Comics Ate My Brain

March 23, 2007

New comics 3/21/07

Well, I’m done with Justice Society of America (#4 written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham, inked by Ruy Jose), although I’ll have to get it through the Justice League crossover. The big throwdown involves Vandal Savage versus junior Wildcat Tom Bronson (shout-out? Probably not). Meanwhile, the rest of the Justice Society smacks down various Nazi villains in a much more perfunctory manner. I did like how Dale Eaglesham organized the issue, making lots of action fit and flow smoothly, but on the minus side, there wasn’t a lot of life in the main JSA-team action scenes. I understand the emphasis on character over action, and the two significant action scenes — the Wildcats vs. Savage, and another involving Liberty Belle and Damage — are set up to make character points. However, the pacing of the entire arc has front-loaded the issues with foundational character moments, so that the big team moments are almost in the background. Finally, the JLA crossover and the old-school Legion subplot are teased, as are the introductions of two new members. This title therefore seems to have a lot of housekeeping to tend, and I am frankly not so much into its housekeeping.

Flash: Fastest Man Alive #10 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Paco Diaz, inked by Art Thibert) presents Part 2 of “Full Throttle,” which wouldn’t be a problem except last issue was the “Prologue,” so you’d think this one would be Part 1. Anyway. Bart comes dangerously close to Mary-Suehood with his cracking of a legendarily unsolved LAPD case. Sure, Bart’s got an unfair advantage being a superhero, but he doesn’t seem to do anything a smart normal-speed detective couldn’t have. Then Bart takes out the supervillain who did it, and Zoom too, in short order. The cliffhanger is pretty effective, though. The art is decent, although some of the figures are posed a little funny, like they’re double-jointed. It’s still an improvement over the previous regime.

I still want to read the whole thing, because I’m not sure what exactly happened, but I ended up liking Omega Men #6 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint). Tigorr and Vril Dox are the stars of the show, and Flint’s art is dynamic and … full-to-burstin’, for lack of a better term. It’s not messy, it’s unconventional, but it works.

Part 2 of the Stuart Moore/Andy Clarke siege of Wayne Tower in Detective Comics #830 was pretty good. The eventual Batman reveal was handled well. I didn’t buy the drama associated with Robin’s needing to blowtorch the trigger off his C4-encrusted shoulder, though. One could do worse than Moore and Clarke on a Batman story.

Birds Of Prey #104 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) was all kinds of fun. It recalls a couple of ’90s comics, including the first BoP miniseries when Helena is hit upon in fancy dress by a charming rogue, and also a deathtrap from DC One Million (where the villain was Vandal Savage, also a Secret Six nemesis), but that’s OK. The introduction of a Special Guest Bird (ha ha) was worth it. Best issue of BoP I’ve read lately, and that’s saying something.

Was pleasantly surprised by 52 #46 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, inked by Olliffe, Drew Geraci, and Rodney Ramos), because I thought Adam would make short work of the Oolong Island crew. Turns out I didn’t give them — or at least one of them — enough credit. This was also the best “action” issue of 52 in a while, and yes, I know I armchair-quarterbacked the 52 theory of action last week. This was better, I think, because it was on a much smaller scale and also involved a lot of little character bits. The eBay scenes were great, marred only by the fake lorem ipsum language. Also, I know I don’t comment on the origin-story backups, but I really enjoyed the Batman origin. Andy Kubert took a well-worn series of events and made them into a fresh set of evocative images.

I almost didn’t buy Batman Confidential #4 (written by Andy Diggle, pencilled by Whilce Portacio, inked by Richard Friend) because I’m not getting that much out of the story, and now I’m really not sure why I continue. As it happens, this was a good issue, art included, except for two things: the first Batplane looks a little too advanced; and the ending seems to torpedo Luthor’s post-revamp “bad guy behind the scenes” persona.

Bane goes out a little too easily in Checkmate #12 (written by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis, and Christina Weir, pencilled by Steve Scott and Cliff Richards, inked by Nathan Massengill and Steve Bird), but other than that this was a fascinating issue, crystallizing a lot of political subplots and probably setting up John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad revival. It kept me guessing, which was great. The art is the usual thick-lined, moody, kinda muddy style that this title uses to good effect. It’s helped greatly by Santiago Arcas’ colors, which brighten up as more information is revealed and get darker again when the issues get murkier. I really liked this comic.

I’m also cautiously optimistic about Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #50 (written by Tad Williams, pencilled by Shawn McManus, inked by Walden Wong). It’s a new creative team dealing with some of the old subplots, but the first thing you notice (obviously) is the different artistic style. Instead of Butch Guice’s more washed-out pencils (no pun intended), McManus and Wong combine for an almost cartoony effect which migh tnot be entirely realistic, but it makes characters easier to distinguish. Ironically, though, that doesn’t apply at first to “Narwhal,” the new villain introduced on the first page, because he looks a lot like Our Hero. I think he’s also meant to remind us of Koryak, Orin’s son from the Peter David days of the early ’90s. Williams also gives us a new Topo, presented without reference to Aquaman’s old octopus sidekick. Topo II is more cute comic-relief, I take it, but I was never a big Topo I scholar so I can’t really evaluate that. Also, Tempest and Mera look to be a big part of the book now too. Basically, the current Aquaman gets introduced to the ruins of Atlantis, there’s some talk about the fate of San Diego (a plot from the days when I didn’t read the book) and Narwhal cuts a swath of destruction through the ruins. Pretty intriguing stuff, and it’ll keep me around for a while.

Reading Army@Love #1 (written and pencilled by Rick Veitch, inked by Gary Erskine) was almost a novel experience, because it seems that I had pretty much forgotten the accoutrements of a Vertigo book. The last Vertigo book I read was American Virgin #4, about six months ago, maybe, so I was a little surprised at how new the line seemed. How was A@L itself? Not too bad, and pretty entertaining. I expected it to be over about seven pages before it was, and I was reading it while trying to watch “Friday Night Lights” so I might not have been paying as close attention as I should’ve, but it was still very good.

The Spirit #4 (by Darwyn Cooke) was another fine issue. I halfway expected it to be continued from last time, since #3 ended on something of a cliffhanger, but that’s OK. #4 (re)introduces Silk Satin, surely an Eisner creation who’s now a top-notch CIA agent. I love how everyone the Spirit encounters is so much better at their particular job than he is at his; or at least has that impression of themselves in relation to him. With Satin and the Spirit on the run from bad guys for most of the issue, the dynamics are somewhat similar to the news-anchor story from #1, but Cooke makes Satin different enough, and likeable enough, that it doesn’t matter. Art is impeccable, as usual. I especially enjoyed the clever logo-centered two-page spread.

Finally, I can’t believe it’s here so soon after #1, but The Brave and the Bold #2 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek) is almost an improvement on what was a very good first issue. This time Green Lantern pairs with Supergirl, resulting in a sort-of-uncomfortable internal monologue about not succumbing to his primal urges vis-a-vis her nubile teenaged wiles. However, that even gets turned on its head in hilarious fashion. Perez and Wiacek really give their all this time, cramming even more detail into the backgrounds of the gambling planet Ventura. I made a point to look for Marvel’s Grandmaster, one of the antagonists in the Perez-drawn JLA/Avengers, but didn’t see anything, and that may be my only complaint.

February 28, 2007

New comics 2/21/07

Apparently, according to Superman #659 (written by Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Peter Vale with a little bit by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino), Superman can be a God figure. Who knew? Someone should tell Bryan Singer….

The other rather well-worn element of this story was, of course, the Spiritual Elderly African-American Woman, so between those two you’d think this would be a pretty painful issue. However, somehow it actually kind of worked. Probably helped by Merino’s inks, Vale’s pencils are a good blend of Pacheco and Jerry Ordway. He’s probably done a hundred other things I’ve never heard of, but I liked his work this issue. I tend to pay more attention to the Supes-as-God stories, because I imagine that some people on DC-Earth would have the same reaction our guest star does: he’s an actual angel she can command. The bit about “commanding” even makes her a little less spiritual, in the sense that I’m not sure God works like that. Overall it’s very reminiscent of Astro City, and a decent AC story is better than a lot of stuff out there.

Wonder Woman #4 (written by Allan Heinberg, pencilled by Terry Dodson, inked by Rachel Dodson) came out this past week, and lucky for it, it doesn’t leave much hanging. The big scheduling disaster which has befallen this title wiped out Heinberg concluding this story in #5, but the conclusion looks to be just a big fight scene. The plot is very simple: the “new Wonder Woman” is basically a grim ‘n’ gritty version, Diana crafts a plan that leaves out a lot of her allies, and there are both stunning reversals and stunning reveals. Well, one of each, at least. I’m sure it will read great in the collection, whenever that appears.

I liked The Spirit #3 (by Darwyn Cooke) well enough, although I found myself instinctively rebelling against shifting first-person narrative captions. Because it’s Darwyn Cooke, though, they’re handled quite well, and it only takes a split-second to switch between them. It also helps that there’s only one narrator per scene. As for the art, Cooke uses looser pencils and a more impressionistic coloring style to distinguish the flashback scenes. I have read the original origin, I think, and this one feels different but it works just fine.

52 #42 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, drawn by Darick Robertson) put the spotlight on Ralph Dibny, fighting the Thing Inside Dr. Fate’s Helmet. That’s not meant as a spoiler, but it’s not much of a surprise if you’ve been paying attention. It’s still cool to see Ralph back at the top of his game, and Robertson makes him look both lean and mean. There are a couple of pages with Montoya and her faceless reflection, but other than that it’s all Ralph.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #49 (written by Kurt Busiek, layouts by Mike Manley, inks by Ricardo Villagran) closes out Busiek’s revamp with part 2 of the Fisherman story. It’s more about the Parasite than it is Aquaman, flashing back to the Fisherman parasite taking over some hapless family man who happened to be down at the docks at the wrong time. I’m not sure if the family-man aspects are more interesting than the present-day guy fighting Aquaman, and it all ends up being a rather creepy tale of shambling horror. Villagran’s finishes help feed the horror-story feel.

Checkmate #11 (written by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFillippis, & Christina Weir, pencilled by Steve Scott, inked by Nathan Massengill) presents the first part of another trust-no-one story wherein a couple of Checkmate agents are cautioned not to think outside the box and/or take a past familial slight personally, but we know that’s practically a flashing neon sign that both those things will happen. However, internal Checkmate politics and the general skill of all involved combine to create a general feeling of unease, like watching a slow-motion train wreck, in a good way. Scott and Massengill provide art that’s a little more static than Jesus Saiz, but again that’s a good thing. I like this book, and I like reading it month-to-month, because I think I would get either lost or bored trying to get through a paperback. I am dumb.

I am really starting to like the pencils of Nicola Scott, because as presented in Birds Of Prey #103 (written by Gail Simone, inked by Doug Hazlewood), they are very crisp and clean, and they do remind me of Chris Sprouse and Paul Pelletier. Very clean. The story is the untold tale of Barbara Gordon’s rival, which unfolds not unlike Lisa Simpson’s rival in the episode with Winona Ryder — the one where Ralph “I bent my Wookiee!” Wiggum wins the diorama contest. Here the stakes are a little higher and there is no Ralph. Instead, Gypsy and Manhunter fight the house supervillains at the jail Manhunter broke into, in a subplot which reminded me of the recent Howard Chaykin/Kilian Plunkett arc in JLA Classified. It was a decent issue, with a couple of well-handled plot twists.

Omega Men #5 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint) was more of the teenage Guardian fighting Lady Styx, with Felicity going through some changes. Everyone else stands around watching these events, and I am right there with them. It’s a typical penultimate issue, which means I can’t really talk about it right now.

She-Hulk #16 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) is a big fight against the Wendigo, guest-starring Wolverine, put through the Slott/Burchett wackiness filter. It reminded me of an issue of Peter David’s Captain Marvel also (I think) involving the Wendigo and the Hulk, and between that story and this one, there’s my knowledge of the Wendigo. He’s the Shaggy Man of Marvel, apparently. Some flirtatious banter between Shulkie and Wolvie was jarring to me, but the fights are broken up with funny scenes involving the heroes’ backup staffs.

Finally, The Brave and the Bold #1 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek) was everything I expected, and that’s saying a lot. I like the Batman/Green Lantern pairing generally, and especially if it’s Hal Jordan wearing the ring. I also appear to have purchased the alternate cover with Vegas in the background, and I like it better than the promo-art cover I’ve been seeing a lot more of. Anyway, there’s a fight in the Batcave and Roulette shows up towards the end, but in between there’s a great setpiece featuring “Wayne … Bruce Wayne” and his allegedly bumpkin sidekick Hal. Good grief, this is a fun book, and by the way it gives Perez an excuse to dazzle with his layouts and general storytelling ability. Like all of his work, this is a dense issue which invites a Where’s Waldo easter-egg hunt. Perez also makes the revisions to Hal’s costume work, which I mention only because I think it generally throws off Hal’s proportions. I was predisposed to like this book, but the creative team has done some fine work and really exploits the premise very well.

January 28, 2007

New comics 1/17/07 and 1/24/07

Wow, two weeks withouth a post? Jeez, I’m sorry. A combination of factors, including the latest “successor” installment of Grumpy Old Fan, compelled me to do another double-sized weekly roundup. I’m also motivated to do some more TItans recaps. Anyway, let’s get right to it.

The best book of this bunch was, no question, Criminal #4 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips), another really great issue. Not a panel or word is wasted. For me, this story is art-house noir comics — it reminds me of seeing a really good indie-film thrilla at the Kentucky Theater, the local art-house in my old hometown.

Runner-up is Checkmate #10 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Jesus Saiz, inked by Fernando Blanco): a darn fine issue, especially considering that I couldn’t remember who the Checkmate agent was supposed to be and was too lazy to look it up. If it were my first issue, I would have been just as satisfied. Considering that this is a Shadowpact crossover, that’s probably what DC wants to hear. Also, Saiz and Blanco do a really fantastic job — moody and creepy, with a nice earth-tones palette from colorist Santiago Arcas.

I was hoping it’d be Ray Palmer in 52 #37 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Pat Olliffe, inks by Drew Geraci), and I really didn’t expect my Lightray prediction to pan out, but what we got was good enough. It’ll probably make more sense in the long run anyway. I don’t know if I’ll be able to say the same about Buddy’s aliens’ involvement, but there you go. 52 #38 (pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) was a better-balanced installment, building some suspense about the return to Nanda Parbat and creating a nice bit of dread with the Four Horsemen. I would have liked a little more with Buddy and the aliens — did they watch movies, pick their fantasy JLA, or run cheap shots into the ground on their week off?

Speaking of the Justice League, JLA Classified #32 (written by Dan Slott and Dan Jurgens, pencils by Jurgens, inks by Trevor Scott) kicks off its Tribute to 2004 with the first of two arcs originally announced for that year. This is Slott’s “The 4th Parallel,” featuring the Red King, an ordinary guy with the power to control probablity through manipulation of parallel universes. (Was this delayed, at least in part, by the 52 aftereffects? I dunno.) RK’s scheme is somewhat hard to grasp, but Jurgens’ usual stiff figures are softened well by Scott’s inks. Jurgens also finished the script, I think on account of Slott’s exclusive Marvel contract (right?), so I hesitate to call this one of Slott’s weaker efforts, because that’s not fair to him or Jurgens. Even so, not a bad start.

I don’t have any particular criticism of Green Lantern #16 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert), although Hal’s brief remarks about POW torture are a bit much whether they’re meant to come from him or Johns. Reis and Albert make a good team, so it helps that this issue is mostly action.

Since I spent most of high school and half of college with Ricardo Villagran’s inks on DC’s Star Trek title, his guest art on Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #48 (written by Kurt Busiek) was welcome. Most of the plot concerns the old Aqua-villain Fisherman being some kind of parasite (what, another one?), with a subplot about Aquaman confronting an old failure while on a rescue mission. Villagran is less “sketchy” (for lack of a better term) than Butch Guice or Phil Winslade, but he does a good job with both the landlubbers and the undersea action. The story itself feels very prefatory, though, like it’s counting on Part 2 to pull it through.

The same applies to Birds Of Prey #102 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). While Lois Lane and Barbara play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, in which the hunter becomes the hunted, Manhunter fights evil prison guards until … well, she’s still fighting. Wait ’til next issue.

The Spirit #2 (by Darwyn Cooke) was another good issue, although I don’t have the background with P’Gell to gauge whether she’s portrayed appropriately. I know that’s not entirely the point of this series, but it does walk that tightrope. The issue does establish P’Gell as the Spirit’s femme fatale, for whom he cares but with whom he can never settle down, and at this point in the series we’re still being introduced to everyone.

Fantastic Four #542 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Andy Lanning and Cam Smith) gets the book back on track quite well. I don’t mind Mike McKone, but I do think this title needs a penciller a little less antiseptic.

She-Hulk #15 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) was decent, but I’m not quite used to the old supporting cast being gone. Shulkie fights the Abomination with the power of her brain and some SHIELD help. We’ll see.

With Omega Men #4 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint) focusing on Vril Dox and Superman almost as much as on Tigorr and his lost love, I’m starting to think this is another backdoor prelude to DC’s version of Annihilation. It’s still good, but it doesn’t seem so much like it’s just about the Omegas.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #26 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray) offers more action, plus the slightly revised origin of the Ranzz siblings. Nice cliffhanger.

It’s good that Bart does Flash-y things in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #8 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ron Adrian and Art Thibert, inked by Thibert). It’s bad that the rest of it — especially the just-add-water romance — is so contrived. Maybe things will improve next issue with new writer Marc Guggenheim.

Finally, my ramble this time is about Star Trek: The Next Generation — The Space Between #1 (written by David Tischman, drawn by Casey Maloney). This issue tells a first-season story that would have been a pretty decent first-season episode; but if you know TNG, that’s not exactly a compliment. The idea of a culture with permanent records as fluid as Wikipedia offers a good opportunity for satire, and this issue hits the highlights of those opportunities. Art is sorta-kinda photo-influenced, not unlike an old DC TNG artist named (I think) Rachel Pollack. Everyone looks and sounds about like they should, but 22 pages of story obviously doesn’t translate into 48 minutes of TV time, and that’s the issue’s biggest problem.

Pacing dooms this issue, which spends the first 3-4 pages on the mundanities of hailing the planet, establishing the mission, and beaming everyone down. It strikes me as the kind of thing that a fan would write, thinking (perhaps justifiably) that a fan would want to read it. However, that kind of initial pace can also encourage the reader, at least subliminally, to expect a more fleshed-out story — in other words, to expect a story that would take 48 TV minutes to tell. It ends up making the more important parts feel rushed.

It also points up the differences between film and comics, which I think apply to more than just licensed adaptations. Those 3-4 introductory pages establish the away team’s mission, identify their contact person, and describe (in dialogue) a weird energy surge. However, a one-page splash panel could show the away team beaming down and relate the same information through log-entry captions. The team’s going to meet with the leader pretty soon; he didn’t need to be introduced on the Enterprise viewscreen a couple of pages before.

Moreover, that one-page intro is something that comics can do, and film can’t. It might take an actor 30 seconds to speak all the dialogue that a few captions could convey, and nobody wants to spend 30 seconds — the length of a commercial — on a relatively static image backed only by offscreen narration. With comics, though, the reader can digest those captions at her own pace while taking in the visual information about the planet and the beam-in from the splash panel.

Nevertheless, it seems like a lot of comics these days are so concerned with evoking the experience of film that they have forgotten, or are skittish about using, the narrative tricks that don’t work for film. I know I opened this post by approving of Criminal‘s filmic tendencies, but the difference is its efficiency. Criminal knows how to be a good comic. The new TNG comic is inefficient (wow, sounds like the Borg, huh?) precisely because it tries too hard to capture the beats and pacing of its filmed ideal. It tries to be what it is not, and therefore fails. Infinite combinations, remember?

December 28, 2006

New comics 12/20/06

It was a good Christmas, but long — three days with family balanced against two spent mostly on the road. Therefore, I haven’t seen these books in a week, and with our office Christmas party going a little late last week, I actually fell asleep reading a couple.

Not Fantastic Four #541, though (written by the departing J. Michael Straczynski, drawn by Mike McKone). Ben Grimm goes to France and meets the Justice League. Now imagine that as written by Frasier and Niles Crane, and that’s the issue in a nutshell. Even McKone’s work seems more light and ethereal than usual, although a lot of that is the pastel color palette. I just shake my head in amazement at this issue, and I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad.

Holy crap, Criminal #3 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips) was good. A great character study really helped ground me in the plot and made me want to reread the first two issues. My only question was the utility of having sex while recovering from a gunshot.

Likewise, She-Hulk #14 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) did a great job with Awesome Andy’s awesome secret origin, although upon further examination I wonder if Burchett cheated by drawing very slight “expressions” on Andy’s head. I didn’t notice them at first, so I guess they were subliminable.

Through no fault of writer Gail Simone, penciller Nicola Scott, or inker Doug Hazlewood, I fell asleep while reading Birds Of Prey #101, and so missed out upon a very exciting issue which starts with Big Barda fighting a jet in mid-air and ends with just about everybody in some kind of trouble. I also never noticed how nice the Scott/Hazlewood team is; better even than Ed Benes was on this book. Glad I started getting it again.

Lots of weird stuff going on in Omega Men #3 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint), and I think I fell asleep during this one too. I’m not sure whether I like Flint’s work, although a 16-panel montage of Tigorr vs. spiders makes up for an earlier panel of a Superman with a lower leg almost as long as his entire torso. Lady Styx from 52 shows up here, all full of Hellraiser-style religion-through-sadism, and there is much freaking out. It’s interesting enough for me to keep going, I suppose.

Checkmate #9 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Jesus Saiz) continues the Kobra-infiltration storyline, revealing along the way that current DC POTUS vacations in Kentucky (represent!). There is (almost literally) a backdoor crossover with another book, some Chaykinesque crosstalk between Sasha and Sarge Steel, and another character retooled by John Ostrander joins Mister Terrific. Pretty good.

Writers Kurt Busiek and Karl Kesel and artists Butch Guice and Phil Winslade wrap up a “classic Aquaman” two-parter in Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #47. It’s okay, I suppose, although it still doesn’t quite feel like classic Aquaman. It does, however, inform the relationship between Aquaman (both of them) and King Shark, so I guess it is worth noting.

Secret Six #6 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti) wraps up pretty well. Most of it is concerned with the Mad Hatter and Vandal Savage, both of whom appear to die in the issue, but one of whom actually doesn’t. I liked it, and it would be interesting to see how Simone handled an ongoing series.

Finally, 52 #33 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Joe Prado and Tom Derenick, inks by Jay Lesten and Rodney Ramos) was appropriately quiet. Nightwing gives Batwoman “official status,” Ralph Dibny steals a doodad from the Flash Museum, the Question gets closer to death, Luthor continues to be a bastard, and there are assorted holiday glimpses of various characters. Oh, and Black Adam reaches the height of his naivete. I can’t tell you which of these elements will be most important to the overall plot, but I do continue to enjoy the ebb and flow of this series. It might have been an objectively uneventful week, but that’s the way the holidays are sometimes.

November 20, 2006

New comics 11/8/06 and 11/15/06, plus a few comments about reading

For various reasons, most of which you don’t want to hear (trust me), I’ve been doing a lot of reading in addition to each week’s new comics. Recently I finished the last big chunks of Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 1, and today I read all 25 issues of Hourman. Now, of course, I’m trying to think about what to say for the last two 52s, because with a new one every week they tend to blur together.

Now, here’s the thing: the Doctor Strange stories were all from his ten-page feature in Strange Tales, but for the most part each led into the next, allowing a much larger story to be serialized over many months. Those stories had very brief recaps of the previous issue’s events, maybe a fat caption or two, or a flashback at the most — but space was at a premium.

Accordingly, each of Hourman‘s monthly issues contained 22 pages of story, so it had more room to do full-blown 1- or 2-page recaps of the previous issue. This made reading all the issues in one sitting a little rocky, but I know I appreciated those recaps when I was reading the book as it came out. What’s more, both titles used footnotes to remind readers of what had happened when, which isn’t surprising for an original Silver Age book or for the Silver Age wannabe that Hourman was.

52 does very little in the way of flashbacks and/or recaps, depending on its publication schedule and the reader’s own memories to do the job. However, its format is so unusual — a 52-part story told in 20-to-22-page weekly increments — that its narrative structure might still not be apparent, at least not to someone like me who hasn’t taken the time to read it all to date in big chunks. The big-chunk approach may even miss the point of 52‘s immediacy, since one can read several “weeks” in an hour or so. (Longer if your finger moves along the page, like mine does.)

Anyway, that may all be elementary to you, but I hope it makes up for some quick and dirty capsule reviews to get me caught up.

November 8

Tales Of The Unexpected #2: I liked Will Pfeifer and Cliff Chiang’s miniseries that established the Crispus Allen Spectre, but so far these Spectre stories are a big game of cosmic “chicken,” with Spec seeing how far Allen can hold out before the ironic punishment starts. Thank goodness for the hilarious Dr. Thirteen backup. If it comes out in paperback by itself, I’m there.

JLA Classified #29: Still good, although why put the kiddie ads in the book with the naked Wonder Woman?

52 #27: Montoya trains with Richard Dragon, Skeets kills Waverider, and Ralph and the Spectre put the zap on Jean Loring’s head. Really, DC, make Ralph and Sue happy again. It won’t “cheapen” Identity Crisis. Trust me.

Green Lantern #14: Maybe I’m weird, but you won’t bore me by exploring a Green Lantern’s jurisdictional issues. However, I agree with Ollie — never take off the ring. I’m a bit surprised to see the alien villain again so soon. Wasn’t he in one of the last Kyle Rayner storylines?

Firestorm #31: Freddie E. Williams II contributes some noticeably different art to about half this issue, and it’s only a little distracting. Gehenna and Jason have a nice come-to-Jesus moment, although it’s spoiled at the end by what looks like a strange deductive leap on Prof. Stein’s part. As far as the fighting and flying and zapping goes, this feels like the end, but according to the last page there are more secrets to be revealed. I’m sorry to see Stuart Moore and Jamal Igle leave, but I trust them to have at least one more good issue in them.

Superman #657: Wow. Post-apocalyptic carnage on par with JLA‘s “Rock Of Ages,” but with a twist that “ROA” only teased. I still can’t get over the “meteor” that caused the nuclear winter. Oh, and the new villain also seems superficially similar to Samaritan’s arch-foe from the last Astro City special.

Batman #658: “Batman And Son” ends as it began, with a lot of attitude and not so much plot. I was hoping that Damien would be used as a kind of AzRobin, the grim ‘n’ gritty sidekick who’d even make Jason Todd cringe. However, it’s probably more believable that he just wants to please his dad. Also, part of me can’t believe that DC would … I almost wrote “let Batman get pregnant,” but you know what I mean. Kid’s still alive, and Batman still officially has fathered a child, as far as we know. Shame we have to wait until February for Morrison’s next issue, and with the Joker too.

November 15

1602: Fantastick Four #3: The Elizabethan FF in an air/sea battle with Doom and the Wizard near the end of the world, so pretty good.

Astro City: The Dark Age Book Two #1: I was playing Spot The Marvel Event with this one, and I think I picked out the Celestial Madonna storyline. Anyway, the two brothers seem to be drifting towards each other’s respective areas, acquiring some shades of gray to go along with the darkening Astro City of the ’70s. Sometimes I am really a shameless Busiek sycophant, huh?

Checkmate #8: I had thought this issue was spotlighting the recruit from #5, but I might have been remembering a different recruit. Anyway, another fine undercover installment, with the identity of the mole not revealed (at least to a dope like me) until the last page.

Omega Men #2: The Omegas fight Superman, Green Lantern, and a few Titans. I think they represent the heroes Marv Wolfman used to introduce them back in the day, which was a nice touch. Oh, and they also fight Vril Dox. The art suits the Omegas and the space stuff pretty well, and it’s not so bad with Superman, but Wonder Girl doesn’t come off so well. Still, much like the Adam Strange miniseries, it’s another space opera involving mistaken identities and running from various planetary governments, and that’s all good.

Green Lantern Corps #6: More than Guy and his rookie partner busting up a sentient city (which seemed a bit cruel, but that’s how Guy rolls), I enjoyed the scenes with Soranik Natu giving Korugar the big green energy finger. I can see where both sides are coming from, and both are perfectly understandable. However, it and the Thanagarian Lantern’s marital problems are more variations on the old Hal Jordan dilemma of splitting time between home and space, so let’s find some new conflicts for these new Lanterns pretty soon.

Birds Of Prey #100: The big anniversary finds Oracle and Huntress recruiting a new pool of agents while Black Canary spends time with her “daughter.” Really, the Black Canary story was just gravy, because the main one (featuring the new team’s breaking into and out of prison) was good enough for me. Let’s put it this way: it convinced me to buy a BoP paperback and start catching up.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #45: Man, I am apparently just a Busiek fool. Arthur’s forces fight the Ocean Master’s in an Ewoks-vs.-Empire situation, except this time the Ewoks win when Arthur apparently uses some of the old Aquaman marine-telepathy mind tricks. You can put as many sword-and-sorcery elements into this book as you want, but I’ve always liked the talking to finny friends. Nice and uplifting, with the old Aquaman anointing the new one, and a kind-of surprising revelation about one of Arthur’s companions. A fine conclusion of the first story arc and transition to the next.

52 #28: Already I miss the all-machine Red Tornado who’s switched bodies in the current Justice League series. Could he turn a junkyard into parts of himself? Of course not. I was a little disappointed with the relatively brief appearances of Batwoman and the Emerald Head, two characters I want to see more of, but at least I got something. Again, like I said up top, 52 pretty much comes down to “did I like whatever random things happened this week?” and on balance, I did.

October 25, 2006

New comics 10/18/06

Four No. 1s this week, so let’s get going:

Somewhere I actually have a copy of What If #105, the issue that introduced May “Spider-Girl” Parker, but I never read the character again until Amazing Spider-Girl #1 (written by Tom DeFalco, pencilled by Ron Frenz, co-plotted by them, and inked by Sal Buscema). It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on, although there is the usual alt-future game of “where are they now?” In this case the future takes off from the standard Spider-Man setup, so there’s not too much of a learning curve. I like Ron Frenz well enough, but here his figures and faces seem a little more angular and skinny, and it’s a little distracting. Also, I halfway expected a more traditional done-in-one approach to this first issue, and while ASG #1 isn’t decompressed, it still doesn’t feel quite whole. Not sure if I’m coming back next month.

A lot of bloggers seem frustrated with The Authority #1 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Gene Ha), but I kind of liked it. It reminded me of Morrison’s JLA Classified #1, which similarly spent most of its pages on something other than the Justice League. I’ve read the first couple of Authority paperbacks, so I’m a bit more familiar with the book, but didn’t have much of an expectation going into this issue, and that might have helped. A good cliffhanger has me eager for #2, assuming I won’t have lost interest in two months.

WildCats #1 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) was about as busy and plugged-in as The Authority was disconnected, and honestly, it was a little disorienting. I don’t mind massive infodumps generally, but this felt like I was missing a layer of references. Again, I’m moderately familiar with these characters, but not that much. I might get the paperback.

The Omega Men #1 (written by Andersen Gabrych, drawn by Henry Flint) did the most to get me looking forward to issue #2. It set up the threat, introduced the characters, put them in trouble, and left me hanging. It did take me a few pages to figure out that the flaming figure was Ryand’r and not Auron, and the choreography of the last big action sequence wasn’t as clear as it could have been, but maybe I just read too quickly.

Back in the land of higher numbers, 52 #24 (written by Four Non Blondes, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Phil Jiminez, inks by Andy Lanning) was spoiled somewhat by the revelation in Firestorm that his new JLA wouldn’t get very far. Evil Skeets and his army of pirates and cyborgs was the kind of crazy I like, though. If this were my first issue of 52, I’d want to see the rest pronto. Also, Ambush Bug’s room-service call was worth the $2.50.

Secret Six #4 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti) was a couple of weeks late getting to me, but it does get me ready for #5 coming out tomorrow. Most of it is the big fight with the Doom Patrol, which is what got me to pick up this series to begin with, but in context I’m not quite sure what purpose it served. The main plot focuses on the relationship between Scandal and her dad, and that’s creepy enough — especially the opening dinner, which (yes) I read while eating. Thanks, DC!

Like it or not, I think I’m committed to Flash: Fastest Man Alive (#5 written by Danny Bilson & Paul DeMeo, pencilled by Ron Adrian, inked by Alex Lei and Rob Lea) through the first twelve issues, or at least long enough to confirm that Bart will, indeed, be the long-term Flash. Jay Garrick’s in danger, but DC won’t kill him, so that’s hardly suspenseful. This issue also brings back Inertia, apparently Impulse’s evil twin, whose relationshp to Bart could have more ramifications for that long-term situation. That assumes Bilson & DeMeo have a plan, though. If they do, that could redeem what has been very lackluster execution so far.

Birds Of Prey #99 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by James Raiz, inked by Robin Riggs) finishes up the Batgirl/weird Turkish assassin story from last issue (and probably before, although I only read last issue) and sets up the big changes in issue #100. With Black Canary’s departure (for the JLA, I presume) capping off this issue, I get the feeling that more of a history with this book would have produced the desired emotional response. Still, I did like the interplay between the principals, and I’m eager to see #100’s changes. After that, who knows?

Checkmate #7 (written by Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Bob Wiacek & Dan Green) finishes the Suicide Squad story and, apparently, the first paperback. I think the best byproduct of this story is the firm re-establishment of Amanda Waller as her old manipulative self. The rest, including one villain’s flexible approach to her late husband’s memory, is just gravy. Overall, a very attractive issue, with the art being a little better defined. This creative team tends to work together a lot, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it in these pages more regularly.

1602: Fantastick Four #2 (written by Peter David, pencilled by Pascal Alixe, inked by Livesay) gets the action going in earnest, bringing the Four together and setting them against Doom. The art reminds me of Keith Giffen, with its thin lines and “puffy” (for lack of a better term) figures, and that’s not bad. David has a bit of fun with the 17th-century setting, as you’d expect. He turns Johnny Storm into Dorrie Evans’ stalker and Doom into a Shakespeare fanboy, even going so far as to have Doom adopt a Shakespearean pun-laden speaking style.

Finally, Batman and the Mad Monk #3 (by Matt Wagner) was definitely the best of the week. As Julie Madison gets sucked into Dala and the Monk’s clutches, Batman gets to be just as spooky and intimidating. Wagner does a lot with just the characters’ eyes — the Monk’s are penetrating and eerie, Julie’s are wide and anxious, Bruce’s are thoughtful, and Batman’s are blank and menacing. I can’t quite see how Wagner will work the Batplane into this (it was introduced in the original story), but that’s about the only negative this miniseries seems to have.

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