So, a million years ago, Paul Pope drew an illustration of his THB protagonist, HR Watson, jumping for joy and exclaiming “Yay for Comics!” It is a reminder that the medium is filled with excitement. Yet, it can be difficult to enjoy comics with the sexist and violent tirades of certain fans, the thin margins under which the industry operates and the continuing racial and gender inequality in the creative sector of the business, but there are still things to love about it. Things that make me jump for joy, just like HR Watson.
You may have noticed I missed a month. I’m not entirely sure how that happened because I read me some comics. I’ll blame Thanksgiving and an ill-timed cold. That said, I’ll double up this month and give you this regular edition and an End of Year spectacular, summing up this first year of loving comics again. In the meantime, let’s go with what I teased in October and discuss Paul Pope, offer one last look at Fatale and talk some Batgirl, but first …
The Fade Out: Brubaker and Phillips bring their crime comics skills to Hollywood of the 50s, an era of witch hunts, possible communist infiltration, people hiding lives that used to be open and the last gasp of the studio system. At its heart is a dead starlet and writer looking for the truth. Phillips’ art, aided by Elizabeth Breitweiser on colors, extenuates the Southern California feel. Though only three issues in, I’m ready to keep reading and see what Bru and Philips can do with the era and setting. The characters are not as immediately memorable as Josephine in Fatale, but reading at the monthly pace, I’m sure they’ll come into focus soon.
Batgirl: Though Gail Simone is the definitive writer of Barbara Gordon, the fresh look of Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr intrigued me from the start. Tarr’s art is great. The simpler, hipper costume and a stripped down approach seemed bold and different … and for the first few issues, it was. Though they completely replaced the supporting cast for new characters of their own creation (and Dinah Lance), it was an interesting take on the character. Moving her to Burnside — the Gotham equivalent of Brooklyn — also gave the team a new world to establish with its tech-savy young people focus.
And then Dagger Type happened.
I was planning to sing this books praises because there is much to praise, but after the most recent issue saw the creative team blindly stumble into a predictable and reprehensible trans stereotype — not to mention Barbara’s reaction to the revelation — I’m not so sure. (And to be honest, as a cismale reader, I failed to see the problem until I heard oblique references to fan outrage.) It stings doubly for Batgirl as Alysia Yeoh, one of Barbara’s supporting cast during Simone’s tenure, was a transgender woman (who even makes an appearance in this issue!). Stewart issued a classy apology and the team has pledged to do better, but it underscores one problem with the Batgirl relaunch: two men are writing it. In the first couple of issues, that didn’t seem to be an impairment. It was fast-paced, poppy and fun with a satirical take on social media and youth trends. Now, everything stands suspect and one can’t help but wonder if Simone can be brought — even just to co-write — to help heal the damage wrought to one of DC’s more progressive titles. I still want to shout yay, though, because this book looks more distinctive than it ever has. It just needs a perspective that matches.
Fatale: Bru and Phillips also finished up Fatale just before the first issue of The Fade Out was released. The book ended with a … worthy enough ending. Split into five volumes, the third and fourth are spectacular. The last seems to lose some momentum as Josephine is finally seen in a modern context. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I was left underwhelmed even though the ending makes perfect sense. Despite that, it’s well worth your time as Bru and Phillips create interesting characters and worlds. The last volume also features a spectacular head trip that reveals what Phillips can do when not confined to conventional reality.
The Rise of Aurora West: The first in a two-volume series, Aurora West expands the world Paul Pope devised for his 2013 book Battling Boy by focusing on that books support character Aurora West. The daughter of a Doc Savage like explorer/monster fighter named Haggard West, we see her comes to grips with the part she may have played in her mother’s murder and the series of events that led to their world being invaded by monsters. Co-written by Pope and J.T. Petty with lovely art by David Rubín, it feels different from Pope’s solo efforts — perhaps a little conventional (mind you, Rubín’s art is only conventional in comparison to Pope), but certainly worthwhile. Where Battling Boy felt distant and its characters obscured by Pope’s amazing talents for action and design, Aurora West is more intimate with Aurora, Haggard and even the monsters becoming more rounded. Both books are part of a larger platform Pope intends to work in for the next several years and I’m more willing to follow him there with Aurora West as my tour guide.
That wraps it up for now. I’ll be back on New Year’s Eve with a look back at some of the titles that may me shout yay for comics and where they stand now …