Now that we are just three weeks away from the sixth annual mecca of geekery known as the Denver Comic Con, I wanted to take the time to showcase some of the talent that will be appearing that weekend. While we won’t have a list of the panels until very close to the event due to the necessarily fluid nature of that part of the con, I wanted to at least talk about some of the people who you may see on panels and will certainly see in Artist Valley. This week, I’ll be talking about one of the independent titles written and illustrated by Eric Canete, Runlovekill, and Alitha Martinez’s illustrations on a few issues of the New 52 Batgirl series written by Gail Simone. While both of these talented creators have certainly done other amazing work, I wanted to focus on just a bit to give you a taste of what they’re known for. Please tune in in the upcoming weeks for spotlights on some of the other creators who will be at Denver Comic Con from June 30-July 2 and make sure you get in on some of that action!
Eric Canete – Runlovekill
Runlovekill is an intense, action-packed dystopian thriller that pits a young, former assassin against those who trained her in her craft in a tried and true lone wolf versus the government battle. Rain Oshiro once worked for the Big Brother look-a-like, Origami, a mysterious military organization which polices the city of Prygat with ruthless efficiency. Rain has turned her back on that life and made a new one for herself in the streets of the city, trying to stay under the radar enough to leave the hated place behind once and for all. But when her past catches up to her, Rain must make her stand against Origami, and she may have to sacrifice the few friends she’s managed to make if she wants to escape the city alive.
While I wouldn’t consider Runlovekill to be my favorite dystopian story, it is an interesting one. While it isn’t necessarily a combination that one would immediately think of in a dystopian cyberpunk style story, Rain reminded me very much of a combination of Natasha Romanoff (Marvel’s Black Widow spy/assassin) and Major Kutanagi from Ghost in the Shell. Much like Romanoff, Rain struggles to deal with the things she did as an Origami agent and the way that her mistrust leads her to use her friends rather than valuing them as much as a normal person might. Like Major, as the series (a short one of only four issues) progresses, Rain reveals certain…enhancements that reveal why Origami is so desperate to either get her back or permanently take her out of the picture. Canete paired with Jonathan Tsuei for the writing and the style is frenetically fast-paced. To my eternal happiness, they don’t spend a lot of time on exposition and almost immediately throw the reader into the action. In fact, they leave the series on a rather cliffhanger note, which may be a bit upsetting to some readers. Regardless, you won’t be bored.
Canete’s art style is an interesting one. Each of the cover pages is clearly drawn in a sort of a computer model style which seems to fit with the cyberpunk theme of the story. The elements are heavy on the mechanical and cybernetic with a talented use of color to distinguish between dreary streets and the vibrant, thrumming tension of technology and decadence when Rain visits a club for a last night on the town. There is an excellent use of wordless panels that illustrate the action rather than just telling it and I’d rate this story highly just for that.
As I’ve said, it treads some familiar ground among other cyberpunk/dystopian stories but the art is so well done that I really didn’t mind. You may need to put aside your need to know every detail of the story as Canete and Tsuei are light on both exposition and explanation but the intense action and interesting setting won’t leave you twiddling your thumbs. You might not know as much as you’d like to by the time you finish that last issue, but it’s a hell of a ride. Keep an eye out for Eric Canete in the panels, his work on a creator-owned property gives him a perspective not to be missed for fans of the format!
Alitha Martinez – Batgirl
Alitha Martinez is perhaps most well known for her work on Marvel’s Iron Man and Black Panther: World of Wakanda series, I wanted to take a look at her work on the 2011 Batgirl series which was written by Gail Simone. That series was illustrated by a handful of fantastic illustrators but in particular, I took a look at issues 7-10 in which Martinez adds her own skills to the mix. In these issues, Batgirl has come back to Gotham after finally being cured of her paralysis and leaving behind her time as the information broker, Oracle. All is not well in Batgirl’s world however as she has to deal with survivor’s guilt and the events that led to being in a wheelchair in the first place (check out The Killing Joke if you don’t know what I’m referencing here). Relying on her old friend Black Canary to help her out of some scrapes, most more in her head than on the street, Batgirl has to deal with a taste of her past when the a ruthless gentleman thief known as Grotesque takes an interest in her. It’s up to Batgirl to handle her own demons and still save Gotham from yet another madman.
While I know from Simone’s previous work on the Birds of Prey series that she has a brilliant way of handling one of my favorite characters, I was impressed with the way that the skills of Martinez and Simone meshed to create a wonderfully crafted Batgirl series. Oftentimes with superheroine stories, the writing will be good but the art is so focused on the crudely termed T&A that the writing gets lost in the details. Instead of focusing on Barbara Gordon’s chest however, the art does an admirable job of focusing on the character herself. Simone and Martinez do not avoid violence and Batgirl gets her ass kicked about as often as she kicks ass. It makes for a remarkably human story as Barbara/Batgirl struggles with her demons. Martinez’s style is elegantly simple and well it isn’t what I’d call breathtaking, it’s a great fit for Simone. It doesn’t distract from the writing but compliments it. Compared to some of the less skillful penciling by other artists in the series, Martinez’s style is the best fit for Simone’s writing and a much appreciated break from the body-centric art that you tend to see for superheroines.
If you get a chance, it’s well worth picking up Simone’s entire run but I particularly enjoyed the time spent with Alitha Martinez on the struggle between Batgirl and the villain Grotesque. This story, with its allusions to the controversial Alan Moore comic The Killing Joke, brings Barbara face to face with some of the terrible things that have happened in her past and her need to deal with them before she can resume protecting Gotham as a member of the Bat Family. Martinez’s style is a perfect match for Simone’s writing and any fan of either Batgirl or the Bat Family in general would be wise to check this one out. Martinez herself is likely to be appearing in some of the comic book panels that DCC will offer this year, so keep an eye out for her perspective while you’re there!
Hope you enjoyed getting a look at some of the talent displayed by Eric Canete and Alitha Martinez and that you’ll check them out while you’re at Denver Comic Con at the end of the month! Join Graphic Reviews next week for another showcase, this time featuring Carolyn Nowak, Jody Houser and Ben Templesmith! And if you have comments or questions about this week’s creators, leave them in the comments!