Friday, December 01, 2006

White Tiger #1

(ETA, Dec 3: Ouch! My mother just told me I should feel bad about this review. I probably shouldn't have read this one right after getting so angry at Green Lantern #14.)

I know, I know, I promised ninjas. Is this close enough?

There was a lot of buildup and hype to White Tiger, no small part of it was the anticipation of seeing what a female writer from outside the industry, who was known for writing books that appeal to young women, could do with a female hero. I was looking forward to the chance to either laud Tamora Pierce for an excellent job, or tear her writing to pieces for not living up to the high expectations.

I can't do either until she works with a new artist.

The artist used the hideous backbreaking posture that I dislike on principle, and there were a couple annoying cheesecakey breast shots in the first page, but there was really only one that made me loathe this guy's art, and it had nothing to do with which gender he drew. I really, really hate this guy's heads and faces. His foreheads are too large and features too small, and there is some unusual angle with his necks that makes things a bit strange. Character faces are pretty important for mood, expression and characterization and if they don't look right it makes it hard to like the character.

Anatomy isn't everything, its just what strikes me as most unlikeable about Phil Briones' work. I do like artists that have a less than perfect grasp of anatomy, but that's a matter of style. With some artists I can see through the superficial problems that a lot of people write them off for, and find something that makes me love, or at least tolerate them. It started with Howard Porter's JLA. Oh, we bought it for Grant but I constantly complained to my sister about the art, and even she rolled her eyes at his Wonder Woman depiction. Still he had his pluses, look in the background of the early issues of JLA that he drew. You can find little details like oreos in J'onn's quarters, or feathers after Zauriel flies off. There's even a flood scene that shows two fishermen catching a shark (the town was flooded with stolen oceanwater). Even aside from the little details that hardcore fans would notice, Howard Porter was just damned good at drawing action and motion. He could do those huge cosmic shots in outer space that Grant Morrison's writing needs and even if he could never get the characters perfect the rest of it was good enough to read it.

Patrick Gleason's people are blocky and doughy, but the flow in his work has been incredible. In GLC, every character is posed and every panel is angled to give the impression that the story is nothing but nonstop action even when everyone is just talking for most of the issue. And the faces in his closeups can be absolutely gorgeous. Gleason put more expression in a shot of Kyle's masked and lensed eyes narrowing at the sight of Fatality than Briones put in an entire page of Black Widow and White Tiger conversing in a bar. I might never like Patrick Gleason's human bodies (though his aliens are awesome and his original design for Isamot's girlfriend was beyond awesome) but his storytelling ability set him pretty high on my "favorite artists" list.

And of course, there's Frank Quitely, an artist you either adore or despise. A lot of people despise his characters their squat, wrinkly bodies, but he has done so much with posture and expression in All-Star Superman that I adore most everything he does.

The problem I have with Briones isn't exactly his big weakness so much as his lack of any strength to make up for that weakness. The backgrounds are mediocre. The action is by the numbers. There's nothing innovative in his storytelling. There's nothing in his layouts that draw the entire page together. It's generally unremarkable enough that all of what for other artists would be little mistakes are glaringly unforgiveable muckups in his hands.

During one of my regular person to person ranting episodes (when I let out all of the frustrations that never make it to these blog), a friend asked if my problem with him was a lack of direction because he is doing a book written by a novelist. She's unfamiliar with the comic book medium, so he probably didn't get the best direction he could have. No, that's not it. Anyone who's watched creative teams get jumbled knows that a skilled and talented artist can more than make up for a weak writer.

This is not to say that all of the issues I had with this issue should definitely be laid at the feet of the artist. I was impressed, early on, that Pierce and Liebe managed to avoid the biggest mistake a writer moving from prose to comics can make, which is wordy narration. She let the artist show the story and saved the captions for important issues. But there were a few minor irritations that set me off in this book, and the biggest one came six pages in.

It's a girl.

It's a girl!?!

I see absolutely no reason for the bad guy to call attention to his opponent's gender. I mean, this is the Marvel Universe, home of Black Cat, Black Widow, Elektra, Psylocke, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Echo, Spider-Woman, and numerous others. Is it really that surprising anymore when the black clad warrior with the glowing talisman who is kicking your ass turns out to be female?

I can see establishing a villain's personality as sexist, but I really don't see what that adds to the story in this case. Maybe my standards are just set too high because it's disappointing that fight scenes still get interrupted to point out the gender of the participants. It tore me out of the story for a few minutes. I much prefer a world where women kicking ass was accepted as natural and not something worth commenting but I suppose that's too much escapism for even comic books.

Of course, it's possible that I am completely overreacting and that I never would have noticed this if I wasn't already irritated to be reading something drawn by such a terrible artist. Good art covers a multitude of sins. There just wasn't any good art nearby to soothe my easily inflamed and oversensitive temper.

Aside from that were a few scenes that seemed a bit too long (but could have been saved by a better artist), and some character issues. Black Widow just seemed "off," not at all like herself. It took me until her name was said to realize it was Natasha, and in Marvel Comics she should be distinctive immediately. The Spanglish was cliche. I still don't feel comfortable enough calling White Tiger by her first name, so I think more could have been done to make the character personable, but this is just the first issue by a writer who's never written before. It could be turned around later.

On the whole, I would grade it as "Better than Judd Winick and Tom Raney."


  1. "Better than Judd Winick"?

    Don't you think that's a bit harsh? I mean the mere mention of the name conjures up images of cardboard characterisation, carelessly dropped plot elements, and painfully obvious "messages". I'm not sure any writer needs to be compared to that on their first effort at comics, however favourably.

  2. If you like Patrick Gleason's aliens, remind me to show you the sketch he did for me of Kilowog as Wonder Woman. I've never seen an artist have so much fun drawing something. :)

    As for White Tiger #1, I actually didn't think it was as bad as that. I'm with Amy Reads...I enjoyed it a great deal.

    While, yes, I think, given that they're in the Marvel Universe with lots of female characters, that it seems pointless to point out the gender of a costumed person. BUT, remember that guys, particularly guys of his background, tend to be slow that way partially due to all of the societal conditioning. I can see a guy, who probably has never been beaten down before by anybody with less body mass than him, feeling that he doesn't have anything to worry about fighting a "girl."

    Then again, therein lies the problem of the Marvel Universe where almost all of their superheroes and villains inhabit New York City. With that many heroes and villains, you'd think that they must cover almost every inch of that city where societal conditioning would have changed a bit in their universe. I'm writing this...maybe you're right. But, then again, you usually are. ;)

  3. I'm with Marrionette. There has to be a better way to have put that than "Better than Judd Winick".

    How about "did not completely suck"?

  4. I mean the mere mention of the name conjures up images of cardboard characterisation, carelessly dropped plot elements, and painfully obvious "messages".

    Hey, Judd Winick does great characterization! The man's a champ!

    It's just that he only writes one or two different characterizations. Jerk and Hardcore/Extreme/Serious Jerk. "I'm going to blow up this bus full of citizens" and "I'm going to blow up this bus full of babies, nuns, and Amazing Fantasy 15s! Also I totally have a soul patch!" sort of thing.

    Anyway, my problem with "It's a girl!" is that, if memory serves, there was a goil in his gang and "It's a girl!" is extremely Claremontian dialogue. It's pure exposition and didn't seem very natural. There's a handful of different phrases that could work better than that, I think. That kind of silence after a superhero drops in and before the gangs attack her shouldn't be long enough for that sort of thing. "A chick?!" and bam, go for the knife.

    If it was Captain America or Storm, sure, they'd pause and go "Oh snap, it's freaking _______, what do we do?" but not a new and unknown hero in a non-costume.

  5. "Better than Judd Winick"

    Oh damn, she just laid down the law!

  6. I'm not a comic book bad guy, but if I were the exclamation would be, "A girl?!?" It would be like in "Apocalypse Now," where the captain of the boat sees a spear sticking out of his chest, he said, "A spear?!?" He was incredulous. I haven't read the comic (I live in another country, so it'll take a little time before I get it), but from what I can see, the White Tiger looks tiny. That would make it more surprising, don't you think?

    The other thing is that NY (I'm assuming, it is Marvel) There are so many superheroes. Of the urban type, most of them are male, so it's not unreasonable to think that, if I were a thug, that I would get beat up by Spiderman or Daredevil. I mean, how many urban type superheroes are women in Marvel, barring Daughters of the Dragon and the Black Cat?

  7. Wow! Daredevil gives her a present and then kicks her in the stomache? And he wonders why he can't keep a girlfriend.

    The art does seem on the hohum side. And I have to agree with you on Patrick Gleeson. When he first started in GLC, I wasn't quite sure that I liked it, but now I love him. And that original version of Isamot's girlfriend is BEAUTIFUL! Why oh why did they change it? She has such big pretty lizardy eyes!

    If you really enjoy the art, get a hold of just about anything by Jean Giraud/Moebius. His linework is astonishing and will make you weep with joy.

  8. I dunno, I haven't read the issue, but it seems like a decent sort of "this guy is stupid" shorthand. Other similar phrases are "what's that sound? Musta been a rat," "It's just some stupid kid," and "Whadda we do now, boss?"

  9. Since I'm more of a text-oriented reader than a visually-based reader (why do I read comics? It's a loooong story), I paid far more attention to the story - which is fairly good, especially for a "newcomer."

    Yes, it's grim and urban in setting anf she's a "tough as nails" former FBI agent, but there's also a lighter, almost "young adult readers" tone to the narrative that I really appreciated, in contrast to about 70% of the Marvel U, which is currently in "unpleasant as possible" mode.

    There are a couple of clunky "let me introduce another character by his/her full name and completely explain my relationship with him/her" (and what, exactly, is Spider-Man doing in here?), but I'd never read a White Tiger story before, and in one issue I'm pretty sure I got 90% of the character's back story.

    So, for me, it's a cautious "not bad."

  10. Comics are a melding of art and words.
    Horrid writing or horrid drawing cause me to dismiss a book. The art did it this time.

    Alan Coil

  11. I thought I was being nice in this review. See, I even pointed out that they impressed me a bit with the writing. Umm, somewhere in the middle there.

    Anyway, I clarified the last line a bit so it doesn't just pick on the writer, but I wasn't particularly impressed with either side of the creative team here.

  12. maybe I'm just thick or being a character-conception purist here, but i don't really care about the white tiger being "a girl" or not. what i want to know is, how can she be the white tiger if she's wearing black?

    obviously daredevil's not really the one to be asking that question (though lord knows there's been enough pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo about his being able to see colors in the past).

  13. I'm seeing a parallel here to 70's comic characters where someone, usually thug, would say "Hey, he's black!" and the hero would punch them into dremlanm while asking if they had a problem with that. Now no one cares or notices what race the hero is unless racism is part of the story. It may take a decade before girls are perceived the same way.

  14. I can't help but think of the Alan Moore Green Arrow/Black Canary story from the '80s (a back-up in Detective Comics #549-550). Dinah confronted a couple of thugs in an alley, and was already anticipating their reaction ("It's just a girl! Let's get her!"). While the first goon did indeed make a remark to that effect, the second held him back, explaining that his cousin had underestimated a super-heroine once and gotten his ass kicked. Rather than risk the humiliation of getting beaten up by a woman (and having their thug buddies make jokes about it), they immediately surrender.

  15. Well, I have a different take on the White Tiger. In short, I thoroughly enjoyed the art and the story.

    My review of it can be found on, or you can goole up my name and White Tiger to find it.

    Ray Tate

  16. Urgh. That should be google.

  17. Mo - as to why Spider-Man's in there, originally WHITE TIGER was to be a MARVEL KNIGHTS title. DareDevil (the real one) was to be a significant supporting character, and Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Spider-Man were also around to lend a hand (or a donut) as needed. By the time we actually got around to writing the series the MARVEL KNIGHTS line had ended and Matt Murdock was in jail, but...we were always fans of the Marvel Knights, so we left some elements of that in there. (You'll see Cage and Iron Fist also show up in later episodes, as well as Black Widow.)

    Ray - thank you. :) We really appreciated your review, which is at .

    Buttler - Ragnell's only posted a couple scans of the first few pages, while Angela's still finding her way. You can see her real costume at (sorry, a PDF is what Marvel sent us to distribute!).

    Everyone - the "It's a Girl! Get her!" line? Uh, that one's on me - and yeah, in retrospect it's kind of silly. I had meant it to imply these gang members hadn't originally identified Angela as female b/c of her black outfit and ski mask, as well as her fast killer moves, but it didn't really work out that way in the end, did it? Sorry....

    Ragnell - Tammy and I like Phil Briones's pencils a lot, actually. I'm sorry you didn't, but we felt he did a good job with the action as well as the quieter sequences, and more importantly made Angela realistically attractive (i.e., her breast size is consistent with her build) and kept the cheesecake shots to a minimum.

    Tim Liebe
    One of the two WHITE TIGER writers

  18. Tim -- Hi! Thanks for coming by and answering.

    What's important in the art depends so much on personal tastes. I tend to be a picky and brutal critic about it, but its an unbelievably big part of the reading for me. Maybe next issue.

  19. (oh, and sorry about the singular references to the writing!)