Obama and the Bat

One of my biggest passions is comic books — I’ve been a steady collector since 1988, and I even owned my own comic book shop once upon a time (from 1997-1999, an experience which, while not the most financially rewarding, remains one of the highlights of my life).  So, on a regular basis in this blog, I’m going to be looking at the world of comics from as many ways as I can — commenting on new releases, old stuff I’ve enjoyed, the world of comic movies, etc.

As anyone who collects knows already, Wednesdays are anxiously anticipated, as new releases hit the stands on that day.  This week featured a book that has already gotten some mainstream attention — Amazing Spider-Man #583 — and another book that, while not getting the same spotlight on it, has been anxiously awaited by the hard-core comic book fans — Final Crisis #6.

First, let’s talk about Amazing Spider-Man #583. (SPOILERS BELOW)

Amazing Spider-Man #583

Amazing Spider-Man #583

This, of course, is the “Obama” issue — sort of.  It’s a multi-story issue, with the Obama feature relegated to the status of  “back-up”.  The first story is a typical tale from the “Brand New Day” reset of Spider-Man continuity, with our hapless hero Peter Parker first going on a speed dating jaunt with friend/former flame Betty Brant, and then having Betty try to set him up with one of her friends.

Like much of the reboot of Spidey, it’s actually a pretty good effort, this time coming from one of my favorite writers, Mark Waid.  Peter is portrayed pretty spot-on, the lovable loser who’s heart is in the right place, and it’s nice to see proper attention given to a long-time supporting cast member like Betty.  Her characterization was solid here, with one exception.  Her acknowledgement here about how wonderful a guy Peter Parker is and how much he means to her — that’s dead-on — but I will admit to feeling a little off-put by her state of drunken inebriation in one scene of the story.  Of course, Betty has been all over the place so far as characterization over the years, so a little borderline drunken binge shouldn’t be too damaging — after all, she’s been at different times an 1) overprotective, sit-at-home-and-wait-for-her-man, goody two-shoes, 2) a frustrated, lonely housewife, 3) an adulteress, 4) a mental case (after the death of her husband, The Hobgoblin Ned Leeds), and 5) a strong career woman who rose to become a reporter at the Daily Bugle.

So who’s the real Betty?  I’m not sure after all of these characterizations, but I can say with all certainty that, during the last scene with Peter on her birthday, with her cleavage shouting “Look at me, dammit!” while trying to escape the hot purple outfit that she was drawn wearing, the two things I was saying were, 1) Why didn’t our still-married but inexplicably amnesiac newly-single Peter tap that while she was drunk? and 2) Why isn’t he trying to tap that right fucking now?

Sigh.  What was the point of making Peter single again if Betty can’t even get a rise out of him (so to speak)?  That little story issue aside, I still liked it.  3 1/2 out of 5 webs.  Again, it’s a good example of the positives that Brand New Day brought forth — if only they could give us a resolution to the whole “You’re Marvel’s flagship hero, yet you made a deal with a fucking demon/devil” problem that led us here, I’d be thrilled to death.

The second part of the issue was the Obama feature, and it wasn’t much.  Peter is taking pictures at the inauguration, the Chameleon attempts to impersonate Obama at the swearing in, Spidey clocks him, and Obama fist-bumps him in a “You the man” moment before taking office.  Yawn.  It’s a five page back-up story that isn’t anything tremendous, but it does its part well enough.  Marvel has set real-world figures in its books before — Presidents and world leaders as far back as Nixon were portrayed with real roles in books (remember Henry Kissinger meeting with Dr. Doom way back in Super-Villain Team-up?), so this isn’t out of the ordinary.  Obama is, from what I’ve read, both a closet comic book fan and a Spidey fan — and the world certainly can use more of both of those. 3 out of 5 webs.

The real story, to me, was in the reaction to the book.  My local shop (Media Underground Comics in Metairie, Louisiana — a shout out here to the owner Ronnie, who’s taken care of me fantastically since I started going there) was sold out of the issue by the time I got there today a little after 2:00 — and by his accounts, the phone had been ringing off the hook all day with people looking for the book.  The variant cover — the one actually featuring Obama and pictured above — is already generating interest on E-Bay, with copies fetching $60-70 already.  From a comic fan’s perspective, I only hope the people buying it realize that 1) this book won’t be worth in the long run what they’re paying for it now (and that’s due to the volatile market on variant covers, and nothing to do with Obama himself, for those of you not as much into the comic book scene) and 2) there’s actually some good content in the book, so don’t just buy it to put away — read it, and then find your local shop and ask for some other recommendations to pick up as well.

One of those other recommendations might be this book — Final Crisis #6 (SPOILERS BELOW)

Final Crisis #6

Final Crisis #6

This book promised the “Final Fate of the Batman”.  All of the people who’d read through Grant Morrison’s “Batman R.I.P.” had probably thought they’d have seen that final fate in that book, but it’s uncertain ending certainly had nowhere near the finality that this issue apparently did (or at least, the last page of this issue).

I won’t go on about the Final Crisis mini-series here — I’ve always been a fan of Morrison’s work (his Animal Man run still remains one of my most recommended reads to people), but I will admit to having a harder time following in this mini-series exactly what’s going on.  Maybe that’s by design, maybe that’s because it feels like it’s been forever since Final Crisis #5 came out — oh wait, it has been forever since that issue hit the shelves.

Still, it’s an ambitious undertaking by Morrison, and it has a far different feel and tone that either of its event predecessors, Crisis on Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis did.  I’ll wait until it wraps up next month (crosses fingers) to pass a final judgement on it as a whole.  In this issue, I liked the fact that Batman shows up to confront as powerful a being as Darkseid, and Darkseid expects that the Dark Knight would be there at some point to oppose him.  I liked the appearance of the Miracle Machine of Legion Lore.  I loved the banter between three generations of Flashes (Golden Age Jay Garrick, Silver Age Barry Allen, and Modern Age Wally West) — they sound just like the family they are, bonded together by the ability to run.

What I didn’t like, I really didn’t like.  Mary Marvel as a “bad girl” hasn’t been something I took too, and I hope that it’s over and done with — how much damage they did long-term to the character remains to be seen.  And I really, really didn’t like Batman picking up a gun to use against Darkseid, even as he’s admitting that he’s taken a vow never to use a gun as a weapon.  “Once-in-a-lifetime exception”?  Whatever.

The final page is, though, the “Wow” moment of the mini-series.  Is Batman really dead?  That skeleton looks pretty conclusive, but all comic fans know how permanent death really is — so don’t be surprised to see Bruce Wayne back at some point down the road.  Of course, they did keep Barry Allen in the ground for over 20 years, so who knows?  Besides, I’m actually looking forward to a year-long run of Dick Grayson in the cowl (hopefully).

Final Crisis #6 gets a 4 out of 5 bats from me, if for no other reason than that powerful last page.  Let’s see if it can top that in its finale, which should be out, oh, sometime by the time the Dark Knight sequel hits theaters.

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