Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Jim's Comic Reviews:  Justice League #13

Okay, so it's been a while since I picked up a new Justice League comic besides thumbing through one at Captain Blue Hen.  I came off the reboot last year confused and disillusioned with the series, unable to put together a simple sequence that explained the book's overall timeline. This was exacerbated somewhat by Jim Lee's work on the title, where I would look at a given two-page spread and think, "looks great!", but a page or two later, and I'd be wondering what was going on.  It was as if the characters were well-crafted but inarticulate action figures traipsing through backgrounds that were just too full of imposing heroes to convince me the world was greater than the space between the gutters. Superman doesn't fly, he poses in the narrow sky.  Batman doesn't tumble, he's too busy holding up the margins of the page with his shoulders.  Aquaman doesn't swim, he's holding back the tide by standing in front of it, heroically brandishing a trident or something.  Too many flashbacks being the main course, there was not enough meat on offer, story-wise or art-wise, to justify my cash.

This brings us to issue #13, where a pleasant surprise awaited me, in the form of some very solid pencils by Mr. Tony Daniel, and some tight storytelling by Geoff Johns.  This issue explores the recent lips-smacked-round-the-world between Superman and Wonder Woman, re-introduces Cheetah not only as a capable nemesis for Wonder Woman, but a challenge for the entire league assembled, and features a back-up story centered around lovesick Steve Trevor that hints at things to come.  Overall, a competent effort by Johns that, while it's not going to win any awards, was a right-sized chunk of episodic fun and brought enough entertainment for me.

What got me about the issue's art is the cinematic nature of it.  Tony's never been a go-to artist for me, but reading this issue, I'm wondering why.  He seems to have all the good bits of Jim Lee down:  The characters are as heroic and imposing as Lee's own rendering, but he maintains a tight control over the space they take up in the panel, and the timing imparted by the panel size and action therein.  Action-wise, Wonder Woman and Cheetah, the two major combatants, slug it out with the battle moving from panel to gracefully rendered panel fluidly, and there seems to be no snapshot in time Daniel can't convincingly render them frozen in motion. There's an eye for environments at work, and attention to the movement of the chess pieces, and the world seems larger for it.  When things slow down, the facial expressions contain nuances of performance to do any actor proud, particularly the glances shared between Wonder Woman and Superman, and the combination of grudging respect and rivalry between Batman and Aquaman.

The issue comes off as having just the right amount of character development, exposition, and action for this title and flagship-worthy art, and I came away well satisfied with the read.

This is the Justice League I was looking for.  4/5 stars.      

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Jim's Comic Reviews, Batgirl #13

Batgirl #13 picks up where #12 left off.  The issue opens to find Barbara nearly incapacitated from a knife-wound inflicted by Knightfall in the previous issue, desperately clinging to consciousness as her attacker continues to press the fight.

This issue serves as a wrap-up to the Knightfall storyline and lead-in to the Death of the Family crossover event, and is a collaborative writing effort from Batgirl's regular writer Gail Simone, and Scott Snyder who helms the crossover.  As a tie-in to DotF, however, you only get a single page...and that's fine.  Ms. Simone has hit her running stride with this character in this story, and there's no sense in derailing it for the sake of the tie-in, regardless of my faith in Snyder's storytelling.  It seems Mr. Snyder and co. are accounting for the needs of the story as it exists over the desire for crossover sales or creative hubris, which is refreshing.  

The art in this issue is very good.  Benes is proving a welcome addition as penciller and inker to the title, having recently put forward a rather elegant effort with the #0 issue of same.  Although there is that tendency to place the camera rather strategically to showcase Barbara's lady parts, it's only a few panels, and it's a far cry from the blatant cheesecake of Benes' early days on Birds of Prey in the old DCU. Further, we're getting a lot more emotional depth and eye for tone and pacing than we did back then.  What comes through here is the strong, determined, and committed character Simone is writing, not the fact she has a cool outfit that's a color change away from nudity.  For example, Benes spends a protracted sequence of several panels to depict Barbara fighting her way to her feet after nearly succumbing to unconsciousness, and the fatigue, pain and determination to succeed at all costs to herself are all brutally evident in her expression, the slowed pacing really bringing it into focus.  This is the kind of close-quarters combat where Benes' work shines.  In the past, I've had problems with his seeming inability to do the sort of wide-angle establishing shots frequently needed for an ensemble title without making characters look out of place or not in touch with their environments...I think he does much better on a solo book like Batgirl, and look forward to more of same. His work as an inker is also looking rather layered and gives the book a textured look that lends to its gritty, hard-hitting gravitas.  As colorist, Arreola gives us a competent delivery that never strays far from realism, but lends to the sort of episodic crime-drama feel Simone's writing goes for.  Like the pencils, it's going for story, not gimmicks or pretense.

So yes, I recommend the book, especially to fans of the character that perhaps didn't make the leap across the reboot based on earlier issues in the title.  4 out of 5 stars.