ON REVIEWING GOOD BOOKS
There are certain books that probably get reviewed here way too often. It’s because I really do like them. They’re the books that keep me in the hobby and excited about visiting the comic store each week. And as Jeph Loeb says in his interview elsewhere on this site, life’s too short to pick on the bad comics. (Well, I’ve got two columns a week to write, so I’ll enter a guilty plea on that.) But I like to talk about the good books much more. The possibility that it might spur someone on to reading them is a big reason. The fact that in this market any book could get lost, gives me good reason to highlight the really good ones. Finally, when there’s something off about a book that’s a favorite of mine, it gives me some good material to write about.
Such is the case with the first couple of books I want to talk about this week.
The spit hits the fan this month in RISING STARS #7. This is part two of the three-part aptly named “Things Fall Apart” storyline, and it contains all the thoughtful and manipulative media and political implications you’ve come to expect from Joe Michael Straczynski. (And, yes, I do know how to spell his last name without copying from the comic!) It’s all-out war now with certain parallels to one of JMS’ pet causes, the McCarthy-era black listings. Christian Zanier’s art is not so bad as it has been in the past, but Top Cow could still do much better. It continues to baffle me that they’d get this big a name on a book and then waste it with this kind of sub-part art.
I assume we’re not too far away from a trade paperback compilation of the first 5 issues, or maybe the first 8. In whichever case comes true, do yourself a favor and pick it up. Yes, it starts slowly, but for good reason. You have to establish everything before ripping it apart. The book is currently in third gear, and I’m looking forward to fourth gear next month.
BATMAN GOTHAM ADVENTURES #26 left me a little queasy. No, that’s not entirely accurate. It almost left me queasy, until the last couple of pages overrode that feeling in glorious fashion. There will be some minor spoilers for the story contained herein, only because it’s the only way to talk about this issue.
The thrust of the issue is that Batman is stuck taking care of a baby he can’t let out of his sight for the night. So off he goes to fight crime, all the while holding the baby in his arm. It’s a cute little concept, but there’s something upsetting about four pages of example scenes in which multiple thugs are firing at Batman while he carries a baby in his arms. To me, this seems a little reckless. Heck, it’s probably child endangerment. Granted, he can’t leave the baby at the Batcave, for reasons explained in the issue. So why not put Robin in the Batmobile with the baby close by while he fights crime?
The final two pages, though, made me feel much better about the issue. It’s a great feel-good moment and one that is entirely within character for Batman. It’s also one of the most pointed examples of Batman’s sympathy for a child’s relationship with his parents.
Erik Larsen’s SAVAGE DRAGON #73 goes a long way towards bringing out the point of the on-going struggles with the Covenant of the Sword. We know they’ve killed and/or kidnapped a bunch of people, but only now is it starting to become obvious why. Or, at least, only now are we starting to step back to see the whole picture.
Either that or I’m just a thickheaded dolt who never thought about it too much, causing this issue to be a pleasant surprise.
I’ve heard some complaints about this issue having too many jarring scene transitions. I took a second look at the book with that in mind and I don’t think the argument holds up. If you pay close attention to the way the ends of scenes connect to the beginnings of the next scenes, you’ll see segues better. Rita calls for her babies at the end of the second scene. The third scene starts with a baby showing his super-powers. That scene ends with a declaration of death upon the Dragon, leading into a scene starring Dragon. That scene ends with a question of options and controlling super-powered beings. The next scene begins with a villain choosing the option of letting Negate take away his powers. There are more than just those, too. I’m stopping here before I run through the entire issue.
Maybe the transitions are too subtle. Maybe we’ve all been so hit over the head with the Alan Moore WATCHMEN school of scene transitions that we can’t see anything else. You remember those? That’s where a desperate character might end the scene by proclaiming his feeling that he’s drowning. Only that quote would be in a caption box over the beginning of the next scene that features somebody in the water, physically drowning. We got hit in the head for a long time after that with such devices.
(By the way, the latest issue of THE COMICS JOURNAL is out now with a feature-length interview of Erik Larsen. There’s some really interesting stuff in there, including stuff he’s not talked about in any on-line fora before. This one’s definitely recommended.)
Then there’s the strange case of BATMAN #578. I’ve been a vocal critic of Larry Hama’s work on the series so far, and I’ve even had some issues with artist Scott McDaniel’s storytelling choices and abilities. (Don’t confuse that, though, with aesthetic excellence. I think the combination of McDaniel and inker Karl Story provides some stunning art. It’s just that he sometimes jumps from cool image to cool image without the necessary step inbetween to explain just what is happening.)
This issue, however, is terrific. It plays to Hama’s weakness for overwriting things, and allows him to capture the story with a certain amount of poeticism. The issue is the story of a small level street thug, some crimes he commits, and how it ends. Yes, Batman is there, too. It’s reminiscent of the most recent SAM & TWITCH issue, which itself was an homage to Will Eisner’s THE SPIRIT.
McDaniel varies his art style just a little bit here, helping to create an illusion of an almost hypnotic, surreal, or drug-induced vision throughout. Things are shown alternatingly between the thugs’ point of view, as well as a third person’s. It was a good idea to not do it completely in the first person. The thug, himself, looks like a man who’s been unfortunate in life, and thus elicits more sympathy from the reader. Heck, by the end, you almost feel sorry for him, until you stop to remember the things he did during the issue.
It’s tough to talk too much about it without giving the plot away, so suffice it to say that this is a very involving story, told more or less in real time, with an interesting hook to it. McDaniel does an excellent job with his storytelling here, and the whole book makes for an excellent package. In a way, this might be the best single issue of a Batman book I’ve read in quite a long time.
I’ve been putting this off for too long. I really wanted to explore the most recent issue of PREVIEWS here, but the time for that has come and gone. Keep an eye out for some really cute BEETLE BAILEY figures, though!
For a pretty good and substantial rundown of things of interest I’ll just point you to Chris Atkins’ excellent post on the Pipeline message board.
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