Comic Review: Batwoman, vol. 1

Batwomanby KT Pinto

 

Batwoman, Vol. 1: Hydrology
by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
DC Comics

A friend bought me this graphic novel; he bought it from my wish list on Amazon, and I couldn’t remember for the life of me why I had requested it. Then I remembered that this was DC Comic’s lesbian superhero, and I had wanted to see how the fan-characterized straight-laced company was going to handle this type of character.

I had high hopes for this book because it was put out in Batman’s little corner of the DC ’verse. Never much a fan of DC in general, I always liked everything about Gotham: the villains, the heroes, the story lines, the artwork, the darkness… it was always the nice, twisted dark that I like. So I was all set for Kate Kane to wow me.

Sadly, she didn’t. Putting the amazing artwork aside—and the artwork was amazing—the story line and character were both lacking. Here’s a quick list of the “meh”:

  • What color is her skin? That bothered me throughout the book. Was she actually white like paper, as shown in some panels, or does she have a pale Irish skin tone like other panels showed? If she was really white-white, then why was it so difficult for Batman to figure out who the very pale woman with red hair (there were times she wasn’t in costume but still that albino white) and with enough money to be Batwoman was? And why did she keep changing skin tone throughout the book?
  • Where’s the bad guy? One of the things that I really like about the “Gotham-verse” is the twistedly insane bad guys that constantly spill out of Arkham Asylum. This story had a supernatural water-demon character that made no sense, especially since this is supposed to be part of the “New 52” reboot to make the plots and characters more understandable to fans. And then there was a super-organization that is either out to take Batwoman down, or use her as a hook to get Batman… I couldn’t tell which. But either way, none if it seemed to fit into the Gotham-verse that I was used to and liked.
  • Why is Kate Kane such a bitch? Of all the characters I’ve read and disliked, I think Kate Kane takes the cake. Spoiled, bitter, nasty… this wealthy party girl lives in a penthouse apartment (and I see so many things wrong with that gigantic tree…) and is angry with her father about the death of her mother and sister. She seems to be horrid with everyone unless she’s trying to hook up with them, and the nasty way she treated her cousin Bette—burning her Flamebird costume, calling her Plebe, dropping her without any explanation—was so blatant a set up to make Bette a victim for the bad guys. Kate even calls herself a bitch in one panel, and I can’t work up any sympathy for her at all.
  • Finally, what did she have against Batman? If you don’t want to be a part of his world, then come up with your own alternate personality instead of mooching off of his fame.

My friend had bought me Volume 2: To Drown the World as well. I will probably read it, but I’m not looking forward to it.

 

Comic Review: Fables, vol. 1

fablesLIEby KT Pinto

 

Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
by Bill Willingham
Vertigo, 144 pp.

I am a huge fan of fairy tales, myths, and legends. So, when I heard through the grapevine about Vertigo’s Fables—I know, I’m a little behind, since this is the 10th anniversary of the graphic novel—I had to get a copy.

I wasn’t disappointed. At first I thought this would be just a fairy-tale-characters-meet-modern-day-NYC-type story, and that could go really well, or really poorly. But this story went way beyond the basics. There was murder, political intrigue, war, romance, secrets, comedy, and characters from all different fable worlds (with a legitimate reason why they are all there).

The characters who are able to blend in with the “mundys” live in a building called the Woodland, a building symbolizing where they originally came from, with Tardis-like rooms and dead-end hallways and a caste system like the kingdoms in which they once lived.

But then there are the twists; modern-day spins on princes, real boys, animals, and beasts. The dynamics of the characters who may have barely acknowledged each other in the fairy lands now thrown together by tragedy and need are a fascinating way to look at human interaction… so to speak.

From the author’s forward: “You are about to meet some old friends that you haven’t seen in a while. You already know their first stories—their adventurous tales from long ago. Now you get to find out what they’ve been up to lately. Some you can trust. Others you should never turn your back on. But isn’t that always the way of things?”

A great read! I can’t wait to get the next one!

 

Comic Review: Shadoboxxer #2

Shadoboxxer2by KT Pinto

 

Shadoboxxer: The One Man Riot #2
Victor James Toro
Toro Comics

 

Everyone’s favorite damn sexy ninja is back in the latest installment of The One Man Riot. This is not only a continuation of the vampire story from Issue #1, but also gives the backstory of Shado and his best friend Kim, a techie-genius.

The artwork was once again incredible, with images that jump off of the page. The storyline is simple, but engaging, and I was sorry when I came to the end so quickly.

Two things I liked about this issue: first, the fan art in the back. I think it’s great that Toro shows support for his fellow artists. Second, the image of Kim and Shado, showing how much taller she is than he. It’s a startling contrast, but relays how well her femininity is portrayed throughout the rest of the story.

Great issue!

 

Comic Review: Shadoboxxer #1

Shadoboxerby KT Pinto

 

Shadoboxxer: The One Man Riot #001
by Victor Toro
Toro Comics

Shadoboxxer is an urban ninja hero with mysterious powers and an amazing physique who, with his hacker friend Kim and his ghost cat Phantom, saves those in trouble, defends the defenseless, and takes on a variety of bad guys—both human and non—who are out to cause havoc. In this issue Shado runs into a burning building to save two young children who are being surrounded by a fire that is clearly more than it seems to be.

I have been following Victor’s work, and the evolution of Shadoboxxer, for quite some time, which makes me think that someone new to Shado’s world may be confused by the storyline in this premier issue, and on a couple of pages the narration inadvertently rhymed. But putting that aside, this comic has amazing art, great characters, and some intense action. And there’s a cliffhanger ending that’s going to leave readers wanting more.

You can find out more about Victor Toro and the world of Shadoboxxer at theonemanriot.com. Issue #002 is available now as well.

 

Comic Review: Other Lives

OtherLivesby Michael D. Pederson

 

Other Lives
Peter Bagge
DC Vertigo

A GRAPHIC NOVEL OF SECRET IDENTITIES: SUPERHEROES NEED NOT APPLY

Peter Bagge’s latest graphic novel, Other Lives, proves to be a brilliantly original and thoroughly surprising read. Although I’m still unsure of what I found to be more surprising—the story’s clever deconstruction of modern identity issues or the fact that it was published by DC’s Vertigo line of comics. In the past I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve read that bore the Vertigo logo (Sandman, Books of Magic, Fables, Hell-blazer, and many many others) yet I still find myself refreshingly surprised by the ever-widening scope of stories that are being released under this imprint.

I had been aware of Bagge’s prior work (his name is frequently brought up by my fellow panelists when I speak on the comics industry at science fiction conventions) but I had never gotten around to browsing any of his work. It takes no more than a quick glance at his artwork to see that he is clearly a product of the 1970’s underground comics movement; there’s an unmistakable boldly inked R. Crumb-style mixed with the elastic loopiness of the old Leon Schlesinger cartoons to Bagge’s artwork. However, his work has clearly evolved beyond his influences—he’s been published by all of the major comic companies and Hate, his satirical look at the alternative culture of the nineties, ran for nearly the entire decade and won the Harvey Award for Best New Series.

In Other Lives Bagge gives us the story of four Dragon Con-going gamer geeks, each struggling in some way with defining who they are. The main plot line follows Vladimir Rostov (pen name, Vader Ryderbeck), an investigative journalist who is researching an article on how people use the internet to assume new identities. The main focus of his story is Javier Ortiz (cover identity, Otis Boyd), a terrorist-obsessed conspiracy theory junkie who may or may not be an agent for the Department of Homeland Securities but is definitely known to be good with computers. Rostov’s investigation frequently takes a back seat to his personal life which is complicated by his own insecurities derived from unresolved issues with his dead father and by his sudden engagement to his girlfriend Ivy Chin (online persona, Shi’a Electra). Rounding out the foursome is Vlad and Javier’s old gaming buddy Woodrow Wooley (poker ID, The Poker King; online persona, Lord Burlington), who serves to reconnect Vlad and Javy and introduces Ivy to the online community of Second World. Plot threads for all four (nine if you count their other lives) characters twist amongst each other in a cleverly plotted study about how much we are influenced by the lies that we tell to others and, more importantly, the lies we tell ourselves.

I briefly mentioned Second World; it plays a large part in the story. Second World is, as the name suggests, Peter Bagge’s version of the online phenomenon Second Life. As in Second Life, Second World allows users to create virtual avatars that exist in a simulated 3D online environment. All four of the main characters in Other Lives interact with Second World in one form or another. Some play nicely, some don’t.

While Second World may be the most visible manifestation of alternate identities, there are plenty of other identity issues at play. Vlad has near-crippling insecurities because he still thinks of himself as the fat, unpopular teenager that he used to be. That, coupled with some serious daddy issues, has left him questioning the value of his life and career. His girlfriend Ivy, however, finds Vlad’s reinvention of himself as a thin (but weight-obsessed) journalist who has cut ties with his past to be a rebellious act that she respects because it is so alien to her conservative Chinese upbringing. Clearly trying to establish her own identity, apart from her family, Ivy leaps headfirst into becoming The Bride and also experiments with a more sexually playful version of herself in Second World. Second World is, of course, a perfect outlet for escapism. Woodrow spends all of his free time in online identities in Second World and on poker sites as an escape from the painful reality of his divorce and financial troubles. The line between separate identities is most blurred for Javy. Diagnosed as a bipolar individual with schizoid tendencies his identity depends primarily on whether or not he’s taking his meds—on them he’s the quiet and shy Javier Ortiz; off his meds he’s the paranoid braggart Otis Boyd.

Complicating matters, Vlad discovers that much of what his hyper-critical father had told him about his own family was untrue. When he tells his uncle about his engagement Vlad discovers that his father had led a secret life of his own. All along Vlad had been led to believe that his father was a restaurant owner whose business had burned down, leading to hard financial times. In truth the restaurant was a struggling but fancy night club that had been torched because Vlad’s father wouldn’t hire minorities and Vlad’s grandfather had left the family with sizable trust funds.

As a whole, the narrative of the story focuses on how each character incorporates their separate identities into their real life. Will the fantasy win out? How much immersion into a second (or third, or fourth) identity is too much? And where and when do you draw the line?
Overall, there’s a universality to the dilemma that Bagge’s characters face: Who are we? We each have our own work, personal, relationship, social, and on-line identities—is any one of these more valid than another? It’s a question that Bagge addresses quite nicely, giving us an entertaining and thought-provoking good read along the way. But don’t let my professional reviewer identity influence you too much—go read Other Lives for yourself.

Originally published in the California Literary Review.

 

Comic Review: Chronicles of the Sea Dragon #0

SeaDragonby Michael D. Pederson

 

Yes, pirates are very big these days. Disney’s nonsensical big-budget pirate movie has ushered in a new age of swashbuckling. And that’s not such a bad thing.

Chronicles of the Sea Dragon (from indy publisher Night Wolf Graphics) is a black and white comic rendered in traditional style. And by traditional, I mean lots of line work and cross-hatching. Artist Bill Bryan’s style definitely brings to mind classic comic book artwork, from long before the Liefields, Lees, and McFarlanes took over the biz.

The story, by Richard C. White and April MacDicken, is about a group of privateers and takes place in a fairly standard fantasy setting. Being Issue #0 this story seems to be primarily introducing us to the characters and giving us their back story. There seems to be a fair amount of deviousness amongst the crew and a few of the characters blurred together for me but I was greatly pleased to see the heroes using their smarts as well as their swords. Lots of high adventure and old-time artwork make this a fun read for those of us that grew up on Sinbad.