default

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.
default

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!
default

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.
default

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.
default

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!
default

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.
default

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.
default

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
default

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?
default

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!