Comics Ate My Brain

July 13, 2008

New comics 7/2/08

I’ve been saying for a while that DC should (once again) just let the Marvel Family have its own little corner of the Multiverse where Billy and co. don’t have to age too quickly and whimsy can be the order of the day. Well, here’s Mike Kunkel’s Billy Batson And The Magic Of Shazam! #1, taking me up on it. Except not quite, because this is a Johnny DC title and therefore has no influence on the main-line Marvels. Instead, it’s a sequel to Jeff Smith’s Monster Society miniseries, picking up with Billy and Mary in their familiar roles.

Kunkel has redesigned Cap slightly, giving him a ridiculously broad chest and a how-you-doin’? look. This goes with Kunkel’s take on Billy, who always tries to do the right thing but who realizes without much prompting just how good he has it. For example, Captain Marvel poses as Billy and Mary’s father, but naturally favors Billy in parent/teacher conferences. Of course, hilarity ensues, especially since Kunkel shows that Mary is the smarter of the pair.

Kunkel also introduces Black Adam, but leaves the resolution of his subplot for a future issue. I haven’t read hardly any of the Johnny DC books, but I suspect BBMOS is one of the few to employ multi-issue storytelling; and it makes me wonder who the real target audience is. This is a dense book which aims for rapid-fire delivery through small panels and packed word balloons. Not being 10 years old, I can’t say whether this would appeal to kids, but it does seem like an older reader’s idea of what a kid’s comic book should be. Yes, that extends to the secret-code messages, which I thought were prohibitively long and which I still haven’t tried to unscramble. Even so, I appreciated Kunkel’s efforts, and I’ll be back at least for the next issue.

Part 3 of “Batman R.I.P.” hits in Batman #678 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea), in which our hero is reduced to his lowest point before meeting his spirit guide (did it have to be a Magical Negro?) and starting to rebuild. Also, other bad things happen to Robin and Nightwing (poor Nightwing…). Morrison’s standard take on Batman in JLA was that “Batman always has a plan”. Well, here, he’s been completely cut off from his plans, thrown into a roiling sea of anarchy by the Black Glove, and made to put the pieces back together using stone knives and bearskins. As with Final Crisis, it’s pretty nerve-wracking stuff, but at least we’re at the halfway point.

I’m getting frustrated with House Of Mystery (#3 written by Matthew Sturges and drawn mostly by Luca Rossi). Its first arc seems determined to establish that Fig can’t leave the House. However, we know this to be true, because that’s the point of the book. Thankfully, that also seems to be the point of the issue, so I hope that settles it for Fig for a while. The issue does introduce a new antagonist, with a callback to the mysterious couple seen earlier, so maybe there’ll be a more entertaining twist next time out. Still, if this arc ends only with Fig accepting her new status, I’ll be pretty disappointed. I’m getting tired of books which take five issues to lay out what could have been one issue’s worth of setup. I do like the art, though.

I’m also getting a little tired of Nightwing (#146 written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Sandu Florea), likewise because “Freefall” seems to have gone on for a couple issues too many. Yes, Dr. Kendall was a bad man; yes, it’s good that Dick stopped him. However, the story seemed rather lifeless (no pun intended), and I don’t know if that’s due to Don Kramer’s art not being quite as expressive as Rags Morales’; or Tomasi’s talky scripts sapping the energy out of the action. Next up is a “Batman R.I.P.” tie-in, so maybe things will pick up.

I did like Supergirl #31 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Jon Sibal and Jesse Delperdang), despite the jarring change in art style from the soft lines of Drew Johnson and Ron Randall to the quirkier combination of Walker et al. Basically, Supergirl convinces the dying boy’s mother to accept the Resurrection Man’s treatment by a) flying her to a distant mountaintop and b) telling her how her parents shot her into space. It’s the kind of thing which has to be handled very carefully, because once superhero comics get into real-world ramifications of godlike behavior, they’re already pretty far down a mighty slippery slope. This time I bought Supergirl’s argument and the mom’s response, but next time might be different. As it is, this time the argument had to get past Supergirl’s bare midriff.

I continue to like Manhunter (#32 written by Mark Andreyko and drawn by Michael Gaydos). The current issue tracks Kate’s continuing investigations into the women’s disappearances, and features a couple of good scenes with Blue Beetle (super-suits hissing at each other like unfriendly dogs!) and Mr. Bones. Gaydos’ art is “realistic” without sacrificing expression, and Andreyko has a good feel for the dialogue of a superheroic world.

Finally, I bought Star Trek: New Frontier #4 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson), the penultimate issue of the miniseries. Thankfully, things start to happen at a little more rapid pace this issue. However, the plot deals with duplicates of people; and the scenes shift so abruptly you’re never sure whether, say, the Lefler who was on that planet is the same Lefler who’s on this ship. I guess I have to get issue #5 to see whether the whole thing makes sense.

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New comics 6/25/08

You would not believe the week I have had. Actually, it’s been more like two weeks.

Actually, you probably would believe it; but since a lot of it involves finishing up the 3-part Grumpy Old Fan look at DCU miniseries, 2001-08, it’s kind of dull.

Regardless, it’s been pretty busy for me in the Real World, so I’m on the road to recovery as far as this here blog is concerned. What say we get cracking on that backlog?

Obviously this week’s big release was Final Crisis #2, which quite honestly scared me. When you have one of DC’s major characters locked into an Apokoliptian torture machine and screaming “CALL THE JUSTICE LEAGUE!” to an apparently random person who wouldn’t have any way of knowing how to do so, that’s a pretty dire circumstance. Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones have thrown our heroes into the deep end of the pool and are now pouring even more water on top of them. It’s not exactly a new thought to say this is the JLA arc “Rock Of Ages” from a slightly different perspective, but what makes it more immediate, and more scary, is the notion that it’s happening right now, without the comfort of a reset button that the original had.

Superman #677 was the start of James Robinson’s run as writer, and he chose to begin with heavy doses of Krypto and the Science Police troopers. I’m not looking for him to make this particular SP squad into a higher-tech O’Dare family, because clearly this isn’t Starman and Robinson’s not that repetitive anyway. Still, there are Starman-esque touches in the omniscient narration’s bullet points and the characters’ self-awareness; and they’re certainly not unwelcome. The “new guy wants to replace Superman” story is pretty well-worn, though, so I’ll be expecting some new twist from Robinson. On the art side, I have no complaints with Renato Guedes except that he (like Gary Frank) is using Christopher Reeve pretty clearly as Supes’ model. While I love Reeve’s Superman, actually seeing him in print pulls me out of the story.

What If This Was [sic] The Fantastic Four? (written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by various people) is a perfectly charming tribute to the late Mike Wieringo, postulating (for the second time) that the Spider-Man/Hulk/Ghost Rider/Wolverine team had stayed together. I encourage you to pick it up.

Back in the regular book, though, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch … well, I think you know how I stand on their tenure so far. Fantastic Four #558 brings in the “New Defenders,” a team with some similarities to the FF, who’ve captured Doctor Doom and apparently are less than charitable in dealing with them. There’s also a new nanny whose subplot was pretty obvious to me from the moment of her introduction. Therefore, I have a pretty good idea as to how this arc will play out, but I am in fact curious to see what Millar will do with the issue’s Big Revelation about one of the Richards clan. Otherwise, I wonder if the story would read any better with Alex Ross on art. That’s how static Hitch and inker Andrew Currie’s work seems to me now.

The newest Captain America meets the public in Captain America #39 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Rob De La Torre). The issue presents a familiar story about manipulating the public through imagery and superficialities, and it winds up similar to Superman #677. De La Torre is new to me, although he (augmented by regular colorist Frank D’Armata) preserves the book’s quasi-realistic style. However, his Bucky is a bit more buff than, say, Steve Epting’s, which was a little distracting.

Was I saying that Batman: Gotham After Midnight didn’t know how seriously to take itself? With issue #2 (written by Steve Niles, drawn by Kelley Jones), it seems to be saying “not very.” That’s hardly a bad thing, mind you. This particular approach to Batman casts him as the scariest dude in the room, except for the scarier dude who’s working behind the scenes. I’m still not completely on board with it, but I do give it credit for being true to a gonzo sensibility. Let’s put it this way: if you like scenes where Batman is lit apparently by a noir-ish light source independent of everything else, you’ll love this book.

About Green Lantern #32: “Secret Origin” continues, and I think we’re up to the point where Hal gets hired officially by Carol Ferris. Honestly, though, we’ve been down this road so many times I’m just picking out the “Blackest Night” clues and letting the rest go by. It’s not a bad story, but it’s like hearing another cover of “Yesterday.”

The same goes for Teen Titans #60, which concludes the Terror Titans arc. Our heroes triumph, but one of ’em leaves the team. While I didn’t dislike it, I found Clock King and his minions to be rather boring, and I’m not eager to see ’em again.

I also bought Trinity #4 and liked it fine.

Back before you know it with the first new comics of July!

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