In which the blogger concludes his discussion of 10 books he can find nothing bad about at all to speak of. The imaginary rules which guided these choices, and the first 7 comics on this list, can be found in the previous two blog entries below;
8. "Detective Comics", # 478; "Sign Of The Joker", writer, Steve Engelhart, artists, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin
I was fifteen years old when I first read "Sign Of The Joker", and there were two things about it that really did puzzle me. Firstly, whyever was Silver St. Cloud running away from a love affair from The Batman, and, secondly, why didn't I feel that she'd in any way made the wrong decision?
Now, of course, I know that she was better off out of it. The constant sense of threat, the endless conflict, the inevitability of psychological if not physical harm; watching Bruce Wayne dressed in his bat costume balanced on a girder suspended above Gotham River dodging both acid spray from the Joker's lapel and lightning bolts from the heavens merely confirmed for Ms St. Cloud that a sane existence isn't compatible with a Batman for a groom.
Silver St. Cloud knew that she needed a saner existence than that, and she quite rightly escaped from what would have no doubt been a short and tragic career as Mrs Batman, the dearly beloved hostage and victim. Only a superhero fan used to staring at a comic-book world through the point-of-view of the folks wearing the costumes could ever see such a choice as anything other than sensible.
But then, to superhero fans, it was hard to make sense out of Silver St Cloud in so many ways. She simply didn't behave as the girl-friend of a superhero should. She was loyal, but she wasn't in any way deferent. She was demonstratively brave, but her courage seemed to exist as a quality of her own rather than as a means to propel her into conflicts which only a boyfriend in a pointy-eared mask could solve. (She could prevent a security guard from calling the police to arrest Batman and fiercely insult Boss Thorne without any sign that she needed a superhero to chaperon her.) She was admirably independent enough to hand
back a lifetime's pass to the Bat-Cave, and yet she didn't weep when she did so. She was upset, but she was dignified and she didn't weep. But that's what most women did in superhero books in such circumstances. Whether it was a tiny sniffy jewel of a tear, or great tidal waves of sobbing, most women wept.
Silver St. Cloud had none of those markers of absolute dependence, of a lack of initiative and the absence of secure attachment, which allowed us to readily believe that, for example, Janet would fall for Henry, or Carol for Ray. Ms St Cloud was a woman and not an adolescent girl. She was intelligent,
independent, competent, beautiful and exceptionally rich. Her life wasn't ever going to be empty of meaning and achievement even if she didn't chose to marry the millionaire and clearly-deeply disturbed Bruce Wayne. She was tough and she was smart. She'd survive. She was nobody's sidekick and deserved to be nobody's much-missed victim of a vengeance-justifying super-villain attack either.
There might be a temptation to look down on Silver St. Cloud, to consider her weak for not standing by her man. To such a judgement might be added a measure of the contempt that's often granted to those who've been blessed by the good fortune of unearned great wealth and considerable beauty. But for all that I fall far more on the side of the cause of egalitarianism than I do to the creed of the New Right, I can't see how Ms St. Cloud can be blamed for being born rich and the owner of those fine genes which promote good teeth and high cheekbones, especially given that she shows evidence of so many personal qualities worthy of respect.
No, even though I couldn't work out how anybody wouldn't love, marry, cherish and be murdered for a super-hero, I also knew that she was right. Silver St. Cloud was better off out of it.
9. "Swamp Thing", book 57; "Exiles", writer, Alan Moore, artists, Rick Veitch & Alfredo Alcala
There's nothing more frightening in any comic book than a Thanagarian diplomatic mission seeking a "free exchange of information". The fascist, imperialist Hawkpeople of "Exiles" remain a far, far more terrifying threat than any Dracula, Dr Doom or even Darkseid could ever be, because they're so recognisably of our own world. They're the amoral and militaristic practitioners of realpolitik. They're the Greeks bearing gifts. They're the folks
without mercy, but with the grand strategic plans, and they have the same contempt for the ordinary women and man as Keel Roo and Scira Ek have in "Exiles" for Adam Strange. The appalling attack of these Hawk creatures upon the Swamp Thing as he tries to heal the ruined and radioactive eco-system of Rann is for me one of the few superhero fight scenes which can still inspire genuine anxiety. The stakes are so high, the weapons being used so disgustingly invasive, the revulsion inspired by the Thanagarians so intense; it's as if Alan Moore had abstracted everything that's depraved and repellent about the culture of Nazism and then fused it with this imaginary off-world society in order to bring home with the shock of the new how these people, or any people like them, from any political system of any kind, must never be trusted or tolerated.
Mr Moore's wasn't presenting an entirely new version of the peoples of Hawkworld in "Exiles". The Thanagarians had been depicted as an authoritarian race before, more notably in Tony Isabella's thoroughly enjoyable "Shadow War Of Hawkman" series, which really does deserve to be reappraised and reprinted. But Moore turned a formidably hostile alien race into a
recognisably fascist culture. Instead of a people of mostly-identical Hawkmen prone to be corrupted and then redeemed by various individual leaders, Mr Moore and the exquisite art team of Rick Veitch and Alfred Alcala provided us the informing details of Thanagar's military/diplomatic hierarchy, with its language of deception and domination, and with the stomach-turning stench of the assumption of racial superiority which marks every panel of the Hawkwomen and men in this book. Here is the rank and protocol and phraseology of the fascist state, and the straight-faced and yet clearly sneering contempt by which these Thanagarians judge everyone and everything beyond their own narrow mission is enough to make this reader's fists begin to ball. Alan Moore's loathing for the authoritarian mind-set saturates this book, and it will give nothing away to a reader who's never read "Exiles" to note that things do not end well for these Hawkpeople.
"We Terrans may not be much on the eight basic principles of aerial inertia tactics ... but we are complete bastards." explains Adam Strange to the drowned corpse of Keel Ro.
Well, she deserved it.
1o. "Superman Adventures, # 25; "(Almost) The World's Finest Team", writer, Mark Millar, artists, Mike Manley & Terry Austin
Mark Millar's "Superman Adventures" aren't simply a joy to read, though they certainly are that. They're also the irrefutable proof that he's a highly skilled professional craftsman with an impressive command of the more traditional forms of comicbook storytelling. Too often he's judged solely with reference to a partial understanding of his post-millennium style, to his widescreen, summer-blockbuster approach to harnessing much of the appeal of the movies while maintaining the distinct strengths of superhero comic books. And because much of that more recent work, from "The Authority" through the "Ultimates" and on to the Millarworld superbooks of today, is so very idiosyncratic and single-minded in its approach, there's a tendency at times for folks to miss the fact that Millar's 21st century work is built upon an absolute command of the basic language of the Silver-Age superhero tale. He can pull off the grand extremes of a "Nemesis" or a "Kick-Ass" because he knows, and has clearly and consistently shown, how to write the likes of the Flash, the Justice League and, in particular, Superman in an intensely respectful and concise form.
In "(Almost) The World's Finest Team", Millar has The Mad Hatter kidnap Bruce Wayne, a conceit which allows him to convincingly pair a feisty and impressively competent Batgirl with his own take of a thoroughly decent and dignified Superman. There's nothing arch about how Mr Millar approaches these characters; there's no irony on show, or knowing nudges in the text to show that he's a more sophisticated and modern-minded writer than the subject matter might otherwise allow. In fact, his work on "Superman Adventures" was as likely to escape critical acclaim because it didn't seek to draw attention to itself as his later work is often attacked for being the product of a man with no respect for tradition and too much concern for himself. The question isn't, of course. which of these writers is the "real" Mark Millar, the modest scribe or the Hollywood hustler? The fact is that different properties require different approaches, just as writers at different stages of their lives have distinct and different things to say for themselves in their work. Here, Millar was intent on establishing that he was a reliable pair of hands with a trustworthy command of scriptwriting, as well as presenting a take on the character of Superman which reflected Millar's fundamental affection for the man of steel and the moral values most commonly associated with him. It's a version of Superman which deserves to be ranked in the front row of work on the character, but sadly, because of the title's low profile, and because of the fact that "Superman Adventures" was supposedly a "kid's" book about a non-continuity version of Kal-El, it's a comic that's rarely granted the respect it's owed.
Present in this all-ages, will-not-frighten-the-censors, comic book are a great deal of the techniques which would later come to be associated with Millar's writing style. The splash page is a typically intense affair, the story is arranged around a series of spectacular superhero-fan-pleasing scenes, and Millar works hard to make sure each character on display has an absolutely distinctive personality on the page. Readers new to "(Almost) The World's Finest Team" will note, for example, water-cooler moments the likes of which would be quite familiar components of Mr Millar's later work; the scene in which Robin launches the Bat-Plane with a cry of "Let's party!" is in many ways the equivalent of Tony Stark blasting off in his ultimate universe armour, a great celebration of the opportunities for fun that the superhero can bring. (The exuberance of the art by Mike Manley and Terry Austin perfectly matches the sheer good cheer of the script.) Yet, matched with these superheroic moments here is a conscious and constant fidelity to the moral principles historically associated with the World's Finest team. A stern but decent Batman's closing speech in praise of Superman's effectiveness is one example of that, as is Superman's advice to Batgirl that "you don't have to break someone's ribs to solve a case".
Unpretentious, disciplined, life-affirming and fun. I'd recommend it.
Thank you for reading. I really do wish a splendid day to you all. "Stick together!", as Superman would say.