Tuesday, March 8, 2011

For What It’s Worth #3: The Batman Chronicles #19

Yeah, I found a trio of these Batman Chronicles in the quarter bin the other day, and took a chance on each of ‘em. Issue 19 is definitely the best, as we’ll see. It was published in Winter 2000 and has a cover price of $2.95. The stories in this issue are “Got a Date with an Angel” by Steven Englehart and Javier Pulido, “Rapscallions” by Joseph Harris and Eric Battle, and “The Penny Plunderers” by Graham Nolan.
What a delightful cover by Pulido... Delightful, I say!

I’ve got to say that the issue is worth it for “Got a Date with an Angel” alone. Though the story takes place between the panels of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, it doesn’t rely on its timeframe as a gimmick. This is a well-written, superbly illustrated gem of a Batman story.

It starts exactly three days after Bruce Wayne donned his cape and cowl for the first time. He’s still adjusting to his return to Gotham and getting his feet wet as far as his life’s mission is concerned. He has a relationship with a woman but he’s having trouble staying committed to her due to his busy nights as Batman. Something’s got to give, and although anyone who knows anything about Batman knows how this story ends, it’s no less tragic for our protagonist, and Englehart and Pulido do a great job in making us feel for a character who typically isn’t known for emoting.

Englehart, of course, is perhaps most well-known for his brief but influential run of Batman stories from the ‘70s. He also wrote a bunch of Marvel and DC comics over the years. I can’t say I’ve got any sort of particular affinity for his work, though I do appreciate his Batman work and his Silver Surfer comics. Often, I worry that writers who were known for doing their best work in the ‘70s or ‘80s have their best days behind them, but “Got a Date with An Angel” doesn’t feel dated at all

It’s a great coincidence that Javier Pulido happened to draw this story. He’s pretty high on my list of most underrated and under-appreciated artists. He also did some fantastic work with Peter Milligan on Human Target. His style here is fittingly reminiscent of the style David Mazzucchelli used in Year One, though perhaps not entirely as spot-on as J.H. Williams’ flashback sequences from Detective Comics a couple years back. Pulido certainly has great talent in channeling other artists’ energy. Back around 1998, he drew Joe Casey’s run on The Incredible Hulk and there his style paid tribute to Jack Kirby. Still, Pulido has his own voice as an artist, and even his early work, like this Batman story, has plenty of evidence. Some of the action sequences, with their great sense of movement and force, as well as the impressionistic last three pages of the story are hallmarks of his style.

“Rapscallions” isn’t a very good story, though. Written by Joseph Harris, whom I’ve never heard of, it’s a generic Huntress story that I couldn’t get into because of the horrible art by Eric Battle. He draws in an overly rendered style that’s got its roots in ‘90s Image. His Huntress’ breasts are the size of large melons.

The story is about Huntress getting tied upside down by a gang of prepubescent orphans and then trying to protect them from the drug runners who take advantage of them. It could make for an embarrassing after-school special if not for the silly premise of little kids beating up the Huntress and then tying her upside down.
Battle also doesn’t draw the kids very well. Their proportions are weird and they don’t look like kids. Instead, they look like small adults. It’s this sort of amateurish effort that makes it even harder to take the story seriously. He seemed to spend more time focusing on drawing blood, bullets, and Huntress’ tits than on any sort of important storytelling.

Ultimately, it’s an empty, navel-gazing sort of story that has nothing to say that isn’t about the Huntress. (Though I think it was trying to make some sort of deep statement about regret and second chances.)

The final story, “The Penny Plunderers” is written and drawn by the esteemed Graham Nolan. It’s fun little ten pager about a small-time crook who aspires to be a big-time rogue in Batman’s city. It also features a giant penny, a silly twist at the end of the story, and an intentionally bad pun. Nolan’s crisp art looks very nice here, with some satisfyingly thick ink lines and great facial expressions.

Well, two out of three ain’t that bad. I would have paid cover price for this comic, partly due to the two quality stories and partly due to my scholarly interest in Pulido’s work. For what it’s worth, I’m glad I found it for 25 cents.

No comments:

Post a Comment