Tag Archives: Howard Chaykin

Priority shipping was a waste


Howard Chaykin starts Batman: Dark Allegiances with a borrowed image. The iconic superhero is framed to fit Jack Welch’s 1955 Jello ad campaign, the conical element of his decorative cowl prominently on display. His eyes, though, suggest a man who’s lost the grip of his identity, it co-opted for another cause. Following this image, Bruce Wayne / Batman, via narrative captions scripted by Chaykin, explains to the reader why he’s different than a member of the KKK as he subsequently pounds this mob into the ground. He sees them as men “pushed to the wall of frustrated fury by the brutal nature of the times.” And while they wear masks, his is more like an onion skin, meant to be peeled to reveal the numerous, complicated angles that pertain to his person.

Chaykin imbues Bruce Wayne / Batman with a youthful vigor even when flamboyantly hateful people are his targets, and they to him. In this Elseworld’s interpretation (a DC Comics imprint dedicated to variations of familiar characters), Bruce, essentially, never grew up. He’s a playboy industrial designer who wants to offer the world a theme park as his next venture, playing cowboy on the side. Chaykin draws Batman as if he’s a coiled spring bouncing through combat. He glides through the air and blocks bullets, and in some panels it’s as if his arm detaches and simply maneuvers through a crowd of foes, knocking each of them out like soda cans along a level fence, subject to the hand of some passerby kid. Violence of little consequence. 

Chaykin’s Bruce Wayne is nothing but a guy equipped with a square jaw and blockhead smile, eager to say something clever. Despite Kitty Grimalkin’s (a Catwoman stand-in) task to threaten Wayne, he, knowing so, is only excited by the notion of having an attractive woman at his side involved in such a plot. He never takes her seriously. Even though she knows his secret identity, he won’t give her the credit of it. And when she explains what brought her to him (a case of blackmail involving a pornographic film Grimalkin is the star of), Wayne mocks the idea, suggesting they should steal the film back and watch it.

These interactions characterize Bruce Wayne / Batman as a man happily at home within his delusion. Others have offered the interpretation of Batman as someone who’s misunderstood himself, most notably Alan Moore with The Killing Joke, but Chaykin offers a character who sees the signs, and chooses to ignore them. As the character indicates in the comic’s opening sequence, “If I start worrying about that, I’m in deep trouble.” So rather he fights and smiles, clinging to his botched idea of world order because it gives him purpose and pleasure. Of course, this is also Chaykin just choosing to have some fun, and that choice reflects much of what Batman readers do when they pick up a Batman comic. They’re deciding to engage with a ridiculous idea simply because it seems like fun, and little thought is required.

But, with those elements in mind, Chaykin sheds some sort of truth, and you can certainly paint a damning portrait from it. That of a man conscious of a world and its bruises who looks the other way, with a hedonistic twinkle in his eye, aware of opportunity.

That man isn’t fiction.

The Welch ads show animals in profile eating or serving Jello, and they’re accompanied by captions describing their specific physical traits. Those traits then emphasize the great promise and excitement of Jello, as product, dining accessory, and conversation starter. Chaykin’s image lacks the dessert and caption, but the basic principal of the image is the same. A creature of the world removed of its habitat and self, held so a reader may stick it next to something else to take it apart and measure it. 

In essence, that’s Chaykin’s approach to Batman. Take a brooding totem away from its emotional ghetto, and supply an opportunity for it to laugh at itself. When Chaykin says the book is about “Hitler in a Hawaiian shirt” in Howard Chaykin: Conversations he’s not wrong. It is. But it’s not without the stoic Welch image at the front, placing the character in context as the pop culture product Batman is. A character under the cover of a plated cowl, protected from the world his eyes see. As a character – real in his own reality – he operates individually as his emperor of self, making decisions, inspiring consequence by taking the law into his own hands, but as an image he’s just something to be used or briefly considered. A figment of the mind, like Adolf today, he can be dressed in a Hawaiian shirt for laughs.

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5 issues in …

Well, technically 6, but so far all I’ve read are 5. That is, of Dark Horse Presents – the newly revived version.

I’ve discussed the title before on this blog, but when I did I mostly stuck to the crazy Neal Adams bit. This time, I want to look at the project more as a whole. And, yeah, I’ll probably break down one specific short as well because there’s one that certainly deserves the attention. But more importantly, don’t expect anything long here. I’m feeling this to be a short post.

Why? Well, it’s simple. DHP hasn’t really offered much as of yet.

I’m honestly disappointed to type that. I rooted for this return right from the get-go announcement. You can take it back to my previous post and understand why. I like anthologies. And this seemed to be the mega-ultimate of anthologies. A blend of classic talent meeting and mingling with a fresh supply of new faces, and comics being comics in all sense of the idea. But it wasn’t even just that. The “Dark Horse Presents” brand possesses a certain charm. The original incarnation lasted 157 issues, spanning almost two decades. Within it, a few modern classics found their feet, and eventual industry giants published their early works. The title was a constant of its time, and I’d say the last, successful comic book of its kind. But even then, the flagship managed to morph and make an impact through the mid and late-2000s via MySpace Dark Horse Presents. It didn’t last as long, but Dark Horse certainly took bold steps in terms of web comics and the digital direction we seem to be so hopelessly moving in. The web series also spotlighted some Umbrella Academy shorts. That’s good stuff.

So, yeah, point is, DHP has a legacy and a status as a brand. I thought I would see that carry over to this third revision.

I think it has somewhat, but I also see this book still in the process of finding its feet and becoming what its going to become. DHP’s main problem is its singular reliance on veteran talent, which seems to no longer surprise or impress. I like a lot of these guys, and I respect them. Many of them are forever associated with the field. When I read Richard Corben’s bit though, I’m not reading anything memorable. And not memorable in terms of long lasting impact, but memorable in regards to keeping it in my mind for longer than ten minutes. Same goes for Chadwick and Adams, whose work may be beyond me, but I do not understand what they are after. Most of it seems to blend in with the general anthology feel – these stories are “eh” and throwaways. And it was really those three names, at least for the first few issues, that the series was banked on.

The sure-fire foundation crumbled, obviously.

The “new” talent has yet to blow me away either. Most of the attempts I read feel like anything else. Decent high concepts told in orthodox fashion.

One vet has impressed me, though. Chaykin. “Marked Man” is a wonderful example of serial fiction with its pulpy roots covered in airbrush neon. This comic does a great job of representing the crime/spy genre in this collection, or anthology, or multi-genres. It’s like the perfect spokesperson. A keen voice over, dis-likable, scummy, yet kind of sympathetic lead, a grimy environment, seedy doings, and even an obsessed cop on the trail. The components are there as well as the aesthetic of Chaykin that follows all of his work. If I’d read more of it, I’d probably possess a term to describe it. “Marked Man” also moves. Chaykin realizes this story lives and breathes in short chunks, so he sets to work and every page takes the reader somewhere knew. None of it feels rushed, though. The sign of a master.

Some good does exist beyond Chaykin, believe it or not. A strip titled “Resident Alien,” which kicked off in issue 4, packs a voice worth investigating. It plays to a high concept, which you could consider a short cut, but Alien really seems to rely on moments of humanity. The plot involves a crash landed extraterrestrial who’s extremely anti-social. Forced to live upon Earth, he hides out in the country in a cabin by the lake, pretending to be a wayward doctor. We catch up with him when he’s forced into a nearby town following the murder of a doctor. In absence of a medical professional, our Alien protagonist is asked to stay and live among the people. The sensations of awkwardness are well written as well as well portrayed, and the piece has a solid overall vibe which only conjures up images of some good auto-bio comic. I’m curious of this one’s development.

But the return of “Age of Reptiles” takes the cake. Ricardo Delgado illustrates something like 5 pages of a beautifully crafted, yet short, dinosaur narrative in which the body of one dinosaur feeds many others and completes the whole “dust-to-dust” cycle. Sounds simple, and it is, but the manner in which Delgado draws it turns the entire beat into a very poetic thought. His artwork and storytelling showcases not just the beauty of death but also the influence one can have after passing on. You can also meditate on the thought of how death can bring us together, and it of course, too, lends itself to the myth of the phoenix. You know, rising from the ashes and all that. The entire piece stands out from both a stylistic standpoint as well as a sub textual peg. “Age of Reptiles” has, by far, packed the most punch in this new DHP.

So, some good exists. I can’t deny it, but even though my post my suggest different, the bad far outweighs the good in this comic book package. I’m still optimistic, though. At 8 bucks a pop, maybe I shouldn’t be, but something tells me DHP will improve in the coming year. Look at the solicits for upcoming issues. Hellboy, Brian Wood stuff, Fabio Moon has something in issue 6, and if the few positives I mentioned continue, it’s possible Dark Horse Presents could straighten out. I think Mike Richardson and co. are still figuring this beast out. It’s DHP, but I get the vibe, like with Myspace Dark Horse Presents, the publisher is trying to find this version’s niche or job. Or, more plainly, adjusting the title for the current times.

Dark Horse Presents does seem to be some sort of representation of comics, though. By that I mean, it’s not an anthology excluding itself to one specific genre or style. Between dinosaurs, marked men, Neal Adams’ wacked out shit and the post-apocalyptic bullshit they’re determined to run, I’d say Dark Horse is all about offering up a nice helping of variety. The consistency in quality just needs to improve. Cut and paste that.

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