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Scars on 45: Douglas tries the quick-hits thing with a bunch of 11/29 releases

Douglas Wolk

I haven’t really done mini-reviews here before, but this is the Season of Experimentation, right?

Crime Bible: Five Lessons of Blood #2: Obviously I’d be biased toward this comic, but it really is Very Good: a crisp, done-in-one espionage/romance/psychological thriller-type story about Renee Montoya/the Question infiltrating a crime-cult-operated brothel for wealthy Beltway types in Chevy Chase, MD. Very densely plotted, too–it takes place over the course of two months, and a whole lot happens, most of it nudging forward the overall themes of the series. It’s also worth noting that the tone of this issue would’ve been very different with a male protagonist and everything else the same. (And that Montoya’s background gives her a stronger connection between sex and guilt than other people have.) As I mentioned when I reviewed the first issue, The Question is a vehicle for stories about the character’s self-exploration, and I kind of love the idea that the crime cult is forcing her to commit what she knows are sins (in the name of doing good) so that she can better understand herself.

One little production note, though: if word balloons are supposed to include unintelligible text (to indicate a not-quite-overheard conversation), it’s probably wisest for that text not to be the Photoshop-blurred word “unintelligible,” especially if it’s still pretty much intelligible.

Love and Capes #6: This is apparently the final issue for now of this fun little series, produced singlehandedly by Thom Zahler, although the text piece at the end promises more to come eventually. The blurb on the cover calls it “The Heroically Super Situation Comedy Comic Book!,” which makes it sound slightly more formulaic than it is; it’s essentially a romantic comedy about a celebrity dating a non-celebrity, with a superhero angle to make it a little more lively. (The action stuff, including an alien invasion this issue, all happens off-panel; the plot this time concerns the Superman-analogue the Crusader’s girlfriend hosting a signing by the Wonder Woman-analogue Amazonia at her bookstore, and gnashing her teeth over the fact that Amazonia’s book is partly a kiss-and-tell about the days when she used to date the Crusader.)

Zahler’s got a really nice sense of narrative flow and design–I’m particularly fond of his “translucent” speech balloons–and if we have to have computer color modeling in comics, I’m happy to see some of it look like this, with a lot of tones and textures that look more like cel animation than old comic books. It’s Good stuff, but I also wouldn’t mind a bit if Zahler let these characters’ stories end here; most of them don’t have a lot of life beyond being breezily written stand-ins for familiar icons, and I’d like to see what he could do outside this set of formal constraints.

Batman #671: I missed the first three parts of “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul,” and found myself a little lost at the beginning of this issue, but also drawn in, mostly by Tony Daniel and Jonathan Glapion’s artwork–they’re copping the Neal Adams/Dick Giordano style in a few sequences (cf. the image of the Sensei on the first page, below–that “chunky” line is a total Crusty Bunker effect!), and it looks great.

What we actually get plot-wise, though, is a lot of shouting and fighting. It’s Okay, and Batman gets to be a total badass in the climactic fight scene, but compare this to, say, All-Star Superman and it’s evident that Morrison’s writing a tone–Batman the Badass Hairy-Chested Love God–rather than a story. And I’m wondering where the impetus and plot for “RRaG” (not to be confused with “RRAGG” [at 5:03]) came from: was it at all Morrison’s and/or the other Bat-writers’ idea, or was it dictated from above?

I’m also wondering if Morrison actually knows what happened in the sequence in 52 #30 he keeps suggesting he’s going to expand on. The solicitation for this issue promised that “the secrets of Nanda Parbat are revealed,” and the solicitation for #673 also says it “revisits Batman’s life-changing Thogal ritual in the caves of Nanda Parbat.” Of course, the solicitation for #665 claimed “we learn what really happened to Batman inside the cave in Nanda Parbat when he underwent a seven-day Buddhist isolation ritual to purge his negative karma,” and unless I skipped over a few pages, we didn’t. The retreat involved in the practice of thogal, by the way, seems rather arduous, especially since it’s seven weeks rather than seven days–scroll down to “The Bardo Retreat,” near the end–but “attaining the rainbow body” is a bit like becoming a New God, don’t you think?

Marvel Atlas #1: And here I was, thinking this was going to be some kind of sequel to Agents of ATLAS. It’s actually an Official Handbook sort of thing, with straightforward text infodumps about every real and fictional country in the 616 Universe’s Europe and Asia. Perhaps there will eventually be an ATLAS Atlas. (Not to be confused with “Hatless Atlas”.) Not nearly as entertaining as it ought to be, despite sentences like “Italy is home to the Mafia and the Maggia” (and a we-wish-we-could-spell-this-out bit of the Ireland entry: “in ancient times Scathach approached a recently orphaned girl, who vowed to the goddess she would only ever love a man who could defeat her in battle”). Where there isn’t a lot of Marvel Universe detail, space is filled in with generic world-atlas pieces of information; where there is, piles of stories get referred to glancingly, in a phrase or two. Title and issue-number references (for things other than fictional countries’ first appearances) would’ve made it a bit more useful; as it is, it’s not terribly readable, and not much of a reference tool, either. Eh, on the whole, and it’s strange that the second issue won’t be out until March.

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