Comics Ate My Brain

June 9, 2008

New comics 5/29/08

Filed under: batman, countdown, crisis, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 9:04 pm
May 29, 2008 was Grant Morrison Day for DC superhero fans, heralding the arrivals of Final Crisis #1, All Star Superman #11, and Batman #677. Those three issues made up half of my haul, so let’s start with the other half.

Honestly, the most pleasant surprise was Action Comics #865, a Toyman spotlight written by Geoff Johns, with art by Jesus Merino. I never did like Johns’ all-villain issues of The Flash, but those largely aimed to “grittify” old, goofy Rogues. Here, Johns aims to clean up some continuity issues surrounding the Toyman, and along the way to re-establish him as slightly less dark. The result is quite good, and shows what can be done in the space of 22 pages. Perhaps better known as an inker, Merino is also a fine storyteller with (if this issue is any indication) a good sense of design. His regular style isn’t too far from DC’s baseline, but he and the Hi-Fi colorist drop into a watercolor-y “Tim Sale” mode for the flashbacks. The best part of the issue, though, is its misdirection regarding the means of Jimmy Olsen’s rescue. I wasn’t expecting it, and I’m glad a comic book can still catch me off-guard.

Countdown To Mystery #8 will be remembered for its salute to Steve Gerber, and that’s probably as it should be. Writers Adam Beechen, Gail Simone, Mark Evanier, and Mark Waid each offer short takes on how they would have ended “More Pain Comics,” Gerber-style. Beechen invokes Howard The Duck. Waid uses a Gerber-esque text box. Evanier gives Kent Nelson a there’ll-always-be-a-Fate speech that’s equal parts cynicism and hope. Simone grounds her conclusion in psychology, this Fate’s civilian calling. It’s not fair not to list the artists, because they each do fine work, but the art is of the same piece as the regular team of Justiniano and Walden Wong: a sort of softer, fuller Walt Simonson. This Doctor Fate series was supposed to be a new and exciting take on a character DC loves to use, and I’m sure that had Gerber lived, there would have been at least a stab at a regular series and probably some form of lasting legacy in the pages of Justice Society. Wisely, though, DC chose to honor Gerber’s work not by farming the conclusion out to another writer and continuing with those plans, but simply by assuring the readers that it all turned out well, and by the way be on the lookout….

The conclusion of the Spectre story (written by Matthew Sturges, pencilled by Chad Hardin, inked by Robert Campanella) was decent enough: for various reasons, the Spectre can’t really fight Battle-Armor Eclipso one-on-one, so he encourages Bruce Gordon to re-absorb the dark god. It’s nothing new, but it was presented well, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Eclipso in the months to come. I don’t feel any better for having read the whole thing, though.

I bought Batman: Gotham After Midnight #1 (written by Steve Niles) mostly for the Kelley Jones artwork, and I’m sticking by that. It’s not just his unique style, but his page layouts and his bits of marginal business, which really make the book enjoyable. Unfortunately, Niles can’t quite decide how seriously to take things; so the combination of Jones’ over-the-top storytelling and Niles’ ultra-straight Batman tend to steer the issue towards self-parody. I’ll be back next issue for the art, and I’ll hope the script works with it a little more.

Batman #677 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea) gets into the meat of “Batman, R.I.P.” by laying out the ultra-paranoid notions at the heart of the plot. I give Morrison a lot of credit for the audacity of these ideas. If true (which I doubt, and which the issue itself seems to question), they would be almost impeccable retcons which wouldn’t invalidate a whit of Batman stories but which would redefine “Batman’s” very existence. This issue thus accelerates the plot faster than just about every Bat-epic of the past twenty years, doing so largely through a conversation in the Batcave. There is, of course, the feeling that Jezebel Jet is behind the whole thing, but I think Morrison is better than that; and based on this issue, I have high hopes for “R.I.P.”

The penultimate issue of All Star Superman (#11 written by Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely) is pretty much wall-to-wall awesome, featuring a super-powered Lex Luthor, a dying Superman’s battle with Solaris the Tyrant Sun, the introduction of Luthor’s cheeky niece, and no sense that this will end with anything but the Man of Steel’s heroic sacrifice. Never has the impending death of Superman seemed so obvious and yet so right. Can’t wait for issue #12.

Finally (ha ha), here at last is Final Crisis #1 (written by Morrison, drawn by J.G. Jones), the start of DC’s big run-out-the-year crossover. (By the way, last time I got Sparx and Live Wire confused — that was Live Wire in Birds Of Prey, and it’s Sparx here.) On the whole I liked it. It didn’t try to be too loud or flashy, opting instead to start slow. Considering that Morrison’s talked broadly about what’s to come, I imagine things will get loud before too long. I liked the police-procedural approach, contrasting the Green Lanterns with the Justice League and the police themselves. I liked the use of “Terrible” Turpin as the point-of-view character. I don’t think that you-know-who is really dead, but neither do I think that Libra is really you-know-who-else. I liked Jones’ work, especially the “reveal” of Darkseid (it’s the eyes) in the Dark Side Club, but my concern is that he can’t do big-and-loud like, say, Howard Porter on Morrison’s JLA. The best description may simply be “ominous,” and that’s just fine with me.

May 9, 2008

New comics 5/7/08

Filed under: batman, countdown, house of mystery, nightwing, supergirl, superman, tor, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:51 pm
Just for fun, let’s start with Supergirl #29 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson and Ron Randall, inked by Ray Snyder and Randall). In this issue Supergirl works with Resurrection Man and a mad scientist to make good on her promise to cure a dying boy of cancer. There always seems to be a lot of talk about what a Supergirl book “should” be like, and goodness knows I’ve done quite a bit of it myself. That said, I think this sort of approach is perfectly valid. Supergirl in this situation is what we lawyers call the Reasonable Person — specifically, one with Superman’s powers — who can explore the kinds of issues Superman can’t. It allows her to maintain the requisite connection to Superman (why would she be “Supergirl” otherwise?) without being redundant.

Anyway, this issue finds the Girl of Steel’s plan put into action, and reveals its outcome. A lot of it involves Supergirl getting to know Rez. Man (who I know only from DC One Million, unfortunately) and, to a lesser degree, the mad scientist. The rest is a fight scene. It’s all very dry and moody, thanks to a lot of black ink from Randall and Snyder. Randall and Johnson’s pencils mesh pretty well — you can tell the difference because Randall’s work is a little more flat and tends not to go as well with the subtleties of Kahila Tripp’s colors. It kind of takes your mind off the fact that a super-powered girl in a skimpy outfit (who still doesn’t look skanky, by the way) is on a nigh-impossible mission. Nothing which happens in this book is completely unexpected, but I will say that it made me wonder about the consequences of Supergirl’s plan, and I suspect that was at least part of the point. I’m eager to see what happens next, which is a pretty nice sentiment for a monthly comic book.

Nightwing #144 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Don Kramer and Rags Morales, inked by various people) also finds itself with two pencillers. This is officially another part of “Freefall,” but it feels more transitory: the Great Ten’s Mother of Champions is brought into the grave-robbing storyline; Talia shows up in New York to threaten Dick; Nightwing does some run-of-the-mill crimefighting; and Dick’s new girlfriend (didn’t cornrows go out 25 years ago?) helps him skydive. Morales contributes some good “acting” between Dick and Talia, but there’s a lot packed into this issue (as usual) and it’s hard to process out of the larger story’s context.

Speaking of “the larger story,” the new House Of Mystery (#1 written by Matthew Sturges and drawn by Luca Rossi) features a short story nestled within the main one. Seems that someone’s stolen the HOM from the Dreaming and turned it into the Hotel California — you leave when it says you can leave, and no sooner. Blondes are the protagonists here: Miss Keele, the architect who’s been drawing the House, Close Encounters-style, runs to it in order to escape her macabre pursuers. Cress, the typical House resident, protests her captivity. Sally, a more mellow resident, tells her own gruesome story as “payment” for her tenancy. (It’s written by Bill Willingham and drawn by Ross Campbell.) I thought the threads worked well together, although I had to work harder than usual to keep everyone straight. (That’s what I get with Vertigo, I know.) Rossi was unfamiliar to me, but his work reminds me of a looser Michael Lark or a tighter Jesus Saiz — thick lines and a little sardonic. Likewise with Campbell, whose work was much tighter and more “realistic,” which made his story that much more effective. So, good job, Vertigo: you’ve gotten me reading one of your books for the first time since Army@Love #1.

I picked up Joe Kubert’s Tor #1 (by guess who) based on the strength of Kubert’s body of work. I’d barely heard of Tor, but Kubert + caveman seemed to be a good fit. It’s a story told without dialogue, or balloons of any kind: an omniscient narrator describes Tor’s thoughts. Tromping away from his dark past, Tor stops to treat his wounds and get some food, inadvertently eating some psychedelic fruit. Later, as indicated by the cover, he saves a hairy humanoid from a croc-o-saurus before running into the people who put the victim there. It’s not an unfamiliar story, but it’s told well (of course) and it is enticing enough to get me to stick around.

Evil demigods plague both stories in Countdown To Mystery #7. In the Eclipso story (written by Matthew Sturges, pencilled by Chad Hardin, inked by various people), Bruce Gordon and the accumulated superheroes (Hawk, Dove, Creeper, Plastic Man) take on an Eclipso cult and the badder-than-ever dark god himself. I get the feeling that this story depends on various ways to keep the Spectre in check, but since this is the penultimate issue, that’s not quite as big a problem anymore. Hardin’s pencils are fine; nothing flashy, more like cleaner Tom Grindberg back when Grindberg was trying to be Neal Adams. This story has jumped around so much I’m not sure who it’s about anymore, and that makes it harder to tell if it’s going anywhere.

The Doctor Fate story (plot by the late Steve Gerber, script by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Justiniano, inked by Walden Wong) finds the helmet in the hands of a young woman who’s not ready for its power, and who gets taken on a trip through Hell as a result. You know the drill: the world is a cesspool of sweat and saliva, we’re all just ants compared to the demons who really control things, yadda yadda yadda. Next issue is the multiple-choice ending necessitated by Gerber’s death, so this could end up a few different ways.

The second issue of Batman: Death Mask (#2 by Yoshinori Natsume) was an improvement. Most of it is a flashback to Bruce’s martial-arts training, with the requisite Batman foreshadowing. In the context of this story, though, the foreshadowing takes on a more mystical aspect which comes back to haunt Batman in the present. This issue has more action than the last one, which made it feel “more manga” to my untrained eyes.

Back in the land of left-to-right Batman, Detective Comics #844 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs) concludes the Zatanna/Ventriloquist two-parter with the origin of the current Ventriloquist. Once the mousy daughter of a mob boss, she got glammed up after being left for dead and finding Scarface. Pretty good for a Bat-villain origin, and Dini ties it into “Face The Face,” the One Year Later reintroduction to Batman. As for Zatanna, I have to say I liked the way Dini handled her mindwiping of Batman ‘way back when, but I’m not buying her throwing herself at Bruce. Nice try, though.

Because I didn’t have 1974’s Justice League #111, I bought the DC Universe Special: JLA which reprinted it (the first appearance of Libra) and the 3-part Secret Society story which helped give Identity Crisis its foundation. I won’t go into details, because these are pretty much research material, but the printing seemed off on the Secret Society story and Dick Giordano’s inks seemed a bit too blotchy on the Libra story. Weird.

Finally, at long last here’s Action Comics Annual #11 (written by Richard Donner and Geoff Johns, drawn by Adam Kubert), the conclusion of “Last Son.” It’s wall-to-wall combat, with the United States military, Superman, Luthor, Bizarro, Metallo, the Parasite, and (eventually) the Justice League and Justice Society versus a decent amount of Phantom Zone escapees. Luthor is the key to the issue, both in his motivation for helping Superman and the perverse glee he finds in killing Kryptonians. The ending is a little problematic given the current state of Superman comics, but maybe there will be an addendum which bridges the gap. Or maybe this takes place “now” (given one of Chris’s comments) and it’ll be a plot thread for Trinity. Anyway, it was a good issue, well-told by Kubert, which should make more sense once it’s put in proper context.

April 22, 2008

New comics 4/16/08

Let’s begin with Captain America #37 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting), an issue where everybody hassles Bucky and/or Tony Stark for the whole New Cap thing. Its tone is lighter than the book’s been in a while, with Bucky commenting on everyone hassling him and a weird anachronistic dream sequence. After the relentless pace of the last few issues, though, it’s a welcome change. There are also some nice moments involving the Falcon which I appreciated more in light of plok’s advice on the ’70s Steve Englehart run. My one complaint involves a certain ex-Avenger who shows up at Bucky’s loft. I wouldn’t have known who it was without his being identified in dialogue; and I know that’s part of what dialogue does, but I see “burly blond guy” as drawn by Epting and I think Steve Rogers. Either him or Aquaman. In other words, he didn’t look like ******* to me. Nitpicky, I know.

Bat Lash #5 (written by Sergio Aragones & Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin) finds Bat looking to settle affairs with Brubaker and Wilder, the story’s main villains. Helping matters along are the rest of the town and Bat’s Native American allies, all of whom want the bad guys dead. It’s a darkly comic issue which doesn’t zip along as quickly as it wants to. It’s decent enough, I guess. It does set up what I presume will be the final showdown, which in turn should form the foundation of Bat’s familiar personality. So, looking forward to next issue, because it needs to make up for the shortcomings of its predecessors.

Exposition balances action in Tangent: Superman’s Reign #2 (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs), as the Tangent GL revives one of the Tangent Jokers for one last adventure. That has to wait, however, because the Joker needs to tell us about her death at Tangent Superman’s hands. The other action sequence involves more Tangent heroes trying to free the Tangent Atom, and that’s balanced against a scene with the Tangent Superman intimidating some sheiks. Tangent, Tangent, Tangent. Still, I’m surprised at how well the Tangent U. holds together, considering it started life as a series of one-shots. This continues to be one of Jurgens’ better writing efforts, and I like Jamal Igle a lot already.

Superman #675 (pencilled by Renato Guedes and Jorge Correa Jr., inked by Jose Wilson Magalhaes and Correa) is Kurt Busiek’s last issue as writer before he moves over to the weekly Trinity starting in June. Accordingly, he can go out on a story where Superman fights Daxamite priests (I thought they were pacifists), the power-duplicating Paragon, and the new Galactic Golem. Busiek has done a great job recreating the feel of a Superman comic from the 1970s, when the conflicts came from disruptions to the character’s semi-formal routines. Here, Busiek has been building those routines, so the normal super-fights tend to come across like days at the office. This particular arc has been a little more shaggy than some, but it still holds together well, even in the parts describing the Golem and how to defeat it. The art is good — Guedes’ work is very similar to what I’d call the thin-lined, “open” style of Pete Woods, who started with Busiek two years ago. Superman is big but not bulky or overmuscled, and everybody moves well. Correa picks up the spare without being too noticeably different, so god work all around.

I liked The Flash #239 (written by Tom Peyer, drawn by Freddie Williams II) more than I did Peyer’s first issue, and that’s mostly due to the rationalization of Wally’s behavior. An increasingly cranky Jay Garrick gets a lot of attention this time out, which leaves Wally free to act more like the Wally we know. He does get a pretty good gig this issue, but doesn’t get a chance to enjoy it. Peyer’s script is effective at portraying the tide of public opinion turning against Wally. While a lot of that might be mind control, Peyer gives it enough nuance that we’re never quite sure. I also liked Williams’ art throughout this issue, which I think is a first. He’s finally getting a good feel for Wally’s figure and his movement. (Hey, it took me a while to come around to Pat Gleason too.)

The Brave and the Bold #12 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Bob Wiacek) finishes the “Megistus” storyline with a plethora of characters including Superman, the Challengers, Green Lantern, and Metamorpho. However, the star turns out to be Challenger June, who apparently has some inferiority issues over not “living on borrowed time” like the original Challs. Why she has these issues after forty-odd years with the group is never quite explained, but not being a COTU scholar I’ll defer to Waid on that one. The script is a little more clunky than is usual for this book, probably due to the number of characters and the wonky element-transmuting mechanics of the plot. Ordway does well with it, though; and he delivers customarily solid work here. Although there’s a clever nod to Final Crisis, here’s hoping that this book continues to be the tonic for the constant-crossover mentality.

… And speaking of which, the penultimate issue of Countdown (#2 written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins) starts with Giant Turtle-Boy Jimmy and ends with what looks like the series’ most obvious setup for Final Crisis. (That is, before DC decided that this series wouldn’t really lead into FC quite so much.) It’s pretty straightforward stuff — two interconnected fights bridged by some Atom heroics, portrayed well by Kolins and colorist Tom Chu. (I’m guessing Giffen might have contributed to the breakdowns, but I don’t know for sure). Let’s put it this way — this issue made me think Kolins would be a good fit for a Hulk series. It didn’t redeem all of Countdown, and I doubt there’ll be much in this week’s final issue to do that, but on its own it was a good fight.

April 15, 2008

New comics 4/9/08

You might already have seen my lengthy (shocking!) post about Titans #1 and Batman Confidential #16 over at Blog@Newsarama. Regardless, there’s still a truckload of new books to go through here.

First I want to mention Green Arrow And Black Canary #7 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Wayne Faucher). When I saw that Cliff Chiang would be leaving this title, I announced loudly that he was one of the big reasons I was buying the book. If he went, I might just follow him; and how would you like them apples, DC?

Well, as it happens, new artists Mike Norton and Wayne Faucher do their darndest to replicate Chiang’s endearing thick-lined style, which is nice. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a touch of Mike Parobeck in their work. So, well done all. As long as Norton and Faucher are on the book, I’ll be getting it.

As for the story, it may not please readers who think that longtime Justice Leaguers shouldn’t comport themselves like they’ve OD’ed on “Alias” reruns; but hey, I liked it. After Ollie, Dinah, and Mia interrogate the guys they captured last issue, it’s off to England for more hijinx in a pub. The story seems to have gotten padded out by at least an issue, but that may be so that Winick can introduce the guy our heroes meet this issue. Anyway, the trail leads back to one of Dinah’s old flames, which should be interesting….

I liked a lot of things about The Last Defenders #2 (script by Joe Casey, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Jim Muniz, inks by Cam Smith), but it’s hard to describe why. The book isn’t so much about this weird little group of “Defenders” as it is about the idea of the Defenders, and I suppose the sense that you can’t impose too much organization upon it or it all falls apart. This issue is divided essentially in two: the opening fight scene which picks up from last issue, and the “infiltration” scene which sets up the cliffhanger. Running through the book is a jaunty, smart-aleck attitude where Joe Casey (by his own admission) essentially becomes Giffen’s Justice League scripter, following in the keystrokes of J.M. DeMatteis, Bill Messner-Loebs, and Gerard Jones. It’s that kind of attitude, and it actually ends up propelling the overall plot. Accordingly, the somewhat chunky, Ed McGuinness-y figures Jim Muniz pencils sometimes seem out of place — too macho where they should be more comical — but once we get past an Iron Man whose head seems to be shrinking as we watch, the effect becomes negligible. Revealing the book’s villains as a couple of obscure Jack Kirby creations from the ’70s doesn’t hurt either.

Who wants to bet that Marvel does a “Special Rough Cut!” of Fantastic Four #556 (written by Mark Millar, pencilled by Bryan Hitch, inked by Hitch and Andrew Currie) where the stupid “blizzard” effects are removed? If you’ve seen the issue you know the problem. If not … well, let’s just say there are probably a half-dozen better ways to depict a snowstorm via sequential art, but obviously none of them looked as “realistic” as just putting random white splotches all over the panels. Especially when said panels depict dozens of tiny superheroes attacking a big red-white-and-blue robot. Thanks, Marvel, for making Hitch’s work unreadable. The rest of the book is about like you’d expect; namely, very pleased with itself. I didn’t think FF could test my patience any more than the JMS run did, but maybe I was wrong.

Superman Confidential comes to an end with #14 (written by B. Clay Moore, pencilled by Phil Hester, inked by Ande Parks), the conclusion of the Jimmy Olsen/Toyman story. I liked it well enough. I like Hester and Parks’ work generally, and this issue hit all the right Toyman, Jimmy, and Superman beats. The story itself wasn’t anything special, but it wasn’t egregiously bad either.

It was good to see the regular team of Peter Tomasi (writer) Patrick Gleason (penciller) and Prentis Rollins (inker) back in Green Lantern Corps #23. The Boodikka story was only two issues, but it felt like an eternity. However, we’re now looking at a few months with Mongul, the Sinestro rings, and a garden full of Black Mercy. This issue introduces that arc, with most of it devoted to summoning Guy, Kyle, Dr. Natu, et al. to Oa for their mission to round up the aforesaid yellow rings. I liked it pretty well. Tomasi has a better handle on the dialogue here than he does in Nightwing, by which I mean that he doesn’t seem to be trying as hard to make the characters sound cool. Gleason and Rollins have long since settled into a comfortable groove on this title. The Black Mercy might be getting overexposed of late, but I still have high hopes for this story.

Another Green Lantern shows up in Wonder Woman #19 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Bernard Chang, inked by Jon Holdridge), but since he’s unfamiliar to us, Diana spends most of the issue fighting him. It’s a good illustration of the “fighting shows the value of not fighting” philosophy that informs the modern take on Wonder Woman, and it has the added advantage of letting Diana go one-on-one with a Green Lantern. Meanwhile, Etta Candy and a couple of Khunds have their own roles to play in deciding the fate of the planet. The art is good, but I still can’t put my finger on who Chang’s WW looks like. I was also pleasantly surprised at the ending, which I hope has repercussions down the line.

Speaking of repercussions, Booster Gold #8 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) finds the death-cheating Blue Beetle and Booster Gold teaming up with a motley crew of superheroes to invade Max Lord’s headquarters and maybe try to free Superman from Max’s mental control. Yeah, good luck with that. Johns and Katz’s script is good as usual, and I notice this issue how much more fluid Dan Jurgens’ figures have gotten over the course of this series. It’s another solid issue of a title which might just make DC’s labyrinthine history accessible to (and, more importantly, fun for) the casual reader.

On the other hand, there’s Countdown #3 (written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Freddie Williams II), a Superman/Darkseid fight involving Dark Mary Marvel, a Kryptonite-powered Jimmy Olsen, and the Atom. There’s 40-odd pages left in this monster storyline, and they’ll pick up on Wednesday with Jimmy Vs. Darkseid. I can’t make that sound any better. Freddie Williams, bless his heart, isn’t quite the right artist for this throwdown either — his characters look just a little too goofy for what’s obviously meant to be serious business. Well, except for the last page, but I think that on some level that’s meant to be serious too … and if so, that’s just sad.

The serious/funny thing is handled much better, of course, in the concluding issue of Groo: Hell On Earth (#4 produced by Sergio Aragones, with help from Mark Evanier, Tom Luth, and Stan Sakai), in which the Sage manages to get everyone lined up so that war is averted and environmental catastrophe is at least mitigated. It’s been a fun little story — somewhat obvious as an allegory, but it’s not like Groo has ever been subtle.

Serenity: Better Days #2 (written by Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews, drawn by Will Conrad) finds the crew imagining what they’ll do when they’re rich, which turns out to be quite entertaining whether presented in single-panel gags or more extended sequences. The art is fine, and Conrad captures the look of the show and its cast well. As was the case last issue, the mechanics of one scene still don’t make sense to me after multiple readings, but again, maybe I am slow. Also, the cliffhanger seems a little confusing. I was entertained, but maybe the book isn’t technically as good as I thought.

Finally, I did buy Batman: Death Mask #1 (by ´╗┐Yoshinori Natsume), the “look! Bat-Manga!” miniseries, because I try to keep an open mind. I don’t read manga, and I don’t watch much anime, mostly because I am too busy with other things to give those media any significant attention. However, I will say that this Batman manga doesn’t seem very innovative either for Batman or for manga. It certainly doesn’t have the energy that a rookie like me might have expected. Instead, it’s a black-and-white Batman story told from right to left. Maybe the speed lines and hyperactivity have been toned down for us entry-level readers? That would be understandable, but unfortunately the story isn’t much to recommend either. The titular death mask kills people, there’s a mysterious woman from Bruce Wayne’s past, and Bruce is having strange dreams. But for the format, it’d be an average arc from Legends Of The Dark Knight. I’ll keep getting the miniseries to see how it turns out, and to support this kind of cross-pollenization, but so far it looks like a missed opportunity.

April 4, 2008

New comics 4/2/08

Filed under: batman, countdown, legion, nightwing, supergirl, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 1:29 am
First up this week is Detective Comics #843 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs), an issue which mixes the Penguin, Zatanna, the Ventriloquist, and a couple of characters from earlier in Dini’s tenure. With all of those players, you’d think there’s not much room for Batman, and indeed, Bruce Wayne is in it more than Batman is. It’s a tightly-plotted issue revolving around a Gotham rich-kid opening a nightclub to compete with the Penguin’s, and hiring Zatanna for a little extra sizzle. The Ventriloquist’s new “voice” reveals a surprising secret, and the cliffhanger’s pretty good too. As for the art, I don’t dislike Nguyen and Fridoffs, but I’m still getting used to their style. Nguyen uses very thin lines and Fridoffs is heavy on the blacks, and it reminds me of early Mike Mignola.

Keeping with the Bat-theme, here’s Nightwing #143 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Christian Alamy and Mark McKenna), a stopping point in the current grave-robbing-villain storyline. If you like Nightwing and Robin vs. an island base full of zombie super-soldiers, scenes punctuated by witty banter, and references to classic rock and Jaws, this is the issue for you. I found it to be a little too pleased with itself, but still an improvement for the title overall. Don Kramer fills in for Rags Morales this issue, but except for a little more stiffness I didn’t really notice. Together with Alamy and McKenna, the art isn’t too far from normal.

The fill-in work of Ron Randall is less noticeable on Supergirl #28 (written by Kelley Puckett, with the balance pencilled by Drew Johnson and inked by Ray Snyder), an issue that was actually pretty decent. After more than a few issues so inscrutable they’d make the average episode of “Aeon Flux” look like a flowchart, here’s one which starts to pull everything together. Supergirl has promised an adorable moppet she’ll find a cure for his cancer. Naturally, everyone (personified here initially by Wonder Woman) thinks she’s nuts. Supergirl then finds a cult-favorite DC character from the ’90s (I won’t spoil the cover’s tease!) to try and convert to her side. Most of the issue involves Supergirl talking to Wonder Woman and then to Mystery Character, and she does continue to act a bit weird, but with this issue I felt like there was a purpose.

Sadly, that provides an apt segue into Countdown #4 (written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne), which once again seems to have lost sight of its purpose. After the last few weeks’ detour with the Great Disaster, our heroes are back on the real Earth … but, as the cover indicates, Mary Marvel has decided to go back to the black-cheerleader outfit which got her in so much trouble 30 years ago when this series was still young. So she fights the Atom and Green Lantern and Troia on the steps of the Hall of Justice (the JLA’s not home, of course) in order to kidnap Jimmy Olsen for Darkseid. I like Jamal Igle and Keith Champagne’s work a lot, although their Darkseid seemed a little off, so I didn’t have many complaints with the art. I guess the overall story is starting to come together too. However, the Mary Marvel “reversion” still feels like a sharp yank after all that buildup to “redeem” her.

Finally — and I do mean finally!Action Comics #863 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal) provides the big blowout conclusion to “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes.” The payoff is Superman (and, eventually, the Legion)’s fight with Earth-Man in the streets of Metropolis. The secondary payoffs are a couple of rah-rah spreads of the Legion. Sun Boy’s role in the story seemed a little too convenient, but considering that this arc could easily have lost an issue without much trouble, I appreciated this installment’s pacing. Also, remember last time how I didn’t like the way Butch Guice “directed” Cap’s fall onto the hovercar? This issue features Superman falling pretty much from orbit, to entirely predictable results, but I liked the way Frank laid out the sequence. Frank’s faces are still a bit creepy (those eyes!) and everyone looks kinda pale (thanks to Dave McCaig), but on the whole I can’t complain.

March 31, 2008

New comics 3/26/08

Countdown #5 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Jim Starlin, inked by Rodney Ramos) continues the apocalyptic doings from last issue, with the ominous Buddy Blank narration, the expected trip to the bunker, and the also-expected departure of “our” heroes back to the main DC-Earth. It’s a harrowing issue, but in the great scheme of things it’s hard to say where it fits. I mean, we don’t yet know how important Earth-Kamandi will be to the series as a whole; and if the point of these few issues was to show that Earth’s origin, and leave it at that, like a Paul Harvey story, well … it seems kinda perfunctory. I guess if any series can make the end of the world feel like a side trip, Countdown can. (In fact, it already has — remember the Earth Superboy-Prime destroyed, a few months back?) Accordingly, I’m not sure why it took Jim Starlin to draw this issue, and why we needed to see a Legionnaire devoured by rats.

Countdown To Adventure #8‘s lead story (written by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Julio Ferreira) concludes about how you’d expect, but it’s still fun to see Ellen Baker team up with Adam Strange. On its own it’s a lot of fighting and shooting and heroic poses, and overall the arc has been pretty good. I can’t say the same for the Forerunner story (written by Justin Gray, drawn by Fabrizio Fiorentino and Adam DeKraker), which might make more sense if I ever decide to revisit it, but which does end on a somewhat unexpected note. The story and art have improved over the past few months, but I didn’t have much interest in Forerunner before, and I don’t appear to now.

Teen Titans #57 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti and Ruy Jose) continues the “Terror Titans” arc. This issue focuses on Ravager’s fight against a couple of Terror Titans, juxtaposed against Robin’s attempts at making up with Wonder Girl. I liked the issue pretty well. I thought it was paced well, I liked Barrows’ storytelling, I think Palmiotti and Jose improve on his pencils, and I liked how Ravager was written. So, good job, all; and see you next month!

Green Lantern #29 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert) begins “Secret Origin,” yet another look at Hal Jordan’s life. Apparently Hal did just about anything he wanted to from a very early age. The End. Oh, okay, this issue goes into Hal’s combative relationships with his mother and brothers, which in turn are based in his hero-worship of his dad, who you’ll remember crashed his jet as young Hal watched. If you’ve been following Johns’ work on the character, there won’t be too many surprises here, except maybe for the details about his mom. As for the art, I found myself wondering if maybe Reis and Albert might have stepped aside for the flashback scenes. They’re quite good on the regular sci-fi superhero material, but somehow their work felt a little too meticulous for this kind of coming-of-age story.

For some reason that I only noticed with this issue, Jim Gordon looks like Captain Kangaroo (with glasses) all throughout Batman Confidential #15 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Mark Farmer). It’s Part 3 of “Wrath Child,” in which we learn the origin of the original Wrath and the startling secret of the current one. I like this story because it’s high-concept: a supervillain who’s the evil duplicate of Batman, fighting Batman and the newly-emancipated Nightwing. It provides a few fun touches: a flashback reveals a ’60s-TV-show-style Batcopter and Batboat, and at one point Dick slams fist into palm a la Burt Ward, exclaiming “Holy–!” to boot. Morales’ and Farmer’s work is dynamic and clean, and I note approvingly that Morales draws this Nightwing to look appropriately younger than the Nightwing he currently draws in the eponymous book. Looking forward to the end of this one, but wishing this team would do more of the same.

The Spirit #15 (written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, drawn by Paul Smith) presents a diamond-smuggling switcheroo farce. It wants to be witty and nimble, but sadly comes up short. Although Paul Smith is an able cartoonist who apes Eisner’s character designs well, he doesn’t go in for the storytelling or layout flourishes that helped distinguish Darwyn Cooke’s work. As for the story, Aragones and Evanier are normally very witty on Groo, but many of the gags here seem forced and/or familiar.

The mostly-prose Star Trek spinoff, New Frontier, gets another comic-book story with the new miniseries “Turnaround” (issue #1 written by Peter David and drawn by Stephen Thompson). I haven’t read a New Frontier story in a few years, and it looks from this issue that there have been some changes to the cast. Of course, that assumes you’re familiar with the cast in the first place. Otherwise, the story doesn’t do much to introduce the players. Essentially, an experimental starship goes missing, Captain Calhoun and the USS Excalibur investigate, there’s unrelated political intrigue featuring an ex-officer, and another ex-officer is now one of Trek’s ubiquitous omnipotent beings. Oh, and there’s another familiar-looking person on Excalibur who can pop in, EMH-like, when the story requires. The art is decent enough — everything and everyone look appropriately Trek-y, and there aren’t too many likenesses to worry about. It’s not the worst Trek comic art I’ve seen, but not the best either. I will admit to being intrigued enough by the setup to come back for issue #2, but part of that is the hope that various subplots will start to knit together.

Finally, All-Star Superman #10 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely) is a poignant look at the last days of Superman … at least on his particular Earth. I’m sure you’ve read about the synchronicity of this issue’s conclusion with the Siegel heirs’ legal victory, but even before I learned about that I was struck by Morrison’s ability to evoke Superman. Morrison and Quitely use the image of Superman’s literary creation as a touchstone for the character as ideal, which is a little ironic considering that they’re working on an “ideal” version of the character.

But it’s only an ideal from our perspective, isn’t it? We’re used to Superman as a commodity — as copyright maintenance, as trademark material. We see Superman used as a sales-goosing guest star, as the center of a mythology that expands or contracts with the times, as a paragon of virtue challenged endlessly by fans who want something darker and more realistic.

All-Star Superman #10 speaks instead to “Superman’s” power to lead by example. It’s about inspiration, creation, and imitation in an endless cycle (“neverending,” per the story’s title). The hero of this story may be dying, but his legacy lives; just as the hero created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster all those years ago has produced a body of work full of its own entertainment and inspiration. I don’t mean to evangelize in such a purple way, and the image of a dying Superman is certainly not the hardest way to create sympathy in a reader — but this issue pulls together the thematic threads of the series so well, and sets up its climax so effectively.

Morrison and Quitely’s Superman speaks in simple, declarative sentences. He wears a costume which looks homemade, but not undignified. He’s the center of his world, and this issue shows him preparing that world for his departure. Whether the series will actually end with his death seems immaterial at this point.

March 30, 2008

New comics 3/19/08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 17, 2008

New comics 3/5/08 and 3/12/08

I’ve got a lot of these to go through, so I’ll try to keep it short.

3/5/08

Justice League: The New Frontier Special #1: Very nice all around. I probably didn’t need to see how another Batman/Superman fight would play out, but it’s justified as a “lost chapter” of NF. The Robin/Kid Flash and Wonder Woman/Black Canary stories are cute, the period ephemera is well-done, and the behind-the-scenes look at the DVD adaptation is pure eye candy.

Teen Titans Year One #3: Was a little surprised at the pacing of the overall miniseries, as depicted in this issue; but better earlier than later, I guess. Besides, the story’s new direction looks intriguing. It’s been good so far, so I’m in for the rest.

Supergirl #27: It’s an understatement to say that this book hasn’t been what I expected. If you remember the Steven T. Seagle/Scott McDaniel run on Superman a few years back, it’s kinda like that, except on downers. I’m pretty much buying this book to see if it all makes sense. Plus, I like Drew Johnson and this issue’s guest (fill-in?) artist, Rick Leonardi. S’girl isn’t frustratingly bad like, say, early Hawkgirl or late Gotham Knights. It’s just frustrating.

Countdown To Adventure #7: I read this book for the Adam Strange/Animal Man/Starfire story. I have no idea what’s going on with the Forerunner story.

Nightwing #143: I like the fact that writer Peter Tomasi isn’t afraid to plug Nightwing firmly into the center of DC’s superhero culture. It can get a little precious, and sometimes — not so much in this issue, but certainly in the last one — it distracts from the main plot. This issue was fine, but I bet if it were your first DC comic in a while, you’d be mystified.

Detective Comics #842: Batman must deal with an EVIL! suit of armor that he ended up wearing in the Ra’s Al Ghul storyline from a couple months back. You know Spider-Man’s black costume? Like that, except Batman doesn’t destroy it, it doesn’t make him dance like a poser, and (so far) it hasn’t come to life. I’m not sure why the world needed this story.

Green Lantern #28: The “Lost Lantern’s” trial results in the creation of a Red Lantern. Hal has a Clarice Starling moment with Sinestro. We check in with the demons on Ysmault. The Guardians issue a radical new law. I can see how it all fits together, but I know the dots won’t be connected for about another year.

Countdown #8: Yay, Ray Palmer’s back as the Atom! Yay, Firestorm is back (although whither Martin Stein?)! Yay, Habitat, the Hairies, and the rest of Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen creations! Boo, all the bickering and running around pointlessly.

3/12/08

JLA Classified #54: Will probably read better in the trade. Since this is the last installment of the Titus storyline, the “past” narrative takes up the top half of each page, and the “present” gets the bottom half. Sometimes that trick works, sometimes not. Here, it might’ve been better to split the pages vertically. As for the story, Titus beats the tar out of the League for as long as is dramatically appropriate. The ends on an ecumenical note, which is always nice, but a bit treacly for the Justice League. Overall, though, pretty good.

Batman Confidential #14: Part 2 of a new look at a one-off villain from the ’80s, The Wrath. As a modern-style story with an out-of-date setting, it’s not exactly a nostalgia-fest. However, I give it points for picking a time period other than “Year One.” Otherwise, I’m not sure what the general appeal would be.

The Last Defenders #1: The Defenders are famous as Marvel’s “non-team.” This book goes a step further, taking pains to point out how its characters are nowhere near as cool as the original Defenders. It’s a weird little exercise in obstinance wrapped in a story about white supremacists and big snake-monsters. I’ll probably stick with it.

Fantastic Four #555: Boring. Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary are fine craftsmen, but there’s still no life in an issue which features an illicit tryst, a duplicate Earth, and a giant killer robot. It’s all hat and no cattle.

Superman Confidential #13: Part two of the Toyman/Jimmy Olsen story is okay, and I like Phil Hester and Ande Parks’ art, but it feels a bit padded and lethargic. Probably could have used some pruning.

Star Wars: Rebellion #12: Part two of yet another “infiltrate an Imperial base” story that just kinda sits there. Colin Wilson’s art reminds me of early Howard Chaykin, and his Luke doesn’t look much like Mark Hamill either.

Bat Lash #4: The big apocalyptic issue which sets up the climax. This miniseries has been decent, but it’s hard to reconcile all the blood and death with the happy-go-lucky tone which got me interested in the character. (Lots of cattle, but I thought the hat would be different, in other words.) Maybe Sergio Aragones can do it. We’ll see.

Countdown To Mystery #4: I continue to like the Doctor Fate story as it plays with the (pretty much inevitable) conclusion that has Kent Nelson become the latest Doctor F. This installment includes the most traditional superhero action we’ve seen since early on, but the pieces still haven’t fallen into place. Most origin stories seem to place the origin alongside another threat, in order to give the new hero something to do in the third act. This one is all about the origin process itself, with Inza’s comic-book ventures serving as metacommentary. Makes me miss Steve Gerber that much more. P.S. This book also contains an Eclipso story which is once again threatening to meander.

Booster Gold #7: It’s The OMAC Project, Take Two, as we see how Max Lord took over the world once Booster saved Beetle from an (untimely?) death. (By the way, I’ve just started the second season of “Star Trek Voyager,” and Tom and Harry are reminding me a lot of Beetle and Booster.) More subplots converge alongside more trips into DC’s nostalgia mine, so for me, pretty good.

Superman #674: New artist Renato Guedes brings a nice “bigness” to the proceedings. Outgoing writer Kurt Busiek brings back an old JLA villain (from just before the Detroit days) to threaten Superman. Meanwhile, Supes has problems with Mon-El and the Kents have a new apartment. It’s a full issue which doesn’t feel overstuffed.

Wonder Woman #18: Guest artist Bernard Chang helps Gail Simone send WW into space, in what looks like an oblique sequel to the “Space Pirate” storyline from the early ’90s. Basically, she’s challenged by the Khunds (who act like Klingons) to stop an unstoppable race which threatens Khundia. Also, she gets pre-engaged to Tom Tresser, and Etta Candy shows up too. Chang makes WW look like someone familiar, but I can’t think of who. His art is a lot less porntastic than I feared it would be.

Countdown #7: Yet another parallel world, 90% close to the familiar DC-Earth. Another Tom Derenick-pencilled issue too. I swear, this series would be twice as good if it were half as long.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #6: This issue seemed so indebted to “Alias” (the TV show, not the comic book) that I’m starting to think Connor Hawke is the Michael Vaughn designated-victim figure. Remember when Vaughn drowned at the end of Season One, or when he got shot like Bonnie & Clyde at the beginning of Season Five? My money is therefore on Connor to pull through.

Green Lantern Corps #22: Part two of the Boodikka/Alpha Lantern storyline seems pretty forgettable, although it’ll probably look a lot more important in 2009. Today, though, I’m tempted to think that all the procedural GLC stuff would fit better in this book than in Green Lantern, with the Boodikka story as a backup.

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.

February 24, 2008

New comics 2/20/08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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