Monday, October 24, 2016

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 10/19

The Backstagers #3
Story: James Tynion IV
Art: Rian Sygh & Walter Baiamonte

I have fond memories about both working backstage on student productions and high school theatricals, although not connected (I did most of my production work in college, while I acted in high school. I died on stage twice in one play!). So, because of this, I was drawn to The Backstagers, another of Boom Box's YA titles, along the same lines as Lumberjanes and Goldie Vance, and it is as delightful and charming as those titles, while being its own book. The Backstagers features a cast of five high school boys at an all boys school who are the stage crew on this year's production, a so-thinly-veiled-it's not-at-all-veiled production of Les Miserables. But what makes this more than just a behind-the-scenes of a play comic is that the backstage is full of tunnels, hallways, and passages full of monsters and creatures (which isn't too far off some of the back stages I've been in over the years. While the first two issues did a lot to set the tone and establish the characters through the eyes of new crew member Jory, issue three takes us to that most dreaded of times for a stage crew: Tech Week, the week where you run the show over and over and make sure everything works. This issue focuses on Beckett, one of the long time members of the crew, who has been the most, shall we say, standoffish member of the crew in those first couple of issue. Writer James Tynion IV does a great job of explaining why Beckett is the way he is in this issue, really fleshing out his character; not just establishing his crush on the play's leading lady, Bailey Brentwood, who is by no means the prima donna mean girl that one might expect from a high school drama star, but also exploring that Beckett is a classic introvert, someone who just needs his own time and space, something this introvert respects and understands with every part of his being.. Also, teaming the grumpy Beckett with the joyful little sprite that is other Backstager Sasha creates a classic duo who don't work. The issue has some great art from Rian Sygh, specifically a splash page of a scene from the play with cast members standing on a barricade, giving you an idea of just how weird this play is (it's Les Mis! Only they're clowns! And there's a bear!). And another two page spread that has small panels over a lighting plot where you get to see much of the crew and cast doing their work in little snippets is one of the best comic representations of what I picture as a TV or movie montage that I've ever seen. This issue is a great work in both character and craft, and just a ton of fun. And while this issue has very little of the supernatural aspects that the first couple have had, short of a magic crystal that powers the lights and lighting board, which is something every theater, high school, college, or professional, would love to have, the set up for what's coming next issue has the promise of all sorts of magic and monsters. Between Backstagers and Detective Comics, James Tynion IV is proving to be an amazing writer of ensemble, character based comics, and I'm looking forwar to where he takes this book next. And, yes, I swore after Goldie Vance that is Boom Box did another mini-series to ongoing transition I wouldn't get suckered in, but, well, if the folks at Boom read this and happen to make that decision, I'm in for the long haul.

Batman #9
Story: Tom King
Art: Mikel Janin & June Chung

Detective Comics has been the Bat book that has absorbed my love and attention since the beginning of the Rebirth era, which is not to say that Batman to this point hasn't been a good comic. It's been a solid, big screen action comics with some nice character beats and work establishing Duke Thomas's relationship with Batman and the new character of Gotham Girl. But the new arc that debuts this issue, "I Am Suicide" looks to be a story that is going to take a good book and push it to new heights. Batman has plans to go to Santa Prisca, home of Bane, to retrieve the villainous Psycho Pirate, who used his powers to infect Gotham Girl with a never ending cycle of fear, and to do it, he's going to need backup, and in this case, he's been offered it by Amanda Waller. Yes, Batman is leading a Suicide Squad. Before we get to Batman, though, the issue opens with Bane and Psycho Pirate, and a bit of a recap of some of Bane's formative years, which are horrifying, and why Bane has taken Psycho Pirate, which is interesting. Bane has been an odd character since the New 52 tossed away much of his later character development, returning him to the character he was in his earlier appearances, or worse to the more thuggish version from various media interpretations, but here it seems King is attempting to deepen the psychology of Bane, which makes for a truly creepy few pages. The majority of this issue a classic, "assembling the team," sequence, but it's not in a sunny happy place like the gathering of a new Justice League. Nope, we're in the bowels of Arkham Asylum. Batman walks out of the Asylum with five members for his team, each very different from the next, Firstly we get the original Ventriloquist, Arnold Wesker. Wesker was one of the characters resurrected by the continuity changes of Flashpoint, but has appeared only in cameos, and has been in many ways overshadowed by the new Ventriloquist created by Gail Simone for Batgirl and Secret Six. Here we get a half reformed Wesker who has broken away from Scarface, but still is seeking someone to pull his strings, which is an interesting view of the character. Bronze Tiger has also been a character who the New 52 continuity didn't treat well, turning him from noble fighter fighting his darker urges into just another member of the League of Assassins. This issue, though, returns him to the classic Suicide Squad member and gives him a great two page sparring session with Batman, one that ends with a smile and the two being revealed to share a history. Punch and Jewlee have been minor characters at the best of times, although they do have a history with the Squad as well, and I'm curious to see what King does to make them more than D-List Joker and Harley. And finally, well, here there be SPOILERS ... is Catwoman, awaiting execution for over two hundred counts of murder. When we last saw Catwoman, which was before Rebirth, she had given up leading Gotham's crime families and had returned to her old status quo, so this is a big, big shocker, and I'm curious to see exactly where King is taking this. On top of all of this, the art from Mikel Janin keeps getting better and better, Seriously, how this guy is not a star is beyond me, with a style reminiscent of early J.H. Williams III. The Bane flashback alone is chilling, and his take on Arkham is excellently creepy.This first issue sets up so much promise for this arc, I can't wait to see how it pays off.

Faith #4
Story: Jody Houser
Art: Pere Perez, Marguerite Sauvage, & Andrew Dalhouse

There are times when I feel like heroism in superhero comics are in short supply. DC is trying to course correct more in this direction with Rebirth, and the results are promising but still early. Marvel continues to have its heroes fighting other heroes more than villains, with some exceptions (like Squirrel Girl). But there's one comic you can always go to where heroism is front and center, and that is Valiant's Faith. At the end of last month a magical artifact created a duplicate Faith, and now both Faith's, along with Faith's boyfriend Obadiah Archer, are hunting down the villain who is using the magical duplication artifact to rob a comic con. It would be easy enough to make this an evil duplicate thing, but that's not where this story goes. Instead we have two heroic Faiths dealing with a legion of criminal doubles all cosplaying a character called Murderous Mouse. I again have to applaud Jody Houser for finding a way to make even the second part of a two-parter new reader friendly. You get a good explanation of Faith's status quo and you get to see all the best parts of her. There's a great exchange between the two Faiths about ysalamiri and how much they miss the Star Wars E.U., which touches on Faith's status as fangirl. You get to see her in action, showing her as a superhero. You get those delightful Marguerite Sauvage drawn daydreams, including a comment on how having two of her would make, "dating weird" (which reminds me of a hilarious moment from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, "The Replacement," You know, the one with two Xanders, when Anya talks about keeping both of them around for a while. Hey, I'm reviewing Faith. Pop culture references are a must), which show that Faith has her head in the clouds at times. And at the end of the story, the duplicate Faith performs an amazingly heroic act, one I don't want to spoil, which shows that no matter which version of her you have, Faith is a hero at heart. And I have to say, while I want to see Faith on her own with her regular supporting cast, and Archer needs Armstrong, I would love a quarterly, "Archer & Faith," series where we just see them go on dates and get into crazy adventures because their dynamic is just adorable. Faith remains a book in classic superheroic tradition, where good wins, and good guys are good guys, and I will take that and relish it month in and month out.

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