Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Comic shop comics: Oct. 27-Nov. 3

Batgirl #15 (DC Comics) The little preview of this issue DC ran on their Source blog earlier this week was all it took to get me to give this title a second try—I just couldn’t resist seeing the new art team of Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs’ summary of Bat-history using cute, super-deformed-esque cartoon versions of the characters in context.

Nguyen and Fridolfs’ presence sure helps this book; this was about five times the comic that the previous issue I read was. With that issue, I found myself reading the words and turning the pages despite the art, while here I was reading the words and turning the pages in large part because of the art.

I’m still not terribly fond of Stephanie Brown as a character—I haven’t seen anything in either of the two issues I’ve read that necessarily separates her from most of DC’s other teen superheroines—and was pretty shay on some of the characters and elements of the status quo, but writer Bryan Q. Miller writes with a sense of humor, seems as interested in character dynamics as fighting and there’s nothing gross about the book.

Given more regular access to a comic shop, deeper pockets and fewer choices (there is so much great stuff out there now that “pretty good” isn’t anywhere near the same as “good enough” anymore), I could see myself picking up the next issue, and maybe some more after that.

Batman and Robin #16 (DC) Say what you will about Grant Morrison and DC Comics, there’s no denying that the former has chutzpah, and the latter seems bound and determined to capitalize on that chutzpah (even if they also seem to constantly undermining it, as with Bruce Wayne: The Road Home; that really seems more like it’s due to incompetence than ill intent).

The ending of this particular issue, which DC themselves spoiled on the Internet if you want to check just that part out, is probably the biggest change to the Batman franchise since…well, at least since I’ve been reading. Killing Jason Todd, adding Tim Drake, breaking Batman’s back and making a “new” Batman, the “No Man’s Land” era, even “killing’ Batman and promoting Dick Grayson and Damian to Batman and Robin…all of those seemed incredibly, transparently temporary changes, with built-in loopholes to easily walk them back.

Generally when DC throws one of it’s big franchises off in a wild new direction like this, there’s a metaphorical bungee cord attached, and you know it’s only a matter of time before it snaps back.

But this? This seems a lot harder to walk back. And that, in and of itself, is impressive almost beyond belief. Batman’s been around over seven decades, been adapted repeatedly into every imaginable media and bizarre alternate takes on him were at one point so common that DC developed a special imprint just to publish them, and yet Grant Morrison found a way to do something entirely new with the character that simultaneously moves him forward while furthering the character as he is—as he’s more or less always been.

This climax to Morrison’s run on the Batman titles so far isn’t perfect. There’s three artists all drawing this single issue (Three good artists, but still). I still don’t know who the bad guy really is—a semi-immortal pilgrim and Wayne ancestor who pretended to be an actor pretending to be Dr. Thomas Wayne and claiming to be The Devil himself, I guess? And it’s a shame the publishing plan feel apart to the point where this came out before Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 and that anyone at all had to read any of that Road Home stuff,

But standing ovation, Morrison; this is really great, really exciting stuff. Of course, you do realize you have to right Batman comics forever now, right? Because we’ve seen what happens when others try to follow you after you radically reinvent a franchise—it ain’t pretty.

By the way, page 12 and 13 are pretty much the best thing ever.

Batman/Catwoman: Follow The Money #1 (DC) For a more standard, straightforward sort of Batman comic, albeit a longer, zippier sort than your average non-Morrison Batman comic, this Howard Chaykin over-sized special is hard to beat.

Set during some time when Catwoman was wearing her Darwyn Cooke-designed outfit and Bruce Wayne was alive, Follow The Money follows minor, underused Bat-villain The Cavalier as rips-off Wayne Enterprises and frames Catwoman for the crime.

Chaykin’s an artist who needs no introduction, and his work has been popping up in some awfully surprising places over the last few years, from an ongoing Blade miniseries for Marvel to a Hawkgirl series for DC to a G.I. Joe miniseries for IDW. This fits quite nicely into the recent “What’s Chaykin drawing now?” bibliography.

His style is quite well-suited to Batman as a character; he gives us a big, blocky, athletic Batman and a suave, well-groomed Bruce Wayne. His Catwoman is similarly athletic, and awfully pneumatic, but always zipped up and well-dressed out of costume. The art, colored by Jesus Aburto, is awfully effects heavy, with an awful lot of shining surfaces, but Chaykin draws interesting surfaces to hosts those glares, like the villain’s maniacally gleaming eye and smile.

Surprisingly, the story is as much a treat as the art. Chaykin uses parallel structures in assembling the story in a way that almost approaches workman-like, but that regularity is also refreshingly straightforward.

It’s a fun story, in which Batman investigates the sort of heist-film crime that seems almost unique among the many issues of him fighting serial killers, and in which he gets to banter, flirt and almost play with Catwoman.

It’s a light story of heavy figures, and I breezed through it, having a blast. Compared to Morrison’s Bat-work, its positively old-fashioned and inessential, but that’s also exactly what makes it a pretty refreshing read.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #21 (DC) After the previous issue, in which writers Art Baltazar and Franco and artist Mike Norton had all of the heroes fight all of the villains, I wasn’t so sure there was much need for another issue. That last issue sure felt like a victory lap, why take another victory lap?Apparently so Norton could draw the Justice League coming to Fawcett to offer Captain Marvel membership. That a few other little things—turning Mary Marvel back into the Jeff Smith little girl version, putting Captain Marvel in a white version of the costume for a panel, a coda about the importance of the family part of the expression “The Marvel Family—give Norton and company enough justification for a second victory lap.

This really is the end of the series now though. Here’s hoping Norton moves on to bigger and better things—the Young Justice series looks like a nice place to start—and DC figures out how to untangle the mess they’ve made of the Marvel Family in the DCU line of comics.

Captain Marvel saying “yes” instead of “no” to the Justice League there might work…

Brightest Day #13 (DC) Here’s Hawkman, the hero—well, the protagonist, anyway—of the issue, torturing one of his enemies:
Here’s Hath-Set, the antagonist, torturing one of his enemies:I hope writers Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi are doing that on purpose, showing that the two enemies aren’t all that different, but whether the parallel is intentional or not, it’s pretty uncomfortable.

The acts themselves are brutal: Hawkman bludgeons his foe with spiked maces and then rips out one of its wings, while Hath-Set headbutts, slaps and pulls back to punch Hawkgirl, after first sexually menacing her. It’s really only the motivation that sets the actors apart: Hawkman is double-fisting maces and killing his way through “Man-Hawks” to save his beloved partner, while Hath-Set is beating on a bound Hawkgirl because she spit in his eye when he tried to lick her.

In other words, the ends justify the means.

Hawkman has long been portrayed as an ignorant, brutal, violent a-hole—particularly since Geoff Johns resurrected him the time before this time, and portrayed him as a sort of Conan-with-wings type—so this is certainly in keeping with his characterization, but it doesn’t make it any more pleasant to read.

And the Hawkworld storyline dominates this issue, with a full 20-pages being devoted to it, saving only one page for Deadman and Dove to chat with Resurrection Man and another page for a splash featuring Batman Bruce Wayne (in appearance #9 before the release of Return of Bruce Wayne #6, if I counted right*).

I must confess to being greatly amused by Hawkman’s entrance into Hath-Set and Shiera’s evil mother’s headquarters though. It’s just so ridiculously over-the-top that Johns, Tomasi and company are either mocking their own violent impulses, or, if they’re earnest, then I guess it’s even funnier:

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: Oracle #1 (DC) I read this the same day that I read Batman and Robin #16, the climax of Grant Morrison’s run on that title, which was created specifically to tell a series of stories about Dick Grayson and Damian as the new Batman and Robin while Bruce Wayne was “dead,” and it’s quit remarkable how superfluous Morrison’s writing there has made this whole Road Home series (and, contrary to the marketing and numbering, it actually is an eight-part miniseries, rather than eight standalone stories).

In fact, not only are does this Road Home stuff seem superfluous, it seems downright contradictory in certain places, and read together with Morrison’s Batman and Robin, this seems to drain a lot of the urgency and excitement out of Bruce Wayne’s return.

I’ve only read two of them, and I don’t think I can reconcile the timelines between the one I did read, Bruce Waye: The Road Home: Batman and Robin #1 with the events of Batman and Robin #15 and #16.

Since Oracle isonly the second issue of an eight-part series I’ve read—as near as I can figure it, I read the first part and now the seventh—I’m probably missing a lot, but as near as I can figure, Ra’s al Ghul has put out a hit on Vicki Vale and Bruce Wayne is trying to save her life, but in the dumb, adopted persona of “The Insider” instead of Batman because…I’m not sure why, exactly.

He’s wearing some sort of weird black battle armor with a full-face mask, three glowing red eyes, Batman-like gauntlets and a utility belt full of Batarangs. Not much of a disguise really; at least Matches Malone had a mustache to distract you.Though the title of this is Oracle, it’s basically a Birds of Prey-type story, in which Oracle has various Bat-people and friends get in random fights here and there while she sits in front of a computer and apparently retcons her origin. (To be fair to writer Marc Andreyko, I wouldn’t have noticed the changes if the linked-to blog post didn’t point them out).

Actually, maybe Birds of Prey is a bad comparison. This is more like one of those random Battle For The Cowl tie-ins, the one where a bunch of superheroes cameo for 22 pages—Batman: Battle For The Cowl: The Network, maybe?—the sole difference being that artist Agustin Padilla does sharper work here than J. Calafiore and a few others managed in Network.

Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice (Dark Horse Comics) So what if Hellboy walked right out of one of his own adventures—as he does on the first page of this special one-shot—and then right into an issue of Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden comic?

That’s the premise of this. Hellboy is just finishing off a vampire when he follows a mysterious dog into the woods, and is lead to the supernatural investigators who are also cats and dogs from Beasts. With Hellboy providing some extra muscle (and some much needed thumbs), the group descends into a tunnel to find some black magic going on.

Like pretty much everything Thompson draws, this is well worth paying attention to simply because of the fact that she’s drawing it—and how cool is it seeing Thompson’s take on Hellboy?!—but Dorkin’s story is as much fun on his previous ones featuring the Beasts.

There are some super-cool monster designs (I loved the Skull Golems’ offensive maneuver), some twists and turns, some amusing dialogue and a nice demonstration of just how flexible a character Hellboy really is. He fits in so perfectly well here (Mike Mignola polished his dialogue, which no doubt helped), that this reads as much like a Hellboy story as it does a Beasts of Burden story. You can’t ask for a team-up comic to better fulfill it’s team-up comic obligations than that, can you?

Image Firsts: Hack/Slash #1 (Image Comics) I’ve long been intrigued by the premise of this series—Suicide Girl and monster team-up to kill the colorful “slashers” that started populating low-budget horror movies in the late-seventies before booming in the eighties and never really going away—but missed the first few series and then felt it was “too late” to try it out. Like, I didn’t even know where to start after a certain point.

Well, I guess that’s exactly where these $1 reprints Image has been publishing is meant to come in.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this issue, though. It’s extremely heavy on exposition and summary, a sort of this-is-who’s-who-and-what’s-what story without much character or drama to it beyond the exposition. It read like the comic book version of a pilot episode of a TV show; not the sort of pilot they air on TV, but the sort that used to get made just to show network executives to convince them to green light production for a series.

Basically, I’m right where I was before actually reading this issue, only now I know a lot more details—names, origins and like that.

The book ends with a full-page ad with a bunch of Hack/Slash trades, including an omnibus or three. I suppose the first omnibus would be the best place to try out Hack/Slash in a larger portion. Any fans—or readers of—the comic out there who would care to make a recommendation, or warn against reading it…?

Justice League: Generation Lost #12-#13 (DC) In the twelfth issue, Ice gets a new costume!No seriously what she gets is a new origin story which seems an awful lot like an X-Men character’s origin—kid born with destructive powers linked to their emotions, leads to terrible personal tragedy, puts on spandex and becomes superhero. In this version, Tora’s no longer from a magical kingdom of snow people, but from a family of thieving Scandanavian gypsies who want to either worship her as a goddess and/or use her ice powers to help them steal—she freezes them all to death, her father as well, before the bad elements can take her away from the good elements.

I honestly have no idea how that works really, since we’ve seen Ice’s magical snow kingdom family in the pages of Justice League comics before, but then, it’s not like the characters of this book haven’t all been radically, contradictorily retconned before (They’re currently fighting Evil Killer Max Lord, after all).

In the thirteenth issue, Magog fights Captain Atom to the death, as part of Max Lord’s plan to prevent the future the White Power Lantern resurrected him to stop. I was actually quite surprised by the finality of that fight, enough so that I’m not sure what to make of its permanence. (Well, semi-permanence, anyway).

I liked Fernando Dagino’s pencils on #12 more than Joe Bennett’s on #13, but Cliff Chiang’s cover images are far better than both.Hell, Chiang even makes Magog look kind of cool, and I didn’t even think such a thing was possible!

*The first seven Batman: The Road Home “one-shots” and Batman and Robin #15 and #16


Eyz said...

Poor Ice!! What did they do to her :(

The Bat books may have some detractors, in this Morrisson-era, but I like it! Bold decisions, shaking up the concept. And still fun!

mordicai said...

I am utterly baffled by people hating on Morrison's Bat work. It is the bees knees. I WAS having a hard time connecting with Hurt, but I think this recent issue brought it home for me. & to think, all this time I was SURE it was going to be Hugo Strange, somehow.