Art by Rafa Sandoval, Cliff Richards, and Stefano Martino, Writing by Ann Nocenti, Published by DC
Of the three credited artists (and just as many inkers), series regular Rafa Sandoval proves the better of them. His pages, mostly splash page action shots this time around, seem unstuck from space-time. Perspective is hugely, stylishly skewed, if not completely obliterated (as with an Arkham Asylum fight), while objects like Catwoman’s whip or strips from a ripped-open straightjacket will often stretch into infinite, sinuous motion. Richards and Martino have more straightforward craft, but their illustrations are unimaginative, often existing on flat color backgrounds devoid of all but the most basic environmental cues. Sandoval is like a carnival funhouse mirror, they’re like toys hanging above a crib. Nocenti’s script, which accentuates the rush Catwoman gets from breaking into and out of places while beating people up along the way, begs for the Baroque touch Sandoval brings to articulate a) the anti-hero’s mania, and b) the pride she takes in her own body and the expression of it, without defining her by her boobs and butt.
This issue isn’t the best of Nocenti’s run. Even without the diluted artwork, the script is cruising at best. A lot of the dialogue is repetitive (especially the staged fight between Catwoman and the Justice League of America, meant to help her infiltrate the Secret Society, which has two near-identical exchanges on the same page), the title character being little more than reactive in most of her scenes. Granted, it’s yet another tie-in in a string of crossover tie-ins that have wrangled this comic (Zero Month, Death of the Family, Black Diamond Probability, Requiem, though that last one was really an epilogue to Death of the Family), frustrating all of Nocenti’s attempts to build an actual story arc. What’s there can sometimes be fascinating–one can almost read the creators’ own frustrations when Catwoman tells Joker to shove off with his Scott Snyder-penned crossover nonsense back in #14–but it’s bound up too much in DC’s steamy, hot editorial mandates to go beyond that.
Art by Rob Guillory, Writing by John Layman, Published by Image
The degree to which any issue of Chew is going to be really good is determined by how far afield it takes its absurd procedural premise. Most of the time, the series is on an even tempo of comedic detective work, non-sequiters, and Easter eggs, buoying its ideas by adhering to TV formula scripting (with a twist). Not as brilliant or funny as Nathan Bulmer’s Eat More Bikes (which uses a four-panel grid as its formula, as opposed to a plot), but nearly as consistent. In that regard, Chew #33 is really only worth it to prep us for the next issue, teasing something similar to the series’ high points, International Flavor and Major League Chew. Those arcs do a lot to expand the ludicrous security state of Chew‘s America (which is actually not far removed from the reality of post-9/11 America), where even the FDA and USDA are engaged in black ops and compliance is written into billboards. Here, though, Layman and Guillory recycle a bunch of these elements–animal partners (this time, it’s the Navy and they have seals hahahaha it’s a pun!), how much of a man-whore Chu’s partner is, even the Pacific island nation from International Flavor–but still manage at least one funny swerve in the non-use of their most popular gag (Poyo the super-killer-rooster). Like a TV show, the payoff is what’s going to matter more to this issue than the issue itself.
Art by Chris Samnee, Writing by Mark Waid, Published by Marvel
This issue’s a bit more Frank Miller. Not because of its content, although that too veers into his territory, but rather how it’s presented. Samnee employs Miller’s fragmented editing, especially during the fight between Daredevil and Ikari (a henchman who has been exposed to the same toxic waste which gave Daredevil his powers), where past and present are intercut, often in tight closeups. What’s more is how–Ikari being yet another ninja who bests Daredevil in hand-to-hand combat aside–there isn’t an active attempt to make this like Born Again or his Elektra saga, the way Smith/Quesada, Bendis/Maleev, and Brubaker/Lark did (among others) have tried oh so hard. There’s still the emphasis on incorporating sound effects into the panel, and the Paolo Rivera redo of the radar sense makes a comeback, all very much what Waid and Samnee have been doing up to this point. Instead, they’ve incorporated Miller’s sensory overload into their own take on the character. The way this comes into play–Daredevil tries to use his experience with his powers to his advantage–compliments how Waid deconstructs the character’s overconfidence. Probably the single best issue of the title since Rivera left.
The Black Beetle: No Way Out #3 (of 4)
Writing and Art by Francesco Francavilla, Published by Dark Horse
The plot won’t light the world on fire. All Francavilla is doing here is collecting a bunch of noir and pulp tropes into a straightforward genre story. Even the mildly progressive element of the comic’s beautiful club singer (and who the titular vigilante is infatuated with) being black isn’t used as any sort of commentary on race (as it pertains to the 40s or any time period), it just is what it is. Some might say that’s progressive in and of itself, but a smart story always addresses these sorts of issues.
Instead, Black Beetle is all about technique. The way Francavilla breaks a single image into multiple panels, focusing on individual elements of a scene either as the buildup to or culmination of a fight; the mood setting twelve-panel grid, with tiers broken up by sheet music; the brief narration Black Beetle gives about how this is just a job; it’s all genre, but it’s also a genre about our own disconnect. Any emotional attachment the main character has is buried under the pretense what he’s doing is “work,” a cold, professional attitude that’s threatened (briefly) by getting invested in the first steps of a more personal relationship (he only barely catches a break in his case while chatting up the singer). It’s the same thing all cape comics operate under, only stripped down to its mechanics so that Francavilla can work on his craft. Nothing wrong with that, especially if it leads to something greater. Which it should.
Justice League #19
Art by Ivan Reis (feature) and Gary Frank (backup), Writing by Geoff Johns, Published by DC
Let it be noted that the scene on the cover of this comic (which is Batman using kryptonite on Superman) doesn’t even remotely occur. The closest it gets is Batman giving Superman and Wonder Woman a stern talking to. All of Geoff Johns’ prized fetishes are lined up in this book, as always: dialogue so melodramatic you’d think we were supposed to hear canned laughter (Alfred’s breakdown over Damian Wayne’s death), useless scenes showing super-heroes playing MMOs or sitting around the Justice League satellite (Atom and Firestorm), and a mashing-up of Silver Age imagery with 90’s grim grit.
Additionally, Johns graces readers with more politics vis-a-vis the DC Trinity. If Green Lantern has taught us anything (whether it’s Hal “Bootstraps” Jordan or Simon “Cipher” Baz), it’s that Johns has absolutely nothing to offer to geopolitical conversations. The Middle Eastern country Superman and Wonder Woman invade (to stop terrorists) is yet another generic, brown-grey/grey-brown, burned out husk of civilization that makes up pretty much all Western depictions of the region. This place also pulls double-duty in Ivan Reis’ League feature and Gary Frank’s Shazam backup (in flashbacks), because NEW 52 or something, yet why we’re supposed to be interested in this place is never readily apparent. For added amusement, Batman’s lecture to Supes and Wondy reads more like an endorsement for Obama’s CIA-led kill list and drone program than a plea against American military action (“If you had come to me with this, I would have” is his response to a question about whether or not he had a plan). Where Bendis’ Age of Ultron had a brief, taboo thrill of seeing eugenics (if not simply mass-murdering the poor) endorsed in a Marvel crossover event going for it, this reads more like someone’s dear old grandpa rambling about how the foreigners should stay where they came from and how kids today don’t know how good they got it. Exciting stuff.