DC Spinner Rack: Batgirl #23, Birds of Prey #14, Frankenstein #2, Unwritten #27

Batgirl #23

Batgirl #23 cover

written by Bryan Q. Miller
art by Pere Perez

It’s so melancholy reading DC comics I enjoy these days, knowing that their days are numbered. It’s like the last month before school graduation. Everything seems more poignant. Only in that case, at least you have the promise of a reunion. Here, I don’t expect we’ll ever see these creators working on these characters again.

The majority of this issue wraps up a storyline that I wasn’t really following in a standard, big fight way. The art’s dynamic and attractive, though, and the surprise resolution made my heart happy, as a whole crew of girl heroes shows up to help. I loved Batgirl’s answer when the villain team is berating her for being weak for needing help:

“Given my line of work, knowing when I need someone watching my back only makes me stronger.”

Whose line of work doesn’t that apply to? This is what I read superhero comics for, strong women with amazing abilities using them successfully and making things better. Shame that that particular source of appeal seems to be lacking in DC’s new line.

This issue sets up what promises to be a dynamite next and last finale, as Stephanie finally confronts her father, the villain Cluemaster. At least the series is going out in big style.

Birds of Prey #14

Birds of Prey #14 cover

written by Marc Andreyko
art by Billy Tucci, Adriana Melo, and JP Mayer

Speaking of girl heroes, it’s a darn shame that the woman who made this team so successful by writing real women instead of sexpots, Gail Simone, doesn’t get a chance to say goodbye to them. Instead, we get a retro-flavored fill-in. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had a fondness for the idiotically costumed Phantom Lady (ever since the weekly Action Comics days), and it’s fun to see her hanging out with the Birds in a cross-generational adventure, but … it would be a welcome thing to never see another Nazi in comics. They’re such an easy shortcut for “oooh, very bad guy”, and all the cliches tend to follow them: evil scientist, hidden jungle laboratory base, bwa-ha-ha grudges for revenge. Shouldn’t there be a time limit at this point on wanting to bring back “the new reich”? And wouldn’t it be easier, instead of kidnapping superheroines, just to work with Fox News, which is already halfway there?

The flashback art in the 40s section is firmly in the “let’s draw naked wimmens and color in clothes” camp, with lots of pinup style “here are my breasts” poses. So, in that way, the title’s come full circle, back to the idea that a comic starring female heroes is still aimed at the male reader, with women stuck with reading around the objectification and gleaning what enjoyment they can from what’s left.

Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #2

Frankenstein #2 cover

written by Jeff Lemire
art by Ibraim Roberson, Alex Massacci

The only Flashpoint title I can stand reading, and one that gives me hope for the upcoming followup series. It’s the classic tale of a band of misfits who squabble but stay together because they have more in common than the world they help but can’t fit into. While most of the rest of the Flashpoint books are filled with gory battles, clumsy narration, and meaningless violence, this one is telling a story that really has nothing to do with the “event”.

The whole Flashpoint thing confuses me. I can’t figure out what we’re supposed to know about these characters. Most of the pieces depend on a familiarity already existing, if only with a name, but then twist it in six-year-old ways. “Wouldn’t it be cool if the Joker was related to Batman? If the Amazons killed all the men? If lightning fried the Flash?” No, not really. This is the same problem we’re going to be facing in September, as we’re given familiar properties with names we know, but the company will be purposefully unclear on whether favorite stories really happened. It sets the brands loose, without mooring, which they see as an opportunity to make them more film-friendly, but it will also make existing readers uncomfortable. Let’s hope the hypothetical new readers descend in droves to make it worthwhile.

Anyway, in this comic, the time-lost band of monsters are seeking more information about themselves. The fish-girl Nina is looking for her father’s hidden laboratory in the hopes it will provide clues, but first they have to defeat G.I. Robot (nifty! I never found that idea menacing before) and a monster hunter with a grudge. The last-page new character reveal suggests enough material for a miniseries in itself; shame there’s only one more issue.

This stand-alone story has a classic structure and predictable beats, but it’s an enjoyable read all the same. Let’s hope the new DCU still has room for stories like this, ones you can read without buying into the whole shebang.

The Unwritten #27

The Unwritten #27 cover

written by Mike Carey
art by Peter Gross
30s sequence finishes by Vince Locke

Self-indulgent, this is, in postulating secret clues within “junk culture” like a forgotten Golden Age superhero, but a good starting point all the same, if you haven’t yet sampled this intriguing metafictional tale. This new approach is part one of four, and it looks to be a great read.

The cool thing about this series is how its premise allows for all kinds of diversions and incorporations of just about anything related to reading. Child of fiction (in so many ways) Tom Taylor and his buddies are trying to figure out … well, life, meaning, all the biggies, while fighting against a mysterious, murderous cabal. In this issue, “The Tinker”, a precursor to Superman who used magical objects, is introduced as a potential source of clues. In one particularly cheeky moment, the heroes download a torrent of old comics to use while investigating the mystery. See? Shared digital comics can be a good thing!

The flashback art reminded me of the look of Sandman Mystery Theater, which is a good thing, and I loved the implications of the discovery of the author.


10 Responses to “DC Spinner Rack: Batgirl #23, Birds of Prey #14, Frankenstein #2, Unwritten #27”

  1. Argo Plummer Says:

    Johanna,

    I have been following your comments about the new DC, in particular with regards to the lack of women books and especially creators. I echo your melancholy vibe about DC books today as I know they are ending abruptly. I feel that way about Batgirl and Superboy. This Batgirl title has done what I thought impossible, make me enjoy someone else in the costume besides Barbara Gordon. I understand and respect your position on the loss of Oracle but I hope you will follow Gail Simone to the new title. As a lifelong Barbara as Batgirl fan (who certainly appreciated Oracle and the role she served) I am excited to see what Gail does with this. I am actually not that big a Gail fan, but I have always appreciated her characterization of Barbara and am hopeful for the new title.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Oh, I’m not advocating a boycott or anything — I’ll evaluate the new DC titles in their own right, although “is this as good as books I was previously buying” is part of that, in order to justify spending money.

  3. Grant Says:

    “This is what I read superhero comics for, strong women with amazing abilities using them successfully and making things better. Shame that that particular source of appeal seems to be lacking in DC’s new line.”

    That seems like an odd thing to say given that there is going to continue to be a Batgirl series, a Birds of Prey series, a Catwoman series and other series featuring interesting female characters such as Frankenstein, JL Dark, and several others. I can only imagine that their characters will be “fighting to make things better” and not worse.

    Losing a specific favorite character is indeed a drag. What comic book fan, male or female hasn’t been through that? But saying its the end of an era for strong female characters at DC seems like a rather facetious remark.

    Also, is that the “original” Phantom Lady on the cover of BOP? Because I thought she was dead. Or is it the new one wearing the old costume? Just curious.

  4. Johanna Says:

    I could be wrong, but based on the covers for such upcoming comics as Red Hood and the Outlaws and Catwoman, it appears that DC is committed to aiming its female characters at the male reader. I hope I’m wrong, but too much history suggests otherwise. Especially since I think a female writer handles female superhero characters best, and we’ve already talked about how few of them are still working in the DCU.

  5. George Says:

    Setting aside the gender politics question (except to say that, like Johanna, both the preview covers I’ve seen and the history I’ve lived through don’t make me hopeful for the treatment of (most) of the female characters in the NuDC), I was struck with the same melancholy going through my long-waiting stack this weekend. Here are all the books I won’t be buying anymore, soon:

    Batgirl (and, sorry–with all great respect for Simone, this is one where I won’t be picking up the new version on principle)
    Superboy
    Secret Six
    Batman, Inc.
    Adventure
    Birds of Prey
    Booster Gold (intermittently)
    Legion of Super Heroes
    Power Girl (intermittently)
    Zatanna
    Detective (intermittently, when Batwoman starred)
    Batwoman

    That’s 11-12 books of the non-Vertigo line. Right now, I’m interested in checking out only the following from the new non-Vertigo line-up:

    Animal Man (maybe, because of Lemire)
    Firestorm (Simone)
    Batwoman (Williams)
    Static Shock (character plus Rozum)
    LSH (characters plus Levitz)
    DC Universe Presents (intermittently)

    That’s 4-6 books, and even if I end up loving both Animal Man and Static Shock, I don’t expect them to last more than 6-8 issues, so could easily get down to 2-3 books.

    And I would really much rather get to keep buying the current Batgirl, BOP, Superboy, Zatanna,Batman, Inc., and Secret Six than to sample some of these newer offerings.

  6. Grant Says:

    “Especially since I think a female writer handles female superhero characters best”

    Which is why I’ll be continuing to buy Batgirl.

    “we’ve already talked about how few of them are still working in the DCU.”

    I agree. But there are very few working there now. So how much has changed? Those who are upset about the reboot and the lack of women creators seem to be acting as though there are a ton of female creators now and that that’s all going to end in September. Really, the only way it could be any worse than it’s already been for years is if Simone left DC.

    But “history suggests” that creative teams come and go. So it just seems strange that people are acting like we will never see a change in creative teams on the new books that might open the door to some female writer/artist down the road. After all, Gail Simone wasn’t always writing Birds of Prey was she? I believe it was two men.

    And the writer and artist on the current Batgirl are both men. But with Miller/Perez it’s okay as it’s two men that women like? Ok.

    Creative team changes in comics are as cyclical as the weather. Keep hope alive.

  7. Johanna Says:

    It’s the message, Grant. If a company makes a big deal about a brand new direction and an attempt to reach out, then it’s very disappointing when they’re following the same old sexist patterns. Saying “well, it’s the same old” is exactly what’s infuriating. Plus, when it comes to women’s civil rights, there’s a history of being told “just be patient, you’ll get your turn” — which usually turns out to never happen until women make a visible fuss.

  8. Jim Perreault Says:

    After reading this review: so I decided to take a look at Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #1. Maybe it’s my fondness of the original “Creature Commandos”, but I did not care for it at all. It seems to be the same old “let’s take some old characters and make them dark, twisted version of their former selves” that DC has been doing for the past 20 years. I had hoped they had moved past that. And the fight with Baron Blitzkrieg was very disappointing. Over before it started.

    I plan on taking a look at issue #2 to see if it is better, but I don’t have high hopes.

    I have not read the Birds of Prey issue yet, but Black Canary was a post-WW II hero so having her fight Nazis could be anachronistic.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Spoiler: it’s her Mom.

    As for Creature Commandos, I never read any of the originals, but I liked the concept. I’m sorry to hear that it’s disappointing to a fan of the older version.

  10. The Unwritten #29 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] storyline begun in issue #27 reaches part 3 of 4 here. It tells of Miri Walzer, an early comic writer working under a male name [...]

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