Pause for Self-Promotion

Catwoman #21
Art by Rafa Sandoval
Writing by Ann Nocenti
Published by DC

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Through sheer force of conviction, this ends up being the best issue of DC’s rebooted Catwoman yet. It still has to contend with the presence of repetitive dialogue and typos (the latter in an editor’s note, no less!), the Attention Deficit Dictation of the Bob Harras regime, and the resulting scenes which casually come and go because Ann Nocenti has to squeeze bits of a story in between mandatory tie-ins (such as a dangling subplot involving Penguin flunky Volt), but the creative team is getting a leg up. Rafa Sandoval’s highly-skewed perspectives are reigned in a bit, going for fluid action rather than psychological weirdness, allowing Nocenti’s empathic writing to shine–represented by the minor crooks and working class denizens of Gotham City’s “Badlands” section banding together to thwart the Penguin’s unilateral war against them.

Nocenti’s rhetoric is populist, but her tone is subversive. When talking about caring for the wounded, gang leader Rat-Tail says, “You can count on the unions in a crisis,” an unexpected yet welcome take that against Scott Walker, Rick Snyder, and Rahm Emanuel (parrots blaming teachers and civil servants for the extravagances of their own political class). This itself calls out Big Two culture, which has treated life-saving as an afterthought since Mark Millar/Steve McNiven bungled their own themes with Marvel’s Civil War. Instead of death being “cool,” as it is in the works of Millar disciples Geoff Johns, Brian Bendis, and Jonathan Hickman, Nocenti shows concern for even the most minor of characters (a girl looking to bring home some milk and live tweet pseudo-philosophical observations about the issue’s gang war). It was a bumpy road to get here, but Catwoman finally triumphs.

The Skids #1
Art and Writing by Sally Carson
Published by Fixpert Comics

In David Cross’ Shut Up You Fucking Baby, the comedian recounts what it was like living in New York just after the 9/11 attacks. His garbageman lothario, the rollerblading, possibly gay hipster, and other anecdotes spoke of a city reeling from shock yet unable or unwilling to address it. I couldn’t help but think of that bit when reading Sally Carson’s autobiographic The Skids. The way Shelby (Sally’s comic self) and her roommate (boyfriend?) talk about an old friend as they enter NYC, ignoring both the security checkpoints and the gaping lack of the World Trade Center towers (illustrated as a dotted outline within the city’s skyline, Carson’s most arresting image), suggests a quiet nervousness. Not a complete disassociation, like Cross’ figures, but they dance around the issue (“Cops up here have real crime to worry about” is paired with an assault rifle wielding officer at a checkpoint). Where Cross indicts NYC narcissism, however, Carson keeps the humor whimsical. Her line-work and focus on her own wonder and confusion regarding the city, such as discovering that the house she is renting does not officially exist (and doesn’t get heat as a result), calls to mind Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. While I do mean that as a compliment–despite American indie comics drawing too much from either the Watterson or Charles Schulz cartooning wells–there is somewhat of a disconnect between Carson’s childlike depiction of herself and the “moving to the city” story she is telling. The only hint this is intentional is her unnamed roommate commenting on her skateboarding (“Seems kinda young.”), but there is a massive void in information I believe Carson has withheld entirely by accident. As a humorist, she can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Cross; as a storyteller, she’s not quite there.

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Master Darque
Art by Leonardo Manco
Writing by Christina Z.
Published by Valiant

The structure of this quasi-horror/fantasy/superhero comic shares traits with video games. Character A–in this case Darque, an amoral sorcerer with a Billy Idol haircut–tells Character B to obtain some items. There’s an ostensible reason, but the mechanics of it boil down to fetch quests.

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No surprise this comes from the 90s heyday of Valiant, which was then a subsidiary of now-defunct game publisher Acclaim (who would make games based on Shadowman, Turok the Dinosaur Hunter, and X-O Manowar [the first two also appear in this comic]). Much of Christina Z. and Leonardo Manco’s plot is built around spectacle: gorgeous, idealized models with flowing hair and sexy fashion (much like all of 20th century fantasy art) set against Gothic backdrops filled with S&M, opulent parties, monsters, and M.C. Escher staircases. It borders on Clive Barker, except it doesn’t fixate on pain and pleasure, religion, race, or any of Barker’s other obsessions. Instead, it’s used much in the same way traditional, go-here-and-get-that fantasy or its video game descendants (Mario, Sonic, Gears of War, and many others all share this) uses setting: something lush to look at while Darque’s patsy collects the ingredients, and conveniently plugs for Valiant/Acclaim’s other comics/games. The result is something that leaves impressions more than memories, a sense of having been there but no specific recollections.

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