Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Random Comic Thoughts!

These are not going to be proper reviews, but just idle thoughts that came to me as I sat down with my mountainous DCB Service shipment.  As usual, I will probably spoil the excrement out of them, even while failing to actually review them.  So buckle up for that.

Detective Comics # 876

Yup, I'm officially in love.  Scott Snyder's Detective Comics is everything you imagined this book should have been, but probably never was.  It's smart, deftly written crime stories where Batman does actual detective work, and Gotham City acts as a kind of dark supporting character.

Virginia Woolf once said that Jane Austen was the most difficult of the great writers to catch in the act of greatness.  That's how I feel about Snyder's work on Detective.  There are no A-HA! moments that slap you in the face with their grandiosity, no mind-bending plot twists, no can't-believe-they-just-said-that-one-liners to dazzle you into crowning Snyder writing royalty.  

Which is not to say that I think he's incapable of these things.  What I'm saying is that what he's accomplished is probably more rare - he builds his stories in such a pitch perfect manner that you have no choice but to enter a state of deep and quiet satisfaction, and you have no idea how the hell he did it unless you're a freak like me and you backtrack and start looking at the nuts and bolts.

I think the key to it is that Snyder simply has a plan.  I think he sat down, looked at the pieces and said "I'm going to tell grounded human stories, and this is Gotham, so they're going to be dark."  Then he did it.

I think he looked at his main character and recognized that this is Dick, not Bruce.  Excellent observation!  What can we do with Dick that we can't do with Bruce?  Well, in this issue the case involves a relative of Anthony "Fats" Zucco, the man who killed Dick's parents.  That goes to character and tone.  It's a part of this particular protagonists history, and it serves the idea that Gotham tends to haunt.

Snyder also has Commissioner Gordon ask Dick to assess his son, who is pretty obviously bent and criminally creepy.  That serves to propel a thread from last issue forward, and it adds depth to both characters.

Would Gordon take something like that to Bruce?  I suppose it's a matter of opinion, but I think not.  I think Gordon would assume Bruce had a handle on it without him asking, and I also think Gordon would lose face bringing that to Bruce.  It would make him part of the problem.  But this is a new Batman, and that brings a new dynamic to this relationship.  And Snyder was able to build with that in a manner that makes the story more interesting, and doesn't smash you over the head with it like a hammer.

Detective isn't perfect.  I think the little speech about Batman refusing to fly overhead because you'll be blind-sided by the city if you don't stay on top of it was a little over-written.  When Batman falls in the death trap at the end of the issue, it's not entirely clear how that happened.  You can nitpick flaws if you put your mind to it.

More important is the fact that there was a killer whale sitting in a bank with a dead body in it, and that the body spilled out just as Gordon was finishing up talking about his creepy-ass son. It's more important that Batman was solving the case while perhaps being emotionally compromised by the Zucco elements.  It's more important that the tone is correct, and that all the moving parts of the story structure flow in such a manner that you never notice them except to wonder at the end why all comics can't read so smoothly.

I don't think he's lucking into any of this, folks.  It's all by design, and we can expect a lot of really good comics from Scott Snyder.

Actually, that might have been a review of Detective # 876, which just means that I'm a liar, which most of you are already comfortable with.

Iron Man 2.0 # 4

My great affection for Nick Spencer is well documented at this point, but I have to say that Iron Man 2.0 # 4 is a tutorial on how not to write a comic book.  It's not dull, or overly confusing, or anything like that.  It's a kind of backstory character study on the book's first villain, and it's not a bad idea.  It just doesn't make for a good comic book.

Here's what this issue amounts to:

Rhodes sends Kayleigh Harrison into the Dept. of Defense to look at Palmer Addley's secret files. She trades a couple of Spencerian verbal jabs with a cranky archive caretaker.  Then we get a bunch of four panel facial expressions as various subjects orbiting Addley comment about his state of mind.  These interview chunks are laced with no less than four double splashes depicting various scenes painted by the interviews.  Then Harrison walks out of the archives, I would guess convinced that Addley is a damaged nut job that probably should have been diagnosed and dealt with a long time ago.  The end.

The only point we ever see Jim Rhodes or the War Machine is on the cover.  Matter of fact, Tony Stark gets more overt attention in this book than Rhodes.  To me, this is just a textbook case of trying too hard. Nobody knows the terrible burden of being clever more than I, but this is just too much.

Comic books were not born to let talking heads run their yap and mug for Olivetti's camera for four panels a  page.  And double splash pages should be reserved for when Galactus is cracking the planet in half, not to show a sad guy sitting in empty bleachers. I think a novel could handle those interviews rather nicely.  You could add Harrison's interior responses to each session, and I think that could hold interest.  As a comic, Iron Man 2.0 # 4 just sort of sits there and slaps you in the face with how avant garde it's attempting to be.

I guess maybe a gambit like this could work if it were to cast novel new light on a really established character.  I could see that.  But to have these bit players mug for Olivetti's camera about a villain we don't really care about yet...I consider this issue to be a little self indulgent, and a serious momentum killer.  You get twelve shots a year, at best.  There's just no time for showing off unless it really pays off.

It did not pay off for me, and I would say that I am done with this book.  I'm never leaving Morning Glories or Thunder Agents, although I suspect Thunder Agents is going to leave me.  But I think this one is me bidding Iron Man 2.0 adieu.

Avengers Academy # 12

The gist of this story is that The Collector's daughter somehow pulls future, adult versions of the Academy back to this particular past to deal with Korvac, who as usual, is trying to ruin literally everything.

So the kids minds are loaded into these adult alternate bodies chosen for their peak attributes.  This is the kind of stuff that happens in superhero comics, so it's best that you not roll your eyes but instead just roll with it.  Or go read Blankets or Driven By Lemons or something, you always have that option.

There are some cheap ramifications at the end.  At least half of Veil's problems are solved, which probably makes her half as interesting.  I guess we'll have to wait and see.  Maybe this spurs her to come out of her shell a bit and she gets more interesting.  Reptil manages to maintain his adult form, and he's the only one.  It will be interesting to see how the others treat him now that he's the "one of these things not like the others" now.

But without question, the best thing that came out of that aftermath was a quiet moment between Mettle and Hazmat to close the issue.  The other kids are much more able to pose as "normal".  Mettle is stuck in that horrifying exoskeleton, and Hazmat has to remain in her suit or risk killing anyone she comes in contact with.  Veil used to be in that club to a large extent, because she wasn't terribly corporeal.  But her contact with Korvac largely fixed that, and so now the Big Losers club is down to two.

And even though Hazmat has continuously spurned any attempts to bond with other people, Mettle has a heart so big that he just can't help but continue to try.  And so you have this scene on the couch where he offers Hazmat a seat next to him on the couch without her helmet on, because he's really the only person who can survive it:

And that's why I love comics.  Mettle ends the issue by saying "Me, too", which is just..perfect.  You could try and make a case that this is just melodrama, but I disagree.  Or if it is melodrama, then give me more of that.  That moment is so absolutely organic given what happened in the issue, and we've gotten to know these characters well enough in the prior eleven installments that I think Gage earned every penny of that moment.

In case you hadn't noticed, Avengers Academy is the best of the Avengers books.  And it's the cheapest.  Go figure.

- Ryan


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