Comics Ate My Brain

May 12, 2007

New (at the time) comics 4/25/07 and 5/2/07

(sigh)

Yes, it’s been another three weeks without a new-comics recap. I’m not going to dwell on that, though, so let’s jump right in. Should have the 5/9 comics recapped by tonight or tomorrow.

4/25/07

52 #51 (written by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, and Mark Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson and Belardino Brabo) … yeah, you know, it was fine. The space heroes got their reunions, there was a nice bookend to the first issue with the Superman/Superboy memorials, and it was a good way to wind down the bulk of the series. I can’t help but see it as the first part of a 2-part conclusion to the series, given what happens in #52, but we’ll get to that later.

Wonder Woman #8 (written by Jodi PIcoult, drawn by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson) and Amazons Attack #1 (written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Pete Woods) are joined at the hip(Polyta — oh, I hate myself), so I’ll talk about ’em together. It occurs to me that AA does a better job of starting Wonder Woman’s “rehabilitation” than the main title does. Not that I didn’t like the Allan Heinberg issues, because they were on the whole pretty clever. It’s just that you’d think the Big Novelist Arc would overshadow, or at least color, the Big Event Miniseries, and it’s turned out the other way around — and the ironic thing is, that’s probably for the best. WW #8 is more of the same “save Nemesis from Circe” plot, now in its third issue; and still making with the contrivances for the sake of humor.

I may like AA better simply because it seems to give everything some direction. In fact, it hews more to a traditional superhero-story introduction: it establishes the threat, presents the stakes, and shows the heroes beginning to respond. Sure, the Amazons are bloodthirsty, perhaps excessively so; but I have a feeling the excess may be part of Circe’s prompting. Both books look fabulous, so that helps a lot.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Justice Society of America #5 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Fernando Pasarin), the wholly nondescript cover notwithstanding. (I almost didn’t get it because — unlike the Phil JIminez variant for sale for $10 behind the LCS’ counter — it didn’t say anything about being Part 2 of the JLA crossover.) Anyway, it’s part 2 of the JLA crossover, and oh boy stuff happens! Batman, Sandman, Starman, and Geo-Force fight “Batmen Through The Ages” and Doctor Destiny in Arkham Asylum! Superbo– er, Superman gives the teen JSAers the Fortress tour, complete with Madame Toussaud’s Legion of Super-Heroes! Wildfire vomits up Batman’s utility belt, last seen on Rick Jones in Avengers Forever! Okay, that last part isn’t quite true, but it kind of gives you the feel for where all of this is going. I liked this issue well enough, although Pasarin’s art is just a little too much over-rendered. Also, unless those are animatronic Legion statues, I’m kind of disturbed by how expressive they are. Also also, as I clumsily indicated before, his Superman looked at first a little too Superboy-ish. Hope part 3, in JLA #9, is at least as good.

I now prefer to think of the final issue of Firestorm 2.0 (#35 written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Pop Mhan, inked by Mhan and Steve Bird) as Part 3 of the special bridge-the-gap Firestorm miniseries. Looks to me like the Dan Jolley/Stuart Moore-written plots and subplots all concluded satisfactorily in #32 — because this issue ends on a terribly disappointing cliffhanger. It’s good because it means Firestorm will be popping up later in other DC books, and might get enough new exposure for a revival, but it’s bad in terms of narrative cohesion. It’s the Gotham Central non-ending, pretty much. The plot is also kind of hard to understand, because it hinges on some use of Firestorm’s powers that he takes great pains to set up … but when he does it, the setup doesn’t appear necessary. Basically it’s a big fight scene, rendered and choreographed well, except for that one part.

Action Comics #848 (written by Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Ron Randall) continues the fill-ins with Part 1 of a 2-parter about a superhero who gets his powers from God. Well, faith, prayer, something like that. The new guy destroys a squad of soldiers in an African country because he’s there to protect missionaries — which he does — but he can’t control his powers otherwise. The religious angle causes Superman to question how much he should be interfering, because clearly he’s got his own history of religious belief. It’s a good start for a story, but as you might expect, it ‘s not too subtle. I’ll be surprised if the folks behind Jarod (the new guy) aren’t broadcasting their own powers through him, and not really acting on direct orders from the Lord. The story isn’t helped by Goldman’s pencils. They’re serviceable, and his storytelling is fine, but his figures are awkward and his perspective falters occasionally. One scene, with Clark and Lois getting ready for bed, features an overmuscled Clark and a Lois whose back arches too far, apparently so she can display her hinder more prominently.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #29 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Kevin Sharpe, inked by Mark McKenna & Jack Purcell) was a weird fill-in, if indeed it is such and not just the start of the Bedard/Sharpe Era. It basically spilled the beans on 52 a week early (in the comics themselves; Dan DiDio did it first, of course), explaining why the Dominators hate the Earth, and the Legion in particular. The issue is nothing special — the Dominators’ history is told against the backdrop of the Legion trashing their planet — and the art is decent at best.

Batman Confidential #5 (written by Andy Diggle, pencilled by Whilce Portacio, inked by Richard Friend) is another issue-long fight scene, as first the Batplane and then the Batcycle are used to attack Luthor’s secret robot warehouse. It took me about three minutes to read.

For the first time in a long time, I didn’t get a whole lot out of Astro City (The Dark Age Book Two #3 written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson). Maybe the Ron Burgundy cameo threw me off. I had the same reaction to Planetary Brigade: Origins #3 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Julia Bax).

Thankfully, the same was not true for Fantastic Four #545 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar), which did a lot with the new FF, the Silver Surfer, and Gravity. I’ll echo the blogosphere’s concerns about some of the physics in the issue, but overall it continues to be very good.

5/2/07

I talked about 52 #52 in the 5/3 Grumpy Old Fan. Short version: yay multiverse! Slightly longer version: a big jumble of a story that felt more like a Big 52 Special than an organic ending to the series. Also, I’m not sure, but I think it broke out of the “this happened this week” mold in large part for the last issue. Still, a good end to the series.

Probably the worst thing about Green Lantern #19 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn and colored by Danlel Acuna) is the continued existence of the new Star Sapphire costume. Otherwise, it would be this issue’s notions about the beginnings of a Star Sapphire Corps — which, okay, makes some sense, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it right on the heels of the Sinestro Corps. I did like seeing Carol in a Green Lapphire costume, and the Hal/Carol scenes are fine, but there’s some really weak dialogue here — mostly predictable “first dates are hell” stuff. Acuna’s art is good, but it’s so different from the Pacheco/Reis school of finely-rendered figures that it takes some getting used to. The “Sinestro Corps” backup continues to be good and scary, in every sense of the words.

Detective Comics #832 (written by Royal McGraw, drawn by Andy Clarke) showcases the return of the Terrible Trio, a ’50s-era threefer of theme-gimmick villains now bent on killing each other off. I figured out the twist about halfway through. Not a bad issue, but not a standout either.

Checkmate #13 (written by Greg Rucka and Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) begins “Check/Out,” the Outsiders crossover, with the Checkmaters taking out the Outsiders one by one. Not much plot beyond that, and it’s a good way to introduce someone who’s never read any Outsiders (i.e., me) to the team. It also makes Checkmate look capable without making the Outsiders look like chumps. Bennett and Jadson are the new art team starting this issue, and they do their usual fine job.

(The All-New) Atom #11 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Trevor Scott) concludes the Atom-vs.-zombies story, and not an issue too soon. As much as I want this series to show how it can handle different subgenres, this story just felt shoehorned into the book to get it out of the way before the big Ray Palmer arc. I am still rooting for Ryan Choi, but I’m eager for the more science-y stuff to return.

Welcome To Tranquility #6 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe and Billy Dallas Patton) also wraps up its arc. While I think WTT is a very ambitious book, and deserves a look because of it, it hasn’t really hooked me. I’ll probably re-read these six issues before deciding whether to continue.

Jeff Smith’s Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil #3 was good as usual, with some familiar Sivana-vs.-Batsons action at the center of the issue. The manner of Billy’s escape is particularly fun. However, maybe it was just the way the story broke out, but this issue’s cliffhanger isn’t all that suspenseful. Oh well; it’s not like I won’t get #4.

Finally, Superman #662 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino) offered a decent bridge into the second half of “Camelot Falls.” Some have complained that nothing happens, but I thought Superman’s examination of his role in Earth’s history was done well. It’s not really the “Must There Be A Superman?” question, because Superman’s allegedly not making humanity weaker as much as he’s making the bad guys stronger. I can see where someone who didn’t read the previous Busiek issues might wonder what all the fuss is about, but since I did, and since that particular future was about as apocalyptic as one could get, I was invested in Superman’s musings from the start.

Now for the 5/9 books, and maybe some more new content besides.

May 2, 2007

In which I dismiss Steve Trevor, and probably reveal a hideous double standard.

Filed under: batman, superman, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 2:44 pm
Avi Arad said this:

In the comics, the easiest way to bring real life into the life of the hero is to give him a spouse. […] Lois Lane and the other women, in the comic books, the woman is the other world that represents all of us, and she is there to support, she is there to demand, she is there to observe and to make you think of her as an ambassador of the rest of us. […] Otherwise, there is never a personal story to bring all of us into the room.

Ragnell added

Steve Trevor can not be replaced in this aspect and we lost so much when they threw him to the background after Crisis.

Well, I dunno. I like a lot of the ordinary-human spouses/significant others. I didn’t have a problem with the Lane-Kent or Watson-Parker marriages. Heck, I wrote 5000 words on Silver St. Cloud and the other Bat-girlfriends a couple of years ago. Regardless, I never liked Steve Trevor, and twenty years after he was thrown into the background, I still don’t think the idea of Steve Trevor as Diana’s soulmate is critical to the Wonder Woman setup.

Granted, I am not really a WW scholar, because I didn’t start reading regularly until the George Pérez revamp. However, the idea that Diana would leave Paradise Island at least in part to follow Steve back to Man’s World seems to diminish her a bit. I feel the same way when the genders are reversed: Clark is a reporter first, and an admirer of Lois Lane second. The mission is the important part of the setup, not the romance.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, apparently Steve became more patriarchal, such that if Wonder Woman ever decided to settle down with him, she’d give up everything that made her super. I don’t know how Steve changed in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, apart from dying and being resurrected a couple of times. The Pérez revamp connected him to Diana through his mother, a WAAF pilot who crashed on Themyscira and became Diana’s namesake. Steve was thereby aged out of Diana’s eligibility range.

Steve’s audience-identification replacement then got split into a handful of characters: Julia Kapatelis, a professor specializing in Classical Greek; her teenage daughter Vanessa; and Diana’s publicist Myndi Mayer. In effect, Julia became Diana’s surrogate mother and Vanessa her surrogate sister, with Myndi representing the practicalities of the real world. There’s probably some significant dynamic at play among those three characters, but it’s not quite a Maiden-Mother-Crone situation, nor is it exactly a Virgin/Whore. Anyway, I don’t know if it was intentional and I don’t know enough about those archetypes to take that line of thinking much farther. Besides, Myndi didn’t last long, and Diana was left with just Julia and Vanessa (and sometimes Lois Lane) as guides to Patriarch’s World.

I thought the Pérez run was a good revamp overall, because it put Diana’s focus back on her mission and actually distinguished her from Superman and Batman. By not having a secret identity, she didn’t have to deal with “identity issues,” including the classic WW/Steve/Diana Prince love triangle. It also made her less of a traditional superhero, because it gave her a defined purpose and viewpoint. She wasn’t on an eternal crusade to beat up bad guys, she was a social reformer and the representative of an existing functional society. She seemed to spend a lot of the Pérez issues aghast at the inhumanities of which Patriarch’s World was capable, but she wasn’t entirely naïve. She was also more fully realized as a character than Pérez’s other wide-eyed warrior woman, Starfire.

Ragnell puts it best:

You see, the secret is that, even though none of us can say we know who Wonder Woman is, its always been very clear that she knows who she is. There’s trouble connecting with other people, and the gods, and her purpose, but Diana has always been centered in herself. Confident. She knew exactly what she was inside.

To me, that suggests Diana doesn’t need a love interest to “complete” her. (Perez and John Byrne both offered cops as potential suitors, but Diana never took Perez’s Ed Indelicato seriously, and I can’t even remember Byrne’s cop’s full name — Mike something.) In this respect she does remind me of Batman, because conventional wisdom suggests that Batman is so driven he also doesn’t need romance. Both appear so devoted to their respective missions that for them to have wistful “If only…!” moments puts chinks in their armor. It’s different for Superman and Spider-Man — they’re just normal guys at heart, trying to do the right things, trying to fit in. Naturally we want them to hook up, because that’s part of their yearnings. Batman left normal life behind a long time ago, and Wonder Woman was never normal.

Maybe it’s just me, but I never thought of Wonder Woman as “attainable,” so I never needed to picture her as “virginal” either. Or — wait — maybe all that stuff about “the mission” actually is my substitute for her virginity … but that’s not right either. Is wanting Diana to be “pure for the world” the same as wanting her to be “pure for me?” I don’t think so. I just don’t think the setup lends itself to romance.

Now, at the same time I would not be opposed to a new Bat-romance with a normal person — I liked Vesper Fairchild, before all the unpleasantness — and therein lies my fear of a double standard. However, with Batman I think it would be a welcome change after so many years of stone-faced “Bruce Wayne is the real mask” stories. With Wonder Woman, even under the current “Agent Prince” setup, that break from a calcified status quo isn’t necessary, because even in the secret-ID days Diana never seemed to have those kinds of issues.

Again, it goes back to Pérez, who placed the reader-identification characters pretty far out of bounds in terms of romantic possibilities. That’s definitely affected my perspective, but I grew up with Lynda Carter and “Super Friends” too and I still knew WW was out of my league.

I’m not saying she can’t have a romance (or a Batman-esque series of romances) with a normal person outside the superhero life. The Trevor Barnes subplot was okay, but it never really took off, and now poor Trevor’s got little hope of returning. It would probably have to be done with some subtlety, so that readers wouldn’t be turned off immediately.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s necessary, but I’m not opposed to it. Ms. Simone…?

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