The Rubber Band Effect

So today I’d like to take a moment to talk about one of the big things that got me to stop reading comics from the “big 2” (Marvel & DC) and focus more on Indie Comics. It’s called the “rubber band effect” and it just kills me.

Ok so there is this concept I’ve dubbed “the rubber band effect” and it is best illustrated by asking “Who is Batman?”. The answer is, “Bruce Wayne”. Now I hear some of my more seasoned readers shouting, “What about that fantastic run by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely where Dick Grayson was Batman or when, in the 90s, Azrael was Batman?” and that my friends is the point. No matter what happens there is too much of a brand built up around Bruce Wayne being Batman that they will never replace him. Now let’s extend this to the infamous “Death of Superman” even from the 90s. Superman is likewise too big of a brand to die.

They do these changes for sheer shock value but they never are permanent- they always “rubber band” back into place. You can stretch and mold a character into whatever shape you want- but it will eventually snap back to a recognizable form. I will admit that over a long period of time changes can slowly become permanent but it’s a progressive evolution over decades (like Batman getting “darker”) and not really the fault of any one writer.

Now, I understand why they do this. If a new reader (or even an established one) picks up a comic about the Flash- they expect it to be about the Flash. If it’s about a gun-wielding depowered Barry Allen that might fly for a few issues or maybe even a event, but eventually they want to see him zip around in red tights again. These characters have a place in our mind because they are so iconic and to change that means we can’t identify with them. You also have dozens of writers working with these characters in one medium or another of the course of a decade (in the case of Batman it’s the movies, TV shows, various comic lines, cross-over events, etc). A little change gets lost in the “noise” of these writers writing a character for various demographics and telling different stories.

So why does this bother me if it is inevitable? On some level I really wish comic events and changes “meant” something. Like after I read that Damian Wayne died on February 27, 2013 I turned to my fiancée and said, “I give him 2 years”. Sure enough, in June 2014 the story arch “Robin Rises” started and he was back on his feet by December 2014. Knowing this, as a long time reader, it just takes the “umph” out of any sort of major change. They hype it up and blow it up but eventually it all snaps back into place.

Now there are exceptions but they take a lot of time and effort to pull off and no editorial mandate is going to force it to occur. It’s a matter of popular opinion. In 1986 Frank Miller wrote the seminal work “The Dark Knight Returns” and showed Batman in a very dark and gritty light. Along with the success of Alan Moore’s Watchmen in that same year we ushered in the “Dark Age” of comic books where anti-heroes and a more mature focus became the norm. Without public opinion and the strength of the writing in those books we wouldn’t have had the adoption of elements from the mainstream (or… Rob Liefeld). As a result of this we see a more homogenized version of Miller’s Batman (because he is 10 shades of bat-shit crazy in Miller’s hands) in the mainstream nowadays.

So effectively what sticks and what doesn’t is a popularity contest. Comic companies, believe it or not, do not make most of their money on comic sales. They use comics as their testing grounds for what should be adapted into the “long term” canon of a character’s mythos. For example, 1988s Batman: The Killing Joke (also by Alan Moore… in case you had any question of his impact on comics as a genre) was so popular that Barbara Gordon’s paralysis and subsequent role as the hacker and information broker “Oracle” was made canon. I mean Jason Todd (one of the Robins) was literally killed off due to a voting contest.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel however. Now I’ve brought up some fantastic limited series comics in this little rant of mine and that is where the “meat” is. Stories that exist outside normal continuity can have characters die for good, can have them undergo drastic transformations (for better or worse) over the course of the pages. If you want to see where the future of a character is going to be- look at the popular limited series.

Here are some to check out:

  • The Sandman (my all-time favorite)
  • Watchmen
  • Old Man Logan
  • Batman: The Killing Joke
  • Ex Machina: First 100 Days
  • Astonishing X-Men (Joss Whedon’s stuff)
  • Runaways (SOME rubber-banding)
  • The Dark Knight Returns
  • Kingdom Come
  • Hellboy
  • Batman: Year One
  • DC One Million
  • All-Star Superman
  • Legends of the Dark Knight
  • Spiderman 2099
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Jackdaw

Jackdaw

Staff: Kelly Shane, Brian Barr

Overview:

Watchmen, but for Batman.. and way better than even that sounds.

Review:

So today’s review is of Jackdaw issue #1. As per normal, I go in knowing next to nothing but if the cover is any indication- I’m already interested in it because the second page has a Beatles quote for the title of this issue (“Into the Light of the Dark Black Night”) and who doesn’t love “Blackbird”?. For those who don’t know a “jackdaw” is a bird in the crow family so the fitting title makes me smile a bit. Anyway, lets jump into Jackdaw #1!

Right off the bat the art is something you’ll have to get use to. It’s done in very dark pencils with and has a very sketchy style. The anatomy of the characters and scene composition is well done, playing a lot with lights and darks, but there are some clear issues. I hesitate to call them such because of the “style” but it looks like this went from sketch to linework and then someone just kind of stopped before they inked it so there are lots of little like blemishes and imperfections. Whatever I say though- at the end of the day I LOVE the art for some reason. I normally HATE dark comics (having read a lot of them) but this just looks downright cool. I don’t know if it is the very “real world” style the characters are rendered in or the sketchy tone and use of white space but… I just love it. Now, if it wasn’t for that layout….

So I need to talk about the layout. It’s nowhere near as professional as it could be. They have white strips on either side of some pages, the lettering totally clashes with the style of the page, and it all looks very amateurish. The lettering stands out like a sore thumb, being rendered in crisp vector (or a solid raster program) with the rest of the comic contrastingly in that sketchy dark pencil style. They clash violently in a visual sense and it is really distracted. Add to that the way the words are crammed into the scene like the artist forgot to leave room for the dialogue boxes and the small amount of border-space on the text itself and you have a very messy comic. Sometimes the black boxes use for internal narration get lost on the dark pencils (see page 26) and it all could use a good formatting guy.  It really WANT this comic to have fantastic layout! It makes it seem like an idea half executed! If the art style had been crisp and clean the vector lettering would have worked! Conversely if we had some awesome, built in, hand-lettered, dialogue boxes we’d have a very dark and moody visual set up!

Alright, so back to the good stuff. Can I gush for a second about how much I love the character designs? Jackdaw is clearly cut for the batman line of dark pulpy heroes (and my frequent readers will recall my affection for pulp) and I can really dig the points of inspiration that inform the reader visually of who he is. He has the dark brooding cape, the impassive white eyes, the heavy belt with tools on it, and the plague doctor mask. We have his sidekick (though she dislikes the term) Thresher and she has a bit of the “robin” aspect to her- talking about how she is used as a distraction. Some of the dialogue reminds me of the “good soldier” line from Dark Knight Returns and it’s not so far off in tone (though without the Frank Miller brand of madness). I get a very nightwing vibe from her (particularly the Young Justice version).

If you see a pattern here it’s not by accident. It really feels like the author wished they could just write their own Elseworlds batman story but couldn’t afford to get in with DC. It’s a bit of an elephant in the room. Like we have campy stand-ins for the Adam West batman series and it all feels like a pastiche. The writing is good and it gives is a good way to easily identify/make assumptions about the setting but it really undercuts the entire comic when you get down to it. As much as I like the comic at time it feels really cheap- like there is nothing new coming my way and it’s just a love-letter to the batman franchise. We even have a Harley Quinn & (mentioned) Joker rip-off. The realization grew on me, like it took 2/3rds of the comic to really get bad and part of me still wants to like it. It feels very much like what Watchmen did for superheroes- put them in the real world and have them work out their problems in a very raw way… except with just the batman universe. Part of me REALLY likes that and part of me thinks it’s REALLY in bad taste.

Dialogue wise we have a few good ones. It’s very “raw” dialogue (“My ball sac contracted just watching. But less about my scrotum and more about this secret weapon.”) and I can dig the tone. It involves a lot of modern ways fans interact with the comic medium (various TV shows, movies, message boards, websites, YouTube, etc) and it’s all done really well. The pacing doesn’t follow a three act structure or anything (then again episodic media, comics in particular, rarely does) but has a lot of great vignettes strung together. I don’t know if the plot really resolves itself or gives us bait for issue #2 but… damn. It’s still well written and I’d love to get my hands on issue #2.


Alright so overall, despite the flaws and things I bitched and moaned about… I friggen love this comic. I really do. Maybe it’s because it is such a love letter to batman or because it does such a good job of putting superheroes in the real world. This comic has all the things I profess to hate in indie comics: generic superheroes, obvious pastiches, cliche dialogue, etc… but god does it work. It just goes to show that if you have a good writer anything is possible. Seriously, this is the indie version of Watchmen. If you are reading some dime-a-dozen New 52 or Marvel Next comic, put it down for a month and read a single issue of this. There is so much more heart in this one issue than in a decade’s worth of schlock of those sort of comics.

 

Metrics

Art: 7/10 (Drawn intentionally rough, but it makes a mood and works so well.)

Lettering: 3/10 (Sloppy)

Plot: 9/10 (A character focused tour de force and commentary on our age)

Novelty: 5/10 (Watchmen, but with Batman and social media)

Overall: 6/10

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