Comics Ate My Brain

September 16, 2009

New comics 9/10/09

Another light week this week, in part because I got to the shop too late for new issues of Wednesday Comics and Warlord. It still leaves Blackest Night: Batman #2, Booster Gold #24, Doom Patrol #2, Green Lantern Corps #40, Secret Six #13, Superman: World Of New Krypton #7, Titans #17, and The Unwritten #5.

Tune in as I use the word “gratuitous” in a way that may seem, well, gratuitous; marvel as a “pal” gets the boot; admire the squickiness of Secret Six, and observe the unfortunate juxtaposition of a thong and hot dog. Olivia contributes comments in the background. Music, as always, is by R.E.M.

Download it here, listen to it via the player at right, or visit the podcast homepage here.

Happy listening!

August 28, 2009

New comics 8/26/09

My throat’s still a little sore, but the new comics just keep coming–!

Therefore, get ready for 32 minutes’ worth of Batman And Robin #3, Blackest Night: Titans #1, Detective Comics #856, Fantastic Four #570, Flash: Rebirth #4, Gotham City Sirens #3, Green Lantern #45, Madame Xanadu #14, Superman #691, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen Special #2, Unknown Soldier #11, Wednesday Comics #8, and Wonder Woman #35. Can you handle it?

Music, of course, is by R.E.M.

Download it directly here, stream it directly from the player on this here site, or go to the podcast homepage here. Happy listening!

August 16, 2009

New comics 8/12/09

For this week’s 40 minutes of heck, I try to balance a rant about Dr. Mid-Nite and some Blair Butler bewilderment with some memories of the classic New Teen Titans and nice words about Wednesday Comics’ “Wonder Woman.”

Specifically, it’s Action Comics #880, Adventure Comics #1, Batman #689, Blackest Night #2, Blackest Night: Batman #1, Booster Gold #23, Green Arrow/Black Canary #23, Green Lantern Corps #39, JSA Vs. Kobra #3, Titans #16, The Unwritten #4, and Wednesday Comics #6. Plus, Olivia gets another cameo!

Download it directly here, visit the podcast homepage here, or cast your eyes to the player at right.

Music, as always, by R.E.M.

July 16, 2009

New comics 7/15/09

In this week’s podcast: Action Comics #879, Agents Of Atlas #8, Batman: Streets Of Gotham #2, Blackest Night #1, Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #1, Brave and the Bold #25, Captain America #601, JSA Vs. Kobra #2, Rasl #5, Titans #15, Wednesday Comics #2, and Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-38.

I hope I have fixed some of the lingering technical issues (which I further hope no one minded in the last episode), and of course I am still working on my elocution. Early on, Olivia even offered her own comments in the background. (The music, once again, is by R.E.M.)

Download it here, or visit the podcast homepage here. Thanks for listening!

March 13, 2009

Two new comics, 3/11/09

Filed under: batman, booster gold, green arrow, green lantern, new teen titans, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 7:18 pm
Longtime readers may remember that I used to post weekly new-comics roundups (I hesitated to call them “reviews”) about a particular set of purchases. Between annotating Trinity and looking after a new baby, I got out of the habit of doing those.

However, this week I read two comics which, if not exactly polar opposites in terms of quality, were at least headed in different directions as far as merit was concerned. I was surprised at how much I liked one, and how much I disliked the other. Therefore, let’s talk about Titans #12 and Batman: Battle For The Cowl #1.

* * *

First, though, just to be complete, I’ll run down briefly the rest of Wednesday’s haul. I covered Trinity #41 over at Robot 6. Batman Confidential #27 was Part 2 of the “hey, it’s King Tut! In the comics!” story. It brings one of the ’60s TV show’s more ridiculous villains (and that’s saying something) into the serious Batman comics after forty-odd years, but the story is neither goofy nor overly grim. Instead, Tut is creepy and mysterious, so much so that Batman is forced to turn to the Riddler for help. The result is an engaging mystery with snappy writing and great art.

I’ll have to read back issues of Booster Gold and the Superman books to get a better idea for this week’s developments (in Booster Gold #18 and Action Comics #875). I liked both fine, but each depended on the culmination of long-running plot threads. Same is true to a certain extent for Green Lantern Corps #34, although that issue was more setup than anything else.

Finally, I’m not sure how I feel about Green Arrow/Black Canary #18. It’s three issues into the new writer’s first arc, but he doesn’t seem to have the best handle on the characters, and the “Green Arrow has a stalker” plot feels very familiar.

0n to the main event….

* * *

It’s no exaggeration to say that the relaunched Titans has had its problems. In the first eleven issues and the Titans East special, the book has had a handful of different artists (and wildly divergent artistic styles). Although the writer, Judd Winick, has stayed the same, he’s been criticized for failures of characterization and plotting. Next month begins “Deathtrap,” a crossover with Teen Titans and Vigilante, two books I don’t read. Accordingly, it would be easy for me to drop Titans, but something keeps me going.

Titans #12, guest-written by Sean McKeever, penciled by Howard Porter, inked by Wayne Faucher, and colored by Edgar Delgado, was a good example of what the title could be. Titans is essentially a revival of New Teen Titans, so it treads the dangerous ground of, say, a sequel called “fortysomething” (or, to my mind, a “Friends” reunion). At its core it must make the argument that this particular combination of characters — Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, Wonder Girl/Troia, Speedy/Red Arrow, and Kid Flash/Flash — still works, and is still worth watching. So far Titans had been coasting on the assumption that its existence didn’t need justifying.

However, this issue finds two members debating just that. Ex-member Jericho has turned evil, and since he can inhabit anyone’s body and control anyone’s actions, everyone else is on edge. As a result, when Donna and Roy meet for coffee, neither of them is particularly thrilled to go on like they have been. When Raven rebuffs Beast Boy’s attempts at romance, he exclaims desperately that Jericho must be inside her, toying with him.

The other characters don’t have quite as much to do with the Jericho plot, but they were more recognizable to me than they had been. Starfire, whose powers come from solar energy, gets a few pages to worship the sunrise in a way which is reverential, not prurient. Later in the issue, she and Donna meet at dusk for a photography lesson. Roy’s conversation with Donna is sandwiched between leaving one lover (after busting up a mugging outside her window) and almost reluctantly picking up another. In a sign that he too might be leaving the team, Wally “Flash” West’s only scenes are with his family, and by itself the scene doesn’t really go anywhere. Finally, Cyborg’s work in Titans Compound bookends the issue and sets up “Deathtrap.”

I became increasingly dissatisfied with Sean McKeever’s work on Teen Titans because I felt myself caring less about the characters, not more. Maybe I’m bringing too much of my own knowledge of these characters to this issue, but I found McKeever’s writing here to be subtle and almost elegant in its efficiency. When Roy returns to his one-night-stand’s apartment after fighting the muggers, she’s eager for breakfast (and more), but the only thing he says to her is that he just came back to get his wallet. McKeever lets the art (and especially the coloring) speak for itself with regard to Starfire’s sunrise-worship. Similarly, Starfire’s conversation with Donna consists of the simple, direct sentences which old friends use as shorthand. Probably the clunkiest bits of dialogue are the ones with the most romantic tension, between ex-lovers Donna and Roy and would-be lovers Raven and Beast Boy.

On the whole I enjoyed the art of Howard Porter and Wayne Faucher, augmented by Edgar Delgado’s colors. Porter can’t quite settle on Roy’s hairstyle, which makes him look like Wally; and his layouts of Raven’s head over the “montage” of the last few pages doesn’t quite work. Still, Porter and Faucher produce clean, readable work. It’s stylized somewhat, but not to the point of distraction; and except for Wally and Roy it allows the characters to have distinct personalities.

Overall I was quite happy with Titans #12. It’s the kind of issue which highlights this sort of book’s soap-opera elements without swamping the reader in them. I thought all of the subplots touched on here were explained adequately, so as not to mystify a new reader. I’m curious about the next issue, and that’s the kind of feeling a serialized comic book should produce.

* * *

Naturally, Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1, which was written and penciled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea, and colored by Ian Hannin, is something else entirely. BFTC #1 drops the reader into the middle of a Gotham City gone insane. Because Batman is Teh Dedd, all the gangs and super-criminals are battling for turf. Trying to hold everything together is a motley crew of Bat-sociates, organized by Nightwing and Batgirl (but mostly by Nightwing, as Batgirl gets maybe one panel in this issue).

But soft! Whither goest yon red-eyed wraith with the Wayne-issue Batarangs? ‘Tis a new Batman, taking out a trio of thugs wearing clown masks left over from The Dark Knight before Robin and the Squire (the British version of Robin) can get to them. This Batman knows enough about How Not To Be Seen to slip past experienced crimefighters, but they know he’s Batman because, along with those Batarangs, he leaves helpful notes which say “I Am Batman.”

And that, in a nutshell, is BFTC #1’s main problem: its apocalyptic setting is based on there being No Batman, but in the first few pages it introduces I-Am-Batman. What’s more, even though the streets are full of bad guys battling SWAT teams, Gotham is apparently safe enough for ordinary people to gather into mobs, just to drive home the point that society is breaking down. Granted, I’ve never been part of a city in turmoil, but it seems to me that if the streets aren’t safe, is it really such a good idea to go out into the streets in large groups to highlight this lack of safety?

Still, as always, Gotham gets the local bureaucracy it deserves; because wouldn’t you know it, everyone in Arkham Asylum — the Joker, Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, that guy with the shark-teeth — is currently in low-security buses (buses!) while the Asylum is being fumigated. (Actually, narration explains that the Asylum is being decontaminated after the Black Glove’s shenanigans.) This sets up the dramatic return of Black Mask, who hijacks the convoy and blows up Arkham Asylum.

That’s about it for setup: new Batman, mayhem in the streets, super-crooks on the loose. In other hands it might be pretty exciting. However, under Tony Daniel, BFTC #1 is overwritten, uninspired, crowded, and generally just a lot of sound and fury. From the very first panel, when Daniel started with an establishing “Gotham City” caption and then had Robin narrate four sentences later that yes, they were in Gotham City, I knew it would be tough going. (I was willing to overlook Robin saying “Squire and I” when it should have been “and me.”) I’ve mentioned some of the nonsensical plot elements already, but they’re worth repeating. Instead of a city filled with protesters, gangs, cops, and supervillains, why not a ghost town of empty streets, distant fires, and a general air of hopelessness? Instead of Black Mask co-opting the Arkham residents by hijacking their bus convoy, why not show how these master criminals each attempting to escape? BFTC #1 is so concerned with getting all its ducks in a row that it never thinks about the ducks themselves.

Moreover, BFTC saves its worst element for last, in the form of Bruce Wayne’s and Talia al Ghul’s son Damian. Grant Morrison gave Damian — who, if memory serves, grew up alongside the League of Assassins — a bratty bad attitude and a mean sense of entitlement. Here, though, he’s a posturing little kid whose facade crumbles, and literally screams for Mommy, when faced with Killer Croc and Poison Ivy. Morrison’s Damian wouldn’t just take this kid’s lunch money, he’d make him eat it.

Daniel doesn’t explain who Damian is, though, similarly failing to give a hypothetical new reader any information on the Knight, the Squire, or any of the several other superheroes — some, like Black Canary, the Birds of Prey, and Wildcat, only tangentially related to Batman — who flit through this issue’s panels. I can live with assuming that everyone knows Nightwing’s relation to Batman, but Robin’s reference to “my father’s costume” seemed to come out of left field, even knowing that Bruce adopted Tim three years ago.

All in all, Battle for the Cowl #1 is a story outline in comic-book form, filling a spot on DC’s production schedule until everything settles down in June. I realize that the two main Batman books have had their own scheduling problems lately, and Robin, Nightwing, and Birds Of Prey were canceled to make room for the post-BFTC lineup, but considering the events of this issue makes me wish even more that the storyline had been serialized at least across Batman and Detective. Not only could it have built suspense (the Arkham inmates have to be moved! The police might strike!) over a few weeks, it could have pulled all of these elements into a more coherent narrative. Instead, BFTC looks like an exercise in Here’s What Happened, a process-oriented miniseries in danger of being ignored.

March 12, 2009

From bad to … actually, not so bad?

Filed under: batman, new teen titans, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 1:23 am
This may be the week which gets me back into weekly-comics-roundup mode.

This week I bought both Battle For The Cowl #1 and Titans #12.

One of those was really pretty decent.

More later.

February 21, 2009

Thoughts on Donna Troy and "Dollhouse"; or, If You Wait Long Enough, It Gets Better

Filed under: new teen titans, tv — Tom Bondurant @ 9:38 pm
Last night I was taking care of a couple of nerd obligations — watching “Dollhouse,” because clearly someone has to; and trying to come up with my fifth list item for Tom Spurgeon‘s “Five For Friday” feature — and found myself flipping through the Who Is Donna Troy? paperback collection.

WIDT? features the eponymous story from The New Teen Titans vol. 1 #38 (January 1984) in which Robin helps Wonder Girl reconnect with her past. It follows that one with Tales of the Teen Titans #50 (January 1985), the double-sized issue chronicling Donna’s wedding. After a five-issue Titans storyline involving Donna’s secret outer-space origin, it concludes with a short piece about Donna’s memorial service (she was killed in a story not reprinted here).

It’s no stretch to say that Donna — or, perhaps more specifically, Wonder Girl — has had a strange and complicated history. “Wonder Girl,” like “Superboy,” started out as the teenage version of an adult hero. Thus, Wonder Girl was the younger Wonder Woman. However, as the Wonder Woman comics got increasingly crazy in the 1950s and early ’60s, the adult Wonder Woman found herself teaming up not only with Wonder Girl, but with the toddler Wonder Tot. The story goes that, when the time came to create a super-team for the teen sidekicks of adult heroes, the editor noticed only that there was a Wonder Girl, and put her on the roster without checking to see where she came from. Consequently, the “Wonder Girl” who first appeared with the Teen Titans in 1965 didn’t get a separate origin, or even a real name, for four years. The first mention of the name “Donna Troy” came in Teen Titans vol. 1 #22 (July-August 1969), courtesy of writer Marv Wolfman.

Of course, Wolfman and artist George Perez would go on to produce most of the stories reprinted in the aforementioned paperback, and that’s really where I want to start. Unlike her colleagues, Donna didn’t have that much of a history from which character traits could be derived. Robin was struggling with independence from Batman, Kid Flash was already in semi-retirement, and Speedy had that unfortunate junkie phase. Therefore, it wasn’t hard for Wolfman and Perez (and especially Wolfman) to flesh out Donna as everyone’s friend, and sort of the wholesome girl-next-door. Since she had no real history, pros and fans alike could see whatever they wanted in her.

Naturally, that kind of approach can produce a creepy slippery slope, where Donna stays popular and loved because we said so. In 2003, Donna was killed (for all intents and purposes) in a fairly ignominious way at the climax of a miniseries designed to reshuffle DC’s teen-hero and former-teen-hero team books. It was done mostly for shock value, since the reactions of various characters would cause said reshuffling. However, those were the characters: the book in which Donna appeared, Titans, never got as much attention as DC had hoped, and certainly not as much as the other team being broken up, Young Justice. Thus, on one level, Donna’s death was an opportunity for the characters to voice what DC presumed would be the fans’ reaction — except that by 2003, Donna’s popular days were at least about ten (and probably closer to 15) years behind her. Younger fans wouldn’t have connected with Donna the way the older fans had; and we older fans had, I suspect, become jaded and bitter about superhero death anyway.

Still, Donna’s death led to the last story in the Who Is Donna Troy? collection, writer/artist Phil Jiminez’ account of Donna’s wake. Jiminez is a huge fan of all things Wonder Woman and Teen Titans, and had drawn the JLA/Titans miniseries which led into the Titans ongoing which was cancelled as a part of Donna’s death. This made Jiminez an especially appropriate choice to eulogize Donna. His story is rife with the kind of references and in-jokes which we enlightened superhero fans are supposed to condemn as “inaccessible.”

Regardless, if like me you recognize the references (notwithstanding the fact that they refer to earlier stories in the WIDT? book), or if you know the significance of the “HELLO MY NAME IS DONNA” doll, odds are you’ll find the story moving, as I did. The pivotal moments in Donna’s life — finding her real family, getting married, dying in battle — resonate with those who “knew” her, because they are built on the readers’ own hopes and dreams. I’m convinced that the fans who like Donna Troy actively want to like her in a way that other characters with more established histories don’t facilitate.

What’s this have to do with “Dollhouse?” Well, it’s not that Donna is a blank slate on the order of Echo, or that people who like Eliza Dushku really like Eliza Dushku in some preternatural way. Instead, it’s the notion that a series can be actively challenging to its viewers for a while, almost daring them to watch; and then turn a corner, change things up, and become all-of-a-sudden “good.”

By now we all know the criticisms of the show’s premise. Last week’s episode reinforced those criticisms: why go through a shadowy criminal enterprise when you could hire a real person, etc. Last night’s episode helped justify the Dollhouse’s business plan, even if it raised still more questions (as pillock observes, what kind of infrastructure must it have?). However, it was a step in the right direction. Apparently the back half of this batch of episodes really reveals the point of the series, and these we’re seeing now (including that debut episode, which I gather was reworked heavily) are just standalone warmups.

Question is, though, how much of the bad stuff must we wade through before that corner to Qualityville is turned? I have watched the first episodes of both “Farscape” and “Babylon 5” and wasn’t sufficiently intrigued to continue with either; but I stuck with any number of shows which started out fair-to-middling and only hit their stride after a year or two. Whether I became more receptive to their individual charms, or they each simply got better, is something of a moot point; because in the end, the result is the same. You sit through a lot of fair-to-middling stuff so that the payoffs will matter more. “All Good Things…” was a reward for watching “Encounter At Farpoint.” DS9’s “What You Leave Behind” even included a montage. I know I’ll be paying special attention to the Final Five’s early scenes whenever I watch “Galactica 2.0” all the way through. “Lost” seems to be composed exclusively of buried details. Accordingly, if “Dollhouse” lasts long enough to build up its own macro-story, I’m sure I’ll look back on these early episodes with a more practiced eye. That doesn’t mean they were necessarily good … just that they were, I don’t know, tolerable. I’m not real comfortable spending my time just on the tolerable, but obviously I do believe in giving a show a chance to prove itself.

Going back to Donna, I do think that “Who Is Donna Troy?” and “We Are Gathered Here Today” (the wedding issue) were, by themselves, good comics. By that I mean that they were crafted well enough so that the emotional moments were built on elements from the stories themselves, and not merely on the reader’s pre-existing awareness of the character. Sure, it helped if you knew Dick and Donna’s relationship, and especially Donna and Terry’s, but I read each of those for the first time when I had been away from comics for a couple of years. In this respect I think Perez’s layouts and character direction help greatly, especially with the wedding. Talking about these stories in the context of the overall series, I thought they succeeded

almost despite the fact that there’s not much more to Donna beyond being pretty and nice. However, the peculiar alchemy Wolfman and Perez were able to use on her has turned that around into a kind of unequivocal goodwill — that because she’s so nice, we don’t want anything bad to happen to her, and we even actively wish her well.

To be clear, that kind of success is in addition to whatever enjoyment a reader new to the whole Donna thing gets out of those stories. Donna went through a lot of mediocre stories before Wolfman and Perez came along, and the duo didn’t make her a star overnight either.

That’s the appeal of serial superhero comics, though, isn’t it? Even the bad stuff gets repurposed eventually … except the really quite extraordinarily bad stuff (like the “Teen Tony” Iron Man or the Team Titans book), which is annihilated in the metaphorial incinerator. Still, if even the bad stuff has some potential value, aren’t we just lowering standards with each bad element?

More than likely, I suppose … but regardless, it sounds like I’ve been suckered into “Dollhouse” for a while….

June 17, 2008

New comics 6/11/08

Booster Gold #10 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) feels a little “off” to me, and I don’t quite know why. It’s probably because there’s so much going on. Rip Hunter narrates for a couple of pages, with his Chalkboard Of Destiny (TM) distracting the reader in the background. Booster takes over as the scene switches to the scrum with Max’s forces … and here, I think, is where things get too overloaded. Essentially the rest of the book takes place in and around a big superhero fight involving — get ready — a reunited Justice League International (including Guy Gardner, the good Doctor Light, J’Onn J’Onzz, and Batman); Superman; Max Lord; the original version of Despero; the white-ape Ultra-Humanite; Per Degaton; Black Beetle; Ted “Blue Beetle” Kord; Maximillian (the evil Skeets); Booster and his dad; and the Mystery Villain. Oh, and I forgot the interlude with Rip and the time bubble.

Johns and Katz and Jurgens do their best to break out of the fight the important character-based scenes involving Booster and his dad, the Beetles, and the sidekick droids; but even so, there’s still a lot going on in the background. In other words, the scenes aren’t put in perspective like they should be, so the rest of the players feel like distractions and/or afterthoughts. What’s more — and I admit this may be just me — I couldn’t remember the non-sacrificial function of the vehicle for the eventual heroic sacrifice. (Said sacrifice plays out like Wrath of Khan, or the last Lone Gunmen appearance, by the way.) There’s a sacrifice, but I don’t know what else it accomplished. We’ll find out next issue, I guess.

Anyway, it’s not a bad issue, and it may well play out better in context. It’s just a frustrating installment for this month.

Most of The Last Defenders #4 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Jim Muniz, inked by Cam Smith) finds Nighthawk on the wrong side of just about everybody, as the term “non-team” starts to take on its most literal meaning. I thought it was fine, but once again, there’s a lot going on in the background which apparently only has two issues to resolve itself.

Star Wars: Rebellion #14 (written by Jeremy Barlow, drawn by Colin Wilson) wraps up the current story arc with a lot of action, and a little denouement. There’s a suggestion that Luke and Deena Shan are a little sweet on each other, and since this is the interstitial period leading up to Empire, I’m all for anything which gets him away from those understandable-but-creepy-in-hindsight feelings he showed for Leia. I have to admit I’m not as up on my Expanded Universe characters as I should be, or else I’d probably be more sympathetic to them. Still, I can accept how the narration builds Deena up, and I always like seeing spaceship combat. Once again the art reminds me of Howard Chaykin’s early SW work from thirty years ago, except the brief glimpse we get of Han seems a little too paunchy for the whip-thin Harrison Ford of 1977. Pretty good if you’ve been with this story the whole way; probably better the more you know.

This month in Batman Confidential (#18 written by Fabian Nicieza and drawn by Kevin Maguire), Batgirl and Catwoman inch that much closer to making X-rated Internet fanfic mainstream, as they spend the first 10 pages naked from the neck down, fighting in a nudist club. The fact that Maguire draws Babs with all these extremely uncomfortable expressions and retreating body language doesn’t make it better. If last month was an excuse for cheesecake, this month drops the pretense … uh, as it were. As much as I like him, Maguire’s figures are just rendered too literally for this extended sequence to be farcical. Maybe someone with a softer style could have pulled it off (what?!? sorry!) better. Cliff Chiang’s “Naked Ollie” chases from Green Arrow/Black Canary come to mind, so Chiang or his designated replacement Mike Norton might have done well with this. Anyway, everyone puts their clothes on for the rest of the issue, and I presume the rest of the story. (There’s only so many opportunities to play the nude card.) It’s pretty entertaining, especially since it focuses on puppies. I am not kidding. It’s almost like DC felt like it needed to atone for the nearly-nude scenes with, yes, puppies. So, in summary, come for the cheap thrills, stay for the puppies!

(P.S. DC, if you use that as a blurb, I’d at least like a free copy of the paperback.)

The “Barbarian Queen” scenes in Wonder Woman #21 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan) are fine, but I want to mention the Sarge Steel/Tom Tresser bit which opens the issue. On its own it’s good: a typical “walk with me” scene which sets up a few familiar conflicts and advances the plot. However, these are two well-established spy characters who, by virtue of their respective careers, should interact on a higher level. Tom “Nemesis” Tresser had his own backup series in The Brave and the Bold, teamed up with Batman a couple of times, and was in the Suicide Squad; and Sarge Steel was Charlton Comics’ answer to Nick Fury. So if this scene involved, say, Dirk Anger and Jimmy Olsen, it’d be easier to take.

As for Wonder Woman, her posse of ’70s DC barbarians continues to grow, along with the savagery of her fights. “Losing her grip” is, I think, a fairly radical direction for the character, because it seems like most writers want to portray her as always in control, diplomatic, etc. However, it’s still a valid direction; and I think Simone has presented it well. Diana’s finding out what she’s like without the fundamental sources of her strength. The art in the “barbarian” section is also tighter and darker, with more attention paid to the blacks and a more washed-out color palette (credit colorist Brad Anderson for that). Add a couple of callbacks to Simone’s first arc and it makes for a good issue.

Green Lantern Corps #25 (written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Drew Geraci) presents the origin of the Black Mercy plant. It’s a sensible, space-opera-y origin which maybe brings in Mongul a little too neatly, but it sends the story in a very Star Trek direction. New inker Geraci fits well with Gleason’s pencils, giving them a little more definition in places and even putting a “cartoony” sheen on some of the figures. There’s a misplaced word balloon on page 2, and there’s more foreshadowing about different-color lanterns, but other than that it’s pretty good.

About half of Green Arrow And Black Canary #9 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Wayne Faucher) features Plastic Man, with the other half showing Speedy and the British guy fighting super-powered bad guys. Thanks to Norton and Faucher, it’s all portrayed with a light, breezy tone, which certainly makes some of Speedy’s quips easier to take. Norton and Faucher draw a good Plastic Man too — perhaps even nicer than what cover artist Cliff Chiang might have done. The issue builds to a couple of Dramatic Reveals: the bad guys’ employer (which is pretty obvious) and the next guest-star (also not unexpected, but not unwelcome either). I continue to like this book.

Action Comics #866 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal) is a heck of a start to the latest Brainiac storyline. The Daily Planet newsroom welcomes Steve Lombard, sports brute; and welcomes back noted innuendophile Cat Grant. Frank and Sibal really lay on the Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder references for Clark and Lois, but it’s all good. (Cat looks like she had a familiar model too, but I can’t place her.) However, the showpiece of the issue is Brainiac’s abduction of Kandor, shown in flashback (naturally) with references to General Zod and Brainiac’s Kryptonian origins. To say that Brainiac now = Borg + Alien wouldn’t do it justice. It’s cold, scary stuff which sets up his threat level very well. Still, there is a bit of Borg plotting in place: Superman defeats a pawn, but the “king” is still out there….

Trinity #2 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert) finds the Trinitarians battling personalized threats: rogue solar systems, giant robots, and a mystical metropolis. It’s nice to see each handle their own in the space of a few pages or so. Meanwhile, in the second story (written by Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher), Green Lantern John Stewart fights Konvikt and Graak in a sleepy Massachusetts town square. So far Trinity looks like superhero comfort food, and if it continues like this I suspect I won’t have too many bad things to say about it.

Finally, here’s Titans #3 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Benitez, inked by various people), a frustrating installment of a series which has yet to define itself. Benitez’ art has personality, but he doesn’t have a handle on these characters. I hate to go all fanboy, but in an early pedeconference scene, all the characters are the same height. At the very least Starfire should be the tallest, but in a long shot she looks shorter than the Flash. Likewise, Beast Boy and Raven should probably be the shortest. These aren’t just stylistic choices, they inform the characters’ personalities.

The plot of the issue involves the Titans pairing off, with unfortunate results. While there’s an in-story explanation, the sad thing is that the book has already established its willingness to “push the envelope” with regard to these characters, so we don’t know how much of their behavior was provoked. I’m not saying the Titans should always be hugging, but Winick hasn’t done much to lay a foundation for their normal behavior. I’d like to think this book will find its equilibrium sooner rather than later, but it might not happen for a few more months.

May 20, 2008

New comics 5/14/08

I wasn’t planning on buying any more of Secret Invasion than I had to, but I was intrigued by the last page of Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four #1 (written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray). I won’t spoil it for you, but it is a callback to an era I didn’t think Marvel was in a mood to revisit. The rest of the issue is standard FF fare, following a Skrull infiltrator’s sabotage of the Baxter Building. That’s not the real story, though; and that’s where the last page comes in. I’ve not read Aguirre-Sacasa’s FF work before, but he does a good job here, getting through exposition about the sabotage and SI generally in an efficient manner. Barry Kitson’s work is less cluttered than, say, his Legion pencils, and although Mick Gray has inked him before, the work doesn’t seem as rigid. Overall, it’s a nice-looking book that will probably work well as a standalone Skrull adventure.

Serenity: Better Days #3 (written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, drawn by Will Conrad) finds the crew having to rescue Mal, which was kind of a surprise to me because I didn’t remember the last issue leaving off with that. In fact, this whole miniseries has seemed disjointed, issue-to-issue. It also feels a bit short, like it could have used at least one more installment. Anyway, this one is fine for what it is — Whedon and Matthews obviously have the characters’ voices cold; and Conrad does fine with the likenesses and the storytelling. Maybe in a chunk it will read better, so maybe I should be waiting for the trades instead.

The same may be true for Last Defenders #3 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Jim Muniz, inked by Cam Smith), which is starting to veer too much into arcane-Marvel territory for me. I don’t have a problem with the dialogue or the art, but I get the feeling that I’m supposed to be more emotionally affected by the plot.

Huntress: Year One #1 (written by Ivory Madison, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Art Thibert) is in a weird position. The modern version of the character has been around for almost twenty years. For much of that time she was a B-list character in the Batman books. She resented Batman for not trusting her (join the club), she teamed up with Robin, and slept with Nightwing. She had two stints in the Justice League, first under Giffen/DeMatteis and then under Morrison. For the past few years, though, she’s been a more well-adjusted member of the Birds Of Prey — a little hardcore on occasion, sure, but more often than not kicking back with a beer after a mission is done.

Therefore, the Helena Bertinelli of H:Y1 is something of an artifact — all hardcore, no quarter asked, none given. This issue retells the story of her family’s murder and casts her in something approaching the Michael Corleone role: she wants to get out, but she’s so good at playing the game. The issue itself is told non-sequentially, with different color palettes (wielded by Jason Wright) for different time periods; and that can get a little confusing. There are also quite a few new (or at least unfamiliar) characters, so while we know the outlines of Helena’s story, it can be a chore to fit the others’ timelines to hers. Madison’s dialogue doesn’t go over the top too often, and apart from the flashback problems, Richards is a decent storyteller. Overall, it’s not particularly bad, but if this were ten years ago, it’d be less of a jolt.

I don’t want to sound like an apologist — or worse, a chauvinist — but despite the “Catfight Begins Here” tagline on the cover of Batman Confidential #17 (written by Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Kevin Maguire), the issue didn’t strike me as an excuse for 22 pages of cheesecake. As an extended chase sequence involving Batgirl and Catwoman, it is basically two attractive women in skintight costumes leaping and jumping and falling and fighting, so … well, I guess that does sound like an excuse for cheesecake. Still, Maguire doesn’t go out of his way not to draw sexy women, and the 22 pages are spent mostly on the mechanics of the chase itself. Nicieza uses dueling narrative captions, the device Jeph Loeb taught me to hate, but since he focuses mostly on the earnest Batgirl, they’re used to good effect. Looks like a promising, if inconsequential, story.

Bat Lash concludes with #6 (written by Sergio Aragones and Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin with help from Javier Pina and Steve Lieber). I’ve said it before — this miniseries was produced fairly well, but on the whole it seemed more like a generic Western than something which would have established Bat’s “Maverick”-esque personality. Since this is the end, the bad guy gets his, starting with an entertaining sequence which finds pretty much everyone else in the book throwing things at him. Pina and Lieber draw the climactic pages in a style which is a little cleaner than Severin’s, but not incompatible therewith. Actually, I wonder if this is the end for ol’ Bat, since the very last panel seems like something of a cliffhanger for someone who might only be familiar with the character through this book. I will say that if Aragones et al. come back for a sequel, I’ll probably get it; but I wish this miniseries had had a little more distinctiveness.

Green Lantern Corps #24 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentiss Rollins and Drew Geraci) follows our familiar GLs as they track Arisia and Sodam Yat, captives of the Black Mercy. Those of you expecting the familiar ideal-fantasy-fate seen in previous BM appearances may be disappointed here, as the plant has been made a little meaner by Mongul. That’s not necessarily bad, though; because honestly, how resonant would Arisia or Yat’s ideal fantasy be (as opposed to, say, Kyle or Guy’s)? Add a creepy interlude with the Sinestro Corps prisoners on Oa and it’s a full issue. However, as hard as it tries, this issue has a very matter-of-fact feel — almost day-at-the-office — right up to the last page. That last page redeems it, though.

I don’t have much to say about Green Arrow And Black Canary #8 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Rodney Ramos) except that I liked it. It’s a little light on scene transitions, but that could just be me not paying attention. I like Norton and Ramos as replacements for Cliff Chiang, I thought Winick’s dialogue was a little cute at times but I can take it, and I liked the misdirection at the end.

Winick’s other book this week, Titans #2 (pencilled by Joe Benitez, inked by Victor Llamas), was more of a puzzle. First off, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I’ve read the Wolfman/Perez Titans. Whenever I continue the Big Titans Project, I’ll be getting into the post-Perez years. I’ve seen Wolfman/Perez pastiches before, most obviously from Devin Grayson and Phil Jiminez. Therefore, I’m not sure the Old New Teen Titans are best served by a return to Wolfman/Perez sensibilities.

However, I don’t know that they need Judd Winick and Joe Benitez (or whoever the artist will be next month). This issue finds the Titans — who refuse to acknowledge that they’ve gotten back together — making sure that all the ex-Titans are safe from Trigon’s minions. That makes sense. What doesn’t make as much sense is Benitez drawing Trigon like Iggy Pop and Raven (in what is basically a dream sequence) like Aeon Flux. In fact, Benitez and Llamas’ work looks like the offspring of Sam Kieth and Ed Benes. It’s not bad in the sense that it tells the story in an understandable way; but it’s not even as “realistic” as Ian Churchill’s work was last issue. Still, it has personality. As for the plot, not much happens this issue beyond rescuing Argent in the opening pages and visiting Trigon midway through. I do think this book has potential, but first it has to decide what it wants to be.

Superman #676 (written by Vito Delsante, pencilled by Julian Lopez, inked by Bit) is an “untold tale” of Supes’ first meeting with the Golden Age Green Lantern, as the two track down Solomon Grundy on Memorial Day. There’s a lot of Greatest Generation-oriented narration, with which I can’t argue; but it gets a little obvious after a few pages. The art is similar to the Carlos Pacheco/Jesus Merino style, which is nice, although it’s made more 3-D by the color effects of Marta Martinez, and that can get a little overpowering. In the end, though, it tells the story well. This is an issue more for the longtime fan who wants to see the most powerful hero of (current) DC-Earth’s Golden Age meet the most powerful hero of “today.” That reader will appreciate the nods to DC history which pepper the story, and might forgive the fact that otherwise the story tries a little too hard.

Speaking of DC obscura, Gail Simone is making me hunt through the old Who’s Whos for the scoop on the guy behind Wonder Woman #20 (written by Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan). He sends Diana on a quest to help a certain public-domain barbarian defeat his famous nemesis. This means new penciller Lopresti gets to draw Diana fighting wolves and barbarians without the benefit of most of her powers. A flashback scene with Etta Candy sets up the quest and lets Simone address the issue of Jodi Picoult’s “Naive Diana,” who was flummoxed by pumping gas. I liked this issue better than the Khund storyline, although Simone seems to be settling into a groove of “who will Diana fight this month?” She’s found the right voice for Diana to do it, though, so I’m not complaining too much.

Booster Gold #9 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) isn’t exactly the perfect superhero-comic single issue, but it does demonstrate how much 22 pages can do. Basically the old Justice League International gang reunited to take down Max Lord and the mind-controlled Superman, it takes Booster and Beetle from a bombed-out Batcave to the final confrontation with the villains behind it all. (Continued next issue, of course.) Jurgens has done evil-alternate-timelines before, and in Justice League America to boot, so this is solid ground for him. Likewise, tweaking Infinite Crisis isn’t too hard for Johns. This is an extra-fine storyline, and I’m eager to see how it ends.

Finally, Batman #676 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea) begins the long-awaited “Batman, R.I.P.” arc with the Club of Villains, the Dynamic Duo taking out a would-be masked villain in about two minutes, a couple of scenes intended to beef up Jezebel Jet’s character, and a visit with the Joker which took me a few tries to understand. Each is important not so much for their details, but for their tone. The issue as a whole hints that Batman’s “happiness,” both with Jezebel and in costume, will be his downfall despite the extent to which he’s investigating the Black Glove’s organization. If Morrison’s basic take on the character is that “Batman always has a plan,” this may be the storyline which tests his planning ability. Daniel and Florea convey this all in a satisfactory manner, from the ridiculous (the Green Vulture) to the sublime (the Joker). It’s a good start to what is rumored to be a great story.

May 7, 2008

New comics 4/30/08

Filed under: crisis, green lantern, legion, new teen titans, star wars, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 12:55 am
For some reason DC Universe #0 (written by Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns, drawn by committee) felt more Johnsian than Morrisonian. It struck me as a collection of preview pages from a half-dozen upcoming arcs, tied together by vague narration from a Certain Familiar Someone. I responded most favorably to the George Perez pages and the Final Crisis tease.

The blow-up-the-base story currently running in Star Wars: Rebellion (#13 written by Jeremy Barlow, drawn by Colin Wilson) is starting to feel padded by about an issue, and this is that issue. Most of it follows a Rebel soldier as she tries to escape a sadistic Imperial officer and the requisite stormtrooper squads. There’s some narration about her coming to grips with the meaning of being a Rebel, but that was lost on me somewhat because I’ve never gotten too invested in this character. A promising sequence at the end makes a good case for our heroine blowing up half the base with a single grenade (not unprecedented in Star Wars, I think you’ll agree). Overall, some good stuff, and my opinion may change after next issue, but for now it still seems a bit long.

Teen Titans Year One #4 (written by Amy Wolfram, pencilled by Karl Kerschl, inked by Serge LaPointe) is, as the cover indicates, a Kid Flash spotlight, but it continues the Batman/Robin storyline which has run through the book so far. The issue doesn’t quite put Flasher in the “I should be the leader” slot, but it does give him an ego to go with his considerable powers. Wolfram and Kerschl root for him regardless, so that he’s never really unsympathetic. Also, Aqualad gets more of a personality, although he still doesn’t do a whole lot. Wolfram and Kerschl’s simple storytelling comes across as very matter-of-fact, and it leaves room for Kerschl’s stylized, expressive designs to work. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series and wishing it could go on longer.

Back in the current Teen Titans (#58 written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Carlos Rodriguez, and inked by various people), this month Miss Martian must fight not only the Terror Titans, but also her evil conscience. (I’ve been reading too many solicitations.) Not knowing much about the character, I thought this was a good way to highlight her inner turmoil. I was a little confused at first, thinking that her Evil Self was somehow connected to her Evil Future Self from a few issues back, but that was cleared up soon enough. The art was decent: not too far from the book’s normal style, not too flashy, but adequate for the job at hand.

I get the feeling I should like “Secret Origin,” part 2 of which appears in Green Lantern #30 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert), but it keeps falling flat for me. I shouldn’t fault it for changing Hal’s origin so that only he (and not the little training capsule) is yanked out of the hangar by Abin Sur’s ring. Working classic GL characters into the background is also acceptable, as is tying it into “The Blackest Night” and the Ysmault prophecies. Maybe I just have a problem with Ivan Reis drawing Hal to look 17 years old; or with Johns having Hal cause a rival to crash. Otherwise, “Secret Origin” is appropriately reverent, which is nice. I don’t dislike this storyline, but I like it less than Johns’ and Reis’ other GL work.

Johns does better with Action Comics #864 (pencilled by Joe Prado, inked by Jon Sibal), a bridge between Countdown and Legion of Three Worlds which plays like a standalone murder mystery. Basically, Batman and Lightning Lad (of the “Earth-1 Legion”) clash over the corpses of Karate Kid and Una. Batman also makes the point that he’s met three different versions of the Legion, so naturally he’s not inclined to trust any of them. The mystery isn’t solved — it’s a teaser for the aforementioned LO3W, after all — but the issue is tied together by a Mysterious Narrator revealed on the last page. Suspenseful! (Also, this week, redundant!) The art is okay — a little too chunky, but not to the point of Liefeldism. I can’t get used to a Grunge-like Lightning Lad, though.

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