BATGIRL #44 — And once again, though Babs Tarr is nowhere to be found, someone else shows up to absolutely knock the lights out. I recall being impressed by Bengal from I think it was that annual that came out a couple of months ago, and (s)he? does tremendous work here as well. And what better issue for Bengal to fill in on than one featuring the White Tiger as antagonist? Serge Lapointe’s tremendous colors are once again pleasing throughout. I’ve got to tell you, though, this was the week that I spent Mon-Wed hammering home the evils of plagiarism to three sections of high school students and then also discussing the importance of accepting personal responsibility to two sections of college students, so when I made it to the page where Jeremy was like, “I . . . plagiarized!” and Barbara told him he would have to accept responsibility for his part in this, I thought I was losing my mind. Everything’s come crashing in! This was yet another terrific issue.
GRAYSON #12 — Remember those old clip shows that sitcoms used to do in the eighties? The cast would sit around in a framing sequence and reminisce about times gone by and then we would see all those old clips. All this was so that the actors and crew weren’t responsible for creating that much new content while the fans got their hit for the week. This issue does a really cool version of that though with much more meat on the bone. As Dick travels around Gotham checking in with the various members of his family who have spent the past year thinking that he’s dead, each scene opens with a splash of whomever’s going to be featured in the scene, but then he/she/they are completely flanked by like three dozen word balloons containing dialogue that comes from as recently as last year or goes all the way back seventy-five years to the original Sensational Character Find of 1940! Letting all of that old dialogue wash over you is an incredible experience (even if you can’t place every single line) and provides a very engaging facsimile of what Dick might be experiencing when confronted with the sight of these people he loves and hasn’t seen in a year. It’s a really powerful trick. And like ten times more work than the clip show. But this issue acts like it’s nothing but character-based with the former Boy Wonder jaunting from meeting to meeting until, as ever, Seeley & King have something up their sleeves and the whole turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts. That first Cluemaster’s Code bit got by me, even with Jason’s in-dialogue reference, but I thought I was so clever the second time, emboldened first words of each sentence notwithstanding. And the opening scene with Bruce almost broke me down. Such sparse work, but his description of feeling joy in the middle of night instead of all the usual things that he doesn’t even miss . . . it was almost too much to take. Powerful writing. And of course Janin/Cox continue to turn in A-list work, every single page of which is a treasure to behold. I particularly enjoyed seeing their take on Barbara’s new costume design, which somehow managed to cop Tarr’s body language and general presence while simultaneously yanking her out of that, I you will permit me, manga milieu and into this more hyper-photorealistic situation. They cannot be praised highly enough.
THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS: THE SUN BEYOND THE STARS #3 — I didn’t think we could do it without Jordie Bellaire, but Alex Garland’s colors are really making Nick Pitarra’s lines sing. Not that they need any help; Pitarra continues to refine his style, noticeably tightening up and zooming in on fine linework it seems like every month. The bird’s-eye view shot of Yuri over UNa probably takes the cake. This guy is having fun drawing every single one of these pages, and it shows.
NAMELESS #5 — Gah! I wasn’t really prepared for the whole horrifying secret origin, but nobody asked me. No pun intended. Burnham’s intricate rendering combined with Fairbairn’s colors makes a charming though horrifying with the previous issue. The amount of effort that went into producing this depiction of maybe the most graphically depicted ill-fated séance in all of fiction is truly staggering. I mean, I’m looking back through, scanning for finer points to analyze, specific examples to discuss, and it’s all just scary as shit. Stephen King just crapped his pants. I’m closing the book now. Great job, everyone. You certainly achieved your purpose. We’ll see you next month for more absolute horror.
BEST OF WEEK: ASTRO CITY #27 — In light of last issue’s 20th Anniversary dream of flight* that brought everything around full circle to such a magnificent degree, I was very curious to see how the Busiek/Anderson/Sinclair machine would kick off this next cycle of stories. But I had forgotten that Busiek was so pumped when Ross finished the cover for this issue a few months ago that he shared it with the world like the minute that it was done. And it’s a cool spin on something that DC has done more than once in several formats: turning the main cast into cute little versions of themselves**, with chibi definitely being the go-to deal lately. Of course, this being ASTRO CITY, you had better believe that Busiek has thought this thing out to the nth degree and it’s both grounded as hell and just the most wondrous thing all at the same time. And would totally be the best first issue of the coolest spin-off series that will never come. Also, it turns out that Anderson/Sinclair take the month to get ahead on the next deal while Joe Infurnari shows up on full art duties, providing a wonderful contrast between the scratchy almost-Vertigoesque renderings of the real world before we head into what’s left of Ibbopolis and he shows us why he’s the only person who should be drawing this issue. There is something so primarily pure and innocent in American Chibi, not just superficially in her costume design but much more importantly in the core of her personality, what she represents. She exists only to help others. She has no angst, no personal problems, no supporting cast to bog her down in their own myriad web of bullshit. Ha, she actually is the Anti-Parker, love him though we do. There’s something so precious—not in the “adorable” connotation of the word, but rather the one synonymous with “rare”—about her infinite reservoir of spunk, of can-do, of what The Assemblyman called grit right there at the end. Of course she makes the noble sacrifice without a second thought, and our hearts break for her, but then of course Marguerite Li won’t leave her stranded for even a page without assurances that she’ll never really be alone. And then just when our hearts really break for Marguerite, former involuntary conduit of powerful imaginative forces beyond her ken, who is suddenly cut off from all of this wonder that has been shaping her life for the past few years, good Kurt Busiek rewrites the codes for her just as she did for American Chibi, and a new heroine flies the skies of Astro City. I swear, every other issue of this thing lately is the best damn origin story I’ve read in a long time. “You are now leaving Astro City” are some of the most bittersweet words in the English language.
*which I am super-embarrassed to say that I only caught #1 of Volume 1 being a MIRACLEMAN homage just this last month in light of Marvel finally reprinting all of the original issues, but no, that whole deal sailed right by me the first time and all these years since until just a barely little while ago.
** There was that one episode of JLU where they’re all babies that my little girl watched like ten times in one week. And then Rafael Albuquerque drew, I think, BATMAN/SUPERMAN #s 51 and 52 where cute little versions of both good and bad guys crash in to the main DCU***. And then Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs absolutely tore it up for a year’s worth of LI’L GOTHAM issues there, which in turn got referenced here recently in MULTIVERSITY amongst that crew of, yes, more little cute DC superheroes who I’m pretty sure hail from Earth-42 and did indeed have a terrible secret.
***which, incidentally, are the only comics in my entire collection that aforementioned little girl has claimed for herself and which still currently reside upstairs in her own longbox