Media Relations: media commentary and criticism

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

things comickal

-- things comickal -- recently read: la robusta's next act, and a small encomium

In which three more DC titles wrap up, and what constitutes fun, anyway?

And please note, as before: SPOILERS, SWEETIES!

Batman 713 (Nicieza/Scott/Sampere/Bressan/Wong/Perotta/Ramos)

In which DC continues to hand off finale issues of major titles to thoroughly unexpected people, and all -- and I do mean ALL -- of Damian's character development occurs.This is, from what I can see elsewhere, the sort of issue that you're either going to love or hate.

So, as I mentioned in the previous entry, Nicieza has had what could charitably be called a wildly uneven run with Red Robin, and ended it with a frustratingly good issue which is clearly not going to get followed up on in any substantive way, at least not any time soon. He continues this by closing out Batman with an interestingly structured issue that reviews the histories and relationships of Batmen and Robins through the years. A history, one might add, that excludes Stephanie Brown as Robin entirely, though we do get a single headshot of her as Batgirl. Ah, DC editorial, you're so goddamn consistent.

On the one hand, I liked the issue; it's interesting to see the relationships of Batmen and Robins through the lens of that particular narrator. On the other hand, that this particular narrator would be telling this particular story in this particular way to those particular people is entirely unbelievable. It just wouldn't happen. And we're simply told what Damian has learned about being Robin; it's not character development we've really ever seen anywhere, except, to some extent, in his relations with Stephanie. (Which makes her prospective erasure from the DCnU even more grating.)

Another peculiar thing is that according to DC previously, all of the events of the previous 713 issues have actually happened, if over an intensely more compressed period. (Apparently Bruce has managed something like five Robins in five years, because being Robin is now a "very intense internship" ... which, actually, can't be argued. All of the Robins but the current one have gone on to independent careers -- allowing, of course, that DC declines to state whether Stephanie even exists in the nU.) They said, earlier, that the ending issues of Batman and Robin, Detective and Batman would set up the reasons why Dick goes back to being Nightwing. But nothing was set up in this issue. Nothing was set up in the other titles, either. It looks like something that's just going to happen as a result of the reset, and then maybe -- MAYBE -- get explained then, or even later.

Weirdly, I do like the issue. But it can't be argued that, in some ways, it's deeply unsatisfying. And I can't figure out what function it's supposed to serve. If you've read Batman and the various Bat titles, you know all this stuff. (Except the bit about what Damian's learned, of course.) If you haven't, and someone gave this to you, it would be a good introduction to the characters, up to a point ... except that everything's changing next month, and none of this will quite apply. So ... what, then?

Zatanna 16 (Beechen/Ibanez)

In which Zatanna's title takes its final bow, in preparation for her to shift to Justice League Dark in the nU.

Basically, this issue is all about Zatanna's quest for sleep before her next show in Washington, and all the things that interrupt it. She starts out traveling by plane from Frankfort to Gotham to DC (which would be some epic traveling for one day), and isn't able to get to sleep until the plane's most of the way back to Gotham. Then the plane's engine sucks in a bird and dies. (Both engine and bird.) She wakes up, fixes the engine with a spell, then tries to sleep again, but then they're on approach to Gotham. It takes an extremely long time to get through customs, and when she gets home, she just wants to sleep.She's then interrupted by an unexpected and quite unwelcome guest, who steals something from her and whom she's then forced to pursue. The chase itself is very funny, and the punishment she metes out when she finally catches him -- hey, it's the last issue, it's not spoiling much to say she catches him -- is ... parhaps appropriate. What she does to her poor alarm clock on the last page, however, is entirely unwarranted.

Despite not being written by Dini, the issue catches most of what works about this title. The superheroics are taken reasonably seriously, but there's still some humor, as well. I hope that this title continues in the DCnU, but somehow, I can't see DC giving a second tier character two titles. One can but hope.

Power Girl 27 (Sturges/Prasetya)

In which Kara is given 60 seconds to accomplish three tasks: save a friend being held by bad guys, save a girl fishing about to be threatened by bad guys, or save the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a bunch of tourists from another set of bad guys. Kara being Kara, it's probably not spoiling anything to say that, despite only being given time to do one of the above, she somehow manages all three, and to figure out how to trace it back to the chief bad guy responsible, besides.The story isn't so much about what she does as how she does it. And, clearly, she does it with style. And, as the store clerk told me, the last line is frustratingly perfect, given that DC continues to decline to state whether or not Kara exists in the nU.

And now, a brief encomium:

Of all the titles that are ending (or, you know, "ending") in the DCU, there are three that I'm really going to miss ... and they're probably not anything you'd be expecting. The three titles that I'm going to miss the most are: Batgirl, Power Girl, and Zatanna. None of them front-line heros, true. But still, the titles that I'll miss the most and hope to see again.

But, I hear many (many MANY) people I know ramping up to say, "Batgirl" isn't canceled! Haven't you heard all the kerflaffle about Barbara Gordon taking up the cowl again? And how dare you miss this title! The One True Batgirl (after Babs, of course) will always be Cassandra Cain! Stephanie Brown is but literally a pale imitation! To which I can say: (1) Yes, of course I've heard that Barbara's taking back the cowl, and I look forward to reading that version; (2) I never read Cassandra as Batgirl, so I can't miss what I didn't know, and besides, (3) even if Cassandra was the Bagirliest Batgirl who ever Batted, from what I've seen of the character elsewhere, her title could never EVER have worked the way this Batgirl title did.

The thing that these three titles had in common, and the reason why I'll miss them? Their characters enjoyed their lives. They took the superheroing seriously, of course -- lives depended on that -- but they enjoyed the superheroing as well. (Stephanie's joy at the variety of batarangs that Barbara had made for her was really wonderful to read.) The writers of these titles made sure to show other aspects of their lives besides the heroing, and to make it clear that, frustrating as trying to balance them could be, they enjoyed those aspects of their lives as well. Zatanna liked being a stage magician as well as a wielder of real magics. Kara enjoyed being Karen Starr and what she could do as that character as well as being Power Girl. Stephanie enjoyed being Stephanie Brown, college student, as well as being Batgirl, thwacker and gooperanger of ne'er do wells (including, as mentioned in the previous review, her own father).

In most titles, you really rarely see superheroes enjoying their lives. Superman, for example, would be best defined by his sense of responsibility for ... well, everyone, really. Oh, yes, he loves Lois ... but, well, he's losing her, isn't he? So now we get a few years of him pining and moping until she deigns to notice him, or he goes on to someone else. So nice to see, really. And it could reasonably be said that NOBODY in the Bat corner of the DCU has ever enjoyed their lives, except for Dick on occasion -- and, as Damian once said, since he became Batman, Dick's been "disturbingly jolly". (It will, I must admit, be interesting to see how the partnership of Bruce and Damian -- a.k.a Grim and Grimmer -- works out. The idea behind Robin, at least to some degree, is that he provides balance to Bruce's unrelenting seriousness. How does that relationship work when Robin can't do that? But I digress.) The Lanterns have been at unrelenting war with themselves, with the Black Lanterns, with themselves again, for several years now. Nobody over there is having a good time with anything, ever. And Wonder Woman's spent the past year and change trying to figure out just who she is/was. Fun and enjoyment are exceedingly rare qualities in the DCU, and I wonder if maybe it was almost all concentrated in those three titles.

To be sure, all three titles had their grimly serious moments. Kara spent the last year slammed into a Brightest Day crossover without portfolio, and dealing with the effects of that in the issues that weren't explicit crossovers. And her fun and easy semi-sidekick relationship with Atlee entirely disappeared, along with Atlee herself; I guess maybe Terra was doing something Brightest Day-related over in the Teen Titans/Titans titles. On the other hand, she did get herself an interesting technogeek with Nicco, so that helped. Zatanna had to deal with Brother Night to start her title, and then an interesting Brother Night sequence was being set up near the end, but got aborted by the relaunch -- another one of those things that made me wonder how much notice some of the creators got of what was happening. And in the issues leading up to the finale, Batgirl had to work with a deadly criminal conspiracy headed up by her father. Seriousness a-plenty ... but still, here and there, a sense of levity and fun that I'm going to miss.

As mentioned before, it's not clear whether or how two of these characters are continuing in the DCnU. DC has flatly refused to say anything at all about Kara or Stephanie. (Gail Simone has mentioned wanting to do something with Stephanie and Cass if DC doesn't have other plans. I do hope they let her do that.) Zatanna is going to be a featured player in the new Justice League Dark, as noted above. That said, given that "Dark" is in the title, I'm not expecting much in the way of levity or lightness. And on top of that, Zatanna is the victim of one of the three or four most misbegotten concept redesigns in the entire nU. She's going from this


which is very clearly a very traditional, classic stage costume, to this:

She's the one in the bustier with the fishnet finger gloves. Apparently, she's now a Madonna wannabe, only, what twenty years too late? (The MOST misbegotten redesign, of course, is Harley Quinn, who is going from a fairly traditional harlequin costume to ... well, THAT. This in the face of DC's dictat for the new U that their heroines will no longer be wearing skirts, that Black Canary's fishnets are gone, that even Poison Ivy's ivy costume is gone and replaced by a unitard. They've taken a character that has never EVER presented herself as any sort of sexual object and tarted her up, for no apparent reason, while at the same time toning every other woman's costume down, sometimes to the point of actual ugliness. Well done, DC Editorial! She's also getting put on the Suicide Squad, which ... really? Harley? Perpetual sidekick? ... All-righty, then!) Both Robin and Red Robin are acquiring feathers, for heaven's sake -- although, to be fair, Red Robin's feather cape is apparently a functional redesign, in part; it contains tech that lets him fly. Damian's just getting a feathered cape for feather's sake. But I digress.

In any event: it looks like, for a while, they're going to be taking all of the fun out of the DCnU. I hope, maybe in the second or third wave of titles, they let some of it seep back in.

Questions? Comments? A stray set of fishnets, perhaps?

Posted by iain at 11:53 PM in category things comickal