Thursday, November 3, 2011

DC New 52 - Comic Discussion / Review

Since these are so late, I've opted for more of a discussion style while still reviewing the books. 

High marks! The titillating ending of last issue is killed off quick though. I don’t think DC is serious about changing much. Ok, new villain, but it’s the same formula of mysterious guy attacks Batman or Bruce Wayne out of the blue --> detective stuff --> fist fight --> mysterious person leaves with much less mystery about them. A new paradigm isn’t even played with. It’s one big page at the end of issue 1 to suggest something then right back to the grind.

Batman again provides full issue musings on Gotham and its history. I dig it. Gotham is a marvelous city. Little convenient that everything that has ever happened there can be traced back to the Wayne family, but Gotham is supposed to always be in turmoil so it works. But it also puts Batman’s actions in some continuum where he is just the latest expression of an old idea rather than the product a radial situation. The mayor outright says so. But I do like it. The city itself seems to be suggesting dark magic while also offering the plausible excuse that bad stuff just happens. The villain is embodying these ideas, though, that I’m not sure need a body. He’s awesome. I’ll be clear. He’s what I want in a villain: keeps his mystery, prepared, great theme, actually manages to hurt the hero, looks amazing in everything he does. Especially that last reason. I don’t want posing but if by accident, as a by-product of you doing your thing, I wish to high-five you, that’s completely acceptable. But back to my point, I don’t want Gotham to happen to be the site of some ancient ritual that is the source of all evil (the physical manifestation of) on Earth. I’m much more interested in the questions of “is Batman fighting human nature itself? Is an end possible? Is humanity its own enemy? Is the human mind unraveling under the pressures of its own advancement?”. A face on all that just says “no, there’s just some jerk, the world is literally black and white”.

An enjoyable Batman story. Doesn’t seem to be stretching for anything.

Oh Jason Todd. You aren’t doing what I’d like and with people I don’t care for but I have to know what you’re doing. Issue two is another mixed bag for me.

I was curious why and how these three people got together. I'm not suggesting these characters are all loners so would never team up with anybody, they’ve all been on a team of some sort, but how did they meet? Why did Red Hood break Arsenal out of prison? Arsenal provides as good an answer as we're likely to get with “what else would we be doing?”. Hmm… That’s not a terrible strong reason. Issue one had these three just together and I don’t think the writer (Scott Lobdell) really cares why. I get nervous when a writer disregards reasoning for their stories. It makes caring about them difficult.

Mr. Roy Harper does not impress. He dresses poorly and says generic or dumb things. Honestly, I think it would help the character a lot if he were to be maimed horribly. Give that drifter something to focus on, toughen him up a bit. I don’t want to read about someone who isn’t special floating around doing not special things.

Kori, Ms. Alien Princess Starfair, is just attractive baggage. Credit to artist Kenneth Rocafort for his fashion sense (two links for him! Get an official site bro). But Starfire is getting full page spreads to look good and that’s it. She physically follows the two males around, adding some green light to fight scenes, and making lame sexual innuendos. This isn’t just a complaint about how “women need better representation in comics”, it’s also “there’s an incredible powerful alien not doing anything or being the least bit interesting”.

So why read this? Because Jason Todd, resurrected- ex- side-kick of Batman, jet sets around the world with Talia al Ghul, daughter of the (Demon’s) Head of the League of Assassins, training to become… Actually I don’t know what. He’s never said he wants to be “the best”, nor has he identified a goal (like Kill Batman) that would give a reason for all this training. Maybe it’s a habit for people like him to learn new ways to kill people. It’s a problem with the narrative that there’s no reason for anything that’s happening. Fat Lady (Suzie Sue) surprises Jason in his safe house, highlighting his lesson that nowhere should be considered safe, then gets killed. Cool! Apparently there’s some history between the two (I’ve read all Red Hood stories, never heard of her before this). Why was she there? What purpose of the story does she serve? I already knew Jason kills people, does it well, with guns… Maybe her father will come after Jason later, and they’ll be a good story there, and I’ll applaud in hindsight for the writer creating a narrative that stretches beyond a few issues, but right now I feel “stuff” is just getting thrown around. Nothing is tying the characters together, and the closest thing given as a goal (or quest) is a mysterious girl (also not in any previous Red Hood stories) who points out some mysterious entity that killed some unknown people Red Hood likes for reasons he doesn't relate to the reader. Man, I'm down for mystery but I need a thread to hold onto. Let me know where Jason is mentally. More than "safe houses shouldn't be considered safe". Or give me a mystery to care about. Supermonks being killed by a villain isn't worth my time. 

Congratulations on creating a not cliché martial arts master to train Jason! Well, besides being an unassuming old lady. Don’t know if modern day teen persona was the right direction. That was odd. It’s cool to play around though. Jason’s flight wings were the embodiment of his baller status and I’m sure the electricity flicking around them is totally backed up by actual science showing his “wings” would function. But, um, why does Red Hood care about these people who trained him? Maybe this clean slate (new 52) isn’t working in Red Hood’s favor. The writer is trying a new direction but not connecting to his past, which is where I’m getting mixed signals. That especially makes sense with the “don’t effing mention B-Man” chat the outlaws have. Real shame. Jason Todd is fun but divorced from any history, he isn’t as interesting to me.

Whilst searching for some online presence to link to for Scott Lobdell (he gave it all up apparently, s'why I opted for the Wiki entry), I found a Q&A he did regarding Red Hood and the Outlaws. He's thinking about issues more than is being let on in the actual issues.

There’s a calm, sensible approach to story-telling going on here. Instead of instantly teaming up, the heroes are feeling each other out. That type of methodical story-telling works well for the dialogue scenes, as just standing around some old printing press talking kept my engaged, assuming the point of view of each character in turn and checking the scene out with new eyes. Yeah, the characters are more than just some multicolored parade of exposition and punching. What makes Green Lantern meeting Batman a worthwhile event to see if how their personalities match up. I think that’s the fan dream, not the “oh GL would make chains and Batman would throw baterrangs!”. Cool cool in this regard.

The fighting loses all sense of urgency though. It’s obvious each hero is waiting their turn to attack so readers can judge relative power levels. It’s not the crazy melee one would expect from three super-powered people slamming into each other for the first time. Everyone is showcasing their signature moves, and it actual flows like a turn-based game. Batman uses gadgets (pass turn), Superman does a flying tackle (pass turn), Batman ect. It’s not a fun time now but I’m happy to see the attention to detail and thoughtfulness of it. When the League does form, I just hope the pace of these pick up while keeping the higher thought level.

Dialogue was a letdown in most of this issue. Everyone is so blunt. ‘Dad, I want you to watch me play football’ ‘That’s not important to me, son’.Really difficult to care about characters with no personality. It’s as though the story is all broad strokes and the details don’t matter. A lot of comics function that way. Take any series and just describe what happens in the course of a year and it sounds amazing. Actually reading it doesn’t have nearly the same impact. Play to genre strengths. What other form of storytelling gives a new short story every month and lasts for years? Make the moments matter.

I’ll just note here, too, that any new dynamic idea for the status quo isn’t even teased for issue three. It’s only two issue so I won’t say “DC lied about everything”, but it is shocking how the end of the first issue says “new things!” and issue two ends with “remember this guy?”. The characters themselves are richer, the situations they are in are not.

Hey, remember how the premise of this series was “crazy villains being forced to work together for good (sorta)”? How the inherent conflict but also tension for that is deeply compelling? Issue two is “we’re all a team now and really polite to each other”. “Hey Harley, please tell me about your past. I’d like to help you work through your problems”. Deadshot is the de facto leader, probably on account of his sane and charming narration. There’s no power struggle? Not even with the blood crazed shark!? That guy’s cool with everything!? Everyone in the DC universe finds teamwork so natural. Can the villains at least not be slaves to order? Don’t make the whole universe predictable in under ten issues…

Somebody made a zombie plague (that’s what happens). Is this a violent comedy book? I guess we’re not taking this seriously. But I’m supposed to care about the characters history and their future development? Things aren’t jiving here. SUPER! One of them developed an obnoxious sense of morality. Oh and he won’t shut-up? Perfect. Keep telling me how killing things is bad even though that's your job and also only way to survive. I didn't know. Voltic and Black Spider, my numbers two and three for likeable characters, promise something to watch: rivalry. Oh wait one of them dies! And with them another reason to keep reading this series.

The ending takes a page from every military action movie ever created. Are we just working through popular movies of the decades? How can the same writer create a solid first issue concept, then spit out cliché nonsense the very next month?