Thursday, 14 February 2013

Katana #1

DC has been known to include a lot of variety in what they provide. While Marvel provides twenty million different X-books and Avengers spinoffs, DC, with the exception of Batman, tends to provide a lot of different options for all sorts of readers, from featuring different heroes in their own solo books, dealing with the less superhero-y side of their universe with the Edge line, as well as drawing in all their horror and magic fans with their Dark titles. But can too much diversity be a bad thing?

Why is this D-list character getting her own monthly solo book? She seemed to be doing just fine as a member of the Birds of Prey, and fans weren't exactly demanding that she get more of the spotlight, as they have with characters like Shazam and Martian Manhunter. The reason is probably two-fold. For starters, she's part of the upcoming Justice League of America, a more patriotic version of the well-known superhero team. She will also be appearing in the upcoming 'Beware the Batman' show. Now, Johns' JLA has gotten some hype, but hardly due to Katana's involvement, and very few people are actually looking forward the the newest Batman cartoon. So why does this series exist?

The answer, it seems, will forever be a mystery, because this first issue does absolutely nothing to pique any reader interest or even justify the fact that some people spent $2.99 on it. Katana #1, before you even read it, feels forced. After you read it, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Which is a shame, really. While I've never found the character endearing, I'm sure she had her fans. She definitely has an interesting look to her, as well as a semi-decent backstory. All in all, a relatively unique character, but this first issue does nothing to convince you of the sort.

Right off the bat, we are treated to a hard-to-follow fight scene, with Katana seemingly at the mercy of some dude named Coil. You would think that starting off an issue, let alone a whole series, in such a situation would be tense and immediately draw the reader in, but that is not the case. Coil, for some reason, is a misogynist. He starts off the conversation by talking about the role of women in society, even referencing a kitchen. Now, I have no particularly qualms about a such a character, as it could potentially lead to some interesting conflict. However, starting off the introduction to both the book and these two characters in this manner makes absolutely no sense. The book isn't about Katana's attempts to gain equal rights for women in the Japanese-American subculture; at least, I certainly hope not. It feels like the issue is artificially forced in just for the sake of making the character of Coil seem unpleasant, and for engendering further hate between him and Katana. Even more jarring is the shift from Katana's dialogue to his; while her inner monologue will stir up images of a martial artist in some oriental background, face to face with death, Coil's dialogue immediately shatters that particular portrait, in lieu of some distorted, hateful imagery that seems really out of place. In fact, its two pages in, at a point where you know nothing of the book, and it still feels out of place.

Why is he saying something so off-putting? Because Katana is written by Ann Nocenti, who is infamous for being outspoken with issues like this. I had certainly hoped that she would avoid forcing such clich├ęd and bland activism into a character who`s already a walking japanese stereotype, but it appears that that was too much to ask.

Still not sure what those things are...

Speaking of Japan, guess where this issue takes place? Japantown! It's exactly like Chinatown, except more like rural Japan. Speaking of stereotypes, you'll find at least a dozen in this one. An old man, sitting on the road, drinking sake and being a practical joker to any woman he sees. A distinguished woman, possibly a housewife, who's a little too eager to ask for bribes in exchange for secrecy. Weird, japanese myths made manifest onto the skin of a helpless girl as daemonic tattoos. Not to mention ninjas. Some of the content is mildly interesting, but it seems Nocenti is more eager to show all of these off, rather than actually develop them, and so we're left with a dusty, worn out slideshow at some old museum, waiting for it to end so we can move on to see depictions of samurai and black-clad ninjas disemboweling one another.

That, too, is a disappointment. Katana's inner monologue attempts to add flavour to her encounters with the sword clan, but it works against her; her diction fails to match Sanchez's artistic style, and the end result is thoroughly underwhelming. The one aspect of the book that might have been impressive, the Asian swordfights and martial arts, falls flat on its face, with Katana pirouetting around a kooky japanese garden, taking down ninja seemingly by dancing around them. Then, on the very next page, the book trades the subtle, almost painting-like encounter for a modern blood-splattering. Nocenti also, for some reason, insists on telling the readers exactly how many ninjas there are, which unsurprisingly fails to match the number we actually see in the panels.

Katana takes on the orange foot clan while a weird green shrub watches.

So, the action is a downer, and so are the boring characters and environments, but at least the dialogue is good, right? Wrong. It shifts from having a methodical, foreign syntax to randomly switching into a more modern, young adult tone. The writing is sub-par, and what the characters say rarely makes any sense. Katana monologues...a lot, and it's rarely interesting or even relevant. The story shifts around, from showing Katana's visit to Japantown, to her training, to her dead husband, to her visiting the tattoo girl for some reason, to her being the park for some other reason, and there's absolutely no flow.

The art is the one decent aspect of this issue; it's inconsistent with the writing, and the faces are pretty distracting and often inappropriate for the situation, but overall it's not particularly bad, and captures the vibe of the setting rather well. Sanchez isn't really to blame for this issue's shortcomings. Nocenti's writing is, unsurprisingly, average at best, to downright awful at worst, but even she might not be the one to ultimately blame.

The blame lies with whoever thought this series was a good idea. I don't know why they felt the need to advertise Katana as such an important character. Maybe it was for diversity. Maybe it was because they genuinely thought she was an interesting character. Whatever the case, it's obvious that this entire series should never have made it past the storyboard portion of its development, if even that.

Writing and Dialogue: 1/5 - Katana's monologues are a bore, the flow of the story is all but nonexistant, and the characters are poorly written.

Art: 3/5 - The art does a decent job capturing the japanese inspirations, but fails to complement the writing, and the fight scenes are visually uninteresting.

Fan service: 1/5 - Does little to really focus on Katana's character or history, and honestly even if it did, Katana herself is unfortunately not enough to carry this series.

Overall: 1/5 - This first issue of Katana confirms our worst fears: it was completely unnecessary. This particular outing does not bode well for the series at all.

 Also, can someone explain how the lower half of her face turns grey!?

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