Batman: No Man’s Land Vol. 3

I’m finding it difficult to write about these latest No Man’s Land trades.

Not because there’s nothing to say, but because there’s simply so much going on that it’s difficult to hone in on any one person or event.  With so many characters receiving a spotlight issue or two, it’s tough to focus my attention.

An incredibly brief synopsis of this trade might read something like this: Batman and friends continue working to contain Gotham’s criminal element while fighting to find food and supplies for its remaining residents.

That’s essentially it.  It’s simple, but the comics themselves are anything but.  We learn so much about how individuals handle adversity differently, and how certain criminals can thrive in this environment.  The utter desolation of the city doesn’t mean a complete loss of hope for some, although many are beginning to question how they can continue on like this indefinitely.

Reading these comics, there are always one or two individual issues that stand apart from the rest.  They may not have the biggest impact on the overall story, but they catch my eye and stay with me longer than the rest.

In this trade, those issues were Batman #570 and Detective Comics # 737, a storyline featuring Joker and Harley Quinn titled “The Code”.

This is one of the first appearances of Harley Quinn within the main continuity, and she truly enters the fray as her own unique character.

In this story, Joker has just shored up a new territory, and Harley goes to do some investigating in the penthouse apartments.  In one, she find a book laying out the rules of love, and settles down to read it.

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According to this book, Harley has been making herself entirely too available, and that’s why the Joker doesn’t pay her any mind.  Deciding to change her act, Harley begins acting more independent and less reliant on Joker and his whims.

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While Harley puts her new knowledge to good use, she also suggests to Joker that he hold an election and run for President of Gotham, using “Batman would never do that” as her reasoning.  Joker thinks it’s a brilliant idea and begins campaigning full force.  It’s a completely ridiculous scenario that fits him perfectly; in a city of utter chaos and instability, of course Joker would choose now to try and instill a little order to everything around him.

The election storyline is fun, but Harley steals the show.  As she grows more and more independent, the Joker begins to miss his ever-loyal lackey, and appears to even miss the nicknames he once claimed to loathe.

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I couldn’t help but love Harley in this story.  She is so determined to get her “puddin” to pay attention to her and return her affection.  Even with a city in ruins around her, she is single-minded in her goal to get the Joker to love her back.

It’s innocent, naive, and absolutely crazy, yet you can’t help but sympathize with her.

It’s also rather effective.  Joker doesn’t seem to take too kindly to not being the center of Harley’s world, and her indifference starts to wear on him.  It’s the classic “ignore him and he’ll come running” trope that is perpetuated in every women’s magazine published for the past fifty years.  With the Joker at least, it seems to work perfectly.

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Marry?! There’s a word you’d never expect the Joker to utter.

This just proves how masterful Harley is.  If she can control the Joker, there’s really no stopping her.  Even Batman hasn’t been able to make Joker change his tune about anything.  This girl’s an evil, lovestruck genius.

If this was all there was to her character, she’s be entertaining, but luckily beneath that sweet and playful exterior is a strong and skilled fighter.  Taking on Huntress and walking away virtually unscathed, Harley proves that she can hold her own against Gotham’s best.

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This, for me, is what makes Harley such an enjoyable character.  She’s goofy and childish but also fierce.  Strip away the psychotic tendencies and she’s exactly what I want to be.  I have a feeling she strikes a chord with a lot of readers for this very reason.

Of course, her resolve can only last so long, and after thinking her lovable Mistah J has been killed in a blast, she can’t help but express her undying devotion, much to Joker’s dismay.

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She tried, she really did. She even succeeded for a while there, making the Joker pursue her for a change.  Alas, her weakness got the best of her, and she flew into his arms and undid all that she had accomplished with their relationship.

These two make for a highly dysfunctional pair, but perhaps that’s why they’re so great together.  Harley loves Joker; there’s no doubt about that.  However, in this story we get to see that although the Joker’s feelings may not be identical, he at least loves the attention and adoration Harley gives him.  Sure, he’s tried to kill her once or twice, but he has his moments of caring, if only because she doesn’t.

I’m not sure what it was about this particular storyline that stood out to me so much.  Harley Quinn is certainly a key factor.  She’s fun to read about and is unlike any other Batman villain I’ve seen.  Plus, she’s paired off with the Joker, and his interactions with everyone are always fun to read.  Harley is essentially a hyper little puppy that follows the Joker around constantly, much to his chagrin.  She’s innocent, she’s sweet, she’s utterly psychotic.  She’s also loyal to a fault, and one can’t help but admire that loyalty, even if it kicks her in the butt or ends up with her strapped to a rocket.

Harley Quinn is a deranged love-struck psycho, and yet she still manages to be adorable and likable.  She walks a fine line that few other characters can manage, being a villain that the reader wants to root for.  In the midst of tragedy and city-wide destruction, Harley’s single-minded focus on getting the Joker to love her heightens her naivete while endearing her to readers.

Much like the Joker, Harley has a perfect blend of violence and comedy. She has the added touch of sweetness though that makes her a truly unique villain, and one whom can’t help but steal the show every time she’s featured.

She’s funny. She’s crazy. She’s awesome. I bet deep down, even Batman likes her.

-Jess

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Aztek: The Ultimate Man

I really like Grant Morrison’s comics, and I was really excited to see what sort of unique character he would create with Aztek.  I had exceedingly high hopes for this.  Maybe that’s the problem. I went in expecting too much.

This comic is really a bit of a mess.  It pains me to say that, because I really have enjoyed every other Morrison comic I’ve read thus far.  This story simply didn’t do anything for me.

Aztek is a somewhat mysterious hero, dropped into the fictional Vanity, a west-cost version of Gotham where crime runs rampant.  Descending from a long line of warriors based out of the Andes Mountains, Aztek is meant to sit and wait to protect the world when the prophesied apocalypse comes to pass.

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He has no meta-human abilities of his own; rather, he draws all of his power from the special helmet and suit he wears, which in turn gains its power from a 4th-dimensional source.

Much of this trade deals with Aztek (who adopts the alias of Curt Falconer, a deceased doctor) trying to find his place in Vanity’s society, fighting a series of villains and trying to figure out how to bide his time before the apocalypse strikes.

His character felt very derivative of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World creations, and seems as though he would have been more at home on New Genesis than on Earth.  Morrison clearly tried very hard to fit Aztek into the DC universe, having innumerable heroes and villains alike make special appearances in Aztek’s stories.

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Lex Luthor himself is bankrolling Aztek, believing it a sound business investment to ensure the continuation of life as we know it.  While a few cameos would have been understandable, they were nearly constant, with each issue featuring new characters to try to legitimize Aztek’s appearance in the DC universe.

The primary goal is to get Aztek into the Justice League, as is revealed by the great “powers that be” running the show in the Andes, monitoring his every move and controlling events from afar.  In the ten issues collected here, little detail is given about this group, or even about Aztek himself.

Perhaps this is the one fault in Morrison’s writing.  He is great at recreating characters and putting his own unique spin on them.  However, most of the time he’s working with previously established characters and backstories. He might tweak the details, but the core history often remains the same.  He’s given a jumping-off point, at least.

When creating a character from scratch, however, Morrison’s subtleties and drawn-out storylines are a bit of a hindrance.  There isn’t a ready-made fan base for the character yet, and so there has to be something to grab the reader’s attention and make them want to keep reading.

Morrison’s skills lie elsewhere, perhaps explaining why this 10-issue collection was the whole of Aztek’s run.  Some of the artwork was alright, particularly the depictions of the Joker.

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However, much of the artwork felt a little flat, and there was simply too much going on in this trade to follow along.  I never found myself too concerned with what happened to Aztek, nor did I ever feel like I understood who he was.  Developing some sort of emotional connection between your reader and the character, be it love, hatred, or fear, is key in creating a popular comic, and with Aztek Morrison fell a little short.

I don’t hold this against him, as there are plenty of other Morrison comics that I’ve absolutely loved, but as far as this storyline goes, it hardly feels essential.  If anything its sole purpose is providing a little context for when Aztek pops up in Morrison’s run on the JLA.

I was disappointed to have not enjoyed this comic more, having gone into it with such high hopes.  Alas, Morrison has simply proven that like all the greats, he’s not perfect, and is capable of writing a less-than-stellar comic.  Still, the rest of his work vastly overshadows this minor misstep, and I still maintain that he’s one of the best writers around.

-Jess