Batman and Robin #26 (DC Comics)
by David Hine, Greg Tocchini & Andrei Bressan
This series ends on a strong note (it’s being relaunched next month as part of DC’s New 52 initiative) with a story of French super-villains and art as a motive for brutal, grisly crimes. The plot revolves around a breakout at the Black Garden, Paris’ version of Arkham Asylum. I not only love the name of the French institution for the criminally insane, but the new villain concepts here are fantastic. These new French villains are so interesting and novel that it’s a shame that they’re treated as essentially fleeting, throwaway concepts. Their abilities and the ideas behind the character concepts are chilling. I hope I’m wrong about them being seen as disposable notions meant only for this self-contained story. The script is a bit awkward in the final scene, but the final reveal more than makes up for it. The much-maligned parkour hero Nightrunner appears in this story, but mainly as a narrator, as the title characters’ guide to France’s villain scene. There’s never an explanation as to why the Dick Grayson Batman and his sidekick are in France (international travel has been the original Batman’s domain as of late), but it’s really not important.
Greg Tocchini’s fluid, soft artwork works well with the surreal notions that serve as the story’s greatest strengths. Andrei Bressan’s line art represents a more conventional approach to super-hero comic art, but the disparate styles of the two artists didn’t seem to interfere with the story. It’s probably a testament to how engrossing Hine’s story really is. Overall, I’m struck by the fact that the best Batman stories in recent years have been those that featured new villains. Given recent promotional material released by DC for its fall New 52 line, it seems there’s a plan to introduce a number of new villains, including some in the Batman family of titles. So maybe the trend will continue. 8/10
New Avengers #15 (Marvel Worldwide)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Mike Deodato
When I picked up this issue, I was pleased to find that writer Brian Michael Bendis decided to shine the spotlight on Squirrel Girl. Her presence in this series is a bit surprising, but it works well given the circumstances of the two Avengers to which she’s linked. I also liked that he plays things straight with Squirrel Girl, portraying the oddball super-hero character as a regular woman who’s recently found purpose in life. While I don’t care for the link to the event, my main problem with this story isn’t the Fear Itself elements but with the lack of resolution. I’m not hopeful that the cliffhanger ending will be resolved in the pages of New Avengers; I assume explosive final scene will be explored in another book (probably Fear Itself). I would’ve liked to see Squirrel Girl interact more with the baby and her parents. The cover reflects what would’ve been a much more interesting story. The scene in which she spars with Wolverine was pointless, especially given the action sequences later in the issue. They establish the main character’s abilities clearly, so pitting her against Logan to show she can hold her own isn’t necessary. Oh, and since the issue is tied into Fear Itself, what happened to the fear part? I thought the premise included everyone everywhere feeling uneasy and scared, but there’s really no particular sense of pervading emotion touched upon in this script.
Artist Mike Deodato has done some solid work for Marvel over the years, and he’s no stranger to Bendis’ Avengers, but I’m not sure he was the right choice as artist for this spotlight. Squirrel Girl’s softer, nicer side is lost here. Her likeability factor doesn’t come through in the art. Deodato employs a lot of shadow and silhouettes here, and the central character just doesn’t call for so much darkness. Some of the action sequences are rather vague as well. 5/10
Subculture: The Webstrips Volume 1 – The Wrath of Geek trade paperback (Ape Entertainment)
by Kevin Freeman & Stan Yan
Regular readers of my reviews — not just on Eye on Comics but past endeavors as well, such as The Fourth Rail and Psycomic — might have noticed I don’t review comics that are published only online. It’s not that I don’t care for digital or web comics. As I’ve explained to many people over the years, there’s so much material I read and that I’ve provided with, there’s no way for to write about it all. As it is, I only write about a fraction of the comics I read, so one of the criteria I use to whittle down the list of material I consider for review is that the comic in question must exist in printed form. Fortunately, a lot of web strips eventually find their way onto the printed page, and this collection of Subculture strips is one example.
People often say one should write what you know, and maybe that’s why we see so many of these slice-of-life strips about geek culture. This spin on the concept is amusing enough, even though many of the jokes are either obvious or predictable. Writer Kevin Freeman resorts to an odd amount of toilet humor in quick succession, but they’re not particularly offensive jokes. It’s easy to recognize oneself in some of the characters. The most interesting one is Noel, who’s not surprisingly the least conventional and most fleshed out member of the cast. What disappointed me a bit about this book is that despite the average, supposedly normal lives the characters lead, they want for nothing. Jason may be out of work, but he never seems to face a real financial crunch. Arthur is socially awkward, but that doesn’t seem to interfere the least with him meeting the perfect woman — shapely, affluent and geeky through and through. I know this is a web strip and there’s limited space, but there’s so much untapped potential in the relationships and personal conflicts. One of the most interesting sequences in the book was the discussion of mall and retail culture — easily the least geeky element in the book.
It’s interesting to see Yan’s artwork develop over the course of the book. Earlier strips seem more static, but later ones play with perspective and backgrounds more. Judging from the commentary blurbs included with each panel, the artist seems to have dedicated a lot of effort on inside jokes and Easter eggs, but most of them are so obscure that I was at a loss even after they were explained to me. Overall, I think the creators have a solid foundation here upon which they could build something better and that they could use to develop their storytelling skills a bit more. 6/10
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