Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Comic shop comics: July 10th (Plus, Batwoman Vol. 1, because there were like no comics out this week)

Batwoman Vol. 1: Hydrology (DC Comics) It was a light week. A very, very light week so I bought a trade I had been meaning to buy for a while. Batwoman fell into that category of trades I wait for but then might not read for years and years, as it's one I know I'll like probably enough to own, and so I sit out the serially-published singles, waiting for the trade, and I refuse to borrow the eventual trade from the library, waiting until I have the money and inclination to pick up the trade for myself (In this case, I was somewhat hesitant as I don't think I finished all of the Greg Rucka/J.H. Williams III Batwoman comics from their short 2010 run in Detective Comics, which have since been collected in a trade with no volume number, entitled Batwoman: Elegy.

So this trade, Hydrology, is interesting in that it collects an early 2011 Hey, remember Batwoman still exists and we're gonna publish a monthly series like we promised five years ago someday, we swear! #0 issue (and second #0 issue would follow the next year) from before the launch of "The New 52" line and universe, and then the first five issues of the series from after it's September 2011 launch as part of "The New 52."

It is written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, with Williams providing the bulk of the visuals (The #0 issue he splits art duties with Amy Redder and Richard Friend, and, for reasons unfathomable to me, letterer Todd Klein gives both Batman and Bruce Wayne their own, distinct narration box styles, even though the narration is presented as an investigation of Batwoman; Batman tails her in his costume, while Bruce Wayne tails her civilian identity in a variety of disguises).

As a story, it is remarkable in the degree to which it completely ignores the New 52 reboot. Even the the least rebooted franchises (Batman and Green Lantern) had some tweaks, like more lines in their costumes. The only changes here are this weird images where Williams or and/or colorist Dave Stewart alters a crowd scene of Batman, Inc members so that the costumes or characters that don't exist anymore look like they're being incinerated by lightning.
Otherwise? Kate Kane's wearing the exact same costume. She's still tangling with the were-people offshoot of the religion of crime from the weekly series 52 and Greg Rucka's millennial run on Detective Comics. Batman's still got Batman, Inc going (this would have been in the months between the cancellation of the first volume of the title and the launch of the second as a New 52 replacement series), Superman supporting character Maggie Sawyer is still around from back when Rucka was writing for the Bat-office, Renee Montoya still exists, fucking Flamebird still exists (despite their never having been a Teen Titans...?), Agent Chase Cameron and Director Bones from the DEO (seen in the short-lived 1998 series) are still around (although presumable Bones wouldn't have been part of an Infinity Inc team, which wouldn't have/shouldn't have existed in the New 52) and, of course, the plot of this graphic novel continues directly from the events of the Rucka/Williams TEC stories in Elegy.

As far as I've read then, this is the first of The New 52 comics to almost completely ignore the New 52 and pick up right where it left off, heavily reliant on the old continuity.

Oh wait, they made Stewart color Commissioner Gordon's hair and mustache red instead of gray; I guess that's a bow to the new continuity.

Is that a drawback? I don't know; it sure seems to run counter to the goal of the New 52, but it's not that hard to follow, and Williams' and Reeder's art is so goddam pretty—you can argue that a lot of the storytelling choices here are overly-byzantine and made more for baroque showiness than clarity, but you can't argue the images themselves aren't gorgeous—I think that more than makes up for it.

On the writing side, it's a little pedestrian, and a little far removed from a Gotham City Bat-story (When not dealing with were-creatures, Batwoman is pursuing a ghost that kidnaps children and drowns victims with her super-tears) but, again, art this good goes a long way. It's easy to imagine this same story being awful if drawn by, I don't know, Eddy Barrows or David Finch or Tony Daniel or whoever they've got drawing TEC this month, but Williams' solid character design and figure work and constant experimenting with lighting and texture keep each page exciting.

I was a little surprised—pleasantly so—how much female flesh there is in this book, as when in costume Kate is essentially naked, being maybe the only female heroine who looks like an anatomically correct female when she's wearing latex or spandex or black spray-paint or whatever her costume's made out of (Also surprising? The scene where Maggie Sawyer goes down on Kate while her sidekick is in the process of being brutally murdered...though she does pull through).

I also greatly enjoyed seeing Maggie Sawyer pursue Kate romantically while also trying to arrest Batwoman, all while she and Kate repeatedly talk about what a great detective Sawyer is. Batwoman and Kate Kane both have skin so white she seems more like a mime or a drowning victim than simply pale, and both have red hair (Batwoman's is a few inches longer). Not being suspicious that the two are one in the same is a lot like the people of Star City electing Oliver Queen mayor without being suspicious that he and Green Arrow are the only big, fit, blonds with goofy van dyke beards in the 21st century.

Anyway, this is good, great art elevating okay scripting to all-around good status. And, somewhat to my surprise, it looks like it's actually one of those "refuge" comics for folks leery of The New 52, along with Legends of the Dark Knight, Adventures of Superman, Wonder Woman and, um, and I missing any others...?

Hawkeye #12 (Marvel Entertainment) Another issue of Hawkeye, another issue in which Clint Barton barely appears. This is one of the sans-Aja issues, but, as with every time they've published and Aja-less issue, they've got a hell of a fill-in artist. Here, it's Francesco Francavilla.

This story follows Clint's older brother Barney, whom I had never heard of before the recap page, and who is apparently also really good at shooting bows and arrows, but is now a hobo. A hobo! I knew this book was missing something! (Shame on Francavilla for giving him a dufflebag instead of a bindle stick though).

Barney Barton is coming to visit his brother (who does own an apartment building, and Grills' place just opened up, so he really should hood a brother up) and runs afoul of those guys who say "bro." Along the way, we get flashbacks to the Barton boys' childhood, which apparently sucked. I didn't know that either.
But then, before reading this series, all I knew about Hawkeye was that he was kind of like Green Arrow in a purple costume with a loincloth and his initial on his forehead like an idiotic version of Captain America.

SpongeBob Comics #22 (United Plankton Pictures) Hey, did you know that artist Maris Wicks' day job is in programming at the New England Aquarium? It's true! That might explain her extra-long installment of the "Flotsam and Jetsam: Ocean Facts" in this issue, a four-page, full-color educational piece about coral reefs.

But don't worry, there is still plenty of silliness from some of the greatest cartoonists making comics today, including three strips written by Joey Weiser (one of which Weiser draws himself), a page from James Kochalka, another by Shane Houghton and Andy Rementer, and two-pages of art from Stephen DeStefano, one of my two favorite artists whose work I way to rarely get to see anywhere (The other? Ronnie del Carmen). Plus, some other stuff from other people too!

Young Avengers #7 (Marvel) So writer apparently Kieron Gillen jumps ahead a few months time with this issue, filling us in on what our heroes have been up to via a single, nine-panel-grid page in which text messages between several of the characters (ugh). I hate hate hate hate comics-told-through-the-premise/prism-of-social media, but I guess this was only one page, and it wasn't entirely necessary—a line of two or dialogue and a "three months later" text box does much the same thing—so I guess I'm willing to forgive him, based on how much I love Jamie McKelvie's designs, rendering and "acting."

So apparently this new group of Young Avengers have been having an on-again, off-again war with a group of shape-changing aliens they assume to be Skrulls, while kid Loki has been training Wiccan in the use of magic, and someone convinced him to get a new costume. Not quite sure how I feel about this new costume—not a fan of star-field patterns—but I didn't like the old one much either, so I think I'm going to end up being pretty okay with it.
Meanwhile, Prodigy finally tracks them down, and in two kind of cool/kind of dumb show-y for no real reason pages (for which I easily forgive them, given how fantastic the second to the last page featuring the characters breaking through to a different dimension is), and fills them in on what happened last issue, what with the Patriot-looking guy/thing abducting Speed and all.
(I do like that the Prodigy panels look Caleb-shaped, though)

It looks like Speed and Prodigy might end up joining the team after this story arc...? I don't know. I do wish the real Patriot would rejoin 'em at some point, as I kinda liked that character, but then, the way Gillen writes these guys, I kind of like all of 'em now.


Akilles said...

I think it`s good that Batwoman`s stories are not as "batty" as they...should (?) be.

Jacob T. Levy said...

No Daredevil? (Are you trade-waiting it?) No Astro City? Adding those to Hawkeye and Young Avengers (and Buffy) meant this was an unusually big haul of floppies for me, these days, now that my mainstream DC buying has gone down to near 0. (Once Batman Inc wraps up, Batwoman will be my only DCU title.)

Anyway: you should read Daredevil and Astro City.

Anonymous said...

Same as you were discussing art as integral to the comic experience, so too with lettering. I'm not sure if Klein was on Batman during Morrison's run-- I'm thinking specifically of Batman R.I.P., here --but there were some similarly inscrutable shifts in font & narrative styling along the way, and they negatively impacted my first reads on several issues because each alteration in typeface or format affected my inner 'voice' as a reader.

I don't know if that's true for everyone; point of fact, I'm fairly sure it's not. Some of my closest comix friends say they don't 'hear' dialogue when they read... Maybe I'm synaesthetic. But I still think these choices determine the reader's experience on a fundamental level.

Personally I prefer hand-lettering. Not a font based on an artist's handwriting, mind; computerized font looks CG, same as a visual effect onscreen looks incongruous if it's purely CG instead of practical. Dave McKean has developed several fonts and they all look highly artificial to me. The reason my eyes are so picky, far as I've been able to suss out, is hand lettering 'sounds' more human when it's read. Eddie Campbell's handwriting, idiosyncratic as it is, fits his delivery to a T, same as Carla Speed McNeil's lettering pairs perfectly with the dialogue she produces. Even old school, conventional letterers like Roxanne Starr (of Flaming Carrot fame) give a book an inimitable character all its own, unlike, well, 3/4s of the stuff I pick off the stands.

So when the Joker's dialogue suddenly shifts from a green bubble with jagged 90's lettering to a more conventional font from one issue to the next, or Bat-Mite's caption formatting goes wonky & capitalizes the first letter after every carriage return-- did I just say 'carriage return'? christ I'm old --it plain looks bad. Amateurish. And it makes me stop reading a comic about amazing people doing fantastical things and instead focus on why the editor appears to be asleep at the wheel instead of catching simple mistakes* that this sort of computerization was, in theory, supposed to reduce by making the process of production more efficient.

* [As when Morrison makes a plot point out of how many times a guy was stabbed and then the next time the number gets discussed it's jumped...]

Caleb said...

I am reading Daredevil serially, but my shop got shorted this week, so I won't get this week's issue until next week.

As for Astro City, I started reading the original in trades, and now feel conflicted about reading the singles, so I guess I'm trade-waiting it.