Spaceman by Brian Azzarello – A Book Review

With art by 100 Bullets collaborator Eduardo Risso, Azzarello has created a bleak, unsettling landscape where the very rich are well taken care of, and the rest of us are left to survive by any means necessary.

Spaceman follows the story of Orson, one of a group of genetically engineered astronauts meant to explore Mars.  However, most of the story takes place in a flooded, ruined city that, like most of the coastal world, has been overwrought by melting glaciers.  Long since returned to Earth after the demise of NASA, Orson is left to pirate and scavenge in order to endure.

Soon, however, Orson finds himself in the middle of a kidnapping, one in which an orphan has been stolen from a reality television show’s super-couple, obviously modelled after Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  The couple are the stars of a show where orphans must compete to be adopted by the celebrities and live a life of leisure.

Before long, Orson is at odds with the only other surviving member of his astronaut crew, Carter.  His brother has taken a darker path in life, consequently, and he too becomes involved with the abduction.  If the child is to survive, Orson must overcome hauntings from Mars that still disturb him as well as a very present cadre of killers.

Perhaps it helped the book that I suffered from stomach flu while reading it, but the ruin and demise of the world depicted in its pages truly touched a nerve.  Risso’s gritty, detailed artwork is a perfect match for the tale, and he portrays a horrifyingly civilization that may not be that far off.

Quite honestly, I expected Spaceman to take place more in outer space.  I was surprised that the majority of the book unfolded on Earth.  I was further surprised that, at its core, the story presented a child kidnaping case.

However, the story is far more than just that.  I truly believe Azzarello to be an underestimated writer in today’s literary scene.  His stories are often violent, alarming, and graphic, but they also touch on themes that apply to our modern life.  For example, Azzarello realizes that we are ruining our environment and that repercussions await us all.  Those repercussions are evident in Spaceman.  He also has noticed that the poor seem to be getting poorer, while the rich get richer.  Spaceman delivers a painfully realistic portrayal of what the current trend may yield.

And though it’s a matter of much controversy, I find Azzarello’s commitment to language commendable in Spaceman.  Like his rendition of society, he presents a language that is falling apart, shortened, and slowly dying.  Azzarello clearly put a great deal of thought into his vision of our ruined language, and the dedication to his vision reminds me of writers such as Anthony Burgess.

Spaceman is a potentially prophetic science fiction work that offers a troubling glimpse of our destiny.  Azzarello grants us a violent adventure with the life of a child hanging in the balance, a societal warning, and a craftsmanship to be celebrated.

All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder: Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

This book is absolutely insane, and I loved it!

What we have here is a Batman story free of any previous or current continuity.  Writer Frank Miller is taking Batman and starting his story from scratch.  (Or is he?  More on that later.)

The Batman in this storyline is testosterone fueled, immature, and more than a little nutty.  Miller takes him so over the top that I really and truly hope the writer is poking fun at his previous incarnations of the characters and his previous, ultraviolent works such as Sin City and 300.  The fact that both Batman and most other characters in the book refer to him as “the g-d-n Batman” can only lead me to believe Miller didn’t want us taking this too seriously.

However, Miller is also proving a point.  We’d always heard that Batman needed a Robin to take the edge off the man-to bring him back to humanity.  However, as a Batman fan of over twenty-five years, I’d never really seen an incarnation of the character that had him in DIRE need of a humanizing sidekick.  That is, until now.  Miller’s All-Star Batman is a whack-job, and it’s only through his dealings with Dick Grayson that he slowly begins to realize he’s turned into a monster.  Despite all the sex and violence in the book, Miller actually does a wonderful job evolving Batman’s character-there is real character development taking place that is rarely seen in the comic book medium.

And because this is an all-star title, the artist must be as equally as big a star-enter Jim Lee.  Jim Lee has always been a mesmerizing artist, but he truly outdoes himself with All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.  His figures look amazing-as always-but the settings are what really blew me away.  His attention to detail is nearly genius-level, and I found myself studying every building in the skyline, every poster on the wall, every tread on a tire.  He is absolutely astonishing.

So while I’m glad this book isn’t the definitive and mainstream interpretation of the character, I am so glad we have this Batman as well.  I couldn’t put the book down.  It was ludicrously fun and breathtaking to look at and had me addicted within the first few minutes of reading it.

Now, if you’ll allow me a slight digression: Does anyone else think this is a prequel of sorts to The Dark Knight Returns?  As I started reading it, I noticed some thematic links between All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder and The Dark Knight Returns, as well as The Dark Knight Strikes Again.  This is nothing unusual with writers, many of them tend to have certain passions that they return to (consciously or not) in their work. 

However, as I continued reading, things began to seem like more than just coincidence.  For example, in the huge spread from Episode 4, doesn’t that look like the Dark Knight Returns Batmobile being built?  Also, we clearly see the cover to The Dark Knight Returns collected edition as a poster on Barbara Gordon’s wall in Episode 6.  The Wonder Woman design in Episode 5 is very similar to the Wonder Woman in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, as is her basic personality and attraction to Superman.  I would also argue that Superman, Plastic Man, Green Lantern, and Jim Gordon all seem tonally the same as they are in The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Again

But, the real cinchers for me occurred first in Episode 8 where the Joker’s henchwoman was the same lady with the swastikas covering her nipples (wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d construct) as from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three.  

And then, the big one-the HUGE one-happened in Episode 9 where Batman tells Green Lantern, “Of course we’re criminals.  We’ve always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.”  Now compare that to Superman’s internal dialogue from The Dark Knight Returns: Book Three, which was written roughly twenty years earlier: “When the noise started from the parents’ groups and the subcommittee called us in for questioning – – you were the one who laughed … that scary laugh of yours … ‘Sure we’re criminals,’ you said.  ‘We’ve always been criminals.  We have to be criminals.'”

In my estimation, it seems Frank Miller is using All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder to build upon his mythos originated in The Dark Knight Returns, and I think that’s incredibly entertaining.

Of course, if I’m right, knowing what we know about the end of The Dark Knight Strikes Again certainly makes his developing relationship with Dick Grayson seem bittersweet.