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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April 22, 2008

New comics 4/16/08

Let’s begin with Captain America #37 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting), an issue where everybody hassles Bucky and/or Tony Stark for the whole New Cap thing. Its tone is lighter than the book’s been in a while, with Bucky commenting on everyone hassling him and a weird anachronistic dream sequence. After the relentless pace of the last few issues, though, it’s a welcome change. There are also some nice moments involving the Falcon which I appreciated more in light of plok’s advice on the ’70s Steve Englehart run. My one complaint involves a certain ex-Avenger who shows up at Bucky’s loft. I wouldn’t have known who it was without his being identified in dialogue; and I know that’s part of what dialogue does, but I see “burly blond guy” as drawn by Epting and I think Steve Rogers. Either him or Aquaman. In other words, he didn’t look like ******* to me. Nitpicky, I know.

Bat Lash #5 (written by Sergio Aragones & Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin) finds Bat looking to settle affairs with Brubaker and Wilder, the story’s main villains. Helping matters along are the rest of the town and Bat’s Native American allies, all of whom want the bad guys dead. It’s a darkly comic issue which doesn’t zip along as quickly as it wants to. It’s decent enough, I guess. It does set up what I presume will be the final showdown, which in turn should form the foundation of Bat’s familiar personality. So, looking forward to next issue, because it needs to make up for the shortcomings of its predecessors.

Exposition balances action in Tangent: Superman’s Reign #2 (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs), as the Tangent GL revives one of the Tangent Jokers for one last adventure. That has to wait, however, because the Joker needs to tell us about her death at Tangent Superman’s hands. The other action sequence involves more Tangent heroes trying to free the Tangent Atom, and that’s balanced against a scene with the Tangent Superman intimidating some sheiks. Tangent, Tangent, Tangent. Still, I’m surprised at how well the Tangent U. holds together, considering it started life as a series of one-shots. This continues to be one of Jurgens’ better writing efforts, and I like Jamal Igle a lot already.

Superman #675 (pencilled by Renato Guedes and Jorge Correa Jr., inked by Jose Wilson Magalhaes and Correa) is Kurt Busiek’s last issue as writer before he moves over to the weekly Trinity starting in June. Accordingly, he can go out on a story where Superman fights Daxamite priests (I thought they were pacifists), the power-duplicating Paragon, and the new Galactic Golem. Busiek has done a great job recreating the feel of a Superman comic from the 1970s, when the conflicts came from disruptions to the character’s semi-formal routines. Here, Busiek has been building those routines, so the normal super-fights tend to come across like days at the office. This particular arc has been a little more shaggy than some, but it still holds together well, even in the parts describing the Golem and how to defeat it. The art is good — Guedes’ work is very similar to what I’d call the thin-lined, “open” style of Pete Woods, who started with Busiek two years ago. Superman is big but not bulky or overmuscled, and everybody moves well. Correa picks up the spare without being too noticeably different, so god work all around.

I liked The Flash #239 (written by Tom Peyer, drawn by Freddie Williams II) more than I did Peyer’s first issue, and that’s mostly due to the rationalization of Wally’s behavior. An increasingly cranky Jay Garrick gets a lot of attention this time out, which leaves Wally free to act more like the Wally we know. He does get a pretty good gig this issue, but doesn’t get a chance to enjoy it. Peyer’s script is effective at portraying the tide of public opinion turning against Wally. While a lot of that might be mind control, Peyer gives it enough nuance that we’re never quite sure. I also liked Williams’ art throughout this issue, which I think is a first. He’s finally getting a good feel for Wally’s figure and his movement. (Hey, it took me a while to come around to Pat Gleason too.)

The Brave and the Bold #12 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Bob Wiacek) finishes the “Megistus” storyline with a plethora of characters including Superman, the Challengers, Green Lantern, and Metamorpho. However, the star turns out to be Challenger June, who apparently has some inferiority issues over not “living on borrowed time” like the original Challs. Why she has these issues after forty-odd years with the group is never quite explained, but not being a COTU scholar I’ll defer to Waid on that one. The script is a little more clunky than is usual for this book, probably due to the number of characters and the wonky element-transmuting mechanics of the plot. Ordway does well with it, though; and he delivers customarily solid work here. Although there’s a clever nod to Final Crisis, here’s hoping that this book continues to be the tonic for the constant-crossover mentality.

… And speaking of which, the penultimate issue of Countdown (#2 written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins) starts with Giant Turtle-Boy Jimmy and ends with what looks like the series’ most obvious setup for Final Crisis. (That is, before DC decided that this series wouldn’t really lead into FC quite so much.) It’s pretty straightforward stuff — two interconnected fights bridged by some Atom heroics, portrayed well by Kolins and colorist Tom Chu. (I’m guessing Giffen might have contributed to the breakdowns, but I don’t know for sure). Let’s put it this way — this issue made me think Kolins would be a good fit for a Hulk series. It didn’t redeem all of Countdown, and I doubt there’ll be much in this week’s final issue to do that, but on its own it was a good fight.

March 17, 2008

New comics 3/5/08 and 3/12/08

I’ve got a lot of these to go through, so I’ll try to keep it short.

3/5/08

Justice League: The New Frontier Special #1: Very nice all around. I probably didn’t need to see how another Batman/Superman fight would play out, but it’s justified as a “lost chapter” of NF. The Robin/Kid Flash and Wonder Woman/Black Canary stories are cute, the period ephemera is well-done, and the behind-the-scenes look at the DVD adaptation is pure eye candy.

Teen Titans Year One #3: Was a little surprised at the pacing of the overall miniseries, as depicted in this issue; but better earlier than later, I guess. Besides, the story’s new direction looks intriguing. It’s been good so far, so I’m in for the rest.

Supergirl #27: It’s an understatement to say that this book hasn’t been what I expected. If you remember the Steven T. Seagle/Scott McDaniel run on Superman a few years back, it’s kinda like that, except on downers. I’m pretty much buying this book to see if it all makes sense. Plus, I like Drew Johnson and this issue’s guest (fill-in?) artist, Rick Leonardi. S’girl isn’t frustratingly bad like, say, early Hawkgirl or late Gotham Knights. It’s just frustrating.

Countdown To Adventure #7: I read this book for the Adam Strange/Animal Man/Starfire story. I have no idea what’s going on with the Forerunner story.

Nightwing #143: I like the fact that writer Peter Tomasi isn’t afraid to plug Nightwing firmly into the center of DC’s superhero culture. It can get a little precious, and sometimes — not so much in this issue, but certainly in the last one — it distracts from the main plot. This issue was fine, but I bet if it were your first DC comic in a while, you’d be mystified.

Detective Comics #842: Batman must deal with an EVIL! suit of armor that he ended up wearing in the Ra’s Al Ghul storyline from a couple months back. You know Spider-Man’s black costume? Like that, except Batman doesn’t destroy it, it doesn’t make him dance like a poser, and (so far) it hasn’t come to life. I’m not sure why the world needed this story.

Green Lantern #28: The “Lost Lantern’s” trial results in the creation of a Red Lantern. Hal has a Clarice Starling moment with Sinestro. We check in with the demons on Ysmault. The Guardians issue a radical new law. I can see how it all fits together, but I know the dots won’t be connected for about another year.

Countdown #8: Yay, Ray Palmer’s back as the Atom! Yay, Firestorm is back (although whither Martin Stein?)! Yay, Habitat, the Hairies, and the rest of Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen creations! Boo, all the bickering and running around pointlessly.

3/12/08

JLA Classified #54: Will probably read better in the trade. Since this is the last installment of the Titus storyline, the “past” narrative takes up the top half of each page, and the “present” gets the bottom half. Sometimes that trick works, sometimes not. Here, it might’ve been better to split the pages vertically. As for the story, Titus beats the tar out of the League for as long as is dramatically appropriate. The ends on an ecumenical note, which is always nice, but a bit treacly for the Justice League. Overall, though, pretty good.

Batman Confidential #14: Part 2 of a new look at a one-off villain from the ’80s, The Wrath. As a modern-style story with an out-of-date setting, it’s not exactly a nostalgia-fest. However, I give it points for picking a time period other than “Year One.” Otherwise, I’m not sure what the general appeal would be.

The Last Defenders #1: The Defenders are famous as Marvel’s “non-team.” This book goes a step further, taking pains to point out how its characters are nowhere near as cool as the original Defenders. It’s a weird little exercise in obstinance wrapped in a story about white supremacists and big snake-monsters. I’ll probably stick with it.

Fantastic Four #555: Boring. Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary are fine craftsmen, but there’s still no life in an issue which features an illicit tryst, a duplicate Earth, and a giant killer robot. It’s all hat and no cattle.

Superman Confidential #13: Part two of the Toyman/Jimmy Olsen story is okay, and I like Phil Hester and Ande Parks’ art, but it feels a bit padded and lethargic. Probably could have used some pruning.

Star Wars: Rebellion #12: Part two of yet another “infiltrate an Imperial base” story that just kinda sits there. Colin Wilson’s art reminds me of early Howard Chaykin, and his Luke doesn’t look much like Mark Hamill either.

Bat Lash #4: The big apocalyptic issue which sets up the climax. This miniseries has been decent, but it’s hard to reconcile all the blood and death with the happy-go-lucky tone which got me interested in the character. (Lots of cattle, but I thought the hat would be different, in other words.) Maybe Sergio Aragones can do it. We’ll see.

Countdown To Mystery #4: I continue to like the Doctor Fate story as it plays with the (pretty much inevitable) conclusion that has Kent Nelson become the latest Doctor F. This installment includes the most traditional superhero action we’ve seen since early on, but the pieces still haven’t fallen into place. Most origin stories seem to place the origin alongside another threat, in order to give the new hero something to do in the third act. This one is all about the origin process itself, with Inza’s comic-book ventures serving as metacommentary. Makes me miss Steve Gerber that much more. P.S. This book also contains an Eclipso story which is once again threatening to meander.

Booster Gold #7: It’s The OMAC Project, Take Two, as we see how Max Lord took over the world once Booster saved Beetle from an (untimely?) death. (By the way, I’ve just started the second season of “Star Trek Voyager,” and Tom and Harry are reminding me a lot of Beetle and Booster.) More subplots converge alongside more trips into DC’s nostalgia mine, so for me, pretty good.

Superman #674: New artist Renato Guedes brings a nice “bigness” to the proceedings. Outgoing writer Kurt Busiek brings back an old JLA villain (from just before the Detroit days) to threaten Superman. Meanwhile, Supes has problems with Mon-El and the Kents have a new apartment. It’s a full issue which doesn’t feel overstuffed.

Wonder Woman #18: Guest artist Bernard Chang helps Gail Simone send WW into space, in what looks like an oblique sequel to the “Space Pirate” storyline from the early ’90s. Basically, she’s challenged by the Khunds (who act like Klingons) to stop an unstoppable race which threatens Khundia. Also, she gets pre-engaged to Tom Tresser, and Etta Candy shows up too. Chang makes WW look like someone familiar, but I can’t think of who. His art is a lot less porntastic than I feared it would be.

Countdown #7: Yet another parallel world, 90% close to the familiar DC-Earth. Another Tom Derenick-pencilled issue too. I swear, this series would be twice as good if it were half as long.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #6: This issue seemed so indebted to “Alias” (the TV show, not the comic book) that I’m starting to think Connor Hawke is the Michael Vaughn designated-victim figure. Remember when Vaughn drowned at the end of Season One, or when he got shot like Bonnie & Clyde at the beginning of Season Five? My money is therefore on Connor to pull through.

Green Lantern Corps #22: Part two of the Boodikka/Alpha Lantern storyline seems pretty forgettable, although it’ll probably look a lot more important in 2009. Today, though, I’m tempted to think that all the procedural GLC stuff would fit better in this book than in Green Lantern, with the Boodikka story as a backup.

February 16, 2008

New comics 2/13/08

Well, we’re getting settled in here in the Memphis metro area (we’re in the ‘burbs, actually), and what looks like the main LCS is fairly close to the house, so good news all around. Thanks for all the good wishes, too. I’m looking forward to getting to know the area!

Still, you’re not here for the travel tips, and I haven’t hooked up the scanner yet, so…

Fantastic Four #554 (written by Mark Millar, drawn by Bryan Hitch) has some good ideas. Sue’s Junior League-ish “super-team” is one of them, as is the idea that Alyssa Moy (glad I read the Claremont issues!) is just as good as Reed without being held back by family obligations. Hitch is reliably good, as usual. However, I can’t decide whether Millar is ripping off Magrathea, the Quantum Mechanics from Hitch (and Mark Waid)’s JLA: Heaven’s Ladder, or both. It’s certainly a big enough idea for the FF (as it was for the Justice League), but Millar and Hitch have such matter-of-fact styles that it loses something, somehow, in “translation.” I definitely get the idea that the A-games are being brought, but (at the risk of mixing metaphors horribly) their reaches may exceed their grasps.

Spider-Man Family #7 includes a funny, sweet story about the Looter’s love for his piece of meteor rock. It’s Mark Waid, Todd Dezago, and Karl Kesel’s tribute to their late colleague Mike Wieringo, and I really enjoyed it. The rest of the issue reprints the first issue of a Venom miniseries obviously from the ’90s, the first issue of a Gwen Stacy flashback miniseries, and a Japanese Spidey story. I’m still working my way through those, and also the bonus materials in Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure. The latter reconstructs the Lee/Kirby story that appeared (in altered form) in FF #108, and of course I can’t say anything bad about Lee/Kirby FF.

Bat Lash #3 (written by Sergio Aragones & Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin) takes the overall story in a pretty grim direction, and for a story which has featured attempted rape as a major plot device, that’s saying something. I do think the villains are made to be suitably evil, but I’m not getting much in the way of characterization from Bat himself.

Was a little surprised to see an Alpha Lantern story in Green Lantern Corps #21 (written by Sterling Gates, drawn by Nelson), since I thought the Alphas’ “origin” was still unfolding in the main GL book. Anyway, the spotlight here is on Boodikka, who I believe was introduced in the Gerry Jones era of the very early ’90s. Even so, this may be our first look at her homeworld and early life. It’s an OK issue — the main conflicts have to be restated for folks who don’t know them already from the other title, and the story-specific conflicts are pretty familiar. Boodikka isn’t the first Lantern to suffer the rejection of her old social group. The art isn’t bad, but it’s not particularly energitic either. However, the plot brings everything together at the end in a fairly new way, and if this is your first Alpha Lantern story it’s probably not too shabby.

JLA Classified #52 (written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer) features the present-day League’s fight with Titus. It was good, in terms of book-length fight scenes. Every Leaguer got a spotlight, there was a bit of backstory involving an Amazonian prophecy, and it ended on a cliffhanger. Can’t ask for much more than that.

I didn’t quite know what to expect from Beautie: An Astro City Character Special (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson), but I ended up pleasantly surprised by its “Twilight Zone” feel. At first I wondered whether Anderson was just giving Beautie Barbie-like characteristics and mannerisms, so it was a little confusing before I realized that’s the way she’s supposed to look. Once I got past that, I realized how unnerving she would be even among the other AC characters, and that discomfort helps to define her. Overall, I thought it was a good standalone story, and it doesn’t quite matter that it might not have much to do with the overall AC mega-plot.

Superman #673 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Jesus Merino) wraps up the Insect Queen storyline with a bit of super-power use that made me, and no doubt other readers, think “it doesn’t work that way!” I didn’t dislike this storyline, because it built the IQ up as a credible threat, gave Lana something productive to do, and had some good scenes with Chris Kent … but really, heat vision doesn’t work that way, does it? As for the art, Merino has some of the same issues with choreography and poses that Peter Vale does, but overall he did a good job.

I liked Wonder Woman #17 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Terry & Rachel Dodson and Ron Randall) pretty well, but I couldn’t figure out why one Amazon appears to suffer a couple of mortal wounds on one page and then turns up somewhat less than dead shortly thereafter. Misdirection, I guess; which is how we get suspense. Anyway, this is more of Wonder Woman being the toughest person in the room (or in the jungle, or on the beach), as she intimidates the Nazis off Themyscira and then takes out the four Amazons who’ve wanted her dead since her birth. I was also surprised by the revelations about Etta Candy, who I guess got Superboy-punched somewhere along the way. Thought Ron Randall meshed pretty well with the Dodsons, too.

Green Arrow/Black Canary #5 (written by Judd Winick, drawn by Andre Coelho) was okay. Essentially a flashback about Connor Hawke’s childhood, it also includes Ollie and Dinah’s real wedding and sets up what looks like the next main storyline (which may well involve Connor’s being healed). The flashbacks are rooted in the core of Ollie’s character, which is (I think) the conflict between his extreme self-centeredness and his perpetual desire to make up for same. In other words, Ollie’s a jerk who realizes his shortcomings about ten seconds too late. If you can get past that, he becomes more sympathetic, and these flashbacks probably become easier to take. Otherwise, there’s probably no way you keep reading this book. Art was pretty decent — kind of like Cliff Chiang, but with thinner, harsher lines.

Most of the action’s on Apokolips in Countdown #11 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Mark McKenna), but nothing much happens. Oh sure, Brother Eye and OMAC mow down para-demons, and Holly, Harley, and Mary fight a new (and probably less-powerful) batch of Female Furies, and Karate Kid gets some action as well, but I don’t get the same sense of plot advancement from this issue that I did from the Earth-51 story which ran through the January installments. Art is good, because I think Norton and McKenna are capable storytellers with a clean, appealing design sense. Other than that the book has the same problems it’s always had: it assumes you’re in this for the long haul and it doesn’t need to explain anything.

Finally, I wasn’t surprised by the cliffhanger at the end of Booster Gold #0 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund), because I’d seen the solicitations for future issues. Besides, no good can come of Booster’s time-mucking. I did like the Zero Hour elements, though, especially the notion that this was the “Zero Month” issue which re-told Booster’s origin. Unfortunately, I’m not getting the sense of camaraderie and joie de vivre that I should be from the return of the Blue and Gold team. Ted’s just too serious — understandably, I think, since he’s just faced his own death. Maybe next month, when they’re dodging OMACs, they’ll be funnier.

January 13, 2008

New comics 1/4/08 and 1/9/08

I was out of town last weekend and didn’t get back until late Sunday night. That meant I didn’t get to the comics shop until Monday night for the previous Friday’s books. Naturally I was back there on Wednesday for this week’s books. So it’s all a big blur of spandex … which, as I type that, seems sure to bring in the random Google hits….

JANUARY 9, 2008

Teen Titans Lost Annual #1 (Oh, like there’s going to be a “Lost Annual #2.”): I can see why DC didn’t want to publish this back when it was completed a few years ago. It belongs to a different time — a time when, for example, Robin could stay in the White House as a guest of the President and feel comfortable kicking back in his costume, sans mask but plus white gym socks. It’s not a period piece in the manner of New Frontier, it’s an unsubtle commentary on the way superhero comics used to work. I liked it pretty well. The story is pretty wild, by any objective standard, but it’s still charming; and the art is accessible and makes the Titans look appropriately young and heroic.

Bat Lash #2: Because I am not reading the current Jonah Hex book, which apparently threatens rape pretty frequently, I’m not so burned out on said threats when they crop up here. Just need to get that out of the way. Otherwise, this miniseries seems to be an origin of sorts for Bat — at least, I think it’s the origin of the flower in his hat — and it involving a number of standard Western plotlines. I’m still intrigued by the book, because I can see Bat developing into an interesting character, but I don’t quite think he’s there yet.

The Spirit #12: Darwyn Cooke gets a number of tools out of his kit for this issue, especially on the Eisneresque flashback scenes (and an equally Eisneresque rained-out final page). It’s an I Can’t Love You, I’ve Been Too Bad Too Long kind of plot, but it’s still very effective. I don’t mean this to sound dismissive — rather, Cooke is such a fine storyteller that I don’t have the space to gush about his work.

JLA Classified #50: A rampaging monster from the League’s early days returns to wreak havoc on the current team. Thus, most of this issue is fight scenes. It’s a lot like what you’d expect a Justice League comic to be, and I mean that in the best way possible. Problems will be solved, and adversities overcome, by the time this arc is over.

Superman #672: Same thing goes for Part 2 of “The Insect Queen,” which uses young Chris Kent as its cliffhanger. This makes a lot of sense, considering that the other major Super-players (Superman, Lois, and Lana) are pretty much safe from harm — but we don’t quite know what to make of Chris, so he gets “volunteered.” As for the main plot, Superman fights insectoid aliens, and Lana learns more about how her insectoid doppelganger has taken over the Moon. If you think that sounds like an entertaining Superman comic, you’re right. Art is fine, but Lana’s choreography is a little funky for some reason. She tumbles around a fair amount, and it never comes out quite right.

Nightwing #140: A decent start for new writer Peter Tomasi and new artists Rags Morales and Michael Bair. Morales and Bair are reliably good, but I found Tomasi’s characters to be somewhat long-winded. The new woman in Dick’s life speaks especially expositionally, and Dick isn’t exempt either. The plot is much more DCU-centered, involving the robbing of super-folks’ graves, and there are many of the guests you might expect in a Bat-title. Overall I liked it, but cut down on the balloon juice, okay?

Green Arrow And Black Canary #4: Beautiful art, but that should go without saying. As for the story, I was thinking the other day about how much I liked Green Arrow as a Justice Leaguer. He usually gets to spit sarcastic remarks at the rest of the team, and that’s always fun. However, more often than not he gets to back that up with fearless derring-do, mostly involving some explosive arrows and a giant robot. However, you can’t build an ongoing series around that kind of character unless you give him some depth, and I think that’s where writer Judd Winick has been going with GA/BC. Unfortunately, Winick is building character through tragedy again, and while this issue gets a lot of things right (Ollie’s friends coming through, good moments with Batman and Wonder Woman), at the heart of it is still the tragedy of Connor Hawke. Here’s hoping it gets reversed soon somehow, so that Ollie can learn and the book can really enjoy the fantastic work of Cliff Chiang.

Green Lantern Corps #20: Peter Tomasi has already written part of “Sinestro Corps” for this title, but he starts his tenure as new writer in earnest here, with a picking-up-the-pieces story putting Kyle and Guy in Chandler-and-Joey roles on Oa. It is a very sitcommy setup, and while I don’t have high hopes, it does have potential. Also, Mongul gets a Sinestro ring and gloats about it. Tomasi’s talky here too, and the differing art styles of Patrick Gleason and Carlos Magno are fine on their own merits, but don’t blend together well.

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #6: Kind of a blah conclusion to what I’d hoped would be a more exciting miniseries. The Horsemen end up taking over our heroes, except they’re surprisingly easy to get along with, and their eventual host doesn’t seem to mind them too much. I did like seeing the Doom Patrol and Snapper Carr, though.

Countdown #s 17 and 16: I’ll talk about these together because they’re really pretty decent, at least as far as this series goes. Monarch’s army comes to the idyllic Earth-51 and totally trashes it, killing its Justice League and assorted other heroes without much trouble. Meanwhile, Jean Loring loses the power of Eclipso in a fight with Mary Marvel, and Mary likewise loses her Shazam powers. One Earth’s Jean dies, but another one lives, making me suspect that our Ray Palmer will have a tearful reunion with that Jean at some point. Finally, Jason Todd meets the Batman of Earth-51 and (judging by the previews for this week) learns that Earth’s dark secret. Again, a lot of fight scenes, but as depicted by Pete Woods and Tom Derenick, pretty well laid out. Dialogue is okay, but not horrible. I have to say, this is the most interest I’ve had in Countdown since it’s started. I may have a problem with the “message” of Earth-51, but that’ll probably be a topic for next week.

JANUARY 4, 2008

Teen Titans Year One #1: Talked about this one in Thursday’s Grumpy Old Fan, but not in much depth. I liked it a lot, even though Wally West acted more like Bart Allen than I would have expected, and I’m still not used to Aqualad being so “fishy”-looking. However, those are dramatic and stylistic choices which work within the context of the miniseries. As I said in GOF, despite the title, I don’t think this is a continuity-oriented gap-filler like JLA Year One, and that’s fine. It’s enough for me that it evokes the spirit of a different time — maybe not precisely the Silver Age, but something that still feels like a growing and developing DC-Earth. Oh, and I really like Karl Kerschl, Serge Lapointe and Steph Peru’s art — it reminds me of Stuart Immonen’s Nextwave work, which is great.

Howard The Duck #4: Fine conclusion to a story that had to be reined in somehow before it collapsed under the weight of all the satire. Ty Templeton writes a funny George W. Bush. On the whole it’s probably too broad, but I enjoyed it and wouldn’t mind more Howard from these folks (assuming Steve Gerber’s not coming back, of course).

Supergirl #25: The Girl of Steel has flashbacks to Argo City’s destruction and then fights Reactron. The latter’s design has been updated since his days as an obscure Who’s Who entry, but it still took me a while to recognize him. That’s about it for the plot. The fight scenes are portrayed very matter-of-factly, with a certain amount of distance, and that gives everything a decompressed feel. Accordingly, this was kind of a dull issue. I like Drew Johnson and Ray Snyder’s art, but it’s still kinda dull.

(All-New) Atom #19: I love Jerry Ordway, but here his guest-artist talents are in the service of a rather blah Lost Underground Amish Tribe story. Our hero basically gets saved because he’s cute, not because he does anything heroic. Keith Champagne is no Gail Simone, that’s for sure.

Detective Comics #840: Really good Batman-vs.-Ra’s story. Batman basically renders the entire Ra’s-is-back crossover moot by putting Ra’s out of commission for as long as DC wants. Up to that point, though, it’s a fairly suspenseful tale which centers around the fact that Ra’s knows all of Batman’s secrets and, being filled with revenge, is itching to exploit them. Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs are the new art team, and they’re very good. Lots of blacks, and a dull color palette from John Kalisz. Nguyen has a very fluid approach, his figures are consistent and weighty, and he’s a good choreographer. Hope this team sticks together for a while.

Finally, Countdown To Mystery #4 gets the Eclipso out of Jean (duplicating that part of Countdown) and back into Bruce Gordon; and introduces the new Doctor Fate to his “new” Inza. I continue to like the Fate series even if it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Ironically, I’m also starting to like the Eclipso story more because it seems to be developing a plot. The art in “Eclipso” is a bit T&A oriented, and the dialogue isn’t anywhere near Gerber’s “Fate” work, but it’s not as bad as it has been.

CREDITS

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #6. Written by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, inked by John Stanisci.

The All-New Atom #19. Written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Trevor Scott.

Bat Lash #2. Written by Sergio Aragones & Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin.

Countdown To Final Crisis #17. Written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Ron Lim, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti.

Countdown To Final Crisis #16. Written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pete Woods & Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher.

Countdown To Mystery # 4. “Eclipso” written by Matthew Sturges and drawn by Stephen Jorge Segouia; “Doctor Fate” written by Steve Gerber, pencilled by Justiniano, and inked by Walden Wong.

Detective Comics #840. Written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #4. Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Cliff Chiang.

Green Lantern Corps #20. Written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason and Carlos Magno, inked by PRentis Rollins, Tom Nguyen, Drew Geraci, Rodney Ramos, & Rebecca Buchman.

Howard the DuckJLA Classified #50. Written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer.

Nightwing #140. Written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Michael Bair.

The Spirit #12. Written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke.

Supergirl #25. Written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson & Lee Ferguson, inked by Ray Snyder.

Superman #672. Written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Peter Vale, inked by Wellington Diaz.

Teen Titans Lost Annual #1. Written by Bob Haney, pencilled by Jay Stephens, inked by Mike Allred.

Teen Titans Year One #1. Written by Amy Wolfram, art by Karl Kerschl, Serge Lapointe, and Steph Peru.

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