Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Too Many First Novel Problems

Freya Robertson “Heartwood” (Angry Robot, 2013)

When a religious order of knights hold a peace conference they are attacked by previously unknown enemies.  These watery warriors attack and steal the heart of a magical tree that is the key to the continued prosperity of the land itself.  The various factions at the conference (plus the religious knights) set aside their differences to work together to defeat the new enemies and restore health to the tree and the land.

Freya Robertson has attempted to find the sweet spot between the new and the familiar.  The underlying story is familiar to any fan of the genre:  outside evil forces attack & force the protagonists to go on a series of quests to do [action] to the McGuffin.  Yet the details are not seen every day.  The religion centers around the worship of a tree, which is vital for the land to retain healthy harvests & what have you.

The details were what had attracted my attention to Heartwood.  The concept of a sacred tree sounded like Robertson was portraying a pagan culture.  Unfortunately, in execution the culture is just a faint gloss of paint over typical Fantasy Christianity.  The primary cultures in the book seem to be lifted from the European Middle Ages with a few changes (such as the presence of female knights).  Their sacred language even seems to be some sort of bowdlerized Latin. 

At over 500 pages, Robertson has plenty of room to work with.  But despite the length, the characterization and world building in Heartwood feel a bit half baked.  Too much of the story feels like it happens in some generic Fantasy Land, and characters seem to suddenly appear and act as if we should care about them.  The characterization issue in particular is a problem.  Numerous plot points lost their impact to me simply because I didn’t know or care about that character.  It’s not often that I feel like a 500+ page book is rushed, but in this instance I do.

Heartwood starts off with an intriguing concept, but is quickly derailed by careless world building and inadequate time spent on characterization.  While somewhat entertaining, it falls far short of the promise originally shown.

Left Alone, This Would Be Great

Gail Simone & Ed Benes “Batgirl Vol. 3:  Death of the Family” (DC Comics, 2013)

At this point, after several decades of mismanaging the character, I’m really not sure how DC can make the fans happy.  Batgirl is popular enough to support her own comic, but still not significant enough to prevent editorial meddling.  And so Barbara Gordon is shot and replaced and healed! And all the while there are fans of each Batgirl who complain about every change.

There’s no question that Gail Simone cares about the character as deeply as any fan.  But as the firing/rehiring event of some months ago showed, there are limits to what the actual writer of the comic can do. 

Unlike so many of the DC writers, Simone is taking advantage of the changed universe of the new 52 in order to tell new and different stories.  In addition to be cured, Barbara now has an estranged mother and a psychotic brother.  These relatively small changes open up new avenues for storytelling, new dynamics to be explored.  

The longer story that Simone is telling here is about the Gordon family.  What does it mean that the long missing mother has returned and that the evil brother is on the loose?

Unfortunately the editorially mandated crossovers interrupt the flow of Simone’s story.  We have issues that have to address not one but two Bat events.  There’s a Court of Owls issue, as well as the Death of the Family crossover.  While none of this is bad, it’s just somewhat jarring and takes away from the story that Simone is telling.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Are They Trying To Do Anything Beyond Filling Pages?

Ann Nocenti & Rafa Sandoval “Catwoman Vol. 3: Death of the Family” (DC Comics, 2013)

I don’t think that I’ve ever read a solo Catwoman title before.  Sure, like everyone else I’m familiar with the character from her appearances in various Bat titles over the years.  She’s an intriguing character, and I think that she could carry a compelling title.

Unfortunately, this is not that title.  

This volume of the new 52 version of Catwoman seems to be adrift.  Just what kind of stories are the creators interested in telling?  I’ve read the book, and I’m not sure.  Is Catwoman’s book gritty and gruesome?  Is it a feminist heist book?  Is it Capes and the City?  There are some elements of all of these here.  And unfortunately none of these directions are successful, perhaps because the commitment to each one is so haphazard.  Without an overall vision of what the title should be, it ends up being not much more than a collection of scenes of Catwoman changing clothes.  

Really?  That’s the best they could come up with?