Saturday, July 16, 2005

hitting the (comic) books

I took the girls to Barnes & Nible today to pick up the "Strangers in Paradise" collection "Molly and Poo" for Niki's birthday. (I tried getting it from Amazon, and they kept pushing back the shipping date, and then from Overstock, and they canceled it, and well ...) Naturally, since we there anyway, I checked their graphic novels section, and splurged on a Daredevil Visionaries collection by Frank Miller that includes the entire Elektra saga. I had never read it before.


I was really impressed by it. Miller wrote and drew this when he was in his early 20s, and it holds up pretty well. There's a tremendous intimation of passion between the two, but he never really does more than suggest it. There are occasional exchanges -- a kiss or two -- but mostly it's suggested in the way Elektra tails Matt to protect him from one person or another, or the way she bandages him after he's been hurt -- and of course when she spares Foggy just because he recognizes her.

The story also has the sagas of Bullseye and the Kingpin interwoven through it. When he first appears, Bullseye is suffering from a brain tumor that is causing him to suffer a paranoid delusion that everyone is Daredevil. I don't know much of the backstory there -- I never cared much for Daredevil, aside from when Miller wrote it -- but apparently Daredevil had saved Bullseye's life in a previous story. Bullseye's growing obsession with killing Daredevil, plus his determination to "prove" himself to the Kingpin and the rest of the underworld, make him a much more compelling criminal than I had imagined from the little I knew before.

Kingpin was pretty interesting too. I think of him mostly as a Daredevil nemesis because of Miller's "Born Again" story arc, but I think I was mostly familiar with him from the Spider-Man comics. (Miller apparently made a pointed effort of borrowing or stealing as many Spider-Man foes as he could while he was on Daredevil, Kingpin being one of the most successfully stolen.) At the start of the volume, the Kingpin had left behind the criminal underworld but was being pushed back into it, unwillingly, by one of his assistants. By the end of the volume, he was back into it with a vengeance, making him a tragic figure. I can't think of him as a sympathetic character, but perhaps I should -- as noted, he had left that world behind for the sake of his wife, and was drawn back into it against his will. Interesting stuff.

I probably could say things that are more coherent, and I probably will once I've had time to digest it some more, and probably read it a second and third time. I always do that when I get a new comic, because I want to absorb it completely, and you can never do that in the first reading.

This also means I have a redundant Daredevil volume. The Visionaries collection includes the entire trade paperback "Gang War" or whatever it was called, which skipped over the Elektra saga, skimped on Bullseye and focused mainly on the Kingpin's return, even though some of the missing issues were essential to understanding a subplot involving Ben Urich and his investigation into a corrupt mayoral candidate.

At least I think it's redundant. It's possible that "Gang War" includes a few earlier issues, like the one where Daredevil gets his hide beaten by the Hulk and Urich figures out Daredevil's secret identity. (In a nice touch, Bullseye also figures it out and tells the Kingpin, but it ends up neither man considers a blind superhero to be a believable scenario. Later, in "Born Again," the Kingpin decides that Murdock is pretending to be blind after Karen Paige sells Matt's identity.)

Anyway ...

I also bought "Trinity," a graphic novel about the first meeting of Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman, just because it was written and illustrated by Matt Wagner. An utterly incredible comic. I love Wagner's writing. He gets the characters so exactly right. Batman's reaction to the invisible jet: "I want one." Superman's reaction to Batman's gadgets and subterfuge: "Bruce loves his surprises." And the initial meeting between Batman and Wonder Woman, where they nearly come to blows -- excellent. Completely believable.

Wagner also makes good use of Ra's al Ghul and Bizarro -- two villains I've never found that interesting. Ra's al Ghul seems to exist mostly to show how tough and clever Batman is, and Bizarro is, well, usually just a retarded anti-Superman. While I can't say I'm eager to see either one in another comic, I thought the interaction of them here was pretty good. Ra's al Ghul actually comes across as clever and resourceful, rather than merely thinking himself to be so, and Bizarro is a little comical, particularly the way he gets duped into thinking of Ra's al Ghul as his friend, and calls him "Racer Cool."

Aside from that, I bought myself a new Bible, since the old one is falling apart, and a copy of Philip Yancey's "Disappointment with God." I'm still reading the latter, but I have to say that he's given me plenty to think about, ranging from his description of the divine romance from God's side, down to "Disappointment with life should not mean disappointment with God."

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