Oct 27, 2014

Batgirl: Savior of Comics

Batgirl: Savior of Comics
Ben Smith

My love for the original girl detective, Batgirl, is well-documented at this point. Not only is she a fun character to read about, I think she’s one of the most important characters in terms of the long-term viability of superhero comics as a genre and a medium. (I love her as much as our illustrious editor-in-chief, Duy of the Tanos, seems to hate her.) Batgirl is a ray of sunshine and fun, in a world dominated by orphans and grimly determined agents of the night.

Lots of people love Batman because he’s a self-made hero. They like to believe that with enough hard work, dedication, and the right resources, anyone could become Batman, and that may be true to an extent. (Being real for a moment, I’m almost positive that anyone trying to be Batman would get shot in the face their first night out, no matter how long they trained on their ninjitsu.) What I like about Barbara Gordon is that she didn’t train her whole life to be a vigilante, she just stumbled into it. If Batman represents what can be achieved through hard work and dedication, Barbara Gordon represents the individual that was born to be a superhero. That makes her better than Batman. He had to train his whole life to do what comes naturally to her. He spent a lifetime agonizing about his personal crusade, receiving inspiration from a fortuitous bat through his window. She went to a costume party. (In basketball terms, she’s the equivalent of a Lebron James or David Robinson, players born with bodies seemingly built to play basketball. Except she doesn’t suck.)

That’s not to say Barbara Gordon didn’t work hard in her life. She obviously was aided by natural gifts like her photographic memory, but she still studied hard to be a top student, and graduated early. (Babs was also the original sexy librarian, which can’t be forgotten. However, never google “Batgirl sexy librarian.”) She trained in the martial arts, prepared her whole life to be a police officer, as the daughter of a police officer. Crime investigation is in her blood. When that didn’t work out, she accidentally became Batgirl instead, and hasn’t looked back since.

What makes Batgirl so important, besides the bat on her chest, is her history as a prominent female character. (Okay, it’s mostly the bat on her chest. For the larger public, if you’re going to represent the bat, or the Superman “S” for that matter, then you have to bring it. It’s a heavy burden. Except for Superman, he sucks.) Wonder Woman may probably have been the first competent female superhero, but Batgirl was arguably the first competent heroine that was allowed to be so within the pages of her male counterpart’s comic. Batgirl solved crimes and kicked ass all on her own, and didn’t need Batman or Robin to come in and save her at the end. She was a partner, not a sidekick, and was allowed to run side-by-side with the boys, because she belonged there. As much as some of us like to believe that the gender, race, or color of characters shouldn’t matter, it does. Fans of all types should be able to read about a Batgirl that kicks ass, especially young girls.

Which brings us to The Killing Joke. Putting aside the decision to cripple Barbara Gordon in the first place, it’s absolutely confusing why DC was determined to keep her in the chair for so long. I understand the real-world message it sent to have her become such a competent and capable disabled character, I don’t mean to diminish that impact, but this is fiction. In a fictional universe where characters are resurrected from the dead, and Bruce Wayne himself recovered from a broken back, why was Barbara Gordon relegated to the chair? Maybe the argument that was she was more interesting as Oracle, to which I would disagree. If they were concerned about sending the wrong real-world message about miracles saving people from devastating injuries, why wasn’t it a concern for Batman? Why was it determined that a strong, confident, competent superheroine connected to comic’s strongest franchise, was better off “broken”? (Again, not to disregard the value of having a superhero in a wheelchair, but I think the legacy of Oracle still exists for anyone wanting to be inspired by it.)

Fortunately, the saga of Barbara Gordon as Batgirl was rebooted and reborn with the New 52. While I didn’t love (or hate) Gail Simone’s run with the character, the book has recently been taken over by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart, and Babs Tarr with the 35th issue. (I think Gail made the book a smidge too dark, which doesn’t make for the best Batgirl stories, despite her being a bat character.) Based on their first issue, it’s going to be the type of Batgirl that I can roll with, the type of Batgirl that America (and beyond) deserves.

For those looking for more Batgirl to read and enjoy, look no further than my beloved Batgirl solo backups in Detective Comics, circa the Neal Adams era. I also have a great amount of affection for Batgirl: Year One, featuring pre-Spider-Man Marcos Martin art.

You also can’t go wrong with the classic Batman Family series featured Barbara splitting time as Congresswoman (yes, that’s right) with saving Robin’s bacon as Batgirl.

 (This is where the Dick and Babs were always meant for each other probably took root, even though it was clearly Dick with the crush on Barbara.)

Batman Confidential #17-21 is a flashback of Batgirl’s first meeting with Catwoman, by Fabian Niceiza and Kevin Maguire.

 It’s decent enough, but what I like about it is how, in the last issue, a raw Batgirl basically stumbles her way through the gauntlet of Arkham Asylum, besting each of the classic bat-villains relying mostly on her own natural ability and intelligence. She was unsure and untrained, but won all the same.

Batgirl: Girlfrenzy was an entertaining issue, with an interesting blend between Jim Balent and Rich Burchett on art. (Thankfully it avoids the ominous Joker reference that most Batgirl flashbacks seemed obligated to include for the longest time. We get it, he shot her.) For more Rich Burchett, you can’t go wrong with Batgirl Adventures, modeled after the legendary animated series. Gotham Girls is well worth seeking out, in that same vein.

If you absolutely must go for a replacement Batgirl, then I cannot recommend Stephanie Brown’s way too short stint as the character highly enough. It was good enough to make Gail Simone’s New 52 Batgirl almost not worth it in comparison.

I believe a vital Batgirl is important to the world of superhero comics. She’s a fun character, she’s an intelligent character, she’s a role model for girls, and an inspiration for boys. Batgirl wears the bat on her chest, but she’s not going to take any crap from Batman, like Robin does. She wasn’t gifted the mantle of the bat on a silver platter, with Bruce’s express approval. She took it, and refused to give it back, until eventually Batman had no choice but to respect her ability. In a franchise dominated by dead relatives and burning personal angst, Batgirl is a shining beacon of positivity and intelligence. Barbara is the shining light that project’s Batman jet-black bat into the night sky, illuminating a symbol of hope for the beleaguered populace of Gotham. You can’t have light without dark, day without night, Batman without Batgirl.

And you can’t have Batgirl, without Barbara Gordon.

Oct 23, 2014

The Huntress is Awesome

The Huntress is Awesome
Travis Hedge Coke

There are two women called Huntress in DC comics, both with the birth name, Helena, the earliest Huntress being the legal aid Helena Wayne, daughter of Bruce Wayne, the heroic Batman, and a retired-from-crime Catwoman, Selina Kyle, the other Helena Bertinelli, heir to a mob family and traditionally a schoolteacher (except now, in the current standard continuity, she’s a spy). I encountered them both at roughly the same time, approximately twenty-five years ago, and I’ve been seriously on their side ever since.

It’s a funny thing to say, “Well, I’m on the side of the superhero,” but what you have to understand is that, with either Huntress, their side wasn’t necessarily the side of any other superhero, other do-gooders, of any other character in the stories. Helena Wayne and Helena Bertinelli walked their own paths, and those paths were just, and righteous, but they were also often loaded with condescending allies, manipulative criminals who talk a good game, and people who just figured they knew better the Huntress. Huntress has, traditionally, provided an example of the superhero glass ceiling, particularly in the DC Universe.

“Ralph Nader would be very comfortable working here,” wrote Paul Levitz of the public interest research group with whom Huntress was employed, “but the same isn’t necessarily true of Helena Wayne.” Why? Well, her colleagues are condescending, from Roger Demarest’s blatant horribleness (“We both know what she contributes to the firm… her curvaceous form, her father’s money, and no legal talent whatsoever!”) to the elderly Cranston’s patronizing, fatherly toleration (“Clearly,” he says in response to Roger’s statement, “anyone who was valedictorian and editor of the Law Review and graduated Harvard Law at 21 should be an important part of our firm. Your beauty and your father’s benevolence aside.”). What makes circa 1978 Helena Wayne a target where, apparently, Ralph Nader is not, or the various men she works with? It’s not the “father’s money,” because the men she frequently locks horns with or suffers under clearly have money and mostly come from it. It’s not that she’s pretty or overly sexualized; the men are all fairly good-looking and Roger tends to more sexualized poses than anyone. Cranston and District Attorney Harry Sims are more overly emotional than Helena “woman being all ‘womany’” Wayne. But even a cop who shows up after Huntress and Supergirl save police in the middle of a firefight can’t say thank you so much as “I ain’t sure if I should be letting you help.”

It’s simply and clearly not a woman’s place, in the estimation of these men, even those who will “let” them help.

And, the early talent on Huntress’ stories were obviously aware that this was a real-world imbalance that they were tackling. It’s not an imbalance lost to time, either, as the absurd and vigorously violent rhetoric of Gamergate/Quinnspiracy or “fake geek girls” opposition today will demonstrate. Paul Levitz structures his plots and dialogue to deliberately put us on Huntress’ side, and Joe Staton - and underrated talent if ever there was one - draws his women with human body language and reasonable clothes, while his superheroines stand tall, upright, strong, unlike the slinking and back-arching, butt-projecting body language many even exceptional comics pencilers can fall into. Huntress may have teamed up with Robin or Power Girl back then, but she never took a backseat to another superhero or became the girlfriend in distress, something that era’s superhero women, from Wonder Woman to Lois Lane, were usually cursed with.

In Levitz and Staton’s … Last Laugh, Batman makes an appearance while she pursues the Joker, but he’s just there to see Huntress kick ass. It’s Huntress who lays out the macabre clown-faced gangster.

The later, second Huntress, Helena Bertinelli, doesn’t do much better in terms of those dynamics, in-story, and, unfortunately fares worse in terms of how the talent handle her. Bertinelli tended to be drawn with more prominent swayback, and for some time sported a belly-window on her costume, something that, along with her frequent (extending back to the original, Helena Wayne Huntress) bare legs just seems progressively idiotic on a non-superpowered vigilante who frequently runs through fire getting shot at.

The great thing with Helena Bertinelli, though, is that the more she’s handled poorly by a writer, penciler, or editor, the better she comes off to her (even casual) fans. That stupid belly-window galvanized her fandom. Her abrupt removal from “continuity” roused up a wave of love for her that her actively existing in that continuity didn’t seem to equal. (Bringing her back, recently, seems to have done nicely for DC, however.) Grant Morrison bringing Huntress into the Justice League was massive and beautiful, and him writing her out (at an editor’s request after the incoming writer didn’t want her on the team) annoyed, rightly, pretty much everyone who read that comic. For those who don’t have it encyclopedically stashed in their memory, it’s towards the end of World War 3, where she’s facing a villain who once brought down nearly the entire Justice League, who has been partly responsible for a global war, untold (and mostly off-panel) murder and decimation. Huntress is prepared to put an arrow in his face, or at least is considering it, and Batman shows up and fires her. Right there and then.

And, nicely, a lot of her fans seem to have hit those panels and immediately gone “Hey! That’s uncalled for!”

Fandom is funny. Huntress’ actual fandom is fairly small, so when an article or discussion board talks about “fan” reaction to a Huntress comic, what they usually gauge is general comics fandom not people who really love the Huntress or comics she’s actually in. But, I think, too, I’m the rarity in being a fan of both Huntresses, to a strong degree. Ivory Madison tried to merge the two, a bit, the best of both worlds according to her tastes, in her Year One miniseries, but two small, tenuously connected fandoms and a market of, essentially non-fans or casual readers were not all that pleased. Madison, a law school graduate, and herself once the Editor in Chief of a Law Review a la the Huntress, expressed her own dissatisfaction with her Huntress comic, and even though I like it more than most fans, trying to combine the Helenas, is like trying to find a Jim Croce song that is simultaneously punchy as his punchiest and sappy as his sappiest. Sometimes you got to pick a horse and let it finish the race. Year One tried to call every horse in the race at different points, from the Levitz/Staton stories to Devin Grayson’s Cosa Nostra, Greg Rucka’s Cry for Blood, and half a dozen other takes, and by the finish line, the bet was completely confuzzalated. In a much more awkward fashion the recent Huntress mini that launched a new World’s Finest by giving a bait and switch seemingly out of nowhere, starting clearly with Helena Bertinelli as Huntress and in its final pages revealing her to be a facade adopted by Helena Wayne. The real money is on someone from on high deciding it was Wayne shortly before that final issue was put to bed, otherwise it’s just incredibly sloppy from talent I don’t want to think can get that sloppy.

But, in any case, Huntress fans persevered - or just disregarded what they didn’t want. If anyone can teach you how to do that, it’s Huntress. The four or five different origin stories she had, even those ostensibly set in the same continuity, don’t jibe, but do fans particularly care? By and large, the fans select the important truths, enjoy the visceral and heroic thrills, and move forward, instead of worrying how to make all details of all versions run smoothly together. The diehard Tim Drake fans will be tying themselves in knots trying to gel all his continuity snaggles into an entirely agreeable backstory, but Huntress fans just pick their horse and cheer it on in the race. Year One does not have to step on Cry for Blood and that didn’t invalidate Huntress who used to jump across realities to team up with Batgirl, or the Huntress on television, who wore no mask and eschewed the traditional jobs of white women and black men in superhero comics of schoolteacher or community-based law to tend bar. Helena Wayne or Helena Bertinelli, or Helena Kyle (as the TV version was styled) aren’t about getting hung up on orderliness and expectation, but about seeing injustice clearly and working directly to put that injustice to an end.

In Cosa Nostra, aka Nightwing/Huntress, the grown-up Robin, Nightwing, says to Huntress, “I understand… I can’t let a man go down for a crime he didn’t commit. It compromises the whole system everything we…” and she cuts him off. “No,” she says, “People like [that career gangster] compromise everything we believe in. And I don’t care what it takes to bring them down.”

In Identity (John Francis Moore and Stefano Guadiano), Batman insists Huntress stop breaking up an active criminal organization because there is an ATF agent undercover with them, to which she responds, “I don’t care. I don’t work for the ATF or you. As far as I’m concerned, [they] need to be shut down now. The Feds can make their case later.”

She isn’t policing on the streets or upholding the structure of law enforcement, she isn’t preaching or teaching killers or racketeers to be better human beings. To clear the field for those who are learning and/or teaching, for her work as a legal aid, teacher, bartender, or whatever to better the lives of folks who aren’t stealing, killing, raping or just plain using a system that’s set up in their favor to cheat those whom the system has stacked itself against, she is not fighting crime, she is not pursuing abstract justice, she’s hunting down crime.

Huntress, second-wave feminist and superheroine, either the child of a superhero and supervillain or born the last living soul in a prominent crime family, is never about the kind of “peacemaking” that really means appeasing the empowered while giving a little more to the victimized. Batman and Superman, Green Lantern and Spider-Man are generally about suspending criminal activity. They arrest criminals and let the cops pick them up to hold them a bit, then they’re out and doing it again, they’re the kind of superheroes who let a multiple murderer, death-ray user, and serial rapist like Lex Luthor be President of the United States, while the Punisher or Thorn are just out killing or mutilating criminals regardless of the scale or nature of their crimes in an attempt to permanently shut down human beings and thereby curtail injustice. Huntress is not tolerating crime or cruelty, she’s not interested in avoiding the consequences of hard and serious corrections, of socially permissible cruelty or theft. A District Attorney like Harry Sims, a superhero like the Flash can afford, sometimes, to ignore an assault because it is domestic or graft because it is couched in religion, Batman more and more regularly permits Penguin to act as a fence, dealer, and racketeer because he keeps a balance amongst worse criminals, but no version of the Huntress is going to play that. Huntress’ pursuit of justice is in a true balancing of the scales, not in appeasement but in vindication.

Oct 22, 2014

Time for Judgement: Review of Yoshiki Tonogai’s Judge

Time for Judgement: Review of Yoshiki Tonogai’s Judge
by Tanya Lindquist

Imagine being kidnapped, drugged, and waking up wearing an animal mask over your head. You have been taken to a dilapidated courthouse and made to stand trial for one of the seven deadly sins. That is the opening of Yoshiki Tonogai’s Judge Volume 1, and the fast pace doesn’t stop there. Every 12 hours they must decide who should die, because as an ominous video tells them only four will survive. According to their captor, there must be a majority vote for an execution to take place. Not voting means everyone will die.

Hiro, the main character of the story, is one of the captives. He is the one character that believes everyone can survive if each time they vote it ends in a tie. Things go awry when one person receives the majority vote leading to the first execution. This leads to rampant speculation about who voted for who. Mistrust abounds and thoughts of kill or be killed come to the surface.

Throughout the manga you get a sense of claustrophobia. Tonogai’s drawings close in and make you feel each character’s feelings of being trapped. The courthouse is sparse with very little furniture or anything distinguishing one room for another. In dimly lit rooms he shades the corners, creating dark spaces making you wonder what might be lurking there.

Those familiar with Tonogai’s previous work, Doubt, may notice the eerie resemblance to that manga’s cover. These are two separate stories, but the masks are used for different purposes. In Doubt, the story is a select group of people are made to play a real life version of a popular online game. The players are rabbits in search of who amongst them is a wolf. A wolf that is picking them off one by one. The rabbits have to decide who is the wolf and kill that person first. It is interesting to see how Tonogai uses different settings and themes to explore what will people do to survive. With Doubt, what would you do to survive a game? What if you kill an innocent person? With Judge, what would you do to survive a judgement? Who has committed the greater sin and should die for it?

As of this writing, Volumes 1 through 5 were published and available in the U.S. The final volume of the series, number 6, will be released in February 2015. This particular manga is best read all at once or one right after the other in rapid succession. The first volume is highly addictive and just leaves you hanging. The stakes rise in each subsequent volume and new discoveries are to made in character motivations and secrets.

Oct 20, 2014

Battle for the 80s, Part the Final: The Finaling

Battle for the 80s
Part the Final – The Finaling

Over the preceding weeks, I made the decision to determine once and for all the top franchise of the 1980s, because no blogger has possibly ever done this before. Oh well, nobody ever has accused me of originality, or intelligence, but at least I am well versed in the useless knowledge. Self-trolling aside, the candidates began with He-Man, The Smurfs, Voltron, Thundercats, Ducktales, and GI Joe, but they all fell like the Japanese fleeing from the twin Godzillas that are Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Who will win, I don't know. As long as its not Robotech, its all fine by me. (Cranky Editor Man: I thought Robotech was my favorite 80s cartoon. Then I watched Macross, the anime it was based on. I can't watch Robotech anymore.)


Primary Heroic Character

Optimus Prime rocks your mom's face off.

Winner: Transformers

Primary Villain

As of the time of writing this, the NFL season is about to begin, and the star wide receiver for the Detroit Lions, Calvin Johnson, his nickname is Megatron. That's about the coolest sports nickname I've ever heard, so I'm going to change my mind from last week and pick Megatron over the guy named after a cheese slicing utensil.

Winner: Transformers

Primary Female Hero

Transformers did have Elita-1 and the other female Transformers from the classic season 2 episode, and Arcee from the misbegotten later seasons, but the real winner here is teenage boys due to April's yellow jumpsuit.

Winner: TMNT

Supporting Heroic Cast

Would you rather hang out with a mutant rat, or Jazz? I thought so.

Winner: Transformers

Supporting Villainous Cast

Chris Latta was the actor behind the classic voices of Cobra Commander and Starscream. Every role he had in a 80s cartoon, he basically used that same voice, making me wonder if that was just his regular voice. Which then made me wonder what it would be like to have a conversation with him, which would be pretty cool, mostly because he died and that would mean you were sailing the good ship impossible. Also, I think he was a stand-up comedian, and I can't even process that in my mind right now.

Winner: Transformers

Animated Series

The Transformers episode War Dawn may be the greatest single cartoon installment of the '80s.

Winner: Transformers

Theme Song

I'll always take the season 3 remix of Transformers, but I would be alone.

Winner: TMNT

Comic Book Series

In the never-ending debate between the value of corporate comics versus independent comics, I pick Buster Witwicky.

Winner: Transformers


I've said it before, and it will never stop being true, the Transformers toys were the best our species can hope to accomplish.

Winner: Transformers

Best Single Issue Comic

Optimus Prime and Megatron fight to the death in a virtual reality video game, in which Optimus wins, but he declares himself the loser because he sacrificed the life of an innocent, even though the innocent in question was not a real being, but a simulated video game being. Regardless, Optimus allowed himself to be destroyed in real life due to the arrangement made over the winner of the game. But the Turtles also went to space and fought alien space rhinos. Hmm . . .

Winner: Transformers

Best Cartoon Reboot

The '80s Ninja Turtles cartoon is by far the worst thing ever made with the Turtles. It has only gotten better.

Winner: TMNT

Most Enduring Legacy

The biggest movie of summer 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy, had a Ninja Turtles joke in it.

Winner: TMNT

Best Comic Book Reboot

A lot of people quite enjoy the currently running TMNT series from IDW. Good enough for me.

Winner: TMNT

Best Live-Action Movie

The Turtles win this even if you're just putting the Michael Bay versions against each other.

Winner: TMNT

Best Behind the Scenes Origin

Creating your own parody comic using elements of Frank Miller and the X-Men and turning it into a worldwide sensation is one of the greatest success stories period, not just in comics.

Winner: TMNT

Best In-Story Origin

I love that in the original comic, the mutagen that creates the turtles is the same mutagen that blinded Daredevil, all in the same incident.

Winner: TMNT

Franchise My Wife Likes the Most

Unquestionably . . .

Kimberly Smith, Back Issue Ben's boss and the
illustrious writer of
Fallen Ash, drawn by Benj Bartolome
and colored by Sam Gungon
, which you really should be reading.
Here's a link. Here's another.
Winner: TMNT

Who Would Win in a Fight


Winner: Transformers

Most Significant Contribution from Jim Shooter

Winner: Transformers

Best Use of Detached Brain

Optimus Prime comes close thanks to the comic, but Krang.

Winner: TMNT

Best Halloween Costume

And by best, I mean easiest to dress a 6 year old in.

Parker Smith, Back Issue Ben's oldest son
Winner: TMNT

Best Cosplay Costume

Have you ever seen the Transformers costumes that actually transform?

Winner: Transformers

Best Underlying Ecological Message

Transformers is ultimately about the destructiveness that comes from the struggle for fossil fuels, while Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a warning about properly disposing of toxic waste.

Winner: Transformers

Best Use of Shell-Related Puns

Winner: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Best Drawing by Jack "The King" Kirby

There's also this. -Cranky Editor Man

Winner: TMNT

Best Circumventing of Extreme Cartoon Violence

Robot Foot soldiers.

Winner: TMNT

Best Inspiration for Tattoos

DJ Starscream (wins for that name alone) has Autobot and Decepticon tattoos on the back of his hands.

Winner: Transformers

Best Unintentionally Lewd Title

Winner: Transformers

Franchise My Wife Wants to Win

Because she gets two votes

Winner: TMNT

Transformers: 14
TMNT: 15

There you have it, a champion is crowned. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proved to be the most durable and overall enjoyable creation of the 1980s. Having said all that, I'm immediately disqualifying them since most of their success came after the decade. Enjoy your disqualification victory, Transformers lovers.
The Smith Family: Kimberly, Palmer, Parker, and Back Issue Ben

Next time, something equally pointless.

Oct 16, 2014

Review: Desperadoes Omnibus

I started 2014 out by watching, and getting addicted, to Tombstone, the 1993 film in which Kurt Russell starred as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer stole the show as Doc Holliday. In terms of comics, I also started 2014 out by reading Planetary, that wondrous arrangement of worlds and archetypes by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday.

So, of course, eventually, I was going to read Desperadoes, a supernatural Western that debuted in 1997, written by Jeff Mariotte and initially drawn by Cassaday. The Omnibus was a birthday gift to myself, costing the local equivalent of approximately 25 dollars, and has five storylines, which were published over the course of 10 years:

  • "A Moment's Sunlight," drawn by Cassaday
  • "Epidemic!", laid out by Cassaday and finished by John Lucas
  • "Quiet of the Grave," drawn by John Severin
  • "Banners of Gold," drawn by Jeremy Haun
  • "Buffalo Dreams," drawn by Alberto Dose

Because of the different artistic teams, the Omnibus is a visual mixed bag. Dose is good on his own, but he's got a cartoony style that didn't really fit in well with the best of the series. Haun's work, in general, looks pretty sloppy and rushed (and he does what may be my most hated technique in all of comics — blatantly being obvious about using a celebrity as a model; that always takes me out of a story almost immediately). "Epidemic!" looks only slightly less rushed than Haun's work, and sandwiched in between Cassaday and Severin, it's tough to read without wanting to skip through.

So, basically, I'm just gonna talk about "A Moment's Sunlight" and "Quiet of the Grave." They're both as long as "Banners of Gold," so if you get the book, it's like getting two full arcs for 12 dollars each, plus three extra stories. That makes sense, yes? Yes? Okay.

The thing with Desperadoes is that I'd been meaning to read it since its debut. Its reviews back in Wizard (ahhh, Wizard) were intriguing, and Cassaday seemed like an artist I'd really take a shine to. I just never got around to it, so reading Desperadoes now, after I've read Cassaday at his peak in Planetary, is a bit weird, since I have to take his evolution into account. But Cassaday was always good at what he did. His grimy, dynamic style is built, if it had to be built for any specific genre, for a Western. Here's the first splash page we get of the core of the gang. Gideon Brood, the leader, stands confident in the gunfight despite knowing he's a target. Jerome Alexander Betts holds two weapons, ready to fight hand to hand if he runs out of bullets. Abby DeGrazia shows enough leg to show that her looks are what prompted the fight in the first place, but is confident enough with her firearm that you know not to mess with her.

One thing I noticed about Cassaday is that he can block group shots really well. Here's an establishing shot from the first issue, seen from the point of view of Race Kennedy, investigative journalist from the big city who's out of his element in the Old West.

Every single character in that shot is accounted for in the eventual riot that follows. Everyone's sitting exactly where they need to be sitting, walking to exactly where they need to be walking. That's a level of detail most artists would just neglect, trusting on the exposition to carry them and for the readers to fill in the blanks. I found out later on that Cassaday has a background in filmmaking, which made sense.

There's a lot of detail involved in Desperadoes, including little tidbits like what to do during a gunfight. I'm not sure if this is actually a legitimate tip, but it does make sense.

Here's another one, just visually shown. I assume it's to prevent the horses from galloping away while the riders sleep.

That above panel is by John Severin, who drew the "Quiet of the Grave" storyline. Severin was a legend, especially when it came to Western comics, and his detailed, grainy style is even more fit for the genre than Cassaday's. In "Quiet of the Grave," the core gang is split up while both criminal and supernatural events threaten the safety of the gang and the town they're in. By this point, the characters are engaging enough that you worry about them and root for them — and people actually die, so your worries are not unfounded.

The one thing all the Desperadoes stories have in common is that they all seem really rushed towards the end, as if Mariotte writes a build-up for four issues then realizes he doesn't have enough space in the fifth to wrap it up. At first, knowing it's still early in both his and Cassaday's careers, it's understandable. But years later, with Severin, that's still the case, and it's a shame.

Still, Desperadoes is full of atmosphere, of grit and blood, of unrequited love and of honorable men and women who do the best they can in a dirty world. For 25 bucks, that's a good deal. And a good read.

(And seriously, the Severin art is pretty. Buy it just for that, if you must.)

Oct 15, 2014

Review: Supreme: Blue Rose #4

I give up. I just give up. Here are my reviews of of issue 1, issue 2, and issue 3.

Read the book. It's great. If you don't read it, we're no longer friends. At least for today. We can be friends again tomorrow.

I'll have an actual review for issue 5, but just read this book already.
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