Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Weekly Haul: June 13th
Countdown #46 (DC) I think Graig Kent at Rack Raids summed it up perfectly, in his review of last week’s #47:
For the DC die-hard it’s like adopting a schizophrenic cat: you want to love it, but it keeps biting and scratching you and it shows you no affection at all… and yet setting it free, for some reason, is the hardest thing to do. But it’s for the best if you just let it go. You may miss it, you may wonder how it’s doing, but you’re really better off without it.
I wanted to stick around for at least the first five issues, to make sure I read the Sean McKeever written, Tom Derenick penciled issue before deciding if I wanted to shell out $2.99 each week for a book that’s not really very good. While last week’s issue was an improvement over the first four, this sixth issue is right back in not very good territory. I don’t mind throwing $2.99 away each week on a frustrating read, but, at the same time, I don’t want to encourage DC to keep at it, either.
The thing about a weekly series though is that it’s awfully hard to drop. Literally. I mean, it's there waiting for me to pick it up every single time I go into the comics shop. I have it in my pull, right? So when I showed up at the shop today to get my books, if I wanted to cancel it, I’d still have this week’s issue in my pull, so even if I did cancel it, I’d have one more issue to read. And what if that one’s good? Then I have to add it back in my pull the next week. I guess I could just make a special trip between Wednesdays to cancel Countdown, but that seems like an awful lot of work, doesn’t it?
I hate to say this, because I realize it’s everything wrong with the direct market, but man, it’s almost easier to keep buying a title I’m not crazy about than to cancel it.
Anyway, this issue features the sensational character find of 2007, Forerunner. That’s her on the cover, knocking Jason Todd off the roof of a quaint cottage that’s in the middle of Washington D.C. for some reason.
I hated her the instant I saw her.
I think it’s her crappy, ‘90s X-Men name, which is clunkily obvious, descriptive and unimaginative, but, unlike DC characters with similarly obvious, descriptive and unimaginative names—like, say, Fatale, Bane or Doomsday—the word she’s named for isn’t very interesting or cool-sounding.
It also reminds me of the character Harbinger, since the word is a synonym for the word Harbinger has taken for her name
But, again, “Harbinger” sounds a lot cooler than “Forerunner,” doesn’t it?
And, for some reason, she also reminds me of Access,
that character co-owned by DC and Marvel, which they created for that silly Marvel vs. DC crossover series in which fans could vote for who would win predetermined character match-ups (regardless of whether or not it made any sense or not).
Also, she has a stupid Jedi padwan braid. How could you not instantly hate a character that has one of those?
Aside from Forerunner, here’s what else that wasn’t very good in this week’s issue of Countdown:
—The Rogues’ version of the diner scene from Pulp Fiction.
—Inertia doing a body shot off of Mirror Master.
—Mirror Master using the words “Weddin’ Tackle”
—A piece of the Rock of Eternity still in Gotham. Didn’t, like, every single magical hero in the whole DC Universe, including know-it-all Phantom Stranger, scour Gotham and collect every single shard to reassemble the Rock, as seen in Day of Vengeance Infinite Crisis Special #1?
—Mary Marvel willing to kill already. Come on, it’s only been a week since she went to the dark side
—Donna Troy just kinda sitting there while the Amazons attack Washington D.C., killing folks left and right
—Donna Troy and Jason Todd having the conversation you would assume they already had the last time they talked
—More Cliffs Notes versions of the JLA/JSA team-ups collected in Crisis on Multiple-Earths. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I read the trades, how about we use that space for something mildly interesting, like some more secret origins by stellar artists?
There were some positives, however:
—A demon made out of babies
—The demon saying he was going to eat Mary's flesh and “suck the digested waste” from her intestines. Yeah, it’s super-gross, but it’s original. I mean, how many times can comic book demons threaten to suck the marrow from the hero's bones?
—The return of Sleez, the agent of Apokolips who once forced Superman and Big Barda to make porn together. Seriously.
JLA: Classified #39 (DC) The next installment of Peter Milligan’s long-delayed “Kid Amazo” story, which reads like the middle chapter of a sort of interesting story which isn’t really a Justice Leaguer story at all. It might make for a better read in a trade, which is obviously what it was intended to be (And I don’t mean to imply that this book is a case of decompressed storytelling; since this story was originally announced as an original graphic novel, this is one instance in which everybody knows the writer is literally writing for the trade. Carlos D’Anda’s art continues to suffer from a lack of clarity and connection to the DCU as we know it, and this issue seems to be the worst of the lot. The Justice League seems to be based in their old Happy Harbor cave headquarters for some reason, Professor Ivo looks like neither his human self or his deformed self (he’s drawn to resemble Amazo’s almost exactly, from the point ears and black nails to his physique), and there is one panel that I can’t make heads or tails out of. On page 11, the fifth panel. The one with the red, Carnage-y looking things. What the hell is that supposed to be exactly? On the first few counts, some better art reference would have cleared that problem right up.
Justice #12 (DC) And thus ends Alex Ross, Jim Krueger and Doug Braithwaite’s slick, 12-part, nostalgia-driven paean to Alex Ross’ personal favorite DC superheroes and their villains. It occurs to me that the impulses behind this series, which I quite enjoyed, are remarkably similar to the ones behind Brad Meltzer’s JLoA, which I despise. Both are the results of a grown-up fan reshaping the DC-owned, created-by-committee shared setting to suit their own personal tastes. So why does JLoA bug me so much, while Justice doesn’t? I think it’s because when Ross plays with DC’s toys, he goes off and does it in his own little corner, which I’ve taken to calling the Ross-iverse, and thus the stories aren’t canon, they are simply meant to be enjoyed and then their events forgotten. But Meltzer’s been playing within the DC Universe proper, and his changes are all taken as canon, which forces the rest of the universe to conform to them. Also, Ross and company seem to be able to hit upon that which makes the various Justice Leaguers cool in the first place; Ross “gets” Plastic Man, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and Captain Marvel, even if he refuses to play by the bits of their history he doesn’t like (Aquaman’s son having been killed, for example), while Meltzer’s understanding of the Justice League characters is limited to a smaller circle (none of the above are even in JLoA, for example), and is radically idiosyncratic (Few fans seem to agree that the Leaguers call each other by their first names constantly, or that half the Satellite League would be cool with brainwashing the other half, for example).
Krueger and Ross also use multiple color-coded first-person narration boxes per issue, just like Meltzer, and they’re just as pointless here as they are in JLoA.
But as for this particular issue, it’s the winding-down of the epic more than the climax, which I think occurred a few months back, when the League first donned their action figure-ready suits and stormed the Legion of Doom’s headquarters. Little of it is terribly original—the bad guys betray one another, the good guys don’t and thus win; the Joker is so crazy no one wants to work with him, and then he kills his fellow villains in revenge for not being allowed to team-up with them; and so on. The one original twist seems to be Batman’s optimistic speech that maybe this time really will be different, that maybe this really will be the last battle between supervillains and superheroes for the betterment of humanity, rather than simply another round in an endless cycle of conflict (Given that this isn’t continuity, the speech has more weight than it would in a DCU story, where we could immediately snicker at the sentiments).
Otherwise, this has been one, big, long, beautiful and ultimately kind of shallow tour of the awesomeness of the late ‘70s DC Universe, if Plastic Man and Captain Marvel were incorporated into it a little earlier, and if it were being painted. On one hand, it’s the sort of story that seems beneath Ross’ talent, but, on the other hand, he and his collaborators were so incredibly thorough in their inclusion of every element of the DCU they liked that it seems like they were approaching the project as the ultimate one dealing with Ross’ nostalgia as its subject matter. Like it was JLA: Liberty and Justice to the hundredth power, which makes it seem forgivable. (How thorough are they in including everything Ross likes about the DC characters? There’s even a Legion of Superheroes appearance, one that, given the costumes and make-up, offers a new possibility for what’s going on in “The Lightning Saga.” I’m actually kinda surprised they didn’t think of a way to include a flashback to the JSA in action).
So, now what? I wouldn’t mind this team doing some super-comics in JLA: Classified (with Ross co-plotting and doing design work, not painting; I’d honestly prefer to see Ross devote his painting time to more worthy endeavors, like Kingdom Come or U.S.), or perhaps even JLoA, when Meltzer leaves. Over and over while reading this series, I’d come to an image of the whole Ross League standing there—the Big Seven, the Hawks, Plastic Man, Captain Marvel, Satellite Era Leaguers—and thinking now that’s a Justice League.
And, of course, no one's had much luck with an Aquaman or Captain Marvel ongoing to date...
New Avengers #31 (Marvel Comics)
In case you forgot, the solicitation copy for this particular issue of New Avengers went like this: “No hype! No BS! The most important last page of any Marvel comic this year! Do not miss it!” I’ve got to admit, I was intrigued about this bold claim, and had a hard time imagining what it could possibly be. I mean, Marvel has already brought Bucky Barnes back to life, retroactively impregnated Gwen Stacy with the Green Goblin’s kids, turned Iron Man and Reed Richards into their most hiss-able villains, publicly unmasked Spider-Man, brought their original Captain Marvel back to life and killed off Captain America. There ain’t a whole lot left to do with their characters that would be even remotely shocking, certainly not anything that could trump the things they’ve already done this year (i.e. killed Captain America). Short of Spider-Man and Wolverine making out on that last page, I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be exciting or shocking.
Well, I was wrong. It is shocking. It was shockingly uneventful. Want to know what happens on that last page? I’ll tell you. Back in Dr. Strange’s house, Wong, Jessica Jones and Baby Cage are all sitting around, waiting to find out if the New Avengers were all killed by the Hand Ninja in Japan or not. Then they find out that they weren’t. Then Baby Cage opens it’s eyes really wide, as if surprised about something. The end.
If that page is somehow important, I’ve got to admit, I don’t get it. Even in relation to the one genuinely shocking reveal in this issue, which actually occurs on pages 19-21. (If this were the sort of blog where I believed in “spoiler warnings,” this is probably where I’d put one; I’m assuming that, since you’re reading a review of the issue in question, however, you’ve either already read it or aren’t the sort to get bent out of shape about spoilers). Elektra really wasn’t Elektra all along. She was a Skrull.
I’m with Iron Fist on this one, when he asks “What-- What does this mean?” Yeah, I don’t get it. Elektra’s a Skrull—so what? And what does it have to do with Baby Cage opening its eyes on page 22? And why is this supposed to be important?
I suppose it could be that if she’s a Skrull, then maybe some of the other Marvels are Skrulls, like Reed Richards, Hank Pym and Iron Man, but that seems like an enormous cop-out. I mean, people were half-seriously guessing “They all turn out to be Skrulls” by the time Civil War #2 dropped. How ridiculous would it be if we find out that, yes, indeed, they were all Skrulls all along? It’s all a little too “Clone Saga” for me.
As for the previous 18 pages, it’s more of the New Avengers fighting ninjas, which apparently never gets old. Oh, and “Elektra” sets Cage on fire. I’m not entire sure why, but, as Graeme McMillian pointed out at Savage Critics, it’s an incredibly odd scene, one which (coincidentally, I hope) presages an upcoming cover image in which The Falcon, another prominent black Marvel hero, is set on fire.
Tank Girl: The Gifting #1 (IDW) This is a…curious book. While T.G. co-creator and writer Alan Martin is on board, handling the script, it’s awfully hard to think of a Tank Girl story as a Tank Girl story if it’s not drawn by Jamie Hewlett (or, in the case of the Vertigo mini Tank Girl: Apocalypse, an artists who draws sort of similar to Hewlett, like Phillip Bond). And Ashley Wood is about as far from Hewlett, aesthetically, as one can get. Not that there’ s anything wrong with Wood’s art—it’s actually quite good—it’s just so atmospheric and abstracted in a more realistic than cartoony sense that the characters just don’t look like Tank Girl, Booga and the gang, and thus don’t feel like them (Tank Girl, after all, isn’t a character like Superman or Batman, who has a history of various interpretations; it’s pretty much been either Hewlett, or the live-action film version, or nothing).
Wood’s sense of design doesn’t seem particularly Tank Girl-esque either, as she and her mates seem to spend most of their time in party dresses rather than post-apocalyptic punk get-ups. Maybe that’s merely a matter of trying to update the fashions for 2007, but if Tank Girl doesn’t have a mostly-shaven head with random offshoots of hair, if her clothes don’t look like they were pulled out of a closet that recently suffered a bomb attack, if there aren’t some prominently placed bandages about her person, I have a hard time even recognizing her (Hell, there aren’t even any tanks in the issue).
The story still reads like classic Tank Girl—that is, fairly random gags that aren’t as funny as they are weird—but the disconnect between the same-old writing paired with radical new art left me a cold to the whole endeavor. It’s interesting from the outside looking in, but it’s not very entertaining, certainly not as an immersive, comics-reading experience.
World War Hulk #1 (Marvel) Ah, that’s much better. Unlike the last big Marvel Universe crossover (and, come to think of it, the one before that), this story has a very simple hook that anyone can grasp pretty much immediately (Outside of the short in the Giant-Size Hulk special, I haven’t been reading any of the “Planet Hulk” story, or any of the various prologues and lead-ins to this story, and the first two pages were more than enough to know what’s up with this story), a writer I have no preconceived notions of (positive or negative), and an artist whose work I love and who I regard as the quintessential Marvel artist. And since Marvel has spent the last year or so completely vilifying Tony Stark and (to a lesser extent) Reed Richards and (to an even lesser extent), the Illuminati as a group (I mean, they totally slaughtered those Skrulls in #1, right?), I found myself actively excited to see Hulk beat the hell out of them.
And, unlike Civil War, there doesn’t seem to be any gray areas here, or even black and white areas that the writer is telling us are supposed to be gray. Iron Man and his cabal exiled the Hulk, then destroyed his planet, inflicting mass casualties. Hulk is nice enough to give an evacuation order before attacking Manhattan. Go Hulk, go!
I was not without reservations, here. This is a version of the Smart Hulk, and I prefer some version of the Dumb Hulk, one that doesn’t speak in complete sentences (At least he continues to use the word “smash” as a catch-all verb to denote any kind of offensive action, as in “I’ve come to smash”) and I’m not too fond of the tiara, armor (which, on the Hulk, seems redundant) and Hercules-like leggings look, but I stopped noticing either rather quickly. There’s also a pretty cheap reconciliation of the post-Civil War status quo, in which Iron Man essentially tells bitter enemies like Dr. Strange, Spider-Man and She-Hulk (hulked out again, for some reason…?) that it’s all cool now, which seems a rather anticlimactic resolution—even if it proves temporary—to months of built up, interpersonal conflict.
But back to the smashing. Holy crap, is there some awesome stuff in here. Hulk standing on the prow of a spaceship punching asteroids out of the way, Hulk calling out Blackbolt, Hulk hitting Iron Man so hard that he takes all of Avengers Tower down with them. Wow. This series is off to a great start, and I’m pretty excited about the remaining four issues. But then, I really dug Civil War #1, and that really excited me for the rest of that series, and it didn’t turn out so well. So perhaps I should temper that excitement with caution. At the very least, I learned my lesson during Civil War and now know to avoid the tie-ins, particularly any written by Paul Jenkins which also happen to involve Sally Floyd.