June 13, 2011
Watch as Frank Miller continues to denigrate other superheroes just to make Batman look– wait, this was made in 1994?
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. (suddenly looks up as though a thought comes to him) Say... (takes out and looks at a pocket watch) It's Miller Time!
("Miller Time" title is displayed)
Linkara: Welcome once again to "Miller Time", the story of one man's quest to ruin his own reputation as a great writer.
Linkara (v/o): Pretty much all the comics we've looked at for Miller Time have been from the last decade. As we've gone over several times, Frank Miller has written good stuff. It's just, for some reason, there came a point where everything he touched withered and died. However, this time, we're going to take a trip in the Wayback Machine to 1994.
(Cut to a shot of a cover of a "Sin City" comic)
Linkara (v/o): Frank Miller had written and drawn a few complete "Sin City" stories by then, which most people tend to think is the problem, that he started writing "Sin City" and he never stopped. Is that true? Well, maybe we'll find out today.
Linkara: And since we're going back into the land of Miller, I've come prepared (holds up a bottle of alcohol) with a bottle of Klingon Bloodwine as well as a bottle (holds up a second bottle of alcohol) of Aldebaran whiskey. It's green, you know. So, with that in mind, let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "Spawn/Batman".
(Opening titles play; title card has "Nightswimming" by R.E.M. playing in the background; cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): Why do these prestige-format books always have such boring covers? I kind of get what they're going for with this, trying to evoke "The Dark Knight Returns", and I'll explain why in a minute, but it doesn't really say much about it, other than, "Yeah, they're teaming up, I guess." The inside cover is the best part.
Text: Spawn vs. Batman...
Linkara (v/o): That isn't its title.
Text: ...is a companion piece to DC Comic's The Dark Knight Returns.
Linkara: So yes, this is technically in canon with "The Dark Knight Strikes Again" as well. And depending on who you ask, "All-Star Batman and Robin" is also in that same continuity. So, how long do you think it'll take for Batman to call someone retarded in this and then praise them for killing people?
Linkara (v/o): We open to a closeup shot of the moon.
Narrator: A cold night. A dark night.
Linkara: (listlessly) Get it?
Narrator: An unforgiving wind.
Linkara: Maybe all of Frank Miller's work is actually a desperate cry for help from someone who wanted to write poetry, but instead ended up writing comic books.
Linkara (v/o): It continues like this, with Frank listing off, in sentence fragments, various sounds, going all noir on us, until we finally see Batman inside a warehouse at the Gotham waterfront.
Narrator: Musty air sucked into lungs filled with fire. Blood surging from heart to shoulder and streaming hotly down his arm. Not a moment spent acknowledging the pain. Not a movement wasted.
Linkara: (holding up index finger) Okay, I call bullcrap on this one. Now, many have pointed out that in previous reviews, shoulder wounds are just as dangerous as wounds in other places, but let's take a closer look at this, shall we?
Linkara (v/o): Frankly, it doesn't even look like the wound is bleeding. Yes, it's very red, but that could just mean it's bruised. And even if it is bleeding, it doesn't look like a bullet wound and certainly wouldn't have scraped away the costume like that. And why is the blood leaking out like that onto the cape when there is no visible way for it to have gotten out of the wound, which, again, doesn't appear to be bleeding as much as it is just bright red? And come on, even acknowledging the potential problems of a shoulder wound? That's not exactly the most dramatically tense wounds you could be talking about.
Narrator: Batman. Protector. Avenger. Detective. Champion.
(Cut to that classic panel from "Batman: Fortunate Son")
Batman: "Punk" is nothing but death...and crime...and the rage of a beast.
(Cut back to the current Batman comic)
Batman: ...You're lucky I went so easy on you...
Linkara (v/o): And we see that the guys he went so easy on are all unconscious and also all wearing the exact same clothes. This probably means that he actually beat up some poor dockworkers by mistake, but would anyone be surprised by that?
Narrator: Tonight's foes are left behind him, broken things. But the true horror lies ahead. Weapons--sold by agents of a fallen dictatorship to Gotham street gangs.
Linkara: Oh, yeah, I'm sure impoverished drug dealers do trades like this all the time with former dictators. They meet at the evil people conventions and exchange business cards.
Linkara (v/o): What's better, these weapons being sold to street gangs are not only guns, grenades and rocket launchers, but also high-tech battle gloves that...
Narrator: ...hint at the smaller horrors that would have followed the nuclear nightmare.
Linkara: Not the least of which being a crappy story about Superman and Captain Marvel fighting over Wonder Woman's affections.
Linkara (v/o): Batman picks up one of the battle gloves when he's suddenly attacked by a crab-like robot. Geez, look at the size of that thing! How the hell did that thing sneak up on Batman? The robot knocks him around and then stops for a second, thinking he's probably dead.
Batman: (narrating) Move slowly. Stay conscious. Ignore the pain. Stay conscious...
Linkara: (as Batman) I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
Linkara (v/o): Batman grabs the battle glove and studies it quickly, realizing it enhances strength.
Narrator: ...the gloves. Humming with the promise of power.
Linkara: (as Batman, pretending to look at a glove) I love the Power Glove. It's so bad.
Linkara (v/o): The robot starts charging a weapon, but fortunately, Batman's glove unleashes its ominous "hummmm", and he punches it hard. However, much to Batman's – and to my own – amazement, it turns out there's something human inside of it. Or at least, part of one. It keeps proclaiming that it doesn't know where it is, but since the cyborg is still a threat, Batman does his best to disable it without killing him. He also examines that the guy is speaking English with a Brooklyn accent, and finally manages to get to the organic part of it: just a human head. He tries to pull the head free... Yeah, I'm sure the head can survive just fine without the rest of the thing. ...but his movements trigger the robot's self-destruct mechanism. We have a brief TV interlude for two panels about a Dr. Margaret Love, who's awarded a trophy for her humanitarian work and...
Linkara: (listlessly) Villain. She's the villain.
Linkara (v/o): I mean, come on! They don't even try to remove the evil grin she has. Let's face it, in comic books, unless you're the main character, humanitarians are almost always evil. We cut to the Batcave, but of course, it's not enough to simply say it's the Batcave; we need some more of Frank's purple prose.
Narrator: A damp place, where sounds echo, upward...
Linkara (v/o): Thanks for the clarification; I was worried they might echo sideways or downwards. Good to know it only goes upwards. Batman is examining the now-deceased head and discovers who the man is through his dental records. He decides to head to New York to try to figure out what the guy's head was doing inside of a cyborg. And here's something else we need to comment on. Now, Todd McFarlane is usually a pretty good artist, but man, this artwork looks terrible. The people are all blocky and unnatural, and for some reason, he feels the need to make Batman's cape ludicrously huge! I mean, look at that! There's stylization and then there's "he's wearing a hang glider on his back!" Oh, and we haven't started on the narrative captions.
Narrator: The hunt begins. But very soon, a woman's scream splits the night-- and Batman remembers a little boy who watched in horror and disbelief as a mugger's bullets tore through the flesh and bone of Thomas and Martha Wayne...
(Cut to a panel of "All-Star Batman and Robin #3", showing the Crazy Steve version of Batman)
Batman: (narrating) I touched my mother's breast. It BLED on me.
(Cut back to the current Batman comic)
Linkara (v/o): You'd think this would segue into Batman attacking a mugger, but in fact, it's just him running around looking for clues, listening in on people as they mention Spawn.
Narrator: But now and then he hears legends of one of their own named "Al"-- a bum possessed with magic powers. Nonsense, he thinks.
Linkara: (as Batman) What a load. People with freeze guns or aliens with Krypton are so much more believable than magic. (nods)
Narrator: But Batman is wrong. Another night creature glides through Manhattan's concrete canyons, on a quest of his own.
Linkara: So, one could say that he's... nightswimming? (grins broadly for a few seconds, then becomes awkward) What? Sometimes, I have to reach for the music jokes.
Linkara (v/o): So, yeah, Spawn is looking for friends of his who have gone missing. Not far away, we meet two more people and a homeless guy with an eerie glow... or rather, just the art trying to point him out stylistically.
Narrator: A couple of sick jerks out for what sick jerks call a good time.
Linkara: (as one of these sick jerks, rubbing hands together) Hey, man, let's go through our taxes! Yeah!
Linkara (v/o): I guess people just do this in New York: find a homeless guy and try to set him on fire, dumping Ecto Cooler on him. Or maybe that's supposed to be gasoline.
Linkara: (holding up a bottle of whiskey) Or maybe it's supposed to be whiskey. (opens bottle and takes a swig)
Linkara (v/o): Instead, the fire redirects itself and comes after them, at which point they run into Spawn. Naturally, shooting him does nothing and he burns them to death. However, Batman witnesses the murder and drop-kicks Spawn. While normally the move would have put him in the hospital for six months, Spawn just swivels around and kicks back, telling him that this is his turf. They fight for a bit more, and I have to wonder a bit about the narration. Is Batman supposed to be giving it? The problem is the coloring choice. Both Batman and the omniscient narrator are using a blue gradient for the colors of their boxes, so I can't tell where one starts and the other ends. Not to mention, the shade of blue seems to change from page to page, sometimes lighter and sometimes darker, so there's no consistency. Why not just have the narrator be a yellow or orange? That's what most comics do to avoid confusion. Otherwise, if Batman is supposed to be narrating all of this, including the bits with him in the third person, then he comes across as a crazy man listening to the voices in his head... Okay, I just answered my own question there, never mind. Spawn starts to roll his eyes at this whole thing and doesn't really want to fight Batman, who doesn't even give Spawn two seconds to talk. Since brute force doesn't seem to really faze Spawn all that much, he realizes that Spawn is still breathing and attacks him with some nerve gas and then delivers an uppercut while making his own spine "KRAKK", as it were.
Linkara: This bit right here is actually an example of why this is still transitioning from Miller's awesome to his suckiness. We actually see Batman acting intelligently in a fight and figuring out, you know, little weaknesses and observations, and not just (as Batman) "I rock." (normal again) Now, let's take a right turn into stupid.
Linkara (v/o): We have five straight panels of Batman's logo slowly zooming in on it, with various fighting sound effects over it. What is this supposed to signify? Spawn is apparently using magic to fight against Batman and beat the crap out of him. That's right, we don't get to see Batman get knocked around like Spawn did. Oh, no. Instead, we just have to settle for the sound effects and being told that Batman is beat up. The only explanation I can fathom as to why this is presented in this bizarre manner is that Frank Miller refused to allow Batman to be shown on-panel getting beaten, since he's the goddamn Batman and all. Mind you, that's just speculation on my part, but even if that isn't why, it's really cheap. Batman retreats, but he promises he'll be back, and Spawn recovers from his own beatdown. Yeah, we don't see Batman sputtering and coughing in pain, but we do get to see Spawn that way. The best we get is Batman in shadow, sitting down in an alleyway on a splash page. This happy little team-up is off to a great start, isn't it? And oh, yeah, once again, we're told things instead of being shown them; in this case, Batman healing his injuries. Spawn has a lead on one of his hobo friends and investigates a mission that has state-of-the-art security.
Narrator: A junkie named Silvio led Spawn here. He seemed to know something. "You can check in," said Silvio, "but you can't check out."
Linkara: (as Silvio) However, before you do, you're allowed to compare rates with other missions, and they'll match the price no matter how low it goes.
Linkara (v/o): One of the giant enemy crabs attacks Spawn, who manages to rip off one of its gun arms and, despite it no longer being attached, uses it to annihilate the robot. Once again, he discovers the head and identifies it as one of his friends, but the head doesn't even remember who he is. All of a sudden, a monitor flips up, revealing that humanitarian woman [Dr. Margaret Love] talking about how they're in the final stage of their rehabilitation.
Linkara: (gasps, then exaggeratedly) You mean that evil-looking humanitarian woman was... (leans forward, deep voice) EVIL?!? (a dramatic sting plays)
Dr. Love: ...Prepare to shed your poisoned bodies and become perfect servants of society.
Linkara: Yes, perfect, gun-wielding servants of society with giant, mechanical claws of death.
Linkara (v/o): Spawn remembers his life as Al Simmons and, in particular, this woman, who smiled while people were killed on some battlefield. He destroys the mission, and we cut to Batman admitting that his incident with Spawn was humiliating, especially since Spawn was holding back. He sees the Bat Signal in the sky, which, of course, is surprising since it's Manhattan and all. And it turns out be Evil Humanitarian Woman. How the hell did she know Batman was in Manhattan? She says the security cameras showed Spawn destroying her mission, and subsequently she fears he'll attack a fundraiser she's holding that night aboard the "Heal the World Ship".
Dr. Love: It's rumored the President may attend. If anything should happen...
Linkara: It's rumored he'll show up? Um, lady, if he was coming, your ship would be taken apart and put back together three times by the Secret Service before he set one foot on it.
Linkara (v/o): Batman swears he'll stop Spawn and calls out for him to send him something that will help him deal with Spawn. I take it back: Batman's acting like an incredible moron if he believes this sob story. After all, why the hell would this woman call Batman, of all people, and not just the police? Spawn talks to his hobo buddies about the fight with Batman, wondering if maybe he's not the hero he's supposed to be if he's working for Evil Humanitarian Lady. Batman shows up, now armed with the power glove from earlier, and keeps knocking Spawn around before we finally get that trademark Miller dialogue.
Spawn: Break you in half. I'll break you in half.
Batman: Sloppy fighter. Stupid fighter. No discipline.
Spawn: Talking trash. You're talking trash.
Batman: No discipline. Stupid fighter. Stupid punk.
Linkara: Look, just shut up and start making out already!
Linkara (v/o): They fight for a while and then finally collapse, but then the stupidest plot point that could happen does happen: Evil Humanitarian Woman... Yeah, she does have a name, but considering how cliched evil she is, I don't think she needs it. ...has sent more of her cyborgs to kill the two. Okay, a few questions: one, if you were just gonna send the cyborgs out there anyway, why bother with Batman? Two, why not just let Batman deal with them, or at least distract them while you do your major evil plan? Three, how the hell did you even know where Spawn was? Four, if they do survive this little assault, it's gonna probably come right back to you, so why take the risk when you could just have the cyborgs act as your ace in the hole as guards or something?
(Cut to the obligatory clip of Batman Forever)
Bruce Wayne (Val Kilmer): It just raises too many questions.
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): Anyway, the cyborgs start seriously killing Batman, and Spawn intervenes, blasting them apart. However, I think Batman is suffering brain damage or something, because he's still whining about how Spawn is a "stupid, undisciplined punk". With the cyborgs vanquished, Spawn uses his magical powers to start healing Batman. In the process, he initiates telepathic contact by... uh... painting squiggly lines and a golf ball? Seriously, what the hell is this image supposed to be, exactly? His soul? His brain? Is this the outside world, that they're encased in a bubble? The two banter for a bit, primarily to yell that their penis is bigger than the other's, until Spawn shows off his history and knowledge about Evil Humanitarian Woman.
Linkara: (deadpan) Congratulations, it only took you guys forty pages to finally team up in a team-up comic.
Linkara (v/o): We cut to the fundraiser, where suddenly the narrative captions are in yellow. For crying out loud, consistency, kids! If you could do this to begin with, why didn't you just do it and avoid a lot of confusion? So, here we go: the President doesn't come to the fundraiser, but pretty much half of the rest of the Cabinet does, and apparently, the food is laced with a mind control drug that makes you open to suggestion. She says that the true cause of all the world's ills is... well, it's people.
Dr. Love: People. Sprawling across the planet, cluttering its natural perfection with endless flesh, countless factories and diners and mini-malls and toxic waste dumps and concentration camps...
Linkara: You heartless monster! I like mini-malls!
Linkara (v/o): A hatch in the boat opens, and she unveils her evil plan: that to free the world of all its problems, they have to kill everybody with nuclear weapons.
Dr. Love: Then, when the fires have died, our historic work will truly begin. Using a trinity of methods--therapy--technology--and force...
Linkara: This is starting to sound like a self-help guide for megalomaniacs.
Dr. Love: We will offer freedom from choice to every living soul. We will free the world! We will heal the world!
Linkara: Yes, you will heal the world... by nuking it! I won't point out the logical flaws in your plan– Oh, wait, yes, I will! You plan to heal the world by irradiating everything and subsequently annihilating infrastructure, killing billions of people, and making it impossible to GROW ANY FOOD.
Linkara (v/o): On top of that, I assume you're going to be the de facto leader of this new, happy-go-lucky, and everyone is a slave to you since you're talking about the lack of free will and all that. So, just a question: what happens to this utopia when you die? We've seen that the cyborg process eliminates memories, so you're probably not planning the rest of your days as a cyber-crab. Plus, I doubt someone like you would want to, so, again, what happens to your happy little new world when you die? This is why this kind of supervillain is so moronic. People like Doctor Doom are believable because we honestly see a force of will and brilliance that does make you think that they're smart enough to take over the world. Their flaw, though, is that they're completely arrogant, to the point where they think that any drawbacks aren't their own fault, but others.
(Cut to a shot of Doctor Doom)
Linkara (v/o): That's why Doctor Doom is a cool supervillain, who has a convenient excuse for writers when someone writes him badly: that being Doombots pretending to be him...
(Cut back to Dr. Love in the "Batman/Spawn" comic)
Linkara (v/o): ...and characters like this are forgotten and groaned at. You have to have a certain actual brilliance and intelligence in order to pull off being a supervillain with aspirations of taking over the world. And I can assure you, no moron who espouses this kind of philosophy about how "humans are doing such horrible damage to the world, so let's remove free will" is ever gonna be smart enough to get followers and develop science and technology to back up their plans. It just becomes a flimsy pretense for them to do evil things.
Linkara: Or, if that argument doesn't seem convincing enough, let me just say this: (gestures toward a shot of Dr. Love, whose hair hangs down in front of her face, in silhouette) This is the woman in silhouette. Would you ever follow someone with hair as stupid-looking as that?
Linkara (v/o): Batman and Spawn link telepathically to better coordinate their efforts, and naturally, this being a Batman story written by Frank Miller, he lays in with the trash talk about Superman.
Batman: (narrating) I'm a whole lot smarter than you. From all indications, you're dumber than Clark.
Linkara: You know, Frank, the more you try to convince me that Batman's better than Superman, the more it makes me think that he's just some jealous fourteen-year-old... (puts down comic) and maybe possibly that he's in love with him.
(Linkara takes out his bottle of alcohol, taking a big swig)
Linkara: (loosened up from the drink) Six pages left. Let's just get through this. (picks up comic again)
Linkara (v/o): They fight guards, they fight cyborgs, they figure out her plan, and Spawn goes to confront her.
Batman: (narrating) No-- You fool-- She doesn't have to die!
Spawn: (narrating) Why not?
Narrator: Batman has no answer.
Linkara: Hey, Frank? (puts down comic again) I'm against killing people, too, but if you're not smart enough to think of a counter-argument, (irritably takes another bottle of alcohol and opens it up) THEN DON'T BRING IT UP! (takes a swig)
Linkara (v/o): Anyway, Spawn impales Evil Humanitarian Woman on a... whatever the hell this is supposed to be, and she launches a nuke right before she dies. Spawn teleports Batman to the missile to disarm it and redirect it.
Batman: And don't touch my cape. Ever. Nobody touches my cape.
Linkara: (as Batman, childish voice) I just washed my cape, you meanie-head. Nobody touches my cape but me!
Narrator: Genius at work. A mind so brilliant it might have revolutionized the field of physics.
Linkara: Instead, he kidnaps young boys and forces them to eat rats.
Narrator: Batman. Detective. Vigilante. Savior.
Linkara: (as narrator) Spawn... (stops, confused, as he tries to think of similar words) Guy who worked with Batman. (normal) Yeah, I don't think Frank cares about Spawn, so don't expect him to start talking about how he's awesome, too.
Linkara (v/o): They teleport back to the alleyway, and Batman lays out how Spawn is detestable and that he doesn't have the power to bring him in now, but they'll meet again. And so, our comic ends with Spawn offering his hand in friendship, but this being Crazy Steve, Batman just throws a Batarang right into Spawn's face.
Linkara: (holding up comic) This comic sucks. Yeah, it's not bad as "ASBAR" or "The Dark Knight Strikes Again", but that's only because it's just so boring.
Linkara (v/o): The artwork is dreary, the characters are one-dimensional and dull, and the plot is contrived and pointless. This is a story that didn't need to exist, and it sure as hell doesn't need to be in continuity with "The Dark Knight Returns".
Linkara: (holding up his bottle of alcohol) It's enough to drive a man to drink. (takes a swig, then throws comic, gets up and leaves)
(End credits roll)
So why was the evil humanitarian woman giving advanced weapons technology to street gangs in Gotham, exactly?
From what I've been told, the Batman & Spawn sequel is actually pretty good, which means we'll probably never talk about it here.
(Stinger: The panel depicting Batman showing the human cyborg head to Alfred is shown)
Linkara: (as Batman, whiny voice) Alfred, that stupid wiener-face got my cape dirty!