Welcome back to Break from the Bat, our monthly trip outside of Gotham to the wide world of comics beyond. And this month, we are really beyond. I humbly submit for your consideration:
Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer
The brainchild of award-winning newspaper cartoonist Dusty Higgins, Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer picks up where the classic tale leaves off. Brought to life with the help of writer Van Jensen, Higgins’s Pinocchio is one of the most kooky, hilarious, and entertaining concepts that I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
The creators are quick to point out that modern interpretations of Pinocchio’s story have made cute with some of the darker details of the original, so they include a crude (and very funny) primer at the start. After that, we’re off to the races with a tale of adventure, danger, lies, and stabbing monsters through the heart with a nose.
This sort of thing could easily over-rely on its conceptual appeal and fall flat, but Higgins and Jensen manage to keep it fresh. The lying/nose gags are quite creative, and they are spaced out enough so that I never tire of them. There’s also a simple-but-effective narrative ushering us through, so we have more than jokes to sate us. As a point of comparison, I think Skottie Young’s I Hate Fairyland probably tips too far toward the gags, often leaving behind a pretty inventive story in the process. Pinocchio does not make this mistake, advancing the plot even as we crack up at the sight of a puppet snapping off his own nose to stab a monster in the heart.
Higgins’s artwork is largely excellent, capturing the comic darkness of the subject matter quite well. It’s easy to miss his great layouts while you’re focused on the humorous elements, but this book is packed with great perspectives and excellent comic storytelling. My chief complaint is that sometimes it’s simply hard to tell what we’re looking at in a panel without extensive contextual analysis; but these frustrations are momentary, and do little to derail what is a successful romp through a wonderfully-realized concept.
Since this second edition was published in 2010, there have been other volumes, and you can now purchase a collected, single-volume edition for less than twenty bucks. While I can’t vouch for the other stories, this first part is worth at least ten, so if you can find a used copy, snatch it up.
That’s all for my look at Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer. I hope you’ll check it out, and that you’ll head to the comments and let me know what you think about it (and whatever else you’re reading). Until next time, have a look at what else we’re reading at Batman News, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @mrwarshaw. Followers that tweet at me with #bftbpinocchio will be in the running to win a digital code for Marvel’s Defenders #1!
DC/Looney Tunes 100-Page Spectacular
File this one under “Fun ideas/Lacking execution.”
The Justice League is great, and to give you an idea of how great this Justice League is, I have three words for you: hook hand Aquaman. Yes, this is the League I grew up with, the one with Kyle Rayner Green Lantern, Wally West Flash, Connor Hawke Green Arrow, and Plastic Man. Because everything Plastic Man does is gold.
The Looney Tunes are also great. I… really don’t think I need to say anything other than that. So, a crossover between the two properties where they find themselves in each other’s worlds should be great too, right?
Originally published in 2000 as the four-part miniseries Superman/Bugs Bunny, this collection sees the two universes interact thanks to the meddling of Do Do and Mr. Mxyzptlk. The results are mixed. The main fault is Mark Evanier’s script which never strikes a good balance between the DCU and the LTU (patent pending). The DC side of things is a little too broad, with some incredibly flat portrayals or outright mischaracterizations. Batman, for one, is completely unrecognizable, quipping and spouting off one-liners. Now, if you’ve read this site long enough you know I am totally down with a sillier portrayal of Batman, but it needs to work. This Batman doesn’t. Most of the other DC characters fare a bit better, but not much.
The Looney Tunes are actually fairly spot on, with quite a few gags that made me laugh out loud. There’s a running joke with Connor Hawke being the person plagued with Michigan J. Frog’s box that’s pretty funny, and the Tunes’ quips and puns hit their targets more often than not.
It’s a visual mixed-bag, too, though that’s more due to the disparate styles. The DC characters look fine under Tom Palmer’s pen, without any real standouts, yet the Looney Tunes look perfect. The problem is it often looks like Palmer drew a Justice League comic and somebody just took a sheet of Looney Tunes character stickers and stuck them everywhere. It may have been the intent, but the two styles just look strange together.
Still, it’s all completely harmless, inoffensive reading. I laughed quite a few times, and being able to revisit the Justice League I grew up with was nice. The $7.99 price tag is steep, so try and find it on sale if you can, but even with its faults it’s worth a read.
Defenders #1 (Marvel)
For me, Bendis is a mixed bag, and so is Defenders #1. There are some high points in the dialogue, but most of it feels forced and unnatural. The book also suffers from an overdependence on a wider, external context—a tough sell for Netflix subscribers that Marvel might hope to convert into readers. Even the perpetually excellent David Marquez manages to underwhelm in this debut, though his off-day is still better than most penciliers in the business. It’s not all bad, and I can see the potential, but Bendis needs to give us a more immediate reason to care about these characters soon, or this book will have a hard time justifying its existence.
Legion of Super-Heroes/Bugs Bunny Special #1 (DC)
The Legion of Super-Heroes has always been a team that I like the idea of more than anything. A team of teenage superheroes stationed a thousand years in the future, each one with a different power and bearing names that are just as likely to contain the words “lad” or “lass” as they aren’t? Sign me up! Like a lot of big team books, though, I just find their stories to be too busy and cramped. Fun idea, fun world, just not really for me.
And Bugs Bunny… well, everyone likes Bugs Bunny.
Written by Sam Humphries and illustrated by Scott Hanna and the great Tom Grummett, this book is a straight-up parody. That’s really what makes it work, too, and it’s genuinely funny. The Legionnaires want to save Supergirl, who has infected herself with a virus (there’s a running gag of Editor’s Notes caption boxes just getting out of control that’s hilarious), and to save her they need an extinct element. Brainiac 5 sends a robot back in time to fetch Superman, but instead he grabs Bugs Bunny. Hilarity ensues.
Humphries’s irreverent approach really sells the story, and he blends the broad characterizations of the Legion with the sarcasm of Bugs perfectly. It’s just a breezy, funny story that may not leave a lasting impact, but it’s fun to read. And, come on, Tom Grummett needs to make his way back to DC and soon.
It’s the backup where things hit a snag. Written and illustrated by Juan Ortiz, all it does is recap the main story. There are a few minor changes, but it’s still effectively the same story. I kind of liked his simple visual style and some of the layout sequencing he did, but reading a story twice when it was done well enough the first time isn’t the funnest thing to do. If the main story had been different then this may have worked, but as it is it just feels like a rehash of something better.
Martian Manhunter/Marvin the Martian Special #1 (DC)
The main story in this highly-anticipated (by me, anyway) crossover has a tough time figuring out what it wants to be. Each title character behaves exactly as you would expect him to, and so prove to be two incompatible realities. J’onn’s straight-playing seems ludicrous against so cartoony an adversary, and for my money, M’arvinn (nice touch, Steve) always worked better with someone who was determined to push his buttons. The backup story is exactly that I wanted from this book, but sadly, it gets the smaller share of the page count.
Of the three books I’m writing about here, this one is the best. The main story is a fun little sci-fi romp with the last Martian meeting another of his namesake, and then absolutely wishing he hadn’t. Steve Orlando and Frank Barbiere spin a solid 50s B-movie plot involving the meeting of two different types of Martians, and at face value it’s a lot of fun. J’onn is a being of compassion and understanding, after all, and Marvin (or “M’arvinn”, which is a nice touch) is a stubborn, single-minded despot. Seeing the Martian Manhunter get flustered at his attempts to talk the other last Martian out of destroying Earth is pretty funny, especially when Marvin’s tools and means get increasingly bigger. There’s even a reference to Marvin searching the Multiverse, which is as good a way as any for his appearance on J’onn’s Earth to make any sort of sense. They didn’t need to explain it, but the explanation they went with was satisfying.
It’s when Orlando and Barbiere start trying to incorporate a message that the story begins to drag. The moral is good: don’t judge based on appearances. The problem is it’s kind of ham-fisted in its approach, stopping a pretty goofy scene to deliver the thesis. The story never derails, though, and after a few rough spots it ends up being a pretty fun read. I just wish the tone was a little more consistent.
Still, what works really works, and Aaron Lopresti’s work is great. I always dread when creators try to give cartoon characters more “realistic” design changes and upgrades, but I dig the changes he made to Marvin’s look. It’s different without being unrecognizable, and the added details actually add to the visual appeal rather than making it too busy.
The backup is charming too, reading just like a Looney Tunes script. J’onn still has to try and prevent Marvin from destroying Earth, but he finds himself on Marvin’s turf instead of the diminutive Martian coming to Earth. It’s a really simple little story, so there isn’t much more to say than “I enjoyed it,” but yeah: I enjoyed it. Jim Fanning nails the cartoon Marvin, and John Loter captures the visual style of the cartoons while successfully incorporating the Martian Manhunter. J’onn’s design looks like he could have easily been a part of the old “Merrie Melodies” cartoons, never feeling out of place in the simple cartoony universe of Marvin.