Pipeline: "Holy Terror, Catwoman!"

Tue, September 27th, 2011 at 1:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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HOLY TERROR: A TEASER

A funny thing happened on the way to this review...

My first reading of Frank Miller's new "Holy Terror" original graphic novel -- due out this week -- was not very kind. I wrote a thousand words explaining everything I didn't like about it, and then went back to reread it. The plan was to come up with specific examples to cite, confirm my earlier opinions and maybe pick a page or two to include with the review.

The problem is, the more I reread the book, the more my opinion of it changes. I find myself starting to like the book more. I still have some major problems with the art -- spot coloring needs to be banished, ASAP! -- but I think I'm seeing some of Miller's points in the story that I didn't see on my first reading. And there are artistic high points that bear mentioning, including Miller's use of silhouette, the strong storytelling trick he uses to tell the story of mass casualties with empty panels, the chaotic inking style meant to show the aftermath of explosions in the city, etc.

But, then, there's that ridiculous spot coloring of the Catwoman analog's boots that yanks me right out of the story for its pointlessness. I'm fixated on it. Either do a black and white book, or don't. What's so important about Catwoman's footwear that it bears a color? (Yes, I know it's not really Catwoman, but everyone will be reviewing this book with its Batman origins in mind. If I call that character "Catwoman," you instantly know who I'm talking about.)

The most unbelievable and timely part of the book is how Frank Miller's take on the Batwoman and Catwoman romance is far more PG rated than DC's is these days. This is from the man who brought us "Sin City."

So please forgive me while I delay the review for a week. When I do share my full thoughts, I'll have read the book enough times to figure out what I think of it.

THE RECENT COMICS WATER COOLER

Once upon a time, all of online comics fandom was in one place: USENET. It was, at times, a motley assemblage of disparate people. And while subgroups eventually formed off of rec.arts.comics to specifically target DC and Marvel fans, the general rec.arts.comics.misc seemed to be the place to be. It's where everyone went, no matter what their fandom specialty was. Sure, that led to obvious conflicts, but the virtual water cooler couldn't be clearer. USENET was where it was at.

Eventually, web-based message boards took over. Things were heavily fragmented -- or "Balkanized," if you prefer. It wasn't just Marvel fans over here and DC fans over there. It was fans of Creator X over there, Character Y over there, and Comic Book Z over there. Sure, there's some crossover (albeit with the cross-posting that was available and discouraged at USENET), but today the insane reach of the internet has allowed for a series of larger communities to specialize in niches you might not have otherwise considered in the mid-1990s.

ComicBookResources.com has a very large and popular message board, but note how it's broken down into specific groups: by company, by character, by columnist, etc. With such large numbers of people now online, it's impossible to have one meeting place for everyone.

The point is, the world of online fandom is scattered today. I'm not railing against it, like some old man who liked it better in the old days. I'm actually happy that such systems have set up to accommodate all the various sub-fandoms. It helps to create happier and more constructive places.

It also means that there's rarely anything in comics that brings us all together. There never will be again. Comics fandom is far too diverse, once you encompass manga, webcomics, superhero comics, alternative comics, etc. etc.

And then there's DC's New 52. This is the closest we've gotten to a single unifying issue on the comics internet for as long as I can remember. Everyone has an opinion on it, even people who've never read DC comics before. People who look down their noses at superhero comics are watching what happens. And, of course, DC Comics fans are fervently following every event along the way.

DC's New 52 is a month-long water cooler around which the comics internet is gathering. It's fun to watch, and fun to be a part of. No matter what happens to DC in the long run or this relaunch in the short run, it's been a fun month of people talking about the same controversies, comics, and creators.

DC'S NEW 52: THE NEXT 12

This week there were only 12 comics, because this is the normal slot for the Geoff Johns/Jim Lee "Justice League" book. I still didn't manage to read them all, but got through most of them. Some thoughts:

We all grouse about sex and violence in comics today, and DC's new lineup of titles has drawn its share of criticism for it. But only one book last week featured a naked woman in bed holding up a woman in her underwear by the throat before the two team up to go do something else. One changes into her bustier, choker, and knee-high boots (no pants), while offering nothing in the way of additional clothing to the woman parading around in her pink low-rise bikini panties and white camisole. Then the former straddles a horse and chops off an opponent's arm and --

-- it's the internet's favorite comic of the month. Let's get to it:

"Wonder Woman" #1: Along with "Batman," this is the series that seemed to be the most hotly anticipated book of the week. It did nothing for me. It's just not my kind of book. Heck, I've never been able to get seriously into "Thor," either. Superhero god stories don't do much for me. Cliff Chiang's art, which I adored in "Green Arrow and Black Canary" looks weaker here.

But I'm standing alone on that in the internet. So I won't belabor it. You all go enjoy that one without me.

"Blue Beetle" #1: I liked Ig Guara's art better when it was drawing cute superheroic animals. I wasn't bothered by the Spanglish in the issue, as I know enough to understand it all, but the whole issue didn't get me excited. It made me miss "Ultimate Spider-Man" in a strange way, but I didn't jump to add the series to my Must Read list.

"Catwoman" #1: Catwoman's right shin is extremely long. I know that now because, like the rest of the internet, I've intensely studied the last page of this issue, looking for clues as to what Winick is intimating is happening. So far, it appears to me that Catwoman and Batman enjoy a uniquely Gothamesque form of Yoga. "Downward Dog Inverted Wraparound," perhaps? It's also possible that Batman's aching mid-section muscles require the kind of massage that only a cat might give. Maybe Catwoman is demonstrating on Batman a new style of CPR? That would explain her hands on his chest, wouldn't it? Compressions! And it would explain why she cleared out his mouth first, though using her tongue isn't exactly in the EMT playbook.

If they are, in fact, doing the Bat-pokey, Batman better be very careful. Catwoman's zipper doesn't go down quite that far and he could really hurt himself, Ben Stiller in "There's Something About Mary"-style.

It's all a bit of a shame, because there's otherwise a great chance for a cool book here. Winick's down-on-her-luck superspy-of-sorts Catwoman could make for a compelling character. And Guillem March's art with Tomeu Morey's colors is gorgeous. Even with a little inevitable cheesecake, there'd be much to admire here. But then those last four pages show up and the rest of the issue is erased from everyone's minds.

The only question remaining is whether Batman will be doing the Walk of Shame to start the second issue.

"Red Hood and the Outlaws" #1: I like the idea of a buddy book. I like a light-hearted action/adventure book, and even like the thought of putting in a woman between the two to break up the camaraderie and add some extra tension. That could all work. And parts of it do in this book (I liked the opening action gambit), but you have to get past the unfortunate characterization of the title's female lead, Starfire. At first, it seems innocent and funny and light-hearted. But, jeez, I felt dirty just thinking that after about thirty seconds.

If Kory's issues with her sexuality are part of a larger plot point than "She's an alien and so her cultural norms are different," then the story can still redeem itself. The rape analogy that many have offered up might work, but Scott Lobdell will need to sell it hard and then move on. Quickly.

Instead, this is "American Pie" meets "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," but without the heart and soul. Yes, "American Pie" is a sex comedy, but there are strong characters in it, and the plot has a point in the end. Everything wraps up neatly, and people change. Right now, I don't have that sense that it's coming from this series. I hope that in a few months I can come back to this column and say I was proven wrong.

"Batman" #1: This one is clearly the best book of the week. It's a relatively slow-moving story, but it's filled with the kind of classic Batman moments that comic fans love to see. We love Gotham City being treated as a character. We love to see Bruce Wayne start initiatives and promise big changes. We love to see Batman in action against a large number of nutty costumed criminals. We love Arkham Asylum.

Writer Scott Snyder does a lot of setting up with this issue, and includes the cliffhanger at the end that the best of The New 52 books have used. It is, however, the least believable of them all. I don't think anyone reading this book believes that the bad guy named on the last page is going to turn out to be a bad guy. So while the cliffhanger stumbles after a moment of consideration, it's still enough to get you to want the next issue to see how the misidentification came to be.

But the true start of the issue is Greg Capullo. Snyder's best decision in the book is his gift to Capullo of the opening scene in the issue. It's a Batman title, so everyone wants to see how the villains look, particularly when being adapted by a new creative teams. The opening melee at Arkham Asylum gives Capullo a splashy introduction to the DC Universe, with a large number of familiar characters getting a Capullo makeover. He even gets to draw The Joker, so it's all good.

Capullo's art is morphing once more. While still retaining the square jawed cartooniness that his "Spawn" run inherited from Todd McFarlane, there's a little more restraint in the dramatic angles (no extreme close-ups on eyeballs) and inks. Jonathan Glapion is the inker here, and prefers working with parallel lines as a shading tool over scratchy crosshatching.

What a thrill it is to see an artist cartooning on all cylinders, and not phototracing everything to keep things looking "real." Capullo is a real cartoonist, able to abstract out from "reality" to create an inviting and interesting depiction of superheroes and villains. Picture Todd McFarlane crossed with "Invincible"'s Ryan Ottley, and you'll have an idea of how good this book looks.

"Birds of Prey" #1: There's a lot boiling up from below this series. References to events of the near past keep coming up, and a lot of the origin questions a reader might have for this "team" are so far unanswered. That's not a bad thing, per se. It's nice to see that Duane Swierczynski has a longer term plan in mind for the title. He's clearly worked hard at setting up the back story, and the trick will now be in how he reveals it in the issues ahead. In the meantime, this book has a couple of good action sequences, some nice character interactions, and art that's easy on the eyes. I'm not sure it qualifies as a "Birds of Prey" title yet, but I assume we'll get there.

Jesus Saiz is one of the underrated artistic finds at DC in recent years, starting with "21 Down" and "Checkmate" before moving onto such titles as "The Brave and the Bold" and "Countdown."

I'm hesitant in many ways, but I'm willing to give the book more chances to win me over completely.

"Nightwing" #1: The highlight of the issue was when Dick Grayson let two police officers get killed right in front of him and wasn't at all bothered by it after two caption boxes. Not a good sign. The problem is that the whole issue, while not insulting or denigrating to anyone, just isn't exciting. Kyle Higgins, Eddy Barrows, and J.P. Mayer create a perfectly reasonable piece of superhero fiction, but it doesn't feel "new" at all to me. I wonder if the dialogue from the last couple of pages is setting up the mystery over in "Batman," but after that I have no interest in this book.

This brings up my theory that DC has finally cemented a new type of comics reader: The one who collects the train wreck comics. You can't be a one armed man swinging a dead cat while in recovery without hitting a train wreck book every week of this relaunch. We had two this week, with "Catwoman" and "Red Hood."

There's no way "Nightwing" would land in that category, but it commits a worse offense: It bored me. There's nothing spectacular going on this issue from top to bottom. It's neither so great nor so bad that I want to write 250 words about it right now.

It comes back to another theory I have every week: DC would be so much better off with Chuck Dixon writing a half dozen titles right now. And "Nightwing" generally ranked below "Robin" and "Birds of Prey" for me a decade ago.

AND IN CONCLUSION

Next week: "Holy Terror" and the end of the first month of The New 52. It's not all-DC, all the time, either. There's lots of other interesting things I've been reading this month, slowly but surely. I think October is bound to be a very busy month, with or without The New 52. So please stay tuned...

I have a photography blog, AugieShoots.com, where I'm posting all sorts of pictures. VariousandSundry.com hasn't been updated in a little while, but that's where I go to vent on all the other topics in my life.

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TAGS:  pipeline, dc comics, new 52, catwoman, starfire, holy terror, frank miller

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