Comics Ate My Brain

May 29, 2007

New comics 5/16/07 and 5/23/07

Would have gotten these up last night, but the traditional Memorial Day allergies started to kick in….

MAY 16, 2007

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #12 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Art Thibert) is a fairly decent issue which suffers somewhat by the behind-the-scenes murmurings about Bart Allen’s fate. I give it a lot of credit for setting up an inescapable doom-trap, but at the same time I have to think that the doom-trap won’t actually kill Bart. I mean, that would be a little too grim, even for someone like me who still can’t get past the arbitrary nature of his promotion. My appreciation of said trap is therefore blunted somewhat. I’m also kind of ambivalent about whether I want Bart to escape. I don’t want him to die, but at the same time I don’t think he should be the Flash just yet.

How was the book itself, you ask? Decent, like I said. No one seems to be out of character, but Bart himself is still such a cipher that it’s hard to say at this point what would be in character. Daniel’s storytelling skills are fine, but Thibert’s inks are inconsistent. The “weight” of characters on the page varies, and more often than not the Flash especially looks two-dimensional. Still, there is that doom-trap, and the Black Flash, so I don’t feel bad about coming back.

Countdown #50 (written by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray, pencilled by J. Calafiore, inked by Mark McKenna) has already been dissected by many of you, so I will just add some brief observations. First, if the cover suggests that the Joker has targeted Jimmy Olsen, that implies a much more exciting story than Jimmy happening to end up at Arkham Asylum for a stereotypical Hannibal Lecter conference. I’d want to read Joker vs. Jimmy, and I’d be lukewarm about Joker Talks To Jimmy. Second, the scenes with the Rogues go on far too long: five pages to establish a) they hate the Flash, whoever he might be, and b) Piper and Trickster’s bona fides are in question. I thought this scene added nothing to the current Flash arc. I think Countdown is improving, but boy, it’s not improving quickly.

Justice League of America #9 (written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Ed Benes) gets a lot of things right — the Gorilla City scenes, for instance — but again, nothing much seems to happen. Teams of JLAers and JSAers just show up and collect Legionnaires like they were checking out library books. At least the three bad guys were revealed.

Action Comics #849 (written by Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Ron Randall) finishes the “Redemption” two-parter about like I figured. There are some intriguing ideas, and Kurt Busiek’s social worker from an earlier Superman is used well, but ironically, I think Superman himself comes across as imposing his will on the common folk more than the story’s antagonist does. The final confrontation features Superman hovering over the congregation making pronouncements, and while Clark muses later that his moral compass has to be pretty accurate, I don’t think the congregants understood that point.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #52 (written by Tad Williams, drawn by Shawn McManus) finds our hero and his companions hatching a plan to free Sub Diego from Black Manta. This was not a dull issue, and I don’t have much of a problem with the art, but the Sub Diego stuff is just not involving me like it wants to. Besides, both Busiek and Williams want Arthur to be The Decider, but so far neither of them have really presented a compelling case for that. Arthur’s just a guy who can live underwater unaided and maybe occasionally talk to marine life, and right now that’s not enough to get me excited about him. There are exciting and chilling moments in the issue, including the Black Manta fights and Aquagirl’s story about the fate of some Sub Diegans, but Arthur should be the compelling center and he’s not.

Checkmate #14 (written by Greg Rucka and Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) is a solid caper story wherein a Checkmate team and the Outsiders infiltrate Oolong Island. As usual, Rucka uses the caper to advance the book’s various political subplots effectively. As a crossover, though, I have to say this storyline isn’t encouraging me to pick up Outsiders on a more regular basis. Beyond Nightwing, none of these characters seem particularly exciting, and most of them are defined by their sarcasm and air of bad-assery. If Rucka and Winick each wrote their respective team’s dialogue, Rucka wins. Bennett and Jadson do well enough, but the big action scene at the beginning suffers from faulty perspective. Specifically, I couldn’t tell at first whether the monster was supposed to be looming over the ship or sitting atop it.

Where do I begin with All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #5 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams)? First, I don’t think anyone should look to this title for the Platonic ideals of Batman, Robin, or any of the other iconic characters it features. This is not a story about How Batman Should Work. I don’t know what this story is about, and it’s been five issues. Actually, I take most of that back: this is a story about making Batman first among alpha males, by giving every other possible contender some fatal character flaw. Of the various costumed characters portrayed so far, Batman is the only one who seems to get the colossal joke underlying the very pursuit of superheroics. This makes a lot of sense in light of the basic “Batman” idea, and it could be a pretty entertaining series of issues, but remind me again … what’s the basic plot of this series? Where are the conflicts? Batman is wanted by the cops generally, never mind for kidnapping Dick Grayson, and by the way Dick’s parents have been murdered. Five issues in and we’re still just introducing all the players. This is starting to feel like the sub-glacial pace of Supreme Power all over again. It’s bad enough the issues are so late, but then to have virtually no plot advancement feels like Miller and Lee are just in it to put one over on the suckers.

Fortunately, Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, and Jesse Delperdang offer Batman #665, which gets a lot of ASB&R‘s ideas across in a mode that’s much easier to digest. “The Black Casebook” ascribes a certain supernatural dread to those old Batman stories no one likes to talk about because they’re “not realistic.” In this issue, Batman and Robin take out the Bane-themed Batman, in part because Bruce convinces himself that he needs to be, yes, the top alpha male. However, Morrison’s Batman is more sedate, and perhaps more self-aware, than Miller and Lee’s cackling dervish. He’s playing a role, not thinking with his id. The issue also has some fine action scenes, including Batman and Robin both slamming into the Bat-Bane with their respective vehicles.

Star Wars: Rebellion #6 (written by Brandon Badeaux & Rob Williams, drawn by Michel Lacombe) begins a new arc focusing on a character who should be familiar to me, but isn’t. He’s a Rebel agent who gets found out by the mob boss he’s infiltrated, and sent on a mission by said mobster. I liked this issue well enough, even if some parts of it (the opening flashback to Episode III, and an assassination) weren’t connected to the main plot. It all felt like part of the comfortable SW setting, and with a book like this, that’s what you want.

Finally for this week, Hero Squared #6 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) offers the origins of Captain Valor and Caliginous, each told by them in what has to be somewhat self-serving fashion. Captain Valor’s is more funny, being a pretty obvious parody of Captain Marvel’s (including a Mr. Natural-like Shazam figure), but the emotional heft comes at the end of the issue, when one of the book’s main players reacts to Caliginous’ story. This is another book that doesn’t do much in the way of macro-plot, but at least it offers a fairly complete story in every issue. If, as I have read, it’s ending soon, it should probably get to its larger point, but issue by issue, it’s still fun.

MAY 23, 2007

Countdown #49 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, pencilled by Carlos Magno, inked by Jay Leister) uses Jimmy’s elastic past to get him out of the cliffhanger with Killer Croc, and the Pied Piper and Trickster get a good double-agent-y scene to establish their bona fides with the other Rogues. The rest of the issue is taken up with exposition-happy Monitors, Karate Kid and Red Arrow trading quips (leading me to wonder about the timing of this issue relative to the JLA/JSA crossover) and a dismemberment-happy Black Adam. The art this issue was pretty good for a team I’ve not seen before — very dynamic, although there has to be a better way than facial hair to distinguish the Monitors.

I’m genuinely torn as to whether to continue with Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes (#30 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti), because this was a very solid issue, but I think it’s Waid and Kitson’s last. They go out raising more questions than they answer, with those questions being very intriguing. Will Cosmic Boy join this mysterious new team? What will happen to Mon-El? Most importantly, will the new creative team be any good? I keep saying I want to re-read this series, so maybe this will give me the impetus to do it.

I thought The Spirit #6 (by Darwyn Cooke) was too ambitious. It tries very hard to be a real Eisner-esque story about a new character, with the Spirit in the background, but it just felt so familiar, and not in a good way. It’s probably redundant to say that tortured musicians suffer for the sake of their art, and will do anything to perfect it, but there didn’t seem to be much new (beyond the sci-fi trappings) of this musician’s story. This title will always be worth reading as long as Cooke is on it, because Cooke is such a great storyteller and designer, but this issue falls short.

Wonder Woman #9 (written by Jodi Picoult, drawn by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson) doesn’t skimp on plot. Superman, Batman, and the Justice League appear briefly, Circe’s plans are revealed further, and Diana and Circe square off. The art is gorgeous, as you might expect. Picoult is improving, but her dialogue is still too clever and she can’t quite manage all the plot. It continues to mystify me why DC would try to build up this title’s profile with a prose novelist, and then plop said novelist right in the middle of a big event.

For some reason Fantastic Four #546 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) didn’t make much of an impression on me the first time around. That’s probably my fault, because upon further inspection it’s a neat little issue which references everything from the ’70s Jack Kirby Black Panther series to Waid and Wieringo’s last big FF arc. Oh, and Beyond!, of course, written by McDuffie. I didn’t expect to see Reed and Sue back in the book (and apparently on their way to a healthy relationship) so soon, but that was a pleasant surprise, as was the combination of Pelletier and Magyar. Magyar really gives the pencils a good heft and a lot of weight, for a nice Alan Davis look. If this is just a temporary team, the long-term folks had better be absolutely stellar.

Arnim Zola, another ’70s Kirby creation, shows up in Captain America #26 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Mike Perkins). A series of brief episodes — the typography of which reminds me of old Spirit stories, for some reason — check in on Sharon, the Winter Soldier, the Falcon, and Zola and the other villains, all getting back to their lives after Cap’s death. Apparently this issue comes after all of those Fallen Son specials Marvel’s been pushing since Cap #25, but I haven’t read ’em, so this isn’t overkill (you’ll pardon the expression) for me. Brief glimpses of the Avengers both connect this book to, and distance it from, the larger Marvel Universe. These are people who don’t quite fit into the land of crossovers and tie-ins. In that respect they’re misfits, not unlike the time-lost Captain America whose memory now links them. If you can’t already tell, I like this book a lot.

Aaand speaking of crossovers I haven’t read and am not reading, here’s She-Hulk #18 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn), featuring Jen’s battle with Iron Man on the SHIELD Helicarrier. That’s about it, really. This issue uses Jen as a bridge between Civil War and “World War Hulk,” getting her from one side to the other. There are some cute moments, but most of those involve Shulkie’s regular supporting cast. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good as the book has been.

Finally, here’s a book that may be better than ever: Birds Of Prey #106 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). Not just the Barda/Knockout fight, this matches up all of the Secret Sixers against the Birds, with Ice slowly regaining consciousness throughout. (Just noticed: on the cover, Barda’s mega-rod looks a lot like Luke’s green lightsaber….) It’s pretty fun, especially the Misfit/Harley Quinn pairing. Nicola Scott’s choreography isn’t as fluid as I’m used to, so some of the figures are posed a bit awkwardly. Then again, they are fighting, so maybe that’s how they’re supposed to look. This team has succeeded in making a book I look forward to every month, and it’s another situation where the new writer will have big shoes to fill.

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