Batman/Catwoman by Tom King, Clay Mann, Liam Sharp

“I hate to make this personal, Bruce.”

“But do you ever commit to anything?”

What was supposed to be the end of Tom King’s epic 100 issue Batman run is instead a DC Black Label maxi-series (meaning there’s a bit more of an edge to this one, but still tame compared to their other Black Label offerings) as King and his follow contributors try to wrap up the essence and ideas he established involving the Batman/Catwoman dynamic. Basically, none of this story is “canon,” but that’s okay. The characterization is spot on, so that counts enough.

Told over three timelines, Batman and Catwoman explore their love, life, and the choices they’ve made that continue to affect their world. In the past, Catwoman deals with becoming a better person all the while The Joker is becoming a bigger influence in the life of the Caped Crusader. In the present, an old flame of Bruce’s returns. And it’s The Phantasm.

You know. This one.

Batman Animated GIF by LOS 40 Guadalajara - Find & Share on GIPHY

This is, as far as I know, their first comic book appearance.

Finally, in the future, Batman and Catwoman’s daughter hunts a killer, with ties closer and more darker than she could imagine.

It holds up fine, but some threads between the interconnected stories are frayed at times, and even with different costumes and ages in every timeline, it feels disjointed. The past, present, and future collide on the page, and it doesn’t always make for easy reading. You have to keep up. While that’s par for the course for King, this feels a little more uneven. I don’t know. Maybe it was just me.

A big experiment that paid off in many ways and didn’t succeed in others. Isn’t that what art is all about?

Now to finish reading the ACTUAL rest of Tom King’s Batman run…

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

“Well…yes, even though you got root canals on your front teeth, they didn’t seem to ‘take.’ Your two front teeth are fused to your jawbone–therefore they won’t move with orthodontics. So, we pull them back out, and build you a retainer with two perfect teeth attached to it, to fill the gap!”

“…It’s humiliating to let a doctor see you cry…but sometimes, it can’t be helped.”

This was one I had seen dozens of times on the bookshelves of stores and book fairs at my school. A cover so simple, Watchmen-esque in its basic premise. It’s about braces. It’s about teeth. What else could it be offering? I have to pick it up!

To be honest, I was hesitant about reading this. I knew Scholastic, and other publishers for that matter, were delving into the world of original graphic novels aimed at kids. While Bone by Jeff Smith and Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi are masterworks I’d routinely have multiple copies of in my classroom for kids to check out, this style never called out to me. I don’t know. Maybe I thought the premise wasn’t enough to warrant an entire book or maybe the art wasn’t calling out to me? I thought it resembled the most basic webcomic art and–

–And then I found out it was initially published as a webcomic.

I had a lot of holdups in the past, but taking Brian Michael Bendis’ and Taki Soma’s Masterclass on comic writing has really helped open a lot of my own doors. This book being an Eisner winner also made the decision easier to pick up.

In short: Raina is a 6th grade girl who suffers an unfortunate accident when she trips and knocks her two front teeth out. Well, to be more clear, she knocks one tooth out and one tooth goes up into her gums. What follows for the next three years is some of the most horrendous dental work and most middle-schooliest middle-school drama you can imagine.

I kept waiting for The Thing. You know, The Thing that would put this over the edge and show me why it won the Eisner for Best Publication for Teens. I devoured the whole book in one sitting after putting the twins down to sleep and I kept thinking, “When is it happening? When is it going to get crazy?”

And it never did.

And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with a simple story, well-told, over the course of some nicely illustrated art. In fact, you could probably take a lot more from this than the most experimental work out there. Each page has to accomplish something, and Telgemeier makes use of her panels and composition efficiently. The time skips are clear, the characters are easily identifiable, and there’s a satisfying throughline of the dental work supporting all this prepubescent angst.

Kids who have never read a comic always have this worry they don’t know how. I can’t ever see them having this issue with Smile.

Thanks for reading,

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