Comics Ate My Brain

April 6, 2008

Sunday Soliloquy

Filed under: solo, sunday soliloquy — Tom Bondurant @ 10:12 pm
We all know about the original Hourman — take a Miraclo pill and get an hour’s worth of super-powers. What happens, though, when it turns out to be a false alarm?

The solution involves some odd jobs, pickup basketball, and (thank goodness!) a burning building — but that’s not a soliloquy, so maybe some other time.

[From “An Hour With Hourman,” in Solo #7, December 2005. Written by Mike Allred and Laura Allred, drawn by Mr. Allred, colored by Ms. Allred, lettered by Nate Piekos.]

September 13, 2006

New comics 8/30/06 and 9/7/06

… or, That’ll Teach Me To Go On Vacation….

This past week was noteworthy for being the first time in a loooong time that I bought more Marvel than DC books. Considering I’m not participating in the Civil War hubbub, that’s saying something.

Accordingly, let’s begin with a couple of books that expose my ignorance of Marvel Universe minutiae, Agents of Atlas #s 1 and 2 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice), and Beyond! #3 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins). For AoA, I remember Jimmy Woo pretty much only from Marvel’s Godzilla book, and outside of Marvel Boy having his own Grant Morrison miniseries which, you guessed it, I never read, I hardly recognize any of these other characters. (Except for Dum Dum, but everybody knows him.) I’m intrigued by these issues, if only for the notion of Z-list characters somehow coming together into a formidable fighting force. I get the feeling that this is the attitude to which the Shadowpact aspires, but I like this book a lot more. Also, I’ve been a fan of Leonard Kirk’s since his days on DC’s Star Trek books.

I continue to enjoy Beyond! despite (again) no knowledge of Deathlok beyond the recent Dave Campbell profile. As far as the plot itself, I was a little disappointed by the big reveal at the end, and probably not as stunned as I would have been had I known who that Dobby-looking creature was.

Come to think of it, She-Hulk #11 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) falls into this category too. I was heartbroken by the “fate” of Awesome Andy (he came and he gave without taking), and I always like Rick Burchett, but once things started flashing back to Man-Wolf’s weird alien connection, the little “??” balloons started popping up overhead. Is this how DC newbies feel all the time? Boy, I never knew you had it so bad….

And while we’re on the “it was good, but I’m too stupid” theme, don’t hold your breath waiting for me to extract deep profundities out of Solo #12 (by Brendan McCarthy et al.). I think I appreciated what he was trying to do, but I’ll be dipped if I can tell you how he did it, or much about what it was.

Everybody loved All-Star Superman #5 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely) and I did too, so if you’re not buying it, or waiting for the Absolute edition, or whatever, I don’t care — you shouldn’t deny yourself any longer. Maybe the best part of the fine Summer Of Superman ’06 is the rejuvenation of the regular books, at least as long as Kurt Busiek has anything to do with them. Action Comics #842 (written by Busiek and Fabien Nicieza, drawn by Pete Woods) presents Part 2 of the Manga Kha — er, Auctioneer storyline, with Supes assembling a rag-tag bunch of misfits, plus Nightwing and Firestorm, to bring him down. I’m not as excited about the prospect of Richard Donner and Geoff Johns as the regular Action writers, because while they’ll certainly bring the big events, I doubt they’ll do it with as much wit and style as Busiek. To be fair, Busiek and Johns collaborated on the excellent “Up, Up And Away!,” so I suppose the burden is on Johns to prove he wasn’t riding Busiek’s coattails.

End of digression. Mark Verheiden writes and Ethan Van Sciver draws Superman/Batman #29, Part 2 of a storyline which finds our heroes up against a shape-changing menace that tends to copy their friends. Green Lantern shows up too, which is a plus, although I got the feeling I was supposed to recognize the big pink bad guy. What is this, Beyond!? Anyway, Verheiden’s story has been tighter so far than Jeph Loeb’s epics, but he tends to rely on the kind of overheated exposition I thought Loeb would have taken with him.

JLA Classified #26 (written by Howard Chaykin, pencilled by Killian Plunkett, inked by Tom Nguyen) begins a new arc that finds the League embroiled in global politics, and didn’t we just go through this with Gail Simone a few issues ago? I’m only kidding a little — the plot is sufficiently different, focused more on the League’s keeping a low profile, and it reads enough like Chaykin and enough like the JLA to make me, a fan of both, happy. Nguyen inked much of the Joe Kelly run on JLA, and Kelly did some political storylines, so that adds to the familiarity.

1602: Fantastick Four #1 (written by Peter David, pencilled by Pascal Alixe, inked by Livesay) will probably turn out to be pretty inconsequential, but for now it’s kind of goofy fun. The Frightful Four are the villains, and a Doombot and some vulture-men show up too. A bit of initial misdirection works, but a later bit doesn’t. There’s a somewhat oblique reference to Ben Grimm’s Blackbeard impersonation as well. Art reminded me of Keith Giffen circa 1990, and for the most part it was good, although I had trouble trying to figure out if a couple of minor characters were supposed to remind me of familiar Marvel folk. I think David’s sense of humor is well-suited for this, so I’ll give it a chance.

Giffen himself is on display, of course, in Hero Squared #3 (plotted by Giffen, scripted by J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham), another well-made issue that begins with a classic-Marvel parody and features an embarrassing fight between Milo and Valor at the funeral of the man Valor couldn’t save in #1 (or was it last issue? can’t remember). Abraham reminds me more and more of a cross between Kevin Maguire and Bart Sears, and given how Giffen and DeMatteis honed their comedy schtick, I wonder if that’s an accident. Looking forward to #4, which promises more hitting, although I don’t mind all the dialogue.

Detective Comics #823 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Joe Benitez, inked by Victor Llamas) presents a good, somewhat creepy, Poison Ivy story that positions itself as a fair-play mystery but really isn’t. However, the twist is right out of an old EC horror book, or maybe a “Twilight Zone,” and aside from my secret-identity-alert! radar going off whenever there’s a fight in the Batcave, it was handled pretty well. Benitez and Llamas do a fine job with the art, which is somewhat in the Image thin-line cheesecake style (at least as far as Ivy is concerned) and still manages to make Batman look imposing and Robin look like a kid.

The best part of The (All-New) Atom #3 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Trevor Scott) was, as many others have noted, the “Sanity roll!” exclamation. Not that this hasn’t been a fun book all along; and here it veers into the same kind of creepy territory as that Detective story. However, the presence of the big supervillain here makes me wonder about her timeline, given her prominence in another book’s current storyline. I can’t decide whether I like her better here or there, and I say that despite her being, shall we say, clothed in something less than unstable molecules.

Finally, we have 52 #s 17 and 18 (written by Jay, Barry, Wally, and Bart, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Chris Batista and Eddy Barrows, inked by Ruy Jose & Jack Jadson and Rob Stull). I still say reading this series is like keeping up with Time or Newsweek — every issue is an infodump, and occasionally you get a fairly cohesive issue like #18 that focuses almost entirely on one story. Therefore, I liked #18 better, but maybe that’s because it feels more like a “regular” comic. Also, #18 addresses the concerns I had about Montoya’s actions at the royal wedding, which was nice.

July 4, 2006

New comics 6/28/06

So … last Wednesday I got home from work with just enough time to change clothes and head out the door with the Best Wife Ever to meet our neighbors for a quick dose of fast food, and then we were off to the 7:15 Superman Returns. I liked it, and I want to see it again, but the best feeling was afterwards, coming out of that movie to a big stack of superhero comics. I have never seen a comic-book movie that made me gladder to be a comic-book fan, and I mean that in the best way possible for both media.

Of course, getting home at 10:30 meant I was up for a couple of hours reading comics, and while that was fun at the time, it put me in a foul mood the next day. It also didn’t help that one of the smoke alarms started its low-battery chirp while I was trying to sleep.

Naturally, first off the stack was Action Comics #840 (written by Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek, drawn by Pete Woods), the conclusion of “Up, Up and Away!” I really liked this issue, and not just from the residual movie high. It was a conclusion that actually felt like a conclusion, wrapping up loose ends like the reconstruction of Metropolis and the “reintegration” of Clark’s life with Superman’s. With this issue, the new/retro status quo is established concretely, while still managing to be self-contained. Take a bow, guys; you did “One Year Later” right.

In a nice bit of timing, Batman #654 (written by James Robinson, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher) also wrapped up its “OYL” storyline, “Face The Face.” This was a bit more scattered, with the misdirection involving Two-Face going off in (yes) two different directions. That’s appropriate enough, I suppose, and I believe this was a play-fair mystery, unlike “Hush,” but there’s a fine line between clever use of obscure villains and pulling something out of one’s hinder. Still, the closing scenes with Bruce, Tim, and Alfred were worth it. Next up, Morrison and Dini!

52 #8 (written by Clubs, Hearts, Spades, and Diamonds, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Rob Stull) was a pretty solid issue. With most of the focus on Steel’s metallification, there was still room for a good Ralph Dibny/Ollie Queen scene, teasing Supernova, and checking in with Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire. Oh, yeah, and “History of the DCU” covered about 1996-2004, for those who came in late. Overall I still like this series, but I don’t know if that has more to do with its immediacy or its underlying quality. Ironically, it’s hard for me to read it in real time, and when a character refers to “weeks ago,” it almost throws me out of the story.

Brave New World #1 (written and drawn by a whole lot of people) didn’t really have much of an effect on me. I still have little interest in any of these series beyond the Atom, and if I didn’t already like Gail Simone, I wouldn’t be too excited about that one.

I liked Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #19 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Barry Kitson) pretty well, although the reveal of the murderer wasn’t entirely unexpected. It did showcase Chameleon’s detective skills effectively, and the image of a murderous Robotman was a surreal homage to “our era.”

Then there’s Hawkgirl #53 (written by Walter Simonson, drawn by Howard Chaykin). Yes, I’m going to talk about the bra, so Mom, if you’re reading, maybe you should skip this one. Seriously, though, I know it’s just Chaykin’s fondness (and talent) for drawing well-built women, but come on! Why not a sports bra, as opposed to the lacy number revealed in the course of this fight? And since she is wearing a bra under the costume, in Louisiana, howcome she’s still all nipply on the outside? (Actually, Mom is fond of criticizing any movie where the heroine finds herself in trouble while in eveningwear, so this would be another strike against Hawkgirl for her.) As for the merits of the issue otherwise, at least I was able to follow it for a few more pages than usual. I really hate to say this, and it doesn’t reflect on my love for Chaykin otherwise, but I’m giving this book a reprieve to see how the new artist works out.

Meanwhile, over with the other company, I bought New Avengers #21 (written by Brian Michael Bendis) solely for Howard Chaykin drawing Captain America. For that, it was good. It didn’t give me any more insight into “Civil War,” but I wasn’t looking. One question, though: on the page with Spider-Man, what’s the big tower with the spider-thing on top? It looks like Aku from “Samurai Jack” has taken over NYC.

Sticking with “Civil War,” Fantastic Four #538 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, drawn by Mike McKone) spends a few pages on Reed and Sue fighting beside Johnny’s hospital bed, a few more with Ben establishing solidarity on Yancey Street, and a few more on getting “DB” to make Thor’s hammer go nuts. So there you go. Six more months of this, at least.

JLA Classified #23 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer) presents part 2 of the Detroit League vs. the Royal Flush Gang. I can’t remember my RFG timeline that well, but I think this storyline might be explaining the different Gangs which attacked the League during the ’80s. The one introduced this issue went on to fight Max Lord’s League early in its history, if my memory’s correct. Anyway, it’s a nice take on the characters, and since this issue spotlights Vibe, it’s good that Englehart’s made his accent a little less stereotypical. I daresay those who have a soft spot for the Detroit League will like this, and those who don’t, won’t.

Picked up Eternals #1 (written by Neil Gaiman, drawn by John Romita, Jr.) based on good word of mouth from last week, and it was a decent introduction, but I’m still on the fence about whether to get #2. However, I am a little more motivated to save up for that big hardcover, so curse you, Marvel! for making me want more expensive Kirby reprints.

Nextwave #6 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) was another romp through fights with samurai robots and ptero-men. Underlying it, though, was the message that the Nextwavers really are pretty dangerous people, and it’s all fun until they decide it’s gone too far. I’m sure there’s some metacommentary hidden in that sentiment, but it’s probably unintentional. This is a comic for folks who like a little wacky with their carnage, and so far it’s all good.

Finally, the penultimate issue of Solo, #11, spotlights Sergio Aragones, and it’s maybe the most fun issue of this gone-too-soon series since Mike Allred’s. Sergio’s style is warm and inviting, and reading it felt like a visit from a friend who loves to tell stories. The only thing that could justify cancelling this series would be knowing for sure it would only get worse from here on out.

October 27, 2005

New comics 10/26/05

Filed under: captain america, defenders, flash, justice league, legion, solo, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 1:10 pm
Pretty good crop this week, starting with Captain America #11 (written by Ed Brubaker, art by Steve Epting). However, before we get started in earnest, let me just say a few words about Marvel’s new ad-saturation policy:

It stinks. (Stinks!)

The first ad in Cap #11 is on page 2, and it’s a double-page Honda Civic spread. I know superhero comics would love to be taken as seriously as Newsweek, but having the same ad layout isn’t exactly the right way to start. Remember the good old days when pages 2 and 3 could be used for a spectacular action scene, not a sensible sedan?

There are 48 pages between the covers of Cap #11, and 24 of them are ads. (Two pages are devoted to an ad for Dan Slott’s new Thing series, Marvel’s circulation statement, and the letters page.) Moreover, including the Civic ad, there are three double-page spreads. There are no two-page spreads of artwork anywhere in the issue. In fact, there’s not a page of story in this issue that isn’t right next to an ad. Is this Marvel’s way of getting me to wait for the trade — not just for the higher price point, but also so it doesn’t have to fool with juggling pages to avoid those troublesome two-page spreads? It’s a good thing the story works within these hideous restrictions.

And work it does, relating the history of the Winter Soldier between bookends showing General Lukin’s and Cap’s reactions to his file. I’m not going to say much more, except that Brubaker and Epting have convinced me they’ll do right by this character, whatever his fate. It was worth slogging through all the commerce.

By contrast, Defenders #4 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, art by Kevin Maguire and Joe Rubenstein) opens with six straight pages of story before the first ad, and it has two double-page spreads. (Then again, it only has 10 pages of ads. Clearly Marvel hates America, or at least its musclebound avatar.) Reading the issue, with its twisted versions of Marvel heroes, you’d think I’d be reminded of the evil Super Buddies from G/DM/M’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League,” and you’d be right. Regardless, for the anti-team book, it’s doing very well, and I’m anticipating the conclusion.

Speaking of anticipating the conclusion, Legion of Super-Heroes #11 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray) finds our heroes split up and trying to regroup after the devastation of last issue. It was good enough to hold my attention for another month, but beyond that I’ll have to give the series more thought. This goes into the omnibus-review pile.

JLA Classified #13 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Butch Guice) sends the League to Hell, where they fight demons to a standstill, or some other ambiguous result. Meh.

Flash #227 (written by Joey Cavalieri, pencilled by Val Semeiks, inked by Livesay) starts up a new story arc involving a dark alternate future (oh boy) and the new church Wally’s in-laws are attending. It’s better than it sounds, although I don’t know how well Livesay’s inks go with Semeiks’ pencils. Everything seems just a little … off. Anyway, I”m sure the alt-future is tied to the church somehow, and it’s not a bad beginning.

Adventures of Superman #645 (plotted by Greg Rucka, scripted by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir, pencilled by Karl Kerschl and Renato Guedes, inked by Wayne Faucher and Guedes) takes place just before Infinite Crisis #1, so there’s OMACs a-plenty and lots of Wonder Woman neck-snapping footage. Parasite’s with (a) Luthor, Lois is back in Umec looking for her shooter, and Superman learns more clues about Ruin. Good stuff, much like Rucka winding up his Wonder Woman storylines to get them out of InfC‘s way. The art is also uniformly good, although I wonder — with so many creators working on this book, the burden seems to be on DC to say the editors didn’t change at least half of it.

JLA #121 (written by Bob Harras, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Dan Green) was decent. Turns out I don’t really miss the “Magnificent Seven” JLA as long as the lineup contains stalwarts like Green Arrow, Black Canary, Green Lantern, and Aquaman. After an interlude with the Key, the not-the-JLA decides to visit Nightwing and enlist him in case Batman goes really nuts. The issue comes together in ways which are not surprising, but after the past few months’ chaos that’s not so bad. The art was better this issue too. In terms of angsty JLA breakups, I’d rate this as only slightly more painful than the post-“Rock Of Ages” reorganization.

Finally, I had to laugh upon seeing the cover to the week’s best book, Mike Allred’s issue of Solo (#7). First DC nixed his Adam West cover, and the Mr. Miracle cover which replaced it (now on the inside front cover) has itself given way to Wonder Girl. The issue is a self-proclaimed “love letter” to DC books of the ’60s and ’70s, especially Teen Titans, Doom Patrol, and Batman. In fact, I had thought the original Batman cover was 86’ed by DC because they have issues (including legal issues) with the Adam West TV show, but the main story is, in effect, a deconstructed episode of that show, including the actors, sets, and Batmobile.

Cynics will laugh bitterly at the none-too-subtle message of that story, a devastating critique of … well, everything DC’s been doing with its main line of superhero books for the past 18 months. Some may well say that this is DC’s sop to its aging fanbase (as opposed to the young whippersnappers who like the gritty), and the exception that proves the rule. However, as an eternal optimist when it comes to these kinds of things, I’d like to think “Batman A-Go-Go” shows that DC is comfortable with even the most diametrically opposed symbol of its current editorial tone. Not that it’s perfect, but its heart is in the right place.

The other stories are more superficial, but again, I could tell Allred just wanted to cram as many classic DC characters into his Solo issue as he could. This becomes literal by the end of the last story, which itself is a bit of wish fulfillment. Still, Allred is a great cartoonist, and the focus is on him, not literary merit. Like I said with the Darwyn Cooke Solo a few months back, buy this book.

September 7, 2005

New comics 8/31/05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 30, 2005

New comics 6/29/05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog at WordPress.com.