Thursday, November 19, 2009

Comic reviews and musings

Batman/Doc Savage Special: Despite all the indications of Azzarello not really getting it, this is a decent one-shot. It involves Doc, early in his career (actually would be contemporary with the events of the first Doc pulp story, "Man of Bronze".) Avoiding some unpleasant business, he decides to investigate the actions of the Batman of Gotham City and a possible murder committed by him. Much of the story explores similar tropes of the Batman-Superman relationship or the crossover storyline several years back of Doc Savage and the Shadow in DC's last time licensing of the comic.

The cover has the wonderful feel of being Bama influenced and the interior artwork is adept at storytelling. However, the style lacks solidity, looking more like animation cels, a feel that grows as the story progresses, being very ephemeral looking by the end.

While the story is decent, it underscores the problem with the concept. As noted, the Doc-Shadow crossover did the same thing better, telling a story with a villain that suited the strengths of the characters and their style. Batman feels almost shoe-horned into the story, made to fit a role that he's not suited for.

Then, there are the end-notes about other characters appearing as part of this "First Wave". It's more of Didio's New Earth style madness. Instead of going with the purer aspects of characters, it's seen as a chance to make judgments and arbitrary changes of characters. So, instead of a chance seeing the GA Black Canary free of 40 years of retcons, we have the character being re-cast as an Asian American. The Blackhawks are now a second generation team, the original Blackhawks being mostly dead. Why? The whole idea behind this pulp-Earth was to make characters like Doc Savage and the Blackhawks work. Instead, we get a Blackhawks team that is less pulp-like and completely at home in modern DCU. Azzarello apparently doesn't think Ebony can work unless as a cliched sassy African American woman. Except that Cooke made the character work completely well in his Spirit series. Ugh.

To the point that it seems that they have a better handle on the pulp characters than the others, though it still seems like they are adding and changing complexities and dynamics than working with what's there. There is quite a bit of interest to the Avenger and the original stories. Such as the efforts of the creators to make the characters more racially enlightened (one of his chief aides, Smitty was originally meant to be African American judging by the artwork and eventually he did get two African American aides that played up their intellect and society's pre-judging the characters). Despite his and his team's personal losses to crime, they DON'T actually kill criminals, he goes out of his way to not personally kill them. However, he does set things up that criminals often kill themselves through their own ruthless actions. The books also often have a fatalism about them, how the Justice, Inc crew expect this profession to kill them one day.

Likewise with Doc. While Monk will kill though Doc chooses not to, Monk always feels a bit guilty about it, usually making excuses. On the other hand, Renny has killed if he thought that was the only way and without excuse. The books don't suggest Monk and Ham as Doc's enforcers with Ham keeping lease on the pit-bull. I guess just being best friends isn't edgy enough. Lastly, Azzarello sees Renny as being an ugly man. Did he not actually read the stories? Dent gave all the characters specific physical looks and other than Ham and Doc himself, none are described as being actually good looking. But, the books are consistent in describing Monk as being incredibly homely NOT Renny. It's the creator re-casting the characters to fit his agenda than actually working with the characters.

The Black Coat: Ok, there is obvious stupidity here in the numbering. This issue is listed as being Two Issues, 1 & 2 of 4 (the next issue will be 3 & 4). Man, zero issues were bad enough of gimmicks.

Beyond that, it's a wonderful two-chapter comic, very pulpish story of a costumed hero in the days of colonial America (not too dissimilar to the Disney adaptation of Dr. Synn in "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh") mixed with some of the occult stylings of Mignola. The publishing of Black Coat has been very sporadic, the long gaps in this little known title making you wonder if that's the last to be seen of the title, that it will just fade away like Xenozoic Tales, then, bam, a new issue comes out.

The story of this 2/4 parter begins with the death of the Black Coat and his resurrection and occult menaces that aren't flesh eating zombies as well as the menace of a traitor in his organization against the backdrop of the American Revolution. The artwork of the first half is Francesco Francovilla who has a wonderful old school illustration style, full of cross-hatching and atmosphere and making a name for himself on Dynamite's Zorro book. The second half is by Dean Kotz, a name unfamiliar to me but whose style is similar to Brett Blevins' and appropriate to the feel of this book (his cover is gorgeous by the way).
Black Terror #5 (picking up the numbering where the mini ended): The comic spins off into its own owngoing of a sorts, though the concept of Project Superpowers doesn't really lend itself to ongoings at this point in time. Hester shows himself to be a capable writer and focuses on a small story against the big picture. While most of the heroes went into the urn, the American Crusader apparently did not. When the heroes returned, they found zombie like beings in black wearing the Crusader's symbols and having a modicum of his power. The opening arc of this story goes into the background, establishing a friendship between the Black Terror and the American Crusader in the days of the War and making AC into a perfect martyr character ala Barry Allen crossed with Captain America. It's very well done, perfectly setting up the twist at the end. Especially considering that American Crusader was in many ways a very generic character, a variation of Nedor's basic template and often with art that was crude even by their standards. The most notable thing about him is metafictiona, one of the earliest patriotic heroes and the first to use atomic power as a basis for an origin, but he's generally overshadowed by the likes of the Fighting Yank, Black Terror, Doc Strange, Captain Future and even American Eagle.

The artwork is the weakest part. It's actually hard to judge the pencils as the coloring is extremely dark and completely overwhelms the artwork. To the point that if you weren't aware of the American Crusader was supposed to be a patriotic hero by his name, you really wouldn't get it from the art as it looks like he's wearing red & black and not red & blue (admittedly, on the covers of the 40s, his cowl and cape does look black with blue highlights).

JSA vs Kobra #6 of 6: After a very solid story of a team of heroes fighting a super-villain terrorist, the mini ends with whimper as it just ends without resolving anything after all of the set-up. As if the powers that be lost the resolve to go where the story was taking them, that the heroes are not allowed a clear cut win. At the end, the status quo is the same as where it was at the beginning of the book, the very definition of a bad story, the central conflict has resolved nothing. If the reader wasn't paying attention, one could expect another issue or two to go. Tacked on is that Mr. Terrific's girlfriend is cured of her ill-defined techno illness. But, other than a mention in the first issue, her plight and what it means to Mr. Terrific is not dealt with or touched on the rest of the mini, this isn't an ongoing theme of the story or a central motivation or struggle on the behalf of Mr. Terrific. So, her curing is just an afterthought, an attempt to give the story a feel of some kind of resolution, but is forced as it has nothing to do with what the story or characters have been about, her condition is a minor footnote for all that it has meant.

The sad thing is the artwork is good and there are some great panels and scenes scattered throughout. But, it's a case of when in the end, all is said and done, more is said than done.

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