Comics Ate My Brain

July 16, 2009

New comics 7/15/09

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

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

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

June 28, 2008

New comics 6/18/08

Catching up, yet again….

I’m a little torn about the format of Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four (#2 written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray). On one hand I don’t like crossovers disrupting a regular creative team’s groove, especially if that team does Culturally Significant work. On the other, it’s always nice to see how the regular creative team handles the shared-universe responsibilities. Besides, at some point I just want a singular creative voice.

Still, I know it’s naive to wish that SI: FF were three issues of the regular book; and it’s somewhat petty to say that it’s better than Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s work. For someone not reading Secret Invasion, and therefore not looking to reconcile the FF miniseries with the bigger picture, it’s simply a story about Johnny fighting his Skrull ex-wife while Ben protects Franklin and Valeria from the horrors of the Negative Zone. Everyone involved has good handles on the characters. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not Culturally Significant either. At times It can be pretty cute, though (“Yay, prison!”).

Tangent: Superman’s Reign #4 (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs) also falls in the “why isn’t this in the main book?” category. It’s basically a Justice League story, superficially very close to the JLA/JSA multiversal team-ups of yore. However, it’s also something of a sequel to the “Tangent Comics” specials from ten years ago, so I guess that’s why it gets its own maxiseries. It’s been consistently entertaining, and this issue provides a little more insight into what Tangent-Superman sees as his benevolent dictatorship. Otherwise, more Justice Leaguers (Batman, GL/Hal Jordan, Black Canary, Black Lightning) join Flash and GL/John Stewart on Earth-Tangent, there’s a stunning reversal, and we have our cliffhanger. The art is good — I like Jamal Igle, and while Robin Riggs’ inks are a little more loose than I’m used to seeing on Igle’s work, he keeps the book from getting bogged down. Every time I read an issue I feel like I’m farther into the story than I actually am. On balance I suppose that’s a compliment.

Via Annie, the Long-Suffering Girlfriend, RASL #2 (by Jeff Smith) offers a little more background on our hero and his dimension-hopping, and sets up the next bit of plot. The rest is tone and attitude — Rasl likes the ladies, Annie has an holistic approach to parallel universes. The issue feels like it’s about 8 pages long, not 32, but that’s part of Smith’s sparse approach. Still, there’s enough in the issue (both implicit and explicit) that I didn’t feel shortchanged, and I’ll be waiting for #3.

Paul Smith returns as penciller of The Spirit (#18 written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier and inked by Walden Wong), tackling a story which sends our hero to Egypt to deal with — what else? — mummies. This is getting to be the Adam West version of The Spirit, but that’s not necessarily bad. Anyway, the ending is a bit predictable, so not quite as enjoyable as the other Aragones/Evanier done-in-one stories; and the art is good as always.

Wonder Girl and Speedy go on a date — with danger!! — in Teen Titans Year One #5 (written by Amy Wolfram, pencilled by Karl Kerschl, inked by Serge LaPointe), a thoroughly charming story which incorporates an old Titans villain, the Batmobile knock-off called the Arrow-Car, and a Green Arrow who’s about as good a foster parent as you’d think. Of course the date goes wrong; of course Wonder Girl saves the day (the date’s told mostly from her perspective, after all); but that’s not the end of the story, and that ending sets the story apart. What’s more, the art is a very nice blend of linework and painting which I’m guessing was run through some PhotoShop filter … but technical details aside, it sets a dreamlike tone perfect for a first date. Really great work from Kerschl, LaPointe, and colorist John Rauch. I’ll be very sorry to see this miniseries end.

Speaking of Green Arrow, here he is in The Brave and the Bold #14 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Scott Kolins), essentially providing a body for Deadman to inhabit. Accordingly, this isn’t so much a team-up as it is a takeover, but it’s still a suspenseful Deadman story. See, Deadman needs to get back to his spiritual home of Nanda Parbat to free it from some evil presence, but along the way said presence keeps throwing mind-controlled pawns in his way. Waid and Kolins effectively evoke the spirit (so to speak) of paranoid thrillers like Invasion of the Body Snatchers; and while I didn’t quite buy what the cliffhanger ending was selling, I can’t complain about the execution.

The Flash #241 came out almost concurrent with the news that writer Tom Peyer and artist Freddie Williams II may well be leaving. That’s too bad, because the current issue manages to use Gorilla Grodd, multiple Flashes, the Fourth-World-flavored bad guys behind the Dark Side Club, and Wally’s ironic punishment (torture?) of Flash-killer Inertia, in a fairly cohesive story. It’s a little too much to explain, but it all works. Both Peyer and Williams have found their grooves on the title, and Williams especially does good work with Wally’s kids.

Birds Of Prey #119 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) is, at first glance, a “moving-in” story about the Birds (don’t call them that!) relocating to the Silicon Valley-esque town of Platinum Flats. However, in conjunction with Justice League of America #22 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope), it could be a lesson on How To Draw Super-Women.

On BOP, Nicola Scott draws a virtually all-female cast: the wheelchair-bound Oracle, the teenager Misfit, and the well-built Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, Manhunter, and Black Canary. Black Canary also appears in Justice League, along with Hawkgirl, Vixen, and Wonder Woman, and Zatanna. In the current issue of BOP, the women mostly do mundane things: talk, unpack, lift and tote boxes, etc. There are a couple of fight scenes, but more character interaction. Over in JLA, the women have some character scenes too — especially Vixen and Black Canary. However, this reader was distracted by penciller Ed Benes’ fascination with Vixen’s dinners (her costume’s zipper can’t take the strain!) and Black Canary’s rear. BC gets a Dramatic Reveal as a prelude to a fight in BOP, but Scott makes it heroic and not particularly sexualized. In JLA, though, when the same character delivers a bit of straight talk about the future of the Justice League, Benes gives her the beginnings of a wedgie and thrusts out her butt. What’s weird is that Benes used to draw both BOP and Supergirl, and wasn’t this blatant on either.

JLA has story problems too — it focuses yet again on Red Tornado’s Search For Humanity, a topic former writer Brad Meltzer pursued at his peril. I will say that if the Vision is currently out of commission, the comics world may be in desperate need of emotive androids, but it feels like this title has had maybe four different plots in almost two years. There’s also some business about Red Arrow’s relationship with Hawkgirl, and the aforementioned Vixen subplot, and I wonder whether those wouldn’t also have come off better had they not been portrayed by Mr. Benes. His work is just too sketchy, scratchy, busy — you get the idea — and at this point it’s become a distraction. McDuffie I still have faith in; but Benes needs to go.

Finally, I continue to like Trinity #3 (main story written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert). This issue brings in the Justice League and also (in the Fabian Nicieza/Mike Norton & Jerry Ordway second story) introduces Tarot, and it’s a pretty decent, old-fashioned superhero story.

February 29, 2008

New comics 2/27/08

Filed under: batman, captain america, countdown, justice league, legion, question, rasl, superman, teen titans — Tom Bondurant @ 1:33 am
I think I understand what’s going on in the current Batman storyline, and that scares me a little. However, issue #674 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea) was — Bat-Mite channeling Hot Cylon No. 6 notwithstanding — a great example of Morrison’s take on the character.

Morrison writes a really entertaining Batman. He’s super-capable without letting it go to his head. His inner monologue this issue, about how he spends all his time thinking of impossible scenarios and how to get out of them, captures the very heart of the character — not just hitting the “Batman is a jerk” days of the ’90s, but the Bat-Shark-Repellent camp era, the wacky ’50s, and even back to 1939. In the seminal two-issue “Batman Vs. Werewolves and Vampires” storyline, adapted most recently by Matt Wagner in Batman and the Mad Monk, Batman’s got the tools ready to make silver bullets. Silver bullets! “Always has a plan,” indeed.

Anyway, Batman #674 tells the chilling story of the three alternate Batmen, and it too is an homage to “The Secret Star,” a story from almost 600 issues prior (1953’s issue #77). Everybody’s trying to figure out what makes Batman tick, and Morrison evidently sees turning over all the old, forgotten stories as one of the best ways to do this. It’s a well-executed high concept, and heck, it makes sense to me. Of course, I’ve got my trusty Batman Encyclopedia handy….

What else–? Daniel and Florea turn in a pretty good job. There are so many Batmen flying around that it can get a little confusing (look to the utility belts, for example), and their work is solid but not exceptional. They remind me of a cross between Dick Giordano and Andy Kubert. Also, for all the praise I’ve laid on Morrison’s Batman, I have to point out that his Commissioner Gordon, and in fact the other Gotham cops, don’t sound quite right. The cops sound very “Morrisonian,” if that makes sense; and Morrison hasn’t given Morrison the gruff edge we’ve grown accustomed to.

Next up is Rasl #1, by Jeff Smith. It’s the story of a youngish (indeterminate-20s, probably) thief who can travel to alternate universes and who leaves the word “RASL” spray-painted as his calling card. This introductory issue has two tracks, the first with our anti-hero in disarray, wandering through a desert, and the second with him fleeing from his antagonists who’ve finally figured out how to track him. It’s a lot of style and attitude, and it may read better collected, but it’s designed to plant enough hooks to keep periodical readers coming back. Worked for me.

All-Star Batman & Robin #9 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) is a strange, almost disjointed issue that spends its first half taunting Green Lantern like he’s Elmer Fudd, and its second getting the Dynamic Duo to collapse in the pathos of their collective grief. It’s certainly the most idiosyncratic take on Batman and Robin I’ve seen in a while, it makes them a formidable pair, and I’d like it a little better if it weren’t done at the expense of just about everyone else in the book. That said, I thought the book did a credible job of switching moods, and the new one is certainly different enough to hold my interest.

The “Terror Titans” storyline begins in earnest in Teen Titans #56 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti and Julio Ferreira), and so far I’m getting a “Judas Contract” vibe off of it. This issue finds Kid Devil generally screwing up, and thus leaving himself open to being co-opted. I kinda figured out the plot shortly after KD’s party got underway, but I thought the ending left some options open for him, character-wise, so overall I liked the issue. It fostered the right sense of dread that these kinds of storylines need. The art was, quite frankly, better than I have seen from Barrows, but some of that probably came from Palmiotti’s inks and Rod Reis’s colors.

It’s not that I don’t like the Legion arc in Action Comics (#862 written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal), but it does feel like it’s gone on about an issue too long. This issue particularly seems concerned with spotlighting more Legionnaires, which is nice, but I’d also liked to have seen more movement towards re-yellowing Earth’s Sun and restoring Superman’s powers.

There’s a neat visual gag in the middle of JLA Classified #53 (written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer), but it requires advanced geek knowledge (or does that go without saying?). See, this story apparently takes place in the days when Black Canary, and not Wonder Woman, was the League’s pre-eminent female member. Furthermore, back then BC wore a blonde wig over her black hair. Therefore, when foe du jour Titus decides he’s had enough of thoroughly pwning the League, and offers instead to make them part of his “pantheon,” he dresses Black Canary in a very WW-inspired costume, and gets rid of her wig, so that she looks a lot like Wonder Woman. That’s the most clever thing about the issue, which otherwise finds the League utterly bumfuzzled about how to stop this guy. As with the Action arc, next issue’s the big finish, so I’m hoping it will elevate the story as a whole.

Speaking of endings, Crime Bible #5 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Manuel Garcia, inked by Garcia and Jimmy Palmiotti) finds the Question fighting the leader of the Cain sect for what he claims is leadership of said sect. Thus, the issue is an extended fight scene, which comes off fairly well — Garcia and Palmiotti are fine storytellers, and the action isn’t hard to follow. The problem is the ending, which leaves (you’ll forgive me) a big question hanging. Ironically, part of the Question’s dialogue during the fight references the end of Renee’s previous series, Gotham Central, which went out on an ambiguous note so that it could lead into her transformation into the Question. Now Crime Bible seems to be doing the same thing. We kinda know how it should end, but it’d be nice if our suspicions were confirmed.

Lots of death and exploding in Countdown #9 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher). Derenick and Faucher portray this pretty well, albeit in a sort of DC-house-standard way. For an issue that concerns a bunch of superheroes trying to reunite with colleagues and get the heck off Apokolips, it’s about as good as you’d think. A couple of old friends return, the cliffhangers are good, and who knew the Pied Piper had it in him?

Finally, Captain America #35 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Jackson Guice, inked by Guice and Mike Perkins) wasn’t quite as good as last issue. The new Cap fights rioters, and especially those causing them to riot, in Washington, D.C. Given the character’s symbolic nature, I was expecting the riot to contain an inspirational moment — a “Look! Up in the sky!” moment, if you will — but I guess that would have been something of a cheat, and not quite within Brubaker’s downbeat tone. Perkins’ inks do a lot to connect this issue visually to regular penciller Steve Epting’s work, but Guice’s storytelling is just as good. There’s also a fair amount of plot, and Brubaker uses a good bit of the book’s large cast. It’s a middle-act issue which has me excited for the conclusion.

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