Friday, 9 September 2011

Project 52, Week Two (Batgirl/Justice League International/OMAC/Hawk & Dove)

The last lot of this week's reviews. This time it's one of the most interesting/controversial comics to come out of the relaunch, with the de-disabled Batgirl; the second Justice League title; our first proper trashing, and a piece I think we'll all remember as 'My Man Ommy'. If I might be so self-congratulatory, I reckon this is the best set of reviews yet (note that my contributions to this post are minimal). 14 comics down, 38 to go. Bring it.
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Batgirl #1
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Ardian Syaf
Reviewed by Tim

There is so much to be gleaned about Batgirl from the wonderful front cover by Adam Hughes. The art is of the high standard one has come to expect from Hughes, detailed without being too busy, painterly but with a pop sensibility. Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl isn’t sexualised, nor is she striking an aggressive pose, but instead is leaping forward, into action. And she’s smiling! She looks like she actually enjoys being a superhero!

Batgirl was always going to be an interesting relaunch, after they announced that Barbara Gordon was once again going to be taking up the mantle, but they weren’t going to retcon away her shooting by the Joker and subsequent paralysis. Given that, in her guise as Oracle, Barbara become such a symbol for disabled comics readers, someone they could identify with who wasn’t defined by her disability, it seemed strange and downright regressive of DC to change the status quo in this regard. Most comic readers never knew Barbara as anyone other than Oracle, so there was no great clamouring for her to be restored. Still, with Gail Simone writing, I trusted that the transition would be at least smooth, if not perfect.

Like with Batwing, the breathing room that dealing with a single hero as opposed to a group is evident here. However, where Batwing used that space to allow Ben Oliver’s stunning art to shine, Batgirl instead crams in twice as much story. No decompression here! It’s a credit to Simone’s mastery of writing that the issue doesn’t feel weighed down or overly stuffed by the various storylines at work here (prologue, action sequence, introducing supporting cast, more action, flashbacks) and instead feels solidly packed with a great mix of plot and characterisation. We are quickly given a firm grasp on Barbara as a character struggling to readjust to the heroic life, but nonetheless determined to put a positive spin on things. Unlike her mentor Batman, Batgirl brings levity and wit to her escapades, which makes her dramatic freezing under pressure all the more shocking. The art by Ardian Syaf is nothing extraordinary, but does a very solid job of storytelling, with enough creativity in the layouts to keep things interesting and the action sequences fast-paced and flowing.

Whether taking Barbara out of the wheelchair and putting her back in the Batgirl costume is the right decision is tough to judge at this point, but as far as the comic goes, it does a fantastic job of introducing a character’s history without feeling like a lecture on them. A good first issue that does everything it needs to with charm to spare.
Rating: B+

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Justice League International #1
Written by Dan Jurgens
Art by Aaron Lopresti
Reviewed by Alex

Ah, a multi-national superhero team. Is it time we had The Conversation?

It’s always bugged me how location-specific superheroes are tied down to stereotypes. The identity of characters get completely overwritten by Being Russian or whatever. After all, it’s not like Batman is defined by Being American. This is probably true of most pop culture, I guess, but it’s more obvious in comics where identity is worn on your brightly-coloured sleeve, in the name and costume and powers a hero has.

At best, it shows a limited, America-centric worldview. At worst, it’s … well, it’s kind of racist, isn’t it?

It was getting better, with Batman Inc especially navigating identities for its various Captain Foreigns that were formed equally by place and self. But JLI is a step back. The team is drawn together by the UN from around the world, and the issue is a textbook characters-meet-and-squabble story. (Hint: they will probably all kiss, make up, and forge the necessary team spirit just in the nick of time). That’s fine, although it’s done a little clumsily.

But beyond Green Lantern (no, not the one from the other Justice League comic, one with a much worse haircut, and still not the black one that people actually like) having issues with Booster Gold as team leader, most of the conflict for this squabbling is drawn from the characters being from different countries. These are meant to be people we look up to with awe and wonder, and for some of them, their first response when meeting someone of a different nationality is to say ew, you’re not like me.

I’m being a bit unfair here - the superheroes don’t have costumes and powers defined by their nationality, mostly - but the fact is that nothing else about the issue stood out. It’s reasonable enough comics, and it’s rather nice to look at (Lopresti turning in yet another example of sleek cartoonised art), but there’s nothing special about it, apart from that one character talks in broken English about Russian supremacy and Russian winter and Russian alcohol and another says things like “mate” and “sod it” and “blimey charlie, guv’nor!”.

Rating: C-

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O.M.A.C. #1
Written by Dan Didio & Keith Giffen
Art by Keith Giffen
Reviewed by Bret

O.M.A.C in one word is OMAZING! You know when you find something on Youtube that’s so bizarre that you have to show people? O.M.A.C (henceforth referred to as “my man Ommy”) has completely captured that experience. Firstly, this little adventure is titled “OFFICE MANAGEMENT AMIDST CHAOS” which, let's face it, just rocks on every level. Five pages in I found myself wondering “who is this crazy blue man with a fish tail for a Mohawk? Why is he talking to that screensaver of a sunbathing girl? Why the hell is she talking back? Is there a damn plot to this comic?” but then I turned the page, was introduced to the bad guy, and TOTALLY stopped caring.

My man Ommy has taken a leaf from Star Wars when it comes to introducing a character. How do you know Darth Vader is the big bad when you first see him? Dude is dressed all in black with some evil ass theme music playing. Just like my man Ommy’s villain “Lord Mokkari” who is clearly the big dog in this underground super science lab. He knows to be bad you don’t need to say you’re bad, you just ooze confidence. Mokkari coolly orders that my man Ommy be stopped, but Ommy don’t play that way. An incredible fight scene breaks out which interlaces ridiculous body smashing, mutant turkey, face-cannon combat with smooth character introduction using both realistic-sounding text and detailed art work.

Yes it’s over the top. Yes it’s kitsch. Yes it’s so brilliantly awful that I laughed like a idiot at some points and yes it’s not going to be everyone’s liking. But I liked it, maybe enough to go back and buy issue 2. I’d be hard pressed to take this story seriously, but my man Ommy seems to revel in the ridiculous and hey, isn’t that why things like Youtube exist in the first place? My man Ommy gets a solid...
Rating: A-

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Hawk & Dove #1
Written by Sterling Gates
Art by Rob Liefeld
Reviewed by Tim

I wanted to give this comic the benefit of the doubt. Hawk & Dove, as concepts go, are no more ridiculous than a whole host of other comic characters, and the idea of a superhero duo is one rarely explored (Power Man & Iron Fist being the most obvious example). Before picking up the book, I was explaining to Bret how you could use the concept for a light-hearted “buddy cop” style-book, or a more serious examination of the ethics of superheroics, how pacifism holds up in extreme situations, and where heroism becomes vigilantism, or even plain thuggery. Never mind that it was written by Sterling Gates, who sounds like a suburban home improvements company, and drawn by Rob Liefeld, who sounds like the 4th seal of the Apocalypse cracking open as all your crops and livestock die. There are no bad characters, just bad executions, right?

Hawk & Dove is not a good comic. In fact, it’s a pretty bad comic. DC’s relaunch, combined with the new push into digital comics, has given them the opportunity to reach a whole new audience who had previously been turned off by convoluted continuity, to challenge people’s preconceptions of what a superhero comic was, to tell new, exciting stories freed from a 70 year history. Hawk & Dove fails on all those counts. The writing is terrible, with long passages of exposition that constantly break the golden rule of storytelling: “Show, don’t tell”. Despite being a relaunch, it immediately bogs the book down in continuity, with a large chunk of the comic given to retelling the story of a character who is no longer in the title. The dialogue is clunky, lacking flow or snap, and the plot is typical superhero fare that we’ve seen a million times before, with no real imagination injected into the telling. There is nothing here to entice new readers, no originality and nothing to excite or stir anyone’s interest.

As for the art, those familiar with Rob Liefeld will not be surprised to learn he has not changed one iota. His faces are indistinguishable (the only way to tell Hawk from his father is the fact that his father has white hair) and he knows two expressions: scowly grimace for the men and open-mouthed blank for the women. His grasp of human anatomy is as famously poor as always – Dove seems to be suffering from an extreme case of hip dysplasia and I’m not sure where her internal organs are meant to fit in her abdomen. The action sequences are pedestrian and the costume design is lodged firmly in the late '80s (as are the hairstyles).

Overall, if you know comics, you know how bad this book will be, and if you don’t know comics, you can probably guess just from the front cover.
Rating: D-

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Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.