Monday, August 3, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/29

Batgirl Annual #3
Story: Cameron Stewart & Brenden Flecther
Art: Bengal (Chapter 1)
        David Lafuente & Gabe Eltaeb (Chapter 2)
        Ming Doyle & Ivan Plascencia (Chapter 3)
        Mingjue Helen Chen (Chapter 4)

One of the pluses of the recent new wave of Batman related titles is how each book stands almost entirely on its own feet; you can read Grayson, Batgirl, Gotham Academy, Gotham by Midnight, or the reimagined Catwoman and not have to read any other Batman comic to understand what's going on in that title. This past week's Batgirl Annual is a great comic, and while it is a perfect standalone story, what it does is set Batgirl's adventures in the wider context of what's going on in Gotham City. If you haven't been reading Batgirl, Barbara Gordon has been the defender of Burnside, the hip, Brooklyn-esque neighborhood of Gotham for the past year or so. But this issue, after finding an amnesiac UN official wandering through her neighborhood, Barbara is sent on a collision course with many of the other members of the Bat-family. The first chapter has her working with Helena Bertinelli, the director of the spy organization Spyral and another agent, Dick Grayson, who Barbara thinks is dead and who does his best to keep his identity a secret; the second chapter has Barbara run into Spoiler, recently reintroduced to the DCU and currently appearing in Catwoman; chapter three features a team-up with Kate Kane, Batwoman, whose title has ended and is currently in limbo; and finally Batgirl goes to Gotham Academy, where she meets Olive Silverlock and Maps Mizoguchi, the protagonists of that title. The main plot element, what Batgirl and her allies are looking to find and stop, is an absolute McGuffin (it's called the Negahedron, such a classic 50s pseudo-science name it works best as something that you don't think too much about) to arrange these character meetings, and that's perfectly fine. Each interaction has its own flavor and purpose. The Gotham Academy segment pulls the two books Brenden Flecther writes together and allows us to see Maps, that book's consummate fangirl, get to work with a superhero and get some sidekick dreams, which is just adorable. Batwoman has pretty much disappeared since her title ended, and it was just nice to see Kate back. But I think long time fans were really looking at those first two chapters for something big. In the pre-reboot times, Barbara Gordon as Oracle had very strong ties to both Helena Bertinelli and Stephanie Brown in their other identities, Stephanie as the third Batgirl and Helena as Huntress. These are the first real interactions between the new era Batgirl and her former friends, and while the rapport is different, it's still nice to see how they fit together. Helena and Barbara work together as a well oiled machine, fighting their way through the troops of the terrorist organization Gladius, all while trying to avoid Dick Grayson (and Dick's pain at having to avoid Barbara is palpable). Spoiler is still a novice, and she's so pleased to nearly best Batgirl at the super-hero game; I would love to see Baba work more with Stephanie when Steph's apprenticeship in Catwoman is over. All-in-all, the issue mixes action, adventure, and strong character moments to wonderful effect and makes it essential if you're enjoying any of the titles that are involved. Oh, and on a final note, I love Barbara momentarily recognizes Dick Grayson, who disguises his face and voice, by his butt, which seems to be his new defining physical characteristic; it's such a nice nod to what's going on in Grayson and hilarious in how well Barbara remembers Dick. I want those crazy kids to find a way together, sue me.

Copperhead #9
Story: Jay Faerber
Art: Scott Godlewski & Ron Riley

The second arc of the sci-fi Western Copperhead moves forward at breakneck speed, as Sheriff Clara Bronson gathers a posse to retrieve her deputy, Boo, who has been kidnapped by a band of outlaws. Last issue saw Boo's part of the story, as the outlaws make their way to The Bastion, a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and what Boo does to try to stop them or at least slow their progress. This issue is Clara's story from that same time period, and we get to see certain events from the previous issue from a different point of view. But before their paths cross, we see Barton gather a posse that is made up almost entirely of people she doesn't trust: Cletus, the criminal she dealt with in the first arc, Ishmael, the artificial humanoid hermit who lives in the desert, and two other artificials provided by local land baron Hickory, who is not a nice man at all. The journey through the wasteland is a classic Western trope, and we get the character interaction that defines much of Jay Faerber's work; he finds a way to keep the action of a series going while mining his characters for important personal beats. Even after he has proven trustworthy and not a bad guy in the past, Bronson still doesn't trust Ishmael, which is to be expected, as she has stated how little she trusts artificials. What's more interesting is to see how Ishmael interacts with the two other artificials, how they view him as an outsider and how they think about their own place in the world. And while Bronson talks to Cletus, and we get a better idea of exactly what is going on in his head, it's the artificials that really captured my attention in this issue. Their "bred for battle" attitude and culture, how they act when confronted with death, and the way they look at the death of their own once it happens, it fills in some gaps about how these beings exist. This worldbuilding is key in good science fiction, and I'm glad to see that Faerber has all this background. In addition to this, the slow burn about Barton's ex-huband's escape from jail continues; this is going to be a big deal when he arrives on Japser (the planet where Copperhead is), and the little bits here and there about him just make the tension even higher. Next issue wraps up the second arc, and all the pieces are now in place for a showdown.

Invisible Republic #5
Story: Gabriel Hardman & Corinna Bechko
Art: Gabriel Hardman & Jordan Boyd

Invisible Republic the series from Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko that takes place on a planet after a dictatorship has fallen and follows a reporter who has found a diary of an unknown cousin of that dictator, wraps its first arc with an issue that takes place nearly entirely in those diaries. Maia Reveron, cousin to Arthur McBride, has found a life away from her cousin with beekeepers and honey seller Archi and Luis, who said they could pay her way out of indentured servitude and take her on as an apprentice. But as her connection to McBride is revealed, things start looking bleaker. Even moreso when Maia winds up in the middle of a demonstration, finds out that Luis is working with McBride's underground, and when the demonstration becomes a riot, Maia has to make a decision. It's a telling moment for Maia, who we see as a good and loyal person being more and more swept up in events beyond her control, but who still tries to do what's right in her mind. It's an issue that will change the status quo moving forward when, at the end of the issue, we meet a character from that flashbacks for the first time in the present. There's so much to love about this series, with it's depth of character and it's wide world, but what continues to blow my mind each issue is Hardman's art. The gritty world he's crafted fits perfectly with the tone of the series and defines it. Everything is absolutely clear, nothing gets lost in a single panel, but everything is dirty and used. This isn't the pristine world of Star Trek or the Western influenced sci-fi of Firefly. The closest I can think of is Lazarus (which also had a very solid issue this week, by the way), a future world that is very much extrapolated from the world as it is now, with all the dirt and creases you'd see. The riot scene, where the military comes down on McBride and disperses the crowd violently, can be viewed as some commentary on recent events in America, but knowing exactly what McBride is and how manipulative he is, that particular commentary has its legs cut out from under it: McBride is not some innocent revolutionary as he would have the people believe. He's a cold blooded killer. And watching him build his cult of personality makes him all the more powerful and creepy as a character. Science Fiction is genre that embraces all kinds of stories, and Invisible Republic, with its politics and humanity, is one of the strongest science fiction comics on the market. It's a perfect time to go out and snag all five issues that are out and read them together, and be ready when the new arc starts.

The X-Files Annual 2015
Story: Mike Raicht
Art: Kevin VanHook & Mat Lopes

While there were some good monster-of-the-week style stories in the recently completed X-Files Season 10 comic, much of that series was dedicated to building a new, cohesive mythology for the series to move forward. This year's annual, though, is a monster story of the best order, the kind that not just tells a spooky story, but delves into Mulder and Scully. The story follows Mulder as he barges into a high school reunion to try to find out what happened to a student who disappeared years ago in a haunted house. This is a very Mulder thing to do, as is lying to Scully to drag her along. I know a lot of people who are Mulder fans could read this issue and be really annoyed at Scully for not just her skepticism but her annoyance at Mulder, and while it seems a times very harsh, I can see why she's upset; Mulder dragged her away on a weekend to investigate a case without telling her; she has very right to be annoyed. But as the case of the disappearance of Colin Matthews deepens, Mulder learns more about Colin and his friends, Tristan Nolan and Kelly McGreevy, who have made a career as ghost hunters by talking about what they witnessed the night Colin disappeared, and details about psychic powers and exactly what kind of people these now adults were set Mulder on a path that not only leads him to confront Tristan and Kelly, but to get some resolution on a case for once. But because he's Fox Mulder, he looks a little deeper, and what he finally deduces is even more disturbing than a disappearance, It's got a great twist ending, like many of the best X-Files, and it's the twist within the twist that really makes it. I was also impressed that, while it's referenced in places, the fact that Mulder investigates a disappearance in the anniversary of the disappearance of his sister, there's no big long speech about Samantha. Mulder's own hunt for his sister is the thing that's defined his entire life, and how he deals with it here is allowed to play out subtextually, in a show not tell way. With The X-Files about to return to television, I'm not sure how much big mythology stuff that the comic has been doing is going to be valid anymore, so stories like this, strong done in one monster stories, are a great place for the comic to live, and this issue would be a good prototype for upcoming stories.

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