Quarterbin Follies
 

Quarterbin Follies #25: May the Fourth / FCBD Special

Image4Allow me to tell you a story. Actually, let me tell you two. The first one is mine, the second one is not. On to the first.

This weekend was a great one for the nerds, for the freaks and the geeks and the socially disjointed. It was the weekend of Free Comic Book Day, and for the first time ever, I braved the road and the crowds and stood in a line at two shops to get my hands on said free comics. It was a whole contingency of Rhyses that came from our little Scotts Bluff County hamlet to the big Cheyenne city, to get books from The Loft, and from Gryphon Games and Comics. There were staff and participants in costumes; there were nerds of all ages. There were cosplayers and comic up-and-comers. It made me wish we had our own products ready to go.

It was a lot of fun, and between the two shops and the many of us, we were able to get most of the 51 books available, plus, I laid down some cash for a few of the DC Convergence titles, and Cardboard a graphic novel by the towering Doug TenNapel. I have spent more time in the last 48 hours reading comics than I have in the last two months. It has been surreal.

But really, none of that was what I came here to write about. See, today it May the Fourth, the official/unofficial Star Wars day, and being a huge fan of Star Wars, I wanted to do something I’d decided on before I even started comic-blogging. See, back in the waning days of 2013, I began picking up the monthlies of The Star Wars, a limited comic series based on George Lucas‘s original first-draft screen play for a film of the same name. It was a similar tale, but a different one, and I was excited to check it out. And then I was excited to review it!

My original plan was to write an issue by issue review as it came out, but two things happened: 1) I am terrible at doing anything on a regular basis, and 2) I actually missed issue #7 when it was in the shops (remember, of course, that here in Scottsbluff, we have no regular comic shop, so our only in town access to new comic books is the newsstand!). Well, it was a few months ago that I chose to forgo my years long avoidance of the direct market shops, and ventured into the aforementioned Loft. Surprise, surprise, they had the missing ish, and I figured that a review of the entire volume of The Star Wars seemed more than appropriate for a May the Fourth special!Image1

Now, on with the story — A vast and technocratic society ruled by a less-than-benevolent dictator sets its collective sights on an another world. This other world is ruled by a king and is dedicated to preserving its old ways — ways mocked by the mighty Empire, who sees in this other other world only a resource to exploit. As the kingdom is threatened by a giant space station, so is the king’s only daughter and rightful heir. To the rescue comes a stiff necked and impulsive man and his rag-tag band of misfits; who are able to save the day only when the space station is destroyed.

Can you tell what story I described? Uncannily, it more closely resembles Spaceballs than Star Wars, does it not? But that is the unadorned plot of The Star Wars. No Kidding. Now, I have to stop myself for a second here, because while I intend to make more of the “Spaceballs Corollary,” I really like The Star Wars. It wasn’t until after I finished the story that I noticed the parallels, and it doesn’t really take away from the story.

So, our tale proper begins on the desolate desert planet of Utapu, where our hero ANNIKIN STARKILLER lives in hiding with his father KANE and younger brother DEAK. They are among the remnant of the Jedi-Bendu, a class of warrior monks with a broken relationship to the despotic Empire.

The STARKILLERS’ life of survival and discipline is broken when the young one is killed by a Knight of the Sith. In grief, the STARKILLERS decide to return home to the planet Aquilae.

Image3Unbeknownst to them, Aquilae stands threatened by forced assimilation into a Galactic Empire based on Alderaan (who is after Aquilae’s cloning technology). Standing between Aquilae and oblivion are KING KAYOS and QUEEN BREHA, and an aged General LUKE SKYWALKER, here playing the familiar role of Old BEN KENOBI. As SKYWALKER scrambles to address the coming threat, he is met by KANE and Son. ANNIKIN becomes LUKE’S padawan and is sent across the ‘Barsoomian’ wastes to collect Princess LEIA. LEIA plays a real PRINCESS VESPA, “Not without my matched luggage” until a left cross makes her a lot more compliant.

I have to stop the train for just a second here. I cannot find a better time to put this in, so here goes. If I have one HUGE complaint about this story, it is the shoe-horned romance between the Princess and ANNIKIN. (Yeah, not to spoil anything, but there is a romance between ANNIKIN and LEIA.) It is forced, and fake and shallow. In short, everything you might expect from a Lucas-style romance. Just imagine a mash-up of Indy and Willy from Temple of Doom and Anakin and Padme’ from Attack of the Clones. Yep.

Anyroad, back to the show.

Meanwhile, Aquilae is attacked by a moon-sized battle-station, and her forces are no match, especially after the king is killed and the legislature votes to quit fighting and join the Empire. Of course, SKYWALKER and the Queen aren’t willing to roll over so easy, and so make plans to spirit LEIA and her two brothers away to safety, thereby preserving the monarchy to later rise again! Enlisting the SWAMP-THING-looking HAN SOLO, SKYWALKER and crew escape Aquilae, only to find themselves crashing on Yavin — a Yavin populated by Ralph McQuarrie-designed Wookiees!

While on the planet, LEIA is captured by Imperial forces, ANNIKIN is elevated to the station of Wookiee-god, and Luke preps the Wookiees to play “Ewok.” In the final movement of the miniseries, LUKE ANNIKIN flies to rescue the princess while HAN and BEN LUKE and the Wookiees storm the DEATH STAR battle station. Hoo-boy!

Image2All in all it was a great series. I first read most of the book when the thing was fresh off the newsstand, but it failed to bowl me over. The art by Mike Mayhew (with colors by Rain Baredo) was amazing, and the way they redesigned and re-purposed elements from the films was remarkable. The whole thing is gorgeous. Nevertheless, on my first reading, I was overcome by the stilted dialogue and awkward scene changes, but reading the whole eight issues in one sitting, the whole comes together wonderfully. There is a familiarity about it, but the story is still very different from Star Wars proper. Most remarkable yet is the universe feels very very comfortable — almost like a home. Truth be told, some of that familiarity may even stem from the awkwardness, as the writer J. W. Rinzler was able to preserve something very “Lucas“-ey in the work. It is new and very old. Shiny, yet shabby. It is everything it ought to be.

So, while I’ve waited a while to review this here, I’m glad I did. On the one hand, I’m glad we got the Star Wars films and universe we did. But at the same time, I would not mind taking another trip, ‘Longer ago, in a galaxy even further away.’

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Quarterbin Follies #24: Mars Needs Women or Luke Skywalker’s Grand-Pappy

Image1Next Monday — hoo-doggie. Next Monday is May The Fourth, and I have got a treat for all of you in seven days: a tasty, Star-Wars-y surprise. I figured, however, I would use this week before to crack open one of the oldest books I have: John Carter of Mars #2 from 1965 (Reprinted from 1953)! I am not even certain where I got this book (though I might blame Andrew Grant), and it is in pretty rough shape. Definitely a ‘reading’ copy, and that is just what I did!

In an unplanned bit of synchronicity, like TUROK from last week, John Carter had a home at Western Publishing’s Gold Key imprint. (In a planned bit of synchronicity, it is something of an open secret that John Carter was one of the prime inspirations for George Lucas and Star Wars. That’s right, breathe deep and taste the rarefied air!) Sprung from the mind of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Borroughs, John Carter was based on the most “with-it” and the most “out-there” ideas about space travel, solar power, anthropology, cosmology, and, of course, Mars. The setup goes like this: Civil War veteran JOHN CARTER awakes on Mars (or Barsoom to the locals), having been astrally projected there. Being an earth man, and raised in our heavier gravity, Carter is stronger and faster than the average Martian, and he has soon played the hero and won the heart and the hand of DEJAH THORIS, princess of the Martian city-state Helium.

This is all background for us today, as we pick up in the midst of a titular graphic serialization of Borroughs’s second John Carter novel Gods of Mars which was itself originally serialized in All-Story magazine in 1913 (collected in 1918). I say “titular” because the events in this particular comic seem more drawn from Warlord of Mars, The third John Carter novel. Regardless, we begin with a chase, as Cater and crew (DEJAH, TARS TARKAS, and the rescued THUVIA) flee the Black Pirate THURID and PHIADOR, another Martian Princess of the Thern, or White Martian peoples. (Really, Borroughs laid his racial context very thick in these tales. So thick with races and peoples, it would be hard to address in a blog. So, I probably won’t.)

Image2As I said, it begins with a chase, but during this chase, an event happens that I almost never spot in modern comics — expositional dialog. Now, allow me to clarify a skoche. Lots and lots of comics use dialogue to forward the narrative, but that is not what I mean. I am talking about the way comics used to be written before the direct sales system. You never knew for sure what issues you were going to get where, and so monthlies had to fill-in the kids that missed out last month. With this story, I more than got the gist of the first issue (mainly that John had killed Issus, the false goddess of the Martian ruling classes) from the first three pages of this one, and all while NEW stuff was happening!

Thurid, having a faster ship, overtakes the Carter’s and sends them from the sky. In a ploy involving carnivorous plants and nerve gas, John and Tars Tarkas are left for dead, while the ladies are kidnapped into the mountains. One rescue later, and John Carter hunts down his wife on his lonesome, only to see her taken by Thurid again! This time Thuvia is left behind to tell Carter that the pirate has escaped to the far North! The two friends must venture into a place where legend has it know one returns from!

Meanwhile, Thurid stands captured before Salensus Oll, the Jeddak (king) of the forgotten and hidden Yellow Martians of the North Pole, whose Pole connected super magnet has kept all flyers from returning southward for some time. This king has decided to take Dejah Thoris as his Queen, and the only thing in his way is John Cater!

Image3There is more political intrigue and plotting to be had, plus characters and monsters; but you wouldn’t want me to ruin it all, right? All in all, it was a right fun read that packed a lot of content into it. Unlike many newer books, I actually had to read this one! No writer’s artist info were given, and while not the best of either I’ve read, it was still pretty good.

I did not grow up with John Carter. In fact, my first exposure to the character was in the back of Allan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. That and the afore mentioned Disney movie. Well, I really love the world Burroughs built for Carter. It is rich and textured, and I cannot wait to read a bit more. This comic was a little like Burroughs-lite, but it was a great primer for the Sci-fi engine as we taxi toward Monday next!

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QuarterBin Follies #23: Turok Tuesday

Image1bI guess with a title like that, the metaphorical cat is out of the imagined bag, here. Today, we are going to discuss and review Turok, specifically, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1, the opener for the 1993 Valiant Comics series. Turok has long been on my ‘B-team’ of comic fandom.

I ought to explain, because the B-Squad is NOT the not-ready-for-prime-timers, au contraire. My B-team is populated by the characters I like enough to say I dig ‘em, but not so much I have spent so much money on them. Folks like Zorro, Daredevil, Hellboy, The-Big-Red-Cheese Captain Marvel, and even Supes himself. Time-tossed Turok is among these noble warriors, and I am glad to have him there!

My first exposure to Turok was about 1998. I was visiting with the the nine year old Brandan and Jordan Stolen. A couple of years prior, I’d introduced the twins to comics; and on that day, I spotted a tattered copy of X-O Manowar, with special guest Turok! There he was, in all his glory, a proud and mighty American Indian hunting cyborg dinosaurs. I mean, what’s not to love? It wasn’t long after that one of my housemates brought home ‘Turok: Dinosaur Hunter‘ for N64; and what a game that was (even though I am not a FPS player.)

Turok and I didn’t cross paths too often after that, and I went back to reading the exploits of my favourite urban avengers. A few weeks back I spotted Turok #1 at Game Time here in ‘Bluffs, and decided I needed more Turok in my life. Of course, Turok’s own story has a lot more to it.

Created by Western Publishing in 1954, Turok was originally imagined as a pre-Columbian Native American from the South-West who, along with his little brother Andar, found his way through the Carlsbad Cavern to a hidden valley deep in the Earth that was populated with all manner of prehistoric beasties. (Now, I have never had the chance to check these stories out, but they are definitely on my list!) Western, through it’s various companies, such as DellWhitman, or Gold Key, published and re-published Turok stories up throught the middle ’80’s.Image2

In the early ’90’s, Turok got a remake by the folk at Valiant. Instead of being pre-Columbian, Turok and Andar were moved to the 19th Century, an instead of a lost valley, the Indian youths discovered a pathway to the  ‘Lost Lands’, an indeterminate crossroads of universes and times (where Time has no meaning). There Turok met the likes of Magnus, Robot fighter, Solar the Nuclear Man, and X-O Manowar. In a big crossover event, Turok finds himself facing off against ‘bionisaurs’, cybornetically enhanced dinos in the employ of a being called ‘Mothergod’. Battle is joined and the day is saved; and Turok is again thrown though time and space only to land in modern Columbia, in jungle.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1, penned by David Michelinie, and art by Bart Sears and Randy Elliot, begins with the story told above, as Turok narrates for the first five and-a-half pages, but doesn’t stop there. In fact, Turok narrates the entire story.  Awaking in the jungle, Turok finds sign that his great rival Mon-Ark, leader of the dinosaurs, has himself made it to modern Columbia. Mon-Ark is a butcher, and the leader of butchers, who kills with no reservation or mercy, and Turok has dedicated himself to slaying the dragon in order to protect innocent lives. But alone and in the wild, Turok might be outmatched.  He is nearly killed falling off a cliff and into a river, but rescued by Serita, a Columbian Native. For a brief time, Turok finds a home and acceptance among these simple working folk, until the dinos start hunting him; and Turok must decide between peace and safety.

Image3I mentioned Turok’s narration before. Almost more than his somber carriage, it is his internal monologue that reinforces Turok’s strength of character, resolve, and inner stoicism. We see that Turok is a thinker–that he is a warrior who is thoughtful and serious, not reckless. And we see that his motive is not glory, but duty. It is here that I think I love Turok the most.

Writing an ethnic character is difficult. It can seem to be a pastiche or a stereotype or insincere flattery. Or it can be down right insulting. But the writer has just got to give it the best he or she can. What I find most striking about Turok in this comic is his individualism. He was a man with a personal stake, a personal honor to live in. There are things he does and mannerisms he holds that bear the essence of a cultural paradigm, but those are not the things that define Turok. He is not a Native American Warrior as much as he is a Warrior who is a Native American. He is a man first, possessed of a nobility, a violence, skill, and a devotion to his mission. Those things about the MAN Turok are highlighted and accentuated by his culture, but he is an individual. He chooses to forgo his personal comfort and act with his exceptional skill to attain a higher goal, defense of the innocent and justice to the victim; and that is what makes him a hero.

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QuarterBin Follies #22: Nebraska

Happy Friday, and before you ask, I am not Chris Lawton. I know, I know, ‘it’s Friday!’ ‘You’re supposed to do Mondays!’ ‘What did you do to Chris?

Chris is fine. Trust me.

Life just happened, as it does, and he asked if I could fill in. Well, as it happens, I missed my column on Monday, so I had material to work from!

If you have ever read my column before, you are likely familiar with my formula. With ‘QuarterBin Follies’, I mostly use my time to yammer-on about my love of old comics, and the weird-and/or-wonderful places I find them. ‘The Hunt’ I like to call it. Well, this is a little different. See, Last week, I took a trip. This is about that trip. Mostly.

comics-in-medicine--teachingYou may or may know, but in the real world, I am a human services worker, specifically in the field of mental health. It was in wearing that hat I had the opportunity to wheel my way from my West-Nebraska hamlet to the middle of our state, to the proper college-town of Kearney; and there to attend ‘Comics in Medicine and Education’, a colloquium of academics and professionals in a whole passel of fields, who all gathered together to discuss how the hows and whys of comics and graphic media. In addition to the smaller workshops, where we discussed academic merits of comics, the efficacy of sequential art as a information transmission medium, or comics as therapy or catharsis; there were three general addresses.

The Keynote was delivered on Thursday evening by Dr. Ian Williams, visiting British GP, cartoonist, and graphic novelist of last year’s The Bad Doctor, where he spoke about intersection of comics and medicine, for both the providers and patients, as communication and as catharsis. Friday morning began with Katie Monnin, educator and former Eisner Award judge. She spoke about comics place in the classroom, and the benefits of the medium as an educational tool. (That got me thinking about all the science, real and not, that was peppered through out all the comics I read as a kid. Good times.) The Friday after noon session was lead by Eisner Award winning Paul Karasik, who split his time discussing the art theory of comics and talking about his work The Ride Together, a graphic memoir co-authored with his sister in which they talk about growing up with their older, Autistic brother.

Now, this might seem incredible for an uber-nerd such as myself, but I have never been to a comic convention. Never. But, honestly, I cannot imagine any con could be more fun than the day-and-a-half I spent gabbing and elbow rubbing with fellow-nerds and fellow-professionals, and gabbing on about my favourite medium.

But I didn’t come here to talk about that. I came here to talk about my trip.

There are two main ways folk head from Scottsbluff to Kearney: South to the Interstate and over or down the country highways. I took the later. Running roughly parallel to I-80 is US 30, the old Lincoln highway. Now, I’d never taken US 30 all the way to Kearney before, so this was a bit of an adventure, and the road called!

3Those of you who took the time to get out your ‘Rand-McNally‘s might have noticed that Scottsbluff is not on US 30. True, so I took the pleasant, rolling drive diagonally down NE 26/92, past a bunch of little towns and through Ash Hollow, one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. Before you get to Ash Hollow, you’ll pass the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Lewellen. Don’t blink. Do what I did and stop.

On main street there is an old movie-house-come-paint-shop that is not the home of The Most Unlikely Place, right-fancy coffee house and art gallery in the middle of nowhere. They serve good coffee, and are super friendly, but that is not why I am mentioning them. This is a comic blog, after all. No I mention the place because of comics. You see, the owners’ nephew is some one of note—Van Jensen. Van, the writer behind Pinocchio—Vampire slayer, The Boot, and runs on Green Lantern Corps and The Flash is originally from little Lewellen.

2 300It was there in the shop, that I laid some cash on the barrell-head for a pair of Van’s early works: Nebraska Issues 1 & 2. These photo copied ashcans contain a pair of stories, memoirs of Van’s life the rural environs I love so much. Issue 1 talks about the hunting culture that is so predominate out here (even more so outside of Scotts Bluff County), and about his father. In issue 2, Van shares his feelings and memories of the strange sort of friendships small towns foster—where friends are neighbors and classmates, but might not have that much else in common.

All art was done by the writer, and is in places very rough (though not as rough as some in the older ‘Forces‘ pages, truth be told). But really that roughness gives is a personality—a flavor of veracity that adds to the ‘real-ness’ of the memoirs. This authenticity is further strengthened in that the writing uneven and edged, but not in a way that intimates any lack of skill. Rather, to steal an idea from Neil Gaiman, Jensen’s work here is decidedly un-story-shaped. It is tangible and tactile, especially, I imagine, for those of us that have the Nebraska dirt in our veins.

4 300I picked up these books on my way to the colloquium. As I drove on through the prairie, as rolling hills gave way to iron-flat plains, and as I wove near and far from the North Platte River; it only reinforces to me how much I love this land, faults and all. To have the chance to live and work here while chasing the comic book dream—It’s a good time to be alive.

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Quarterbin Follies #21: Batman in a Kilt (Happy Tartan Day)

Image1 You might have noticed this by now, but I am something of am enthusiast for all things “Celtic,” be it art, music, story or history. Truth be told, what started as an interest in my own family history has grown into something akin to fanaticism. Well, guess what, faithful: today, April sixth, is Tartan Day, a celebration of all things Scottish in America (or wherever you happen to live). Unlike St Paddy’s or St David’s days to the Irish and Welsh, respectively, which both began as religious observances and grew to become cultural celebrations; Tartan Day is a purely secular affair. (Tartan, in case you are not “in-the-know,” is the distinct weaving pattern of Scotland, and the fabric woven after that method.)

Now, hang on, folks, I know that lengthy discussions of weaving technologies and history are thrilling reading, but I have something better in mind today. On this day The-Powers-That-Be have declared it fitting to toss a “thumbs-up” to Scotland, and we here at Ideal Comics are more than ready to comply. (Well, I am, anyway.)

This week’s comic is Batman: Scottish Connection by Scotland’s own Alan Grant and Frank Quitely, and like the last two weeks’ selections, this book was not something I pulled from any quarterbin, but rather, was a comic I specifically went looking for! (I promise, stories of the weird and quirky comic quests will continue, but today, let’s try to keep in the spirit of the day.) Alan Grant, of course, has had a long history with Batman, being one of the main Bat-scribes from the late 80’s and early 90’s, and inventing Lonnie Machin, Anarky. Frank Quitely is probably best known for his unique linework and style and its impact on the feeling of WildStorm’s dynamic series The Authority with Mark Millar and New X-men with Grant Morrison.

Our story begins in Scotland, off the northwest coast and upon the Isle of Skye. Bruce Wayne attends a ceremony interring the remains of one of Bruce’s ancestors, one Gaweyne de Weyne, into a tomb alongside three other Crusaders. Bruce, ever watchful, notices that all the assembled tombstones are missing the lower left corners. Coming back after dark in cape and cowl, just to see what is what, Batman is attacked by a troop of local toughs. He is just about out-classed, matched in the moment at least (I mean, these guys have sledgehammers, folks), when a mysterious woman with a pair of trained attack-owls swoops in to the rescue.

Between the mysterious redhead and the Batman himself, the local thugs are repelled, and Sheona (the mysterious one’s name) offers the Dark Knight a spot near the fire and shelter from the sudden Skye mists. Boston born, this transplanted school teacher is on the search for her wayward brother; and she has a story to tell. (This tale is split between Sheona and her brother and is told piece-at-a-time through the book, but I have put it all together here.)

“Two hundred years ago, a village stood on the Scottish west coast. The people where crofters, poor tenant farmers, who’d been there for generations. It was a hard life, but it was a life. The Industrial Revolution sent the price of wool soaring. Landowners could get more for sheep that in rents for a croft. They drove vast flocks north from England… And if the crofters wouldn’t leave willingly… They were driven out by force of arms.”Image3

One family, the Sliths, has been driven off by the money-hungry MacDubh’s. The whole lot of them was loaded a-ship and sent packing to America. Not an unheard of tale, sad to say, but a few days in, the bubonic plague spread through the ship, killing passenger and crew alike. By the end of a dead-man’s voyage, only two souls survived: a father and his infant son. Swear, the man does, that he will pass the hatred and desire for vengeance down generation by generation until the MacDubh’s receive their just reward by the hand of Slith. (Of course, who should be a scion of MacDubh, but our very own Bruce Wayne!)

A day later, and after a call from another American-Scot redhead, “Oracle” Barbara Gordon, Bruce heads across “auld Alba” to the Rosslyn Chapel (built some centuries ago by my own presumptive kin, those ancient Sinclairs). It seems old de Weyne may well have been one of the mysterious Templar Knights, and clues lead Batman further down the rabbit hole of his own family history.

Image2That night, Batman follows a pack of ne’er-do-well’s into the chapel, where the are to meet Fergus Slith. Slith has discovered the famed Temple Treasure, but all he wants from the hoard is a single box with unknown contents, a treasure that Bats tries to steal, but fails when he is bested in single combat with Slith, who throws the Caped Crusader off a cliff toward his death. Batman, being, well, Batman, catches a hold of the cliff side just far enough down to feign death, but near enough to hear the next stage of the plan: vengeance of the Clan MacDubh on the Queensferry Bridge.

After relaying the tale to her, Oracle tells Bruce that there might be some even worse news. Legend has it that among the Temple treasure was a parchment called “the Devil scroll.” The story goes that the parchment holds the power to make men into super men, a story Batman has cause to believe when he faces Slith and his fellows on the train. The battle is pitched, but this time Bats is prepared, and he is able to tip the scales and save the passengers (Edinburgh bound MacDubhs) from Slith’s designs to infect them with a deadly plague. In the end, Fergus Slith plummets off the bridge along with the engine, seemingly to a horrific end.

Well, this frees Bruce up to gather with his distant kin at the MacDubh Reunion. All seems nominal until Sheona appears to finish her tale. The crowd is enthralled or horrified, and Bruce introduces himself. Just as he and Sheona become acquainted, Fergus appears with a helicopter, a missile launcher, and murder in his eyes. Now, it is time for Batman to save the day, but the real savior is Sheona, who alone is able to put her brother (for such Fergus is) to a final stop.Image4

As with any good historical fiction, there are some things that are true, and some things that are not. The story of the crofters and the forced evacuations is real, as are the reasons: wool and money. It was a series of events called the Highland Clearances. Hundreds of families were thrown from the hills and vales of Scotland for wool, and money, and whatever else. Some went to Ireland, some to Canada, some to Australia and some to America. And the Clearances went on for years. In some ways, the Clearances were the mechanism to spread the Scottish diaspora that has so enriched countries around the world. Nevertheless, they were and are an affront to all human decency.

The blood feud between the Clans Slith and MacDubh is fiction. In fact, both Clans are fiction. MacDubh, “son of the dark,” was the surname of King Kenneth III around AD 900, but that was in the day before patronymic naming, and that name just didn’t stick around. Nevertheless, blood feuds and long memories are hallmarks of Scottish culture; and one Grant uses to give the whole story a remarkably “Scottish” texture. In fact, Grant was able to weave several shining threads to the tapestry of “Scottish Connection” with the same effect. As he drives Bruce around, Alfred Pennyworth, the consummate Englishman, finds himself enthralled with Scotland, singing along with the songs and poems of Rabbie Burns and his ilk, and such things he picks up at a ceilidh (a folk music song-and-dance session). Littered throughout the mystery are nods to the “Auld Alliance” of Scotland and France, to the mysterious connections of the Crusaders and the Templars, and to the aforementioned Rosslyn Chapel. We see Bruce Wayne in a kilt, while Fergus Slith is attired in the ancient belted plaid of the 17th century and before. With all of this, and framed in the narrative of Sheona and Fergus’s story, the entire piece feels very nostalgic and very “Scottish.” Quitely’s thin, precise line-work gives the whole work a wispy, ethereal quality, as sudden and transient as the mists itself. My only qualm with the whole work is that somehow Batman knows Fergus Slith’s name before anyone else in the comic has even said it.

Image5aThere is one final, very Scottish aspect to the story. We follow Batman through all his detecting and serendipity, but he is as much a spectator as we are. The story is not really about Batman, even though it is thoroughly woven with his forebears. It is about Family. The impetus of the tale is family vengeance, and Batman is not part of that family. Only Sheona, a noble warrior-woman who has cast aside her heritage of hate, has proper right to break the curse. Batman does what he can protecting innocents, but without Sheona’s valor, he could not have stopped Fergus. By a Slith begun, by a Slith ended.

All in all, I loved this book, and it had been far too long since I read it last. Grant and Quitely do bang-up job building a story that lives up to its title, and it is well worth checking out if you run across it.

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