There has been a lot of ink spilled about the controversy surrounding this Harley Quinn series. Mainly around that “tryout” page where artists were encouraged to draw a scene depicting the title character preparing to commit suicide in a bathtub with electrical devices hanging above her. There were plenty of good arguments made as to why that was a bad idea. The fact that it got hyped up in the middle of suicide prevention awareness month was a major blunder. We could easily spend a couple thousand words talking about whether a book focusing on a character who is clearly mentally deranged needs to walk the logistical tightrope of addressing a topic like suicide. No amount of context or satirical intent will silence certain elements on either side of the argument. I’m going to say that Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner are good people. I’ve never seen anything that would indicate either of them was looking for a cheap laugh, or to make light of suicide as a topic. It just isn’t in their character.
So the first thing I have to do while discussing this issue is point out that the panel in question does not appear in the final product. The talent search yielded a page by Jeremy Roberts where most of the page remains intact but the panel depicting the suicide is absent, replaced by a panel with Harley riding an Apollo style rocket in outer space. Within the context of the book, the fourth-wall breaking creators are discussing Harley’s role in the Suicide Squad, which would explain the panel in question. Honestly, with that context, it makes perfect sense. I applaud everyone involved for seeing that it is a sensitive topic however and going in a different direction. The page in question gives off a vibe of Harley’s perceived death wish without diving into the mental illness/suicide quagmire.
I know I dedicated a lot more space on that little issue than I intended. I wanted to cover the actual issue, not the issues people had before the book came out. So let’s start from the beginning.
This book is good. It’s fun. It put a smile on my face. Why? Well, Palmiotti and Conner have a playful tone that carries throughout and they manage to find a through-line for Harley criss-crossing through various art styles while breaking the fourth wall and showing us that Harley truly can be a versatile character. The book is essentially Amanda and Jimmy showing that there are an infinite number of possibilities for Harley as a character and, with the correct art team, any one of them could be a viable long-running series. This is an introductory issue where Harley has to figure out what Harley wants to be. It’s a metatextual commentary on the creation of comics itself filtered through a character who, for all intents and purposes, could be viewed as simply one dimensional.
I think that freed from the constraints placed upon her by the Suicide Squad book, this title could truly be a blast. Honestly, I was reminded of the way that Jimmy and Justin Gray put such a fun spin on Power Girl, who much like Harley had infinite numbers of interpretations waiting in the wings. No character is without merit, and while I personally don’t have much of a connection to Harley and only really found her intriguing within the context of Batman The Animated Series, I think this issue is one of the more solid releases DC has put out in a while. It certainly surprised me in ways I wasn’t expecting.
I say go in with an open mind and see where the issue takes you. You may find yourself surprised where you end up.
I didn’t cover the furor over DC’s art contest, in which aspiring artists were encouraged to submit their take on a series of panels that depicted Harley Quinn in a bathtub, electrical objects suspended precariously above her naked body, in an apparent imminent suicide attempt. As you may have guessed, the internet flipped the ever-loving frickafrack out. DC seemed reluctant to make any apologies for the page in question, deflecting with statements that the intent of the issue did not line up with the offense being thrown their way.
Jimmy Palmiotti, who I consider to be a class act all the way, said that he felt disheartened at the reaction and explained the intent of the issue to be more in line with Looney Tunes slapstick and was not intended to be a mockery of the dreadful seriousness of suicide. With Suicide Awareness week looming, he made sure to let everyone know that nobody intended to offend anyone.
But following pressure from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Psychiatric Association and National Alliance on Mental Illness, DC issued an official apology for the carelessness of the contest;
“The purpose of the talent search was to allow new artists an opportunity to draw a single page of a 20-page story. True to the nature of the character, the entire story is cartoony and over-the-top in tone, as Harley Quinn breaks the 4th Wall and satirizes the very scenes she appears in. DC Entertainment sincerely apologizes to anyone who may have found the page synopsis offensive and for not clearly providing the entire context of the scene within the full scope of the story.”
I feel like the correct response would probably be to completely discard the page in question. I know DC would never consider doing such a thing. Let’s just applaud them for recognizing that they made a mistake in the first place. That seems to be a huge step forward for a company that seems so hell bent on alienating anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their way of thinking.
I try to support Jimmy Palmiotti when I can. The guy is a class act all around and I very rarely dislike his output. This particular endeavor was a Kickstarter funded project that I went into completely blind based off of the faith I have in Jimmy’s creative potential. The guy has a sharp mind and a narrative style that I can really get behind. This particular book feels like something unlike what you normally get with a standalone graphic novel in that while it tells a complete story it leaves you with more questions than you may be willing to tolerate.
It’s a brisk read, not at all what you would call dense but featuring a lot of Palmiotti’s trademarks. The dialogue is raw and rugged, the characters are all flawed human beings that don’t fit into any easily identifiable category, and the crux of the narrative is centered around something far outside the realm of normalcy. The twisted sci-fi element of the book comes out of nowhere and is played completely straight, with little effort made to construct it as a mystery that needs to be unraveled. Instead it seems like a setup for that mystery to be handled later after the business at hand is taken care of. This doesn’t have the finality of something like Palmiotti’s “Random Acts of Violence” for example. It seems like an extended first issue of a comic book series that will run for a few issues before reaching a point of closure. I don’t know if there is any plan for further installments with the character because, as I said earlier, I went in completely blind. It’s not a book that everyone will love. It’s a book that will challenge even folks who are big fans of Palmiotti’s regular work.
But, the price tag is extremely reasonable and it’s a nice enough change of pace from the norm that I feel comfortable recommending it. Just know that your expectations are probably going to be subverted in some way because the book simply isn’t conventional in most respects and for that I have to give it a thumbs up.
I know these are becoming completely random and in no way weekly but I feel compelled to write them when I get a chance. Hopefully someone will make a choice based on my recommendation and validate the miniscule bit of effort I put into updating this site every so often. There were plenty of books to choose from this week, so let’s get to it.
Oh Jeph Loeb, we meet again. This time he managed not to make my eyeballs bleed with rage, so let’s chalk that up as a win. I was fully expecting Red Hulk to sodomize Cable or something equally batshit insane to happen. I know that he doesn’t have the same leeway with the 616 characters that he did when he wrote Ultimatum but I still can’t get that out of the back of my mind when I pick up one of his books.
This issue seemed a little light for the first issue of a major event comic, but that having been said it is the sort of style folks have come to associate with Loeb following his Hulk run, which had a similar sort of pacing and tone. The McGuiness art certainly doesn’t help to distance the two. I feel like this is going to ultimately be an utterly disposable piece of event overload but seeing how it’s only going to be four issues long I can’t complain too much. Fear Itself seemed to last forever so a quick little mini-event might be refreshing in the end. I can’t say. Maybe I’ve just been bludgeoned by Marvel’s books so effectively that my brain has turned to mush and I’ll just buy whatever they tell me to.
Me am Marvel Zombie. Take my money. *sigh*
There really isn’t much to say about this particular issue other than it features the art talents of Mr. Paul Grist of Jack Staff fame and the result is a charming almost entirely dialog free story featuring the eleventh Doctor making the Christmas rounds with Santa in the Tardis. It’s cute, it’s breezy and I enjoyed the heck out of it. If you’re a Who fan it’ll probably hit you right where it needs to. I would recommend it to anyone looking for something as a stocking stuffer for younger kids looking to get into comics or sci-fi. It’s just plain nice.
I really don’t know what else I can say about the book. It’s a little on the light side but that is just part of the charm. I hope you’ll give it a try.
I was going to pass this one up. I won’t lie, it didn’t seem like anything that begged to be read. That seems to run counter to my usual feelings about the Palimiotti/Gray writing team but there was a feeling of generic blandness to it in the previews I had come across and so I had planned to let this one pass me by. But the thing is, I DO know that Palmiotti and Gray rarely turn in merely passable work and I owed it to myself to read the book because if nothing else it filled a niche that the new DC lineup seemed to have missed out on. I’m certainly glad I did for a myriad of reasons. First and foremost, the writing team has given us a hero who is aware of hero tropes in a way that makes for quite a refreshing read. The inner voice of this new character doesn’t seem like any other hero on the stands. There is a uniqueness to him that I have to applaud, especially considering that I was afraid the title would exemplify the polar opposite. Some of that has to be due to the fact that he’s not another anglo-saxon hero living in a major metropolis. Here we get a Korean-American dating a Hindu woman who works as a lifeguard while living with his hippie flower-power parents who has his powers thrust upon him and deals with it in a way that seems utterly realistic and runs organically with the rest of the narrative.
The art by Jamal Igle is quite good, as it usually is, and readers should find themselves pleasantly surprised by how good this book is. It really does come out of left field and shatter expectations. Please go give this one a shot. It will send a message to DC that these types of stories still have an audience. People on the ‘net beg for books like these and yet the numbers never seem to add up. Hopefully this time around we can mark one in the win column for b-list heroes with stellar writing.
Sam Humphries is something of an indy darling right now. His previous one-shot “Our Love is Real” made a real splash earlier this year and he’s following it up with a self-published book that has been garnering the same level of buzz. The book tells the story of a young man with some psychological issues (for lack of a better term) finding himself in the ancient Aztec world and caught up in the middle of a power dispute over the proper religious teachings that the Aztec people should follow. He also doesn’t want them to wind up getting slaughtered by the incoming Spanish, so he’s got that going for him.
The book is a complex and interesting read. I admit that I had to read it twice to get the flow of information down, but seeing how the version I read was digital and I don’t have a whole lot of experience reading in that format there may have been a bit of a learning curve element to it.
I would advise giving it a shot. This may be your chance to see the breakthrough work of an artist poised to really break out in 2012. I get a similar vibe from what I got off of Fraction during Casanova here and if that’s any indication of things to come Humphries is going to wind up on top sooner rather than later.
That’s it for this week. Hopefully you will find something to enjoy there. I should have a review of Sherlock Holmes : Game of Shadows for you as well this weekend. That should be exciting.
And I’m back. Sorry for skipping out on doing reviews last week but I’ve been busier than I would like and it was the last thing on my mind. Also that issue of Catwoman sorta bust a blood vessel in my brain. This week was a more pleasant reading experience, so the reviews should reflect that. Let’s get started!
The first review this week is for what I have to say is the best book of the week. I feel like getting that out of the way early is important because I’m gonna gush fairly heavily on this one. I’ve been a vocal booster of Palmiotti and Gray’s work on Jonah Hex for a long time now and when the reboot news came down the pike I was surprised to see Hex getting any attention in the new DC landscape. I figured it would be the perfect time for DC to quietly push the character aside the way it has with a few other less-than-stellar selling titles. I’ve been hearing the same “the trade sales keep it alive” line in regard to Jonah Hex for a while but DiDio’s comments that new books would be judged harshly and only the best selling titles would remain in a short period of time made me wonder how this new interpretation would work for our favorite heavily scarred western bounty-hunter.
First and foremost I need to point out that this is not your typical Jonah Hex issue. Gone are the desolate western landscapes where the dust and dirt seem to fly off the page and nestle in the corners of your eyes. We’re now in the developing sprawl of Victorian-era Gotham City, a place where cobblestones have replaced the muddy central thoroughfare of the frontier town. Our Jonah Hex here is an older iteration, having experienced the frontier life and aftermath of the Civil War. He is drawn to the city on contract to help hunt down a Jack the Ripper-esque murderer who is carving a bloody swath of violence through the city leaving a trail of mutilated prostitutes in his wake. It is a story that matches the setting quite well and Palmiotti & Gray set the stage for our adventures efficiently giving us a quiet slow burn through the proceedings punctuated with sudden bursts of violent energy as if the book itself mirrors Hex’s personality.
I felt like there was more in this issue than in three lesser titles combined. It felt dense without feeling impenetrable, offering an excellent place for those who have heard how amazing Jonah Hex was and are finally willing to give the character a shot. Tying his history in with the development of Gotham City should drawin some Bat-fans interested to see how Hex fits in with the story of the Waynes, the Cobblepots, and the Arkhams. Fans of Snyder’s work on Batman will not be disappointed by the similar tone and the uninitiated should be drawn in by the sharp pacing and quality artwork.
Overall Rating: 5/5
I’m an unabashed Aquaman fan. Seriously. I’ve got a good longbox full of Aquaman books and I feel like it’s a shame that nobody gives the guy a real shake. He’s a warrior king from under the sea! The logline alone should sell it but most people only view him as a joke. As such, it’s not surprising that Geoff Johns has gone in for a psuedo-meta presentation of the character where the surface world and the DCU don’t understand why Aquaman exists. I admit that it’s a bit disheartening that this is the direction he wanted to go, because it’ll be hard to dissuade people from believing everything they previously thought about the character when even the folks in the book itself don’t take him seriously. Of course it seems like Johns is also using every page of the book to prove everyone wrong. He lays the smackdown on a bunch of bank robbers, clarifies that he does not in fact talk to fish, and makes sweet love to his woman on the seashore after deciding that he doesn’t want to be king of Atlantis anymore.
This issue reads quite a bit like Johns’ Green Lantern no. 1 when he relaunched that character a few years back. As was the case with GL, Johns dives in head first and works to establish a status quo that clearly defines what sort of character we’re going to be dealing with and doesn’t divert much attention to the looming threat, devoting perhaps three pages total to setting up any sort of external conflict. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s important at this stage to prove to the readers that Aquaman is a character worth reading about. I think that Johns has done that effectively. I believe that people who weren’t fans previously will indeed have something to latch onto with this interpretation.
Let’s hope that Aquaman takes off big time like Green Lantern did all those years ago. He deserves it, damnit.
Overall Rating: 4/5
I almost passed on this just because I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of John Constantine being in any book with the “Justice League” label on it. It’s like seeing an old friend who used to weigh 300 pounds showing up looking like Chris Evans on the set of Captain America, your brain just can’t wrap itself around the concept of what is being presented as opposed to what you believe in your head to be true. Sort of like when a sentence doesn’t end the way you expect it banana.
That having been said, Peter Milligan’s name on the cover pretty much sold me entirely and then the contents of what was under that cover won me over entirely. It doesn’t read at all like what you would expect a “Justice League” title to read like. We do get the central Justice League team showing up and attempting to handle the supernatural threat but it soon becomes apparent that it will take a different sort of hero to sort things out. Thus we are introduced to our team through small vignettes. Shade the Changing Man shows up in a scene that is actually a bit heart wrenching. Xanadu, Zatanna, and Constantine get drawn in as well and we finish the issue with the players in position and the game ready to begin. If the issue weren’t almost entirely setup and exposition I would have given it a perfect score. I was expecting something a little bit more along the lines of JLI where they are assembled and the action has begun by the end of the issue but with so many characters to juggle I’m impressed that we got as much material as we did. It’s quite impressive.
OVERALL SCORE: 4/5
And that’s it for this week. I hope you’ll go out and buy some of these. It’d be nice if the good books of the DC relaunch were the ones that sold the best. Basically I want you to buy 10 All-Star Westerns each and hand them out to friends. Because that would be amazing.
I know that this year has been a bit different when it comes to the content I’ve posted on the blog. After leaving my job at the comic shop back in December I had to make the painful decision to alter my comic buying habits to accommodate my new lifestyle. As such, I’ve been getting my comics from an online retailer, mailed out once a month and as such I haven’t had much luck posting real reviews on a timely basis. It’s just a sad byproduct of my current situation. Another byproduct has been the steady decline of my interest in the mainstream comics scene. I have, sadly, been dropping titles I once considered vital with each passing month and have instead been focusing on creator-owned work that manages to resonate with me more than anything that DC or Marvel sends down the chute every month.
I never thought I’d see the day that I’d say this but I may just be done with DC comics. Lately the only books that I can say I’ve enjoyed fully are Morrison’s Batman Inc., Palmiotti & Gray’s Jonah Hex, Cornell’s Action Comics and Gail Simone’s Secret Six. Roberson’s handling of the Superman book has also been admireable. But that’s five books out of a line that will see 52 titles jump started with a new # 1 issue.
Dan Didio was quotes in the USA Today article as saying:
In September, more than 50 more first issues will debut, introducing readers to stories that are grounded in each character’s specific legend but also reflect today’s real-world themes and events. Lee spearheaded the redesign of more than 50 costumes to make characters more identifiable and accessible to comic fans new and old.
“We looked at what was going on in the marketplace and felt we really want to inject new life in our characters and line,” says Dan DiDio, who co-publishes DC with Lee. “This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today’s audience.”
Fans around the internet have been in an uproar over this and I have to say that I understand where some of them are coming from, in light of this news coupled with the rumors that have been coming out that have not yet been substantiated such as Lois & Clark’s marriage being lost in the new continuity as well as several creative team changes that are less than exciting including a possible loss of Gail Simone from Birds of Prey. The last time that happened it sucked just about all the energy from the book and it was left to die a slow death. On the other hand Grant Morrison is rumored to be taking over the central Superman title and it is confirmed we will be getting a Justice League book written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Jim Lee, in a move that clearly parallels Marvel’s decision to put Bendis on New Avengers several years ago.
The problem I have with the Justice League book being handled by Johns & Lee, aside from the fact that the creative team is almost begging for publishing delays, is that it seems like they’re aping Marvel’s formula several years after it has already gotten stale. Granted, DC could never make such a move any time after Marvel does anything similar because it’s either too soon or too late after the fact for it not to seem like a stunt or playing catch up. My philosophy when it comes to the DC v. Marvel debate comes down to the way Marvel treats its writers. They sell the writers in a way that makes them out to be superstars. Marvel presents their writers as the A-list. The cream of the crop. Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Dan Slott, Jason Aaron, Nick Spencer, et. al are sold as being equal commodities to the characters they write. DC does not seem to do the same for their writers outside of Morrison or Johns. They have a SMATTERING of amazing talent in people like Chris Roberson, Matt Sturges, Gail Simone, Paul Cornell, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, and so many others. But you don’t see DC publicizing them like walking gods of creativity the way Marvel does with their stable.
The whole line-wide reboot thing reads like a desperate stunt. DC loves to pull stunts. The repeated weekly series plan alone shows that. This stunt in particular will alienate a great deal of the fanbase and probably lose them for a good long time. They say that the point of all this is to garner new readers by eliminating the confusion surrounding certain characters and their continuity but they are failing to understand the simple reason why the comics market isn’t viable to younger readers and that’s that comic books are not cost effective to the consumer.
The article in USA today also mentions that beginning in September, DC comics will be going same-day release with digital and print copies. This is a major leap forward in the digital market but raises even more questions. Are the digital comics going to be significantly cheaper than the print counterparts? If DC wants to make me pay full price for a copy of the new Superman # 1 at $2.99 when I can get it from an online retailer for anywhere from a 10-40% discount, then what is the impetus for me to switch to digital? The price debate is probably the most important hurdle that the comics industry will have to face in the coming years. I bought a blu-ray movie yesterday for $8.99. That’s two plus hours of entertainment plus special features for roughly ten dollars with tax applied. A comic book is 20 pages of content for about $3.25 after taxes are applied and the best case scenario is usually a ten minute read-time if there’s actually any dense content to the book. If you’re trying to attract new readers, you have to give them more bang for their buck. I respect DC for trying to lower the cost of buying comics, but the content provided for the price is a huge turnoff to people who aren’t already hooked. Add to that the fact that comics aren’t readily available anywhere outside of specialized shops and you’ve got a major dilemma. All the continuity stunts in the world will not save you from that pitfall. Comics are being displayed at Barnes and Noble now, but I’ve seen that selection and it’s not very impressive and not too well organized.
I don’t want to sound like a doomsayer, foretelling the end of comics or anything like that. The industry will adapt and survive in some manner, because too much money stands to be lost if they don’t. But the logic that has gone into DC’s latest stunt boggles the mind of anyone who takes the time to look at it carefully. Perhaps this whole article will be rendered worthless when more information becomes available. I hope everything does work out for the best. I still have friends who work in the retail level of the industry, and all the writers and artists who I’ve developed a rapport with since developing this blog don’t deserve to see their chosen profession crumble because the companies don’t know how to adapt. All I can do is sit and wait and see if what DC has to offer is worth paying for.
People ask me why I buy certain series. For example, I picked up Freedom Fighters # 1 despite the fact that I was very vocal about how much I disliked the previous two mini-series by the same creative team. I think for this particular book it came down to three things:
1. I trust Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray. They constantly hammer out great stuff and their misfires are the anomolies.
2. Phantom Lady’s Cleavage.
3. I needed review material for the dead days following Labor Day holiday.
As I told Palmiotti on Twitter earlier this morning, I disliked the previous two mini-series but this one connected better in my opinion. I stated that the main cause of that is probably that it doesn’t have ties to any event book. The first mini-series from the team spun out of Battle for Bludhaven, a book that was not that great in its own right. This one doesn’t seem to have ties to anything in the larger scheme, it’s not a Brightest Day crossover at least as far as I can tell. It’s just a superhero book that wants to do its own thing.
A few sites have complained that there is too much jammed into the issue. That the flow doesn’t feel right and that it’s compacted. I disagree completely. For 2.99, I feel this is one of the best comics for your money that DC has published in a while. Just because a book doesn’t fall into the post-Bendis decompression phenomenon doesn’t mean that it’s crammed. I think we as a fanbase have grown content with padded books that don’t live up to what can be done with the storytelling medium. Here we get a fight with superpowered neo-nazis, an asteroid threatening to destroy the earth, an alien parasite destroying a town, and a government conspiracy about the foundations of the US. None of it feels obtrusive however, because it serves to reintroduce the characters in a manner that shows that they’ve been active in the DC universe even if they weren’t getting much stage time.
I think of Freedom Fighters as sort of like a more easily accessible Doom Patrol. All of these people have something they are struggling with internally, whether it’s the Human Bomb whose troubles are pretty apparent or Black Condor who has serious emotional baggage in regards to his native American heritage, there is that internal strife that makes for intriguing characters. Unlike the Doom Patrol however, you don’t feel sorry for these characters for having to put up with an asswipe like Niles Caulder. While Uncle Sam is a hardcase, he’s no self-serving jerk. He has the weight of the nation on his shoulders, literally as his power is connected to the soul of the country, but he doesn’t come off as completely unlikeable and that’s why I really like the book; I like the characters. They’re relateable and interesting. They may not be the biggest names in the business but they’re not complete throwaways. Jimmy and Justin do a good job of infusing them with life, which I hope will sustain the title long enough to get some good stories. Unfortunately DC doesn’t seem to be pushing the book very hard, which is a shame. Then again, they don’t push Jonah Hex very hard either and that doesn’t affect its fanbase much at all. I hope the same will be able to be said for Freedom Fighters.