Comics Ate My Brain

August 25, 2008

New comics 7/28/08 and 8/6/08

Here are some quick impressions of recent books, as I try to get rid of the accumulated baby-related backlog….

7/28/08

Batman: Death Mask #4: I stand by my original appraisal of this series, which is that it’s more of a read-right-to-left exercise than a demonstration of manga’s storytelling potential. It was a decent Batman story, but (as opposed to those Star Wars manga from ten years ago) nothing which really encouraged me to read more manga. If this were Batman/Punisher or some other outside-the-norm crossover, each “side” would get a chance to “win.” Here, though, Batman is still Batman, just read differently; so he wins decisively.

Green Lantern #33: This was the penultimate chapter of “Secret Origin,” wasn’t it? Good. I get the feeling that “SO” could have been more interesting, and more to the point (leading up to “Blackest Night”), if it had been a couple of oversized issues told from the point of view of someone other than Hal. Also, I really think Johns et al. are pushing it to give Black Hand’s mortuary the Black Lantern symbol.

Justice Society of America Annual #1: I talked about this one in a Grumpy Old Fan.

Teen Titans #61: Not a bad issue, although I am still not convinced that Kid/Red Devil is the breakout character everyone says he is — and I say that as someone who looked forward to his appearances in the old Blue Devil series.

8/6/08

Detective Comics #847: Part 2 of “Heart of Hush” would have been better if it didn’t have so much Hush.

Final Crisis #3: This is a scary, scary miniseries, and I admire its unwavering fatalism. I think I also like the way it paints its terrifying picture through individual snapshots, and not a “widescreen” overview.

House Of Mystery #4: Last month I think I said it’s taking a while for Fig to realize what the readers already know (because it’s the premise of the book). This month does nothing to change that. HOM isn’t badly made, it’s just slow; and I may have to give it another storyline to evaluate it properly.

Manhunter #33: I continue to like this series, and I want to learn more about it, but honestly I couldn’t tell you why I liked this particular issue.

Nightwing #147: Part 1 of a 3-part Two-Face storyline is fairly entertaining, although for various external reasons I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be with the book.

Supergirl #32: However, it looks like I’ll be with this book for a while to come, as long as it ties into the Superman titles.

Tor #s 3 and 4: Tor starts a family in these issues. I’ll probably finish out this miniseries, if only because I enjoy Joe Kubert’s storytelling.

Of course, I also bought Trinity #s 9 and 10, and enjoyed them beyond my self-imposed obligation to annotate.

Back before too long to catch up on the next two weeks!

July 13, 2008

New comics 6/25/08

You would not believe the week I have had. Actually, it’s been more like two weeks.

Actually, you probably would believe it; but since a lot of it involves finishing up the 3-part Grumpy Old Fan look at DCU miniseries, 2001-08, it’s kind of dull.

Regardless, it’s been pretty busy for me in the Real World, so I’m on the road to recovery as far as this here blog is concerned. What say we get cracking on that backlog?

Obviously this week’s big release was Final Crisis #2, which quite honestly scared me. When you have one of DC’s major characters locked into an Apokoliptian torture machine and screaming “CALL THE JUSTICE LEAGUE!” to an apparently random person who wouldn’t have any way of knowing how to do so, that’s a pretty dire circumstance. Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones have thrown our heroes into the deep end of the pool and are now pouring even more water on top of them. It’s not exactly a new thought to say this is the JLA arc “Rock Of Ages” from a slightly different perspective, but what makes it more immediate, and more scary, is the notion that it’s happening right now, without the comfort of a reset button that the original had.

Superman #677 was the start of James Robinson’s run as writer, and he chose to begin with heavy doses of Krypto and the Science Police troopers. I’m not looking for him to make this particular SP squad into a higher-tech O’Dare family, because clearly this isn’t Starman and Robinson’s not that repetitive anyway. Still, there are Starman-esque touches in the omniscient narration’s bullet points and the characters’ self-awareness; and they’re certainly not unwelcome. The “new guy wants to replace Superman” story is pretty well-worn, though, so I’ll be expecting some new twist from Robinson. On the art side, I have no complaints with Renato Guedes except that he (like Gary Frank) is using Christopher Reeve pretty clearly as Supes’ model. While I love Reeve’s Superman, actually seeing him in print pulls me out of the story.

What If This Was [sic] The Fantastic Four? (written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by various people) is a perfectly charming tribute to the late Mike Wieringo, postulating (for the second time) that the Spider-Man/Hulk/Ghost Rider/Wolverine team had stayed together. I encourage you to pick it up.

Back in the regular book, though, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch … well, I think you know how I stand on their tenure so far. Fantastic Four #558 brings in the “New Defenders,” a team with some similarities to the FF, who’ve captured Doctor Doom and apparently are less than charitable in dealing with them. There’s also a new nanny whose subplot was pretty obvious to me from the moment of her introduction. Therefore, I have a pretty good idea as to how this arc will play out, but I am in fact curious to see what Millar will do with the issue’s Big Revelation about one of the Richards clan. Otherwise, I wonder if the story would read any better with Alex Ross on art. That’s how static Hitch and inker Andrew Currie’s work seems to me now.

The newest Captain America meets the public in Captain America #39 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Rob De La Torre). The issue presents a familiar story about manipulating the public through imagery and superficialities, and it winds up similar to Superman #677. De La Torre is new to me, although he (augmented by regular colorist Frank D’Armata) preserves the book’s quasi-realistic style. However, his Bucky is a bit more buff than, say, Steve Epting’s, which was a little distracting.

Was I saying that Batman: Gotham After Midnight didn’t know how seriously to take itself? With issue #2 (written by Steve Niles, drawn by Kelley Jones), it seems to be saying “not very.” That’s hardly a bad thing, mind you. This particular approach to Batman casts him as the scariest dude in the room, except for the scarier dude who’s working behind the scenes. I’m still not completely on board with it, but I do give it credit for being true to a gonzo sensibility. Let’s put it this way: if you like scenes where Batman is lit apparently by a noir-ish light source independent of everything else, you’ll love this book.

About Green Lantern #32: “Secret Origin” continues, and I think we’re up to the point where Hal gets hired officially by Carol Ferris. Honestly, though, we’ve been down this road so many times I’m just picking out the “Blackest Night” clues and letting the rest go by. It’s not a bad story, but it’s like hearing another cover of “Yesterday.”

The same goes for Teen Titans #60, which concludes the Terror Titans arc. Our heroes triumph, but one of ’em leaves the team. While I didn’t dislike it, I found Clock King and his minions to be rather boring, and I’m not eager to see ’em again.

I also bought Trinity #4 and liked it fine.

Back before you know it with the first new comics of July!

June 28, 2008

New comics 6/18/08

Catching up, yet again….

I’m a little torn about the format of Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four (#2 written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray). On one hand I don’t like crossovers disrupting a regular creative team’s groove, especially if that team does Culturally Significant work. On the other, it’s always nice to see how the regular creative team handles the shared-universe responsibilities. Besides, at some point I just want a singular creative voice.

Still, I know it’s naive to wish that SI: FF were three issues of the regular book; and it’s somewhat petty to say that it’s better than Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s work. For someone not reading Secret Invasion, and therefore not looking to reconcile the FF miniseries with the bigger picture, it’s simply a story about Johnny fighting his Skrull ex-wife while Ben protects Franklin and Valeria from the horrors of the Negative Zone. Everyone involved has good handles on the characters. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not Culturally Significant either. At times It can be pretty cute, though (“Yay, prison!”).

Tangent: Superman’s Reign #4 (written by Dan Jurgens, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Robin Riggs) also falls in the “why isn’t this in the main book?” category. It’s basically a Justice League story, superficially very close to the JLA/JSA multiversal team-ups of yore. However, it’s also something of a sequel to the “Tangent Comics” specials from ten years ago, so I guess that’s why it gets its own maxiseries. It’s been consistently entertaining, and this issue provides a little more insight into what Tangent-Superman sees as his benevolent dictatorship. Otherwise, more Justice Leaguers (Batman, GL/Hal Jordan, Black Canary, Black Lightning) join Flash and GL/John Stewart on Earth-Tangent, there’s a stunning reversal, and we have our cliffhanger. The art is good — I like Jamal Igle, and while Robin Riggs’ inks are a little more loose than I’m used to seeing on Igle’s work, he keeps the book from getting bogged down. Every time I read an issue I feel like I’m farther into the story than I actually am. On balance I suppose that’s a compliment.

Via Annie, the Long-Suffering Girlfriend, RASL #2 (by Jeff Smith) offers a little more background on our hero and his dimension-hopping, and sets up the next bit of plot. The rest is tone and attitude — Rasl likes the ladies, Annie has an holistic approach to parallel universes. The issue feels like it’s about 8 pages long, not 32, but that’s part of Smith’s sparse approach. Still, there’s enough in the issue (both implicit and explicit) that I didn’t feel shortchanged, and I’ll be waiting for #3.

Paul Smith returns as penciller of The Spirit (#18 written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier and inked by Walden Wong), tackling a story which sends our hero to Egypt to deal with — what else? — mummies. This is getting to be the Adam West version of The Spirit, but that’s not necessarily bad. Anyway, the ending is a bit predictable, so not quite as enjoyable as the other Aragones/Evanier done-in-one stories; and the art is good as always.

Wonder Girl and Speedy go on a date — with danger!! — in Teen Titans Year One #5 (written by Amy Wolfram, pencilled by Karl Kerschl, inked by Serge LaPointe), a thoroughly charming story which incorporates an old Titans villain, the Batmobile knock-off called the Arrow-Car, and a Green Arrow who’s about as good a foster parent as you’d think. Of course the date goes wrong; of course Wonder Girl saves the day (the date’s told mostly from her perspective, after all); but that’s not the end of the story, and that ending sets the story apart. What’s more, the art is a very nice blend of linework and painting which I’m guessing was run through some PhotoShop filter … but technical details aside, it sets a dreamlike tone perfect for a first date. Really great work from Kerschl, LaPointe, and colorist John Rauch. I’ll be very sorry to see this miniseries end.

Speaking of Green Arrow, here he is in The Brave and the Bold #14 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Scott Kolins), essentially providing a body for Deadman to inhabit. Accordingly, this isn’t so much a team-up as it is a takeover, but it’s still a suspenseful Deadman story. See, Deadman needs to get back to his spiritual home of Nanda Parbat to free it from some evil presence, but along the way said presence keeps throwing mind-controlled pawns in his way. Waid and Kolins effectively evoke the spirit (so to speak) of paranoid thrillers like Invasion of the Body Snatchers; and while I didn’t quite buy what the cliffhanger ending was selling, I can’t complain about the execution.

The Flash #241 came out almost concurrent with the news that writer Tom Peyer and artist Freddie Williams II may well be leaving. That’s too bad, because the current issue manages to use Gorilla Grodd, multiple Flashes, the Fourth-World-flavored bad guys behind the Dark Side Club, and Wally’s ironic punishment (torture?) of Flash-killer Inertia, in a fairly cohesive story. It’s a little too much to explain, but it all works. Both Peyer and Williams have found their grooves on the title, and Williams especially does good work with Wally’s kids.

Birds Of Prey #119 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) is, at first glance, a “moving-in” story about the Birds (don’t call them that!) relocating to the Silicon Valley-esque town of Platinum Flats. However, in conjunction with Justice League of America #22 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Ed Benes, inked by Sandra Hope), it could be a lesson on How To Draw Super-Women.

On BOP, Nicola Scott draws a virtually all-female cast: the wheelchair-bound Oracle, the teenager Misfit, and the well-built Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, Manhunter, and Black Canary. Black Canary also appears in Justice League, along with Hawkgirl, Vixen, and Wonder Woman, and Zatanna. In the current issue of BOP, the women mostly do mundane things: talk, unpack, lift and tote boxes, etc. There are a couple of fight scenes, but more character interaction. Over in JLA, the women have some character scenes too — especially Vixen and Black Canary. However, this reader was distracted by penciller Ed Benes’ fascination with Vixen’s dinners (her costume’s zipper can’t take the strain!) and Black Canary’s rear. BC gets a Dramatic Reveal as a prelude to a fight in BOP, but Scott makes it heroic and not particularly sexualized. In JLA, though, when the same character delivers a bit of straight talk about the future of the Justice League, Benes gives her the beginnings of a wedgie and thrusts out her butt. What’s weird is that Benes used to draw both BOP and Supergirl, and wasn’t this blatant on either.

JLA has story problems too — it focuses yet again on Red Tornado’s Search For Humanity, a topic former writer Brad Meltzer pursued at his peril. I will say that if the Vision is currently out of commission, the comics world may be in desperate need of emotive androids, but it feels like this title has had maybe four different plots in almost two years. There’s also some business about Red Arrow’s relationship with Hawkgirl, and the aforementioned Vixen subplot, and I wonder whether those wouldn’t also have come off better had they not been portrayed by Mr. Benes. His work is just too sketchy, scratchy, busy — you get the idea — and at this point it’s become a distraction. McDuffie I still have faith in; but Benes needs to go.

Finally, I continue to like Trinity #3 (main story written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert). This issue brings in the Justice League and also (in the Fabian Nicieza/Mike Norton & Jerry Ordway second story) introduces Tarot, and it’s a pretty decent, old-fashioned superhero story.

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.

March 17, 2008

New comics 3/5/08 and 3/12/08

I’ve got a lot of these to go through, so I’ll try to keep it short.

3/5/08

Justice League: The New Frontier Special #1: Very nice all around. I probably didn’t need to see how another Batman/Superman fight would play out, but it’s justified as a “lost chapter” of NF. The Robin/Kid Flash and Wonder Woman/Black Canary stories are cute, the period ephemera is well-done, and the behind-the-scenes look at the DVD adaptation is pure eye candy.

Teen Titans Year One #3: Was a little surprised at the pacing of the overall miniseries, as depicted in this issue; but better earlier than later, I guess. Besides, the story’s new direction looks intriguing. It’s been good so far, so I’m in for the rest.

Supergirl #27: It’s an understatement to say that this book hasn’t been what I expected. If you remember the Steven T. Seagle/Scott McDaniel run on Superman a few years back, it’s kinda like that, except on downers. I’m pretty much buying this book to see if it all makes sense. Plus, I like Drew Johnson and this issue’s guest (fill-in?) artist, Rick Leonardi. S’girl isn’t frustratingly bad like, say, early Hawkgirl or late Gotham Knights. It’s just frustrating.

Countdown To Adventure #7: I read this book for the Adam Strange/Animal Man/Starfire story. I have no idea what’s going on with the Forerunner story.

Nightwing #143: I like the fact that writer Peter Tomasi isn’t afraid to plug Nightwing firmly into the center of DC’s superhero culture. It can get a little precious, and sometimes — not so much in this issue, but certainly in the last one — it distracts from the main plot. This issue was fine, but I bet if it were your first DC comic in a while, you’d be mystified.

Detective Comics #842: Batman must deal with an EVIL! suit of armor that he ended up wearing in the Ra’s Al Ghul storyline from a couple months back. You know Spider-Man’s black costume? Like that, except Batman doesn’t destroy it, it doesn’t make him dance like a poser, and (so far) it hasn’t come to life. I’m not sure why the world needed this story.

Green Lantern #28: The “Lost Lantern’s” trial results in the creation of a Red Lantern. Hal has a Clarice Starling moment with Sinestro. We check in with the demons on Ysmault. The Guardians issue a radical new law. I can see how it all fits together, but I know the dots won’t be connected for about another year.

Countdown #8: Yay, Ray Palmer’s back as the Atom! Yay, Firestorm is back (although whither Martin Stein?)! Yay, Habitat, the Hairies, and the rest of Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen creations! Boo, all the bickering and running around pointlessly.

3/12/08

JLA Classified #54: Will probably read better in the trade. Since this is the last installment of the Titus storyline, the “past” narrative takes up the top half of each page, and the “present” gets the bottom half. Sometimes that trick works, sometimes not. Here, it might’ve been better to split the pages vertically. As for the story, Titus beats the tar out of the League for as long as is dramatically appropriate. The ends on an ecumenical note, which is always nice, but a bit treacly for the Justice League. Overall, though, pretty good.

Batman Confidential #14: Part 2 of a new look at a one-off villain from the ’80s, The Wrath. As a modern-style story with an out-of-date setting, it’s not exactly a nostalgia-fest. However, I give it points for picking a time period other than “Year One.” Otherwise, I’m not sure what the general appeal would be.

The Last Defenders #1: The Defenders are famous as Marvel’s “non-team.” This book goes a step further, taking pains to point out how its characters are nowhere near as cool as the original Defenders. It’s a weird little exercise in obstinance wrapped in a story about white supremacists and big snake-monsters. I’ll probably stick with it.

Fantastic Four #555: Boring. Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary are fine craftsmen, but there’s still no life in an issue which features an illicit tryst, a duplicate Earth, and a giant killer robot. It’s all hat and no cattle.

Superman Confidential #13: Part two of the Toyman/Jimmy Olsen story is okay, and I like Phil Hester and Ande Parks’ art, but it feels a bit padded and lethargic. Probably could have used some pruning.

Star Wars: Rebellion #12: Part two of yet another “infiltrate an Imperial base” story that just kinda sits there. Colin Wilson’s art reminds me of early Howard Chaykin, and his Luke doesn’t look much like Mark Hamill either.

Bat Lash #4: The big apocalyptic issue which sets up the climax. This miniseries has been decent, but it’s hard to reconcile all the blood and death with the happy-go-lucky tone which got me interested in the character. (Lots of cattle, but I thought the hat would be different, in other words.) Maybe Sergio Aragones can do it. We’ll see.

Countdown To Mystery #4: I continue to like the Doctor Fate story as it plays with the (pretty much inevitable) conclusion that has Kent Nelson become the latest Doctor F. This installment includes the most traditional superhero action we’ve seen since early on, but the pieces still haven’t fallen into place. Most origin stories seem to place the origin alongside another threat, in order to give the new hero something to do in the third act. This one is all about the origin process itself, with Inza’s comic-book ventures serving as metacommentary. Makes me miss Steve Gerber that much more. P.S. This book also contains an Eclipso story which is once again threatening to meander.

Booster Gold #7: It’s The OMAC Project, Take Two, as we see how Max Lord took over the world once Booster saved Beetle from an (untimely?) death. (By the way, I’ve just started the second season of “Star Trek Voyager,” and Tom and Harry are reminding me a lot of Beetle and Booster.) More subplots converge alongside more trips into DC’s nostalgia mine, so for me, pretty good.

Superman #674: New artist Renato Guedes brings a nice “bigness” to the proceedings. Outgoing writer Kurt Busiek brings back an old JLA villain (from just before the Detroit days) to threaten Superman. Meanwhile, Supes has problems with Mon-El and the Kents have a new apartment. It’s a full issue which doesn’t feel overstuffed.

Wonder Woman #18: Guest artist Bernard Chang helps Gail Simone send WW into space, in what looks like an oblique sequel to the “Space Pirate” storyline from the early ’90s. Basically, she’s challenged by the Khunds (who act like Klingons) to stop an unstoppable race which threatens Khundia. Also, she gets pre-engaged to Tom Tresser, and Etta Candy shows up too. Chang makes WW look like someone familiar, but I can’t think of who. His art is a lot less porntastic than I feared it would be.

Countdown #7: Yet another parallel world, 90% close to the familiar DC-Earth. Another Tom Derenick-pencilled issue too. I swear, this series would be twice as good if it were half as long.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #6: This issue seemed so indebted to “Alias” (the TV show, not the comic book) that I’m starting to think Connor Hawke is the Michael Vaughn designated-victim figure. Remember when Vaughn drowned at the end of Season One, or when he got shot like Bonnie & Clyde at the beginning of Season Five? My money is therefore on Connor to pull through.

Green Lantern Corps #22: Part two of the Boodikka/Alpha Lantern storyline seems pretty forgettable, although it’ll probably look a lot more important in 2009. Today, though, I’m tempted to think that all the procedural GLC stuff would fit better in this book than in Green Lantern, with the Boodikka story as a backup.

February 29, 2008

New comics 2/27/08

Filed under: batman, captain america, countdown, justice league, legion, question, rasl, superman, teen titans — Tom Bondurant @ 1:33 am
I think I understand what’s going on in the current Batman storyline, and that scares me a little. However, issue #674 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea) was — Bat-Mite channeling Hot Cylon No. 6 notwithstanding — a great example of Morrison’s take on the character.

Morrison writes a really entertaining Batman. He’s super-capable without letting it go to his head. His inner monologue this issue, about how he spends all his time thinking of impossible scenarios and how to get out of them, captures the very heart of the character — not just hitting the “Batman is a jerk” days of the ’90s, but the Bat-Shark-Repellent camp era, the wacky ’50s, and even back to 1939. In the seminal two-issue “Batman Vs. Werewolves and Vampires” storyline, adapted most recently by Matt Wagner in Batman and the Mad Monk, Batman’s got the tools ready to make silver bullets. Silver bullets! “Always has a plan,” indeed.

Anyway, Batman #674 tells the chilling story of the three alternate Batmen, and it too is an homage to “The Secret Star,” a story from almost 600 issues prior (1953’s issue #77). Everybody’s trying to figure out what makes Batman tick, and Morrison evidently sees turning over all the old, forgotten stories as one of the best ways to do this. It’s a well-executed high concept, and heck, it makes sense to me. Of course, I’ve got my trusty Batman Encyclopedia handy….

What else–? Daniel and Florea turn in a pretty good job. There are so many Batmen flying around that it can get a little confusing (look to the utility belts, for example), and their work is solid but not exceptional. They remind me of a cross between Dick Giordano and Andy Kubert. Also, for all the praise I’ve laid on Morrison’s Batman, I have to point out that his Commissioner Gordon, and in fact the other Gotham cops, don’t sound quite right. The cops sound very “Morrisonian,” if that makes sense; and Morrison hasn’t given Morrison the gruff edge we’ve grown accustomed to.

Next up is Rasl #1, by Jeff Smith. It’s the story of a youngish (indeterminate-20s, probably) thief who can travel to alternate universes and who leaves the word “RASL” spray-painted as his calling card. This introductory issue has two tracks, the first with our anti-hero in disarray, wandering through a desert, and the second with him fleeing from his antagonists who’ve finally figured out how to track him. It’s a lot of style and attitude, and it may read better collected, but it’s designed to plant enough hooks to keep periodical readers coming back. Worked for me.

All-Star Batman & Robin #9 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) is a strange, almost disjointed issue that spends its first half taunting Green Lantern like he’s Elmer Fudd, and its second getting the Dynamic Duo to collapse in the pathos of their collective grief. It’s certainly the most idiosyncratic take on Batman and Robin I’ve seen in a while, it makes them a formidable pair, and I’d like it a little better if it weren’t done at the expense of just about everyone else in the book. That said, I thought the book did a credible job of switching moods, and the new one is certainly different enough to hold my interest.

The “Terror Titans” storyline begins in earnest in Teen Titans #56 (written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti and Julio Ferreira), and so far I’m getting a “Judas Contract” vibe off of it. This issue finds Kid Devil generally screwing up, and thus leaving himself open to being co-opted. I kinda figured out the plot shortly after KD’s party got underway, but I thought the ending left some options open for him, character-wise, so overall I liked the issue. It fostered the right sense of dread that these kinds of storylines need. The art was, quite frankly, better than I have seen from Barrows, but some of that probably came from Palmiotti’s inks and Rod Reis’s colors.

It’s not that I don’t like the Legion arc in Action Comics (#862 written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal), but it does feel like it’s gone on about an issue too long. This issue particularly seems concerned with spotlighting more Legionnaires, which is nice, but I’d also liked to have seen more movement towards re-yellowing Earth’s Sun and restoring Superman’s powers.

There’s a neat visual gag in the middle of JLA Classified #53 (written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer), but it requires advanced geek knowledge (or does that go without saying?). See, this story apparently takes place in the days when Black Canary, and not Wonder Woman, was the League’s pre-eminent female member. Furthermore, back then BC wore a blonde wig over her black hair. Therefore, when foe du jour Titus decides he’s had enough of thoroughly pwning the League, and offers instead to make them part of his “pantheon,” he dresses Black Canary in a very WW-inspired costume, and gets rid of her wig, so that she looks a lot like Wonder Woman. That’s the most clever thing about the issue, which otherwise finds the League utterly bumfuzzled about how to stop this guy. As with the Action arc, next issue’s the big finish, so I’m hoping it will elevate the story as a whole.

Speaking of endings, Crime Bible #5 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Manuel Garcia, inked by Garcia and Jimmy Palmiotti) finds the Question fighting the leader of the Cain sect for what he claims is leadership of said sect. Thus, the issue is an extended fight scene, which comes off fairly well — Garcia and Palmiotti are fine storytellers, and the action isn’t hard to follow. The problem is the ending, which leaves (you’ll forgive me) a big question hanging. Ironically, part of the Question’s dialogue during the fight references the end of Renee’s previous series, Gotham Central, which went out on an ambiguous note so that it could lead into her transformation into the Question. Now Crime Bible seems to be doing the same thing. We kinda know how it should end, but it’d be nice if our suspicions were confirmed.

Lots of death and exploding in Countdown #9 (written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher). Derenick and Faucher portray this pretty well, albeit in a sort of DC-house-standard way. For an issue that concerns a bunch of superheroes trying to reunite with colleagues and get the heck off Apokolips, it’s about as good as you’d think. A couple of old friends return, the cliffhangers are good, and who knew the Pied Piper had it in him?

Finally, Captain America #35 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Jackson Guice, inked by Guice and Mike Perkins) wasn’t quite as good as last issue. The new Cap fights rioters, and especially those causing them to riot, in Washington, D.C. Given the character’s symbolic nature, I was expecting the riot to contain an inspirational moment — a “Look! Up in the sky!” moment, if you will — but I guess that would have been something of a cheat, and not quite within Brubaker’s downbeat tone. Perkins’ inks do a lot to connect this issue visually to regular penciller Steve Epting’s work, but Guice’s storytelling is just as good. There’s also a fair amount of plot, and Brubaker uses a good bit of the book’s large cast. It’s a middle-act issue which has me excited for the conclusion.

January 26, 2008

New comics 1/23/08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 13, 2008

New comics 1/4/08 and 1/9/08

I was out of town last weekend and didn’t get back until late Sunday night. That meant I didn’t get to the comics shop until Monday night for the previous Friday’s books. Naturally I was back there on Wednesday for this week’s books. So it’s all a big blur of spandex … which, as I type that, seems sure to bring in the random Google hits….

JANUARY 9, 2008

Teen Titans Lost Annual #1 (Oh, like there’s going to be a “Lost Annual #2.”): I can see why DC didn’t want to publish this back when it was completed a few years ago. It belongs to a different time — a time when, for example, Robin could stay in the White House as a guest of the President and feel comfortable kicking back in his costume, sans mask but plus white gym socks. It’s not a period piece in the manner of New Frontier, it’s an unsubtle commentary on the way superhero comics used to work. I liked it pretty well. The story is pretty wild, by any objective standard, but it’s still charming; and the art is accessible and makes the Titans look appropriately young and heroic.

Bat Lash #2: Because I am not reading the current Jonah Hex book, which apparently threatens rape pretty frequently, I’m not so burned out on said threats when they crop up here. Just need to get that out of the way. Otherwise, this miniseries seems to be an origin of sorts for Bat — at least, I think it’s the origin of the flower in his hat — and it involving a number of standard Western plotlines. I’m still intrigued by the book, because I can see Bat developing into an interesting character, but I don’t quite think he’s there yet.

The Spirit #12: Darwyn Cooke gets a number of tools out of his kit for this issue, especially on the Eisneresque flashback scenes (and an equally Eisneresque rained-out final page). It’s an I Can’t Love You, I’ve Been Too Bad Too Long kind of plot, but it’s still very effective. I don’t mean this to sound dismissive — rather, Cooke is such a fine storyteller that I don’t have the space to gush about his work.

JLA Classified #50: A rampaging monster from the League’s early days returns to wreak havoc on the current team. Thus, most of this issue is fight scenes. It’s a lot like what you’d expect a Justice League comic to be, and I mean that in the best way possible. Problems will be solved, and adversities overcome, by the time this arc is over.

Superman #672: Same thing goes for Part 2 of “The Insect Queen,” which uses young Chris Kent as its cliffhanger. This makes a lot of sense, considering that the other major Super-players (Superman, Lois, and Lana) are pretty much safe from harm — but we don’t quite know what to make of Chris, so he gets “volunteered.” As for the main plot, Superman fights insectoid aliens, and Lana learns more about how her insectoid doppelganger has taken over the Moon. If you think that sounds like an entertaining Superman comic, you’re right. Art is fine, but Lana’s choreography is a little funky for some reason. She tumbles around a fair amount, and it never comes out quite right.

Nightwing #140: A decent start for new writer Peter Tomasi and new artists Rags Morales and Michael Bair. Morales and Bair are reliably good, but I found Tomasi’s characters to be somewhat long-winded. The new woman in Dick’s life speaks especially expositionally, and Dick isn’t exempt either. The plot is much more DCU-centered, involving the robbing of super-folks’ graves, and there are many of the guests you might expect in a Bat-title. Overall I liked it, but cut down on the balloon juice, okay?

Green Arrow And Black Canary #4: Beautiful art, but that should go without saying. As for the story, I was thinking the other day about how much I liked Green Arrow as a Justice Leaguer. He usually gets to spit sarcastic remarks at the rest of the team, and that’s always fun. However, more often than not he gets to back that up with fearless derring-do, mostly involving some explosive arrows and a giant robot. However, you can’t build an ongoing series around that kind of character unless you give him some depth, and I think that’s where writer Judd Winick has been going with GA/BC. Unfortunately, Winick is building character through tragedy again, and while this issue gets a lot of things right (Ollie’s friends coming through, good moments with Batman and Wonder Woman), at the heart of it is still the tragedy of Connor Hawke. Here’s hoping it gets reversed soon somehow, so that Ollie can learn and the book can really enjoy the fantastic work of Cliff Chiang.

Green Lantern Corps #20: Peter Tomasi has already written part of “Sinestro Corps” for this title, but he starts his tenure as new writer in earnest here, with a picking-up-the-pieces story putting Kyle and Guy in Chandler-and-Joey roles on Oa. It is a very sitcommy setup, and while I don’t have high hopes, it does have potential. Also, Mongul gets a Sinestro ring and gloats about it. Tomasi’s talky here too, and the differing art styles of Patrick Gleason and Carlos Magno are fine on their own merits, but don’t blend together well.

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #6: Kind of a blah conclusion to what I’d hoped would be a more exciting miniseries. The Horsemen end up taking over our heroes, except they’re surprisingly easy to get along with, and their eventual host doesn’t seem to mind them too much. I did like seeing the Doom Patrol and Snapper Carr, though.

Countdown #s 17 and 16: I’ll talk about these together because they’re really pretty decent, at least as far as this series goes. Monarch’s army comes to the idyllic Earth-51 and totally trashes it, killing its Justice League and assorted other heroes without much trouble. Meanwhile, Jean Loring loses the power of Eclipso in a fight with Mary Marvel, and Mary likewise loses her Shazam powers. One Earth’s Jean dies, but another one lives, making me suspect that our Ray Palmer will have a tearful reunion with that Jean at some point. Finally, Jason Todd meets the Batman of Earth-51 and (judging by the previews for this week) learns that Earth’s dark secret. Again, a lot of fight scenes, but as depicted by Pete Woods and Tom Derenick, pretty well laid out. Dialogue is okay, but not horrible. I have to say, this is the most interest I’ve had in Countdown since it’s started. I may have a problem with the “message” of Earth-51, but that’ll probably be a topic for next week.

JANUARY 4, 2008

Teen Titans Year One #1: Talked about this one in Thursday’s Grumpy Old Fan, but not in much depth. I liked it a lot, even though Wally West acted more like Bart Allen than I would have expected, and I’m still not used to Aqualad being so “fishy”-looking. However, those are dramatic and stylistic choices which work within the context of the miniseries. As I said in GOF, despite the title, I don’t think this is a continuity-oriented gap-filler like JLA Year One, and that’s fine. It’s enough for me that it evokes the spirit of a different time — maybe not precisely the Silver Age, but something that still feels like a growing and developing DC-Earth. Oh, and I really like Karl Kerschl, Serge Lapointe and Steph Peru’s art — it reminds me of Stuart Immonen’s Nextwave work, which is great.

Howard The Duck #4: Fine conclusion to a story that had to be reined in somehow before it collapsed under the weight of all the satire. Ty Templeton writes a funny George W. Bush. On the whole it’s probably too broad, but I enjoyed it and wouldn’t mind more Howard from these folks (assuming Steve Gerber’s not coming back, of course).

Supergirl #25: The Girl of Steel has flashbacks to Argo City’s destruction and then fights Reactron. The latter’s design has been updated since his days as an obscure Who’s Who entry, but it still took me a while to recognize him. That’s about it for the plot. The fight scenes are portrayed very matter-of-factly, with a certain amount of distance, and that gives everything a decompressed feel. Accordingly, this was kind of a dull issue. I like Drew Johnson and Ray Snyder’s art, but it’s still kinda dull.

(All-New) Atom #19: I love Jerry Ordway, but here his guest-artist talents are in the service of a rather blah Lost Underground Amish Tribe story. Our hero basically gets saved because he’s cute, not because he does anything heroic. Keith Champagne is no Gail Simone, that’s for sure.

Detective Comics #840: Really good Batman-vs.-Ra’s story. Batman basically renders the entire Ra’s-is-back crossover moot by putting Ra’s out of commission for as long as DC wants. Up to that point, though, it’s a fairly suspenseful tale which centers around the fact that Ra’s knows all of Batman’s secrets and, being filled with revenge, is itching to exploit them. Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs are the new art team, and they’re very good. Lots of blacks, and a dull color palette from John Kalisz. Nguyen has a very fluid approach, his figures are consistent and weighty, and he’s a good choreographer. Hope this team sticks together for a while.

Finally, Countdown To Mystery #4 gets the Eclipso out of Jean (duplicating that part of Countdown) and back into Bruce Gordon; and introduces the new Doctor Fate to his “new” Inza. I continue to like the Fate series even if it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Ironically, I’m also starting to like the Eclipso story more because it seems to be developing a plot. The art in “Eclipso” is a bit T&A oriented, and the dialogue isn’t anywhere near Gerber’s “Fate” work, but it’s not as bad as it has been.

CREDITS

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #6. Written by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, inked by John Stanisci.

The All-New Atom #19. Written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Jerry Ordway, inked by Trevor Scott.

Bat Lash #2. Written by Sergio Aragones & Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin.

Countdown To Final Crisis #17. Written by Paul Dini and Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Ron Lim, inked by Jimmy Palmiotti.

Countdown To Final Crisis #16. Written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, story consultant Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pete Woods & Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher.

Countdown To Mystery # 4. “Eclipso” written by Matthew Sturges and drawn by Stephen Jorge Segouia; “Doctor Fate” written by Steve Gerber, pencilled by Justiniano, and inked by Walden Wong.

Detective Comics #840. Written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs.

Green Arrow and Black Canary #4. Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Cliff Chiang.

Green Lantern Corps #20. Written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason and Carlos Magno, inked by PRentis Rollins, Tom Nguyen, Drew Geraci, Rodney Ramos, & Rebecca Buchman.

Howard the DuckJLA Classified #50. Written by Roger Stern, pencilled by John Byrne, inked by Mark Farmer.

Nightwing #140. Written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Michael Bair.

The Spirit #12. Written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke.

Supergirl #25. Written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson & Lee Ferguson, inked by Ray Snyder.

Superman #672. Written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Peter Vale, inked by Wellington Diaz.

Teen Titans Lost Annual #1. Written by Bob Haney, pencilled by Jay Stephens, inked by Mike Allred.

Teen Titans Year One #1. Written by Amy Wolfram, art by Karl Kerschl, Serge Lapointe, and Steph Peru.

December 29, 2007

New comics 12/28/07

… So I bought sixteen comic books and then entered a Nyquil fog? Isn’t it supposed to happen the other way around?

Jeez, sixteen comics. I’ll point out quickly, though, that three carry the Countdown banner, two the 52 Aftermath one, and a couple of others are one-shots (Green Lantern Secret Files, Fantastic Four Isla de la Muerte), and one I’m just giving a tryout to (LSH). So that’s half, which makes me feel a little better.

Also, I read ’em last night during the Nyquil haze, so I might still be a little fuzzy talking about ’em today.

Onward!

The three Countdown books — Arena #4, C. To Adventure #5, and issue #18 of the main book — were all pretty competently done. The big attraction in the main book was the reunion with Ray Palmer, but it felt more like the capper to those wheel-spinning Search For specials from the past few months. Good to check in with Ray, but not much else happened this week, and of course another cliffhanger ending. The Adventure book advanced the plot in San Diego, but seeing that we’re past the halfway point and our three stalwarts haven’t hooked up again, the story starts to look a little more padded. Finally, Arena wrapped up with a weird fight involving the Supermen, made even more incomprehensible by Christopher Kent (the bald one)’s odd powers. If you had “Superman defeats Monarch,” you lost!

The Forerunner backup in C. To Adventure was okay, about her taking over a pirate ship and generally being hardcore, but the overall storyline has not engaged me.

Moving on. Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Secret Files & Origins #1 was surprisingly comprehensive as these things go, delivering on the cover’s promise of “bios on over 200 Lanterns!” and generally acting as the Bill James Baseball Abstract 2008 for all us GL fans. Worth the $4.99, and I don’t say that lightly about these Secret Files books.

Mark Waid strikes twice this week, first with Flash #235 and then with Brave and the Bold #9. The Flash story was fine; more intriguing for its Jai-Wally scenes than for any advancement in the plot. I’m not convinced that Freddie Williams is a good fit for this book. I might have mentioned already that his figures are a little on the bulky side, and for a speedster I don’t think that’s optimal. Still, it’s not a total mismatch. The backup fares better, being a Wally-and-Bart flashback and helping to explain the origin of the main story’s bad guy.

The Brave and the Bold #9 is likewise a patchwork of three fairly simple team-ups (Metal Men and Dial H For Hero, Blackhawk and Boy Commandos, present-day Atom and Hawkman) in which each set of heroes fights some messenger of Megistus. It’s all tied together by a Challengers of the Unknown framing sequence, and the suggestion that the Book of Destiny has come to life somehow. (There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found….) It will probably mean more to the story once the bigger picture is seen, and it’s not the best issue so far, but it’s still pretty fun.

This week also sees a double dose of the Legion of Super-Heroes, first in their own book and then in Action Comics. Legion #37 kicks off the return of Scripter-Boy Jim Shooter, back after thirty-plus years; and I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t really encouraged. The thrust of the story is that new Legion leader Lightning Lad is, to put it lightly, overwhelmed by his responsibilities, with the team suffering as a result. The issue provides an overview of quite a few Legionnaires, which is appropriate, and it’s not really decompressed, which I appreciated; but it almost tries to do too much. Blocky, angular art from penciller Francis Manapul and inker Livesay doesn’t help the scenes flow into one another. There’s also not much sense that this Legion is appreciably different from the old Shooter/Levitz days, and I kinda think there should be. Maybe I’m just picky that way.

Over in Action Comics #860, what is allegedly the old Shooter/Levitz Legion gets its own workout, but again, the book just feels crowded with characters. Having them all introduced with their own bullet-point caption is a nice idea in theory, but in practice — take the first page, for example — the things can clutter up the page. The Legionnaires also crowd out Superman themselves, but if the point is to get all the players straight before the big scrum, that’d make it easier to take. Oddly enough, I think penciller Gary Frank makes the Legionnaires look a little older than Superman, which strikes me as an intriguing detail if it’s intentional. Look at the cheekbones on Lightning Lass and Night Girl. Those faces seem almost middle-aged to me. Anyway, we’re about where I’d expect for the halfway point of the story, so it’s still good thus far.

Green Lantern #26 bills itself as Part 1 of “The Alpha Lanterns,” but it’s more transitory than that. Pieces are picked up after the Sinestro Corps War, Hal and John go back to Earth, and a group of “Lost Lanterns” runs afoul of Amon Sur. Mike McKone comes on as penciller and does a good job. His layouts aren’t as crowded as Ivan Reis’s, but of course he’s not drawing thousands of GLs and Sinestros either. Because the issue is so episodic, it’s hard to get a sense of what it wants to accomplish, and it dispenses with the “Alpha Lantern” thing pretty quickly. We’ll see how Part 2 deals with the Alphas, I guess.

Another somewhat transitory issue was Captain America #33, wherein the Winter Soldier’s arm beats up some SHIELD techs and the fully-armed (ha ha) W.S. almost takes out Iron Man. Pieces are put together by the good guys re: the involvement of the Red Skull, and next issue advertises the New Cap. Another fine installment.

Fantastic Four: Isla De La Muerte was a cute one-shot spotlighting the Thing’s annual secret vacation to Puerto Rico. With as much time spent on team dynamics as on the mystery du jour, it’s a good little FF story. I don’t quite see the resemblance between Ben and El Morro, though. The art, by Juan Doe, is fairly cartoony, but I just say that to describe, not criticize.

JLA Classified #49 was a strange, rather insubstantial story about the Leaguers’ various helpmates reacting to their being off-planet on a dangerous mission. Most of it concerns Lois Lane and Alfred Pennyworth meeting for the first time, which you’d think would place this fairly early in DC history; but Wally is the Flash and Linda is his sweetie, so it can’t be that old. Also, Lois either doesn’t know Superman’s secret, or doesn’t know that she can share it with Alfred. Paulo Siqueira and Amilton Santos are the penciller and inker, respectively, and they combine to produce somewhat Adam Hughes-like figures. However, the layouts are a little too self-conscious, with figures jumping out of panels when they maybe really shouldn’t. The overall effect is to make the story seem more important than it is. I hate to be a continuity stickler, but it might’ve worked better with a more open relationship among the principals; and that might’ve been better portrayed with a group which included the Silver Age significant others. Those people did hang out together in a way that, say, Alfred and Lois don’t.

Teen Titans #54 finished up the “Titans Of Tomorrow Today” storyline, but I’m not sure how. Did the revelations about Future-Kon and Future-Bart really affect the current Titans’ viewpoints enough that history will be changed for the better? And what about that epilogue? The issue has some nice moments, many of them involving Wonder Girl or Blue Beetle, but I don’t know that they add up to a coherent conclusion.

Batman #672 sees Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel return to the familar “Three Evil Batmen” storyline Morrison had been working before the Club of Heroes and Ra’s al Ghul arcs intervened. I liked this issue pretty well, although I thought the ending was confusing. Since it involved Zur-En-Arrh, a Batman getting shot, and what looks like Bat-Mite, I’m sure it’ll be explained eventually. Daniel and his various inkers still remind me of Andy Kubert, but that may well be the influence of Guy Major’s colors.

Finally, the two 52 spinoffs, Four Horsemen and Crime Bible, were both pretty entertaining. I especially liked Crime Bible‘s look at the Gotham PD and, therefore, Greg Rucka’s “return” to Gotham Central territory. Batwoman also seemed a lot more plausible as a crimefighter, although you’d think we’d have seen her in more places even taking her recovery into account. Anyway, Crime Bible was more a spotlight on the Question’s relationship to Batwoman, and for that it was pretty good.

Four Horsemen continues to be a good adventure story, weaving various ancillary characters like Mr. Terrific, Veronica Cale, and Snapper Carr into its story about DC’s “Big Three” taking on Apokoliptian terror-gods. This issue adds the Doom Patrol. It’s all very well-organized, with enough set pieces (like Superman’s and Batman’s respective duels with Horsemen) to hold my interest. Of course, there’s not much doubt about the outcome, so the fun is in seeing how we’ll get there.

Whew! How’s that for a whirlwind look at an end-of-year blowout week?

* * *

CREDITS

Action Comics #860. Written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal, colored by Dave McCaig.

Batman #672. Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Daniel, Jonathan Glapion, and others, colored by Guy Major.

The Brave and the Bold #9. Written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Pérez, inked by Bob Wiacek and Scott Koblish, colored by Tom Smith.

Captain America #33. Written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Butch Guice, colored by Frank D’Armata.

Countdown Arena #4. Written by Keith Champagne, pencilled by Scott McDaniel, inked by Andy Owens, and colored by Guy Major.

Countdown To Adventure #5. “Space Heroes” written by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Julio Ferreira, and colored by The Hories. “Forerunner” written by Justin Gray, pencilled by Fabrizio Fiorentino, inked by Adam DeKraker, and colored by The Hories.

Countdown (To Final Crisis) #18. Written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Scott Kolins, colored by Tom Chu.

Fantastic Four: Isla de la Muerte! #1. Written by Tom Beland, drawn and colored by Juan Doe.

52 Aftermath: Crime Bible — Five Lessons Of Blood #3. Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Matthew Clark, colored by Javier Mena.

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #5. Written by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Olliffe, inked by John Stanisci, colored by Hi-Fi.

The Flash #235. Main story written by Mark Waid, drawn by Freddie Williams II, and colored by Tanya & Richard Horie. Backup written by Waid and John Rogers, drawn by Doug Braithwaite, and colored by Alex Sinclair.

Green Lantern #26. Written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Mike McKone, inked by Andy Lanning, Marlo Alquiza, & Cam Smith, and colored by JD Smith.

Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Secret Files & Origins #1. Written, drawn, and colored by too many people to mention.

JLA Classified #49. Written by Andrew Kreisberg, pencilled by Paulo Siquiera, inked by Amilton Santos, and colored by Allen Passalaqua.

Legion of Super-Heroes #37. Written by Jim Shooter, pencilled by Francis Manapul, inked by Livesay, and colored by Nathan Eyring.

Teen Titans #54. Written by Sean McKeever, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, Joe Prado, & Greg Tocchini, inked by Rob Hunter, Julio Ferreira, Oclair Albert, & Prado, and colored by Rod Reis.

September 12, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, on to the floppies.

August 22, 2007

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

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

August 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

September 6, 2007

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

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

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

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