Sunday, July 31, 2005

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comic reviews: the library haul

My local library has reopened. I'm back to scarfing down their graphic novels like Pez.

Written by Neil Gaiman. Art by Andy Kubert
Fast summary: The Marvel Universe centered around London of 1602.

What an intriguing story! It was a fun read, and not bad for a not-quite-What-If-What-If story. I would've liked to have seen more actual historical figures, though.

The art did the trick, with some really outstanding spots (like Daredevil's sonar power). Overall, though, it came off as a bit too shiny and colorful for my taste. Also a bit too modern for the 17th century - Cyclops' glasses, the X-Men's fighting costumes, and Doom's outfit felt very out of place.

I liked the twists on played-out characters. Regular Nick Fury? Eh. 1602 Nick Fury? Oh, I like this guy. And I would happily read an ongoing series about 1602 Daredevil. Hell, I'm tempted to take a look at the upcoming sequel just to see if he has another starring role. I felt that the story suffered a bit from having too many characters featured, though. The multiple storylines were great, but did we really need Bruce Banner, or Toad?

By the end of the story, the whole thing wound up seeming a bit too one-to-one - plenty of story development, surprises, and red herrings, but nothing really unpredictable. I know it was meant to be "the Marvel Universe started too soon", and in that it was successful, but still. Really predictable. Of course Doom will end up scarred, and Banner will become the Hulk, and Peter will be bitten by the spider. But what did I expect? It's like reading an Arthurian story and complaining that things fall apart for the guy in the end. Still a very enjoyable read, though.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Batman: Detective 27
Written by Michael Uslan. Art by Peter Snejbjerg.
Fast summary: In 1939, Bruce Wayne does not become Batman; instead, he joins a secret government group of detectives and must thwart big-time catastrophe.

First off - damn, that's some lovely art. When Peter Snejbjerg is on, he's on!

The story, though ... ehhh. It was the opposite of 1602: plenty of historical cameos, but not much of a story to ground them. It was a mystery, but there just seemed to be too many roundabout red herrings and twists. This guy's a baddie, wait, he's not, this guy's a traitor, ah, no, he's not, we think it's this guy behind everything, but oh psych, it's this other guy, and so on.

I just didn't see the point. It's a fun Elseworld exercise to see how Bruce Wayne's life would change if he took Path A (be a detective for a secret government agency) instead of Path B (become Batman, boot criminal ass), but then it's not a Batman story any longer. It's a completely different story with the same names, and it's right up there with Alternate Universe fanfiction ("An AU where Obi-Wan Kenobi is a young midshipman in the service of Horatio Hornblower, if you know what I mean!").

... and then at a comic show I found a copy of Gotham by Gaslight, and I groaned at how similar it felt to Detective 27 (except for the fact that Bruce does become Batman in this one). Someone out there in the bloggysphere once complained that Batman was nothing but origin story, and the more Batman comics I explore, the more I'm inclined to agree. I really want to read more Batman stories, but constant remixes of the same single story get pretty old after a while.

And I'll tell you this: if I never see another historical character, especially Sigmund Freud, psychoanalyze Batman, I will be the happiest kitty on my block. It's such a clumsy way of adding historical gravitas and validating the writer's take on Batman. It reminded me of when I watched the first episode of The Sopranos and the first episode of Six Feet Under. It's good storytelling when you write characters with motivation and psychological depth and twists. It's poor storytelling when you then add characters skilled in psychoanalysis just so they can speechify about all that depth. Show, don't lecture!

That Mike Mignola did some damned good art for Gotham by Gaslight, though.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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