War is hell, there’s no arguing it. As a child, the world around me sold the idea that war, or by proxy, being a soldier, was the coolest thing ever. Whether by action figures, or epic poems narrating the warrior’s honours, the glamour fades eventually. That is, if you’re fortunate to afford looking at it from the outside. For all the romanticising of war one may draw with glee and even entertainment, reality paints a much different picture. For every fleeting fantasy about killing ‘bad guys from a bad country’, there is a rude awakening, often via Apocalypse Now.
War is also nowhere near as simple as good versus bad, or more realistically put, us versus them. Though Prince Robot IV has provided with amusement through his deeds and persona, there is much more to him. He is a war veteran, and those experiences seep into his deeds and judgments.
Issue #12 “Which way to the author?”
The art of flashback never grows old, except when it does, but we’re not there yet. In matter of few pages, we see in frightful detail the reason to the Prince’s initial reluctance to pursue the fugitives. Everybody bleeds at the impact of a bullet, no matter if they literally bleed blue. During an experience fighting alongside the Landfallian army, PRIV fell gravely wounded. A rodent-headed field medic is quick to treat him back on his feet. The conversation throughout alludes to the grand scheme of the war. All kinds of species and planets have become involved whether by sympathies or occupation, much to the Prince’s surprise.
Soon enough, a spell in gaseous form spreads on the battlefield: magical biological warfare. In gruesome fashion we get a taste of the by-proxy implications of the war. Aiding one side may give you the colours and appropriate uniform, but not necessarily the full gear. Having a different bodily constitution to the Landfallian forces, the medic didn’t receive a gas mask like the rest of the soldiers. She only gets to fear for a moment before blowing apart, showering the Prince with her blood. This flashback is only a dream in PRIV’s head, whose screen-face transparently reveals what goes on in his mind. It’s quite clear that he suffers from some manner of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and this is only one instant from the war.
He doesn’t get to dream or restlessly sleep further as he receives a transmission from Landfall Secret Intelligence. Agent Gale. a known asshole by the readership, gives him a proper chewing out on his modus operandi. He believes that the Prince’s hunch on the fugitives heading towards Quietus to be waste of time. The agent is quite in the shamelessly cozy position to do the chewing out as he’s attending a fancy political event at the Robot Kingdom. It turns out Landfall’s president is concerned about the war effort supplied by the Robot folk and the possible implications of the fugitives’ deed for the upcoming elections. The Agent lets out a subtle threat concerning the Prince’s wife (clearly pregnant) attending the event in order to give him a gentle push.
In thinly veiled terms, bureaucracy and war politics are a cruel, uncaring behemoth, callous devourer of the masses.
PRIV, probably incensed by Gale’s words, climbs out of the ship landed on a peaceful shore in Quietus. He encounters a seal-y guy leading his land-sea-lion mount and laconically asks for directions. The seal-y guy proves a bit of a lovable simpleton as he innocently reveals that the man the Prince is looking for enjoys lady folk and alcohol. The author of Alana’s favourite novel, D. Oswald Heist kind of lives the dream. He inhabits a cozy lighthouse by the misty shore, wasting away in front of his typewriter and drinking generous amounts of the Saga equivalent of whiskey. Of course, he has a big bushy beard, an old man jumper and a permanently bored look on his one eye. This is my favourite caricature of a novelist ever.
In very polite manner, the Prince asks the author if he’d received a visit from a Landfallian woman and a Wreathborn man. The question does appear to shake the author a bit. PRIV reasons that they’d come to visit him, inspired by his novel A Nighttime Smoke, which we’ve talked about on previous recaps. Amusingly, Heist is more interested (and offended) that PRIV had come because of that particular “piece of shit”. Clearly, he’s a novelist who’s had to write rubbish to gain a pay check, and I can sympathise. The Prince assumes this as false modesty to conceal a most subversive political message in his novel: radical pacifism. Nonetheless, Heist assures him it’s simply not the case. As a nod to the world of English majors, he acknowledges that interpretation is the finishing touch of literary creation.
I’m not saying it is a deliberate nod, or even slightly intended. Just saying, it’s kinda true. It’s basically the essence of what we do as readers. We complete the making of the book/painting/sculpture/film/etc by imprinting significance and signification through artistic appreciation. It is through such way that Prince Robot IV has come to this quiet lil’ planet. He inferred a meaning, same as Alana and Marko. Therefore, he’s completed Heist’s book beyond his role as writer. Now, as usual, I digress… but I shan’t apologise. Okay, back to the unfolding events.
In spite of dodging the Prince’s judgment on his intent, the author is still no stranger to the war. His son was part of the Coalition Forces for Landfall, as seen on a framed picture on a wall. Nonetheless, as the countless boys of the Somme, he too passed away. PRIV offers his sympathies, and parenthood becomes a point of affinity between both men as the Prince will become a father soon. Congratulations are in order, and all seems well until Heist tells the Prince his son had actually killed himself after the war. One of the unspoken laws of creative narrative is that if things are going too well, they shouldn’t for much longer. Let’s take the opening flashback into consideration, as well as the setting for The Stalk’s death at his hand. It can’t hurt to remember the images that pop on his screen either.
For every moment that he manages to keep his temper and arm-cannon in check, there must be a lapse of impulsiveness. It’s not just quite about mood swings, it’s about very real triggers. PRIV is nonetheless, a dick, so the result to this sum of circumstances won’t be pretty. He takes offence at Heist’s allusion to PTSD, and goes as far as insulting the man’s son. Quite clearly, this is no way to behave at your host’s place. Still, the Prince has all liberty to cause a ruckus, being royalty, military and all. Things escalate with snide remarks up until Heist pulls a gun on the Prince, as you do. In response, PRIV fires his arm cannon on the author’s kneecap, and all semblance of civility is gone. Yeah, things were going a tad too smooth.
Things take a turn for even worse as the Prince appears to contemplate killing the writer. It’s more than plausible given his character. However, at the end, the tension defuses with a calm decision to ‘lodge’ at Heist’s humble abode. It’s the most sensible way to go about his plan. PRIV is so convinced of the validity of his interpretation that he’s sure the fugitives will come by. He got the timing wrong though. They’d been staying there for a week already. He’s quite right about it, he just got the timing wrong. They’ve been staying there for a week, and now they know their safety is compromised.
At the end of this issue, I am left with one conclusion. The baddies tasked with hunting down Alana, Marko and Hazel are merely the very fingertips of the true antagonist: The war institution. The big shots call the… shots, and then after it’s all matter of whether you are the bullet or the target. Although both The Will and Prince Robot IV are tasked with a similar missions, they’re ultimately pressured into it by motives beyond their own. Although the former is still on the chase, he’s proven to be more than just his mission. Will it be likewise for Prince Robot IV?
Saga Issue #12 Credits
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
All images courtesy of Image Comics
Greg Rucka Is Being A Poopy-Doopy Dude About Batwoman
Anyway, I was surprised to learn the other day that Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (the primary artist on Rucka’s seminal Gotham Central as well as their creator-owned Lazarus) were doing an AMA on reddit. I actually found out about it after it had already happened, because I’ve been in the middle of moving and haven’t really had a chance to sit until kind of right now. I read through the thread and was…surprised at what I (and by “I”, I mean friend of the show @talkingbatwoman on twitter) found.
…what the hell? What does “not my Kate” even mean? Also, what in God’s name was your original intent with Kate, because buddy, let me tell you, if it wasn’t “angry queer Jewish woman screams for right to exist/justice/purpose” then it probably sucked. Not only that, but to go out of your way to say that the folks who continued Kate’s story made some stupid decisions and now everyone else has to cover for them is…wow. That’s so mean for no reason! I get that maybe seeing a character you have a strong personal connection to that you created being written by someone else can be uncomfortable, but your standing rule for working at DC Comics is, and has been for some time: “I’ll always come back for Kate and Diana.” And he did with Diana. Twice.
Yes, you’re the guy who made Kate Kate. Credit where it’s due. And you’d come back for her. Except you wouldn’t, because who she is now isn’t who she’s “supposed” to be, so, uhm, in what way, exactly? I’ve been trying to figure out what fundamental change Kate has undergone that is a strong deviation from Elegy, but it just doesn’t seem to exist. At all. I thought at first maybe it was the whole “Bruce Wayne is Kate Kane’s cousin” thing, even though that was an Andreyko idea and not a J.H. Williams III/Blackman idea, but it’s clearly not. While that change could have swallowed her, it clearly hasn’t because Jacob and Beth are still around. If anything, it further contextualizes Bruce more than it does Kate.
So, what’s different from Elegy to now? Superficial stuff. Kate used to fight lots of supernatural things, but now she doesn’t. Now she goes after her most logical unwinnable/undefeatable foe: the war economy. It’s infinitely more interesting and a far greater fit than the occult, even if that was a fun thing to watch and opened up a lot of kabbalistic possibilities should someone choose to go that route. Plus, the military industrial complex won’t ever stop existing, so a timeless foe is always a good thing. Especially when it is perpetually poignant! Plus, that means she’ll always be fighting literal terrorists. You know, like the people who kidnapped her family and murdered her mom.
What else? Hmmmm, well, she used to refuse working with Batman. Except for all the times when she did and was super chill about it.
Is it that they brought Beth back to life? I kind of thought that was a weird example where ressurection offers far more avenues for narrative than keeping her dead ever would. Kate’s heritage is one of her greatest character strengths, so having her twin sister and her father around makes more sense than just her dad. The trauma is still there, since Beth was brainwashed or something for twenty years, but hey, they’ve got each other. I find it hard to believe that that’s the thing Rucka think fucked Kate up. Since, y’know, he left it ambiguous in Elegy if Beth survived the fall or not.
What about Kate proposing to Maggie? Aside from the fact that it didn’t actually happen (kinda glad it didn’t because that means Renee still has a shot, but that’s another conversation), Rucka was the one who suggested they could have a relationship in the first place within Elegy itself. They met at a GCPD fundraiser, both wearing tuxedos and acting gay as hell.
Really starting to grasp at straws here. Maybe it was her involvement with the D.E.O.? That didn’t actually change her character at all, but…y’know, it was a thing that happened. Was it that she chose not to feel guilty about Beth’s death anymore when she was facing the Weeping Woman? I guess it could be that, but that’s not really changing any fundamental aspect of her character. That’s just…how grief works. Also it wasn’t her fault in the first place? Which is what Rucka wrote.
Look, I meant it when I said you could trace everything back to Elegy. That’s just how phenomenal a story it is. People haven’t been writing from the New52 series of Kate these past few years, Greg. They’ve been trying to capture and expand your Kate. The one who chose integrity over the closet and drank herself half to death because she had zero purpose in life. The imperfect, snarky, almost comically hot mess of a woman who wore a uniform, not a costume. You wrote that, Greg. The Williams and Blackman stuff almost never comes up, like at all, and if it does it’s mostly Batwoman #0, or something to do with Bette or Jacob or Catherine. Not because it was bad, far from it, but because it wasn’t the foundation of her character.
You can claim that they changed Kate so fundamentally that you can’t even read her anymore, but even if that’s true it doesn’t make you look that great. It means that what others saw in Kate, Tynion and Bennett most recently, were thrown in without thought or were the result of a “misinterpretation.” Which means Elegy isn’t nearly as great as we all think it is. On the other hand, if this is just a bruised ego and you feel bad that you didn’t get to write all this cool stuff with Kate because you poured your heart and soul into making her who she is…grow up, dude.
The mark of an excellent and lasting character in this industry is that another author can pick them up and use them to a far greater effect than the creator could have ever conceived. Which is something you should know, because you literally did that with Renee, it’s why we all love her so much.
Images courtesy of DC Comics and @TalkingBatwoman
Will Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey Cure the Testosterone-Poisoned DCEU?
Are men canceled? The jury is still out. But it may be that their once assured grip on all things comics has finally slipped. And one can look no further than what has happened at Warner Bros. and DC with the DC cinematic universe. The dark and gloomy film nerd pandering schlock of Zach Snyder seems to have finally run out of steam after the failure of Justice League, and not even the outdated comic geek quips of Joss Whedon couldn’t save them. Finally taking cues from the success of Patty Jenkins and Wonder Woman, DC has added, of all things, women to their creative teams. First, Ava DuVernay was placed in charge of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, then Batgirl replaced Whedon with Christine Hodson. Now, Deadline has announced that Cathy Yan will be directing the upcoming Harley Quinn vehicle Birds of Prey. Not only will she be the second female director in the DCEU (Birds of Prey will precede New Gods) but will be the first Asian woman to direct a superhero movie.
Yan is a relative newcomer to the film world, but she’s not unaccomplished. Born in China and raised in Hong Kong and the US, Yan has studied at Princeton and NYU, where she got an MFA from the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. Before getting into film-making, she wrote for the Wall Street Journal. She wrote and directed multiple shorts before making her debut with Dead Pigs, which received rave reviews at Sundance.
Birds of Prey, which will use Christine Hodson’s script, has been a long-awaited addition to the DC canon. Long tied closely to writer Gail Simone, who made her name writing for it in 2003, Birds of Prey has stood out as a mostly-female team of heroes operating adjacent to the hyper-masculine Batman family of books. Its membership has revolved around Oracle (Barbara Gordon), who finally found her footing post-Killing Joke as a hyper-competent hacker and information broker, and Black Canary, who gets a break from Oliver Queen by acting as Oracle’s main operative. Other major members include former “mafia princess” Huntress and the time-displaced Blackhawk, who acts as the team’s pilot. Many of the biggest female heroes in the DCU have passed through the ranks of the Birds of Prey, including Big Barda, Vixen, and Katana (her katana traps the souls of its victims.)
Margot Robbie’s production company LuckyChap is co-producing the film as a feature for Margot’s Harley Quinn. While Harley herself has never been a member of the Birds, her girlfriend Poison Ivy has (albeit as a ploy), and the team acts as a foil to Quinn and Ivy’s Gotham City Sirens as women in the Bat-universe.
This won’t be the first foray onto the screen for the Birds of Prey. It comes after a short-lived WB series starring Dina Meyer, and a disappointing (as always) attempt by Arrow to base an episode on the series. The film adaptation will be produced by Robbie, Sue Kroll, and Brian Unkeles and their respective production companies. Robbie was instrumental in Yan’s selection, as she was firm in her conviction that woman should direct the film. Other Quinn-centric films in the pipeline include an Ayer-free sequel to Suicide Squad, some unfortunate “rom-com” called Harley vs. The Joker, and Gotham City Sirens. Birds of Prey will enter production this year, as soon as Robbie finishes work on Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Image via DC Comics
The penultimate issue of ‘Amazons Attacked’ is as bad as everything that came before it
On a very superficial level, issue #44 of James Robinson’s Wonder Woman series gives us a lot of what I’ve been asking for: Wonder Woman is fighting Darkseid one-on-one since she’s the supposed star of the series, the human foot soldiers of A.R.G.U.S. are overwhelmed by the forces of Apokolips since they logically can’t compete with superior alien powers, and Jason’s contributions are minute and easily mocked. Looking at just the surface, this is exactly what I would want out of a Wonder Woman-titled comic book. So, with all that said, we need to recognize just how bad this series is when even when they give us exactly what I ask for, it’s still an unmitigated pile of hash.
That’s not easy to do.
Recap When does it end? WHEN DOES IT END?!?
We pick up in the Amazon jungle, where Darkseid has just used New Gods technology to transport the A.R.G.U.S. HQ building to the jungle. He and an enraged Wonder Woman are engaged in personal combat, and when Grail tries to intervene and attack Wonder Woman she is herself taken down and carried away by Jason swooping in from the side.
The comic cuts over to Steve Trevor and the Oddfellows, who are being swarmed by Parademons. Steve verbally recaps what has happened and tells the A.R.G.U.S. troops that they don’t have time to help their wounded or dead, they need to break through the Parademons at once and get to Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman in turn tells Steve not to worry about her, and instead focus on fighting what’s in front of him right now. As Wonder Woman and Darkseid go back and forth, the Female Furies that Diana had freed and armed in the last issue break through the A.R.G.U.S. troops and steal the relics which Darkseid had wanted for his machinery.
We switch back to Jason and Grail going at it, where Grail tries to guilt him from the fight by reminiscing how they used to be lovers. Jason, however, isn’t suckered by the attempt and dismisses their past as lies and deception.
Ultimately Darkseid’s minions are able to finish their work, and a Stargate is opened connecting to Themyscira. Diana attempts to fly through to warn them of what’s coming, but she is violently rebounded from the portal. Grail, however, can go through, and she attacks the Amazons with a ray device that she and Darkseid had built from a smattering of different sources. The Amazons are transformed when struck, and come back through the portal as monstrous creatures.
Review Can we just say “this blows” and leave it at that?
I’m honestly a little stupefied at the way that James Robinson can take the elements that I have been specifically asking for — Wonder Woman back as the primary actor, Jason literally sidelined and mocked, and Steve Trevor no longer inexplicably triumphing over super powered aliens — and still produce pure drek like this issue. It’s almost impressive. I’m even tempted to compare it to an Ed Wood masterpiece as “so bad it’s good”. The only problem with that comparison is that it isn’t so bad it’s good, it’s just bad. Again.
Let’s start outside of the issue itself, and focus on the cover. This is where the “it’s almost what I wanted, except horrible” truly begins. The issue caption is “Wonder Woman, alone…against Darkseid!” and that’s a suitable dramatic caption. It’s especially nice with the promise that Diana will (finally) take front-and-center in her comic again. Except…Diana isn’t alone. Steve Trevor is there fighting against the Parademons and Female Furies, and Jason is fighting Grail, who was likewise attacking Wonder Woman. They’re all interlocked in the giant battle and the comic is frequently cutting back and forth between them, including dialogue between the entire group.
Diana isn’t even alone in the philosophical sense, let alone actually being physically isolated.
Into the comic itself, we run headfirst into problems with the bridge between the last issue and this one. Issue #43 had closed with the lead-up to the final showdown between Wonder Woman and Darkseid, with dramatic pronouncements by both of them as Diana decreed “No quarter asked for. None given”. Taking the time to speak like that sets up the fight as between controlled, earnestly deadly warriors.
In the opening of this issue, however, Wonder Woman is practically in a frothing rage as she screams and hammer-fists Darkseid with wild abandon. If I didn’t know better I would have assumed that there was an entire scene we didn’t see where they had already fought, and this change was what happened after Wonder Woman had lost control due to what happened off-panel. How did she go from ‘making speeches’ to “YOU MANIAC!”?
It doesn’t connect between the issues, and that is a basic level of tradecraft in writing a multi-part story. Forget all my other criticisms of the story and characterization, since for those you could at least make the argument that James Robinson was trying for a different angle (You’d be wrong, but you could at least make the argument). This is just failure at the elementary creator level, and for somebody who’s been writing comics for as long as James Robinson has it’s simply unforgivable.
Now we’re going to get into the actual story itself, and on its own merits it’s just a flop. As they fight, Darkseid talks about the ways that Wonder Woman has beaten him in the past, and that her pathetic showing now doesn’t compare. This is probably a reference to Justice League: Origin storyline, which was adapted into the animated film Justice League: War, and the problems here are threefold.
Number one is the fact that this story explicitly has not happened anymore; that is a New 52 story (The new origin of the Justice League after Flashpoint) and is no longer canon in Rebirth. Number two is the fact that even if this story was in continuity, it didn’t happen in this series. It happened in the Justice League title, so even longtime readers of Wonder Woman who have been reading the series since the New 52 won’t know what these events refer to unless they’ve read a completely different series. Number three, and this is the biggest problem, is that it is James Robinson himself who is writing Wonder Woman as being unable to challenge Darkseid, and then having Darkseid mock her for it.
This isn’t clever or meta dialogue, and you don’t get points by having the characters themselves point out that what’s happening is poor writing. It’s just proof that your writing is poor, because you can’t even compensate for the story continuity that you yourself are trying to force into being.
Then we get to the way that Jason distracts Grail to keep her from interfering in the fight between Wonder Woman and Darkseid. First off, I did not need to learn that Grail and Jason were lovers during their brief alliance. Not only has this been completely unmentioned and unaddressed beforehand, without even the barest hint or reference to a past relationship when Jason was explaining to Diana why he sided with Grail, but it’s another example of the sexist nature of James Robinson’s writing on this series. I might really hate the character and how she’s been used in the series, but Grail is a superpowered evil half-Amazon/half-New God warrior, she doesn’t need to be relegated to the role of femme fatale who seduced away Wonder Woman’s brother to their side.
Then there’s the fight itself and the incredibly awkward way that Jason literally flies in from the side, tackles Grail, and flies her away from Wonder Woman. It’s almost comical. This strikes me as James Robinson deciding that he needs Wonder Woman and Darkseid to fight one-on-one, but he couldn’t actually think of a way to keep Grail and Jason out of it so he had them literally fly away from the scene together. Similar to the way that, on the next page, Steve Trevor announces that he’s coming to help Wonder Woman and she tells him to stay and deal with his own thing instead, when they are not shown with any kind of radio equipment that they could have been speaking to each other with.
Throughout these fight scenes Lashina and Mad Harriet are running around A.R.G.U.S. HQ collecting the relics that Darkseid needs, and I feel the need to scream at this point because the reason these two are running about is that Diana freed and armed them in the last issue.
This issue doesn’t even contain an oblique reference to these events, not a single thought-bubble of grief as Diana says to herself “Curses, if only I hadn’t let them go” when they kill somebody or help Darkseid launch his invasion of Themyscira. It’s simply not addressed at all that Diana freed the mass-murdering enemy soldiers so that she could beat them for information.
Steve Trevor’s scenes are just as bizarrely incompetent as the rest of the comic. When he first appears he gives a verbal recap of the events to the people around him, even though they are in the process of experiencing the very events he is describing. This would have made perfect sense as a thought bubble or a narration box, two comic devices which were specifically invented to convey information to the reader that can’t be contained in dialogue, but instead Steve decides to start monologuing.
…This isn’t even “stilted” dialogue, it’s downright inhuman.
The frequent cuts back to Steve and Oddfellows fighting Parademons and the Female Furies are practically copy/paste sequences, as each one is just Steve saying “We’ve got to win!” with a background of people fighting. They don’t contribute anything to the issue and don’t advance (Or even hold back) the plot. It’s just that James Robinson had put them into the story and couldn’t think of what else to do with them.
This entire issue is a mess in a whole new direction from the the preceding comics. It’s just shoddy any way you look at it. Even trying to get back on the rails for what a Wonder Woman comic should be — with Diana fighting the main villain one-on-one and at the center of the action — the execution is just bizarrely clunky and halfway twisted so that a lot of it doesn’t make any sense.
Where can this possible go from here?