DC’s New 52: Week 3

She's the Red Angel of the Night

Batwoman #1Book of the Week: Batwoman #1 by J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman

C’mon. This would have had to be a trainwreck for this to not be the book of the week. Hell, book of the month.

Good artists alter their style depending on the book or the story. J. H. Williams III alters his art to the scene. I counted some seven styles: Batwoman vs. La Llarona, Kate at the Police Station, Kate and Bette training, Chase, Kate with her father, plus those in the middle of spreads or flashbacks. And the layouts are just as varied. Some gutters bleed down the page, some fit together in perfect little boxes, some are bats, some are birds. Williams just thinks on another level.

It’s sad that Rucka dropped off the title, but Williams and his co-writer Haden Blackman turn in a great script and don’t miss a beat.

Now I get into the typical Bells “person behind the mask” theme. Yes Batwoman has a creepy new villain (without resorting to terrible violence *cough cough* Geoff Johns). But she also has familial conflicts and a burgeoning love life. In cape comics, you can assume that they will win the day against a criminal, but they could always break up with their girlfriend or lose a job. Think about Peter Parker. He’s been known to lose both.

I won’t know how a new reader will respond to this until I force someone to read it, but even to someone well familiar with the story, there are some nice questions raised here. Where’s Renee Montoya? How long til we see Alice again? What’s Mr. Skullface’s deal with Batwoman and Chase?

I could go deeper, but I don’t really want to. I want you to read this. Go. Spend the three bucks. Then hunt down the Rucka/Williams Detective Comics issues.

The Shopping List 11-24-10

Finally

Yes, I know. These posts keep coming later than I expect. Later than I want. It was a tough week at work.

Batwoman #0Batwoman #0 by J. H. Williams, W. Haden Blackman, and Amy Reeder ****

She baaack! Sort of.

I never know what to expect out of 0 issues, but this operates as a perfect introduction to the new title. It summarizes Kate until this point and sets up the status quo going forward. But more importantly, it’s a showcase for the art styles of J. H. Williams III and Amy Reeder. The two share duties, not on separate pages, but on the same spreads. Williams handles the Batwoman sequences; Reeder, the Kate Kane sequences. Simply put, it works.

The narrative comes from Batman’s perspective as he does some real detective work (My favorite Batman cliche is “We’re going to see Batman do some real detective work.” Here, he actually does.) Bruce trails Kate, taking on a variety of disguises, trying to find evidence that she and Batwoman are one in the same. But Kate proves she’s worthy of the Bat-mantle, going about her life, never letting herself be exposed.

The main story is only 16 pages, with the remainder of the pages made up by a previews of the upcoming #1 and Scott Snyder’s debut issue on Detective Comics. Whether you read the Rucka/Williams run or not, get in here. I have huge hopes for this book.

Black Widow #8Black Widow #8 by Dwayne Swiercynski and Manuel Garcia ****

The cover says “Part 3 of 3,” but this issue ends with a “To Be Continued.” If that wasn’t enough, it will be continued in another series. The “Kiss or Kill” story is over, but a one page epilogue points us to the upcoming Widowmaker miniseries. Not quite the closure I was looking for. No more issues of Black Widow are solicited, but we don’t know much who is behind the plot against the Crane family, only a name. But that’s only one flaw of this issue.

Swierczynski’s neutralizes his threats as fast as he introduces them. It keeps the plot moving, but the fights never seem even. Widow is too clever to ever seem in real jeopardy, even when simultaneously attacked by Fatasma and the Crimson Dynamo. Stretching the story out, even by one issue, could have given the fight more heft and drama. I know fandom loves to cry out against decompression, but anything that ups conflict is worth doing. It’s not about length (or girth even); it’s about good stories.

I can’t get a handle on Garcia’s art. Sometimes it resembles Mark Bagley, other times a bright, cleaner Mike Deodato. This is not a complaint mind you. He just doesn’t stand out as his own artist.

I’m not sure if I’ll follow Natasha’s story over to Widowmaker, but just like he did on Iron Fist, Dwayne Swierczynski has come to a book midway through its run and proven that he can stand up to any writer. I’d be interested to see what he would do with his own series, starting from scratch.

Captain America #612Captain America #612 by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice, Sean McKeever and Felipe Andrade ***

Part two of “The Trial of Captain America” is a disappointing pile of exposition. Bucky sits in his cell alone, telling us what prison is like, ” Echoed screaming … Fights … Threats yelled between cells,” but we see none of it. Elsewhere, Bucky’s lawyer, Bernie Rosenthal goes on TV, telling us what we already know: the evidence against Bucky is overwhelming but he’s truly a hero.

In other news: Sin!!! I loved her in the beginning of Bru’s run and she’s back! She’s as repulsive as a Nazi burn victim as she was cute as a redhead anarchist. Now that she’s taken up her father’s mantle as the Red Skull, I’m excited to see story continue.

Last month, I said how much I liked Daniel Acuna’s stylized (though out of place) fill-in issue. Sadly, it was just that, a fill-in. Butch Guice returns this month. Because of the expository nature of the issue, much of it is made up of talking heads. Great artists can make even calm discussions look exciting, but Bru hamstrings Guice with the television sequences. Televised news interviews are static affairs: bust shot of reporter, inset image over their shoulder. Really, when was the last time Larry King Live was visually stimulating? When Lady Gaga was on? Luckily, Guice takes advantage of a Black Widow/Falcon subplot, using a variety of angles and panel shapes and sizes to create a stirring, gymnastics-filled infiltration sequence.

In Sean MchKeever’s Nomad back-up story, Rikki Barnes has some serious ovaries. After being captured by the Second Shadow, the stays strong, despite being beaten until her face looks like an eggplant. She admits to us that she is too ignorant to give up the plan if she wanted to, but she refuses to give any information up. Then she breaks her own thumbs to get out of a pair of handcuffs. I haven’t been that impressed by self-mutilation since Hawkeye flicked his fingernails off in Ultimates 2. Sweet.

Invincible Iron Man #32Invincible Iron Man #32 by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, and Jamie McKelvie****

I have a friend who complains about the climax of the first Iron Man movie. His problem is that Pepper, not Tony, turns on the arc reactor, defeating Obadiah Stane. Iron Man was the hero, but his girlfriend did the actual work. In the beginning of the issue, Team: Iron Man (Iron Man, War Machine and Rescue) start the fight against the attack drones swarming Stark Resilient’s product launch, but Tony saves the day. By the end, he’s left Pepper and Rhodey behind and reject Maria Hill’s assistance, determined to save the day by himself. Moments like that make him one of the premier Marvel heroes.

Fraction keeps the banter going in this issue, referencing TED talks, Space Invaders, Wired magazine, even the Backstreet Boys. The quips would feel more at home in a Spider-Man book, but it does keep the full-issue fight going.

Salvador Larocca turns in his standard art. Nothing new to report there. The real visual highlight in this issue is a Pepper Potts backup drawn by Jamie McKelvie. (The $6 price tag scared me away from Ultimate Spider-Man #150, so I’m glad I still got some McKelvie goodness this week.) Yes, Happy is a grown up Kid-with-Knife and Tony is a jacked version of David Kohl. I should complain, but I can’t. His clean, open art is gorgeous. I don’t care if there’s no action. He draws pretty pictures. I hope he ends up on a good book, because I know I’ll buy any monthly he ends up on.

Amazing Spider-Man #649Amazing Spider-Man #649 by Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos ****

Getting my head into Amazing Spider-Man isn’t easy, but this book is very enjoyable.

A few things that start me at a disadvantage:

  • I’ve never read a Hobgoblin story before.
  • The last (and first) time I read of Phil Urich was in The Loners, where I thought he was going back to heroics.
  • Having read very sporadic Spider-Man stories, and only about six issues of Brand New Day-era ASM, I’m not sure what is years-old continuity, what’s been recently established, what’s new in the past couple issues, etc.
  • A lot of new characters have been dropped on my plate: Norah, Randy, Carlie, Pete’s new co-workers

Despite my difficulty in determining what brought us here, Dan Slott makes great use of Peter Parker’s current life. He uses Norah to keep the Bugle around, but puts Pete in a new job where his skills don’t go to waste. The fact that he is qualified for his position at Horizon Labs makes you realize how extraordinary his life has been. Because of that fateful spiderbite, he knows that creatures from the vacuum of space hate fire and sonics, that you’d need a magnetic braking system for an anti-gravity harness.

A guidance counselor in my high school loved to tell us “There are no bad schools, only bad matches.” Her point was that we each had to find the right college for us. Similarly, Humberto Ramos is not a bad artist, but he’s had some matches. X-Men was a bad match. It was too dark, too moody for his bright, exaggerated art. That’s why Runaways was better. That’s why Spider-Man is a perfect match. His name almost scared me away from this book, but these past two issues have turned me around on him really quickly.

Library Reviews 9-27-10

The library lets you take as many books out as you want. You just bring them back in three weeks. So, I read a lot of crap. Luckily, this batch was quite good.

Astro City: The Dark Ages, Book. 1: Brothers and Other StrangersAstro City: The Dark Ages, Book 1: Brothers and Other Strangers by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson

That’s a long name for a book, huh? I’ll give you a shorter one: “Today’s Best Hero Comics.” In the intro to first Astro City trade, Busiek basically says “This is why we deconstructed heroes in the 80s: to learn how they work and how to make them work better.” From cosmic clashes to the idea of family legacies, Busiek has covered many aspects of heroes and always treated them interestingly and with the respect these modern gods deserve.

Much he did in the classic Marvels, Busiek often uses the point-of-view of the average citizen, living as a human in a world filled with superhumans. In most comics, where you only follow the heroes, you lose the scope of the events, the sense that these are extraordinary happenings. Exploding planets and Nazi gorillas become common-place.

This tale of two brothers, one living a life of crime and one a life of fighting crime, shows how regular people live with the incredible world around them. When a battle trashes an apartment building, lives can be ruined. We saw one mother’s reaction to the events that started Marvel’s Civil War, but what about after that? Those people have to live with what happened for the rest of their lives. That’s what this specific story is about.

“Two minutes before he arrived in Astro City.” I bet you didn’t get chills reading that sentence. But I did. To explain it would spoil the story. Though I rarely worry about things like that, I will here. These are comics I would recommend to anyone. Especially you, reader.

Batwoman: ElegyBatwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III

For the nine months or so this team worked on this book, it was the best on the stands.

When people talk about storytelling in comics, they basically mean how well you can understand the story without reading the words. Can you properly read emotions? Do the events take place in a logical, natural order? Those “people” includes myself of course. When talked last week about Frank Quitely’s work on Batman and Robin, that’s what I was discussing. But with his Batwoman work (originally published in Detective Comics), J. H. Williams truly helps tell the story. His art takes multiple styles, sometimes even on the same page. The simplest example being the use of one style for Batwoman activities, similar to the J. H. you know and another for Kate Kane, her civilian identity, almost a John Paul Leon look. One on page, Kate, at a formal fundraiser, has an epiphany of Alice’s (the story’s antagonist) true plot. The next panel, the art changes to the “Batwoman” style. We don’t just know how Kate’s mind reacts to the news, we see it: she immediately switches to Batwoman mode. It’s just brilliant. But Williams art would not be as impactful without colorist extraordinaire Dave Stewart. As the pencils change, so do the colors. Stark black, white and red for the intro pages,. Flat colors for flashbacks time. Minimal rendering for civilian time. Full rendering for the Batwoman/Alice battles. There’s even some watercolor work in here, which may be Williams’. These artist put thought into every choice and it shows.

Together, this team (including writer Greg Rucka) proved that comics don’t need to use regular panels to be legible. They don’t have to be an artist reproducing a known character in his/her style. They shouldn’t strive to be fine art, ready to hang in a museum. They should be art, and sometimes words, that tell a story. They should be COMICS.

Some critics have said that Rucka’s writing pales in comparison to Williams’ art, but it doesn’t. Rereading this series, I saw how well Rucka was planting seeds. The biggest twist of the story is hinted at multiple times. And that’s just looking at the main plot. You can’t forget that Rucka has fleshed out a believable character who happens to be a lesbian. It’s not a defining characteristic, it’s just part of her. It’s a serious matter, which leads to her separation from the US military, but not she, nor anyone in her life treats it as a flaw. It was nice to read about a character coming out to her family and not have it be treated as a crisis.

I could go on and on, but I’m saying nothing new about this series. I loved it. Though Rucka has moved on, I can’t wait for Williams’ upcoming Batwoman book.

Fables: Legends in ExileFables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham and Steve Leialoha

Some friends in college were wicked into this series. I read the first two trades then, but it never grabbed me. The idea is super interesting, but I never cared to continue. I would hear review after review praising it up and down and would always dismiss it. But when I saw it on the shelves, I figured I could give it another shot.

I enjoyed it a whole lot more this time, though I’m still not 100% interested. Perhaps hearing what the series has done in recent years, I’ve realized who some background characters were, giving me more investment. I’m want to read more, and that’s really what matters, right?

The Unwritten - Inside ManThe Unwritten: Inside Man by Mike Carey

Perhaps in a few years, I’ll come back and enjoy this series more than I do now, as I did with Fables. The fictional vs. reality ideas just ran too thin for me. When I cared more about the prison warden and his children, rather than the stars of the series, I knew something was off.

There’s nothing wrong with this book, it’s just not for me. You can’t say I didn’t give it a try.

Summer BlondeSummer Blonde by Adrian Tomine

I’ve talked about Adrian Tomine on here before, reviewing 32 Stories and Shortcomings. I’ve also read Sleepwalk and Other Stories, the first collection of his Optic Nerve issues. The problem with that volume, and not this one was their stories’ endings. Stories would end abruptly, without closure, and with twists that came out of nowhere. This is also the reason I don’t like JD Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” The writer defines a character, sets up their conflict (if they have one) and then takes a left turn to end the story.

Sample plot (“Pink Frosting” from Sleepwalk): “Oh man, look at this birthday cake … I hope she likes it … Oh man, that car almost hit me … Aw, I just got curb-stomped like American History X.” What?

The argument can be made that these are character pieces, slice-of-life. In that case they have too much plot. They aren’t simple, every day events. These are important moments in people’s lives. The abrupt ending can be a story-telling tool, but if that’s the idea, the tool has been dulled by overuse.

You know what? I’ll take the blame. I probably “don’t get it” or “see how significant these ‘arbitrary’ events are.”

The art is perfect, but Tomine was yet to reach the heights he would later find in Shortcomings. That story’s longer length allowed him to tell a story to its actual conclusion rather than an arbitrary event suddenly given false import by the words “The End”.

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