Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Weekly Haul: November 21st

Action Comics #859 (DC Comics) It’s part two of “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes,” which tells the tale of Superman journeying to the future to meet The Legion v. 5.0…or maybe this is just a time travel rejiggered version of the original Legion? Or a re-rejiggered version of the Legion that showed up in “Lightning Saga?” Man, I don’t know, and that’s why I hate the fucking Legion.

Writer Geoff Johns puts them front and center for the bulk of this issue, as the three founders run afoul of the 31st Century version of the Justice League—former Legion rejects who wear Nazi-style armbands, preach xenophobia and have perverted Superman’s memory—while Dawnstar, Colossal Boy and Wildfire give readers a little exposition.

I’m definitely not the target audience here, and while Johns is a little too narrowly focused on the actual (too narrow) audience, he at least does a decent job of informing us who the hell all the players are with little text boxes pointing to each new Legionnaire.

Artists Gary Frank and John Sibal do a great job redesigning the Legion—I think this may actually be the best-looking version of these guys I’ve seen—and setting up quite a visual contrast between Superman and the teams he inspired. Whereas the original Legionnaires were all capes, tights and chest symbols like Superman, now everyone’s rocking more millennial, Authority/Ultimates-esque gear. I love Saturn Girl’s current look, too. That’s definitely the best she’s ever looked.

Birds of Prey #112 (DC) Tony Bedard, DC’s designated fill-in writer, finishes up his stalling stint between the conclusion of Gail Simone’s run and the start of Sean McKeever’s with a Lady Blackhawk-focused issue that I almost left on the shelf due to the first and last pages (Both of which feature mourning for Big Barda, which set off Countdown/Death of the New Gods tie-in alarm bells).

And while mourning for the temporarily dead Barda is involved, it’s only in a rather tangential way, as Zinda skips the Hall of Justice calling hours, gets drunk, engages in a bar fight and then hijacks a cab to drive her cross country so she can do a little something to commemorate Barda at a West Coast watering hole (cameo-ing Hal Jordan!). And, because this is a superhero comic, some villains attack her, leading to a chases scene involving a rapid succession of unusual chase scene vehicles.

It’s a decently told done-in-one featuring “your short-skirted, two-fisted, hard-drinkin’, hellbound sister,” with pretty great artwork from David Cole and Doug Hazlewood. They have a lot of clean, crisp lines, and a style similar enough to regular artist Nicola Scott that at first I didn’t even notice her absence.

The Brave and the Bold #8 (DC) If you read only one DC super-comic, this should be the one. Not only because the rotating spotlight format of the team-up book will eventually cover everyone, but because the creative team ensures that when the big DC superheroes do appear here, they’re going to be better written and better drawn then they are anywhere else. This issue is a Flash/Doom Patrol team-up, featuring special guest-star Metamorpho (Not wearing dress pants, but showing off his mismatched, gunky-looking gams in all their groovy glory).

This was my first exposure to the West kids (and, come to think of it, Wally and Linda West, since their nonsensical disappearance in Infinite Crisis and less-sensical reappearance in “Lighting Saga”), and Mark Waid did his usual excellent job introducing every character. As for the plot, Niles Caulder has developed a potential cure for the West kids’ unstable molecule problem, and he invites the family to Doom Patrol HQ.

Wally is cagey because of how creepy Caulder is, the kids are cagey because the Patrol can be a creepy bunch (the way they introduce themselves is a fun sequence) and Linda is cagey because they can’t get through a meal without Robot Man taking his brain out of his head and grossing her the hell out.

I hear words like “old school” and “classic” thrown around a lot when discussing this title, and it’s really a shame that its merits are the sorts of things that are so uncommon in big company comics that we’ve come to associate them with the super-comics from yesteryear: A complete story told in a single issue, properly introduced characters and continuity that includes rather than repels newcomers, sharply realized characters with individual personalities and speech patterns, beautiful art that distinguishes the characters as individual people rather than cut-outs recognizable only by their hair color and costumes, detailed artwork, backgrounds, and on and on.

Detective Comics #838 (DC) What a terrible comic book. This is either the third, fourth or fifth installment of “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul”—depending on whether you want to count the prelude in the last issue of Batman or the unofficial prelude in the last Robin annual—and art chores are handled in such a lazy, incompetent style that Tony Daniel’s poor work in that Batman prelude seems like the work of an accomplished comics master.

Ryan Benjamin is the penciller handling the art, and he seems to be the one to blame for most of the problems. At least, I’m not sure to what degree Dini should be blamed. Does he write ’TEC in the old Marvel style, where the pencil artist chooses how to lay out the pages while the writer plots and dialogues? Or are his scripts just really terrible, including things like “Careful not to draw a background on any of these pages” and “Tight close-up on Robin’s brow, so we can’t see anything else”? I’m guessing it’s Benjamin who’s not doing such a hot job here, as a lot of Dini’s past comics work has been pretty great (mainly for Oni and Dark Horse, come to think of it), but it could just be that he’s usually paired with great artists.

Now, I hate to be negative here, and I’m not saying this just to be mean to Benjamin, whom for all I know is a decent human being and maybe even a decent artist, one who got this script and five days to turn it into a comic book and did the best he could in that time (like too many DC comics of late, there’s a visible sense of being rushed on every page, and I wonder about how much lead time the artists on this crossover actually got), but this book is about as badly drawn as any comic I’ve ever read.

Benjamin’s style is of a scratchy, old school Image influenced, Daniel-esque sort, and I’m not overly enamored of his designs, which differ greatly from those in the previous installments (Was an explanation given for why Ra’s is no longer a mummy in last week’s issue of Nightwing? Cause I skipped that because, you know, no good has ever come of anyone reading an issue of Nightwing), and little thought seemed to go into them (You’re mountain climbing in the Himalayas guys, put on a hat and gloves, huh?).

But it’s not just a style thing. There’s not even a half-hearted attempt to match the images up with the dialogue. The first panel is a full, space-wasting splash, in which Ra’s says “Gently, gently” as if his minions are carrying his two unconscious captives toward him. But in the image, they’ve already been laid on the ground, with the minions standing erect, their hands at their sides.

(Above: Page one)

The following pages are just a mess of staging, and they don’t read the least bit intuitively. Who's saying what in the last panel of page three there, and why does Robin spin away from the person apparently addressing him in it in the very next panel? Why is there a panel between Ra's entrance line and his appearance to the reader?

(Pages three and four)

It’s really too bad, because Dini spreads the spotlight around quite evenly here, checking in with almost all of our major players, and presenting some neat character moments—Ra’s tempting Robin, the Incredible I-Ching marveling at Batman living up to his namesake, Alfred vs. Ubu—but it’s constantly undermined by the art. Not that the script itself is golden—I’m not quite sure why Batman clumsily thanks Talia for the chain mail armor and gauntlets, other than the fact that he was wearing something similar in that one teaser image from forever go, and thus had to wear it at some point here, and Dini has to make sure he points out some reason for Batman to be wearing chainmail over his Kevlar all of a sudden. (Or is that something else explained in last week’s Nightwing?)

Reptilia (IDW Publishing) IDW’s first manga offering is a nice collection of classic 1960s horror comics from Drifting Classroom creator and horizontal stripe aficionado Kazuo Umezu. All three of the stories collected here feature little girls imperiled by snake women, in stories that now read like a mixture of classic Asian ghost stories about animal spirits and ‘80s slasher hero horror movies, and none of which seem the least bit dated (In fact, the long drapes of women’s hair, crawling women in nightgowns and their tendency to emerge from wells and holes or cling to ceilings and walls make story elements seem as if they were concocted to tap into the J horror zeitgeist, rather than, you know, prefiguring it by decades).

The first story is probably the strongest, as each successive one gets more and more complicated in its mythology. The second story in a sequel to the first, and the third a prequel to it, explaining where the snake woman came from in the first place. Sort of. In these two later stories, the snake woman is now able to infect others almost vampire-like with snake bites, turning them into snake people too, and the third one features a revenge plot so complicated I almost needed a chart to keep the players straight. All are well worth a look for horror fans.

My only real complaint regards the book design, a rather small matter, I know, but one I’m not above spending paragraphs talking about. It’s formatted in a thick digest size and reads left-to-right, but by the cover there’s no way to know that this is the work of Umezu, or even that it’s manga. The cover, by Ashley Wood, is a nice enough image, although one by Umezu would certainly be preferable. If I weren’t specifically looking for this in the shop today, I probably would have passed it on, assuming it was a 30 Days of Night book. Five pages of it are preview-able here.

The Spirit #11 (DC) The Darwyn Cooke, J. Bone and Dave Stewart creative team wind down their superlative run on Will Eisner’s signature character with the second half of a two-parter, one that actually would have made a decent finale for their run. It’s a great deal more serious than most of the previous issues, with a Spirit vs. an army of the undead conflict driving it, but even if it is just Denny Colt vs. zombies, they’re Cooke/Bone/Stewart zombies. I love the sugar skull Spirit with the dancing, fighting skeletons on the hat brim on the cover.

What If? Annihilation #1 (Marvel Comics) This is another of the more modern What If? books to have a nonsensical formulation as its official title, but at least on the cover it’s properly phrased as a question in English, as What If…Annihilation Reached Earth?. I kinda like the very existence of the book, which seemed to have been inspired by a very popular comics message board theory about how Civil War might have conceivably ended, with the menace of the Annihilation mini-event arriving on Earth, thus unifying the warring superheroes to face a common threat. Would that have been a better ending to Civil War? Probably. Of course, I have a hard time thinking of a worse ending to Civil War then the one Millar and company came up with, and, in that regard, I think I would be even more amused by the existence of the book if they integrated that sentiment into the title itself. Why not call it, oh, What If…Civil War Ended Not With a Whimper But a Bang? or What If…Cap Didn’t Just Puss Out at the End of Civil War and Give Up For No Reason?.

Writer David Hine asks the question, although this turns out to be a much better idea for a What If? than an actual story (If this were part of a monthly run, it’s relative weakness wouldn’t be such a problem, we might just take it as an off issue, but as a standalone one-shot, the weakness and essential inessentiality practically define it). Due to the nature of the story, Hine must summarize Annihilation and Civil War, let us know what’s different in this version, and then bring them to a different conclusion. It’s a lot of ground to cover, and he does it by having The Watcher narrate and Nova devote an awful lot of time to explanation (somewhat unnecessarily, since the first page has the normal prose summary of previous stories that’s been institutionalized at Marvel). The end result is too much summarizing of a comics story, and not enough of a comic story.

Two artists are involved, breaking the 24 pages of story up between them, and they seem to compliment one another fairly well. I didn’t even realize there were two different artists until I went back and checked the credits.

The last scene is a pretty nice ending to Cap and Tony’s conflict, probably the very best way to resolve it after all they’ve gone through, giving them a neat Butch and Sundance moment. Hine’s Watcher narration on these last two panels actually renders the moment pretty hilarious, although I’m pretty sure it’s not the desired intention.


SallyP said...

Well, Birds of Prey and the Brave and the Bold were both fabulous, and fortunately, I can't stand Rah's, so I skipped it.

I feel so much better now!

John Foley said...

Disclaimer: I love your columns. I enjoy them so much that I check back several times each day, in hopes that a new one will go up.

Bone to pick: reading a comic that you know is part of a larger crossover, then complaining that you're not following the story that well...while freely admitting that it might have happened in an issue that you couldn't be bothered to read...seems like the height of pointlessness. I'm not saying that this "Resurrection of Ras..." crossover is any good, but your review was very frustrating. If you're reading a large multi-issue crossover, but refuse to read certain issues that are pertinent, that's not really a failing on the part of the writers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Caleb said...


Hey, that's a totally fair point, and please, always feel free to call me on my shit. I can take it!

I usually write these as soon as I get done reading my comics that week, so they tend to be the most hastily written/least-thought-about things I post each week (Also, the most likely to have spelling errors).

I mentioned not reading Nightwing repeatdly because I thought it better to lay out the fact that there's a good chance I have no idea what I'm talking about in those sentences. That one issue of Nightwing is the only part I missed of that storyline so far, though.

I don't read everythng, and wouldn't want to, so I have a feeling these kind of things will come up a lot as DC keeps telling these bigger, across the line type stories.

Like, I read last week's Wonder Woman, but the Amazons are also appearing in Green Arrow/Black Canary and Countdown, neither of which I'm reading, so there's a good chance I'm missing somethign pertinent, and don't really know if Gail Simone is lining up properly with the status quo or not.

Or regarding Sinestro Corps, I'm only reading about half of it.

Of course, the ideal chapter of a bigger story would be perfectly accessible when read on its own, but, obviously, that's a particular talent too few writers seem to have.

John Foley said...

Thanks for not getting sore at me, I was really just needling you a little bit.
As far as the idea that any issue of a crossover should be completely accessible- hahaha! You're right, it should. In theory. But that's asking way too much from either Marvel or DC, who can't keep any of their continuity straight anymore. I didn't read that Nightwing either, so I was just as lost as you. And the entire premise of this crossover is leaving me cold. As for Ryan Benjamin...well. I saw him at ComicCon over the summer, and he was just the sweetest guy you'd ever want to meet. I had hoped that this would translate into some decent pages, but it was not to be. Too bad.
Have a good day.