Thursday, March 22, 2007

Weekly Haul: March 21st

(Above: Wolverine delivering what should totally be his new catchphrase, in a panel from Marvel Adventures Avengers #11 written by Jeff Parker and drawn by Juan Santacruz and Raul Fernandez)

52 #46 (DC Comics) There have been forty-six issues of this series so far. Most have been good, some have been very good, a few have been truly great and a couple have been pretty lame. But this one? This one is fucking genius. At least the first 14 pages are. The super-pissed, super-powered Black Adam flies to Oolong Island to slaughter the mad scientists responsible for killing his family, and those lovable, evil, lunatics rally to take him out with their nutty inventions. Dr. Cyclops literally blinds him with science! Egg-Fu pushes a big red button, with a flunky's head. Komrade Krabb says “Da!” Dr. Cale gets turned on by impending death. I.Q. rallies the scientists with a pep talk “We’ve all been here before, let’s face it…Some of you boys look like you’ve been bullied all your lives. And now the ultimate big, bad bully’s outside, knocking on the door!”). Dr. Morrow keeps his cool, and shows how a villain wins an eBay auction. And Dr. Sivana kicks back, completely non-plussed (“Now you know what it’s like having the Marvels on your ass”). I don’t know which of the four writers is most responsible for this segment—the dialogue sounds most like Morrison’s—but man, I would absolutely eat up a monthly book with a cast this crazy.

As for the last few pages, the two Steels bust Luthor with a little help from Clark Kent, and the old men of the JSA sift through the ruins of Bialya. This month also contains a back-up origin, probably the most redundant origin Mark Waid could have possibly written, that of Batman—Rich kid. Loses parents. Dresses like a bat. Got it.

Oh, as for J. G. Jones’s cover? I’m tempted to say it’s his very best yet, but it’s hard to say that, considering the one of Bruce Wayne spearing his own cape and cowl or even last week’s crotch-shot of Black Adam doing his Conan impression. DC had damn well better be assembling a 52-page prestige format special collecting these things sans logo and extraneous text.

Amazing Spider-Man #539(Marvel Comics) In the aftermath of May’s wounding, Peter Parker goes all Dark Knight returns on some bad guys. Seeing an outted Spider-Man doing his Spider-Manning without a costume and in plain clothes was kinda cool, but the whole angry-superhero-pushed-to-his-limits thing is a little too been there, done that for my tastes. I didn’t really follow the logic of the costume change, particularly since he doesn’t even need a costume now that he’s out, or why the Kingpin is being set up as the Big Bad. Sure, he ordered the hit, but who’s the jackass who pushed Peter to unmask on national television, pushed he and his family out from his protection and is very, very easy to locate and work out one’s anger issues on? But something tells me we’re not going to see Spider-Man vs. Iron Man next issue. I haven’t been terribly thrilled about the art on this book since John Romita Jr. left (yeah, I know, that was years ago), but Ron Garney and Bill Reinhold do a great job her—this is probably the strongest work I’ve seen from Garney.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #50 (DC) Man, this book has been treading water so long that I was ready for just about anything to happen here. Even the seeming death of one of my favorite heroes in the DC Universe didn’t register as a negative to me, since it at least means the narrative is moving forward finally. Aquaman II, The Dweller and Shark King journey to Atlantis, Mera meets them, Vulko and the Sea Devils get some panel time, a new Topo is introduced (Eh), Sub Diego is mentioned, a new conflict arises and, oh yeah, Tempest appears for the first time since Infinite Crisis. I really want all this Aquaman business to get resolved soon; I don’t mind there being two Aquamen, or even this one starring in the monthly, but I do want the original guy being the JLA’s resident grumpy badass, flirting with Wonder Woman poking bad guys with a trident. New writer Tad Williams (never read his novels, sorry) seems to be going somewhere (and fast) which is a good thing, newpencil artist Shawn McManus kicks all sorts of ass, and Mario Alberti’s cover is probably the best Aquaman cover I’ve ever seen. Wow.

Birds of Prey #104 (DC) As a long-time resident of Gotham City and a long-time Gotham-based vigilante crime fighter, isn’t it odd that Helena Bertillinni doesn’t recognize famous socialite-turned-super-criminal Thomas “Catman” Blake. Also in the negative column: Hawgirl doesn’t have a shirt with sleeves that goes all the way to her pants to wear when flying around in snowy Russia? (Or does the Nth metal keep her warm too? I’m not up to speed on all the properties of Nth metal…) And writer Gail Simone really shoulda threw another random villain onto the Secret Six line-up, as a team called “The Secret Six” with only five members on it is really dumb, and acknowledging that by having a character point it out doesn’t make it much less dumb. And that last page reveal…eh. I love the character and was sad she died, but it would be nice if DC could leave a single superhero dead.

In the positive column: I love Simone’s Secret Six, and it’s a pleasure to listen to Ragdoll’s banter, see Catman and Deadshot flirt with each other, and hear some justification finally given for what they’re all still doing hanging out. Nicola Scott’s art is generally pretty strong, and I’m even (slowly) starting to get used to her ridiculous redesign of Big Barda. Confidential to Simone and Scott: Barda can make her armour disappear and reappear at will, so when she’s chilling out, you don’t have to draw her in chainmail with a funny hat, and when she’s not girded for war, she wears an Apokalyptian sports bra and short-shorts, which should allow you to work in some Barda cheesecake without having to resort to swiping her breastplate to show off her cleavage.

The Brave and the Bold #2 (DC) Okay, you know a character is in serious trouble when even George freaking Perez can’t redeem her on the comics page. Now don’t get me wrong, Perez’s Supergirl is by far the best-looking Supergirl I’ve ever seen. She resembles a human being, and even a teenage one at that, but it’s awfully sad when a basic understanding of human anatomy and the ability to competently render it is enough to distinguish an artist’s work on a character. I’m sure writer Mark Waid had something to say about it, but I felt a downright crushing sadness when Supergirl showed up near the climax in pigtails and a super-short, pink baby doll dress, clutching a stuffed animal. Two blatant panty shots later, she emerges from a crater, her disguise torn off to reveal her normal costume, with that damn skirt actually tucked into the waitband of her panties. Sigh. I’m not generally a fan of either Hal Jordan or this Supergirl, but Waid continues to find what is distinct about the characters and exploit it to the point where you can almost believe you’re reading about real people. Supergirl even seems like a real teenager through most of it, but of course she’s a teenager with a crush on the older man she’s teamed up with (I suppose it’s something that Hal at least points out to himself and Kara that she’s too young for him, but, as I mentioned in the Birds bit, acknowledging something stupid doesn’t make it not stupid. Ultimately I’m just quibbling though. This is a very solid story, with a beginning middle and end, but one that still continues into the next issue—it’s just what a monthly comic should be. Waid’s script is packed with panels, and there’s no artist I’d rather see rendering an alien world than Perez, as so many of his panels are just exploding with detail.

Darkman Vs. Army of Darkness #4 (Dynamite Entertainment) I like the part where Ash uses a geyser of blood to put out Darkman’s burning coat (that’s a creative use of gore), and the part where Darkman uses ripped-out spinal cords, the heads still attached, to beat on his enemies with. I’m not sure those two scenes, plus the meta-joke of two Sam Raimi film heroes meeting each other in the funny books, quite justify the entire series’ existence or not, but they were at least two very bright spots in the conclusion.

Detective Comics #830 (DC) Stuart Moore’s fill-in two-parter “The Seige” is the first multi-issue story since Paul Dini began his run on the title. It didn’t really need to be that long. Take out the plot about Robin getting sprayed with the explosive goo—did anyone spend the last month worrying whether or not he might actually die in an explosion?—and this easily could have been one issue. Not bad at all, but that’s not the same as being good either, is it?

Justice Society of America #4 (DC) The last page made absolutely no sense to me at all, and the new choice for chairperson reeks of affirmative action—seriously, Cyclone would be the only worse choice for leader—but that’s all I can think to complain about this issue. The multiple narrators in the opening scenes gave me bad flashbacks to the last issue of JLoA, but Geoff Johns cut it out almost immediately. The remainder of the issue is essentially just a big superhero vs. super-Nazi fight, being fought on three different fronts. Lots of super-soap opera thrown in, and the best art of Dale Eaglesham’s career. His Vandal Savage is fantastic, as was the way he subtly “devolved” him during the fight, and Wildcat, um, III’s fighting technique—throwing himself cat like around the joint—was absolutely perfect. This book may not sell quite as high as the other Justice title or New Avengers yet, but it’s by far the best superhero team book from either major publisher.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #11 (Marvel) It boggles my mind why so many readers dismiss this book because it’s “all ages” (seriously, I doubt kids would even get half the best jokes here) or because it’s not officially in continuity (Hell, the characters seem more “in continuity” here than they did during “Civil War”). It’s essentially an action-packed done-in-one, with a half-dozen great jokes thrown in. In this issue, the Avengers assemble against It, The Living Colossus, and then are recruited into the Serpent Society.

The Spirit #4 (DC) Remember how great the last three issues were? Well, this one equally great (took me a while to figure out the spread on page two and three though). Silk Satin, Hussein Hussein and the Spirit vs. The Octopus, by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone. Yes, it’s another trip to comic book heaven.

Transformers Spotlight: Soundwave (IDW)
I got pretty tired of Transformers comics during the Dreamwave deluge, but the few I’ve read from their time as an IDW license have all been solid. I actually spent a few moments with this book in my hand at the shop today, considering. Normally this isn’t a book I would have bought but, well, it was Soundwave, the second coolest Transformer of them all. It was written by Simon Furman, who writes Transformers comics with the regularity that some people eat meals, and drawn by Marcelo Matere. There were two covers and I bought “Cover A,” but they both looked almost exactly the same to me; I actually stood there wfor a nother moment with the book in my hand, trying to discern the differences between “Cover A” and “Cover B,” to make sure I got the best one.

Now, I love Soundwave. He had the coolest voice of any of the Decepticons (except Starscream, of course), he had that cool, expressionless, ninja-like jaw plate thing going on, he had a gattling gun on his shoulder, and he had a bunch of other super-cool Decepticons he could shoot out of his chest (particularly Ravage and Laserbeak, who appear in this book). The poor guy does not age well at all though; his disguise is a completely obsolete piece of technology, one which can’t be modernized as easily as the various cars and planes (Seriously, a tape recorder with cassettes is now just slightly less conspicuous than a giant robot hanging out with a robot bird and robot panther).

So I was sorta interested in seeing what IDW had to do with the character (And man, is it nice to be able to read a Transformer comic that isn’t just about Optimus Prime and Megatron fighting!) I would say that it was rather disappointing, but then, I wasn’t really expecting much from it. Furman gets around the obsolescence issue by setting the bultk of the story in 1984, and the epilogue in a pawn shop (“It’s a classic.”). The story involves Soundwave, looking out for number one as if he were just another Starscream, and infiltrating a group of rebellious religious fanatic Decepticons, all of whom are from the lamer generations (Bludgeon?).

What bugged me the most was that Soundwave himself narrates the issue. Maybe comic book Soundwave sounds different than cartoon Soundwave, but when I read Soundwave dialogue, I “hear” it in my head in the voice of cartoon Soundwave, and that can be hard to figure out after a few words; can you imagine hearing paragraphs of it?

X-Factor #17 (Marvel) Jamie’s still rounding up rogue dupes, but thing take a turn for the very interesting this issue, when Rictor and Rahne jump to the rescue of the wrong victim. The art by penciller Khoi Pham and inker Sandu Florea is great—it has a Leinil Yu-ishness about it—and I’m more excited about the next issue of X-Factor than I’ve been after finishing any of the previous issues.

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