I was in New York early last week to be interviewed on camera for a Marvel Comics documentary project on that publisher’s legacy and the creators who shaped that legacy. It was an interesting couple of days, beginning with my too-brief stay at the weirdly wonderful Henry Normal Hotel in a Brooklyn area that was mostly warehouses with a studio or two in that mix. On a chilly early morning walk, I spotted the stages for Blue Bloods and The Good Fight. Beyond my immediate vicinity, there were apartment buildings, shops and very cool eateries like the Little Dokebi Korean restaurant. My “other daughter” Giselle – my daughter Kelly’s best friend since they were wee ones – now lives in New York. I took her to dinner at the above Little Dokebi. Lots of great food at reasonable prices and a chance to catch up with each other.
During the long interview, I was asked all manner of interesting, even penetrating questions about comics I’d written, characters I’d created, my background and my process. I don’t know what form this documentary will eventually take or when and how it will be shown. Even if I did, that’s not my news to release. I will say, knowing how many different creators are being interviewed, how pleased I am that so many different creators are being interviewed. You cannot tell an accurate history of Marvel Comics or comic books in general without including the men and women who have labored and continue to labor on these comic books. I was honored to be included in this documentary.
Moving on to this week’s reviews…
First up today is Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, an animated feature directed by Sam Liu, written by James Krieg and based on the 1989 graphic novel by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola. In an alternate Victorian era Gotham City, a recent-to-the-role Batman is trying to bring Jack the Ripper to justice. This animated version of Gotham by Gaslight differs from the original graphic novel is many ways. Except some surprises.
The first Ripper killing we see involves an alternate version of a popular comics character. Before long, we meet other members of the cast: Bruce Wayne; songstress and former circus star Selina Kyle; Sister Leslie Thompkins, a nun who tries to rescue women from the streets; Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne’s butler and confidant; District Attorney Harvey Dent; Hugo Strange, James Gordon and three young orphans – Dickie, Jason and Tim – who Alfred turns from their lives of petty crime to more noble purposes. I get a kick out of these different looks at DC characters that were such a key part of the publisher’s line of Elseworlds graphic novel.
The story unfolds with many surprises along the way. Even when the possible suspects are whittled down, I still didn’t see the reveal of the villain coming. That’s some good red herring there.
The acting is good with standout performances by Jennifer Carpenter as Selina, Anthony Head as Alfred and Yuri Lowenthal playing a most unpleasant Harvey Dent. The climatic race-against-time and battle with the Ripper are riveting. The biggest flaw is a not-completely-satisfying ending with too many unanswered questions and unresolved situations.
The animation? Not the best I’ve seen in a DC animated feature, but perfectly adequate for the story.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is my pick of the week.
Luke Cage has been one of my favorite characters since the moment I first saw him in 1972’s Hero for Hire #1. There was a grittiness to those early Archie Goodwin scripts that won me over immediately. Later writers might have done some frankly embarrassing Luke Cage stories, but my love for the character endured the bad times while waiting for the good times to return.
In recent years, Brian Michael Bendis wrote the best Luke Cage in the history of Luke Cage. Then the Netflix series came along…and did Luke even better. Those are my new standards for what makes a good Luke Cage story. Bendis comes pretty close to those standards in the current Defenders title, but he’s the only comics writer to consistently get within striking distance. Until now.
Writer David F. Walker has been writing some pretty good Luke Cage in the current series. I’ve read Luke Cage #1-5 and #166-168. The gap in issue numbers comes from Marvel adjusting issue numbers as part of its “Legacy” movement. I would try to explain the math, but it makes my head hurt.
So we have Luke traveling to New Orleans to attend the funeral of an old friend who isn’t actually dead. We learn the old friend is not as good and noble as he was in the original Hero for Hire run. Once that arc was done, Luke ended up in a town and a prison under the control of an extremely scary take on the Ringmaster. I’ve been enjoying Walker’s run, but it’s not resonating with me as much as I would like. I understand the temptation of sending Luke Cage out on the road. Big-city fish out of water and all. Heck, I even did that when I was writing Luke’s adventures. But, when I take a few moments to reflect, it becomes obvious to me that Luke belongs in New York City. He doesn’t ring as true anywhere else.
Am I damning Walker’s run with faint praise? I guess so. I do like his work and the title is on my buy list, so I have no qualms about recommending it to you. I’ve been spoiled by the Bendis stories and the Netflix stories, but I still enjoy these new yarns. Check them out and decide for yourself.
Luke Cage Vol. 1: Sins of the Father [$15.99] reprints Luke Cage #1-5. It was published last November. Luke Cage Vol. 2: Caged! [$15.99], reprinting issues #166-170, will be published in April.
Luke Cage Vol. 1: Sins of the Father
Luke Cage Vol. 2: Caged!
I did not choose wisely when I decided to read and review Kong on the Planet of the Apes #1 [Boom! Studios; $3.99]. While I’m fond of the classic King Kong and even the goofy Japanese movies, Kong of Skull Island is a take it or leave it thing with me.
Planet of the Apes? I didn’t like Planet of the Apes even when I was editing a Planet of the Apes magazine for Marvel. I thought the last few moments of the first POTA movie were fun because, geez, of course they were on Earth all along and watching Charlton Heston chew the sand was over-the-top hilarious.
So what you have for the big finish of this week’s column is less a review and more an admonition to my myself to make better choices in selecting my comics entertainment. I wasn’t thrilled by Kong of Skull Island, which just seemed to me to go on and one with only an occasional interesting scene. I don’t like Planet of the Apes. I should not have expected this crossover comic to entertain me…and it didn’t.
This first of six issues is mostly apes from the original movie talking about how they found a big dead Kong just around the bend from the Statue of Liberty and mounting an expedition to find out what the heck that was all about. A giant monster attacks them at sea and the issue closes with a nicely-drawn image of a live Kong. It was a struggle to get through the issue.
If you’re a fan of Kong of Skull Island or Planet of the Apes, you might enjoy this comic-book series. I should have known I wouldn’t enjoy it, but I tend to be optimistic about such things. I do kind of like the notion of King Kong on the Planet of the Apes, but, for me, it probably should have been a comedy-adventure starring some square-jawed human hero blundering through a world of ages of all sizes and unwittingly making salient observations about our real world as he does so.
The takeaway from this not-a-review? Not every comic book will or should work for every reader. Choose wisely.
I’ll be back next week with more reviews.
© 2018 Tony Isabella