Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Weekly Haul: October 31st

Action Comics #858 (DC Comics) Great. A Legion of Super-Heroes story. I’ve never been able to keep the various Legions straight, although I’m often told by readers with more experience than I that it’s actually quite simple. It just won’t sink in, for some reason. It’s like calculus. Maybe if I had a tutor, and devoted a little extra time, I’d get it, but, well, it’s not really all that interesting to me in the first place, and no one’s going to be testing me on this stuff, so why bother?

Complicating matters is the Infinite Crisis rejiggering, which threw a whole bunch of question marks at readers, regarding the intersection of Superman and LOSH continuity. This issue is the first part of “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes,” which spins out of the Geoff Johns/Brad Meltzer-penned “Lightning Saga,” one of the worst, most nonsensical comic book stories I’ve ever read with a DC bullet on the front (And which, incidentally, threw even more question marks at us).

On no, I am not looking forward to this storyline.

I do like the new art team of Gary Frank and Jon Sibal quite a bit; Frank’s art has a sketchier quality than I remember it from the last time I saw it somewhat regularly (maybe 10 years ago, at this point), and, stylistically, he’s a perfect replacement for Adam Kubert. Close enough he probably could have gone ahead and drawn that last chapter of the still-unfinished “Last Son of Krypton” story and no one would have cried foul too loudly.

He does a very nice Superman, one that looks slim and trim, rather than bulging with muscles (Since Superman’s strength and thoughness are superpowers and not the result of physical muscles, I’ve never understood why so many artists insist on giving him that hulking physique), and I love the first appearance of the Silver Age Legion…they look like total maniacs, which seems appropriate, from what I’ve read of their original adventures (Still need to hit Showcase Presents: The Legion of Super-Heroes).

Plot-wise, Johns is playing with the idea that the Legion were young outcast Clark Kent’s only real friends, the only ones he could relate to, which he’s hinted at previously. I appreciate the attempt, but it seems a little forced here, as in the scene where Perry White is lecturing Clark about needing to reach out and befriend his fellow reporters at the Planet. Perry, he fucking married one of them; how much more can he reach out?

Then there’s a reference to “The Lightning Saga” and a trip to the future, in which we see a version of the LOSH that seems to be a different one…different even from the one we saw in “Lightning Saga.” Maybe. I don’t know. Damn, I hate Legion stories…





Batman #670 (DC) You won’t be able to tell on the text-free cover image above, but the cover of this issue has a neat band across the top that cuts into the image, forming a sort of Bat-symbol shape. I really like the design of it. From there on, though, this is a pretty rough issue, particularly for something with the name “Grant Morrison” right there on the front.

This is a particularly nostalgia-soaked story, with Morrison throwing out characters and names from decades ago without any attempt at context. He does this all the time, of course, usually implying backstories that may or may not actually exist in foul-smelling, yellowing back issues somewhere. It can be a neat effect—I liked imagining the implied adventures of the Club of Heroes from the last arc, for example—but these characters are a lot less colorful and interesting, assembled from low-points in DC history, and are much more poorly drawn than J.H. Williams’ Club was.

We’ve got Batman talking to I-Ching, Wonder Woman’s mentor/sidekick from her brief mod period, and we’ve got the evil Sensei, former leader of the League of Assassins, planning to go to war with a mummified guy calling himself Ra’s al Ghul, who was totally killed forever in Death and the Maidens. Actually, I thought I-Ching was dead too, wasn’t he? Or was that two continuity reboots ago?

Anyway, how old are these characters? Well, they both appear in stories from Showcase Presents: Brave and the Bold—The Batman Team-Ups Vol. 1, if that’s any indication.

There’s also a trio of scantily-clad villains—Dragon Lady, Silken Spider and Tiger Moth—whom I assume are old characters too, but I’ve never read any stories about them.

They all pass through the story in a collection of scenes that don’t really add up to anything but a bunch of shouting about motivations.

The art is by the new “regular” artist (the third Morrison’s worked with in his four-story tenure on the book), Tony S. Daniel, and he’s easily the weakest of the three. There’s a rushed look to his work, with the mis en scene often incredibly counterintuitive (I had to reread the first scene a few times to figure out what was going on).

Now look at page 18, panel three. Did the mummy claiming to be Ra’s put a hole in his hand that he is now gazing through? Or is there an eye on the palm of his hand? I’m assuming the former, but since the eye isn’t really symmetrical to the other one, and the spatial relations in the panel so flat, it seems more like the latter.

I’m honestly quite surprised that DC gave Daniel a gig with Grant Morrison on Batman. There’s no reason to saddle your super-star writers and characters with sub-par artists…





Biff-Bam-Pow! #1 (Amaze Ink/SLG Publishing) Wow, no one’s ever used this title for a comic book before Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer? That’s kind of surprising, actually. This is a perfectly pleasant anthology comic, featuring the two things the comics industry can apparently never have enough of—superheroes and fighting!

Of course, when Dorkin and Dyer are creating the heroes and choreographing the fights, it’s at least a ton of fun, and told in well-designed black and white art, the panels all spilling over with neat little alien creatures.

The lead story is set somewhere in space or in the future (or perhaps in space in the future), on a world full of funny-looking aliens of various kinds. One Punch Golderberg is a 110-pound, short-haired girl with a Star of David around her neck and dynamite in her fists. She’s now a crime-fighter, but was previously a pro boxer, and when we meet her, she’s telling an interviewer about her title match against Otto Von Ripsnort III. It involves a great deal of punching, not only of boxers, but also a giant monster and several gorillas.

A series of shorter back-ups give us a two-pager featuring a mischievous monkey named Nutsy Monkey (Spoiler alert! In the last panel, someone literally spanks a monkey! Ha ha ha!), a one-page gag about a superhero named Super-Rad and his snotty little brther Billy, and an eight-page story involving Kid Blastoff, who fights a villain with a great comic book-y gimmick that’s a delight to read about (Also, this story features some awesome cool/cute monster designs).

Definitely the most fun read of the week, which is actually a bit of surprise, considering this week also sees the release of a Kyle Baker book.




Infinite Halloween Special #1 (DC) Okay, this is a seventy-page comic, so bear with me here; I may go on a bit long. First off, the title? That is a very, very stupid title. Infinite Halloween Special? What’s that mean, exactly? Well, see, DC had this big miniseries called Infinite Crisis, right? So last December, when they released a Christmas special, they originally entitled it Infinite Christmas Special, because both “Crisis” and “Christmas” begin with the same syllable. It was a joke, see? Ha ha! But then they realized there was one Hanukah story in it, or else thought they might offend non-Christians in their reading audience (Elongated Man’s wife being raped on the Justice League meeting table? Okay. Christmas? Potentially offensive), so they changed it to Infinite Holiday Special. Now, the joke no longer made any sense. This year, they’ve decided to riff on the joke that no longer made any sense with this title.

Lame, huh?

Inside, we’ve got a nice, big, fat collection of short stories, one that reminds me of the 80-Page Giants from a few years back, which I loved. They weren’t always that great, but it was a kick to just have such a huge slab of new superhero comics by so many creators in one place at one time to kill the better part of an hour with.

The conceit for this is kind of inspired. The inmates of Arkham Asylum have escaped their cells, and are waiting till the guards change shifts so they can flee into the night. To kill time, they exchange scary stories, kind of Canterbury Tales style (or, more likely, Batman: The Animated Series’s “Almost Got ‘im” style).

And what do supervillains consider the scariest monsters? Superheroes, of course.

It’s a very interesting assemblage of characters and creators, here. In addition to the Arkhamites, we have Zatanna, Robin, The Red Rain Batman, Lobo, Aquaman II, Young Frankenstein, Batzarro and Bizarro, Jimmy and Lois, Deadman, Blue Devil, The Flash, and an unnamed, unannounced Mitch “Resurrection Man” Shelley (Yay! Now give us some trade collections, damn it!).

Writing the framing sequence are Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, Resurrection Man’s creators, and the various stories are contributed by Mark Waid, Steve Niles, Steve Seagle, Paul Dini, Peter J. Tomasi, Tony Bedard, Dan Didio, and newer writers, including David Arquette and Kal-El Bogdanove (the unfortunately named son of former Superman artist Jon Bogdanove).

Artists include EDILW favorites Kelley Jones, Peter Snejbjerg and Ryan Sook, EDILW least-favorites Ian Churchill, Eric Battle and Tony S. Daniel (Plus, plenty of others).

While I dig the concept, its execution leaves a lot to be desired, and there’s a slapdashedness about the affair. The frame is a good one, but for some reason no two artists can agree on what they inmates are wearing (White prison garb? Orange prison garb? Their supervillain costumes?), some are unidentified, some don’t belong in Arkham at all (What’s Penguin doing there? And The Riddler should be on the outside now, too), and most tell stories that don’t involve them, or reveal things they couldn’t possibly know anything at all about.

Quibbles? Yeah, I guess. That said, relatively few of these stories are good. Most have some aspect I like, but I have a hard time pointing to any and saying, “Hey, this story here is really great!”

In addition to the framing sequence, I enjoyed Bogdanove’s story of “The World’s Shoddiest” team of Bizarro’s, in part because his dad Jon Bogdanove illustrates it in a very loose, cartoony style I’ve never seen him work in before (It reminds me quite a bit of Hilary Barta’s work, actually). Kelley Jones’ story is nicely drawn with neat panel lay-outs, but the narration (by Peter Johnson and Matt Cherniss) isn’t necessary, and it basically amounts to an ad for Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer: Red Rain…and man, am I gonna be conflicted about that. On the one hand, it’s Jones. On the other, it’s Countdown).

Among the worst stories are Arquette’s, co-written by Cliff Dorfman, which imagines a pack of rainbow werewolf vigilantes fighting werewolf-related crime in Gotham City. Their team name? The Watchdogs. Ugh.

Didio and Churchill’s Blue Devil story, “The Pumpkin Sinister,” is a Peanuts Halloween special parody that doesn’t really work.

And then there’s Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman’s story “What Can Scare The Main Man?,” a Phobos vs. Lobo story which tells the same joke that John Wagner and Alan Grant told in Batman/Judge Dredd, only less elaborately).

I don’t know that I necessarily got $5.99 worth of enjoyment out of the thing, but for less than the price of 44 pages of DC comics, you get 70 pages worth of ‘em, so it’s really not a bad dollar-to-page value.




Justice Society of America #10 (DC) If there’s one thing the current incarnation of the JSA doesn’t need, it’s more characters, so the sight of Kingdom Come Superman on the cover there, praying that he will one day be allowed to retire or covering himself in shame after having seen Commander Steel, or whatever he’s doing, didn’t exactly excite me. I mean, Johns has barely even touched Obsidian yet, or reintroduced Jakeem Thunder (seen on the cover of #1) yet—should he really be adding more heroes to the line-up, even temporarily?

The plot itself, the work of both Johns and Alex Ross, who contributes a couple of painted pages of “Earth-22” (i.e. The Kingdom Come-iverse), scans depressingly similarly to Johns’ first story arc on this book (And the Death of the New Gods storyline running through Countdown and other DC books earlier in the year). An unseen adversary is going around killing minor characters like Titans villain Goth and Infinity Inc. villain Chroma.

The rest of the issue is taken up by Superman comparing notes with the JSA about the differences of their Earths, and the JLA being called in.

It’s a pretty scant issue, but I really like Dale Eaglesham’s art, and enjoy looking at his drawings interact with one another, whether what they’re talking about is something I find personally boring or confusing or not. Oh, and Obsidian finally gets a scene in this issue. Eaglesham has messed with his design a bit, and it’s not bad. I hope he ends up having a more active role on the team at some point (And he’s not the killer—all we see of him/her/it is a pair of narrow white pupil-less eyes in blackness, which is exactly how Obsidian is drawn).




Moomin Book Two: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip (Drawn + Quarterly) Okay, in all honesty, I haven’t finished reading this yet, but if it’s anything like the first volume (and everything I’ve seen so far seems to indicate that it is), then we’re looking at a beautiful collection of an incredibly beautifully designed and rendered cartoon strip about funny monster-y creatures having whimsical, almost dream-like adventures. Classic strip fans finding themselves short on things to read while waiting for the next volume of Popeye, Dennis the Menace or Peanuts should definitely give Jansson’s Moomin a look, if they haven’t already.




Robin Annual #7 (DC) Well, that was false advertising. Back in my day, Annuals used to be special, extra-length adventures featuring the stars of monthly books that were published once a year. Lately, “Annual” has come to refer to the place DC publishes the conclusions to abandoned storylines that have missed deadline or special issues published to fill the schedule while delayed books catch up a bit. This one is a little closer to the original model, although it consists of two short stories, a 22-page story featuring the title character and a 16-page back-up featuring Talia and Batman’s son Damian. Basically, it’s a fill-in issue of Robin with a random story stapled onto the back of it. The solicitation for the issue, still up at dccomics.com, promises these two stories, “plus, a special ‘Times Past’ story focusing on Dick Grayson's first Halloween as Robin.” That’s not in here.

The lead story, by writer Keith Champagne and artist Derec Donovan, is serviceable enough Robin solo story, in which the Boy Wonder must solve a series of grisly murders, in which someone is carving human torsos into jack o’ lanterns. It shows Robin’s detective skills off, which is always nice, and allows him to shine on his own without Batman or the Teen Titans shadowing him. I’m glad to see Donovan getting more work at DC; I really dig his art, and would love to see it on a monthly basis.

The back-up is drawn by cover artist Jason Pearson, and it’s another nice looking strip, but it seems more than a little out of place here, seeing as how Robin’s not in at all—It’s a Damian story, straight and simple (There are a few panels in which the ghosts/assassins attacking Damian take the form of various Robins, but that’s the sole Robin connection). It kinda sorta ties-into the “Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” storyline that was kicked off in this week’s issue of Batman, only the two stories kind of contradict each other (A character who expresses surprise upon meeting Damian in Batman is here show stalking him, apparently before that meeting).




Special Forces #1 (Image Comics) It takes only two words to get me to pick up a comic book—Kyle Baker. This is his latest, an extremely pointed, cuttingly sharp jab at the Iraq War. Inspired by news reports of the war’s impact on recruitment standards (to the point where an autistic man was recruited), which are partially reprinted on the back page, the “special” in the title isn’t the sort of “special” that normally precedes the word “forces” in reference to a military squad.

Baker introduces us to a squad of “special” recruits each with a Sgt. Rock-style nickname and a peculiar tic, and then immediately starts whittling them down in the middle of an ambush (The black guy dies first), until we’re left only with Felony, a busty babe whose uniform has shredded into a khaki bra and panties, and Zone, an autistic soldier.

Baker’s Iraq satire is more focused and more over-the-top than Rick Veitch’s Army @ Love, the most obvious work to compare it to at this point, and it features Baker’s more realistic-style of rendering, which is still far cartoonier than what you’d find in the Vertigo series also poking at the U.S.’s current War on Terror (But Mostly on Iraq).

The pages are designed in more traditional comic book style than a lot of Baker's more recent work (the dialogue and sound effects mostly occur inside the panels with the art, rather than outside, in the storyboard-like style he's been using), and on one page it turns into illustrated prose.

This opening chapter, the first of a planned six, actually plays it pretty straight, outside of a few of the zany characters and Felony’s uniform, scanning a bit like a parody of an action movie set in Iraq, with some sillier scenes inserted in via flashbacks (the panel on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was pretty amusing).

It’s always a bit of a minefield addressing a war while it’s still going on, and soldiers and civilians are dying while you’re reading the book, but, at the same time, that’s when commentary on a war is most urgent. And in this first issue, Baker isn’t exactly making a very controversial statement—The Iraq War is straining the U.S. military towards the breaking point, and recruitment standards have nose-dived as a result. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.

You can read the first five pages of this issue at Newsarama.com

6 comments:

Jacob T. Levy said...

I appreciate the attempt, but it seems a little forced here, as in the scene where Perry White is lecturing Clark about needing to reach out and befriend his fellow reporters at the Planet. Perry, he fucking married one of them; how much more can he reach out?

I really disliked this scene. The attempt to link up adult Clark with the loneliness of Birthright/Smallville-plus-Legion Clark threw out twenty years worth of what;s been good about the post-COIE Superman. He's not the Bronze Age dorky butt of Steve Lombard's jokes anymore; it doesn't make a lick of sense for him to be that guy. I don't really like retconning teenaged Clark into being that lonely kid, but it's wrth it to get poignant Mon-El and Legion stories reintroduced. Adult Clark just can't be that guy anymore.

Jacob T. Levy said...

two other things:

1) I had the same reaction to Ra's eye-hand combination.

2) I found the Halloween Special, stupid title notwithstanding, a lot of fun, and got a big kick out of the Peanuts story. The Lobo bit was a waste of space and the Red Rain bit made me sad-- once an outlet for new creativity, the 90s Elseworlds imprint is now just going to be (pardon the pun) sucked dry as yet another source of revisitings and retreads. But other than those I found the book to be highly entertaining; MMV, after all.

Brant said...

Knowing that you're an old TMNT fan, I wondered if you considered picking up the new Heavy Metal Fall Special, with the expanded Eastman/Bisley "Melting Pot". I'd be interested in your thoughts on it.

Derek said...

"Infinite Halloween Special"

I still say it should have been called Happy Halloween, Judeo Christians! Best line in 52, bar none.

Also, you mentioned Resurrection Man showed up in this. Where? Only, I'm fairly unobservant. I'm a reader, so if it isn't mentioned in the text, chances are I'll miss it.

Oh, and I too liked the Peanuts/Blue Devil story.

Derek said...

Nevermind. I'm an idiot.

Resurrection Man was in the Killer Croc story, yes?

I thought it was just some random mage.

Caleb said...

Jacob,

I had the same reaction to Ra's eye-hand combination.

Great minds, as they say...




Brant,

I didn't even see it in the shop, but it does sound interesting.

Jog has a nice write-up of it here:
http://joglikescomics.blogspot.com/2007/10/past-is-future-again.html



Derek,

Yeah, that was him in the last story. Really just a cameo, and it's kinda odd they didnt' use his name. I wonder if there was some legal reason...I'd heard that Abnett and Lanning actually own the character now, but I'd simply heard it in a second-hand, not very authoritative way.