I've always had a sort of bittersweet relationship with alternative takes on the Batman mythology. They interest me enough to explore, but I just can'...moreI've always had a sort of bittersweet relationship with alternative takes on the Batman mythology. They interest me enough to explore, but I just can't consider them canonical to the Batman universe in any way. Still, these stand-alone stories show the way in which this hero resonates with nearly all of us in some way or another, and are often worth the read.
Death by Design was an unknown to me, but the premise was enough to grab my attention. The author, in the preface, indicates that his inspiration came from two historical events: the demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station in 1963, and the construction crane collapses in Manhattan in 2008. Weaving these events in to a "glorious, golden age" in Gotham city, Chip Kidd draws us into a noir-ish mystery featuring a young Bruce Wayne who is early in his career as the Batman. The Dark Knight must solve the mystery of industrial neglect that has resulted in lost lives and that is connected far more intimately than he cares to realize to the Wayne legacy. Along the way he meets an anti-hero, Exacto, that is taking the situation into his own hands in a way that he views as impossible for others.
Besides writing the Batman into an entertaining mystery, Kidd uses Exacto to call into question the line that Batman walks between hero and vigilante. Exacto crosses the lines that Batman will not, drawing a contrast to the police's perception of the Batman, who view him as an out-of-control vigilante, even though he adheres to his personal code of not killing those who are guilty, despite the fact that they are guilty. Exacto has no such hesitance, yet the Batman's heroism is not seen in any favorable light by the authorities.
Kidd brings technology into the story that feels to be too far-flung and science-fiction-like to have a place in the mythology of Batman, especially if we're to see the story as a period piece in a "glorious, golden age." The grappling gun is one thing, but a small device that emits a stasis field in order to prevent harmful impacts? My suspension of disbelief is broken at that point.
The Joker is written poorly by Kidd, but I have trouble holding this against him. This is an extremely nuanced villain who is difficult to get right, as difficult as the Batman in his own right.
Bruce Wayne's introspective voice, however, is significantly out of character, something else that broke my ability to completely inhabit the story on more than one occasion. He feels too flippant, too eager for the disturbed, fractured, traumatized man that is the Dark Night Detective.
And yet, for all of my misgivings, there is the art....
Dave Taylor draws us into this noir world with black-and-white art work that is nothing short of stunning. A two-page spread of Batman sailing across Gotham's skyline is worth reading the book in itself, and the close-ups of Cyndia Syl's face are breath-taking. There is just enough color to make these panels pop without breaking the murder-mystery feel, and Taylor draws your eyes across his pages masterfully.
This is an entertaining mystery with fantastic art, but it just doesn't connect with the Batman story as we know it. The departures are simply too drastic to ignore at times, but the capturing of the genre into which our hero is placed makes the book at least somewhat worth reading. I wish Kidd would have spent more time exploring the contrasts between Batman and Exacto, because there is potential to have saved this story here, instead of simply encountering another custom-written villain to balance the story. I would have difficulty recommending this for a dedicated Batman fan, unless you're just looking for a quick weekend read. (less)
Wonder Woman has never been a title that I read on its own. In fact, I can only recall buying one issue in my life, and that was somewhere back in the...moreWonder Woman has never been a title that I read on its own. In fact, I can only recall buying one issue in my life, and that was somewhere back in the the mists of my childhood because the cover grabbed me. Like many DC titles, however, I became at least mildly interested after the launch of the New 52, inasmuch as I followed it's flagship title, Justice League. In those pages, I became interested in Wonder Woman as one of the primary three heroes in the DC Universe, now presented not as a character about whom my wife complains ("A Lasso of Truth? Really?") as still being presented as inferior to male characters, but here painted as a strong character worthy of her Amazonian past.
So, I was glad to (finally) make the time to read the collected first volume of her initial story arc in the New 52.
I was impressed, but I'll say up front that this collection didn't absorb me like some of the other New 52 titles. The art I found to be a bit sporadic. While the cover art, being particularly poor, isn't representative of the interior pages, I still found many of the pages displaying clunky characters drawn with heavy-handed lines and confusing movement from panel to panel. That said, there are moments of brilliance, particularly in the facial expressions of Queen Hera.
The writing far outshines the art, with delicate foreshadowing and powerful dialogue between many characters, but especially on the part of our protagonist ("Peace? Your mocking lips spit a word your tongue has never tasted."). The movement of the story is well paced as collected into a graphic novel, though I'm not sure how it would have felt in individual issues. The balance between narrative, dialogue, and action is thoughtfully and intentionally achieved, and the action sequences are violently intense when present.
The first installment of Wonder Woman's origin story is told here, as she realizes that the legend of the childhood in which she has grown up believing is a lie, and as she races to protect a girl pregnant with Zeus' illegitimate child as the wrath of Olympus threatens to kill her where she stands. Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of this story is the way in which the legendary Greek gods and goddesses are portrayed, at times very thought-provoking (Hades with his face obscured by the burning candles on his head, or Ares as a rail-thin African warlord drinking in a bar), and at times with particular humor (Hermes sitting on a sofa with a remote control in hand and his leg in a splint).
I originally rated this story at three stars. Why? Well, first off, stars are so arbitrary, but necessary on Goodreads. Secondly, because this story, while well written, just didn't move me along in it's premise. As a hero story goes, it felt...dry to me, as much as the craft of the writing may have had shining moments. My final decision when writing this, though, is a four-star review, because the character development sinks in after letting the book sit for a day or two. In these pages, we meet Wonder Woman as a hero for today. She is a warrior, one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe (watching her lift a car is impressive enough, but the first panel in which she enters with a shield and battle axe will alter your perception of the character forever). I wish that I had read these issues when the New 52 originally launched, as it would have helped me to make more sense of the character in the pages of Justice League. Here, I was about twenty pages in before I truly heard her voice, but then there was no turning back. Because we also see Wonder Woman as a woman, insecure in her heritage, mourning the loss of her mother before she could make amends, strongly drawn to familial connections, and strongly persevering through her losses. If you imagined a flat or two-dimensional character here...if your perception of Wonder Woman as been that of my wife's, a character with unrealized potential left to languish on the fringes of a male-dominated hero universe...then for that reason alone, I would recommend this book. Even if the story leaves you lagging behind a bit as it did me, you'll be glad that you now truly know Diana, the Princess of the Amazons. (less)
A clear, concise, and absolutely necessary introduction and reference to the principles of responsive design. Ethan begins with how to design a fluid...moreA clear, concise, and absolutely necessary introduction and reference to the principles of responsive design. Ethan begins with how to design a fluid grid, and covers everything from that point forward: responsive images, media queries, progressive enhancement. This is a quick read, and absolutely necessary on the shelf of every designer and developer. (less)
The New 52 brought me to DC Comics in a way that I'd never been involved before. I didn't think that would be the case. I knew these classic character...moreThe New 52 brought me to DC Comics in a way that I'd never been involved before. I didn't think that would be the case. I knew these classic characters in ways that the casual reader likely doesn't, because I grew up with comic books. That said, I grew up with the Marvel universe on my shelf much more than the DC Universe, but still...I was suspect. Until I read a handful of the inaugural issues, after which I was hooked. As you might suspect, the Batman titles have held special interest for me, likely because I had been a Batgirl reader prior to the New 52's launch.
Batwoman, however, is the character of which I knew the least. While friends have spoken very highly of what DC is doing with the character, I found myself turning to wikis to read about her origin, because I knew very little about Katie Kane or how she fits into the Batman mythology.
As it turns out, she operates parallell to Batman's mythology more than she operates within it, but, in any case, I wanted to be introduced to this character, and, "Elegy" being a highly acclaimed story arc, seemed a good place to start. This graphic novel collects all of the issues within the story arc, which takes place before the New 52 re-boot.
Here we find Batwoman facing off against a new villain called Alice, who dresses as one of Carroll's characters and quotes lines from the book while proving herself quite adept in the realm of criminal insanity. She is targeting Batwoman, and Katie does not know why. Katie proactively begins hunting down Alice, against her father's advice. Her father points out that this is more about revenge, while Katie insists that this is about survival. The reader is drawn on a rollercoaster of a storyline as we watch Katie waver back and forth between the two.
Batwoman is a very different character for the Batman mythology. She has a military background, and has received much notice as being one of DC's few gay characters. After being dishonorably discharged from military service for her sexuality, she is in search of a new way to "serve." She is inspired when she fights off a mugger, easily defeating the attacker just as Batman shows up. She watches the Dark Knight vanish into Gotham's dark skyline, and realizes that this is how she will serve the public around her. Using her wealthy father's resources and her background along with new training, she dons a costume as Batwoman. Her adventures bring her into occasional contact with Batman, although she is not really part of his "family," at least not at this point.
Batwoman's origin is woven into this story through flashbacks, as it brings to light who Alice is and why she is targeting Batwoman (I'll say no more in the interest of spoilers). The story weaves in a good dose of the supernatural, which fits well with Gotham's eerie past. As with any self-contained collection of stories from a larger serial, there is some backstory of which the reader may not be aware, but I was able to deduce at least the generalities of this quickly. So, someone who does not read comics regularly would not be lost here.
The art is a very different style than I'm used to reading in comics, at times striking with Batwoman's imposing figure and red and black costume, at times cartoonish in background panels and it's portrayal of Alice. Our heroine is consistently daunting yet disturbing in appearance, her skin a bit too white, her smile threatening. This is critical in understanding the character, however, and developing the character is perhaps what the writers do best here. I felt that I knew Katie Kane as well as I know most other characters in the Batman mythology when I turned the final page.
That said, the character isn't one of my favorites. While an interesting and dynamic addition to Batman's world, this is a peripheral individual, operating in Batman's likeness but not with his style, and often not with his blessing. She serves the people of Gotham as a hero would, yet her sense of duty seems misplaced at times. Her actions are motivated by anger more than justice, and I concluded at the end of the book that she was, in fact, quite motivated by revenge. Her closing words to an underground coven of lucanthropic criminals is to leave her family alone, or "I will kill every last one of you." These are violent sentiments of which no other hero in the Batman "family" that I can identify would ever espouse. This is part of what sets Batwoman apart, however, and, as we see her walk away from her father in the final panels of the story, she does so different from Katie Kane. Any version of Batman's mantel comes with a price, and Batwoman's dedication to protecting those around her has caused her to be drawn into a darker version of herself as the story concludes.
Overall, it is this radical departure from Batman's heroism that causes me to rate this book with only three stars. That said, the writing is excellent, the story exciting if predictable, and the art refreshingly different. If you're interested in the Batman titles and, like me, have no idea where Batwoman fits in, this is a good read. I'm glad that I got to know this character. I'm just disappointed with her based on what I know. (less)
This is a really good book conceptually, intended to provide working examples of ways to approach common functions in front-end design. The issue that...moreThis is a really good book conceptually, intended to provide working examples of ways to approach common functions in front-end design. The issue that I experienced is that the author uses Prototype as his framework, and, while he sometimes does an excellent job of comparing this with the other frameworks (I'm a jQuery user), he often leaves you to figure it out on your own. Perhaps if I ever have the time to dive into Prototype and learn its nuances, this book will raise a couple of stars in my estimation. (less)