Thursday, April 05, 2018

Comic Shop Comics: April 4th

Batman #44 (DC Comics) The latest issue of Batman, drawn by both of the title's current primary artists, Joelle Jones and Mikel Janin, rather nicely illustrates both writer Tom King's strengths and weaknesses. The plot is pretty simpl, leaving it to the artists to do the heavy-lifting (as it should), while picking an interesting throughline to the Batman/Catwoman relationship over the years to focus on.

In simplest form, the plot is this: Catwoman goes shopping for a wedding dress. This being Catwoman, she does so by sneaking out of Bruce Wayne's bed in the wee hours of the night, breaking into a dress store, trying on a bunch and stealing them. Meanwhile, flashbacks demonstrate the changing nature of their relationship to one another, with their costumes being the most immediate and obvious signifiers as to which era they are supposedly occurring in (You know the cover for 2004 collection Catwoman: Nine Lives of a Feline Fatale...? In this comic, we see all but two of those costumes). Jones draws the modern scenes, and I guess one could question why the female artist has to draw the dress-shopping, but I suppose the answer is simple: Jones is the better artists, and those scenes require the most acting and nuance.

As for what the story reveals about King's weakness, it's another illustration of the showiness of his writing. He's a good writer, but he always seems to be trying to demonstrate it, or call attention to it, often by employing gimmicks where no gimmicks are needed. So, for this issue's example, every single panel in the modern day sequences have a time stamp embedded in it, letting us know exactly what time it is, as if that mattered. The first panel, for example, is an image of Bruce and Selina in bed together, his eyes closed in sleep while hers are wide open. It is, we see, 2:37 a.m. Next panel? She gets dressed. It's 2:54 a.m. And on and on until she seemingly finds the dress she likes (at 6:37 a.m., if you're wondering) until she gets back and bed and closes her eyes, eventually falling asleep at 7:46 a.m.

Not only is it distracting from the story, it also sometimes works against the story. As I mentioned on Twitter, there's this sequence:
Without the time stamps, it's pretty clear that Selina took a swig of the champagne, wiped her mouth, and proceeded with her dress shopping. But looking at the time stamps, the time that elapses between when she takes a drink and when she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand is...nine minutes? Did she very, very, very gradually chug the whole bottle over almost ten minutes? Or just stand in place, taking drink after drink, for nine minutes? It's not an important thing to think about, but the only reason I'm thinking about it at all is because King felt it necessary to tell us the precise time that every action occurs.

Not only is Jones' art super-clear in terms of moving the character through time as well as space, but even if King and the editors thought it was super-important that we know the story begins in the middle of the night and ends in the early morning, the drawn images convey that (Catwoman wakes up when her boyfriend is asleep in a bed in a darkened room, she returns to the house when Alfred is up and puttering around), as does the work of colorist Jordie Bellaire (or is it June Chung? Both are listed as colorists, but I'm assuming one was attached to each artist), who gives all of the night scenes cool, dim blues, while the scene set in the morning is warmer yellows and pinks.

Interestingly, there's no such obsession over time when it comes to the years. That is, the flashbacks don't each open with a "Five Years Ago" or "Three Years Ago" caption. I guess they couldn't. This is the sort of thing that only bothers fan-readers like me, I realize, but the general timeline laid out here is quite pre-Crisis, or, perhaps, a sort of Morrisonian post-Crisis, pre-Flashpoint timeline, where "everything happened." Catwoman's costumes and capers run the gamut from her Golden Age first appearance, to several short-lived Silver Age outfits to her Jim Balent-designed costume, the one she was wearing in King and Janin's "War of Jokes and Riddles" flashback story. Batman also has changes in his costume, but these are much more minor, and seemingly meant to reflect whatever his "new", post-Flashpoint fashion history is. His bat-symbols change slightly, and sometimes his briefs appear or disappear, even in the same scene, likely do to coloring mistakes more than anything else.

The thing is, that pre-Flashpoint continuity was pretty loudly done away with by DC, even though DC's creators still try to use it as often as possible. (Is it worth nothing that the Catwoman costume that doesn't appear is the one that she wore post-Crisis? The gray bodysuit with her super-short hair under her cowl, from Batman: Year One, the 1989 Catwoman miniseries and her pre-Balent appearances?) The company line on the current, post-Flashpoint timeline is that Batman's career is something like 5-6-years long, plus something like 3 years, with Catwoman dressed in a version of the Darwyn Cooke-designed modern costume throughout those last three or so years (The three years comes from in-story markers, like the artificially-aged ten-year-old Damian Wayne celebrating his 13th birthday in DC Universe: Rebirth; there were other markers of shorter passages of time, but that seems to be the biggest one in terms of elapsed time since The New 52 relaunch).

Since Catwoman was shown wearing the Balent-ish costume in "War of Jokes and Riddles," which not only appeared in this very comic book but was also written by the very same writer who wrote this issue, and that story was meant to take place during Batman's first year, or close to it, then that means Catwoman had five different costumes and approaches to Batman in the first...year of their respective careers? Huh. (The appearance of another character, Robin, only complicates matters further; it appears to be the post-Flashpoint Dick Grayson version of Robin, but I don't think he was around during "War," which means he debuted after, but here he's shown with a pre-"War" Catwoman, so...?!?!?!)

Long story short? The reboot was dumb, no one seems to have thought it was a good idea (not even comics creators doing high-profile work for DC Comics, like Tom King, for example), and it continues to ruin everything (The eye-rolling solution, of course, is simply that the reality-warping events at the climax of Dark Nights: Metal had several continuity-rejiggering elements, like restoring Batman's timeline to a 10-15-year length that comports more with pre-Flashpoint comics than the New 52 era, but whatever).

And while I'm nitpicking, my favorite part of this issue was page 10, where we see Catwoman wearing my favorite one of her little-seen costumes:
I love everything about this page. I always enjoy seeing Batman riding on a horse. But Batman riding a horse to chase Catwoman, who is riding a tiger as if it was a horse...? Even better!

I love the fact that Catwoman is hyping up the virtues of cats, how it is in their nature to be proud and independent, while she is literally riding on a cat as if it were a domesticated beast of burden (The only thing that would be better would be if that tiger were rolling its eyes in that last panel. I mean, if that cat were really proud and independent, wouldn't it just buck Catwoman off and make a break for it?)

I also like to imagine that in the very next panel, the tiger asks itself what it's doing, and then whirls and mauls the horse while Batman and Catwoman go flying off their respective mounts.

Also also? I kind of love the fact that this story is premised on notorious insomniac and creature of the night Batman sleeping from soundly from about 2:30 a.m. until at least almost 8 a.m. the next morning--Did crime finally take a night off, Batman?--and not waking up at any point when Catwoman slunk out of his bed and went into the city to commit crimes. With explosives.

I hate to agree with Burgess Meredith from Rocky, especially since Meredith also played an archenemy of Batman's in the 1960s, but he might have been onto something. Maybe women really do cost men their edge...?

Anyway, Batman is an excellent comic that could--and should--be a bit better still.

Bombshells United #15 (DC) Aneke draws this issue, which continues the story of the Batgirls, Bumblebee and Suicide Squad's investigation into...whatever exactly is going on with Black Canary and Oliver Queen and Hawaii. The panel of Bombshells Canary surfing was pretty amazing, and she and Batgirl lock lips at one point--during mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; don't get too excited--but other than that, this issue doesn't offer all that much that's noteworthy.

Justice League #42 (DC) Oh boy do I hate the text on these covers. Almost as big as the logo for the book, this issue contains a pair of blocks of text, saying, "WHO SHOT WONDER WOMAN? THE ANSWER WILL SHOCK YOU!" It probably won't shock you though. Mainly because she got shot last issue, and you already saw who shot her: Some random kid in Africa who took a shot at Superman and the bullets--or, it turns out, some shrapnel from the bullets--apparently bounced off the Man of Steel and into the Amazing Amazon's throat somehow, without either super-speedster being able to catch, deflect or avoid it.

Writer Priest does make a point of explaining that Wonder Woman can't deflect attacks when she doesn't know they're coming, which, okay, but it doesn't really explain why Superman didn't catch them. Or how bullet fragments pierced her skin (She is invulvernable at the moment, right?). Or why Superman, The Flash and or The Green Lanterns didn't solve that problem, like, immediately for her (There's a scene of Superman using his heat vision to do...something to her neck. I thought maybe he was destroying the bullet fragments and then cauterizing the wound, but maybe he just did one at not the other? I don't know; after he does it, she still seems to be dying.

The Flash takes her from Superman and uses his even more super super-speed to take her to...San Francisco, where he has Kid Flash Wally West (the newer Wally West, not the older Wally West) to get Raven, for some reason. We'll find out next issue if she can use her vague magic powers to save Wonder Woman's life, or if she's totally going to die!

All that business aside--and I suspect Wonder Woman was put in such peril to remove her from the thorny ethical and political issues the League finds itself faced with when The Fan plops them down in the middle of a fictional African country filled with warring tribes and a despotic ruler in a cat costume, since that is historically the sort of thing she's supposed to specialize in--this is a strong penultimate chapter of the League's difficulties in addressing real world-ish problems.

I additionally dig the beginnings of the character work Priest has managed here, particularly with the Lanterns, but also in simple differences of opinions, like Batman's blanket "no killing, EVER" in contrast to Aquaman's more pragmatic "well, sometimes you gotta kill someone" stance. It's a shame his run on the League ends next issue, honestly, as he's demonstrated a lot of potential, although the storyline is rather obviously constrained by its limited nature.

DC has announced, but not yet solicited, a too-ambitious line of Justice League books, including a new Justice League with a new line-up written by Scott Snyder (good idea) and spinning out of Dark Nights: Metal and more questionable choices: Justice League Dark written by Snyder's occasional co-writer James Tynion starring the Wonder Woman and a new iteration of the Sentinels of Magic/Shadowpact/Justice League Dark team DC keeps trying to make stick and a Justice League Odyssey book written by Justice League Vs. Suicide Squad's Joshua Williamson, which will features Cyborg and Jessica Cruz leading a grab-bag team that includes Starfire, Azrael and Darkseid.

Snyder's flagship book is going to be published bi-weekly, but carry the $3.99 price point of DC's monthly books. If Dark and Odyssey do likewise, then it looks like the publisher has set the line up to implode right out of the gate. (They've struggled with a secondary League book pretty much since the 2011 relaunch, so jumping right to a second and third seems...questionable.) Anyway, I imagine they have a plan to make the books all compliment one another pretty intricately, and that's why Snyder collaborators on past books and the upcoming No Justice series are involved, but it still strikes me as a shame to have three Justice League books, and not have Priest writing one of them.

Nightwing #42 (DC) This is a fill-in issue, a particularly evergreen-feeling done-in-one by the writing team of Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, with Jorge Corona providing the artwork. Although I decided to jump off the book at the conclusion of the previous arc last issue, I was attracted to this issue because it reteamed Dick Grayson with Damian Wayne, and Corona's somewhat off-kilter art--particularly for a current DC comic--sealed the deal.

A narrator not revealed until the last page tells a story of Nightwing's battle against The Crimson Kabuki, a criminal organization in Tokyo that has captured Robin and plans to use the powerful blood of Batman and the al Ghuls for some kind of no-good. It's up to Nightwing, dressed in a nice suit over his spandex work clothes, to fight his way through a three-level tower to meet their leader atop the roof. Movie references abound in Dick's dialogue, but the action is all pretty well executed and, again, Corona's art is different enough looking from that of the previous few issues, and so much of what you'll find between the covers of most DC comics at the moment, that the book looks incredibly refreshing (and hell, a 20-page story with a beginning middle and end after what felt like a 16-part storyarc about The Judge in Bludhaven was even more refreshing).

Batman, Goliath and Batcow all make one-panel cameos.

Snotgirl #10 (Image Comics) I often feel this comic is very much not for me--that is, that I'm not it's intended audience at all--but I love Leslie Hung's artwork, and am growing to like Lottie as a character the better I get to know her. Bryan Lee O'Malley's weird soap opera plotting remains engaging, but I think I've liked this two-part arc, "The Weekend," better than the previous eight or so issues, as there's a hint of supernatural weirdness that only heightens all of the books regular attributes.

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