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Squirrel Girl is As Unbeatable As Ever

Cameron

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Squirrel Girl Returns(!) with an interesting issue packed with bears jokes, exposition done right, and deadpanned business lady villains. Let’s begin!

Recap

She is completely serious about all of this.

Squirrel Girl trapped is trapped by Melissa, who is sadly a bad guy. In addition, she is using a wide assortment of animal henchmen to protect her so she can monologue to Squirrel Girl. What follows is a very text heavy backstory for Melissa. Her grandmother was an industrial saboteur who had the power to control moths using ultraviolet light. Melissa took on the mantle using incredible microchips that allow her to make animals smarter so she can make them do things like conduct industrial spying, knock people into lakes, crash planes into the Hudson River, and wear silly clothes, as one does when they can control animals. She’s got her bases covered.

She is still completely serious about all of this!

SQ does her best to sass and protest Melissa, using verbal warfare of both finesse and humor. Sadly Melissa doesn’t give a damn and goes on to explain how IT WAS SHE WHO MADE SURE SHE AND HER ANIMAL THEMED SUPER HERO FRIENDS ATTENDED THE SAME COLLEGE!!!

Melissa takes SQ to the computer room, and then uses the power of magic science to shrink the computer to the size of roughly less than an earbud. She then escapes using a teleporter, leaving SQ to fight off her minions.

There is some peace for a while, but it uneasy for SQ as Melissa is on the loose. That all changes though when she masquerades as Doctor Doom and is prepared to use mosquitoes to take on New York. How will our heroes handle her new and terrifying task?

Melissa is so Evil… but Interesting

Melissa steals this issue. Despite being so text heavy, this issue excels at making Melissa an enjoyable and engaging villain to listen too. Her deadpan delivery of her back story as a villain who uses animals as minions from everything to bodyguards to industrial sabotage is hilarious. She is taking this way too seriously.

Part of what makes her enjoyable is that she doesn’t take Squirrel Girl’s sass. She hardly even focuses on acknowledging her words, and is instead deadly focused on her quest to take over the world. She is all business, even in her villainy. She has plans, and she knows how to actualize them. She is the perfect villain for Doreen to face, as she is so unlike anything this comic has given her before. This reader is very excited to see what happens next.

Fortunately the writers are smart enough to realize how good of a villain she is, and I’m thankful to see that she will return. In some ways she represents Squirrel Girl becoming her own quirky thing within the Marvel Universe. She’s fighting her own nemesis now, not Doctor Doom, not the Hulk, not Thanatos, but Melissa, her own villain to fight against.

She is completely serious about all of this. About a freaking bear body guard in medical garb! *Bonus Bear Pun

Squirrel Girl Just Won’t Give Up

Hell ya!

Squirrel Girl is showcasing what a sweet heart she is. She is taking none of Melissa crap, and takes no issues with verbally sparring with her. She challenges her on her philosophy of power, and actually calls her a bully even as she’s captured. Even in danger, Doreen is not afraid to lay a smack-down on those who deserve it.

As entertaining as Melissa is, Squirrel Girl’s reactions to her are a great counter point. Contrasting Melissa, we have Doreen who questions her at every turn and will not give up. It gives the comic a nice, slight sense of tension that makes it interesting to see the two play off each other. Squirrel Girl is a sweet heart who will never give up on you, like when she helps the Rhino through his furry pride or a robber understand the world of late stage capitalism and how he can rebalence his budget to better work within the system, she just does not give up on people.

This issue was humorous and exciting. It was a great blend of exposition mixed in with some characterization. SQ is excellent as always, Melissa is quickly becoming on one of my favorite villains. This reviewer is eagerly waiting for the next issue.


All Images Courtesy of Marvel

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Greg Rucka Is Being A Poopy-Doopy Dude About Batwoman

Griffin

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[Danny Elfman Theme Plays, Despite Your Protests Greg]

For the uninitiated, Greg Rucka is the name of the guy who modernized the character of Batwoman. Well, him and Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, and Geoff Johns came up with basic idea (e.g. she exists and is gay and jewish) in 2006, but really it was Rucka who would go on to write what is unanimously considered to be her foundational and character-defining text: Batwoman: Elegy. For eleven months back in 2009 and into 2010, Kate Kane took over Detective Comics. Everything from her relationship to her father, to the way in which she outed herself, to DADT, to Sophie, to her drunken stupor, to her training; everything Kate has done in the decade and change since that eleven month run stems from those same stories. Well, mostly. I’m obviously excluding the short-lived Andreyko era.

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.

Okay, fine, that time it was technically Dick as Batman, but she did work with Bruce Pre-Flashpoint as well.

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

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Will Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey Cure the Testosterone-Poisoned DCEU?

Dan

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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

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The penultimate issue of ‘Amazons Attacked’ is as bad as everything that came before it

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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.

It sure is a good thing that Diana released these two and gave them back their weapons…wait…

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.

She is truly alone except for all the pesky friends and allies by her side throughout the entire issue

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!”?

I don’t deny that this is a very cool shot — one of the only cool shots in the issue — I’m just saying that you lose points when you go from speeches using the historical meaning of the word “Quarter” to just shrieking rage

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.

Dear all authors everywhere: If you feel that this is a weak representation of the character, THEN DON’T PRESENT THE CHARACTER AS WEAK

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.

This is Jason literally just carrying Grail away from the fight

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.

In what world do people talk like this while in the middle of the event they’re describing?

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?


Images from Wonder Woman #44 courtesy of DC Comics

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