Cross-Hatchings for October 2011

by  in Comic News Comment
Cross-Hatchings for October 2011

No column this week, but rather a series of column-ettes. Some thoughts on a couple of DC titles as well as some indies that got buried under the DCnU rollout, and a couple of other minor items of interest.

Other Comics Came Out Too Dep’t: You know, there have been a few books that debuted recently from major publishers that aren’t DC.

I’m sure you’re all aware of the new Daredevil from Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin. But I just wanted to say here that it’s really good.

You know what’s even more awesome? There’s an audio edition. That’s right — Daredevil for blind people. Anyway, it’s very easy to jump on board with and if you like straight-up superhero adventure then you should check it out.

Another debut that got largely buried by all the DC news was The Bionic Man from Dynamite.

This is an adaptation of the Kevin Smith screenplay for the aborted big-budget movie adaptation of The Six Million Dollar Man. This screenplay was posted in its entirety on the internet some years ago and I was very excited to read it then, because I was and am ridiculously fond of the 1970s “bionic”/superhero shows (as recounted here and here.) Frankly, though, I was disappointed after reading the original draft and I don’t regret that the movie didn’t get made.

But what was underwhelming as a screenplay really works well in this comic book.

I dunno… cybernetics-enhanced ninja assassins just don’t seem as out-of-place in a comic, and artist Jonathan Lau brings a really nice dynamism to everything. And I suspect that time away and rewriting have helped this project considerably, though I didn’t do a comparison with the original screenplay. I’m assuming that we’re looking at a standard six-part adaptation, though I’d really love it if this turned into an ongoing comic and we saw some re-imagined and juiced-up Steve Austin adversaries from the old show as well.

Like Doctor Dolenz and his killer robots!

After all, I can’t help thinking that a lot of the stuff that seemed sort of deranged when we saw it on TV would be really awesome in a modern high-adrenaline superhero comic.

Like Steve's bionic throwdown with the Death Probe from Venus!!

Alien robot Bigfoot, Dr. Franklin and his fembots, mind-controlled killer sharks, all of that stuff could be grist for the mill. Just saying. After all, the villain of the Kevin Smith piece is a riff on the unstable Barney Hiller, the Seven Million Dollar Man.

Anyway, I think this is a fun book and if you remember the bionic 70s– and maybe even if you don’t!– you will too.


Planetary Force Dep’t.: On our trip to Victoria, I stumbled across a paperback adventure series that I immediately fell in love with… Jake Decker’s The Force.

It's almost embarrassing how much I enjoyed these books.

The premise is that tough CIA vet Steven Sinclair is called out of retirement to lead a team of super-secret covert operatives on operations too damn dangerous and sensitive for any but the very best to tackle. His teammates are southern belle Jezebel Cooke, martial-arts master, and “Micah,” a psionic mutant who can push people into doing his bidding with mental commands. They fight Bangkok drug lords and sadistic KGB torturers and other folks like that. It’s all very trashy and schlocky and hell-for-leather action… not much artistic merit, but a lot of stuff that blows up.

I kept getting a sense of déjà vu about it, though… and it dawned on me that the team dynamic that you see in The Force is the same one Warren Ellis used in Planetary.

No, really. Hear me out.

You’ve got the grizzled veteran leader, the kick-ass martial arts babe, and the guy with weird powers that nobody likes very much, and they bicker among themselves all the time. I don’t for a moment suggest Warren Ellis lifted the idea from here– for one thing, Ellis and Planetary are infinitely better-written than these trashy books– but the coincidence provided me much amusement over the rest of the series.

There were four in all– Deadly Snow, Death’s Little Sister, Death Gambit, and Death Comes Home. I bought the first one on our trip and tracked down the other three soon after we got home. They are in no way fine literature but they are a lot of fun in a junk-food sort of way. Moreover, they actually form a complete arc– the fourth one closes out the series in a way that left the door open for more, but nevertheless feels like a definite ending. As far as I can tell the series is all by the same writer, though “Jake Decker” strikes me as some sort of house pseudonym. I tried to dig out more info on the books but apparently no one but me was ever nutty enough to try; at least, none of the usual series-paperback-collector websites seem to know the books ever existed.

Anyway, I enjoyed them way more than a grown man should have. You can pick up the entire run on Amazon for a total expenditure of around five or ten dollars if you want some entertaining junk-food reading with a comic-book feel.

Because People Keep Asking Dep’t.: I know that there has been a lot — a LOT — of comics blog wordage expended over the whole sexy/slutty/whatever Starfire and Catwoman thing. I didn’t read the books, so I don’t have an informed opinion. But I can’t honestly say I’m surprised, either.

I'm not really seeing that big a leap from the 80s Starfire to the current one. To be brutally frank about it, they're BOTH pretty embarrassing.

It’s not like this is a new phenomenon, for God’s sake. Just a couple of particularly classless examples from the sound of it.

In Catwoman's case, particularly, writers have been hinting and implying and teasing rooftop Bat-hookups for the last FIFTY YEARS. Not surprising at all somebody finally Really Went There.

It’s not like there haven’t been lots of other equally tasteless, ill-considered attempts to be sexually “edgy” in comics over the years– hell, I remember the kerfuffle a couple of decades back about how wrong it was to show Dick Grayson and Starfire in bed together back in the Baxter Titans #1.

And there have been comics heroines who exist largely to pose and fall out of their outfits all the way back to Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. (I’m not usually a fan of these Baywatch-level comics but even I have to admit to a fondness for the Domino Lady.)

I know. I'm not very evolved. But these were fun stories.

All of which brings me to Voodoo #1.

Back when I was figuring out my pull list, I mentioned that I was going to give this one a try based solely on the fact that I’d liked other books Ron Marz wrote, and that I approved of a DC cover featuring a woman headliner who wasn’t falling out of her shirt.

At the time, the responses from friends of mine ranged from “Buh-wha?” to “You know she’s a stripper, right?”

Well, no, I didn’t. I hadn’t really followed Wildstorm at all except for a couple of Warren Ellis trade collections. I admit to feeling foolish about not knowing the stripper thing, but I reminded myself that the book wasn’t out yet and my two reasons were still intact — Ron Marz had a good track record with me and it wasn’t a cheesecake cover.

So Voodoo #1 finally came out this week. And starting Wednesday afternoon and continuing since then, I’ve steadily been getting Twittered and emailed comments along the lines of, Neener neener, Starfire Catwoman DC T&A, we warned you, Voodoo strip club naked blah blah.

Well, no. Sorry, but no. I’m glad I reserved judgement. I actually liked Voodoo #1 quite a bit. In fact I thought it was one of the better #1 issues from the new DC that I’ve seen, and though it’s definitely not for kids, it’s not a cheesecake book at all.

What it did seem like to me was act one of an X-Files episode. In fact, there’s even a couple of federal agent-types in the story that are somewhat evocative of Mulder and Scully.

Yes, Voodoo’s a stripper. And yes, most of the first issue takes place in a strip club. But like I said, it’s all about context. More, it’s also about tone. There are a lot of scenes with strippers and so on, but here’s the thing– those strip-club scenes are not really erotica. Not in the gratuitous, Charlie’s Angels/Baywatch style, at least. There’s none of that ridiculous I’m-empowered-by-my-sex-kittenhood, this-is-my-statement-of-freedom crap that you see so often in superhero comics and science fiction. You know, stuff like, “On my planet women are often nude and have many mating partners. Is it not so on your world? How strange!”

Yes, STAR TREK, I'm looking at you.

None of that here. The feeling that you get reading Voodoo is much more bleak. The strip-club stuff is meant to show a situation that isn’t particularly sexy or arousing, but rather kind of desperate and sad. The men are pathetic and the women are doing the best they can with the few options they have. The overall effect is kind of noir-ish, which I assume is the kind of crime-story-with-aliens feeling that the book is going for. As such, Voodoo has much more in common with, say, Claudia Christian in The Hidden than with strictly cheesecake characters like Tarot or Sheena the jungle queen.

And, well, that’s the kind of genre mashup that always gets me. Aliens vs. cops in a gritty noir setting? Sold, at least for the time being.

If anything, my one complaint with the book is that Sami Basri’s art isn’t the best fit for this; lovely as it is, it’s really almost too pretty. I think the book would have worked better with a slightly rougher edge to the art and deeper shadows.

But that’s just being nitpicky. Overall, as a number one issue of a new series, Voodoo did the job. It set up the premise and got me interested enough to come back.

I do have to eat my words about one particular thing — I’d originally liked the idea stated in the preview blurb of “a woman on the run in the DC Universe,” meaning this was something like Marvels or Gotham Central or The Pulse. I.e., Voodoo would be a book with a street-level view of superheroes and the DCU. Now, having actually read it, I have to recant that. I found myself wishing this series was something separate, a Vertigo title or something like that, because the more this book interacts with the DC universe at large, the weaker it gets. I think the story is much better served for the weirdest thing in Voodoo’s world to be Voodoo herself. My two cents.

Certainly, of the six or seven of the new DCs I checked out this month — and again, it must be added that I hardly looked at any of them, I’m mostly waiting for trades these days– Voodoo was one of the two I enjoyed the most. (The other was Mr. Terrific, which was MUCH better than anyone had any right to expect; I was braced for something pretty continuity-heavy with lots of JSA in-references and instead we got Michael Holt, Science Adventurer. I love that idea.)

So, to sum up– I liked Voodoo quite a bit and certainly would not dismiss it out of hand as being just another bad-girl T&A book aimed at the skeevy fanboy demographic. Rather, it seems to me like a fun book about alien conspiracy in a noir street-crime setting. As long as that’s where it goes, I’m in.


And that’s it, this time out. See you next week.