Alex Ross

Superman and Batman: World’s Funnest (November 2000)

Superman and Batman: World's FunnestDave Gibbons does the most art on World’s Funnest. It’s not exactly the standard Dave Gibbons art, either, it’s Dave Gibbons doing Silver Age and it’s awesome. What writer Evan Dorkin taps into with World’s Funnest is the experience of being a Batman and Superman fan in the late eighties and early nineties; it’s practically a companion piece for those Greatest [insert DC character here] Stories Ever Told. The hardcover ones with beautiful reprints of the old stories, which weren’t cool in any modern sense, but you had to do the work to appreciate them because you want to be a good fan. You want to understand. And Dorkin’s trip through the DC multiverse is all about understanding, both the multiverse and the way it presents to the reader. Even though the first eighteen or so pages are all set in the Silver Age, Dorkin’s observations about the tropes make it all very modern. It never feels wrong to the characters, but it’s rather self-aware, from injured villains to Robin’s constant need for approval; Dorkin could’ve stopped World’s Funnest with a Silver Age riff and done something awesome, but then he keeps going.

Mxy and Bat-Mite battle for Infinite Earths; art by Dave Gibbons.
Mxy and Bat-Mite battle for Infinite Earths; art by Dave Gibbons.
I didn’t know what to expect from World’s Funnest. I missed it when it first came out, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to open it to discover an impressive list of creators. Unfortunately, it’s an alphabetical list of creators. So I sorted them out in order of their contributions.

First up after Gibbons is Mike Allred, who also comes first alphabetically, so he’s a terrible example. Oh, wait, I probably need to at least acknowledge the premise of the comic, which I wasn’t familiar with either. Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite battle across the DC multiverse and its various time periods and dimensions within universes. Dorkin doesn’t get into the science, which is both awesome and surprising. I can’t believe they got away with some of this stuff.

Allred handles the Phantom Zone, but an Earth–2 Phantom Zone? Like pre-Crisis Earth–2 Phantom Zone. Or maybe just a Silver Age Phantom Zone. Again, Dorkin’s not interested in the locations for narrative purposes, just for homage. It’s a violent, pseudo-cynical homage, but it’s never mean-spirited. World’s Funnest is enamored with the comics it comments on. With the possible exception of some nineties references.

Mxy isn't sure what to make of the Marvel Family, art by Jaime Hernandez.
Mxy isn’t sure what to make of the Marvel Family, art by Jaime Hernandez.
Then Sheldon Moldoff handles the actual Earth-Two visit, Stuart Immomen and Joe Giella on Earth-Three. Frank Cho’s got some lovely art for the Quality Comics universe. Jaime Hernandez does Captain Marvel’s universe, which is a hilarious visit for the battling imps. Dorkin never directly contrasts the different universes, but lining them up and inspecting each does reveal a lot of amusing details. Scott Shaw gets Captain Carrot, Stephen DeStefano does some fumetti, then Jim Woodring gets to do the trip to the Fifth Dimension.

Now, it’s hard to imagine not being familiar with Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite as a DC Comics reader, but it gets more possible with each passing year and each rebranding and each reboot. Dorkin approaches the story with just the right mix of nostalgia and commentary; there isn’t time for introducing the various worlds though–which might actually make World’s Funnest a great primer for DC Comics history. There’s a familiarity curve to the comic book. A daunting one.

Not even Darkseid can keep a straight face during WORLD'S FUNNEST; art by David Mazzucchelli!
Not even Darkseid can keep a straight face during WORLD’S FUNNEST; art by David Mazzucchelli!
After Woodring, David Mazzucchelli does an amazing Jack Kirby trip to Apokolips. I didn’t think it was Mazzucchelli when I was reading it. I’m even more impressed now and I was rather impressed while reading it. Dorkin and Mazzucchelli match Kirby’s enthusiasm and outlandishness without letting it go absurd. Darkseid’s one of the best supporting players in the comic.

Jay Stephens does “Super Friends,” Glen Murakami and Bruce Timm do a storyboard for the animated series, then along comes Frank Miller to do a Dark Knight bit. It’s freaking amazing. And really good art from Frank too; I think the good art from Frank Miller in 2000 was what surprised me the most about it. Doug Mahnke and Norm Rapmund do the nineties flashback, which is the closest the comic gets towards being nasty about its reference points. Then Phil Jimenez does an awesome Crisis section, very Perez. Ty Templeton does a few pages of general universe transporting before the Alex Ross finale. It’s only a few pages, a few panels, but it’s awesome to see what a “Batman: The TV Show” Bat-Mite would’ve looked like (albeit in superior lighting to the show).

It's Bat-Mite by Alex Ross. Really.
It’s Bat-Mite by Alex Ross. Really.

And it’s funny. All of it’s really funny and really smart about how it’s being funny. Dorkin doesn’t have one joke not connect, even the handful I might not have fully appreciated. It’s a lovely tribute to a lot of comics and a lot of comic creators. I’m embarrassed not to have read it until now.

CREDITS

Last Imp Standing!; writer, Evan Dorkin; artists, Dave Gibbons, Mike Allred, Sheldon Moldoff, Frank Cho, Jaime Hernandez, Scott Shaw, Stephen DeStefano, Jim Woodring, David Mazzucchelli, Jay Stephens, Frank Miller, Phil Jimenez, Ty Templeton and Alex Ross; pencillers, Stuart Immomen, Glen Murakami and Doug Mahnke; inkers, Joe Giella, Bruce Timm and Norm Rapmund; colorist, Chris Chuckry and Mazzucchelli; letterer, Tom Orzechowski; editor, Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

Marvels 4 (April 1994)

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Marvels, quite simply, can’t live up to the potential of the first issue. The present action is about thirty years. Thirty years, four issues. It’s not going to be a solid narrative. Busiek has a couple opportunities to tie the first and fourth issue and doesn’t. It would have worked better without the same narrator throughout.

This issue does have the Gwen Stacy stuff, though, and it’s incredible. Busiek and Ross cast her as an angel in Marvel Universe and it works. It does work. Maybe it’s a little cheap–it’s not like no one but Gwen Stacy could appreciate these things, but there’s just something so … affecting about using her. It’s unfortunate the book has to contrive a relationship between her and the narrator for it to work.

Marvels is a wee self-important and a wee overbearing. It’s like no one ever realized what worked best.

Too bad.

CREDITS

The Day She Died; writer, Kurt Busiek; artist and colorist, Alex Ross; letterers, Richard Starkings, John Gaushell and Comicraft; editors, Spencer Lamm and Marcus McLaurin; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Marvels 3 (March 1994)

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The Galactus issue. Way too many full page fight scenes here (Ross must have been getting tired) and no real story. It’s all centered around the one event, around the Fantastic Four fighting off Galactus. I’ve never read the Fantastic Four issues this one retells, so I don’t know if the lame excuses for no other heroes being around are in those too, but it really doesn’t work.

There’s more to it, sure, there’s a bunch of stuff about Iron Man (who’s off page the entire issue) and, while it does provide texture, it’s … it’s supposed to be a snapshot into the protagonist’s life, yes, but it all feels too forced. The comic is losing some of its charm (especially since, at issue three, they’ve finally decided to put some black people in the comic–there weren’t any before, now it’s packed).

I hope the fourth issue ends things well.

CREDITS

Judgment Day; writer, Kurt Busiek; artist and colorist, Alex Ross; letterers, Richard Starkings, John Gaushell and Comicraft; editors, Spencer Lamm and Marcus McLaurin; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Marvels 2 (February 1994)

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I think this issue of Marvels might qualify as cheap. I mean, while the first one thrilled and exhilarated, in this one Busiek puts a young girl in harm’s way as a dramatic plot. I’m not saying the issue does hit you in the stomach and hard, I’m just saying… it’s easy.

I mean, bigot learns not to be a bigot, but finds himself in a world where his not being a bigot anymore doesn’t mean everyone else isn’t a bigot. It’s almost a modern American narrative standard. I think “Quantum Leap” did about six episodes about it.

It’s a solid comic book and it does make the reader feel. It just does it in a dirty, cheap way.

Ross’s work here is fantastic. The grinning faces, the riots, it’s all just great.

I think the issue bothers me because it did choke me up, it just didn’t earn it.

CREDITS

Monsters; writer, Kurt Busiek; artist and colorist, Alex Ross; letterers, Richard Starkings, John Gaushell and Comicraft; editors, Spencer Lamm and Marcus McLaurin; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Marvels 1 (January 1994)

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Marvels, as I argued fifteen years ago and apparently am going to continue to argue today, feels more like a DC title than a Marvel one. It’s a combination of things–there’s something about Busiek’s narrator; he’s too common to be a Marvel protagonist, he’s too ugly, too sensitive. It’s also Ross’s art. Marvel comics have the superheroes on the street, doing their thing like it’s no big deal. They don’t look out of place. Marvels instead presents them as fantastic.

It’s not a perfect comic–I have a lot of questions about Busiek’s version of historical events and he’s way too blasΓ© about repercussions of major events–but it’s damned effective. Ross’s art here isn’t his subsequent (and current?) style of the barrel-chested superhero, the Superman and Batman who eat lots of Ho Hos. They’re athletic, idealized… marvelous.

Is Busiek really the first one to call them Marvels?

CREDITS

A Time of Marvels; writer, Kurt Busiek; artist and colorist, Alex Ross; letterers, Richard Starkings, John Gaushell and Comicraft; editors, Spencer Lamm and Marcus McLaurin; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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