Imaginary Batman crossovers with Joe Casey comics – part 2

If you read the last post, you know what’s going on. Here are another five possible crossovers between Batman comics and some oddball series written by Joe Casey:

GODLAND

godland

“Face the facts, true disbeliever… The human mind isn’t big enough to comprehend its titanic totality! But that bigness is what it’s all about! The Earth is just a tiny piece of the bigger puzzle. And as it sometimes happens on our little blue world… the cosmos can come a-knocking!” (opening narration)

Running from 2005 to 2013, Gødland was a groovy, cheerful pastiche of old-school cosmic epics like the ones Jack Kirby used to do in the ‘70s (The Fourth World, Eternals, 2001: A Space Odyssey), with further echoes of Jim Starlin (Warlock, Captain Marvel, Dreadstar). It starred Commander Adam Archer, an astronaut who turned into a misunderstood superhero with a golden glow after an encounter with ancient alien technology on Mars. While Archer proved to be an emissary designed for human evolution, unlocking the mysteries of the universe, throughout much of the series he remained stuck with idiosyncratic villains and family issues back on Earth… Though he more than made up for lost time in the transcendent/apocalyptic final issues!

Tom Scioli provided the Kirbyesque art, complete with tight grids and explosive splash pages (as well as vibrant colors by Bill Crabtree and Nick Filardi). Joe Casey nailed the rhythm and hyperbole of those classic comics, filling the thing with the kind of wacky concepts that used to show up all the time, like King Janus’ hovering pyramid ship or the Tormentor’s army of super-mice. Even the modern references in the dialogue resembled Kirby’s awkward attempts to make younger characters sound hip (“You’re so punk, Angie, the rest of us just aren’t worthy. Unfortunately, you’re about twenty-five years too late. Now you’re just a beer commercial.”).

Part of the fun comes from Gødland’s tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. When Commander Archer fights a weird extraterrestrial dog-looking monster, he not only comments on the action – a staple of the genre – but he also comments on his own comments (“Why am I verbally taunting this thing? Am I such a poseur that I can’t help myself?!”). When Basil Cronus – a scientist addicted to mind expansion whose detached floating skull you see above – first meets Archer, he buries him deep underground, later explaining to another super-villain that he deliberately wished to avoid a recurring hero/arch-nemesis relationship (“I have no intention of falling into some ridiculously antiquated paradigm with that glowing do-gooder…”).

But even beyond the nostalgia and intertextual winks, this remains a brilliant sci-fi romp. The action is delightfully cartoony and the characterization is a joy to read, including some of the most engaging female characters created by Casey. There is a hilarious issue where we get a close look at the court trial of the sadistic villain Discordia, with non-stop media coverage. Plus, the philosophical punch-ups between the gods at the edge of reason are nothing short of completely bonkers!

Godland 1

There are precedents for Batman’s involvement in intergalactic sagas, most notably the prestige mini-series Cosmic Odyssey (by Jim Starlin and Mike Mignola). But most of all I want to see the Caped Crusader work his way out of pulpy traps such as the Psychotronic Wheel of Influence, the Infinity Tower lockdown, or the Null Field Cube (“Anti-particles that form an empty tesseract. Hypercubic geometry at its finest.”), not to mention the twisted jail in Dimension Z.

Or, hell, have the rogues’ gallery escape from Arkham Asylum and get rooms at Friedrich Nickelhead’s criminal-exclusive hotel. Perhaps they can join his activist movement for super-villain rights (which at one point in the series took over Congress and demanded to meet with Barack Obama). I’m sure that could be a riot!

THE INTIMATES

the intimates

“We don’t restrict the use of technology in the classroom. Not in the slightest… None of us are worried about claiming a monopoly on raw data… Since machines can now supply endless information, we as teachers have inherited the responsibility to partner with you and nurture your collective ability to judge the integrity of the info that’s delivered to you…” (Miss Klanbaid)

In the early 2000s, the most exciting and innovative takes on the superhero genre could be found in the WildStorm Universe, which underwent a creative boom comparable to the late-80s DCU. Mark Millar and Frank Quitely had superheroes brutally revolutionize international politics in The Authority, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday approached them as metafictional archeologists in Planetary, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips gave us noirish super-spies in Sleeper, Gail Simone and Neil Googe created a retirement community for masked heroes and villains in Welcome to Tranquility. Not content with engendering a super-corporation in Wildcats Version 3.0, throughout 2005 Joe Casey penned an inventive superhero high school series called The Intimates, which lasted for twelve issues.

Part teen drama, part absurdist comedy, part science fiction, The Intimates is my favorite Casey comic. It wonderfully imagines how a school for superheroes would operate in terms of technology and pedagogy, with classes such as NuPhysics 101 (“It’s in your best interest to begin thinking in multiple dimensions early in life.”), Secret Identity 101 (“For goodness sake, don’t get chummy with any investigative reporters”), Morality 101 (“Your search for mercy even during the most heinous of confrontations will define your morality.”), and Perception Technology 101 (“Your life has already happened somewhere else. Parallel realities can lead to parallel emotions…”). The series also manages to develop engrossing – and at times quite moving – character dynamics despite being packed to the max with surreal gags, quick flashbacks, WildStorm cameos, a comic-within-the-comic (drawn by Jim Lee), fake ads, and plenty of in-jokes (including an implied crossover with Automatic Kafka).

“Packed” doesn’t do it justice. The whole comic is an experiment in information overload, reflecting the hyperactive mind and media saturation of teenage life. Most pages feature a scroll with all sorts of data, including background information on the cast and even some important foreshadowing buried underneath lifestyle tips, fun facts, pointless statistics, and, towards the end, jabs at the comics industry. The interior art by the talented Giuseppe Camuncoli (pencils), Sandra Hope (inks), and Randy Mayor (colors) – working with letterers Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Rob Steen – appropriately emulates the style and pace of internet pop-ups, while the covers (designed by Rian Hughes) look like a parody of teen magazines. It’s awesome.

intimates 1

The obvious Batman-related crossover would be between The Intimates and Gotham Academy, which also revolves around kids in a school with eccentric teachers and mysterious goings-on. Although the latter is not as densely packed, it too is full of obscure cameos and references, including callbacks to old comics, to Batman ’66, and to the various Animated shows (“…and then I threw a rock at him!”). Plus, it wouldn’t be first intercompany project for Gotham Academy, which has already crossed over with Boom’s Lumberjanes.

We don’t even need a plot, just have an exchange program between schools and let chaos ensue. I want to see Olive Silverlock and Maps Mizoguchi taking Secret Identity classes with Mr. Hyde (a divorcee who always seems to be talking from bitter experience) or receive counselling from the former Dashman (a speedster who tends to get carried away and speak too fast to be understood). I want to see Headmaster Hammer put up with troubled students like Punchy (a wigga with anger issues and kinetic alien puppet powers), Empty Vee (who starts out as an invisible girl with low self-esteem, before proving to be more mischievous than anyone assumed), or Dead Kid Fred (a suicidal zombie).

MIAMI VICE: REMIX

miami vice remix

“Guess somebody’s gotta put the “show” in “show biz”.” (Rico Tubbs)

Licensed properties used to have a (not always deserved) reputation for encouraging creators to play it safe, sticking close to the tone of the original material without great leaps of fancy. Miami Vice: Remix sends all that straight to hell. Instead of merely aping the sleazy, proto-hardboiled style of the Miami Vice TV series (or even the ultra-moody, maze-like feel of Michael Mann’s feature film), Joe Casey and Jim Mahfood amped everything up to eleven, as they decided to channel the overall pop culture of the time when the show first hit the screens, from video games to electronic dance music to straight-to-VHS schlockbusters.

In recent years, pastiches of the over-the-top aesthetics of 80s’ actioners have become a fad in itself, both in cinema (Turbo Kid, Manborg) and in comics (Sexcastle, Vandroid), yet this blood-splattered 2015 mini-series is a particularly delirious ride. It starts out like a typical episode, with vice detectives Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs going undercover in order to catch a major league drug lord but – even before the story abruptly shifts gears by introducing voodoo zombie gangbangers – readers’ minds will quickly be blown by Mahfood’s furious art and letters, with trippy colors by Justin Stewart and Steven Chunn:

miami vice remixmiami-vice remix

Miami Vice: Remix wrapped up the main storyline, but it blatantly left the door open for a sequel. With its high-octane action-packed pace, in-yer-face attitude, aggressively dark humor, and drugs-related plot, the highest crossover potential here would be with a retroactive take on the Batman books from the late eighties, especially Alan Grant’s and Norm Breyfogle’s run in Detective Comics.

SEX

sex

“I’ve never had a problem with complexity myself. You think the world’s not black and white anymore. Point of fact… it never was.” (Annabelle Lagravenese, aka Shadow Lynx)

After years as the masked protector of Saturn City, Simon Cooke retires his costumed crime-fighting persona and decides to focus on his mega-corporation instead. Depressed and repressed, he also starts exploring his city’s underground sex scene, from the sleazier joints to the upper-class orgies…

There is some Eyes Wide Shut in this ongoing series – as well as a dash of Peter Milligan’s and Ted McKeever’s The Extremist – but mostly there is a lot of Batman, only with more hardcore fucking (explicitly stated and graphically depicted). Built around thinly veiled stand-ins for Gotham City, the Dark Knight, the Joker, Alfred, Robin, and Catwoman, Sex explores the notion of stoicism attached to the Batman archetype and crafts a kinky take on what could be a possible future for Bruce Wayne, if he ever abandons the cape and cowl. The date with the ersatz-Selina Kyle (issue #20), in particular, is a beautiful slice of comics.

Unlike what the double-entendres in the solicits suggest, the result is not a raunchy black comedy about debauched superheroes having sex (you know, like The Boys). The series is actually an interesting and – thanks to artist Piotr Kowalski, colorist Brad Simpson, letterer Rus Wooton, and graphic designer Sonia Harris – incredibly atmospheric new addition to the subgenre of superhero deconstruction, including the post-Watchmen emphasis on mature themes and psychological depth. As for the decompressed pace, I can only assume it’s Casey’s way of somewhat emulating a sexual experience, with teasing and foreplay, fits and starts, tenderness and violence, quite a bit of dirty talk and a tantric commitment to delayed gratification.

Sex 02

Like I said, the parallels and contrasts between Bruce Wayne and Simon Cooke are pretty clear (they’re both rich orphans with vigilante alter egos devoted to their crime-infested cities, although as Sex nears its climax the differences between the Caped Crusader and the Armored Saint become more noticeable), so it’s not hard to imagine how well these two heroes would play off each other.

In any case, Sex is a tightly woven tapestry of subplots and conspiracies within conspiracies, which means that – from the spunky Larry Baines (a female Lucius Fox) to the incestuous gangsters known as the Alpha Brothers – it has one of the largest casts on the stands, with plenty of other great characters to play with.

VALHALLA MAD

valhalla mad

Stand ye fast! The Irritator’s thirst must be addressed! Another round, barkeep! (Jhago the Irritator)

Although wasting incredible actors in supporting roles, the first couple of Thor movies were serviceable schlock – the first one burst with kitsch and tilted angles, the second one was a run-of-the-mill cornball adventure. Yet the most recent instalment, Ragnarok, is actually a balls-out funny thrill ride (and because it’s directed by Taika Waititi, I don’t mean fake funny like the Doctor Strange film, where you merely recognize the attempts at humor, I mean laugh-out-loud funny, like Spider-Man: Homecoming and the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks). With his anachronistic speech pattern and deluded sense of entitlement, the Norse god/superhero Thor has always been ripe for chuckles and, indeed, there have been a number of comedic takes on the character before (Garth Ennis’ and Glenn Fabry’s über-gory Vikings springs to mind).

You may be forgiven for assuming that Joe Casey and Paul Maybury are out to join this tradition with Valhalla Mad, a mini-series about a trio of immortals from Viken (a magic realm “where gods are spawned”) who, having saved Earth decades ago, now return for a drinking binge called ‘Gluttonalia,’ recruiting a hapless old man to come along with them. Like Sex, though, the title may give a wrong impression… While Valhalla Mad is not without some amusing touches, the overall tone is fairly subdued, especially for Casey’s caustic standards. In fact, this charming homage to Kirby’s Journey into Mystery and Thor comics is much closer to a bittersweet fantasy yarn than to a full-on spoof.

That said, your level of enjoyment will still depend on how entertaining you find Olde English twang, as there sure is a lot of it. Regardless, you can’t deny the whole thing looks lovely, not least – once again – because of the contributions of graphic designer Sonia Harris (who did the logo, covers, and the book’s interstitial pages) and Casey’s regular letterer, Rus Wooton.

Valhalla Mad 01Valhalla Mad 01

Just make the gods’ next Gluttonalia take place in Gotham City and have them end up at Noonan’s. You can’t go wrong with that.

 

NEXT: The Gordon/Batman bromance.

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