It’s Hard to Rock A Crime To Rock A Crime On Time

Catwoman #36 full coverCatwoman #36
by Genevieve Valentine, Garry Brown, Lee Loughridge, Sal Cipriano and Taylor Esposito

Synopsis: As Selina attempts to find sure footing as the new queen of organized crime in Gotham, many plot against her.

01. My kingdom for a time machine, and some form of editorial control over at DC Comics. Actually, scratch that last part. I’m not one for politics, and the environment seems a bit poisonous with it these days. Just give me the time machine, please. And a basket of kittens. My wife would be very pleased if we could do the whole time and/or space thing with a basket of kittens. What was I supposed to be talking about?

02. The second issue of this new status quo is quite stellar. For the longest time, Catwoman hasn’t been the book for me. I would check up on it every now and then to get the shape of what was happening, but would always fall away and let the customers who enjoyed it read in peace. As always, I decided to drop in again when the new creative team hit, and I’m very glad I did. The book seem is a completely different animal from what it was when it began. Selina has relinquished her costume, and has traded in her life of disorganized crime for the organized variety, and has risen to the top of the Gotham underground. As is natural in these kinds of stories, enemies abound from within and without. Good guys think she’s gone bad. Bad guys think she’s no good. The balancing act is quite precarious, but Selina takes everything in stride, making moves and countermoves in turn, all in service of her own goals. While new to the medium, Genevieve Valentine has hit the ground running with a story that doesn’t feel like prose or a teleplay mashed into the form of a comic. The medium is utilized beautifully with a steady pace, and I’m left wanting more – which should always be the goal of serialized storytelling.

03. The contributions of Garry Brown can not be overstated. As always, comics are the result of words and pictures working together to form narrative. Brown does exceedingly well here, bringing in shades of Tommy Lee Edwards’ sure hand and staging. Colourist Lee Loughridge compliments this with a muted palette that runs through different prevailing shades as lighting and locale change. Action scenes break out into a kinetic pace and layout while the more conversational set pieces remain compelling, camera angles and scene panel breaks building a tension that holds just below the surface.

04. This is an incredibly strong book that has been lost among the twelve different books DC launched or relaunched last month. With the marketing budget stretched a little thin, many of the books were left to sink or swim on their own accord. The teams behind Batgirl and Gotham Academy did some Herculean self-promotion to really put their book on the map, but Catwoman was stymied by the fact that cards had to be kept close to the chest, as the inciting events had yet to be revealed elsewhere in the line of comics. It’s a shame, because this book could have done a whole lot more if it had disappeared for a couple of months and returned with a brand new number one. (Time machine, please!) As it stands, it should hold its own with this level of quality. People will surely come in as those who enjoyed the previous iteration of the character find themselves reading something new that might not be for them. I hope this team gets a lot of room to move, and gets to play this story out to a conclusion. I’m itching to see where this goes.

Elsewhere // A Confluence of Events

A few of you were wondering about my thoughts on DC’s upcoming Confluence event, so I went ahead and wrote ‘em all down for Comics Beat last week.

Of the two, Convergence is being built as a necessity, more than something extravagant. Even if the concept was born out of creative decisions, the execution is all business, marrying the need for DC to pump out enough books to fill out their budgets while simultaneously alleviating editorial and creative pressures during the big move. As such, it’s already on the back foot, appearing as though it’s a fill-in event, something that is decidedly not their main line of books in any way, shape or form. If they don’t tackle this perception in the marketing, April and May might be a couple of DC’s worst months as many opt out of the two months of content.

The article goes pretty deep into what the company would need to do to make the event as successful as possible. Unfortunately, I think they’ve already screwed a few points up. You can read the whole article here – and when you’re done that, you can run straight into my thoughts on Marvel’s big multiversal event, Secret Wars.

While Convergence is an event being built out of near necessity, Secret Wars is an event that’s emerging from years of planning on the part of Marvel and writer Jonathan Hickman. Both approaches have their pros and cons. While I’m really enjoying Hickman’s work on the Avengers line, it was never anything I would be able to hand to a new reader easily – and his work on the title has only gotten more complex. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this approach, especially when you have several titles on the stands that new readers can easily gravitate to like Black WidowMs. Marvel, and Hawkeye – but when it comes to the big event, you want to try and make that thing as accessible as possible. DC can theoretically do this with Convergence by structuring their event as a low-threshold buy-in, featuring two part stories that exist without too much connective tissue. Marvel could theoretically do this, but there’s very little known about the actual structure of Secret Warsbeyond the fact that it will be impossible to escape if you’re interested in their line.

You can read that full article here.

Sometimes I think I go a little easier on Marvel because… well, because I’m enjoying more of their line right now, but I think I stayed pretty even-handed with presenting the potential problems and positives that both events could have. As always, your thoughts are appreciated, so comment below, or on the articles themselves!

 

Elsewhere // Degree of Variants

Because I love puns, you guys. I love them so much.

This week, I returned to providing weekly final order cut-off commentary at Comics Beat with a little ditty about some of the splashier variants coming down the pike.

I’m not a big fan of variants in general (a longer column for another day), but I can at least get behind variants that you can order without qualification. That says you’re offering another variety for a reader to sample, letting them choose what cover they’d like. That, I understand. Qualified variants, on the other hand, are the dirt worst. They’re a dirty manipulation of the whole “supply and demand” market designed for cheap, easy money, both for publishers and retailers alike. If a retailer wants a bigger supply, they will have to order more copies. In order to cover the cost of those copies (many of which won’t sell), they will charge a premium for that cover. And hey, even if they don’t need to charge a premium to cover the costs of extra copies, they’ll probably mark it up because of the low supply, and the high demand.

You can read the full article over at Comics Beat where you’ll also see a quote from the publisher of one of the industry’s biggest companies talking shit about variants. You probably know who already.

 

 

Elsewhere: Scheduling Issues

Over at Comics Beat, I’ve got an article talking about shipping delays, and the long tail of perception – and how those can hinder a series before it even begins.

As much as I liked (and like) Stephenson as a writer, my internal notes were telling me that this was a series that probably wouldn’t ship on time. I was basing this purely on the track record of his most recent series, Nowhere Men, which started off with a strong opening (both critically and sales-wise) before petering off into obscurity as the book slid further and further off schedule. By the time the sixth issue shipped, my sales were but a fraction of what I had started with for all of the usual reasons. Some took the waiting period as a sign that they should give up on the singles and wait for the collections. Others forgot about the book’s existence and plot and decided to leave it on the shelf when it finally arrived. Still more pulled it out of their budgeting calculations as other books moved in to fill the gap. The result had clearly left a bad taste in my mouth, one that led to my ordering dilemma.

You can read the whole thing over there now.

Little known fact: I chopped up a column about Archie Comics that got pulled for reasons (more on that another day) and this is what came out. Basically, while talking about the company’s scheduling issues (among other things) I voiced concern about what the Afterlife with Archie schedule would do to the book. At the time it was shipping on a schedule that resembled bi-monthly shipping, despite being solicited as a monthly ongoing. At this point, the series’ seventh issue – originally solicited for May/June release before being resolicted for September – is scheduled to come out in late November. Maybe. This… is a big problem. But again, more on that another day…

Briefly: Future’s End #20-26

And finally, I’m caught up.

It would have been easy to skip out on this series and let it stampede by unattended, but I always get itchy when I don’t know what’s going on in the DC or Marvel universe. It’s a feeling born from the completist in me and exacerbated by the fact that I think you can’t do your best as a retailer without an extensive knowledge of the product. Anyway, I caught up this weekend and it’s… well, it’s a lot better than I thought it would be. The series began in early May with a zero issue that saw much of the DCU turned into weird cyborg murder machines that tended the limbs of anyone who resisted them in a dystopian future. It then took a jump backwards to five years from now where Terry McGuinness (the Batman of the future) has to find a way to prevent a future already in progress.

As the story has gone on, the edges have softened, and the scattershot ensemble have been moving closer and closer together, as the inevitable threatens to arrive. It’s a dark story, but about… I dunno, 8? 9 issues in? The team begins to have a lot of fun with a character named “Fifty Sue” – a young girl who seems to be the most powerful being in the DC Universe at this point in time. As the story goes, Brian Azzarello came up with the name “Fifty Sue” and made the mistake of using it in front of Keith Giffen who ran with it – because of course Azzarello came up with a pun, and of course Giffen would run with that joke. Anyway, she’s the best part of this series, and as it continues, she gets more and more screen time. Honestly, her scenes with Deathstroke and Grifter are what really push me forward in this series, with all the others providing a bit of variety as things progress.

While it’s not a series I’d recommend to folks who weren’t deeply invested in the DC Universe, I think it’s a book with much to be enjoyed, if you can get past the odd issue where someone gets dissected or eviscerated.

Weekend Reading: Multiversity – The Just #1

What a ridiculously awesome read.

Grant Morrison has long said that Multiversity is “the ultimate statement of what DC is”, and this issue really punches things into gear. Or at least, this issue is where I’ve started to notice more of the connective tissue. The main thrust of the book deals with an earth where the heroes of DCs 90s era have won the day, and the current batch of supers has nothing to do. The earth (designated 16 here) is a wonderful mix of dour inevitabilities – if the heroes do in fact win the day, and our current reality’s fascination with celebrity life and culture continues unabated, this is the kind of world that would emerge. Power and responsibility steeping in boredom ’til the point of breaking.

As for the overarching plot, this issue brings the idea that the Multiversity comics that have been, and will be, are missives from other realities, bleeding into existence as a dire warning and/or mysterious doom. This simmers all through out the book as various superheroes pick up the comics and have a myriad of opinions on the ridiculousness of the superhero genre and comics in general. The whole thing is a joy to read, and will be a further joy to go back and parse when all is said and done. A great part of a whole, and a great single issue read, I’d say anyone could pick this issue up and have fun.

Weekend Reading: Catwoman #35

Emerging from the pages of Batman: Eternal, Selina Kyle assumes her role as the queen of Gotham’s crime families in the newest issue of Catwoman.

Since the launch of The New 52, Catwoman has been an interesting book to follow. The first issue kicked things off with a story called “…and most of the costumes stay on…” which started with Selina flying out a window wearing only half of her costume, and ended with her having sex with Batman… also with half of her costume on. For reasons, I guess. Anyway, the title has had some weird ups and downs since then, and has now received a new status quo.

The book sees Selina taking control of the entirety of Gotham’s organized crime scene, something her father had once done. In this capacity, you see her balancing a life of good and bad intentions, just like she always had. Much like Carmine Falcone claims in the first episode of the Gotham TV show, she’s setting out to do right by Gotham – because without a thriving Gotham, there’s no way to make money. She attempts this while dealing with challengers on all sides, from different crime families and from within her own ranks. It’s a phenomenal story by comics-newcomer Genevieve Valentine and accomplished artist Garry Brown, who take a series largely known for weird stories and salacious costuming and build a phenomenal crime book. For the first time in a long time, I’m interested in seeing where this series goes, and will keep checking it out (rather than just checking up on it for time to time for work purposes.) Highly recommended.

Weekend Reading: Lazarus #12

 

The meticulous world building inside Lazarus continues with this issue, wherein the families in power all meet for the first time in years and manoeuvre against each other.

tale as old as time

While each issue of this title has featured a hefty portion of world building, it’s taken me until now to realize just how well thought out this work actually is. Rucka and Lark have taken something that doesn’t exist, and have built it into something that could. Motivations are informed by the temperament of the characters, as well as the location and resources that character (or family) has at their disposal. While the setting bends reality slightly, there’s enough reason involved in the plotting and images that it doesn’t break, creating a story that you feel comfortable with existing, never once pulling on the suspension of disbelief. This makes the book equal parts entertaining and horrifying, as you find yourself lying in wait for this world to arrive, an inevitability more than a dismissible possibility.

This Column Has Seven Days #030 // My Third-Favourite Deadly Sin

This week it’s nothing but comic books that talk about teen feelings and Can-Con music, which makes me pretty happy, all things considered.

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Gilbert Hernandez’ Sloth: Lemons and Angst

Saying that I read and liked a Gilbert Hernandez comic is like saying I watched and enjoyed a Stanley Kubrick movie. The best ones are fantastic, and the worst ones are still at least interesting to digest. Gilbert’s ability to tell a comic-book story is unmatched by nearly anyone in the business today — his moody inks and expressive iconic faces, combined with a knack for authentic characterization and an interest in the darker side of life, have given me some of my favourite comics stories, whether in his Love & Rockets work or in his stand-alone work. So when I picked 2006’s Sloth off the shelf, I had a feeling I was going to enjoy it.

Sloth starts off as the story of teen angst in the suburbs, the bleak horror of a mundane existence with the existential dread of being an adolescent. Just before his third month of Grade 11, Miguel Serra apparently wills himself to fall into a coma to escape his daily depression and stress. A year later, he has willed himself out of his coma, and he tries to get back to his life in high school, including getting back together with his band Sloth, which is made up of Miguel, his girlfriend Lita, and his best friend Romeo. Miguel’s return to regular life starts out fine, especially with the care of his loving grandparents and a lot of lost time to make up for with Lita, but soon the reality of his life starts sinking in again, as he meets up with his incarcerated drug-dealing father and Miguel starts wondering what really happened to his mother when she disappeared all those years ago.

Then we find out that while Miguel’s been “away,” Lita has become obsessed with urban legends, and one night the three friends go out to investigate one in particular. The Goatman is a creature who lives in the lemon orchards just outside town — the orchards that Miguel believes his mother is buried in — and if anyone catches a glimpse of him, they change places, with the Goatman taking over that person’s life. After Miguel, Lita, and Romeo return from the orchard, Miguel’s dreams get more intense, and life in the suburban town gets more bizarre.

Sloth is a fascinating examination of identity and relationships, and how the horror of the everyday can spill over into the horror of a different, more shadowy kind. It’s not a brutal or terrifying book; more moody and introspective, and it hit me right in the sweet spot. If you thought that Dawson’s Creek would have been better if it were more like Twin Peaks, or had never thought that until this moment and now can’t get the idea out of your head, then I recommend checking out Sloth as soon as possible.

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It hasn’t been all mysterious suburban dread this week, though; as promised, I have more Canuck rock and comic books to talk about.

Music: After seeing Sloan live in concert for what is probably the seventh or eighth time, I came home with their new album Commonwealth. It’s an odd record for Sloan, as it’s an exercise in isolation — the concept for  Commonwealth is that it’s a double LP, with each side highlighting the songwriting of a different member. It makes for an interesting listening experiment, as instead of moving through the different moods and tones that each member brings to the group, there is a solid 15 to 20 minutes of each member’s personality, in a row. It’s not going to convert anyone who’s not already a Sloan fan — though I have other albums that might serve that purpose — but there are some really good numbers, including Patrick Pentland’s “13 (Under A Bad Sign)” and Chris Murphy’s “Carried Away.” And Andrew Scott’s side is an 18-minute odyssey called “Forty-Eight Portraits,” which has to be heard to be truly understood.

Comics: Anyone who isn’t reading The Wicked + The Divine should really think hard about what they want in a comic book. It’s got gorgeous figure art, breathtaking colours, clever one-liners, effective and sharp characterization, a fantastic sense of design, and a mystery that keeps getting more intense with each passing issue. This is the story of 12 gods who come down to Earth every 90 years, and as this incarnation takes place in 2014, of course the gods are internationally famous pop stars. The Wicked + The Divine could be seen as just a book for young people who are in love with the gods of celebrity, but it’s so much bigger and more all-encompassing than that. It is my favourite comic book currently being published, and Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson are doing some of the best work of their careers. The worst thing about the book is that the team is only five issues in — I want it all and I want it now, and being forced to wait for another installment is a sweet kind of torture.

Music: The new Rural Alberta Advantage album, Mended With Gold, is a strange one for me. It hasn’t grabbed me from the first listen like Hometowns, nor am I wallowing in non-stop re-listens like I did with Departing. It’s taking a slow hold of me, with a new appreciation of a different song every time I go back to it. One song, however, had me from the first listen: the rocking “Terrified” is a tribute to the power of love and fear — or is it love as fear? — and the little bit of a snarl at its core makes me love it that much more. Paul Banwatt’s drums go from frenetic to subdued and back again, and I could sing along to the soaring “oh”s on the chorus for hours. The RAA might not be the most musically adventurous band, but their delivery and enthusiasm more than make up for it, and “Terrified” is a perfect example of them at their best.

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That’s all or me this time around. Until next time, embrace the teen angst within you and listen to some sweet Canadian rock music. It’s good for the soul. I’ll see you in seven days.