Comics Ate My Brain

August 1, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: birds of prey, friday night fights, meme — Tom Bondurant @ 11:05 pm
This time around, it’s Ladies’ Night! Bahlactus commands that at least one combatant must be female … but hey, look what I just happened to pull from an unorganized stack:


That’s right, it’s the classic throwdown between Barbara “Call Me Batgirl” Gordon and Katarina “Spy Smasher” Armstrong!


The stakes? How about control of a little ad hoc group of superfolk no one dares call the Birds Of Prey?


“But Tom,” you say, “Babs is in that wheelchair for a reason!” Yes, and that’s why Manhunter zapped Spy Smasher in the leg.


Although really, I tend to think it’s so that Barbara wouldn’t hurt her too badly….

Naturally, the multi-page spread which follows this bout shows that none of Babs’ operatives will go with Spy Smasher under any circumstances — but this isn’t called “Friday Night Friendships,” now is it?

[From “Whitewater Epilogue,” Birds Of Prey #108, September 2007. Written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood, colored by Hi-Fi Designs, lettered by Travis Lanham.]

July 21, 2008

New comics 7/16/08

Filed under: birds of prey, captain america, flash, justice league, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 4:05 pm
We begin with Birds Of Prey #120 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Michael O’Hare, inked by John Floyd), the first issue in a lonnnnng time neither written by Gail Simone nor pencilled by Nicola Scott. However, it’s also continued directly from #119, so I’m guessing that the departure of Scott and inker Doug Hazlewood wasn’t going to come at a clean break.

Anyway, it focuses on Infinity, a character new to me who’s basically invisible, immaterial, and electronically undetectable. While she sneaks into a bad guy’s lab, Black Canary and Oracle have the awkward beginnings of a conversation about the death of BC’s daughter. That’s over pretty quickly, though, and the rest of the issue involves Infinity’s escape and the surprise appearance of a Major Villain.

Since Bedard’s been writing BOP for a few issues now, the big news this month is the art. O’Hara and Floyd’s work reminds me of a more sedate Ed Benes — scratchy lines, but no radical departures, and fairly functional. Fight choreography is fine (although there’s a bit of a narrative gap — no pun intended — between pages 1 and 2) and expressions are decent. I’ll stick with the book until this arc ends and evaluate the new creative team then.

The first few issues of Tangent: Superman’s Reign were enjoyable, but tentative, steps establishing the parallel Earth and its stable of characters. With issue #5 (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs), the plot starts to lurch forward. The good guys’ forces must retreat from Tangent-Powergirl, and Tangent-Superman gets more proactive with regard to his DC-Earth counterparts. There’s not much technically wrong with the issue, although it’s not clear what happens to Hal Jordan after the first few pages. Actually, one of this issue’s highlights is the history of Tangent-Joker (written by Ron Marz, pencilled by Fernando Pasarin, inked by Matt Banning), augmented by playful poses of the character. Overall, still a fine Justice League story, and I hope it picks up steam.

The Flash #242 (written by Tom Peyer, drawn by Freddie Williams II) finds the Wests in Gorilla City looking for a cure for Iris’ condition. I view the West twins with a mix of affection and cynicism: affection because I think they’re good characters, cynicism over the fact that they could literally die whenever the story requires it. In other words, they’re around for exactly as long as DC considers them viable, and if getting rid of them means a bump in sales, well….

Still, this is a my-kid’s-gonna-die story, so its success depends upon whether Peyer and Williams can generate sympathy for a character who the audience has known for only a year. Call me a sap, but I got invested in Iris’ well-being. Williams’ expressive faces do much of the work, but Peyer’s dialogue keeps Iris’ mental age consistent even as her body grows older. Good work from all corners, and I’ll be waiting for next issue’s conclusion.

Captain America #40 (written by Ed Brubaker) features the return of artist Steve Epting for the big Cap vs. Cap fight (and Sharon vs. Sin on the undercard). Since it’s pretty much 22 pages of combat, I don’t feel bad about saying simply that it’s nicely choreographed. It should go without saying by now that Captain America is a mighty fine superhero comic which inspires multiple readings from issue #1 forward, but some months I just get tired of typing all that.

And on that tired-of-typing note, I will once again record my weekly purchase of Trinity (#7), observing merely that it too was reliably good.

June 28, 2008

New comics 6/18/08

Catching up, yet again….

I’m a little torn about the format of Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four (#2 written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray). On one hand I don’t like crossovers disrupting a regular creative team’s groove, especially if that team does Culturally Significant work. On the other, it’s always nice to see how the regular creative team handles the shared-universe responsibilities. Besides, at some point I just want a singular creative voice.

Still, I know it’s naive to wish that SI: FF were three issues of the regular book; and it’s somewhat petty to say that it’s better than Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s work. For someone not reading Secret Invasion, and therefore not looking to reconcile the FF miniseries with the bigger picture, it’s simply a story about Johnny fighting his Skrull ex-wife while Ben protects Franklin and Valeria from the horrors of the Negative Zone. Everyone involved has good handles on the characters. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not Culturally Significant either. At times It can be pretty cute, though (“Yay, prison!”).

Tangent: Superman’s Reign #4 (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs) also falls in the “why isn’t this in the main book?” category. It’s basically a Justice League story, superficially very close to the JLA/JSA multiversal team-ups of yore. However, it’s also something of a sequel to the “Tangent Comics” specials from ten years ago, so I guess that’s why it gets its own maxiseries. It’s been consistently entertaining, and this issue provides a little more insight into what Tangent-Superman sees as his benevolent dictatorship. Otherwise, more Justice Leaguers (Batman, GL/Hal Jordan, Black Canary, Black Lightning) join Flash and GL/John Stewart on Earth-Tangent, there’s a stunning reversal, and we have our cliffhanger. The art is good — I like Jamal Igle, and while Robin Riggs’ inks are a little more loose than I’m used to seeing on Igle’s work, he keeps the book from getting bogged down. Every time I read an issue I feel like I’m farther into the story than I actually am. On balance I suppose that’s a compliment.

Via Annie, the Long-Suffering Girlfriend, RASL #2 (by Jeff Smith) offers a little more background on our hero and his dimension-hopping, and sets up the next bit of plot. The rest is tone and attitude — Rasl likes the ladies, Annie has an holistic approach to parallel universes. The issue feels like it’s about 8 pages long, not 32, but that’s part of Smith’s sparse approach. Still, there’s enough in the issue (both implicit and explicit) that I didn’t feel shortchanged, and I’ll be waiting for #3.

Paul Smith returns as penciller of The Spirit (#18 written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier and inked by Walden Wong), tackling a story which sends our hero to Egypt to deal with — what else? — mummies. This is getting to be the Adam West version of The Spirit, but that’s not necessarily bad. Anyway, the ending is a bit predictable, so not quite as enjoyable as the other Aragones/Evanier done-in-one stories; and the art is good as always.

Wonder Girl and Speedy go on a date — with danger!! — in Teen Titans Year One #5 (written by Amy Wolfram, pencilled by Karl Kerschl, inked by Serge LaPointe), a thoroughly charming story which incorporates an old Titans villain, the Batmobile knock-off called the Arrow-Car, and a Green Arrow who’s about as good a foster parent as you’d think. Of course the date goes wrong; of course Wonder Girl saves the day (the date’s told mostly from her perspective, after all); but that’s not the end of the story, and that ending sets the story apart. What’s more, the art is a very nice blend of linework and painting which I’m guessing was run through some PhotoShop filter … but technical details aside, it sets a dreamlike tone perfect for a first date. Really great work from Kerschl, LaPointe, and colorist John Rauch. I’ll be very sorry to see this miniseries end.

Speaking of Green Arrow, here he is in The Brave and the Bold #14 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Scott Kolins), essentially providing a body for Deadman to inhabit. Accordingly, this isn’t so much a team-up as it is a takeover, but it’s still a suspenseful Deadman story. See, Deadman needs to get back to his spiritual home of Nanda Parbat to free it from some evil presence, but along the way said presence keeps throwing mind-controlled pawns in his way. Waid and Kolins effectively evoke the spirit (so to speak) of paranoid thrillers like Invasion of the Body Snatchers; and while I didn’t quite buy what the cliffhanger ending was selling, I can’t complain about the execution.

The Flash #241 came out almost concurrent with the news that writer Tom Peyer and artist Freddie Williams II may well be leaving. That’s too bad, because the current issue manages to use Gorilla Grodd, multiple Flashes, the Fourth-World-flavored bad guys behind the Dark Side Club, and Wally’s ironic punishment (torture?) of Flash-killer Inertia, in a fairly cohesive story. It’s a little too much to explain, but it all works. Both Peyer and Williams have found their grooves on the title, and Williams especially does good work with Wally’s kids.

Birds Of Prey #119 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) is, at first glance, a “moving-in” story about the Birds (don’t call them that!) relocating to the Silicon Valley-esque town of Platinum Flats. However, in conjunction with Justice League of America #22 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope), it could be a lesson on How To Draw Super-Women.

On BOP, Nicola Scott draws a virtually all-female cast: the wheelchair-bound Oracle, the teenager Misfit, and the well-built Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, Manhunter, and Black Canary. Black Canary also appears in Justice League, along with Hawkgirl, Vixen, and Wonder Woman, and Zatanna. In the current issue of BOP, the women mostly do mundane things: talk, unpack, lift and tote boxes, etc. There are a couple of fight scenes, but more character interaction. Over in JLA, the women have some character scenes too — especially Vixen and Black Canary. However, this reader was distracted by penciller Ed Benes’ fascination with Vixen’s dinners (her costume’s zipper can’t take the strain!) and Black Canary’s rear. BC gets a Dramatic Reveal as a prelude to a fight in BOP, but Scott makes it heroic and not particularly sexualized. In JLA, though, when the same character delivers a bit of straight talk about the future of the Justice League, Benes gives her the beginnings of a wedgie and thrusts out her butt. What’s weird is that Benes used to draw both BOP and Supergirl, and wasn’t this blatant on either.

JLA has story problems too — it focuses yet again on Red Tornado’s Search For Humanity, a topic former writer Brad Meltzer pursued at his peril. I will say that if the Vision is currently out of commission, the comics world may be in desperate need of emotive androids, but it feels like this title has had maybe four different plots in almost two years. There’s also some business about Red Arrow’s relationship with Hawkgirl, and the aforementioned Vixen subplot, and I wonder whether those wouldn’t also have come off better had they not been portrayed by Mr. Benes. His work is just too sketchy, scratchy, busy — you get the idea — and at this point it’s become a distraction. McDuffie I still have faith in; but Benes needs to go.

Finally, I continue to like Trinity #3 (main story written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert). This issue brings in the Justice League and also (in the Fabian Nicieza/Mike Norton & Jerry Ordway second story) introduces Tarot, and it’s a pretty decent, old-fashioned superhero story.

June 17, 2008

New comics 6/11/08

Booster Gold #10 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) feels a little “off” to me, and I don’t quite know why. It’s probably because there’s so much going on. Rip Hunter narrates for a couple of pages, with his Chalkboard Of Destiny (TM) distracting the reader in the background. Booster takes over as the scene switches to the scrum with Max’s forces … and here, I think, is where things get too overloaded. Essentially the rest of the book takes place in and around a big superhero fight involving — get ready — a reunited Justice League International (including Guy Gardner, the good Doctor Light, J’Onn J’Onzz, and Batman); Superman; Max Lord; the original version of Despero; the white-ape Ultra-Humanite; Per Degaton; Black Beetle; Ted “Blue Beetle” Kord; Maximillian (the evil Skeets); Booster and his dad; and the Mystery Villain. Oh, and I forgot the interlude with Rip and the time bubble.

Johns and Katz and Jurgens do their best to break out of the fight the important character-based scenes involving Booster and his dad, the Beetles, and the sidekick droids; but even so, there’s still a lot going on in the background. In other words, the scenes aren’t put in perspective like they should be, so the rest of the players feel like distractions and/or afterthoughts. What’s more — and I admit this may be just me — I couldn’t remember the non-sacrificial function of the vehicle for the eventual heroic sacrifice. (Said sacrifice plays out like Wrath of Khan, or the last Lone Gunmen appearance, by the way.) There’s a sacrifice, but I don’t know what else it accomplished. We’ll find out next issue, I guess.

Anyway, it’s not a bad issue, and it may well play out better in context. It’s just a frustrating installment for this month.

Most of The Last Defenders #4 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Jim Muniz, inked by Cam Smith) finds Nighthawk on the wrong side of just about everybody, as the term “non-team” starts to take on its most literal meaning. I thought it was fine, but once again, there’s a lot going on in the background which apparently only has two issues to resolve itself.

Star Wars: Rebellion #14 (written by Jeremy Barlow, drawn by Colin Wilson) wraps up the current story arc with a lot of action, and a little denouement. There’s a suggestion that Luke and Deena Shan are a little sweet on each other, and since this is the interstitial period leading up to Empire, I’m all for anything which gets him away from those understandable-but-creepy-in-hindsight feelings he showed for Leia. I have to admit I’m not as up on my Expanded Universe characters as I should be, or else I’d probably be more sympathetic to them. Still, I can accept how the narration builds Deena up, and I always like seeing spaceship combat. Once again the art reminds me of Howard Chaykin’s early SW work from thirty years ago, except the brief glimpse we get of Han seems a little too paunchy for the whip-thin Harrison Ford of 1977. Pretty good if you’ve been with this story the whole way; probably better the more you know.

This month in Batman Confidential (#18 written by Fabian Nicieza and drawn by Kevin Maguire), Batgirl and Catwoman inch that much closer to making X-rated Internet fanfic mainstream, as they spend the first 10 pages naked from the neck down, fighting in a nudist club. The fact that Maguire draws Babs with all these extremely uncomfortable expressions and retreating body language doesn’t make it better. If last month was an excuse for cheesecake, this month drops the pretense … uh, as it were. As much as I like him, Maguire’s figures are just rendered too literally for this extended sequence to be farcical. Maybe someone with a softer style could have pulled it off (what?!? sorry!) better. Cliff Chiang’s “Naked Ollie” chases from Green Arrow/Black Canary come to mind, so Chiang or his designated replacement Mike Norton might have done well with this. Anyway, everyone puts their clothes on for the rest of the issue, and I presume the rest of the story. (There’s only so many opportunities to play the nude card.) It’s pretty entertaining, especially since it focuses on puppies. I am not kidding. It’s almost like DC felt like it needed to atone for the nearly-nude scenes with, yes, puppies. So, in summary, come for the cheap thrills, stay for the puppies!

(P.S. DC, if you use that as a blurb, I’d at least like a free copy of the paperback.)

The “Barbarian Queen” scenes in Wonder Woman #21 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan) are fine, but I want to mention the Sarge Steel/Tom Tresser bit which opens the issue. On its own it’s good: a typical “walk with me” scene which sets up a few familiar conflicts and advances the plot. However, these are two well-established spy characters who, by virtue of their respective careers, should interact on a higher level. Tom “Nemesis” Tresser had his own backup series in The Brave and the Bold, teamed up with Batman a couple of times, and was in the Suicide Squad; and Sarge Steel was Charlton Comics’ answer to Nick Fury. So if this scene involved, say, Dirk Anger and Jimmy Olsen, it’d be easier to take.

As for Wonder Woman, her posse of ’70s DC barbarians continues to grow, along with the savagery of her fights. “Losing her grip” is, I think, a fairly radical direction for the character, because it seems like most writers want to portray her as always in control, diplomatic, etc. However, it’s still a valid direction; and I think Simone has presented it well. Diana’s finding out what she’s like without the fundamental sources of her strength. The art in the “barbarian” section is also tighter and darker, with more attention paid to the blacks and a more washed-out color palette (credit colorist Brad Anderson for that). Add a couple of callbacks to Simone’s first arc and it makes for a good issue.

Green Lantern Corps #25 (written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Drew Geraci) presents the origin of the Black Mercy plant. It’s a sensible, space-opera-y origin which maybe brings in Mongul a little too neatly, but it sends the story in a very Star Trek direction. New inker Geraci fits well with Gleason’s pencils, giving them a little more definition in places and even putting a “cartoony” sheen on some of the figures. There’s a misplaced word balloon on page 2, and there’s more foreshadowing about different-color lanterns, but other than that it’s pretty good.

About half of Green Arrow And Black Canary #9 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Wayne Faucher) features Plastic Man, with the other half showing Speedy and the British guy fighting super-powered bad guys. Thanks to Norton and Faucher, it’s all portrayed with a light, breezy tone, which certainly makes some of Speedy’s quips easier to take. Norton and Faucher draw a good Plastic Man too — perhaps even nicer than what cover artist Cliff Chiang might have done. The issue builds to a couple of Dramatic Reveals: the bad guys’ employer (which is pretty obvious) and the next guest-star (also not unexpected, but not unwelcome either). I continue to like this book.

Action Comics #866 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal) is a heck of a start to the latest Brainiac storyline. The Daily Planet newsroom welcomes Steve Lombard, sports brute; and welcomes back noted innuendophile Cat Grant. Frank and Sibal really lay on the Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder references for Clark and Lois, but it’s all good. (Cat looks like she had a familiar model too, but I can’t place her.) However, the showpiece of the issue is Brainiac’s abduction of Kandor, shown in flashback (naturally) with references to General Zod and Brainiac’s Kryptonian origins. To say that Brainiac now = Borg + Alien wouldn’t do it justice. It’s cold, scary stuff which sets up his threat level very well. Still, there is a bit of Borg plotting in place: Superman defeats a pawn, but the “king” is still out there….

Trinity #2 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert) finds the Trinitarians battling personalized threats: rogue solar systems, giant robots, and a mystical metropolis. It’s nice to see each handle their own in the space of a few pages or so. Meanwhile, in the second story (written by Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher), Green Lantern John Stewart fights Konvikt and Graak in a sleepy Massachusetts town square. So far Trinity looks like superhero comfort food, and if it continues like this I suspect I won’t have too many bad things to say about it.

Finally, here’s Titans #3 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Benitez, inked by various people), a frustrating installment of a series which has yet to define itself. Benitez’ art has personality, but he doesn’t have a handle on these characters. I hate to go all fanboy, but in an early pedeconference scene, all the characters are the same height. At the very least Starfire should be the tallest, but in a long shot she looks shorter than the Flash. Likewise, Beast Boy and Raven should probably be the shortest. These aren’t just stylistic choices, they inform the characters’ personalities.

The plot of the issue involves the Titans pairing off, with unfortunate results. While there’s an in-story explanation, the sad thing is that the book has already established its willingness to “push the envelope” with regard to these characters, so we don’t know how much of their behavior was provoked. I’m not saying the Titans should always be hugging, but Winick hasn’t done much to lay a foundation for their normal behavior. I’d like to think this book will find its equilibrium sooner rather than later, but it might not happen for a few more months.

May 31, 2008

New comics 5/21/08

Yes, these are comics from ten days ago. Memorial Day Weekend was just too jam-packed, and I came out of it apparently itching to write a 2200-word dissertation on Crisis On Infinite Earths, the original JLA/JSA team-ups, and the problems with line-wide events.

Therefore, might as well begin with the lead-in to the latest LWE, Justice League of America #21 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino). I really, really hope that this is the last crossover-affected issue of JLA for a while. It begins with a 9-page sequence of the “Trinity” sitting around a table talking about how they’re not really running the League from behind the scenes. I thought the dialogue was good (“I had a run-in with Mr. Polka-Dot.” “Is that a euphemism?”). However, although Pacheco kept the talking heads from getting too boring, he could have used a few flashback images. Overall, it assumes a little too much knowledge, even on the part of the longtime reader. I presume this will have repercussions in JLA itself, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it showed up later in Trinity.

The bulk of the issue concerns the Human Flame, his fight with Red Arrow and Hawkgirl, and his recruitment by Libra. HF is a schmoe, that’s for sure; but he’s not the stereotypical lovable-loser supervillain schlub. McDuffie gives him a mean streak that undercuts whatever sympathy we might be starting to feel. Likewise, Pacheco doesn’t play up any endearing parts of his dumpy appearance. Overall, this was a well-told story, but I still think it should have been in a Secret Files.

For those of you who know the dirty secret of cruise ships — namely, that they give the surviving passengers hush money to cover up all the deaths — the nautical nastiness depicted in The Spirit #17 (written by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones, pencilled by Aluir Amancio, inked by Terry Austin) will come as no surprise. This was yet another light-hearted, compact caper using Will Eisner’s characters and designs; but one of the subplots seemed pretty obvious and the other only slightly less so. Also, from what little I’ve read of the original Spirit stories, I don’t remember Ellen Dolan being such a self-absorbed Barbie doll. Amancio and Austin’s work is more cartoony than Paul Smith or Mike Ploog, but it gets the job done.

According to the first page of Fantastic Four #557 (written by Mark Millar, pencilled by Bryan Hitch, inked by Paul Neary), I should have read Mighty Avengers #11 first. However, I don’t know why; and I’m not eager to track down a 3-month-old issue to find out. Anyway, I did like how Reed and Sue celebrate their anniversary, but the rest of it is a bunch of exposition wrapped around a one-joke fight scene. I can kind-of accept “the Anti-Galactus,” but things like Johnny’s nympho supervillain girlfriend and the faux-drama about Reed being tempted just seem artificial. The snow effects look better this time, though.

Captain America #38 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Epting and Mike Perkins) (re)introduces what I presume is the last player in this particular arc, and sets him up against Bucky/Cap. It’s hard to explain without giving everything away, but I’ll try. Using a raid on an AIM base as its main sequence, the issue examines the relationships of mentors and proteges, and inspirations and successors; and observes that, for the three principals involved, those roles have shifted, if not outright reversed. It’s a neat little chapter which probably sums up at least one of Brubaker’s overriding themes, and while it might appear to be a simple action issue, there’s a lot more going on.

For the second straight month, Tangent: Superman’s Reign (#3 written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs) focuses on the squad of Tangenteers trying to free the Tangent Atom. While that subplot achieves some closure, and the two worlds’ characters actually come into conflict (as opposed to comparing notes), it still feels a little redundant. I like Igle’s work fine, although Riggs’ inks are looser than what Igle usually gets. It feels more like a Justice League story than what’s been in JLA lately; and next issue I bet things will pick up.

The “Dark Side Club” banner started appearing on particular DC titles last week, and it looks like the kind of underground fight-club we’ve seen before. Specifically, Birds Of Prey #118 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) opens with a fight involving Sparx, a D-list character whose abduction we see in the first issue of Final Crisis. So, you know, there’s that crossover element we like so much. The rest of the issue involves Black Alice and Misfit fighting, again. This issue introduces a new aspect of their relationship which leads to a result I wasn’t expecting. However, I wasn’t expecting it because their relationship feels artificially manipulated to begin with, and the latest twist just seems like another manipulation. Scott and Hazlewood are good as always, with (I hate to say it) a grisly, shadowy death being a particular highlight.

The new issue of The Flash (#240, written by Tom Peyer, drawn by Freddie Williams II) also sports a “Dark Side Club” banner, but it’s incidental to the main story of Wally and Jay vs. Grodd and Spin. I can’t complain any more about Williams’ chunky Flash, because he seems to have gotten through that phase. I also got a kick out of this issue’s mind-control victims talking in Local-Newscast-ese — it’s funny ’cause it’s true. The cliffhanger makes me wonder about the length of the current setup, though….

Finally, here’s Jay Garrick again, teaming up with Batman in The Brave and the Bold #13 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Scott Koblish and Bob McLeod). They make a good team, because the easygoing Jay not only provides a good counterpoint to Batman’s intensity, Batman respects him and so dials it back a few notches. The plot, involving an old Bat-villain, a mad scientist, killer robots, and Jay’s chemist colleagues, may be more complicated than it needs to be, but it’s probably necessary to get these two characters together. I daresay Ordway’s more understated style is better-suited to this story’s amiable nature than George Perez’s would have been; and Waid provides good conversation amongst all the robot-smashing.

Look for the comics from Thursday (Happy Grant Morrison Day!) in the next couple of days.

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.

April 27, 2008

New comics 4/23/08

Filed under: batman, birds of prey, checkmate, justice league, spirit, star trek, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 2:42 pm
Well, Countdown ended on Wednesday, so I talked about it on Thursday. I thought it suffered from a lack of focus which, while understandable, was also avoidable.

Still, I did buy other comics, and here they are.

Star Trek: New Frontier #2 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson) brings in a couple more NF characters, just when I was starting to get used to the ones already in play. Essentially, everything’s moving towards a confrontation with Jellico and the stolen timeship at New Thallon, but the waiting gives us time for some character interaction. Overall the issue was fine. Exposition was integrated pretty well into dialogue. (There are no narrative captions — not even a Captain’s Log — in the entire issue, which is a little odd for a Trek comic.) A new Galaxy-class starship comes into the picture too, which is confusing for those of us expecting the only such ship to be the Excalibur. Anyway, the art is about the same as last issue — rougher than I’m used to for a Trek comic, but true to the aesthetic. Three issues to go, and I have a feeling everything will happen in the last one.

It looks like Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier put all their social commentary into the latest Groo miniseries and let themselves go wacky with The Spirit (#16 written by them and drawn by Paul Smith). Denny Colt is hardly as dense as Groo, but in this issue he errs — in a well-meaning way, of course. The Spirit goes Hollywood to solve an on-set murder. While it looks play-fair at first, about halfway through it starts getting deliberately convoluted, so the reader is left to relax and let everything play out. Since that includes, among other things, a Carson Kressly parody and a stuntman gig (reminiscent of “bring in the double!” from that one Daffy Duck cartoon), the murder seems almost beside the point. With Paul Smith showing off his cartooning chops, the issue looks really good, but again, it’s only Eisneresque on the surface.

Dwayne McDuffie devotes most of Justice League of America #20 (drawn by Ethan Van Sciver) to Wally West’s struggle with rejoining the JLA. In its way, it’s reminiscent of the “should I be a superhero?” angst which Wally went through 25 years ago, back in the New Teen Titans days — only now, Wally has his own family, instead of worrying about his parents and girlfriend back home. Thus, Wally and Wonder Woman fight the Queen Bee while WW prods him to live up to his League responsibilities. I thought this issue was executed pretty well. McDuffie writes Wally and Diana well, and while Van Sciver’s art is a little stiff, it’s miles ahead of Ed Benes’ sketchy, pose-heavy work. (The storytelling involving WW at the end is a little unclear, though.) I’d have liked more than two JLAers and a Black Lightning cameo in McDuffie’s first crossover-free issue, but it sounds like he’ll have time to do his own thing soon enough.

I don’t know what happened to regular artists Tony Daniel and Jonathan Glapion, but fill-in penciller Ryan Benjamin and fill-in inker Saleem Crawford bring a bit too much ’90s Image overthinking to Batman #675 (written, of course, by Grant Morrison). This issue is the bridge between the alternate-Batmen arc and next issue’s “Batman R.I.P.,” and it exists apparently to elevate Bruce’s girlfriend Jezebel Jade to Silver St. Cloud status. It’s the secret-identity dilemma of a familiar “Bruce is trapped in public” situation, only this time Bruce is somehow unable to find a good spot to change. Maybe it’s the presence of a Ten-Eyed Assassin, the cult which was part of Bruce’s epiphany during the Year of 52. Anyway, I don’t have much of a problem with Morrison’s script (which also includes scenes for Robin, Nightwing, and Talia), but the art is pretty distracting.

Sean McKeever’s last issue of Birds Of Prey (#117, pencilled by Nicola Scott and inked by Doug Hazlewood) turns out to be his best. Misfit gets to show off without being annoying. The Platinum Flats supervillains are both believably low-rent and scary. Oracle makes good decisions. It’s a good issue which tests our heroes but doesn’t dwell on their troubles, and as always it’s told well sequentially by Ms. Scott and Mr. Hazlewood. The bar has been set high for Tony Bedard.

Finally, I say goodbye to Checkmate, as writers Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann turn in their last issue (#25, drawn by Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson). I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling it, except that the Rooks take advantage of a truly scary and dangerous mind-link to do their thing as well as they do. Sasha gets a scene with Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman compliment Checkmate, and the final twist took me completely by surprise. Rucka and his co-writer(s) went out on top, and I think it’s best to go out with ’em.

March 30, 2008

New comics 3/19/08

Thanks to Easter last weekend and the Siegel ruling this week, it’s time to play catch-up. Here are last week’s books.

Let’s start with Captain America #36 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Butch Guice, inked by Mike Perkins), a mostly-action issue which eventually finds our hero failing to fill his mentor’s inspirational role. It’s a moment I’d been anticipating for a couple of issues — except for the heckling, naturally — and it speaks to the power of that costume. James B. Barnes looks like Captain America, fights like Captain America (if a little dirtier), and carries Cap’s shield. As far as the “living symbol” stuff goes, though, the people aren’t convinced. On the action side of the equation, the extended fight scene which takes up the first part of the issue is exciting enough. However, its capper — Cap being thrown through a window, landing on a hovercar, and blowing away his attacker — ends up a little static. Maybe some speed lines would have helped me, or maybe devoting just one panel to the fall drained some of the suspense. Overall, though, a consistently satisfying title.

It was a weird issue of Birds Of Prey (#116 written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). I didn’t think Black Alice was supposed to be that … well, mean; and there was a very unsettling vibe running through the Lady Blackhawk/Killer Shark/Huntress scenes. I never expected to see Huntress in a damsel-in-distress situation in this title, that’s for sure. Oh well, at least Scott & Hazlewood aren’t going anywhere, right?

Like the cover blurb, I’m hesitant to call The Brave and the Bold #11 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Bob Wiacek) a “team-up.” Instead, it trades mostly on a reversed Superman setup to amusing effect. Ordway fits Superman like a glove, not surprisingly. I think I even saw some of his old Daily Planet staffers (especially “Whit”) in the background. I’m sure he’ll do fine on the rest of the DC characters, but this issue was a perfect way to kick off his tenure.

Not so successful, unfortunately, was Superman/Batman Annual #2 (written by Joe Kelly, drawn by Scott Kolins), a reworking of a World’s Finest two-parter from 1968. A mystical bad guy takes away Superman’s powers and renders Batman helpless, and it’s only through feeling good about themselves that they get their mojoes back. Really, I might have liked this issue more if not for the extraordinarily dark color work of Jorge Molina. Everything seems to occur against an indigo backdrop, and when you’re talking about the black-robed villain, the deep blues, grays, and blacks of our heroes’ costumes, and even the muted red and yellow of Robin’s costume, it’s like reading through sunglasses. Kelly’s script doesn’t help, since it neither sets up nor resolves the central problem (Superman’s loss) with adequate explanation. I like these retro-style stories, obviously, but here things just didn’t work out.

Serenity: Better Days #1 (written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, drawn by Will Conrad) kicks off the second Dark Horse miniseries featuring the crew of everyone’s favorite Firefly-class freighter, and the good news is, it reads like a pretty decent episode of the TV show. The bad news is, it took me a few passes to figure out how the big action sequence at the beginning was concluded. This was apparently not my week for action sequences. Art is fine; everyone looks about like you’d expect, with only a panel or two where Inara might be mistaken for River, or vice versa. Dialogue is typical for a Whedon-run production, although not too satisfied with itself. Better on subsequent readings, which helps justify me, y’know, buying it.

Unfortunately, I don’t know that I can buy (see what I did there?) the central premise of The Flash #238 (drawn by Freddie Williams II), the first issue for new ongoing writer Tom Peyer. It’s the old “Wally needs a job” plot, explored by Bill Messner-Loebs several years ago, but still. This time it’s augmented by the “Wally openly admits he’d feel better getting paid” subplot; and again, I thoguht we’d settled this. When Wally’s Flash identity was public knowledge, somebody (Messner-Loebs, I think) said he got trust-fund income from a charitable foundation set up in Barry Allen’s name. When Geoff Johns restored his secret identity, he got a job as an auto mechanic. I guess that’s gone away in the flurry of a) being thought dead and b) living on another planet for around a year. Anyway, the central question is, do Peyer and Williams sell this new development? Does the issue work? By those criteria, yeah; I guess so. The new money concerns are exacerbated by a new mind-controlling supervillain. I’m still not entirely sure Williams is a good fit for the Flash — he’s better on Wally’s physique, but some of his expressions seem off. Peyer I like a lot, so I’ll give him some time to convince me.

I probably should have figured out that Justice League of America #19 (written by Alan Burnett, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope, Mariah Benes, and Ruy Jose) wouldn’t really cross over with the Salvation Run miniseries. Therefore, I should give it some credit for the misdirection, and some more for bringing back a classic JLA villain as the real menace. That’s about it, though. For a one-and-out issue (which this is, essentially, despite its two issues’ worth of lead-in), said villain gets defeated much too quickly, because there’s too much time spent on Earth arguing over the civil rights issues of exiling supervillains. At least these crossover issues are coming to an end.

Ah, but speaking of which, here’s Tangent: Superman’s Reign #1 (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Matthew Clark, inked by Jesse Delperdang), the story I almost wish was in JLA instead of its own miniseries. Basically, the Flash and Green Lantern travel to a parallel Earth quite different from their own, where they meet a Flash and Green Lantern who are the same in name only. The issue also introduces an all-new Mirror Master, well-suited for DC’s multiverse, and has a nice “Deep Space Nine” reference. The plot isn’t anything innovative — Tangent’s Superman is now the absolute ruler of his Earth, and I presume our heroes will spend the next 11 issues trying to overthrow him. However, it’s nice to see a multiversal crossover where the only similarities are the names, and even the archetypes are different. Clark’s figures are a little too splashy at times, but overall the issue flows well. I also can’t fault Jurgens’ dialogue, and believe me that’s not something I say every day.

Clark used to draw Adventures of Superman from the scripts of one Greg Rucka, who continues the tour-de-force wrap-up of his run on Checkmate (#25 co-written by Eric Trautmann, pencilled by Joe Bennett and inked by Jack Jadson) with an extended guest appearance by the Man of Steel and certain other high-profile superheroes. It’s been a change of pace for the title, but it gets no complaints from me. This arc not only answers the “why don’t they get Superman to do it?” complaint, it draws some pretty clear lines between the world of bright spandex and the world of Checkmate. Bennett and Jadson are a little more suited for the superhero side of things, but that’s a stylistic nitpick. They’re good storytellers, and they keep a number of balls in the air. The only good thing about the end of this team’s run is the fact that I won’t feel bad about not following their replacements.

Finally, Countdown #6 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti) kicks off the End Of The World … or, more precisely, the “Great Disaster” which will lay the foundation for Kamandi‘s Earth. It has the same doomsday appeal as the apocalyptic flashbacks in post-apocalyptic movies, only this time with people turning into animals and vice versa. Mike Norton’s pencils are a little too clean, simple, and just plain pleasant for this sort of descent, although Beechen’s script chooses wisely to have survivor Buddy Blank narrate it. For once, I approve of first-person narration! We know how this ends, though: the boat sinks. The question is whether Leo DiCaprio dies. For that, tune in next time….

February 24, 2008

New comics 2/20/08

The Brave and the Bold #10 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Scott Koblish) presents another time-hopping extravaganza for what has turned out to be Perez’s last issue. After a prologue with the Challengers of the Unknown, Superman and the Silent Knight team up to fight a dragon and destroy a Megistus-related gizmo. In this story, Waid uses the Knight as a first-person narrator, but the narration isn’t the usual hip-thought-balloon substitute. Instead, as a one-page montage of their travels demonstrates, the Knight is actually telling the story himself, thereby (at the risk of being redundant) narrating. So that was nice. The second half of the issue is a fun look at Aqualad through the eyes of the original Teen Titans, Aquaman, and Megistus himself. (The Big M alludes to the powers that the adult Garth will manifest as Tempest.) Set around Aquaman’s wedding to Mera, it includes cameos by the Justice League and a neat set of jokes at the expense of Wonder Woman’s earrings. Perez’ work is, of course, great as always, and I’m sorry to see him go — but as long as Waid and new penciller Jerry Ordway are on board, this will be one of DC’s best titles.

I liked the big payoffs in Countdown #10 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins), and it’s probably not worth complaining about the time it took to get to them. Harley, Holly, and Mary fight what I presume is a fresh-baked batch of Female Furies, Karate Kid fights the OMAC-ed Una, and it looks like everyone will have to fight all of Apokolips before too long. You’d think that with two powerhouses, a Green Lantern, an ex-Atom, and an ex-Robin, that wouldn’t be too hard, but there are still nine issues to go. Kolins’ art was good, although a little stiff and sketchy, kind of like Ron Lim. The dialogue was serviceable, because it really didn’t have much to do beyond get the characters from one beat to the next. Finally, Scott Beatty and Bruce Timm contribute the very fun two-page Origin Of Harley Quinn.

The Salvation Run-fueled storyline continues in Justice League of America #18 (written by Alan Burnett, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope), and it doesn’t improve that much. Burnett uses those first-person narrative-caption boxes Meltzer-style, which is to say that they’re connected to the narrator/thinker only by their colors. The main story is fifteen pages long, but two of those are a rump-tastic double-page spread and most of it is a bunch of exposition and posturing between the League and the Suicide Squad. It’s the kind of thing that turns me off of crossovers, and considering I’ve stuck with Countdown this long, that’s not an easy thing to do. The backup story, by Dwayne McDuffie, Jon Boy Meyers, and Mark Irwin, is a Red Tornado spotlight that doesn’t have much to do with anything. It describes the shiny new body Reddy is getting, and is probably intended to make him more sympathetic, but it just kind of sits there. I’m not terribly familiar with the artists, whose work is reminiscent of Todd Nauck’s.

Birds Of Prey #115 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) picks up with the Huntress and Lady Blackhawk tracking the old Blackhawk nemesis King Shark. Meanwhile, Oracle has to keep Misfit from killing Black Alice before BA can track down the magical menace who blew up a city block (and apparently killed Will & Grace) a couple issues back. This was a good issue, well-paced and fairly dialogue-driven. I expected the tension between Misfit and Black Alice to be a little wackier, given the cover, but Misfit comes across like a petulant kid … which, of course, she is. I liked that McKeever was willing to take her there. Misfit is reminding me more of a non-psychopathic Tara Markov, and that’s a good thing. Scott and Hazlewood turn in another fine issue, although I didn’t quite get on the first pass the “lava burp” which downs the Blackhawk plane.

Yes, that’s Superman in Checkmate #23 (written by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson), and he’s only part of the well-done first installment of “Castling.” The deep-cover agent who’s infiltrated Kobra sends out a desparate message, alerting Checkmate to a big threat on the horizon from the cult. The situation is so dire that only Superman can evac the agent, which he does in typical fashion. The highlight, though, is the relationship between Checkmate and Superman, which is a real pleasure to see portrayed. I liked this issue a whole lot. Bennett and Jadson’s clean lines contrast well with Santiago Arcas’ earthy color palette (Superman excepted, of course). Superman alludes to his previous dealings with a less charitable Checkmate, but ultimately he respects the current leadership and they respect the heck out of him. I’ll hate to give this book up when Rucka and Trautmann leave in a couple of issues, but I don’t see how too many writers could produce something this enjoyable.

Superman also appears in The Flash #237 (written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Koi Turnbull, inked by Art Thibert), as the Wests take a field trip to Metropolis. Wally procrastinates about job interviews by going on superhero missions, while Linda sends the kids on a scavenger hunt. I’m of two minds about the art: on one hand, it’s certainly kinetic and expressive, which is appropriate for the book; but on the other, it’s almost too busy. The story also seemed rather unfocused. The job-interview scenes were cute (apparently Wally still has a secret identity as far as the general public is concerned), and I liked Linda’s interaction with Lois Lane, but I had a hard time keeping the Metropolis plot straight. Tom Peyer starts as writer next issue, so I’m looking forward to that.

Batman Confidential #13 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Mark Farmer) begins a new arc featuring The Wrath, a one-off villain from a 1980s Batman Special. Wrath’s parents were criminals killed by a policeman — James Gordon, in fact — so his life takes an oddly familiar, yet twisted path. Now he’s back, and killing policemen attending a Gotham police convention. This story takes place in the Disco Nightwing days (which makes me think Jason Todd should be around somewhere), so there’s some tension between Dick and Bruce, and Leslie Thompkins is still in the picture too. I liked it pretty well — Morales is a good storyteller, and I like Farmer inking him. I liked the cliffhanger, too.

I also liked Superman Confidential #12 (written by B. Clay Moore, pencilled by Phil Hester, inked by Ande Parks), almost more for the art than for the story. It’s a fun start to an arc involving the origin of Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch and the Toyman’s giant killer robots. I’ve always liked Hester and Parks’ thick-lined, “cartoony” style, though; and they suit this kind of light-hearted adventure very well.

Finally, The Spirit #14 introduces the new creative team of writers Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, penciller Mike Ploog, and inker Mark Farmer, replacing writer/artist Darwyn Cooke. Their first issue is pretty entertaining — a light murder mystery that didn’t exactly play fair, but with a good sense of fun that carried it. Ploog and Farmer evoke Eisner’s designs for the most part, although I thought their Spirit’s jaw wasn’t square enough and they didn’t bring the same overall design schemes to the book that Cooke did.

So there you go. By the way, I still haven’t gotten my scanner hooked up yet, but probably this week sometime.

January 19, 2008

New comics 1/16/08

Filed under: birds of prey, booster gold, checkmate, countdown, flash, groo, justice league, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:44 am
I’m not going to make the deadline for Friday Night Fights, but I do have time to run down this week’s comics.

First up is The Flash #236, writer Mark Waid’s last issue on the title and also the conclusion of his introductory storyline, “The Wild Wests.” From a writing standpoint, my biggest problem with this issue was the fact that it hinges on a story element which, honestly, I don’t think I’d noticed until it was pointed out. While that might have been lazy reading on my part, it made the rest of the arc feel a little unfocused, as far as the alien-fighting went. Still, part of the point of the story was to establish the new West Family status quo, and this I think it did pretty well. Freddie Williams II continues to draw a bulkier Flash than I’m used to, but his storytelling is alright and I could probably get used to him. I’m eager to see what new writer Tom Peyer brings.

In Groo: Hell On Earth #3 (written by Mark Evanier, drawn by Sergio Aragones), the allegory gets pretty thick, although again I just this issue noticed that the pro-war leader has a “B” initial and the pro-environment one is a “G.” Also, the Bard’s rhyming narration was somewhat tortured at times. Otherwise, I liked it pretty well.

Checkmate #22 (written by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann, drawn by Chris Samnee) was a good conclusion to the Mlle. Marie spotlight. However, either I’m misremembering things all over the place or last issue ended with Josephine being betrayed by her guides. Maybe I saw a Newsarama preview. Anyway, it was a good issue. Jo is competent enough, naturally, working her way across the Mideast and through various thugs, while flashbacks fill in her story and the story of Marie generally. I thought the “succession” scene was very effective — you’d think it’d be seen more frequently, considering DC’s army of legacy characters; but go figure. I like Samnee’s work pretty well, too — he’s a good storyteller and choreographer. Checkmate is the spiritual heir to Rucka’s, Ed Brubaker’s, and Michael Lark’s work on Gotham Central, and that’s about the best compliment I can pay it.

I’m not sure how to approach the two stories in Justice League of America #17. I was glad that the main story (written by Alan Burnett, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope) picks up on the Brom Stikk subplot from last issue, and spins it into a larger Salvation Run-influenced plot. That at least gave last issue and this issue some collective meaning. Moreover, a big group of villains interacting with the Justice League is a natural plot for this book, and the twist applied to it was appropriate and intriguing. The second story (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Jon Boy Meyers, inked by Serge LaPointe) focuses on the nature of Vixen’s mimicry powers, and specifically how she’s able to mimic specific abilities. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with Amazo, so let’s hope that’s either confirmed or discounted quickly. Overall, I’m frustrated with JLA for its current crossover-maintenance role — a Tangent story last issue, the Salvation story here — and while the latter plot shows some movement towards a more traditional League adventure, that movement has been incremental the past few months.

Speaking of crossovers, here’s Booster Gold #6 (written by Geoff Johns & Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund), the big “Let’s Save Ted Kord” issue. It’s the kind of thing you read and enjoy on a superficial level, knowing full well that whatever changes, it won’t stick and Booster will end up learning a Valuable Lesson. I hope I’m wrong, and that all involved are just using that expectation to build suspense and actually have a happy ending. I’d like that for Booster. As for the issue itself, it’s good as usual. Rip Hunter gets a fun dramatic entrance. Jurgens’ figures can be a bit stiff, but he puts a fair amount of expression and emotion into Booster’s memories of Ted.

Birds Of Prey #114 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) made more sense after I read on the Internets that Lady Blackhawk was once mind-controlled into being King Shark’s moll. Also, while I enjoy spending time with the Birds, and continue to enjoy Scott & Hazlewood’s work, this issue felt very transitory to me. Oracle is riding everyone hard after the events of last issue. Misfit is the main outlet of her aggression. Lady Blackhawk and Huntress turn to booze. (They’re the relatively calm center of a brawl-prone bar, in a scene that maybe would have worked better had the fights in the background not been so obscured by the dark coloring.) These scenes are all fine on their own, and the last-page reveal is effective, but although groundwork is laid for future storylines, I didn’t get the sense it was all building to something significant. Maybe I just needed an obvious “Part 1” in the story title, I dunno.

Finally, speaking of building to something, Countdown #15 (written by Paul Dini & Tony Bedard, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pete Woods & Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher) went a long way towards pulling this often-haphazard series together. Concentrating on Ray Palmer and Earth-51 has focused the story’s energies better than a lot of other plot devices, I think, and it may be deceptively easy to say in hindsight that this plot should’ve been explored in more depth earlier on. In keeping with the “preliminary” nature of this series, I get the feeling that Monarch & co. won’t be defeated anytime soon, but instead everyone’s gaining useful experience for Final Crisis. I liked the movement on the Paradise Island plot, and also the return of Brother Eye. I guess the Pied Piper story will have to wait another week, though (at least). The art was pretty good — Faucher managed to blend Woods’ and Derenick’s disparate styles together. It wasn’t seamless, but it wasn’t a jarring transition either. Not bad, although I’m not ready to re-evaluate the entire experiment based on a few decent issues.

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