Sunday, October 20, 2013

Batman Odyssey!


Batman on a pterodactyl! Wow! What's not to like? Let me begin this by saying I'm not much of a Batman fan. He's fine, but I don't have the insatiable craving for Bat-stories that many in fandom seem to have. So I haven't followed a regular Bat-book in decades. I say that to say that the continuity confusions which largely inform Batman Odyssey don't bother me maybe as much as they might someone more directly connected to the character. I bought this book because I'm a fan of Neal Adams and I like the way he draws the Batman and at twenty bucks I thought it a bargain of sorts. That said, this book is still a pretty big mess.

The decision to have Bruce Wayne/Batman narrate the story is a mistake despite the eventual and interesting reveal of who he is narrating the story to. It makes the Batman in these  stories downright verbose, not the grim tight-lipped avenger of justice I expect. We also get a psychological play-by-play and that cuts across the impression Batman gives off that utter confidence might be his ultimate edge on criminals. Adams has attempted to humanize the Batman and it doesn't really work all that well. He doesn't come off as competent and often seems merely cocky.

And then there's the plotting. I had a whale of time trying to stay on board as the story jackknifed all over the place. It was hard to follow in a trade and I can only imagine how difficult it was to keep track of month by month. Often I didn't really know what I had read on some pages until I read the summary in the next installment.


All that said, there are some real virtues in this monstrous epic. Neal Adams is a damn fantastic artist and it comes across here in spades. His Batman is powerful and exceedingly physical. There is almost a fetishistic concern with musculature at times, but it all works within the confines of the larger artwork. The action is detailed and at times seems specifically designed to demonstrate some particular tactic, and it often does it quite well.


The other thing I really liked was the extensive use of dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs and I love how Neal Adams draws dinosaurs, so it was a hoot to see this book full of people riding around on T-Rex broncos. In point of fact it was these images which got me over on buying this one. I had to see how Batman came to be riding such an array of prehistoric monsters.

Now I've talked around it and criticized it, but I haven't really talked about the story. It's a tale that does live up to its name. Batman does indeed go on an odyssey. After much furious action atop trains and in the streets of Gotham where Bats battles gunmen and robbers and assassins he discovers that Arkham Asylum has secrets within secrets. The Sensei, leader of the League of Assassins, has taken control and there is a struggle between him and Ra's Al Ghul for vast resources found in a underground territory named "Underworld". Batman enters this Underworld accompanied not by Dick Grayson as Robin (yep) but by Bat-Man, a Neanderthal version of the Batman himself. There are also intelligent evolved dinosaurs and trolls and such which this hidden land filled with giant bats and giant unevolved dinosaurs. This is a one wild ass roller coaster of a comic book yarn.

Many of the characters don't seem to behave as I'd expect, at least not as I sort of remember them. One example is Talia who goes from being a mysterious alluring and exotic but serious-minded vixen to a chatty and scatter-brained strumpet. Batman himself seems to lose control of himself and yell a lot. All of these things add up to some peculiar moments, which don't make sense overall nor inside the story itself. I did like the presence of Deadman who gets a surprising amount of action. Adams draws him very well and he looks good here.

It finally occurred to me that this was an elaborate rendition of a 1950's Batman story, one of those Dick Sprang classics filled with wacky sci-fi tropes but done in a modern style with overwrought characterization. On that level I can appreciate what Adams was trying to do, but sadly he just didn't demonstrate the writing chops to pull it off completely here. With a truly professional writer polishing this script and trimming it down in some places, this has the makings a really wild and wooly Bat-venture. But as it sits, it's a flawed work for sure.

Below are the rather outstanding covers for this series. They are beautiful!














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7 comments:

  1. I read it monthly and found it impossible to follow. Didn't like the use of guns either.

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    1. I can imagine. I got lost and I had the whole story in hand.

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  2. Neal blows off any and all criticism and defends the whole thing in the next issue of COMIC BOOK CREATOR, due out next month.

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    1. Neal has always done that, and that's cool if he wants to. But it doesn't make the story easier to read. If the conversation is should he have given Batman that personality, then we can chat, but there's no denying the storytelling is difficult to parse.

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  3. I have to say I enjoyed Odyssey thoroughly. It came along at a time when it seemed all the other superhero titles were deeply ashamed of being comic books, and really desperately wanted to be gritty urban crime dramas or thinly veiled political commentary. By contrast Odyssey felt like Adams wanted to remind everyone that comic books can have dinosaurs and pterodactyls and subterranean worlds and monsters and assassin cults and all kinds of mad crazy stuff. Every other DC title seemed timid by comparison. I can respect a bold experiment; caution and timidity isn't going to get my money.

    One thing that stopped the book finding wider acceptance is that Adams wrote it in what was intended to be a hyper-naturalistic stream-of-consciousness style of dialogue. It seemed like he was trying to faithfully capture the conversation as he heard it in his head, to convey the rhythms of real speech. It didn't work. If there were a good editor Adams respected and would defer to, a huge chunk of verbiage and the more idiosyncratic tics could have been removed, and the underlying story would have been exposed as an old school cliffhanger adventure serial. I was saying this right from the first issue. When Adams had Dick Giordano as an editor, his writing was much tighter; if only there had been someone to take that role here.

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    1. I agree with most of what you say. The dinosaurs are a hoot and are the reason I bought it finally.

      But there is something off in the tone of the storytelling which doesn't track. Like I said, when I start to think of it as a updated 50's Batman story, it begins to work more for me. Those didn't often make sense either.

      For all their virtues these artists are seem utterly convinced that the artwork will override any problems with the writing. Like Kirby before him, Adams is so damn good at what he does that he boldly thinks he can do it all. Evidence suggests that's not totally the case, despite my ardor for the work of both men. Kirby's excesses developed into a strange voice that was entertaining on its own in some ways. Adams hasn't refined it to that point.

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  4. I read that and I must add that to me I fell that the computer color coloring was really ugly. They used the computer to add in so much it spoils that great Adams art. I prefer when we could just have those vibrant hand added colours.

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