library: Batman: A Death in the Family

Writers: Jim Starlin, Marv Wolfman
Layouts and Co-Plotter: George Pérez
Pencillers: Jim Aparo, Tom Grummett
Inkers: Mike DeCarlo, Bob McLeod

Year Twelve, November - Year Thirteen, June
One of the results of the continuity-driven nature of superhero comics is that there are a number of comics known better for what happened in them than how it happened. A Death in the Family is one of those stories. Chronicling the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd (who's only been in the role for two years, poor fellow), A Death in the Family is just not a good story. It lurches along weirdly and depends on coincidence way too much, and even for a superhero comic, it's contrived: the idea that Iran would appoint the Joker its UN ambassador is untenable, a completely bizarre merging of comic goofiness with real-world politics that is tonally misjudged.

But let's start at the beginning with this one. A Death in the Family seems to have been originally designed as a six-issue story but released as a four-part one, as its first and second issues both consist of two 22-page chapters. The first has Jason acting particularly like a jerk, and Batman benching him as a result. Their relationship hasn't particularly been consistent in the Jason stories I've read: Jason is very bloodthirsty in the the beginning of Second Chances, pretty chummy with Batman later on in the same book (except for learning that Batman hid who killed his father from him), and they got along perfectly in Ten Nights of the Beast and The Cult. But now Jason is a jerk again, and Batman doesn't handle it well at all.
Your hero, ladies and gentlemen!; or, Don't you think kids who are little bit snotty deserve to be brutally murdered?
from Batman vol. 1 #426 (script by Jim Starlin, art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo)

I really don't get why this approach was taken. A character's last story should show them at their best, to make you really regret it when they're gone; for all their flaws, later DC shock killings like Identity Crisis and Countdown to Infinite Crisis got this exactly right, sending Sue Dibny and Blue Beetle out on career highs. This story should show Jason Todd as his heroic best as Robin. But A Death in the Family, bizarrely, wants to make you glad he's dead.

Batman discovers that the Joker is trying to sell a cruise missile to terrorists in Lebanon at the exact same time Jason realizes that the woman he thought was his mother actually isn't, and that a woman who might be his birth mother is-- completely coincidentally-- also in Lebanon. So while Batman shuns his runaway sidekick to chase the Joker (apparently there's no one Batman can ask for help; if only he wasn't always such a jerk to Nightwing), the two end up in the same place anyway and team up.
After the way Batman behaves in this one, I was kind of rooting for Lady Shiva.
from Batman vol. 1 #427 (script by Jim Starlin, art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo)

That turns out to be a false lead on Jason's mother, so soon they're chasing down another potential candidate, who's-- completely coincidentally-- also in Lebanon: to my shock it's Shiva Woosan, better known as Sandra Woo-san or Lady Shiva. I first came to know her as a recurring character in Birds of Prey, usually an enemy but occasionally a reluctant ally, with an especially complicated relationship with Black Canary. At this point in DC history, though, she was a much less prolific character; I think this was her first appearance not scripted by Dennis O'Neil, who had originated her in Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter, and gone on to use her in The Question as well as a Detective Comics/Green Arrow/Question crossover called "Fables." So it was weird to see her used here, when she was much more obscure. Through a truth drug, Batman and Robin discover she's not Jason's mother, and in fact, she says that she's never been a mother at all, which is pretty amusing given that she would later be revealed as the mother of the second Batgirl, Cassandra Cain, who must have been born at this point.

Not even Batman's truth serum can account for the power of retcon.
from Batman vol. 1 #427 (script by Jim Starlin, art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo)

Anyway, Batman and Robin follow up their final lead, which leads them to Ethiopia (for some reason all three of Jason's potential moms are vaguely close to one another). She turns out to be a doctor who is-- completely coincidentally-- being blackmailed by the Joker in some wacky scheme of his. Jason dies when he and Batman try to stop this, and it's just completely underwhelming. Batman losing a kid should hit you like a ton of bricks, but this... doesn't. Batman doesn't seem mournful, or angry; it's just an excuse to act like a big jerk again (this time to Superman). Part of the blame has to rest, I'm afraid, with Jim Aparo, who despite being an excellent artist is just not the right artist for this story: imagine Bernie Wrightson doing this again. Aparo's square-jawed, heroic lines are just not right for the dark macabre tone this story calls for. (Adrienne Roy's colors don't really fit, either.)

The Joker is always taking off his make-up (or hiding his skin condition under other make-up?) throughout this story, which just feels... wrong to me. Batman can be unmasked, but the Joker never should be, not even as a disguise.
from Batman vol. 1 #427 (script by Jim Starlin, art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo)

The last chapter is just odd, focusing on Batman's attempts to stop Ambassador Joker from poisoning the United Nations. Nothing about any of this feels particularly Joker-ish to me; he's just a loon with wacky plans. The end of the story fails to have any emotional resonance; it feels like Starlin's attempt to ape what Alan Moore did in The Killing Joke: "That's the way things always end with the Joker and me. Unresolved." Moore and Brian Bolland turned that never-ending struggle into something striking; here, it feels lame for the Joker to kill Batman's (ostensible) best friend and for Batman to declare their relationship will never change. Like, did you love Jason so little, Bruce?

Thankfully, the DC Comics Classics Library edition of A Death in the Family also contains A Lonely Place of Dying, a Batman/New Titans crossover that's co-plotted by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, scripted by Wolfman, and has art by Tom Grummett & Bob McLeod (from breakdowns by Pérez) and Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo. That's a lot of hands, but it really works: just as The Cult showed how Starlin did better work when not paired with Aparo, this hows how Aparo does better work when not paired by Starlin. Wolfman's emotional melodrama is much better suited to Aparo's strengths as an illustrator.

The basic premise of A Lonely Place of Dying is that a kid named Tim Drake has noticed that Robin is dead and that Batman is sad. Tim was at the circus the night the Flying Graysons died, and he later recognized a move Robin made as one Dick Grayson made, letting him put together Robin's and thus Batman's secret identity. But Tim knows Batman needs a Robin, and tracks down Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson to convince them of this, trying to persuade Dick to give up his Nightwing identity and return to being Robin. Meanwhile, Dick Grayson goes back to the circus in a way not particularly consistent with Nightwing: Year One, and Two-Face, who apparently got sane at some point, is sliding into insanity once again.

It's a fun story: Tim's desire to make Batman happy makes him the reader stand-in that Dick Grayson was but Jason Todd never managed, and it's no surprise-- in a good way-- when he becomes the new Robin at the end of the story. The story deals with Bruce's grief over Jason's death much more effectively than A Death in the Family did, with Bruce throwing himself deeper and deeper into Batman in unhealthy ways.

This was probably my favorite issue in the book. Great use of structure from both writer and artists.
from Batman vol. 1 #441 (script by Marv Wolfman, art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo)

Like Robin: Year One and Second Chances/Nightwing:Year One, Two-Face is for some reason the test of a new Robin; one of the real highlights of this story is an issue where Two-Face and Batman each wants to trap the other, and in their efforts to think like one another, end up overthinking their plans. Wolfman and his art team do some great stuff with the parallels between the two characters. Two-Face, more than any other Batman villain, is a tragic figure, and Wolfman captures that very well here as he slides back into his old ways.

from Batman vol. 1 #442 (script by Marv Wolfman, art by Jim Aparo & Mike DeCarlo)

By the end, Tim Drake is the new Robin, and we're well out of the early days of Batman now, if we weren't a long time ago. Still, this journey isn't quite done: there are a couple gaps left to fill...

Next Week: Now that Robin's dead, so is Batman, in The Many Deaths of the Batman!

26 July 2016

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XXXII: The Joiner King by Troy Denning

Mass market paperback, 526 pages
Published 2005

Acquired August 2005
Previously read October 2005
Reread October 2015
Star Wars: Dark Nest I: The Joiner King
by Troy Denning

Six Years after the Invasion
Having finished The New Jedi Order after an awful long time reading, I thought it would be nice to read the Dark Nest trilogy, a follow-up to its events five years on of which I had fond memories. The first book is decent: parts of it are fun, while parts of it meander a bit too much. Denning always does a good job with Han and Leia; the interactions and adventures of the two of them are always fun to read in his hands. I'd really like to see him tackle more books like Tatooine Ghost, that allow them to go on an adventure without all the baggage of telling some galactic threat story. The Killik nests and the joiners are also some pretty interesting concepts, a little more sci-fi than Star Wars usually gets, but Denning pulls it off here, I think. On the other hand, I don't think he really gets the version of the Force that was advanced in Traitor, and I really dislike what he begins to do with Jacen here (which will culminate in Jacen's fall to the Dark Side in the tremendously misjudged Legacy of the Force). On the whole, this volume is fun, but the seeds of what will make the later Dark Nest books not as fun are present, as well.

Next Week: One year later, the Killiks are back in The Unseen Queen!

25 July 2016

Revolutionary Reading: An Examination of the Legion of Super-Heroes Threeboot, Part IV: Adult Education

Comic trade paperback, 190 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2005-07) 

Acquired February 2016
Read May 2016
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: Adult Education

Writer: Mark Waid with Tony Bedard and Stuart Moore
Pencils/Layouts: Barry Kitson
Additional Pencils: Adam DeKraker, Ken Lashley, Pat Olliffe, Dale Eaglesham
Inks: Mick Gray, Rob Stull, Rodney Ramos, Greg Parkin, Livesay, Art Thibert
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano, Jared K. Fletcher, Travis Lanham, Phil Balsman
Colors: Nathan Eyring, Richard & Tanya Horie

This collection includes two stories that directly pick up on and work with the idea we've seen throughout the series, that this version of the Legion of Super-Heroes was inspired by the DC Comics publications of the 20th and 21st centuries. Here, the series creators model what we might call the "revolutionary" reading practices they want the readers of their comic to employ.

One is a set of stories within a story, about various versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes that are incompatible with the current one's history. If, like me, you are a little perplexed by how DC Comics characters can be reading DC Comics (including some that they themselves appear in; in Teenage Revolution, we saw the cover of Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 4 #0), an anonymous stranger delivers a helpful piece of advice:
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #15 (script by Stuart Moore, art by Patrick Olliffe & Livesay)

Well, that's me told. Recall, after all, that even though the Legion members memorize what issues DC characters first appeared in, what they really care about are the ideals the superheroes stand for.

This is reiterated in the book's final story, which takes place in the aftermath of Terror Firma's destruction of Legion headquarters (as seen in Death of a Dream). Rescue operations for the Legion followers caught in the blast are underway, and the story features a series of juxtapositions between damaged comic books in the rubble and the rescue operations being carried out in the present. For example, here's the cover of an issue of Batman with Commissioner Gordon and Batman looking at a body paralleled with a Science Police officer and a Legion follower covering up a body:
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #11 (script by Mark Waid, art by Dale Eaglesham & Art Thibert)

There are six or seven of these, providing a visual reminder of how the comics of the past serve as inspiration for the heroes of the future.

But one of the Legion followers fixates on the comic books, embodying what we might call "nostalgic" reading practices. He goes around scooping up and saving the remnants of the comic books. A group of Legion followers notices him and attack him, thinking he's a speculator looking to pick up some rare back issues. He explains his motives as being purer, however:
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #11 (script by Mark Waid, art by Dale Eaglesham & Art Thibert)

The other Legion followers set him straight, however. If what makes the comics important was that they were the Legion's inspiration, then what matters isn't the comics as physical objects, but that members of the Legion carry out the ideals they represent. You don't need the actual, physical comics for them to be important. Chastised, the comic-collecting Legionnaire drops his comic books to the ground and joins in the rescue operations, giving us one last parallelism:
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #11 (script by Mark Waid, art by Dale Eaglesham & Art Thibert)

In this story, Mark Waid models the reading practices that underpinned the "threeboot" as conceived of by him and Barry Kitson. Inspired by the comics of the past, but beholden to their spirit, not their literal details. Continuity and nostalgia doesn't matter, idealism and revolution do. As much as Waid and Kitsons take on the Legion was about a revolution, it was itself revolutionary-- taking an old idea and reworking it for a contemporary context.

Unfortunately, the lessons of this story would go unheard by the readers of DC Comics. But that's something I'll cover when I get to the final volume of Waid and Kitson's run.

22 July 2016

Star Trek Beyond: First Reactions

One of my favorite Star Trek novels is Prime Directive, by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. I haven't read it for ten years or more, but it opens with the five-year mission of the Enterprise cancelled under ignominious circumstances, and the crew divided up across the galaxy. But, across the course of the adventure, the crew reunites, showing that they are better off together than apart. I like it for its understanding of the characters, both as individuals and as a group. The Reeves-Stevenses give all the characters their moments to shine in their own separate adventures, before uniting them for a finale where they come together to solve the problem in true Star Trek fashion. I also like Prime Directive for its unbridled Star Trek optimism, showing that all people are better off together than apart: the reunification of the crew showing this in microcosm, I suppose.

Maybe Simon Pegg and Doug Jung read Prime Directive back in the day, but probably not. More likely, they worked out a good formula for a Star Trek story based on the strengths of the premise. I hope I haven't spoiled too much by establishing this parallel, but though Star Trek Beyond does not open with the five-year mission suspended, the crew does pretty quickly (almost too quickly; my biggest critique of this film would be that the first 30 minutes or so feel a bit rushed) disperse into smaller groups or individuals: Kirk and Chekov, Sulu and Uhura, Scotty, and (of course) Spock and McCoy. Each character faces their own challenges, and gets their own chance to shine. I have always thought that the reboot films were pretty well cast (my favorites are Karl Urban as McCoy, Simon Pegg as Scotty, and, alas, Anton Yelchin as Chekov (so all the funny ones)), but this approach lets them shine. Each character usually got a moment in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, but here they all get a chunk of the story, and the story is better for it. Some of the best Spock/McCoy scenes of the new film series thus far, I think.

Then they all come back together, and are suddenly working together as a group, accomplishing amazing things-- and in doing so, demonstrating the optimism that Star Trek is all about. They even reach out and add new people to the group. It's not a complex message, but it is an enjoyable one. There are hair-pin escapes and crazy plans, and I dare you not to have a smile on your face when the music starts blasting in the final act. Plus, there's a real nice audio signifier of their unity at the end of the film. I can't believe that's never been done, and it works really nicely.

Lots of jokes (the giant green hand!), and though it's as action-heavy as all these recent Star Trek films have been, the action is more fun and more beautiful than in the other two installments. Starbase Yorktown is an amazing environment, and director Justin Lin makes the Enterprise look the most beautiful she's looked in all three films-- the scenes of her at warp at the beginning, and her launching from Yorktown were my favorites, but there were a lot of great angles throughout. So yeah, I enjoyed it. I've enjoyed all these reboot films in their different ways, and I'm not sure if this one is the best one, but it is the most quintessentially Star Trekky in all the best ways.

Actually, there's a big flaw I didn't mention. The title of the movie is wrong. It shouldn't have been Star Trek Beyond, but, quite obviously I would have thought, Star Trek Beyond! Never pass up a chance to throw an exclamation point in there.

21 July 2016

Review: Star Wars: The Clone Wars by Karen Traviss

Mass market paperback, 256 pages
Published 2009 (originally 2008)
Acquired and read August 2014
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
by Karen Traviss

A couple years ago, I decided to watch the Clone Wars cartoon from beginning to end, and read the tie-in novels and comics alongside it. I didn't get very far, but that wasn't really the show's fault. I did get far enough to read two of the novels, the first of which, simply titled The Clone Wars, novelizes the events of the film that kicked off the series. Quite frankly, Karen Traviss's talents are wasted on the pile of shit that was the film's script-- things like Jabba's gay cousin do not need any fleshing out, and like Diane Carey, she delights a little too much in having characters inwardly snark about how the events/dialogue of the story are implausible or bad. That doesn't rectify the problems, it just makes you think you should be reading a different book, given the book's own author doesn't even like it. Traviss's Star Wars books are distinguished for her depth of characterization, but there's nothing to pin that to here, and her dislike of significant components of the Star Wars concept becomes a little too obvious in places. Traviss writing clone characters is always appreciated, though.

20 July 2016

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Gotham, Part XXXI: Batman: The Cult

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 1991 (contents: 1988)

Borrowed from the library
Read January 2016
Batman: The Cult

Writer: Jim Starlin
Illustrator: Bernie Wrightson
Color Artist: Bill Wray
Letterer: John Costanza

Year Twelve, September
This is my last Jason Todd story prior to his death. The Cult concerns the rise of a charismatic speaker in Gotham City, who organizes the underclass and seals the city off from the outside world; large parts of this plot were adapted for the film The Dark Knight Rises, though instead of Batman being gone while this happens, Batman is being broken. Not physically, but emotionally. The book opens with Batman already captured by Deacon Blackfire and his cult, and the brainwashing well underway.

The comics equivalent of rapid crosscutting here is a really interesting technique, and one I don't think I've seen before. It's confusing when you first transition (the Batman on the left is from a dream he's having where he's committed murder; the one on the right is the actual Batman, hanging in Deacon Blackfire's lair), but that's the point.
from Batman: The Cult #1

What makes this book works so well is Bernie Wrightson. I primarily know Wrightson from his contributions to DC horror comics like The House of Mystery, The House of Secrets, and The Witching Hour!, and The Cult puts him to good use depicting the existential horror that is Batman's mental breakdown, as well as the collapse of all Gotham society. His Batman is a devastated man, and despite the fact that a cowl covers half his face, his Batman communicates the anguish he is experiencing quite well. Panel transitions are used quite well, too, to show how Batman is flickering back and forth between different mental states: we'll jump between the world-as-it-is and the world-as-Batman-sees-it quite rapidly, showing his struggle. Wrightson's art (especially aided by colorist Bill Wray) is grotesque when it needs to be. I hate to complain about someone with the skills of Jim Aparo, but Wrightson is clearly a much better match for Jim Starlin's Batman sensibilities, and it's a shame there's not much more Batman work from him.

Batman's vision of a pimp is all sorts of glorious.
from Batman: The Cult #2
This is one of those books that succeeds if it makes you feel the struggle of its protagonist, and this one does: not just in Batman's travails, but in those of Robin, Jim Gordon, and the city of Gotham itself. Jason Todd acquits himself really well here, refusing to give up even when Batman himself has given up. The only thing one might wish for is a little more sympathy, given that Robin himself was once a homeless street kids like many that Deacon Blackfire brings into his army. (Like The Dark Knight Rises, The Cult posits armed insurrection as a disproportionate response to a very real problem.) Gordon is the same as always: the hard, dedicated cop, and it shocks when he's attacked, even though intellectually you know they can't kill him off here. And finally, Starlin and Wrightson use Miller-esque television broadcasts to good effect to show the deterioration of Gotham society.

Being able to draw three images and fill eight panels is just a lucky bonus, I'm sure.
from Batman: The Cult #4

Of everything I've read, The Cult reads the most like a mission statement for Jim Starlin's Batman. It's an excellent read of what it would take for you to break Batman-- and how Batman will always break you right back.

Next Week: That's it for Jason Todd in A Death in the Family! And welcome to Tim Drake in A Lonely Place of Dying!
Normally, I try to limit myself to 2-3 pictures per review, but this was too magnificent to resist. Great Batmobile or greatest Batmobile?
from Batman: The Cult #4

19 July 2016

Review: Doctor Who: Lights Out by Holly Black

Mass market paperback, 62 pages
Published 2014

Acquired December 2014
Read December 2015
Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor: Lights Out
by Holly Black

When 12 Doctors, 12 Stories was released electronically, it was 11 Doctors, 11 Stories because that was all the Doctors there were: this final volume was added in 2014, taking place between the episodes "Deep Breath" and "Into the Dalek," during the Doctor's mission to get coffee for Clara. Like most of the books in this series, it's a solid, enjoyable tale. It's told in the first person from the perspective of an alien the Doctor meets, which is always a nice way to do a Doctor Who story, and Black does a good job capturing the voice of Peter Capaldi (who is my favorite Doctor since Christopher Eccleston).

Next Week: A quick swing back into Star Wars territory for a coda to The New Jedi Order, with Dark Nest!

18 July 2016

Revolutionary Reading: An Examination of the Legion of Super-Heroes Threeboot, Part III: Strange Visitor From Another Century

Comic trade paperback, 137 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 2005-06) 

Acquired February 2016
Read May 2016
Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: Strange Visitor From Another Century

Writer: Mark Waid
Pencillers: Barry Kitson, Adam DeKraker, Ken Lashley, Art Thibert, Amanda Conner
Inkers: Mick Gray, Drew Geraci, Barry Kitson, Rodney Ramos
Colorist: Nathan Eyring
Letterers: Phil Balsman, Travis Lanham

One of the clearest explanations of the Mark Waid/Barry Kitson Legion of Super-Heroes is found in the back of this book, where the Legionnaires answer mail from readers of the comic in character. This approach to the old tradition of the lettercol is a delight, and it allows the characters to sort of step outside themselves and describe the premise of the book directly to the reader:
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #6 (art by Barry Kitson)

The Legion stands for color, against sterility, as embodied in the virtues of the heroes of the past.

Their virtues are put to the test in this volume, though, which depicts one of the few direct conflicts between the Legion and the society they seek to change. When a group of Legionnaires takes down a terrorist disguised as a Science Police officer outside the home of a guy called Klar who embodies the society they're trying to reform. Klar's wife considers him not "fully clothed" when he's wearing shirt and pants but not hood and goggles, and Klar communicates with his neighbors via screen. He complains the Legionnaires lack "decorum" and "traipse out of doors like savages"!

Here we see something of the dark side of the Legion, as they bully him, stealing his goggles, and mocking his age. This riles up Klar, who comes back with his neighbors to argue with the Legion, who only mock him further:
from Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #16 (art by Barry Kitson & Mick Gray)

There's some irony here, of course: the Legion has inspired Klar and other social conservatives to interact face-to-face for apparently the first time ever, and Klar's declaration that there is strength in numbers is exactly how the Legion took down Terror Firma in the previous volume. Their revolution has inspired another social movement, yet Klar doesn't recognize that he's abandoning his principles to ostensibly fight for them. Is he becoming a superhero himself? (That's what Matthew from Legion Abstract posits in this nice reading of the scene.)

This is probably the most direct conflict we see between the Legion and society, and on one level, it's pretty harmless-- the Legion shouts out some ageist insults and goes on its way. No real violence is required for them to change society.

That said, it's important to know there's been a major status quo change by this point. The events of the previous volume have shown the United Planets 1) that the Legion of Super-Heroes isn't going anywhere and 2) that the Legion has been successful whereas they have not. So the U.P. changes tactics, and gives the Legion official standing. What happens when they revolutionaries become the establishment? Well, this conflict shows that it actually makes them bullies to a certain extent. The Legionnaires flaunt their newfound authority to intimidate Klar (like I said, they steal his goggles).

It's one thing to punch up, but it's another to punch down, and the Legion is only starting to come to grips with what it means to go from underdogs to establishment, and how you much reorient your attitude appropriately. They're not exactly living up to the virtues of their role models in this sequence, even if they are making the world more colorful, and I'm glad that Kitson and Waid explore that here.

15 July 2016

Bob the Galactic Bum (Yes, That's a Thing)

When I reviewed Darkstars, I called it a "forgotten" comics book. Well, I didn't know how good I had it then. I would never have known Bob the Galactic Bum even existed if an ad for it in an issue of R.E.B.E.L.S. hadn't caught my eye. It had Lobo in it, but as in the 1990s, every DC Comics house ad has Lobo in it, my eye would have glazed right over it if the ad hadn't also highlighted the presence of Stealth (one of the main characters of L.E.G.I.O.N. and R.E.B.E.L.S.) and the Khunds (recurring DC outer space bad guys). So I googled, and discovered the existence of this four-issue miniseries from 1995.

Frankly, it's weird that the only place this is mentioned in R.E.B.E.L.S. is one ad, as it feature three characters from the series (in addition to Stealth and Lobo, R.E.B.E.L.S. leader Vril Dox turns up) and it takes place between its issues. Plus, one of its co-writers, Alan Grant, wrote or co-wrote the first 39 issues of L.E.G.I.O.N. Surely DC would have wanted to make sure fans of the one found the other, but there wasn't even a mention of the lettercol.

Oh well, I learned about it in sufficient time to add it to my list of "uncollected DC comics set in space not about Green Lanterns," so how was it? Bob the Galactic Bum is written by Alan Grant and John Wagner, the latter being the luminary of British comics responsible for co-creating Judge Dredd, though I know him best for his work on the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. The artist is Carlos Ezquerra, Dredd's other co-creator.

This story is no Judge Dredd adventure, however. It's a light comedy about a "galactic bum" named Bob, who seems to be a stereotypical British bum, complete with ratty top hat. Bob travels the universe with his companion Buck Fifty, who can only say "What?" and the story opens with him being picked up by an interstellar cruise liner carrying a prince. Bob is offended by the prince, who he calls a "piker" (i.e., a tightwad), but when Khunds attack the cruise liner, Bob, Buck, and the piker are the only ones left alive. Bob sees the opportunity to finally make his fortune, but that means getting Prince Gazza of Chazza back to his homeworld in time for the coronation while avoiding Khunds and Lobo.

There's not a laugh on every page, but there are enough of them to make good fun. The Khunds are well done-- they're such anarchist brutes that their captain needs to reestablish his authority every single time he gives an order, and his crew is faintly embarrassed every time he compliments them-- and I enjoyed Bob's alleged duel with a guru on a higher plane. Plus the coronation traditions of Chazza (the previous monarch is executed by blind guards, which means many extra people die in the process) were amusing. Like I said, Lobo was everywhere during this era, but Alan Grant is one of the better writers of Lobo, so he wasn't too annoying. Grant, Wagner, and Ezquerra are a solid comic team, and this is four issues of fun in the world of DC space.

(Interestingly, though, the creators maintained the copyright to the story, allowing it to be reprinting in the Judge Dredd Megazine in 2008, sans any characters belonging to DC. Among other transformations, Lobo apparently became a woman named Asbo!)

14 July 2016

Review: Fact and Feeling by Jonathan Smith

Hardcover, 277 pages
Published 1994
Borrowed from the library
Read December 2012
Fact and Feeling: Baconian Science in the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination
by Jonathan Smith

Smith's monograph traces the use of Baconian induction in Victorian literature. Smith begins by tracing out a model of what Baconian science means, summarizing it as 1) collection of facts, 2) gradual movement toward truth, and 3) rejection of hypotheses. He argues that the Victorians were finding cracks in Baconianism: for example, fact-collecting cannot really be indiscriminate (you need some kind of hypothesis to drive your data collection). But Bacon was still valorized by some, though not necessarily for the things he actually said or did.

The most interesting of the later chapters (to me, of course) were the ones on John Ruskin and Sherlock Holmes. In the Ruskin chapter, Smith is able to carefully delineate Ruskin's point of view on science. Ruskin wasn't opposed to science in general, but what he saw as foolish science: science that subordinated vision to inductive reason, prioritizing what could not be seen over what could be seen. This feels kind of reasonable on the face of it, until you remember that Ruskin rejected the idea of glaciers moving because he couldn't see them moving. Ruskin prioritized sight, and felt that scientists like Tyndall were too rapid and superficial in their observations.

His chapter on Holmes admirably and thoroughly lays out what it means for Holmes to think "scientifically": Holmes claims to be a naive Baconian that doesn't let theories affect his sight, that jars with the very strong personality Holmes portrays throughout the stories. Smith shows how Holmes both decries the dangers of the imagination and utterly relies upon the imagination to make the leaps of logic that the police (who Holmes derides as naive Baconians) cannot. It's a compelling discussion of why we shouldn't take Holmes (or Doyle) at his word when describing his detective method, but should instead look at what he actually does and how it interacts with the philosophy of science of the day (or, rather, the past, since naive Baconianism was mostly out by the 1890s).