Monday, May 20, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 5/15

Batgirl #20
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Daniel Sampere & Carlos Rodriguez

For someone who is so sweet, Gail Simone creates some seriously creepy characters. The new issue of Batgirl introduces a new incarnation of the Ventriloquist, a character who belongs up there with Secret Six's Junior in the annals of creepy villains. An amoral sociopath, we see a flashback of the Ventriloquist's as a little girl poison an entire birthday party and kill the party clown to get his dummy. And she gets crazier from there! Simone has added an excellent new villain, one that fits well into Gotham's air of madness. Meanwhile, Barbara is not doing well in dealing with the "death" of her own psychotic family member, her brother James, who she thought she killed last issue. The issue is framed with Barbara bursting into her shrink's office and we see how the death of James has affected her, and how it has affected her time as Batgirl. Simone put Barbara through the ringer, and her sadness radiates off each page, making your heart break, and even moreso if you've read the new issue of Suicide Squad and know she's beating herself up for a death that didn't occur. Simone keeps her subplots simmering as well, with Jim Gordon raging against Batgirl for killing his son, Knightfall and her cronies up to their usual no good, and Ricky, the street kid who Barbara sort of has a date with, prepares for his night out. Simone does her usual tremendous job of balancing action with these character bits, and this remains one of the jewels of the Bat Family and the New 52 as a whole.

Fables #129
Story: Bill Willingham
Art: Mark Buckingham

Over ten years into Fables, and Bill Willingham is still pulling the rugs out from under his readers. The end of the Snow White arc has snow confronting Prince Brandish in a duel for her freedom. It's a great duel, with Snow showing her prowess, and while the end is what you'd expect, the ramifications of it will be felt for years to come. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read the issue, or is trade waiting, but a major player in the series from the first issue is out of play for the time being, if not forever. Still, the star of the issue is Snow, who shows all her strengths, her physical, mental and emotional ones, once more proving she is quite possibly the strongest person in all of Fabletown. The subplot with Beast and the Lady of the Lake dancing around the "betrothal" between the Blue Fairy and Gepetto continues, and is made more interesting from the standpoint of the narration by Ambrose, the son of Snow and Bigby Wolf. As the series is now narrated by Ambrose's histories, written many years in the future, there are tantalizing hints of things to come, but they are all just out of reach, making this reader want more, yet grounded in Ambrose's emotional investment as well, keeping them from being nothing more than vague prophecy. The issue ends with this arc catching up the very end of "Cubs in Toyland," the previous arc which ended in something of a flashforward. The future remains a thing with many mysteries for the Fables cast, and those mysteries are what keep us coming back month after month.

Helheim #3
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Joelle Jones

The first two issues of Cullen Bunn's Weird Viking series Helhiem were solid stories, setting up the world the series inhabits and introducing the players. Issue three, this week's new issue, is the issue that feels to me like the one that gets the series main action started. Rikard, noble Viking hero turned into shambling Frankenstein's Monster-esque creature, has confronted the witch he was created  to destroy, and now knows the truth: Bera, the witch who he loved, is no less a monster than any of the other things in the dark. Rikard faces down the demons sent by Groa, the demon witch, and we see the exact limits of his undead might, which are pretty darn extreme. In a scene directly reminiscent of a scene from the classic 1930s Frankenstein film, we are introduced to another player in the series, Kadlin, whose entire village was slaughtered in the war between the witches. By issue's end, Rikard has an even more monstrous appearance and a new goal in his unlife. And while Bunn's story is excellent as ever, it's Joelle Jones's art that steals the show this issue. The fight between Rikard and the demons and beautiful, or as beautiful as bloody combat can be, and the character deigns continue to impress. What really impresses me is how Rikard can look so monstrous, yet still have such humanity in his face; you can see the pain and betrayal that he has experienced, and you feel for him. With Sixth Gun coming to an end, I'm glad that this title has come along to give me my monthly dose of Cullen Bunn weird history.

Make Good Art
Words: Neil Gaiman
Design: Chip Kidd

Last year, Neil Gaiman gave the commencement speech at Philadelphia's University of the Arts. I saw a recording of the speech then, and it was tremendously moving. Gaiman talks about what he ahd learned over his years as a writer, what he would have done differently, and gives some very sage advice. When I saw it was being published, I thought that this was going to rank up there with Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go as a graduation gift, especially for anyone who is hoping to make a career in the arts, something I know a little about. And when I got my hands on a copy of the book this week, I was even more pleased. While not a comic or graphic novel, Chip Kidd, graphic designer extraordinaire, has taken Gaiman's speech and done amazing visual things with the words. The little volume is beautiful, with words zigging and zagging, color changing for emphasis, all to accentuate Gaiman's words. If you're ever feeling down about what you're trying to do in life, or if you're trying to start a new endeavor, this is the perfect little book to read to give you that push to go out and, well, Make Good Art.

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