Sunday, March 05, 2017

Comic Shop Comics: March 1st

Batgirl Vol. 2: To The Death (DC Comics) I so enjoyed the first collection of the Kelley Puckett/Scott Peterson/Damion Scott/Robert Campanella Batgirl that I snapped up the next one almost immediately upon finishing it. I read many of these comics in the past, some as they were originally published, and some from back-issue bins, but they've only gotten better with age, and, obviously, this is the way to read them: In big chunks, in the order they were created and published. The first volume contained the first 12 issues and the annual (the latter of which is worth checking out if only to see some very, very weird pre-Marvel Mike Deodato artwork).

This volume includes the next 12 issues, plus some of the relevant character profiles from Secret Origins & Files (Batgirl Cassandra Cain, Oracle, Cain, Shiva and Batgirl Barbara Gordon).

I really like the Cassandra Cain character. Raised to be an unstoppable assassin but wracked by the guilt she felt for taking her first and only life (Late in this volume, Shiva intuits exactly why killing a man affected Cassandra as profoundly as it did), her crime-fighting motivation is so different than those of her other peers. Additionally, like almost all of Batman's various allies over the years, Cassandra was a bit of a Batman fan, and I really like the fact that he's her role model to the point where she doesn't necessarily want to be a Robin or a Batgirl, or to have a relationship with Bruce Wayne (who she doesn't even know is Batman), she just wants to be Batman, 24/7.

At this point in the series, Puckett has set up an interesting dynamic in which Oracle and Batman are kind of like Cassandra's surrogate parents, albeit divorced ones who squabble and have different desires for their 17-year-old protegee. Barbara, with whom Cassandra was living, wants her to take on some semblance of a real, civilian life, for Cassandra Cain to have an identity beyond Batgirl at some point (as she herself did, even retiring at one point). Meanwhile, Batman likes her just the way she is, and when things come to a head--when Cass' identity is compromised and Batman makes her move out of the Clocktower and into her own Batcave, he tells Barbara that this will make her a more effective weapon in their arsenal (Whether intentional or not, this foreshadows the events of storylines "Bruce Wayne: Murderer?" and "Bruce Wayne: Fugitive," in which Batman attempts to discard his secret identity altogether, much to the annoyance of his allies).

Additionally, Babs and Bats disagree on whether or not Cassandra actually ever took a life (she did), and whether or not they should intervene in her deal to duel Shiva to the death. The climax of that storyline is the last issue of this collection.

There are a couple of issues in here that deal specifically with her relationships with the other teenagers in Batman's orbit, a neat one in which she has an extremely awkward team-up with Robin Tim Drake, and then two issues in a row in which she reluctantly teams up with Spoiler. There are also a couple of issues devoted to crossovers, like an issue in which she, Spoiler and Oracle take on a Joker-ized Shadow Thief (a Last Laugh tie-in), and one of the first chapters of "Bruce Wayne: Murderer."

I really like Puckett's overall strategy for the series, which is quite episodic. While there are threads that run from issue to issue, particularly regarding Cassandra's relationships with her two pairs of parental figures--good guys Oracle and Batman, bad guys Shiva and Cain--and her feelings about death and killing, there are a lot of discrete, done-in-one issues that read like complete stories unto themselves. This volume of Batgirl, at least at this point in its existence, was very much a book that was all jumping-on point. (My favorite story in here, aside from the team-ups with Robin and Spoiler, was probably the "Nobody Dies Tonight" one, in which she makes a near super-human effort to prevent anyone in the entire city from having their life taken in anyway, up to and including trying to save a man on death row from dying in the gas chamber.)

While Puckett wrote the hell out of this book, with assists from Peterson and Chuck Dixon, who handles some fill-ins, it's the art that attracted me to it in the first place, and remains my favorite aspect. Batgirl's design is pretty much perfect. Scott gives her a big, round, Spider-Man-like head, bit feet and hands, and long, lithe limbs--physically, she looks like a martial arts machine. Her costume is all black, and looks an awful lot like Batman's from many angles; size aside, she's the only one of Batman's many allies that might pass for him in a distant sighting or the middle of a battle.

I'm not crazy about the stitching on the mask, but I like everything else about it, from the solid black over her eyes and mouth, to the long-pointy ears and scallops on the gloves, to the over-sized pouches on her utility belt, which further suggests a little kid playing dress-up, wearing something of their parents' that they haven't quite grown into yet (Oddly, as big as her pouches are, Cassandra rarely uses any tools at all; so far, I think all she's ever used in the series is little dart-like batarangs and a grappling gun).

Scott does an excellent job of drawing her in action, whether it's fighting large groups of ill-suited, untrained opponents--which he usually renders simply by having her posed in the air, doing two or three moves at once, while a crowd of people fall all around her--or worthy ones like Shiva or the few metahumans she accidentally encounters, wherein we see her actually trading blows.

I was pretty disappointed when I went to look for the third volume at both my local comic shop and my local Barnes and Noble and found neither of them had it in stock. I remain disappointed by how Cassandra has been used in The New 52, although I'm hopeful that Tynion will gradually have her adopt her old costume and previous codename of Black Bat (or The Bat, or even just Batgirl; it's not like the people her and Barbara are punching in the face need to know which Batgirl is punching them in the face, right?).

In the mean time, these comics are so damn good...although it does make me feel a little weird that the Batman comics I've enjoyed the most this year, outside of the first arc of All-Star Batman, have been the collections of Robin and Batgirl from forever ago.

Batman #18 (DC) I've grew rather weary of this particular style of comic book cover years ago, in which one character stands triumphantly above a pile of fallen foes, but I am apparently the only one, as DC keeps commissioning such covers, and artists keep delivering them. Just last week, Detective Comics featured the same basic concept, only it was Shiva standing over a group of fallen Batman allies. That one was also a bit better drawn. Artist David Finch, who draws this issue inside and out, doesn't seem to have put much planning into his image, and thus kind of ran out of room for Bane's legs. He just imagines Bane standing knee-deep in some rubble. The defeated Bats are scattered about, and not arranged in a particularly compelling fashion; I mean, did you even notice Duke on the cover? That's his ear and temple and shoulder at the very bottom.

Inside, regular writer Tom King and on-again, off-again artist Finch (here inked by Danny Miki), cuts back and forth between the latest round of Bane vs. Batman and a re-telling of the two characters' origins, at least in terms of how parallel they are. The modern day action mainly consists of Batman taking a savage beating from Bane in order to distract him. The origins focus on moments where their formative years mirrored one another, including the loss of their mother, an older man taking them in, their training and so on.

I'm not really a fan of Finch's artwork, as I may have noted a few dozen times before on the blog, and his telling of Bane's childhood in a Santa Priscan prison is neither as distinct or dramatic as artist Graham Nolan's original telling of that same story was (in 1993's Batman: Vengeance of Bane one-shot). His Bane looks much, much older and, much to my annoyance, is shown without Osoito (I know it should be "Osito," but they spelled it "Osoito" in Vengeance). As I said on Twitter the other night, I've taken a lot about the reboots in stride, but I draw the line at excising Osoito from Bane's origin story!

King also seems to indicate that Batman and Bane are both pretty much bonkers in a pretty similar way, having spent most of their childhoods talking out loud to their dead mothers. That's kind of weird.

Aside from not being as good as Nolan, and even given his flashbacks much of a personality, Finch does okay with the art herein. He's in better form than he was in the past (I believe his last big Bane story appeared in his short-lived, godawful Batman: The Dark Knight series), and I assume not having to worry about writing as well as drawing and keeping a monthly schedule has allowed him to do a bit better. It's not very good, but it could be worse.

DC Comics Bombshells #23 (DC) I of course love Marguerite Sauvage's cover for this issue, and loved it even more after reading the issue. The first third or so features Wonder Woman and Supergirl on an island together, and I like to imagine that's all Sauvage had to go on, so she went in this particular issue with the art, which is certainly in keeping with the tone of Bombshells which, remember, is based on a line of statuettes reimagining heroines and villains as 1940s good girl pin-up models (Inside the book? Wondy is trying to help Supergirl process her grief over having lost her sister Stargirl during the Battle of London; they spend the entire sequence wrapped up in white robes, talking about death and mourning at night, while shell-shocked Steve Trevor hangs around).

If you look closely, in the lower right corner you'll notice the slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On," with Wonder Woman's tiara atop, where the crown would have been. It's kind of cute, but seems out of place here instead of, say, on one of the covers from like ten issues ago or so when the Bombshells were in London. Also, aren't the "Keep Calm And..." jokes pretty played out at this point? It seems like a meme that has exhausted itself.

Back to the interiors, they are sadly Sauvage-less, but still fairly good looking. Matias Begara, Laura Braga and Mirka Andolfo each draw portions of Marguerite Bennett's script. As I mentioned, the first portion deals with Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Steve talking about death. Bennett's script gets pretty poetic at points, but it also gets pretty windy. Wonder Woman takes about six pages of monologue-ing before she gets to something of real value, something a reader might really remember and perhaps even take comfort in some day. It's interesting stuff, but not so interesting that it's not also tedious.

The next section finds Wonder Woman taking a meeting with Luthor in an invisible jet--his invisible jet, it turns out. I really like the way Bennett writes Wondy's dialogue here, which might sound weird after I just complained about how much she had Wonder Woman gassing on earlier, but here she's exchanging dialogue with a smart, cunning person of dubious morality, rather than talking at someone. While the Wonder Woman book is currently on pretty solid footing, I can't help but wonder what Bennett's Wonder Woman might be like.

The final section finds Diana joining the other Bombshells in Vixen's kingdom of Zambesi, where the last few issues have been set. Hawkgirl does something risky, which ends up teaching her the parts of her own origin story she had forgotten: It turns out this Hawkgirl is Thanagarian, an the Hawkpeople are planning to invade Earth at some point in the near future.

Nightwing #16 (DC) There are two important things to take away from the page above, which is written by regular writer Tim Seeley and drawn by artist Javier Fernandez. First, Nightwing totally had a boner (see panel two), but it went away before he swung into action. Good thing too, because the fifth panel would look very different if Fernandez had to draw that (it can't be easy to hid in a suit like that!). Second, Nightwing and his new girlfriend Shawn Tsang like to engage in some light, French vanilla BDSM in the bedroom.

These are things I don't normally think about when thinking about Nightwing. Also, this issue reveals that he and Starfire totally did it when they were teenagers. TMI? Or just the right about of I...? You decide!

So as you'll recall, last issue ended with Shawn, who may or may not be pregnant with Dick Grayson's child, being abducted by a person unknown (but most likely some new version of Deathwing). This issue doesn't reveal her fate. What it does do is riff on the ideas of sons and heirs, both in rather direct references to the Robin Hood legend that Dick tells the reader, and in the inclusion of Robin Damian Wayne. Rather randomly goaded into action by his new Teen Titan teammates, all of whom are pretty confident that Dick is the true heir to Batman's legacy and not Damian, the pint-sized terror heads to Bludhaven to settle who has the right to wear the cowl at some point in the future once and for all.

Dick, who just discovered Shawn is missing, doesn't have time for Damian's shit, of course, but they end up re-teaming to find Shawn. The Dick Grayson/Damian Wayne dynamic is a pretty great one, and one that was more than compelling enough to power Grant Morrison and company's Batman and Robin and, of course, resulted in Damian still being around after what was once meant to be a pretty quick and pretty final death for Robin IV*.

I'm still a little worried about Shawn, which I guess is a good argument for the fact the Seeley has written her and this book in general so well, but I'm feeling pretty confident that she's going to make it out of this story arc alive and, in the mean time, I'm enjoying the Dick/Damian reunion.

I know we're just starting this arc, but so far it seems that each arc of the current Nightwing title is better than the one that preceded it, which is pretty much exactly what you want in a serially published comic book.

Super Powers #5 (DC) So I apparently missed an issue of this--Damn you, Local Comics Shop!--as the plot had advanced pretty far since the last time I read it, and all of a sudden the Legion of Doom is involved, and Golden fucking Pharaoh is making a cameo. To Art Baltazar and Franco's credit, it still wasn't that hard to fill in the blanks of the issue I missed. The Superman's new half-brother, who now looks just like Superman with green skin and blonde hair and a little Brainiac forehead bling, is battling various Justice Leaguers outside the crystalline Fortress of Solitude, when The (An?) Unknown Superman appears to defuse the situation. Meanwhile, Darkseid and army of Parademons (the cuter, little red ones from the Super Powers line, rather than the bigger, blockier green, yellow and gray ones) arrive in Gotham City, and are greeted there by its resident supervillain, The Joker.

I really like Baltazar's take on The Joker, and this whole series has been sort of weird in that the writing has been perfectly all-ages friendly--this is a more "serious" story than the gag-driven Tiny Titans or Superman Family Adventures stories--but the art makes it seem like it should be sillier or funnier. I have a particularly hard time taking his Darkseid seriously, having previously read Tiny Titans, where the Baltazar-drawn Darkseid served as the lunch lady at the Titans' school (there's not a whole overlap between characters, otherwise; the adult heroes and villains who appear in this series generally only appeared from the waist down in the pages of Tiny Titans, with a few exceptions).

Superman # (DC) Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, the latter both co-writing and penciling present the first issue of the multi-title crossover storyline, "Superman Reborn." Curious title, given that Superman was just Rebirth-ed, wasn't he? Anyway, this storyline appears to be the one that will finally settle just what the hell is going on with the Superman franchise after the events of DC Comics: Rebirth, as well as the current DCU mega-plot involving Mr. Oz and maybe the characters from Watchmen or whatever.

In that regard, after a portentous opening, we see that one of Mr. Oz's prisoners has escaped, and we get a look inside the now empty cell, which seems to have been filled with graffiti by a giant child (the spelling is too good to be a Bizarro, and it's difficult to imagine anyone imprisoning a fifth dimensional imp like Mr. Mxyzptlk, so at this point, I've got no good theories on the escapee).

The rest of the issue is divided into demonstrating just how idyllic Clark, Lois and Jon's life is...just to have it start getting screwed around with by history/continuity warping/eating forces, which Clark and Lois seem to equate to the mysterious extra Clark Kent that's been lurking around the Superman books of late. At the climax, Jon is eaten by these forces.

This would likely have been a much more dramatic moment, if DC had just launched a new ongoing series co-starring Jon (Super Sons), which means he's totally not going to be deleted from the universe. If it weren't for the Super Sons launch, however, that might be a more open question, given that Jon's role as Clark and Lois' son is such a big, character and franchising type of change that his being somehow violently removed from continuity would actually seem a lot more likely than when other superheroes experience such threats. Like, I know Batman's never gonna die, no matter what death traps he finds himself in, or what the odds he faces are. But Jon, who, the argument could be made, shouldn't be there in the first place? Well, who would be too terribly surprised if he went the way of the last kid that this Clark and Lois were raising as a son, you know?

Anyway, not a whole lot happening here, really, but it's an all-around well-made issue, and this promising story arc is off to a compelling start. I'm certainly interested in where it's going, enough so that I plan on picking up all the chapters (I dropped Action after the first arc, but have stuck with Superman).

*Actually, I guess he was technically Robin V prior to the post-Flashpoint reboot, but afterwards he became Robin IV.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Pre-Marvel Deodato? He's been working with Marvel at least since the 90s. He was the artist on Warren Ellis' Thor run, as well a run on Elektra and a number of other titles.