Lost in a Longbox – Batman Versus Predator #1 (DC/Dark Horse)

Image

The Predator is one of the most promising and creative characters created in the last thirty years. When he (it) made his (its) big screen debut in 1987, audiences everywhere were instantly attracted to absurd ugliness and horror of the humanoid creature. We couldn’t stop staring at the crustacean-looking face hiding underneath his futuristic space mask/helmet. After the creature’s anti-climatic death in the Schwarzenegger movie, it only seemed natural that the Predator had to be revived and revisited, and an origin needed to be created.

Predator made its comic book debut in a four-issue mini series that began in the summer of 1989. Instead of stalking the jungles of South America, the Predators (Yes, there’s more than one) wandered into New York City. The second Predator film similarly had the creatures running amok on the streets of Los Angeles. As one can see, the problem with the Predators is that no one quite knows where to posit these creatures within a story. The storytelling has been quite clumsy. For such an advance group of aliens, it seems odd that these intelligent humanoids would waste time killing random individuals rather than simply invading and taking over the Earth. But with a character as popular and unique as the Predator, it’s important just to get these sapient beings into as many comic books as possible. This leads us to the ever-popular comic book idea of crossovers.

In 1991, the Predator made a visit to Gotham City. In a three-issue run, a lone Predator takes on Batman, and the cape crusader gets a world of hurting. A boxing match kicks off the series. Both of the combatants, Bull Bersaglio and Marcus King, are bankrolled by two of Gotham’s most influential gangsters—Alex Yeager and Leo Brodin. After the match, King, the winner of the fight, is found dead in the most gruesome manner—the champ’s spine and skull have been removed. At first, Brodin, who sponsored Bersagilo, is blamed for the boxer’s murder. But the severe nature of the death suggests a different culprit. It is up to the caped-crime fighter to solve the murder, and prevent the mob bosses from doing battle.

Beginning the book with a boxing match serves many purposes. Mainly, in simple terms, the match is presented to foreshadow the eventual battle between the two real heavyweights—Batman and the Predator. We get this. I mean, this is why we purchased the book. More importantly, the rhetorical purpose behind the boxing match is to get the comic to read like a movie. The opening splash page is action packed; it’s cinematic and fast moving. There’s shadow play with the value of the venue light married with the stark quality of the light illuminating the ring. The readers are given a quick view of the eccentric audience members, peering back at the reader, making us feel like we’re part of the crowd. We are sharing the audience’s vantage point.Image Fans of film noir boxing classics Body and Soul (1947) and The Set Up (1949) have seen these images before. These are the two main sources writers, directors and artists look to when they want to portray a realistic boxing scene.

When taking a character like the Predator that was initially created for Hollywood, it is important to keep the creature in familiar visual surroundings. I’m sure there was a worry that the Predator might not translate well in the comic book format. This had to be a concern. If the artist wasn’t careful, a menacing figure like the Predator could’ve been easily transformed into a cartoonish image that died on the limited paper format that once hindered and endeared comic books.

The cinematic magic of the opening page leads into a cliché horror movie scene. We peer in to Woodrow Pickett’s trailer, located in his salvage yard, watching the aforementioned boxing match, while sipping from another can of Budweiser. Next to Pickett sits Satan, his trusty watchdog, howling away. What would a salvage yard owner be without a trusty dog to scare away potential thieves?  Satan hears a noise outside of the trailer and, following Pickett’s command, investigates the disturbance. After hearing a “hrruuuffHRRUFHR” come from Satan, Pickett grabs his shotgun and heads to the door where he’s greeted by three red laser beams on his chest. Cue the blood-splattering panel as the television announcer declares King the new heavyweight champion of Gotham City.Image

The clichés continue when the readers are given an overhead view of Marcus King resting in a hotel bed–post-coitus?– with his woman, Lita, exchanging pillow talk, while a shadowy Predator drops through a skylight and subdues the lamp-wielding champ with his hunting net and proceeds to remove the boxer’s skull and spine. How many times have we seen this scene? The crashing through the skylight/picture window has become a crutch for those in the creative community. I suppose we shouldn’t expect the Predator to use the front door. It is news of King’s death that gets Batman involved. Before Batman can get hot on the case, the Predator kills Bersaglio is the same Mortal Kombat type of way that King suffered.

At this point, the reader is a bit puzzled. The Predator travels all the way to Gotham to kill a hillbilly salvage yard owner and his dog? Two boxers? Is there a greater reason why Pickett is the first victim of the Predator’s wrath?[1] Or is Dave Gibbons, the writer, just trying to establish the Predator as some sort of interstellar sadist? Later in the story, Batman uses deductive reasoning and figures out that the Predator is choosing his prey based on some “savage code of honor.” The space creature has come to Gotham to take on and kill the city’s strongest combatants in hand-to-hand combat. Predator’s weaker encounters—Pickett, two security guards and a blind ex-fighter—are simply shot. He saves the skull/spine removal for the tougher dudes. And Batman is next.

Adam Kubert, the artist of the series, draws a very bulky Batman. In certain panels, Batman appears to be out of proportion, his chest is literally wider than the front of the Batmobile.Image Bruce Wayne must have a lot of explaining to do in the boardroom meetings. A built Batman is necessary, though. He will soon be taking on one of his most impressive (and massive) foes, and, even though Batman is physically no match for the Predator, a bulkier Batman makes it more believable that the Dark Knight can hold his own.

Kubert conjures up an extremely dark Bruce Wayne. Whether he’s tooling around the Batcave or catching up on the news, Wayne’s eyes are squinted, his brow crunched up like he’s recovering from cataract surgery while sucking on lemon wedges in a smoke-filled nightclub. In certain panels, Wayne looks a little like Marvel’s non-superhero vigilante, Frank Castle.Image Kubert also darkens up Alfred. Batman’s lifelong caretaker looks uncharacteristically angry and distrusting. This is an Alfred we are not used to seeing. The entrance of the Predator in Gotham City has everyone grimacing in fear and anger.

It’s also interesting to note the appearance of the Predator. Off the top of my head, the Predator is one of the most physically threatening and muscular alien species in popular culture. Times sure have changed since the days of Greys, E.T., Alf, Mork and Klingons. What was going on in the mid-to-late 80s that made an alien become so large, physically fit and violent? This is something worth investigating.

After all the deaths and speculation, Batman crosses paths with the Predator in the salvage yard and their encounter ends just the way we think it would: Batman gets the shit beaten out of him. The last five pages of the first book ends in a dark and confusing manner. Batman’s battle with the Predator is broken down into multiple mini-panels, giving the fight a fast-moving feel, similar to the opening page. There are close ups of eyes and hands, punctuated with various comic book action noises. Kubert’s panels are muddy and disjointed, so much so that it’s difficult to follow the sequence of battle. It appears that Batman’s only mode of attack is throwing scrape metal at his alien competitor. Batman never makes physical contact with his opponent and when it’s all said and done, the issue ends with a somewhat bloody Predator grasping a fallen and bloody Batman by his cape.Image

Gibbons and Kubert do an effective job ending the opening issue with a cliffhanger. Readers everywhere must’ve been anxiously waiting for issue number two to hit their comic book store’s shelves. How is Batman going to escape from the Predator? We’ve never seen Batman in such a defeated condition. He looks defenseless and weak in the grasp of the Predator. Despite its countless clichés, muddy pages and darkly styled, squinty-eyed characters, I’m hooked. Batman and the Predator are two exciting characters—one complex and the other mysterious and intriguing. That said, it’s obvious that Gibbons and Kubert had a difficult time translating the Predator into the one-dimensional format of a comic book, especially since the Predator rarely speaks. We, as readers, bring our movie memories of the Predator and meld them together with the Gibbons and Kubert creation to expand our understanding of and excitement for the brutal space traveler. On to issue number two.


[1] Later, in the second book, we find out that the Predator uses the salvage yard as a makeshift hideout. For a character that possesses stealth capabilities, it would seem redundant for this highly intelligent space creature to actually need a hideout. More on this at a later date.

Advertisements

January 17, 2013. Tags: , , , , . Comic Books, Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Free Comic Book Day 2012: “Star Wars: The Art of the Bad Deal”

Shoot, Han! Shoot!

Han Solo and Chewbacca are paired together for this brief Rise of the Empire era adventure. The famous galactic partners have an argument after they lose money on a lucrative deal with Verhandle, a hard bargaining, green-cloaked gray alien-looking figure that doesn’t take kindly to his unidentified cargo arriving two days late. Even though Verhandle looks similar to a Duros, but with black eyes, I believe this is Verhandle’s debut to the Star Wars universe. And, of course, it’s probably a matter of time before he becomes an action figure. It’s also interesting to note that “verhandle” is German for “negotiate,” which is appropriate considering the humanoid’s uncanny bargaining skills.

Before Solo meets with Verhandle, he convinces Chewbacca to let him do the talking. Solo fails at holding his ground on their shipping fee, ultimately giving in to Verhandle and taking sixty percent of the previous agreed upon figure. Chewbacca, disappointed in the lower fee, plays the silent game with Solo when they take to the Millennium Falcon and put distance between themselves and the sneaky Verhandle. As the comic comes to an end, the galactic duo discovers and confronts some unwanted cargo.

While Verhandle negotiates the final shipping price, he tries to purchase the Millennium Falcon from Solo. Verhandle reveals to Solo that he has been told that the Millennium Falcon is an “impressive ship.” Solo corrects his alien customer by calling her (the Falcon) “amazing.” All true Star Wars fans will remember that in A New Hope Luke Skywalker calls the Millennium Falcon a “piece of junk.” Also, in the same film, Princess Leia, when first seeing Solo’s prized vessel sarcastically asks, “You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.” Is the continuity of Star Wars being disturbed in this six-page comic?

Like most are saying, I do understand that this Star Wars comic was free, but “The Art of the Bad Deal” is a cheesy, six page, half-hearted story done on the fly to feed the always hungry Star Wars nerds that ascend on their local comic book store on Free Comic Book Day. I’m not sure if this offering from Dark Horse Comics will draw new readers in to the lonely world of comics.

The cover art is kinda bizarre and misleading. A gun drawing, glove-wearing Solo– sans his characteristic shock of chest hair– cradles a small box, while standing awkwardly with beady eyes and a Joker-like smile. Behind Solo stands a dead-eyed Chewbacca grasping a box, bearing his pointy teeth. Oddly, there are pink-colored lasers strategically zooming passed them, but Solo fails to return fire. Inside, the artwork is adequate. There is some artistic licensing taken in the drawing of Solo, but his likeness is close enough not to distract the reader.  Also, the dialogue is simplistic and limited. I suppose it is tough to build a conversation heavy book when Chewbacca, much like one of my old girlfriends, is limited to “HRRARRG” and “HRAAUUG.” Of course, Solo is a Wookie-whisper, so he’s able to carry on a conversation but the reader is left in limbo.

On a redeeming note, the inks and colors are impressive and attractive; they help create a beautiful, mysterious and moody atmosphere that plays well against the sarcastic nature of Solo’s character. I feel as though I am on the Millennium Falcon with our heroes. There is a minimalist feel that compliments the briefness of the story. The rendering of Verhandle and his outfit is attractive and appealing. I will be waiting to purchase the previously mentioned action figure to collect dust on one of my bookshelves.

In all fairness, “The Art of the Bad Deal” is not representative of Dark Horse’s other Star Wars comics. If you’re a fan of the Star Wars films or the Clone Wars cartoon, you should visit your local comic book store and purchase some of the Star Wars titles that Dark Horse distributes. In fact, check out the newly released “Star Wars: Blood Ties—Bobba Fett is Dead” #1. The artwork is beautiful, and the story is intriguing, even if you’re a casual Star Wars fan.

*Thanks to Mike B. and Tonya P. for being brave and entering his/her local comic book store and picking up a handful of comics for me on Free Comic Book Day. I’ll leave the house one of these days.

May 8, 2012. Comic Books. Leave a comment.