Sunday, March 8, 2009

Batman: The Brave and the Bold 1 Review

Batman: The Brave and the Bold 1
Publisher: DC ComicsWriter: Matt Wayne
Pencils: Andy Suriano
Inker: Dan Davis

A huge Yajimaya bookstore opened on the eighth floor of May One here in Hamamatsu. MayOne is part of the train station, and train stations in the larger Japanese cities tend to be more than just transportation hubs; they're downtown central and major shopping destinations. People call May One a department store, but it's made up of a lot of semi-independent shops with individual names. Upscale clothing shops, an import goods place called Plaza (it used to be called Sony Plaza), an art/stationery store, and now a sort of Japanese Borders, complete with an Excelsior coffee shop attached. And shelf after shelf of manga. You never see anything like this in big American bookstores. Sure, you get a shelf of graphic novels and then one of translated manga. Here, there were five or six... maybe more... complete shelves of comics, arranged by age and gender demographics. They tend to be more upfront about the gender stuff here. Shojo manga and shonen manga. Girl's comics and boy's comics.

The world's economy may be tanking, but you'd never know it by the crowd at Yajimaya. The employees worked at least four registers, and buyers lined up five and six people deep to take part in a personal economic stimulus.

Yajimaya lured me with the promise of English-language books and magazines. First I grabbed Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson (a longtime fave), 1984 by some guy named Eric Arthur Blair (that's George Orwell to you and me, Russ) and Sputnik Sweetheart by Murakami Haruki. Then it was periodical time.

This Yajimaya actually carries Wizard magazine. I'm not sure how well that's going to go over with the English reading population here. I'm probably the only foreigner in town who would actually even consider buying it, and even I've long since given up on Wizard. This issue slightly tempted me because it has a Watchmen movie cover feature, but I haven't been part of Wizard's fart-joke loving/hetero-panic target audience since about 1997, and I can't imagine the writing or copy editing has improved to anything close to professional standards after all the Wizard staffing turmoil. And with an import price tag of around 2300 yen (that's about $23USD!), I just couldn't see myself buying it.

Just to the left of Wizard, Yajimaya actually had a few American comics on sale. X-Men Legacy, which didn't interest me in the least (if it had been Astonishing X-Men, I probably would've bought it), a Superman issue with the Parasite (don't know who that is, don't care) and a couple of Batman titles. These I bought just as an experiment. One was Batman: The Brave and the Bold number one.

Check out the price I paid:

Talk about sticker shock! I paid 798 yen, or about $8.12USD! Notice what it says on the price tag, though: Blave & Bold. You try learning kanji and see how easy that is.

Anyway, here endeth my digression and here beginneth my review of this neat little find. I so rarely get to read first issues of anything. As the cover copy says, this Batman comic is based on the “new hit cartoon,” which I haven’t seen. Old school Batman with the yellow oval around his bat-symbol and capsules on his utility belt. Remember that Batman, when he was merely serious and determined, rather than a teeth-gritting, “grim avenger of the night” jerkface with a Batmobile stuck up his Bat-ass?

This is a colorful kid’s comic with some of our favorite heroes given slightly sillier characterizations. Take Aquaman, for instance. He has a regal beard and countenance, but writer Matt Wayne turns him into a pompous windbag fond of giving on-the-nose titles to his adventures. And unashamedly sharing them with Batman.

Batman then jets off to London to help a conveniently located Power Girl (here sporting a costume minus the boob-window, creating a successful visual argument for its gratuitous nature) battle a giant monster amalgamated from innocent Britishers by Lex Luthor. I can’t imagine why the Prime Minister of the UK would ask for Batman, when this is obviously more a Superman-style caper. But he wants Batman, so Batman he gets.

In this more cartoony Bat-world, Batman cracks a few jokes and Lex Luthor has a nose like an unsuccessful boxer’s. He’s also one of the dimmest geniuses you’ll likely to encounter and loves to pontificate at length about his evil schemes: “One blast of my concatenation ray let me shape every human within six city blocks to the form of my choosing! Soon, it will break your pathetic bonds, complete its task and return to me! And then I’ll have it deal with you!”

Quite an optimist, to boot. Wayne’s attempt at British dialect? I’m guessing it’s meant to be part of the humor-oriented approach. Towards the end, there are a couple of really cute moments, one of which is a clever call back to an aphorism Batman coins early in the issue: “Every criminal makes one mistake.” Seems like a hasty generalization or some foolish absolutism on first blush, but not so fast my eager young friend!

Suriano’s and Davis’ art is clean and easy to follow, but has organic curvilinear lines mixing uneasily with square fingers out of a Powerpuff Girls episode. These harsh angular moves are the current trend and work fine with the hyper-stylized and geometrical Powerpuffs; I mean, their heads are almost perfectly round, so why not have people with square hands as their friends and neighbors? Here the elements are in collision and the pointy knees and shoulders seem like a lazy attempt to add "edginess" or "style" when solid drawing dynamics should suffice. Certainly the art team had to hew to the animation model sheets, so it’s difficult to fault them for matching the show's creaky designs. However, compare the interior art to James Tucker’s livelier, looser cover art, which looks like the dynamic love child of a three-way marriage between Jack Kirby, Gilberto Hernandez and Bruce Timm.

All in all, this Batman-via-Cartoon-Network vibe is bright fun for the wee lads and lasses; they're not going to share my nitpicking qualms. What matters is, there's lots of action, both Power Girl and Lex Luthor learn valuable lessons and there’s a plea for actual mail to a physical address in the back. How retro! Do they even make envelopes anymore? And despite its being printed on cheaper paper with flatter, less modeled coloring, I don’t feel much has been lost in the way of overall quality. It looks completely fine to me and just proves glossy colors and all that computer painting and rendering stuff is completely unnecessary. More grown-up comics should be formatted this way.

I still think the American suggested retail price of $2.50 is a bit steep for any flimsy monthly comic, though. And this is coming from a person who paid eight dollars for it!

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