Dark Knight Rises: Trailer 3

Hold on to your Batarangs Bat-fans as the slow climb to the top is almost over before the inevitable thrill-drop ride of Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s bone crunching, pseudo-realistic, city street demolishing Batman trilogy. From the looks of it this will be the biggest so far, the scale visibly going well beyond that of the previous two as Bane kick drops Brucey out of Gotham City and it would appear tries his own revolution on the streets of Gotham. Exactly what the US Army would have to say about that is left decidedly out but it looks like Batman might just return to save the day.

Based on the Broken Bat series of the early 90s that introduced Bane it suggests a fight back from absolute defeat at the hands of Bane (something they’ve made no attempt to keep secret in the trailer) but there are plenty of questions left unanswered. Like how Catwoman influences things, how Commissioner Gordon will help and where he stands on the hunt for the Batman following the death of Harvey Dent in the last film and how Joseph Gordon-Levitt managed to work his way into this film as well.

There is the issue of how it will all end. Comic book characters have proven increasingly resilient to rebirths. There has been absolutely no ambiguity over whether this is the last of the trilogy and history decrees it’d be 10 years before a reboot (by which time the fans’ll be crying out for it anyway) – so there is, I think, a very real possibility that the Dark Knight will fall in the Dark Knight Rises. The themes apparent in the trailer would suggest that figureheads and leadership are clear here – could Batman be more influential dead?

I feel a new BTB Investigates coming on….

Is the DC Relaunch Sexist?

You’d have to have been hiding under a boob shaped rock to have missed the controversy swirling around two of the DC “new 52” books in recent weeks. It all kicked off with the release of Catwoman #1 which opened with a montage of shots of the title character’s breasts and finished with a slightly BDSM inflected sex scene between Selina and Batman. Not long after that a similar salvo was fired at Red Hood & The Outlaws #1 over its portrayal of Starfire as an emotionless, amnesiac, sex addict. The whole saga culminated with a post on Michele Lee’s blog entitled “A 7 Year Old Responds to DC Comics’ Sexed Up Reboot of Starfire.” In which the author’s young daughter explained how DC had spoiled her role model. The blog spread like Reboot Flavour Starfire’s legs throughout twitter and soon every site seemed to be talking about it. But how much of the criticism is justified?

Let’s start by taking a look at Catwoman as that’s where the troubles first appeared. There’s no denying that Catwoman #1 is about as cheesecakey as a mainstream comic gets. Artist Guillem March appears in many cases to have ignored the script in favour of simply cramming in as many butt and boob shots as humanly possible. The decision to not even show the main character’s face (but instead introduce her via an image of her breasts) is particularly troubling as it serves no narrative purpose whatsoever other than to reduce the character to a faceless sex doll.

This clearly isn’t a very good depiction of women in comics, but let’s not start pretending that this is somehow a huge departure for the character. One only has to take a look at Adam Hughes’ covers to see that Catwoman has been far from the Virgin Mary for many years now. While the script of Catwoman #1 does portray Selina as something of a fickle sex chaser, it’s not nearly as bad as the art makes it seem. Not every character has to be a perfect role model and we should be careful not to shy away from that all the time. After all, we want to be Gail Simone, not Mary Whitehouse.

Overall however I think the art here does still damn the book overall. It’s cynical, frankly kinda creepy. Catwoman #1 feels like it was drawn from the back of a shabby van via a pair of binoculars. The real crime here is that it’s not even particularly sexy. For all their cleavage, Hughes’ covers did have a touch of the genuinely erotic about them. Not so with this book. By half way through we’ve seen so much T&A that the image of Batman penetrating Catwoman on the final page feels like two souless porn stars going through the motions to pay their bills. In many ways to call it sexist and imply that it is somehow an assault on female self image is to give it too much credit.

So what about Starfire? Well, I think the issue is a little more hazy here, or at least I did for a while. The basic problem that a lot of people are having is that Starfire, a character who has existed since the 1980s and is supposed to draw her powers from pure emotion, is now portrayed as a mindless sex robot who will bang pretty much anything because you know…she’s an alien. This is made worse by the fact that her team mates, Jason Todd and Arsenal,  appear to be basically using her as a sex toy and high fiving about it behind her back.

I’ll start off by saying that I have almost no prior experience with Starfire as a character and so I went into Outlaws willing to take her as a totally new idea. To begin with I actually thought (shameless bikini scene aside) that we may be looking at quite an interesting idea. To my mind Jason Todd and Arsenal were meant to be seen as a pair of adolescent morons who were playing around with an alien they didn’t really understand. To me, Starfire’s advances weren’t meant to be sexy but rather to be creepy and alien. Here is this character who could fry both her team mates with a thought and who has almost no sense of empathy whatsoever. I liked the idea that this was all going to blow up horribly in the frat boy heroes faces when they realised that their orange bed buddy had the same attitude towards killing that she did towards sex. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it (I am) but I was almost starting to see the whole thing as a cautionary tale about the dangers of careless sex.

Sadly, I have a feeling I’m pretty far off base with this analysis. In a direct response to the comments of their 7 year old critic, DC recently tweeted:

“We’ve heard what’s being said about Starfire today and we appreciate the dialogue on this topic.
We encourage people to pay attention to the ratings when picking out any books to read themselves or for their children.”

That’s the response. Not “wait and see, we’ve got plans!” But “well, don’t let your kids read it then.” To me, that’s not a great response. When it all comes down to it, Starfire IS a kids character. Her only mainstream exposure has been via the Teen Titans cartoon and so it’s a fair bet that the majority of her fans fall within the teen bracket. I’m not saying that Teenagers can’t cope with complex stories but DC’s response to the criticism doesn’t seem to imply that this is what we’re dealing with.

I’ll probably stick with Outlaws for another issue or two and see where it goes but at this stage I’m not confident. I hope that I’m proved wrong and the book turns into the interesting character analysis that it has the chance to be, but in all honesty, when you’re relaunching your books to appeal to younger readers and a 7 year old is picking legitimate holes in your handling of her favourite character, something’s gone badly wrong.

So is the DC relauch sexist? No, of course it isn’t. Two bad bananas are not enough to spoil the whole bunch. With books like Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Batwoman (to my mind the three best books of the relaunch) tearing up the shelves it’s unfair to say that DC doesn’t know how to handle female characters. Indeed, the very fact that Catwoman and Outlaws have drawn so much flack is partly because the other portrayals of woman characters have been so damn good.

Are Catwoman and Outlaws bad books? Probably. But in all honesty, when can you remember a time that bad female superhero books were in the minority and not simply the norm? DC has taken huge strides over the course of this relauch and we shouldn’t allow a couple of missteps to take away from that.

Go out, vote with your money and tell DC that they’ve almost got it right. Buy Batgirl, buy Batwoman, buy Wonder Woman and leave the cheesecake sitting on the shelf where it deserves to be. We’re in virgin territory here and it’s up to the fans to tell the publishers what we want. After all, we can’t let the 7 year olds fight all our battles can we?


Practitioners 39: Adam Hughes

Adam Hughes (born May 5th 1967 in Riverside Township, New Jersey) is an American comic book artist wwho has worked for compnaies such as DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Lucasfilm, Warner Bros. Pictures, Playboy Magazine, Joss Whedon’s Mutant Enemy Productions and Sideshow Collectibles. He is undoubtedly known to American Comic book readers for his renderings of pin-up style female characters and his cover artwork for titles such as Wonder Woman and Catwoman. A specialist in defining the female form, Hughes is an true artist, capable of creating works of fine art freehand at con tables as well as through digital painting and drawing.

Hughes had no formal training in art, beginning his career in 1987, pencilling two short stories and the first issue of Death Hawk, created by Mark Ellis. In 1988, Hughe’s work found its way into Comico’s Maze Agency written by Mike W. Barr and remained on the book for one year. When that title ended (cancelled by Comico), Dc offered Hughes a position drawing Justice League America. Completing both covers and internal artwork to begin with, Hughes moved to just covers only after two years.

At the age of 24, Hughes moved to Atlanta, Georgia in order to join Gaijin Studios, believing that working more closely with fellow artists would improve his own skills. He remained with Gaijin Studios for 12 years.

He followed this with a short stint on Dark Horse comics’ Ghost, Penthouse comix, legionaires and Playstation magazine. Although Hughes wrote and illustrated the interiors of 1996 two-isssue miniseries Gen 13: Ordinary Heroes for Wildstorm, this took him 10 months, cementing his feeling that he should remain as a poster and cover artist. In late 1996 he began a five year run as cover artist on DC Comics Wonder Woman as well as providing cover artwork for Tomb Raider at Top Cow Comics.

When the Star Wars RPG (Role Playing Game) was created by Wizards of the Coast, Hughes created designs for both the original and revised core rule books. When he reused his artwork of Jedi Guardian Sia-Lan Wezz for the cover of Star Wars: Purge the fan response was so great that she was introduced as one of Darth Vader’s early victims.

Talk of an All Star Wonder Woman 6 issue series continues as the Catwoman cover run ended at issue 82 in favour of completing the project (according to an interview at San Diego Comiccon). However, he has explained in subsequent interviews that the project is effectively in ‘the freezer’.

Regardless of what Hughes produces or believes himself (he worked for a short while for Playboy in order to be sure that if the comic book work dried up he still had publications willing to continue to hire him) his work will always be in demand. A nice guy who takes time to respond to almost all deviantart messages he receives he is responsible for some of the finest bodies of work in comic books. A master of anatomy and portraits he is as adept at painting a Jedi in full armour as a voluptuous superheroine ripping her bodice. Elevating the art of erotica to accessible and intelligent levels, Hughes imbeds wry humour into his work, keeping it from ever appearing demeaning or smutty. He imeds intelligence and character into his femme fatales, each one a striking, dominant, strong character, standing there with very few clothes on…

Bat, Cat and back: Dark Knight Rises (Fake) Trailer Unleashed

Here it is. The Dark Knight Trailer for the new movie from the Christopher Nolan franchise. The Stanley Kubrick of blockbusters, Nolan has clearly pieced together a more coherent set of plot threads than previous Directors (Batman and Robin anyone) however this is a step up again from the Two Face / Joker combo of Dark Knight Returns. Catwoman, Bane and I suspect Robin Williams as Hugo Strange is blended in with the renegade storyline from the previous film and any personal plot line to throw in. However Selina Kyle makes up the love interest in this case and it looks like messrs Fox and Pennyworth (Freeman and Caine) are in their holding positions on this one. Nice to see the Scarecrow still representing a through line for the films. C’mon Nolan – this looks good….

…. or is it?

Dark Knight Rises official poster revealed

Christopher Nolan’s franchise rolls on under a shed load of secrecy but the folks at WB clearly know how to create a reveal. This beautiful little number may turn out to relate to nothing. An abstract representation of the collapse of Gotham perhaps, or the Dark Knight’s own grip on his city? Or…. they’re gonna do an earthquake!! No Man’s Land anybody? Nope? I feel old.

I’d love it of they did an Earthquake. They won’t. Will they? Anyway… great poster.

From the original series No Man's Land

Practitioners 31: Tim Sale

Tim Sale, was born on May 1st 1956, in Ithaca, New York, but spent most of his early life in Seattle, Washington. He attended the University of Washington for two years before moving to New York to study, in part, under artist John Buscema at the School of Visual Arts.

Sale has an incredibly distinctive style. His characters rarely represent realistic proportions and his style of art is decidedly abstract, relying on impressionistic and silhouetted ideas as much as clear visual representation. His compositions are carefully applied, often at dizzying or deliberately engaging perspectives. He is assured in his use of space, very much in the same way younger, more technically complete artists are, but he feels no compulsion to fill open spaces. This gives his work a compelling and assured feel that draws the reader in.

The physicality of his characters is always exaggerated which reinforces the innate characteristics of the character. Batman is big and broad, his neck long and ascending into darkness. The linework is clear and precise when necessary but betray emotional lines when necessary. He is an economical artist, assured enough to apply his own style.

Sale does divide opinion, in part because of his continued association with Jeph Loeb, a marmite figure in comic books. Most artists do not like to be compared to Sale due to his disproportionate bodies and arguably loose compositions and detailing. In spite of his considerable talent he has fallen down the same path as McFarlane. A pronounced and distinctive style that has its time and moves on, Sale has perhaps been left in the 90s.

But that doesn’t reduce his relevance. He pencilled and inked Dark Victory and Long Hallowe’en alongside Loeb 15 years ago and it continues to sell today. His compositions and the realisation of the Bat-universes character offered a visual insight distinct and intriguing enough to represent familiar characters such as the Joker and Two Face in ways previously unseen. Some later incarnations of Catwoman were lifted from Sales work on Dark Victory.

The problem for Practitioners such as Sale and Loeb is that the industry advanced. Techniques continued to develop, the demand for greater sophistication and accuracy increased from the readership. Its hard to say whether the industry will swing back towards the more cartoon strip years of the ’90s. However, it was a period of unprecedented and unrepeated growth for the comic industry and Tim Sale became a legend during that period.

Tim began doing art for the series Myth Adventures in 1983 and was soon working on Theives’ World, a shared fantasy series created by Robert Lynn Asprin in 1978, comprising of 12 anthologies. After meeting Matt Wagner and Diana Schultz (who were at the time creating for Comico Comics) and Barbara Randall of DC Comics at the San Diego Comicon, Sales career began to develop.

The majority of Sale’s work has been with Jeph Loeb. With him, they developed a cooperative style of creating books, in which the art and the writing influenced each other. The duo, creditted as ‘storytellers’, produced extremely popular work such as Batman: Long Hallowe’en, Batman: Dark Victory. Most recently they have worked on the so-called ‘color’ books for Marvel Comics involving mainstay characters from Marvel such as Spider-man, Daredevil and the Hulk.

Through his association with Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale worked on the artwork for Heroes. He was responsible for the paintings created by precognitive artist Isaac Mendez as well as other artists on the show. He is also creditted as creating the comic book font used throughout the series, based on his own handwriting.

Sale is another marmite character in the comic book hall of fame. His dereliction of standard artistic practices such as proportion and physicality means that very few artists want to be compared to him. I have to admit that if my work was assocaited with Sales I would look for where I had gone wrong as on a technical level, Sale does not deliver. But that is his strength in the eyes of a great many comic fan. Artists are by the nature technical, but Sale moves beyond that and offers up artworks taht are deliberately abstract and caricatured. Hs Wolverine is broad shouldered and bubbled, his Gambit gaunt and haunted. His London is empty and uncongested and yet, as the first time I ever saw his work I have been unable to forget it. As an artist I admire Sale’s willingness to apply his own distinctive style to the comic book page. An industry should thrive on individuals like Sale as they push the form outwards towards alternative modus. If everyone in comic books drew like the Kuberts, Quitely and Coipel, with infinitely careful pen lines, consistent detailing and carefully applied physical proportions comic books’d be a dull place. Sale comes from the same stable as Jon Bogdanove, Erik Larsen and Todd McFarlane. Artists that contributed to the single most successful period in comic book history. While they may not be fashionable now clearly they have a great and broad appeal beyond the kernel of uberfans and tightly monitored comic book applications. An artist like Tim Sale would not get work in the comics industry right now, however the more I think about it – looking at a struggling comic industry – even with the money turning over in associated features – the more I think tahts not such a good thing. Men like Sale didn’t need to be optioned by a film company to pay their bills. They paid it through sales. And if you’re working in popular culture how many other benchmarks are there?

First image released of Tom Hardy as Bane in the Dark Knight

The first picture of Tom Hardy as villain Bane in the massively anticipated ‘Dark Knight Rises’ has emerged online. The web was all a hub-bub as bat-fans went wild. On Friday Warner Bros. launched a dedicated website (, featuring a blank black page and people chanting. Eerie stuff and perhaps indicative of either a following Bane gathers or sounds from his upbringing. No doubt all will be revealed. Doubtless Nolan’s Bane will make more of his ruthless influence and tactical prowess than his previous incarnation in previous franchise killer Batman and Robin, in which Bane was a mute plant beast cum nacho libre style wrestler. Kooky.

Top marks to WB though for trying to drag out the intrigue surrounding the reveal. Later in the day a mysterious Twitter account started tweeting a section of the image. The picture was supposed to be revealed gradually, using the personal twitter icons of retweeters as the individual pixels but super fan hackers cracked the source code, revealing the whole image. The Dark Knight himself’d be proud.

So here he is;

What’d you reckon?