September 12, 2004

P.S. 238: With Liberty and Recess for All; Selina's Big Score; Sleeper: Out in the Cold

P.S. 238: With Liberty and Recess for All (Dork Storm Press): This trade collects P.S. 238 0-5, a comic about little "metaprodigies" attending the first public school for the same. It's hilarious in a way that the traditional DC and Marvel hero de-aging storylines have never been for me, primarily, I think, because there's so little cutesiness. The parodies of established comics characters are more than giggle-worthy (I was unable to restrain my laughter in a crowded subway car, especially when the two little supervillain children begin battling it out for ULTIMATE DOMINATION OF THEIR CLASSROOM), but they're also cleverly intercut with character development and (surprisingly) intriguing storylines about the adults in charge of the institution. The kids have a Peanuts-like resignation to the difficulty and unfairness of childhood while remaining recognizably child-like. There's genuine feeling here, too, at unexpected moments--especially when it comes to Tyler, the child of two cosmically-powered beings who just can't resign themselves to the fact that their kid is, well, normal. If you like superhero humor at all, I strongly recommend you pick this up.

Selina's Big Score: This is an engaging heist story, the explanation of how Catwoman got both the money and the motivation to start getting out of the life of crime. I admit I have a big soft spot for Selina as coolly amoral jetsetting jewel thief, so I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did. Score didn't suddenly turn her into the Batworld equivalent of the hooker with the heart of gold; instead, it demonstrated, in a thoroughly unsentimental way, how Selina's own difficult life made it possible for her to empathize with the suffering of others, recognize real kindness when she saw it, and in the end have the strength to act on those feelings. It didn't make her soft, and it didn't have a man drive her change, so, in the end, it felt organic and satisfying. I lack the technical vocabulary to explain why the idiosyncratic art, which on first glance I found completely unattractive, turned out to be tremendously cool and expressive, but trust me, it did. Worth reading.

Sleeper: Out in the Cold (WildStorm) is the trade reprinting the critically acclaimed Sleeper 1-6, a tale of a double agent working in a supervillain organization. I had more mixed reactions than the comics press has had generally. The protagonist and the premise are intriguing, and the characters' powers, which seem primarily to work as metaphor for psychopathologies, are imaginative. However, some of the plotting is rather choppy (the way that the protagonist's Big Problem is introduced to the reader seems to set up his getting a horrible shock when he learns of it, but then we skip ahead in time and he's just...learned somehow, which squanders a good bit of dramatic potential) or downright unsuited to the gritty realism of the title (the Secret Monarchy? Conspiracies might fit, but not Foucault's Pendulum-style ones). Also, in this world, women are either strippers or Slutty Exhibitionist Babes who naturally have the hots for our hero. I admit that the spy thriller has not traditionally been the province of strong female characters, but it's 2004, Brubaker, and I know you can do better.

Ultimately, I'm not entirely sure what Sleeper has to say as a spy thriller that hasn't already been said, from Le Carre to La Femme Nikita. There's a lot of very familiar talk about the costs of working undercover, the painful sacrifices that must be made in the name of national security. What does throwing superpowers into the mix actually change? Maybe Brubaker knows, maybe he doesn't. If the latter, we're talking about just another thriller that really doesn't deserve the kudos the industry has heaped on it...but I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. Recommended for now.

Posted by Sarah T. at 02:43 AM | Comments (0)