Comics Ate My Brain

July 13, 2008

New comics 7/2/08

I’ve been saying for a while that DC should (once again) just let the Marvel Family have its own little corner of the Multiverse where Billy and co. don’t have to age too quickly and whimsy can be the order of the day. Well, here’s Mike Kunkel’s Billy Batson And The Magic Of Shazam! #1, taking me up on it. Except not quite, because this is a Johnny DC title and therefore has no influence on the main-line Marvels. Instead, it’s a sequel to Jeff Smith’s Monster Society miniseries, picking up with Billy and Mary in their familiar roles.

Kunkel has redesigned Cap slightly, giving him a ridiculously broad chest and a how-you-doin’? look. This goes with Kunkel’s take on Billy, who always tries to do the right thing but who realizes without much prompting just how good he has it. For example, Captain Marvel poses as Billy and Mary’s father, but naturally favors Billy in parent/teacher conferences. Of course, hilarity ensues, especially since Kunkel shows that Mary is the smarter of the pair.

Kunkel also introduces Black Adam, but leaves the resolution of his subplot for a future issue. I haven’t read hardly any of the Johnny DC books, but I suspect BBMOS is one of the few to employ multi-issue storytelling; and it makes me wonder who the real target audience is. This is a dense book which aims for rapid-fire delivery through small panels and packed word balloons. Not being 10 years old, I can’t say whether this would appeal to kids, but it does seem like an older reader’s idea of what a kid’s comic book should be. Yes, that extends to the secret-code messages, which I thought were prohibitively long and which I still haven’t tried to unscramble. Even so, I appreciated Kunkel’s efforts, and I’ll be back at least for the next issue.

Part 3 of “Batman R.I.P.” hits in Batman #678 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea), in which our hero is reduced to his lowest point before meeting his spirit guide (did it have to be a Magical Negro?) and starting to rebuild. Also, other bad things happen to Robin and Nightwing (poor Nightwing…). Morrison’s standard take on Batman in JLA was that “Batman always has a plan”. Well, here, he’s been completely cut off from his plans, thrown into a roiling sea of anarchy by the Black Glove, and made to put the pieces back together using stone knives and bearskins. As with Final Crisis, it’s pretty nerve-wracking stuff, but at least we’re at the halfway point.

I’m getting frustrated with House Of Mystery (#3 written by Matthew Sturges and drawn mostly by Luca Rossi). Its first arc seems determined to establish that Fig can’t leave the House. However, we know this to be true, because that’s the point of the book. Thankfully, that also seems to be the point of the issue, so I hope that settles it for Fig for a while. The issue does introduce a new antagonist, with a callback to the mysterious couple seen earlier, so maybe there’ll be a more entertaining twist next time out. Still, if this arc ends only with Fig accepting her new status, I’ll be pretty disappointed. I’m getting tired of books which take five issues to lay out what could have been one issue’s worth of setup. I do like the art, though.

I’m also getting a little tired of Nightwing (#146 written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Sandu Florea), likewise because “Freefall” seems to have gone on for a couple issues too many. Yes, Dr. Kendall was a bad man; yes, it’s good that Dick stopped him. However, the story seemed rather lifeless (no pun intended), and I don’t know if that’s due to Don Kramer’s art not being quite as expressive as Rags Morales’; or Tomasi’s talky scripts sapping the energy out of the action. Next up is a “Batman R.I.P.” tie-in, so maybe things will pick up.

I did like Supergirl #31 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Jon Sibal and Jesse Delperdang), despite the jarring change in art style from the soft lines of Drew Johnson and Ron Randall to the quirkier combination of Walker et al. Basically, Supergirl convinces the dying boy’s mother to accept the Resurrection Man’s treatment by a) flying her to a distant mountaintop and b) telling her how her parents shot her into space. It’s the kind of thing which has to be handled very carefully, because once superhero comics get into real-world ramifications of godlike behavior, they’re already pretty far down a mighty slippery slope. This time I bought Supergirl’s argument and the mom’s response, but next time might be different. As it is, this time the argument had to get past Supergirl’s bare midriff.

I continue to like Manhunter (#32 written by Mark Andreyko and drawn by Michael Gaydos). The current issue tracks Kate’s continuing investigations into the women’s disappearances, and features a couple of good scenes with Blue Beetle (super-suits hissing at each other like unfriendly dogs!) and Mr. Bones. Gaydos’ art is “realistic” without sacrificing expression, and Andreyko has a good feel for the dialogue of a superheroic world.

Finally, I bought Star Trek: New Frontier #4 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson), the penultimate issue of the miniseries. Thankfully, things start to happen at a little more rapid pace this issue. However, the plot deals with duplicates of people; and the scenes shift so abruptly you’re never sure whether, say, the Lefler who was on that planet is the same Lefler who’s on this ship. I guess I have to get issue #5 to see whether the whole thing makes sense.

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May 4, 2005

New comics 5/4/05

Filed under: batman, captain marvel, crisis, firestorm, gla, seven soldiers, shanna, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 9:35 pm
Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, except here in horse country, where the first Saturday in May is Derby Day. The Kentucky Derby (the subject of an hilarious essay by the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson) is like a statewide Super Bowl — everything stops, there are parties with lots of booze (cultured booze like mint juleps, mind you, not just the beer you get at Super Bowl parties), and although the race itself takes about two minutes, you pretty much end up spending the entire afternoon watching coverage from Churchill Downs. It doesn’t matter if you can’t tell one end of the horse from another, just like knowledge of football doesn’t matter for a Super Bowl party.

The point is, it’s practically a state holiday that would be a state holiday if it weren’t on Saturday. Several years ago I was in court in Trimble County (about a half-hour outside Louisville) on Oaks Day — the day before Derby, when the all-filly Kentucky Oaks is run — and the judge didn’t show. To us, the implication was clear.

Therefore, kids, I don’t need to tell you that if your local comics shop is in our fair commonwealth, you’ll probably have your pick of free comics on Saturday, because you’ll be one of the few people in the store.

As for today, there were no free comics, believe me.

Batman: Dark Detective #1 brings us the reunion of writer Steve Englehart, penciller Marshall Rogers, and inker Terry Austin on a Batman story. (Letterer John Workman did a few of those earlier issues too.) I liked this issue, and freely admit I was predisposed to like it. The story is simple: Bruce Wayne attends a fundraiser for a gubernatorial candidate who happens to be married to old flame Silver St. Cloud. The Joker shows up at the fundraiser, and he and Batman fight. The issue has a nice hand-made feel to it, thanks in large part to Austin’s inks (which don’t smooth out Rogers’ edges as much as they once did) and Workman’s lettering, which doesn’t look computer-generated. There’s a tribute to the team’s late editor Julie Schwartz, both in the credits box and as a cameo. A couple of key sequences from the earlier run are also copied exactly, right down to the panel layout, but if it wasn’t broke before, why fix it? If I had a quibble with the issue, it’s that a character who appears to die horribly shows up later literally without a hair out of place. Otherwise, Engelhart’s Bruce/Batman, Joker, and Silver are all portrayed skillfully, with Bruce and Silver’s meeting handled especially subtly. This team knows its fame and is aware of its unique “vision,” but it doesn’t seem to have gone to their heads.

Back in the book that originally published their stories, Detective Comics #806 (written by David Lapham, art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill) offers a pretty grim installment of “City of Crime.” Although I’m not sure Lapham’s story still has momentum after six months — and I wonder if it can sustain what it has for the remaining six — this was a suspenseful tale which deepens the plot’s paranoia. Basically Batman, the missing girl’s mother, and the last honest cop in Gotham are all trying to hold off the sinister forces which have taken over the city. Still a good read, and I may see this later on as the bridge issue which helped keep the plot going. There’s also a clever Alfred backup story by writer Scott Beatty and artist Jeff Parker which finds him on a cold-war-era espionage mission. (Yes, under DC’s current timeline, the Soviet Union probably would have ceased to exist before Bruce Wayne put on the Batsuit.)

(A brief digression: this week I am starting to notice ads in the books for ringtones. These remind me, at least in layout, of those long-ago ads for “record clubs” like Columbia House and BMG which used to appear in the comics of the mid-’70s. Everything old is new again, I suppose.)

In Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #2 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Simone Bianchi) we learn the fates of Justin and his steed after the police car hit them last issue. While Justin endures a somewhat predictable trek through the alleys of Los Angeles — really, isn’t the beating-up-unsuspecting-thugs scene long since spent? — Vanguard the horse is nursed back to health by a handful of colorful characters. The art is gorgeous, and there is more to Justin’s arc this issue than just fighting. The credits page also waits until halfway through the issue to appear, which has to count for something. (I thought it was an ad at first.) At the end I think Justin and Vanguard are close to reuniting, but I’ll have to read it a couple more times to make sure.

Still haven’t found a copy of Day of Vengeance #1, but as it turns out Superman #216 (written by Judd Winick, art by Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund) leads into it. Somewhere a DC production worker is being severely chastised, I am sure. This issue is the big Captain Marvel/Superman fight, depicted pretty well by Churchill and Rapmund. They use a few too many wide shots to show distance, and thereby sacrifice the characters’ easy identification, but I guess that’s where Winick’s captions come in. The whole thing ends kind of abruptly, in order to set up the DoV conflicts. It’s getting so I’m starting to wonder if these regular-series tie-ins (like JLA Classified #s 1-3, to be fair) will be collected with the miniseries’ paperback, because they sure don’t make sense in the context of the Superman books themselves.

Firestorm #13 (written by Dan Jolley, art by Jamal Igle, Rob Stull, and Lary Stucker) also ends the battle with the Thinker abruptly, but this time it’s to wrap up outgoing writer Dan Jolley’s tenure and lay the groundwork for new writer Stuart Moore. Along the way Ronnie Raymond gets some closure, and his parental situation is contrasted with Jason’s. Like I say, the fight ends early, but on the other hand Jolley was more concerned with its aftermath. We’ll see if Moore can do as well as Jolley has.

Villains United #1 (written by Gail Simone, art by Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger) pits two classic DC names against each other — the Secret Society of Super-Villains vs. the Secret Six. This book deals in so many villains I honestly couldn’t identify them all. I think Scandal (of the S6) was in the “Ravens” with Cheshire, but why is there a new Rag Doll and what’s this Parademon doing here? Dear DC, I have been reading many of your books continuously for the past 20 years, and I have the DC Encyclopedia and every issue of Who’s Who — including the 3-ring binder version — so when I don’t know who somebody is, I won’t be hurt if you have to tell me. Other than that, it was a good setup, and it left me interested in what happens next.

Also in the obscure-character department, we have GLA #2 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar) doing a membership drive to replace Dinah Soar, killed last issue. This provides a framework for Slott to riff on a few comics cliches, including a funny take on the “I work alone” speech and a pointed Batman reference which I heartily endorse. Unlike Villains United, which threw me into the deep end immediately, GLA made sure I knew who everyone was and why they were important, so good on it for that.

Finally, I bought Shanna The She-Devil #4 (written and drawn by Frank Cho) and was turned off not by the implausibility of Shanna fighting dinosaurs without losing her bikini, but by the gratuitous dino killings. Since buying #3, I have also signed up for an e-mail comics service which delivers Cho’s Liberty Meadows to my inbox every day, and I can’t see that guy writing this book. It’s a well-crafted book (although you could base a drinking game on the “Holy buckets” epithet) but there’s not much else to it. As for the dino-gore, wouldn’t it have worked just as well in silhouette?

July 30, 2004

Last week’s comics: more "What the–?" than not

Filed under: batman, birds of prey, captain marvel, flash, justice league, robin, seaguy, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 6:51 pm
The batch of reviews for last week got lost in the shuffle of packing for San Diego. Still, I can sum up about half of last week’s books under the “What was THAT about?” heading. Thumbs up for Captain Marvel #25, Flash #212, Birds of Prey #70, and the second half of DC Comics Presents Green Lantern #1. Thumbs down on Batman: Gotham Knights #55, Adventures of Superman #630, Justice League Elite #1, Robin #128, and the first half of DCCP Green Lantern. Seaguy #3 could fall into either category, but “Huh?” is probably the reaction I was supposed to have from it.

Here are the details, from (roughly) worst to first.

Batman: Gotham Knights #55: Story by A.J. Lieberman, art by Al Barrionuevo and Francis Portela. It’s the conclusion of a story following up on last year’s mega-event “Hush” over in Batman. Hush (the new villain) is after the Riddler and hires Prometheus (another fairly new villain) to take out the Riddler and Batman. The Riddler contacts the Joker for protection, offering to tell the Joker which cop is responsible for a tragedy in Joker’s past. My first problem is that this storyline portrays the Joker with long stretches of lucidity, and even rationality. This means there is nothing funny or scary about him; he might as well be Ronald McDonald with a different color scheme. Hush gives Joker a beating, but since Joker’s effectively been neutered already, we don’t much care. (Actually, we care because Hush is a lame villain compared to the Joker, and we are a little sick at the way Hush is elevated over Joker — but that wasn’t the point.) Speaking of neutered villains, Prometheus (originally created specifically to be a better fighter than Batman) shoots and misses targets twice at point-blank range. Everybody gets away from everyone else, and nothing is really resolved. Whoopee.

Adventures of Superman #630: Written by Greg Rucka; art by Matthew Clark. I usually like Rucka, but here he takes a detour into wackyland. In the middle of a hostage crisis, Superman is whisked away by Mr. Mxyzptlk. Mxy wants to warn Supes about bad times ahead, but he’s prohibited from so doing. Rucka’s in-jokes fell flat for me, and Clark’s portrayal of Mxy suggests somehow a thinner Archie Bunker with a limited range of expression. I’m sure this will make more sense in the grander scheme of things, but for this week it was a head-scratcher.

Justice League Elite #1 (of 12): Written by Joe Kelly; art by Doug Mahnke. “Superhero black ops” is probably the best way to describe this series. It takes the conceit that one could have “undercover” work in a subculture of costumed villains and mercenaries, and mixes in a few Justice Leaguers. Issue #1 is the basic “infiltrate the bad guys by showing how bad you are” plot, with a Mission: Impossible-style twist at the end. The plot involves Deathstroke, an assassin who also figures prominently in Identity Crisis, so it was hard here to tell which side he was on. At the end I didn’t really care that much.

Robin #128: Written by Bill Willingham; art by DaMion Scott. On the trail of Scarab, the killer of potential Boys Wonder, Robin earns first praise and then condemnation from Batman. The art is still off-putting, as Scott seems eager to play with the relative sizes of Batman and Robin. On page 3, for example, they look about the same height, and Batman seems slender but athletic. (Robin’s body is bottom-heavy, like a half-full water balloon, but I’ll chalk that up to perspective.) Other scenes, especially in the Batcave, make Batman a massive individual, bulked-up and towering over Robin. There is a cliffhanger of sorts to end the issue, but I am skeptical about its effectiveness. We’ll see who’s Robin after the big “War Games” event concludes in October.

DC Comics Presents Green Lantern: The first half of this issue, a story by Brian Azzarello with art by Norm Breyfogle, is apparently a “throwback” tale designed to capture the carefree spirit of 1960s DC. However, it’s spoiled by a truly bizarre denouement — casting the rest of the Justice League as insensitive jerks — which wastes the goodwill the tale had managed to engender with me. The second story, written by Martin Pasko with art by Scott McDaniel, is more rooted in reality (so to speak), working in longtime GL co-star Green Arrow, some social commentary, and a glimpse into GL’s rocky childhood. Both stories riff on the unlimited possibilities a power ring offers, and both comment on how an individual personality will hold that power in check, consciously or not. I’ll probably have more to say about Green Lantern in the weeks ahead, so I’ll reserve judgment on this for now.

Captain Marvel #25: The last issue of writer Peter David’s 5-year run on this character (across two series) is a mordantly funny demolition of the fourth wall (or, in a 2-d medium, the third wall?). Since it’s also the series’ last issue, our hero is henceforth relegated to comic-book limbo. For me, having read the entire run, there were some confusing stories (especially in this series), but the end is still poignant.

Flash #212: Written by Geoff Johns; art by Steven Cummings and Wayne Faucher. Here’s the life story of the Mirror Master, and a grim one it is. The story is told proficiently, and since it’s about a villain, it’s not supposed to be pleasant; but at the end of the day I’m not sure whether to feel sorry for the guy or hate him. I tend to think this story serves a larger purpose in an upcoming arc, so we’ll see how it pans out.

Birds of Prey #70: Written by Gail Simone; art by Ed Benes. Huntress investigates further into the superhero-centered cult. Meanwhile, after giving a former adversary a chance to do some good, Oracle is attacked through her computer. There’s a good blend of fights, character bits, and plot advancement here, plus a couple of cliffhangers. I still don’t like Huntress’ current costume, but that’s not the current team’s fault.

Last is Seaguy #3, written by Grant Morrison with art by Cameron Stewart. This is the conclusion of a 3-issue miniseries, but I hope there’s more. Not because I’m completely on Morrison’s wavelength or anything; far from it. If I had to guess I’d say this miniseries was about the inherent innocence of superheroes and their manipulation by corporate masters, but that’s as far as my analysis goes for now. No, I want more because Morrison and Stewart did create a couple of likeable, innocent characters in Seaguy and his sidekick — and then put them through some horrific paces. It’s almost like Pilgrim’s Progress. These guys deserve a happy ending, so I hope they get one soon enough.

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