Tag: Brian Azzarello

Brainiac On Banjo: No Lunch For Batman

Brainiac On Banjo: No Lunch For Batman

“Down on me, down on me; looks like everybody in this whole round world, they’re down on me.” Janis Joplin, Down On Me, 1967

Many years ago, the late and truly great Dennis O’Neil said that neither Bruce Wayne nor Batman had a sex life; he/they sublimated all such compulsions, folding them into the mission. Denny said that in the office that we shared, and, damn, it made sense to me. In fact, it explained a lot about the guy.

Mind you, as the writer or editor of a great, great many top-rank Batman stories over the course of five decades, I believe Denny knew more about what made Batman tick than Bruce Wayne ever could. However, this particular observation was not canonical. Bruce even fostered a son with his frenemy Talia al Ghul, and that child became the latest Robin — as of this writing, of course.

Let us now flash forward to the late summer of 2018 and the release of DC’s Black Label adults-only series, Batman – Damned. Created by writer Brian Azzarello and artist Lee Bermejo, the story ran three issues. It was the first volume that upset some people, as it had the briefest glimpse of a small part of Bruce’s penis. To be fair, it really wasn’t enough to be perceived as salacious by anybody but the most pathetically repressed — not unlike Janet Jackson’s nipple which evidently blinded tens of thousands of small children who were watching the Super Bowl but were thinking of dinner.

Oh, yes: it also bothered the bean counters at DC/Warner Bros/WarnerMedia/AT&T/Lucky Charms or whatever the hell they were calling themselves that week. Bean counters are the most paranoid people in the media businesses; it’s in their job description. People made such a big deal of it that the Batwang was, well, overly circumcised in the digital editions and in later reprintings. The parent companies were so offended that the whole thing had an impact on several careers. The whole thing had a short shelf-life as the object of snickering jokes on late-night television.

O.K. So “Adults Only” in DCland doesn’t include, you know, adult stuff. Lesson learned. And lesson repeated this month.

For over a year, WarnerMedia (now called Warner Bros. Discovery, at least as of this writing) has had this very expensive streaming service called HBO Max. It’s got a lot of original material, and much of it is generated by DC comics properties. These shows are not G rated, nor are they PG. Sometimes there’s a fine line between R and X ratings, and a lot of HBO Max’s DC stuff inhabits that zip code. This pace was set in the first episode of their first series, Titans, where Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Robin the First) shouts “Fuck Batman!” Holy Wertham, Batfans! WTF??

Titans survived and the third season goes up in August. Their second show, The Doom Patrol, has had actual on-screen sex, with naughty bits and more about Brendon Fraser than you might want to know. Their other Batman related show, the adults-only animated series Harley Quinn, is the most adults-only of the bunch, and the third season is now in production. But at least one scene won’t be completed — the one where Batman has oral sex with Catwoman. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: No Lunch For Batman”

With Further Ado #013: Moonshine Volume 2

With Further Ado #013: Moonshine Volume 2

Let your soul shine
It’s better than sunshine
It’s better than moonshine
Damn sure better than rain

                         -Greg Allman  

Tweaking what Greg Allman sang, Moonshine is damn sure better than I expected. This Image series, by the longtime team of Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, just completed its sophomore story arc.  This story is collected in the trade paperback, Moonshine Vol 2 The Misery Train, in comic shops today.

When viewed through a simple lens, it makes sense that this “werewolf story” is released on Halloween. In reality, Moonshine offers readers more than a traditional wolfman yarn.  This drama, set during the time of Prohibition in the South, touches on everything from cultural family dynamics, male/female roles and the cyclical nature of lawbreakers. There’s also plenty of horror, suspense, deceit, sex and surprises.

At the outset, I (foolishly) expected Moonshine to be a mash-up of Bonnie and Clyde, O Brother  Where Art Thou? and a vicious werewolf movie, like An American Werewolf in London.  I wasn’t wrong, but this nuanced horror chiller is so much more.

It’s a scary story that’s a period piece, with clever characters providing glimpses into several cultural and economic groups. That sounds stuffy and boring, so let me add that it’s all a deliciously tasty scare too.

Azzarello’s Bags of Tricks

They story’s full of twists and turns in clever settings with unusual conflicts. But one of Azzarello’s strengths continues to be his incredible skill at developing intriguing characters.

Tempest is one of the main characters in this volume. She’s so far beyond the sexy “farmer’s daughter” character that readers might have initially assumed she was.   As rendered by Risso, she all about that seductive look, but in this story arc she’s steps up to become more clever and plotting.  There are points in the story where Tempest may think she’s a victim, but she’s reminded that others have it so much worse.  Her machinations might not have turned out the way she had hoped.  We can empathize with her frustrations while still not liking her. Or not trusting her.  Azzarello reveals that she’s not as mature as she’d like us all to believe.  He makes the reader need to know more about this character.

Italian Americans have a long history of being the bad guys in American storytelling, and they fulfill that role there too. Azzarello sprinkles a little bit of The Godfather mafia types on top of a conniving Game of Thrones struggle and the result is as tasty as your Grandma’s Sunday gravy.

Azzarello has this trick with characters too. On first glance, you don’t think there are that many characters, when you are reading the story. But upon reflection, you realize that it’s jam-packed with a plethora of characters. These characters all come alive in a short time, and you can’t help but wonder about them after you’ve flipped the page.

It’s Time to Appreciate Eduardo Risso

The artist, Eduardo Risso, is Azzarello’s longtime creative partner.  Past series like 100 Bullets and Spaceman each have their own unique vibe.  That’s the way it is with Moonshine.  Risso takes the reader deep into the black woods and black hearts of the characters, with his solid renderings and elaborate page layouts.  One could almost imagine Will Eisner looking down from comic creator heaven with arms crossed but approvingly nodding, muttering things like “hey, that page really is something different” or “this guy is innovative”. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a few rants along the lines of “Sonuvagun! I wish I had done that!”

Each issue is a mix of Risso slowing it all down and then slamming his foot hard on the gas. At the same time, Risso takes the reader on a roller coaster POV with high shots, ground level shots and in-the-middle-of-the-action shots. And he, Risso never sacrifices clarity and solid storytelling either.

Risso also maintains control over his color palette. To the reader, the finished pages are like symphonies and Risso is the orchestra leader – he brings each beat of the story together with mindful layouts and clever colors that reinforce the narrative and linger on the reader’s mind long after she or he puts down the book.

The Collected Edition

Azzarello is the type of writer who makes you feel comfortable, and then, out of nowhere, grabs you in a headlock and chokes the familiarity right out of you. You’re gasping for breath, but at the same time, you just want more. I prefer reading a series like Moonshine each month in the traditional comic format, but the collected TPB is perfect when you find yourself as ravenous as the protagonist.

Kudos to this team, and editor Will Dennis for a job well done.  And, to finish this up, let’s get all those Halloween puns out of our system once and for all:

Don’t howl at the moon, give yourself a treat and sink your teeth into a copy of Moonshine Vol. 2!

Brainiac On Banjo #016: Is Batman Damned, Or Are We All?

Brainiac On Banjo #016: Is Batman Damned, Or Are We All?

Yup. This is another one of those pieces about how the controversy surrounding Batman Damned #1 is no big deal.

Except… According to everybody’s pal Rich Johnston, still columning for Bleeding Cool, there was a CGC-rated 10.0 copy of the first issue that sold for big bucks on eBay. So much money, in fact, that I figure Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark got into a bidding war.

Yes, dear friends, Batman Damned #1 CGC 10.0 sold to Florida’s Blaze PC Collectables for $1800.00.

Go back and read that again. It is not a typo, but it should be. There are a number of reasons why this is absolutely ridiculous. There’s a point where real-world values should exceed comic book values. Puerto Rico is still bleeding, undreamed of hurricanes are continuing to wreak damage and kill people, there are more worthy and needy causes than there are grains of sand in the Sahara, and we’ve got the biggest fight in American history coming up in a mere three weeks and if you’re interested in not seeing the United States of America turn into 1941 Belgium I’ll bet there’s a worthy candidate not far from you who can use a contribution.

Besides, I started buying comic books when they were a dime. I wince at today’s $4.00 cover price (admittedly, ten cents in 1960 would be worth… well, 84¢ today – and don’t get me started on explaining William M. Gaines’ hot dog index!). But $1800.00 is just a bit egregious.  Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo #016: Is Batman Damned, Or Are We All?”