Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Weekly Haul: November 22nd

7 Brothers #2 (Virgin Comics) The latest Virgin launch is a collaboration made in heaven, between filmmaker John Woo and comics writer (and huge John Woo fan) Garth Ennis, with strong art by Jeevan Kang. It’s weakness is the same as all of Virgin’s launches so far, however: It crawls out of the gate, and is front-loaded with exposition. The exposition in this case is a lot more thrilling than that of, say, Devi or Snakewoman and doesn’t have all the question marks that haunt those titles, and it also stands on it’s own as a story. Still, it would be nice of one of Virgin’s lushly illustrated new launches could start with enough of a bang (and a complete story) to let readers know if the books for them or not. Of the four VC books I’ve tried so far, this is the only one I haven’t dropped yet.

52 #29 (DC Comics) It’s the elder statesmen of the JSA vs. the new Infinity Inc., and each seems to have a new recruit—the same old Obsidian and a brand-new Jade. Meanwhile, on the island of mad scientists, it’s Thanksgiving dinner, with chainsaw-carved ptero-turkey and Egg Fu on the menu. There’s one panel that seems a little over the top (page 15, panel 5), but otherwise, it’ s just about a perfect issue of DC’s best title. And have you seen next week’s cover yet? Wow.

Action Comics #845 (DC) Another strong issue of another strong run on another strong Superman title. Geoff Johns and Richard Donner do a straighter Bizarro then I’d like (Shouldn’t Luthor have said, “Don’t fetch me the Super-Boy"), but Adam Kubert draws a battle between the Man of Steel and the Man of Twisted Metal. The discussion between Lois and Clark regarding kids was frank and refreshing, even if Lois changes her mind, and the name they assign “The Super-Boy” is a nice tribute. Doesn’t look like Superman becoming a family man is a permanent change to the status quo, however, judging from the cliffhanger ending. Wonder if we’ll get a “Boy from Krypton”/Damien al Ghul crossover any time soon…

The Amazing Spider-Man #536 (Marvel Comics) Just last week I was bitching about how weird it was that Iron Man just shrugged and let Spidey get away in Civil War #5, and didn’t have the foresight to install a shut-down of some sort in his “Iron Spidey” suit. Well, Millar might not have shown it in the main series, but J. Michael Straczynki does show it here, as well as Iron Man following Spidey out the window and their battle continuing for five more pages. JMS does such a fine job with Spidey that it’s hard to believe he’s the same guy in Civil War; as anxious and stressed as Parker might be, he still cracks wise with Shellhead (Interestingly, if you didn’t read Civil War #5, the Iron Man vs. Spider-Man scene actually makes a lot more sense and reads much smoother than if you’ve been reading both ASM and CW). On page six, something really weird happens, as an asterisk-ed “Some time later…” caption tells us the remainder of this issue is set after Civil War #6, which won’t be out for a month now. Ugh…

Civil War: Frontline #5 (Marvel) Four more short stories adding depth, texture and a few confusing subplots onto the line-wide “Civil War” epic. (The main series’ “A Marvel Comics Event in Seven Parts” sounds a little sillier with each tie-in issue that comes out; shouldn’t it read something like, “A Marvel Comics Event in Seventy-four Parts?”) In “Embedded,” Ben and Sally both work their contacts, the former getting more info on a government conspiracy tied to the new Thunderbolts, the latter getting welcomed to the Anti-Reg fold. In “The Accused,” Reed Richards and Maria Hill talk over Robbie Baldwin’s prone body, about the mysterious changes going on within it. In “Sleeper Cell,” CEO and serial killer Norman Osborne easily infiltrates an international press conference, and there’s more conspiracy theory fodder. Finally, writer Paul Jenkins and Marvel enlist another great artist (Klarion the Witch Boy and Judge Death artist Frazier Irving) for another horribly offensive and nonsensical tale comparing the events of a real war to Marvel’s superhero crossover.

Conan #34 (Dark Horse Comics) New series writer Tim Truman and old series artist Cary Nord finish off their first storyline, as Conan and Jiara fight off hill-men who have no bones and are full of strawberry jelly (I’m guessing, based on how easily Conan cuts them in half). I was a little worried how Conan would fare without Kurt Busiek, but it looks like there’s nothing to worry about: It’s still pulp fantasy at it’s finest.

Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood #1 (DC) Connor Hawke, the son of Green Arrow Oliver Queen, was meant to replace his father when the original GA died, and he carried the legacy (and the starring slot in the Green Arrow monthly) for over 30 issues, until it was cancelled to make room for Kevin Smith’s relaunch. I’ve always liked Connor for the unique superhero he is—for starters, he’s a vegetarian and a virgin (unless you count that ghost one time)—and I was pretty excited that DC was giving him another shot at a starring role in his own miniseries. The creative team is a perfect choice. Chuck Dixon, who wrote Connor’s adventures on GA (as well as most of his guest-appearances in the ‘90s), is at the helm, paired with artist Derec Donovan, who’s style so closely resembles those who drew Connor back in the day. The story is a typical Dixon yarn, a big, action movie-style adventure, which seems greatly inspired by Enter the Dragon and slightly inspired by Norse mythology. Connor and sidekick/father figure Eddie Fyers head to China, recruited with the rest of the world’s best archers to compete in an archery competition. Dixon hasn’t mentioned why Oliver Queen, Roy Harper, Merlyn or either of the current Spyders weren’t invited (at least not yet), but Lady Shado and several interesting new characters seem to get invites. My only complaint is the lame title for the series. Connor, like his dad, goes by the name “Green Arrow,” but this isn’t called Green Arrow: Dragon’s Blood, which would have been an accurate and fair title (and probably sold more issues), or even just Dragon’s Blood (every comic book doesn’t need to be named after it’s star character, after all). Other than that, this was a plain fun action title.

The Enigma Cipher #1 (Boom! Studios) A college professor finds an old Nazi code (hence the title) in an old book he purchases, and passes it on to some students as homework, thinking cracking the obsolete code would be a nice group exercise. The government has other plans, however, since said text turns out to still be vitally important—important enough to kill innocent U.S. civilians over. Pretty, bright co-ed Casey is soon the last survivor with a copy of the code, on the run from government killers with no one in her corner save a cope. The story, by Andrew Cosby and Michael Alan Nelson, is straight up Hollywood action/thriller, which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about Hollywood action/thrillers. The art, by Greg Scott, is evocative and effective, though there’s the odd panel here or there that looks awfully photo-reference-y (I swear Casey morphed into Liv Tyler a few times). It’s from the same creative team that brought us X Isle, which is similar to in several respects, feeling like a movie script that got turned into a comic book miniseries. And, like X Isle, there’s a mystery propelling it, one that’s strong enough to keep you interested. The first issue hardly blew me away, but at the same time, I’m dying to know what the code says.

JSA: Classified #19 (DC) Wow, stories by Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty? On the same week? Beatty is another former Bat-writer we haven’t heard much of lately, and another very reliable talent (I enjoyed his Gotham Knights run despite my desire to leave the title with Devin Grayson, and his two fill-ins on Green Arrow were better than most of Judd Winick’s regular run), and one who often works with Dixon (The excellent Batgirl, Robin and Nightwing Year Ones). With this story arc, he tackles Dr. Mid-Nite, who seems like a natural fit, seeing how the doc has always been something of a Batman Lite. Someone is stealing meta-human body parts, and being both a superhero and a doctor, Pieter Cross is called in to crack the case. The plot is a riff on the kidney thieves urban legend, which is elegantly recreated on the first few pages by the art team of Rags Morales and Michael Bair, but bears an unfortunate resemblance to the John Sublime/Nu-Man plot from Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, which took place in a broader science fiction setting and context where it seemed much more natural than the DCU (we could get into a discussion about if any of these powers are actually biological in nature or not, but let’s skip it). It’s always nice to get more Morales pencils (I always thought he was the perfect penciller for JSA), and it’s cool Beatty doles out cameos to so many DC bit players, some of whom might even live and super-hero again if and when they get their organs back. Icemaiden, however, is pretty much a goner. Best single issue of either Classified series I’ve read in a long, long time now. Confidential to Roulette: You may want to update your computer system’s security files; Cross is actually Dr. Mid-Nite III, not II.

Planetary Brigade: Origins #1 (Boom!) In this spin-off of Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Hero Squared, the writers explain how the Justice League-like super-team Captain Valor came to be. The characters themselves are rather weak—Grim Knight, Earth Goddess, Fighting Man, etc.—and the character designs rather lackluster, but that’s as much a symptom of too many creators doing too many JLA/Avengers riffs, parodies and analogues over the decades as it is of any weakness on Giffen, DeMatteis or their artist collaborators’ parts (This issue is drawn by Julia Bax). If you’ve read any of the writers’ Bwa-Ha-Ha books, you’ll know right off the bat whether this is one for you or not, as it’s the exact same style of humor and execution. As a fan of many of their past Bwa-Ha-Ha books, I say this more in observation than in complaint. The various heroes all convene around an experimental weapons test, which gives rise to foe Mister Master and mutant prairie doges, and destiny seems to be pushing them towards remaining together as a team. Or at least, that’s what Fighting Man passively-aggressively observes while ranting that he wants no part of this “sorry little super-team” they all seem hell-bent on forming, even though no one other than him has suggested any such thing.

Punisher: War Journal #1 (Marvel) Frank Castle’s been pretty much M.I.A. from the mainstream Marvel Universe since Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s “Confederacy of Dunces” closed out the Marvel Knights title, but writer Matt Fraction and artist Ariel Olivetti bring him back in a big way here. The result is…interesting. The Punisher, a superhero distillation of the late-70s, early-80s bad cop/revenge fantasy movies, has always been an inherently silly character. Ennis took that very silliness and made it very scary, by simply putting Castle in more realistic situations. Fraction puts him in the same world as Stilt-Man and Jack O’ Lantern, and also gives him a rather loony sense of humor, which we get to hear a lot of, thanks to the first-person narration (Punny refers to Stilt-Man as an “asshat”, and makes an allusion to Gilligan’s Island that’s so out-of-left-field that Fraction builds a gag around it). Olivetti’s art is great, but his version of the Punisher has arms that look like they’re full of helium, which only increases the comedy of the book, as Castle looks more like The Tick than a nutty Vietnam vet-turned-mobster-serial killer. All in all, it was a lot of fun (the Iron Man robot scene pretty much justified the price of admission alone), and I look forward to #2. The issue also offers us another look at the Spider-Man/Punisher scene from Civil War #5, and there are quite a few little differences, from what Frank’s packing to the contents of Jack’s pumpkin helmet to whether Jester dies or not (here he gets grazed by three shots and takes one in the sternum) to how badly hurt Spidey is (He’s in good enough shape to stand on his own and trade quips with Frank). Line of the week: "Nobody gets me. Maybe it's the big skull on my chest, I don't know."

Runaways #22 (Marvel) Regular artist Adrian Alphona returns, and the title seems to be back on track after the Mike Norton-drawn fill-in story and the Young Avengers crossover. The team goes up against the Silver Bullet Gang (or, as Molly calls ‘em, “Cowboy wereweoofs”), and engage in some melodramatic character building, but the main thrust of the story concerns Chase’s dilemma of how far to go to bring Gert back from the dead. I think I know where this is going, despite the last page cliffhanger, which implies that Chase is going over to the dark side.

Sam Noir: Samurai Detective #3 (Image Comics) Manny Trembley and Eric A. Anderson’s Asian pop culture/Western detective story mash up comes to it’s conclusion much too soon, but we can always hope for a sequel. Sam enters his enemies lobby to kill guys in black suits, makes it to the rooftop for a showdown in a snowy garden, and then on to the big boss himself—er, herself. The creative team references The Matrix and Kill Bill, or, just as likely, the same sources those films referenced, and Sam gets off some more quotable narration, like, “There are a lot of misconceptions about what it’s like when two trained samurai duel…but really, it’s a lot more like two ships passing in the night. Only faster. And then one of those ships die.”

Ultimate Spider-Man #102 (Marvel) The very uncomfortable secret of Ultimate Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman revealed! It’s another exposition heavy issue of the eight-part “Cone Saga” story arc—the second, if you’re counting at home—but the revelations are so big and weird that I certainly don’t mind a bit. This story has just been one out-of-left-field left hook to the reader’s head after another, and I’m punch drunk and loving it. Regarding the Parker clones, I like how the one with the messed-up, half-formed face is given a messed-up, half-formed imitation Spider-Man costume by the high-tech lab guys who made him. I assumed he made it himself, but they show him escaping the lab he was birthed in here—all the others have cool super-suits, while he has what look like Spider-Man pajamas sewn by a junior high Home Ec student.

Wonder Woman #3 (DC) The cover date says “Oct. ‘06” and last week’s DC Nation column is in the back instead of this week’s, so I guess this issue is only about a month late, but it sure seems longer. Perhaps that’s simply because the rest of the DC Universe is moving ahead, while the adventures of this alleged third pillar of said universe has only managed three issues since the last volume of her title ended in the midst of Infinite Crisis. At this point, Wonder Woman has had more appearances in JLoA than in her monthly. I’m not sure where the delays are coming from—The Dodsons’ art is top notch, and they’ve done some impressive design work, but it’s not so detailed as to justify consecutive blown deadlines. And the story, while enjoyable enough, is hardly anything other than Superhero 101. Thus far, it’s simply been a series of super-people fighting, so it’s not as if Allan Heinberg has been laboring over the scripts (and if he has, then DC oughta hire a new writer STAT—if all they wanted was a mediocre story, then they shouldn’t have any problem finding a writer who can deliver mediocre on deadline). In this issue, Hercules fights Wondy’s rogues, Diana and Nemesis recap Hercules’ origin for us, then Wonder Woman fights Circe. And that’s all. Terry Dodson’s design work continues to impress—this is easily the best Circe design ever—but the title remains more irritating than exciting.

X-Factor #13 (Marvel) Writer Peter David rips-off himself with this homage to one of the best-loved single issues of his last series featuring many of these characters, in which the current members of X-Factor Investigations all visit Doc Samson individually for some therapy. In a way, it’s a bit of a cheat, taking the easy way to get us inside the characters’ heads; on the other hand, it does it’s job very effectively, and this makes for a great jumping on point for one of Marvel’s better-written titles. I was a bit lost on some of the X-continuity, particularly M’s story, and was a little unsure as to why Quicksilver is evil and powerless now (I skipped Son of M, where the answers presumably lie), and what he’s even doing in this issue, but overall it’s a great done-in-one.

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