Open Mike Night: Catwoman (2011) #0 & Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #9

Catwoman (2011-) #0

Written by: Ann Nocenti
Pencilled by: Andriana Melo
Inked by: Julio Ferreira
Colored by: Jason Wright
Lettered by: Dezi Sienty
Published by: DC
Cover Price: $2.99

Maillaro: I think we should start with Catwoman. You asked for this, so I am electing to kick off. You get the ball first.

Weaver: I’m sorry that I requested this. I want that five minutes of my life back.

Hey distraction! This cover was redone as part of the Hawkeye Initiative. Let’s talk about the Hawkeye Initiative, where independent artists reimagine goofy female poses but substitute Hawkeye for whatever female was originally in the pose.

Maillaro: Well, the Hawkeye Initiative is kind of cool because I always love creative ways of protesting things. Seeing Hawkeye in all these ridiculously sexualized poses is definitely entertaining. Though like I say all the time, when you have characters like Conan and Namor, I don’t always agree that it is JUSt female characters who are over sexualized. Sure, often it is worse for female characters, but there are plenty of bulging packages and shirtless dudes in speedos in comics too.

HEY! You tricked me! Back to the comic at hand!

The really sad part of this comic is that even after the first issue controversy with Catwoman getting a little hot Bat on Cat action, Winick had done a terrific job with the character and the series. It was fast paced, fun to read, had some interesting moral issues it was dealing with. And then Ann Nocenti takes over on Catwoman 0, and just crashes all that momentum. This was probably the only time in history I can remember dropping a series after one bad issue (other than a bad first issue, obviously)

Now having read this comic twice, I am still not sure what the reader is supposed to get out of it. Too many weird time jumps, and characters that either looked alike or were the same character in different contexts. At the end, I just threw my shoulders up and said “This made no sense!”

Weaver: There’s a gaping hole in storytelling here between Random Coworker Who Doesn’t Have a Name being all, “Well, here’s the Second Chance kids, you’re not one of them, Second Chance Second Chance Second Chance” and was obviously a buffoon bordering on ignoramus, and then Random Hacker Who Doesn’t Have a Name saying there was never any program like that at all. Which then puts us in the predicament where we’re wondering if we just wasted time on implanted memories including a weird mention of an original Russian name, which even there, Big Boss Man Who Doesn’t Have a Name (note a trend in this comic?) says that he set the computers to crash out whenever someone tried to look at her file, and she needed to forget the Russian name, etc, but then…if he was setting it up to crash, why would she glimpse that name before it did? It’s obvious Random Coworker was not Mr. Uberhacker, so that name really should never have shown up at all if Big Boss Man was techeriffic enough to make the network crash when anyone got close to her file. And then, the icing on the cake is…HE WAS GOING TO KILL HER ANYWAY! I hate the before I kill you Mr. Bond speeches, but especially so in this context.

And the art was a mess too. I’ll see your “characters all look the same” and raise you “What the hell is up with the random skull insets in the one real fight scene?”

Plus “Worst awning repair job ever.” That last part made me laugh out loud.

Maillaro: That skull threw me too…for a second, I really thought Director Bones has made an appearance in the panel for some unknown reason.

The whole problem is that this comic was so much more complicated than it needed to be. Selina Kyle can be a complex character normally, giving her a Wolverine like backstory doesn’t add anything to the character. In a lot of ways, 0 month was what really started to turn me off of the New 52. Too many bad creative changes, on top of unnecessary changes to characters.

I really have no idea how a comic like Catwoman 0 gets produced or released. Somewhere along the line, the writer, artist, or DC’s army of editors should have stopped this and said, “No. This isn’t going to work.” Especially when the 12 issues before that had been pretty well received on a whole.

Weaver: Another thing that I really hated here was how we kept seeing the same scene over and over again, with a couple panels added to it each time. In a two hour movie, that sort of thing might work out okay. In a comic, you gotta make each page count a lot more than that. Really, there was no reason to keep jump cutting around the memories when, in the end, you could have cut and pasted and got a comic with a story that made much more sense and clocked in at five pages fewer, which you could then use to do something cool.

I didn’t get too far on board with the New 52, but I know it jumped the shark fast in critical estimation, and now I see why. Wow.

The other thing that drives me nuts is that I know this creative staff is not as bad as the end result they turned out. The penciler runs circles around, say, the art team on Captain Marvel. Ann Nocenti was probably better as an editor than a writer, but she still turned out the Longshot Limited Series, which I enjoyed a lot. I’m not sure what happened to make this train wreck.

Maillaro: Yeah, other than some strange choices (like the aforementioned skull), I thought the art on this issue was fine. And I have always liked Ann Nocenti too. think one of DC’s biggest mistakes was relying too much on writers who did great stories years ago. Often it seems like Paul Levitz, Bob Harras, Scott Lobdell, and Ann Nocenti seem out of place in the modern comic market. I feel terrible saying that since I am such a big fan of their earlier work, but the only “old” creator who seemed to be trying to break new ground was Rob Liefeld, and he will have haters no matter what he does.

So much of the dialouge in this issue really felt long winded and didn’t move the story as well as it should have.

Add that to a choppy story that just doesn’t make much sense no matter how many times you read it, and I really have to hit this book with a 1/5 for the writing.

Weaver: But there’s a danger there too. I mean, you know as well as I do that when a comic company hires Ann Nocenti or Chris Claremont or John Byrne that they have an expectation of what that creator is going to do. Sometimes that can be a really big millstone, especially for someone who hasn’t written something in a very long time.

I’m going to give Ann a 1.5 for nostalgia factor.

The art is hard for me to rate, because it’s pretty technically good, it’s just…is this the fault of the art team, or is this the fault of what they were told to do?

Maillaro: Yeah, I am going with a nice safe middle of the road 2.5/5 for the art, but I do feel that is probably an unfair score.

Weaver: I’m going to dump it down to a 2/5. There was enough wrong that I don’t even feel a 2.5 is worth it.

Fantastic Four (vol. 1) #9

Scripted by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby
Inked by: Dick Ayers
Lettered by: Art Simek
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: 12 cents ($1.99 on Comixology)

Weaver: Now we move on the the greatest movie ever made, a blockbuster splash told to us by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at the height of the Silver Age!

Maillaro: Been reading old Fantastic Four comics on Marvel Digital Unlimited, and this issue was just a crown jewel that needed to be reviewed. The comic starts with the shocking revelation that the Fantastic Four have lost all their money in the stock market. Things are so bad, people are walking through the Baxter Building looking for cheap deals on used Pogo Jet parts.

The team is so broke Thing suggests maybe they should turn to a life of crime. He ends up briefly leaving the team before Alicia reminds him that he is a hero and can’t abandon his friends…even the dumb stretchy guy who blew all their money….

Fortunately, these musings don’t come to fruition as salvation comes from a letter from Hollywood. Someone wants to make a Fantastic Four movie and pay them a million dollars to star in it. The FF quickly agree and race to Hollywood to find that Namor the Submariner is the producer. Despite the fact he’s tried to kill them a few times already, the FF figure he’s on the up and up and let him shoot.

He lores Reed, Ben, and Johnny to exotic locations…TO DIE!! Reed has to fight a giant Cyclops, Johnny is attacked by a tribe of natives who are immune to fire, and Namor doesn’t even bother getting creative and attempts to just beat Thing to death. Of course the heroes all survive and win the day. In the end, all is forgiven, and since Namor is a man of his head, he even releases the movie and gives the FF their money.

There is so much that is goofy, ridiculous, and absurd about this comic…but somehow that really works.

Weaver: I’d just like to point out that even for the time, a million dollars wasn’t likely to be enough money to seriously bail out an operation the size of the Fantastic Four. And as smart as Reed is, you’d figure that he wouldn’t expose himself to the sort of investments that are going to result in losing a million bucks overnight. “Hm, snake oil futures? Seems legit. Pardon me, I’m going to go work on machines that detect aliens and open rifts to other dimensions.”

But as silly as it is, there’s the beauty of the Silver Age. It still works. It makes you laugh, it gives you action, and there’s a heroic moment when the heroes not only succeed, but Namor has to begrudgingly pass off the money. This is why I love this age of comics, and also I think why the original X-Men failed. While drama was working in small silly doses in Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, the entire premise of X-Men is high drama, and not to a level that could be dilluted into this episodic silliness.

Maillaro: One thing I found amusing was how important it was to make it very clear that “no angry tribesmen were hurt in the making of this comic.” Human Torch blows up a volcano which seems to devastate the entire island…but he points out, “The natives escaped…but the lava destroyed their magic potions!” Lucky break for them!

I also loved the shot of Namor smoking in the producer’s office. Something about that image just cracked me up.

And Thing finding himself in the middle of what seemed to be Gidget, with him lifting and tossing all the goofy dancing teenagers around on a beach.

Really, top to bottom this comic just entertained me all the way through in a way that it just should not have been able to do with that hokey a story.

Weaver: I think you’ve hit on exactly what people today don’t understand about the Silver Age. We have things like superdickery telling us how much of an immense tool Superman looks like (with some frequency) back then, and that informs public opinion of the character even though he hasn’t been sentencing Jimmy Olsen to death for decades, and wasn’t even really doing that at the time. At this time, writers and artists were trying to push out relatively self contained stories that gave you characters, drama, action, and humor. Yes, some plots get continued from month to month and title to title, but by and large you have the same experience here that you would have if you bought Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire before reading the first three books, an experience that I had. Yeah, you miss a few things like that, but it’s still a complete experience. Very few comics try to be a complete experience anymore.

Maillaro: The other part of that is that people forget covers are supposed to sell the comics. Most covers these days are just pin up shots, but back in the Silver Age Marvel and DC would do these over the top eye catching covers to get the buyer’s attention.

Look at the cover of this issue.

Not quite what happens exactly in the comic, but it sure catches your eye.

Weaver: Truth. When was the last time you saw a text box on a cover? Word balloons still happen sometimes, but not how they used to. When I was a kid, I had a pretty long run of Hulk specifically because one of the first issues I bought had a completely attention grabbing word balloon. “You hurt children…you hurt girl…now Hulk will hurt you.” He was looking straight at the cover, so we had no idea who was on the other end of that shoot, but I knew it was going to be epic payback.

Which is to say…these things worked, back when buying comics was a much more casual decision. Now you have to hunt them out, and pay attention to when is a good time to step on board.

Maillaro: Another great example I wanted to share. DC actually redid this cover as part of an event they did a few years ago which is where I first saw it.

Gimmicky as hell, but definitely am curious what happened in that issue!

Another great one is:

And a trio of cool ones with Kitty Pryde:

Weaver: The Death of Professor X is a favorite of mine, because when they reprinted it (during the time X-Men was reprints of earlier issues of X-Men) they left the “Not a hoax!” banner on it despite it by then being obviously a hoax…and added word balloons so that the X-Men seemed really super sure he was dead. But even iconic slogans like “PHOENIX MUST DIE!” are mostly gone now, or “If you buy only one X-Book this month…” to be replaced with Esoteric Arc Name #3 (of 6). I have to say that I would think that no matter how crappy your “THE FANTASTIC FOUR ARE FREAKING BROKE!” slogans are, they’re going to generate more interest than “ECLECTIC TOUPEE #3 (of 6).” And I think that this goes into something that I see as a big part of the downfall of comics right now.

You’ve got Iron Man 3 ripping up theatres, and Man of Steel poised to do big business. People love them some superheroes and are likely to buy superhero related things. But…I think the comic fandom has somewhat deliberately tried to wall themselves off. I think a lot of fans like the fact that you can’t just go to a drug store or supermarket and buy a comic, you have to put in some effort. And you’re not going to just luck into an enjoyable run by taking a chance on “Now Hulk will hurt you,” comics make no effort to sell themselves any more. And I believe a lot of people like it that way. Which is dumb. The less comics you sell, the less strong the companies that produce them are. And while yes, Disney and Warner Brothers both have good reason to own comics companies, I do think we can envision a future where the characters are more valuable than continuing to write new comics is.

Maillaro: I am not sure it’s so overt as you are suggesting, but I do think that a lot of comic readers are in favor of things that aren’t helping the industry. Like when they complain about relaunches “wiping out history” or when film makers DARE change something about the character when they are attempting to make them more accessible for a much bigger audience. Top selling comics sell 100,000 copies. Iron Man 3 made $174 million in its opening weekend alone. Now granted, I am sure some of that is people seeing it two or three times, but I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to say that at least 750,000 people saw Iron Man 3 in it’s opening weekend alone.

And there are a lot of writers and editors who aren’t helping. Go back to Catwoman 0 for a great example. That book wasn’t accessible for readers who were actually READING the series at the time, much less a new reader. A 0 or 1 issue should be a jumping on point, but this definitely had the opposite effect for me. I got out of town and never looked back.

Weaver: I honestly believe a significant portion of comics fans have the hipster mindset that if you haven’t read everything, or haven’t read the right things, there’s no hope for you. To me, it’s similar to how many bronies have a persecution complex, where they feel constantly slighted and looked down upon, exaggerating it to a comedic degree as if they’re doing something that society would utterly shun them for. In comics fans’ case, it’s more of feeling superior about their ability to know and understand the wide breadth of the comics world, and they seek to hold that knowledge above others as if they’re the one true knower of all things Batman or whatever. This is part of why I like what we do here. I like to share our love, and heck, I even welcome looking vulnerable in the name of sharing. Many of the comics we’ve dealt with are things well outside my normal wheelhouse. Whereas if I was going to just build my ivory tower and preach from it, we’d do Byrne/Claremont X-Men week in and week out.

Maillaro: I can definitely agree with all of that. I read comics and talk about have comics to have fun, and this issue in particular is a great example of AN ACTUAL FUN SUPERHERO STORY. 4/5 for the writing. 4/5 for the art.

Weaver: It’s tough to separate the story from the art in Lee/Kirby stuff, so I’ll go 4/5 on both too. It’s funny because it’s a great book…but I think even Stan and Jack would agree it’s not their strongest.

Maillaro: Maybe we were just real desperate to find something positive after the train wreck that started this column.

Your fault by the way!

Weaver: I’ll take the blame for that, sure.

So, is next week X-Files week?

Maillaro: Yeah, I knew IDW was doing X-Files Season Ten, but had no idea it was next week until I checked the ship list. I was never a huge X-Files fan, but I am definitely curious enough about this series to give it look. We could do Age of Ultron 10 too…but I think some kind of back issue would be a better choice. Any suggestions?

Weaver: Do you have Batman: The Long Halloween? My brother bought it for me like four years ago, or more, and I misplaced it so it was never read. I just found it now.

Maillaro: I should be able to dig out my copy. See you then!

Final Scores

Maillaro – Story Weaver – Story Maillaro – Art Weaver – Art
Catwoman (2011) #0 1 1.5 2.5 2
Fantastic Four (1961) #1 4 4 4 4

Post Script: After we finished writing this column, it was announced that Morbius was ending with issue 9. No real shocker, but we will definitely be talking about that in a future column!

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