To any, and all, who have served.
Happy Veteran’s Day!
Written by: Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher Pencils & Inks by: Babs Tarr Colors by: Maris Wicks
With Mark Doyle moving from DC’s Vertigo imprint to serve as group editor of Batman related comics, much was made about the Bat-family adopting a fresher, more indie feel. New titles such as Arkham Manor and Gotham Academy are supposedly pillars of the new approach, as well as a new direction with Batgirl starting with issue #35. But does “new” and “indie” also mean good?
Gail Simone is no longer the mind behind the series, and with her goes the darker, long suffering Barbara Gordon. Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher are now writing, and immediately establish a decidedly lighter feel to Batgirl’s world.
The tone changes so much that depending upon who you are and what you’re relationship to Simone’s vision or traditional Batgirl storytelling will most likely determine how you feel about the new direction.
A new, youthful vibe echoes through the book, as Babs and her environs are now clearly geared toward an audience comprised of millennial girls rather than whatever it used to be (visual approximation). Babs moves into a new neighborhood in Gotham City, a spot called Burnside, and seemingly brings very little of her baggage with her. The change in her personality is stark, as she appears to instantly cure herself of her nagging PTSD. She’s now strictly a college girl who is low on funds, trying to make ends meat in the classroom and on the rooftops.
Speaking of sudden contrasts, Burnside is a pretty jolting location given the general awfulness that tends to happen in Gotham. Apparently one short taxi ride will take you away from all those pesky masked murders and into a place so filled with hipsters you’d swear Brooklyn and Portland, OR, had a love child. Do you like you’re independent coffee shop to serve locally grown, Joker Toxin-free coffee beans?
Both Burnside and Gordon’s apartment are brought to life by artist Babs (not a type-o) Tarr. Her style reminds me of Chris Samnee, from Marvel’s current Daredevil series, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. She isn’t as artful as Samnee, and she prefers brighter colors, but she renders a world that is definitely worth exploring. There’s even a clever two-page layout by Tarr to demonstrate how Gordon uses her trademark didactic memory to find out who stole her laptop.
Perhaps the best example of the new Barbara Gordon comes when she has an alcohol-fueled hook-up in her new apartment. This is a clear departure from the old Batgirl, and just one of the ways the creators tilt their focus towards a new audience. The book is so chalk-full of new-girl-for-a-new-age instances that fans of the past series and older readers will be forced to either get with the program or (more likely) grumble in the corner.
Some Batgirl fans will undoubtedly feel cast aside by DC’s new approach to the series, and with good reason. This is a distinct departure from what came before. That said, this is a good comic, with a lot of fun between the pages. At it’s best Batgirl #35 reads like a cross of Mark Waid’s Daredevil, and Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye (the Kate Bishop issues). At it’s worst it is a clear attempt by DC to use an old favorite to expand into a new market.
DC drew a line in this sand with this comic, and I enjoyed it enough to see where it goes.
For the gamers…
Written by: Peter David Pencils by: Pablo Raimondi, Ryan Sook, Dennis Calero, Ariel Olivetti, Renato Arlem, & Roy Allen Martinez Inks by: Drew Hennessy, Wade Von Grawbadger, Dennis Calero, Ariel Olivetti, Renato Arlem, & Roy Allen Martinez Colors by: Brian Reber & Jose Villarrubia Collects: Madrox #1-5 & X-Factor #1-12 (Trade Paperback)
When I first saw the solicitation for this book a few weeks ago, I got excited. I’d heard from various avenues about Peter David’s second volume of X-Factor (or first, as Marvel messed around with the issue numbering as the series went on) was pretty darn good. Whatever freaking volume it’s now considered to be, David wrapped up his run on the title last year, and this seemed like a pretty good opportunity to jump in.
One of the great aspects about the book is the simple concept. Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, decides to start a mutant detective agency out of Mutant Town, with the help of fellow mutants Guido, M, Rictor, Siryn, Wolfsbane and a new character named Layla Miller, the girl who “knows stuff.” I’m attaching links to all these characters because prior to reading the book, I had never heard of any of them. That’s part of the appeal, though, because it punctuates the idea of a rag-tag group of very different characters coming together to try and help people out… even though they’re pretty unqualified.
The basic principle of a group of varying personalities trying to live with one another is solid in itself, but since everyone in said group is a mutant, and the series occurs immediately after House of M, everything gets an extra punch of the tried and true Marvel formula of “mutants trying to live in an ever changing, angry world.” Additionally, Madrox had previously sent out duplicates of himself all over the world to gain knowledge and expertise, and they come back home to poppa so he can reabsorb them and benefit from their experiences. It’s like how pagans use to eat peoples brains for the same purpose, but less sticky.
Another big draw for me was the idea of X-Factor Investigations, the team’s official business name in the book, would be solving crimes and mysteries and the like. I like a good mystery. While X-Factor does help out some mutants in need, the arcs don’t really play out like a detective story, but more of a ground level tale with some detective elements. It was a little disappointing, but the way David allows you inside Madrox’s head (he’s far and away the start of the show) to get some noir-inspired narration makes up for it. In that vein, the narrative relies on the metaphor surrounding Madrox’s multiplicity, and his difficulty to constantly adapt to it.
I mentioned the obscurity or lack of recognition the mutants that make up X-Factor have (for me) for good reason. I enjoyed being thrown into a pre-existing world to get to know established characters. David writes a tale that is easily accessible for new readers, but still hints at the characters’ well defined past. Each page is that much more interesting when any given panel can offer insight into a character you’re just getting to know. It also made the series’ willingness to play ball with Marvel’s House of M and Civil War events bearable. I normally hate how crossover events by Marvel and DC infect various series that would almost always be better off alone, but X-Factor seems uniquely set up to deal with Marvel’s modern continuity. X-Factor’s niche is to solve people’s problems, and crossovers are nothing –for a variety of reasons- if not one big problem.
Usually one of the best ways to disrupt the immersion or narrative flow of a comic is to break up the art teams, and this occurs a lot throughout X-Factor. The art is never bad by any means, but there is a disparity in the quality. The visuals were definitely at their best in #1-4 of X-Factor with Ryan Sook, Wade Von Grawbadger, Dennis Calero, and Jose Villarubia in charge. There was a sense of dark, dank clarity that worked hand in hand with the story. The aesthetic low points come from the work of Brian Reber and Renato Arlem. Reber’s colors lacked detail in my opinion, and Arlem seemed far too hesitant to ink over some of his own pencils at times, and I say that as someone who tends to like the depth that leftover pencil marks can offer. Their contributions didn’t do much for me, but I struggle to say any particular issue was less than visually average.
The collection begins with Madrox #1-5, before going full bore into the X-Factor issues, but it’s really one in the same. The Madrox mini-series just works as the unofficial beginning to this incarnation of X-Factor. It’s a quality book that currently shows me a lot of potential, and clearly had enough potential to give a dedicated fan base and over 100 issues. The volume collects 17 issues, representing a terrific value.
The first thing out of my mouth has to be my acknowledgement for the immense amount of respect I have for Nick. He’s a well-thought, well-spoken, talented-beyond-his-years individual of whom I’m very proud to have on our team. Yet here he’s beyond his years.
I’ve got to imagine that Nick doesn’t know the story of Gwen Stacy. Or that she had children with Norman Osborn (even if half of us ignore that story). Nick’s comments to ‘Raimi’s bathtub suicide’ lead me to believe that he’s never read the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko books that paved the way for everything Peter Parker, The Amazing Spider-Man is. Peter Parker would never graduate the way he did in the movie, in point of fact, he would probably rush across the stage with his head down.
As a Spider-Man fan I was more uncomfortable with this new movie than with the first Amazing Spider-Man. About twenty minutes or so in I actually missed some of the movie as I thought about just getting up and leaving. Not to exaggerate that moment, it was probably ten minutes later that I actually looked around to see how many people I would ‘bother’ in making my way out.
I completely agree with Nick as to the erratic pace that kept the viewer as off balance as Spider-Man himself was throughout the film. I was worried about too many villians but was pleasantly surprised that cinematically I think this is one of two moments that Sony got right with the movie. All comic book movies seem to be formulaic to me so I was thrilled that when we got to the climactic end, it wasn’t.
There were many moments that plot device just felt so pushed on me that the whole thing felt unnatural and unwelcome. All-in-all, as a Spider-Man fan, there was only one scene that I thought Sony got right. That’s really too bad because as big a fan as I am, come DVD/Blu-ray time I don’t think I want to spend money on this. I don’t want to see it, or even listen to it in the background, again.
1/10 from me. All of the potential was missed.
For me, the clearest sign of good story-telling is the story at hand feels organic. It unfolds at a fluid, natural pace. A story without good story-telling can ultimately result in a bunch of fine, compelling ideas that just aren’t strung together in a way the keeps me engrossed in the tale being told. Amazing Spider-Man 2 certainly had the potential to live up to it’s name, but it seems Sony couldn’t help but keep it’s meddling hands out of the web.
I hope that doesn’t come off too strong, because there’s still a lot to love in ASM2. Even though I felt the crane scene Amazing Spider-Man was ridiculously hokey, and I would have enjoyed more of the Dr. Connors as surrogate father to Peter Parker relationship, I really liked the movie. Everything good about the first ASM makes sustained appearances in this movie.
I believe Andrew Garfield is the best man for playing Peter Parker. He breathes much needed life into a character that Sam Raimi seemed to want to commit bathtub suicide in the original trilogy. The way Parker interacts with Aunt May (Sally Field), Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and pretty much everyone in New York is dynamite. This is some good-old fashioned wise crackin’ Spidey. The mood in the story gets progressively more depressing (similar to the last film), but there’s a something to be said about the zeal with which Spider-Man shoots his webs and soars through NYC.
Unfortunately, it feels like the plot shifts gears a lot, speeding up and slowing down the pace of the movie, and it’s kind of jarring. Decisions are made by characters that seem rash (even for some of the more psychotic/mentally unstable ones), and sometimes it seems like Sony’s writer(s) spent little time on the logical progression of things, just to move the story along. Occasionally the meat of the story is on a really slow, but enjoyable burn, only for sudden choices to be made to accelerate the plot. It just feels like Sony maybe was a little too ambitious with the story, and bit off more than it could chew.
I blame Sony for this, and not Mark Webb, the director, because some of the plot points just feel so artificial that I’m not sure what could have been done to suss them out. All the interpersonal and action scenes that occur in between these major plot points are really freakin’ great, but when Sony literally takes a few minutes to set up the announced Sinister Six movie, before ASM2 has even ended, it’s hard to feel like I’m not watching a forced narrative.
What ruined Spider-Man 3 was the amount of villains it featured. It tried to shoehorn in too many characters that all deserved significant time onscreen. This is also the case for ASM2, even though it really only features two baddies. While the movie juggles Electro and Harry Osborn pretty well early on, it’s at the end where things get messy. There are essentially two climactic battles right after another, and it feels a little bit like overload. Again, this isn’t something I can blame the director for, this is just lackluster writing.
On a brighter note regarding the villains, Dane Dehaan and Jamie Foxx do a great job in their roles. While the appearance of Green Goblin feels rushed, and lasts for almost no time at all, Dehaan plays a great Harry Osborn. Electro, whose appearance is thankfully based off of Ultimate Electro, and not traditional, mainstream Electro, is a compelling and interesting villain, if a bit cartoon-ish and silly in the beginning. I think the movie would have benefited from keeping Electro as the sole big bad, and simply preserving Harry in the background as a dark facilitator.
Like the rest of the film, the soundtrack is also a bit of a mixed bag. I’m not quite sure if the movie had an official theme, but there’s a piano heavy mix that plays right at the beginning, and just before the end of the movie. While nice, it just doesn’t feel Spider-Man-ish. Even though it has an odd downtrodden yet hopeful feel -something that sounds like a pretty good description of Peter Parker’s life- it just never lines up with what’s currently showing onscreen. Also missing the mark is a period roughly halfway through the film that Phillip Phillips’ “Gone, Gone, Gone” plays during a period of emotional struggle for Peter. The lyrics to the song kind of sync with Peter’s actions, but the tune feels so far out of left field that I’m almost convinced that it’s just really bad product placement. On the bright side, the music that plays whenever Electro is on screen is incredible. I don’t like Dubstep, but all the vicious Wub Wub’s and Vvr Vvr’s that poured into the theater worked beautifully with the high voltage energy of Max Dillon.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 is another example of a comic book movie that probably should have left a couple strips on the cutting room floor. In Sony’s eagerness to set up future films, it forgets about the one at hand. That being said, there’s a lot to enjoy here, it just isn’t presented very coherently. If nothing else it’s a fun movie.
5/10 - Average
Disagree with my feelings on the movie? Got any suggestions as to what Sony could have done better? Talk to me in the comments!
First thing’s first: don’t let the “Vol. 4” label deceive you. This is the true beginning of the New 52 incarnation of Green Arrow. The 17 (# 0 – 16) issues that printed prior to Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino joining the book are almost entirely erased in the new team’s first issue, Green Arrow #17. Lemire saw fit to bring New 52 Green Arrow back to the drawing board, and as such the only information you need to know before reading the book is the following: Oliver Queen has two friends that assist him as GA, and Queen Industries is currently controlled by Emerson, an old friend of Ollie’s dad, and someone who is tiring of Queen’s perceived insolent playboy public image.
Over the past couple years, Jeff Lemire rose from an accomplished independent writer/artist, to one of DC’s top scribes, seated only behind juggernauts Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder. Lemire uses that new found weight and throws it around, immediately tearing down virtually everything in Ollie’s life that came before, and establishing Green Arrow as an underdog out to reclaim what was taken from him.
The story doesn’t play out as your typical “hero quests to regain his good name” fare, as it starts out very small, with Ollie’s world (and world view) gradually expanding into an interesting mythos with an ever-increasing amount of intimate relationships, history, and mystery.
Probably the best aspect of Lemire’s new world for Green Arrow is the opportunity to introduce new characters into the mix. A cast of interesting people quickly surrounds Ollie, and all have an air of the unknown about them, creating plenty of wild card opportunities.
It’s not all new characters, however. Old GA mainstays Shado and Count Vertigo are introduced to the New 52. I know very little about either character, but I do know Count Vertigo has undergone a significant change, and I am enjoying his role in the tale.
The story’s main villain, an archer known as Komodo, is a prime example of good writing facilitating quality characters. Usually when a hero runs into a doppelganger-type character, the yarn can often devolve into something of a superhuman p-ssing contest: speed versus speed, punch against punch. While there are certainly some archery related insults exchanged between GA and Komodo, it never sinks to that “I can do anything you can do better,” level. Ollie knows he has to beat his new enemy, but the path to do so is winding.
Not to be outdone, Sorrentino’s effort shines in the book, adding depth to the dark, ground-level story. His style is incredibly unique, a mixture of thin outlines and expansive inks, creating an odd feel of detailed minimalism. Just as unique is his use of color and panels within panels to highlight the action. Sorrentino creates a sensation of fluid action on a flat page. It took me several issues to get used to his work, but it ended as a rewarding experience.
With the Arrow television series taking hold (it’s pretty darn fun), DC saw fit to whip out some of their biggest creative guns in early 2013 to capitalize on the character’s newfound popularity. Lemire, Sorrentino, and company quickly established a quality book, with long-term aspirations.
Also notable, the book contains a whopping nine issues. Usually I’m pretty disappointed with the amount of paper offered in your standard DC or Marvel collection, but with that $16.99 price tag, this paperback holds a lot of value.