Comics Ate My Brain

June 25, 2006

New comics 6/14/06 and 6/21/06

We begin by picking up a spare from June 7. Fittingly enough, I got Nextwave #5 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) a week late, on my mom’s birthday, June 14. I say “fittingly” because it featured teddy bears, which were the subject of a running joke between Mom and me. When I lived at home during law school, I watched TV with my parents, including “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Inevitably, Mom would see something or someone on the episode she didn’t know anything about, and would ask me what was going to happen. Since these were first-run episodes, most times I didn’t know what was going to happen, so all my answers ended up being about the planet of fuzzy teddy bears, and all the picnics and tea parties the crew would have. This satisfied my mother, who I might have mentioned has a master’s in English and is really quite sharp. Anyway, when an episode put our heroes in a tight spot, Mom would look at me rather accusingly and wonder aloud when the teddy bears were coming. (This often happened around season-finale time.)

So last week I sent her some killer-teddy-bear scans from Nextwave #5. Happy birthday, Mom!

Captain Atom: Armageddon #9 (written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by Giuseppi Camuncoli) wrapped up the miniseries that turned out to be a big tour through the WildStorm universe, just in time to blow it all up and start over. Whoopee. Now that it’s over, maybe DC can use Cap’s rather twisted history with the U.S. military to some good effect. It’s a rich backstory which makes the character a little more than just a generic superhero, but you’d never know it from how he’s been treated pretty much since his series ended.

American Virgin #4 (written by Steven T. Seagle, drawn by Becky Cloonan) concluded the book’s first arc, but it really didn’t leave much of an impression on me, and I’m leaning towards dropping the book.

The same goes for Green Lantern Corps #1 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason). I like Guy Gardner and I have always liked the Corps, but this book just isn’t doing a lot for me. I may give it a couple more issues.

It wasn’t earth-shatteringly good, but I didn’t dislike JLA Classified #22 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer), which began a new arc featuring JL Detroit. Much of it recapped Steel’s origin, and a few other pages recapped the origin of the Royal Flush Gang. The rest, natcherly, was the fight between the two groups, and it wasn’t David Mamet, but it wasn’t bad either. Also, it reached a stopping point at the end of the issue, which was nice. Derenick’s pencils were better than in his last JLA arc, although again nothing groundbreaking.

Firestorm #26 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne) was also a fairly intriguing issue centered around a super-hero fight, as Firestorm and Firehawk take on a new villain who’s torturing Martin Stein. It all has to do with the nature of Firestorm, apparently, and the strange bond Jason and Lorraine have forged since “One Year Later.” Fun stuff.

You know by now that 52 #6 (written by Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Ruy Jose) introduced the Great Ten and Rip Hunter’s “Lost” Blackboard, and you’ve probably already formed your opinions on both, so I’ll just say it was fascinating to see how the book could pay so much attention to its four mainstays’ plots while still herding them all towards some inexorable common destiny. Also, it managed to put the Green Lanterns, who are so far the highest-profile heroes who could appear in the book (with the Big Three, Aquaman, and the Flash off the table), on the same level as those supposed C-list mainstays. The GLs don’t feel like guest-stars, but neither do they take over the book. Entirely appropriate for a book that purports to be a window on the world.

Superman #653 (written by Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns, drawn by Pete Woods) was the big throw-down between Superman and Luthor (in the hijacked Kryptonian battle-mech), and it didn’t disappoint. Of course, given the nature of this storyline, the cliffhanger ending the issue wasn’t very suspenseful, just funny. Jimmy Olsen gets a good scene, Supes and Luthor both have some good “But I am also left-handed!” moments, and from the previews I read on Newsarama earlier this week, the conclusion should be just as good.

Of course, Jimmy — or, I should say, his Cojo-influenced All-Star interpretation — is the focus of this week’s All-Star Superman #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely), which combines the goofy sitcommery of bumbling through being Superman’s Pal with a couple of shots at “big event” comics past and present. As Mark Fossen points out, Jimmy gets to be All-Star Vicki Vale, and later on turns into Doomsday. This never fails to be an entertaining series.

I think I’m done with Robin after #151 (written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II), not because it’s poorly executed, or because the latest developments have repulsed me, but it just hasn’t drawn me in.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, drawn by Ken Lashley), which did a lot to turn me off. First is its apparent baton-passing to Bart Allen, which I think is unnecessary. Second, it both devotes a lot of space to bringing everyone up to speed on Flash history, but then plops Bart into an entirely new situation, kind of like dropping Captain Atom into the WildStorm dimension. The exposition slows the book, and the new stuff seems barely sketched in. Bart now has a repellent “duuude!” roommate and works at the Keystone auto factory, because he’s aged completely out of his teenage years. Never mind that, as originally conceived, he was a developing brain in an outsize body. Combined with the maturity Geoff Johns thrust upon him (this makes twice), he’s just your average 20-year-old now, which makes him a lot less interesting. I’m waiting to see who ends up with the Infantino suit, but if it’s still Bart in this form, I’ll wait until the next creative team.

Lashley also pencils 52 #7 (written by Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny, inked by Draxhall), featuring Ralph Dibny played by Josh Holloway and sporting some ill-advised facial hair. His pencils look a lot better here than they do in the Flash book, which may have something to do with Keith Giffen’s layouts. Anyway, Booster gets his from Manthrax and Ralph, and Montoya meets DC’s most famous lesbian. The Booster/Ralph stuff is pretty good, and the Montoya/Kate Kane scenes aren’t bad, except for one panel which seems like it could be either wishful thinking or a flashback, but is presented as reality. It’s all better than the History of the DCU backup, though, which does nothing to make Zero Hour comprehensible, and in its few pages even makes it less so. I think its facts are wrong too, although that could just be more retconning.

I probably read Checkmate #3 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Bob Wiacek) too quickly. Either that or it’s hard to summarize all the politics and maneuvering in a few sentences. It’s still a good read, and I should get more out of it the second time around.

Superman/Batman #27 (written by Mark Verheiden, drawn by Kevin Maguire) was decent enough until the end, which tries to shoehorn it into modern DC continuity. It’s really about the Earth-2 Power Girl and Huntress trying to save their “dads” from old foes, and on that level it’s enjoyable enough. In fact, Maguire gives Huntress more cleavage exposure than Power Girl, which may be a first. However, the big dramatic reveal turns on a bit of Earth-2 continuity I had forgotten, and which isn’t quite set up as well as it could have been. It doesn’t amount to anything very substantial, I guess, but it’s competently done.

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6 (by Joe Kubert) concluded the miniseries rather quietly, if such a thing is possible after an issue full of urban Nazi-fighting. I’ll have to read this all in one sitting, although it may play better as a series of episodes than as one story. If it has tested the waters for a Rock ongoing, I’d be on board for that.

Star Wars: Rebellion #3 (written by Rob Williams, drawn by Michael Lacombe) continues the dual double-agent plotlines carried over from the old Empire series. At least I think it does; the plots are kind of confusing after a while, and anybody who doesn’t look like Mark Hamill or Katee Sackhoff is hard to pick out of a crowd. The art on this series is a little uglier than it was on SW:E, and that doesn’t do the book any favors. I’m getting this because it offers classic Skywalker action, so that should buy it a few more issues at least.

Much of Captain America #19 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) continued the waterfront fight from last issue, doing so in fine fashion. The rest was spy-type intrigue, with Sharon Carter showing up in London to take over operations. Art was a little confusing this issue, with Sharon looking like Spitfire and Cap looking like Master Man, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out in context. Overall it was a good second act, and this London storyline has a lot of potential.

Finally, I got the Giant-Size Hulk special, although it was for the two Peter David-written stories and not for the “Planet Hulk” tie-in. Accordingly, I was happy — David’s excellent Hulk: The End extra-long special (art by Dale Keown) was reprinted here, and he also contributed a light and fluffy Champions vs. Hulk tale (pencilled by Juan Santacruz, inked by Raul Fernandez). The latter was clearly to prime Marvelites for a new Champions series, but I don’t particularly care about that — I was just glad to see a staple of ’70s Marvel revisited and given the respect it probably deserves. The middle story (written by Greg Pak, drawn by Aaron Lopresti and Danny Miki) was a good complement to The End, although I suspect it meant more to those who’ve been following the Hulk more recently; and it probably didn’t advance “Planet Hulk” much. Still, this is over 70 pages of story for $4.99 US, and thus a bargain.

January 12, 2006

The Sucker and the Suck

Filed under: fantastic four, howard the duck, hulk, meta, she-hulk, spider-man — Tom Bondurant @ 3:48 am
I am a sucker for ’70s Marvel. Lately I am tempted by the Essential Nova solicitation. (Naturally, while I was noodling around with this post, Jim Roeg professed his love for ’70s Marvel and the Onion AV Club posted its list of Essential Essentials. That’s me, always a half-step behind the zeitgeist.)

Sometimes the temptation pays off, as with Essential Howard the Duck and most of Essential Tomb of Dracula, but sometimes it just yields cultural relics like Essential Super-Villain Team-Up and Essential Spider-Woman. (Spider-Woman wasn’t exactly headlight comics; but if there had been a WB Network in the mid-’70s, “Spider-Woman” would have been on it, complete with Mike Post soundtrack.)

Still, why the ’70s? In those grade-school days, I did read a decent amount of Marvel, probably even approaching my DC intake. Most of it was Avengers, Iron Man, and Spider-Man (both monthlies and Marvel Team-Up), with the odd issues of What If?, Fantastic Four, Howard the Duck, Godzilla, and (yes) Spider-Woman.

Since the late ’80s, though, my Marvel intake has been creator-driven. I got the Michelinie/McFarlane Amazing Spider-Man, the Peter David Incredible Hulk (probably kicked off by David and Perez’ Future Imperfect miniseries), the Waid/Garney Captain America, the Busiek/Perez Avengers, and the Busiek/Chen Iron Man. Now I get the Brubaker/Epting/Lark Captain America. As for the other current Marvel buys, all the great word of mouth on She-Hulk convinced me to pick it up, because I had no particular affection for the character and didn’t know much more about Dan Slott. Fantastic Four is the only Marvel book I read solely for the characters, although Walt Simonson first got me to buy it regularly.

The thing about Marvel, of course, is that its superhero line aims for consistency, as if all the books were charting the same fictional history. It’s therefore easy to justify a love of ’60s Marvel, when the stories were relatively simple but the foundations were still being laid. Accordingly, it’s harder to love Marvel the farther away it gets from those foundations.

While I’m sure someone has tried, I don’t know where the line is which separates the foundations of Marvel from the structures resting upon them. I do think the ’70s represent the beginnings of those structures. Although Marvel in the ’70s tried to expand its line around Spidey and the Hulk, it hadn’t yet exploded with miniseries and spinoffs. Instead, there were new characters like Howard, Dracula, Shang-Chi, and Killraven, which today inspire curious old fans like me to plop down $16.99 for their Essential collections.

To me the Essentials represent two categories of comics: those I’d revisit out of nostalgia and curiosity to see how well they held up; and those I only remember by reputation. Essential Nova is in the first group, and Essential Killraven is in the second. (Essential Howard the Duck was good either way.) I tend to be more satisfied with the second group, but because I am a sucker, the first group will always be well-represented.

June 3, 2005

New comics 6/2/05, Part 2

Filed under: batman, firestorm, hulk, seven soldiers, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 9:23 pm
Picking up the spare….

Seems like all the major bloggers reviewed Firestorm #14 (new writer Stuart Moore joins returning artists Jamal Igle and Rob Stull) last week when they got advance copies, and I can’t disagree with their largely positive analyses. However, in one fell swoop Moore eliminated most of what I thought was intriguing about Dan Jolley’s version — the notion that Jason needs to merge with someone to become Firestorm, Jason’s money troubles, and his problems with his father. (Still a slight air of tension with Dad, though.) In their place Moore gives us a not-unappealing setup — Jason works for S.T.A.R. Labs Detroit (footnoted redundantly in the same panel), is getting ready for college, and must deal with the disillusionments living on one’s own inevitably bring. Pretty even trade, and I have to say that the constant barrage of hardship could have gotten tiring fairly quickly; so welcome, Stuart Moore, and stay a while.

I wasn’t going to pick up Batman Villains Secret Files & Origins 2005 (written and drawn by various folks) until I saw the vintage Clayface origin story. Written by Steve Purcell (of Sam & Max fame) and drawn by Mike Mignola and Kevin Nowlan, it was a heartfelt, hilarious look at a simpler time — when all a man needed to become a super-criminal was to find a mysterious pool of chemicals and fall into it. Purcell writes like he’s just OD’ed on Ty Templeton’s Mad-Dog miniseries, and Mignola and Nowlan really capture the right amount of deadpan humor. The obligatory Who’s Who pages and the other actual story do their best to build up both Black Mask (okay, maybe) and Hush (uh, no). By the way, that lead story (written by Bruce Jones, with art by Eddy Barrows and Jay Leisten) has one good surprise but otherwise is an exercise in exposition. Still, the Clayface bit may well be worth your $4.99.

Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #2 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by Ryan Sook and Mick Gray) features a powerless Zatanna’s fight against the Shapeless One who she conjured last issue. To do so she visits one Cassandra Craft, who I feel like I should recognize but don’t quite. Anyway, Morrison works in some old-school DC references to make me feel more at home, and together with the Gilmore Girls-like vibe I get from Zatanna and her apprentice, this is a good issue. Sook and Gray’s art also stands out. Sook seems particularly to have come a long way from The Spectre or even the Arkham Asylum miniseries.

Finally, there’s Incredible Hulk #82 (written by Peter David, art by Jae Lee, colors by June Chung), appearing only one week after #81. (House of M crossovers wait for no one!) This is a decent little tale of Bruce Banner helping a “lost” love’s spirit find rest after her death, and while the twist ending isn’t unfamiliar, the actual ending is quite effective. On the cover Lee’s Hulk looks almost like Boris Karloff, but inside he’s a real side of beef, made more mysterious by fog effects and Chung’s excellent muted color palette. If I decide not to get the HofM issues, this could tide me over pretty well.

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.

April 7, 2005

New comics 3/30/05 and 4/6/05: better late than never

Two weeks’ worth of comics — which to read first?

25 years ago, The New Teen Titans #8 was lauded for featuring a “Day in the Life” and focusing on character moments to endear the cast to the readers. Some 10 years later, DC’s Annuals included 8-page “Private Lives” stories which sometimes filled gaps in continuity. In the late 1990s, DC began publishing thick, expensive “Secret Files” books whose gap-filling stories were separated by illustrated data sheets on the characters.

Countdown to Infinite Crisis is a high-profile gap-filler which does three things: sets up related miniseries through a survey of the DC Universe; introduces the coming epic’s mastermind; and shocks with the on-screen death of a superhero who (despite what the book has said about him) has been a consistently good member of DC’s community. The blogosphere spent the better part of the past several days ripping this book apart, and rightly so. Aside from questionable characterization (most obvious with the Martian Manhunter), CTIC also suffers from delayed lead-ins: Hal Jordan and Adam Strange appear despite their respective miniseries being an issue or two away from over. (Similarly, Wonder Woman’s eyes have apparently healed by this point.) I also suspect that much of the exposition supplied here will be regurgitated in the opening pages of the minis to follow. However, I did learn 1) the completely unnecessary explanation for why Blue Beetle wears goggles; and 2) Metropolis is in New York state, not Rhode Island (and somebody out there is mad at CTIC just for that!).

There’s no real good reason to read CTIC. Either you’re a longtime DC fan who doesn’t need the exposition; or you’re a newcomer and the shocking revelations won’t mean much. The ending leaves little doubt that the victim is dead, which is both distasteful and counterproductive — wouldn’t it be more suspenseful to leave some hope of rescue/recovery? I suppose the art, by Rags Morales, Ed Benes, Jesus Saiz, Ivan Reis, and Phil Jiminez, is decent, although Jiminez makes the villain beefier and the hero chunkier than the others do.

I hope that DC will use the 80 pages for $1.00 format for future “Secret Files,” though.

On to the regular series. Batman #638 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen) reveals the Red Hood’s identity, but (disobeying the cover) not to Batman. Bats and Nightwing are busy dealing with the Red Hood, Black Mask, and Mr. Freeze trying to claim a significant amount of Kryptonite. Winick has given each of the villains a very loosey-goosey, self-aware speaking style which is entertaining in and of itself, but I’m not sure if it works for Mr. Freeze. Mahnke and Nguyen’s art is also a little looser this issue, with Batman especially looking more fluid and less blocky than they’ve drawn him to date. Again there’s a shocking revelation and a surprising death at the end, but I’m (like Steve) not sure why one would wear a mask under a mask. I’m also not convinced that the dead man is who he looks like. Regardless, this is still a better Bat-book than most others have been recently.

Of course, the Bat-book better than Batman is Detective Comics #805 (written by David Lapham, with art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill). It begins where the last issue ended, with Batman the happy warrior in the thick of a pack of goons. This issue sees “City of Crime” take a weirder turn, with the revelation that people in Gotham are being replaced with sinister duplicates. I’m not sure that the story really needed such an element, since Lapham was doing so well with the straight-up crime, but he makes it suitably creepy. There is also a backup story involving a baby Clayface and some manure that is either fun or juvenile, probably depending on your mood.

Flash #220 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay) highlights the two groups of Rogues and pretty much confirms for me that previous periodic interruptions (for example, to tell the sordid story of the Mirror Master) were unnecessary. Conventional wisdom held that the previous Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery never succeeded because they never quite had the killer instinct one needs for optimum villainy. Now, as Geoff Johns has taught us over what seems like the last 200 years, the Rogues mean business. However, this issue puts them in direct conflict with a group of reformed Rogues working for the FBI. That’s about it for the plot, really. (But why does Trickster I have his foot on the Stanley Cup on the last page?) I wonder what Johns will do once “Rogue War” is over, because it seems like the past couple of years have been building to this storyline. For that reason I have mixed feelings about this issue — on one hand, it packs all those other expository installments into 22 pages; but on the other at least he’s picking up the pace.

Legion of Super-Heroes #4 (written by Mark Waid, breakdowns by Barry Kitson, pencils by Leonard Kirk, inks by Mick Gray, second story art by Dave Gibbons) establishes a little more concretely the schism between the 31st Century’s teenagers and adults. We get to see some repression and, of course, the violence inherent in the system. The spine of the story is the origin of Invisible Kid, but this issue feels more like a regular story than an origin tale. The backup is a day in the life of Phantom Girl as told by Karate Kid, and although it aspires to be a tender account of how P.G. spends her life perpetually between dimensions, it comes off as extremely strange. It’s the kind of thing Waid could work into stories as a running gag, so even an 8-page backup may be giving it too much attention. Anyway, overall another solid issue from Waid & Kitson, with Leonard Kirk either blending seamlessly with Kitson’s style, aping it effectively, or both.

While Waid’s final issue of Fantastic Four (#524) (art by Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel) didn’t really conclude his Galactus arc, it did give him an opportunity to bookend his run on the series with a heartfelt exploration of how the FF feel about their powers. I say “bookend” because the emotional issues surrounding their powers were explored by Waid in his first issue on the title. He and Ringo are a hard act to follow.

That brings me to Peter David’s second run on Incredible Hulk (#80) (art by Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer). The current “Tempest Fugit” arc is either a clever simulation run by a still-mysterious mastermind, or a backdoor rewind of the continuity clock to just before David left the title. I doubt seriously it’s the latter, and so does Bruce Banner, who thinks he’s gotten the hang of the clever simulations. His rebellion against them is the book’s high point, and their reaction is just as good. All in all, it’s still confusing, but in an entertaining way.

Superman/Batman #18 (written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Marino) finally concludes the “Absolute Power” storyline. Remember, 5 months ago, how I praised Loeb for curtailing the dueling narration? It’s back now; and if that’s supposed to mean everything is going to be OK, then quite frankly I don’t want to be right. Reset buttons are pushed, and there are more invocations of alternate DC futures, before our heroes get back to normal and try to reconcile their horrible alternate deeds with their former victims. This title is on my list of “maybe it reads better in one sitting,” but while I think DC needs a successor to World’s Finest Comics, Jeph Loeb probably shouldn’t write it.

Speaking of oft-delayed books, Green Lantern Rebirth #5 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Ethan van Sciver and Prentis Rollins) finally came out this week. This penultimate issue finds Hal back in ring-slinging action and taking on the revived Sinestro. Two things bothered me about this issue.

First, once again Hal is exulting in the fact that he doesn’t face any more soul-searching or have any doubts about his ability. Obviously Johns means this as an empowering, not-gonna-take-it-anymore statement of purpose, but does this mean Hal’s emotional development has been rolled back over 30 years, to the beginning of the Denny O’Neil era? If memory serves, Kevin Smith revived Ollie Queen at a point around that same time — so you have to wonder if DC sees that period as some kind of decline. Anyway, to me that can’t be good, because it means that at some point in the future, somebody’s going to decide Hal needs yet another crisis of conscience. (When that turns out to be the name of DC’s big 2011 crossover, you heard it here first.) Now he’s happily whipping up on Sinestro, but wait a few years and he’ll be as conflicted as ever. Otherwise, he’ll be insufferable.

Second, while the art was fine mostly, a few details bothered me. Hal’s redesigned costume still throws off his proportions; Parallax’s first appearance this issue reminded me of Ozzy Osbourne; and the big Hal-Kyle handshake on page (numbers would be nice, DC!) 17 seems to have been taken straight from the Kentucky flag. (“United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” indeed.)

We’ll see how this all shakes out next issue, whenever it decides to appear.

Somewhat like Phantom Girl, Zatanna has been a character either trapped between, or coexisting in both, DC’s Vertigo books and its mainstream superhero titles. She started in the latter and eventually joined the Justice League, but for a while she was entrenched in Vertigo’s stable of mystical heroes. Thus, it’s no surprise that Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #1 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by Ryan Sook and Mick Gray) straddled that line between straightforward superheroics and knowing, ironic commentary on same. It covers some of the same territory as the original Seven Soldiers #0, including a dimension-hopping journey gone horribly awry. However, its tone is very matter-of-fact, with Zatanna at the end saying she’ll call the JLA if she really thinks things are too serious. The juxtaposition is entertaining, even if all the different dimensional dangers get confusing. Sook and Gray do a great job with the art, which is at times both droll and scary. This could be my favorite 7S miniseries, and not just because it features the most recognizable character or the one with the most cleavage.

Firestorm #12 (written by Dan Jolley, with art by Jamal Igle and Rob Stull) continues the assault on the new Firestorm by the old one’s greatest enemies. The dramatic tension comes from the literal struggle for control of Firestorm, with Jason having the power but Ronnie the strategic knowledge. While Ronnie’s tactics save the day, they also play into the hands of the villain pulling the strings, so “to be continued.” This arc has spotlighted both Jason’s power and inexperience, and while I’m not going to suggest “this is what a teenager fighting supervillains would look like,” Jolley has made it ring true. The art and color is as good as ever, so I’m glad I keep getting this book.

Based on my good experiences with Dan Slott’s She-Hulk and Spider-Man/Human Torch, I picked up G.L.A. #1 (art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar) expecting more fun in that vein. Well, it was funny, especially the Monkey Joe inserts, but in a very dark way. When your hero is Mr. Immortal, whose superpower is that he can’t be killed, that’s probably to be expected. Still, I only knew these characters from their picosecond cameos in JLA/Avengers, and this issue did a good job of introducing them and making them sympathetic.

Thanks to cable I had just seen the “Buffy” episode where she and Riley are trapped in the fraternity house, with their sexual energy powering these vines that trap others, so I wanted to compare that to the plot of Astonishing X-Men #8 (written by Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday), with the runaway Danger Room, but in the end that wasn’t happening. For one thing, Wolverine didn’t sing “Behind Blue Eyes.” I still get a very Willow Rosenberg vibe off Kitty Pryde, though. Having a rogue Danger Room (as opposed to Rogue’s Danger Room, I guess) was explained adequately enough, and the art was good as always, but these are the kinds of groundbreaking plots fans anticipated when Whedon was announced? This is the sort of thing folks can expect over at least the next 16 issues? If this were “Buffy,” it would be the season-ending show after the big finale to the season-long story arc, which cleanses the palate and gets everybody ready for the next big arc. So far I’m not seeing much innovation out of Whedon, and I’ve seen “Firefly,” so I know he can do better.

I also got Shanna The She-Devil #3 (written and drawn by Frank Cho) this week. Yeah, I know.

Finally I want to plug Batman Chronicles #1, reprinting in order every Batman story ever published. This volume covers the first year (Detective Comics #s 27-38 and Batman #1), and introduces Batman, Robin, the Joker, the Catwoman, Prof. Hugo Strange, the Monk, and Dr. Death. At $14.99, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the Archive books, plus you don’t have to go back and forth between books to read the Batman and Detective stories. I do hope DC is committed to this project, because it will provide a good look both at Batman’s early “gothic” period and how quickly that evolved into the happier adventurer who became Adam West.

March 16, 2005

New comics 3/16/05

I almost didn’t buy JLA #112 (written by Kurt Busiek, with art by Ron Garney and Dan Green) because the cover made me think it was Justice League Elite, and I’m waiting for the JLE trade. Silly me. The issue is mostly action on three fronts, as the JLA and friends confront the Qwardian weapon in space and the Crime Syndicate on Earth, and travel to the anti-Earth to try and defeat the Syndicate there. Accordingly, the dialogue and narration are more expository, but in a few instances Busiek keeps things suspenseful by cutting away a beat before you’d expect him to. I had to check a couple of times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Garney and Green do a good job of keeping everything straight, and turn in a few spectacular panels, including the opening two-page spread. This was the first issue that really seemed to suit their style, because everything starts to unravel. A “cleaner” style of art (even, dare I say it, George Perez’s) might not have conveyed that as well. There are two more parts to this story, but it already feels full-to-bursting. If Busiek and Garney can sustain this momentum through the end, it may be one for the ages.

Wonder Woman #214 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Drew Johnson and Ray Snyder) concludes the Zoom/Cheetah team-up begun in the last issue of Flash. This one too is a lot of action, although it advances Rucka’s Olympian political subplots for a couple of pages. Rucka also weaves in a few comments about Zoom’s mission to “improve” Flash and Wonder Woman through tragedy. One gets the strong feeling that Zoom represents for Rucka a certain element of superhero fans who (for example) prefer Batman because he’s suffered. Therefore, when Wonder Woman shouts about “men believing [that] pain is the necessary component of strength,” it rings true for her character, but it also sends a message — both to those fans and to the people who have criticized his blinding of Wonder Woman.

What’s interesting is that Rucka currently writes Superman (not known for his suffering), and made a name for himself at DC writing Batman. The fallout from DC’s Identity Crisis — which explored the whole “strength through suffering” notion — also cannot be ignored. Zoom’s attitude, and Diana’s reaction to it, seem to be Rucka’s commentary on DC readers’ reactions to DC’s recent handling of its core characters. Still, Rucka doesn’t take it any further, beyond suggesting that Zoom is wrong because Diana disagrees.

Anyway, the issue itself doesn’t do much for the more substantial plots Rucka has been cultivating during his run on the title, and at the end I got the feeling this too was setup for one of DC’s upcoming projects.

Speaking of Rucka’s Superman book, Adventures of Superman #638 (drawn by Matthew Clark), it’s another Mr. Mxyzptlk quasi-farce, as Mxy gives Clark and Lois a newborn. This draws out the Kents’ feelings about when, whether, or even how they can have children. More Identity Crisis-related issues surface here too, as Clark wonders about protecting a super-daughter from equally super dangers. Matthew Clark gets playful with the art, doing both a Calvin & Hobbes parody and an animated-style sequence. Overall it’s a good standalone issue which still relates back to Rucka’s macro plot.

Yet more Identity Crisis repercussions in Teen Titans #22 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Mike McKone). Dr. Light, in what is either a callback to his ’70s and early ’80s schtick or a way to connect the Titans to the Justice League, or both, shows off his vastly improved powers as he takes out the Titans. Most of the dialogue is Light musing about what the JLA did to him and whether they stopped with him, or even with villains in general. In the end, it’s still “to be continued,” but there are a couple of nice moments for old-school fans like myself.

Captain America #4 (written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Steve Epting and a little by Michael Lark) has a lot to offer its own old-school fans, which unfortunately I am not. I never knew Cap had the legacy outlined here, but it is kind of fascinating (especially after the ancillary information in Marvel: The Lost Generation). Cap’s “relatives” figure into the story, as he and Agent 13 are sent on separate missions involving them. Cap’s unfamiliar memories also come more fully into the main story. It’s more exposition than action, but Brubaker handles everything pretty well without either slowing down the story or confusing the reader. I’m glad I’m not waiting for the trade on this one.

Incredible Hulk #79(written by Peter David, with art by Lee Weeks) explains a little more about the mysterious island, but the explanation for now seems more confusing as to what’s real and what’s not. More compelling is the flashback to Bruce’s college days and his relationship to a “girlfriend.” Not everything is tied together here, and like I said it’s even a little more confusing, but overall it doesn’t seem like a very deep storyline — more a psychological exploration of Bruce’s relationship to the Hulk. The letters page even states that it was originally pitched as an Ultimate Hulk miniseries, so it’s not even necessarily tied into specific Hulk lore. It’s still fun and interesting.

February 18, 2005

(Late) New Comics Reviews, 2/9/05 and 2/16/05

There’s a lot of ground to cover, so I’ll try to be brief for each of these.

THE WORLD OF GEOFF JOHNS

Green Lantern Rebirth #4 pretty much is what it is. If you see deep emotional resonances in the cover (Green Arrow wielding a GL ring, and standing over the unconscious Kyle Rayner), you’ll appreciate the book. Reading this issue, I realized that Johns had already done most of the heavy lifting to explain the whole Parallax thing, so this issue’s dose of plot was much easier to take. As for the art, it seems a little less disciplined than it has in the first few issues, and some of the characters look oddly proportioned, but nothing inexcusable. I like the Green Lantern mythology, so I continue to enjoy this series.

Speaking of Green Arrow, he’s in Teen Titans #21, captured by Dr. Light as part of Light’s revenge on the Titans for humiliating him in the past. It’s also the new Speedy’s first day with the Titans, which means there’s a lot of exposition both about her and about the team. (Oddly enough, there’s a one-panel shot of the Wolfman/Perez Titans which features both Terra and Jericho. Given the circumstances under which Terra “left” and Jericho joined, that image couldn’t have existed. I’d have expected more from a continuity cop….) Anyway, Light’s characterization is pretty decent, so he becomes the most interesting character in the book. The storyline has potential, so I’ll see where it’s going.

Finally, JSA #70 continues the trip to the ’50s, where apparently there was a lot of racism. Now, I don’t mean to be flip about the subject, but why do both of the black Justice Socialites have to be chased by angry white people? That’s just lazy plotting. Anyway, this felt a lot like a middle-issue plot-advancement installment, so much so that I couldn’t tell whether the JSA was winning or not. For suspense to be built, shouldn’t there be some sense that the good guys are losing?

I must mention Johns going meta on the reader when he has Degaton say “Even now, forces are at work. Retrofitting continuity. Forces like me.” Way to be self-aware, Geoff. As for my own future with JSA, I see paperbacks….

JUSTICE LEAGUE

JLA #111 really picks up the pace of “Syndicate Rules.” It features a titanic battle between the two teams, and it connects the Qward subplot more firmly with the main plot. (The Qward subplot feels in hindsight a little like “Mageddon” from the last Morrison arc, but that’s probably just superficial.) Kurt Busiek has really brought the big-event scope back to the Justice League. This issue felt like the best of his Avengers work, and that’s saying a lot. However, Ron Garney’s art is almost up to the task, but occasionally falls short. His Superman and Ultraman are particularly hard to tell apart, and sometimes his approach is a little too sketchy and impressionistic (probably misusing that term) for a story with such cosmic elements. Still, this is the best JLA has been since Mark Waid left.

JLA Classified #4, Part 1 of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League!”, is pretty much “All-Star Justice League.” It will mystify and possibly infuriate the continuity-minded, but it’s still good clean fun from the old Justice League International team of Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire. The plot, such as it is, involves a supervillain opening a bar next door to the Super Buddies’ headquarters, but the issue is an extended series of character-based comedy bits and rapid-fire one-liners. It’s about as good as the first issue of its predecessor, Formerly Known As The Justice League, and if that’s any indication, this six-parter should be quite a hoot.

BATMAN

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and Batman: Gotham Knights are both books which have strayed from their original missions. For many years, LOTDK was “All-Star Batman,” an anthology book which told stories that didn’t have to follow continuity. (I kept waiting for the definitive “sci-fi ’50s Batman” story in its pages, but no such luck.) Similarly, Gotham Knights was the book where Batman teamed up with Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Oracle, and the other spun-off characters. No more. Now both tell garden-variety in-continuity solo Batman stories, which makes me wonder how they differ from the flagships Batman and Detective.

Anyway, LOTDK‘s current Riddler arc reaches its penultimate chapter in issue #188, with Batman racing through a security system to reach a MacGuffin before the Riddler can. There’s some more intriguing psychological issues explored with regard to the Riddler’s motivation, and the Batman stuff is decent too. Still, the arc so far has been up and down and I’m waiting until the end to see how it all plays out.

Gotham Knights‘ arc involves Poison Ivy’s “children,” who apparently are the subject of a big military-industrial conspiracy to make them super-soldiers, or some such. It’s not as bad as A.J. Lieberman’s other Batman work, but it all feels very familiar. The focus on Ivy’s origin also gives me flashbacks to the Batman & Robin movie, which is never a good association for a Batman title.

Now, in terms of origins, Batman: The Man Who Laughs, written by Ed Brubaker with art by Doug Mahnke, is a faan-tastic updating of the first Joker story from Batman #1. Mahnke draws one of the best — and creepiest — Jokers I’ve seen in a very long time, and Brubaker uses the restrictions of continuity to his advantage. (The conceit is that this is Batman’s first “supervillain,” and he has to adjust from facing gangsters and street thugs.) My one complaint is that this could have been a $3.50 Batman Annual, instead of a $6.95 Prestige Format special — but I guess nobody does Annuals anymore. Probably still worth the $6.95.

Retroactive continuity continues in Nightwing #103, with Part 3 of “Nightwing: Year One.” In this issue Dick Grayson goes back to Haly’s Circus and runs into the Brand brothers, one of whom is dead. Scott McDaniel draws a suitably eerie Deadman (and Deadman-inhabited people), and the issue as a whole is fun, but it basically just tells the origin of Nightwing’s costume. There’s also a brief scene with Donna “Wonder Girl” Troy that further reinforces her role as the Monica Geller of the New Teen Titans.

Finally, Gotham Central #28 kicks off “Keystone Kops,” an arc involving a member of the Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery. Written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Stefano Gaudiano, it goes more deeply into the superhero/villain elements than the book has been for a while. It almost feels like last week’s “Alias,” where you wondered if Sydney would actually have to fight a vampire, even though vampires weren’t “real” despite the show’s other fantastic conceits. Still a good read, and it will be fun to see how the GC crew handles the world of “real” superpowers.

SUPERMAN

Action Comics #825 is the penultimate installment of the Preus storyline. I shouldn’t have a problem with the general plot, because it sounds like an exciting setup — Superman is aged prematurely, and therefore weaker; Preus is at full strength; and Doomsday is once again causing all kinds of trouble in Metropolis. In fact, it’s executed fairly well, because the issue is one big fight between Supes and Preus. Still, the entirety of Austen’s run (and I presume this issue was written by Austen, under a pen name) seems to have been Superman fighting somebody and getting unexpectedly beaten down by them, only to come back stronger and madder. It’s like having 9 cleanup hitters in your lineup. Thank goodness for Ivan Reis and Marc Campos’ art.

Adventures of Superman #637 keeps the Ruin arc going, but brings in almost-forgotten supporting characters Jimmy Olsen and Pete Ross. (Professor Hamilton comes back for a cameo too.) There’s also a revelation about who shot Lois in “Iraq.” Greg Rucka’s script is on a par with his Wonder Woman work, but I think what’s distracting me is the art. Matthew Clark is a fine artist and does a good job with the material, but I’m not sure that his style — which is very clean, thin, and active — is a good fit for the subtleties that Rucka puts into the scripts. We’ll see if things change when Karl Kerschl comes aboard in the next couple of months.

MARVEL

Incredible Hulk #77 is Part 2 of the Peter David/Lee Weeks “Tempest Fugit” story. I really like Weeks’ art — very moody and almost expressionistic, but grounded in reality. It suits David’s script, which builds the mystery while maintaining his trademark sense of humor. As with part 1, the action bounces between Bruce’s childhood and the present-day island adventure. I’ve been out of the Hulk loop for the past 4 years or so, but I felt right at home with this story.

Captain America #3, by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (with art help from Michael Lark) advances the latest Red Skull/Cosmic Cube storyline, although no one in the story has made fun of the villainous A.I.D. acronym. Cap and Sharon Carter go to London and Paris tracking the bad guys, and Cap (horrors!) sticks up for the French along the way. Very nice retro-’60s feel to the whole affair, with kudos to the colors of Frank D’Armata (who gets cover credit) for enhancing Epting and Lark’s linework. Epting in particular does a great job with an aerial fight sequence. I’m sticking around as long as these guys do.

Astonishing X-Men #8, by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, is basically another Sentinel fight with a subplot involving the X-Kids. I’m sure there are deeper meanings and subtexts to which I, not being a longtime X-fan, am blind, but there you go. Cassaday does draw a very spooky Sentinel, though.

(Whew!)

Now, about this 100-thing list….

January 7, 2005

New comics 1/5/05

Filed under: batman, captain america, firestorm, flash, hulk, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 8:22 pm
The guys who do the Tony Kornheiser show have food delivered to them in the studio. This morning, they had ordered pizza, and Mr. Tony was wondering where it was. When told it was on the way, he then asked, “Did I get the same thing I like?” The response came back, “Yes, Grandpa, you did.”

So, it’s a new year. Did I get the same things I like? Just call me Grandpa….

First up is The Flash#217 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay). The issue picks up on the events of Identity Crisis in several ways. Flash’s wife Linda comes back and the Rogues’ Gallery holds a funeral for Captain Boomerang. It’s equal parts epilogue and setup, in other words, even containing a scene with Zoom that follows up on the similar scene in the last Wonder Woman. (Nice bit of dovetailing there; presumably the two scenes will flow together in the paperback.) Flash also gets to give advice to Batman, who comes very close to having an actual emotional moment. Anyway, this was a good momentum-building issue, but next month is yet another villain biography, so what’s the use?! Seriously, what has been the macro-plot of Flash for the past 17 months? Wally gets his secret identity back, and then all this Rogue stuff gets BLEARGH-vomited forth, with a little Grodd and Identity Crisis mixed in. Ye gods.

The second issue of writer David Lapham and artists Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill on Detective Comics (#802) wasn’t as tight a story as the first, but it was still very good. Picking up from last issue’s tenement fire, the victims’ identities spur Batman to avoid a similar tragedy. There’s not much more to say about the plot without spoiling it, but as with last issue, Lapham has Batman interact with a “civilian” in order to show how ordinary Gothamites feel about him, and he about them. It ends on an unusual, almost absurd, image, but that image seems to summarize Lapham’s intentions with the storyline. The art and colors continue to be excellent, handling this more personal story just as well as last issue’s more panoramic moments. Finally, Lapham uses Robin to good effect, giving him a bravado which is entirely appropriate for the character.

I hear that Jamal Igle is the new regular penciller on Firestorm (#9). That’s good, because he and writer Dan Jolley have turned in a suspenseful, action-packed issue. However, one of the book’s unsung heroes has to be colorist Chris Sotomayor. Igle paces the art well, and his inkers (Rob Stull & Lary Stucker) give his pencils their proper weight, but Sotomayor really brings the art to life. The figures have three dimensions; the characters’ powers are given special effects; and because the action all takes place at night, the use of light is excellent. There’s a last-page surprise that anyone who reads Previews should be able to predict, but Jolley has set up the surprise in a very fun way. I’m really looking forward to #10.

The flashback pages of Captain America #2 reminded me — why didn’t Bucky, Cap’s World War II sidekick, ever have some kind of bulletproof doohickey? Cap was the Super-Soldier, with muscles and abilities enhanced by science, and an unbreakable shield made of a unique alloy which would probably outlive cockroaches. Bucky? Bucky wore a blue-and-red suit and occasionally got to carry a rifle.*

Come to think of it, sidekick du jour Sharon Carter gets pretty much the same deal in this issue, except she can call for backup and she’s always armed. Agent Carter starts the plot rolling by alerting Cap that his old foe the Red Skull is dead. The two investigate, foiling what looked like the Skull’s last evil plan until a new wrinkle is thrown in at the end.

Steve Epting’s pencils move things along effectively, especially in the fight scenes where Cap uses his shield imaginatively in close quarters. Nice use of computer graphics on the SHIELD helicarrier too. Still, the issue is dark — lots of scenes underground, and lots at night, so kind of hard to tell who’s who at first. (The villain’s mask reminds me of an old Spider-Woman baddie from the ’70s, or maybe the Taskmaster, but those are probably coincidental.) I also have to say that writer Ed Brubaker has come up with a dumb acronym for a criminal organization. (I won’t spoil it, but do they have a Mechanical Organism Designed Only for Wuv?)

Finally, I picked up writer Peter David’s return to The Incredible Hulk (#77), joined by artists Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer. I haven’t read a Hulk comic since David left the title about six years ago, but this story doesn’t need much setup. It’s a moody, atmospheric affair which mostly takes place underwater, as the Hulk walks along the bottom of the ocean to a mysterious island. Along the way he deals with various predators and flashes back to Bruce Banner’s repressed-rage high school days. Because the arc is titled “Tempest Fugit,” I’m guessing there will be more surprises on the island, even beyond the surprise on the last page. All told, a good beginning — but I hope the later chapters are less decompressed.

Wow, two more Marvel titles added to the list! Looks like Grandpa is branching out.

* Reminds me of the old Batman joke. He’s asked, “So you wear this dark-colored costume — why the bright yellow oval on your chest?”

He replies, “The oval covers a bulletproof plate. It’s a target, so crooks shoot at the plate and not my head. I don’t like to get shot.”

Interviewer: “Then what’s up with Robin’s costume? It’s all bright colors!”

Batman: “I don’t like to get shot.”

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