Friday, February 13, 2009

Roy and the Huntress

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death. This time, reviews, of sorts, of The Bumper Book of Roy of the Rovers (Titan, 2008) and Huntress: Darknight Daughter (DC, 2006).

This is a very fun little curiosity, albeit one with pretty limited appeal to a pretty small subset of American readers. Roy of the Rovers was a strip about a famous soccer player, and it ran for about forty years. Titan landed the reprint rights, and this is their second release of the property. It is a compilation of the best bits from about a dozen of the Christmastime annuals that I enjoy so much, and is a mix of comic strips and short stories, along with quizzes about footie rules, profiles of famous stars, and charts of various clubs' team colors.

I've been assured that if you follow soccer, you will probably find this a charming little book. If you're like me and enjoy old British annuals, you'll also get a kick out of its quaint little charm. If you don't fall into one of those categories, I can't see this providing very much appeal. These can't, objectively, be called very good comics, although the one where a supporter of a rival club is convinced that Roy is paying off the referee is pretty amusing. One thing that I did like is that Titan resisted the urge to market this towards the collector's end of the marketplace, as they do most of their other classic releases, without checklists or credits or background information. This is just 120 pages on crummy paper, reproducing the experience of reading this sort of thing as a kid on a Christmas afternoon. Recommended for nostalgists.

DC used to publish some comics where the superheroes who debuted in the 1930s and 1940s aged in real time, instead of being stuck in their mid-to-late thirties. In those books, Batman and Catwoman were said to have married in 1955, and as time marched on and age forced the Dark Knight to put away the tights, their daughter, crusading attorney Helena Wayne, donned costume and crossbow to defend Gotham City in the late seventies.

This book collects most of the Huntress's appearances as a solo character up to about 1982, starting with some features in DC's anthology titles before the feature, by Paul Levitz and Joe Staton, became a regular eight-page backup in Wonder Woman. The Huntress herself is a terrific character, confident in her training both as a detective and a vigilante, and I was reading these books at the time more interested in her than in the increasingly dull lead feature.

Levitz's use of strong, ongoing subplots elevates the material above standard DC fare of the day, but the collected format also exposes holes in his long-term plotting. Readers probably wouldn't have noticed this at the time, but the twenty or so episodes, including fights with four separate costumed villains, a citywide crime wave and a prison break, seem to happen across maybe five days, during which our heroine is knocked unconscious about seven times. This is surely a candidate for "the worst week ever," but since the episodes were written over the course of two years, it might not have occurred to the creators to address it.

As for Staton, well, his artwork is for the most part completely wonderful. I love his use of perspective, and the way Huntress always seems to have a way to swing from a wire to any location without question as to how she got there or where she's going. On the other hand, I found myself really actively bothered by the way he draws the Joker's elongated chin as extending down to around his stomach.

Overall, despite some dated stylization in presentation, such as characters' tendencies to recap the plot while talking to themselves, these are very good comics for their day and have aged quite well. They're not a patch on what Levitz would do with Legion of Super-Heroes right around the same time, but on the other hand, they're considerably more readable than DC's contemporary output. Recommended for superhero fans.

(Originally posted February 13, 2009 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

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