Comics Ate My Brain

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.

June 2, 2005

New comics 6/2/05, Part 1

Filed under: batman, crisis, shanna, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 6:48 pm
Apparently, according to the owner of my LCS, the truck with the rest of this week’s comics has gotten lost. Therefore, expect another set of reviews within the next few days.

Villains United #2 (written by Gail Simone, art by Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger) was a good second issue — better than Day of Vengeance #2 in terms of explaining what had gone before. As the Secret Sixers wonder whether their leader is actually one of them (an element common to the previous groups), this group goes on its first mission. Naturally, there are complications, but Simone did surprise me with how the mission turned out. My biggest complaint was that the middle two pages weren’t stapled in, so I’ll have to be more careful with this issue in the future.

Jeph Loeb has hinted for the better part of a year about his final storyline being a devastating satire on the Avengers/Ultimates. With Superman/Batman #20 (art by Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines), that day is here, and sadly for Loeb I don’t think it will reduce Quesada, Millar, or Bendis to fetal-position whimpering. Loeb does have some fun with narration, though. A Larry King-like talk show runs through much of the issue, informing readers about the “Maximums” and their role in an apparently alternate world. There’s an alternate Superman and Batman too; and on top of that Bizarro and “Batzarro” (whose first-person narration is identical to his spoken dialogue — now that was funny). The annoying dual-narration is back too, and I suppose it has to provide some counterpoint to the other techniques. However, it all seems rather broad and predictable, not to mention familiar (Warren Ellis took out an Avengers pastiche in The Authority, and Grant Morrison did a similar riff in JLA Classified); so I’m not sure what deeper message Loeb has beyond giving Marvel a black eye.

I had to look at the first page of Superman #218 (written by Mark Verheiden, drawn by Ed Benes) to make sure I hadn’t already bought it. Note to DC: don’t have two covers in a row (separated by two weeks, no less! Holy coin toss — what dastardly fiend could be behind this?) where Supes uses heat vision on the reader. Anyway, this time around, Superman’s public image is being tarnished not only by his failure in South America last issue, but also by a Discovery Channel-style “what if?” special speculating about the apocalyptic damage a runaway Kryptonian could cause. It’s not a new plot, but Verheiden handles it well, and Benes does a fine job too.

Detective Comics #807 (written by David Lapham, with art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill) doesn’t have much Batman in it. Instead, it focuses on the residents of a neighborhood Batman wants to infiltrate, who it seems have their own protector/enforcer. While careful observers will spot Batman before he’s revealed, Lapham and Bachs have a good time with the locals in the meantime. Also included in this issue is the conclusion of “Regnum Defende,” the Alfred short written by Scott Beatty and drawn by Jeff Parker. It goes a little out of its way to set up “Alfred Beagle’s” real identity, considering that few fans today would recognize that bit of Bat-history — but its open ending sounds like a promising future storyline.

Finally, there’s Shanna The She-Devil #5 (by Frank Cho), which on its own was actually a good bit of silent storytelling. There is almost no plot beyond dinosaurs fighting and Shanna and Holy Buckets Guy coming in afterwards, but the former sets up the latter nicely. Still, it’s not like this whole series hasn’t set up how fricking dangerous carnivorous dinosaurs are to one schlub and his hot superhuman companion….

May 4, 2005

New comics 5/4/05

Filed under: batman, captain marvel, crisis, firestorm, gla, seven soldiers, shanna, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 9:35 pm
Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, except here in horse country, where the first Saturday in May is Derby Day. The Kentucky Derby (the subject of an hilarious essay by the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson) is like a statewide Super Bowl — everything stops, there are parties with lots of booze (cultured booze like mint juleps, mind you, not just the beer you get at Super Bowl parties), and although the race itself takes about two minutes, you pretty much end up spending the entire afternoon watching coverage from Churchill Downs. It doesn’t matter if you can’t tell one end of the horse from another, just like knowledge of football doesn’t matter for a Super Bowl party.

The point is, it’s practically a state holiday that would be a state holiday if it weren’t on Saturday. Several years ago I was in court in Trimble County (about a half-hour outside Louisville) on Oaks Day — the day before Derby, when the all-filly Kentucky Oaks is run — and the judge didn’t show. To us, the implication was clear.

Therefore, kids, I don’t need to tell you that if your local comics shop is in our fair commonwealth, you’ll probably have your pick of free comics on Saturday, because you’ll be one of the few people in the store.

As for today, there were no free comics, believe me.

Batman: Dark Detective #1 brings us the reunion of writer Steve Englehart, penciller Marshall Rogers, and inker Terry Austin on a Batman story. (Letterer John Workman did a few of those earlier issues too.) I liked this issue, and freely admit I was predisposed to like it. The story is simple: Bruce Wayne attends a fundraiser for a gubernatorial candidate who happens to be married to old flame Silver St. Cloud. The Joker shows up at the fundraiser, and he and Batman fight. The issue has a nice hand-made feel to it, thanks in large part to Austin’s inks (which don’t smooth out Rogers’ edges as much as they once did) and Workman’s lettering, which doesn’t look computer-generated. There’s a tribute to the team’s late editor Julie Schwartz, both in the credits box and as a cameo. A couple of key sequences from the earlier run are also copied exactly, right down to the panel layout, but if it wasn’t broke before, why fix it? If I had a quibble with the issue, it’s that a character who appears to die horribly shows up later literally without a hair out of place. Otherwise, Engelhart’s Bruce/Batman, Joker, and Silver are all portrayed skillfully, with Bruce and Silver’s meeting handled especially subtly. This team knows its fame and is aware of its unique “vision,” but it doesn’t seem to have gone to their heads.

Back in the book that originally published their stories, Detective Comics #806 (written by David Lapham, art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill) offers a pretty grim installment of “City of Crime.” Although I’m not sure Lapham’s story still has momentum after six months — and I wonder if it can sustain what it has for the remaining six — this was a suspenseful tale which deepens the plot’s paranoia. Basically Batman, the missing girl’s mother, and the last honest cop in Gotham are all trying to hold off the sinister forces which have taken over the city. Still a good read, and I may see this later on as the bridge issue which helped keep the plot going. There’s also a clever Alfred backup story by writer Scott Beatty and artist Jeff Parker which finds him on a cold-war-era espionage mission. (Yes, under DC’s current timeline, the Soviet Union probably would have ceased to exist before Bruce Wayne put on the Batsuit.)

(A brief digression: this week I am starting to notice ads in the books for ringtones. These remind me, at least in layout, of those long-ago ads for “record clubs” like Columbia House and BMG which used to appear in the comics of the mid-’70s. Everything old is new again, I suppose.)

In Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight #2 (written by Grant Morrison, art by Simone Bianchi) we learn the fates of Justin and his steed after the police car hit them last issue. While Justin endures a somewhat predictable trek through the alleys of Los Angeles — really, isn’t the beating-up-unsuspecting-thugs scene long since spent? — Vanguard the horse is nursed back to health by a handful of colorful characters. The art is gorgeous, and there is more to Justin’s arc this issue than just fighting. The credits page also waits until halfway through the issue to appear, which has to count for something. (I thought it was an ad at first.) At the end I think Justin and Vanguard are close to reuniting, but I’ll have to read it a couple more times to make sure.

Still haven’t found a copy of Day of Vengeance #1, but as it turns out Superman #216 (written by Judd Winick, art by Ian Churchill and Norm Rapmund) leads into it. Somewhere a DC production worker is being severely chastised, I am sure. This issue is the big Captain Marvel/Superman fight, depicted pretty well by Churchill and Rapmund. They use a few too many wide shots to show distance, and thereby sacrifice the characters’ easy identification, but I guess that’s where Winick’s captions come in. The whole thing ends kind of abruptly, in order to set up the DoV conflicts. It’s getting so I’m starting to wonder if these regular-series tie-ins (like JLA Classified #s 1-3, to be fair) will be collected with the miniseries’ paperback, because they sure don’t make sense in the context of the Superman books themselves.

Firestorm #13 (written by Dan Jolley, art by Jamal Igle, Rob Stull, and Lary Stucker) also ends the battle with the Thinker abruptly, but this time it’s to wrap up outgoing writer Dan Jolley’s tenure and lay the groundwork for new writer Stuart Moore. Along the way Ronnie Raymond gets some closure, and his parental situation is contrasted with Jason’s. Like I say, the fight ends early, but on the other hand Jolley was more concerned with its aftermath. We’ll see if Moore can do as well as Jolley has.

Villains United #1 (written by Gail Simone, art by Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger) pits two classic DC names against each other — the Secret Society of Super-Villains vs. the Secret Six. This book deals in so many villains I honestly couldn’t identify them all. I think Scandal (of the S6) was in the “Ravens” with Cheshire, but why is there a new Rag Doll and what’s this Parademon doing here? Dear DC, I have been reading many of your books continuously for the past 20 years, and I have the DC Encyclopedia and every issue of Who’s Who — including the 3-ring binder version — so when I don’t know who somebody is, I won’t be hurt if you have to tell me. Other than that, it was a good setup, and it left me interested in what happens next.

Also in the obscure-character department, we have GLA #2 (written by Dan Slott, with art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar) doing a membership drive to replace Dinah Soar, killed last issue. This provides a framework for Slott to riff on a few comics cliches, including a funny take on the “I work alone” speech and a pointed Batman reference which I heartily endorse. Unlike Villains United, which threw me into the deep end immediately, GLA made sure I knew who everyone was and why they were important, so good on it for that.

Finally, I bought Shanna The She-Devil #4 (written and drawn by Frank Cho) and was turned off not by the implausibility of Shanna fighting dinosaurs without losing her bikini, but by the gratuitous dino killings. Since buying #3, I have also signed up for an e-mail comics service which delivers Cho’s Liberty Meadows to my inbox every day, and I can’t see that guy writing this book. It’s a well-crafted book (although you could base a drinking game on the “Holy buckets” epithet) but there’s not much else to it. As for the dino-gore, wouldn’t it have worked just as well in silhouette?

April 7, 2005

New comics 3/30/05 and 4/6/05: better late than never

Two weeks’ worth of comics — which to read first?

25 years ago, The New Teen Titans #8 was lauded for featuring a “Day in the Life” and focusing on character moments to endear the cast to the readers. Some 10 years later, DC’s Annuals included 8-page “Private Lives” stories which sometimes filled gaps in continuity. In the late 1990s, DC began publishing thick, expensive “Secret Files” books whose gap-filling stories were separated by illustrated data sheets on the characters.

Countdown to Infinite Crisis is a high-profile gap-filler which does three things: sets up related miniseries through a survey of the DC Universe; introduces the coming epic’s mastermind; and shocks with the on-screen death of a superhero who (despite what the book has said about him) has been a consistently good member of DC’s community. The blogosphere spent the better part of the past several days ripping this book apart, and rightly so. Aside from questionable characterization (most obvious with the Martian Manhunter), CTIC also suffers from delayed lead-ins: Hal Jordan and Adam Strange appear despite their respective miniseries being an issue or two away from over. (Similarly, Wonder Woman’s eyes have apparently healed by this point.) I also suspect that much of the exposition supplied here will be regurgitated in the opening pages of the minis to follow. However, I did learn 1) the completely unnecessary explanation for why Blue Beetle wears goggles; and 2) Metropolis is in New York state, not Rhode Island (and somebody out there is mad at CTIC just for that!).

There’s no real good reason to read CTIC. Either you’re a longtime DC fan who doesn’t need the exposition; or you’re a newcomer and the shocking revelations won’t mean much. The ending leaves little doubt that the victim is dead, which is both distasteful and counterproductive — wouldn’t it be more suspenseful to leave some hope of rescue/recovery? I suppose the art, by Rags Morales, Ed Benes, Jesus Saiz, Ivan Reis, and Phil Jiminez, is decent, although Jiminez makes the villain beefier and the hero chunkier than the others do.

I hope that DC will use the 80 pages for $1.00 format for future “Secret Files,” though.

On to the regular series. Batman #638 (written by Judd Winick, with art by Doug Mahnke and Dustin Nguyen) reveals the Red Hood’s identity, but (disobeying the cover) not to Batman. Bats and Nightwing are busy dealing with the Red Hood, Black Mask, and Mr. Freeze trying to claim a significant amount of Kryptonite. Winick has given each of the villains a very loosey-goosey, self-aware speaking style which is entertaining in and of itself, but I’m not sure if it works for Mr. Freeze. Mahnke and Nguyen’s art is also a little looser this issue, with Batman especially looking more fluid and less blocky than they’ve drawn him to date. Again there’s a shocking revelation and a surprising death at the end, but I’m (like Steve) not sure why one would wear a mask under a mask. I’m also not convinced that the dead man is who he looks like. Regardless, this is still a better Bat-book than most others have been recently.

Of course, the Bat-book better than Batman is Detective Comics #805 (written by David Lapham, with art by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill). It begins where the last issue ended, with Batman the happy warrior in the thick of a pack of goons. This issue sees “City of Crime” take a weirder turn, with the revelation that people in Gotham are being replaced with sinister duplicates. I’m not sure that the story really needed such an element, since Lapham was doing so well with the straight-up crime, but he makes it suitably creepy. There is also a backup story involving a baby Clayface and some manure that is either fun or juvenile, probably depending on your mood.

Flash #220 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Howard Porter and Livesay) highlights the two groups of Rogues and pretty much confirms for me that previous periodic interruptions (for example, to tell the sordid story of the Mirror Master) were unnecessary. Conventional wisdom held that the previous Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery never succeeded because they never quite had the killer instinct one needs for optimum villainy. Now, as Geoff Johns has taught us over what seems like the last 200 years, the Rogues mean business. However, this issue puts them in direct conflict with a group of reformed Rogues working for the FBI. That’s about it for the plot, really. (But why does Trickster I have his foot on the Stanley Cup on the last page?) I wonder what Johns will do once “Rogue War” is over, because it seems like the past couple of years have been building to this storyline. For that reason I have mixed feelings about this issue — on one hand, it packs all those other expository installments into 22 pages; but on the other at least he’s picking up the pace.

Legion of Super-Heroes #4 (written by Mark Waid, breakdowns by Barry Kitson, pencils by Leonard Kirk, inks by Mick Gray, second story art by Dave Gibbons) establishes a little more concretely the schism between the 31st Century’s teenagers and adults. We get to see some repression and, of course, the violence inherent in the system. The spine of the story is the origin of Invisible Kid, but this issue feels more like a regular story than an origin tale. The backup is a day in the life of Phantom Girl as told by Karate Kid, and although it aspires to be a tender account of how P.G. spends her life perpetually between dimensions, it comes off as extremely strange. It’s the kind of thing Waid could work into stories as a running gag, so even an 8-page backup may be giving it too much attention. Anyway, overall another solid issue from Waid & Kitson, with Leonard Kirk either blending seamlessly with Kitson’s style, aping it effectively, or both.

While Waid’s final issue of Fantastic Four (#524) (art by Mike Wieringo and Karl Kesel) didn’t really conclude his Galactus arc, it did give him an opportunity to bookend his run on the series with a heartfelt exploration of how the FF feel about their powers. I say “bookend” because the emotional issues surrounding their powers were explored by Waid in his first issue on the title. He and Ringo are a hard act to follow.

That brings me to Peter David’s second run on Incredible Hulk (#80) (art by Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer). The current “Tempest Fugit” arc is either a clever simulation run by a still-mysterious mastermind, or a backdoor rewind of the continuity clock to just before David left the title. I doubt seriously it’s the latter, and so does Bruce Banner, who thinks he’s gotten the hang of the clever simulations. His rebellion against them is the book’s high point, and their reaction is just as good. All in all, it’s still confusing, but in an entertaining way.

Superman/Batman #18 (written by Jeph Loeb, with art by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Marino) finally concludes the “Absolute Power” storyline. Remember, 5 months ago, how I praised Loeb for curtailing the dueling narration? It’s back now; and if that’s supposed to mean everything is going to be OK, then quite frankly I don’t want to be right. Reset buttons are pushed, and there are more invocations of alternate DC futures, before our heroes get back to normal and try to reconcile their horrible alternate deeds with their former victims. This title is on my list of “maybe it reads better in one sitting,” but while I think DC needs a successor to World’s Finest Comics, Jeph Loeb probably shouldn’t write it.

Speaking of oft-delayed books, Green Lantern Rebirth #5 (written by Geoff Johns, with art by Ethan van Sciver and Prentis Rollins) finally came out this week. This penultimate issue finds Hal back in ring-slinging action and taking on the revived Sinestro. Two things bothered me about this issue.

First, once again Hal is exulting in the fact that he doesn’t face any more soul-searching or have any doubts about his ability. Obviously Johns means this as an empowering, not-gonna-take-it-anymore statement of purpose, but does this mean Hal’s emotional development has been rolled back over 30 years, to the beginning of the Denny O’Neil era? If memory serves, Kevin Smith revived Ollie Queen at a point around that same time — so you have to wonder if DC sees that period as some kind of decline. Anyway, to me that can’t be good, because it means that at some point in the future, somebody’s going to decide Hal needs yet another crisis of conscience. (When that turns out to be the name of DC’s big 2011 crossover, you heard it here first.) Now he’s happily whipping up on Sinestro, but wait a few years and he’ll be as conflicted as ever. Otherwise, he’ll be insufferable.

Second, while the art was fine mostly, a few details bothered me. Hal’s redesigned costume still throws off his proportions; Parallax’s first appearance this issue reminded me of Ozzy Osbourne; and the big Hal-Kyle handshake on page (numbers would be nice, DC!) 17 seems to have been taken straight from the Kentucky flag. (“United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” indeed.)

We’ll see how this all shakes out next issue, whenever it decides to appear.

Somewhat like Phantom Girl, Zatanna has been a character either trapped between, or coexisting in both, DC’s Vertigo books and its mainstream superhero titles. She started in the latter and eventually joined the Justice League, but for a while she was entrenched in Vertigo’s stable of mystical heroes. Thus, it’s no surprise that Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #1 (written by Grant Morrison, with art by Ryan Sook and Mick Gray) straddled that line between straightforward superheroics and knowing, ironic commentary on same. It covers some of the same territory as the original Seven Soldiers #0, including a dimension-hopping journey gone horribly awry. However, its tone is very matter-of-fact, with Zatanna at the end saying she’ll call the JLA if she really thinks things are too serious. The juxtaposition is entertaining, even if all the different dimensional dangers get confusing. Sook and Gray do a great job with the art, which is at times both droll and scary. This could be my favorite 7S miniseries, and not just because it features the most recognizable character or the one with the most cleavage.

Firestorm #12 (written by Dan Jolley, with art by Jamal Igle and Rob Stull) continues the assault on the new Firestorm by the old one’s greatest enemies. The dramatic tension comes from the literal struggle for control of Firestorm, with Jason having the power but Ronnie the strategic knowledge. While Ronnie’s tactics save the day, they also play into the hands of the villain pulling the strings, so “to be continued.” This arc has spotlighted both Jason’s power and inexperience, and while I’m not going to suggest “this is what a teenager fighting supervillains would look like,” Jolley has made it ring true. The art and color is as good as ever, so I’m glad I keep getting this book.

Based on my good experiences with Dan Slott’s She-Hulk and Spider-Man/Human Torch, I picked up G.L.A. #1 (art by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar) expecting more fun in that vein. Well, it was funny, especially the Monkey Joe inserts, but in a very dark way. When your hero is Mr. Immortal, whose superpower is that he can’t be killed, that’s probably to be expected. Still, I only knew these characters from their picosecond cameos in JLA/Avengers, and this issue did a good job of introducing them and making them sympathetic.

Thanks to cable I had just seen the “Buffy” episode where she and Riley are trapped in the fraternity house, with their sexual energy powering these vines that trap others, so I wanted to compare that to the plot of Astonishing X-Men #8 (written by Joss Whedon, with art by John Cassaday), with the runaway Danger Room, but in the end that wasn’t happening. For one thing, Wolverine didn’t sing “Behind Blue Eyes.” I still get a very Willow Rosenberg vibe off Kitty Pryde, though. Having a rogue Danger Room (as opposed to Rogue’s Danger Room, I guess) was explained adequately enough, and the art was good as always, but these are the kinds of groundbreaking plots fans anticipated when Whedon was announced? This is the sort of thing folks can expect over at least the next 16 issues? If this were “Buffy,” it would be the season-ending show after the big finale to the season-long story arc, which cleanses the palate and gets everybody ready for the next big arc. So far I’m not seeing much innovation out of Whedon, and I’ve seen “Firefly,” so I know he can do better.

I also got Shanna The She-Devil #3 (written and drawn by Frank Cho) this week. Yeah, I know.

Finally I want to plug Batman Chronicles #1, reprinting in order every Batman story ever published. This volume covers the first year (Detective Comics #s 27-38 and Batman #1), and introduces Batman, Robin, the Joker, the Catwoman, Prof. Hugo Strange, the Monk, and Dr. Death. At $14.99, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the Archive books, plus you don’t have to go back and forth between books to read the Batman and Detective stories. I do hope DC is committed to this project, because it will provide a good look both at Batman’s early “gothic” period and how quickly that evolved into the happier adventurer who became Adam West.

March 3, 2005

New Comics 3/2/05: Special Blink-And-You-Miss-It Edition

Filed under: batman, firestorm, shanna, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 10:11 pm
I got three comics this week.

Detective Comics #804 continued David Lapham and Ramon Bachs’ “City of Crime,” and finished Mike Carey and John Lucas’ “The Barker.” Honestly, “The Barker” never quite grabbed my attention, not because it didn’t have Batman, but because I couldn’t quite follow the action. Maybe I are an idiot. Anyhow, “City of Crime” continues to be a really fine, polished look at Batman and Robin. It is dark without wallowing in grim ‘n’ gritty or presenting Batman as an alienating psychopath. There is one scene towards the beginning of the book where I thought we were getting into Geoff Johns JSA territory, but it turns out to be more suspenseful than disturbing. Not that the book isn’t disturbing — the cover takes care of that. It’s little touches like the closing narration (“Right now he is surrounded by a score of unknown enemies … Right now he is grinning”) which make the book work.

Firestorm #11(written by Dan Jolley, with art by Dale Eaglesham and Wade von Grawbadger) begins Jolley’s last arc on the book, so I take the developments therein with a grain of salt. One way or another, Jolley is establishing Ronnie Raymond’s future with Firestorm. Now, although I have every Firestorm issue except the original Conway/Milgrom run from the ’70s, I never thought that Ronnie would play that big a part in this series, so this issue was a nice surprise. If it remains the status quo, I won’t be unhappy; but I kind of liked the “rotating co-pilot” element which was used early on. The art is fine, although the color (by Chris Sotomayor) really has tied the series together visually. I didn’t notice much difference until I looked at the credits. Regardless, this remains a very good book, which of late has balanced nostalgia for the “classic” version with the new character’s sensibilities. Here’s hoping that Firestorm‘s new writer brings as much to the character as Jolley has.

This week’s (heck, this year’s) guilty pleasure is Shanna The She-Devil #2, written and drawn by Frank Cho. Last issue was an excuse to have a hot naked woman beat up dinosaurs. This issue offers similar cheap thrills, but Cho now has Shanna not caring too much about whether anything eats the men who let her out of the lab. Said men have also taken a rather exploitative attitude towards Shanna, which Cho may think lets him off the hook a little for all the cheesecake. If the men’s piggishness is acknowledged, then by extension the reader might feel better about the book.

Still, this is still a comic filled with ample bosoms, which at times seem to strain of their own accord against the various fabrics covering them. There’s no way around that. Does giving Shanna a substantial dark side help to mitigate the behavior of her bazongas? I’m not sure that it does; but it lends this book a little more depth than I expected, and I’ll probably get #3.

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