Friday, May 31, 2013

I'm thinking a lot about the mythology of Cass

You know what I'm talking about, right?  All that "One Who Is All" stuff.  While I like the idea of people like Bronze Tiger having been involved in Cass's early training (their confrontation over the matter is an effectively dramatic scene reminiscent of the Kill Bill movies, which is always a good thing when dealing with Cass), to a large extent the League of Assassins involvement and the addition of the pre-Cass experiments turns me off by over-complicating things and rendering her less than unique.

I suppose I prefer my Cass streamlined.  Parental issues, death wish, can't talk, kicks ass.  Essence.  That's all I need for some good Cass.

Maybe we'll discuss this at length after I collect my thoughts on the matter.  I may change my mind after re-reading the later issues of Batgirl with more focus on this aspect of her story.  The problem is, I barely have time to read Batgirl these days much less write about the character at length.  And in her continuing absence from the DC universe, there aren't any little news blurbs or further developments to report and analyze.  Same old complaint, but it means this blog isn't percolating the way I'd hoped.

Sorry about that, Cass Fans!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

There's not a whole lot of Cass going on right now...

Sorry.  I've been combing the web for Cass news and there just isn't any.  So here's all I have for ya today.

I bought a brand new computer over the weekend so I can work on some digital art.  My eight-year-old laptop just wasn't cutting it anymore so I splurged on this new Acer desktop with more than enough processing power to handle Manga Studio 5, Autodesk SketchBook Pro (with all the Copic markers!) and ArtRage Studio Pro (guess I should think about upgrading to 4).

Usually when I'm testing out a new sketchbook and pencil or pen or a digital drawing/painting program, I draw Cass.  Yesterday was no different-- I cranked up Manga Studio, opened an old pencil drawing I did of Cass as Black Bat and inked it in several different styles.

By the time I started making marks I liked-- weirdly reminiscent of Charles Burns, only if he decided to use his foot one day instead of his hand-- the picture was so gummed up with false starts and ugly, hesitant moves I didn't save it.  Which is why you're facing a small wall of text instead of looking at another bad Cass drawing.

On the other hand, this new computer really blazes.  I want to get a tablet monitor so I can draw directly on the screen and see what I'm doing rather than suffering that strange eye-hand disconnect you get from using a  regular (cheaper) tablet, with your pen in hand in one place and your lines appearing in another.  That's just unnatural.  I can get away with blaming that for how poorly I draw these days but we know the real reason is I just don't do it enough.  There were years where I drew every single day, for hours, for the sheer joy of it.  These days I'm lucky if I get thirty minutes of free time a day to do anything.  If I read a Batgirl, I can't draw a Batgirl.  If I read anything else, I don't get to add something to this Cass blog and it goes neglected.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Katana #1 (February 2013)

Are you reading Katana?  Why are you not reading Katana?  What's this whole "not reading Katana" thing about that the kids are doing nowadays?  Is it a craze?  A fad?  The new twist?  Disco updated for the 21st century?

It's not that Katana is the greatest comic ever made.  It's not.  But in its first issue (February 2013) wrITER Ann Nocenti and artist Alex Sanchez quickly establish the book as the compelling story of a dour young woman who talks to her sword because she thinks her dead husband's soul is trapped inside it.  In the old days, we knew Katana's Soul Taker sword definitely had souls and spirits and demons or whatever inside it and when she talked to it, she was as rational as you and I.  Nowadays, the sword apparently doesn't talk back (at least not so we can share in its dialogue via word balloons), so it's anybody's guess as to Katana's mental health.  And my guess is she's shaky at best but not just because of the sword.

Katana doesn't feel much like a "New 52" DC book.  Granted, I've only read a few of those-- the first couple of Birds of Prey with Katana in the cast, something with Superman, a few odd Batgirls and some of the newer Batman titles-- but despite Katana's presence in other books, this one seems to have largely cut her off from the overall narrative.  This means a more self-contained world allowed to breathe on its own and grow.  Actually, the whole enterprise reminds me of that classic Chris Claremont-Frank Miller Wolverine mini-series.  You know, lone hero who explains herself through first-person narrative captions, swords, blood, enough ninja to choke a Sonny Chiba film.  Writer Ann Nocenti pours on the local flavor by having Katana fill readers in on the WWII relocation camps and artist Alex Sanchez gives us some of the most intense reader-engaging gazes ever captured on the comic book page.

But some of the cultural elements bite this book on the ass, unfortunately.  One of the first people Katana meets when she lands in Japantown, San Francisco, is a homeless candy-tosser named Junko, a dude.  As far as I know, Junko is exclusively a female name.  I broached this point with my wife a few weeks ago and she thought it was absurd.

"Is Junko ever a guy's name?  Is it unisex?"  I asked her, because I had my doubts.  I've never met a male Junko, although I've known several women and girls by that name (in real life, plus a supporting character in Ai Yazawa's classic manga Nana).

"No," she told me, flatly.  "Never."

Then we discussed the unisex nature of the name Hiromi for way longer than either of us really meant to because we both know tons of Hiromis.  But I suppose it's possible for some guy to have Junko as his name, and it's not enough to toss me out of the story by wrecking my suspension of disbelief.  It's the kind of teensy little detail I get caught up in occasionally because of my OCD and the fact I live in Japan.

The villain, named Coil-- he's the head of a sword clan, or perhaps THE Sword Clan, and he and Katana have a nasty history-- also mocks Katana for having been a dutiful Japanese housewife, invoking a stereotype of abject submissiveness I think is a bit outdated.  On the other hand, Coil probably knows this and is just trying to piss off Katana, as when he evokes the specific imagery of pre-heroic Katana standing outside her burning house wearing fuzzy slippers.  That I believe.

But both Nocenti's writing and Sanchez's art both have a delicate melancholy.  Nocenti gives Katana a dry sense of humor and a loneliness, a need of someone other than a sword for companionship.  There's a moment that deliberately drifts into eroticism when she awakes from a sexual dream and, out of guilt, literally takes the sword to bed, then appears nude in her bathroom before strapping on that sleek black armor and its deadly jewelry (a very cool touch).  Shades of Kazuo Koike's Lady Snowblood.  Whether her husband actually is in that sword or not, these are the acts of a disturbed person.

Sanchez's Katana has wide, staring eyes, but he takes pains to avoid the kind of supermodel appearance favored by other artists dealing with the female form.  His Katana is all about the business at hand.  He's helped by Katana's redesign, the absolute best in this whole "New 52" fiasco.  The old Katana flitted about in bright red and yellow, a color scheme a friend of mine used to call "ketchup and mustard."  The new one is all black with white makeup with a red rising sun symbol on her half-mask.  Very cool.

The book's soft color palette invokes a kind of contrast with Katana's sleek armor and weapon of choice, kind of like a splash of blood on cherry blossoms.

It's enough of a start I've bought the next three issues and I hope to discuss them a bit more here sometime soon whenever I get a chance to sit down and read them.  I've only been able to page through them a little and my initial impression is the art has moved towards something more traditionally feathered and hard-edged and Junko has hidden depths that are only slowly being revealed.  The main thing is Katana herself.  Are you interested in what she does, what swords she sleeps with and why?  If you are, you really need to pick up this book.  It's off the familiar paths of all those other DC books and really deserves a wider readership and some greater appreciation.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I completed my Comixology Cass collection

It took a few months-- one or two-- but I finally bought the last Cassandra Cain Batgirl books from Comixology.  Even those few issues I loathe.  Most of them now live on my iPhone, where I can read them whenever I want.  Waiting for the bus, during commercial breaks while watching television, when I'm waiting for the English Club to show up after school.

With back issues increasingly difficult (impossible in Japan, thanks to me!) to find and the Cass trade collections largely out of print and commanding ridiculous premiums on (and possibly elsewhere; I haven't looked), Comixology is the best option for Cass fans determined to read all 73 issues of her title.  Unless you're one of those fans who needs the tactile experience of holding the actual magazine.  Which is my preferred method of reading comics, too.

The thing is, I've already done that more than once.  And I live in Japan.  Living in Japan adds another layer of difficulty to reading Cass the old comforting in-your-hands way, so it's DC and Comixology to the rescue.  Instead of trucking a massive box of Cass comics across the Pacific, I brought her here this time via electronic waves of some kind I can barely comprehend, much less understand.  And I carry my iPhone everywhere I go here in Nihon, so why not carry Cass around, too?

You know what?  It's nice to know Cass's backlist is available. We haven't been able to up her profile with any of our little campaigns, but she's still kicking around in a convenient fashion for today's comic book consumers, waiting for rediscovery.  Introduce a friend or relative to Cass on Comixology.  Come on, I'm not getting paid to write this.  I really believe in her.

Seventy-three issues worth!  Plus a few books in which she makes guest appearances, even if I hate the main characters!

Cass vs. Toxic!

Did I show you this already?  If so, then here it is again.  It's a quick Cass-sketch I did between classes one day.  I love fiddling around with all of the various incredible pens you can buy here in Japan.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Wow! This Carrie Kelley thing is getting out of hand!

Seems Ms. Kelley's going to keep showing up in Batman and Red Robin.  The scene from #20 posted over at Bleeding Cool comes off like a comic book version of Columbo with Carrie in the Peter Falk part and Bruce Wayne as the big name guest star we know committed the murder because they showed it at the beginning of the episode.  They even make Wayne lie badly, just like Johnny Cash, Patrick McGoohan, Joyce Van Patten and so many more.

I like the idea of a superteam led by Booster Gold and consisting of Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, Wally West and Donna Troy.