World Comic Book Review

A Deep Six’d Publication

10th August 2022

Mark Waid’s Irredeemable: What Makes a Man Super?

With Warner Bros. and its subsidiary business DC Comics getting ready to lay all of their cards on the table in the forthcoming movie entitled “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, Superman is once again going to be the trump card. The character has to share the space with Batman, though, and if the movie stays true to the source material, The Man of Steel is not going to be cast in the brightest of lights. But the property is still the cinematic draw, which means Superman deconstructions and pastiches are going to become, again, a popular theme in comic book writing.

Case in point is one of the most recent and effective deconstructions of the Superman mythos: Mark Waid and Boom! Studios’ Irredeemable – a 37-issue series published from April 2009 to May 2012 about a Superman analogue called the Plutonian. This character, Superman by another name, went rogue and killed a large portion of the human population, before hunting down the rest of his former teammates (who are themselves based on various DC Superheroes.)

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Batman: a Study of Homages

An homage is defined as a special honour or act of respect delivered publicly. In the genre of super hero comic books, the character which is most frequently referenced by other publishers is Batman, a character property owned by DC Comics.

Mainstream superhero comics books since around the turn of the century have seemed like the ourobouros, the snake of mythology which consumes its own tail. Sometimes this has been dubbed “post-modern”, a reference to the school of fine art that questions the form through its limitations. A detached reader with an historical overview of trends in the genre might believe that the industry has instead been engaging for the past decade in a very contemporary concept, ecological recycling: no concept of value is allowed to go to landfill, and instead is put to a new use.

Part of the allure of reinvesting in a well-established concept must be the belief that the concept taps into the zeitgeist, and will have instant appeal to a pre-primed readership. Sometimes it allows a writer to creatively indulge in a character property which is owned by someone else, and to which the writer has no permission to use. Sometimes it is sheer laziness, and sometimes it is parody. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

This essay is a survey of those homages.

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Butcher Billy: Pop Art, Post-Punk Derivation, and Comics

Butcher-Billy

The biblical adage that nothing is ever new under the sun seems especially true in comic books. This phenomenon is sometimes cast as express homages, sometimes as sneaky or blatant efforts to piggy-back on goodwill, and sometimes as part of the creative rush to tap into the prevailing zeitgeist.

“Vertical” (published in 2004) was the last of the special formatted releases to celebrate the tenth anniversary years of DC Comic’s imprint, Vertigo. It was written by Steven T. Seagle with art by Mike Allred. The text and the art pay homage to Andy Warhol, most obviously in the excerpt above. No doubt to mitigate risk under the Lanham Act for implying an endorsement of affiliation between the comic and Warhol’s personality rights, Warhol, as a character in the comic, is referred to only as “Andy”, but lives in a place called “The Factory”, has bright blonde hair, and is clearly regarded by the characters as a shaper of opinions and style. All of this describes Warhol the person.

Mike Allred’s engaging pop art style of drawing is showcased in the clothes and hairstyles of the characters. It also uses as a stylistic vehicle a comic book genre which hadn’t been in prominence since the 60s – the comic book love/romance genre.

The art is notably avant garde. Reading the story itself is also like looking at a roll of film – the scenes are in squares and each looks like a film frame.

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Morrison & Quitely’s Pax Americana: Watching the Watchmen by Critiquing the Critiques

Morrison & Quitely's Pax Americana

Grant Morrison has for many years been writing comic books which exhibit a certain intellectual flair. Pax Americana (a serialized comic released November 2014 by DC Comics) does not depart from this, and indeed invokes many themes Morrison has visited in other works, notably Animal-man and The Invisibles. Some of the themes are common to Morrison’s British peers. One can easily imagine Morrison and English writer Warren Ellis sitting in a pub in the late 1990s, discussing how reality would look to a person existing in a comic book (the “stacked two dimensional planes existing in three dimensional space” of Ellis’ Planetary #4, published by Wildstorm Comics in June 1999, compared to Captain Atom’s address to the reader in Pax Americana: “The characters remain unaware of my scrutiny, but their thoughts are transparent, weightless in little clouds. This is how a 2-dimensional continuum looks to you. Imagine how your 3-D word appears to me” ). Morrison has thrown in the conundrum of the story rolling out in a non-linear way, rendering the comic both compellingly enigmatic and vastly inaccessible. And the shadow of that other great Brit of comic books, Alan Moore, is entirely evident in Pax Americana in its ongoing homage to Moore’s seminal 1987 work, Watchmen.

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