Comics Ate My Brain

February 29, 2008

New comics 2/27/08

Filed under: batman, captain america, countdown, justice league, legion, question, rasl, superman, teen titans — Tom Bondurant @ 1:33 am
I think I understand what’s going on in the current Batman storyline, and that scares me a little. However, issue #674 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea) was — Bat-Mite channeling Hot Cylon No. 6 notwithstanding — a great example of Morrison’s take on the character.

Morrison writes a really entertaining Batman. He’s super-capable without letting it go to his head. His inner monologue this issue, about how he spends all his time thinking of impossible scenarios and how to get out of them, captures the very heart of the character — not just hitting the “Batman is a jerk” days of the ’90s, but the Bat-Shark-Repellent camp era, the wacky ’50s, and even back to 1939. In the seminal two-issue “Batman Vs. Werewolves and Vampires” storyline, adapted most recently by Matt Wagner in Batman and the Mad Monk, Batman’s got the tools ready to make silver bullets. Silver bullets! “Always has a plan,” indeed.

Anyway, Batman #674 tells the chilling story of the three alternate Batmen, and it too is an homage to “The Secret Star,” a story from almost 600 issues prior (1953’s issue #77). Everybody’s trying to figure out what makes Batman tick, and Morrison evidently sees turning over all the old, forgotten stories as one of the best ways to do this. It’s a well-executed high concept, and heck, it makes sense to me. Of course, I’ve got my trusty Batman Encyclopedia handy….

What else–? Daniel and Florea turn in a pretty good job. There are so many Batmen flying around that it can get a little confusing (look to the utility belts, for example), and their work is solid but not exceptional. They remind me of a cross between Dick Giordano and Andy Kubert. Also, for all the praise I’ve laid on Morrison’s Batman, I have to point out that his Commissioner Gordon, and in fact the other Gotham cops, don’t sound quite right. The cops sound very “Morrisonian,” if that makes sense; and Morrison hasn’t given Morrison the gruff edge we’ve grown accustomed to.

Next up is Rasl #1, by Jeff Smith. It’s the story of a youngish (indeterminate-20s, probably) thief who can travel to alternate universes and who leaves the word “RASL” spray-painted as his calling card. This introductory issue has two tracks, the first with our anti-hero in disarray, wandering through a desert, and the second with him fleeing from his antagonists who’ve finally figured out how to track him. It’s a lot of style and attitude, and it may read better collected, but it’s designed to plant enough hooks to keep periodical readers coming back. Worked for me.

All-Star Batman & Robin #9 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) is a strange, almost disjointed issue that spends its first half taunting Green Lantern like he’s Elmer Fudd, and its second getting the Dynamic Duo to collapse in the pathos of their collective grief. It’s certainly the most idiosyncratic take on Batman and Robin I’ve seen in a while, it makes them a formidable pair, and I’d like it a little better if it weren’t done at the expense of just about everyone else in the book. That said, I thought the book did a credible job of switching moods, and the new one is certainly different enough to hold my interest.

The “Terror Titans” storyline begins in earnest in Teen Titans #56 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti and Julio Ferreira), and so far I’m getting a “Judas Contract” vibe off of it. This issue finds Kid Devil generally screwing up, and thus leaving himself open to being co-opted. I kinda figured out the plot shortly after KD’s party got underway, but I thought the ending left some options open for him, character-wise, so overall I liked the issue. It fostered the right sense of dread that these kinds of storylines need. The art was, quite frankly, better than I have seen from Barrows, but some of that probably came from Palmiotti’s inks and Rod Reis’s colors.

It’s not that I don’t like the Legion arc in Action Comics (#862 written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal), but it does feel like it’s gone on about an issue too long. This issue particularly seems concerned with spotlighting more Legionnaires, which is nice, but I’d also liked to have seen more movement towards re-yellowing Earth’s Sun and restoring Superman’s powers.

There’s a neat visual gag in the middle of JLA Classified #53 (written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer), but it requires advanced geek knowledge (or does that go without saying?). See, this story apparently takes place in the days when Black Canary, and not Wonder Woman, was the League’s pre-eminent female member. Furthermore, back then BC wore a blonde wig over her black hair. Therefore, when foe du jour Titus decides he’s had enough of thoroughly pwning the League, and offers instead to make them part of his “pantheon,” he dresses Black Canary in a very WW-inspired costume, and gets rid of her wig, so that she looks a lot like Wonder Woman. That’s the most clever thing about the issue, which otherwise finds the League utterly bumfuzzled about how to stop this guy. As with the Action arc, next issue’s the big finish, so I’m hoping it will elevate the story as a whole.

Speaking of endings, Crime Bible #5 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Manuel Garcia, inked by Garcia and Jimmy Palmiotti) finds the Question fighting the leader of the Cain sect for what he claims is leadership of said sect. Thus, the issue is an extended fight scene, which comes off fairly well — Garcia and Palmiotti are fine storytellers, and the action isn’t hard to follow. The problem is the ending, which leaves (you’ll forgive me) a big question hanging. Ironically, part of the Question’s dialogue during the fight references the end of Renee’s previous series, Gotham Central, which went out on an ambiguous note so that it could lead into her transformation into the Question. Now Crime Bible seems to be doing the same thing. We kinda know how it should end, but it’d be nice if our suspicions were confirmed.

Lots of death and exploding in Countdown #9 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher). Derenick and Faucher portray this pretty well, albeit in a sort of DC-house-standard way. For an issue that concerns a bunch of superheroes trying to reunite with colleagues and get the heck off Apokolips, it’s about as good as you’d think. A couple of old friends return, the cliffhangers are good, and who knew the Pied Piper had it in him?

Finally, Captain America #35 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Jackson Guice, inked by Guice and Mike Perkins) wasn’t quite as good as last issue. The new Cap fights rioters, and especially those causing them to riot, in Washington, D.C. Given the character’s symbolic nature, I was expecting the riot to contain an inspirational moment — a “Look! Up in the sky!” moment, if you will — but I guess that would have been something of a cheat, and not quite within Brubaker’s downbeat tone. Perkins’ inks do a lot to connect this issue visually to regular penciller Steve Epting’s work, but Guice’s storytelling is just as good. There’s also a fair amount of plot, and Brubaker uses a good bit of the book’s large cast. It’s a middle-act issue which has me excited for the conclusion.

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.

October 7, 2007

Old Comics 9/12/07, 9/19/07, and 9/26/07

Very quick hits on what I thought about the comics in the backlog:

9/26/07

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #2
All-Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder #7
Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two #4
Batman #669
Countdown #31
Countdown to Adventure #2
JLA Classified #43
Justice League of America #13
Wonder Woman Annual #1
Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #13

Bad news first: the Astro City installment left me somewhat cold, mostly because it had been so long since I’d read the last issue and I just haven’t had the time to get back into the storyline. I could probably say the same about the Wonder Woman Annual, basically a big fight scene followed by a major revision to Diana’s secret identity setup. I want more time to spend with Batman #669, because I’m sure there are details I missed on the first reading. The Four Horsemen issue was pretty good, and All-Star Batman was just as crazy as ever. Finally, except for some weird anatomy, JLA #13 was probably the week’s most satisfying example of straight-up superheroics.

9/19/07

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #56
Birds of Prey #110
Checkmate #18
Countdown 32
Countdown to Mystery #1
Flash #232
Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special #1
JLA/Hitman #1
Tales of the Sinestro Corps: Parallax #1
Captain America #30

I think the book I liked the best from this week would still have to be Birds Of Prey. It was a well-executed fill-in by Tony Bedard and the regular art team of Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood, about the Huntress having to stop a series of urban crises. Scott and Hazlewood were given a lot to do in this issue, and they pulled it off pretty well. I liked both stories in Countdown To Mystery, and of course I liked JLA/Hitman and Captain America. The GA/BC Wedding Special was also pretty good, although I had to invent my own explanation for Dinah not using her Canary Cry at the very end.

9/12/07

Star Wars: Rebellion #10
Booster Gold #2
Countdown #33
Search for Ray Palmer: WildStorm #1
Green Lantern #23
JLA Classified #42
JLA Wedding Special #1
Superman #667
Welcome to Tranquility #10

The most memorable from this week is Superman #667, the penultimate “Camelot Falls” chapter. I liked how Busiek tied Subjekt-17 into the main plot, and also how the issue portrayed Superman as a global hero. Now we just have to wait for the next Annual. Most everything else was good, especially the JLA Wedding Special; but I have to say I didn’t get much out of the SFRP:WS issue or JLA Classified. Oh, and I liked the wrap-up of “The Ahakista Gambit” in Rebellion. It left the door open to use these characters again, and by leaving them somewhat off-balance gave us a reason to want to see them some more.

August 18, 2007

New comics 8/15/07

Eleven issues this week, with a couple extra-sized. No time to waste!

We begin with The Brave and the Bold #6 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Scott Koblish), the cracking-good conclusion to the opening “Luck Lords” arc. It stars (deep breath) Batman, Green Lantern, Adam Strange, Supergirl, the Legion, and special surprise guests, but its cameos feature all manner of DC space heroes familiar to me mostly from the old Who’s Who book. The big finish hinges on said special surprise guests, and I’m not entirely sure it’s a valid plot twist, even within the plot’s established logic, but it made me smile. Good work, all!

Next up is Countdown #37 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by David Lopez and Mike Norton, inks by Don Hillsman and Rodney Ramos). Considering that five people contributed to the art, it’s all pretty agreeable. I’m sure that’s the result of working from Giffen’s breakdowns. Most of the issue deals with Mary Marvel’s apprenticeship to Zatanna, with the B-plot apparently the cover-featured encounter between the Rogues and Poison Ivy. Otherwise, Karate Kid is still dying, Holly and Harley are still part of the Amazonian slumber party, and Jimmy’s subplot leads into this week’s Action Comics. Two-page villain origins start this week, with the first up being (appropriately enough) Poison Ivy, brought to you by Scott Beatty, Stephane Roux, and the Cheesecake Factory.

In the aforementioned Action Comics #854 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Livesay), Jimmy and Superman manage Jimmy’s new powers and the new Titano, and it’s actually all very sweet in the end, thanks to copious amounts of Krypto. More particularly, though, Busiek jumps back and forth between the “present” Countdown-influenced plot and the evidently-prior Kryptonite Man plot we’ve been following the past few issues. It might not sound like much of a compliment, but this has been a really good Countdown tie-in, and a very successful test of Busiek’s shared-universe mojo.

Checkmate #17 (written by Greg Rucka and Eric S. Trautmann, pencilled by Chris Samnee, inked by Steve Bird) offers a one-off story spotlighting Checkmate’s new security chief, the former Master Jailer. It’s a fine introduction to the series, encapsulating all the paranoia and much of the politics on display every month. The climactic battle plays out kinda like a video game, but in a good way.

Volume 2 of The Flash picks up after over a year (i.e., after Volume 3) with issue #231, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Daniel Acuna. It’s an introduction too, because as we all know, Wally’s grooming his kids to be superheroes. Not to cast aspersions on the memory of Bart Allen, but what exactly was keeping this from being the Flash One Year Later storyline back in March ’06? Anyway, the kids aren’t unappealing, but I’d apparently forgotten that Linda Park had some med-school training on the way to becoming a journalist. I wasn’t too high on Acuna’s suitability for the title after All-Flash #1, but I was pleasantly surprised here. Because he’s splitting his time between the Wests and the necessary exposition, Waid’s script isn’t as good as the All-Flash issue, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get better.

I haven’t been as repulsed by Amazons Attack! (#5 written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Pete Woods) as some, so when I say “it’s almost over,” that’s more matter-of-fact than anything. Most of this issue deals with the Outsider Grace receiving overtures from the Bana-Mighdall Amazons, while Batman tries to lower the magic shield keeping the most powerful JLAers out of the decimated Washington. I still say it’s not so bad, but if you’ve bailed on it by this point, I probably won’t change your mind.

I really do need to re-read Tad Williams and Shawn McManus’ run on Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis, because #55 was an enjoyable installment that could easily be described as “retro-superhero.” There’s a nice take on the monologuing bad guy (and there are actually a few of them), and Williams and McManus do a good job of building suspense. There are only two issues left in the title, and possibly the “new” Aquaman himself, but it’s got me eager to see the wrap-up.

Brad Meltzer says goodbye to Justice League of America, at least for now, with #12 (pencilled by Ed Benes and Eric Wight, inked by Sandra Hope). Of course it’s a character-driven ode to the greatness of the team, because that’s been Meltzer’s approach all along. It focuses on Meltzer’s new members, Red Arrow, Hawkgirl, Red Tornado, Black Lightning, Vixen, and Geo-Force, and bonds are formed (in various degrees) between two couples. As with Countdown and Amazons Attack, you’ve probably made up your mind about this one already.

I didn’t believe it when I saw it on his site, but there really is a screenshot of The Invincible Super-Blog on a SHIELD monitor screen in Captain America #29 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins). More good stuff from this crew, and the shout-out to a comics blogger is just the cherry on top.

I bought Spider-Man Family #4 for the Spidey/Agents of Atlas story (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice), but I stayed for Chris Eliopolous’ Puppet Master story and the entertaining reprints. The new stories were great, and it’s 100 pages for $5.00, so what’s not to like?

Finally, there’s a lot to like about Booster Gold vol. 2 #1 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, layouts by Dan Jurgens, finishes by Norm Rapmund). This is a dense book, with lots of story “compressed” into its 31 pages. I had compared this book earlier to the old Chronos series, but it’s much more accessible, as you’d expect. It pokes fun at much of what Johns and his colleagues have done at DC the past few years, and as much as I got tired of Johns’ continuity-referencing in his JSA work, it’s actually more of the point of this series. Thus, it works a lot better here. Jurgens’ work is the same as always, not bad but still kind of stiff, and it too plays into the plug-into-DC-history vibe the series clearly wants to evoke. Moreover, Booster’s new setup comes with an appropriate, and poignant, emotional foundation. A very promising start to what could be the She-Hulk of DC.

July 25, 2007

New comics 7/18/07

We begin this week with All Flash #1 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by various artists) … and I can only speak for myself, but it felt really right to have Wally written by Waid again. Of all the writers who have handled Wally over the years — among them John Broome, Cary Bates, Bob Rozakis, Marv Wolfman, Mike Baron, Bill Messner-Loebs, and Geoff Johns — Wally and Waid seemed made for each other. I see a lot of commentators saying this effectively is a coda to Bart’s Fastest Man Alive, and I don’t disagree; and neither do I disagree that if the continuation of The Flash vol. 2 were drawn by Karl Kerschl, it would look fantastic. (It’s got Daniel Acuna instead, and while I don’t dislike Acuna, boy howdy does Kerschl’s work sparkle here.) Much has been made as well of Wally’s ironic punishment of Inertia, which is in many ways the point of this issue. I’d feel better if it were a prelude to the character’s return, and even (as some suggested) to Bart’s “return.”

In the end, I liked the issue. Wally’s departure was justified poorly, and his return was oddly reassuring, especially as voiced by Waid. Of course I’m looking forward to the regular Flash book, because that’ll be the real test of Waid’s speedster chops. I doubt we’ll be saying goodbye to Wally again anytime soon.

Next up, another book Mark Waid used to write, Captain America #28 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins). It’s the same format as last issue — vignettes checking in with the book’s current cast, mostly with Sin and the (new?) Serpent Squad as they prepare to break Crossbones out of jail. It hit me with this issue that there’s still a lot I don’t know about Cap’s vast array of allies and enemies. Brubaker is evidently doing his best to work a lot of them into this story, and for the most part he’s doing a good job of at least indicating who’s good, who’s evil, and who’s got a long history I could probably find on Wikipedia. Ironically, though, the character I had the most trouble placing in this issue was Professor X. Seems like there’s been another bald character in the book lately (or maybe I’m just hallucinating) and they all look like Lex Luthor. Anyway, still a good read.

Speaking of called-back characters, The Spirit #8 (by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone) presents a twist on the cover-featured “cut the right wire” scenario. This time it’s Agent Satin, who unfortunately reminded me of Erin Esurance early in the book when she’s parachuting into the action. Anyway, that passed pretty quickly. The issue itself is pretty loaded, putting a lot of subplots into what boils down to cut-the-right-wire … and, like I say, even that is a clever twist. However, it never feels coy or too clever, and the Spirit is only in it as a supporting character. It’s even a sequel of sorts to a previous issue, but without so much as a footnote or express flashback to clutter the narrative. If I had to show someone what Cooke’s Spirit was all about, I could do worse than give them this.

Reading the latest Action Comics (#852 written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by John Livesay) made me wonder: why doesn’t DC put Busiek into its Countdown rotation? If there’s one thing at which Busiek excels, it’s creating a sense of “movement away from the ball.” Busiek is great at suggesting a larger world beyond the borders of a panel, a page, or an issue, and this story is no exception. Its focus on Jimmy connects his CD hijinx with the rest of the Superman plot. (This includes another reference to “Red Son” which pretty much spoils what has to be a big part of its ending, but in a perfect world that story would be long over anyway.) Unfortunately, I’m not clear about what’s going on with the primates and the green goo (Kryptonite, I guess) because those scenes are hard to follow, and I’m still not on board with Brad Walker as a penciller. His stuff is a little too idiosyncratic to fit such a straight-laced book as Action. It worked for the quirky Secret Six, just not so much here.

The portion of the blogosphere which still reads Countdown seemed to recoil a lilttle less at this week’s issue (#41 written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, drawn by Dennis Calero), and I’m in that camp too. Every scene seemed to be constructed just that much better: the Rogues on the run figure out how to survive a long fall; Harley and Holly get a vignette at the Athenian Women’s Shelter; and even the one- and two-page check-ins with Mary Marvel and Donna & Jason feel more cohesive. It may be the result of accumulated backstory or the invisible hands of Keith Giffen, but whatever it is, it’s working better. Dennis Calero is not an unfamiliar name, but I’m at a loss to remember something else he’s drawn. His work’s nice and simple, and it does what it needs to.

Two-thirds of the way through Amazons Attack (#4 written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Pete Woods) and not only can I not tell where it ends and Wonder Woman begins, both series seem to be going over the same ground. Every installment features some unbelievable act of Amazonian carnage (here involving Air Force One), more tension between Wonder Woman and Hippolyta and Hippolyta and the other Amazons, more Circe scheming, etc. There’s barely a sense of plot movement despite having only two issues (well, plus the Wonder Woman issues, but still) to go. Thanks to Pete Woods, the book still looks very pretty.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #54 (written by Tad Williams, drawn by Shawn McManus) has too much going on. Aquaman and crew fight Black Manta in Sub Diego. There’s a new revelation involving the polar explorers. We check in with a couple of characters from the Peter David days. It’s charming enough, and I like what Williams and McManus have brought to the title, but it’s a strange combination of reliance on pre-OYL stories (maybe trying to win back that crowd?) and the new, oddball spin Williams has put on Kurt Busiek’s OYL “barbarian” concept. With three issues left in the title’s run, and so much plot, it all needs to start coming together.

The same applies to The Brave and the Bold #5 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), which takes a detour into the 31st Century so that Batman can outwit the current Legion of Super-Heroes. This gives Waid and Perez the opportunity to indulge themselves: Waid makes another Adam West reference, and Perez gets to work out with the Legion (a book which, he’s fond of saying, he’s never gotten to draw). There’s more with Supergirl, Green Lantern, and Adam Strange, and it’s all very fun and of course well-rendered; but again, it doesn’t feel like there’s just one issue to go in this arc.

If Brad Meltzer were staying on Justice League of America (#11 drawn by Gene Ha) longer than one more issue, I’d be more excited about this one-off tale of Red Arrow and Vixen trapped under the Watergate Hotel’s wreckage. As it is, it’s not a bad single-issue story. Meltzer clearly enjoys dialogue, and that’s pretty much all this issue is, with only a few physical scenes to punctuate the tension. And in fact, there is a bit of tension, which is surprising considering the relative invulnerability of these characters. Good on Meltzer and Ha for that. A semi-significant aspect of Vixen’s powers is revealed here too, in case a reader might feel that the story had no lasting impact. (It still might not, actually.) Ha’s work is more diffuse here than his normal precise, fine lines, but it’s still good, especially the way he plays with layouts towards the end. I kinda wish this had been more of a contrast from Meltzer’s talky modus operandi, though.

Man, everything this week is ending or about to end, isn’t it? Gail Simone’s last Birds of Prey (#108 pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) is an epilogue to the Spy Smasher story arc, as Barbara beats up on her rival something fierce. Afterwards Babs and Dinah reunite, sharing takeout with Huntress and Lady Blackhawk, and then Barbara picks up her newest official recruit. I haven’t been back with this book for long, but I thought Simone had a touching farewell. I continue to be impressed with Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood — their faces are especially expressive.

There’s a bit of Checkmate #16 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) which I halfway expected to see in BOP, and here it feels a touch out of place, but I suppose it fits better here than there. It’s the Fire and Ice reunion, of course, and it’s handled pretty deftly by all parties. It’s actually very sweet, adding some more nuance to Fire’s character (at least how she’s been portrayed in this book). The rest of the book concerns itself with Sasha and Mr. Terrific, and sets up the downfall of Amanda Waller. Bennett and Jadson look really pretty good here — their Fire/Ice scenes use a thicker line, subtly reminiscent of Adam Hughes and Joe Rubenstein’s Justice League International work, but their Sasha/Michael scenes are thinner and more delicately rendered. All around, a fine issue.

Finally, here’s the last issue (see? again!) of Jeff Smith’s Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil, and it’s just as good as the other parts. Smith’s Mr. Mind design is perfect — menacing while still retaining the salient parts of the original. If this series isn’t the tour de force of Cap villains that the original was, that’s OK; as a revival/reimagining of the Captain Marvel mythology, it works very well. Now, of course, Smith has to do a sequel, so he can work Cap Jr. into the mix.

June 26, 2007

New comics 6/20/07

We begin this week by picking up a spare from last week, Outsiders #48 (written by Judd Winick and Greg Rucka, pencilled by Ron Randall and Matthew Clark, inked by Art Thibert). It’s Part 4 of the 6-part “Check/Out” crossover, and as such it features the Outsiders/Checkmate strike force’s attempt to survive Oolong Island. Therefore, most of the issue is given over to shouting and fighting and movement and explosions and frantic dialogue. I was kind of surprised that I could follow the issue as well as I could, considering the fact that pencillers Randall and Clark seem to have divided up the issue pretty equally. Randall uses a thicker line, and I think his figures and composition are a bit more stable as a result, but really I couldn’t tell much of a difference just reading the book. I ascribe that to inker Art Thibert, who’s done his share of pencilling as well.

My main problem with the issue, and the crossover in general, was that it didn’t make me any more sympathetic to the Outsiders themselves. I’m familiar with the well-established characters (Nightwing, Katana, Metamorpho), but I have to remind myself that “Owen”/”Boomer” is the new Captain Boomerang from Identity Crisis, and I know nothing about the two strong women (Grace and Thunder) beyond the broad strokes an action plot like this divulges. The book doesn’t go out of its way to explain any of these people to this particular reader-just-along-for-the-crossover. (Each team having its own young red-haired guy doesn’t help either.) This crossover also hasn’t justified Outsiders‘ existence beyond being a random team of attitude-rich superheroes. Well, maybe it did a little, at the beginning, when there was some sense that Checkmate could take advantage of the group’s cavalier approach to superheroics. Still, this title’s got one more issue before Everything Changes with a new roster, and then it gets relaunched at some point in the future with Batman in charge. I guess what I’m saying is that this crossover could just as well have been a biweekly Checkmate arc for all it’s made me care about the Outsiders. Still, this was a decent dumb-fun action issue.

Checkmate #15 (written by Rucka and Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) presents Part 5 of “Check/Out,” in which Nightwing, Boomer, and Sasha are tortured by Chang Tzu (can we call him “Egg Fu” anymore?) while the Checkmate high sheriffs negotiate with China for some assistance. In terms of craft, this was a better issue all around than Outsiders #48. Bennett and Jadson are a more solid team, and Rucka does a good job of laying out the various political issues and assigning their presentations to the appropriate characters. Checkmate has a much larger regular cast than Outsiders, but there they all are in roll-call format on the first page.

The one thing that I did not like about the issue, and it is not an insignificant complaint, is the attention paid to Boomer and Sasha’s torture. The issue plays a darkly clever game with the reader by putting Nightwing — who we know is “safe” from any permanent harm — in a cell next to the torture chamber, thereby making him listen to his friends’ anguished cries. In this way, and especially on the last page, “Check/Out” seems to set up pretty clearly the end of Nightwing’s tenure as team leader. This is a particular blow to Nightwing’s character, because for years, if not decades, it was the thing that most significantly separated him from Batman. As Titans leader, he was either rescuing his teammates (see “The Judas Contract” or “Titans Hunt”) or sacrificing himself for him (i.e., in a few of the Brother Blood storylines). He’s presented here as an ineffectual failure. Thus, while the issue does a good job of dramatizing just how deep these three are in their particular hole, the overall effect is not pleasant, and in fact kind of sickly voyeuristic.

I got a similar feeling reading The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #13 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Daniel, Jonathan Glapion, and Marlo Alquiza). It was a gut-punch of an issue that apparently wanted to leave little doubt about Bart’s fate. As I said on Thursday, I felt bad for Bart, but a lot of that had to do with the editorially-mandated aspects of his death. The fact that I didn’t think he needed to die also contributed to my sadness that he did. Guggenheim and Daniel put together a decent issue, just in service of an unfortunate cause.

The other part of the Flash re-relaunch was, of course, Justice League of America #10 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope). While I am very, very happy at the return of Wally West — I actually teared up a little; don’t judge me — this was an incredibly haphazard way to end “The Lightning Saga.” First of all, it’s not really over, because it obviously sets up more Old-Legion adventures in Countdown and other DC titles. Second, what in the name of little baby ducks does Wally West have to do with the Legion anyway? Third, I understand the Legion not wanting to tell the JLA and JSA that one of them will die when “whoever” is brought back, but that just means this is the old “Why didn’t you ask us for help in the first place?” plot. Fourth, do I really have to list all of the ways in which Meltzer and Benes use innuendo and shorthand to create an illusion that things are happening? There were no real resolutions in this issue, at least not to the larger plot elements presented at the beginning of the crossover. Meltzer has some appealing ideas, but he treats them so reverently that before you know it, five issues are up and nothing’s really gotten done.

I could probably say the same thing about Captain America #27 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins), but the difference is that the character scenes are hung on a plot that makes sense within the larger story arc. The Winter Soldier wants to reclaim Cap’s shield, Sharon Carter struggles with her role in Cap’s death, and she and the Falcon figure out where Bucky’s headed with the shield. Oh, and Bucky reconnects with the Black Widow, his old Soviet-spy buddy. Epting and Perkins do a collectively fine job overall. I don’t like their Tony Stark, but that’s just me. Also, I wasn’t sure it was “the” Black Widow, Natasha Romanov, because dialogue calls her “Natalia” and I don’t know if that’s an acceptable nickname. Other than those nitpicks, though, a really fine issue that advances the plot while still keeping the reader guessing about when any Captain America will headline his eponymous book again.

I continue to enjoy The Brave and the Bold (#4 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), probably because it is unashamed of being a light, fun superhero title. This issue begins and ends with Batrok, and features a Lobo/Supergirl story which is fairly predictable but still enjoyable. It does appear that Supergirl has gotten more mature around Lobo than she was around Green Lantern a couple of issues ago — Waid writes her as (let’s say) early-20s, as opposed to late-teens — but I like her better this way, so it works out.

In the same vein, Marvel gives us Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #3 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wade von Grawbadger), which finds Spidey and 3/4 of the FF fighting aliens and dropping in on Dr. Doom and the High Evolutionary. There is nothing objectionable about this book.

You can guess the obvious segue into Countdown #45 (written by Paul Dini and I think Tony Bedard, although Palmiotti & Gray are credited; pencilled by J. Calafiore, inked by Mark McKenna). Actually, I kind of liked this issue, because it shows Donna Troy as a competent superhero for the first time in a while. An incongruous scene of her blasting away with an automatic rifle notwithstanding, she comes across believably as an Amazon warrior. However, the rest of the book is still in setup mode: Jimmy Olsen investigates Sleez’s old tenement, Holly shows up when Jimmy leaves, and meanwhile the Legionnaires stuck in our time after JLofA #10 whine some more about being stuck on the JLA Satellite. Also, there has got to be a better way to distinguish between Monitors than their hairstyles. I’m begging you, DC: symbols, numbers, tattoos, whatever — I just can’t keep ’em straight anymore.

Finally, The Spirit #7 features three guest creative teams, and is largely successful. The first story, written by Walt Simonson and drawn by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, concerns a no-good socialite (we know she’s no good, because she’s obviously reminiscent of Par– I mean, She Who Must Not Be Named) and the Spirit’s search for a missing diamond. It’s pretty fun. The second story, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by Jordi Bernet, is more of an Eisner pastiche, because it features the indirect effects of a Spirit chase on the lives of tenement dwellers. Bernet’s style is perhaps even more successful than Darwyn Cooke’s at capturing the sort of organic cartoonishness of Eisner’s work, so I think this is the most successful story in the issue. The last one, a sort of Spirit/Frank Miller mash-up parody by Kyle Baker, is rather an acquired taste. I thought excerpts of it were funny when I saw them online, but even for a short story the joke gets a little old. Still, like the man said, two out of three ain’t bad.

May 29, 2007

New comics 5/16/07 and 5/23/07

Would have gotten these up last night, but the traditional Memorial Day allergies started to kick in….

MAY 16, 2007

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #12 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Art Thibert) is a fairly decent issue which suffers somewhat by the behind-the-scenes murmurings about Bart Allen’s fate. I give it a lot of credit for setting up an inescapable doom-trap, but at the same time I have to think that the doom-trap won’t actually kill Bart. I mean, that would be a little too grim, even for someone like me who still can’t get past the arbitrary nature of his promotion. My appreciation of said trap is therefore blunted somewhat. I’m also kind of ambivalent about whether I want Bart to escape. I don’t want him to die, but at the same time I don’t think he should be the Flash just yet.

How was the book itself, you ask? Decent, like I said. No one seems to be out of character, but Bart himself is still such a cipher that it’s hard to say at this point what would be in character. Daniel’s storytelling skills are fine, but Thibert’s inks are inconsistent. The “weight” of characters on the page varies, and more often than not the Flash especially looks two-dimensional. Still, there is that doom-trap, and the Black Flash, so I don’t feel bad about coming back.

Countdown #50 (written by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray, pencilled by J. Calafiore, inked by Mark McKenna) has already been dissected by many of you, so I will just add some brief observations. First, if the cover suggests that the Joker has targeted Jimmy Olsen, that implies a much more exciting story than Jimmy happening to end up at Arkham Asylum for a stereotypical Hannibal Lecter conference. I’d want to read Joker vs. Jimmy, and I’d be lukewarm about Joker Talks To Jimmy. Second, the scenes with the Rogues go on far too long: five pages to establish a) they hate the Flash, whoever he might be, and b) Piper and Trickster’s bona fides are in question. I thought this scene added nothing to the current Flash arc. I think Countdown is improving, but boy, it’s not improving quickly.

Justice League of America #9 (written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Ed Benes) gets a lot of things right — the Gorilla City scenes, for instance — but again, nothing much seems to happen. Teams of JLAers and JSAers just show up and collect Legionnaires like they were checking out library books. At least the three bad guys were revealed.

Action Comics #849 (written by Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Ron Randall) finishes the “Redemption” two-parter about like I figured. There are some intriguing ideas, and Kurt Busiek’s social worker from an earlier Superman is used well, but ironically, I think Superman himself comes across as imposing his will on the common folk more than the story’s antagonist does. The final confrontation features Superman hovering over the congregation making pronouncements, and while Clark muses later that his moral compass has to be pretty accurate, I don’t think the congregants understood that point.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #52 (written by Tad Williams, drawn by Shawn McManus) finds our hero and his companions hatching a plan to free Sub Diego from Black Manta. This was not a dull issue, and I don’t have much of a problem with the art, but the Sub Diego stuff is just not involving me like it wants to. Besides, both Busiek and Williams want Arthur to be The Decider, but so far neither of them have really presented a compelling case for that. Arthur’s just a guy who can live underwater unaided and maybe occasionally talk to marine life, and right now that’s not enough to get me excited about him. There are exciting and chilling moments in the issue, including the Black Manta fights and Aquagirl’s story about the fate of some Sub Diegans, but Arthur should be the compelling center and he’s not.

Checkmate #14 (written by Greg Rucka and Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) is a solid caper story wherein a Checkmate team and the Outsiders infiltrate Oolong Island. As usual, Rucka uses the caper to advance the book’s various political subplots effectively. As a crossover, though, I have to say this storyline isn’t encouraging me to pick up Outsiders on a more regular basis. Beyond Nightwing, none of these characters seem particularly exciting, and most of them are defined by their sarcasm and air of bad-assery. If Rucka and Winick each wrote their respective team’s dialogue, Rucka wins. Bennett and Jadson do well enough, but the big action scene at the beginning suffers from faulty perspective. Specifically, I couldn’t tell at first whether the monster was supposed to be looming over the ship or sitting atop it.

Where do I begin with All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #5 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams)? First, I don’t think anyone should look to this title for the Platonic ideals of Batman, Robin, or any of the other iconic characters it features. This is not a story about How Batman Should Work. I don’t know what this story is about, and it’s been five issues. Actually, I take most of that back: this is a story about making Batman first among alpha males, by giving every other possible contender some fatal character flaw. Of the various costumed characters portrayed so far, Batman is the only one who seems to get the colossal joke underlying the very pursuit of superheroics. This makes a lot of sense in light of the basic “Batman” idea, and it could be a pretty entertaining series of issues, but remind me again … what’s the basic plot of this series? Where are the conflicts? Batman is wanted by the cops generally, never mind for kidnapping Dick Grayson, and by the way Dick’s parents have been murdered. Five issues in and we’re still just introducing all the players. This is starting to feel like the sub-glacial pace of Supreme Power all over again. It’s bad enough the issues are so late, but then to have virtually no plot advancement feels like Miller and Lee are just in it to put one over on the suckers.

Fortunately, Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, and Jesse Delperdang offer Batman #665, which gets a lot of ASB&R‘s ideas across in a mode that’s much easier to digest. “The Black Casebook” ascribes a certain supernatural dread to those old Batman stories no one likes to talk about because they’re “not realistic.” In this issue, Batman and Robin take out the Bane-themed Batman, in part because Bruce convinces himself that he needs to be, yes, the top alpha male. However, Morrison’s Batman is more sedate, and perhaps more self-aware, than Miller and Lee’s cackling dervish. He’s playing a role, not thinking with his id. The issue also has some fine action scenes, including Batman and Robin both slamming into the Bat-Bane with their respective vehicles.

Star Wars: Rebellion #6 (written by Brandon Badeaux & Rob Williams, drawn by Michel Lacombe) begins a new arc focusing on a character who should be familiar to me, but isn’t. He’s a Rebel agent who gets found out by the mob boss he’s infiltrated, and sent on a mission by said mobster. I liked this issue well enough, even if some parts of it (the opening flashback to Episode III, and an assassination) weren’t connected to the main plot. It all felt like part of the comfortable SW setting, and with a book like this, that’s what you want.

Finally for this week, Hero Squared #6 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) offers the origins of Captain Valor and Caliginous, each told by them in what has to be somewhat self-serving fashion. Captain Valor’s is more funny, being a pretty obvious parody of Captain Marvel’s (including a Mr. Natural-like Shazam figure), but the emotional heft comes at the end of the issue, when one of the book’s main players reacts to Caliginous’ story. This is another book that doesn’t do much in the way of macro-plot, but at least it offers a fairly complete story in every issue. If, as I have read, it’s ending soon, it should probably get to its larger point, but issue by issue, it’s still fun.

MAY 23, 2007

Countdown #49 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, pencilled by Carlos Magno, inked by Jay Leister) uses Jimmy’s elastic past to get him out of the cliffhanger with Killer Croc, and the Pied Piper and Trickster get a good double-agent-y scene to establish their bona fides with the other Rogues. The rest of the issue is taken up with exposition-happy Monitors, Karate Kid and Red Arrow trading quips (leading me to wonder about the timing of this issue relative to the JLA/JSA crossover) and a dismemberment-happy Black Adam. The art this issue was pretty good for a team I’ve not seen before — very dynamic, although there has to be a better way than facial hair to distinguish the Monitors.

I’m genuinely torn as to whether to continue with Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes (#30 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti), because this was a very solid issue, but I think it’s Waid and Kitson’s last. They go out raising more questions than they answer, with those questions being very intriguing. Will Cosmic Boy join this mysterious new team? What will happen to Mon-El? Most importantly, will the new creative team be any good? I keep saying I want to re-read this series, so maybe this will give me the impetus to do it.

I thought The Spirit #6 (by Darwyn Cooke) was too ambitious. It tries very hard to be a real Eisner-esque story about a new character, with the Spirit in the background, but it just felt so familiar, and not in a good way. It’s probably redundant to say that tortured musicians suffer for the sake of their art, and will do anything to perfect it, but there didn’t seem to be much new (beyond the sci-fi trappings) of this musician’s story. This title will always be worth reading as long as Cooke is on it, because Cooke is such a great storyteller and designer, but this issue falls short.

Wonder Woman #9 (written by Jodi Picoult, drawn by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson) doesn’t skimp on plot. Superman, Batman, and the Justice League appear briefly, Circe’s plans are revealed further, and Diana and Circe square off. The art is gorgeous, as you might expect. Picoult is improving, but her dialogue is still too clever and she can’t quite manage all the plot. It continues to mystify me why DC would try to build up this title’s profile with a prose novelist, and then plop said novelist right in the middle of a big event.

For some reason Fantastic Four #546 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) didn’t make much of an impression on me the first time around. That’s probably my fault, because upon further inspection it’s a neat little issue which references everything from the ’70s Jack Kirby Black Panther series to Waid and Wieringo’s last big FF arc. Oh, and Beyond!, of course, written by McDuffie. I didn’t expect to see Reed and Sue back in the book (and apparently on their way to a healthy relationship) so soon, but that was a pleasant surprise, as was the combination of Pelletier and Magyar. Magyar really gives the pencils a good heft and a lot of weight, for a nice Alan Davis look. If this is just a temporary team, the long-term folks had better be absolutely stellar.

Arnim Zola, another ’70s Kirby creation, shows up in Captain America #26 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Mike Perkins). A series of brief episodes — the typography of which reminds me of old Spirit stories, for some reason — check in on Sharon, the Winter Soldier, the Falcon, and Zola and the other villains, all getting back to their lives after Cap’s death. Apparently this issue comes after all of those Fallen Son specials Marvel’s been pushing since Cap #25, but I haven’t read ’em, so this isn’t overkill (you’ll pardon the expression) for me. Brief glimpses of the Avengers both connect this book to, and distance it from, the larger Marvel Universe. These are people who don’t quite fit into the land of crossovers and tie-ins. In that respect they’re misfits, not unlike the time-lost Captain America whose memory now links them. If you can’t already tell, I like this book a lot.

Aaand speaking of crossovers I haven’t read and am not reading, here’s She-Hulk #18 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn), featuring Jen’s battle with Iron Man on the SHIELD Helicarrier. That’s about it, really. This issue uses Jen as a bridge between Civil War and “World War Hulk,” getting her from one side to the other. There are some cute moments, but most of those involve Shulkie’s regular supporting cast. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good as the book has been.

Finally, here’s a book that may be better than ever: Birds Of Prey #106 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). Not just the Barda/Knockout fight, this matches up all of the Secret Sixers against the Birds, with Ice slowly regaining consciousness throughout. (Just noticed: on the cover, Barda’s mega-rod looks a lot like Luke’s green lightsaber….) It’s pretty fun, especially the Misfit/Harley Quinn pairing. Nicola Scott’s choreography isn’t as fluid as I’m used to, so some of the figures are posed a bit awkwardly. Then again, they are fighting, so maybe that’s how they’re supposed to look. This team has succeeded in making a book I look forward to every month, and it’s another situation where the new writer will have big shoes to fill.

March 10, 2007

New comics — lots of ’em — 2/28/07 and 3/7/07

Grab a snack — this could take a while.

Wednesday was not only the day of “LA LA LA I HAVEN’T READ CAP #25 YET,” it was capped off (sorry) with a massive stack of 18 floppies, to go with the 7 issues I haven’t gotten to from last week. (Three of yesterday’s buys were delayed from last week, so that contributed.) I like comics a whole lot, but I can’t take too many more Wednesdays like that.

2/27/07

The last week of February featured two themes, with the first being the New Gods. Hawkgirl #61 (written by Walt Simonson, drawn by Renato Arlem) picks up with the Apokoliptian gizmo (actually, a “gizmoid”) that found its way to the St. Roch museum last issue. This time it’s attracted the attention of the Female Furies. The Furies fight Hawkgirl for it, but it has ideas of its own and … I’m not quite sure what happens, but a robot Hawkgirl wings away from a pile of unconscious superwomen, including Kendra. In subplot news, there’s the usual workplace banter, and Hawkgirl gets a new set of shootin’ irons (which don’t do her much good, because: robot.) I’m not quite sure how to feel about this series, because on the one hand, I really liked Simonson’s work on the Fourth World in Orion, but it was full of grandeur and pomp, and this is more irreverent. It’s nicely done, but still. Also, this looks like a more sexx-ay version of the Female Furies than I’m used to, and it kind of reduces their appeal somewhat. I’m not saying that ugly = evil by any means, but the old-style Furies looked terrifying, and that was the point. These new ones … eh. Arlem’s art is fine, except for the ending, where first it’s not clear how Robot Hawkgirl comes out of Human Hawkgirl (and that may be intentional) and then it’s not clear whether Robot Hawkgirl is supposed to be human-sized or gigantic. (Maybe a callback to 52?)

Darkseid’s uncle Steppenwolf fights Bart in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #9 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Ron Adrian, inked by Art Thibert), and that’s pretty exclting, if a little generic, but most of the issue is concerned with Marc Guggenheim genuflecting towards the fans and basically trying to make his script as charming as possible. Combined with Adrian and Thibert’s simple, straightforward art — a lot less busy than Ken Lashley, but not as good as the Karl Kerschl fill-in from a few issues back — the issue works pretty well. I’m still not convinced that DC needed to replace Wally with Bart, but this issue makes Bart a lot less unappealing than he was last time.

Because last week was also apparently Dan Jurgens Week, he provides the layouts for Firestorm #33 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Ken Lashley, inked by Rob Stull). As you might guess from the cover, most of the issue is a fight involving Orion, Firestorm, Mr. Miracle, and the Female Furies. I should point out that this is the Seven Soldiers Mr. Miracle, but the traditional versions of Orion and the Furies, and yes, the Furies look a lot scarier here. McDuffie writes some very witty banter between Shilo and Firestorm, and gives each his own clever introductory sequence. The Firestorm/Orion fight is also entertaining. Art is a little more severe than it has been, with the combination of Jurgens/Lashley/Stull being reminiscent of ’80s Firestorm artist Tom Grindberg — lots of slashy lines and “shiny” inks. Still, Jurgens is a good storyteller, so that helps. All in all a good issue, and a nice way to start the series’ final arc.

Jurgens also lays out 52 #43 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, finishes by Norm Rapmund), the first part of the two-week How Tragic, Black Adam’s Evil Again arc. Also, Buddy Baker finds out he can mimic Sun-Eaters, which apparently doesn’t come with their craving for, you know, suns. More on Black Adam later.

Jurgens does most of the work in JLA Classified #35 (co-written by Dan Slott, inked by Al Milgrom), the part of the Red King’s plan that works out the best for him. This means, to quote Dave Campbell, it’s an Alternate Universe Where Everyone Dies. It doesn’t seem necessary to show the grisly deaths of the Justice League, so I’m giving this particular issue a thumbs-down, but maybe the conclusion will justify its existence.

In non-Dan Jurgens, non-New Gods comics, Hal defeats Amon Sur and the Sinestro Corps makes its triumphant appearance in Green Lantern #17 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert). It got me thinking, though: Amon did have a point about Hal just burying Abin Sur under a mountain. Hal doesn’t have the best reputation for tactfulness, so now maybe he can start atoning for his past misdeeds? “My Name Is Hal,” coming soon….

Also, the Batman scene was pretty funny.

I liked Action Comics #846 (written by Johns and Richard Donner, drawn by Adam Kubert) because it aimed only to show the Phantom Zone villains’ devastating first strike at Superman. It left me wanting to see the next issue, which is job one for any serial installment. I’m still not sold on the arc as a whole, but this issue was pretty good.

We close out February with Hero Squared #5 (breakdowns by Keith Giffen, script by J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham), in which Captain Valor and Milo swap personalities, so to speak — Milo explores his inner hero, and Valor continues to mope. Milo has a funny scene with Caliginous too. I continue to like this series, but I get the feeling we’ve been going over this ground for a few issues now, and five issues in, it’s time to find the plot and stick with it.

3/7/07

Okay, here we go. I’m just going to try and knock these out.

52 #44: I know a few other bloggers have said it, but 52 doesn’t do action well. It can make the case for a couple of weeks of all-action issues like #43 and #44, but it works best portraying slice-of-life snippets, because the action stuff makes you ask, “is this the most important thing that happened this week?” I don’t think we needed to go into detail about something that has been foreshadowed pretty heavily ever since Isis was introduced, especially because her last bit of advice seems to contradict a lot of what she’s espoused previously. Also, I wasn’t too fond of the fight storytelling, not least because the Four Horsemen have a lot of parts that aren’t easily recognizable, such that seeing only parts of them makes it hard for me to orient myself within the panel.

(The All New) Atom #9: Ryan Choi goes back home for “Sometimes They Come Back.” It’s pretty familiar: undead bullies are just as intimidating as regular bullies, yadda yadda yadda. The revelations about his old girlfriend are interesting, but we’ll see next issue if they lead to anything more. This title seems to work better with the more science-y stuff.

The Authority #2: Now that the story of Ken, The Earth-Prime Submariner has given way to a more conventional superhero comic, our main cast has to adjust to life on Earth-Prime. I don’t know if I’m on this book for the long haul — I’m not that invested in the Authority, and this was a pretty unremarkable issue. Next issue might be fun, but who knows when that will be?

Batman Confidential #3: Still not making much of an impression.

Detective Comics #829: I’m resisting the Die Hard jokes (Die Battier? … no) because this looks like a good fill-in from writer Stuart Moore. Bruce Wayne is trapped in Wayne Tower with dignitaries, and Robin has to do the costumed work. Andy Clarke’s art is fine, although occasionally Bruce looks kind of doughy.

Justice League of America #6: The end of the Red Tornado story (I thought it had one more issue to go) isn’t so bad in terms of efficiency, but it does confirm that this is a Red Tornado story and not so much a Justice League story. Also, reader discretion is advised for scenes of extreme dismemberment. Not to mention just talking about dismemberment: I echo the blogger who wondered, do they practice sawing off Amazo’s legs? (Do they use Buster the dummy?)

Manhunter #29: I’m pretty new to the series, but it seems like Kate doesn’t get in the costume a whole lot. When she does at the end of this issue, it’s pretty cool. This arc has been about the Special Guest Stars, though, with subplots about other D-list characters (Cameron Chase, Mark Shaw, Azrael; not that they’re not cool), so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It feels like DC’s She-Hulk, and that ain’t bad.

Nightwing #130: Marv, you’re starting to lose me. I kind-of understand the Bride and Groom relationship. However, maybe I’m not paying enough attention, but I don’t quite understand how their victims are important to Nightwing. I did like the setpiece on the ferry, though.

Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil #2: What a fun book this has turned out to be, and what a clever homage it presents to the original Mr. Mind story. If memory serves, he wasn’t seen fully until well into the storyline, so assuming Jeff Smith sticks to that, his “big reveal” (so to speak) here should be pretty fun. Also, DC Direct, please make a Mary Marvel plush toy for me to give to my 4-year-old niece.

Supergirl and the Legion #27: The Ranzz brothers make up as Cosmic Boy and Brainiac 5 have an accident with their dimension doors. Basically, a lot goes wrong for the Legion this issue, and only a Dave Cockrum tribute can save them.

Superman/Batman #32: I think the best thing about this issue is the scary Batman it presents towards the end. Oh, and the obscure DC alien heroes (the Vanguard? Seriously?) that make cameos. Otherwise, I’m about done with this series.

Welcome To Tranquility #4: A decent issue, but I want to read ’em all to make sure I have everything straight.

Captain America #25: This would have worked a lot better without all the hype. As a Big Death Issue, it’s hardly suspenseful. For one thing, there’s no body (promises of an upcoming autopsy notwithstanding — and why do you need an autopsy if it’s pretty obvious how he died?). For another, the death is, as the Klingons say, without honor: he gets shot on the courthouse steps while unmasked and handcuffed. Superman died delivering a mortal blow to a monster on the front porch of the Daily Planet. I’m just saying, if you give that to the New York Times, it seems more permanent. That said, as Part 1 of a new Cap story, and as someone’s introduction to the idea of Captain America, it’s a good gateway book.

Criminal #5: I understand why this story had to end the way it did, and I appreciate a format that lets a story end this way, and it’s all executed (ahem) very professionally, but right now it doesn’t sit well. I’ll have to read this one again too.

Planetary Brigade: Origins #2: The PB cartoon gives a couple of members a chance to reflect on the team’s history, and it occurs to me that maybe I’m getting a little burned out on the Giffen/DeMatteis schtick-for-its-own-sake. It’s still witty, but between this and Hero Squared, it’s just kind of there.

Marvel 1602: Fantastic Four #5, Fantastic Four #543, Fantastic Four: The End #6: The 1602 miniseries ended in a flourish of cataclysm and incomprehensibility, the Alan Davis miniseries ended rather predictably (for all those who thought that we weren’t done with the tragic events of #1), and the anniversary issue was good for its second and third stories. I like Mike McKone, but he’s not the right artist for the book, and the bridge from Reed & Sue to T’Challa and Ororo is a rickety one.

January 7, 2007

New comics 12/28/06 and 1/4/07

Here we are again, with another two-in-one set of new comics thoughts. Be warned — it’s a long one.

Quick rundown of the last books of 2006 first:

Despite its flaws, I’m sticking with Flash: Fastest Man Alive probably at least through #12, or whenever the incoming creative team’s first arc ends. I look at #7 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ron Adrian and Art Thibert, inked by Rob Lea & Alex Lei) and besides the GOB Kadabra images, it just feels awfully cardboard. The art is decent, although the bits with the obligatory hot new neighbor are pretty cartoonish in a very Tex Avery way. The story is divided between the disconnected Kadabra business (which I guess establishes Bart in Los Angeles) and picking up the existing subplot about Valerie’s kidnapping. The latter is apparently an attempt by her father, the villain Mota, to … get a new body? Bart’s evil counterpart Inertia is involved, and he in turn is being helped by Deathstroke (to tie in with their Teen Titans appearances), and that’s about it. Mostly the book is a collection of familiar names, costumes, and character types running around dealing with motivations that seem to have been grafted to them. I honestly can’t remember how much longer Bilson & DeMeo have on this book, but I keep getting it so I won’t miss the start of the new team.

I’ve already talked at length about Justice League of America #5 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope), so in case that leaves you thinking I totally hated it, I didn’t. It’s perhaps the most ambitious Red Tornado story ever, but I still don’t know if that makes it a good Justice League story. Maybe the best little bit of business (besides GL and Batman’s microscope fun) was Roy Harper’s “Pretty bird,” which naturally recalls the old Green Arrow/Hawkman feud. I like the Benes/Hope team too, although the panel of Geo-Force and his doctor makes him look about 8 feet tall, or her about 4 feet.

Ah, Nextwave (#11 written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) — is there anything you can’t do? I will miss you like I miss “Firefly,” “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” “Arrested Development,” Hourman, and innumerable gone-but-not-forgotten pop-culture joys. #12 will be bittersweet.

Over in 1602: Fantastick Four #4 (written by Peter David, pencilled by Pascal Alixe, inked by Livesay), the Fantasticks, the Frightfuls, and von Doom fall off the edge of the world (nice touch) and end up in the land of Numenor, the Sub-Mariner. This was never a very deep series (pardon the pun), but it is clearly more concerned with wit and parody than with plot. It’s good that this issue sets up the final conflict, but it’s bad that there’s only one issue to go.

What says Christmas more than a rejuvenated ex-teen-sidekick with a chip on his metal replacement shoulder? That’s the conceit of the fine Winter Soldier: Winter Kills special (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Lee Weeks and Stefano Gaudiano, with Rick Hoberg) that I picked last time as my favorite one-shot of 2006. Using Bucky and Toro’s last Christmas together (the last Christmas of World War II, in fact) as a counterpoint for the Winter Soldier’s first real Christmas in the modern world, Brubaker and his artistic collaborators continue to argue convincingly that undoing one of the more untouchable Marvel deaths was a good idea. Indeed, WS fights, and then of course teams up with, his spiritual descendants in the Young Avengers, for more juxtaposition fun. It’s pretty zippy for something so heavy, but like all good Christmas stories, it’s about a lonely person finding out he’s not so lonely after all.

Another highlight of 2006 was Matt Wagner’s Batman, spotlighted here through Batman and the Mad Monk #5. I’m running out of different ways for the same superlatives. Even so, DC, please give Mr. Wagner a regular Batman title, just so I can keep trying.

The first word that comes to mind when picking up Hawkgirl #59 (written by Walter Simonson, drawn by Renato Arlem) is “texture.” Arlem’s work uses a lot of shading effects and is very detailed and sort of photo-influenced, so together with Alex Bleyaert’s vibrant colors, it really pops. Arlem’s linework is very reminiscent of Howard Chaykin’s, but his layouts aren’t as flasy, nor are his figures as stylized. Fans of Kendra’s rear end and/or underwear will find at least a few panels to like, though. The issue itself isn’t too bad, with Kendra trying to date again but feeling hemmed in by the continuing influence of her (literal) soulmate Hawkman, apparently killed by space vixen Blackfire in the Rann-Thanagar War. We know this because, in a nice touch, Blackfire shows up on Earth hunting Hawkgirl and wearing Hawkman’s wings. Building up to this are scenes with Batman and his recommended armorer picking out a new arsenal for Hawkgirl. Simonson tries to infuse it all with a light, breezy tone (even Blackfire complains about her wacky starship computer), but it doesn’t really come together. Maybe the closer to Chaykin the artist gets, the more Simonson’s scripts seem to recede.

More killer aliens populate Superman/Batman #31 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Matthew Clark, inked by Andy Lanning) in what I pray is the penultimate installment of this particular arc. Clark and Lanning take over for Ethan Van Sciver this issue, and while their work doesn’t have the sharp edges Van Sciver’s does, it’s not completely dissimilar. A couple of fairly obscure DC aliens reappear in this issue too, so there’s that. The issue reminds us of one of the arc’s main conceits — that baby Kal-El might not have originally been humanoid when his rocket landed, and his goopy tentacled form scared the Kents until he could shape-shift instinctively to look like one of them. This in turn produced buried resentment, yadda yadda yadda. That wouldn’t be so bad, except — isn’t that one of the elements separating the Superman origin from the Martian Manhunter origin? J’Onn shows up here too, so maybe there will be some exploration of that next time. Otherwise it’s KIll All Humans, just like the past few months.

The Ventriloquist returns, sort of, in a pretty strong Detective Comics #827 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher). There are a few little bits of flair that make this story endearing, like a new criminal disguise for Batman, and having the Scarface dummy dressed as Robin at one point, but the real strength of this story is its presentation as a mystery and its refusal to give up all its secrets at once.

“Grotesk” heads into the home stretch in Batman #661 (written by John Ostrander, drawn by Tom Mandrake). It’s not as good as last issue, and this time Grotesk gets a little more theatrical. There’s death, and fire, and explosions, and Batman’s intense, so pretty typical.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #25 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray) finds the Legion having to deal with the dual problems of a slightly crazy Mon-El and the attacking Wanderers (which I think I called the Legion of Super-Villains last time…). Both are very familiar Legion concepts which are integrated surprisingly well into the new framework. The Wanderers now make a lot more sense than just a bunch of Legion wannabes and/or potential rivals. Good issue all around.

Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage #2 (by Howard Chaykin) was just a mess. I can’t say much more than that. Every character but Guy seemed to exist solely to be dumber, on at least one level, than he. Maybe someday I will be motivated to revisit these two issues, but not anytime soon. Chaykin does draw some nice Green Lanterns, though.

52 #s 34 and 35 (written by You Guessed It, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, #34 pencilled by Joe Bennet and inked by Ruy Jose, #35 pencilled by Phil Jiminez and Dan Jurgens and inked by Andy Lanning and Norm Rapmund) provide our transition from ’06 to ’07. They were probably most notable for Luthor’s interrogation of Clark Kent in #34, and the subsequent New Year’s apocalypse in #35. Oh sure, the Black Adam stuff will be important in a couple of months, but the literal crashing and burning of the Everyman project was pretty gut-wrenching, especially against the backdrop of a Superman-themed New Year’s Eve.

Superman #658 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino) wrapped up (at least for now) the potential end-of-the-world scenario told to our hero by Arion, and let me say it’s pretty bleak. Reaching the end of this issue was like waking up from a particularly bad — but exquisitely drawn — dream, and realizing you’re late for work. Nothing against Busiek, just that the issue still finishes on a down note.

Superman Confidential #3 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) is a little more cheery, but it also has a “down” ending (ha ha, because I am looking at the last page). The sentient Kryptonite appears to have returned, Superman sticks it to both Luthor and Gallo and has a meaningful conversation at the Fortress of Solitude, and Lois continues to be smokin’ hot. I am still waiting to see how the Kryptonite thing plays out, but otherwise I am on board with this team.

JLA Classified #31 (written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Kilian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen) concludes a very fine story of the League’s covert involvement in a super-conflict between a couple of banana republics. This issue they fight the big monster on the cover, but it’s really just an excuse to get a little more flashy. If you haven’t been following this story already, consider getting the paperback.

If Mike Norton and Andy Owens are the new art team on The All-New Atom (#7 written by Gail Simone), I’ll be very happy. They bring a zippy, simple style to the book that suits Simone’s scripts pretty well. The issue’s good too — Ryan has to deal with a time-guarding Linear Man, fights some cowboys, and has to decide whether a date with the erstwhile Giganta is a good idea.

Nightwing #128 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund and Rodney Ramos) concludes the Raptor storyline by making me wonder about the overall timeframe of the book. It’s supposed to be One Year Later, but the Lexcorp stuff suggests otherwise, and I think it might even be self-contradictory. Still, Dick’s final fight with Raptor 2.0 did make me believe he was Batman’s heir, and that’s progress.

I’m still trying to find my way around the subplots, but Manhunter #27 (written by Marc Andreyko, pencilled by Javier Pina and Fernando Blanco, inked by Robin Riggs) was a good superhero-lawyer story, perhaps even better (dare I say it) than She-Hulk. I believed Kate as Wonder Woman’s lawyer, and I’d almost buy this book just for that, her costume notwithstanding. Art was good throughout, thanks to the consistent look given the pencils by the inks of Robin Riggs. There is a lot of black ink in this issue, which to my untrained eye lends the pages a very serious feel, appropriate under the circumstances.

I suppose Fantastic Four: The End (#4 by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer) is gearing up for the last act. Ben and Johnny, the Inhumans, and the Silver Surfer defeat a Kree Sentry on Mars (sound effect: “BARSOOM” — nice!), Sue finds another old FF villain under the sea, and Reed defeats the Super-Skrull only to wind up against yet another old FF villain. It all looks nice, and it probably all makes sense, but it’s more like Alan Davis betting himself he could work every FF character into just six issues.

Finally, All-Star Superman #6 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely) was another great issue. It might be a little gratuitous for Morrison to reference his own work (DC One Million) in an “all-star” context, and some of the plot points might be a little overplayed, but considering that the post-1986 Superman has never had to deal with Pa Kent’s death, this issue was a good encapsulation of the emotions that made the Earth-1 Superboy grow up. In fact, this issue is almost the entire concept of the series in microcosm. Morrison’s macro-arc concern’s Superman’s last “twelve labors” before his death, and of course Pa’s death is proclaimed by the cover, so mortality is at the forefront of both the issue and the series. However, we know Pa will die, we know Superman won’t, and the latter is confirmed by the events of this issue — twice over, in fact. Superman doesn’t realize it, but we do, so our concern is not with the superficial conflicts presented, but rather with his (and our) reactions to them. Sometimes the meta is just overwhelming, you know?

(Whew!)

« Newer PostsOlder Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.