Some Much Needed Personality

Stray Bullets: Killers #7
Art and Writing by David Lapham
Published by Image

stray-bullets-killers-7

A sunny day of baseball. A young couple–Eli and Virginia–watching a game and excitedly talking about the boy’s acceptance into art school. Later, they drive through Baltimore, stopping to visit the girl’s old friends at an electronics store. This leads to them witnessing violent crime firsthand, and begins to unravel a loving, if rocky, relationship. David Lapham’s patience and craft as a storyteller built to this moment. He’s spent six issues criss-crossing the lovers’ histories and their 1987 present, exposing neuroses and a raw, emotional need for someone to care for them, scars and all. Now established, Lapham shows what could make such potent love break. Virginia is sucked back into a criminal life she left behind out of sentimental obligation–her friends gunned down, she turns to an unstable mobster acquaintance–dragging Eli (begrudgingly) into that world. Shocked by the violence he’d only previously known from Virginia’s stories–after watching a pedestrian, unrelated to the crime, get shot and die in the process–Eli cracks. He even unleashes insults at Virginia he otherwise wouldn’t have uttered. Violence and bad pasts intrude via happenstance, tainting what seemed a pleasant present. Lapham hammers this point in his closing page: with the same page-wide, three-panel layout as his opening. Where Virginia and Eli were shown close together and talking, the last page has them in a car, silent, a bullet hole in the windshield dividing them. Innocence and guilt are fluid, nebulous concepts in Stray Bullets: Lapham cares more about the human cost of crime.

Batgirl #35
Art by Babs Tarr and Maris Wicks
Writing by Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher
Published by DC

batgirl-35

With a color palette of reds and oranges, aspect-to-aspect panel transitions, and emphasis on hip, humorous dialogue, Batgirl has become a testing grounds of sorts for DC. An attempt at capturing the lighter inflections of Marvel’s mild quirk comics–Hawkeye primarily, but see also recent volumes of Young Avengers, Daredevil, and Ms. Marvel–to break up the dreary monotony of the New 52 lineup. No sign of the baroque, 90s-Image grotesques to be found here, let alone the tough guy posturing meant to evoke Batman from the Nolan films or the Arkham video games (minus the individual variations of those productions). In fairness, this in itself is only a small step further from Gail Simone’s tenure as series writer: the New 52 “voice”, as it were, was kept at arm’s length in favor of traditional tights ‘n fights storytelling. Brendan Fletcher and Cameron Stewart’s script doesn’t deviate: there’s a slightly different status quo introduced (Barbara Gordon/Batgirl moved in with new roommates, in Gotham City’s more “cool” neighborhood), a threat is introduced (topical issues of identity theft and hacking are referenced), which Batgirl gets to dispatch with her skillset.

Babs Tarr gets to flex the most muscle: page compositions depicting smartphone-era sensory overload are paired with the rubber-face rom-com antics of an Archie comic: the second and third pages have Barbara, hungover from an atypical night of partying, stumbling out of bed at the behest of a friend’s text (represented as a variant of the word balloon), before an embarrassing encounter with a guy she made out with the night before–complete with exaggerated grimace and tiny lines to indicate surprise. Like the Mild Quirks, the new Batgirl uses modern parlance and self-awareness to hang on older, more instructive models of superhero comics. This shows off moral/ethical considerations without judgmental tisk-tisking. It also allows wiggle room for DC to get some much needed personality back into circulation.

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