Comics Ate My Brain

August 16, 2009

New comics 8/12/09

For this week’s 40 minutes of heck, I try to balance a rant about Dr. Mid-Nite and some Blair Butler bewilderment with some memories of the classic New Teen Titans and nice words about Wednesday Comics’ “Wonder Woman.”

Specifically, it’s Action Comics #880, Adventure Comics #1, Batman #689, Blackest Night #2, Blackest Night: Batman #1, Booster Gold #23, Green Arrow/Black Canary #23, Green Lantern Corps #39, JSA Vs. Kobra #3, Titans #16, The Unwritten #4, and Wednesday Comics #6. Plus, Olivia gets another cameo!

Download it directly here, visit the podcast homepage here, or cast your eyes to the player at right.

Music, as always, by R.E.M.

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March 13, 2009

Two new comics, 3/11/09

Filed under: batman, booster gold, green arrow, green lantern, new teen titans, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 7:18 pm
Longtime readers may remember that I used to post weekly new-comics roundups (I hesitated to call them “reviews”) about a particular set of purchases. Between annotating Trinity and looking after a new baby, I got out of the habit of doing those.

However, this week I read two comics which, if not exactly polar opposites in terms of quality, were at least headed in different directions as far as merit was concerned. I was surprised at how much I liked one, and how much I disliked the other. Therefore, let’s talk about Titans #12 and Batman: Battle For The Cowl #1.

* * *

First, though, just to be complete, I’ll run down briefly the rest of Wednesday’s haul. I covered Trinity #41 over at Robot 6. Batman Confidential #27 was Part 2 of the “hey, it’s King Tut! In the comics!” story. It brings one of the ’60s TV show’s more ridiculous villains (and that’s saying something) into the serious Batman comics after forty-odd years, but the story is neither goofy nor overly grim. Instead, Tut is creepy and mysterious, so much so that Batman is forced to turn to the Riddler for help. The result is an engaging mystery with snappy writing and great art.

I’ll have to read back issues of Booster Gold and the Superman books to get a better idea for this week’s developments (in Booster Gold #18 and Action Comics #875). I liked both fine, but each depended on the culmination of long-running plot threads. Same is true to a certain extent for Green Lantern Corps #34, although that issue was more setup than anything else.

Finally, I’m not sure how I feel about Green Arrow/Black Canary #18. It’s three issues into the new writer’s first arc, but he doesn’t seem to have the best handle on the characters, and the “Green Arrow has a stalker” plot feels very familiar.

0n to the main event….

* * *

It’s no exaggeration to say that the relaunched Titans has had its problems. In the first eleven issues and the Titans East special, the book has had a handful of different artists (and wildly divergent artistic styles). Although the writer, Judd Winick, has stayed the same, he’s been criticized for failures of characterization and plotting. Next month begins “Deathtrap,” a crossover with Teen Titans and Vigilante, two books I don’t read. Accordingly, it would be easy for me to drop Titans, but something keeps me going.

Titans #12, guest-written by Sean McKeever, penciled by Howard Porter, inked by Wayne Faucher, and colored by Edgar Delgado, was a good example of what the title could be. Titans is essentially a revival of New Teen Titans, so it treads the dangerous ground of, say, a sequel called “fortysomething” (or, to my mind, a “Friends” reunion). At its core it must make the argument that this particular combination of characters — Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, Wonder Girl/Troia, Speedy/Red Arrow, and Kid Flash/Flash — still works, and is still worth watching. So far Titans had been coasting on the assumption that its existence didn’t need justifying.

However, this issue finds two members debating just that. Ex-member Jericho has turned evil, and since he can inhabit anyone’s body and control anyone’s actions, everyone else is on edge. As a result, when Donna and Roy meet for coffee, neither of them is particularly thrilled to go on like they have been. When Raven rebuffs Beast Boy’s attempts at romance, he exclaims desperately that Jericho must be inside her, toying with him.

The other characters don’t have quite as much to do with the Jericho plot, but they were more recognizable to me than they had been. Starfire, whose powers come from solar energy, gets a few pages to worship the sunrise in a way which is reverential, not prurient. Later in the issue, she and Donna meet at dusk for a photography lesson. Roy’s conversation with Donna is sandwiched between leaving one lover (after busting up a mugging outside her window) and almost reluctantly picking up another. In a sign that he too might be leaving the team, Wally “Flash” West’s only scenes are with his family, and by itself the scene doesn’t really go anywhere. Finally, Cyborg’s work in Titans Compound bookends the issue and sets up “Deathtrap.”

I became increasingly dissatisfied with Sean McKeever’s work on Teen Titans because I felt myself caring less about the characters, not more. Maybe I’m bringing too much of my own knowledge of these characters to this issue, but I found McKeever’s writing here to be subtle and almost elegant in its efficiency. When Roy returns to his one-night-stand’s apartment after fighting the muggers, she’s eager for breakfast (and more), but the only thing he says to her is that he just came back to get his wallet. McKeever lets the art (and especially the coloring) speak for itself with regard to Starfire’s sunrise-worship. Similarly, Starfire’s conversation with Donna consists of the simple, direct sentences which old friends use as shorthand. Probably the clunkiest bits of dialogue are the ones with the most romantic tension, between ex-lovers Donna and Roy and would-be lovers Raven and Beast Boy.

On the whole I enjoyed the art of Howard Porter and Wayne Faucher, augmented by Edgar Delgado’s colors. Porter can’t quite settle on Roy’s hairstyle, which makes him look like Wally; and his layouts of Raven’s head over the “montage” of the last few pages doesn’t quite work. Still, Porter and Faucher produce clean, readable work. It’s stylized somewhat, but not to the point of distraction; and except for Wally and Roy it allows the characters to have distinct personalities.

Overall I was quite happy with Titans #12. It’s the kind of issue which highlights this sort of book’s soap-opera elements without swamping the reader in them. I thought all of the subplots touched on here were explained adequately, so as not to mystify a new reader. I’m curious about the next issue, and that’s the kind of feeling a serialized comic book should produce.

* * *

Naturally, Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1, which was written and penciled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea, and colored by Ian Hannin, is something else entirely. BFTC #1 drops the reader into the middle of a Gotham City gone insane. Because Batman is Teh Dedd, all the gangs and super-criminals are battling for turf. Trying to hold everything together is a motley crew of Bat-sociates, organized by Nightwing and Batgirl (but mostly by Nightwing, as Batgirl gets maybe one panel in this issue).

But soft! Whither goest yon red-eyed wraith with the Wayne-issue Batarangs? ‘Tis a new Batman, taking out a trio of thugs wearing clown masks left over from The Dark Knight before Robin and the Squire (the British version of Robin) can get to them. This Batman knows enough about How Not To Be Seen to slip past experienced crimefighters, but they know he’s Batman because, along with those Batarangs, he leaves helpful notes which say “I Am Batman.”

And that, in a nutshell, is BFTC #1’s main problem: its apocalyptic setting is based on there being No Batman, but in the first few pages it introduces I-Am-Batman. What’s more, even though the streets are full of bad guys battling SWAT teams, Gotham is apparently safe enough for ordinary people to gather into mobs, just to drive home the point that society is breaking down. Granted, I’ve never been part of a city in turmoil, but it seems to me that if the streets aren’t safe, is it really such a good idea to go out into the streets in large groups to highlight this lack of safety?

Still, as always, Gotham gets the local bureaucracy it deserves; because wouldn’t you know it, everyone in Arkham Asylum — the Joker, Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, that guy with the shark-teeth — is currently in low-security buses (buses!) while the Asylum is being fumigated. (Actually, narration explains that the Asylum is being decontaminated after the Black Glove’s shenanigans.) This sets up the dramatic return of Black Mask, who hijacks the convoy and blows up Arkham Asylum.

That’s about it for setup: new Batman, mayhem in the streets, super-crooks on the loose. In other hands it might be pretty exciting. However, under Tony Daniel, BFTC #1 is overwritten, uninspired, crowded, and generally just a lot of sound and fury. From the very first panel, when Daniel started with an establishing “Gotham City” caption and then had Robin narrate four sentences later that yes, they were in Gotham City, I knew it would be tough going. (I was willing to overlook Robin saying “Squire and I” when it should have been “and me.”) I’ve mentioned some of the nonsensical plot elements already, but they’re worth repeating. Instead of a city filled with protesters, gangs, cops, and supervillains, why not a ghost town of empty streets, distant fires, and a general air of hopelessness? Instead of Black Mask co-opting the Arkham residents by hijacking their bus convoy, why not show how these master criminals each attempting to escape? BFTC #1 is so concerned with getting all its ducks in a row that it never thinks about the ducks themselves.

Moreover, BFTC saves its worst element for last, in the form of Bruce Wayne’s and Talia al Ghul’s son Damian. Grant Morrison gave Damian — who, if memory serves, grew up alongside the League of Assassins — a bratty bad attitude and a mean sense of entitlement. Here, though, he’s a posturing little kid whose facade crumbles, and literally screams for Mommy, when faced with Killer Croc and Poison Ivy. Morrison’s Damian wouldn’t just take this kid’s lunch money, he’d make him eat it.

Daniel doesn’t explain who Damian is, though, similarly failing to give a hypothetical new reader any information on the Knight, the Squire, or any of the several other superheroes — some, like Black Canary, the Birds of Prey, and Wildcat, only tangentially related to Batman — who flit through this issue’s panels. I can live with assuming that everyone knows Nightwing’s relation to Batman, but Robin’s reference to “my father’s costume” seemed to come out of left field, even knowing that Bruce adopted Tim three years ago.

All in all, Battle for the Cowl #1 is a story outline in comic-book form, filling a spot on DC’s production schedule until everything settles down in June. I realize that the two main Batman books have had their own scheduling problems lately, and Robin, Nightwing, and Birds Of Prey were canceled to make room for the post-BFTC lineup, but considering the events of this issue makes me wish even more that the storyline had been serialized at least across Batman and Detective. Not only could it have built suspense (the Arkham inmates have to be moved! The police might strike!) over a few weeks, it could have pulled all of these elements into a more coherent narrative. Instead, BFTC looks like an exercise in Here’s What Happened, a process-oriented miniseries in danger of being ignored.

September 8, 2008

New comics 8/13/08

Olivia turned four weeks old yesterday, and will be a month old on Tuesday … not unlike my current-comics backlog, as it turns out.

I’ve also been reading a lot of non-superhero comics. I finally got around to The Professor’s Daughter, The Plain Janes, and Black Hole, with Bottomless Belly Button on deck.

But yes, the superheroes still dominate, so let’s get to ’em.

In Booster Gold #11, guest-writer Chuck Dixon joins regular artists Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund for a light look back at Batman’s less-grim days. Batman, you say? Yes; Booster must pose first as Killer Moth and then as the Darknight Detective himself in order to fix the problems one of Dixon’s one-shot Detective Comics villains has caused. It’s part 1 of 2, and it seems content to gawk giddily at the trappings of ’60s Batman and one of his goofier villains. (Killer Moth considered himself the anti-Batman, down to his own set of themed gadgets.) There’s the usual drama about A World Without Batman, but we know by now how that sort of thing turns out — especially in a two-part guest-written arc. It’s still fun, though.

Someday soon — maybe after Bottomless Belly Button and finishing another run through Watchmen — I’ll break out all of the Grant Morrison Batman issues to date. Maybe then I’ll have a more informed angle on “Batman R.I.P.” In the meantime, though, every issue seems like a mad dash through the storyline, with Morrison throwing out ideas and plot points left and right. Batman #679 finds the “emergency persona” in full effect, busting heads and behaving like a cross between Rorschach (i.e., vigilantism on the cheap) and the Frank Miller parody, with a little “Moon Roach” from Cerebus thrown in. I liked it pretty well, and I think my problem is that I read it too quickly.

Wonder Woman #23 finished the “Ends of the Earth” storyline with a big, brutal fight between Diana and the Devil, with her soul (among other things) at stake. I liked it on its own terms, but I still couldn’t follow the changing loyalties and subtle reveals from previous chapters. Fortunately, the issue brought Donna Troy into the romantic subplot involving Nemesis, and let Donna have a good scene involving Amazon ritual.

Assuming we hadn’t seen it previously, Action Comics #868 adds The Matrix to the other sci-fi influences writer Geoff Johns and penciller Gary Frank have brought to their ultimate version of Brainiac. While Superman contends with the villain, the more lively parts of the issue involve Supergirl and her soon-to-be-Jonah-Jameson-like rival, Cat Grant. It’s all good, though.

Fantastic Four #559 tracks the Human Torch’s fight with the New Defenders across Manhattan, while Sue has dinner with Reed’s ex-flame and Ben takes his new love to see Johnny perform on “The Late Show.” If you think this is mostly an opportunity for Bryan Hitch once again to demonstrate his photorealistic tendencies, you’re not far off (although there is no David Letterman cameo, unfortunately). One money shot shows the Fantasticar flying low over Times Square. The issue has a couple of big revelations, one involving Magrathe– I mean, the “new Earth” — which is mildly surprising, and the other involving a classic FF foe which recalls both the Walt Simonson issues and JLA/Avengers. If you’d never read a Fantastic Four comic book before, you’d probably think this was pretty cool stuff, but for us lifers, it feels pretty hollow.

Green Lantern Corps #27 holds a hodgepodge of day-in-the-life-of-Oa subplots including the opening of “Guy Gardner’s American Cafe” (it’s not called that), a visit to the Green Lantern graveyard, and hints of affection between Kyle and Dr. Natu. However, the cover image refers (somewhat inaccurately) to the tragedy which I presume kicks off the next storyline, and it’s a gruesome one. Guest penciller Luke Ross (with guest inker Fabio Laguna) has a less distinctive style than regular penciller Patrick Gleason, but considering that this issue is concerned with introductions (Guy’s bar, the crypt), I suppose that’s okay. I have to say, though, that the aforementioned tragedy seems to fall squarely within the “worthwhile = realistic = gruesome” thinking which DC can’t seem to shake. This will sound like an empty threat, but I think I’ll be dropping this book if things don’t improve after “Black Lanterns.”

Batman Confidential #20, Part 4 of the current 5-part Batgirl/Catwoman storyline, was pretty much like the other three chapters, except with Batman replacing the shredded costumes and outright nudity. By that I mean Batgirl isn’t necessarily struggling to impress/one-up Catwoman here, but Batman himself. Still pretty entertaining, although Batgirl’s dialogue tends to be a little too earnest.

Green Arrow And Black Canary #11 lays out the details of the Plot To Kill Green Arrow, along the way revealing the mysterious mastermind behind it all. Not bad for an expository issue, although I’m not sure it dovetails entirely with the “Countdown was responsible” tone of the first few issues.

I’ll be honest: I was ready to declare Final Crisis: Revelations #1 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Philip Tan, inked by Jonathan Glapion et al.) one of the worst comic books I have ever read. The art seemed deliberately ugly and incomprehensible, and the writing depended upon a good working knowledge of recent DC crossovers.

Well, re-reading it, it’s not quite that bad. The writing still involves a particular learning curve, but I suppose if you’re buying a Final Crisis [Colon Subtitle] book, you’re halfway there already. The art isn’t a model of clarity, but perhaps it fits the particularly grim mood of the book. This is an issue where Doctor Light dresses up helpless teens as rape-ready superheroines, and where the Spectre subsequently gives him and assorted other supervillains their ironic punishments for the even-more-sordid acts they committed in the course of recent DC crossovers. Furthermore, the story invokes one of the classic responses to an omnipotent character: making him powerless (or not so powerful) against a particular foe. I wouldn’t mind it so much here if it hadn’t just been used in Countdown To Mystery, although it does make more sense here than there.

Ultimately, though, I’ll stick with this miniseries largely out of a need for closure. I hate to say it so bluntly, but at least we won’t have Doctor Light to kick around for a while. Maybe by the end of this miniseries we’ll have a functional Spectre and/or Question.

Finally, The Last Defenders #6 was a letdown on a couple of levels. First, the big revelation is something of a betrayal of the “non-team” concept. Second, I kinda get Nighthawk’s role, but I’ve been reading those Essential Defenders (halfway through #4!) and does he really need to be validated this much? I guess I was expecting something more subversive. Also, the opening fight choreography was hard to follow.

Three weeks (or so) worth of comics left….

July 15, 2008

New comics 7/10/08

Filed under: batman, booster gold, defenders, green arrow, superman, trinity, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 2:20 pm
I read a good bit of Marvel in the ’70s, but I never got into the Marvel Universe the way I did the DC Multiverse. I think that’s part of the reason I have such affection for The Defenders. Both book and concept are hard to define, and deliberately so. Therefore, their possibilities are wide open, and they can provide a consistent, perpetual “outsider” perspective because their status quo is constantly changing.

All of that means I’m not quite sure what to make of the latest issue of The Last Defenders (#5 written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Jim Muniz, inked by Cam Smith). On one hand it’s clever that our protagonist, Nighthawk, is constantly being foiled in his attempts to re-form the Defenders. They’re a non-team, with little “form” anyway. On the other hand, though, the miniseries implies rather strongly that there is a “Platonic ideal” of the Defenders … which would, paradoxically, defeat the entire purpose of having a non-team. So I’m curious to see how Casey resolves that little conundrum.

I’m still not sold on Jim Muniz and Cam Smith’s art. This is a black comedy, and the thick, blocky Ed McGuinness style doesn’t quite work. Maybe Kevin Maguire would have been too much to ask for, but he or someone like him could have conveyed both Nighthawk’s schlubbiness and the big-super-action aspects of this story. Even so, I’m enjoying the miniseries, and like I said, curious to see how it works out.

Wonder Woman #22 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan) is likewise an arc’s penultimate issue, wherein Diana struggles mightily with the dark forces roiling inside her. Pretty good struggle, too, although I got a little lost in all the reversals and betrayals. Lopresti and Ryan continue to turn in good work. It’s not over-rendered, and it’s well within the Adam Hughes/Terry Dodson-esque style the book favors. However, it’s intricate enough in spots to evoke a more … ornamented? … feel, and that reinforces the “medieval” barbarian feel which has characterized Diana’s quest. Oh, and there’s another wacky misunderstanding involving Nemesis and Diana’s ape-warrior houseguests. It goes on a bit too long, but ends in a way which I hope forestalls future shenanigans.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of Action Comics #867 (-5309 … sorry … written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal) is its portrayal of Supergirl. She only shows up for a few pages at the beginning, but she comes across very well. She’s not a fantasy-teen with an impossibly thin frame; and neither is she mopey and consumed with questions of her place in the world. Instead, she’s very believable both as Superman’s protege and as someone with personal experiences of her doomed home planet. Much of this comes from Frank and Sibal, who give Kara the body language and expressions first of boredom, and then of creeping dread. For Supergirl, Brainiac is literally the bogeyman, and she’s not too far removed from being a frightened child. Here’s hoping we see more of this Supergirl in the future.

And yeah, Superman fights Brainiac too, in all its Terminator+Borg implacability. It’s a virtually dialogue-free sequence lasting eight pages, and it wisely relies upon the art (no narrative captions, either). I used to be very hard on Geoff Johns, but he’s really starting to find a good groove here. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s growing more fond of his Action work than he is of Green Lantern, which by now must be very familiar to him.

Speaking of being particularly hard on something, Paul Dini will have to work overtime to convince me that Hush is a credible Bat-villain. His first effort, Detective Comics #846 (pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs) still falls short, although it’s due more to Hush than to Dini. See, Tommy “Hush” Elliott was set up as an evil counterpart to Bruce Wayne: a bratty rich kid who tried to kill both parents but who blames Dr. Thomas Wayne (and, by extension, Bruce) for saving his mom’s life. So — stick with me here — Tommy grows up to be a world-famous surgeon, engineers attacks on Bruce Wayne and Batman through Batman’s greatest foes, and for some reason dresses in a trenchcoat, body-suit (with “H” symbol on the left breast), and hey-I’m-disfigured bandages around his head. Maybe he is disfigured now; I dunno. Anyway, Hush struck me as a collection of so-so ideas wrapped into a poor excuse for a supervillain. Consequently, I don’t relish the idea of a five-part story focused on him.

However, “Heart of Hush” Part 1 does bring Catwoman back into the main line Bat-books, and Dini, Nguyen, and Fridolfs produce a neat story about Catwoman and Batman trying to bring down a much better idea for a wannabe supervillain, Doctor Aesop. That part of the issue was fun. Who knows, maybe the Hush parts will end up being worthwhile too.

Catwoman is, of course, a big part of Batman Confidential #19 (written by Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Kevin Maguire). This is the first part of the storyline which doesn’t dwell on how she and Batgirl are Teh Sexxxay, and I think it allows everyone to settle down and concentrate on the characters themselves. I thought writer and artist had almost been working independently of one another the first couple of issues, so this was a good installment which advanced the plot well and also gave our heroines some good interaction.

I liked Booster Gold #1,000,000 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) a lot. More about Booster’s relationship with Rip than the cover-featured Peter Platinum, it serves as a nice wrap-up to Johns’ time on the title. Booster gets closure on what he considers his failures, and an old cast member from the original BG series rejoins. Chuck Dixon comes aboard for two issues before the new writer debuts, and whoever that is will have a lot to live up to.

Green Arrow And Black Canary #10 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Wayne Faucher) is a Big Fight involving the League of Assassins’ super-powered flunkies, Team Arrow, and Batman and Plastic Man. As these things go, it’s choreographed well, although I’m not sure how close Dodger (a/k/a Smarmy British Rogue) is coming to Mary-Sue status. At one point, Speedy observes she’s got “half the Justice League” on her side, which is a pretty accurate assessment; but the villains are credible enough that they don’t go down too quickly.

Finally, of course I bought Trinity #6, but I spend enough time talking about that as it is. So far it’s been reliably entertaining, and if it does something especially good or horribly bad, I’ll let you know.

June 17, 2008

New comics 6/11/08

Booster Gold #10 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) feels a little “off” to me, and I don’t quite know why. It’s probably because there’s so much going on. Rip Hunter narrates for a couple of pages, with his Chalkboard Of Destiny (TM) distracting the reader in the background. Booster takes over as the scene switches to the scrum with Max’s forces … and here, I think, is where things get too overloaded. Essentially the rest of the book takes place in and around a big superhero fight involving — get ready — a reunited Justice League International (including Guy Gardner, the good Doctor Light, J’Onn J’Onzz, and Batman); Superman; Max Lord; the original version of Despero; the white-ape Ultra-Humanite; Per Degaton; Black Beetle; Ted “Blue Beetle” Kord; Maximillian (the evil Skeets); Booster and his dad; and the Mystery Villain. Oh, and I forgot the interlude with Rip and the time bubble.

Johns and Katz and Jurgens do their best to break out of the fight the important character-based scenes involving Booster and his dad, the Beetles, and the sidekick droids; but even so, there’s still a lot going on in the background. In other words, the scenes aren’t put in perspective like they should be, so the rest of the players feel like distractions and/or afterthoughts. What’s more — and I admit this may be just me — I couldn’t remember the non-sacrificial function of the vehicle for the eventual heroic sacrifice. (Said sacrifice plays out like Wrath of Khan, or the last Lone Gunmen appearance, by the way.) There’s a sacrifice, but I don’t know what else it accomplished. We’ll find out next issue, I guess.

Anyway, it’s not a bad issue, and it may well play out better in context. It’s just a frustrating installment for this month.

Most of The Last Defenders #4 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Jim Muniz, inked by Cam Smith) finds Nighthawk on the wrong side of just about everybody, as the term “non-team” starts to take on its most literal meaning. I thought it was fine, but once again, there’s a lot going on in the background which apparently only has two issues to resolve itself.

Star Wars: Rebellion #14 (written by Jeremy Barlow, drawn by Colin Wilson) wraps up the current story arc with a lot of action, and a little denouement. There’s a suggestion that Luke and Deena Shan are a little sweet on each other, and since this is the interstitial period leading up to Empire, I’m all for anything which gets him away from those understandable-but-creepy-in-hindsight feelings he showed for Leia. I have to admit I’m not as up on my Expanded Universe characters as I should be, or else I’d probably be more sympathetic to them. Still, I can accept how the narration builds Deena up, and I always like seeing spaceship combat. Once again the art reminds me of Howard Chaykin’s early SW work from thirty years ago, except the brief glimpse we get of Han seems a little too paunchy for the whip-thin Harrison Ford of 1977. Pretty good if you’ve been with this story the whole way; probably better the more you know.

This month in Batman Confidential (#18 written by Fabian Nicieza and drawn by Kevin Maguire), Batgirl and Catwoman inch that much closer to making X-rated Internet fanfic mainstream, as they spend the first 10 pages naked from the neck down, fighting in a nudist club. The fact that Maguire draws Babs with all these extremely uncomfortable expressions and retreating body language doesn’t make it better. If last month was an excuse for cheesecake, this month drops the pretense … uh, as it were. As much as I like him, Maguire’s figures are just rendered too literally for this extended sequence to be farcical. Maybe someone with a softer style could have pulled it off (what?!? sorry!) better. Cliff Chiang’s “Naked Ollie” chases from Green Arrow/Black Canary come to mind, so Chiang or his designated replacement Mike Norton might have done well with this. Anyway, everyone puts their clothes on for the rest of the issue, and I presume the rest of the story. (There’s only so many opportunities to play the nude card.) It’s pretty entertaining, especially since it focuses on puppies. I am not kidding. It’s almost like DC felt like it needed to atone for the nearly-nude scenes with, yes, puppies. So, in summary, come for the cheap thrills, stay for the puppies!

(P.S. DC, if you use that as a blurb, I’d at least like a free copy of the paperback.)

The “Barbarian Queen” scenes in Wonder Woman #21 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan) are fine, but I want to mention the Sarge Steel/Tom Tresser bit which opens the issue. On its own it’s good: a typical “walk with me” scene which sets up a few familiar conflicts and advances the plot. However, these are two well-established spy characters who, by virtue of their respective careers, should interact on a higher level. Tom “Nemesis” Tresser had his own backup series in The Brave and the Bold, teamed up with Batman a couple of times, and was in the Suicide Squad; and Sarge Steel was Charlton Comics’ answer to Nick Fury. So if this scene involved, say, Dirk Anger and Jimmy Olsen, it’d be easier to take.

As for Wonder Woman, her posse of ’70s DC barbarians continues to grow, along with the savagery of her fights. “Losing her grip” is, I think, a fairly radical direction for the character, because it seems like most writers want to portray her as always in control, diplomatic, etc. However, it’s still a valid direction; and I think Simone has presented it well. Diana’s finding out what she’s like without the fundamental sources of her strength. The art in the “barbarian” section is also tighter and darker, with more attention paid to the blacks and a more washed-out color palette (credit colorist Brad Anderson for that). Add a couple of callbacks to Simone’s first arc and it makes for a good issue.

Green Lantern Corps #25 (written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Drew Geraci) presents the origin of the Black Mercy plant. It’s a sensible, space-opera-y origin which maybe brings in Mongul a little too neatly, but it sends the story in a very Star Trek direction. New inker Geraci fits well with Gleason’s pencils, giving them a little more definition in places and even putting a “cartoony” sheen on some of the figures. There’s a misplaced word balloon on page 2, and there’s more foreshadowing about different-color lanterns, but other than that it’s pretty good.

About half of Green Arrow And Black Canary #9 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Wayne Faucher) features Plastic Man, with the other half showing Speedy and the British guy fighting super-powered bad guys. Thanks to Norton and Faucher, it’s all portrayed with a light, breezy tone, which certainly makes some of Speedy’s quips easier to take. Norton and Faucher draw a good Plastic Man too — perhaps even nicer than what cover artist Cliff Chiang might have done. The issue builds to a couple of Dramatic Reveals: the bad guys’ employer (which is pretty obvious) and the next guest-star (also not unexpected, but not unwelcome either). I continue to like this book.

Action Comics #866 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal) is a heck of a start to the latest Brainiac storyline. The Daily Planet newsroom welcomes Steve Lombard, sports brute; and welcomes back noted innuendophile Cat Grant. Frank and Sibal really lay on the Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder references for Clark and Lois, but it’s all good. (Cat looks like she had a familiar model too, but I can’t place her.) However, the showpiece of the issue is Brainiac’s abduction of Kandor, shown in flashback (naturally) with references to General Zod and Brainiac’s Kryptonian origins. To say that Brainiac now = Borg + Alien wouldn’t do it justice. It’s cold, scary stuff which sets up his threat level very well. Still, there is a bit of Borg plotting in place: Superman defeats a pawn, but the “king” is still out there….

Trinity #2 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert) finds the Trinitarians battling personalized threats: rogue solar systems, giant robots, and a mystical metropolis. It’s nice to see each handle their own in the space of a few pages or so. Meanwhile, in the second story (written by Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher), Green Lantern John Stewart fights Konvikt and Graak in a sleepy Massachusetts town square. So far Trinity looks like superhero comfort food, and if it continues like this I suspect I won’t have too many bad things to say about it.

Finally, here’s Titans #3 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Benitez, inked by various people), a frustrating installment of a series which has yet to define itself. Benitez’ art has personality, but he doesn’t have a handle on these characters. I hate to go all fanboy, but in an early pedeconference scene, all the characters are the same height. At the very least Starfire should be the tallest, but in a long shot she looks shorter than the Flash. Likewise, Beast Boy and Raven should probably be the shortest. These aren’t just stylistic choices, they inform the characters’ personalities.

The plot of the issue involves the Titans pairing off, with unfortunate results. While there’s an in-story explanation, the sad thing is that the book has already established its willingness to “push the envelope” with regard to these characters, so we don’t know how much of their behavior was provoked. I’m not saying the Titans should always be hugging, but Winick hasn’t done much to lay a foundation for their normal behavior. I’d like to think this book will find its equilibrium sooner rather than later, but it might not happen for a few more months.

April 15, 2008

New comics 4/9/08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 16, 2008

New comics 2/13/08

Well, we’re getting settled in here in the Memphis metro area (we’re in the ‘burbs, actually), and what looks like the main LCS is fairly close to the house, so good news all around. Thanks for all the good wishes, too. I’m looking forward to getting to know the area!

Still, you’re not here for the travel tips, and I haven’t hooked up the scanner yet, so…

Fantastic Four #554 (written by Mark Millar, drawn by Bryan Hitch) has some good ideas. Sue’s Junior League-ish “super-team” is one of them, as is the idea that Alyssa Moy (glad I read the Claremont issues!) is just as good as Reed without being held back by family obligations. Hitch is reliably good, as usual. However, I can’t decide whether Millar is ripping off Magrathea, the Quantum Mechanics from Hitch (and Mark Waid)’s JLA: Heaven’s Ladder, or both. It’s certainly a big enough idea for the FF (as it was for the Justice League), but Millar and Hitch have such matter-of-fact styles that it loses something, somehow, in “translation.” I definitely get the idea that the A-games are being brought, but (at the risk of mixing metaphors horribly) their reaches may exceed their grasps.

Spider-Man Family #7 includes a funny, sweet story about the Looter’s love for his piece of meteor rock. It’s Mark Waid, Todd Dezago, and Karl Kesel’s tribute to their late colleague Mike Wieringo, and I really enjoyed it. The rest of the issue reprints the first issue of a Venom miniseries obviously from the ’90s, the first issue of a Gwen Stacy flashback miniseries, and a Japanese Spidey story. I’m still working my way through those, and also the bonus materials in Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure. The latter reconstructs the Lee/Kirby story that appeared (in altered form) in FF #108, and of course I can’t say anything bad about Lee/Kirby FF.

Bat Lash #3 (written by Sergio Aragones & Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin) takes the overall story in a pretty grim direction, and for a story which has featured attempted rape as a major plot device, that’s saying something. I do think the villains are made to be suitably evil, but I’m not getting much in the way of characterization from Bat himself.

Was a little surprised to see an Alpha Lantern story in Green Lantern Corps #21 (written by Sterling Gates, drawn by Nelson), since I thought the Alphas’ “origin” was still unfolding in the main GL book. Anyway, the spotlight here is on Boodikka, who I believe was introduced in the Gerry Jones era of the very early ’90s. Even so, this may be our first look at her homeworld and early life. It’s an OK issue — the main conflicts have to be restated for folks who don’t know them already from the other title, and the story-specific conflicts are pretty familiar. Boodikka isn’t the first Lantern to suffer the rejection of her old social group. The art isn’t bad, but it’s not particularly energitic either. However, the plot brings everything together at the end in a fairly new way, and if this is your first Alpha Lantern story it’s probably not too shabby.

JLA Classified #52 (written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer) features the present-day League’s fight with Titus. It was good, in terms of book-length fight scenes. Every Leaguer got a spotlight, there was a bit of backstory involving an Amazonian prophecy, and it ended on a cliffhanger. Can’t ask for much more than that.

I didn’t quite know what to expect from Beautie: An Astro City Character Special (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson), but I ended up pleasantly surprised by its “Twilight Zone” feel. At first I wondered whether Anderson was just giving Beautie Barbie-like characteristics and mannerisms, so it was a little confusing before I realized that’s the way she’s supposed to look. Once I got past that, I realized how unnerving she would be even among the other AC characters, and that discomfort helps to define her. Overall, I thought it was a good standalone story, and it doesn’t quite matter that it might not have much to do with the overall AC mega-plot.

Superman #673 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Jesus Merino) wraps up the Insect Queen storyline with a bit of super-power use that made me, and no doubt other readers, think “it doesn’t work that way!” I didn’t dislike this storyline, because it built the IQ up as a credible threat, gave Lana something productive to do, and had some good scenes with Chris Kent … but really, heat vision doesn’t work that way, does it? As for the art, Merino has some of the same issues with choreography and poses that Peter Vale does, but overall he did a good job.

I liked Wonder Woman #17 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Terry & Rachel Dodson and Ron Randall) pretty well, but I couldn’t figure out why one Amazon appears to suffer a couple of mortal wounds on one page and then turns up somewhat less than dead shortly thereafter. Misdirection, I guess; which is how we get suspense. Anyway, this is more of Wonder Woman being the toughest person in the room (or in the jungle, or on the beach), as she intimidates the Nazis off Themyscira and then takes out the four Amazons who’ve wanted her dead since her birth. I was also surprised by the revelations about Etta Candy, who I guess got Superboy-punched somewhere along the way. Thought Ron Randall meshed pretty well with the Dodsons, too.

Green Arrow/Black Canary #5 (written by Judd Winick, drawn by Andre Coelho) was okay. Essentially a flashback about Connor Hawke’s childhood, it also includes Ollie and Dinah’s real wedding and sets up what looks like the next main storyline (which may well involve Connor’s being healed). The flashbacks are rooted in the core of Ollie’s character, which is (I think) the conflict between his extreme self-centeredness and his perpetual desire to make up for same. In other words, Ollie’s a jerk who realizes his shortcomings about ten seconds too late. If you can get past that, he becomes more sympathetic, and these flashbacks probably become easier to take. Otherwise, there’s probably no way you keep reading this book. Art was pretty decent — kind of like Cliff Chiang, but with thinner, harsher lines.

Most of the action’s on Apokolips in Countdown #11 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Mark McKenna), but nothing much happens. Oh sure, Brother Eye and OMAC mow down para-demons, and Holly, Harley, and Mary fight a new (and probably less-powerful) batch of Female Furies, and Karate Kid gets some action as well, but I don’t get the same sense of plot advancement from this issue that I did from the Earth-51 story which ran through the January installments. Art is good, because I think Norton and McKenna are capable storytellers with a clean, appealing design sense. Other than that the book has the same problems it’s always had: it assumes you’re in this for the long haul and it doesn’t need to explain anything.

Finally, I wasn’t surprised by the cliffhanger at the end of Booster Gold #0 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund), because I’d seen the solicitations for future issues. Besides, no good can come of Booster’s time-mucking. I did like the Zero Hour elements, though, especially the notion that this was the “Zero Month” issue which re-told Booster’s origin. Unfortunately, I’m not getting the sense of camaraderie and joie de vivre that I should be from the return of the Blue and Gold team. Ted’s just too serious — understandably, I think, since he’s just faced his own death. Maybe next month, when they’re dodging OMACs, they’ll be funnier.

January 13, 2008

New comics 1/4/08 and 1/9/08

I was out of town last weekend and didn’t get back until late Sunday night. That meant I didn’t get to the comics shop until Monday night for the previous Friday’s books. Naturally I was back there on Wednesday for this week’s books. So it’s all a big blur of spandex … which, as I type that, seems sure to bring in the random Google hits….

JANUARY 9, 2008

Teen Titans Lost Annual #1 (Oh, like there’s going to be a “Lost Annual #2.”): I can see why DC didn’t want to publish this back when it was completed a few years ago. It belongs to a different time — a time when, for example, Robin could stay in the White House as a guest of the President and feel comfortable kicking back in his costume, sans mask but plus white gym socks. It’s not a period piece in the manner of New Frontier, it’s an unsubtle commentary on the way superhero comics used to work. I liked it pretty well. The story is pretty wild, by any objective standard, but it’s still charming; and the art is accessible and makes the Titans look appropriately young and heroic.

Bat Lash #2: Because I am not reading the current Jonah Hex book, which apparently threatens rape pretty frequently, I’m not so burned out on said threats when they crop up here. Just need to get that out of the way. Otherwise, this miniseries seems to be an origin of sorts for Bat — at least, I think it’s the origin of the flower in his hat — and it involving a number of standard Western plotlines. I’m still intrigued by the book, because I can see Bat developing into an interesting character, but I don’t quite think he’s there yet.

The Spirit #12: Darwyn Cooke gets a number of tools out of his kit for this issue, especially on the Eisneresque flashback scenes (and an equally Eisneresque rained-out final page). It’s an I Can’t Love You, I’ve Been Too Bad Too Long kind of plot, but it’s still very effective. I don’t mean this to sound dismissive — rather, Cooke is such a fine storyteller that I don’t have the space to gush about his work.

JLA Classified #50: A rampaging monster from the League’s early days returns to wreak havoc on the current team. Thus, most of this issue is fight scenes. It’s a lot like what you’d expect a Justice League comic to be, and I mean that in the best way possible. Problems will be solved, and adversities overcome, by the time this arc is over.

Superman #672: Same thing goes for Part 2 of “The Insect Queen,” which uses young Chris Kent as its cliffhanger. This makes a lot of sense, considering that the other major Super-players (Superman, Lois, and Lana) are pretty much safe from harm — but we don’t quite know what to make of Chris, so he gets “volunteered.” As for the main plot, Superman fights insectoid aliens, and Lana learns more about how her insectoid doppelganger has taken over the Moon. If you think that sounds like an entertaining Superman comic, you’re right. Art is fine, but Lana’s choreography is a little funky for some reason. She tumbles around a fair amount, and it never comes out quite right.

Nightwing #140: A decent start for new writer Peter Tomasi and new artists Rags Morales and Michael Bair. Morales and Bair are reliably good, but I found Tomasi’s characters to be somewhat long-winded. The new woman in Dick’s life speaks especially expositionally, and Dick isn’t exempt either. The plot is much more DCU-centered, involving the robbing of super-folks’ graves, and there are many of the guests you might expect in a Bat-title. Overall I liked it, but cut down on the balloon juice, okay?

Green Arrow And Black Canary #4: Beautiful art, but that should go without saying. As for the story, I was thinking the other day about how much I liked Green Arrow as a Justice Leaguer. He usually gets to spit sarcastic remarks at the rest of the team, and that’s always fun. However, more often than not he gets to back that up with fearless derring-do, mostly involving some explosive arrows and a giant robot. However, you can’t build an ongoing series around that kind of character unless you give him some depth, and I think that’s where writer Judd Winick has been going with GA/BC. Unfortunately, Winick is building character through tragedy again, and while this issue gets a lot of things right (Ollie’s friends coming through, good moments with Batman and Wonder Woman), at the heart of it is still the tragedy of Connor Hawke. Here’s hoping it gets reversed soon somehow, so that Ollie can learn and the book can really enjoy the fantastic work of Cliff Chiang.

Green Lantern Corps #20: Peter Tomasi has already written part of “Sinestro Corps” for this title, but he starts his tenure as new writer in earnest here, with a picking-up-the-pieces story putting Kyle and Guy in Chandler-and-Joey roles on Oa. It is a very sitcommy setup, and while I don’t have high hopes, it does have potential. Also, Mongul gets a Sinestro ring and gloats about it. Tomasi’s talky here too, and the differing art styles of Patrick Gleason and Carlos Magno are fine on their own merits, but don’t blend together well.

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #6: Kind of a blah conclusion to what I’d hoped would be a more exciting miniseries. The Horsemen end up taking over our heroes, except they’re surprisingly easy to get along with, and their eventual host doesn’t seem to mind them too much. I did like seeing the Doom Patrol and Snapper Carr, though.

Countdown #s 17 and 16: I’ll talk about these together because they’re really pretty decent, at least as far as this series goes. Monarch’s army comes to the idyllic Earth-51 and totally trashes it, killing its Justice League and assorted other heroes without much trouble. Meanwhile, Jean Loring loses the power of Eclipso in a fight with Mary Marvel, and Mary likewise loses her Shazam powers. One Earth’s Jean dies, but another one lives, making me suspect that our Ray Palmer will have a tearful reunion with that Jean at some point. Finally, Jason Todd meets the Batman of Earth-51 and (judging by the previews for this week) learns that Earth’s dark secret. Again, a lot of fight scenes, but as depicted by Pete Woods and Tom Derenick, pretty well laid out. Dialogue is okay, but not horrible. I have to say, this is the most interest I’ve had in Countdown since it’s started. I may have a problem with the “message” of Earth-51, but that’ll probably be a topic for next week.

JANUARY 4, 2008

Teen Titans Year One #1: Talked about this one in Thursday’s Grumpy Old Fan, but not in much depth. I liked it a lot, even though Wally West acted more like Bart Allen than I would have expected, and I’m still not used to Aqualad being so “fishy”-looking. However, those are dramatic and stylistic choices which work within the context of the miniseries. As I said in GOF, despite the title, I don’t think this is a continuity-oriented gap-filler like JLA Year One, and that’s fine. It’s enough for me that it evokes the spirit of a different time — maybe not precisely the Silver Age, but something that still feels like a growing and developing DC-Earth. Oh, and I really like Karl Kerschl, Serge Lapointe and Steph Peru’s art — it reminds me of Stuart Immonen’s Nextwave work, which is great.

Howard The Duck #4: Fine conclusion to a story that had to be reined in somehow before it collapsed under the weight of all the satire. Ty Templeton writes a funny George W. Bush. On the whole it’s probably too broad, but I enjoyed it and wouldn’t mind more Howard from these folks (assuming Steve Gerber’s not coming back, of course).

Supergirl #25: The Girl of Steel has flashbacks to Argo City’s destruction and then fights Reactron. The latter’s design has been updated since his days as an obscure Who’s Who entry, but it still took me a while to recognize him. That’s about it for the plot. The fight scenes are portrayed very matter-of-factly, with a certain amount of distance, and that gives everything a decompressed feel. Accordingly, this was kind of a dull issue. I like Drew Johnson and Ray Snyder’s art, but it’s still kinda dull.

(All-New) Atom #19: I love Jerry Ordway, but here his guest-artist talents are in the service of a rather blah Lost Underground Amish Tribe story. Our hero basically gets saved because he’s cute, not because he does anything heroic. Keith Champagne is no Gail Simone, that’s for sure.

Detective Comics #840: Really good Batman-vs.-Ra’s story. Batman basically renders the entire Ra’s-is-back crossover moot by putting Ra’s out of commission for as long as DC wants. Up to that point, though, it’s a fairly suspenseful tale which centers around the fact that Ra’s knows all of Batman’s secrets and, being filled with revenge, is itching to exploit them. Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs are the new art team, and they’re very good. Lots of blacks, and a dull color palette from John Kalisz. Nguyen has a very fluid approach, his figures are consistent and weighty, and he’s a good choreographer. Hope this team sticks together for a while.

Finally, Countdown To Mystery #4 gets the Eclipso out of Jean (duplicating that part of Countdown) and back into Bruce Gordon; and introduces the new Doctor Fate to his “new” Inza. I continue to like the Fate series even if it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Ironically, I’m also starting to like the Eclipso story more because it seems to be developing a plot. The art in “Eclipso” is a bit T&A oriented, and the dialogue isn’t anywhere near Gerber’s “Fate” work, but it’s not as bad as it has been.

CREDITS

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #6. Written by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, inked by John Stanisci.

The All-New Atom #19. Written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Trevor Scott.

Bat Lash #2. Written by Sergio Aragones & Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin.

Countdown To Final Crisis #17. Written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Ron Lim, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti.

Countdown To Final Crisis #16. Written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pete Woods & Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher.

Countdown To Mystery # 4. “Eclipso” written by Matthew Sturges and drawn by Stephen Jorge Segouia; “Doctor Fate” written by Steve Gerber, pencilled by Justiniano, and inked by Walden Wong.

Detective Comics #840. Written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #4. Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Cliff Chiang.

Green Lantern Corps #20. Written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason and Carlos Magno, inked by PRentis Rollins, Tom Nguyen, Drew Geraci, Rodney Ramos, & Rebecca Buchman.

Howard the DuckJLA Classified #50. Written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer.

Nightwing #140. Written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Michael Bair.

The Spirit #12. Written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke.

Supergirl #25. Written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson & Lee Ferguson, inked by Ray Snyder.

Superman #672. Written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Peter Vale, inked by Wellington Diaz.

Teen Titans Lost Annual #1. Written by Bob Haney, pencilled by Jay Stephens, inked by Mike Allred.

Teen Titans Year One #1. Written by Amy Wolfram, art by Karl Kerschl, Serge Lapointe, and Steph Peru.

November 10, 2007

Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, and The Armies of the Night

Filed under: green arrow, green lantern — Tom Bondurant @ 6:11 pm
When I heard this morning that Norman Mailer had died, I thought immediately of Green Lantern #79. It’s the fourth issue of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ “relevance” run, where Green Arrow was brought in to shake up GL’s establishment worldview. This particular issue found the two on opposite sides, with Green Arrow posing as a legendary Native American spiritual leader. The dramatic climax comes in the form of a fistfight, but O’Neil ups the emotional ante by setting the fight to Mailer’s prose.

Along with writers like Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thomposn, Mailer was considered one of the first of the “New Journalists,” who sought to bring the techniques associated with novels into mainstream journalism. His book The Armies of the Night (1968) was about his experiences surrounding the 1967 march on the Pentagon.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve never read Armies of the Night, or anything else by Mailer. Sorry I can’t provide more context.

However, the point is not that Green Lantern #79 is improved by the addition of Mailer. (One wonders in what context the square, conservative Hal Jordan would have read anything by Mailer without first being exposed to Ollie’s preaching.) Rather, the incorporation of Mailer quotes is perhaps the best example of the earnest pleas at the heart of these GL/GA stories.

In 1970 the ’60s were over not just chronologically but spiritually too. Still, these stories are bubbling over with the energy, idealism, and (yes) naivete of a youthful true believer. Just as the New Journalists wanted to make their reporting seem like novels, so O’Neil and Adams wanted to blend superheroes and social concerns.

More significantly, though, the Mailer quotes read to me like Denny O’Neil inserting himself into the story in a more active role than simply the narrator. Sure, he’s preaching, but he’s also pleading with the reader, in a display that today we might call “too emo.” However, it doesn’t come across to me as pretentious, precious, or arch — instead, it’s more like Denny’s attempt to engage his audience. It’s not hard today to see the original GL/GA stories as overwrought and broad, but rarely do we see such nakedly personal appeals come through so clearly on the page.

It was also, I feel sure, Denny’s attempt to get his readers (including his college-age readers) active and involved. In this respect The Armies of the Night represents something more than Mailer’s meld of autobiography and reporting — it signifies any number of movements in which a young person could be productive once he put down the comic. I enjoy a lot of modern superhero comics, but I’m hard-pressed to think of one which consistently tries to make its readers think about their world, and thereby make them (and it) better.

So rest in peace, Mr. Mailer, and thanks for your contribution, however small or indirect, to a run of superhero comics whose heart was definitely in the right place.

[Scans from “Ulysses Star Is Still Alive!” in Green Lantern #79, September 1970. Written by Denny O’Neil, pencilled by Neal Adams, inked by Dan Adkins, lettered by John Costanza. Color reconstruction for The Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection by Cory Adams.]

October 13, 2007

New comics 10/10/07

Let’s start this roundup with Green Arrow And Black Canary #1 (written by Judd Winick, drawn by Cliff Chiang, colored by Trish Mulvhill). I will admit freely that my purchase of this book comes from two major factors: DC’s marketing plan, and Cliff Chiang. I bought the various “wedding specials” because they looked pretty decent, and even with all its faults I was intrigued by the wedding-night cliffhanger. (Plus I really liked Amanda Conner’s work on that issue.) However, even with all of that, I probably would have resisted this issue were it not for the presence of Mr. Chiang. I liked his Detective and Spectre issues, but the “Dr. 13” story really won me over.

Chiang brings that same kind of spirit to this issue. His characters are incredibly expressive (sometimes to the point of exaggeration, as in the Dr. 13 story), but where, as with Black Canary here, the focus is on the shifting moods of a central character, that talent pays dividends. Chiang also has to deal with a good amount of guest-stars, including Batman, Doctor Mid-Nite, and Green Lantern, as well as a number of cameos. There are flashbacks too, and a fight scene, but it’s all organized quite well, and everyone gets their own bit of personality.

Of course, Chiang’s work is based on Winick’s script, which is dialogue-heavy but actually finds room for a third-person omniscient narrator. What’s more, it eschews first-person narrative caption boxes, so we’re not distracted trying to match up thoughts with characters. It still doesn’t explain why Dinah had to kill her attacker, but the arc isn’t over yet. Yes, the issue does have nods to DC’s latest round of Big Events (Amazons Attack, mainly), but the story doesn’t depend on the reader’s familiarity with them. Thanks to the flashbacks, it probably doesn’t depend that heavily on all the wedding-buildup specials either. Overall, a good first issue, and I’ll probably be with the book at least as long as Chiang is.

Next up is Booster Gold #3 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund), wherein Booster goes to the Oooold West (Yee-haw!) to team up with Jonah Hex. Basically, the task here is to save the doctor who’ll deliver Jonathan Kent’s great-grandfather, and thus ensure that Superman’s timeline is secure. Before that, though, the issue advances a subplot involving Booster’s slacker ancestor and a nosy reporter, and there’s an incongruous one-page interlude flashing back to Booster and Blue Beetle III during Infinite Crisis. Also, there’s another cameo by Team 13, which is nice. (Buy Architecture And Mortality!!) The 52 chronology-captions are gone this issue, maybe because we’re in the 19th Century for half of it; but I kind of miss them. The pathos of Booster’s current setup is also absent this issue. Anyway, it’s not bad, and it’s about what you’d expect — a well-produced time-traveling superhero story.

I kinda liked Countdown #29 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Manuel Garcia, inked by Mark McKenna) because it begins with the capture of the Challengers Of Beyond by Lord Havok and the Extremists. That’s the A-story this week. Over in the other plots, the Newsboy Legion has a welcome reunion with Jimmy Olsen, Harley and Holly survive their trip to Themyscira, Mary Marvel goes further into the dark side, and Trickster and Piper enjoy diner food with Double Down, a villain unfamiliar to me. Oh, and the cover-featured Karate Kid gets one page with Brother Eye. Anyway, I liked the issue because it felt cohesive, like a complete unit of storytelling. The Havok/Challs story had its start and (putative) finish in this issue, and the other vignettes did good jobs of advancing their respective storylines. (Good thing, too, because we’re just two weeks from the end of CD‘s first half.) Garcia and McKenna helped a lot, along with Rod Reis on colors, by giving their characters weight and presence.

Superman #668 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Dan Green) begins “The Third Kryptonian,” which as we all know comes with an asterisk because it doesn’t count Chris Kent, Power Girl, Krypto, or the Kingdom Come Superman (over in JSA). Anyhoodle, it changes out Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino for Leonardi and Green, and while the styles may be different (Leonardi is more “cartoony” than Pacheco), Busiek’s sure-footed scripting is a constant. Man, I hope he’s on this title for a long time to come. You’ve probably seen the previews with Chris Kent and Robin, and the whole issue’s like that. Busiek’s concerned with the logistics of making Superman a viable, believable character, but it’s all in the service of a well-told story. “T3K” itself looks pretty straightforward — an intergalactic bad guy wants revenge on Krypton’s legatees — but that’s not a knock. If Leonardi and Green are on the book for the long haul too, that’s all good. Their work is like a cross between Walt Simonson and Scott McDaniel, so I approve heartily.

Leonardi also pencils JLA Classified #44 (written by Justin Gray, inked by Sean Phillips), basically an extended trip through J’Onn J’Onzz’s head via his memories of the Justice League. I like Leonardi and Phillips separately, but here they don’t complement each other, with Phillips’ inks making Leonardi’s pencils look looser. I also got hung up on the continuity issues these kinds of flashbacks create. While that’s addressed somewhat in the context of the story, it’s still a pretty pedestrian “no one trusts the Martian” tale.

As it happens, no one trusts the Amazons after Amazons Attack, so here we are with a fill-in for Wonder Woman #13 (written by J. Torres, pencilled by Julian Lopez, inked by Bit). The main plot involves a protest outside the museum where Wonder Girl’s mom works, but there’s also a scene where Sarge Steel channels Jonah Jameson, and a more supportive encounter with the Justice Society. It’s all pretty familiar. The art is good for the most part, although Lopez seems to want Diana to pose suggestively, giving us a butt-shot to start off page 13 and then a couple of boob-thrusting panels further down the page. Anyway, Gail Simone starts next month.

Fantastic Four #550 (pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) may be writer Dwayne McDuffie’s last issue, which would be a shame. It certainly feels like a wrap-up, and there’s even a farewell dinner at the end. Everything gets tied in pretty well, although I have to say I had to remind myself that Reed and Sue were studying the aliens featured herein. There was also a lot of technobabble (and eventually mysto-babble) describing the exact threat to creation. Still, a lot of balls to juggle, and no real slips, so McDuffie, Pelletier, and Magyar go out on top — unless this wasn’t their last, in which case I’ll be happy for at least another month.

Finally, I talked a bit about Green Lantern #24 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert and Julio Ferreira) over on B@N this week, but I’ll go into more depth here. This is the big Sinestro Corps Vs. Earth issue that sort-of renders the Cyborg Superman Special redundant. By that I mean you don’t need it to tell you the Sinestros are cutting swaths of destruction through the East Coast. Reis brings the same kind of detailed carnage to this issue that he did in Rann-Thanagar War, and thanks to the colors of Moose Baumann, it’s made that much clearer. There are many crowd scenes, including double-page spreads for the Sinestros and the GLs, but none of them look crowded. There are rah-rah moments, which are appropriate given the series of little defeats the GLs have endured so far. It’s a very effective installment of “The Sinestro Corps War,” and it clears the decks for the big blowout which is sure to come next issue.

Not that there aren’t problems. John’s “stay black” line comes out of nowhere, and the way the issue reads, Kyle doesn’t need the painting to get out of Parallax. That also seems a little easier to do this time around, but I suppose it has to do with Parallax’s attention being divided. The notion that Alan Scott might be open to killing the Cyborg Superman is also a little disquieting, more so than the Green Lanterns having the lethal-force playing field leveled.

From what I know about Geoff Johns, though, I will say that it must be big of him, a loyal Michigan State alum, to put a U. of Michigan logo on Guy’s power battery. If the Michigan/Michigan State rivalry is as fierce as, say, Auburn/Alabama or Kentucky/Louisville, that takes guts.

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