Catwoman – The Game (2012)
Written by Judd Winick, Art by Guillem March
Judd Winick was the recipient of a lot of unfair criticism during his run on Green Arrow. He had the longest tenure as writer of that series since Mike Grell’s epic run that lasted pretty much the entirety of the 1990s. Winick spent his entire time writing the Emerald Archer being compared to short spurts by film writer Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer. Although both Smith and Meltzer made important impacts on the Green Arrow mythos, Winick made Green Arrow feel current and important for the first time since the Denny O’Neill/Neal Adams years, and for that reason, he vastly under appreciated. Grell wrote stories that were strong but ultimately forgettable and unimportant; Winick made his mark on Green Arrow, and now has his chance to make his mark on Catwoman.
Although best known as a supporting character in the Batman mythology, Catwoman has actually had her own book for quite some time. The recent relaunch of DC Comics makes it the perfect time to jump on with any of the books, and Catwoman is an absolutely pleasant surprise. Selina Kyle may be best known for being an incredibly sexy character (and she is), but she is also brilliant, extraordinarily talented as a fighter and a thief, and so sassy that it is impossible not to like her. Winick understands this and it shows in the way he writes the character.
Over the course of the very well-drawn story arc that makes up The Game, Winick pulls out a few of really amazing cliffhangers, and manages to put Catwoman in enough duress that her fight to get out of a series of sticky situations is enthralling. New characters are introduced and made memorable just as quickly as they are taken away, something that Winick has done before and does so well. Readers who don’t like any of Winick’s previous work will probably not find anything in The Game that will change their mind, but for someone who thinks Winick is generally an underrated writer, The Game was a really enjoyable book that makes one look forward to the release of the second volume.
Animal Man – The Hunt (2012)
Written by Jeff Lemire, Art by Travel Foreman
There was a time when Animal Man was just a nobody superhero. He had the power to use the abilities of any animals within reasonable range, which is actually a pretty cool power, but Buddy Baker didn’t have a lot of interest or personality until Grant Morrison took over. Morrison took Animal Man from nobody hero to vegetarian political crusader who fought some pretty strange villains and ended up becoming the only hero we know of in DC Comics who is actually aware that he is a comic book character. Grant Morrison’s run on Animal Man is frankly the shit, but it didn’t take long for the character to become relatively obscure again.
A few years ago, the weekly universe-wide series 52 made Animal Man into a main character again, as he had a pretty major plot that involved among other characters Starfire and Adam Strange. After that, he had small roles in the Blackest Night crossover and James Robinson’s Cry for Justice miniseries, but this new Jeff Lemire-penned comic is the first time we’ve seen Buddy have his own book in quite some time. Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Morrison days, there is a lot to enjoy about The Hunt.
The basic plot revolves around Buddy’s daughter Maxine discovering that she has powers, apparently passed down from her father somehow (despite him receiving them from aliens and not from genetics). Things pretty much go crazy when he finds her in the back yard digging up the skeletons of dead animals that she then turns into zombie skeletons. Some kind of strange web-like map appears on Buddy’s skin and his daughter informs him that in order to save the world they have to follow the map into a place called the Red. That’s about where it stops being vaguely coherent and becomes a surrealistic horror adventure into some kind of hidden nether region. I would suggest I have to read it about five or six more times to even have a vague idea about what is going on but it is definitely amusing and amazing in the way of Salvador Dali.
There are some lovely nuggets here for fans of the Morrison run on the book, but it is definitely easy to jump right into. The art is trippy and wonderful, and it is clear that Lemire has a really good grasp of who Buddy Baker is and how to make him tick. Although some reviewers are praising The Hunt as the best book of the New 52, that is going a bit far. There are certainly some issues of coherence here, but its enjoyability far outweighs its weaknesses.
Batman: Year One
Directed by Lauren Montgomery & Sam Liu
Based on work by Frank Miller
Frank Miller has two very important legacies in the history of Batman. The first of these is The Dark Knight Returns, a completely non-canon alternate reality story in which Batman comes out of retirement in middle age to kick some more ass and act like a total asshole. It is often seen as one of the great comic book stories of all time, but portrays Batman as chauvinistic and completely unlikable in attempt to make a grittier version of the dark knight. It is criminally overrated.
The second and far superior story that Miller contributed to the history of Batman is Batman: Year One, an aptly titled telling of Batman’s first year fighting crime as the caped crusader while future police commissioner James Gordon endures his first year on the force in Gotham as an honest man in a dishonest police department. Gordon is really the main character of the story; almost all of the narrative is from Gordon himself, voiced perfectly by Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame in this film version. Catwoman also appears in an almost-so-minor-it’s-pointless supporting role, portrayed very capably by Eliza Dushku. Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica is Detective Essen, Alex Rocco is mob boss Carmine Falcone, and Benjamin McKenzie is Batman himself.
A film adaptation that takes the source material and translates it to the screen exactly is almost pointless, but thoroughly enjoyable anyway. Although there is absolutely nothing different about it, seeing the film is a lot like reading the original story for the first time, and that has value. The voice cast is almost entirely stellar, although Batman could have been better cast. The visuals are perfect, and the entire production makes for an animated film that is just as enjoyable as the Christopher Nolan live action films. That being said, if you have already read the book, there is nothing new to experience here. Still, if you can appreciate a quality transfer between two mediums, Batman: Year One will be enjoyed.