Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Tom Bondurant: As you might expect, it was a Bat-centric week for me. I finished the new Knightfall Volume 2 collection, a massive (600+ pages) color volume tracking Jean-Paul Valley’s stint as an unsupervised Batman who plays by his own rules. If the first half of this mega-arc was about classic Batman friends and foes gradually realizing they’re dealing with someone new, the balance similarly emphasizes his lack of a support structure. Specifically, the big finish involves Batman’s dealings with three familial groups: the Etchisons, one of whom is the serial killer Abbatoir; two Clayfaces and their infant son; and the assassin Gunhawk and his partner/lover. Each needs to protect one of its members, but Batman — at this point not beholden to traditional morals — isn’t necessarily sympathetic to any of their concerns. The tragic consequences set up September’s Vol. 3, a similarly new collection of “KnightsEnd.” I’ve been pretty impressed with the production values on these big collections, and particularly with this Volume 2 it’s nice to see DC revisiting this crossover more comprehensively.
However, after re-reading the Bane of the Demon miniseries from 1997 or so — collected in the Batman Vs. Bane paperback — I wondered why DC would have put out such a thin slice of the Bane story. I misremembered it as containing Bruce/Batman and Bane’s rematch, but that actually occurred in Detective #701, as part of a larger inter-Bat-title crossover. Instead, BOTD‘s 4 issues (by Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan, and Tom Palmer) basically told readers about Bane’s dealings with Ra’s and Talia al Ghul. By itself it’s not a bad story. It certainly does a lot to burnish Bane’s credentials, and it lets him develop an ill-fated crush on Talia. (Now I wonder if that last also played into Bane’s relationship with Scandal Savage, another immortal’s hypercompetent daughter.) Nevertheless, those wanting more Bane vs. Bats would do better with Batman: Legacy, where the aforementioned rematch is reprinted.
As for regular fare, I really enjoyed Scott Snyder and Dustin Nguyen’s American Vampire: Lord Of Nightmares #2. The story basically treats Dracula as the baddest WMD ever to walk the Earth, pretty formidable by himself and able to control other vampires across vast distances. Basically the only thing keeping our heroes alive is the fact that Drac hasn’t wanted to kill them yet, and that won’t last long. Nguyen’s work is exceptionally well-suited for Snyder’s script (and the AmVamp style generally), so this should be a scary-good miniseries.
Mark Kardwell: A few weeks ago my father nearly blew up my parents’ house, and I think I horrified everyone on Twitter when I reacted to the news with “oh sh*t, my copy of Swimini Purpose is in their attic”. Since then, I’ve been going ’round to their place every Sunday, ostensibly to cook them dinner, but really to climb into the loftspace and mount Operation Bring The Boys Home. I started by bringing the biggest stuff over: loads of ’70s Marvel tabloids for starters, and the 2001 adaptation put me on a major Kirby bender, with a load of the DC omnibuses taking up residence on my coffee table. My niece was stunned by the sight of OMAC‘s hair, part Elvis quiff and sideburns, part Hoplite helmet’s crest. Rereading them, I was taken not by Evanier’s reading of the strip as an alternative future Captain America, but by how much it can be read as a really dark SF take on the original Captain Marvel comics. A powerless sap with the initials BB speaks a magic word, and an omniscient force empowers/replaces him.
The big comics pile included a load of Paul Pope stuff. The Escapo album from 1999, the treasury-sized THB Circus from 1998 and Buzz Buzz Comics Magazine from 1996. All reminders of what a great world builder Pope is, and rereading these will tide me over until all that guy’s planned works are released.
Something else I’m waiting for is for Joe Casey and Nathan Fox’s run on Haunt to be collected, and out of curiosity last week I bought the Stay Tuned! postcard book by Fox. A lovely little artifact, 30 illustrations bound together on heavy stock. Now that I think about it, it was probably my nostalgia for Pope’s work that put me in the mood for some Fox. I won’t make a methadone gag here, Fox may be obviously influenced by Pope, but he’s very much his own man. The John Romita to Pope’s Kirby, maybe.
My copy of Absalom: Ghosts Of London by Gordon Rennie and Tiernen Trevallion arrived yesterday. Full disclosure – they sent it to me for saying nice things about the strip in the past elsewhere, and this copy featured a cute/funny/terrifying bookplate signed by Tiernen. I love this book, the perfect synthesis between the modern British police procedural tradition and the modern British horror tradition.
Chris Mautner: Birdseye Bristoe by Dan Zettwoch. Man, I loved this book, Zettwoch’s first graphic novel. Just really friggin loved everything about it. Nothing really happens — the plot centers around an old man who lives smack dab in the middle of nowhere in middle America, and his niece and nephew that visit him over the summer. Theres a subplot involving a gigantic cell tower that’s being built right next to Bristoe’s property, and something rather dramatic happens to it right at the start (most of the book is a flashback), but even that is somewhat forgotten in obsessing over the details in this small midwestern town.
Zettwoch brings his usual OCD-style eye for diagrams and maps to the fore here: Just about every aspect of Bristoe’s life is bisected and labeled. What’s noteworthy, however, is the time Zettwoch spends with the characters. I love the way the teen nephew adopts a tough, metal pose but is really quite squeamish, or the tomboy eagerness of the niece, or the unctious cheerfulness of the cell phone company reps. These are all people you know or have meet, but Zettwoch doesn’t deal in broad types — his characters are idiosyncratic enough to seem unique, but familiar enough to not seem like total strangers.
Even the look of the book cheers my heart. Zettwoch seems to have done the entire book on colored paper, using everyday art implements like ballpoint pens and White-Out. You can even see the White-Out brushstrokes if you look closely enough. I think it’s fair to say that Birdseye Bristoe charmed my socks off.
Tim O’Shea: Avenging Spider-Man 9: If the banter (ably executed by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick) in the opening scene of this issue between Peter Parker and Carol “New Captain Marvel” Danvers is a sign of what’s to come in the new Captain Marvel ongoing, I am likely to enjoy it. And DeConnick is firing on all cylinder in the write a witty Spidey department. My one nitpick, what is up with Terry Dodson’s decision to have Danvers’ hair be “down” in civilian mode and windswept defying gravity hairstyle when she is the captain? (Sidenote to Marvel production, on the cover—who picked that lousy drawing of Captain Marvel for the headshot [clearly not Dodson]).
Fantastic Four Annual 33: I hope longtime ClanDestine fans are happy with this story. Me? I bought the issue because Alan Davis can draw nothing badly. And yet I wish I had my $5 back as beautiful as the art is. An annual where Reed and Sue are on vacation and never appear, plus Ben and Johnny (plus Doctor Strange) are just pawns (rather than fully active participants) in a magic/time travel battle that made absolutely no sense. I half expected the final panel to say “to be continued”.
Scarlet Spider 7: Chris Yost writes a comic book on a monthly basis that has modern day sensibilities but also taps into the 1970s/1980s fanboy reader in me. He also has a healthy knowledge of Marvel history, using it to his advantage. Case in point, his use of Roxxon in this issue (a book set in Texas, of course Roxxon would be a perfect fit). I will miss Ryan Stegman on the interiors (he will still be doing covers—this month’s is exquisitely executed), but Khoi Pham inked by Tom Palmer is a nice fit for the art on this series. Extra kudos to Tom Brennan for running a letters page very much in the Steve Wacker vein.
Dark Avengers 177: I am unsure what impresses me more about Jeff Parker’s writing on this issue: his ability to maintain a frenetic pace throughout the story or his ability to juggle two teams/plots in one issue. He has packed this issue, in particular, with plenty of surprises—but one that I can reference without spoiling is the manner in which Satana and Doc Doom battle. You rarely see Doom taken so completely unawares, but it is safe to say he is in this conflict and he (being Doom that he is) does not take it well.
Edison Rex 1: I neglected to mention this title last week after it had launched as part of the first Monkeybrain Comics wave. Many of us enjoyed Chris Roberson’s run on Superman. This title is a variation on Superman, but in this version Edison is Lex Luthor-like only to a certain extent. The book is a must-read due to the plot, the hint of Roberson’s wit (which does not overwhelm the tone of the book [always a risk with humor in superhero comics] and Dennis Culver’s clean, but refreshing art style.
Megan Lavey-Heaton: Polterguys Vol. 1: Laur Uy’s supernatural story of a socially awkward college freshman and the ghosts of five cute guys is what I wish Rumiko Takahashi’s Rin-ne had turned out to be. It’s a smartly written book that hits close to home with Bree’s awkwardness around her classmates in high school and college. She reminds me a lot of Hermione Granger in a very good way, seeking her answers in the pages of books and dusty newspaper archives. This book lays out Bree’s task of helping the guys move to the afterlife and shows how she’s starting to trust her own intuition in addition to the books. There’s a light, but realistic sprinkle of romance and a neat plot twist that ends the book. Polterguys is the same type of story that drew me to Takahashi’s work to begin with: not necessarily all supernatural or all romance, but a solid coming-of-age piece with a great heroine.
Batgirl #11: I was skeptical at first of the New 52 Batgirl, but Gail Simone’s writing of the character has turned Batgirl into my favorite of the New 52. The issue continues Barbara’s confrontation with Knightfall, then continues to reveal some of the background for recent events. This book shows how much Barbara has grown from the first issue, and it’s a change I like as we see Barbara be more confident. You see the entire range from kickass fighter to shrewd detective, and the story is developing well. “Maybe the Batgirl from a month of go would’ve doubter herself… But that was a month ago, and that was a different me, entirely,” she monologues. There’s a twist at the end as usual, but this one was big enough for me and my husband to both yelp with surprise. And no, I won’t tell you … spoilers!
Before Watchmen: Minutemen #2: I was satisfied with the original comic and the movie, and even with the draw of JMS writing some of the books, the only Before Watchmen series I was interested in is Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen. I love how the visual style harkens back to the old comics of the late ’30s and early ’40s. The story is solid, and I love the restraint shown in the very creepy ending. My favorite part of the book, however, was the page showing the rejected Minutemen applicants. I’ve read some reviews where it felt flat for people, but I found it pretty funny. I bypassed the Crimson Corsair bit at the end, preferably waiting to see it in a collected edition since I’m not getting all of the Before Watchmen books.