THE GOON: Nothin’ but Misery was the second volume in Eric Powell’s series, in which the Zombie Priest begins to realize the Goon is more of a threat than he thought and the roughneck and the necromancer continue their running war for control of the city. Some funny bits, but this still doesn’t click with me the way it has so many others.
MODESTY BLAISE: The Girl in the Iron Mask by Peter O’Donnell and Enric Romero is a collection from around 1990 with two adequate strips and the really good title tale: A couple of corrupt millionaires trap Modesty inside the title helmet, only to discover that even blind and trapped, she’s more dangerous than they can imagine. Good enough to make up for the so-so other strips.
BLACK PATHS by David B. has a WWI veteran and a singer falling in love in the early 1920s in the short-lived independent city state of Fiume. The writer/artist has some fun with the political currents of the time, but this didn’t grab me.
As part of DC’s efforts to make its reboot universe more diverse, they took Mr. Terrific—a black super-genius and super-athlete who’d been a Justice Society member pre-reboot—and spun him into his own series. Reading MR. TERRIFIC: Mind Games by Eric Wallace and Gianluca Gugliotta I can see why it only ran eight issues: It’s certainly not bad, but it lacks any spark to distinguish the story of Terrific coping with a mind-destroying fiend, corporate skullduggery and oppressed ETs never really catches fire. Having him lose control and almost beat his wife’s killer to death has minimal effect, for instance, as I don’t know the character well enough to be shocked.
(Cover art by Pete Woods, all rights reside with rightful holders)
Likewise LEGION LOST: Run From Tomorrow by Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods isn’t a bad story—a handful of Legionnaires get trapped in the present trying to stop a time-traveling terrorist from contaminating the 21st century with a super-mutagen—but even with familiar Legion members (Timber Wolf, Wildfire, etc.) it feels like they could have used pretty much any super-team or made up a new one and gotten much the same story.
Jeremy Bastian’s CURSED PIRATE GIRL is much more distinctive as an abandoned waif convinced she’s the daughter of a pirate captain befriends the daughter of the governor of Jamaica, much to the governor’s horror. Then the CPG sets out onto the sinister Omerta Seas to find her dad, only to encounter knightly swordfish, a potato with a mustache, a wise sea cook and various other odd characters. Bastian’s stylized whimsical art makes this stand out—it’s different, and in the good way.
Back in the 1940s, Marvel teamed Bucky and Toro (sidekicks to Captain America and the original human torch) up with some ordinary boys to create the Young Allies. CAPTAIN AMERICA: Forever Allies by Roger Stern and Nick Dragotta is a follow-up alternating between the end of the war, as the team comes up against the mind-controlling Lady Lotus, and Bucky (during the time he took the Captain America role) confronting her again in the present. A good series, accompanied by the original first issue of Young Allies (be warned, the black member of the time is hideously stereotyped, which Stern explains in the later series as the writer having no interest in what the “real” Young Allies were like)
Category Archives: Comics
THE GOON: Nothin’ but Misery was the second volume in Eric Powell’s series, in which the Zombie Priest begins to realize the Goon is more of a threat than he thought and the roughneck and the necromancer continue their running war for control of the city. Some funny bits, but this still doesn’t click with me the way it has so many others.
SMILEY’S PEOPLE was John LeCarre’s farewell to George Smiley as the Circus calls him back to clean up the mess left when a Soviet defector (whose ominous warnings were blithely ignored) winds up shot in the street. Smiley discovers the man’s claims of an intelligence coup were spot-on; tracing his activities for the past few years leads to the discovery of Soviet spymaster Karla’s one weakness, which Smiley ruthlessly exploits. LeCarre says in the intro that he’d planned several more Smiley/Karla novels, but realized he couldn’t write the stories he wanted to with a protagonist who “despite his misgivings always did the job, even if he had to leave his conscience at the door. This book makes for excellent reading, though, so I’m glad Smiley got such a fine chance to bow out.
CHASING GIDEON: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice by Karen Houppert looks at how the right to have a public defender works in practice and concludes that it’s not working out the way the landmark Gideon vs. Wainwright case said it should. Houppert looks at cases in Washington state, Miami, Louisiana and Georgiato show appointed attorneys are invariably underpaid, not to mention compromised by politics and cronyism (Louisiana judges often appoint their court’s PD), corruption, incompetence (one PD requesting a genetic test wrote it as “D and A test”) and the sheer volume of cases resulting from the war on drugs and increasingly harsher sentences. Houppert has no particular solution to offer, but it makes compelling reading nonetheless. It also sheds some interesting history on the original Gideon.
MADNESS: A Brief History by Roy Porter looks at the way insanity has been studied, explained and treated through the centuries, from the view of it as a form of possession, sin (since in rejecting reason, we rejected God’s Great Gift), brain damage, bacterial infection and imbalance in the humors. The questions of how we treat and confine the loonies have been almost as varied, as have the question of defining them and the perennial efforts to prove that genius and madness are somehow linked. Not an in-depth study, but I don’t know that I’d have wanted one.
BPRD HELL ON EARTH: The Long Death and the Devil’s Engine by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and others, squeezes together two different miniseries. In one, the BPRD’s Devon goes into the field to bring back Feenix, a psychic who seems to know something about the chaotic world they’re now living in (I’m guessing with the roster trimmed so muh, she’ll be a new teammate); in the other, the ectoplasmic agent Joachim confronts Capt. Daimio, now a were-jaguar, and resolves some old issues. Okay installments, but neither one a standout.
LOBSTER JOHNSON: The Burning Hand by Mgnola, Arcudi and Tonci Zonjic is chronologically the first appearance of the vigilante Lobster, as he stumbles into a gangwar involving phony ghost Indians, an Eastern mystic and a woman reporter. Lively, though as the reporter notes, the Lobster doesn’t do welll here.
The chronologically later but earlier published LOBSTER JOHNSON: The Iron Prometheus by Mignola and Jason Armstrong is a stronger story and more integral to the Hellboy-universe mythos, as the Lobster goes up against the mystic Memnan Saa in a fight over the lost secrets of Hyperborea. The Lobster comes off more competent here (though punching way out of his weight class), though Saa is a stock Sinister Oriental (knowing he’s actually a British occultist doesn’t change the imagery).
JACK STAFF: Soldiers by Paul Grist was the first color collection of the series (following Everything Used to be Black and White) revealing how Jack hung up his hat 20 years ago after a cataclysmic battle with British living weapon Capt. Hurricane (like Albion, portrayed here as a Hulk-type berserker). Only now the energies unleashed by defeating the Hurricane are resurfacing and driving everyone around to fits of rage. A bit more linear storytelling would have helped, but good overall.
AMERICAN VIRGIN: Going Down by Steven Seagle and Becky Cloonan is the second in an interesting series. The premise is that Christian abstinence-advocate Adam Chamberlain’s girlfriend is murdered. He sets out to avenge her which forces him to deal with a world of drugs and violence completely alien to his life. I can’t say it’s a must-read for me (the artwork doesn’t grab me) but the authors do a good job treating Adam as a decent human being (even though I doubt they share his views) in an awkward situation.
ALL-STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely has Superman overload on solar energy saving a Lexcorp solar mission and begin to make preparations for his death, revealing his identity to Lois (who doesn’t believe it), trying to learn the real reason Luthor hates him, helping out Jimmy Olsen one more time. This is incredibly fun, juggling odd SF concepts with Silver Age whimsy (Jimmy has apparently turned his er, colorful Silver Age adventures into a successful columnist gig). As delightful as I’d heard.
(cover by Curt Swan, all rights reside with current holders)
SAGA Vol. 1 by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples is another one that lives up to its press clippings. The story of two aliens who fall in love, get pregnant and have to flee from both sides (while pursued by assassins and others) has a goofy charm that’s hard to describe in a capsule review, and didn’t go anywhere I expected it to. Looking forward to Vol. 2
AIR: Pureland by G. Willow Wilson and MK Perker has the “hyperpract” Blythe finally confront her various demons—her problems with her lover Zayn, her fear of flying—with the help of Amelia Earhart and an occasionally friendly feathered serpent. Not bad, but not the strongest volume in the series.
BATMAN CHRONICLES vol. 11 follows the Bat-series into early 1943 as he and Robin battle black marketeers, the Joker and Penguin, learn about the harbor patrol (part of a regular series of stories showcasing various police specialties), and Alfred slims down to fit with the skinnier version introduced in the Batman movie serial of the era (I presume it’s the same reason we get several Alfred-centric stories here). No real standout stories, but good; if I had the money I’d be buying hardbacks because these come out too infrequently to suit me (the hardback Archives are up to the 1950s by now).
IRREDEEMABLE Vol. 10 by Mark Waid and Diego Barreto wraps up the story of the fallen superhero Plutonian, as the supergenius Qubit gives him a chance to save the world in return for a second chance for the Plutonian himself. However, pretty much everyone has a hidden agenda here, including the Plutonian’s stalkerish arch-foe Modeus … I’m not sure whether to treat the ending as brilliant or a cop-out, but overall a satisfying finish.
ENEMY ACE ARCHIVES Vol. 2 by Robert Kanigher and Joe Kubert (and a few others who contribute) wraps up the original run of Hans von Hammer (I’ve already read Vol. 1), the German WW I flying ace who kills reluctantly but dutifully in the name of his country. I can’t help wondering if the stories in this book don’t show the increasing emphasis on the Vietnam War as they play up, even more than the first collection, the deaths of innocents (including a cute little puppy—I never imagined how adorably Kubert could draw puppies) and the senselessness of the whole thing. Regardless, it’s an excellent collection, and includes a three-parter from several years later where von Hammer battles Steve Savage, an American ace who mocks the whole “knights of the air” code of honor that von Hammer lives by. If the hardbacks are too much for you, Showcase Presents Enemy Ace has the whole run in B&W.
Redemption is a powerful source for story material. The fallen hero who tries to stop her fall, the villain attempting to rise, the tyrant or fiend who sees the light. It’s also damn tricky.
Redemption actually involves several inter-related things: Can you earn forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged? Can you prove to society that you deserve to be forgiven? And can you truly become a better human being?
Case in point: It’s a tenet of Christianity (subject to multiple interpretations and sectarian disputes of course) that if you sincerely repent your sins and turn to Jesus, you’re saved. Which is unsettling: It’s nice to know I can’t do anything so horrible God won’t take me back, but if someone murdered my family, I’d probably hate the thought the killer can get into Heaven.
Salvation in this case doesn’t have anything to do with secular, society forgiveness. Being saved doesn’t and shouldn’t get you out of prison, or community service or whatever it is that you’ve done. God’s justice and our are separate things (even if we all agreed on what God’s justice was, or if it exists)
This leads us to Return of the Jedi. Orson Scott Card was quite PO’d that merely by saving Luke, Darth Veder gets to join Obiwan on the light side of the force. And Card has a point, particularly after seeing Anakin’s massive bloodshed in Ep3. On the other hand, if Vader had repented and turned to Jesus, Card would presumably have to concede that he gets a free pass (or doesn’t that hold in the LDS?).
My point is that for a redemption arc to work as drama, it can’t be too easy. Even in a Christian context, you need someone to seriously face up to the fact they’ve been a complete shit before they make the change. And then they have to prove it. Dramatically speaking, we need works as well as faith.
In a non-religious context, we have Thunderbolts #9 as an example (cover by Mark Bagley, all rights to current holder) Kurt Busiek looks back at the second Avengers team, which included former “evil mutants” Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and ex-criminal Hawkeye. In the original stories, their transition to heroes was smooth; here Busiek shows the public much less willing to let them off the hook. Mark Waid’s Incorruptible series (covered in some of my book review posts) does a good job by taking Max Damage’s past crimes seriously: He has lots to atone for, and Waid doesn’t make it easy.
Long-running series pose their own problems. In comics, as several creators have said, redemption comes about simply because some characters have been around for years and in trying to find new angles, it’s natural to start seeing things from their sides. This can create an interesting development (Magneto’s off-and-on stints as hero, Catwoman’s moving from villain to anti-hero). But it’s to let past crimes slide (one Marvel editor suppposedly vetoed a Venom series on the grounds he was just too murderous).
In TV, charming, attractive actors can make it easy to see characters as more sympathetic than they are. Syler, the murderous power-stealer of Heroes‘ first season became implausibly sympathetic as the series went on; I can’t but suspect some of that was because pre-Spock Zachary Quinto had a female fan base.
Regina in Once Upon a Time frequently comes off as tragic. She’s lonely and desperate for love and Lana Parilla conveys her pain very well. That doesn’t change the fact she was a coldblooded killer who devastated a kingdom from her hatred for Snow White and near the end of this past season was willing to kill the entire cast provided she and her son could escape. She starts out the year trying to be good but when it turns out people still don’t trust her, she turns—and I can’t help feeling the show wants us to sympathize with her more than she deserves (after all she’s done, assuming she’s still a killer is hardly unreasonable).
Likewise, Vader’s turn to the light worked for me because it’s such a powerful dramatic moment. It might be a lot harder to buy if I’d read it on the printed page.
NEMO: Heart of Ice by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill is a so-so entry in the League of Extraodinary Gentleman series. Following a battle with Ayesha of Kor, Nemo’s daughter Janni leads the Nautilus to Antarctica where they encounter HP Lovecraft’s lost alien city from At the Mountains of Madness, pursued by grown-up boy inventors Tom Swyft, Frank Reade and Jack Wright (I presume Tom isn’t spelled “swift” because he’s still under copyright). The usual in-jokes, but I felt like it didn’t amount too much—Janni isn’t as interesting as her dad and the inventors aren’t big enough names now to provoke much interest (and at times it felt like Moore was venting his distaste for them, like for Harry Potter in Century: 2009)
BATMAN: City of Owls by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo follows up Court of Owls as the sinister Court of Owls launches an all-out attack on Batman and his allies, only to find, of course, it’s harder to defeat the Darknight Detective than it looks. Good, though the Court lost most of its interest for me when it went from being a decadent cult of Gothamites (as it is here) to a worldwide conspiracy in later stories (because I’ve seen way too many of those).
I’d never heard of the British super-villain the Spider before reading Albion, but he has enough of a rep, it seems, that simultaneous with that series, Titan Books released KING OF CROOKS, a collection of his first three adventures by Ted Cowan, Reg Bunn and Jerry Siegel (some ads credited Siegel as the Spider’s creator, presumably to boost interest from American readers). I can see why he became a cult item (he’s much closer to a DC or Marvel villain than what I remember reading Britcomics growing up), and the stories are quite entertaining as the Spider mixes ruthless ambition to become King of Crime with taking time out to defeat rival villains such as the villainous illusionist Mirror Man. The Siegel material is weaker than the Cowan stuff, but overall an entertaining read, nicely drawn.
Eric Powell’s The Goon debuts in THE GOON: Rough Stuff as he struggles against both the zombie priest plotting to take over his cities but federal agents seeking to take down the Goon’s boss. Amusing enough, but the Goon’s never clicked with me the way he does a lot of people.
UNWRITTEN: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words by Mike Carey and Peter Gross has Tommy finally take the fight to the Cabal by tapping his fictional counterpart’s magical abilities; in alternating chapter, we learn what the Cabal’s enforcer Pullman has been doing through the centuries. Last time I read this series, I complained the Cabal’s goals were kind of mundane; it turns out that’s because even they don’t know what’s really going on. This clears up a lot of mysteries, except where it can possibly go from here. Great installment though (cover art by Yuko Shimizu, all rights reserved to current holders)
When I heard Ben Kingsley would be playing the Mandarin in Iron Man III, I was peeved.
Here we have a movie featuring Iron Man’s archenemy, one of Marvel’s most prominent Asian characters (though a very stereotypical one), and he’s being played by a white guy. Sure, Kingsley is awesome, but there are awesome Chinese actors out there. Why not use one for a Chinese villain and maybe work on making him a little less of a “sinister oriental” stereotype?
As it turns out, because the Mandarin is a scam. Guy Pearce is the real villain, the leader of AIM (a criminal cartel in the comics, here a high-tech corporation) who’s developed a method for turning humans into living bombs. When they carry out a terrorist attack, there’s no recognizable bomb parts left to track it back (Law and the Multiverse discusses the legality of the “Extremis” treatment here and other Iron Man-related topics).
The Mandarin is just a front Pearce uses for a series of terrorist attacks culminating in the murder of the president, after which Pearce’s ally, the VP, will take the White House. When Tony Stark confronts the Mandarin, he turns out to be a drug-addled British actor who doesn’t quite grasp that real people are getting shot in tandem with his televised statements (which freaks out some conservatives for not presenting a truly scary terrorist and showing the real villain as an American). And Kingsley’s performance as the actor is glorious.
So given that plot, I can see why they weren’t worried about casting a Chinese actor … but then again, why not cast a Chinese actor?
The standard response is that “race shouldn’t matter. It should be the best actor” but that rarely works the other way: Minority actors are much less likely to get cast in a role that isn’t specifically written as Asian. And there’s a long history of Asian roles being played by white guys: Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan have never been played by an Asian, and actors as Caucasian as Katherine Hepburn, Alec Guinness and Mickey Rooney (Dragon Seed, Passage to India and Breakfast at Tiffany‘s respectively) have been cast in Eastern roles (more recently Prince of Persia and Avatar the Last Airbender have Asian leads played by white guys). So yeah, turning a prominent Asian villain into a white guy still bugs me (but not, obviously, enough to stop me seeing it)
(Cover art by Jack Kirby, all rights with current holder)
Finishing up some series—THE AMERICANS was FX’s take on the sleeper-agent concept (which I wrote about a lot in Screen Enemies of the American Way): It’s the early 1980s and Keri Russell is one half of a Soviet couple who’ve been posing as married Americans for the past 20 years. With Reagan heating up the Cold War, their jobs have never been more crucial, especially with the administration working on a missile defense program that could render Soviet missiles useless (it’s a few years too early for that to be an issue, but as my friend Ross says, it makes such a good McGuffin). This is a solidly entertaining show (though right-winger Jonah Goldberg claims I should hate it because it undercuts my liberal beliefs. Umm, no) where everyone on both sides is constantly surrounded by mistrust and deceit and forced to do stuff they shouldn’t. Looking forward to season two.
ONCE UPON A TIME‘s second season is set, like the first, in a town in our world to which Snow White’s evil stepmother Regina (Lana Parilla) banished all the fairytale characters so that they’d never know a happy ending again. Only at the end of last season, Emma (Jennifer Morrison) broke the curse: magic works in the town, everyone knows who they are and very few of them are happy with what Regina did. I found this season thoroughly enjoyable, though given Regina’s history as a murderous tyrant, they seem awfully soft on her at times (something I’ll discuss in depth soon).
ARROW is the CW’s adaptation of DC’s Green Arrow (whose strange history I’ve covered before). As in the comics, Oliver Queen is a shallow playboy transformed by several years on a desert island (though a much livelier one than the print version). Returning home, he carries out his father’s wishes to root out the corrupt businessmen strangling Starling City, not hesitating to murder if it comes to it. However, millionaire Merlyn (John Barrowman) has a plan, and the skills to carry it out without letting “the Hood” (as the press have labeled Ollie’s alter ego) get in his way (curious trivia point: The comic-book archer Merlyn was never really a Green Arrow adversary, just someone who engaged in an archery contest with him once and later crossed paths in a couple of JLA adventures, the first of which is shown here. Art by Neal Adams, rights with whoever currently holds them). It ain’t great art, but it’s a fun show.
The Coen Brothers’ neo-noir THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (2001) has a lot of similarities with Fargo in that like William Macey in the earlier film, barber Billy Bob Thornton is fed up with working for his in-laws and determined to change his life by financing a business opportunity through crime (blackmailing wife Frances McDormand’s employer/lover James Gandolfini)—which, of course, spirals into Horribly Wrong territory almost at once (reminding me of wrter John Roger’s view that the underlying theme of neo-noir is that you’re not as smart as you think). Unfortunately instead of Macey’s desperate, frantic schemer, Thornton is far too phlegmatic: He may not like his life, but he’s resigned to his fate and never struggles more than he absolutely has to. Despite the striking black-and-white photography, that makes this ultimately too uninvolving to hold me. With John Polito as an entrepreneur, Tony Shalhoub as a fast-talking lawyer and Scarlett Johanssen as a young pianist. “That helps—not that she didn’t do it, but that she hasn’t confessed.”
IRON MAN III (2013) has Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) PTSDed by his experiences in Avengers (“Gods, aliens—I’m just a guy in a can.”) which leads to some bad decisions when tackling a terrorist campaign by the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) in alliance with scheming CEO Guy Pearce (“I control both terrorism and counter-terrorism.”). They obviously decided Robert Downey Jr. was way more interesting out of costume as he stays as Tony almost all of the film; Kingsley turns in a terrific performance though I’ll be saying more about the yellowface aspects in my next post. “Jarvis, it’s time for the house party.”
AMERICAN WEDDING (2003) is the third installment wherein Jason Biggs pops the question to Alyson Hannigan, resulting in the usual problems of wedding jitters, wedding-party romances, obnoxious relatives and various leftover elements from the previous movies. Surprisingly charming; with Fred Willard as Hannigan’s dad and January Jones as a cute bridesmaid. “I need help with my wedding vows, not my period.”
As a comics fan, reading CINEMA OF ISOLATION: A History of Physical Disability in the Movies by Martin F. Noden was an interesting experience.
The book takes it’s title from Noden’s argument that films tend to isolate the disabled, implying they can never truly hang out with the able unless they get a miracle cure (which happens a lot). Otherwise they’re freaks, pariahs, outcasts; in many films, even the disabled themselves believe that marrying an able-bodied person would be a horrible mismatch and unfair to their partner.
Noden suffers badly from Freudianism (his critique of the Moby Dick adaptation The Sea Beast is that it the happy ending is all wrong for the Oedipal conflict he thinks is at the movie’s heart), but his book does a good job showing how stereotypes of the disabled persisted through the 20th century (though improving over time). A consistent problem is the often explicit view that if the disabled can’t adjust, it’s their own fault. All they need is the will to achieve and excel and they’ll be fine, because it’s not like there’s discrimination against the disabled or anything like that (curiously, most movies also ignore government rehab programs and anti-discrimination policies—mainstreaming is presented as a matter of individual effort.
What jumped out at me reading this was how much of what Noden says applies to comic-book handling of disability. Not that comics are unique in this (the whole point of Noden’s book is that these are common myths) but it still struck me. Consider some of them:
•Blind people can easily be fooled, a recurring plot in love comics.
•The Obsessive Avenger out to get even with someone (or everyone) for his accident. The cyborg Tharok in the Legion of Super-Heroes was part of it, and Two-Face probably qualifies too.
•The superstar, the character who’s better or more heroic than an ordinary person, despite their disability. Daredevil, for example, has such heightened senses he can detect and notice more than the abled. Though of course, comics are filled with people who have extraordinary powers, so that’s not entirely surprising.
•Rejecting love because, crippled! Stan Lee had a field day with this in the Silver Age: Matt Murdock couldn’t speak his love because he was—blind! Scott Summers couldn’t speak his love because he has uncontrollable optic blasts! Don Blake (Thor’s alter ego, with one bad leg) couldn’t speak his love because he was lame! The same meme cropped up the early seventies series It! the Living Colossus, the protagonist refusing to speak his love because he was paraplegic.
•Noden’s book made me realize the wheelchair-bound tech person is a stereotype though a minor one, so Barbara “Oracle” Gordon was in good company before the DC Reboot got her walking again. And there are even earlier wheelchair-bound team leaders, such as the Doom Patrol’s Chief and Professor X.
•Inspiring statements about how you can achieve greatness just like Beethoven (deaf) or Milton (blind) and so on, if you just try! Outside of Marvel’s short-lived Nightmask, there was rarely any consideration given to discrimination.
•I also find myself wondering if cyborgs aren’t a way to take and repackage the same stereotypes at a more superhuman (or science-fictional level). Why settle for an avenger bitter over a missing leg when you can have Tharok, who lost half his body (and had it replaced by an ugly cyborg half to boot)? Why stop at feeling sorry for having prosthetic hands when like the Titans’ Cyborg (now the JLA’s Cyborg, of course) you can be tormented by having a prosthetic body (and any negative reactions don’t imply real-world ableism—I mean, just look at him!)?
I suspect I’ll be thinking about Noden’s book for a while yet.
(Astonishing Tales cover by Gil Kane, Young Love by John Romita, all rights reside with current holders).
Catching up on the new DC universe with some trade paperbacks:
DEATHSTROKE: Legacy by Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett (discussed in part earlier, like the Aquaman below) has mercenary Slade Wilson assassinating a potential rival, then suffering the blowback as the victim’s parents set out to destroy him (“We’ve set up a fund—even if you kill us, the attacks will keep coming.”). I never really bought Wilson as a hero pre-Reboot (Marv Wolfman had to fudge his history a bit to pull that off) and this guy’s utterly loathsome—not in a magnificent bastard kind of way, just a nasty, repellent thug (and not that impressive—taking on the Titans gave the old Deathstroke more cred). The handling of Wilson growing older and weaker is quite good, but not enough to save this.
Much as I’ve grown tired of Geoff John’s work on Green Lantern, Blackest Night and Brighest Day AQUAMAN: The Trench by Johns and Ivan Reis is quite good as Aquaman and his wife Mera struggle to make a home on land (I don’t know why), then get called in when subsea monsters begin showing up to eat people. While I don’t buy that people in the DC Universe would think Aquaman’s as big a joke as the cast here, this was nicely executed.
BIRDS OF PREY: Trouble in Mind by Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz is the best of the lot as Black Canary recruits a team (I’ve no idea what the Birds’ history post-Reboot is) including Poison Ivy, Katana (“She talks to her sword because she thinks it holds her husband’s soul.”) and new character Starling to cope with a sinister mind-controller and his army of mind-controlled assassins/living bombs. Good characters, good action and a solid plot make this one a winner (though I’m still glad I checked it out of the library instead of buying).
IRREDEEMABLE Vol. 5 by Mark Waid and Peter Krause has the the super-genius Quibit reveal there’s a secret to stopping the Plutonian, a last-ditch plan set up by a former teammate (this reminds me a lot of a JLA storyline in which Waid has Batman figuring out how to take down the entire team if he has to), leading to a final showdown between the Paradigm (and its increasingly unhinged leader Charybdis) and the Plutonian. A good installment, including a very bizarre take on Luthor.
30 DAYS OF NIGHT by Steve Niles and Christopher Mitten is the third TPB of the series in which vampire Eben Olemalin continues his ongoing war with both the FBI and older, theoretically more powerful vamps. Perfectly adequate vampire adventures (though I wasn’t impressed with the art) but fairly routine vampire adventures, so I may not read more.
Reading some of DC’s New 52 this week has me thinking about how we introduce our characters—and in the case of protagonists, make them impressive.
DEATHSTROKE: Legacy by Kyle Higgins and Joe Bennett starts out with Deathstroke’s agent, Christoph, informing readers Deathstroke, AKA Slade Wilson is “the scariest badass on the planet” and goes on for four more pages explaining how incredibly awesome Deathstroke is. This is actually pertinent to the story (Christoph is buttering Wilson up to convince him to take on some assistants) but as Mighty God King observed some while back (link is not to that post specifically) it comes off as if Higgins wants to convince newbies how utterly awesome Deathstroke is and can’t think of a better way. We get to see Deathstroke in action during Christoph’s speech and by comic-book standards, it ain’t that impressive.
Impressing us by how people react to or talk about a character is one way to capture what (s)he is like. The reaction of the crooks in The Lost Oasis, for instance, says a lot about how dangerous Doc Savage is. But Doc, of course, was written to be every bit as formidable as he’s painted. Talk by itself won’t do much if the character turns out to be underwhelming (I wouldn’t go that far with Deathstroke, but other than being a thorough scumbag, he doesn’t live up to Christoph’s babble). As I mentioned reviewing <strong>Midnight Blue-Light Special, Seanan McGuire spends half the book preparing us for the onslaught of the unstoppable Covenant, then gives us hoods who could have stepped out of a TV crime thriller.
Being tough is at least something it’s easy to demonstrate. It’s really a problem, as Orson Scott Card once observed, with beauty: no amount of telling us how hot the character looks will have the impact of seeing a hot man or woman in the flesh (or a movie). The same with charm: Judith Tarr wrote a novel some years back in which the hero is apparently overflowing with charisma, as people are constantly falling over themselves to make a special exception or do him a favor. For the life of me, I couldn’t see why (a problem I touch on here).
AQUAMAN: The Trench, by Geoff Johsn and Ivan Reis, does a much better job. When Aquaman shows up to stop a robbery, people aren’t impressed by him: He’s that goofy guy who talks to fish, what can he do on dry land? To their surprise, he takes the robbers down easily.
Starting out with unimpressed characters and winning them over works much better than the bombast of Deathstroke. It doesn’t set up expectations, and it makes Aquaman look that much cooler by contrast. That being said, I don’t entirely buy it: it feels more like it’s written for new fans who know Aquaman as the punch line on Entourage jokes than an established super-hero. Even allowing that it’s a “new” DC Universe, I think he’d have more cred than this.
I’ll go into more detail on both TPBs in my next book-review post.