Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Quick Critiques – Oct. 11, 2012

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 11th, 2012

VariantAme-Comi Girls Featuring Wonder Woman #1 (DC Comics)
by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Amanda Conner, Tony Akins & Walden Wong

Not in a million year did I ever think I’d take a glance, let alone purchase, one of the comics DC spun off from its gratuitously sexual Ame-Comi statuettes of its iconic female characters, but my local comics retailer pointed out this one was crafted mainly by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Conner, noting this particular creative team has never delivered a dud. I am a big fan of Conner’s work and of much of the writing team’s efforts, so I found myself caving, picking up a copy of the comic (which I believe was initially published online some months ago). Palmiotti and Gray offer up a distinctly interesting take on Wonder Woman, altering her origin in significant ways to set it apart from versions we’ve seen before. In this spin on the concept, Queen Hippolyta sends a reluctant Diana to America to serve as an ambassador, in part to teach her the value of diplomacy over war. It’s like Odin exiling his son Thor to Midgard to teach him humility. It’s a fun read with several elements that will please traditional Wonder Woman fans, those interested in her new ongoing series and those just interested in something a little different. I was also pleased to find the $4 cover price offers 30 pages of story and art. It’s 50 per cent more content for a 33 per cent hike in price.

Conner’s artwork is the real star of the show, and I love the ferocity she instills in the title character. I love how emotive Conner’s characters are, and she really brings her A game here. Furthermore, artist Tony Akins does an excellent job of aping Conner’s style for the final 10 pages of the story. And then, when we reach the point where Wonder Woman has to wear the skimpiest of outfits for her mission of diplomacy, the comic falls apart. It’s so ludicrous and gratuitous, it’s almost impossible to get back into the story. Even the heroine herself points out how stupid the anime-inspired “costume” is. What’s more frustrating is she’s the only character to acknowledge it. I realize the entire Ame-Comi line is built on a foundation of these over-sexualized portrayals of the characters, but it’s one thing to produce silly statuettes of them and another altogether to ask an audience to accept them in stories. 6/10

VariantBatman #13 (DC Comics)
by Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Greg Capullo, Jock & Jonathan Glapion

Some of the best and most ideas successful ideas DC has offered in recent years have been simple ones. If there are Green Lanterns, why not Lanterns of every other color of the visible spectrum? That’s just one example. With the “Death of the Family” storyline, writer Scott Snyder offers a new take on the Joker that simply reverses some of his methods. Instead of a fatal toxin that distorts a victim’s face into a smile, it’s a frown. Instead of having disposable henchmen do his dirty work, he’s killing with his bare hands. What makes the story chilling, though, isn’t the violence the Joker commits, but the intimate, personal details with which he threatens key characters. Mind you, while the writer has flip-flopped some of what the Joker does, ultimately, his actions aren’t terribly different from what we’ve seen from him in past stories. But by hammering home the notion the killer has been in hiding for a year, gearing up for something monumentally vile, Snyder manages to set this apart from other Joker stories. My hope is that like “The Court of Owls,” following “Death of the Family” won’t require readers to purchase multiple tie-ins issues, that the heart of the plot will be found in this title. This is a strong start for the story, though it’s slightly marred by the fact the reader knows the many members of the Batman family — Batgirl, Nightwing, Robin, Red Robin — won’t suffer the fate that’s suggested in the script, as the characters all have their own titles to sustain. The backup story, which explains how Harley Quinn is drawn into these events, doesn’t advance the plot in any way, but it offers some unsettling, interesting character-driven bits.

Capullo’s distorted, exaggerated figures suit a Joker story quite nicely, but I love how the Joker is never depicted directly until the final page of the first story (at the direction of Snyder’s script, no doubt). The scene in the mayor’s office looked a little rough, even rushed, lacking the polish of other moments in the book. Mind you, it’s still effective, and the overall tone of the scene reminded me a great deal of classic Joker stories of decades gone by. I was surprised to see Jock’s name in the credits for the backup story. I had thought I was looking at Bill Sienkiewicz’s art. It’s incredibly effective, reminding me of Sienkiewicz’s work on a couple of great Frank Miller Daredevil stories. Jock has the interaction between Harley and Joker unfolding on a blank canvas, and that void makes the psychological conflict all the more effective. I also love how the scene is drenched in red, foreshadowing not only the guise Harley is about to take on, but the violence the Joker will unleash on Gotham. Perhaps the most noticeable and interesting visual in the book has nothing to do with the line art. The letterers employ a distinct, italicized font for the Joker’s dialogue that drives home the maniacal, unbalanced nature of the villain. 8/10

The Bionic Woman #5 (Dynamite Entertainment)
by Paul Tobin & Daniel Leister

This is the first of the various “Bionic” comics published by Dynamite that I’ve sampled, and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from it. While I watched The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman when I was a kid, my memories of the shows are so vague, I really don’t have any kind of nostalgic connection with them. Still, I remembered enough of the basics to follow what’s happening in this story, thanks also to Tobin’s script, which provides just enough exposition. Tobin’s story delivers some solid espionage adventure with more than a little hint of super-hero spice. The banter between Jaime Sommers and her gal pal Nora brings a nice bit of pep to the over-the-top story, and the plot clips along at a brisk pace, while never seeming particularly rushed. After only one issue, I’m still not particularly vested in these characters, but I have to admit I’m curious.

Where this comic book goes awry is with its visuals. Don’t get wrong — artist Daniel Leister tells the story clearly, and I like that the colors are bright despite the harsher elements that are included in the plot. But Leister’s style seems a little… ordinary. The best thing I can say about it is it’s fairly standard American comic-art fare. It looked a little rough at times when a sharper level of detail could have reinforced the more shocking, sci-fi aspects of the story. There’s a solid performance here when it comes to fundamentals, and as he hones his craft and develops his own unique style, he’ll be worth watching as he moves onto bigger projects. 5/10

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Daredevil: End of Days #1 (Marvel Entertainment)
by Brian Michael Bendis, David Mack, Klaus Janson & Bill Sienkiewicz

When this comic book was released last week, the manager of my local comic shop and I had a brief conversation about it. Since Daredevil is on my pull list, he set aside this comic for me as well, but I put it back on the shelf. I enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the regular series a few years ago immensely, but I wasn’t interested this time around. One reason was the $3.99 US cover price, but I found it odd Marvel would release this series now, when Mark Waid’s lighter, critically acclaimed take on the title character was doing so well. This return to a darker tone for the character seemed like a step back and threatened to muddy the brand. I got a chance to read a friend’s copy, though, and I have to admit, I was drawn in — but not by Bendis and Mack’s story about DD’s death or even an examination of a society that embraces apathy and morbidity. Instead, it was Ben Urich — the real central character of this debut issue — and the writers’ convincing portrayal of his thought process in crafting a story for a newspaper. The plot of Daredevil’s final days is very much in keeping with the stories Bendis (and, after him, Ed Brubaker) told, and I found I was interested. But Urich’s internal comments to himself as he tries to write are what really held my attention.

It’s clear why Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz were tapped for this project — because they evoke memories of the classic DD stories Frank Miller told in the 1980s that set Daredevil apart from Marvel’s other street-level super-heroes. But during the scene featuring the climactic fight between DD and the Kingpin, some of the visuals specifically put me in mind of the style of the late Gene Colan, another artist remembered as one of the best talents to work on the original Daredevil series. 8/10

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