New comics pageant.

*Preliminary Notes Dept: It is genuinely terrifying how relevant Dan Clowes’ Pussey! remains today. Has nothing changed since 1994? So much of that book could have been written last month rather than over a decade ago, and many of its vignettes address topics still argued over and over again, here in the 21st century.

And yet, my single favorite panel is a more personal one, the bit with the title character’s gym teacher offering this sage observation:

Pussey, you’re worse than a hundred girls!

More later.

*The Dark Horse Twenty Years pin-up special is well worth its cost of one quarter, featuring 20 pages of various creators having fun drawing other people’s characters. Some of the folks involved go that extra distance - not only does Joss Whedon draw Emily the Strange, but he strives to turn his piece into a Steve Ditko homage, an appreciated effort. Others don’t - sadly, Frank Miller merely recycles his cover art from Dark Horse Maverick 2001 depicting the title character of Usagi Yojimbo (he’s probably not the only one reusing extant work, though his is the only piece I could place), though Stan Sakai does get to return the favor by whipping up a Sin City scene in his own inimitable style. Other artists adapt their style to the work at hand - Paul Chadwick provides a very neat Groo piece via a semi-Aragonés approach (Sergio himself tackles Conan). Plus: Tony Millionaire on Tarzan, and cover artist Mike Mignola on... pretty much everyone, including Gary Gianni’s The MonsterMen and The Rocketeer. Don’t miss the Rocket Comics logo discarded in the lower left corner!

*52 Dept: A good old-fashioned fight issue? Well I never! Yeah, this week was a week for fisticuffs in the DCU, as a single day brings us both Steel clashing with his newly superpowered niece, and our heroic space castaways fighting their way out of a mess that ties right into the very purpose of the planet they’re on, crumbs as to the nature of the ‘big’ 52 threat duly scattered. There’s also Batwoman lurking around as Montoya and the Question bond over holiday fireworks, but that’s strictly secondary to the hitting, and it’s pretty decent, even if nobody can quite decide if Adam Strange’s eyes are supposed to be all-white or all-black (or outright missing, I guess). And don’t ask me how Adam could tell when Devilance the Pursuer had the remote-controlled burny thing up to his face, seeing as how he’s blind and all - just lucky?

As for Steel and Nat, I took an unexpected amount of pleasure out of their extended (half the issue) scrape, maybe because the overheated tenor of their series-length disagreement has been screaming for power fists to fly and globs of molten metal to spurt and errant bullets to rip into bystander henchmen - it was awfully forced and awkward as something approximating actual human conversation, but it fits well into a procession of smashing and grimacing, the rest of the world made as blunt and pounding as everyone’s words. Not that any of this exactly elevates the Steel material to greatness - it’s still very much standard-issue intergenerational sparring on its conceptual level, but at least it’s no longer standing out as a particularly weak arm of the project. For the moment.

Plus, the whole Lex Luthor plot is suddenly starting to remind me of the old Erik Larson comic Freak Force, and its subplot about some sort of John Byrne parody character giving average people completely random superpowers - something about Lex’s purple ‘n green team looking vaguely tough while striking the world’s most generic metahuman poses hit that button in my brain.

Also, Donna weeps over Identity Crisis, mirroring the reactions of many online at the time.

Detective Comics #821

The first issue of writer Paul Dini’s run on the venerable Bat-Title, and it’s about what I expected from the pre-release promotion: a wholly straightforward, unpretentious, unambitious, done-in-one superhero story that utilizes simple characterizations to make simple points, all in the service of an inoffensive plot that frankly could have existed with minor alterations at just about any point in Bat-History. It’s very nearly the Platonic ideal of the middlebrow Batman script. Anyone could read this and understand everything it offers, perfectly, the first time through. I can’t imagine anyone being overly impressed with it. But it doesn’t seek to impress, only to lightly entertain, and it’s so resolutely competent that I also can’t imagine anyone’s critical temper ever managing to rise over the lowest simmer.

And thus, it’s simultaneously perverse and fitting that the art of J.H. Williams III should grace these pages - it can’t help but feel odd to see Williams’ famously elaborate visual style gracing such a dead-basic script, yet such writing also serves to offer an excellent vessel to survey the art of the page, so transparent is its motives and execution. The plot involves Batman investigating the activities of a new villain, Facade, by going ‘undercover’ as Bruce Wayne among Gotham’s social elite - eventually, we grasp some clean, logical motives for the quasi-sympathetic baddie, while a reasonable facsimile of a mystery unfolds. Robin is in there too, to seemingly obey Batman’s orders to sit this mission out, yet pop in to save the day at the most crucial moment. Of course. But oh that art!

It speaks well of Williams’ talent that I recognize that he’s basically employing a stripped-down version of his Desolation Jones approach, yet I’m still enraptured (and now vividly aware that it’s for the best that Jones itself hops over to the entirely different stylings of Danijel Zezelj, since Williams is planning to make use of some of the Jones-debuted techniques elsewhere). The colorist here is John Kalisz, who does an admirable job of stepping in for José Villarrubia, employing similar variations of color types to match Williams’ mood-sensitive line art. We even get the Jones treatment of violence, albeit simplified and modified to suit Batman; now those blasts of white & red concentration are all shaped like spiky POW balloons, save for a single panel of total washout, commemorating a man’s being squished by a train.

But the attentiveness doesn’t stop there. Once again, Williams varies his lines to suit different scenes: all of the high society bits are depicted in a highly ‘clean’ style, to emphasize the spotless simplicity of the world of the wealthy, while grimy environs and fights provide a move to a more weathered, shaded style, Kalisz’s colors (and textures) shifting to match. And Facade’s lair is a nightmare of outlines and patterns, a visual mockery of the high society sequences, very heavy on the red and white to wordlessly indicate the inherent violence of the villain’s activities - as it often goes, the art is not only aesthetically striking, but adds a little more depth to the story. Which can’t ever be all that much here, though as I mentioned before, I doubt Dini intended this script to pierce all that far down anyway.

Williams won’t be back for a while - he’s got Seven Soldiers #1 on his plate at the moment. That’s too bad, as his lines and Kalisz’s colors provided all of the immediate and lasting attraction for me as far as this issue went. It might be that issues of the near future will look more subdued, more on-the-level with Dini’s scripting (provided that it retains the approach glimpsed here). Or maybe their art will pop out as excellent in their own manner. I don’t know if I’ll be around to find out, but I’m open to hearing of the results.