Comics Ate My Brain

March 30, 2007

New comics 3/28/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 10, 2007

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

Grab a snack — this could take a while.

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

2/27/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, the Batman scene was pretty funny.

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

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

3/7/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 7, 2007

New comics 1/31/07

Filed under: 52, batman, hawkgirl, justice league, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:05 am
[EDIT: Yes, it took me almost a week to realize the 2/7 date in the title was wrong.] Last week was Hawk Week, with both JSA Classified #22 (by Walt Simonson) and Hawkgirl #60 (written by Simonson, drawn by Renato Arlem) chronicling the end of Hawkman’s Rann-Thanagar War involvement and his return to Earth. Oh, and Hawkgirl’s there too.

Simonson provides his typically hyperkinetic art for JSA Classified, which is mostly a series of fights involving him and Blackfire, and sometimes Hawkgirl . It ends with Hawkman de-powering Blackfire in a way that seems a little extreme until you remember Identity Crisis. The Hawkgirl story involves the Curse of Hath-Set, which apparently influences the Hawks’ romantic futures (I’m not a longtime reader), and a Fourth World artifact that’s now part of an ancient Egyptian collection. Arlem’s art isn’t as expressive as Simonson’s, but the story doesn’t need it to be. The upshot, which is hardly surprising, finds the Hawks separating, and overall the issue feels like wrapping up the last subplot of the days when the book was called Hawkman. That’s fine; Simonson is steadily getting better on this title, although the book may already be doomed.

I was actually a little disappointed with Batman and the Mad Monk #6 (by Matt Wagner), because it appeared to wrap things up a little too neatly. Also, I was really hoping that Wagner would work in the first Batplane, like in the 1939 original. Furthermore, circumstances take care of the bad guy more than Batman does. However, these are minor quibbles. “Dark Moon Rising” has been an exemplary set of superhero tales, blending old-school elements with modern sensibilities.

52 #39 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Andy Smith, inked by Ray Snyder) focused on Nat Irons vs. Everyman, but I was more interested in the scenes on Oolong Island and outside Atlantis. Maybe I’m just incredibly slow, but I’m now thinking that’s not the real Helmet of Fate. Loved the pocket-sized Metal Man, though.

Finally, JLA Classified #33 (written by Dan Slott and Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jurgens, inked by Trevor Scott) presents Part 2 of “The 4th Parallel,” in which the Red King ingratiates himself with the Justice League. This includes a couple of moments which strain credibility, but the story excuses them by having this be a best-case scenario. However, the question then becomes whether the issue knows how much it asks of the reader, and here I’m not sure it does. The fact that it involves an alternate-reality generator also takes some of the suspense out of the story. It’s still an interesting setup, but it comes off just a little stiff.

January 13, 2007

New comics 1/10/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 7, 2007

New comics 12/28/06 and 1/4/07

Here we are again, with another two-in-one set of new comics thoughts. Be warned — it’s a long one.

Quick rundown of the last books of 2006 first:

Despite its flaws, I’m sticking with Flash: Fastest Man Alive probably at least through #12, or whenever the incoming creative team’s first arc ends. I look at #7 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ron Adrian and Art Thibert, inked by Rob Lea & Alex Lei) and besides the GOB Kadabra images, it just feels awfully cardboard. The art is decent, although the bits with the obligatory hot new neighbor are pretty cartoonish in a very Tex Avery way. The story is divided between the disconnected Kadabra business (which I guess establishes Bart in Los Angeles) and picking up the existing subplot about Valerie’s kidnapping. The latter is apparently an attempt by her father, the villain Mota, to … get a new body? Bart’s evil counterpart Inertia is involved, and he in turn is being helped by Deathstroke (to tie in with their Teen Titans appearances), and that’s about it. Mostly the book is a collection of familiar names, costumes, and character types running around dealing with motivations that seem to have been grafted to them. I honestly can’t remember how much longer Bilson & DeMeo have on this book, but I keep getting it so I won’t miss the start of the new team.

I’ve already talked at length about Justice League of America #5 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope), so in case that leaves you thinking I totally hated it, I didn’t. It’s perhaps the most ambitious Red Tornado story ever, but I still don’t know if that makes it a good Justice League story. Maybe the best little bit of business (besides GL and Batman’s microscope fun) was Roy Harper’s “Pretty bird,” which naturally recalls the old Green Arrow/Hawkman feud. I like the Benes/Hope team too, although the panel of Geo-Force and his doctor makes him look about 8 feet tall, or her about 4 feet.

Ah, Nextwave (#11 written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) — is there anything you can’t do? I will miss you like I miss “Firefly,” “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” “Arrested Development,” Hourman, and innumerable gone-but-not-forgotten pop-culture joys. #12 will be bittersweet.

Over in 1602: Fantastick Four #4 (written by Peter David, pencilled by Pascal Alixe, inked by Livesay), the Fantasticks, the Frightfuls, and von Doom fall off the edge of the world (nice touch) and end up in the land of Numenor, the Sub-Mariner. This was never a very deep series (pardon the pun), but it is clearly more concerned with wit and parody than with plot. It’s good that this issue sets up the final conflict, but it’s bad that there’s only one issue to go.

What says Christmas more than a rejuvenated ex-teen-sidekick with a chip on his metal replacement shoulder? That’s the conceit of the fine Winter Soldier: Winter Kills special (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Lee Weeks and Stefano Gaudiano, with Rick Hoberg) that I picked last time as my favorite one-shot of 2006. Using Bucky and Toro’s last Christmas together (the last Christmas of World War II, in fact) as a counterpoint for the Winter Soldier’s first real Christmas in the modern world, Brubaker and his artistic collaborators continue to argue convincingly that undoing one of the more untouchable Marvel deaths was a good idea. Indeed, WS fights, and then of course teams up with, his spiritual descendants in the Young Avengers, for more juxtaposition fun. It’s pretty zippy for something so heavy, but like all good Christmas stories, it’s about a lonely person finding out he’s not so lonely after all.

Another highlight of 2006 was Matt Wagner’s Batman, spotlighted here through Batman and the Mad Monk #5. I’m running out of different ways for the same superlatives. Even so, DC, please give Mr. Wagner a regular Batman title, just so I can keep trying.

The first word that comes to mind when picking up Hawkgirl #59 (written by Walter Simonson, drawn by Renato Arlem) is “texture.” Arlem’s work uses a lot of shading effects and is very detailed and sort of photo-influenced, so together with Alex Bleyaert’s vibrant colors, it really pops. Arlem’s linework is very reminiscent of Howard Chaykin’s, but his layouts aren’t as flasy, nor are his figures as stylized. Fans of Kendra’s rear end and/or underwear will find at least a few panels to like, though. The issue itself isn’t too bad, with Kendra trying to date again but feeling hemmed in by the continuing influence of her (literal) soulmate Hawkman, apparently killed by space vixen Blackfire in the Rann-Thanagar War. We know this because, in a nice touch, Blackfire shows up on Earth hunting Hawkgirl and wearing Hawkman’s wings. Building up to this are scenes with Batman and his recommended armorer picking out a new arsenal for Hawkgirl. Simonson tries to infuse it all with a light, breezy tone (even Blackfire complains about her wacky starship computer), but it doesn’t really come together. Maybe the closer to Chaykin the artist gets, the more Simonson’s scripts seem to recede.

More killer aliens populate Superman/Batman #31 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Matthew Clark, inked by Andy Lanning) in what I pray is the penultimate installment of this particular arc. Clark and Lanning take over for Ethan Van Sciver this issue, and while their work doesn’t have the sharp edges Van Sciver’s does, it’s not completely dissimilar. A couple of fairly obscure DC aliens reappear in this issue too, so there’s that. The issue reminds us of one of the arc’s main conceits — that baby Kal-El might not have originally been humanoid when his rocket landed, and his goopy tentacled form scared the Kents until he could shape-shift instinctively to look like one of them. This in turn produced buried resentment, yadda yadda yadda. That wouldn’t be so bad, except — isn’t that one of the elements separating the Superman origin from the Martian Manhunter origin? J’Onn shows up here too, so maybe there will be some exploration of that next time. Otherwise it’s KIll All Humans, just like the past few months.

The Ventriloquist returns, sort of, in a pretty strong Detective Comics #827 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher). There are a few little bits of flair that make this story endearing, like a new criminal disguise for Batman, and having the Scarface dummy dressed as Robin at one point, but the real strength of this story is its presentation as a mystery and its refusal to give up all its secrets at once.

“Grotesk” heads into the home stretch in Batman #661 (written by John Ostrander, drawn by Tom Mandrake). It’s not as good as last issue, and this time Grotesk gets a little more theatrical. There’s death, and fire, and explosions, and Batman’s intense, so pretty typical.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #25 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray) finds the Legion having to deal with the dual problems of a slightly crazy Mon-El and the attacking Wanderers (which I think I called the Legion of Super-Villains last time…). Both are very familiar Legion concepts which are integrated surprisingly well into the new framework. The Wanderers now make a lot more sense than just a bunch of Legion wannabes and/or potential rivals. Good issue all around.

Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage #2 (by Howard Chaykin) was just a mess. I can’t say much more than that. Every character but Guy seemed to exist solely to be dumber, on at least one level, than he. Maybe someday I will be motivated to revisit these two issues, but not anytime soon. Chaykin does draw some nice Green Lanterns, though.

52 #s 34 and 35 (written by You Guessed It, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, #34 pencilled by Joe Bennet and inked by Ruy Jose, #35 pencilled by Phil Jiminez and Dan Jurgens and inked by Andy Lanning and Norm Rapmund) provide our transition from ’06 to ’07. They were probably most notable for Luthor’s interrogation of Clark Kent in #34, and the subsequent New Year’s apocalypse in #35. Oh sure, the Black Adam stuff will be important in a couple of months, but the literal crashing and burning of the Everyman project was pretty gut-wrenching, especially against the backdrop of a Superman-themed New Year’s Eve.

Superman #658 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino) wrapped up (at least for now) the potential end-of-the-world scenario told to our hero by Arion, and let me say it’s pretty bleak. Reaching the end of this issue was like waking up from a particularly bad — but exquisitely drawn — dream, and realizing you’re late for work. Nothing against Busiek, just that the issue still finishes on a down note.

Superman Confidential #3 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) is a little more cheery, but it also has a “down” ending (ha ha, because I am looking at the last page). The sentient Kryptonite appears to have returned, Superman sticks it to both Luthor and Gallo and has a meaningful conversation at the Fortress of Solitude, and Lois continues to be smokin’ hot. I am still waiting to see how the Kryptonite thing plays out, but otherwise I am on board with this team.

JLA Classified #31 (written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Kilian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen) concludes a very fine story of the League’s covert involvement in a super-conflict between a couple of banana republics. This issue they fight the big monster on the cover, but it’s really just an excuse to get a little more flashy. If you haven’t been following this story already, consider getting the paperback.

If Mike Norton and Andy Owens are the new art team on The All-New Atom (#7 written by Gail Simone), I’ll be very happy. They bring a zippy, simple style to the book that suits Simone’s scripts pretty well. The issue’s good too — Ryan has to deal with a time-guarding Linear Man, fights some cowboys, and has to decide whether a date with the erstwhile Giganta is a good idea.

Nightwing #128 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund and Rodney Ramos) concludes the Raptor storyline by making me wonder about the overall timeframe of the book. It’s supposed to be One Year Later, but the Lexcorp stuff suggests otherwise, and I think it might even be self-contradictory. Still, Dick’s final fight with Raptor 2.0 did make me believe he was Batman’s heir, and that’s progress.

I’m still trying to find my way around the subplots, but Manhunter #27 (written by Marc Andreyko, pencilled by Javier Pina and Fernando Blanco, inked by Robin Riggs) was a good superhero-lawyer story, perhaps even better (dare I say it) than She-Hulk. I believed Kate as Wonder Woman’s lawyer, and I’d almost buy this book just for that, her costume notwithstanding. Art was good throughout, thanks to the consistent look given the pencils by the inks of Robin Riggs. There is a lot of black ink in this issue, which to my untrained eye lends the pages a very serious feel, appropriate under the circumstances.

I suppose Fantastic Four: The End (#4 by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer) is gearing up for the last act. Ben and Johnny, the Inhumans, and the Silver Surfer defeat a Kree Sentry on Mars (sound effect: “BARSOOM” — nice!), Sue finds another old FF villain under the sea, and Reed defeats the Super-Skrull only to wind up against yet another old FF villain. It all looks nice, and it probably all makes sense, but it’s more like Alan Davis betting himself he could work every FF character into just six issues.

Finally, All-Star Superman #6 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely) was another great issue. It might be a little gratuitous for Morrison to reference his own work (DC One Million) in an “all-star” context, and some of the plot points might be a little overplayed, but considering that the post-1986 Superman has never had to deal with Pa Kent’s death, this issue was a good encapsulation of the emotions that made the Earth-1 Superboy grow up. In fact, this issue is almost the entire concept of the series in microcosm. Morrison’s macro-arc concern’s Superman’s last “twelve labors” before his death, and of course Pa’s death is proclaimed by the cover, so mortality is at the forefront of both the issue and the series. However, we know Pa will die, we know Superman won’t, and the latter is confirmed by the events of this issue — twice over, in fact. Superman doesn’t realize it, but we do, so our concern is not with the superficial conflicts presented, but rather with his (and our) reactions to them. Sometimes the meta is just overwhelming, you know?

(Whew!)

November 28, 2006

New comics 11/22/06

Filed under: 52, fantastic four, hawkgirl, legion, planetary, superman, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 2:55 am
We begin with Planetary Brigade #1 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Julia Bax), a pastiche of the Hulk’s origin used as the backdrop for the first grouping of the eponymous Justice League parody. The Captain America figure, who doesn’t appear in the regular series so you know something’s up, plays into that inevitability in a fairly clever way. Not as bwah-hah-hah as the other Hero Squared titles, but still fun. Julia Bax’s art also seems more polished than Abraham’s, so while I still like Abraham’s stuff, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Bax’s.

At first Fantastic Four: The End #2 (by Alan Davis) feels more like Alan Davis’ Last Avengers Story, dwelling more on Iron Man’s personality and seemingly throwaway gimmicks like the Bug Squad than on the interconnections of the former Fantastic Four. In terms of a single issue with “Fantastic Four” in the title, I’d say this is a pretty meandering effort, although the Avengers bits and a scene with Ben Grimm on Mars are entertaining. In the larger context, I’m hopeful that this issue lays the foundation for future plot points. It’s only issue 2, after all.

52 #29 (written by Johns, Morrison, Rucka, and Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Jack Jadson) offers what is almost an obligatory gap-filling story about the last original Justice Socialites turning off the lights. We all know there will be trouble when one of Luthor’s new heroes has the same codename as Green Lantern’s late daughter, and I guess the resolution of that fight is unexpected. However, the cynic in me notes that the new Justice Society title is just around the corner, and this issue makes a fine teaser. I do have some issues with DC’s devotion to legacies, so maybe I’ll revisit this issue in more detail later. Thanksgiving with the mad scientists is fun, though.

Hawkgirl #58 (written by Walter Simonson, drawn by Joe Bennett) felt like old-school Wonder Woman, with the heroine in peril and her platonic male friend rushing to help and getting in trouble himself. I’m not sure I buy Kendra’s answer to the issue’s climactic dilemma, and again if I were being charitable I’d chalk it up to a certain freewheeling it’s-only-a-comic sensibility. It’s not completely implausible, but at the same time it could be seen as an excuse to march a bound and gagged Hawkgirl past the brink of a messy execution rendered across a two-page spread, and bring her back. It comes uncomfortably close to being a snuff film with a reset button. Joe Bennett’s art is a better fit for Simonson’s scripts and the book overall, and I’m willing to give the book a chance through the upcoming Rann-Thanagar War storyline, but it’s getting to the point where Kendra has been humiliated enough.

Speaking of Wonder Woman, lo and behold Wonder Woman #3 (written by Allan Heinberg, drawn by Terry and Rachel Dodson) came out last week. It’s a well-executed fight scene involving Hercules (shouldn’t that be “Heracles,” or is that his secret identity?), Giganta, Cheetah, Dr. Psycho, and the Mystery Villainess (revealed eventually, but I don’t want to give away the ending). There’s also a lot of finger-pointing directed at Diana for taking that year off and going plainclothes, which leads to the M.V.’s ultimate plan to become Wonder Woman herself, apparently. Hey, why not? Thanks to Justice League of America and this book’s own tardiness, we know how things turn out. Still, now begins the long wait ’til #4.

You know, if you’re Richard Donner and you have a new idea for a Superman story, you can include Bizarro, Sarge Steel, and any number of regular DC-Universe references, but when you bring in Zod, Ursa, and Non, they could fight Ambush Bug and it would still feel like a ripoff of Superman II. Naturally, such is the case with Action Comics #845 (written by Geoff Johns and Donner, drawn by Adam Kubert), which of course throws in a Kryptonian child at least superficially reminiscent of the kid from Superman Returns. Anyway, this issue presents a fight with Bizarro alongside Lois’ reluctance to slap a pair of glasses on the boy and call him Christopher Kent. (Good choice for a first name.) I was a bit disappointed that Clark didn’t outsource last issue’s raid on the boy’s transport to Batman, especially since the establishing shot of the Kent Farm featured a couple of bats cavorting before the full moon. That’s about how I felt the whole issue — clever in parts, but not as much as I’d have liked.

Finally, more Phantom Zone shenanigans crop up in Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #24 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray), another entertaining issue built around a fight with the Legion of Super-Villains. I don’t know if I’ve spent enough time with this book that it no longer feels like I’m missing everything, or if the familiar elements are helping me get into the book more, but I’ve been digging it more than usual the past couple of issues and I hope that continues.

November 8, 2006

New comics 11/1/06

Seems like every week I’m complaining about how hectic it’s all become, and this week was no different. Wednesday was my birthday (37, woo!), but I had a big stack of comics to read, long-distance congratulatory phone calls, and a Grumpy Old Fan column to write.

Anyway, about those comics….

Seven Soldiers #1 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by J.H. Williams III) arrived here a week late, and even though I’ve read other commentaries online I’m still not sure what to make of it. Overall I enjoyed it, especially the Zatanna bits, but coming to it relatively cold I probably didn’t get as much out of it on the first reading as I could have. I’m seriously considering getting the four paperbacks when the last one comes out in a few months.

Justice League of America #3 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope) was the first issue since #0 that, on balance, I enjoyed. Most of the enjoyment came from Green Lantern, Black Canary, and Arsenal fighting an army of multicolored Red Tornadoes, but a cameo by an old reserve member and that last-minute reveal were also welcome nods to the book’s history. As slow as this reinvention has been, at least Meltzer knows how to handle the minutiae. I just hope the “Big Three fantasy draft” doesn’t last much longer.

Superman Confidential #1 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) was a decent opener that started out with the Royal Flush Gang and ended with our reporter heroes working to bring down an evil casino developer. I have to say, I am not the biggest fan of Tim Sale’s Superman (it’s the face, mostly), but his Lois Lane is very saucy. I am also a bit dubious on what appears to be sentient Kryptonite. If it’s just a narrative device, though, that’s OK. I wouldn’t expect Cooke to set up the Kryptonite for an heroic sacrifice and/or telling Supes it’s always loved him.

For an issue with a nice anniversary-friendly number, Detective Comics #825 (written by Royal McGraw, pencilled by Marcos Marz, inked by Luciana del Negro) tells a pretty inoffensive, unremarkable story about the return of Doctor Phosphorus, a character who first appeared in a Detective from about thirty years ago. I could say more about his narrative significance and the melding of 1970s nuclear fears with 1940s-style corporate deceit, but that really doesn’t come into play here. Batman figures out a scientific way of stopping him, it’s a bit more lighthearted than it would have been prior to Infinite Crisis, and next month Paul Dini will be back.

I like the new-to-52 art team of Patrick Olliffe and Drew Geraci (52 #26 otherwise produced by writers Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid, with breakdowns by Keith Giffen). I also like the return of the Sivana Family, which I don’t think even the nostalgic Jerry Ordway series had time to bring back. (Had they been seen in Outsiders?) They work well with the Black Marvel Family, too, and “Tawky Crawky.” As for the rest of it, not to sound like a broken record, but 52 itself is becoming immune to these little weekly roundups. It has its own rhythm and its own pace. In fact, since I’ve just gotten through watching “Friday Night Lights,” it strikes me as a similar kind of thing. “FNL” isn’t telling a larger story, as far as I can see, just exploring the same sorts of sports-vs.-everything else tensions every week. 52‘s job is, apparently, to keep DC Nation entertained weekly while filling in the missing year. Of course, I say that now, but when things pick up in a few weeks and it all starts coming together, I’ll look like an idiot.

Hawkgirl #57 welcomes new artist Joe Bennett (fresh from 52) to go along with returning writer Walter Simonson, and darn if the book doesn’t make more sense than it did under Howard Chaykin. To be fair, the story seems a bit more straightforward than the Chaykin arc, since it deals with Kendra being kidnapped to stand trial for her role in the Rann-Thanagar War, but Bennett’s work is moodier and less flashy. Again, I still like Chaykin, but in hindsight he probably wasn’t the right artist for this book.

The All New Atom #5 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Eddy Barrows) finds the miniature invaders and the Evil Atom (don’t think his codename is in this issue) all causing problems for our hero, not to mention his father and the Dean having issues with him too. I liked this issue pretty well, even if it did lead into the Brave New World preview which is, by now, five months old. (Will the paperback put it in its proper place?) Barrows, like Bennett, has the kind of style that doesn’t call attention to itself, which makes its wow-moments stand out that much more. When Bennett shows Hawkgirl winging over the city, or here, where Barrows shows Ryan Choi size-changing to impress his dad, it’s impressive to the reader too. Also, Simone must enjoy the miniature-invader dialect, because clearly she’s having fun with it.

I want to like Nightwing #126 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund), but it’s not easy. For one thing, isn’t the name “Biotech Pharmaceuticals” something like “Robot-Made Cars”? I thought biotech was more of a process or a classification, not a brand. Anyway, this is more of some guy in battle armor being killed and no one being quite sure who’s behind it or why. There is a bit of tension when one of NW’s buddies (who might be new to this arc, for all I know) is threatened with death, and Marv has Dick doing what you’d expect Dick Grayson to do — namely, have warm conversations with Alfred Pennyworth and get set up to give acrobatics lessons (not a euphemism). It’s not a bad issue, but it’s just kind of there.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #23 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray) presents a verrry interesting story that I’m surprised wasn’t called “Supergirl’s Return To Krypton!” Unfortunately for the Legion, they render Supergirl powerless in a “Mission: Impossible”-esque attempt to get her better adjusted to the 31st Century, just when what I take to be the Legion of Super-Villains attacks. Best issue in a while, and that’s saying a lot.

I was also surprised at how much of She-Hulk 2 #13 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) I was able to follow, given its roots in ’80s Marvel continuity. Basically, it’s the origins of Thanos and Starfox, continued, as presented through more of Starfox’s trial on Titan. However, because the focus is on Starfox’s alleged abuse of his mind-control powers, it’s easier for me, the rookie, to understand; and, of course, having She-Hulk as the reader’s guide also helps. Finally, once again it’s good to see Rick Burchett working. He has a distinctive style that doesn’t get in the way of his solid storytelling, and he’s just so versatile otherwise.

Agents of Atlas #4 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice), and Beyond #5 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins) are similarly new-reader-friendly, although I’m a little confused about who’s watching the AOA on the first page. Still, both tell pretty straightforward superhero stories with a lot of panache — AOA has fights with giant lobster-creatures and a fun montage of Shutting Down Enemy Bases, and Beyond uses its focus on Hank and Janet to set up its last-reel reversal. Looking forward to the conclusions of both.

I liked Criminal #2 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips) more than I did #1, probably because this was the issue that put the big heist into motion and I could follow the characters better once I saw what they were doing. Not much more to say beyond complimenting the skills of the writer and artist, and others have done that more eloquently than I could.

Appropriately enough, we close with Fantastic Four: The End #1, by Alan Davis (and Mark Farmer inking, according to the cover). If you’ve read The Nail or Superboy’s Legion, you can expect more of the same here — highlights of the FF’s storied history, rearranged in new, apocalyptic patterns. The opening fight with a borgified Dr. Doom especially recalls The Nail‘s Batman/Joker bloodbath, right down to the casualties. Making everyone subject to an anti-aging treatment, and setting the story in an indeterminate future, also brings to mind Howard Chaykin and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez’s Twilight miniseries, which recast many of DC’s goofy ’60s sci-fi characters. All of this is to say that I doubt Davis will go too dark with this miniseries, its title notwithstanding. Moreover, whatever happens, it will look very very pretty.

October 4, 2006

New comics 9/28/06

Filed under: 52, batman, captain america, checkmate, hawkgirl, justice league, legion, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 2:15 am
Picking up a spare from last week, here’s Checkmate #6 (written by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, and Christina Weir, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Dan Green), the first part of a Suicide Squad reunion. To my eternal shame, I have read exactly two Squad stories — the JLI crossover, and the “What About Ray Palmer?” arc — so that probably dulled some of the emotional impact for me. Yes, I know it was the height of badassery. Filled with shame, remember? Still, even I thought this was a pretty decent comic. It juggled the book’s ongoing subplots, brought readers up to speed on the Squad, and wove the two together with the aftermath of Villains United. That’s pretty ambitious, but the book keeps it all straight for the most part. The same isn’t true for the art and coloring, which are still a bit muddy. With all the sneaking around and fighting, the choreography gets a bit confused. It’s a bit hard to work up sympathy for a group of fairly unrepentant villains, so I suppose we’re supposed to be concerned about whether the Squadders will sink Waller.

Justice League of America #2 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope) was frustratingly good. I enjoyed it overall, but some parts creeped me out (Red Tornado sex?!?) or didn’t make sense. The latter includes an exchange about how former Leaguer Dr. Light, who shares a name and costume with a rapist the League mindwiped, would “scare” criminals. There’s an innocuous explanation, apparently, but it involves knowing these characters’ shared history, which I didn’t, and which I especially wouldn’t expect the new readers sucked in by Meltzer’s novelist cred to know. The other bit of “huh?” is the continuing fantasy-football draft the Big Three are holding in the Batcave while, apparently, the rest of the putative League is assembling itself.

Superman is, of course, intimately involved in the assemblage of a rag-tag bunch of combat-happy Joes over in Action Comics #843 (written by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Pete Woods). Once I got past the unfortunate use of slang on the cover, which is charming in the manner of a well-meaning mistranslation, I enjoyed the inside. Busiek’s hero-worship stories are mostly effective, albeit unsubtle, but with Superman it seems appropriate. Besides, it’s not just making people feel better about Superman — as we’re often reminded, Superman is supposed to uplift everyone else as well. Accordingly, hugs all around, or at least a laurel and hearty handshake from POTUS. Now, on to Geoff Johns and Richard Donner.

Hugs are in short supply in Batman #657 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Andy Kubert, inked by Jesse Delperdang), which recovers nicely from a somewhat disorienting opening — didn’t we end last issue with Batman captured by Talia? — to tell a very fun story about Damien’s competition with Robin. The cynic in me doesn’t expect Damien to stick around past next issue, and that’s a shame, because the kid carries a lot of insight into his dad’s childhood. This includes the notion, advanced countless times in the past twenty years, that Bruce became Batman the moment his parents were murdered. Granted, Damien is more a teenage Azrael than a teenage Batman at this point, but Morrison has crafted a very pulpy adventure infused with darkly funny sitcommish moments. By showing that Batman can turn his “scary face” off and on at will, Morrison gets to what I think is one of the great unexplored elements of the character’s personality — the concept of “Batman” itself as posturing, even theater. The phrase “created a monster” seems especially apt….

And that’s a good segue into 52 #21 (written by GGGM, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson), showcasing Lex Luthor’s new team of homegrown heroes. I’m not sure I got a lot out of this issue beyond also wanting Trajectory to be the new Kid Flash, and enjoying Ralph and the Fate-Helmet’s trip into Lovecraft-Ditko land. It was well-executed, but it just kind of left me cold.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #21 (written by Mark Waid and Tony Bedard, pencilled by Barry Kitson and Adam DeKraker, inked by Rob Stull) was fun, showing Karate Kid’s strategery at romance. A subplot with Sun Boy’s new team against a Super-Skru– er, Super-Dominator looks promising too.

And speaking of fun, Batman and the Mad Monk #2 (written and drawn by Matt Wagner) was just as good as I’d hoped. Mix lurid cult activity with schoolgirl outfits and it’s not just a recipe for increased Google traffic, it’s a roadmap to a p.o.’ed Batman when Dala and her boss get their claws into Julie Madison in a couple of issues. Batman spends most of this issue detecting and having foreshadowing conversations with Harvey Dent, but the last page promises a beatdown. I’ll definitely be there when it arrives.

Looking at the human-sacrifice pages of Mad Monk made me wonder how Howard Chaykin would have handled that story, and I’m not just saying that to transition into Hawkgirl #56 (written by Walter Simonson, drawn by Chaykin). It’s Chaykin’s last issue, so it wraps up the oddly-sexualized-villain plot that’s been meandering through the book since this team took over. Basically Hawkgirl flies around fighting said villains and trying to save the Steve Trevor-figure from being eaten by them. I think I finally get Simonson and Chaykin’s over-the-top take on this book, so I’m giving next month a chance, mainly because both of them together produced a dissonance that they wouldn’t have separately. In other words, with a less flashy artist, I think Simonson’s pulpish tendencies would be complementary.

Finally, Captain America #22 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Mike Perkins) does a lot of good with its Civil War setup. Basically Sharon Carter has to choose between her loyalty to SHIELD and her lurve for Cap, and while that might sound rather tired, it’s handled well. It’s the focus of this issue, but one senses it’s not the point of this little CW-related arc, especially with the Red Skull still lurking. Also, Cap and Sharon have a “serious talk” that begins with them on a rooftop and ends with clothes being put back on, which as it turns out completed this week’s trifecta of superhero sex (creepy fleshy Tornado sex in JLA and Bat-Sex implied in this month’s Mad Monk). Unfortunately, Cap doesn’t get to then fight SHIELD troopers in faux-Iron Man armor. Maybe next issue.

August 27, 2006

New comics 8/23/06

Filed under: 52, batman, flash, hawkgirl, justice league, justice society, legion, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 8:15 pm
We begin this week with Batman and the Mad Monk #1, the sequel to/continuation of Matt Wagner’s “Dark Moon Rising” project, and the retelling of the first two-issue Batman story ever, from Detective Comics #s 31-32 (September-October 1939). That story, written by Gardner Fox and Bill Finger with art by Bob Kane and Sheldon Moldoff, had Batman fighting vampires and werewolves, introduced the Batplane and Batarang, and ended with Batman shooting silver bullets into the undead fiends. Yes, with a gun. It was the first “big” Batman adventure, and it still holds up — but it’s been copied a few times, with mixed results. This time, Wagner doesn’t really get into the main plot until the end of this issue, spending several pages on supporting characters Catwoman, Gordon, and Julie Madison and her dad. When the vampires do show up, though, they’re hard to forget — their wounds aren’t the traditional two-hole bites, and they’re scary not just because of how they dress, but because they don’t stick out anymore. (If that makes sense.) I’m a big Hugo Strange fan and I really liked Batman and the Monster Men, but Mad Monk looks to be even better.

I’m going to reserve a lot of comment on Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #21 (written by Mark Waid and Tony Bedard, drawn by Barry Kitson, Adam DeKraker, and Rob Stull) until I’ve had a chance to read the whole series. However, I will say that the prison-break scenes are very well done and fairly suspenseful, and the Dream Girl sequence has an unexpectedly poignant ending.

Perhaps the best way to describe Hawkgirl #55 (written by Walter Simonson, drawn by Howard Chaykin) is by comparison to the works of Ed Wood. I don’t believe that the creative team intended to create a storyline that veers from impenetrable to goofy and back again, nor do I think that they wanted to end up with so much attention on Kendra’s underwear. Obviously this is their attempt at Lovecraftian horror, which isn’t a bad choice for the existing Hawkgirl setting. Still, it’s hard to balance the creeping dread we’re supposed to feel with the flamboyance of Chaykin’s art, and I say that as someone who’s always been a fan of Chaykin’s. To be fair, I don’t think Simonson’s art would have improved matters much either. A moodier artist (Mike Mignola, Ryan Sook) would have been better, or Chaykin on a more sci-fi-oriented story. I think that’s why I’m hanging around — to see if these two consummate pros can pull a good result out of this arc, and to give incoming artist Joe Bennett a chance. How’s that relate to Ed Wood? Well, I think at some point Simonson and Chaykin decided to just let themselves go and let the mistakes take care of themselves. They’re having fun, so why aren’t we?

A little of that applies as well to the end of the Amos Fortune/Royal Flush Gang crossover arc in JSA Classified #16 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer), but it’s all climaxes, triumphs, and exclamation points. I’m still not sure where Gypsy got the powers or the personality with which Englehart has invested her, but apart from that it makes a goofy kind of sense. It’s a harmless little story that probably could have been handled in half the time.

Art does make a big difference in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #3 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Karl Kerschl, inked by Serge Lapointe). Too bad they’re guest artists, because they convey a much more open, fluid milieu for a super-speedster than the cramped, scratchy, almost over-rendered work of Ken Lashley. Valerie Perez’s dark secret is intriguing, considering that it relates to the 1990 Flash anniversary special that was the character’s only appearance (right?), but she and Bart lock lips much too quickly. Overall, the book seems like it’s improved, but we’ll see how long it lasts.

52 #16 (written by 2001, 2010, 2061, and 3001, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Joe Bennett, inks by Ruy Jose) was pretty suspenseful. Isis is so nice, and such a good influence on Black Adam, that I am convinced she’s totally going to die horribly in his arms, probably because of something Booster did. That sense of impending doom enhanced the suicide-bomber scenes, although the lack of outrage in the denouement was a bit far-fetched. Also, last night the History Channel produced an almost surreal piece on sexual practices of ancient Egypt — Satuday nights on The History Channel are apparently like Friday nights on Cinemax — which made a lot out of the gods’ incestuous relationships, including those between Isis and Osiris. Wonder if the 52ers will include that in Isis’ search for her brother…?

As depicted by Terry and Rachel Dodson in Wonder Woman #2 (written by Allan Heinberg), the new Department of Metahuman Affairs war room is a cavern filled with wall-sized video screens and thin monitors on chromed pedestals. (One monitor shows Diana’s WW in what looks like a Phil Jimenez homage.) Its size belies Batman’s modest comment about Sarge Steel “putting the agency back together.” It’s the kind of thing that, were it on TV or in a movie, one might imagine much of the story being set there, to get the most out of the environment. However, with comics’ unlimited budget, it can be just another throwaway room, like Diana’s 21st-Century Emma Peel jumpsuit (and rose-colored glasses — nice touch!). Neither of them stand up to much logistical scrutiny. Those are pretty much my only complaints about the issue, which worked so well that when Diana actually started to spin (!) into her new/old costume, I felt a little twinge of fanboy glee. (As opposed to the other “twinges of glee” that the Dodsons’ va-va-voom artwork might induce, of course.)

The ninja Man-Bats of Batman #656 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Andy Kubert, inked by Jesse Delperdang) were as scary as advertised. This issue featured Batman in action as much as last time focused on Bruce Wayne, and it was the James Bond Batman of Morrison’s JLA that I had been waiting to see again. In a departure from his JLA treatment, this time we hear Batman’s internal monologue, mostly key words, well-chosen, and not the purple discourses on pain we’d gotten used to. Have I mentioned how much Kubert and Delperdang’s Batman looks like Jim Lee’s? At the same time, though, their other characters and backgrounds are much more organic — rounder, with thicker lines, and you can almost stroke the Man-Bats’ fur. (Make your dirty joke if you must.) It’s a nice way to state subliminally that Batman is the intrusion into an otherwise real world, and had I the vocabulary I could connect that better with the pop-art pieces which comment silently on the fight scenes. Plus, Morrison thought to bring back Aunt Agatha, who was more meddling in the ’50s than Peter Parker ever dreamed his aunt might be. Can’t wait to see Bat-Mite!

Finally, here’s Justice League of America #1, written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, and inked by Sandra Hope, with a little help from Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano in some flashback panels. Most of it’s about Kathy Sutton and Traya, the Red Tornado’s (common-law?) wife and adopted daughter, waiting for word that Daddy will be coming back to life after yet another bout with the explodies. It’s a weird inversion of Identity Crisis which almost suggests that Meltzer is getting too comfortable with the emotional dynamics of grieving spouses. Oh yeah, and the Big Three are holding their fantasy draft for a new Justice League. (Why no chips or soda, though, DC? I would have paid an extra dollar to see Wonder Woman crush a can of Tab on her forehead.)

I can’t remember which blogger said it, but it bears repeating: in Brave and the Bold #28, the JLA fought a giant alien starfish. In Justice League of America #1, it fought Despero. In Justice League #1, it fought terrorists at the United Nations. In JLA #1, it fought the Hyperclan. Now, it’s all Bands Reunited and grieving widows? Meltzer crowds the panels with narrative captions that shift from person to person, distinguished only by color. In other words, talk, talk, talk — Hulk want action!

There are some funny bits, including Oliver Queen left home to babysit; and the artificial-intelligence grapevine. There are also a few disturbing images, like Platinum looking too much like the Avengers’ Jocasta, and Red Tornado adopting the “Aheh.” laugh of Alan Moore’s Invisible Man. However, I was glad to see some bits of minutiae that helped reassure me that Meltzer’s heart was in the right place: the retro-style logo, the membership certificates, Felix Faust, and Deadman. I just continue to be frustrated with the notion that every storyline must now proceed in strict straight-line order, so that a #1 issue deprives us of the Big JLA Fight that an in medias res approach would have allowed. From what I remember from growing up in the Midwest, tornadoes’ paths are more random than linear.

August 2, 2006

New comics 7/26/06

Filed under: 52, astro city, batman, captain america, checkmate, hawkgirl, justice league, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 12:06 am
It’ll be nice to get back into a regular schedule, but unfortunately that probably won’t happen until the weekend. Last week’s big week should be followed this week by a drought. I’m tending to get most comics around the end of the month now, which is starting to feel like the old familiar ship weeks of yore. However, it tends to create these marathon recap posts….

First up this week is 52 #12 (written by Dino, Jerry, Frank, and Sammy; breakdowns by Joey Bishop; pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Rob Stull). It’s mostly a Black Adam story about his budding relationship with Stor– I mean, Isis. She’s not the Filmation character, but really, who pays attention? Black Adam starts to look more Biblical, if not outright mythological, and we find out why Captain Marvel has gotten cabin fever over the past, say, twelve weeks. I have to say, I’m philosophically opposed to the perpetual remaking of Captain Marvel and his associates, but overall this isn’t bad. I’m still not getting the Trials of Shazam! miniseries, though.

P.S. Montoya and Ralph Dibny each get a few pages, and Waid and Adam Hughes present the two-page Wonder Woman primer.

I would have liked Action Comics #841 (written by Kurt Busiek & Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Pete Woods) better if the villain hadn’t been so Manga Khan-esque. However, it was good on its own, showing Superman interacting both with ordinary folk and fellow super-types. It has the same kind of feel that I got from Busiek’s Avengers, where you don’t have to know who everyone is, but you know they’re all part of the same community and you get a sense of the pecking order. Superman, naturally, is at the top, but the story is about the public’s readiness to put him back up there. As plugged-in as the Superman books were to all the Infinite Crisis hoo-rah, under Busiek they’ seem more integrated with the larger DC-Earth, and that in turn feeds Superman’s status at the top of that ol’ pyramid.

The various threads of wackiness all seem to be coming together in Hawkgirl #54 (written by Walt Simonson, drawn by Howard Chaykin), which is nice. It doesn’t mean all is forgiven, and Kendra still spends too much time showing off her underwear, but on balance there was more good than bad.

Checkmate #4 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Jesus Saiz) wraps up its first story arc pretty well, setting up the character relationships and infusing what could have been a foregone conclusion with a bit of cliffhanging. Re-reading these first few issues would probably pay off, since between the Checkmaters and the Great Ten there are a fair amount of unfamiliar characters, not to mention the characters in similar uniforms drawn similarly. In other words, I are stupid and can’t tell some of the players apart on my first quick read.

Steve Englehart, Tom Derenick, and Mark Farmer wrote, pencilled, and inked both JLA Classified #25 and JSA Classified #14, which (respectively) closed out the Detroit League’s adventure with the Royal Flush Gang back in the day, and kicked off Stargirl’s adventure with Gypsy and Vixen set in the present. I had enjoyed the first few parts of the JLA arc, but this last one seemed a bit too breathless, and I don’t remember Gypsy being so powerful, then or now. As for the JSA arc, it also seemed a little too credulous, what with Stargirl copping an attitude towards the more experienced ex-Leaguers, and the thought that “villain mind-controls heroes to fight” is an innovative plot. I like Englehart generally, but this tries my patience.

Marc Singer has commented already on the religious symbolism of Astro City Special: Samaritan (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson), which I didn’t notice upon first reading. I was trying to decide whether Infidel was more of a Luthor- or Brainiac-analogue. Symbolism aside, it was a good story of Samaritan’s number-one foe, and I suppose its main mission was to emphasize how dangerous this dude would be if he ever decided to take over all of creation again.

Speaking of number-one foes, the Red Skull pops up quite creepily in Captain America #20 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting), the penultimate (?) chapter of “Twenty-First Century Blitz.” Cap and his British allies fight Nazi strongmen on a blimp, and it is awesome, even before the giant Nazi robot appears. The prospect of a Cap/Winter Soldier team-up is also teased to great effect.

Finally, as you might have guessed, I saved Batman #655 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Andy Kubert) for last, because it too was awesome. There’s more Bruce Wayne than Batman in this first issue, but Morrison presses all the major Bat-buttons. Short scenes with Gordon and Robin (and even the Joker) seem poised for later payoffs, the “Zur En Arrh” graffiti hints at a return to ’50s-style sci-fi (however brief), and Alfred almost steals the book from under his boss. There are a couple of clunky points, like the blocking of the initial action sequence, the thought that the one-year layoff didn’t rejuvenate Bruce, and the too-obviously-nervous Kirk Langstrom, but on the whole this is a refreshing change for a book that at times seemed more dedicated to maintaining its hard-boiled reputation. I don’t think Morrison is the only one who could have pulled Batman back from the brink of excessive grimness and grit, but he shore does a fine job here.

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