Friday, October 7, 2011

Return to the New 52: Batbooks Part 1 (Catwoman & Detective)

This blog post has been brought to you by a grant from the Austin Books Foundation.*  Austin Books, finding ways to part a fool and his money (me) since 1986.

I know we've passed on to Month 2 of the New 52, and I'll be talking about Action Comics #2 in short order, but we're going to proceed with discussing the rest of the titles

Catwoman #1 by Judd Winick and Guillem March

One wonders what Judd Winick had in his script, and what March tossed aside so he could indulge in what DC usually pays him for, over-the-top cheesecake.  I'm neither a fan of Winick or March, and figured from the descriptions that this book would have a certain flavor and flair when I was making my purchasing decisions, and it seems I wasn't so far off.

At this point, the comic has become notorious for its sexually charged content in the closing pages, and you can read about that debate elsewhere.  But that's just a portion of the book, and I'd deal with it in context.

Winick sets out to frame his Catwoman as a smart, clever high-end thief who maybe plays both sides of the law.  That's been the character's appeal since the 1980's, and so its not exactly new or news.  What happens on the page (and I don't know who decided what between writer, artist and editor) is that it removes the hints of sexuality which have constantly churned beneath the surface since Catwoman first appeared (well, not when she was wearing the weird mascot-like cathead, but maybe when she took that off).  Those first appearances are fairly intriguing for their time and intended audience of kids.

Tonally, Winick is all over the map.  Daffy escape from Selina Kyle's apartment, anxiety over losing her place, burning rage at some Russian mobster, and the "let's fill the emptiness with sex" leap that takes the question of "do they or don't they?" and insists "oh, absolutely, they do."

We'll get to the controversy over the sex scene in a mo', but frankly I was shocked at the depiction of Selina beating and tearing up the mobster, which points to what may be part of March's problem in the final pages. Mainstream superhero comics have long had high doses of sex and violence, but March (and from his past work, I'd argue Winick) have no intention to or are incapable of playing by the usual rules of innuendo for either.  For reasons that I am sure we'll all come to learn were well deserved, Selina claws and tears at this fellow and there's just a ridiculous amount of blood everywhere, more akin to a slasher movie than an action film.

I think of the crushing, bone crunching violence in DKR from 25 years ago that arguably led to the panels we're seeing here, and it was so much more artfully handled, semi-off-panel, with single strikes and sound effects to let us know.  Or Selina and Holly's first appearance in Year One, with Bruce Wayne stabbed in the leg - and somehow the choice made not to show that in close-up with blood flying everywhere.

The same logic applies to the "love scene" between Batman and Catwoman (and I wouldn't say Selina and Bruce here).  What's sad is that I do think I get where Winick was going with this.  Its not necessarily out of character for Catwoman to make the move, this is just the first time we've seen Batman not "think clean thoughts, chum" and turn her away on panel.  Its very much in line with the sex scenes from Watchmen (the comic, not the soft-core oddball scene of the film), of the confused and odd lives these people are living on rooftops and constantly in the dark with their masks on.

Yes, you can read it as "this is smut!", and it is, because March's indelicate handling based upon what I have to assume was Winick's script doesn't set up the tumble in the way Moore's characters spent a few issues working their way toward this point.  Winick may feel this is a culmination of 70 years of comics, but its not. Its a #1 issue, and its messy and a little embarrassing for me, you, Catwoman and certainly Batman.

There's just not much story here other than some mysteries about "who is trying to kill Selina?" and "can you really jump around on roofs with roughly 90 pounds of cats shoved into a carrier?"  The rest of it is why Catwoman is so hard to handle as a character.  She steals stuff, she isn't exactly good, and that's colorful, but she's completely surrounded by 1-dimensional characters taken from CBS cop shows far, far too much of the time.  I don't know or care about this "Russian Mob" she's infiltrating for reasons I've already chosen to forget as it was clearly just a reason to get her in the room with the guy she beats up.  And its just...  its just not much to go on and not enough when you compare it to what some of Winick's peers did in their first issues.

Detective Comics #1 by Tony Daniel

In full disclosure, I haven't read much Tony Daniel Batman, and I likely never will.  The bits of Daniel's writing I witnessed in Batman were enough that I dropped the title for the first time in a decade.  Thus, I was surprised that DC kept him onboard during the relaunch.  But I'm a curious fellow, and so I wanted to give this issue a fair shot.

And its, to put it best I can, not my cup of tea.  The entire issue reads like fan-fiction written by a 16 year old with Batman more than once proclaiming "I am the night" or something along those lines, like... out loud, where people can hear him.

Daniel gets his hands on The Joker, so wonderfully handled recently by Grant Morrison in Batman and Batman & Robin, learns nothing from Morrison's intelligent handling of the seering madness and cruelty within the Joker and instead  takes the parameters of the relaunch as license to just go gross without any of so-horrendous-its-funny gallows humor of The Clown Prince of Crime.  I know Moore doesn't like his own work in The Killing Joke, but he did create a vision of the Joker that was truly digustingly cunning in his depravity and insanity, and while you think maybe Daniel is riffing on that a bit here, he's not quite got the chops, especially in a world of Bat-cliches and characters all playing the game.

Where Snyder's Batman feels remarkably promising, everything about this first issue, right up to the admittedly surprising-if-I-hadn't-seen-it-on-tumblr final page feels like unstudied emulation of other work with no story or voice of its own.  Ie:  Its a first issue that feels unnecessary, and that shouldn't be happening with Detective Comics #1.

*a special thanks to Austin Books and Comics for their assistance and support in getting these reviews done.

1 comment:

Simon MacDonald said...

Your reviews line up pretty well with what I've been hearing elsewhere. Once again glad I didn't sign up for it.