Links, because I deem them ever-necessary: I liked this interview with Larry Young about The Black Diamond over at The Groovy Age of Horror. Interesting reading.
And Tim Callahan has a nice look at the entire series of The Drifting Classroom. I still need to finish reading this, but I've almost got my hands on all the volumes. Then I'll be ready to dive into the insanity.
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Lee Bermejo
I should have known better than to bother with this, but curiousity got the best of me after reading Dick Hyacinth's takedown the other day. I don't know if I really have much to add, but I feel like the experience shouldn't be a total waste. That said, the main feeling I'm left with when reading this is, "What is the point?" Sure, it's a violent, grimy, nihilistic wallow through the seamy underside of the Batman milieu, but I'm not seeing any sweeping themes that needed to be explored here, or any fresh takes on characters that make any of this worthwhile. It's more just an excuse to shove as much nastiness as possible in the reader's face, snickering all the while because it's based in the world of brightly-colored spandex.
And those origins in the not-very-well-policed environs of DC Comics give the book the weird disconnect that others have noticed: violence and gore are perfectly okay, but oh no no no on any sexuality or naughty words beyond what would be acceptable in a PG-13 movie. We can see, on panel, things like a man who has had all the skin removed from his body or a gaping bullet hole in another man's head, but strippers have to coyly hide their nipples, and the Joker's extended middle finger must be cut off by an adjoining panel. To be fair, that's the way of American media; with our bizarre culture that has deemed extreme violence acceptable for all ages and allows (and even celebrates) sexiness up to a point, but freaks out if that fine line gets crossed.
Still, a decent plot or interesting characters might redeem the inherent ridiculousness of this enterprise, but nobody here is worth spending any time with, and even the colorful villains seem like a boring bunch of thugs that don't do anything interesting. The Joker should be a dynamic force of nature, and while he manages a mildly funny line or two, he's really not a very interesting person to hang around with, and neither are the likes of Two-Face, the Penguin, the Riddler, or Killer Croc. They could be generic lowlifes in any crime story, except most stories would attempt to do something with them.
The plot involves Joker getting out of Arkham Asylum (he doesn't stage an exciting escape or anything; he's just released, for undisclosed reasons) and trying to regain his lost rule of Gotham City's underworld. This involves killings and confrontations with other characters, none of which manage to engage the interest. A conflict of some sort with Two-Face is referenced, and a mysterious, Pulp Fiction-esque briefcase makes an appearance, but none of this leads to anything. Eventually everything peters out, and Batman shows up to capture the Joker again. And that's all there is to it. Whoop-de-doo.
What I find so surprising here is that Brian Azzarello can't manage to make this an engaging read. He's capable of brilliance, but you wouldn't know it from reading this book. Little of his witty dialogue shows up, characters don't seem to distinguish themselves from each other, and tight plotting is all but nonexistent. I can only surmise that he's straitjacketed by the restrictions of corporate properties, but even that is a poor defense for this level of writing. On the other hand Lee Bermejo turns in some nice, moody artwork; if only it wasn't so unrelentingly, monotonously dark and grim. But even that aspect is distracting, since he veers between two art styles, one that fills pages with heavy, strongly delineated blacks that make all the characters seem to have wrinkles all over their faces, and a more smooth, painterly style that gives surfaces brushed mixtures of colors. These two styles vie for precedence from page to page and even on the same page at times, drawing the attention away from what they are supposed to be depicting and toward the question of why the art is changing so frequently.
Overall, it's just a mess, an example of the arrested adolescense of modern superhero comics. It's a "mature" book for people who can't bring themselves to consume anything that doesn't have a spandex flavor, who think that adult sensibilities involve sniggering at the hint of sex and blood being splattered on faces. These creators shouldn't be wasting their (and everyone else's) time with this sort of nonsense, and the medium itself is worse for its existence.