Comics Ate My Brain

August 24, 2009

New comics 8/19/09

As promised, here’s the podcast for last week’s comics. Specifically, they’re Batman: Streets Of Gotham #3, Blackest Night: Superman #1, The Brave and the Bold #26, Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #4, Justice League of America #36, Supergirl #44, Superman Annual #14, and Wednesday Comics #7. The embarrassing reference this time out is to Ally McBeal. Music, of course, is by R.E.M.

Download it directly here, stream it directly from the player on this here site, or go to the podcast homepage here.

July 16, 2009

New comics 7/15/09

In this week’s podcast: Action Comics #879, Agents Of Atlas #8, Batman: Streets Of Gotham #2, Blackest Night #1, Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #1, Brave and the Bold #25, Captain America #601, JSA Vs. Kobra #2, Rasl #5, Titans #15, Wednesday Comics #2, and Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-38.

I hope I have fixed some of the lingering technical issues (which I further hope no one minded in the last episode), and of course I am still working on my elocution. Early on, Olivia even offered her own comments in the background. (The music, once again, is by R.E.M.)

Download it here, or visit the podcast homepage here. Thanks for listening!

July 26, 2008

New comics 7/23/08

Apropos to the release today of the new X Files movie, let’s start with The X Files vol. 2 #0, written by show writer/producer Frank Spotnitz and drawn by Brian Denham. It’s a 22-page comic book which tells a self-contained story that — as far as I know — doesn’t tie into the movie at all. Instead, it’s chock fulla references to the show, including the “Post Modern Prometheus” episode and the “I made this!” sound bite. Most of its first page is a sequence of images pulled from the opening titles. In short, it seems to want most to say how great!, just great! it is to be back in the saddle.

And an old saddle it is, too — this is an episode which could have taken place at any time after “PoMoPro” and before Mulder’s abduction. I could try to pinpoint it from Scully’s hairdo, but I don’t have all my DVDs at the moment. The story won’t be unfamiliar to fans of the series, since it involves kidnapping, body-hopping, and arrested aging. I wish I could say it was a more lively affair, but what would probably sound natural coming from the actors just comes across flat on the page. Maybe it’s because there is little space for anything but the main plot — very little humor, and nothing in the way of meaningful Mulder/Scully interaction. The plot itself is hard to keep straight, mostly since one of the main players is never seen.

The art, however, is fairly good, and it gets a big boost from Kelsey Shannon’s coloring. Shannon keeps things moody for the most part, but occasionally enhances the wide-open spaces which helped convey the show’s sense of isolation. (Clouds reflected on a car hood are a nice touch.) Denham does likenesses well, although at times his faces seem two-dimensional. Honestly, this issue reads like one of those 8-page stories TV Guide would advertise in some Special Collector’s Issue. I read a good bit of Topps’ X Files comic back when the show was in its heyday, so I know that translation need not be a problem. I want to believe (sorry) that this issue’s done-in-one format contributed to my problems. This creative team is certainly worth watching, and I’ll probably pick up X Files #1.

And as long as we’re talking about licensed properties, Star Trek: New Frontier #5 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson) wraps up the current miniseries with an issue which does little to untangle any of its confusing bits. I might read it again, and if I ever decide to catch up on the prose NF offerings, I might find this miniseries more enjoyable. Wish I didn’t have to have those conditions, though.

In a nice change of pace from wacky setting-based antics, The Spirit #19 offers three stories, each written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier. They’re all fairly pleasant. The first (drawn by Jason Armstrong) reveals how the Spirit dealt with a childhood bully; the second (pencilled by Aluir Amancio and inked by Terry Austin) finds the Spirit catching up to a reformed criminal; and the third (drawn by Paul Rivoche) is a whodunit about the murder of a comic-book artist. Again, it’s not that they’re done poorly — far from it — but nothing strikes me as especially innovative.

I hesitate to say that something like Batman: Gotham After Midnight (#3 written by Steve Niles and drawn by Kelley Jones) comes closer to what I expect from a Spirit book, but GAM does have a unique sense of design. This particular issue features a monstrous Clayface, engorged on the bodies of random Gothamites, and a very silly ending. It’s a superhero comic book which isn’t ashamed to be a superhero comic book. As part of that aforementioned silly ending, Clayface calls the screaming rabble “puny humans,” and Batman commands him to “pick on someone [his] own size.” If you don’t mind that level of dialogue, and you like Kelley Jones, you’ll like this book. In any event, it’s better than the Millar/Hitch Fantastic Four.

Green Lantern Corps #26 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Drew Geraci) concludes the Black Mercy/Mongul storyline in a way that, were Alan Moore dead, might just get him spinning in his grave. I didn’t mind it, but I’m a little more forgiving. Mongul suffers an ironic punishment, and Mother Mercy herself … well, that’s the part which I suspect would offend whatever’s left in him that hasn’t yet been offended by DC. Aah, I’m probably making too much of it. The issue was fine. Tomasi seems to fit better here than at Nightwing, and Gleason and Geraci are reliably good.

Penciller Renato Guedes, inker Wilson Magalhaes, and colorist Hi-Fi provide a nice Jack Kirby pastiche in Superman #678 (written by James Robinson). It fills in the background of Kirby’s one-off character Atlas, revealing who brought him into the 21st Century, plus why and how. The rest of the issue continues the fight between Atlas and Superman, ending (much as #677 did) with the promise of more fighting. For his part, Robinson’s omniscient narration gives Atlas’ story a somewhat wistful tone, although Atlas doesn’t seem entirely sympathetic. The present-day scenes are pretty good too — Atlas is basically a big slab of muscle, drawn beefy and bulky so that he can stand believably against Superman. This is basic superhero stuff — active figures against believable backgrounds — but it’s all done very well.

More action in Justice League of America #23 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Ed Benes), as the JLA takes on Amazo. This time, though, Benes doesn’t seem as concerned with his female figures, and the issue benefits as a result. Practically the whole thing is devoted to the fight, with a dozen or so Justice Leaguers each getting their licks in, but Benes keeps everything moving. There are a couple of awkward panels (one where Amazo holds a helpless Flash, one where perspective makes Wonder Woman look about 8 feet tall), but on the whole it was a good issue. McDuffie’s script makes Amazo a credible threat and the Leaguers capable opponents.

It wasn’t until about halfway through The Brave and the Bold #15 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Scott Kolins) that I realized this issue’s headliners (Nightwing and Hawkman) were intended to match up with last issue’s (Deadman and Green Arrow). Nightwing and Deadman both come from the circus (Deadman’s costume even inspired Nightwing’s first one), and Green Arrow and Hawkman have a longstanding friendly rivalry. Anyway, this issue boils down to pushing the Reset Button, but first, Nightwing must trick every other superhero (including Ambush Bug!) into leaving the planet. Therefore, he and Hawkman (the designated expert on magic) have no backup as they storm the demon-possessed Nanda Parbat. Like JLA, it’s well-choreographed action backed up by snappy dialogue.

And finally, if snappy dialogue is what you crave, look no farther than to Ambush Bug: Year None #1 (plotted and pencilled by Keith Giffen, scripted by Robert Loren Fleming, inked by Al Milgrom). Its sense of humor might not be for everyone. This particular issue mocks DC’s alleged misogyny, with the Bug asking right off the bat “[d]o you have any major appliances that don’t come with a dead body in it?” and the female salesperson replying “It’s a standard feature.” Indeed, throughout the issue female corpses are used as cannon fodder (which I think refers to something tasteless Bill Willingham said last year in San Diego). Anyway, ABYN‘s targets are many and varied, but modern storytelling techniques get hit pretty hard, especially narrative-caption boxes. Oh, how I laughed. This may be 2008’s Architecture and Mortality; and if you remember how much I liked that story, that’s pretty high praise.

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.

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.

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 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.

December 29, 2007

New comics 12/28/07

… So I bought sixteen comic books and then entered a Nyquil fog? Isn’t it supposed to happen the other way around?

Jeez, sixteen comics. I’ll point out quickly, though, that three carry the Countdown banner, two the 52 Aftermath one, and a couple of others are one-shots (Green Lantern Secret Files, Fantastic Four Isla de la Muerte), and one I’m just giving a tryout to (LSH). So that’s half, which makes me feel a little better.

Also, I read ’em last night during the Nyquil haze, so I might still be a little fuzzy talking about ’em today.

Onward!

The three Countdown books — Arena #4, C. To Adventure #5, and issue #18 of the main book — were all pretty competently done. The big attraction in the main book was the reunion with Ray Palmer, but it felt more like the capper to those wheel-spinning Search For specials from the past few months. Good to check in with Ray, but not much else happened this week, and of course another cliffhanger ending. The Adventure book advanced the plot in San Diego, but seeing that we’re past the halfway point and our three stalwarts haven’t hooked up again, the story starts to look a little more padded. Finally, Arena wrapped up with a weird fight involving the Supermen, made even more incomprehensible by Christopher Kent (the bald one)’s odd powers. If you had “Superman defeats Monarch,” you lost!

The Forerunner backup in C. To Adventure was okay, about her taking over a pirate ship and generally being hardcore, but the overall storyline has not engaged me.

Moving on. Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Secret Files & Origins #1 was surprisingly comprehensive as these things go, delivering on the cover’s promise of “bios on over 200 Lanterns!” and generally acting as the Bill James Baseball Abstract 2008 for all us GL fans. Worth the $4.99, and I don’t say that lightly about these Secret Files books.

Mark Waid strikes twice this week, first with Flash #235 and then with Brave and the Bold #9. The Flash story was fine; more intriguing for its Jai-Wally scenes than for any advancement in the plot. I’m not convinced that Freddie Williams is a good fit for this book. I might have mentioned already that his figures are a little on the bulky side, and for a speedster I don’t think that’s optimal. Still, it’s not a total mismatch. The backup fares better, being a Wally-and-Bart flashback and helping to explain the origin of the main story’s bad guy.

The Brave and the Bold #9 is likewise a patchwork of three fairly simple team-ups (Metal Men and Dial H For Hero, Blackhawk and Boy Commandos, present-day Atom and Hawkman) in which each set of heroes fights some messenger of Megistus. It’s all tied together by a Challengers of the Unknown framing sequence, and the suggestion that the Book of Destiny has come to life somehow. (There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found….) It will probably mean more to the story once the bigger picture is seen, and it’s not the best issue so far, but it’s still pretty fun.

This week also sees a double dose of the Legion of Super-Heroes, first in their own book and then in Action Comics. Legion #37 kicks off the return of Scripter-Boy Jim Shooter, back after thirty-plus years; and I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t really encouraged. The thrust of the story is that new Legion leader Lightning Lad is, to put it lightly, overwhelmed by his responsibilities, with the team suffering as a result. The issue provides an overview of quite a few Legionnaires, which is appropriate, and it’s not really decompressed, which I appreciated; but it almost tries to do too much. Blocky, angular art from penciller Francis Manapul and inker Livesay doesn’t help the scenes flow into one another. There’s also not much sense that this Legion is appreciably different from the old Shooter/Levitz days, and I kinda think there should be. Maybe I’m just picky that way.

Over in Action Comics #860, what is allegedly the old Shooter/Levitz Legion gets its own workout, but again, the book just feels crowded with characters. Having them all introduced with their own bullet-point caption is a nice idea in theory, but in practice — take the first page, for example — the things can clutter up the page. The Legionnaires also crowd out Superman themselves, but if the point is to get all the players straight before the big scrum, that’d make it easier to take. Oddly enough, I think penciller Gary Frank makes the Legionnaires look a little older than Superman, which strikes me as an intriguing detail if it’s intentional. Look at the cheekbones on Lightning Lass and Night Girl. Those faces seem almost middle-aged to me. Anyway, we’re about where I’d expect for the halfway point of the story, so it’s still good thus far.

Green Lantern #26 bills itself as Part 1 of “The Alpha Lanterns,” but it’s more transitory than that. Pieces are picked up after the Sinestro Corps War, Hal and John go back to Earth, and a group of “Lost Lanterns” runs afoul of Amon Sur. Mike McKone comes on as penciller and does a good job. His layouts aren’t as crowded as Ivan Reis’s, but of course he’s not drawing thousands of GLs and Sinestros either. Because the issue is so episodic, it’s hard to get a sense of what it wants to accomplish, and it dispenses with the “Alpha Lantern” thing pretty quickly. We’ll see how Part 2 deals with the Alphas, I guess.

Another somewhat transitory issue was Captain America #33, wherein the Winter Soldier’s arm beats up some SHIELD techs and the fully-armed (ha ha) W.S. almost takes out Iron Man. Pieces are put together by the good guys re: the involvement of the Red Skull, and next issue advertises the New Cap. Another fine installment.

Fantastic Four: Isla De La Muerte was a cute one-shot spotlighting the Thing’s annual secret vacation to Puerto Rico. With as much time spent on team dynamics as on the mystery du jour, it’s a good little FF story. I don’t quite see the resemblance between Ben and El Morro, though. The art, by Juan Doe, is fairly cartoony, but I just say that to describe, not criticize.

JLA Classified #49 was a strange, rather insubstantial story about the Leaguers’ various helpmates reacting to their being off-planet on a dangerous mission. Most of it concerns Lois Lane and Alfred Pennyworth meeting for the first time, which you’d think would place this fairly early in DC history; but Wally is the Flash and Linda is his sweetie, so it can’t be that old. Also, Lois either doesn’t know Superman’s secret, or doesn’t know that she can share it with Alfred. Paulo Siqueira and Amilton Santos are the penciller and inker, respectively, and they combine to produce somewhat Adam Hughes-like figures. However, the layouts are a little too self-conscious, with figures jumping out of panels when they maybe really shouldn’t. The overall effect is to make the story seem more important than it is. I hate to be a continuity stickler, but it might’ve worked better with a more open relationship among the principals; and that might’ve been better portrayed with a group which included the Silver Age significant others. Those people did hang out together in a way that, say, Alfred and Lois don’t.

Teen Titans #54 finished up the “Titans Of Tomorrow Today” storyline, but I’m not sure how. Did the revelations about Future-Kon and Future-Bart really affect the current Titans’ viewpoints enough that history will be changed for the better? And what about that epilogue? The issue has some nice moments, many of them involving Wonder Girl or Blue Beetle, but I don’t know that they add up to a coherent conclusion.

Batman #672 sees Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel return to the familar “Three Evil Batmen” storyline Morrison had been working before the Club of Heroes and Ra’s al Ghul arcs intervened. I liked this issue pretty well, although I thought the ending was confusing. Since it involved Zur-En-Arrh, a Batman getting shot, and what looks like Bat-Mite, I’m sure it’ll be explained eventually. Daniel and his various inkers still remind me of Andy Kubert, but that may well be the influence of Guy Major’s colors.

Finally, the two 52 spinoffs, Four Horsemen and Crime Bible, were both pretty entertaining. I especially liked Crime Bible‘s look at the Gotham PD and, therefore, Greg Rucka’s “return” to Gotham Central territory. Batwoman also seemed a lot more plausible as a crimefighter, although you’d think we’d have seen her in more places even taking her recovery into account. Anyway, Crime Bible was more a spotlight on the Question’s relationship to Batwoman, and for that it was pretty good.

Four Horsemen continues to be a good adventure story, weaving various ancillary characters like Mr. Terrific, Veronica Cale, and Snapper Carr into its story about DC’s “Big Three” taking on Apokoliptian terror-gods. This issue adds the Doom Patrol. It’s all very well-organized, with enough set pieces (like Superman’s and Batman’s respective duels with Horsemen) to hold my interest. Of course, there’s not much doubt about the outcome, so the fun is in seeing how we’ll get there.

Whew! How’s that for a whirlwind look at an end-of-year blowout week?

* * *

CREDITS

Action Comics #860. Written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal, colored by Dave McCaig.

Batman #672. Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Daniel, Jonathan Glapion, and others, colored by Guy Major.

The Brave and the Bold #9. Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Pérez, inked by Bob Wiacek and Scott Koblish, colored by Tom Smith.

Captain America #33. Written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Butch Guice, colored by Frank D’Armata.

Countdown Arena #4. Written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Scott McDaniel, inked by Andy Owens, and colored by Guy Major.

Countdown To Adventure #5. “Space Heroes” written by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Julio Ferreira, and colored by The Hories. “Forerunner” written by Justin Gray, pencilled by Fabrizio Fiorentino, inked by Adam DeKraker, and colored by The Hories.

Countdown (To Final Crisis) #18. Written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins, colored by Tom Chu.

Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte! #1. Written by Tom Beland, drawn and colored by Juan Doe.

52 Aftermath: Crime Bible — Five Lessons Of Blood #3. Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Matthew Clark, colored by Javier Mena.

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #5. Written by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, inked by John Stanisci, colored by Hi-Fi.

The Flash #235. Main story written by Mark Waid, drawn by Freddie Williams II, and colored by Tanya & Richard Horie. Backup written by Waid and John Rogers, drawn by Doug Braithwaite, and colored by Alex Sinclair.

Green Lantern #26. Written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Andy Lanning, Marlo Alquiza, & Cam Smith, and colored by JD Smith.

Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Secret Files & Origins #1. Written, drawn, and colored by too many people to mention.

JLA Classified #49. Written by Andrew Kreisberg, pencilled by Paulo Siquiera, inked by Amilton Santos, and colored by Allen Passalaqua.

Legion of Super-Heroes #37. Written by Jim Shooter, pencilled by Francis Manapul, inked by Livesay, and colored by Nathan Eyring.

Teen Titans #54. Written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, Joe Prado, & Greg Tocchini, inked by Rob Hunter, Julio Ferreira, Oclair Albert, & Prado, and colored by Rod Reis.

October 21, 2007

New comics 10/17/07

Since I’ll probably never have the opportunity to do it again, let’s lead off with Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #57 (written by Tad Williams and drawn by Shawn McManus), another comma of a last issue. It doesn’t leave the reader hanging as badly as the final issues of Gotham Central or the latest Firestorm, but it’s pretty noncommital.

With the globe-threatening problems taken care of as of last issue, #57 finds our cast embroiled in a hostage situation which turns into an opportunity to explore Arthur’s true origins. Yes, Arthur is more connected with Orin than we might have thought; but anyone expecting the dramatic return of the “real” Aquaman may well be disappointed. In fact, I was kinda expecting that, considering that this was the book’s last issue and all, but ignoring the character’s upcoming role in Outsiders. That’ll teach me to take my eyes off the bigger picture.

Speaking of pictures, the art is fairly effective, although McManus draws a less beefy Cyborg than I’m used to. I don’t fault his storytelling, but I can’t decide whether his figures are inconsistent, or just drawn to suit the emotion of the particular situation.

Otherwise, the issue itself is pretty transitory, answering some questions (yes, Narwhal looks to be who I thought he was) and raising others (whither Tempest?). Ultimately, it leaves Arthur (or “Joseph,” by the end) in a more unsettled place than he was before, and that’s not how I like my endings. If the current Aquaman doesn’t parley his Outsider status (double-meaning probably intended) into a devoted fan following, I predict another “Aquaman: Rebirth” storyline before too long.

I didn’t expect Checkmate #19 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) to set up Salvation Run as much as it has, but in hindsight that shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s more political maneuvering, executed most skillfully by Amanda Waller and King Faraday in service of their SR-anticipating plans. Pointing up the connections between ex-Justice Leaguers and Waller’s old Suicide Squad associates is a nice way to recall the roles of, and possible tensions between, those groups. Perhaps it also reminds readers that Justice League International (both the team and the comic) didn’t take its mission too seriously, or at least not as seriously as Waller’s Squadders. Anyway, as usual, Rucka does a great job laying out the motivations and keeping everything straight for the reader. Bennett and Jadson’s work (assisted by Travis Lanham, I think, on colors) is suitably moody, but clean and direct enough that we can tell one “normal” person apart from another. A fine issue that has me eager for more.

The double-page spread from Justice League of America #14 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope), showing Wonder Woman, Black Canary, and Vixen strung up in some high-tech torture device, does look a bit excessive — and that, aside from its unnecessary hypersexualization, is the point. Luthor wants to get Superman mad by showing the cruelties being inflicted on the other Leaguers, but Black Lightning successfully gets him to dial back his rage. That’s pretty much it for the issue — a lot of posturing and grimacing, which seems atypical for McDuffie and doesn’t serve Benes’ strengths well either. I can accept this issue as part of the larger storyline, but next issue’s finale will have to do some heavy lifting to make up for it.

Not as much blatant cheesecake as you might have expected in The Brave and the Bold #7 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), a story which teams Wonder Woman and Power Girl. It’s skillfully done, and it ties tangentially into the larger Book Of Destiny storyline, but its core is very familiar. While I liked it, there were a couple of things that bugged me. First, characters’ faces seemed a little off in spots. I don’t know if this is Perez experimenting or some trick of Wiacek’s inking, but in places they looked more like a Perez/Bob McLeod combination. Second, Waid’s “Look, up in the sky” joke walks a very thin line between working and not. Still, for the most part everyone does good work. I especially want to mention colorist Tom Smith, who gets to play with large-scale toys like the various environments, and small details like Power Girl’s eyes (which, by the way, are up here…).

I’ve been buying Spider-Man Family (#5 written and drawn by various people) mostly for its offbeat, “generic Spidey” stories which have been pretty good. However, this issue’s lead, written by Kevin Grevioux and drawn by Clayton Henry, didn’t really do it for me. For one thing, guest-star Doctor Strange is deprived of his powers, and compensates with some ill-advised martial arts and telekinetically-animated blades. That made it seem more like the Doctor Strange animated movie, and thus not like the “real” Doc. Also, Doc gets the thankless thought-balloon speech where he notes that Spider-Man “is the definition of ‘hero'” because he fights against the long odds, etc. The art is fine. The second original story, written by Dana Moreshead, pencilled by Eduardo Garcia, and inked by Roger Bonet, has Kraven leading Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan stand-ins on an urban safari. It’s cute, but not that distinguished.

Captain America #31 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) kicks off Act 2 of “Death of the Dream” with the Winter Soldier being tortured by Doctor Faustus and Sharon Carter struggling with the knowledge of her role in Cap’s death. Most of the WS’s torture involves tweaked “memories” of his time in The Big One with Cap, designed to turn him against his old mentor. Meanwhile, the Falcon, the Black Widow, and Tony Stark compare notes on Sharon and Cap’s death. It was an effective issue that set up a decent cliffhanger. I especially like the way Epting captures the way the Red Skull gets giddily deranged on power.

Countdown #28 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Al Barrionuevo, inks by Art Thibert) was decent. It covered a lot of ground, including (deep breath) Forager and Jimmy Olsen; Piper and Trickster escaping the Feds; Mary Marvel examined from afar by Shadowpact; weird visits with Brother Eye; and more fighting between the Challengers, the Crime Society, and the Extremists. I think it’s found its level, which is to be a somewhat generic-looking comic whose periodical frequency and plot-point maintenance are its determining factors. If it leaves you one step closer to the end, one Wednesday at a time, it’s done its job.

Finally, Bedard writes Birds Of Prey #111 (drawn by Jason Orfalas), the in-person showdown between online adversaries Oracle and the Calculator. It was good, with the suspense coming from the fact that if Oracle’s face were known, her usefulness would be effectively ended. Calculator therefore has to look a little stupid and/or short-sighted not to put the pieces together, but who knows — maybe he’s just what they call “book-smart.” Apart from that, Bedard’s script is pretty clever. Orfalas’ work fits with the style of regular artist Nicola Scott — thin, clear lines, maybe closer to Ethan Van Sciver, but that’s still good.

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