Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Comic shop comics: September 19

Catwoman #0 (DC Comics) While the #0 issues of DC's "Zero Month" have been presented as perfect jumping-on points, this is the first one I've picked up out of curiosity about a title (In general, if I'm at all curious about a New 52 DC book, I've been waiting for the trade, and thus haven't been impulsively picking up #0 issues). This is the first issue by new series writer Ann Nocenti, and Catwoman's a character I know and like well enough to try something new featuring her (I've previously read patches of the Jim Balent-drawn series, depending on who was writing the arcs in question, and some of the Brubaker-written series, depending on who was drawing the arcs in question).

This issue, cheekily entitled "Zip Me Up" is...weird. It jumps around quite a bit in time, and features very little that is recognizably Catwoman-y, with the exception of importing part of the origin of the Batman Returns version of Catwoman (specifically, the being thrown off a building by a dude and then licked awake by alley cats bit).

This Selina Kyle has a lot of backstory, a lot of it new to me (and, I think, to the character) and Nocenti covers it by jumping around, backwards and forward in time. This Selina Kyle may not really be named Selina Kyle (her real name is Russian, apparently...?), has a brother, grew up in foster care with a Fagin-like foster mother who ran a kid gang and eventually got a job as a sort of assistant social planner for the mayor. After being licked back to life by cats, she made a cat hat out of the awning that broke her fall (the shape of the cartoon, person-shaped hole she created in it suggesting her future alias), practiced with the bullwhip, and then became Catwoman in order to find out her true identity or whatever.

It's certainly...different. Gone is the controversial, Frank Miller-added element of being a prostitute, and gone to is her being inspired to dress up as a cat by seeing a man dressed up as a bat. This origin is completely divorced from Batman, which I can see some online female fans liking, but, at the same time, seems like it might not be that true to the character, given her origin as a Batman villain (although maybe in the New 52 she was never more than a thief with a heart of gold, and never went through a Batman villain phase...?)

Unexplained here is how she got to be a an expert fighter, but perhaps Nocenti will cover that later (or previous Catwoman writer Judd Winick already covered all that?) or came to meet Batman and apparently ultimately become his semi-anonymous fuck-buddy, as seen at the climax of last fall's Catwoman #1.

The script didn't blow me away or anything, but it wasn't so bad that I won't try another issue.

The art work is by pencil artist Adriana Melo and inker Julio Ferreira, and that is rather disappointing. The storytelling mechanics are fine, but the artwork is rather pedestrian when compared to the artists I've previously seen drawing Catwoman's first year (David Mazzucchelli in Batman: Year One, Tim Sale in The Long HalloweenDark Victory and Jim Balent in Catwoman Annual #2) or the artists who were drawing the beginning of other noteworthy runs (Balent on the 1993 series, Darwyn Cooke on the 2002 series, Guillem March on the current series).

The "Who's Who" section is a bit skimpy, with plenty of white space below its single paragraph, which ends with the sentence, "Catwoman's recent induction into the Justice League of America should only make this situation more contentious." I...didn't know that happened yet....?

Oh, one more weird thing? Catwoman starts out here career with the costume she's wearing on the cover of this issue. That means all those other cool, occasionally crazy costumes she wore over the course of her (five-year, now) career never existed in the New 52iverse. She's always worn goggles and a cat hat over a functional cat suit. And that's it.

I've been flipping though some other #0 issues in the shop the last few weeks, and was quite surprised to see the Dick Grayson version of Robin and the Jason Todd version of Robin wearing drastically different costumes than the ones they did in the old DCU. Like, that original Robin costume? It never existed. No one ever wore green shorts in the DC Universe.

That's...well, I've already said weird, haven't I? But I can't really get over how weird that is.

Daredevil #18 (Marvel Entertainment) Well damn, Paolo Rivera sure knocked this cover out of the park.

It's another issue by Mark Waid and new series artist Chris Samnee, one that therefore has the same virtues of their previous issues. There's little to nothing I can say about it without risking giving away some of the surprises, at least one of which will probably mean more to long-time DD readers than it did to me.

Suffice it to say we get almost half an issue free of the title character in costume doing superhero stuff, with some welcome attention being paid to Foggy Nelson an intriguing mystery, before we're given a few more examples of Daredevil maybe being completely insane, as that bit with his father's remains winding up in a desk drawer without his knowledge seemed to suggest.

So I guess that's two mysteries, which may or may not be related.

This is still the best superhero comic I've been able to find, and I've looked.

Wonder Woman #0 (DC) I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised that these zero issues—of which this is only the third I've read, after Green Lantern and the above-discussed Catwoman—seem to be about as hastily-thrown together and not any more thought-through then the 52 new #1s that DC relaunched their universe with last year.

I guess my understanding—and this could be down to my own expectations being off as much as anything else—was that DC was going to throw us into their new universe and it's rebooted continuity in medias res, and then use these special zero issues to fill in some of the blanks regarding what has changed with the reboot.

The end of this particular #0, however, when they get to the advertorial "Who's Who In The New 52!" feature is comical in its lack of specificity. Wonder Woman's powers are limited to "Wonder Woman is one of the strongest heroes in the universe as well as being nearly invulnerable." Huh. So, super-speed? Ability to talk to animals? I think I recall something about a magic lasso? What's up with that stuff? Hell, can she fly or can't she? (In her own title, we've yet to see her fly under her own power, save for the previous issue's Hermes/Mercury/Messenger-gifted flight; I didn't read enough Justice League to see if she ever flew in that or not).

As for her "History," we get this amusing verbal equivalent of whoever was writing the damn thing sort of shrugging and looking confused:
Although the exact sequence of events is still unverified, Diana Chose to leave her people and travel to the world of men with USAF Pilot Steve Trevor, who had crash-landed on paradise Island. Diana returned to the United States with Trevor and took the name Wonder Woman.
It's only been 13 months, you guys! They'll decide on an origin story eventually; just not in time for this origin issue.

Between that and the cover is a story by the regular creative team of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, which is a sort of half-assed attempt at replicating an older comic book.

"The Monthly monster strikes again!" a narration box tells us, referring, I suppose, to a different monthly monster than the one I thought of, and thus this story is a reprint of one from the charmingly entitled All-Girl Adventure Tales for Men #41, a book I sincerely hope DC launches in their upcoming fourth wave of "New 52" titles, as it certainly sounds like a book DC might publish (and if they change that from for Men for Men, by Men it would be a perfect title for a modern DC comic book).

There are nods to old-school comics, including thought bubbles, overly-obvious dialogue ("Diana, it is I, Queen Hippolyta--your mother!") and a conspiratorial, Marvel-style editorial note attached to an asterisk.

Otherwise, Azzarello's comic script doesn't really read like a reprint of an old-school monthly comic, as it is set over years, and makes several time jumps.

Chiang's artwork is as lovely as always, but the key word there is "as always;" he doesn't modulate his style at all (nor does the colorist) to make this look like the sort of book from an era where some of Azzarello's old-schooledness signifiers might have been used, perhaps the only aspect of the art suggesting a pre-millennial superhero comic being the adorable boy shorts that the minotaur wears to protect his modesty:
(If you look at this cover Chiang drew for the issue before he knew DC was doing that thing where the character's rip through black-and-white panels from their books, you can see a minotaur not wearing little shorts, which seems more in keeping with the general aesthetic of Azzarello and Chiang's Wonder Woman)

The story? Tween Diana, wearing a more functional, realistic version of her old Wonder Girl costume, is taken under the wing of the Olympian god War (who would have been Ares in the old Wonder Woman comics, before Azzarello gave the gods new names), who hopes to make her the ultimate warrior and, perhaps one day, his successor. She takes to her lessons, but eventually discovers a key difference between her own philosophy regarding combat and that of War's...a difference I'd kinda wish she'd live up to more often in the comics she usually appears in, as it's kind of rare to see her showing mercy to a foe anymore.

All in all, it's a fine comic book, with superior art work, but the attempt at a pastiche is never more than half-hearted, and while it's fun to see a classic Wonder Girl story—as in, the adventures of Wonder Woman when she was a girl—it certainly doesn't do anything to clear up the weird black hole of DC's characters' histories, which is kind of the stated goal for these zero issues.

I do hope that next fall DC has a #-1 month, as maybe then we'll get a New 52 Wonder Tot adventure.


matthew. said...

"It's only been 13 months, you guys! They'll decide on an origin story eventually; just not in time for this origin issue."

I think you've perfectly articulated the haphazard storytelling that DC has been engaged in for the past year. There seems to be little logic to what is retained in the reimagining and what is excised. The sheer ineptitude of the editorial staff and above has been unequivocally transparent to readers and even creators this past year.

Why should I even bother giving my money to DC's gang of idiots? It's a reverse meritocracy; it's an idiocracy!

Jeff said...

I loved this issue. This (and MAYBE Batman and Morrison's Action, but less so...) goes right up there with the first books I read each month--The Rocketeer, Manhattan Projects, BPRD, Glory, Prophet, Saga, The Goon... Wonderfully different stuff from Brian Azzarello.