Comics Ate My Brain

June 25, 2006

New comics 6/14/06 and 6/21/06

We begin by picking up a spare from June 7. Fittingly enough, I got Nextwave #5 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) a week late, on my mom’s birthday, June 14. I say “fittingly” because it featured teddy bears, which were the subject of a running joke between Mom and me. When I lived at home during law school, I watched TV with my parents, including “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Inevitably, Mom would see something or someone on the episode she didn’t know anything about, and would ask me what was going to happen. Since these were first-run episodes, most times I didn’t know what was going to happen, so all my answers ended up being about the planet of fuzzy teddy bears, and all the picnics and tea parties the crew would have. This satisfied my mother, who I might have mentioned has a master’s in English and is really quite sharp. Anyway, when an episode put our heroes in a tight spot, Mom would look at me rather accusingly and wonder aloud when the teddy bears were coming. (This often happened around season-finale time.)

So last week I sent her some killer-teddy-bear scans from Nextwave #5. Happy birthday, Mom!

Captain Atom: Armageddon #9 (written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by Giuseppi Camuncoli) wrapped up the miniseries that turned out to be a big tour through the WildStorm universe, just in time to blow it all up and start over. Whoopee. Now that it’s over, maybe DC can use Cap’s rather twisted history with the U.S. military to some good effect. It’s a rich backstory which makes the character a little more than just a generic superhero, but you’d never know it from how he’s been treated pretty much since his series ended.

American Virgin #4 (written by Steven T. Seagle, drawn by Becky Cloonan) concluded the book’s first arc, but it really didn’t leave much of an impression on me, and I’m leaning towards dropping the book.

The same goes for Green Lantern Corps #1 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason). I like Guy Gardner and I have always liked the Corps, but this book just isn’t doing a lot for me. I may give it a couple more issues.

It wasn’t earth-shatteringly good, but I didn’t dislike JLA Classified #22 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer), which began a new arc featuring JL Detroit. Much of it recapped Steel’s origin, and a few other pages recapped the origin of the Royal Flush Gang. The rest, natcherly, was the fight between the two groups, and it wasn’t David Mamet, but it wasn’t bad either. Also, it reached a stopping point at the end of the issue, which was nice. Derenick’s pencils were better than in his last JLA arc, although again nothing groundbreaking.

Firestorm #26 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne) was also a fairly intriguing issue centered around a super-hero fight, as Firestorm and Firehawk take on a new villain who’s torturing Martin Stein. It all has to do with the nature of Firestorm, apparently, and the strange bond Jason and Lorraine have forged since “One Year Later.” Fun stuff.

You know by now that 52 #6 (written by Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Ruy Jose) introduced the Great Ten and Rip Hunter’s “Lost” Blackboard, and you’ve probably already formed your opinions on both, so I’ll just say it was fascinating to see how the book could pay so much attention to its four mainstays’ plots while still herding them all towards some inexorable common destiny. Also, it managed to put the Green Lanterns, who are so far the highest-profile heroes who could appear in the book (with the Big Three, Aquaman, and the Flash off the table), on the same level as those supposed C-list mainstays. The GLs don’t feel like guest-stars, but neither do they take over the book. Entirely appropriate for a book that purports to be a window on the world.

Superman #653 (written by Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns, drawn by Pete Woods) was the big throw-down between Superman and Luthor (in the hijacked Kryptonian battle-mech), and it didn’t disappoint. Of course, given the nature of this storyline, the cliffhanger ending the issue wasn’t very suspenseful, just funny. Jimmy Olsen gets a good scene, Supes and Luthor both have some good “But I am also left-handed!” moments, and from the previews I read on Newsarama earlier this week, the conclusion should be just as good.

Of course, Jimmy — or, I should say, his Cojo-influenced All-Star interpretation — is the focus of this week’s All-Star Superman #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely), which combines the goofy sitcommery of bumbling through being Superman’s Pal with a couple of shots at “big event” comics past and present. As Mark Fossen points out, Jimmy gets to be All-Star Vicki Vale, and later on turns into Doomsday. This never fails to be an entertaining series.

I think I’m done with Robin after #151 (written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II), not because it’s poorly executed, or because the latest developments have repulsed me, but it just hasn’t drawn me in.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, drawn by Ken Lashley), which did a lot to turn me off. First is its apparent baton-passing to Bart Allen, which I think is unnecessary. Second, it both devotes a lot of space to bringing everyone up to speed on Flash history, but then plops Bart into an entirely new situation, kind of like dropping Captain Atom into the WildStorm dimension. The exposition slows the book, and the new stuff seems barely sketched in. Bart now has a repellent “duuude!” roommate and works at the Keystone auto factory, because he’s aged completely out of his teenage years. Never mind that, as originally conceived, he was a developing brain in an outsize body. Combined with the maturity Geoff Johns thrust upon him (this makes twice), he’s just your average 20-year-old now, which makes him a lot less interesting. I’m waiting to see who ends up with the Infantino suit, but if it’s still Bart in this form, I’ll wait until the next creative team.

Lashley also pencils 52 #7 (written by Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny, inked by Draxhall), featuring Ralph Dibny played by Josh Holloway and sporting some ill-advised facial hair. His pencils look a lot better here than they do in the Flash book, which may have something to do with Keith Giffen’s layouts. Anyway, Booster gets his from Manthrax and Ralph, and Montoya meets DC’s most famous lesbian. The Booster/Ralph stuff is pretty good, and the Montoya/Kate Kane scenes aren’t bad, except for one panel which seems like it could be either wishful thinking or a flashback, but is presented as reality. It’s all better than the History of the DCU backup, though, which does nothing to make Zero Hour comprehensible, and in its few pages even makes it less so. I think its facts are wrong too, although that could just be more retconning.

I probably read Checkmate #3 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Bob Wiacek) too quickly. Either that or it’s hard to summarize all the politics and maneuvering in a few sentences. It’s still a good read, and I should get more out of it the second time around.

Superman/Batman #27 (written by Mark Verheiden, drawn by Kevin Maguire) was decent enough until the end, which tries to shoehorn it into modern DC continuity. It’s really about the Earth-2 Power Girl and Huntress trying to save their “dads” from old foes, and on that level it’s enjoyable enough. In fact, Maguire gives Huntress more cleavage exposure than Power Girl, which may be a first. However, the big dramatic reveal turns on a bit of Earth-2 continuity I had forgotten, and which isn’t quite set up as well as it could have been. It doesn’t amount to anything very substantial, I guess, but it’s competently done.

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6 (by Joe Kubert) concluded the miniseries rather quietly, if such a thing is possible after an issue full of urban Nazi-fighting. I’ll have to read this all in one sitting, although it may play better as a series of episodes than as one story. If it has tested the waters for a Rock ongoing, I’d be on board for that.

Star Wars: Rebellion #3 (written by Rob Williams, drawn by Michael Lacombe) continues the dual double-agent plotlines carried over from the old Empire series. At least I think it does; the plots are kind of confusing after a while, and anybody who doesn’t look like Mark Hamill or Katee Sackhoff is hard to pick out of a crowd. The art on this series is a little uglier than it was on SW:E, and that doesn’t do the book any favors. I’m getting this because it offers classic Skywalker action, so that should buy it a few more issues at least.

Much of Captain America #19 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) continued the waterfront fight from last issue, doing so in fine fashion. The rest was spy-type intrigue, with Sharon Carter showing up in London to take over operations. Art was a little confusing this issue, with Sharon looking like Spitfire and Cap looking like Master Man, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out in context. Overall it was a good second act, and this London storyline has a lot of potential.

Finally, I got the Giant-Size Hulk special, although it was for the two Peter David-written stories and not for the “Planet Hulk” tie-in. Accordingly, I was happy — David’s excellent Hulk: The End extra-long special (art by Dale Keown) was reprinted here, and he also contributed a light and fluffy Champions vs. Hulk tale (pencilled by Juan Santacruz, inked by Raul Fernandez). The latter was clearly to prime Marvelites for a new Champions series, but I don’t particularly care about that — I was just glad to see a staple of ’70s Marvel revisited and given the respect it probably deserves. The middle story (written by Greg Pak, drawn by Aaron Lopresti and Danny Miki) was a good complement to The End, although I suspect it meant more to those who’ve been following the Hulk more recently; and it probably didn’t advance “Planet Hulk” much. Still, this is over 70 pages of story for $4.99 US, and thus a bargain.

May 14, 2006

New comics 5/10/06

Filed under: 52, american virgin, captain atom, firestorm, she-hulk, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 4:30 pm
(Kate, I just saw your comment after posting this — I missed doing them too.)

I don’t think I ever consciously decided to discontinue these weekly wrap-ups, but somehow I just got out of the habit. We’ll see how long I can keep this up. 52 is a big part of my desire to return to the weekly habit — if it’s coming out every week, I don’t want to get behind.

However, we start with the immensely enjoyable Superman #652 (that number again!), written by Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns, with art by Pete Woods. This story arc has been something of a revelation in its simplicity: a powerless Superman, a scheming Luthor (together with old Silver Age allies Toyman and Prankster), and a sort of winking acknowledgement that things will be back to normal before you know it. At the risk of gushing too much, as I read the opening pages (featuring Clark vs. a tall building), John Williams’ 12/8 beats started thrumming in my mind’s ear. When a Superman book spontaneously inspires the theme music, it’s done its job well.

Also pleasantly old-school, as usual, is Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #25 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne), in which Stormy squares off against Killer Frost and Mr. Freeze. The story expands Frost’s powers in ways which don’t seem entirely plausible in hindsight, even for superhero comics, but it’s refreshing to see the various parts of Firestorm having to work together to think their way out of problems. There are also cute moments with Gehenna and Jason’s dad. The obligatory Batman appearance doesn’t feel gratuitous, and gets its own funny little twist.

Apparently people have been talking (here, for example) about the sexual politics of She-Hulk #7 (written by Dan Slott, art by Will Conrad), and from what I’ve seen, they’re doing a fine job without me. I have no particular problem with making Starfox an irredeemable lech, since I have no real emotional attachment to the character. However, I do wonder, as a practical matter, how someone with his abilities would get a fair trial. Isolating him, as the story does, seems to be the best short-term solution, but as Jen argues, it also pretty much admits that if he were physically present, he would use his powers to influence the jury. I suppose that a better solution for future reference might be to incorporate his isolation into voir dire before the trial even starts (“My client will appear via closed-circuit TV — will that influence your deliberation in any way?”). As it stands now, Starfox should be in a whole lotta trouble with the State of New York, and a mistrial has probably been declared. You know, if only Marvel-Earth’s governments had some kind of way to, say, keep track of its super-people….

With regard to the issue itself, it was the most “Ally McBeal”-like this series has been, and that’s not necessarily good. I thought Slott handled the main issues appropriately, and the art was good too, but it just seemed like everything revolved around romance and sex. Not that I have a problem with that, but “Ally McBeal” was fixated upon those things, and it got tiresome. Looks like civil liberties are going to preoccupy She-Hulk for oh, about seven months.

It was good to see that Captain Atom: Armageddon #8 (written by Will Pfeifer, art by Guiseppe Camuncoli and Sandra Hope) hadn’t forgotten Cap’s marriage to Plastique. However, I’m not sure what this miniseries is supposed to accomplish beyond giving DC-centered readers like me a taste of the WildStorm universe. I spent most of the issue trying to figure out whether Majestic or Apollo was the better Superman analogue. The rest of it seems like the Captain Atom version of “Russell Crowe Fightin’ ‘Round The World.” We know from Infinite Crisis that Cap survives, and we can probably guess that Earth-WildStorm will too, so I guess the burden is on issue #9 to make all these fight scenes worthwhile.

I liked the wrinkles introduced in American Virgin #3 (written by Steven T. Seagle, pencilled by Becky Cloonan, inked by Jim Rugg), but again, it looks like the conclusion of the first arc next issue will determine how this series will continue on an ongoing basis. I do like the series as a whole, because it raises valid questions about how we react when what looks like God’s plan for us gets torpedoed by, well, an Act Of God.

Finally, here’s 52 #1 (written by Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Greg Rucka, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Ruy Jose — whew!), and I’m not sure how to evaluate it in monthly-comic terms. As Part 1 of a month’s worth of story, totaling 80-odd pages, I suppose it can afford to be a little decompressed. Wisely, it sticks with the story of Booster Gold’s humiliation (and we know he’s going to be humiliated, because the cover practically tells us so). The other major players (Renee Montoya, the Question, Ralph Dibny, Black Adam, and Steel) were pretty much just teased, so I’m holding off on evaluating their stories until some kind of format starts to take shape. For all the chefs stirring this particular pot, it held together fine, and was a good palate-cleanser after Infinite Crisis. I do wonder how accessible this would be to a new DC reader who (for some inexplicable reason) decided to start with this instead of all the Crisis hoo-rah. I don’t think it would be so bad, because by and large these characters have been on the periphery for the past couple of years.

That felt good. Let’s do it again next week!

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