Saturday, 25 April 2015

Celebrating 75 years of Dick Grayson

Even in Speedos, he was cooler than you'll ever be.

It’s weird to think that we’ve had Dick Grayson for nearly as long as we’ve had Batman. He’s a character I grew up with. I was first introduced to him in Batman: TAS, when I only knew to call him Robin. I couldn’t help but love the character; I guess I saw so much of myself in him, or at least what I had hoped to become. He was a hero, no doubt. But unlike Batman, Dick allowed himself to smile, crack a joke, fall in love, and genuinely enjoy being a super hero because- don’t lie- you think it’d be awesome too.

When I became interested in comics, the New 52 Nightwing (volume 1) was the first DC trade I bought and I fell in love with the character all over again. He again, became relatable as hell and still exhibited all of those character traits I admired. The guy has become iconic to the DC. You say “Batman and...” and you’ll never have people say “Superman” as their first answer.
Which makes me confused. Is DC celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary? By announcing a threequel to The Dark Knight Returns- a series that has nothing to do with Dick Grayson.
I know what people are going to say “He’s a sidekick. What did you expect, the same attention as Batman?”
Well, yes.
See, Dick isn’t just a sidekick. He was the sidekick. The original sidekick. The reason sidekicks abound so much today. Not just that, he was the sidekick to do it all. He founded superhero teams like the Teen Titans, he went out on his own as Nightwing and even took up the mantle of Batman. Sorry, Tim Drake fans, but there was only one sidekick in the DCU to successfully become the character that trained him.
My point is that Grayson’s worth celebrating. So how do we do it? Well, here’s my suggestions:
Nightwing: The Series
 
Fan Films are a mixed bunch, the bad ones are so very bad. The good ones are… usually, only pretty good, but when you see what else is out there, the ones that are just good become worth celebrating. Nightwing: The Series is one of those; it’s got great camera and is visually stunning and, in fact, is only let down by the poor dialogue. The series is still thoroughly entertaining, and worth a look on a day like today.
Well… there are these things called comics...
In all forms, he rocked.
What? You mean the things like movies, but are actually semi well-written? Yeah, they still exist. And luckily, there’s plenty of books to read if you want to celebrate Dick Grayson. If you like him as Robin, there are the classic The Batman Chronicles. Prefer him as Nightwing? Not only is the N52  series in TPB print, but DC is reprinting the Pre-52 series in TPBs that are absolutely packed. Grayson is set to hit TPB soon, but you can still catch up on digital.
Whatever you do, celebrate the character. He’s well worth celebrating.

Friday, 24 April 2015

All-New X-Men Vol 3: Out of Their Depth (Marvel NOW!) Review


All-New X-Men Vol.3: Out of Their Depth (Marvel NOW!)
So many circles...
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Stuart Immonen and David Lauente

Collects: All-New X-Men #11-15

Background Information:

The X-Men have been Marvel’s whooping boy for many years, now; and not just because Marvel doesn’t own the movie rights. A few years ago, the entire mutant population was reduced to one-hundred-or-so. This made everyone a bit tense to the point where the X-Men split into factions led by Wolverine and Cyclops. After the team fought the Avengers (in an event called The X-Men are Stupid so Stop Liking Them Avengers Vs. X-Men), Cyclops decided to become far more militant. He’s hiding from the authorities and being rather violent. Wolverine’s X-Men don’t like that so Beast brought the original five X-men from back in time to now. And that has resulted in no problems whatsoever.

Pfft… sorry, can’t keep a straight face there.

Review:

I’ll admit, I’m a little bitter about what Marvel is doing to the X-Men. It’s childish, stupid and I can’t think of a single person who thinks that the Inhumans are a suitable replacement for mutants in the Marvel universe. On the other hand, it’s let Brian Michael Bendis do what he does best; write character-focussed drama with great dialogue instead of bang-kaboom-crash action.

In Out of Their Depth, old Cyclops takes one of the original X-Men with him. I won’t spoil it, but  
those who have read the first volume of Uncanny X-Men will know who it is straight away. This raises quite a few concerns within the team and everyone’s feeling more than a little unsettled. In the meantime, a group of mutants consisting of Mystique, Sabretooth and Lady Mastermind are finally revealing what they’ve been planning to do with all their money, and the All-New X-Men need to stop them.

Wolverine's the best at what he does. What he does isn't
fight Magneto.
Art’s always been a strong point for All-New X-Men. Stuart Immonen has had a real talent for drawing awe-inspiring feats of power, and that doesn’t let up here. We see the phoenix force, psychic powers, magnetism and various other powers in all their chaotic glory. Each power seems to burst out of the page and lends a sense of epicness to the whole volume. The real treat though, is in issue 15, where David Lafuente takes over. I like it when artists are chosen for the sole fact that they suit the story, and that happens here. Bendis’ character drama is complimented perfectly by Lafuente’s adorable chubby little faces. Never have the young X-Men looked as innocent as they are here, and it’s fantastic.

Of all the All-New X-Men volumes thus far, none have milked emotions the same way that Bendis does in Out of Their Depth. This volume sees young Beast confess his crush on young Jean Grey, said young Jean Grey develop a greater friendship with Kitty Pryde and Iceman make friends with humans. People laugh, cry and get genuinely freaked out. Probably the best of these moments, though, is young Cyclops being reunited with his brother, Havoc, who now leads the Uncanny Avengers. There’s a real tenderness to the whole scene, and it one of those rare happy moments in a franchise defined by the “hated and feared” tagline. There are plenty of scenes here that are so dripping with warm fuzzies that occasionally you need to check the cover of the book to make sure you’re not reading a comic based on 7th Heaven or Gilmore Girls.

One of the best things about this volume, though, is that we finally get to see the end of a particular story arc. Namely, what’s been going on Mystique and Co. It’s a pretty inconsequential story, with no real impact on anything or anyone, but it gives us something the last volume was missing; action that was important to the plot. It’s also genuinely funny, as the fight mostly revolves around two characters- Jean Grey and Lady Mastermind- who constantly try to win by making the other team hallucinate. That doesn’t sound particularly funny, until you consider that Jean Grey is only just getting a grip on her powers, so she send hallucinations to the wrong people, the lines between hallucination and reality get blurred enough for characters to stick their foot in it, and there are just some great results to the whole thing.

Awww... you just wanna' pinch their lil' cheeks!
That said, this is a story that still feels like it’s about to get somewhere. For a third volume, this is a bad thing. Usually, Marvel trades spend the first volume pushing character development and planting the seeds of stories to come, so that the following trades can let those seeds grow. In Out of Their Depth, I couldn’t help but feel like someone planted those seeds in concrete, because there is very little growing here.

I think the trick to enjoying Out of Their Depth, or any other All-New X-Men trade is to treat it as a window into the lives of its characters. You do that, and you’ll find that the book is well worth its four and out of five straight faces.

****

+ Character development is a joy to read.

+ A story arc finally ends, and is really fun to read.

+ Art continues to be phenomenal.

- Series doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere.

Alternate Option: Uncanny X-Men: Revolution

Here’s what the other Cyclops-led X-Men are doing, savvy?

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Beating a Dead Horse: The Batgirl Cover


Love the costume, love the attitude, HATE the selfies.
Okayyy… I’ve avoided this topic for a while.

That’s because it deals with a thorny issue. It’s not one that I want to sound too dismissive on, but it’s also one that I know people have very staunch opinions on. But here it goes…

The Batgirl cover.

You know the one.
Admittedly, it's a little horrific.
.
.Yes, THAT one.

So, the full story was that this was announced to be a variant cover for Batgirl #41. While some saw the cover as an accurate homage to much-loved piece of Bat-Family history, The Killing Joke, plenty were upset by the cover; claims that the cover endorsed rape culture, and was generally anti-feminist. Naturally, plenty of anger ensued with both sides chanting repetitive, asinine slogans at each other, ridiculing those who.

Now, the central problem I see here isn’t one of feminism, even though feminism has a part in the debate. It’s about semantics and the act of making meaning. See, although high-schoolers desperate to get out of doing work (I’m a high school teacher; they try to get out of work) try to argue author intent, meaning making actually fall mostly on the shoulders of the consumer; not the creator. In short, the creator supplies particular symbols and it is up to the consumer to decide what all of these symbols mean. As a result, interpreting what this cover “means” is something that cannot be achieved objectively. It is impossible to take something created to elicit an emotional response, apply an interpretation that can only be based on your personal thoughts, feelings and experiences (regardless of what that interpretation is) and then call it objective. That’s not how art works. That’s not how ANY art form works.

With that in mind, I think the decision to pull the cover was a wise one. Not from an artistic standpoint (that the cover does or doesn’t promote rape can’t be objectively proved), but a financial one; there was reasonable doubt that the product would sell, so why put money into printing it? THAT’S a way that you can objectively say that pulling the cover was a wise idea. But it was made wise; it wasn’t necessarily wise to begin with.


A better option than some I've heard.
I’ve heard a few arguments about this cover, and I’m not sure that they were good reasons to pull the cover. Let’s start with the “endorsing rape” argument, since that seems to be the most logical. I can see where those making this argument are coming from; it is a dreadful reminder of the sexual abuse committed by the Joker. That said, to say that it “endorses” rape is like saying that The Empire Strikes Back “endorses” chopping off people’s hands. That the act was repulsive, there’s no doubt. But that’s the point: it was repulsive. Such and act is supposed to be sickening, and I think the vast majority of the population agree that sexual abuse is evil. So, yes, the cover makes reference to sexual abuse. But endorsing it? It’s a bit or a sad assessment of the human race to think that a normal person will look at this cover and immediately think “Welp, Imma’ go rape now!”

All the same, I can understand the concern. The second argument, though, is what gets me: apparently, it doesn’t suit the new Batgirl. Again, this is a personal interpretation, but it shows that saying it doesn’t suit the new series isn’t exactly objective. The Killing Joke has been central to the character of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. The post-traumatic-stress-disorder that followed has been a staple in who she is. What’s more, it was actually referenced in the first story arc of the new run. Not just referenced, but a major part of the plot. There was room for this cover in the new Batgirl, and it’s a shame that this gets ignored because of something that can’t possibly be considered objective (again, because consuming an art form is not an objective experience).

Again, though, cancelling the cover was wise. It was a good PR move from DC and it avoided the dreaded label of “misogynist” that would inevitably follow. Like I said though, it’s a thorny issue. The kind that wasn’t going to end well for everyone, regardless of the result.

I know it’s an old issue, and probably a dead one, but I wanted the heat to die off before giving my opinion.

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Flash Vol. 4: Reverse (The New 52) Review

The Flash Vol. 4: Reverse (The New 52) Review
Yep, it's one of those "make you one colour"
lightening bolts
Writers: Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato
Artists: Francis Manapul, Scott Hepburn and Chris Sprouse
Collects: The Flash #20-25 and The Flash #23.2: Reverse-Flash.
Background Information:
Manapul and Buccellato’s The Flash is a run that hasn’t really ended any story arc at all. It started when the Flash discovered that the speed force messes with time and space. It’s taken him to Gorilla City and back to fight the Rogues and then to fight inhabitants of said Gorilla City, led by Grodd.
Yeah, he’s done heaps of fighting.
Review:
And in Reverse, it’s all over… sort of….
See, Brian Buccellato is staying on the title for one more volume after this, but Manapul has moved on to draw Detective Comics, which Buccellato is also drawing, and, judging on the next volume, he’s taken his toys and gone home. All of the plot elements you cared about up til this point are wrapped up and, even though the wrapping up doesn’t make for stories that are quite as effective as the previous volumes, you can’t help but like it.
Don't tell me those aren't toenails. Those ARE toenails.
So Barry Allen, fast-running superhero and possibly the only blonde dude in the DCU, has been inside the speed force, and taken a few people back with him. Those people found that they had super powers and were promptly killed by a red guy with what looks like black toenails growing all over him. This “Reverse Flash” wants control of the speed force all to himself for reasons that I shan’t spoil.
Okay, so the first thing you’ll be thinking to yourself as you read Reverse is “why didn’t they do this sooner?”
From guest starrinig Kid Flash, to hinting at Jesse Quick, to strongly suggesting a hint of romance between Barry and Iris West, it all seems like stuff that should have been in earlier volumes, but somehow wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, everything here feels like it belongs, but it also feels so natural that there seems little reason not to have had this earlier.
 And that’s not a real criticism because if there’s one thing Manapul and Buccellato have gotten right, it’s that characterisation. The Reverse Flash we get in this volume feels intensely humanised, and you can’t help but feel sorry for him; even though he’s a murderous psychopath. Barry is intensely likeable to the point where you even like his “boringness”. Patty Spivot is great relationship material for Barry; and the two have this fantastic chemistry together without diminishing Iris West’s character in the least.
Not Wally West, but okay...
The art in Reverse continues to be fantastic it’s great to see a book that is written purely to look pretty, and that’s exactly what first impressions of Reverse are. This book, plain and simple, isn’t gonna be the same without Manapul’s art, and that is an absolute, crying shame.
But there’s one thing I can’t forgive Manapul and Buccellato for, and that’s the end of the major story arc. The team spends so much energy and effort building up this great sense of tension, and then, it’s like they suddenly forgot what was going to happen and rushed an ending with what they could think of in the last minute. The crossover into the Batman: Zero Year arc feels both unnecessary and shameless as an advertisement to the team’s upcoming Detective Comics arc.
Reverse is a decent send-off for Manapuul and Buccellato and gets a four out of five black toenails.
****
+ Great Characterisation
+ Art. Is. Beautiful.
- Disappointing end.
Alternate Option: The Flash: Move Forward
Read this. Just read it.

Monday, 30 March 2015

My take on the feminism in comics debate, part 1: Female Thor


Hemsworth after shaving
There are two recent events in comics that have me scratching my head. Events headed, or praised, by people who profess feminism. The claim here is that totally approving of these events constitutes feminism, whereas anything but constitutes misogyny.

That’s a problematic dichotomy; mostly because feminism, in my understanding of the term, is a terribly diverse school of thought. You have feminists who complain that a sexualised character is “pandering to male desires” making arguments with feminists who may celebrate a character in her “strong, independent sexuality”. Many contemporary feminists argue that abortion is a woman’s right, but the founding feminists actually argued against it, claiming that it allowed men to have their way with women without having to face the responsibility of child-raising. It’s not a uniform position.

I’ve heard two major definitions of feminism in my time; one says that it’s about campaigning for the rights of women in a male-dominated society (fair enough), another says that it’s about empowering feminine qualities (eg. compassion, emotionality; also, fair enough).

My problem is, I’m not sure that either of these comic moments are feminist, by either definition. Let's start with the older moment first;

Feminist Thor

So, apparently, the new female Thor is outselling the previous Thor: God of Thunder. That’s good, I’m proud of them for revitalising the character and shaking up the status quo in a way that allows for Thor to be an essentially new character (though her identity hasn’t been revealed), and happy that it’s selling well. Shows bold decision-making pays off.

But the internet are calling female Thor a feminist.

Really?

I’m currently on the third issue of my Thor reading, and, honestly, I don’t see how she’s a feminist. According to either definition that I’ve listed above, I don’t think she is. Has she done anything that furthers the cause of women? Not by Thor #3, she hasn’t (even if it is a woman holding the hammer, other women don’t seem to benefit any more than they did from a male holding it). Has she empowered feminine attributes? Certainly none but the physical (she clearly has breasts- but those aren’t the attributes I have in mind). In fact, in terms of attitude, she’s almost indistinguishable from a male. If it weren’t for the female figure, I would have thought the new Thor was Peter Parker.

But then there’s this scene, which I know is in issue five, which seems to “make” her a feminist.


“THERE!” you say, “She defended feminism! That makes her a feminist!”

Does it?

I would argue no, she’s done nothing with that comment to help the plight of women or to empower the feminine. Yes, I know, she let's the Absorbing Man know that it was a woman who beat him, but that does little more than benefit her, rather that women in general. What she seems to be doing is approving and supporting feminism. That makes you a supporter of feminism; not a feminist by association. And that’s fine; I consider myself a feminism supporter even though I’ve done nothing to advance the role of women. I have other problems with the above scene, but that’s another article entirely. In the meantime, can’t we just be happy about the character being female without being a technical “feminist”?

Next time… I talk about the Batgirl cover. Yes, THAT Batgirl cover.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Diversity in Comics: You're ALL wrong!

Everyone's catching the vibe

Diversity’s been a big issue for the last few years for the comics community. It’s had so many different arguments for and against it that it’s become impossible to follow either one. What’s worse is that neither of them are particularly “right”. What follows are three arguments from each sides of the issue, as well as the reasons why those arguments are plain stupid.

The “Anti-Diversities”

Why don’t they just make new diverse characters?


Know this guy? Nope, me neither.
The answer to that’s simple: There’s no money in it. You make a new diverse character, and you have to set that name up. If you want to know why this kind of thing hasn’t been done before, look at Scarlet Spider. There just isn’t that brand name there, so it’s difficult for new, diverse characters to get their foot in the door. It’s far easier to make Captain America black, or Thor female, where that brand name can support the diversity. I can hardly blame them for choosing an easier route.
... just ...

This is nothing more than pandering to the PC police!

Pc police, SJWs, the verbal minority, call it what you want; it means the same thing, and it’s rubbish. Look at the sales for female Thor as opposed to male Thor (with the former outselling the latter). You can debate the reason people are buying it all you want, it’s proof that diversity is selling at least as well with the majority as it is with anyone else. Readers want new things done, and maintaining a vice grip on the past can and will stop any enjoyment you may get from a title.

Why don’t we just make Black Panther white, huh?

Apparently, a comic about white Black Panther exists... by
Brian K. Vaugh no less... only as a joke, though.
This kind of comment has come in response to Michael B Jorden as the Human Torch. It’s stupid, because this isn’t a change to the source material, just to a movie version that doesn’t even exist yet.

Well, you say, let’s just change the movie version. But there’s a problem to that, too. Black Panther is an African. White Africans notwithstanding, the dominant race in Africa is still dark-skinned. America, the birthplace of Human Torch, is more multi-racial, the change isn’t as big a slap to Torch’s heritage as a race change for Black Panther would be.
Do I even need to bring this up?

The “Pro-Diversities”

White males have 100% owned comics until NOW!

Actually, 100% is an overstatement. Black Panther was created in the 70s, Batgirl as far back as the 60s, Storm was on the X-Men by the 80s- there was diversity before 2010, and to pretend there wasn’t is ridiculous. There’s no simpler argument than that. It’s silly to blame the straight white male for a lack that never existed.

The only way to bring diversity into comics is to race change!


The only way?
Okay, earlier I said that this was the easiest way to get diversity into comics. By no means did I say that it was the only one, or even the most effective. My advice? Bring non-white, non-male characters into the foreground without changing the race of established heroes. Make Black Panther the leader of the Avengers. Let me be clear; the Avengers- not the Mighty Avengers, not the New Avengers, not the East Coast Avengers, but the actual, adjectiveless Avengers! In the same way, the Justice League doesn’t really need Batman or Superman on the team; why not pass the reigns over to Cyborg or Batwoman? Why not get the best writers on these diverse titles (a Grant Morrison-led Mr. Terrific; you’re welcome, internet)? There are plenty of great ways to bring diversity to the front of the big two beyond a palette swap!

There’s nothing about Character X that is particularly white

Hey, Look: A black Spidey
that isn't Peter Parker!
I most recently saw this from Dan Slott when discussing a black Peter Parker for the MCU. And I can sorta see where he’s going. There’s nothing particularly white about being a science geek, poor, or down on your luck. If Spidey only existed in prose novels, that argument would be fine. After all, in Hollywood’s version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Ford Prefect was cast as a black man and it was fine.

But this is comics. They’re a visual medium, and Peter Parker has always been portrayed white (and yes, this doesn’t bother me with Johnny Storm for some reason; no idea why). To say that this doesn’t matter is to ignore the creative input of the artist, and hold the writer up as the only contributor to the comic storytelling process. That’s bad for artists and bad for the industry as a whole. To be totally honest, people saying the above bolded comment should be ashamed.

So there you go; my attempt at being reasonable while putting hopefully everyone to shame rather than just the ones I agree with.

Who do I agree with?

Guess you’ll never know.

New Warrirors Volume 1: The Kids Are All Fight (Marvel NOW!) Review


New Warriors Volume 1: The Kids Are All Fight

Chances bloooowwwwn,
Nothing's freeeeeee,
Longing foooooooorrrrr,
Used to beeeeeeeee!
Writers: Christopher Yost

Artists: Marcus To and Nick Roche

Collects: New Warriors #1-6 and material from The Amazing Spider-Man #1

Background Information:

The New Warriors are HARDLY the most popular superhero team in the Marvel universe; they destroyed the entire of Stamford, Connecticut which started the super-hero Civil War.

In the real world, they’ve never exactly been front-and-centre of Marvel’s going-ons, and therefore, haven’t earned much mainstream attention. As such, a fresh start was entirely plausible for the team. All you need to know for this book is that Kaine Parker, Spider-Man’s clone, has taken on the role of Scarlet Spider and is hiding in Mexico.

Review:

Y’know, sometimes Marvel just makes me mad.

We’ve had, in Marvel NOW!, what; eight Avengers titles? Nine X-Men ones? We’re set to have three Inhumans books, and somehow justified three Wolverines?

Yet New Warriors, one not directly connected with any of these gets cancelled? It’s not even bad; which is more than I could say for schlock like Uncanny Avengers (at least, if the first volume is anything to go by). Oh well, that’s Marvel for you.

Still does whatever a Spider-Man wouldn't
If you want to get technical, The Kids Are All Fight spins out of Infinity, but it’s hardly central to the story. The High Evolutionary, an odd man in a metal suit is out to destroy all altered humans- mutants, clones, inhumans, atlantians, cosmic, magical or scientifically-altered people and demigods are all on the chopping block to the evolutionaries. Naturally a team consisting of exactly one of each of these kinds of people (excluding magical) forms: Justice, Sun-Girl, Faira Sar Namora of Atlantis, an inhuman named Haechi, Speedball, Nova, Scarlet Spider and Hummingbird. Their mission is to stop the mass genocide of multiple races.

I’ll be honest; I bought this one because I thought it was going to be a continuation of Yost’s Scarlet Spider series, and to a certain point, it is. That said, it’s more of a team book than anything else in Marvel’s line up. We flit between multiple characters, and get a really good taste of what their all about. Yost is, in my opinion, an underrated comics writer. He’s given each character a very distinct personality and his dialogue is fun to read. What makes him better than most industry heavyweights, however, like Brian Michael Bendis, is that his character development doesn’t come at the expense of action, but rather because of it. Fights change these characters and it’s great to see in The Kids Are All Fight.

I’ll admit, the first story arc in this series is much better than the second, which feels a lot like filler, and doesn’t add a whole lot to the team. There are some funny moments here, which I appreciated, but Yost ignores some of the bigger mysteries surrounding the group in favour of this, which I found annoying more than anything.

There’s no way you’re going to write home about anything in this book’s artwork. It’s fairly standard fare that does its job well, but nothing more. I can’t think of a single moment in New Warriors that made me stand up and say “THAT looks awesome”. That said, it’s hardly ugly. You’ll notice the distinct lack of Greg Land in the credits.

Yep, it's a fun book.
All in all, New Warrirors Volume 1: The Kids Are All Fight is an entertaining volume, and it’s a crying shame that Marvel is calling an end to the series while keeping the awful Uncanny Avengers going. It gets a three out of five Wolverines.

***

+ Nice balance of characters.

+ Action and dialogue blend well.

- Last story arc is less impressive.

Alternate Option: Scarlet Spider: Life After Death
Another Yost gem.