Comics Ate My Brain

September 17, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

Filed under: batman, crisis, flash, sunday soliloquy — Tom Bondurant @ 12:28 am
Single-handedly and anonymously, the Flash saves the Multiverse’s five remaining Earths.


After this point Barry starts jumping around in time, interacting with Kid Flash, the Joker, and Batman, so it’s not really a soliloquy anymore. Also, I wasn’t in a mood to dwell on Barry’s death. It’s enough to say that I think this scene holds up as a fine sendoff to the character who introduced DC to its Multiverse. Barry’s monologue is one of the few instances in superhero comics where, “realistically,” a character would talk to himself as he literally ran out his life.

[From “A Flash Of The Lightning!” in Crisis On Infinite Earths #8, November 1985. Written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Jerry Ordway.]

Man, now I’m depressed. Let’s see if this helps:

That’s better!

[From “That’s Really Super, Superman!” in Bizarro Comics, 2001. Written by Ivan Brunetti, drawn by Evan Dorkin.]

August 19, 2007

Know Your Audience

Filed under: flash, meta — Tom Bondurant @ 8:57 pm
I bought several issues of The Flash (vol. 1) in San Diego, mostly for the Green Lantern backup stories. Finally got around to reading the main story in issue #220 (February-March 1973) today, and look who was advertising:

Just so you know I am not making this up, here’s the ad together with the story page which faces it:

The ad’s placement in this comic fascinates me, especially considering that the inside front cover was for Daisy air-rifles (“In 1894, a boy had to learn to act like a man. Daisy’s 1894 BB Gun teaches the same lessons”) and the inside back cover is the familiar Charles Atlas “Insult That Made A Man Out Of Mac” ad. There’s also the usual record-club, Johnson Smith Catalog, and correspondence-course ads, again familiar to anyone who’s read a lot of early-1970s superhero comics.

However, I’d never seen an Easy-Bake Oven ad before, at least not in a comic so fanboy-oriented (even at the time) as The Flash.

And I’m not making fun of Flash for having a “girly” ad. If anything, it speaks to the diversity of readers DC’s advertising department thought it had back then.

Heck, I’m just the slightest bit miffed that the ad was aimed exclusively at Sally, and not her brother too. I wouldn’t have minded an Easy-Bake Oven back in the day. In fact, just this afternoon I was baking! (Not a euphemism. Of course, the pie I baked has two tablespoons of bourbon in it, which the Easy-Bake probably isn’t set up to handle. But I digress.)

Has anyone else encountered the Easy-Bake ad, or something similar you didn’t expect? I wonder how many girls Kenner thought it could keep in traditional gender roles with its inroads into DC comics.

Ultimately, I’d like to think that the combination of ads in The Flash #220 produced fairly well-rounded individuals of both genders — fit, educated, music lovers, and able to shoot and cook. Evidently, I need to work out more and brush up on my marksmanship.

August 18, 2007

New comics 8/15/07

Eleven issues this week, with a couple extra-sized. No time to waste!

We begin with The Brave and the Bold #6 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Scott Koblish), the cracking-good conclusion to the opening “Luck Lords” arc. It stars (deep breath) Batman, Green Lantern, Adam Strange, Supergirl, the Legion, and special surprise guests, but its cameos feature all manner of DC space heroes familiar to me mostly from the old Who’s Who book. The big finish hinges on said special surprise guests, and I’m not entirely sure it’s a valid plot twist, even within the plot’s established logic, but it made me smile. Good work, all!

Next up is Countdown #37 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by David Lopez and Mike Norton, inks by Don Hillsman and Rodney Ramos). Considering that five people contributed to the art, it’s all pretty agreeable. I’m sure that’s the result of working from Giffen’s breakdowns. Most of the issue deals with Mary Marvel’s apprenticeship to Zatanna, with the B-plot apparently the cover-featured encounter between the Rogues and Poison Ivy. Otherwise, Karate Kid is still dying, Holly and Harley are still part of the Amazonian slumber party, and Jimmy’s subplot leads into this week’s Action Comics. Two-page villain origins start this week, with the first up being (appropriately enough) Poison Ivy, brought to you by Scott Beatty, Stephane Roux, and the Cheesecake Factory.

In the aforementioned Action Comics #854 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Livesay), Jimmy and Superman manage Jimmy’s new powers and the new Titano, and it’s actually all very sweet in the end, thanks to copious amounts of Krypto. More particularly, though, Busiek jumps back and forth between the “present” Countdown-influenced plot and the evidently-prior Kryptonite Man plot we’ve been following the past few issues. It might not sound like much of a compliment, but this has been a really good Countdown tie-in, and a very successful test of Busiek’s shared-universe mojo.

Checkmate #17 (written by Greg Rucka and Eric S. Trautmann, pencilled by Chris Samnee, inked by Steve Bird) offers a one-off story spotlighting Checkmate’s new security chief, the former Master Jailer. It’s a fine introduction to the series, encapsulating all the paranoia and much of the politics on display every month. The climactic battle plays out kinda like a video game, but in a good way.

Volume 2 of The Flash picks up after over a year (i.e., after Volume 3) with issue #231, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Daniel Acuna. It’s an introduction too, because as we all know, Wally’s grooming his kids to be superheroes. Not to cast aspersions on the memory of Bart Allen, but what exactly was keeping this from being the Flash One Year Later storyline back in March ’06? Anyway, the kids aren’t unappealing, but I’d apparently forgotten that Linda Park had some med-school training on the way to becoming a journalist. I wasn’t too high on Acuna’s suitability for the title after All-Flash #1, but I was pleasantly surprised here. Because he’s splitting his time between the Wests and the necessary exposition, Waid’s script isn’t as good as the All-Flash issue, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get better.

I haven’t been as repulsed by Amazons Attack! (#5 written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Pete Woods) as some, so when I say “it’s almost over,” that’s more matter-of-fact than anything. Most of this issue deals with the Outsider Grace receiving overtures from the Bana-Mighdall Amazons, while Batman tries to lower the magic shield keeping the most powerful JLAers out of the decimated Washington. I still say it’s not so bad, but if you’ve bailed on it by this point, I probably won’t change your mind.

I really do need to re-read Tad Williams and Shawn McManus’ run on Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis, because #55 was an enjoyable installment that could easily be described as “retro-superhero.” There’s a nice take on the monologuing bad guy (and there are actually a few of them), and Williams and McManus do a good job of building suspense. There are only two issues left in the title, and possibly the “new” Aquaman himself, but it’s got me eager to see the wrap-up.

Brad Meltzer says goodbye to Justice League of America, at least for now, with #12 (pencilled by Ed Benes and Eric Wight, inked by Sandra Hope). Of course it’s a character-driven ode to the greatness of the team, because that’s been Meltzer’s approach all along. It focuses on Meltzer’s new members, Red Arrow, Hawkgirl, Red Tornado, Black Lightning, Vixen, and Geo-Force, and bonds are formed (in various degrees) between two couples. As with Countdown and Amazons Attack, you’ve probably made up your mind about this one already.

I didn’t believe it when I saw it on his site, but there really is a screenshot of The Invincible Super-Blog on a SHIELD monitor screen in Captain America #29 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins). More good stuff from this crew, and the shout-out to a comics blogger is just the cherry on top.

I bought Spider-Man Family #4 for the Spidey/Agents of Atlas story (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice), but I stayed for Chris Eliopolous’ Puppet Master story and the entertaining reprints. The new stories were great, and it’s 100 pages for $5.00, so what’s not to like?

Finally, there’s a lot to like about Booster Gold vol. 2 #1 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, layouts by Dan Jurgens, finishes by Norm Rapmund). This is a dense book, with lots of story “compressed” into its 31 pages. I had compared this book earlier to the old Chronos series, but it’s much more accessible, as you’d expect. It pokes fun at much of what Johns and his colleagues have done at DC the past few years, and as much as I got tired of Johns’ continuity-referencing in his JSA work, it’s actually more of the point of this series. Thus, it works a lot better here. Jurgens’ work is the same as always, not bad but still kind of stiff, and it too plays into the plug-into-DC-history vibe the series clearly wants to evoke. Moreover, Booster’s new setup comes with an appropriate, and poignant, emotional foundation. A very promising start to what could be the She-Hulk of DC.

August 16, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

Filed under: flash, meme, thursday night thinking — Tom Bondurant @ 1:21 pm
My Thursday Night Thinking and Friday Night Fights for this week spotlight the late Mike Wieringo.


Good thing Diamondrock wants something a little different this time. It’s not the typical THINKING! post, but it’s the first ‘Ringo scene that came to mind. After all, Older Wally does give Young Wally a lot to think about….

[From “Flashing Back,” Flash vol. 2 #0, October 1994. Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Jose Marzan Jr.]

August 13, 2007

Goodbye, Ringo

Filed under: fantastic four, flash, meta, robin, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 11:27 pm
I didn’t know Mike Wieringo personally, but I felt like I did. My buddy Sam had met him years ago in the course of doing some prototype Tellos figures. Today, when Sam called me, I knew why even before I answered the phone.

So I didn’t know Mike Wieringo, but like Mike Parobeck, another comics artist who left this world too soon, I felt like I knew him through his work. Readers of this blog need look no further than last week’s Sunday Soliloquy, and its quiet study of Reed Richards, for a great example of Wieringo’s craftsmanship.



It’s all there: the attention to detail, the way the characters move, and the expressiveness of both Reed and Valeria. Wieringo has what some might call a “cartoony” style, but it’s hardly unrealistic. His objects have weight and his characters have life. There isn’t much action on those two pages, but that just goes to show how good ‘Ringo was at making them come alive.

Mike Wieringo worked on some of the Big Two’s most treasured properties, including the Flash, Robin the Boy Wonder, Superman, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. He “got” the appeal of superheroes, I think, and translated that appeal perfectly onto the page. The best superhero artists make us forget about the genre’s constant struggle between “realism” and fantasy, and simply transport us into the worlds their pencils create. Mike Wieringo was a master at that. He never seemed to give less than his best, and in turn his best seemed effortless.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his loved ones. He brought a lot of joy to a lot of us.

July 25, 2007

New comics 7/18/07

We begin this week with All Flash #1 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by various artists) … and I can only speak for myself, but it felt really right to have Wally written by Waid again. Of all the writers who have handled Wally over the years — among them John Broome, Cary Bates, Bob Rozakis, Marv Wolfman, Mike Baron, Bill Messner-Loebs, and Geoff Johns — Wally and Waid seemed made for each other. I see a lot of commentators saying this effectively is a coda to Bart’s Fastest Man Alive, and I don’t disagree; and neither do I disagree that if the continuation of The Flash vol. 2 were drawn by Karl Kerschl, it would look fantastic. (It’s got Daniel Acuna instead, and while I don’t dislike Acuna, boy howdy does Kerschl’s work sparkle here.) Much has been made as well of Wally’s ironic punishment of Inertia, which is in many ways the point of this issue. I’d feel better if it were a prelude to the character’s return, and even (as some suggested) to Bart’s “return.”

In the end, I liked the issue. Wally’s departure was justified poorly, and his return was oddly reassuring, especially as voiced by Waid. Of course I’m looking forward to the regular Flash book, because that’ll be the real test of Waid’s speedster chops. I doubt we’ll be saying goodbye to Wally again anytime soon.

Next up, another book Mark Waid used to write, Captain America #28 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins). It’s the same format as last issue — vignettes checking in with the book’s current cast, mostly with Sin and the (new?) Serpent Squad as they prepare to break Crossbones out of jail. It hit me with this issue that there’s still a lot I don’t know about Cap’s vast array of allies and enemies. Brubaker is evidently doing his best to work a lot of them into this story, and for the most part he’s doing a good job of at least indicating who’s good, who’s evil, and who’s got a long history I could probably find on Wikipedia. Ironically, though, the character I had the most trouble placing in this issue was Professor X. Seems like there’s been another bald character in the book lately (or maybe I’m just hallucinating) and they all look like Lex Luthor. Anyway, still a good read.

Speaking of called-back characters, The Spirit #8 (by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone) presents a twist on the cover-featured “cut the right wire” scenario. This time it’s Agent Satin, who unfortunately reminded me of Erin Esurance early in the book when she’s parachuting into the action. Anyway, that passed pretty quickly. The issue itself is pretty loaded, putting a lot of subplots into what boils down to cut-the-right-wire … and, like I say, even that is a clever twist. However, it never feels coy or too clever, and the Spirit is only in it as a supporting character. It’s even a sequel of sorts to a previous issue, but without so much as a footnote or express flashback to clutter the narrative. If I had to show someone what Cooke’s Spirit was all about, I could do worse than give them this.

Reading the latest Action Comics (#852 written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by John Livesay) made me wonder: why doesn’t DC put Busiek into its Countdown rotation? If there’s one thing at which Busiek excels, it’s creating a sense of “movement away from the ball.” Busiek is great at suggesting a larger world beyond the borders of a panel, a page, or an issue, and this story is no exception. Its focus on Jimmy connects his CD hijinx with the rest of the Superman plot. (This includes another reference to “Red Son” which pretty much spoils what has to be a big part of its ending, but in a perfect world that story would be long over anyway.) Unfortunately, I’m not clear about what’s going on with the primates and the green goo (Kryptonite, I guess) because those scenes are hard to follow, and I’m still not on board with Brad Walker as a penciller. His stuff is a little too idiosyncratic to fit such a straight-laced book as Action. It worked for the quirky Secret Six, just not so much here.

The portion of the blogosphere which still reads Countdown seemed to recoil a lilttle less at this week’s issue (#41 written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, drawn by Dennis Calero), and I’m in that camp too. Every scene seemed to be constructed just that much better: the Rogues on the run figure out how to survive a long fall; Harley and Holly get a vignette at the Athenian Women’s Shelter; and even the one- and two-page check-ins with Mary Marvel and Donna & Jason feel more cohesive. It may be the result of accumulated backstory or the invisible hands of Keith Giffen, but whatever it is, it’s working better. Dennis Calero is not an unfamiliar name, but I’m at a loss to remember something else he’s drawn. His work’s nice and simple, and it does what it needs to.

Two-thirds of the way through Amazons Attack (#4 written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Pete Woods) and not only can I not tell where it ends and Wonder Woman begins, both series seem to be going over the same ground. Every installment features some unbelievable act of Amazonian carnage (here involving Air Force One), more tension between Wonder Woman and Hippolyta and Hippolyta and the other Amazons, more Circe scheming, etc. There’s barely a sense of plot movement despite having only two issues (well, plus the Wonder Woman issues, but still) to go. Thanks to Pete Woods, the book still looks very pretty.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #54 (written by Tad Williams, drawn by Shawn McManus) has too much going on. Aquaman and crew fight Black Manta in Sub Diego. There’s a new revelation involving the polar explorers. We check in with a couple of characters from the Peter David days. It’s charming enough, and I like what Williams and McManus have brought to the title, but it’s a strange combination of reliance on pre-OYL stories (maybe trying to win back that crowd?) and the new, oddball spin Williams has put on Kurt Busiek’s OYL “barbarian” concept. With three issues left in the title’s run, and so much plot, it all needs to start coming together.

The same applies to The Brave and the Bold #5 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), which takes a detour into the 31st Century so that Batman can outwit the current Legion of Super-Heroes. This gives Waid and Perez the opportunity to indulge themselves: Waid makes another Adam West reference, and Perez gets to work out with the Legion (a book which, he’s fond of saying, he’s never gotten to draw). There’s more with Supergirl, Green Lantern, and Adam Strange, and it’s all very fun and of course well-rendered; but again, it doesn’t feel like there’s just one issue to go in this arc.

If Brad Meltzer were staying on Justice League of America (#11 drawn by Gene Ha) longer than one more issue, I’d be more excited about this one-off tale of Red Arrow and Vixen trapped under the Watergate Hotel’s wreckage. As it is, it’s not a bad single-issue story. Meltzer clearly enjoys dialogue, and that’s pretty much all this issue is, with only a few physical scenes to punctuate the tension. And in fact, there is a bit of tension, which is surprising considering the relative invulnerability of these characters. Good on Meltzer and Ha for that. A semi-significant aspect of Vixen’s powers is revealed here too, in case a reader might feel that the story had no lasting impact. (It still might not, actually.) Ha’s work is more diffuse here than his normal precise, fine lines, but it’s still good, especially the way he plays with layouts towards the end. I kinda wish this had been more of a contrast from Meltzer’s talky modus operandi, though.

Man, everything this week is ending or about to end, isn’t it? Gail Simone’s last Birds of Prey (#108 pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) is an epilogue to the Spy Smasher story arc, as Barbara beats up on her rival something fierce. Afterwards Babs and Dinah reunite, sharing takeout with Huntress and Lady Blackhawk, and then Barbara picks up her newest official recruit. I haven’t been back with this book for long, but I thought Simone had a touching farewell. I continue to be impressed with Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood — their faces are especially expressive.

There’s a bit of Checkmate #16 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) which I halfway expected to see in BOP, and here it feels a touch out of place, but I suppose it fits better here than there. It’s the Fire and Ice reunion, of course, and it’s handled pretty deftly by all parties. It’s actually very sweet, adding some more nuance to Fire’s character (at least how she’s been portrayed in this book). The rest of the book concerns itself with Sasha and Mr. Terrific, and sets up the downfall of Amanda Waller. Bennett and Jadson look really pretty good here — their Fire/Ice scenes use a thicker line, subtly reminiscent of Adam Hughes and Joe Rubenstein’s Justice League International work, but their Sasha/Michael scenes are thinner and more delicately rendered. All around, a fine issue.

Finally, here’s the last issue (see? again!) of Jeff Smith’s Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil, and it’s just as good as the other parts. Smith’s Mr. Mind design is perfect — menacing while still retaining the salient parts of the original. If this series isn’t the tour de force of Cap villains that the original was, that’s OK; as a revival/reimagining of the Captain Marvel mythology, it works very well. Now, of course, Smith has to do a sequel, so he can work Cap Jr. into the mix.

July 20, 2007

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: flash, friday night fights, meme, new teen titans — Tom Bondurant @ 10:36 pm
Wally needs to be stealthy, so he’s used his speed to stir up a big dust cloud.

The cloud’s probably overkill, because you’d think he’d have the element of surprise anyway, but hey — at this point he was only the second-fastest man alive.

Bahlactus rolls for Initiative, and wins every time!

[From “Friends And Foes Alike,” The New Teen Titans #13, November 1981. Written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Romeo Tanghal.]

June 26, 2007

New comics 6/20/07

We begin this week by picking up a spare from last week, Outsiders #48 (written by Judd Winick and Greg Rucka, pencilled by Ron Randall and Matthew Clark, inked by Art Thibert). It’s Part 4 of the 6-part “Check/Out” crossover, and as such it features the Outsiders/Checkmate strike force’s attempt to survive Oolong Island. Therefore, most of the issue is given over to shouting and fighting and movement and explosions and frantic dialogue. I was kind of surprised that I could follow the issue as well as I could, considering the fact that pencillers Randall and Clark seem to have divided up the issue pretty equally. Randall uses a thicker line, and I think his figures and composition are a bit more stable as a result, but really I couldn’t tell much of a difference just reading the book. I ascribe that to inker Art Thibert, who’s done his share of pencilling as well.

My main problem with the issue, and the crossover in general, was that it didn’t make me any more sympathetic to the Outsiders themselves. I’m familiar with the well-established characters (Nightwing, Katana, Metamorpho), but I have to remind myself that “Owen”/”Boomer” is the new Captain Boomerang from Identity Crisis, and I know nothing about the two strong women (Grace and Thunder) beyond the broad strokes an action plot like this divulges. The book doesn’t go out of its way to explain any of these people to this particular reader-just-along-for-the-crossover. (Each team having its own young red-haired guy doesn’t help either.) This crossover also hasn’t justified Outsiders‘ existence beyond being a random team of attitude-rich superheroes. Well, maybe it did a little, at the beginning, when there was some sense that Checkmate could take advantage of the group’s cavalier approach to superheroics. Still, this title’s got one more issue before Everything Changes with a new roster, and then it gets relaunched at some point in the future with Batman in charge. I guess what I’m saying is that this crossover could just as well have been a biweekly Checkmate arc for all it’s made me care about the Outsiders. Still, this was a decent dumb-fun action issue.

Checkmate #15 (written by Rucka and Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) presents Part 5 of “Check/Out,” in which Nightwing, Boomer, and Sasha are tortured by Chang Tzu (can we call him “Egg Fu” anymore?) while the Checkmate high sheriffs negotiate with China for some assistance. In terms of craft, this was a better issue all around than Outsiders #48. Bennett and Jadson are a more solid team, and Rucka does a good job of laying out the various political issues and assigning their presentations to the appropriate characters. Checkmate has a much larger regular cast than Outsiders, but there they all are in roll-call format on the first page.

The one thing that I did not like about the issue, and it is not an insignificant complaint, is the attention paid to Boomer and Sasha’s torture. The issue plays a darkly clever game with the reader by putting Nightwing — who we know is “safe” from any permanent harm — in a cell next to the torture chamber, thereby making him listen to his friends’ anguished cries. In this way, and especially on the last page, “Check/Out” seems to set up pretty clearly the end of Nightwing’s tenure as team leader. This is a particular blow to Nightwing’s character, because for years, if not decades, it was the thing that most significantly separated him from Batman. As Titans leader, he was either rescuing his teammates (see “The Judas Contract” or “Titans Hunt”) or sacrificing himself for him (i.e., in a few of the Brother Blood storylines). He’s presented here as an ineffectual failure. Thus, while the issue does a good job of dramatizing just how deep these three are in their particular hole, the overall effect is not pleasant, and in fact kind of sickly voyeuristic.

I got a similar feeling reading The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #13 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Daniel, Jonathan Glapion, and Marlo Alquiza). It was a gut-punch of an issue that apparently wanted to leave little doubt about Bart’s fate. As I said on Thursday, I felt bad for Bart, but a lot of that had to do with the editorially-mandated aspects of his death. The fact that I didn’t think he needed to die also contributed to my sadness that he did. Guggenheim and Daniel put together a decent issue, just in service of an unfortunate cause.

The other part of the Flash re-relaunch was, of course, Justice League of America #10 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope). While I am very, very happy at the return of Wally West — I actually teared up a little; don’t judge me — this was an incredibly haphazard way to end “The Lightning Saga.” First of all, it’s not really over, because it obviously sets up more Old-Legion adventures in Countdown and other DC titles. Second, what in the name of little baby ducks does Wally West have to do with the Legion anyway? Third, I understand the Legion not wanting to tell the JLA and JSA that one of them will die when “whoever” is brought back, but that just means this is the old “Why didn’t you ask us for help in the first place?” plot. Fourth, do I really have to list all of the ways in which Meltzer and Benes use innuendo and shorthand to create an illusion that things are happening? There were no real resolutions in this issue, at least not to the larger plot elements presented at the beginning of the crossover. Meltzer has some appealing ideas, but he treats them so reverently that before you know it, five issues are up and nothing’s really gotten done.

I could probably say the same thing about Captain America #27 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins), but the difference is that the character scenes are hung on a plot that makes sense within the larger story arc. The Winter Soldier wants to reclaim Cap’s shield, Sharon Carter struggles with her role in Cap’s death, and she and the Falcon figure out where Bucky’s headed with the shield. Oh, and Bucky reconnects with the Black Widow, his old Soviet-spy buddy. Epting and Perkins do a collectively fine job overall. I don’t like their Tony Stark, but that’s just me. Also, I wasn’t sure it was “the” Black Widow, Natasha Romanov, because dialogue calls her “Natalia” and I don’t know if that’s an acceptable nickname. Other than those nitpicks, though, a really fine issue that advances the plot while still keeping the reader guessing about when any Captain America will headline his eponymous book again.

I continue to enjoy The Brave and the Bold (#4 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), probably because it is unashamed of being a light, fun superhero title. This issue begins and ends with Batrok, and features a Lobo/Supergirl story which is fairly predictable but still enjoyable. It does appear that Supergirl has gotten more mature around Lobo than she was around Green Lantern a couple of issues ago — Waid writes her as (let’s say) early-20s, as opposed to late-teens — but I like her better this way, so it works out.

In the same vein, Marvel gives us Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #3 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wade von Grawbadger), which finds Spidey and 3/4 of the FF fighting aliens and dropping in on Dr. Doom and the High Evolutionary. There is nothing objectionable about this book.

You can guess the obvious segue into Countdown #45 (written by Paul Dini and I think Tony Bedard, although Palmiotti & Gray are credited; pencilled by J. Calafiore, inked by Mark McKenna). Actually, I kind of liked this issue, because it shows Donna Troy as a competent superhero for the first time in a while. An incongruous scene of her blasting away with an automatic rifle notwithstanding, she comes across believably as an Amazon warrior. However, the rest of the book is still in setup mode: Jimmy Olsen investigates Sleez’s old tenement, Holly shows up when Jimmy leaves, and meanwhile the Legionnaires stuck in our time after JLofA #10 whine some more about being stuck on the JLA Satellite. Also, there has got to be a better way to distinguish between Monitors than their hairstyles. I’m begging you, DC: symbols, numbers, tattoos, whatever — I just can’t keep ’em straight anymore.

Finally, The Spirit #7 features three guest creative teams, and is largely successful. The first story, written by Walt Simonson and drawn by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story, concerns a no-good socialite (we know she’s no good, because she’s obviously reminiscent of Par– I mean, She Who Must Not Be Named) and the Spirit’s search for a missing diamond. It’s pretty fun. The second story, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and drawn by Jordi Bernet, is more of an Eisner pastiche, because it features the indirect effects of a Spirit chase on the lives of tenement dwellers. Bernet’s style is perhaps even more successful than Darwyn Cooke’s at capturing the sort of organic cartoonishness of Eisner’s work, so I think this is the most successful story in the issue. The last one, a sort of Spirit/Frank Miller mash-up parody by Kyle Baker, is rather an acquired taste. I thought excerpts of it were funny when I saw them online, but even for a short story the joke gets a little old. Still, like the man said, two out of three ain’t bad.

June 21, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

Filed under: flash, meme, thursday night thinking — Tom Bondurant @ 10:57 pm
This week, there was only one choice: Bart “Impulse” Allen, contemplating his lofty social status.

Maybe not the kind of brainpower usage Diamondrock intended, but for Bart’s streamlined synapses, this was practically meditation. Until we meet again, Bart….

[From “Water Rat,” Impulse #13, May 1996. Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Humberto Ramos, inked by Wayne Faucher.]

May 29, 2007

New comics 5/16/07 and 5/23/07

Would have gotten these up last night, but the traditional Memorial Day allergies started to kick in….

MAY 16, 2007

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #12 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Art Thibert) is a fairly decent issue which suffers somewhat by the behind-the-scenes murmurings about Bart Allen’s fate. I give it a lot of credit for setting up an inescapable doom-trap, but at the same time I have to think that the doom-trap won’t actually kill Bart. I mean, that would be a little too grim, even for someone like me who still can’t get past the arbitrary nature of his promotion. My appreciation of said trap is therefore blunted somewhat. I’m also kind of ambivalent about whether I want Bart to escape. I don’t want him to die, but at the same time I don’t think he should be the Flash just yet.

How was the book itself, you ask? Decent, like I said. No one seems to be out of character, but Bart himself is still such a cipher that it’s hard to say at this point what would be in character. Daniel’s storytelling skills are fine, but Thibert’s inks are inconsistent. The “weight” of characters on the page varies, and more often than not the Flash especially looks two-dimensional. Still, there is that doom-trap, and the Black Flash, so I don’t feel bad about coming back.

Countdown #50 (written by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray, pencilled by J. Calafiore, inked by Mark McKenna) has already been dissected by many of you, so I will just add some brief observations. First, if the cover suggests that the Joker has targeted Jimmy Olsen, that implies a much more exciting story than Jimmy happening to end up at Arkham Asylum for a stereotypical Hannibal Lecter conference. I’d want to read Joker vs. Jimmy, and I’d be lukewarm about Joker Talks To Jimmy. Second, the scenes with the Rogues go on far too long: five pages to establish a) they hate the Flash, whoever he might be, and b) Piper and Trickster’s bona fides are in question. I thought this scene added nothing to the current Flash arc. I think Countdown is improving, but boy, it’s not improving quickly.

Justice League of America #9 (written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Ed Benes) gets a lot of things right — the Gorilla City scenes, for instance — but again, nothing much seems to happen. Teams of JLAers and JSAers just show up and collect Legionnaires like they were checking out library books. At least the three bad guys were revealed.

Action Comics #849 (written by Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Ron Randall) finishes the “Redemption” two-parter about like I figured. There are some intriguing ideas, and Kurt Busiek’s social worker from an earlier Superman is used well, but ironically, I think Superman himself comes across as imposing his will on the common folk more than the story’s antagonist does. The final confrontation features Superman hovering over the congregation making pronouncements, and while Clark muses later that his moral compass has to be pretty accurate, I don’t think the congregants understood that point.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #52 (written by Tad Williams, drawn by Shawn McManus) finds our hero and his companions hatching a plan to free Sub Diego from Black Manta. This was not a dull issue, and I don’t have much of a problem with the art, but the Sub Diego stuff is just not involving me like it wants to. Besides, both Busiek and Williams want Arthur to be The Decider, but so far neither of them have really presented a compelling case for that. Arthur’s just a guy who can live underwater unaided and maybe occasionally talk to marine life, and right now that’s not enough to get me excited about him. There are exciting and chilling moments in the issue, including the Black Manta fights and Aquagirl’s story about the fate of some Sub Diegans, but Arthur should be the compelling center and he’s not.

Checkmate #14 (written by Greg Rucka and Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) is a solid caper story wherein a Checkmate team and the Outsiders infiltrate Oolong Island. As usual, Rucka uses the caper to advance the book’s various political subplots effectively. As a crossover, though, I have to say this storyline isn’t encouraging me to pick up Outsiders on a more regular basis. Beyond Nightwing, none of these characters seem particularly exciting, and most of them are defined by their sarcasm and air of bad-assery. If Rucka and Winick each wrote their respective team’s dialogue, Rucka wins. Bennett and Jadson do well enough, but the big action scene at the beginning suffers from faulty perspective. Specifically, I couldn’t tell at first whether the monster was supposed to be looming over the ship or sitting atop it.

Where do I begin with All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #5 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams)? First, I don’t think anyone should look to this title for the Platonic ideals of Batman, Robin, or any of the other iconic characters it features. This is not a story about How Batman Should Work. I don’t know what this story is about, and it’s been five issues. Actually, I take most of that back: this is a story about making Batman first among alpha males, by giving every other possible contender some fatal character flaw. Of the various costumed characters portrayed so far, Batman is the only one who seems to get the colossal joke underlying the very pursuit of superheroics. This makes a lot of sense in light of the basic “Batman” idea, and it could be a pretty entertaining series of issues, but remind me again … what’s the basic plot of this series? Where are the conflicts? Batman is wanted by the cops generally, never mind for kidnapping Dick Grayson, and by the way Dick’s parents have been murdered. Five issues in and we’re still just introducing all the players. This is starting to feel like the sub-glacial pace of Supreme Power all over again. It’s bad enough the issues are so late, but then to have virtually no plot advancement feels like Miller and Lee are just in it to put one over on the suckers.

Fortunately, Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, and Jesse Delperdang offer Batman #665, which gets a lot of ASB&R‘s ideas across in a mode that’s much easier to digest. “The Black Casebook” ascribes a certain supernatural dread to those old Batman stories no one likes to talk about because they’re “not realistic.” In this issue, Batman and Robin take out the Bane-themed Batman, in part because Bruce convinces himself that he needs to be, yes, the top alpha male. However, Morrison’s Batman is more sedate, and perhaps more self-aware, than Miller and Lee’s cackling dervish. He’s playing a role, not thinking with his id. The issue also has some fine action scenes, including Batman and Robin both slamming into the Bat-Bane with their respective vehicles.

Star Wars: Rebellion #6 (written by Brandon Badeaux & Rob Williams, drawn by Michel Lacombe) begins a new arc focusing on a character who should be familiar to me, but isn’t. He’s a Rebel agent who gets found out by the mob boss he’s infiltrated, and sent on a mission by said mobster. I liked this issue well enough, even if some parts of it (the opening flashback to Episode III, and an assassination) weren’t connected to the main plot. It all felt like part of the comfortable SW setting, and with a book like this, that’s what you want.

Finally for this week, Hero Squared #6 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) offers the origins of Captain Valor and Caliginous, each told by them in what has to be somewhat self-serving fashion. Captain Valor’s is more funny, being a pretty obvious parody of Captain Marvel’s (including a Mr. Natural-like Shazam figure), but the emotional heft comes at the end of the issue, when one of the book’s main players reacts to Caliginous’ story. This is another book that doesn’t do much in the way of macro-plot, but at least it offers a fairly complete story in every issue. If, as I have read, it’s ending soon, it should probably get to its larger point, but issue by issue, it’s still fun.

MAY 23, 2007

Countdown #49 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, pencilled by Carlos Magno, inked by Jay Leister) uses Jimmy’s elastic past to get him out of the cliffhanger with Killer Croc, and the Pied Piper and Trickster get a good double-agent-y scene to establish their bona fides with the other Rogues. The rest of the issue is taken up with exposition-happy Monitors, Karate Kid and Red Arrow trading quips (leading me to wonder about the timing of this issue relative to the JLA/JSA crossover) and a dismemberment-happy Black Adam. The art this issue was pretty good for a team I’ve not seen before — very dynamic, although there has to be a better way than facial hair to distinguish the Monitors.

I’m genuinely torn as to whether to continue with Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes (#30 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti), because this was a very solid issue, but I think it’s Waid and Kitson’s last. They go out raising more questions than they answer, with those questions being very intriguing. Will Cosmic Boy join this mysterious new team? What will happen to Mon-El? Most importantly, will the new creative team be any good? I keep saying I want to re-read this series, so maybe this will give me the impetus to do it.

I thought The Spirit #6 (by Darwyn Cooke) was too ambitious. It tries very hard to be a real Eisner-esque story about a new character, with the Spirit in the background, but it just felt so familiar, and not in a good way. It’s probably redundant to say that tortured musicians suffer for the sake of their art, and will do anything to perfect it, but there didn’t seem to be much new (beyond the sci-fi trappings) of this musician’s story. This title will always be worth reading as long as Cooke is on it, because Cooke is such a great storyteller and designer, but this issue falls short.

Wonder Woman #9 (written by Jodi Picoult, drawn by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson) doesn’t skimp on plot. Superman, Batman, and the Justice League appear briefly, Circe’s plans are revealed further, and Diana and Circe square off. The art is gorgeous, as you might expect. Picoult is improving, but her dialogue is still too clever and she can’t quite manage all the plot. It continues to mystify me why DC would try to build up this title’s profile with a prose novelist, and then plop said novelist right in the middle of a big event.

For some reason Fantastic Four #546 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) didn’t make much of an impression on me the first time around. That’s probably my fault, because upon further inspection it’s a neat little issue which references everything from the ’70s Jack Kirby Black Panther series to Waid and Wieringo’s last big FF arc. Oh, and Beyond!, of course, written by McDuffie. I didn’t expect to see Reed and Sue back in the book (and apparently on their way to a healthy relationship) so soon, but that was a pleasant surprise, as was the combination of Pelletier and Magyar. Magyar really gives the pencils a good heft and a lot of weight, for a nice Alan Davis look. If this is just a temporary team, the long-term folks had better be absolutely stellar.

Arnim Zola, another ’70s Kirby creation, shows up in Captain America #26 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Mike Perkins). A series of brief episodes — the typography of which reminds me of old Spirit stories, for some reason — check in on Sharon, the Winter Soldier, the Falcon, and Zola and the other villains, all getting back to their lives after Cap’s death. Apparently this issue comes after all of those Fallen Son specials Marvel’s been pushing since Cap #25, but I haven’t read ’em, so this isn’t overkill (you’ll pardon the expression) for me. Brief glimpses of the Avengers both connect this book to, and distance it from, the larger Marvel Universe. These are people who don’t quite fit into the land of crossovers and tie-ins. In that respect they’re misfits, not unlike the time-lost Captain America whose memory now links them. If you can’t already tell, I like this book a lot.

Aaand speaking of crossovers I haven’t read and am not reading, here’s She-Hulk #18 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn), featuring Jen’s battle with Iron Man on the SHIELD Helicarrier. That’s about it, really. This issue uses Jen as a bridge between Civil War and “World War Hulk,” getting her from one side to the other. There are some cute moments, but most of those involve Shulkie’s regular supporting cast. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good as the book has been.

Finally, here’s a book that may be better than ever: Birds Of Prey #106 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). Not just the Barda/Knockout fight, this matches up all of the Secret Sixers against the Birds, with Ice slowly regaining consciousness throughout. (Just noticed: on the cover, Barda’s mega-rod looks a lot like Luke’s green lightsaber….) It’s pretty fun, especially the Misfit/Harley Quinn pairing. Nicola Scott’s choreography isn’t as fluid as I’m used to, so some of the figures are posed a bit awkwardly. Then again, they are fighting, so maybe that’s how they’re supposed to look. This team has succeeded in making a book I look forward to every month, and it’s another situation where the new writer will have big shoes to fill.

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