Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Comics for 14 May

There was enough interesting stuff last week that I’m going to write about a weeks’ worth of comics. I feel very tentative about this for some reason, as though I’ve fallen out of practice.

Spoilers ho!

Batman 676 – R.I.P. begins with this issue, and typical of Morrison, we’re introduced to a grand spate of characters that are unfamiliar, calling themselves the Black Glove and led by Doctor Hurt. I don’t know that any of them have appeared in any of Morrison’s stories to this point, but they are setting up what they call the Dance of Death for Batman. The writing is generally quite good, spending time with Batman and Robin in pursuit of another failed costumed villain before returning home. We find that Bruce Wayne and Jezebel Jet are an item now, and that she knows his secret identity and appears willing to accept it, even talking to him about the time when Batman’s mission is complete, including his ability to recognize it being done. At the same time, Robin and Alfred have a very discerning conversation about the emotional roller coaster Batman appears to be on, and the state of the Batman family. It’s actually fairly touching to see something like a familial moment here, and Alfred is written particularly well—stalwart and compassionate at the same time.

But when the Joker gets introduced to the mix in what feels in some ways like a four-page coda to the main story, things get all garbled up. I’ve read those four pages probably twenty times trying to figure out what is going on and where we are, and while I have some ideas, there is nothing to firmly answer my questions. Perhaps more will be revealed in the next issues—and solicitations make it clear that Joker plays a vital part in this story—but my experience with Morrison and the unanswered questions awaiting responses is that they really get answered. It’s no help that Tony Daniel’s art, strong throughout the issue, is especially compelling in these pages, but it doesn’t help to answer the questions that he pages raise.

It’s a strong start to what is supposed to be the most important storyline in years for Batman (this time everything changes!), but I admit to being a little pessimistic, both in the successful completion of this story and its place in the Batman canon at large.

Titans 2 – If you’re going to bring back the Titans, there really is no better way to do it than by bringing Trigon back as well. Writer Judd Winick is weaving an interesting story of revenge, as Trigon aims to settle the score with the Titans. Raven returns to her home dimension to suss who is attacking the Titans, while the rest of the team at first rescues another captured titan and then waits for the results of Raven’s sussing—results which arrive fairly explosively and with a big reveal. The story has potential, a lot of it actually, especially for true Titans fans.

Unfortunately, there are two glaring weaknesses. First, the art is horrible. I don’t recall any art specifically from Joe Benitez anywhere else—which I consider a good thing; while not good enough to stand out, it also wasn’t bad enough to stand out. But this is really bad stuff; all of the characters look like Stretch Armstrong caricatures, all drawn out and thin. I swear the model for Flash is Plastic Man, especially when we first see him with a jaunty pose Wally has never affected before. But as bad as the men are, the women are far far worse, with wide expanses of forehead leading to tight faces taking up very little space on the front of the head. It’s just not enjoyable to look at.

Secondly, Winick is failing massively at finding the voice of the Titans. They are more than friends; they are family, each with their own voice but with all sorts of embedded connections. What Winick has, written, however seems like a loose confederation of allies coming together to fight a common cause. Especially telling is the portrayal of Gar Logan, Beast Boy, as some sort of comic prop. In the past, he has been the comic figure, but he has grown past that in recent years and stories. Winick writes him as if he was 12 years old again and generally stupider than he actually was at that age. It’s grating and distracting from what could be a cool story.

I’m going to keep reading this for a bit, just because it is the Titans, but these two issues are enough to make me drop the title soon if they don’t get fixed, no matter the potential of a good Titans story. (And this morning, having seen the cover for Titans 5, I’m not optimistic…).

Wonder Woman 20 – I think I have made no bones about how much I like Gail Simone. And now she has gone something unexpected, reaching back into DC’s fantasy past, bringing back characters that I have found to be filled with unrealized potential from the DC implosion. With this issue, Wonder Woman meets Stalker and Beowulf, with hints that we are going to see Claw as well. Simone’s characterization of the implosion characters feels dead on, and she uses them to insert Wonder Woman in a fantasy world with gods and magic, which to be honest often feels like it is where she should be most often. I’m delighted with this first part of the story and looking forward to how it plays out. And Aaron Lopresti turns in some really strong art work to go with the story, especially in close-ups of characters’ faces.

And some related Gail Simone news--convention reports indicate she will be doing an ongoing Secret Six series, with art by one of my favorites, Nicola Scott. Huzzah!

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