Identity Stunt #4

 

Writer: Joe R. Khachadourian

Artist: J, Briscoe Allison (artwork), Juancho Velez (colors) A. J. Scherkenbach (Lettering)

Publisher: Markosia Enterprises (December 2018)

 

Here comes the final act of the film.

Flip your collars up, push up your sleeves and tighten the straps on your cut-off gloves.

If you’ve got a toothpick or a match-stick in your mouth, bite down hard on it.

Adjust your aviators or your ray bans and check your clips.

It’s GO time!

If you’ve just hit the play button on your VCR after a long pause, the shit has hit the fan.

Sami Nasser is knee deep in crazed acolytes. His lady love, Tracy, has joined the dearly departed, and his daughter Alyssa is in the menacing clutches of Dominus Smith as he stands at the cusp of seeing his plans come to fruition. Sami has back up though, Beatdown and Knuckleball are right in the mix. Making this issue an all-in brawl as well as a race against the clock.

Will Sami save his daughter in time? Will Beatdown stop Dominus for good? Isn’t Sami Beatdown? Did dominus lie to us all? Will Knuckleball get his own spin-off?!?!

If you want answers to the big questions in this review, look elsewhere. Spoilers are evil, and Sami Nasser said to always punch evil in the face.

If you want nitpicking and criticism exit stage left as well. No series is flawless. But if you’re not down with the action-packed fun and insanity by now you need to wake up, go back to the start, and read it again. Hell, grab it in trade form while you’re there. This series is a rare thing. An easy read with depth and punches in equal measure. It wears its tropes and influences on its sleeve and charms you into strapping in for the ride.

Joe Khachadourian shows, from the first page, that he’s a writer who can consistently deliver character and dialogue with honesty and authenticity. He can also deliver on some sharp twists and turns and has maintained mastery of pace throughout this series.

Beatdowns hard-boiled dialogue really would make Frank Miller’s god damned All-Star Batman smile.

Briscoe Allison needs to do a team book next. He needs to be on all the books from now on. Making all the money to boot. I was impressed early by his Maduereira-like style and his detailed eye (honestly there are so many Easter-eggs to watch out for in this book), but this issue also makes a strong case for his gift for panel layouts and sequential story-telling powers.

The movie literacy of this series has been one of my favorite things. There are A-team references and Butch and Sundance lines to spare in this issue. But their use in a story set in Hollywood’s stuntman scene, in a series that is an impressive entry into the buddy/action genre, are deployed with brains and precision.

Yes, there are clichés running rampant in Identity Stunt. But clichés become endearing and stand the test of time for a reason. The creative teams employ of the clichés in this issue show that they understand that.

But there’s also originality born from exploring these clichés. Knuckleball both encapsulates and benefits from this particularly. When they make a movie of Knuckleball, my favorite asshole in a uniform, the tagline must be “oh you’ve got to be fucking kidding me…”

The ending is tight enough while still leaving a few loose threads for the sequel.

Everyone knows these types of films are made to have sequels.

Lethal Weapon. 48 hours. Rush Hour. Even Bad Boys. All the best ones should have sequels.

Catch your breath boys.

Cauterize your wounds and hit us with Identity Stunt 2: Stunt Harder, soon!

 

Doomsday Clock #7

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artist: Gary Frank (pencils/ inks), Brad Anderson (colours) Rob Leigh (Lettering)

Publisher: DC Comics (November 2018)

 

In no way is this issue of Doomsday Clock a jumping on point for the series. If you’ve just joined the action then all I can guarantee you are gorgeously rendered illustrations, sharp dialogue, and a lot of questions. That goes double for you if you have no idea of the source story this series builds on. Watchmen (the 1986 series that deconstructs super-hero storytelling) is such a watershed moment in comic book lore that it extends beyond the medium. Doomsday Clock is a series that integrates the characters of the Watchmen universe into the current world of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. Delivering it to readers garbed in equal measures of mystery, noir, and realism.

The issue opens with a condensed history of the original Green Lantern, then expands out to unite all the key players introduced by the series thus far. Saturn Girl, Johnny Thunder, and Rorschach (all characters of questionable sanity) are met by Ozymandias (also someone whose sanity is unstable). These four then rescue Batman and The Comedian (who you could also say are both at least a little insane) from the torturous clutches of The Joker, The Mime, and the Marionette (so insane that I feel I owe the others an apology).  Dr. Manhattan disrupts the gathering and whisks some characters away. He reveals some shocking truths and leaves the arc of each character upside down and in disarray. What we get essentially, is a smart, inverting, and entangled display of Joseph Campbell’s refusal of the call.

I mentioned the gorgeously rendered illustrations and I emphatically stand by that. Gary Frank has been drawing comics since the early 90s. He has never fallen below excellent. His clean lines and comedic expressions eventually developed into a realistic style, instrumental in controlling storytelling pace. He conveys emotion with a sense of purity often overlooked in comics. You forgive the book its continued delays if the reason for them is so that Frank can tug on one more heartstring or make that last hair on the back of your neck stand to attention and salute.

Geoff Johns, honestly the torch bearer for DC superhero mythology, re-establishes that he is a brilliant writer. Layered, constantly innovative, and without limits. This isn’t just hyperbole or pandering to an industry heavyweight. Geoff Johns breathes love and veneration into every detail, every word, of these characters. He bows courteously to the original Watchmen series, treating it with the reverence of someone entrusted with minding a Faberge egg. But he also builds on its mythology, explores the psyche of today’s society, and works beautifully to exist both inside and outside of the comic book medium. The book feels like it comes from the same Reaganomics-driven-post-Nixon climate that Watchmen was born from, yet it also exists simultaneously in our world today.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you can jump on to Doomsday Clock with this issue and find yourself in the middle of something special. A legitimate event comic.

If you do, you’ll put it down. You’ll run to wherever you get your comic book fix from and pick up the previous issues of the series.

Hurry, before it’s too late.

Before the Doomsday Clock hits midnight.

 

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises closes out director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Batman returns eight years after the events of ‘The Dark Knight’ to combat Bane, who has seized control of Gotham City and threatens to destroy it completely. Batman is joined in this movie by thief Selina Kyle (don’t call her Catwoman, nobody else in this film does) and John Blake, a GCPD officer who reminds Batman why Gotham City needs its heroes.

The story borrows key plot points from the ‘Knightfall’ story arc, where Batman must return from crippling injuries, after suffering defeat at the hands of Bane.

A large part of the second and third acts are also based on the ‘No Man’s Land’ storyline, where Gotham city is declared a disaster zone after an earthquake, isolating it from the rest of America.

At just under three hours long this is a huge movie to take in. The pace of this film carries it well and manages to resolve character arcs and plot points that reach as far back as ‘Batman Begins’, without feeling as if there’s too much going on in this movie. It also does well at making new characters matter. Not a single scene or plot point is filler in this film; everything ties back or reaches forward with purpose and good reason. The scale and scope of events are epic without losing any realism, and although stylistic, it looks very different to the first two movies, and it feels like it belongs securely as the final piece of a near-perfect comic book movie saga.

As with most Batman films, the villain is the showpiece. Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane is menacing, beastly, animalistic and powerful. But it is also carefully nuanced and thoughtful. If Heath Ledger deserved his Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker in the last installment, then it is a great injustice that Hardy isn’t seen as deserved for what he does for this rendition of Bane. It could just as easily be his movie as it is Christian Bale’s, and he uses every inch of his acting ability in an attempt to break each finger of Batman’s grip on the film.

The fight scenes are bone-crunchingly brutal and the action is visceral. The truest parts about this film are the ones where these scenes break free of the writing and acting and emit pure primal force.

The comic book version of ‘Knightfall’ was a year-long journey into innovative storytelling when it was published. On the heels of killing Superman, DC comics came up with a way to replace Batman that would renew interest in a flagging comic book industry. For its time it was tightly written. Its logical progression of cause and effect that lead to the wearing down and breaking of a hero was gripping. It introduced new characters that have lasted in the almost thirty years since, and have rightly taken their place in the Batman rogues gallery, alongside icons such as the Joker and Catwoman.

Nine years after ‘Knightfall’ was published, ‘No Man’s Land’ would serve to reinvigorate the Batman character once again. Its sprawling, far-reaching story was even more ambitious an event than ‘Knightfall’. Its gritty artwork perfectly encapsulated a mood of dire hopelessness and ruin. Its writing was an unflinching look into even the deepest and darkest places society will go to when the world has given up. It added new layers, and new motivations to every character in the Batman mythology while never deviating from the core of who these sixty-year-old masterworks of American fiction are.

The Dark Knight Rises does well to take the central points of both ‘Knightfall’ and ‘No Man’s Land’ and refashion them into the concluding chapter of a rare cinematic experience.

A journey through the power of an ideal.

The birth of that ideal.

Standing resilient when that ideal is tested.

And rising from the rubble so that the ideal becomes everlasting.