Monday, January 21, 2013

Graphic Novels Challenge: Detective Comics Annual No. 7


I read comics when I was a kid - Daredevil, Silver Surfer, and G.I. Combat, picked from the spinner at our local 7-11, purchased with change earned by scavenging empty soda bottles and turning them in for their deposits. Yes, I'm that old.

Roleplaying games actually supplanted my interest in comics - my comic book money went to buying lead minis instead, and I didn't really pay them much attention until I was working in a bookstore after high school and discovered Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It was, for me, a revelation, like I imagine it was for many people, and it piqued my interest in comics once again. It also spurred me to pick up TSR's Marvel Super Heroes roleplaying game, which I ran for the next few years.

The 'next big thing' in Batman graphic novels, after the success of TDKR, was Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, featuring the familiar characters in fin de siècle Gotham City chasing Jack the Ripper.

The success of Gotham by Gaslight spawned the Elseworlds stories - in fact, GbG would later be retconned as the 'first' Elseworlds title. The Elseworld titles offer the writers and artists a chance to play with canon characters in asynchronous settings and circumstances, like Superman raised in the Soviet Union instead of Heartland America, or Bruce Wayne as the Green Lantern.

This roundabout introduction brings me to Detective Comics Annual no. 7, an Elseworlds title featuring the Batman as a 17th century privateer named Captain Leatherwing, the English scourge of the Spanish Main. The comic also features other iconic characters including Alfredo, Leatherwing's mate, Robin Redblade, a street urchin who plays a Jim Hawkins-like role in the tale, and Capitana Felina, a Spanish noblewoman both entranced and repulsed by Leatherwing. My favorite character, however, is the Laughing Man - the Joker in late 17th-century court dress is the highlight of the book for me. Indeed, it's really the only depiction of the main characters in the book which I liked - the rest of the main character's costumes seemed far too on-the-nose, lacking any of the nuance or period feel which the best Elseworlds books feature - though the book does give penciler and inker Enrique Alcatena an excuse to show Selina in a bodice-hugging gown for several pages. Too-literal costumes aside, the rest of the artwork in the book is quite good.

Chuck Dixon's story itself is utterly pedestrian, bringing nothing new or exciting to any of the characters. It features none of the Batman's strengths - his deductive acumen, his 'wonderful toys' - which define the character for me. The whole thing seemed like a hugely missed opportunity.

This guy really loves it, though, so if the premise interests you, you may want to hunt around for some other opinions.

A sequel, "The Bride of Leatherwing," was published in Batman Chronicles no. 11.

6 comments:

  1. Captain Leatherwing and Robin Robin Redblade? Where do you find this stuff, Mike? You're like the Santa Claus of swashbuckling goodies. Batman's cape, Zorro-mask and gun-free combat style certainly fit right into the setting; I'm surprised they didn't go further with this.

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    1. I'd been planning a post on comics for awhile, as I actually have quite a store of 'em.

      Even as a simple cape-and-sword tale, it's really very bare-bones, but as an Elseworlds book, it really falls short, in my humble opinion, of course.

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  2. I would have gone with the Fantastic Four issue where, via time travel paradox, it turns out that Blackbeard was really the Thing.

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    1. Ooo, I'll have to track that one down.

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