Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Azzarello Superhero Facts of Life Part 1 - You Take The Good

Brian Azzarello's big superhero debut work came in a very high profile project, "Broken City," which was a six-part follow-up to the super successful "Hush" storyline of Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. The most interesting aspect of "Broken City" is that it used the entire creative team of 100 Bullets - everyone from Azzarello and artist Eduardo Risso to cover artist Dave Johnson, letterer Clem Robins, colorist Patricia Mulvihill and even editor Will Dennis! The end result was a very enjoyable (and very different) Batman storyline.

The covers by Dave Johnson are striking, and Eduardo Risso delivers the goods inside the storyline, but the real star of "Broken City" is Azzarello. Risso does a great job drawing whatever Azzarello gives him to draw, but, for the most part, he takes a back-seat to Azzarello on the story.

Plot-wise, Broken City is interesting, as some small-time hood is wanted for killing his sister, and in the process, the parents of a young boy are killed in an alley. This transforms the case from a standard deal to one in which Batman is heavily emotionally invested. Similar to Hush, Azzarello makes the rounds around Gotham, working in a number of familiar faces like Killer Croc, Penguin, Scarface and The Ventriloquist and The Joker. Unlike Hush, they are worked in in a mostly coherent manner (I will admit that Joker's sequences seem a bit of stretch to get him into the story...almost a bit of "Damn, I really wanted to have him in this story - screw it, I will just add him!"). In an especially nice touch, Azzarello also uses Crispus Allen (the Gotham Central star who has just become the new Spectre), and uses him well. Azzarello also introduces two new rogues, who aren't all that interesting (Fat Man and Little Boy), but they serve the plot of the story well. However, while the plot works well, that is not what makes this story shine - no, the story shines due to Azzarello's charisma.

The work is embued with such style and panache that it is almost overwhelming, but in the end, it works perfectly. This is not a Batman we have ever seen before (even in Miller's work), but Azzarello makes it work. This is a Batman who flirts with dames, who makes morbid jokes, who actually COOKS - it is a side that we never see of Batman, but, again, Azzarello makes it work.
"Now, Lonely Hearts and Sunday School teachers like to say that rain is the tears of God. But God doesn't bother to cry on Gotham. This rain? If it comes from him...it's not his tears."
How cool is that turn of phrase?

So grim, so noir-ish, so 100 Bullets, so NOT Batman - yet it works.

Or when Batman meets the dame in question (while she is wearing the skimpiest of lingerie), the exchange goes:
Batman - I'm looking for Angel.

Dame - Guess I'm not doing my job.

Batman - You are, trust me.

Dame -It's hard to tell.

Batman - Sure is, but you didn't hear that from me.
How cool is that?

In any event, the whole story goes basically like that. Batman is searching for Angel, then there are enough twists and turns (including a really messed up one involving the kid who lost his parents) to make The Big Sleep look like a Where's Waldo book, in terms of complexity (that is an exagerration, The Big Sleep still rules when it comes to complexity).

So, while not the deepest of Batman storylines, Broken City is certainly one of the funnest.

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Blogger Chris said...

Dammit Cronin, there goes another post for 2GBC down the crapper; Jake loaned me 'Broken City' awhile back and I was going to comment on them over there, but I'll do it here instead.

I am squarely in the camp that believes most Batman stories should be crime stories, not supervillains-with-purple-death-ray stories.

Which is why I liked 'Broken City'. With the exception of shoehorning in Joker (as you pointed out), it came off as a very noir, very "dirty Gotham" Batman story about some mean dudes, with enough twists and convolutions to keep me interested. Azzarello's narration and scripting were icing on the cake, man.

So yeah, coming from the point of view that I do, I really enjoyed it.

And The Big Sleep pwnz everything else on the "Convolut-O-Meter". I've read the damn thing 20 times and I still forget at least one killer every time.

2/28/2006 03:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a huge fan of "Broken City." I just made me very happy. It can all boil down to the bit about Bruce Wayne spending a lot of time building the Batman brand to scare people. It was a funny use of the phrase, and it worked perfectly because Wayne is a huge big-time businessman. He knows about building brands. Now, that Superman comic Azzarello wrote was just horrible. Jim Lee's art was confusing and just not so good. SPOILER And the entire story seemed to boil down to "I saw Superman 2 a long time ago, maybe I should update in the mighty Image style of 1994." Just a waste of everybody's time, but mostly mine. But Broken City, brilliant. When Azzarello is on, he is totally on. It's sort of like he takes his cues from Peter Milligan. You're either brilliant or you suck. No middle ground. But, that's a good thing, right?

2/28/2006 03:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Chuck T. said...

I was really, really liking 'Broken City' up to the Joker sequence and Batman's reveal (what he had said to his parents, before their death). Then it flamed out and spiraled in.
There was a joke in Marvel's old What the? comic, where the Joker laments, "ONE writer says I use lipstick, and all of a sudden I'm the Queen Prince of Crime!" The trend now seems to be the Joker really, not-so-secretly, likes Batman. No, I mean, LIKES Batman. And the only way his broken little headmeat can express his love is by killing innocent people for attention. Something's not right about that...
Batman's regret over what he had said was an unnecessary ret-con, like adding an icky crawlspace under your mansion. Besides, I think he would have grown up to be a gothy cutter, hanging out in the back of Hot Topic. (And my kid's said the same when I wouldn't let him stay up past 8:00.)
And wasn't the killer (who I won't spoil), well, didn't Devin Grayson do the same thing in one of her Gotham Knights stories? I'd look it up, but I'm at work, and oh so lazy. Anyway, there's probably bound to be some overlap in murderers in Gotham: anywhere else, seeing a former kid's show host as a murderer would be unexpected; Gotham has like three.
I ended up selling the issues on ebay, and the last issue was in pretty bad shape, possibly because I got mad at it. There was some good stuff in there though: the Ventriloquist turn was excellent (Azzarello sold that, and I had him pegged as a sexless freak...)

2/28/2006 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Oh yeah, the Joker, like I mentioned, definitely did not fit the story well. But I think the storyline was good enough to weather that aspect.

As for the ret-con? Yeah, it was a stupid ret-con, but I do not think it changed the gist of the story.

As for the killer and Grayson? Damn, I think you might totally be right! I will have to check that myself. Silly Azzarello, that's what you get for not reading superhero comics, you think you're doing something original when you're not (just like that Cap writer with the whole Steve Rogers getting his backpay all at once)!!

2/28/2006 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

"Broken City" is the only Batman story I've read in the past decade or so (except "Hush" but that doesn't count because it was more of an "event" than a story arc). The reason, as you've pointed out, is because it's not a typical Batman story.

As Chris and I have discussed a few times in the past, the only good Batman stories in the past ten years or so seem to have been Elseworlds ones. This had that Elseworlds feel because it's so different from regular Batman, yet wasn't. If anything, it made me sad Batman couldn't be like this all the time.

This is one of the most three-dimensional Dark Knights we've seen in a long time. He does more than just scowl and plot against everyone. Detective Comics, from whence he sprang, was called Detective Comics because it was a comic about detectives. The best Batman stories are ones where he's finding clues and solving a crime.

2/28/2006 04:42:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"Dammit Cronin, there goes another post for 2GBC down the crapper; Jake loaned me 'Broken City' awhile back and I was going to comment on them over there, but I'll do it here instead."

Sorry, Chris!

Good comments, though!

2/28/2006 05:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Steven said...

Um, yeah, Chuck T's right about Devin Greyson. That was the "twist" ending of the first issue of Gotham Knights.

On the other hand, the Joker's man-crush on Batman is pretty damn old and really well established. It ranges from Bugs kissing Elmer to "It Puts the Lotion in the Basket," but a little bit of gay panic has always been there.

2/28/2006 07:37:00 PM  
Blogger ninjawookie said...

I initially thought the ending was lame because it had already been done, but then i bought the hardcover because it was soooo good looking.

so after reading it a few times, the amount of cool scenes totally outweighs the second hand ending, and i really wanted to see risso do joker anyway, so i didn;t mind his forced appearance.

i think muhlvill won an eisner for her colouring after this, or maybe it was just a nomination, but it was totally well deserved, especially that strip club scene.

it definetly reads better in collected format like most of azzarellos stuff. so i'll be waiting for loveless to trade before i buy.

3/01/2006 04:54:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

I was just thinking the same thing about Loveless, ninjawookie.

It is not bad, either, but I just get the sense that it will read a whole lot better read all at once.

Which, interestingly enough, points to the failure of For Tomorrow and the disappointment of Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, in that both of those projects are NOT helped by reading them all at once. In fact, For Tomorrow gets HURT, I believe (as the later issues are so diametrically different).

3/01/2006 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous red_Ricky said...

Do any of you remember way back in the 80's when the first rumblings of a Batman Movie started making the rounds... and they would say Silvester Stallone would play Batman?

Well, that's how I felt when I read the first issue of Azz's run.

It was Batman as played by Rocky Balboa. Big, dumb, stupid and easily disarmed by sexual innuendo.

Batman is supposed to be smart, focused, and methodical. He doesn't get his jollies from beating criminals (let’s face it, Croc didn’t tell him anything that he couldn't have figured out himself.) And he’s usually ahead of the police, so I don’t see why he would contact Crispus Allen when he has a whole network of information and resources at his finger tips.

Oh, and he would probably kill himself if he let a kid’s parents die because he was too busy flirting with a 20 dollar Ho.

I hate to be the sole voice of dissent, but as far as issue 1 goes, it was the worst most god-awful Batman story I have ever read. The worst. Totally out of character.

Now, I won’t question that Azzarello is a good writer or that the story had some nice twist because I stopped reading right then and there. But from what little I saw, it seemed that Azz had the story all figured out before hand; and Batman was just a Stand-In, hammered into the lead detective spot. Azz could’ve probably written the story using any other famous detective like Sam Spade, Mike Hammer or Jake Gittes; and not lost a step.

In fact, maybe any one of those would have been more appropriate than the Batman. Specially since they are usually overwhelmed by events within their stories and tend to fall a step behind the bad guys; while Batman is usually a step ahead of them.

Again, it's just my opinion, but I would not recommend Broken City even though the art was superb. I just felt that the writer knew his story, but he just didn't know his character.

3/01/2006 11:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Nobody said...

Yeah I recalled that Gotham Knights story when I read Broken City as well.

I liked BC if for no other reason than Risso somehow made you feel that Batman's costume was soaking wet and chilling him to death, yet he kept slogging along.

Usually in comics you get the feeling his magnificent cape must deflect rain away all the time but "in reality" maybe it's no less miserable to be Batman than it is to be anyone else in Gotham. So I loved that noir tone if nothing else.

3/01/2006 08:25:00 PM  
Anonymous FunkyGreenJerusalem said...

Red Ricky Said:"I hate to be the sole voice of dissent, but as far as issue 1 goes, it was the worst most god-awful Batman story I have ever read. The worst. Totally out of character."

I disagree. Personally I found this a refreshing take on Batman - somthing that isn't in the Miller mould of Batman.
I thought there were many similarities to the Batman from 'Killing Joke'.
I like it when Batman actually shows a little character.

That said, can you write Batman out of character?
He's gone through many, many changes in his life from detective to swashbuckler etc.
Can he be written out of character, or just not written as you see/prefer the character?

This all said I rarely read Batman these days, though if there were more stories like this, I sure would.
(I didn't mind the ending - nothing you haven't seen before in books/TV, but Broken City wasn't really a plot focused book - it was about character/atmosphere).


3/04/2006 10:14:00 PM  
Anonymous red_Ricky said...

I like it when Batman actually shows a little character. That said, can you write Batman out of character?

You have to define what his characters traits are and what makes him Batman. I believe I did that when I said he was smart, focused and driven. I believe he has always been portrayed like that.

Seeing Batman beat up a Hog-tied Killer Croc showed lack of character (in every sense of the word.)

And many people will agree that it was a swapped image from Miller's Dark Knight (but without Miller's context.)

Can he be written out of character, or just not written as you see/prefer the character?

Character (as in inner workings of a person) and the portrayal of a character (as in the situations they find themselves) are two different things.

It seems to me that what you are trying to say is that you like unconventional portrayals of Batman.

What I don't like is when a character trait is ignored in order to create a character flaw for the purpose of shoehorning a person into a story they would never find themselves in.

Now, I'm not saying that Broken City was that type of story. But from what I understand, that whole Countdown mess certainly was.

3/06/2006 11:51:00 AM  
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