Posted by: Chris Eckert on February 17, 2009
Hey everybody, why are you packing up the soundsystem? Why are they stacking the chairs? There’s still some helium left in these balloons, and it’s still a holiday weekend in Hawaii — c’mon guys, I just got here!
Anyway, hello to all. I’m Chris, and alongside fellow newcomer David I work with the Funnybook Babylon gang. I don’t do a lot of straight reviews for FBB, so bear with me as I try to remember how those work.
When I was a youth and had no Internet or collected editions to fall back on, I used to love getting last issues out of quarter bins. Last issues were always jam-packed with Things Happening, as creators scrambled to finish their stories, set things up for a new status quo, and just generally try to go Out with a Bang. I may have not known who most of the New Defenders were, but damned if a lot of them weren’t killed or turned into stone in New Defenders #152! And Luke Cage was a fugitive from justice, with Danny Rand apparently killed in Power Man & Iron Fist #125! And man, that final issue of U.S. 1 had… well, it had a pretty awesome SPACE TRUCKER cover by Howard Chaykin. They can’t all be winners, as we’ll see today.
NIGHTWING #153 — one more issue than the Defenders, take that Marvel! — is less an ending than a mercy killing. Dick Grayson was supposed to get killed in Infinite Crisis but DC wimped out at the last minute, leaving the book to flounder around and serve as a testbed for Marv Wolfman’s Vigilante relaunch, a place to house tenuous tie-ins to other Batman books, and a place for Bruce Jones to write some truly terrible comic books. For the past thirteen issues it’s been a place for Peter Tomasi to kind of mill about, waiting for a better writing job.
This is some EH by-the-numbers Last Issue stuff, without the benefit of even getting to set the new status quo. Nightwing moves out of his New York status quo without even saying goodbye to his supporting cast (“It’ll be like I was never there.”) and returns to Gotham to share a good cry with Alfred about how Batman is Really Dead This Time. I don’t know why so many writers feel the need to explicitly reference how Superman and Jason Todd and Donna Troy and Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen and Barry Allen and the Dingbats of Danger Street have all come back from the dead while trying to hammer home how damn important and real THIS fake death is, but Tomasi does that too. We know, these are all dumb fake stories! Nothing lasts forever! Just don’t tell us in the middle of the trick.
Then Nightwing recapitulates Batman’s origin. Because there might be some readers that don’t know Batman’s origin. This is the only place Don Kramer’s serviceable art really grates, as “Crime Alley” appears to be a well-lit four lane road. The story ends with Nightwing reminding us that he loves Batman a bunch, and is sad that Batman is dead. REALLY DEAD.
But the show isn’t over, as the last six pages are given to ORIGINS AND OMENS, a terrible idea in concept and execution. Apparently there’s a scarred up Smurf possessed by the evil from The Fifth Element and she is spending the month of February reading a magic book that allows her to see people’s origins if DC publishes a book about them. Except sometimes it doesn’t even do that. Instead of an “Origin”, Tomasi tosses off a quick vignette about Dick hauling his wheelchair-bound friend blindfolded out to a skydiving lesson as her birthday present. Astute readers may recognize the girl, but anyone looking to “Origins and Omens” to provide the introductory information that “Origins” implies is fresh out of luck. I have no idea what any of this was meant to accomplish, save to fill a slot on a production line.
Two mini-series featuring ladies writing lady superheroes also concluded this week, and they had the distinct advantage of containing no Origins and Omens backups. VIXEN: RETURN OF THE LION #5 is a pretty GOOD little story that exists adrift in a bunch of confusing DC Universe lore. G. Willow Wilson and Cafu take Vixen to Africa, and they’re culturally literate enough to set the story in a fictional country on the continent, not just Africa, where people speak African. This sounds like a no-brainer if you’re not Sarah Palin, but it tripped up everyone involved with last years DC HALLOWEEN SPECIAL, who also thought that young girls growing up in African villages in the 1980s would have a special weakness for Blaxpoitation films.
VIXEN suffers from a lot of problems that aren’t really its fault: the rejiggering of the titular heroine’s origin and powers might seem less awkward if a separate contradictory storyline hadn’t run through the past two years of her Justice League of America appearances, and why the editors felt the need to let us know that the series takes place before Batman R.I.P. but don’t bother to put it in context of Vixen’s own recent appearances is baffling. There’s also a reveal of Evil Mastermind Whisper A’Daire near the end of the fourth issue that adds nothing to the story, and even as a hardcore nerd I don’t pretend to know who the hell A’Daire is. Combined with an Amazons Attack-worthy final page reveal that a friendly character is secretly a fire-breathing demon watching over Vixen, this seems to fit into a larger story DC either doesn’t plan to ever tell, or they want to keep it a fun secret. These keep VIXEN from being a pleasant self-contained trade to put on the shelf, which I assume was their goal.
Over yon Marvel way, Kathryn Immonen and David LaFuente’s PATSY WALKER: HELLCAT is genuinely self-contained, charming and VERY GOOD. I have no idea if Marvel has further plans for Patsy Walker, former supermodel and current magically-inclined defender of Alaska, and I have no idea if all the magical totems and Inuit mystics and Yeti boyfriends they piled into these five issues are culturally insensitive to someone out there, but I had too much fun reading this series to be too concerned. There was a lot of amiable nonsense piled into five issues, and it threatened to devolve into nonsense, but it walked the line in a way that pleasantly reminded me of Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL. And it did it all without any editor’s notes about Secret Invasion or Dark Reign or Ultimatum, so kudos for that!