Non-non-non-non-NON-heinous: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book by Emily Scott

Greetings, most excellent Legions of the Unspoken! I’m Emily Scott, and I am here to tell you all about a totally outstanding 1991 publication from Marvel, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book! *air guitar* This triumphant comic may have had bogus sales and only lasted 12 issues, but its short run is in no way indicative of how non-heinous this interpretation is of two beloved characters. Anyone who enjoys either movie would totally love these books, so prepare to be fully informed, and…PARTY ON, DUDES!

…Ok, I think I’ve got the bulk of the Bill and Ted speak out of my system, at least for the purposes of this article. I don’t really remember a time when my own vocabulary didn’t include some Bill and Ted-isms, and to this day I refer to things as being non-non-non heinous more often than any reasonable person should. Reading a dozen issues of their vernacular, though, has left me even more susceptible than usual to adding ‘most’ before every adjective and exclaiming, ‘Whoa!’ with hushed awe.

Bill and Ted Loquacious
How is it possible that these two panels squeeze in so much Bill and Ted slang that they sound translated straight from an English-to-Bill and Ted dictionary and yet sound so natural?

With a new comic book release, chatter about a third movie louder than ever, and the fact that it’s one sequel after a long hiatus that everyone actually seems fine with, there’s no better time to ponder why we’re so eager to be excellent to two dudes we first met over a quarter of a century ago. Their language is a major factor in what still endears us to Bill and Ted and a prime example of the movies’ greatest strengths, taking something that could be pedestrian like late 80’s/early 90’s surfer/stoner/Valley bro talk and making it most atypical. (Sorry that I can’t stop with the Bill and Ted speak…NOT!) You know exactly who these characters are immediately upon hearing them, but they don’t sound quite like anyone else you’ve ever heard.

As the above two panels from the first issue ably demonstrate, writer/artist Evan Dorkin nails Bill and Ted’s verbal eccentricities, a feat made all the more impressive when you learn that he had not seen either movie when he started writing this title. Dorkin, a five-time Eisner Award winner best known for his works Milk and Cheese and Dork, gets just about everything else right too, from the lighthearted tone of the humor to the happy-go-luckiness of the titular characters. One of the comic’s greatest strengths is that if you know Bill and Ted, you know exactly what you’ll be getting. This comic feels the most like the source material just drifted into another medium than almost any other adaptation I’ve ever seen.

Am I the only one who wants to hear the rest of Death's joke?
Am I the only one who wants to hear the rest of Death’s joke?

Not only does the comic sound just right, but it looks spot on too, with art that is colorful, fun, and busy. Dorkin gets a lot of comedic mileage out of great expressions, and he can make an already zany universe that much zanier by drawing faces so exaggerated not even Keanu Reeves could actually make them. The art is also better than it has any right to be for an adaptation of a comedy about two dudes who travel through time in a phone booth, with an eye for movement and action that flows seamlessly and images that are surreal and vivid, evocative and at times bordering on nightmarish. (In case you were wondering, yes, it does feel incredibly strange to attempt a serious critique of the art in a Bill and Ted comic. It’s so damn good,though, that it deserves to be taken seriously.)

Bill and Ted Surreal
As a chronic procrastinator and habitually late person, this is what every clock looks like to me.

One of my favorite aspects of the entire run is just how much stuff Dorkin manages to squeeze into every panel. From the band shirts and buttons on background characters to random appearances from people like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I found myself staring at pages for a long time to catch every little detail. Dorkin makes the most of every centimeter of page space, capitalizing on every opportunity to squeeze in another joke or bit of whimsy, from guest letter columns from characters like Station and DeNomolos to something simple like a sword piercing a word balloon:

B&T Piercedto a running gag in which the smiley face on the back of Ted’s jacket changes expressions to match the situation:

Bill and Ted Face 4 Bill and Ted Face 1 Bill and Ted Face 2

I call this one Charlie Brown  Mouth.
I call this one Charlie Brown Mouth.

Just as their speech takes slang we’ve heard coming from a million different mouths and strings it together in most memorable ways,  Bill and Ted take pretty well worn character templates, two doofy but lovable dudes, and give them a contagious enthusiasm and hearts so big they cause a moon boot-filled future utopia I sometimes daydream I live in.  A lot of similar characters are like cats who always land on their feet because they’re too dumb to know the ground is there. Bill and Ted are the cats who always land on their feet because it wouldn’t even occur to them that the ground would do that to them.

Bill and Ted may be the sort of guys who would never pass a history exam without George Carlin and a magic box, but as Ted reminds us in the clip above, they are well aware of their intellectual shortcomings and more than make up for it with that relentless optimism, allowing them not to be intimated by anyone regardless of their smarts, power, or prowess. These are two dudes who can hang with God, give Satan hell, and even melvin Death. When someone can face that lineup and not be cowed, they can be placed in just about any setting against any foe and believably come out victorious, and Dorkin takes advantage of that versatility by telling stories everywhere from the past to the future to the nexus of time to the Dimension of Utter Boredom. (You can guess how much they love Wyld Stallyns in that last one.)

To be fair, the effects in 2001 are really good.
To be fair, the effects in 2001 are really good.

The Bill and Ted universe has a pretty deep bench, which is unsurprising, considering it could potentially include anyone from any time, and everyone’s favorite characters make an appearance in the comics, from Missy (I mean Mom…) to So-crates to my personal favorite, the Duke of Spook, the Doc of Shock, the Man with No Tan, Death himself. I’ve always had a soft spot for Death as a character, from Death of the Endless to the Grim Reaper in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (if you don’t laugh during this scene, I’m sorry that you were born with no sense of humor), but none approach my fondness for the version of Death with no luck at board games. His portrayal by William Sadler in Bogus Journey makes the movie ten times greater, and even though Death is his skeleton self here, his presence accounts for a surprising amount of the humanity and pathos in the comic, as well as some of its wackier plots.

While there are a few ongoing stories, including a seeming inevitability where Bill and Ted stand trial for their interference with time, most of the issues stand alone, and two of the best revolve around Death, one in which he quits and the other where he is replaced. In Death Takes a Most Heinous Holiday, instead of searching for the true value of life or exploring what it means to be mortal or any of that other sentimental nonsense, Death treks through time to places like Pompeii and the crash site of the Hindenburg to revel in the mortality of others. Depending on your perspective, he is either the best or worst tourist of all time.

Bill and Ted Tourist

199201 Bill and Ted's Excellent Comic Book V1 #2 - Page 2
If anyone was curious, the molasses thing was a real disaster. (Here at The Unspoken Decade, we entertain AND educate.)

Bill and Ted convince Death to return to work, but in It’s a Living, he has become too concerned with worldly matters and is replaced by a foul mouthed, bad tempered pipsqueak of a reaper named Morty. Odd as it feels to say, this issue demonstrates that Death, constant and immutable, is actually the character who changes the most over the course of the comics. He tries occupations from fast food worker to comic book writer (we’ll come back to that one), makes new friends, and learns a thing or two about compassion from his kindly landlord. I would not have expected to get a little choked up over a story involving a Reap-off and a midget skeleton wearing a Flava Flav clock, but it bears reiterating in case I haven’t made it plain enough yet: this comic is far, far better than it has any right to be. And this is coming from a self-proclaimed big Bill and Ted fan.

Bill and Ted Death Off
I have been enamored of the Sleepwalker villain 8-Ball since I learned of his existence (and the fact that he flies around in a hover rack), but Fate here may have just topped him as my favorite anthropomorphic billiard ball.

Two characters who don’t undergo much change are Bill and Ted themselves, but would anyone really expect them to? Would anyone even want them to? The fact that they can die more than once, experience their own personal Hells, get attacked by evil robot versions of themselves, etc. and still remain the same cheerful dudes is kind of what we love about them in the first place, and the comic rightfully has them stick to what they do best: dealing with the oddity of time travel with the greatest of ease (this time with the addition of a time traveling roller coaster), being excellent to each other, and getting out of precarious situations by waiting for their friends or future versions of themselves to show up in a phone booth and save the day.

The comic does preserve the idea that Bill and Ted get married to the babes and have babies, but these events rarely impact the plot in any significant way. The kids are sort of there a lot, but these issues are free of whacky shenanigans involving Bill and Ted learning fatherly responsibility from Gengis Khan or how to change a diaper from Abraham Lincoln. I assume Little Bill and Ted are there because they existed at the end of Bogus Journey, but even more so because they reinforce the charmed, idyllic lives Bill and Ted lead and the notion that they totally “have it all.”

Bill and Ted Idyllic
It speaks volumes about the quality of these comics that one of my only criticisms is that people are wearing hats like Ted’s about 1000x more than I remember anyone actually wearing them in the 90’s and I find it distracting.

That the movie marries off and makes fathers of two overgrown adolescents so quickly has always seemed odd to me, but I suppose at least it’s atypical to see male protagonists subscribe to the marriage+kid=happy ending romantic comedy variety of wish fulfillment? I’m glad Dorkin made the kids little more than cooing luggage, but I would have liked to have learned slightly more about Mrs. Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Mrs. Ted “Theodore” Logan because all we know is that 1. they are princesses 2. they are from the past and 3. they are “most chaste” pre-nuptials. I suppose, though, there’s only so much one can expect in terms of character development when the protagonists themselves can tout a lack of emotional complexity as a main endearing quality. If Bill and Ted can basically share one personality, I suppose their wives can too.

Joanna and Elizabeth are at least given several good moments, such as simultaneously knocking out their would-be suitors with their crowns (violence is always better when synchronized), rounding up a rescue party for Bill and Ted when they are on time trial, and, my personal favorite, making zombies do housework for them while they wait for Death to take their souls. They end up seeming like a slightly more assertive female version of Bill and Ted (not to be confused with the alternate reality female Bill and Ted who show up with many other doppelgangers at the end of the last issue), and since we already like Bill and Ted, the more the merrier.

Bill and Ted Zombie Clean
Kitty litter? Now I just really want to know what Bill and Ted’s cat’s name is.

If there is one pattern that has emerged from all the 90’s comics I have read for this site, everything from the more meta Enigma and Satan’s Six  to Mr. Hero, it is this: comic books love talking about comic books. I’m really not sure why this is, but Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book is no exception. Both titular characters love a comic called Fight Man (this list of his sidekicks and villains demonstrates why Dorkin was the perfect person to write for Bill and Ted), and, as mentioned earlier, Death briefly moonlights as a writer for an awesome sounding comic called Major Violence:

Bill and Ted Major Violence
Pictured: what a lot of comic book fans seem to think of 90’s comics. (Thankfully, we are here to set the record straight.)

A whole issue is even devoted to Wyld Stallyns accidentally ending up on a world entirely populated by superheroes and villains. No biting commentary on the state of comic books occurs, but it does give Dorkin a chance to have some fun with the over the top-ness of both superheroes and Bill and Ted, who object to having to wear costumes at one point even though they dress like, well, how they dress.  The best parts of the issue, unquestionably, are the names and character designs he comes up with for these alternate reality heroes and villains.

Bill and Ted Madame Pectoral
I am going to lobby Marvel for a Madame Pectoral solo title.
Bill and Ted Amalgam
Let’s see in the comments who can spot the most homages.

I could go on and on about how much fun these comics are, but the longer I do, the more likely I am to start talking like Bill and Ted, and that would be bogus for everyone. (See?) I really can’t think of anything Dorkin could or should have done differently to make a better Bill and Ted adaptation, and while they might not exactly be essential reading, they’re the perfect distraction to tide us over till the third movie actually films. Speaking of films, we’ll be celebrating the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron with Avengers Month here at The Unspoken Decade, so be sure to check that out, and in the meantime, be excellent to each other!





HE CALLS HIMSELF CABLE – José Ladrönn and Joe Casey on the Man Out of Time

Warren Worthington: Before you go any further, you need to ask yourself… is any story really worth dying for?
Irene Merryweather: Depends on the story.

No theme this month at “The Unspoken Decade” so I have taken this opportunity to look back at José Ladrönn’s run on Cable that helped close out the nineties.

Irene Merryweather is a reporter, a storyteller. She acts as Cable’s chronicler and as the reader’s way to understand the man and his world. She provides a way for the plot devices and conflicting motivations of such a popular character to be examined and contextualized in a much needed way.

“Sometimes, there's a man. And I'm talkin' about the Askani’son here… He's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.”
“Sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about the Askani’son here… He’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.”

Who is Cable? What is he? Why does he call himself that? Maybe in 1990 when the character was first introduced this was considered a suitably sci-fi term. The modern equivalent of calling a character “Plastic Man” in an era before that was a household name. Did this name say something about the character that was deep and meaningful? Was it the name of one of his weapons, maybe an artistic way of describing his method for traveling through time?

No, of course not.

Cable is what you would call yourself if you had been raised two millennia into the future. This is the same reason his arch-foe (and one of several clones) is known as “Stryfe.” These people are as separated from “today” as “today” is from the beginning of the Common Era. Cable is a character that everyone recognizes, comic fan or not, even though he has avoided the Silver Screen for seven X-Films and counting. For me there is no more interesting take on the character than his extended tour of the Marvel Universe in the artistic styling of Jack Kirby.

The energy radiates from the center, reaching out at the reader and almost into their world. The mark of the King.
The energy radiates from the center, reaching out at the reader and almost into their world. The mark of the King.

The Hellfire Hunt is a story from 1997 written by James Robinson. Halfway through, after issue #50, scripting duties switch to Joe Casey. From then until issue #70, in August of 1999, Casey and artist José Ladrönn put their mark on the Man With Many Names. The run was bookended by extended crossovers with the plethora of other X-Titles, from Operation: Zero Tolerance (itself spinning out of Onslaught) to the Apocalypse centered The Twelve soon after its end. In between was an attempt to define the character of Cable in a way that made him grounded and believable, or in other words, in the Marvel way.

In addition to the extended X-Family (for the most part) there is no appearance by X-Force, the child soldiers that Cable usually drags into dangerous war zones, or Rob Liefeld, Cable’s self-appointed ‘sole creator.’ The Rob would eventually bring back the expected trappings of the franchise but in his absence Casey, and especially Ladrönn, build a supporting cast unique to Cable including re-introducing Nate’s own personal Yoda, Blaquesmith, and the aforementioned former gossip columnist Irene Merryweather, as well as the brand new love interest, and confidante, diner waitress Stacey Kramer.

Every Kirby story is a love story. He co-created the Romance Comic because he understood that having someone to fight for was the only thing that mattered.
Every Kirby story is a love story. He co-created the Romance Comic because he understood that having someone to fight for was the only thing that mattered.

Over the course of these twenty issues Ladrönn’s depiction of Cable, and the world he inhabits, comes to resemble one drafted by Kirby. The King himself passed away in 1994 so this type of tribute would not be uncommon except that Cable, and the Modern X-Men in general, had nothing to do with what he had come to stand for. This appears to be envisioning what Cable would have been if Kirby had created him at the peak of his career.

A time-traveling, cyborg with a Messiah Complex, locked in an Eternal Struggle with a being destined to conquer the world and subjugate its people. That feels as if it could have been a pitch for a story Kirby never got around to putting down on paper in the years after he left Marvel in search of the greener pastures he never found.

For reasons none too important to the overarching plot Cable finds himself in the nation of Wakanda fighting Ulysses Klaw alongside the Black Panther. A few issues later he engaged in the defining conflict of the run in a fight against Jack Truman, Agent 18 of SHIELD. An appearance by the newly revitalized Mighty Avengers closes out the run featuring Kirby Classics such as Captain America and Thor. This resembled a comic done in the Mighty Marvel Manner at a time when nothing else the company put out really did. Even non-Kirby, but classic nonetheless, vintage characters such as Zzzax and the Tinkerer make appearances. They are not furthering the plot, but rather showing how rich and imaginative a world Cable occupies.

If you touch your chest, hear a “tek” sound, and begin spewing acid from your fingertips then you were probably not invented by someone who left to create Brigade.
If you touch your chest, hear a “tek” sound, and begin spewing acid from your fingertips then you were probably not invented by someone who created “Brigade.”

A year and change after the bankruptcy that nearly buried Marvel, and comfortably before the movies would start to shape what the company would become, Cable takes a tour of an older version of the Marvel Universe, one not seen in some time. He himself gets a streamlined, shoulder-pad-less redesign that allows, as all Kirby characters must, to be in constant motion and bristling with power. The tons o’ guns are stripped away as this Heroic Quest sees Cable wield the Psimitar, a future-tech spear capable of focusing his advanced telekinetic abilities into Kirby Krackle. The static, cold images that had come to define the character up until this point are forgotten as Cable genuinely struggles with whether or not he can really save the future, a fight that seems u winnable and a task that seems unsurmountable, even though he can remember what happens if he fails.

Kidding. We all know what happens if he fails: Everyone is slowly murdered by the Mutant Robo-Pharaoh. Why has anyone ever wondered why we enjoy these comics?
Kidding. We all know what happens if he fails: Everyone is slowly murdered by the Mutant Robo-Pharaoh. Why has anyone ever wondered why we enjoy these comics?

I am not sure whose idea it was to go down this road but it does not happen all at once. Ladrönn had been involved with the title before Casey arrived and the latter went this route again with his later Image series Godland (I am not putting a “0” there, but you may need one if you want to research the series). Does the fact that no one else was doing overt Kirby homages on a regular basis make the issues worth seeking out, or picking-up discounted at least?

Yes and no.

This is one of the few full runs of Cable I have read but was by far the most rewarding. The aesthetic got me in the door, so to speak, but the character does not keep me there. Ladrönn clearly has a love for these particular layouts and design work. There are ways of presenting a story and moving events forward that only ever seem to appear in those older books. Figures in motion stride through scenes of intense action oblivious to “cool” poses and the constraints of the page. Not to say that the genre as a whole does not pull plays from the same book but these are specific, and in some cases too much so, references the work of a single man.

Ladrönn at one point, before the Kirby homages are overt, places a panel of only Cable’s foot in motion in the midst of an action scene. This warrants a caption box, with a message from the editors, stating that “we’re not really sure why Ladrönn put this panel here, but it was too fun & wacky to take out.” Fun. Whacky. These things have no place within our comics, clearly. This is how far the expected conventions had moved. Panels are mere recommendations to the characters and the Kirby Krackle is everywhere. This constant love and affection is also how they begin to lose their appeal.

…in the pages of Deathlok if I am not mistaken. “M-Tech” was an odd publishing line but at least it had a techno-organic monkey.
…in the pages of “Deathlok” if I am not mistaken. “M-Tech” was an odd publishing line but at least it had a techno-organic monkey.

There is a love here, but is there an understanding? Casey’s name is attached to many beloved runs in superhero comics as well as under the radar projects that remain fan favorites. The main pitfall I have come across that prevents me from embracing his work is that he never quite seems able to keep up with his own ideas. Superhero comics can be dense. Packed full of characters, ideas, and images that combine through the act of reading to form entirely new experiences. They should not be stagnant and they cannot to waste space. Casey does not seem to spend the time giving Cable, or any of the other characters, enough to do. He is not very imaginative when it comes to creating new ideas or concepts and he certainly does not seem to maintain the primary rule of a Kirby Comic: Create!

Jack Kirby created at a rate that far outstripped his peers. Physical number of pages (at one point Kirby was personally responsible for more titles per month than the Liefeld’s Extreme Studios), concepts, characters, and plots. Not only are the Marvel Age works with Stan Lee responsible for most of what we still read today but each of Kirby’s series after showed that the act of creation was the most important aspect of the work. A book such as The Demon has new villains and foes each issue, new obstacles to surmount. For good or bad (and many are not going to be action figures or cartoons any time soon) they were there. Jack acting as midwife to world after world from some unknowable higher power.

I cannot fault someone for using a Black Bolt pose but the panel to the right features more new character in a single instance than were created over the entirety of this Cable run.
I cannot fault someone for using a Black Bolt pose but the panel to the right features more new character in a single instance than were created over the entirety of this Cable run.

Casey’s primary contribution to the Cable Mythos is the Harbinger of Apocalypse, whose origins are actually steeped in Robinson’s final story (he was also responsible for Merryweather). The otherwise unnamed Victorian Era waif (he has a strange origin that still manages to feel unoriginal) provides the primary physical threat that hangs over the main story. No motivation, or real defining characteristics, just something for the hero to rail against. Another character, Blockade, is introduced as a MacGuffin for Cable’s Titanic Team-Up with his former beau Domino. I never got the feeling that this team could not create new characters but rather would not. I am not sure why as this was not the X-Market of today where all the good characters have their movie rights absorbed by 20th Century Fox.

There is also not a constant stream of creativity reflected with the use of classic characters. This is the SHIELD exactly as Kirby drew it back in the day. Same line work, same designs. The same goes for Klaw, Black Panther, and even the Master Man (in a Golden Age flashback story). I applaud the revisiting at a time when everyone else seemed to have no interest (had I read these at the time they would have been my first introduction to Kirby’s aesthetic) but I mourn the loss of opportunity. Who knows how much more enjoyable, and re-readable, this run on such an otherwise uninspired title would have been had the creators channeled the spirit of the man they honored instead of merely what they saw in his work?

My favorite parts of this run are the exclamations. Paramilitary guerrilla fighters from the Fiftieth Century shout “Oath!” and swear “By the Bright Lady!” more than you would think.
My favorite parts of this run are the exclamations. Paramilitary guerrilla fighters from the Fiftieth Century shout “Oath!” and swear “By the Bright Lady!” more than you would think.

Part of this is shown in the use of Apocalypse. Throughout the run there are vague allusions to a time, coming soon, when “Dayspring” will have the chance to complete his mission by ending the potential future reign of terror in the here and now. Presumably this was supposed to tie-in with The Twelve but if you remember reading that story you will probably also remember not caring all that much about what happened in it. Here Apocalypse haunts the background, hinting at a Master Plan and moving pieces into position. Anywhere else this would be just one more subplot but here the regularly overt character is reimagined as a subtle dark-skinned man in a suit. He arrives, seemingly from nowhere, with the reader and heroes knowing nothing of what he has planned.

When something similar to Apocalypse’s traditional form makes an appearance it is as a flashback (to far in the future) or when a character is describing him, as a threat hiding just out-of-sight waiting to usher in an eternal darkness from whence there is no escape. This teases a character who had been around for over a decade and lays the groundwork for an actual arc. Apocalypse, though never in on the action, appears as a genuine threat that Cable, heavy-hearted, must face or else face the doom of every single person he meets as well as each and every descendant they cannot possibly be aware of. For a character with more conflicting backstories than Hawkman, and an opponent that had been more Action Figure than realized person up until this point, this presentation made me genuinely interested in what would and could have happened next.

Kirby missed out on his chance to design Apocalypse (he did not stay on the original “X-Men” title, that he co-created, long enough to work on most of what is associated with that franchise) but here we see what may have been. If nothing else this is a version of a popular villain reimagined based on how Kirby approached his work in general, with the incredible scope of an endless world. There is a sense of dread permeating the way characters discuss Apocalypse that cannot be matched by all the times he has been shown monologuing about a Middle Schooler’s conception of Darwinism. Apocalypse (a character I love no matter what I seem to be indicating here) is often drawn as this mishmash of different concepts, none of which stand on their own.

From the future? Yes. From Ancient Egypt? Yes. A mutant? Sure. Access to unlimited Celestial technology? Appears to be the case.
From the future? Yes. From Ancient Egypt? Yes. A mutant? Sure. Access to unlimited Celestial technology? Appears to be the case.

Here we have a rather mundane man you would not look at twice and a walking natural disaster on par with any of the Cosmic Threats of old Marvel. The sense of scope has been retained and the character never risks becoming mundane. Bruce Banner and the Hulk, Jason Blood and the Demon. The works inspires your mind to fill in the gulf between the two and therein lies the beauty of what Kirby always did: Making the reader see the world for what it could be regardless of how it actually was. Joe Casey and José Ladrönn understood that more than most and while they worked with Nathan Summers they showed us what could be.

At one point a character refers to him as “The King of All Lies.” Looking upon this visage convinces me that we may still not have seen his true form.
At one point a character refers to him as “The King of All Lies.” Looking upon this visage convinces me that we may still not have seen his true form.

The Character of a City-Gotham Nights

Hello there, Legions of the Unspoken!  I hope you have enjoyed the debate I had with Paul O’Connor of Longbox Graveyard over 70’s vs. 90’s comic books, and I hope you come down strongly on my side that the 90’s are the best!

Seriously, though, we had a good-natured conversation about 90’s comics myths, 70’s comics, the differences between the two eras, and all sorts of cool stuff.  Take a listen here if you haven’t, or give it another one if you have!  The classics never get old, do they?

I sure hope not because today I’m taking a look at one of the all-time classics in superheroes, Batman!  We won’t be looking at him in the traditional sense, however.  We’ll be looking in particular at one of the most important supporting characters in the Batman mythos.

The supporting characters are almost what drives Batman.  If Batman’s rogue’s gallery are counted as supporting characters, then they’re almost certainly the most important element to Batman’s tapestry.  Even if we don’t count the Joker or Calendar Man, the supporting cast makes the Batman comic book come alive in ways many other comic books do not.  Robin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Batgirl, Nightwing, Lucius Fox, Leslie Thompkins, and more bring out the “man” in Batman, and that’s good, because otherwise Batman would just be a weird rich dude who beat up the criminally insane and street level criminals.  Thanks to them, he is now a weird rich dude who beats up the criminally insane and street-level criminals  while having relationships with various folks.

The most important character in the Batman books, though, could possibly be Gotham City.  Gotham City gives a vibe few other locales, fictional or otherwise,  in comic books of any genre can match.  I think it may be the only location in comic books, especially superhero comic books, that can actually say it is a character (other than Danny the Street, of course).  Gotham City means as much to Batman as Batarangs, the Batwing, and Alfred’s snide comments.

I think we can all agree that the architecture in Gotham City reflects the environment that it is, but it is often people that determine the character of a city.  We speak differently about the people of New York City than we do the folks of Los Angeles.  In fact, we think of people within those cities as being vastly different!  Beverly Hills and Compton aren’t the same, and neither are Staten Island and Queens.  The people of Gotham City are a proud lot, but they are also a hard lot.  Their city reflects them, even as their hero reflects their city.  Gotham Nights was a 4-issue mini-series published by DC Comics in 1992 that attempted to show us Gothamites, and by doing so also showing us their city.

John Ostrander handles the writing chores, while Mary Mitchell and Bruce Patterson are on top of pencils/inks.  The book reads well, although it is not as good as some of Ostrander’s other works, such as Suicide Squad, Grimjack, Punisher, or Spectre, but it is a very solid read.  Of course, it is also important to note that Ostrander’s high marks are so high that is no surprise that some of his other works don’t measure up to them.  Even Justin Verlander can’t throw 100-MPH every pitch!  What he can do, though, and what Ostrander does here, is deliver a solid outing each time.

We get an enjoyable read that may not quite reach its potential, but I think some of that is due to space limitations.  If one is going to do a mini-series about the people of Gotham City in a way to bring the city to life in a new way to Batman fans, it seems like it would need to be longer than four issues.  The stories about the individuals are charming, but they feel rushed.  Just as we start to get to know the varied types of folks that comprise the human landscape of Gotham City, the series ends.

But for something to end, it must begin, yes?  This series starts with Batman chasing a mook.  Doesn’t it seem like all Batman titles are legally required to start that way?

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 2
That mook looks a bit more like he is doing the Batdance than he is running away from Batman. Remember Batdance? I don’t think anyone does except me.

The very start of the series has most of the action you’ll see from Batman in this story.  That doesn’t make it bad, but it does mean that if you are buying this because you wanted to see Batman swoop down on every mugger in every alley of  Gotham City then this book isn’t for you.  I think the covers sort of told someone that, but I can only imagine how ripped off someone might have felt if they got this on an impulse buy hoping to see Batman doing Batman stuff.

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This is the cover that I think could have inspired the most of those regretful impulse buys.
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The first time I saw this cover, I thought it was Catwoman enticing some hapless mark. It isn’t, but that isn’t bad.
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All I can imagine when I see this is the idea that Batman is enforcing one of the vast array of anti-homeless ordinances that have sprung up across the United States. “It’s illegal to sleep on a park bench after dark, citizens! Let the Shadow of the Bat remind you!” Seriously, though, those laws are bunk.
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The pastries and the gun make for a beautiful dichotomy.

The covers have a cool design, and I especially enjoy the bordering.  I feel like that alone sort of set these apart as “not your typical Batman book”, although with the first (and possibly the fourth) issue(s) I can see a casual fan picking it up and being disappointed that there isn’t more Batman in it.

But just because there isn’t more Batman doesn’t make this title a disappointment.  In fact, I’d say it is almost worth it for the great art of Gotham City alone.  Mary Mitchell and Bruce Patterson make the city come alive as a character in and of itself. Some of their work makes the buildings of Gotham seem like the night solidified  as they reach as high as they can into sky in an attempt to embrace their ethereal cousin…

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That quote about Gotham being for giants sums up the way Gotham City has looked in nearly everything except the Batman ’66 TV show.
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Man, is there anything one can’t quote Churchill about?
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With just that single train, Gotham City has better mass transit than Atlanta.
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Different parts of a city make a city’s personality so varied. I love that Gotham City is no different.  Of course, someone just out of the panel is bemoaning the lack of English being spoken, because, hey, Gotham City is no different.

The pages almost allow the city to breathe.  If it could breathe, you just know Gotham’s breath would be rank.  Thankfully, you don’t have to smell that, while you still get to enjoy the scenery.

Of course, as I stated earlier, cities become characters due to the folks than inhabit them.  While it seems like Gotham City is populated solely by guys who are part crocodile or have clocks for faces, most of the people in Gotham City are quite normal…some of them appallingly so.  Take Jimmy and Jennifer.  These two folks remind me of that non-couple we all know.  You know the one.  They obviously like each other, but neither do much of anything about it other than act in a flirtatious way toward one another that annoys all around them.  That having been said, they are nice people, even if Jennifer has little to no idea how to act in regard to talking about sexually transmitted diseases in public.

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Jennifer’s way-too-loud discussion about AIDS in public followed up by her assumption that Jimmy is gay due to his concern over AIDS and his never having made a pass at her sort of tells you what sort of lady she is.  Jimmy also seems to be judging her because she has sex and dates a lot, so you can tell what sort of person he is fairly quickly as well.  They are nice enough folks, but there is a bigger picture they aren’t getting.

You may not have noticed the doughnut lady who dealt with Jimmy’s ever-so-clever order.  That seems to be par for the course for her, as she is perpetually building her own world in her own head.  I don’t blame her; I spend a great deal of my time dreaming about what my life would be like if I won the lottery.  (Basically, it would be more or less the same but with more comic books, less work, and probably an Unspoken Decade magazine.  Maybe it will happen!  Keep dreaming, Legions!)

Her name is Rosemary Hayes, and she is something to behold in her dreams.  Aren’t we all?

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Man, she sure makes Wonder Woman fat in her dreams!  I love it!  Her character is a tragic one, whose loneliness reaches out and just grabs you through the page.  I feel so badly for her after this next page, when she wakes up and the reality of her dreams dissipates with ever beam of light that makes its way into her eyes.  We’ve all felt that way after a dream, right?

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I have felt that too, Rosemary. It just ain’t fair.

Life, of course, isn’t fair to many folks, but it seems decidedly harsh on Joel and Emma, an older couple who have all sorts of problems, ranging from health to money.  Being broke is bad, but it is also tough to watch the world change around you when things are going poorly for you, especially as you get older.  That gets really tough if you recall when things were different, when you were younger, and when you could do something about it.  Things could not be going much more poorly for Emma and Joel, so Gotham, being the harsh mistress that it is, ups the ante just a little.

Gotham Nights #1 - Page 9 Gotham Nights #1 - Page 20They will support and care for one another as best they can through these issues, but at least they do have each other.  Dio is an ex-con on parole, who insists on pushing away anyone who is close, especially his pregnant wife.  He also has words with Batman, who says he’ll be keeping an eye on him.  I love that; it’s so small-town sheriff in a western, but it is also so Batman.  Those two genres don’t line up that neatly very often…

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Dio’s path in life hasn’t taken him anywhere awesome thus far, except maybe for his wife, Migdalia, but all he seems to do for her is to threaten to hit her and demand beer.  I am a big fan of beer, but I am not so much a fan of a violence against women.  He also appears to have a past as a high-end henchman, having worked for The Penguin.  I like that Batman has such a memory that he recalls this guy; Penguin must have stopped dressing his guys like he did in Batman ’66, where they’d have a hard time being told apart.

Dio’s tale is a sad one, and no tale in the book is devoid of heartbreak.  The question is is how will these people that comprise the great city of Gotham survive their personal tragedies?

Gotham Nights reminds us that each city, even the fictional ones, are full of people.  These people have dreams, hopes, fears, bouts of depression, hankerings for ice cream, and all of the various feelings that go together to make up human existence.  You’ll see these folks rise, fall, get up, stumble, sleep, eat, and engage in all sorts of activities just to keep their lives moving along.

Normally, I go through bit by bit and give you the story, but that seems a disservice to such a character-drive story as this one.  Instead, go out, find the book, and see yourself in these characters for yourself.  See yourself and your choices in a new light.  See yourself in Gotham Nights…and never forget one thing always remains constant in Gotham City…

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Hope you had fun, Legions of the Unspoken!  Next week, Emily Scott brings you Bill and Ted’s Excellent Comic Book, and Darry Weight takes a look at Cable. We’ll talk Rob Liefeld’s Avengers in an upcoming podcast, and Super-Blog Team Up returns on 4/21 with Top 10’s!  Hope to see you there for all of it, folks!