Comics Ate My Brain

May 12, 2007

New comics 5/9/07

My browser crashed just before I could save the first attempt at this roundup, so these might be a little shorter and more to the point than usual….

We begin this week with Countdown #51 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Jesus Saiz, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti), a big hash of disconnected subplots which features exactly two of the characters appearing on the cover. It’s the weakest Paul Dini script I’ve seen in a long time, with expositional dialogue and a very thin central storyline. It might look better in a few weeks, and the next issues might improve on this one, but for now, there’s not a lot to latch onto. The art is pretty good, though, except for Darkseid’s shell-casing head.

Much better is Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #2 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wade von Grawbadger), in which the invading aliens turn everyone in New York against our heroes, and hilarity ensues. This doesn’t aim to be a series of any consequence, unless you count well-done old-school superheroics consequential. Instead, it’s a team-up that seems natural but doesn’t happen often enough. My only complaint is with the Thing’s proportions — I don’t remember him looking quite so candy-corn-shaped in Wieringo’s FF issues.

Outsiders #47 (written by Greg Rucka and Judd Winick, pencilled by Matthew Clark, inked by Art Thibert) is Part 2 — or, really, the second Part 1 — of “Check/Out.” It picks up with the team in Checkmate custody and Nightwing (of course) busting them out. It’s not as good as the Checkmate issue, because the dialogue is a little too arch and the art is too heavy on gritted teeth and meaningful eye-closeups. It does a fine job of introducing everyone to each other, setting up the mission, and explaining the differences between the two groups. Most of it is a big romp involving an Outsider running around with her butt hanging out, and unfortunately that goes on a little too long.

Nightwing assembles yet another team in his own title, for Nightwing #132‘s conclusion of “Bride and Groom” (written by Marv Wolfman, drawn by Paco Diaz). While I appreciate the nod to Dick’s team-leader capabilities, isn’t this the book where he takes out bad guys on his own, without a random set of ex-supervillains I’ve never heard of? Basically they spend the whole issue wanting to kill B & G, and Dick says he’s hip, but that’s not how he rolls. I still don’t understand Dick’s emotional journey through this arc. Diaz’ guest artistry gets the job done, but it’s a different style from regular penciller (still, I hope) Jamal Igle, and it contributes to the feeling that the whole thing has gone slightly awry.

JLA Classified #38 (written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Carlos D’Anda) presents Part 2 of “Kid Amazo,” and while it’s a good installment of what looks to be a good superhero story, I have a few nitpicks. Although I did like being reminded that John Stewart is liberal and Wally West is conservative, I thought J’Onn J’Onzz and Amazo himself were somewhat out of character. J’Onn seemed too irreverent, and Amazo seemed too together. Still, the title character’s main conflict was presented well, and I do like D’Anda’s art — bulky and expressive.

The Mogo-turns-everyone-evil subplot in Green Lantern Corps (#12 written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason and Tom Nguyen, inked by Nguyen and Prentis Rollins) has been going on for an issue or two too long, but other than that this was another good floppy. I especially liked the Soranik Natu scenes. Nguyen’s pencils also fit well with Gleason’s style, and appropriately enough, they remind me of Dave Gibbons’.

Finally, guess which part of Tales of the Unexpected #8 I blogged about in Grumpy Old Fan this week? If you picked the Spectre (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins), you lost!! The Spectre story did try to tie all of its carnage together into a unified look at one particularly evil tenement building, but it was just too nihilistic for me. Much more life-affirming was the conclusion of the Dr. 13 story “Architecture and Morality” (written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang), to which I wrote the aforementioned love letter. I know I’m not alone in saying a) I paid $3.99 a month for each 16-page chapter of this story, and b) I’ll pay for the collection when it comes out as well. More of Dr. 13 by Azzarello and Chiang, please.

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April 22, 2007

New comics 4/4/07, 4/11/07, and 4/18/07

Man, what a week. The Best Wife Ever has been out of town, so you know what that means: blogging about the DC solicits and World War III!

Anyway, three weeks behind; no time to waste.

APRIL 4

I’m just going to do a quick rundown for these books. I talked about Justice League of America #7 over at Blog@, in connection with the rest of “The Tornado’s Path.” Madman Atomic Comics #1 was not what I expected — weird, expositional, and kind of depressing. Welcome to Tranquility #5 was decent, as the first arc starts getting wrapped up. Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #28 was pretty good, and its current arc is ready to end as well. Atom #10 was okay — I’m not a huge fan of Eddy Barrows’ art, and the “Sometimes They Come Back” story doesn’t feel right for the book. Detective Comics #831 was very good, especially with the flashback to the previous Ventriloquist. Superman #661 felt like it could have come out of the ’70s or ’80s, and that’s not entirely bad. Superman/Batman #33 finished what turned out to be the Despero arc, and I’m glad it’s over. Nightwing #131 was okay — not as good as the rest of the arc has been. Finally, 52 #48 felt rushed, and never quite came together.

APRIL 11

We begin the backlog in earnest with Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #1 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wade von Grawbadger) and All-Star Superman #7 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely), two books designed to meet all one’s needs for their respective subjects. I know I’m supposed to say something insightful about every title, but with these it’s not going to get much deeper than “more, please.” I can’t get enough of Mike Wieringo’s FF, and he draws a fine Spidey too. Jeff Parker’s story strikes a good balance between the typical street-level Spidey adventure and the correspondingly cosmic FF tale. It’s nice and light-hearted, with the Impossible Man and a great set of Ben/Johnny pranks. The stakes are laid out a little more clearly in the Superman title, as a “Bizarro plague” comes to Earth. The problem’s big enough that it doesn’t require Superman to be artificially de-powered, or to hold back, but at the same time Morrison and Quitely’s Superman radiates confidence. More, please.

I can see that Tales of the Unexpected #7‘s lead Spectre story (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) is trying to wrap everything up in its penultimate chapter, but I’m not really invested anymore. The same is definitely not true for the Dr. 13 story (written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang), which just seems to get crazier and more affecting as it goes along. The satire on DC’s continuity struggles has never been more clear, with the “Architects” even wearing Ben Cooper-style superhero masks representing some of their signature assignments. (If I’m right, they’re Grant Morrison/Batman, Greg Rucka/Wonder Woman, Geoff Johns/Superman, and Mark Waid/Flash). Speaking of stakes, the Dr. 13 story seems to be about nothing less than the survival of DC’s own Island of Misfit Toys. We’ll find out next issue.

More metacommentary is on display in She-Hulk #17 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn). Slott’s treatment of Shulkie’s sexual history comes into play during an encounter with Iron Man and some Nick Fury LMDs reference several other books’ subplots. The bulk of the story has Shulkie’s squad taking out old Hulk villains both in the field and on the SHIELD Helicarrier, and that part’s good. Meanwhile, Mallory and Two-Gun try to clean up the former’s image following her breakup with Awesome Andy. I have always been a fan of Rick Burchett’s work, and Cliff Rathburn’s inks are a good complement. However, it all feels like treading water until “World War Hulk” and its attendant round of status quo change(s).

Lotsa plot in Green Lantern Corps #11 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins), so I won’t try to summarize. Suffice it to say that everything seems to be connected to weird goings-on on Mogo, which I’d guess are in turn caused by the imminent attack of the Sinestro Corps. A mention of the old Empire of Tears only heightens the apocalyptic mood. I enjoyed this issue, because it balances the various plot threads (I count six) pretty well. I’m also a lot fonder of Gleason and Rollins than I was this time last year.

JLA Classified #37 (written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Carlos D’Anda) begins “Kid Amazo,” so when we see a slacker college student who’s questioning his purpose and the meaning of existence, it’s not hard to figure out why. However, this story wants to look at its title character not as someone who will naturally turn to the light (a la Red Tornado and Tomorrow Woman), but someone who can make a real choice to join his “family” against the JLA. In that respect it looks interesting. I know I’ve seen D’Anda’s work before, but I can’t remember where. Here it’s pretty good — kind of like the clean Doug Mahnke/Tom Nguyen style, but a little rougher. A decent book all around.

Still sticking with Wonder Woman (#8 written by Jodi Picoult, pencilled by Drew Johnson, and inked by Ray Snyder), even though this issue isn’t much better than the last. The art’s still good, though. I will say that the story ties into Amazons Attack a little earlier than I expected, and it makes me wonder about how that event played into the development of Picoult’s arc.

That leaves us with 52 #49 (written by The Architects, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Eddy Barrows, inks by Dan Green, Rodney Ramos, and Barrows) — and honestly, with everything that happens in 52-land this week, I can’t say much more about the leadup in this issue. The Dr. Magnus bits were the highlight, and Barrows draws facial features a bit soft for my taste.

APRIL 18

The elephant in the room this week was World War III, about which I’ve already written some 1600 words behind the above link. Short version: incoherent, redeemed somewhat by the efficient 52 #50. Moving on.

The Metal Men show up in Superman/Batman #34 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Pat Lee, inked by Craig Yeung), and the story is set up for them to fight Supes and Bats, but it’s not much more than that. Lee and Yeung’s art is dark and slightly exaggerated, such that when one of the bad guys looks grotesquely overmuscled, I’m not sure whether I should accept that there’s an in-story reason or that it’s just bad anatomy. At one point Bruce Wayne gets slapped by the widow of one of his employees, killed in an attack, and you don’t see that too often, so the story gets points for that. However, it sure doesn’t have as much fun with Magnus or the Metal Men as 52 does, and I hope that changes.

By now you’ve probably heard about the bestiality in The Spirit #5 (by Darwyn Cooke), and sure, that’s good for some laughs, but it’s only part of another solid issue. The plot takes off from the unauthorized licensing of the Spirit’s likeness into some unexpected directions. When a comic makes you feel sympathetic for a guy who loves his pet more than he really should, that’s saying something.

Manhunter #30 (written by Marc Andreyko, pencilled by Javier Pina Diego Olmos, and Cafu, inked by Robin Riggs and Art Thibert) was enjoyable, but perfunctory: the Wonder Woman arc ends, the Chase-and-her-sister arc ends, and there’s more with Mark Shaw. I think having this book “uncancelled” took a little pressure off everyone involved and let them spread out more, so that it feels more transitional than anything else. It’s good that the book isn’t cancelled, and the resolutions are all handled well — there’s even an Amazons Attack tease, if I read it right — but it doesn’t seem as … resolute, I guess, about everything.

Andreyko also writes Nightwing Annual #2 (pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson), the secret history of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon’s lurve. Andreyko does a good job with the material, working in Dick’s time with the New Titans pretty well, and Bennett and Jadson likewise do right by the characters. (They take particular care with the Robin costume.) Dick does have one moment where he lives up to his name, which I’m sure you’ve read about already. I am not a Dick/Babs ‘shipper, nor am I a Dick/Kory ‘shipper. I think Dick and Babs are more like siblings than potential lovahs, and I never got the sense that Dick and Kory were in it for much more than the sex. Therefore, I wasn’t emotionally invested in these events, but I can’t tell you what either party’s ideal mate looks like. Anyway, a pretty good issue overall.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #51 (written by Tad Williams, pencilled by Shawn McManus, inked by Walden Wong) centers around Topo leading the Atlantean survivors through underwater “hatches” which teleport them across the oceans to Sub Diego. Along the way, they encounter Species 8472 … I mean, the race that built the hatches. The art seems to be a little more cartoony than it was last issue, to go with the more fanciful tone overall. I’m not complaining about that. The book seems to be finding a middle ground between the isolation of the early Busiek SoA issues and the pre-OYL stories, and it’s still intriguing to me.

Big doins’ are afoot in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #11 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Art Thibert), mostly in preparation for next issue’s fight with the Rogues’ Gallery. This issue is about Inertia gathering the Rogues, and Grandma Iris telling Bart why she’s pointing that gun at him. I don’t really buy Inertia as a Rogue mastermind, especially since he’s Bart’s peer. However, the issue flows well, it’s not implausible otherwise, and I’m interested to see where it goes.

The JLA/JSA/old-school LSH team-up begins in Justice League of America #8 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Shane Davis, inked by Matt Banning). I must have missed Geo-Force joining the League, and the issue dwells inordinately on Red Arrow almost getting killed by a tree. It was okay, although I spent the whole issue wondering what else it would reference from my childhood. The art was fine, although very similar to the regular Benes/Hope team. I said over at B@N that this crossover could be so big, it forces Meltzer to pick up the pace, and I still hope that’s the case — but this issue was just prologue.

And then there’s The Brave and the Bold #3 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), another incredibly good issue teaming Batman and Blue Beetle against the Fatal Five. I intend to catch up on the new Beetle, so I don’t know how closely Waid writes him to his regular voice. However, I did think Beetle’s dialogue, funny as it was, fell into a standard Waid type. It was still very funny, but it felt familiar too. Anyway, more, please.

Lastly, bringing our survey of some thirty-odd issues to a close is Birds of Prey #105 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). The fight with the Secret Six continues as the mystery behind You-Know-Who’s sudden reappearance is explored. It has to do with a Rasputin cult, apparently. Hawkgirl and Scandal fight and the new Secret Sixer is revealed, but most of it is standing around talking. It’s good talking, don’t get me wrong, and as I’ve said too many times in this post, wait ’til next issue. Good as Sean McKeever may be, he’ll have a hard act to follow on this book.

March 21, 2007

New comics 3/14/07

Filed under: 52, dr 13, green lantern, justice league, spectre, superman, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 1:40 am
We begin this week with 52 #45 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista and Jamal Igle, inks by Rodney Ramos). It’s Week Three of the Black Adam World Tour, and for all the people who complained about too much time spent on the Space Heroes storyline, I think the Black Adam story suffers from the same problem. It’s marginally better because Black Adam going nuts can be justified as the most important thing that happened this week. However, it strikes me — the guy who only yodels about comics, I freely admit — that there’s a right way and a wrong way for 52 to present this.

The right way, I submit, is to take a step back and present this not quite clinically, but perhaps more through the reactions of various other countries, the Great Ten, Montoya, etc. In other words, everyone but Adam. That way, the implication of Adam’s destructive rampage is arguably more powerful. Instead, 52 puts more focus on Adam, because we’re supposed to feel sorry for him and his losses. Unfortunately, the nature of 52, plus the necessity of rehabilitating Adam as an anti-hero as opposed to just a straight-up villain, means that I for one did not find myself getting all that close to Adam over these past forty-odd weeks. Therefore, this issue left me kind of cold. Also, I thought the art was a little stiff, and that surprised me because I really like Jamal Igle and I usually like Chris Batista.

More carnage is on display in Tales of the Unexpected #6‘s Spectre story (written by David Lapham, drawn by Tom Mandrake), and it’s all deliberately unsettling and frustrating. Diametrically opposed is the very witty Dr. 13 backup (written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang), in which I believe Azzarello recycles his Mount Rushmore Monster from “For Tomorrow.” Oh my goodness, this is a fun story. When the Mount Rushmore Monster is used to poke fun at the 52 writers, that’s comedy gold.

JLA Classified #36 (plotted by Dan Slott, scripted and pencilled by Dan Jurgens, finished by Steve Scott) presents yet more carnage in the service of an even dumber story. The whole alternative-timeline framework of the story needs to be handled pretty delicately in order to avoid it collapsing under its own weight, and here it’s not. The internal rules are ultimately so haphazard that what should be an “aha!” moment ends up coming out of left field. Oh, and that’s not even the worst part. Another key element hinges on Plastic Man impersonating a piece of furniture, as it were, but we don’t know because the furniture isn’t red and yellow. Jurgens and Scott are solid enough artists, but Jurgens’ figures are very stiff and Scott’s finishes add a lot of Image flourishes.

I want to like Wonder Woman #5 (written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by Geraldo Borjes & Jean Diaz, inked by Wellington Diaz), because its heart is in the right place, but it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. It tries to use WW’s traditional inspirational role as the basis for a series of self-defense domestic violence stories, which makes sense, and it incorporates a super-guy’s psychosexual issues, which is appropriate, but it doesn’t bear too close scrutiny. It’s fairly predictable; the art is decent; and like I say it tries hard, but it’s a fill-in story that comes at possibly the worst possible time for a fill-in, ever.

Green Lantern Corps #10 (written and pencilled by Dave Gibbons, additional pencils by Patrick Gleason, inked by Gibbons and Christian Alamy) was a pretty darn good issue focusing on two GLs. Soranik Natu tries to practice guerilla medicine on Korugar, while Guy links up with two rookie GLs who end up not respecting his authority. Gibbons draws the Guy pages and Gleason and Alamy draw the Korugar scenes. For once I don’t have a problem with Gleason and Alamy, and I continue to like Soranik Natu, so everybody’s happy.

Finally, I know I am not the first to compare Superman #660 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Mike Manley and Bret Blevins) to an Astro City story, but I think it’s appropriate. It’s a good little “criminal with style and honor” tale about the Prankster teaching the value of presentation to a poseur supervillain. Superman’s not in it a lot, but that’s OK. I can’t argue with Manley and Blevins, two artists who don’t get enough work lately, maybe because they are working more in animation. Busiek is such a good fit for Superman.

February 21, 2007

New comics 2/14/07

Filed under: 52, batman, dr 13, green lantern, justice league, justice society, nextwave, spectre, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:36 am
Here’s the thing about Batman #663 (written by Grant Morrison; illustrations by John Van Fleet): prose Batman stories are nothing new. The difference here seems to be Morrison’s willingness to go all-out pulpy and purple, and make this more of a multimedia experience than a Big Little Book. It’s an uneven experience, because in some ways Morrison’s prose is more vivid and efficient than a page of sequential art might be. It sure doesn’t go overboard in describing every kick and punch. However, if this were supposed to be the Joker’s big 2007 flourish, prose really isn’t the way to go. Batman stories seem suited for prose because you can write a passable Batman story that’s not much more than a standard pulpish spy/crime story. Still, those stories invariably seem overwritten because they have to compensate for the lack of a tremendous visual shorthand. This story in particular cries out for more visuals than are provided, for a couple of reasons: the pictures don’t match the unsettling tone of the words, and the words just aren’t evocative enough to overcome that. Does that make sense? It does to me, but I have to live with it.

This month’s Dr. Thirteen story in Tales of the Unexpected #5 (written by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang) really revs up the commentary, which takes the story to an even higher level, and that’s saying something. It’s basically a challenge from the characters on DC’s lower rungs that they won’t go gently into the night of big-event cannon fodder and unobjectionable Vertigo makeovers. That’s great. That is absolutely perfect. Oh, also there’s a Spectre story (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) about the culpability of eevil researchers, but nobody cares anymore. I will gladly subsidize these mediocre Spectre stories for as long as it takes to keep the Azzarello/Chiang Dr. Thirteen going.

When Star Trek Generations first came out, my mom asked me how it was, and I replied, “Everybody dies and the Enterprise blows up.” JLA Classified #34 (written by Dan Slott and Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jurgens, inked by Jerry Ordway) was a lot like that. Even with a reset button, it’s an effective look at the end of the DC-Earth and the JLA’s efforts to save the planet’s population. Oh, and not all of the Leaguers make it off before the planet pulls a Krypton. Pretty good overall, and ultimately, will probably be better than Generations.

Green Lantern Corps #8 (written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins & Ray Snyder) was a decent conclusion to the Super-Skrull-Dominator/Black Ops Lantern arc, marred by some hazy choreography from Gleason in the fight scenes. A lot of people whose opinions I respect greatly, Ragnell chief among them, like Gleason. I don’t dislike him, but when Guy is fighting a wormy, vaguely-defined alien critter that can change shape, the pages could be laid out a little more clearly.

52 #41 (written by JMRW, pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by Rodney Ramos) was filled with nice moments, including the long-awaited Montoya vs. Richard Dragon fight, a surprise cameo, and the rescue of our remaining space travelers. It is basically a transitory issue, Part 2 of the last quarter of the series. I think it’s also the first issue to have Montoya scenes without her first-person narrative captions. Since she’s the only character in the series who gets to use those, it’s noticeable when they’re gone.

For some reason I bought Welcome To Tranquility #3 twice, which probably speaks to my affection for the series. It also means I can’t remember which books I buy week to week.

Last time I decided to drop a Justice Society book, it was because a time-traveling villain murdered a helpless family. I’m sure you’ve heard what happens to an unfortunate family pick-a-nick in Justice Society of America #3 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham, inked by Ruy Jose)? I think I’m ready to drop this book already, but doggone it, I’m in through the end of the JLA crossover, so at least two more months. So, Nazis, a Special Guest Villain who crops up throughout DC history, and some more Kingdom Come references. The big two-page Avengers Assemble! spread is coming about 5/8 of the way through the story, when it probably should have happened halfway through last issue.

Finally — and, sadly, that comes with an extra layer here — we say goodbye to Nextwave #12 (written by Warren Ellis, pencilled by Stuart Immonen). I liked this book so much, I will gladly buy the oversized omnibus hardcover edition. Nothing but pure joy from beginning to (sniff!) end.

January 13, 2007

New comics 1/10/07

We begin this week with Agents Of Atlas #6 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Justice with Terry Pallot), the little miniseries that deserves a big future. I really liked how this book played with my expectations, especially this issue. The ending is so perfectly suited to the book’s quietly subversive tone that I can’t say much more for fear of spoiling it. The whole miniseries strikes me as Marvel: The Lost Generation without all of M:TLG‘s aspirations at legitimacy, but it’s a fine story by itself. Also, speaking of nostalgia, it was good to see inker Terry Pallot’s name in credits again — for me, it’s been since I read Star Trek comics in the’ 90s.

From the Midnighter cameo I’m a little confused as to whether Welcome To Tranquility #2 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe) is supposed to be part of the regular WildStorm universe. It doesn’t matter all that much, I guess: the issue uses Mr. Articulate’s murder as an opening into further exploration of Tranquility and its quirky inhabitants. It’s not really Astro City or Top Ten-level pastiche, but there’s a lot of meta elements (old-style comics pages, ads, etc.), sometimes overlaid with the regular story, and that can get a little overstimulating. Together with Googe’s cartoony art, the overall effect is supposed to be something like Northern Exposure, I guess, and that’s not bad. Really, that’s how I feel about the series too, at this point.

I did like the Spectre lead in Tales of the Unexpected #4 (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) more than I have in previous months, but that’s because it ties the previous issues’ carnage into an overarching plot. Unfortunately, the plot depends on none of the Gotham City police ever having heard of the Spectre; and I’m sorry, but wasn’t the old Spectre rampaging throughout DC-Earth, including Gotham City, during Infinite Crisis? As always, the real treat of this book is the Dr. 13 backup (written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang), this time featuring much more craziness, including a gorilla with (I swear) the transliterated accent of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, there are Planet of the Apes jokes, including the one you expect, but there’s also the one I didn’t expect, and that was the best of all.

[FYI, I am writing while listening to the complete 2-disc Superman soundtrack, and I just took a break to enjoy Disc 1, Track 12, “The Big Rescue.” (“You’ve got me? Who’s got you?!?”) Mmmm … John Williams-licious.]

Batman Confidential #2 (written by Andy Diggle, pencilled by Whilce Portacio, inked by Richard Friend) takes its story in a very strange, almost Iron Giant-like, direction. I didn’t dislike it, it was just … not what I was expecting at all. The issue still ends in a pretty familiar place, though, although I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. I have made up my mind, however, that this kind of Batman-discovers-technology story is done no favors by the moody, expressionistic art of Portacio and Friend. I’d have been happier with someone more suited to giant robots and mean-looking Bat-vehicles. Howard Porter’s old style would have worked, as would Chris Weston’s or even Michael Lark’s.

“Grotesk” wraps up in Batman #662 (written by John Ostrander, drawn by Tom Mandrake), and nothing much happens except for a final confrontation between Grotesk and Batman aboard a vintage sailing ship in the icy waters of Gotham Harbor. Now, I like Bat-fights in moody, Frankenstein-esque locations, so this was a highlight of the issue; but the rest of the story was pretty predictable. I do get the feeling that Ostrander was going for a combination of Frankenstein and maybe Phantom of the Opera, but it ended up being very familiar.

Walt Simonson writes and draws JSA Classified #21 as a tie-in to the Rann-Thanagar aftermath he started over in Hawkgirl, and I’m not going to say no to Simonson art. The story answers some questions Hawkgirl raised, but by the end of the issue, unfortunately, things have gotten more confusing. Basically, Hawkman’s trying to prove that Blackfire is still evil, but can’t; he gets involved in a pretty cool mid-air fight; and the issue ends on a cliffhanger that sets up the last Hawkgirl. Oh, and Adam Strange might be alive and able to see, assuming nobody else on Rann dresses like him, which they do.

For real interstellar action, though, the best bet this week was Green Lantern Corps #8 (written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins). The three Green Lanterns take on a super-Dominator and a super-Khund, and things don’t go well. Things go so badly, in fact, that I can’t help but think a big chunk of this issue will have to be undone next issue. Still, I didn’t mind, because the creative team did a great job of establishing these two bad guys as overwhelmingly dangerous, and building to a really suspenseful cliffhanger. Well done all around.

52 #36 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne) finally wrapped up the Lady Styx storyline, touched on the Question and Osiris subplots, and connected Supernova and Skeets to Rip Hunter. The highlight was Igle and Champagne’s artwork, because the two major plot threads — in space and with the Question — felt like they should have happened a while ago.

Finally, if the super-neo-Nazis are hunting down JSA relatives in Justice Society of America #2 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham, inked by Ruy Jose), why are they just trying to kill them? Why not try to sway them to their side? After all, the JSA’s attempts to identify them could be taken as part of a plan to establish a kind of genetically-superior class of people, whose powers and connections give them a special destiny, yadda yadda yadda. In other words, there’s a fine line between wanting to raise the next generation of superheroes right, and wanting them to embrace what sets them above the rest of humanity. Okay, maybe the line’s not so fine, but you can see where Nazis might make a good set of villains for a Justice Society beyond just the World War II angle.

Instead, the issue is filled with more allusions to DC history, from the new Commander Steel to the old Star Boy — and really, that’s not a spoiler, because with last issue’s last page, you had to kind of think that’s what was going on. The Wildcat-and-son scene was good, but it’s balanced against devoting a couple of pages to Starman screwing around with gravity. I like the art, despite Eaglesham’s tendency to clutter panels with people and things. The issue itself moved in fits and starts, jumping at one point from a quiet scene right into the middle of a fight, and that might not have been so jarring if the rest of the issue had more action. Again, I’m sure a lot of folks will eat this up, but I’ve been out of the JSA loop for too long, I guess.

December 19, 2006

New comics 12/13/06

It’s good that I’m warming up to Justice League of America (#4 written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope). It’s bad that it’s taken me three issues to do so. I really want to like this book, but I can’t think of any highlights from issues #1-3 except some creepy Red Tornado sex, Vixen getting clocked, Black Lightning fighting a couple of villains solo, and all the sitting and picking and good-natured ribbing in the Batcave. This issue and last, at least Green Lantern, Black Canary, and Not-Speedy got to do some fighting, and this issue featured two big villain reveals. However, I can’t shake the feeling that a number of other writers would have front-loaded issue #1 with this kind of stuff, and used flashbacks for the character pieces. I don’t have any real complaints about the art, by the way; and I thought I would. Benes tends to pose his figures when they’re not moving, but this helps his action scenes, so it works out. Again, this has the makings of a fine Justice League, although it’s getting there in fits and starts.

Batman #660 (written by John Ostrander, drawn by Tom Mandrake) improves significantly over Part 1 of “Grotesk,” mostly thanks to Johnny Karaoke and his Geisha Girls. A lot of this feels like a fill-in from the pre-Infinite Crisis “Batman is a jerk” period, but back then, Johnny would have been a gangster and Batman’s internal monologue would have sounded like a Tom Clancy paragraph. Instead, right from the first page Batman and his swirly cape are intimidating a hapless scientist, with Ostrander and Mandrake doing their best O’Neil/Adams homage. Mandrake’s work here is less rounded than his ’80s Batman, but it’s still very atmospheric and choreographed well.

After only two issues, it seemed like the Spectre stories in Tales Of The Unexpected were settling into a pattern involving Allen’s frustration and the Spectre’s ironically bloody punishment. #3’s lead story (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) is more like a tour of unpleasantness, with more than one potential recipient of the Wrath Of God. This allows Lapham to tell a “Twilight Zone”/EC Comics-esque story about the consequences of poor moral choices, and for whatever that’s worth, it’s a good change of pace. The art is still an eruption of grue and violence, and nobody comes off looking very well, but I suppose that’s the point. However, if the Spectre series improves that’s just gravy. I will continue to get this book for the Dr. 13 backup, written by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. It is the level of crazy to which I suspect Shadowpact only aspires, featuring all kinds of obscure DC oddballs thrown at the Doctor in nonstop pulp style. Chiang deserves a regular book, and if it’s a Dr. 13 series, so much the better.

JLA Classified #30 (written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Kilian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen) offers the penultimate installment of this particular arc, as the real villains behind the border conflicts start to emerge. It’s been a good run, even more so because I didn’t think Chaykin’s style would mesh with the Justice League.

Green Lantern Corps #7 (written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins) begins a new arc involving Guy Gardner and an insectoid rookie, the Dominators, and a Durlan ex-Lantern. Most of it is Guy and the rookie trying to convince the Durlan to come out of retirement, as it were. For some reason I like Gleason and Rollins’ work here better than I have previously, but I can’t quite say why. I also thought Champagne’s script was good, using both Guy and the rookie well. The ending was unexpected, and is a promising setup for the rest of the arc.

Firestorm #32 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne) says goodbye to the current creative team with an understated New Year’s-themed epilogue. Most of the focus is on Jason, as you’d expect, but the issue balances the supporting cast well. No one’s status quo changes all that much, and a couple of characters who might well have vanished after “In My Father’s House” look like they’ll be around for a while. It’s a good issue, and one that (ironically) could be the proverbial Good Jumping-On Point. You’ll have to wait an extra month for #33, though.

52 #32 (written by You Know, Those Guys, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Patrick Olliffe, inked by Drew Geraci) spotlights Ralph Dibny in Nanda Parbat, encountering a couple of Great Ten members and finding enlightenment. Otherwise, the Teen Titans are recruiting, and the outer-space heroes are girding their loins for battle. It’s more exciting than it sounds.

By now I’m sure you’re sick of me talking about the DCU Infinite Holiday Special, but here we go, one last time. These specials are usually mixed bags, and this year felt like it should have been called Brave New Holiday (saaay…!) or something similar. Most of the stories are ads for new (or newly relaunched) DC books — Batwoman, Flash, Shadowpact, Shazam! — or fairly new books like Supergirl and Green Lantern. This confirmed for me that I won’t be reading Trials of Shazam!, because this story was too confusing and depended too much on that miniseries’ plot. The Shadowpact story was cute, and the Flash story was inoffensive, although the latter gave the impression that Wally West is dead, which I didn’t think was the case. I appreciated the Supergirl story bringing back the “Metropolis Mailbag” Christmas tradition, but once it got going it turned dark and never really recovered. The Batwoman story was good, the Green Lantern story was a bit trite and suffered from either loose John Byrne layouts or loose Keith Champagne (him again! he wrote it too) inks, and the last story was delightfully oddball. I don’t know that I’d pay $5.00 for this, but it has saved me from spending anything on the Shazam! maxiseries.

Suspense and an impostor both crop up in Fantastic Four: The End #3 (by Alan Davis with inks by Mark Farmer), as we check in with Galactus, the Watcher, the Black Panther, and various Marvel alien races. I still can’t tell where the story’s going, but I am a sucker for Davis/Farmer art.

Finally, there’s The Spirit #1, by Darwyn Cooke with inks by J. Bone. It hits all the appropriate notes, gently updating the character and his cast for the 21st Century. As many others have noted, Ebony White benefits the most, commenting most effectively on our hero and pretty much getting the last word. However, I have two problems with this issue. First, Cooke portrays Commissioner Dolan’s hyperactivity by having him in multiple places in the same panel. I read this issue with an eye towards letting the Best Wife Ever weigh in on this, and I know she would have been confused by such a device. Second, much of the plot hinges on something the kidnap victim does which seems like it should be painfully obvious to the Spirit, but which completely escapes him until it is too late. I guess this fits into his general regular-schlub aspect, but I did expect him to be a little more on top of things. Anyway, it’s a fine start, and I certainly haven’t been put off the book.

November 20, 2006

New comics 11/8/06 and 11/15/06, plus a few comments about reading

For various reasons, most of which you don’t want to hear (trust me), I’ve been doing a lot of reading in addition to each week’s new comics. Recently I finished the last big chunks of Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1, and today I read all 25 issues of Hourman. Now, of course, I’m trying to think about what to say for the last two 52s, because with a new one every week they tend to blur together.

Now, here’s the thing: the Doctor Strange stories were all from his ten-page feature in Strange Tales, but for the most part each led into the next, allowing a much larger story to be serialized over many months. Those stories had very brief recaps of the previous issue’s events, maybe a fat caption or two, or a flashback at the most — but space was at a premium.

Accordingly, each of Hourman‘s monthly issues contained 22 pages of story, so it had more room to do full-blown 1- or 2-page recaps of the previous issue. This made reading all the issues in one sitting a little rocky, but I know I appreciated those recaps when I was reading the book as it came out. What’s more, both titles used footnotes to remind readers of what had happened when, which isn’t surprising for an original Silver Age book or for the Silver Age wannabe that Hourman was.

52 does very little in the way of flashbacks and/or recaps, depending on its publication schedule and the reader’s own memories to do the job. However, its format is so unusual — a 52-part story told in 20-to-22-page weekly increments — that its narrative structure might still not be apparent, at least not to someone like me who hasn’t taken the time to read it all to date in big chunks. The big-chunk approach may even miss the point of 52‘s immediacy, since one can read several “weeks” in an hour or so. (Longer if your finger moves along the page, like mine does.)

Anyway, that may all be elementary to you, but I hope it makes up for some quick and dirty capsule reviews to get me caught up.

November 8

Tales Of The Unexpected #2: I liked Will Pfeifer and Cliff Chiang’s miniseries that established the Crispus Allen Spectre, but so far these Spectre stories are a big game of cosmic “chicken,” with Spec seeing how far Allen can hold out before the ironic punishment starts. Thank goodness for the hilarious Dr. Thirteen backup. If it comes out in paperback by itself, I’m there.

JLA Classified #29: Still good, although why put the kiddie ads in the book with the naked Wonder Woman?

52 #27: Montoya trains with Richard Dragon, Skeets kills Waverider, and Ralph and the Spectre put the zap on Jean Loring’s head. Really, DC, make Ralph and Sue happy again. It won’t “cheapen” Identity Crisis. Trust me.

Green Lantern #14: Maybe I’m weird, but you won’t bore me by exploring a Green Lantern’s jurisdictional issues. However, I agree with Ollie — never take off the ring. I’m a bit surprised to see the alien villain again so soon. Wasn’t he in one of the last Kyle Rayner storylines?

Firestorm #31: Freddie E. Williams II contributes some noticeably different art to about half this issue, and it’s only a little distracting. Gehenna and Jason have a nice come-to-Jesus moment, although it’s spoiled at the end by what looks like a strange deductive leap on Prof. Stein’s part. As far as the fighting and flying and zapping goes, this feels like the end, but according to the last page there are more secrets to be revealed. I’m sorry to see Stuart Moore and Jamal Igle leave, but I trust them to have at least one more good issue in them.

Superman #657: Wow. Post-apocalyptic carnage on par with JLA‘s “Rock Of Ages,” but with a twist that “ROA” only teased. I still can’t get over the “meteor” that caused the nuclear winter. Oh, and the new villain also seems superficially similar to Samaritan’s arch-foe from the last Astro City special.

Batman #658: “Batman And Son” ends as it began, with a lot of attitude and not so much plot. I was hoping that Damien would be used as a kind of AzRobin, the grim ‘n’ gritty sidekick who’d even make Jason Todd cringe. However, it’s probably more believable that he just wants to please his dad. Also, part of me can’t believe that DC would … I almost wrote “let Batman get pregnant,” but you know what I mean. Kid’s still alive, and Batman still officially has fathered a child, as far as we know. Shame we have to wait until February for Morrison’s next issue, and with the Joker too.

November 15

1602: Fantastick Four #3: The Elizabethan FF in an air/sea battle with Doom and the Wizard near the end of the world, so pretty good.

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two #1: I was playing Spot The Marvel Event with this one, and I think I picked out the Celestial Madonna storyline. Anyway, the two brothers seem to be drifting towards each other’s respective areas, acquiring some shades of gray to go along with the darkening Astro City of the ’70s. Sometimes I am really a shameless Busiek sycophant, huh?

Checkmate #8: I had thought this issue was spotlighting the recruit from #5, but I might have been remembering a different recruit. Anyway, another fine undercover installment, with the identity of the mole not revealed (at least to a dope like me) until the last page.

Omega Men #2: The Omegas fight Superman, Green Lantern, and a few Titans. I think they represent the heroes Marv Wolfman used to introduce them back in the day, which was a nice touch. Oh, and they also fight Vril Dox. The art suits the Omegas and the space stuff pretty well, and it’s not so bad with Superman, but Wonder Girl doesn’t come off so well. Still, much like the Adam Strange miniseries, it’s another space opera involving mistaken identities and running from various planetary governments, and that’s all good.

Green Lantern Corps #6: More than Guy and his rookie partner busting up a sentient city (which seemed a bit cruel, but that’s how Guy rolls), I enjoyed the scenes with Soranik Natu giving Korugar the big green energy finger. I can see where both sides are coming from, and both are perfectly understandable. However, it and the Thanagarian Lantern’s marital problems are more variations on the old Hal Jordan dilemma of splitting time between home and space, so let’s find some new conflicts for these new Lanterns pretty soon.

Birds Of Prey #100: The big anniversary finds Oracle and Huntress recruiting a new pool of agents while Black Canary spends time with her “daughter.” Really, the Black Canary story was just gravy, because the main one (featuring the new team’s breaking into and out of prison) was good enough for me. Let’s put it this way: it convinced me to buy a BoP paperback and start catching up.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #45: Man, I am apparently just a Busiek fool. Arthur’s forces fight the Ocean Master’s in an Ewoks-vs.-Empire situation, except this time the Ewoks win when Arthur apparently uses some of the old Aquaman marine-telepathy mind tricks. You can put as many sword-and-sorcery elements into this book as you want, but I’ve always liked the talking to finny friends. Nice and uplifting, with the old Aquaman anointing the new one, and a kind-of surprising revelation about one of Arthur’s companions. A fine conclusion of the first story arc and transition to the next.

52 #28: Already I miss the all-machine Red Tornado who’s switched bodies in the current Justice League series. Could he turn a junkyard into parts of himself? Of course not. I was a little disappointed with the relatively brief appearances of Batwoman and the Emerald Head, two characters I want to see more of, but at least I got something. Again, like I said up top, 52 pretty much comes down to “did I like whatever random things happened this week?” and on balance, I did.

October 18, 2006

New comics 10/11/06

Filed under: 52, dr 13, firestorm, green lantern, justice league, she-hulk, spectre, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 2:45 am
I really liked 52 #23 (written by Them!, breakdowns by It!, pencilled by Drew Johnson, inked by Ray Snyder). I liked the island of mad scientists, I liked the Cult of Cain, and I especially liked the fakeout perpetrated by the cover. This is not to say I don’t think Isis will make it to Week 53 alive, but at least for now everybody’s happy. I had also missed Drew Johnson since he vanished from the pages of Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman a while back — he’s a good, solid artist, and he’d be a fine addition to 52‘s rotation.

Unlike last week, when Atom‘s spotlight on the digestive system put me off my salad, somehow I knew not to read Tales of the Unexpected #1 while eating. The Spectre lead (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) was sufficiently gory and filled with ironic punishments, but it seemed to take a while to get to the point and it wasn’t as philosophical — even indirectly — as the recent miniseries. On the other hand, the Dr. Thirteen story (written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang) was a neat start to what looks like an enjoyable little arc. Yes, the schtick of a guy who doesn’t believe in any of the fantastic things happening all around him strains credulity (appropriately enough), but this story was funny and I’d like to see more.

I think I may have mentioned my difficulties distinguishing between the two warring sides in the latest JLA Classified arc (#28 written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Kilian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen), but I’m not that concerned about it. The zippy Chaykin dialogue really propels this story, driving home the point that the JLA needs to lie low and keep out of what can’t be a good situation. Of course, the plot keeps entangling the League more and more, so that by the end of the issue, everybody’s in some kind of costume, even if they’re not very colorful. I have to wonder too if Superman’s disguise is meant to reference Neo explicitly….

Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #30 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle and Stephen Sadowski, inked by Keith Champagne) finds part of our happy little band attempting to infiltrate Hewitt Industries, while Jason and Gehenna check out a Hewitt lab out in the jungle. However, it all starts with a One Year Earlier prologue featuring Lorraine’s announcement that she’s running for Congress, and it made me wonder — will her unabashed liberalism spark a flurry of angry letters to the editor (“Keep your politics out of my funnybook!”), or does it have so few readers that they wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize its health? Anyway, that only lasts for a few pages, and the rest is some genial skullduggery on the part of Lorraine, Martin, and Mikhail, compared to some sweet-but-slightly-creepy flirting between Jason (who’s 19) and Gehenna (who has the body and mind of a 17-year-old but who’s chronologically only 6). I don’t see this book on DC’s January schedule, and I hope it’s just a temporary hiatus.

Green Lantern Corps #5 (written and pencilled by Dave Gibbons, inked by Michael Bair) focuses on Guy’s shore-leave misadventure, but takes an abrupt turn away from it to put Guy in the middle of another assignment, on a living-city planetoid with a newbie Lantern. The issue also catches up with some other ongoing subplots, including Soranik Natu getting some closure thanks to Mogo. That last contains an unfortunate visual transition from Mogo’s globe to Soranik’s … globe. It could have been just a Watchmen-inspired pun, but it’s still disturbing. Anyway, I’m interested to see how, or even whether, Gibbons will draw these threads together. I was looking forward to Guy pounding on Bolphunga once he got his ring back, and I got something else entirely.

Finally, it’s a few weeks late (for me, at least), but She-Hulk #12 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) was pretty good. If you’ve read it, you know about the climactic revelation, so I’ll just say that Slott and Burchett (and Rathburn too) are very complementary, much like Slott and Ty Templeton were on Spider-Man/Human Torch. Also, the revelation was explained so well that even I, the casual Marvel reader, could appreciate it.

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