2.10.10 Reviews (Part 1)
Batman & Robin #8 (DC): It’s sort of painful to revel in that Frank Quitely cover, particularly his rendition of Batwoman, and then crack it open to realize once again that he’s not conducting the interior art. But alas… Cam Stewart is really good, better than last issue it seems. I think the dark inks help tremendously. The dark inks help portray the dark deeds that the Bible of Crime prophesies. The issue is really just an extended fight sequence that sets up the final conflict in the next issue; it leaves us with two different types of cliffhangers, which are equally interesting. One we can assume is a showdown between Damian and the (spoiler alert) undead clone copy of Bruce that Darkseid has apparently been conducting genetic experiments on, trying to create an army(?). The other involves an on-the-fly plan that Dick and an injured Kate hatch up, which spins out of a really heart-wrenching scene between the two of them. They’ve not worked terribly closely together in any of the books I’ve read, and I have to say that they’re my favorite two characters in the Bat-Mythos, so I’m open to more like that, please. If that’s all the story really does, Stewart deserves the balance of the credit here with some fantastic moments. I loved the shot done almost in silhouette of the four heroes standing in front of a glowing Lazarus Pit. I really enjoyed the almost subliminal flash of the Darkseid panel, short choppy rough cuts are a gamble, but this one pays off. There’s the taser to the face, the surprised horror on Alfred’s face as he mutters “Master Richard…” or the silent images that speak volumes, like the helicopter landing with Damian on board. The dichotomy between the art and the tone of the script is really interesting to me. Superficially, Cameron Stewart’s art boasts a more lighthearted quality, but the juxtaposition of it against a darker more serious script yields a result which is an ominous and sinister overtone full of suspense, dread, and excited anticipation over what’s coming next. Grade A.
S.W.O.R.D. #4 (Marvel): Let’s chat for a minute about why S.W.O.R.D. failed as a series. I think it’s interesting to do a post-mortem and see what observations can be made. Now, I don’t mean this with any disrespect, but unless you read Phonogram, Kieron Gillen isn’t really a big name writer that a large percentage of the typical Marvel readership would be familiar with. I read and liked Phonogram; I’m not denigrating his skill or the work, just making an observation that he’s not considered a “hot” writer by whatever arbitrary standard the masses follow. Similarly, unless you were a big fan of Matt Fraction’s Five Fists of Science which came out a few years ago, Steven Sanders is not a “hot” artist. I’m not saying he’s not talented, I enjoy his work and own that particular book; I’m saying that the general population isn’t familiar with him and therefore his name isn’t much of a draw for the majority of the potential audience. Abigail Brand, former Director of S.W.O.R.D., is ostensibly the lead character in this series, but if you happened to miss the latter half of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men run, then her name would be largely unfamiliar to you as well. Even if you do remember her, it doesn’t help matters that the Astonishing X-Men run ended over a year ago (with gigantic delays before that last issue), so any momentum of interest that had been banked on this really cool new character has been largely lost at this point. The book just didn’t hit the street when interest was optimal and Marvel seems to have missed the window, not striking while the iron was at its hottest, when this would have been a front-of-mind property. Now, I’m an atypical reader. I read Phonogram and was familiar with Kieron Gillen’s work both in and out of comics, I read Five Fists of Science and was waiting for Sanders’ next project, and I was also a big fan of the Astonishing X-Men run and had fond (albeit distant) memories of Abigail Brand. The series was, for the most part, critically praised. Sure, I read the stray critic who may have had minor issues with the art style or a bit of clunky dialogue here and there, but for the most part the book was well received. I would argue that critics and bloggers are atypical as well in their appreciation. For the average comic book reader trudging down to the LCS every week, what they would have seen from their perspective – and that’s the financial one that counts – is a new Marvel book with an attractive first couple of covers thanks to John Cassaday (score one!), but with a writer they’d not heard of (lose one!), an artist they’d not heard of (lose one!), and a lead character they didn’t know anything about (lose one!). If that’s the case, all you have left to entice readers is the casual flip test, in which case a potential buyer would have seen some c-list characters like Death’s Head, Henry Gyrich, or Lockheed (lose one!). The only other recognizable character is Beast, who is a b-lister (sorry Beast, but it’s true) depicted as the controversial sullied-visage-love-it-or-hate-it-cat-goat-hybrid. The first issue had an appealing Kitty Pryde tease, but that quickly went nowhere and wasn’t marketed clearly. I’m sorry to say it, but when you add up all of those elements, that’s just not enough of a draw, in fact it’s not even neutral, it's several factors against the book being successful. In order for a book to thrive, it really needs one leg of that tripod to stand on, a known writer, a known artist, or a lead character with more of a built in audience – preferably any combination, but at least one of those to even stand a chance. This book had none of those things. I’m not saying it’s right; I’m saying it’s so. That’s the world we live in. It’s the latest lesson in the incessant pull of art vs. commerce that companies have to contend with. The artistic side of the equation might be critically praised, but on the commerce end this just was never a very marketable or commercial project. As Gillen himself has pointed out on his blog or in interviews, he’s really stated this very matter-of-factly and I admire the honesty, the project was never given much of a chance to succeed. It was really over before it even began, with several strikes against the title right out of the gate. I’m not sure it does any good to review a cancelled book at this point, but I will say that I enjoyed the Steranko-Warhol-inspired 1960’s Marvel Pop Art cover. This issue is a mostly clever (see Abigail’s command of languages), lighthearted piece of confectionary entertainment with fun, cartoony art. Occasionally the book falters as it reaches for gravitas, such as Beast’s witty rejoinders that play a little verbose and are painful to endure at times. The art can slip into wonky tics, like the sequence where Beast yells at Abigail about her “heathen space gobbledygook.” The implausibility of kicking missiles in mid-air without detonating them is silly and stretches the suspension of disbelief beyond acceptance. The rapid fire advancement of events and attempts at wrapping up the story are thin, but unavoidable at this point. So... I guess... like it even matters... Grade B.