Sunday, October 9, 2011

Return to the New 52: Batbooks Part 2 (Red Hood & The Outlaws, Batwing, Nightwing)

I've sort of been dreading this, so I admit I've been a bit slow to move on through some of these books.

But as long as I have your attention - this week I picked up my books and I fully recommend Animal Man #2 and Swamp Thing #2, with a lesser recommendation for OMAC, which picked up a bit this week.

Just good stuff.  Also, available at fine retailers such as Austin Books and Comics.*

So, let's talk Red Hood and the Outlaws, Batwing and Nightwing.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #1
written by Scott Lobdell, art by Kenneth Rocafort

Hoo boy.  Well, this comic is trying to capture the spirit that sort of reached its apex in movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, of smart-talking, devil-may-care action flick protagonists who are constantly in over their heads and for whom things don't work out quite right.

Its also just impossibly dumb, and gives credence to every single one of the criticisms of this issue and comics in general.

Look, I don't look for realism in my superhero comics, but when our heroes reveal themselves in the middle of an arena, the stands of which are filled with dudes with machineguns and our heroes have no cover and are armed only with pistols and a bow and arrows?  This should have been the shortest comic, ever.  Its not a "cool" escape.  Its stupid.

The plot leaps into a series of ellipses regarding what, exactly, is going on, but gives us absolutely no reason to care.  Kory can't remember the Titans (yeah, yeah, I read Lobdell saying "no, she's being sarcastic".  I like to think I can read, and... no.), there's some mysterious Top Cow comics reject taking up panel space talking to Jason Todd, a shocking ability to get to the Himalayas, etc...  its just everything that was lazy about 90's-era superhero comics that Lobdell was doing over in Teen Titans but with older characters.

The comic goes for humor, but isn't funny.  It goes for gritty action, but there are absolutely no stakes.  It goes for fun characters, but gives us tropes and dialog that sounds like better dialog you've heard elsewhere.  It goes for edgy, and gives us lots of blood and orange boobs.  It wallows in the sort of lazy approach to mysticism that's been a calling card of lesser DC books for decades (which Lobdell clearly didn't learn from), and half-asses the super-agent bit into nonsense (why is any of this happening and how is it funded?).

Is the scene with Starfire engaging Red Arrow as bad as it was advertised?  Yeah, pretty much.  I had said "I want to see it in context", and now I have.  Keep in mind, this same character was introduced with her cup size before her name.  That's the comic we're working with.  It also seems Lobdell has, in fact, decided to ignore 30 years of establishing Starfire's identity and personality in favor of a blank slate of a character he can use any which way he pleases, and its not to the character's betterment.

I was hoping the relaunch would take advantage of the opportunity to admit bringing Jason Todd back was maybe a dumb idea, but instead DC has chosen to compound the dumb idea with worse ideas (and hackey delivery at that), making Brubaker's successful return of Bucky all the more unlikely.

I know this comic sold just fine.  Doesn't mean DC shouldn't be a bit embarrassed this made it out there.

Batwing #1 
by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver

I have to admit, I liked this book considerably more than I thought I would.

The art falls prey to the mandate for lots'n'lots of blood'n'mutilations that's plaguing other DC books, but it perhaps wallows in it a bit less, and its not treated as cavalierly here as I felt it was handled in other titles.

The hook, of course, is that this is The Batman of Africa, which is hugely problematic.  Its typical American thinking about an entire continent, based upon our lack of understanding of the geography, cultures and nations located on the African continent, and to some extent seems to play off of viewings of a few movies and NPR reports.  When DC has been publishing something so specific as Unknown Soldier in recent years, it seems a bit silly and intellectually lazy to go back to the era of Congo Bill and just say "it's Africa, white people!".

And, I had to wonder if Winick knows that tigers live in Asia, not Africa.  Because that seemed like an odd naming convention to pick if you didn't have to.  Not that its necessary to name oneself after local fauna, but...  Africa has its own big cats, and it would have avoided the question.

I remember our villain Massacre (who appears on page one) from some mostly uninspired Superman comics from the 90's when DC was struggling for relevance for Superman during the age of Image comics, and this actually seems like a pretty good place to drop the character.  Massacre as cretinous mercenary seizing power actually makes some sense, and paired against Batwing's crazy get-up, that little skull mask actually makes some sense.

Further, I like the idea of our protagonist as a guy trying to make good on both sides of his secret identity in a place we can substitute for any struggling African nation (which is why I think DC and Winick have yet to name where, exactly, Batwing is hanging out) as the need for law & order is regularly trumped by the pinch for resources.  I sort of think they would have done well to make up a fictional African nation that would substitute for at least a region.  Is this struggling Kenya?  Chaotic Somalia?

However, our protagonist is, thus far, only characterized by a general sense of "I'm an okay guy wearing a Bat-Suit".  I'd have liked to have seen Winick try to take a swing at a bit more about Batwing's secret ID, motivations, etc...

The mystery of the book is fairly brutal, and that's where the staple DC "piles 'o bodies" that seem necessary in every 52 relaunch book come into play.  But this seems to be high-stakes turf/ drug lord war in a place truly without controls or an empowered law-enforcement agency.  The context, while gruesome, at least kind of makes sense if you read the paper.  And, while that's fairly damning of recent history in Africa, its often hard to imagine that "were Superman real", etc... that superpowers and unstoppable forces couldn't be put to better use offshore from a city like Metropolis that seems to have its act together.In that context, I'll take it.

I am not sure I'll pick up issue 2, but I am going to follow reviews and consider the trade.  On a Winick book.  I know, you could knock me over with a feather, too.

Nightwing #1  
written by Kyle Higgings, art by Eddy Barrows and JP Mayer

Well, it certainly feels like a Nightwing comic, which is why I have come and gone from this character's various series over the years.  Dick Grayson has established a character and personality in his books over the years, and its not an unappealing one, but "the well-adjusted member of the Bat-Family" can sometimes be a tough sell - to me, at least.

As with many Nightwing stories, it feels odd to me to hear Dick Grayson talking about the sickness and insanity of Gotham (something I think DC just needs to mandate all writers let up on, because enough already - show, don't tell) in the same chipper tone he applies to the fumbling of his love life.  But that's always been the character and not just tied to Higgins.

As is also too often a problem with Nightwing (or any DC characters established post 1965), he doesn't really have a rogues gallery, and so we tend to get these generic DC one-offs of armored folks who won't just buy a gun and shoot at Nightwing as if they're scoring style points (I know, I know, you match the challenge to the character).

There's a quick recap to get a new reader up to speed that I think Higgins swings well, and between that and the exposition around Haly's Circus gets someone utterly unfamiliar with Nightwing to understand who this guy is, if they know anything at all about Batman.  Something a lot of other #1's haven't done well.

We also get a current status quo regarding Nightwing's living arrangements, satisfaction with ditching the cape, etc...

As a side note - DC was never going to go with two Batmans on a permanent basis.  Surely you people understood this, yes?

spoilers:  The set-up for the plot vaguely echoes the past year of stories for Bucky in Captain America comics, and so I'm curious to see if DC is really going to go down the whole "mind control" route.  I mean, really DC?  I don't mind that this is your story, but you and Brubaker have been chasing one another's tails entirely too much for years now.  Its just getting awkward.  end spoilers

Its probably as safe to skip this Nightwing relaunch as its traditionally been safe to skip Nightwing in previous incarnations.  It'll be a great companion piece to the other goings-on in the Batbooks, but its also the book which is comfort food to the Batfan.  It rarely challenges, usually reflects the trends of the day, and acts as a sort of counter-balance approach to the overly heavy stuff going on in Batman or Detective.  But its still more palatable than Bedard's "well, this is disposable" run on Robin.

*once again, a special thanks to Austin Books and Comics for making these reviews possible.

1 comment:

Simon MacDonald said...

I would rather eat dirt than read Red Hood and the Outlaws. Batwing is going to have to be amazing then I'll look for it in trade. I'm just really tapped out on Bat books right now. Finally Nightwing, I have about 130 issues of the volume 1 run so I'm good. Sadly, DC hasn't really know what to do with this character since he was supposed to die in Infinite Crisis. As we discussed in an email, there are too many former Robin's in this DCnU.