Comics Ate My Brain

August 7, 2009

New comics 8/5/09

This week it’s Unknown Soldier #10 (making up for its omission last time), plus Agents Of Atlas #9, Astro City: The Dark Age Book 3 #4, Captain America Reborn #2, Doom Patrol #1, House of Mystery #16, Justice League: Cry For Justice #2, Marvels Project #1, Secret Six #12, Spirit #32, Superman: World Of New Krypton #6, Warlord #5, and Wednesday Comics #5. Sorry about the lingering sound-quality issues — I used to know how to work a microphone.

By the way, it seems like I might have gotten a copy of The Marvels Project #1 a week early — but there it was, and who am I to argue?

And just for the record, I was pretty mystified, and more than a little creeped out, about Green Lantern and Green Arrow’s “threesome” conversation.

Download it here, or visit the podcast homepage here.

(Music by R.E.M.)

July 24, 2009

New comics 7/22/09

This week’s podcast features Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2, Final Crisis: Legion Of Three Worlds #5, Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #3, Gotham City Sirens #2, Green Lantern #44, Madame Xanadu #s 11-12, The Spirit #31, Power Girl #3, Supergirl #43, and Wednesday Comics #3.

Sorry in advance about some lingering sound-quality issues. This is also the second week in a row in which I use the phrase “boy band.”

Once again, Olivia contributes from the peanut gallery, and R.E.M. supplies the music. Download it here, or visit the podcast homepage here.

December 9, 2008

Watching the detectives

Filed under: spirit — Tom Bondurant @ 3:50 pm
Fan reactions to the fast-approaching Spirit movie seem pretty uniform to me: it’s more Sin City than Will Eisner.

It makes me wonder: isn’t Frank Miller’s style really better-suited to Dick Tracy? Likewise, what if Warren Beatty had made a Spirit movie instead of Tracy? (A commenter on this YouTube version of the Tracy trailer wants a crossover.)

Granted, Beatty’s Dick Tracy was only about “bringing a comic strip to life” as far as it involved garish art direction and broad acting. Beatty would have had to appreciate the way Eisner used a comics page, and somehow translated that to a static frame for moving pictures. In a way, I suppose the Sin City movie, with its uber-faithful recreation of Miller’s work, tried to do just that.

And you know, I ask “what if Warren Beatty…?,” but really, a Warren Beatty Spirit isn’t my first choice, because I wasn’t that thrilled with Dick Tracy and I doubt his comics sensibilities have been tuned any finer in the past eighteen years. I guess I’m asking why Frank Miller has apparently abandoned The Spirit‘s nominally graceful, light attitude — and that may be asking why Frank didn’t just adapt Sugar & Spike; or why no director has staged a Batman-movie fight around a giant typewriter. The medium has limitations, and the audience has expectations.

I still think Miller’s a better fit for Dick Tracy, though….

July 26, 2008

New comics 7/23/08

Apropos to the release today of the new X Files movie, let’s start with The X Files vol. 2 #0, written by show writer/producer Frank Spotnitz and drawn by Brian Denham. It’s a 22-page comic book which tells a self-contained story that — as far as I know — doesn’t tie into the movie at all. Instead, it’s chock fulla references to the show, including the “Post Modern Prometheus” episode and the “I made this!” sound bite. Most of its first page is a sequence of images pulled from the opening titles. In short, it seems to want most to say how great!, just great! it is to be back in the saddle.

And an old saddle it is, too — this is an episode which could have taken place at any time after “PoMoPro” and before Mulder’s abduction. I could try to pinpoint it from Scully’s hairdo, but I don’t have all my DVDs at the moment. The story won’t be unfamiliar to fans of the series, since it involves kidnapping, body-hopping, and arrested aging. I wish I could say it was a more lively affair, but what would probably sound natural coming from the actors just comes across flat on the page. Maybe it’s because there is little space for anything but the main plot — very little humor, and nothing in the way of meaningful Mulder/Scully interaction. The plot itself is hard to keep straight, mostly since one of the main players is never seen.

The art, however, is fairly good, and it gets a big boost from Kelsey Shannon’s coloring. Shannon keeps things moody for the most part, but occasionally enhances the wide-open spaces which helped convey the show’s sense of isolation. (Clouds reflected on a car hood are a nice touch.) Denham does likenesses well, although at times his faces seem two-dimensional. Honestly, this issue reads like one of those 8-page stories TV Guide would advertise in some Special Collector’s Issue. I read a good bit of Topps’ X Files comic back when the show was in its heyday, so I know that translation need not be a problem. I want to believe (sorry) that this issue’s done-in-one format contributed to my problems. This creative team is certainly worth watching, and I’ll probably pick up X Files #1.

And as long as we’re talking about licensed properties, Star Trek: New Frontier #5 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson) wraps up the current miniseries with an issue which does little to untangle any of its confusing bits. I might read it again, and if I ever decide to catch up on the prose NF offerings, I might find this miniseries more enjoyable. Wish I didn’t have to have those conditions, though.

In a nice change of pace from wacky setting-based antics, The Spirit #19 offers three stories, each written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier. They’re all fairly pleasant. The first (drawn by Jason Armstrong) reveals how the Spirit dealt with a childhood bully; the second (pencilled by Aluir Amancio and inked by Terry Austin) finds the Spirit catching up to a reformed criminal; and the third (drawn by Paul Rivoche) is a whodunit about the murder of a comic-book artist. Again, it’s not that they’re done poorly — far from it — but nothing strikes me as especially innovative.

I hesitate to say that something like Batman: Gotham After Midnight (#3 written by Steve Niles and drawn by Kelley Jones) comes closer to what I expect from a Spirit book, but GAM does have a unique sense of design. This particular issue features a monstrous Clayface, engorged on the bodies of random Gothamites, and a very silly ending. It’s a superhero comic book which isn’t ashamed to be a superhero comic book. As part of that aforementioned silly ending, Clayface calls the screaming rabble “puny humans,” and Batman commands him to “pick on someone [his] own size.” If you don’t mind that level of dialogue, and you like Kelley Jones, you’ll like this book. In any event, it’s better than the Millar/Hitch Fantastic Four.

Green Lantern Corps #26 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Drew Geraci) concludes the Black Mercy/Mongul storyline in a way that, were Alan Moore dead, might just get him spinning in his grave. I didn’t mind it, but I’m a little more forgiving. Mongul suffers an ironic punishment, and Mother Mercy herself … well, that’s the part which I suspect would offend whatever’s left in him that hasn’t yet been offended by DC. Aah, I’m probably making too much of it. The issue was fine. Tomasi seems to fit better here than at Nightwing, and Gleason and Geraci are reliably good.

Penciller Renato Guedes, inker Wilson Magalhaes, and colorist Hi-Fi provide a nice Jack Kirby pastiche in Superman #678 (written by James Robinson). It fills in the background of Kirby’s one-off character Atlas, revealing who brought him into the 21st Century, plus why and how. The rest of the issue continues the fight between Atlas and Superman, ending (much as #677 did) with the promise of more fighting. For his part, Robinson’s omniscient narration gives Atlas’ story a somewhat wistful tone, although Atlas doesn’t seem entirely sympathetic. The present-day scenes are pretty good too — Atlas is basically a big slab of muscle, drawn beefy and bulky so that he can stand believably against Superman. This is basic superhero stuff — active figures against believable backgrounds — but it’s all done very well.

More action in Justice League of America #23 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Ed Benes), as the JLA takes on Amazo. This time, though, Benes doesn’t seem as concerned with his female figures, and the issue benefits as a result. Practically the whole thing is devoted to the fight, with a dozen or so Justice Leaguers each getting their licks in, but Benes keeps everything moving. There are a couple of awkward panels (one where Amazo holds a helpless Flash, one where perspective makes Wonder Woman look about 8 feet tall), but on the whole it was a good issue. McDuffie’s script makes Amazo a credible threat and the Leaguers capable opponents.

It wasn’t until about halfway through The Brave and the Bold #15 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Scott Kolins) that I realized this issue’s headliners (Nightwing and Hawkman) were intended to match up with last issue’s (Deadman and Green Arrow). Nightwing and Deadman both come from the circus (Deadman’s costume even inspired Nightwing’s first one), and Green Arrow and Hawkman have a longstanding friendly rivalry. Anyway, this issue boils down to pushing the Reset Button, but first, Nightwing must trick every other superhero (including Ambush Bug!) into leaving the planet. Therefore, he and Hawkman (the designated expert on magic) have no backup as they storm the demon-possessed Nanda Parbat. Like JLA, it’s well-choreographed action backed up by snappy dialogue.

And finally, if snappy dialogue is what you crave, look no farther than to Ambush Bug: Year None #1 (plotted and pencilled by Keith Giffen, scripted by Robert Loren Fleming, inked by Al Milgrom). Its sense of humor might not be for everyone. This particular issue mocks DC’s alleged misogyny, with the Bug asking right off the bat “[d]o you have any major appliances that don’t come with a dead body in it?” and the female salesperson replying “It’s a standard feature.” Indeed, throughout the issue female corpses are used as cannon fodder (which I think refers to something tasteless Bill Willingham said last year in San Diego). Anyway, ABYN‘s targets are many and varied, but modern storytelling techniques get hit pretty hard, especially narrative-caption boxes. Oh, how I laughed. This may be 2008’s Architecture and Mortality; and if you remember how much I liked that story, that’s pretty high praise.

June 17, 2008

Spirits of the Times: Will Eisner’s Life, In Pictures

Filed under: spirit — Tom Bondurant @ 4:49 pm
The Will Eisner anthology Life, In Pictures (W.W. Norton, 2007) contains two substantial graphic novels, two shorter stories, and a vignette, each based at least in part on the personal experiences of the extended Eisner family. Those factual underpinnings help the stories avoid veering into melodrama. Combined with Eisner’s considerable storytelling talents, the book as a whole is a sweeping, powerful survey of the society which shaped him and those he loved.

Of course, I come to Will Eisner’s work largely through his most famous creation, the masked detective known as The Spirit. Eisner used the weekly Spirit stories as vehicles for his own experiments with the craft of writing and drawing comic books. Today, DC Comics publishes a Spirit comic book which at a minimum attempts to capture both Eisner’s designs and the light-hearted attitude which infused most of those stories.

Nothing so portable is on display in Life, In Pictures. The story of interest to most superhero fans will probably be “The Dreamer” (1986), Eisner’s autobiographical account of his early days as a cartoonist. Since “The Dreamer” also covers the birth of superhero comic books, it features thinly-disguised analogues of Harry Donenfeld, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Bob Kane, Jerry Iger, Jack Kirby, and other early luminaries. (Detailed annotations follow the story.) This is also perhaps the book’s happiest story in the book. The four-page vignette “The Day I Became A Professional,” which closes out Life, works well as a go-get-’em supplement to this story.

According to editor Denis Kitchen’s introduction, “A Sunset In Sunshine City” (1985), which opens the book, came out of Eisner’s 1984 move to Florida from his native New York City. There, apparently, the biographical portion ends, although apparently Eisner incorporated his changing attitudes about moving. The story begins as a bittersweet remembrance of the protagonist’s long career running a local cafeteria, set against a snowy New York. As the memories wind down, though, Eisner leaves enough hanging that the reader wonders whether the story might shift gears; and sure enough it does, following our hero to his sunny retirement home and a different set of concerns. At twenty-eight pages, it’s shorter than any of the other “big” stories, but it also does the most with its small cast. Characters win and lose the reader’s sympathy, until everything finds an appropriate equilibrium at the end.

Perhaps the book’s centerpiece is “To The Heart Of The Storm” (1990), Eisner’s 204-page tale of family history. As Eisner rides the train which will take him to boot camp, and from there to the horrors of World War II, his memories reveal his family’s struggles with anti-Semitism. Some give up their faith, some try to coexist, and some simply try to see the good in people. Through it all, Eisner manages his large cast well, connecting generations efficiently and using the view through the train’s windows to set the flashbacks’ scenes. Even the flashbacks-within-flashbacks avoid being confusing. While the reader might learn to expect the worst, somehow the family perseveres, and of course the reader is assured by Eisner’s own success.

Following that tale is the slightly shorter (167 pages) “The Name Of The Game” (2001), Eisner’s fictionalized account of his wife’s family history. This is the book’s most soap-operatic story, dealing with the constant struggle of German Jews to improve their status in life through marriage. Eisner jumps forward in time, and fills in background, with blocks of text, which only distracts from the story in the introduction of one character. The main character is the family’s patriarch, seen first as a spoiled brat who grows into a stereotypical rich dilettante and must have responsibility practically shoved down his throat. Indeed, he looks better as the story progesses primarily because the people around him regularly act just as bad. This is also a tale of struggle, although it’s a struggle to keep up appearances. It too achieves a kind of equilibrium, but the story’s statement that the characters lived “happily ever after” is clearly meant ironically.

Speaking personally for a moment, I can’t finish many “real-life” Will Eisner stories without having to sit and think about them for several minutes afterward. I don’t want to dismiss any of this book as simple melodrama, because that implies that Eisner is manipulating the reader unfairly. Nothing about these stories strikes me as frivolous or gratuitous. With each story, Eisner knows the points he wants to make and makes sure each page reinforces those points. Characters cheat, drink, lie, and steal. Some receive an appropriate comeuppance, and some don’t. Through it all, though, the reader becomes involved with their lives, even as he can see Eisner’s hands guiding them through those lives. I’m glad I got to know these folks, and glad they could bring me closer to a creator I’ve long admired.

June 13, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: friday night fights, meme, spirit — Tom Bondurant @ 10:11 pm
The Spirit Jam teamed Will Eisner and his most famous creation with dozens of comics professionals.


Of course, one thing stayed the same …


… the Spirit dished out, and took, a lot of punishment.

I’ll try not to sing out of key, Bahlactus!

[From Spirit Jam, reprinting a story from The Spirit Magazine #30, July 1981. This sequence scripted by Mike W. Barr, pencilled by Joe Staton, inked by Bob Smith, and lettered by Todd Klein. Project coordinated by Will Eisner, Denis Kitchen, and Cat Yronwode.]

May 31, 2008

New comics 5/21/08

Yes, these are comics from ten days ago. Memorial Day Weekend was just too jam-packed, and I came out of it apparently itching to write a 2200-word dissertation on Crisis On Infinite Earths, the original JLA/JSA team-ups, and the problems with line-wide events.

Therefore, might as well begin with the lead-in to the latest LWE, Justice League of America #21 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino). I really, really hope that this is the last crossover-affected issue of JLA for a while. It begins with a 9-page sequence of the “Trinity” sitting around a table talking about how they’re not really running the League from behind the scenes. I thought the dialogue was good (“I had a run-in with Mr. Polka-Dot.” “Is that a euphemism?”). However, although Pacheco kept the talking heads from getting too boring, he could have used a few flashback images. Overall, it assumes a little too much knowledge, even on the part of the longtime reader. I presume this will have repercussions in JLA itself, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it showed up later in Trinity.

The bulk of the issue concerns the Human Flame, his fight with Red Arrow and Hawkgirl, and his recruitment by Libra. HF is a schmoe, that’s for sure; but he’s not the stereotypical lovable-loser supervillain schlub. McDuffie gives him a mean streak that undercuts whatever sympathy we might be starting to feel. Likewise, Pacheco doesn’t play up any endearing parts of his dumpy appearance. Overall, this was a well-told story, but I still think it should have been in a Secret Files.

For those of you who know the dirty secret of cruise ships — namely, that they give the surviving passengers hush money to cover up all the deaths — the nautical nastiness depicted in The Spirit #17 (written by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones, pencilled by Aluir Amancio, inked by Terry Austin) will come as no surprise. This was yet another light-hearted, compact caper using Will Eisner’s characters and designs; but one of the subplots seemed pretty obvious and the other only slightly less so. Also, from what little I’ve read of the original Spirit stories, I don’t remember Ellen Dolan being such a self-absorbed Barbie doll. Amancio and Austin’s work is more cartoony than Paul Smith or Mike Ploog, but it gets the job done.

According to the first page of Fantastic Four #557 (written by Mark Millar, pencilled by Bryan Hitch, inked by Paul Neary), I should have read Mighty Avengers #11 first. However, I don’t know why; and I’m not eager to track down a 3-month-old issue to find out. Anyway, I did like how Reed and Sue celebrate their anniversary, but the rest of it is a bunch of exposition wrapped around a one-joke fight scene. I can kind-of accept “the Anti-Galactus,” but things like Johnny’s nympho supervillain girlfriend and the faux-drama about Reed being tempted just seem artificial. The snow effects look better this time, though.

Captain America #38 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Epting and Mike Perkins) (re)introduces what I presume is the last player in this particular arc, and sets him up against Bucky/Cap. It’s hard to explain without giving everything away, but I’ll try. Using a raid on an AIM base as its main sequence, the issue examines the relationships of mentors and proteges, and inspirations and successors; and observes that, for the three principals involved, those roles have shifted, if not outright reversed. It’s a neat little chapter which probably sums up at least one of Brubaker’s overriding themes, and while it might appear to be a simple action issue, there’s a lot more going on.

For the second straight month, Tangent: Superman’s Reign (#3 written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs) focuses on the squad of Tangenteers trying to free the Tangent Atom. While that subplot achieves some closure, and the two worlds’ characters actually come into conflict (as opposed to comparing notes), it still feels a little redundant. I like Igle’s work fine, although Riggs’ inks are looser than what Igle usually gets. It feels more like a Justice League story than what’s been in JLA lately; and next issue I bet things will pick up.

The “Dark Side Club” banner started appearing on particular DC titles last week, and it looks like the kind of underground fight-club we’ve seen before. Specifically, Birds Of Prey #118 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) opens with a fight involving Sparx, a D-list character whose abduction we see in the first issue of Final Crisis. So, you know, there’s that crossover element we like so much. The rest of the issue involves Black Alice and Misfit fighting, again. This issue introduces a new aspect of their relationship which leads to a result I wasn’t expecting. However, I wasn’t expecting it because their relationship feels artificially manipulated to begin with, and the latest twist just seems like another manipulation. Scott and Hazlewood are good as always, with (I hate to say it) a grisly, shadowy death being a particular highlight.

The new issue of The Flash (#240, written by Tom Peyer, drawn by Freddie Williams II) also sports a “Dark Side Club” banner, but it’s incidental to the main story of Wally and Jay vs. Grodd and Spin. I can’t complain any more about Williams’ chunky Flash, because he seems to have gotten through that phase. I also got a kick out of this issue’s mind-control victims talking in Local-Newscast-ese — it’s funny ’cause it’s true. The cliffhanger makes me wonder about the length of the current setup, though….

Finally, here’s Jay Garrick again, teaming up with Batman in The Brave and the Bold #13 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Scott Koblish and Bob McLeod). They make a good team, because the easygoing Jay not only provides a good counterpoint to Batman’s intensity, Batman respects him and so dials it back a few notches. The plot, involving an old Bat-villain, a mad scientist, killer robots, and Jay’s chemist colleagues, may be more complicated than it needs to be, but it’s probably necessary to get these two characters together. I daresay Ordway’s more understated style is better-suited to this story’s amiable nature than George Perez’s would have been; and Waid provides good conversation amongst all the robot-smashing.

Look for the comics from Thursday (Happy Grant Morrison Day!) in the next couple of days.

April 27, 2008

New comics 4/23/08

Filed under: batman, birds of prey, checkmate, justice league, spirit, star trek, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 2:42 pm
Well, Countdown ended on Wednesday, so I talked about it on Thursday. I thought it suffered from a lack of focus which, while understandable, was also avoidable.

Still, I did buy other comics, and here they are.

Star Trek: New Frontier #2 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson) brings in a couple more NF characters, just when I was starting to get used to the ones already in play. Essentially, everything’s moving towards a confrontation with Jellico and the stolen timeship at New Thallon, but the waiting gives us time for some character interaction. Overall the issue was fine. Exposition was integrated pretty well into dialogue. (There are no narrative captions — not even a Captain’s Log — in the entire issue, which is a little odd for a Trek comic.) A new Galaxy-class starship comes into the picture too, which is confusing for those of us expecting the only such ship to be the Excalibur. Anyway, the art is about the same as last issue — rougher than I’m used to for a Trek comic, but true to the aesthetic. Three issues to go, and I have a feeling everything will happen in the last one.

It looks like Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier put all their social commentary into the latest Groo miniseries and let themselves go wacky with The Spirit (#16 written by them and drawn by Paul Smith). Denny Colt is hardly as dense as Groo, but in this issue he errs — in a well-meaning way, of course. The Spirit goes Hollywood to solve an on-set murder. While it looks play-fair at first, about halfway through it starts getting deliberately convoluted, so the reader is left to relax and let everything play out. Since that includes, among other things, a Carson Kressly parody and a stuntman gig (reminiscent of “bring in the double!” from that one Daffy Duck cartoon), the murder seems almost beside the point. With Paul Smith showing off his cartooning chops, the issue looks really good, but again, it’s only Eisneresque on the surface.

Dwayne McDuffie devotes most of Justice League of America #20 (drawn by Ethan Van Sciver) to Wally West’s struggle with rejoining the JLA. In its way, it’s reminiscent of the “should I be a superhero?” angst which Wally went through 25 years ago, back in the New Teen Titans days — only now, Wally has his own family, instead of worrying about his parents and girlfriend back home. Thus, Wally and Wonder Woman fight the Queen Bee while WW prods him to live up to his League responsibilities. I thought this issue was executed pretty well. McDuffie writes Wally and Diana well, and while Van Sciver’s art is a little stiff, it’s miles ahead of Ed Benes’ sketchy, pose-heavy work. (The storytelling involving WW at the end is a little unclear, though.) I’d have liked more than two JLAers and a Black Lightning cameo in McDuffie’s first crossover-free issue, but it sounds like he’ll have time to do his own thing soon enough.

I don’t know what happened to regular artists Tony Daniel and Jonathan Glapion, but fill-in penciller Ryan Benjamin and fill-in inker Saleem Crawford bring a bit too much ’90s Image overthinking to Batman #675 (written, of course, by Grant Morrison). This issue is the bridge between the alternate-Batmen arc and next issue’s “Batman R.I.P.,” and it exists apparently to elevate Bruce’s girlfriend Jezebel Jade to Silver St. Cloud status. It’s the secret-identity dilemma of a familiar “Bruce is trapped in public” situation, only this time Bruce is somehow unable to find a good spot to change. Maybe it’s the presence of a Ten-Eyed Assassin, the cult which was part of Bruce’s epiphany during the Year of 52. Anyway, I don’t have much of a problem with Morrison’s script (which also includes scenes for Robin, Nightwing, and Talia), but the art is pretty distracting.

Sean McKeever’s last issue of Birds Of Prey (#117, pencilled by Nicola Scott and inked by Doug Hazlewood) turns out to be his best. Misfit gets to show off without being annoying. The Platinum Flats supervillains are both believably low-rent and scary. Oracle makes good decisions. It’s a good issue which tests our heroes but doesn’t dwell on their troubles, and as always it’s told well sequentially by Ms. Scott and Mr. Hazlewood. The bar has been set high for Tony Bedard.

Finally, I say goodbye to Checkmate, as writers Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann turn in their last issue (#25, drawn by Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson). I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling it, except that the Rooks take advantage of a truly scary and dangerous mind-link to do their thing as well as they do. Sasha gets a scene with Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman compliment Checkmate, and the final twist took me completely by surprise. Rucka and his co-writer(s) went out on top, and I think it’s best to go out with ’em.

March 31, 2008

New comics 3/26/08

Countdown #5 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Jim Starlin, inked by Rodney Ramos) continues the apocalyptic doings from last issue, with the ominous Buddy Blank narration, the expected trip to the bunker, and the also-expected departure of “our” heroes back to the main DC-Earth. It’s a harrowing issue, but in the great scheme of things it’s hard to say where it fits. I mean, we don’t yet know how important Earth-Kamandi will be to the series as a whole; and if the point of these few issues was to show that Earth’s origin, and leave it at that, like a Paul Harvey story, well … it seems kinda perfunctory. I guess if any series can make the end of the world feel like a side trip, Countdown can. (In fact, it already has — remember the Earth Superboy-Prime destroyed, a few months back?) Accordingly, I’m not sure why it took Jim Starlin to draw this issue, and why we needed to see a Legionnaire devoured by rats.

Countdown To Adventure #8‘s lead story (written by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Julio Ferreira) concludes about how you’d expect, but it’s still fun to see Ellen Baker team up with Adam Strange. On its own it’s a lot of fighting and shooting and heroic poses, and overall the arc has been pretty good. I can’t say the same for the Forerunner story (written by Justin Gray, drawn by Fabrizio Fiorentino and Adam DeKraker), which might make more sense if I ever decide to revisit it, but which does end on a somewhat unexpected note. The story and art have improved over the past few months, but I didn’t have much interest in Forerunner before, and I don’t appear to now.

Teen Titans #57 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti and Ruy Jose) continues the “Terror Titans” arc. This issue focuses on Ravager’s fight against a couple of Terror Titans, juxtaposed against Robin’s attempts at making up with Wonder Girl. I liked the issue pretty well. I thought it was paced well, I liked Barrows’ storytelling, I think Palmiotti and Jose improve on his pencils, and I liked how Ravager was written. So, good job, all; and see you next month!

Green Lantern #29 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Ivan Reis, inked by Oclair Albert) begins “Secret Origin,” yet another look at Hal Jordan’s life. Apparently Hal did just about anything he wanted to from a very early age. The End. Oh, okay, this issue goes into Hal’s combative relationships with his mother and brothers, which in turn are based in his hero-worship of his dad, who you’ll remember crashed his jet as young Hal watched. If you’ve been following Johns’ work on the character, there won’t be too many surprises here, except maybe for the details about his mom. As for the art, I found myself wondering if maybe Reis and Albert might have stepped aside for the flashback scenes. They’re quite good on the regular sci-fi superhero material, but somehow their work felt a little too meticulous for this kind of coming-of-age story.

For some reason that I only noticed with this issue, Jim Gordon looks like Captain Kangaroo (with glasses) all throughout Batman Confidential #15 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Mark Farmer). It’s Part 3 of “Wrath Child,” in which we learn the origin of the original Wrath and the startling secret of the current one. I like this story because it’s high-concept: a supervillain who’s the evil duplicate of Batman, fighting Batman and the newly-emancipated Nightwing. It provides a few fun touches: a flashback reveals a ’60s-TV-show-style Batcopter and Batboat, and at one point Dick slams fist into palm a la Burt Ward, exclaiming “Holy–!” to boot. Morales’ and Farmer’s work is dynamic and clean, and I note approvingly that Morales draws this Nightwing to look appropriately younger than the Nightwing he currently draws in the eponymous book. Looking forward to the end of this one, but wishing this team would do more of the same.

The Spirit #15 (written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, drawn by Paul Smith) presents a diamond-smuggling switcheroo farce. It wants to be witty and nimble, but sadly comes up short. Although Paul Smith is an able cartoonist who apes Eisner’s character designs well, he doesn’t go in for the storytelling or layout flourishes that helped distinguish Darwyn Cooke’s work. As for the story, Aragones and Evanier are normally very witty on Groo, but many of the gags here seem forced and/or familiar.

The mostly-prose Star Trek spinoff, New Frontier, gets another comic-book story with the new miniseries “Turnaround” (issue #1 written by Peter David and drawn by Stephen Thompson). I haven’t read a New Frontier story in a few years, and it looks from this issue that there have been some changes to the cast. Of course, that assumes you’re familiar with the cast in the first place. Otherwise, the story doesn’t do much to introduce the players. Essentially, an experimental starship goes missing, Captain Calhoun and the USS Excalibur investigate, there’s unrelated political intrigue featuring an ex-officer, and another ex-officer is now one of Trek’s ubiquitous omnipotent beings. Oh, and there’s another familiar-looking person on Excalibur who can pop in, EMH-like, when the story requires. The art is decent enough — everything and everyone look appropriately Trek-y, and there aren’t too many likenesses to worry about. It’s not the worst Trek comic art I’ve seen, but not the best either. I will admit to being intrigued enough by the setup to come back for issue #2, but part of that is the hope that various subplots will start to knit together.

Finally, All-Star Superman #10 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely) is a poignant look at the last days of Superman … at least on his particular Earth. I’m sure you’ve read about the synchronicity of this issue’s conclusion with the Siegel heirs’ legal victory, but even before I learned about that I was struck by Morrison’s ability to evoke Superman. Morrison and Quitely use the image of Superman’s literary creation as a touchstone for the character as ideal, which is a little ironic considering that they’re working on an “ideal” version of the character.

But it’s only an ideal from our perspective, isn’t it? We’re used to Superman as a commodity — as copyright maintenance, as trademark material. We see Superman used as a sales-goosing guest star, as the center of a mythology that expands or contracts with the times, as a paragon of virtue challenged endlessly by fans who want something darker and more realistic.

All-Star Superman #10 speaks instead to “Superman’s” power to lead by example. It’s about inspiration, creation, and imitation in an endless cycle (“neverending,” per the story’s title). The hero of this story may be dying, but his legacy lives; just as the hero created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster all those years ago has produced a body of work full of its own entertainment and inspiration. I don’t mean to evangelize in such a purple way, and the image of a dying Superman is certainly not the hardest way to create sympathy in a reader — but this issue pulls together the thematic threads of the series so well, and sets up its climax so effectively.

Morrison and Quitely’s Superman speaks in simple, declarative sentences. He wears a costume which looks homemade, but not undignified. He’s the center of his world, and this issue shows him preparing that world for his departure. Whether the series will actually end with his death seems immaterial at this point.

February 24, 2008

New comics 2/20/08

The Brave and the Bold #10 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Scott Koblish) presents another time-hopping extravaganza for what has turned out to be Perez’s last issue. After a prologue with the Challengers of the Unknown, Superman and the Silent Knight team up to fight a dragon and destroy a Megistus-related gizmo. In this story, Waid uses the Knight as a first-person narrator, but the narration isn’t the usual hip-thought-balloon substitute. Instead, as a one-page montage of their travels demonstrates, the Knight is actually telling the story himself, thereby (at the risk of being redundant) narrating. So that was nice. The second half of the issue is a fun look at Aqualad through the eyes of the original Teen Titans, Aquaman, and Megistus himself. (The Big M alludes to the powers that the adult Garth will manifest as Tempest.) Set around Aquaman’s wedding to Mera, it includes cameos by the Justice League and a neat set of jokes at the expense of Wonder Woman’s earrings. Perez’ work is, of course, great as always, and I’m sorry to see him go — but as long as Waid and new penciller Jerry Ordway are on board, this will be one of DC’s best titles.

I liked the big payoffs in Countdown #10 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins), and it’s probably not worth complaining about the time it took to get to them. Harley, Holly, and Mary fight what I presume is a fresh-baked batch of Female Furies, Karate Kid fights the OMAC-ed Una, and it looks like everyone will have to fight all of Apokolips before too long. You’d think that with two powerhouses, a Green Lantern, an ex-Atom, and an ex-Robin, that wouldn’t be too hard, but there are still nine issues to go. Kolins’ art was good, although a little stiff and sketchy, kind of like Ron Lim. The dialogue was serviceable, because it really didn’t have much to do beyond get the characters from one beat to the next. Finally, Scott Beatty and Bruce Timm contribute the very fun two-page Origin Of Harley Quinn.

The Salvation Run-fueled storyline continues in Justice League of America #18 (written by Alan Burnett, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope), and it doesn’t improve that much. Burnett uses those first-person narrative-caption boxes Meltzer-style, which is to say that they’re connected to the narrator/thinker only by their colors. The main story is fifteen pages long, but two of those are a rump-tastic double-page spread and most of it is a bunch of exposition and posturing between the League and the Suicide Squad. It’s the kind of thing that turns me off of crossovers, and considering I’ve stuck with Countdown this long, that’s not an easy thing to do. The backup story, by Dwayne McDuffie, Jon Boy Meyers, and Mark Irwin, is a Red Tornado spotlight that doesn’t have much to do with anything. It describes the shiny new body Reddy is getting, and is probably intended to make him more sympathetic, but it just kind of sits there. I’m not terribly familiar with the artists, whose work is reminiscent of Todd Nauck’s.

Birds Of Prey #115 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) picks up with the Huntress and Lady Blackhawk tracking the old Blackhawk nemesis King Shark. Meanwhile, Oracle has to keep Misfit from killing Black Alice before BA can track down the magical menace who blew up a city block (and apparently killed Will & Grace) a couple issues back. This was a good issue, well-paced and fairly dialogue-driven. I expected the tension between Misfit and Black Alice to be a little wackier, given the cover, but Misfit comes across like a petulant kid … which, of course, she is. I liked that McKeever was willing to take her there. Misfit is reminding me more of a non-psychopathic Tara Markov, and that’s a good thing. Scott and Hazlewood turn in another fine issue, although I didn’t quite get on the first pass the “lava burp” which downs the Blackhawk plane.

Yes, that’s Superman in Checkmate #23 (written by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson), and he’s only part of the well-done first installment of “Castling.” The deep-cover agent who’s infiltrated Kobra sends out a desparate message, alerting Checkmate to a big threat on the horizon from the cult. The situation is so dire that only Superman can evac the agent, which he does in typical fashion. The highlight, though, is the relationship between Checkmate and Superman, which is a real pleasure to see portrayed. I liked this issue a whole lot. Bennett and Jadson’s clean lines contrast well with Santiago Arcas’ earthy color palette (Superman excepted, of course). Superman alludes to his previous dealings with a less charitable Checkmate, but ultimately he respects the current leadership and they respect the heck out of him. I’ll hate to give this book up when Rucka and Trautmann leave in a couple of issues, but I don’t see how too many writers could produce something this enjoyable.

Superman also appears in The Flash #237 (written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Koi Turnbull, inked by Art Thibert), as the Wests take a field trip to Metropolis. Wally procrastinates about job interviews by going on superhero missions, while Linda sends the kids on a scavenger hunt. I’m of two minds about the art: on one hand, it’s certainly kinetic and expressive, which is appropriate for the book; but on the other, it’s almost too busy. The story also seemed rather unfocused. The job-interview scenes were cute (apparently Wally still has a secret identity as far as the general public is concerned), and I liked Linda’s interaction with Lois Lane, but I had a hard time keeping the Metropolis plot straight. Tom Peyer starts as writer next issue, so I’m looking forward to that.

Batman Confidential #13 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Mark Farmer) begins a new arc featuring The Wrath, a one-off villain from a 1980s Batman Special. Wrath’s parents were criminals killed by a policeman — James Gordon, in fact — so his life takes an oddly familiar, yet twisted path. Now he’s back, and killing policemen attending a Gotham police convention. This story takes place in the Disco Nightwing days (which makes me think Jason Todd should be around somewhere), so there’s some tension between Dick and Bruce, and Leslie Thompkins is still in the picture too. I liked it pretty well — Morales is a good storyteller, and I like Farmer inking him. I liked the cliffhanger, too.

I also liked Superman Confidential #12 (written by B. Clay Moore, pencilled by Phil Hester, inked by Ande Parks), almost more for the art than for the story. It’s a fun start to an arc involving the origin of Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch and the Toyman’s giant killer robots. I’ve always liked Hester and Parks’ thick-lined, “cartoony” style, though; and they suit this kind of light-hearted adventure very well.

Finally, The Spirit #14 introduces the new creative team of writers Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, penciller Mike Ploog, and inker Mark Farmer, replacing writer/artist Darwyn Cooke. Their first issue is pretty entertaining — a light murder mystery that didn’t exactly play fair, but with a good sense of fun that carried it. Ploog and Farmer evoke Eisner’s designs for the most part, although I thought their Spirit’s jaw wasn’t square enough and they didn’t bring the same overall design schemes to the book that Cooke did.

So there you go. By the way, I still haven’t gotten my scanner hooked up yet, but probably this week sometime.

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