Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Monday, August 15, 2011

things comickal

-- things comickal -- recently read: in which La Robusta hits a few high notes ... and a few low ones

Pardon for the long break in reviews. I'd apologize and say it will never happen again, but we all know it will, so let's just move on, shall we? Let's shall.

This past week, DC began the roll-up of not one, but two comic book universes. Taking out the DCU in favor of DCnU gets all the attention, of course, but less noted is that they're also doing in the end of First Wave, their attempt at an alternate-earth pulp universe. It never got anything remotely resembling a reasonable promotional push, plus, let's face it, a universe with Batman Month One, the Spirit and Doc Savage, as well as unrecognizable versions of Black Canary and other heroes, was always going to be a hard sell. And, well, it didn't. Sell, that is. Pity; Doc Savage was fun and pulpy, as required, and the Spirit had several good issues. (First Wave itself, however -- that universe's version of Justice League -- had problems. Frequently.) Any road, let's look at the big guns first. (NOTE: Superman shut down this week, but since I don't read it any more and "Grounded" was an absolutely deadly storyline to go out with -- a truly ludicrous concept that should have been shot down before it got started -- I pretty much don't care.)

Oh, and I should say right now: SPOILERS, SWEETIES! I'll try not to give away anything too important, but I make no promises. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I'm going to have to spoil most of the final issues relentlessly, in order to talk about them at all. So I say again, FROM THIS POINT FORWARD, HERE BE SPOILERS!

Got that? Good.

Detective Comics 881 (Scott Snyder/Jock/Francesco Francavilla)

'Tec goes out in style, with a great finish to the story in which Jim Gordon is forced to face the fact that his son is both insane and evil, and that Barbara was right not to trust him all along. The really remarkable thing about this entire story arc is the extent to which Batman was sidelined in the very last arc of his very first title, with center stage being yielded to the Gordons. And, despite the fact that I've been reading primarily things Bat in the DCU these past few years, this story arc managed to tell me some things that I hadn't known. I didn't know that Jim Gordon's first wife was still alive, for example, or that Barbara had been named for her, or what had become of James, who disappeared so long ago that I'd almost forgotten he even existed.

In this final issue, Gordon has been confronted with incontrovertible evidence of his son's trying to poison infant formula to help create more sociopaths like himself. Barbara, while appalled, isn't at all surprised, because she never trusted James. Before Gordon can get to her, James kidnaps her, and does something to her that means that while she can free herself, doing so will mean her death fairly quickly thereafter. (Somewhat incidentally, we also discover that James figured out Dick's identity as Batman and Barbara's as Oracle. There is apparently nobody in Gotham that hasn't figured out that Dick is now Batman. Something to do with his disturbing jollity, no doubth. But I digress.)

Batman -- the Dick Grayson edition -- helps Jim figure out where

The amazing thing about this issue, on a technical level, is that the core of it is a monologue: James talking at Barbara. And somehow, Snyder, Jock, and Francavilla manage to keep that utterly riveting. To be sure, Batman does show up in time to rescue Barbara -- but not until she's done most of the rescuing herself. (And, frankly, in the process she does something to James that he could only survive in a comic book; in the real world, he'd be dead. Of course, so would she.) And then ... And then, Jim Gordon takes James out in a way that is absolutely saturated with irony ... though, of course, he can't know that, at that point.

It was truly a magnificent story arc, and it makes me look forward to seeing what Snyder and friends (different friends, I believe) will do with Batman volume 2.

Red Robin 26 (Nicieza/To/McCarthy)

This has been, overall, one of the more frustrating Bat titles from day one. Despite having basically one author for the entirety of its existence, the quality of Red Robin has been wildly uneven. It's varied between things that Nicieza really really shouldn't have done -- the last arc with the near-rape of Tim comes to mind, as does almost everything that involved Tam Fox -- with things that worked surprisingly well, even when they shouldn't have (Tim more or less punking Ra's al-Ghul, Tim getting rescued from the aforementioned near-rape by Cass, Prudence). This final issue, a done in one, manages to hit both sides. In this issue, Tim decides to go after Captain Boomerang, murderer of his father and resurrected by the White Lantern in "Brightest Day". And it's very clear, throughout the issue, that Tim has not decided whether or not to kill Boomerang -- or rather, whether to let Boomerang get killed because of the elaborate plot he's set up. And he's so good at predicting how people will act and react that he knows, absolutely knows, what Boomerang will do, what Victor Frieze will do when Boomerang pulls him into the plot, and how things will turn out if he does absolutely nothing but let it play out.

The downside of this issue is that Boomerang has been alive -- or re-alive, so to speak -- for pretty much the entire run of Red Robin. After all, the series is only a shade over two years old, and Blackest Night/Brightest Day were over a year ago. And Tim's shown absolutely no sign of knowing or caring about Boomerang; in fact, Red Robin contains the only line in any of the Bat titles (excepting Birds of Prey, which was a direct Brightest Day tie-in) acknowledging that either Blackest Night or Brightest Day even happened, and it was about the trauma of fighting his zombiefied parents, not any acknowledgement of Boomerang (who, to be fair, wasn't alive again yet). Thing is, this is not badly written; in fact, it's very well written. It's just so out of nowhere that it jars, badly. It's not that it feels false -- every frame of this feels like something Tim might do -- it's just unconnected to anything that's come before it in this series.

The upside ... the terribly, terribly frustrating upside of this issue are the last three pages, where Tim is confronted by Batmen Dick and Bruce (with a silent two-frame cameo from Damian). They have very different reactions to what Tim did and didn't do. And Tim's reaction to that points toward a really fascinating direction that Red Robin could have gone, one that could have brought him into direct conflict with various Batmen, and which could have defined the future of Gotham in some interesting ways.

And all of that is getting wiped away by the reboot. It's fairly clear, given that he's coming back first in Teen Titans, that Tim is being reset to be a bit younger. We'll have to wait and see if they've decided to leave him living out of the mansion and over a renovated Crime Alley, or if he's back under Bruce's thumb.

So, overall: Interesting, fascinating, frustrating and confusing. Which is the sort of reaction that kept me reading the title, really.

Batgirl 24 (Bryan Q. Miller/Pere Perez)

This issue does something really remarkable: the actual plot, the storyline that we've been following for the past several issues ... is entirely resolved in the first seven pages. Apparently, this was all the Cluemaster's way of both escaping Blackgate and getting Stephanie to come for a visit, because of course he figured out who Batgirl was early in her tenure. (Really, so many peole have figured out the various Bats' secret identities, you wonder why they even bother.) He attacks her with the Black Mercy rose, but she manages to foil his escape before she goes under. Once she brings herself out of the pollen's influence, there follow two pages of a really wonderful scene with Stephanie and her mother. And finally, the issue closes with Barbara noting that Stephanie brought herself out of the pollen haze herself, before the cure could take effect, and wondering what it was that Stephanie saw. And Stephanie reminisces silently, and we see what she saw.

There follows single page splash page after splash page of what Stephanie saw. Fighting criminals with Oracle and Wendy/Proxy in the background. A strange, fable-like land with Stephanie, Miss Martian, Supergirl, Stargirl and Bulleteer fighting off ... dwarves? Stephanie as a blue lantern, Damian as a red lantern (my, that's ... apt), and Barbara as a green lantern, fighting off black lanterns. A vision of herself in 1944 with Cass and Barbara as Batgirls triumphant along with the Blackhawks ... and so on and so on. "You know ... stuff", as Stephanie puts it. It's really, really lovely and wonderful. And, as Stephanie says, swinging off into the dawn, "It's only the end if you want it to be."

Batman and Robin 26 (David Hine/Greg Tocchini/Andrei Bressan)

Yeah, so ... that was odd.

To the extent that there is one, the story is that Batman and Robin have gone to Paris to help Nightrunner, Batman Inc. Paris affiliate, recapture some very dangerous criminals that have escaped from Le Jardin Noir, the French version of Arkham. Mostly, it's an excuse for Tocchini and Bressan, with able assistance from Artur Fujita on colors, to flex their artistic muscles. And flex them they do! I don't think I've ever seen art this trippy or this consciously referencing other art works in a Batman title before. In any event, the art is spectacular, the story -- to the extent there is one -- seems like it would be more at home in Batman Incorporated, except that Morrison would never write something like this. It's fascinating to look at; I'm not sure how good it is overall.

Birds of Prey (Marc Andreyko, Billy Tucci/Melo/Mayer/Ferreira)

This is one of those title closers that really does make me wonder how much advance notice creators had of the universe reboot. Understand: this two issue arc was really very good, and highlighted how seriously out-of-place Xinda sometimes is, as a person who is young when she really shouldn't be. It's a fun, rip-snorting action adventure issue -- with Nazis and Boys from Brazil, even. It's just a very weird way to close out the title, with two of the characters that have been major players through the new volume missing (Hawk and Dove), as well as being written by someone other than Gail Simone.

Booster Gold 47 (Jurgens/Leonardi/Ho/Rapmund)

Yeah, so ... remember me mentioning that there were a few low notes in this final aria? This would be one of them, right here. If I were a regular reader of Booster Gold -- which, thankfully, I wasn't -- this would be an intensely frustrating issue, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

I picked this issue up because it had been billed as a lead-in to Flashpoint 5, with Booster Gold maybe joining the fight with Flash. (Note the use of the word "maybe".) It was actually shockingly accessible, for the final issue of a title I wasn't reading. I think it was constructed with readers like me in mind, because most things were explained very well -- to the point of the front end of the issue being a bit exposition heavy. But, with the sole exception of wondering who Alexandra Gianopoulos was and what she had to do with anything, I wasn't confused by anything happening in that issue at all ... which is sort of sad, actually. It wasn't a done-in-one, it was the end of a parallel story to Flashpoint, and it should have been completely baffling. But it wasn't. And it went out with a whimper, not a bang. It basically said, yep, whole thing, completely pointless. Not worth saying more than that about it, really: bad concept, badly executed, and the character, much as I dislike him, deserved a better ending to his series than that.

THUNDER Agents 10 (Spencer/McDaid/Grell/Dragotta): Volume 1 ends with Colleen dealing with her mother, the Black Widow, more or less as you knew she would and hoped she wouldn't. On the upside, she doesn't quite do it herself; on the downside, she makes sure it gets done, so ... It's a very strong issue, if thoroughly appalling. And near the end, we find out that Colleen has one more secret, although we don't find out what it is. I suspect that secret is what volume 2 of THUNDER Agents, allegedly starting in November, will be built around. (It's never been at all clear that THUNDER Agents takes place in the DCU, but it's getting a restart nonetheless.)

Will Eisner's The Spirit 17, "Black and White Big Finish Issue" (Chaykin/Pfeifer/Levitz/Bolland/Russell/Garcia-Lopez): In which the second First Wave title rolls up its carpet and goes home. And, as advertised, all of the stories have black-and-white art. The Chaykin/Bolland story, which I am about to THOROUGHLY spoil, deals with cheating politicians, a gaggle of trophy mistresses (really, that's the only way to describe them) and killer bodybuilder lesbians, so ... yeah, that's all I got to say about that one. Oh, except that when he catches the murderer, The Spirit says he'll "drag your tight little ass home to justice." (Emphasis theirs, thank you VERY much.) So ... yeah, very much in character! The Levita/Garcia Lopez story, which really is much more in character, deals with the Spirit helping a newspaper stand vendor who's being harrassed by shakedown artists with an interesting scheme for making money. The Pfeiffer/Russell story involves the Spirit destroying pretty much every well known work of Western art -- most of which couldn't have been put into the same museum at the same time -- in his pursuit of a criminal, with, of course, a catch at the end. The Chaykin story is grating (to put it mildly), but given the others, not a bad way to go out.

Doc Savage 17 (Jones/Winslade): Oddly enough, despite the fact that DC has now concluded every other title in the First Wave universe and the main DCU concludes on August 24 -- marked with the final issues of volume 1 of Action, and volume whatever of Justice League and Wonder Woman, among others -- Doc Savage either doesn't end any time soon, or won't have a real final issue at all. Issue 17 -- which is action-packed pulpy adventure filled with Mongol warriors, a group of living Neanderthals, attempts at reviving Genghis Khan (Temujin), and renegade former Soviets, of all possible things, and an unspeakable amount of somehow coherent fun -- ends with a "To be concluded" notice, but issue 18 isn't scheduled for anytime before early November, at the moment. Heaven only knows when we'll see it; they may be going the Republic serial route and just leaving us hung up on the cliff, so to speak. Which ... honestly, not a terrible way to go out, if profoundly irritating. The issue itself is exactly what a Doc Savage issue should be: stuffed with action from cover to cover.

Questions? Comments? Cigars, cigarettes, cigarillos, information about Doc Savage?

Posted by iain at 09:23 PM in category things comickal