Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Batwomen, Demons, and Thunder Gods: Funnybooksinreviewarego!!!

So I thought I might do something a little different tonight, and review some week-old funnybooks. You know, just for a change of pace…

Batwoman #0
by JH Williams III, W. Hayden Blackman, and Amy Reeder

When the Greg Rucka / JH Williams Batwoman strip in Detective Comics ended earlier this year, both creators sounded pretty pessimistic about continuing with the character. Which made me sad, because that book was one of the best pieces of corporate spandex to come down the pike in a good long while, fairly standard modern super-heroics in some ways, but given layers of added depth by Williams’ visuals. But Rucka had a hand in planning that visual depth, so when the Batwoman on-going was announced, with Williams but not Rucka at the helm, I wondered how the new series would stack up.

Pretty well, it turns out. This zero issue is just an introduction to the character for new readers, and a chance for Williams and co-artist Amy Reeder to strut their stuff, but they do a nice job of it by and large. Williams and co-writer Blackman do take the shortcut of showing us Batwoman through the eyes of the recently-returned Batman, and on some level I feel like that’s a mistake. Having Batman express his admiration is a cheap way to establish the new character’s credibility. Rucka avoided that, generally preferring to let Kate Kane stand as her own character, inspired by Batman but not in need of his approval.

But Williams and Hayden still make it work for them. The way they’ve framed it, the story’s less about Kate seeking the Bat-Seal of Approval, and more about Batman’s obsessive need to know who this new cape is, and if she’s worthy of infringing on his gimmick. Also, by showing Kate to us through Batman’s eyes, they’re able to fill us in on her methods and backstory, and even her on-going plotlines, without it all seeming like rote exposition. Even though that’s pretty much what this entire issue actually is.

And artistically, of course, the book is just top-notch. Williams illustrates the sequences where Batwoman’s in costume, while Amy Reeder handles the Kate Kane scenes. They’re mostly working in two-page spreads, with Williams handling the top half while Reeder takes the bottom, or vice-versa as the script demands. Williams seems to have designed the layout on many of these pages; his jagged panel borders and diagonal page divides stand out from Reeder’s more traditional layout. In fact, I’m afraid that Reeder can’t quite hold her own with him in general. Her work is very nice, don’t get me wrong. She’s good with expressions, her staging shows some pizzazz, and her linework is some of the better traditional comics art out there right now. But next to Williams, it looks more than a little bland. Granted, about 95% of all funnybook art would. “Not as good as JH Williams” isn’t really much of a criticism.

So overall, I was pleased with this zero issue. It doesn’t promise a series as good as what came before it, but it still sets the bar pretty high. Looking forward to reading it for a good long while.

Grade: A-

Batman and Robin #17
by Paul Cornell and Scott McDaniel

It’s the first post-Morrison issue of Batman and Robin! And it’s… pretty okay! Cornell captures the glib façade of the Morrison run well, and Scott McDaniel’s a perfect sort of artist for something with that tone. His stuff is light and breezy and fun to look at, if not terribly… deep. And therein lies the problem with the book as a whole: it lacks depth.

Cornell presents a fast-moving little mystery story. It’s fun enough, I suppose, but it’s got no weight to it. The case is mildly sensationalistic, but not very mysterious or involving. And despite one scene that sets up a personal motivation for Dick to solve the crime, Our Heroes don’t really seem to give a damn about it. They’re too busy being clever, coming off more like crime-fighting gadabouts than a couple of guys who care that a woman’s been murdered. Which brings me to another beef I have with the story…

Cornell’s Dick and Damian joke together as Morrison‘s did, but they’re too much a well-oiled machine. For one thing, Damian’s not a good enough detective to keep up with Dick on the mystery stuff as he does here. And for another… His respect for Dick is obvious, but it’s not something he should be willing to admit openly. They jab and riposte verbally, with Damian playing the overconfident brat and Dick calling him on it like the big brother he‘s become to the boy. That’s what defined their relationship by the end of the Morrison run, and it’s what Cornell seems to have entirely missed. The barbs have been taken off the relationship, and the barbs are what made it work.

Cornell also can’t resist pushing the glibness over the line into cute, and as I think I’ve noted before… I really hate “cute.”

Still… It’s a fun light read, taken on its own terms. The action moves briskly, the dialogue is snappy, and McDaniel keeps pace with the script. It’s not a bad comic by any means. It’s just not one I’m willing to pay for.

Grade: B-

Thor the Mighty Avenger #6
by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee

Another fun and engaging issue, with more really excellent cartooning from Chris Samnee. It’s not without flaws, of course. I thought that their version Heimdall was too friendly-looking, and not nearly stoic enough. And [SPOILER] the ice sculpture was kind of cheesy. [/SPOILER] But the ending was nice, and well-earned. So all in all, another fine issue of all-ages super-romance comics goodness.

Grade: B+

Iron Man #32
by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larocca, and Jamie McKelvie

As “Stark Resilient” continues, the Hammer girls apparently toss their plans to destroy Tony Stark through corporate sabotage to the four winds, and engage in an outright act of super-villainy that’s going to be difficult to cover up or put a positive spin on: they have Detroit Steel and his accompanying phone-driven video game drones openly attack Stark’s debut showing of his new free energy repulsor car, placing a bleacher full of potential civilian investors in mortal danger. So while they might very well get across the message that Stark’s too dangerous to do business with, such a public attack pretty much destroys their own corporate interests in the bargain.

That seems like a pretty dumb plan to me, and one that runs counter to everything they’ve done to date. It hasn’t been enough to simply destroy Stark for them. They also wanted to replace him, and this attack pretty much kills their chances of that happening. Unless Fraction has a pretty genius explanation coming down the road, I think he’s botched it with this one.

There’s still some good action this issue, though, and some fine character drama to boot. Especially in the Pepper Potts dream-time backup story, drawn by the ever-excellent Jamie McKelvie. Always a pleasure to see that guy at work. So I enjoyed the issue for the most part, and I’m willing to give Fraction the benefit of the doubt for a while. I’m gonna need a pretty damn good explanation before this is over, but for now I give it…

Grade: B

Secret Warriors #22
by Jonathan Hickman and Alessandro Vitti

Two big events this issue, both of which make the series a little less interesting to me. One removes an element of intrigue that I don’t think Hickman had exploited nearly well enough yet, and the other seems to take one of his more entertaining players off the board. But I enjoyed the twists as they occurred, so I can’t down-grade the issue too terribly much. It remains to be seen, however, how much I’ll enjoy what happens next.

Grade: B

Hellblazer: City of Demons #4 (of 5)
by Si Spencer and Sean Murphy

While the plot of this book is slowly being revealed as kind of silly and perfunctory, it’s still firing on all cylinders when it comes to tone and horror. I’m particularly fond of the little character studies Spencer’s writing for all the victims of the demon blood transfusions. A cross-section of immigrants and the British middle- to lower-class, it paints a picture of the cultural stresses these people live under, magnified by the madness flowering within them. So I can forgive somewhat our pantomime-evil doctor villains, and the way Constantine’s investigation of them doesn’t entirely make sense. They’re just excuses ultimately, a way for Spencer to break open the heads of the people of 21st Century London. And in that, at least, he succeeds.

The beautiful Sean Murphy artwork doesn’t hurt, either, mind you. His poses get a bit stiff in places, but this is stellar work.

Grade: B+


  1. I liked the Batwoman conceit. I think it gave us new readers on the same murky page as Bats regarding her motivation and training, but it let him point out what we should know about her. The writing carried us through the weaker art bits, but I think those are relatively few.

    I do not care for McDaniel's art, and I'll be dropping B&R immediately.

  2. Agreed on the Batwoman Zero narration working well for new readers. I thought I'd said as much, in fact, but a quick re-read tells me that I'm insane. But it's a very good point, so thanks for bringing it up.

    And, yeah. That's the last Batman and Robin I'll be buying for the foreseeable future, too. Just not good enough to hold my attention (though I don't mind McDaniel in small doses).

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