Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Annie Wu is pretty darned good, isn't she?

I just saw these preview pages from Annie Wu's issue (or issues) of Marvel's Hawkeye over at DC Women Kicking Ass and felt I had to share them with you.  Why?  Well, if a blog about DC women kicking ass can post an item about a Marvel book, then I feel I can on this Cassandra Cain blog as well, especially since I first became aware of Wu's work through the story arc she did with writer Scott Peterson (of Cass Cain Batgirl fame) on Batman Beyond featuring a new Batgirl.

Wu did an outstanding job on Batman Beyond, but I'm liking these Hawkeye pages even more.  I think I'm biased towards real-world locations as opposed to sci-fi settings.  It takes a lot of imagination to envision what a city will look like in a future time, but creating a believable present requires some other illustrative chops and we have our own personal space to judge it by.  Real cars as opposed to flying wedges and whatnot.  Asphalt streets, concrete sidewalks.  Contemporary clothes and recognizable architecture.  Still imaginative, but lots of details to get right!  I'd say she nailed it.

While I've dabbled in some Hawkeye strictly for its excellent art, I haven't really been able to find my "in" with that book.  I know a lot of people are really high on Hawkeye, so I'll give it another shot just to look at what Annie Wu is doing with it on a full issue.

And might I suggest to DC when they bow to the inevitable and re-boot Cassandra Cain, they do so with Annie Wu handling the art duties?

DC decides Californy is the place they oughta be!

So DC has sold the old homestead, packed Granny and her rocker in the back of their battered old flivver and they're taking their oil billions and moving to Beverly Hills (Burbank, actually), where they will no doubt have several years worth of comical misadventures with a greedy banker, his intellectual and put-upon personal assistant and the banker's snobbish wife.  Plus plenty of critters running about, swimming in the cement pond and even a visit or two from Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs as themselves.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My choice for best blog post title about Stephanie Brown's return...

It has to be this one by J. Caleb Mozzocco.  That he illustrated it with some sweet Dean Trippe artwork only adds to its appeal.  Mozzocco makes some solid points about Stephanie's potential costume, too.  All the costumes, really.  I also wish DC had gone to Darwyn Cooke to re-design everyone-- except Katana; that one is a visual home run-- and I also think Mozzocco's right on with the idea to have Trippe handle the costumes for the younger heroes.  In fact, it would be pretty cool if they at least used some variation on Trippe's Spoiler design for New 52 Steph.  The skirt isn't a necessity, although the black breaks up the purple monochromatic monotony.  Maybe they would do something else.  Or just keep the skirt.

What do you think the chances of that are?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  High collar, pouches, lots of grooves and lines and general awkwardness await, I'm afraid.  On the other hand, even if the costume looks as lousy as most of the others, it's still Stephanie Brown wearing it, which is a damn sight better than no Steph and no costume at all.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Katana... cancelled...

Not that it comes as a surprise.  Sales were abysmal and the critical response mixed.  Still, Katana is one of the few New 52 characters I like more than the original universe version.  Especially visually.  Whoever redesigned Katana into a sleek, all-armored killing machine did her a huge favor.  The old ketchup-and-mustard outfit was fine in its day, but not particularly memorable and too bright to be intimidating.  Now she looks like a human stealth fighter jet, every bit as lethal as the stories make her out to be.

When Katana ends, that will also end my regular purchase of any DC ongoing.  I spot-buy when something specific about a book interests me-- a particular story development or a fill-in by an artist whose work I find a "must-buy."  I bought the debut arc of the Batman Beyond Batgirl for both those reasons and because the writer has some positive vibes for me due to his sterling work on the Cass Cain Batgirl.  I bought the Gail Simone Batgirl because I wanted to see how she handled a character reveal (nicely done).  I bought the recent The Witching Hour anthology because it's Halloween time and I'm a huge fan of the original series.  I'll buy the first issue of Batman: Eternal because I want to show some support for Stephanie Brown and out of curiosity.

But Katana, while not perfect, was still a fun book I looked forward to buying each month.  Too bad there just weren't enough of us out there.  Nice try, Ann Nocenti.  I appreciated what you were doing!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cassandra Cain versus Jubilee

This fight was long in coming, but I just read one of those Internet question thingies where some interested person asked who would win if Jubilee and Cassandra Cain/Batgirl/Black Bat fought.  The consensus was Cass would win, although one person commented, "Jubilee, hands down."  That person must be huffing ground-up Marvel comics for an expensive high because that answer is hallucinatory at best.

As a fan of both characters, I'd hope Cass and Jubilee would simply team up and fight some other person for some desperate, comic book-y reason.  But one of the things we do here (the royal "we," since this is a one idiot operation) is pit Cass against various characters from comics and other pop culture media entities.  We can imagine their initial encounter as one of those clich├ęd comic book mix-ups where two heroes meet for the first time, fight, then unite against a common foe, or two (one from each's standard rogue's gallery), but the fight is the thing here, not the overall story. 

So here's how things would go down if these two tangled.

It wouldn't last very long.  While Jubilee has Danger Room combat training and real world experience, there's no version of the character who can match Cass in hand-to-hand fighting.  Cass is simply one of the top two or three unarmed combatants in the world, and possibly at the same level with weapons.  Jubilee is, charitably put, not.  Unless a psychic teammate alerted Jubilee to Cass' presence, Cass would strike from the shadows and knock Jubilee out before the poor girl could ever use her mutant fireworks power.  Over before it even begins.

And even if Cass should miss with her first attack (she wouldn't unless Jubilee has some major help), it wouldn't take her long to figure out Jubilee's X-training patterns and dodge the little plasma balls tossed her way. Jubilee would be faced with the choice of grappling hand-to-hand with Cass (certain failure) or using her powers in much more violent and destructive way (really her only chance, but one she would find unappealing).  Operating under her ordinary moral constraints, Jubilee might dazzle Cass' eyes or even stun her for a moment's respite, but even so, this fight would last at most a minute or two.

That's classic Jubilee.  Vampire Jubilee would be another story.  I'm not certain just how many of the traditional vampire powers and weaknesses Marvel uses in its continuity, but if they use the familiar ones, vampire Jubilee would be largely impervious to most of Cass' martial arts attacks-- save those involving wooden stake strikes directly to the heart.  As vampires possess speed and strength in excess of most mortals (Superman-types excluded), Cass would have to be well-prepared in advance with vampire-specific weaponry.  It's doubtful Cass would carry holy water, garlic, stakes or religious symbols on her person under ordinary circumstances.  Vampires also possess various transformative abilities, one of which renders them as insubstantial as a mist or fog.  Kind of hard to fight mists and fogs. 

I can see this fight as having more than one possible outcome.  Under these circumstances, Cass would find herself outmatched and forced to use her smarts to out-think and therefore defeat Jubilee.  Jubilee, however, is a pretty smart cookie and doing so would prove easier said than done.  In this case, the fight goes to Jubilee barring some intervening circumstances-- nearness of dawn, for example, or whether or not Cass knew in advance her opponent was a vampire.  In either of those cases, Cass would win by exploiting Jubilee's vampiric weaknesses in much the same way people of lesser ability manage in multiple stories to destroy even the Lord of Vampires himself, Count Dracula.  And there's no way Jubilee is even close to being in Dracula's weight class.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

But how will Cassandra Cain return?

We're going to have a New 52 version of Stephanie Brown, and this is certainly cause for celebration not just for fans of that character, but also for Cass fans.  Because we now know it's only a matter of time before Stephanie Brown's pal also returns to DC's ongoing storyline.  But what we don't know is how.  It's safe to say the new Steph won't be exactly the same as the old Steph, but I hope she feels "right" enough there's a continuity and her fans will be happy.  While I'd argue there's not a single New 52 character that is exactly the same person he or she was before the reboot, Cass, unlike Steph, is a character completely mooted by the changes wrought by the New 52 in her mom Lady Shiva.  In the previous continuity, Cass is the teenage daughter of a Lady Shiva with years of experience.  The New 52 reduced Lady Shiva in age to a contemporary of Dick Grayson's, which means she's way too young to have a teenaged daughter.  As a result, it will be difficult for any writer to establish Cass as a contemporary of Steph's and, like her, having been out there all this time, living her own little life before the DC spotlight falls upon her.

So while I'm on this topic, let's float some ideas about Cass.  And to do so, I'm going to assume from the start any New 52 Cass will be re-set to a purer, primary state configuration, the way she was when we first met her all those years ago and before all those controversial changes.

One way to bring Cass back is...

Radically de-age the character.  That is, if DC decides to keep Lady Shiva as her mother (more on that later).  Unfortunately for Cass, we've already had Damian Wayne as the deadlier-than-you kid of the Bat-family and positioning Cass similarly would make her seem overly familiar and cover too much ground we've already been over.  The uniqueness of a character and its impact on the overall story should be respected, so anything along those lines should remain Damian's area of operations even posthumously.  Anything else would hardly be fair to fans of either character.  Plus, this could turn Cass into a Hit Girl knock-off and I doubt anyone would let that pass... shall we say... unremarked.

Another possibility is...

Reveal Cass as some kind of artificially-accelerated test tube baby.  This introduces some sci-fi elements to her backstory that could be explored, but tend to take the character in a direction apart from the parent-child issues that were so crucial to her conceptualization and development.  I think Damian Wayne and all the Star Wars clone troopers have been there before, and comics are already replete with super soldiers of similar origin.

One more is...

Give her a different mom.  This either means making her mother rather ordinary or creating yet another super bad-ass martial artist comparable to Lady Shiva.  The latter seems like unnecessary character duplication, the same way a child Cass might come off as Damian Wayne redux.  So they could always go with the former and make mom just some ordinary person who otherwise has the right qualities for producing someone like Cass.  Whatever those may be. 

I'd argue eliminating Lady Shiva from Cass' backstory is a possibility because father Cain and his relationship with Cass was essential to her character development in the early going, with Lady Shiva largely adding depth as the series progressed.  While the writers hinted at it, we readers weren't exactly sure Lady Shiva was her mother, after all, until fairly late in the monthly's run.  It was a cool reveal, nicely foreshadowed and set up, but all of those little clues could easily have been red herrings depending on how things played out.

Even so, the Cass versus Lady Shiva storyline was a major plot point in her series and their relationship tended to dominate the later issues.  I think one of the few serious missteps the initial creative team on Batgirl made was giving Cass language skills too early in the run, but even so, this move did lead to the most spectacular confrontation in the entire series and the partial resolution of her death wish.  The Cass-Lady Shiva pact and then fight-to-the-death wove a lot of the series' themes into what could have served as the overall story's climax.  If the writers had killed her off at that point with Lady Shiva responsible, it would have been a perfect conclusion to a short but spectacular career. 

Losing her Lady Shiva parentage would necessitate eliminating a lot of this good stuff and moving Cass along a different path.  Which could also be a positive thing depending on the story quality, and largely what would happen anyway since it's New 52 Cass and not Classic Cass.  While I'm obviously ambivalent about this aspect, one point in its favor is giving Cass a different mom means whoever writes her could spin out the mystery of her identity a long, long time and still maintain the essentialist approach I think is necessary to bringing back some version of Cass in a major way.

One thing they'll more than likely have to lose...

Cass' relationship with Barbara Gordon.  While they'd interact, I don't see Barbara Batgirl as having a whole lot of free time these days to spend mentoring Cass.  This was a major part of the Batgirl comic, but Barbara seems to have her hands full as it is and throwing Cass into the mix-- unless Gail Simone specifically requests it because it fits with her long-term storytelling plans-- just seems problematic at best.  It might be better to slip Cass into a supporting role in one of the other Bat-books (especially since having her debut as the star of her own title seems about as likely as Marvel publishing it).

And about Cass' costumed identity...

As far as her identity as Batgirl goes, I'm fine with Cass coming back with no costume.  She didn't jump into the black suit right away the first time around, either.  With Barbara Gordon comfortably ensconced in that role and continuity kind of warped anyway, Cass could come back and have to prove herself all over again before earning her own code name, which could just as easily be Black Bat as anything.  Or there could be a storyline where Barbara has to step back for whatever reason and Cass and Steph trade off the identity for short stints and we can all just pretend this reconciles past continuity with present.  Black Bat gives her a reason to exist beside Barbara-Batgirl, and so I would be fine with that.

All I really expect from New 52 Cass is she be a silent and potentially deadly martial artist out to redeem her past.  Give her a boldness that scares the bejeezus out of everyone around her so much so they worry she has a death wish.  Keep her mysterious and shadowy for as long as possible and unpredictable, like a knife Batman tries to use that turns in his hand unexpectedly, cutting deep.

Oh, and don't try to "cute her up."  Avoid the cutesy stuff altogether.  I've harped on this a million times, it seems, but go after some of that Koike Kazuo feel, like with his amazing Lady Snowblood series.  I think anyone writing a new version of Cass needs to read that until they have it practically memorized.  Something a little tragic in there, the seasoning for a Cass version that attacks the palate like a deliciously strong spice, using just the right ingredients from her previous incarnation without resorting to re-heating leftovers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Welcome back to the land of the living, Stephanie Brown!

Batgirl #26 (May 2002) Script: Scott Peterson/Pencils: Vince Giarrano/Inks: Jesse Delperdang

I'm sure everyone knows the news by now.  DC finally relented and, as Scott Snyder recently revealed, Stephanie Brown will return-- most likely as Spoiler again-- in Batman Eternal #3.  If you don't want to follow that link, here ya go:

Before the Q&A session officially started, Cunningham asked a fan waiting at the mic for a question, which was the frequent query, "When are Stephanie Brown or Cassandra Cain coming back?

"We know that they're characters that you guys have been really vocal about," Snyder replied. 

"Your guys' love of Stephanie Brown have been so inspiring to us. We're really proud to announce that she'll be coming back in [new weekly series 'Batman: Eternal'], in a big way. Dan DiDio is in the audience to yell at us for telling you that." 

"No one was trying to shelve her," Snyder continued. "It was more about finding the right time to reintroduce her."

Snyder said that Tynion came up with the idea to reintroduce her, and suggested it'll be as Spoiler. Tynion said Stephanie Brown will be in issue #3.  

[Comic Book Resources, "NYCC: Batman Panel - Stephanie Brown's Return Revealed," October 11, 2013]

I'm hoping Steph fans will greet this news with some happy enthusiasm.  It's been too long in coming.  I ate waffles for breakfast this morning as my way of celebrating.

EDIT:  Big apologies to Scott Peterson for leaving out his writing credit.  I wish he'd written more issues of the Batgirl series, especially since he was there at the very beginning!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

IDW's The Powerpuff Girls #1 (of 5): a review!

Story and Art:  Troy Little
IDW Publishing

Well, it took The Powerpuff Girls to make me break my rule of never paying 3.99 for a comic book.  So I guess the rule actually is, "I rarely pay 3.99 for a comic book."  And while I feel 3.99 is usually too much to pay for any comic, even more than a person with a hardline stance on comic book price points, I'm a person with a hardline stance in favor of anything to do with the Powerpuff Girls.  The show combined a kind of aggressive cuteness with a whole heap of aggressive violence, and the girls have always amused me with their primary color schemes and huge, oval heads.  And most especially with their digitless hands.  Strange how they're still able to grasp their toy phone hotline or crayons at their kindergarten with no fingers.

Their Cartoon Network series is long off the air-- except, possibly, for here in Japan, where the show still aired daily as recently as 2010-- and DC's monthly ended in March 2006, so it's been a while since Blossom, Bubbles and  Buttercup streaked from Professor Utonium's house like a supersonic rainbow just in time to save the day.  And yet here they come again, courtesy IDW and series writer-artist Troy Little.

Little is the creator/artist of something called Angora Napkin, an Eisner-nominated series.  I haven't read it, but I've looked at its covers on Comixology.  They're attractively retro, one parodying my beloved EC and the other my almost-as-beloved Claremont-era The Uncanny X-Men comics.  His art in The Powerpuff Girls #1 is absolutely outstanding, full of appeal and on-model accuracy.  The panels look almost like frame grabs from the TV show.  Little gives the girls thick holding lines around their outside contours and sprinkles some painterly texture on the backgrounds that makes the figures pop as if they were on traditional cells in front of painted backgrounds.  There's a richness to the color design that also matches the show's Mary Blair-goes-Saturday morning aesthetics.

Little absolutely nails the show's tone and comedic sensibilities, complete with intrusions by an off-panel narrator courtesy of captioned asides.  Gags that work on TV don't always translate directly to the comic book page because it's impossible to reproduce timing and vocal delivery.  The creator has to find ways to trick the reader into supplying those aspects.  In recreating everything from the Mayor's obliviousness to the girls' overweening self-confidence to Mojo Jojo's tendency to ramble, Little thoroughly succeeds.  When the girls defeat Mojo Jojo's latest robotic creation and humiliate the brainy chimp, he faces an existential crisis.  Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup accept the city of Townsville's accolades once again-- all the while continuing to mock Mojo Jojo, who languishes in jail before he hits upon a solution to all his troubles that's quite shocking and unexpected.  Despite the welcome familiarity of the preceding events, the last page promises a venture into new-ish territory, so it certainly left me wondering where Little is taking us.  There's an oddball golf-based subplot, but even that's... dare I write this... right up the PPG's alley.  Little takes the animated violence a bit over the top, just as the show used to on occasion-- remember Mojo Jojo's broken helmet with exposed brain and shattered teeth.  The girls were even known to chop off monster tails from time to time, if I'm remembering correctly.

Not having read DC's series-- which ran 70 issues, a mere three shy of Cass Cain's Batgirl total-- I can't really compare it to IDW's take.  But having watched almost every episode of the cartoon show, I can safely say Little's version feels like the real thing.  It's also charming enough on it own and really deserves to find a large audience.  We need more of these all-ages type books, especially ones like The Powerpuff Girls that provide ample fun and enjoyment while not condescending to anyone. 

It's just a fine comic.  I wish I had a printed copy to feel if it has the weightiness of a Bongo Comics product.  Those are a bit pricey, too, but they have heft and nice texture to them that make them seem deluxe compared to the flimsy offerings of larger publishers.  I'm hoping IDW has matched that with The Powerpuff Girls, but I have it digitally.  My computer is certainly heavy as heck.  As things go now, this comic makes me want to buy the show on Blu-Ray and watch it all over again.  And at the very least, give the second issue a go.  You should, too.