25 September 2012

"Batman: Shadow of the Bat" #1-0 & Annual #1

Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1-0, Annual #1
June 1992 - October 1994

Alan Grant - Writer (all issues)
various artists; see index at bottom
Adrienne Roy - Colorist (all issues)
Todd Klein -Letterer (all issues)
                       - with Bill Oakley (#9) & Tim Harkins (Annual #1)
Brian Stelfreeze - Cover Paintings
Stelfreeze after Hannigan - Cover Artist (Annual #1)
Joe Public created by Alan Grant & Norm Breyfogle
Batman created by Bob Kane
Original Cover Prices: #1-7 $1.50 | #8-28 $1.75 | #29 $2.95 | #30-0 $1.95 | Annual #1 $3.50

Though my favorite Batman comic series ever was (and is) Legends of the Dark Knight, I've always had a soft spot for Shadow of the Bat. I didn't come to LOTDK as a reader until its 24th issue, but I was there from the very beginning of SOTB. It was kind of personal, in a way, being a reader from the first issue. Plus, the first Batman comic book I ever bought was Detective Comics #603, written by Alan Grant and illustrated by Norm Breyfogle - the same creative team that worked on "The Last Arkham," Shadow of the Bat's opening four-part story. Breyfogle would only illustrate a few Shadow issues after that opening arc, but Grant would write nearly every issue of the book - including all 33 that I bought and read.

One of the most obvious features of this book has to be Brian Stelfreeze's painted covers, a hallmark of the series. I had seen a few piece of his work from time to time before Shadow of the Bat, though rarely anything that I personally wound up buying. I have a Star Wars Galaxy trading card featuring his work, but not much else. Those covers, along with Adrienne Roy's unique color palate, helped to really create the visual aesthetic of Shadow of the Bat. Stelfreeze's covers were invariably my favorite covers out of all the comics I read in a given month, equaled only by Dave Dorman's painted covers for Dark Horse Comics's various Star Wars mini-series.

I was in my early adolescence when this book launched. I was observant, but not yet astute. Whereas Legends of the Dark Knight was obviously a more mature, sophisticated book, Shadow of the Bat was something else. It could never have been a "dark" book regardless of what Grant may have written, by virtue of Roy's aforementioned bright coloring. There was a lot more action in this book than in LOTDK, and it was clearly a companion piece to the concurrently published Batman and Detective Comics series. It was, however, something else all its own.

At the time, I saw it as "the socially conscious Batman comic." Themes explored included treatment of the mentally ill, hyper-patriotism, drug addiction, immigrants (both legal and undocumented), social misfits and the sanctity of life - even of a criminal. Re-reading the comic in the last several days, however, I see that it wasn't merely socially conscious. Grant's liberal politics are scarcely subtle. As an adolescent, of course, I merely took it to be a reflection of proper values. Of course we should be mindful of the ways that the downtrodden become frustrated with life and fall for the temptations of crime and drugs. Of course we shouldn't grab pitchforks and torches just because someone was born with some major birth defects. Of course our criminals should be brought to justice and not summarily punished by self-appointed judges. Batman's values reflected my own. In many ways, they were simplistic; but only inasmuch as trying to see the other person's side of things is a simplistic value to have - but often very murky to actually apply to life.

There is no greater microcosm of Grant's storytelling than issue #13, which presents one of my personal all-time favorite Batman stories from any medium: "The Nobody." A homeless guy, bleeding and crazed, barges into Wayne Tower demanding to see Bruce Wayne. It happened that he had born witness the night before as Batman tangled with some thugs. During the altercation, Batman was unmasked. He escaped without being seen by his attacker, but not the watchful eye of the homeless man, who decided to cash in on the secret by trying to sell it. His would-be buyer took the information, had him shot and left for dead. To make amends, he tells Bruce what he did so that he can do something about his secret being auctioned off, but he wants to know: Why does Bruce Wayne, billionaire, put his life on the line nightly on behalf of others he never knew?

Grant's storytelling is often melodramatic and "The Nobody" is no exception, and cynics may even deride it as schmaltz. I won't bother countering such a dismissive view. I can only say that it was an instant favorite of mine, and re-reading it a few days ago I found it held up for me quite well. I see now just why I've always identified Batman as a liberal ideal and figure, though I'm sure there are plenty of fans out there who can point to stories told by other writers and artists that reinforce their view of the Caped Crusader as a conservative icon.

Various fill-in artists worked on the book for an entire year after that first arc concluded. My favorite of the lot was (is) Tim Sale, who worked on "The Misfits" (#7-9). In that story, marginalized D-list villains Calendar Man, Catman and Killer Moth conspire to kidnap Gotham's Mayor Krol, Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne, to be ransomed for $10 million. Grant didn't challenge Sale in quite the same way as did James Robinson ("Blades," LOTDK #32-34) or Jeph Loeb (LOTDK Halloween Specials, The Long Halloween, Dark Victory), but it's interesting to see the distinctive storytelling voices of Grant and Sale combine to tell the story.

"The Misfits," issues #7-9
The "Knight" Saga

Beginning in 1993 in the wake of the death of Superman, "Knightfall" was a 22-part story in which then-new villain Bane sprung all the villains from Arkham Asylum and sat back while they ran Bruce Wayne ragged. When Batman was at his weakest, Bane confronted him (having learned his true identity) and broke his back. Bruce handed over the Batman persona to also then-new character, Jean-Paul Valley. Paul had been programmed from birth by his father to become an assassin for the secretive Order of St. Dumas. Paul asserted himself over Bane in the finale of "Knightfall" and began his tenure as the Dark Knight throughout an even more massive crossover, "KnightQuest," in which he proved increasingly unstable. Paul's adventures were chronicled as "KnightQuest: The Crusade," while a shorter, parallel story following Bruce Wayne was branded "KnightQuest: The Search." Eventually, Bruce was restored to physical health and confronted Paul, reclaiming the Batman identity in a 12-part crossover event, "KnightsEnd."

This whole thing ran across numerous comic books and gave birth to two spin-off solo books, one for Catwoman and another for Robin. It even drew in Legends of the Dark Knight for five issues (three for "KnightQuest: The Search" and two parts of "KnightsEnd"). Shadow of the Bat began to tie into this storyline with "The God of Fear" (issues #16-18). Because of the print schedule, it was deemed too confusing to number the "The God of Fear" issues to be consistent with the other 19 issues of "Knightfall," but they're an official part of the story just the same.

Subsequent arcs "The Tally Man" (#19-20), "The Immigrant: Rosemary's Baby" (#24), "Joe Public: The Birth of a Hero" (#25), "Creatures of Clay" (#26-27) and "Commissioner Gordon" (#28) were all part of "KnightQuest: "The Crusade." Issues #21-23 of Shadow of the Bat comprised "Bruce Wayne," the middle portion of "KnightQuest: The Search."
"KnightQuest: The Search" remains, inexplicably, not collected.
Like the last several paragraphs, I imagine these comics are largely impenetrable for casual readers, who will want to know things like, "Who the hell is Jean-Paul Valley?" Grant gamely tries to account for Paul's back story (such as it was) in "Tally Man" (#19-20), and more is revealed in subsequent issues. For patient readers, I think it's manageable. Still, I have to say that standing back all these years later and looking at these stories out of context makes it clearer that DC's editorial direction made a mistake by favoring cross-overs and tie-ins to good old-fashioned storytelling.

Looking back, I see that more than 50% of the run that I bought and read consisted of "Knight" Saga tie-ins. I decided to read those issues on their own, as though I only had the Shadow of the Bat titles in my library. I wanted to see how they read outside the context of the overarching saga. The 2-parters ("The Tally Man," "Creatures of Clay") are structured to be read together, but other story content takes place in other comics between the Shadow arcs.

The most relevant of these subplots involves the fate of the murderous Abbatoir, who escapes at the end of "Creatures of Clay" (#27) and is explained to have been deliberately left to die by Jean-Paul Valley in an issue of Batman. Reading only the Shadow of the Bat issues, then, that major event takes place "off-screen" so to speak. The two "KnightsEnd" installments are almost impossible to enjoy as standalone comics and really need to be taken in context of that entire story. On the whole, I was able to enjoy them but I'm certain it's only because I read the entire thing during its original publication so I know what was happening and why.  I doubt casual or new readers would fare as well, and they might benefit from stopping at issue #15.

Zero Hour

By the time "KnightsEnd" concluded, the entire "Knight" Saga had run for nearly two entire years. Like many readers, I was drained. I had enjoyed the stories for the most part, but I just could not see myself continuing on with that kind of story structure. I didn't want to have to buy six comics a month for months on end just to follow a single story line.

Right after Bruce Wayne returned to the role of Batman, DC Comics pushed through their company-wide event, "Zero Hour," which was designed to reset the continuity of their comic books for plot points that had become convoluted and contradictory. They ran an issue in each DC comic before the event, showcasing stories that happened because time had become entirely screwed up. Then came the five-issue mini-series, Zero Hour, in which time was "corrected." After that, every DC title interrupted their standard numbering to run an issue #0 that served as a starting-on point for new readers by establishing the character post-Zero Hour, to showcase what the newly accepted standard would be.

I was fatigued by then as a reader, so after the #0 issues, I bailed on nearly every DC Comic I had been reading. Rereading these final two issues this time around, I confess that I found the Zero Hour tie-in, "The Battling Butler" (#31) both amusing and irksome in that it just assumes the reader knows what is going on and why. Batman makes an offhand comment to Robin and Alfred about there being something wrong with the timeline, but it's not very clear just what is actually happening. "The Beginning of Tomorrow" (#0), however, was a genuinely nice standalone Batman story and a perfect coda to nearly three years of Shadow of the Bat.

Perhaps what stands out most to me as I reflect on these first 33 issues is the way that the "Knight" Saga ran roughshod over Alan Grant's storytelling. His socially conscious themes run throughout all the stories, but those first fifteen issues (sixteen, if you count the annual) reflect a different era. The second half of the run, mostly concentrating on Jean-Paul Valley, is a character study of the identity crisis of the entire superhero industry of the early 1990s. Had readers really become so bloodthirsty that we demanded our heroes be willing to kill? In some ways, the "Knight" Saga reads as a slave to the fad; but in Grant's hands, it reads as a shrewd satire of sorts, slowly demonstrating point by point that whether we thought that's what we wanted, it really wasn't. There was still a place for heroes who drew lines they didn't cross, and that place was best filled by Bruce Wayne.

Very few issues of Shadow of the Bat have been reprinted in collected form. The opening arc, "The Last Arkham," was given a trade paperback edition and "Misfits" appears in Tim Sale: Tales of the Batman. Otherwise, the only issues to be collected are those that are part of the crossover stories - though, oddly enough, the 8-issue "KnightQuest: The Search" has never been collected. Ergo, if you want to read this Bat-book, you're gonna have to comb through the back-issue bins. The nice part is that these are comics often found in the quarter boxes.

Also, as near as I can ascertain, Batman: Shadow of the Bat Annual #1 was published the same month as issue #14. I recommend reading it between issues #13 and #14, rather than between #14 and #15. DC Comics began a thing with their annuals in the late 80s/early 90s where there was a through story that played out in each of those issues throughout the year, encompassing the entire DC Universe. In 1993, that story was Bloodlines, where some alien monster things preyed on random people and some of them gained super powers as a result of the contact. Shadow of the Bat Annual #1 introduced Joe Public, a teacher with a grudge against drug dealers. It's a rather ho-hum story, but Joe returned in a handful of various comics including issue #25 (and later #50) of SOTB.


1-4 "The Last Arkham" - Norm Breyfogle
5 "The Black Spider" - Norm Breyfogle
6 "The Ugly American" - Dan Jurgens (Penciler) & Dick Giordano (Inker)
7-9 "The Misfits" - Tim Sale
10 "The Thane of Gotham" - Mike Collins (Penciler) & Steve Mitchell (Inker)
11-12 "The Human Flea" - Vince Giarrano
13 "The Nobody" - Norm Breyfogle
Annual 1 "Joe Public" - Trevor von Eeden (Penciler) & Dick Giordano (Inker)
14-15 "Gotham Freaks" - Joe Staton (Penciler) & Steve Mitchel (Inker)
16-18 "The God of Fear" - Bret Blevins (Penciler, Inker #17), Mike Manley (Inker, #16) & Steve George (Inker, #18)
19-20 "The Tally Man" - Vince Giarrano (#19), Bret Blevins (#20)
21-23 "Bruce Wayne" - Bret Blevins (Penciler, Inker #21) & Steve George (Inker, #22-23)
24 "The Immigrant: Rosemary's Baby" - Vince Giarrano
25 "Joe Public: The Birth of a Hero" - Bret Blevins (Penciler) & John Beatty (Inker)
26-27 "Creatures of Clay" - Bret Blevins (Penciler) & Bob Smith (Inker)
28 "Commissioner Gordon: The Long Dark Night" - Bret Blevins (Penciler) & Bob Smith (Inker)
29 "Manimal" - Bret Blevins (Penciler) & Bob Smith (Inker)
30 "Wild Knights, Wild City" - Bret Blevins
31 "The Battling Butler" - Bret Blevins
0 "The Beginning of Tomorrow" - Bret Blevins

20 September 2012

In Memoriam of Brenda Hines Dumont

When I was first diagnosed with Crohn's disease, I went through the universal reaction process. I didn't understand it, I tried to live my daily life as I always had, and I kept quiet about the disease in an attempt to deny it any meaningful sway. Naturally, that didn't last long. I began searching the web for information about the disease, and that led me to We Are Crohn's, a social network website dedicated to patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. It was there that I made first contact with many who have formed the nucleus of my support system.

Brenda Hines Dumont did not suffer from either disease, but her daughter does. Brenda was one of the most passionate advocates and supporters I've known in the seven years since I "met" her. It wasn't enough for her to learn about how to care for her daughter. She took many of us under her wing, offering an open ear when we needed to vent and a kind word when we needed that. She saw us as more than our diseases, happy to talk with us about any number of subjects from politics to film. She shared my penchant for frequently changing profile avatars, my love for Lawrence of Arabia and I introduced her to the music of Melody Gardot.

She was an attentive reader of my writings, including the content published on this blog. She was also instrumental in encouraging me to share my experiences with Crohn's disease and depression. Brenda insisted that I had a way with words that could help others, and that encouragement has been a guiding light for me. What Brenda reminded me every time we interacted was the importance of reaching out to others as best we can. She didn't have to connect with any of us. She could have learned what she needed to care for her daughter without cultivating friendships with a single member of We Are Crohn's.

Brenda was no lurker, though. She genuinely cared for people, driven by compassion and a strong belief in fairness. Often, I think we resist getting involved with things because we don't feel we're really a part of the in-group. What I will ultimately remember of my friend is that the only in-group that really matters is humanity itself. Where there is another person, there is something to share and something worth building up.

I close this memorial with one of my favorite clips from Lawrence of Arabia. It underscores the sense of humor and camaraderie that Brenda shared with me, and I am certain that she would appreciate it being brought up now.

19 September 2012

How a Harmless Guy Was Thwarted by a Seedy Dive Bar on a Tawkify Mystery Date

Recall, Dear Reader, that a month ago I had complained about having heard nothing from Tawkify since joining the site earlier this year? Well, a week ago Sunday I finally received an email informing me that a match had been found. My handler asked about my availability for the following week and from there a mystery date was scheduled. We were given an address, a time and some specific things to wear and bring so that we would be recognizable to one another. It was all conducted in a tongue-in-cheek way as though we were Cold War spies in some kind of cloak and dagger scenario. It sounded like quite a lark!

Unfortunately, just a couple hours before we were due to meet, my mystery date had to reschedule. I was, of course, disappointed but at least she hadn't outright canceled. From the time I learned about the match onward, I've found myself wondering every time I left the house whether my mystery date might be one of the women out and about wherever I may have been. Could it have been a woman at Captain's Quarters on Friday night when I met up to celebrate my friend's birthday? A patron at the library? Someone at the doctor's office on Monday? It was like Christmas, knowing you were getting a present and wondering what it would turn out to be!

Tonight was the rescheduled date. I had begun to feel self-conscious since it was first set up. After all, since then I'd had yet another brush with unhealthiness. There's something about lying in bed curled up in the fetal position, shaking with a fever that underscores being alone. It reinforces my fear of facing my health problems by myself, but it also reminds me how much baggage I bring with me into a relationship and how off-putting I am to women. All the standard insecurities began to run amok, though fortunately I was so wiped out from my acute viral infection that I didn't have a lot of time to pay them any attention in the last few days. I became anxious last night (as some of my patient friends can attest!) but all things considered, it wasn't a total freak-out. I think, given my predispositions, I did well.

Anyway, tonight was the make-up date. I got there around 7:20, running five minutes late because I'd turned right onto Taylorsville Road rather than left as I was supposed to do. It was okay, though, because I had been scheduled to arrive 15 minutes before my date to give me time in case my guts might act up or in case today was a rough day on my hips and back and I might not be moving too well.

I discovered that the Maple Inn Tavern is very much a dive bar. You can't even pay with any currency other than cold, hard cash. There are a few pool tables inside, two TVs set to ESPN (the audio feed was from the channel covering a NASCAR event, I think) and not much else. The place was entirely dead. One woman held court with four guys at the bar, and a solitary dude sat at a table on the opposite side of the place from where I staked out a table. It wasn't a big place, but the glass doors were open on either side, plus another glass door was propped open in the front of the building facing Taylorsville Road. Outside, they have three bar tables, a porch swing and a pair of corn hole boards.

By 7:40, my date was already ten minutes late and I really had to pee. I dashed in and out in just a couple of minutes. I'd have been out much sooner, except there are no paper towels in the restroom there, and the lone hand dryer blows air forward instead of downward, making it very awkward and difficult to dry one's hands. Apparently, it was during those brief minutes that my date arrived and bailed.

I was informed from Tawkify that she did not like the bar, would not go inside and that she left because she felt unsafe. I'm very much a feminist and I'm sensitive to how threatening the scenario was for her. I don't blame her for her reaction.

I am, however, disappointed that she didn't at least give me the chance to meet her. After all, I had no more say over the selection of the rendezvous setting than she had, and if she had just let me speak with her, I'd have very quickly told her I wasn't a big fan of the place, either and that I would happily have gone somewhere more to her liking.

I'm very unclear just what happened from her side of things. If, as I surmise, she had arrived during that very specific time I was in the restroom, then she made the decision not to meet me based on seeing the other patrons...and not me. No one else was dressed to fit the description she was given of what to look for. I can understand not going into the place because her spider-sense tingled. But given that she was the one who selected to have a mystery date - and that it was she who rescheduled last week - was it too much for her to at least report back to Tawkify via text of her discomfort from her car? Or at the very least, from a nearby location, allowing for the possibility that she hadn't actually seen me and wasn't making an entirely informed decision about the date?

That, of course, brings me to the other possibility: she did somehow see me without me seeing her, and she bailed because of that and the bit about feeling unsafe was some kind of politeness. I have no way of knowing. I'm inclined to take her at face value, though. As I've already said, I wasn't particularly in love with the place myself, and I understand entirely why it may have intimidated her. I won't make light of her apprehensions, because I understand them and I respect their legitimacy. I just wish she had been patient enough to give me a chance to set her at ease. It's troubling enough to be dismissed by women because of who I am, but it sucks in an entirely different way to be dismissed because of where someone else selected we should meet.

I texted my Tawkify handler to tell her that I think my mystery date arrived while I was in the restroom and that I wasn't among the barflies, in case that was what spooked her, and that I would gladly meet her somewhere of her choosing to make her feel safer. I have yet to hear back about the matter. Frustrated and dejected, I crossed the street to a Krispy Kreme. Don't you know, during my very first bite, I dropped cream on my tie? Some part of me wanted to laugh, but I just didn't have it in me.

18 September 2012

An American Health Care Story: A Look at Those of Us Dismissed by Mitt Romney

I just returned from picking up my prescriptions. I also bought a 2-liter of Canada Dry ginger ale and a roll of  paper towels so generic they only say, "Paper Towels" on the wrapper. My bill came to $28.30. I want to break this down for you.

  • $2.60 (reg. $4.00) Lovastatin - for cholesterol
  • $2.60 (reg. $4.00) Citalopram - for depression
  • $13.80 (no discount) Vitamin D
  • $2.60 (reg. $67.46) Lamotrigine - mood stabilizer, to work with the Citralopram
  • $2.60 (reg. $4.00) Prednisone - for Crohn's disease
  • $2.60 (reg. $14.88) Amoxicillin - for treatment of an acute viral infection

$107.42 would have been my out-of-pocket expense this time.

How did I get these savings?

I'm one of the 47% of Americans dismissed out of hand so coldly by Mitt Romney in his private fundraiser remarks who leeches off society. In addition to Medicare, I also have a supplemental pharmaceutical plan through Humana and Walmart.

Why am I taking these medications?

Everything except the Amoxicillin is a monthly refill for me; so let's start with that. I donated blood on Saturday and haven't felt right since doing that. It's difficult to establish a causal relationship between the two events, but it's not at all out of the realm of reason to think that if I hadn't donated blood, I might not have the infection now.

The Prednisone is the only medication I've found helps with managing my Crohn's symptoms - though it has taken quite a toll on the rest of my body. My back and hips bear little resemblance to what they were just a few years ago. Similarly, I need the vitamin D supplement because of Crohn's. I'm limited in my dairy intake, and I do a poor job absorbing what I do consume. I can't necessarily pin the Lovastatin on the Crohn's (I am a Southerner, after all), but there's little denying that having to avoid the foods higher in fiber that typically help with cholesterol maintenance is a key factor in why I need this medication.

The most important pair on the entire bill - and the reason why I write this post now - are the Citralopram and Lamotrigine. See, I spent an entire year fighting suicidal depression because my need for help made me feel so worthless that I didn't want to even live any longer. Last summer, when the Tea Party audience cheered at the CNN debate at the prospect of letting the uninsured patient die, I didn't just find that in bad taste. It was a declaration that I had a bull's eye on me so far as those people were concerned. I became so terrified of even acknowledging the help I need - and yes, it very much is a need - that I refused to even discuss it with my own family and friends. I came to feel like how I imagine a fugitive feels, worrying every step of the way whether today would be the day I would be found out and punished.

Governor Romney would have you believe that I am cheerfully dependent on the government to provide for me by stealing from you, because I enjoy hiding behind a claim of victimhood that allows me to shirk personal responsibility.

I can only assume that Mrs. Romney's multiple sclerosis didn't cause their family to have to move in with their parents, and that it never led them to feel inadequate as human beings. That the Romney family, so cushioned by dollars snatched from the pensions of thousands of others, were able to focus exclusively on the health itself and not have to face the kinds of effects that health problems have on those of us who live in rest of America.

You think I enjoy having to answer the question, "What do you do?" when I meet someone? You think I spend my day gloating about how I've got it made? I'm a humiliated punch line! I spent an entire year unable to even be around the people who loved me, because rhetoric like what we've got on tape coming from Governor Romney made me feel I wasn't even deserving of being around them.

I do take responsibility for myself, Governor. I stay as well informed as I possibly can about Crohn's research and treatments. I avoid all the triggers I have identified for my disease, and yes, I take my medication as prescribed. I'm not a patient who puts off maintenance when he feels well - which, incidentally, it took me an entire year to finally accept that I actually am allowed to do once in a while. I shouldn't have to stay chained to misery 24 hours a day just to satisfy your disdain for the downtrodden.

I was raised to value humility. "There, but for the grace of God, go I" was the prevailing doctrine in my home. My brother and I were raised to never disparage anyone who was down, because we didn't know their story and we weren't qualified to pass judgment on them. Nor were we somehow so special that we couldn't find ourselves in similar (or worse) straits the very next day. However much I liked to believe I understood that philosophy, I can assure you that actually living with Crohn's disease and at the mercy of such hateful people as Governor Romney and the Tea Partiers who applauded my hypothetical death has given me an entirely deeper appreciation for it.

And you know what? I am a victim. I did absolutely nothing to make myself develop Crohn's disease and it's derailed my life all the same. I don't see that as something to be proud of, or something to invoke as a "get out of responsibility" free card. All the same, were it not for Crohn's, my life would be dramatically different today. Were it not for the grace of God, Governor Romney might similarly find himself living a wholly different life today.

So, yeah, I intend to cast my vote for President Barack Obama's reelection and it's got a lot to do with the work he's done on behalf of citizens like me. Governor Romney has characterized this as the President playing to his base of whining losers. What does that make your base, then, Governor? The Haves who've gone so far down the avarice rabbit hole they've forsaken humility for contempt? Who are now actively jealous of those who have the least? I wonder, has anyone in Governor Romney's jet set ever had to fight the compulsion to take their life because they felt too ashamed to be around the people who loved them?

Now I want you to keep in mind that while my personal experience has, indeed, sucked, there are millions of Americans out there whose experiences are greatly worse. Their health concerns are far more severe even than mine, with much greater price tags, and with even less help from their families. Don't think of me as a poster boy for the unhealthy. I'm not even close to representing the worst of the American experience with illness and injury. I personally know other Crohnies who could very rightly tell me to buzz off, and there are plenty worse things to have than Crohn's.

I write, though, because I know that many can't - or won't - share their own experiences. I share mine in the hopes that you, Dear Reader, gain a better understanding of just what is at stake not just with this presidential election, but with our entire national discussion about health care, as well as the values that shape our economic discussions. Those aren't just statistics being thrown around. Those numbers represent actual, living, breathing human beings just like me.

There is no place in Mitt Romney's America for citizens like me. There is no place in our White House for him.t

13 September 2012

"Batgirl" #0 by Gail Simone & Ed Benes

Batgirl #0
"A Fire in the Heavens"
Gail Simone: writer
Ed Benes: pencils and inks
Ulises Arreola: colors
Dave Sharpe: letters
Cover: Benes and Arreola
Brian Smith: editor
Batman created by Bob Kane
Date of Publication: 12 September 2012
$2.99/32 pages

I feel kinda bad that I've slacked off on reviewing my monthlies, especially since I've pretty much moved my movie reviews to Letterboxd. Last month, I made the decision to finally bail on Batwoman, so I think it'll be easier for me to not feel I'm inundating you, Dear Reader, with comic book reviews that may not interest you at all - though, seriously, you should be reading what I read! I have great taste!

Anyway, I stopped by The Great Escape this morning and picked up this issue along with Detective Comics #0 and Detective Comics Annual #1 [which I'll review later]. The former came out last week and the later, two weeks ago. There were plenty of each of 'em. Not so for Batgirl #0. I got there 25 hours after it was stocked and there were only three copies remaining; two after I checked out. Incidentally, just one more reason to love The Great Escape: they discount new issues by 25%, so after buying the two 'Tec comics, my Batgirl #0 was essentially free!

This was one of the most highly anticipated of the #0 issues, as we all wanted to see what part of the story Gail Simone would fill in between Batman: The Killing Joke and Batgirl #1. Early buzz was particularly strong from comic book site reviews. I hope that's a sign that my fellow Louisvillians share my enthusiasm for this book.

Simone gives us an update of the classic origin story, with Barbara and her younger brother, James, Jr., caught up in a jailbreak by a guy best described as "Buffalo Bill" on the Barry Bonds plan. Barbara squares off against the killer, determined to protect her brother and an injured Gotham City cop. The Batman costume is still part of the origin story, and hats off to Simone for working it in more organically and thoughtfully than was done by Gardner Fox in "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl!" (Detective Comics #359). I buy Barbara Gordon being capable of becoming Batgirl before she ever makes the decision.

On some level, I confess to feeling a bit cheated that this is ultimately a prequel to The Killing Joke and does nothing to explain Barbara's recovery from the shooting in that infamous story. Of course, I also secretly prefer it this way, with that larger story left to be explored at Simone's leisure. The #0 issue theme was clearly imposed by DC's upper echelon, as these standalone stories have entirely interrupted the ongoing stories being told. Batgirl #12, for instance, left off in the middle of the "Knightfall" story with Babs down for the count! It was wise of Simone to appease DC's "origin story" demand in a way that saved the good stuff for later.

As regards Ed Benes's artwork, for the most part I absolutely loved it. It's certainly a different aesthetic from the work of Ardian Syaf, but I dig both. Check out that panel of Barbara on the bottom of (story) page 9 making up her mind to confront Harry X, or the top panel on (story) page 13 of her first appearance in the Batman costume! In fact, the entire action sequence that plays out on pages 13 & 14 is just terrific. [I also appreciated the double-splash page tribute to Joe Kubert that follows.] The montage on (story) page 17 of Barbara's training, and then the big shot of Batman, Batgirl & Robin together on page 18? Killer.

I just have one qualm, though. It seems Babs is a bit more sexualized in this issue than we've seen to date. For instance, there's the panel on page 2 of her making pancakes. It's odd that she would be such a domestic figure here, cooking for the menfolk, but odder still that she's dressed in such a skimpy outfit - particularly when it's apparently cool enough that James, Jr. feels comfortable in a hoodie. Or, on (story) page 9, just above the aforementioned great shot of Barbara committing to confrontation, there's a panel of her slumped against a wall with her legs drawn up. Her skirt hasn't fallen, leaving us with an eyeful of her thighs and with my glasses off, it doesn't appear she's wearing any panties. These shots didn't ruin the story for me, but they did take me out of it.

DC Direct recently released a 6 1/2" mini-bust of our protagonist, sculpted by James Maddox. It's pure awesomesauce, but its $69.95 price tag is prohibitive for this Batfan!

Aaaaaand...Mattel is going to release a New 52-style Batgirl action figure as part of their Batman Unlimited line! Batgirl is part of the first wave, which also includes a New 52 Batman and a Silver Age Penguin. These are 7" scale figures, but they come with the discouraging MSRP of $21.99 apiece. Batgirl can be pre-ordered from Entertainment Earth right now for $17.99. Their site shows that she'll be out in December, but the Previews order form shows the figures won't be out until 30 January. Regardless, I'm gonna save my milk money 'cause for the first time in several years, there's an action figure I just gotta have!

Seriously, THIS is what I want for Christmas.

12 September 2012

"The Batman Adventures" Comic Book Box

Remember in May, I had such a fun time illustrating a short comic book box? Well, naturally I wanted to do another. This being the 20th anniversary(!) of Batman: The Animated Series and its comic book tie-in, The Batman Adventures, I decided that would be an appropriate theme for my second box.

Planning is important, kids, and I this box proves it. I made the mistake of thinking I had such a comprehensive library of usable reference material, and such love for the subject matter, that I could more or less wing it, throwing together one side after the next. I had learned from the first box that there's a lot less space to work with than is readily apparent, so I had expected to only get about a dozen characters in the box anyway. I instantly had a mental list of about 20 worthwhile characters: Batman, Robin and Batgirl; The Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy; Two-Face and Mr. Freeze; Catwoman, The Penguin, The Riddler. I had thought about The Terrible Trio (Mr. Nice, The Perfessor and Mastermind), a group of characters created for The Batman Adventures who (to date) have appeared in no other incarnation of the Batman mythology. Killer Croc, Clayface, Man-Bat, Roxy Rocket, Ra's al Ghul and Talia, Scarface and The Ventriloquist...I had envision a jam filled in a frenzy.

Instead, what I discovered was that there were surprisingly few source images that easily lent themselves to the purpose of being replicated on a comic book box. Despite all the Batman Adventures comics in my library, all four volumes of the TV series on DVD (plus the handful of related movies), numerous trading cards and even the terrific Batman: The Animated Series book by Chip Kidd, I found myself not particularly drawn to very many images at all.

Also, there are two parts of this box that greatly dissatisfy me: The Joker and Batgirl. There's too much black around the former's face and it looks like he's got a beard or something, and the latter just came out sloppy and elongated. I was simply impatient with Batgirl and I didn't take the time to stand back and really look at the pencils before I began inking.

  • Comic Book Storage Short Box ($3.75 on sale from $5.00 at The Great Escape)
  • General Pencil - Sketch & Wash #588BP ($2.99 at Michael's)
  • Craft Smart Paint Pen - black, broad line ($2.29 at Michael's) 

  • Robin & Thug - The Batman Adventures #14 cover by Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett
  • Mr. Freeze - The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 cover by Bruce Timm
  • The Joker - The Batman Adventures Annual #1 cover

  • Batman - The Batman Adventures #8 cover by Mike Parobeck, Rick Burchett and Rick Taylor
  • The Penguin - Batman & Robin Adventures #4 cover by Ty Templeton

  • Batgirl - The Batman Adventures #18 cover by Mike Parobeck, Rick Burchett and Rick Taylor
  • Two-Face - Batman: The Animated Series "Two-Face" title card

Harley Quinn - The Batman Adventures: Mad Love cover by Bruce Timm

11 September 2012

On the Curious American Way of Memorializing Tragedy

I had just about nothing to say last year on this day about the events and legacy of the 9/11 attacks, and I had fully planned to not say anything at all this year about the topic. Just now, though, while perusing Facebook I was struck by how much content had already been posted there. People have uploaded one image after another, some of them changing their profile pics for the day. There are accounts of where each person was when they learned what was happening. President George W. Bush stops being persona non grata for the day and is quoted by some. I don't need to account for all this stuff, though. It's on your Facebook wall, too.

The epiphany I had just now, though, was that I have yet to see anything like this from my international friends. I've not yet seen a single "Always Remember"/"Never Forget" captioned photo of a bombing or mass attack that took place anywhere else in the world. Certainly, the 2,976 estimated deaths make the 9/11 attacks the deadliest single terror event on record by far. It's not the scale, though, that matters. Friends of mine from across the globe live in countries where there have been no shortage of tragedies, but they never say a word about them; at least, not in the way we do.

Several of my international pals live in, or are from, the United Kingdom. Yet, not once do I recall seeing a single captioned photo or status update from any of them memorializing lives lost during The Troubles or the London subway attack. In four years, I've not seen anything from anyone I know in India about the horrific Mumbai attacks. Those are recent incidents. Go back further and you have to be a history nerd like me to even be able to name any specific tragedies.

In my discussions with some of my international friends, a recurring theme is how wary of warfare their countries are and how we still largely treat it like a glorified summer camp. One of the chief reasons for this is that we've only ever had three wars fought on our home soil: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The 9/11 attacks have been written into the narrative of the last decade as the first attack/prelude to our military operations in Afghanistan (and our side adventure into Iraq), and in that context that day represents the first time in more than a century that there was actual bloodshed on American soil.

Our international friends, however, are surrounded by battlefield sites. They live near them, they work there, they pass them on the way to their kids' schools. A German friend of mine recently shared with me how curious it is to them that American tourists often seek out sites from World War II as though it's something to celebrate, rather than to mourn. It's because for us, we don't think of devastation and loss of life. For us, the war was a grand adventure; we went overseas, saved the world and came home where the womenfolk had kept things tidy. Certainly, our soldiers did not return unscathed. Thousands died on battlefields on nearly every other continent and many returned irrevocably damaged physically and psychologically. But America remained a bubble in which to live, free from daily reminders of endless bombings and mass graves.

Those kinds of daily reminders permeate the rest of the world, particularly throughout Europe. A captioned photo of an eagle crying just feels like something from a pep rally to me, rather than a meaningful, thoughtful observation of the loss of lives that the day represents. I fear that we don't even discuss this day anymore to mourn the dead, but out of some compulsion to try to recreate that day's emotions.

I don't mean to come across as harsh or snobbish about this. I recognize that many simply don't know how else to articulate their thoughts and feelings, and something about a photo of the Twin Towers smoking satisfies their need to say something because it feels like they ought to. It's not my intent to disparage how anyone processes the legacy of that day; I'm certainly not qualified to pass judgment on that. It just strikes me as curious that even though the rest of the world has dealt with terror attacks for decades, there is no analog to the way we Americans commemorate - celebrate, it seems at times - our greatest tragedy.

04 September 2012

Happy Anniversary, Dear Reader!

It's hard for me to believe, but today marks the fourth anniversary of this blog. You'll see posts dating back to 1998, but that content predates this blog. Concert playlists comprise the entirety of content from 1998 through 2006, and if I wasn't paranoid that someone might erroneously rewrite those entries on setlist.fm, I'd take down those playlists here. My 2007 content and the first 32 posts of 2008 were all originally published on MySpace (it's okay to laugh!). A few of my friends had already created Blogger blogs, and I decided to follow them here. My first actual post written for this blog was "Hurricane Sarah", a look at Sarah Palin, who had just been announced as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

I endeavored to be fair, thoughtful and objective in that piece. I've tried to be fair and thoughtful in every piece since, but somewhere along the way I quit bothering with objective. As I articulated in "My Blogging Philosophy":
My blog took on a new dynamic of also being a depository for my personal stories and recollections. It may sound silly, but this blog is more or less my personal legacy. It is what I will leave behind one day, and through this my family and friends will have a permanent record of anything chronicled here. Maybe they'll recall things differently than I do, of course, but at least they'll have my version there to even remind them and they can share their differing interpretations with others.
There have been some phases and stages to this blog since I launched it four years ago. I've become more conversational, more candid. I've taken on the subject of depression. I've used this blog as a means of trying to connect with readers from across the world, on myriad topics from Batgirl to class warfare. My page view stats indicate that more of you are finding your way here each month, and I hope it's not just to pilfer photos - though since the vast majority of photos I include are movie posters and publicity photos, I'm not going to pitch a fit about it.

I've come to really value having this blog. One of the most common complaints from bloggers I know is that blogging regularly is so tedious that they often don't even want to do it. I get that. I wrote but six posts in all of August, one of which was simply a rundown of Cinemark's Classic Movie Series fall lineup. Politics has declined as a frequent source of discussion here, and I'll be honest: I've shied away from politics since I was hospitalized for suicidal depression last October. One of the things that led me to that state of mind was that I was inundated daily by political rhetoric from Republicans - candidates, pundits and voters - that devalued me, even going so far as to applaud the notion of my death.

I continue to share my experiences with Crohn's disease and depression in part because I have come to believe that by doing so, I can be helpful to others. I'm not putting up kitten-video-on-YouTube numbers, but I've seen the figures and they tell me that many of you are finding and reading my depression pieces. I write to help you however I can. I need help, too, though, and I cannot fight hateful conservatives in a meaningful way here, on my own. I'll continue to respond to specific issues and incidents here, but by and large I find I enjoy blogging more when I feel I've written something constructive and positive than reactionary and angry.

To celebrate this fourth anniversary of the blog, I have created a scavenger hunt. You'll find the particulars in a tab at the top of the blog. The short version is, there are ten questions. The answers are all found in previous blog posts. You find the answers and leave a comment on the post that contains the answer. For the first five participants who complete the scavenger hunt, I will send you the .mp3 song of your choice from Amazon. (I'm sorry, but I don't think I can gift a song to international recipients at present.) Your comment can be anything from, "Hey, I found the answer to the scavenger hunt here!" to an actual response to the post you've found (that would be my preference).

So, happy anniversary, Dear Reader...and happy hunting!