Posts Tagged ‘Becky Cloonan’

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In case you haven’t been paying attention — can’t say I blame you for that — DC axed a slew of low-selling comics fairly recently and, rather than have the “New 52” become the “New 47” or whatever, quickly supplemented the ranks with several new monthly books, a staggering three of which are set in/spun out of (take your pick) the Batman corner of their corporate universe — even though the word “Batman” doesn’t feature in the titles of any of these series at all.

But is it really Batman per se that these new additions to the former National Periodical Publications’ line-up are tying into, or is it the new Batman-based TV show, Gotham?

Okay, fair enough, the latter wouldn’t exist without the former, but when you notice that two of these books — Gotham By Midnight and Gotham Academy — have the Gotham name, quite obviously, front and center, it seems like the powers that be at DC have, to borrow some nauseating business lingo, decided to “position” these titles in such a way that readers will associate them more with the Gotham City “brand” than the Batman “brand.”

Certainly, there are stories to be told in Gotham that don’t involve its most famous masked vigilante, and characters as far apart conceptually as Jack Kirby’s Demon and Metamorpho have called the city their home over the years, but dumping a trio of new books based there out on the market within the space of a couple of months of the TV show making its debut is, obviously, no mere coincidence.

What the hell, though, right? When was the last time either of “The Big Two” did anything that wasn’t  all about marketing and cashing in on a perceived “hot” property?

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In addition, strange as it sounds to hear — and believe me, it’s doubly strange to be saying it — DC appears to be willing to allow all three new comics to “break the mold” somewhat in terms of eschewing the dull “house style” of art so prevalent throughout much, if not all,  of the “New 52” line (think mid-’90s Wildstorm comics only with more established characters) and to also take a different approach tonally with the scripts for each series. I guess when you’ve got something like 20 “Bat-books” coming out every month, at least a few  of them can afford to be somewhat unique.

The best of the bunch, at least so far, was also the first one to hit the stands — Gotham Academy, a suitable-for-all-ages title that comes our way courtesy of co-writers Becky Cloonan (who also provides the variant covers for each issue) and Brenden Fletcher and artist Karl Kerschl (who is on main cover chores, as well). Also a key contributor to the overall aesthetic of the series in colorist Dave McCaig, whose computerized palette is being put to work here giving the panels a rather pleasing animation cel-type look.

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I’ve seen this comic described by other reviewers as being a “Hogwarts in Gotham,” and while that’s an understandable enough comparison, rest assured that the kids aren’t learning to fly on broomsticks or conjure rabbits out of hats. The curriculum, in fact, seems to be pretty standard stuff, if a bit overly-obsessed with local history, but rest assured, if such things are your cup of tea, that there is a dose of the supernatural to be found in the school’s infamous North Hall building, which appears to have a ghost in residence.

That’s only one of several mysteries to whet readers’ appetites, though, given that our main protagonist, a young girl named Olive Silverlock who’s attending the titular school thanks to a Wayne Foundation scholarship, seems to be rather full of secrets herself. Who is her oft-referred-to-but-never-seen mother (my money is on Silver St. Cloud)? Why is she so hesitant to talk about what she got up to over the summer? Why does Bruce Wayne (who speaks at a school assembly in the first issue and apparently was a student there at one time himself) know so darn much about her? Why is she trying to quietly break things off with her boyfriend, Kyle, even though she still seems to like him as much as ever? And, most importantly (and annoyingly) to her, why does Kyle’s kid sister — nicknamed Maps due to her love of and proficiency with, well, maps — follow her around like a shadow at all times?

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I won’t kid you — it’s been a long time since I was a teenager, and quite obviously I was never a teenage girl, but  Cloonan and Fletcher seem to nail it in terms of capturing Olive’s “inner voice” and matching it seamlessly with her outward actions. She’s a likable, interesting, and respectfully-portrayed young lady who, granted, looks to have a bit more “on her plate” than most kids her age, but in the end  istills mostly concerned/consumed with the same stuff we all were at that point in our lives — namely, finding out who she is and what sort of niche she’ll find in both her present environment and the world at large. We’re only two issues into things, but I already find myself looking forward to seeing what her creators have in store for her every month.

Frankly, for a fresh-out-of-the-gate series like this, that’s about the most you can ask for, along with nice art, which Gotham Academy certainly has, provided you don’t mind its somewhat “cartoony” look, which I find to be a breath of fresh air in comparison to the heavily formulaic, “cookie-cutter” look of most of its DC contemporaries.

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All in all, then, I think we’ve got ourselves a winner here. I’m fairly sure this book is designed from the outset to have a finite run, and that when Cloonan, Fletcher, and Kerschl have finished telling the story they’re looking to tell — however long that may take — it most likely won’t be handed over to another creative team to continue on ad infinitum. That’s cool with me, especially since the overall “vibe”  of this series, which feels very “contemporary teen-ager,” will no doubt date itself in a certain amount of time given how fast youth culture changes these days. For now, though, Gotham Academy seems well-realized indeed, and with a clear direction, purpose, and trajectory, so count me in for the forseeable future.

 

2826850-2013_01_20_minmen_cv6_ds_superSo, this is it — the “no-holds-barred” (so we’re told, at any rate) finale to what has become, either by default, design, or — most likely — a little bit of both, the “cornerstone series” of the entire Before Watchmen prequel-a-palooza. I suppose now would be an opportune moment for me to take a bow, since as things turns out I had the “shock surprise” ending figured out more or less detail for detail, but ya know what? I’m not going to do that, for two reasons:

1. This issue actually left me feeling considerably better about this series than I had been, even though I could see the ending coming a mile away; and

2. Writer-artist Darwyn Cooke actually throws a little extra wrinkle in here that I didn’t see coming, and even though said minor twist actually ends up setting up yet another final (supposed) gut-punch that, to my credit (okay, I’ll shut up now — wait, no, I still have at least 3/4 of this review left to write, so I guess I won’t), I also predicted on this very blog in advance, for just a split second there it was enough to make me second-guess myself —and since surprises have been so few and far between in the world of Before Watchmen, a surprise that ends up leading to an ending that’s really not all that surprising  is still better than no surprise at all. Whew! Did that make any sense? It will if and when you read this issue, and if and when you’ve read my previous reviews of Minutemen.

For the record, though, if digging through those past posts is too much hassle,  I had prognosticated  that the other Minutemen would come to the realization that Hooded Justice was the child-killer that they had been hunting, off and on, throughout the six-issue run of this book (okay, fair enough — throughout five issues of it, since nothing happens in the first installment), that they would kill him themselves rather than turn him over to the cops, and that it would be revealed later, in one of the other BW books, that it turned out they’d actually killed the wrong guy. Apart from one or two little details (I won’t say which particular ones in case you haven’t read the book yet), that’s more or less how things play out here — but like I said, Cooke takes an interesting-enough turn on the way to arriving at this expected conclusion that I don’t feel to cheated as a reader even if I did see the whole thing (or at least most of the whole thing) coming.

So where does that leave us at the end of the day? Good question. Cooke really draws his butt off this issue, it must be said, and even though the art for this series has been of a generally high standard from the get-go, the extra effort he puts into this finale really shows — in particular, there’s a terrific  sectioned-up splash page featuring Dr. Manhattan  at the halfway point of this one that might be the best single image in any of the BW books, so that goes some way toward elevating my overall feelings about this title, as well.The variant covers by Cooke (see top of post) and Becky Cloonan (see below) are both pretty damn amazing, as well. The story’s been a mixed bag, to be sure, and was obviously constructed to be read in collected form since it isn’t paced or plotted to work particularly well in single-issue chunks at all, but you know what? I think folks who read this in the upcoming hardcover and eventual trade paperback collections are going to be pretty pleased with what Cooke has done here. The characterization has been consistent, we’ve gotten to know Hollis Mason and Byron Lewis, especially, a good deal better than we did before, and all in all the whole thing doesn’t feel like a giant, gaping, yawning waste of time.

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Damning with faint praise? Possibly so. And maybe my expectations have been ground down so low under the onslaught of pointlessness that is the rest of Before Watchmen that even an okay series like this one seems better than it actually is when compared to its fellow travelers. Certainly there are more ideas and multiple layers of meaning and interpretation to be found on pretty much any given page of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ original Watchmen series than Cooke manages to fit into six entire issues here. At its best moments, this was pretty much just superbly-drawn, competently-written, straight-forward comics storytelling. At its worst, it had a tendency to drift into the realms of “why-the-fuck-am-I-even-reading-this”-ness that BW books such as ComedianRorschach, and Ozymandias have firmly planted their flags in and never left. But it didn’t stay there for too terribly long, and Cooke always managed to find a way to at least keep his readership engaged in the proceedings. That hardly makes for revolutionary stuff, by any means, and this series doesn’t really do anything to add to the Moore/Gibbons Watchmen legacy, but at least it doesn’t in any way detract from it, either. If you’re willing to settle for a decent-enough little story featuring  characters that first appeared in a timeless classic of world literature rather than holding out for, well, another timeless classic of world literature,  then you’ll be more than suitably entertained by Before Watchmen : Minutemen. If you were hoping for something more, as I guess to one degree or another we probably (and, let’s face it, foolishly) all were, I don’t know what to tell you — this is DC Comics in 2012.  A snappy superhero adventure yarn with pretty pictures is, sadly, about as good as it gets from them.