Saturday, July 12, 2008

While I was out ... summer reading

A while back I picked up used copies of the trade paperback versions of a couple of Bat stories I knew from way back, though when they first appeared in comic book form I'd only read portions of them. I freely admit my initial interest in both was purely prurient, but as is so often the case, when I actually paid attention to the storylines I was intrigued.

Or, in its more recent but equally studly edition:

Batman: Tales of the Demon collects Dennis O'Neil's first 11 stories about R'as al Ghul. RAG is a character that I've generally found more interesting in the classic animated series and the 2005 movie than in the comics, but come on, this is the storyline that includes the images that made me gay and the single hottest comic book cover of my adolescence.

O'Neil, writing in a 1991 afterword, apologizes for the whiz-bang nature of the dialogue and faux-Marvel-isms of the narration, and seems very upset about a certain plot inconsistency, but that's hardly my concern. These stories come from the heyday of late 70s/early 80s bat-beefcake, so the musculature is always gloriously pronounced and our hero is constantly getting bonked on the head so that he can lie prone on the floor for several panels an issue. Hooray! As a side bonus, we get to see the origins of Bats' "Matches Malone" alter ego, and O'Neil rightly notes that these stories marked an important part of the character's evolution out of 60s camp and into 90s gloom. But really now: shirts come off (a lot), cowls get lifted, and it's all good, people. It's allllll goooooood.

Here's a lengthy review by "the Masked Bookwyrm," someone who clearly knows and thinks (and cares) a lot more about this kind of thing than I do.

Before we leave RAG for another late-era supervillain, let's savor the animated incarnation I was just talking about, shall we? (There's a good chance I've already posted this clip, because I've been saving it for this purpose for at least two years, but the initial tunic-removal scene bears repeating.)

Batman: The Cult. I know, I know, we're really not supposed to like this thing, because it's ultracynical and hyperviolent and cryptofascist, and all of that is true, but come on, how could I pass up a cover image like this?

To be honest, I lost interest after the second of four parts when this initially came out, but boy, that first issue was hot: Batman bound, broken, on his damn knees before his captor... Need I go on? Years later, I read an interview with Frank Miller about the thing; Miller hated it for all the reasons cited above plus the fact that the premise and even the panel structure owed so much to Dark Knight Returns, but as a BDSM stroke book, issue one is nearly unparalleled in mainstream comics.

I was amused to read writer Jim Starlin's explanation that ubervillain Deacon Blackfire was loosely inspired by the hypocritical right-wing demagogues of the Culture Wars of the late 80s (including the now freshly deceased Jesse Helms), because that certainly doesn't come through in the text. But no matter: Like the RAG story cycle, this makes an interesting pop culture lens on the issues of its time, both inside and outside the comics universe.

Once again, here's the Bookwyrm's take.

(PS. Between my last post here and this one, I caught a good-sized chunk of Skidoo on late-night TV. I'd heard for years about this legendary Hollywood-hippie-era bad-acid-trip of a movie, but had no idea its eclectic cast reunited Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero, and Burgess Meredith--all directed by Mr. Freeze himself, Otto Preminger!)

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