Tag Archives: Gail Simone

Batgirl vol 1 The Darkest Reflection review

Batgirl The Darkest Reflection

DC Comics 2012

144 pages

$23

The New 52 has been a pretty hit and miss proposition so far.  Many books started off very strong and faded within a few issues, others started weak and gained momentum and improved.  So far I have not seen much that has held quality through a complete volume yet.  So far the only exception has been the Batman book The Court of Owls, an outstanding book from cover to cover.  That was before I read the first Batgirl collection by Gail Simone and Ardian Syaf (with Vicente Cifuentes).  This was a sold book all the way through.

It has been a year since the “miracle” that gave Barbara Gordon the use of her legs once more and she has wasted no time getting back into costume.  For those that don’t know about the wheel chair days, it started in The Killing Joke(read it if you have not already done so) and ran for the last several years in books like Birds of Prey.  Her paralysis reversed, she is back to being Batgirl in the new 52.  It has been 3 years since Killing Joke in the new continuity (5 years since the first appearance of the DC heroes) and she gets right into the swing of things with a new villain called Mirror.  He is a revenge obsessed mystery man with a list of potential victims; all people who escaped death thanks to miracles of one sort or another.  At first, he seems like a throwaway bad guy for the first arc, and while we may never see him again, he is a very interesting character by the end of this volume.  His story and another revolving around Bruce Wayne and another damaged villain called Gretel, make up the stories here, but the real treat is the way Gail puts it all together.  This is a fun book.  More adventure and swashbuckling style than dark brooding bat book, this is the Batgirl from the Silver-Age in many ways.  That is even referenced a few times and the Barbara of this book is very fun in a style of storytelling that recalls those early stories.  Simone knows this character inside and out, and is clearly trying hard to redefine her in a way that does not negate the powerful concept that the Oracle version of the character was.

The art is strong and consistent throughout most of the book, never really wowing, but never flying off the rails either.  Much of the New 52 seems to have art that emphasizes action and style over storytelling.  This book only suffers from that occasionally, but like most of the new crop, the issue persists.  There are very few masters in the field on the art side of DC right now, and they seem to be leaving rapidly, but Syaf’s art is strong and generally easy to read.  With time he could become one of the best they have in the stable.

This is a much lighter book than I expected.  The bat books can be so dark, it was nice to be surprised.  While not for the very young, I think anyone over the age of 12 can read and enjoy this book.  As long as you are not still pining for the Stephanie Brown version, this is a fresh new start to an old concept.  If this does not rapidly become your Batgirl, then I really don’t think you have an interest in the character.

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Secret Six: A Last Look

Well, the last volume of Secret Six is out now, and with it, one of the best things from the pre New 52 comes to a close.

This series just kept getting better and better.  Written by Gail Simone, this was a great character study book.  Filled with the D-Lister’s D list, there was never an issue that I didn’t find some aspect of Ms Simone’s writing an absolute thrill.  Comics has, particularly in the last two decades, gone out of its way to take popular villains and anti-heroes, and turn them into leading character material.  Wolverine made the dark hero popular and profitable, Venom made the leap to dark anti-hero, Deadpool and countless others,  all have been lost along the way.  Some because the core of the concept was lost in the quest for sales and others because, to make the character palatable for the mass consumption market, they stripped away the few interesting things about them, reducing them to darker versions of the true icon that was originally popular.

Not so with Secret Six.  There was not one really popular character in this book.  Bane?  Catman?  Was ANYONE really clamoring for more stories about Catman?  Everyone on this “Team” was a mess in every way possible and on many layers.  Some were characters that were never fully realized or created in a time when depth was not something that was an issue.  The most promising of this bunch was Scandal Savage, daughter of Vandal, and she was created more or less, specifically for this book.  Simone created her and imbued her with everything that makes for a good lead, but she didn’t hold the lead for long.  She was quickly supplanted by more internally powerful, or at least more externally forceful individuals.  Bane, Catman, Deadshot, all had moments taking the lead role on this team, and the title was always well served by this.

The most surprising and fun member of the team was Ragdoll, a crappy leftover from the Golden Age.  Originally created by Gardener Fox, reborn marginally more interesting in the 80’s, Simone has made him (in the form of the original’s son) the soul of the book.  Between obvious lines mean for comic relief, he speaks as though he were the conscience of the team, all the while fantasizing out loud about some pretty unspeakable things.

There have been complex relationships all through this book’s all too short 36 issue run (not counting a few guest shots and the Villains United series they started in) that have given this book a feel that was alway far more believable than virtually any book in the DCU.  The complex relationship between Bane and Scandal took much of the time, but others have had their time in the light as well.  In the end, everyone was well served in this book by a skilled writer at the top of her game.

DC did not serve this book well.  With the reboot, all this was essentially wiped away.  The series ended satisfactorily enough, but as with all the OLD DCU, it felt a bit rushed.  I imagine Ms Simone was given notice to wrap things up well enough, but I think there could have been many more great issues of this series.  That combined with J. Calafiore’s very nice, expressive art, make this a missed gem.

The other way DC has failed this series is the fact that the early volumes are out of print.  Villains United and volumes 3 and up are still easily available, and one and two CAN still be found, but the prices are rising slowly.  I know that it does not benefit DC to keep everything in print, but this series is not some crappy book that limped along for a dozen issues and was killed after just enough issue to collect in a trade.  This was actually a fairly well received book.  Popular with critics and fans, and should be seen by everyone that enjoys watching a writer with real skill craft a fine book.

I highly recommend this to anyone that wants something a little off-center from the standard super hero fare and far better than all the “reformed” bad guys books.  Jump on these while you can still find them for a reasonable price.  Go.  Now.

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As the first month of the New 52 winds down…

Well, I ended up buying 13 of the New 52, with 2 more of interest next week.

So far I can safely say, I have enjoyed all of them.  Some much more than others.  Some I will not buy the next issue.  Technically, I will probably only get the first arc for Action Comics, Batman and Detective Comics.  Animal Man and Resurrection Man are still on the bubble.  So here I will do a quick recap for all of the books I have read so far as I may not do full reviews for all of them.

Logo for the DC Edge books

Stormwatch:  This is the only one of the Edge group of books that I have had any interest in, and to be honest, I was disappointed.  I had really been looking forward to this one and found it every bid as bland as most of the old Wildstorm titles.  The various groupings of books is pretty tightly done, with the Edge books mostly being the books brought over from Wildstorm and a few odds and ends.  My high hopes were than they would make Martian Manhunter a little more interesting and less of a fifth wheel.  They didn’t, he is just a dick.

Green Lantern:  I was really not going to bother with this one since I have done just the collected editions of the main series, as well as Blackest Night and Brightest Day hardcovers.  But what the hell.  I grabbed it and it was decent.  I’m not going to get the floppies on a regular basis as I will still just do the hardcovers.  The Lantern books have read better in a single sitting since Geoff Johns started writing them.  A word about the grouping on these.  As far as I know, all of the Lantern books are in their own group, but I don’t recall seeing that officially anywhere.  I may have just missed it though.

Batman group logo.

Batman: This book was purchased based entirely on the creative team.  Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo drew me in and did not let me down.  The story had several good twists and made for a fun and fast paced book.  Capullo’s art was exactly what I had expected.  Sometimes a bit cartoonish for my tastes, but he has a strong storytelling sense that works well for this book.  Any anything that gets him away from the Spawn books is a winner in my mind.  Now we will see what he can REALLY do.

Batgirl:  Niiiiice!  This is going to be a really interesting book if the editors at DC allow this to go the way I think it is intended to.  This could get really cool.  I would not have touched this book with a ten foot pole if Gail Simone had not been tapped to write it, and I think she has gotten it off on a great path.  The Killing Joke is now officially canon, even though through some as yet unexplained “miracle”, Barbara Gordon can now walk.  Ardian Syaf’s art is perfect for this book, a good sense of action and pacing, while not being too dark and gloomy.  That is what the next book is for…

Detective Comics:  A great book.  See my review here.  A quick word about the individual books logos.  They have redesigned almost all of the books logo for the New 52.  Action, and the other Superbooks have not changed.  Neither has Swamp Thing.  For the most part, they look very nice.  The Blackhawks logo is awful.  Looks like a hight school football logo.  Just crap.  The others are sharp and modern, with some really standing out.

DC Dark group logo.

DC Dark books group logo.

Animal Man:  This is the first of the DC Dark books I read.  My review is here.  I liked all of the Dark books so far and they were the ones that I was most interested in from the start.  I will be picking up Justice League Dark next week.

Swamp Thing:  This one feels odd.  The fact that Superman appears threw me off, if only because Superman is being almost fully rebooted and Swampy appears to be more of a soft reboot, with much of the history being referenced.  If there is any line wide weaknesses in the New 52 it is that Batman and Green Lantern will maintain virtually all of their history, as the continuity will not change for them, but Superman and all the other books are changing.  Some very little and some quite drastically.  Held on its own, without the rest of the DCU attached, Swamp Thing was a good read and I am interested in the continuing story.

Resurrection Man:  If they keep this up, this could be the sleeper hit of the New 52.  I liked the character when he first came out in the 90’s but there was not much done with him.  This book is tightly plotted and strong with Abnett & Lanning (the character’s original creators) looking like they are one the verge of doing their very best work yet.  I have enjoyed the cosmic stuff they have done at Marvel and this looks like it could top even that.  This book has one of the best of the new logos too.  Very cool with a retro feel to it.

DC Superman group logo.

Supergirl:  A lot of fans were bothered by the creative team shuffling of some of the books.  What they came up with for this book is something that looks very promising.  Writers Green and Johnson have a good handle and a potentially interesting take on the most boring heroine in the DCU.  Mahmud Asrar’s art is inconsistent, but engaging.  Stylization sometimes wins over rendering, but not distractingly so.  There is a lot of promise in this book too.

Action Comics:  Boo-yah!  If you read only one of the new DCU, this should really be the one!  I have re read this since my original review here, and like this book even more.  It is too bad they didn’t launch with this instead of Justice League.  Superman #1 is out next week.  Still have not decided if I am getting it or not.  And NO.  If I do not get it at my LCS, I will not waste my money buying it on ebay.  That’s why DC is happily reprinting the really hot books.

DC Justice League Group logo.

Justice League:   Speaking of hot books, this is on a 3rd printing, and it looks like a 4th coming.  Good for you DC.  I just wish the book had been better.  My review is here.  Just not as strong as it could have and really should have been.  May turn out to be the first book to start losing readers quickly if it does not find its footing fast.  I know this is intended as a prequel of sorts to the rest of the DCU, but so is Action Comics, and it is much better.

Captain Atom:  Of all the old Charlton characters, this is the one I wanted to like the most and ended up not having any interest in.  Since Alan Moore did his version in Watchman, the Captain seemed poorly handled at best.  I was not going to pick up this book.  I’m mostly glad I did.  This is one of the books that I have seen so far (animal Man and Swamp Thing being the other 2) that could actually have a finite run and work well that way.  They are books that seem like a real beginning, middle and end to the run would be in the best interests of the title.  I can see all 3 with a clear arc.  If I thought that they would actually DO that, I would sign up for all 3 without a pause.  That is what would work best for these and serve the characters as started in the New 52 perfectly.  But all creative options aside, I know these are, first and foremost, properties.  They will not take a book to a logical and intelligent conclusion and end it when it could continue for more issues.  It is a mentality I have never wanted in my comics.  Why CAN’T Animal Man run for a finite number of issues and be an end to the character for a while.  Finish telling your story then let the book rest until someone comes along with a new take on things.  But DC, like Marvel, has the quantity over quality model going, despite what they say publicly.  The fact that they are more interested in getting books out on an arbitrary schedule than keeping a creative team is evidence of that.  The way to solve late books is not to replace teams, just hold off printing until more issues are in the can.  If the artist or writer feels like they are getting screwed, then they are in the wrong industry, and it IS an industry.  They do not print these things for fun.  They are there to make money and there is nothing wrong with that.  But there is a middle ground where the creative side and the corporate side CAN meet, they just never seem willing or able to.  Captain Atom is a book with a lot of style, sometimes to its detriment.  The art is sometimes more distracting than it should be, and the visual storytelling is spotty.  There are more positives than negative though.  The characters are still bland, but there is time for fleshing them out going forward.  The art has moments of being very off model, but the dynamic styling is powerful and hard to ignore.  If this WERE a finite story, I can see it really working well.  But I see this first arc being paid off and then just more issue coming where the premises being set up here will get watered down and made on-going.

Justice League International:  This book is a mess at times.  Dan Jurgens can be very hit and miss.  His best, can be classic.  This is not that book.  They have chosen the most B-listy bunch possible to people the group and they are not well written here.  Booster Gold has always been one of those guys with lots of unrealized potential.  So now for this reboot, he seems to have very abruptly realized it.  That does not really work well.  Fire and Ice are a team that have only really worked well when…well…they have never worked well.  If you look at their past stuff, they really are just plot hammers.  Or they are there so someone else can react to something about them.  They themselves were never all that interesting.  Guy Gardner seems like they are playing him as less of a prick, but since I never liked the guy no matter how they played him…  Rocket Red is fun to have here, and so is August General in Iron.  Having Batman at all is just silly.  He is being repositioned in the new DCU to being back to the dark shadow in Gotham, and he is just not a good fit here.  Fortunately, he is not likely to get  much play and can be more or less written out.  His presence here is to add some connection to other characters for the reader, like propping up Booster a bit with the readers as well as the other members of the team.  I can see this book always being in flux until they find the right mix.  With team books though, that is not a bad thing.

All in all, a good start.  I want to see risks.  Like the ones I have seen in other books of the relaunch like Catwoman or Red Hood and the Outlaws.  These are books that will push away long time fans, but maybe they will bring new ones in with stories that are daring and new.  Detective and Action look like they may be off to similar starts.  Here is hoping the New 52 changes the game as much as I think it can.  If it does, we are all in for a Hell of a ride!

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Women creators in the big time…

Wow, DC really can’t do something big without stirring up the storm can they?

Art by Amanda Conner

With the relaunch announcements grabbing more headlines than the real news (that being the day and date digital releases) DC has managed to not see one issue coming.  Or they see it, and just don’t care.  Where all da wimmin at?

Gail Simone is writing 2 of the new monthly books and Jenny Frisson is doing a cover.  Just one cover.  There is more out there in the world than Rob Liefeld.  Did we really need to bring him back?  There was not ONE other woman out there that could write Hawk & Dove?  This is a book that will more than likely, be on the short list for cancellation within 3 issues.  Maybe that is why no one would touch it.  There are, to my knowledge more female artists out there than writers, but I know there are more than just the wonderful Ms Simone!  In the artist end of things I am even a bit more surprised.  There are some real fan favorites (artists and writers) that have nothing on DC’s schedule in September.  Amanda Conner, Katie Cook, Nicola Scott, Trina Robbins, Louise Simonson and the list goes on!  True, some were probably offered something and were not interested for reasons of their own, but just Gail Simone and Jenny Frisson?

There was a point in the past I would have said that this was just the women complaining, then I grew up some and try to look at it intelligently.  Or at least as intelligently as I am able.  True, there are not all that many women in the field these days compared to the men, and a lot of that is a cultural issue.  Women have not been mainstays of the industry in any point in its history.  The days when a Dalia Messick could get work because she went by Dale are gone.  The internet makes all of that kind of insulting tomfoolery transparent.  There has always been a serious  lack of women but I believe that it can never be truly equal.  There just are not as many women as men interested.  The reason for some of that has shifted.  It used to be simple enough:  girls didn’t read comics.  That is no longer true.  Many books, and not just the ones you would assume, have larger female readership.  And it is not that women are not artists and writers.  One look at the bookstores will tell you that.  Now I wonder if it may not be the fact that there are other, more attractive mediums/markets to go into.  There is a talent drain that has happened slowly over the years from comics in the traditional mainstream sense, to other medium peripheral to the traditional comic book.  Web comics seem to have a much better ratio of men to women.  A couple of the standouts here would be Danielle Corsetto (Girls With Slingshots) and Lora Innes (The Dreamer).  In other media there is quite a draw also.  Design, book illustration art of all kinds that would draw someone, not already interested in comics further away.  In fact, I think it may be a safe bet that if someone, man or woman, is not a comic book fan to start with, they are not likely to enter the field professionally.  As the medium slowly fades away (yes, it is slowly fading away) fewer young people are influenced by it and chose it as a career path.  So there is that factor, but it does not explain this huge shift.

As I look at this more, I really do wonder if this isn’t something different.  This level of exclusion is SO out of the norm, that I wonder if it might not be deliberate.  This is not to say that I think Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Dan Didio are sitting in the dark halls of the DC compound planning ways to exclude Ms Frisson et al, but there can be an institutional mindset that can be so much a part of the industry, that even the newer blood is not immune.  It does not have to be a conscious choice to be something that is made to happen.  The “old boys” network is not just for the long serving, and it need not be worked at.  At some point, to reverse this trend, a deliberate choice to go the other way may be needed.  No, not quotas or preferential hiring.  The need for a meritocracy is still there.  Bringing in female writer “X” just because the is female does not solve the problem.  In fact, it will make it worse.  Nevermind the inevitable male backlash, the issue here is that bad books by less than stellar talent, again male or female, will drive readers and other talent away.

What is needed, I think, is a concentrated search for new talent ALL the time.  Just like any kind of marketing or recruiting, you tailor it to fit a demographic.  Just like you want to sell a car to a thirty something male with no kids and a lot of disposable income, you can target any segment of the market you want.  You can choose to bring in new talent in very much the same way.  Even the days of the old Marvel Try out book are well past, and no longer likely to be of use.  (Any one who thinks products are not marketed that specifically needs to wake the hell up!  I knew an ad guy for a car manufacturer many years ago that was quite proud of a campagne he helped design that marketed one specific model of a car to gay men over 40.  And it sold to that demo just as planned.)

I remember there was once a lot of talk about the big two recruiting in the art schools, but that never seemed to materialize.  Now you get portfolio review at cons.  The attitude that the talent will show up when needed does not bring the top talent, it brings in whatever comes through the door.  Comic as an industry has always been more than willing to cannibalize itself.  I think that comes from the trash product mentality from the earliest days of the medium, and it is unfortunately still with us.

Get it together DC.  For that matter, the entire industry.  While some publishers are better than others, and most are better than DC in this case, there is a long way to go.  The diversity created by women and men sharing the creative duties can only help comics.  This all just seems so short sighted…

 

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Just Like DC, I am starting over with a new #1!!!

Don’t worry though, I will be returning to my “legacy numbering” in a couple of years, when sales drop off or a new crossover occurs to me.

Amazing how negative the reactions to this have been so far.  Do we as fans have as short a memory as the industry as a whole?  Is there an issue of a comic this month starring “generic guy”?  Yes?  Then who cares what the numbering is?  Justice League will be starting with a new number one by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee (it will either be awful/late all the time or the most amazing 6 issue series in history).  Yes, you heard me, 6 issues before Lee either leaves or is so late there are fill ins.  I think there is amazing potential in that book.  But this is just the newest in a really long line of JLA number ones.  It is one of the worst, and that’s even before you start counting the other series that were multiple per month titles.  Birds of Prey #1?  They have not managed to get a book yet that will sell well after the 3rd issue, despite some world-class talent.  The longer Gail Simone run a while back is as close as they got , and it was always closer to the bottom than the top.  Too bad too, it has generally been one of the better DC books.

So, yes, there will be 52 new titles in September.  And if you don’t think there is significance in that number, you are drinking the wrong kool aid.  So many books have re numbered, then gone back again and again that it really makes no difference at all.  It would be news if they stopped publishing a character entirely for a few months, but even that is a rare occurrence.  Hell, even when Superman died, there were piles of Superman books!  “Yes, he is dead.  And now we are going to do one book with no Superman for one month, but he will still show up as flashbacks and memories.  Then we will tease you forever with several Supermen (4 if memory serves) and then tell you it is none of them.  BAH!  Finding change in comics that lasts is like trying to nail jello to a tree, and has always been that way.  Fans seem to think that SOME change is acceptable, but other change, that when you look at it, is identical, is bad.  If DC has said “there will be a new series of Justice League by Johns and Lee (better yet, called it “All-Star JL”) and quietly let that be the only book, no one would be saying anything but positives about it.  The other books really are not different.  You can never win by giving the fans what they want as they will always rebel against it as “not QUITE what they had in mind”.  Just as an aside, when I say “fans” I don’t mean “you”.  I mean the group of us.  All of us.  We are generally pretty smart, sensible people individually, but as a group we are short-sighted, and have no long-term memory at the best of times.  So there will be new branding on 52 character’s books.  Some of these are likely to be new books entirely, meaning an all new title for a fella that has not had a book in a while, say Deadman.  Others will be re-branding old books or the same book with a new number and creative team.  Bets will be flying as to which ones become limited runs and how quick.  If the 52 has any significance, they will likely last as long as they need to so they can move the arc along.  Believe me, this is not being done as an end unto itself, but towards another goal entirely.  I’m betting the overall number will not move much as there is a goal here.  I have no interest in Flashpoint, but what will come out of it with the reboot, has me very interested.  If only in the hope that there will be real change that sticks around for more than 10 minutes.  I know that is not likely, but like all fans, i always hope that what I am going to read next is the coolest thing I will EVER read.  Just like the one after than and so on.

One last note on the book here that CBR mentioned.  See the caption for what they sparked in my head…

Could Action #904 end up being the highest consecutively numbered book on the stands?

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