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Monday, 8 September 2014

Gotham City Sirens Volumes 1-4

Credits: Various
Publisher: DC comics

What's it about?
Gotham City Sirens focuses on the DC villains/antiheroes Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn.  These three women are probably the most famous female residents of Batman's Gotham City (aside from Batgirl, of course).  They aren't exactly friends.  Catwoman (Selina Kyle) has worked with Batman too much to be true friends with the more criminally minded.  Poison Ivy doesn't really like people.  Harley Quinn gets on with most people but would leave them hanging in a moment if her beloved Joker called.

Volume 1 brings the Sirens together by having them share a house (a really big house, more like the size of a warehouse).  Ivy and Harley set out to discover Batman's identity from Selina; the Riddler has reformed; and one of the old Joker sidekicks turns up.

Volume 2, Songs of the Sirens, starts with a one issue story exploring Ivy's connection to plants.  It's one of my favourites in the series.  The Sirens enlist the Riddler to discover who's framing them for murder; Ivy gets a job; and Catwoman reunites with her sister.
Art by Guillem March

Volume 3, Strange Fruit, has an alien plant come to earth and seduce Ivy, leaving it up to Selina and Harley to rescue her.  More people attack Selina for the sake of Batman's secret ID.
Pencils by Andres Guilnado, inks by Lorenzo Ruggiero, colours by Tomeu Morey

Volume 4, Division, sees Harley realise the terrible way the Joker has treated her and break into Arkham Asylum to punish him.  Catwoman and Batman team up to capture Arkham's escaped inmates and we get a send off to the series.

This set of books is set in the pre New 52 Universe, so are not in current continuity.

What's good about it?
This is one of the most fun series I've had the pleasure of reading.  It's a women-centric book that treats its characters with integrity and enriches their stories.  There are plenty of wonderful scenes, such as Ivy getting a job in volume 2, Harley demonstrating her intelligence (not often portrayed) and understanding of human nature in volume 4, and Selina's pull towards both crime and heroism (most of the books).

The fragile camaraderie between the three (anti) heroines is marvellous to read.  We move from distrust through to responsibility, to genuine care for each other, and finally to abandonment.  They have a complicated relationship with each other and these volumes do not deny it, or attempt to explain away past incongruencies. Instead they bring it all together to create a complex, enlightening, and satisfying story.  Friendships and working relationships aren't simple, and these books show that.
From volume 3, art by Jeremy Haun. This is Zatanna and her dead Dad.  Zee is not a siren but this is a nice example of the character stuff within the books.

Since Harley Quinn was first introduced there has been a lesbian subtext to her and Ivy's relationship that is rarely addressed.  This series doesn't quite state that they are queer for each other, but in volume 4 there is a scene where Harley questions Ivy's feelings for her, asking Ivy if she loves her. Ivy doesn't say yes or no but, given the lead up to these panels where it is established that Harley knows what drives people and knows their secrets, it is pretty damn impossible to read this as anything other than confirmation that Ivy loves Harley. If you want to see the full scene I wrote about it on my other blog in 2011.
From volume 4. Pencils by Andres Guilnado, inks by Lorenzo Ruggiero, colours by JD Smith

These books are best for adults and I wouldn't give them to kids.  There is some violence in them, but it's mostly because of the sexy theme that runs throughout the series.  A lot of the artwork does show off the characters' bodily assets and they are intended to be hot.  I've included this in the What's good section because there is nothing intrinsically wrong in a series that refers to its women characters as Sirens and plays up their attractiveness.  It's refreshing that these books are so open about it.  Given the strength of characterisation and fluidity of the art the sexy stuff doesn't denigrate the characters.

What's bad about it?
Volume 2 has a pretty dire story.  It introduces Catwoman's sister, who is suffering severe mental distress and believes she is being visited by an angel and that a demon has taken over her sister's soul. She renames herself Sister Mercy and sets out to kill Catwoman.  I found the story tired and the iconography dull.  Selina's sister was a relatively new addition to her story and, in my view, an unnecessary add on. This storyline is briefly revisited in volume 4, but it's not substantial enough to ruin the book.

Some people may be disappointed that a lot of the books have the women discussing the men in their lives.  I don't think this is a problem.  The Sirens have always been linked to certain significant men and so it is only natural that this series will discuss their romantic attachments.  It's certainly a shame that there aren't more women-centred books out there that don't cover relationships, but that doesn't make this book bad.  Additionally, the book has always been upfront about it's intentions and how it is positioning the women as objects of desire, so again, it makes sense that it focuses on sexual relationships.
From volume 4.  Pencils by Andres Guilnado, inks by Lorenzo Ruggiero, colours by JD Smith

The books assume knowledge of what was then current Batman continuity - at the start the real Bruce Wayne is missing, presumed dead, and his former protege, Dick Grayson (the first Robin, later to become Nightwing) has taken over as Batman.  Meanwhile, a character called Hush is impersonating Bruce Wayne and the wider public think he is Bruce Wayne.
From volume 4.  Pencils by Andres Guilnado, inks by Lorenzo Ruggiero, colours by JD Smith

What's the art like?
As you'd expect for a series with Sirens in the title the art is very pretty.  The women are sexy, with their physical attributes focused upon.  Volume 1's art is mostly done by Guillem March and the women all have his signature sensual style.  They are shapely, with perfect lips and come hither eyes.  The colour palette is bright, with a softness to it, and is used to good effect to contrast each character's costume and personality nicely.  Each character's signature colours are often reflected in the background and objects of each panel, which operates as a visual reinforcement of each protagonist's style.
From volume 1, art by Guillem March

Andres Guinaldo does most of the pencils for the remaining volumes.  He has a style similar to March's, but not quite so obviously sensual or sophisticated.  The colours become harder. The inking is more severe.  These issues aren't quite so sexily pretty, I don't want to wallow in it like I do with March's art, but it tells the story very well.  I think Guinaldo has a better range than March, but he's not so subtle.
From volume 2. Pencils by Guinaldo, colours by Ian Haninns, inks by Raul Fernandez.

From volume 3. Pencils by Guinaldo, colours by JD Smith, inks by Lorenzo Ruggiero 

Other information
Volume 1: Gotham City Sirens
Price: £12.99
ISBN: 1401251757 - this edition is due for re-release in November 2014.
Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Guillem March (issues 1-6)
Penciller: David Lopez (issue 7)
Inker: Alvaro Lopez (issue 7)
Colours: Jose Villarrubia (issues 1-6) and Tomeu Morey (issue 7)
Letters: Steve Wands

Volume 2: Songs of the Sirens (hardcover)
Price: £14.50
ISBN: 184856998X
Plot and art: Guillem March (issue 8 and 9)
Dialogue: Marc Andreyko (issue 8)
Writer: Paul Dini (issues 9-11), Tony Bedard (12-13)
Penciller: Andres Guilnado (issues 9-11, 13), Peter Nguyen (12-13)
Inker: Raul Fernandez (issues 9-11, 13), Jack Purcell (12-13)
Colours: Tomey Moreu (issue 8-9), Ian Hannins (10-11), Tony Avina (12-13)
Letters: Travis Lanham (issue 8), Steve Wands (9, 11-13), Sal Cipriano (10)

Volume 3: Strange Fruit
Currently out of print, but you should be able to pick up a secondhand copy for between £12 and £15.
Writer: Tony Bedard (14-15), Peter Calloway (16-19)
Penciller: Andres Guilnado (14-17, 19)
Artist: Jeremy Haun (18)
Inker: Lorenzo Ruggiero (14-15), Bit (16), Walden Wong (17, 19)
Colours: Tomeu Morey (14) and JD Smith (14-19)
Letters: Steve Wands (14-15, 17-18), Travis Lanham (16), Dave Sharpe (19)

Volume 4: Division
Price: £9.50
ISBN: 1401233937
Writer: Peter Calloway
Pencillers: Andres Guilnado (all) and Ramon Bachs (20)
Inkers: Lorenzo Ruggiero (all), Ramon Bachs (20), Walden Wong (22) and Raul Fernandez (26)
Colours: JD Smith
Letters: Steve Wands (20), Dave Sharpe (21), Carlos M. Mangual (22-24) and Travis Lanham (25-26)

What to read next:
To read more about Harley Quinn, try Preludes and Knock Knock Jokes, or try her current monthly series, available in comic book shops or digitally on comixology.
We have covered several Catwoman books, so take a look through our reviews here.
No Mans Land is a 5 volume series set in an earthquake-destroyed Gotham City and includes story arcs on all Gotham characters.  It heavily inspired the 2012 Batman: The Dark Knight Rises film.  We reviewed it here.

To read more about the events informing the Gotham City Sirens series, try Final Crisis (background here) and Battle for the Cowl - these events took place prior to volume 1.
Volume 2 takes place alongside Blackest Night.
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne takes place just before volume 3 and is followed by Bruce Wayne: The Road Home.

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