Friday, March 27, 2009

Deceptive Tweets- Ghost writing's next step

Ghost writing seems to have always played a role in the publishing world, or at least it has for a long time now. It's a job employed primarily by celebrities or politicians who don't have the time, interest, or ability to write their own memoirs or autobiographies. Even R.L. Stein, famed children's lit writer of the nineties, employed ghost writers in order to keep each of his book lines on a regular schedule. In short, Ghost writing isn't anything new, you can even find help wanted ads on craigslist calling for ghost writers. However, the New York Times posted an article on their website yesterday discussing celebrity twitter accounts, and the celebrities that don't use them. 

The article gives several examples of celebrities who employ someone to, or simply have some else update their twitter accounts for them. Specifically, they make reference to rapper 50 Cent, and former-trainwreck-currently-singer Britney Spears. The article also discusses athletes such as Lance Armstrong, and Shaquille O'Neal who update their accounts themselves. Of ghost written tweets O'Neal said "If I am going to speak, it will come from me.... It's 140 characters... If you need a ghostwriter for that, I feel sorry for you." His opinion is one I happen to share. 

Ghost writing as a practice is morally problematic no matter what the situation happens to be. In the case of autobiographies, or memoirs, the reader is purchasing a product in the hopes of dispelling the smoke and mirrors of celebrity and getting a true, earnest look at the life and experiences of the billed celebrity writer. Celebrity in this case referring to any high profile figure. It's rather insulting then that a personal form of writing intended to be honest can and is used as a marketing tool. By employing a ghost writer in this fashion, the product's intent is voided and the reader is cheated. Even if the ghost writer is an honest translator of the person's life, it still lacks the personal element that separates these forms of writing from others. While this is a disingenuous, and can even be considered despicable practice, it isn't without some justification and benefit. While no celebrity should sign a book deal knowing they have no intent to write their own book, it's likely that a few find such an arduous task more daunting than they had previously thought once the work begins. While unfortunate, at least in this instance hiring a ghost writer to complete the contract is understandable. The benefit is rather obvious-- it employs an otherwise jobless writer. While they may not get credit for the work, they are at least fed for a few months. 

Ghost writing for Twitter is a sin far more shameful, the only aspect less offensive is that a reader didn't unload twenty-five dollars to read it. Online friend services are intended to be used as a way for someone to connect with others. Like a form of personal writing, celebrities have the ability to regain independence from their image and connect with those who support them by utilizing these online services. When used by a celebrity for their intended purpose, it's a win-win for both the celebrity and fan alike. The celebrity is allowed to humanize themselves, while the fan is allowed a glimpse into their life. It's better for both involved. However, a ghost written twitter has a completely opposite effect. Consider the following, from the above NY Times article, spoken by a former consultant for Britney Spears; 

"'It's O.K. to tweet for a brand,' he said, remarking how common it is for companies to have Twitter accounts, 'but not O.K. for a celebrity. But the truth is, they are a brand. What they are to the public is not always what they are behind the curtain. If the manager knows that better than the star, then they should do it.'"

Ignoring the fact that the final point this man makes would be untruthful at best, and libel at worst- It turns what should be an honest, direct line of communication into something deceptive, greedy, and something entirely more damaging than whatever a celebrity might disclose of their personal life. I'm referring specifically to the celebrity as a brand. A person doesn't have to look further than celebrities such as Rock Hudson-- the epitome of masculinity in mid-century America and a forcibly closeted homosexual for his entire life. Even when Hudson was diagnosed with HIV, it was released to the public as liver cancer. If that isn't enough, consider Rita Hayworth. Her on screen image was one of a sexual temptress, and she lived much of her life in Hollywood glamor, but in truth she wanted nothing more than to be  happily married and with her family. To discuss Marilyn Monroe's troubled life and unfortunate suicide would be overkill. On top of all of that, it is impossible to ignore the sad irony in the fact that this blurb comes from a former brand manager for Britney Spears-- a celebrity who could have used transparency to great advantage when she was being hounded relentlessly by the media. Public sympathy could have been easily won for her if her absurd decisions had been accompanied by some insight into her life or mindset. Supporting 'the brand' does not allow celebrities to live like normal people, and the fact that a celebrity is a person it what separates them from the companies that have twitters. If Pepsi twitters about something, it's clear that the words don't belong to the actual soda, but if Spears or 50 Cent post a tweet, there is a justified expectation that the words are theirs. 

All of this is to say nothing of the absolute ridiculousness of the fact that these celebrities can't manage to write their own pathetically pithy comments on their day to day events. It can't be argued that writing their own comments is destructive to their image. If it were, Aston Kutcher would have been out of the public eye as soon as people had some idea of how much of an arrogant airhead he was. Unlike the autobiography or memoir, writing twitter statuses isn't a difficult task. 

All of this brings me back to my original point: Ghost writing is never a good thing. It removes all the intent behind writing a memoir or autobiography. If the writer is not connecting on a personal level with the reader than the work may as well not exist. The same can be said for faux tweets. The benefit of these formats for celebrities is that they are allowed to show themselves for who they are, and dispel the brand. To support 'the brand' using these mediums is commercialistic and insulting. Writing-- be it a novel, memoir, blog or tweet-- is about honesty and we'd all be a bit better served if someone manged to exorcise the ghosts. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Ms. Marvel #37

Ms. Marvel #37
Written by Brian Reed
Pencils by Patrick Ouiffe

Ms. Marvel has been holding back her powers for some time because of the destructive effect they have begun to have on her. Face to face with the super-powered Ghazi Rashid, and enraged by her returning memories Carol lets loose despite herself. The result is the final issue of the three part "Death of Ms. Marvel" story arc. Note: This review does contain spoilers as it would be impossible to address several problems without them. 

The death of Ms. Marvel has been something of an interesting beast. Particularly because I've been reading this title since its first year, and I'm also a follower of Reed's message board and website. Even without the "insider" kind of information that I've found on Reed's board, it seems like it would be blatantly apparent that Reed didn't intend for Carol to die until Dark Reign was panned out. Though, he does try very hard to tie up as many of his plot lines as possible in this story, it seems rather forced and used more as a means to end. Reed has been notoriously bad about following things through, because after all, the upcoming protagonist change is the titles third direction change since the titles inception less than forty issues ago. Reed's waning attention span has been something of a problem for the comic as whole, and his attempt to unify several events in Carol's final stand off is hard to swallow because it was never intended to end here. 

The forced nature of the story aside, the crux of it should, naturally, be the promised death of the title's protagonist. One of the biggest problems surrounding this is a lack of belief in Carol's actual death. It was publicized before its occurrence which tends not to be the case when a character is actually intended to bite the dust for good (see Captain America and Wasp). There is also a generally transitory feel to Dark Reign because it seems clear that the status quo is bound to change within three years. Moonstone certainly won't be carrying the title of Ms. Marvel when she's not employed by Osborn to do so-- so naturally, the real Ms. Marvel seems destined to return. 

The argument is further enforced by the uneventful nature of Ms. Marvel's death. Instead of giving her a "best of the best" moment to highlight how the character has changed, and to take her out on a high note, Reed chooses instead to have her barely obtain victory, fly into the sky and seemingly explode. The ambiguity of the death certainly seems to show that she will be back, and soon. The question then becomes why not give her a significant moment regardless? It seems as a writer, Reed should be interested in covering his trail not only in interviews where he asserts Ms. Mavel's death, but also in the actual comic. If her death was befitting of the character, which it certainly is not in this issue, than readers would be further thrown into doubt as to the possibility of her return-- with or without an ambiguous death. Perhaps Reed has a reason why he neglected to infuse her death with emotional impact but it seems that if he did it wouldn't be good enough to justify her final goodbye. An emotional scene that did Carol justice, and proved her to be the best of the best, would have suited both her return or non-return better than what Reed has written. 

The remainder of the issue deals with tying up Rick Mason and Rossi's story, as well as the actual plot line of the comic. Both Rossi and Mason seem to suffer from the same problems-- huge questions of why and how. Without getting into it extensively, the motivations of both characters are dubious, and it's insulting given how much of a factor Rossi is in this story. This scene also has very bad action film kind of tone to it by asking the reader to accept huge unexplained, and unexplored ideas. 

Finally, a quick mention of Ouiffe's pencils. The art in Ms. Marvel has been a mixed bag since the beginning of the series-- but sadly in this issue, arguably the most important in the series thus far, the pencils are absolutely awful. Ouiffe's characters tend to be oddly elongated, and his binary is simply strange looking-- very unfortunate as her appearance throws the reader out of the story a mere two pages or so from Ms. Marvel's supposed death. There is likely good reason that his name hasn't come to my attention before. It's also difficult to distinguish Mason from Rossi, which makes the first few pages very hard to read.

It's not without regret that Carol Danvers slips into the cold dark night. Ms. Marvel has been an uneven but overall enjoyable read, and it's with reluctance that I continue to read with Karla as the protagonist. Reed only has a few months to win me over. Sadly, goodbye must be said to the one true marvelous Ms. Marvel. All I have managed to do is shake my head sadly as think about the undeserving end the character received. 

RATING: 4 out of 10
With little emotional resonance, and bad artwork it's very difficult to appreciate the issue-- although the very end does seem to have some promise. If you're interested in Ms. Marvel, or Dark Reign the next issue is the primere time to hop on board as Osborn's Ms. Marvel, the former Moonstone will be taking up the title. 

Side-note: Both Battle for the Cowl: Commissioner Gordon and Mighty Avengers #23 were wonderful this week. I would have liked to review a good book this week but Ms. Marvel's death seemed to warrant the week. 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

DC Announces Additional Co-features

The price of several comics, as well as all new mini-series and one-shots, at Marvel recently rose to 3.99-- A full dollar more than the price of comics for the past half-decade or so. With Marvel's announcement, it seemed inevitable that DC comics would follow suit and raise prices on some of its titles as well. DC has indeed announced a price hike, but not without a pleasant twist involved. All DC titles to have a 3.99 price tag will be accompanied with additional pages featuring a (related) character currently unable to sustain a title. The first announcements were made a few weeks ago and included Metal Men to appear with the upcoming Doom Patrol, Blue Beetle to appear in Booster Gold, and Ravager to appear in Teen Titans. 

Earlier today, the June solicitations for the Batman and Green Lantern titles were released early [full solicitations release the last Monday of the month]. Among the news, it was also announced that Manhunter would be co-featured in Batman: Streets of Gotham, and The Question would be co-featured in Detective Comics! 

Those who know me are aware that I've been championing for a title for Renee Montoya's Question for some time. It would have given DC their first LGBT protagonist in an ongoing (Wildstorm did have a gay character but it was quickly cancelled, not triumphed, and most importantly not under a DC billing). When it was announced that Batwoman would be taking up Detective Comics it was both great, and disappointing news. Great in the sense that DC was fully embracing a LGBT character by delivering on an ongoing (The original flag ship title to boot!) but disappointing in that it was a character who has seen little use until this time (contrasted to Montoya who had held the spot-light more than once). Both O'Neil's run on the Question from the 80s, and Gotham Central are titles I'm reading in graphic novel form-- both of which are fantastic-- and that's why I had been hoping for a new Question series. I was ecstatic when I found out that DC would be adding Question to a series I already had every intention on picking up. 

DC's new buissness model is something of genius. First and foremost, it's not simply ripping money out of the hands of its readers like Marvel intends to do. While Marvel had a difficult few quarters early in the year, it managed to close on quite the high. It was a bit of unfortunate timing as the news of increased prices came only a few weeks before Marvel's financial triumph. Additionally, as of February 2009, Marvel controled 47% of the American comic market versus DC's 28%. Likely what has saved DC from having to hike prices first is the fact that they're a subsidiary of Warner Brothers while Marvel is an independent company. All that is a bit of a tangent, but the point is that DC is making an attempt to keep readers contented despite rising costs. To boot, the titles going up in price are already low-selling titles which means that DC is simply trying to make cost and keep them on the shelves (This is not the case with Marvel). 

Not only does this seem to be a genuine attempt at easing readers into the 3.99 era, and to keep comics on shelves, but it also keeps good characters out of obscurity. The characters that have been chosen to have co-features are all character that have proved that they have a readership in the past, but an unfortunately small sect. Montoya pre-Question was one of the primary draws to Gotham Central, while Blue Beetle and Manhunter sustained their own titles for several years. These are interesting, good characters with a great deal of potential mileage, and it's fantastic that DC isn't dropping them completely. 

It's also good news for comic writers and artists-- simply, more comic equates to more potential work. DC could garner a great of respect if they were willing to do 8-page shorts, or original features to stand beside their own comics. There is, of course, a down-side to everything. Certain fans will be unwilling to pay an additional dollar for certain comics, and an 8-page feature (An optimistic guess) might not be enough to draw in the readers of the co-featured characters. Generally though, I feel this is the best available option a company has. Those who don't grab on when DC has it's arm outstretched are likely blinded to the realities of the world around us. Comics will universally go up in price. Co-featured characters won't sustain a title on their own. It's the way things are, and those who are unhappy about it will likely stay unhappy or have to simply stop reading. 

The 3.99 price hike isn't going to be pretty however you look at it, but they're making  a strong showing. It's also generally good news for comics like Jonah Hex, Simon Dark or Secret Six, who are unfortunately dying from a slow bleed despite their quality. DC deserves a round of applause for doing the best they can for both their creative teams, and their readers. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Azrael: Death's Dark Knight #1

Azrael: Death's Dark Knight # 1 (of 3) 
Written by Fabian Nicieza 
Art work by Frazer Irving 

With the suit of sorrow back in the hands of the Order of Purity, a new Azrael needs to be chosen to be the next angel of vengeance. This turn of events isn't viewed favorably by all, and there are those who will go to great lengths to see the suit of sorrows returned to where they believe it belongs. Enter Michael Lane: a man with a complicated past, and the Order of Purity's candidate for the Azrael mantle. A battle for the cowl tie-in. 

In a slow comic week, a great opening gambit can lock in a great number of additional readers a title wouldn't normally have. The opening pages of Azrael are filled with enough fire and fury to draw in a decent number of readers, but those who bought the title after these few pages expecting more will be greatly disappointed. The intriguing opening scene featuring a self-righteous, crazed Azrael and the brutal event depicted are merely used a plot devise to open the title and initiate several of the character's involvement in the story. This potentially fascinating serial-killer-esque plot line is dropped for the far less interesting establishment of the next Azrael. Simply, it's all downhill from the first three pages. 

A quarter of the comic in, the reader is introduced (by way of exposition) to the comic's protagonist Michael Lane. Lane's backstory is something of a sorry mix between that of Punisher and Captain America; a dead family sob story mixed with a police-project [the goal of which to replace Batman should he die, a-ha!] of questionable results. The backstory is over the top, a little too much pre-packed hero motivation, but the product of which should amount to an interesting character. Should, however, doesn't necessarily mean does. Lane is given a scant fourteen word balloon's and doesn't make an on-panel appearance until almost half-way into the issue. What dialog he does have is quick, and primarily tough-guy talk or quick jokes-- nothing that deals too significantly with his character. If he is intended to be an empty vessel, quietly moving through life, then that is what should be emphasized, though it's hardly appropriate for the hell-fire rhetoric of a character like Azrael. However, Lane isn't even given these element to his character. He is essentially faceless, despite his complicated backstory

This is the source of next problem this issue has: because Lane is so undeveloped, and so ill acquainted with the reader, it feels as though he simply jumps into the Azrael costume without motivation. Does he do it because it was supposed to be his place to assume the mantle of the bat? It seems unlikely. Does he do it because he seeks some closure on what happened to his siblings? Maybe. Why doesn't he ever question a group of people who are essentially occultists? The questions surrounding Lane's motivations are numerous and it feels as though the writer wasn't interested in establishing a character-- simply interested in getting someone in the Azrael suit that wasn't crazy. The entire issue would have been exponentially better served had it been written from Lane's point of view instead of ignoring the protagonist entirely. 

Lack of interest isn't a problem exclusive to Lane. The opposition to the Order of Purity isn't so much as a Who's who as a Who's that? If a reader is paying attention (though note, you do have to pay a good deal of attention), the reveal at the end of the issue will be something of an interesting development. However, the villains used as pawns in this issue are complete enigmas (I was only to identify one out of five of them). Between having no idea who the villains were, and having no interest in the new Azrael, the action sequences were totally flat and uninteresting. Even if captions had been used to identify the villains, it likely would have helped to make the comic a little more interesting. 

To its credit, the issue does manage to divulge a great deal of exposition without bogging a reader down. The issue also has some wonderful pages of art work, though it doesn't stand out as a whole. Perhaps in the following two issues, the rather uninteresting Michael Lane will start to stand out a little bit-- but don't hold your breath. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 
The only excuse to read this is if you're a die-hard fan of the Azrael concept or you're collecting all of the Battle for the Cowl tie ins, even so I wouldn't recommend it. 

EDIT NOTE: Apparently, the character Michael Lane dates back to sometime during Grant Morison's run on Batman. I feel as though the points I've raised concerning his character are still relevant though his origin may or may not date to prior to this issue. 

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reasons to be Indignant [A Book Review]

A novel by Philip Roth
Published September 2008

Roth's most recent novel tells a story that approaches its title-subject in a tragic Shakespearean way, but this tale of youth suffers from a split focus and a myriad of other less severe but still nagging problems. 

Indignation details the life of Marcus Messner, a nineteen-year-old Jewish boy, from his own perspective after his death. Marcus is a college boy from Newark who is initially suffering under his father's unrelenting parental thumb, a new development that Marcus is desperate to escape. He later manages to leave home for Winesburg College in Ohio where he meets several people including the flawless Sonny Cottler, the bothersome College Dean Cauldwell, and his troubled love interest, Olivia.  

The reader is initially unaware as to how serious Marcus is to be taken. While it's true that he's a youth, he doesn't appear to be the confused, aimlessly youth from the ilk of Holden Caufield. He is instead a determined, seemingly reliable individual, which makes his obstinence, and naivete that much more surprising when they finally begin to appear during his time at Winesburg. This is due in part to the increased level of interaction that the character has at the college, and thusly a slow reveal of his true character once removed from the parental nest. The issue is that he has so convincingly been portrayed as a character with justifiable causes of anger that his folly is indiscernible until it reaches comic proportions. Once that point has been reached, the reader is hesitant to take the character seriously again, which they seem expected to at several points in the novel. This switching back and forth is less problematic as the novel moves along, but is at the time of the first turn incredibly distracting, and makes difficult to place Marcus' mental maturity. 

The sub-plot of relationship between Marcus and Olivia is something of a major problem. Any good author will use a sub-plot, or character relationships to further emphasise the themes of a novel, either by subtle reiteration or contrast. Marcus' interactions with Olivia take up a significant portion of the book, if not a majority of it. It seems logical that these interactions would play into the final result of the novel. This relationship's fate does echo the overarching theme, but it does so without ever having a direct impact on the events of the novel, and Marcus' fate. If Roth were trying to paint sexuality as another aspect of youthful folly, than it should have played a part in end of the novel as it had every opportunity to. There is little interplay between the relationship, and Marcus' title-worthy indignation-- with so many opportunities for cohesion it's almost insulting that Roth doesn't bring them together. 

Roth's novel is also filled with several moments of extreme melodramatic dialog that's reminiscent of soap opera writing. It may well be that these are elements of the pervading black comedy, but they could equally be unintentional mishaps. The scenes give little indication as to which is the case, but regardless of which it is the reader is likely to burst out laughing. It seems appropriate that Roth should be given the benefit of the doubt. 

The end of Indignation might be something of a disappointment to most. Not only is it a huge Chekhovian-esque scene omission, but it also spills the thematic essence of the novel out for the reader. One is forced to wonder what might have been if Roth has decided to carry his novel to its conclusion, and emphasise his themes and intentions through that rather than presenting them to the reader in a neat, revealing, organized passage. Certainly there would be better places to stop the narrative and keep the finale intact if Roth hadn't cut the events off so shortly. 

The novel isn't without merit, it deals with interesting ideas even if it presents them in a somewhat inefficient way. Additionally, the blend of black comedy and tragedy in the novel will likely be able to keep a readers interest for the meager 231, well-spaced pages. If you can stand the occasional latinate word, or awkward scene thrown at you, it wouldn't be the worst novel to pick up on a rainy day. 


Friday, March 13, 2009

The New Dirty Word: Reboot

There are plenty of dirty words in the hollywood studio guidebook, and in the right context, they each have the power to make a person shiver. Without over thinking it the terms sequel, prequel, remake, reimagining, and, the newest of the bunch, reboot, come to mind. It's likely that a person could think of a good example of each of these-- but for each justified entity, there's a hundred abominations. Fox studios has been spending a lot of time thinking about reboots recently, in fact, they've considered taking the undo button to both the Fantastic Four and Daredevil franchises. 

 You'd probably be hard pressed to find anyone (except perhaps a youngster) who wouldn't mind seeing these franchises retooled. The fact is that both of them failed to deliver for fans of the source material, many critics, and it seems likely many average movie goers. It makes logical since that they should be re-tooled and brought back so that they can meet the expectations of the public. These films don't have the support that franchises like Batman or Iron Man have after all and because of that they should be given another go, right? Wrong. Let's get down to the heart of the matter: Reboots are a bad idea. 

The point proponents of a reboot for these franchises are going to make is that the reboot for Batman worked so well. Yes, both Batman Begins and the Dark Knight were terrific movies but it's important to remember that Batman Begins came eight years after Batman & Robin and the total decimation of the franchise. Also important to note is that Warner Brothers has no super-hero properties besides those at DC comics justifiably availible to them. Why pay for a super-hero's rights of use when you're sitting on a mountain of them? Marvel also has the advantage of displaying its properties on film for the first time (Minus a select few features). Warner Brothers was pinned into a corner: bring back proven commercial entities, or risk it with characters like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. It may have been a financial move, but it was the necessary play to make in order to enter into the super-hero genre safely.

That is the biggest difference between the Batman franchise, and those held by Fox. Looking for a profit is one of the necessary evils of being in the film industry unfortunately, but that doesn't mean there aren't certain ethics involved either. The fact is that in the early 2000s the super-hero genre was hot, and it still is. Warner Brothers repackaged something, and did it well to meet auidience expectation. Fox, by contrast, didn't take the source material for their films seriously-- the result was a set of films with mediocre reviews, and mediocre returns at the box office. Now fox wants to retool what they already botched before the market for super-hero films falls out. 

There is a certain degree of accountability for product that needs to be had. The batman franchise started strong and fell out over time. Neither Fantastic Four nor Daredevil can say the same. Fox failed to give those films the degree of creative talent, and seriousness that they deserved, and the results were art-less pieces of trash. Although the characters of those franchises deserve better, the studio that shamelessly expoited them for money once shouldn't be able to do it again. To do so only helps to prove that there is no art or merit in hollywood, and that insults films like the Dark Knight which were crafted with expert care. Reboots are cheap excuses to get a higher box office after a horrible set of bad films, while a property is hot and you still have the rights. It's the worst aspect of hollywood film making, in the same vain as remakes like Halloween and Friday the 13th. 

All this is to say nothing of those franchises that have been rebooted already. Punisher has managed to have three films, none of them connected (or good), in less than twenty years! Hulk is more of a complicated beast, as some like Ang Lee's directing (I don't) and like the original theatrical film. Some hate Lee's complete disregaurd for the material and favor the reboot (Which I also thought didn't do the franchise justice, but closer). 

The two qualifing attributes to a justified reboot are a change in public mentality (IE the genre is popular again), and/or a level of merrit to the entire or part of the origional franchise. God help you if both nothing has changed and it was crap to begin with. Otherwise you're operating at the lowest artistic level, and accountability for work is tossed completely out the window. Besides, Fantastic Four has already been ruined twice, do you really need to fuck it up again? Please Fox, have some artistic integrity and stop ruminating on reboots. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1

Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1 (Of 3)
Written by Tony Daniel 
Pencils by Tony Daniel

The dark knight is dead. Gotham is in chaos. A new champion needs to rise, defend the streets of Gotham and be all that which Bruce Wayne was, but who? And will it be enough to save Gotham in its decimated condition? These are the questions that Tony Daniel's Battle for the cowl arc is going to answer as it establishes the new status quo of the Batman universe. 

In light of the upcoming plans for Detective Comics (and my subsequent decision to start reading in June), and the promised new status quo for the Batman universe it seemed impossible to ignore the battle for the cowl. Although IGN's recent interview with DC editor and chief Dan Didio did send up some red flags. It's not often that a title promised to be all out action turns out for the best, and it seems that my fears, to a great extent were realized. 

The story is told primarily from Tim Drake's point of view, and the issue is littered with red-orange caption boxes, a handful of them pretty lengthy. This is, of course, to help reduce the size of the mini-series so that the story can be told as quickly as possible. The problem is that with the extent to which these are used. The mini might be better served with an additional sub-title of Exposition Abound! Captions are used to relate everything from Dick's feelings since Bruce's death, the gang situation in Gotham, and the means by which Tim tracks down the mysterious new vigilante featured in the mini. It's bad writing, and it makes for bad reading. Action in comics is fine, but really it's not worth much if they're simply generic villains. If forced to choose between the two, I'd be much more interested in Two-face or Penguins plans, glossed over in the captions, than Nightwing punching out some thugs. 

Black Mask is revealed as the primary antagonist within the first few pages, and while it's thrilling to see him return (I'm pulling for him for Batman 3)-- I have an overwhelming since of dread for where his character might be heading and the role he will play in the changing Bat-verse. Daniel puts several characters in a situation with him and the pending result seems to be leading to a derivative gang/crime leader situation that active comic readers are likely to pick up on. Without speculating too much, this idea seems to be supported by the announcement of the upcoming series Gotham City Sirens which is set to feature Catwoman, who has a long, sored history with Black Mask, and Poison Ivy, who is featured somewhat prominently in this issue and a character to watch for this reason. 

In truth, one of the biggest problems with this issue is that it suffers from all the marketing DC has done on the part of it's June release Batman books. Between the revealed list of Bat-books, the interviews, promo issue releases, and general character histories, it's likely that Daniel doesn't have much to offer in the way of surprises to his readers. The interest that remains in this miniseries doesn't come from 'How will it change', and perhaps not even 'who will be Batman' but rather 'How is it all going to happen?' Daniel may have some surprises up his sleeve up it seems unlikely. After all, when Marvel shakes things up they put Norman Osborn in charge-- when DC shakes things up they conjure a gang war. The reality seems to be that the beans have been spilt and those paying attention are just biding their time until the final result. 

I try to avoid discussing art, but as a quick sidenote, Daniel's designs for Riddler and Poison Ivy are absolutely atrocious. Riddler looks like an idiot, and Ivy's sensuality, the primary element of her character, is absolutely shattered by the absurd plant-clothes that Daniel puts her in. Both look like an amateur's copy of Jim Lee's designs from Hush. 

RATING: 6 out of 10. 
This might seem high given the content of the review, but until Daniel plays his hand he can't be judged for the events in the book. If you're interested in reading some of the upcoming Batman books, it might be worth your time to pick this up but you could likely avoid it and still be on solid ground.  

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Secret Six #7

Secret Six #7
Written by Gail Simone
Pencils by Nicola Scott

The first arc of Gail Simone's Secret Six ongoing ends this issue, despite what some reviewers may have thought at the end of the last issue and she manages to conclude it rather well. The most prominent facet of the issue is an all out D-lister brawl fest on the Gotham city bridge as the six try to bring the get-out-of-hell-free card into Gotham for delivery.

What separates Simone from the pack is her amazing talent for capturing characters. For most comic writers the final issue of a story is a near-dialog free fight with a tidy ending. Not in a Simone comic. Simone uses every chance she can get to highlight her character's personalities even in an eventful issue such as this one. Alex, or "Junior" get an entire page to herself in this issue that although not central to the story burns her character into the readers mind, and at the same time provides a wonderful moment of black comedy. Deadshot, Tarantula, and Mad Hatter also are given a great deal of time to shine in this issue.

The arc wraps up nicely if your a fan of character work. Character and plot are absolutely inseparable, but Simon's ending might disappoint those expecting something grandiose and magnificent. Instead, she lets her characters write the ending themselves- allowing them to play into the types that they've been written as. It works wonderfully, though some readers may feel Junior and Mad Hatter aren't given their due as villains considering the size of this arc but Simone isn't likely to leave a bad taste in your mouth either. In fact, Simone could likely write a comic with no plot, that just featured select characters at a bar and it would be wonderful.

If you doubt that if Simone is a good writer, consider the characters she's writing for (Catman, Deadshot, Bane, Scandal, Ragdoll, and Janet- if you can't keep up). These are characters that she either created or largely reshaped for herself, and in the midst of this issues D-list battle they stand out boldly despite being at roughly the same level of notoriety as the other characters featured. Anti-hero comics are a tough sale- but Simon writes such great characters you start to forget that these people are just as rough and nasty as the people they're fighting. This is to say nothing about her dialog which is equally as exceptional. It's difficult not to laugh when Catman is spouting lines as wonderful as "Well, clean my catbox."

The only real concerns to be had with this issue are minor. The Huntress/Catman relationship is still unclear-- either in total or for new readers, I can't say which. Huntress and her allies seemed thrust into this issue for no end at all other than to include them. Simone likely has an attachment to the character but should she use her it's best the reason is apparent. The Bane situation never quite resolves-- In this issue something happens regarding his beaten physical condition but the issue ends without resolving the new events. Once the card is played it's not seen again, and there is reason to see it- so to speak. There's a few melodramatic panels and bits of dialog that should have been tossed out in rewrites but nothing crippling.

RATING: 8 out of 10.
Simone does great character work, and has a wonderful sense of humor. If you're interested in the events of the six- next issue isn't a bad place to start. It might be useful to pick this and the mini-series trades up when they're available and when you can.