Comic Review: Detective Comics #948

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Detective Comics (Volume 2) #948

“Batwoman Begins, Part 1”

James Tynion IV and Marguerite Bennett (writers), Ben Oliver (artist). Covers by Oliver and Rafael Albuquerque.

As much as I love Batwoman, I pretty much washed my hands of the character when meddling from the higher-ups at DC comics led to the premature ending of one of the best creative runs of the past decade. For those unfamiliar with the situation, Batwoman’s first solo series was launched as part of 2011’s “New 52” line-wide relaunch, with J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman sharing writing credits. Despite being lauded with critical acclaim, the series was plagued by last-minute script changes, most notably the eleventh-hour decree that Batwoman would not be permitted to marry her fiancé, Maggie Sawyer. For accuracy’s sake, Williams has indicated that the decision wasn’t specifically due to it being a gay marriage, but rather a marketing decision to not have any major characters be wed in the new DC Universe, which included retconning away the marriage of Superman and Lois Lane, as well as that of the Flash and Iris Allen. Still, at a time when LGBTQ representation in mainstream comics was insultingly sparse, it was at best a tone-deaf decision, and at worst a complete slap in the face to the fans who were buying the Batwoman series in the first place. Williams and Blackman subsequently walked off the book, which ran for another year and a half with new writer Marc Andreyko at the helm before being cancelled in 2015.

A lot has changed in the last few years, and while the world of DC Comics remains disproportionately straight, white and male, major strides have been made toward including characters of all types. A new Batwoman series is slated to begin in March, written by Marguerite Bennett and James Tynion IV, both openly queer creators. This issue begins to lay the groundwork to that series, but introducing a new major supporting character – more on that in a bit – and by continuing the story of Jake Kane, Batwoman’s father and one-man support staff, who did a heel turn last year by siding with the paramilitary force known as the Colony. This issue asks the question that will likely serve as the leitmotif of the upcoming series – “What can Batwoman do that Batman can’t?”

Part one of “Batwoman Begins” follows from last year’s “Night of the Monster Men” storyline, in which Batman and his allies battled gigantic mad science-borne monsters created by Hugo Strange (which sums up in one sentence why I love comics). With the threat of weaponized megafauna still presenting a very real threat, Batman and Batwoman consult with ARGUS’ resident expert on the subject, Doctor Victoria October. After making an immediate impression by helping the Bat-duo take down a flock of mutated seagull-men (again, I love comics), October quickly catches the heroes up on the situation, showing herself to be completely at ease in their imposing presence. She’s witty, charming, eminently capable, and I immediately took a liking to the good doctor.

detective-comics-948-bThat’s almost where this review ended, until I stumbled across a much more interesting aspect to the character that I completely missed – Victoria October is transsexual, possibly the most high profile trans character in comics today. And here’s the thing – it’s not treated as a big deal. October makes an allusion to knowing Batman in her “pupal stage, before [she] came into [herself],” and makes an offhand remark about how her deadname didn’t have the same panache as her chose one. That’s it. It’s done so subtly, for anyone unfamiliar with the trans community and its terminology (myself included), the fact that Victoria October is transsexual probably flew right over their head. And that’s amazing, because the only thing more important than representation of marginalized communities is normalization of those groups, treating them like actual, fleshed-out characters, instead of cardboard cut-outs defined by a single attribute like gender or sexual preference.

Funny enough, what led me to discover the subtleties of Victoria October was an offhanded Google search about an unrelated Doctor October, who appeared as an in Dark Horse Comics’ series Ghost. That Doctor October was a villain who was presumed to be a male, until she dramatically revealed herself to be a woman by whipping aside her cape and revealing a pair of massive breasts.

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This was in a series about a female vigilante who spent her time running around in leather fetish gear (drawn almost exclusively in cheesecake poses) while monologuing about how much she hated men. She was considered to be one of the more “empowering” female heroes of the mid-1990s.

Like I said, times change – and sometimes it’s relieving to see that things can change for the better.

New-ish Comic Reviews! (2-1-14)

(Note: This covers comics released last week; reviews of comics from this week will show up in the next few days)

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Green Lantern: New Guardians #27

“Keeper”

Justin Jordan (writer), Andrei Bressan (artist). Cover by Brad Walker.

 Keeper is a done-in-one story about White Lantern, Star Sapphire and their Smurf buddies helping to stop an interplanetary conflict orchestrated by the mysterious Warmonger. It’s a decent enough story, though I found Andrei Bressan’s artwork to be a bit dark and muddled for my taste. Justin Jordan has a good ear for dialogue, with Kyle Rayner’s voice especially sounding very natural – though he treads a very narrow line, and could have easily fallen into annoyingly detached Diablo Cody territory. A decent comic book over all – not one to really go out of your way to read, but if you’re already a fan of the New Guardians series, it’s a pleasant enough diversion for this month.

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Iron Man #20.INH

Kieron Gillen (writer), Agustin Padilla (artist). Cover by Paul Rivoche.

 No matter how many unique element you try to throw into your plot, when you write a story that involves semi-sentient rings with different powers and personalities searching for hosts to wield them, you’re going to come across as a rehash of the past ten years’ worth of Green Lantern comics. For what it is, this comic works as both a tie-in to the “Inhumanity” storyline, and as a part of the ongoing Iron Man saga, but come on… there’s no way this made it past the editorial phase without at least one person pointing out that people are going to call it a rip off, however unjustified that label might be.

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ImageBatman #27

“Zero Year: Dark City pt. 4”

Scott Snyder (writer), Greg Capullo (artist). Covers by Capullo and Jon Katz

 The “Zero Year” reimagining of Batman’s roots continues, as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo put their spin on the famous scene from “Batman: Year One” that pit the rookie Caped Crusader against a somewhat overzealous Gotham City Police Department S.W.A.T. team. In addition to being a great mix of high-octane action and slower but powerfully written character moments, this issue is another love-letter to the great Batman stories of the past. In addition to the aforementioned “Year One” shout-out, Capullo also threw some cool little visual references (including a nice homage to the famous cover of The Dark Knight Returns), while colorist FCO Plascencia gets in on the game by strongly evoking the style of Batman: The Killing Joke. And hey, for readers who have been desperately clamouring for the Secret Origin of Commissioner Gordon’s jacket, well, here you go.

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Batwoman #27

“Webs pt. 2- In the Blood”

Marc Andreyko (writer), Jeremy Haun and Francis Manapul (artists). Covers by Stephane Roux and Jon Katz.

 It would be redundant at this point to go into the details of how DC Comics’ disgusting treatment of W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III caused them to walk off this title, prematurely ending one of the greatest collaborative runs in history. I don’t hold any kind of grudge against the new creators on the book per se, but I’m seriously disappointed in the decision to attempt to continue using the signature style that Williams brought to Batwoman. Jeremy Haun and Francis Manapul are both talented artists in their own right, and their work here is certainly competent, but it possesses none of the brilliant nuances of Williams’ work – it’s like following a movie series where the first film is directed by Martin Scorsese, and the sequel is done by Brett Ratner. I refuse to stomach what this title has turned into. Though hey, credit where it’s due – the panel of Batwoman crashing into a massive pile of garbage is one of the best visual metaphors I’ve ever seen.

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ImageAll-New Invaders #1

“Gods and Soldiers”

James Robinson (writer), Steve Pugh (artist). Covers by Pugh, Mukesh Singh, John Cassaday and Skottie Young.

 James Robinson has done his damnedest over the past decade to annihilate the reputation he developed in the 1990s for being one of the best writers in the business, with recent work that ranged from mediocre to atrocious. While it’s premature to say he’s back to form with All-New Invaders, so far so good, as he’s planted the seeds to a solid story reuniting the heroes from Marvel’s version of the Greatest Generation. This kind of story is right up Robinson’s alley, and he’s in stellar company with Steve Pugh, who absolutely kills it on this issue, which is just gorgeous. Let’s just hope that this is the Robinson who wrote The Golden Age and Starman, not the hack who churned out Cry for Justice and the worst pre-“New 52” take on the Justice League from recent memory.

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Animal Man #27

“Evolve or Die! pt. 1”

Jeff Lemire (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (artist and cover).

 I stopped reading Animal Man with the conclusion of the “Rotworld” crossover last year. Picking up this new issue, not much has changed – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Jeff Lemire and Rafael Albuquerque present a strong story that carries the same high level of quality as the rest of the series to date. That said, it feels a bit underwhelming, especially after the ambitiousness of “Rotworld”… “Evolve or Die” just reads as more of the same. And that’s probably not fair, since there have been several changes to the status quo, and characters have changed and evolved… but for whatever reason, this comic just didn’t grab me the way older issues did.