Opus 17:

1. Kudos & Crotchets (1/12)

1. Kudos & Crotchets.  It had to happen, I suppose.  Harley Quinn is
now "realisticated."  Alas, the translation from the "Adventures
style" of rendering to the laboriously realistic manner of the rest
of the Batman corpus scarcely captures the character.  Paul Dini, who
co-created the character, wrote the first of the new series, Batman:
Harley Quinn, for DC's Prestige Format one-shot.  Behind the stunning
cover by Alex Ross, Dini is mostly successful in effecting the
translation, but somehow, with her dainty feet planted so firmly in
Batman's ponderous reality, Harley Quinn is no longer the criminally
mischievous sprite that made her so appealing in Mad Love and other
outings.  Yvel Guichet and Aaron Sowd do a creditably job here of
illustrating (rather than cartooning) Harley, but by her next
appearance in the Darknight's realm, Batman No. 570 and Detective No.
373, Harley has become just another female in skin-tight costume with
basketballs for a chest.  And her distinctive personality--that
playful quality--has been vacuumed out of the character.  If ever
there were a persuasive demonstration of the way visuals serve the
story in cartooning, Harley Quinn is it. . . .
     Golden Age Greats No. 13 ($9.95) from AC Comics is a tidy 80-some
square-bound pages chuck-full of Jerry Robinson-Mort Meskin
teamups--Black Terror and Fighting Yank.  And some solos--Robinson on
Gleason's Daredevil, Meskin on Golden Lad.  Also included, an
interview with Robinson.  Black Terror was a favorite of my misspent
youth, so I'm always delighted when Bill Black and his associates at
AC come out with another of the black-and-white reprints (like Golden
Age Men of Mystery Nos. 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, and 11, for instance; $6.95
each).  I've always been curious about who pencilled and who inked in
the Robinson-Meskin team, so I asked Robinson about it recently.  He
said, they alternated!  Right: sometimes Robinson pencilled,
sometimes Meskin did; and the other partner did the inks.  And it
seems impossible to tell who did what.  But with the solo
performances reprinted in GAG No. 13, I'd say that Robinson veers in
the direction of more precise and detailed work; Meskin, somewhat
simpler and a little sketchy.  Their style is more likely to be
evident in the inks, so I'd say the first Black Terror story here is
inked by Meskin; the second, by Robinson.  And both the Fighting Yank
pieces seem inked by Robinson. . . .
     Will Eisner's newest offering is under the NBM imprint.  After
Kitchen Sink went down the drain, DC Comics picked up the Eisner
Library of graphic novels and the Spirit reprints, but NBM has
latched onto a series that has, thus far, been seen only
overseas--namely, comics adaptations of children's classics.  Eisner
says he's felt for years that "the great stories that provide a
foundation to our culture are particularly suitable for narration in
sequential art form."  And about a half-dozen years or so ago, he did
Moby Dick, which was published in Europe.  His second undertaking in
this category is The Princess and the Frog, a fairy tale from the
Bros. Grimm, now available in hardback from NBM (32 pages in full
color; $15.95).  This story, Eisner reports, "enabled me to
contribute some humor to the story and add a little narrative
reshaping."  It is also a vivid display of something we've seen far
too little of--Eisner's skill with watercolor.  The full color
treatment does not lend itself quite as well to the page format
Eisner adopted for graphic novels (background colors are not as
malleable as background "white"), but Eisner strokes in the color
with breathtaking highlights, demonstrating a mastery of color we
have not seen displayed except briefly on covers.  Eisner's book
joins an already distinguished line-up of children's literature from
NBM, including a stunning rendition of Wind in the Willows and C.
Craig Russell's adaptations of the tales of Oscar Wilde.
     Atlantis Again.  Last spring, Dark Horse started translating for
American consumption some of the digest-sized (6x8") books from the
Italian publisher Bonelli.  The first of these may still be around:
Martin Mystery, the first of a six-issue series, 96 black-and-white
pages at $4.95, a bargain price.  Mystery is Martin's last name, just
to clarify that potentially confusing point.  He's a sort of
anthropological detective, and the menace he faces in this series
concerns a secret band of operatives ("Men in Black," as it happens)
whose task is to suppress any knowledge of civilizations associated
with the fabled Atlantis.  They simply destroy any information that
might surface about extraterrestrials, space ships, superior science
and technology, archeological remains and the like.  Anything that
might establish the actual truth of the existence of Atlantis.  And
since ol' Martin, in the normal course of his pursuits, unearths his
share of such information, this puts him on their hit list.  And vice
     Alfredo Castelli created Martin Mystery and scripts the tale;
Giancarlo Alessandrini performs at the drawingboard.  The story is
masterfully woven and, then, seductively unraveled.  Castelli
dribbles out just enough information, page after page, to keep us
wondering what will happen next.  And his sf-style explanations are
models of clarity.
     Alessandrini matches him in expertise.  The black and white artwork
reminds me of Alex Toth sometimes.  Not quite as simply rendered.
His line is not quite a pure as Toth's.  But his use of solid black,
of shadow, of stark white, and his pacing of action is in the Tothian
manner.  If you remember Jordi Bernet's work in Torpedo 36, you'll
have an even better picture of what's here.
     A car chase sequence opens the book, much of it at night.
Alessandrini deftly creates flashing lights and pitch dark and
threatening mood.  And in the next sequence, all underwater, he
alternates solid black with unembellished white for the locale, all
stunningly deployed to convey the pervasive submarine silence.  And
during Castelli's several pages of exposition at various places,
Alessandrini finds ingenious ways of varying the visuals to keep our
eyes busy and amused.
     Martin has a couple of lieutenants in the fashion of Doc Savage or
the Shadow.  One is a genuine Neanderthal inarticulate named Java;
the other a fetching blonde, the "eternal fiancee" as she calls
     Although the immediate problem--the one that launches the story in
this issue--is solved in its 96 pages, the Men in Black are legion in
number, and Martin is sure he'll meet them (and their boss) in the
next issue.  I'm sure, too.  Next time out, Martin plunges into the
Arthurian legend.
     A couple of text bonuses: a two-page history of Bonelli Comics, and
a sort survey of the myth of Atlantis and the various encumbrances
thereto.  Whetted my appetite for more of the same.
     Stay 'tooned.

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