Comics Ate My Brain

August 4, 2007

New comics 7/25/07 and 8/1/07

Someday soon I’ll get caught up. July was ka-razy all around, not just with San Diego.

Anyway, let’s begin with the comics I read in between a thousand other things happening the day before the plane took off….

7/25/07

Batman #666 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Andy Kubert, inked by Jesse Delperdang) is the third DC comic to reach that infamous number, and I’m pretty sure it’s the one which takes the most inspiration from said number. Future Batman Damien Wayne fights the last of the Black Casebook’s faux Batmen in a story rich with metatextual meaning. Kubert and Delperdang are especially good at depicting the hellish future Gotham and the evil, red-goggled Batman who thinks he’s going to destroy it. For a while I’ve been convinced that Morrison’s run is dedicated to exploring what it means to “be” Batman, mostly by looking at how others (Damien, the evil pretenders, the upcoming Club of Heroes) take on the role. I’m not quite ready to say it’s of a piece with Seven Soldiers‘ examination of different types of superheroes, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. I may have to get the collections, if only to read the stories in a big chunk, without these months of delays and fill-ins separating them.

It also seems to me that All-Star Batman & Robin (#6 written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams) is meant to be seen in a similar “nature of the superhero” light. This issue’s set pieces involve rookie heroes Black Canary and Batgirl, and Batman musing about “all these wannabes.” It’s still not anywhere near a plot; but honestly, the book’s erratic schedule may actually be working in its favor: if it comes out so infrequently, why not spend the $2.99?

Sinestro fights Soranik Natu in Green Lantern Corps #14 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason and Angel Unzueta, inked by Prentis Rollins), and basically, both of them win the battle in different ways. I’ve called “Sinestro Corps” a big excuse for fighting (not that that’s a bad thing), but what’s great about this issue is the way in which it plays with the reader’s expectations. It’s unlikely that Sinestro, bad as he is, will be “allowed” to kill Dr. Natu, beloved as she is; but it’s more unlikely that Natu, a rookie GL, could hold her own against the No. 1 Renegade. The issue’s solution is pretty clever.

Just like that, the Jodi Picoult Era is over, as J. Torres writes and Paco Diaz draws Wonder Woman #11, another brick in the Amazons Attack wall. Diana heads back to Themyscira to protect it from a nuclear strike, and finds the wreckage of Greg Rucka’s excellent “politicizing” of the Greek pantheon. Much of the rest of the issue shows us various Justice Leaguers and Justice Socialites fighting the invaders. It’s better than a Picoult issue, but it’s hardly the best the book’s been. Three more issues of this — one WW, two AA — right?

Is it too late to put Kurt Busiek in the Countdown rotation? He’s done a fine job with Jimmy’s involvement, even though Superman #665 (pencilled by Rick Leonardi, inked by Ande Parks) isn’t part of the main story. This particular issue shows us Jimmy’s “origin,” coming from homeless newsboy to Planet photographer and Superman’s Pal. I’ve liked Leonardi’s work for a long time, probably going back twenty years, so he’s good as always, and Parks’ lines are thick enough to give his figures the appropriate weight. The story’s fun too, in case I didn’t make that clear.

As for the main book, Countdown #40 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Manuel Garcia, inked by Mark McKenna) focuses on three scenes: Donna et al. fighting yet another group of “natives,” Holly questioning the shelter’s priorities, and the Pied Piper and Trickster hooking up with the Penguin. It also checks in with Jimmy and Mary Marvel. The “Ray Palmer” story is getting a little tedious, as is the Holly story, and the Jimmy story is getting better coverage in the Superman titles as of late, so that leaves Mary Marvel and the Rogues to salvage the issue, and Mary’s scene is a little too short. Garcia and McKenna provide decent art — nothing groundbreaking; kind of in the Brad Walker/Eddy Barrows range.

8/1/07

Thankfully, Countdown #39 (written by Dini and Sean McKeever, pencilled by Jim Calafiore, inked by Jay Leisten) starts off much better, as Karate Kid and the last of Triplicate Girl break into Oracle’s office. Holly meets Athena — but is it the same Athena who was mad at Wonder Woman last week? — and the Suicide Squad comes after Piper and Trickster. Art is fine; I thought Calafiore was a good fill-in artist back in the Peter David days of Aquaman, and he’s better here than he has been on the series. Maybe it’s the inks. I liked this issue more than I did the last one, and it may well be because Countdown (unlike 52) does action pretty well. The talky Monitor backup (by Dan Jurgens) even goes a long way towards explaining the nature of the threat, which is nice considering that we’re at the one-quarter mark.

Speaking of threats to the multiverse, wasn’t She-Hulk #20 (pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn) not only Dan Slott’s last issue, but also some kind of panacea for Marvel continuity at large? Generally, though, it’s a quick and dirty wrap-up to Slott’s years with Shulkie, including the by-now-familiar “here are the stories I would have done if I had the time” teases. It’s not entirely successful — or, maybe I should say it would have been more successful had I read the Jen-as-judge issues from the last part of Slott’s first series. Anyway, it’s not bad. Slott hasn’t had much room to do his own stuff for a while, with all the crossovers the book’s been part of the past few months, so I guess this is one last example of the unadulterated book.

Fantastic Four #548 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) kicks off the full FF’s (Reed and Sue included) battle with the Frightful Four, so it’s good clean superhero combat. Much the same is on display in Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #4 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wayne von Grawbadger). Both are highly recommended for all your FF needs.

Welcome To Tranquility #9 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe) brings the Devil, more zombies, and Freefall (right? with the purple hair) to town. The main story’s fine, but the backup (pencilled by Leandro Fernandez, inked by Francisco Paronzini) is quite good. It explains, in the best EC tradition, why the Coyote Kid has such a mad-on for zombies. I still enjoy the series, although I don’t think it’ll be around much longer.

More spooky goings-on abound in Detective Comics #835 (written by John Rozum, drawn by Tom Mandrake), as the Scarecrow decides to use puh-sychology on his victims instead of that old crutch, fear-gas. The notion that Batman could be pushed To The Edge (TM) even by the Scarecrow’s gruesome new tactics is a bit hard to accept, and Mandrake’s art isn’t for everyone, but overall it’s fairly effective.

Nightwing #135 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Jon Bosco, inked by Alex Silva) presents exposition via interrogation, as Vigilante facilitates Dick’s flashbacks to how he busted Metal Eddie back in the day. It’s about how you’d expect, considering that most of the information has already been provided in previous chapters, but it’s good nonetheless. Bosco’s figures are a bit clunky, and Silva uses a lot of blacks, and overall they’re in that same “DC house style” mode. It’s about time for this story to end, though.

Remember what I said about Busiek’s fine Jimmy Olsen story in last week’s Superman? It applies just as much, if not more, to this week’s Action Comics #853 (pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by Livesay). Jimmy, as his superheroic alter ego Mr. Action, tries to help Superman take out the Kryptonite Man. Extra points for the special last-page appearance.

Finally, this week’s other “Countdown doesn’t make everything suck” entry is (All-New) Atom #14 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Mike Norton, inked by Trevor Scott). Atom, Donna Troy, Jason Todd, and Bob The Monitor go to “Heaven,” find Blue Beetle, and fight all manner of dead bad guys. The Internet is already buzzing over the new catchphrase, “Stupid jetpack Hitler!” It’s a fun issue, but it does kinda feel like treading water. The fun wins out, though.

July 25, 2007

New comics 7/18/07

We begin this week with All Flash #1 (written by Mark Waid, drawn by various artists) … and I can only speak for myself, but it felt really right to have Wally written by Waid again. Of all the writers who have handled Wally over the years — among them John Broome, Cary Bates, Bob Rozakis, Marv Wolfman, Mike Baron, Bill Messner-Loebs, and Geoff Johns — Wally and Waid seemed made for each other. I see a lot of commentators saying this effectively is a coda to Bart’s Fastest Man Alive, and I don’t disagree; and neither do I disagree that if the continuation of The Flash vol. 2 were drawn by Karl Kerschl, it would look fantastic. (It’s got Daniel Acuna instead, and while I don’t dislike Acuna, boy howdy does Kerschl’s work sparkle here.) Much has been made as well of Wally’s ironic punishment of Inertia, which is in many ways the point of this issue. I’d feel better if it were a prelude to the character’s return, and even (as some suggested) to Bart’s “return.”

In the end, I liked the issue. Wally’s departure was justified poorly, and his return was oddly reassuring, especially as voiced by Waid. Of course I’m looking forward to the regular Flash book, because that’ll be the real test of Waid’s speedster chops. I doubt we’ll be saying goodbye to Wally again anytime soon.

Next up, another book Mark Waid used to write, Captain America #28 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting and Mike Perkins). It’s the same format as last issue — vignettes checking in with the book’s current cast, mostly with Sin and the (new?) Serpent Squad as they prepare to break Crossbones out of jail. It hit me with this issue that there’s still a lot I don’t know about Cap’s vast array of allies and enemies. Brubaker is evidently doing his best to work a lot of them into this story, and for the most part he’s doing a good job of at least indicating who’s good, who’s evil, and who’s got a long history I could probably find on Wikipedia. Ironically, though, the character I had the most trouble placing in this issue was Professor X. Seems like there’s been another bald character in the book lately (or maybe I’m just hallucinating) and they all look like Lex Luthor. Anyway, still a good read.

Speaking of called-back characters, The Spirit #8 (by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone) presents a twist on the cover-featured “cut the right wire” scenario. This time it’s Agent Satin, who unfortunately reminded me of Erin Esurance early in the book when she’s parachuting into the action. Anyway, that passed pretty quickly. The issue itself is pretty loaded, putting a lot of subplots into what boils down to cut-the-right-wire … and, like I say, even that is a clever twist. However, it never feels coy or too clever, and the Spirit is only in it as a supporting character. It’s even a sequel of sorts to a previous issue, but without so much as a footnote or express flashback to clutter the narrative. If I had to show someone what Cooke’s Spirit was all about, I could do worse than give them this.

Reading the latest Action Comics (#852 written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Brad Walker, inked by John Livesay) made me wonder: why doesn’t DC put Busiek into its Countdown rotation? If there’s one thing at which Busiek excels, it’s creating a sense of “movement away from the ball.” Busiek is great at suggesting a larger world beyond the borders of a panel, a page, or an issue, and this story is no exception. Its focus on Jimmy connects his CD hijinx with the rest of the Superman plot. (This includes another reference to “Red Son” which pretty much spoils what has to be a big part of its ending, but in a perfect world that story would be long over anyway.) Unfortunately, I’m not clear about what’s going on with the primates and the green goo (Kryptonite, I guess) because those scenes are hard to follow, and I’m still not on board with Brad Walker as a penciller. His stuff is a little too idiosyncratic to fit such a straight-laced book as Action. It worked for the quirky Secret Six, just not so much here.

The portion of the blogosphere which still reads Countdown seemed to recoil a lilttle less at this week’s issue (#41 written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, drawn by Dennis Calero), and I’m in that camp too. Every scene seemed to be constructed just that much better: the Rogues on the run figure out how to survive a long fall; Harley and Holly get a vignette at the Athenian Women’s Shelter; and even the one- and two-page check-ins with Mary Marvel and Donna & Jason feel more cohesive. It may be the result of accumulated backstory or the invisible hands of Keith Giffen, but whatever it is, it’s working better. Dennis Calero is not an unfamiliar name, but I’m at a loss to remember something else he’s drawn. His work’s nice and simple, and it does what it needs to.

Two-thirds of the way through Amazons Attack (#4 written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Pete Woods) and not only can I not tell where it ends and Wonder Woman begins, both series seem to be going over the same ground. Every installment features some unbelievable act of Amazonian carnage (here involving Air Force One), more tension between Wonder Woman and Hippolyta and Hippolyta and the other Amazons, more Circe scheming, etc. There’s barely a sense of plot movement despite having only two issues (well, plus the Wonder Woman issues, but still) to go. Thanks to Pete Woods, the book still looks very pretty.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #54 (written by Tad Williams, drawn by Shawn McManus) has too much going on. Aquaman and crew fight Black Manta in Sub Diego. There’s a new revelation involving the polar explorers. We check in with a couple of characters from the Peter David days. It’s charming enough, and I like what Williams and McManus have brought to the title, but it’s a strange combination of reliance on pre-OYL stories (maybe trying to win back that crowd?) and the new, oddball spin Williams has put on Kurt Busiek’s OYL “barbarian” concept. With three issues left in the title’s run, and so much plot, it all needs to start coming together.

The same applies to The Brave and the Bold #5 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), which takes a detour into the 31st Century so that Batman can outwit the current Legion of Super-Heroes. This gives Waid and Perez the opportunity to indulge themselves: Waid makes another Adam West reference, and Perez gets to work out with the Legion (a book which, he’s fond of saying, he’s never gotten to draw). There’s more with Supergirl, Green Lantern, and Adam Strange, and it’s all very fun and of course well-rendered; but again, it doesn’t feel like there’s just one issue to go in this arc.

If Brad Meltzer were staying on Justice League of America (#11 drawn by Gene Ha) longer than one more issue, I’d be more excited about this one-off tale of Red Arrow and Vixen trapped under the Watergate Hotel’s wreckage. As it is, it’s not a bad single-issue story. Meltzer clearly enjoys dialogue, and that’s pretty much all this issue is, with only a few physical scenes to punctuate the tension. And in fact, there is a bit of tension, which is surprising considering the relative invulnerability of these characters. Good on Meltzer and Ha for that. A semi-significant aspect of Vixen’s powers is revealed here too, in case a reader might feel that the story had no lasting impact. (It still might not, actually.) Ha’s work is more diffuse here than his normal precise, fine lines, but it’s still good, especially the way he plays with layouts towards the end. I kinda wish this had been more of a contrast from Meltzer’s talky modus operandi, though.

Man, everything this week is ending or about to end, isn’t it? Gail Simone’s last Birds of Prey (#108 pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood) is an epilogue to the Spy Smasher story arc, as Barbara beats up on her rival something fierce. Afterwards Babs and Dinah reunite, sharing takeout with Huntress and Lady Blackhawk, and then Barbara picks up her newest official recruit. I haven’t been back with this book for long, but I thought Simone had a touching farewell. I continue to be impressed with Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood — their faces are especially expressive.

There’s a bit of Checkmate #16 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) which I halfway expected to see in BOP, and here it feels a touch out of place, but I suppose it fits better here than there. It’s the Fire and Ice reunion, of course, and it’s handled pretty deftly by all parties. It’s actually very sweet, adding some more nuance to Fire’s character (at least how she’s been portrayed in this book). The rest of the book concerns itself with Sasha and Mr. Terrific, and sets up the downfall of Amanda Waller. Bennett and Jadson look really pretty good here — their Fire/Ice scenes use a thicker line, subtly reminiscent of Adam Hughes and Joe Rubenstein’s Justice League International work, but their Sasha/Michael scenes are thinner and more delicately rendered. All around, a fine issue.

Finally, here’s the last issue (see? again!) of Jeff Smith’s Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil, and it’s just as good as the other parts. Smith’s Mr. Mind design is perfect — menacing while still retaining the salient parts of the original. If this series isn’t the tour de force of Cap villains that the original was, that’s OK; as a revival/reimagining of the Captain Marvel mythology, it works very well. Now, of course, Smith has to do a sequel, so he can work Cap Jr. into the mix.

July 17, 2007

New comics 6/27/07, 7/5/07, and 7/11/07

Twenty-one titles over the past three weeks, and I’m looking at twelve more tomorrow….

6/27/07

Amazons Attack #3 and Wonder Woman #10 have bled into each other by now. I’d have to go through each side-by-side and page-by-page to determine what takes place in which order, let alone how this event relates to Countdown. Also, Batman’s “Bees. My God.” line from AA #3 demands to be said in a Cartman voice. Still, both books look pretty; AA’s Pete Woods always delivers, but Paco Diaz does a fine Dodson/Drew Johnson impression for Wonder Woman.

My only complaint with Fantastic Four #547 is that Reed can apparently survive in space unaided, and the more I think about it the more it makes a weird comic-science sense. Otherwise it’s another solid issue from Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier, and Rick Magyar.

I wasn’t going to get Supergirl & The Legion #31, because I thought a break was needed after the Waid/Kitson era, but it wasn’t too bad. It feels like a pastiche of Waid/Kitson, which isn’t entirely fair considering that Tony Bedard and Kevin Sharpe had each done some fill-in work previously, but I’m still not sure I don’t need a break.

She-Hulk #19 presented a fascinating legal strategy, one which might not be too innovative in the history of superhero comics, but which was argued well nonetheless. I continue to like the Dan Slott/Rick Burchett/Cliff Rathburn team, but some combination of the inks and the colors (by Andy Troy) actually make the figures look two-dimensional – and by that I mean that I had to look twice to see if a Two-Gun Kid cardboard cutout was supposed to be sitting at the table.

I talked about Sinestro Corps already.

7/4/07

The 3-D effects were the best thing about Action Comics #851, and that’s actually saying something this time. This story has been a mixed bag, but this issue doesn’t have too much to do beyond getting Superman out of the Phantom Zone and showing Zod’s conquest of the Earth. I bet in four or five months, when the conclusion finally appears, I’ll have had time to form an opinion on the story so far.

Atom #13 takes Ryan and Chronos back to the land of tiny barbarians Ray Palmer visited in the Sword of the Atom books, and by and large it’s pretty fun. Gail Simone uses the same kinds of funny-talkin’ aliens that endeared us to this book’s first crop of diminutive villains, but it works here too.

Nightwing #134 flashes back to a Bat-spat, and in the present finds our hero fighting the new Vigilante. However, one of the things I liked best was Jamal Igle’s two-page, top-tier spread of a swanky restaurant. It might seem like an indulgence, but it sets the proper tone for the scene. The story’s pretty good so far, too.

Detective Comics #834 — 700 issues ahead of Nightwing, I see – finishes up the Batman/Zatanna team-up pretty well. Zatanna gets her revenge on the villain of the piece, and she and Batman finally make up after Identity Crisis. It’s still a Batman story, but he doesn’t overshadow her, which was nice.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #53 is officially a dead title walking, as of today’s DC solicitations. It’s a shame, but I can’t say I’ll miss the book too terribly much. This issue was decent; more of the Black Manta-takes-over-Sub Diego story, with well-done superhero action.

Welcome To Tranquility #8 presents a medley of spotlights on the people of Tranquility, and I have to say, these little doses have done more to make me like this title than the big six-issue opening arc did. They kept the book on my radar for sure.

All-Star Superman #8 wasn’t as immediately gratifying as its predecessors, but it was still good. I’m sure I will appreciate its depth and complexities the more I revisit it … whenever that might be. The same thing applies to JLA Classified #40 — I can tell there’s a nature/nurture/free-will theme running through the issue, but I want to look at it in a better context before passing a more definite judgment.

I talked about some ramifications of Outsiders #49 last week. Probably not going to pick up the revamped title.

7/11/07

Star Wars: Rebellion #8 was fairly entertaining. The pieces of the story are starting to come together, and it’s done a good job of creating Star Wars-esque characters who aren’t overly familiar. I didn’t buy Vader’s high-jump-flip, though — too prequel-y.

Green Lantern #21 was a very good follow-up to the Sinestro Corps Special, and it gives me high hopes that “SC” will be the good kind of epic “Event,” not the bloated Countdown kind.

Superman #664 did a lot to advance the “Camelot Falls” arc, even explaining the arc’s title. Tying in the Prankster fill-in from a few months ago was good too. Man, Carlos Pacheco draws a great superhero book; and Jesus Merino’s inks are meticulous — everything pops off the page. Too bad about the book’s scheduling problems.

Superman Confidential #5 likewise does a lot to start wrapping up the “Origin Of Kryptonite,” with the most important probably being the explanation for the meteor chunk’s thought balloons. A good, plot-driven, payoff-facilitating issue.

Lastly, the Deadpool/GLI Summer Fun Spectacular was a highly enjoyable romp through the silliness which is post-Civil War Marvel. The sight of Penance’s cat was priceless.

SPECIAL DOES-COUNTDOWN-MAKE-SENSE? SECTION

Okay, so I read Countdown #s 44-42 all together to see if there’s any narrative cohesion, and the answer is …

… maybe, a little. Countdown has dedicated itself pretty firmly to following its basic cast of characters. When those characters’ stories are interrupted, as #43’s Flash funeral does, the series’ rhythms are thrown off.

However, Countdown’s problem lies in its over-reliance on its core characters to explain everything going on in the rest of DC. It seems like each scene is an interaction between characters – and if that sounds basic, I mean that each scene essentially involves conversation. The exception in these three issues is the funeral, which begins with a few narrated panels establishing Keystone City. Still, even that narration comes from Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy might well be Countdown’s central figure, but the series spends so much time on each of its characters that Jimmy contends for space with Mary Marvel, Donna Troy, et al.

Indeed, Countdown doesn’t do a whole lot to lay out its story’s scope, explain what’s at stake, or otherwise build a structure upon which to hang those scenes. Countdown has focused pretty faithfully on its characters, so much so that it seems like the plot is being left to other titles. After ten issues of a fifty-two-issue miniseries, those structural devices should start becoming apparent, and I get no sense of them. Now, it may well be that this isn’t just a fifty-two-issue miniseries — but how much shapelessness are we readers expected to endure in an eighty- or hundred-issue Mega-Comics Event?

June 24, 2007

Sunday Soliloquy

Filed under: sunday soliloquy, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 6:23 pm
No, Heracles — you picture the audience in its underwear!


You’ll note that he doesn’t have to remind the Amazons where his eyes are….

[From “For The Glory Of Gaea,” Wonder Woman vol. 2 #14, March 1988, plotted and pencilled by George Perez, scripted by Len Wein, inked by Bruce D. Patterson.]

June 2, 2007

New comics 5/31/07

Let’s begin this (timely; keep your fingers crossed) roundup with Justice Society of America #6, Part 4 of “The Lightning Saga” (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham, inked by Ruy Jose). This chapter’s big mash-up involves the reconstitution of old-timey Legion foe Computo in Suicide Swamp, itself the old home of both Solomon Grundy and the Legion of Doom’s Vader-helmet headquarters. (Dialogue says it belonged to the Secret Society of Super-Villains, but same difference.) That the Justice League just got through fighting Solomon Grundy in its first arc is never brought up, although goodness knows everyone gets ample time to compare notes.

That brings me to my main complaint about the issue: ach, the talking! Right from the first page, the reader is bombarded with information — head-shots of the JLA and JSA, paragraphs of Superman’s exposition comparing and contrasting the various teams, panels cluttered with characters — and we haven’t even gotten to the Legion’s formal introduction yet. Both Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns are so enamored of the plain fact that the JLA and JSA are getting together again (eee!) and they’re meeting the no-foolin’ Earth-1 Legion (!!!) that all the teams can do is tell us about it. To me it’s indicative of the story’s tone that the actual three-team battle against Computo is summed up largely by one double-page spread. It goes on for some five pages after that, and it started three pages before, so it’s about half of the issue, but it just doesn’t seem paced right. Maybe it’s Jose’s inks: they don’t quite flatten everything out, but they don’t do a lot to make the characters pop against the dense swamp background. Neither do Jeromy Cox’s colors, for that matter. Anyway, since the Legion’s fighting Computo, someone’s gotta die — or does she? We’re down to the last installment and it still feels like a long way to go.

(Finally, obligatory Alex Ross cover gripe: nothing whatsoever indicates this is Part 4 of an inter-title crossover, and it features only Damage, who’s hardly the center of the story.)

Next up is the week’s second Geoff Johns book, Green Lantern #20 (drawn and colored by Daniel Acuna), which wraps up the Star Sapphire arc for now. While the arc hasn’t been nearly as bad as I thought, I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. First, Acuna’s art is very good, but he draws Hal about ten years younger than he should be. Second, I have an uncomfortable feeling that the whole Sinestro Corps/Sapphire Corps angle will wind up with some new Grand Unified Theory of Power Rings that the mythology doesn’t really need. Third, I liked the idea that Carol Ferris had moved on after Hal, because as we all know, Hal and Carol’s relationship was poison to the idea of him being Green Lantern. In fact, one of the things I did like about this arc was the maturity Hal and Carol showed with regard to each other. The suggestion that they’re still in wuv is a frustrating indication that the title doesn’t want to move forward. All that notwithstanding, the Sinestro Corps backup (drawn by Dave Gibbons) was another fine little horror story, and it gives me hope for the Sinestro Corps arc.

Are we really just on Amazons Attack #2 (written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Pete Woods)? With two issues of Wonder Woman supplementing AA #1, it feels like we’re a lot farther into the story than that. Because I read those issues (and the issue of Manhunter which linked Everyman with Circe), I felt a lot more comfortable with this issue. The Justice League starts making battle plans, Donna Troy confronts Hippolyta, and the Amazons open up two more fronts. I thought it was a well-paced issue, maintaining a lot of subplots fairly well. However, it has the potential to sprawl out into a big goopy mess, and I don’t like the idea that Donna’s story will continue in Countdown (with Jason Todd, I presume). As for the art, I like Pete Woods a whole lot, even if he does draw (regular) ears under the Bat-cowl.

I was a little disappointed by Action Comics #850, the week’s third (yikes) Geoff Johns title (i.e., written by Kurt Busiek, Johns, and Fabian Nicieza, pencilled and colored by Renato Guedes, inked by Jose Wilson Magalhaes). Not because of Johns specifically, because I haven’t picked out what his contributions were. No, I expected more of a resolution to the Supergirl-Legion (mainline, that is) question, but instead I got another retelling of Superman’s origin and his relationship to Kara Zor-El. On balance, though, it read fine. There were the familiar skips through time, revisiting old moments and filling gaps with new ones. For all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) revisions to Superman’s origin just in the past few years, this was a good way to harmonize them and even give us a look at some alternate-Earth incarnations. Since this is an anniversary issue, there’s a shout-out to the cover of Action #1 as well. Guedes and Magalhaes do excellent work throughout, especially on Supergirl. Because Guedes will be her new artist, this was a preview of her future in more ways than one.

Last on this week’s list is Countdown #48 (written by Paul Dini and Adam Beechen, pencilled by David Lopez, inked by Don Hillsman with Alvaro Lopez), and I think I’ve finally figured out the dirty little secret of this title: it’s a big crossover series like all the others, but it’s weekly and it aims to be self-contained. Maybe that’s obvious to everyone else, but I think I had been subconsciously approaching it by remembering 52‘s “newsweekly” structure. Clearly Countdown is its own animal, but it looks like it’ll have a significantly different approach than 52.

In any event, this issue was better than the last, although I do have some quibbles. First, Black Adam has reappeared too soon. Even if he doesn’t have his powers, he’s been reduced to the same kind of one-note “my family is (choke!) dead” mantra that plagued the worst Batman stories. Second, Lightray is familiar to me, but he hasn’t been around a whole lot otherwise, perhaps even since the start of Infinite Crisis. (He was so out-of-sight I thought he might have been Supernova.) His death may therefore mean only about as much as Duela Dent’s. Third, I’m still confused about the timing of the Karate Kid scenes.

I did like this issue’s Jimmy Olsen scenes, especially for bringing in Superman. If this is supposed to be a weekly Big Event series featuring the big-name characters, it needs to start using more of them. Overall I thought the dialogue was better, and I liked David Lopez’s storytelling, although the storm-cloud scenes were kind of hard to follow at times. I’m still on board with the title for now, but its grip is a lot more tenuous than 52‘s was this time last year.

May 29, 2007

New comics 5/16/07 and 5/23/07

Would have gotten these up last night, but the traditional Memorial Day allergies started to kick in….

MAY 16, 2007

The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #12 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Art Thibert) is a fairly decent issue which suffers somewhat by the behind-the-scenes murmurings about Bart Allen’s fate. I give it a lot of credit for setting up an inescapable doom-trap, but at the same time I have to think that the doom-trap won’t actually kill Bart. I mean, that would be a little too grim, even for someone like me who still can’t get past the arbitrary nature of his promotion. My appreciation of said trap is therefore blunted somewhat. I’m also kind of ambivalent about whether I want Bart to escape. I don’t want him to die, but at the same time I don’t think he should be the Flash just yet.

How was the book itself, you ask? Decent, like I said. No one seems to be out of character, but Bart himself is still such a cipher that it’s hard to say at this point what would be in character. Daniel’s storytelling skills are fine, but Thibert’s inks are inconsistent. The “weight” of characters on the page varies, and more often than not the Flash especially looks two-dimensional. Still, there is that doom-trap, and the Black Flash, so I don’t feel bad about coming back.

Countdown #50 (written by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray, pencilled by J. Calafiore, inked by Mark McKenna) has already been dissected by many of you, so I will just add some brief observations. First, if the cover suggests that the Joker has targeted Jimmy Olsen, that implies a much more exciting story than Jimmy happening to end up at Arkham Asylum for a stereotypical Hannibal Lecter conference. I’d want to read Joker vs. Jimmy, and I’d be lukewarm about Joker Talks To Jimmy. Second, the scenes with the Rogues go on far too long: five pages to establish a) they hate the Flash, whoever he might be, and b) Piper and Trickster’s bona fides are in question. I thought this scene added nothing to the current Flash arc. I think Countdown is improving, but boy, it’s not improving quickly.

Justice League of America #9 (written by Brad Meltzer, drawn by Ed Benes) gets a lot of things right — the Gorilla City scenes, for instance — but again, nothing much seems to happen. Teams of JLAers and JSAers just show up and collect Legionnaires like they were checking out library books. At least the three bad guys were revealed.

Action Comics #849 (written by Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Ron Randall) finishes the “Redemption” two-parter about like I figured. There are some intriguing ideas, and Kurt Busiek’s social worker from an earlier Superman is used well, but ironically, I think Superman himself comes across as imposing his will on the common folk more than the story’s antagonist does. The final confrontation features Superman hovering over the congregation making pronouncements, and while Clark muses later that his moral compass has to be pretty accurate, I don’t think the congregants understood that point.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #52 (written by Tad Williams, drawn by Shawn McManus) finds our hero and his companions hatching a plan to free Sub Diego from Black Manta. This was not a dull issue, and I don’t have much of a problem with the art, but the Sub Diego stuff is just not involving me like it wants to. Besides, both Busiek and Williams want Arthur to be The Decider, but so far neither of them have really presented a compelling case for that. Arthur’s just a guy who can live underwater unaided and maybe occasionally talk to marine life, and right now that’s not enough to get me excited about him. There are exciting and chilling moments in the issue, including the Black Manta fights and Aquagirl’s story about the fate of some Sub Diegans, but Arthur should be the compelling center and he’s not.

Checkmate #14 (written by Greg Rucka and Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) is a solid caper story wherein a Checkmate team and the Outsiders infiltrate Oolong Island. As usual, Rucka uses the caper to advance the book’s various political subplots effectively. As a crossover, though, I have to say this storyline isn’t encouraging me to pick up Outsiders on a more regular basis. Beyond Nightwing, none of these characters seem particularly exciting, and most of them are defined by their sarcasm and air of bad-assery. If Rucka and Winick each wrote their respective team’s dialogue, Rucka wins. Bennett and Jadson do well enough, but the big action scene at the beginning suffers from faulty perspective. Specifically, I couldn’t tell at first whether the monster was supposed to be looming over the ship or sitting atop it.

Where do I begin with All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #5 (written by Frank Miller, pencilled by Jim Lee, inked by Scott Williams)? First, I don’t think anyone should look to this title for the Platonic ideals of Batman, Robin, or any of the other iconic characters it features. This is not a story about How Batman Should Work. I don’t know what this story is about, and it’s been five issues. Actually, I take most of that back: this is a story about making Batman first among alpha males, by giving every other possible contender some fatal character flaw. Of the various costumed characters portrayed so far, Batman is the only one who seems to get the colossal joke underlying the very pursuit of superheroics. This makes a lot of sense in light of the basic “Batman” idea, and it could be a pretty entertaining series of issues, but remind me again … what’s the basic plot of this series? Where are the conflicts? Batman is wanted by the cops generally, never mind for kidnapping Dick Grayson, and by the way Dick’s parents have been murdered. Five issues in and we’re still just introducing all the players. This is starting to feel like the sub-glacial pace of Supreme Power all over again. It’s bad enough the issues are so late, but then to have virtually no plot advancement feels like Miller and Lee are just in it to put one over on the suckers.

Fortunately, Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, and Jesse Delperdang offer Batman #665, which gets a lot of ASB&R‘s ideas across in a mode that’s much easier to digest. “The Black Casebook” ascribes a certain supernatural dread to those old Batman stories no one likes to talk about because they’re “not realistic.” In this issue, Batman and Robin take out the Bane-themed Batman, in part because Bruce convinces himself that he needs to be, yes, the top alpha male. However, Morrison’s Batman is more sedate, and perhaps more self-aware, than Miller and Lee’s cackling dervish. He’s playing a role, not thinking with his id. The issue also has some fine action scenes, including Batman and Robin both slamming into the Bat-Bane with their respective vehicles.

Star Wars: Rebellion #6 (written by Brandon Badeaux & Rob Williams, drawn by Michel Lacombe) begins a new arc focusing on a character who should be familiar to me, but isn’t. He’s a Rebel agent who gets found out by the mob boss he’s infiltrated, and sent on a mission by said mobster. I liked this issue well enough, even if some parts of it (the opening flashback to Episode III, and an assassination) weren’t connected to the main plot. It all felt like part of the comfortable SW setting, and with a book like this, that’s what you want.

Finally for this week, Hero Squared #6 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) offers the origins of Captain Valor and Caliginous, each told by them in what has to be somewhat self-serving fashion. Captain Valor’s is more funny, being a pretty obvious parody of Captain Marvel’s (including a Mr. Natural-like Shazam figure), but the emotional heft comes at the end of the issue, when one of the book’s main players reacts to Caliginous’ story. This is another book that doesn’t do much in the way of macro-plot, but at least it offers a fairly complete story in every issue. If, as I have read, it’s ending soon, it should probably get to its larger point, but issue by issue, it’s still fun.

MAY 23, 2007

Countdown #49 (written by Paul Dini and Tony Bedard, pencilled by Carlos Magno, inked by Jay Leister) uses Jimmy’s elastic past to get him out of the cliffhanger with Killer Croc, and the Pied Piper and Trickster get a good double-agent-y scene to establish their bona fides with the other Rogues. The rest of the issue is taken up with exposition-happy Monitors, Karate Kid and Red Arrow trading quips (leading me to wonder about the timing of this issue relative to the JLA/JSA crossover) and a dismemberment-happy Black Adam. The art this issue was pretty good for a team I’ve not seen before — very dynamic, although there has to be a better way than facial hair to distinguish the Monitors.

I’m genuinely torn as to whether to continue with Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes (#30 written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Barry Kitson, inked by Mick Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti), because this was a very solid issue, but I think it’s Waid and Kitson’s last. They go out raising more questions than they answer, with those questions being very intriguing. Will Cosmic Boy join this mysterious new team? What will happen to Mon-El? Most importantly, will the new creative team be any good? I keep saying I want to re-read this series, so maybe this will give me the impetus to do it.

I thought The Spirit #6 (by Darwyn Cooke) was too ambitious. It tries very hard to be a real Eisner-esque story about a new character, with the Spirit in the background, but it just felt so familiar, and not in a good way. It’s probably redundant to say that tortured musicians suffer for the sake of their art, and will do anything to perfect it, but there didn’t seem to be much new (beyond the sci-fi trappings) of this musician’s story. This title will always be worth reading as long as Cooke is on it, because Cooke is such a great storyteller and designer, but this issue falls short.

Wonder Woman #9 (written by Jodi Picoult, drawn by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson) doesn’t skimp on plot. Superman, Batman, and the Justice League appear briefly, Circe’s plans are revealed further, and Diana and Circe square off. The art is gorgeous, as you might expect. Picoult is improving, but her dialogue is still too clever and she can’t quite manage all the plot. It continues to mystify me why DC would try to build up this title’s profile with a prose novelist, and then plop said novelist right in the middle of a big event.

For some reason Fantastic Four #546 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar) didn’t make much of an impression on me the first time around. That’s probably my fault, because upon further inspection it’s a neat little issue which references everything from the ’70s Jack Kirby Black Panther series to Waid and Wieringo’s last big FF arc. Oh, and Beyond!, of course, written by McDuffie. I didn’t expect to see Reed and Sue back in the book (and apparently on their way to a healthy relationship) so soon, but that was a pleasant surprise, as was the combination of Pelletier and Magyar. Magyar really gives the pencils a good heft and a lot of weight, for a nice Alan Davis look. If this is just a temporary team, the long-term folks had better be absolutely stellar.

Arnim Zola, another ’70s Kirby creation, shows up in Captain America #26 (written by Ed Brubaker, pencilled by Steve Epting, inked by Mike Perkins). A series of brief episodes — the typography of which reminds me of old Spirit stories, for some reason — check in on Sharon, the Winter Soldier, the Falcon, and Zola and the other villains, all getting back to their lives after Cap’s death. Apparently this issue comes after all of those Fallen Son specials Marvel’s been pushing since Cap #25, but I haven’t read ’em, so this isn’t overkill (you’ll pardon the expression) for me. Brief glimpses of the Avengers both connect this book to, and distance it from, the larger Marvel Universe. These are people who don’t quite fit into the land of crossovers and tie-ins. In that respect they’re misfits, not unlike the time-lost Captain America whose memory now links them. If you can’t already tell, I like this book a lot.

Aaand speaking of crossovers I haven’t read and am not reading, here’s She-Hulk #18 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn), featuring Jen’s battle with Iron Man on the SHIELD Helicarrier. That’s about it, really. This issue uses Jen as a bridge between Civil War and “World War Hulk,” getting her from one side to the other. There are some cute moments, but most of those involve Shulkie’s regular supporting cast. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good as the book has been.

Finally, here’s a book that may be better than ever: Birds Of Prey #106 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). Not just the Barda/Knockout fight, this matches up all of the Secret Sixers against the Birds, with Ice slowly regaining consciousness throughout. (Just noticed: on the cover, Barda’s mega-rod looks a lot like Luke’s green lightsaber….) It’s pretty fun, especially the Misfit/Harley Quinn pairing. Nicola Scott’s choreography isn’t as fluid as I’m used to, so some of the figures are posed a bit awkwardly. Then again, they are fighting, so maybe that’s how they’re supposed to look. This team has succeeded in making a book I look forward to every month, and it’s another situation where the new writer will have big shoes to fill.

May 12, 2007

New (at the time) comics 4/25/07 and 5/2/07

(sigh)

Yes, it’s been another three weeks without a new-comics recap. I’m not going to dwell on that, though, so let’s jump right in. Should have the 5/9 comics recapped by tonight or tomorrow.

4/25/07

52 #51 (written by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, and Mark Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson and Belardino Brabo) … yeah, you know, it was fine. The space heroes got their reunions, there was a nice bookend to the first issue with the Superman/Superboy memorials, and it was a good way to wind down the bulk of the series. I can’t help but see it as the first part of a 2-part conclusion to the series, given what happens in #52, but we’ll get to that later.

Wonder Woman #8 (written by Jodi PIcoult, drawn by Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson) and Amazons Attack #1 (written by Will Pfeifer, drawn by Pete Woods) are joined at the hip(Polyta — oh, I hate myself), so I’ll talk about ’em together. It occurs to me that AA does a better job of starting Wonder Woman’s “rehabilitation” than the main title does. Not that I didn’t like the Allan Heinberg issues, because they were on the whole pretty clever. It’s just that you’d think the Big Novelist Arc would overshadow, or at least color, the Big Event Miniseries, and it’s turned out the other way around — and the ironic thing is, that’s probably for the best. WW #8 is more of the same “save Nemesis from Circe” plot, now in its third issue; and still making with the contrivances for the sake of humor.

I may like AA better simply because it seems to give everything some direction. In fact, it hews more to a traditional superhero-story introduction: it establishes the threat, presents the stakes, and shows the heroes beginning to respond. Sure, the Amazons are bloodthirsty, perhaps excessively so; but I have a feeling the excess may be part of Circe’s prompting. Both books look fabulous, so that helps a lot.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Justice Society of America #5 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Fernando Pasarin), the wholly nondescript cover notwithstanding. (I almost didn’t get it because — unlike the Phil JIminez variant for sale for $10 behind the LCS’ counter — it didn’t say anything about being Part 2 of the JLA crossover.) Anyway, it’s part 2 of the JLA crossover, and oh boy stuff happens! Batman, Sandman, Starman, and Geo-Force fight “Batmen Through The Ages” and Doctor Destiny in Arkham Asylum! Superbo– er, Superman gives the teen JSAers the Fortress tour, complete with Madame Toussaud’s Legion of Super-Heroes! Wildfire vomits up Batman’s utility belt, last seen on Rick Jones in Avengers Forever! Okay, that last part isn’t quite true, but it kind of gives you the feel for where all of this is going. I liked this issue well enough, although Pasarin’s art is just a little too much over-rendered. Also, unless those are animatronic Legion statues, I’m kind of disturbed by how expressive they are. Also also, as I clumsily indicated before, his Superman looked at first a little too Superboy-ish. Hope part 3, in JLA #9, is at least as good.

I now prefer to think of the final issue of Firestorm 2.0 (#35 written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Pop Mhan, inked by Mhan and Steve Bird) as Part 3 of the special bridge-the-gap Firestorm miniseries. Looks to me like the Dan Jolley/Stuart Moore-written plots and subplots all concluded satisfactorily in #32 — because this issue ends on a terribly disappointing cliffhanger. It’s good because it means Firestorm will be popping up later in other DC books, and might get enough new exposure for a revival, but it’s bad in terms of narrative cohesion. It’s the Gotham Central non-ending, pretty much. The plot is also kind of hard to understand, because it hinges on some use of Firestorm’s powers that he takes great pains to set up … but when he does it, the setup doesn’t appear necessary. Basically it’s a big fight scene, rendered and choreographed well, except for that one part.

Action Comics #848 (written by Fabian Nicieza, pencilled by Allan Goldman, inked by Ron Randall) continues the fill-ins with Part 1 of a 2-parter about a superhero who gets his powers from God. Well, faith, prayer, something like that. The new guy destroys a squad of soldiers in an African country because he’s there to protect missionaries — which he does — but he can’t control his powers otherwise. The religious angle causes Superman to question how much he should be interfering, because clearly he’s got his own history of religious belief. It’s a good start for a story, but as you might expect, it ‘s not too subtle. I’ll be surprised if the folks behind Jarod (the new guy) aren’t broadcasting their own powers through him, and not really acting on direct orders from the Lord. The story isn’t helped by Goldman’s pencils. They’re serviceable, and his storytelling is fine, but his figures are awkward and his perspective falters occasionally. One scene, with Clark and Lois getting ready for bed, features an overmuscled Clark and a Lois whose back arches too far, apparently so she can display her hinder more prominently.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #29 (written by Tony Bedard, pencilled by Kevin Sharpe, inked by Mark McKenna & Jack Purcell) was a weird fill-in, if indeed it is such and not just the start of the Bedard/Sharpe Era. It basically spilled the beans on 52 a week early (in the comics themselves; Dan DiDio did it first, of course), explaining why the Dominators hate the Earth, and the Legion in particular. The issue is nothing special — the Dominators’ history is told against the backdrop of the Legion trashing their planet — and the art is decent at best.

Batman Confidential #5 (written by Andy Diggle, pencilled by Whilce Portacio, inked by Richard Friend) is another issue-long fight scene, as first the Batplane and then the Batcycle are used to attack Luthor’s secret robot warehouse. It took me about three minutes to read.

For the first time in a long time, I didn’t get a whole lot out of Astro City (The Dark Age Book Two #3 written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson). Maybe the Ron Burgundy cameo threw me off. I had the same reaction to Planetary Brigade: Origins #3 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Julia Bax).

Thankfully, the same was not true for Fantastic Four #545 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar), which did a lot with the new FF, the Silver Surfer, and Gravity. I’ll echo the blogosphere’s concerns about some of the physics in the issue, but overall it continues to be very good.

5/2/07

I talked about 52 #52 in the 5/3 Grumpy Old Fan. Short version: yay multiverse! Slightly longer version: a big jumble of a story that felt more like a Big 52 Special than an organic ending to the series. Also, I’m not sure, but I think it broke out of the “this happened this week” mold in large part for the last issue. Still, a good end to the series.

Probably the worst thing about Green Lantern #19 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn and colored by Danlel Acuna) is the continued existence of the new Star Sapphire costume. Otherwise, it would be this issue’s notions about the beginnings of a Star Sapphire Corps — which, okay, makes some sense, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it right on the heels of the Sinestro Corps. I did like seeing Carol in a Green Lapphire costume, and the Hal/Carol scenes are fine, but there’s some really weak dialogue here — mostly predictable “first dates are hell” stuff. Acuna’s art is good, but it’s so different from the Pacheco/Reis school of finely-rendered figures that it takes some getting used to. The “Sinestro Corps” backup continues to be good and scary, in every sense of the words.

Detective Comics #832 (written by Royal McGraw, drawn by Andy Clarke) showcases the return of the Terrible Trio, a ’50s-era threefer of theme-gimmick villains now bent on killing each other off. I figured out the twist about halfway through. Not a bad issue, but not a standout either.

Checkmate #13 (written by Greg Rucka and Judd Winick, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) begins “Check/Out,” the Outsiders crossover, with the Checkmaters taking out the Outsiders one by one. Not much plot beyond that, and it’s a good way to introduce someone who’s never read any Outsiders (i.e., me) to the team. It also makes Checkmate look capable without making the Outsiders look like chumps. Bennett and Jadson are the new art team starting this issue, and they do their usual fine job.

(The All-New) Atom #11 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Trevor Scott) concludes the Atom-vs.-zombies story, and not an issue too soon. As much as I want this series to show how it can handle different subgenres, this story just felt shoehorned into the book to get it out of the way before the big Ray Palmer arc. I am still rooting for Ryan Choi, but I’m eager for the more science-y stuff to return.

Welcome To Tranquility #6 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe and Billy Dallas Patton) also wraps up its arc. While I think WTT is a very ambitious book, and deserves a look because of it, it hasn’t really hooked me. I’ll probably re-read these six issues before deciding whether to continue.

Jeff Smith’s Shazam! The Monster Society Of Evil #3 was good as usual, with some familiar Sivana-vs.-Batsons action at the center of the issue. The manner of Billy’s escape is particularly fun. However, maybe it was just the way the story broke out, but this issue’s cliffhanger isn’t all that suspenseful. Oh well; it’s not like I won’t get #4.

Finally, Superman #662 (written by Kurt Busiek, pencilled by Carlos Pacheco, inked by Jesus Merino) offered a decent bridge into the second half of “Camelot Falls.” Some have complained that nothing happens, but I thought Superman’s examination of his role in Earth’s history was done well. It’s not really the “Must There Be A Superman?” question, because Superman’s allegedly not making humanity weaker as much as he’s making the bad guys stronger. I can see where someone who didn’t read the previous Busiek issues might wonder what all the fuss is about, but since I did, and since that particular future was about as apocalyptic as one could get, I was invested in Superman’s musings from the start.

Now for the 5/9 books, and maybe some more new content besides.

May 2, 2007

In which I dismiss Steve Trevor, and probably reveal a hideous double standard.

Filed under: batman, superman, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 2:44 pm
Avi Arad said this:

In the comics, the easiest way to bring real life into the life of the hero is to give him a spouse. […] Lois Lane and the other women, in the comic books, the woman is the other world that represents all of us, and she is there to support, she is there to demand, she is there to observe and to make you think of her as an ambassador of the rest of us. […] Otherwise, there is never a personal story to bring all of us into the room.

Ragnell added

Steve Trevor can not be replaced in this aspect and we lost so much when they threw him to the background after Crisis.

Well, I dunno. I like a lot of the ordinary-human spouses/significant others. I didn’t have a problem with the Lane-Kent or Watson-Parker marriages. Heck, I wrote 5000 words on Silver St. Cloud and the other Bat-girlfriends a couple of years ago. Regardless, I never liked Steve Trevor, and twenty years after he was thrown into the background, I still don’t think the idea of Steve Trevor as Diana’s soulmate is critical to the Wonder Woman setup.

Granted, I am not really a WW scholar, because I didn’t start reading regularly until the George Pérez revamp. However, the idea that Diana would leave Paradise Island at least in part to follow Steve back to Man’s World seems to diminish her a bit. I feel the same way when the genders are reversed: Clark is a reporter first, and an admirer of Lois Lane second. The mission is the important part of the setup, not the romance.

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, apparently Steve became more patriarchal, such that if Wonder Woman ever decided to settle down with him, she’d give up everything that made her super. I don’t know how Steve changed in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, apart from dying and being resurrected a couple of times. The Pérez revamp connected him to Diana through his mother, a WAAF pilot who crashed on Themyscira and became Diana’s namesake. Steve was thereby aged out of Diana’s eligibility range.

Steve’s audience-identification replacement then got split into a handful of characters: Julia Kapatelis, a professor specializing in Classical Greek; her teenage daughter Vanessa; and Diana’s publicist Myndi Mayer. In effect, Julia became Diana’s surrogate mother and Vanessa her surrogate sister, with Myndi representing the practicalities of the real world. There’s probably some significant dynamic at play among those three characters, but it’s not quite a Maiden-Mother-Crone situation, nor is it exactly a Virgin/Whore. Anyway, I don’t know if it was intentional and I don’t know enough about those archetypes to take that line of thinking much farther. Besides, Myndi didn’t last long, and Diana was left with just Julia and Vanessa (and sometimes Lois Lane) as guides to Patriarch’s World.

I thought the Pérez run was a good revamp overall, because it put Diana’s focus back on her mission and actually distinguished her from Superman and Batman. By not having a secret identity, she didn’t have to deal with “identity issues,” including the classic WW/Steve/Diana Prince love triangle. It also made her less of a traditional superhero, because it gave her a defined purpose and viewpoint. She wasn’t on an eternal crusade to beat up bad guys, she was a social reformer and the representative of an existing functional society. She seemed to spend a lot of the Pérez issues aghast at the inhumanities of which Patriarch’s World was capable, but she wasn’t entirely naïve. She was also more fully realized as a character than Pérez’s other wide-eyed warrior woman, Starfire.

Ragnell puts it best:

You see, the secret is that, even though none of us can say we know who Wonder Woman is, its always been very clear that she knows who she is. There’s trouble connecting with other people, and the gods, and her purpose, but Diana has always been centered in herself. Confident. She knew exactly what she was inside.

To me, that suggests Diana doesn’t need a love interest to “complete” her. (Perez and John Byrne both offered cops as potential suitors, but Diana never took Perez’s Ed Indelicato seriously, and I can’t even remember Byrne’s cop’s full name — Mike something.) In this respect she does remind me of Batman, because conventional wisdom suggests that Batman is so driven he also doesn’t need romance. Both appear so devoted to their respective missions that for them to have wistful “If only…!” moments puts chinks in their armor. It’s different for Superman and Spider-Man — they’re just normal guys at heart, trying to do the right things, trying to fit in. Naturally we want them to hook up, because that’s part of their yearnings. Batman left normal life behind a long time ago, and Wonder Woman was never normal.

Maybe it’s just me, but I never thought of Wonder Woman as “attainable,” so I never needed to picture her as “virginal” either. Or — wait — maybe all that stuff about “the mission” actually is my substitute for her virginity … but that’s not right either. Is wanting Diana to be “pure for the world” the same as wanting her to be “pure for me?” I don’t think so. I just don’t think the setup lends itself to romance.

Now, at the same time I would not be opposed to a new Bat-romance with a normal person — I liked Vesper Fairchild, before all the unpleasantness — and therein lies my fear of a double standard. However, with Batman I think it would be a welcome change after so many years of stone-faced “Bruce Wayne is the real mask” stories. With Wonder Woman, even under the current “Agent Prince” setup, that break from a calcified status quo isn’t necessary, because even in the secret-ID days Diana never seemed to have those kinds of issues.

Again, it goes back to Pérez, who placed the reader-identification characters pretty far out of bounds in terms of romantic possibilities. That’s definitely affected my perspective, but I grew up with Lynda Carter and “Super Friends” too and I still knew WW was out of my league.

I’m not saying she can’t have a romance (or a Batman-esque series of romances) with a normal person outside the superhero life. The Trevor Barnes subplot was okay, but it never really took off, and now poor Trevor’s got little hope of returning. It would probably have to be done with some subtlety, so that readers wouldn’t be turned off immediately.

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s necessary, but I’m not opposed to it. Ms. Simone…?

April 22, 2007

New comics 4/4/07, 4/11/07, and 4/18/07

Man, what a week. The Best Wife Ever has been out of town, so you know what that means: blogging about the DC solicits and World War III!

Anyway, three weeks behind; no time to waste.

APRIL 4

I’m just going to do a quick rundown for these books. I talked about Justice League of America #7 over at Blog@, in connection with the rest of “The Tornado’s Path.” Madman Atomic Comics #1 was not what I expected — weird, expositional, and kind of depressing. Welcome to Tranquility #5 was decent, as the first arc starts getting wrapped up. Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #28 was pretty good, and its current arc is ready to end as well. Atom #10 was okay — I’m not a huge fan of Eddy Barrows’ art, and the “Sometimes They Come Back” story doesn’t feel right for the book. Detective Comics #831 was very good, especially with the flashback to the previous Ventriloquist. Superman #661 felt like it could have come out of the ’70s or ’80s, and that’s not entirely bad. Superman/Batman #33 finished what turned out to be the Despero arc, and I’m glad it’s over. Nightwing #131 was okay — not as good as the rest of the arc has been. Finally, 52 #48 felt rushed, and never quite came together.

APRIL 11

We begin the backlog in earnest with Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #1 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Wade von Grawbadger) and All-Star Superman #7 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely), two books designed to meet all one’s needs for their respective subjects. I know I’m supposed to say something insightful about every title, but with these it’s not going to get much deeper than “more, please.” I can’t get enough of Mike Wieringo’s FF, and he draws a fine Spidey too. Jeff Parker’s story strikes a good balance between the typical street-level Spidey adventure and the correspondingly cosmic FF tale. It’s nice and light-hearted, with the Impossible Man and a great set of Ben/Johnny pranks. The stakes are laid out a little more clearly in the Superman title, as a “Bizarro plague” comes to Earth. The problem’s big enough that it doesn’t require Superman to be artificially de-powered, or to hold back, but at the same time Morrison and Quitely’s Superman radiates confidence. More, please.

I can see that Tales of the Unexpected #7‘s lead Spectre story (written by David Lapham, pencilled by Eric Battle, inked by Prentis Rollins) is trying to wrap everything up in its penultimate chapter, but I’m not really invested anymore. The same is definitely not true for the Dr. 13 story (written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang), which just seems to get crazier and more affecting as it goes along. The satire on DC’s continuity struggles has never been more clear, with the “Architects” even wearing Ben Cooper-style superhero masks representing some of their signature assignments. (If I’m right, they’re Grant Morrison/Batman, Greg Rucka/Wonder Woman, Geoff Johns/Superman, and Mark Waid/Flash). Speaking of stakes, the Dr. 13 story seems to be about nothing less than the survival of DC’s own Island of Misfit Toys. We’ll find out next issue.

More metacommentary is on display in She-Hulk #17 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Rick Burchett, inked by Cliff Rathburn). Slott’s treatment of Shulkie’s sexual history comes into play during an encounter with Iron Man and some Nick Fury LMDs reference several other books’ subplots. The bulk of the story has Shulkie’s squad taking out old Hulk villains both in the field and on the SHIELD Helicarrier, and that part’s good. Meanwhile, Mallory and Two-Gun try to clean up the former’s image following her breakup with Awesome Andy. I have always been a fan of Rick Burchett’s work, and Cliff Rathburn’s inks are a good complement. However, it all feels like treading water until “World War Hulk” and its attendant round of status quo change(s).

Lotsa plot in Green Lantern Corps #11 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason, inked by Prentis Rollins), so I won’t try to summarize. Suffice it to say that everything seems to be connected to weird goings-on on Mogo, which I’d guess are in turn caused by the imminent attack of the Sinestro Corps. A mention of the old Empire of Tears only heightens the apocalyptic mood. I enjoyed this issue, because it balances the various plot threads (I count six) pretty well. I’m also a lot fonder of Gleason and Rollins than I was this time last year.

JLA Classified #37 (written by Peter Milligan, drawn by Carlos D’Anda) begins “Kid Amazo,” so when we see a slacker college student who’s questioning his purpose and the meaning of existence, it’s not hard to figure out why. However, this story wants to look at its title character not as someone who will naturally turn to the light (a la Red Tornado and Tomorrow Woman), but someone who can make a real choice to join his “family” against the JLA. In that respect it looks interesting. I know I’ve seen D’Anda’s work before, but I can’t remember where. Here it’s pretty good — kind of like the clean Doug Mahnke/Tom Nguyen style, but a little rougher. A decent book all around.

Still sticking with Wonder Woman (#8 written by Jodi Picoult, pencilled by Drew Johnson, and inked by Ray Snyder), even though this issue isn’t much better than the last. The art’s still good, though. I will say that the story ties into Amazons Attack a little earlier than I expected, and it makes me wonder about how that event played into the development of Picoult’s arc.

That leaves us with 52 #49 (written by The Architects, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Eddy Barrows, inks by Dan Green, Rodney Ramos, and Barrows) — and honestly, with everything that happens in 52-land this week, I can’t say much more about the leadup in this issue. The Dr. Magnus bits were the highlight, and Barrows draws facial features a bit soft for my taste.

APRIL 18

The elephant in the room this week was World War III, about which I’ve already written some 1600 words behind the above link. Short version: incoherent, redeemed somewhat by the efficient 52 #50. Moving on.

The Metal Men show up in Superman/Batman #34 (written by Mark Verheiden, pencilled by Pat Lee, inked by Craig Yeung), and the story is set up for them to fight Supes and Bats, but it’s not much more than that. Lee and Yeung’s art is dark and slightly exaggerated, such that when one of the bad guys looks grotesquely overmuscled, I’m not sure whether I should accept that there’s an in-story reason or that it’s just bad anatomy. At one point Bruce Wayne gets slapped by the widow of one of his employees, killed in an attack, and you don’t see that too often, so the story gets points for that. However, it sure doesn’t have as much fun with Magnus or the Metal Men as 52 does, and I hope that changes.

By now you’ve probably heard about the bestiality in The Spirit #5 (by Darwyn Cooke), and sure, that’s good for some laughs, but it’s only part of another solid issue. The plot takes off from the unauthorized licensing of the Spirit’s likeness into some unexpected directions. When a comic makes you feel sympathetic for a guy who loves his pet more than he really should, that’s saying something.

Manhunter #30 (written by Marc Andreyko, pencilled by Javier Pina Diego Olmos, and Cafu, inked by Robin Riggs and Art Thibert) was enjoyable, but perfunctory: the Wonder Woman arc ends, the Chase-and-her-sister arc ends, and there’s more with Mark Shaw. I think having this book “uncancelled” took a little pressure off everyone involved and let them spread out more, so that it feels more transitional than anything else. It’s good that the book isn’t cancelled, and the resolutions are all handled well — there’s even an Amazons Attack tease, if I read it right — but it doesn’t seem as … resolute, I guess, about everything.

Andreyko also writes Nightwing Annual #2 (pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson), the secret history of Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon’s lurve. Andreyko does a good job with the material, working in Dick’s time with the New Titans pretty well, and Bennett and Jadson likewise do right by the characters. (They take particular care with the Robin costume.) Dick does have one moment where he lives up to his name, which I’m sure you’ve read about already. I am not a Dick/Babs ‘shipper, nor am I a Dick/Kory ‘shipper. I think Dick and Babs are more like siblings than potential lovahs, and I never got the sense that Dick and Kory were in it for much more than the sex. Therefore, I wasn’t emotionally invested in these events, but I can’t tell you what either party’s ideal mate looks like. Anyway, a pretty good issue overall.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #51 (written by Tad Williams, pencilled by Shawn McManus, inked by Walden Wong) centers around Topo leading the Atlantean survivors through underwater “hatches” which teleport them across the oceans to Sub Diego. Along the way, they encounter Species 8472 … I mean, the race that built the hatches. The art seems to be a little more cartoony than it was last issue, to go with the more fanciful tone overall. I’m not complaining about that. The book seems to be finding a middle ground between the isolation of the early Busiek SoA issues and the pre-OYL stories, and it’s still intriguing to me.

Big doins’ are afoot in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #11 (written by Marc Guggenheim, pencilled by Tony Daniel, inked by Art Thibert), mostly in preparation for next issue’s fight with the Rogues’ Gallery. This issue is about Inertia gathering the Rogues, and Grandma Iris telling Bart why she’s pointing that gun at him. I don’t really buy Inertia as a Rogue mastermind, especially since he’s Bart’s peer. However, the issue flows well, it’s not implausible otherwise, and I’m interested to see where it goes.

The JLA/JSA/old-school LSH team-up begins in Justice League of America #8 (written by Brad Meltzer, pencilled by Shane Davis, inked by Matt Banning). I must have missed Geo-Force joining the League, and the issue dwells inordinately on Red Arrow almost getting killed by a tree. It was okay, although I spent the whole issue wondering what else it would reference from my childhood. The art was fine, although very similar to the regular Benes/Hope team. I said over at B@N that this crossover could be so big, it forces Meltzer to pick up the pace, and I still hope that’s the case — but this issue was just prologue.

And then there’s The Brave and the Bold #3 (written by Mark Waid, pencilled by George Perez, inked by Bob Wiacek), another incredibly good issue teaming Batman and Blue Beetle against the Fatal Five. I intend to catch up on the new Beetle, so I don’t know how closely Waid writes him to his regular voice. However, I did think Beetle’s dialogue, funny as it was, fell into a standard Waid type. It was still very funny, but it felt familiar too. Anyway, more, please.

Lastly, bringing our survey of some thirty-odd issues to a close is Birds of Prey #105 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). The fight with the Secret Six continues as the mystery behind You-Know-Who’s sudden reappearance is explored. It has to do with a Rasputin cult, apparently. Hawkgirl and Scandal fight and the new Secret Sixer is revealed, but most of it is standing around talking. It’s good talking, don’t get me wrong, and as I’ve said too many times in this post, wait ’til next issue. Good as Sean McKeever may be, he’ll have a hard act to follow on this book.

March 30, 2007

New comics 3/28/07

Filed under: 52, batman, fantastic four, firestorm, green lantern, hawkgirl, superman, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 1:51 am
Let’s begin on a positive note: the art in Wonder Woman #6 (written by Jodi Picoult, pencilled by Drew Johnson, inked by Ray Snyder) was really good. Johnson and Snyder are, of course, holdovers from the Greg Rucka days, when they were similarly good. There are loads of background gags and little bits of business, including a mysterious pair of eyes in a bathroom mirror on the first page. The book looks great. If this is your first Wonder Woman comic in twenty years, it may even read pretty well. However, in the context of a) Diana having been in Patriarch’s World for an even longer period of time (in the revised timeline); and b) the story’s lead villainess having been prominently featured in the last storyline, doing pretty much the same thing, this book is a horribly frustrating experience. It’s as if — and I really hate to sound provincial, like “don’t bring your city-fied ways out here, missy” — Ms. Picoult thought she could write this book in her sleep. Actually, I blame editor Matt Idelson, who might have clued her into the story’s big problems and given her a chance to either fix or finesse them. A decent story may yet come out of this arc, but for now it looks like a first cousin to the last one.

I hit the Dwayne McDuffie trifecta this week, with Action Comics #847 (drawn by Renato Guedes), Firestorm #34 (pencilled by Pop Mhan, inked by Rob Stull and Ron Randall), and Fantastic Four #544 (pencilled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Rick Magyar). All were good, but I enjoyed FF #544 the most. Man, McDuffie continues to make silk purses out of the mess that Civil War made. I didn’t know how Black Panther and Storm would fit into the group, but now I’m convinced. The first half of the book is housekeeping, and the second gets right into the cosmic. Pelletier and Magyar’s art is livelier and more expressive than Mike McKone’s, with some Kirbyesque flourishes and even a little Alan Davis influence. Fine work all around.

The Action story is a fill-in flashback framed with a sequence set in the middle of the current “Last Son” storyline. It tells a sweet, but somewhat by-the-numbers, story of Superman and Pa Kent going on a “fishing trip” into deep space, courtesy of a Kryptonian shuttlepod made by the Fortress of Solitude. (At this point I had to remind myself that the ancient Kryptonians were genetically incapable of leaving their home planet, and Kal-El didn’t have that problem.) Art is good — I like Renato Guedes pretty well — although Pa looked beefier than normal. It’s not a bad story, but it’s nothing groundbreaking.

Firestorm continues the New Gods storyline in what I think the penultimate issue of the series. That means more fun with Mr. Miracle, Orion, and the Female Furies. Metron shows up too in an unexpected way. Everyone gets some good lines, including Metron (kind of like the Watcher’s one-liner over in this week’s FF). Art is nice and kinetic, appropriately so for an issue that’s mostly fight scenes.

A different-looking set of some of the same Female Furies continues to appear in Hawkgirl #62 (written by Walt Simonson, drawn by Renato Arlem), as everyone takes on Giant Robot Hawkgirl. Honestly, this issue reminded me of a “Powerpuff Girls” episode, in both good and bad ways. It would have been a good Powerpuff episode. It’s not really a good “straight” superhero comic. For one thing, the way to stop Giant Robot Hawkgirl turns out to be something that maybe the Furies should have thought of, and not Kendra, but she’s the star, so she gets to use the brains, apparently. There’s a lot about this book that I am willing to chalk up to Simonson’s sense of goofy fun, but this issue went too far to the goofy.

Speaking of alien parasites that transform women, here’s a twofer in Green Lantern #18 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn and colored by Daniel Acuna). The Star Sapphire seeks out Carol Ferris again, using her to attack Hal until it learns that Hal’s now carrying a torch for Cowgirl. Leaving aside all the questionable messages about gender issues that the very idea of a maneating Star Sapphire raises, this was a fine-looking issue. Daniel Acuna has a distinctive style that serves the book fairly well, since it’s pretty dependent on colors and a GL/SS fight is going to be pretty colorful. Hal looks about ten years younger than he should in spots, but I can live with that. As for the story … I did like that once Carol was free of the Sapphire, she was actually helpful to Hal. Clearly Star Sapphire has a tremendous potential to be simply a repository of offensive female stereotypes, and while I think Geoff Johns is smart enough to avoid that, he also seems so wedded to the idea of “updating” the “traditions” associated with GL and his villains that he could make it much much worse. The “Sinestro Corps” backup story, drawn by Dave Gibbons, is a chilling little tale obviously in the mold of the more SF-oriented “Tales of the Green Lantern Corps” backups from the mid-1980s, and it’s pretty successful.

52 #47 (written by JMRW, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inks by Lorenzo Ruggiero) got back to the old familiar multiple-focus format, checking in on various Bat-people, Wonder Woman, Intergang, Animal Man, the Steels, and Will Magnus. The art is a little more idiosyncratic than the standard 52 style, but that’s not so bad. Overall, the issue flows well, and it’s fairly satisfying.

The one problem I had with Superman Confidential #4 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) was one of perception. When we left him last issue, Supes’ powers were draining under the influence of some offstage Kryptonite, and this issue finds him on the wrong end of a beatdown, Superman Returns style. Eventually, the Kryptonite is removed, and we think that Supes is going to get some sweet payback — but then, the rest of the issue concerns Jimmy Olsen getting him out of harm’s way. Given the ending, it could be a plot point, but right now it seems like a plot hole. Beyond that, and the question about how “alive” the Kryptonite is, the issue is pretty good. Sale does a good job conveying Supes’ pain, the villains’ perfidy, and Jimmy’s eagerness, and Cooke’s script is fine.

Finally, I quite enjoyed Batman #664 (written by Grant Morrison, pencilled by Andy Kubert, inked by Jesse Delperdang). It begins with a shameless James Bond (old-school, not Daniel Craig) parody designed solely to establish just how much cooler Bruce Wayne is. It uses a Little Nellie-style autogyro in a ski chase — that’s how Bondian it seeks to be. Once Bruce gets back to Gotham, an ordinary encounter with a pimp and some ‘hos leads back to the Batman impersonator who shot the Joker in the face in Morrison’s first issue. There are a few abrupt transitions in the issue, and it’s not quite clear why Batman decides to question the pimp (just bored?), but the Kubert/Delperdang art, and Guy Major’s colors, all looks fantastic. It may be this team’s best issue yet, and it’s starting to get into the ’50s stuff I’ve been anticipating. Very cool.

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