One of the many things I hold against DC is their seemingly ever-increasing reliance on origin and 'year one' story lines. Sure Marvel does it as well but not to the same degree, they tend to focus on specific events in their character's history, such as the Phoenix Saga the first time round, and surely there are no more untold stories about the death of Gwen Stacy in Spider-man. But possibly because DC is less afraid of the cold reboot of their universe they feel obligated to tell us all about stories you might not have heard, such as the wealthy billionaire whose parents are tragically killed when he is a boy or the alien sent to this planet as a baby to grow up as the all-American ideal. When Frank Miller created 'Batman: Year One' the idea of telling an origin story for the character was novel, when Geoff Johns writes 'Batman: Earth One' around three decades later it's very much less so. When Grant Morrison wrote 'All-Star Superman' I'm not sure who felt it necessary to retell Superman's origin yet again at the start of that but at least he did it in eight words over four panels on one page.
I had given up on Scott Snyder's Batman run a while ago. I read his ridiculous 'Death of the Family' storyline in which the Joker captures all of Batman's friends and family but then, of course, fails to kill any of them (not least because they all have the own titles) or achieve anything, and stepped off the carousel. Then I heard he would be doing a long story about Batman's origins because, like I said, no one's ever done that before. But it's happened and, seeing an unnecessarily expensive hardback of the first four issues (a four issue collection costing £18.99? Steady on DC, your generosity is overwhelming!) in my library I thought I'd give it a go. So, it kicks off with Batman: Year Zero: Secret City.
And actually… It's pretty good. It starts right at the point where Bruce Wayne has returned to Gotham as an adult determined to fight crime but has not yet figured out the best way to do it. Unlike a lot of other versions this story only goes for the scenes from Bruce's childhood sparingly (it occurs to me that about a year in to the new fifty-two there was an irritating origins month event where all the current storylines were dropped in favour of origin stories so possibly Snyder did more about Batman's origin there, I don't remember reading it) so we don't get to see the most wonderful flawless millionaire parents in Gotham City get gunned down but we do see young Bruce finding the cave of bats. Snyder avoids the angst that is normally ladled over any Batman story in favour of excitement and adventure and primary colours! A lot of what happens in this goes on during the day under blue skies or in well lit warehouses which makes a pleasant change. There's nothing wrong with Batman striking from the shadows like in the Christopher Nolan films but how exactly are the cowardly and superstitious criminals supposed to know who to fear if they never see him?
Bruce Wayne has decided to fight crime in the form of the Red Hood Gang, so named because they all wear red hoods and the biggest problem at that point in time. But he has limited success because all of the members bar the leader seem to be regular people who have been hired or blackmailed into the gang by the mysterious leader. And in the first stage of this larger story Bruce learns that he too will need to don a mask to become something greater than a mere man. It's not worth spending so much money for so little product, even if it does have a couple of mini story backups and the script for one of the issues you've just read, but if you should come across this book somewhere you don't have to pay to read it, a friends house or your local library perhaps, than it's worth a look.
I can't really find much to say about the first book of Ed Piskor's 'Hip Hop Family Tree' because very little of it stayed with me once I reach the end. Covering the period from the mid-70s to the very start of the 80s I was lost in a sea of people undoubtedly important and influential who I didn't know from Ad-Rock. That in itself wouldn't be a problem but Piskor takes such a ground level and breathless run at the subject that it's almost impossible to take it all in. Over ninety or so pages we are introduced to characters at the rate of three or four per page many of whom are never seen again or suddenly turn up twenty or thirty pages later for another two or three panels before vanishing again. It makes the 'Game of Thrones' character list look like Alan Bennett's 'Talking Heads'. It makes me want to read a history of hip hop in order to understand this history of hip hop.
'No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics' edited by Justin Hall is an anthology title and therefore difficult to review. Does it accurately portray the gay comics scene? I have no idea but it does have diverse bunch of stuff from lesbian comics of the 70s through comics addressing, or not addressing, AIDS in the community in the 80s and 90s to gender fucking in the new millennium. If you don't like a particular story then in a couple of pages there will be something else and everyone has a footnote at the back with links to their websites if they have them. My current favourite is Christine Smith's Princess strip about Sarah and her difficulties and successes in getting the people around her to accept that she is a girl. And a princess. But there's lots of other stuff in here too.
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