Friday, January 11, 2008

A whale of a disappointment

Some time ago when I was relatively new to the comixweblogosphere, I encountered Orca, probably at the Absorbascon. This whale-woman enemy of Batman had some great visuals and seemed like an intriguing and appealing character, so I immediately added her three-issue story arc to my back-issue buy list. Last week, I finally got around to buying and reading the issues.

Batman 579-581, July - September 2000
Written by Larry Hama & Scott McDaniel
Pencils by Scott McDaniel
Inks by Karl Story et al

Man, was I disappointed. Even going into this with low expectations, I didn't get near the level of fun I expected with Batman going up against a lady jewel thief with a more than passing resemblance to Shamu.

Some elements were pretty cool: Playboy-Bruce makes an appearance, and is given a nice combination of social responsibility and elitist smarm; Batman goes in disguise again, apparently as the "crazy vet" from Year One; Alfred gets to shine as the perfect factotum; and Orca is singularly impressive: a big hunk of a swimming, leaping, and ass-kicking woman.

Yeah, a lot of the pieces were there, but somehow the magic that pulls them all together never appears.

Part of the blame lies in the art. McDamiel's layouts are serviceable, and I like his penchant for horizontal panels, but his figure-drawing - anatomy, proportion, movement - looks more like sketches of supermarionation puppets than real people. Heads are too big, limbs bend at odd angles, people pose oddly. The deficiency shows up mostly in the civilians, but even Batman looks oddly deformed from time to time, and I found it a real distraction.

Without giving too much of a spoiler away (not that anyone who has read, oh, two or three comics before won't see it anyway), I was also sorry to see that Orca's real identity was not a plus-sized woman, but a typical, generically-body-typed woman. I really wanted to see a large lady presented as a strong, capable, powerful character - and I was imagining Orca as a bit of an anti-Selina Kyle in appearance and affect. But, no such luck.

But the biggest fun-killer was the writers' choice of the central theme of the story. Y'see, Orca is a jewel thief with a heart of gold: she steals the "Flame of Persia" diamond from Leona Helmsley Camille Baden-Smythe - right in front of Bruce Wayne - so that she can raise money for a soup kitchen-rehab facility-daycare center. Batman cannot countenance this felonious behavior, even for a good cause, and tracks Orca down relentlessly. In each of their encounters, Orca and Batman exchange philosophical sallies over the nature of moral relativity:

Hama & McDaniel really stack the deck. Baden-Smythe is a right rotter: disdaining "the hoi polloi" -and anyone else - to the extent of endangering lives to protect her jewel, bribing officials, throwing people out of their homes, terrorizing innocent people - all the usual behaviors of a robber baroness. The jewel that is stolen is of uncertain provenance and probably doesn't even belong to her. And yet Batman, even while being pilloried in the press as the puppet of the rich and losing the respect of Gotham's lower class, won't give a girl a break, and tracks Orca like she was the Joker or something.

It just didn't wash for me. I don't consider myself a strong proponent of situational ethics, but you can't convince me there isn't a difference, at least in degree if not in kind, between property theft and exploitation of humans. And you can't convince me Batman doesn't see that difference. Its not the theft of his mother's pearls he's been working himself up over all these years.

I can take Batman versus property criminals when it's a ripping yarn, a puzzle piece, and the real-world themes are left out. Or I can handle Batman going after thieves when they actually endanger the innocent; it's their violence he's responding to, not their redistribution of wealth. But if you try to make a socially-conscious jewel thief a major villain while bringing in real class and economic struggles - well, you've lost me.

What's worse is that the script tries to have its cake and eat it, too. In addition to hunting his killer-whale criminal, Batman also manages to take down Martha Stewart Baden-Smythe. Unfortunately, the writers have to use such implausible plot developments to do so (excuse me, but people like that do not actually handle the molotov cocktails they give to street urchins to toss at buildings) that it actually reinforces the feeling that the elite can literally get away with murder while lesser-ranked criminals get slammed.

Actually, the story is much more believable if we take Batman as an unreliable narrator: he really doesn't care morally about the theft of the jewel, he's just pissed that the crime happened right in front of him. With that motivation, his doggedness, if even less laudable, at least makes a lot more sense.

Oh well, at least with the return of the multiverse, I can imagine that somewhere there is a happy Orca, swimming her way through Gotham Harbor, stealing marine-themed baubles from waterfront museums - and occasionally a kiss from Batman.


Mithel said...

It just didn't wash for me.

Didn't wash? I sea your point, but the argument just doesn't hold water. You're all wet. You're just floundering all over the place.

I could on for days. Seriously, though, great article.

Walaka said...

No matter what you do, someone's gonna carp.

Ta, mate!

John said...

I remember reading a bio page for Larry Hama and he said his biggest pet peeve was fan criticism from people over the age of 20. He said comics are medium for kids and should not have to hold up to the scrutiny that a mature audience would put them through.

So basically he was saying "My shit sucks, but anyone who calls me on it better be a little kid, cuz otherwise YOU'RE the loser here, you comic-reading nerd." I made it a point to never read anything by Larry Hama ever again.

Anonymous said...

好秘书 中国呼吸网 肿瘤网 中国皮肤网 癌症康复网 工作总结 个人工作总结 半年工作总结 年终工作总结 单位工作总结 教师工作总结 教学工作总结 学校工作总结 德育工作总结 财务工作总结 医务工作总结 安全工作总结 乡镇工作总结 党员工作总结 团委工作总结 公司工作总结 实习工作总结 班主任工作总结 党支部工作总结 办公室工作总结 学生会工作总结 总结报告 工作报告 政府报告 述职报告 述廉报告 考察报告 自查报告 情况报告 调研报告 调查报告 申请报告 辞职报告 实习报告 验收报告 评估报告 汇报体会 工作汇报 思想汇报 汇报材料 情况通报 情况汇报 心得体会 学习心得 工作心得 培训心得 读后感 发言致辞 发言稿 开业开幕 领导讲话 动员讲话 庆典致辞 节日致词 新春致词 晚会致辞 追悼悼词 节目游戏 毕业致辞 思想宣传 组织人事 晚会主持词 会议主持词 婚礼主持词 常用书信 表扬信 感谢信 倡议书 责任书 承诺书 检讨书 申请书 保证书 决心书 悔过书 建议书 慰问信 邀请函 条据书信 礼仪文书 贺电贺词 社交礼仪 个人礼仪 商务礼仪 职场礼仪 涉外礼仪 饮食礼仪 节日礼仪 婚庆礼仪 鲜花礼仪 其他礼仪 交际礼仪 秘书