Comics Ate My Brain

November 28, 2006

New comics 11/22/06

Filed under: 52, fantastic four, hawkgirl, legion, planetary, superman, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 2:55 am
We begin with Planetary Brigade #1 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Julia Bax), a pastiche of the Hulk’s origin used as the backdrop for the first grouping of the eponymous Justice League parody. The Captain America figure, who doesn’t appear in the regular series so you know something’s up, plays into that inevitability in a fairly clever way. Not as bwah-hah-hah as the other Hero Squared titles, but still fun. Julia Bax’s art also seems more polished than Abraham’s, so while I still like Abraham’s stuff, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Bax’s.

At first Fantastic Four: The End #2 (by Alan Davis) feels more like Alan Davis’ Last Avengers Story, dwelling more on Iron Man’s personality and seemingly throwaway gimmicks like the Bug Squad than on the interconnections of the former Fantastic Four. In terms of a single issue with “Fantastic Four” in the title, I’d say this is a pretty meandering effort, although the Avengers bits and a scene with Ben Grimm on Mars are entertaining. In the larger context, I’m hopeful that this issue lays the foundation for future plot points. It’s only issue 2, after all.

52 #29 (written by Johns, Morrison, Rucka, and Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Jack Jadson) offers what is almost an obligatory gap-filling story about the last original Justice Socialites turning off the lights. We all know there will be trouble when one of Luthor’s new heroes has the same codename as Green Lantern’s late daughter, and I guess the resolution of that fight is unexpected. However, the cynic in me notes that the new Justice Society title is just around the corner, and this issue makes a fine teaser. I do have some issues with DC’s devotion to legacies, so maybe I’ll revisit this issue in more detail later. Thanksgiving with the mad scientists is fun, though.

Hawkgirl #58 (written by Walter Simonson, drawn by Joe Bennett) felt like old-school Wonder Woman, with the heroine in peril and her platonic male friend rushing to help and getting in trouble himself. I’m not sure I buy Kendra’s answer to the issue’s climactic dilemma, and again if I were being charitable I’d chalk it up to a certain freewheeling it’s-only-a-comic sensibility. It’s not completely implausible, but at the same time it could be seen as an excuse to march a bound and gagged Hawkgirl past the brink of a messy execution rendered across a two-page spread, and bring her back. It comes uncomfortably close to being a snuff film with a reset button. Joe Bennett’s art is a better fit for Simonson’s scripts and the book overall, and I’m willing to give the book a chance through the upcoming Rann-Thanagar War storyline, but it’s getting to the point where Kendra has been humiliated enough.

Speaking of Wonder Woman, lo and behold Wonder Woman #3 (written by Allan Heinberg, drawn by Terry and Rachel Dodson) came out last week. It’s a well-executed fight scene involving Hercules (shouldn’t that be “Heracles,” or is that his secret identity?), Giganta, Cheetah, Dr. Psycho, and the Mystery Villainess (revealed eventually, but I don’t want to give away the ending). There’s also a lot of finger-pointing directed at Diana for taking that year off and going plainclothes, which leads to the M.V.’s ultimate plan to become Wonder Woman herself, apparently. Hey, why not? Thanks to Justice League of America and this book’s own tardiness, we know how things turn out. Still, now begins the long wait ’til #4.

You know, if you’re Richard Donner and you have a new idea for a Superman story, you can include Bizarro, Sarge Steel, and any number of regular DC-Universe references, but when you bring in Zod, Ursa, and Non, they could fight Ambush Bug and it would still feel like a ripoff of Superman II. Naturally, such is the case with Action Comics #845 (written by Geoff Johns and Donner, drawn by Adam Kubert), which of course throws in a Kryptonian child at least superficially reminiscent of the kid from Superman Returns. Anyway, this issue presents a fight with Bizarro alongside Lois’ reluctance to slap a pair of glasses on the boy and call him Christopher Kent. (Good choice for a first name.) I was a bit disappointed that Clark didn’t outsource last issue’s raid on the boy’s transport to Batman, especially since the establishing shot of the Kent Farm featured a couple of bats cavorting before the full moon. That’s about how I felt the whole issue — clever in parts, but not as much as I’d have liked.

Finally, more Phantom Zone shenanigans crop up in Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #24 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray), another entertaining issue built around a fight with the Legion of Super-Villains. I don’t know if I’ve spent enough time with this book that it no longer feels like I’m missing everything, or if the familiar elements are helping me get into the book more, but I’ve been digging it more than usual the past couple of issues and I hope that continues.

October 27, 2006

New comics 10/25/06

Filed under: 52, batman, captain america, nextwave, planetary, secret six, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 12:30 am
More detailed thoughts on Action Comics #844 (written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, drawn by Adam Kubert) are over at this week’s Grumpy Old Fan. In a nutshell: a solid first issue, but a little more restrained than I would have expected from the director who almost blew up Lois Lane and most of Paris. Also, the father/son motif wasn’t very subtle.

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.

June 30, 2005

New comics 6/29/05

Lots of books and lots to say about ’em, so settle in.

As it happens, the first two books I read this week were Green Lantern #2 (written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Carlos Pacheco) and JLA Classified #9 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, pencilled by Kevin Maguire, and inked by Joe Rubenstein). I enjoyed both books on their own merits, but on a deeper level I appreciated what they each seemed to be saying between the lines.

To me, these books were the “before and after” of Big DC Controversies. GL represents for some the correction of a tremendous wrong, and for others the concession to a vocal, single-minded minority. Either way, though, it stems out of a Big DC Controversy from over ten years ago. Likewise, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League!” is blissfully ignorant of Blue Beetle’s and Sue Dibny’s deaths and Max Lord’s ruthlessness but because it presents Beetle and Max in much happier times, it can’t help but comment, however obliquely, on their respective fates.

Obviously “ICBINTJL!” is a bittersweet read, in part because it revisits the death of a colleague in a fairly minor Big Event from even farther back. However, it stands on its own, making no attempt to fit itself into the overall DC timeline, and for that I have to give it a lot of credit. The creative team got back together to tell the kinds of stories they liked, and picked and chose only those elements favorable to them. Again, while it has something to say about those characters’ bleak futures, it doesn’t dwell on them. “ICBINTJL!” isn’t defiant in a middle-finger kind of way. Instead, it celebrates the good ol’ days and reminds the reader that they exist in perpetuity.

For its part, Green Lantern tries very hard to evoke the feel of a typical Hal Jordan adventure. It’s a better read than issue #1 was (or much of Rebirth, for that matter), because it too isn’t bogged down in a lot of baggage. There’s a mysterious android heading for an Air Force base, vaporizing people along the way; Hal’s got some issues with his old CO, who (naturally) is running said base; and there’s a decent amount of power-ring action when those elements come together. As with JLA Classified, I liked the fact that Johns seemed to be saying “now that the formalities are over, here’s the regular superhero stuff,” and Pacheco’s art was its usual fine job. (My one quibble was with the last page, where there’s either a fairly obvious artistic omission or Hal’s in a lot of trouble.) This was a well-executed, entertaining issue of what could be a very enjoyable straightforward superhero series. Considering everything that’s happened to Hal Jordan in the past eleven years, for this iteration of Green Lantern to be so normal is an accomplishment in itself.

Johns’ “Rogue War” barrels further toward its conclusion in Flash #223 (art by Howard Porter and Livesay), which focuses mostly on the new Zoom and his twisted psychology behind “making Flash a better hero.” Zoom seems, consciously or not, to be Johns’ commentary on the new grim ‘n’ gritty trend he’s helping to perpetuate, so this latent bit of satire is actually endearing him to me. Beyond that it’s more of a big fight, with an appearance from Kid Flash a pleasant surprise. Johns and Porter pile on the carnage, building to a good cliffhanger. If “Rogue War” ends up defining Johns’ tenure, as I suspect it may, I will definitely give his issues a second look.

My copy of Wonder Woman #217 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Michael Bair and Mark Propst) had a transposed page, but I could still follow the action. Many of Rucka’s Olympian subplots are resolved in this issue, apparently leaving Diana free to deal with Rucka’s superhero soap opera in his other books. It all plays out like you’d expect, but under the circumstances that’s not so bad. However, my other problem with the issue is the coloring. Much of the issue has Diana, Wonder Girl, and Ferdinand the man-bull fighting dark-colored man-beasts in the underworld, so it’s hard to tell where Ferdinand is or what mythological creature is fighting the bright-colored superheroines. Also, how long has Mercury been dead? Was it since “War of the Gods” back in ’91? Anyway, Rucka writes an appealing Mercury, and I didn’t realize I missed him so much.

Batman #641 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen) concludes the Red Hood storyline by finally placing that flash-forward from the December issue in the proper context. Honestly, it was about what I expected, right down to the Hood’s motivations. Bruce’s sentiments on the last page sum it up well for me too, but only because I’m expecting some other twist to reverse the whole thing. I’ve liked the writing and the art from these guys so far, but it looks like I’ll have to wait a couple of months before they pick up this thread again.

Batman Allies Secret Files & Origins 2005 (written and drawn by various people) was a decent enough issue. Each of three stories helped describe the new status quo. Batman revives an alliance with Det. Montoya in the first one; Commissioner Akins gets a light-hearted little tale; and Robin and Batgirl get a lead-in to their next big storyline in the third. The Batman story (written by Russell Lissau, with art by Brad Walker and Jimmy Palmiotti) starts off with the kind of faux-noir narration which is really wearing out its welcome, but once it gets into the conversation with Montoya, things pick up. The Akins story (written by Will Pfeifer, with art by Ron Randall) doesn’t have far to go with its premise, but gets enough out of it. Finally, the Robin/Batgirl story (written by Andersen Gabrych, with art by Tom Derenick and Ray Snyder) is pretty much all setup. However, I have to wonder — with Montoya and Akins so prominent in this special, why no “Who’s Who”-style page on the Gotham Central cops?

I was surprised to see “OMAC created by Jack Kirby” on the credits of The OMAC Project #3 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Jesus Saiz and Cliff Richards, inked by Saiz and Bob Wiacek), because this incarnation seemed only superficially like Kirby’s. Didn’t see much to change that opinion this issue, but it was a crackling good read nonetheless. Rucka uses Batman effectively, showing how dangerous the OMACs are and what Batman’s place in the larger superheroic fraternity really is. This too has a decent cliffhanger, although it leads (rather unfairly, for a miniseries) into July’s Superman books and Wonder Woman. Finally, although it probably doesn’t coexist peaceably with “ICBINTJL!,” Rucka and Saiz’ Guy Gardner and Booster Gold don’t seem incompatible with Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire’s.

Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #3 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Simone Bianchi) started out heavy on the exposition, but ended up turning into a very scary series of “oh no” moments. I’m looking forward to the conclusion in 2 months. The art was quite good, although it was hard to tell at times which of two female characters was speaking; and as with issue #1, the series of dark, strange shapes making up the bad guy army was also hard to tell apart. Other than that, though, very exciting and a good advertisement for #4.

I bought Planetary #23 (written by Warren Ellis, art by John Cassaday) mostly because I don’t like waiting a generation for each paperback, so it’s hard to judge where each issue fits into the overall scheme of things because I don’t keep up with the story in the long periods without any new issues. Anyway, this issue — whose cover apes the Armageddon poster, for some odd reason — featured the origin of the Drummer, but didn’t much advance the macro plot as far as I could tell. When I read everything again in one setting, I’m sure it will make more sense.

City Of Tomorrow! #3 (by Howard Chaykin) was also just kind of there, what with our hero seducing various android women and generally trying to impose a new kind of order on the futuristic community of Columbia. I like Chaykin, but I think it is another “read all at once” situation.

Spider-Man/Human Torch #5 (written by Dan Slott, art by Ty Templeton) wraps up the miniseries with a sweet story set in the present day. Slott turns the tables on Johnny, each character realizes the other’s grass is greener, and it all ends with a “family album” of the Parkers and the Richards’ good times. While I was a little surprised that the series ended with a bit of actual news, in hindsight that elevates it to more than just a collection of vignettes. Not that I don’t like Slott’s GLA, but this makes up for a lot of the carnage over there.

Fantastic Four #528 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, art by Mike McKone and Andy Lanning) continues Reed’s work on the secret government project to re-create the FF’s origin, but introduces a hoary subplot involving a meddling social worker who thinks Franklin and Valeria might be best served in someone else’s care. JMS also seems to be toying with an “intelligent design” idea behind the FF’s origin, and while I didn’t read any of his Spider-Totem stuff over in Amazing Spider-Man, I fear that’s where he may be going here. Still, the social worker situation is worse, because that looks like it will play out very predictably. Besides, I have dealt with social workers on behalf of my clients, and in my experience they don’t just pop in unbidden — someone has to call them out. I would also think that protecting thousands of New York children from hunger and poverty is a lot more important than making sure Franklin and Val Richards — who live with superheroes — don’t have to worry about Dr. Doom and Galactus.

Finally, I have saved the best for the end of this long slog. Solo #5, featuring the work of Darwyn Cooke, was great fun to read and a fine showcase for Cooke’s versatility. Yes, there is a Batman story; yes, there are many references to the New Frontier period; but it hardly feels commercial or like he’s sold out. Cooke manages to infuse everything with his unique style without having that style overwhelm any story. Each story is also distinguished by the use of different colors and inks. The whole thing is framed by a Slam Bradley/King Faraday sequence at the archetypal “bar where everyone goes,” but the stories run the gamut from autobiographical to topical. It’s a beautiful package and the best $4.99 I’ve spent in a while.

August 5, 2004

Last week’s comics (7/28/04)

Hoping to catch up soon, but for now, still a week behind.

Batman #630: Written by Judd Winick; art by Dustin Nguyen. The conclusion to the Penguin/Scarecrow story is satisfying enough. That may not sound like high praise, but there is a knack to writing Batman which not even the most high-profile creators always have. Of late writers have taken their Batman assignments as opportunities to tour the Bat-universe, stitching together episodes without worrying about whether they make sense. Winick wisely chose to focus on story over spectacle. That said, it’s still a story about the Penguin, the Scarecrow, and a boogeyman which rips people apart, so it’s not like something new was revealed about the human condition. Winick will be the regular Batman writer once “War Games” is over in 3 months, and this storyline doesn’t make me dread his arrival.

Crisis on Multiple Earths Volume 3 paperback: This collects the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups from the early 1970s. The first story is an odd one about an alien child and his pet getting separated across dimensional planes, and causing havoc. The second is a three-issue epic reintroducing the Seven Soldiers of Victory. The third features Earth-X, a world where World War II lasted 30 years and the Nazis won; and the fourth tells us what happened to the Golden Age Sandman’s sidekick, Sandy. I bought this because, by and large, I didn’t have these issues, and I always enjoyed JLA/JSA team-ups. It’s pretty much critic-proof for me.

DC Comics Presents Hawkman: The two stories here are similar in theme to the Mystery in Space issue. The first takes its cue from the notion that ‘60s comics writers were literally channeling events on the parallel Earth where their characters lived, and turns it around so that Julie Schwartz is controlling what “really” happens to Hawkman. The second is a Valentine- themed tale revealing how Hawkman met his wife and partner, Hawkgirl. Both are enjoyable and light-hearted, and both skillfully include the winged monkey featured on the cover.

DC: The New Frontier #5 (of 6): Written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke. I read all 5 issues in one sitting last night, and it made me love this series even more. The future Justice Leaguers are finally all introduced as the “mystery villain” emerges. So much happens in this issue that it’s hard to believe there are still 64 pages to go until the end. My expectations are accordingly high for the concluding issue, due out in two months. Working on a NF essay, so more details there.

Green Lantern #179: Written by Ron Marz, drawn by Luke Ross. Kyle Rayner figures out who’s been messing with his life and sets out to destroy him. Since he’s involved with the government, fellow Lantern John Stewart shows up to stop Kyle. They fight for a while. Kyle then realizes the error of his ways, and decides to pick up the pieces of his crappy life without further violence. This doesn’t sit well with our villain, who decides to go after Kyle himself. All I know is, there are two more months left in this series and it just seems to be marking time until the Big Changes in Green Lantern: Rebirth. Since Ron Marz created Kyle Rayner, I presume he’ll want to give him a happy ending, so at least I can look forward to that.

JLA #102: Written by Chuck Austen, drawn by Ron Garney. This time it’s the Flash in the Seat of Woe, not being fast enough to save a couple of children from a fire. Apparently this is the first time the Flash has seen children die. Not to be cruel, but I find that hard to believe. The character has supposedly been fighting crime since he was a teenager, so you’d think he would have seen worse. Also, considering that last issue Superman couldn’t save a guy from a fire, you’d think Austen could have come up with something more original.

Justice League of America – Another Nail #3 (of 3): Written and drawn by Alan Davis. I like Alan Davis fine, and he draws gorgeous comics, but honestly I don’t know why this series should exist. The original Nail miniseries answered the justifiable question “what would the JLA have been like without Superman?” in shocking, often horrifying fashion. In this sequel, we have the JLA, complete with Superman, fighting some interdimensional menace. I think it’s supposed to be the Alan Davis answer to Crisis on Infinite Earths. It comes off more like “Alan Davis draws every DC character he can imagine.” If it didn’t look so fantastic, I’d be more upset. I feel very shallow for admitting that.

Legion #36: Written by Gail Simone, drawn by Dan Jurgens & Andy Smith. The Legion regroups in the wake of Earth’s total technological failure. That’s about all there is to it. Simone and Jurgens do a nice job of advancing the various plot threads from last issue, especially those involving the floating prison. They also show the calvary – i.e., the rest of the Legion – preparing to come to the rescue, but they make it clear that the situation is still dangerous. Probably the coolest and creepiest part of the issue is the sight of Brainiac 5 without his “neural inhibitors.” At first we think he’s going off the deep end into criminal insanity, but then he pulls himself together and starts firing on all cylinders. Jurgens and Smith are at their best portraying this process, first as mania, then focus.

Planetary #20: Written by Warren Ellis; drawn by John Cassaday. I can’t really explain the significance of this issue without laying out the premise of the entire series, so here goes – the Planetary team encounters very familiar archetypal characters on its way to defeating their arch-enemies, who are pretty much evil versions of the Fantastic Four. (That really doesn’t do it justice.) In this issue we finally meet the evil “Thing.” It was worth the wait.

Superman #207: Written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Jim Lee & Scott Williams. Part 4 of “For Tomorrow,” as Superman fights Equus, the cybernetic enforcer who’s connected to the mysterious Vanishing, and learns that Equus and his master might not be as evil as we think. I really have no opinion on this issue. I want to like it, but it just kind of sits there. Lee’s art is very pretty, but not enough to win me over like Alan Davis’.

Superman: Birthright #12 (of 12): Written by Mark Waid, drawn by Leinil F. Yu. The end of the year-long revision to Superman’s origins and first adventure is touching, but it too left me a little flat. Look for a more comprehensive Birthright essay in the near future.

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