December 6th, 2011

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Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Batgirl

Batgirl.

Now we're getting into it. When the new 52 became less of a rumor and more a fact surrounded by many, many rumors, one of those rumors was that they were going to cancel the fun new Batgirl series in favor of giving the title to the previous holder, Barbara Gordon.

Okay, sure, you think--wait. Isn't Barbara Gordon a paraplegic?

Yeah, in the over-referenced story Batman: Killing Joke, writer Alan Moore was given permission to cripple Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner James Gordon, former Batgirl.

(Actually he wasn't so much given permission as told to, after a series of brief conversations with editorial to, quote "cripple the bitch," unquote. Ah, casual mysogyny of fictional females. Where would comics be without you? Maybe in a better place. But that's a story for another time.)

So, yeah, there was that whole "She's been in a wheelchair, you know?" thing. But this was going to be a reboot, so maybe in the new timeline, she wasn't?

Actually, no. She was shot in the spine, and the bullet rendered her legs useless, just as before. Only, somehow, her spine managed to heal itself. It's regarded obliquely as a "miracle" by Barbara in her narration, and . . . that's all the explanation we get. In the old continuity, she could never heal from the injury. In this one, eventually she did.

So she's gone through the rehabilitation procedures and everything, and has decided she's ready to go back to being Batgirl. But wait, some of you are thinking. Wasn't she working as a superhero information dispenser while confined to a wheelchair? Wasn't she Oracle?

Well, yeah. But only for like a couple years. She did her Oracle thing, her super-hacker thing, her Birds of Prey thing (we'll get into that, trust me). But now . . . she's Batgirl?

"But wasn't Oracle like a thousand times more effective than Batgirl could ever be?" you might think of asking.

Look, I don't write the retcons, I just deal with them.

The first issue of Batgirl . . . was kinda meh. Not bad, not really, but it needed to do a lot of things, and fell short of those things. It needed to introduce us to Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, and it needed to give us good justification for her walking around again. It also needed to give us a good justification for why she's not Oracle anymore, wheelchair or no wheelchair, and it needed to give us good superhero action. In short, it had a tall order, and it failed to meet all those objectives.

Why is Barbara walking again? A miracle. Why is she not Oracle, wheelchair or no wheelchair? Apparently? Because she likes using her legs. Huh. Was there good hero action? Not really (and I'll get to this in a second). Did it introduce us to Barbara as Batgirl? Sort of, but unless you already know about her, you would probably get the feeling that there's a lot unsaid in the first issue.

It also had a really, really dumb cliffhanger.

Now, credit where credit is due: It got better. The second issue allowed writer Gail Simone to play to her characterization strengths, which were good. The villain that Batgirl faces in her opening arc is a trauma survivor who feels that those who were lucky enough to "cheat death," as he sees it, need to be killed to balance the scales. So he's going around murduring people who had close brushes with death and tragedy, and has targeted Batgirl . . . and Barbara Gordon. This causes Babs to really examine her supposed miracle and try to figure out if she really deserves her second chance. And the series does get better in the second and third issues. The villain is vile, and you can't wait for Barbara to beat him.

Which is the problem. Problems, actually. Firstly, this arc feels like its dragging on way too long. Secondly?

Barbara has yet to actually save anyone, at least from this villain. The bad guy, Mirror, keeps besting her. And that's a problem.

One of the reasons I actually was interested in Barbara returning to the cowl, is that she's smart. She's really damn smart. She's a frickin' computer genius. Also, she has a perfect photographic memory, which makes her really scary capable as an investigator, and detective. But Barbara here is kind of not being very smart. Also, the formula for superhero stories is as follows: first the hero loses, then its a draw, then the hero wins. There hasn't been a draw yet, and the story--and protagonist--suffers. Hopefully, the series will continue to improve, and I like Gail Simone's work a lot, so I'm gonna continue to follow it.

It's not bad, and if you don't know anything about previous versions of Barbara Gordon, or are interested in ongoing series starring solo heroines, then by all means, pick it up. For me, like I said, I'll continue with the series, but I am going to be slightly disappointed until I see Barbara become the heroine I know she should be.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; also, I dislike her roommate. She's just . . . annoying and unneeded.
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There Are Four Batman Books. Well, Three And 'Tec.

Batman.

Oh god, I'm going to talk a lot, aren't I.

Well, maybe, but there's 3 Batman books, plus Detective Comics and some ancillary books, so I'll try to spread out my wank as much as I can.

Okay, Batman. It's odd, but the first new 52 comic about Superman, Action Comics, kind of painted Superman as a bit of a jerk, which too many Batman comics until recently have painted Batman as; but now, the first batch of Batman comics in the new 52 paint Batman as caring, compassionate, and paternal, which is what Superman should be portrayed as!

Don't get me wrong, it's great seeing Batman more balanced and less of a prick again. Outside of Batman cartoon tie-ins, it feels like its been ages since I've seen him in a comic book. It's just kinda ironic, I guess.

Unlike a lot of new 52, the Batman books were rebooted the softest, and follow the most from their pre-reboot stories. Namely, Batman, Inc., in which Bruce Wayne decides the best way to continue his war on crime is by outright admitting publicly that he's been secretly funding Batman for years . . . and now its time to franchise.

So he's gone around the world recruiting Batmen around the world. This will only come into direct play in Batwing (we'll get to it, don't worry), and in Gotham, Bruce Wayne is starting a new initiative to revitalize Gotham City. This overlaps with some stuff in his other books (Batman and Robin, Batman The Dark Knight, Detective Comics, etc.). Here, there's a seemingly idealistic politician who hopes to garner Bruce's support in his bid for mayor, a secret society called the Court of Owls, and an assassination plot against Bruce himself. Scott Snyder does a good job of making Gotham feel like a real, breathing city, and Court of Owls is a really kickass, creepy name for a secret society. The art, by Greg Capullo, is a trip. Its storytelling ability is slick, but sometimes the renditions are rather at odds with the tone of the story. Another minor problem I have is that Batman is the world's greatest detective, dammit, and he's resorting to the "beat up a bunch of thugs while yelling questions at them" tactic, instead of gathering clues and Sherlock Holmesing a solution. Also, he should be moving along the mystery quicker.

Other than that, I can't help but be immediately suspicious of this politician guy. He just seems too good to be true, and Snyder's a better writer than to have a character be that one-note.

Also, there's the weird attempt to wring false drama in its cliffhangers, particularly the first issue. I'm just so sick of these terrible cliffhangers. It messes up the flow of the story trying to force melodrama where it's not needed.

Huh, I didn't ramble as much as I feared. But there's 3 other Batman comics, so we'll see.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; some of the links between the Batbooks are nice, but others are . . . odd, though.
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That's The Way It Is, Between Fathers And Sons

Batman and Robin.

Batman and Robin is almost a pop culture phrase on its own. It's got the same cultural resonance in America as, say, Holmes and Watson in England. It means great partnership, best friends, father and son, brothers . . . the Dynamic Duo.

Here, it literally means father and son. Whereas all previous incarnations of Batman and Robin--barring elseworlds and imaginary stories--have been surrogate family, now Bruce Wayne has to deal with the fact that he has a biological son, a spoiled brat and sociopath who was raised and trained as an assassin, and who still has an impulse to take the direct, and often lethal, path to problem solving.

I'm a sucker for the kid sidekick. Yeah, it's hokey, but it's a classic for a reason. And it's not just in superhero stories, it dates back much further than that, to knights and squires at least, and probably much older. And here, it's coupled with the fun dynamic of Bruce . . . not really knowing how to be a father.

Oh, sure, he raised Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake . . . but he was as much cool big brother as father figure to them. Here, he can't fall back on wowing his young partner. Damian Wayne, his son, is cynical and distant, and because of how he was raised, won't be impressed by the same things as his surrogate brothers. He's also dealing with a more blatantly sociopathic child than any of his other Robins. Batman has always had a strange ability to always connect well with kids, partly because he hasn't fully grown up himself. But that connection isn't automatic with his son, and though his heart's obviously in the right place, he keeps making missteps.

Couple this with an assassin who wants to kill Batman and Bruce (and knows they are one and the same) and is trying to tempt Damian into reverting to his own assassin training, and instincts . . . and the dramatic tension that should be the focus of the series. Unfortunately, it isn't focusing on that, or at least, not in the first three issues.

In the first three issues, the dramatic tension focuses on the aforementioned assassin.

. . .

And he's just a retread, at least so far. I'm sorry, but Batman should have taken this guy out without breaking a sweat. Even if he was trained by Henri Ducard. His motivation isn't properly defined, and just because he had one (count 'em, ONE) of Bruce's trainers doesn't mean he's a match for Batman.

Because of this, the first issue was the strongest issue so far, with Bruce taking Damian underneath Crime Alley and declaring that he's tired of honoring his parents' deaths, and wants to start honoring their lives, and so will begin celebrating their marriage anniversary from this point forward. It's a touching moment, and it has Damian snarking snottily throughout, not getting it at all.

And that's the kind of characterization of Damian I like. I like that Damian is full of himself and a massive brat and all. I don't like his reverting to his assassin training, kill-happy characterization. He had grown past that aspect even before Bruce died.

What? He got better.

So, this isn't my favorite Batman book (that would be Justice League International, strangely), but it's got enough to keep me interested, so there's that.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; okay, Bruce never actually died. Darkseid faked his death and tried to use it to cause the end of the universe . . . yeah, comics are weird.
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And If You Go Chasing Rabbits . . .

Batman: The Dark Knight

Back in the old days, it was sometimes said that, between the two main Batbooks, Detective Comics was the cerebral murdery mystery series, and Batman was the action hero movie series.

Well, in the new 52, it's not that. Batman: The Dark Knight is the action hero movie series. It's loud, and dumb, fast paced, and action packed.

Now, normally, that's not a bad thing, and for the first 9/10ths of the first issue, I was really digging this thing. There's a riot at Arkham Asylum, and Batman takes immediate control of the situation and leads a SWAT team to quell the riot. It is weird seeing Batman leading a bunch of gunwielding honchos shooting actual bullets at the inmates . . . but Batman's calm and cool and confident, and compentent, and it manages to work pretty well.

And then the issue's last page comes and everyone's head hits the wall. Or the desk, or the palm of your hand. There's somebody spreading some kind of drug around the rogues' of Gotham City, and that drug . . .

I can't even say it. Or, type it. Whatever.

Okay, I'm just going to force myself.

The drug . . .

. . . causes people . . .

. . . to . . .

. . . hulk out . . .

. . . argh.

Yep, there's giant, muscle-bound versions of Batman villains like Two-Face, Ventriloquist, and others running around. The only good news is that the effects are temporary, but it's still mindnumbingly stupid dumb.

So dumb, that they basically try to repeat the cliffhanger in the second issue, only with a different Bat-villain, after having all sorts of cool vignettes of the other members of the Bat-family dealing with the . . . hulked out . . . rogues.

Maybe if I call them Blockbusted rogues I won't want to mentally kill myself every time?

Let's see: Blockbusted rogues!

Blockbusted rogues! Blockbusted rogues.

Nope, either way it's still stupid.

So then the third issue doesn't have the stupid dumb cliffhanger, and has a short, ultimately pointless cameo by the Flash!

This series is bubblegum, and nothing more. Even without the stupid dumb, I can't say it's really good. But it's Batman! I love Batman!

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; maybe I need help . . .
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On The Wings Of A Bat!

Batwing.

So, Batman Inc. is Bruce Wayne franchising the Batname across the world. This means that many countries get their own Batman, although not all of them are called Batman.

And in all of Africa, there's this guy. David Zavimbe, Batwing, officer of the local police force. He was handpicked by Batman to be the "Batman of Africa," though so far he's mainly focused around his hometown, Tinasha, in South Africa.

Now, Africa is a big continent, not a country, and many of the countries in Africa are in a delicate condition, politically (??? makes it sound like they're pregnant! which they are, pregnant with MENACE!!! It's getting late, I'm getting punchy)

Ah, anyway, Batwing a comic that is wading through a potential minefield of all sorts of problems. Unfortunate implications, political dangers, all sorts of things. So far, they've managed to avoid any potential pitfalls, though that's mainly because it's focusing on an invented problem in Africa (like they need more problems?)

This invented problem is . . . there used to be a supergroup patrolling Africa, but for some reason, they've disbanded, and are being hunted down one by one by some guy calling himself Slaughter who wants revenge against them. The mystery of who Slaughter is and why he wants to kill these former heroes is the central mystery of the opening arc, and it's a pretty good arc, to be honest. The writer, Judd Winick, is someone I don't particularly like very much. He just has a tendency to hit writing quirks I dislike, and to preach through the narrative, turning characters into mouthpieces who shouldn't be. But he's doing fine, here, maybe a little rushed (similar to the problem with Aquaman, the issues don't feel like full issues. Here, though, I know why. The artist, Ben Oliver, is not using enough panels. His sequential storytelling needs a bit of work).

Okay, so another problem is that much of the series has been told in flashback form, but that's ended by the third issue, and I think it should flow a bit easier from now on. I can't help but think that this would have worked better if the art were better at sequential storytelling, but it is what it is.

David is awesome, and I want to see more of his adventures. The story arc needs to wrap up, though. There's a limit to how much an introductory story can be dragged out, Winick.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; and there's no way Batwing can patrol all of Africa on his own. Nope, not buying that.
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Lesbians! Lesbians! Good Story, Great Art, And LESBIANS!

Batwoman.

The original Batwoman was introduced to the Batfamily to limit claims that Batman was a gay pedophile living in sin with Robin.

. . .

Yes, that was actually why.

Naturally, making her a love interest caused Robin to want to break them up. It didn't . . . exactly play like a jilted lover trying to break up an ex with his current girlfriend, but it wasn't hard to find the subtext.

Not that certain people need much to find subtext.

Anyway, when Batwoman was reintroduced recently, she was created to be a lesbian. A lipstick lesbian. It's just amusing that a character originally created to forestall complaints about Batman's homosexual undertones is a homosexual now. Maybe I'm just easily amused, but it just tickles my subversive bone (connected to the hip bone and the . . . other bone).

So Batwoman, Kate Kane (not Kathy), had a couple stories during Bruce's . . . not-really-a-death (what? He got better!), and now has her own series.

The main selling point of this series is the art, by J. H. Williams III, who drew most of her previous starring roles in the past. The art here is breathtakingly beautiful. Williams manages to push his already amazing skills past their limits constantly, and is probably one of the best artists working in this biz today. I can recommend the book based on the art alone, but there's also a cool mystery/thriller story going on, as well.

The basic plot is threefold: First, Kate is going through some personal stuff (based on her previous stories, basically she learned that her family is messed the hell up) and so is systematically isolating herself from them (even while she's training her cousin Bette, aka Flamebird--aka the current incarnation of the original version of Bat-girl). Second, Kate is slowly connecting with Captain Maggie Sawyer, a police officer and out lesbian (originally from Superman comics years ago, but in the new 52, I guess she's a Gotham native? Or has been in Gotham for a long time), while having to dodge investigation from the police, which is being forced by the Federal agency that investigates stuff having to do with super powers and super villains and all that (the D.E.O: Department of Extranormal Affairs).

In the 90s, there was this really cool short-lived comic called Chase, about a federal investigator working for the D.E.O. named Cameron Chase who has family issues about superheroes that lead her to have a pathological hatred of superheroes. It explored all sorts of cool, usually unexplored niches of the DC Universe. I loved it, but it only lasted 11 issues (and one of those was a tie-in to a time travel miniseries that didn't include the regular cast). Said cast was sort of co-opted by the recent-ish Manhunter series, which was half the reason I liked that series, too.

So now we've got beatifulest art, pretty good story-telling, and a cast I miss from other series.

Oh, and the third part of the plot? There's a ghost going around drowning people, and some people (like the D.E.O. agensts) think Batwoman is doing it. Yeah, cliche, but Williams' art is so good, it doesn't matter. Seriously, he manages to make otherwise bland exposition scenes dynamic and engaging.

The story does need to speed up a bit, but the third issue ends with Bette, growing frustrated with Kate pushing away her family, donning her Flamebird costume and deciding she's going to be a superhero whether her cousin feels she's ready or not.

Which I am looking forward to a great deal.

Also, Kate's interaction with Batman has been adult and mature and I love how they're treating each other.

Anyway, Batwoman is beautiful and a decent story very well told, and you should love it for the gem it is.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; seriously, the exposition scenes are exquisite!
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Girls Gone Wild? No, More Like Wild Gone Girls, Really

Birds of Prey.

I love the Birds of Prey. The old Birds of Prey, with Oracle and Black Canary, and occasionally Huntress, particularly in the later years. The one Power Girl hates. The one that never refer to themselves as the Birds of Prey. Chuck Dixon, Gail Simone, Birds of Prey.

This? Is definitely not that series. The only things they have in common are Black Canary and a predominately female cast. Well, and kick-ass action, but action is actually kind of passe in comics, so you need more than just action to get me all that interested. Let me preface this: the new Birds of Prey is not a bad series. It's got a lot going for it, not least of which is art by Jesus Saiz. This is a rather taut thriller, and it's got some cool concepts running around here.

But it's hard for me to distance myself from my love of the previous series, and this series . . . does not live up to that one. To be fair, it's only been 3 issues, and there's not much that could actually manage to match a series that ran over 140 issues. So I'm kind of cutting this one a lot of slack. Otherwise this would devolve into brainless fanranting and complaining that boils down almost completely to "Waah, it's not the old Birds waah!"

So for some reason, they actually call themselves the Birds of Prey as a group, instead of just being a collection of operatives brought together for their skills, and to be proxy to Oracle, who become friends. And yeah, I know at the tail end of the previous version, that happened a couple times, too, but I'm still marking that as the main difference between these versions: the old group never had an official name, and this new 52 version is the Birds of Prey.

Since Barbara Gordon isn't Oracle anymore, she's gone off to be Batgirl, so the other main member of the Birds, Black Canary, needs a new partner.

And so we're introduced to Starling, and I'm sorry, but she hits a lot of Mary Sue characterizations. We haven't learned how she and Black Canary met, so we don't know why she's considered a suitable team member, other than that she's female. Her visual design is more striking than BC, with her almost showing more skin than Canary and also the giant tattoo she shows off, and her unusual weapon choice (don't look at me like that, a simple pistol is an unusual weapon choice for a comic book character). Add to that everyone loving her (even though we the audience know almost nothing about this lady, so when the comic characters keep commenting on how wonderful, special, beautiful she is, it really stands out) and finding her amazingly competent (which, enh, okay, but at this level, of course she'd have to be amazingly competent), and getting most of the best lines in the early issues . . . she just feels like a lot like a Mary Sue. She is not, because a Mary Sue is a fan-created character who steals the plot away from the main character(s). Here, she is one of the main characters, and the story hasn't been about her at all. So, strangely, yes, I do think learning more about this woman will help reduce her looking like a near Mary Sue.

So what is the story about, if it's not about Starling? Well, for some reason the Birds are considered a group of outlaws--mainly because Black Canary is wanted by some group or organization. But that's not going to stop the Birds from doing what they do best, investigate the more seedy elements of the world and bring the bad guys to justice. And the bad guys here are particularly vile, blackmailing all sorts of figures to keep themselves secret and capable of using a strange nanobombs to kill key people to bring about their ends. Whatever those ends are.

Yes, it's another instance where I feel the introductory arc is dragging on too long. Even if we didn't learn the full motivation and secrets of the bad guys, some resolution would be nice.

Along the way, the Birds pick up Katana--a Japanese woman who carries a cursed katana that steals the souls of those it kills, in particular her husband--and for some reason Poison Ivy. Yeah, the bat rogue. I don't really get why, though. Supposedly, the nanobombs have something to do with plants, or a lead that will take them to the bad guys, I'm not entirely clear here. But . . . there are better ways to get this information that going to a known bat villain like Ivy. But maybe in this new 52, Ivy isn't as completely psychotic as she used to be?

We'll see.

The main draw of this series (aside from Jesus Saiz) is the character interaction, as these disparate personalities clash and mesh in interesting ways. Even as hesitant as I was, I did get sucked in, and I do want to see what happens next, so it turns out I recommend it.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; and did I mention Jesus Saiz does the art?
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HAWKAAA!!!

Blackhawks.

The original Blackhawks were the WWII equivalent to Robin Hood's Merry Men . . . with cool airplanes. A rag-tag bunch of freedom fighters from countries occupied by the third reich, who all happen to be expert pilots, fight their own personal war against the Nazis against the backdrop of the greater war. Also, War Wheels.

So the Blackhawks are a legacy in comics, and bringing them into the new 52 wasn't a major surprise. The surprise is that it's actually pretty cool.

This new Blackhawk team isn't a legacy, or doesn't seem to be. The history of the team is sort of shrouded in mystery. This new team is sort of a government-subsidized mercenary company who are meant to be a secret team tasked with hunting down rogue states with nanotech. This is complicated by government oversight, the developing ubuiquity of personal video cameras threatening to blow their cover, and one of their member getting infected with nanomachines and gaining superpowers that she can't conceal.

Like Birds of Prey, the main reason to tune in here is the character interaction, but the high concept of the plot is also fun. This isn't a deep introspective story about the possibilities of nanotechnology. This is a fun, loud, action romp with quirky characters and the kind of action you really want to see in comic books. Big action set pieces, almost unstoppable villains that the heroes have to be clever to defeat instead of just powerful.

Also, unlike some other series whose opening story arc is long, this one doesn't drag. That's partly because of the large cast, but also because it manages to worldbuild unobstrusively. Each scene has more than one part to play, lasting just long enough to set that up and then move on to the next scene.

I'm not explaining myself very well.

Going back to that old simile of music: this is not a classical orchestral suite played by great musicians. This is arena rock done well. Not good for you but satisfying all the same.

So yeah, Blackhawks is pretty good.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; although the character of Blackhawk is forgettable, really.
  • Current Music
    The Song of the Blackhawks by Richard French
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Your Head Is Made Of Justice? How Does That Work?

Blue Beetle.

I love the previous version of Blue Beetle. And I also love the other previous version of Blue Beetle, and the version before that! In short, I love the Blue Beetle, in all incarnations. A lot of fans of the previous secret identity of Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, really disliked how he was treated just so we could get a new legacy character out of the mix, but everyone who gave the next Blue Beetle, Jaime Reyes, a chance, loved him.

Because the previous version of Blue Beetle is the perfect series. A great lead character who's more grounded than the typical comic book character (which leads to great juxtaposition of typical comic book plots riding up against a very atypical character), fun and engaging supporting characters, and a good metaplot that stretches through the whole 30+ issue series. If you haven't already, go get the series . . . but skip the first arc until later. The plotting isn't quite as tight and the art, though more than serviceable (by Cully Hamner), doesn't make a perfect fit. It's not bad by any stretch, but it's just that it gets so much better afterwards.

But this new Blue Beetle is the rebooted version. And much of the charm is lost. Jaime is still mostly Jaime, a well-meaning completely average kid thrust into the pulse-pounding--and, frankly, weird--world of comic book superheroes. But he's a bit more angsty, a bit less grounded. And the supporting cast has been altered in fundamental ways that may lead to interesting stories later, but right now just seem like a darker and grittier take on them just for the purpose of being darker and grittier.

Blue Beetle is the story of an otherwise average high school kid getting permanently bonded an alien weapon of universal destruction that is malfunctioning. The aliens want their weapon back and working properly, and factions on Earth want to power of weapon for themselves, and Jaime just wants to become a dentist so that he can support his family when he grows up.

Yeah, that's the sort of guy Jaime is. Hey, do you know how much dentists earn?

Well, that was the old version, but I figure that's probably still what Jaime's like.

The previous version of Jaime had an origin tied deeply in the event running through the DCU at the time, a little story called Infinite Crisis, but this new version streamlines the origin to be self-contained. And in a misstep, I think a lot of potential drama is actually drained. In the original, we didn't know what the weapon, a scarab, was about or where it came from at first. Now, the mysteries are revealed from the outset, and it kind of messes with the pacing of the opening arc. However, said arc does not overstay its welcome, and ends where it should at the end of issue 3. Sure, there's plenty of plot elements without resolution at this time, but that's fine. The opening arc is sort of meant to define the story-telling engine of the series, and later stories can then be told in that engine.

In all, Blue Beetle is still one of the better of the new 52 offerings, but it had big shoes to fill. So while it's good, I know it could have been much better. So I'm going to keep reading, and I think you should, too.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; I look forward to Jaime's practicality to run headlong into the impractical world he's been thrust, too.
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If This Is The End

Captain Atom.

Okay, this one's . . . odd. The original Captain Atom was part of Charlton Comic's "Action Hero" line of comic book characters that also included guys like the Silver Age Blue Beetle and the Question. And like those characters, when DC bought the characters, they were initially given to Alan Moore to update and retool. Eventually, those characters were altered to become the characters in The Watchmen, and more basic versions of the originals appeared in the regular DC comics. However, because Watchmen became the seminal comic book deconstruction, the originals aren't seen as being too interesting in comparison. So when the new 52 came about, trying to make Captain Atom a bit more like the guy he inspired in Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan, makes some sense.

However, this guy is nothing like Doctor Manhattan. Manhattan has lost all sense of humanity, while Atom is struggling desperately to maintain his humanity. Also, Manhattan was a nuclear physicist, and Atom is just an air force captain. Not stupid by any stretch of the imagination, but not a genius when it comes to manipulating his powers.

The main thrust of the opening story is that Captain Atom's powers are starting to act funny, and he's not sure how much humanity is left in him, and the support staff that keeps him operating, as well as studying his powers, are starting to wonder as well. There's the one who thinks he's not human at all, the one who keeps trying to reconnect with his humanity, and the one in between. It's a fairly old story, but it's presented reasonably well, here, and the first issue did an excellent job of getting me, at least, to care about the main character enough to keep my interest.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; I admit the first issue made me cry manly tears, and that's the main reason I recommend it.
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Nines Lives Don't Always Save You

Catwoman.

Oh boy, here we go.

At first, I was digging this story. Much of the first issue was about a classy, sexy, competent female catburglar doing her thing. Yeah, it had some fan-service right out the gate. But Catwoman always owned her sexuality and never let it diminish her, even when drawn by Jim Balent.

And then . . . the scene.

I've been kind of vague and as non-spoilery as I could be up till now, but I've got to stop that in this case.

Batman shows up. At first, this was fine, even pretty good. But then . . .

. . . then . . .

They cement their relationship by having sex in costume, and Catwoman narrates that she doesn't know Batman's secret identity . . . and doesn't care if he knows hers. And she . . . kind of . . . forces herself on Batsy until he reluctantly relents.

. . .

Look, I'm not a prude, and sexuality is a fine thing to explore, even in fiction. Batman and Catwoman have had sexual and romantic relationships in the past. But here? Here it comes across as skeezy and has a rape undercurrent that just makes it worse.

And it's a case of first impressions coloring the rest of the series. I ended up dropping the comic because, quite frankly, it never gets back to that feeling in the majority of the first issue, where this is a cool, confident, competent, classy catburglar. She's less cool, she's less classy, and she's less competent, for a variety of reasons. It also stupidly kills off an interesting side character just to give the main character motivation to seek vengeance. Seriously, I thought we were passed that crap.

All in all, Catwoman had excellent potential to be great series about gentleman (or gentlewoman) thief, but that potential got wasted by it's attempt to be edgier than it had any right to be.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; Seriously, the first issue would have been GREAT . . . if not for the last couple of pages!
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Instant Karma

DC Universe Presents.

Long ago, comics used to be almost completely anthologies, where many stories would appear in one issue. Nowadays, anthology series are really rare, usually from independent publishers. However, they were a huge part of what made comics popular and successful once upon a time, and so there are several anthologies in the new 52. I talked about one previously, All-Star Western, and DC Universe Presents is another. However, where All-Star is traditionally anthologic (is that a word?) with multiple stories per issue, Presents will be following one story arc and main character for an issue or longer, and then go to a different story and character.

The first arc focuses on Deadman. Deadman is Boston Brand, circus acrobat and big ole jerk who was assassinated during a performance one night. Instead of going off to heaven or hell, or nothing or whatever, his soul was appropriated by the goddess Kama SutraRama Kushna for some sort of cosmic purpose. Boston's soul is given the ability to possess living bodies, and in this way he can control them and try to guide them toward a better afterlife. He doesn't always succeed, and he also originally wanted to solve the mystery of his murder. He did so (it's a long story, and involves his brother, Cleveland--who were his parents, Carmen Sandiego and Indiana Jones? . . . That would be awesome!)

This story, however, adds the wrinkle that the reason Boston is trying to save other souls is because if he does a good enough job, he'll balance his own karma and get a nice eternal reward. However, he's grown distrustful of Rama Kushna, and thinks he's being used for another, secret purpose.

That distrust drives the story, as he tries learning more about the mystical side of the universe (stealing from a fallen angel's library, for instance) so he can confront Rama and get answers about when his soul will be free. And that's where things stand, now. This is a really interesting story. It's nice seeing a character as rough around the edges as Boston, but who's still trying to be a decent guy. Also, the weirder nooks and crannies of the DC universe deserve a spotlight, too.

However, I'm not sure about recommending this one, given its anthology nature. Like any comic book, it'll have good story arcs and bad story arcs, and with it shifting from one character for an arc and then another character for an arc, I would feel better about recommending individual arcs, not the series as a whole. That said, the initial story arc is turning out really good, so read it, for sure.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; I'm sorry about that joke involving Rama Kushna's name, but not that sorry.
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I Make Stabby

Deathstroke.

::sigh::

There's this kinda-sorta rule in storytelling known as "show, don't tell." What that means is that the better way to present story concepts and characterization is to show those concepts and characters in action, rather than just having someone tell someone else (and thus, the audience). It's better for the audience to see these things for themselves, instead of being preached to.

Which brings us to the new 52's Deathstroke. Deathstroke, aka Slade Wilson, is an old soldier, a mercenary with a lot of experience, and a few mild superpowers. Enhanced reflexes, enhanced brain, a little bit of a healing factor. Slade could be a major threat to anyone he faced. And in fact, he had been used recently, or perhaps overused to be just that, capable of taking out heavy hitters on the Justice League on his own without much effort.

Which is stupid for a variety of reasons, but Identity Crisis is a bad comic and maybe one day I'll rip it apart as it so richly deserves. Internet Celebrity and comic book reviewer Linkara says he'll talk about it sometime in the beginning of next year, so he'll probably beat me to it. I doubt his opinion will veer too drastically from mine. But we're not here to shred Identity Crisis, we're here to shred Deathstroke.

You see, the thing about Deathstroke, the character, is that while he does have neat enhancements, he's still getting up in years. In fact, his initial introduction had him wondering if he wasn't perhaps getting too old to keep up as a mercenary. This new story, though, is all about how bad ass Deathstroke is.

How do we know that?

Why, the narration and every character takes time out of every scene to tell us, that's how.

. . .

Sure, Deathstroke does show us his chops, but he seems more an unstoppable force of nature than a badass. You see, what makes someone badass isn't his ability to take everyone on and win effortlessly. That doesn't make you a badass, it makes the guys you face look like weakasses. What makes one a badass is the struggle to defeat possibly tougher or more powerful threats than you.

Simply being badass isn't badass. Striving to be badass is badass.

. . .

It doesn't help that everyone goes back and forth between believing Deathstroke is the ultimate badass, and thinking he's past his prime and should be taken down rather easily. Whichever drives the plot. But Deathstroke just wades through wave after wave of enemy forces without much effort. That's not thrilling, people. That's lame and dull.

What really hurts is that this could have been a great title. A journey through the underworld of soldiers of fortune with a lead character who may be past his prime, needing to use his experience and intelligence to even the scales could have been awesome! But it wasn't, wasting its potential quite quickly.

And so I've abandoned this title.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; hey, the title has abandoned good writing, what's fair is fair.
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BETWEEN THE TIME WHEN THE OCEANS DRANK ATLANTIS!

Demon Knights.

I love fantasy. Sword and sorcery, heroic, epic, whatever. I love Greek and Norse myths (and all other cultures, really), I love Arthurian legend, I love the whole shebang. I first read The Hobbit when I was 4 years old, the Lord of the Rings the first time before I was ten, I started playing Dungeons & Dragons with my older brother when I was 6. Fantasy is one of the things that make me who I am, and is one of the reasons I want to be a writer.

So of course, I love, love, love the series Demon Knights.

It's a fantasy series about a disparate bunch of characters having to team up to ward off an impending assault by a huge army on a small village. At least, that's the initial arc. It's got all sorts of things. The characters are fun and I want to know more about them, even the ones I already know lots about.

New characters meet up previously established characters like Vandal Savage, Jason Blood and Etrigan the Demon, Madame Xanadu, Sir Ystin the Shining Knight . . . .

This is a great idea for a series, feeling like enough like someone's D&D game, only starring comic book characters! If that's not enough to make you want to go out and pick this book up right now, how about this?

They fight dinosaurs! And Vandal Savage, an immortal caveman, is ecstatic about it, because he remembers fighting and eating dinosaurs long ago! He remembers eating dinosaurs and makes comments about looking forward to doing so again!

If that weren't enough to get you read the series, another thing should be the character interaction, which is amazing, as these weird adventuring people deal with each other, as well as the villagers they have decided to protect. Imagine the Seven Samurai, or the Magnificent Seven, but with magic and monsters and all sorts of cool stuff. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough: THIS BOOK? IS AMAZING!

READ IT!

GET IT!

DON'T WAIT FOR THE TRADES, OR IT MIGHT NOT SURVIVE LONG ENOUGH FOR MORE THAN ONE COLLECTION!

IT'S AMAZING!

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; AMAZING!
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Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Detective Comics!

Detective Comics.

Yay, another Batman comic!

Tony Daniel is not a very good writer. He's an okay artist, but he has a tendency to draw everyone like they're really mad, whether they should be or not. He's been involved with Batman comics for a little while, now, and its obvious he loves the character. But enthusiasm don't necessarily translate well into good stories, and that has been proven true here.

I've been trying for the past twenty minutes to summarize this series, but I can't. It's not that it's utterly embarrassing, it's just that there's not much there. There's a villainous family of body part grafter's led by The Dollmaker, and it's suitably freaky and gruesome, but it's not enough to prop up an issue, let alone a several-issue story arc. Other than that, the characters are competently written, they're not acting bizarre or out of character or anything, and aside from a brief thing with the Joker in the first two issues, there's nothing truly moronic going on. There's a possibility of one thing dumb about to happen, but it's ambiguous enough that the next issue could go a different way, and I hope it does. But that's merely speculation.

All in all, this is just mediocre. I'm going to keep going with it, because, come on. It's Batman, and I'm an unmitigated Batfan. So, nyah. You might notice I've not actually made recommendations about the Bat-titles. There's a reason for that, and that reason is I can't seperate my love of Batman from my analytical look at the rest of the new 52. So I don't make a recommendation for Detective Comics, either.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; but if I did, I'd say pass on it.
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Fire, Bad!

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

I read the original Frankenstein, A Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley when I was 11 or 12. It didn't really make a huge impact on me, but I always knew it was an important book, a book that created the genre of science fiction. A year or two before I read the book itself, though I read a comic book adaptation of the book; it wasn't called a comic book, it was called a young reader's book or something. So my first exposure of the monster was in sequential art, and when I learned there were all sorts of comic books about the monster, called Frankenstein, I wasn't really surprised. I was kind of confused, though, because the doctor was Frankenstein. The monster never really got a name. Maybe someone could argue that it's the family name. You know, the doctor made the monster, so as the doctor's son, he'd be a Frankenstein, too.

Only, the monster isn't Frankenstein's son. He's a science experiment. Maybe he should be Frankenstein's son, and the plot of the book could be argued to about a deadbeat dad being pursued by an abandoned child, who's trying to get the father to accept responsibility. But . . no, that's not what the story is about at all. It's a story about the limits of mankind's role in the universe, about a man trying to supplant God, and realizing that, imperfect as man is, he has no place trying to supplant God. Is it a good moral? Not really, but let's not get into that here. The point is that the monster is not Frankenstein's son, and he shouldn't be confused for one, that messes up the whole message of the story.

Grant Morrison--I've been mentioning him a bit, haven't I?--not too long ago wrote a sort of "anti team book," called Seven Soldiers, and one of the soldiers would be the monster, and the title of the mini would be Frankenstein. The mini was about the immortal construct to become a Byronic Hero, affiliated in some way with a weird science secret agency called S.H.A.D.E. (Super Human Advanced Defense Executive), and it was a rollicking ride of whiz-bang spectacle, and the monster--okay, all right, I'll start calling him Frankenstein, because that's what they call him in the series--Frankenstein fights monsters and aliens and time traveling humans from millions of years in the future.

It was weird, compelling, and ultimately style over substance. I wasn't really impressed, so when he was given his own title, I wasn't expecting much.

But there's two things that make this new series worth reading. The new Creature Commandos, and AWESOMENESS.

The Creature Commandos were originally a World War II hero team made up of people who had been disfigured or in some way become reminiscent of classic movie monsters . . . (and Medusa). Putting them together with comic book Frankenstein would be brilliant! . . . if there weren't already a member of the commandos styled after Frankenstein's monster. Whoops.

But, wait! The universe has been rebooted! We can do it now!

So we've got a team book masquerading as a solo, and the addition of these new Creature Commandos does a lot for me. These Commandos are inexperienced, and headstrong, and unlike Franky, perfectly happy to be freakish abominations of science and flesh. Contrasted with the monster, who has been around for over a hundred years, has been fighting monsters pretty much the whole time, angst about being a mockery of man, and is pretty much indestructible. Oh, he could probably be killed, but he's ridiculously tough and has so much experience at fighting monsters, not much, conventionally, can kill him.

And the result is a brilliant, hysterical, awesome whiz-bang, doo-dah action adventure, with depth involving Franky shepherding and mentoring the Commandos, whether he wants to or not. Impossible odds, unbelievable heroes, weird science, epic cheese, all presented really, really well. And so, even though I think Franky himself is not a huge asset to the series, this is great fun, and you should definitely pick it up when you're in the mood for awesome fun.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; however, I do think Frankenstein's bride--er, ex-wife, is a great addition to the team.
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I Shoot An Arrow Into The Air, And Where It Lands I Do Not Care

Green Arrow.

Ah, man.

Okay, look, I'm probably more right than most anyone who would be reading this, politically, but I still like Green Arrow. Oliver Queen was once the poster child of liberal superhero. Happily, better poster childs appeared, since Ollie was well-meaning, but full of himself. That's sort of the charm, though. He was a loud-mouth, opinionated doof-ball who's better at spouting off politicial ideas than actually holding them. But he spouts them off with conviction! And regularity. Yeah, he's not always wrong, but he's still a giant doof.

And that's one of the reasons he's so loveable. His character is fun to watch, even if you disagree with him. His heart's in the right place, even if it's just on his sleeve.

And that's the main problem with this new 52 version of Green Arrow. He's not loveable. He's not a loudmouth. He's not a great big doof. He's a brooding anti-hero.

And. It. Does. Not. Work.

The only time it has EVER worked was when there wasn't a Batman around to show the audience how it was done. Smallville, Mike Grell's Green Arrow run (which had no one else in costume), and so on. But this is the mainstream DC Universe, new 52 or no, which means Batman is around, and when he finds out what Ollie's doing, I really hope he breaks down in uncontrollable laughter.

There's a gang of disaffected youth with superpowers, who host a sort of fight club-like underground fighting team, which they record and broadcast over the internet. This has given them a small bit of fame and infamy, which has gone to their heads, and they're escalating their super powered fights, and endangering civilians, which is where Green Arrow comes in. He, alone, goes up against this gang of supers without morals, and does all he can to shut the whole thing down.

Does that sound cool? Does that sound like a neat superhero story that has a lot of potential?

Well, too damn bad, it wastes that potential by making the lead character interminably dull.

They try. Oh, they try. They give him beard stubble, for chrissakes. Beard stubble automatically makes a guy interesting!

No, Oliver Queen here comes off as an entitled jerk who can't even be bothered to handle his civilian corporation, which leads to some higher ups wanting to take it over out from under him. That sounds like it could be interesting, too, maybe? Corporate boardroom politics, whoo! Yeah, its not interesting, either. Not even the support staff that Ollie has gathered around him, a nonlethal weapon designer and a computer expert, aren't even interesting. They're just flat.

This comic series isn't bad, by any stretch, it's just mediocre. It's so mediocre, it's not even worth getting passionate about. Which is why I've written so much about it . . .

The creative team is changing soon, next issue I think, and so I'm gonna give that a try, too, but right now I just can't recommend this one. The art by Dan Jurgens is nice, I guess? Maybe that's enough of a selling point? No? Oh.

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; and he was never the surrogate father to Roy Harper, which could have added some much needed depth to this dull pie.
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Green Is Not A Creative Color

Green Lantern.

All right. When I started reading comics, Hal Jordan wasn't Green Lantern. John Stewart was, but only briefly. Hal returned swiftly, and remained for a long time. So, yeah, Hal Jordan is "my" Green Lantern. But I don't have a favorite Green Lantern, any more than I have a favorite Doctor Who. I like 'em all: Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, and that's just the base human GLs. There are thousands of Lanterns out there, ranging from superintelligent smallpox vaccine, to a sentient planet. Yeah, I love the Green Lantern Corps, too.

But for a while, Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps had been ruined to the point of unusability, just to give the concept a whole new spin for the new guy, Kyle Rayner. Hal Jordan had been turned into a villain and destroyed the Corps, and it seemed there was no way to ever bring him back as a Green Lantern. They tried another idea, giving Jordan an almost redemptive death, and made him the new host of the spirit of vengeance, the Spectre. But eventually, Geoff Johns decided he wanted to revive Hal Jordan as a hero, and came up with a somewhat silly way to bring him back to life and retcon his turn as a villain so that it wasn't his fault. This was the strange cosmic fear entity known as Parallax, and this one thing led to multiple cosmic entities, the various corps of other Lanterns, and a bunch of roaring, epic sagas about the truth of the DC universe.

Green Lantern and GL-related books, like Batman, are getting the softest reboot, so the story line follows directly from the pre-reboot storylines. This can make it a little difficult for all new readers to get in. Basically, a big cosmic life destroying thing was out there, and threatened to destroy the Guardians of the Universe (the beings who instituted the Green Lantern Corps in the first place).

Yes, this has happened before. No, nobody cares.

A bunch of stuff happened, and Sinestro, a former GL who turned bad and tried many times to destroy the Green Lantern Corps became a GL again, and Hal Jordan killed the bad guy, a former Guardian who had turned bad and tried many times to destroy the Green Lantern Corps . . .

This freaked the Guardians out--that a Green Lantern could kill a Guardian--and promptly fired Hal.

. . .

And that's where we find ourselves as the new Green Lantern series starts.

Hal Jordan is no longer a Green Lantern, and is finding it hard to reintegrate back into normal human life. Which is kind of dumb, because he's lost his ring before, and he's never had trouble finding new work as a civilian. Hal Jordan has the most varied resume of almost any comic book hero, ever, and that's even just if you stick to normal jobs: air force pilot, civilian test pilot, toy salesman, trucker . . . the man's done all sorts of shit, he wouldn't have a hard time integrating back into human life, he is more than the ring.

But not if you believe this series. This series is contorting Hal Jordan almost as bad as when he was a villain, just so that he'll be in a position to accept Sinestro's offer: do a job with me and I can make you a permanent Green Lantern again.

Now, remember: Sinestro was a former GL who has tried to destroy the Corps many times in the past, and was almost always opposed by Hal Jordan.

Hal Jordan? Would not work with Sinestro.

There are even characters in the comic itself that state outright that Hal would never work with Sinestro.

And yet he's doing it.

This series isn't bad enough for me to drop outright. Other than the forced tension of having Hal team up with his most hated enemy for poorly justified reasons, the writing isn't bad, but Johns is doing a much better job with Aquaman. Maybe the well of creativity is starting to run dry with regards to Green Lantern stories? I don't know, all I know is I'm not enjoying this story very much. Maybe it'll pick up after the initial arc. That's what I'm waiting for, anyway, so I don't really recommend it. If you like seeing Hal Jordan verbally abused by Sinestro, though, this series is for you!

Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque; it seems like the new series should just star Sinestro, except that Sinestro is totally evil.