Saturday, 16 February 2013

Katana #1 review

First off, I must declare a non-interest. I've never liked Katana. I found her obnoxious in the original Outsiders, equally unbearable in the team's recent revamp and just plain unlikeable in the New 52 Birds of Prey book.

It's the last version who gets a shot at solo stardom in this new series, timed to ride the wave of hype surrounding the upcoming Geoff Johns/David Finch Justice League of America series. And I like her.

As written by Ann Nocenti, Katana's a little more vulnerable than in the past, with a ready sense of humour. She's surprisingly good company in a debut issue which sees her move to San Francisco's Japantown district to seek out a young woman whose tattooed body holds secrets connected to her sword. Before Katana, aka Tatsu Toro, meets Shun, however, she encounters wise old fox Junko and grasping landlady Nori, and sets up a training area in the basement of her tiny apartment.

She also has a disturbing dream in which a lovemaking session with her dead husband, Maseo, turns out to involve her enemy, Coil. This motivates a creepy sequence in which she snuggles up with her katana sword - within which she believes the soul of her husband resides - and tells it: 'You are the only one welcome in my bed.'

The close of 'Way of the Outsider' (a nice nod to the character's comic heritage) has Katana take on a bunch of swordsmen out to steal her mystical sword. She takes them down but has a tougher time with their leader, the aforementioned Coil.

Nocenti's script is nicely judged, with the exception of Katana's civvies wardrobe, whose elements - earrings, hair sticks, skirt, 'whiplace' - double up as weapons. Oh, and her mask becomes a hat. This sort of thing was OK in the Sixties, with Barbara Gordon's librarian togs becoming Batgirl's costume, but it seems a little silly in 2013.

Japantown is a clever choice of setting, as it's thematically in keeping with Katana as a character, without being too far removed from most of the potential audience. It also allows for a contrast between the dark and the whimsical, as Katana fights for her life surrounded by kawaii cuties.

And as depicted by the delicate lines of Alex Sanchez, Japantown looks gorgeous, exotic without being alien. As does Katana, whose visual mix of serenity and confidence give her a quiet power unusual in a comic heroine. The secondary characters are full of personality, too, with Shun particularly memorable, her bearing evoking unspeakable sorrow. And the panel to panel storytelling is spot-on, complementing and embellishing Nocenti's tale; the action sequences are especially strong, even with the House of Flying Hair Sticks business. Matt Yackey's colour work is sublime, tending towards the naturalistic with added glow and some attractive colour graduations, while Taylor Esposito's lettering choices work a treat.

There's a mighty fine cover too, courtesy of JLA's Finch. I'm not yet sure whether I prefer our heroine with white eyes, as here, or on-show peepers, as seen inside. Decisions, decisions ...

Katana #1 is a breezily entertaining read, with a sparkling script and terrific visuals. Away from the rest of DC's heroes, Katana stands out, while the Japantown setting is refreshingly different. There's a mystery as regards Katana's interest in Shun and the secrets of the sword, and supporting characters that could lead to a few decent subplots. All very promising. It's good to be surprised by a comic.

13 comments:

  1. hey mart have you heard about the new green team book coming may,
    You may like it art Balthazar and Franco from tiny titans for working on it with art from ig guara.

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    1. Yes, ill certainly give it a try, along with The Movement.

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    2. hey mart is throne of atlantis good or not, also how is shazam so far

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    3. Throne is entertaining, with the odd decent surprise. Shazam is well crafted but an insult to the original Captain Marvel.

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    4. well maybe billy will get better as a person, can't wait for jla 4 in that issue the the society of supervillains sends in the shaggy man to destroy the jla, the cover is even homage to his first appearance

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  2. I went over this comic with my new blog twice (the reaction and the reflection) and my ultimate thought is that it's pretty bad, but is rather unintentionally funny and actually does good with establishing the character. I find the plot confusing and not very clear, the dialogue awful but hilarious as well, the art ugly but amusing with Katana's shouting face (exception being the admittedly great looking dream sequence), and villain kind of uninteresting.

    Compared to Ann's other works for the DC 52, this is probably her best, but I'm still shaky with it. I'll probably continue to follow it for a bit to see where it goes (Plus, I need stuff to cover for the blog anyways). Maybe it'll get better for me, but right now I'm not completely feeling it.

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    1. Now I've 'done' Katana, I've been able to read your thoughts over at Comic Book Reaction Shots - we'll have to agree to differ, I thought it was a pretty clear narrative. Sure, we're not told everything in terms of backstory, but what story we had seemed pretty straightforward. Ah well!

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    2. Ah maybe it'll be clear for me later. I'll come back to this issue after the arc wraps up and see how it reads then. Maybe it'll make more sense then.

      Anyhow, you checking Justice League of America and Vibe next week? I'm quite excited to see what these two can bring.

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    3. I'll be there, hoping both are good!

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  3. I think Katana's shot as a lead in a book is prompted more by her upcoming co-star status in the Beware The Batman series than by her high profile or legions of fans in the comics-reading world - and the character you describe certainly sounds more like something from a cartoon than from the 52.

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    1. Ah, that would make sense, cheers - I wonder how far the portrayals will match up.

      It's a bit sad that my best memories of Katana are the Batman and the Outsiders lettercols and the running joke about her making people carry their lungs in a bucket ...

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  4. Replies
    1. You're welcome, keep the great work coming!

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