Comics Ate My Brain

January 26, 2008

New comics 1/23/08

Filed under: countdown, justice league, she-hulk, superman, teen titans, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 10:15 pm
This is only tangentially related to the story, but while reading Wonder Woman #16 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Terry Dodson and Ron Randall, inked by Rachel Dodson and Randall) I wondered why the “swimsuit” costume ostensibly lets people take WW less seriously, when (say) Tarzan, Namor, Hawkman, Hercules, and other notable men can expose lots of skin to combat without such repercussions.

A scene in WW #16 has Diana stride ashore, loaded with weapons, and calling the Nazis out — but she’s not wearing the armor, helmet, cape, etc., which writers and artists since George Perez have used to signal that the serious butt-kicking is about to begin. Instead, she’s wearing a slightly sturdier-looking version of her usual costume (or maybe it’s supposed to be the usual costume and the Dodsons just draw it to look sturdier). To me, that says she doesn’t care how exposed she might look — because how she looks will have no bearing on the hurting she’s about to administer. It’s like my response to the Batman-needs-body-armor argument: isn’t he that much more impressive in an ordinary cloth costume?

The issue itself was quite good: Hippolyta’s bodyguards’ motivations are understandable, Diana is a great presence, and Ron Randall’s art assist meshes nicely with the Dodsons’ work. The Nazis are a bit two-dimensional, but then again, they are just Nazis.

Countdown #14 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher) continued the title’s upward swing, but again I think this Earth-51 arc only illustrates what might well have been its major flaw. Since all of January has been consistent — same creative team, same story focus — it’s had a chance to build some dramatic momentum. Granted, the story isn’t objectively that innovative, but it’s still not as choppy as the past few months have been. I’m also digging the Batman & Red Robin team — the suits look good together, kinda like the old Earth-2 “grown-up Robin” costume did, or even the Chris O’Donnell and Kilmer/Clooney suits. (Without nipples, of course.)

I didn’t realize She-Hulk vol. 2 #25 (written by Peter David, pencilled by Shawn Moll, Adriana Melo, and Val Semeiks, inked by Victor Olazaba, Mariah Benes, and Dave Meikis) was supposed to be an anniversary issue until I got to the backup stories and the OHOTMU pages. Pretty entertaining all around, although I don’t understand why Man-Elephant got the spotlight he did. I had been thinking about dropping the book, but I’ll stick around for at least another month.

Crime Bible #4 (written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Diego Olmos) was very good. I liked Montoya’s relationship with Rodor, I thought the story’s central mystery was structured quite well, and I liked the denouement with the main villain. Like Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano on Gotham Central and Jesus Saiz and Chris Samnee on Checkmate, Olmos is yet another thick-lined, minimalist-realistic, blacks-heavy (I’m just making up terms here) artist working with Rucka, and it’s always a good pairing.

It’s too bad JLA Classified (#51 written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, and inked by Mark Farmer) has been cancelled, because this issue is exactly the kind of thing I’d have loved to have seen more of. It’s a flashback to the era of the original League, and it informs the overall arc’s present-day plot, but it works pretty well on its own. A behemoth named Titus is taking the First Commandment pretty personally, destroying religious sites all over Earth, and the JLA (with help from occasional members Superman and Batman) has its hands full stopping him. Stern and Byrne can do this kind of story in their sleep, of course, so it’s the little things which catch my eye: the Arrowplane, the Weapons Master’s robot, a mention of “Spaceman X,” the 1968 Batmobile. It’s comfort comics.

There’s a lot going on in Countdown To Mystery #5. Bruce Gordon spends much of the “Eclipso” story (written by Matthew Sturges, pencilled by Chad Hardin, inked by Dan Green) trying to figure out how much SCIENCE! he can do with Eclipso’s powers, before he goes too deep into the Dark Side and reawakens ol’ pointy-ears. It features more exposition on recent Eclipso history, fights with evil critters which apparently the Spectre can’t automatically wipe out, and an omniscient narrator (much appreciated). Hardin and Green’s art is clear and sharp, and by “sharp” I mean you could get a paper cut from some of Green’s lines. It serves the story well, though, keeping the reader on edge (no pun intended).

The “Doctor Fate” story (written by Steve Gerber, pencilled by Tom Derenick and Shawn McManus, inked by Wayne Faucher and McManus) is also pretty dense with meanings, since Fate reads Inza’s comic book work to get some clue into her psyche. Apparently she wrote and drew a Hellboy-meets-Spawn horror comic which might reveal her inner turmoil, or might not. Either way, the new Fate finally learns a startling (to him) secret about the Doctor’s past, but we’ll have to deal with that next month.

Superman Confidential #11 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) wraps up the title’s inaugural “Kryptonite” story, as we all learn why the big chunk of Kryptonite has been narrating the whole thing. That’s basically it — it’s kind of anticlimactic. Don’t know how it reads as a whole … probably a post for another day.

Finally, I liked Teen Titans #55 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Ruy Jose and Jimmy Palmiotti) quite a bit more than I did the noisy, crowded “Titans of Tomorrow” arc which preceded it. Much of this is probably because of Igle, whose work is always good, but I got the feeling that this issue gave McKeever more room to spread out. As the cover indicates, the spotlight is on Robin and Wonder Girl, who explore their relationship for most of the issue. Ravager steals a couple of scenes, though, and the way she plays off Kid Devil and Blue Beetle is entertaining too. Overall, it’s a good slice of soap-opera, as you might expect from a teen-superhero team book. I was iffy about McKeever on this title, but as long as he can keep this up, I’ll be happy.

December 20, 2007

Quick Thoughts On Today’s New Comics (12/19/07)

Filed under: batman, birds of prey, checkmate, countdown, justice league, she-hulk, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 2:47 am
Yeah, I know, it’s been quite a while — but sometimes you’re inspired and you have the time, and sometimes one or both of those aren’t present.

So…

Checkmate #21: really good start to a Mlle. Marie story. Very pleasantly surprised by the new White Queen. (She’s no longer powered, is she?) Would have loved some hint that (a) Mlle. Marie had had a liaison with Alfred Pennyworth, like in the old days.

Birds Of Prey #113: Welcome aboard, Mr. McKeever! Glad to see you work so well with Ms. Scott and Mr. Hazlewood!

Detective Comics #839: This has been an uneven mess of a crossover, and the art in the first half of the book didn’t help, but I did like the overall tone of this issue. Still, it’s Christmas already?!? Man, the timeline questions surrounding today’s DC superhero books….

Countdown Presents … Ray Palmer: Superwoman/Batwoman: Well, that was rather pointless.

Countdown Arena #3 and Justice League of America #16: Arena is developing more of a plot than I originally expected, although Vampire!LibertyFiles!Batman! reminds me more and more of Primaul (TM). However, my main problem has to do with the Tangent Flash. Either she makes it out of Arena alive — since she’s on the cover of JLA #16 — or there’s a reset button built into the Arena setup, if not all of Countdown. It goes back to my “not the real Elseworlds” theory from a recent Grumpy Old Fan, but otherwise it just makes my head hurt.

Superman #671: Very good start to the “Insect Queen” story. Peter Vale’s art is much better than I remembered.

She-Hulk #24: I dunno. There may be some parallels between the Jen-and-Jen setup and PAD’s Supergirl, but I’m just not getting much out of the book right now.

I’ll try to do a holiday-themed post before the weekend, but if not, regular service resumes around Dec. 27.

October 28, 2007

New comics 10/24/07

We begin this week with Teen Titans #52 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Marlo Alquiza, Jesse Delperdang, and Rob Hunter), essentially a series of fight scenes involving the Titans, their future (evil) selves, and various (present-day) DC bad guys being mind-controlled by Starros. The overall point of these scenes, though, is to play up the contrast between the “whatever it takes” Titans of Tomorrow and our more idealistic heroes. I liked it for the most part, although I have trouble getting into relatively new characters like Kid Devil, Ravager, and Miss Martian. (Kid Devil and Ravager I remember from their original incarnations, but there’s been a lot of water under both of those bridges.) I do like Jamal Igle, though, and he made this action-oriented issue flow nicely. He especially draws Blue Beetle well, with one funny panel towards the end conveying BB’s desperation perfectly — a very Steve Rude-like moment, in fact. I mean, I like McKeever’s work here too; don’t get me wrong. The issue could have been fairly tedious, but there is enough individuality in the voices to make each confrontation slightly different.

Green Lantern Corps #17 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Pascal Alixe, Angel Unzueta, Dustin Nguyen, and Patrick Gleason, inked by Vicente Cifuentes, Rodney Ramos, Rob Hunter, Marlo Alquiza, and Prentis Rollins) made me wonder how “Sinestro Corps War” will read in collected form. This issue shows the invasion of Earth from the GL Corps’ point of view, and weaves in and out of the last Green Lantern, the Super”man” Prime Special, this week’s Blue Beetle, and probably the Cyborg Supes Special too. Kilowog fights Arkillo in San Diego — where, yes, the Convention Center is trashed — and Sodam Yat takes on the Anti-Monitor. As with Teen Titans, lots of fightin’ and carnage. There aren’t a lot of clashing styles among the squadron of pencillers and inkers which put together this issue, so that’s good. It doesn’t feel like there was no plot advancement, although the big reveal at the end shouldn’t have been too surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention to the solicitations. Likewise, if all you read is this comic, then it does a good job of bringing you up to speed on the crossover. For the rest of us, though, it’s good to see the GL Corps win some battles, but it’s a little past time for things to start wrapping up.

Also marking time is the Tales of the Sinestro Corps: Superman-Prime Special. The main story is, of course, the cover feature, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Pete Woods and Jerry Ordway. Since the star of our show is a teenager from “this” Earth, where superheroes are just fictional characters, it takes an appropriately metatextual tone. It therefore also goes back into Johns’ Infinite Crisis mindset, where he’s using a villain to criticize what could easily be argued is his own approach to some superhero stories. Accordingly, it’s never quite clear whether we’re supposed to feel sorry for the former Superboy-Prime, or just treat him as an emo whiner. Certainly the superheroes of DC-Earth prefer the latter, because they pound on him across the globe as he tries to reach an area of sunlight to recharge his batteries. Between this and Amazons Attack, Pete Woods is becoming the go-to artist for well-choreographed superhero dogpiles, and his work is similarly effective here. He might not be thought of as a detail-oriented artist like, say, George Perez, but he’s good at crowd scenes and closeups both. The second story, written by newcomer Sterling Gates with art by Ordway, is a backup featuring the Sinestros’ librarian/Crypt-Keeper, Lyssa Dark. It’s creepy and unsettling, but mostly because it focuses on a Sinestro which kidnaps babies and stows them in a skin-pouch on its back. As is the custom, you see. It’s the kind of thing you admire on a technical level but could stand not to read again for a while. It goes without saying that Jerry Ordway is always good; and Gates does well with what may be his rookie assignment.

JLA Classified #45 (written by Justin Gray, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Sean Phillips) was just confusing after a while. There are two big twists in the issue, one involving where the mental combat is taking place and the other identifying with whom, and both are identified rather subtly. Most of the story to date has been J’Onn fighting off “deviant memories” (for lack of a better phrase) of the JLA, so when the real JLA starts getting involved, it’s harder to tell. It’s a problem with the spare storytelling style generally, I think. If it’s meant to be disorienting, then it worked; but it’s still kind of frustrating.

I don’t have much to say about Countdown #27 (written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Carlos Magno, inked by Rodney Ramos). It didn’t really offend or dazzle me. It almost reminds me of the kind of comic Ninth Wonders (the comic-within-the-show on “Heroes”) must be like. I imagine someone in a larger story using an average issue of Countdown as a guide to the “real” story’s plot. (“Look, Hiro! Buddy Blank and Karate Kid are in Bludhaven! That means the sword has returned to Las Vegas!”) Or, you know, maybe I’ve got too much sugar in my system from that “one last” donut.

When the word came down that the next big Action Comics arc would be a Bizarro story, I cringed, fearing it would compare unfavorably to the excellent All-Star Superman Bizarro two-parter. However, “Escape from Bizarro World” (part 3 of which appears in Action Comics #857, written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, and drawn by Eric Powell) actually turns out to be pretty good. Powell’s art is a big part of it, naturally — it’s a combination of cartooning and menace which even reminds me of Charles Addams a little bit. Johns and Donner, who I feared would try to ground the Bizarros in reality, thankfully go the other way here, perhaps justifying their flights of fancy through the Bizarro-World setting. Overall, I liked it, and think it stands well on its own.

Back in the flagship title, “The Third Kryptonian” rolls on in Superman #669 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Dan Green). I liked this one too on first read, but I can see where some might recoil at its suggestion of a starfaring Kryptonian Empire, with its corollary that Superman was just one of many survivors of Krypton. I’m reserving judgment, though, until the end. Basically, this issue is an extended flashback recounting the history of the Third Kryptonian, and in technical terms, it’s put together as well as the previous one was.

The Flash #233 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Freddie Williams II) is by now more infamous across the comics internets for its takedown of Batman’s parenting skills, but I thought it was a decent wrap-up to the invasion of the water-based aliens. Williams is a fine fit for the book, although his Wally is a bit beefy. Waid works in another “Look! Up in the sky!” joke (following last week’s Brave & Bold #7) which works better here. The backup is drawn very nicely by Doug Braithwaite, and Waid gets a writing assist from John Rogers, telling a nice little story about Jay Garrick helping the people of “Planet Flash” throw off the yoke of oppression.

Finally, here’s Peter David’s first issue as writer of She-Hulk (#22 pencilled by Shawn Moll and inked by Victor Olazaba), in which we are introduced to Jen as a bounty hunter. It’s a significant change from the Slott status quo, but it’s not an intolerable one, and it includes a couple of big questions and a cliffhanger. The art is good — big panels and clean lines — and somewhat reminiscent of Gary Frank. I’ll be back next month.

September 12, 2007

New comics (quickly) 8/22/07, 8/29/07, and 9/6/07

Okay, by this point I am officially embarrassed to be doing another three weeks’ worth of “new” comics roundups. Here’s the deal: I’ll tell you what I bought, and what still jumps out at me, and we’ll get through it before you know it.

I will say that I have been reading some comics other than the normal Wednesday fare. I mentioned Blue Devil already — it’s pretty good on the whole, and it holds up fairly well, but it doesn’t have the sublime wit of a ‘Mazing Man or an “Architecture & Mortality.”

I’m also up to Fantastic Four #201 in the big DVD full of FF PDFs. Just 30-odd more issues until the Byrne run, and then I can stop.

Finally, I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History Of The Universe Volume III, and it is the most fun I have had learning since Action Philosophers. Very highly recommended! Now I have to scare up a copy of Vol. II….

Anyway, on to the floppies.

August 22, 2007

BATMAN #668
BIRDS OF PREY #109
BLUE BEETLE #18
COUNTDOWN 36
GREEN LANTERN CORPS #15
SPIRIT #9
SUPERMAN #666

The standouts for this week were Batman #668 and Superman #666. I love Grant Morrison’s take on the Club of Heroes, and hope his promised flirtations with Bat-Mite and the Sci-Fi Batman are as good. JH Williams’ mashup of various artistic styles for the Clubbers is also a delight. I was bothered for a minute or so by the philosophical implications of Kryptonian Hell in Superman #666, but only for a minute — the story itself was a cheerfully horrific tale of Superman Gone Bad; a “Treehouse Of Horror” for our hero. Birds Of Prey was good for a fill-in (I didn’t catch the parentage slip-up), GL Corps was exciting, and The Spirit was pretty creepy. I also bought Blue Beetle #18 for the Teen Titans tie-in, but honestly I found it hard to follow in spots.

August 29, 2007

52 AFTERMATH THE FOUR HORSEMEN #1 (OF 6)
ACTION COMICS #855
AMAZONS ATTACK #6 (OF 6)
BATMAN ANNUAL #26
COUNTDOWN 35
COUNTDOWN TO ADVENTURE #1 (OF 8)
TEEN TITANS #50
WONDER WOMAN #12
FANTASTIC FOUR #549
LAST FANTASTIC FOUR STORY

I actually thought the Last Fantastic Four Story was kind of sweet, in a bedtime-story way. These things don’t have to be full of blood and death, and I imagined Smilin’ Stan bidding farewell to the creations which launched his career, maybe even thinking of Jack Kirby. Maybe not; maybe he just thought he could write whatever and the kids would buy it for the John Romita, Jr. art, and visions of dollar signs danced behind his eyes while he typed. I prefer my illusions, thank you. The main book was good as always, earning a spot on my Sunday Soliloquy list.

Amazons Attack and Wonder Woman felt very perfunctory. I saw the Big Surprise on the last page of AA and was reminded that it had been foreshadowed by that second Countdown Colorforms image, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise after all. Here’s the thing: I know DC is collecting just the Picoult issues into a fancy-dancy hardcover, but would it kill them to put out a Showcase black-and-white edition of AA, WW, and the tie-in issues? (It would? Okay then.) Seems like that would be a good way to entice readers onto whatever bandwagon DC might fashion, but what do I know?

I liked Teen Titans #50 pretty well, but mostly for the thought of the Titans fighting their evil future selves again. Looks like that will be a good arc. I thought the Blue Beetle bits were handled better in this issue than in BB’s own book, too.

Both 52 spin-offs were pretty good. I liked Countdown To Adventure‘s main story, and I’m not just saying that because I met Adam Beechen in San Diego. Will he remember, though, that Adam Strange and Animal Man were both part of the team that traveled to Apokolips in Crisis On Infinite Earths? I’m not sure even 52 mentioned that. I also thought the “Forerunner” backup wasn’t too bad, and the Four Horsemen‘s first issue was nice and suspenseful.

September 6, 2007

ALL NEW ATOM #15
BLACK CANARY WEDDING PLANNER
COUNTDOWN 34
DETECTIVE COMICS #836
NIGHTWING #136
SHE-HULK 2 #21

Atom #15 and the Wedding Planner were both pretty cute. However, am I right in thinking that Dinah and Ollie talked about getting married in the old Secret Sanctuary cave headquarters? (That’s “the cave,” right? Not the Batcave, surely!) Countdown confused me more than usual, with some weird layouts failing to explain how Donna freed Jason from the witch. Detective was okay — nothiing special, which is par for the course with the fill-ins for Dini. Another fill-in artist on Nightwing made it hard for me to realize that the couple in the bar was our villainous pair. Finally, I did like She-Hulk #21, especially the Peter David joke.

I’m really going to try and get back into a steady groove for the foreseeable future. Hopefully by October things will have settled down in the real world. Thanks for your patience!

August 4, 2007

New comics 7/25/07 and 8/1/07

Someday soon I’ll get caught up. July was ka-razy all around, not just with San Diego.

Anyway, let’s begin with the comics I read in between a thousand other things happening the day before the plane took off….

7/25/07

Batman #666 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Andy Kubert, inked by Jesse Delperdang) is the third DC comic to reach that infamous number, and I’m pretty sure it’s the one which takes the most inspiration from said number. Future Batman Damien Wayne fights the last of the Black Casebook’s faux Batmen in a story rich with metatextual meaning. Kubert and Delperdang are especially good at depicting the hellish future Gotham and the evil, red-goggled Batman who thinks he’s going to destroy it. For a while I’ve been convinced that Morrison’s run is dedicated to exploring what it means to “be” Batman, mostly by looking at how others (Damien, the evil pretenders, the upcoming Club of Heroes) take on the role. I’m not quite ready to say it’s of a piece with Seven Soldiers‘ examination of different types of superheroes, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. I may have to get the collections, if only to read the stories in a big chunk, without these months of delays and fill-ins separating them.

It also seems to me that All-Star Batman & Robin (#6 written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) is meant to be seen in a similar “nature of the superhero” light. This issue’s set pieces involve rookie heroes Black Canary and Batgirl, and Batman musing about “all these wannabes.” It’s still not anywhere near a plot; but honestly, the book’s erratic schedule may actually be working in its favor: if it comes out so infrequently, why not spend the $2.99?

Sinestro fights Soranik Natu in Green Lantern Corps #14 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason and Angel Unzueta, inked by Prentis Rollins), and basically, both of them win the battle in different ways. I’ve called “Sinestro Corps” a big excuse for fighting (not that that’s a bad thing), but what’s great about this issue is the way in which it plays with the reader’s expectations. It’s unlikely that Sinestro, bad as he is, will be “allowed” to kill Dr. Natu, beloved as she is; but it’s more unlikely that Natu, a rookie GL, could hold her own against the No. 1 Renegade. The issue’s solution is pretty clever.

Just like that, the Jodi Picoult Era is over, as J. Torres writes and Paco Diaz draws Wonder Woman #11, another brick in the Amazons Attack wall. Diana heads back to Themyscira to protect it from a nuclear strike, and finds the wreckage of Greg Rucka’s excellent “politicizing” of the Greek pantheon. Much of the rest of the issue shows us various Justice Leaguers and Justice Socialites fighting the invaders. It’s better than a Picoult issue, but it’s hardly the best the book’s been. Three more issues of this — one WW, two AA — right?

Is it too late to put Kurt Busiek in the Countdown rotation? He’s done a fine job with Jimmy’s involvement, even though Superman #665 (pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Ande Parks) isn’t part of the main story. This particular issue shows us Jimmy’s “origin,” coming from homeless newsboy to Planet photographer and Superman’s Pal. I’ve liked Leonardi’s work for a long time, probably going back twenty years, so he’s good as always, and Parks’ lines are thick enough to give his figures the appropriate weight. The story’s fun too, in case I didn’t make that clear.

As for the main book, Countdown #40 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Manuel Garcia, inked by Mark McKenna) focuses on three scenes: Donna et al. fighting yet another group of “natives,” Holly questioning the shelter’s priorities, and the Pied Piper and Trickster hooking up with the Penguin. It also checks in with Jimmy and Mary Marvel. The “Ray Palmer” story is getting a little tedious, as is the Holly story, and the Jimmy story is getting better coverage in the Superman titles as of late, so that leaves Mary Marvel and the Rogues to salvage the issue, and Mary’s scene is a little too short. Garcia and McKenna provide decent art — nothing groundbreaking; kind of in the Brad Walker/Eddy Barrows range.

8/1/07

Thankfully, Countdown #39 (written by Dini and Sean McKeever, pencilled by Jim Calafiore, inked by Jay Leisten) starts off much better, as Karate Kid and the last of Triplicate Girl break into Oracle’s office. Holly meets Athena — but is it the same Athena who was mad at Wonder Woman last week? — and the Suicide Squad comes after Piper and Trickster. Art is fine; I thought Calafiore was a good fill-in artist back in the Peter David days of Aquaman, and he’s better here than he has been on the series. Maybe it’s the inks. I liked this issue more than I did the last one, and it may well be because Countdown (unlike 52) does action pretty well. The talky Monitor backup (by Dan Jurgens) even goes a long way towards explaining the nature of the threat, which is nice considering that we’re at the one-quarter mark.

Speaking of threats to the multiverse, wasn’t She-Hulk #20 (pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) not only Dan Slott’s last issue, but also some kind of panacea for Marvel continuity at large? Generally, though, it’s a quick and dirty wrap-up to Slott’s years with Shulkie, including the by-now-familiar “here are the stories I would have done if I had the time” teases. It’s not entirely successful — or, maybe I should say it would have been more successful had I read the Jen-as-judge issues from the last part of Slott’s first series. Anyway, it’s not bad. Slott hasn’t had much room to do his own stuff for a while, with all the crossovers the book’s been part of the past few months, so I guess this is one last example of the unadulterated book.

Fantastic Four #548 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) kicks off the full FF’s (Reed and Sue included) battle with the Frightful Four, so it’s good clean superhero combat. Much the same is on display in Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #4 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wayne von Grawbadger). Both are highly recommended for all your FF needs.

Welcome To Tranquility #9 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe) brings the Devil, more zombies, and Freefall (right? with the purple hair) to town. The main story’s fine, but the backup (pencilled by Leandro Fernandez, inked by Francisco Paronzini) is quite good. It explains, in the best EC tradition, why the Coyote Kid has such a mad-on for zombies. I still enjoy the series, although I don’t think it’ll be around much longer.

More spooky goings-on abound in Detective Comics #835 (written by John Rozum, drawn by Tom Mandrake), as the Scarecrow decides to use puh-sychology on his victims instead of that old crutch, fear-gas. The notion that Batman could be pushed To The Edge (TM) even by the Scarecrow’s gruesome new tactics is a bit hard to accept, and Mandrake’s art isn’t for everyone, but overall it’s fairly effective.

Nightwing #135 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Jon Bosco, inked by Alex Silva) presents exposition via interrogation, as Vigilante facilitates Dick’s flashbacks to how he busted Metal Eddie back in the day. It’s about how you’d expect, considering that most of the information has already been provided in previous chapters, but it’s good nonetheless. Bosco’s figures are a bit clunky, and Silva uses a lot of blacks, and overall they’re in that same “DC house style” mode. It’s about time for this story to end, though.

Remember what I said about Busiek’s fine Jimmy Olsen story in last week’s Superman? It applies just as much, if not more, to this week’s Action Comics #853 (pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Livesay). Jimmy, as his superheroic alter ego Mr. Action, tries to help Superman take out the Kryptonite Man. Extra points for the special last-page appearance.

Finally, this week’s other “Countdown doesn’t make everything suck” entry is (All-New) Atom #14 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Trevor Scott). Atom, Donna Troy, Jason Todd, and Bob The Monitor go to “Heaven,” find Blue Beetle, and fight all manner of dead bad guys. The Internet is already buzzing over the new catchphrase, “Stupid jetpack Hitler!” It’s a fun issue, but it does kinda feel like treading water. The fun wins out, though.

July 17, 2007

New comics 6/27/07, 7/5/07, and 7/11/07

Twenty-one titles over the past three weeks, and I’m looking at twelve more tomorrow….

6/27/07

Amazons Attack #3 and Wonder Woman #10 have bled into each other by now. I’d have to go through each side-by-side and page-by-page to determine what takes place in which order, let alone how this event relates to Countdown. Also, Batman’s “Bees. My God.” line from AA #3 demands to be said in a Cartman voice. Still, both books look pretty; AA’s Pete Woods always delivers, but Paco Diaz does a fine Dodson/Drew Johnson impression for Wonder Woman.

My only complaint with Fantastic Four #547 is that Reed can apparently survive in space unaided, and the more I think about it the more it makes a weird comic-science sense. Otherwise it’s another solid issue from Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier, and Rick Magyar.

I wasn’t going to get Supergirl & The Legion #31, because I thought a break was needed after the Waid/Kitson era, but it wasn’t too bad. It feels like a pastiche of Waid/Kitson, which isn’t entirely fair considering that Tony Bedard and Kevin Sharpe had each done some fill-in work previously, but I’m still not sure I don’t need a break.

She-Hulk #19 presented a fascinating legal strategy, one which might not be too innovative in the history of superhero comics, but which was argued well nonetheless. I continue to like the Dan Slott/Rick Burchett/Cliff Rathburn team, but some combination of the inks and the colors (by Andy Troy) actually make the figures look two-dimensional – and by that I mean that I had to look twice to see if a Two-Gun Kid cardboard cutout was supposed to be sitting at the table.

I talked about Sinestro Corps already.

7/4/07

The 3-D effects were the best thing about Action Comics #851, and that’s actually saying something this time. This story has been a mixed bag, but this issue doesn’t have too much to do beyond getting Superman out of the Phantom Zone and showing Zod’s conquest of the Earth. I bet in four or five months, when the conclusion finally appears, I’ll have had time to form an opinion on the story so far.

Atom #13 takes Ryan and Chronos back to the land of tiny barbarians Ray Palmer visited in the Sword of the Atom books, and by and large it’s pretty fun. Gail Simone uses the same kinds of funny-talkin’ aliens that endeared us to this book’s first crop of diminutive villains, but it works here too.

Nightwing #134 flashes back to a Bat-spat, and in the present finds our hero fighting the new Vigilante. However, one of the things I liked best was Jamal Igle’s two-page, top-tier spread of a swanky restaurant. It might seem like an indulgence, but it sets the proper tone for the scene. The story’s pretty good so far, too.

Detective Comics #834 — 700 issues ahead of Nightwing, I see – finishes up the Batman/Zatanna team-up pretty well. Zatanna gets her revenge on the villain of the piece, and she and Batman finally make up after Identity Crisis. It’s still a Batman story, but he doesn’t overshadow her, which was nice.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #53 is officially a dead title walking, as of today’s DC solicitations. It’s a shame, but I can’t say I’ll miss the book too terribly much. This issue was decent; more of the Black Manta-takes-over-Sub Diego story, with well-done superhero action.

Welcome To Tranquility #8 presents a medley of spotlights on the people of Tranquility, and I have to say, these little doses have done more to make me like this title than the big six-issue opening arc did. They kept the book on my radar for sure.

All-Star Superman #8 wasn’t as immediately gratifying as its predecessors, but it was still good. I’m sure I will appreciate its depth and complexities the more I revisit it … whenever that might be. The same thing applies to JLA Classified #40 — I can tell there’s a nature/nurture/free-will theme running through the issue, but I want to look at it in a better context before passing a more definite judgment.

I talked about some ramifications of Outsiders #49 last week. Probably not going to pick up the revamped title.

7/11/07

Star Wars: Rebellion #8 was fairly entertaining. The pieces of the story are starting to come together, and it’s done a good job of creating Star Wars-esque characters who aren’t overly familiar. I didn’t buy Vader’s high-jump-flip, though — too prequel-y.

Green Lantern #21 was a very good follow-up to the Sinestro Corps Special, and it gives me high hopes that “SC” will be the good kind of epic “Event,” not the bloated Countdown kind.

Superman #664 did a lot to advance the “Camelot Falls” arc, even explaining the arc’s title. Tying in the Prankster fill-in from a few months ago was good too. Man, Carlos Pacheco draws a great superhero book; and Jesus Merino’s inks are meticulous — everything pops off the page. Too bad about the book’s scheduling problems.

Superman Confidential #5 likewise does a lot to start wrapping up the “Origin Of Kryptonite,” with the most important probably being the explanation for the meteor chunk’s thought balloons. A good, plot-driven, payoff-facilitating issue.

Lastly, the Deadpool/GLI Summer Fun Spectacular was a highly enjoyable romp through the silliness which is post-Civil War Marvel. The sight of Penance’s cat was priceless.

SPECIAL DOES-COUNTDOWN-MAKE-SENSE? SECTION

Okay, so I read Countdown #s 44-42 all together to see if there’s any narrative cohesion, and the answer is …

… maybe, a little. Countdown has dedicated itself pretty firmly to following its basic cast of characters. When those characters’ stories are interrupted, as #43’s Flash funeral does, the series’ rhythms are thrown off.

However, Countdown’s problem lies in its over-reliance on its core characters to explain everything going on in the rest of DC. It seems like each scene is an interaction between characters – and if that sounds basic, I mean that each scene essentially involves conversation. The exception in these three issues is the funeral, which begins with a few narrated panels establishing Keystone City. Still, even that narration comes from Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy might well be Countdown’s central figure, but the series spends so much time on each of its characters that Jimmy contends for space with Mary Marvel, Donna Troy, et al.

Indeed, Countdown doesn’t do a whole lot to lay out its story’s scope, explain what’s at stake, or otherwise build a structure upon which to hang those scenes. Countdown has focused pretty faithfully on its characters, so much so that it seems like the plot is being left to other titles. After ten issues of a fifty-two-issue miniseries, those structural devices should start becoming apparent, and I get no sense of them. Now, it may well be that this isn’t just a fifty-two-issue miniseries — but how much shapelessness are we readers expected to endure in an eighty- or hundred-issue Mega-Comics Event?

May 29, 2007

New comics 5/16/07 and 5/23/07

Would have gotten these up last night, but the traditional Memorial Day allergies started to kick in….

MAY 16, 2007

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #12 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Art Thibert) is a fairly decent issue which suffers somewhat by the behind-the-scenes murmurings about Bart Allen’s fate. I give it a lot of credit for setting up an inescapable doom-trap, but at the same time I have to think that the doom-trap won’t actually kill Bart. I mean, that would be a little too grim, even for someone like me who still can’t get past the arbitrary nature of his promotion. My appreciation of said trap is therefore blunted somewhat. I’m also kind of ambivalent about whether I want Bart to escape. I don’t want him to die, but at the same time I don’t think he should be the Flash just yet.

How was the book itself, you ask? Decent, like I said. No one seems to be out of character, but Bart himself is still such a cipher that it’s hard to say at this point what would be in character. Daniel’s storytelling skills are fine, but Thibert’s inks are inconsistent. The “weight” of characters on the page varies, and more often than not the Flash especially looks two-dimensional. Still, there is that doom-trap, and the Black Flash, so I don’t feel bad about coming back.

Countdown #50 (written by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray, pencilled by J. Calafiore, inked by Mark McKenna) has already been dissected by many of you, so I will just add some brief observations. First, if the cover suggests that the Joker has targeted Jimmy Olsen, that implies a much more exciting story than Jimmy happening to end up at Arkham Asylum for a stereotypical Hannibal Lecter conference. I’d want to read Joker vs. Jimmy, and I’d be lukewarm about Joker Talks To Jimmy. Second, the scenes with the Rogues go on far too long: five pages to establish a) they hate the Flash, whoever he might be, and b) Piper and Trickster’s bona fides are in question. I thought this scene added nothing to the current Flash arc. I think Countdown is improving, but boy, it’s not improving quickly.

Justice League of America #9 (written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Ed Benes) gets a lot of things right — the Gorilla City scenes, for instance — but again, nothing much seems to happen. Teams of JLAers and JSAers just show up and collect Legionnaires like they were checking out library books. At least the three bad guys were revealed.

Action Comics #849 (written by Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Ron Randall) finishes the “Redemption” two-parter about like I figured. There are some intriguing ideas, and Kurt Busiek’s social worker from an earlier Superman is used well, but ironically, I think Superman himself comes across as imposing his will on the common folk more than the story’s antagonist does. The final confrontation features Superman hovering over the congregation making pronouncements, and while Clark muses later that his moral compass has to be pretty accurate, I don’t think the congregants understood that point.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #52 (written by Tad Williams, drawn by Shawn McManus) finds our hero and his companions hatching a plan to free Sub Diego from Black Manta. This was not a dull issue, and I don’t have much of a problem with the art, but the Sub Diego stuff is just not involving me like it wants to. Besides, both Busiek and Williams want Arthur to be The Decider, but so far neither of them have really presented a compelling case for that. Arthur’s just a guy who can live underwater unaided and maybe occasionally talk to marine life, and right now that’s not enough to get me excited about him. There are exciting and chilling moments in the issue, including the Black Manta fights and Aquagirl’s story about the fate of some Sub Diegans, but Arthur should be the compelling center and he’s not.

Checkmate #14 (written by Greg Rucka and Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) is a solid caper story wherein a Checkmate team and the Outsiders infiltrate Oolong Island. As usual, Rucka uses the caper to advance the book’s various political subplots effectively. As a crossover, though, I have to say this storyline isn’t encouraging me to pick up Outsiders on a more regular basis. Beyond Nightwing, none of these characters seem particularly exciting, and most of them are defined by their sarcasm and air of bad-assery. If Rucka and Winick each wrote their respective team’s dialogue, Rucka wins. Bennett and Jadson do well enough, but the big action scene at the beginning suffers from faulty perspective. Specifically, I couldn’t tell at first whether the monster was supposed to be looming over the ship or sitting atop it.

Where do I begin with All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #5 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams)? First, I don’t think anyone should look to this title for the Platonic ideals of Batman, Robin, or any of the other iconic characters it features. This is not a story about How Batman Should Work. I don’t know what this story is about, and it’s been five issues. Actually, I take most of that back: this is a story about making Batman first among alpha males, by giving every other possible contender some fatal character flaw. Of the various costumed characters portrayed so far, Batman is the only one who seems to get the colossal joke underlying the very pursuit of superheroics. This makes a lot of sense in light of the basic “Batman” idea, and it could be a pretty entertaining series of issues, but remind me again … what’s the basic plot of this series? Where are the conflicts? Batman is wanted by the cops generally, never mind for kidnapping Dick Grayson, and by the way Dick’s parents have been murdered. Five issues in and we’re still just introducing all the players. This is starting to feel like the sub-glacial pace of Supreme Power all over again. It’s bad enough the issues are so late, but then to have virtually no plot advancement feels like Miller and Lee are just in it to put one over on the suckers.

Fortunately, Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, and Jesse Delperdang offer Batman #665, which gets a lot of ASB&R‘s ideas across in a mode that’s much easier to digest. “The Black Casebook” ascribes a certain supernatural dread to those old Batman stories no one likes to talk about because they’re “not realistic.” In this issue, Batman and Robin take out the Bane-themed Batman, in part because Bruce convinces himself that he needs to be, yes, the top alpha male. However, Morrison’s Batman is more sedate, and perhaps more self-aware, than Miller and Lee’s cackling dervish. He’s playing a role, not thinking with his id. The issue also has some fine action scenes, including Batman and Robin both slamming into the Bat-Bane with their respective vehicles.

Star Wars: Rebellion #6 (written by Brandon Badeaux & Rob Williams, drawn by Michel Lacombe) begins a new arc focusing on a character who should be familiar to me, but isn’t. He’s a Rebel agent who gets found out by the mob boss he’s infiltrated, and sent on a mission by said mobster. I liked this issue well enough, even if some parts of it (the opening flashback to Episode III, and an assassination) weren’t connected to the main plot. It all felt like part of the comfortable SW setting, and with a book like this, that’s what you want.

Finally for this week, Hero Squared #6 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) offers the origins of Captain Valor and Caliginous, each told by them in what has to be somewhat self-serving fashion. Captain Valor’s is more funny, being a pretty obvious parody of Captain Marvel’s (including a Mr. Natural-like Shazam figure), but the emotional heft comes at the end of the issue, when one of the book’s main players reacts to Caliginous’ story. This is another book that doesn’t do much in the way of macro-plot, but at least it offers a fairly complete story in every issue. If, as I have read, it’s ending soon, it should probably get to its larger point, but issue by issue, it’s still fun.

MAY 23, 2007

Countdown #49 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, pencilled by Carlos Magno, inked by Jay Leister) uses Jimmy’s elastic past to get him out of the cliffhanger with Killer Croc, and the Pied Piper and Trickster get a good double-agent-y scene to establish their bona fides with the other Rogues. The rest of the issue is taken up with exposition-happy Monitors, Karate Kid and Red Arrow trading quips (leading me to wonder about the timing of this issue relative to the JLA/JSA crossover) and a dismemberment-happy Black Adam. The art this issue was pretty good for a team I’ve not seen before — very dynamic, although there has to be a better way than facial hair to distinguish the Monitors.

I’m genuinely torn as to whether to continue with Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes (#30 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti), because this was a very solid issue, but I think it’s Waid and Kitson’s last. They go out raising more questions than they answer, with those questions being very intriguing. Will Cosmic Boy join this mysterious new team? What will happen to Mon-El? Most importantly, will the new creative team be any good? I keep saying I want to re-read this series, so maybe this will give me the impetus to do it.

I thought The Spirit #6 (by Darwyn Cooke) was too ambitious. It tries very hard to be a real Eisner-esque story about a new character, with the Spirit in the background, but it just felt so familiar, and not in a good way. It’s probably redundant to say that tortured musicians suffer for the sake of their art, and will do anything to perfect it, but there didn’t seem to be much new (beyond the sci-fi trappings) of this musician’s story. This title will always be worth reading as long as Cooke is on it, because Cooke is such a great storyteller and designer, but this issue falls short.

Wonder Woman #9 (written by Jodi Picoult, drawn by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson) doesn’t skimp on plot. Superman, Batman, and the Justice League appear briefly, Circe’s plans are revealed further, and Diana and Circe square off. The art is gorgeous, as you might expect. Picoult is improving, but her dialogue is still too clever and she can’t quite manage all the plot. It continues to mystify me why DC would try to build up this title’s profile with a prose novelist, and then plop said novelist right in the middle of a big event.

For some reason Fantastic Four #546 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) didn’t make much of an impression on me the first time around. That’s probably my fault, because upon further inspection it’s a neat little issue which references everything from the ’70s Jack Kirby Black Panther series to Waid and Wieringo’s last big FF arc. Oh, and Beyond!, of course, written by McDuffie. I didn’t expect to see Reed and Sue back in the book (and apparently on their way to a healthy relationship) so soon, but that was a pleasant surprise, as was the combination of Pelletier and Magyar. Magyar really gives the pencils a good heft and a lot of weight, for a nice Alan Davis look. If this is just a temporary team, the long-term folks had better be absolutely stellar.

Arnim Zola, another ’70s Kirby creation, shows up in Captain America #26 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Mike Perkins). A series of brief episodes — the typography of which reminds me of old Spirit stories, for some reason — check in on Sharon, the Winter Soldier, the Falcon, and Zola and the other villains, all getting back to their lives after Cap’s death. Apparently this issue comes after all of those Fallen Son specials Marvel’s been pushing since Cap #25, but I haven’t read ’em, so this isn’t overkill (you’ll pardon the expression) for me. Brief glimpses of the Avengers both connect this book to, and distance it from, the larger Marvel Universe. These are people who don’t quite fit into the land of crossovers and tie-ins. In that respect they’re misfits, not unlike the time-lost Captain America whose memory now links them. If you can’t already tell, I like this book a lot.

Aaand speaking of crossovers I haven’t read and am not reading, here’s She-Hulk #18 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn), featuring Jen’s battle with Iron Man on the SHIELD Helicarrier. That’s about it, really. This issue uses Jen as a bridge between Civil War and “World War Hulk,” getting her from one side to the other. There are some cute moments, but most of those involve Shulkie’s regular supporting cast. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good as the book has been.

Finally, here’s a book that may be better than ever: Birds Of Prey #106 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). Not just the Barda/Knockout fight, this matches up all of the Secret Sixers against the Birds, with Ice slowly regaining consciousness throughout. (Just noticed: on the cover, Barda’s mega-rod looks a lot like Luke’s green lightsaber….) It’s pretty fun, especially the Misfit/Harley Quinn pairing. Nicola Scott’s choreography isn’t as fluid as I’m used to, so some of the figures are posed a bit awkwardly. Then again, they are fighting, so maybe that’s how they’re supposed to look. This team has succeeded in making a book I look forward to every month, and it’s another situation where the new writer will have big shoes to fill.

April 22, 2007

New comics 4/4/07, 4/11/07, and 4/18/07

Man, what a week. The Best Wife Ever has been out of town, so you know what that means: blogging about the DC solicits and World War III!

Anyway, three weeks behind; no time to waste.

APRIL 4

I’m just going to do a quick rundown for these books. I talked about Justice League of America #7 over at Blog@, in connection with the rest of “The Tornado’s Path.” Madman Atomic Comics #1 was not what I expected — weird, expositional, and kind of depressing. Welcome to Tranquility #5 was decent, as the first arc starts getting wrapped up. Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #28 was pretty good, and its current arc is ready to end as well. Atom #10 was okay — I’m not a huge fan of Eddy Barrows’ art, and the “Sometimes They Come Back” story doesn’t feel right for the book. Detective Comics #831 was very good, especially with the flashback to the previous Ventriloquist. Superman #661 felt like it could have come out of the ’70s or ’80s, and that’s not entirely bad. Superman/Batman #33 finished what turned out to be the Despero arc, and I’m glad it’s over. Nightwing #131 was okay — not as good as the rest of the arc has been. Finally, 52 #48 felt rushed, and never quite came together.

APRIL 11

We begin the backlog in earnest with Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #1 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wade von Grawbadger) and All-Star Superman #7 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely), two books designed to meet all one’s needs for their respective subjects. I know I’m supposed to say something insightful about every title, but with these it’s not going to get much deeper than “more, please.” I can’t get enough of Mike Wieringo’s FF, and he draws a fine Spidey too. Jeff Parker’s story strikes a good balance between the typical street-level Spidey adventure and the correspondingly cosmic FF tale. It’s nice and light-hearted, with the Impossible Man and a great set of Ben/Johnny pranks. The stakes are laid out a little more clearly in the Superman title, as a “Bizarro plague” comes to Earth. The problem’s big enough that it doesn’t require Superman to be artificially de-powered, or to hold back, but at the same time Morrison and Quitely’s Superman radiates confidence. More, please.

I can see that Tales of the Unexpected #7‘s lead Spectre story (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) is trying to wrap everything up in its penultimate chapter, but I’m not really invested anymore. The same is definitely not true for the Dr. 13 story (written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang), which just seems to get crazier and more affecting as it goes along. The satire on DC’s continuity struggles has never been more clear, with the “Architects” even wearing Ben Cooper-style superhero masks representing some of their signature assignments. (If I’m right, they’re Grant Morrison/Batman, Greg Rucka/Wonder Woman, Geoff Johns/Superman, and Mark Waid/Flash). Speaking of stakes, the Dr. 13 story seems to be about nothing less than the survival of DC’s own Island of Misfit Toys. We’ll find out next issue.

More metacommentary is on display in She-Hulk #17 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn). Slott’s treatment of Shulkie’s sexual history comes into play during an encounter with Iron Man and some Nick Fury LMDs reference several other books’ subplots. The bulk of the story has Shulkie’s squad taking out old Hulk villains both in the field and on the SHIELD Helicarrier, and that part’s good. Meanwhile, Mallory and Two-Gun try to clean up the former’s image following her breakup with Awesome Andy. I have always been a fan of Rick Burchett’s work, and Cliff Rathburn’s inks are a good complement. However, it all feels like treading water until “World War Hulk” and its attendant round of status quo change(s).

Lotsa plot in Green Lantern Corps #11 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins), so I won’t try to summarize. Suffice it to say that everything seems to be connected to weird goings-on on Mogo, which I’d guess are in turn caused by the imminent attack of the Sinestro Corps. A mention of the old Empire of Tears only heightens the apocalyptic mood. I enjoyed this issue, because it balances the various plot threads (I count six) pretty well. I’m also a lot fonder of Gleason and Rollins than I was this time last year.

JLA Classified #37 (written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Carlos D’Anda) begins “Kid Amazo,” so when we see a slacker college student who’s questioning his purpose and the meaning of existence, it’s not hard to figure out why. However, this story wants to look at its title character not as someone who will naturally turn to the light (a la Red Tornado and Tomorrow Woman), but someone who can make a real choice to join his “family” against the JLA. In that respect it looks interesting. I know I’ve seen D’Anda’s work before, but I can’t remember where. Here it’s pretty good — kind of like the clean Doug Mahnke/Tom Nguyen style, but a little rougher. A decent book all around.

Still sticking with Wonder Woman (#8 written by Jodi Picoult, pencilled by Drew Johnson, and inked by Ray Snyder), even though this issue isn’t much better than the last. The art’s still good, though. I will say that the story ties into Amazons Attack a little earlier than I expected, and it makes me wonder about how that event played into the development of Picoult’s arc.

That leaves us with 52 #49 (written by The Architects, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Eddy Barrows, inks by Dan Green, Rodney Ramos, and Barrows) — and honestly, with everything that happens in 52-land this week, I can’t say much more about the leadup in this issue. The Dr. Magnus bits were the highlight, and Barrows draws facial features a bit soft for my taste.

APRIL 18

The elephant in the room this week was World War III, about which I’ve already written some 1600 words behind the above link. Short version: incoherent, redeemed somewhat by the efficient 52 #50. Moving on.

The Metal Men show up in Superman/Batman #34 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Pat Lee, inked by Craig Yeung), and the story is set up for them to fight Supes and Bats, but it’s not much more than that. Lee and Yeung’s art is dark and slightly exaggerated, such that when one of the bad guys looks grotesquely overmuscled, I’m not sure whether I should accept that there’s an in-story reason or that it’s just bad anatomy. At one point Bruce Wayne gets slapped by the widow of one of his employees, killed in an attack, and you don’t see that too often, so the story gets points for that. However, it sure doesn’t have as much fun with Magnus or the Metal Men as 52 does, and I hope that changes.

By now you’ve probably heard about the bestiality in The Spirit #5 (by Darwyn Cooke), and sure, that’s good for some laughs, but it’s only part of another solid issue. The plot takes off from the unauthorized licensing of the Spirit’s likeness into some unexpected directions. When a comic makes you feel sympathetic for a guy who loves his pet more than he really should, that’s saying something.

Manhunter #30 (written by Marc Andreyko, pencilled by Javier Pina Diego Olmos, and Cafu, inked by Robin Riggs and Art Thibert) was enjoyable, but perfunctory: the Wonder Woman arc ends, the Chase-and-her-sister arc ends, and there’s more with Mark Shaw. I think having this book “uncancelled” took a little pressure off everyone involved and let them spread out more, so that it feels more transitional than anything else. It’s good that the book isn’t cancelled, and the resolutions are all handled well — there’s even an Amazons Attack tease, if I read it right — but it doesn’t seem as … resolute, I guess, about everything.

Andreyko also writes Nightwing Annual #2 (pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson), the secret history of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon’s lurve. Andreyko does a good job with the material, working in Dick’s time with the New Titans pretty well, and Bennett and Jadson likewise do right by the characters. (They take particular care with the Robin costume.) Dick does have one moment where he lives up to his name, which I’m sure you’ve read about already. I am not a Dick/Babs ‘shipper, nor am I a Dick/Kory ‘shipper. I think Dick and Babs are more like siblings than potential lovahs, and I never got the sense that Dick and Kory were in it for much more than the sex. Therefore, I wasn’t emotionally invested in these events, but I can’t tell you what either party’s ideal mate looks like. Anyway, a pretty good issue overall.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #51 (written by Tad Williams, pencilled by Shawn McManus, inked by Walden Wong) centers around Topo leading the Atlantean survivors through underwater “hatches” which teleport them across the oceans to Sub Diego. Along the way, they encounter Species 8472 … I mean, the race that built the hatches. The art seems to be a little more cartoony than it was last issue, to go with the more fanciful tone overall. I’m not complaining about that. The book seems to be finding a middle ground between the isolation of the early Busiek SoA issues and the pre-OYL stories, and it’s still intriguing to me.

Big doins’ are afoot in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #11 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Art Thibert), mostly in preparation for next issue’s fight with the Rogues’ Gallery. This issue is about Inertia gathering the Rogues, and Grandma Iris telling Bart why she’s pointing that gun at him. I don’t really buy Inertia as a Rogue mastermind, especially since he’s Bart’s peer. However, the issue flows well, it’s not implausible otherwise, and I’m interested to see where it goes.

The JLA/JSA/old-school LSH team-up begins in Justice League of America #8 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Shane Davis, inked by Matt Banning). I must have missed Geo-Force joining the League, and the issue dwells inordinately on Red Arrow almost getting killed by a tree. It was okay, although I spent the whole issue wondering what else it would reference from my childhood. The art was fine, although very similar to the regular Benes/Hope team. I said over at B@N that this crossover could be so big, it forces Meltzer to pick up the pace, and I still hope that’s the case — but this issue was just prologue.

And then there’s The Brave and the Bold #3 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), another incredibly good issue teaming Batman and Blue Beetle against the Fatal Five. I intend to catch up on the new Beetle, so I don’t know how closely Waid writes him to his regular voice. However, I did think Beetle’s dialogue, funny as it was, fell into a standard Waid type. It was still very funny, but it felt familiar too. Anyway, more, please.

Lastly, bringing our survey of some thirty-odd issues to a close is Birds of Prey #105 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). The fight with the Secret Six continues as the mystery behind You-Know-Who’s sudden reappearance is explored. It has to do with a Rasputin cult, apparently. Hawkgirl and Scandal fight and the new Secret Sixer is revealed, but most of it is standing around talking. It’s good talking, don’t get me wrong, and as I’ve said too many times in this post, wait ’til next issue. Good as Sean McKeever may be, he’ll have a hard act to follow on this book.

February 28, 2007

New comics 2/21/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 28, 2007

New comics 1/17/07 and 1/24/07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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