Captions: Summer Comic Challenge, Part 3

Captions column by Drew

[Parts one and two]

Of course, you can’t swing a cape near American comics without hitting a superhero, so here are three titles from The Big Two.

Ms MarvelMs. Marvel.

Issues # 1-7.

Words: G. Willow Wilson. Art: Adrian Alphona.

So, humblebrag time, but I actually knew the author of the new Ms. Marvel series in college. This makes me completely predisposed to like this series and SO RELIEVED that it is actually very good, if not one of the best superhero adventure comics of the past decade. Too many teen heroes seem to get bogged down in deep dark melodrama at the expense of making a fun, enjoyable comic. Ms. Marvel does touch on the implications of being a teenager with superpowers, but avoids falling into the trap of dwelling on them (unlike, say, Kirkman’s later Invincible books). You might have heard of this series when it was announced – a Muslim heroine tends to get some newspaper coverage – but Kamala Khan is embiggened beyond being a gimmick character. Beyond her superpowers and faith, Kamala is a normal person and Wilson takes care in crafting her as such.

Alphona was a good pick for art duties on this series. You might remember his work from Runaways, another teen-based superhero book whose DNA is present in Ms. Marvel. Action scenes are well done and characters are expressive, perhaps more so than your standard Marvel comic. This fluidity of art lends itself well to Kamala’s shapeshifting powers – there is a definite sense of energy bubbling under the surface of the page.

Bottom Line: This is the only comic I buy by the issue, and I read a lot of comics.

worlds finestWorlds’ Finest.

Volume 1: The Lost Daughters of Earth 2
Volume 2: Hunt and Be Hunted
Volume 3: Control Issues

Words: Paul Levitz. Art: George Perez and Kevin McGuire.

When the New 52 was announced, there were a few well-known names missing from the roster. Two of those, Power Girl and the Huntress, had long, complicated histories in the DC continuity. Power Girl started out as another wayward Kryptonian like Superman (who then was revealed to be Atlantean, then a clone, then maybe a time traveler) while the Huntress has been at times a Batman villain, Bruce Wayne’s daughter, or a wayward Mafia scion. So taking a break to figure out who these characters are in a way that would not be super confusing for new readers made a good deal of sense.

The results, however, are mixed. I’m not sure how new-reader friendly character backgrounds that start with, “Well, you know Earth-2, that alternate dimension where the Golden Age versions of Superman, Batman, and the Justice Society were allowed to age and pass on their mantle to the next generation?” are, especially when they’re in a series whose title is a play on the title of a long running Silver Age comic where Superman, Batman, and Robin teamed up (World’s Finest). So let’s just say that Power Girl is Supergirl all grown up and Huntress is Bruce Wayne’s daughter who used to be Robin that, for reasons, came from an alternate dimension to the main DC continuity.

Honestly, much of this series feels like wasted effort. The creative team is good enough that you wish they were working on new ideas instead of focusing their efforts on making old ideas work. (But then again, the same thing could be said for all of the New 52 books.) What we end up with is a standard fish-out-of-water team-up book where the main characters spend most of their time setting up their status quo (“As you know, Power Girl, I was Robin for blah blah blah..”). When stuff actually starts to happen, things get even more confusing as the plot involves dimension-hopping and evil versions of known characters and oh no Crisis on Infinite Earths is 30 years old what have I done with my life

Bottom Line: For completists only.

black canaryBlack Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell.

Words: Paul Dini. Art: Joe Quinone.

After reading Worlds’ Finest, Black Canary and Zatanna: Bloodspell was a huge relief. I mean, I was worried going into the book that the old Paul Dini magic that brought us Batman: The Animated Series and Mad Love had faded over time. Here we see two minor DC characters get introduced to readers who might only know them from supporting roles on CW shows, done in a way that is easy for new readers to get up to speed on without boring older readers with retreading tired ground. Dini takes the time to show why these characters are friends and why the seek out each other’s company (something that Worlds’ Finest avoids doing beyond ‘well, they fought side by side, so..’). I’ll avoid going into spoiler territory, but the story involves a heist gone wrong and the magical fallout from it.

Quinone usually plies his trade doing cover art, so an entire graphic novel full of his work is a treat. Given how female characters are normally drawn in recent DC comics, Quinones shows a lot of respect and restraint when it comes to two characters known for their fishnet stockings. His action is fluid and expressions bright, so it is easy to tell what is happening and who is doing it.

Bottom Line: The only bad thing I can say about this book is that it’s too short.

And there we go! Some twenty trades or so later, I can say that seeking out female leads in comics was ultimately a rewarding experience. Of course, seeking out female creative talent is still proving to be difficult. Of the 8 different titles I read for this project only one of them has a woman involved on its creative team. Given that the face of the average comics fan is getting younger and more feminine, the current creative status quo will not last much longer. We are seeing more and more female creators break out – in addition to G. Willow Wilson, there’s Fiona Staples (Saga), Sara Pichelli (Ultimate Spiderman), Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant) and others joining the ranks of Louise Simonson (Superman), Gail Simone (Batgirl), and Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) as women at the top of their field. Still, that’s a minority of the creative talent currently working in comics. Hopefully as more readers give female characters a chance, the publishers will follow suit with their creative talent.

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