Diamondrock is love!
[From Nextwave #10, January 2007, written by Warren Ellis, pencilled by Stuart Immonen, inked by Wade von Grawbadger.]
Diamondrock is love!
[From Nextwave #10, January 2007, written by Warren Ellis, pencilled by Stuart Immonen, inked by Wade von Grawbadger.]
This month’s Dr. Thirteen story in Tales of the Unexpected #5 (written by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang) really revs up the commentary, which takes the story to an even higher level, and that’s saying something. It’s basically a challenge from the characters on DC’s lower rungs that they won’t go gently into the night of big-event cannon fodder and unobjectionable Vertigo makeovers. That’s great. That is absolutely perfect. Oh, also there’s a Spectre story (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) about the culpability of eevil researchers, but nobody cares anymore. I will gladly subsidize these mediocre Spectre stories for as long as it takes to keep the Azzarello/Chiang Dr. Thirteen going.
When Star Trek Generations first came out, my mom asked me how it was, and I replied, “Everybody dies and the Enterprise blows up.” JLA Classified #34 (written by Dan Slott and Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jurgens, inked by Jerry Ordway) was a lot like that. Even with a reset button, it’s an effective look at the end of the DC-Earth and the JLA’s efforts to save the planet’s population. Oh, and not all of the Leaguers make it off before the planet pulls a Krypton. Pretty good overall, and ultimately, will probably be better than Generations.
Green Lantern Corps #8 (written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins & Ray Snyder) was a decent conclusion to the Super-Skrull-Dominator/Black Ops Lantern arc, marred by some hazy choreography from Gleason in the fight scenes. A lot of people whose opinions I respect greatly, Ragnell chief among them, like Gleason. I don’t dislike him, but when Guy is fighting a wormy, vaguely-defined alien critter that can change shape, the pages could be laid out a little more clearly.
52 #41 (written by JMRW, pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by Rodney Ramos) was filled with nice moments, including the long-awaited Montoya vs. Richard Dragon fight, a surprise cameo, and the rescue of our remaining space travelers. It is basically a transitory issue, Part 2 of the last quarter of the series. I think it’s also the first issue to have Montoya scenes without her first-person narrative captions. Since she’s the only character in the series who gets to use those, it’s noticeable when they’re gone.
For some reason I bought Welcome To Tranquility #3 twice, which probably speaks to my affection for the series. It also means I can’t remember which books I buy week to week.
Last time I decided to drop a Justice Society book, it was because a time-traveling villain murdered a helpless family. I’m sure you’ve heard what happens to an unfortunate family pick-a-nick in Justice Society of America #3 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham, inked by Ruy Jose)? I think I’m ready to drop this book already, but doggone it, I’m in through the end of the JLA crossover, so at least two more months. So, Nazis, a Special Guest Villain who crops up throughout DC history, and some more Kingdom Come references. The big two-page Avengers Assemble! spread is coming about 5/8 of the way through the story, when it probably should have happened halfway through last issue.
Finally — and, sadly, that comes with an extra layer here — we say goodbye to Nextwave #12 (written by Warren Ellis, pencilled by Stuart Immonen). I liked this book so much, I will gladly buy the oversized omnibus hardcover edition. Nothing but pure joy from beginning to (sniff!) end.
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?
The last big piece of the speedster puzzle from Infinite Crisis is revealed in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #6 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ken Lashley and Andy Smith, inked by Art Thibert), and honestly, it amounts to “because we said so.” Basically, after Bart takes care of Griffin (who dies in a somewhat incoherent sequence where a giant boulder is dropped, Wile E. Coyote-like, on him), we flash back to the Battle World where Bart, the Jay Garrick of Earth-Whatever, Barry Allen, Wally West, and Max Mercury are standing around talking about how best to warn everyone else that Superboy-Prime has gotten away from them.
First off, I’m willing to ignore the space-time issues as to how beings who can travel through time and across multiverses unaided are worried about catching someone who’s, granted, about as fast as they are. Still, standing around? Only Jay and Wally are even in costume. Shouldn’t they be racing after Superboy, talking strategy on the run? Wouldn’t that have been more, y’know, EXCITING?!? Anyway, since Wally can share and steal speed, he proposes absorbing the others’ Speed Force energy to push him to eleven. Bart says no, it’s too dangerous, and you have Linda and the kids to think of — let me do it! And that’s how it happens. That’s why Bart’s been so reluctant to use the Speed Force — he feels guilty for something he volunteered for, and his friends agreed to. Man, what a crappy bit of fiat. Nothing in there suggests that Bart couldn’t have transferred the SF energy back to the others once he was done with it. Nothing in it suggests that Bart abandoned them on the Battle World (which, by the way, means that Barry Allen and Max Mercury are still alive out there, since DC’s apparently unconcerned about that screwing up the timeline the way it did in Flash vol. 2 #150). Therefore, nothing prevents Bart from finding Wally and the rest, telling them he’s done, and restoring their speed to them. The little jolt he gave Jay this issue is probably an acknowledgment that he can do just that. Good grief, DC, at least with Kyle Rayner you burned a lot of bridges! Here you’ve just put up some flimsy barricades. Basically, Bart is the Flash for as long as he wants to be, and since there’s hardly anything new or innovative about Bart-Flash, you’re going to have to work a heck of a lot harder to convince me to buy this book. Another guest artist, this time Andy Smith helping out Lashley, does improve the overall look of things with a sort of Alan Davis-meets-Dick Giordano style.
I’m really not very fond of Ethan van Sciver’s cover for Green Lantern #15 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Ivan Reis). Since when does Hal Jordan have black eyes with little white pupils? Inside is better, as GL fights the Global Guardians, a couple of Faceless Hunters from Saturn, the Rocket Reds, and a special surprise team on the last page. Oh, and we see the new Sinestro Corps. It’s entertaining enough, but there’s an undercurrent of sexism that kind of spoils it for me. The prominent female characters are a (mind-controlled) seductress (Crimson Fox), a man-hating murderess (the new Star Sapphire, who still gets a cool origin), or a prisoner (Cowgirl, who does escape her guards). Maybe I’m being unfair, but it rubbed me the wrong way.
Van Sciver provides interior art for Superman/Batman #30 (written by Mark Verheiden), which, as it happens, is a sequel to a plotline from Verheiden’s short run on Superman last year. That was a pleasant surprise. The thought of Alfred turning to sweet, sweet bourbon as a tonic for his stresses was also kind of funny, if a little wrong. However, the rest of it was just very strange. Batman and Plastic Man breaking into the Fortress of Solitude was probably the highlight, although I think the Alien Bad Guy just spoiled part of 52. Otherwise, Superman and Kilowog somehow conclude that they have to Kill All Humans, Superman’s eyes get all red and glowy, and … yeah. I’m not long for this book.
I was looking forward to the all-Batman, all-Grant Morrison issue of 52 (#30 written by Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Joe Bennett, inks by Bennett and Ruy Jose), but this issue wasn’t it. For one thing, it featured a two-page Origin of the Metal Men, and while I don’t have anything against the Metal Men, they’re not exactly part of Bruce’s One Year Later development. Seeing Kate Kane in the old Wayne Foundation penthouse — one of my absolute favorite fictional buildings, giant fake tree and all — was nice, but jumping back and forth from Gotham to wherever Nightwing and Robin were, was a bit confusing, and I went over those scenes again to confirm that they hadn’t come back to Gotham only to have Robin fly back to the desert with his super dune buggy. I did have to smile at the Ten-Eyed Assassins, but rather than this issue being the done-in-one wonder I was expecting, now I’d like to see a more satisfying follow-up.
Over in Batman #659, guest writer John Ostrander and guest artist Tom Mandrake bring us Part 1 of the four-part story of Grotesk, yet another new Batman antagonist that hits a number of familiar notes. He’s a vigilante who kills because the skels deserve it; he’s an unstoppable brute with (yes) a grotesque look; and he has a mysterious connection to one of Bruce Wayne’s old flames. Thankfully, Bruce and Alfred figured out the connection right around the time I did, which redeems the issue considerably. Ostrander also includes a nice scene with Gordon and a disguised Batman, and Mandrake’s art looks really good. He was a fine regular Batman artist in the ‘80s, and he’s only gotten better.
Batman/The Spirit (written by Jeph Loeb and Darwyn Cooke, pencilled by Darwyn Cooke, inked by J. Bone) was fun, although I shamefully admit not being up on my Spirit Rogues past P’Gell. This is basically a $4.99 ad for Cooke’s Spirit series, beginning next month. It’s not exactly the sly meditations on the human condition that Will Eisner’s originals were, and neither the Spirit nor his supporting cast dominate the pages like the more colorful Batman characters, but Cooke’s style is the selling point here, and it’s enough of a Spirit story (not to mention a more carefree Batman story) to be a pretty good ad.
Captain America #24 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) didn’t feel like Part 3 of 3, since it seems more concerned with setting up a big throwdown involving the Red Skull and a very welcome Surprise Guest Villain. Sharon Carter joins Cap’s side and also links up with Nick Fury, Cap fights Hydra goons and SHIELD cape-killers, and … is the Winter Soldier in this one? No. Oh well, he would’ve gotten lost in all the Hydra beatdowns. Anyway, good clean fun, and the next-issue blurb sounds sufficiently hyperbolic.
Nextwave #10 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) featured a short fight sequence between our heroes and the Not Brand Ecchers, followed by a series of freakish dream sequences showing the Nextwavers as “real” superheroes, or at least more traditional superheroes. It’s the first issue of Nextwave that isn’t riotously funny, and in fact it’s a little more like Planetary, but it’s still good. Boy, Stuart Immonen can draw. Be assured, though, it ends in typical Nextwave fashion.
Jog liked Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage #1 (by Howard Chaykin), and Kevin Church compared it to American Flagg!, so I’ll agree with both and postulate further that it shouldn’t have been G’Nort who acts as the P.O.’ed voice of the Green Lantern Corps, but Raul the Cat (or something like him) with a power ring. Can you imagine? It would have made this Flagg! fan very happy, and it would have prevented an otherwise jarring transition from the purely comedic goofball G’Nort was in Justice League International to this pragmatic, jaded canine creature. Ch’p would have worked as well. Guy translates into a typical Chaykin protagonist smoothly, although he’s not quite the socialized Guy found in other DC books, nor does he have all the charm of Reuben Flagg. I do think that Chaykin is well-suited for Guy, and next issue should be good as well.
I liked the fact that I could follow Planetary #26 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by John Cassaday) without having read an issue for a few months. (Seems like I did read most of the series late in the summer.) It was a decent, understated wrap-up to the overarching plot, and I think the series will really be made by next issue’s epilogue. I did like the fact that the returning character is a pastiche of a particular kind of comic-book innocence.
Another penultimate issue is Secret Six #5 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti). By picking up right from last issue’s bedroom-centered cliffhanger, it puts #4’s fight with the Doom Patrol in a better context of the overall story. #5 also explains just what is going on with the Mad Hatter, and it’s kind of creepy. This means a return to Naked Hatter, but this time (in other parts of the issue) most of the rest of the cast is naked too. Oh, and they fight Vandal Savage’s men, and Dr. Psycho, but after they put some clothes on. Looking forward to the conclusion.
52 #25 (written and drawn by a whole lot of people) presents more supervillain cannibalism (see also Secret Six #4), and a couple of puzzling questions — like, how did D-list villain Magpie get to be a Gotham mob boss (Mobbess?); and why kill Kite-Man? Otherwise, it’s Halloween on DC-Earth, so the Black Marvel Family shoves Mary and Junior out of the way to take down Sabbac, and Ralph Dibny learns not to cross Neron like poor Felix Faust did. I particularly enjoyed the origin of Nightwing, by Mark Waid and George Pérez, and it just confirms for me that Dick should be the star of Waid and Pérez’s Brave and the Bold relaunch.
Speaking of Nightwing, Captain America #23 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Mike Perkins) focuses on the Winter Soldier, a/k/a Bucky Barnes, now pretty lucid and interacting with the holographic Nick Fury. (I’m not up on Nick’s current status — is he broadcasting from the secret undisclosed spider-hole, or is he one with the Force?) Anyway, the more I see of Bucky, the more I wish DC would get its act together on Nightwing and Robin. Of course, Brubaker has the advantage of seeing what DC’s done with Nightwing and Robin … but I digress. Another good issue, in which Bucky and Obi-Nick talk politics while blowing things up and hurting people. Also, a very exciting Special Guest Villain joins the Red Skull to take advantage of the Civil War fallout.
Nextwave #9 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) features the secret origins of … well, it’s kind of like when Dan Slott did that Hostess Fruit Pie ad in the middle of the Spider-Man/Human Torch miniseries. Really funny, as always, but thanks to low sales and Ultimate Spider-Man, there are only three more issues before it shuffles off to occasional miniseries limbo. At least there’s the “occasional” part.
However, the best of the week is the very Nextwave-esque Superman/Batman Annual #1 (written by Joe Kelly, pencilled by Ed McGuinness, Carlos Meglia, and some others), a very over-the-top look at how the World’s Finest learned each other’s secret identities. Usually when DC tries to be wacky — and especially in this title, as with Jeph Loeb and “Batzarro” — it ends up being painfully unfunny, but not here, no sir. In fact, this almost parodies Loeb’s last storyline, what with its visitors from parallel universes and all. I was really not expecting this issue to be so good, and I hope this turns into an “annual” (sorry) tradition.
I rather liked it, except for a couple of technical details. First, early in the first Babs/Dinah/Helena scene, an unattributed narrative caption made me a) hunt for the speaker, assuming she were in the scene; and b) wonder whether a good old-fashioned thought balloon might not have been clearer. Indeed, if anyone could rock the humble thought balloon back into fashion, I’m sure Ms. Simone would be at the top of the list. The other thing happens towards the end of the BC/Batgirl fight, when someone wearing a yellow glove punches someone else about fifty feet. Context indicates it’s probably BC punching Batgirl, which doesn’t make much sense by itself; but Batgirl’s got the powers and the yellow gloves. Anyway, I’m coming back next month.
To me, the big reveal about the Emerald Eye in 52 #20 (written by the Four Tops, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Ruy Jose) came off a bit bluntly. It’s basically a sight gag, so repeating it just feels like Jay Leno milking a punchline. As for the Supernova and Steel scenes, honestly I had to keep reminding myself they were even in the issue. With no omniscient narrator — and, in fact, no narration at all except Montoya’s internal monologue, which I think has also faded away — it’s hard to connect the three disparate story threads. However, I don’t think that’s the point. If there were an omniscient narrator, I think it would sound something like the bratty kid my sister and I babysat one night with Back to the Future. He and I had seen the movie, but my sister hadn’t, so the first 20 minutes was filled with him exclaiming “Okay, remember that tree! Remember that truck! Remember the clock!” By contrast, 52 clearly wants to be more subtle, so at the very least we are subliminally reminded of Supernova in the Batcave and Steel getting slowly back into the superhero game.
I was well into Superman #656 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino) when I started to sympathize with the super-beast trying to beat the tar out of our hero. Sure, he was an unstoppable violence factory, but it wasn’t his fault. Therefore, I suppose it would be an inversion of my expectations for Subjekt-17 to turn out irredeemable, after all, and not some familiar type of “there is honor in you, Kryptonian” space-gladiator. Superman’s cognitive dissonance at having to take such a hard line with S-17 was also appropriate. Still, Superman speaks how many languages now; and can modulate his whistles to specific frequencies…? Oookay. Regardless, the story itself was fine, even if more of the fun parts were in flashback (giant trilobite! “Super-Boy!”) Art was gorgeous, as usual.
If The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive (#4 written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ken Lashley, inked by Walden Wong) is improving, it’s gotten up to “adequate.” Last issue’s fill-in art was open and expressive, but now that we’re back to Ken Lashley’s overly busy pencils, the book feels cramped again. I did appreciate keeping the Rise And Fall Of “The Griffin” to pretty much this issue, even if his rise seemed a bit too quick and easy. The explanation of Bart’s relationship with the Speed Force wasn’t unexpected, and it feels almost like the setup that made sure Kyle Rayner was the only one who could channel Oan power. Overall, the book seems to be setting up a certain status quo for Bart to be the Flash. If that’s the case, I won’t stay with this title for much longer, because so far nobody’s convinced me that Bart’s adventures are worth my $2.99 every month. However, if the “secret of the Speed Force” ends up empowering additional speedsters, or even bringing some back, I’d be more interested in that. I’m still not sure the “don’t get used to the first Flash you see” thing has played itself out yet.
Finally, yes, Nextwave (#8 written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) is love. Who wouldn’t want to see Mindless Ones doing West Side Story routines? The satire, if that’s how it was intended, maybe got a little thick once the Mindless Ones started shopping, dining, and watching “American Idol,” but judging from the last page’s captions, I think Ellis and Immonen know to keep the overt intellectualism in the background. Also, I started to feel a little sorry for Rorkannu once the Captain shoved his head in the toilet, but that’s probably just me comparing him to Phil, The Prince Of Insufficient Light.
Secret Six #3 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti) practically gave me whiplash with all the reversals of allegiance. It begins in a place that seems incongruous with last issue’s cliffhanger, so when the first reversal comes, it feels more like a course correction. The bulk of the issue concerns the Six’s trip to Lady Vic’s base, out for revenge after her goons attacked them in #2. There are complications, naturally. Scandal gets a spotlight, and Catman is once again seen as prime father material. Simone keeps everyone likeable, with a couple of exceptions: I’m getting a little tired of Ragdoll being so precious (on good days, I hear David Hyde Pierce; more recently, it’s been Dr. Smith from “Lost In Space’); and the super-Catman-sperm idea seems, well, less fresh the second time around. The art seems to be settling more into a Tim Sale style, but that’s not bad and for the most part everything is clear and understandable. A double-page spread with Vandal Savage and Scandal is a highlight.
Checkmate #5 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Jesus Saiz, inked by Fernando Blanco) featured the selection of a new Black Queen’s Knight, along with the fallout from Alan Scott being “fired” as White King. It was a decent done-in-one issue, although I did wonder about the utility of one part of the selection process: what’s it do to your candidates’ morale after you reveal they weren’t in any danger? Maybe it’s helpful; I don’t know. Anyway, all of the candidates are unknown, and none of them really jump out otherwise, so the eventual winner doesn’t seem preordained. You’ll probably make an educated guess about halfway through. I like Blanco inking Saiz; not that Saiz is a bad inker of his own stuff. With Blanco on inks and Santiago Olmedo on colors, the figures pop a little more than they might have in previous issues. I’m eager to see what Rucka does with the Suicide Squad next time.
52 #15 (written by Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Shawn Moll, inked by Tom Nguyen) gives us a little Montoya and Question in Kahndaq and a lot of Booster and Supernova (and Clark Kent) in Metropolis. It’s all pretty effective, with the possibility of death hanging over a couple of characters. After a touching reunion in the Kahndaq prison, however, we’re off to the races with Booster. He gets a good sendoff, I have to say; regardless of whether he’s really dead (or, more to the point, whether this is the “right” Booster). If an issue can leave you feeling sorry for a computerized sidekick, not to mention feeling the frustration of a powerless Man of Steel, it must have done something right.
Now that I’m bummed out again, I almost feel guilty telling you how fun Nextwave #7 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) was. Pretty daggone fun, I have to say. It picks up from last issue’s fight against the Aeromarine, sets up the new menace from … Dormammu’s kid brother, looks like (have we seen him before?), and gets right into the crew fragging Mindless Ones. Like the caption says, “Nextwave: when America can only be saved by killing a butt-load of monsters.” Ellis’ script is a sprightly affair, and I have always been a big fan of Stuart Immonen, but I particularly like the slightly stylized approach he uses here. Still no signs of this book running low on attitude anytime soon.
Of course, getting home at 10:30 meant I was up for a couple of hours reading comics, and while that was fun at the time, it put me in a foul mood the next day. It also didn’t help that one of the smoke alarms started its low-battery chirp while I was trying to sleep.
Naturally, first off the stack was Action Comics #840 (written by Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek, drawn by Pete Woods), the conclusion of “Up, Up and Away!” I really liked this issue, and not just from the residual movie high. It was a conclusion that actually felt like a conclusion, wrapping up loose ends like the reconstruction of Metropolis and the “reintegration” of Clark’s life with Superman’s. With this issue, the new/retro status quo is established concretely, while still managing to be self-contained. Take a bow, guys; you did “One Year Later” right.
In a nice bit of timing, Batman #654 (written by James Robinson, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher) also wrapped up its “OYL” storyline, “Face The Face.” This was a bit more scattered, with the misdirection involving Two-Face going off in (yes) two different directions. That’s appropriate enough, I suppose, and I believe this was a play-fair mystery, unlike “Hush,” but there’s a fine line between clever use of obscure villains and pulling something out of one’s hinder. Still, the closing scenes with Bruce, Tim, and Alfred were worth it. Next up, Morrison and Dini!
52 #8 (written by Clubs, Hearts, Spades, and Diamonds, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Rob Stull) was a pretty solid issue. With most of the focus on Steel’s metallification, there was still room for a good Ralph Dibny/Ollie Queen scene, teasing Supernova, and checking in with Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire. Oh, yeah, and “History of the DCU” covered about 1996-2004, for those who came in late. Overall I still like this series, but I don’t know if that has more to do with its immediacy or its underlying quality. Ironically, it’s hard for me to read it in real time, and when a character refers to “weeks ago,” it almost throws me out of the story.
Brave New World #1 (written and drawn by a whole lot of people) didn’t really have much of an effect on me. I still have little interest in any of these series beyond the Atom, and if I didn’t already like Gail Simone, I wouldn’t be too excited about that one.
I liked Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #19 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Barry Kitson) pretty well, although the reveal of the murderer wasn’t entirely unexpected. It did showcase Chameleon’s detective skills effectively, and the image of a murderous Robotman was a surreal homage to “our era.”
Then there’s Hawkgirl #53 (written by Walter Simonson, drawn by Howard Chaykin). Yes, I’m going to talk about the bra, so Mom, if you’re reading, maybe you should skip this one. Seriously, though, I know it’s just Chaykin’s fondness (and talent) for drawing well-built women, but come on! Why not a sports bra, as opposed to the lacy number revealed in the course of this fight? And since she is wearing a bra under the costume, in Louisiana, howcome she’s still all nipply on the outside? (Actually, Mom is fond of criticizing any movie where the heroine finds herself in trouble while in eveningwear, so this would be another strike against Hawkgirl for her.) As for the merits of the issue otherwise, at least I was able to follow it for a few more pages than usual. I really hate to say this, and it doesn’t reflect on my love for Chaykin otherwise, but I’m giving this book a reprieve to see how the new artist works out.
Meanwhile, over with the other company, I bought New Avengers #21 (written by Brian Michael Bendis) solely for Howard Chaykin drawing Captain America. For that, it was good. It didn’t give me any more insight into “Civil War,” but I wasn’t looking. One question, though: on the page with Spider-Man, what’s the big tower with the spider-thing on top? It looks like Aku from “Samurai Jack” has taken over NYC.
Sticking with “Civil War,” Fantastic Four #538 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, drawn by Mike McKone) spends a few pages on Reed and Sue fighting beside Johnny’s hospital bed, a few more with Ben establishing solidarity on Yancey Street, and a few more on getting “DB” to make Thor’s hammer go nuts. So there you go. Six more months of this, at least.
JLA Classified #23 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer) presents part 2 of the Detroit League vs. the Royal Flush Gang. I can’t remember my RFG timeline that well, but I think this storyline might be explaining the different Gangs which attacked the League during the ’80s. The one introduced this issue went on to fight Max Lord’s League early in its history, if my memory’s correct. Anyway, it’s a nice take on the characters, and since this issue spotlights Vibe, it’s good that Englehart’s made his accent a little less stereotypical. I daresay those who have a soft spot for the Detroit League will like this, and those who don’t, won’t.
Picked up Eternals #1 (written by Neil Gaiman, drawn by John Romita, Jr.) based on good word of mouth from last week, and it was a decent introduction, but I’m still on the fence about whether to get #2. However, I am a little more motivated to save up for that big hardcover, so curse you, Marvel! for making me want more expensive Kirby reprints.
Nextwave #6 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) was another romp through fights with samurai robots and ptero-men. Underlying it, though, was the message that the Nextwavers really are pretty dangerous people, and it’s all fun until they decide it’s gone too far. I’m sure there’s some metacommentary hidden in that sentiment, but it’s probably unintentional. This is a comic for folks who like a little wacky with their carnage, and so far it’s all good.
Finally, the penultimate issue of Solo, #11, spotlights Sergio Aragones, and it’s maybe the most fun issue of this gone-too-soon series since Mike Allred’s. Sergio’s style is warm and inviting, and reading it felt like a visit from a friend who loves to tell stories. The only thing that could justify cancelling this series would be knowing for sure it would only get worse from here on out.