Comics Ate My Brain

December 29, 2006

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom Bondurant @ 2:25 am

Well, obviously, Kadabra’s theme music should be “The Final Countdown.” Just as Bart is the legacy of Barry Allen and Inertia is related to Professor Zoom, now we learn that Abra Kadabra is the descendant of fabled 21st century magician George Oscar Bluth. Come on!!!

[From this week’s The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #7]

December 28, 2006

New comics 12/20/06

It was a good Christmas, but long — three days with family balanced against two spent mostly on the road. Therefore, I haven’t seen these books in a week, and with our office Christmas party going a little late last week, I actually fell asleep reading a couple.

Not Fantastic Four #541, though (written by the departing J. Michael Straczynski, drawn by Mike McKone). Ben Grimm goes to France and meets the Justice League. Now imagine that as written by Frasier and Niles Crane, and that’s the issue in a nutshell. Even McKone’s work seems more light and ethereal than usual, although a lot of that is the pastel color palette. I just shake my head in amazement at this issue, and I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad.

Holy crap, Criminal #3 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips) was good. A great character study really helped ground me in the plot and made me want to reread the first two issues. My only question was the utility of having sex while recovering from a gunshot.

Likewise, She-Hulk #14 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) did a great job with Awesome Andy’s awesome secret origin, although upon further examination I wonder if Burchett cheated by drawing very slight “expressions” on Andy’s head. I didn’t notice them at first, so I guess they were subliminable.

Through no fault of writer Gail Simone, penciller Nicola Scott, or inker Doug Hazlewood, I fell asleep while reading Birds Of Prey #101, and so missed out upon a very exciting issue which starts with Big Barda fighting a jet in mid-air and ends with just about everybody in some kind of trouble. I also never noticed how nice the Scott/Hazlewood team is; better even than Ed Benes was on this book. Glad I started getting it again.

Lots of weird stuff going on in Omega Men #3 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint), and I think I fell asleep during this one too. I’m not sure whether I like Flint’s work, although a 16-panel montage of Tigorr vs. spiders makes up for an earlier panel of a Superman with a lower leg almost as long as his entire torso. Lady Styx from 52 shows up here, all full of Hellraiser-style religion-through-sadism, and there is much freaking out. It’s interesting enough for me to keep going, I suppose.

Checkmate #9 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Jesus Saiz) continues the Kobra-infiltration storyline, revealing along the way that current DC POTUS vacations in Kentucky (represent!). There is (almost literally) a backdoor crossover with another book, some Chaykinesque crosstalk between Sasha and Sarge Steel, and another character retooled by John Ostrander joins Mister Terrific. Pretty good.

Writers Kurt Busiek and Karl Kesel and artists Butch Guice and Phil Winslade wrap up a “classic Aquaman” two-parter in Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #47. It’s okay, I suppose, although it still doesn’t quite feel like classic Aquaman. It does, however, inform the relationship between Aquaman (both of them) and King Shark, so I guess it is worth noting.

Secret Six #6 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti) wraps up pretty well. Most of it is concerned with the Mad Hatter and Vandal Savage, both of whom appear to die in the issue, but one of whom actually doesn’t. I liked it, and it would be interesting to see how Simone handled an ongoing series.

Finally, 52 #33 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Joe Prado and Tom Derenick, inks by Jay Lesten and Rodney Ramos) was appropriately quiet. Nightwing gives Batwoman “official status,” Ralph Dibny steals a doodad from the Flash Museum, the Question gets closer to death, Luthor continues to be a bastard, and there are assorted holiday glimpses of various characters. Oh, and Black Adam reaches the height of his naivete. I can’t tell you which of these elements will be most important to the overall plot, but I do continue to enjoy the ebb and flow of this series. It might have been an objectively uneventful week, but that’s the way the holidays are sometimes.

December 21, 2006

Just a little stocking stuffer

Filed under: Christmas — Tom Bondurant @ 1:35 pm
Don’t know if I’ll have time to do a proper Christmas post here. A new Grumpy Old Fan goes live today, and it’s been an absolutely crazy week pretty much since Monday morning.

Still, this came to me as I was nodding off last night and getting up today….

Ralph D. the stretching gumshoe
Had a very twitchy nose,
And if you ever saw it …
… Yeah, it was a little gross.

None of the other heroes
Ever took him seriously
Until his buddy Barry
Got him in the Justice League.

When a nut killed his wife Sue,
DC came to say
“Ralph, we’ve got a job for you,
“Here’s what’s left of Doctor Fate.”

Now Ralph’s a grim detective,
More fun when he was hap-py;
Ralph D. the stretching gumshoe,
Hope you see Week Fif-ty-three!

Talk to you Wednesday, if not before. Happy Holidays, blogosphere!

December 19, 2006

New comics 12/13/06

It’s good that I’m warming up to Justice League of America (#4 written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope). It’s bad that it’s taken me three issues to do so. I really want to like this book, but I can’t think of any highlights from issues #1-3 except some creepy Red Tornado sex, Vixen getting clocked, Black Lightning fighting a couple of villains solo, and all the sitting and picking and good-natured ribbing in the Batcave. This issue and last, at least Green Lantern, Black Canary, and Not-Speedy got to do some fighting, and this issue featured two big villain reveals. However, I can’t shake the feeling that a number of other writers would have front-loaded issue #1 with this kind of stuff, and used flashbacks for the character pieces. I don’t have any real complaints about the art, by the way; and I thought I would. Benes tends to pose his figures when they’re not moving, but this helps his action scenes, so it works out. Again, this has the makings of a fine Justice League, although it’s getting there in fits and starts.

Batman #660 (written by John Ostrander, drawn by Tom Mandrake) improves significantly over Part 1 of “Grotesk,” mostly thanks to Johnny Karaoke and his Geisha Girls. A lot of this feels like a fill-in from the pre-Infinite Crisis “Batman is a jerk” period, but back then, Johnny would have been a gangster and Batman’s internal monologue would have sounded like a Tom Clancy paragraph. Instead, right from the first page Batman and his swirly cape are intimidating a hapless scientist, with Ostrander and Mandrake doing their best O’Neil/Adams homage. Mandrake’s work here is less rounded than his ’80s Batman, but it’s still very atmospheric and choreographed well.

After only two issues, it seemed like the Spectre stories in Tales Of The Unexpected were settling into a pattern involving Allen’s frustration and the Spectre’s ironically bloody punishment. #3’s lead story (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) is more like a tour of unpleasantness, with more than one potential recipient of the Wrath Of God. This allows Lapham to tell a “Twilight Zone”/EC Comics-esque story about the consequences of poor moral choices, and for whatever that’s worth, it’s a good change of pace. The art is still an eruption of grue and violence, and nobody comes off looking very well, but I suppose that’s the point. However, if the Spectre series improves that’s just gravy. I will continue to get this book for the Dr. 13 backup, written by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. It is the level of crazy to which I suspect Shadowpact only aspires, featuring all kinds of obscure DC oddballs thrown at the Doctor in nonstop pulp style. Chiang deserves a regular book, and if it’s a Dr. 13 series, so much the better.

JLA Classified #30 (written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Kilian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen) offers the penultimate installment of this particular arc, as the real villains behind the border conflicts start to emerge. It’s been a good run, even more so because I didn’t think Chaykin’s style would mesh with the Justice League.

Green Lantern Corps #7 (written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins) begins a new arc involving Guy Gardner and an insectoid rookie, the Dominators, and a Durlan ex-Lantern. Most of it is Guy and the rookie trying to convince the Durlan to come out of retirement, as it were. For some reason I like Gleason and Rollins’ work here better than I have previously, but I can’t quite say why. I also thought Champagne’s script was good, using both Guy and the rookie well. The ending was unexpected, and is a promising setup for the rest of the arc.

Firestorm #32 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne) says goodbye to the current creative team with an understated New Year’s-themed epilogue. Most of the focus is on Jason, as you’d expect, but the issue balances the supporting cast well. No one’s status quo changes all that much, and a couple of characters who might well have vanished after “In My Father’s House” look like they’ll be around for a while. It’s a good issue, and one that (ironically) could be the proverbial Good Jumping-On Point. You’ll have to wait an extra month for #33, though.

52 #32 (written by You Know, Those Guys, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Patrick Olliffe, inked by Drew Geraci) spotlights Ralph Dibny in Nanda Parbat, encountering a couple of Great Ten members and finding enlightenment. Otherwise, the Teen Titans are recruiting, and the outer-space heroes are girding their loins for battle. It’s more exciting than it sounds.

By now I’m sure you’re sick of me talking about the DCU Infinite Holiday Special, but here we go, one last time. These specials are usually mixed bags, and this year felt like it should have been called Brave New Holiday (saaay…!) or something similar. Most of the stories are ads for new (or newly relaunched) DC books — Batwoman, Flash, Shadowpact, Shazam! — or fairly new books like Supergirl and Green Lantern. This confirmed for me that I won’t be reading Trials of Shazam!, because this story was too confusing and depended too much on that miniseries’ plot. The Shadowpact story was cute, and the Flash story was inoffensive, although the latter gave the impression that Wally West is dead, which I didn’t think was the case. I appreciated the Supergirl story bringing back the “Metropolis Mailbag” Christmas tradition, but once it got going it turned dark and never really recovered. The Batwoman story was good, the Green Lantern story was a bit trite and suffered from either loose John Byrne layouts or loose Keith Champagne (him again! he wrote it too) inks, and the last story was delightfully oddball. I don’t know that I’d pay $5.00 for this, but it has saved me from spending anything on the Shazam! maxiseries.

Suspense and an impostor both crop up in Fantastic Four: The End #3 (by Alan Davis with inks by Mark Farmer), as we check in with Galactus, the Watcher, the Black Panther, and various Marvel alien races. I still can’t tell where the story’s going, but I am a sucker for Davis/Farmer art.

Finally, there’s The Spirit #1, by Darwyn Cooke with inks by J. Bone. It hits all the appropriate notes, gently updating the character and his cast for the 21st Century. As many others have noted, Ebony White benefits the most, commenting most effectively on our hero and pretty much getting the last word. However, I have two problems with this issue. First, Cooke portrays Commissioner Dolan’s hyperactivity by having him in multiple places in the same panel. I read this issue with an eye towards letting the Best Wife Ever weigh in on this, and I know she would have been confused by such a device. Second, much of the plot hinges on something the kidnap victim does which seems like it should be painfully obvious to the Spirit, but which completely escapes him until it is too late. I guess this fits into his general regular-schlub aspect, but I did expect him to be a little more on top of things. Anyway, it’s a fine start, and I certainly haven’t been put off the book.

December 15, 2006

Infinite Christmas, One Year Later

Filed under: Christmas — Tom Bondurant @ 7:22 pm
Hey, Chris, Steven, and anyone else frustrated by the not-so-puntastic title of DC’s Infinite Holiday Special, I did my own version of “Infinite Christmas” last year around this time. It’s the sequel to Christmas On Infinite Earths, naturally. It ends up a bit sappy (it’s a Christmas piece, after all), but I hope it does justice to the pun.

Check it out, won’t you?

December 14, 2006

Branching out

Filed under: meta — Tom Bondurant @ 3:16 am
Because all the cool kids were doing it, I signed up for my own ComicSpace page. Now I am filled with a sense of validation and acceptance, and not quite sure what to do about it.

Also, like many of you who have also chosen the comics-blogging path, for some reason Yahoo! hates me and will not let me update through Gene, Gene, The Blog-Updatin’ Machine. Therefore, I have been busy signing up for RSS feeds through Bloglines.

Finally, assuming that Amazon isn’t jerking my chain, you can now buy Inside The World Of Comic Books (Jeffrey Klaehn, editor), which has a lot of fine interviews and essays, and also a little thing I wrote last summer on the Detective Comics work (including Dark Detective) of Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, and Terry Austin. To steal a phrase from Tony Kornheiser, “I haven’t read it, but I hear it’s very good.”

December 10, 2006

New comics 12/6/06

I’ve already talked a little about Justice Society of America #1 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham, inked by Art Thibert), but let’s begin there this week anyway. I like the idea of the Justice Society basically acting as keepers of the flame, charging the new legacy heroes with the social responsibilities of living up to their famous names. (It’s an idea similar to Kingdom Come, which explains Alex Ross’s involvement in the series.) I do like the last-page tease of upcoming storylines, and am looking forward to the JLA/JSA crossover in a few months. I like the fact that the Justice Society is positioning itself as being just as important as the Justice League, albeit for different reasons. Frankly, and I hate to sound horribly sycophantic by saying this, but Geoff Johns’ enthusiasm is pretty palpable, and you can tell he’s really putting a lot of love into this book.

However….

I thought the introduction of Mr. America came off a bit overblown, even considering the role he plays later in the issue. Maxine Hunkel’s enthusiasm was just a bit much, the secrets of the new Starman seem pretty obvious, as does the attitude of the new family member (not to mention his dad). The Rebel/Damage fight also went on a little long if the point it was making was just that Damage could stand to learn more manners. These are all personal reactions, of course, and I understand that you might feel the exact opposite. That’s fine. I suppose the hook for me buying this series would be its importance to DC-Earth as a whole, and not any investment in the characters — but if that’s my approach, it seems I’ll be missing out on about half the book every month. I’m still on the fence about #2, although I may pick up the eventual paperback.

Because the rest of the blogosphere would surely rise up as one and smite me if I didn’t, I picked up my first issue of Manhunter (#26, written by Mark Andreyko, pencilled by Javier Pina, inked by Robin Riggs), and it was pretty good. Basically Kate’s been hired to defend Wonder Woman against criminal charges brought by the federal government (for political reasons), so the whole issue is pretty much her and her staff freaking out around Wonder Woman. That’s always fun. Checking in with the book’s supporting cast requires more of a learning curve, though. Their scenes are interesting, just disconnected from everything else (or so it seems). Anyway, I’m getting #27, so you can put away the torches.

52 #31 (written by Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Rodney Ramos, Dan Green, and Dave Meikis) would have been a lot harder to take had DC not chosen to feature its main character in his own miniseries, now on sale. Still, any villain who eats Green Lantern rings is certainly one to watch. The interlude with Supernova and Ralph has me wanting to do some detective work of my own, which will probably turn out badly but at least should be fun. The origin of Robin (Tim Drake) somehow manages to omit Jason Todd, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Finally, the Infinity, Inc. scenes still don’t do a lot for me.

Detective Comics #826 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher) was strangely uninvolving, considering that it featured the Joker torturing Robin by running over Christmas shoppers in a stolen SUV. It’s not a bad idea (for a story, that is), and it certainly fits with the Joker’s satire-til-it-hurts paradigm, but the best part of the issue was the brief flashback to Bruce, Dick, and Tim comparing Joker notes during their “One Year Later” sojourn. I think the problem for me might have been too much internal monologue from Tim competing with the blackly-comedic Joker monologue. Usually the Joker’s diarrhea of the mouth is up against Batman’s stoicism, and it may have been more effective, more suspenseful, and more entertaining to wonder how Tim planned to get out of trouble rather than to “hear” his play-by-play. Kramer and Faucher draw a fine Joker though, reminiscent of Michael Lark’s (right?) in Gotham Central.

Another Robin in trouble and another internal monologue are also the focus of Nightwing #127 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund). Dick gets buried alive and has to dig his way out the long way, with a busted shoulder to boot. It gives him, and us, a chance to go over the plot of the last couple of issues, which seems like it should be simple but I still can’t figure out why the battlesuit guy was killed or why we should care. Anyway, next issue should be the big finish, and maybe I’ll have gotten on board by then. As for this issue, while there wasn’t really much suspense, Wolfman does have a good handle on the internal monologue, and showed Dick getting appropriately beaten up and bloodied. Not that I’m into that, mind you — I’d like to see next issue treat our hero a little better.

I got last week’s Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #46 (written by Kurt Busiek and Karl Kesel, drawn by Butch Guice and Phil Winslade) this week. It’s a tale of Orin-Aquaman’s encounter with a younger King Shark, and while it features Mera and Vulko, it doesn’t quite feel like a classic Aquaman story. Not that a good Aquaman story requires the phrase “finny friends” or the concentric circles of marine telepathy, but I couldn’t quite connect the guy calling himself the King of Atlantis with someone probably carrying a Justice League signal device. The story itself isn’t that complicated, but it does require you to keep track of some unfamiliar names and their various motivations, and I may have to spend some more time with it.

The (All-New) Atom #6 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Trevor Scott) finishes the first storyline of Ryan vs. the Waiting and various other malignant forces in Ivy Town. However, while I’m sure Ryan’s solution makes sense, I still don’t understand it. Also, somebody (maybe Mr. Scott, the inker) makes everyone’s faces look awfully pinched towards the end of the issue, which results in some unfortunate near-caricatures of the Asian cast members. I didn’t dislike this issue, and I’m still on board for the future, but it wasn’t this team’s strongest effort.

Superman Confidential #2 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) was good, although I really don’t understand the appeal of drawing Superman as an overstuffed kid who looks like he’s flunked sixth grade a few too many times. That’s just a few panels, though, and Sale’s Lois Lane more than makes up for it. The sight of Superman vomiting up lava after thinking he might just die under a volcano is also pretty sobering.

I was looking forward to Batman Confidential #1 (written by Andy Diggle, pencilled by Whilce Portacio, inked by Richard Friend) because I thought it would feature Batman fighting giant robots and Lex Luthor. That’s apparently next issue. This one opened with a fairly familiar scene of Batman fighting gritty urban violence with, yes, his internal monologue to keep him company. Portacio and Friend draw a serviceable Batman, and their Bruce Wayne looks sufficiently young and arrogant for the story’s setting, but every now and then characters sport big raccoon-eyeshadows and their heads change shape from panel to panel. Still, I like Diggle well enough to come back next issue for the giant robots.

I was also looking forward to Welcome To Tranquility #1 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe) in part because its aging-superhero setting seemed like a good counterpoint to Justice Society. Instead, it’s more like Astro City, which obviously isn’t bad. Between them, Simone and Googe make the oldsters (and their younger selves) pretty endearing, like if your grandmother were a ’40s teen heroine who still thought she could fly the old plane. The issue did seem a bit scattered, though, with weird ads for the local chicken restaurant sprinkled throughout and a locked-room murder mystery that comes out of nowhere. It’s not a bad package, although it does try pretty strenuously to be quirky and that could get old (no pun intended).

Man, aging superheroes must be a motif this week, ’cause here’s Agents Of Atlas #5 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice), in which one teammate turns rogue and another’s origins are questioned. This isn’t a grim ‘n’ gritty, realistic take on forgotten ’50s characters, though, so everything works out. It’s a credit to Parker and Kirk that they’ve gotten me invested in these characters despite my utter lack of familiarity with many of them.

The same applies to Beyond! #6 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins), the end of which relies upon the same kind of built-from-scratch emotional investment. I hate to sound too glib, but this was a good example of old-school Marvel crossover magic that might not Mean Something to the bigger picture, but used to be Marvel’s bread and butter. I’m glad McDuffie will be writing Fantastic Four before too long.

Stay with me, folks … just a couple more.

The message of Hero Squared #4 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) is that superhero fights are messy, something that I thought we learned a few issues ago. Still, this issue works as a standalone story, with Milo’s own heroism contrasted against Valor’s.

Finally, Star Wars: Rebellion #5 (written by Rob Williams, drawn by Brandon Badeaux), finishes this book’s first arc, many months after it was originally scheduled. Lucky for me it’s just a lot of carnage involving who will turn against the Empire and save the Rebels. It turns out about like you’d expect, but there are a couple of points of bad execution. First, there’s not a lot of distinction between Luke’s old friend Tank and the ex-Imperial spy Jorin Sol. Second, the plot hinges on the Rebel flagship going into hyperspace, requiring somebody to Push The Hyperspace Button, and this makes me wonder why the Hyperspace Button is always so hard to push. Third, all the damage the ship takes apparently doesn’t make much of a difference to the whole hyperspace question, because the book never addresses it. Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but you kind of have to expect Luke and Leia (still looking unreasonably hawt) to survive.

December 7, 2006

Jeez! Suckered Again?

Filed under: justice society — Tom Bondurant @ 3:04 pm
Just when I think I’m done with Geoff Johns’ Justice Society, I read his Newsarama interview about the new group being more of a “society” than a group of butt-kickers like the Justice League, and it kind of dovetails with what I’d been thinking the JSA should be, so I pick up the new Justice Society of America #1, and it looks like I might be in this for six issues or so.

See, the problem is not that I have a great affinity for Johns’ take on the JSA. I’m not that curious about the new members or the big plot twist at the end. However, I have this first issue, and if DC’s publishing schedule holds up, I’ll get issues 5-6 as part of the JLA crossover. Therefore, why not get issues 2-4 to see how the first arc goes?

Clever, DC. We’ll see if I can resist #2.

December 1, 2006

Royale, No Cheese

Filed under: james bond — Tom Bondurant @ 9:45 pm
I talked about Casino Royale in a roundabout way over in this week’s Grumpy Old Fan, but I know Nik wants to hear what I thought about it as a movie. Here you go, and watch out for SPOILERS:

I liked it. It was a little long, and I still can’t quite get used to the substitution of poker for baccarat, or Daniel Craig’s blond hair. Those are minor nitpicks. The Best Wife Ever liked it too, probably because she hadn’t brought all her fannish baggage. We tried to go on opening weekend, but it was only on one screen at our lone theater, and it sold out that weekend. It sold out for our show last Saturday too, just after we got tickets.

It was a better introduction to Bond than Dr. No, although that’s not fair to Dr. No. CR has a couple of big advantages over its (by now distant) ancestor, mostly forty years of the public’s familiarity with the character. There will never be another 1962 audience that didn’t know it could be so entertained by a Scottish actor playing a British assassin. Casino Royale, the movie, is pumped full of action that the book doesn’t have, but which audiences would naturally expect. Bond’s relationships with M and Vesper are both riffs on traditional series elements, but they’re handled in ways that would be familiar to casual fans or even non-fans. Bond’s tweaking of M is particularly reminiscent of any number of plays-by-his-own-rules heroes. Here it works, because this Bond is finding himself and dealing with new responsibilities the extent of which he probably doesn’t appreciate yet. He’s not the polished agent of the previous movies, so it’s understandable that he would be testing boundaries at this early stage.

Before I forget, I want to mention the fantastic work of composer David Arnold. He builds the score around a very catchy figure, so syncopated it almost sounds like mixed-meter, and uses it to such effect that I barely noticed the relative absence of the classic Bond theme. When the Bond theme does creep in, it’s mostly the bass-clef foundation, whetting our appetites for the Real Thing to erupt, fully formed, over the end credits. I can’t decide if David Arnold or credits designer Daniel Kleinman is the best thing to happen to Bond (before Craig) in a long time, but they should both be locked into the series for as long as possible. I can’t remember a lick of lyrics from “You Know My Name” (beyond that phrase), but I’m still humming that syncopated figure. It’s a shame that the themes (by and large) haven’t carried over from film to film, because it would make a good addition to the music library, along with John Barry’s “007” and OHMSS themes.

And that’s a decent segue into the real issue with these kinds of back-to-basics movies: at what point does an innovative Square One movie give way to the inevitabilities of its parent series? This film placed the “gunbarrel sequence” at the end of the opening scene, but don’t we all expect the next Bond movie to open with it? The fan consensus I’ve seen is hopeful that the mystery organization after Le Chiffre is SPECTRE, freed from the shackles of litigation by the same deal that allowed MGM and Sony to co-produce this film.

[That reminds me — if memory serves, this movie is the first to list Craig as playing “Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007,” and also to state that it is “based on the novel by Ian Fleming.” None of the previous films had the latter credit, styling themselves as “Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger” (for example) or as featuring “Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007.” Another byproduct of the settlement, perhaps?]

So anyway, if Bond 22 is full of the classic theme-music and has Bond fighting SPECTRE — or even if Bond 22 is a faithful adaptation of another novel (Live and Let Die was the follow-up) — how long will it be before Craig gets his first rocket-launching Aston Martin or laser-torch wristwatch? I really can’t see Craig playing opposite John Cleese’s Q (and indeed, we might not see Q for a while, since he wasn’t as prominent in the books). The stakes presented by Casino Royale were economic and therefore more abstract, with the danger to the world’s largest airliner feeling almost like an obligation to threaten something big and explodey. A more familiar Bond-movie setup would end with the danger to the big explodey thing, but I think that’s the lodestone towards which the series is expected to gravitate.

It’s the same problem that the sequel to Batman Begins faces: now that the gangsters and the lower-profile supervillains are out of the way, The Dark Knight promises not only more Batman in costume, but the Joker too. I guess the challenge is to invest the Joker and the further development of the first film’s characters with the same quasi-realistic approach, which allows The Dark Knight more leeway in terms of where they’re “supposed” to end up. The Batman mythology, extensive as it is, is helped further by being more setup than narrative, without the same kind of continuous-storytelling throughline that, say, Marvel built into its cornerstone characters. Spider-Man has the death of Gwen Stacy, the Fantastic Four have Reed and Sue’s wedding and Franklin’s birth, and Bond has Tracy’s death. Batman doesn’t have anything after-added which is that iconic except the addition of Robin, and apparently that can be ignored in the interests of avoiding excess frivolity. (Robin opens all kinds of worm-filled cans, including Batgirl, Nightwing, and Dick’s successors.)

Actually, as important as Tracy’s death was to the literary Bond, it may well be fading in the rear-view mirror of the cinematic Bond, especially in light of Casino Royale‘s character-definitive ending. Ironically, Casino Royale‘s fidelity to Fleming’s sensibilities may do the most to liberate the franchise from 40 years’ worth of expectations. I’m ready to see it again, and I’m excited about the next one.

New comics 11/29/06

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. SPOILERS FOLLOW….

The last big piece of the speedster puzzle from Infinite Crisis is revealed in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #6 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ken Lashley and Andy Smith, inked by Art Thibert), and honestly, it amounts to “because we said so.” Basically, after Bart takes care of Griffin (who dies in a somewhat incoherent sequence where a giant boulder is dropped, Wile E. Coyote-like, on him), we flash back to the Battle World where Bart, the Jay Garrick of Earth-Whatever, Barry Allen, Wally West, and Max Mercury are standing around talking about how best to warn everyone else that Superboy-Prime has gotten away from them.

First off, I’m willing to ignore the space-time issues as to how beings who can travel through time and across multiverses unaided are worried about catching someone who’s, granted, about as fast as they are. Still, standing around? Only Jay and Wally are even in costume. Shouldn’t they be racing after Superboy, talking strategy on the run? Wouldn’t that have been more, y’know, EXCITING?!? Anyway, since Wally can share and steal speed, he proposes absorbing the others’ Speed Force energy to push him to eleven. Bart says no, it’s too dangerous, and you have Linda and the kids to think of — let me do it! And that’s how it happens. That’s why Bart’s been so reluctant to use the Speed Force — he feels guilty for something he volunteered for, and his friends agreed to. Man, what a crappy bit of fiat. Nothing in there suggests that Bart couldn’t have transferred the SF energy back to the others once he was done with it. Nothing in it suggests that Bart abandoned them on the Battle World (which, by the way, means that Barry Allen and Max Mercury are still alive out there, since DC’s apparently unconcerned about that screwing up the timeline the way it did in Flash vol. 2 #150). Therefore, nothing prevents Bart from finding Wally and the rest, telling them he’s done, and restoring their speed to them. The little jolt he gave Jay this issue is probably an acknowledgment that he can do just that. Good grief, DC, at least with Kyle Rayner you burned a lot of bridges! Here you’ve just put up some flimsy barricades. Basically, Bart is the Flash for as long as he wants to be, and since there’s hardly anything new or innovative about Bart-Flash, you’re going to have to work a heck of a lot harder to convince me to buy this book. Another guest artist, this time Andy Smith helping out Lashley, does improve the overall look of things with a sort of Alan Davis-meets-Dick Giordano style.

I’m really not very fond of Ethan van Sciver’s cover for Green Lantern #15 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Ivan Reis). Since when does Hal Jordan have black eyes with little white pupils? Inside is better, as GL fights the Global Guardians, a couple of Faceless Hunters from Saturn, the Rocket Reds, and a special surprise team on the last page. Oh, and we see the new Sinestro Corps. It’s entertaining enough, but there’s an undercurrent of sexism that kind of spoils it for me. The prominent female characters are a (mind-controlled) seductress (Crimson Fox), a man-hating murderess (the new Star Sapphire, who still gets a cool origin), or a prisoner (Cowgirl, who does escape her guards). Maybe I’m being unfair, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

Van Sciver provides interior art for Superman/Batman #30 (written by Mark Verheiden), which, as it happens, is a sequel to a plotline from Verheiden’s short run on Superman last year. That was a pleasant surprise. The thought of Alfred turning to sweet, sweet bourbon as a tonic for his stresses was also kind of funny, if a little wrong. However, the rest of it was just very strange. Batman and Plastic Man breaking into the Fortress of Solitude was probably the highlight, although I think the Alien Bad Guy just spoiled part of 52. Otherwise, Superman and Kilowog somehow conclude that they have to Kill All Humans, Superman’s eyes get all red and glowy, and … yeah. I’m not long for this book.

I was looking forward to the all-Batman, all-Grant Morrison issue of 52 (#30 written by Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Joe Bennett, inks by Bennett and Ruy Jose), but this issue wasn’t it. For one thing, it featured a two-page Origin of the Metal Men, and while I don’t have anything against the Metal Men, they’re not exactly part of Bruce’s One Year Later development. Seeing Kate Kane in the old Wayne Foundation penthouse — one of my absolute favorite fictional buildings, giant fake tree and all — was nice, but jumping back and forth from Gotham to wherever Nightwing and Robin were, was a bit confusing, and I went over those scenes again to confirm that they hadn’t come back to Gotham only to have Robin fly back to the desert with his super dune buggy. I did have to smile at the Ten-Eyed Assassins, but rather than this issue being the done-in-one wonder I was expecting, now I’d like to see a more satisfying follow-up.

Over in Batman #659, guest writer John Ostrander and guest artist Tom Mandrake bring us Part 1 of the four-part story of Grotesk, yet another new Batman antagonist that hits a number of familiar notes. He’s a vigilante who kills because the skels deserve it; he’s an unstoppable brute with (yes) a grotesque look; and he has a mysterious connection to one of Bruce Wayne’s old flames. Thankfully, Bruce and Alfred figured out the connection right around the time I did, which redeems the issue considerably. Ostrander also includes a nice scene with Gordon and a disguised Batman, and Mandrake’s art looks really good. He was a fine regular Batman artist in the ‘80s, and he’s only gotten better.

Batman/The Spirit (written by Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke, pencilled by Darwyn Cooke, inked by J. Bone) was fun, although I shamefully admit not being up on my Spirit Rogues past P’Gell. This is basically a $4.99 ad for Cooke’s Spirit series, beginning next month. It’s not exactly the sly meditations on the human condition that Will Eisner’s originals were, and neither the Spirit nor his supporting cast dominate the pages like the more colorful Batman characters, but Cooke’s style is the selling point here, and it’s enough of a Spirit story (not to mention a more carefree Batman story) to be a pretty good ad.

Captain America #24 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) didn’t feel like Part 3 of 3, since it seems more concerned with setting up a big throwdown involving the Red Skull and a very welcome Surprise Guest Villain. Sharon Carter joins Cap’s side and also links up with Nick Fury, Cap fights Hydra goons and SHIELD cape-killers, and … is the Winter Soldier in this one? No. Oh well, he would’ve gotten lost in all the Hydra beatdowns. Anyway, good clean fun, and the next-issue blurb sounds sufficiently hyperbolic.

Nextwave #10 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) featured a short fight sequence between our heroes and the Not Brand Ecchers, followed by a series of freakish dream sequences showing the Nextwavers as “real” superheroes, or at least more traditional superheroes. It’s the first issue of Nextwave that isn’t riotously funny, and in fact it’s a little more like Planetary, but it’s still good. Boy, Stuart Immonen can draw. Be assured, though, it ends in typical Nextwave fashion.

Jog liked Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage #1 (by Howard Chaykin), and Kevin Church compared it to American Flagg!, so I’ll agree with both and postulate further that it shouldn’t have been G’Nort who acts as the P.O.’ed voice of the Green Lantern Corps, but Raul the Cat (or something like him) with a power ring. Can you imagine? It would have made this Flagg! fan very happy, and it would have prevented an otherwise jarring transition from the purely comedic goofball G’Nort was in Justice League International to this pragmatic, jaded canine creature. Ch’p would have worked as well. Guy translates into a typical Chaykin protagonist smoothly, although he’s not quite the socialized Guy found in other DC books, nor does he have all the charm of Reuben Flagg. I do think that Chaykin is well-suited for Guy, and next issue should be good as well.

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