Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Weekly Haul: March 28th

52 #47 (DC Comics) This week’s issue sends the spotlight careening all over the DCU, as we check in with several storylines, including a few that have been only touched on thus far. The crime worshippers in Gotham finally get their mitts on Batwoman, and Nightwing and Montoya prepare to rescue her, in “B Space” the yellow aliens mess with Animal Man’s head, in Nanda Parbat Wonder Woman and Batman get their shit together while Robin on the nature of language and reality, in Metropolis the Steels get themselves a shiny, new sign and a shiny new lease on life, and on Oolong Island Doc Magnus flirts with activating Plutonium’s responsomenter. Whew! Strong pencil art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, and a lot of dialogue that sounds like Grant Morrison’s make this a strong issue, even if it doesn’t hit the giddy high points of last week’s climax.

To pick a few nits, I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Montoya looks really, really silly wearing that fedora and trench coat, and I have no idea what she’s doing in the second panel of page 15 (Playing the world’s smallest violin for herself?). Also, I had to laugh when Whisper says, “There can’t be many with both the name [“Cain”] and the resources and training to become the other[“Batwoman”].” Yeah, how many women who dress up like bats to fight crime with the surname “Cain” can there be in the world? I can only think of two, Kate “Batwoman” Kane and Cassandra “Batgirl” Cain.

Regarding the back-up origin story, focusing on the Teen Titans, it’s a tad misleading (it’s actually origin of the current incarnation, not the Titans in general), but it’s the first team origin (discounting the Metal Men’s, which was really just Magnus’ origin) so far, so we’ll let it slide. The art is by Karl Kershl and he just draws the hell out of it. The characters all look great, and we see glimpses four different versions of the team. The teen characters all actually look like teenagers (even Jericho, whom Tony Daniel’s been drawing like an NFL linebacker in the monthly, and the girls, whom he’s all drawn to resemble supermodels). Kerschl’s art strikes a delicate balance between dynamic cartooniness and representational art, and is bright, fun and appealing to the eye. If the monthly booked looked that nice, I wouldn’t be planning on dropping it after the current arc (speaking of which, you can peruse the bad art of Teen Titans #44, now with vastly improved dialogue here, courtesy of Christopher Bird).

The story focuses on Cyborg and, after reading this, his continued presence on the team actually makes a bit more sense; for a while now, it seemed like he really needed to move on and graduate to the Justice League and let Robin or Raven take over.

Action Comics #847 (DC) The stalling action on behalf of too-slow artist Adam Kubert continues! This is actually a very nice done-in-one story, but the set-up is irritating artificial. While Superman fights the Phantom Zone invaders in the oft-delayed Richard Donner, Geoff Johns and Adam Kubert story arc, we check in on the very young-looking Ma and Pa Kent in Smallville, who fret about their sons fight, and flashback to a previous story in which the odds seemed stacked impossibly against their boy. Dwayne McDuffie does the writing, and it’s a really strong story, one that could stand just fine on it’s own without being an “intermezzo” to the Kubert one (I do hope they don’t stick this in an eventual trade of the Donner/Johns/Kubert arc). Of late, the Super books have been turning into anthology titles, to keep them on the shelves while Pacheco and Kubert draw, which would be fine by me if the stories continue to be strong as this one, so long as they quit trying to tie directly into those delayed stories (an even simpler solution, of course, is to ditch Pacheco and Kubert for pencillers who can do 9-12 issues a year).

Anyway, the story within the story involves Superman fulfilling his adoptive father’s wish to see space. It seems like a very simple, very obvious story, and yet I’ve never seen it done before, so kudos to McDuffie. The art by Renato Guedes is fine, and he does some neat stuff with aliens and Superman’s ship’s warp-effect. My only complaint is that we never get a good look at the Suneater Supes is supposedly so unmatched against. This scenario was screaming for a splash page featuring a massive Suneater and a tiny little speck of a Superman, and we never get it. I didn’t care for the design of the Kents, which too closely resemble the Smallville Kents (and seem to have de-aged 20 years in the past few years…Pa doesn’t even need glasses anymore), but that’s not Guedes’ fault, as DC’s been making them look younger and younger for a while now.

Batman #664 (DC) Finally the Grant Morrison-written, Andy Kubert-drawn Batman gets back on track, with the whole creative team reassembled for the first time in five issues. And it’s every bit as good as it was for the first story arc. Seemingly picking up right after “Batman and Son,” Bruce Wayne has a date with Jet, and we learn that the only person cooler than Bruce Wayne, is, in fact Batman. There’s a lot to like in this issue, from Bruce’s comments about James Bond to Batman’s refusal of a freebie from a prostitute (“I’m busy right now keeping the city safe from dirtbags”), from the Pennyworth blue rose to Kubert dressing his pimp in a cartoon version of golfer’s wear instead of the usual ‘70s Hollywood pimp gear. And the cover, featuring father Joe Kubert’s ink on his son Andy’s pencils? Wow. Beautiful stuff. The only thing I didn’t like about the issue? Morrison’s Batman narration can be as tedious as his Batman dialogue is brilliant and, of course, that I’ve had to wait five issues between “Batman and Son” and this issue. Confidential to DC: Get Norm Breyfogle and Joe Rubinstein on the horn to draw every other arc of Morrison’s run if Kubert can’t keep a monthly schedule; their styles are amazingly similar and complimentary.

Black Panther #26 (Marvel Comics) I find myself unreasonably excited about the new status quo for the Fantastic Four, with Black Panther and Storm filling in as the father and mother figure while Reed and Sue get past the whole him being a fascist sell-out prick who built a cyborg murderclone to kill a peer thing. Panther, Storm and Sue making so nice with Reed after the events of Civil War seemed hard to swallow, and little of it is terribly believable, from Panther being civil with either Reed or Stark, or Storm sitting down to dinner with the Richards so soon after Reed’s murderclone destroyed her home and tried to kill her. Also, breaking the news to Thing and Torch in this issue occurs rather differently than it did in Fantastic Four #544, making this Example #432 of things not quite matching up between Marvel books despite the fact that they’re all being devoted to telling one, big story.

That’s all the kvetching I’ve got, though (Well, I would like to see Black Panther get a regular artist at some point; even a crappy one, just so long as the title looks visually consistent for more than 22 pages at a time). Like I said, I find the new status quo pretty exciting, and look forward to months of Thing calling B.P. “T’Charlie.” Reginald Hudlin’s plot seems a little disjointed, perhaps the inevitable art of taking place before and after a story arc going on in Fantastic Four, but it does have a bug-man from the Negative Zone in it, and that’s pretty much an essential element in a good FF story. I love the cover, and if Niko Henrichon were the interior artist as well, one wonders if the title might finally be able to reach the potential it’s been flirting with for a few years now.

Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood #5 (DC) A pretty quick read this month, as the book basically deals with a dragon chasing Connor around while our hero seeks an opportunity to shoot him with an arrow. The scene where Shado hands the magic arrow to him from the other side of the rampaging monster is pretty cool.

Fantastic Four #544 (Marvel)
Dwayne McDuffie knocked his last two FF scripts out of the park, so I was really looking forward to this issue, the official start of the title’s new, post-Civil War direction. As in Black Panther, the relative chumminess between T’Challa and Storm and Reed and Stark seems a little hard to swallow after their deadly ideological battle during “Civil War,” but then, so did the fact that their conflict got so heated in the first place. McDuffie gets an awful lot done in this issue, sending the Richards to Saturn, announcing the new line-up at a press conference, dealing with some plot threads left over from Beyond!, and giving some exciting panel-time to FF mainstays Uatu the Watcher and Silver Surfer, plus a sentient planet and some foreshadowing regarding big guy who likes to eat planets. Oh, and Gravity’s grave is empty. What’s up with that? McDuffie writes all of the characters quite well, and particularly nails the voices of Thing and Torch. The pencil art, by Paul Pelletier, was much stronger than I had anticipated based on his past work, and there was really only one bad panel in the whole book (Panel 1, page four; I dare you to make sense of Storm’s anatomy under Panther’s arm there).

Green Lantern#18 (DC) It’s the debut of the newer, sluttier Star Sapphire (whose costume makes no sense at all on the cover), as drawn by the guy who gave Phantom Lady breasts the size of medicine balls in Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. The story is uncomfortably creepy, dealing as it does with a sentient crystal that wants to mate with Hal Jordan and undresses and possesses women he finds attractive to accomplish it’s goals. Acuna’s art isn’t so bad here, and I actually quite like his version of Hal, although he seems a little too shaggy-haired and young to be the same Hal we’ve been reading about in previous issues. The lead story is only 16-pages long, to make room for a back up “Tales of the Sinestro Corps,” featuring very welcome art by Dave Gibbons.

Sam Noir: Ronin Holiday #3 (Image Comics) “All aboard the Samurai Express! First stop: Swordsville.” How can you not love this comic book? The two pages in which Sam and Eddie cross blades and Sam thinks of colorful metaphors to describe their speed is comic book genius. Genius, I say!

Hawkgirl #62 (DC) Hey comic book publishers, want to know the secret to getting me to buy just about any comic? Put an interestingly shaped giant robot on the cover, and I won’t be able to resist. Case in point: This month’s issue of Hawkgirl, which I haven’t read since the first issue (the one where the book had its name mysteriously changed from Hawkman to Hawkgirl, but retained the original numbering. Sadly, everything after the cover, by Howard Chaykin, was something of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, there was a giant Hawkgirl-shaped robot inside, and it did shoot missiles out of it’s fingertips, but sometimes that’s just not worth the $2.99 you pay for it. The robot was grown from an Apokalyptian “Gizmoid” (and boy do I hope that’s an old Jack Kirby term) that patterned itself off of Kendra. It was apparently activated by the Female Furies, who seem to have the names of the old Furies, but all look completely different. Less Kirby-esque supervillain, more Greg Landian lingerie model. I’m not sure of anything that’s going on with the New Gods these days though, so maybe these are like, the daughters of the originals or from Earth-Two or something.

Anyway, artist Renato Arlem’s art seems overly reliant on computers, as if photo reference was maybe a little too heavily involved, and lacks the cartooniness I expect in a story about a giant robot that shoots missiles out of it’s fingers. The “acting” of the characters is all pretty stiff too, with little flow between panels. Mad props to Walter Simonson for including several sequences with the sound effect “Beyoww! Beyoww! Beyoww!” (You have to read those panels out loud for the full effect), and for the scene where Kendra goes all Tasmanian Devil on the Gizmoid’s giant robot ass. Now deduct points for that last panel, in which Kendra calls up Bruce Wayne. Is she calling Bruce Wayne because she knows the billionaire philanthropist and socialite? Or because she needs to talk to Batman? I suppose Hawkgirl knows Batman’s secret identity now too? Look, I know Brad Meltzer had her hanging out in the Batcave while everyone tossed around their secret identities in JLoA, but just because Meltzer does it doesn’t mean you all have to do it now.

Ultimate Spider-Man #107 (Marvel) Okay let’s see... Um… No…nope, sorry. I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about this issue. Scads of teen melodrama as Kitty Pryde meets her new homo sapien classmates and then she and Peter Parker have their talks, and tons of cool superhero melodrama when Daredevil calls to order a meeting of the New York City-based crazy people. A pitch-perfect superhero comic, month in and month out. Still.

Wonder Woman #6 (DC) Wow, I wasn’t expecting this at all—Very Popular Novelist Jodi Picoult’s first issue of her brief run on Wonder Woman? Not very good. Picoult leaves in place Wondy’s current nonsensical status quo as an agent of the U.S. government’s Department of Metahuman Affairs, and it doesn’t make any more sense here than it did in the previous five issues (Want to learn about humanity? How about waiting tables, serving drinks, driving a taxi or doing some social work? Why hunt superhumans for a living?). Picoult plays her as a fish-out-of-water, which would actually be a great Wonder Woman: Year One story, but it’s hard to believe that after 11 years in Man’s World, Wondy has yet to make sense of turnstiles, credit cards and gas pumps.

I haven’t been reading Manhunter (I’ve been reading it in trade), so I’m not entirely clear on her current wanted status, and no one seems entirely clear on her continuity post-Infinite Crisis, so the pall of confusion that’s hung around her since is still there, hanging heavier each month

It probably doesn’t help that her stories continue to revolve around killing federal employee and human being Maxwell Lord, the evil genius of Checkmate, in a story that is essentially just a giant continuity error.

Or that the last chapter of “Who Is Wonder Woman?” didn’t see print. I think it’s safe to assume she survived the story arc and got her powers back from Circe, but it seems odd that Picoult is herself telling a story in which Circe is masquerading as Wonder Woman too. She used the exact same evil plot twice in a row? What kind of supervillain is she?

The art, by penciller Drew Johnson and Ray Snyder, is okay, but seems rushed is a few spots, like Wondy’s fluctuating breast size in the first few pages, or the tear that appears on her check in one panel for no reason, disappearing immediately. The perspective in the panel that Sarge Steel holds up the fake Wonder Woman’s recovered bracelets is all messed up too, what with the background being bigger than the foreground.

Page 12, a six-panel sequence that shows off all of Wonder Woman’s powers as well as her sense of humor, is very well-done verbally and visually though, and that silver lining to this gray cloud of a book will probably inspire me to give Picoult and company one more chance next month. But man, at this point, I think Wonder Woman is a lot like Flash: The Fastest Man Alive: An ill-considered relaunch driven more by an editorial desire to fix what ain’t broke that’s better off being ignored until DC realize they’ve made a mistake and rectify it.

Texas Strangers #1 (Image) This book imagining cowboy days in a world full of Dungeons & Dragons style magic and monsters features the sort of genre-mixing that pretty much guarantees a look-see from me. Would it turn out to be as great as Sam Noir or Arrowsmith? Well, not so far, but it’s only been one issue. It is off to a fairly interesting start. Writers Antony Johnston and Dan Evans III reimagine late 19th century North America as divided into four different regions, with free Texas smack dab in the middle. Our heroes, ginger siblings Madara and Wyatt, are journeying there with a magical knife of some sort for…some reason. There they run afoul of wicked gang the Lobos Blancos and spell-wielding lawmen the Texas Rangers (though people often add an “S” to the second word). Thus far the story is pretty much just a straight western with fantasy details, though there’s a nice, fun tone to it. Artist Mario Boon’s blocky, cartoony art was definitely the highlight for me personally though. The assignation of the non-human races to non-white races could make things a little weird (according to the map, the Native Americans are all elves and the orcs all live south of the border) but again, it’s early yet.

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