Thursday, August 05, 2010

Dr. Thirteen: I read the modern mainstream superhero critical darling

I’ve been trying to limit my reading to comics that have been generally well received by sources I trust. Obviously, I trust myself most so I’m okay in just picking up anything by certain authors, but like most anyone reading this, I have a group of blogs and other online sources that I find steer me right. Since the whole reworking of the multiverse in DC over the last few years, this book popped up and was loved by anyone who read it. Or so it seemed in the circles I ran in (i.e. sites I lurked on).

I find that, for whatever reason, I tend to read a lot of superhero stories that explore the nature of the superhero shared continuity. This is no different, and it is done how I like it. The writing and the art both perfectly capture the sheer joy that can be found in the DC universe. It hits the high notes of being able to go metatextual in having the Architects subbing in as the four main creators brought in to guide the comic line over the recent past/present; exploring the past of adventure, war, magic and space comics; and to explore how a normal guy who is logically skeptical can exist in a fantastically illogical setting.

The story hits on what DC has been very successful at lately, in dusting off their legacy properties and introducing them to the modern reader. The real highlight for the non-comic book reading public was probably JLU, but if you look at DC from about the late eighties when Swamp Thing was relaunched this is pretty much their M.O. Heck, they’ve managed a heck of a lot of reboots in the last decade, and sure, not all of them stick or are good, I still think there’s a definite winning ratio here.

I love how there’s no shying away at just how simply wacky and frenetic DC comics can be in this series. Azzarello just starts playing with the toys, so to speak, and goes hog wild with them. I think the last Azzarello DC comic I read was from his Batman run and while I liked the individual aspects of the story, in the end I just didn’t follow it. Then again, I’m half remembering that but it did have me a bit hesitant to pick up this book, even with all the positive reviews. And, well, I could just look at Cliff Chiang’s art all day long. The bright happy presentation just matches the zany plot perfectly.

This is one of the books I’d recommend to people who want to understand what being a superhero comic fan is all about. It introduces all the ideas of a shared universe without requiring a crazy amount of time and money investment to get the back story. I feel overwhelmed by a lot of ongoing superhero books where if I just join the story mid-arc I’m lost but there’s just a rabbit hole of back story to get in order to catch up. Not so here. Sure, knowing about the various Crisis bits might help, but I don’t think it would take away from understanding. It didn’t for me.


RAB said...

Yeah, I agree with the above. My one complaint about the book is that Dr. Thirteen is an offensive and preposterous caricature of a skeptic -- denying empirical evidence and continuing to blindly assert your own prejudices against reality is basically the exact polar opposite of being a skeptic -- but this is precisely how badly the character was written back in the old days, so I have to assume Azzarello knows better and was being true to the original for the sake of humor. But it would have sat a lot better with me had Thirteen been contrasted with a proper skeptic.

(Actually, the late Steve Gerber once raised this question about a skeptic in a superhero universe, and I pondered long and deeply as to how a character like that could function. He wouldn't, for instance, deny alien visitors; he'd say "This charlatan claims his so-called healing ray uses a Kryptonian rondor horn, but it's just an elephant tusk painted to glow in the dark!" But I digress.)

joncormier said...

Hmmm, good point. I'm not really up on my "what makes a skeptic." I guess they don't want to market Dr. Thirteen as the DC Universe's preeminent naysayer or curmudgeon.

I guess he's sort of like the flat-earth people. "I've never seen the planet as a whole round ball so I'll go with it being flat." He's something of a pigheaded old man wagging his cane at the young punks on his lawn, and his own self-delusion is what makes him work. I like how he can use just plain old suspicion and logic to disprove most things around him, but when his furvor blinds him to things he's witnessing it gets problematic, I agree.