‘Just Imagine…’ is a series of graphic novels that Stan Lee wrote for DC Comics, reinterpreting many of their iconic superheroes as they would have been had he created them. Paired up with a different artist for each issue, the series completely reinvents our favourite DC heroes and heroines, giving them new looks, powers, histories and personalities.
Each graphic novel tackles a different character and is an origin story with a primary adventure to set the stage for that hero/heroine. The recurring elements are its setting, which is usually Los Angeles, its main villain, Reverend Dominic Darrk (of the Church of Eternal Empowerment) and a mysterious green element that empowers many of the series’ heroes and heroines.
“Holy $#!tballs, Batdude!”, you might say excitedly. “Stan Lee rewrote all of the DC characters?”. Woah, woah! Hold onto your superbritches, lil’ one: the series was not well received and has largely been forgotten since. But we here at TCE were very curious, and we know some of you are too, so we decided to explore each one in turn, giving them the spotlight they deserve.
This week on ‘Just Imagine…’:
Batman, by Stan Lee and Joe Kubert 4.75
I really like the concept of Batman, of a character who has no powers but, through training and sheer will, can overcome adversaries of all types. His intelligence also sets him apart and I like to think of him as Sherlock Holmes in a superhero costume – but with fighting skills and wealth to support his activities. I like all iterations of Batman but my ideal is that he is brainy, using brawn and gadgets only when necessary.
Stan Lee’s Batman is a cliché: he’s an African-American youth who has been set up for a crime he didn’t commit, spends years in jail beefing himself up and comes out with revenge on his mind. Just like Bruce Wayne, Wayne Williams has no powers of his own – he only has his wits and abilities to get him by. Plus one $#itty-@$$ed costume that is only intimidating because any freak who would wear it must have something wrong with him.
This Batman has a couple of things in common with Spider-Man, arguably Stan Lee’s most famous creation: the father (or father figure in Spidey’s case) has died, he gets his start as a wrestler before going into crime-fighting, and makes his own costume (Which doesn’t justify its crappiness, in my mind, as it’s got a rather elaborate face mask and wings. It’s just in really poor taste and is completely impractical for any form of combat).
This is one stupid-looking costume: the wings, complete with protrusions at the top, make it improbable that Batman could be a success in the ring, let alone on the street, as it’s a huge liability. Plus which his identity would easily be revealed as he can’t slip away with it on (or take it off and lug it around discreetly) and his massive mask doesn’t conceal his large moustache. He could be tailed and/or recognized with relative ease.
He doesn’t have any gadgets, because he’s not a super genius like Bruce Wayne was, but the stage is set so that he might be in the future: he’s paired up with Doctor Grant, a scientist he met in prison and who has been struggling since his release. Grant becomes his partner and front, in that Williams’ mansion (which he built with the fortune he made wrestling!) is under Grant’s name. But it’s a far cry from Bruce Wayne and Alfred.
The chief villain of the piece is called Handz and is just a thug with… really strong hands. Yep, you read that right. He has the power to rule L.A., and he means to rule it with two iron fists. He’s a really lame character, but he’s probably the only thing that Batman can fight with any success – and even then, Batman wins because Handz is too stupid to avoid rushing to a balcony head first. There’s also the introduction of Reverend Darrk.
Frankly, the writing is contrived and naive, with weak internal monologues that provide exposition in an unnatural way. The way Wayne Williams is framed is stupid: Wouldn’t there be an investigation into the matter? Why would his boss immediately believe the hoods? Why wouldn’t anyone recognize Handz, whose only disguise during the robbery was a cloth on his face – he didn’t even change clothes or hide his frickin’ hands.
It’s all just patently absurd.
Naturally, there’s a romantic interest for Batman: Handz’ fiancée. I love how she still thinks of Wayne months after he protected her from a hit on Handz and defends him when Handz talks crap about him. Like that would ever happen. And the idea that his base of operations would be Los Angeles is absolutely ridiculous because he’d have to drive to get around; no more swinging from skyscrapers for the Batman in this iteration! Lame.
To make matters worse, Jim Kubert’s art is f-ing horrible; it feels like he didn’t even bother to apply himself, which is annoying given that it’s: 1) Batman, 2) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Between his art and Stan’s writing, this first volume of ‘Just Imagine…’ feels like an old school comic; one could consider it an homage to a time long gone if they hadn’t made modern references (ex: sports car and Schwarzenegger).
Instead, ‘Just Imagine… Batman’ just reads like a crappy comic book. It’s intriguing in some areas, but not at all successful, which is a damned shame given the opportunity that was squandered here, what with this being Batman and all. This could have been an opportunity to blow us all away, but it’s a huge disappointment instead. Starting the series with Batman has certainly set the bar, and the bar has been set rather low.
On the street: the book closes with a couple of pages written by Stan Lee and Michael Uslan and pencilled by Michael WM. Kaluta that show the impact that Batman has on the street. It’s a mere afterthought and contributes absolutely nothing to the book. Meh.
Next Week: Wonder Woman!