Monday, October 13, 2014

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/8 (with Bonus Animated Discussions for Star Wars: Rebels)

Batgirl #35
Story: Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher
Art: Babs Tarr

And now for something completely different... The beginning of the new creative direction for Batgirl has been anticipated since it was announced, and now having read the first issue, I can say that it's a success. It's a jarring difference for the first handful of pages, I admit, as it feels completely different than anything else coming out from DC right now, but once you settle in to the groove, it's a ton of fun. New writers Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher have moved Barbara Gordon out of Gotham City proper and into Burnside (Gotham's answer to Brooklyn), and we see a completely different life for Barbara, and see her fighting crime that is very much 21st century crime, with tech theft and on-line sleaze mongering factoring into this first story. So much of Gail Simone's run was about Barbara recapturing her identity, both as Barbara and Batgirl after regaining the use of her legs, that it's different to see Barbara struggling with normal twenty-something problems, like getting her stuff stolen, including all her research work for her new college research project, being broke, and losing her costume (well, not all of it is trypical). We do meet Barbara's new roommate, Frankie, and we still see Alysia, Barbara's roommate from the Simone run. Frankie seems like a more grounded character than Alysia, not going out and protesting and breaking and entering, but being a normal person, which will be a nice balance to the chaos around Barbara. Rounding out the supporting cast is Black Canary, who shows up on Barbara's doorstep after her place burned down. Her falling out with BBarbarafrom the end of Birds of Prey is addressed, and by issue's end, we get an answer to how that happened, and it looks like Dinah will be crashing on Barbara's couch for a while. It's fun to have the slightly older, and very caustic, Canary to balance out the jubilant energy of so much of the rest of the cast, and I'm glad Canary has a home after the end of Birds of Prey. I love the way that the writers use Barbara's photographic memory to help her solve the case of her stolen laptop, and the way she defeats the villain of the issue, Riot Black, the guy who runs an internet blackmail site, is perfectly Barbara, clever and tech savvy (and Black speaks with hashtags. Nine times out of ten, that's an excuse to smack a guy down on its own). Babs Tarr's artwork was equally different from anything DC is doing, and really grabbed my attention. Her art is heavy on the panels, in many cases working with something close to a traditional nine panel grid, instead of the more splash page heavy artwork that is the modern DC house style, and it works perfectly with the script she was given. Even the two pages spread where Barbara reconstructs the party at her apartment from the night before when her computer was stolen is not a sloppy two page spread used to fill up space, but is filled with detail and character. With it's quick wit, smart story, and excellent art, it's an auspicious beginning to this new direction for Barbara Gordon and Batgirl.

Batman #35
Story: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
Art: Greg Capullo and Kelly Jones

On the other end of the spectrum from the hip, quirky Batgirl, this week's issue of Batman is full of superhero action. The issue opens with Batman having an internal monologue about the reconstruction of a theatre in Gotham after Zero Year, and the concept of deus ex machina, where the gods come down at the end of classic Greek drama to set things right. And in this issue, the gods do come down to Gotham, only they are wrathful gods ready to destroy Gotham's resident hero. The Justice League is attacking Batman, and we watch as Batman dons a giant suit of battle armor to defeat them. This is a story that plays with the now classic trope that Batman is prepared for everything. not only does he have this armor designed exactly for this, but he has a contingency to clear out a good part of Gotham to be able to fight the League without fear of collateral damage. The plans to take out Wonder Woman, Flash, and Aquaman without lethal force are clever, and don't recycle the plans from the story that established the contingencies, Mark Waid's "Tower of Babel" from his JLA run. The non action sequences establish some of the post Batman: Eternal status quo for Batman without giving away too many of the details of the end of that series, and none of those details are shocking; I don't think anyone expected Alfred to remain locked in Arkham for the rest of his life. Still, some of those details are tantalizing, like why Bruce is living in a suite decked out in Court of Owls motif for one. Capullo hits the art for this issue out of the park, drawing a battle between Batman and the League that is second to none. The final page reveal of the villain of the piece, which the creators did a creators job of keeping a surprise and I won't spoil here if you haven't read it on-line yet, makes for an especially creepy splash page from Capullo. The issue also features a full on back-up story tied into the main plot, from Snyder collaborator James Tynion IV and classic Bat artist Kelly Jones. I won't say too much about it to not spoil the villain reveal, but it features five Arkham escapees abducting a doctor and over the course of this series of back-ups, will each tell a story. The first story comes from Ephram Snow, whose tale of devils is suited to Jones's horror style. It's a good coda to the main story, and if the first chapter is any indication, it looks like Snyder and Capullo have another hit Batman arc on their hands.

Birthright #1
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Andrei Bressan

Joshua Williamson is already writing two very strong creator owned series from Image (Nailbiter and Ghosted, which had a really good issue this week as well), and now he's hit the triple crown with the first issue of his new series, Birthright.  Birthright looks at what happens to the real world when a kid runs off to have a great adventure in another world, like in The Chronicles of Narnia or The Never Ending Story. The story opens with Mikey and his dad, Aaron, playing catch on his birthday. Mikey runs into the woods to retrieve the ball and never comes back. Pretty soon, the disappearance of Mikey tears his family apart. Aaron and Wendy, Mikey's mom, split up over the disappearance and the suspicion that Aaron had something to do with Mikey's disappearance, and Brennan, their elder son, is torn between his parents. But a year after his disappearance, Mikey reappears fully grown and with a big beard and dressed as a barbarian. He tells the story of his time in Terrenos, where he met an ogre named Rook and a flying girl named Rya, who said he was prophesied to defeat the evil God King Lore. The book zigzags between the real world tragedy of a missing child, the heart wrenching drama of what happens to his family, and the fantasy world he lives in, Williamson manages to keep these very different balls all in the air, and keeps them balanced. Andrei Bressan draws the story equally well, balancing a style that is grim and real with gorgeous fantasy settings and cool looking monsters. I have to applaud Williamson's talent for making each of his series feel distinct, because other than the high quality, I wouldn't know that each of his books were written by the same writer. With a great twist ending, an essay from Williamson explaining his inspirations, and a map drawn by "Mikey" in crayon of Terrenos at the back, the issue is packed with so much material, and yet you still set it down wanting the next issue to be waiting for you. Birthright is a stand out addition to Image Comics stable of titles, with its mixture of reality and fantasy and gorgeous art.

Grendel Vs. The Shadow #2
Story & Art: Matt Wagner

I don't know what I can say about this comic's awesomeness that's different from what I said about the first issue, but I'm going to try. Issue two of the series picks up precisely where issue one left off, with our two title characters about to do battle. If you're at all familiar with Matt Wagner's art, you know that this is the kind of scene he was born to draw. The fight scene is gorgeously fluid, one of those fights that, despite knowing these are static panels, you can actually feel the characters moving. After the battle, which ends in something of a draw with both of our protagonists surviving (although points to Shadow for capturing Grendel's fork, his weapon of choice), we see Hunter Rose and Lamont Cranston's orbits intercept as well as those of The Shadow and Grendel. Hunter spends more time consolidating his hold on the mob in his usual efficient and brutal fashion. We also see more of the female companions to the two, as The Shadow's constant companion Margo Lane continues to feel discontent with how The Shadow's single minded quest leaves her out in the cold and we get a better feel for Sofia Valenti, daughter of Don Valenti and the woman who has caught Hunter Rose's eye. Hunter is usually portrayed with an almost Sherlock Holmes-like lack of interest in women, as none can live up to the image of Jocasta Rose, the woman who seduced him as a teenager and showed him the possibilities of the world, so for any woman to draw his attention makes the reader take notice. The fact that she is also trying to get the best of Grendel makes her all the more interesting, and woe to the man who abused her friend, because I see a reckoning for him next issue that will go very much in Sofia's favor. There are so many beautiful scenes in this book that I can really only recommend that you read it, and get caught up before the final issue. The threads are coming together for a clash of the ages between our leads.

Star Wars: Rebels- Spark of Rebellion

At New York Comic Con this weekend, Marvel announced what will be there first Star Wars ongoing not set during the classic trilogy, Star Wars- Kanan: The Last Padawan. This series will tie in to the new Star Wars animated series, Rebels, which has its series premiere tonight. But last week, there was a one hour special movie that kicked off the series, introducing us to this crew of new characters, and I watched it over the weekend, and was very pleased with what I saw.

Set in the period between the prequel trilogy and the classic trilogy, Rebels follows a ragtag group of, well, rebels out to fight the Empire.We are introduced to the crew through Ezra, a street urchin who runs into the rebel cell as they try to liberate a cargo from the Empire. The cast feels like it's playing with a lot of the classic Star Wars character types. Kanan, the leader of the group, was a young Jedi at the time of Order 66 and the fall of the Jedi, so he has a touch of the Han Solo rogue, while having to be master to Ezra, who is strong in the force. Zeb is a Lasat, a big alien, but as opposed to Chewbacca, he can speak normally and has a harder edge, but seems to have a softer side underneath it. Hera is the Twi'lek hotshot pilot, and is the heart of the crew. Sabine is a Mandalorian, but seems closer to the warrior Mandalorians than the peace loving ones we saw in The Clone Wars, yet still has a heart and cares about the rest of the crew as much as blowing things up, which she seems top notch at. The crew is rounded out by Chopper, an astromech droid (like R2-D2) who has a sense of humor and seems to be the comic relief. Star Wars is also known for it's villains, and we seem to get two major players in this special. Kallus is an agent for the Imperial Security Bureau, who is tasked with bringing down the Rebellion before it takes off, and when Kanan is revealed as a Jedi, Kallus contacts The Inquisitor, the Empire's Jedi hunter, who only makes a cameo, but strikes a fearsome figure in the tradition of many dark Force users.

The plot of the movie starts out with a caper that turns into a speeder bike chase, leads to a trap, and ends with a big battle to liberate a group of Wookiee slaves. It's well paced, and feels like Star Wars. For good or ill, depending on the opinion, it does not have the darker edge of many of the better episodes of The Clone Wars, and feels very accessible to all ages and levels of Star Wars knowledge. Using the familiar character tropes makes for easy accessibility as well, but none of the characters feel cookie cutter; the crew of the show does a good job of making them unique and interesting in their own right. My only quibble is the animation isn't quite as clean as the later episodes of The Clone Wars; it feels like they were using the same modelling as the early episodes of that series. It's not bad, just not as crisp, and hopefully, the animation will grow as the show does. Still that is a small issue with an episode full of action, character, and spaceships, which is so much of what makes Star Wars great.

The series premiere is of Star Wars: Rebels is on Disney XD tonight at 9 pm.

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