Friday, September 10, 2010

Comics shop comics: Some recent books that aren't on my pull-list but that I bought off the shelf of a strange comic shop I visited

Batgirl #14 (DC Comics) Allow me to state for the record that I do not like the character Stephanie Brown; I hated her in 1992’s Detective Comics #647-#649, and the passing years and successive appearances of the character have done nothing to make me like her anymore. Certainly sticking her in a godawful purple Ultimate Batgirl costume with a utility garter and giving her the Batgirl title—making her DC’s Blond Teenage Superheroine No. 17, and re-kicking shy, Asian, bad-ass super-ninja Cassandra Cain to the curb in the process—sure didn’t make me like her any more.

I don’t even like the logo of her book.

Needless to say, this is the first time I actually picked up an issue of the book. I may not be very interested in Batgirl III* or her stupid costume or her lame logo, and I may know next to nothing about the creative team, but if you add in Supergirl and a bunch of black-and-white Bela Lugosi Draculas (about a half-dozen on the cover, and the solicitation promised 24) then sure, I’ll try that out for $3.

Well, as it turns out, Batgirl is pretty terrible.

From what I could gather about the premise, writer Bryan Q. Miller seems to be writing Batgirl like Chuck Dixon’s Robin, which is fine, I suppose, and this particular done-in-one, good jumping-on-point story has a nice, zany, Silver Age plot to it. Supergirl and Batgirl are hanging out on campus (Stephanie’s in college now? And she was a year older than Tim Drake? That means he must be 17 or 18 at least now, right?), and they go to see an old black and white Dracula movie. Meanwhile, a campus experiment goes awry, and 24 Draculas come to life from the movie, and the teenage blond version of the World’s Finest team unite to montage through a bunch of vampire slaying.

The comic book science is smart and original, and while some of the jokes are kinda lame, the script seems like it should make for a rally fun comic.

I mean, it puts Dracula on a Segway for God’s sake, that’s gotta count for something.
The problem? Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott’s art is just awful.

Here’s how Garbett dresses our two leads:Stephanie’s mom, by the way, is wearing the same top, only her tight long-sleeve blouse is light green.

I’m a big fan of the silent “beat” panel in which no one moves, but not when it’s as transparently repeated completely unaltered like this:Jeez, how does Stephanie even talk with her lips pursed like that?

This panel is typical of the backgrounds in the book, with the added advantage of featuring confusing action:A double, finger-splayed back handed lunge-slap? Your fighting style is…weird, Dracula.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m nitpicking, I know. But when there’s something to nitpick on every page, there’s a real problem with your comic book. I guess the great Dustin Nguyen takes over the art chores with the next issue (which doesn’t come out until November, because Comics!), so if this sort of plotting is typical of Miller’s run, then I suppose the title will seriously turn around next issue.

But it’s too late for me. This is the issue with all the Draculas in it, and thus the one I decided to test out.

Oh, hey! When I checked out to see when Nguyen was starting, I noticed this in the solicitation: “But what Gotham City's Batgirl isn't prepared for is the arrival of the mysterious 'Order of the Scythe.'" Gotham City’s Batgirl, eh? That’s odd phrasing. I wonder if part of Batman Inc.’s Bat-franchising will lead to more than one Batgirl in the near future…?

Batman: The Brave and The Bold #20 (DC) What is this insanity?! This issue features a 20-page new story (which is pretty great), and an eight-page reprint of the first half of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold #18 (That issue was divided into two different complete stories which were bound together by their villain). Maybe the idea was to add value to the title now that the price has gone up to $2.99 from $2.50, but it’s…weird, since the story it reprints is just two months old.

As I said,the new story is pretty good. It’s by writer Robert Greenberger and the Robert Pope/Scott McRae art team, and is about The Female Furies kidnapping Mister Miracle in order to pose him in an elaborate Jack Kirby cover homage. It’s up to Big Barda and the World’s Greatest Detective to rescue the World’s Greatest Escape Artist.

I’m not really the target audience for this fairly straightforward issue of a fairly straightforward comic, but I really enjoyed the bits where Batman was lecturing the Furies while beating the shit out of them:

Image Firsts: Liberty Meadows #1 (Image Comics) This $1 comic book reprinting a whole bunch of four-panel gag strips is my first extended exposure to Frank Cho’s signature, name-making work. It’s pretty good, actually; most of the don’t really transcend the level of humor typical of daily newspaper comic strips, but Cho’s great artwork goes a long way toward redeeming even the weakest jokes.

If, like me, you’re a Liberty Meadows virgin, this is a great way to spend a dollar.

Justice League: Generation Lost #8-9 (DC) Let’s take a moent to really look at Cliff Chiang’s latest two covers for this series, shall we? Those are some great covers.

In the first of them, our heroes not only all look sexy, cool, powerful and determined, but, most importantly, they look colorful, and are thus in super-sharp contrast to their enemies, who have seemingly emerged from a black and white movie. I love what Chiang has done with the staging of our heroes here too, pulling the “camera” back far enough that we get a good look at them all from head to toe, and allowing enough space to fill up the image with what look like overwhelming odds. Not only is the Justice League the brighter, more colorful side of the conflict on the cover, but they are also individuals, facing off against the forces of conformity, and they are the underdogs.

The second cover doesn’t have quite as much going on, but is still pretty great, showing Fire tied to a chair, but, as her determined smirk reveals, she isn’t the slightest bit cowed. After all, she’s still as superhero, which Chiang reminds us by depicting her in both her regular Josephine form and her superhero form. And is it just me, or does Max Lord seem a lot scarier when she’s just dressed in a suit and tie, as opposed to the t shirt, gun holster, gloves and cargo pants he wears inside these books.

Speaking of the insides of these books, they’re just awful looking compared to those Chiang covers, generally saying less in 22 pages of panels and dialogue than Chiang does with a single image.

They’re perfect junk food comics, though. They’re not very good for me, they’re rather everyday and unremarkable and I probably wouldn’t serve them to guests, but they fill me up when I’m in the mood for something in particular. Say, some favorite C- and D-level characters appearing in readable comic books that don’t hurt my eyes or make me want to punch out the person who wrote them.

Magnus, Robot Fighter: One For One (Dark Horse) This was pretty fun. It’s one of Dark Horse’s $1 reprints, this one collecting the very first Magnus story from 1963. It’s all by Russ Manning so the art is, of course, gorgeous, and it was really great reading it in a spine-less, stapled comic book format like this instead of a big, fancy, expensive hardcover. The experience just seemed more genuine.

There is next to nothing to the story, which is simply man vs. machine at the most literal level possible. In the year 4000, robots rule humanity, and only the super-strong, trained by a robot Magnus has the guts and power to stand up to them…mostly by karate-chopping their heads off.

Manning’s robots are a charmingly dated version of futuristic robots, skinny arms and legs that look like they might be made of pipe cleaners, if viewed from far away.

I was particularly amused by the way the word “robot” is constantly abbreviated into “rob”-something, instead of the more common something-bot. For example, a repair robot is a “Repairob” rather than a “Repair-bot,” and a police robot that quells riots is a “Riotrob” rather than a “Riot-bot.”

It’s well worth a buck, although I found myself having a hard time rooting for Magnus.

Sure, the evil robot named “H8” who built a computer out of living human beings seems like he could probably use a good karate chop, but the police robots who arrested the fetching senator’s daughter for speeding? They were just doing their jobs. She was speeding—endangering her own life and those of otheres—and when the robots were like, “Hey lady, quit speeding yo,” she’s just like “Suck it, robots” and speeds away even faster. I’ve gotta side with the polrobs on this one.

Scooby-Doo, Where are You? #1 (DC) The relaunched Scooby-Doo is a lot like the old Scooby-Doo (I was hoping against hope that this might be based on the look and continuity of the new Mystery Incorporated series, the first two episodes of which were awesome). This contains a ten-page story written and drawn by Scott Gross in which the gang vacation in Canada and face a fake (and sorta cool-looking) Ogopogo, followed by an eight-page story by Chris Duffy and Tim Harkins in which Fred tries to make Shaggy shave off his shag, but mysteries and monsters keep him form ever finding the time ( tells me this back-up is actually a reprint of a strip that originally appeared in 1997’s Scooby-Doo #2; that would make sense, as I recall seeing Harkins’ byline a lot in the title back then). Three pages of profiles round out the issue.

Star Wars: Legacy: One For One (Dark Horse) Despite having a certain amount of affection for Star Wars hardwired right into my DNA on account of the year I was born and the years in which I grew up coinciding with the release of the first few films, I’ve never been able to work up much enthusiasm for any of the expanded Star Wars universe business. Not even the second trilogy really, except for some cool stuff around the edges here and there (Wait, I loved the 2-D Clone Wars “micro-series” on Cartoon Network).

My interest in Dark Horse’s Star Wars line has never been sufficient enough to read much of it (I bought a couple of the Tales anthologies, and that’s about it).

This here comic book seemed like a pretty ideal way of checking in though because a) it’s only $1, b) it’s written by John Ostrander and EDILW favorite Jan Duuresema, and c) I had heard from someone in the Star Wars know that the “Legacy” stuff was some of the best Star Wars stuff since the Empire Strikes Back…or wait, did he say “Legacy” or did he say “Knights of the Old Republic”….? Well, that’s one thing I hate about the expanded universe stuff…it’s just so expansive.

This comic is set 130 years after Return of the Jedi and, disappointingly, the state of the galaxy seems an awful lot like it was during the prequel trilogy—there’s even an insufferable, angry, hot-headed little Skywalker punk who seems tempted by the Dark Side. The big difference seems to be that the Sith are now playing the role that the Jedi once played.

The comic certainly read and felt like Star Wars, which is a good/bad thing, although the comic format robs me of the things I now find most pleasurable about Star Wars movies—the sound effects of lasers and light sabers and the kicky fight music.

Duuresema’s art was a real treat, although Brad Anderson colors it with an inch of it’s life—she does really great stuff with shadows on people’s faces, but the coloring softens and obscures the lines and blacks inker Dan Parsons has applied to her artwork, dulling everything that wasn’t a laser blast to create a rather dreary and un-Star Wars-like atmosphere (But maybe that’s the point, since this is so long after the bright, shiny period of the prequels…?)

I liked the artwork enough that I could easily see myself reading comics like this if they were all priced at a buck, but this is, of course, a special publication. Maybe I should look for some library trades at some point in the future…

*Yes, III. Betty Kane was “Bat-Girl,” with a hyphen. And also she didn’t exist as Bat-Girl in current DC continuity, as far as I know.


Matt D said...

I read that review and I still don't get how you don't like Batgirl. It's an amazing book. It's like DC's Incredible Hercules. I guess it could be the art. I don't let art get to me unless it's really bad.

It's so down your alley writing-wise, though. I just don't get it. I am flummoxed.

Go back and read the issues with Damien. They're probably the best comics DC published this year

Hdefined said...

I wonder how long they're going to keep that Brightest Day banner on Generation Lost. It kind of gumps up the cover. Surely, everyone who wanted to follow all the Brightest Day books is aware it's part of the event, right? If anything, I think the banner might be keeping away new readers who might be curious to jump on midway.

mordicai said...

I want Stephanie to be Robin. Maybe Bruce's Robin, when they Inc. up? I don't know. I want Cassandra Cain back. Gosh she was great.

Jeremy said...

"After all, she’s still as superhero, which Chiang reminds us by depicting her in both her regular Josephine form and her superhero form."


Caleb said...

I guess it could be the art. I don't let art get to me unless it's really bad.

It's the art. I've noticed the longer I read comics, the more comics I read, the more demanding I become of art. I think that fact that there is just sooooooooooo much great stuff out there now, particularly in our Golden Age of Reprints, that it underscores the weaknesses in weak art for me as a reader.

In 2010, I think everything an industry (or at least direct market) leader like DC Comics publishes should be great--or at least as good as the stuff I read in old DC Comics.

Like, given all the advantages in technology in the last forty years, and the blooming of comics art in general, why is the art in issue of Batgirl so much worse than, say, any of the issues collected in Showcase Presents: Batgirl?

But hey, I'm picky.


Heh. That was just me trying to be cute. I meant that as the feminine version of "regular joe"...

Eyz said...

I kinda like Steph & the new Batgirl title.
(though I admit that logo's pretty ugly)
The art's kinda hit & miss...But I really miss Cassandra Cain now... I'm still hoping to see 2 Batgirls when Bruce will be back!

Love those Brave & the Bold panels there~

And Star Wars Legacy's been my SW comic guilty pleasure since it launched. Sure, Cade's a real douche..but it's part of his character :P
That's what makes him fun to read~