Comics Ate My Brain

August 16, 2009

New comics 8/12/09

For this week’s 40 minutes of heck, I try to balance a rant about Dr. Mid-Nite and some Blair Butler bewilderment with some memories of the classic New Teen Titans and nice words about Wednesday Comics’ “Wonder Woman.”

Specifically, it’s Action Comics #880, Adventure Comics #1, Batman #689, Blackest Night #2, Blackest Night: Batman #1, Booster Gold #23, Green Arrow/Black Canary #23, Green Lantern Corps #39, JSA Vs. Kobra #3, Titans #16, The Unwritten #4, and Wednesday Comics #6. Plus, Olivia gets another cameo!

Download it directly here, visit the podcast homepage here, or cast your eyes to the player at right.

Music, as always, by R.E.M.

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.)

August 1, 2009

New comics 7/29/09

This week I go off on a little rant about Mark Millar’s Fantastic Four, and there are references to Fargo and Stripes, as well as a thoroughly-unsurprising Monty Python reference. Otherwise, it’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold #7, Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3, Detective Comics #855, Fantastic Four #569, Justice League of America #35, Madame Xanadu #13, Superman #690, Wednesday Comics #4, and Wonder Woman #34. Music, as always, is by R.E.M.

[EDIT: Sorry, folks, the Unknown Soldier stuff somehow got lost in the editing process. I’ll try to work it in next week!]

Download it here, or go directly to the podcast homepage here.

July 16, 2009

New comics 7/15/09

In this week’s podcast: Action Comics #879, Agents Of Atlas #8, Batman: Streets Of Gotham #2, Blackest Night #1, Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #1, Brave and the Bold #25, Captain America #601, JSA Vs. Kobra #2, Rasl #5, Titans #15, Wednesday Comics #2, and Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-38.

I hope I have fixed some of the lingering technical issues (which I further hope no one minded in the last episode), and of course I am still working on my elocution. Early on, Olivia even offered her own comments in the background. (The music, once again, is by R.E.M.)

Download it here, or visit the podcast homepage here. Thanks for listening!

July 14, 2009

It’s my 5-year blogoversary — in stereo!

Can you believe that it’s been five years since this humble blog was launched? Heck, it seems like five years since the last post….

Accordingly, as a way to get back into the weekly new-comics grind, I am trying the exciting world of podcasts! Yes, give me thirty minutes and I’ll give you somnolent commentary on the usual batch of new purchases! This week it’s Wednesday Comics #1, The Unwritten #3, House Of Mystery #15, Superman: World Of New Krypton #5, Green Lantern #43, Batman #688, Green Arrow/Black Canary #22, Booster Gold #22, and The Warlord #4. (Music is by R.E.M.)

Right-click here to download the episode. You can also visit the podcast homepage here.

Anyway, I’m hoping to have new installments up on weekends (or Fridays if I’m lucky), so keep an eye out!

June 26, 2009

What’s the matter with Kansas?, part 2: Superman Inc.

Filed under: elseworlds, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 2:24 pm
I got the idea to blog about this 1999 Elseworlds while in the middle of reading Red Son, and the reason should be pretty obvious: here, the focus isn’t on communism, but unapologetic capitalism.

Superman Inc. was written by Steve Vance, pencilled by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and inked by Mark Farmer. It’s an unusual Elseworlds in that it’s not about superheroics. Instead, Dale “Superman” Suderman (the erstwhile Kal-El of Krypton) is the greatest athlete the Earth has ever known — a star in the NBA, NFL, and Major League Baseball, a multiple-medal-winning Olympian, and an unstoppable marketing force. His chief rival is still Lex Luthor (now a team owner), but this time Dale/Supes earns Luthor’s wrath by screwing Luthor out of a new stadium.

See, Dale isn’t exactly a paragon of virtue, which the book demonstrates in a pointed parody of the regular Superman’s boy-scout reputation. After Dale’s grinned and glad-handed his way through a lobby full of adoring kids (“Have this [jacket] fumigated,” he later tells his assistant), he tears into his staff for their concept-art failures. “Can’t you morons get anything right? How many times do I have to tell you?! I’m Superman! I’m everybody’s friend! I don’t grimace — I smile!” This last sentence accompanies the scary picture of an intensely beady-eyed Superman poking the ends of his mouth upwards in a look that would give the Joker chills.

What brought Dale to this state was a succession of foster homes and juvenile facilities, necessitated by the death of Dale’s foster mother. Dale’s powers contributed to her death, because his flying startled her into falling down the stairs and breaking her neck. This caused Dale to draw into himself (and also repress the use of his flashier powers), until years later when a chance involvement in pickup basketball awakened his “athletic abilities.” It’s certainly not an unrealistic alternative to Superman’s origin, and it gives Dale’s story a poignancy that a straight-up “Clark chose football over virtue” choice might have lacked. (Dale isn’t without some scruples, though, thanks to his mentor, ex-NBAer Marcus Clark.)

Nevertheless, Dale can’t quite let go of his powers, and as another marketing tool creates a “Superman” cartoon which uses the familiar costume and abilities. Thus, in this reality superstar athlete Dale Suderman invented the super-hero, which seems a little precious but pretty much works in context. Meanwhile, though, Luthor and his investigators (including reporter Lois Lane, naturally) have pieced together Dale’s extraterrestrial origins, and use their findings to “out” Dale. Being a nigh-omnipotent alien is apparently worse than using human growth hormone, so Dale’s career threatens to start circling the drain.

An enraged Dale makes matters worse when he storms Luthor’s penthouse offices, is defenestrated thanks in part to a shard of Kryptonite, and flies back up to administer beatings in front of many witnesses. Furthermore, during an attempt at talk-show rehabilitation, Dale gets shot with a Kryptonite bullet and winds up in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Lois shows up, having quit Luthor’s employ once she figured out he was behind the shooting. She’s withdrawing herself: “I may do some teaching,” she says as she leaves.

At this point Superman Inc. starts to steer Dale in a more traditional direction, with a visit from a familiar generically-named police detective. Yes, J’Onn J’Onzz tells Dale that there are many aliens living on Earth who could benefit from a more positive role model, so why doesn’t he shape up? Thus, Dale heads back to where it all began, in Kansas, to clear his head and figure out what to do with his life. Along the way, he’s knocked out by a lightning strike. No points for guessing which kindly couple takes him in!

Actually, that too is handled pretty smoothly. The Kents don’t know Dale Suderman from Adam, so he’s able to hide out with them without much effort. On the farm he learns the value of hard work, etc., and eventually tells the world (via taped message) he’s headed into space to find the remains of his home planet. However, on the last page of the book, it’s “Clark Kent” who registers for Lois’ Journalism 101 class….

Superman Inc. looks like a pretty slight story, but I think it has a lot going on beneath the surface. The “I don’t grimace” scene is actually a nice encapsulation of the book’s message about image management. Dale’s mother dies because she thinks her flying child is a demon, and Dale turns this into introversion and self-loathing. Once Dale has started playing basketball, though, that gets completely inverted, and his face becomes ubiquitous. (The “S” symbol shows up too, but as the logo for Dale’s new basketball franchise, the Metropolis Spartans.) In this way “Superman” allows Dale to use his powers, after a fashion.

However, as in Red Son, Dale has no “secret identity” which might offer another perspective. Therefore, this book’s “Superman goes nuts” scene also forces him into hiding as a bespectacled nobody. In Red Son Superman’s disguise is just that; but here, it’s implied pretty strongly that “Clark” is the real deal — a kinder, gentler iteration of the boy who grew up to be an oversaturating sensation. The traditional Superman was Clark before he was famous, so Dale needed to learn how “Clark” could help him cope.

There is a hint, too, that Dale could re-emerge as Superman the superhero, fighting evil and injustice in the mode of his animated alter ego. After all, if Dale can’t use his powers for sports anymore, he’ll need some other outlet. The logistical gymnastics that would require seem well-suited for a sequel. Too bad DC has gotten out of the Elseworlds business….

June 22, 2009

What’s the matter with Kansas?, part 1: Red Son

Filed under: elseworlds, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 9:31 pm
This post is the first installment in a short series about various Superman Elseworlds. Nudged by the news that DC is releasing a hardcover edition, I re-read Superman: Red Son over the weekend. That got my brain going, and I wanted then to re-read other stories. Look for posts on Superman & Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy, Superman: The Dark Side, Superman Inc., and probably at least one other, in the near future.

Right from the start, Red Son (written by Mark Millar, pencilled by Dave Johnson and Killian Plunkett) creates an all-encompassing sense of horrifying inevitability, like there is absolutely no way it will end well. At the same time, though, that inevitability almost makes it read like dull, state-sanctioned propaganda. Accordingly, I found Red Son to be rather a frustrating comic — not in the reading, which was fairly engaging, but in the message (or lack thereof).





First, a bit of personal perspective on Red Son. Lefty though I may be, I did grow up during the last two decades of the Cold War, and lived under the shadow of mutually-assured destruction. We didn’t have “duck and cover” drills in the ’70s and ’80s, but we did have The Day After, Red Dawn, and “Amerika.” While a lot of that turned out to be right-wing nightmare fuel, I wasn’t particularly eager to have the United States turned into the Workers’ Paradise.

It seems to me that Red Son plays on those kinds of fears and expectations. The big surprise, apparently, is not that Superman is a Commie; it’s that he’s a compassionate Commie, eschewing outright conquest in favor of winning the world’s hearts and minds. Even so, I found it hard to root for Superman, simply because of what he represented in this story; and I’m sure that’s just the way Millar wanted it.

See, Red Son argues that as a Soviet operative (and later as Soviet leader), Superman gets to examine how the apparatus of the state could be used for the benefit of all. In the capitalist United States, Superman/Clark can be just another guy, doing what he can to help out. However, if the state is charged with taking care of everyone, and Superman is the state (for all practical purposes), then he has an obligation to give the people food, shelter, etc.

Nevertheless, these are background and motivational details. Millar doesn’t really make a case for communism (Soviet-style or otherwise) — or, more accurately, he doesn’t use Superman to “rehabilitate” communism — as much as he implies that a communist viewpoint enables Superman’s actions in the pursuit of social justice. Thus, Red Son is another in a long line of “Superman takes over the world” stories, and like those, it ends with the realization that Superman can’t impose his personal morality on humanity as a whole.

“But that would mean,” my straw-man says, “that if the world got too corrupt, evil, depraved, etc., for Superman, he wouldn’t do anything about it!” I agree — and remember, that’s exactly what turns the Kingdom Come Superman into a bearded, pony-tailed hermit, living on a holo-farm in the Fortress of Solitude. Both the KC and RS Supermen have one last red-eyed rampage which ends in the above-described come-to-Jesus moment.

And as much as I shudder at the thought of a Soviet Superman leading the Red Army triumphantly down Main Street USA, I think Red Son would have been better had it not given into that familiar character bit. Admittedly, Millar sets up RS‘s come-to-Jesus moment pretty well, equating Superman’s global victory with his one unquestioned failure, but its first two chapters are so chilling that it’s almost a cop-out for Millar to bring in conventional Superman morality.

I want to stress here that I am not trying to connect said morality with uniquely American values. Instead, I just think it would have been more interesting for RS-Supes to have embraced fully the benign totalitarianism he’d been practicing for most of the story.

That’s the unspoken point of Elseworlds generally, though, isn’t it? Superman is Superman, whether he’s in the Middle Ages or the Civil War or raised by the Waynes. At some point, however, it makes these stories exercises in rearranging the details. In the end that’s what I didn’t like about Red Son: all of its radical visions — Wonder Woman traumatized by the loss of her lasso, JFK an aging buffoon, Hal Jordan waterboarded — seem only skin-deep. Indeed, the critical moment in the third part comes when President Luthor pretty much only has to snap his fingers in order to reinvigorate the United States’ moribund, third-world economy. There’s your communist-vs.-capitalist showdown in a nutshell: Superman spends decades shaping the USSR into the world’s only superpower, and Luthor reawakens the US practically overnight.

Like I said, frustrating. Is Red Son shaggy and padded with high-concept “moments,” or is it all necessary in order to get to Luthor’s “checkmate?” Is it shrewd satire, not just of Superman but Bush-era foreign policy; or is that undercut by the eventual redemptive moment? Did Superman deserve some comeuppance beyond the loss of his identity and prestige? Certainly Red Son is thought-provoking, but I’m not sure the answers justify the effort.

March 13, 2009

Two new comics, 3/11/09

Filed under: batman, booster gold, green arrow, green lantern, new teen titans, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 7:18 pm
Longtime readers may remember that I used to post weekly new-comics roundups (I hesitated to call them “reviews”) about a particular set of purchases. Between annotating Trinity and looking after a new baby, I got out of the habit of doing those.

However, this week I read two comics which, if not exactly polar opposites in terms of quality, were at least headed in different directions as far as merit was concerned. I was surprised at how much I liked one, and how much I disliked the other. Therefore, let’s talk about Titans #12 and Batman: Battle For The Cowl #1.

* * *

First, though, just to be complete, I’ll run down briefly the rest of Wednesday’s haul. I covered Trinity #41 over at Robot 6. Batman Confidential #27 was Part 2 of the “hey, it’s King Tut! In the comics!” story. It brings one of the ’60s TV show’s more ridiculous villains (and that’s saying something) into the serious Batman comics after forty-odd years, but the story is neither goofy nor overly grim. Instead, Tut is creepy and mysterious, so much so that Batman is forced to turn to the Riddler for help. The result is an engaging mystery with snappy writing and great art.

I’ll have to read back issues of Booster Gold and the Superman books to get a better idea for this week’s developments (in Booster Gold #18 and Action Comics #875). I liked both fine, but each depended on the culmination of long-running plot threads. Same is true to a certain extent for Green Lantern Corps #34, although that issue was more setup than anything else.

Finally, I’m not sure how I feel about Green Arrow/Black Canary #18. It’s three issues into the new writer’s first arc, but he doesn’t seem to have the best handle on the characters, and the “Green Arrow has a stalker” plot feels very familiar.

0n to the main event….

* * *

It’s no exaggeration to say that the relaunched Titans has had its problems. In the first eleven issues and the Titans East special, the book has had a handful of different artists (and wildly divergent artistic styles). Although the writer, Judd Winick, has stayed the same, he’s been criticized for failures of characterization and plotting. Next month begins “Deathtrap,” a crossover with Teen Titans and Vigilante, two books I don’t read. Accordingly, it would be easy for me to drop Titans, but something keeps me going.

Titans #12, guest-written by Sean McKeever, penciled by Howard Porter, inked by Wayne Faucher, and colored by Edgar Delgado, was a good example of what the title could be. Titans is essentially a revival of New Teen Titans, so it treads the dangerous ground of, say, a sequel called “fortysomething” (or, to my mind, a “Friends” reunion). At its core it must make the argument that this particular combination of characters — Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, Wonder Girl/Troia, Speedy/Red Arrow, and Kid Flash/Flash — still works, and is still worth watching. So far Titans had been coasting on the assumption that its existence didn’t need justifying.

However, this issue finds two members debating just that. Ex-member Jericho has turned evil, and since he can inhabit anyone’s body and control anyone’s actions, everyone else is on edge. As a result, when Donna and Roy meet for coffee, neither of them is particularly thrilled to go on like they have been. When Raven rebuffs Beast Boy’s attempts at romance, he exclaims desperately that Jericho must be inside her, toying with him.

The other characters don’t have quite as much to do with the Jericho plot, but they were more recognizable to me than they had been. Starfire, whose powers come from solar energy, gets a few pages to worship the sunrise in a way which is reverential, not prurient. Later in the issue, she and Donna meet at dusk for a photography lesson. Roy’s conversation with Donna is sandwiched between leaving one lover (after busting up a mugging outside her window) and almost reluctantly picking up another. In a sign that he too might be leaving the team, Wally “Flash” West’s only scenes are with his family, and by itself the scene doesn’t really go anywhere. Finally, Cyborg’s work in Titans Compound bookends the issue and sets up “Deathtrap.”

I became increasingly dissatisfied with Sean McKeever’s work on Teen Titans because I felt myself caring less about the characters, not more. Maybe I’m bringing too much of my own knowledge of these characters to this issue, but I found McKeever’s writing here to be subtle and almost elegant in its efficiency. When Roy returns to his one-night-stand’s apartment after fighting the muggers, she’s eager for breakfast (and more), but the only thing he says to her is that he just came back to get his wallet. McKeever lets the art (and especially the coloring) speak for itself with regard to Starfire’s sunrise-worship. Similarly, Starfire’s conversation with Donna consists of the simple, direct sentences which old friends use as shorthand. Probably the clunkiest bits of dialogue are the ones with the most romantic tension, between ex-lovers Donna and Roy and would-be lovers Raven and Beast Boy.

On the whole I enjoyed the art of Howard Porter and Wayne Faucher, augmented by Edgar Delgado’s colors. Porter can’t quite settle on Roy’s hairstyle, which makes him look like Wally; and his layouts of Raven’s head over the “montage” of the last few pages doesn’t quite work. Still, Porter and Faucher produce clean, readable work. It’s stylized somewhat, but not to the point of distraction; and except for Wally and Roy it allows the characters to have distinct personalities.

Overall I was quite happy with Titans #12. It’s the kind of issue which highlights this sort of book’s soap-opera elements without swamping the reader in them. I thought all of the subplots touched on here were explained adequately, so as not to mystify a new reader. I’m curious about the next issue, and that’s the kind of feeling a serialized comic book should produce.

* * *

Naturally, Batman: Battle for the Cowl #1, which was written and penciled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea, and colored by Ian Hannin, is something else entirely. BFTC #1 drops the reader into the middle of a Gotham City gone insane. Because Batman is Teh Dedd, all the gangs and super-criminals are battling for turf. Trying to hold everything together is a motley crew of Bat-sociates, organized by Nightwing and Batgirl (but mostly by Nightwing, as Batgirl gets maybe one panel in this issue).

But soft! Whither goest yon red-eyed wraith with the Wayne-issue Batarangs? ‘Tis a new Batman, taking out a trio of thugs wearing clown masks left over from The Dark Knight before Robin and the Squire (the British version of Robin) can get to them. This Batman knows enough about How Not To Be Seen to slip past experienced crimefighters, but they know he’s Batman because, along with those Batarangs, he leaves helpful notes which say “I Am Batman.”

And that, in a nutshell, is BFTC #1’s main problem: its apocalyptic setting is based on there being No Batman, but in the first few pages it introduces I-Am-Batman. What’s more, even though the streets are full of bad guys battling SWAT teams, Gotham is apparently safe enough for ordinary people to gather into mobs, just to drive home the point that society is breaking down. Granted, I’ve never been part of a city in turmoil, but it seems to me that if the streets aren’t safe, is it really such a good idea to go out into the streets in large groups to highlight this lack of safety?

Still, as always, Gotham gets the local bureaucracy it deserves; because wouldn’t you know it, everyone in Arkham Asylum — the Joker, Poison Ivy, the Scarecrow, that guy with the shark-teeth — is currently in low-security buses (buses!) while the Asylum is being fumigated. (Actually, narration explains that the Asylum is being decontaminated after the Black Glove’s shenanigans.) This sets up the dramatic return of Black Mask, who hijacks the convoy and blows up Arkham Asylum.

That’s about it for setup: new Batman, mayhem in the streets, super-crooks on the loose. In other hands it might be pretty exciting. However, under Tony Daniel, BFTC #1 is overwritten, uninspired, crowded, and generally just a lot of sound and fury. From the very first panel, when Daniel started with an establishing “Gotham City” caption and then had Robin narrate four sentences later that yes, they were in Gotham City, I knew it would be tough going. (I was willing to overlook Robin saying “Squire and I” when it should have been “and me.”) I’ve mentioned some of the nonsensical plot elements already, but they’re worth repeating. Instead of a city filled with protesters, gangs, cops, and supervillains, why not a ghost town of empty streets, distant fires, and a general air of hopelessness? Instead of Black Mask co-opting the Arkham residents by hijacking their bus convoy, why not show how these master criminals each attempting to escape? BFTC #1 is so concerned with getting all its ducks in a row that it never thinks about the ducks themselves.

Moreover, BFTC saves its worst element for last, in the form of Bruce Wayne’s and Talia al Ghul’s son Damian. Grant Morrison gave Damian — who, if memory serves, grew up alongside the League of Assassins — a bratty bad attitude and a mean sense of entitlement. Here, though, he’s a posturing little kid whose facade crumbles, and literally screams for Mommy, when faced with Killer Croc and Poison Ivy. Morrison’s Damian wouldn’t just take this kid’s lunch money, he’d make him eat it.

Daniel doesn’t explain who Damian is, though, similarly failing to give a hypothetical new reader any information on the Knight, the Squire, or any of the several other superheroes — some, like Black Canary, the Birds of Prey, and Wildcat, only tangentially related to Batman — who flit through this issue’s panels. I can live with assuming that everyone knows Nightwing’s relation to Batman, but Robin’s reference to “my father’s costume” seemed to come out of left field, even knowing that Bruce adopted Tim three years ago.

All in all, Battle for the Cowl #1 is a story outline in comic-book form, filling a spot on DC’s production schedule until everything settles down in June. I realize that the two main Batman books have had their own scheduling problems lately, and Robin, Nightwing, and Birds Of Prey were canceled to make room for the post-BFTC lineup, but considering the events of this issue makes me wish even more that the storyline had been serialized at least across Batman and Detective. Not only could it have built suspense (the Arkham inmates have to be moved! The police might strike!) over a few weeks, it could have pulled all of these elements into a more coherent narrative. Instead, BFTC looks like an exercise in Here’s What Happened, a process-oriented miniseries in danger of being ignored.

September 8, 2008

New comics 8/13/08

Olivia turned four weeks old yesterday, and will be a month old on Tuesday … not unlike my current-comics backlog, as it turns out.

I’ve also been reading a lot of non-superhero comics. I finally got around to The Professor’s Daughter, The Plain Janes, and Black Hole, with Bottomless Belly Button on deck.

But yes, the superheroes still dominate, so let’s get to ’em.

In Booster Gold #11, guest-writer Chuck Dixon joins regular artists Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund for a light look back at Batman’s less-grim days. Batman, you say? Yes; Booster must pose first as Killer Moth and then as the Darknight Detective himself in order to fix the problems one of Dixon’s one-shot Detective Comics villains has caused. It’s part 1 of 2, and it seems content to gawk giddily at the trappings of ’60s Batman and one of his goofier villains. (Killer Moth considered himself the anti-Batman, down to his own set of themed gadgets.) There’s the usual drama about A World Without Batman, but we know by now how that sort of thing turns out — especially in a two-part guest-written arc. It’s still fun, though.

Someday soon — maybe after Bottomless Belly Button and finishing another run through Watchmen — I’ll break out all of the Grant Morrison Batman issues to date. Maybe then I’ll have a more informed angle on “Batman R.I.P.” In the meantime, though, every issue seems like a mad dash through the storyline, with Morrison throwing out ideas and plot points left and right. Batman #679 finds the “emergency persona” in full effect, busting heads and behaving like a cross between Rorschach (i.e., vigilantism on the cheap) and the Frank Miller parody, with a little “Moon Roach” from Cerebus thrown in. I liked it pretty well, and I think my problem is that I read it too quickly.

Wonder Woman #23 finished the “Ends of the Earth” storyline with a big, brutal fight between Diana and the Devil, with her soul (among other things) at stake. I liked it on its own terms, but I still couldn’t follow the changing loyalties and subtle reveals from previous chapters. Fortunately, the issue brought Donna Troy into the romantic subplot involving Nemesis, and let Donna have a good scene involving Amazon ritual.

Assuming we hadn’t seen it previously, Action Comics #868 adds The Matrix to the other sci-fi influences writer Geoff Johns and penciller Gary Frank have brought to their ultimate version of Brainiac. While Superman contends with the villain, the more lively parts of the issue involve Supergirl and her soon-to-be-Jonah-Jameson-like rival, Cat Grant. It’s all good, though.

Fantastic Four #559 tracks the Human Torch’s fight with the New Defenders across Manhattan, while Sue has dinner with Reed’s ex-flame and Ben takes his new love to see Johnny perform on “The Late Show.” If you think this is mostly an opportunity for Bryan Hitch once again to demonstrate his photorealistic tendencies, you’re not far off (although there is no David Letterman cameo, unfortunately). One money shot shows the Fantasticar flying low over Times Square. The issue has a couple of big revelations, one involving Magrathe– I mean, the “new Earth” — which is mildly surprising, and the other involving a classic FF foe which recalls both the Walt Simonson issues and JLA/Avengers. If you’d never read a Fantastic Four comic book before, you’d probably think this was pretty cool stuff, but for us lifers, it feels pretty hollow.

Green Lantern Corps #27 holds a hodgepodge of day-in-the-life-of-Oa subplots including the opening of “Guy Gardner’s American Cafe” (it’s not called that), a visit to the Green Lantern graveyard, and hints of affection between Kyle and Dr. Natu. However, the cover image refers (somewhat inaccurately) to the tragedy which I presume kicks off the next storyline, and it’s a gruesome one. Guest penciller Luke Ross (with guest inker Fabio Laguna) has a less distinctive style than regular penciller Patrick Gleason, but considering that this issue is concerned with introductions (Guy’s bar, the crypt), I suppose that’s okay. I have to say, though, that the aforementioned tragedy seems to fall squarely within the “worthwhile = realistic = gruesome” thinking which DC can’t seem to shake. This will sound like an empty threat, but I think I’ll be dropping this book if things don’t improve after “Black Lanterns.”

Batman Confidential #20, Part 4 of the current 5-part Batgirl/Catwoman storyline, was pretty much like the other three chapters, except with Batman replacing the shredded costumes and outright nudity. By that I mean Batgirl isn’t necessarily struggling to impress/one-up Catwoman here, but Batman himself. Still pretty entertaining, although Batgirl’s dialogue tends to be a little too earnest.

Green Arrow And Black Canary #11 lays out the details of the Plot To Kill Green Arrow, along the way revealing the mysterious mastermind behind it all. Not bad for an expository issue, although I’m not sure it dovetails entirely with the “Countdown was responsible” tone of the first few issues.

I’ll be honest: I was ready to declare Final Crisis: Revelations #1 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Philip Tan, inked by Jonathan Glapion et al.) one of the worst comic books I have ever read. The art seemed deliberately ugly and incomprehensible, and the writing depended upon a good working knowledge of recent DC crossovers.

Well, re-reading it, it’s not quite that bad. The writing still involves a particular learning curve, but I suppose if you’re buying a Final Crisis [Colon Subtitle] book, you’re halfway there already. The art isn’t a model of clarity, but perhaps it fits the particularly grim mood of the book. This is an issue where Doctor Light dresses up helpless teens as rape-ready superheroines, and where the Spectre subsequently gives him and assorted other supervillains their ironic punishments for the even-more-sordid acts they committed in the course of recent DC crossovers. Furthermore, the story invokes one of the classic responses to an omnipotent character: making him powerless (or not so powerful) against a particular foe. I wouldn’t mind it so much here if it hadn’t just been used in Countdown To Mystery, although it does make more sense here than there.

Ultimately, though, I’ll stick with this miniseries largely out of a need for closure. I hate to say it so bluntly, but at least we won’t have Doctor Light to kick around for a while. Maybe by the end of this miniseries we’ll have a functional Spectre and/or Question.

Finally, The Last Defenders #6 was a letdown on a couple of levels. First, the big revelation is something of a betrayal of the “non-team” concept. Second, I kinda get Nighthawk’s role, but I’ve been reading those Essential Defenders (halfway through #4!) and does he really need to be validated this much? I guess I was expecting something more subversive. Also, the opening fight choreography was hard to follow.

Three weeks (or so) worth of comics left….

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.

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