Comics Ate My Brain

June 29, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: captain atom, friday night fights, marvel family, meme — Tom Bondurant @ 12:51 pm
Bahlactus is the sponsor, Roulette provides the venue …

… and a mind-controlled Mary Marvel throws down on Captain Atom!

[From “Dead Man’s Hand,” Formerly Known As The Justice League #3, November 2003, written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, pencilled by Kevin Maguire, inked by Joe Rubenstein.]

June 25, 2006

New comics 6/14/06 and 6/21/06

We begin by picking up a spare from June 7. Fittingly enough, I got Nextwave #5 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) a week late, on my mom’s birthday, June 14. I say “fittingly” because it featured teddy bears, which were the subject of a running joke between Mom and me. When I lived at home during law school, I watched TV with my parents, including “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Inevitably, Mom would see something or someone on the episode she didn’t know anything about, and would ask me what was going to happen. Since these were first-run episodes, most times I didn’t know what was going to happen, so all my answers ended up being about the planet of fuzzy teddy bears, and all the picnics and tea parties the crew would have. This satisfied my mother, who I might have mentioned has a master’s in English and is really quite sharp. Anyway, when an episode put our heroes in a tight spot, Mom would look at me rather accusingly and wonder aloud when the teddy bears were coming. (This often happened around season-finale time.)

So last week I sent her some killer-teddy-bear scans from Nextwave #5. Happy birthday, Mom!

Captain Atom: Armageddon #9 (written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by Giuseppi Camuncoli) wrapped up the miniseries that turned out to be a big tour through the WildStorm universe, just in time to blow it all up and start over. Whoopee. Now that it’s over, maybe DC can use Cap’s rather twisted history with the U.S. military to some good effect. It’s a rich backstory which makes the character a little more than just a generic superhero, but you’d never know it from how he’s been treated pretty much since his series ended.

American Virgin #4 (written by Steven T. Seagle, drawn by Becky Cloonan) concluded the book’s first arc, but it really didn’t leave much of an impression on me, and I’m leaning towards dropping the book.

The same goes for Green Lantern Corps #1 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason). I like Guy Gardner and I have always liked the Corps, but this book just isn’t doing a lot for me. I may give it a couple more issues.

It wasn’t earth-shatteringly good, but I didn’t dislike JLA Classified #22 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer), which began a new arc featuring JL Detroit. Much of it recapped Steel’s origin, and a few other pages recapped the origin of the Royal Flush Gang. The rest, natcherly, was the fight between the two groups, and it wasn’t David Mamet, but it wasn’t bad either. Also, it reached a stopping point at the end of the issue, which was nice. Derenick’s pencils were better than in his last JLA arc, although again nothing groundbreaking.

Firestorm #26 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne) was also a fairly intriguing issue centered around a super-hero fight, as Firestorm and Firehawk take on a new villain who’s torturing Martin Stein. It all has to do with the nature of Firestorm, apparently, and the strange bond Jason and Lorraine have forged since “One Year Later.” Fun stuff.

You know by now that 52 #6 (written by Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Ruy Jose) introduced the Great Ten and Rip Hunter’s “Lost” Blackboard, and you’ve probably already formed your opinions on both, so I’ll just say it was fascinating to see how the book could pay so much attention to its four mainstays’ plots while still herding them all towards some inexorable common destiny. Also, it managed to put the Green Lanterns, who are so far the highest-profile heroes who could appear in the book (with the Big Three, Aquaman, and the Flash off the table), on the same level as those supposed C-list mainstays. The GLs don’t feel like guest-stars, but neither do they take over the book. Entirely appropriate for a book that purports to be a window on the world.

Superman #653 (written by Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns, drawn by Pete Woods) was the big throw-down between Superman and Luthor (in the hijacked Kryptonian battle-mech), and it didn’t disappoint. Of course, given the nature of this storyline, the cliffhanger ending the issue wasn’t very suspenseful, just funny. Jimmy Olsen gets a good scene, Supes and Luthor both have some good “But I am also left-handed!” moments, and from the previews I read on Newsarama earlier this week, the conclusion should be just as good.

Of course, Jimmy — or, I should say, his Cojo-influenced All-Star interpretation — is the focus of this week’s All-Star Superman #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely), which combines the goofy sitcommery of bumbling through being Superman’s Pal with a couple of shots at “big event” comics past and present. As Mark Fossen points out, Jimmy gets to be All-Star Vicki Vale, and later on turns into Doomsday. This never fails to be an entertaining series.

I think I’m done with Robin after #151 (written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II), not because it’s poorly executed, or because the latest developments have repulsed me, but it just hasn’t drawn me in.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, drawn by Ken Lashley), which did a lot to turn me off. First is its apparent baton-passing to Bart Allen, which I think is unnecessary. Second, it both devotes a lot of space to bringing everyone up to speed on Flash history, but then plops Bart into an entirely new situation, kind of like dropping Captain Atom into the WildStorm dimension. The exposition slows the book, and the new stuff seems barely sketched in. Bart now has a repellent “duuude!” roommate and works at the Keystone auto factory, because he’s aged completely out of his teenage years. Never mind that, as originally conceived, he was a developing brain in an outsize body. Combined with the maturity Geoff Johns thrust upon him (this makes twice), he’s just your average 20-year-old now, which makes him a lot less interesting. I’m waiting to see who ends up with the Infantino suit, but if it’s still Bart in this form, I’ll wait until the next creative team.

Lashley also pencils 52 #7 (written by Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny, inked by Draxhall), featuring Ralph Dibny played by Josh Holloway and sporting some ill-advised facial hair. His pencils look a lot better here than they do in the Flash book, which may have something to do with Keith Giffen’s layouts. Anyway, Booster gets his from Manthrax and Ralph, and Montoya meets DC’s most famous lesbian. The Booster/Ralph stuff is pretty good, and the Montoya/Kate Kane scenes aren’t bad, except for one panel which seems like it could be either wishful thinking or a flashback, but is presented as reality. It’s all better than the History of the DCU backup, though, which does nothing to make Zero Hour comprehensible, and in its few pages even makes it less so. I think its facts are wrong too, although that could just be more retconning.

I probably read Checkmate #3 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Bob Wiacek) too quickly. Either that or it’s hard to summarize all the politics and maneuvering in a few sentences. It’s still a good read, and I should get more out of it the second time around.

Superman/Batman #27 (written by Mark Verheiden, drawn by Kevin Maguire) was decent enough until the end, which tries to shoehorn it into modern DC continuity. It’s really about the Earth-2 Power Girl and Huntress trying to save their “dads” from old foes, and on that level it’s enjoyable enough. In fact, Maguire gives Huntress more cleavage exposure than Power Girl, which may be a first. However, the big dramatic reveal turns on a bit of Earth-2 continuity I had forgotten, and which isn’t quite set up as well as it could have been. It doesn’t amount to anything very substantial, I guess, but it’s competently done.

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6 (by Joe Kubert) concluded the miniseries rather quietly, if such a thing is possible after an issue full of urban Nazi-fighting. I’ll have to read this all in one sitting, although it may play better as a series of episodes than as one story. If it has tested the waters for a Rock ongoing, I’d be on board for that.

Star Wars: Rebellion #3 (written by Rob Williams, drawn by Michael Lacombe) continues the dual double-agent plotlines carried over from the old Empire series. At least I think it does; the plots are kind of confusing after a while, and anybody who doesn’t look like Mark Hamill or Katee Sackhoff is hard to pick out of a crowd. The art on this series is a little uglier than it was on SW:E, and that doesn’t do the book any favors. I’m getting this because it offers classic Skywalker action, so that should buy it a few more issues at least.

Much of Captain America #19 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) continued the waterfront fight from last issue, doing so in fine fashion. The rest was spy-type intrigue, with Sharon Carter showing up in London to take over operations. Art was a little confusing this issue, with Sharon looking like Spitfire and Cap looking like Master Man, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out in context. Overall it was a good second act, and this London storyline has a lot of potential.

Finally, I got the Giant-Size Hulk special, although it was for the two Peter David-written stories and not for the “Planet Hulk” tie-in. Accordingly, I was happy — David’s excellent Hulk: The End extra-long special (art by Dale Keown) was reprinted here, and he also contributed a light and fluffy Champions vs. Hulk tale (pencilled by Juan Santacruz, inked by Raul Fernandez). The latter was clearly to prime Marvelites for a new Champions series, but I don’t particularly care about that — I was just glad to see a staple of ’70s Marvel revisited and given the respect it probably deserves. The middle story (written by Greg Pak, drawn by Aaron Lopresti and Danny Miki) was a good complement to The End, although I suspect it meant more to those who’ve been following the Hulk more recently; and it probably didn’t advance “Planet Hulk” much. Still, this is over 70 pages of story for $4.99 US, and thus a bargain.

May 14, 2006

New comics 5/10/06

Filed under: 52, american virgin, captain atom, firestorm, she-hulk, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 4:30 pm
(Kate, I just saw your comment after posting this — I missed doing them too.)

I don’t think I ever consciously decided to discontinue these weekly wrap-ups, but somehow I just got out of the habit. We’ll see how long I can keep this up. 52 is a big part of my desire to return to the weekly habit — if it’s coming out every week, I don’t want to get behind.

However, we start with the immensely enjoyable Superman #652 (that number again!), written by Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns, with art by Pete Woods. This story arc has been something of a revelation in its simplicity: a powerless Superman, a scheming Luthor (together with old Silver Age allies Toyman and Prankster), and a sort of winking acknowledgement that things will be back to normal before you know it. At the risk of gushing too much, as I read the opening pages (featuring Clark vs. a tall building), John Williams’ 12/8 beats started thrumming in my mind’s ear. When a Superman book spontaneously inspires the theme music, it’s done its job well.

Also pleasantly old-school, as usual, is Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #25 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne), in which Stormy squares off against Killer Frost and Mr. Freeze. The story expands Frost’s powers in ways which don’t seem entirely plausible in hindsight, even for superhero comics, but it’s refreshing to see the various parts of Firestorm having to work together to think their way out of problems. There are also cute moments with Gehenna and Jason’s dad. The obligatory Batman appearance doesn’t feel gratuitous, and gets its own funny little twist.

Apparently people have been talking (here, for example) about the sexual politics of She-Hulk #7 (written by Dan Slott, art by Will Conrad), and from what I’ve seen, they’re doing a fine job without me. I have no particular problem with making Starfox an irredeemable lech, since I have no real emotional attachment to the character. However, I do wonder, as a practical matter, how someone with his abilities would get a fair trial. Isolating him, as the story does, seems to be the best short-term solution, but as Jen argues, it also pretty much admits that if he were physically present, he would use his powers to influence the jury. I suppose that a better solution for future reference might be to incorporate his isolation into voir dire before the trial even starts (“My client will appear via closed-circuit TV — will that influence your deliberation in any way?”). As it stands now, Starfox should be in a whole lotta trouble with the State of New York, and a mistrial has probably been declared. You know, if only Marvel-Earth’s governments had some kind of way to, say, keep track of its super-people….

With regard to the issue itself, it was the most “Ally McBeal”-like this series has been, and that’s not necessarily good. I thought Slott handled the main issues appropriately, and the art was good too, but it just seemed like everything revolved around romance and sex. Not that I have a problem with that, but “Ally McBeal” was fixated upon those things, and it got tiresome. Looks like civil liberties are going to preoccupy She-Hulk for oh, about seven months.

It was good to see that Captain Atom: Armageddon #8 (written by Will Pfeifer, art by Guiseppe Camuncoli and Sandra Hope) hadn’t forgotten Cap’s marriage to Plastique. However, I’m not sure what this miniseries is supposed to accomplish beyond giving DC-centered readers like me a taste of the WildStorm universe. I spent most of the issue trying to figure out whether Majestic or Apollo was the better Superman analogue. The rest of it seems like the Captain Atom version of “Russell Crowe Fightin’ ‘Round The World.” We know from Infinite Crisis that Cap survives, and we can probably guess that Earth-WildStorm will too, so I guess the burden is on issue #9 to make all these fight scenes worthwhile.

I liked the wrinkles introduced in American Virgin #3 (written by Steven T. Seagle, pencilled by Becky Cloonan, inked by Jim Rugg), but again, it looks like the conclusion of the first arc next issue will determine how this series will continue on an ongoing basis. I do like the series as a whole, because it raises valid questions about how we react when what looks like God’s plan for us gets torpedoed by, well, an Act Of God.

Finally, here’s 52 #1 (written by Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and Greg Rucka, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Ruy Jose — whew!), and I’m not sure how to evaluate it in monthly-comic terms. As Part 1 of a month’s worth of story, totaling 80-odd pages, I suppose it can afford to be a little decompressed. Wisely, it sticks with the story of Booster Gold’s humiliation (and we know he’s going to be humiliated, because the cover practically tells us so). The other major players (Renee Montoya, the Question, Ralph Dibny, Black Adam, and Steel) were pretty much just teased, so I’m holding off on evaluating their stories until some kind of format starts to take shape. For all the chefs stirring this particular pot, it held together fine, and was a good palate-cleanser after Infinite Crisis. I do wonder how accessible this would be to a new DC reader who (for some inexplicable reason) decided to start with this instead of all the Crisis hoo-rah. I don’t think it would be so bad, because by and large these characters have been on the periphery for the past couple of years.

That felt good. Let’s do it again next week!

March 29, 2006

Essential Archives Of Absolute Masterworks

Filed under: captain atom, firestorm, green lantern, howard the duck, jack kirby, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 6:05 pm
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of collections I would buy, gladly and without hesitation, should they ever appear:

1. Absolute New Gods. I have been lucky enough to collect the six-issue New Gods reprints from 1985 (the last issue of which set up The Hunger Dogs), but to my knowledge, other than a black-and-white paperback, DC has never reprinted this series. That’s unfathomable to me. If Marvel thinks it can sell a pricey oversized hardcover of Eternals, why doesn’t DC want to do the same for its most famous Kirby work? Do two Absolute volumes, include Hunger Dogs, and throw in some behind-the-scenes information about how Kirby would have preferred the series to end.

2. and 3. Color reprints of Forever People and Mr. Miracle would be appreciated too. Again, the Kirby issues of Jimmy Olsen got their own color paperbacks, so why the black-and-white treatment for the rest of the Fourth World? Even Kamandi got an Archives volume.

4. The Greatest Wonder Woman Stories Ever Told. Sure, Diana got the Complete History treatment a few years ago, but that was just a bunch of words. Where is the career-spanning anthology volume? Is DC having trouble picking the most representative of the subtext-filled Golden Age stories? She warrants at least her own “Decades” series.

5. Essential Howard The Duck Vol. 2. Marvel has been pretty good about cleaning out its library, and their back-catalogue is varied enough that a casual fan like me doesn’t see huge holes. However, I’m surprised it hasn’t picked up the spare with Howard the Duck. It took four Essential phone-books, but Tomb of Dracula was collected in its entirety. C’mon, Marvel, let’s get this one moving.

6. Showcase Presents Secret Society Of Super-Villains. Between Identity Crisis, Villains United, and the upcoming revival of Secret Six, the time is right to revisit the troubled ‘70s series, and probably throw in the Society’s appearances in Justice League of America to boot.

7. and 8. In the same vein, how about some love for DC’s models of shadowy ‘80s government conspiracies, Captain Atom and the Suicide Squad?

9. Showcase Presents Firestorm. Hey, I like Firestorm, okay? Put together the first Gerry Conway/Al Milgrom series, a few Justice League of America stories, the backups from Flash, and the first year or so of Fury of Firestorm, and see how its numbers compare to Essential Nova Vol. 1.

10. And speaking of Flash backup series, if the Green Lantern Archives get that far, I hope they don’t forget about the early ‘70s backup strip, written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams, Dick Dillin, and Mike Grell. The various O’Neil/Adams reprints I have seen never seem to get into this material, which bridged the gap between issues when Green Lantern (Co-Starring Green Arrow) went on hiatus.

November 20, 2005

New comics 11/16/05

Filed under: batman, captain atom, fantastic four, green lantern, hero squared, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 5:58 pm
The biggest compliment I can pay All-Star Superman #1 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely) is that it’s the kind of Superman story people expect to read. Morrison and Quitely invest so much in making Superman likeable that the ending twist, which likely provides the spine of their 12-issue macro-arc, really carries an emotional kick. If you’re reading this, odds are you at least have a passing interest in the book; so why haven’t you gotten it yet?

Likewise, Batman and the Monster Men #1 (by Matt Wagner) begins what should be a fun retelling of the first Hugo Strange story from (I think) Detective Comics #37. It’s dolled-up with the usual Year One additions of now-familiar Gotham gangsters, but its heart is with Batman fighting giants. As with All-Star Supes, Wagner has eleven more issues, and that’s all to the good.

Two months late, Green Lantern #5 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ethan van Sciver, inked by Prentiss Rollins) concludes the Shark story from last issue, and begins a completely weird Black Hand arc. There’s a lot of grue in this issue, and I’m not sure why. I think at some point we actually see one of Hal’s armbones sticking out of his sleeve. Yes, I’m sure it would hurt to fight a giant mutated shark, but it never seemed to involve this much blood before, and it’s not quite explained why it does this time. Van Sciver’s art is a little too busy and intense for me, compared to the laid-back Carlos Pacheco; but at least Johns has some odd German-speaking gremlins wander through the proceedings, adding another layer of mystery.

Captain Atom: Armageddon #2 (written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by Sandra Hope) finds Cap touring the WildStorm universe, trying to find a way back to DC-Earth. Along the way, he meets Majestic, who’s already done that, but still can’t help Cap. There’s a lot of WildStorm history in this issue, which didn’t really bother me, since the most I know about it comes from a 1997 JLA/WildCATS crossover. Along those lines, though, I get the feeling that this is a backdoor reintroduction of a few key WildStorm titles. Still, so far it doesn’t feel too much like a marketing strategy, and I still like Cap enough to keep getting it.

Apparently, Hero Squared #3 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) is the conclusion of a 4-part miniseries introducing the characters and leading into an ongoing series. That would be fine with me, although this issue doesn’t really feel like the end of a story. Instead, it’s more an exploration of the awkwardness which results from the interaction between normal people and their super-counterparts. I like it fine, even if it does tend to trade on Giffen and DeMatteis’ old JLI schtick. Also, Abraham’s art is good enough, but the proportions of Lord Caliginous’ battle armor could really use some work.

This may be an obscure reference, but remember that Secret Origins Annual which revealed that Barry Allen, circa Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, was the bolt of lightning that hit him in Showcase #4? Apply that to Reed Richards and you’ve got Fantastic Four #532 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Andy Lanning). It’s a nice story, but as an ending to an allegedly big cosmic saga it’s kind of meh.

Not so The Thing #1 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Andrea DiVito, inked by Laura Villari), which was a lot of fun. Slott seems to be testing the hearts of Marvel’s lawyers, as he has Ben Grimm dating Eva Longoria, going to a Martha Stewart party, and running afoul of Paris Hilton. The Thing isn’t wacky like She-Hulk or blackly comic like GLA — instead, it’s just plain superheroics, done well. My one complaint is with the opening fight sequence, which took me a few tries to get all the perspectives right. However, that is a very minor quibble.

November 6, 2005

New comics 11/2/05

Filed under: batman, captain atom, firestorm, seven soldiers, superman, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 11:50 pm
Apparently I missed Wonder Woman #222 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Ray Snyder) last week. Not surprisingly, it’s plugged into the rest of DC’s crossover madness, but the bulk of the issue is a straightforward Wonder Woman/Cheetah fight. Despite being saddled with a bad case of the Eartha Kitts during her Legion of Doom tenure on “Super Friends,” the Cheetah has historically been an interesting villain. George Perez revamped her as a maverick archaeologist who stumbled into an Edgar Rice Burroughs-esque pulp-fiction cat-god religion, and she went after Wonder Woman for (among other things) her magic lasso. Rucka revisits that, but also brings in a bit of the old “Wonder Woman is too perfect” jealousy which informed the character originally. In any event, it all meshes well with other current events surrounding Diana, and plays much better than the star-crossed Cheetah-Zoom team-up from the recent Flash crossover. The art is good enough, although some of the shading reminded me of woodcuts.

Superman #223 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Ed Benes and Marc Campos, inked by a platoon) is likewise a Superman/Supergirl/Blackrock fight, with Infinite Crisis implications. Basically Superman tries to teach Supergirl, who’s been trained by Wonder Woman, not to cross the line into killing the way WW has. I like Supergirl as a concept well enough, but this Supergirl still hasn’t emerged as a real person for me, and sadly this issue didn’t do much to advance that.

Firestorm #19 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Rob Stull and Keith Champagne) is also an Infinite Crisis tie-in, but it inserts Firestorm into the proceedings with the happy-go-lucky style and charm this title has developed. Jason merges with a couple of fun “partners,” and meets up again with Gehenna, the strange girl from a couple of issues back. Along the way Firehawk introduces him to the Outsiders and Donna “No New Hero Name, Evidently” Troy, who have recruited him for a big space mission evidently meant for Infinite Crisis #2. This book is DC’s She-Hulk, showing just as much love of the superhero milieu without being so silly. (Not that silly is bad.)

Detective Comics #813 (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Ramon Bachs, inked by Nathan Massengill) presents the penultimate chapter of “City of Crime,” and as a single installment it’s pretty good. Lapham basically tells a straightforward story of Batman riding to the rescue, throwing in Robin, Gordon, the Batcopter, the Batmobile, and an omnipresent Bat-Signal. Batman also confronts the mind behind the conspiracy. In short, this issue brings everything to a boil for the big finish next month. Honestly, I realize this may be at best just an above-average Batman story in the whole scheme of things, but as I said it pushes a number of good buttons and helps remind me what I like about Batman. These days that’s pretty good.

Opening Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #1 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Yanick Paquette, inked by Michael Bair), I noticed two things right away, and they kept popping up the rest of the issue. Man, Bulleteer has a nice set of … hair. Seriously, for a comic that explores the quasi-pornographic aspects of superhumanity, what’s the message here? My guess is, we’re all voyeurs, because check out our heroine’s huge … tracts of land! I did like the issue — for the writing, too, perverts.

And then I read Captain Atom: Armageddon #1 (written by Will Pfeiffer, pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by Sandra Hope), about a guy also trapped in silver skin, and it was okay. I’ve followed Cap from his post-Crisis series through pretty much all his DC appearances, but once he was outed as a government agent, he lost a lot of what made him compelling. Now that his “man out of time” aspects have also been downplayed, he’s just another indestructible guy who flies, shoots, and leaves. (Okay, maybe not “leaves,” but you saw where I was going.) Anyway, I’m hoping that this miniseries, which once again makes Cap a fish out of water, will help spark the character. So far not bad, although no cheesecake. At least it’s a good introduction to Cap.

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