Thursday, February 25, 2010
Canada beat Russia in Olympic men's hockey tonight. As a Canadian, that is the only excuse I can give for the late and limited number of reviews on hand. The two comics I chose to review were Batman and Robin #9 and Secret Warriors #13, as these were the two comics that made the biggest impression on me this week.
I intended to review Blackest Night #7, but had no strong feelings for or against it and felt like I'd be repeating the same criticisms and praise I heaped upon it in previous reviews. However, I'm going to make an effort to update this post with more reviews tomorrow. If I do, expect a Blackest Night review at the very least. For now, hit the jump for the reviews I actually have finished!
Written Grant Morrison
Art by Cameron Stewart
Ah, Batman and Robin, my personal Jekyll and Hyde comic. One issue I love it, the next I'm hating it. As this is a Grant Morrison penned comic, that's probably a reaction to be expected and I'm sure the issues I hated, someone else loved and vice versa for those I loved.
It's also difficult to address an issue, or arc in this case, as this was probably the strongest issue of the arc, that I disliked without discussing Morrison in general. In regards to his Batman writing, I find his work most effective when he writes a story first and then builds his themes and adds in his various metatextual obsessions to the piece.
For example, the first arc was a joy to read and took all the Silver Age absurdities and applied modern sensibilities to them. The second ard, in contrast, was all about making a statement against the grim and gritty era of comics. It was clear that was all he cared about when constructing it and it showed in the lackluster offering.
This arc, in contrast, seems to be a blend of the first arc - having fun with the new Batman by teaming him up with some of his English counterparts - mixed with the 'channel zapping' storytelling of Final Crisis, which consists of leaving out the "connective bits" of the story and distilling it down to only the bare essentials.
To that end, I've enjoyed it. This issue, in particular, reads well and the fast paced, kinetic storytelling leaves you on the edge of your seat as you move from each scene to the next. Previous issues had left me a little unsatisfied with the lack of establishing shots and the haphazard manner in which Morrison progressed the story. Where this one moves in a logical manner, those simply had characters appear without reason and left a lot of context up to the readers to infer or reason out on their own. Others may look at this as Morrison challenging the reader and I'll concede there are times I enjoy this channel zapping method for that very reason, but key plotpoints should not always be left so ambiguous either. In short, previous issues went too far without aiding the reader or left too much up to us to reason out on our own while this issue seems like a perfect blend of standard storytelling and the zapping method.
The one true joy of this arc, however, has been Cameron Stewart's artwork. This was an inspired choice, especially for the narrative choice Morrison went with for telling the story. Stewart never misses a beat and his fight sequences are breath taking. Morrison wisely let Stewart run wild with many of the action sequences, often having little to no dialogue on those pages, and Stewart tells more story in those pages than any amount of words could. I really hope to see him on an ongoing title or return for another arc on Batman and Robin in the future.
While I'm more partial towards this issue than previous parts of this arc, that does not mean it was without faults either. There are actually several things that bothered me about this issue. The biggest one would have to be the assisted suicide of Batwoman by Dick Grayson. Morrison is typically quite good with distinguishing Dick's from Bruce Wayne's Batman (most writers simply write a "Batman" story regardless of who is actually wearing the cowl), but this was a gross mischaracterization.
Not only does Dick willingly give Batwoman an overdose of morphine, but the casual way he dismisses his actions when questioned by Knight and Squire and the fact he actually did it and thinks it's justified to kill her, and that's what he did, simply because she was critically injured and would likely be crippled for life is morally bankrupt. When did he become God? When did he get to decide who lives and who dies? Yes, there's a Lazarus Pit buried under several tonnes of rock just below them, but there was no reason to believe it would be still viable or that they could ever access it. She likely, by comic book standards, would have survived the ordeal without the overdose of morphine. Yet Dick casually kills her and acts as if it was no big deal. Much like actually trying to use a Lazarus Pit, which no Bat Family member would do, this was just a horrible miscue on Morrison's part.
Another problem I had with this issue was with the Bat-clone's speech patterns. He's a failed clone and he's been through some rough spots, so I can understand the broken speech and really like his reasoning behind why he speaks like that. What really irked me, though, was the way it was written. Instead of physically spelling out the idioms of his speech patterns, Morrison chose to use some facsimile of internet 1337 speak or some kind of 13 year old teenager's chat logs. For instance, "you" is spelled "u", "are" is "r", "my" is "mi" and even lists some words as numbers, like "to" as "2".
Note, he is not actually mispronouncing any words in these cases. There is no reason to spell them that way other than to irritate and annoy the reader. I'd like to believe it's some strange ploy to inflict on the reader the static and broken manner in which the cloned Batman's thought process works, but I highly doubt it. One of the worst instances of this speech was the line, "Wear. R. U, Boy Wondr?". Yes, he spelled "Where", which is phonetically idential, as "wear", despite all indications that the clone was saying what he meant and asking where Robin was. "R", "U" and "Wondr" are equally infuriating to read when written as such as they all come out phonetically as they should have. As such, why aren't they written correctly? If he wanted to show him saying the wrong words, spell out the wrong word phonetically, such as "tung" for "tongue" or "wot" for "what". Those words you can clearly see are spoken incorrectly and it makes sense for them to be written as such.
For those thinking I'm just nitpicking something insignificant, know that I honestly feel that the way in which Morrison chose to display the clone's dialogue actually negatively impacted my enjoyment of this book. It was physically taxing to read and annoyed me to no end. And the fact I can see what he was trying to do with the clone's dialogue, how he was trying to display the broken thought process of this failed creation and seeing the few moments where he actually lays off the internet chatroom format and displays the text properly, even with the impediments and mispronounced words (just minus the 2's, u's, etc), it only angers me as it would have been so much better if he just wrote it properly.
An example of a "proper" sentence by the cloned Batman would be, "Mishunn muss come furst, Ulfred!" or "Sp-splinters n mi tuh-tung. Sumthing siriously wrung with mi brane." The latter one has some annoyances, like 'n' for 'and' and 'mi' for 'my' (if it's supposed to be "me", spelling it "mi" doesn't make any sense), but, otherwise, is excellent at showing the thought process and broken speech patterns. Forcing your reader to jump through hoops merely to read what you have wrote and causing them to be taken out of the story in frustration because you physically displayed your text like the trolls and capslock using mouth breathers that lurk on the internet is not how text should be written in a professional work when displaying verbally spoken dialogue. If this has been some written letter or online interaction, yes, I could see writing it exactly as it was typed/written by the character. But for verbal interactions, no, this does not work at all and frustrated me to no end.
To round this out, as I've written too much about too little already, there are problems, both real and imagined, with this arc, but there was good in it, too. I disliked Batwoman being introduced simply to kill off and later revive for, what I assume, is just some added tension as it added nothing to the story. I dislike the fact Dick would use a Lazarus Pit for any reason or help Batwoman overdose on morphine. The narrative structure annoyed me in earlier issues, but proved quite effective here. The art was fantastic. When Knight and Squire were on any page, they were a joy to read. No book should be judged by the sum of its successes nor of its failures. Batman and Robin spurs me to talk on length about inane things like how text is displayed on page. If anything, inspiring that kind of passion should be a sign that there is some merit to be found here.
Verdict - Check It. Yes, I just wrote like a 1000 words lambasting how text was displayed and criticizing the fact Batman helped kill a woman that was injured with the plan being he'd just revive her in a magic pool of water that was buried under tonnes of rock with no guarantee of her being saved and I'm still giving this a Check It instead of outright Avoid It rating. Why? Because I still enjoyed it and think less anal, OCD people will be able to look past those, and other minor, failings to see this is still a solid read. And there's always Cameron Stewart's beautiful art to fall back on.
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Stefano Caselli
Baron Strucker punches a guy's head off in this issue. Let me repeat that. Baron Strucker. Punches someone's head off. I think I could end my review there and be satisfied with knowing you were informed of the coolest thing to happen this week in my comic purchases.
However, that wouldn't do this issue full justice. Yes, Strucker punches a guy's head off, but there is so much more to this issue than that. I've spoken about my concerns regarding this current arc in the past - how it was made up of numerous disjoint, seemingly unrelated subplots with no real goal or direction in sight - but that all changed with this issue. While many of those plots I spoke of are still not lining up, the fog is lifting and many are connecting and the path is beginning to be made clear for what is shaping up to be a very strong storyline.
What really makes this issue work for me, though, is the same thing that made those opening issues of the series so compelling - Hydra. More specifically, the building up and exploration of the Hydra inner circle that Hickman has put together. This issue focused on the relationship between Kraken and Baron Strucker, the earlier days of Hydra and their plans for the future of Hydra. I love that these villains are being turned into real characters for a change. They aren't cookie cutter, mustache twirling bad guys in green jump suits. They are people with goals and flaws and different motivations and the characterizations of each are compelling to read and follow.
In addition to Kraken and Strucker, we learn more of the Hydra traitor and see both Madame Hydra and Gorgon's reaction to it, how each views the betrayal and the lengths each will go to resolve the situation. There's also the possibility that Madame Hydra is the traitor, and it is pretty damning evidence at this point, but there's also a layer of circumstantial deniability to it. As if we are only being shown the possibility of her being the traitor. It seems to be ultimately left up to the reader, at least until next month, to determine her level of culpability. Personally, I don't think she is, but it's hard to deny at this point either. That level of ambiguity is what I love about it though.
Another interesting note about this issue is that we actually see the Secret Warriors for once. I know, I know, I've long accepted they are guest stars in their own, self-titled comic and actually love the focus on Nick Fury and Hydra more than I'd ever enjoy the purely super heroics of a Secret Warriors focus, but it's always fun to mention they show up in their own title, so let me have my moment.
In that regard, though, there's one major note to make about the team - it seems Druid (the portly guy in the red cape with magic powers since most likely don't recall his name) is off the team. Fury gave everyone individual marching orders for their next mission. Everyone else's lists contacts and travel arrangements while Druid's simply tells him he's a liability to the team and to go home, Fury doesn't need him anymore. My face reading the letter was identical to Druid's - I couldn't believe it. I suppose the fact I still care about these characters, despite the near cameo status of the team, goes to show how well this book has been crafted up to this point.
Verdict - Must Read. A compelling read that is tightly paced and brings together some, but not all, of the many subplots of past issues while continuing to develop Hydra and its inner circle into a credible threat for the first time in, well, ever. This is a series you should be reading.