Friday, March 6, 2009

The Weekly Chain Reaction: March 4, 2009

I’ve had some thoughts and conversations on the matter of genre/pop/commercial fiction versus art/literary fiction in the last few days, so, for those of you following the discussion, I’m definitely not done with the topic.

Meanwhile, this week was rather light in terms of new releases of interest.

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Batman: Cacophony #3 (of 3), by Kevin Smith, Walter Flanagan, et al. Instead of reaching a conclusion, Mr. Smith’s first and only Batman story just stops dead in its tracks. Viewed as a whole, the miniseries is oddly jumbled; villain Maxie Zeus, who played a major role in the two previous issues, is nowhere to be seen in the final one, and the hints that Onomatopoeia might get something approaching an origin story or a motivation are just dropped. The big, supposedly climactic fight changes nothing and resolves less: Onomatopoeia goes home to his secret identity, and that’s that. Batman has an argument with Jim Gordon that seems terribly phony, just like his subsequent talk with the Joker; none of the two confrontations are remotely as compelling as they would need to be to support the weight Mr. Smith places on them. Also, the less said of Mr. Flanagan’s attempt to draw the Joker with a beard, the better. Structurally and thematically, Batman: Cacophony is awkwardly lopsided; in terms of characters and plot, it’s generic and seems more than a little bit exhausted. There’s no hint of insight or urgency here, let alone satisfaction.

(DC Comics, 30 pages, $ 3.99)

Grade: D

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Daredevil #116, by Ed Brubaker, David Aja, et al. On the one hand, the story succeeds in making me curious what’s next; and Mr. Aja’s work, once again, is jaw-droppingly beautiful. His rendition of the Kingpin, standing in the pouring rain on the Spanish coast, awkwardly holding an umbrella that Marta, the small, shy woman off to his side, just handed him as they’re both staring out at the sea, says more about the situation than a thousand words could; plainly, this is in a different league from what you usually get in North American superhero comics. The bad news is, I’m not sure if the story merits it. For starters, I’ve got no clue what Marta sees in the Kingpin (who, in turn, seems awfully well-adjusted here, given his history). She remains a stereotype that’s convenient to the plot, but never emerges as a proper character. The ending doesn’t come as a great surprise, either. The story could have been much more insightful if it had been told from Marta’s perspective, for instance. Unfortunately, we don’t even see what the characters are actually talking—or bonding—about while they’re together, so what we’re left with is another tough guy’s generic internal monologue, leading us by hand through a painting-by-numbers plot. It is getting old. The story looks great and sets up some interesting things, but taken on its own terms, like much of Mr. Brubaker’s more recent work, it fails to make me give a toss about any of the characters.

(Marvel Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: C

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Jersey Gods #2, by Glen Brunswick, Dan McDaid, et al. It seems like the series is pretty much headed where I expected it to go, only at a much slower pace than I anticipated. This doesn’t have to be a problem, per se, but I’m worried: The creators spend an awful lot of time on their New Gods stand-ins here, instead of developing the part of the story I’m really interested in. Which strikes me as redundant. Isn’t the whole point of using New Gods stand-ins to save you the trouble of having to establish the generic superhero stuff and allow you to focus on your New-Jersey-girl-meets-superhero-from-outer-space romance story instead? That is, I hope that’s the story they’re going for; the last six pages and the cliffhanger certainly don’t fill me with a great deal of optimism, though. I like the book enough to give it a couple more issues to make up its mind, but to be honest, I couldn’t care less about what’s going on in the last third of the story. I’ve already got those Fourth World Omnibus hardcovers on my shelves. I don’t desperately need a monthly comic covering the same ground.

(Image Comics, 23 pages, $ 3.50)

Grade: C+

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So much for the new comics. I’m hoping to catch Waltz with Bashir and Watchmen in the next couple of days, so I may be back with a review or two.

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