Comics Ate My Brain

October 5, 2009

New comics 9/30/09

A light week means a shorter podcast, and at the risk of being immodest, this week I think I am finally starting to put all the pieces together. Comics discussed include the Astro City: Astra Special #1, Blackest Night: Titans #2, Gotham City Sirens #4, Green Lantern #46, Justice League of America 80-Page Giant #1, Superman #692, Unknown Soldier #12, and Wonder Woman #36. Olivia helps as well, and as always the music is by R.E.M.

Download it here, stream it via the player at right, or visit the podcast homepage here. Happy listening!

August 28, 2009

New comics 8/26/09

My throat’s still a little sore, but the new comics just keep coming–!

Therefore, get ready for 32 minutes’ worth of Batman And Robin #3, Blackest Night: Titans #1, Detective Comics #856, Fantastic Four #570, Flash: Rebirth #4, Gotham City Sirens #3, Green Lantern #45, Madame Xanadu #14, Superman #691, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen Special #2, Unknown Soldier #11, Wednesday Comics #8, and Wonder Woman #35. Can you handle it?

Music, of course, is by R.E.M.

Download it directly here, stream it directly from the player on this here site, or go to the podcast homepage here. Happy listening!

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.

October 17, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: friday night fights, meme, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 11:28 pm
Wonder Woman is a born warrior, trained in unarmed combat and the use of a wide range of weapons, and given powers by the gods and goddesses themselves — but even so, she never stops learning.


Kind of puts the lie to any thoughts of towel-snapping locker-room scenes on Themyscira too, I suppose….

Don’t tug on Bahlactus‘ cape!

[From “Bird Of Paradise/Bird Of Prey!” in Wonder Woman vol. 2 #16 (May 1988). Written by George Perez and Len Wein, pencilled by Perez, inked by Bob Smith, colored by Carl Gafford, and lettered by John Costanza.]

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….

August 29, 2008

Friday Night Fights

Filed under: friday night fights, justice league, meme, new gods, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 9:50 pm
The Fourth World takes on the future as the 853rd Century’s Justice Legion A invades the Justice League Watchtower!

In case you can’t read the captions, Wonder Woman’s bracelets are named Harmony and Charity. Harmony, Charity …


… meet Mega-Rod!


This isn’t the only fight, of course; but by the time we check in with these combatants, it’s pretty much over.


A particle cannon (with Kirby Dots (TM), even!) might seem like cheating, but hey — it’s not like Wonder Woman didn’t know who she might run into, back in the mists of history….

It’s always the right time for Bahlactus!

[From “Prisoners of the Twentieth Century” in JLA #1,000,000, November 85,271. Written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Howard Porter, inked by John Dell, lettered by Ken Lopez, colored by Pat Garrahy.]

July 15, 2008

New comics 7/10/08

Filed under: batman, booster gold, defenders, green arrow, superman, trinity, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 2:20 pm
I read a good bit of Marvel in the ’70s, but I never got into the Marvel Universe the way I did the DC Multiverse. I think that’s part of the reason I have such affection for The Defenders. Both book and concept are hard to define, and deliberately so. Therefore, their possibilities are wide open, and they can provide a consistent, perpetual “outsider” perspective because their status quo is constantly changing.

All of that means I’m not quite sure what to make of the latest issue of The Last Defenders (#5 written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Jim Muniz, inked by Cam Smith). On one hand it’s clever that our protagonist, Nighthawk, is constantly being foiled in his attempts to re-form the Defenders. They’re a non-team, with little “form” anyway. On the other hand, though, the miniseries implies rather strongly that there is a “Platonic ideal” of the Defenders … which would, paradoxically, defeat the entire purpose of having a non-team. So I’m curious to see how Casey resolves that little conundrum.

I’m still not sold on Jim Muniz and Cam Smith’s art. This is a black comedy, and the thick, blocky Ed McGuinness style doesn’t quite work. Maybe Kevin Maguire would have been too much to ask for, but he or someone like him could have conveyed both Nighthawk’s schlubbiness and the big-super-action aspects of this story. Even so, I’m enjoying the miniseries, and like I said, curious to see how it works out.

Wonder Woman #22 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan) is likewise an arc’s penultimate issue, wherein Diana struggles mightily with the dark forces roiling inside her. Pretty good struggle, too, although I got a little lost in all the reversals and betrayals. Lopresti and Ryan continue to turn in good work. It’s not over-rendered, and it’s well within the Adam Hughes/Terry Dodson-esque style the book favors. However, it’s intricate enough in spots to evoke a more … ornamented? … feel, and that reinforces the “medieval” barbarian feel which has characterized Diana’s quest. Oh, and there’s another wacky misunderstanding involving Nemesis and Diana’s ape-warrior houseguests. It goes on a bit too long, but ends in a way which I hope forestalls future shenanigans.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of Action Comics #867 (-5309 … sorry … written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal) is its portrayal of Supergirl. She only shows up for a few pages at the beginning, but she comes across very well. She’s not a fantasy-teen with an impossibly thin frame; and neither is she mopey and consumed with questions of her place in the world. Instead, she’s very believable both as Superman’s protege and as someone with personal experiences of her doomed home planet. Much of this comes from Frank and Sibal, who give Kara the body language and expressions first of boredom, and then of creeping dread. For Supergirl, Brainiac is literally the bogeyman, and she’s not too far removed from being a frightened child. Here’s hoping we see more of this Supergirl in the future.

And yeah, Superman fights Brainiac too, in all its Terminator+Borg implacability. It’s a virtually dialogue-free sequence lasting eight pages, and it wisely relies upon the art (no narrative captions, either). I used to be very hard on Geoff Johns, but he’s really starting to find a good groove here. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s growing more fond of his Action work than he is of Green Lantern, which by now must be very familiar to him.

Speaking of being particularly hard on something, Paul Dini will have to work overtime to convince me that Hush is a credible Bat-villain. His first effort, Detective Comics #846 (pencilled by Dustin Nguyen, inked by Derek Fridolfs) still falls short, although it’s due more to Hush than to Dini. See, Tommy “Hush” Elliott was set up as an evil counterpart to Bruce Wayne: a bratty rich kid who tried to kill both parents but who blames Dr. Thomas Wayne (and, by extension, Bruce) for saving his mom’s life. So — stick with me here — Tommy grows up to be a world-famous surgeon, engineers attacks on Bruce Wayne and Batman through Batman’s greatest foes, and for some reason dresses in a trenchcoat, body-suit (with “H” symbol on the left breast), and hey-I’m-disfigured bandages around his head. Maybe he is disfigured now; I dunno. Anyway, Hush struck me as a collection of so-so ideas wrapped into a poor excuse for a supervillain. Consequently, I don’t relish the idea of a five-part story focused on him.

However, “Heart of Hush” Part 1 does bring Catwoman back into the main line Bat-books, and Dini, Nguyen, and Fridolfs produce a neat story about Catwoman and Batman trying to bring down a much better idea for a wannabe supervillain, Doctor Aesop. That part of the issue was fun. Who knows, maybe the Hush parts will end up being worthwhile too.

Catwoman is, of course, a big part of Batman Confidential #19 (written by Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Kevin Maguire). This is the first part of the storyline which doesn’t dwell on how she and Batgirl are Teh Sexxxay, and I think it allows everyone to settle down and concentrate on the characters themselves. I thought writer and artist had almost been working independently of one another the first couple of issues, so this was a good installment which advanced the plot well and also gave our heroines some good interaction.

I liked Booster Gold #1,000,000 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) a lot. More about Booster’s relationship with Rip than the cover-featured Peter Platinum, it serves as a nice wrap-up to Johns’ time on the title. Booster gets closure on what he considers his failures, and an old cast member from the original BG series rejoins. Chuck Dixon comes aboard for two issues before the new writer debuts, and whoever that is will have a lot to live up to.

Green Arrow And Black Canary #10 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Wayne Faucher) is a Big Fight involving the League of Assassins’ super-powered flunkies, Team Arrow, and Batman and Plastic Man. As these things go, it’s choreographed well, although I’m not sure how close Dodger (a/k/a Smarmy British Rogue) is coming to Mary-Sue status. At one point, Speedy observes she’s got “half the Justice League” on her side, which is a pretty accurate assessment; but the villains are credible enough that they don’t go down too quickly.

Finally, of course I bought Trinity #6, but I spend enough time talking about that as it is. So far it’s been reliably entertaining, and if it does something especially good or horribly bad, I’ll let you know.

June 17, 2008

New comics 6/11/08

Booster Gold #10 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) feels a little “off” to me, and I don’t quite know why. It’s probably because there’s so much going on. Rip Hunter narrates for a couple of pages, with his Chalkboard Of Destiny (TM) distracting the reader in the background. Booster takes over as the scene switches to the scrum with Max’s forces … and here, I think, is where things get too overloaded. Essentially the rest of the book takes place in and around a big superhero fight involving — get ready — a reunited Justice League International (including Guy Gardner, the good Doctor Light, J’Onn J’Onzz, and Batman); Superman; Max Lord; the original version of Despero; the white-ape Ultra-Humanite; Per Degaton; Black Beetle; Ted “Blue Beetle” Kord; Maximillian (the evil Skeets); Booster and his dad; and the Mystery Villain. Oh, and I forgot the interlude with Rip and the time bubble.

Johns and Katz and Jurgens do their best to break out of the fight the important character-based scenes involving Booster and his dad, the Beetles, and the sidekick droids; but even so, there’s still a lot going on in the background. In other words, the scenes aren’t put in perspective like they should be, so the rest of the players feel like distractions and/or afterthoughts. What’s more — and I admit this may be just me — I couldn’t remember the non-sacrificial function of the vehicle for the eventual heroic sacrifice. (Said sacrifice plays out like Wrath of Khan, or the last Lone Gunmen appearance, by the way.) There’s a sacrifice, but I don’t know what else it accomplished. We’ll find out next issue, I guess.

Anyway, it’s not a bad issue, and it may well play out better in context. It’s just a frustrating installment for this month.

Most of The Last Defenders #4 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Jim Muniz, inked by Cam Smith) finds Nighthawk on the wrong side of just about everybody, as the term “non-team” starts to take on its most literal meaning. I thought it was fine, but once again, there’s a lot going on in the background which apparently only has two issues to resolve itself.

Star Wars: Rebellion #14 (written by Jeremy Barlow, drawn by Colin Wilson) wraps up the current story arc with a lot of action, and a little denouement. There’s a suggestion that Luke and Deena Shan are a little sweet on each other, and since this is the interstitial period leading up to Empire, I’m all for anything which gets him away from those understandable-but-creepy-in-hindsight feelings he showed for Leia. I have to admit I’m not as up on my Expanded Universe characters as I should be, or else I’d probably be more sympathetic to them. Still, I can accept how the narration builds Deena up, and I always like seeing spaceship combat. Once again the art reminds me of Howard Chaykin’s early SW work from thirty years ago, except the brief glimpse we get of Han seems a little too paunchy for the whip-thin Harrison Ford of 1977. Pretty good if you’ve been with this story the whole way; probably better the more you know.

This month in Batman Confidential (#18 written by Fabian Nicieza and drawn by Kevin Maguire), Batgirl and Catwoman inch that much closer to making X-rated Internet fanfic mainstream, as they spend the first 10 pages naked from the neck down, fighting in a nudist club. The fact that Maguire draws Babs with all these extremely uncomfortable expressions and retreating body language doesn’t make it better. If last month was an excuse for cheesecake, this month drops the pretense … uh, as it were. As much as I like him, Maguire’s figures are just rendered too literally for this extended sequence to be farcical. Maybe someone with a softer style could have pulled it off (what?!? sorry!) better. Cliff Chiang’s “Naked Ollie” chases from Green Arrow/Black Canary come to mind, so Chiang or his designated replacement Mike Norton might have done well with this. Anyway, everyone puts their clothes on for the rest of the issue, and I presume the rest of the story. (There’s only so many opportunities to play the nude card.) It’s pretty entertaining, especially since it focuses on puppies. I am not kidding. It’s almost like DC felt like it needed to atone for the nearly-nude scenes with, yes, puppies. So, in summary, come for the cheap thrills, stay for the puppies!

(P.S. DC, if you use that as a blurb, I’d at least like a free copy of the paperback.)

The “Barbarian Queen” scenes in Wonder Woman #21 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan) are fine, but I want to mention the Sarge Steel/Tom Tresser bit which opens the issue. On its own it’s good: a typical “walk with me” scene which sets up a few familiar conflicts and advances the plot. However, these are two well-established spy characters who, by virtue of their respective careers, should interact on a higher level. Tom “Nemesis” Tresser had his own backup series in The Brave and the Bold, teamed up with Batman a couple of times, and was in the Suicide Squad; and Sarge Steel was Charlton Comics’ answer to Nick Fury. So if this scene involved, say, Dirk Anger and Jimmy Olsen, it’d be easier to take.

As for Wonder Woman, her posse of ’70s DC barbarians continues to grow, along with the savagery of her fights. “Losing her grip” is, I think, a fairly radical direction for the character, because it seems like most writers want to portray her as always in control, diplomatic, etc. However, it’s still a valid direction; and I think Simone has presented it well. Diana’s finding out what she’s like without the fundamental sources of her strength. The art in the “barbarian” section is also tighter and darker, with more attention paid to the blacks and a more washed-out color palette (credit colorist Brad Anderson for that). Add a couple of callbacks to Simone’s first arc and it makes for a good issue.

Green Lantern Corps #25 (written by Peter J. Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Drew Geraci) presents the origin of the Black Mercy plant. It’s a sensible, space-opera-y origin which maybe brings in Mongul a little too neatly, but it sends the story in a very Star Trek direction. New inker Geraci fits well with Gleason’s pencils, giving them a little more definition in places and even putting a “cartoony” sheen on some of the figures. There’s a misplaced word balloon on page 2, and there’s more foreshadowing about different-color lanterns, but other than that it’s pretty good.

About half of Green Arrow And Black Canary #9 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Wayne Faucher) features Plastic Man, with the other half showing Speedy and the British guy fighting super-powered bad guys. Thanks to Norton and Faucher, it’s all portrayed with a light, breezy tone, which certainly makes some of Speedy’s quips easier to take. Norton and Faucher draw a good Plastic Man too — perhaps even nicer than what cover artist Cliff Chiang might have done. The issue builds to a couple of Dramatic Reveals: the bad guys’ employer (which is pretty obvious) and the next guest-star (also not unexpected, but not unwelcome either). I continue to like this book.

Action Comics #866 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal) is a heck of a start to the latest Brainiac storyline. The Daily Planet newsroom welcomes Steve Lombard, sports brute; and welcomes back noted innuendophile Cat Grant. Frank and Sibal really lay on the Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder references for Clark and Lois, but it’s all good. (Cat looks like she had a familiar model too, but I can’t place her.) However, the showpiece of the issue is Brainiac’s abduction of Kandor, shown in flashback (naturally) with references to General Zod and Brainiac’s Kryptonian origins. To say that Brainiac now = Borg + Alien wouldn’t do it justice. It’s cold, scary stuff which sets up his threat level very well. Still, there is a bit of Borg plotting in place: Superman defeats a pawn, but the “king” is still out there….

Trinity #2 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Mark Bagley, inked by Art Thibert) finds the Trinitarians battling personalized threats: rogue solar systems, giant robots, and a mystical metropolis. It’s nice to see each handle their own in the space of a few pages or so. Meanwhile, in the second story (written by Busiek and Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Wayne Faucher), Green Lantern John Stewart fights Konvikt and Graak in a sleepy Massachusetts town square. So far Trinity looks like superhero comfort food, and if it continues like this I suspect I won’t have too many bad things to say about it.

Finally, here’s Titans #3 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Benitez, inked by various people), a frustrating installment of a series which has yet to define itself. Benitez’ art has personality, but he doesn’t have a handle on these characters. I hate to go all fanboy, but in an early pedeconference scene, all the characters are the same height. At the very least Starfire should be the tallest, but in a long shot she looks shorter than the Flash. Likewise, Beast Boy and Raven should probably be the shortest. These aren’t just stylistic choices, they inform the characters’ personalities.

The plot of the issue involves the Titans pairing off, with unfortunate results. While there’s an in-story explanation, the sad thing is that the book has already established its willingness to “push the envelope” with regard to these characters, so we don’t know how much of their behavior was provoked. I’m not saying the Titans should always be hugging, but Winick hasn’t done much to lay a foundation for their normal behavior. I’d like to think this book will find its equilibrium sooner rather than later, but it might not happen for a few more months.

May 20, 2008

New comics 5/14/08

I wasn’t planning on buying any more of Secret Invasion than I had to, but I was intrigued by the last page of Secret Invasion: Fantastic Four #1 (written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray). I won’t spoil it for you, but it is a callback to an era I didn’t think Marvel was in a mood to revisit. The rest of the issue is standard FF fare, following a Skrull infiltrator’s sabotage of the Baxter Building. That’s not the real story, though; and that’s where the last page comes in. I’ve not read Aguirre-Sacasa’s FF work before, but he does a good job here, getting through exposition about the sabotage and SI generally in an efficient manner. Barry Kitson’s work is less cluttered than, say, his Legion pencils, and although Mick Gray has inked him before, the work doesn’t seem as rigid. Overall, it’s a nice-looking book that will probably work well as a standalone Skrull adventure.

Serenity: Better Days #3 (written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, drawn by Will Conrad) finds the crew having to rescue Mal, which was kind of a surprise to me because I didn’t remember the last issue leaving off with that. In fact, this whole miniseries has seemed disjointed, issue-to-issue. It also feels a bit short, like it could have used at least one more installment. Anyway, this one is fine for what it is — Whedon and Matthews obviously have the characters’ voices cold; and Conrad does fine with the likenesses and the storytelling. Maybe in a chunk it will read better, so maybe I should be waiting for the trades instead.

The same may be true for Last Defenders #3 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Jim Muniz, inked by Cam Smith), which is starting to veer too much into arcane-Marvel territory for me. I don’t have a problem with the dialogue or the art, but I get the feeling that I’m supposed to be more emotionally affected by the plot.

Huntress: Year One #1 (written by Ivory Madison, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Art Thibert) is in a weird position. The modern version of the character has been around for almost twenty years. For much of that time she was a B-list character in the Batman books. She resented Batman for not trusting her (join the club), she teamed up with Robin, and slept with Nightwing. She had two stints in the Justice League, first under Giffen/DeMatteis and then under Morrison. For the past few years, though, she’s been a more well-adjusted member of the Birds Of Prey — a little hardcore on occasion, sure, but more often than not kicking back with a beer after a mission is done.

Therefore, the Helena Bertinelli of H:Y1 is something of an artifact — all hardcore, no quarter asked, none given. This issue retells the story of her family’s murder and casts her in something approaching the Michael Corleone role: she wants to get out, but she’s so good at playing the game. The issue itself is told non-sequentially, with different color palettes (wielded by Jason Wright) for different time periods; and that can get a little confusing. There are also quite a few new (or at least unfamiliar) characters, so while we know the outlines of Helena’s story, it can be a chore to fit the others’ timelines to hers. Madison’s dialogue doesn’t go over the top too often, and apart from the flashback problems, Richards is a decent storyteller. Overall, it’s not particularly bad, but if this were ten years ago, it’d be less of a jolt.

I don’t want to sound like an apologist — or worse, a chauvinist — but despite the “Catfight Begins Here” tagline on the cover of Batman Confidential #17 (written by Fabian Nicieza, drawn by Kevin Maguire), the issue didn’t strike me as an excuse for 22 pages of cheesecake. As an extended chase sequence involving Batgirl and Catwoman, it is basically two attractive women in skintight costumes leaping and jumping and falling and fighting, so … well, I guess that does sound like an excuse for cheesecake. Still, Maguire doesn’t go out of his way not to draw sexy women, and the 22 pages are spent mostly on the mechanics of the chase itself. Nicieza uses dueling narrative captions, the device Jeph Loeb taught me to hate, but since he focuses mostly on the earnest Batgirl, they’re used to good effect. Looks like a promising, if inconsequential, story.

Bat Lash concludes with #6 (written by Sergio Aragones and Peter Brandvold, drawn by John Severin with help from Javier Pina and Steve Lieber). I’ve said it before — this miniseries was produced fairly well, but on the whole it seemed more like a generic Western than something which would have established Bat’s “Maverick”-esque personality. Since this is the end, the bad guy gets his, starting with an entertaining sequence which finds pretty much everyone else in the book throwing things at him. Pina and Lieber draw the climactic pages in a style which is a little cleaner than Severin’s, but not incompatible therewith. Actually, I wonder if this is the end for ol’ Bat, since the very last panel seems like something of a cliffhanger for someone who might only be familiar with the character through this book. I will say that if Aragones et al. come back for a sequel, I’ll probably get it; but I wish this miniseries had had a little more distinctiveness.

Green Lantern Corps #24 (written by Peter Tomasi, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentiss Rollins and Drew Geraci) follows our familiar GLs as they track Arisia and Sodam Yat, captives of the Black Mercy. Those of you expecting the familiar ideal-fantasy-fate seen in previous BM appearances may be disappointed here, as the plant has been made a little meaner by Mongul. That’s not necessarily bad, though; because honestly, how resonant would Arisia or Yat’s ideal fantasy be (as opposed to, say, Kyle or Guy’s)? Add a creepy interlude with the Sinestro Corps prisoners on Oa and it’s a full issue. However, as hard as it tries, this issue has a very matter-of-fact feel — almost day-at-the-office — right up to the last page. That last page redeems it, though.

I don’t have much to say about Green Arrow And Black Canary #8 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Rodney Ramos) except that I liked it. It’s a little light on scene transitions, but that could just be me not paying attention. I like Norton and Ramos as replacements for Cliff Chiang, I thought Winick’s dialogue was a little cute at times but I can take it, and I liked the misdirection at the end.

Winick’s other book this week, Titans #2 (pencilled by Joe Benitez, inked by Victor Llamas), was more of a puzzle. First off, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I’ve read the Wolfman/Perez Titans. Whenever I continue the Big Titans Project, I’ll be getting into the post-Perez years. I’ve seen Wolfman/Perez pastiches before, most obviously from Devin Grayson and Phil Jiminez. Therefore, I’m not sure the Old New Teen Titans are best served by a return to Wolfman/Perez sensibilities.

However, I don’t know that they need Judd Winick and Joe Benitez (or whoever the artist will be next month). This issue finds the Titans — who refuse to acknowledge that they’ve gotten back together — making sure that all the ex-Titans are safe from Trigon’s minions. That makes sense. What doesn’t make as much sense is Benitez drawing Trigon like Iggy Pop and Raven (in what is basically a dream sequence) like Aeon Flux. In fact, Benitez and Llamas’ work looks like the offspring of Sam Kieth and Ed Benes. It’s not bad in the sense that it tells the story in an understandable way; but it’s not even as “realistic” as Ian Churchill’s work was last issue. Still, it has personality. As for the plot, not much happens this issue beyond rescuing Argent in the opening pages and visiting Trigon midway through. I do think this book has potential, but first it has to decide what it wants to be.

Superman #676 (written by Vito Delsante, pencilled by Julian Lopez, inked by Bit) is an “untold tale” of Supes’ first meeting with the Golden Age Green Lantern, as the two track down Solomon Grundy on Memorial Day. There’s a lot of Greatest Generation-oriented narration, with which I can’t argue; but it gets a little obvious after a few pages. The art is similar to the Carlos Pacheco/Jesus Merino style, which is nice, although it’s made more 3-D by the color effects of Marta Martinez, and that can get a little overpowering. In the end, though, it tells the story well. This is an issue more for the longtime fan who wants to see the most powerful hero of (current) DC-Earth’s Golden Age meet the most powerful hero of “today.” That reader will appreciate the nods to DC history which pepper the story, and might forgive the fact that otherwise the story tries a little too hard.

Speaking of DC obscura, Gail Simone is making me hunt through the old Who’s Whos for the scoop on the guy behind Wonder Woman #20 (written by Simone, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan). He sends Diana on a quest to help a certain public-domain barbarian defeat his famous nemesis. This means new penciller Lopresti gets to draw Diana fighting wolves and barbarians without the benefit of most of her powers. A flashback scene with Etta Candy sets up the quest and lets Simone address the issue of Jodi Picoult’s “Naive Diana,” who was flummoxed by pumping gas. I liked this issue better than the Khund storyline, although Simone seems to be settling into a groove of “who will Diana fight this month?” She’s found the right voice for Diana to do it, though, so I’m not complaining too much.

Booster Gold #9 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) isn’t exactly the perfect superhero-comic single issue, but it does demonstrate how much 22 pages can do. Basically the old Justice League International gang reunited to take down Max Lord and the mind-controlled Superman, it takes Booster and Beetle from a bombed-out Batcave to the final confrontation with the villains behind it all. (Continued next issue, of course.) Jurgens has done evil-alternate-timelines before, and in Justice League America to boot, so this is solid ground for him. Likewise, tweaking Infinite Crisis isn’t too hard for Johns. This is an extra-fine storyline, and I’m eager to see how it ends.

Finally, Batman #676 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Sandu Florea) begins the long-awaited “Batman, R.I.P.” arc with the Club of Villains, the Dynamic Duo taking out a would-be masked villain in about two minutes, a couple of scenes intended to beef up Jezebel Jet’s character, and a visit with the Joker which took me a few tries to understand. Each is important not so much for their details, but for their tone. The issue as a whole hints that Batman’s “happiness,” both with Jezebel and in costume, will be his downfall despite the extent to which he’s investigating the Black Glove’s organization. If Morrison’s basic take on the character is that “Batman always has a plan,” this may be the storyline which tests his planning ability. Daniel and Florea convey this all in a satisfactory manner, from the ridiculous (the Green Vulture) to the sublime (the Joker). It’s a good start to what is rumored to be a great story.

April 15, 2008

New comics 4/9/08

You might already have seen my lengthy (shocking!) post about Titans #1 and Batman Confidential #16 over at Blog@Newsarama. Regardless, there’s still a truckload of new books to go through here.

First I want to mention Green Arrow And Black Canary #7 (written by Judd Winick, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Wayne Faucher). When I saw that Cliff Chiang would be leaving this title, I announced loudly that he was one of the big reasons I was buying the book. If he went, I might just follow him; and how would you like them apples, DC?

Well, as it happens, new artists Mike Norton and Wayne Faucher do their darndest to replicate Chiang’s endearing thick-lined style, which is nice. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a touch of Mike Parobeck in their work. So, well done all. As long as Norton and Faucher are on the book, I’ll be getting it.

As for the story, it may not please readers who think that longtime Justice Leaguers shouldn’t comport themselves like they’ve OD’ed on “Alias” reruns; but hey, I liked it. After Ollie, Dinah, and Mia interrogate the guys they captured last issue, it’s off to England for more hijinx in a pub. The story seems to have gotten padded out by at least an issue, but that may be so that Winick can introduce the guy our heroes meet this issue. Anyway, the trail leads back to one of Dinah’s old flames, which should be interesting….

I liked a lot of things about The Last Defenders #2 (script by Joe Casey, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Jim Muniz, inks by Cam Smith), but it’s hard to describe why. The book isn’t so much about this weird little group of “Defenders” as it is about the idea of the Defenders, and I suppose the sense that you can’t impose too much organization upon it or it all falls apart. This issue is divided essentially in two: the opening fight scene which picks up from last issue, and the “infiltration” scene which sets up the cliffhanger. Running through the book is a jaunty, smart-aleck attitude where Joe Casey (by his own admission) essentially becomes Giffen’s Justice League scripter, following in the keystrokes of J.M. DeMatteis, Bill Messner-Loebs, and Gerard Jones. It’s that kind of attitude, and it actually ends up propelling the overall plot. Accordingly, the somewhat chunky, Ed McGuinness-y figures Jim Muniz pencils sometimes seem out of place — too macho where they should be more comical — but once we get past an Iron Man whose head seems to be shrinking as we watch, the effect becomes negligible. Revealing the book’s villains as a couple of obscure Jack Kirby creations from the ’70s doesn’t hurt either.

Who wants to bet that Marvel does a “Special Rough Cut!” of Fantastic Four #556 (written by Mark Millar, pencilled by Bryan Hitch, inked by Hitch and Andrew Currie) where the stupid “blizzard” effects are removed? If you’ve seen the issue you know the problem. If not … well, let’s just say there are probably a half-dozen better ways to depict a snowstorm via sequential art, but obviously none of them looked as “realistic” as just putting random white splotches all over the panels. Especially when said panels depict dozens of tiny superheroes attacking a big red-white-and-blue robot. Thanks, Marvel, for making Hitch’s work unreadable. The rest of the book is about like you’d expect; namely, very pleased with itself. I didn’t think FF could test my patience any more than the JMS run did, but maybe I was wrong.

Superman Confidential comes to an end with #14 (written by B. Clay Moore, pencilled by Phil Hester, inked by Ande Parks), the conclusion of the Jimmy Olsen/Toyman story. I liked it well enough. I like Hester and Parks’ work generally, and this issue hit all the right Toyman, Jimmy, and Superman beats. The story itself wasn’t anything special, but it wasn’t egregiously bad either.

It was good to see the regular team of Peter Tomasi (writer) Patrick Gleason (penciller) and Prentis Rollins (inker) back in Green Lantern Corps #23. The Boodikka story was only two issues, but it felt like an eternity. However, we’re now looking at a few months with Mongul, the Sinestro rings, and a garden full of Black Mercy. This issue introduces that arc, with most of it devoted to summoning Guy, Kyle, Dr. Natu, et al. to Oa for their mission to round up the aforesaid yellow rings. I liked it pretty well. Tomasi has a better handle on the dialogue here than he does in Nightwing, by which I mean that he doesn’t seem to be trying as hard to make the characters sound cool. Gleason and Rollins have long since settled into a comfortable groove on this title. The Black Mercy might be getting overexposed of late, but I still have high hopes for this story.

Another Green Lantern shows up in Wonder Woman #19 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Bernard Chang, inked by Jon Holdridge), but since he’s unfamiliar to us, Diana spends most of the issue fighting him. It’s a good illustration of the “fighting shows the value of not fighting” philosophy that informs the modern take on Wonder Woman, and it has the added advantage of letting Diana go one-on-one with a Green Lantern. Meanwhile, Etta Candy and a couple of Khunds have their own roles to play in deciding the fate of the planet. The art is good, but I still can’t put my finger on who Chang’s WW looks like. I was also pleasantly surprised at the ending, which I hope has repercussions down the line.

Speaking of repercussions, Booster Gold #8 (written by Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund) finds the death-cheating Blue Beetle and Booster Gold teaming up with a motley crew of superheroes to invade Max Lord’s headquarters and maybe try to free Superman from Max’s mental control. Yeah, good luck with that. Johns and Katz’s script is good as usual, and I notice this issue how much more fluid Dan Jurgens’ figures have gotten over the course of this series. It’s another solid issue of a title which might just make DC’s labyrinthine history accessible to (and, more importantly, fun for) the casual reader.

On the other hand, there’s Countdown #3 (written by Paul Dini and Sean McKeever, story consultant Keith Giffen, drawn by Freddie Williams II), a Superman/Darkseid fight involving Dark Mary Marvel, a Kryptonite-powered Jimmy Olsen, and the Atom. There’s 40-odd pages left in this monster storyline, and they’ll pick up on Wednesday with Jimmy Vs. Darkseid. I can’t make that sound any better. Freddie Williams, bless his heart, isn’t quite the right artist for this throwdown either — his characters look just a little too goofy for what’s obviously meant to be serious business. Well, except for the last page, but I think that on some level that’s meant to be serious too … and if so, that’s just sad.

The serious/funny thing is handled much better, of course, in the concluding issue of Groo: Hell On Earth (#4 produced by Sergio Aragones, with help from Mark Evanier, Tom Luth, and Stan Sakai), in which the Sage manages to get everyone lined up so that war is averted and environmental catastrophe is at least mitigated. It’s been a fun little story — somewhat obvious as an allegory, but it’s not like Groo has ever been subtle.

Serenity: Better Days #2 (written by Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews, drawn by Will Conrad) finds the crew imagining what they’ll do when they’re rich, which turns out to be quite entertaining whether presented in single-panel gags or more extended sequences. The art is fine, and Conrad captures the look of the show and its cast well. As was the case last issue, the mechanics of one scene still don’t make sense to me after multiple readings, but again, maybe I am slow. Also, the cliffhanger seems a little confusing. I was entertained, but maybe the book isn’t technically as good as I thought.

Finally, I did buy Batman: Death Mask #1 (by ´╗┐Yoshinori Natsume), the “look! Bat-Manga!” miniseries, because I try to keep an open mind. I don’t read manga, and I don’t watch much anime, mostly because I am too busy with other things to give those media any significant attention. However, I will say that this Batman manga doesn’t seem very innovative either for Batman or for manga. It certainly doesn’t have the energy that a rookie like me might have expected. Instead, it’s a black-and-white Batman story told from right to left. Maybe the speed lines and hyperactivity have been toned down for us entry-level readers? That would be understandable, but unfortunately the story isn’t much to recommend either. The titular death mask kills people, there’s a mysterious woman from Bruce Wayne’s past, and Bruce is having strange dreams. But for the format, it’d be an average arc from Legends Of The Dark Knight. I’ll keep getting the miniseries to see how it turns out, and to support this kind of cross-pollenization, but so far it looks like a missed opportunity.

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