Comics Ate My Brain

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.

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