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White Tiger: An In-Depth Review

September 12th, 2007 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I really like comics. Sequential art is possibly my favorite medium. But unfortunately not all comics are good and sometimes it’s necessary to show some tough love. Occasionally one must criticize books that fail at their intended goal and examine what precisely went wrong, for the sake of comics, because comics should be good. The recently completed White Tiger, written by Tamora Pierce and Timothy Liebe and drawn by Phil Briones and later Al Rio and Ronaldo Silva, happens to be one of those books.

Although it’s a niche book, I feel it deserves closer examination for a variety of reasons. It’s a spinoff of Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s fantastic definitive run on Daredevil. It’s a comic about a legacy character. It’s a comic about a female character. It’s a comic about an ethnic character. It’s a comic by a popular novelist (and her husband) doing their first comics work. It’s also a comic that, so far, has done very badly in sales, dropping from 24,663 copies for issue #1 to 13,621 copies for issue #5.

Although stellar sales figures shouldn’t be expected from a niche book by an unproven creative team, the fact that the book shedded over ten thousand readers in the course of issues 1 to 5 means people just plain aren’t liking it. In an industry where new characters, even legacy characters, are hard to push and both ethnic and female characters are rare, it’s sad to see a book about a new ethnic superheroine fail so badly. But why did the book fail? After reading it, I have come to a conclusion: It’s a bad comic book, in just about every way. Let’s review. Bear with me: This will be long.

First, some background information on the character may be necessary. This incarnation of White Tiger is a relatively new Hispanic character named Angela Del Toro, who was introduced in Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil. She started off as an FBI agent taking part in the investigation of Daredevil’s identity as Matt Murdock, and was later revealed to be the niece of the first White Tiger, Hector Ayala. Hector was tragically killed by the police after being framed for murder and attempting to escape the courthouse after hearing his sentence.

Angela later came into possession of the magic amulets that had granted her uncle his super powers. Having witnessed both the death of her partner at the hands of a group of Yakuza involved in the Daredevil case, and the death of her uncle, Del Toro went to Matt Murdock for advice and an explanation as to why someone would become a superhero. After Daredevil had her stop a robbery, Angela noticed the shopkeeper’s gratefulness and realized the answer. No longer seeing the point to the Murdock case, she quit the FBI. The miniseries picks up where this left off.

The character has fairly solid foundations. Angela is a pretty well-rounded legacy character with proper motivations. She’s also, as mentioned, female and Hispanic, both welcome qualities in a mainly white male oriented superhero universe. But, possessing these qualities is not automatically enough to make a character worthwhile. The character also needs to be written compellingly. This is especially important in a debut solo series where the character first appears in costume, and the White Tiger miniseries simply does not succeed at that.

Now, Pierce and Liebe are new to the medium of comics, and from what I could find out Liebe has no experience writing fiction. I haven’t read any of Mrs. Pierce’s novels since I am not part of their target audience, but they’re popular and acclaimed and I’m ready to believe they’re worthwhile books. But, writing novels is not the same thing as writing monthly comics, and the transition from one to the other will not always prove succesful, especially if it brings with it a complete change in genre. While Pierce’s prose writing is focused mainly on fantasy books aimed at young adults, White Tiger is a superhero book about an urban vigilante in downtown New York. This might go a ways toward explaining the comic’s problems, but it doesn’t excuse them. Because problems it has, and they are big and plentiful.

Let me first get the art out of the way, because although artwork is an important element of comic books, my main problem with this book is with its writing. The interior art is unspectacular, with rather sloppy linework and anatomy from Phil Briones in the first five issues, similarly unimpressive art from Al Rio and Ronaldo Silvo in the sixth and adequate but generic colors from Chris Sotomayor. Maleev it ain’t. David Mack draws some exceedingly well painted and eye pleasing covers, though they’re not as interesting as some of his other work. That’s the art side of things: Nothing worth picking up the book for, but inoffensive overall. It’s the writing where things truly start faling apart.

The premise of the comic is that Angela, fresh after leaving her job at the FBI, has to rebuild her life while at the same time coping with becoming a superhero. That’s not a bad premise. It would allow for some nice character writing and a nice little low-key superhero story. However, it’s not executed well. From the first issue alone it’s clear the writers are not knowledgable to the mechanics of a (monthly) superhero comic.

Issue #1 has several extremely jarring flashbacks to events from Bendis’ run on Daredevil; they’re not even presented as Angela’s memories, they’re simply copied word for word, panel for panel from scenes from Daredevil. Although it makes sense that a spin-off comic would refer to the series it originated from and that certain things from it need to be explained for new readers, there are far more elegant ways to do this than simply copying scenes from another comic. And there’s more to it: At one point the comic manages to completely misrepresent scenes from Daredevil, making the character of Daredevil look bad in the process. Check out this scene from White Tiger #1:

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Viewed like this, the scene reads as if Del Toro got into a fight with Daredevil and it ends with him kicking her off a rooftop, breaking her arm in the process. The problem is that this did not in fact happen. Or more accurately; the individual segments of the scene happened, but in a different context and not consecutively. The four flashback panels on the left page happened in Daredevil issue 70, where Daredevil spars with Angela so she realizes the extent of her new powers. At no point did he kick her off the roof for no reason. This is in fact a scene taken from issue 79; Daredevil, Elektra and Black Widow were engaged in a fight with the assassin Bullseye. Del Toro, wearing her amulets, also happened to be there at the time, but since she had almost zero experience with her powers and refused to leave, despite Bullseye being an extremely dangerous psychopath, Daredevil opted to take the quickest and relatively safest route of getting rid of her; kicking her off the roof. Now leaving out what you might think of the scene in its original context, the fact remains the scenes as they are shown in White Tiger are a total misrepresentation of the facts. This wouldn’t be as annoying if it wasn’t the only portrayal of Daredevil the mini gives, essentially giving the impression that Matt Murdock is a man who causes grave bodily harm to innocent women for no reason. The fact that it’s incessantly brought up again and again throughout the comic makes it worse. But I suppose this is me nitpicking more than anything, since one bad scene doesn’t invalidate the rest of the comic. Still, it’s jarring for those who got interested in the character because of her storyline in Daredevil and highly annoying for Daredevil fans in general.

Issue #1 also introduces the first of the mini’s several bizarre end-of-issue cliffhangers. At the end of the issue, White Tiger is flung off a car and smashed against a newspaper stand. The last panel features her limp and seemingly lifeless body lying on a stack of newspapers. The problem with using a cliffhanger like this is obvious: Since this is a six issue miniseries about Angela Del Toro and her role as White Tiger, there is no way the reader is going to believe the character of Angela Del Toro, the White Tiger, might be dead or in any serious peril at the end of the first issue. Even worse, issue #2, instead of directly continuing from the cliffhanger, actually begins with a flashback to the final scene of issue #1. This is going to look especially awkward in the upcoming trade paperback, since the scene will essentially recap something that happened on the pages directly before it. In fact, the whole mini contains multiple flashbacks to events that happened in earlier issues. They are quite frankly insulting to the intelligence of the reader. Thankfully none of the other final pages in the rest of the issues are as odd as the one to issue #1, with the exception of the fifth issue which is quite possibly the most random cliffhanger I have ever seen. While engaged in a fight with the comic’s main villain at the bank of the Hudson river, Angela gets shot in her laptop and decides the best course of action is to dive in the water. However, waiting for her in the water is none other than… long-time Spider-Man villain the Lizard! But why? Is it the main villain’s doing, did he somehow convince the Lizard to lie waiting in the water? Does the Lizard have some sort of connection with Angela Del Toro or the legacy of the White Tiger? Is he relevant to the main storyline in any way? The answer is no, the Lizard is simply there for the sake of having a cliffhanger, a cliffhanger that is resolved in less than two pages. Although the Lizard had appeared in the mini before, in issue 4, this was in an equally random and nonsensical fight scene with no relevance to anything going on in the mini. His presence in the mini is defined by its complete pointlessness.

Speaking of pointless appearances by characters, this is another one of the mini’s faults: An overabundance of character cameos. There is a staggering amount of cameo appearances from other Marvel characters, many of which are pointless and nonsensical. Aside from recurring appearances by Iron Fist and Luke Cage, who are at least given a connection to the character and thus have a reason for being there, we also get visits from Black Widow, Spider-Man, Emma Frost, Deadpool and Omega Red. Most of these characters aren’t even given a flimsy excuse for being there. Angela runs into Emma in a two page scene that is so random and pointless that simply leaving the pages out of the comic still has the story making complete sense. Deadpool also leaps out of the comic just as fast as he leapt into it, initially mistaking White Tiger for Black Cat whom he was apparently set out to apprehend, providing a gratuitous fight scene and essentially leaving four pages of the issue without a point. Omega Red doesn’t appear until the last page of the last issue and is supposed to become a new villain for White Tiger in her future adventures, but it’s still rather weird and comes from out of nowhere, especially if you have no idea who Omega Red is in the first place.

But most annoyingly of all is the inclusion of Spider-Man throughout the mini, because he is painfully badly written. He first appears in issue #1 in a clothing store specializing in superhero costumes, where Black Widow had taken Angela to get her fitted out. Since he’s given no reason for being there, I have to assume that Peter Parker is apparently a creepy stalker that follows around female superheroes-to-be and watches them change clothes, especially when he makes some slightly creepy remarks while oggling her. His presence in the book could have been understandable and compelling, despite an already bloated cast, but instead he fulfills the role of sporadic comic relief, and not very funny comic relief either; the bulk of his jokes consists of corny pop culture references to Star Wars, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, Lord of the Rings and even Snakes On A Plane. There’s also an extremely out of character scene featuring him in the final issue, but I will get to that later.

You may have noticed I’ve been listing more complaints about individual scenes or characters in the book than criticizing it on more general grounds. I haven’t even mentioned the supposed main plot of the mini yet, but quite frankly this is because the plot is not very interesting. Next to Angela working at her new job and trying to learn the ropes on the whole superheroing thing, the plot of the mini revolves around White Tiger battling Chaeyi, a worldwide criminal empire that deals in weapons smuggling and illegal passports. They’re supposed to be so well-hidden even S.H.I.E.L.D. thinks they’re a myth, but Del Toro more or less stumbles onto them while fighting random crooks on the street, though Iron Fist (who was then disguising himself as Daredevil) has to push her in the right direction. From there she contacts one of her old partners on the force, a guy named Coville who we have never seen before and will only see again in a very minor scene. Coville conveniently knows about a security firm that’s looking for people like Angela. Even more conveniently, the man that runs it, another new character named James Guerrero, used to work for some vague “super secret agency” (more super secret than S.H.I.E.L.D., apparently) and not only does he know about Chaeyi, him and his wife Niki both have a history with them. It’s all rather convenient and haphazardly introduced, and Chaeyi never becomes particularly gripping despite all the focus put on it.

This is partly because the writers never introduce any interesting characters to represent it; There’s a guy named Karlson who is apparently relatively high up the ranks of the organization, but he gets three pages of screen time total and is just there to advance the plot, never even coming face to face with White Tiger. There’s Eddie, a brainless street punk who runs errands for Chaeyi, whom White Tiger harrasses for information a couple of times. And there’s Cobra, the organization’s muscle and moronic one-dimensional super-thug, who sometimes fights White Tiger. There’s also the fact that the organization simply never does anything. Sure, plenty of characters talk about what a big deal Chaeyi is, or how they singlehandedly ruined Russia’s economy, or were responsible for the death of millions, but the organization’s presence in the mini itself is relegated to some goons failing at trading papers and some gang members dealing in guns. It’s puzzling that an entire global criminal empire had to be created for a comic about a strictly street level character where an existing one, like, say HYDRA, would have just as easily sufficed. Or why not just have the character deal with the Yakuza, since they also play an integral part in the comic?

Oh yes, the Yakuza. They’re also there, striking deals with Chaeyi. This particular group is lead by Sano Orii, last (and first) seen in Daredevil issues 56-60, “The King of Hell’s Kitchen”. Sano, at least, has a reason for being in the comic, since he has a somewhat personal connection to Angela Del Toro; Back when Angela was still in the FBI and on the Matt Murdock case, together with her partner Harold Driver, the Yakuza, under Sano’s command, were ordered to kill the two by shooting up the car they were in. Driver pushed Angela out of the car just in time, but was killed in the process. So there’s at least something going on there that could make Sano a compelling enemy.

But I have to say, it’s kind of amazing how heavily he’s mischaracterized in White Tiger. In Daredevil Sano was presented as cool, collected and smart, and someone you can actually see leading the Yakuza. He lost only because Daredevil took a stand and brought friends along to beat him and his subordinates up. Despite receiving a relatively small amount of screentime, Sano was a cool foil in Daredevil, because the character accomplished things. In White Tiger, Sano Orii is a brash, loud-mouthed, borderline incompetent idiot. In issue #2 he suddenly decapitates a random lackey as punishment for another one’s failure. He continuously fails at everything and comes to a pathetic end. Sano is a terrible villain in White Tiger.

Since Sano is now a clichéd irredeemably evil villain, the writers feel the need to introduce his father, Kenzo Orii, head of the Orii Yakuza clan to provide a counterpoint to Sano’s character. But Kenzo Orii gets barely any time to develop, relegating him to the status of a clichéd wise old crime boss. And therein lies yet another problem with the mini: Far, far too many characters and far, far too many subplots are introduced for a six issue limited series. There are simply not enough pages to spend on all of this, and the end result is a convoluted, occasionally confusing mess that lacks focus and shifts scenes abruptly and unnaturally, with a ton of characters, none of them well-developed or interesting.

Sometimes new characters are introduced just because the plot calls for characters that need to know certain things to advance (Angela gets a retconned-in brother working with the police, because she needs to know someone who works with the police to accomplish something). Sometimes existing characters just pop up from out of nowhere (Kenzo Orii, never seen or referenced to in the final battle in issue six, suddenly appears in the middle of the fight when a crucial moment calls for it). Sometimes they just vanish from the story without warning, sometimes to show up for a short scene later when the plot calls for it (Coville) sometimes just to never be seen again (Lizard).

The comic has a ton of superfluous subplots and tangents that never go anywhere, merely serving as dead weight that could have easily been cut out to let the important storylines breathe. There’s a puzzling aside where the Tiger Medallions magically give Angela the ability to become semi-invisible in issue five; an ability that never actually serves a purpose in the issue and indeed seems to have been completely forgotten about by issue six. Certainly some of the unnecessary fight scenes or all of the self-indulgent cameos mentioned above could have been left out? It’s no wonder that with its complete aimlessness the comic can’t come to anything even remotely resembling a satisfying conclusion.

But what about Angela Del Toro, the White Tiger, Tigresa Blanca herself? This mini is about her, how is she handled as a character? Does the story build on what was established in Daredevil? Does it develop her character in logical ways? Is she likeable? Quite honestly… no. In Daredevil, Angela was a pretty serious, but not morbidly so, intelligent woman with a slightly wry sense of humor. In White Tiger she seems to have undergone a personality change for the worse. Suddenly, she’s irritatingly snappy and incessantly quippy.

Quite frankly, she’s become annoying and unsympathetic. Despite her continuous inner monologues, the reader very rarely gets to know Angela, instead using them mostly for exposition. The character also doesn’t seem to develop a bit; she puts on the costume, she monologues about her amazing abilities, she fights bad guys, and she succeeds at it. She doesn’t grow. She doesn’t learn anything. She doesn’t gain new insights into what it means to be a hero. Her motivation is barely even touched upon. She’s just a generic urban vigilante with a snarky attitude.

It doesn’t help that the writers suddenly have her using Spanish slang (something she never used in Daredevil) in the most grating ways, reminding me of another “spunky” Hispanic Marvel superheroine. It’s unnecessary, annoying and borderline offensive. Do we constantly need to be reminded that this character is in fact Hispanic? For that matter, do we constantly need to be reminded that the Japanese characters are Japanese? Some of the Yakuza that get dialogue seem to speak perfect English, but occasionally they will blurt out a Japanese phrase in the middle of a conversation or add Japanese suffixes to people’s names. Even when the dialogue is supposed to be translated from Japanese, the suffixes remain, which simply makes no sense. Cobra is apparently Dutch, would it make sense for him to speak perfect English except for addressing people with “meneer” and “mevrouw”?

I wanted to talk about how the other established characters are mischaracterized, in particular how Iron Fist is treated as a buffoon, but there is one scene near the end of issue 6 that manages to perfectly illustrate what exactly is wrong with the characterization in this book. For those of you still reading this article and still wanting to read White Tiger, be aware that the following pages are spoilers for the end of the book:

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There is so much wrong with this scene. It’s immoral, it’s illegal and it permanently damages White Tiger as a character, dragging her into Punisher territory. That’s not even mentioning the other characters; None of the superheroes present would be okay with this. Iron Fist’s actions are inexcusable. Black Widow is not against killing, but even she would find this unnecessary and ridiculous. Spider-Man especially should have lashed out at the characters then and there. This is the worst individual scene in the comic, and that is an impressive feat.

The book just gets it wrong. There’s so much potential in the character, but it’s squandered. Some of the ideas aren’t even bad; I like the idea of Angela becoming friends with Black Widow, and the idea of her having a connection to Luke Cage and Danny Rand, it’s the execution I hate.

White Tiger is just one of those very rare comics that manages to not succeed on any level of writing or art. It’s the quintessial bad comic. I bear no ill will towards Mrs. Pierce, Mr. Liebe or anyone else that has worked on the book. My opinion of their comic does not reflect my opinion of them as people. I hope that if they continue to write comics they will attempt to learn more about the craft and grow as comic book writers. But this comic is still bad, and will always be bad. Of course, this is all my opinion; my ridiculously elaborate, awkwardly written opinion about a funnybook few people have even read, but an opinion nonetheless. Some might think I’m insane for writing this, but it’s something I felt needed to be talked about. If anyone disagrees with any of what I’ve written, feel free to leave a comment.

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8 comments to “White Tiger: An In-Depth Review”

  1. That’s a real shame. A while back, Timothy Liebe commented here and I’m pretty certain he was the first person within the industry to recognize 4L. Because of that, I was planning on giving White Tiger a look, but hermanos talked me down.


  2. Great review, thanks. I kinda liked her character as well in Daredevil, and Sano even… too bad, as they seem to have butchered it (from the info I gleened from you).


  3. Yeah, it was really too bad. I too had great hopes for the series. I was really hoping this would help pull more women into writing comics too. But with how this failed and Wonder Woman, I’m afraid these things will actually hurt women in the field, which would be a shame.

    One thing I will add is that there moments that were supposed to be funny, but were just painful. The humor was often stilted and strangely out of character. This poor book failed at every level.


  4. Wow. Great in-depth review. I really wanted to like the new White Tiger because I’m a fan of the original and it would be cool to have a Hispanic woman superhero. But, yeah, the writing was just…bad. No other word for it. I didn’t even make it past issue 3 myself, and I see I didn’t miss anything.

    As a comic book fan and novelist, I have to second your observation that being a skilled writer in one format doesn’t automatically translate to the other. It’s a big reason why I’m not happy with the current trend of drafting popular novelists into the world of comic books. Sure, they draw some attention, but if they don’t produce good comics, then what do we really gain?

    I’ve always been interested in writing comics myself, but considering how badly many novelists do it, I’ve always had second thoughts. It’s not that a novelist can’t write a good comic book. They just have to know the strengths and weaknesses of the medium. Doesn’t look like the writers did this time.

    Flashbacks? Seriously. Wow, that’s clumsy.

    Thanks for posting this. A great and ruthlessly honest review that needed to be written.


  5. Hm. I think part of the problem with the flashbacks is that the writers were trying to write to the 22-page format they were given. I can’t exactly blame them for that.

    As for the characterization, I’m not sure being an established writer in another medium is ever compatible with getting the characters consistent with hundreds of previous issues. If DC & Marvel have really given up on editors who write, we will see more of this kind of inconsistent characterization, & it will be the norm.

    But I do think that a lot of this is inexperience. I have Ann Nocenti’s first published comic-book writing in Spider-Woman, & it sure wouldn’t win any prizes. But she got better.


  6. While not the best comic in the world, I found it enjoyable and refreshing considering Civil War derpressed the heck out of me. I wonder about sales in terms of the big event that occured and the not being connected nature of White Tiger. It was to happen before. No Civil War tag or placement. Still, you gave your opinion in a well thought out manner.


  7. Gavok: I didn’t know that, now I feel kind of bad. :(

    mis: Thanks!

    Scott: I’m not sure if this will actively hurt the presence of female writers in mainstream superhero comic books. I think Marvel hired mrs. Pierce more for the fact that she was a novelist with an established fanbase than that she was a female writer. If anything this will have just shown them that hiring people from outside the industry isn’t a guaranteed success. And hey, White Tiger and Jodi Picoult’s Wonder Woman might not have been good, but on the bright side G. Willow Wilson’s issue of Outsiders: Five of a Kind was a perfectly pleasant little superhero story, especially considering what she had to work with. I’d like to see more of her superhero work.

    Mr. Martinez: Thanks for your comment, it’s always nice to get some feedback from a professional writer. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the medium is (obviously) a requirement for anyone wanting to write comics. However, I can imagine that’s a lot harder if you’re accustomed to another medium.

    philippos: Well, I’m not expecting any writer to slog through hundreds of issues of backstory when they want to write a specific character, but the thing is you shouldn’t really need to do that to “get” a character in the first place. Besides, Angela and Sano had only shown up in Bendis’ Daredevil before this (and Sano for only five issues), which is required reading if you want to write this character in the first place.

    Palladin: I should have mentioned that this book was published during the Civil War event, which probably affected the sales of the first issue at least, but there’s still the fact that it dropped a lot of readers over the course of five issues. That means those people actively stopped reading the book for whatever reason.


  8. G Willow Wilson has something coming out from Vertigo, though I don’t know much about it. Just off the strength of that Outsiders issue, I’m giving it a shot.