My latest E-Bay haul had a Dan Clowes classic and Grant Morrison Vertigo mini in it. So, of course, I tore in to the 52 tie in first.
After fastidiously avoiding 52 during its entire single issue run (other than the one with Brian Bolland drawn Zatanna origin, because fishnets are my weakness), I wound up buying all four trades at once during the Christmas holidays on impulse whilst shopping for Christmas presents for my family. It was all part of my attempt to completely undermine the spirit of the holidays.
I plowed through them all over the course of like a week, which is when I’m having the most fun with comics, and also why I’m a crappy critic. See, I don’t care about trifling things like tone, themes, motifs, plot, or sense when I’m reading a comic; I just want to get to the next page as quickly as possible! 52 was a great book for that white knuckle “what’s gonna happen next?” thrill you can only get from serialized storytelling. Well, and having an exciting life, I guess, but I prefer formulaic genre fiction to doin’ stuff.
The writers kept my interest in all of the featured characters plot lines in the series, even if I didn’t like every twist and turn they made (I wasn’t pretty bemused by Ralph Dibny’s fate, for instance, even if he did get to be a hero again in the process). Of all the character arcs, though, I found Renee Montoya’s journey from self loathing failed cop to the new Question the most interesting, and it was pretty much the only story I wanted to keep following after the series ended.
Maybe it was the fact that I read the trade that collected Denny O’Neil’s first handful of issues featuring Vic Sage that really piqued my interest (Greg Hatcher points out the parallels between the stories here), but I really enjoyed Montoya’s “hero’s journey” and was interested in reading more about it, which is more than I can say about anybody else in the series.
Which brings us to the follow up mini. Greg Rucka, who made Montoya his “pet character” in Gotham Central and (presumably) was the architect of her story in 52 wrote this mini, with a rotating group of artists for each issue: Tom Mandrake, Jesus Saiz, Matthew Clark, and Manuel Garcia provide the pencils for each issue, respectively. Each issue is about a different lesson in the Crime Bible (Deceit, Lust, Greed, Murder, and the Parable of the Faceless), and the first page is meant to be an excerpt from the book done up in Biblical style by old Rucka collaborator Steve Lieber and Eric Trautman.
The Crime Bible, and the Religion of Crime that sprung up around it, is an idea introduced in 52 and one that was an integral part of Montoya’s story, so it makes sense that Rucka would pick up the plot thread and run with it. The fact that he ties Montoya’s character to it so completely by the end of the series may be pushing it, I think, but it’s a pretty interesting cliffhanger and sets up a direction for her to pick up in future stories. The art in each story isn’t spectacular, but it fits the mood of the story in each case. I was particularly impressed with the combination of Olmos’s art and Santi Arcas’s coloring in the fourth issue.
The draw here for me, though, is Montoya’s story. She’s pretty confident in her role as the Question here, and is if nothing else she’s not the massive pit of self loathing she was for a lot of 52, but her obsession with the Crime Bible fits in the her tendency for addiction and self destruction during those darker days. Her relationship with everyone’s favorite lipstick lesbian member of the Bat Family, which is spotlighted in the third issue, helps illustrate that she doesn’t quite have it all together. It makes her an interesting character, which is why I want to see more of her story.
It’s not a poppy, happy superhero comic. That’s not Rucka’s forte, and it doesn’t fit the character, so if that’s what you’re looking for, this won’t be for you. He’s similar to Ed Brubaker (his old Gotham Central writing partner) in that he writes superhero comics in the same way he does crime fiction and espionage. It helps to have read 52, obviously, although I think a new reader would be able to follow the story, if not get every reference to what came before. I tend to think accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean holding new readers hands through everything, but that’s me. I found it to be a good continuation of Montoya’s story, but I can’t recommend it as a self contained series because, like seemingly everything in the DCU, it’s all part of a monolithic tapestry. But it overcame a crushingly large title to become a compelling read for anyone who enjoyed Montoya’s journey and want to see her adventures wearing the blank mask. And hey, there’s girls making out, so if you were looking for another adventure comic with lesbian sex after the recent issue of Buffy, then there’s that to reccomened it, too.
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