Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Comic I Couldn't Bring Myself to Buy

Sunday afternoon, just after lunch, I went to one of my favorite places here. It's Yajimaya, a new bookstore on the eighth floor of May One, the huge shopping center built into Hamamatsu Station. They have an English magazine section. And by English magazines, I mean magazines in the English language, not magazines from the UK (although they do have those, too). Yajimaya carries four American comic book titles-- Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Superman, X-Men Legacy and Batman.

I have no idea why they chose those particular four. Some buyer at their distributor perhaps feels they're representative of American comics in general. The Yajimaya elsewhere downtown sometimes carries Wonder Woman, by the way. So DC's holy trinity is fully represented here in Hamamatsu.

Sunday I stood there for about three seconds wondering if I should buy Batman #688. I decided not to, despite my curiosity about Mark Bagley's take on Batman.

Ultimately, I just couldn't bring myself to pay 977 yen for a superhero comic book written by Judd Winick. With the current exchange rate, Batman #688 is about $10.29USD. Ten bucks and change for a Judd Winick-written comic? I've paid that much for non-Winick American comics here before. I've even paid around six dollars for an atrocious Batgirl comic written by Adam Beechen, and I should be beaten about the head and shoulders with a rolled-up copy of that particular book for doing so.

But to be honest, if I weren't living in Japan, ninety-nine cents is about the most I'd pay for any monthly superhero book without feeling ripped off. And for a Judd Winick-written superhero comic, I currently place my fair market value at approximately half that.

See, I read that As the Crow Flies storyline he wrote back in 2004. Batman #626-630. That's the one where the Penguin has this geneticist invent a mutagenic formula that transforms skinny-minny villain Scarecrow into a hulking monstrosity we like to call the "Scarebeast." The Scarebeast. Matt Wagner's covers make it appear Scarebeast wears a scarecrow costume (which makes a tiny bit of sense, I guess), but the Dustin Nguyen interior art just shows him as a monster... that naturally resembles a scarecrow, headpiece (and other body parts) filled with straw, alas. Is there any biological reason for this man's turning into a huge bestial scarecrow?

Today's lesson in biological determinism is if you dress like a scarecrow, you turn into one when you take a magic formula. This amazing chemical soup also enables Scarebeast to produce from within his body, perhaps in a gland or sac, an analog to Scarecrow's fear-inducing hallucinogenic mist. That's some kind of amazing coincidence! I'm sure the Penguin was delighted with his creation. Imagine how much less effective Scarecrow would've been if he'd just turned into Mr. Hyde or a big ape or something non-scarecrow-related. Why, the Penguin's entire scheme might have collapsed!

Also the comic's plot.

It makes me wonder-- what would the Riddler turn into if he took the formula? Or the Penguin? And if Batman took it, would he turn into some kind of bat-creature that shoots bat-shaped bone boomarangs from its asshole? Would Robin turn into Sesame Street's Big Bird? I paid around five bucks for that comic at Seibunkan in Toyohashi (I was desperate, in the throes of four-color addiction), so I guess I deserved to have my intelligence so insulted.

Not a Winick fan.

On the other hand, Mark Bagley is an artist whose career I've followed off and on-- mostly off, to be honest-- because of a little biographical detail that overlaps with some of my own teenage hopes and dreams. Many years ago I bought the Marvel Try-Out Book and did a lot of scribble-scrabbling in it but never finished the thing. Bagley, on the other hand, not only finished his entry, he sent it in and scored himself a job. He also did it while living in my home state, Georgia. Why, we're practically... two... people... who've never met or otherwise interacted.

The sad part of this story is, as interested as I was in his winning the Try-Out contest, I've actually never read a Bagley-illustrated comic. It's not a knock against him or his art skills. He's just never worked on any title I've been interested in reading. If I remember correctly, during Bagley's pencilling stint on The Amazing Spider-Man, I wasn't reading anything but Gladstone/Gemstone EC reprints, Nexus and John Byrne's Next Men. Maybe Valiant comics, too. And I'm only slightly more fond of Brian Michael Bendis' writing than I am of Judd Winick's, so I never picked up any of the Ultimate Spider-Man books.

But with his announced Batman run and with the strange distribution of comics here in my Japanese hometown, I thought I'd finally give the guy a look-see.

But no. I just can't pay ten bucks for a Winick story just because twenty-five or so years ago the artist actually accomplished something I was too lazy and incompetent to do. I wouldn't pay ten bucks for a Winick-written comic if I'd pencilled it myself. But if someone wants to send me a free copy so I can finally connect with Mark Bagley's art, who am I to refuse such generosity?


Nathaniel said...

I've heard that Winick's Batman is actually pretty good. I can't vouch for it myself because, like you, I swore never again to give money to Winick after reading his Titans East one-shot, which was quite possibly the worst and most heinous comic I've read in the past ten years.

I also can't forgive him for turning Indigo into a heartless killing machine in Outsiders. This seems to be a common fate for characters I like...

Joel Bryan said...

This is going to sound snobbish but here goes-- yeah, it's probably fine as far as these things go. I mean Batman comics. I just can't get into it like I used to, though. Especially not for 10 bucks!

I seem to have reached a stage where it's almost more fun to read about DC than to read their actual comic books, at least the ones I can get here.

JR said...

Winick took a easy road. Nathaniel is right. I wish you actually did draw a comic. I would find it.. and I bet enjoy it.

Joel Bryan said...

Thanks, JR!