Comics Ate My Brain

May 12, 2007

New (at the time) comics 4/25/07 and 5/2/07

(sigh)

Yes, it’s been another three weeks without a new-comics recap. I’m not going to dwell on that, though, so let’s jump right in. Should have the 5/9 comics recapped by tonight or tomorrow.

4/25/07

52 #51 (written by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, and Mark Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson and Belardino Brabo) … yeah, you know, it was fine. The space heroes got their reunions, there was a nice bookend to the first issue with the Superman/Superboy memorials, and it was a good way to wind down the bulk of the series. I can’t help but see it as the first part of a 2-part conclusion to the series, given what happens in #52, but we’ll get to that later.

Wonder Woman #8 (written by Jodi PIcoult, drawn by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson) and Amazons Attack #1 (written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Pete Woods) are joined at the hip(Polyta — oh, I hate myself), so I’ll talk about ’em together. It occurs to me that AA does a better job of starting Wonder Woman’s “rehabilitation” than the main title does. Not that I didn’t like the Allan Heinberg issues, because they were on the whole pretty clever. It’s just that you’d think the Big Novelist Arc would overshadow, or at least color, the Big Event Miniseries, and it’s turned out the other way around — and the ironic thing is, that’s probably for the best. WW #8 is more of the same “save Nemesis from Circe” plot, now in its third issue; and still making with the contrivances for the sake of humor.

I may like AA better simply because it seems to give everything some direction. In fact, it hews more to a traditional superhero-story introduction: it establishes the threat, presents the stakes, and shows the heroes beginning to respond. Sure, the Amazons are bloodthirsty, perhaps excessively so; but I have a feeling the excess may be part of Circe’s prompting. Both books look fabulous, so that helps a lot.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Justice Society of America #5 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Fernando Pasarin), the wholly nondescript cover notwithstanding. (I almost didn’t get it because — unlike the Phil JIminez variant for sale for $10 behind the LCS’ counter — it didn’t say anything about being Part 2 of the JLA crossover.) Anyway, it’s part 2 of the JLA crossover, and oh boy stuff happens! Batman, Sandman, Starman, and Geo-Force fight “Batmen Through The Ages” and Doctor Destiny in Arkham Asylum! Superbo– er, Superman gives the teen JSAers the Fortress tour, complete with Madame Toussaud’s Legion of Super-Heroes! Wildfire vomits up Batman’s utility belt, last seen on Rick Jones in Avengers Forever! Okay, that last part isn’t quite true, but it kind of gives you the feel for where all of this is going. I liked this issue well enough, although Pasarin’s art is just a little too much over-rendered. Also, unless those are animatronic Legion statues, I’m kind of disturbed by how expressive they are. Also also, as I clumsily indicated before, his Superman looked at first a little too Superboy-ish. Hope part 3, in JLA #9, is at least as good.

I now prefer to think of the final issue of Firestorm 2.0 (#35 written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Pop Mhan, inked by Mhan and Steve Bird) as Part 3 of the special bridge-the-gap Firestorm miniseries. Looks to me like the Dan Jolley/Stuart Moore-written plots and subplots all concluded satisfactorily in #32 — because this issue ends on a terribly disappointing cliffhanger. It’s good because it means Firestorm will be popping up later in other DC books, and might get enough new exposure for a revival, but it’s bad in terms of narrative cohesion. It’s the Gotham Central non-ending, pretty much. The plot is also kind of hard to understand, because it hinges on some use of Firestorm’s powers that he takes great pains to set up … but when he does it, the setup doesn’t appear necessary. Basically it’s a big fight scene, rendered and choreographed well, except for that one part.

Action Comics #848 (written by Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Ron Randall) continues the fill-ins with Part 1 of a 2-parter about a superhero who gets his powers from God. Well, faith, prayer, something like that. The new guy destroys a squad of soldiers in an African country because he’s there to protect missionaries — which he does — but he can’t control his powers otherwise. The religious angle causes Superman to question how much he should be interfering, because clearly he’s got his own history of religious belief. It’s a good start for a story, but as you might expect, it ‘s not too subtle. I’ll be surprised if the folks behind Jarod (the new guy) aren’t broadcasting their own powers through him, and not really acting on direct orders from the Lord. The story isn’t helped by Goldman’s pencils. They’re serviceable, and his storytelling is fine, but his figures are awkward and his perspective falters occasionally. One scene, with Clark and Lois getting ready for bed, features an overmuscled Clark and a Lois whose back arches too far, apparently so she can display her hinder more prominently.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #29 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Kevin Sharpe, inked by Mark McKenna & Jack Purcell) was a weird fill-in, if indeed it is such and not just the start of the Bedard/Sharpe Era. It basically spilled the beans on 52 a week early (in the comics themselves; Dan DiDio did it first, of course), explaining why the Dominators hate the Earth, and the Legion in particular. The issue is nothing special — the Dominators’ history is told against the backdrop of the Legion trashing their planet — and the art is decent at best.

Batman Confidential #5 (written by Andy Diggle, pencilled by Whilce Portacio, inked by Richard Friend) is another issue-long fight scene, as first the Batplane and then the Batcycle are used to attack Luthor’s secret robot warehouse. It took me about three minutes to read.

For the first time in a long time, I didn’t get a whole lot out of Astro City (The Dark Age Book Two #3 written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson). Maybe the Ron Burgundy cameo threw me off. I had the same reaction to Planetary Brigade: Origins #3 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Julia Bax).

Thankfully, the same was not true for Fantastic Four #545 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar), which did a lot with the new FF, the Silver Surfer, and Gravity. I’ll echo the blogosphere’s concerns about some of the physics in the issue, but overall it continues to be very good.

5/2/07

I talked about 52 #52 in the 5/3 Grumpy Old Fan. Short version: yay multiverse! Slightly longer version: a big jumble of a story that felt more like a Big 52 Special than an organic ending to the series. Also, I’m not sure, but I think it broke out of the “this happened this week” mold in large part for the last issue. Still, a good end to the series.

Probably the worst thing about Green Lantern #19 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn and colored by Danlel Acuna) is the continued existence of the new Star Sapphire costume. Otherwise, it would be this issue’s notions about the beginnings of a Star Sapphire Corps — which, okay, makes some sense, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it right on the heels of the Sinestro Corps. I did like seeing Carol in a Green Lapphire costume, and the Hal/Carol scenes are fine, but there’s some really weak dialogue here — mostly predictable “first dates are hell” stuff. Acuna’s art is good, but it’s so different from the Pacheco/Reis school of finely-rendered figures that it takes some getting used to. The “Sinestro Corps” backup continues to be good and scary, in every sense of the words.

Detective Comics #832 (written by Royal McGraw, drawn by Andy Clarke) showcases the return of the Terrible Trio, a ’50s-era threefer of theme-gimmick villains now bent on killing each other off. I figured out the twist about halfway through. Not a bad issue, but not a standout either.

Checkmate #13 (written by Greg Rucka and Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) begins “Check/Out,” the Outsiders crossover, with the Checkmaters taking out the Outsiders one by one. Not much plot beyond that, and it’s a good way to introduce someone who’s never read any Outsiders (i.e., me) to the team. It also makes Checkmate look capable without making the Outsiders look like chumps. Bennett and Jadson are the new art team starting this issue, and they do their usual fine job.

(The All-New) Atom #11 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Trevor Scott) concludes the Atom-vs.-zombies story, and not an issue too soon. As much as I want this series to show how it can handle different subgenres, this story just felt shoehorned into the book to get it out of the way before the big Ray Palmer arc. I am still rooting for Ryan Choi, but I’m eager for the more science-y stuff to return.

Welcome To Tranquility #6 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe and Billy Dallas Patton) also wraps up its arc. While I think WTT is a very ambitious book, and deserves a look because of it, it hasn’t really hooked me. I’ll probably re-read these six issues before deciding whether to continue.

Jeff Smith’s Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil #3 was good as usual, with some familiar Sivana-vs.-Batsons action at the center of the issue. The manner of Billy’s escape is particularly fun. However, maybe it was just the way the story broke out, but this issue’s cliffhanger isn’t all that suspenseful. Oh well; it’s not like I won’t get #4.

Finally, Superman #662 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino) offered a decent bridge into the second half of “Camelot Falls.” Some have complained that nothing happens, but I thought Superman’s examination of his role in Earth’s history was done well. It’s not really the “Must There Be A Superman?” question, because Superman’s allegedly not making humanity weaker as much as he’s making the bad guys stronger. I can see where someone who didn’t read the previous Busiek issues might wonder what all the fuss is about, but since I did, and since that particular future was about as apocalyptic as one could get, I was invested in Superman’s musings from the start.

Now for the 5/9 books, and maybe some more new content besides.

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March 30, 2007

New comics 3/28/07

Filed under: 52, batman, fantastic four, firestorm, green lantern, hawkgirl, superman, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 1:51 am
Let’s begin on a positive note: the art in Wonder Woman #6 (written by Jodi Picoult, pencilled by Drew Johnson, inked by Ray Snyder) was really good. Johnson and Snyder are, of course, holdovers from the Greg Rucka days, when they were similarly good. There are loads of background gags and little bits of business, including a mysterious pair of eyes in a bathroom mirror on the first page. The book looks great. If this is your first Wonder Woman comic in twenty years, it may even read pretty well. However, in the context of a) Diana having been in Patriarch’s World for an even longer period of time (in the revised timeline); and b) the story’s lead villainess having been prominently featured in the last storyline, doing pretty much the same thing, this book is a horribly frustrating experience. It’s as if — and I really hate to sound provincial, like “don’t bring your city-fied ways out here, missy” — Ms. Picoult thought she could write this book in her sleep. Actually, I blame editor Matt Idelson, who might have clued her into the story’s big problems and given her a chance to either fix or finesse them. A decent story may yet come out of this arc, but for now it looks like a first cousin to the last one.

I hit the Dwayne McDuffie trifecta this week, with Action Comics #847 (drawn by Renato Guedes), Firestorm #34 (pencilled by Pop Mhan, inked by Rob Stull and Ron Randall), and Fantastic Four #544 (pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar). All were good, but I enjoyed FF #544 the most. Man, McDuffie continues to make silk purses out of the mess that Civil War made. I didn’t know how Black Panther and Storm would fit into the group, but now I’m convinced. The first half of the book is housekeeping, and the second gets right into the cosmic. Pelletier and Magyar’s art is livelier and more expressive than Mike McKone’s, with some Kirbyesque flourishes and even a little Alan Davis influence. Fine work all around.

The Action story is a fill-in flashback framed with a sequence set in the middle of the current “Last Son” storyline. It tells a sweet, but somewhat by-the-numbers, story of Superman and Pa Kent going on a “fishing trip” into deep space, courtesy of a Kryptonian shuttlepod made by the Fortress of Solitude. (At this point I had to remind myself that the ancient Kryptonians were genetically incapable of leaving their home planet, and Kal-El didn’t have that problem.) Art is good — I like Renato Guedes pretty well — although Pa looked beefier than normal. It’s not a bad story, but it’s nothing groundbreaking.

Firestorm continues the New Gods storyline in what I think the penultimate issue of the series. That means more fun with Mr. Miracle, Orion, and the Female Furies. Metron shows up too in an unexpected way. Everyone gets some good lines, including Metron (kind of like the Watcher’s one-liner over in this week’s FF). Art is nice and kinetic, appropriately so for an issue that’s mostly fight scenes.

A different-looking set of some of the same Female Furies continues to appear in Hawkgirl #62 (written by Walt Simonson, drawn by Renato Arlem), as everyone takes on Giant Robot Hawkgirl. Honestly, this issue reminded me of a “Powerpuff Girls” episode, in both good and bad ways. It would have been a good Powerpuff episode. It’s not really a good “straight” superhero comic. For one thing, the way to stop Giant Robot Hawkgirl turns out to be something that maybe the Furies should have thought of, and not Kendra, but she’s the star, so she gets to use the brains, apparently. There’s a lot about this book that I am willing to chalk up to Simonson’s sense of goofy fun, but this issue went too far to the goofy.

Speaking of alien parasites that transform women, here’s a twofer in Green Lantern #18 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn and colored by Daniel Acuna). The Star Sapphire seeks out Carol Ferris again, using her to attack Hal until it learns that Hal’s now carrying a torch for Cowgirl. Leaving aside all the questionable messages about gender issues that the very idea of a maneating Star Sapphire raises, this was a fine-looking issue. Daniel Acuna has a distinctive style that serves the book fairly well, since it’s pretty dependent on colors and a GL/SS fight is going to be pretty colorful. Hal looks about ten years younger than he should in spots, but I can live with that. As for the story … I did like that once Carol was free of the Sapphire, she was actually helpful to Hal. Clearly Star Sapphire has a tremendous potential to be simply a repository of offensive female stereotypes, and while I think Geoff Johns is smart enough to avoid that, he also seems so wedded to the idea of “updating” the “traditions” associated with GL and his villains that he could make it much much worse. The “Sinestro Corps” backup story, drawn by Dave Gibbons, is a chilling little tale obviously in the mold of the more SF-oriented “Tales of the Green Lantern Corps” backups from the mid-1980s, and it’s pretty successful.

52 #47 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inks by Lorenzo Ruggiero) got back to the old familiar multiple-focus format, checking in on various Bat-people, Wonder Woman, Intergang, Animal Man, the Steels, and Will Magnus. The art is a little more idiosyncratic than the standard 52 style, but that’s not so bad. Overall, the issue flows well, and it’s fairly satisfying.

The one problem I had with Superman Confidential #4 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) was one of perception. When we left him last issue, Supes’ powers were draining under the influence of some offstage Kryptonite, and this issue finds him on the wrong end of a beatdown, Superman Returns style. Eventually, the Kryptonite is removed, and we think that Supes is going to get some sweet payback — but then, the rest of the issue concerns Jimmy Olsen getting him out of harm’s way. Given the ending, it could be a plot point, but right now it seems like a plot hole. Beyond that, and the question about how “alive” the Kryptonite is, the issue is pretty good. Sale does a good job conveying Supes’ pain, the villains’ perfidy, and Jimmy’s eagerness, and Cooke’s script is fine.

Finally, I quite enjoyed Batman #664 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Andy Kubert, inked by Jesse Delperdang). It begins with a shameless James Bond (old-school, not Daniel Craig) parody designed solely to establish just how much cooler Bruce Wayne is. It uses a Little Nellie-style autogyro in a ski chase — that’s how Bondian it seeks to be. Once Bruce gets back to Gotham, an ordinary encounter with a pimp and some ‘hos leads back to the Batman impersonator who shot the Joker in the face in Morrison’s first issue. There are a few abrupt transitions in the issue, and it’s not quite clear why Batman decides to question the pimp (just bored?), but the Kubert/Delperdang art, and Guy Major’s colors, all looks fantastic. It may be this team’s best issue yet, and it’s starting to get into the ’50s stuff I’ve been anticipating. Very cool.

March 10, 2007

New comics — lots of ’em — 2/28/07 and 3/7/07

Grab a snack — this could take a while.

Wednesday was not only the day of “LA LA LA I HAVEN’T READ CAP #25 YET,” it was capped off (sorry) with a massive stack of 18 floppies, to go with the 7 issues I haven’t gotten to from last week. (Three of yesterday’s buys were delayed from last week, so that contributed.) I like comics a whole lot, but I can’t take too many more Wednesdays like that.

2/27/07

The last week of February featured two themes, with the first being the New Gods. Hawkgirl #61 (written by Walt Simonson, drawn by Renato Arlem) picks up with the Apokoliptian gizmo (actually, a “gizmoid”) that found its way to the St. Roch museum last issue. This time it’s attracted the attention of the Female Furies. The Furies fight Hawkgirl for it, but it has ideas of its own and … I’m not quite sure what happens, but a robot Hawkgirl wings away from a pile of unconscious superwomen, including Kendra. In subplot news, there’s the usual workplace banter, and Hawkgirl gets a new set of shootin’ irons (which don’t do her much good, because: robot.) I’m not quite sure how to feel about this series, because on the one hand, I really liked Simonson’s work on the Fourth World in Orion, but it was full of grandeur and pomp, and this is more irreverent. It’s nicely done, but still. Also, this looks like a more sexx-ay version of the Female Furies than I’m used to, and it kind of reduces their appeal somewhat. I’m not saying that ugly = evil by any means, but the old-style Furies looked terrifying, and that was the point. These new ones … eh. Arlem’s art is fine, except for the ending, where first it’s not clear how Robot Hawkgirl comes out of Human Hawkgirl (and that may be intentional) and then it’s not clear whether Robot Hawkgirl is supposed to be human-sized or gigantic. (Maybe a callback to 52?)

Darkseid’s uncle Steppenwolf fights Bart in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #9 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Ron Adrian, inked by Art Thibert), and that’s pretty exclting, if a little generic, but most of the issue is concerned with Marc Guggenheim genuflecting towards the fans and basically trying to make his script as charming as possible. Combined with Adrian and Thibert’s simple, straightforward art — a lot less busy than Ken Lashley, but not as good as the Karl Kerschl fill-in from a few issues back — the issue works pretty well. I’m still not convinced that DC needed to replace Wally with Bart, but this issue makes Bart a lot less unappealing than he was last time.

Because last week was also apparently Dan Jurgens Week, he provides the layouts for Firestorm #33 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Ken Lashley, inked by Rob Stull). As you might guess from the cover, most of the issue is a fight involving Orion, Firestorm, Mr. Miracle, and the Female Furies. I should point out that this is the Seven Soldiers Mr. Miracle, but the traditional versions of Orion and the Furies, and yes, the Furies look a lot scarier here. McDuffie writes some very witty banter between Shilo and Firestorm, and gives each his own clever introductory sequence. The Firestorm/Orion fight is also entertaining. Art is a little more severe than it has been, with the combination of Jurgens/Lashley/Stull being reminiscent of ’80s Firestorm artist Tom Grindberg — lots of slashy lines and “shiny” inks. Still, Jurgens is a good storyteller, so that helps. All in all a good issue, and a nice way to start the series’ final arc.

Jurgens also lays out 52 #43 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, finishes by Norm Rapmund), the first part of the two-week How Tragic, Black Adam’s Evil Again arc. Also, Buddy Baker finds out he can mimic Sun-Eaters, which apparently doesn’t come with their craving for, you know, suns. More on Black Adam later.

Jurgens does most of the work in JLA Classified #35 (co-written by Dan Slott, inked by Al Milgrom), the part of the Red King’s plan that works out the best for him. This means, to quote Dave Campbell, it’s an Alternate Universe Where Everyone Dies. It doesn’t seem necessary to show the grisly deaths of the Justice League, so I’m giving this particular issue a thumbs-down, but maybe the conclusion will justify its existence.

In non-Dan Jurgens, non-New Gods comics, Hal defeats Amon Sur and the Sinestro Corps makes its triumphant appearance in Green Lantern #17 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert). It got me thinking, though: Amon did have a point about Hal just burying Abin Sur under a mountain. Hal doesn’t have the best reputation for tactfulness, so now maybe he can start atoning for his past misdeeds? “My Name Is Hal,” coming soon….

Also, the Batman scene was pretty funny.

I liked Action Comics #846 (written by Johns and Richard Donner, drawn by Adam Kubert) because it aimed only to show the Phantom Zone villains’ devastating first strike at Superman. It left me wanting to see the next issue, which is job one for any serial installment. I’m still not sold on the arc as a whole, but this issue was pretty good.

We close out February with Hero Squared #5 (breakdowns by Keith Giffen, script by J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham), in which Captain Valor and Milo swap personalities, so to speak — Milo explores his inner hero, and Valor continues to mope. Milo has a funny scene with Caliginous too. I continue to like this series, but I get the feeling we’ve been going over this ground for a few issues now, and five issues in, it’s time to find the plot and stick with it.

3/7/07

Okay, here we go. I’m just going to try and knock these out.

52 #44: I know a few other bloggers have said it, but 52 doesn’t do action well. It can make the case for a couple of weeks of all-action issues like #43 and #44, but it works best portraying slice-of-life snippets, because the action stuff makes you ask, “is this the most important thing that happened this week?” I don’t think we needed to go into detail about something that has been foreshadowed pretty heavily ever since Isis was introduced, especially because her last bit of advice seems to contradict a lot of what she’s espoused previously. Also, I wasn’t too fond of the fight storytelling, not least because the Four Horsemen have a lot of parts that aren’t easily recognizable, such that seeing only parts of them makes it hard for me to orient myself within the panel.

(The All New) Atom #9: Ryan Choi goes back home for “Sometimes They Come Back.” It’s pretty familiar: undead bullies are just as intimidating as regular bullies, yadda yadda yadda. The revelations about his old girlfriend are interesting, but we’ll see next issue if they lead to anything more. This title seems to work better with the more science-y stuff.

The Authority #2: Now that the story of Ken, The Earth-Prime Submariner has given way to a more conventional superhero comic, our main cast has to adjust to life on Earth-Prime. I don’t know if I’m on this book for the long haul — I’m not that invested in the Authority, and this was a pretty unremarkable issue. Next issue might be fun, but who knows when that will be?

Batman Confidential #3: Still not making much of an impression.

Detective Comics #829: I’m resisting the Die Hard jokes (Die Battier? … no) because this looks like a good fill-in from writer Stuart Moore. Bruce Wayne is trapped in Wayne Tower with dignitaries, and Robin has to do the costumed work. Andy Clarke’s art is fine, although occasionally Bruce looks kind of doughy.

Justice League of America #6: The end of the Red Tornado story (I thought it had one more issue to go) isn’t so bad in terms of efficiency, but it does confirm that this is a Red Tornado story and not so much a Justice League story. Also, reader discretion is advised for scenes of extreme dismemberment. Not to mention just talking about dismemberment: I echo the blogger who wondered, do they practice sawing off Amazo’s legs? (Do they use Buster the dummy?)

Manhunter #29: I’m pretty new to the series, but it seems like Kate doesn’t get in the costume a whole lot. When she does at the end of this issue, it’s pretty cool. This arc has been about the Special Guest Stars, though, with subplots about other D-list characters (Cameron Chase, Mark Shaw, Azrael; not that they’re not cool), so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It feels like DC’s She-Hulk, and that ain’t bad.

Nightwing #130: Marv, you’re starting to lose me. I kind-of understand the Bride and Groom relationship. However, maybe I’m not paying enough attention, but I don’t quite understand how their victims are important to Nightwing. I did like the setpiece on the ferry, though.

Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil #2: What a fun book this has turned out to be, and what a clever homage it presents to the original Mr. Mind story. If memory serves, he wasn’t seen fully until well into the storyline, so assuming Jeff Smith sticks to that, his “big reveal” (so to speak) here should be pretty fun. Also, DC Direct, please make a Mary Marvel plush toy for me to give to my 4-year-old niece.

Supergirl and the Legion #27: The Ranzz brothers make up as Cosmic Boy and Brainiac 5 have an accident with their dimension doors. Basically, a lot goes wrong for the Legion this issue, and only a Dave Cockrum tribute can save them.

Superman/Batman #32: I think the best thing about this issue is the scary Batman it presents towards the end. Oh, and the obscure DC alien heroes (the Vanguard? Seriously?) that make cameos. Otherwise, I’m about done with this series.

Welcome To Tranquility #4: A decent issue, but I want to read ’em all to make sure I have everything straight.

Captain America #25: This would have worked a lot better without all the hype. As a Big Death Issue, it’s hardly suspenseful. For one thing, there’s no body (promises of an upcoming autopsy notwithstanding — and why do you need an autopsy if it’s pretty obvious how he died?). For another, the death is, as the Klingons say, without honor: he gets shot on the courthouse steps while unmasked and handcuffed. Superman died delivering a mortal blow to a monster on the front porch of the Daily Planet. I’m just saying, if you give that to the New York Times, it seems more permanent. That said, as Part 1 of a new Cap story, and as someone’s introduction to the idea of Captain America, it’s a good gateway book.

Criminal #5: I understand why this story had to end the way it did, and I appreciate a format that lets a story end this way, and it’s all executed (ahem) very professionally, but right now it doesn’t sit well. I’ll have to read this one again too.

Planetary Brigade: Origins #2: The PB cartoon gives a couple of members a chance to reflect on the team’s history, and it occurs to me that maybe I’m getting a little burned out on the Giffen/DeMatteis schtick-for-its-own-sake. It’s still witty, but between this and Hero Squared, it’s just kind of there.

Marvel 1602: Fantastic Four #5, Fantastic Four #543, Fantastic Four: The End #6: The 1602 miniseries ended in a flourish of cataclysm and incomprehensibility, the Alan Davis miniseries ended rather predictably (for all those who thought that we weren’t done with the tragic events of #1), and the anniversary issue was good for its second and third stories. I like Mike McKone, but he’s not the right artist for the book, and the bridge from Reed & Sue to T’Challa and Ororo is a rickety one.

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.

September 15, 2006

New comics 9/14/06

Filed under: 52, aquaman, captain america, escapists, firestorm, green lantern, justice league, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 1:25 am
First let me say, regarding the mystery villain in Firestorm, The Nuclear Man (#29 written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne), that based on the last page of this issue, I Was Right. This gives me the distinct impression that Stuart Moore isn’t so much recreating Firestorm for the 21st Century as revitalizing the best parts of the Gerry Conway/Pat Broderick/Rafael Kayanan Fury Of Firestorm from the early ’80s. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Not a big fan of Martin Stein’s hairdo, though; makes him look too grandmotherish. This issue makes me want to re-read all of the current series in preparation for the next one, and that’s a good, geeky feeling to have.

Speaking of good, geeky feelings, here’s Green Lantern #13 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert), a time capsule from the summer (aww, Superman Returns advertising! Don’t feel bad, you did your best…) that, had it actually come out then, might be accused of stirring up bad vibes from Infinite Crisis. It still does that, but enough time has passed that it doesn’t feel so blatant. Anyway, it’s pretty entertaining. Reis packs a lot into his pages, and Oclair does his part to tidy everything up. Reis had a tendency in Rann-Thanagar War to fill each issue with a lot of background detail, so much so that it tended to distract from the action in the foreground. This story has a smaller scale, but there’s still a lot going on in the fight scenes. The difference, I think, is both inking and coloring, so I’ll give colorist Moose Baumann some credit too.

Anyway, this issue mostly resolves the Cyborg/Manhunters storyline (with a big, satisfying fight), but it also sets up subplots that will probably take months to play out. I’m not quite convinced that Hal and Arisia coupling up again is a good idea — I wasn’t convinced of that the first time — but other than that I’m pretty happy with this book. Not counting 52, it’s the only Geoff Johns book I still buy regularly, and I think it’s because Johns is really interested in exploring the untapped potential of the Green Lantern Corps mythology that other writers never got around to. In particular, he seems to be going back to the Gerry Jones well of “what’s the Guardians’ real agenda?” Because he’s picking up on old threads, abandoned during the Kyle years, it all feels more organic than it might have if he were forging a new direction of his own design. Not that he shouldn’t do new things, but with this kind of series it’s always appreciated (as with Firestorm) to use what’s already there.

Boy, it was nice to see Dave Gibbons’ pencils on a Green Lantern comic again. Green Lantern Corps #4 begins what should be a very fun all-Guy Gardner, all-Dave Gibbons (with inks by Mike Bair) story. Guy, on shore leave, is chased by Bolphunga the Unrelenting, a bounty hunter from the old GLC backup-story days (the Alan Moore story that introduced Mogo, in fact) who’s just the kind of Groo-like over-the-top foe to make Guy look subtle by comparison. Interludes with other Lanterns show that Gibbons hasn’t forgotten about the book’s other characters, and their stories provide good character counterpoints to the main plot’s action. Looking forward to the rest.

JLA Classified #27 (written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Killian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen) presents Part 2 of “Secret History, Sacred Trust,” and while it’s produced about as well as Part 1 was, all the skullduggery gets a little confusing after a while. Still, Chaykin and company wrap things up in a way that drives home the main point of the plot, and his dialogue is sharp as ever, so I probably just have to pay more attention.

It hit me this week that for the past few issues, I haven’t been paying much attention to the “Day ___” notations in 52 (#19 written by the Four Freshmen, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Pat Oliffe, inks by Drew Geraci). The Pope Lobo bits reminded me, perhaps only superficially, of Pope Cerebus (although Lobo might take his office more seriously), so that was fun. I wonder, though — can Starfire not repair her top? (Not that it’s a big deal.) Also, jeez, who knew Skeets was so devious? Oliffe and Geraci were a good team in their 52 debut, although Supernova looked a little younger and Wonder Girl a little more angular than normal. I can’t remember which issue is supposed to be the big tipping point where everything speeds up exponentially, but it feels close.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #44 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Butch Guice) makes many old-school Aquaman connections, including Mera, Ocean Master, and a big clue about Orin of Atlantis. A recent Busiek interview spoiled that last bit for me, but the notion that this is all a big arc to unify the new and old casts makes me more interested to see where this is all going.

More old and new integration happens in Captain America #21 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting), a really pretty book that focuses on Cap and the Once and Future Bucky’s efforts to stop the big Nazi robot from destroying London. This issue brings Bucky/the Winter Soldier one step closer to being a recurring member of Cap’s supporting cast for the first time since the Big One, and I’m not sure such a thing could have been handled any better. Certainly, in the Dead Sidekick Returns Derby, Buck’s more than a few lengths ahead of Jason Todd, and it looks like he’s speeding up.

Finally, thanks to last week’s vacation, I was able at last to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and it was so good only my new-comics budget stopped me from buying all the Escapist swag the LCS offered. I did, however, pick up The Escapists #s 1-3 (written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by various people), a sort-of sequel to the book wherein an aspiring comic-book writer with parental issues of his own uses his inheritance to buy the rights to the character. It has the same breezy optimism as the first part of the novel, which kind of undercuts some of the suspense — you can’t imagine too many bad things happening to our hero, considering what he goes through in the first half of #1, The romance between two main characters is also pretty easy to foresee, and I wonder if a sort of inverted change-up, mirroring the novel’s triangle, is on the way. The book does use its “real comic” pages to good effect, putting the “real peoples'” words into the Escapist’s and Luna Moth’s mouths, and the artists play effectively not just with the comic-within-a-comic, but also the fact that you’re reading a comic that’s about a comic. Also, our hero sometimes looks around 15. Overall, it may be the 2010 to AAOK&C‘s 2001, but there were some good parts of 2010 too. I just want to know if K&C themselves capitalized on the Silver Age boom in superheroes….

August 10, 2006

New comics 8/9/06

Well, I’ve got the time and the motivation, so let’s knock these out while they’re still fresh.

First up is 52 #14 (written by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Dale Eaglesham, inks by Art Thibert), which finds itself in a more familiar groove after last week’s near-exclusive focus on Ralph Dibny. This time the issue’s split between Montoya and the Question’s trip to Kahndaq, and Steel’s despair over his niece’s allegiance to Luthor. Will Magnus is visited by “men in black” (who don’t wear black, thus the quotes) and the capper is a two-page origin of Metamorpho. The Metamorpho origin makes him seem like an Indiana Jones-type adventurer before the accident that gave him his powers, and while I’m no Metamorpho scholar, I don’t seem to remember that kind of swashbuckling surviving to his superhero days. Maybe I just didn’t notice. Anyway, it’s a neat idea to emphasize, and by that I mean “hit me over the head with it so I don’t miss it again.” Back in the main book, the Kahndaq stuff is good, but the scene with Magnus got a little confusing during the prisoner takedown. The Steel scenes were effective, although that plot seems to be in a holding pattern.

I bought JSA Classified #15 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer) partly out of curiosity to see if Part 2 of … well, Part 2, counting the JLA Classified arc, would improve on a lackluster couple of installments. I suppose it depends on accepting a side of Gypsy’s powers I hadn’t seen before. Is this an astral form? Did she study with Doctor Strange? Anyway, the setup is pretty intriguing, as far as supervillain plots go — basically, the stronger Wildcat gets, the madder he gets, or the unluckier his foes get. It might not be plausible, but it’s effectively unbeatable, at least to my mind that hasn’t had time to consider it. Ultimately, not as bad as it could have been, and I’ll be back for Part 3.

Superman #655 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino) was good from start to finish, including the pleasingly old-school cover. (Word balloons? How kicky!) Much of the issue is told in flashback as Clark brings us up to speed on two old double-L girlfriends, Callie Llewellyn and Lana Lang. The latter, in fact, is the new CEO of Lexcorp, which, considering all the trouble she’s been through ever since her ex-husband was elected VPOTUS, is a pleasantly surprising change in the status quo that I hope is long-lived. It sure is a good distance from her Chuck Austen “homewrecker” role, and Busiek gives her and Clark a more dignified airing of their old romance.

As for Callie, the big mystery centers around just what she knows of Clark and Superman, but her status as Clark’s post-Lana flame allows Clark a non-milquetoasty exchange with a fellow reporter interested in the nudge-nudge aspects. Indeed, Clark has apparently adopted the Jim Rockford blazer-no-tie style, and via Pacheco, makes it work. Also, Superman’s in this issue, fighting a Doomsday-type brute engineered by the USSR. Busiek uses Supes’ senses for exposition, putting in narrative captions information about the setting that Pacheco then doesn’t have to show. It works better than I can describe. Except for a few confusing pages with Arion in 17th-century France, that holds true for the entire book.

If it turns out I have correctly guessed the identity of the Mystery Villain glimpsed in Firestorm #28 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne), I will be very impressed with myself and may well be even more insufferable. (The guess is at the bottom of the page.) This was another solid issue, moving things along nicely and bringing back a few familiar faces. Speaking of which, it feels like Moore is playing the single-dad angle with Jason as a counterpoint to Ronnie Raymond’s (widower?) father, only where Ronnie had to deal with a stepmother, Jason’s real mom is now back in the picture. Anyway, Mikhail Arkadin (one of Ostrander’s Firestorms) returns officially in this issue, everybody fights foot soldiers in battlesuits, Firestorm unloads a massive amount of power on a big blob-beast, yadda yadda yadda. It’s all good.

Beyond! #2 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins) is mostly a big fight between Medusa and Venom, during which Medusa is shown to be quite hardcore. Also, the group winds up on a mysterious planet, Hank Pym apparently pulls an Avengers Quinjet out of his pocket, and surprisingly, I remember that the one guy with the hair is the new Kraven. All in all, not a bad second issue, with enough happening to be entertaining. For #2 out of 8, that’s about right.

She-Hulk #10 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Nelson) also has a lot going on, from Jen’s role as Registration Act enforcer to Pug’s attempts to break Starfox’s love spell (and, therefore, destroy Shulkie’s new marriage), the repercussions of said marriage on the new hubby, both personally and with an old Spider-Man villain, and the revelation of another villain from the previous She-Hulk series who, quite honestly, I had forgotten. Sure, it’s fun, but it feels like we’ve been dealing with these issues for a while now and it’s time for some resolutions.

And speaking of resolutions, Fantastic Four: First Family #6 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Chris Weston, inked by Gary Erskine) wraps up the miniseries in a decent way. I wasn’t crazy about this issue, but it might improve once the whole thing is read in one setting. Mostly I kept waiting for Reed to get the crew out of those clunky unstable-molecule suits and into some more comfortable unstable-molecule duds. Also, this issue Reed tends to look like Peter Lorre, which I might have mentioned before. The power of love saves the day, too, but again that fits with another subplot, so it’s not so egregious. The whole thing is redeemed, though, by closing with the classic FF mission statement, so all is forgiven:

*** I think it’s Tokamak, Lorraine Reilly’s father, who tried to become a nuclear-powered supervillain a few years into the Fury of Firestorm series.

July 26, 2006

New comics 7/12/06 and 7/19/06

Yeah, I know, another two-weeks-at-a-time thing. Last week was a killer, though — the Best Wife Ever went to a (practically) week-long conference in Dallas and I had to make sure the house was in as good or better condition than when she left it. So far, so good. Also, we’ve got another couple of hectic weekends ahead, so between keeping an eye on San Diego over the weekend, I’ve been working on making sure the next couple of Grumpy Old Fans get done.

Since you’ve probably read most of these already, I’ll try to be brief.

THE VERY GOOD

52 #10, for Clark’s shenanigans and Lois’ reaction.

She-Hulk #9, for the priceless dinner with Jen’s future in-laws.

Hero Squared #2. This really needs to be a sitcom. If “My Name Is Earl” can be a comic, this can be a sitcom. And a comic too, of course.

Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #27. I wish I knew more creative ways to say “good, solid superhero stories” every month, because that’s the only bad thing about reading this book.

Superman #654. The only bad thing about this book is Lois’ hair, and that’s because it makes her look like Luthor’s ex The Contessa. If this is what the Busiek run is going to deliver every month, for goodness’ sake, DC, don’t let him go!

Green Lantern #12. It might be the one book I think Geoff Johns gets consistently right, but just like with Busiek, whatever he’s on when he writes it does the trick. I’m also a lot fonder of Ivan Reis than I was of Ethan van Sciver, and that’s not really a slight on the latter.

And finally, Justice League of America #0, about which I have already gushed.

THE PRETTY GOOD

52 #11. Would have been better if the DC hype factory hadn’t spoiled Batwoman’s secret identity a couple of months ago.

The (All-New) Atom #1. A fine introduction to the new guy, and more fun than his Brave New World teaser.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #43. Pieces are put together and old Aqua-characters come back as the other new guy finally decides to be Aquaman. It took Busiek a little longer to find his groove with this title, but I think it’s all starting to click.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #20. Come for the rampaging giants, stay for Brainy’s creepy Dream Girl fixation. I want to like this book more, but every month I feel like there’s more going on than I can keep up with. Paperbacks, I know; or maybe I could just find time to actually read the floppies some weekend.

THE ONE THING WAS COOL…

Green Lantern Corps #2. Less murky art would help this book. That sounds like I should get the Dave Gibbons-drawn issue in a couple months, doesn’t it? Anyway, I can’t tell which Alien Of The Week is which, but I did like the Giant Guy Construct.

Star Wars: Rebellion #4. The cliffhanger ending was cool. I can’t say much more.

JLA Classified #24. Nice spotlight on old-school Aquaman, and it is kind of fun to see Amos Fortune comfortable enough with his tub-of-goo body to squeeze it into white spandex.

THE REST

Superman/Batman #28. The new team of Mark Verheiden and Ethan van Sciver start their run with a story about J’Onn J’Onzz going nuts on Batman. Good concept, decent mystery, and no dueling narration, but somehow it just feels kind of stiff.

The Flash: Fastest Man Alive #2. I know, every dork with an Internet connection thinks he can write comics, but this Flash storyline is so predictable it’s sad. We know Griff the Annoying Roommate will be Bart’s newest supervillain. We know Bart will overcome his Speed Force trauma and his reluctant-hero stance. We know he’ll get together with the cute STAR Labs techie.

Why didn’t this book play around a little more with the mystery of who could be in the Flash suit? Why spend two issues convincing Bart to get back in harness when the two issues have been screaming he’s going to? This book could have started out with a mysterious Flash speeding through town saving people, solving crimes, etc., while leaving clues that it could be Bart, Wally, Walter West, one of Wally’s kids, Griff, or even Valerie. It would be a real mystery, because a Flash could effectively be in two places at once. We’d have gotten more Flash-action and less angst to boot, and the book could even have kept the shifting-narrator flashbacks. In fact, that could have been the “reveal” — when the narration started syncing up with the Flash’s exploits. I almost think this book is being deliberately obtuse, and still has a few surprises in it. I’m fairly sure that gives all involved too much credit, but you never know.

June 25, 2006

New comics 6/14/06 and 6/21/06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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