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Mark Waid’s Run on Justice League of America – Tower of Babel (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Although actually published in 2000, Tower of Babel is the third definitive Batman story of the nineties. Running only four issues instead of a massive sprawling crossover across an entire line of comic books, Tower of Babel is certainly more condensed than either Knightfall or No Man’s Land, hitting on many of the same themes and concepts. It is very much constructed as a cautionary tale – a warning about taking a particularly cynical approach to Batman to its logical extreme.

Due to his stand-off-ish nature, the nineties iteration of Batman is sometimes affectionately (or not so affectionately) referred to a “Batjerk.” This version of the character has a wonderful knack of pushing his friends and allies away, making enemies, and escalating problems due to arrogance and ego. In many respects, Tower of Babel is a quintessential “Batjerk” story, where Batman’s anti-social tendencies lead to the humiliation and defeat of the entire Justice League using his own plans.

The last temptation of Batman...

The last temptation of Batman…

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Mark Waid, Ian Churchill and Ken Lashley’s Deadpool – Sins of the Past (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s interesting to try to chart the meteoric rise of Deadpool. Over the past decade, Deadpool has emerged as one of Marvel’s most popular comic book characters. He features in various miniseries and variant covers, populated quite a few books from month-to-month. While his exposure hasn’t quite reached the same level as that of Spider-Man or Wolverine, Deadpool is easily one of the most frequently-appearing characters in Marvel Comics.

It is strange to think that he is a relatively young character, originating in Rob Liefeld’s New Mutants shortly before it became X-Force. First appearing in February 1991, Rob Liefeld created Deadpool as a decidedly nineties character – “the merc with the mouth”,  he felt like a conscious composite of Spider-Man with more outrageous villains (or anti-heroes) like Deathstroke. Indeed, the similarity is something of a cheesy joke. Where might one practise their Deathstroke? In the Deadpool, of course.

Crossing swords...

Crossing swords…

Liefeld created a cheesy and hyperactive foe for his mutant characters, allowing the character all manner of cheesy and awkward one-liners. However, that version of Deadpool is almost unrecognisable when compared to the character as he exists today. The modern version of Deadpool is a character aware of his own fictional nature, with dialogue balloons painted yellow to distinguish him from the less self-aware characters around him.

Today’s Deadpool is more of a comedy force of nature than a serious anti-hero, a character basking in the absurd rather than trying to appear badass. It’s interesting to wonder how that character transformed so radically (and so thoroughly). Certainly, his first solo miniseries seems to occupy the strange space between Rob Liefeld’s half-serious mercenary psychopath and Joe Kelly’s comic book comic. While still a little too steeped in nineties aesthetic for its own good, Mark Waid’s Deadpool is a small step in that direction.

Well, at least he knows how to make an entrance...

Well, at least he knows how to make an entrance…

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Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera et al’s Run on Daredevil (Vol. 3) (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Daredevil had been one of the most consistently reliable books at a major comic book publisher over the last decade or so. Under creative teams from Kevin Smith to David Mack to Brian Michael Bendis to Ed Brubaker, the gritty street level superhero has enduring a whole host of twists and shifts that have made the book a compelling read. Indeed, the only real problem with the run was that Andy Diggle couldn’t quite stick the landing and so we ended up closing out that incredibly run with a bland and generic crossover like Shadowland.

Still, Daredevil remains an exciting book – a comic that affords the writers and artists a bit more freedom than they’d enjoy working on a more high-profile or major character. When Spider-Man’s identity was revealed by J. Michael Straczynski during Civil War, the publisher almost immediately hit a reset button in the form of One More Day to tidy up everything. When Brian Michael Bendis revealed Matthew Murdock’s secret identity to the world, there was no attempt to stuff the genie back in the bottle. That radical shift remained in play for the rest of Ed Brubaker and Andy Diggle’s run, casting a shadow over Mark Waid’s as well.

The big smoke...

The big smoke…

However, reading Andy Diggle’s Daredevil, it’s easy to get a sense that the character was suffocating under the influence of Frank Miller. Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen enjoyed a character-defining run in the mid-eighties. For Miller, it paved the way to The Dark Knight Returns, and it really shook the foundations of the superhero genre. Suddenly superheroes weren’t infallible; suddenly fights could get genuinely dirty; suddenly dressing up in a silly costume to fight crime was treated as something that might be deemed a little eccentric.

This had a dramatic impact across the superhero genre. At the same time, however, it really defined the character of Daredevil. In his year years, Daredevil often seemed like a cheap knock-off of Spider-Man; an imitation of a far more popular hero. With the work of Frank Miller, Matthew Murdock become more conflicted and more complex. He became a hero who could make mistakes, a hero who didn’t have the best judgement, a hero who could fail. This pushed the character of Daredevil more towards gritty urban crime and film noir conventions, and further away from superhero conventions.

Radar love...

Radar love…

Decades after Born Again, writers are still drawing on that iconic take on Matthew Murdock. The Kingpin is still considered one of the – if not the – greatest foe of the Man Without Fear. Kevin Smith killed off Karen Page, the character who betrayed Matthew Murdock in Born Again. Brian Michael Bendis wrote a story featuring the character who planted the bomb in Born Again, two decades after that story was published. Miller cast a long shadow over the character. One of the (many) problems with Andy Diggle’s Daredevil was the way that it demonstrating that riffing on Frank Miller was getting old.

And so, Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil is absolutely fascinating. It’s a clear departure from the grounded urban realism that came to define the character, often feeling like an attempt to reconnect with the character’s Silver Age roots. Brought to life by some of the best artists in the business, the run just pops off the page. At the same time, Waid doesn’t ignore or avoid or overlook what has come before. He just seems to realise that there are other ways of approaching the character.

On top of the world...

On top of the world…

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: The Vulture – Scavenging (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

The biggest problem with Scavenging is the villain.

The classic Vulture is admittedly a goof design, but – as with most of Steve Ditko’s villains – there’s an undeniable charm. With his silly “villainous green” colour scheme and the image of a super villain old enough to be collecting his pension, the classic Vulture sticks in the memory. Like so many of those classic Amazing Spider-Man bad guys, the Vulture has a sense of character that extends beyond his goofiness. (After all, Electro, Sandman and Mysterio are no less goofy in design.)

Feeding time...

Feeding time…

In contrast, the “new” Vulture featured in Scavenging feels decidedly generic. More animalistic, with a pinsir-like mouth and the ability to spew hot bile, the character is dressed in red – as if to suggest the classic costume design is more menacing in that colour. Introduced by Mark Waid in the 24/7 arc of Brand New Day, there nothing memorable at all about this version of the character, and he feels like an awkward fit for The Gauntlet, which traverses Spider-Man’s iconic selection of foes.

There is a reason that the character ended up as C-list fodder at the start of Greg Rucka’s Punisher run.

The Vulture has landed...

The Vulture has landed…

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: Electro – Power to the People (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Trying to channel Batman while writing Spider-Man is a risky business. The two characters are iconic – each can make a credible claim to be the most iconic character at their publisher, and perhaps the most iconic superhero ever. Both have imprinted themselves on the public consciousness; both have enjoyed multiple iterations across cartoons and movies; both have iconic stories and popular runs, as well as bucket loads of merchandise; both have truly wonderful supporting casts.

However, trying to use Spider-Man to evoke Batman is a risky move. You can end up with a mess like Spider-Man: Reign, demonstrating that the dark cynicism many associate with the Caped Crusader does not translate to the wall-crawling web-head. Alternatively, you get a sense that what makes Peter Parker unique and appealing is being crushed in a desire to fit a round peg in a square hole, like with The Amazing Spider-Man.

Shocking...

Shocking…

That said, The Gauntlet is a pretty spectacular Spider-Man story, one only enhanced by its similarities to the iconic Batman saga Knightfall. It’s a massive sprawling epic that seems to have been written with those comparisons in mind, with the writing staff very cleverly using the story as a springboard to emphasise the differences between Spider-Man and Batman. The Gauntlet, like Knightfall, is fundamentally a story about trying to break the central character a sinister new adversary launches a sustained assault using a collection of classic baddies.

However, The Gauntlet serves as an argument that Peter Parker can never be completely consumed by darkness. Even in his darkest hours, even when the story twists in a way that it really shouldn’t, there is an inherent optimism and reserve of strength and hope that keeps Spider-Man from tipping completely into the abyss. The entire Knightfall saga is about Batman clawing his way back from the abyss. The Gauntlet is about how Spider-Man really can’t be pushed into that abyss in the first place.

Swinging into action...

Swinging into action…

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Andy Diggle’s Run on Daredevil (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the most remarkable things about Daredevil was how consistent the quality of the title had been. Andy Diggle inherited Daredevil at the height of its popularity. Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil was well-loved and enjoyed, climaxing on a celebratory 500th issue. Brubaker had come on after Brian Michael Bendis’ much-lauded run on the title. The two are considered among the best writers to work on the character since Frank Miller redefined the Man Without Fear. Diggle was succeeded by Mark Waid, who has made a reinvigoured and nostalgic Daredevil into one of Marvel’s best-reviewed and best loved books.

These are all great runs. Andy Diggle’s Daredevil run is not well-remembered. Diggle essentially wrote twelve issues of the main title, and almost the same number of crossover tie-ins, miniseries and one-shots. Whereas those other successful runs of Daredevil existed with their own space and freedom, Diggle’s Daredevil was very much event-driven. The big moment in all of Diggle’s Daredevil writing is the street-level crossover event Shadowland. It’s a problematic event, and quite a few of those problems reverberate back into Diggle’s work on the main title.

And yet, despite that, what’s most frustrating about Diggle’s Daredevil run is that it really could (and should) have been so much better.

The Devil you know...

The Devil you know…

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Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s Run on Captain America (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s ten-issue run on Captain America is a bit of an oddity. The run follows an impressive ten-year stint by writer (and editor) Mark Gruenwald, but is situated right before Marvel’s attempt at a mid-nineties reboot with Heroes Reborn. As a result, the run feels like it is over before it begins, more of a blip on the radar than a bold new beginning for the character – indeed, it is very much a bold new beginning right before another bold new beginning.

Mark Waid is probably one of the most easily overlooked writers to work on Captain America. He has written over fifty issues featuring the character, but his work has been scattered across multiple volumes and divided by editorial decisions. His longest unbroken stint on the character is thirteen issues of the same comic book. It’s a very weird relationship to have with a character, and there’s a sense that Waid’s take on Captain America was never as developed as it might have been. It feels like scattered snapshots rather than an entire mosaic.

Funeral for a friend...

Funeral for a friend…

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