Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Weekly Haul: October 4th

52 #22 (DC Comics) Well, editor Stephen Wacker’s sudden departure didn’t do anything to derail the relentless weekly schedule of DC’s most exciting book. At least, not so far. This issue picks up on one of the more exciting plotlines, one that’s been neglected over the last few weeks: Will Magnus’ difficulties with the U.S. Government over weaponizing the Metal Men and the capture and/or collection of mad scientists by person or persons unknown. We also see more of the Luthor vs. Steel story, which the Supernova storyline dovetails into, and, for the most out-of-left-field moment of the week (other than that bus ad for the Silverblade Returns movie), the introduction of young Jon Standing Bear, who seems destined to be the new—wait for it—Super-Chief! The art, courtesy of Eddy Barrows and Rob Stull, is, as usual, passable but a little rushed (check out the hands of the asshole on the bus, for example). The back-up is of Green Lantern Hal Jordan, penciled by too-slow-for-a-monthly artist Ivan Reis. With such a convoluted history—Jordan is merely the second of the five earth men to use that superhero name—it was far more interesting to see what Waid would choose to include and what he’d choose to ignore than what he actually wrote. It’s basically just a retelling of his original Silver Age origin, ignoring Alan Scott, Kyle Rayner and Parallax completely. Quick note on the cover: “Magnus: Robot Hunted?!” Groan. If and when DC collects artist J.G. Jones’ gorgeous covers of this, they had damn well better leave all that cluttered font off, particularly the godawful jokes and puns like this one.

Agents of Atlas #3 (Marvel Comics) We reach the mid-point in writer Jeff Parker and penciller Leonard Kirk’s resurrection of Marvel’s pre-Marvel heroes, and it’s another explanation-heavy issue. Herein we learn how Venus came to Africa and what she was doing there, as well as the complete history of Marvel Boy (or should that be Marvel Boys?). You really can’t ask for a cooler collection of old-school superhero types, and since Jimmy Woo seems to be still putting the team back together at this point, it looks like a majority of the series will deal with Who The Agents Are and How They Came To Be, meaning there had damn well better be a sequel. The cover by Tomm Coker, contrasting the original Marvel Boy with his current look, is probably the best of the week.

The All-New Atom #4 (DC) Cover artist Ariel Olivetti puts together a hell of a cool cover here, with a woman about to be squihsed by Giganta’s foot, about to squish the Atom with her own foot, but the logo pretty much covers up the giant foot, ruining a pretty great cover. Writer Gail Simone, and the title, are freed from controversial penciller John Byrne as of this issue, with Eddy Barrows stepping in to take over penciling duty. It’s quite an improvement, in part because anyone who’s not John Byrne is free of the baggage that John Byrne brings with him to any project, and also because Barrows’ character designs are more solid and his storytelling a little clearer—Hero Ryan Choi, for example, always looks both Chinese and grown up now. Simone’s toned down the insane usage of asterixes a bit, with one of the three footnotes she uses in her narration not even being connected to an asterisk, but they’re still here, now pretty much the sole black mark on an otherwise really fun read.

The Boys #3 (DC/WildStorm) Ah, now this is the series I was expecting when I heard the premise and creative team of this new book, about a black ops team assigned to keep superheroes in line, brought to us by the writer of Preacher and the artist of Transmetropolitan. The team known as “the Boys” starts to bond a little, and we get to see their individual personalities a bit better, while Garth Ennis takes us aboard the sattelite headquarters of a JLA-esque team known as The Seven, where we learn just what it takes to join their fabled ranks. Artist Darick Robertson makes a wrong moment feel even wronger with his contributions to the scene, like the shape of Superman-esque hero Homelander’s tan-line. Eww. After this ish, it shouldn’t be too hard to root for the Boys when they inevitably start stomping super-skulls. Note the codename of the poor new recruitwho gets subjected to the superhero equivalent of the casting couch here—Starlight. That’s the same codename that Natasha Irons is going by over in 52, which demonstrates just how hard it is getting to do superhero parodies these days. Just about every conceivable codename has been taken.

Detective Comics #824 (DC) Paul Dini sticks to his done-in-one formula here, but draws on some past events from his short run so far, like the Riddler going straight. E. Nigma meets up with Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot at the Iceberg Lounge, where the two former rogues compare notes about the reformed life. Batman investigates, first in his work clothes, then later as Bruce Wayne, on a date with Paris Hilton—er, “ Jackie Vaseux.” Guest-stars include Lois Lane and Dini favorite Zatanna, and Dini even adds an interesting new villain, in the form of Mr. ZZZ, a somnabulist thug. Returning penciller Don Kramer does a decent job, but probably wasn’t the best choice for this particular story, as sexy women are not his strong point, and this issue is chock full of ‘em.

Doctor Strange: The Oath #1 (Marvel) I’ve always thought the Sorcerer Supreme worked far better as comedy relief (Busiek and Larsen’s The Defenders, Thor: Vikings, X-Statix Presents: Deadgirl) or deus ex machina (every time Brian Michael Bendis has used him) than as a serious lead, but Brian K. Vaughan has more than earned the benefit of the doubt at this point in his career. He starts out on a rather light note in the waiting room of Night Nurse’s place of business, and rather elegantly works in Strange’s origin (told in simple sillouhettes by artist Marcos Martin) and a gripping new conflict for him, involving the fate of his manservant Wong and, perhaps, all of humanity. It’s actually an interesting blend of the medical and magical, but to say anything about it here would ruin the punch of that last page.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #1 (Marvel) Wow, between this and DC’s All-New Atom, little superheroes are coming back in a big way. I’m not sure who gets credit for designing the new Ant-Man’s suit—I’m assuming it’s penciller Phil Hester—but it’s a winner, the best duds any of the heroes to have gone by that name has ever worn (I never got the original Ant-Man costume design…it wasn’t very ant-y). It looks a tad like the new “Iron Spidey” costume, but with a more tasteful color scheme and diddlybobs/antennae, the key to looking like an ant. After the first issue of Robert Kirkman’s story, it’s not entirely clear who Ant-Man is at this point, or if he’s two different people, but we see him foil a mugging only to ask the victim on a date, then flashback to a SHIELD hellicarrier, where we meet some low-level SHIELD agents who find themselves in possession of Hank Pym’s latest Ant-Man suit design. Kirkman packs a ton of character work (And panels! And dialogue!) into this very full first issue, and the art, by Hester and long-time partner Ande Parks, is fantastic (not sure if Eric’s sideburns would be considered regulation, but what do I know? SHEILD lets Dugan wear that funny little derby hat all the time, so maybe they're less stringent with personal appearance than other military outfits).

Justice League Unlimited #26 (DC) Hey DC, want to know the secret of getting me to make a complete impulse buy of a title I don’t normally read? Put Aquaman in it. It’s that simple. I don’t know if that works for everyone, or just me, though, so maybe that info’s not really all that valuable. Anyway, Aquaman on the cover and a quick flip through were all it took to get me to pick this issue up. Dr. Fate narrates, as the Justice League call him in to help with a magical crisis. Turns out it’s originating in Atlantis, so Superman, Fate and Booster Gold join up with Aquaman to save the day from Black Manta and Felix Faust. Fans of the late, great Booster Gold and the Peter David-era Aquaman, this is the book for you—this month, at least.

Marvel Team-Up #25 (Marvel) Okay, good news and bad news about this, the final issue of Robert Kirkman’s Marvel Team-Up. Bad news first: Freedom Ring does not, I repeat, not, get resurrected through his magic ring, or any even less likely method. Therefore, Kirkman went to the trouble to create a cool new additon to the Marvel Universe, and spent a lot of monthly real estate doing nothing more than allowing us to get to know him, just to ice him a few issues later. It was a real narrative sucker-punch, for which Kirkman is to be commended, however the fact that Freedom Ring was a cool hero who just so happened to be gay (and that’s the way he was written, rather than gay-ness being his mutant power or something) and that he was Marvel E.I.C. Joe Quesada’s poorly chosen example of a gay headlining character in the Marvel Universe when seeking to fend off criticism of an anti-gay policy makes Freedom Ring's death seem particularly ugly for the company. "See, we publish gay heroes, like Freedom Ring, who is starring in Marvel Team-Up," the line went, only Freedom Ring gets exterminated in the very next issue and, the issue after that, the series is cancelled. Ouch. As for the good news, this is a pretty excellent issue, wrapping up storylines from the previous 24. Sure, it’s more than a little rushed and messy, but considering how much is packed in, that’s too be expected. Kirkman takes us to the possible future that the “League of Losers” resides in to bookend the book (look, there’s a Speedball completely blameless for Stamford and what followed!), then flashes back to Dr. Strange gathering the original team he sent up against Titannus to, um, fight him again. Andy Kuhn provides the art, and hopefully he’ll provide more Marvel art in the future, as his take on a lot of the heroes herein is pretty fun (I particularly liked Shulkie wearing an extra tunic of Dr. Strange’s). Only one glitch in the art department—Did Jessica Jones temporarily go blonde at some point in the recent past, or has Luke Cage knocked up another woman we don’t know about? The best part of the book is probably the cover, a riff on Scott Kolins’ cover for #1, upon which Phil Hester and Ande Parks denote a lot of the major changes in the Marvel Universe over the last 25 months, from costumes to Civil War. I particularly like the tiny little Ant-Man running out of the crowd scene—based on this image, I think the new Ant-Man is going to make a welcome addition to the Marvel Universe, at least as far as crowd shots of superheroes go.

Nightwing #125 (DC) Confession: I’ve never read Nightwing regularly. I read a couple issues when it crossed over with Birds of Prey during “The Hunt for Oracle” and during various Bat-crossovers, but the series never really grabbed me (Scott McDaniels' highly kinetic art aside). I tried the first two issues of Devin Grayson’s run and then split—surprisingly, I just didn’t care for her take, even thought I’ve loved a lot of the Nightwing stories she’d told in Bat-books and in The Titans. I didn’t even bother with the Bruce Jones relaunch—all it takes to scare me away from a book is the words “Jason Todd.” Well, with another new creative team starting this issue, it seemed like a good jumping on point, and, honestly, I don’t see any reason to jump off yet. Marv Wolfman’s story is surprisingly sharp and a tad more hip than I expected considering how long Wolfman’s been writing DC comics, and Dan Jurgens' art is always welcome. I really liked his Nightwing during his run on Teen Titans, when the original team met the new kids using their name, and he’s only gotten better at drawing Dick since then. As for the plot, it’s mostly boilerplate at this point, as ‘wing tracks down a mysterious character who’s either a villain or a misunderstood guy in a super-suit, and a ghostly Monitor shadow begins haunting him, saying something about how Nightwing was meant to die in the crisis but survived—an oversight that need correction. It’s a neat little meta-fictional twist, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Premillennial Maakies (Fantagraphics Books) When I recently got my own place, one of the unfortunate sideeffects was the division of the household's massive, shared book collection, which cut our Maakies collections in half. I glad then to see that Fanta was re-releasing the first collection of Tony Millionaire's genius Maakies strips (one of the collections I'd lost to my roommate in the move), and that the new collection was so handsomely designed by Mr. Chip Kidd. Like a lot of Fanta's books, this one is so nice that it seems to a shame to stick on a shelf instead of leaving it out on a coffee table for visitors to see and enjoy (perhaps one day I'll get a house that's all cofee table, to leave my Maakies, Peanuts , Dennis the Menace and other Fanta books on), but at least this new version of the book is horizontal, and will look just right when set next to my other collections, like The House at Maakies Corner. Ah finally, my collection of the comic strip that ruined the comics pages The Columbus Dispatch and The Cleveland Plain Dealer for me forever is complete again...

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