Just for fun, let’s start with Supergirl #29
(written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson and Ron Randall, inked by Ray Snyder and Randall). In this issue Supergirl works with Resurrection Man and a mad scientist to make good on her promise to cure a dying boy of cancer. There always seems to be a lot of talk about what a Supergirl book “should” be like, and goodness knows I’ve done quite a bit of it myself
. That said, I think this sort of approach is perfectly valid. Supergirl in this situation is what we lawyers call the Reasonable Person — specifically, one with Superman’s powers — who can explore the kinds of issues Superman can’t. It allows her to maintain the requisite connection to Superman (why would she be “Supergirl” otherwise?) without being redundant.
Anyway, this issue finds the Girl of Steel’s plan put into action, and reveals its outcome. A lot of it involves Supergirl getting to know Rez. Man (who I know only from DC One Million, unfortunately) and, to a lesser degree, the mad scientist. The rest is a fight scene. It’s all very dry and moody, thanks to a lot of black ink from Randall and Snyder. Randall and Johnson’s pencils mesh pretty well — you can tell the difference because Randall’s work is a little more flat and tends not to go as well with the subtleties of Kahila Tripp’s colors. It kind of takes your mind off the fact that a super-powered girl in a skimpy outfit (who still doesn’t look skanky, by the way) is on a nigh-impossible mission. Nothing which happens in this book is completely unexpected, but I will say that it made me wonder about the consequences of Supergirl’s plan, and I suspect that was at least part of the point. I’m eager to see what happens next, which is a pretty nice sentiment for a monthly comic book.
Nightwing #144 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Don Kramer and Rags Morales, inked by various people) also finds itself with two pencillers. This is officially another part of “Freefall,” but it feels more transitory: the Great Ten’s Mother of Champions is brought into the grave-robbing storyline; Talia shows up in New York to threaten Dick; Nightwing does some run-of-the-mill crimefighting; and Dick’s new girlfriend (didn’t cornrows go out 25 years ago?) helps him skydive. Morales contributes some good “acting” between Dick and Talia, but there’s a lot packed into this issue (as usual) and it’s hard to process out of the larger story’s context.
Speaking of “the larger story,” the new House Of Mystery (#1 written by Matthew Sturges and drawn by Luca Rossi) features a short story nestled within the main one. Seems that someone’s stolen the HOM from the Dreaming and turned it into the Hotel California — you leave when it says you can leave, and no sooner. Blondes are the protagonists here: Miss Keele, the architect who’s been drawing the House, Close Encounters-style, runs to it in order to escape her macabre pursuers. Cress, the typical House resident, protests her captivity. Sally, a more mellow resident, tells her own gruesome story as “payment” for her tenancy. (It’s written by Bill Willingham and drawn by Ross Campbell.) I thought the threads worked well together, although I had to work harder than usual to keep everyone straight. (That’s what I get with Vertigo, I know.) Rossi was unfamiliar to me, but his work reminds me of a looser Michael Lark or a tighter Jesus Saiz — thick lines and a little sardonic. Likewise with Campbell, whose work was much tighter and more “realistic,” which made his story that much more effective. So, good job, Vertigo: you’ve gotten me reading one of your books for the first time since Army@Love #1.
I picked up Joe Kubert’s Tor #1 (by guess who) based on the strength of Kubert’s body of work. I’d barely heard of Tor, but Kubert + caveman seemed to be a good fit. It’s a story told without dialogue, or balloons of any kind: an omniscient narrator describes Tor’s thoughts. Tromping away from his dark past, Tor stops to treat his wounds and get some food, inadvertently eating some psychedelic fruit. Later, as indicated by the cover, he saves a hairy humanoid from a croc-o-saurus before running into the people who put the victim there. It’s not an unfamiliar story, but it’s told well (of course) and it is enticing enough to get me to stick around.
Evil demigods plague both stories in Countdown To Mystery #7. In the Eclipso story (written by Matthew Sturges, pencilled by Chad Hardin, inked by various people), Bruce Gordon and the accumulated superheroes (Hawk, Dove, Creeper, Plastic Man) take on an Eclipso cult and the badder-than-ever dark god himself. I get the feeling that this story depends on various ways to keep the Spectre in check, but since this is the penultimate issue, that’s not quite as big a problem anymore. Hardin’s pencils are fine; nothing flashy, more like cleaner Tom Grindberg back when Grindberg was trying to be Neal Adams. This story has jumped around so much I’m not sure who it’s about anymore, and that makes it harder to tell if it’s going anywhere.
The Doctor Fate story (plot by the late Steve Gerber, script by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Justiniano, inked by Walden Wong) finds the helmet in the hands of a young woman who’s not ready for its power, and who gets taken on a trip through Hell as a result. You know the drill: the world is a cesspool of sweat and saliva, we’re all just ants compared to the demons who really control things, yadda yadda yadda. Next issue is the multiple-choice ending necessitated by Gerber’s death, so this could end up a few different ways.
The second issue of Batman: Death Mask (#2 by Yoshinori Natsume) was an improvement. Most of it is a flashback to Bruce’s martial-arts training, with the requisite Batman foreshadowing. In the context of this story, though, the foreshadowing takes on a more mystical aspect which comes back to haunt Batman in the present. This issue has more action than the last one, which made it feel “more manga” to my untrained eyes.
Back in the land of left-to-right Batman, Detective Comics #844 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs) concludes the Zatanna/Ventriloquist two-parter with the origin of the current Ventriloquist. Once the mousy daughter of a mob boss, she got glammed up after being left for dead and finding Scarface. Pretty good for a Bat-villain origin, and Dini ties it into “Face The Face,” the One Year Later reintroduction to Batman. As for Zatanna, I have to say I liked the way Dini handled her mindwiping of Batman ‘way back when, but I’m not buying her throwing herself at Bruce. Nice try, though.
Because I didn’t have 1974’s Justice League #111, I bought the DC Universe Special: JLA which reprinted it (the first appearance of Libra) and the 3-part Secret Society story which helped give Identity Crisis its foundation. I won’t go into details, because these are pretty much research material, but the printing seemed off on the Secret Society story and Dick Giordano’s inks seemed a bit too blotchy on the Libra story. Weird.
Finally, at long last here’s Action Comics Annual #11 (written by Richard Donner and Geoff Johns, drawn by Adam Kubert), the conclusion of “Last Son.” It’s wall-to-wall combat, with the United States military, Superman, Luthor, Bizarro, Metallo, the Parasite, and (eventually) the Justice League and Justice Society versus a decent amount of Phantom Zone escapees. Luthor is the key to the issue, both in his motivation for helping Superman and the perverse glee he finds in killing Kryptonians. The ending is a little problematic given the current state of Superman comics, but maybe there will be an addendum which bridges the gap. Or maybe this takes place “now” (given one of Chris’s comments) and it’ll be a plot thread for Trinity. Anyway, it was a good issue, well-told by Kubert, which should make more sense once it’s put in proper context.