Comics Ate My Brain

May 31, 2008

New comics 5/21/08

Yes, these are comics from ten days ago. Memorial Day Weekend was just too jam-packed, and I came out of it apparently itching to write a 2200-word dissertation on Crisis On Infinite Earths, the original JLA/JSA team-ups, and the problems with line-wide events.

Therefore, might as well begin with the lead-in to the latest LWE, Justice League of America #21 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino). I really, really hope that this is the last crossover-affected issue of JLA for a while. It begins with a 9-page sequence of the “Trinity” sitting around a table talking about how they’re not really running the League from behind the scenes. I thought the dialogue was good (“I had a run-in with Mr. Polka-Dot.” “Is that a euphemism?”). However, although Pacheco kept the talking heads from getting too boring, he could have used a few flashback images. Overall, it assumes a little too much knowledge, even on the part of the longtime reader. I presume this will have repercussions in JLA itself, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it showed up later in Trinity.

The bulk of the issue concerns the Human Flame, his fight with Red Arrow and Hawkgirl, and his recruitment by Libra. HF is a schmoe, that’s for sure; but he’s not the stereotypical lovable-loser supervillain schlub. McDuffie gives him a mean streak that undercuts whatever sympathy we might be starting to feel. Likewise, Pacheco doesn’t play up any endearing parts of his dumpy appearance. Overall, this was a well-told story, but I still think it should have been in a Secret Files.

For those of you who know the dirty secret of cruise ships — namely, that they give the surviving passengers hush money to cover up all the deaths — the nautical nastiness depicted in The Spirit #17 (written by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones, pencilled by Aluir Amancio, inked by Terry Austin) will come as no surprise. This was yet another light-hearted, compact caper using Will Eisner’s characters and designs; but one of the subplots seemed pretty obvious and the other only slightly less so. Also, from what little I’ve read of the original Spirit stories, I don’t remember Ellen Dolan being such a self-absorbed Barbie doll. Amancio and Austin’s work is more cartoony than Paul Smith or Mike Ploog, but it gets the job done.

According to the first page of Fantastic Four #557 (written by Mark Millar, pencilled by Bryan Hitch, inked by Paul Neary), I should have read Mighty Avengers #11 first. However, I don’t know why; and I’m not eager to track down a 3-month-old issue to find out. Anyway, I did like how Reed and Sue celebrate their anniversary, but the rest of it is a bunch of exposition wrapped around a one-joke fight scene. I can kind-of accept “the Anti-Galactus,” but things like Johnny’s nympho supervillain girlfriend and the faux-drama about Reed being tempted just seem artificial. The snow effects look better this time, though.

Captain America #38 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Epting and Mike Perkins) (re)introduces what I presume is the last player in this particular arc, and sets him up against Bucky/Cap. It’s hard to explain without giving everything away, but I’ll try. Using a raid on an AIM base as its main sequence, the issue examines the relationships of mentors and proteges, and inspirations and successors; and observes that, for the three principals involved, those roles have shifted, if not outright reversed. It’s a neat little chapter which probably sums up at least one of Brubaker’s overriding themes, and while it might appear to be a simple action issue, there’s a lot more going on.

For the second straight month, Tangent: Superman’s Reign (#3 written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs) focuses on the squad of Tangenteers trying to free the Tangent Atom. While that subplot achieves some closure, and the two worlds’ characters actually come into conflict (as opposed to comparing notes), it still feels a little redundant. I like Igle’s work fine, although Riggs’ inks are looser than what Igle usually gets. It feels more like a Justice League story than what’s been in JLA lately; and next issue I bet things will pick up.

The “Dark Side Club” banner started appearing on particular DC titles last week, and it looks like the kind of underground fight-club we’ve seen before. Specifically, Birds Of Prey #118 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) opens with a fight involving Sparx, a D-list character whose abduction we see in the first issue of Final Crisis. So, you know, there’s that crossover element we like so much. The rest of the issue involves Black Alice and Misfit fighting, again. This issue introduces a new aspect of their relationship which leads to a result I wasn’t expecting. However, I wasn’t expecting it because their relationship feels artificially manipulated to begin with, and the latest twist just seems like another manipulation. Scott and Hazlewood are good as always, with (I hate to say it) a grisly, shadowy death being a particular highlight.

The new issue of The Flash (#240, written by Tom Peyer, drawn by Freddie Williams II) also sports a “Dark Side Club” banner, but it’s incidental to the main story of Wally and Jay vs. Grodd and Spin. I can’t complain any more about Williams’ chunky Flash, because he seems to have gotten through that phase. I also got a kick out of this issue’s mind-control victims talking in Local-Newscast-ese — it’s funny ’cause it’s true. The cliffhanger makes me wonder about the length of the current setup, though….

Finally, here’s Jay Garrick again, teaming up with Batman in The Brave and the Bold #13 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Scott Koblish and Bob McLeod). They make a good team, because the easygoing Jay not only provides a good counterpoint to Batman’s intensity, Batman respects him and so dials it back a few notches. The plot, involving an old Bat-villain, a mad scientist, killer robots, and Jay’s chemist colleagues, may be more complicated than it needs to be, but it’s probably necessary to get these two characters together. I daresay Ordway’s more understated style is better-suited to this story’s amiable nature than George Perez’s would have been; and Waid provides good conversation amongst all the robot-smashing.

Look for the comics from Thursday (Happy Grant Morrison Day!) in the next couple of days.

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May 30, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: avengers, batman, captain america, friday night fights, justice league, meme — Tom Bondurant @ 11:57 pm
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

If an intercompany crossover gets scrapped after 21 pages are pencilled, do Batman and Captain America really fight?

Now, that’s not entirely fair. After all, when JLA/Avengers was eventually published, it made the original 1983 plot one of the teams’ “annual meetings.” Therefore, from a certain point of view, it did happen.

It was in an alternate reality, of course … but aren’t they all?

Bahlactus has all the answers!

[From the unpublished first meeting of the Justice League of America and the Avengers, planned for publication in 1983. Plot by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, pencils by George Perez. Reprinted in Avengers/JLA Compendium, 2004.]

May 23, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: batman, friday night fights, meme — Tom Bondurant @ 9:32 pm
It’s easy to do a Batman sequence for Friday Night Fights . It’s not much harder to pick out one in black-and-white, as per Bahlactus‘ instructions for this round.

Therefore, I like these particular pages because they demonstrate the tone of the Batman books in the early ’70s. Basically, Alfred’s niece — not, we rush to point out, Alicia Silverstone — has somehow found herself in the old “governess in the haunted mansion” circumstance. After reading her latest letter, Uncle Alfred suggests that maybe his employer might want to check things out.

So here’s Batman, calmly walking through the woods in full costume, trolling for information …


… but really, why wouldn’t a couple of thugs want to beat up a loon in a bat costume? Clearly Batman knows this, and is just looking for any excuse to cause trouble. The results are predictable:

Two guards, each carrying a farm implement — yeah, a page is about right.

[From “The Demon Of Gothos Mansion!” in Batman #227, December 1970. Written by Denny O’Neil, pencilled by Irv Novick, inked by Dick Giordano, lettered by Ben Oda. Reprinted in Batman From The ’30s To The ’70s (1971).

May 20, 2008

New comics 5/14/08

I wasn’t planning on buying any more of Secret Invasion than I had to, but I was intrigued by the last page of Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four #1 (written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray). I won’t spoil it for you, but it is a callback to an era I didn’t think Marvel was in a mood to revisit. The rest of the issue is standard FF fare, following a Skrull infiltrator’s sabotage of the Baxter Building. That’s not the real story, though; and that’s where the last page comes in. I’ve not read Aguirre-Sacasa’s FF work before, but he does a good job here, getting through exposition about the sabotage and SI generally in an efficient manner. Barry Kitson’s work is less cluttered than, say, his Legion pencils, and although Mick Gray has inked him before, the work doesn’t seem as rigid. Overall, it’s a nice-looking book that will probably work well as a standalone Skrull adventure.

Serenity: Better Days #3 (written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, drawn by Will Conrad) finds the crew having to rescue Mal, which was kind of a surprise to me because I didn’t remember the last issue leaving off with that. In fact, this whole miniseries has seemed disjointed, issue-to-issue. It also feels a bit short, like it could have used at least one more installment. Anyway, this one is fine for what it is — Whedon and Matthews obviously have the characters’ voices cold; and Conrad does fine with the likenesses and the storytelling. Maybe in a chunk it will read better, so maybe I should be waiting for the trades instead.

The same may be true for Last Defenders #3 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Jim Muniz, inked by Cam Smith), which is starting to veer too much into arcane-Marvel territory for me. I don’t have a problem with the dialogue or the art, but I get the feeling that I’m supposed to be more emotionally affected by the plot.

Huntress: Year One #1 (written by Ivory Madison, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Art Thibert) is in a weird position. The modern version of the character has been around for almost twenty years. For much of that time she was a B-list character in the Batman books. She resented Batman for not trusting her (join the club), she teamed up with Robin, and slept with Nightwing. She had two stints in the Justice League, first under Giffen/DeMatteis and then under Morrison. For the past few years, though, she’s been a more well-adjusted member of the Birds Of Prey — a little hardcore on occasion, sure, but more often than not kicking back with a beer after a mission is done.

Therefore, the Helena Bertinelli of H:Y1 is something of an artifact — all hardcore, no quarter asked, none given. This issue retells the story of her family’s murder and casts her in something approaching the Michael Corleone role: she wants to get out, but she’s so good at playing the game. The issue itself is told non-sequentially, with different color palettes (wielded by Jason Wright) for different time periods; and that can get a little confusing. There are also quite a few new (or at least unfamiliar) characters, so while we know the outlines of Helena’s story, it can be a chore to fit the others’ timelines to hers. Madison’s dialogue doesn’t go over the top too often, and apart from the flashback problems, Richards is a decent storyteller. Overall, it’s not particularly bad, but if this were ten years ago, it’d be less of a jolt.

I don’t want to sound like an apologist — or worse, a chauvinist — but despite the “Catfight Begins Here” tagline on the cover of Batman Confidential #17 (written by Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Kevin Maguire), the issue didn’t strike me as an excuse for 22 pages of cheesecake. As an extended chase sequence involving Batgirl and Catwoman, it is basically two attractive women in skintight costumes leaping and jumping and falling and fighting, so … well, I guess that does sound like an excuse for cheesecake. Still, Maguire doesn’t go out of his way not to draw sexy women, and the 22 pages are spent mostly on the mechanics of the chase itself. Nicieza uses dueling narrative captions, the device Jeph Loeb taught me to hate, but since he focuses mostly on the earnest Batgirl, they’re used to good effect. Looks like a promising, if inconsequential, story.

Bat Lash concludes with #6 (written by Sergio Aragones and Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin with help from Javier Pina and Steve Lieber). I’ve said it before — this miniseries was produced fairly well, but on the whole it seemed more like a generic Western than something which would have established Bat’s “Maverick”-esque personality. Since this is the end, the bad guy gets his, starting with an entertaining sequence which finds pretty much everyone else in the book throwing things at him. Pina and Lieber draw the climactic pages in a style which is a little cleaner than Severin’s, but not incompatible therewith. Actually, I wonder if this is the end for ol’ Bat, since the very last panel seems like something of a cliffhanger for someone who might only be familiar with the character through this book. I will say that if Aragones et al. come back for a sequel, I’ll probably get it; but I wish this miniseries had had a little more distinctiveness.

Green Lantern Corps #24 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentiss Rollins and Drew Geraci) follows our familiar GLs as they track Arisia and Sodam Yat, captives of the Black Mercy. Those of you expecting the familiar ideal-fantasy-fate seen in previous BM appearances may be disappointed here, as the plant has been made a little meaner by Mongul. That’s not necessarily bad, though; because honestly, how resonant would Arisia or Yat’s ideal fantasy be (as opposed to, say, Kyle or Guy’s)? Add a creepy interlude with the Sinestro Corps prisoners on Oa and it’s a full issue. However, as hard as it tries, this issue has a very matter-of-fact feel — almost day-at-the-office — right up to the last page. That last page redeems it, though.

I don’t have much to say about Green Arrow And Black Canary #8 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Rodney Ramos) except that I liked it. It’s a little light on scene transitions, but that could just be me not paying attention. I like Norton and Ramos as replacements for Cliff Chiang, I thought Winick’s dialogue was a little cute at times but I can take it, and I liked the misdirection at the end.

Winick’s other book this week, Titans #2 (pencilled by Joe Benitez, inked by Victor Llamas), was more of a puzzle. First off, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I’ve read the Wolfman/Perez Titans. Whenever I continue the Big Titans Project, I’ll be getting into the post-Perez years. I’ve seen Wolfman/Perez pastiches before, most obviously from Devin Grayson and Phil Jiminez. Therefore, I’m not sure the Old New Teen Titans are best served by a return to Wolfman/Perez sensibilities.

However, I don’t know that they need Judd Winick and Joe Benitez (or whoever the artist will be next month). This issue finds the Titans — who refuse to acknowledge that they’ve gotten back together — making sure that all the ex-Titans are safe from Trigon’s minions. That makes sense. What doesn’t make as much sense is Benitez drawing Trigon like Iggy Pop and Raven (in what is basically a dream sequence) like Aeon Flux. In fact, Benitez and Llamas’ work looks like the offspring of Sam Kieth and Ed Benes. It’s not bad in the sense that it tells the story in an understandable way; but it’s not even as “realistic” as Ian Churchill’s work was last issue. Still, it has personality. As for the plot, not much happens this issue beyond rescuing Argent in the opening pages and visiting Trigon midway through. I do think this book has potential, but first it has to decide what it wants to be.

Superman #676 (written by Vito Delsante, pencilled by Julian Lopez, inked by Bit) is an “untold tale” of Supes’ first meeting with the Golden Age Green Lantern, as the two track down Solomon Grundy on Memorial Day. There’s a lot of Greatest Generation-oriented narration, with which I can’t argue; but it gets a little obvious after a few pages. The art is similar to the Carlos Pacheco/Jesus Merino style, which is nice, although it’s made more 3-D by the color effects of Marta Martinez, and that can get a little overpowering. In the end, though, it tells the story well. This is an issue more for the longtime fan who wants to see the most powerful hero of (current) DC-Earth’s Golden Age meet the most powerful hero of “today.” That reader will appreciate the nods to DC history which pepper the story, and might forgive the fact that otherwise the story tries a little too hard.

Speaking of DC obscura, Gail Simone is making me hunt through the old Who’s Whos for the scoop on the guy behind Wonder Woman #20 (written by Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan). He sends Diana on a quest to help a certain public-domain barbarian defeat his famous nemesis. This means new penciller Lopresti gets to draw Diana fighting wolves and barbarians without the benefit of most of her powers. A flashback scene with Etta Candy sets up the quest and lets Simone address the issue of Jodi Picoult’s “Naive Diana,” who was flummoxed by pumping gas. I liked this issue better than the Khund storyline, although Simone seems to be settling into a groove of “who will Diana fight this month?” She’s found the right voice for Diana to do it, though, so I’m not complaining too much.

Booster Gold #9 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) isn’t exactly the perfect superhero-comic single issue, but it does demonstrate how much 22 pages can do. Basically the old Justice League International gang reunited to take down Max Lord and the mind-controlled Superman, it takes Booster and Beetle from a bombed-out Batcave to the final confrontation with the villains behind it all. (Continued next issue, of course.) Jurgens has done evil-alternate-timelines before, and in Justice League America to boot, so this is solid ground for him. Likewise, tweaking Infinite Crisis isn’t too hard for Johns. This is an extra-fine storyline, and I’m eager to see how it ends.

Finally, Batman #676 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea) begins the long-awaited “Batman, R.I.P.” arc with the Club of Villains, the Dynamic Duo taking out a would-be masked villain in about two minutes, a couple of scenes intended to beef up Jezebel Jet’s character, and a visit with the Joker which took me a few tries to understand. Each is important not so much for their details, but for their tone. The issue as a whole hints that Batman’s “happiness,” both with Jezebel and in costume, will be his downfall despite the extent to which he’s investigating the Black Glove’s organization. If Morrison’s basic take on the character is that “Batman always has a plan,” this may be the storyline which tests his planning ability. Daniel and Florea convey this all in a satisfactory manner, from the ridiculous (the Green Vulture) to the sublime (the Joker). It’s a good start to what is rumored to be a great story.

May 19, 2008

Sunday Soliloquy

Filed under: fantastic four, jack kirby, sunday soliloquy — Tom Bondurant @ 12:29 am
Doom had a few good speeches in the classic “Trapped In Latveria” storyline, but this one stuck out. Not only does it have this great splash panel …

… it hints at another of his dark secrets —

— namely, that he had Earth-Marvel’s Stan Lee roughed up by Doombots for misspelling “soliloquy.”

[From “The Name Is Doom!” in Fantastic Four vol. 1 #84, March 1969. Written by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, pencilled by Kirby, inked by Joe Sinnott, lettered by Sam Rosen. Color reconstruction by Tom Smith. Reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four #9 (2005).]

May 16, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: friday night fights, marvel family, meme — Tom Bondurant @ 11:42 pm
So … who thinks Mary Marvel needs the black cheerleader outfit to be tough?

Here she is in December 1942, taking apart some goons after saying “Shazam!” for the very first time …

… and here she is in July-August 1975, showing that experience doesn’t mean sacrificing one’s sense of humor.

(Yeah, she does more fighting in the older scan, but I’ve always liked her ’70s look. I wonder if she would have grown up to be Bailey Quarters. Mmmm … Bailey Quarters….)

Ahem. Our magic word is “Bahlactus!

[First scan from “Captain Marvel Introduces Mary Marvel,” in Captain Marvel Adventures #18, December 1942. Written by Otto Binder, drawn by Marc Swayze. Second scan from “Secret of the Smiling Swordsman!,” in Shazam! #19, July-August 1975. Written by E. Nelson Bridwell, drawn by Bob Oksner, lettered by Ben Oda. Both stories reprinted in Shazam! From The ’40s To The ’70s (1977).]

May 11, 2008

Sunday Soliloquy

Filed under: avengers, sunday soliloquy — Tom Bondurant @ 11:57 pm
It’s Mother’s Day — how about a little Celestial Madonna?


According to reliable sources, after leaving the Avengers, Mantis next “appeared” during Steve Englehart’s Justice League run (in an issue which was one of Young Tom’s favorites) and went on to have her baby in Englehart’s Scorpio Rose.

However, we like to think that her particular phraseology inspired a certain Paul McCartney song….

[From “The Reality Problem!” in The Avengers vol. 1 #130, December 1974. Written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Sal Buscema, inked by Joe Staton, colored by Bill Mantlo, lettered by Joe Rosen.]

May 9, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: friday night fights, meme, simpsons — Tom Bondurant @ 10:15 pm
Forget Superman-Red and Superman-Blue — here’s Homer-Right versus Homer-Left!

We don’t dare call Bahlactus “Mr. Sparkle”….

[From “Too Crazy, Juvenile Prankster: Bartomu!”, originally published in Simpsons Comics #131, June 2007; and reprinted in the 2008 Bongo Comics Free-For-All sampler. Written by Chuck Dixon, pencilled by Nina Matsumoto, inked by Andrew Pepoy, lettered by Karen Bates.]

New comics 5/7/08

Filed under: batman, countdown, house of mystery, nightwing, supergirl, superman, tor, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:51 pm
Just for fun, let’s start with Supergirl #29 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson and Ron Randall, inked by Ray Snyder and Randall). In this issue Supergirl works with Resurrection Man and a mad scientist to make good on her promise to cure a dying boy of cancer. There always seems to be a lot of talk about what a Supergirl book “should” be like, and goodness knows I’ve done quite a bit of it myself. That said, I think this sort of approach is perfectly valid. Supergirl in this situation is what we lawyers call the Reasonable Person — specifically, one with Superman’s powers — who can explore the kinds of issues Superman can’t. It allows her to maintain the requisite connection to Superman (why would she be “Supergirl” otherwise?) without being redundant.

Anyway, this issue finds the Girl of Steel’s plan put into action, and reveals its outcome. A lot of it involves Supergirl getting to know Rez. Man (who I know only from DC One Million, unfortunately) and, to a lesser degree, the mad scientist. The rest is a fight scene. It’s all very dry and moody, thanks to a lot of black ink from Randall and Snyder. Randall and Johnson’s pencils mesh pretty well — you can tell the difference because Randall’s work is a little more flat and tends not to go as well with the subtleties of Kahila Tripp’s colors. It kind of takes your mind off the fact that a super-powered girl in a skimpy outfit (who still doesn’t look skanky, by the way) is on a nigh-impossible mission. Nothing which happens in this book is completely unexpected, but I will say that it made me wonder about the consequences of Supergirl’s plan, and I suspect that was at least part of the point. I’m eager to see what happens next, which is a pretty nice sentiment for a monthly comic book.

Nightwing #144 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Don Kramer and Rags Morales, inked by various people) also finds itself with two pencillers. This is officially another part of “Freefall,” but it feels more transitory: the Great Ten’s Mother of Champions is brought into the grave-robbing storyline; Talia shows up in New York to threaten Dick; Nightwing does some run-of-the-mill crimefighting; and Dick’s new girlfriend (didn’t cornrows go out 25 years ago?) helps him skydive. Morales contributes some good “acting” between Dick and Talia, but there’s a lot packed into this issue (as usual) and it’s hard to process out of the larger story’s context.

Speaking of “the larger story,” the new House Of Mystery (#1 written by Matthew Sturges and drawn by Luca Rossi) features a short story nestled within the main one. Seems that someone’s stolen the HOM from the Dreaming and turned it into the Hotel California — you leave when it says you can leave, and no sooner. Blondes are the protagonists here: Miss Keele, the architect who’s been drawing the House, Close Encounters-style, runs to it in order to escape her macabre pursuers. Cress, the typical House resident, protests her captivity. Sally, a more mellow resident, tells her own gruesome story as “payment” for her tenancy. (It’s written by Bill Willingham and drawn by Ross Campbell.) I thought the threads worked well together, although I had to work harder than usual to keep everyone straight. (That’s what I get with Vertigo, I know.) Rossi was unfamiliar to me, but his work reminds me of a looser Michael Lark or a tighter Jesus Saiz — thick lines and a little sardonic. Likewise with Campbell, whose work was much tighter and more “realistic,” which made his story that much more effective. So, good job, Vertigo: you’ve gotten me reading one of your books for the first time since Army@Love #1.

I picked up Joe Kubert’s Tor #1 (by guess who) based on the strength of Kubert’s body of work. I’d barely heard of Tor, but Kubert + caveman seemed to be a good fit. It’s a story told without dialogue, or balloons of any kind: an omniscient narrator describes Tor’s thoughts. Tromping away from his dark past, Tor stops to treat his wounds and get some food, inadvertently eating some psychedelic fruit. Later, as indicated by the cover, he saves a hairy humanoid from a croc-o-saurus before running into the people who put the victim there. It’s not an unfamiliar story, but it’s told well (of course) and it is enticing enough to get me to stick around.

Evil demigods plague both stories in Countdown To Mystery #7. In the Eclipso story (written by Matthew Sturges, pencilled by Chad Hardin, inked by various people), Bruce Gordon and the accumulated superheroes (Hawk, Dove, Creeper, Plastic Man) take on an Eclipso cult and the badder-than-ever dark god himself. I get the feeling that this story depends on various ways to keep the Spectre in check, but since this is the penultimate issue, that’s not quite as big a problem anymore. Hardin’s pencils are fine; nothing flashy, more like cleaner Tom Grindberg back when Grindberg was trying to be Neal Adams. This story has jumped around so much I’m not sure who it’s about anymore, and that makes it harder to tell if it’s going anywhere.

The Doctor Fate story (plot by the late Steve Gerber, script by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Justiniano, inked by Walden Wong) finds the helmet in the hands of a young woman who’s not ready for its power, and who gets taken on a trip through Hell as a result. You know the drill: the world is a cesspool of sweat and saliva, we’re all just ants compared to the demons who really control things, yadda yadda yadda. Next issue is the multiple-choice ending necessitated by Gerber’s death, so this could end up a few different ways.

The second issue of Batman: Death Mask (#2 by Yoshinori Natsume) was an improvement. Most of it is a flashback to Bruce’s martial-arts training, with the requisite Batman foreshadowing. In the context of this story, though, the foreshadowing takes on a more mystical aspect which comes back to haunt Batman in the present. This issue has more action than the last one, which made it feel “more manga” to my untrained eyes.

Back in the land of left-to-right Batman, Detective Comics #844 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs) concludes the Zatanna/Ventriloquist two-parter with the origin of the current Ventriloquist. Once the mousy daughter of a mob boss, she got glammed up after being left for dead and finding Scarface. Pretty good for a Bat-villain origin, and Dini ties it into “Face The Face,” the One Year Later reintroduction to Batman. As for Zatanna, I have to say I liked the way Dini handled her mindwiping of Batman ‘way back when, but I’m not buying her throwing herself at Bruce. Nice try, though.

Because I didn’t have 1974’s Justice League #111, I bought the DC Universe Special: JLA which reprinted it (the first appearance of Libra) and the 3-part Secret Society story which helped give Identity Crisis its foundation. I won’t go into details, because these are pretty much research material, but the printing seemed off on the Secret Society story and Dick Giordano’s inks seemed a bit too blotchy on the Libra story. Weird.

Finally, at long last here’s Action Comics Annual #11 (written by Richard Donner and Geoff Johns, drawn by Adam Kubert), the conclusion of “Last Son.” It’s wall-to-wall combat, with the United States military, Superman, Luthor, Bizarro, Metallo, the Parasite, and (eventually) the Justice League and Justice Society versus a decent amount of Phantom Zone escapees. Luthor is the key to the issue, both in his motivation for helping Superman and the perverse glee he finds in killing Kryptonians. The ending is a little problematic given the current state of Superman comics, but maybe there will be an addendum which bridges the gap. Or maybe this takes place “now” (given one of Chris’s comments) and it’ll be a plot thread for Trinity. Anyway, it was a good issue, well-told by Kubert, which should make more sense once it’s put in proper context.

May 7, 2008

New comics 4/30/08

Filed under: crisis, green lantern, legion, new teen titans, star wars, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 12:55 am
For some reason DC Universe #0 (written by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns, drawn by committee) felt more Johnsian than Morrisonian. It struck me as a collection of preview pages from a half-dozen upcoming arcs, tied together by vague narration from a Certain Familiar Someone. I responded most favorably to the George Perez pages and the Final Crisis tease.

The blow-up-the-base story currently running in Star Wars: Rebellion (#13 written by Jeremy Barlow, drawn by Colin Wilson) is starting to feel padded by about an issue, and this is that issue. Most of it follows a Rebel soldier as she tries to escape a sadistic Imperial officer and the requisite stormtrooper squads. There’s some narration about her coming to grips with the meaning of being a Rebel, but that was lost on me somewhat because I’ve never gotten too invested in this character. A promising sequence at the end makes a good case for our heroine blowing up half the base with a single grenade (not unprecedented in Star Wars, I think you’ll agree). Overall, some good stuff, and my opinion may change after next issue, but for now it still seems a bit long.

Teen Titans Year One #4 (written by Amy Wolfram, pencilled by Karl Kerschl, inked by Serge LaPointe) is, as the cover indicates, a Kid Flash spotlight, but it continues the Batman/Robin storyline which has run through the book so far. The issue doesn’t quite put Flasher in the “I should be the leader” slot, but it does give him an ego to go with his considerable powers. Wolfram and Kerschl root for him regardless, so that he’s never really unsympathetic. Also, Aqualad gets more of a personality, although he still doesn’t do a whole lot. Wolfram and Kerschl’s simple storytelling comes across as very matter-of-fact, and it leaves room for Kerschl’s stylized, expressive designs to work. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series and wishing it could go on longer.

Back in the current Teen Titans (#58 written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Carlos Rodriguez, and inked by various people), this month Miss Martian must fight not only the Terror Titans, but also her evil conscience. (I’ve been reading too many solicitations.) Not knowing much about the character, I thought this was a good way to highlight her inner turmoil. I was a little confused at first, thinking that her Evil Self was somehow connected to her Evil Future Self from a few issues back, but that was cleared up soon enough. The art was decent: not too far from the book’s normal style, not too flashy, but adequate for the job at hand.

I get the feeling I should like “Secret Origin,” part 2 of which appears in Green Lantern #30 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert), but it keeps falling flat for me. I shouldn’t fault it for changing Hal’s origin so that only he (and not the little training capsule) is yanked out of the hangar by Abin Sur’s ring. Working classic GL characters into the background is also acceptable, as is tying it into “The Blackest Night” and the Ysmault prophecies. Maybe I just have a problem with Ivan Reis drawing Hal to look 17 years old; or with Johns having Hal cause a rival to crash. Otherwise, “Secret Origin” is appropriately reverent, which is nice. I don’t dislike this storyline, but I like it less than Johns’ and Reis’ other GL work.

Johns does better with Action Comics #864 (pencilled by Joe Prado, inked by Jon Sibal), a bridge between Countdown and Legion of Three Worlds which plays like a standalone murder mystery. Basically, Batman and Lightning Lad (of the “Earth-1 Legion”) clash over the corpses of Karate Kid and Una. Batman also makes the point that he’s met three different versions of the Legion, so naturally he’s not inclined to trust any of them. The mystery isn’t solved — it’s a teaser for the aforementioned LO3W, after all — but the issue is tied together by a Mysterious Narrator revealed on the last page. Suspenseful! (Also, this week, redundant!) The art is okay — a little too chunky, but not to the point of Liefeldism. I can’t get used to a Grunge-like Lightning Lad, though.

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