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The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 4/23/8

Catwoman, the Dan Dare revival, that Voodoo that you knew, Street Fighter II, Scott Pilgrim, and the latest Ex Machina.

Employee’s Pick

Catwoman 33

[DC] Catwoman Vol. 3 #31-37
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Pencilers: Paul Gulacy (issues 31 and 34-37), Sean Phillips (breakdowns, issue 32), Stefano Guadiano (finishes, issue 32), Diego Olmos (issue 33)

Selina wakes up in an unfamiliar place wearing unfamiliar clothes with an unfamiliar lack of injuries. Seems her captors, the mysterious Egyptian cultists from the past two story arcs, healed her up after dispatching Zeiss for her. She shows her appreciation by beating the snot out of cultists who clearly aren’t trying to hurt her. As the audience screams at her to stop, she barrels toward the Beti-Ma chieftain, who slows her down long enough to talk sense into her. Then he explains how she’s destined to be his wife, the chosen of Beti. So much for sense. She throws a fit, the chief’s evil brother knocks her out and trusses her up like Slave Leia, she convinces the chief that arranged marriages are so last millenium, and together they bust out of… wherever they were. Some mystical palace, hidden all Shangri-La style from the naked eye. It’s all very boring, rushed, and ugly. Catwoman in a bikini is astoundingly unsexy. A subplot that had been slowly building over the past eleven issues is wrapped up tight in one, giving the impression that Brubaker knew his run was coming to an end and decided to cut it short. And the mere mention of predestined love makes me want to throw up. Probably my least favorite issue of the whole run.

Thirty-two is a welcome change of pace – and artist – as Selina returns to Gotham (again) after a month’s absence, and we deal with how her friends reacted to her sudden disappearance. Batman adorably fumbles with words as he tells Selina how worried he was and how glad he is to learn the worry was for nothing. Slam Bradley talks with his son, a cop, about the former’s involvement with Catwoman. He, too, has trouble explaining his feelings. Selina likes her men in the traditional mold, with a tough exterior and a marshmallow center that takes some doing to get at. Holly argues with her girlfriend Karon over something Holly’s done, and whether she should tell Selina. Turns out she’s been filling in for Catwoman in the absence of the genuine article.

Issue thirty-three is fragmented and nonlinear, breaking down an assault on the mob from the point of view of the many participants. The thugs Catwoman beats up, the mini-boss whose house she torches, the widow she offers vengeance, and so on. It’s not entirely successful, nor unusual enough for the structure itself to have merit. The extra bits don’t always add to the story, serving only to fill pages, and most of it might as well be from Selina’s POV. It’s not bad, though, and could’ve led to a good full-fledged story arc had Brubaker the time to write it.

Instead we get a three-part War Games tie-in, the first and only time Brubaker’s run was interrupted by a crossover, and the return of the horrid Paul Gulacy. There’s some huge gang war, blah bablah blah, Selina winds up fighting Mr. Freeze. Then she meets up with Spoiler, who we learn was responsible for the gang war in the first place, except really it was Batman’s fault for his half-assed tutelage of Steph as the fourth Robin. Eight crossover issues that I’ll never read later, we find Steph chained up and left for dead by Black Mask. Or maybe he’s planning to come back and finish her off. I’ll never know. Batman does more really stupid things and Steph limps off to the wrong person, who would normally be the right person except that she’s been replaced by her alternate stupidverse double. Eight more bloated crossover issues later, Catwoman runs into Zeiss, who came within one deus ex machina of killing her the last time they fought. See, Zeiss is smart. He knows Catwoman has a magical bullet-deflecting shield that makes guns useless against her at even point blank range, so he carries a big, jagged knife. It doesn’t work this time, though, and Catwoman wipes the floor with him. Ho hum.

Now that I’ve read it, I have to applaud DC for not collecting these final parts of the Brubaker run. The four trades they did release are all anyone should read. The writing here is off, and the art is abysmal when the regular penciler isn’t being spelled by someone more talented. I’d prefer to remember Brubaker’s Catwoman at its height, when it was one of the best titles around, instead of this mediocre, crossover-riddled imitation. I’m glad I read it once, though, so I know I’m not missing anything. Now I don’t have to wonder.

New-Type Books

Ex Machina 35

[DC] Ex Machina #35
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Penciler: Tony Harris

After war, drugs, and religion, it looks like we’re set to tackle racism next. Mayor Hundred is visited by the ghost of one of the slaves who helped build New York City, leading to a conversation between the Mayor and black Deputy Mayor Dave Wylie about things like "white guilt" and what the Mayor, a white man, can do to correct the ever-present racial inequalities in society. It’s an interesting discussion. As a human being, I hate the fact that other human beings face an uphill climb because of something as petty as race or gender, but as a white male it’s difficult to put myself in their place. Also, it’s far easier to feel outrage than to do something about it. Mayor Hundred is doing something, but he could be doing more. He’s in a unique position to make a real difference in the world, more than he ever could as a superhero. The problem is, which cause does he champion? All of them? He would if he could, but realistically he has to choose, and racial equality is one of the causes he’s placed on the backburner, working on it now and again but never concentrating and pushing ahead.

Dan Dare 4

[Virgin] Dan Dare #4
Writer: Garth Ennis
Penciler: Gary Erskine

No issues are dealt with here. Just a good, old-fashioned humans vs. aliens story. Legendary hero Dan Dare is called out of retirement when his archenemy the Mekon returns to conquer Earth. Most of what you’d typically expect from a Garth Ennis comic – gore, nudity, profanity, toilet humor – is eschewed for that other thing Ennis writes so well: stalwart heroes who rise above lesser men by strength of character and a stubborn insistence on doing the right thing to the bitter end, for no reason other than it’s the right damn thing. This issue, Dare and his oldest friend hold off an alien horde to save colonists on a mining colony, while we learn that the Prime Minister of Earth has cut a deal with the Mekon in the hope of minimizing casualties in the inevitable takeover. It’s good stuff. There’s a recap before the story, and even though I’d never heard of Dare before this series began, nor read any other issues, I never felt lost reading this.

Back Issues

Voodoo 1

[Image] Voodoo #1
Writer: Alan Moore
Penciler: Mike Lopez

I don’t know much about the Wildcats, but hey, Alan Moore, good art, and "exotic dancing." What’s not to like? Voodoo, formerly of the Wildcats, has left the team and gone down to New Orleans, where she gets caught up in a mystery. Mystical forces are at work, dancers are dying, and Voodoo is apparently the "chosen one" who’ll put an end to it. Not sure what to make of it yet. Four part miniseries, and this first is devoted to setup. Voodoo hasn’t even twigged that there is a mystery, let alone that she should get to solving it. We’ll see how that goes.

Street Fighter II 1

[Udon] Street Fighter II #1
Writers: Ken Siu-Chong (lead story), Rey (backup story)
Pencilers: Arn (prologue), Alvin Lee (lead story), Rey (backup story)

There’s a lot going on here. Bison buries the secrets of his past while Ryu seeks the power to face Akuma by fighting the one person who pushed him to his limit before: Sagat. Guile and Chun-Li each vow to bring Bison to justice, motivated by the deaths of friends and family members at Bison’s hand. Cammy sets off to investigate her own mysterious past as Bison plots to rebrainwash her and Rose plots to prevent his plot from succeeding. It’s nice to look at, and almost interesting when the throwaway Delta Red characters aren’t involved. Almost. The problem with Street Fighter is that it’s about fighting. That’s it. Anything more you have to create whole cloth, and the people behind this comic aren’t up to the task. So we get cliche scenes like Ken shopping for baby stuff and whining that all he knows is fighting and he’s totally out of his element here. Exactly.

There’s a four page backup story starring characters from Rival Schools. It’s ugly and boring. As flawed as the Street Fighter stuff is, I find myself wanting to know what happens next. Can’t say the same about Rival Schools.

Trade

Scott Pilgrim 3

[Oni] Scott Pilgrim Vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness
Writer/Artist: Bryan Lee O’Malley

Ooh, fighting and a story? You’re too good to me, Pilgrim. Scott has dispatched two of Ramona Flowers’ evil ex-boyfriends, but there are still five to go, and oh no! Scott’s evil ex-girlfriend, Natalie "Envy" Adams has shown up. Not only does she have a band far more successful (and good) than Scott’s, she’s dating one of the evil ex-boyfriends! This is the toughest one yet, because see, he’s a Vegan. Yup. And being Vegan, he has psychic powers. Obviously. Also, Ramona fights Envy. It is pretty sweet. Bionic arms, +2 Hammers, save points, and the Bargain Store of Horrendous Doom (DOOM!). Basically what you’d expect from the first two volumes. The art feels rushed at times, the linework not as solid, but the storytelling remains excellent. There are seriously too many characters, though, and the flashback sequences where everyone has longer hair don’t help. That’s the problem with this art style: when everyone has the same blocky heads and faces, you need some kind of identifier to tell them apart. Hairstyles are usually enough, for the major characters, when you don’t change them. With minor characters and hair growing in retrospect, it gets a bit confusing.

I suppose that’s a good argument for reading it again, though, and in concert with the previous volumes. Over and over until you’ve memorized every line. I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing. Which I’m not. But if I were, I’d totally go around quoting Scott Pilgrim and then glaring at people when they don’t get the reference. Shoot daggers with my eyes. Stabby stab.

Truncation

Catwoman – So boring! And ugly. Not that bad, really, but the lowest I’ve seen Ed Brubaker dip.
Ex Machina – So racist! Or not. It discusses racism in a mature, levelheaded way. Intellectually stimulating. *nod nod*
Dan Dare – So pulp! Dan is a stand up guy. He’ll do right by you. I should probably go buy more issues of this, but I am cheap.
Voodoo – So exotic! What with the dancing and all. Also, boobies.
Street Fighter II – So prologue-y! I thought the point of the first Street Fighter series was to build up to the SF II tournament. New series, still building up! What gives?
Scott Pilgrim – So fun! The fun has infected me. I am full of the positive energies. Bad things don’t have to happen right this minute! Maybe later! They can come back.

 


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