Pick of the Week (Aug. 17th): Batman #5

Batman #5

Writer: Tom King

Pencils: David Finch

Inks: Sandra Hope, Matt Banning, Scott Hanna

Colorist: Jordie Bellaire

Batman #5 is the culmination of the build up of this story arc. Since we were first introduced to Gotham Man and Gotham Girl we have sensed a fight was on the horizon and issue 5 provided us with that payoff. The issue picks up with Gotham Man on a rampage in downtown Gotham city. He blames the literal city it’s self for all of the pain in his life. He is fueled by sheer rage. Rage that has been drawn out of him by the Psyco-Pirate whose power is to bring out emotions in people. Batman isn’t on the scene yet and calls upon Alfred to dawn the cowl and stall Gotham Man until he can arrive. Alfred first rams Gotham man with the Batmobile before exiting and confronting him head on.I have never read Alfred written better than by Tom King who flexed his knowledge of who Alfred is and how Alfred would act. Plus seeing Alfred’s thin mustache peaking out from under the Batman cowl was a pure delight. Batman arrives on the scene just before Alfred i in any real danger and Alfred promptly (and comically) flees the scene. Next is a battle of epic proportions between Gotham Man and Batman. Meanwhile Gotham Girl has woken up from her coma is seeking comfort and clarity from Duke. Who explains the situation to her and asks for her help. The Psyco-Pirate has brought out fear in her and it is a struggle for her to even leave her bed. Back in Gotham Batman realizes he is fighting a losing battle and enlists the help of a few of his friends. Is it enough to stop Gotham Man? You’ll have to read for yourself.

This issue has a few more spoilers that I won’t talk about in this review, but it’s safe to say that Tom King really sets up his next arc in the last act of this issue, and I for one am very interested to see how the story plays out. The pace of this issue is frantic, with mass destruction of buildings, people, cars, even planes. I love how King is using a physical embodiment of the concept of Gotham against Batman. Batman loves Gotham and does everything he can to save and protect it. Gotham Man represents all of Batman’s failures. All of Batman’s limitations are brought to light during his battle with Gotham Man. I also like that in King’s current run of Batman we see a titular character who isn’t afraid to ask for help. Who is learning he can lean on and depend on others for once. That started with the idea of Duke Thomas not being another Robin, but rather an equal with Batman himself. It’s mirrored in this Batman’s willingness to call in a few friends in this issue and in him even working with Gotham Man and Gotham Girl in the first place. I wonder if the next arc of this story sees that willingness to trust back fire on Batman. There is a huge reveal at the end of the issue that could have a major impact on the status quo, but again I won’t spoil that for you.

The art in this issue is very good with David Finch providing excellent Pencil work. He has a style that really draws out the action and makes it seem dynamic and moving. Finch also does a great job with facial expressions. The most emotional scenes of the book are in the Batcave between Duke and Gotham Girl, Finch is able to really sell those moments with his rendering of facial expressions.  The color art by Jordie Bellaire is really top notch with her use of dark earth tones to paint an almost noir (but not quite) picture of Gotham. This color style is quite a different use of color than Scott Snyder’s last Batman run which was uncharacteristically bright (not that that’s a bad thing). All and all the art in this issue is exceptionally good.

If you have been holding off on buying this series I recommend that you run straight away to your nearest local comic shop and rectify the situation This has been consistently one of the best titles in a stellar Rebirth relaunch for DC. Below in the gallery are the two covers the title shipped with. Rating: 10/10

-Andrew

Advertisements

The Fleischer Bros. Superman Shorts (1941-1943)

Every Comic Book Movie (Ever) is an ongoing series which examines the long-standing relationship between comic books and film through individual works as well as groups of works. While it is likely impossible that a single person could write about every single comic book film ever made, the series hopes to provide insight that ranges widely across eras and styles of filmmaking – covering acknowledged classics, hidden gems, huge disasters, and relatively unknown works with an empathetic and critical eye.

 

This being the first installment of the series, I thought I would write about a film (well, a group of short films) that is both a personal favorite, and something of an unimpeachable classic. Hence, the Fleischer Bros. Superman Shorts.

logo.jpg

Fleischer Studios Logo

Max and Dave Fleischer began making shorts in the late nineteen-teens after Max Fleischer invented, patented, and sold the rotoscope. Starting work at Bray Studios, they eventually created their own studio (Fleischer Bros., Inc.) where they would go on to create original characters like Betty Boop and define pre-existing comic book characters like Popeye and, you guessed it, Superman. Without going too deep into the history, the Fleischers were, for a time, considered

the only real rival to Walt Disney’s animation dominance. In fact, the rotoscoping technique created by Max was used by Disney to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Unfortunately, the studio was plagued by financial troubles and, by the time Superman was being produced, was mostly owned and run by Paramount.

Despite this, Max and Dave were still heavily involved with Superman. They had just come off their first feature, Gulliver’s Travels, and were working on their second when Paramount, hoping to adapt the extremely popular at the time Superman, approached the Fleischers about bringing the character to life. They weren’t interested. But instead of saying no, the brothers told Paramount they could only make Superman for roughly ten times the amount of their previous shorts, expecting Paramount to balk and leave them in peace. Instead, Paramount negotiated an agreement for roughly half that much and Superman went into production as one of the most expensive animated shorts of that time.

mos.jpg

The Fleischer’s Man of Steel

The expense shows. Few animated films, from that time or any other, look as dynamic and lavish as the shorts the Fleischers produced. The first (titled “Superman,” but usually referred to as “The Mad Scientist”) pits Superman against what would become a common enemy in these shorts: a rogue scientist using advanced technology for nefarious means. The short introduces a number of iconic elements, beginning with a brief prologue explaining Superman’s origins and the classic invocation: “Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” The story begins when Lois Lane sets out to track down a man who has been sending mysterious threats to Metropolis. She takes a plane to a towering, gothic mountain atop which sits the scientist’s laboratory. He promptly captures Lois (with the help of his henchman, a ruffled vulture/raven hybrid) and begins attacking the city with a massive death ray. As the destruction of the city begins, Clark Kent slips into a supply closet and, as the iconic score plays, rips of his tie and hat to reveal his identity as Superman. He begins his battle with the death ray, swooping (not quite flying) through the city, saving citizens and preserving the Daily Planet building as it arcs elegantly and destructively toward the ground.

In the end, he rescues Lois (and, importantly, the evil scientist) from the destruction of the death ray and the laboratory. Lois writes a front page column and Superman disappears into the ether until the next crisis. Meanwhile, Lois asks Clark where he was the whole time.

land clark.jpg

Lois and Clark, after the crisis

The shorts all follow this same basic formula, the first four especially. Lois jumps right into the thick of it, Superman is nearly defeated, but overcomes the villain, rescuing everyone in the end. It establishes a template familiar from the comics while adding a few of its own signature elements. One of those is the reliance on music to tell the story. There is little spoken dialogue in the Fleischer shorts, so the music does a lot of the heavy lifting. It helps to tell the story, creating drama and tension, while also serving as an all-purpose source for sound effects. When Superman punches the bullets from the death ray, the music turns to sharp stabs in unison with Superman’s powerful fists. The shorts alternate between heavy sci-fi plots where mad scientists or monsters are unleashed on the city and lighter sci-fi fair, where criminals use slick, new technology to rob trains and vaults.

What is most striking about these shorts, to me, is their audacity of design. They dwell in a kind of retro-futurism where contemporary architecture and automobiles exists alongside impossibly tall buildings, high mountain labs, and enclosed crosswalks which stretch from building to building somewhere around the 95th floor. The lines recall both art deco and early Soviet propaganda, while the lighting draws from noir; everything is rendered in gothic proportions. The Fleischer’s Metropolis and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis do not dwell far apart from each other. This is perhaps the most enduring influence of these shorts. Bruce Timm consulted them in designing the Gotham of Batman: The Animated Series; Brad Bird looked to them when building The Iron Giant; Hayao Miyazaki stole more than a few tricks from the Fleischers for Castle in the Sky and other films.

The Fleischer’s Metropolis Bruce Timm’s Gotham

In later Fleischer shorts (like The Bulleteers), the formula modulates slightly, moving into to a light serialization. Lois and Clarks relationship noticeably progresses at the end of each short, but the action is still the meat of these. Clark and Lois travel to a volcano where Superman saves everyone from an eruption. They travel to a carnival where he saves them from a giant gorilla. But by this point, a year into the Superman shorts, Max and Dave were no longer on speaking terms and Paramount was worried.

Dola Gang from Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky Bulleteers from Superman

After Terror on the Midway, Paramount dissolved Fleischer Studios and reorganized its few remaining elements as Famous Studios. They continued to make Superman shorts, but these were markedly different than what came before. It was the end of 1942 and the U.S. was on the war path. The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor almost a year earlier and every movie studio in the country was playing their part in the escalating war effort. Paramount and Famous Studios were no exception. The rest of the Superman shorts serve as pretty standard fair propaganda. The animation quality drops noticeably with the absence of the Fleischers and the plots are clunky, often involving saboteurs and peddling nasty racial stereotypes of the Japanese. The Superman of Famous Studios is the ultimate warrior of U.S. interests abroad. Trapped in Japan with Lois, Clark sneaks out at night to wreak havoc on the Japanese war effort. He destroys bridges and air bases and battleships. Where Superman used to rescue his adversaries, here he destroys them when they aren’t looking. A night watchmen on a ship undoubtedly dies when Superman pulls the vessel underwater until it explodes. The same fate is met by countless soldiers crossing a bridge at night when Superman annihilates it.

Still, these do not impinge on the revolutionary, earlier shorts of the Fleischers, which still stand today as one of the great achievements of not only animation, but filmmaking itself. With their dynamic and singular animation style, the Fleischer Bros. Superman shorts remain one of, if not the definitive comic-book adaptation.

 

-Ian