Those of you who are making it a regular habit to check the website for new updates, first of all: Thank you. You may have noticed that instead of updating once a month, we're making a concerted effort to post once a day now. Second of all, you'll note that up until last week, we had maybe one, possibly two comic book reviews written here in a three year span. This is certainly not because we don't read comic books, but more because we devote a good portion of the podcast every week to reviewing comics. After that, we don't have much to write about.
However, I'm trying to change that. A lot of the stuff on my pull list isn't read by either Laura or Rania, particularly Gotham City Sirens. They just don't have much interest in Bat books, or Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn. To quote Laura "I like the way Zatanna looks more than I actually like the character, which is how I feel about most DC characters."
So, for the past three months I haven't been reading Gotham City Sirens. (Don't judge me, at least I still buy it. And since it's confession time, I haven't read Birds of Prey since issue 5, I think, which is a far greater crime to some people.) I actually have no good reason why, I was enjoying the storyline and I love all three characters. I'm not blaming Laura or Rania, I've just been largely indifferent to a lot of things lately.
The guys at the Gotham Central Podcast heard tale of this the other day on our Twitter, and their surprise guilted me in to catching up. So, if you don't listen to the podcast, I'll recap a little bit of 16 here (even though I reviewed it months ago, I re-read it for this story arc.) For those of you that do listen to the podcast, you probably barely remember anything not having to do with gold lamé bitch fights anyway, so you should be okay.
But lets start with this:
(Click to embiggen)
GUILLEM MARCH! Remember when I called you the "ass man" because of the huge asses? Remember how I said that was only appropriate for Poison Ivy because she's not really a physical villain and yet you still draw Catwoman with a big ass and that's terrible? I AM SORRY, GUILLEM. YOU CAN COME BACK NOW. I miss you. Your covers are still the best. But despite the asses, you drew each character with a beautiful, distinctive face. PLEASE RETURN TO GOTHAM CITY SIRENS IMMEDIATELY, THE NEW WRITER IS AWESOME.
Ahem. Now that that's out of the way, let's review. This title began with Paul Dini at the helm, and I was very excited about that because I am a Dini fan (and who isn't?) But despite some of the really funny comedic moments in those first issues, I was unhappy with the stories being told and the character treatment. It didn't seem right. Particularly in the case of Harley Quinn (which I'll get to in a second) -- a character HE HELPED CREATE.
Things got weird when Guillem March took over for a brief moment, and then improved a bit when Dini left to kick off the Zatanna series. Tony Bedard wrote for a while, and I liked how the storyline got a little more serious and it felt as though the series was really getting its footing. The newest writer is Peter Calloway. If he has previous work, I am not familiar, but it doesn't really matter, his work here is great.
Previously I have stated that I don't see this title progressing very far once Batman (the Bruce Wayne version) returns for realsies. The premise that Dini set up in the beginning was that Catwoman, Harley, and Poison Ivy were banding together to keep Gotham's less talented criminal element from going hog wild before Dick Grayson had a chance to take up the cowl full-time. They didn't want to mastermind any criminal schemes. They did want to keep kicking ass. What better way to do that then to beat the shit out of assholes running dog fighting rings, or those posers trying to establish new "themed" villainous troupes?
Yeah, I didn't think it was much of a premise, either.
The problem with making Harley Quinn more of a "good girl" is -- and I know this is upsetting, fellas, judging by the response of pretty much all our regular straight male listeners when I mentioned this on the podcast -- she becomes a creepy character for all the wrong reasons. Before, she was cutesy and squeaky voiced and immature and bubble gum and giggles and it worked because she was also a homicidal maniac devoted to a sociopath who beat the shit out of her for fun. The contrast was what made her great. You take that away, she's just a girly girl blonde in pigtails and clothes better suited (and fitted) for a thirteen year old. She still uses baby talk and is still devoted to a crazy person, but a crazy person who's no longer really in the picture, which is more pathetic than psychologically disturbing, and squicks me out.
Let me try to be succinct: Harley Quinn's villainous personae is greatly altered when her demeanor shifts from being intentional and deliberate to being a consequence of her actual personality. Is that better? I swear, guys, I'm not trying to say you're all pederasts for liking the early Gotham City Sirens version of the character.
What I am saying is that Peter Calloway has done a spectacular job of turning this title around. He takes care to give all the women moments that help define who I think they really are. Harley Quinn is presented as someone who is fully aware that she is often play-acting with the airheaded bit. She's actually very perceptive and smart, and is shown that way here. Laura reminded me last night of Mad Love, and its animated adaptation, and how she (and I) really loved that Harley was shown to be so much more calculating than Joker in trying to kill Batman. (She goes through Joker's plots and removes or fixes the parts he was too consumed with hate to realize weren't going to work, and then succeeds in trapping Batman with one of Joker's revised plans.) The shrewd, intelligent and mature Harleen gets to poke her head out from behind the Harley mask here, and I am ecstatic about it.
In issue 17 and again in 18, Poison Ivy gets to have real heroic moments. It's heroism in order to save a friend instead of a random stranger in peril, but I'll take it. She's one step ahead of Zatanna and Talia Al Ghul (who are guest starring in this storyline), and she's using her plants in a way that I haven't seen in a while, if at all. (Usually she's all about the pheromones and the constant fog of green gasses which just make her look more smelly, less badass.) I won't spoil those bits, as they are kind of cool.
I should stop for a second and briefly lay out the scene, though, eh? Because it's going to figure in to some of my criticisms that start right about now. Beginning in issue #16, Catwoman has been kidnapped and her mind is somehow being read in order to get the real identity of Batman. Zatanna and Talia show up to help find Catwoman, because apparently they're the only other women worthy of knowing who Batman is. As a result, once Catwoman is recovered, they decide amongst themselves to further mess with Catwoman's memories and extract the real name of Batman so that she can never betray his identity. (Which is how we get the title of this entry, if you're wondering.)
Let's start with indifference. I am largely indifferent to Catwoman. I actually used to love the character a lot, but when I stopped reading comics I stopped caring about her. Not to mention there was an awful Halle Berry movie during that time. Unfortunately there was also a really good Catwoman solo series that I missed out on, which so swayed public opinion of her that when I decided she didn't belong in the "female heroes DC 75 logo", I got angry emails and comments.
So I was not aware that Zatanna actually used her magic to alter Catwoman's mind and take away the parts of her that were "preventing" her from being a hero. She also enchanted Catwoman so that she could never be tortured in to giving up Bruce Wayne's name. The problem here is, Catwoman can still willfully tell anyone she wants who Batman is, and -- as is demonstrated with the kidnapping -- her mind can still be read by those with the ability to do it.
I am also largely indifferent to Zatanna. I tried reading her new series but the backwards talking is just too much for a dyslexic like me. So, as an aside (because I couldn't properly explain it on the podcast,) lemme demonstrate how I see her spellcasting.
That says "Erotser s'anileS seiromem. ekaT em ot ailaT lA luhG." First, since I'm concentrating on reading English, I see that as "Restore Saline memories, Me take la talia out lung." It's actually "Restore Selina's memories, Take me to Talia Al Ghul," as you probably know because you don't have my disability to read crazy backwards talk. In all seriousness, if you're going to write backwards, it should go from right to left in word order, too. So the word balloon should really look like this:
See, because you're already reading right to left to get the word. Don't make me change horses midstream here, people. I dropped the Zatanna title after three issues because I'd quite frankly had enough of that. And now here it is in my Gotham City Sirens! But that's okay, Harley's got my back:
Zatanna hems and haws a lot about whether she should rob Catwoman of her memories of Batman. Then she goes ahead with it. Then she puts them back once she realizes Talia is an evil bitch whose murderous intentions are usually only motivated by not getting to have sex with Batman. (Seriously. Pardon my French but Talia's affliction should just be called Grumpy Cunt.) Everyone yells at Talia, then everyone yells at Zatanna, and by yelling I mean yelling and physical assault, which is immensely satisfying to me. Then Zatanna offers to remove Catwoman's bad Batman memories for her, because she knows how much a breakup can suck.
After that there is an amazing sequence I never saw coming (it's sort of predictable that any memory futzing with Catwoman is going to be reversed anyway, so I wasn't surprised there.) I don't even want to ruin it. Check out Gotham City Sirens #19 for the last seven pages. An aspect of Batman and Catwoman's relationship I had never considered before is discussed and paralleled with Harley Quinn and the Joker. The art is fantastic, and it leads up to what will be going on in issue #20 (out today.) (I haven't read it yet, I've been furiously typing here for hours.) Also, Harley makes a Star Wars reference.
Now that I've laid out all the good stuff, let me end with some criticisms. They're all mostly to do with the artwork. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings here, I have no idea how hard it must be to draw an entire comic book issue in a time crunch. But the art is so critical to establishing character -- just seeing Black Alice drawn differently for one issue of Secret Six changed my entire perspective on her.
First of all, a problem I discussed on the podcast with #16 was the dream sequences. They wanted to set Selina's memories about Bruce apart from what was going on in the real world, and that's understandable. My problem with it in 16 was the shitty coloring. Everything appeared blurry and smudged, and not in a good way. In a "we printed this out on the wrong resolution" way. Since the inker and colorist were the same for #16 and #17, and the problems I had were not present in the latter issue, I don't even know if I can blame this on an intentional styling:
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See what I mean? On the left is from 16 and the right is from 17. You can also see on the right how all the "flashback" pages have a hideous white dissolve laid right over the panel lines. That does continue with subsequent issues, though it's way less noticeable when your main character isn't a fuzzy mess.
Which leads me to the character styling. Earlier I was begging Guillem March to return to pencilling this thing. It's because Andres Guinaldo has a tendency to draw Catwoman... well, ugly. She sometimes has a weird jaw or crazy eyes. Sometimes she's gorgeous (as with the last seven pages in #19... something about dynamic panel layouts makes him work harder, perhaps?) Sometimes she apparently dresses like my grandmother. (See right.) I guess this is why Chris Isaak says Pretty Girls Don't Cry.
Briefly, in issue #18, Jeremy Haun takes over the art. While I liked his Catwoman much better, his Harley Quinn leaned towards Britney Spears. That's not so terrible, but in a majority of the panels, all three women sort of look the same. I know we're supposed to tell them apart because one's a blonde and one's a redhead and one's raven haired, LOL, but c'mon. I've been spoiled for a year now with Guillem March's take on the characters, and not much else is going to do. Plus, I think his notes for Talia were just: "HAIR. BIG HAIR."
However, to be nice, Haun got to draw one of the best panels in the story arc (the picture of Selina used at the very top of this post.) And, his Bruce Wayne is way, WAY sexier than Guinaldo's. (Sexy Batman is oh, SO important.)
So, in conclusion, while I am in seriously deep like with Peter Calloway's writing on Gotham City Sirens, I am desperately sad it can't be paired up with Guillem March's artwork. If we could just get the two elements together, this could vault past iZombie as one of the items on my pull list I most look forward to reading every month.