Friday, July 9, 2010

Chronic Review: Batman Odyssey # 1!

Batman Odyssey # 1
DC Comics

Script: Neal Adams
Pencils: Neal Adams
25 pages for $3.99

I want to avoid just labeling this book as rubbish, because I think I've fallen into a trap lately (or maybe it's been my whole life) of tossing things into two categories; those things which are super awesome, and those things which are sodding rubbish. It's a bad trap to get into, since it spits in the face of logic. Most things should actually fall somewhere in between, of course.

So I don't want to just call Neal Adams' Batman Odyssey a load of rubbish. But it is.

There was reason to be excited, surely. He's a legendary penciller, and not one can deny it. Greatness is great, but legends are created by greatness over time, and that's important to acknowledge.

He's got a lot of passion for the character, and you could hear it bursting out of him in that interview he did with CBR:

"I want to step into the comic book thing again because I'm tired of doing these alternate covers and these little bits and pieces for Marvel and DC that don't amount to a hill of beans. I think I ought to do a project.' I realized that, as usual, there were all these little pieces lying around that I could go vacuum up and turn into a story. And because I like the character and because finally the character out there in the media is in effect becoming 'Neal's Batman' – as the movies and their royalty checks show – I realized that the eggs I laid all those years ago were basically what Batman has finally become. Now, wouldn't it be great if I could go pick up all those pieces I've been gathering up and turn them into a story?"

He's promised to really get at the roots of the character, figure out what makes Batman tick and solidify some of his history into a stronger tapestry. All noble aspirations that I endorse.

It just doesn't really happen in the execution. Like the gun thing. Adams wants to make it clear why Batman dropped his guns. Many don't know this, but Batman carried a pistol in his earliest appearances, as most pulp detectives did. He wasn't afraid to use them, either. So why the philosophical change?

Adams attempts to walk us through that decision with scattered results. Probably the most compelling piece was the simplest - he drew his weapon and then had to scale a ladder, what a pain in the ass! When it comes time to fire that weapon, he balks, which is true to the character and I didn't have a problem with it.

When you think about it, this is a guy scarred for life because a man shot his parents to death with a pistol. I think it's psychologically true for him either to embrace the gun totally (become that thing you hate/fear in order to defeat it) or to abhor it. Batman can't be the thing that he abhors, and I'm 100% fine with that piece of it.

He presents an argument to Robin about it, though, and that gets a bit dodgy. Batman's theory is that the gunless man in a gun fight usually wins. The other participants don't consider the unarmed man a threat and concentrate on the armed. The armed participants are also divided in their attention. While they ponder offense and defense, the unarmed man is simply trying to survive, and so succeeds.

Which of course is a load of bollocks. Maybe if all confrontations were Mexican standoffs, he might have a point. I'll still take the gun, thank you. But in Batman's case, it's going to be a whole lot more likely to have sixteen people with guns all on the same team, namely "not his". It's probably a tactical disadvantage not to have one, although not a critical one. In my scenario with the sixteen guys shooting at him, is one pistol going to level the playing field? Hardly.

So I don't reject Batman deciding not to carry a pistol. I just don't like the aura surrounding that weak argument, that feels sort of like "Bam! I'm a genius, and you just got served!" Not really, buddy. Not really. Your game has holes.

The tone is fine. This is not the Frank Miller Batman who's certifiable and scary gruff, and I actually like that. He's got a different relationship with Robin than I've ever seen before, and it's slightly uneven. It's parts awe and hero worship, and parts buddy cop and calling Bruce out on stuff. I didn't hate it, though.

The Riddler is in play, and the Batmobile is introduced like it's a new thing, and there's a kind of boyish charm to some of the book. There is a sense that Neal Adams really does love this character, and is still struck by how cool he is after all these years. That's probably the most compelling element of Odyssey for me - the enthusiasm layered into it, and expressed openly by Robin.

The worst of it is page-to-page and panel-to-panel clarity. I don't know if I'm just missing pieces of the back story or if it's simply written that way, but I often had trouble figuring out why certain things were happening, or the significance of certain things.

Why does Batman wig out about Kirk taking that formula "two hours ago?" Why is Kirk even there? Why the hell is he taking that formula at all? Where the hell did that Super Bat Thing toward the end even come from? Is it just sitting in the back of the Bat Cave undetected, or this super big secret Kirk didn't tell Batman actually about the Bat Cave?

And while we're on the subject, Kirk and whatever it was he was going to tell Batman that the entire plot seems to hinge upon? Wow. Adams brings it up about nine times, and one would have done for very obvious foreshadowing. And whatever this deep dark secret is, the whole problem could have been avoided by just blurting it out. If it's that important, the listener will stop in their tracks and deal with it.

Instead, Adams is going to build a story around this guy inexplicably shutting his mouth about critical information while whining about how critical it is every six panels or so.

That's pruning your storytelling rose bushes with a chain saw. Yikes.

OK, the craft is not where it needs to be, fine. The comic does look pretty gorgeous, and I suspect fans of the Old School Batman are likely to be happy with the product overall. But for's rubbish. Sorry.

- Ryan


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. Really wanted to like this going in as Neal had sold it well and I have fond memories of his work. His Batman is the only batman I'd happily wear on a t-shirt.

What a shame that it turned out to be fairly roughly illustrated, confusing and disjointed.

I was quite shocked by the plot. My expectations were high going in. Perhaps I need to revisit his and his contemporaries' work. Perhaps I'm holding him up to closely to the modern standard. i.e. The obtuse storytelling of a Grant Morrison. I thought I was on drugs when Man-Bat and A FUCKING LARGER MAN-BAT turn up for a chin-wag and a bit of stupid fucking nonsense.


Pete - Sydney

Sentient Bean said...

Fuck me, and I thought issue 1 was bad. I fucking dare anyone to read the first 10 pages (wherein an extraordinarily hairy chested, cowless Batman tries to explain the last issue to the reader and an excruciatingly poorly told bomb detonation sequence takes place) without mouthing "What the fuck.."



Chronic Insomnia said...

Oh wow...he seriously spent part of #2 explaining # 1? That's both hilarious and sad. I think more hilarious, though. I didn't bother picking it up, though, I got everything I needed to know from that first dose!