Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reviews: Batgirl- Batgirl Rising; Marvel Masterworks- The Black Panther Vol. 1

BATGIRL: BATGIRL RISING (DC, Second Printing 2011; softcover)
Collects Batgirl Nos. 1-7 (cover dates October 2009- April, 2010)
My homies over at the Masterworks Message Board asked me to review this book. I had never read it before, and have very little knowledge of the current (soon to be past) DC Universe. My message board homeskillet (and real life friend) Ferjo Byroy loaned me this and the second trade in the series. Every other book that I have reviewed has been an out-of-pocket expense. Reading comic books for free is pretty sweet! Maybe I should accept submissions for review. Ha!
Like I said, my knowledge of the DCU is limited and outdated, so I went in to this "blind" or "cold". It reads really well, and everything is straightforward and easy to grasp. There are only a handful of people in the cast and they are all recognizable. Bryan Q. Miller writes a series that has a sense of fun that I haven't seen since Spider-Girl. That's not to say that this reads like that title, but it has the spirit of fun that I associate with it. Artists Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott offer clearly laid out panels and an excellent sense of storytelling. Something happens in every single issue. Issues 1-3 are one arc, Issue 4 is a stand alone, and 5-7 are another arc. There are some popular DC villains here like the Scarecrow and Dr. Phosphorus that provide a more serious counterbalance to the more light-hearted tone of the series. This is not anything that I would have ever been inclined to pick up on my own, but I really enjoyed it nonetheless. The moral of the story: never be afraid to try something new, especially if your old favorites are letting you down. 

Collects Jungle Action Nos. 6-22, 24 (cover dates September, 1973- November, 1976).
The Black Panther is a historically significant character, in that he was the first black superhero to appear in mainstream comic books that was not a caricature of black stereotypes, back in the pages of Fantastic Four #52 in 1966. He then went on for a stint in the Avengers before getting a shot at a solo title, taking over the previously all-reprint Jungle Action. Many people have raved about Writer Don McGregor's 13 part epic, Panther's Rage (JA 6-18). The story is an extremely slow burner, building in intensity as it went along. For the first 120 or so pages I was thinking "Is this going anywhere?" and "Man, McGregor's ambitions clearly exceed his ability". This is super dense, text heavy comic book reading, people. Whereas many modern comic book writers rely on the picture to tell more of the story, I suspect that one could read only the dialogue and narrative and get a clear understanding as to what's going on without the pictures. Once you finish the entirety of Panther's Rage and flip back through it, you get it. Ooohhhhh, this really was something huge. Don McGregor did things that were not commonplace in comic books in the mid-70s, putting his art ahead of a more commercially acceptable type of superhero comic.
The thing that held this story back in the beginning in my opinion was Rich Buckler's uneven artwork. His character designs were downright dreadful. Things get cooking once Billy Graham takes over the art duties. Later on in the book we are treated to the art team of Billy Graham (Pencils) and Bob McLeod (Inker), and what a team they are. McLeod is one of those guys that nobody puts in their top five favorites, but is a solid craftsmen who deserves a shout out for his clear, concise artwork. He really helps Graham lift the artwork to another level.
In the introduction by McGregor, he recounts how Marvel's editors kept pressuring him to put some white people in the series (there were none until Issue 19). McGregor finally bowed to the pressure, and put lots of white people in the title... villains! The Ku Klux Klan are the Panther's nemesis in an extremely powerful tale about racism. Issue 23 was a reprint of an issue of Daredevil where the Black Panther guest starred, so it was omitted here, ditto Issue 5, which reprinted an issue of the Avengers with the Black Panther. Several unfinished pages from the aborted issue 25 are included, and one can only wonder what might have been had Marvel not cancelled the series. This book takes a great deal of investment of time and thought, but there is a tremendous payoff if one has the patience and can overlook some of the dated aspects of this series. This was pretty avant garde stuff for the time, and as long as one keeps this in the perspective of other titles on the racks at this time, then you will see what I'm talking about.

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