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Trouble with Comics

The New DC 52 Week Three, Part One

So, good for DC for not only getting some decent sales so far for the relaunches, but generating a bit of controversy as well, specifically with the sexual mores of Starfire and Catwoman in two books that debuted this week. I guess I might as well enter the fray before said fray is all over, so without further adieu…

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort is, to be fair, notable for more than Lobdell¢s recasting of Princess Koriand¢r, Starfire, as little more than a doe-eyed, obedient fembot, ready for superheroing or sex, the former something she seems to do more as a favor and the latter something she does for fun, and does often. Nothing wrong with a liberated woman, of course, although narration mentioning that she had once been a slave raises questions about just how much of her attitude is cultural and how much might be spawned from that experience, and why did she have to be introduced with a joke about her breasts? As others have rightly pointed out, it doesn’t make for a good character (re)introduction because there is literally nothing else here but a hot orange chick in a bikini who has sex with any guy who hoves into her reach. There are interesting things that can be done with that as far as Roy (never called Arsenal or Speedy) Harper and Jason (Red Hood but its really a helmet) Todd, because one of them will probably develop feelings for her, but that’s all about the male characters and their conflicts. Give us something for Kori to do or think about besides humping.

As for Roy, I have never really followed him except secondhand, so I¢m pretty okay with pretending the heroin and lost arm and dead baby or whatever just didn’t happen. But so far he¢s a not-very-interesting along for the ride kind of guy, and since the ride Red Hood is taking him on isn’t clear, well. As for Jason, Lobdell seems to want to make him sort of a Grifter type, with a girls jacket instead of a long trenchcoat over what looks to just be Nightwing¢s current costume, more suave than psycho, with skeletons in the closet but insane revenge against Batman on the backburner. Lobdell moves things along briskly and with a little bit of intrigue, and barring the gratuitous Starfire poses, Rocafort has clear talent, but in order to make Red Hood into a character who could support his own ongoing book, it seems like he has been smoothed out to be pretty indistinguishable from a lot of superheroes.

Catwoman #1 by Judd Winick and Guillem March is the other controversial one, and for good reason, as we first see Catwoman in bra and panties, then shes undercover as a bartender in a hotel suited rented out to Russian mobsters and prostitutes with sheer panties jutting out at the reader, and finally, she decompresses with some wild-but-brief sex with Batman on the roof of her borrowed penthouse. I actually don’t mind this in theory, as I think people are too puritanical about superheroes, as if having an active sex life somehow makes them less noble. Now, an active sex life with a criminal, that’s a different story, especially as Batman is historically the hardest-assed, least forgiving of them all. But that can be really interesting to develop, if Winick avoids the more fanfictiony elements of it seen here. Better to suggest and leave some of this to the imagination, even if March does draw sexy women. As for the rest of the story, with an anonymous gang blowing up her place, her love of cats, and the introduction of a smart, kind older female friend-slash-provider of jobs, its all pro forma. Of course her friend isn’t going to provide any competition for Selina in the looks department. Of course theres a creepy pimp killer guy she can tear to pieces that we wont feel shocked about, because he deserves it. Catwoman works best when shes skirting that blurry line of morality, a thief whos a good friend, mentor, and who steals from those who can afford to replace the item or who maybe stole it in the first place. Winick needs to work harder to explore those moral quandaries, the decisions that turn out bad in one way or another, rather than dwell on the sensational.

As long as we¢re in the Batverse, let¢s look at Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. I wish I could unremember Kevin Pasquino noting that Scott Snyder has a fondness for characters talking about their fathers, because here we go again with another bit of wisdom, although I¢ll cut Snyder some slack here: it makes sense that Bruce Wayne would talk about his father in a speech looking towards the future of Gotham. And at least Bruce/Batman is written about the same as he is in Tony S. Daniel¢s Detective.

Like many of the relaunches, this one starts with a quick bit of action, followed by a lot of talking to set up the direction of the book. My first impression of 2011 Capullo is that he isn’t much different from 1999 Capullo, but with more of a tepid hybrid of the styles of Jim Lee and former boss Todd McFarlane. From the Batcave on, there isn’t anything here that will wow you, and his Joker is surprisingly unthreatening-looking. I also thought it was odd that Dick Grayson was drawn as looking about 17, not fully grown, when he is clearly an adult in his own book and we know he is just off a convincing gig as Batman. It would hardly be a Batbook without a creepy murder these days, though thankfully Snyder doesn’t dwell on it too much, and he does a nice job dropping a little red herring early on that helps justify Bruces new doubts about Dick, now that Dick¢s DNA has been found under the nails of the victim. I didn’t like this as well as I did Snyder¢s Detective run, but not a bad start.

Nightwing #1 by Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows is about as good as it should be. What I mean is, while it will never sell as well as a book starring Batman, a Nightwing series should always be pretty good because you have a character who is more fun and more accessible as Batman. He¢s a lower-budget Batman who also has the same father issues most of us have, but he also gets laid now and then, but always in a non-creepy Red Hood way.

This issue establishes that Dick was Batman for a while on a fill-in basis but is happy to be back as himself again. Of course, being Gotham, a day doesn’t go by when some hero¢s past doesn’t come back to haunt him, which comes in two forms here: 1) an agile but not superpowered hitman trying to kill him, and 2) his old traveling circus is in town, with a childhood friend now grown into a lovely woman. Seems like pretty familiar territory, but Higgins writes a likable Nightwing and Barrows draws him handsome and heroic, nothing very ambitious in the storytelling but very consistent and attractive. I liked it a lot.

Birds of Prey #1 by Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz is no longer a Batbook, as Barbara Gordon only appears briefly to turn down Black Canarys offer to join. Its confusing, because this seems to be the first incarnation of the team, so if that’s so, how do BC and Babs know each other? The team is now Black Canary as the veteran/voice of reason, Starling as the sassy one (she¢s new to me), and Katana as the quiet one/Asian one/one without a bird name. Based on the cover, Poison Ivy will appear at some point, but she doesn’t here.

I like Saiz¢ art a lot. He is able to capture female forms without adding too many lines and getting into gross territory. In fact, I can¢t think of a book he¢s done where he didn’t class up the proceedings a notch.

We meet a reporter who has been trying to uncover the truth behind the Birds of Prey, and they have heretofore tolerated him, until the guy feeding him details on them sets up a meet that is really designed to draw them out in the open to be picked off, whereupon they rescue him, kick some butt, and take off. Three inoffensive, distinct female characters who are good at what they do and work well together, some sort of menace, and an interesting supporting character or two. Nothing astonishing, but this should be the baseline quality of any superhero book, and so far, so good.

—Christopher Allen

DC 51 Week Three, Part One - Leave My Sex Kitten Alone

With Week Three of the new DCU I decided to once again stick with the random generator method: Week One was alphabetical by title and Week Two was alphabetical by writer.  And now with Week Three I’ve allowed the mysterious and unfathomable UPC Code to be my shepherd – and what a cruel guide the code is turning out to be.  It wasn’t until the sixth book that I finally got to a title that I had previously been interested in (talk about eating everything on your plate before you get to your dessert!).  And then the dessert I had been waiting for turns out to be a disappointment.

In UPC order…

What little I know of the Blue Beetle character has been gathered from TV’s “Brave and the Bold”: he’s a young Hispanic kid who has some sort of super-armor that he can talk to and can only somewhat control.  I remember reading the first issue of the series when it came out after Ted Kord got killed, but besides that, the character is relatively new to me.

What I didn’t realize when reading Blue Beetle #1 is that this new issue is a re-launch of the character. As I was reading, I thought Jaime was already a superhero.  There was no reason for me to think he wasn’t all-powered up, but upon reflection, there was also no reason to think he already had the armor.  It made for a very strange bit of miscommunication and the last two pages made me re-examine the whole issue – not because of an amazing, shocking revelation, but because I had read the whole book wrong.

I like the character of Jaime quite a bit, but I can see a younger reader enjoying the book a lot more that I did.  He’s a good kid, he doesn’t quite get along with his parents but he loves them, there’s a bully at school, he likes a girl who maybe likes him, etc. etc.  It’s very Peter Parker-esque in its approach and that’s not a bad thing. 

One thing did bother me:  there’s an editor’s note that reads “*Translated from the Spanglish” when Jaime is talking with his parents.  And that makes perfect sense because they would be talking in a blend of Spanish and English in their home.  But then the book doesn’t do the actual translation!  There’s some dialogue that reads “Pero mami,PORQUE?” as if would give the book more verisimilitude.   And I would go with the flow and try to figure it out from the context if that editor’s note wasn’t there, but if they’re going to translate some of it, they should translate all of it?

It’s strange, but flipping through the issue again, I’m actually tempted to buy the next issue.  Or to put it another way, I wouldn’t mind re-reading this issue and giving it another shot.  And that’s more than I can say for a lot of books in the new DCU.

 

Very briefly for Captain Atom #1:  for some reason the character has a flaming Mohawk for a haircut.  The entire book is narrated through captions of what he’s thinking.  My UPC guide is making me read four books in a row with the same narrative style.  Apparently the UPC code hates me.  Oh and Captain Atom might blow up because he’s absorbed too much energy.  This seems to happen in every Captain Atom story I’ve ever read before.  And now I’ll never know if he really does blow up because there’s no way I’m going to read another issue of this bland book.

 

Before we dive into the book itself, the cover of Catwoman #1 should be examined.

Selina is outside of a tall building, reclining on a gargoyle-type creature.  Her top is unzipped because obviously her magnificent breasts have forced their way free, her goggles are lying beside her looking like a bra that’s been cast aside and she’s pouring diamonds over herself out of a tiny sack that looks like a blue sausage casing.  And the spilled, shiny diamonds (which must be glass because she is letting them fall to the earth) look like a special kind of pearl necklace that is cascading over her already-mentioned breasts.

Honest, I wish I was making all of that stuff up.

As for the issue itself gone are the days of class and style that writer Ed Brubaker and artists Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart and others brought to the book.  Selina is now a smoking hot hottie in the new DCU.  She is no longer a dignified and seductive sex kitten; instead she’s a full-grown, in-your-face-with-her-huge-breasts prowling cougar.  On top of that, she’s also a thief, a vicious and cruel thug,  and a semi-psycho more than willing to use her Wolverine-like fingernails to slash at any man who gets in her way.  And did I mention that she has huge breasts that she is more than willing to put on display over and over again.

As for a relationship that Grant Morrison subtly hinted at in Batman Inc – well, in the new DCU it’s just full tilt hardcore Bat and Cat cosplay action.  Discretion is for wimps!  Just show them doing it!  Give the fans what they want!  As Selina so loving narrates, “And most of the costumes stay on.” 

The conclusion of Catwoman #1 is a five page Tijuana Bible parody of a porno fanfic wankfest.  If anyone besides DC Comics had published this book, they would have sued them for abuse of trademarked characters.  As is, it would probably fall under the parody and satire rule. I am truly hoping that there is a bizarre explanation that will eventually reveal that it’s not Bruce Wayne under the cowl.  Otherwise I’m hoping it’s just a bad dream that some frustrated sixteen year old somehow slipped into my mind.

Besides, it can’t be Bruce Wayne because Selina tells us “Still… it doesn’t take long…” and we all know from Grant Morrison that Batman is a “hairy chested sex god” and this fake Batman-guy is apparently a quick shooter and …

… Oh I give up. Ed Brubaker must be laughing his ass off over at Marvel Comics and Darwyn Cooke must be just shaking his head with a “Why the hell would they do that?” kind of exasperation.  Brubaker, Cooke & company gave Selina some style. And writer Judd Winick and artist Guillem March has flushed it all away. Catwoman #1 is an embarrassment and the worst book so far from the new 52. 

 

Nightwing #1 takes Dick Grayson out of the bat-suit and back to his previous superhero incarnation. 

The thing is this: I really enjoyed him as Batman.  The relationship between him, Damian, Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne was an interesting and evolving dynamic that gave the bat-books some new life.

Writer Kyle Higgins will have to do some work when it comes to capturing the inner process of Dick’s thoughts combined with his dialogue and what’s happening in the story itself.  There is a horribly mis-drawn sequence when two police officers are viciously killed by a villain and Nightwing’s response is “You tell me what this is about and I only break your little claws.  And your jaw.” And as I read that I was thinking, ‘Hey Nightwing, did you not notice that he just murdered two police officers?  Cuz he just slaughtered them in front of you.  Why are you being all funny about it?”

So either Higgins didn’t see Eddy Barrows final art, Barrows didn’t follow Higgins’ script or editor Bobbie Chase wasn’t paying attention to the final product.  And it they didn’t care enough to check it, I don’t think I care enough to read the next issue.

 

DC is certainly trying to tie Red Hood and the Outlaws into the Batman-books because the ‘oo’ of ‘Hood’ has a bat emblem in the title logo.  That’s because Jason Todd is the Red Hood and he used to be Robin and even though he could’ve (and probably should have) been written out of continuity in the new universe, someone at DC must like him because he’s now the star of a new book.

And someone must also really like Scott Lobdell because he’s been given this book as well as two others to play with.  He’s also been allowed to de-psycho Red Hood, detox Roy Harper and completely lobotomize and bimbo-ize Starfire.  

I mean completely and utterly lobotomize and bimbo-ize Starfire.  She is now so alien that all humans look alike and they are forgettable and interchangeable.  She’s so alien that she will walk up to someone and say “Do you want to have sex with me?” So at least they’re compatible with her sexual needs. 

Remember back with Catwoman #1 when I mentioned the porno fanfic wankfest sexual fantasy Tijuana Bible mess that the issue concluded with? – Well, at least this time it happens just nine pages into this comic.  I guess that counts for something. 

If Starfire once had some kind of alien, warrior pride, it’s all been shoved aside for a whole lot of T&A.  The logic must be that character development is all well and good, but it will always be trumped by big orange breasts. As for me, I’m just going to choose to remember her flying in outer space with Adam Strange and Animal Man in 52.  Because her portrayal in this book is not the way I want to think of the character. Maybe like Batman in Catwoman #1, Starfire is just some bizarre doppelganger who pretends to be a hero in order to get sex.  I can hope.

 (Oh and take a glance at that cover.  Red Hood, Arsenal and Starfire are rushing into battle and Starfire is ramming her breasts into the back of Roy’s head.  Or maybe she’s just using his quiver as a breast-rest.  So I’m not sure which book is more of a big breast extravaganza, Catwoman or Red Hood and the Outlaws, but to be honest I’m not willing to re-read either of them in order to find out.)

And now, finally, the UPC guide finally takes me to a book I have been looking forward to.  And I find myself… saddened.

Not that I was expecting a lot from Legion of Super-Heroes #1 but I was hoping the book would have taken the opportunity to course-correct itself.  Because recently I’ve lowered my expectations with this book and I find myself buying it just because, well, it’s a book I’ve always collected.  The recent Paul Levitz Legion series and the almost incoherent Adventure Comics were near-total shipwrecks.  So with the new DCU I was hoping the book would be able to turn itself around.

Unfortunately, just like Green Lantern, this book has not been re-booted.  It picks up exactly where the old series left off.  And I read that old series.  And I’m a fan.  And I have honestly forgotten all about it.  Can’t remember anything except Mon-El was a Green Lantern and then he wasn’t.  I was happy to leave the series behind me and move on.  Instead, this issue Number One picks up on the plot threads that lost me and I didn’t care about in the old series.

As a matter of fact this book reads as if someone forgot to cc Paul Levitz on the company-wide memo and then no one wanted to admit the mistake.  The whole universe rebooted and everyone forgot to inform the former president about the changes.

 

The sad thing is that this book will never attract new readers if Paul Levitz continues to write it.  The book is now so insular that no one but long-time readers will be able to decipher what’s going on.  For instance, someone named Oaa has recently died and a bunch of Legionnaires are devastated by the loss, but who this Oaa person is or what they did is never explained. And that is just one of many in-continuity references that make the book impossible for a new reader.

The sad fact is that I’ve been reading the book for years and even I can’t make sense of it anymore. For a   comic that is part of a company-wide re-launch and that is hoping to attract new readers, this issue is a brutal blunder.

—Kevin Pasquino