Friday, 31 August 2012

Books: Tintin: Tintin in the Land of the Soviets


Tintin: Tintin in the Land of the Soviets
By Hergé

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

So: as you can probably tell by now I'm a Tintin fan from way, way, way back. The thrilling (and slapstick-filled) adventures of Belgian's most famous young boy reporter have kept me enthralled since I was first able to read [1]. In fact it was a bit of (what I thought would be) a life-long mission: that is one of my goals in life was to read every Tintin book available [2]: one that I thought that I had completed when I finally finally managed to read The Red Sea Sharks [3].

Of course you should never underestimate the lengths people/the publishing industry/Capitalism will go to in order to make a quick buck - as since that point there's been a "clearing of the vaults" so to speak (and I'm sure that someone, somewhere as put this down to: massive public demand!) and so now have "new" Tintin books [4] in the shape of: Tintin in the Congo, Tintin and Alph-Art [5] and (dur! dur! dur!): Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.

I was actually at another Islington library (the lovely little West Library) when I saw this book just sitting on their shelves and had picked it up and taken it home before I even realised what I was doing. I guess it was the old "gotta read them all" instinct kicking in: although I tried my best to rationalise it to myself by going - it'll be a good book to bring to the Comic Forum - you know: the early days of comics and all that.

Well. I was right about it that. I mean - I would have to go and double-check but thinking it over I'm fairly certain that this is the oldest book that I've written about on here: to try and put this in perspective: In 1930 Mickey Mouse was only a couple of years old (and had only just appeared in his first ever comic strip), Jack Kirby would have only been about 13 and Superman wasn't going to be invented until 1932. I mean: this is practically the Triassic period in terms of comic book history: so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that things were gonna feel - well - a little ancient. But I guess I just wasn't properly prepared for just how basic this book was going to feel: it was a little like going from riding around in a car to holding on the side of a stone wheel as it bounces down a hill.

I mean: the first thing to hit me was just how completely amateur the art looks. I mean - when the book starts it looks like the kind of stuff that if someone sent it to a publisher nowadays they would get a note back saying "thank but no thanks - maybe in a few more years when you've worked out how to draw human beings." But back in the 1930s this stuff was good enough to be published in a national newspaper [6]. Still: that doesn't take away from how disconcerting it is to see Tintin looking like somesort of strange half mutant child dressed up in human clothes (things do gradually improve tho until towards the end he finally begins to resemble a real boy) [7]. The other thing to hit me was - well - all the violence. To be clear: even tho this is the 21st Century and we're all desensitized and I (obviously) have read a lot of superhero comic books where everyone's always looking for an excuse to have a brawl ("Who are you?" "I dunno - but let's fight!") I was somewhat taken aback by just how much fighting there was. I mean - this is supposed to be an innocent little Tintin book but there's just loads and loads and loads of fighting (and everyone standing around in boxing poses - fists raised, legs apart that sorta thing): you can practically feel the violence radiating off the page. I mean back in the strange days before things like the internet and television there wasn't much else to do but go and watch people beat the hell out of each other: but still.

But then I guess the main over-riding feature of this book is just how - well - racist it is [8]. I mean - I knew it wasn't exactly going to be politically correct or anything like that: but well I didn't know that I was going to get dialogue like: "Have you an outfit in my size?" "I zink zo, my liddle fren.'" According to the ever-reliable wikipedia it was written with the express purpose of being a work of anti-communist propaganda for children: but even with that in mind it still comes across as being a bit strong. Examples: apparently Russians are prone to saying things like: "By Trotsky!" and "I think the dirty little bourgeois is asleep." and they like to kill time by idly tying stones around the necks of dogs and throwing them into rivers.  And my favourite bit: when he discovers the underground hideout where Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin collect together all the wealth they've stolen from the people (omg). And none of this is helped by Tintin endlessly pontificating about the evils of Soviet Russia like a spokesperson in a cut-rate propaganda reel [9]: "While the Russian people are dying of hunger, immense quantities of wheat are being sent abroad to prove the so-called wealth of the Soviet Paradise."and "Look at what the Soviets have done to the beautiful city of Moscow: a stinking slum!" and (towards the end) "Goodbye, unfriendly country!" (lovely) [10].

There are a lots of pages (more so than the other Tintin books) - but it (mainly) restricts itself to a six panel grid but that's not really helped by the way it all feels so aimless and listless with one thing happening after another with no real sense of consequence: stealing cars, finding a diving suit, joining the army, going up against the firing squad, designing himself as a pilot - whatever. It all feels as un-involving as watching someone else play a computer game.  With cliffhangers resolved in the most unlikely of ways: "As for you, you've penetrated our secret, so you will be killed... (turns page) ...Tomorrow, at dawn."

Praise? I liked it that Snowy's sarcastic and slightly world-weary voice was already pretty much fully formed: When they find a fake factory (like an old-fashioned film set: only the outside is real) they step behind to find someone smashing plates and sheets of iron in order to make it seem like there are people working and Snowy quips: "It must be a Russian jazz band." which I'll admit I found pretty funny (good old Snowy). And there's a bit when Tintin drinks too much champagne and sees multiple keyholes that's kinda cool. But that's just one panel in a whole book - so not really worth the price of entry.

And this die-hard Tintin fan did get a small kick from noticing the same poses peeking through the artwork: the way that Tintin does his celebratory dancing with his arms outstrectched and grabbing Snowy by the hands, the angle of the way trains speed towards the reader or the boats crash through the water and how the people bump into trees with all their limbs extended: it's like glimpses of the finished machine hidden within the depths of the prototype.

Maybe then it's just one for the die-hard completists and comic book historians.

[1] In fact one of my party tricks when I was about 8 or 9 (if it makes sense to talk about party tricks when you're not actually old enough to go to a proper party) was based around just how many times I'd read Tintin: The Black Island. If someone else read a single line of dialogue I could tell you who said it, why the said it and what which other lines came both before and after it. Needless to say: I was a total chick-magnet.

[2] Gotta say: it was super-canny move on the part of the publishers to put the covers of all the Tintin books on the back cover in a super-appealing-looking grid formation: looking like jars of multi-coloured candy in a sweet shop window. As soon as you finish one book it's always what I would find myself staring at: I could hear them calling to me: "read us! read us!".

[3] Which is kinda a strange book to read as your final Tintin book as it manages to pack in cameos from pretty much every other Tintin book - including (deep breath): General Alcazar; Emir Ben Kalish Ezab and Abdullah; Rastapopoulos; Oliveira da Figueira; Doctor Müller; Dawson; Allan Thompson; Bianca Castafiore and Jolyon Wagg. So it feels a little bit like a school reunion or (actually this more accurately describes the feeling of reading it): a wake.

[4] Well - actually - they've been out for quite a few years now - but gimme a break.

[5] Islington don't actually have a copy of Tintin and Alph-Art but I'd say that can only be a good thing. I managed to hunt down a copy a few months or so ago and it's practically unreadable. Just a few sketches and notes saying: "story to go here." In fact it's just sorta depressing. So avoid that if you can.

[6] Well: children's newspaper. Well: children's newspaper supplement. Well: Belgian children's newspaper supplement: but still.

[7] And - is it just me - or does Snowy have a beard? Just look at the cover!

[8] Although - question: is it called racism when it's directed against members of a country? (Sorry: I'm not exactly up on my different types of hate-speech) Speaking to my girlfriend she said that maybe the word that I'm searching for is "xenophobia" which does seem better ("Xenophobia is defined as an intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries. It comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning "stranger," "foreigner," and φόβος (phobos), meaning "fear.") (and I like it because it reminds me of "Xenomorph" which is always a great word to use...) but then it's not really Russians that are being targeted but Soviet Russians: so what the hey I'll just stick with "racism" with now and leave it at that... but apologises if I'm using the wrong term or whatever.

[9] I mean - I guess that this is just the comic book version of that - but still. Would it be too much to ask for a something a little bit more subtle? Why does race-hate always have to be so obnoxiously over the top?

[10] Oh and don't worry: it doesn't restrict the racism just to the Russians it  also manages (via a quick trip to an underground torture chamber) to poke some fun at the Orientals too. Yay!

Links: Tomcat in the Red Room Review, Comic Attack Review, Slate Article: Tintin: How Hergé’s boy reporter invented the Hollywood blockbuster.

Further reading: Tintin: Tintin in the Congo, Tintin: Destination Moon / Explorers on the MoonThe Adventures of HergéBreakdowns

All comments welcome.

Events: Islington Comic Forum 2012/10


The Islington Comic Forum is a big table full of comic books with a bunch of people seemingly selected from a United Colours of Benetton advert (there's no such thing as an average member) sitting around and discussing/arguing/sharing their thoughts and ideas about one of the most exciting and diverse mediums on the planet (nowadays if you're talking about something that's just "all about superheroes" my first guess is you're talking about films - but whatever). It's a little bit more chaotic than a book club but with the same sort of relaxed and open friendly atmosphere: all presided over by an excitable librarian (that would be me) who has pretty much read every comic book out there (even the terrible ones) and is willing to tell you where you're going wrong with whatever you're reading (and is most happy when people disagree with him). If you're curious as to what sort of books we discuss - then take a look around this blog - every book here has been included at one point or another. And if you want to know what sort of things we talk about: - well - it's never really that properly thought out but we touch upon everything from the best way to construct a story, to how far genre limits can go all the way to if Frank Miller was right about who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman. Oh (and I think this is the best bit) you can take all books home.

There's also a book of the month (so that at least we can all talk about something we've all read). This month it's: Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. If you get a chance please read it. You can reserve yourself a copy here. For those of you that don't get the chance - don't worry - you can still come and join in with the discussions).

The next one is: Tuesday the 2nd of October / 6:00pm to 7:30pm in the Upstairs Hall at North Library Manor Gardens N7 6JX. Here is a map. Come and join us. All welcome.

For more information (or if you have any questions and/or would like to be added to our email list: we send out a reminder a week before with a list of the books that are going to be available) you can email us here.

All comments welcome.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Books: Science Tales: Lies, Hoaxes and Scams


Science Tales: Lies, Hoaxes and Scams
By Darryl Cunningham

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Like Jesse Pinkman says: "Yeah Science!" [1]

Confession: I am not a science-skeptic. I haven't actually done any real proper actual test-tubes and bunsen burner proper science since I finished by Science GCSE however many years ago [2] although every now and again I do like reading a Non-Fiction Popular Science book [3] but - hell - that doesn't stop me from rushing to defend the many virtues of science whenever a conversation calls for it and godamnit - from my own experiences at least - there always seems to be lots of people willing to cast doubt and aspersions on the (wipes away a solitary tear) good name of science (or maybe I just need new friends? I dunno). 

And while most people aren't as exterme to actually say anything as massively knuckle-headed as: "what has science ever done for us?[4]" there's still this kinda pervasive feeling embedded in our society that science - and by extenstion: scientists - aren't to be trusted completely. I mean - yeah sure - give us the cars and ipods and the fullscreen, wafer-thin, colour televisions: but - please - keep all the rest of that Scientific-method-mumbo-jumbo to yourselves yeah? Like (good example): all that fuss and nonsense that was kicked up when Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland went online and everyone got freaked out that it was going to create a miniature black hole or second big bang (depending on whose crazy theory you wanted to believe [5]): that kinda of reaction isn't really the sort that you'd get in a society that respects the idea of science and thinks that (by-and-large) people should just let scientists do all the crazy science stuff that they wanna do [6].

Of course there are reasons (some good, some bad) why most people nowadays are suspcious of anyone wearing a white lab coat: like Darryl Cunningham points out in this book: ""There is little argument anymore over the shape of the Earth [7] or the role of micro-organisms in disease. But more difficult concepts, such as quantum mechanics, need a high level of specialist knowledge to be properly understood... so these areas remain the domain of scientists." And continuing that thought - yeah: back in the day - it didn't really take that much to describe to someone how gravity works (just drop an apple to the ground right?) or where rain comes from (anyone else remember drawing the water cycle at school or is it just me?) but nowadays - the things around us have gotten - well - a little more complicated. It used to be natural for people to be able to take apart the things they owned (like say - a car) and tinker around and fix them up because things were much easier to grasp and make sense of (like: everyone has some idea of how an engine works - right?): but nowadays - hey - if your ipod breaks down - are you gonna prise it apart and tinker around with it's insides - or are you just gonna take it to the apple store or whatever? Because (and here comes my point) - how the hell does an ipod even work anyway? How do they squash all those millions of songs into such a small little pod? Do they make them all hold their breath? Is it done by sprinkling them with fairy dust? Or miniature tractor beams? I have literally no idea. I mean - I know - yeah: computers and all that and ones and zeroes - but apart from that: well - I hate to fall back on that old obvious Arthur C Clarke quote [8] but yeah: if you asked me how does an ipod work I would probably just have to say it's magic (which is just another way of saying: I have no idea). Because more and more everything around us is getting taken over and becoming - well - an area of specialist knowledge [9]. It's now humanly impossible to get to grips with all the nuts and bolts of the modern world, to have read everything - to know how everything works and - well - to know all the science. And I guess that's why non-scientists (and I'd include myself in that category) tend to be a little - fearful? distrustful? moody? - when it comes to dealing with scientists: because they've got - yeah - the "specialist knowledge" and there's no real way for them to be able to explain it to us in simple terms ("You see this apple? Now watch what happens when I let go of it...") because - well - there are no simple terms anymore - things have got so advanced and so strange and so damn complicated - that there's no longer any easy way to explain things.

Of course - one of the best way to explain things to people (if not the best way) is with - ah - stories (and yeah I'm gonna demonstrate that with a story): my literary flatmate [10] saw an episode of Horizon a week or so ago ("Eat, Fast and Live Longer") that was all about how not eating food (or "fasting" as others like to call it) can help people live longer. And - hey - everyone wants to live longer - right? [11]. And since that point (obviously I guess seeing how he's so suggestible) he's been living the life of somesort of Jedi monk and surviving on cups of tea and bottles of water. But what was it that swung him into a life of food denial and hunger pangs? It wasn't just that there were sciencists on the television saying that they thought it was a good idea ("I mean - what the hell? Who needs to eat food anyway it's just stuff right?"). I mean - yeah - they were scientists and they were on a TV programme on the BBC so that gave them a certain air of legitimacy - but the first way he tried to describe it to me was by telling me a story: "You see what it is - is that there's these chemicals in your body that get turned on whenever you eat something and these chemicals or whatever get burned up really quickly because your body is always in "grow" mode and actually it's better when your body is not in "grow" mode because that way you not burning through all your cells and stuff." [12] That lead me to thinking: that maybe it's not so much that people don't trust scientists so much - but maybe because of the complexities of today's modern world - people are only willing to believe what they're able to make sense of: and the best way to make sense of things is to explain them with a little story. If Horizon had just been people saying: "Fasting is a good idea - and hey: just trust us on this - we're scientists." Then I doubt that my literary flatmate (or anyone else) would have (hah) swallowed what they were saying: but the fact that they used little stories to back it up ("Your cells do this stuff") makes it much easier to comphrend and - well - believe [13]. 

If you're still with me then: if you want to make people believe stuff then you need to tell them stories. Which I guess is why Darryl Cunningham decided to call his book: "Science Tales." Picking it up for the first time I had no idea who Darryl Cunningham was [14] apart from - hey the cover looks kinda nifty and - well - "Yeah Science!": and it's kinda nice how it just drops you in from the get-go with a massive thunder storm that leads into a quick discussion of the ins-and-outs of Electroconvulsive therapy [15] before leaping on to things like homeopathy, the moon landings and evolution. The general pattern of things is that Cunningham will say that a bunch of people believe something that's anti-science (for example: "science is rubbbish") and will then use a few observations and little shocking anecdotes (the case of Penelope Dingle is particularly sad) to prove that - hey actually: science isn't rubbish.

The thing is (and I'm hoping this is the point where I tie everything together): science is - well - better than having to be reduced to stories. There's a thing called the scientific method ("systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.") that is basically how and why we can understand so much about the world and end up creating things like cars and ipods and the fullscreen, wafer-thin, colour televisions and the reason why all the scientific theories it gives up are true [16]. The thing that science doesn't need to do is to tell little stories and rely on anecdotal evidence to back itself up because - well - frankly: it's better than that and anecdotal evidence (not to put too fine of a point on it) is the language of the enemy. When someone says: well my nan's been smoking for a hundred years and she's fine: well - that's not really the language of science. Science is more about looking at a thousand nans and weighing up all their smoking together.

Which kinda puts me in a strange position: because altho me and Darryl Cunningham are kinda on the same "Yeah Science!" side: Science Tales left me a little - well - nonplussed. Because even tho I think that books about science and books acting for science are a good idea and something I'd like to see more of I - well - question the methods that Darryl Cunningham uses here. Of course - I might just be being super-harsh (it has been known). Maybe the intended audience of this book is more teenagers who just want to know what all this science-stuff is about. And hey if someone like that picks up this book and gets into the whole science-stuff then I guess that can only be a good thing.

But yeah: I don't know: it all just feels a little bit lightweight. Like it's not much more than the words on the pages and the pictures are just there to make things pretty. And if we're just vauling it on the words themselves: well: if this wasn't a comic - it would be a really short little book. The art is a bit Scott McCloud-light (and I was in no way surprised to see Scott get a little mention in the acknowledgements): but unlike Scott McCloud's ever-thoughtful comic skills (which may appear simple but actually manages to spin a whole bunch of different plates). There's a quote at the start of the book from Michael Specter: "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion; however everyone is not entitled to their own facts."and I wish that the book had more of that kind of hard edge: less of the softy-softy with the stories and more: this is RIGHT and this is WRONG. But hell: you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar I guess. But a whole book of honey is just a little too sweet for my particular tastes.

So: colour me disappointed. Oh well.

[1] If you somehow haven't seen Breaking Bad yet - well: I suggest you start. 

[2] Although I would anyone reading to know that I was super-amazing at science. So much so that in my last few years of GCSEs I used to end up messing around more and more (and my classmates Swan and Lacie are mostly to blame for that: so thanks for that guys) up until the point that our teacher (whose name I can't remember how to spell and won't attempt at this point - so she's safe for now) got so angry at me that she called me out and said if I was going to talk so much - how would I like to come up front and teach the class? So I was all like: hell yeah. Walked up to the front - grabbed the textbook and did about 10 minutes teaching after which I sat down (and I realise that this is most probably the egotistical side of mind embellishing things a little): to thunderous applause. Moral of the story: Yeah Science!

[3] Highlights include: The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene ("In a rare blend of scientific insight and writing as elegant as the theories it explains, Brian Greene, one of the world's leading string theorists, peels away the layers of mystery surrounding string theory to reveal a universe that consists of eleven dimensions, where all matter is generated by the vibrations of microscopically tiny loops of energy."), A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy Of Godel And Einstein by Palle Yourgrau ("By 1949, Gödel had produced a remarkable proof: In any universe described by the Theory of Relativity, time cannot exist. Einstein endorsed this result-reluctantly, since it decisively overthrew the classical world-view to which he was committed. But he could find no way to refute it, and in the half-century since then, neither has anyone else. Even more remarkable than this stunning discovery, however, was what happened afterward: nothing.") and - but of course: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre ("We are constantly bombarded with inaccurate, contradictory and sometimes even misleading information. Until now. Ben Goldacre masterfully dismantles the dodgy science behind some of the great drug trials, court cases and missed opportunities of our time, but he also goes further: out of the bullshit, he shows us the fascinating story of how we know what we know, and gives us the tools to uncover bad science for ourselves.").

[4] "TV off."

[5] And - if you're curious - you can check this handy little website to see if the Large Hadron Collider has destroyed the world yet.

[6] Just to be perfectly clear on this point: I like scientists and think that scientists should be allowed to do science (provided that you know: it's ethical and isn't going to destroy us all - so: bombs and stuff = bad; cruel and unnecessary animal testing = bad; evil nazi experiments = bad) and of course - if scientists start altering their results because they're being paid by third parties or because they have ulterior motives or stuff like that - then - well: I wouldn't really consider them to really meet the defintion of "scientists" anymore - the same way that someone isn't really a "doctor" if they go around making people sick - yeah?

[7] Gotta say tho: I would have thought that the reason we know the world is round is due more to explorers like Magellan and Columbus: I would have gone more for - we know that the Earth orbits the Sun rather than the other way round - but that's less easy to depict visually so - whatever.

[8] "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

[9] There's a book I've seen on our shelves called: The Last Man Who Knew Everything: Thomas Young, the Anonymous Polymath Who Proved Newton Wrong, Explained How We See, Cured the Sick and Deciphered the Rosetta Stone (I thought that meant that Thomas Young was the last person who had read every book in existence up to the point he was alive but if you go ahead and google the "last man to have read everything" you'll get a few different answers including: Coleridge and Kant) but this is just to say: how crazy is it that the was once a time where it was possible to read every book in the world? I mean now I'm guessing it would be beyond the limits of anyone alive today to be able to read 1% of all the books currently available: and the thought of 100% - well: there's just too much stuff in the world.

[10] Who recently has taken to spell-checking and proof-reading my old posts on here - so big thanks for that literary flatmate!

[11] That well-used Woody Allen quote: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."

[12] Or something like that. I can't actually remember the exact details. In fact a better example came a few days later when I was talking to one of my girlfriend's friend's boyfriends and it turned out that he had seen the same Horizon and was thinking of becoming a fasting convert and his story/reason of believing was that on the programme it had said that in the Great American Depression there was a whole bunch of people who survived it by eating very little who went on to live way beyond their average life expectancy: reason being that not having so much food all the time is good for your body blah blah blah.

[13] Of course (oh the irony) the real story is a lot more complicated than that: literary flatmate didn't just take Horizon at it's word and did do some reading up on the internet of scientific papers (etc) to see if they were telling the truth. Plus: in a sense taking scientists at their word is kinda already buying into the whole scientific narrative thing. So - yeah - well: whatever. Let's not let that stuff get in the way of a good story.

[14] In fact - now I think of it: I still don't know who Darryl Cunningham is. Is he a scientist? Or a cartoonist? Or both? Did he start off doing one and then switched to the other or what? What are his credentials damnit? (I guess I should have asked before I let him in the door).

[15] Durdur! Durdur-durdur! Durdur-durdur!

[16] Or (if you really wanna be pedantic about it): you know - true enough. As close to truth as we can get. Whatever.

Links: Independent Review.

Further reading: xkcd, Feynman, Logicomix, Asterios Polyp, Understanding Comics, Couch Fiction.

All comments welcome.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Books: Batman: The Long Halloween


Batman: The Long Halloween
Written by Jeph Loeb
Art by Tim Sale 

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Re-reading what I'd written for this I realised that the first line: "I'm supposed to be on holiday" had a totally unintended double meaning.

And then - oh boy - having written that I felt like I was on some sort of roll. Because - I've read The Long Halloween a few times and having another go felt very much like a re-read - trudging over a path I'd long since worn out and outgrown: so it's nice and fitting that we start off the "Re-reading." And yeah - as I write this - I am on holiday (even librarians need a rest now and again - it's true) but also - no duh - thats also the name of the big bad (secret) badguy: and "double meaning" - well - ha! We'll get to that soon...

I saw The Dark Knight Rises at the IMAX last week. My thought before I saw it was that I would use this little space here to vent all my thoughts and feelings and then - you know - sync that in somehow with The Long Halloween: one of the "big" Batman books that I somehow haven't gotten around to yet.

In fact: there's a lot of people out there that would say (in fact - Michael - one of our Comic Forum regulars - declared this to everyone at the last meeting) that The Long Halloween is the best Batbook out there. And even Sean T Collins (currently my go to for funny/interesting/insightful Comic Book writings [1]) included it in his Rolling Stone Piece: The Dark Knight Reads: Fifteen Essential Batman Graphic Novels [2] - but for me - I dunno - The Long Halloween kinda struck me as being a little childish. No - wait - that's not quite right - more like a kid's idea of what a grown-up Batman comic should be - a little like Christopher Nolan's Batman films kinda - or maybe someone who thinks that the Batman: Animated Series is the pinnacle of everything that Batman should be [3]: I mean yeah ok - it gets past the cookie cutter Batman story that we've all heard so many times (namely: Badguy threatens Gotham, Batman does some detective work, big climax on a roof somewhere, there's a struggle - maybe a little dialogue about how "we all wears masks don't we" - and then Batman saves the day - end) and - wow - yeah - picking it up - it certainly is aptly named: book is long and hefty and (oh!) I'd forgotten this - but the very first line "I believe in Gotham City" has a construction familiar to anyone who's seen The Dark Knight [4]. But - I dunno - in the introduction Jeph Loeb talks about how the original idea of the whole series came from his editor Archie Goodwin who made a few comments about how good it would be to see Batman go up against some Gangsters - and that's pretty much all the book is: The Gotham version of The Godfather - only it's all decoration with remarkably little filling.

Like it says in the Jeph Loeb written-introduction - The Long Halloween picks up where Frank Miller's Year One leaves off (altho Tim Sale's artwork is leans much more in a Sin City kinda direction - all jutting boxes and thick shadows) it's Batman in his early days - still trying to find his Batfeet (and quite frankly doing a pretty awful job at it - thought this guy was supposed to be the world's greatest detective?) but for me it was the Nolan Batman films that kept coming to mind (and oh man any money that Christopher Nolan has a signed copy of The Long Halloween sitting on his bookshelf): Commissioner Gordon as a lowly Captain. Big piles of cash on fire. Harvey Dent doing District Attorney type stuff. Faked deaths. People disguised in bulky SWAT team get-ups: it's like The Dark Knight only without all the great Heath Ledger stuff [5].

Reading The Long Halloween was - I dunno - slightly depressing I guess? I mean a big part of that is probably down to the fact that I've already read it a few times before: I imagine the first time it was pretty alrightish - but it's like meeting someone that only has one thing to say - having a fun time but then each successive time falling prey to the law of diminishing returns. None of the characters feel like human beings - more like icons or mascots or something - and what you see is all you get: there's a bit where the Joker rides around in a biplane and it just feels - like a cartoon [6]: there's no real sense of danger or anything really - it's just a pretty image. And comparing it - well - the Frank Miller Batman stuff (any one of which I would have preferred to be reading): there's always a sense which those books that there's a really realized world (be that the more realistic Year One or the more cartoony Dark Knight Strikes Again) that you're just getting a glimpse into via the story that's being told - while The Long Halloween (not that it's the worst offender of this type of thing - but oh well): it just feels like the world is just what's on the page - and so it's all paper-thin - one-dimensional - lacking any real sense of depth: yeah - it's pretty and the architecture and giant halls and stuff certainly make a visual impact (every splash page is like WHAM! a smack against the eyes) - but it's all just I dunno - pretty pictures - with very little feeling of connecting tissue other than: can you guess who the Holiday killer is? And who is the baddie for the this chapter gonna be? (In fact at times - it feels like less a story and more like reading a schematic diagram - and now this bit connects to this bit - and this part makes this happen).

Like: there's a bit where Catwoman and Batman are doing their jumping from rooftop to rooftop
bit and Batman's all like: "I wonder if it's true what they about having nine lives. After tonight, she is going to need all of them." - I mean 1. Who talks like this? 2. He does know that Catwoman isn't actually a cat - right? And then - oh god - there's Harvey Dent's two fixation which starts of kinda cute (and yeah - I get it - it's a sign that he's starting to go crazy - blah blah blah) - but then stumbles quickly into parody: (And it's even worse when they underline the point with bold: "So I'll just have to work twice as hard" "A second chance?" "If you had half a brain" "There's two ways of looking at everything" "The second actually..." "Don't give it a second thought" etc) - this isn't sophistication - this is just

Stuff I liked - I dunno: I liked the Arrested Development style doctor "Your husband... is gone" [7] but then again - well - it is a little bit too cartoony (so I guess that fits with the rest of the book): and - hmmm - would he not choose his words more carefully being a fully licensed medical practitioner and all that [8]? And in terms of the writing: is that really the best place for a little chuckle? (Still - I laughed - so why am I complaining?)

Trying to get to the root of what I'm trying to say (and thanks for hanging in there) I guess my issue with The Long Halloween is that it treats the idea of Batman (and everything that comes along with it: Bruce Wayne, The Bad guys, Bat-Signal etc) as a given and then builds from there: as if the risk of picking these things apart or subjecting them to closer scrutiny (wait a second - he dresses up like a giant Bat?) runs the risk of collapsing the foundations and bringing everything tumbling down - as if Gotham is a place you visit in a dream (which I guess - in a sense it is - a shared collective dream that holds sway over us all): a place with it's own rules and it's own topsy turvy gravity and any small move or raised eyebrow of incredulousness means you have to wake up. And yeah - obviously there's no lack  of Batman comics that have the same tendencies - but then: damnit - when there's Frank Miller (and hell to a lesser extent Grant Morrison) elevating things several levels above - what are you doing wasting your time on stuff like this? What are you - twelve years old?

[1] Go: here.

[2] It's Number 9: "Superstar writer (and current Marvel exec) Jeph Loeb's noirish year-in-the-life story about the young Batman's hunt for a serial killer features too-liberal cribbing from The Godfather and plot holes cavernous enough to park the Batmobile in. His real talent lies in providing a parade of jaw-dropping images for his artists to draw; in this case, that means his frequent collaborator Tim Sale, who gets to put his unmistakable stamp on nearly every iconic Bat-character. His every moody, expressionistic page is suitable for framing." Read more: here (Note: The Dark Knight Strikes Again isn't listed tho which in my mind is a frigging travesty).

[3] Not that I wanna diss the Batman: Animated Series - I mean - when I was twelve years old I frigging loved it. Only - I'm not twelve years old anymore (sad fact).

[4] And indeed it's only 10 pages further in that we get to Bruce Wayne saying: "I believe in Harvey Dent" and issue one ends with a triple whammy: "I believe in Jim Gordon. I believe in Harvey Dent. I believe in Gotham City..."

[5] This would be the point where I'll say that the comics that The Dark Knight Rises (which - no - I didn't much like) most brought to mind where Paul Pope's Batman: Year 100 and Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (both of which I've re-written - so go check those out): only more in a: man I wish this film was much more like those books. Instead of being - well: Nick Southall says it better than I could (in fact - a good (albeit slightly harsh) description of the Dark Knight Rises which spins to mind is that it's like The Dark Knight Returns if it was rewritten and redrawn by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale).

[6] Not that I have a problem with cartoons you understand. Or - hell - even stuff feeling cartoony. It's just - when you tell that people are trying to be all serious and mature and dark and edgy - it's doesn't work when one of your characters has a giant purple tail.

[7] See: here.

[8] And - oh yeah - also having been stabbing in the frigging back! 

Links: Comics Should Be Good Review, Graphic Novel Reporter Review.

Further reading: Batman: Year One, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year 100, Batman: Dark Victory, Batman: Batman and Robin, Batman: Broken City.

All comments welcome.