Friday, August 31, 2018

Retro Review: Just Imagine Stan Lee's Batman (2001) Review and **SPOILERS**

Yes Father, I Shall Become a Professional Wrestler

Written By: Stan Lee 
Artist: Joe Kubert 
Letterer: Bill Oakley 
Colorist: Sibin Slakovic 
Separator: SAF-ScanArt, SLOVENIA 
Front Cover Artists: Joe Kubert, Richard Isanove 
Back Cover Artist: Adam Hughes 
“Just Imagine…” Initiated By: Michael Uslan 
Editor: Mike Carlin, Ivan Cohen 
Executive Editor: Dan Didio 
Cover Price: $5.95 
Cover Date: September 2001


Alright, I already reviewed Just Imagine Stan Lee’s Sandman, which comes after this one, and now I figure out there’s a connected narrative. Barely, but there is one. So yeah, I should have read this one first. Why didn’t I just go for the Batman one first anyway? I guess I was really excited to see how they’d changed up Sandman, which was misguided. Is my enthusiasm for Just Imagine Stan Lee’s Batman misguided as well? Read my review and find out!

Explain It!

The story opens on our hero, Wayne Williams, and his mother, standing by her husband’s grave. He was a cop, gunned down in these mean streets of, uh, some city. The streets are so mean, that on the way home from the cemetery, Wayne and his mom see some thugs beating the living crap out of some blonde dude. Wayne’s mom steps up to intervene, drawing the ire of the yellow gloves-wearing gang leader Handz—but Wayne is able to pull her away without any further conflict. 
"Those were the guys from the video for Michael Jackson's 'Bad.'"
The next day, Wayne heads to his job as a stock boy at the local mini mart. Just his luck, Handz strolls in with his woman, who we learn later is named Nita. Before Handz can break Wayne’s balls some more, a sportscar screeches around the corner and its occupants let loose a hail of automatic gunfire, sending everyone flying for cover and destroying the mini mart! 
In hindsight, the half-off sale on gun targets they'd advertised in the window was ill advised.
Wayne sees Nita isn’t protecting herself and he tackles her to the ground, protecting her from flying bullets. When the chaos is over, Handz slaps Wayne for handling his lady, and Wayne attempts to fight back. Now we learn why Handz is called Handz: it’s because, um, his Handz are strong? He’s able to hold Wayne’s fists in his giant gloves, and threatens to crush them completely, but Nita gets him to cool it and walk away…for now. 
"With Feetz you can be a real asshole. But Handz is very vain."
The very next day, Handz shows up with two thugs and robs the place, announcing loudly to the store owner that Wayne tipped them off. After wounding the store owner, Handz knocks Wayne out and places a gun in his hand before taking off! 
"Thank you, come again!"
Of course, this lands Wayne in prison, and no one—including his mother—believes that he’s innocent. This helps stoke some serious revenge in Wayne, who thinks of nothing but doing his bid, then getting out and…I dunno, crushing Handz’s fists in retaliation? While in the clink, he winds up in the linens department, operating a sewing machine. He takes some guff from the other inmates, but doesn’t do anything that might lengthen his stay in prison. 
Yeah sissy! What, are ya gonna mend our uniforms? Ya gonna fix our ripped clothing? Haw haw!
I mean, it’s sort of weird that the other inmates would rib him about this, right? Surely they must understand that there are a limited number of jobs available in the stir, and anything that gets you out of the cell for a few hours a day is worth doing. And aren’t these convicts in the same place? Wayne brushes off their bullying and resigns himself to prison time, befriending a bat from a colony that swarms by every evening. So that’s nice. 
"I'll call you Feivel. No wait...Flyvel."
One day, Wayne tries to stop a weightlifting inmate named Korgo—and he looks like someone named Korgo, too—from hassling a smaller inmate named Frederick Grant, and they both get their meats lumped. From this, Wayne and Fred form a bond over being in adjacent cells. Fred encourages Wayne to train his body and mind, and not waste his time in the cooler.
"Or a sociopath. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt."
Wayne excels at this, and when he learns that his mother died while he was locked away, he’s honed enough to eat a brick! 
This is just the fuel he needed to become extraordinarily embittered.
Fred finishes his time for embezzling or some other relatively innocuous crime, and then we find a church that is right next to the prison…or possibly it’s the church prison, I’m not sure. It’s run by Reverend Darrk—that same one the Sandman defeated in my other review. Here, he’s got a big congregation and claims that they need more evil souls to do something or other, so using…magic? I guess? Using magic, Darrk frees all the prisoners, and they rush down to the warden’s office to hold him hostage. Things get tense, and Korgo decides he’ll just kill the warden—and that’s when Wayne springs into action! 
Coming this December: Korgo the Konvict miniseries from DC Comics
Not only was saving the warden the right thing to do, it earns Wayne an early parole, an item which made the newspapers for some reason. I mean, unless there’s a riot, I don’t normally hear much about what’s happening on Riker’s Island. Like, I don’t know who made the best macaroni sculpture or anything. Handz reads this bit of news and doesn’t like it—for one thing, that kid touched his girl’s boob by accident. And for another thing, he could finger Handz in the robbery and assault they pinned on Wayne in the first place. Nita notes that the article says Wayne is a hero, and this really pisses Handz off. No talk about Wayne allowed, capisce? They’re gonna find him, and finish him—for good! 
"Now get outta here. I wanna read 'Marmaduke.'"
Wayne winds up at some flop house in the bad section of…this city. He decides he’s going to make Handz sweat a little, keep a low profile, stay where he can’t be found…like the bat he smuggled out of prison somehow. With a cage and everything! That is stealthy.
"Okay Flyvel, technically there are no pets allowed. So if the landlord comes by, act like a rat."
First thing to do is change his look, and that’s relatively easy to do with a trim of the old facial hair… 
Your pretty face, and being a nearly ceaseless source for crumbs.
…a little snip here, a clip there… 
"Passing as straight."
…okay, that was more drastic than I expected. Dude looks like Louis Gossett, Jr. in The Principal. Well that’s the look changed, now to figure out how to make some money. Wayne flips on the television and catches a wrestling match…a really awesome-looking wrestling match! 
I just saw him for the first time, and Kid Cthulu is already my favorite wrestler.
Hey, that’s just the thing for someone that wants to keep out of the public eye: become a professional wrestler! Wayne does just that, adopting a costume that evokes his favorite animal…oh lord. Oh no. He didn’t. He wouldn’t. 
"Hello, I am the punchline to a joke made real."
He did. 
Big surprise, Wayne as the wrestler Batman is the best ever wrestler, despite wearing some kind of full-body foam rubber outfit with giant fake ears sticking out from the head piece. Wayne never unmasks in public, instead challenging people to do it in the ring. Can no one do this? The damn thing has handles, for crying out loud! None can beat the mighty Batman, who starts endorsing all kinds of unhealthy crap and becomes a multi-millionaire. Uh, Wayne? Remember that bit about keeping a low profile? Hello? 
What kid wouldn't want to eat candy with a realistic bat's head on the wrapper?
Now the pieces are in place for Wayne to get revenge against Handz…but his thoughts turn to what he’ll do after he puts Handz into traction. You gotta admire how proactive he is, Wayne hasn’t even completed his burning life’s desire, and he’s already looking to his next gig. There’s the kind of guy I want running my corporation! Wayne decides that there’s only one person that can help him figure out his life’s plan, and we know who it is because he’s the only person with whom Wayne has been friendly in this whole comic book. 
And that's how Batman was lured into Scientology.
That’s right, Frederick Grant! He’s working in the same dump of a chemical lab that Barry Allen used in Central City, so Wayne removes his Batman mask and invites Fred to be his scientist/engineer/buddy. And he says he’ll even pay to repair the skylight he smashed through for this visit. 
Actually, he promises nothing of the sort. Wayne just bashes Fred's skylight and doesn't give a shit.
First order of business is to create a chemical that will give Wayne super powers—powers like those of a bat! And here’s where biological science just flies out the window. 
"Also, will you needing a tongue extension?"
So Fred says bats can see in the dark, so he’ll give Wayne’s mask night-vision lenses. That’s fine, but then they point out that the way bats can see in the dark… 
"You'll really feel the bass when you play hip-hop."
…is with sonar. So Fred will outfit the costume with that as well. But if you have sonar, you don’t need night-vision lenses! 
"Also, bats naturally don't mind looking like idiots."
Then they figure a bat can fly, so Fred will fix Wayne with gliding wings instead of a cape. Fair enough, but then… 
Bats: Nature's Bulletproof Mammals
…Fred’s just gonna add Kevlar, just because! This is a smart enough thing to do, but it has nothing to do with being a bat. And furthermore, Wayne wants Fred to pretend he owns the multimillion dollar Los Angeles home of wrestling sensation Batman, and Wayne is his bodyguard. Why? He has his reasons. 
"For tax reasons, you will be my common law wife."
We can assume that he’s maintaining the pretense of hiding out from Handz, but why keep this information from Fred? Also, isn’t this something people might notice, that an ex-con went from eking out a frugal life to living in a mansion with no obvious source of income overnight? Am I overthinking this? Over at Handz’s penthouse apartment—where he still wears his yellow gloves, hilariously—he gives Nita an ultimatum: marry him, or die! Specifcally, be murdered at his direction. It’s not like he placed a curse on her or something. 
"An' we're gonna live happ'ly ever after, see? And I'll take youse in sickness and in health, see?"
Then, the Batman busts in! He takes out some of Handz’s thugs, and then gets into it with Handz…and you really have to wonder how Handz doesn’t just keel over from laughter. 
Criminals are a cowardly and humorless lot.
Wayne cleans his clock, and uses an old alley oop maneuver to send Handz flying off his balcony and to his death. This is a really cool page that shows off Kubert’s chops, not that he had to prove anything to anyone. 
Handz lands.
Nita doesn’t approve of him having killed Handz, but since the deed is done, there’s not a whole lot she can do about it. And at least she doesn’t have to get married. Wayne isn’t ready to reveal himself to her…yet. And then the story pretty much ends. There’s a little epilogue involving Reverend Darrk and some forthcoming cataclysm, but we already caught up with that in the Sandman issue. 
Oh, right, there’s also this “On the Street” backup, by Michael Uslan, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Bill Oakley and Alex Sinclair. It’s about the Batman making the front page of the newspaper, and we see this newspaper is being enjoyed by kids and adults all over town, until the last page when it’s being used as a makeshift mask by some kid on the monkey bars. It’s cute, but the problem is…bats aren’t really cute in real life. At least, not the one used as a model for Wayne’s costume. 
Most criminals have the same reaction, kid.
The first two-thirds of this story, when Wayne is a vengeful prisoner, shows some promise. It’s not incredible, but it’s good enough. Once he puts on the Batman costume and becomes a wrestler, the whole thing is absolutely ludicrous. Overall, the story vacillates from slightly less than dull to out-and-out preposterous so it can be enjoyed on those merits. The visuals are really great, Joe Kubert shows were true comic book storytelling is all about here. Several pages are so creatively plotted, and yet this story is never difficult to understand. Too bad it was spent on a weird dud of a tale.
"Tell us, Williams: how are your apple muffins?"

Bits and Pieces:

Batman is recast as an ex-convict gimmick wrestler. Huh! That's it, a synopsis of the whole book. Joe Kubert's art is spectacular! Goodbye!


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