Comics Ate My Brain

January 28, 2007

New comics 1/17/07 and 1/24/07

Wow, two weeks withouth a post? Jeez, I’m sorry. A combination of factors, including the latest “successor” installment of Grumpy Old Fan, compelled me to do another double-sized weekly roundup. I’m also motivated to do some more TItans recaps. Anyway, let’s get right to it.

The best book of this bunch was, no question, Criminal #4 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips), another really great issue. Not a panel or word is wasted. For me, this story is art-house noir comics — it reminds me of seeing a really good indie-film thrilla at the Kentucky Theater, the local art-house in my old hometown.

Runner-up is Checkmate #10 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Jesus Saiz, inked by Fernando Blanco): a darn fine issue, especially considering that I couldn’t remember who the Checkmate agent was supposed to be and was too lazy to look it up. If it were my first issue, I would have been just as satisfied. Considering that this is a Shadowpact crossover, that’s probably what DC wants to hear. Also, Saiz and Blanco do a really fantastic job — moody and creepy, with a nice earth-tones palette from colorist Santiago Arcas.

I was hoping it’d be Ray Palmer in 52 #37 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Pat Olliffe, inks by Drew Geraci), and I really didn’t expect my Lightray prediction to pan out, but what we got was good enough. It’ll probably make more sense in the long run anyway. I don’t know if I’ll be able to say the same about Buddy’s aliens’ involvement, but there you go. 52 #38 (pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) was a better-balanced installment, building some suspense about the return to Nanda Parbat and creating a nice bit of dread with the Four Horsemen. I would have liked a little more with Buddy and the aliens — did they watch movies, pick their fantasy JLA, or run cheap shots into the ground on their week off?

Speaking of the Justice League, JLA Classified #32 (written by Dan Slott and Dan Jurgens, pencils by Jurgens, inks by Trevor Scott) kicks off its Tribute to 2004 with the first of two arcs originally announced for that year. This is Slott’s “The 4th Parallel,” featuring the Red King, an ordinary guy with the power to control probablity through manipulation of parallel universes. (Was this delayed, at least in part, by the 52 aftereffects? I dunno.) RK’s scheme is somewhat hard to grasp, but Jurgens’ usual stiff figures are softened well by Scott’s inks. Jurgens also finished the script, I think on account of Slott’s exclusive Marvel contract (right?), so I hesitate to call this one of Slott’s weaker efforts, because that’s not fair to him or Jurgens. Even so, not a bad start.

I don’t have any particular criticism of Green Lantern #16 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert), although Hal’s brief remarks about POW torture are a bit much whether they’re meant to come from him or Johns. Reis and Albert make a good team, so it helps that this issue is mostly action.

Since I spent most of high school and half of college with Ricardo Villagran’s inks on DC’s Star Trek title, his guest art on Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #48 (written by Kurt Busiek) was welcome. Most of the plot concerns the old Aqua-villain Fisherman being some kind of parasite (what, another one?), with a subplot about Aquaman confronting an old failure while on a rescue mission. Villagran is less “sketchy” (for lack of a better term) than Butch Guice or Phil Winslade, but he does a good job with both the landlubbers and the undersea action. The story itself feels very prefatory, though, like it’s counting on Part 2 to pull it through.

The same applies to Birds Of Prey #102 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). While Lois Lane and Barbara play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, in which the hunter becomes the hunted, Manhunter fights evil prison guards until … well, she’s still fighting. Wait ’til next issue.

The Spirit #2 (by Darwyn Cooke) was another good issue, although I don’t have the background with P’Gell to gauge whether she’s portrayed appropriately. I know that’s not entirely the point of this series, but it does walk that tightrope. The issue does establish P’Gell as the Spirit’s femme fatale, for whom he cares but with whom he can never settle down, and at this point in the series we’re still being introduced to everyone.

Fantastic Four #542 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Andy Lanning and Cam Smith) gets the book back on track quite well. I don’t mind Mike McKone, but I do think this title needs a penciller a little less antiseptic.

She-Hulk #15 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) was decent, but I’m not quite used to the old supporting cast being gone. Shulkie fights the Abomination with the power of her brain and some SHIELD help. We’ll see.

With Omega Men #4 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint) focusing on Vril Dox and Superman almost as much as on Tigorr and his lost love, I’m starting to think this is another backdoor prelude to DC’s version of Annihilation. It’s still good, but it doesn’t seem so much like it’s just about the Omegas.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #26 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray) offers more action, plus the slightly revised origin of the Ranzz siblings. Nice cliffhanger.

It’s good that Bart does Flash-y things in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #8 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ron Adrian and Art Thibert, inked by Thibert). It’s bad that the rest of it — especially the just-add-water romance — is so contrived. Maybe things will improve next issue with new writer Marc Guggenheim.

Finally, my ramble this time is about Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Space Between #1 (written by David Tischman, drawn by Casey Maloney). This issue tells a first-season story that would have been a pretty decent first-season episode; but if you know TNG, that’s not exactly a compliment. The idea of a culture with permanent records as fluid as Wikipedia offers a good opportunity for satire, and this issue hits the highlights of those opportunities. Art is sorta-kinda photo-influenced, not unlike an old DC TNG artist named (I think) Rachel Pollack. Everyone looks and sounds about like they should, but 22 pages of story obviously doesn’t translate into 48 minutes of TV time, and that’s the issue’s biggest problem.

Pacing dooms this issue, which spends the first 3-4 pages on the mundanities of hailing the planet, establishing the mission, and beaming everyone down. It strikes me as the kind of thing that a fan would write, thinking (perhaps justifiably) that a fan would want to read it. However, that kind of initial pace can also encourage the reader, at least subliminally, to expect a more fleshed-out story — in other words, to expect a story that would take 48 TV minutes to tell. It ends up making the more important parts feel rushed.

It also points up the differences between film and comics, which I think apply to more than just licensed adaptations. Those 3-4 introductory pages establish the away team’s mission, identify their contact person, and describe (in dialogue) a weird energy surge. However, a one-page splash panel could show the away team beaming down and relate the same information through log-entry captions. The team’s going to meet with the leader pretty soon; he didn’t need to be introduced on the Enterprise viewscreen a couple of pages before.

Moreover, that one-page intro is something that comics can do, and film can’t. It might take an actor 30 seconds to speak all the dialogue that a few captions could convey, and nobody wants to spend 30 seconds — the length of a commercial — on a relatively static image backed only by offscreen narration. With comics, though, the reader can digest those captions at her own pace while taking in the visual information about the planet and the beam-in from the splash panel.

Nevertheless, it seems like a lot of comics these days are so concerned with evoking the experience of film that they have forgotten, or are skittish about using, the narrative tricks that don’t work for film. I know I opened this post by approving of Criminal‘s filmic tendencies, but the difference is its efficiency. Criminal knows how to be a good comic. The new TNG comic is inefficient (wow, sounds like the Borg, huh?) precisely because it tries too hard to capture the beats and pacing of its filmed ideal. It tries to be what it is not, and therefore fails. Infinite combinations, remember?

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December 28, 2006

New comics 12/20/06

It was a good Christmas, but long — three days with family balanced against two spent mostly on the road. Therefore, I haven’t seen these books in a week, and with our office Christmas party going a little late last week, I actually fell asleep reading a couple.

Not Fantastic Four #541, though (written by the departing J. Michael Straczynski, drawn by Mike McKone). Ben Grimm goes to France and meets the Justice League. Now imagine that as written by Frasier and Niles Crane, and that’s the issue in a nutshell. Even McKone’s work seems more light and ethereal than usual, although a lot of that is the pastel color palette. I just shake my head in amazement at this issue, and I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad.

Holy crap, Criminal #3 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips) was good. A great character study really helped ground me in the plot and made me want to reread the first two issues. My only question was the utility of having sex while recovering from a gunshot.

Likewise, She-Hulk #14 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) did a great job with Awesome Andy’s awesome secret origin, although upon further examination I wonder if Burchett cheated by drawing very slight “expressions” on Andy’s head. I didn’t notice them at first, so I guess they were subliminable.

Through no fault of writer Gail Simone, penciller Nicola Scott, or inker Doug Hazlewood, I fell asleep while reading Birds Of Prey #101, and so missed out upon a very exciting issue which starts with Big Barda fighting a jet in mid-air and ends with just about everybody in some kind of trouble. I also never noticed how nice the Scott/Hazlewood team is; better even than Ed Benes was on this book. Glad I started getting it again.

Lots of weird stuff going on in Omega Men #3 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint), and I think I fell asleep during this one too. I’m not sure whether I like Flint’s work, although a 16-panel montage of Tigorr vs. spiders makes up for an earlier panel of a Superman with a lower leg almost as long as his entire torso. Lady Styx from 52 shows up here, all full of Hellraiser-style religion-through-sadism, and there is much freaking out. It’s interesting enough for me to keep going, I suppose.

Checkmate #9 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Jesus Saiz) continues the Kobra-infiltration storyline, revealing along the way that current DC POTUS vacations in Kentucky (represent!). There is (almost literally) a backdoor crossover with another book, some Chaykinesque crosstalk between Sasha and Sarge Steel, and another character retooled by John Ostrander joins Mister Terrific. Pretty good.

Writers Kurt Busiek and Karl Kesel and artists Butch Guice and Phil Winslade wrap up a “classic Aquaman” two-parter in Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #47. It’s okay, I suppose, although it still doesn’t quite feel like classic Aquaman. It does, however, inform the relationship between Aquaman (both of them) and King Shark, so I guess it is worth noting.

Secret Six #6 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti) wraps up pretty well. Most of it is concerned with the Mad Hatter and Vandal Savage, both of whom appear to die in the issue, but one of whom actually doesn’t. I liked it, and it would be interesting to see how Simone handled an ongoing series.

Finally, 52 #33 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Joe Prado and Tom Derenick, inks by Jay Lesten and Rodney Ramos) was appropriately quiet. Nightwing gives Batwoman “official status,” Ralph Dibny steals a doodad from the Flash Museum, the Question gets closer to death, Luthor continues to be a bastard, and there are assorted holiday glimpses of various characters. Oh, and Black Adam reaches the height of his naivete. I can’t tell you which of these elements will be most important to the overall plot, but I do continue to enjoy the ebb and flow of this series. It might have been an objectively uneventful week, but that’s the way the holidays are sometimes.

November 8, 2006

New comics 11/1/06

Seems like every week I’m complaining about how hectic it’s all become, and this week was no different. Wednesday was my birthday (37, woo!), but I had a big stack of comics to read, long-distance congratulatory phone calls, and a Grumpy Old Fan column to write.

Anyway, about those comics….

Seven Soldiers #1 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by J.H. Williams III) arrived here a week late, and even though I’ve read other commentaries online I’m still not sure what to make of it. Overall I enjoyed it, especially the Zatanna bits, but coming to it relatively cold I probably didn’t get as much out of it on the first reading as I could have. I’m seriously considering getting the four paperbacks when the last one comes out in a few months.

Justice League of America #3 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope) was the first issue since #0 that, on balance, I enjoyed. Most of the enjoyment came from Green Lantern, Black Canary, and Arsenal fighting an army of multicolored Red Tornadoes, but a cameo by an old reserve member and that last-minute reveal were also welcome nods to the book’s history. As slow as this reinvention has been, at least Meltzer knows how to handle the minutiae. I just hope the “Big Three fantasy draft” doesn’t last much longer.

Superman Confidential #1 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) was a decent opener that started out with the Royal Flush Gang and ended with our reporter heroes working to bring down an evil casino developer. I have to say, I am not the biggest fan of Tim Sale’s Superman (it’s the face, mostly), but his Lois Lane is very saucy. I am also a bit dubious on what appears to be sentient Kryptonite. If it’s just a narrative device, though, that’s OK. I wouldn’t expect Cooke to set up the Kryptonite for an heroic sacrifice and/or telling Supes it’s always loved him.

For an issue with a nice anniversary-friendly number, Detective Comics #825 (written by Royal McGraw, pencilled by Marcos Marz, inked by Luciana del Negro) tells a pretty inoffensive, unremarkable story about the return of Doctor Phosphorus, a character who first appeared in a Detective from about thirty years ago. I could say more about his narrative significance and the melding of 1970s nuclear fears with 1940s-style corporate deceit, but that really doesn’t come into play here. Batman figures out a scientific way of stopping him, it’s a bit more lighthearted than it would have been prior to Infinite Crisis, and next month Paul Dini will be back.

I like the new-to-52 art team of Patrick Olliffe and Drew Geraci (52 #26 otherwise produced by writers Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid, with breakdowns by Keith Giffen). I also like the return of the Sivana Family, which I don’t think even the nostalgic Jerry Ordway series had time to bring back. (Had they been seen in Outsiders?) They work well with the Black Marvel Family, too, and “Tawky Crawky.” As for the rest of it, not to sound like a broken record, but 52 itself is becoming immune to these little weekly roundups. It has its own rhythm and its own pace. In fact, since I’ve just gotten through watching “Friday Night Lights,” it strikes me as a similar kind of thing. “FNL” isn’t telling a larger story, as far as I can see, just exploring the same sorts of sports-vs.-everything else tensions every week. 52‘s job is, apparently, to keep DC Nation entertained weekly while filling in the missing year. Of course, I say that now, but when things pick up in a few weeks and it all starts coming together, I’ll look like an idiot.

Hawkgirl #57 welcomes new artist Joe Bennett (fresh from 52) to go along with returning writer Walter Simonson, and darn if the book doesn’t make more sense than it did under Howard Chaykin. To be fair, the story seems a bit more straightforward than the Chaykin arc, since it deals with Kendra being kidnapped to stand trial for her role in the Rann-Thanagar War, but Bennett’s work is moodier and less flashy. Again, I still like Chaykin, but in hindsight he probably wasn’t the right artist for this book.

The All New Atom #5 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Eddy Barrows) finds the miniature invaders and the Evil Atom (don’t think his codename is in this issue) all causing problems for our hero, not to mention his father and the Dean having issues with him too. I liked this issue pretty well, even if it did lead into the Brave New World preview which is, by now, five months old. (Will the paperback put it in its proper place?) Barrows, like Bennett, has the kind of style that doesn’t call attention to itself, which makes its wow-moments stand out that much more. When Bennett shows Hawkgirl winging over the city, or here, where Barrows shows Ryan Choi size-changing to impress his dad, it’s impressive to the reader too. Also, Simone must enjoy the miniature-invader dialect, because clearly she’s having fun with it.

I want to like Nightwing #126 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund), but it’s not easy. For one thing, isn’t the name “Biotech Pharmaceuticals” something like “Robot-Made Cars”? I thought biotech was more of a process or a classification, not a brand. Anyway, this is more of some guy in battle armor being killed and no one being quite sure who’s behind it or why. There is a bit of tension when one of NW’s buddies (who might be new to this arc, for all I know) is threatened with death, and Marv has Dick doing what you’d expect Dick Grayson to do — namely, have warm conversations with Alfred Pennyworth and get set up to give acrobatics lessons (not a euphemism). It’s not a bad issue, but it’s just kind of there.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #23 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray) presents a verrry interesting story that I’m surprised wasn’t called “Supergirl’s Return To Krypton!” Unfortunately for the Legion, they render Supergirl powerless in a “Mission: Impossible”-esque attempt to get her better adjusted to the 31st Century, just when what I take to be the Legion of Super-Villains attacks. Best issue in a while, and that’s saying a lot.

I was also surprised at how much of She-Hulk 2 #13 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) I was able to follow, given its roots in ’80s Marvel continuity. Basically, it’s the origins of Thanos and Starfox, continued, as presented through more of Starfox’s trial on Titan. However, because the focus is on Starfox’s alleged abuse of his mind-control powers, it’s easier for me, the rookie, to understand; and, of course, having She-Hulk as the reader’s guide also helps. Finally, once again it’s good to see Rick Burchett working. He has a distinctive style that doesn’t get in the way of his solid storytelling, and he’s just so versatile otherwise.

Agents of Atlas #4 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice), and Beyond #5 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins) are similarly new-reader-friendly, although I’m a little confused about who’s watching the AOA on the first page. Still, both tell pretty straightforward superhero stories with a lot of panache — AOA has fights with giant lobster-creatures and a fun montage of Shutting Down Enemy Bases, and Beyond uses its focus on Hank and Janet to set up its last-reel reversal. Looking forward to the conclusions of both.

I liked Criminal #2 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips) more than I did #1, probably because this was the issue that put the big heist into motion and I could follow the characters better once I saw what they were doing. Not much more to say beyond complimenting the skills of the writer and artist, and others have done that more eloquently than I could.

Appropriately enough, we close with Fantastic Four: The End #1, by Alan Davis (and Mark Farmer inking, according to the cover). If you’ve read The Nail or Superboy’s Legion, you can expect more of the same here — highlights of the FF’s storied history, rearranged in new, apocalyptic patterns. The opening fight with a borgified Dr. Doom especially recalls The Nail‘s Batman/Joker bloodbath, right down to the casualties. Making everyone subject to an anti-aging treatment, and setting the story in an indeterminate future, also brings to mind Howard Chaykin and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez’s Twilight miniseries, which recast many of DC’s goofy ’60s sci-fi characters. All of this is to say that I doubt Davis will go too dark with this miniseries, its title notwithstanding. Moreover, whatever happens, it will look very very pretty.

October 11, 2006

New comics 10/4/06

Filed under: 52, agents of atlas, atom, batman, criminal, fantastic four, nightwing, spider-man, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 2:00 am
Yeah, yeah, I should have done these over the weekend, but 1) most of my family came to visit, and 2) TEN INCHES OF RAIN on Friday and Saturday.

I did like 52 #22 (written by You-Know-Who, breakdowns by Him Again?, pencils by Eddy Barrows, inks by Rob Stull) and its focus on Doc Magnus doing science-fu to get away from the bad guys. The Luthor/Supernova bit at the beginning was okay, I suppose, but I’m getting a little bored with the mini-mysteries. Also, whither Batwoman?

Actually, she does warrant a mention in this week’s Detective Comics (#824 written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher), featuring the return of the Penguin. Add in the Riddler, Zatanna, and Lois Lane, and it’s practically a Marvel book, or maybe a Jeph Loeb one. It’s a cute story overall, and I guess with the Penguin it’s hard not to be cute on some level. Kramer and Faucher are fine Bat-artists — nothing flashy, which again fits the story’s attitude. I did wonder if Zatanna had dislocated her hip in a couple of panels, though.

The (All-New) Atom #4 (written by Gail Simone, inked by Trevor Scott) welcomes new penciller Eddy Barrows for a transitional story between last issue’s Giganta cliffhanger and a new direction about how Ray Palmer’s quantum experiments turned Ivy Town into a weirdness factory. I liked this issue well enough, but I will say that in light of its emphasis on Giganta’s digestive system, reading it while eating dinner was a mistake. Still, Ryan Choi gets to do some traditionally Atom-style heroics, and the bit about Ivy Town’s different neighborhoods should be good for several months’ worth of stories. Art was fine — Barrows, like Don Kramer above, isn’t too flashy, and I agree with other bloggers who see a certain “DC house style” developing. Barrows is no John Byrne, but neither is he *John Byrne!*, if you know what I mean.

I picked up Nightwing #125 for Marv Wolfman’s big return to the character (with Dan Jurgens pencilling and Norm Rapmund inking), and got a perfectly serviceable superhero story about … really, a guy who flips and swings around Manhattan fighting a flying bad guy in battle armor, and then having to explain his bruises to the hott women throwing themselves at him. Typing that out makes it sound like an old-school Daredevil issue, and really, it maybe could have been. Except for some bits about Bruce Wayne and an intriguing meta notion that Dick should have died in Infinite Crisis, nothing about this seemed unique to Nightwing. More to the point, it didn’t feel like Marv Wolfman telling us readers why we should see Nightwing as more than a Daredevil knockoff. I’m going to give Marv a chance, but come on — for years the book was I Don’t Want To Be Batman and now it’s Generic Acrobatic Guy? There’s gotta be a happy medium.

So, Marvel still publishes Fantastic Four, huh? FF #540 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, drawn by Mike McKone) apparently fills in some Civil War gaps to chronicle the no-takebacks breakup of the Richards’ marriage, and also Reed’s misguided attempts to set Peter Parker on the right law-abiding path. If you’re reading the rest of CW, maybe it means something, but like last issue’s crossover, it just leaves me a little cold. I don’t feel like JMS has laid the groundwork for the breakup sufficiently in this book, so that although the senses-shattering events of CW might have blindsided the team, they still should be understandable to the readers. Also, I’m sure I’m not the first person to point this out, but this is the guy who stole a rocketship all those years ago, now lecturing his colleagues on the importance of the Rule of Law? I can see Reed’s current point, and the guilt backing it up, but I think he’d find it easier to live in a world where sometimes you gotta steal the rocketship.

Beyond! (#4 written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins) and Agents of Atlas (#3 written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice) both continue to be bewilderingly fun comics. I’m sure they are more enjoyable the more Marvel knowledge you have, but I like them just the same. I’m reserving more comment until I have more time to read them all in a lump.

Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man #20 (written by Peter David, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Norman Lee) is the big Hawkeye/Frankenstein Halloween issue, and it works out about as well as you’d expect. I don’t remember any “Hawkeye is dead” jokes, which tells me that the book really is intended for the continuity-challenged. It’s all a bunch of smartaleck comments and “hey, nice costume!” gags instead, and it comes together pretty well.

Finally, I picked up Criminal #1 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips), and I really don’t think I devoted enough time to it. I liked it well enough, although hard-boiled noir is not exactly my most favorite genre. I found the beginning a little hard to get into (specifically, trying to see if the narration was supposed to match the pictures) but maybe I was trying too hard. Still, I like Brubaker and Phillips, and I liked Sleeper, so we’ll see. It certainly seems like it will reward multiple readings.

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