Monday, July 20, 2009

Reviews part 7: The what makes a good (comic) story edition?

Covering comics from last week, herein lies spoilers for Red Robin #2, Superman World of New Krypton #5, Booster Gold #22, Green Arrow/Black Canary #22 and Buffy #26.

I feel like I’ve been reviewing so much lately it’s getting a bit tiresome. Due to this, I have taken a themed approach to this week’s reviews, apologies if it’s a bit wanky.


What makes a good story? Everyone has their own tastes and definitions but I reckon that there are also common defining traits. You want engaging characters, you want an interesting plot, you want something to excite you and there’s that age old cliché – you want conflict. Of course, each individual defines this in their own way, which leads to all the differences in opinion.

Take Red Robin #2. nevermore999 didn’t like this issue. She feels that Tim is a complete ass. I agree, he is moody, rude, disrespectful and possibly having a little breakdown. He’s completely isolated from other heroes and this issue shows that he’s doing that on purpose.

Now, nev doesn’t say whether she thinks the issue is good or not, and i’m not going to assume anything, I’m more using her post as a jumping off point. To me, even though Tim is an ass, I think it’s a good issue. It’s illuminating (darkening?) to see how far Tim is pushing those closest to him away, and it also shows how much support he does have, should he choose to utilise said support. We are again shown Tim’s fighting skills, deduction skills and vigilante methods (the voice). With Bruce gone I think we need to see how Tim is growing into a darker identity – the costume was the first indication of this, now we’re getting the other day to day stuff. I think Tim’s anger with Steph spying on him reinforces this.

For once the cover to this book enhances the story inside. We see Tim-as-Robin fighting Spoiler, in the light, we also see Tim-as-Red-Robin fighting ninjas, in the dark. So he’s fighting everyone, in both aspects of his life.

So, this comic shows that you can still have a good story without liking the protagonist.

Superman: World of new Krypton is a different beast. Whereas Red Robin is an ongoing and therefore has more time to build plot and character etc, this book is a maxi series and has to move the plot along to a pre-determined end, within a set number of issues. Whereas Red Robin was reinforcing Tim’s ‘new’ character, brought about because of the recent events in Gotham, this Superman book has a whole new world to show us. We need to get to know, in a short space of time, as many characters as facets of Kryptonian society as possible. This issue brings us a lawyer, insights into dissident factions of Krypton, the trial system, new knowledge of how much Kal-El inspired his fellows, a traitor, the hope of a new planet and an assassination. Each factor listed above is dealt with clearly and concisely, so despite this being a packed issue nothing is confused and everything serves a purpose.

This book is borrowing much from the Superman films – I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to get chills when viewing the trial scene for the first time. The artist and inker have done a fabulous job in reflecting the mood of the text – the trial scenes are so dark and gloomy and the last few pages when the dome is lifted are so colourful and gentle, perfectly in keeping with the mood of events being depicted.

Booster Gold 22 is an exercise in nostalgia. This issue is produced for old school Titans fans and is mostly all fight. There’s not a lot of depth, there’s no insight to the characters and nothing is resolved. It may appeal to the aforementioned Titans fans but it’s not got a lot of substance. Verdict: Interesting characters, bikinis and a couple of fight scenes doth not a good story make.

Wednesday Comics is the new format comic from DC. What Booster Gold failed to do in a normal length book Wednesday Comics does in nearly all 14 of it’s one page stories.

The Supergirl strip introduced us to the action with a father and kid looking at puppies, giving us a human angle to countermand Kara’s Streaky and Krypto chase, and threw in some humour to boot.

The Hawkman strip uses very few words, most of which consist of ‘flap’ but conveys a sense of loyalty and unstoppableness from the Hawks that left me intrigued as to how it will play out.

Metamorpho is an example of an author having a blast writing something. Gaiman has such a feel for the style he’s emulating you can’t help but smile at it.

Wonder Woman is very surreal and stands out amongst the other stories because it’s very ethereal and because it depicts a much younger Diana than we are used to seeing.

I won’t go through any more, but will conclude by saying that this format showcases the variety of comic writing and art styles and gives us 14 examples of how to write comics without pandering to continuity.

Continuity brings us neatly onto Green Arrow/Black Canary #22. Looking to the stars hates this issue. I think this is chiefly because of the retconning of Dinah’s origin and the way she has been written out of character. I do not believe that this makes it a bad story in itself, although I do accept that it may be considered a bad story in view of years of continuity.

It is the concluding story of the deaf arc which has featured a lot of one Dinah Lance. I have previously written about how I thought this book was rubbish because of it’s failure to live up to the shared name, that if it was called Green Arrow it would have been fine, but with a double billing you need to reflect the title in the plotlines. That’s now been fixed, just before they revert to calling it Green Arrow and give Black Canary her back up feature.

I have enjoyed this storyline, despite the retconning of Dinah’s teenage years. I am happy for retcons to occur, believing that what is written at the time is correct for the character and to say otherwise if fan entitlement, which isn’t for me. I’m more concerned about whether the plot is done well, regardless of whether it is a good idea or not. I think the flashbacks to teenage Dinah are done well, the relations between Ted, Di senior and Di junior are believable and what’s more the art fits. Young Dinah looks like adult Dinah.

Discord’s origin was done well, Dinah’s saving of herself and Discord from the roof explosion did her credit and showcased her as a hero. The parallels between her teenage self and her adult self were drawn, although to what purpose I’m not sure. As it is, that particular aspect and one other are the only faults I have with the story.

In order to make a story good you need to have everything in place, it needs to flow and what you don’t want is for something to jump out at the reader and make them go wtf. If that happens is spoils the story. My wtf moment in this issue was the discussion between Discord and his brother about deafness.

Discord: What I do cannot be considered true hearing. The device I am wearing, of my own design, transmits audio information directly into my brain, bypassing my damaged hearing organs. Yes, I hear, but the sound in my mind is gritty and coarse. It has been stripped of tone and poetry. And beauty.
Brother: This could revolutionise the world for the hearing impaired. Deafness could be cured.

Three problems – firstly, the effect of what Discord is describing sounds very similar to a cochlear implant. Which is quite a small thing, certainly not a great hulking piece of machinery strapped to your arm and head. They’ve been around quite a long time.
Secondly, due to the existence of the cochlear implant this makes the brother’s comment redundant. Thirdly, Deafness doesn’t need to be cured. In fact, ‘curing’ Deafness could be tantamount to linguistic and cultural genocide. It looks to me like the writer has done fuck all research on Ddeafness. This exchange threw me out of the story and will discolour it for me.

The back up story, of Green Arrow this issue, presumably because the main story was about Black Canary, had Dinah confront Ollie about his violence. This has been a long time coming and is one of the nice things about comics – because they are such a long running media you can tie everything together and seemingly innocent words or actions can be shown to have great value at a much later date.

Buffy # 26 is part of season 8 and in a similar manner to DC comics has a lot of back story and universe history to build upon. Sadly, it is not doing such a good job of this as GA/BC. I have lost sense of the overall plot, the art is horrible and I have no idea where this is going. I don’t have a feel for it the way I have a feel for the TV based seasons. The writing isn’t too shit hot and the odd quips that are thrown in can seem rather forced. There are a few humourous moments but these are mainly reminiscent of incidents in previous, not a new action/event/piece of dialogue that occurred due to where the plot is now.

A (very) personal niggle about Buffy season 8 is that every issue I am liking the art less and less. In the comics medium this is going to be a problem. To get something really outstanding, you need to have that match between the dialogue, plot and art, and you need all 3 areas to be good. For me, the art just isn’t very good. This throws me out of the experience (much like the Ddeaf stuff in GA/BC).

So, now I conclude. In my own (highly personal and definitely subjective opinion) I think what makes a comic good is the juxtaposition of good art/dialogue/plot, believable characterisation and relationships and research. Sometimes this believability can exist only for that story arc (GA/BC), sometimes it comes from building on years of character history (Red Robin).

Incorporating a fight or other popular characters is not always a recipe for a good comic. As much as I’m keen on explosions and high kicking ninja shenanigans they don’t mean a lot if there isn’t any substance behind it.


Thank you for reading this exercise is self importance. Ooh heck, I feel like a bit of a wanker now. Crumbs.


Caitlin said...

I don't know whether Red Robin was really good or not- it's characterization and direction are just not something I support or like. I know in the small snippet I read I found things that confused me as far as story logic goes (how Steph got in the room, the continuity conflicts with Gotham Gazette) leading me to think there were actual problems with the issue besides my personal taste, but I dunno.

As for GA/BC, I don't read it, but as far as I can see the retconned origin removes a lot of Dinah's agency in making herself a hero, and also doesn't really make her Mom her role model, robbing us of one of the few mother-daughter legacy heroes in comics. And there's really no reason for it. I liked Dinah's BoP origin, that rang truer to character. And it was so recent to! There was no need to change it IMO.

Caitlin said...

I'm Nev, btw. Don't know why this damn thing keeps changing my name.

Saranga said...

Good point about Dinah's agency being removed. I hadn't thought about her mother as a roel model thing before..interesting.
True that there wasn't a reason for changing it so I do wonder why.
I think I will file this away as a good story in it's own right but I shall mentally stick with her previous origin, I prefer it.