Comics Ate My Brain

September 16, 2004

New Comics 9/15/04: Special Managed-Care Edition

Filed under: batman, birds of prey, crisis, fantastic four, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 12:40 am
Because this week’s books are so good, I’m skipping last week’s for now.

Identity Crisis #4 (of 7): Written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Rags Morales and Michael Bair, edited by Mike Carlin. Best issue yet, and the first to really live up to the series’ potential. While there are still grim tidings, and the ending is undercut somewhat by this week’s Adventures of Superman, I’d almost call these proceedings “upbeat.” Maybe this has to do with the long-awaited focus on the “Big Three” (Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman), who get more reverential treatment from these creators than Alex Ross could ever have dreamed of giving them. Their appearance also signals a shift in pacing, as we get a sense that events are finally moving. Most of the issue is investigation, but couched in scenes which emphasize the characters — for example, the Spectre closes a potential plothole while enjoying a reunion with his old buddy Green Arrow. Meltzer also allows Batman a bit of self-examination which happens to fit perfectly with my view of the Darknight Detective, so he earns extra points with me. Needless to say, my expectations have officially been raised.

Adventures of Superman #632: Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar, edited by Eddie Berganza. Rucka talked about this issue at the Superman panel in San Diego, but I could have guessed Lois would be OK. In fact, reading this issue, I expected more of a commentary on the health-care system than a study of the anguished Man of Steel watching his wife go through surgery.

Consider — Identity Crisis showed us that the superhuman community protects itself with a whole other layer of high-tech security, unavailable to the general public. When that security is breached, it swings into action with a similar level of advanced investigatory and enforcement measures. Now we see that when the wife of a superhuman is shot, and things get too bad for the regular docs, Superman has the option of transporting her to JLA headquarters. Since Rucka has a number of front-line soldiers literally begging Superman to heal them — a touch which I found completely credible — giving Lois this kind of special treatment made me wonder if Supes would have done the same for someone to whom he was not so close. (Rucka also works in that the Umec army surrenders unconditionally upon learning Superman is in the area, which is another great bit.) This to me almost seems out of character, since Superman does not regularly place himself above ordinary people. I understand that Rucka is exploring the relationship between Lois and Clark, but the potential for contrast was there and went almost unexamined. Still a good issue, because it made me think about these things. I hope Rucka comes back to these themes.

Birds of Prey #74: Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Jim Fern and Steve Bird, edited by Joan Hilty. The Brainiac/cult story is over, but the cute opening is a wry follow-up of sorts. Black Canary and Huntress infiltrate a would-be “union meeting” for Gotham supervillain henchmen, and wear Penguin and Riddler outfits to do it. Oracle checks in with the theoretically rehabilitated villain Savant, and Canary then settles her score with Savant. On the balcony this series stole from the “BoP” TV show, Oracle muses about Huntress and Savant in a way that makes me think Simone is setting her up as the “Batman” of this group — molding these recruits into the right kind of crimefighters. Having Oracle take on some of Batman’s leadership qualities (and gosh, didn’t that statement sound sexist?) might be worth watching. Next issue promises Big Changes in the aftermath of “War Games,” but because this is the week where my lowered expectations are hopefully raised, I’ll remain cautiously optimistic.

Batman: Gotham Knights #57: “War Games” Act 2, Part 4; written by A.J. Lieberman, drawn by Al Barrionuevo and Francis Portella, edited by Matt Idelson. And yet another pleasant surprise — an A.J. Lieberman Bat-book which doesn’t make me cringe! Oh, maybe a little, when Batman sounds like a 20-year-old, but thank goodness he’s finally realized what’s going on! Too bad it’s a couple of installments too late. I don’t know whether to praise the creators for making Batman more fallible, or go the other way for not letting him recognize his own plan sooner. Also too bad that the ending is telegraphed about 2/3 of the way through the book. What else happens? Well, Tarantula fights those bodyguard wannabes from last issue, Spoiler gets to be a badass, and as mentioned, Batman remembers his brain. There is a fairly big “huh?” about Batman’s plan which might be excused by its last-resort nature, and another one which makes me wonder about a Plan B, but by my reckoning we’re exactly halfway through this mother and there’s still time for it to turn out well.

Fantastic Four #518: Written by Mark Waid, drawn by Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel. The only complaint I have about “Fourtitude” so far is that the “Manhattan gets kidnapped into space” story was part of John Byrne’s run, specifically when Reed saved Galactus’ life. Since this issue also involves Galactus obliquely, I kept waiting for somebody to remember the earlier story, but no such luck. Not really a problem for me, because Waid, ‘Ringo and Kesel deliver another solid issue full of excitement, humor, thrills, and suspense. I know I’ve been more happy than usual this week, but if these guys keep it up they deserve a long run on this book.

I also got Batman in the Eighties and have been flipping through it. Since it’s, you know, the Eighties, I have most of these issues already, but they look like a good representative sample. If I get time I’ll let you know more.

Finally, one item from last week: Essential Super-Villain Team-Up turned out to be a diverting, if somewhat confusing, trip through 1970s Marvel continuity. Basically it told the story of a strained alliance between Dr. Doom and Sub-Mariner (renewing what had been a brief marriage of convenience from the early issues of Fantastic Four) and expanding to include their battles with Attuma, the Red Skull, and Hatemonger. It wasn’t anything I’m dying to see reprinted in a color hardcover, but I’m not wishing I had my $16.99 back either.

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