Comics Ate My Brain

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.

April 11, 2008

Thursday Night Thinking

Filed under: groo, meme, thursday night thinking — Tom Bondurant @ 1:08 am
Groo has no plan for leading his troops — so the troops devise a plan to distract Groo.

Of course, it’s always dangerous to try and remove Groo from a fray, but at least this hapless soul is THINKING before he acts….


Over to you, General Diamondrock!

[From Groo: Hell On Earth #4, April 2008. By Sergio Aragones; with wordsmith Mark Evanier, colorist Tom Luth, and letterer Stan Sakai.]

January 19, 2008

New comics 1/16/08

Filed under: birds of prey, booster gold, checkmate, countdown, flash, groo, justice league, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:44 am
I’m not going to make the deadline for Friday Night Fights, but I do have time to run down this week’s comics.

First up is The Flash #236, writer Mark Waid’s last issue on the title and also the conclusion of his introductory storyline, “The Wild Wests.” From a writing standpoint, my biggest problem with this issue was the fact that it hinges on a story element which, honestly, I don’t think I’d noticed until it was pointed out. While that might have been lazy reading on my part, it made the rest of the arc feel a little unfocused, as far as the alien-fighting went. Still, part of the point of the story was to establish the new West Family status quo, and this I think it did pretty well. Freddie Williams II continues to draw a bulkier Flash than I’m used to, but his storytelling is alright and I could probably get used to him. I’m eager to see what new writer Tom Peyer brings.

In Groo: Hell On Earth #3 (written by Mark Evanier, drawn by Sergio Aragones), the allegory gets pretty thick, although again I just this issue noticed that the pro-war leader has a “B” initial and the pro-environment one is a “G.” Also, the Bard’s rhyming narration was somewhat tortured at times. Otherwise, I liked it pretty well.

Checkmate #22 (written by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann, drawn by Chris Samnee) was a good conclusion to the Mlle. Marie spotlight. However, either I’m misremembering things all over the place or last issue ended with Josephine being betrayed by her guides. Maybe I saw a Newsarama preview. Anyway, it was a good issue. Jo is competent enough, naturally, working her way across the Mideast and through various thugs, while flashbacks fill in her story and the story of Marie generally. I thought the “succession” scene was very effective — you’d think it’d be seen more frequently, considering DC’s army of legacy characters; but go figure. I like Samnee’s work pretty well, too — he’s a good storyteller and choreographer. Checkmate is the spiritual heir to Rucka’s, Ed Brubaker’s, and Michael Lark’s work on Gotham Central, and that’s about the best compliment I can pay it.

I’m not sure how to approach the two stories in Justice League of America #17. I was glad that the main story (written by Alan Burnett, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope) picks up on the Brom Stikk subplot from last issue, and spins it into a larger Salvation Run-influenced plot. That at least gave last issue and this issue some collective meaning. Moreover, a big group of villains interacting with the Justice League is a natural plot for this book, and the twist applied to it was appropriate and intriguing. The second story (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Jon Boy Meyers, inked by Serge LaPointe) focuses on the nature of Vixen’s mimicry powers, and specifically how she’s able to mimic specific abilities. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with Amazo, so let’s hope that’s either confirmed or discounted quickly. Overall, I’m frustrated with JLA for its current crossover-maintenance role — a Tangent story last issue, the Salvation story here — and while the latter plot shows some movement towards a more traditional League adventure, that movement has been incremental the past few months.

Speaking of crossovers, here’s Booster Gold #6 (written by Geoff Johns & Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund), the big “Let’s Save Ted Kord” issue. It’s the kind of thing you read and enjoy on a superficial level, knowing full well that whatever changes, it won’t stick and Booster will end up learning a Valuable Lesson. I hope I’m wrong, and that all involved are just using that expectation to build suspense and actually have a happy ending. I’d like that for Booster. As for the issue itself, it’s good as usual. Rip Hunter gets a fun dramatic entrance. Jurgens’ figures can be a bit stiff, but he puts a fair amount of expression and emotion into Booster’s memories of Ted.

Birds Of Prey #114 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) made more sense after I read on the Internets that Lady Blackhawk was once mind-controlled into being King Shark’s moll. Also, while I enjoy spending time with the Birds, and continue to enjoy Scott & Hazlewood’s work, this issue felt very transitory to me. Oracle is riding everyone hard after the events of last issue. Misfit is the main outlet of her aggression. Lady Blackhawk and Huntress turn to booze. (They’re the relatively calm center of a brawl-prone bar, in a scene that maybe would have worked better had the fights in the background not been so obscured by the dark coloring.) These scenes are all fine on their own, and the last-page reveal is effective, but although groundwork is laid for future storylines, I didn’t get the sense it was all building to something significant. Maybe I just needed an obvious “Part 1” in the story title, I dunno.

Finally, speaking of building to something, Countdown #15 (written by Paul Dini & Tony Bedard, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pete Woods & Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher) went a long way towards pulling this often-haphazard series together. Concentrating on Ray Palmer and Earth-51 has focused the story’s energies better than a lot of other plot devices, I think, and it may be deceptively easy to say in hindsight that this plot should’ve been explored in more depth earlier on. In keeping with the “preliminary” nature of this series, I get the feeling that Monarch & co. won’t be defeated anytime soon, but instead everyone’s gaining useful experience for Final Crisis. I liked the movement on the Paradise Island plot, and also the return of Brother Eye. I guess the Pied Piper story will have to wait another week, though (at least). The art was pretty good — Faucher managed to blend Woods’ and Derenick’s disparate styles together. It wasn’t seamless, but it wasn’t a jarring transition either. Not bad, although I’m not ready to re-evaluate the entire experiment based on a few decent issues.

November 13, 2007

New comics 11/7/07

Filed under: atom, batman, countdown, fantastic four, groo, howard the duck, robin, supergirl, superman, tranquility — Tom Bondurant @ 3:43 am
We begin this week with Supergirl #23 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson, inked by Ray Snyder), which I bought mostly out of past loyalty to these creators. By now these Supergirl relaunches have an air of “This time for sure!” about them, so I’ll also admit to some morbid curiosity. In that respect I wonder if it’s a bit of black humor that the cover has our heroine going up in flames….

Anyway, the issue itself is an enigmatic bit of decompression which starts and ends with a mysterious box delivered to Supergirl’s apartment. After a brief, but funny, chat with Batman about the box, she’s called away by Superman to help him and a squad of Green Lanterns stop an interstellar war. Things don’t quite go as planned, but her reaction — and the role of the box — aren’t quite explained, thereby theoretically encouraging us readers to come back next month.

Should we, though? I’m more intrigued by the storyline than I am by the title character, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. From what I can tell from this issue, Supergirl’s kind of a spaz. She zones out when the GLs brief her. She’s apparently responsible enough to have her own (spacious, nicely furnished) apartment, and that magazine subscription in her hand indicates she’s put down some roots, but how old is she supposed to be — late teens? Early twenties? What’s her “secret identity” like? (Judging by this week’s Superman, she doesn’t have much of one … but that’s this week’s Superman.) She’s got all the powers of Superman, so how does she use them differently? In short, why should I care about her enough to pay $2.99 (plus tax, minus folder discount) every month?

Well, the art is quite good. Johnson and Snyder do meticulous work. I’m not entirely sure about their Supergirl anatomy, but that could just be an optical illusion from the costume. There’s a long, wordless stretch in the second half of the book, and they handle that pretty well too. Like I said, I’m intrigued by the story, and this issue was good enough to make me want to see more. However, if I’m going to make a long-term commitment, I’d like to know more about Supergirl herself.

As for her cousin, Superman #670 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Dan Green) finishes up “The Third Kryptonian.” It’s a good conclusion to what was a somewhat predictable but still enjoyable arc. Busiek hit most of the “moody loner” character beats with Kristin Wells, including the “only out for herself” one. However, the issue is mostly action, which Leonardi and Green do nicely. I also like their Supergirl, who looks about five pounds heavier than Johnson and Snyder’s; and their Power Girl, who looks about ten pounds lighter than, say, Michael Turner’s. Anyway, the basic plot is that the Head Bad Guy has all kinds of weapons specifically designed to kill Kryptonians, so Superman and his allies (including Batman) have to figure out inventive ways to counter them. It’s all fairly straightforward, although it apparently sets up a sequel and at least one other future story. That’s not really a criticism, because I haven’t been this consistently pleased with a Superman writer in a long time.

Countdown #25 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, pencilled by Ron Lim, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti & John Stanisci) finally checks in with the cliffhanger that closed out Firestorm, lo those many months ago. That’s the bulk of the issue, and it’s entertaining and somewhat satisfying. However, the other “check-in” scenes — Jimmy and Mary Marvel on Apokolips, and Piper and Trickster escaping from Deadshot (?!?) — are kind of lame. Art is good throughout, and I would expect no less from an old hand like Lim.

I was curious about The Search For Ray Palmer: Red Rain (written by Peter Johnson, pencilled mostly by Eric Battle and Angel Unzueta, inked by Derek Fridolfs, Vicente Cifuentes, and Jonathan Glapson, with a few pages drawn by Kelley Jones) because I enjoyed the “Bat-Vampire” trilogy by Jones and writer Doug Moench. However, this has all of the grue and none of the grim nihilism. It’s not a very attractive book, mostly because it tries to ape Kelley Jones’ style without much success. The colors (by Art Lyons) are muted and muddy, like a red filter has overlaid everything. The plot is moderately diverting, since it involves this Earth’s Dick Grayson (and, in a small role, Barbara Gordon), but even that feels like something of a departure from the original material. The Batman/Dracula: Red Rain book was creepy precisely because it was set in a Bat-milieu that could easily have been the character’s regular title. However, this special’s Dick and Babs are just characters with the same names. What’s more, our Challenger heroes really can’t do anything to affect this Earth’s status quo — they can only introduce us to it and move on. Therefore, nothing of consequence happens. Unless you just like seeing alternate versions of familiar characters put through penny-dreadful situations, you don’t need this issue.

In the regular Bat-books, “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” begins officially in Robin #168 (written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II). If you’ve seen one of those “Bad Seed” kinds of movies, where no one will believe the good kid who knows the evil kid’s evil, that’s about how Tim must deal with Damien. Also, Batman rescues Talia from what is apparently her bandage-enwrapped father. It’s kinda unremarkable, except for the hints at the mysticism (Nanda Parbat, the Sensei, etc.) behind Ra’s’ return. Williams’ work is fine; Robin is lean and muscular, and Batman is appropriately chunky.

The romance, or whatever it is, of Ryan and Doris “Giganta” Zuel is the best thing about (The All-New) Atom #17 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Trevor Scott). I found myself rooting for the two crazy kids despite the fact that she’s a little unhinged. The weird androgynous villain (at least I think “he” and “she” are the same person) was hard to figure, but that’s a good enough mystery for two issues. Norton and Scott turn in another fine issue. They work about as well with Simone as Nicola Scott did on Birds Of Prey, and considering how much I like Nicola Scott, that’s high praise indeed.

I bought Welcome To Tranquility: Armageddon #1 (written by Christos Gage, drawn by Neil Googe and Horacio Domingues) out of loyalty to the regular title — only one issue left, apparently — and it was just okay. Basically, it focused on Tranquility’s Captain Marvel-analogue, but let him stay “in costume” the whole issue, as opposed to his regular role of deus ex machina. Also, the time-travel involved in showing us the alternate future also made our hero’s role that much more confusing. In short, he flies around while others tell him how bad things have gotten, and then he forgets about everything and the issue is over. It was kind of like the Ray Palmer: Red Rain issue, above, except without the muddy art.

Fantastic Four #551 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) looks like it kicks off this creative team’s last arc, involving a set of time-travelers bent on stopping Reed from saving the world. It ends on a heck of a cliffhanger, and it ties into Reed’s “room of notes” from Civil War. That’s not a lot in terms of plot, but it’s executed well.

Howard the Duck #2 (written by Ty Templeton, pencilled by Juan Bobillo, inked by Marcelo Sosa) gets closer to its roots, as Howard and Bev must deal with Howard’s sudden celebrity following his smackdown of the hunters last issue. Most of the issue finds Howard on a yelling-match talk show, and that goes about like you’d expect, or maybe a little worse. I might be easily amused, but I did like MODOT (Designed Only for Talking) a lot. This is not a bad miniseries by any means, even if it has a lot to live up to.

Finally, the satire is presented much more deftly in Groo: Hell On Earth #1 (by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones), in which Groo’s bumbling leads to eco-unfriendly consequences. I’m not sure how this can be stretched out into four issues, but if the rest are as clever as this one, I definitely won’t care. The latest Groo tale finds everyone at the top of their particular game, especially Aragones and colorist Tom Luth. Those two complement each other perfectly through Aragones’ exquisite backgrounds and two-page spreads. This story aims for a broad scope and even an epic feel, and succeeds admirably.

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