Monday, March 09, 2015

"How can anything matter when every possible thing happens?"

Though last week was rather busy, I did manage to get a fair bit of reading done: I had the pleasure of perusing Azzarello and Risso's Batman: Broken City (2004), the first volume of Hickman and Dragotta's East of West (The Promise, 2013), and the second volume of Remender and Scalera's Black Science (Welcome, Nowhere; 2015). The title of this review is shamelessly stolen from Remender and Scalera's Black Science.

For their first contribution to Batman's canon, dynamic duo Azzarello and Risso channel Frank Miller to create a quaint and curious volume of comic-book noir. While seeking justice for the victim of a hired killer, Azzarello's Batman waxes theological, soliloquizing in the rain while perched upon the cornices of Risso's Gotham, a baroque monument carved out of black shadows. Broken City is not a whodunnit so much as a whydunnit: we are not delving into the mystery of the murderer's identity – it is not at all a mystery; Batman tells us outright: it was Croc. We are instead made to wonder about the motivation of the person who ordered the hit, and forced to to consider what it means to share our fallen world with such monsters.

♀♀♀: Batman follows the trail of evidence through Gotham's underworld, repeatedly running into the mistress of a suspect, a woman named Margo Farr, who becomes something of a deuteragonist. Margo is clearly a "dame" after Frank Miller's heart; though coy to the point of cloying on her first meeting with the Dark Knight, she becomes bristly and evasive after he brushes off her advances. It is perhaps not entirely irrelevant to point out that all the women in Broken City are either murder victims or connected to the mob, often both.
0: This comic is not explicitly LGBTQA-inclusive.
πππ: Batman's most capable ally is detective Crispus Allen (whose name is inexplicably misspelled "Crispis"). His dialogue lays out more character than is customary for a character whose chief purpose is to disclose plot-precipitating information; much to his credit, Detective Allen is not exactly eager to trade notes with a vigilante. Azzarello introduces two Japanese mobsters named Fat Man and Little Boy, the former an amalgamation of sumo and yakuza, the latter a ninja with hints of geisha. Cringe-worthy as such characterization may seem to certain readers, Fat Man and Little Boy have at least some merit insofar as they manage to knock out the Batman.

For the first volume of East of West, Hickman delivers a very peculiar mash-up of alternate history and eschatology with a hint of King's Dark Tower series. In the aftermath of a mysterious cataclysm, North America was divided into seven warring nations. Wishing to exact vengeance upon the secret cabal of America's heads of states for the murder of his paramour, Death deserts his fellow Horsemen of the Apocalypse to exact his vengeance – oblivious to whatever part he may be playing in the prophesied End of the World.

♀♀: Through Hu interactions with her sister Xiaolian (Death's paramour), the reader catches a glimpse of a fraught, lifelike relationship.
0: This comic is not explicitly LGBTQA-inclusive.
ππππ: East of West's America – like actual America – is a land of immigrants: ethnically diverse and torn apart by racial tensions. Though they say very little, Nick Dragotta manages to infuse Wolf and Crow with a kind of sombre dignity that transcends stereotypes about America's First Nations.

Black Science's second volume unravels the skeins of fate and deception even further than the first, uncovering motivations which even the most astute reader could hardly have suspected and, in the process, redeeming characters with whom there was previously very little reason to sympathize. While the accursed Pillar is still forcing the dimensionauts to jump from world to world, Remender's formula has not gotten stale; Scalera's surrealistic landscapes do not fail to impress.

: Women dimensionauts continue to argue; Pia shows more determination than before.
0: This comic is not explicitly LGBTQA-inclusive.
ππππ: Welcome, Nowhere provides a great deal of backstory, including the origins of Kadir and the Native-American Techno-Shaman; both characters play increasingly significant roles.

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