Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Weekly Haul: April 25th
52 #51 (DC Comics) I don’t think I’ve been more excited about the release of the next issue of a comic since Kyle Rayner had to get off the phone with Superman at the end of JLA # 6 because he thought the apocalypse had just arrived. Joe Bennett pencils a series of homecomings through most of the issue, as Animal Man, Starfire, Adam Strange, Lobo and the Trinity all reach the end of their respective journeys. But it’s the last four pages that really generated all the excitement, as the secret of “52” is pretty heavily suggested at, and what went wrong with Skeets is revealed.
I don’t normally do so-called “spoiler warnings” here because, well, you are aware that you’re reading a review of a comic which might conceivably reveal information about said comic book, right? But for the sake of propriety, I’ll be as vague as possible. The big, surprise reveal of what’s up with Skeets is yet another thing I’ve seen Newsarama.com posters guessing months ago (as they similarly predicted that Sobek was the Fourth Horseman), and that some of them have been predicting an appearance by this particular character since the very first issue of the series was released, but it was so well executed that I was still delighted and excited to see him appear.
And his appearance suggest two things to me.
First, from a certain angle, 52 was pretty much a series driven by Captain Marvel’s rogues gallery, and if a series featuring just Cap’s villains could be both one of DC’s best-selling and best-written titles of the past year, why on Earth can’t DC make a Captain Marvel title work? Why are they even bothering letting Judd Winick remix the whole franchise into oblivion, when more or less straight versions of the bad guys alone, when in the hands of quality creators, is a recipe for creative and commercial success? Clearly, some mixture of these four writers could kick all kinds of ass on a Shazam! title, even one set in the shared DCU (I’ve heard a lot of people suggest Captain Marvel needs his own universe to shin in; I say, “Screw you!”).
Second, between this issue of 52 and Jeff Smith’s Shazam!: Monster Society of Evil series, DC should really reprint the original MSOE epic into an affordable trade paperback. Strike while the iron’s hot, DC trade paperback program!
The back-up origin this week is that of the Justice League. It may have taken DC an entire year to figure out and/or let us know how last year’s Infinite Crisis’s continuity rejiggering affected JLA history, but better late than never, I guess. In terms of story, it’s one of Mark Waid’s weaker origins (and Ivan Reis’ pencil art is hardly anything to get excited about here), but it does the job of at least nailing down the origin of the League, which has been in limbo for a year now: “Initially, black Canary, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter formed the group’s core. Before long, co-founders Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman assumed full membership.”
So, in other words, JLA: Year One is still more or less canonical, you just have to assume that somewhere between issues Wonder Woman showed up, helped fight some Appellaxians, and gave the whole “I’m kinda busy right now, but if you ever need me” speech that the other two points of the Trinity did. Black Canary is still a founder, and Wonder Woman’s continuity being shunted back to its pre-Crisis timeline didn’t knock Canary out of the initial League line-up (This makes a little more sense out of her current chairmanship of the League…aside from Hal, she’s the only founder on the team now).
So, according to this two-page story anyway, League continuity isn’t quite as jacked as Infinite Crisis seemed to suggest. Wonder Woman history, on the other hand, is still jacked, since the Perez-era of Wonder Woman was knocked out of continuity if she was in Man’s World eleven years ago at the formation of the League.
Amazons Attack! #1 (DC)
I have absolutely no idea what happened in this issue. Well, that’s not true, I have some idea. I know that the Amazons, wearing new costume designs by Pete Woods and commanding armies of mythological monsters, have seemingly boom-tubed into Washingon D.C. and started slaughtering innocents left and right. I know Hippolyta is alive again, allied with Circe, and leading the Amazons against America, requesting the president’s head on a spike.
I don’t, however, know why any of this is happening. I don’t know why Black Lightning is the only superhero doing anything at all about it (Good thing the Justice League just relocated to Washington D.C.; now they don’t even have to commute to invasions like this. So, um, what’s taking so long, heroes?). And I don’t know why I should buy #2. Should I have to have read the last two issues of Jodi Picoult’s run on Wonder Woman to be able to make heads or tails out of this book? (At least World War III had Marvel-style first-page plot recaps of salient info). Should DC really expect any of their reader to have to suffer through Picoult’s Wonder Woman? Woods’ art is top-notch, but Will Pfeifer doesn’t throw a single bone to readers.
Action Comics #848 (DC) Kurt Busiek’s sometimes writing partner Fabian Nicieza performs stalling-for Johns/Donner/Kubert-duty solo this month, with the first half of a two-parter in which Superman meets one of those Superman analogues that keep popping up in super-comics good and bad. This one’s named Redemption, and he’s an awful lot like Superman, right down to his family life and tastes in terrible sweaters, only his power-levels are apparently fueled by his parish’s faith in him. This can make him uncontrollably powerful, so powerful that even Superman is approaching him cautiously. It’s a pretty interesting story so far, and penciller Allan Goldman does some really nice work here (Well, except for the sweaters. Bleah). I know it’s become en vogue online to complain about the terminal delays on the Johns/Donner/Kubert story arc and the need for fill-ins, but as long as the stories are good, I don’t see how this is a bad thing (and, frankly, this story is just as good, if not better, than the chapters of “Last Son” we’ve seen so far). Yeah, DC probably shoulda set their dream-team to work on a miniseries or standalone graphic novel instead of the monthly, but no sense crying over spilled milk at this point—let’s just hope they’ve learned their lesson about unreliable creators on monthlies.
Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #2 (Marvel Comics) Jeph Loeb re-teams with his old DC artist partner Ed McGuinness for a look at how the two teams of Avengers are dealing with the “Death of Captain America.” And that’s just how Loeb has Spider-Man refer to their loss, as if it weren’t simply a friend and colleague who died, but as if they were reacting to an event comic. Check it out:
(Above: A badly cropped scan of a nice layout by Ed McGuinnes in Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America #2. Lame dialogue provided by Jeph Loeb)
Ms. Marvel leads most of the Mighty team against Tiger Shark and an army of sea monsters, where she works out her anger over Cap’s death by beating the holy hell out of the bad guy, while The Thing visits the New Avengers for a poker game, and they work out their anger bickering. Aside from Spidey’s reference to Cap’s death by the subtitle of the book and some histrionics about leaving an empty chair for Captain America, this is hardly a bad Loeb comic (no tedious first-person narration, cross-narration, or cut-and-pasted text from historical speeches).
The main selling point, however, is McGuinness’ always fun art. I love his cute little superhero faces, with their big eyes and square jaws. I love his squat bodies full of round curves and helium filled muscles. And I really love his sea monsters, including a nice Godzilla swipe (he was part of the Marvel Universe for a while, after all) and even the exact same whale monster he had fighting Superman back during his time penciling for the Distinguished Competition. Also, kudos for the Power Man costuming—no sunglasses or winter cap, just a nice, form-fitting black t-shirt and the old bracelets, making for a decent compromise between plain clothes and a traditional superhero costume.
Fantastic Four #545 (Marvel) It’s good old-fashioned cosmic adventure as the new FF tackle Galactus’ heralds while the big purple guy makes his way to feast upon Epoch, whom the FF suspect of having absconded with the body of Greg Willis, Gravity. Writer Dwayne McDuffie does good superhero fight chatter, and I like the way he makes the super-competent Black Panther seem less arrogant than Reginald Hudlin’s version and more aloof (And his last act of the issue sure was a surprise). I have no clue what’s going on with Gravity exactly, although I know I should read Beyond! to find out (and I will, just waiting on that more affordable trade paperback), but it’s an exiting kind of cluessness here (as contrasted to the the “The fuck--?!” brand of cluessness I experienced while reading Amazons Attack!). The cover is, unfortunately, once again the work of Michael Turner and it, once again, isn’t very good. Ignoring Silver Surfer’s ten-pack as, um, artistic license, can I at least ask why Ego, The Living Planet, who doesn’t appear in this issue at all, made the cover, instead of Gravity, Epoch, Black Panther or Storm, all of whom did?
Firestorm: The Nuclear Man #35 (DC) Well, this volume of Firestorm lasted about as long as Martian Manhunter’s solo title, so I guess that’s something of an achievement, huh? I’ve only read—let’s see—three issues of the series before this one, so I’m not going to bother commenting on whether the cancellation was deserved or not (although I think it was a foregone conclusion, given the replacement of the title character by a new one; same goes for Blue Beetle, Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis and All-New Atom). This issue, by Dwayne McDuffie and Pop Mhan, ends with a rather significant cliffhanger involving Darkseid, which, given all the Fourth Worldliness apparently going down in the upcoming Countdown, seems to indicate we’ll be seeing a lot more of Firestorm soon, and probably in that title. This issue lacked any truly giddy scenes like that of the Orion/Stompa fight or the Orion/Kalibak trash-talking of the previous issue, and other than Gehenna’s trick with dynamite, I didn’t really see anything terribly interesting in this issue.
Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood #6 (DC) Connor Hawke takes his first life at the climax of his six-part miniseries, which amounts to a bonus arc to Chuck Dixon’s run on Green Arrow. My hero. Maybe Dixon was trying to make some sly commentary about the amount of gore and violence in today’s DC Universe stories during the scene in which our hero and our villain duke it out knee-deep in a pool of blood (and the bad guy even literally tries drowning Connor in blood at one point), but somehow I doubt it. I guess we can just add Connor to the list of DC and Marvel heroes who really aren’t all that heroic anymore. I hope to see more of artist Derec Donovan in the DCU again soon. Chuck Dixon I could do without at this point, although I’d definitely read a Dixon-written Nightwing again, given how awful ‘wing’s been over the last year.
Heroes For Hire #9 (Marvel) This was my first issue of the relatively new (and probably not long for this world) series. I’ve never really read any stories focusing on any of the characters on this team, except Black Cat, nor did I have any strong attraction to the previous creative team, which explains why I haven’t read it up until this month. As to why I decided to start now, well, that is Devil Dinosaur’s crotch on the cover, isn’t it? The team—Misty Knight, Shang-Chi, Humbug, Paladin, Tarantula, Black Cat and some lady in white with a sword—get hired by SHIELD to capture Moon Boy, the little monkey man who rides around on Devil Dinosaur’s back. New writer Zeb Wells and new artists Clay Mann and Terry Pallot don’t actually get to D.D. this issue, but they do get to all sorts of prehistoric Savage Land monsters giving the team all sorts of inventive grief, so that’s cool. The two-page sequence involving giant killer butterflies was pretty much worth my $2.99. I’ll be back next month.
Justice #11 (DC) On the level of superheroes-per-square-inch-per panel, this is probably your best choice of books for the week. You’ve got the whole expanded Justice League line-up, the Doom Patrol, the Teen Titans, the Metal Men, pre-haircut John Stewart (rocking a little fro), hotpants-and-V-neck Supergirl, Mary Marvel, Batgirl and Captain Marvel Jr. vs. the entire Legion of Doom, with cameos by every supporting cast member from everyone of their books. Jesus. The story continues the epic battle between the two forces, which had so many twists and turns I’ve long past forgotten it (guess it’ll make more sense in trade, without months between issues). Most of this issue involves Hal Jordan and Sinestro beating on one another without their rings. Good old-fashioned DC superheroics, with no gore, ogling of underagers in panties (unless you count Robin, I guess) or heroes with questionable ethics. I’m going to be sorry to see this thing end, mostly because Ross and his collaborators (who I tend to mention less ‘cause their names are harder to spell) really seem to get all of these characters, even the ones few other creators do, like J’onn, Aquaman, Captain Marvel, Plastic Man and the Metal Men.
Justice Society of America #5 (DC) DC’s worst super-team title infects DC’s best super-team title as part of an epic crossover story especially created for fans of Pre-Crisis (on Infnite Earths) DC! Alex Ross provides the cover and it’s a totally badass image of Sand Hawkins’ new, totally badass look (How unfair is it that the JSA get Ross, while the “World’s Greatest Superheroes” get Michael Turner; not only does Ross know anatomy, lighting and drapery, but his Character Just Kinda Standing There images are all unique and active, whereas Turner’s are just kinda filling space).
The first half of the book features Batman, Geo-Force, Starman and Sand/Sandman/Sandy Hawkins (not sure what to call him, he doesn’t get a logo floating by him like all the other characters do during their first appearance) all go into Arkham to save Dream Girl from Dr. Destiny. There’s a lot of 40-and-over DC fan service I didn’t follow (Kenz Nuhor? Come on guys, it’s not like this shit’s in trade or anything!), but only one really icky part:
(Above: An unconscious and shackled Dreamgirl being licked by Dr. Destiny, who simultaneously thrusts his thumb into her mouth. This is one of those panels that makes me think DC writers and artists need some kind of mandatory sexual sensitivity class. Image from Justice Society of America #5 written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Fernando Pasarin)
The second half of the book features Superman bringing Stargirl, Cyclone and Red Tornado to his Fortress of Solitude to show off his statue collection of the Legion of Super-Heroes, who apparently have even better abs than the armies of Sparta:
(Above: The Legion of Super-abs, again by Pasarin)
Oh yeah, by the way, Superman? He was a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes back when he was Superboy after all, just like before the first Crisis (which he refers to as “the first crisis”), a time period that was erased from his past and their present during the Crisis. So, did the “New Earth” rejiggering restore the pre-Crisis Legion/Superman continuity, thus negating the other Legion reboots (and/or the Superman reboot), restoring the 20-year-old, pre-Crisis continuity and complicting if not negating much of post-Crisis continuity? Aaaugghh!
I know we’re only two chapters into this story (Warning! Semi-tangental rant imminent!), but it strikes me as a really, really bad idea, as much as I like to see the various heroes from various teams interacting with one another. This seems like it might have been a better story in an original graphic novel (like Virtue and Vice), all drawn by the same artist and with a nice, scholoarly introduction explaining who the characters are and their real-world histories.
As it is, the story jumps back and forth between two different monthly titles, features two to three cover artists, and two interior pencil artists with vastly different art styles. It also revolves around story points that are impenetrable to me, and I’m pretty familiar with the last 20 years worth of DC comics, not to mention being the kind of guy who reads the DC Comics Encyclopedia in my free time, and I don’t know who any of these characters are or why I should be excited to see them.
I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I imagine in a few months time JLA/JSA: The Lightning Saga is going to be collected in a hardcover graphic novel to be sold in big box book stores, probably with a trade dress that resembles Identity Crisis and Justice League of America Vol. 1: The Tornado’s Path with a big, fat “By Brad Meltzer” on it in the hopes of attracting fans of Meltzer’s prose to the exciting world of DC graphic novels.
But is this really a story that’s gonna hook someone on DC comics? If that future fan is intrigued enough by this story to seek out other Legion of Super-Heroes trade collections, they’re going to see a team that has only a passing resemblance to this one.
Anyway, anyone have any idea what happened in the second-to-last and third-to-last panels? Did Wildfire shoot the utility belt out of his chest, or did it fall on him from somewhere above or…?
Super F*ckers #279 (Top Shelf Productions) Super F*ckers is fucking super.