Comics Ate My Brain

May 4, 2005

New comics 5/4/05

Filed under: batman, captain marvel, crisis, firestorm, gla, seven soldiers, shanna, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 9:35 pm
Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, except here in horse country, where the first Saturday in May is Derby Day. The Kentucky Derby (the subject of an hilarious essay by the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson) is like a statewide Super Bowl — everything stops, there are parties with lots of booze (cultured booze like mint juleps, mind you, not just the beer you get at Super Bowl parties), and although the race itself takes about two minutes, you pretty much end up spending the entire afternoon watching coverage from Churchill Downs. It doesn’t matter if you can’t tell one end of the horse from another, just like knowledge of football doesn’t matter for a Super Bowl party.

The point is, it’s practically a state holiday that would be a state holiday if it weren’t on Saturday. Several years ago I was in court in Trimble County (about a half-hour outside Louisville) on Oaks Day — the day before Derby, when the all-filly Kentucky Oaks is run — and the judge didn’t show. To us, the implication was clear.

Therefore, kids, I don’t need to tell you that if your local comics shop is in our fair commonwealth, you’ll probably have your pick of free comics on Saturday, because you’ll be one of the few people in the store.

As for today, there were no free comics, believe me.

Batman: Dark Detective #1 brings us the reunion of writer Steve Englehart, penciller Marshall Rogers, and inker Terry Austin on a Batman story. (Letterer John Workman did a few of those earlier issues too.) I liked this issue, and freely admit I was predisposed to like it. The story is simple: Bruce Wayne attends a fundraiser for a gubernatorial candidate who happens to be married to old flame Silver St. Cloud. The Joker shows up at the fundraiser, and he and Batman fight. The issue has a nice hand-made feel to it, thanks in large part to Austin’s inks (which don’t smooth out Rogers’ edges as much as they once did) and Workman’s lettering, which doesn’t look computer-generated. There’s a tribute to the team’s late editor Julie Schwartz, both in the credits box and as a cameo. A couple of key sequences from the earlier run are also copied exactly, right down to the panel layout, but if it wasn’t broke before, why fix it? If I had a quibble with the issue, it’s that a character who appears to die horribly shows up later literally without a hair out of place. Otherwise, Engelhart’s Bruce/Batman, Joker, and Silver are all portrayed skillfully, with Bruce and Silver’s meeting handled especially subtly. This team knows its fame and is aware of its unique “vision,” but it doesn’t seem to have gone to their heads.

Back in the book that originally published their stories, Detective Comics #806 (written by David Lapham, art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill) offers a pretty grim installment of “City of Crime.” Although I’m not sure Lapham’s story still has momentum after six months — and I wonder if it can sustain what it has for the remaining six — this was a suspenseful tale which deepens the plot’s paranoia. Basically Batman, the missing girl’s mother, and the last honest cop in Gotham are all trying to hold off the sinister forces which have taken over the city. Still a good read, and I may see this later on as the bridge issue which helped keep the plot going. There’s also a clever Alfred backup story by writer Scott Beatty and artist Jeff Parker which finds him on a cold-war-era espionage mission. (Yes, under DC’s current timeline, the Soviet Union probably would have ceased to exist before Bruce Wayne put on the Batsuit.)

(A brief digression: this week I am starting to notice ads in the books for ringtones. These remind me, at least in layout, of those long-ago ads for “record clubs” like Columbia House and BMG which used to appear in the comics of the mid-’70s. Everything old is new again, I suppose.)

In Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #2 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Simone Bianchi) we learn the fates of Justin and his steed after the police car hit them last issue. While Justin endures a somewhat predictable trek through the alleys of Los Angeles — really, isn’t the beating-up-unsuspecting-thugs scene long since spent? — Vanguard the horse is nursed back to health by a handful of colorful characters. The art is gorgeous, and there is more to Justin’s arc this issue than just fighting. The credits page also waits until halfway through the issue to appear, which has to count for something. (I thought it was an ad at first.) At the end I think Justin and Vanguard are close to reuniting, but I’ll have to read it a couple more times to make sure.

Still haven’t found a copy of Day of Vengeance #1, but as it turns out Superman #216 (written by Judd Winick, art by Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund) leads into it. Somewhere a DC production worker is being severely chastised, I am sure. This issue is the big Captain Marvel/Superman fight, depicted pretty well by Churchill and Rapmund. They use a few too many wide shots to show distance, and thereby sacrifice the characters’ easy identification, but I guess that’s where Winick’s captions come in. The whole thing ends kind of abruptly, in order to set up the DoV conflicts. It’s getting so I’m starting to wonder if these regular-series tie-ins (like JLA Classified #s 1-3, to be fair) will be collected with the miniseries’ paperback, because they sure don’t make sense in the context of the Superman books themselves.

Firestorm #13 (written by Dan Jolley, art by Jamal Igle, Rob Stull, and Lary Stucker) also ends the battle with the Thinker abruptly, but this time it’s to wrap up outgoing writer Dan Jolley’s tenure and lay the groundwork for new writer Stuart Moore. Along the way Ronnie Raymond gets some closure, and his parental situation is contrasted with Jason’s. Like I say, the fight ends early, but on the other hand Jolley was more concerned with its aftermath. We’ll see if Moore can do as well as Jolley has.

Villains United #1 (written by Gail Simone, art by Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger) pits two classic DC names against each other — the Secret Society of Super-Villains vs. the Secret Six. This book deals in so many villains I honestly couldn’t identify them all. I think Scandal (of the S6) was in the “Ravens” with Cheshire, but why is there a new Rag Doll and what’s this Parademon doing here? Dear DC, I have been reading many of your books continuously for the past 20 years, and I have the DC Encyclopedia and every issue of Who’s Who — including the 3-ring binder version — so when I don’t know who somebody is, I won’t be hurt if you have to tell me. Other than that, it was a good setup, and it left me interested in what happens next.

Also in the obscure-character department, we have GLA #2 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar) doing a membership drive to replace Dinah Soar, killed last issue. This provides a framework for Slott to riff on a few comics cliches, including a funny take on the “I work alone” speech and a pointed Batman reference which I heartily endorse. Unlike Villains United, which threw me into the deep end immediately, GLA made sure I knew who everyone was and why they were important, so good on it for that.

Finally, I bought Shanna The She-Devil #4 (written and drawn by Frank Cho) and was turned off not by the implausibility of Shanna fighting dinosaurs without losing her bikini, but by the gratuitous dino killings. Since buying #3, I have also signed up for an e-mail comics service which delivers Cho’s Liberty Meadows to my inbox every day, and I can’t see that guy writing this book. It’s a well-crafted book (although you could base a drinking game on the “Holy buckets” epithet) but there’s not much else to it. As for the dino-gore, wouldn’t it have worked just as well in silhouette?

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