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….


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.


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!

June 10, 2008

New comics 6/4/08

Filed under: batman, house of mystery, manhunter, nightwing, star trek, supergirl, tor, trinity, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 1:51 am
Hey, it’s June! Who knew?

Lots of books this time, so no time for chit-chat.

Obviously I spent a lot of time with Trinity #1 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert), so it wasn’t too bad, but OH DEAR LORD another scene of table talk! First Meltzer, then Dwayne McDuffie a couple of weeks ago, and now Busiek. I’m hoping this is the only such scene for, say, fifty issues. It’s not like the Four Horsemen miniseries felt the need to sit the Trinitarians down for a Continental breakfast.

Other than that, I will say that I won’t mind spending the next year with Busiek and Bagley. For his first big DC outing, Bagley shows he has the chops to do the company’s most familiar characters. His Wonder Woman and Flash look especially good. I’m predisposed to like Busiek, so there you go.

Once again I get the feeling that Star Trek: New Frontier #3 (written by Peter David, drawn by Stephen Thompson) would mean a lot more to me had I been reading the NF books. This issue’s plot features shocking! revelations about who’s being impersonated, or who might be impersonated. The last page had me particularly confused. Two issues to go, so I might as well stick with it.

House Of Mystery #2 (written by Matthew Sturges, drawn by Luca Rossi) doesn’t spend a lot of time on the “nested” story (written by Bill Willingham), which is good. The nested story isn’t that compelling, despite some pretty Jill Thompson art. However, nothing much happens in the main story either. Its big emotional moment involves Fig, our heroine, discovering that she can’t leave the HoM, but we kinda already knew that. The secondary emotional moment, where she starts to spill her guts to one of the housemates and ends up berating him, also doesn’t ring quite true. The rest of the issue finds the housemates acting quirky without much to show for it. While I’d otherwise probably fault the book for being too broad, the characters haven’t distinguished themselves from one another yet. Mostly issue #2 was just Fig acting out against a bland backdrop.

Much of Tor #2 (by Joe Kubert) is a flashback detailing Tor’s pre-issue-#1 journey, which is fine; but it gets a little loopy towards the end and eventually acknowledges that maybe those psychotropic leaves might be affecting it. As with issue #1, Tor fights a prehistoric monster in order to protect his new little friend. Accordingly, as with issue #1, I appreciated #2 for its craft, because who am I to criticize Joe Kubert? Besides, I have to get #3 to figure out what’s going on.

I don’t have any strong feelings about issue #3 of Batman: Death Mask (by Yoshinori Natsume), so I’ll just say it’s nice for what it is — an above-average Legends of the Dark Knight-style story — and it is getting me used to reading manga. Learning can be fun!

With her own title cancelled, Catwoman is more free to roam around the main line Bat-books, so the cover of Detective Comics #845 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs) plays up her appearance. However, the story itself is a nice little whodunit which manages to withstand its conclusory leaps of logic. As such, it focuses on the Riddler, who’s been trying to upstage Batman at the whole consulting-detective thing. It also introduces a group who I can’t help but think is the Internet version of the old Mystery Analysts of Gotham City. The idea that Batman has a group of online buddies who only know him through a generic username is still a terribly appealing one, so if you like that, you’ll like this story.

Rounding out this week’s Bat-books is Nightwing #145 (written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Rags Morales, inked by Michael Bair), an issue which starts to stretch the “Freefall” storyline past its point of usefulness. It wasn’t too long ago that Nightwing and Robin brought this particular storyline to a stop, but we’re apparently not done with it yet. The issue even appears to bring things back to that same point. Now, to be fair, this time around deals more with Talia al Ghul and Mother of Champions, incorporates Batman, and features the surprising return of another Bat-foe, but still. The concept of a mad scientist creating super-powered soldiers isn’t specific enough to Nightwing to warrant this much focus. At least Rags and Bair are back for the whole issue.

Speaking of which, Supergirl #30 finds relief artist Ron Randall drawing the whole issue, with Will Pfeifer taking the place of regular writer Kelley Puckett. Looks like a fill-in issue to me, but it’s not a bad one. It helps define the character in relation to Superman in a way which puts Puckett’s storyline in a much different perspective, and it even incorporates the Box O’ Universe from Puckett’s first issue. Randall’s art is clean and simple, although it flirts with being stiff and bland at times.

Overall, though, the issue I enjoyed the most was Manhunter #31 (written by Marc Andreyko, drawn by Michael Gaydos). It’s the triumphant return of a title which has seen two long hiatuses (hiatii?), so it opens with an efficient two-page recap of the character’s history. I’m not that familiar with Gaydos, but his work reminds me of early J.H. Williams, John Paul Leon, or maybe Tommy Lee Edwards — thick lines and lots of blacks. The main story does proportionately as well with its 20 pages. After opening with the requisite superhero battle, it reintroduces our heroine’s family and supporting cast, and through them sets up the current immigration-related arc. Last time I praised the new Action Comics for using its 22 pages well. This time, however, Manhunter really does a great job showing what a single issue can mean to a long-running superhero serial. High marks all around!

May 9, 2008

New comics 5/7/08

Filed under: batman, countdown, house of mystery, nightwing, supergirl, superman, tor, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 3:51 pm
Just for fun, let’s start with Supergirl #29 (written by Kelley Puckett, pencilled by Drew Johnson and Ron Randall, inked by Ray Snyder and Randall). In this issue Supergirl works with Resurrection Man and a mad scientist to make good on her promise to cure a dying boy of cancer. There always seems to be a lot of talk about what a Supergirl book “should” be like, and goodness knows I’ve done quite a bit of it myself. That said, I think this sort of approach is perfectly valid. Supergirl in this situation is what we lawyers call the Reasonable Person — specifically, one with Superman’s powers — who can explore the kinds of issues Superman can’t. It allows her to maintain the requisite connection to Superman (why would she be “Supergirl” otherwise?) without being redundant.

Anyway, this issue finds the Girl of Steel’s plan put into action, and reveals its outcome. A lot of it involves Supergirl getting to know Rez. Man (who I know only from DC One Million, unfortunately) and, to a lesser degree, the mad scientist. The rest is a fight scene. It’s all very dry and moody, thanks to a lot of black ink from Randall and Snyder. Randall and Johnson’s pencils mesh pretty well — you can tell the difference because Randall’s work is a little more flat and tends not to go as well with the subtleties of Kahila Tripp’s colors. It kind of takes your mind off the fact that a super-powered girl in a skimpy outfit (who still doesn’t look skanky, by the way) is on a nigh-impossible mission. Nothing which happens in this book is completely unexpected, but I will say that it made me wonder about the consequences of Supergirl’s plan, and I suspect that was at least part of the point. I’m eager to see what happens next, which is a pretty nice sentiment for a monthly comic book.

Nightwing #144 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Don Kramer and Rags Morales, inked by various people) also finds itself with two pencillers. This is officially another part of “Freefall,” but it feels more transitory: the Great Ten’s Mother of Champions is brought into the grave-robbing storyline; Talia shows up in New York to threaten Dick; Nightwing does some run-of-the-mill crimefighting; and Dick’s new girlfriend (didn’t cornrows go out 25 years ago?) helps him skydive. Morales contributes some good “acting” between Dick and Talia, but there’s a lot packed into this issue (as usual) and it’s hard to process out of the larger story’s context.

Speaking of “the larger story,” the new House Of Mystery (#1 written by Matthew Sturges and drawn by Luca Rossi) features a short story nestled within the main one. Seems that someone’s stolen the HOM from the Dreaming and turned it into the Hotel California — you leave when it says you can leave, and no sooner. Blondes are the protagonists here: Miss Keele, the architect who’s been drawing the House, Close Encounters-style, runs to it in order to escape her macabre pursuers. Cress, the typical House resident, protests her captivity. Sally, a more mellow resident, tells her own gruesome story as “payment” for her tenancy. (It’s written by Bill Willingham and drawn by Ross Campbell.) I thought the threads worked well together, although I had to work harder than usual to keep everyone straight. (That’s what I get with Vertigo, I know.) Rossi was unfamiliar to me, but his work reminds me of a looser Michael Lark or a tighter Jesus Saiz — thick lines and a little sardonic. Likewise with Campbell, whose work was much tighter and more “realistic,” which made his story that much more effective. So, good job, Vertigo: you’ve gotten me reading one of your books for the first time since Army@Love #1.

I picked up Joe Kubert’s Tor #1 (by guess who) based on the strength of Kubert’s body of work. I’d barely heard of Tor, but Kubert + caveman seemed to be a good fit. It’s a story told without dialogue, or balloons of any kind: an omniscient narrator describes Tor’s thoughts. Tromping away from his dark past, Tor stops to treat his wounds and get some food, inadvertently eating some psychedelic fruit. Later, as indicated by the cover, he saves a hairy humanoid from a croc-o-saurus before running into the people who put the victim there. It’s not an unfamiliar story, but it’s told well (of course) and it is enticing enough to get me to stick around.

Evil demigods plague both stories in Countdown To Mystery #7. In the Eclipso story (written by Matthew Sturges, pencilled by Chad Hardin, inked by various people), Bruce Gordon and the accumulated superheroes (Hawk, Dove, Creeper, Plastic Man) take on an Eclipso cult and the badder-than-ever dark god himself. I get the feeling that this story depends on various ways to keep the Spectre in check, but since this is the penultimate issue, that’s not quite as big a problem anymore. Hardin’s pencils are fine; nothing flashy, more like cleaner Tom Grindberg back when Grindberg was trying to be Neal Adams. This story has jumped around so much I’m not sure who it’s about anymore, and that makes it harder to tell if it’s going anywhere.

The Doctor Fate story (plot by the late Steve Gerber, script by Adam Beechen, pencilled by Justiniano, inked by Walden Wong) finds the helmet in the hands of a young woman who’s not ready for its power, and who gets taken on a trip through Hell as a result. You know the drill: the world is a cesspool of sweat and saliva, we’re all just ants compared to the demons who really control things, yadda yadda yadda. Next issue is the multiple-choice ending necessitated by Gerber’s death, so this could end up a few different ways.

The second issue of Batman: Death Mask (#2 by Yoshinori Natsume) was an improvement. Most of it is a flashback to Bruce’s martial-arts training, with the requisite Batman foreshadowing. In the context of this story, though, the foreshadowing takes on a more mystical aspect which comes back to haunt Batman in the present. This issue has more action than the last one, which made it feel “more manga” to my untrained eyes.

Back in the land of left-to-right Batman, Detective Comics #844 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs) concludes the Zatanna/Ventriloquist two-parter with the origin of the current Ventriloquist. Once the mousy daughter of a mob boss, she got glammed up after being left for dead and finding Scarface. Pretty good for a Bat-villain origin, and Dini ties it into “Face The Face,” the One Year Later reintroduction to Batman. As for Zatanna, I have to say I liked the way Dini handled her mindwiping of Batman ‘way back when, but I’m not buying her throwing herself at Bruce. Nice try, though.

Because I didn’t have 1974’s Justice League #111, I bought the DC Universe Special: JLA which reprinted it (the first appearance of Libra) and the 3-part Secret Society story which helped give Identity Crisis its foundation. I won’t go into details, because these are pretty much research material, but the printing seemed off on the Secret Society story and Dick Giordano’s inks seemed a bit too blotchy on the Libra story. Weird.

Finally, at long last here’s Action Comics Annual #11 (written by Richard Donner and Geoff Johns, drawn by Adam Kubert), the conclusion of “Last Son.” It’s wall-to-wall combat, with the United States military, Superman, Luthor, Bizarro, Metallo, the Parasite, and (eventually) the Justice League and Justice Society versus a decent amount of Phantom Zone escapees. Luthor is the key to the issue, both in his motivation for helping Superman and the perverse glee he finds in killing Kryptonians. The ending is a little problematic given the current state of Superman comics, but maybe there will be an addendum which bridges the gap. Or maybe this takes place “now” (given one of Chris’s comments) and it’ll be a plot thread for Trinity. Anyway, it was a good issue, well-told by Kubert, which should make more sense once it’s put in proper context.

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