Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Weekly Haul: June 27th
Amazons Attack! #3 (DC Comics) It takes an awful lot of suspension of disbelief to read some comic books, particularly DCU ones. This one, for example, has Superman in a supporting role, and centers around Wonder Woman and the Amazons, so even before you start reading, you’re accepting flying strongmen from space with laser eyes, the literal existence of everything in Greek myth, a woman made out of clay, and so on. The problem with Amazons Attack!, which has now officially passed the halfway point and might want to think about starting telling a story soon, is that it just asks for way, way too much in the suspension of disbelief area. There’s straining credulity, and then there’s breaking it, and the series has long since broken it, and is now jumping up and down on the shards of it.
For, in addition to all those amazing people with amazing superpowers that make up its cast, the plot is one that doesn’t quite make sense given its players. Never mind the fact that former Justice Leaguer, former JSA member, all-around nice lady Hippolyta is slaughtering innocents for no reason all of a sudden (presumably, Will Pfeiffer’s going to get around to explaining that eventually), or that her noble, heroic lieutenants are thinking that maybe they oughta do something to stop her instead of having stopped her before the first of the few thousand deaths were caused by their nonsensical invasion.
Let’s just think about the pitch for this series, okay? The Amazons, less than 2,000 strong, invaded Washington D.C. with only swords, spears, arrows and some monsters. It is now days later and, according to the cable news scrawl, the death toll is in the thousands.
Now, I’m no military expert, but I think it’s safe to say that even with our military strained to the breaking point in Iraq and Afghanistan (and, I don’t know, maybe Qurac in the DCU too), there are probably still enough soldiers and guns to take down a few thousand women whose military technology stopped developing before the Trojan War (These Amazons, oddly, don’t seem to have any super-science, which Batman even points out by saying they don’t even work with microchips. Hey World’s Greatest Detective, pick up a back issue sometime, huh? Purple Healing Ray? Invisible jet?).
But let’s imagine that the U.S. military, for the sake of argument, is completely incompetent, and have lost their guns or something. How is it that the Justice League is allowing this to go on for days, with thousands killed? Because Superman could seriously handle this all by himself. What’s that? Kansas is on fire? Well, let’s see, he moves at the speed of light, so putting Kansas out oughta take…what, five minutes, if he’s extra-thorough? Honestly, I have a hard time thinking of a less-intimidating threat that the Justice League has faced since they reorganized prior to the White Martian invasion. And so far, the combined efforts of the League, the JSA and a handful of other heroes hasn’t been able to defeat the Amazons…for days. My god. How can I take this series at all seriously?
Now I suppose it’s possible that I’m missing something, as I dropped the unreadable Wonder Woman and Teen Titans, both of which tie-in to this storyline, but somehow I doubt either explains why Superman, J’onn J’onnz, Power Girl, Supergirl, Mary Marvel, Jay Garrick, Wonder Woman or one of the five Green Lanterns operating from Earth hasn’t just swooped in at super-speed, scooped up Hippolyta and ended the war yet.
There’s something Countdown-ian in this book’s attempts to tie in characters and story threads from all over the DCU, but manage to get everything wrong. Like why all the heroes who know Hippolyta haven’t thought that “Hey, this really isn’t like Polly, is it?” Or that Oracle called Batman, the first time the two have spoken since the decided to stop working together in another story that made even less sense. Or the president’s response to round up women nationwide suspected of being in cahoots with the Amazons instead of, you know, just sending a few thousand guys with guns to fight back against the handful of women with bronze age weapondry. Or hell, this
What's wrong with this picture? Well, aside from the fact that almost a dozen of DC's superheroes, including some of their most powerful, seem to be having an awful lot of trouble defeating one three-headed dragon (and it's not even a fire-breathing dragon). I actually find the fact that these all-powerful characters are getting their asses kicked by a single monster kind of amusing. I mean, just look at Black Lightning there. What was exactly going through his head, huh? Forget my super-powerful lightning power! I'm taking this thing on...bare-handed!
No, what's wrong with this picture is the Captain Marvel in it. Who the fuck is that supposed to be? We know it's not the real Captain Marvel (Billy Batson), since he's turned into "Marvel", changed clothes and grew his hair out. And we know it's not Freddy Freeman, who's apparently being groomed to be Captain Marvel II, because Trials of Shazam! is still going. And we know that this story is set during Trials because both Amazons Attack! and Trials of Shazam are referenced in Countdown as occurring at the same time.
It's just a stupid art mistake, Woods could have just drawn Martian Manhunter or Robin or Odd Man or Plastic Man there instead, but it's exhibit L that the universal traffic copping at DC is at an all-time low, which is troubling considering that traffic between DCU titles is at an all-time high. I mean, is there nobody at DC whose job is simply to read all the scripts and look at all the pages and make sure everything is consistent? If not, maybe Countdown and having several other simultaneous crossover stories (Amazons Attack!, Sinestro Corps) all being published at the same time really isn't such a hot idea.
There is one thing I really liked about this issue though. It didn’t make sense either, but it was such an insane non sequitur of a moment that it was hilariously entertaining. Page 14, panel one. Batman is looking down at the prone and unconscious form of Nemesis, and says to him, “Of course, you’ve got bigger problems right now. An Amazon attack, a deadly bee weapon…Bees. My god.”
Yeah, um, what?! “A deadly bee weapon?” SERIOUSLY?!
Black Ghost Apple Factory (Top Shelf Productions) Thanks a lot, Jeremy Tinder. Now I’m never gonna want to eat another apple as long as I live.
Black Panther #28 (Marvel Comics) Wow, it’s a perfect storm of over-exposed Marvel characters you’re sure to be sick of seeing in a few more months! Reginald Hudlin manages to work both the Marvel Zombies and Skrulls into a single issue. If only he could have had Iron Man fly in and try to register the zombies and shoot the Hulk zombie into space. Ah well, maybe there’s the next chapter of this story. As for this story, the new FF have teleported onto the Skrull homeworld just as the Galactus-powered Marvel Zombies are dropping in to feed on it, as was seen at the end of Marvel Zombies (So, I guess they actually jumped over from the 616 into the Zombiverse, which is itself parallel to the Ultimate Universe, and I always thought that Joe Quesada said if they ever crossed the Ultimate Universe and the Marvel Universe, it would end the world…or defeat Gozer. Maybe it doesn’t apply if they use the Zombiverse for insulation though?). There’s really not much to this issue at all, other than the various groups exchanging blows and dialogue, but there’s nothing wrong with it either. I guess, in that respect, this is the very definition of mediocre superhero comics.
Fantastic Four #547 (Marvel) As you can see from the cover, this is the pulse-pounding, action-packed, mind-blowing issue in which Johnny Storm and his sister Susan stand around in a cloud of smoke. No actually, despite what the cover says, things do actually happen in this issue. Quite a lot of things. Many of them rather interesting and exciting and/or funny. Reed takes a vacation from his vacation to visit Earth and Hank Pym to crack a mysterious object he found in space, the Frightful Four attack Susan, Johnny tries to hit on T’Challa’s bodyguards, and Ben has a very interesting conversation with Storm, which lends the issue it’s title, “Never Ask Her If She’s Wearing Colored Contact Lenses.” Dwayne McDuffie continues to write the Fantastic Six as a sci-fi action sitcom, which is pretty much exactly what it should be, and his artistic collaborators Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar just get stronger and stronger each issue. It’s really too bad that their work is buried between what is by far the least imaginative, interesting and good-looking cover on the shelves. Seriously, this thing is tied with Greg Land’s Legion of Monsters cover for most aesthetically abominable thing I saw on the racks today.
Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps Special #1 (DC) In a way, this comic book is really just your standard good Geoff Johns comic book. I know some people have very strong feelings about Johns, be they positive or negative, but I’ve never been able to just stuff all of his work into one category or the other. I think he’s done some fantastic superhero comics (most of which seem to be in JSA/JSoA, although dude also was one-fourth of the 52 team), a few that I’d go so far as to call brilliant, and he’s also done some shitty, shitty comics (most of them seem to have been in his Teen Titans run, for some reason). I’ve yet to read something of his that wasn’t just a superhero comic written for DC or Marvel, and so, as solid as he might be, I don’t think he’s done anything wholly original yet to distinguish himself as a great writer (In that respect, he’s clearly not in the same league as Grant Morrison or Neil Gaiman, or even Garth Ennis or Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar). I hope he does take the time to do something not dependent on DCU characters and plotlines some day, but even if he never does, there are certainly worse things to be than one of the best superhero comics writers writing at least one monthly.
Anyway, on the Johns scale, this is definitely on the high end, and, paired with Ethan Van Sciver, this book really fulfills all the promise of the Green Lantern: Rebirth mini the two created (picking up on several plotlines from it), as well as the early issues of the current run of Green Lantern which, unfortunately, really got derailed by the “One Year Later” jump. All that the pair did in Rebirth to reinvent the Green Lantern mythos is back here, underlined and further explored in ways that no one, not even Johns himself in Green Lantern really did before.
With all the various spin-offs and chaos involving the four Earthling Corps members since Rebirth—GLC, Infinite Crisis, Ion, the JLA/JLoA line-up flux—I’d really forgotten what a great job Johns did of finding and defining unique character traits in the four, and playing them off one another. Under Johns, the idea of the Green Lantern franchise as a team book is enormously appealing. Not only does every fan win when their favorite Lantern is both a Lantern and in the spotlight, but all four of the characters work best in team situations, playing off one another, so why not play off each other? (This is the first decent Kyle Rayner story I’ve read since Rebirth and, before that? Joe Kelly’s first few JLA issues, maybe?).
Speaking of Kyle, something happens to him here that isn’t really that fresh an idea (it kinda sorta happened once or twice before), and is also something that the tea leaves of future solicits kind of hinted at, but it’s executed very well, and I’m cool with it as long as, like his Ion status, it’s temporary. As the first half of the book proves, Kyle belongs in the Corps, sitting around a table talking to his fellow Lanterns.
In addition to the strong character work, Johns really weaves DCU continuity confidently and with clarity; there are plot threads that stretch back to the ‘80s and ‘90s contained herein, but rather than out of left field, they’re integrated into the story naturally, almost as if they were first being mentioned here. Short of the last page reveal—perhaps the biggest exclamation point ending in Johns’ career of last-page reveals—this could pretty much be your first Green Lantern comic and it would all make plenty of sense. (As for that last page reveal? Bigger than anything in all of Infinite Crisis, that’s for sure…instead of just a crazy Superboy, you’ve got the heaviest heavies in DCU history all lined up there).
I think I was even more impressed with Johns this week in part because I’d just suffered through “The Lightning Saga” last week, which Johns is at least half responsible for. With the godawfulness of Brad Meltzer’s Johns-approved fan fiction still in my head, it was refreshing to see how much better Johns is. He uses several of the same techniques as Meltzer, including multiple narrators within the same issue, occasional panel-packed grids broken into more horizontal than vertical tiers, multiple threads of verbal information and pulling plot information from the past to buttress the present story, but Johns does it all right; here they’re tools used in telling a story, not simply tools a novice is using to play with some toys in front of an audience. The Meltzer/Johns comparison was practically begged by the inclusion of the JLoA early in the book, when we see them trying to help Hal round up the Reverse Flash for questioning. God, was it refreshing to hear “Lantern,” “Green Lantern” and “Lighting” instead of Hal and Jeff. I suppose it’s also worth nothing that between this and their appearance in “Wanted: Hal Jordan,” Johns has written more JLoA adventures with Meltzer’s line-up than Meltzer has in his first ten issues on the series.
Hell, Johns even explained the way the DCU multiverse works now better than it’s been explained absolutely anywhere else before, although the explanation does raise a few questions outside of this particular book (What’s this business about the Source Wall simply being a barrier between this universe and the next? Seems a little…prosaic, doesn’t it? Is this the first mention of this, or was that the Source Wall as envisioned by Jack Kirby? And how come there are so many Monitors and only one…ah, I can’t bring myself to say it.)
Van Sciver likewise picks up where he left off with Rebirth, bringing a downright insane level of detail to the characters and finding interesting ways to put otherworldly grandeur into their every movement. The scene with the Reverse Flash, for example, with the skeletal afterimages trailing him, the strange aliens of the GLC, the baroque creature design that went into the Sinestro Corps, the wrinkles on every character’s face…this is just plain beautiful work, with almost every design, every line clearly thought out.
Note the “almost” up there. There is one single panel, where, one single part of one single panel where EVS screws up, which I was actually glad to see. Lets me know the dude’s at least human.
You see that picture of Black Canary? It straight up sucks! Ha ha! Nice job Van Sciver! Don't quit your day job! Your comic book is only 99.7% beautifully illustrated!
And Johns does write at least one line of totally perplexing dialogue (not counting the Sinestro oath, the last few lines of which I'm putting down to Sinestro just being a bad poet, rather than bad writing on Johns' part). Okay, so Guy Gardner flies into the big crazy red sun room where they're keeping Superboy-Prime imprisoned, and Guy has this to say to prisoner:
I don't get it. Really. I have no idea what that sentence is supposed to mean.
And as long as I've got Sinestro Corps in a scanner, I should probably point this out. It's not a mistake or a mystifying tidbit, it's just something I personally found interesting. You know that awesome two-page spread on pages 26 and 27, where we see the Sinestro Corps assembled in a canyon beneath a giant yellow power battery, listening to Sinestro's speech? The one with all those super cool, super scary looking aliens? I spent a long time lingering on that page, and returned later to really study some of the scary customers EVS filled it with. But what really caught my eye was that one guy.
You see the one I mean? In the lower righthand corner? The pretty ordinary looking guy with a beard and male pattern baldness? You see that the guys around bald, bearded guy include some crazy scary toothy claw guys, what looks to be some sort of zombie bat creature, something with a melty face right behind him, a gelatinous creature with human bones floating within it, a velociraptor and, my personal favorite, a big, blue monster man with a hunchback, his hump full of living babies!.
And among all these scary-ass monsters, there's just this guy:
Can you imagine what must be running through his head?
Marvel Adventures Avengers #14 (Marvel) Okay, so the plot is a rip-off…er, homage. At least it’s an homage to something so oft-homaged, and it gets a really fun Marvel twist. When a poor farming village finds itself terrorized by a small army of bandits, they look to seven strangers to protect them, promising payment in crops. The seven they find? The Avengers, naturally. There’s some great fun as the team tries to train their new recruits in fighting and strategy—I especially enjoyed Hulk’s lesson in smashing—and Parker really makes these characters work effortlessly together. Remember the hue and cry that went up in fandom when it was first announced that Wolverine would be joining the Avengers? Well, Parker makes it work here in a way that Brian Michael Bendis never did (in part because his team never seemed to all be in the same room at the same time), and the relationship he’s built up between Wolverine and Captain America seems true to both characters’ 616 iterations, and the character comedy who so often works into the lighthearted, old school action.
She-Hulk # 19 (Marvel) Yeah, you're probably gonna want to buy this one. It's the issue where Mallory Book tries to defend The Leader in court. But it's also the issue that contains this
And, perhaps most importantly, it continues to address the question of whether or not Chuck Austen's X-Men stories were so bad they should not be regarded in continuity, whether Marvel published them as such or not, a question that is raised when Book gets Jen Walters on the witness stand:
X-Factor #20 (Marvel) The army of one thing is cool, as is pencil artist Khoi Pham’s version of Rahne all werewolfed out, but this issue, like this storyline, left me pretty cold. Having not really understood House of M and having not read any of the follow-ups that this story deals with, I don’t really get what’s up with Quicksilver and the Inhumans crystals and what’s going on with the mutant powers he’s handing out and taking away again. Or whatever. Also, this issue reminded me that Marrow, Fatale and Abyss all exist, and that’s something I could definitely have done without.