Comics Ate My Brain

November 13, 2005

New comics 11/9/05

Filed under: batman, crisis, gotham central, justice league, lotdk, star wars, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 9:42 pm
I liked quite a few things about Infinite Crisis #2 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Phil Jiminez and George Perez, inked by Andy Lanning and Jerry Ordway), but I’d like to think the Perez cover (showing Power Girl from the rear) is a none-too-subtle dig at the fascination with PG’s chest. Perez and Ordway’s contribution to the interior consists of a few pages telling the history of the old Multiverse, and while some might say that’s proof that the whole magilla is too complicated, I think it’s a fine tip of the hat to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths artists and to COIE itself. As exposition goes, it’s fairly economical too.

The spotlight is on Power Girl in issue #2, and speaking of exposition, I’m now glad I didn’t spend the money on her JSA Classified origin issues. InfC #2 is the emotional payoff of the former arc’s false starts, but it doesn’t need those issues to work well. Power Girl might well have been better off consigned to Earth-2 oblivion, for all the mucking around with her backgrounds various writers have performed over the last twenty years, but Johns takes good advantage of her confusion.

The issue’s other plots all work as well. I especially enjoyed the interlude with Clark and Lois at the Daily Planet, culminating in a neat little “job for Superman!” moment. As much as I love Perez’s work, Jiminez has become a fine storyteller in his own right. I just wonder if there’s not an Earth-2 homage to COIE #7 in Power Girl’s future….

JLA #122 (written by Bob Harras, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Dan Green) is another “[MAIN CHARACTERS] vs. OMACs” story, just like half of DC’s books from the past few months. I hope the number of these decreases after the events of Infinite Crisis #2. There’s not much more to it than that, except the kind-of creative notion that the Key is attacking anything with the initials “JLA.” (The Best Wife Ever is in the Junior League, so word of warning to the Key: they are tough.) It’s nice to see some old familiar faces back in the fold, but I wish they had something more exciting to do.

Gotham Central #37 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Steve Lieber) is the big Infinite Crisis crossover issue, and I hate to say it, but it’s not as good as I’ve come to expect. Sure, I like Allen and Montoya; sure, they react believably to the mystic carnage going on around them; and sure, this was probably a decent introduction to the characters for the hypothetical first-time reader — but it just didn’t have the punch of, say, the Poison Ivy one-off issue of a few months ago. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t as good as it has been. Good ending, though; and I do hope the Crisis completists pick up multiple copies, because the book deserves all the support it can get.

Action Comics #833 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Nelson and various others) begins what looks to be a fun little story pitting Supes against an old Justice League foe. It doesn’t appear to have much to do with Infinite Crisis, so instead it’s free to weave in scenes for Lois and Jimmy. I’m not saying who the villain is, because Simone takes her time in building up the revelation, and packs a lot into the first half of the issue. For that I was pleasantly surprised.

As the first part of “Blaze of Glory,” Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #197 (written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Chris Weston) also unloads a lot of plot. The story concerns a supervillain wannabe who blames Batman for his problems, which isn’t overly original, but Pfeifer makes his antagonist a fairly smart guy who just happens to have wound up on the C-list. The one strange thing about the issue is the art. Weston’s heads seem just a little too large (or the bodies a little too small), kind of like Mike Grell. Still, like Grell, once you get past that it’s pretty good.

Finally, Star Wars: Empire #37 (written by Welles Hartley, pencilled by Davide Fabbri, inked by Christian Dalla Vecchia) continues “The Wrong Side Of The War” in fine fashion. As the Rebels put their undercover plans in motion, Imperial Lt. Sunber becomes acclimated to his new assignment. While Sunber takes on the alpha male in his barracks, though, the Rebels discover they may have to rescue all the slaves from Jabiim. Hartley portrays the Imperials as evil bureaucrats — not so much mustache-twirling, but you can see they’re not particularly nice. The art is also good, with bright colors (thanks again to Fabbri) and big, expansive layouts. Nothing groundbreaking, but a good Star Wars story nonetheless.

August 17, 2005

New comics 8/10/05 and 8/17/05

A little shameless self-promotion first: in today’s Permanent Damage, comics writer/columnist Steven Grant has some blog recommendations. No, this humble effort isn’t one of them, but Mr. Grant did choose to quote yours truly’s latest essay in recommending The Great Curve.

Onward and upward.

Action Comics #830 (Gail Simone, writer; John Byrne and Nelson, artists), featuring Dr. Psycho vs. Superman, was clever and suspenseful. Using Superman’s universal appeal against him also played nicely with the current subplot of those same citizens starting to really distrust him. I liked this one a lot.

I also continue to like “Crisis of Conscience,” which continued in JLA #117 (Geoff Johns and Allan Heinberg, writers; Chris Batista, artist). It is clearly a big part of Crossover Madness, but it also feels like a standalone JLA adventure. Good to see Despero back, and his motivation for being involved makes sense. Nice art, too.

Rann-Thanagar War #4 (Dave Gibbons, writer; Ivan Reis & Marc Campos, artists) offers more wall-to-wall mayhem on several fronts. However, I am starting to notice that Gibbons is making Kyle Rayner talk like a more uptight version of Hal Jordan — giving him the “Great Guardians!” epithet, for example. As for the mayhem, it’s all rendered well, and I’m sure it’s building to some pulse-pounding conclusion.

Our “heroes” attack a Secret Society base in Villains United #4 (Gail Simone, writer; Dale Eaglesham & Rodney Ramos, artists), dressed in stealthy charcoal-colored costumes that make Cat-Man look even more like Batman. There’s fightin,’ killin,’ lovin,’ and an obvious crossover with another regular series. It’s pretty fun, but I’m still trying to work out the Parademon/Rag Doll relationship.

Speaking of crossovers, Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #3 (Grant Morrison, writer; Ryan Sook, artist) suddenly finds itself in the middle of another 7S series’ subplots — at which point I resolved reluctantly to take a comprehensive look at each of these miniseries (and probably the JLA Classified arc), to see if they made more sense collectively. Not that this was bad, but as irregularly as these books come out, it’s hard to remember the relative importance of various cross-title allusions. Zatanna is still very enjoyable by itself, and despite the crossover it may be the most accessible to a superhero-reading mouth-breather like me.

Conversely, Seven Soldiers: Klarion #3 (Grant Morrison, writer; Frazer Irving, artist) was almost a self-contained story with another good Morrison idea — a teen gang with superhero-esque codenames and a Menudo rule mandating graduation to an older version of the teen gang at age 16. The superhero-reading mouth-breader in me also appreciated this issue’s many allusions to venerable DC heroes, although the artifact the teen gang steals is probably one too and I just don’t recognize it. About the only thing wrong with this issue was on the first page: Roanoke’s not in West Virginia.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #194 (D. Curtis Johnson & J.H. Williams III, writers; Seth Fisher, artist) starts our intrepid Bat-band on its road to tragedy, and as far as that goes it’s a good read. Wait — that came out wrong. I do like Batman’s operatives, but because this is a flashback, we know they won’t be his agents for long. Likewise, the old “I can’t trust you anymore! (sniff)” from Gordon is also somewhat hollow, because we know where their relationship is going too. Still, this is one of LOTDK‘s better arcs in a while, especially with its less intense Batman.

Batman #643 (Bill Willingham, writer; Giuseppe Camuncoli & Sandra Hope, artists) presents Part 2 of “War Crimes,” in which we discover there’s another Batman causing trouble — and wearing a costume with the unfashionable yellow oval, no less! The Joker’s around too, despite having been bludgeoned (apparently) to death in this very title a few months back. Art’s not bad, but it’s hard to distinguish from other Bat-books in last summer’s “War Games” storyline. Maybe that’s the point. Also, this issue has one of the weaker cliffhangers I can remember: Batman on the phone to Alfred, waiting for a minor computer analysis.

Good thing “War Crimes” continues in Detective Comics #810 (Andersen Gabrych, writer; Pete Woods & Bit, artists), which advances the plot nicely. Too bad the cover contains a pretty sizable spoiler. Batman gets to be more of a human in this issue, laying a bouquet at a Stephanie Brown memorial and having a heart-to-heart with Stephanie’s mom. The Joker, Black Mask, and the media types are all used well too. Yellow journalism is a fairly easy target, but still. I do hope this storyline is actually wrapped up next issue, because I’m getting pretty weary of all these crossovers and mega-plots.

There are no such intrusions on the plot of Green Lantern #3 (Geoff Johns, writer; Carlos Pacheco, artist), in which Hal battles two Manhunters, with the newer model being able to siphon off his ring power. The big set piece is a nearly-drained GL having to use an Air Force jet to kill a Manhunter before it destroys the jet and him. The solution seems a little forced, but it’s still a nice hokey moment.

Captain America #8 (Ed Brubaker, writer; Steve Epting, artist) featured Cap’s denial of Bucky’s return, along with pretty convincing evidence about what happened to Mr. Barnes after his last adventure with Cap. The whole issue is that kind of setup, which I suppose now means Cap has to track down the Winter Soldier along with the rogue Soviet general and stolen Cosmic Cube. It’s good setup regardless, and I guess I’m on board for the rest of “The Winter Soldier.”

I don’t quite know what to say about Shanna The She-Devil #7 (Frank Cho, writer/artist), except that I expected a lot more from this miniseries than seven issues’ worth of bikinis and killing dinosaurs. Frank Cho is a skilled artist, to be sure, and I’d probably buy his work in the future, provided he was drawing someone else’s script. I’ve been reading Liberty Meadows via an e-mail service for the past couple of months too, and it hasn’t convinced me that he’s just slumming with Shanna. I don’t even think you could call this an “art book,” unless you like looking at hot blondes and lots of gore. Maybe there is a market for that; I don’t know. Still, I can’t believe I didn’t stop buying this book when I had the chance.

Finally, Defenders #2 (Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, writers; Kevin Maguire, artist) is proving not to be in quite the same vein as the creators’ Justice League work. It’s played for laughs, but its events are more objectively serious. Most of this issue focuses on Dormammu and Umar, siblings so close I’m surprised there hasn’t been a Donny & Marie joke. The villains capture our heroes and then spend much of the issue trying to decide what to do with them. That doesn’t sound too funny, and it’s not laugh-out-loud funny like the JLI stuff was, but it’s definitely not all grim and angsty.

June 17, 2005

New comics 6/8/05 and 6/15/05

Filed under: batman, crisis, gla, gotham central, justice league, lotdk, seven soldiers, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 9:54 pm
You get two weeks in one thanks to bad timing on my part. (Lots of Bat-books — wonder why?)

Off we go.

Gotham Central #32 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Steve Lieber) was the best of the past couple of weeks. It’s a tidy little story about a couple of crooked Gotham cops’ encounter with Poison Ivy. Too bad A.J. Lieberman just killed Ivy in the pages of Gotham Knights, because this tale represents not only Gotham Central‘s bread and butter, but also an indication of what the Bat-titles could be across the board. Gotham City offers perhaps the richest single environment in the DC universe, if not superhero comics as a whole, and there is tremendous value in peeking into its corners — not just exploiting it with mega-crossovers.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #192 (written by J.H. Williams III and D. Curtis Johnson, with art by Seth Fisher) begins what looks like another Mr. Freeze-centered arc — right after concluding a Freeze two-parter last issue, and while Freeze is appearing in both Batman and Detective Comics. Is Arnold Schwarzenegger exercising some eight-year-old option? Anyway, it’s couched in the origin of Mr. Freeze, but it looks to explore the “sidekick question” as well. Were I not burned out on Freeze (so to speak) I might have been in a more receptive mood, but the story itself is fine, and the art is unusually bright and open — not to mention overtly expressive — for a modern Batman story. I am therefore giving “Snow” the chance to win me over.

Rann-Thanagar War #2 (written by Dave Gibbons, art by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos) started giving me bad flashbacks to the Official Revised Hawkman Origin from JSA a few years ago, what with its talk of Onimar Synn and weird Thanagarian cults. I hate having to make sense of Hawkman, who is ostensibly not that hard of a character to understand. Thankfully, there’s more stuff with Kyle Rayner, L.E.G.I.O.N., and the Khunds to occupy this issue. Captain Comet also shows up, as does Starfire’s sister Komand’r. The politics and action are balanced pretty evenly, the exposition isn’t too heavy, and Reis and Campos make a good art team. I continue to enjoy this miniseries.

Before Action Comics #828 (written by Gail Simone, art by John Byrne and Nelson) turns into a Villains United tie-in, it’s a pretty decent continuation of the Dr. Polaris story begun last issue. Polaris’ evil alter ego, Repulse, poses some Hobbes-the-tiger-style questions about who can see “her” and how, and the issue as a whole is a little unfocused. It switches from Superman’s fight to Jimmy Olsen’s coverage of it and then throws in Lois exposing a charitable scam before wrapping everything up with a sweet Lois/Superman romantic excursion. Still, it’s good to see Lois and Jimmy being reporters, and the individual stories are each engaging.

Batman: Dark Detective #3 (written by Steve Englehart, with art by Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin) was perhaps my second favorite book of last week. It used a Two-Face setup I’d always wanted to see, and it also teamed him up with Dr. Double X, another forgotten Bat-villain from the ’50s and ’60s. Moreover, Englehart continues his exploration of Bruce’s integrating the two sides of his life, again using Silver St. Cloud to do so. That’s fascinating enough — whoa, Silver, close up that robe! — but the Two-Face subplot was almost as good.

So then this week I got Dark Detective #4 and was disappointed at how little it did. Basically it’s an extended fear-gas fantasy going back (yet again) to the immediate aftermath of the Waynes’ murders. I had a bit of a continuity issue with this, because I thought Leslie Thompkins had been established in this timeline fairly concretely, but Englehart is obviously tweaking things to suit his memory of the character, and that’s fine too. Also, Silver breaks up with her fiance. Because that’s about it, in a miniseries that has been fairly jam-packed so far, that’s why I was disappointed. Not enough to drop the miniseries (with only two issues left, mind you), just to question this issue’s pacing.

Speaking of issues which appear to go nowhere, here’s Batman: Gotham Knights #66 (written by A.J. Lieberman, art by Al Barrionuevo and Bit), featuring Prometheus’ abduction by Talia and Deathstroke. Being smart super-criminals, they recognize they don’t need Hush, but since Prometheus gets critically injured, they bring him along to try and save Prometheus’ life. This gives us a chance to recap Prometheus’ origin (written by Grant Morrison for a 1997 JLA special) and reflect on how he could now be at such a low point. In the end nothing is settled, because it’s all been setting up a JSA Classified story for later in the year. Thanks, DC! At least Cliff Chiang’s cover portrait of Talia is cool.

After two issues of waiting, Day of Vengeance #3 (written by Bill Willingham, with art by Ron Wagner and Dexter Vines) finally lets me know (on page 9 or so) that the masked woman is Nightshade, formerly of the Suicide Squad. However, on page 1, it tells me who Captain Marvel is. Thanks, DC! Although the Captain Marvel/Spectre/Eclipso subplots appear to conclude this issue, it ends with Detective Chimp and Nightshade visiting a mysterious girl whose name I didn’t recognize but probably should have. I liked the art better this issue because it seemed better-defined than Justiniano’s. Also, while Willingham’s plot has been decent so far, his script doesn’t come off as clever as he thinks it must. This is my least favorite of the various Infinite Crisis precursors.

Adventures of Superman #641 (written by Greg Rucka, art by Karl Kerschl) finds Clark visiting Pete Ross in prison and being attacked by the sibling Parasites and OMAC (which, as the cover proclaims, no longer stands for One Man Army Corps). Kerschl tends to draw big, meaty figures who fill up the panels, so he’s fairly well suited for a Superman title, and Rucka is clearly connecting Ruin with the Shadowy Figures behind OMAC. Therefore, I can’t really judge this issue on its own, but it does advance the various plots Rucka has been maintaining during his tenure. Still not as good as Rucka’s Wonder Woman, but getting there.

Seven Soldiers: Klarion #2 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Frazer Irving) likewise connects this book with its S7 cousin, Guardian, albeit obliquely. Klarion and Teekl find enemies and allies on their way up to the surface world, although telling one from the other gets a little sketchy. Morrison does establish that Klarion isn’t as helpless as he might seem, and Irving’s deadpan art (in the Charles Addams/Edward Gorey tradition) reinforces that.

It’s too bad that JLA Classified #8 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, with art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubenstein) is the penultimate chapter of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League!,” because the story hasn’t missed a beat since these creators left the League titles in 1992. Here, the team has found its way out of Hell, but Beetle’s got amnesia and they’re stuck on a strange evil-counterpart Earth. The cover, with a dominatrix Mary Marvel pounding Guy Gardner’s head into the pavement, says it all, but it’s only a warmup for what’s inside. I really hope that when DC’s Infinite Gyrations are over, it looks into its cold corporate heart and lets these guys play with these characters on a more ongoing basis.

As it happens, I picked up GLA #3 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar), which on the surface appeared to be a similar story of hard-luck loser superheroes, and has since turned into an amazingly bitter black comedy about random superhero death. I’m almost glad I don’t have much emotional attachment to these characters, but this miniseries paints them so sympathetically that it’s almost as cruel to the reader as it is to the decedents. Makes me wonder about the tone of next issue’s conclusion.

May 12, 2005

New comics 5/11/05

Late-arriving comics first:

Green Lantern Rebirth #6 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Ethan van Sciver) gives us lots of pyrotechnics and attitude. There are dueling ‘tudes, in fact, between the skeptical Batman and the so-full-of-himself-it-hurts Hal Jordan. Those sequences bookend a big Green Lantern Corps vs. Parallax fight which looks better than it is. It’s not very exciting, because it has neither choreography nor much in the way of danger. This issue may work better in the context of the overall story — which has been a surprisingly efficient and effective revival of Hal — but on its own it’s so far in the tank for Hal and the Green Lantern Corps it’s laughable.

Also late (and also a concluding issue) was Adam Strange #8 (written by Andy Diggle, with art by Pascal Ferry). While it sets up The Rann-Thanagar War, it also works on its own to wrap up the Omega Device plotline. In fact, if you didn’t know (or don’t care) about RTW, the ending is very much in the tradition of movie serials pointing the way to their own sequels. I have no doubt that DC will market this as the prelude to RTW, but it was a good miniseries on its own and a nice look at a classic DC character.

Actually, the “sequel” Adam Strange sets up isn’t The Rann-Thanagar War (#1) (written by Dave Gibbons, with art by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos). The immediate aftermath of Adam Strange is told by Adam in flashback to Hawkman and Hawkgirl in the opening pages of this miniseries. Reading the two back-to-back, I didn’t notice any missed beats, and the flashback was a good way to bridge the two miniseries. Most of the action takes place on Rann, and Reis and Campos do a fine job portraying global war, but there are a couple of problems. First, everyone in the Rann military wears a uniform similar to Adam Strange’s; and every Thanagarian wears hawk-gear, so it’s kind of hard to tell in the crowd scenes who’s who. Second, there’s the whole Hawkman continuity boondoggle, complicated here by Shayera Thal a/k/a Hawkwoman. Gibbons needs a paragraph or two listing all the players before we get too much further. Green Lanterns Kilowog and Kyle Rayner also show up to say that no way will the Guardians let them get involved in the conflict. Anyway, this was a nice continuation of the politics touched on in Adam Strange, and it may be the most enjoyable of the pre-Infinite Crisis minis.

Action Comics #827 wasn’t late, but judging by a footnote Superman #217 should have come out first. This issue introduces the new creative team of writer Gail Simone, penciller John Byrne, and inker Nelson. While Byrne’s cover makes Superman look rather stocky, inside is a different story. Nelson takes the scratchy edges off Byrne’s work, and combined with colorist Guy Major the book looks very good. Simone also gives us a happy, well-adjusted Lois and Clark, which is a very pleasant change from Chuck Austen’s simmering Lois/Lana catfights. There’s a bit at the beginning featuring Superman in an African village, which I suppose might be in Superman #217. Anyway, the main story is nice and suspenseful, featuring a villain who can really sock it to Superman. So far, so good.

Judging by last month’s cliffhanger I thought Gotham Central #31 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Stefano Gaudiano and Kano) would have picked up with a big Bat-fight, and while Batman is around for the first few pages, in the end it’s the GCPD detectives who wrap things up. Most of the issue involves Montoya dealing with Dr. Alchemy, her father, her colleagues, and her girlfriend. Rucka obviously likes Montoya and does well with her, so the issue flows together effectively. My one problem with the art is that Montoya’s father looks too much like ex-Commissioner Gordon, and I have to keep reminding myself otherwise.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #191 (written by J. Torres, with art by David Lopez and Fernando Blanco), the conclusion of a Mr. Freeze story, is hard to pin down. It has the trappings of a conventional Batman-vs.-Freeze fight, but it’s told in flashback by Bruce and it takes a different look at Freeze’s relationship with his wife. On the whole I liked it, although it doesn’t amount to much in the larger scheme of things. Still, importance to continuity isn’t everything.

Wonder Woman #216 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Rags Morales and Mark Propst) continues Diana’s journey through Hades. Along the way she, Wonder Girl, and Ferdinand encounter Ares, Medousa, a lamia (which I vaguely remembered from my old D&D days), and other assorted nightmares. It all intersects with Athena’s takeover of Olympus, in which Ares was not on Diana’s side. Rucka has done about as much with the gods as George Perez did, but Rucka has taken things a step further, almost giving the book a Sandman feel — and that ain’t bad.

Fantastic Four #526 (written by Karl Kesel, with art by Tom Grummett and Lary Stucker) concludes the Diablo two-parter. This was an entertaining little story which at the end turned out to have more to do with the team’s subconscious desires than it did with Diablo. A bit with Johnny and Sue at the end of the issue was especially good. Anyway, onward and upward, as J. Michael Straczynski and Mike McKone take over next issue.

Finally, Astonishing X-Men #10 (written by Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday) continues the “sentient Danger Room” scenario. Most of it revolves around the Danger Room’s dialogue with Professor X, but since I don’t know what happened to him and the book never really tells us, it left me flat. I will say that the Danger Room’s fight with the X-Men was fairly clever, and the story has gained a bit more stature in my mind than the fill-in “Buffy” episode it felt like originally.

April 13, 2005

New comics 4/13/05

Filed under: adam strange, batman, gotham central, justice society, lotdk, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 7:45 pm
The most pleasant surprise of the week came in Adam Strange #7 (written by Andy Diggle, drawn by Pascal Ferry). Check out the flashback on page 6, panel 2, and tell me those aren’t two of the schmucks treated so shabbily by Countdown! Sure, they’re second-rate in DC’s eyes, but they took out a cosmic menace! Maybe that was the point of Countdown — remove the obstacles to Mr. Cosmic Menace’s conquest of the galaxy — but I digress. This was yet another fine installment for the miniseries, effectively balancing what seems like an opening dream-sequence with the reality of preparing for the aforementioned menace. It’s too much to hope that the rest of DC’s big event miniseries will be as good as this one.

I had thought the cover of JSA #72 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Don Kramer and Keith Champagne) referenced the cover of America Vs. The Justice Society #4 (April 1985), but silly me — that was itself a reference to All Star Comics #35 (June-July 1947), Degaton’s first appearance. As for this issue, most of it’s a big fight on the White House lawn as Degaton tries to use the Justice Society’s powers to destroy Washington, D.C. Accordingly, it’s most concerned with fight mechanics and the effective use of powers. There’s also a kind of deus ex machina at the end which makes little sense now. I say “now” because it’s the kind of thing I expect Johns to work into a storyline a couple of years down the road. More overtly, Johns works into the ending a setup for the Power Girl storyline in July’s JSA Classified, and possibly even a reference to Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Not that I’ll be reading either in July. This was my last monthly issue of JSA for the foreseeable future. It’s been coming since “Black Reign,” and the first part of this storyline (with Courtney’s family murdered) kind of sealed the deal. The book just doesn’t do anything for me anymore, and I don’t find myself caring about characters like Atom-Smasher or Hourman II. “JSA/JSA” in particular was oddly free of suspense, mostly because we never saw the consequences of Degaton’s alterations to the timestream. Sure, he says America will never trust mystery-men again, but does that mean Kal-El’s rocket won’t land, or Abin Sur’s spaceship won’t crash, or Diana won’t get sent to Patriarch’s World? Surely some super-people will be around to overthrow Degaton; and if he’ll eliminate them in their cribs to get them out of the picture, why not just do that and avoid this elaborate frame-job?

Speaking of elaborate plans, Mr. Freeze has apparently concocted one for a two-parter beginning in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #190 (written by J. Torres, with art by David Lopez and Fernando Blanco). By the way, does Mr. Freeze get Subway stamps for every Bat-title he’s in this month? He’s 3-for-4 so far. Anyway, the story’s narrated by Bruce Wayne, so that drains some of the suspense, but it’s not like we couldn’t have figured that Batman survives. It’s interesting so far, using the old “why is the villain stealing these unrelated items?” plot, and if we can maybe guess their connection, it’s still a diverting issue. The art is by Fallen Angel‘s team, so you know it’s good; and it’s nice to see those guys getting work.

Action Comics #826 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund) kicks off a 3-part team-up with Captain Marvel that finds them battling Eclipso. This is the setup issue, in which Eclipso apparently tries to take over people by pushing them to the point of anger. It’s all designed to get Superman involved so that Eclipso can take him over too. So far not bad, and the art is better than I would have expected — not as stiff as the cover might suggest.

While Gotham Central #30 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Stefano Gaudiano, inked by Kano) relies a little too much on Hannibal Lecter riffs (even trying to make Dr. Alchemy look like Anthony Hopkins), I still liked it. The plot (spoiled somewhat by this month’s Flash, so thanks) involves transporting Alchemy to Gotham from Keystone City. Again, despite the Lecterisms, the interaction between our heroes and Alchemy is pretty effective, and the Keystone detectives come off a lot more natural here than they do in Flash. There are a couple of big plot holes, mostly involving the security around Alchemy, but if they weren’t there, we wouldn’t have the big dramatic cliffhanger ending. Next issue is set up very well.

Finally, if you have the chance, check out the new hardcover edition of Batman: Year One. Most of the extras are related to the art, but there’s also a new four-page David Mazzucchelli strip which talks about his own relationship with Batman and superheroes in general. He concludes by saying “the more realistic superheroes are, the less believable they become.” Food for thought.

March 10, 2005

New Comics 3/9/05

Drove back from Virginia today — 8 hours, two brief stops, hardest part was West Virginia (no offense, David Welsh) — and still have lots to do, but here’s what I read when I got in.

Action Comics #825 (written by “J.D. Finn,” with art by Ivan Reis & Marc Campos and Joe Prado) wraps up the Chuck Austen Era with the revelation that Gog was behind all the bad guys fighting Superman during Chuck’s tenure. The fight du jour takes an unexpected turn into moderately familiar territory. Although Aust– er, “Finn” — tries to make a profound statement about Superman, ultimately it’s nothing we couldn’t have guessed. Also, my head hurt trying to figure out the timeline of Gog’s origin. Finally, the book is 40 pages, but with all the big panels and action sequences, it didn’t feel like a whole lot extra had been added. Maybe some of those pages could have explained Doomsday’s existential crisis.

Superman #214 (written by Brian Azzarello with art by Jim Lee and Scott Williams) fares a little better. It too is Superman getting the snot pounded out of him, and it too almost made my head hurt trying to figure it out, but it has at least tried to tell a more coherent plot. However, it asks the reader to believe that Superman would essentially try to hide his plan for saving the Earth from everyone on Earth except his wife. There’s also some bits with the enigmatic Mr. Orr and some mysterious super-soldier builders, but I couldn’t remember enough about them from previous issues to comment. I still need to read this storyline in a sitting, and maybe then it’ll make more sense.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #189 (written by Shane McCarthy with art by Tommy Castillo and Rodney Ramos) would probably also benefit from being read in one sitting. It’s the conclusion of “Riddle Me That,” and it is full of “Aha! But I am left-handed!” moments — but not in a good way. Actually, I don’t know whether to fault McCarthy for this, because had I made the effort to read Parts 1-4 all at once before today, clearly I would have enjoyed Part 5 more. “Riddle Me That” was basically a caper story with some Riddler backstory woven in, and it was an attempt to remake the Riddler without the mental block that compelled him to tip off Batman using his trademark clues. This would ostensibly make the Riddler cool, I guess; but I’m not sure it did. Back in the reading pile, then.

Adam Strange #6 (written by Andy Diggle, with art by Pascal Ferry) is a good example of how to keep my short attention span engaged. It starts tying together the story’s threads with two issues left to go, and it works in a couple of pleasant surprises as gravy. There’s not much more to say, except that this continues to be a fun story, executed with wit and panache.

Gotham Central #29 (written by Greg Rucka, with art by Stefano Gaudiano and Kano) continues the Keystone City/Dr. Alchemy storyline in fine fashion. Gotham detectives Montoya and Allen travel to the home of the Flash to find out how to reverse the mutation of a Gotham policeman caught in a Flash villain’s boobytrap. I have to say, one of my least favorite parts of Geoff Johns’ Flash makeover has to do with the police characters he created, but here they are handled very well. In fact, they seem more at home in this book than they do in Flash. Montoya also gets a couple of good moments with her dad and her significant other, so all around a very good issue.

Nightwing #105 (written by Chuck Dixon & Scott Beatty, with art by Scott McDaniel & Andy Owens) continues “Nightwing: Year One” by telling the story of Nightwing and the second Robin’s first meeting. It’s rooted in a test run by Batman which goes awry, and it sets up what should be a grand finale wherein Nightwing, Batman, Robin II, and Batgirl all learn to get along. For those of us who were around for the original stories (about 20 years ago), this has some nods to them while being a completely new work. Ironically, McDaniel and Owen manage to make the classic Robin costume (short pants and all) look cooler and more natural than Dick’s first Nightwing costume.

Reading last month’s JSA, I complained that I couldn’t tell whether the bad guys were winning. This month the JSA seems like it has the upper hand, but JSA #71 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Don Kramer & Keith Champagne) also seems a little rushed, especially since Atom-Smasher’s motivations are explored in bits that turn out to be redundant. It also left me wondering how (in good Star Trek practice) how the timestream won’t end up being corrupted. Still, everybody gets a little scene, and it’s fun to see the current Mr. Terrific beat up some Klansmen. Not enough to keep me on the title past the end of this storyline, though.

The first of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers miniseries, Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #1 (art by Simone Bianchi) came out today. Most of it relates Sir Justin’s role in the last days of a Camelot unlike many of the traditional interpretations. There’s a fair amount of “wha–huh?,” but the context keeps everything clear. The art is fine, although thanks to some weird silhouettes occasionally I had to pay a little more attention to who was doing what. The coloring, by Nathan Eyring, also makes everything take on a nice ethereal watercolor look. It’s a pretty good start which reminded me, at least superficially, of Morrison’s Seaguy.

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 14, 2005

New comics 1/12/05

Action Comics #823 (written by Chuck Austen, with art by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos): Continued from last issue, Superman, Superboy, and Krypto defeat a hulked-out redneck with an inferiority complex. There’s really nothing else to the plot, except for a gratuitous shot at Lois (and at Lana too, but Lois comes off worse) and a setup for next issue’s showdown with Preus.

(You may remember that Superman fought a villainess named Maxima, designed by no less than George Perez. Now there’s Preus.* Who’s next, Corolla?)

Reis and Campos turn in their usual clean, dynamic performance. Ma and Pa Kent look younger every day, although in a bizarre nod to the Reeve movies, Lana looks more like Annette O’Toole than Ma Kent does. (Ma resembles K Callan, her “Lois & Clark” TV counterpart.) As for the script, how long until Gail Simone comes on board?

Gotham Central #27 (written by Ed Brubaker, with art by Jason Alexander): The Catwoman/Josie Mac story is concluded satisfactorily, although there are some unsurprising revelations about the victim’s sexual fantasy life. I suppose the point is more for Josie to deal with hiding her psychic abilities, and Catwoman gives some knowing advice about keeping secrets from those close to you. Still, having read Brubaker’s first two Sleeper paperbacks this weekend, Gotham Central almost feels like he’s slumming. It’s not bad by any means, but Sleeper was much better. As for Alexander, his art reminds me of Randy DuBurke — sort of scratchy and shiny, with lots of thin lines and blacks. It’s easier to follow than last issue, and hopefully it will keep improving.

Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #187 (written by Shane McCarthy, with art by Tommy Castillo and Rodney Ramos): It’s Hump Issue for the 5-part Riddler story, and this part goes a long way to having the thing make sense. The first page finds a flaming Batman falling off a bridge, which is a good start to any Batman book. Anyway, the storytelling is sorted out between the present (with the Riddler hologram) and the past (in which we discover E. Nigma’s dark childhood secret — very close to being a cliche, but thankfully not quite). Still not quite sold on this story, but perhaps it will grow on me. Also, Riddler’s hologram looks less like Freddie Mercury.

JSA #69 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Don Kramer & Keith Champagne): Time-traveling Socialites Stargirl, Mr. Terrific, Hourman, Atom-Smasher, Dr. Mid-Nite, Sand, and J.J. Thunder meet their inspirations and try to convince them to re-form the Justice Society after Congress forced it to disband. There are complications and mysterious circumstances, and honestly it doesn’t add up to much. Starman’s situation was established by writer James Robinson, who used it in The Golden Age and Starman (1994) before helping kick off this title. However, Robinson made it an organic part of the character, and here Johns uses it more as a gimmick. Stargirl and Starman get the bulk of the issue, and the rest feels like a continuity checklist. This will probably play better in the paperback, which is how I’m thinking about buying JSA in the future.

JLA #110 (written by Kurt Busiek, with art by Ron Garney and Dan Green): Hilarity ensues when the Kryyme Syndicate impersonates the Justice League. Somehow the League doesn’t catch on right away, even though the Syndicate does some high-profile things. Because the Syndicate and the Qwardian subplot have crowded the JLA out of the book the past couple of months, honestly I didn’t notice that the League was missing. Anyway, the Syndicate’s impersonations are both darkly funny (especially Johnny Quick’s stilted “Flash” dialogue) and infused with a ticking-time-bomb suspense. There’s also a bedroom scene with Owlman and Superwoman which cleverly inverts and subverts the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman “trinity” DC’s been pushing for the past few years. It’s three issues into the storyline without a JLA/CSA fight, and I feel neither shortchanged nor decompressed.

Spider-Man/Human Torch #1 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Ty Templeton and Nelson): This 5-issue miniseries takes a look at the Spidey/Torch relationship through the years, which means it’s a healthy dose of Mighty Marvel nostalgia, and that ain’t all bad. Slott and Templeton do a perfect-pitch impression of a ’60s Marvel book, hitting all the right beats while emphasizing Spidey’s troubles and the Torch’s comparatively easy life. (It doesn’t hurt that Slott’s Torch isn’t too far removed from Mark Waid’s.) Ty Templeton’s pencils are clean and efficient, and while his normal “cartoony” style might have worked better, Nelson’s inks make the pencils look more like Paul Smith’s (who, coincidentally, does the cover). It doesn’t matter — this was a joy to read.

Finally, I read Nightwing #101 (written by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon, with art by Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens). It’s Part 1 of the 6-part biweekly “Nightwing Year One,” telling the story of Dick’s metamorphosis from independent sidekick to independent leader of his own teen group. Never mind that the story was already told in the 1983-84 issues of New Teen Titans, Batman, and Detective Comics — this is the Post-Crisis! version and the What Titans Didn’t Tell You! version to boot. Unfortunately, it’s also the Batman Is A Jackass version, which makes it pretty much predictable from page one. McDaniel and Owens do a fine job with the art, however, making it much less cluttered than I’m used to from McDaniel. Most of the issue is a fight between the Dynamic Duo and Clayface, and while Clayface’s “personae” are confusing at first, the artists make everything clear.

I’m interested to see whether Beatty and Dixon really bring anything new to the story, since it’s already been covered pretty well. I’m not saying they can’t do it, but if their characterization continues to be of the “Bruce yells at Dick” variety, it’ll be a long three months.

*Yes, I know the car is “Prius.” Let an old man have his fun, eh?

December 10, 2004

New comics 12/8/04

Filed under: batman, gotham central, justice league, justice society, lotdk, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:25 am
Action Comics #822 is up first, just to get it out of the way. I expected it to be bad, but in the big-dumb-fun manner which writer Chuck Austen has deemed appropriate for the title. Instead, it was bad in the this-story-makes-no-sense way. Mostly this was due to the action being interrupted by a lot of plot about Lois being jealous of Lana Lang after finding a pair of Lana’s delicates in the Kent apartment. (They’re left over from when Lana nursed Clark back to health while Lois was in “Iraq.”) Hilarity ensues, of course, when the Kents pack up and drive — drive? Okay, maybe Lois is too sick to fly — to Smallville for Christmas.

The whole “Lois is jealous of Lana” plot is laughable, and makes Lois come off as the worst kind of possessive female stereotype. Who would believe that Clark Kent would ever do anything to jeopardize his relationship with his one true love? Has Clark somehow transformed into Mr. Love The One You’re With? Lois knows Lana well enough to realize Lana is no threat to her. Heck, Lois is pretty sure Wonder Woman is no threat to her relationship with Clark; what does she have to fear from Lana?

Anyway, once in Smallville, Superman and Superboy throw down with a hulked-out poindexter who hates “all the jocks.” Perhaps this will tie into the white-supremacist plot started last issue. Artists Ivan Reis and Marc Campos turn in their usual dynamic job, portraying both the domestic “drama” and superheroics with skill. Hopefully they’ll be around after Austen has gone.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #186, written by Shane McCarthy, with art by Tommy Castillo and Rodney Ramos, continues the 5-part Riddler story. The issue builds effectively to a double-edged cliffhanger and features a well-executed set piece involving Batman racing a train in the Batmobile. Other than that, it’s kind of a jumbled mess. The Riddler taunts Batman through a holographic projection that struck me as a goth-influenced Freddie Mercury; but simultaneously he’s a bearded derelict being nursed back to health. People give the old-school Riddler a bad rap, but this isn’t the best argument for making him “new and improved.”

Speaking of new and improved, JLA #109 finds the Kryyme Syndikaat trying to figure out why their Power Ring has been replaced. To that end, they come to our Earth and start causing trouble. Meanwhile, it looks like the hordes of Qward are ready to attack the Syndicate. I smell a mistaken-identity attack….

Busiek is finding his stride with this issue. He juggles the Syndicate, the Qwardians, and even a brief interlude with the Justice League well, advancing the plot in predictable ways but throwing in a couple of surprises to keep the reader guessing. The art, by Ron Garney and Dan Green, is a good complement to the story. I like it fine, but it does seem a little “earthy” — thick lines, dull edges — for what is turning into a big sci-fi epic. Of course Garney does well with the League, but he also makes the Syndicate his own. That’s good, considering that the Syndicate’s look was updated by Frank Quitely; and the last time we saw them, they were drawn by George Perez.

JSA #68, by Geoff Johns, Don Kramer, and Keith Champagne, begins a time-travel story involving the just-disbanded Justice Society of 1951 and their future selves of 2004. An old JSA villain plans to change history so that no one else is inspired by the Justice Society to become a super-hero. “Masks will be outlawed,” one hero intones darkly — but there’s no indication yet that this will stop Kal-El’s rocket from crashing, or Bruce Wayne from dedicating his life to avenging his parents’ deaths, or lightning from striking Barry Allen’s chemical cabinet, or … you get the idea. As much as Johns likes continuity and the shared-universe concept, it requires a lot more bases to be covered.

(I suppose this title can join the other three Evil Alternate Universe storylines DC is publishing — the Johns-written “Titans Tomorrow” over in Teen Titans, the aforementioned Crime Syndicate, and the time-mucking in Superman/Batman.)

The art is fine, although I couldn’t tell the difference between the good time-traveler and the bad one. That caused some confusion when the good one rescued a JSAer.

David Welsh has already written about a pivotal scene in this issue. I have to agree with him that the scene is both gratuitous and (with regard to Geoff Johns) self-serving, but I am interested enough in the story to see where it leads. I’m a sucker for Evil Alternate Universes.

Gotham Central #26 is part 1 of a 2-parter by Ed Brubaker and the unfortunately-named Jason Alexander. Detectives MacDonald and Driver have Catwoman as their prime suspect in a murder — which wouldn’t be so bad if masked vigilantes weren’t a political hot potato in the wake of “War Games.” Unfortunately for one detective, Catwoman discovers some blackmail fodder. It’s a well-constructed story, but the art took some getting used to. Alexander does a good job of continuing this book’s impressionist tradition; but his lines aren’t as thick I’m used to seeing, and they tended to jump out at me. His faces also look a little hinky, which occasionally made it hard to tell characters apart. Still, with Michael Lark gone to Marvel, he’s a good fit.

The last book I got this week was Justice League of America Archives Volume 9, reprinting issues #71-80 (1969-70), all by the relatively new team of Denny O’Neil (writer) and Dick Dillin (penciller). Dillin stayed with JLA for some 115 issues until his death in 1980, never missing a deadline, and it’s educational to see how his style evolved over the years. While he eventually settled into a more conservative layout, here he’s all big panels and freewheeling action.

O’Neil seems to have already found his voice, trying to shake some of the rust off of the stodgy JLAers and make them more contemporary, like the upstart Marvel heroes. Of the nine stories reprinted in this volume, two revisit old members, one revamps a current Leaguer, and most deal with the induction of Black Canary into the League after the death of her husband. Red Tornado, a future Leaguer, returns to lend a self-pitying hand, and the League moves from its Secret Sanctuary cave into the much cooler orbiting satellite. There’s also a two-parter about the evils of pollution, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with O’Neil’s Green Lantern work. One can see how this new approach to the League would encourage the producers of “Super Friends” to make that series message-friendly at the expense of the traditional League villains. Overall, though, these are trippy stories, with titles like “Star Light, Star Bright — Death Star I See Tonight!”, villains who refer to themselves as “Doomsters,” and once-square Leaguers who say things like “I’ll haul this grundy group to jail!”

There’s also the Black Canary subplot, which when read together became very creepy to me. BC was an Earth-2 heroine, active in the ’40s, whose husband died saving her from an alien energy-ball. However, she then started hanging around with Green Arrow, whose actions basically made it necessary for Larry to save her. (In a typical hero-on-hero mind-control fight, GA trapped BC with a trick arrow. Larry then knocked GA out, leaving only himself available to jump in front of the energy ball.) BC migrated to Earth-1 to get away from the bad memories — so why would she take up with a guy who was part of her husband’s death?

Anyway, JLA Archives Vol. 9 does show the League in transition from traditional formulas into a more character-based format. The struggle between maintaining the old traditions and keeping pace with the rest of late ’60s superhero trends is evident. These stories were familiar to me long before I read them, thanks to the foundation they laid for the League of the ’70s and ’80s. It says a lot to me that the writers who followed Denny O’Neil incorporated these events while not necessarily being bound to his rather flamboyant storytelling style.

July 15, 2004

New Comics for July 14, Part 2

Filed under: batman, elseworlds, gotham central, lotdk, supergirl, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 5:06 pm
I forgot to mention that Part 1 featured all the “team” books, but you probably noticed the theme. Here are the rest.

Action Comics #817: Written by Chuck Austen; drawn by Ivan Reis and Marc Campos. A wounded Superman recovers at STAR Labs after the last few issues’ worth of fighting with Gog. However, several B-list villains who didn’t make the cut for Identity Crisis have learned Supes is vulnerable, and attack the facility. As it happens, Wonder Woman and Superboy are there to help, but the Weapons Master manages to get through and provide the cliffhanger. The art carries the book, maybe by design — it doesn’t seem too hard to write snappy dialogue for fight scenes, and since Austen took over in April, that’s primarily what Action has delivered. Still, Austen gives us satirical characters — Jack Ryder, a Jerry Springer/Morton Downey-like newscaster whose cameraman sacrifices himself for the story; and Mohlman, an annoying, nerdish doctor who in the movie would be played by a bleached-blond Jack Black. Both are fairly broad, and the cameraman comes off the best. It’s hard to take the whole thing too seriously when it begins and ends with somber announcements about Superman’s death.

DC Comics Presents Mystery In Space: The Julius Schwartz tribute continues this week with Adam Strange, an Earthman periodically teleported to the planet Rann via “Zeta-Beam” (and no, his Rannian wife is not named “Catherine Zeta-Beam”). The two stories herein are inspired by a cover where Adam must choose between stopping an atomic blast on Earth or a giant heat-beam on Rann. The first story, by veteran Superman writer Elliot S! Maggin and artist J.H. Williams, is a more literal interpretation of the cover. When Adam’s advanced Rannian technology falls into the hands of a corrupt Earth government, it creates a nuclear crisis which guest-star the Elongated Man must solve; since Adam himself must take out a rogue weather-control device on Rann. The resolution is a neat bit of dovetailing worthy of “Seinfeld.”

The second story, written by Grant Morrison with art by Jerry Ordway, is a more conceptual riff on “two worlds.” It juxtaposes an Army attempt to invade Rann with commentary on Adam’s editor Julius Schwartz, DC’s sci-fi heroes of the Space Age, and the readers of the original Mystery in Space. This unconventional approach argues that the children who read Adam’s fantastic adventures in their youth grew up to face the struggles of the 1960s, and hope for a better world. The message is somewhat more poignant given that DC’s comics of the 1960s sought to keep out those harsh realities — and Adam himself was literally able to escape Earth for a comparatively idyllic life on another planet. All in all, this was a fine installment in what hopefully will be a fitting tribute.

And now, the Batman books.

Gotham Central #21: Written by Ed Brubaker; art by Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano. This is the penultimate chapter of “Un(re)solved,” but just like last issue (and like the cop shows this book emulates) there’s a helpful “Previously in Gotham Central” recap page. Basically, the Mad Hatter is being questioned for his role in killing a high-school baseball team several years before. Also suspects are two former students, now adults but then ostracized for being nerds. There is some thought that the Penguin might have wanted the team dead as part of his gambling operations. Finally, the detective on the case was Harvey Bullock, now disgraced for killing a man who shot former Commissioner Gordon. Most of the issue follows detectives Driver and MacDonald questioning the Mad Hatter (who’s locked up), Bullock, the ex-nerds, and the Hatter’s former landlady about his involvement — but by the end of the issue, things have gone south and the investigation might be compromised. I really like this book — the characters all talk like real people (or at least real TV cops, which may well be a step up for comics) and the art is gloomy, almost photorealistic. When fantastic characters like Batman and his villains show up here, they still look natural. There is a Gotham Central paperback out, collecting the first 7 issues, which is a great way to get into this ambitious series.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #181: Written by Dylan Horrocks; art by Ramon Bachs and Jon Holredge. Barbara Gordon gets to slip into Batgirl’s skin again, at least in cyberspace, as she tries to find out who’s been killing hackers. Along the way, Batman gets to question a mob boss’s daughter, who Bruce Wayne knew from summer camp and who blames Batman for her father’s incapacity. The best part of the story involves one hacker’s attempt to take out another by hijacking a cruise missile. The revelation of the killer’s identity is both surprising and novel, and the art isn’t bad. It tries to blend different styles in the “cyberspace” segments, to reflect the different genres of characters in the computer universe. While the story doesn’t say anything new about Batman or Barbara, I’ve read worse, including in this series.

Superman/Batman #11: Written by Jeph Loeb; drawn by Michael Turner and Peter Steigerwald. Part 4 of “The Supergirl From Krypton” finds Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman invading Apokolips (with the help of former Apokoliptian Big Barda) to rescue Superman’s ostensible cousin Kara from the evil despot Darkseid. Even if I hadn’t seen the cover of the next issue, I wouldn’t have been surprised at the ending for this one — but I’m getting ahead of myself. Wonder Woman and Barda fight Barda’s old colleagues, the Female Furies. (This includes Barda’s admission that WW “inspired” her; never mind that these days, Barda was around for a few years before WW showed up.) Batman fights giant Demon Dogs. Superman finally catches up to Darkseid, but we don’t get to see him fight too much.

Along the way, dialogue and our heroes’ internal monologues drive home the point that 1) Batman doesn’t trust Kara, 2) Superman trusts her implicitly, 2a) this is no different than if Batman were going to rescue Robin, and 3) Kara’s stay on Paradise Island made her partly Wonder Woman’s responsibility. Ever since Jeph Loeb started writing this series, I have been annoyed with his use of dueling first-person narration for Supes and Batman; and here, when he actually stops using it (for the Wonder Woman scenes, naturally), the issue improves noticeably. To me this series has become an excuse for “big dumb fun,” and has turned out to be an overwrought exercise in — for lack of a better term — “stunt plotting.” There are probably a half-dozen better ways for these high-profile heroes to find out the truth about Kara, but apparently they are not as marketable as “Three Justice Leaguers Attack Apokolips!” Oh well; it’ll be over in two months.

Batman: The Order Of Beasts: Eddie Campbell’s one-shot is an “Elseworlds” tale of Bruce Wayne traveling to 1939 London and getting tangled in a murder mystery involving an animal-themed cult. Despite the monochromatic color palette and the unassuming artwork, the word that comes immediately to mind is “jaunty.” Campbell presents a Batman who isn’t quite as grim or driven as the current version. He’s just starting out and makes little mental notes as to how he can improve his crimefighting skills. He’s also accepted by local law enforcement without much question — just a transatlantic call to Commissioner Gordon to check his bona fides. Campbell’s Batman is depicted as a guy in a suit, almost as if he were drawing Adam West, but he never makes Batman a ridiculous figure. The mystery itself goes from plot point to plot point without much trouble, making for a light bit of entertainment that captures the spirit of the Darknight Detective.

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