Extra, Extra! Read All About It! #4: I need a hero!

Arts & Culture, Comics — By on April 23, 2012 9:40 AM


Hey hey, welcome back, dear readers! After whirling around like a tumbleweed, I’m back at my post writing up the reviews. But whilst I was delving into the world of DC and getting my mind blown at Comic-Con, I began to realise that I had yet to cover superhero comics in my reviews!

‘Kid, where’s the tights? The masks? The whams, the bams, ka-pows and the caped crew kiboshes?!’*

Well the thing is, most of the best-known superheroes have been around since the 1930s. Some people have been tying towels around their necks and pretending they’re the Man of Steel since they were tykes, and some people are only just realising how totally cool Kitty Pryde of the X-Men is.

The superhero world is one of mythos, interpretation, re-invention, and immersion. Where do you start? Who do you start with? How the heck do you explain to somebody that Plastic Man and Mr. Fantastic aren’t actually the same person, even if they share the exact same goddamn powers?

To play it safe (and because The Dark Knight Rises will soon be in cinemas) I’ve decided to review Paul Dini’s Batman: Detective, a collection of six of his issues in the Detective series.

Dini knows Gotham well, having been a writer on the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series. He re-unites the reader with the familiar faces of Alfred, Robin, and Commissioner Gordon, and trawls Arkham Asylum to unearth Poison Ivy, the Penguin, the Riddler and the Joker.

The writing is crisp, and the artwork is first-rate. Dini is not afraid to throw in some curveball villains such as Dr. Phosphorous and Façade, and blurs the line between anti-hero and villain with some of Arkham’s inmates.

There’s the obligatory death and violence mixed in with the multitude of spandex, but Dini manages to strike the right note between pathos and humour by reminding the reader that whilst Gotham is gloomy and grey, sometimes Batman’s world can be straight-A whacked out weird. The Penguin tries to feed him to sea lions, and the Joker reveals to Robin a fondness for the Marx Brothers and eggnog milkshakes.

Overall, it’s a satisfactory volume, to be enjoyed by old and new fans alike. It’s just dark enough to keep with Batman’s ‘hell-bent vigilante’ persona, but just light enough for readers to sit back and relax, knowing that the Bat will always save the day.

Batman: Detective by Paul Dini, published by DC Comics, is available from all good comic stores.

Retro Read

This review is actually about Robert Crumb, but I need to start it by telling you about Reg Mombasa, aka: ‘The Mambo Guy’.

I had the privilege of being in the audience at a panel with Mombasa at the Graphic! Festival last year, and he’s a very calm dude. The moderator tried riling him up by peppering him with provocative questions: “Isn’t that WEIRD?” “Isn’t this and that EERIE?” “Do YOU consider your work funny?” But nope, no dice. He may as well have been asking an Ent about a recipe for ravioli.

But Reg finally lost his nut when somebody shone the spotlight on the elephant in the room: Robert Crumb, the guest of honour at the Graphic! was missing. He had declined to come, after the Sydney Morning Herald called him a hack and a pervert.

Mombasa was right to become angry and embarrassed by this incident, as were many people in the audience that day, myself included. In my opinion, to call Crumb a hack and a pervert is just a lazy and superficial criticism of his work. Crumb is a provocateur, a man who aims to subvert rather than pervert, and takes delight in showing mankind our insecurities and idiosyncrasies, with even his own dark desires not free of his pen or projector.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the collected works of Mr. Natural.

Mr. Natural is a shyster and an idiot savant, a horny old hustler who sadistically plays mind games with his only friend Flakey Foont and attempts to tame the wild Cheryl Borck aka: ‘Devil Girl’.

I shouldn’t like Mr. Natural, and yet I do. He’s cynical of big business and organised religion, yet promotes himself as a guru and won’t say no to a free sandwich. He’s contemptuous of Foont and runs verbal rings around him, yet genuinely tries to help Foont when he runs into trouble (usually trouble caused by ‘The Natch’ himself). His relationship with Devil Girl is basically Crumb analysing his own feelings towards women, sexuality, obscenity and butts that feel like ‘beach balls’.

Even though he’s unpopular, he’s usually right. Hell, perhaps I like him because he answers the phone by saying ‘YELLOW’ and says ‘bourgeois’ as ‘booshwah’.

Please, go out and grab some Mr. Natural. It’s a classic. And do me, Mr. Crumb and Mr. Mombasa a favour and send some strips to the ‘booshwah’ dudes at the Sydney Morning Herald.

The Book of Mr. Natural: Profane Tales of that Old Mystic Madcap, by Robert Crumb, published by Fantagraphics Books, is available from all good comic book stores.

Australian Paperback Pride

In his debut graphic novel, Matt Taylor is like a barmy Dr. Seuss. Taylor expertly and chaotically weaves the tale of Lars the Last Viking, a ho-hum former marauder who wishes to go on one last raid, but all of his friends are either at IKEA or minding the baby.

After taking from advice from some drunken Norwegian pine trees (!) who sing black metal (!!), Lars goes on a quest to find the end of the world, accompanied by his talking pig Olaf.

Rendered in gorgeous black ink (a growing trend amongst Melbourne artists), Taylor has revealed himself as a strong talent. Partly wild and partly whimsical, the Lars tale is one about growing up and accepting your fate, even if it means having to battle sea serpents or fetch gin for depressed foliage.

Although the ending is a bit abrupt and the rhyming stanzas are a little bit iffy at times, Lars the Last Viking is still a very enjoyable romp. There are some great digs at modern life amongst the ye olde Beowulf setting and it’s very hard not to smile when you’re looking at pictures of trees playing electric guitars.

Hopefully there will be many more tales about Lars and Olaf in the future.

Lars the Last Viking Goes to The End of The World, by Matt Taylor, published by Sixty40 Press, is available from all good Australian comic book stores


* Read this next bit in the voice of Stan Lee – it’s funnier. Everything is funnier in that man’s dulcet tones.

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