Film // Inchoate Review // Spectre

Examining this awful cologne commercial of a movie.

Spectre Poster

Spoilers everywhere!

So, James Bond’s latest adventure from the mind of former cinematic auteur Sam Mendes has come out and about the only thing worth saying of it is that it is really really long! I consider Daniel Craig the best Bond character mostly because I find both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace to good spy action adventures. Truth be told I’m not really a fan of wise-cracking/silly/over-the-top/camp Bond of old so the remolding of the character as a ruthless espionage/murder machine was a big win with me (one that actually feels much closer to the original Casino Royale novel (although Fleming himself launched head long into camp silliness almost immediately afterwards)). Skyfall had a foot in both camps and just about came out ahead for me (even if references to crap like ejector seats and headlight guns had crept back into the franchise). Sadly it turns out that this wasn’t just Mendes giving a cheeky nod to the history of the franchise on it’s 50th birthday, but rather a taste of the absurd retro nonsense to come in Spectre.

History Repeating

Mendes constructs Spectre as a conscious reliving of ‘classic’ Bond moments; the problem is that even where the original moment being referenced is bad, Spectre‘s rehashes are without exception worse. There is not a single scene that betters the ones that inspired it; this is even true when Mendes is referencing himself.

Casino Royale climaxes with an old building collapsing so Spectre starting with the same must mean Spectre is going to continue the upward trend of escalating spectacle. Except the reason the collapsing building was compelling in Casino Royale is that it was directly tied up in the emotional arc of Vesper’s betrayal and subsequent sacrifice. Spectre just uses it as an opportunity for a consequence- and tension-less explosion. The sequence also includes a truly awful visual ‘joke’ about Bond landing on a sofa amongst the rubble that sets the tone both for the poor comedy to come and the return to campy ‘Bond is magically lucky at all times’ shennanigans. Sure we know Bond isn’t going to die any time soon, but the loose illusion that he lives in a functioning world and is in actual danger is what propels the action scenes forward. When he is cloaked in invulnerability from the very first action scene then it weakens the verisimilitude of his world and the sense of danger for the rest of the picture, fatally lowering the stakes of every action scene and in turn making everything that happens seem boring and pointless.

Similarly the scenes of Blofeld and a captured Bond seem designed to evoke both traditional Blofeld stuff as well as the scenes from Skyfall where Bond and Silva first meet. Silva is a genuinely frightening presence, with an air of spontaneous manic danger that is only partially mitigated by some relatively witty dialogue from Bond. In Spectre Blofeld lacks that sense of danger and his torture methods seem absurd. In an attempt to overcome the classic Bond ‘escapes before being tortured’ cliche Mendes actually has Blofeld drill into Bond’s skull – ok that’s an interesting enough idea, but the outcome of that brain drilling? Yeah, absolutely nothing, no effect at all. Once again Bond is magically invincible and all the possible tension of the scene evaporates. Also of note here is the weird choice to remove Hinx, Blofeld’s physical threat to Bond, a good hour before the film ends – one assumes this was designed to show that Blofeld doesn’t need muscle-men and can threaten Bond with only his superior mind, but as it turns out Blofeld is an utter imbecile so that doesn’t really work.

Rather than a friendly nod to the other Craig films this all feels like Mendes et al attempting to smash them into the ground and prove why Spectre is better. Except Spectre isn’t better, it is markedly worse with a near complete lack of tension throughout; the constant call backs just highlight the gulf in quality between these films.

True Love

Casino Royale is also used as a spring-board for the romantic core of Spectre; the relationship between Vesper Lynd and Bond is frequently invoked, primarily in a failed attempt to demonstrate why new character Madeline Swann is really Bond’s true love (Bond even literally discards the memory of Vesper, via vhs tape, whilst in Swann’s presence at L’Americain). The first meeting between Vesper and Bond took place on a fancy train over drinks and it is heavily alluded to when Swanning and Bond have drinks on a fancy train. Except the former lovers meeting involved a level of witty conversation and character insight that is unmatched by anything on display in the equivalent Spectre scene or indeed this entire movie. Vesper was quickly established as Bond’s intellectual equal, with an aversion to, but acceptance of, the necessity of his violent methods, and also as having a tortured past of her own. Swann’s characterisation follows a similar path, but in a truly lifeless, by-the-numbers way that offers very little compelling depth. Rather than a slow unpeeling of the layers of Swann’s character and emotional core (as per the Vesper story approach) she announces her entire Mr White’s daughter backstory in one monologue and then simply changes character completely as the scene in question requires it – at L’Americain she is grieving, angry, and entirely uninterested in creepy James Bond, but as soon as they are on the train she is flirtatious and sexually interested (even before the adrenaline high of the fight with Hinx). At Blofeld’s really awful crater-base (an uninspired revival of the hidden villain base trope) she suddenly declares that she is in love with Bond (a mere two days after meeting him!), but by London she isn’t interested in living a life with him after all. More startling is the speed and depth of Bond’s feelings for Swann; she doesn’t challenge Bond intellectually like Vesper did, nor does she follow a sympathetic life path like Camille Montes (his semi-spy semi-partner from Quantum of Solace). In fact in all the screen time they share they seem to talk only about being and/or being related to spies and/or murderers so as a viewer I have no idea what has driven this instant love connection. Why is this ‘Bond girl’ different to any other given that there is literally nothing that distinguishes her character-wise?

Quite frankly it would have been far more interesting to have Monica Bellucci’s character Lucia emerging as Bond’s true love – she is from a similar world to him and knows how it works, they share more chemistry in their two scenes together than every Bond/Swann scene that follows, and she is much closer in age to Bond. This could have been a smart move that explores Bond coming to terms with his age and making a more mature choice as he drives off into the sunset.

The uneven characterisation of Swann, and her clear positioning as a plot point for Bond rather than a character really gave me the impression that something else might be in the wings for the finale of the film. Could Swann have been playing the long game, stringing Bond along throughout the movie changing her character to what the scene and Bond required so that he wouldn’t worry too much about her motives? Could she have actually been revealed to be a villain herself, surprising Bond with a stab to the guts and the heart on that bridge at the film’s end? Alas not, this is the one trick from the Casino Royale playbook that Mendes doesn’t reuse. Instead Swann just makes no sense as a character because that’s how she was written.

Spectre Still 2

Spectre did what?

The film revels in highlighting Bond’s recent past, with several visual displays of the Craig villains Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, and Silva. Blofeld goes on to explain why these guys have been brought up so frequently, it turns out that he and Spectre have actually orchestrated everything that has happened to Bond in & since Casino Royale. This is a huge problem both in concept and execution. First of all, tying all of the recent villains into the machinations of Spectre shrinks Bond’s world immeasurably – MI6 doesn’t fight against all kinds of global threats it literally just fights Blofeld and his petty family motives. Similarly it gives the impression that over the last 10 years Bond has only been on 3 missions,there is no sense that he does work between the movies, that he is constantly on guard protecting us all. I guess he’s just been doing the paperwork all this time. Secondly it invites a rather unfavourable comparison for Blofeld himself – all 3 of those villains, even Dominic Greene with his piercing eyes and cold demeanour, were more threatening and compelling than boring old windbag Blofeld. Basically Blofeld’s various lieutenants have infinitely more interesting schemes and encounters with Bond; so let’s just see those interesting stories instead please. Finally, and most frustratingly, the writing takes the absolute laziest route to tying these villains into a single story – we are simply told that Blofeld did it. He never explains how he was behind them, or how they factored into his grander plan, or what he did after Bond took them out. In fact, besides several mug shots (mostly cheap-looking stills from in-movie scenes), their presence is totally wasted. They are invoked in an attempt to shock and scare the audience (“look, those scary guys were being controlled by this guy so he must be even scarier!“), but it is a heartless cheat. Maybe they would have gotten away with it if they had included some flashbacks featuring the original actors being given orders by Blofeld or offering some information about their part in Spectre’s plans, but doing it this way just comes across as lazy, boring and dissatisfying.

Quantum vs Spectre

The other negative comparison invited by bringing up those previous villians, and the inclusion of Mr White (who here has the admittedly good villain name The Pale King), is that Spectre with it’s inert boardroom and stupid ill-defined planning is nowhere near as compelling an organisation as Quantum was. All we see of Spectre is that boardroom, which is pretty nondescript and a toothless threat (Bond easily escapes despite the fact that Spectre knew he was there!), other than that Spectre as an organisation basically IS Blofeld – and all he does is have a load of people in a desert doing what, using social media or something and watching curiously specific live feeds from Bond’s super dull MI6 office. Quantum meanwhile is presented as a coalition of influential individuals collaborating on hundreds of nefarious schemes at once. Bond doesn’t just walk into a boring meeting room, he becomes part of an epic opera, has to use intelligence to surveil Quantum’s members, and engages in one of the most dramatic and beautifully constructed action scenes in the franchise’s history after coming face to face with Greene. As a threat Quantum has many powerful heads and plans that neither Bond nor the audience can fathom; Spectre just announces itself and offers nothing of interest other than empty words (“we did a bad thing in country x“, “our bad thing plans are on schedule“, “bad things up 20% this quarter“). And this isn’t even to mention the astonishing opening to Quantum of Solace wherein Mr White’s threat that Quantum have people everywhere is immediately proven true when M’s bodyguard almost kills her. This instantly establishes the level of danger involved, whereas in Spectre we know Bond is magically invincible and apparently one bullet can blow up an entire Spectre facility in a super-cheesy 80’s explosion – there is no threat in Spectre at all.

Spectre Still 1

Bond’s Seduction Technique is Intensely Uncomfortable & Sexually Threatening

After the distasteful and uninvited exploitation of a former victim of sexual violence in Skyfall Bond seems to have changed tact in his seduction of women – now the first thing he says to them, with an unbroken stare and a serious, ashen face, is that he is a murderer and that their husband/father is dead, possibly by his hand. He then leaves plenty of time for that to sink in BEFORE he tells them that he is a good guy and wants to protect them. Think about that for a moment, some guy turns up and tells you that he murders people and then he just stares at you for a bit. How insanely creepy is this behaviour! I guess I’ll sleep with him then.

Lighting and the Outfits

Perhaps the only redeeming features of the film are how nice it looks most of the time. The costume and set decorating departments have done some truly excellent work, especially in their efforts to capture a period feel. As has the lighting team; the train sequence is a particular highlight on all counts (and also features literally the only good action scene in the movie). Monica Belluci’s arrival at her assassin infested home is also a beautifully constructed moment (even if it does lead directly into more creepy-sex Bond).

Every outfit was good except this one
Every outfit was good except this one

Other fun things:

– Police in London will instantly arrive at the scene of a helicopter crash, but will put up police tape before helping victims out of the wreckage

– Pierce Brosnan left his speed boat under the ruined MI6 building for some reason

– What was Bond’s plan when he stole that plane to follow Hinx and the kidnapped Madeline Swann? Swann’s car is driving along a cliff top road and Bond attempts to shoot the driver through the window – if that shot had actually killed the driver then the car plummets to the bottom of the valley killing Swann, excellent work Bond.

Spectre seems to have about 18 endings; wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have Blofeld at large with a desire to get revenge on Bond instead of a further 30 minutes of lifelessly running around London rehashing better bits of Skyfall?

– More than ever Bond really doesn’t care about collateral damage and it is distracting and upsetting. He is in a helicopter over a crowded square in Mexico City but will attack the pilot and almost crash it into the ground (and will also throw people out of the craft into the crowd below possibly killing innocent civilians); he flies a plane through some persons house whilst they might have been in it; he let’s buildings blow up in the street and walks off. Bond has always been a bit reckless but some of this stuff is sheer madness, as if he is willfully trying to kill innocent people. How are we supposed to root for a hero who behaves like this? Maybe Bond is the actual fucking bad guy.

– When Swann chastises Bond for letting Blofeld’s men follow him to her it actually seemed for the briefest moment like the movie might have had a smart scene planned where Bond admits that this indeed was the case and that he was using her as bait. Instead he really is just that stupid.

– The meta-gag about Bond not wanting a hand from Tanner off the boat was the funniest thing in the movie.

– Why would Q go into the field to bring Bond back rather than Moneypenny (or just calling him or whatever)? Also, why was Moneypenny totally sidelined by the movie as soon as it was revealed that she was seeing someone else – as if the film was on Bond’s side in thinking that she should be eternally available for his flirtation and objectification and as soon as she chooses to move on from him she is no longer worth spending time with.

– Wouldn’t an ending where M and C work together using the combined power of big data and old fashioned ground work to succeed have been more interesting than the guy who seemed like a villain from his first scene turning out to be a villain? Also, must every Bond film spend time exploring the idea that the 00 programme is obsolete and some new thing is better? What the hell was C going to do with all that surveillance data once he had it, presumably he would still need agents to go do the capturing/killing? Emails can’t arrest terrorists! It doesn’t make sense!

Comics // Review // Batgirl #45

Concise //

This issue lets the plot take a mostly back seat in favour of some intense emotional beats;  Barbara’s best friend Alyssia is about to get married so Babs has to balance being the best ‘best woman’ ever and dealing with a romantic figure from her own past. It is a solid read with some great continuity and lovely moments, but it also continues the recent trend of a somewhat aimless Batgirl. As ever, though, the art is top notch and this issue benefits from some even more gorgeous colouring than usual.

Batgirl #45 Cover

Spoilerful //

Since the end of the opening arc for this new Batgirl run things have felt ever so slightly off. Batgirl #35 started the story of Babs settling into her new surroundings, introducing some new supporting players, and facing off against a mysterious villain operating through hired guns. It was artfully put together – the story was tightly paced and capitalised on a traditional villain-of-the-week structure to keep the action flowing whilst building up that central mystery. Since the conclusion of that story in Batgirl #40 there hasn’t really been much of a driving narrative behind Babs’ adventures; instead the approach has switched to a far more nebulous storytelling structure that is primarily concerned with the soap operatic elements of Barbara’s life. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, in fact it is refreshing to see a superhero book spend some more time on the human drama behind the masks, but it has been accompanied by a lack of over-arching story in recent months that has left the momentum of the book stalling a little.

Alyssia’s renewed prominence in the book has been very welcome, and if there has been an arc for the last few issues it is most probably the run up to Alyssia’s nuptials. The wedding scenes offer a number of really lovely moments, and are an important event for comics in general. Alyssia and Jo’s love, and its celebration at their wedding, is treated as any other characters would be, just as it should be. It is great to see the creators genuinely embracing and supporting these characters and providing a welcome representation of non-hetronormative love in such a mature and positive way. The wedding is also easily the strongest part of this issue with some great scenes between most of the character groupings – Alyssia and Babs have a chance to re-affirm their best friends status with some excellent Bab’s as super-maid-of-honour moments, Dinah makes an appearance, and there is some strong work establishing the playful, budding romance between Babs and Luke. It is also worth calling out the page where Alyssia and Jo make their vows as it is absolutely beautiful in art, dialogue, and sentiment.

I often lament the fact that superheroes rarely get to just enjoy the good times (super villains have an annoying habit of gate-crashing weddings, anniversaries, and graduations) so I was really pleased to see that the ’emergency’ this issue was one born of human drama rather than superhuman tomfoolery. Former love Dick Grayson recently returned to Babs’ life after spending his ‘death’ running super secret spy missions for the last few years (there must be something going around – see also Kurt in Black Canary!). Unfortunately the nature of his non-emergency and it’s place in this issue is quite underwhelming – Dick really lives up to his name here. Why he felt the need to drag Babs’ away from both her best friends’ wedding and a date with her new boyfriend for basically no reason at all is beyond me. I appreciate that he is dealing with some tough ‘feels’ right now and is looking to reconnect emotionally with Babara, but his poor timing here just comes across as jealous churlishness rather than charming and soulful.

The flashback to an earlier time is actually a great little moment (I’m especially fond of having the contemporary dialogue come from our heroes’ younger selves) serve as it does to establish the emotional history for Babs, but it felt totally out of place. This issue is all about looking forward, Alyssia and Jo are embarking on a life together, Barbara and Luke are developing their relationship and the presence of Dick, with his melancholic flashback, is designed to demonstrate how Babs’ is letting go of the sad anchors of the past and embracing that forward momentum towards a better life. But this is an inorganic and quite on-the-nose way to bring up those feelings; Dick appears out of nowhere and almost bullies Babs into joining him on a nothing adventure. He comes across as the superhero equivalent of a massive jerk ex who can always charm you to drop what you’re doing and head over to his place in the middle of the night, you know they’ll only hurt you, but you can’t stop yourself. This is presumably the intention of his characterisation in this issue, but I don’t want to read about a Babs who would fall for that trick – she went through a dark spell a few issues back and this behaviour would sit well there, but with everything in her life back on track and especially on a day so important to her best friend it doesn’t ring true to me that she would drop everything and everyone for this guy. Alyssia even calls out Babs’ poor behaviour, “I mean I know she has a habit of leaving abruptly, but I didn’t think she’d do it today“, and I found myself really disliking Barbara’s decision to put a flirtatious romp above her friend (and boyfriend’s) happiness and I don’t think that was the intention. It really felt like the entire Dick Grayson side-show was an excuse to get Babs in the Batgirl costume for a page or two whilst mercilessly hammering home that Babs wants to move on from the past.

But all of this, the goodness of the wedding and the badness of Dick Grayson, doesn’t really speak to the current underlying weakness in the book. Without a strong central plot for this arc there have been a number of brief adventures and a sidelining of elements of the relaunch that had previously been a part of what made it so great. Characters like Nimah and to a lesser extent Qadir have dropped from view, whilst potential love interests like Jeremy and Liam were cast off the moment Luke arrived. It may be that this was always the intention, and that those characters were introduced only as red herrings for the villain reveal at the end of the first arc, but it is still disappointing as it undermines the living breathing Burnside world that set Babs’ stories apart from the rest of the Bat-family. Even Burnside itself, like those other characters, has become a background in the most traditional sense too; the strong sense of place, of Burnside being a different part of Gotham with it’s own denizen’s, heroes, and villains isn’t quite there now. Babs’ school work isn’t part of the story anymore, her relationships with Dinah and Frankie aren’t driving the plot either (Dinah’s absence makes sense given that she has her own book again, but why isn’t Frankie in this more), and she isn’t working towards anything in paricular. Instead we have seen a relatively low-key set of disconnected multi-part stories. Exploring how her father’s regrettable new role as giant-robot-police-Batman and her best friends wedding affect Babara are interesting topics, but without a strong narrative structure that ties them into Babs day to day life they haven’t been as compelling as perhaps they could have been.

Even visually the book has set aside some of it’s great hallmarks – those wonderful page layouts from early in the book where Babs’ remembers and pieces together clues and panels that integrated modern technology into Babs’ world (text messages, emails, playlists, etc.) have been featured far less frequently. None of this is fatal, and the book is still a good read each month, but it definitely feels like the strong artistic and narrative vision which propelled the first arc has been on a lower setting recently. If this issue came at the end of a breathless arc then it would be a very refreshing chance to catch a breathe and join the characters revealing in the emotional climax of Alyssia and Jo’s wedding. Coming as it does after a number of relatively slow, relatively low stakes, and essentially disconnected stories, the impact of the slow down is lost a little to the point of almost stalling.

This is very much still a fun comic to read and my misgivings with the general pace and feel of the recent storytelling shouldn’t be taken as an argument not to read it. Babs Tarr’s art remains absolutely delightful on every page and Stewart & Fletcher are still writing some engaging, witty dialogue (that bow tie conversation is really quite charming), but it’d be disingenuous not to call out the shift in pace that the book has undergone recently. Even if some of that early magic has dissipated, everything still exists in this book to make it truly great once again; this creative team is incredibly strong and the world they have crafted has the potential for more amazing comic books. I have great hope and no doubt that they will recapture what made this book so good.

Batgirl #45 Panel 1

Batgirl #45 // Writers – / Artist – Babs Tarr / Colourist – Serge Lapointe // DC

Notes //

– Serge Lapointe is on amazing form this issue, with beautiful colouring in every panel. The various hues of pink give the issue a distinct feeling of the romantic backdrop, but Lapointe isn’t afraid to throw in bold colour changes to add drama and impact (the opening page Babs’ to the rescue panels, for instance, do a great job reminding of Batgirl in action – a choice that immediately raises the stakes of every small crisis).

– It’s a great touch having Dinah and her band Black Canary playing the wedding and singing some 80’s power ballads! It’s cool to see a Babs Tarr version of Lord Byron, Ditto, and Paloma too.

– What with the questionable cameo of Red Robin in Gotham Academy #11 as well as Grayson here I’m beginning to wonder if there is an editorial mandate to shoe horn unnecessary appearances into books as part of a miss-judged cross-promotional campaign. (I appreciate that this is a staple of superhero books but it rarely feels as forced as it has in recent DC books)

Comics // Weekly Pull List // 28/10/15

Some of my favourite books are out this week, plus an interesting new comic from trusted hands.

Weekly Pull List 28.10.15

Art Ops #1 – I know very little about the nature of this book, but the presence of Mike and Laura Allred on art and colouring duties made this worth a blind purchase. The contents look as great as you would expect and the idea of crazy art based hijinks make this a book I’m looking forward to reading.

Batgirl #45 – Babs Tarrs’ art remains a constant source of enjoyment on this book even if this second arc has lacked the narrative strength and clarity of the previous one. This issue promises some big emotional moments though so hopefully will regain a little momentum.

Prez #5Prez really is one of the best political stories out there right now, comic book otherwise, as the pretty outlandish concept of random teen gets elected president by fluke has been turned into an engine for some biting satire. With the brilliant Ben Caldwell returning to pencilling duties this should be another great issue.

The Spire #4 – Drawing on traditional concepts from fantasy, political, and mystery stories The Spire has really grown into a tremendously compelling book. And that’s not to mention the wonderful art from Jeff Stokely!

They’re Not Like Us #9 – I’ve written a lot about this book on here, and with good reason, everything in it from the writing to the art to the colouring to the very concept is just excellent. This really is one of the best books available.

Comics // Review // Gotham Academy #11

Concise //

Gotham Academy delivers another great issue packed with fun moments and intriguing mysteries. This story takes on some of the bigger continuity elements of the book so far even whilst bringing out some of the biggest guns a school based comic book has to offer – a field trip to Gotham city! This is an action packed issue that has excitement, comedy, and  one or two answers up its sleeve, even if it does go on to pose plenty more questions!

Gotham Academy #11 Cover

Spoilerful //

The mystery of Olive’s past has been a powerful story engine for this book ever since it began and even as some secrets are slowly being teased out it feels like there is a whole lot more to the Silverlock family tree still left unrevealed. That is a good thing for the book as it continues to give the central team a reason to stick together and go on puzzle-solving adventures, even as the dangers keep piling up. After the excitement of an almost done-in-one Clayface vs acting story last issue this one picks up on more of the long running threads. The team are heading in to central Gotham under the cover of a tennis tournament featuring Kyle.

Kyle’s place in this book has always been an odd one. Sure he is an important part of Olive’s romantic past and he is Maps’ big brother, but writers Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher have been content to keep him outside the core ensemble and relatively undefined (although yes, we know he likes tennis). It is possible that this has simply been a function of the creative teams’ wise focus on the more interesting Olive/Maps relationship over the traditional Olive/Kyle one, but this issue is the biggest evidence yet that there might be more to Kyle’s frequent absences from Detective Club. Last issue he was more keen on playing tennis than helping out with the school play/Clayface incident; this time that is turned into a benefit for the club serving as instead as a distraction for their real mission in Gotham. But by the time the issue finishes it becomes clear that Kyle wasn’t at the tennis at all, and in fact that he may be more closely intertwined in the mystery Silverlock family than previously suspected. Is the two-part key a clue to the whereabouts of a kidnapped Kyle? Or is he actually responsible for the appearances of this ‘ghost’?

The presence of Red Robin is a mixed blessing in this issue; on the one hand he doesn’t actively do much personally (I’m sure an alternative way of dematerialising Calamity could have been found), whilst on the other Cloonan and Fletcher make sure to give Maps some great superhero fan girl moments (on that topic how amazing is the cover to this issue!). Red Robin also takes the opportunity to give a little backstory on Calamity in a lovely flashback drawn by Mingle Helen Chen (I’m not the biggest fan of fill in artist, but when it is used to serve a function it can be very effective). Again, this could have been worked in without the presence of Red Robin: the only reason I mention this is that there are a good few pages devoted to Red Robin whilst Pomeline and Colton’s side quest to the law office gets short shrift (the assumption being that we’ll find out what they found at the law office via exposition next issue). The art in the rest of the book is up to the usual wonderful standard of Karl Kerschl, with some terrific moments, especially those featuring the otherworldly antics of Calamity.

The issue ends with one heck of a moment; the two clues (one dropped when the ghost of Calamity disappears in the records room, and the other left in Kyle’s locker) fit together to form a key to Arkham Asylum! What exactly it opens at the asylum is still a mystery, but the idea that the Detective Club will be infiltrating the place, probably by the tunnels in/under the school, is an exciting one. Alongside the mysteries of the Silverlock’s there has also been a persistent question of history of the Academy itself – there is clearly a close connection between the school and the Asylum that runs deeper than just a shared architectural aesthetic. Questions and moments like these are what makes this book such fun to read, they are surprising not just to the audience but to the characters too, and the fact that Maps and the others have such an enthusiasm and excitement about it all is infectious.

I’ve been impressed by Gotham Academy throughout its run so far, the characters remain as refreshing and interesting as ever (particularly Maps, of course), and Cloonan and Fletcher keep delivering smart new adventures for them to go on. The scale of the book continues to grow, encompassing more and more of the traditional Gotham we already know, and whilst the central plot could lead anywhere there is a palpable forward momentum to Olive’s quest. This is still a great comic and this issue is as strong as ever.

Gotham Academy #11 Panel

Gotham Academy #11 // Writers – Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher / Art – Karl Kerschl with Msassyk and Mingle Helen Chen / Colours – Serge Lapointe & Msassyk // DC

Notes //

– Do we really trust Hugo Strange as Olive’s creepy psychiatrist?

– You can always rely on Metropolis to offer up a convenient rival sports team; in this case the Gotham Academy tennis team are going up against the uninspiringly named Metropolis Academy!

– Katherine makes a quick appearance, one that sees Maps’ shed a little more light on the possession/artificial-construct questions regarding Clayface and Katherine last issue. There are still some unexplained things (e.g. why did Katherine go along with her father’s plan/appear evil only to turn out to be a regular girl later on), but I appreciate the writers taking a moment to clarify that she is a real girl with some Clayface-esque powers.

– I’m more intrigued by the seemingly frequent superhero cameos in Gotham Academy on a business level than on a story one (especially as they seem less essential as we go on); is a character like Red Robin turning up here to help sell Gotham Academy issues or to help promote their We Are Robin? Or is it actually to help build a stronger and more narratively coherent Gotham? If it’s that last one then maybe appearing for longer than a scene at a time would be beneficial.

Comics // Weekly Pull List // 21/10/15

It’s a pretty quiet week, but the few books that are out come from some of the best titles of the moment.

Weekly Pull List 21.10.15

Black Canary #5 – Last issue of Black Canary delivered an interesting if unusual diversion as much of the book focused on a new villain from the band’s past. With the absence of series regular artist Annie Wu that gave the issue the feel of a solid side story, but given Wu’s most recent issue (#3) had been the point at which the book really gained momentum I was looking forward to getting back into the core story with the full creative team. Alas Wu is absent once again this month, and as good as fill in artist Pia Guerra is this book really feels like it belongs to Wu so any art change has a big impact.

Gotham Academy #11 – It’s always a joy when a new Gotham Academy hits the shelves; this is such a straight-up fun book that revels in the twin worlds of Famous Five-esque Harry Potterian supernatural boarding school hijinks and superhero mythologies. The writing is great and artist Karl Kerschl is still on hand to deliver some wonderful visuals.

Weirdworld #5 // Secret Wars – This book has been amongst my favourites from the clutch of great Secret Wars tie-ins, having benefited from strong writing, incredible art, and (given that this is a ‘Warzone’) a pretty clear distinction from the events of the SW core book. Many of the otherwise great SW minis have struggled with the final issue though, especially where ongoing’s are in their future (as is the case here), but I’m cautiously optimistic that this one will stick the landing and deliver something satisfying.

Wolf #4 – I picked this book up on a whim, mostly because the cover to this issue is a striking and intriguing piece, but also because the book sounds interesting. The idea of a paranormal detective in a contemporary city is one that appeals to me in plenty of ways, but that I’ve rarely actually enjoyed in practice (often due to an over reliance on old standards like vampires, poor integration of contemporary culture/technology, or dubious world-building). Here’s hoping this book overcomes those difficulties and delivers a unique and compelling take on a common premise.