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This week (8 May 2013) is light one, letting us off the hook after a slew of big weeks. First up, we check back with Batman #20 (DC Comics) and then see how the Caped Crusader is doing without his ward in Batman and Red Hood #20 (DC Comics). Plus, does Justice League of America #3 (DC Comics) hold together? Steve Niles debuts Chin Music #1 (Image Comics), Damsels spins off into Damsels: Mermaids #1 (Dynamite), a second issue of The Private Eye (Panel Syndicate) is kickstarted and The Waking Dead #110 (Image Comics) just keeps shuffling. This is Graphic Bits.
Along with Daredevil and Hawkeye, Snyder’s Batman is arguably one of the most reinvigorating takes on an established costume hero in the last few years. Last month’s issue was a bit of an oddity, taking us away from the bigger Batworld Snyder and Tynion have been building since issue #1. Concluding the two-part Clayface story brings to an end one less memorable arcs, or more accurately one that is merely treading water between “Death of the Family” and next month’s “Zero Year” kick-off. Snyder gives us a new take on the shape-shifting Clayface, resulting in lots of voice-recognition hijinks and the villain coming awfully close to discovering Bruce Wayne’s identity. The ultimate resolution is one that feels a bit of an afterthought, although Snyder can scarcely be blamed for not easily slipping a character as ridiculous as Clayface into a modern Bat-setting. Indeed, the story feels like something out of the past, and perhaps this is exactly what we needed after the dark places the previous arc took us to. Almost bringing the grieving to a close is a lovely moment between Alfred and Bruce, who admits to not quite wanting to let Damian go just yet. Also feeling quite traditional is the continuation of the Batman/Superman pairing in Tynion and Maleev’s “Ghost Lights” backup. This is old-school in a whole different way, highlighting the inherent differences, but more importantly commonalities, between the two heroes. The mini horror tale comes to a close in a very satisfying way, and the Maleev artwork alone might be enough to justify a purchase in any format. We certainly hope to see more of these backup stories, as they allow the writers and artists to break free of the sometimes oppressive major arcs.
The fallout from both “Death of the Family” and Batman Incorporated #8 are brought out in this issue, another one that seems to be treading water and waiting for the replacement of the titular Robin. Following the surprise reappearance of the precocious and borderline annoying Carrie Kelly, introduced last month as part of DC’s “WTF?” stunt month, Batman drags Jason Todd/Red Hood off to a mission in Ethiopia. After a particularly satisfying few pages of smack-down fights, it’s revealed that Bruce has only brought Todd to Ethiopia to witness the place of Todd’s own death, in the hopes that it might spark some memory of how his resurrection occurred and save Damian. What’s nice about this issue is that it continues to show Bruce’s desperation in reconnecting to the son he barely knew, perhaps seeking to find the child that was lost in him. When Jason rightfully confronts him about his insensitive behaviour to Jason’s own traumatic memories, Bruce’s response is loud and clear: “Because I want to watch Damian grown up, damn it!” It’s great to see writers dealing with Bruce’s pain in a far more mature way than the pre-Knightfall breakdown, yet Bruce’s best attempts wind up distancing him from one of the few people still willing to work with him in light of the “Death of the Family” fiasco. However, these moments don’t always gel with the rest of the issue, and sometimes it all just feels a little ‘off’. The ending is also a little rushed and mars what would have been an otherwise satisfying issue.
The first issue of a new Image series is always worth investigating, especially when names like Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and Tony Harris (Ex Machina) grace the cover. Chin Music gets off to a solid start, albeit a busy one. Niles appears to deliberately keep the audience off balance in this debut issue, taking us from blackened rooms, to Egyptian bazaars to Prohibition Era Chicago in a matter of panels. The title refers to someone engaged in lots of idle talking without corresponding action, although the book itself seems to be leaning (heavily) towards the latter. Ostensibly the Eliot Ness and Al Capone story, it is filtered through a macabre vision of the supernatural, replete with bloody skeletons and bullets with incantations carved into their tips. Tony Harris revels in the twists and turns that the narrative takes, either creating a dingy mystical vibe that can trace a heritage back to at least the seminal work of Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg on the early issues of Sandman. At other times, characters are bouncing around iconic landmarks like a Chuck Jones cartoon character or are simply ghoulishly clinging to life as bloodied skeletons in some darkly comic moments. The final few pages use some beautiful Art Deco framing techniques that shift tone again, before bloodily pulling the rug out from under us. There are plenty of great ideas here, which is exactly what a first issue should deliver, and it will be interesting to see if Niles can start pulling these strands into narrative in the coming months.
If Damsels is Dynamites equivalent of Fables or Fairest, then Damsels: Mermaids is a spin on The Little Mermaid. Previewed on Free Comic Book Day this year, it’s actually a story that asks “what happens after happily ever after?” The mermaid in question now lives as a recluse away from her people, and we guess looking at stuff isn’t so neat anymore. She no longer wants to be part of their world, but when she meets an exiled prince, she is given the chance to work with him and deliver payback to the oppressive Hieromancers of Atlantis. There are more questions than answers at this stage, and while that will certainly get us coming back for more next month, we almost feel as though we’ve missed something at the start of this issue. It will be great to get a little more back story in the coming issues, as these characters come with a wealth of developmental potential. Deshong’s art is engaging, delivering stunning pages from the opening moments. At times lingering in the murky depths, at others land-lubbering with some salty pirates, it can also be properly erotic in its teasing sexuality. Being Dynamite, it’s a case of leaving us with a hint of what lies below the surface. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. It’s a good thing for Prince John that the mermaid can sprout legs when she needs to. Sturges is well on his way to building a full world here, and we’re intrigued enough to want to see what comes next.
After a shaky start, Justice League of America begins to find its own voice in this issue. We continue to find out a little bit more about various members of the team, including filling us in on what Catwoman was up to last month in her solo title. They hunt for a traitor in their midst, and Stargirl is pretty much the cheerleader of the team, something she isn’t terribly happy about. The problem with the book as an ongoing prospect is that this is simply not a team that ultimately works well together, from a story point of view at least. Seemingly preselected rather than organically grown out of another title, the odd mix don’t stand out as individuals. We’re mostly looking at you, Vibe. He’s meant to be the outsider, giving the audience our perspective, but he’s still yet to carve out a reason as to why we should care in the slightest. David Finch gives us some solid art here, mostly getting to cut loose on some action sequences after copious amounts of boardroom sequences in the earlier issues. There’s an interesting backup story (by Matt Kindt) that delves into Martian Manhunter’s messed up past, giving us our first glimpse at what makes the New 52 Manhunter tick. Manuel Garcia’s art in this section is really worth having a look at, giving us one of the coolest renderings of Martian Manhunter to date. It’s slowly getting there, but it’s yet to be a must-read item.
Crowd-sourced and kickstarted comics are increasingly commonplace these days, but it’s a rare treat when Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin want to loose themselves from publisher shackles. The first issue of a planned ten was a roaring success, garnering praise for its originality and “name your price” distribution methods. Having enough money to continue the project, Vaughan continues to unfold his intriguing world. Set in a future where privacy is a sacred right, and everybody wears masks of various levels of sophistication, information is the most powerful commodity. Our P.I. continues on the trail of something big, this future noir following a very traditional yet effective narrative trope. Martin’s artwork is bold and daring, using the landscape format to give the reader a sense of cinema. Muntsa Vicente’s colours vividly populate every frame, allowing for single colours to fill the background for increased emphasis. By the way, if you do download this, don’t be a chump: give the people some money. It goes straight into the creators’ pockets. They suggest .99c, but we kicked in a fiver for the first issue, and about $3.99 for the second. We really want to see this make it to the end. So wait no longer and head to the Panel Syndicate website and fork out some wads of digital cash now.
The irony is that this is a comic well past 100 issues that deals with the horrible monotony of a post zombie apocalyptic world. Of course, there’s no way this book will ever end as long as there is a TV show pulling in over 10 million viewers every week. While the small screen format has created its own ways of trying to spice up repetition for the masses, Kirkman’s method now seems to be “wash, rinse, repeat”. This is undoubtedly deliberate, and was always a stated intention of the serialised format. However, as we face yet another showdown between two warring settlements, we feel as though we’ve seen this all before: Woodbury, the Alexandria Safe-Zone and now The Kingdom. A forceful personality forces Rick to make tough decisions and lose a little more of his humanity, and it is only a matter of time before the body count rises and a “shocking” death occurs. In fact, that really seems to be all this series has left after 110 outings: killing off the remaining characters one by one, and then following their further adventures as zombies. Perhaps the only reason this issue stands out is a nice moment of humanity between Michonne and “King” Ezekiel, but even that feels like it will go south quickly. Major props have to be given to workhorse Charlie Adlard, who has been turning in consistently good art since issue #7. That has to be some kind of record, right? At least the new characters introduced this issue
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