A Genuinely Sympathetic VampireA column article by: Ray Tate
Welcome to Tate Necessarily So. The Bats soar this week with Batman and Batgirl. The Frankenstein's Monster turns weird weed whacker. The Clan Destine return in Alan Davis' Daredevil Annual. Trigger Girl 6 and American Muscle ply their trades in Creator Owned Heroes and the Hoax Hunters meet a nightmare in the woods.
Pick of the Brown Bag
Gail Simone, Adrian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes, Ulises Arreola
My first encounter with the so-called "lesbian gaze" occurred when I saw Vampire Lovers. The Hammer film was based, quite accurately, on Sheridan Le Fanu's horror classic Carmilla. Ingrid Pitt and Madeline Smith portrayed convincing same-sex lovers, and Pitt portrayed a genuinely sympathetic vampire, only the second such compassionate creature to appear on screen since 1936.
Vampire Lovers was a learning experience for me. For the first time I witnessed two women making love, and although simulated, the lovemaking was hot. Subsequent viewing of media spotlighting the lesbian lifestyle convinced me of one thing. I like seeing women making love. I always have, and I always will.
Given my love of lesbian imagery, I should at the very least like Batwoman, but I think she's a waste, a redundancy. Batwoman appears in this week's Batgirl, and I'd like to ignore her, but her presence drops a book that normally earns five or four to...
At the root, Batwoman is a Batgirl substitute. Some claim that she is a Batwoman substitute, but despite borrowing the name of Kathy Kane, Batwoman bears little resemblance to the the original Batwoman.
The original Batwoman was a raven-haired, stuntwoman and circus performer who turned crimefighter in the Silver Age Batman titles. The new Batwoman is a reflection of Batgirl and Batman: father in the military rather than law enforcement, combat training instead of civilian martial arts expertise and red hair like Batgirl, extreme inherited wealth like Batman. Visually Batwoman arose from a scrapped twelve-year old Batgirl resurrection proposal suggested by Paul Dini and Alex Ross. Observe, the Batgirl redesign seen in Rough Justice.
Red and Black for the Darknight Daredoll
There are of course differences between Batwoman and Batgirl. In comparison to Batgirl, Batwoman practically lacks a history in DC comics. In terms of characterization, Batwoman possess all the warmth of rebar, the charisma of a toaster and the personality of a steel-belted radial. Gail Simone's dialogue for Batwoman evinced here...
...conveys emotion equal to that related by the average wrench. This lifeless speech is not Simone's fault. She's accurately mimicking the dearth of soul Batwoman mustered in her scant appearances. Injecting rhythm to her voice would have played drastically against Batwoman's one-dimensional persona.
I have come to the conclusion that people defend this "mechanical" woman only because she's a lesbian. I have stated this before, and I'll continue to do so. Get rid of Batwoman. Don't kill her or cripple her. I wouldn't wish any fanbase to suffer like I did. Simply retire her to some chalet with the woman of her choice, and have Batgirl come out of the closet. Batgirl's decision to pursue this orientation will alleviate audience alienation. Batgirl's established fans will not care, and Batgirl's stronger characterization will make a critical difference. Unfortunately, Batgirl has yet to take that first step. So, we're stuck with a Batwoman guest appearance trying to lure Batgirl readers to the less appealing and less successful Batwoman. This is at the cost of dampening Batgirl's momentum.
A crazed lady called Knightfall gathered like-minded lunatics to purge Gotham of crime in the same way that the Daleks purge vive la difference. Knightfall attempted to recruit Batgirl for their cause, but Batgirl opted instead to stop them. Of course. We'd expect no less from our Darknight Damsel.
In this attempt, Batgirl encountered Detective Melody McKenna, a cop who loathes her, and forged a truce. McKenna knew Knightfall and worked with them in some capacity, but she now admits to being wrong. Thinking McKenna dirty, Batwoman crashes through the officer's window and starts a fight with Batgirl. In the aftermath, the trio reach detente. Knightfall calls McKenna's phone and offers Batgirl a deal that turns out to be a trap. In the best part of the book, Batgirl proceeds to kick the collective asses of Knightfall's henchmen, the Disgraced.
More of This, Please
Batgirl, backed by Melody and Batwoman, who could have been replaced by the Thorn, Black Canary or Starling with more resonant results, faces double-crosses and backstabs that lead to a cliffhanger that just doesn't really have the impact it should. Although Knightfall seems to incapacitate Batgirl, she has backup. Hospitalization is a given. So the gravitas of the situation appears quite artificial.
Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Becky Cloonan, Andy Clarke
In "Night of the Owls," Batman escaped the Court's maze, only to find himself swimming up toward solid ice. Fortunately, Batman had somebody in his corner: Lis Salander.
Harper, the Girl with the Dragon…No?
In this issue, we find out exactly who the mysterious Harper is. Although not Lis Salander, Scott Snyder's brand-new character doesn't disappoint. It turns out Harper is an electrician that helps keep the ancient Gotham grid beneath the city humming. She represents a different kind of Girl Power.
The story takes place before the Night of Owls. Harper won a raffle that whisks her to Wayne Manor to hear Bruce's plans for revitalizing Gotham City. Harper has no love for Bruce or his refurbished Gotham, but Cullen her brother pushes her to spiffy up, ostensibly as a magnet for husband material, but it's quite clear that he's only joking and wants his sister to have a good evening without her worrying about him.
Harper finds the Buffet a More Attractive Prospect
"Night of the Owls" contained a fair amount of comedy to balance the horror; most originated from Batman's gloves-off treatment of the reanimated assassins and Batman's immense skill, which put the vaunted Owls in their place. Some of that wit of course arose from Alfred, the traditional deadpan foil. Snyder humanizes Bruce's man even more when he establishes a kind of Upstairs/Downstairs connection between Harper and Alfred, at the snack table, that's at once amusing as well as character building. The class unity is actually false since Bruce is actually not a toff. He only pretends to be. Alfred in fact usually must remind Bruce to wear the mask. Like the best comedy writers Snyder times his jokes carefully. The payoff might not arrive a few panels later.
If Bruce Wayne existed in the real world, he would no doubt be a Warren Buffet/Bill Gates philanthropist not a Corporations are People Too Poster Boy like Mitt Romney. However, the Occupy Movement of DC classifies Bruce as much as a wastrel as any other fat cat. The regular folk distrust Bruce Wayne and his grand schemes. Oh, if they only knew that their protector and Bruce were one in the same. Because this Gotham City loves their bats. There's an irony in these pages. The police consider Batman an outlaw. The people think Bruce is part of the establishment. He can't win.
In many ways, Snyder's story begins as a Hollywood fable with our heroine saying that Bruce should find out "what the simple folk do." Like "Night of Owls," the expected storyline must change because Batman is in it. Bruce knows exactly what normal folk face, all because of the very worst day of his life that occurred years ago, and Snyder shows exactly just how much force Batman wreaks for the "simple folk."
Harper comes home to the aftermath of hate. Her brother is gay you see, and there are assholes in the DC universe just like our reality. The bigots of the block beat up Harper's brother. So she decides to stand up to them, as you expect.
While Harper and Lis shared superficial visual similarities, Harper's love for her brother and her extreme skills with her hands distinguish her from Lisbeth. Salander of course is a research and computer genius. Harper a master of electronic craft. This gives her an edge when facing the local Westboro Church boosters. However, she's outnumbered, and that's when Batman steps into Harper's life:
Batman Says No to Bigots
It's love at first sight, and Harper decides that she's going to help Batman any way she can. This could go two ways. Harper could die in a future issue of Batman, or Batman may actually see the value in having her as an ally -- especially since she soups up his Batboxes, which have been assisting Gotham's Grid as well as giving Batman the ability to cause convenient CCTV blackouts.
Snyder updates Batman for the 22nd Century, not even the 21st. The very idea of Batman sustaining the city all these years is a brilliant one and shows that it's not just crime that concerns him but the good citizens' general welfare. Artist Becky Cloonan provides not just charming artwork for Harper and Cullen but also damn fine darkness for Batman and slaps big ol' Bat Symbols on each box. Take that Christopher Nolan!
James Tynion and Andy Clarke appear to contribute the direction and cinematography for Batman's battle with new villain Tiger Shark, a sewer bound miscreant in tux and hood, with a penchant for throwing Dark Knights to Tigers. He's a suitably goofy also-ran, and he certainly fits in with Snyder's cadre of Batman's loser rogues that sharply contrast the Big Bads like the Court of Owls, the Joker and the Penguin. The vignette would almost be a back-up if not for the pivotal moment when Batman attempts to dissuade Harper from becoming an aide-de-camp. Welcome to the Batman Family Harper.
Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #12
Matt Kindt, Alberto Ponticelli, Wayne Faucher, Jose Villarubia
While Frankenstein started out last issue as Prisoner meets Doctor Who, this issue carves out originality with Frank killing the hell out of lots of creatures and betrayers, in style.
The Very Dangerous Sir Franksalot
Matt Kindt furthermore increases the velocity of the pace through the narrative. This is essentially a report from one agent to Father Time, the head of SHADE. So, there's a lot of skipping around. No running through corridors, or worrying about circumventing security doors. We cut to the chase where Frank uses a big sword to cut through things.
Frank's not always a killer, and when he shows mercy, Kindt demonstrates Frankenstein's sense of humor; even if he's not aware he has one. The reason he spares one of the Satan Ring's confederates actually made me giggle. In one scene, he's also surprisingly a lover, and you kind of feel good for the big guy and his paramour.
Daredevil Annual #1
Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Javier Rodriquez
Well, well. Daredevil Annual #1 feels like a Marvel book. It conveys that giddy loveliness that allowed Daredevil to meet up with the Man-Thing who later incinerated Deathstalker or let Spider-Man drop in on Brother Voodoo for absolutely no reason other than somebody had a Spider-Man/Brother Voodoo story for Marvel Team-Up. It doesn't all have to be a Big Stupid Event.
Daredevil is a connect the dots book. DD's on patrol, and he hears something interesting. One fire escape perch later, and he eavesdrops on Cuckoo, she of the Clan Destine.
Cuckoo exerts a trifle of mind control on the cops trying to question her. When Cuckoo notices Daredevil, she tries to read his mind. This proves detrimental to both DD and Cuckoo, but beneficial to fans of talented colorists like Javier Rodriquez and artists who were fans of '70s Neal Adams, such as Alan Davis and Mark Farmer.
Cuckoo leads Daredevil on a merry chase because she believes he can help. Her belief originates from the discoveries she makes while walking through DD's mind -- not an easy task -- and catalyzes the production of a double page Alan Davis and Mark Farmer DD biography spread. Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous. Even the Kingpin is gorgeous.
While one of the Clan Destine wisely wishes to kill the black sheep of the family, another, the Creeper's biggest fan, Dominic Destine wants to save him. This desire leads to a display of the anatomy dynamic atop rooftops as Davis, Farmer and Rodriquez engage DD and Dom in gymnastic martial arts. These scenes just make one drop the jaw.
Just when you think things are settling down into a DD/old enemy fight, and it's not quite that cut and dried, a classic Marvel hero shows up just for fun to change the course of battle and DD's ultimate fate.
Creator Owned Heroes #3
Steve Niles, Kevin Mellon, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, Phil Noto
First, in American Muscle Steve Niles does something I didn't think possible in the post-apocalyptic genre. He makes it funny. Our group of youngish travelers search for their friend Gil, who blames himself for leading them on a wild goose chase for Utopia.
I expected something completely different than what Niles and Mellon had in store for me, and their twist is extremely amusing. The atmosphere gets funnier as the line between dangerousness and comedy thins.
Kevin Mellon enjoys the rare opportunity to craft expressions indicating the characters are just playing along with the goofy proceedings. The false smiles and displays of nervousness, the sort of reflective Charles Nelson Reilly tug of the collar if you will, come off without a hitch.
Trigger Girl 6
An interrogation by the President of the United States proves enlightening to Trigger Girl 6 who promptly escapes confinement in a typically 1960s cool fashion, detailed in Noto's highly evocative draftsmanship.
An Age-Old Story. Will She or Won't She Kill the Girl That Wants Her?
Intriguingly, Palmiotti and Gray sneakily create a denial of the blank slate theory of humanity; the idea of being born without a genetic mind print. Although Trigger Girl 6 appeared to simply be an assassin, the more she stayed in the world, the more she questioned it. The more she questioned, the more she started seeing the futility in assassination. Something inside humans directs us to adapt, reason things out, even if that ratiocinating happens to be primitive.
As per usual, various articles fill the rest of the book. I found these prose pieces, save for the brief Noto interview accompanied by some of his art, to be less interesting than those in the previous issues. That's why this week Creator Owned Heroes earns only...
Hoax Hunters #2
Michael Moreci & Steve Seeley, Axel Mendellin
Last issue, a Bigfoot preserve mysteriously suffered from mass extinction. These anthropoids it turns out weren't the only species to die off, and it's up to the Hoax Hunters to determine the whys and whos.
Hoaxes and Horseflies
Jack Lawson, the leader of the Hoax Hunters, appears to know. He brings his team to a circus filled with different species posing as freaks, and after a brief skirmish, takes them to the Big Bad, a lunatic that combines the worst aspects of Tent Evangelists and Rapture nuts.
The Maniacal Face Only a Mother Can Love
Before drawing the story to a fiery finale, suitably eerie and striking by artist Axel Mendellin, writers Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley flesh out their Mulderettes and Scullies. I should point out that The X-Files while the obvious comparison isn't exactly accurate. For example, the aptly named Murder who wears an Astronaut uniform, isn't wordplay on Mulder but an apt description. The hot red-head Regan isn't a skeptic but a manipulator of the truth.
The Hoax Hunters' talents prove ideal for a television series purporting to expose hoaxes, but in actuality they work for a government organization that spreads disinformation and keeps the monsters that want to live in peace hidden from public view. At the conclusion of this issue however, the Hoax Hunters meet something Lovecraftian in design, massive kudos to Mendellin, that definitely demands an audience.
Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups, where he reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.