Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Comic Shop Comics: November 11
So, I think it's safe to say that this comic is not what anyone would ever have expected from a James Robinson-written Airboy comic, and that is in large part one of its greatest strengths. As is the fact that it stars Robinson and Hinkle moreso than the title character, who is more of a supporting cast member anyway; maybe it's just me and where I'm at in life and comics right now, but I tend to find the lives of real comic book creators more interesting than the adventures of many fictional comic book characters.
While clearly nothing approaching a biography, it's still fun to hear Robinson wallow in the way reader perception of his work has changed over the years. It's impossible to sort out what, exactly, Robinson teh character says that is completely, honestly how he feels, and what he says because it's a joke of sorts (it's not hard to read the above page as a long wind-up for the last panel gag, for example), but, yeah, I can certainly understand how a guy who the industry used to give metaphorical ticker tape parades for over his Starman might feel like he made a wrong turn somewhere. (Personally, I think if you write more than one comic as terrible as Cry For Justice, and that's to be expected; Robinson may have gotten some terrible assignments and worked with editors that weren't on the same page with him at DC for a while there, but, at the same time, he did take all that work, you know?)
I liked the conclusion of their affairs in the world of Airboy–I just realized those remote-controlled bird planes from Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow here an homage to/lift from Airboy–it was great to see what Hinkle and Robinson might have done with a "straight" version of Airboy. That is, if they ignored all the meta-stuff and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-inspired stuff and just did an Airboy adventure comic in which they didn't appear at all beyond the credits.
Clearly, this comic isn't for everyone, as the controversy around one of its issues proved. It is well-made, though, and it's been a fascinating read and, despite some concerns about it, I think it's by far the best thing Robinson has written in a good long time.
Also, it has a pretty inspirational message:
While the title still suffers from a lot of problems, the point of it is really starting to take shape, and it is potentially a pretty interesting one, and one that could grow and solidify the Bat-Family of characters in new and interesting ways.
The art is less of a mess this issue than last, with a single pencil artist working faster and rougher than usual, and a total of three inkers–including the pencil artist himself–helping to get the book done on what appears to have been a particularly unforgiving deadline. That single pencil artist is Tony Daniel, and, as with his previous issue in the series, the big action scene he draws doesn't really make much sense, nor does it quite match up with what the script seems to suggest.
The bulk of this issue, a full 15 pages of it, is set in the past, as Batman and Robin I continue to track down The Scarecrow and his mysterious associates. Batman actually takes over narrating duty for a while, and serving as the POV character, which I'm not sure quite works in the set-up of the comic, but whatever. At a fund-raiser he stumbles across a guy who seems to be selling him on a sort of Stepford Wife program, the buying of a "designer human" that was formed by Mother in the crucible of an origin awfully similar to Batman and Robin's own origins.
In the present, which bookends the 15-page past sequence, apparent identical twins Dick Grayson and Jason Todd investigate St. Elijah's, and Dick seems to indicate that the girl we saw in issue five was indeed Cassandra Cain...although it's still not clear if she simply hasn't aged at all between "ten, twelve years" old and 15-17 years-old that she currently is, or if the art was just so poor that no one remembered to draw a person at those very different ages any differently, as they did remember to do with Dick, who has got taller and bulkier in the five or so years since he was Robin.
The Bat-Family basically splits up, with Jason sayind he would join Red Robin Tim Drake tracking down one lead, while Dick takes two of the three girls–Harper Row and Cassandra Cain–with him to follow another lead. I'm not sure where Stephanie Brown disappeared to, but I thought it weird when Dick mentions setting up a new apartment for Harper and Cassandra to live in, since The Orphan obviously knows about Harper's old place. What about Stephanie and Harper's brother, Cullen? Surely they aren't being left alone in the old apartment, are they...?
Here's the breakdown: Supergirl and Stargirl by Bilquis Evely, Harley Quinn by Mirka Andolfo and Wonder Woman by Laura Braga.
That first chapter features Supergirl and Stargirl as The Night Witches, wearing tiny little flesh-exposing red costumes as they lead the more traditional plane-flying Night Witches into combat. Set-up as a propaganda film, or at least jumping back and fourth between a propaganda film and what they were really doing, it's a pretty awkward juxtaposition that gets a little more labored the longer it goes on.
Their refusal to kill during the war would be admirable, and well in keeping with the characters, if these were the "real" version s of the characters, but seems out of character for soldiers on the frontlines, defending The Soviet Union from Nazi invaders (Remember, before Kara's powers and Stargirl's staff were discovered, the pair were in training to be combat pilots).
After learning that the leaders of Stalinist Russia were maybe not the most noble of people, and refuse to massacre a bunch of their fellow citizens who happen to be dissidents, they decide to quit the Red Army...likely to get new, blue costumes in future issues and join the rest of the Bombshells.
The middle story, featuring Harley Quinn, is a little weird. Andolfo's art is gorgeous, and he draws particularly cute and cartoony characters, but they don't seem to fit in the same world as those of Evely and Braga, and there' sjust enough fantasy in the story that it can be a little unclear just what exactly is going on.
While Harley is a "lady doctor" (meaning a doctor who is also a lady, and not a gynecologist) helping wounded soldiers in London, she still works at (an) Arkham (here London's "Arkham Ward, Sanitarium for the Criminally Insane), she still has made gymnastic skills and apersonality that is a mixture of crazy, mean-spirited and sexy, and has a thing for face-paint and a mysterious crazy man in her past (The scene where she puts on her make-up is pretty hard to read...I don't know if she puts it on, or takes off her flesh-colored make-up to reveal a real fact that has clown makeup on it permanent-like, or what.
After she transforms from Dr. Harleen Quinzel to Harley Quinn, she puts on her Bombshells statue outfit, albeit the Christmas variant statue version of it, rather than the one seen on this particular cover.
I was pretty damn surprised to see Bennett taking Dr. Shondra Kinsolving and Benedict Asp out of mothballs for usage here–those are two fairly minor characters, that belong in a portion of 1990s Batman continuity that's been rebooted away and was mostly ignored for a long time anyway.
Any weaknesses about this portion are forgiven by the fact that Bennett and Andolfo use it to introduce us to a pilot named Hal. Hal then gets hit in the head, and knocked unconscious.
I guess even in this alternate reality, the argument can be made that Hal Jordan suffers from brain damage due to repeated blows to the head.
The final, strongest section is the Braga-drawn Wonder Woman section, wherein she shows off her new Bombshells costume, "in the fashion of the goddesses of your people."
Neat. I really am enjoying the Wonder Woman story thread; so far, Bombshells has proven to be the best long-form (i.e., not just a 10- or 20-page story in Sensation) Wonder Woman this year. She and Steve continue to talk about his PTSD, unknown and undiagnosed in 1940, and then things here get a little weird. The soldiers' uniforms all look...wrong for the time period, and, when Wonder Woman refuses to allow the American soldiers to kill German soldiers who have already surrendered and art at their mercy, General Lane says that the price a soldier must pay for "insurrection and desertion of duty in the field" is "execution," but given what they just saw her do in previous issues, I don't understand why Lane would order his men to circle and march on her, or what Bennett presents this as cliffhanger, since we all already know she pick up the nearest tank and swing at them like a several-ton blackjack.
In this issue, with its highly disturbing character mash-up cover, the lead story is by the book's most-faithful-to-the-cartoon's-design team of Derek Drymon and Gregg Schiegiel, who present a 10-page tale of the horrifying power of extreme best friendship and too-hard hugs. I would say it was a SpongeBob riff on body horror but, well, this being a comic book featuring cartoon characters, that term doesn't work quite the same way it does when discussing live-action film, you know? (I did find myself wondering what the composite characters sounded like, though; this was maybe the first time in 50 issues of the book where I would have almost preferred to see in animated form.
Sam Henderson, Michael Gilbert, Bob Flynn and James Kochalka round out the contributing creators, and there's a a five-page pin-up gallery, as befits the 50th issue of an ongoing series (a greater rarity today than it used to be, given not only the harshness of the modern comics market, but the fact that publishers rarely allow book to ship 50 issues without relaunching it with a new #1). I really like Jacob Chabot's, in which we see Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy re-enacting many famous comic book covers...as well as other, odder iconic images, like a Norman Rockwell painting or that Cheryl Tiegs poster from the 1970s.