Friday, November 13, 2015

Review: DC Comics Bombshells #4

DC Bombshells #4, the print version of the digital first book, came out this week and I find this book wonderfully compelling and entertaining. Writer Marguerite Bennett continues to bring a depth to the character and a great historical feel to this book. And maybe that is why I am so amazed. This is a book based on the Varga Girl style merchandise. I think this book would be very different if done by Zenescope studio. Instead we get this wonderful exploration of these heroic women in this time.

We get three stories within the book. Artist Bilquis Evely really shines in the Supergirl/Stargirl chapter, echoing Soviet propaganda posters while maintaining a sort of scratchy realism. Mirka Andolfo handles the Harley Quinn chapter and brings a sort of zany quasi-manga feel to that chapter, a style which nicely fits the tone. And Laura Braga continues to hit it out of the park with the Wonder Woman pages.

But beyond the character growth we got here, we also get interesting commentary on war. Where do you draw the line? How do you treat your enemy? How do you define yourself when war sometimes labels you?

It's just all so interesting. And when you grab a grizzled comic veteran like me, you know you have succeeded.

As I said, the Soviet machine has made 'Supergirl', the Woman of Steel and Stargirl, of the Cosmic Staff into propaganda devices. Almost every page is set up with action sequences which look like propaganda posters. The art is compelling with all the symbolism of the state - bayonets, airplanes, soldiers.

Now I still question why the government would sanction these particular outfits which seem incredibly unique and individual, not consistent with the idea of equal comrades for the state.

The Cosmic Rod is also a sudden inclusion here. We hadn't seen of it or heard of it prior to this. Was Kortni's father hiding this thing all this time?

I do like that the upbringing of Supergirl and Stargirl is an important part of who they are. We already know that their mother was a superstitious woman, steeped in legends. We also know that their father was a scientist who was thrown out of the Cosmonaut program for accusations of sedition. These two aren't exactly married to the concept of State, raised by these individual thinkers.

The two are tricked into almost demolishing a faux Nazi camp which turns out to be a Soviet prison. Now, it might seem a bit contrived that the military leaders would send their ultra secret weapons to kill helpless prisoners. Why open up the possibility that they would discover this atrocity? Even if this was a photo op, why do it?

Because, of course, they do discover this and they aren't going to take part in it.

In a nice panel, we see them turn their back on the motherland. They aren't going to be defined by these posters.

This panel is great as we see them step out of the imagery and walk away. Suddenly small and human, not these icons charging in larger than life, this panel visually tells you all you need to know.

This must be why the two defect to the USA.

We cut to England where Harleen Quinzel is an American physician practicing medicine in an asylum there. We hear a bit of her back story as well, hopefully one we will hear more of in the future. She wasn't accepted as a physician in America. We also hear that Harleen was involved with a crime boss back in the states as well. I guess we are talking about the Joker. Harleen seems to want to put that stuff behind her and so headed to London.

On Christmas Eve, Harleen is on rounds when she checks in on one of the inmates, Shondra Kinsolving. Shondra was colleague of Harleen's before she went mad from 'visions'. Shondra shares another dream she had, of a Joker-sounding man spreading a shadow, monsters, and fire across the land. That vision seems to trigger a psychotic break in Harleen.

Shondra is a sort of deep cut by Marguerite Bennett. Kinsolving was a little known character and was a physician, psychic, telekinetic in the Batman book back in the 80s.

Harleen's emotional break seems to physically manifest itself and she suddenly is in clown make-up.

An asylum janitor who seems to want to assault Harleen walks in during the transformation and ends up being thrashed. But I love how Harleen says she 'needs me', a sort of statement that she needs the Harley Quinn persona.

The janitor looks sort of like the Joker, perhaps another trigger for Harley?

I do wonder if there is some emotional or physical trauma between Harley and the Joker because Harley seems to want to save women from the clutches of men.

Dressed like a naughty Christmas elf, Harley skips into a dance hall and pulls all the women away from the soldiers there, calling the men boring, boorish, boars. And when one of the men gets upset, saying the girls belong to the men, Harley physically attacks him.

We all know that Harley is damaged in the main DCU, although she seems to be more in control of herself these days. So I wonder if we will see more.

All that said, she doesn't seem to mind using her feminine wiles to get what she wants from men.

Here, perpetual womanizer Hal (presumed Jordan) thinks he is luring Harley away for a tryst. And she coos and purrs into his ear making him think she is willing. But back in the hangar, she knocks him out and steals his plane. She then uses the plane to drop gifts on London.

We are just meeting this Harley. So I guess I need to get a better sense of her arc before deciding how much I like her.

The last chapter in the arc is Wonder Woman. Recall she has brought a very psychologically scarred Steve Trevor back to the mainland. She also has joined the Allies, helping to fight the Nazis.

We finally get to see her in the true Bombshells outfit, the 'We Can Do It' version of the Wonder Woman costume. I love this design. I think it is great. And Wonder Woman likes it as well, especially the inclusion of the stars. She thinks this garb is that of the goddesses of America. But she points to the paintings adorning bombers and tanks.

As I said, Trevor is shell-shocked. He is an intelligence officer who has seen the atrocity of war and is having a hard time putting it behind him. I suppose keeping him in the ragged clothes he was wearing during the crash on Paradise Island as well as the unkempt hair and beard hammers home he is not back to normal. But please, if Diana has time to have a new costume made, he could take a shower and put on some khakis.

Still, he knows that the other soldiers think he is weak. They think he is faking illness so Diana will care for him. And they think he isn't a true soldier because he won't kill everyone who crosses him.

I have really loved Bennett's more classic take on Diana, an ambassador of peace who only resorts to violence when she must. Here she says that the decision to kill isn't easy, their lives will never be easy, but at some point they will be together in peace.

Finally, a glimpse of the Diana I want to read.

And the point gets hammered home when the Allies bring in Nazi prisoners of war. The American soldiers want to slaughter the captured foes. The Nazis have been staining the landscape with atrocities. Why should they be spared?

Diana feels that helpless prisoners are helpless. They shouldn't be killed. She steps in between.

And that could be labeled treason, punishable by death.

Perhaps the best way for me to sum up this issue and this title is that it is wildly entertaining. I just love it. And these versions of the characters are so engaging. They are treated with respect. They are fancifully dressed but that is just a superficial rendering of more three dimensional characters.

I hope this book is a success in all its formats. Because it is a ton of fun, written well and lushly drawn.

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

From a historic perspective even as counterfactual history, this book is meshugginah....but better a meshugginah Supergirl than no Supergirl at all. Agreed the Soviet Uniforms don't make a lick of sense, but thats the virtual design of the whole book to date.


Martin Gray said...

I'm enjoying this series loads, though the increasing amout of singing is getting on my wick!

Uncle Screensaver said...

While it would have been more interesting to see the girls make their own costumes breaking away from their former country, this possibly was done to make variant versions of the statues. Like the Holiday Wonder Woman and Harley, they can now make Soviet variants for Kara and Stargirl.

Martin Gray said...

Actually, having met Marguerite Bennett today, I take it all back, anything she write is just fantastic by me!

muertealasgordas said...

Sounds a lot like sjw bullshit to me.