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Rearranging the deck chairs: DC Rebirth titles, Week Nine!

by  in Comic News Comment
Rearranging the deck chairs: DC Rebirth titles, Week Nine!

DC is at it again, dropping three new books on us, and I must be getting nicer in my dotage, because all of them were … pretty good? Man, how can I continue to be so curmudgeonly in the face of such astonishing competence?!?!?

All Star Batman #1 (“My Own Worst Enemy Part 1″/”The Cursed Wheel Part 1”) by Scott Snyder (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciller, “Enemy”), Declan Shalvey (artist, “Wheel”), Danny Miki (inker, “Enemy”), Dean White (colorist, “Enemy”), Jordie Bellaire (colorist, “Wheel”), Steve Wands (letterer), Dave Wielgosz (assistant editor), Rebecca Taylor (associate editor), and Mark Doyle (editor). $4.99, 32 pgs, FC. Batman and Two-Face created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Alfred Pennyworth created by Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, and Bob Kane. This Firefly created (I think?) by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff. Killer Moth created by Bill Finger, Dick Sprang, and Lew Schwartz. This Black Spider created (I think?) by Gail Simone, Joe Bennett, and Eddy Barrows. That guy created by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert.

My faith in Scott Snyder has never been absolute, as I think he’s a great “idea” man but has some problems with the follow-through. I’m not completely alone in thinking this, but I’m in the minority, I know, but that’s okay – we all have brains, right, so we can think what we think. I read the first three trades of his DCnU Batman run, and “Death of the Family” was such a wrong-headed story that I couldn’t continue with it. I don’t have anything against Snyder personally (I’ve never met him), and on Facebook, at least, he seems like a swell guy. But I don’t trust him, because he seems to be turning into more of an “idea” guy and less of a good storyteller. He’s also one of the few DC writers (now that Johns is gone, is he the only one?) who can sell a book based on his name alone, so DC, wisely, gave him his own book – they dusted off their defunct “All*Star” line and turned him loose on it, and it feels like he’s going to go all Jeph Loeb on us, giving us a “greatest hits” Batman story for the time being. And because I want to talk about one particular idea he has, I’m going to SPOIL a bit of this book. You’ve been warned!

First, though, I can discuss the book in general. DC charged 5 bucks for this, but they did give us a 24-page main story and an 8-page back-up story, plus the cover is heavier card stock, so it doesn’t feel like a rip-off. Romita Romitas his way through the first story – you know what Romita’s art looks like! – and it looks great, despite the fact that Dean White is coloring it, and the last time I saw Dean White coloring Romita, it … didn’t turn out that well. I think a lot of artists and colorist have recognized their shortcomings with regard to digital media over the past few years, and they’ve adjusted to the new reality, so White’s colors over Romita’s pencils and Miki’s inks look a LOT better than a few years ago, when it was fairly brutal to look at. Romita is always going to draw costumed heroes as blocky, which we get in this comic, but White’s flatter colors don’t make them look as ridiculous as some of the stuff from that link (the comic at the link came out about four years ago). White uses rendering, of course, but it’s more subtle than it has been in the past, which makes me think he’s figuring out the digital aspect of coloring more and more. His shading is less intrusive, too, so the flatter colors make Romita’s pencils stand out better while the shading simply adds some nice nuance to everything. It’s possible that it’s Miki’s more delicate inks assisting, as well – in the link above, Klaus Janson was inking Romita, and those two have heavier touches than many artists, so perhaps Miki helps blunt Romita’s pencil lines enough that they work better with White’s coloring. Or perhaps White really has gotten better, which I like to think. Romita gives us a terrific Two-Face splash (it’s another boring splash page, as Harvey is just standing there, but it’s still a great drawing), and he’s always done brutality well, so the initial fight between Batman and Firefly and Killer Moth is well done, culminating with a knife slammed through Moth’s forearm. Romita has claimed he’s a fairly fast artist, so I’m sure he’s keeping up, but I wonder if he had a little extra time with this, because if he did, it shows. Meanwhile, Shalvey and Bellaire are their usual terrific pairing on the back-up story, with Shalvey giving us a shadowy Batman training Duke Thomas in the ways of vigilante-ing, while Bellaire does superb work making everything around Batman – including Duke – as bright as possible, turning Bats even darker by comparison. It’s nicely done.

Snyder’s story is fine, with one big flaw. He takes Batman out of Gotham into the country, where he’s transporting Two-Face somewhere – a “house” is all we get. Apparently, Two-Face has gotten so bad that Batman doesn’t want to chuck him in Arkham anymore, and Harvey convinces him to take him to said house to get rid of “Two-Face” once and for all. Harvey, however, has placed a bounty on Batman – if Batman succeeds, Two-Face’s blackmail files on everyone – even little old Prudence McGillicuddy, who apparently skims from the collection plate at St. Barnaby’s and enjoys getting finger-banged by her brother-in-law while her sister makes cake in the other room – will be made public, but if someone kills Batman before they reach the “house,” Two-Face will give them the fortunes of the three richest Gotham crime bosses. So this is kind of Midnight Run crossed with Damnation Alley crossed with The Dark Knight. It’s derivative and goofy and kind of dumb (I mean, Firefly can’t be as stupid as he seems in this, can he?), but it makes for an entertaining story, as we get regular folk debating whether they should kill Batman or not while costumed supervillains are also keen on collecting the bounty. Snyder structures the issue quite well – he begins in media res, which isn’t as dramatic as it used to be because everyone does it now (it’s “comics writing 101” by now), but it’s still a pretty good way to start. What’s better is that he never really explains what Two-Face did in Gotham that puts him beyond the Pale – he did something with acid rain, but, I mean, that’s Thursday in Gotham, so I wonder why that particular stunt means he has to go 500 miles to some mysterious house, but I appreciate that Snyder leaves it unknown for now. This is a solid, high-octane thriller, with a surprise guest (who is too cool to spoil) and that twist in it. Of course, the first issue of Snyder’s DCnU Batman was pretty good (and it also featured a SHOCKING TWIST!!!!), and we know how that went off the rails pretty quickly. But we’ll see with this. The back-up story features a strange murder(s) and Duke Thomas getting to know how Batman does his thing. It’s also pretty neat.

However … the twist is bad. This is where I SPOIL things, so if you don’t want to know, move on to the next paragraph! So Batman is flying Two-Face to his destination, when his plane is shot down. That’s why he’s getting beaten up by Firefly and Killer Moth at the beginning – he’s on the ground because his plane got shot down. We know that it’s someone on the inside, because no one has the “codes” to break through his awesome cloaking technology. Who could it be? Well, it could be Alfred, and it is. Now, we know that Two-Face has blackmail material on everyone (perhaps Alfred was the one finger-banging Prudence McGillicuddy?), so of course he has something on Alfred, but like the “Dick Grayson is a murderer!!!!” in DCnU Batman #1, this is a dumb twist. Whatever Two-Face is blackmailing Alfred with, it can’t be too bad, because DC won’t allow him to be a child rapist or (shudder) a Trump supporter, so it’s going to fall short. So whatever motivation he would have for helping Two-Face get away is going to be disappointing. Plus, it’s not going to become a permanent part of the status quo, because other writers won’t do anything with it. Is Alfred’s betrayal going to show up in Batman or Detective? (Granted, I don’t know if Alfred is even in those books, but he won’t be absent from them for long if he is.) This is the very definition of “shocking for shock’s sake,” and those kinds of stories can work, but only if they’re finite and use characters that readers don’t have a long relationship with. Readers know this won’t stick, and Snyder knows that we know it won’t stick. Therefore, it’s just a lazy and convenient way for Batman to get out of the plane and onto the ground so that his journey is harder to make (Midnight Run did this, of course, by making Charles Grodin petrified of flying, but Batman wouldn’t care about that with Two-Face, so we had to get something else). Plus, like a lot of supposed shocking twists, it makes the characters look weak – Batman is the world’s greatest detective but he didn’t know about something that Alfred is so ashamed of that he’d rather get Batman killed than have it revealed (I mean, you could argue that he just doesn’t want Two-Face to get to the “house,” but how does he think anyone is going to stop Batman – ask him nicely to release Harvey?), while Alfred is so weak that he can’t stand up to the scrutiny of whatever it is he did. It’s just a dull twist, which is, unfortunately, kind of Snyder’s thing.

It’s too bad, because as I mentioned, the plot is entertaining, even if the inciting event remains shrouded in mystery and, from what we’ve seen, doesn’t seem so different from what other villains have done in Gotham over the years, so why does this put Harvey in a special category? But the idea of Batman having to transport a prisoner and getting beset from all sides, even by “civilians,” has a ton of potential, and the first issue is generally pretty good. That twist, though … sheesh.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Deathstroke: Rebirth (“The Professional: Prologue”) by Priest (writer), Carlo Pagulayan (penciller), Jason Paz (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), Willie Schubert (letterer), Brittany Holzherr (assistant editor), and Alex Antone (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC. Deathstroke created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez.

Do you know what that is, my good friends and readers of this blog? That is a Stephen Platt cover of Deathstroke, and I cannot tell you how amazingly geeked I am that Stephen Platt is back in the world of comics, even if only to draw variant covers for DC books. Some of you might not know who Stephen Platt is, and that’s okay – it’s not like he had a long and/or great career. In fact, Stephen Platt is not a very good artist, or at least he wasn’t 20 years ago. But he drew some issues of Moon Knight at the end of that character’s longest solo series that are, to be frank, batshit insane. They’re not any good, to be sure, but they’re batshit insane, and sometimes that’s enough. Those few issues gave me a soft spot for the glorious awfulness that is Stephen Platt interior art, and when he disappeared from comics later in the 1990s, I was kind of sad. I mean, I can’t stress this enough – his art was terrible. But it was terrible in a glorious way, unlike Rob Liefeld’s art – whom Platt was obviously emulating – or unlike more generic hacks like Marat Mychals, who also tries to emulate Liefeld. I don’t know if Platt is trying to get back into comics in a bigger way or if he’s happy doing covers, but the world is a better place when the insanity of Stephen Platt art is part of it.

Anyway, Christopher Priest is back at DC, which is not a bad thing, as Priest is one of those comics writers who’s not great but at least knows how to tell a story, and this “Rebirth” issue – the only official “Rebirth” book this week, mind you – is pretty good, because Priest doesn’t care about recapping Slade’s origins. I mean, we do get a flashback to Slade’s younger days, but even that is pretty interesting – usually, in a book like this, where the protagonist is an “anti-hero,” the writer gives us flashbacks to show that the protagonist wasn’t always bad and that external forces turned him into the hard-ass he is today. Priest says “Fuck that” and gives us a flashback of a younger Slade being a complete douchebag to a kid, who may or may not be his biological son (it’s unclear, unless it’s just unclear to me). I’m not entirely sure what the point of the flashback is except to introduce a character who’s important to Slade in the present, but it’s kind of refreshing that Priest doesn’t try to make Slade even remotely likeable. He’s a dick, but he’s a dick who’s really good at his job, and his job is exciting, so we’ll read the book. At least that seems to be the prevailing thought. Does it matter that Slade is a dick when he’s kicking ass in Africa?

Priest does a good job showing us that Slade is good at his job – one problem I occasionally have with these bad-ass bad guys is they don’t do enough bad-ass stuff to justify their rep, but Slade is totally professional in this comic until the final page, when the surprise guest shows up. It’s not perfect, of course – using the Clock King as some kind of mastermind is dumb, especially because he’s wearing his costume, which Pagulayan draws like they’re pajamas, and there’s a strange sequence where a person is watching something on television that he couldn’t possibly be seeing – but it’s not bad, either. Slade, of course, works best as the star of his own comic when he’s not going up against superheroes, so Priest doesn’t put him up against superheroes. Priest loves writing comics that bring in “real-world” geopolitics (as “real-world” as the DC or Marvel Universes are, of course), so Slade is working for an African dictator with a dicey relationship with the United States. Priest likes writing comics “old-school” style, so there’s a mystery that seems like it could stretch out for a while. I don’t know if this will sell well, but it’s better than the New 52 Deathstroke #1. That’s not too impressive an achievement, but still.

Pagulayan is a good superhero artist, and his fine pencils, Paz’s subtle inks, and Cox’s digital coloring make for a pleasant-looking package. There are some annoyances – one page is just Slade and the African dictator talking, and Pagulayan uses the same drawing of Slade four times in four different panels, while barely altering the dictator, so it’s a remarkably boring page, visually-wise. As I noted, Clock King looks silly, but his lair is pretty neat. Pagulayan doesn’t get to draw a lot of action, but he does a nice job with it. Of course, I wouldn’t be a douchebag reviewer if I didn’t mention that my old nemesis, Willie Schubert, letters this, and while it’s just the slightest bit better than his 1990s heyday, the letters are still annoying. I don’t know why – they just really bug me.

With Christopher Priest writing the book, you kind of know what you’re going to get, and Priest tends to stick on books for a while, so if this sells reasonably well, we should be able to expect a pretty interesting examination of political machinations in the darker corners of the DCU. That’s always kind of keen!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Superwoman #1 (“Who Is Superwoman?”) by Phil Jimenez (writer/penciller), Matt Santorelli (inker), Jeromy Cox (colorist), Rob Leigh (letterer), Paul Kaminski (associate editor), and ALLEGED SERIAL SEXUAL HARASSER Eddie Berganza (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC. Lois Lane and Lex Luthor created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Lana Lang created by Bill Finger and John Sikela.

Phil Jimenez is the spiritual successor to George Pérez (and he’s been around long enough that he really ought to have his own spiritual successor, oughtn’t he?), so it’s not surprising that Superwoman is absolutely packed with content. Deathstroke, which I just wrote about (it’s true! just scroll up!) is 20 pages long and contains 99 panels, so it’s a shade under 5 panels per page. Six of them are black with white titles on them, as Priest likes to split his single issues up into smaller chapters, but there are only six of them, so let’s not nitpick about them. Meanwhile, Superwoman has 201 panels – it passes Deathstroke on page 13. Now, the number of panels doesn’t make it better, of course (although it is), but it’s just a recognition that you can still do a comic with a ton of content and verbiage (this is a very wordy comic) that still flows well and gives us plenty of action. Jimenez has to get the “origin” of Superwoman into the comic (it’s not much of one, so he concentrates more on the way Superwoman decides to do what she does), plus he has to present a good threat that will challenge someone whose powers are very close to those of Superman’s, which is always a problem for Super-writers. I’m trying not to give away the identity of Superwoman, even though I imagine everyone already knows who it is, but it’s clever the way Jimenez doles things out. He has to deal with Lex Luthor play-acting as Superman and shunt him off to the sideline, which he does with aplomb, and he gives us a good problem for our hero to solve, then ups the ante with a dramatic ending that might already signal a shift in the comic’s status quo (such as it is after one issue). Jimenez cuts through the mess that the Superman comics are currently in, focusing on a few characters and how they interact with each other and not worrying too much about the goofiness associated with DCnU Superman’s death. It’s always going to be goofy, but it doesn’t have to dominate the conversation.

Jimenez, as I mentioned, loves him some Pérez, and that means he crowds the pages with panels but always keeps the book flowing nicely. He knows how to lay pages out so that the word balloons don’t obscure the drawings but they still have plenty of information in them. He drops very thin panels into the mix to immerse the reader in the world and also to foreshadow and to show how the villain, who is far away, is having an impact on the events occurring in the main plot. He even draws his very own dull double-page splash of Superwoman flying over Metropolis, but that doesn’t hurt the overall content of the book because he’s so good at packing the rest of it. It’s quite amazing how he’s able to draw a giant aircraft carrier getting out of control and still keep the sense of overwhelming danger (because it’s so big) and make sure we see exactly how Superwoman is dealing with it. The fight at the very end is brief but brutal, and Jimenez does a nice job switching the way the page is laid out – he was moving across the page in stacked panels, but on the final page, he switches to vertical tiers that seem to stretch the page and allow the events to “happen” almost simultaneously, speeding up the narrative in order to show that there was nothing that could have been done. Jimenez has always been good at laying out a page, and he does so here. His decision to set the flashbacks on a farm help Cox’s coloring, too, because Cox can use sepia tones on the farm and not have it feel like a cliché, which sepia tones in flashbacks always do, and it’s contrasted nicely with the cool blue of Metropolis, which always looks toward the future (the future is blue, in case you didn’t know). It’s a beautiful-looking book, and even though there’s a lot of set-up, Jimenez makes sure that it doesn’t get bogged down in that, which has been a problem during this Rebirth initiative.

Much like with the DCnU of 2011, I appreciate that DC is doing some odd things with their comics. Superwoman isn’t the oddest concept, but it’s a good attempt by Jimenez to make a nice meal out of shitty ingredients. I always want that to work out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

**********

It’s late in the day on Saturday and I haven’t posted this yet, so I don’t have much else to say that would delay it. I apologize for the delay – school started this week, and I’m driving my kids to school because our move took us out of Mesa and the buses don’t come to Chandler. Why wouldn’t we move them to Chandler schools, you might ask? Well, it’s their last years in their respective schools, and we moved right at the end of June, and we didn’t think we’d be able to find good schools for them in that time, so we figured we’d just keep them in their schools until next year. We’re eight miles from my younger daughter’s school, so it’s not like it’s too far away. So it’s been busy getting them to school, and I’m president of the Parent Organization at my younger daughter’s school, so I had things to do in the first few days, as well. I’m glad they’re back in school (for those of you who are surprised they start so early, Mesa actually starts later than a lot of school districts in the area!), but it does mean I’m going to be busier. Fret not, though – I will still have plenty of bad opinions to share with you all!

Anyway, the Olympics are on (I haven’t watched any of them, because I’m just not interested), preseason football has started, and time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future. What’s new with you?

Have a nice day, everyone!

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