Comics Ate My Brain

November 8, 2006

New comics 11/1/06

Seems like every week I’m complaining about how hectic it’s all become, and this week was no different. Wednesday was my birthday (37, woo!), but I had a big stack of comics to read, long-distance congratulatory phone calls, and a Grumpy Old Fan column to write.

Anyway, about those comics….

Seven Soldiers #1 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by J.H. Williams III) arrived here a week late, and even though I’ve read other commentaries online I’m still not sure what to make of it. Overall I enjoyed it, especially the Zatanna bits, but coming to it relatively cold I probably didn’t get as much out of it on the first reading as I could have. I’m seriously considering getting the four paperbacks when the last one comes out in a few months.

Justice League of America #3 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope) was the first issue since #0 that, on balance, I enjoyed. Most of the enjoyment came from Green Lantern, Black Canary, and Arsenal fighting an army of multicolored Red Tornadoes, but a cameo by an old reserve member and that last-minute reveal were also welcome nods to the book’s history. As slow as this reinvention has been, at least Meltzer knows how to handle the minutiae. I just hope the “Big Three fantasy draft” doesn’t last much longer.

Superman Confidential #1 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) was a decent opener that started out with the Royal Flush Gang and ended with our reporter heroes working to bring down an evil casino developer. I have to say, I am not the biggest fan of Tim Sale’s Superman (it’s the face, mostly), but his Lois Lane is very saucy. I am also a bit dubious on what appears to be sentient Kryptonite. If it’s just a narrative device, though, that’s OK. I wouldn’t expect Cooke to set up the Kryptonite for an heroic sacrifice and/or telling Supes it’s always loved him.

For an issue with a nice anniversary-friendly number, Detective Comics #825 (written by Royal McGraw, pencilled by Marcos Marz, inked by Luciana del Negro) tells a pretty inoffensive, unremarkable story about the return of Doctor Phosphorus, a character who first appeared in a Detective from about thirty years ago. I could say more about his narrative significance and the melding of 1970s nuclear fears with 1940s-style corporate deceit, but that really doesn’t come into play here. Batman figures out a scientific way of stopping him, it’s a bit more lighthearted than it would have been prior to Infinite Crisis, and next month Paul Dini will be back.

I like the new-to-52 art team of Patrick Olliffe and Drew Geraci (52 #26 otherwise produced by writers Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid, with breakdowns by Keith Giffen). I also like the return of the Sivana Family, which I don’t think even the nostalgic Jerry Ordway series had time to bring back. (Had they been seen in Outsiders?) They work well with the Black Marvel Family, too, and “Tawky Crawky.” As for the rest of it, not to sound like a broken record, but 52 itself is becoming immune to these little weekly roundups. It has its own rhythm and its own pace. In fact, since I’ve just gotten through watching “Friday Night Lights,” it strikes me as a similar kind of thing. “FNL” isn’t telling a larger story, as far as I can see, just exploring the same sorts of sports-vs.-everything else tensions every week. 52‘s job is, apparently, to keep DC Nation entertained weekly while filling in the missing year. Of course, I say that now, but when things pick up in a few weeks and it all starts coming together, I’ll look like an idiot.

Hawkgirl #57 welcomes new artist Joe Bennett (fresh from 52) to go along with returning writer Walter Simonson, and darn if the book doesn’t make more sense than it did under Howard Chaykin. To be fair, the story seems a bit more straightforward than the Chaykin arc, since it deals with Kendra being kidnapped to stand trial for her role in the Rann-Thanagar War, but Bennett’s work is moodier and less flashy. Again, I still like Chaykin, but in hindsight he probably wasn’t the right artist for this book.

The All New Atom #5 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Eddy Barrows) finds the miniature invaders and the Evil Atom (don’t think his codename is in this issue) all causing problems for our hero, not to mention his father and the Dean having issues with him too. I liked this issue pretty well, even if it did lead into the Brave New World preview which is, by now, five months old. (Will the paperback put it in its proper place?) Barrows, like Bennett, has the kind of style that doesn’t call attention to itself, which makes its wow-moments stand out that much more. When Bennett shows Hawkgirl winging over the city, or here, where Barrows shows Ryan Choi size-changing to impress his dad, it’s impressive to the reader too. Also, Simone must enjoy the miniature-invader dialect, because clearly she’s having fun with it.

I want to like Nightwing #126 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund), but it’s not easy. For one thing, isn’t the name “Biotech Pharmaceuticals” something like “Robot-Made Cars”? I thought biotech was more of a process or a classification, not a brand. Anyway, this is more of some guy in battle armor being killed and no one being quite sure who’s behind it or why. There is a bit of tension when one of NW’s buddies (who might be new to this arc, for all I know) is threatened with death, and Marv has Dick doing what you’d expect Dick Grayson to do — namely, have warm conversations with Alfred Pennyworth and get set up to give acrobatics lessons (not a euphemism). It’s not a bad issue, but it’s just kind of there.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #23 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray) presents a verrry interesting story that I’m surprised wasn’t called “Supergirl’s Return To Krypton!” Unfortunately for the Legion, they render Supergirl powerless in a “Mission: Impossible”-esque attempt to get her better adjusted to the 31st Century, just when what I take to be the Legion of Super-Villains attacks. Best issue in a while, and that’s saying a lot.

I was also surprised at how much of She-Hulk 2 #13 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) I was able to follow, given its roots in ’80s Marvel continuity. Basically, it’s the origins of Thanos and Starfox, continued, as presented through more of Starfox’s trial on Titan. However, because the focus is on Starfox’s alleged abuse of his mind-control powers, it’s easier for me, the rookie, to understand; and, of course, having She-Hulk as the reader’s guide also helps. Finally, once again it’s good to see Rick Burchett working. He has a distinctive style that doesn’t get in the way of his solid storytelling, and he’s just so versatile otherwise.

Agents of Atlas #4 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice), and Beyond #5 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins) are similarly new-reader-friendly, although I’m a little confused about who’s watching the AOA on the first page. Still, both tell pretty straightforward superhero stories with a lot of panache — AOA has fights with giant lobster-creatures and a fun montage of Shutting Down Enemy Bases, and Beyond uses its focus on Hank and Janet to set up its last-reel reversal. Looking forward to the conclusions of both.

I liked Criminal #2 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips) more than I did #1, probably because this was the issue that put the big heist into motion and I could follow the characters better once I saw what they were doing. Not much more to say beyond complimenting the skills of the writer and artist, and others have done that more eloquently than I could.

Appropriately enough, we close with Fantastic Four: The End #1, by Alan Davis (and Mark Farmer inking, according to the cover). If you’ve read The Nail or Superboy’s Legion, you can expect more of the same here — highlights of the FF’s storied history, rearranged in new, apocalyptic patterns. The opening fight with a borgified Dr. Doom especially recalls The Nail‘s Batman/Joker bloodbath, right down to the casualties. Making everyone subject to an anti-aging treatment, and setting the story in an indeterminate future, also brings to mind Howard Chaykin and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez’s Twilight miniseries, which recast many of DC’s goofy ’60s sci-fi characters. All of this is to say that I doubt Davis will go too dark with this miniseries, its title notwithstanding. Moreover, whatever happens, it will look very very pretty.

February 2, 2006

New comics 2/1/06

This week was unusual for a couple of reasons. First, it featured new issues of Green Lantern and Legion of Super-Heroes after only two weeks, since both series are trying to get back to a regular monthly schedule. Second, I expected both Gotham Central and the Rann-Thanagar War Special to have endings, but instead both seemed beholden to larger corporate storytelling concerns. In the case of GC, take that as a spoiler.

Other than that, not a bad week. Batman and the Monster Men #4 (by Matt Wagner) and Detective Comics #816 (written by Shane McCarthy, art by Cliff Chiang) both featured good, straightforward, entertaining Batman stories. BMM relates Batman’s narrow escape from the lair of Hugo Strange’s monsters; and ‘Tec finishes up the Mr. Zsasz two-parter with the cops chasing both hero and villain. Both explore the balance between mundane crime and super-crime, and both feature healthy doses of Bat-mystique.

Green Lantern #8 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Carlos Pacheco) finishes its latest two-parter with Mongul (and Mongal, his unfortunately-named sister), and since half of it is Pacheco-illustrated dream sequences, I had much the same reaction as I did with Pacheco’s Superman/Batman arc: very pretty, and it gives him room to draw all kinds of outlandish situations, but ultimately it doesn’t add up to much. I’m still trying to work out how Hal’s fantasy would be so seductive to him. Either Johns doesn’t quite get the Black Mercy, or he’s just throwing in wild scenarios and teasing the explanations. Anyway, once GL and Green Arrow get back to reality, it’s all fun and games until somebody’s head comes off, and I’m wondering — between this and Infinite Crisis, can I bring the “Four Beheadings And A Funeral” joke out of storage?

Legion #14 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Ken Lashley and Adam DeKraker) continues with the political and personal fallout from the Legion’s victory over Terror Firma. Again, it’s probably a cop-out, but I need to read this book from the beginning. There was a point when it all seemed familiar but radically new, and now it seems to have assumed that the reader is familiar with the radically-new aspects. It’s not poorly done by any means, and I don’t dislike the characters, but I get the feeling I’ve spent too little time with them.

Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #3 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Yanick Paquette) was a fun issue mostly for the inclusion of Mind-Grabber Kid, a one-off Denny O’Neil character from the late �60s post-Gardner Fox era of Justice League of America. Now MGK is an adult trying to trade on his moment of fame at a superhero convention. Yes, it’s easy to mock comic conventions, but it’s also fun, and Morrison does it with a knowing wink. There was a lot of cheesecake in this book at first, but now I can see where Morrison has been going with it.

Fantastic Four #534 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, drawn by Mike McKone) continues Ben and Johnny’s fight with the Hulk, but throws into the mix the notion that the Hulk is acting out all of his most painful memories in a gamma-fueled haze. It feels a bit more like a Hulk story than an FF story, and it probably requires at least a passing knowledge of Hulk history to understand completely, but it works. Ben and Johnny are handled well too. A fun “Franklin Richards” story rounds out the issue.

Captain America #14 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) concludes “The Winter Soldier” and, in fact, wraps up a dangling plotline from as far back as issue #1. Although it’s a Cap/WS fight, it builds both on Cap’s emotions for Bucky and WS’s confusion about his own origins, so there’s more dramatic heft to it.

It also provides an ending, which brings me to Gotham Central #40 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Kano and Stefano Gaudiano) and Rann-Thanagar War Special #1 (written by Dave Gibbons, drawn by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado). With RTWS I kind of understand, and arguably I have tacitly bought into the whole concept of this sort of “half-issue” (as in, this should have been Infinite Crisis #4.5) on the front end.

RTWS does three things: it allows everyone in space to point and gawk at the big hands coming out of the space-warp; it resolves the Rann-Thanagar war; and it sets up the new Ion series. Now, maybe when I see this in the larger Infinite Crisis context, I will understand the editorial meeting at which it was decided that these three things should happen in a special outside the main miniseries. Right now, though, this particular issue just feels very padded. It contains one extremely unfortunate (and I hope accidental) reference to the big “footprints” revelation in Identity Crisis, and the Ion setup also comes out of left field (and will probably be revisited even further in Ion #1). I was sorry to see the one person die, though, and that was handled decently.

In hindsight, though, this last arc of Gotham Central has been nothing but setup for future series — specifically, Detective Allen as the new Spectre, and Detective Montoya working out unresolved issues about Allen�s murder. As setup it’s okay, but I was expecting some closure and I don’t feel like this last issue of the series was a fitting end for the arc, let alone the series itself. I had thought Gotham Central was insulated somewhat by larger editorial dictates, and it’s disappointing to see so patently that in the end, it wasn’t.

December 10, 2005

New comics 12/7/05

Filed under: batman, gotham central, seven soldiers, she-hulk, spider-man, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 10:20 pm
Detective Comics #814 (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Ramon Bachs, inked by Nathan Massengill) is a somewhat confusing conclusion to “City of Crime,” the twelve-part epic that was interrupted by a crossover and so took over twelve months to tell. It ends on the note of cheerful nihilism that marked the rest of the arc, but it asks the reader to remember characters and subplots from about a year ago, and so may be more appreciated in collected form. Overall I enjoyed “City of Crime,” and if I get time may do an omnibus recap.

More to the point is Batman and the Monster Men #2 (by Matt Wagner), which also intends to use a large cast — including Hugo Strange, Boss Maroni, Julie Madison, and her father — but so far keeps better track of them. Wagner has always drawn a great-looking Batman, and here the minimalist “Year One” style isn’t far from his own. My one quibble is a familiar one, namely first-person narration from various perspectives. It’s not hard to tell who’s speaking, but there’s not a lot to differentiate the speakers when they switch.

Gotham Central #38 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Kano, inked by Stefano Gaudiano) starts what will probably be the book’s last arc. Despite the cover, and the rumors swirling around bad cop Jim Corrigan, there are no hints that he was the original Spectre or will be again. (Still, if a murdered do-gooder were to become the Spectre’s new host, like good cop Jim Corrigan did back in the day, one could make an argument for a candidate in this issue.) Better characterization of Montoya and Allen this issue, and I continue to be amazed with how consistent the look of the book has been.

Superman #224 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher) presents a compare-and-contrast story of Superman vs. Blackrock and Luthor vs. an OMAC which actually comes off fairly well. While I don’t want to say that there were no good “corporate Luthor” stories, in the old days he couldn’t just steal a plane and kill a pilot; and not having to get through those plot mechanics makes things go faster. The issue includes another switch-to-Superman moment, which I am noticing more and more in recent months, and which I applaud for purely sentimental reasons.

Superman Secret Files 2005 includes two stories, a kids’-eye view, a Lois-meets-Superman tale, and an odd Bizarro two-pager. The first story, written by Devin Grayson with art by Ariel Olivetti, is sweet, if a little mawkish. The Lois story, written by Jami Bernard with art by Renato Guedes, is fine, but I can’t decide if its slightly revisionist take on Lois’ early relationship to Supes puts her in a good light. It has an uncanny Christopher Reeve evocation on the last page. The Bizarro “origin,” written by Christine Boylan with art by Carlos Ferreira and Drew Geraci, starts out as a parody and ends up in pathos. None is absolutely essential, but then again, none are really the kinds of Superman stories the monthly books have been telling, so on balance it may be worth a look.

Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #2 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Billy Patton and Freddie Williams II, inked by Michael Bair) reveals more of the “disguised” New Gods, and I start getting confused. Not because I’m trying to fit this into a convoluted DC-mainstream timeline, or trying to decide whether this is “real” or an alternate universe, but because I’m looking for familiar faces and everybody is drawn as hulking bald men. Still, by the end Darkseid and DeSaad are revealed, and that helps things get creepier. Maybe the larger plot will turn out to be “Shilo Norman escapes from the alternate universe,” which would be OK but not very imaginative (considering I thought of it), so I hope Morrison ramps things up a little more and eases up on all the bald guys.

She-Hulk 2 #2 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Juan Bobillo, inked by Marcelo Sosa) features the big Return Of Hawkeye, sort of, and it may or may not be permanent. There are some funny bits, and a couple of heartfelt ones. However, the whole plot also revolves around a weird time paradox which exists for its own sake. Now, that’s fine, and I can accept it, but I’m still trying to work out the mechanics.

Finally — and I do mean “finally” — Spider-Man/Black Cat #4 (written by Kevin Smith, drawn by Terry & Rachel Dodson) is an extended set of conversations between BC and Matt Murdock and Matt and Peter Parker; and it ends with a Spidey/Daredevil/mystery villain fight. “Oh, a dialogue-driven Kevin Smith book,” you say,”how innovative.” Yeah, it’s like that, but it doesn’t seem as witty as Smith’s earlier Marvel work. (And when I say “earlier” … oh, it’s just too easy, isn’t it?) Moreover, Smith makes a big deal of not revealing Matt Murdock, when it’s patently obvious virtually from the cover. The other thing is, I’m not sure about the Daredevil timeline. I am not a real DD scholar, but I think it refers to events from the intervening years, and that seems like cheating to me.

November 29, 2005

New comics 11/23/05

Filed under: batman, captain america, flash, seven soldiers, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 2:43 am
Apparently a shipping snafu delayed last week’s comics two days, but we were having so much fun entertaining my parents over the holidays that I didn’t get to the shop until today. Thus, here are very raw impressions of books which have probably already faded into distant memories.

I’m guessing Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #4 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Ryan Sook, inked by Mick Gray) is best appreciated in the contexts of both its preceding issues and the larger 7S project as a whole, because on its own its conclusion left me scratching my head. The art was good as always, there were some interesting attempts to break the fourth wall, and the banter between Zatanna and her sidekick was entertaining too. It just felt like overhearing the end of somebody else’s conversation.

On the other hand, Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein #1 (written by Morrison, drawn by Doug Mahnke) was quite good, in the vein of vintage Swamp Thing or Sandman stories. Like those, it didn’t spend much time on the hero, but focused instead on a Carrie-style magic-powered geek whose goal is revenge on his tormentors — and who instead brings the monster’s wrath on his head. It’ll take me a couple more readings to get a feel for the monster’s background, but gosh this was a good issue.

Maybe I’m feeling a bit more charitable now that it’s a lame duck, but Batman: Gotham Knights #71 (written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Bit) wasn’t too bad. Although the cover is completely misleading, once you get inside it’s a decent caper story about Batman having to break into Arkham Asylum to save Alfred’s life. The action scenes are the best part, because the rest has to wrap up an impenetrable plot about Hush creating a Clayface to both frame and kill Alfred, and those parts are either glossed over or sound like bad Gotham Central impersonations. Anyway, at least Lieberman has Batman acting like a human being for a few pages.

Flash #228 (written by Joey Cavalieri, pencilled by Val Semeiks, inked by Livesay) was okay. It’s better than last issue, because it turns away from being another dark-alternate-future story, but then it brings in Nightwing, Cyborg, a locked-room mystery, and Dexter Myles, longtime curator of the Flash Museum. The scenes with Dexter are kind of sweet, if only because this is probably his first appearance in at least 15 years, but again, it’s just marking time until the end of Infinite Crisis.

The best book of the week was Captain America #12 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting and Michael Lark), in which Cap comes to grips with the identity of the Winter Soldier. As much as anyone can feel sorry for a fictional character, this issue made me feel for Cap. Meanwhile, Lukin puts the Cosmic Cube on the open market, with unexpected, but appropriate, results. As if that weren’t enough, Brubaker and Lark throw in some zombies! What more could anyone ask?

November 6, 2005

New comics 11/2/05

Filed under: batman, captain atom, firestorm, seven soldiers, superman, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 11:50 pm
Apparently I missed Wonder Woman #222 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Ray Snyder) last week. Not surprisingly, it’s plugged into the rest of DC’s crossover madness, but the bulk of the issue is a straightforward Wonder Woman/Cheetah fight. Despite being saddled with a bad case of the Eartha Kitts during her Legion of Doom tenure on “Super Friends,” the Cheetah has historically been an interesting villain. George Perez revamped her as a maverick archaeologist who stumbled into an Edgar Rice Burroughs-esque pulp-fiction cat-god religion, and she went after Wonder Woman for (among other things) her magic lasso. Rucka revisits that, but also brings in a bit of the old “Wonder Woman is too perfect” jealousy which informed the character originally. In any event, it all meshes well with other current events surrounding Diana, and plays much better than the star-crossed Cheetah-Zoom team-up from the recent Flash crossover. The art is good enough, although some of the shading reminded me of woodcuts.

Superman #223 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Ed Benes and Marc Campos, inked by a platoon) is likewise a Superman/Supergirl/Blackrock fight, with Infinite Crisis implications. Basically Superman tries to teach Supergirl, who’s been trained by Wonder Woman, not to cross the line into killing the way WW has. I like Supergirl as a concept well enough, but this Supergirl still hasn’t emerged as a real person for me, and sadly this issue didn’t do much to advance that.

Firestorm #19 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Rob Stull and Keith Champagne) is also an Infinite Crisis tie-in, but it inserts Firestorm into the proceedings with the happy-go-lucky style and charm this title has developed. Jason merges with a couple of fun “partners,” and meets up again with Gehenna, the strange girl from a couple of issues back. Along the way Firehawk introduces him to the Outsiders and Donna “No New Hero Name, Evidently” Troy, who have recruited him for a big space mission evidently meant for Infinite Crisis #2. This book is DC’s She-Hulk, showing just as much love of the superhero milieu without being so silly. (Not that silly is bad.)

Detective Comics #813 (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Ramon Bachs, inked by Nathan Massengill) presents the penultimate chapter of “City of Crime,” and as a single installment it’s pretty good. Lapham basically tells a straightforward story of Batman riding to the rescue, throwing in Robin, Gordon, the Batcopter, the Batmobile, and an omnipresent Bat-Signal. Batman also confronts the mind behind the conspiracy. In short, this issue brings everything to a boil for the big finish next month. Honestly, I realize this may be at best just an above-average Batman story in the whole scheme of things, but as I said it pushes a number of good buttons and helps remind me what I like about Batman. These days that’s pretty good.

Opening Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer #1 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Yanick Paquette, inked by Michael Bair), I noticed two things right away, and they kept popping up the rest of the issue. Man, Bulleteer has a nice set of … hair. Seriously, for a comic that explores the quasi-pornographic aspects of superhumanity, what’s the message here? My guess is, we’re all voyeurs, because check out our heroine’s huge … tracts of land! I did like the issue — for the writing, too, perverts.

And then I read Captain Atom: Armageddon #1 (written by Will Pfeiffer, pencilled by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by Sandra Hope), about a guy also trapped in silver skin, and it was okay. I’ve followed Cap from his post-Crisis series through pretty much all his DC appearances, but once he was outed as a government agent, he lost a lot of what made him compelling. Now that his “man out of time” aspects have also been downplayed, he’s just another indestructible guy who flies, shoots, and leaves. (Okay, maybe not “leaves,” but you saw where I was going.) Anyway, I’m hoping that this miniseries, which once again makes Cap a fish out of water, will help spark the character. So far not bad, although no cheesecake. At least it’s a good introduction to Cap.

October 26, 2005

New comics 10/19/05

Filed under: astro city, batman, green lantern, seven soldiers, she-hulk, star wars, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 12:14 pm
We begin this week with Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #2 (written by Dave Gibbons and Geoff Johns, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins and Christian Alamy). It features two plots: one group of GLs visits Mogo, the antisocial Lantern introduced by Alan Moore; and a pair of antagonistic trainees (one from Rann, one from Thanagar) gets assigned to protect a boring shipping route. Neither rises much above standard super-hero fare, but both tie into a larger story involving galactic politics. Besides, I’ve always liked the Corps for its tremendous potential — not just to show how different characters would use a power ring, but for its political and legal implications. Still, I have two complaints about the issue: the art seems sloppier than it was in #1; and since when does Thanagar have a reptilian race?

Batman #646 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Shane Davis, inked by various people) felt very familiar, since once again it revolved around the Batman/Red Hood/Black Mask triangle. By the last few pages a new player has been added, and that itself makes the story more interesting, but we’re going on a year since the Hood’s been introduced and there’s only so far Winick can draw out the tension between him and Batman. Apparently the next (sorely missed) Batman Annual will wrap things up, but how long until then? I did enjoy the issue, since much of it was a well-done set piece involving Batman, a couple of scared hoods, and a bomb needing defusing. Davis’ art was fine, although I hope Doug Mahnke isn’t gone for good.

Meanwhile, Batman: Gotham Knights #70 (written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Bit) was okay, I suppose. It advanced the Alfred/Hush/Clayface plot significantly, even with some exposition about the nature of Clayface. By the way, that itself reminded me of Lieberman’s recent Poison Ivy storyline, because it too seemed to spend a lot of time in laboratories wondering how to replicate/cure a villain’s condition. Like the Poison Ivy story, this has been better than Lieberman’s usual meanderings, although that’s not saying much. Not that strict adherence to continuity is a requirement for me, but I do wonder about a series which picks up threads from other Bat-titles and doesn’t get much going the other way.

Superman #222 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Ed Benes and Joe Prado, inked by various folks) was better than I expected. Lois finds herself the target of an OMAC after having a fight with Clark. Both get to be journalists, which is nice, although it too contributes to the tension. Lois’ beef is presented well enough that I actually wondered whether splitting them up might not be part of the Big DC Plan after all. In other words, some good character work peeks through all the fight scenes. The different pencils are virtually indistinguishable to my casual eye, and they seem preoccupied with the shapely forms of Lois and her new assistant, if that’s an enticement to any of you.

Seven Soldiers: Klarion #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frazer Irving) was also basically a big fight issue. Klarion and his friends and neighbors repel invaders from the world above. The art was fantastic, and the dialogue was good, but that’s about it for the plot. Like the other 7S miniseries, it’s To Be Continued….

Astro City: The Dark Age #4 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson) concludes Book One (the Silver Agent story arc) by using familiar superhero elements in an unconventional way. An invasion from Monstro City interrupts the Silver Agent’s death sentence, and in the melee the brothers we’ve been following resolve their personal issues. However, the plot isn’t really the point of the issue. Busiek is more concerned with cathartic emotional release, whether it be that of the public, the brothers, or even the reader. The Silver Agent’s fate is simply the catalyst for that release. Busiek and Anderson do a great job of building the tension, piling on more and more developments and using those familiar elements to good effect. There is a twist of sorts at the end which may come off hokey, but I thought was satisfying regardless. Bring on Book Two!

I had been thinking about dropping Star Wars: Empire (#36 written by Welles Hartley, pencilled by Davide Fabbri, inked by Christian Dalla Vecchia), but Part 1 of “The Wrong Side Of The War” was very good. Picking up from last issue, the Empire is pacifying the resistance on Jabiim, allowing us to focus on Imperial Lieutenant Sunber. Sunber cares about his men, even the cloned infantry. He is also torn between duty and his feelings for the Empire’s prisoners. This probably telegraphs his character arc for the rest of the story. Still, telling it from Sunber’s perspective was a nice touch, and the art effectively portrayed all the familiar Imperial hardware mowing down resistance. A final revelation concerning a very familiar Star Wars character was an especially pleasant surprise. I’m looking forward to the rest of the arc.

Finally, She-Hulk (vol. 2) #1 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Juan Bobillo, inked by Marcelo Sosa) was just as fun as I would have expected. A time-travel case inspires Shulkie towards a unique jury pool, but along the way there are a couple of fights, a few Avengers, and a jab or two at the comics industry.

She-Hulk is a funny book, and not just in the literal sense. Because it’s about a superheroic attorney, much of its humor comes from its perspective on How Things Work in the Marvel Universe. (Shulkie’s researchers use comics alongside their casebooks, for example.) Accordingly, it’s a style of realism that, to a certain extent, repudiates the more serious, allegedly more “mature” style on display elsewhere. Naturally, I don’t expect She-Hulk‘s style to set the company-wide editorial tone anytime soon.

Speaking of which, as you know I have not read any of the Avengers/House of M stuff, so I have no frame of reference for Shulkie’s flashbacks in this issue, but I didn’t think that was detrimental. To me that’s part of the charm of any superhero book — if the cliches, references, and motifs are used properly, the reader can accept them for their effects without having to know everything about them. (See also Astro City, above.) Slott’s pretty good at doing that, which is why I feel comfortable reading one of his Marvel books without being drowned in continuity. One of these days he’ll slip up, but I hope I’m not there to see it.

September 21, 2005

New comics 9/14/05 and 9/21/05

At the risk of sounding like the stereotypical frothing-at-the-mouth angry superhero fan, I have to get this off my chest:

Day of Vengeance #6 (written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Justiniano, inked by Walden Wong) is the worst comic I have read in a while, even including Willingham’s Leslie Thompkins kiss-off in Batman. As the last issue of a miniseries, it doesn’t conclude the story it started. Instead, it goes for what I can only assume is a series of shocks — cliffhangers, really, since the people and places affected are too important to “die” — designed to get the reader to buy Infinite Crisis. News flash, DC: we were going to do that already, and it would have been nice if DoV had been able to streamline InfC‘s storytelling. The last few pages could easily have been, and probably will be, incorporated into Infinite Crisis itself, arguably making the entire miniseries pointless. As for the Shadowpact, it defeats one of its foes early on, spends the rest of the issue patting itself on the back, and stands around like disinterested spectators for the aforementioned cliffhangers. The last panel of the issue has the Shadowpacters rallying themselves unironically, and the “next issue” blurb encourages us to watch out for their further adventures. Not if Bill Willingham is anywhere near, I won’t. (By the way, DC — how does the destruction of you-know-what over here affect the status of you-know-who in Villains United?)

Speaking of writers whose work frustrates me, Batman: Gotham Knights #69 (written by A.J. Lieberman, pencilled by Al Barrionuevo, inked by Bit) might actually start Lieberman back on the road to redemption, at least in my eyes. He seems to be retconning away one of the biggest mistakes of the Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee crowd-pleaser “Hush,” namely the identity of the eponymous villain. The flashbacks and flash-forwards are better this issue, the dialogue isn’t as arch, and the art has been consistently good. I wonder if I have reached some kind of critical mass with Lieberman, where his stuff finally starts to make sense….

Captain America #10 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Lee Weeks) interrupts “The Winter Soldier” for a House of M crossover. So far this is the first and only House of M issue I’ve read, and only because Brubaker’s writing it. As alternate histories go, things start off pretty well for Cap, but he soon finds himself unwelcome at both ends of the political spectrum. Brubaker presents a series of compelling vignettes — the problem is, they never approach any real climax, and the book just runs out of pages after a while. It’s well-executed otherwise.

Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #1 (written by Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Christian Alamy and Prentiss Rollins) is a fine introduction to the new GL Corps, focusing on Guy Gardner and a would-be Lantern from Sinestro’s old space sector. Johns and Gibbons combine for some subtler dialogue than I usually associate with Johns. The Korugarian physician, clearly the main guest star, is fleshed out well, even if her story seems a bit predictable this early on. The art is decent too. Except for Guy’s head looking like a helium balloon in some panels, everybody looks heroic and the aliens look appropriately alien.

Finally (for this week, at least), Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #1 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Pasqual Ferry) almost read like a Mister Miracle Elseworlds. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with the other 7S projects, but that’s not necessarily bad. Giving the New Gods the alternate-reality treatment is a good way to invest the longtime fan emotionally, and for a newcomer they are effective just as elements of another reality to which Mr. Miracle isn’t quite sure he belongs. The art was different than I remember seeing from previous Ferry projects — more painted and three-dimensional — but still very good. Too bad he’s not coming back next issue.

Now to last week, except I’m saving Rann-Thanagar War #5, Star Wars: Empire #34, and Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #195 for omnibus recaps.

Chris Eliopolous’ Franklin Richards: Son Of A Genius was a fun special, kind of a cross between Calvin & Hobbes and “Dexter’s Laboratory,” but good on its own terms, and no previous knowledge of the Fantastic Four was required.

Action Comics #831 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Nelson) featured both a Superman/Black Adam/Dr. Psycho fight and a Bizarro/Zoom race. Bizarro comes off a lot more fun here than he does in Superman/Batman (for example), and Simone uses him to good comic effect against the more businesslike villains of the Secret Society. The Superman/Black Adam stuff is entertaining too, but not as much. Jimmy Olsen is here too, drawn with a Beatle/Chekov mophead when he had more of a shaggy ’70s ‘do in the last Superman — but I quibble. At least the Super-books are paying attention to Jimmy again. Simone also writes a funny Perry White. I mention these things because it’s been easy for the Superman writers to get caught up in the whole “let’s make everything big, cosmic, and gut-wrenching” paradigm, and miss the interaction with Supes’ normal friends that was a hallmark for so long. Simone is the most evocative of those old tropes at the moment, and the books are better for it.

Black Adam (get ‘im while you can, folks!) is also in Firestorm #17 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Prentiss Rollins and Rob Stull), trying to recapture ‘Stormy after the Secret Six broke him out of Secret Society captivity over in Villains United. However, the real guest-star is Gehenna, a young woman also being used as a power source by the Society. Their escape from the Society’s base is both exciting and romantic, and the issue does a good job of conveying Jason’s thrills at both defeating super-baddies and flirting with a teenaged hottie.

Another immensely enjoyable issue last week was JLA #118 (written by Geoff Johns and Allan Heinberg, pencilled by Chris Batista, inked by Mark Farmer), in which J’Onn J’Onzz and Aquaman square off against Despero, Zatanna seeks sanctuary on Themyscira, and the rest of the JLA votes on further mindwiping. This would be a good story even without the Identity Crisis theatrics, and it left me anticipating the next issue.

Finally (for sure), All-Star Batman & Robin #2 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) felt a little better than last issue. It seems looser and more freewheeling now that it doesn’t have to establish a certain mood or live up to first-issue expectations. The subtext of the issue deals with Batman’s emotional manipulation of Dick Grayson, and Dick’s realization he’s being manipulated. I have a theory that Robin exists to show readers it would be fun to live Batman’s life without actually being Bruce Wayne, so I wonder if Miller is headed someplace similar. Still, the true test will come once Dick gets into the short pants and elf shoes.

September 7, 2005

New comics 8/31/05

Lots of concluding storylines this week, so I’ve been torn between doing entire-arc wrap-ups and single-issue impressions. Going with the latter for now, but expect the former later.

Flash #225 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Howard Porter & Livesay) closes off not only “Rogue War,” but also Johns’ 5-year writing tenure. As such, it works better as the end of an era than the end of this particular arc. “Rogue War” started with much fanfare as the final battle between old-school and new-school villains, but it has finished as the unofficial sequel to the first Zoom storyline from about 2 ½ years ago. It’s a decent action issue with fine artwork and a not-unexpected happy ending. I suppose I’ll reserve further comments until about 2015, when “Rogue War” comes up in the Johns recaps.

Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Simone Bianchi) feels like a bit of a cheat, if only because it leads directly into the Seven Soldiers special, out around the same time I’ll be recapping “Rogue War.” Other than that, it’s about the same as the previous three issues. Bianchi’s art is still very pretty. Morrison’s big twist makes sense in the context of the genre, but he doesn’t seem to do a lot with it. Again, I’ll probably do an omnibus recap of this one.

The cover of Batman: Gotham Knights #68 (written by A.J. Lieberman, drawn by Al Barrionuevo and Bit) features exciting images of a determined Batman, a menacing Hush, a demented Alfred, and some guy chained in a cell. The actual issue is very different, basically telling a disjointed-in-time story about Hush’s plan to defeat Batman through clones. There’s no Batman, except a cameo appearance by his silhouette. The art isn’t bad at all, but Lieberman’s writing is starting to remind me of the literary equivalent of an early-‘90s Image wannabee. It’s all attitude and flash, with few fundamentals; and it assumes that the reader can get by on inference and nuance.

Speaking of attitude, JLA Classified #11 (written by Warren Ellis, art by Jackson “Butch” Guice) improves greatly on Part 1 of “New Maps Of Hell.” This is the roundup issue, where each member of the Justice League responds to the crisis during his or her own snappy vignette. Also, a bit more of the mystery is revealed. That’s about it for the plot, but it’s all fun and entertaining – the kind of “To the Batcave, Robin!” issue that fanboys young and old dream about writing. Parts of it feel like Morrison, but he would have taken about six pages.

Green Lantern #4 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Ethan van Sciver) starts a new arc with Hector Hammond and a couple other old GL villains. Johns’ treatment of the Flash’s Rogues irritated me after a while, but the GL villains seem more suited to his style. The story itself starts with a steal from a classic “X Files,” takes a trip to Oa for a new/old GL Corps reunion, and descends into prison for yet another Silence of the Lambs-style confab. However, it all comes together well, even the Hannibal Lecter stuff. Van Sciver’s Hector Hammond makes MODOK look like Teddy Ruxpin (how’s that for a geek-trifecta reference?), and Johns lets him live vicariously (and ickily) through Hal, even for a moment. As much as Johns gets ripped for his over-reliance on continuity and forced drama, I think he’s really enjoying himself with this series, and it shows.

Wonder Woman #220 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by David Lopez, inked by Bit) is the flip side of this month’s Adventures of Superman, also written by Rucka. It is more substantial than AoS, though, because it dovetails Rucka’s subplots and supporting cast with the “Sacrifice”/OMAC macro-plot. Specifically, WW confronts a couple of Max Lord’s foot soldiers, one of whom turns out to be a close friend. Thus, as with Sasha Bordeaux in Detective and OMAC, Rucka has treated negatively another of his own characters who once was very sympathetic. I don’t know whether this means Rucka doesn’t care about his characters, although that doesn’t seem likely. Rather, it seems to be more indicative of How Bad Things Are Now. In any event, this was a good issue, and while I don’t like the repetitiveness of the flashbacks, I appreciate Rucka doing that for the benefit of those happy few who only read this book.

Astro City: The Dark Age #3 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson) is confident enough in its gritty evocation of ‘70s superheroics to slip in a Ron Burgundy cameo. Such confidence is justified. The two brothers’ story gets a bit more interesting this issue, even as the superheroes get more attention on the global political stage. One thing which confused me was the chronology of Tyranos Rex. Because he’s clearly a Thing-analogue, I thought he was a founding member of the First Family, but according to this issue maybe not. Still, the great thing about Astro City is Busiek’s ability to convey entire peripheral story arcs with just a few lines of narrative shorthand. Maybe it speaks only to the fanboy in me, but I would hope more casual readers could get sucked in too.

Hero Squared #2 (written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham, Mark Badger, and Shannon Denton) relates Captain Valor’s last battle on his own Earth, told first from his perspective and then from Caliginous’. (Badger and Denton do the flashbacks.) Except for a fairly obvious series of gay-Batman jokes, and the notion that Caliginous’ version is less truthful than Valor’s, it’s all about as clever as you’d expect. I almost don’t mind the $3.99 per issue, especially since I’ve been driving less these days.

It’s a tribute to the Solo series that I picked up issue #6 solely on the strength of its predecessors. I had almost no idea who Jordi Bernet was, outside of an 8-page Batman story from several years ago. His style reminds me a lot of Alex Toth and Joe Kubert – thick pencils, full figures, and very expressive faces. Reading this was like watching a Sergio Leone Western (not least because a couple of the stories have frontier themes): a European artist makes a classic American medium his own, and hey, there’s Eastwood/Batman too!

Star Wars: Empire #33 (written by Thomas Andrews, drawn by Adriana Melo) presents the Jabiim storyline’s penultimate chapter, and things are starting to pick up. However, I’m still confused about who did what to whom, both 20 years ago and today. Mitigating this are nice scenes involving Vader, whose presence helps bring together the present-day and Clone Wars elements. There are also familiar elements like Star Destroyers and Rogue Squadron. Still, I’m waiting for Luke, the ostensible hero, to get more involved. Maybe next issue.

Captain America #9 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Michael Lark) was a winner of an issue that could have stood effectively on its own. Cap, Fury, and Sharon go on a raid that fails, thanks to the intersection of business and politics. I read this wondering why Cap has to wear the gaudy flag-colored costume and use only an indestructible shield as a weapon, when the SHIELD agents get more practical black outfits with guns. Watching Cap rage with frustration at the men who have made his mission fail, it brought home Cap’s symbolic nature. He has to act a certain way because of what he represents, just like his country has to act a certain way because of what it represents, and practicality must sometimes take a back seat to the symbolism of acting rightly.

Astonishing X-Men #12 (written by Joss Whedon, drawn by John Cassaday) is the big “season finale” blowout between the X-Men and the sentient Danger Room/Sentinel. Most of it is well-choreographed action with snappy Whedon dialogue, but the emotional zinger is a revelation about Xavier’s use of the Danger Room over the years. That’s not quite as successful, because it feels both forced and tacked-on. Looks like the title is taking a brief hiatus, and I don’t know whether I’ll be back when it returns. I do like the villains reintroduced on the last page, so we’ll see.

August 17, 2005

New comics 8/10/05 and 8/17/05

A little shameless self-promotion first: in today’s Permanent Damage, comics writer/columnist Steven Grant has some blog recommendations. No, this humble effort isn’t one of them, but Mr. Grant did choose to quote yours truly’s latest essay in recommending The Great Curve.

Onward and upward.

Action Comics #830 (Gail Simone, writer; John Byrne and Nelson, artists), featuring Dr. Psycho vs. Superman, was clever and suspenseful. Using Superman’s universal appeal against him also played nicely with the current subplot of those same citizens starting to really distrust him. I liked this one a lot.

I also continue to like “Crisis of Conscience,” which continued in JLA #117 (Geoff Johns and Allan Heinberg, writers; Chris Batista, artist). It is clearly a big part of Crossover Madness, but it also feels like a standalone JLA adventure. Good to see Despero back, and his motivation for being involved makes sense. Nice art, too.

Rann-Thanagar War #4 (Dave Gibbons, writer; Ivan Reis & Marc Campos, artists) offers more wall-to-wall mayhem on several fronts. However, I am starting to notice that Gibbons is making Kyle Rayner talk like a more uptight version of Hal Jordan — giving him the “Great Guardians!” epithet, for example. As for the mayhem, it’s all rendered well, and I’m sure it’s building to some pulse-pounding conclusion.

Our “heroes” attack a Secret Society base in Villains United #4 (Gail Simone, writer; Dale Eaglesham & Rodney Ramos, artists), dressed in stealthy charcoal-colored costumes that make Cat-Man look even more like Batman. There’s fightin,’ killin,’ lovin,’ and an obvious crossover with another regular series. It’s pretty fun, but I’m still trying to work out the Parademon/Rag Doll relationship.

Speaking of crossovers, Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #3 (Grant Morrison, writer; Ryan Sook, artist) suddenly finds itself in the middle of another 7S series’ subplots — at which point I resolved reluctantly to take a comprehensive look at each of these miniseries (and probably the JLA Classified arc), to see if they made more sense collectively. Not that this was bad, but as irregularly as these books come out, it’s hard to remember the relative importance of various cross-title allusions. Zatanna is still very enjoyable by itself, and despite the crossover it may be the most accessible to a superhero-reading mouth-breather like me.

Conversely, Seven Soldiers: Klarion #3 (Grant Morrison, writer; Frazer Irving, artist) was almost a self-contained story with another good Morrison idea — a teen gang with superhero-esque codenames and a Menudo rule mandating graduation to an older version of the teen gang at age 16. The superhero-reading mouth-breader in me also appreciated this issue’s many allusions to venerable DC heroes, although the artifact the teen gang steals is probably one too and I just don’t recognize it. About the only thing wrong with this issue was on the first page: Roanoke’s not in West Virginia.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #194 (D. Curtis Johnson & J.H. Williams III, writers; Seth Fisher, artist) starts our intrepid Bat-band on its road to tragedy, and as far as that goes it’s a good read. Wait — that came out wrong. I do like Batman’s operatives, but because this is a flashback, we know they won’t be his agents for long. Likewise, the old “I can’t trust you anymore! (sniff)” from Gordon is also somewhat hollow, because we know where their relationship is going too. Still, this is one of LOTDK‘s better arcs in a while, especially with its less intense Batman.

Batman #643 (Bill Willingham, writer; Giuseppe Camuncoli & Sandra Hope, artists) presents Part 2 of “War Crimes,” in which we discover there’s another Batman causing trouble — and wearing a costume with the unfashionable yellow oval, no less! The Joker’s around too, despite having been bludgeoned (apparently) to death in this very title a few months back. Art’s not bad, but it’s hard to distinguish from other Bat-books in last summer’s “War Games” storyline. Maybe that’s the point. Also, this issue has one of the weaker cliffhangers I can remember: Batman on the phone to Alfred, waiting for a minor computer analysis.

Good thing “War Crimes” continues in Detective Comics #810 (Andersen Gabrych, writer; Pete Woods & Bit, artists), which advances the plot nicely. Too bad the cover contains a pretty sizable spoiler. Batman gets to be more of a human in this issue, laying a bouquet at a Stephanie Brown memorial and having a heart-to-heart with Stephanie’s mom. The Joker, Black Mask, and the media types are all used well too. Yellow journalism is a fairly easy target, but still. I do hope this storyline is actually wrapped up next issue, because I’m getting pretty weary of all these crossovers and mega-plots.

There are no such intrusions on the plot of Green Lantern #3 (Geoff Johns, writer; Carlos Pacheco, artist), in which Hal battles two Manhunters, with the newer model being able to siphon off his ring power. The big set piece is a nearly-drained GL having to use an Air Force jet to kill a Manhunter before it destroys the jet and him. The solution seems a little forced, but it’s still a nice hokey moment.

Captain America #8 (Ed Brubaker, writer; Steve Epting, artist) featured Cap’s denial of Bucky’s return, along with pretty convincing evidence about what happened to Mr. Barnes after his last adventure with Cap. The whole issue is that kind of setup, which I suppose now means Cap has to track down the Winter Soldier along with the rogue Soviet general and stolen Cosmic Cube. It’s good setup regardless, and I guess I’m on board for the rest of “The Winter Soldier.”

I don’t quite know what to say about Shanna The She-Devil #7 (Frank Cho, writer/artist), except that I expected a lot more from this miniseries than seven issues’ worth of bikinis and killing dinosaurs. Frank Cho is a skilled artist, to be sure, and I’d probably buy his work in the future, provided he was drawing someone else’s script. I’ve been reading Liberty Meadows via an e-mail service for the past couple of months too, and it hasn’t convinced me that he’s just slumming with Shanna. I don’t even think you could call this an “art book,” unless you like looking at hot blondes and lots of gore. Maybe there is a market for that; I don’t know. Still, I can’t believe I didn’t stop buying this book when I had the chance.

Finally, Defenders #2 (Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, writers; Kevin Maguire, artist) is proving not to be in quite the same vein as the creators’ Justice League work. It’s played for laughs, but its events are more objectively serious. Most of this issue focuses on Dormammu and Umar, siblings so close I’m surprised there hasn’t been a Donny & Marie joke. The villains capture our heroes and then spend much of the issue trying to decide what to do with them. That doesn’t sound too funny, and it’s not laugh-out-loud funny like the JLI stuff was, but it’s definitely not all grim and angsty.

July 29, 2005

Old Comics, July ’05

Well, I’m back, having spent the first few days of the week in Roanoke with about a thousand other people taking the Virginia bar. Thanks for all the good wishes, both on the blogoversary and for the bar. I hope I live up to them.

I did read some comics in the few moments I wasn’t studying, and no less than Steve Lieber was nice enough to send me a couple that he had drawn. First up was Family Reunion, written by Sean Stewart. It’s evidently been out for a while, and many of you have probably already seen it, but if not, I liked it. There’s a lot of information packed into eight pages, and both Stewart and Lieber economize their efforts to good effect. I got strong senses of the handful of characters through a good selection of scenes. It’s based on a novel by Stewart, but I don’t know if I’d rather read the novel or see more comics by this team. Probably a good choice either way.

More recently, Lieber drew Flytrap Episode One: Juggling Act, from a script by his wife, Sara Ryan. Here I was impressed by the different style Lieber used — thicker lines and perhaps more “cartoony” than in Family Reunion. Although Flytrap is more of a sitcom than Family Reunion, the change in style serves it well. FR grounded its fantastic element in very realistic artwork; and Flytrap is meant to be wackier. At 14 pages, it’s almost twice as long, but it has to set up the continuing adventures of Maddy and her clients. This it did admirably, focusing more on Maddy than on said clients, but making her sympathetic enough that the clients’ eccentricity doesn’t need to be much more of a hook. I’m now officially interested in what happens next, so good job, Steve and Sara. More information about both mini-comics at Steve’s website.

Now, quick hits on the stuff I got at the comics shop.

Superman #219, Action Comics #829, Adventures of Superman #642, Wonder Woman #219, OMAC Project #4: I would have liked “Sacrifice” better if the first couple of parts had been better-executed. I think the planning was good, and in hindsight it worked well, but although I have nothing against Mark Verheiden or Gail Simone I wish Rucka could have written the whole thing. The art in Superman #219 was also rather weak. I’ve posted my thoughts on Wonder Woman’s role over on The Great Curve.

Wonder Woman #218: Lots of closure as Rucka and Ron Randall wrap up various storylines from the past couple of years. I liked the storylines and was satisfied with their conclusions — and where’s Ron Randall been, anyway?

Defenders #1: Funny stuff, if not as wacky or familiar as the “Not The Justice League” stories — and while playing the Silver Surfer as a zonked-out beach bum is inspired, it’s also not close enough to the character’s mainstream portrayal to be really satirical.

Hero Squared #1: Glad to see this again, but $4.00? I thought gas was expensive.

GLA #4: More of the wacky, less of the grim, and I did like the ending a lot.

Astonishing X-Men #11: I guess I should be glad there were no obvious NOMAD/V’Ger “The creator is a carbon-unit!” moments.

Serenity #1: Satisfactorily evocative of the TV show, which is about all one can ask, right? For the first time in a while, the Best Wife Ever was excited to read a comic. Not that she’s read this one yet, but still….

Day Of Vengeance #4: Not bad, but I was hoping the teenaged girl would be related to Amethyst or (better yet) Crazy Jane.

Villains United #3: I liked Paul Pelletier’s art, and Val Semeiks isn’t bad either — but who knew the new Rag Doll was a dude?

Rann/Thanagar War #3: Lots of yelling, fighting, ray-blasts, and explosions, but that’s not all bad.

Batman: Gotham Knights #67: The best part of this issue was the artwork, by Rick Burchett. I’m sure he doesn’t get more Bat-work because he’s “too cartoony” for the discriminating Bat-fan; but his distinctive style is always welcome. As for the story itself, Bruce gets blackmailed by a failed videographer who discovers Batman’s secret identity. This is the first part of a continued story, but its cliffhanger hinges on an event that cannot be what it seems, and so fails to build much suspense.

Batman #642: This was a gap-filler issue, not badly executed but not really saying much important either. However, I thought Chris Marrinan and Andrew Pepoy made an interesting choice to draw Batman in a bulky, blocky way, more like Dick Sprang than Frank Miller. As long as he was around, Rick Burchett should have drawn this one too.

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #193: The animated Batman series of the ’90s did Mr. Freeze a huge favor by filling his origin with pathos. This story can’t hope to improve on that one. Instead, its high point is a Batman who unironically gives out business cards (!) and who’s assembling a Shadow-like group of operatives. More with this Batman in the mainline books, please.

Detective Comics #808: Another solid installment of “City of Crime.” I do like Lapham’s use of Robin, and keep hoping for more Robin in the mainline Bat-books.

Gotham Central #33: Speaking of Robin, did I ever tell you about my idea for a Batman story where the Joker takes the Donald Trump role in his own version of “The Apprentice,” kidnapping high school athletes and killing them while ostensibly training them to be Robin? That would have been pretty lame. This was the opposite of lame.

Batman: Dark Detective #s 5-6: Um, did Englehart & Rogers just decide an abrupt ending would be cool, or are they setting us up for a sequel?

Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian #3: For me, this was more fun than the Subway Pirates; and Morrison and Stewart did a good job with the breakup scene too.

JLA #s 115-116: This is turning into a pretty decent storyline not just on a crossover level, but also as a Justice League adventure. I like Johns and Heinberg’s script, and Batista and Farmer’s art. I thought this would be a placeholding, gap-filling arc between “Syndicate Rules” and the aftermath of Infinite Crisis, but it’s exceeded my expectations.

JLA Classified #10: I thought Warren Ellis hated the Fantastic Four, but apparently that’s nothing compared to how he treats Perry White in this issue. Some fine Butch Guice artwork can’t make up for some weird dialogue.

Shanna The She-Devil #6: Yeah, yeah, dinosaurs, bikinis, “Kill Me!!!,” blah blah blah.

Star Wars Empire #32: Not bad as far as Luke/Leia Rebel Alliance stories go, but again, when did Leia get so tall and busty?

Firestorm #15: Still zippy and fun.

DC Special: The Return Of Donna Troy #2: I’m not sure anyone can be in quite the right frame of mind to read this book unless they have first read, and thoroughly enjoyed, the stories in the Who Is Donna Troy? paperback. The “Who Is Wonder Girl?” 5-parter from 1988 also celebrated the return of George Perez, and was infused with fanfic-levels of “You guys are my bestest friends ever in the whole universe and I love you very much!” moments. It’s as if Wolfman and Perez took Donna’s 1984 wedding issue from Tales of the Teen Titans #50, which was (seriously) a masterpiece of subtlety and careful emotional release, and decided to not take any chances and really wear their hearts on their sleeves. So far, Phil Jiminez has been dialing up the emotional manipulation in this miniseries, with this issue especially playing to the longime Titans fanboys and -girls in the audience. I understand his viewpoint — I hadn’t read Donna’s wedding issue in a good ten years before last week, and I still got misty-eyed — but this is getting to be too much. If the former New Teen Titans don’t end Donna’s destructive rampage with anything but a big teary group hug, I’ll be very surprised.

Fantastic Four #529: Lose the social worker and this would be a much better book, even with the “nanny search” subplot.

Astro City: The Dark Age #2, City Of Tomorrow #4: More of the same, and in neither case is it unwelcome.

Legion of Super-Heroes #8: Guest penciller Kevin Sharpe isn’t bad, but his figures are stiffer and more awkwardly posed than Kitson’s. Nice job by Waid on exploding all the subplots at once, though.

Incredible Hulk: Destruction #1: I bought this because it was Peter David and because “House of M” completists have robbed me of the regular Hulk issues. It’s not bad, but I have a feeling the HoM stuff is better.

Flash #224: It’s too bad that “Rogue War” has gotten good just as Johns is getting ready to leave. Coming soon to this site: a retrospective on the Johns Flash era, in which I will attempt to be fair and balanced despite his unfortunate focus on the Rogues.

Superman/Batman #21: I will gladly pay Jeph Loeb to never write Bizarro or Batzarro again.

All-Star Batman & Robin #1: Reply hazy; ask again later.

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