Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Four new-ish DC comics that aren't on my pull-list that I bought and read anyway

Birds of Prey #2: You’ve gotta admire DC Comics’ chutzpah. This is only the second issue of a brand-new ongoing series, the artist of which is Ed Benes (Whose artwork, I’ll remind you, I am not terribly fond of, by which I mean I hate it). Benes has his fans, of course, and this new volume of Birds of Prey was being sold as the work of writer Gail Simone and her old Birds of Prey collaborator Benes getting back together again.

So naturally, in this second issue of an ongoing monthly series, Benes disappears about halfway through, with Adriano Melo finishing the pencil chores. Second issue! And there’s already a fill-in artist helping out! (Looking ahead at the solicits for the next few issues, Melo will be back for the fourth issue, and the fifth will be drawn by an Alvin Lee).

Like I said, I don’t think much of Benes’ work, on account of the fact that everyone looks the same, the art is really hard to read (what do you think is going on in that second panel exactly, for example?)and most of the panels are constructed along the principle of keeping as many of the women’s wedgies as possible in the viewer’s line of sight at all times.
However, if there’s a way to make Benes work less enjoyable, it’s to quite randomly, transparently have him leave a book unfinished, just so the reader can be reminded that whatever his weaknesses (or strengths, I guess?), the guy can’t keep a monthly schedule.

So naturally, DC keeps putting him on monthly comics. There is literally no one in the world who could have drawn 22 pages of super-people running around fighting over the course of a 30-day period. This is the best one of the American comic book industry’s two biggest publishers can do.

As for Simone’s story, it’s hardly her best work. There’s a plot in here somewhere about someone somehow attacking the Birds’ team for some reason, but it’s hardly been teased at so far, let alone made clear.

Faced with a mysterious, pants-less opponent, Black Canary foregoes using her superpower and Huntress forgoes using her many long-range weapons, because this bad-ass martial artist chick is too fast to be shot at with a crossbow. Instead, they must hit her with their feet and fists.

Then Hawk and Dove show up and fight the lady. Then Oracle happens to overhear a news report about Black Canary having killed someone in Iceland, and apparently the Gotham City Police Department is going to arrest her for this international crime, committed in Iceland.

So the Birds fight the Gotham City Police Department, until they decide to stop. And then Oracle gets a video phone call from a supporting character from Simone's first run on the book, and he's all like, “Hey lady, my boy Savant has been killed, so I’m going to commit suicide in front of you now, okay?”Brightest Day!

And then Oracle puts her hair up because now she’s pissed. The end.

I’d like to say the problem here is a script that could have used another draft and, most especially, a poor choice in artist for any monthly comic, but I don’t know—the Melo half of the book isn’t really any better than the Benes half.

Granted, Melo may not have had much time to draw this, if Benes fell behind, but, um, I don’t know, does it seem weird at all that this is considered professional work in 2010?

On the positive side, at least Simone and Melo (I think it’s Melo, anyway, maybe it’s just Benes losing steam) have The Penguin take time to leer at one of the heroines, so that it’s not just the artist and the reader who are expected to be ogling the stars of the book: Even still, Birds of Prey #2 seems like an elaborately constructed insult that a lot of talented people spent a lot of time and energy working.

Detective Comics #866: It’s probably unfair to compare this issue to Batman #700, which I complained about for way too many words as recently as Sunday, but the Bat-office is practically begging readers to do so.

Both issues featured 30-page stories set in multiple time-frames, including one in which Dick Grayson was Robin and one in which he was Batman, and both are told in multiple art styles.

The difference between the two is that TEC doesn’t have a bullshit rejected cover section and the accompanying $4.99 price tag. That, and the multiple styles here are the work of a single art team, pencil artists Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs. Coming out just a few weeks after Batman #700, it almost looks like the Bat-office wants to let us know that they totally have a guy on their payroll who could have drawn all of Batman #700 in various art styles if they wanted to use him, but decided instead to just throw together something pretty fucked up looking instead.

The story is written by Denny O’Neil, and in a post-Bendis American comics industry, his old-school, awfully purple narration now looks refreshingly unique: “He has been here before, years ago, before decay and rot claimed the area,” “His fingers seek purchase,” all that stuff.

Batman Dick Grayson visits a crumbling mansion, looking for a loose end to tie-up a case from his very first night on patrol with Batman Bruce Wayne, and flashbacks to that night. There are some odd reaches at retconning—Robin busted The Joker on his first night on patrol? Batman and Robin encountered the Order of St. Dumas that early in their careers?—but it’s very well-structred.

Nguyen and Fridolfs’ artwork, as colored by David Baron, is the major selling point here, though. The present day sequences are drawn to look much like the art form this team we’ve already seen on TEC and Batman: Streets of Gotham, but the past sequences are drawn in a looser, more abstracted style, in which The Joker takes on the design of Batman: The Animated Series, Robin looks like Bob Kane or Dick Sprang depictions of him and the blue-cowled, yellow-ovaled Batman looks like a compromise between Sprang and Nguyen.

Additionally, the flashback art fades in and out of “comic book-iness,” with the pages gradually growing suggestions of old-school dot coloring and printing errors and signs of wear and tear on them. It’s a pretty neat trick, and one of several that Baron and even letterer Todd Klein pull off, which includes a punctuating panel in which a Joker laugh of HAs appears in the shape of a disembodied, Cheshire cat grin over an all-black panel.

It’s not as ambitious, imaginative or idea-packed as Grant Morrison’s Batman #700 story, but it’s a well executed script, with extremely well executed artwork that works with and enhances the story.

The result? This comic book wasn’t a frustration, but a pleasure.

Oh, and there's a scene where this happens:Man, Denny O'Neil is just so into the idea of Batman getting into sword fights! And if one or more of the dudes in the sword fight are shirtless, all the better!

Justice League: Generation Lost #3-#4: Like Birds of Prey, this bi-weekly JLI reunion book has some pretty awful, slapdash artwork in it, but at least it has something of an excuse—the bi-weekly publishing schedule means that it is somewhat hurried and slapdash.

That doesn’t make it any easier to look at, but it does make one feel a bit bad for complaining. Keith Giffen handled the breakdowns for both issues, while #3 is drawn by Fernando Dagino and a pair of inkers and #4 is by pencil artist Joe Bennet and Jack Jadson.

It’s pretty ugly stuff, but then, that’s to be expected from a series like this, right? (Oh God, I expect pretty ugly stuff now! DC, what are you doing to me?!)

The plot, by Giffen and Judd Winick, the latter of whom scripts both issues, finds the new-ish Blue Beetle and a brand new Rocket Red joining up with the others, therefore pretty much putting the JLI back together, give-or-take a Green Lantern or green Martian. Booster Gold notices it as well, and thinks it’s Maxwell Lord’s doing. Lord, meanwhile, is…turning people into dead Black Lanterns (not undead ones, but dead-dead ones) or something I don’t understand (Should I recognize that particular Black Lantern who appeared in #4?)

It’s a decent read, and if the art seems fairly sub-par fairly often, well, DC seems to keep lowering the bar on acceptable superhero art, and read on the same afternoon as the above issue of Birds of Prey, sub-par looks almost like par.


Yan Basque said...

I agree with most of what you say here, but I think you're being a little too harsh on Ed Benes and his inability to finish the artwork. Gail Simone had this to say about it: "Ed Benes started having some health problems almost immediately after starting the art on page one. He lives in a remote, remote Brazilian village and getting proper care is complex, difficult and time-consuming. He did his best to do as much as he possibly could but it's one of those situations where there's just no choice."

Give the poor guy a break. I'm not a huge fan of his art style either, but it's not like DC could have predicted that he was going to have health problems.

Don MacPherson said...

Re: Alvin Lee

He was (perhaps still is?) a member of the Udon Studio, and he was Simone's collaborator on the short-lived Agent X series from Marvel (which replaced Deadpool for a time).

Paul said...

Why does Oracle have French Tips? She spends ten hours a day behind a keyboard, wouldn't those things be really really annoying?

jheaton said...

So what was the fourth comic?

Paul said...

jheaten: BOP, 'Tec and two issues of Generation Lost = four comics.

Caleb said...

Give the poor guy a break. I'm not a huge fan of his art style either, but it's not like DC could have predicted that he was going to have health problems.

If Benes is suffering from health problems, then I'm truly sorry to hear that, and, had I known it when writing this, I might not have used this particular issue to go off on a tangent about his inability to keep a monthly schedule.

I can only base my assessments of DC's products on what's in them though. (Obviously, there's no note in BOP #2 explaining why half the art is by a different artist, and why it's so bad and, I don't know, offering a half-off coupon on the next issue or whatever.)

He was (perhaps still is?) a member of the Udon Studio, and he was Simone's collaborator on the short-lived Agent X series from Marvel (which replaced Deadpool for a time).

Oh yeah! I've actually read a few issues he worked on, I believe (And, um, probably wrote about them on this here blog...and then forgot I knew who he was).

Travis said...

See, I think giving DC a break on the JLI series a little bit of break since it is bi-weekly doesn't wash with me either. They knew it was a bi-weekly so they should have started earlier