Funnybook Babylon

January 30, 2009

Waited for the Trade – Doubleshot!

huntress1Huntress: Year One
collects Huntress: Year One #1-6
written by Ivory Madison
art by Cliff Richards
DC Comics

DC’s Year One concept has become something of an institution lately, with everyone from Metamorpho to Two-Face to Green Arrow getting miniseries under its banner, complete with a “Year One” logo. Each series fleshes out the character’s origin, usually by filling in the details of their pre-superheroic life. Huntress: Year One doesn’t deviate from this formula, following Helena Bertinelli from her 21st birthday through her getting the Huntress costume and meeting Batman and his allies for the first time, what seems to be a period of a few months.

Ivory Madison does a good job working within the format, but the formula’s limitations choke the life out of her story. There are no real character defining moments in the miniseries, just a series of moments that touch on character traits revealed in later comics. For example, Madison never really delves into the tension between Helena being willing to murder people for revenge and also trying to be a hero; she simply mentions that this tension exists. These character traits remain unresolved years later (in comic time) so she can’t really be expected to resolve them in an origin story, but it still sticks out as something that should have been explored in-depth.

Cliff Richards draws in the DC house style, with art similar to (using examples from this week) Julian Lopez or Fernando Dagnino (on Faces of Evil: Kobra and Teen Titans, respectively). It’s a fairly expressive, clean style, so the sameness isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but there’s nothing to distinguish it from the art in many other DC titles.

Both the art and the story suffer from the same problem; blandness. The quality of both is very average, with no glaring flaws or standout qualities. I wouldn’t recommend this comic to anyone who isn’t a fan of the character, but if you like Huntress enough to follow her from comic to comic, you’ve probably already bought this.

Huntress 2

criminal-1Criminal Vol. 4: Bad Night
collects Criminal #4-7
written by Ed Brubaker
art by Sean Phillips
Icon/Marvel Comics

Criminal Vol. 4: Bad Night is an excellent noir story from Brubaker and Phillips. Brubaker has the style of the old pulp comics down to a science, making his stories feel like they could’ve been published during the pulp era rather than coming off like a modern story that just apes the genre conventions. The biggest problem with Criminal as a series is that the plots all follow the same noir tropes, inevitably featuring betrayals, revenge, and criminals seeking redemption. It falls on the new cast of characters introduced in each arc to really differentiate one story from another, so when you read all of the trades over a short period of time it feels formulaic.

Bad Night’s protagonist Jacob is a character capable of carrying a story forward on his own. He’s multi-layered enough for Brubaker to reveal something new about him at every turn without it feeling like a bunch of tacked on backstory. Jacob’s mental state is a major plot element, so I won’t go into it, but the way his characterization slowly changes across the story is a great bit of writing. Most of the rest of the cast is fairly generic, but Jacob is compelling enough to carry the story.

Sean Phillips’s art is a perfect compliment to Brubaker’s writing, but what really brings the artwork to a higher level is Val Staples’s color work. Phillips excels at bringing subtle shades of emotion to characters through their expressions and their body language. His characters never look stiff or lifeless, which is no mean feat when considering how few action scenes Brubaker writes in Criminal. Staples brings a layer of grime to the comic, bathing characters and scenery in monochrome, coloring more by emotion than what things actually look like. The colors make everything feel dark, with even scenes in brightest daylight draped in shadow, tinted purple or orange. Their collaboration creates scenes that always have an emotional tone beyond what you get from the dialogue.

One last thing I want to point out is that, despite the name of this column, Criminal is a comic where you should not be waiting for the trade. While it’s often a hassle to go down to the comic shop every so often and pick up single issues, by buying Criminal in trades you miss out on some wonderful extra material that’s not included in the collections, usually consisting of a surprisingly interesting letters column and 6-10 pages of articles about noir and pulp topics. It’s well worth the effort to track down monthly, so catch up with the trades and start picking up the new issues whenever they’re out.

Criminal Panel

3 Comments »

  1. The thing about Huntress: Year One is that any good Huntress fan already has the vastly superior origin story Batman/Huntress: Cry for Blood.

    Comment by Erik — January 31, 2009 @ 12:39 am

  2. I don’t know if you guys take requests, but I just wanted to throw out “Heroes Squared” for a “Waiting for the Trade” column. I just finished reading the latest mini-series and it seems to really hit the nail on the head when it comes to characterization and developing both the heroes, sidekicks and villains in such a painfully human light (especially this first issue that hit stands last week).

    Comment by gary — February 2, 2009 @ 1:00 am

  3. I agree 100% with Erik.

    also so far with the Year Ones, I thought Metamorpho was pretty damn bad, but I must say that I actually enjoyed Green Arrow and the ongoing Black Lightning one.

    Comment by Nathan — February 14, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

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