Comics Ate My Brain

November 20, 2006

New comics 11/8/06 and 11/15/06, plus a few comments about reading

For various reasons, most of which you don’t want to hear (trust me), I’ve been doing a lot of reading in addition to each week’s new comics. Recently I finished the last big chunks of Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1, and today I read all 25 issues of Hourman. Now, of course, I’m trying to think about what to say for the last two 52s, because with a new one every week they tend to blur together.

Now, here’s the thing: the Doctor Strange stories were all from his ten-page feature in Strange Tales, but for the most part each led into the next, allowing a much larger story to be serialized over many months. Those stories had very brief recaps of the previous issue’s events, maybe a fat caption or two, or a flashback at the most — but space was at a premium.

Accordingly, each of Hourman‘s monthly issues contained 22 pages of story, so it had more room to do full-blown 1- or 2-page recaps of the previous issue. This made reading all the issues in one sitting a little rocky, but I know I appreciated those recaps when I was reading the book as it came out. What’s more, both titles used footnotes to remind readers of what had happened when, which isn’t surprising for an original Silver Age book or for the Silver Age wannabe that Hourman was.

52 does very little in the way of flashbacks and/or recaps, depending on its publication schedule and the reader’s own memories to do the job. However, its format is so unusual — a 52-part story told in 20-to-22-page weekly increments — that its narrative structure might still not be apparent, at least not to someone like me who hasn’t taken the time to read it all to date in big chunks. The big-chunk approach may even miss the point of 52‘s immediacy, since one can read several “weeks” in an hour or so. (Longer if your finger moves along the page, like mine does.)

Anyway, that may all be elementary to you, but I hope it makes up for some quick and dirty capsule reviews to get me caught up.

November 8

Tales Of The Unexpected #2: I liked Will Pfeifer and Cliff Chiang’s miniseries that established the Crispus Allen Spectre, but so far these Spectre stories are a big game of cosmic “chicken,” with Spec seeing how far Allen can hold out before the ironic punishment starts. Thank goodness for the hilarious Dr. Thirteen backup. If it comes out in paperback by itself, I’m there.

JLA Classified #29: Still good, although why put the kiddie ads in the book with the naked Wonder Woman?

52 #27: Montoya trains with Richard Dragon, Skeets kills Waverider, and Ralph and the Spectre put the zap on Jean Loring’s head. Really, DC, make Ralph and Sue happy again. It won’t “cheapen” Identity Crisis. Trust me.

Green Lantern #14: Maybe I’m weird, but you won’t bore me by exploring a Green Lantern’s jurisdictional issues. However, I agree with Ollie — never take off the ring. I’m a bit surprised to see the alien villain again so soon. Wasn’t he in one of the last Kyle Rayner storylines?

Firestorm #31: Freddie E. Williams II contributes some noticeably different art to about half this issue, and it’s only a little distracting. Gehenna and Jason have a nice come-to-Jesus moment, although it’s spoiled at the end by what looks like a strange deductive leap on Prof. Stein’s part. As far as the fighting and flying and zapping goes, this feels like the end, but according to the last page there are more secrets to be revealed. I’m sorry to see Stuart Moore and Jamal Igle leave, but I trust them to have at least one more good issue in them.

Superman #657: Wow. Post-apocalyptic carnage on par with JLA‘s “Rock Of Ages,” but with a twist that “ROA” only teased. I still can’t get over the “meteor” that caused the nuclear winter. Oh, and the new villain also seems superficially similar to Samaritan’s arch-foe from the last Astro City special.

Batman #658: “Batman And Son” ends as it began, with a lot of attitude and not so much plot. I was hoping that Damien would be used as a kind of AzRobin, the grim ‘n’ gritty sidekick who’d even make Jason Todd cringe. However, it’s probably more believable that he just wants to please his dad. Also, part of me can’t believe that DC would … I almost wrote “let Batman get pregnant,” but you know what I mean. Kid’s still alive, and Batman still officially has fathered a child, as far as we know. Shame we have to wait until February for Morrison’s next issue, and with the Joker too.

November 15

1602: Fantastick Four #3: The Elizabethan FF in an air/sea battle with Doom and the Wizard near the end of the world, so pretty good.

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two #1: I was playing Spot The Marvel Event with this one, and I think I picked out the Celestial Madonna storyline. Anyway, the two brothers seem to be drifting towards each other’s respective areas, acquiring some shades of gray to go along with the darkening Astro City of the ’70s. Sometimes I am really a shameless Busiek sycophant, huh?

Checkmate #8: I had thought this issue was spotlighting the recruit from #5, but I might have been remembering a different recruit. Anyway, another fine undercover installment, with the identity of the mole not revealed (at least to a dope like me) until the last page.

Omega Men #2: The Omegas fight Superman, Green Lantern, and a few Titans. I think they represent the heroes Marv Wolfman used to introduce them back in the day, which was a nice touch. Oh, and they also fight Vril Dox. The art suits the Omegas and the space stuff pretty well, and it’s not so bad with Superman, but Wonder Girl doesn’t come off so well. Still, much like the Adam Strange miniseries, it’s another space opera involving mistaken identities and running from various planetary governments, and that’s all good.

Green Lantern Corps #6: More than Guy and his rookie partner busting up a sentient city (which seemed a bit cruel, but that’s how Guy rolls), I enjoyed the scenes with Soranik Natu giving Korugar the big green energy finger. I can see where both sides are coming from, and both are perfectly understandable. However, it and the Thanagarian Lantern’s marital problems are more variations on the old Hal Jordan dilemma of splitting time between home and space, so let’s find some new conflicts for these new Lanterns pretty soon.

Birds Of Prey #100: The big anniversary finds Oracle and Huntress recruiting a new pool of agents while Black Canary spends time with her “daughter.” Really, the Black Canary story was just gravy, because the main one (featuring the new team’s breaking into and out of prison) was good enough for me. Let’s put it this way: it convinced me to buy a BoP paperback and start catching up.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #45: Man, I am apparently just a Busiek fool. Arthur’s forces fight the Ocean Master’s in an Ewoks-vs.-Empire situation, except this time the Ewoks win when Arthur apparently uses some of the old Aquaman marine-telepathy mind tricks. You can put as many sword-and-sorcery elements into this book as you want, but I’ve always liked the talking to finny friends. Nice and uplifting, with the old Aquaman anointing the new one, and a kind-of surprising revelation about one of Arthur’s companions. A fine conclusion of the first story arc and transition to the next.

52 #28: Already I miss the all-machine Red Tornado who’s switched bodies in the current Justice League series. Could he turn a junkyard into parts of himself? Of course not. I was a little disappointed with the relatively brief appearances of Batwoman and the Emerald Head, two characters I want to see more of, but at least I got something. Again, like I said up top, 52 pretty much comes down to “did I like whatever random things happened this week?” and on balance, I did.

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September 15, 2006

New comics 9/14/06

Filed under: 52, aquaman, captain america, escapists, firestorm, green lantern, justice league, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 1:25 am
First let me say, regarding the mystery villain in Firestorm, The Nuclear Man (#29 written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne), that based on the last page of this issue, I Was Right. This gives me the distinct impression that Stuart Moore isn’t so much recreating Firestorm for the 21st Century as revitalizing the best parts of the Gerry Conway/Pat Broderick/Rafael Kayanan Fury Of Firestorm from the early ’80s. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Not a big fan of Martin Stein’s hairdo, though; makes him look too grandmotherish. This issue makes me want to re-read all of the current series in preparation for the next one, and that’s a good, geeky feeling to have.

Speaking of good, geeky feelings, here’s Green Lantern #13 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert), a time capsule from the summer (aww, Superman Returns advertising! Don’t feel bad, you did your best…) that, had it actually come out then, might be accused of stirring up bad vibes from Infinite Crisis. It still does that, but enough time has passed that it doesn’t feel so blatant. Anyway, it’s pretty entertaining. Reis packs a lot into his pages, and Oclair does his part to tidy everything up. Reis had a tendency in Rann-Thanagar War to fill each issue with a lot of background detail, so much so that it tended to distract from the action in the foreground. This story has a smaller scale, but there’s still a lot going on in the fight scenes. The difference, I think, is both inking and coloring, so I’ll give colorist Moose Baumann some credit too.

Anyway, this issue mostly resolves the Cyborg/Manhunters storyline (with a big, satisfying fight), but it also sets up subplots that will probably take months to play out. I’m not quite convinced that Hal and Arisia coupling up again is a good idea — I wasn’t convinced of that the first time — but other than that I’m pretty happy with this book. Not counting 52, it’s the only Geoff Johns book I still buy regularly, and I think it’s because Johns is really interested in exploring the untapped potential of the Green Lantern Corps mythology that other writers never got around to. In particular, he seems to be going back to the Gerry Jones well of “what’s the Guardians’ real agenda?” Because he’s picking up on old threads, abandoned during the Kyle years, it all feels more organic than it might have if he were forging a new direction of his own design. Not that he shouldn’t do new things, but with this kind of series it’s always appreciated (as with Firestorm) to use what’s already there.

Boy, it was nice to see Dave Gibbons’ pencils on a Green Lantern comic again. Green Lantern Corps #4 begins what should be a very fun all-Guy Gardner, all-Dave Gibbons (with inks by Mike Bair) story. Guy, on shore leave, is chased by Bolphunga the Unrelenting, a bounty hunter from the old GLC backup-story days (the Alan Moore story that introduced Mogo, in fact) who’s just the kind of Groo-like over-the-top foe to make Guy look subtle by comparison. Interludes with other Lanterns show that Gibbons hasn’t forgotten about the book’s other characters, and their stories provide good character counterpoints to the main plot’s action. Looking forward to the rest.

JLA Classified #27 (written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Killian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen) presents Part 2 of “Secret History, Sacred Trust,” and while it’s produced about as well as Part 1 was, all the skullduggery gets a little confusing after a while. Still, Chaykin and company wrap things up in a way that drives home the main point of the plot, and his dialogue is sharp as ever, so I probably just have to pay more attention.

It hit me this week that for the past few issues, I haven’t been paying much attention to the “Day ___” notations in 52 (#19 written by the Four Freshmen, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Pat Oliffe, inks by Drew Geraci). The Pope Lobo bits reminded me, perhaps only superficially, of Pope Cerebus (although Lobo might take his office more seriously), so that was fun. I wonder, though — can Starfire not repair her top? (Not that it’s a big deal.) Also, jeez, who knew Skeets was so devious? Oliffe and Geraci were a good team in their 52 debut, although Supernova looked a little younger and Wonder Girl a little more angular than normal. I can’t remember which issue is supposed to be the big tipping point where everything speeds up exponentially, but it feels close.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #44 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Butch Guice) makes many old-school Aquaman connections, including Mera, Ocean Master, and a big clue about Orin of Atlantis. A recent Busiek interview spoiled that last bit for me, but the notion that this is all a big arc to unify the new and old casts makes me more interested to see where this is all going.

More old and new integration happens in Captain America #21 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting), a really pretty book that focuses on Cap and the Once and Future Bucky’s efforts to stop the big Nazi robot from destroying London. This issue brings Bucky/the Winter Soldier one step closer to being a recurring member of Cap’s supporting cast for the first time since the Big One, and I’m not sure such a thing could have been handled any better. Certainly, in the Dead Sidekick Returns Derby, Buck’s more than a few lengths ahead of Jason Todd, and it looks like he’s speeding up.

Finally, thanks to last week’s vacation, I was able at last to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and it was so good only my new-comics budget stopped me from buying all the Escapist swag the LCS offered. I did, however, pick up The Escapists #s 1-3 (written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by various people), a sort-of sequel to the book wherein an aspiring comic-book writer with parental issues of his own uses his inheritance to buy the rights to the character. It has the same breezy optimism as the first part of the novel, which kind of undercuts some of the suspense — you can’t imagine too many bad things happening to our hero, considering what he goes through in the first half of #1, The romance between two main characters is also pretty easy to foresee, and I wonder if a sort of inverted change-up, mirroring the novel’s triangle, is on the way. The book does use its “real comic” pages to good effect, putting the “real peoples'” words into the Escapist’s and Luna Moth’s mouths, and the artists play effectively not just with the comic-within-a-comic, but also the fact that you’re reading a comic that’s about a comic. Also, our hero sometimes looks around 15. Overall, it may be the 2010 to AAOK&C‘s 2001, but there were some good parts of 2010 too. I just want to know if K&C themselves capitalized on the Silver Age boom in superheroes….

July 26, 2006

New comics 7/12/06 and 7/19/06

Yeah, I know, another two-weeks-at-a-time thing. Last week was a killer, though — the Best Wife Ever went to a (practically) week-long conference in Dallas and I had to make sure the house was in as good or better condition than when she left it. So far, so good. Also, we’ve got another couple of hectic weekends ahead, so between keeping an eye on San Diego over the weekend, I’ve been working on making sure the next couple of Grumpy Old Fans get done.

Since you’ve probably read most of these already, I’ll try to be brief.

THE VERY GOOD

52 #10, for Clark’s shenanigans and Lois’ reaction.

She-Hulk #9, for the priceless dinner with Jen’s future in-laws.

Hero Squared #2. This really needs to be a sitcom. If “My Name Is Earl” can be a comic, this can be a sitcom. And a comic too, of course.

Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #27. I wish I knew more creative ways to say “good, solid superhero stories” every month, because that’s the only bad thing about reading this book.

Superman #654. The only bad thing about this book is Lois’ hair, and that’s because it makes her look like Luthor’s ex The Contessa. If this is what the Busiek run is going to deliver every month, for goodness’ sake, DC, don’t let him go!

Green Lantern #12. It might be the one book I think Geoff Johns gets consistently right, but just like with Busiek, whatever he’s on when he writes it does the trick. I’m also a lot fonder of Ivan Reis than I was of Ethan van Sciver, and that’s not really a slight on the latter.

And finally, Justice League of America #0, about which I have already gushed.

THE PRETTY GOOD

52 #11. Would have been better if the DC hype factory hadn’t spoiled Batwoman’s secret identity a couple of months ago.

The (All-New) Atom #1. A fine introduction to the new guy, and more fun than his Brave New World teaser.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #43. Pieces are put together and old Aqua-characters come back as the other new guy finally decides to be Aquaman. It took Busiek a little longer to find his groove with this title, but I think it’s all starting to click.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #20. Come for the rampaging giants, stay for Brainy’s creepy Dream Girl fixation. I want to like this book more, but every month I feel like there’s more going on than I can keep up with. Paperbacks, I know; or maybe I could just find time to actually read the floppies some weekend.

THE ONE THING WAS COOL…

Green Lantern Corps #2. Less murky art would help this book. That sounds like I should get the Dave Gibbons-drawn issue in a couple months, doesn’t it? Anyway, I can’t tell which Alien Of The Week is which, but I did like the Giant Guy Construct.

Star Wars: Rebellion #4. The cliffhanger ending was cool. I can’t say much more.

JLA Classified #24. Nice spotlight on old-school Aquaman, and it is kind of fun to see Amos Fortune comfortable enough with his tub-of-goo body to squeeze it into white spandex.

THE REST

Superman/Batman #28. The new team of Mark Verheiden and Ethan van Sciver start their run with a story about J’Onn J’Onzz going nuts on Batman. Good concept, decent mystery, and no dueling narration, but somehow it just feels kind of stiff.

The Flash: Fastest Man Alive #2. I know, every dork with an Internet connection thinks he can write comics, but this Flash storyline is so predictable it’s sad. We know Griff the Annoying Roommate will be Bart’s newest supervillain. We know Bart will overcome his Speed Force trauma and his reluctant-hero stance. We know he’ll get together with the cute STAR Labs techie.

Why didn’t this book play around a little more with the mystery of who could be in the Flash suit? Why spend two issues convincing Bart to get back in harness when the two issues have been screaming he’s going to? This book could have started out with a mysterious Flash speeding through town saving people, solving crimes, etc., while leaving clues that it could be Bart, Wally, Walter West, one of Wally’s kids, Griff, or even Valerie. It would be a real mystery, because a Flash could effectively be in two places at once. We’d have gotten more Flash-action and less angst to boot, and the book could even have kept the shifting-narrator flashbacks. In fact, that could have been the “reveal” — when the narration started syncing up with the Flash’s exploits. I almost think this book is being deliberately obtuse, and still has a few surprises in it. I’m fairly sure that gives all involved too much credit, but you never know.

May 20, 2006

New comics 5/17/06

Filed under: 52, aquaman, batman, captain america, fantastic four, robin, sgt rock, star wars, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 4:55 pm
After compiling data from dozens of 50 DC Characters entries I’ve received over the past few days, it’s nice to sit down with a stack of new funnybooks.

Robin #150 (written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Freddie Williams III) was decent, but I’m ambivalent about picking it up again on a regular basis. This is not because I’m shocked and appalled at the treatment of another Bat-character within its pages, but maybe instead because I haven’t really followed the character central to the storyline. These three issues have been a good showcase for Tim’s one-year-better abilities, and this issue in particular hints at a further complication for his civilian life, but I still don’t have a sense of Tim as a person. The art bears some responsibility for this, as Tim varies from somewhere around college-age to early high school. (He’s still high-school-age, apparently.) Also, I don’t like that the new costume doesn’t have a red vest.

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #5 (by Joe Kubert) was a good, cathartic issue. Not only does it feature lots of Nazis getting killed, Easy Company kills them protecting a very sympathetic family. There’s also a good, cathartic fistfight at the end. I can’t say much more without spoiling the surprises. The issue also features a very innovative first-page recap which actually makes sense in the context of the story.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #42 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Butch Guice) pulls back the curtain on a fair amount of the One Year Later backstory, so it has kept me interested for at least another month. I was starting to forget the details of this storyline, since the first couple of issues had blended together in my memories, but this issue grounds it more in the surface-dwelling DC universe. Also, last night I was looking through the DC Encyclopedia (that survey again!) and was reminded that King Shark was an early-90s Superboy villain, so that helped too.

52 #2 (written by GJ, GM, MW, GR, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) was much better than #1. Who’s kidnapping mad scientists? What’s the cryptic message on Sue Dibny’s tombstone? Why do Renee Montoya and her fling sleep in their bras? This book feels like the window-on-the-world 52 promises. It takes the details and tone of a shared superhero universe (where a newspaper subhead can read “Mystery of the Wandering Witness”) and presents them as the realities of everyday life — without trying to conform them to our world’s reality. Hope it’s this good in, say, October.

On to Superman/Batman #25 (written by Jeph Loeb, pencilled by Ed McGuinness, inked by Dexter Vines) …. You know, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do universe-spanning storylines with multiple versions/analogues of the main characters. There’s even a right and wrong way to have omnipotent beings dictate the whole thing. This issue just doesn’t feel right. It basically boils the “With A Vengeance!” storyline down to a satire poking fun not only at Marvel, but probably also at the book itself. (How else to explain Batzarro’s narrative captions?) That’s not a bad idea in and of itself, but as I probably said several months ago, the satire just lands with a thud. I can’t hate this book, because it was obviously made with love. However, I can say that it is often painfully obvious, and often finds no new ways of approaching very old topics.

Speaking of which, here’s All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #4 (written by Frank Miller, drawn by Jim Lee and Scott Williams), which I almost didn’t buy because I thought #4 must have been published already. What happens this issue? “Dick Grayson visits the Batcave.” That’s pretty much it, except for brief appearances by Superman and Vicki Vale. Still, Miller does manage to frame explicitly Batman’s rough treatment of his future sidekick in a way which might alter fans’ hostility to the series. Unfortunately, a shot of the still-pneumatic Vicki on the operating table might pick at another scab….

In Fantastic Four: First Family #3 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Chris Weston, inked by Gary Erskine), the proto-FF fights the monster from the cover of FF #1 (1961). While the cover’s not specifically re-enacted in the issue, it still shows the team creeping closer to the events of the series, and it’s pretty well done otherwise. Maybe next issue will be the rematch.

Captain America #18 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) was a great start to “Twenty-First Century Blitz,” the story which takes Cap to London for a reunion with the Winter Soldier. It’s more superheroic, perhaps, than even the Iron Man and Falcon issues from a few months ago, but it still has the understated spy-novel sensibility you’d expect from Brubaker and Epting. Plus, more Nazis!

I guess I went into Marvel Legacy: The 1970s Handbook expecting more spotlights on the major figures of ’70s Marvel — Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Howard the Duck, Killraven, etc. Those must have been covered in the regular OHOTMU, because apart from a couple of entries for the Avengers and X-Men, the entries here approach the bottom of the barrel. That doesn’t mean they’re not fun, though. I had been ambivalent about getting the ’60s volume (and the surely-forthcoming ’80s volume), but now I’m interested in seeing what was in it.

Finally, I opened Star Wars: Rebellion #2 (written by Rob Williams, art by Brandon Badeaux) and started reading about … Starbuck? Yep, Deena’s a short-haired blonde with a fondness for tight tanktops and booze, so it’s hard not to draw the comparison. The main plot still revolves around Luke and his old buddy (now Imperial lieutenant) Tank, and the ending is spoiled somewhat by the cover. The art is a bit stiff as well, with Leia in particular not looking quite right. I may give this one ’til the end of its story arc before deciding whether to continue.

Now back to the spreadsheet….

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