Comics Ate My Brain

September 12, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: friday night fights, manhunter, meme — Tom Bondurant @ 10:23 pm
[Postponed from last week….]

No Jon around, but here’s Kate Plus Eight!


… or, wait a minute, maybe there’s nine. Ten? Aw, heck. With Multiplex, who can tell?

Anyway, we can’t get enough of Bahlactus!

[From “Forgotten Part 4,” in Manhunter vol. 3 #34, November 2008. Written by Marc Andreyko, drawn by Michael Gaydos, lettered by Travis Lanham, colored by Jose Villarrubia.]

August 25, 2008

New comics 7/28/08 and 8/6/08

Here are some quick impressions of recent books, as I try to get rid of the accumulated baby-related backlog….

7/28/08

Batman: Death Mask #4: I stand by my original appraisal of this series, which is that it’s more of a read-right-to-left exercise than a demonstration of manga’s storytelling potential. It was a decent Batman story, but (as opposed to those Star Wars manga from ten years ago) nothing which really encouraged me to read more manga. If this were Batman/Punisher or some other outside-the-norm crossover, each “side” would get a chance to “win.” Here, though, Batman is still Batman, just read differently; so he wins decisively.

Green Lantern #33: This was the penultimate chapter of “Secret Origin,” wasn’t it? Good. I get the feeling that “SO” could have been more interesting, and more to the point (leading up to “Blackest Night”), if it had been a couple of oversized issues told from the point of view of someone other than Hal. Also, I really think Johns et al. are pushing it to give Black Hand’s mortuary the Black Lantern symbol.

Justice Society of America Annual #1: I talked about this one in a Grumpy Old Fan.

Teen Titans #61: Not a bad issue, although I am still not convinced that Kid/Red Devil is the breakout character everyone says he is — and I say that as someone who looked forward to his appearances in the old Blue Devil series.

8/6/08

Detective Comics #847: Part 2 of “Heart of Hush” would have been better if it didn’t have so much Hush.

Final Crisis #3: This is a scary, scary miniseries, and I admire its unwavering fatalism. I think I also like the way it paints its terrifying picture through individual snapshots, and not a “widescreen” overview.

House Of Mystery #4: Last month I think I said it’s taking a while for Fig to realize what the readers already know (because it’s the premise of the book). This month does nothing to change that. HOM isn’t badly made, it’s just slow; and I may have to give it another storyline to evaluate it properly.

Manhunter #33: I continue to like this series, and I want to learn more about it, but honestly I couldn’t tell you why I liked this particular issue.

Nightwing #147: Part 1 of a 3-part Two-Face storyline is fairly entertaining, although for various external reasons I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be with the book.

Supergirl #32: However, it looks like I’ll be with this book for a while to come, as long as it ties into the Superman titles.

Tor #s 3 and 4: Tor starts a family in these issues. I’ll probably finish out this miniseries, if only because I enjoy Joe Kubert’s storytelling.

Of course, I also bought Trinity #s 9 and 10, and enjoyed them beyond my self-imposed obligation to annotate.

Back before too long to catch up on the next two weeks!

July 13, 2008

New comics 7/2/08

I’ve been saying for a while that DC should (once again) just let the Marvel Family have its own little corner of the Multiverse where Billy and co. don’t have to age too quickly and whimsy can be the order of the day. Well, here’s Mike Kunkel’s Billy Batson And The Magic Of Shazam! #1, taking me up on it. Except not quite, because this is a Johnny DC title and therefore has no influence on the main-line Marvels. Instead, it’s a sequel to Jeff Smith’s Monster Society miniseries, picking up with Billy and Mary in their familiar roles.

Kunkel has redesigned Cap slightly, giving him a ridiculously broad chest and a how-you-doin’? look. This goes with Kunkel’s take on Billy, who always tries to do the right thing but who realizes without much prompting just how good he has it. For example, Captain Marvel poses as Billy and Mary’s father, but naturally favors Billy in parent/teacher conferences. Of course, hilarity ensues, especially since Kunkel shows that Mary is the smarter of the pair.

Kunkel also introduces Black Adam, but leaves the resolution of his subplot for a future issue. I haven’t read hardly any of the Johnny DC books, but I suspect BBMOS is one of the few to employ multi-issue storytelling; and it makes me wonder who the real target audience is. This is a dense book which aims for rapid-fire delivery through small panels and packed word balloons. Not being 10 years old, I can’t say whether this would appeal to kids, but it does seem like an older reader’s idea of what a kid’s comic book should be. Yes, that extends to the secret-code messages, which I thought were prohibitively long and which I still haven’t tried to unscramble. Even so, I appreciated Kunkel’s efforts, and I’ll be back at least for the next issue.

Part 3 of “Batman R.I.P.” hits in Batman #678 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea), in which our hero is reduced to his lowest point before meeting his spirit guide (did it have to be a Magical Negro?) and starting to rebuild. Also, other bad things happen to Robin and Nightwing (poor Nightwing…). Morrison’s standard take on Batman in JLA was that “Batman always has a plan”. Well, here, he’s been completely cut off from his plans, thrown into a roiling sea of anarchy by the Black Glove, and made to put the pieces back together using stone knives and bearskins. As with Final Crisis, it’s pretty nerve-wracking stuff, but at least we’re at the halfway point.

I’m getting frustrated with House Of Mystery (#3 written by Matthew Sturges and drawn mostly by Luca Rossi). Its first arc seems determined to establish that Fig can’t leave the House. However, we know this to be true, because that’s the point of the book. Thankfully, that also seems to be the point of the issue, so I hope that settles it for Fig for a while. The issue does introduce a new antagonist, with a callback to the mysterious couple seen earlier, so maybe there’ll be a more entertaining twist next time out. Still, if this arc ends only with Fig accepting her new status, I’ll be pretty disappointed. I’m getting tired of books which take five issues to lay out what could have been one issue’s worth of setup. I do like the art, though.

I’m also getting a little tired of Nightwing (#146 written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Sandu Florea), likewise because “Freefall” seems to have gone on for a couple issues too many. Yes, Dr. Kendall was a bad man; yes, it’s good that Dick stopped him. However, the story seemed rather lifeless (no pun intended), and I don’t know if that’s due to Don Kramer’s art not being quite as expressive as Rags Morales’; or Tomasi’s talky scripts sapping the energy out of the action. Next up is a “Batman R.I.P.” tie-in, so maybe things will pick up.

I did like Supergirl #31 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Jon Sibal and Jesse Delperdang), despite the jarring change in art style from the soft lines of Drew Johnson and Ron Randall to the quirkier combination of Walker et al. Basically, Supergirl convinces the dying boy’s mother to accept the Resurrection Man’s treatment by a) flying her to a distant mountaintop and b) telling her how her parents shot her into space. It’s the kind of thing which has to be handled very carefully, because once superhero comics get into real-world ramifications of godlike behavior, they’re already pretty far down a mighty slippery slope. This time I bought Supergirl’s argument and the mom’s response, but next time might be different. As it is, this time the argument had to get past Supergirl’s bare midriff.

I continue to like Manhunter (#32 written by Mark Andreyko and drawn by Michael Gaydos). The current issue tracks Kate’s continuing investigations into the women’s disappearances, and features a couple of good scenes with Blue Beetle (super-suits hissing at each other like unfriendly dogs!) and Mr. Bones. Gaydos’ art is “realistic” without sacrificing expression, and Andreyko has a good feel for the dialogue of a superheroic world.

Finally, I bought Star Trek: New Frontier #4 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson), the penultimate issue of the miniseries. Thankfully, things start to happen at a little more rapid pace this issue. However, the plot deals with duplicates of people; and the scenes shift so abruptly you’re never sure whether, say, the Lefler who was on that planet is the same Lefler who’s on this ship. I guess I have to get issue #5 to see whether the whole thing makes sense.

June 10, 2008

New comics 6/4/08

Filed under: batman, house of mystery, manhunter, nightwing, star trek, supergirl, tor, trinity, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 1:51 am
Hey, it’s June! Who knew?

Lots of books this time, so no time for chit-chat.

Obviously I spent a lot of time with Trinity #1 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert), so it wasn’t too bad, but OH DEAR LORD another scene of table talk! First Meltzer, then Dwayne McDuffie a couple of weeks ago, and now Busiek. I’m hoping this is the only such scene for, say, fifty issues. It’s not like the Four Horsemen miniseries felt the need to sit the Trinitarians down for a Continental breakfast.

Other than that, I will say that I won’t mind spending the next year with Busiek and Bagley. For his first big DC outing, Bagley shows he has the chops to do the company’s most familiar characters. His Wonder Woman and Flash look especially good. I’m predisposed to like Busiek, so there you go.

Once again I get the feeling that Star Trek: New Frontier #3 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson) would mean a lot more to me had I been reading the NF books. This issue’s plot features shocking! revelations about who’s being impersonated, or who might be impersonated. The last page had me particularly confused. Two issues to go, so I might as well stick with it.

House Of Mystery #2 (written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Luca Rossi) doesn’t spend a lot of time on the “nested” story (written by Bill Willingham), which is good. The nested story isn’t that compelling, despite some pretty Jill Thompson art. However, nothing much happens in the main story either. Its big emotional moment involves Fig, our heroine, discovering that she can’t leave the HoM, but we kinda already knew that. The secondary emotional moment, where she starts to spill her guts to one of the housemates and ends up berating him, also doesn’t ring quite true. The rest of the issue finds the housemates acting quirky without much to show for it. While I’d otherwise probably fault the book for being too broad, the characters haven’t distinguished themselves from one another yet. Mostly issue #2 was just Fig acting out against a bland backdrop.

Much of Tor #2 (by Joe Kubert) is a flashback detailing Tor’s pre-issue-#1 journey, which is fine; but it gets a little loopy towards the end and eventually acknowledges that maybe those psychotropic leaves might be affecting it. As with issue #1, Tor fights a prehistoric monster in order to protect his new little friend. Accordingly, as with issue #1, I appreciated #2 for its craft, because who am I to criticize Joe Kubert? Besides, I have to get #3 to figure out what’s going on.

I don’t have any strong feelings about issue #3 of Batman: Death Mask (by Yoshinori Natsume), so I’ll just say it’s nice for what it is — an above-average Legends of the Dark Knight-style story — and it is getting me used to reading manga. Learning can be fun!

With her own title cancelled, Catwoman is more free to roam around the main line Bat-books, so the cover of Detective Comics #845 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs) plays up her appearance. However, the story itself is a nice little whodunit which manages to withstand its conclusory leaps of logic. As such, it focuses on the Riddler, who’s been trying to upstage Batman at the whole consulting-detective thing. It also introduces a group who I can’t help but think is the Internet version of the old Mystery Analysts of Gotham City. The idea that Batman has a group of online buddies who only know him through a generic username is still a terribly appealing one, so if you like that, you’ll like this story.

Rounding out this week’s Bat-books is Nightwing #145 (written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Michael Bair), an issue which starts to stretch the “Freefall” storyline past its point of usefulness. It wasn’t too long ago that Nightwing and Robin brought this particular storyline to a stop, but we’re apparently not done with it yet. The issue even appears to bring things back to that same point. Now, to be fair, this time around deals more with Talia al Ghul and Mother of Champions, incorporates Batman, and features the surprising return of another Bat-foe, but still. The concept of a mad scientist creating super-powered soldiers isn’t specific enough to Nightwing to warrant this much focus. At least Rags and Bair are back for the whole issue.

Speaking of which, Supergirl #30 finds relief artist Ron Randall drawing the whole issue, with Will Pfeifer taking the place of regular writer Kelley Puckett. Looks like a fill-in issue to me, but it’s not a bad one. It helps define the character in relation to Superman in a way which puts Puckett’s storyline in a much different perspective, and it even incorporates the Box O’ Universe from Puckett’s first issue. Randall’s art is clean and simple, although it flirts with being stiff and bland at times.

Overall, though, the issue I enjoyed the most was Manhunter #31 (written by Marc Andreyko, drawn by Michael Gaydos). It’s the triumphant return of a title which has seen two long hiatuses (hiatii?), so it opens with an efficient two-page recap of the character’s history. I’m not that familiar with Gaydos, but his work reminds me of early J.H. Williams, John Paul Leon, or maybe Tommy Lee Edwards — thick lines and lots of blacks. The main story does proportionately as well with its 20 pages. After opening with the requisite superhero battle, it reintroduces our heroine’s family and supporting cast, and through them sets up the current immigration-related arc. Last time I praised the new Action Comics for using its 22 pages well. This time, however, Manhunter really does a great job showing what a single issue can mean to a long-running superhero serial. High marks all around!

March 10, 2007

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

Grab a snack — this could take a while.

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

2/27/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, the Batman scene was pretty funny.

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

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

3/7/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 7, 2007

New comics 12/28/06 and 1/4/07

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

Quick rundown of the last books of 2006 first:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Whew!)

December 10, 2006

New comics 12/6/06

I’ve already talked a little about Justice Society of America #1 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham, inked by Art Thibert), but let’s begin there this week anyway. I like the idea of the Justice Society basically acting as keepers of the flame, charging the new legacy heroes with the social responsibilities of living up to their famous names. (It’s an idea similar to Kingdom Come, which explains Alex Ross’s involvement in the series.) I do like the last-page tease of upcoming storylines, and am looking forward to the JLA/JSA crossover in a few months. I like the fact that the Justice Society is positioning itself as being just as important as the Justice League, albeit for different reasons. Frankly, and I hate to sound horribly sycophantic by saying this, but Geoff Johns’ enthusiasm is pretty palpable, and you can tell he’s really putting a lot of love into this book.

However….

I thought the introduction of Mr. America came off a bit overblown, even considering the role he plays later in the issue. Maxine Hunkel’s enthusiasm was just a bit much, the secrets of the new Starman seem pretty obvious, as does the attitude of the new family member (not to mention his dad). The Rebel/Damage fight also went on a little long if the point it was making was just that Damage could stand to learn more manners. These are all personal reactions, of course, and I understand that you might feel the exact opposite. That’s fine. I suppose the hook for me buying this series would be its importance to DC-Earth as a whole, and not any investment in the characters — but if that’s my approach, it seems I’ll be missing out on about half the book every month. I’m still on the fence about #2, although I may pick up the eventual paperback.

Because the rest of the blogosphere would surely rise up as one and smite me if I didn’t, I picked up my first issue of Manhunter (#26, written by Mark Andreyko, pencilled by Javier Pina, inked by Robin Riggs), and it was pretty good. Basically Kate’s been hired to defend Wonder Woman against criminal charges brought by the federal government (for political reasons), so the whole issue is pretty much her and her staff freaking out around Wonder Woman. That’s always fun. Checking in with the book’s supporting cast requires more of a learning curve, though. Their scenes are interesting, just disconnected from everything else (or so it seems). Anyway, I’m getting #27, so you can put away the torches.

52 #31 (written by Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Rodney Ramos, Dan Green, and Dave Meikis) would have been a lot harder to take had DC not chosen to feature its main character in his own miniseries, now on sale. Still, any villain who eats Green Lantern rings is certainly one to watch. The interlude with Supernova and Ralph has me wanting to do some detective work of my own, which will probably turn out badly but at least should be fun. The origin of Robin (Tim Drake) somehow manages to omit Jason Todd, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Finally, the Infinity, Inc. scenes still don’t do a lot for me.

Detective Comics #826 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher) was strangely uninvolving, considering that it featured the Joker torturing Robin by running over Christmas shoppers in a stolen SUV. It’s not a bad idea (for a story, that is), and it certainly fits with the Joker’s satire-til-it-hurts paradigm, but the best part of the issue was the brief flashback to Bruce, Dick, and Tim comparing Joker notes during their “One Year Later” sojourn. I think the problem for me might have been too much internal monologue from Tim competing with the blackly-comedic Joker monologue. Usually the Joker’s diarrhea of the mouth is up against Batman’s stoicism, and it may have been more effective, more suspenseful, and more entertaining to wonder how Tim planned to get out of trouble rather than to “hear” his play-by-play. Kramer and Faucher draw a fine Joker though, reminiscent of Michael Lark’s (right?) in Gotham Central.

Another Robin in trouble and another internal monologue are also the focus of Nightwing #127 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund). Dick gets buried alive and has to dig his way out the long way, with a busted shoulder to boot. It gives him, and us, a chance to go over the plot of the last couple of issues, which seems like it should be simple but I still can’t figure out why the battlesuit guy was killed or why we should care. Anyway, next issue should be the big finish, and maybe I’ll have gotten on board by then. As for this issue, while there wasn’t really much suspense, Wolfman does have a good handle on the internal monologue, and showed Dick getting appropriately beaten up and bloodied. Not that I’m into that, mind you — I’d like to see next issue treat our hero a little better.

I got last week’s Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #46 (written by Kurt Busiek and Karl Kesel, drawn by Butch Guice and Phil Winslade) this week. It’s a tale of Orin-Aquaman’s encounter with a younger King Shark, and while it features Mera and Vulko, it doesn’t quite feel like a classic Aquaman story. Not that a good Aquaman story requires the phrase “finny friends” or the concentric circles of marine telepathy, but I couldn’t quite connect the guy calling himself the King of Atlantis with someone probably carrying a Justice League signal device. The story itself isn’t that complicated, but it does require you to keep track of some unfamiliar names and their various motivations, and I may have to spend some more time with it.

The (All-New) Atom #6 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Trevor Scott) finishes the first storyline of Ryan vs. the Waiting and various other malignant forces in Ivy Town. However, while I’m sure Ryan’s solution makes sense, I still don’t understand it. Also, somebody (maybe Mr. Scott, the inker) makes everyone’s faces look awfully pinched towards the end of the issue, which results in some unfortunate near-caricatures of the Asian cast members. I didn’t dislike this issue, and I’m still on board for the future, but it wasn’t this team’s strongest effort.

Superman Confidential #2 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) was good, although I really don’t understand the appeal of drawing Superman as an overstuffed kid who looks like he’s flunked sixth grade a few too many times. That’s just a few panels, though, and Sale’s Lois Lane more than makes up for it. The sight of Superman vomiting up lava after thinking he might just die under a volcano is also pretty sobering.

I was looking forward to Batman Confidential #1 (written by Andy Diggle, pencilled by Whilce Portacio, inked by Richard Friend) because I thought it would feature Batman fighting giant robots and Lex Luthor. That’s apparently next issue. This one opened with a fairly familiar scene of Batman fighting gritty urban violence with, yes, his internal monologue to keep him company. Portacio and Friend draw a serviceable Batman, and their Bruce Wayne looks sufficiently young and arrogant for the story’s setting, but every now and then characters sport big raccoon-eyeshadows and their heads change shape from panel to panel. Still, I like Diggle well enough to come back next issue for the giant robots.

I was also looking forward to Welcome To Tranquility #1 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe) in part because its aging-superhero setting seemed like a good counterpoint to Justice Society. Instead, it’s more like Astro City, which obviously isn’t bad. Between them, Simone and Googe make the oldsters (and their younger selves) pretty endearing, like if your grandmother were a ’40s teen heroine who still thought she could fly the old plane. The issue did seem a bit scattered, though, with weird ads for the local chicken restaurant sprinkled throughout and a locked-room murder mystery that comes out of nowhere. It’s not a bad package, although it does try pretty strenuously to be quirky and that could get old (no pun intended).

Man, aging superheroes must be a motif this week, ’cause here’s Agents Of Atlas #5 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice), in which one teammate turns rogue and another’s origins are questioned. This isn’t a grim ‘n’ gritty, realistic take on forgotten ’50s characters, though, so everything works out. It’s a credit to Parker and Kirk that they’ve gotten me invested in these characters despite my utter lack of familiarity with many of them.

The same applies to Beyond! #6 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins), the end of which relies upon the same kind of built-from-scratch emotional investment. I hate to sound too glib, but this was a good example of old-school Marvel crossover magic that might not Mean Something to the bigger picture, but used to be Marvel’s bread and butter. I’m glad McDuffie will be writing Fantastic Four before too long.

Stay with me, folks … just a couple more.

The message of Hero Squared #4 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) is that superhero fights are messy, something that I thought we learned a few issues ago. Still, this issue works as a standalone story, with Milo’s own heroism contrasted against Valor’s.

Finally, Star Wars: Rebellion #5 (written by Rob Williams, drawn by Brandon Badeaux), finishes this book’s first arc, many months after it was originally scheduled. Lucky for me it’s just a lot of carnage involving who will turn against the Empire and save the Rebels. It turns out about like you’d expect, but there are a couple of points of bad execution. First, there’s not a lot of distinction between Luke’s old friend Tank and the ex-Imperial spy Jorin Sol. Second, the plot hinges on the Rebel flagship going into hyperspace, requiring somebody to Push The Hyperspace Button, and this makes me wonder why the Hyperspace Button is always so hard to push. Third, all the damage the ship takes apparently doesn’t make much of a difference to the whole hyperspace question, because the book never addresses it. Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but you kind of have to expect Luke and Leia (still looking unreasonably hawt) to survive.

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