Friday, September 30, 2011

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

...I have a review of Grant Morrison's Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. It's a really amazing read—the book, not the review—and well worth the time you spend with it for the conversation Morrison initiates between his text and the reader's brain on the subject of superheroes. If superheroes are your thing as much as comics. The writer has a surprisingly limited view of comics, essentially amounting to DC, Marvel and the Image Comics of the '90s, as well as the British superhero comics he's read (A Dark Horse super-comic gets mentioned, but moreso because of Morrison's friendship with the author Gerard Way then because of the work itself).

I'm going to come back to Sueprgods here on EDILW in the very near future, in order to share some of the funny and controversial bits about the book , but, in the mean time, give my review a read if you'd be so kind (Actually, you don't have to read it. Just click over and give my employers your page views, please) , and give Morrison's book a read. You might hate a lot of it, but it's still worth reading.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Comic shop comics: September 28

Aquaman #1 (DC Comics) Geoff Johns on Aquaman has long seemed like a no-brainer to me. The writer has shown a particular faculty for getting over older, less-loved versions of DC’s Silver Age stalwarts, from his Flash run to his Hawkman run and, especially his five years-and-counting run on Green Lantern, which made the former C-List character into a Batman-level success.

Having him Geoff Johnsify Aquaman or Wonder Woman seemed an obvious move, and, in fact, he did already work for quite a while on rehabilitating the former—along with Martian Manhunter, and newer old characters like Firestorm and Hawk and Dove—in the year-long Brightest Day series.

And, of course, at this point in his career, Johns has not only the faculty for resurrecting less-popular characters, but he has the cred to do so effectively, and spending it on an unsure thing is the sort of thing you see far too rarely at the Big Two (For example, Brian Michael Bendis did commit himself to a Moon Knight series recently, but it’s not like he’s quitting his multiple Avengers books to work on The Defenders for Marvel; Grant Morrison is still sticking with DC’s World’s Finest characters, instead of a new Animal Man or Doom Patrol or Aztek sort of characters).

Teaming with his Blackest Night and Brightest Day collaborator Ivan Reis on an Aquaman book then seemed like as sure a thing as a publisher like DC could hope to have these days. Of course, since Aquaman #1 isn’t building on the momentum of those two hit series, but starting fresh as part of “The New 52” DCU, it’s more of a gamble than the slamdunk itwould have otherwise been.

I’m sure it will pay off. Like the vast majority of the new line, this is a book that DC should be fairly happy with if they manage to sell three or four consecutive issues with sales over 30,000 units. That would be sensational for an Aquaman comic these days, after all, and by initial orders, Aquaman is already a huge success by 21st century Aquman standards.

So what’s Johns’ strategy for rehabilitating Aquaman? He seems to be going about it in two distinct ways.

First, he’s made the character a lot more powerful. Aquaman is now essentially Golden Age Superman. He travels by jumping, leaping over tall buildings. He catches and lifts a speeding armored car over his head. He’s not just tough, but bulletproof now, able to withstand a machine gun blast to the head without suffering anything more than a minor cut.

Second, Johns is making Aquaman’s traditional, real world pereception as the least cool of the Superfriends part of the Aquaman comic itself.

Personally, I’m not so sure I like this Aquman being at once so steel-skinned he shrugs off automatic weapon fire, but so thin-skinned that he takes offense at the jokes of powerless surface-dwelling civilians.

When a police officer asks him if he needs a glass of water or something, Aquman gives them a funny look and then bounds away. When a diner tells him he can’t eat fish because he talks to them, Aquman responds “I DON’T talk to fish,” and looks like the dude just accused him of fucking fish. And when a blogger asks him how it feels to be “nobody’s favorite super-hero?”, our hero silently threatens him with his razor sharp trident:(Come on Most Popular and Successful Writers In Super-Comics, why all the blogger hate lately…?)

On the subject of talking to fish and Johns’ changing of Aquaman’s powers, here’s how Aquman explains it to some fat guy with a weird beard eating lobster: “Fish don’t talk. Their brains are too primitive to carry on a conversation…I reach into their midbrains and telepathically push them to help me out. Squids, sharks, eels, it’s all the same. Though dolphins are another story.”

I found this amusing because just yesterday Tom Spurgeon wrote the following in response to news that Aquaman was 70 years old:
I still find it fascinating that this guy talks to fish. I know how to swim and how to punch people I don't like and I've worn at least one bright orange shirt in my lifetime; I've never, ever talked to a fish, let alone had one talk back to me. You can keep your harpoon hands, palace machinations and sunken San Diegos: I'd read hundreds of pages of straight-up conversations with sea creatures and pay for the opportunity to do so.
Johns has gotten rid of the one aspect likely to enctice Spurgeon! It was also an interesting change because it’s the exact opposite of the take Peter David had on that particular power, during the last time there was an extended, easy to understand, relatively high-quality Aquaman book.

David had Aquaman clarify that Aquaman didn’t command the fish, he simply asked them to help him, and they usually did if they wanted to and/or could. His Aquaman could commuicate with sea life, not simply command it.

Johns went in the opposite direction. Which, at the very least, makes it seem okay for Aquaman to eat fish now. There was a scene during David’s run where Aquman plunged his trident hand down and revealed a bunch of shrimp shish kebab-ed upon it which he proceeded to eat which just seemed…barbaric to me. I don’t eat any animals, so the consumption of meat in general seems barbaric to me personally, but if you could actually hear the animals screaming and maybe pleading with you “My king, my king, why have you killed us?”….Ugh. I always assumed an Aquaman who can talk to fish had to be on an all-seaweed diet.

Okay, well that’s on intersing aspect of the power tweak. The other is that it seems like just one more overly-sensitive revision, like making sure Superman and Batman didn’t wear underwear outside of their pants anymore. There’s an insecure, somewhat juvenile aspect to trying to “correct” anything that someone who doesn’t read comics might conceivably joke about, as if Johns and his fellow fans-turned-creators-turned-creator/executives internalized the scoffing they heard kids at school 25 years ago level at DC’s iconic heroes, and resolved to answer those scoffs when they finally had the power to do so.

Other changes? Well, Atlantis seems to be unkown as a world power now (Booo! What about JLA arc “World War III”…?! That was the best….!!), and the continued existence of the much ballyhooed new Aqualad character so recently introduced in Brightest Day is unknown. Mera is the only supporting character who appears, and the pair have their history with one another somewhat in tact, but it will remain to be seen what else has changed, if anything.

Reis’ art, inked by Joe Prado, is better than ever, although I found Rod Reis’ coloring a little over-powering for my personal tastes. There are just too many lighting effects, which tend to come between my eyes and the linework, and, when I’m reading comics, I’m more interested in the lines that form the images than how effectively computer technology allows color artists to replicate the light of a sunset or noonday sun on Aquaman’s metallic orange shirt.

As you may have noticed, I’ve read only a handful of “The New 52,” deciding to trade-wait the books I’m most interested in and am most certain I’ll like, but of the few I’ve sampled, this is up there with Wonder Woman as on I look forward to reading more of.

Captain America and Bucky #622 (Marvel Entertainment) This perfectly, almost aggressively generic done-in-one finds narrator Bucky Barnes having to prove himself to his fellow Invaders not simply because he’s a teenager, but because he’s also the only one of them without superpowers.

Writers Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko pit him against movie Arnim Zola Toby Jones’s Amazo-like sciene project (right down to using the same sort of power-draining individual glass cases like Professor Ivo used on the Justice League).

If you’ve ever read a superhero comic before, you can guess how it all pans out.

Great art by Chris Samnee makes up for the otherwise rote tale, and I have a soft spot for this nearly naked, douchey version of Namor, who here is shown repeatedly being a huge jerk to a little kid:Namor being mean to Bucky is especially awesome given how much it hurts Bucky's feelings. Look at the hurt Samnee draws on Bucky's face.Oh Namor, you lovable monster you...

Justice League Dark #1 (DC) It’s strange to see the fully-formed and functional Justice League show up here, when Justice League #1 didn’t get very far in introducing the new iteration.

This was my longerst exposure to the new Superman so far, for example, and he seems cold and removed. I see Wonder Woman’s costume is different than in her own book (the black shorts are blue again here, and her black boots are back to red again). Batman and Cyborg show up too, the former talking to Zatanna as if they have some history—Over all, I’m finding this selective continuity more off-putting than keeping everything in or starting all over. Anyway, this new book is apparently an in-(new, uncertain)-continuity version of writer Peter Milligan’s Flashpoint: Secret Seven miniseries, now imported into The New 52’s DCU.

Milligan introduces a big, League-level threat and uses the Justice League proper to justify the sorta awkward-sounding title. He also introduces the majority of the folks on the cover, heroes and villain alike, effectively.

The artwork by Mikel Janin is kind of awful, like an extremely high-quality version of Greg Land’s work, from the awkward, photo-referenced posing and acting, and airbrushed-looking colors (by Ulises Arreola).

With a decent but not incredible script and art I don’t care for, this isn’t the sort of book I’d normally by a second issue of, but I might end up sticking around at least another issue simply to get my JLA fix. Measured against the first issue of Justice League, this is the more Justice League-y of the two.

Hey look, Enchantress’ breasts aren’s as withered and rotted as the rest of her body:How surprising.

Also, what’s up with this bit of dialogue, delivered after Zatanna casts a spell to prevent Batman from risking his life alongside her….? Is Zatanna unstable now? Is she, perhaps, hysterical? Is her womb making her crazy? Who knows? New 52!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Two more picture books written by Lemony Snicket

The sub-title of writer Lemony Snicket’s The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming (McSweeney’s Books; 2007) is A Christmas Story but, as the title itself implies, it is as much a Hanukah story as it is a Christmas one. Perhaps more of one. I’m not sure, not having a proper tool with which to measure Christmasness versus Haunkahishness. It’s certainly about both, and the fact that the two overlap.

The latke can’t stop screaming because, after being “fashioned from grated potatoes, chopped onion, beaten eggs, and a dash or two of salt,” he was “slapped into a pan full of olive oil heated to a very high temperature.”

As in the story of the Gingerbread man, the latke suddenly springs to life and goes running out of the house and into the world, only instead of taunting others with how fast he is, the latke is simply screaming in pain.

Artist Lisa Brown provides sharp, simple classy-looking illustrations, with lots of white space around them. Many of the images look as if they might have been re-purposed from nice, expensive Christmas cards. Her latke is a round-ish, golden brown smudge, with a big oval mouth wide open in screaming, arms, legs, eyes, eyebrows and a nose.

His scream is presented as a bit of a break in the narrative which, prior to his first “AAAHHHHHHHH!!!”, consists of blocks of text from Snicket, in his usual voice and using his usual jokes. (The format too is rather Christmas card-like, with images on the left-hand pages and text on the right-hand pages, always separated).

Snicket and Brown repeat the image of the latke and the scream over and over, usually twice. So a two-page of the latke screaming will be followed by an identical two-page spread, only the scream will be lower.I imagine, then, that is a very fun book to read to children.

On the latke’s loud journey, he runs across several almost-as-animated holiday totems—Christmas lights, a candy cane, a pine tree—and stops to talk to each of them (They lack limbs and faces and the ability to move, but they can converse). They introduce and explain themselves, and the latke has to explain a bit about himself—what he is, why he’s screaming—and in the process explains Hanukah.

After each conversation, he runs screaming on to the next one, which, if you ask me, doesn’t seem very realistic. Does the pain really subside so badly that he can stop running and talk normally, only to resume with such intensity he has to run screaming into the night again?

Well, Snicket does write early on that the latke’s screaming and running “may seem like unusual behavior for a potato pancake, but this is a Christmas story, in which things tend to happen that would never occur in real life.”

I’ll take that as an explanation of the coming and going of the pain as well, then.

Snicket wrote another Christmas story book, which is similar in tone, shape and size to this one, called The Lump of Coal. I read it in 2008, but didn’t review it here, and now can’t remember it very well. So I think I’ll reread it.

His book 13 Words (Harper; 2010) is quite a different sort of work all together, with far fewer words, a more dream-like, almost random in conception story (albeit one that is so well edited later as to be elegant) and bigger, brighter, more powerful and prominent art than his other picture books.

While I’ve no knowledge of how exactly the book came about, it reads a bit like a sort of creative writing class exercise, in which a student might pull a number of words from a hat (here, 13 words), and then build a story around them.

This has the look of a children’s book, but the words aren’t exactly the sort that would appear on a second grade spelling test, placing this in that Lemony Snickety realm of kids books for adults, or books for smart parents to read their smart kids.

The 13 words include, among the more simple “bird,” “dog,” “cake,” and “busy,” more highly-syllabic words, like “despondent,” “convertible,” “mezzo-soprano” and, my personal favorite, “haberdashery.”

The story is told through these words, each introduced as “WORD NUMBER (Whatever number it is):”…followed by a brief, declarative sentence that leads to a longer sentence from which an incredibly elaborate, nuanced happy-but-ultimately-sad story emerges.

For example, it begins like this:

The bird sits on the table.

WORD NUMBER 2: Despondent

The bird is despondent.

In fact, she is so sad that she hops off the table to look for something to cheer her up.
And on it goes, for 13 words.

Snicket’s collaborator here is Maira Kalman (more of her work can be seen here; you may recognize her work from many New Yorker covers and some very distinctive-looking children’s books).

Kalman paints, and her paintings are big ones. There is no white space, as in Snicket’s other picture books, as even the blank spaces in the backgrounds of pages are painted, and a warm beige with clearly visible brushstrokes seems to be the closest thing to white space in the book, but most pages have bright colors.

The images are flat, with a rough, almost fauve-like application of paint, but I’m afraid I lack the exact vocabulary to properly to describe it very accurately, being too far removed now from the few art history and aesthetics courses I took on my way to securing a BA in English at the end of the last century.

You know Henri Matisse’s paintings of rooms inside houses, like the one of the red studio or this one? Almost all of the pages look a little like that. Like, maybe the bird’s rooms aren’t in the same house as the one containing Matisse’s red-walled rooms, but perhaps the bird leaves on the same street as Matisse’s house.

The basic story is this: The bird is despondent, and can’t be cheered up with cake, so her friend the dog concocts a plan to help cheer up the bird. And a mezzo-soprano comes over. To give any more detail is to ruin the fun of the book, although it’s worth noting that every page is pretty amazing……particularly the ones in which the dog and the goat (words 4 and 7, respectively) drive the convertible (word 6) to and from the haberdashery, and Kalman depicts the winding road they travel upon in a two-page spread, and shows us the strange sites that one sees on either side of the road.(Above is the right half of one such spread).

Of the handful of picture books of Snicket’s I’ve read, I don’t think this is the best-written, but it may be the overall best, in that its told through a fusion of the words and pictures, and they seem equally important in the delivery of the story and its jokes and charm.

For example, I could imagine The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming or The Lump of Coal or The Composer Is Dead with a different artist providing different art in a different style to accompany the text.

I can’t do that with 13 Words.

Wait, let me take a stab at being clever, and review 13 Words in a manner similar to that in which it is written…

WORD NUMBER 1: Masterpiece.

Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman’s 13 Words is a masterpiece.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Marvel's December previews reviewed

Say, I don't think I like this whole waiting a week between the time when DC releases their solicits and the time Marvel releases theirs. I kinda liked reviewing the whole month's worth of Big Two super-comics all in the matter of 24 hours or so.

Ah well. Here are Marvel's complete solicitations, and here are some thoughts on the (relatively few) books that caught my eye this time around...

I don’t care who you’re cloned from young lady, you and your friend can expect a strongly worded letter from the X-Men’s lawyer any day now.

• The original Human Torch guest-stars as Captain America teams up with Bucky in the present day... for the first time?!
• Rising stars James Asmus and Francesco Francavilla join Eisner award winner Ed Brubaker for a rollicking adventure into the future of the star-spangled Avenger’s past!
• Brand new arc! Easy jumping on point!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$2.99

Oh no! A change in the creative team of one of the only two Marvel comics I still read! Fortunately, Francesco Fracavilla is a hell of a good artist, so maybe Chris Samnee not drawing this issue or this story arc won’t be so bad (I hope he comes back, though).

It looks like co-writer Marc Andreyko is being replaced by a different co-writer, too.

That’s an effectively creepy cover by Clayton Crain for his new Carnage, USA series.

Snow angels…? Snow angels?! Hmmm, have Mark Waid and company gone too far with this new happy Daredevil take? I don’t know, but making snow angels has gotta be getting pretty close. If we see him Foggy Nelson pushing him on a swing on January’s new cover though…

Pencils & Cover by TERRY DODSON

• Spinning out of the stunning end of FEAR ITSELF! The final Worthy on a global rampage!
• Everyone's favorite Marvel characters banding together to solve a mysterious conspiracy deep at the heart of the Marvel Universe!
• The last line of defense against the forces of the unknown!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

I can’t really afford many Marvel comics anymore, and wouldn't pay for one at this price point anyway, but I really like The Defenders as a concept, and wouldn’t mind checking this book out (No Hulk though...? That's not gonna work right...)

Maybe I’ll wait for the trade…or at least borrow it from a library next year, depending on what the trades look like. Even the last few Marvel trades I’ve purchased seemed too expensive for their contents, which have had an awful lot of reprint material in ‘em…

Written by JASON AARON_Pencils & Cover by MARC SILVESTRI
• Bruce Banner’s beasts “The Boar Brothers” bash Hulk in a literally Earth-Shaking Battle!
• Banner reveals his new army!
• Hulk makes an alliance with mad scientist hunter Amanda Von Doom that changes his destiny forever.
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

Hmm…Amanda Von Doom doesn’t have quite the same ring of danger to it as “Victor,” but perhaps I just have to let it grow on me for a while yet…

(Also, did The Hulk hit a guy with glasses? What a jerk!)

Okay, I give up. What is on that lady’s head?

Written by Rick Remender
Penciled by LAN MEDINA
Rick Remender welcomes Lan Medina (PUNISHER) with AMERICAN BADNESS!
SPIDER-ISLAND has changed everything and now the death of a loved one reminds Flash Thompson that his secret identity is in the hands of the villainous Crime-Master – and the only way to take his life back is to go rogue. But CAPTAIN AMERICA is out to shut him down. It’s a good old fashioned road trip with Flash Thompson and an alien symbiote!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$2.99

Uh, so it’s Flash Thompson, combined with the Venom symbiote, and dressed like Captain America? While popping a wheelie on a motorcyle…?

Okay, that’s kind of cool.

Here's your monthly reminder that Becky Cloonan rules.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Just a couple of links this week.

Should this still be a headline? I say no.

After a gay Bat-Family member starring in her own book (finally), “Hey, a gay superhero!” doesn’t really seem like such a big deal, especially in the case of Random New Character #3 on a team title. Not that I object or anything—the DCU seems to have more gay lady characters than gay male characters, and maybe this is their first Mexican gay teenage character, which, when you get that specific, is breaking a barrier, if not as significant a one as, say, the first black superhero or the first gay superhero or whatever.

His superpower? It’s apparently the ability to generate pink energy Thing hands, judging from this cover.

On the subject of gay Teen Titans, I wonder why they didn’t just make Tim “Red Robin” Drake, Bart “Kid Flash” Allen or Superboy gay in “The New 52” continuity? From all appearances, they're all being pretty hardcore rebooted anyway (Superboy, whose solo book has already come out, is definitely being pretty rebooted), so if those three characters have all been established as completely heterosexual before, well, there’s no reason to imagine their sexual preferences wouldn’t be subject to change in the new continuity.

Making any of those three Teen Titans gay would be a headline, especially in the comics news-sphere. (On the other hand, a quick Google Image search for Superboy + Robin reveals there's actually a surprisingly sizable audience that would like to see both of those characters be gay. Together.)

Speaking of DC’s “New 52” (which I am now always doing, goddamit, DC created a friggin’ mindworm with this reboot/realunch that’s eating out the inside of my skull and laying eggs in it), if the publisher were gonna resurrect just one quickly-canceled title from the late-nineties starring a costume-less, trench coat-rocking super-character, why not Chase instead of Resurrection Man?

I didn’t read either series straight through, but read the majority of each via back issues. While Resurrection Man had a pretty compelling hook—every time the hero dies, he comes back to life with a new superpower—it seemed like creators Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Butch Guice got to tell a fairly complete story during their 1997-1999, almost-30-issue run, and that a new volume would be poised to simply re-telling it.

Chase, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as grabby a high concept—government type who works for an agency responsible for monitoring and policing superhumans has a few capes in her closet—but its premise seems particularly easy to revive at any moment. And with the DCU rebooted, with each title, character and franchise rebooted to different extents, a series starring a character and agency responsible for keeping tables on super-people would be a good opportunity to keep interested readers up to date on what’s what and who’s who in the new now now.

And if DC continues to push the Marvel-like worldview of superheroes being popularly perceived as dangerous by normal human beings, the series could have a new sense of urgency to it.

Have you guys heard this sad, sad story about where the books you buy from come from, before they appear on your doorstop in cardboard boxes with a smile on them? It’s pretty depressing reading, and, I suppose, one more reason to support your local comic shop (if you have one, and/or if your local comic shop sucks).

I just can’t believe that cute, roller-blading, twenty-somethings with dyed hair and access to hyperspace portals weren’t really involved, as Bryan Lee O’Malley had previously convinced me…

In general, I loathe these these weird gallery-type stories that Slate does—the format, not the content—but this one on “map monsters” by Ken Jennings, dealing with the strange creatures that would populate the corners and fill in the unknown spaces of ancient (and not-so-ancient) maps is actually pretty cool.

I more interested in monsters than in maps, but I may check out Jennings’ book Maphead based on this slideshow, if it's indicative of some of the subject matter in the book.

You know who draws the best sea monsters? Tony Millionaire. Those are some of his above.

Boy, is Dick Grayson ever short. I’m going to guess he must be about 5’2, and Tim Drake is around 4’11...? That, or Bruce Wayne is like 7’6...

Friday, September 23, 2011

I am going to discuss Catwoman and Batman’s sex lives in great detail, because DC Comics asked me to*

Do you remember a few years back, when DC Comics first released the cover image for Superman/Batman #40 as part of their solicitations ritual, and the Dustin Nguyen-drawn image featured Batman standing behind a woman, his hand on her torso?

But then, when the actual comic book showed up on shelves a few months later, it had been altered, so that Batman was no longer holding the woman?His hand was apparently a little too close to her breasts for DC’s comfort; they must not have wanted one of their flagship characters, a constant cartoon star and their one sure-thing bankable intellectual property potentially stirring any sort of potential controversy.

That was 2007. This happened in Catwoman #1 two days ago (and, if you're at work, you should probably stop looking at my blog and get back to work lazybones, because we're getting into some pretty NSFW, yet still somehow T-for-Teen area):The last page of the issue features a full-page splash of, as Comics Alliance’s Laura Hudson put it in a fairly heart-breaking post about the cumulative effect of the scene on top of Red Hood and The Outlaws #1 and a million billion other little cuts, Batman actually penetrating Catwoman.

My how things have changed in just a few years!

Or maybe they haven’t. For example, if the problem with the Superman/Batman cover was that Batman was almost touching that lady’s breasts, perhaps this is consistent. It’s not like he’s touching Catwoman’s breasts. Or Catwoman at all. His right hand is on the floor, apparently propping him up so Catwoman can hump him (Not sure if artist Guillem March drew his hand holding Catwoman’s other side—there’s a Bat-glove colored shape apparent where the right side of her ribcage would be—or if it is similarly on the floor, obstructed from view, hidden by their bodies). Maybe DC has a rule book somewhere that says Batman can touch women’s erogenous zones, but only with his penis, never with his hands.

That, or maybe there’s some more logical rule about not putting potentially parent-perturbing imagery on the cover, but an acknowledgement that much more can be gotten away with on the insides of the book. (Although I kind of doubt it).

The scene raises questions, some of the funnier ones have already been asked by Abhay Khosla in his “7 Questions About Images on the Internet of the Final Pages of Catwoman #1” post at Savage Critics.

My initial reaction was to open up my document marked “links” and type out “It never occurred to me until I saw an image of Batman and Catwoman doing it while still dressed in their bat and cat costumes, but as people who dress like animals and do it, they are essentially furries, huh?” and post it on Sunday as part of a weekly link-blogging post like this one.

But I keep reading about the scene, and thus can’t stop thinking about it and while, like Khosla, I kind of worry about that fact, at the same time I realize it’s perfectly natural for people who devote a large portion of their lives to reading, thinking and writing about comic books to read, think and write about what those comic books might be saying.

Here are a couple of links, beyond the ones provided above:

DC Women Kicking Ass groups it with a perceived trend of super-ladies being reduced to male heroes’ allies-with-benefits in “The New 52”

The Beat hopes that fans and readers don’t let questionable/gross portrayals of characters like Catwoman screwing Batman outweigh or eclipse positive portrayals of characters like Wonder Woman in really good comics like Wonder Woman #1

Don MacPherson notes that in context the scene makes Batman seem like a real creep in his thorough review of Catwoman #1

Tom Spurgeon links back to some of those same pieces (the comics blogosphere isn’t just an ouroboros, it’s a Gordian knot tied of ouroboros instead of ropes), and notes the difference between sex scenes as plot points and sex scenes as part of a story, contrasting the Winick/March scene with the Ed Brubaker-written Catwoman run.

And here’s me going where that image all but pushes me:

1.) Is that last panel, of a fully-clothed Catwoman riding a fully clothed Batman who seems to be doing some sort of tricep push-up really the best they can do?

I think Guillem March is a great artist, and I’ve been pretty bummed out by the fact that he’s usually paired with writers I don’t like and or put on projects I’m not that interested in, because I love looking at his art.

So I kind of have to assume Winick wrote a script describing the positioning and so forth, but then, Winick is an artist too. Not as good an artist as March, and, I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t even draw anymore, but I have a hard time believing that was the best these two could come up with for a Batman/Catwoman sex scene.

They couldn’t have done something for subtle, more sophisticated, more evocative? Something with shadows or sillhouettes or tight close-ups of hands gripping sheets or a suggestive close-up of a catsuit zipper coming down or a dramatic pull-away while the narration suggest what’s going to happen next or…something other than that weird image that looks like a Google Image result for Catwoman + Batman + sex (Don’t google that!).

So I guess it was a deliberate choice by…someone, presumably to provoke this kind of response from the Internet and maybe sell some more issues, or at least keep people talking about another aspect for “The New 52” for another day or two or maybe just talking about this book instead of one of the other books (Catwoman and Red Hood are certainly getting more buzz this week than, say, DC Presents #1). Even All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder, one of the least subtle comics of the 21st century, by Frank Miller and Jim Lee, two creators no one would ever accuse of being too subtle, had a scene of Batman having costumed super-sex with a fellow super-type, and that was infinitely more subtle (Note the thunder and lightning above; and it's still more subtle than Catwoman!).

In that scene, Batman used his cape as some sort of privacy tent for he and Black Canary while they did it on dirty dock somewhere, and Miller and Lee used shadow and post-coital pulling costumes back on to signify what went down. I remember mentioning them making-out on a dock in my review of the issue, and commenters had to point out that they did more than make out.

2.) Catwoman is rated “T+”, which means it’s “appropriate for readers age 16 and older… may contain moderate violence, mild profanity, graphic imagery and/or suggestive themes.” I suppose that sounds about right in terms of sexual content, although the violence ratings seem off (T+ affords only “moderate” violence and T “mild” violence? Was the end of T-rated Detective Comics #1 mild?).

If the creators are going to go for full-page splashes of Batman and Catwoman doing it, why not just go ahead and rate the thing “M” and publish a comic book that’s actually for adults and completely honest with everyone about its target audience? Why would you want to publish, much less create, a scene like this for sixteen-year-olds instead of for adults exclusively?

If the plan is to make a sexy, sexy Catwoman totally having sex with Batman in as unambiguous terms as that panel and that narration reveals, just go for it, okay? Rate this sucker “M,” let Catwoman and Batman take their costumes all the way off, let’s see their naked butts and Catwoman’s breasts, let’s go full-on softcore kissing and fondling and foreplay, huh?

If comics are for grown-ups, if this particular comic is for grown-ups, if it’s to titillate grown-ups, that is perfectly okay, but why not go ahead and actually make it for grown-ups, all official-like, and go all the way with it?

This is just so…weird and gross. At least to me. Weirder and grosser than a porn comic would be, to be honest (although the only porn comics I’ve actually read were by Colleen Coover and Brandon Graham, and those are some great cartoonists) and certainly infinitely weirder and grosser than any sex scene I’ve seen in a Vertigo comic or a grown-up “art” comic created by and for grown-ups.

3.) I haven’t been reading any of the Bat-books in the new continuity yet, so I have no idea what has changed and what hasn’t, continuity-wise. I assume Catwoman and Batman still know one another’s secret identities, as that’s been pretty clearly established for a while now and Batman Inc is supposedly still in-continuity.

Is that the case? Because if they don’t know one another’s secret identities any more, that scene is pretty damn creepy. And gross.

4.) I'm saying "creepy" and "gross" a lot here. Also creepy and gross? Look at Batman's face. Oh God look at Batman's sex face! Aaaaa! And why is Catwoman still wearing her goggles...? Oh God--! I hate this image!

5.) Also, and I hate myself and Judd Winick and DC for thinking of this at all, but if Catwoman doesn’t know his secret identity any more (as suggested by the mask-wearing), what does Batman do about his…DNA evidence…?

6.) Also also, while being on top seems well within Catwoman's character, I have a hard time imagining a control freak and weirdo fetishist like Batman letting her be on top during sex. It seems like something they'd argue about.

7.) Also also also, I've yet to get around to writing about Batman: The Widening Gyre which was one of the worst, weirdest and grossest DC Comics I've ever read, one that was so bafflingly I-can't-believe-they-published-this that I haven't been able to convince myself to wrap my head around it and write about it for a blog entry, even though I read it months ago. It is such an...odd comic that I suspect it was one of the motivating factors convincing DC they had to reboot their universe, because they couldn't let that story stand (Cry For Justice, Infinite Crisis and Rise of Arsenal are other suspects for straws that broke the DCU camel's back). Batman's sexual prowess is under constant discussion in the book, in which Silver St. Cloud reveals that their first night together she had at least ten orgasms, and there's one terrible, terrible scene where Batman goes to tell Catwoman he's engaged to Silver and they end up totally doing it. I thought all of that—including the weird scene where Batman cheats on Silver with Catwoman in a horribly-staged couple of panels in which Batman pretty much just jumps Catwoman's bones—was the wrongest Batman story I could imagine. That coupling of the characters now seems tasteful compared to this.

8.) Is there a panel involving a condom, or mention of whether or not they should use one? Or of birth control? I would assume that Batman is the sort that would always use a condom (probably with a Bat-symbol on it). I would hope that a Batman comic book involving on-panel sex scenes of this sort geared toward high school students would involve discussion of safe sex. I mean, the JLI and other DC second-stringers were preaching the importance of safe sex back in the early ‘90s. I’d hate to think the publisher is less concerned with safe sex now than it was then—or more scared of pissing off the abstinence-only crowd than they were 20 years ago.

9.) I sincerely hope the trade collection includes Winick’s script for the first issue. I really want to know where that tweaking of Batman’s ear came from, and who made the decisions for staging that last panel and how exactly.

Okay! Now to go take a shower!

*Okay, Dan DiDio and Jim Lee didn’t call me up and ask me to or anything. Obviously. But the provocative scene in question begs for attention

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meanwhile, at Robot 6...

This gut wound is rated "T" for Teen.

Okay, honestly I don't care all that much about all the red, sticky stuff on display in Wonder Woman #1, which I discuss at great length over at Robot 6 today, but I think it's worth noting that there's a lot of it (In addition to the above, there's a scene of—spoiler alert!—a horse getting its head chopped off for an admittedly cool monster-summoning scene, and—another spoiler alert!—Wonder Woman Geoff Johns-ing an opponent).

Putting aside questions of whether or not it's too much, or not enough or just right for a Wonder Woman comic (according to the comments thread, Robot 6 readers are a bloodthirsty lot), it's a pretty clear signal from the creators and company regarding the tone and direction of the book.

All that talk about pursuing a new audience with "The New 52" and whatnot? It was seemingly just talk. Unlike, say, George O'Connor's The Olympians comics for First Second, this isn't really an all-ages comic so much as the next issue of Wonder Woman, with the same sort of PG-13-to-R-rated level of violence and gore that is the baseline for DCU comics. It's not egregious or exploitive or anything, but it is there instead of not there, and that's where some of my disappointment came in. Wonder Woman #1 is a great comic, but its a great comic for the same audience as the last five years worth of not-so-great Wonder Woman comics.

And Wonder Woman is still, apparently, in the same violent, Kingdom Come-inspired anti-hero mode that I discussed at length in this previous post (about writer Marc DiPaolo's discussion of her in his book War, Politics and Superheroes), instead of being restored to something more closely resembling the "real" Wonder Woman of the initial half-dozen or so years of her career.

Anyway, go read the post if you'd like to experience a few billion more words of me talking about Wonder Woman. And read Wonder Woman #1 if you want to read a pretty well written, pretty brilliantly drawn fantasy comic (Even if it's not the transcendent one I was hoping against hope to get). But if you want to read the very best Wonder Woman comics, I'm afraid DC's expensive Archives editions are still the best bet.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Comic shop comics: September 21

Daredevil #4 (Marvel Entertainment) In this issue Marcos Martin returns after a two-issue absences. But since Paolo Rivera is the other pencil artists, Daredevil is the rare book where it doesn't really matter which artist shows up, as they're both great—and compatibly so.

The book opens with a great three-page sequence, with two 15-panel pages in which Martin, colorist Muntsa Vicente and letterer Joe Caramagna attempting to replicated how the action would be perceived through the eyes of the protagonist—a blind man with a unique sixth-sense—before exploding into a full-page splash.

It's probably the most effective splash I've seen since Frank Miller and Jim Lee's introduction of Black Canary in All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder.

It's so basic, Comic Book Making 101, really: Building up suspense gradually, so that when the climax comes if feels like a climax because the scene earned it. By contrast, old hand Jim Lee, who drew that All-Star Batman splash I mentioned, tossed out two-page splashes after three panel pages in his recent Justice League #1 and it felt lazy, lacking the oomph of the third page of Martin and company's Daredevil.

Like I say, the sequence isn't all that sensational or revolutionary—it's basically just Comics 101, but it feels so special because almost everyone else in super-comics dropped out of school.

Oh, and the next 17 pages? Just as brilliant. I love the panel after Daredevil gets out of the...unique situation he found himself in during the first scene, the relief with which he jumps into a hail of bullets aimed at his face, or the scene where he hurls himself into a burning building...? Wow.

I can think of at least 52 titles that are getting more attention than Daredevil is at the moment. I can't think of one that is deserving of attention though.

Tiny Titans #44 (DC Comics) While everything's new new new at DC this month, Tiny Titans is one of a handful of books completely untouched. Why mess with perfection?

In this issue, Beast Boy is reunited with the Doom Patrol, the four of whom are all crossing guards in Sidekick City, and each of whom makes it progressively more difficult for the Tiny Titans to cross the street. Here are headshots of Baltazar's Doom Patrol, from the roll call-like character key on the title page:The last story in this issue is an extended flashback to the young Doom Patrol's temporary custodian ship of baby Beast Boy (Beast Baby...?)

Wonder Woman #1 (DC) I'm not going to review this here, as I have a lot to say, and think I'll say it best elsewhere in the very near future. For now, if you're simply looking for should-I-check-it-out-or-not type advice, please not that it's pretty good, but isn't the sort of wholesale reinvention of the wheel that DC's reboot/relaunch could theoretically afforded the character—a character who so badly needs wholesale reinvention—this is more of a, um, tune-up of that wheel by skilled mechanics, rotating your tires and scrubbing the whitewalls until they look newer and cleaner than they have since you don't know when.

The first volumes of two books from Viz's Shojo Beat line

Kamisama Kiss Vol. 1 by Julietta Suzuki: I was initially tempted to view this as something akin to a shojo version of Rumiko Takashi’s super-successful shonen series Inu-Yasha, as both star young, dark-haired high school girls who meet and then embark on love/hate relationship with hunky supernatural boys with canine ears, constantly crossing paths with folkloric spirits during their adventures.

That’s a pretty gross oversimplification of both series, however, and they diverge pretty quickly and pretty drastically, despite some pretty obvious superficial similarities. Kamisama Kiss stars set-upon Nanami, nicknamed “Broke-Nami” by her classmates because she lives on the edge of poverty, thanks to her gambling-addicted father. When he ups and leaves her the day before they were set to be evicted from her apartment, she finds her self suddenly homeless in a park.

There she chances upon a mysterious young man who offers her a place to stay. When she arrives at the appointed place, however, she finds a run-down temple, occupied by only two near-identical little spirits in masks and a handsome if cold fox-spirit (That's him on the cover with the ears). She can live at the temple, but she has to work to earn her room and board, and that work involves becoming the local god of the temple, with all that entails, particularly healing and answering prayers.

As this is a relationship shrine, where people go to pray for help in their relationships, manga-ka Suzuki gets the opportunity to get pretty girly in the contents, with Nanami acting as a supernaturally-sponsored matchmaker, and even giving a local catsfish spirit a makeover in order to help her go on a date with a human boy.

It’s quite steeped in Japanese folklore, with the majority of the characters encountered being yokai of some sorts, and it’s got a couple of grabby hooks, including he contentious relationship between Nanami and fox spirit Tomoe, and Nanami'sstruggles to become a successful god, even if she is only a human girl.

It took me a while to warm to it, but by the conclusion, as Nanami embarked on her first attempt at matchmaking, I was excited to see what happens next.

Library Wars: Love and War Vol. 1 by Kiiro Yumi: This is actually a manga adaptation of a series of prose “light novels” from Japan by Hiro Arikawa (with light novel being the equivalent of a Young Adult novel stateside). I was attracted to this by the title, given the fact that I’ve worked in libraries off and on in order to buy enough food to stay alive while trying to be a freelance writer and incredibly infrequent comics creator, but the premise is pretty neat: At some point in near-future Japan, the federal governent has set up some sort of Media Betterment Committee, which purges books they find objectionable from society, confiscating them and keeping them out of the hands of readers. The local governments support armed forces to oppose the MBC, a sort of military force dedicated to defending books, bookstores and libraries...with force, if necessary.

Our heroine Iku Kasahara is training with the Library Defense Force, and is eventually selected as part of a special task force that combines the skills and duties of being a librarian with those being a member of the combat forces. I didn’t quite understand the exact parameters of the political conflict, as it seems like an extremely specific sort of almost-civil war in which the populace in general sits it out...or they don’t really have any stakes or passions and thus don’t take any sides. (I don’t know that this is necessarily a weakness of the manga, though; this is could have simply have been a symptom of the manga being specifically geared to those who have already read the books, as a sort of supplement).

Like Kamisama Kiss, Library Wars has two major conflicts of the same nature: Kasahara has an aspirational conflict of being an excellent member of the library task force, as well as a romantic one, with her immediate superior and mentor Dojo, with whom she seesaws between constantly bickering and seeing something special within.

In her case, the two conflicts may be related, as she became interested in joining the library forces after a chance, childhood encounter with a heroic man who saved her and a book from sinister government confiscators, and became her “prince" in her eyes. Naturally she can’t remember his name, or even face, so there’s a good chance it’s actually Dojo, who, now that she's an adult and now that she knows him for something other than a single heroic act, doesn’t live up to the ideal she formed around that mystery man long ago (That's my guess anyway, based on years of reading manga. Maybe Dojo and "the prince" are two entirely different people).

My own personal background makes the fantasy aspect of the book—librarians who go through army movie-style basic training—and I think there's something here that should (or at least could) appeal to most bibliophiles, but I didn't see a whole lot in the work to make me too curious about seeing what happens in volume 2. It's decent work to be sure, but there's nothing to it that really differentiates it from the deluge of available translated manga, so I'd be more likely to pick up something with a sharper hook, more unique characters and situations or more stylized and individualistic art the next time I reach for something from the manga shelf at my local library. Where no one wears a uniform or carries a gun. But that would be kinda cool if they did.

Monday, September 19, 2011

DC's December previews reviewed

December! Month four of the New DCU! Will the excitement from this month's slew of 52 new #1's have faded by then and, if so, how much? I don't know! I do know what DC is planning on releasing that month though, and what they have to say about them, and you can know that same information by clicking here.

On sale DECEMBER 7 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T
This issue will ship with three covers. See the order form for more information._Is your mind prepared for an encounter with the deadly Terminauts? What awful master do they serve? What horrible fate awaits Superman and the city of Metropolis? The true scope of Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ ACTION COMICS run begins to come into view, so get those sunglasses ready, ‘cause it is gonna be blinding! And in a backup story from writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and artist Matt Camp that spins out of ACTION COMICS #2, John Henry Irons takes his first steps toward becoming the hero known as Steel!

Good to hear Steel survived the reboot—I hope he hasn’t changed too much, either visually or in his origin story, as he was pretty perfect the way he was, particularly for a Big Two superhero created in the last decade of the 20th century. Steel managed to feel classic while still being new, which is an extremely difficult thing to pull off.

The art credits are a little worrying. If Camp is drawing the Steel back-up, does that mean Ha and Bryant are both helping Morales out in the lead story...? Although I generally like Ha's work, I don't think his style meshes all that well with Morales. We'll see, I guess.

Fuck yeah, animated-style Ragman!

As you can probably tell by the cover, this issue is a very special Hanukah story.

As curious as I am about Neal Adams’ Batman: Odyssey comics, part of me kind of doesn’t want to ever read them, leaving it to my imagination to puzzle out what on Earth they could possibly be about, based only on their insane covers. I mean, just look at that thing. Can the contents possibly match it?

Written by JUDD WINICK
On sale DECEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
As Massacre’s bloody reign of murder continues and more heroes fall, Batwing closes in on this mad villain. But with his memories stirring, Batwing’s dark past begins to emerge... At last, the truth of his past will come to light.

I've been reading professional skeptic Joe Nickell's 2004 book The Mystery Chronicles: More Real-Life X-Files, and there's a chapter devoted to the Zanzibar demon, also known as the "popobawa." Writes Nickell:
The scene is modern-day Zanzibar, where a terrible swooping into bedrooms at night and raping men—particularly skeptical men. The demonic beast's name comes from the Swahili words for bat and wing, and indeed the creature is described as having, in addition to a dwarf's body with a single cyclopean eye, small pointed ears, and batlike wings and talons. According to local villagers, it is especially prone to attack "anybody who doesn't believe."
Not that any of that has anything to do with this title, of course, but while I was reading it I thought about this comic book.

Now what’s Batgirl wearing…?

Hey, is DC allowed to do cyborg gorillas? I’m pretty sure Todd McFarlane owns that idea. And I’m positive Rob Liefeld owns any guns larger than four feet long.

On sale DECEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
Deathstroke incarcerated! As the world’s fiercest mercenary is shipped off to a metahuman prison, Slade uncovers a new wrinkle in his quest to root out the forces working to manipulate him – and the Blackhawks may be a part of it! Also, what exactly is in the briefcase? The answer will shock you!

Ving Rhames’ soul…?

I still love this cover.

Written by JEFF LEMIRE
Cover by J.G. JONES
On sale DECEMBER 14 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
“Monster Planet” comes to its world-shattering conclusion as Frankenstein and Nina take on the massive Sea Monster, while Lady Frankenstein and the rest of the Creature Commandos go head to head with the colossal Ogre Titan. Plus: Don’t miss the debut of the G.I. Robot Squadron and the new War Wheel!

I’m sick of G.I. Robots.

That’s a pretty neat cover.

On sale DECEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
It’s a Tokyo showdown! At an international tech expo that caters to the likes of WayneTech and Queen Industries, party crasher Green Arrow finds himself in the sights of a mystery woman bent on taking down “evil” corporations – like the one Green Arrow owns!

Wow, that is one large lady.

I think this is the first creative change to a series since the first issue of that series debuted, with writer JT Krul—the writer of the previous volume of Green Arrow and the first three issues of the "New 52" reboot—being replaced with Giffen and Jurgens. Now, neither of those guys are exactly fresh, new talents at DC, as they’ve literally been writing and drawing stories for the publisher for decades now, but they each have their followings, and, if involved since Green Arrow #1, probably would have represented a clean break with the previous volume and previous direction in a way that retaining Krul didn’t.

It’s certainly a headscratcher as to why the creative shuffle so soon after the relaunch, when DC can’t possibly have even seen the sales results of Krul's one-issue (so far) run and thus can't be making the decision for economic reasons. Was he just keeping the writer’s role warm until the very busy Giffen and Jurgens freed up time to take over? And, if so, what does that say about how much thought went into recreating Green Arrow and who was responsible for that recreation…?

UPDATE: For what it's worth, Blog@'s been following the change, and shares what Krul had to say about it. Sounds like he was going to start a third DC project, and three was too many, so DC had two of their prolific creators step in.

I kinda like the idea of this cover as a visual, as it dramatically clashes to familiar images that don't really belong together (Hawkman, the Statue of Liberty), but I’m not sure why it’s cropped like that, so it confuses me more than excites me.

Say, should David Finch be doing these variant covers if he’s having trouble writing and drawing his own book...? In addition to this one, he provides the one for Birds of Prey, above.

Looks like Aquaman needs to shave. And give Mera back her necklace. And not make eye contact with Justice League variant cover artist Brett Booth when he's trying to draw him posed dramatically over Green Lantern.

On sale DECEMBER 14 • 32 pg, 1 of 4, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
Get ready for a brand new Ray! Lucien Gates’s life is changed forever when he is struck by a mysterious beam of energy that turns him into a glowing gladiator – and being a human ray of light comes in handy when his city is suddenly under attack from giant, building-sized monsters. Unfortunately, light powers are less than handy in keeping his girlfriend happy!

A new Ray series from the writers responsible for two not-very-good miniseries featuring new and old takes on the Ray characters, and a quickly-canceled ongoing series featuring The Ray! Fourth time’s the charm? Sure! The problem with those other books? In addtion to their ensemble casts, those Rays were just too darn familiar, and their costumes weren’t nearly ugly enough!

Cover by BUTCH GUICE_On sale JANUARY 11 • 336 pg, FC, $29.99 US
Issues #1-14 of the cult favorite series is collected at last!_Mitch Shelley can be killed, but every time he comes back, he has a different power – a new ability that sometimes is a blessing, sometimes a deadly curse._His deaths and rebirths leave him disoriented, but with the help of a new friend, Mitch discovers bits of his past, although the origin of his powers remains a mystery. Meanwhile, Resurrection Man’s creators have set the ruthless female assassins called the Body Doubles on his trail. Also pursuing Mitch is a sociopath named Hooker, a test survivor like Mitch with one big difference: Hooker’s body is not repairing itself.

This collects the first half of the original 28-issue series. It's really good comics, and guest stars the Morrison/Porter era JLA, Batman and Ennis and McCrea's Tommy Monaghan from Hitmanand a "Genesis" tie-in that I don't remember at all, but there are a whole bunch of Parademons on one cover

Art and cover by MIGUEL SEPULVEDA
On sale DECEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T
The earth is being eaten alive! As the unstoppable alien antibody continues consuming everything in its path, Stormwatch awakens a slumbering [information redacted] buried deep within the earth. But has the team found an ally or a threat greater than the antibody? However it plays out, the DC landscape literally will be changed forever! Plus: Don’t miss a major change to the Stormwatch roster!

Wait wait wait wait wait wait. J’onn’s new costume doesn’t include a loin cloth, does it…?

On sale DECEMBER 7 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED T+
All across the world, those with a primal connection to the forces of life and death can feel that something is very wrong. The war between The Green andThe Other has begun, and the knights of decay walk the Earth unchecked – but without Alec Holland, the Green has no champion strong enough to fight back!

That’s a pretty swell cover, but I see the artist who produced it isn’t doing interiors this issue. That’s kinda too bad. How long did Paquette make it without needing a fill-in then... just three issues?

That’s not very good.

Voodoo’s boobs are just silly.