Comics Ate My Brain

July 1, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

Filed under: american flagg, howard chaykin, sunday soliloquy — Tom Bondurant @ 11:54 am
First, thanks to Shane Bailey for the mention in his latest “Meanwhile” column! If anyone else out there wants to show off their comics’ speechifying, please be my guest.

As for this week … well, how about a little civil disobedience?

In the dystopian future of 2031, the United States is run by a mega-corporation called The Plex, and idealistic, pragmatic Reuben Flagg is Plexmall Chicago’s newest lawman.

American Flagg! is twenty-four years old, but some sentiments never go out of style.

[From “Hard Times, Conclusion,” American Flagg! #3, December 1983. Written and drawn by Howard Chaykin.]

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December 1, 2006

New comics 11/29/06

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. SPOILERS FOLLOW….

The last big piece of the speedster puzzle from Infinite Crisis is revealed in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #6 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ken Lashley and Andy Smith, inked by Art Thibert), and honestly, it amounts to “because we said so.” Basically, after Bart takes care of Griffin (who dies in a somewhat incoherent sequence where a giant boulder is dropped, Wile E. Coyote-like, on him), we flash back to the Battle World where Bart, the Jay Garrick of Earth-Whatever, Barry Allen, Wally West, and Max Mercury are standing around talking about how best to warn everyone else that Superboy-Prime has gotten away from them.

First off, I’m willing to ignore the space-time issues as to how beings who can travel through time and across multiverses unaided are worried about catching someone who’s, granted, about as fast as they are. Still, standing around? Only Jay and Wally are even in costume. Shouldn’t they be racing after Superboy, talking strategy on the run? Wouldn’t that have been more, y’know, EXCITING?!? Anyway, since Wally can share and steal speed, he proposes absorbing the others’ Speed Force energy to push him to eleven. Bart says no, it’s too dangerous, and you have Linda and the kids to think of — let me do it! And that’s how it happens. That’s why Bart’s been so reluctant to use the Speed Force — he feels guilty for something he volunteered for, and his friends agreed to. Man, what a crappy bit of fiat. Nothing in there suggests that Bart couldn’t have transferred the SF energy back to the others once he was done with it. Nothing in it suggests that Bart abandoned them on the Battle World (which, by the way, means that Barry Allen and Max Mercury are still alive out there, since DC’s apparently unconcerned about that screwing up the timeline the way it did in Flash vol. 2 #150). Therefore, nothing prevents Bart from finding Wally and the rest, telling them he’s done, and restoring their speed to them. The little jolt he gave Jay this issue is probably an acknowledgment that he can do just that. Good grief, DC, at least with Kyle Rayner you burned a lot of bridges! Here you’ve just put up some flimsy barricades. Basically, Bart is the Flash for as long as he wants to be, and since there’s hardly anything new or innovative about Bart-Flash, you’re going to have to work a heck of a lot harder to convince me to buy this book. Another guest artist, this time Andy Smith helping out Lashley, does improve the overall look of things with a sort of Alan Davis-meets-Dick Giordano style.

I’m really not very fond of Ethan van Sciver’s cover for Green Lantern #15 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Ivan Reis). Since when does Hal Jordan have black eyes with little white pupils? Inside is better, as GL fights the Global Guardians, a couple of Faceless Hunters from Saturn, the Rocket Reds, and a special surprise team on the last page. Oh, and we see the new Sinestro Corps. It’s entertaining enough, but there’s an undercurrent of sexism that kind of spoils it for me. The prominent female characters are a (mind-controlled) seductress (Crimson Fox), a man-hating murderess (the new Star Sapphire, who still gets a cool origin), or a prisoner (Cowgirl, who does escape her guards). Maybe I’m being unfair, but it rubbed me the wrong way.

Van Sciver provides interior art for Superman/Batman #30 (written by Mark Verheiden), which, as it happens, is a sequel to a plotline from Verheiden’s short run on Superman last year. That was a pleasant surprise. The thought of Alfred turning to sweet, sweet bourbon as a tonic for his stresses was also kind of funny, if a little wrong. However, the rest of it was just very strange. Batman and Plastic Man breaking into the Fortress of Solitude was probably the highlight, although I think the Alien Bad Guy just spoiled part of 52. Otherwise, Superman and Kilowog somehow conclude that they have to Kill All Humans, Superman’s eyes get all red and glowy, and … yeah. I’m not long for this book.

I was looking forward to the all-Batman, all-Grant Morrison issue of 52 (#30 written by Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Joe Bennett, inks by Bennett and Ruy Jose), but this issue wasn’t it. For one thing, it featured a two-page Origin of the Metal Men, and while I don’t have anything against the Metal Men, they’re not exactly part of Bruce’s One Year Later development. Seeing Kate Kane in the old Wayne Foundation penthouse — one of my absolute favorite fictional buildings, giant fake tree and all — was nice, but jumping back and forth from Gotham to wherever Nightwing and Robin were, was a bit confusing, and I went over those scenes again to confirm that they hadn’t come back to Gotham only to have Robin fly back to the desert with his super dune buggy. I did have to smile at the Ten-Eyed Assassins, but rather than this issue being the done-in-one wonder I was expecting, now I’d like to see a more satisfying follow-up.

Over in Batman #659, guest writer John Ostrander and guest artist Tom Mandrake bring us Part 1 of the four-part story of Grotesk, yet another new Batman antagonist that hits a number of familiar notes. He’s a vigilante who kills because the skels deserve it; he’s an unstoppable brute with (yes) a grotesque look; and he has a mysterious connection to one of Bruce Wayne’s old flames. Thankfully, Bruce and Alfred figured out the connection right around the time I did, which redeems the issue considerably. Ostrander also includes a nice scene with Gordon and a disguised Batman, and Mandrake’s art looks really good. He was a fine regular Batman artist in the ‘80s, and he’s only gotten better.

Batman/The Spirit (written by Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke, pencilled by Darwyn Cooke, inked by J. Bone) was fun, although I shamefully admit not being up on my Spirit Rogues past P’Gell. This is basically a $4.99 ad for Cooke’s Spirit series, beginning next month. It’s not exactly the sly meditations on the human condition that Will Eisner’s originals were, and neither the Spirit nor his supporting cast dominate the pages like the more colorful Batman characters, but Cooke’s style is the selling point here, and it’s enough of a Spirit story (not to mention a more carefree Batman story) to be a pretty good ad.

Captain America #24 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) didn’t feel like Part 3 of 3, since it seems more concerned with setting up a big throwdown involving the Red Skull and a very welcome Surprise Guest Villain. Sharon Carter joins Cap’s side and also links up with Nick Fury, Cap fights Hydra goons and SHIELD cape-killers, and … is the Winter Soldier in this one? No. Oh well, he would’ve gotten lost in all the Hydra beatdowns. Anyway, good clean fun, and the next-issue blurb sounds sufficiently hyperbolic.

Nextwave #10 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) featured a short fight sequence between our heroes and the Not Brand Ecchers, followed by a series of freakish dream sequences showing the Nextwavers as “real” superheroes, or at least more traditional superheroes. It’s the first issue of Nextwave that isn’t riotously funny, and in fact it’s a little more like Planetary, but it’s still good. Boy, Stuart Immonen can draw. Be assured, though, it ends in typical Nextwave fashion.

Jog liked Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage #1 (by Howard Chaykin), and Kevin Church compared it to American Flagg!, so I’ll agree with both and postulate further that it shouldn’t have been G’Nort who acts as the P.O.’ed voice of the Green Lantern Corps, but Raul the Cat (or something like him) with a power ring. Can you imagine? It would have made this Flagg! fan very happy, and it would have prevented an otherwise jarring transition from the purely comedic goofball G’Nort was in Justice League International to this pragmatic, jaded canine creature. Ch’p would have worked as well. Guy translates into a typical Chaykin protagonist smoothly, although he’s not quite the socialized Guy found in other DC books, nor does he have all the charm of Reuben Flagg. I do think that Chaykin is well-suited for Guy, and next issue should be good as well.

July 4, 2006

New comics 6/28/06

So … last Wednesday I got home from work with just enough time to change clothes and head out the door with the Best Wife Ever to meet our neighbors for a quick dose of fast food, and then we were off to the 7:15 Superman Returns. I liked it, and I want to see it again, but the best feeling was afterwards, coming out of that movie to a big stack of superhero comics. I have never seen a comic-book movie that made me gladder to be a comic-book fan, and I mean that in the best way possible for both media.

Of course, getting home at 10:30 meant I was up for a couple of hours reading comics, and while that was fun at the time, it put me in a foul mood the next day. It also didn’t help that one of the smoke alarms started its low-battery chirp while I was trying to sleep.

Naturally, first off the stack was Action Comics #840 (written by Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek, drawn by Pete Woods), the conclusion of “Up, Up and Away!” I really liked this issue, and not just from the residual movie high. It was a conclusion that actually felt like a conclusion, wrapping up loose ends like the reconstruction of Metropolis and the “reintegration” of Clark’s life with Superman’s. With this issue, the new/retro status quo is established concretely, while still managing to be self-contained. Take a bow, guys; you did “One Year Later” right.

In a nice bit of timing, Batman #654 (written by James Robinson, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher) also wrapped up its “OYL” storyline, “Face The Face.” This was a bit more scattered, with the misdirection involving Two-Face going off in (yes) two different directions. That’s appropriate enough, I suppose, and I believe this was a play-fair mystery, unlike “Hush,” but there’s a fine line between clever use of obscure villains and pulling something out of one’s hinder. Still, the closing scenes with Bruce, Tim, and Alfred were worth it. Next up, Morrison and Dini!

52 #8 (written by Clubs, Hearts, Spades, and Diamonds, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Rob Stull) was a pretty solid issue. With most of the focus on Steel’s metallification, there was still room for a good Ralph Dibny/Ollie Queen scene, teasing Supernova, and checking in with Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire. Oh, yeah, and “History of the DCU” covered about 1996-2004, for those who came in late. Overall I still like this series, but I don’t know if that has more to do with its immediacy or its underlying quality. Ironically, it’s hard for me to read it in real time, and when a character refers to “weeks ago,” it almost throws me out of the story.

Brave New World #1 (written and drawn by a whole lot of people) didn’t really have much of an effect on me. I still have little interest in any of these series beyond the Atom, and if I didn’t already like Gail Simone, I wouldn’t be too excited about that one.

I liked Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #19 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Barry Kitson) pretty well, although the reveal of the murderer wasn’t entirely unexpected. It did showcase Chameleon’s detective skills effectively, and the image of a murderous Robotman was a surreal homage to “our era.”

Then there’s Hawkgirl #53 (written by Walter Simonson, drawn by Howard Chaykin). Yes, I’m going to talk about the bra, so Mom, if you’re reading, maybe you should skip this one. Seriously, though, I know it’s just Chaykin’s fondness (and talent) for drawing well-built women, but come on! Why not a sports bra, as opposed to the lacy number revealed in the course of this fight? And since she is wearing a bra under the costume, in Louisiana, howcome she’s still all nipply on the outside? (Actually, Mom is fond of criticizing any movie where the heroine finds herself in trouble while in eveningwear, so this would be another strike against Hawkgirl for her.) As for the merits of the issue otherwise, at least I was able to follow it for a few more pages than usual. I really hate to say this, and it doesn’t reflect on my love for Chaykin otherwise, but I’m giving this book a reprieve to see how the new artist works out.

Meanwhile, over with the other company, I bought New Avengers #21 (written by Brian Michael Bendis) solely for Howard Chaykin drawing Captain America. For that, it was good. It didn’t give me any more insight into “Civil War,” but I wasn’t looking. One question, though: on the page with Spider-Man, what’s the big tower with the spider-thing on top? It looks like Aku from “Samurai Jack” has taken over NYC.

Sticking with “Civil War,” Fantastic Four #538 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, drawn by Mike McKone) spends a few pages on Reed and Sue fighting beside Johnny’s hospital bed, a few more with Ben establishing solidarity on Yancey Street, and a few more on getting “DB” to make Thor’s hammer go nuts. So there you go. Six more months of this, at least.

JLA Classified #23 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer) presents part 2 of the Detroit League vs. the Royal Flush Gang. I can’t remember my RFG timeline that well, but I think this storyline might be explaining the different Gangs which attacked the League during the ’80s. The one introduced this issue went on to fight Max Lord’s League early in its history, if my memory’s correct. Anyway, it’s a nice take on the characters, and since this issue spotlights Vibe, it’s good that Englehart’s made his accent a little less stereotypical. I daresay those who have a soft spot for the Detroit League will like this, and those who don’t, won’t.

Picked up Eternals #1 (written by Neil Gaiman, drawn by John Romita, Jr.) based on good word of mouth from last week, and it was a decent introduction, but I’m still on the fence about whether to get #2. However, I am a little more motivated to save up for that big hardcover, so curse you, Marvel! for making me want more expensive Kirby reprints.

Nextwave #6 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) was another romp through fights with samurai robots and ptero-men. Underlying it, though, was the message that the Nextwavers really are pretty dangerous people, and it’s all fun until they decide it’s gone too far. I’m sure there’s some metacommentary hidden in that sentiment, but it’s probably unintentional. This is a comic for folks who like a little wacky with their carnage, and so far it’s all good.

Finally, the penultimate issue of Solo, #11, spotlights Sergio Aragones, and it’s maybe the most fun issue of this gone-too-soon series since Mike Allred’s. Sergio’s style is warm and inviting, and reading it felt like a visit from a friend who loves to tell stories. The only thing that could justify cancelling this series would be knowing for sure it would only get worse from here on out.

August 29, 2005

New comics 8/24/05

Filed under: batman, crisis, fantastic four, howard chaykin, legion, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 12:41 am
Let’s start positively, and enjoy that while it lasts. I do try to be a happy person, after all.

Probably the book I enjoyed the most this week was The OMAC Project #5 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Jesus Saiz, and Cliff Richards and Bob Wiacek). It may be the flagship title for “superheroes aren’t meaningful unless bad things happen to them,” but every month Rucka has amped up the “uh-oh” level. In the immortal words of William Dozier, “the worst is yet to come!” Of course, this is also a nice way of saying that new stuff happens every month in OMAC, as opposed to the other I-Crisis miniseries, which as they come down the stretch seem to be about less than they originally seemed.

Take Day of Vengeance. It started as a big fight between Captain Marvel and the Spectre, mixed with some postmodern interaction among some of DC’s lesser-known magic-users. Four issues later, it’s still about defeating the Spectre, who’s happened to hook up with the wrong woman. (We’ve all been there at some point — am I right, fellas?) Likewise, Rann-Thanagar War will apparently be six issues’ worth of explosions, big troop movements, and DC sci-fi characters; and Villains United looks to be six issues of Secret Sixers evading Secret Socialites. I’ll probably do 5-out-of-6-issue recaps of each of these before too long, so those might change my opinions, but right now, only OMAC looks to have moved its characters past where they started.

For example, there’s the evolution of Sasha Bordeaux, even though that may be slightly silly. There’s also the reunion of Justice League International, despite the tragic death of another JLIer. The cliffhanger is good too, and I hope there’s some kind of resolution even though the OMACs look to be involved in Infinite Crisis.

As for the week’s other I-Crisis miniseries, Day of Vengeance #5 (written by Bill Willingham, drawn by Justiniano and Walden Wong) gets off on the wrong foot, putting superfluous word balloons on a perfectly good Walt Simonson cover. Inside, the first half of the issue is celebration and exposition, and the second half is the plan to (once again) kill the Spectre. Maybe I’m biased, but shouldn’t the whole agent-of-God thing make the Spectre pretty hard to kill? (Unless that’s part of God’s plan, of course — or have I just anticipated the plot of #6?) Anyway, my other complaint about this series is the dialogue. Everyone except Shazam and Captain Marvel has the same kind of detached-ironic tone, and while a constant stream of faux-Elizabethan syntax would get old too, throwing some of that into the mix wouldn’t have hurt. Art’s good, though.

Adventures of Superman #643 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by various people) spends 8 pages recapping “Sacrifice,” perhaps for the benefit of those who didn’t pick up any of the July Superman books, Wonder Woman, or OMAC. Thankfully, the rest is new, showing the OMACs overextending Superman, and Supes’ visits with Batman and Lois. The art is fine (Carlos D’Anda does the “Sacrifice” dream-sequences, Rags Morales and Michael Bair handle a few pages of Supes/Wonder Woman/Max Lord stuff, and Karl Kerschl gets the rest). Rucka also does right by the Superman/Batman conversation, and the last page with Lois. However, it would have gone down a little better if there hadn’t been two other Superman books showing him losing his mind over current events; or if I thought this was the last issue to show him dealing with these things.

Conflict abounds also in Legion of Super-Heroes #9 (written by Mark Waid and Barry Kitson, drawn by Georges Jeanty and Art Thibert, and Kitson), as Terror Firma — was that really the best name for an alternative political movement? — seeks to establish a beachhead on a U.P. planet. I could just be a sap, but I was pleasantly surprised that the Cosmic Boy subplot did not take up at least another issue. Waid & Kitson also did a good job thumbnailing the intra-team squabbles. Of course, while I don’t expect this macro-plot to continue much longer, Waid & Kitson are laying a good foundation for future drama. Artwork was good as well — with Thibert as inker you tend to get Thibert-looking people, but that’s not bad; and Jeanty’s a decent penciller. Kitson draws the welcome return of the letter column.

I must be reading City of Tomorrow (#5, by Howard Chaykin) too quickly, because I’m just not getting anything out of it. Once it concludes I’ll probably do an omnibus essay.

Fantastic Four (#530, written by J. Michael Straczynski, drawn by Mike McKone and Andy Lanning) takes a turn for the cliched. It seems to have ripped off Grant Morrison’s Neh-Buh-Loh for this issue’s alien visitor, and then it puts him through the old Day The Earth Stood Still “trigger-happy soldier gets nervous and shoots” routine. However, it all ends promisingly (not that it ends, but the cliffhanger looks promising), so there’s hope next issue will be better. JMS does seem to be building up to a Spider-Totem situation, though.

I also picked up What Were They Thinking? #1, a Keith Giffen/Mike Lieb remix of a few old Wally Wood war comics. Essentially, Giffen and Lieb put funny words in the old balloons of four stories, with mixed results. I thought the third one was the most consistently funny, and the rest more dependent on frat-boy humor; but I’m not opposed to the concept. Giffen has certainly been funnier, so maybe this was an off issue.

And finally, there’s Batman #644, the conclusion of “War Crimes” (written by Bill Willingham, drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Sandra Hope). SPOILER SPACE for anyone who hasn’t already read angry Internet rants, or anyone who doesn’t want to read another:

5

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3

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1

Most of this book is consumed with mas macho posturing, dialogue that’s not as smart as it thinks, and a plot that is often just ridiculous. There are a couple of good moments, which collectively take up about 3 pages — Batman gives a reasonable reason for not being a “government agent” relative to the evidence laws’ exclusionary rules; and he then makes a local TV reporter’s day by arranging an interview with Superman. However, that’s followed by a conclusion which almost completely assassinates the character of Leslie Thompkins, who started off as a unique figure in Batman’s life and is now a pariah. When he revamped Leslie for the post-Crisis era, Mike W. Barr even made her Bruce’s foster mother!

That may have been swallowed by the avalanche of Bat-events since 1987 — “wouldn’t Bruce having a foster mother blunt the effect of his parents’ deaths?” I can hear various DC creative types asking — but what remains is a character who served as “loyal opposition” to Bruce’s crusade and became a betrayer of the cause. You’re either with Batman or against him, apparently. I’m sorry I don’t remember which fellow blogger suggested that Stephanie Brown was still alive, and this was all a ruse by Leslie, who at her heart could never betray her Hippocratic oath, but I’m with you. This was going to be a short, smart-aleck review that simply referred to “Parallax,” but seriously, if Leslie can be rehabilitated, she should be. Batman #644 served only as a bitter epilogue to the reservoir of wasted potential that was Stephanie’s Robin career.

June 30, 2005

New comics 6/29/05

Lots of books and lots to say about ’em, so settle in.

As it happens, the first two books I read this week were Green Lantern #2 (written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Carlos Pacheco) and JLA Classified #9 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, pencilled by Kevin Maguire, and inked by Joe Rubenstein). I enjoyed both books on their own merits, but on a deeper level I appreciated what they each seemed to be saying between the lines.

To me, these books were the “before and after” of Big DC Controversies. GL represents for some the correction of a tremendous wrong, and for others the concession to a vocal, single-minded minority. Either way, though, it stems out of a Big DC Controversy from over ten years ago. Likewise, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League!” is blissfully ignorant of Blue Beetle’s and Sue Dibny’s deaths and Max Lord’s ruthlessness but because it presents Beetle and Max in much happier times, it can’t help but comment, however obliquely, on their respective fates.

Obviously “ICBINTJL!” is a bittersweet read, in part because it revisits the death of a colleague in a fairly minor Big Event from even farther back. However, it stands on its own, making no attempt to fit itself into the overall DC timeline, and for that I have to give it a lot of credit. The creative team got back together to tell the kinds of stories they liked, and picked and chose only those elements favorable to them. Again, while it has something to say about those characters’ bleak futures, it doesn’t dwell on them. “ICBINTJL!” isn’t defiant in a middle-finger kind of way. Instead, it celebrates the good ol’ days and reminds the reader that they exist in perpetuity.

For its part, Green Lantern tries very hard to evoke the feel of a typical Hal Jordan adventure. It’s a better read than issue #1 was (or much of Rebirth, for that matter), because it too isn’t bogged down in a lot of baggage. There’s a mysterious android heading for an Air Force base, vaporizing people along the way; Hal’s got some issues with his old CO, who (naturally) is running said base; and there’s a decent amount of power-ring action when those elements come together. As with JLA Classified, I liked the fact that Johns seemed to be saying “now that the formalities are over, here’s the regular superhero stuff,” and Pacheco’s art was its usual fine job. (My one quibble was with the last page, where there’s either a fairly obvious artistic omission or Hal’s in a lot of trouble.) This was a well-executed, entertaining issue of what could be a very enjoyable straightforward superhero series. Considering everything that’s happened to Hal Jordan in the past eleven years, for this iteration of Green Lantern to be so normal is an accomplishment in itself.

Johns’ “Rogue War” barrels further toward its conclusion in Flash #223 (art by Howard Porter and Livesay), which focuses mostly on the new Zoom and his twisted psychology behind “making Flash a better hero.” Zoom seems, consciously or not, to be Johns’ commentary on the new grim ‘n’ gritty trend he’s helping to perpetuate, so this latent bit of satire is actually endearing him to me. Beyond that it’s more of a big fight, with an appearance from Kid Flash a pleasant surprise. Johns and Porter pile on the carnage, building to a good cliffhanger. If “Rogue War” ends up defining Johns’ tenure, as I suspect it may, I will definitely give his issues a second look.

My copy of Wonder Woman #217 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Michael Bair and Mark Propst) had a transposed page, but I could still follow the action. Many of Rucka’s Olympian subplots are resolved in this issue, apparently leaving Diana free to deal with Rucka’s superhero soap opera in his other books. It all plays out like you’d expect, but under the circumstances that’s not so bad. However, my other problem with the issue is the coloring. Much of the issue has Diana, Wonder Girl, and Ferdinand the man-bull fighting dark-colored man-beasts in the underworld, so it’s hard to tell where Ferdinand is or what mythological creature is fighting the bright-colored superheroines. Also, how long has Mercury been dead? Was it since “War of the Gods” back in ’91? Anyway, Rucka writes an appealing Mercury, and I didn’t realize I missed him so much.

Batman #641 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen) concludes the Red Hood storyline by finally placing that flash-forward from the December issue in the proper context. Honestly, it was about what I expected, right down to the Hood’s motivations. Bruce’s sentiments on the last page sum it up well for me too, but only because I’m expecting some other twist to reverse the whole thing. I’ve liked the writing and the art from these guys so far, but it looks like I’ll have to wait a couple of months before they pick up this thread again.

Batman Allies Secret Files & Origins 2005 (written and drawn by various people) was a decent enough issue. Each of three stories helped describe the new status quo. Batman revives an alliance with Det. Montoya in the first one; Commissioner Akins gets a light-hearted little tale; and Robin and Batgirl get a lead-in to their next big storyline in the third. The Batman story (written by Russell Lissau, with art by Brad Walker and Jimmy Palmiotti) starts off with the kind of faux-noir narration which is really wearing out its welcome, but once it gets into the conversation with Montoya, things pick up. The Akins story (written by Will Pfeifer, with art by Ron Randall) doesn’t have far to go with its premise, but gets enough out of it. Finally, the Robin/Batgirl story (written by Andersen Gabrych, with art by Tom Derenick and Ray Snyder) is pretty much all setup. However, I have to wonder — with Montoya and Akins so prominent in this special, why no “Who’s Who”-style page on the Gotham Central cops?

I was surprised to see “OMAC created by Jack Kirby” on the credits of The OMAC Project #3 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Jesus Saiz and Cliff Richards, inked by Saiz and Bob Wiacek), because this incarnation seemed only superficially like Kirby’s. Didn’t see much to change that opinion this issue, but it was a crackling good read nonetheless. Rucka uses Batman effectively, showing how dangerous the OMACs are and what Batman’s place in the larger superheroic fraternity really is. This too has a decent cliffhanger, although it leads (rather unfairly, for a miniseries) into July’s Superman books and Wonder Woman. Finally, although it probably doesn’t coexist peaceably with “ICBINTJL!,” Rucka and Saiz’ Guy Gardner and Booster Gold don’t seem incompatible with Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire’s.

Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #3 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Simone Bianchi) started out heavy on the exposition, but ended up turning into a very scary series of “oh no” moments. I’m looking forward to the conclusion in 2 months. The art was quite good, although it was hard to tell at times which of two female characters was speaking; and as with issue #1, the series of dark, strange shapes making up the bad guy army was also hard to tell apart. Other than that, though, very exciting and a good advertisement for #4.

I bought Planetary #23 (written by Warren Ellis, art by John Cassaday) mostly because I don’t like waiting a generation for each paperback, so it’s hard to judge where each issue fits into the overall scheme of things because I don’t keep up with the story in the long periods without any new issues. Anyway, this issue — whose cover apes the Armageddon poster, for some odd reason — featured the origin of the Drummer, but didn’t much advance the macro plot as far as I could tell. When I read everything again in one setting, I’m sure it will make more sense.

City Of Tomorrow! #3 (by Howard Chaykin) was also just kind of there, what with our hero seducing various android women and generally trying to impose a new kind of order on the futuristic community of Columbia. I like Chaykin, but I think it is another “read all at once” situation.

Spider-Man/Human Torch #5 (written by Dan Slott, art by Ty Templeton) wraps up the miniseries with a sweet story set in the present day. Slott turns the tables on Johnny, each character realizes the other’s grass is greener, and it all ends with a “family album” of the Parkers and the Richards’ good times. While I was a little surprised that the series ended with a bit of actual news, in hindsight that elevates it to more than just a collection of vignettes. Not that I don’t like Slott’s GLA, but this makes up for a lot of the carnage over there.

Fantastic Four #528 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, art by Mike McKone and Andy Lanning) continues Reed’s work on the secret government project to re-create the FF’s origin, but introduces a hoary subplot involving a meddling social worker who thinks Franklin and Valeria might be best served in someone else’s care. JMS also seems to be toying with an “intelligent design” idea behind the FF’s origin, and while I didn’t read any of his Spider-Totem stuff over in Amazing Spider-Man, I fear that’s where he may be going here. Still, the social worker situation is worse, because that looks like it will play out very predictably. Besides, I have dealt with social workers on behalf of my clients, and in my experience they don’t just pop in unbidden — someone has to call them out. I would also think that protecting thousands of New York children from hunger and poverty is a lot more important than making sure Franklin and Val Richards — who live with superheroes — don’t have to worry about Dr. Doom and Galactus.

Finally, I have saved the best for the end of this long slog. Solo #5, featuring the work of Darwyn Cooke, was great fun to read and a fine showcase for Cooke’s versatility. Yes, there is a Batman story; yes, there are many references to the New Frontier period; but it hardly feels commercial or like he’s sold out. Cooke manages to infuse everything with his unique style without having that style overwhelm any story. Each story is also distinguished by the use of different colors and inks. The whole thing is framed by a Slam Bradley/King Faraday sequence at the archetypal “bar where everyone goes,” but the stories run the gamut from autobiographical to topical. It’s a beautiful package and the best $4.99 I’ve spent in a while.

May 27, 2005

New comics 5/25/05

Big week this week, so I’ll try to be brief.

(By the way, if you haven’t taken a gander at my trivia question, please do so now. Thanks!)

JLA #114 (written by Kurt Busiek, art by Ron Garney and Dan Green) finishes the Kryyme Syndicate story pretty neatly. My only problem was a quibble with logistics over a bit of deception the JLA pulls. Otherwise, it feels like the last 30 minutes of a well-constructed action movie — few surprises, but that’s because the foundation has already been laid. Next month begins the inevitable Identity Crisis fallout storyline, but I remember last summer when Busiek was announced as the book’s regular writer, and I’d really like that to still happen.

Batman #640 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Paul Lee and Cam Smith) is basically an interlude issue, but not a bad one. The Red Hood banters with Onyx while Batman goes to Metropolis seeking advice from Superman. Winick continues his good work with Batman, and Lee and Smith (not announced as guest artists — hmmm…) provide art which is softer and more flowing than the regular Mahnke/Nguyen team. Lee and Smith do an especially good Superman. I’m still not sure exactly how Batman found out the Hood’s identity, because that flash-forward from 5 months ago still hasn’t been placed in context, but perhaps that will be answered next issue.

DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy #1 (written by Phil Jiminez, with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and George Perez) was a pretty good read. It was eminently predictable, even if you didn’t appreciate the echoes of the original pre-Crisis story (or notice the book’s title, f’r goshsakes), but I thought it stood well on its own. That’s no small achievement, given the continuity wrangles through which Donna has been put. This may all change next issue, once the superheroes get involved, but for now I say well done. Of course, the art was spectacular, as you might expect from these veterans, but that goes without saying.

The OMAC Project #2 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Jesus Saiz) shows OMAC in action, as both the Black King and Batman start to figure out what’s going on from their respective perspectives. Saiz’ art looks a little muddier this issue, and there are too many dark-haired women going around betraying each other. On Rucka’s end, I wasn’t sure about what Batman did in the last few pages of this issue, and we’ll see next month how it affects the plot. I’m also not sure how effective this month’s cliffhanger is. If the bad guy had to face anyone else, I get the feeling it’d be a fairer fight.

I bought Day of Vengeance #2 (written by Bill Willingham, with art by Justiniano, Walden Wong, and Livesay) still not having read #1, and was only a little confused. Basically the Spectre is going around visiting horrific ironic punishments on the smallest transgressors as well as some big-time super-folk, and being seduced by Eclipso to boot — but it looks like Eclipso is being controlled by the Enchantress, who’s a good guy. Maybe the Enchantress is just secretly monitoring Eclipso’s thoughts. I don’t know. There’s also another magic-using woman with a mask with whom I am unfamiliar, and much as I hate unnecessary exposition, it would have been nice for somebody to call her by name at least once. At least I recognized the guy in blue chain mail from an old Who’s Who, although nobody calls him by a codename either. Anyway, the art is fairly decent, despite some weird anatomical things here and there, and the script is entertaining. Just remind us folks who came in late what’s going on, and we’ll be happy.

Flash #222 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay) continues the big fight involving the two Rogue groups and the Flash. It’s actually a lot like last issue — fight fight fight, then a last-page surprise appearance by a forgotten Rogue. Last issue the Top arrived in the middle of the action, and this issue he’s undoing the mental blocks that turned the old-time Rogues good. Not much to say about the script, except it’s the same kind of terse tough-guy dialogue which has characterized Johns’ Rogue work. There are a couple of good moments between Flash and his former friend Pied Piper, although Flash does something questionable with Piper that may come back to hurt him later. The highlight of this issue was Porter’s art. It reminded me of his JLA work, having to handle a dozen characters all running around beating each other up. However, he goes with more conventional panel layouts, occasionally having characters break the panel boundaries; and he choreographs the fights well. Porter is staying for a bit after Johns leaves, and I’m happy about that.

Green Lantern #1 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino and a bit by Ethan van Sciver) was not what I expected. I had neutral expectations for the title after Rebirth, and this issue was neither as bombastic as the worst of Rebirth nor as clever as its best. Instead, it centered around Hal Jordan returning to familiar environs and trying to re-establish himself, and for that I’ll give Johns a lot of credit. Although a lot is familiar, none of it seems pat or settled. Pacheco and Merino’s art is fantastic — Hal looks appropriately old, and even has his original Gil Kane receding hairline from 1959. I still get an unsettling “this guy’s supposed to be dead” vibe from Hal, even though I always wanted him to come back. I hope Johns deals with the used-to-be-dead issues soon, but for now the new GL is pretty good.

I guessed the mystery villain of Adventures of Superman #640 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Karl Kerschl) a couple of pages before Superman did, but I’m not sure if Rucka wanted me to be ahead of the hero. This was still a good issue, and it makes me want to re-read the rest of Rucka’s run. Kerschl’s art may have made the difference here, since it’s very similar to Drew Johnson’s over on Rucka’s Wonder Woman. Having Lois narrate the issue, and featuring Superman on TV as a “newsmaker,” were also good touches which drew me more into the story (and reminded me further of WW).

Legion of Super-Heroes #6 (written by Mark Waid, with art by Barry Kitson and Art Thibert and a backup story drawn by Scott Iwahashi) follows up on the group of supervillains encountered last issue, and otherwise features day-in-the-life vignettes with small groups of Legionnaires. That doesn’t stop it from having a devastating ending — in fact, the vignettes probably lulled me into a false sense of security. There’s also an honest-to-goodness letters page, done Doonesbury style with Cosmic Boy and Chameleon reading fan mail, which was very funny and much appreciated.

Captain America #6 (written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Steve Epting) concludes “Out of Time,” the first story arc; but it sets up “The Winter Soldier,” beginning next month. Basically, Cap races to save Philadelphia while trying to exorcise his fake (?) memories of the day Bucky was killed. There were a couple of surprises along the way, and speaking of letters pages Marvel needs to watch where it puts theirs, because this one’s came in the middle of the big finish and I thought the book was over. In any event, this team has certainly done well with Cap, and I’m glad I’m getting this title again.

Incredible Hulk #81 (written by Peter David, with art by Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer Jr.) also concludes “Tempest Fugit” in an unexpected way, but I’m not sure what to make of it. Basically, the ending allows for any number of crazy scenarios, such that we’re not sure what to believe; and for this type of story that’s a dangerous line to walk. Not that it wasn’t entertaining and even scary in parts, mind you; and David and Weeks did a good job creating and sustaining the appropriate mood. I’m interested to see what they do with a more conventional adventure.

Having gotten severely tired of Supreme Power, I approached Fantastic Four #527 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, with art by Mike McKone) with much trepidation, and was pleasantly surprised. This was quite good, with JMS continuing Mark Waid’s strong characterizations and enthusiastic (sometimes wacky) humor. The plot and subplots were simple but effective, and the art was McKone’s usual fine work. I still think Supreme Power was boring and pretentious, but this was everything that was not.

Finally, City of Tomorrow #2 (by Howard Chaykin) improved on its first issue, mainly by focusing clearly on our hero, the son of the man who built the eponymous city. More than anything this reminded me of Chaykin’s TimeSquared (I know that’s not how it’s spelled, but I can’t do superscripts), which also featured a futuristic city with a robotic underclass. The hero’s interactions with the robotic cops also reminded me of Reuben and Luther from American Flagg!, and the government strike team seemed lifted from last year’s Challengers of the Unknown. None of these are bad things, but it does seem like Chaykin’s been playing with different elements, trying to find a good mix. With this title he may have succeeded.

May 20, 2005

New comics 5/18/05

Superman #217 marks the beginning of new writer Mark Verheiden and artist Ed Benes by picking up where “For Tomorrow” left off. Superman has vanished into the Amazon jungle to tend his new Fortress of Solitude (and, one presumes, to make it eco-friendly, although I have a concern about that judging from the top of page 2). Lois and Jimmy Olsen follow him, but are ambushed by drug runners. Superman saves the reporters, who learn he’s befriended a local village, and we go from there. This was a decent issue, mixing traditional Superman elements with more up-to-date sensibilities. However, some scenes were over-the-top even for a Superman book — the physics of his first appearance, for example — and the art was serviceable but nothing special. It was good to see Verheiden picking up some of the threads Azzarello left behind, though.

Seven Soldiers: Guardian #2 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by Cameron Stewart) concludes the Subway Pirates story in unremarkable fashion. Guardian comes to grips with his heroic responsibilities, and the idea of modern-day folk adopting arr! matey! pirate styles in forgotten subway tunnels has a certain charm. Stewart’s art is also quite good, with his figures Kirbyesque in a few places. I say “unremarkable” because beneath all the quirks, this is a fairly standard story.

Batman: Gotham Knights #65 (written by A.J. Lieberman, with art by Al Barrionuevo and Bit) did surprise me at the end, but getting there was dicey. I should want to like Lieberman’s approach to Batman, since he seems to be approaching Gotham as a place populated by weird figures who all know each other — kind of like the old Flash’s Central City or Englehart’s Gotham. However, this Poison Ivy story feels about two issues too long, and its characters don’t quite act right. There’s Bruce Wayne, dropping cryptic hints about his secret identity to Ivy; there’s Ivy herself, struggling with her humanity; and there’s Hush, who’s never been compelling. The art also seems rather static. GK is the Forrest Gump of Batman titles — its IQ isn’t quite high enough to rank with its peers, but somehow it keeps getting by. This arc wasn’t so bad, comparatively; and like I say the ending was a surprise.

JLA Classified #7 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, with art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubenstein) brings us Part 4 of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League,” which also benefited from a good ending. Guy and Power Girl fight their way through Hell to get to Beetle, Booster, Mary Marvel, and Fire. Once everybody’s rescued (thanks to Guy, who really shines here), they discover one of Hell’s shocking secrets. This was a good issue, showing the more serious side of these characters without really letting up on the witty banter. I still want to know how Guy got his yellow ring back, though.

That’s not explained in Green Lantern Secret Files & Origins 2005, written and drawn by a passel of people. GLSF&O2K5 does contain two short stories, both written by Geoff Johns, which bookend (in reverse order) GL Rebirth. The first, drawn by Darwyn Cooke, is a fluffy feel-good piece highlighting the bond between reckless, show-offy pilots and their passengers. The second, by the Rebirth art team of Ethan van Sciver and Prentiss Rollins, is a prelude to Rebirth which will probably be collected into that paperback. I will say that the Johns/Cooke story gives me more hope for the series than Rebirth #6 did, but neither story is really essential, and the rest of the book is “Who’s Who”-style profile pages. However, those are nice, including Howard Chaykin returning to Guy Gardner, Simone Bianchi on Sinestro, and Dave Gibbons returning to Mongul.

Batman: Dark Detective #2 (written by Steve Englehart, drawn by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin) finds Bruce and Silver adjusting to their newfound Jerry/Elaine status, with Bruce escorting Silver into the Batcave, with a couple of unexpected consequences. Meanwhile, Two-Face threatens the Joker, the Joker makes good on a threat himself, and Commissioner Akins makes a rare appearance. Except for the Akins bit, which almost seemed out of character but for Akins’ lack of characterization thus far, I thought this was a good second issue. It built on the themes of #1 and expanded the series’ scope. The creators also seemed a little less self-conscious about their own “iconic” status this time, which was good.

Although I think Howard Chaykin’s City of Tomorrow #1 came out a couple of weeks ago, I just now picked up a copy. At first I was confused, because the story flashes back and forth and the main character isn’t made clear until the end. I don’t mind reading Chaykin multiple times, since his storytelling is so dense (in a good way), but this was the first time I really felt lost. The story itself is a near-future tale involving terrorism, government paranoia, and the eponymous city gone bad. Not sure if I’ll be getting #2 or waiting for the trade. I have the feeling it will read better all in one sitting.

I was also a little confused with Star Wars Empire #31(written by Scott Allie, with art by Joe Corroney). It looks like a standalone tale featuring Darth Vader (appropriately enough), but there seem to be a couple of references to the Luke/Leia adventure it interrupts. Otherwise, it’s a tale of political intrigue on a reptilian planet, with everyone trying to stay on Vader’s good side. Emblematic of the issue is a state dinner where Vader (of course) doesn’t eat, so tensions run high from the beginning. Not a bad issue, but I wonder if it will loop back into the other arc.

Finally, I bought Spider-Man/Human Torch #4 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Ty Templeton, and inked by Tom Palmer Jr. and Drew Geraci). This particular flashback takes place during the black-costume eras of both Spidey and the Torch, with Johnny sporting a Guy Gardner hairdo I think John Byrne foisted on him (to go with the femullet he visited unto Sue, so Johnny actually got off easy). This was a decent enough issue, but not as funny as the previous three. Spidey and the Black Cat have a fight, so she enlists the Torch to help her break into a museum. The best parts come when Johnny gets jealous of both Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s attraction to the Black Cat. Slott does have a way with these characters, the art is good, and the story has a nice twist — just not as much buffoonery as in the previous installments, I guess.

August 20, 2004

I used to be cool … right?

Filed under: american flagg, howard chaykin — Tom Bondurant @ 12:45 pm
Last night I pulled Hard Times, the first American Flagg! collection, off the shelf and started reading. I wanted to refresh my memories because I’d been thinking about a Flagg! essay.

Instead I found myself remembering, as invariably I will, the circumstances of finding and reading the original issues lo, those many years ago. Discovering Flagg! was like watching Stripes or Caddyshack for the first time — not necessarily a portal into the “adult, mature” world, but just something unquestionably cool. I’d never read anything like Flagg! before, and probably never since. I devoured every issue I could find, showed them to friends, took them to band camp (don’t snicker, you’d have done it too), and read them over and over. I read more independent comics then — Nexus, Cerebus, The Maze Agency, the occasional Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (in glorious black & white, before they sold out), and every so often a Love & Rockets collection — but thinking about those halcyon high-school days made me realize the steady diet of superheroes I’m on now.

What brought me to such a state? It would be easy to place blame with my current comics shop, because the one I went to in high school (long since gone) was more indie-friendly. The comics magazine I used to read, Amazing Heroes, is also gone, replaced in large part by the more superhero-friendly Wizard. Still, with the Internet (and especially the blogosphere), I can get plugged into the indie scene pretty easily.

No, at heart I’ve always read superheroes and I probably always will. Last night I realized it was Howard Chaykin’s Shadow, done for DC, which led me to Flagg!; and likewise most of the other books I mentioned have some superhero connection. (Cerebus and TMNT both featured superhero parodies; Nexus was pretty much a superhero book; and Maze Agency was written by longtime Bat-writer Mike W. Barr. Love & Rockets I read out of curiosity.)

So have I ever been cool? Who knows? (Who cares?) All I can say is that American Flagg! makes me feel very cool indeed.

August 11, 2004

New comics 8/11/04

Once again, all the DC team books seem to have come out this week.

Identity Crisis #3: Written by Brad Meltzer with art by Rags Morales and Michael Bair. First off, I have to say I was genuinely shocked and surprised by the cliffhanger which ends this issue. Most of the book concerns the fight between Deathstroke and the Justice League, which I think leaves the Leaguers a little more shaken than they’d have liked. The flashback du jour concerns another JLA story from my childhood, but Meltzer shows us how the League dealt with the consequences. There is a blatant mistake in Dr. Light’s memory which probably has consequences of its own, and Superman might have learned a critical piece of information. It’s all very well put together, and again, it leaves me curious about the outcome.

Challengers of the Unknown #3: As does this book, written and drawn by Howard Chaykin. This time we get more insight into the past lives of the Challengers as the various sides’ viewpoints become clearer. Chaykin’s narration and dialogue seem less arch, and his art is as sharp as ever. I probably could have waited for the paperback for this, but I’m kind of glad I didn’t.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #182: “War Games” Part 1.2, written by A.J. Lieberman with art by Brad Walker and Troy Nixey. More damage control with Batman, Batgirl, Catwoman, Orpheus, Oracle, and Onyx. It’s all a lot of running around, trying to keep gangsters safe from themselves. There is a subplot with a hijacked ship and the Penguin that will probably become more important next week. This issue may mean more later, but for now it feels like housekeeping. The art is good enough, although Batgirl looks like she’s made out of crude oil.

Nightwing #96: “War Games” Part 1.3, written by Devin Grayson with art by Mike Lilly and Andy Owens. Nightwing returns to Gotham apparently on the heels of an immense personal failing in Bludhaven. (I don’t read Nightwing regularly.) This gives the issue a distinctive voice and doesn’t just drive the plot forward. Dick doesn’t want to disappoint Batman, but at the same time he knows Batman will find out soon enough. Nightwing also brings the female vigilante Tarantula with him. I gather from the issue that she encouraged him to do the acts of which he is ashamed, and also that she is some sort of romantic threat to the Nightwing/Oracle relationship. Devin Grayson does a good job with Nightwing and Batman’s relationship. It really is the “home is where they have to take you in” situation, with both parties focused on getting the job done. There’s an interlude with Tim Drake and his dad and a reference to “Otisburg.” I was not aware that Gotham City neighborhoods were named after former Luthor associates, but I take it from this reference that Ms. Teschmacher also has a borough…? An all-around good crossover issue.

Legion #37: Written by Gail Simone, with art by Dan Jurgens and Andy Smith. The penultimate issue of the series gives us a look at the Legionnaires off in space, fighting an insectoid race which evolves on a daily basis. Back on Earth, Devil and her criminal cohorts continue their war against technology. The Legion Subs are used to good effect, especially Infectious Lass. Karate Kid also gets a spotlight. One overdramatic moment involves Trudy the reporter, but other than that it’s a solid issue. Hard to believe it all gets wrapped up in two weeks.

JLA #103: Written by Chuck Austen, with art by Ron Garney. Green Lantern decides to patrol constantly after failing to stop a slasher. (At least she didn’t die in a fire.) Of course, it does more harm than good, and Superman shows up to console him. Superman also revisits his own problems from two issues ago. I actually thought this issue was more suited to John Stewart, who’s been through tragedies both domestic (his wife was brutally murdered by Star Sapphire) and cosmic (he failed to stop the destruction of a planet). On one hand he could have been reliving them, but on the other you’d think he might have learned from them. Anyway, as with the other two issues, I’m still wondering about the point. I’m almost hoping there is some mystery villain tying it all together, as hokey as that sounds.

JSA #64: Written by Geoff Johns, with art by Jerry Ordway and Mark McKenna. The end of the Sandman storyline is pretty much by the numbers. The two JSA teams fight underground and in the Dream Stream to bring Sand back. Many references are made to the Gaiman/Sandman stories which included these characters, but there are no footnotes; I guess because DC doesn’t want to confuse the mainstream readers with Vertigo stories. Ordway’s art is always excellent, and here he infuses Sand/Sandman with appropriately Kirbyesque lines. It all goes about as you’d expect. It was nice to see Dr. Fate and Fury beat down Brute and Glob, though.

Teen Titans #14: Written by Geoff Johns, with art by Tom Grummett and Lary Stucker. The “Beast Boy virus” story continues, with most of the Titans corralling green animals while Cyborg and Beast Boy figure out how to reverse the infections. On the other coast, Superboy visits Tim Drake. The Superboy/Tim scenes sound like a conversation between two friends who are moving apart, and thus ring true. The rest of the book is a lot of flying (Raven can fly now?) and chasing and lifting and catching. It’s all nicely drawn. We’ll see how it ends up next issue.

DC Comics Presents The Flash: The cover is probably the best thing about the issue. It’s a photorealistic Alex Ross interpretation of the Flash urging the reader to read the issue — “my life depends on it!” The cover works (better than the original, perhaps) because it looks like the “real” Flash is trying to stop you. Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness provide the first tale, about Flash trying to find a clue that will jail Barry Allen’s would-be assassin. It’s cute, and McGuinness draws a good Flash. The second story is by Dennis O’Neil and Doug Mahnke, and concerns a more literal interpretation of the cover. Like other tributes, it puts Julie Schwartz in the action, but in a convoluted, loopholeish way. What should come off as madcap and (naturally) fast-paced is flat in O’Neil and Mahnke’s hands. So far, that Mystery in Space issue is coming off as the best of these tributes.

Action Comics #818: (Written by Chuck Austen, with art by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos.) Speaking of covers, it looks like Weapons Master is making Superman fly through a hoop on this one. Not Art Adams’ best work. Inside, Weapons Master — the same jerk updated by Dan Jurgens 12 years ago in Justice League America — enjoys shooting at Superman while the Man of Steel’s invulnerability slowly returns. Supes just gets madder and madder (at one point calling WM a “whiny little baby”), until finally he threatens the assembled super-crooks with the full force of his powers. The end of the issue promises some character moments next time, and we’ll see how Austen handles that. (Of course, next issue also brings the husband-and-wife villainy of Sodom & Gomorrah, but still.) I’m not sure what to think about the “whiny little baby” line, although it was funny on first reading.

And finally:

Gotham Central #22: Written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudino. The conclusion of “Unresolved” is engaging and a little surprising, but like the series as a whole, it shows us what life might be like in caped-and-cowled Gotham City. It’s a little hard to believe, although it makes a decent amount of sense. Harvey Bullock reaches what may be his final fate in this issue, which was odd for me because I’ve been reading the Detectives and Batmans from 20-plus years ago which introduced him. Bullock’s been an irritant, a buffoon, and a hero at various points during that time, but GC presented him as a real person when it could have made him a relic. For that it deserves a lot of credit.

July 15, 2004

New Comics for July 14, Part 1

Big week this week, including several good issues. Since I’m turning out to be long-winded, I’m breaking these up into two posts.

Identity Crisis #2: Written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Rags Morales and Michael Bair. Two basic storylines this issue –- a flashback to the “Satellite Era” of the Justice League (judging from Zatanna’s costume and the dialogue about Iris Allen’s death, around 1979-80) and checking in with the B-list villains in the old Injustice Gang satellite. The murder mystery is still intriguing, although there are some rather unsavory images surrounding the hideous events of the flashback. (In this respect IC is closer in spirit to the old Squadron Supreme maxiseries than the current Supreme Power is.) I have to say that the hype is fairly accurate –- this was a shocking episode for the old League, and their reaction will probably color my perception of them and Dr. Light for a while to come. Anyway, while the Leaguers square off against Light in the present, Dr. Mid-Nite’s autopsy reveals a surprise about the murder. It’s nothing earth-shattering, and like I said the story is still pretty involving. One word about the art, not that it’s not good: Morales and Bair make Light look suitably creepy, and Hawkman (thanks mostly to the mask) looks menacing, driven, and in charge. Since they represent opposite sides in this story, their depictions are good shorthand for the villain’s mania and the heroes’ determination.

The Legion #35: Gail Simone, Dan Jurgens, and Andy Smith come aboard to wrap up this Legion series. (Mark Waid and Barry Kitson take over in the fall.) Obviously the first thing one notices is the fetishistic cover, with Dreamer and her prominent breasts held prisoner by our new villain. (It looks like Adam Hughes art, but I can’t find a credit.) Actually, while the exact image isn’t in the story itself, Dreamer’s captivity is an important part of the plot, so I can’t entirely fault DC. They sure are– I mean, the cover sure is eye-catching….

Ahem. The story itself is quite good, featuring an attack by mysterious villains reminiscent of familiar modern-day DC heroes. They plan to assassinate the United Planets’ President, but that’s only the beginning. I am of two minds about making allusions to modern DC characters — on one hand, it might indicate the series couldn’t stand on its own; but on the other, it takes advantage of “DC history.” Coming off a storyline which brought evil versions of those heroes into the future to fight the Legion, it seems redundant, but then again, these aren’t quite the same characters.

Simone gives the Legion a more accessible sense of humor (i.e., not as many in-jokes) and places them in a 31st Century Metropolis which feels more “real” than previous incarnations. (The opening pages show readers a floating prison which gives new meaning to the phrase “Not In My Backyard.”) Jurgens’ pencils are less stiff here than usual, perhaps because he’s only credited with breakdowns. Andy Smith’s finishes soften Jurgens’ lines and Sno-Cone’s colors give the figures depth and dimension. The color palette is particularly rich here, spread among the cool hues of the city, the harsh tones of the villain’s hideout, the darkness of the prison, and the vibrancy of the Legion uniforms. Legion is biweekly too for the duration of the story, so get this issue now and come back in two weeks!

Teen Titans #13: This is Part 1 of a story featuring Beast Boy’s powers “infecting” schoolchildren. Writer Geoff Johns also takes the opportunity to catch up with the Titans in general through a window-shopping interlude and a visit to the doctor. Penciller Tom Grummett has handled most of these characters before in his career –- the older Titans in the classic New Titans series, and Robin and Superboy in their respective solo series — so it’s nice to see him back. One panel of the Titans strolling downtown shows their relative heights (Cyborg and Starfire are tallest, Beast Boy is about a head shorter, and Raven, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl are shorter still) and helps illustrate the characters’ age differences and the fact that the younger members are truly adolescent.

As the cover promises, Superboy confronts the new Robin, Stephanie Brown, and is none too happy to hear about Tim Drake’s absence. Again, Grummett drew both of these characters for many years in the Robin and Superboy books, so here he makes them both move with ease and fluidity. His take on Stephanie is a nice compromise between the stylization of Damion Scott and the more “realistic” approach of Pete Woods, and I hope Stephanie shows up in these pages again.

JSA #63: Apparently this is Old Home Week for artists. Penciller Jerry Ordway returns to the characters which helped make him famous in the 1980s (in All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc.). His clean, dynamic work, here inked by Wayne Faucher, is always welcome. Geoff Johns writes this book too, and unlike Titans, it is fairly continuity-heavy and seeks to pull together a few subplots imbedded throughout the book’s history. Let’s put it this way –- the Justice Society is “visited” by Sand, its former chairman, who was somehow lost in the bowels of the earth. At the same time, Hector Hall, the current Dr. Fate, seeks to rein in Nabu, the Lord of Order who lives in his magic amulet. It starts to get tangled when you realize that Hector was also a hero called Sandman, who had nothing to do with geology but lived in a dream realm. Thus, the JSA launches a two-pronged search for Sand, one underground and the other into the dream state. I have a feeling it also involves plot threads from DC’s revered horror/fantasy series Sandman, which only briefly touched on superheroics. Johns isn’t as slick in dealing with continuity here as he is in Teen Titans, but these are potentially confusing issues and he juggles them pretty well.

One thing about Ethan von Sciver’s cover -– apparently the Flash has a mouth that Jessica Simpson would envy….

JLA #101: Yet another Part 1, and a biweekly story too, as writer Chuck Austen and penciller Ron Garney begin a 6-issue arc called “The Pain of the Gods.” This installment features Superman second-guessing himself when he encounters a newly-minted superhero (whose name we never learn, by the way). In one way the story is one big plot hole, because one could argue that Superman should have been fast enough to handle all of the problems involved; but since Superman knows he could have done better, arguably that fixes the hole. It boils down to Superman being deliberately thick, so I guess your reaction to the story will depend on how thick you think Supes should be. Garney’s art is rough but expressive, and he does a good job both with the action of the story’s first part and the conversations of the second.

Challengers of the Unknown #2: Howard Chaykin’s all-new take on the venerable “living on borrowed time” team picks up after the disaster which brings the group together. No one should have survived the explosion in Long Beach harbor, but five people did, and for some reason they’re all wearing identical jumpsuits and rings and sporting identical head wounds. There’s a lot of indirect exposition from everyone, a brief fight, and a decent amount of scantily clad women — so if I wanted to be cute, I’d say it was a typical Chaykin outing. Chaykin approaches his villains with relish, drowning them in satirical dialogue that would make even their models at Fox News blush, but the purple prose of his narrative captions doesn’t work as well. On the whole, it’s not his best work (wait for the reprinting of his seminal American Flagg! for that) but so far it’s not his worst. It’s about on par with Midnight Men, a 4-issue series from about 10 years ago that seemed like a pale imitation of his Shadow reinterpretation. We’ll see.

Next up: Action, Batman, and the Schwartz is with us….

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