Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Weekly Haul: November 14th

Man, when it rains it pours. This Wednesday saw a downright daunting confluence of comic book releases and events I’ve been waiting on for months. And, in some cases, years. There was so much great stuff on the shelves this week that the conclusion of Marvel’s blockbuster World War Hulk was pretty damn low on my list of things I was excited about.

There was a new volume of Scott Pilgrim, which always automatically transforms any Wednesday into Christmas. And not just normal Christmas, but Christmas from when you were a kid.

There was the long anticipated, years in the making new League of Extraordinary Gentleman, this time released in a graphic novel, sparing the months of waiting between chapters.

Gail Simone’s run on Wonder Woman began, about a year and half after it should have (If DC had any sense—and, as you know, they don’t—Simone would have relaunched the title “One Year Later,” while Allan Heinberg and Jodi Picoult would have been given original graphic novels to work on).

And Anima, one of sixteen-year-old Caleb’s favorite DCU characters, makes her first appearance since her own book was cancelled (Too bad it was written by my least favorite writer, drawn by one of my least favorite artists, and that it was only to get killed off anyway).

Man, so many comics came out that I reluctantly left a ton on the shelf. Perhaps I’ll be back for you some day, Meatcake #16, Courtney Crumrin and the Fire Theif’s Tale, Yakitate Japan, Doc Frankenstein and others. Captain Carrot and “Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul,” step up your game, guys! And Wonder Girl, stop tying into crappy comics! Why are you making it so hard for me to enjoy Sanford Greene’s art?!

Okay, well, that’s enough talking to the comics I didn’t buy; it’s time to start talking to you about the comics I did

All-Star Superman #9 (DC Comics) The best Superman book—hell, the best superhero boo— is still the best. In this issue Superman meets another alternate version of himself, in the form of two Kryptonians who have appeared on Earth while he was stuck in Bizarro World. I think we’ve all seen several thousand stories in which Superman meets other Kryptonians only to discover that they’re an awful lot more evil than him, but Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely still make the concept seem fresh, mostly in the way these two ridicule Superman and his peculiarities. The last two pages are just a brilliant sequence, with a dramatic 1-2-3 beat, building to an explanation point bit of punctuation to a poetic, one-issue run-on sentence of a story.

Plus: Jimmy Olsen’s overpants.

Only three issues left of the originally announced 12-issue Morrison/Quitely run. And then what? Hopefully an announcement regarding 12 more.

Avengers: The Initiative #7 (Marvel Comics) Wow, did Dan Slott ever pack a lot of story into this issue! Seriously, there is a lot going on here, and in a more-bang-for-your-buck kinda way then a too-much-story-crammed-into-too-little-space kinda way. We’ve got The Vulturions vs. The Scarlet Spiders in the skies of New York City, with a still angsting over “One More Day” Peter Parker getting involved. We’ve got Justice and Cloud Nine trying to get to the bottom of the “Why isn’t that dead guy dead?” mystery that keeps getting interrupted by crises. And we’ve got some office politics at Camp Hammond, plus a look at Kentucky’s Avengers team and Slott cleverly trying to un-reveal Spider-Man’s secret identity in a way that seems very Silver Age DC, but still more satisfying than a cosmic continuity reboot of the sort Marvel seems to be in the middle of executing. Now that Jeff Parker seems to have left Marvel Adventures Avengers, this is by far my favorite comic with the word “Avengers” in the title.

Batman and the Outsiders #1 (DC) Okay, let’s see if I can remember this all correctly. Originally, DC editor-turned-writer Peter Tomasi was going to write a new Batman and the Outsiders series, replacing Judd Winick’s plain old Batman-less Outsiders, but he wasn’t happy to be paired with artist Koi Turnbull. Tony Bedard was then named the new series’ new writer, and he helped mastermind a five-issue weekly event called Outsiders: Five Of A Kind to explain who would be on the new line-up, a line-up which a DC house ad spoiled weeks ahead of time anyway. Then Bedard and Turnbull were replaced by Chuck Dixon and Julian Lopez and the line-up changed, again being revealed in a DC house ad, this time a retouched version of the previous one, which swapped out a few characters for a few other ones.

And now after three writer changes, two artist changes and a line-up changed, #1 finally hits the stands.

Honestly, curiosity over the tumultuous (and incredibly public) development hell was a pretty big determining factor in deciding to pick this up at all, particularly since it was being written by Dixon. Now Dixon is one of the better Batman-centric action writers, despite the fact that there’s usually not much to the stories other than plot and banter, but I was more curious in how he’d write a book with two lesbians on the cast, given his boneheaded public remarks about gay people in comic books (So what’s this make Dixon? A professional who sets aside his personal views in service of the characters he’s writing? Or a hypocrite who will write stories he finds morally objectionable for a paycheck?)

As for the book, it’s about what I expected, and certainly better looking than a Turnbull-drawn one probably would have been. Batman and Thunder (Lesbian #1!) sit around in a dark room talking about their mission, while Batman’s other agents—Metamorpho, Katana, Catwoman, Martian Manhunter and Grace (Lesbian #2!)—infiltrate a creepy corporation that is studying something I was sick of reading comic books about two years ago (Here’s a hint: its initials are OMAC).

Dixon is on pure potboiler mode here, his usual setting, and he doesn’t do a bad job of reintroducing all the characters. He does mention the relationship between Thunder and Grace, which I was a little surprised of, actually. Lopez’s art is quite nice, and inker Bit and colorist Marta Martinez load it up with welcome details, giving the whole thing a slick feel, full of images that really pop (Sure, the first three pages are wasted on a one-page splash followed by a two-page splash that simply establishes that two characters are parachuting, but at least this waste of space is nicer looking that similar wastes of space). They’ve even given Katana a new costume that doesn’t hurt my eyes (that’s not it on the cover), for which I applaud them, although I do wish Metamorpho and Martian Manhunter would get their heads back to normal sometime soon.

All in all, it’s a respectable team super-book. Nothing revolutionary or particularly interesting so far, but it’s a very well done sort of uninteresting, which is by far the best kind.

Booster Gold #4 (DC) Booster, Rip Hunter and even Skeets all meet their opposite numbers in this fight scene issue, as the six combatants slug it out in the lightning storm outside police scientist Barry Allen’s office window, the same storm that will turn him into The Flash—if the good guys beat the bad guys. Writers Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz reach deep, deep into their longboxes to pull out the identities of the bad guys, and this was the first I’ve heard of either of them (Sorry, I wasn’t reading comics in the ‘80s). This is probably the most serious and least zany of the issues so far, but it definitely has its fun moments, mostly revolving around Skeets.

League of Extraordinary Gentleman:The Black Dossier (DC/Wildstorm) I haven’t read this yet, but I did haul it home form the comics shop, so I figured I better mention it here. Given that this is Alan Moore’s last work for Wildstorm, and the last LOEG book that DC/Wildstorm will be publishing, I wonder if he was able to resist the urge to just totally phone it in, and, if so, how. Flipping through it so far, it looks almost too pretty to mess with. I’m really reluctant to detach the 3-D glasses, for example. Of course, I had the same problem with Lost Girls—the package was just so nice, I was kinda reluctant to handle it at first. Look for a full review in next week’s Las Vegas Weekly.

The New Avengers #36 (Marvel) In this issue, the Republican Avengers defeat the Venom-ized Democrat Avengers in the space of a six-page recap, which seems like quite a waste of a Venom-ized Avengers story, but perhaps that’s because the actual story will play out in writer Brian Michael Bendis’ other Avengers book, the one that’s like four years behind schedule at this point. Meanwhile, Luke Cage talks to his wife while their darling baby is dressed in Iron Fist’s colors, Wolverine invades Jessica Drew’s shower (You know what? I don’t even want to read a Newsarama interview explaining what’s happening in the last two panels of page 14, Bendis, you pervert), and Luke Cage rallies The Initiative, Thor, The Punisher and Howard the fucking Duck to take on The Hood.

As Bendis issues go, this one is pretty jam-packed with events, and I really love artist Leinil Yu’s lay outs, scratchy character designs and the way he draws the rims of characters’ eyes. He also gets to draw a lot of boobs this issue. There’s, like, at least two boobs on every single page. Also, the entire city of New York is naked at one point. You know, Bendis sure writes a lot of scenes in which large groups of people are totally naked in this book. I wonder what the nanke people-per-issue ratio of New Avengers is compared to the industry average…?

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Oni Press) Now on its fourth volume, you either already love Bryan Lee O’Malley’s action-packed arcade logic romantic comedy about Canadian twentysomething hipsters, or you’ve yet to experience, or there’s something deeply wrong with you.* At this point, I can’t imagine there’s anything you’d read in a review that’s going to make you love it more or less or try it if you haven’t already. But, for the curious, this issue is aptly named, as our dense young hero must pause from his quest to defeat his girlfriend’s Seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends to get his life in order, which means getting a job, a better living situation and deciding just how committed he is to Ms. Ramona Flowers (while she must decide just how committed to him she is). In that respect, things get a bit more dramatic than they have in previous issues—with whether some of Scott’s more noble behavior is due to his morals or his being a huge pussy being a theme binding much of the volume’s over all story together—but that familiar mixture of crazy-ass action, whimsical silliness, character-based comedy and lighthearted romance is still present throughout. New to the series are some inspired gags making fun of the book’s manga format, like the “Stop!” page at the back of the book, and the color-section in the beginning.

Number of times I laughed out loud: Five.

The one spoiler I’ll give here: Holy shit! That dude cut a whole streetcar in half…with a sword!!!!!

Suicide Squad #3 (DC) Writer John Ostrander seems to finish up the “How come Rick Flag is still alive?” portion of the story, bringing us up to the present in the DCU. I’m pretty lost at this point, mostly because I haven’t been reading Checkmate or Countdown, and I’m having trouble reconciling the business of The General with the only other comics featuring him I remember, Morrison’s JLA stories. This is about the point I’d probably check out, but I’ll be damned if the exchanges between Flag, Waller and Deadshot on the last few pages didn’t get me excited about what comes next, now that the backstory is all out of the way.

Wonder Woman #14 (DC) Well, without even cracking the cover, one thing seems clear—this is bound to be the best issue in the new volume of Wonder Woman so far, judging by the credits. New writer Gail Simone finally comes on board, following a brief stint by J. Torres, who stalled for her by tying into Amazons Attack for a couple of months. Unlike the series’ first writer, Allan Heinberg, Simone is capable of writing at least 22 pages of comics every month, and, unlike superstar author Jodi Picoult, Simone has actually read Wonder Woman comics before. So, even if this is Simone at her absolute worst, it’s bound to be quite an improvement.

And it is although, in all honesty, I still wish it were a lot better.

Part of the problem is the amount of baggage Simone has to deal with. Her Wonder Woman has the same status quo as Heinberg’s—working for a United States government agency devoted to policing meta-humans, hiding under a secret identity with the exact same name as her Wonder Woman identity and disguised only by a pair of glasses**—and the Amazons are currently pretty tainted by Amazons Attack/Countdown (I read the opening scenes with Hippolyta with question marks dancing over my head, unsure of how any of this makes sense…a feeling that resurfaced during “The Society” talk…is this different than “The Injustice League” currently in JLoA?).

Now, dealing with baggage is part and parcel to working on big comic book characters like Wonder Woman, and a good writer will always find a way to make it work, but it seems almost inherently unfair that George Perez got the greenlight to completely rebuild Wonder Woman from the ground up after Crisis On Infinite Earths and Heinberg to do the same after Infinite Crisis, while Simone, a more accomplished writer than either were when they were working on Wonder Woman, is now the fourth writer in just 14 issues, stuck trying to tell a logical story after illogical messes like Picoult’s run and Amazons Attack.

With all those qualifiers out the way, I’m happy to say Simone does an okay job here. The narration on the first five pages, set on the Amazons’ island, is overdone and kind of unnecessary, but the scene itself rings with mythic import. From there, we get Diana mixing it up with a cell of Gorilla City terrorists and defusing the situation in Wonder Woman fashion, some DEO sitcom stuff, and then the appearance of a Captain Marvel villain which sets up a conflict between Wondy and her traditional foes—Nazis.

Terry and Rachel Dodsons’ art is quite nice—I really like their Wonder Woman bottoms compared to Ed Benes’ barely there ones—but they seem stuck in redesign mode, continually redesigning characters that don’t really need it. Captain Nazi, for example, just had a nice redesign in the pages of JSoA, and yet here he gets another new look, this one making him almost indistinguishable from Nemesis, unless you scrutinize the symbols on their chests.

I was pretty disappointed in their Etta Candy, too. I know she’s slimmed down since the Golden Age, but man, here she’s looking positively svelte, the only thing really distinguishing her figure from Wonder Woman’s being that she has slightly bigger cheeks. Come one Dodson, let’s get some meat—er, candy—on Etta’s bones!

World War Hulk #5 (Marvel) There is only one way this series could have featured better onomatopoeia sound effects, and that would have been if writer Greg Pak had enlisted Doug Moench as a consultant. In this issue, the inevitable fight scene that’s been foreshadowed since the first issue finally occurs: The Sentry vs. The Hulk. And it sounds awesome. First contact? “KWAGLOOOOOM!” Hulk punching Sentry’s face? “SPAKOOM!” The resulting explosion? “SPRACHOMMM.” And man, that’s before Sentry even breaks out the crazy energy powers, and we get stuff like “VJJJWOMMMVVVVVVB” and “SPPPPJJZZZZZ.”

I know I’ve said this about every issue, as has just about everyone else who has read it and said anything about it on the Internet, but this was just a ton of fun—a good old-fashioned superhero slugfest, one that’s helped tremendously by the simple selling point and widescreen art by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson, with Pak and letterer Chris Eliopoulos doing their best to evoke Dolby surround sound in comic book format.

As for the ending, neither Pak nor Marvel managed to mess it up—while Civil War’s last chapter left me confused, angry and irritated, this gave me a sense of relief and closure—it’s predictability being more of the satisfying sort that comes with a perfect ending, rather than a cynical one. (I should note “Best Shots” colleague Troy Brownfieldhad privately called the “surprise” ending somewhere between World War Hulk #1 and #2).

Now, as for the three continuations of this story, in new ongoing Hulk, The Incredible XXXX (Formerly The Incredible Hulk) and the new, never before-announced 2008 series? I’m only at all interested in the middle one, because the name, which is revealed in the house ad in WWH #5, makes me laugh. A Jeph Loeb-written red Hulk sounds like the worst idea ever***, however, and that last one seems more for “Planet Hulk” enthusiasts than anything else. (Confidential to the person in the image: Get a haircut, hippie!)

*And that something is that you and I have extremely different tastes.

**Yeah, yeah, Superman too on the “disguised by glasses” part. There are several dozen reasons why it’s different, which I don’t care to get into now, other than to say Superman’s “secret identity” is widely known—It’s Kal-El—so no one’s expecting him to have a “secret identity” post-Crisis, he has such powers as super-ventriloquism to super-speed to disguise himself, and he’s always had a secret identity (that is, there’s always been a Clark Kent), he didn’t just suddenly adopt one as an adult and have to fake a backstory, the way Wonder Woman apparently must.

***With the possible exception of having Jeph Loeb write the Ultimate Universe.


Patrick C said...

My store was shorted All Star Superman, so I'll have to wait to read that.

Which comic had Anima in it? I have a soft spot for all the New Blood characters. I think I was the one who enjoyed Bloodlines. I even have all the trading cards, where if you have all of them you can construct "The Taker" like a giant puzzle.

Anonymous said...

Titans East, but she died.

So, if I heard right, did Hawk, Dove, Lagoon boy, and Son of Vulcan.


Regault said...

Titans East pretty much demonstrates everything wrong with current DCU comics. They killed off a bunch of recent characters people were interested in to springboard yet another relaunch of some moldy oldies only 40 year olds care about.

Also, Judd Winnick is pretty definitively the worst comic writer getting regular gigs. As much as I hated Johns' run of Titans, at least you could look at his run of JSA and see he was in fact capable of good writing. Ditto with Bendis and his Oni titles. Nothing Winnick has done has been worth reading.

Regault said...

On the topic of Yakikate Japan, I enjoyed it when I read scanlations, but the nature of the comic makes me leary of whether you'd find it worth picking up. The series depends heavily on two things: Parodying sports/tournament manga and culturally idiomatic puns. The first requires experience with sports manga to pick up on, and the second tends to be ruined by official translators.(They either miss them entirely or try to americanize them badly.)

David page said...

Everyone who appeared on the cover of titans east died except for cyborg....

It felt like eclipso 13 all over again

Tony said...

Dixon also had to do the Midnighter/Grifter miniseries, starring everyone's favorite gay Batman.

I got the first issue of it. It seemed like Dixon tried to hit the gay angle without being too homophobic, but it ended up ringing a little false in my ear.

For instance, Apollo made some reference to Midnighter always being the pitcher, or some such. I didn't pick up issue 2.