Comics Ate My Brain

February 28, 2007

New comics 2/21/07

Apparently, according to Superman #659 (written by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Peter Vale with a little bit by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino), Superman can be a God figure. Who knew? Someone should tell Bryan Singer….

The other rather well-worn element of this story was, of course, the Spiritual Elderly African-American Woman, so between those two you’d think this would be a pretty painful issue. However, somehow it actually kind of worked. Probably helped by Merino’s inks, Vale’s pencils are a good blend of Pacheco and Jerry Ordway. He’s probably done a hundred other things I’ve never heard of, but I liked his work this issue. I tend to pay more attention to the Supes-as-God stories, because I imagine that some people on DC-Earth would have the same reaction our guest star does: he’s an actual angel she can command. The bit about “commanding” even makes her a little less spiritual, in the sense that I’m not sure God works like that. Overall it’s very reminiscent of Astro City, and a decent AC story is better than a lot of stuff out there.

Wonder Woman #4 (written by Allan Heinberg, pencilled by Terry Dodson, inked by Rachel Dodson) came out this past week, and lucky for it, it doesn’t leave much hanging. The big scheduling disaster which has befallen this title wiped out Heinberg concluding this story in #5, but the conclusion looks to be just a big fight scene. The plot is very simple: the “new Wonder Woman” is basically a grim ‘n’ gritty version, Diana crafts a plan that leaves out a lot of her allies, and there are both stunning reversals and stunning reveals. Well, one of each, at least. I’m sure it will read great in the collection, whenever that appears.

I liked The Spirit #3 (by Darwyn Cooke) well enough, although I found myself instinctively rebelling against shifting first-person narrative captions. Because it’s Darwyn Cooke, though, they’re handled quite well, and it only takes a split-second to switch between them. It also helps that there’s only one narrator per scene. As for the art, Cooke uses looser pencils and a more impressionistic coloring style to distinguish the flashback scenes. I have read the original origin, I think, and this one feels different but it works just fine.

52 #42 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, drawn by Darick Robertson) put the spotlight on Ralph Dibny, fighting the Thing Inside Dr. Fate’s Helmet. That’s not meant as a spoiler, but it’s not much of a surprise if you’ve been paying attention. It’s still cool to see Ralph back at the top of his game, and Robertson makes him look both lean and mean. There are a couple of pages with Montoya and her faceless reflection, but other than that it’s all Ralph.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #49 (written by Kurt Busiek, layouts by Mike Manley, inks by Ricardo Villagran) closes out Busiek’s revamp with part 2 of the Fisherman story. It’s more about the Parasite than it is Aquaman, flashing back to the Fisherman parasite taking over some hapless family man who happened to be down at the docks at the wrong time. I’m not sure if the family-man aspects are more interesting than the present-day guy fighting Aquaman, and it all ends up being a rather creepy tale of shambling horror. Villagran’s finishes help feed the horror-story feel.

Checkmate #11 (written by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFillippis, & Christina Weir, pencilled by Steve Scott, inked by Nathan Massengill) presents the first part of another trust-no-one story wherein a couple of Checkmate agents are cautioned not to think outside the box and/or take a past familial slight personally, but we know that’s practically a flashing neon sign that both those things will happen. However, internal Checkmate politics and the general skill of all involved combine to create a general feeling of unease, like watching a slow-motion train wreck, in a good way. Scott and Massengill provide art that’s a little more static than Jesus Saiz, but again that’s a good thing. I like this book, and I like reading it month-to-month, because I think I would get either lost or bored trying to get through a paperback. I am dumb.

I am really starting to like the pencils of Nicola Scott, because as presented in Birds Of Prey #103 (written by Gail Simone, inked by Doug Hazlewood), they are very crisp and clean, and they do remind me of Chris Sprouse and Paul Pelletier. Very clean. The story is the untold tale of Barbara Gordon’s rival, which unfolds not unlike Lisa Simpson’s rival in the episode with Winona Ryder — the one where Ralph “I bent my Wookiee!” Wiggum wins the diorama contest. Here the stakes are a little higher and there is no Ralph. Instead, Gypsy and Manhunter fight the house supervillains at the jail Manhunter broke into, in a subplot which reminded me of the recent Howard Chaykin/Kilian Plunkett arc in JLA Classified. It was a decent issue, with a couple of well-handled plot twists.

Omega Men #5 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint) was more of the teenage Guardian fighting Lady Styx, with Felicity going through some changes. Everyone else stands around watching these events, and I am right there with them. It’s a typical penultimate issue, which means I can’t really talk about it right now.

She-Hulk #16 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) is a big fight against the Wendigo, guest-starring Wolverine, put through the Slott/Burchett wackiness filter. It reminded me of an issue of Peter David’s Captain Marvel also (I think) involving the Wendigo and the Hulk, and between that story and this one, there’s my knowledge of the Wendigo. He’s the Shaggy Man of Marvel, apparently. Some flirtatious banter between Shulkie and Wolvie was jarring to me, but the fights are broken up with funny scenes involving the heroes’ backup staffs.

Finally, The Brave and the Bold #1 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek) was everything I expected, and that’s saying a lot. I like the Batman/Green Lantern pairing generally, and especially if it’s Hal Jordan wearing the ring. I also appear to have purchased the alternate cover with Vegas in the background, and I like it better than the promo-art cover I’ve been seeing a lot more of. Anyway, there’s a fight in the Batcave and Roulette shows up towards the end, but in between there’s a great setpiece featuring “Wayne … Bruce Wayne” and his allegedly bumpkin sidekick Hal. Good grief, this is a fun book, and by the way it gives Perez an excuse to dazzle with his layouts and general storytelling ability. Like all of his work, this is a dense issue which invites a Where’s Waldo easter-egg hunt. Perez also makes the revisions to Hal’s costume work, which I mention only because I think it generally throws off Hal’s proportions. I was predisposed to like this book, but the creative team has done some fine work and really exploits the premise very well.

February 23, 2007

Kent State

Filed under: lois lane, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 3:48 am
Oh, here we go again, another lamentation about the loss of the Earth-1 Clark, a guy literally too good to be true. Let’s call him the Maggin Clark, after Elliot S! Maggin, chief architect of the 1970s Superman, who most prominently described the differences between Kal-El and his alter ego.

Here’s an excerpt from Maggin’s second Superman novel, Miracle Monday (available to read on Superman Through The Ages):

Superman loved Clark Kent as much as he loved anyone or anything else. He loved his alter ego as he loved the memory of the two good people who had taken him as their son; as he loved this adopted world that had accepted him as its hero; as he loved Lois Lane. Clark Kent was a person as real and individual as any man ever created by the mind of man. Superman even gave Clark a demon: Clark videotaped television commercials that particularly amused him, and showed them to friends who were polite enough to sit through them. Superman spent appreciably more time creating the reality of Clark Kent than he spent doing anything else. Clark Kent spent more time walking the Earth than Superman spent flying above it. Superman valued his creation as he valued a human life.

The Maggin Clark follows decades of Superman tradition, going back at least as far as the ‘40s radio-show narration (“And who, disguised as Clark Kent…”). Superman encumbers himself with Clark, donning a bulky suit and clunky glasses over his skintight costume and super-powered eyes. Clark isn’t quite a Harrison Bergeron-like burden, but he does personify Superman’s voluntary acquiescence to the necessities of human life. On Earth-1, Clark was Superman’s connection to humanity, and had been since childhood. Later in Miracle Monday, Maggin indicates that if something ever happened to Clark, Superman would have to re-establish that connection almost from scratch.

The Maggin Clark fits pretty well with a Superboy career. On Earth-1, Kal-El’s powers developed fairly quickly, so he knew (and was constantly reminded) early in life about the responsibilities of using them. His foster parents taught him how to fit in, but were his only confidants (outside of the Legion of Super-Heroes, but he didn’t need to be Clark Kent with them). Thus, when they died, “Clark” was a way to remember them. No wonder Superman was so attentive to Clark.

Does it follow, then, that if we change a whole slew of those elements, we can flip the characterization so that “Superman” is the disguise? I wonder, and my hesitancy comes straight from the first Christopher Reeve movie. Superman (1978) eliminated Superboy, withheld knowledge of Krypton from Clark until adulthood, and allowed Martha Kent to survive. Clark had to hide his powers, of course, but the weird, emasculated teen of the movie’s Smallville scenes wasn’t the formal “I don’t watch television; I was reading Dickens” alter ego who showed up in Metropolis. Does this mean that, at some point during Clark’s twelve years (!!) with Jor-El’s Giant Floating Holographic Head, one of them came up with the glasses-and-slouching idea? I suppose if you’re going to learn Acting!, you could do worse than Brando, just post-Godfather (and pre-Apocalypse Now…).

So Movie Clark, as much as I really love him, now seems like even more of a construct than Maggin Clark, because Movie Clark doesn’t have all of Maggin Clark’s underpinnings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, it does make the developments of the 1986 revamp more understandable.

That revamp went a little further than the movie did. Both Ma and Pa Kent are alive today (All-Star Superman notwithstanding), there was still no Superboy career, Clark’s powers developed slowly (no lifting pickup trucks for baby Kal-El), and he didn’t learn about Krypton until well into his Superman career. (I’m going by Man of Steel here; I’m pretty sure Birthright is different with regard to the Krypton revelation, and who knows what it’s all supposed to be now.) The point was, Clark got to grow up more as a human and not as Kal-El. Man of Steel doesn’t touch on this significantly, but Clark also got to grow up discovering his powers in a world that was used to super-people — another change from Earth-1, which had no explosion of superheroics a la the Justice Society until Superman came along. The Kents might have had a bit of “we have to hide him because the JSA got forced underground,” but the flip side of that might also have been “hey! everyone loves superheroes!”

In this respect, it’s almost inevitable that Clark would end up hiding in plain sight as Superman, even going without a mask (and thereby tacitly recalling the Congressional demands that stymied the JSA). As a disguise, “Superman” thus has the potential to become such a … flamboyant isn’t the right word, I know — how about “distracting?” — superhero parody that it lets Clark be himself. Naturally, as it turns out, Clark and Superman are both pretty decent guys, so the Superman performance seems like a pretty thin tightrope. To be sure, in comics we don’t get to hear the different voices.

Anyway, all of this reinforces the notion, dropped anvilliciously by Byrne in Man of Steel #6, that Revamped Clark is practically hardwired to feel human by the circumstances of his upbringing. He might think he’s the last Kryptonian, but that’s just an explanation for his powers.

Where does Lois Lane come into all of this? After Lana Lang, not to put too fine a point on it. Earth-1 Lana was more of a plot device than a girlfriend; in fact, she wasn’t Clark’s girlfriend at all, was she? Revamped Lana was saddled with the knowledge of Clark’s powers, and she got to be his first love, but the necessity of getting her out of the picture made her Missed-Opportunity Woman. Today Kurt Busiek has made her head of LexCorp, which is a lot better than some other writers (I”m looking at you, Chuck “Amuck” Austen) have treated her.

Lois’ portrayals are many and varied, of course, from the nosy obsessive of the ’50s to the tough career woman of the ’70s and ’80s. However, for our purposes the biggest Lois innovation may be her role as Superman’s anchor to humanity. Whenever something happens to Lois, Superman ends up going nuts: mad enough to change history in the first Reeve movie; despondent enough in an alt-future to go into exile (Kingdom Come) or even commit suicide (JLA‘s “Rock Of Ages”); and restoring Lois to the mix was part of the resolutions of “For Tomorrow,” DC One Million, and the “King of the World” storyline from about 10 years ago. Still, in light of Maggin Clark being the anchor on Earth-1, and Revamped Clark being his own anchor, does Lois really play as big a part as we think?

I say she does, and I think it’s because Lois validates both Clark and Superman. Lois — I’m tempted to say regardless of iteration, but I’m more comfortable saying it in the ’70s and more recently — confirms that Superman, in whatever guise, can relate to humanity successfully. The combination of skepticism and idealism that makes Lois a great reporter serves as an acid test for Superman: if he can relate to her as “normal” Clark and extraordinary Superman, all is right with his world.

This, I think, helps explain the lack of Clark in Superman Returns. Superman needs to reconnect with Lois, because she represents the degree to which he’s successfully connected with humanity. However, all of his business with her concerns Superman, not Clark. Indeed, the Clark of the movies is apparently such a non-entity that his return barely registers with Lois. This is not entirely surprising — in fact, it suggests that the Clark disguise works a little too well. Besides, Lois is clearly more concerned with the aforementioned unfinished business with Superman than she is with getting reacquainted with some random guy she used to work with.

Naturally, this is not optimal for Superman, so just like in Miracle Monday, he has to learn to reconnect with the world when the world’s relationship to Clark isn’t what it used to be. Moreover, “Superman” is the public expression of the powers, and one of the missions of Superman Returns was to show off the powers using the latest technology, so not much room for Clark. I agree with plok and his commenters that Clark could have helped Supes deal with his Lois issues, but it’s nice to see that he can adapt otherwise.

Man, this has gone on too long, and there’s probably still another post in my Lois notes and my thoughts on Clark getting pushed aside … so if any of you are still awake at this point, that’s certainly something to look forward to, huh?

February 21, 2007

New comics 2/14/07

Filed under: 52, batman, dr 13, green lantern, justice league, justice society, nextwave, spectre, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:36 am
Here’s the thing about Batman #663 (written by Grant Morrison; illustrations by John Van Fleet): prose Batman stories are nothing new. The difference here seems to be Morrison’s willingness to go all-out pulpy and purple, and make this more of a multimedia experience than a Big Little Book. It’s an uneven experience, because in some ways Morrison’s prose is more vivid and efficient than a page of sequential art might be. It sure doesn’t go overboard in describing every kick and punch. However, if this were supposed to be the Joker’s big 2007 flourish, prose really isn’t the way to go. Batman stories seem suited for prose because you can write a passable Batman story that’s not much more than a standard pulpish spy/crime story. Still, those stories invariably seem overwritten because they have to compensate for the lack of a tremendous visual shorthand. This story in particular cries out for more visuals than are provided, for a couple of reasons: the pictures don’t match the unsettling tone of the words, and the words just aren’t evocative enough to overcome that. Does that make sense? It does to me, but I have to live with it.

This month’s Dr. Thirteen story in Tales of the Unexpected #5 (written by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang) really revs up the commentary, which takes the story to an even higher level, and that’s saying something. It’s basically a challenge from the characters on DC’s lower rungs that they won’t go gently into the night of big-event cannon fodder and unobjectionable Vertigo makeovers. That’s great. That is absolutely perfect. Oh, also there’s a Spectre story (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) about the culpability of eevil researchers, but nobody cares anymore. I will gladly subsidize these mediocre Spectre stories for as long as it takes to keep the Azzarello/Chiang Dr. Thirteen going.

When Star Trek Generations first came out, my mom asked me how it was, and I replied, “Everybody dies and the Enterprise blows up.” JLA Classified #34 (written by Dan Slott and Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jurgens, inked by Jerry Ordway) was a lot like that. Even with a reset button, it’s an effective look at the end of the DC-Earth and the JLA’s efforts to save the planet’s population. Oh, and not all of the Leaguers make it off before the planet pulls a Krypton. Pretty good overall, and ultimately, will probably be better than Generations.

Green Lantern Corps #8 (written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins & Ray Snyder) was a decent conclusion to the Super-Skrull-Dominator/Black Ops Lantern arc, marred by some hazy choreography from Gleason in the fight scenes. A lot of people whose opinions I respect greatly, Ragnell chief among them, like Gleason. I don’t dislike him, but when Guy is fighting a wormy, vaguely-defined alien critter that can change shape, the pages could be laid out a little more clearly.

52 #41 (written by JMRW, pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by Rodney Ramos) was filled with nice moments, including the long-awaited Montoya vs. Richard Dragon fight, a surprise cameo, and the rescue of our remaining space travelers. It is basically a transitory issue, Part 2 of the last quarter of the series. I think it’s also the first issue to have Montoya scenes without her first-person narrative captions. Since she’s the only character in the series who gets to use those, it’s noticeable when they’re gone.

For some reason I bought Welcome To Tranquility #3 twice, which probably speaks to my affection for the series. It also means I can’t remember which books I buy week to week.

Last time I decided to drop a Justice Society book, it was because a time-traveling villain murdered a helpless family. I’m sure you’ve heard what happens to an unfortunate family pick-a-nick in Justice Society of America #3 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham, inked by Ruy Jose)? I think I’m ready to drop this book already, but doggone it, I’m in through the end of the JLA crossover, so at least two more months. So, Nazis, a Special Guest Villain who crops up throughout DC history, and some more Kingdom Come references. The big two-page Avengers Assemble! spread is coming about 5/8 of the way through the story, when it probably should have happened halfway through last issue.

Finally — and, sadly, that comes with an extra layer here — we say goodbye to Nextwave #12 (written by Warren Ellis, pencilled by Stuart Immonen). I liked this book so much, I will gladly buy the oversized omnibus hardcover edition. Nothing but pure joy from beginning to (sniff!) end.

February 12, 2007

New comics 2/7/07 — for real, this time

Okay, I got the date wrong in the last post, so if you think this is old content … well, probably some of the jokes are old, but the comics are as new as last Wednesday.

First up, because I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it, is Nightwing #129 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne). It introduces “Bride & Groom,” a pair of long-lived serial killers who prey on young, hot, single people by stripping them to their underwear and sacrificing them. That Marv — always with his finger on the audience’s pulse! (To be fair, Nightwing spends time sweating in his boxers as well.) Maybe I like it because it’s pretty straightforward. The scene of Dick talking back to the TV news was also fairly appealing. Mostly, this was the first issue I really got a feeling that the book was about Dick “Nightwing” Grayson, ex-Boy Wonder, and not Generic Urban Acrobat. Having him go to a party at Wayne Manor didn’t hurt, but I have to say, the new art team of Igle and Champagne are a vast improvement over Dan Jurgens’ old stiff figures. The faces sometimes seem a little too fluid, but overall it’s a solid package.

52 #40 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Rodney Ramos & Dan Green) is just as advertised — the bare-knuckle beatdown of Lex Luthor by John Henry Irons. While everyone does their best to make Luthor detestable, it all seems too convenient somehow, aspiring to the “Aha! I too am left-handed!” school of dramatic reveals, but never getting there. It seems intended to work on a visceral, almost pulpish level, but so much has gone into this arc that that kind of resolution isn’t very satisfying after all. Also, Gar Logan making a crack literally over a villain’s dead body was pretty disconcerting.

I like Fantastic Four: The End (#5 written and pencilled by Alan Davis and inked by Mark Farmer), but there doesn’t seem to be much “The End” in it. Mostly it’s an all-inclusive FF/Marvel Universe story set a few decades from now, with no indication that this is supposed to be the last FF adventure. Maybe it’s setting readers up for a tragic ending, but that doesn’t quite fit its overall jaunty tone. This issue, like the others, features the FF reunited at last, but other than that it’s more of the very nicely rendered travelogue in which Alan Davis seems to delight.

Welcome To Tranquility #3 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe) was a good introduction to one of Tranquility’s younger residents, a former teen speedster gone goth with a history with the late Mr. Articulate. We get to know a lot about her in this issue, and by the end it might seem like too much, but it’s really paced well, with a nice balance between the series’ “multimedia” elements and more traditional storytelling. This series is growing on me, slowly but surely.

Gail Simone also writes The All-New Atom #8 (pencils by Mike Norton, inks by Andy Owens), the second half of a time-travel-based storyline featuring a Linear Man and the old Atom’s friend Professor Hyatt. It’s fun as usual, with shout-outs to bits of DC kitsch, but honestly, I was a little disappointed that the Linear Man didn’t turn out to be as inflexible as he had indicated. Just a minor complaint.

I liked Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two #2 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson) well enough, but I can’t point to anything specific that really stood out. It’s more of a mood-setting installment than anything else, establishing the change in society and the superheroes that characterized this period of AC history. Not bad, but not as memorable as some Astro City issues.

Action Comics Annual #10 (written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, drawn by various artists) was basically a Secret Files without the Who’s Who-style pages: a smorgasbord of variable-length stories presented in scattershot fashion. The issue’s two complete stories are a pastiche of the original Mon-El introduction, and a bit on the familiar (from the movies, that is) Phantom Zone villains’ secret origins. They’re fine on their own, and the other storylets aren’t bad, but it all feels rather haphazard.

Detective Comics #828 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher) started off well, with a murder at Bruce Wayne’s yacht party, but it starts to get a little hinky about halfway through. The murder turns out to be pretty simple once Batman and special guest detective the Riddler put everything together, so the end result turns more on how Batman can hide Bruce Wayne’s friendship with the victim. It’s not a bad story; it just doesn’t seem that consequential.

Finally, I really enjoyed Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil #1 (by Jeff Smith). If you know anything about this miniseries, you can guess why. For the uninitiated, it’s an all-ages look at the quintessential kids’ superhero, Captain Marvel. He’s the adult protector Billy Batson never had, a creation of the wizard Shazam put under Billy’s control. I have two very minor complaints about this issue: the format is durable but not quite kid-friendly, and I really, really wanted Shazam to order Billy to “SPEAK MY NAME!!!” as I believe he does in the original.

February 7, 2007

New comics 1/31/07

Filed under: 52, batman, hawkgirl, justice league, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:05 am
[EDIT: Yes, it took me almost a week to realize the 2/7 date in the title was wrong.] Last week was Hawk Week, with both JSA Classified #22 (by Walt Simonson) and Hawkgirl #60 (written by Simonson, drawn by Renato Arlem) chronicling the end of Hawkman’s Rann-Thanagar War involvement and his return to Earth. Oh, and Hawkgirl’s there too.

Simonson provides his typically hyperkinetic art for JSA Classified, which is mostly a series of fights involving him and Blackfire, and sometimes Hawkgirl . It ends with Hawkman de-powering Blackfire in a way that seems a little extreme until you remember Identity Crisis. The Hawkgirl story involves the Curse of Hath-Set, which apparently influences the Hawks’ romantic futures (I’m not a longtime reader), and a Fourth World artifact that’s now part of an ancient Egyptian collection. Arlem’s art isn’t as expressive as Simonson’s, but the story doesn’t need it to be. The upshot, which is hardly surprising, finds the Hawks separating, and overall the issue feels like wrapping up the last subplot of the days when the book was called Hawkman. That’s fine; Simonson is steadily getting better on this title, although the book may already be doomed.

I was actually a little disappointed with Batman and the Mad Monk #6 (by Matt Wagner), because it appeared to wrap things up a little too neatly. Also, I was really hoping that Wagner would work in the first Batplane, like in the 1939 original. Furthermore, circumstances take care of the bad guy more than Batman does. However, these are minor quibbles. “Dark Moon Rising” has been an exemplary set of superhero tales, blending old-school elements with modern sensibilities.

52 #39 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Andy Smith, inked by Ray Snyder) focused on Nat Irons vs. Everyman, but I was more interested in the scenes on Oolong Island and outside Atlantis. Maybe I’m just incredibly slow, but I’m now thinking that’s not the real Helmet of Fate. Loved the pocket-sized Metal Man, though.

Finally, JLA Classified #33 (written by Dan Slott and Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jurgens, inked by Trevor Scott) presents Part 2 of “The 4th Parallel,” in which the Red King ingratiates himself with the Justice League. This includes a couple of moments which strain credibility, but the story excuses them by having this be a best-case scenario. However, the question then becomes whether the issue knows how much it asks of the reader, and here I’m not sure it does. The fact that it involves an alternate-reality generator also takes some of the suspense out of the story. It’s still an interesting setup, but it comes off just a little stiff.

February 4, 2007

Hey Little Sister, What Have You Done: Tales of the Teen Titans #s 48-50

Filed under: big titans project, new teen titans, recaps — Tom Bondurant @ 8:38 pm
These issues are bittersweet for a few reasons. Obviously, the wedding is the apex of Donna-worship. As for Terry … yeah, he’s there too. Tales of the Teen Titans #50 also represents the conclusion of George Pérez’s first, longest, and most successful tenure with these characters. Therefore, it’s our last bit of Pérez for a while. Appropriately enough, then, Tales #48 and #49 feature guest artists Steve Rude and Carmine Infantino, respectively, doing fill-ins while Marv and George are busy with wedding logistics.

Tales of the Teen Titans #48 (November 1984) presents the “RECOMBatants,” a thinly-disguised pastiche of the DNAgents, a teen superhero team from the mid ‘80s created by Mark Evanier and Will Meuginot. This was part of an unofficial Titans/DNAgents crossover that mirrored the unofficial JLA/Avengers crossovers of the early ‘70s. Accordingly, to balance things out, the Titans got to be the Squadron Supreme over in the DNAgents’ own book. How’s the story itself? Well, remember how Thunder and Lightning were misunderstood teens who didn’t ask for their powers and were forced to use them in self-defense against a world that hated and feared them? Yeah, pretty much that, plus the fact that the RECOMBatants were only a one-shot deal and therefore got to enjoy a poignant sendoff.

II suspect the main interest in this issue today is the Dude (and inker Al Gordon)’s take on the Titans, because it’s pretty far from Pérez. The lines are thicker, there are more shadows and mood, and everything is generally more fluid. Don’t get me wrong — Pérez’s figures can move, and his work is very dynamic, but Rude’s characters are incredibly laid-back and look a lot more weightless.

A lot of it seems to be that Rude’s figures are more exaggerated than we’ve been used to seeing. Perez tends to let his layouts do a lot of the work, and his figures then move within their confines. Rude isn’t as layout-conscious, so his figures have to make up for it. Rude is also more of a cartoonist.

The main story is only 18 pages, leaving room for a brief set of epilogues drawn (as were the previous few issues) by Pérez and Mike DeCarlo. Gar Logan and Jillian get chewed out by Steve Dayton (who looks a lot like Reed Richards here) for letting Donna use the Dayton mansion for the wedding without his permission. Dayton also happens to know Swamp Thing, although it’s not clear how.

Terry then gets a sendoff from a handful of his naughty! female students as again, Marv and George use wedding-related events to show that all of the ancillary characters are obsessed with sex. The issue ends with a short scene between Jericho and Raven, with him sensing something wrong and her warning him away.

Tales #49 (December 1984) features more shenanigans by Terry’s groomsmen, the Midlife Crisis Brigade …

… as well as the dramatic reappearance of Sharon Tracy, Donna’s roommate from back in the dizzay. According to TitansTower.com, Sharon first appeared in Teen Titans #22 (July-August 1969), the Marv Wolfman-written issue that first related Donna’s origin (establishing her as different from a young Wonder Woman) and introduced her red long-pantsed costume. Therefore, it’s nice to see her again, hanging out with Lilith Clay (herself appearing for the first time since the Titans West days, I believe) and Diana Prince.

Didn’t Gene Siskel once say his test of good characterization was whether he’d want to have lunch with the characters? Well, all the wedding subplots are fairly drama-free, so these framing sequences and epilogues are the equivalent. They’re often corny, but they’re still enjoyable.

The bulk of #49 concerns Wally West and Frances Kane’s guerilla warfare against Doctor Light. Somehow he can turn himself into a ball of light and break into the Central City bank, but after he surrounds himself with darkness he can’t stop Frances’ magnetically-hurled implements of destruction. In other words, Light is just powerful enough to be a menace for about six pages. Wally spends the fight running too fast to be seen (he still has a secret identity at this point but left his costume at Titans’ Tower when he retired), saving bystanders, and getting clocked by Light’s invisible forcefield. Anyway, Light is eventually so bumfuzzled by Fran’s attacks that he begs the cops to take him away. I used to think that Mark Waid was solely responsible for Fran’s descent into psycho-hosebeast territory, but dialogue here lays the foundation for it pretty well. Frances tells Wally she enjoys using her powers, and while Wally’s jokes are in the “glad you’re on my side!” vein, it’s hard not to think of her shrewish future here.

Turns out Wally and Fran’s adventure delayed their meeting with the Flash, who’s right in the middle of his murder trial at this point. Flash basically tells Wally that puberty has screwed with his powers, so that using his speed is not only harmful, it could be fatal. The issue ends with a couple of quiet scenes — Donna and Terry relaxing on the night before the wedding, and a virtually static final page where Wally leaves a sweet RSVP on Donna’s answering machine. Now, crank up the organ and cue the doves — it’s time for the Wedding of Donna Troy!

First off, Tales #50 (February 1985) is a beautiful comic. Perez says goodbye with a flourish, using his layouts to freeze time for the literally life-changing moments that deserve them. Donna’s appearance at the ceremony …

… and the happy couple’s first married kiss …

…are exquisitely framed to capture both their sweep and intimacy.

The issue builds a certain amount of tension, too, through sequences on Paradise Island meant to suggest some problem for Donna and/or Diana to solve; and through corresponding sequences at Dayton Estates suggesting someone creeping around. However, there are no supervillains interrupting this remarkably mundane occasion, just Queen Hippolyte getting special dispensation from the gods to leave Paradise Island and give Donna her blessing in person. Indeed, Donna’s wedding is a fairy-tale affair after all.

The only Titan not present at the wedding is Raven, hiding in Azarath’s dimension and literally afraid to show her face as she becomes more consumed by Trigon. In fact, Raven is the only costumed character in the issue, if you don’t count Cyborg’s armor under his tuxedo. Still, everyone else is there, clearly identified and placed in context, including most of Titans West. Some of the “civilians” don’t fare as well — Donna’s family from “Who Is Donna Troy?” are all around, of course, but there’s not much to help the casual reader with them. There are also a number of “insider” cameos, including Marv and George themselves and colorist Adrienne Roy. “Phoenicia,” designer of the bridal party’s gowns, was a friend of Perez’s, and apparently a number of fans even got to see themselves drawn into the issue. I think they’re ogling Bruce and Dick.


The regular cast has a lot to do, naturally. Gar shows some unexpected maturity as wedding coordinator, sublimating his continued angst over Terra’s death pretty well. Vic throws a little fit when he finds out Steve Dayton’s been using the Mento helmet to conceal Vic’s cybernetic implants, but he and Gar make up. Joey shows his mom (in her first appearance since “The Judas Contract,” so that’s a little jarring) his portrait of the happy couple and, honestly, it looks like it should be on the side of a van.

Kory probably has the least to do, story-wise, but she has to share bridesmaid duties with Sharon and Diana. Dick gets to confess his platonic love for Donna, and he also caps the subplot of being “estranged” from Bruce with a warm scene that, yes, informs a similar scene in last summer’s Justice League of America #0.

Those Dick/Donna and Dick/Bruce scenes are still pretty effective. Dick/Babs is the “meant-to-be” relationship now, and there was never really any hint that Dick and Donna were more than friends. Thus, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to transfer Dick’s feelings for Donna over to Babs, especially when both become unattached.

As for Dick/Bruce, talk of Natalia “Nocturna” Knight adopting Jason Todd, plus the last panel where each toasts the other and his team, places this scene squarely in the transitory mid-1980s. I never quite believed Bruce’s paternal feelings towards Jason (or Tim, for that matter), mostly because pre-Crisis Jason seems to spend more time with Dick. For that matter, it made more sense to me that Bruce would feel like Dick’s big brother, not his dad, so their relationship as guardian and ward were more appropriate. However, this scene defined the Bruce/Dick relationship for a whole lot of people for many years to come, and who am I to argue?

The wedding itself does have a few cringeworthy moments. Both Michael Jackson and Sting* make cameos, and depending on how you feel about the late John Denver, “Annie’s Song” as the First Dance may be a dealbreaker. Also, while Dick, Joey, and Mal “Hornblower” Duncan are all shown rocking out while the regular band takes five, apparently Roy Harper no longer wishes to relive his Great Frog days.

Maybe the best thing about this issue is that it makes the wedding and reception look fun. It’s the kind of shindig you wish you could put on, and if you’ve ever had to plan a wedding, it’s the kind of party you hope you threw. The buildup to #50, and especially #49’s last couple of pages, convey pretty well the crest of tension that any newlywed-to-be feels the night before. By the day of, there’s nothing you can do about it: either it works or it doesn’t, so just let it happen. Thankfully, Marv and George (and inker Dick Giordano, with an assist by DeCarlo again) made sure it all worked. I have to say, when I started going to my own friends’ weddings a few years after this issue came out, it was always in the back of my mind. It was there too when the Best Fiancee Ever and I started thinking about our own nuptials. I didn’t lobby for “Annie’s Song,” but I wouldn’t have kicked it off the playlist.

Like I said with regard to “Who Is Donna Troy,” this issue works almost despite the fact that there’s not much more to Donna beyond being pretty and nice. However, the peculiar alchemy Wolfman and Perez were able to use on her has turned that around into a kind of unequivocal goodwill — that because she’s so nice, we don’t want anything bad to happen to her, and we even actively wish her well. Indeed, we probably feel sorry for her that much more when she gets stuck with thankless expository 52 backups.

But that’s getting too far ahead of ourselves. For now, I’m happy to let Donna and Terry enjoy their honeymoon.

Next: Rich Buckler comes aboard, Cheshire returns, and Gar gets closure with the Terminator!

*Actually, it might have been John Constantine having some fun, even if his first appearance was still a while away. He did know Steve Dayton, after all.

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