Sunday, April 25, 2010

Review: The Brave and the Bold #33

Written by J. Michael Straczynski; art by Cliff Chiang

(This review contains spoilers.)

This is a really weird issue, and although ultimately my response to it is mostly favourable, it took me a while to make up my mind about it. Some readers will probably feel that it's a bit too gimmicky, or perhaps emotionally manipulative. The premise is deceptively simple: Zatanna, Wonder Woman and Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) take some time off from busting villains and go out for a ladies' night. The three women dress up in high-heels and evening dresses, go out dancing at a posh nightclub, flirt with guys, sing karaoke, and finish the night at a 24-hour diner.

This may sound silly and pointless, but of course there's something more sinister happening underneath the surface. The story opens with Zatanna waking up from a nightmare, which she knows was no ordinary dream. This is what prompts her to organizes this ladies' night, but the reasons why only start to become obvious when Diana mentions oracles at the diner. "The greatest burden of all was to be an oracle of prophecy, when there was nothing you could do to alter the course of the future because you had just enough information to know that something was going to happen, but not enough information to stop it from happening." It becomes clear that the vision was of Barbara's future (specifically, the events depicted in The Killing Joke, where the Joker shot her in the spine and paralyzed her for life), and the point of all this was to give her a special night to remember.

As many people have pointed out on forums and blogs, there are plenty of continuity details that don't hold up to scrutiny very well, like the mention of an iPhone or the Beyoncé song lyrics, or the fact that Barbara had retired from her Batgirl role by the time of her encounter with the Joker, or (the most jarring to me) the way JMS sets that encounter at her apartment, when I always thought that it took place at Jim Gordon's place. But unless you're a continuity freak, these details are easily overlooked.

The last few pages of the book cut back and forth between an earlier scene between Diana and Zatanna, and the famous scene from Killing Joke. It's a simple but effective device that packs a strong emotional punch. The panels and the dialogue from Alan Moore's story are reproduced here pretty faithfully, which creates a real tension as the fateful moment approaches. The two-page spread when it finally arrives is nothing short of brilliant: again, it's an almost exact reproduction of the art and dialogue from the original story, but it's laid out in such a clever way that it manages to make the familiar scene shocking even though we knew exactly what was going to happen. The very last page mirrors the first, only this time it's present-day Barbara waking up from a dream, and unlike Zatanna's dream, hers wasn't a nightmare. "I was dancing," she says. "It was beautiful."

Given how strong the art is in those last few pages, it's really too bad that JMS overdoes it a little with the dialogue. At this point in the story, we already understand what is going on and why Zatanna organized this night for Barbara, so most of the conversation between her and Diana is redundant. This is a case where he should have let the art do the storytelling. And Cliff Chiang's art really shines throughout the issue.


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