BookBin2016: DC Bombshells Volume 1: Enlisted

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Not only am I on a bit of a graphic novel kick at the moment, but I’m also still focused on my own books rather than ones from the library. This one is the latest graphic novel I procured from Amazon: the first volume of collected comics for the DC Bombshells story line.

I love the “organic” way that this series came about (I use organic in quotes because I’m pretty sure that this was ultimately DC’s plan right from the start. Because jaded.). What began as a series of one-off variant comic covers depicting DC heroines and villainesses as WWII-era “bombshell” pinups has spun into this special edition series of stories detailing how these characters played a role in the global fight against the Nazis.

I suppose that one could state that this feels a little flippant. It trivializes the bravery of real people. However, when you keep in mind that several comic heroes rose from the turmoil of this particular piece of history, including Wonder Woman (who should remain linked with World War II…but I’ll have more to say about that later), it brings things into better context. Horrific events sometimes require a different lens through which to process truths that we oftentimes do not wish to contemplate. An even better example of a graphic novel that deals with this devastating stain upon humanity would be Art Spiegelman’s Maus. If you haven’t read that one yet, then I highly recommend it.

Does this series deal with WWII with the same level of success as something like Maus? Oh, no. But that’s why Maus is a Pulitzer prize-winning effort and this is…not. It’s just different. It’s sometimes serious but mostly with this first volume, it’s more about introducing us to the various Bombshell variants chosen for this series. I love the characters chosen so far. Of course, my favorite is Kate Kane. I’m still mourning the demise of her solo run at the hands of DC Comics ineptitude (and possible homophobia). Seeing her in this series made that disappointment a little less tender. Also, I love how writer Marguerite Bennett pretty much erased Batman from this particular timeline thanks to Batwoman. Given my increasing apathy toward the Dark Knight (more on that to come as well), I really enjoyed this particular timeline shift. Also, I’m not really giving away any spoilers since this happens on the first page of the graphic novel.

Interestingly, my last encounter with Bennett’s writing style left me feeling a strong sense of meh-laise (yes, I have created a new word; you’re welcome). She wrote some of the final Gail Simone run for Batgirl. This time around, Bennett was much stronger in storytelling. Her words also garnered accompaniment from some beautiful time period-inspired artwork. Heavy line work, appropriate palette, and gorgeous renderings of our lovely ladies of DC in the styles of the times made a great visual impact upon a solid opener to this series.

Final Verdict: Keeping this volume and patiently awaiting the release of the next one this June.

BookBin2014: Batgirl Volume 3: Death of the Family and Volume 4: Wanted

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It seems to be that I’m locked in a ménage à trois with Kate Kane and Barbara Gordon. I spend time with one…I inevitably then spend time with the other. It’s not a bad relationship, to be sure…especially when you’ve got someone like Gail Simone still plotting the course for Batgirl (I can’t really deal with Batwoman’s future right now).

Simone is still at the helm, thankfully, for Batgirl’s third and fourth graphic novel collections, Death of the Family and Wanted. The third volume is part of an umbrella story arc that ran through a few other Gotham-related characters’ comics as well, but was still compartmentalized quite nicely enough that you don’t need to read the others if you’d rather not (which I’d rather not, thank you). There were a couple of elements that I was a bit curious about, but the wonderful thing about teh Interwebz is that you can find the answers to almost any of life’s lesser mysteries with the click of a few mouse buttons or the swipe or two of a finger. It’s fantabulous, is what it is.

I love that one of the holdovers from the “clean slate” reboot that continues to remain a significant part of Batgirl’s storyline–being previously shot and paralyzed by the Joker–returns in this collection, full-throttle. I love that the writer who helped Barbara Gordon deal with the aftermath of that moment in her life is once more leading our heroine through the fray. I also love that Simone is one of those rare gems of a writer in that she’s able to balance between the action and the interpersonal connections of her characters with the dancer’s grace of Batgirl herself. Sometimes, she falters a bit…but she is mostly on-point the entire time.

Same continues into the fourth collection, which deals with the aftermath of how the third collection ended. Cliffhangers are cliffhangers, denizens. They keep you hanging on and hanging around. I would love to give more details regarding the action…but spoilers. I don’t necessarily mind mentioning something like Batgirl’s former paralysis by the Joker because that original action happened many moons ago at the hands of a Joker wielded by the pen of Alan Moore. The expiration date on keeping that secret ran out a long time ago. However, all this action is new and fresh–and quite enjoyable. Again, I feel a bit guilty stating this, but I think Batgirl is having the better run in the Bat Race between her and Batwoman.

Why do I say this? More holistically solid writing. Less misogynistic artwork. Way less. Again, I can’t help but wonder if this is because Simone is at the helm of the writing, but the artwork for Batgirl not only has been consistently beautiful, but it also rarely ever feels exploitative. It’s celebratory of the female form, yes. It’s depicting physiques that are physically impossible, yes. It’s a comic book. That’s allowed. What shouldn’t be allowed is wanton sexism and objectification of women. And that is something that has been blissfully absent from each one of Batgirl’s collections. I wish I could say the same of Batwoman.

The other thing that I will mention in this review, that happened in a beautifully understated and naturalistic way, is this moment:

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Alysia Yeoh is Barbara Gordon’s roommate. If you’d like to know more about Simone’s rationale for this character, you can read it here.

With what transpired with Batwoman and the fallout of Williams and Blackman leaving before they could even finish their story arc, I’m admittedly skittish about this revelation. I’ve no idea where it will go from here. If it were up to Simone only? I’d have no worries at all. She is brilliant and kind and will give this character the respect she deserves. However, there’s always the shadow of DC itself, hovering over its characters and making rash decisions for no logical reason. I hope nothing bad happens to Alysia. I’ll be watching, DC. Make note.

Final Verdict: Keepers, they both are. I was a little meh about the revelation at the end of the fourth collection, but mainly because it was predictable in that genre fiction way. However, cliffhanger failure notwithstanding, these two were solid entries into the New 52 continuation of Batgirl’s story.

BookBin2013: Batgirl Volume 2: Knightfall Descends

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Finally back to my own collection…although, admittedly, this is a recent purchase and not one of those myriad books languishing in the literary limbo of my own devising. Still, this collection and the other two that I recently purchased are stories that I have been waiting to continue for quite a while now. I simply can’t wait to read these.

It’s been since January of this year that I paid a visit to Gotham City to see what’s new with two of my favorite members of the Order Chiroptera. I’ll be talking more about my visit with the Lady Kane soon enough, but this is about the Knightfall Descending upon the lovely Barbara Gordon.

Writer Gail Simone continues to spin quite a yarn for Gordon as she re-acclimates herself with her role as Batgirl. There’s a nice bit of back story in the beginning, a bit of “top of the world for a moment or two” as we see her fighting alongside Batman and Robin, followed by a decision to leave the darkness of fighting the criminal world to live a normal life…only to realize that, as the first issue of this collection points out on its last page, “Sometimes, the darkness finds you.

That darkness is, of course, what Gordon continues to struggle with as she tries once more to regain the full prowess of her role as Batgirl. There is other darkness as well throughout this novel, both within the fortress of Gordon’s personal life as well as throughout the expanses of her home turf. Quite a bit, actually. Gotham’s sinister underside spills into the lives of its heroes, painting every corner with blood and menace, revenge and desperation all the shades of the grimmest spectrum.

Overall, the stories within this novel were interesting enough to keep me reading. I also believe that they are putting into place some elements that will set the stage for even more interesting storytelling to come with Batgirl’s upcoming third collection, Death of the Family.

[Loba Tangent: I have already pre-ordered this collection, which apparently ties in with several other Gotham-related graphic novels that all share the same title, and am counting down the days until its October 29 release. The cover art alone makes me want to get my hands on this one!]

Speaking of art, Ardian Syaf is still doing the bulk of the penciling for Batgirl, and is still doing an admirable job. I’m not really all that fond of the cover of this particular collection (done by artist Stanley Lau). I feel like that cover is all about one thing: “Hey, look, it’s Batgirl’s crotch!” However, Syaf’s still treating Batgirl as if she’s more than crotch shots, butt shots, and boobs. I wish they drew Batwoman a little more like Syaf draws Batgirl.

Speaking of Batwoman (which I like to do quite often, thank you), she makes a crossover appearance toward the end of this collection! And answers that most important question: Who would win in a fight between Batwoman and Batgirl? (Guess you’ll just have to read the novel to learn the answer.) Even though I still think that Batwoman artist J.H. Williams III is the stronger artist, I really liked Syaf’s treatment of Batwoman. He made her a little sportier looking as well, while still giving her the rather…generous proportions that Williams bestows upon her in her own comics. Syaf might be a good choice to take over Batwoman’s world as well, now that…

…but that’s a conversation for another post.

Final Verdict: I liked this collection. I found some of the revelations to be interesting and titillating enough (especially the ones involving Gordon’s family members). I do feel that this was a bit of a “bridge” collection…stories that are not necessarily the greatest, but that are setting us up for something that might transcend greatness in the telling. For that reason alone, I’m glad I picked back up with Barbara Gordon and her Batgirl journeys.

BookBin2013: Batwoman Volume 1: Hydrology / Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection

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Please don’t think that because I have paired these two books into one review I don’t think they are worthy of their own individual posts. I can assure you, denizens, this is not the case. However, it just so happens that I purchased both of these “New 52” collections at the same time (along with my very own copy of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which I have already reviewed but mention because it will play a part in the following review). I also happened to read these two collections successively, which sparked a bit of “compare-and-contrast” within my swirly brain.

First, a bit of exposition: Both are collections of the first comics for each heroine under the recent DC Comics “reboot.” I use reboot loosely, however, because it kind of was a reboot…but not really. In my mind, a reboot would have meant total tabula rasa for all the characters involved. This wasn’t exactly the case, at least for Kate Kane and Barbara Gordon.

For example, Barbara Gordon is, indeed, once more Batgirl. However, she is still the same Barbara Gordon who was shot at point-blank range by the Joker in The Killing Joke. Part of her history is still those years she spent in a wheelchair and the time she spent known as Oracle, the brains behind the Birds of Prey.

Kate Kane is still the wealthy “playgirl” of Gotham with a military history that was curtailed by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She also still carries with her the baggage of dark truths revealed in the anthology Elegy.

So not necessarily a complete reboot in the truest sense of the word. However, it was enough of a reboot to get Gordon back into that Batgirl costume, which I definitely appreciate. Even more, it was enough to get Gail Simone in to take over telling Batgirl’s second chance at bat.

Heh. Get it? Bat. Never mind.

Simone’s name on the cover of The Darkest Reflection is ultimately what lured me into Batgirl’s story. I spoke about my thoughts on Simone’s prowess as a comic writer in my review of Wonder Woman: The Circle. She did wonders (I’m sorry; I’ll stop doing that, I swear) for Diana of Themyscira. She was also responsible for telling Gordon’s tale as Oracle for many issues as head writer for Birds of Prey, so I knew she already had a connection with and understanding of Gordon that most writers wouldn’t already have.

Similarly, it was seeing J.H. Williams, III’s name on Hydrology that lured me once more back into Batwoman’s storyline. Williams was the artistic brilliance behind Elegy, so I knew the art once again would be exemplary. However, this time, Williams was also the writer, taking over the Batwoman mythology from Greg Rucka. I honestly think this was the collection’s biggest weakness. Not only was Rucka a more captivating and comprehensive writer, I think taking on both roles caused Williams’s art to suffer a bit. But only a bit, mind you. Between the two collections, I would choose Williams as the more stunning and unconventional artist. Still, I think that writing and drawing were too taxing for Williams. His artwork was nowhere near as astonishing as it was for Elegy.

Sticking for a moment with commentary on the artwork, I will say this in favor of Ardian Syaf, the artist behind Batgirl’s return: I much preferred his rendering of Gordon as Batgirl to Williams’s rendering of Kane as Batwoman. Batgirl came across as fit, athletic, limber, and lithe. She has a sporty physique and her Batgirl costume is modestly rendered. She looks like she’s ready to do battle with villains.

Batwoman, on the other hand, at times looks like she’s ready to take a spin or two around a pole in Gotham’s redlight district. Pendulous breasts and a generous derriere, covered in latex in a way that leaves little to the imagination, Batwoman is also drawn in a far more provocative manner than Batgirl. Translation: There are lots more stereotypical comic renderings of Batwoman from utterly ridiculous but obviously “male gaze” angles than there are of Batgirl.

Syaf’s take on Batgirl is celebratory of the female form, while Williams’s take on Batwoman comes across many times as exploitative. It’s a shame, really. I want to like Batwoman more than Batgirl, but I find comics that depict women so wantonly to be insulting and, truthfully, kind of sad.

I can’t help but wonder if the moderation of Syaf’s artwork was due to Simone’s presence. Did Simone let Syaf know that she didn’t want Batgirl coming across as one step above a Playboy Playmate? Or did Syaf perhaps refrain from the more lascivious artwork out of deference to Simone? Or maybe it has less to do with Simone and more to do with the one primary difference between the two characters names: Gordon is a Bat girl, while Kane is a Bat woman. Perhaps the “girl” nom de guerre grants her a reprieve from the more pornographic postures?

Of course, this isn’t to say that Syaf didn’t ever present Batgirl in some of those predictably provocative male gaze positions. There are a couple of doozies in this collection, actually. Williams, however, is the guilty party between the two artists when it comes to objectifying artwork.

As for the storytelling itself, I’m going to have to also give my vote to Batgirl. Just as I mentioned in my review of Simone’s writing for Wonder Woman, here she again presents her primary character in a wonderfully and holistically developed fashion. Barbara Gordon is believable, replete with damage, fear, guilty, wonder, and joy. Williams simply fails to provide Kate Kane with the same level of dimensionality, presence, or realism. He gives it the old college try, but, in the end, he lacks the inherent connection with and understanding of Kate Kane that a female writer—particularly one of Simone’s caliber—could bring to her. This doesn’t mean that I think only a woman could properly write for Kate Kane. I thought Rucka did an outstanding job as her storyteller. I just don’t think Williams is the correct guy for this mission.

Still, Williams is able to keep my interest in Batwoman piqued enough that I wouldn’t be averse to continuing to read more. However, should Simone tire of hanging out with Batgirl, I would be more than on-board with her moving on to the other redhead in the Bat pantheon.

Final Verdict: Um. I’m going to say keep, Bob. Plus, I have already added their respective second volumes to my wishlist. Here’s hoping that Barnes & Noble has another awesome ComiCon-inspired graphic novel sale, so I can snag reasonably priced copies of the next stories the same way I snagged these and The Killing Joke.

BookBin2011: SexyChix

I actually finished this comic anthology a little while ago. Is it a reflection of my opinion of this collection that it then completely fell off my reviewing radar?

Yes.

True, I did get a bit…excited by the arrival of my last BookBin entry and pretty much everything else fell off my radar. But, seriously, can you blame me? I thought not.

Anyway, it wasn’t until I saw SexyChix sitting atop a pile of books that were waiting for me to either find space for them on my shelves or to donate them that I remembered, hey! I read that! Can I remember anything else about it?

Kinda sorta. I do remember a few high points. I also remember a few WTF points. However, there is a desert of meh resting between those two summits of emotional response that is probably more damning than anything else.

It’s a shame, really. First, this was the other purchase I made from that really groovy used book store we found while in Toronto, so technically I could claim to have traveled a great distance for this collection. Second, I like being supportive of my gender, especially when I’m supporting the activities of said gender in a forum that is typically male-dominated (such as the comics industry).

That being said, “supporting my gender” cannot be the only thing going in favor of any product. I feel, however, that that’s really the only thing that’s even remotely consistent about this collection. It’s also the major thing making me feel slightly guilty about giving it such an unsupportive review.

Then again, I pride myself in being an equal opportunity whiny hater.

SexyChix is an unfocused mash-up of styles, stories, and skills, the end result of which is discordant and disappointing. Were these short stories only, perhaps the range of plots and topics wouldn’t be so jarring. However, the wildly divergent artistic approaches and talents create a constant visual reminder that this is not a cohesive collection at all. It’s the literary equivalent of a dogsled team in which there are a few very strong, very fast dogs pulling along several dead dogs.

Yeah, I went for the disturbing visual just then. Is it any wonder I hate the Iditarod?

As I said earlier, there were a few bright spots, whether they were for exemplary writing or entrancing artwork. Are these enough to convince me to hang on to this collection?

I want to say yes. I really, really do.

But I can’t.

Final Verdict: Be gone to disappoint someone else.