Trina Robbins

Sax Rohmer’s Dope (September 2017)

DopeSax Rohmer’s Dope was originally serialized in the Eclipse anthology magazine in the early eighties, which makes a lot of sense. It’s not paced for a single reading, not with the final “reveal” (which isn’t pertenant by that time) and the long blocks of exposition.

The early eighties origin also makes the ickiness of the adaptation make more sense. Dope, the original novel, is from 1919. It’s British. Having not read it, I’m just going to go ahead and assume all the racism in the adaptation is from the original as well as the gentle misogyny of it all.

It takes a while to get to it–again, why it would read better serialized–but the story is about a police detective investigating a murder and a missing person. Dope’s very convoluted in the setup. This person meets that person, then visits that person with an acquaintance and on and on (there’s a lot of society stuff in it).

And adapter and artist Trina Robbins does great with that society stuff. She paces out these long conversations in a couple panels, word balloons crowding one another, the dialogue briskly paced. Not so with the exposition blocks, unfortunately. When Robbins is doing exposition, it all just hangs. There’s so much text. And none of it is particularly good. The source novel is mostly unknown pulp, after all. There’s none of the efficiency Robbins brings to the dialogue.

The second half of Dope, which reads a lot faster, is this police inspector investigating. I’m still not sure how he solves the crime. It’s on page, but there’s no explanation for how or why it works (or he would think it would work). He’s not a particularly likable character either. No one in Dope is particularly likable. The society men are all shallow jackasses, the women are deceptive dope addicts or unfaithful wives; there’s the one good woman, but she’s just a vessel for an exposition dump.

Dope is an interesting piece of work, but it’s too much for one sitting. The finale is this incredibly tedious (and racist) trip to London’s Chinatown so it’s not like the comic builds to anything. Serialized, it’d probably read a lot better. The ick factor wouldn’t be as relentless and the weak characterizations would play episodically, not as de facto character development.

It’s rather disappointing, actually. But clear from early on it’s not going to be able to overcome the source material. Or particularly interested in overcoming it.

CREDITS

Adapter and illustrator, Trina Robbins; publisher, IDW Publishing.

Wonder Woman: The Once and Future Story (August 1998)

Wonder Woman: The Once and Future StoryTrina Robbins does a rather good job hiding The Once and Future Story’s PSA status. It’s a perfectly good one too–Wonder Woman is translating some tablets and there’s spousal abuse in it and then Diana also discovers something similar going on with the archeologists she’s working with.

There are multiple interventions and the situation generically escalates, but the art–from Colleen Doran and Butch Guice–is really good, especially on the Greek historical stuff. Robbins could have easily done the comic without Wonder Woman, who’s basically around to be strong and awesome when need be. She’s got nothing else to do.

Oh, right–translate. She’s the translator.

It probably would have been more effective without the gimmick, with Wonder Woman actually intervening in less complicated situation. There’s nothing distinct about the present day stuff. None of it’s memorable. The past stuff, definitely. Not the present. It’s too bad.

B- 

CREDITS

Writer, Trina Robbins; penciller, Colleen Doran; inker, Butch Guice; colorist, Chris Chuckry; letterer, Gaspar Saladino; editors, L.A. Williams and Paul Kupperberg; publisher, DC Comics.

The Legend of Wonder Woman 4 (August 1986)

The Legend of Wonder Woman #4And here Busiek and Robbins run into a big problem. They’re doing a last pre-Crisis story and so there needs to be some transition. Well, needs is a strong word. They put in some transition, which the bookend system they’re using requires. And it’s a nice enough transition, it’s just not the right one for this series.

The resolution to the main story is phenomenal. There’s fighting, there’s personal growth, there’s romance. There are kangaroos used in battle. Busiek and Robbins balance the crazy story elements with the human conflict. And they do allow some relaxation for their cast….

Before they cut forward to the modern day and deal with the Crisis stuff. The series, while excellent, is a perfect example of why a superhero comic’s worst enemy can often be itself. Even though it’s sublime, the issue’s politics stop it from being as rewarding as it should be.

B+ 

CREDITS

Splitting the Atom; writers, Trina Robbins and Kurt Busiek; artist, Robbins; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, L. Lois Buhalis; editor, Alan Gold; publisher, DC Comics.

The Legend of Wonder Woman 3 (July 1986)

The Legend of Wonder Woman #3Someone–Busiek or Robbins or both of them–came up with the structure of this series and all of a sudden it becomes clear this issue and it’s fantastic.

Legend goes from being a nice homage series to something wholly original. Unless the old Wonder Woman comics are as well-plotted, in which case they don’t get enough credit.

Busiek works up the revolt angle, with Wonder Woman starting imprisoned then getting free and fighting alongside Steve Trevor. There’s some wacky fake, but very amusing, atomic science in here too, but then comes the big moment. Busiek and Robbins work towards what should be a rewarding, if all action finish and then go past it.

But if they’re padding for a fourth issue, it never feels like it. The characters, their decisions, all make sense. Busiek does a great job with Steve Trevor too.

Awesome work with the brat too.

A- 

CREDITS

Inside the Atom Galaxy; writers, Trina Robbins and Kurt Busiek; artist, Robbins; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, L. Lois Buhalis; editor, Alan Gold; publisher, DC Comics.

The Legend of Wonder Woman 2 (June 1986)

The Legend of Wonder Woman #2Right after I say Robbins doesn’t spend a lot of time on backgrounds… she spends a lot of time on backgrounds this issue. The difference is the setting. It’s a fantastical hidden city, not Washington D.C.–and, during the action sequence, the backgrounds do still fade away. So my observation seems about half right.

There are lots of developments this issue. The little brat sidekick becomes a good character–or a better one and not just comic relief–and Steve Trevor stages a revolt in the atomic world. Busiek does a great job applying real emotion to the outlandish situations, not just with Trevor but with how the hidden city invasion plays out.

The way Busiek and Robbins introduce the hidden city is cool too. They split Wonder Woman and the sidekick to cover more ground, but both threads inform the other.

The adventure seems slight, but the creators’ imaginativeness keep things going.

B+ 

CREDITS

The Land of Mirrors; writers, Trina Robbins and Kurt Busiek; artist, Robbins; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, L. Lois Buhalis; editor, Alan Gold; publisher, DC Comics.

The Legend of Wonder Woman 1 (May 1986)

The Legend of Wonder Woman #1How far can unbridled enthusiasm take something? Well, if The Legend of Wonder Woman is any indication, unbridled enthusiasm can go a very long way.

Kurt Busiek and Trina Robbins have the task of saying farewell to the pre-Crisis Wonder Woman. It opens in the present, so having Robbins’s Golden Age-inspired art showing modern events immediately forces the reader to adjust. For example, Robbins doesn’t spend a lot of time on backgrounds in action shots; her style forces the reader to pay attention to the establishing shots.

But those panels aren’t empty. There are often a lot of people reacting. The time Robbins didn’t spend on detailed backgrounds goes into the background cast.

The story itself is complicated pretending to be cute. Busiek concentrates quite a bit on character (Wonder Woman, the villain, Wonder Woman’s nasty little kid sidekick) before the big monster attack finish.

The abrupt ending’s problematic though.

B 

CREDITS

Legends Live Forever; writers, Trina Robbins and Kurt Busiek; artist, Robbins; colorist, Nansi Hoolahan; letterer, L. Lois Buhalis; editor, Alan Gold; publisher, DC Comics.

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