Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dark Knight: A True Batman Story

This book's author Paul Dini should be very well known to superhero fans. He was one of the writers and producers of the much beloved Batman: The Animated Series and he co-created the uber-popular Harley Quinn. He has also written a bunch of comic books and had a hand in many animated series/features starring DC Comics characters over the years. But in Dark Knight: A True Batman story he tells an account from his life that happened while he was at the early height of his success. One night, while walking home after a bad date he was mugged, attacked, and brutally beaten. The events left him scarred both emotionally and physically. Here, he uses some of the characters he is most associated with, including Batman and the Joker, as kind of angels and devils to tell his tale and also sort through his personal baggage.
I think overall that this book works well. I thought the actual account is compelling and seeing the aftermath of such a violent act told in frank manner was eye-opening. Dini does much soul-searching in this book, and I could certainly relate to many of his ruminations on being a fanboy with issues relating to specific types of people.

Still, I wonder how much of his storytelling is for effect, as a couple of moments really stand out in my mind as potentially problematic. One, the opportunistic, narcissistic woman he thinks he is dating, while she regards him as a friend who might be a connection for her own career, comes off as utterly the worst person. I have heard about lots of opportunistic Hollywood-wanna-bes and what they will do to further their careers, and maybe she was utterly horrible, but her portrayal seems two-dimensional and skirts misogyny. Second, there is a moment during his recovery where what seems to be the only African-American who works on the show asks if his assailants were black. I think this moment is supposed to show racial solidarity in some way, but it comes off as tin-eared and ham-handed. I know that superheroes at the time this story takes place were largely the province of white males, and maybe this book accurately portrays the problematic outcomes of that situation. Still, as a present day reader, I felt that both scenes play badly.

Collaborating with Dini on this book is Eduardo Risso, a very talented artist who employs multiple styles and color palettes in visually telling this tale. Risso is an accomplished artist who has won an Eisner Award for his work on 100 Bullets, and he has more recently been at work on the werewolf/gangster drama Moonshine. Dini is also a multiple Eisner Award winning author, most notably for the book Mad Love. He speaks about his work on this book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Jesse Schedeen concluded, "It offers a very personal and heartfelt look at how the character helped guide Dini through a terrible time in his life, and it proves all the more that both Dini and Risso are among the most talented storytellers ever to work within Gotham City." Bryan Young gushed, calling it "a truly unique comic storytelling experience that has to be seen to be believed." Gregory Paul Silber wrote, "Dini may have been through a terrible ordeal, but he is a lucky man to have such wonderful people to collaborate with."

Dark Knight: A True Batman Story was published by Vertigo, and they have more info about it here.
In addition to the violence, this book features some profanity and adult themes, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle those things.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Be Your Own Backing Band

Be Your Own Backing Band is the latest collection of comics from Liz Prince, an Ignatz Award winning cartoonist. I have read, admired, and reviewed a couple of her other books, Alone Forever, which focuses on her love life, and Tomboy, which focuses on her formative years. Both books are full of excellent observational humor and they are also very relatable. I love the nerdy persona that Prince portrays in these books.

This latest collection focuses on Prince's musical tastes, and they were originally published in Razorcake Magazine. She tends to like punk bands, and I have to admit I was not very familiar with many of the ones she talks about, but I could totally relate to tales of geeking out over a particular band, elaborate trips to go to shows, and the autobiographical connections she makes throughout.
And as you can see from the excerpts here, each chapter/episode lasts about a page, and they do not necessarily follow in any particular order other than chronological. So this book is a relatively breezy read that you can take in parts or in larger chunks. It works well either way.
I am enamored with Prince's observational and self-deprecating sense of humor, and I really enjoyed reading this book. If you or someone you know is into music, or just has a punk rock sort of mentality, this would be a fun book to read.

I was not able to find a lot of reviews of this book, but the ones I read have been positive. Johanna Draper Carlson wrote that she found much to relate to and sympathize with, even if she was unfamiliar with most of the bands mentioned in the book. There are a bunch of reviews of it over at Goodreads, where it has a 3.72 overall rating.

Be Your Own Backing Band was published by Silver Sprocket, and they offer a preview and more about it here. It does contain a fair share of profanity, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to handle that.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

All the Answers

I am a big fan of Michael Kupperman's comics. Tales Designed to Thrizzle was one of my favorite series, and I adored the humor of Mark Twain's Autobiography 1910-2010. His combination of deadpan faces with absurd, surreal imagery and situations have consistently cracked me up. I even have a print of his "Are Comics Serious Literature" on my office wall. So when I learned he had a full length graphic novel forthcoming, I was jazzed. When I found out it was a serious, nonfiction work, I was intrigued even further. This book, All the Answers did not disappoint in any way. It's a fantastic, gripping, and thought-provoking work.

This book is mostly a biography of his father, Joel Kupperman, a famous child prodigy who starred on a radio/TV show called Quiz Kids. He began on the show from age 6 and became a break-out star who toured the country and met many famous people for more than a decade. He had a gift for mathematics and could do algebra problems in his head with relative ease. There was a backlash from being so familiar and appearing so perfect, not to mention pressures from being in the public spotlight for so long, and later in life he basically shut the whole episode away. Joel Kupperman went on to become a successful philosophy professor, mostly interested in exploring ethics, but he refused to engage with any part of his prior life. This situation also affected how he raised his own children, and we see the long-term effects in this book.
The detached art style responsible for the humor in Michael Kupperman's earlier works here plays in a much more dramatic way, communicating the detached way that the older Kupperman treated his own family. The title of the book has a double meaning, one linked to Joel's ability to always come up with the correct solution, but the second is more ironic. In the end Michael Kupperman has lots of questions about his father's life and motivations that lie unanswered. What is more, he constantly questions whether bringing all these issues into the light via this book is a good idea. In the end, this book is a meditation about families, how they relate to each other, and the roles of parents with their children. It also has a lot to say about the functions of popular culture and the early days of television. It is wonderfully provocative and affecting, an excellent biography, history, memoir, and autobiography all in one.

If you would like to learn more about Kupperman's inspirations and work on this book, check out this interview with the Comics Alternative.

All of the reviews I have read of this book sing its praises. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and wrote that the combination of art and text "help turn an already incredible story into an electrifyingly fast-paced, yet intimate memoir about family secrets and the price children can pay for their parents’ ambitions." Rob Clough concluded his review, "He told his father’s story as authentically as he could, but the fact that he had the guts to admit that this didn’t lead to a magical catharsis doesn’t puncture a hole in the narrative; it simply grounds it in reality." Greg Hunter called it "a brave piece of storytelling."

All the Answers was published by Gallery 13, and they offer more info about it here.