Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Weekly Haul: January 30th

Action Comics #861 (DC Comics) I actually forgot that Geoff Johns, Gary Frank and Jon Sibal’s latest issue of the six-part “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” story was a Superman story until about half-way through, when the Man In Blue stepped in to settle an argument between two of the Legionnaires. Johns and company are doing a lot to make this thing new-reader friendly, but there’s no getting around how insular it all is. Is this what newcomers usually feel like when they give superhero comics a try?

Avengers: The Initiative #9 (Marvel Comics) Writer Dan Slott capitalizes on some of the sub-plots he set in motion with his very first issue in a deadly way, as a character who kinda sorta washed out of The Initiative and an alien artifact that kinda sorta washed out of The Initiative join forces to kill their way through a sort of conspiracy among the leadership. The result? Yellowjacket, Taskmaster and the bottom of Marvel’s character barrel fight for their lives against a deadly villain. Slott and his co-writer Christos Gage construct it into a fairly tense and dramatic story contraption, and the book never ceases to surprise me with the way it’s positively saturated with Marvel minutiae. I mean, it’s just soaking in the Marvel Universe. I suppose that’s as much of a turn-off to some as it is an attribute for others; me, I like it just fine.

Batman #673 (DC) Writer Grant Morrison finally capitalizes on one of the DCU continuity changes expressly mentioned in the “New Erth” rejiggering brought about at the climax of Infinite Crisis (Issue #7 dropped in June of 2006), the one which stipulated that now Batman really did catch his parents’ murderer Joe Chill after all. Morrison weaves at least two old Silver Age stories into a framework built out of the Batman portions of 52 and the ongoing Batman vs. Other Batmen storyline from Morrison’s run. (Specifically? Both the story where Batman reveals his identity to Chill and the one where Robin Dick Grayson seems to die on an alien planet after Batman subjects himself to a military experiment; they’re both collected in the way, way out of print library-friendly collection Batman from the ‘30s to the ‘70s).

It jumps around quite a bit, but it’s chockfull of fun little nuggets, like Batman’s funeral, young Bruce Wayne’s imaginary friend Bat-Mite, the Whirly Bat, the “first appearance” costume and—are you sitting down Project Girl Wonder-types?—a memorial display case for Stephanie “Robin IV” Brown in the Batcave.

I know I’ve said this for the last few issues of Batman, but it holds true here, too—pencil artist Tony Daniel isn’t the right artist for this book, particularly under Morrison. This particular issue isn’t as poorly staged as, say, the prologue issue to “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul,” but it’s decidedly sub-par, with the guiding principle behind the work seemingly being only to fill-up the panels, not to fill them up with imagery that needs to be there.

For example, check out pagse four and five—two horizontal panels stacked on top of one another, making for two widescreen-style semi-splashes (You can see them here). Neither of the drawings demand that much page real estate, or make use of the extra space. We merely a single extreme close-up of Batman’s face, and then a medium shot of him Whirly-Batting his way past some generic-looking buildings.

Even the cover is disappointing. Where’s the rest of the body the arm clutching the pearls is attached to? Is there just a severed arm clutching a string of pearls under the folds of Batman’s cape?

Captain America #34 (Marvel) The new Captain America’s new costume looks much, much better as drawn by Steve Epting and Butch Guice and colored by Frank D’Armata in the interiors than it does as painted by Alex Ross on the covers. Ross’ brand of realism doesn’t work with some costumes—even some he himself has designed—and the metallic look of this costume is one such case.

As for the rest of the issue, it’s a typical Ed Brubaker one; strong enough to be somewhat entertaining and engaging all on its own, but it takes on much greater power when read with all the other chapters.

It seems to me that Brubaker is a fantastic serial storyteller, but still a step below the apex (Compare Brubaker’s work to say, All-Star Superman, where every issue stands perfectly well all by itself, but is also part of a larger serial narrative). So, much like the Death of Captain America issue that was the last time Cap got any mainstream coverage, I can’t imagine this will win over new fans to the medium. But it may get some of the regular Wednesday crowd who weren’t already reading to add it to their pull lists.

Fantastic Four #553 (Marvel) Well that’s it. Dwayne McDuffie, Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar’s superlative run on FF ends this issue, with the delay-tastic team of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch taking over next issue. Goodbye “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine,” hello World’s Latest Comic Magazine. I enjoyed McDuffie and company’s run on this book quite a bit, and am pretty sad to see it go. This issue proves a perfect send off, starting with a neat blackboard recounting of the long-established rules of time travel in the Marvel Universe, with a few twists.

In fact, the entire issue is little more than the FF of the future and our FF arguing with each other and the Dr. Doom of the future about fate, time travel and Reed Richards’ morality, with some nice fisticuffs (including a two-page splash of a brawl that really earns the space it uses up). McDuffie does some of his best writing on the title since his first issue on the last page of this story, providing a nice, classic sounding epilogue to his whole run, and Pelletier again acquits himself quite admirably, nicely differentiating the two FFs.

Michael Turner’s cover is as awful as always. But I was actually glad to see it, because I knew it was the last time I’d be bringing a Turner cover into my apartment. Woo hoo!

Green Lantern #27 (DC) Geoff Johns and welcome guest artist Mike McKone continue to bring the big, dumb fun in this next chapter of this “Sinestro Corps War” fall-out story arc. I was glad to see the yellow ring head to the man it did on the first few pages—I’ve been thinking about how cool it’d be if he got a ring ever since Sinestro tried recruiting Bratman—and it’s too bad that the Lanterns intervened before he got it on his finger, activating a new costume (even if it only lasted a page, like Batman’s Green Lantern costume in GL #9). The rest of the issue reads like a story that belongs more in Green Lantern Corps, as its full of Corps business and the non-Earth Lanterns. It was fine by me—although my eyes did start to glaze over a bit on page eight—but your mileage may vary.

Madman Atomic Comics #6 (Image Comics) Maybe the most bored I’ve ever been reading such a beautiful-looking superhero comic book.

The Mighty Avengers #8 (Marvel) Speedy guest-penciler Mark Bagley continues to get this title closer to synching up with New Avengers after Frank Cho’s almost immediate derailing of the plan to have two simultaneous Avengers titles telling the same stories from different perspectives. This issue we get the big Mighty Avengers vs. the Venomized New Avengers and people of Manhattan that happened in flashback back in December’s New Avengers #36.

To be perfectly honest, I think Brian Michael Bendis and Bagley missed a golden opportunity to give readers a Venomized Wolverine and company that Marvel could continue to make toys of for years to come (Hell, I remember the Venomized Punisher from an old issue of What If…? was one of the rarest and most popular of the first wave of Marvel Kubricks*). We barely get a panel of the New Avenomers, and they don’t look as thoroughly integrated as Venom himself was with Spider-Man’s black costume. Maybe there’s a nerdy, Marvel Universe reason for this—it takes weeks for the symbiotes to synch up with their hosts to that degree—but I don’t care. I really wanted to see an all-black Iron Fist with a big white dragon tattoo on his chest.

Ah well. The rest of the issue involves a lot of punching, Iron Man stressing out about Skrulls, Janet doing a better job of costume design than she did last issue, and, in the one panel that makes it all worth while, Wonder Man noticing the Venomized birds.

Notice how when the crowds of New Yorkers are cured and restored to their human shape in this issue, drawn by Bagley, they’re still wearing clothes. However in the New Avengers version, drawn by Leinil Yu, they’re totally naked.

The New Avengers Annual #2 (Marvel) And hey, speaking of New Avengers, here’s their second annual, coming two years after “annual” #1. This issue finishes up the Hood Gang vs. The New Avengers plot from the last few issues of New Avengers, and is basically just a round two of the big fight in the previous issue. Remember how there was a big-ass, issue-long fight scene between the two groups? Well, here’s another one, this one a lot less cluttered (there are no illusions of random heroes clogging up the panels) and drawn by artists Carlo Pagulayan and inker Jeff Huet.

I like the fact that someone in editorial either reads EDILW, “Best Shots” at Newsarama or (more likely) has coincidentally given me exactly what I needed during round one of this fight, providing a guide to all of the low-level villains who make up the Hood’s army in this issue.

For all the punching, kicking and cameo-ing, and the few advances in the team’s status quo (Did Dr. Strange just quit? Did Jessica Jones just do what it looks like she did?), the scene that will probably get most talked about on the comics blogosphere will be the one where the Hood and his gang once again menace Tigra in her home.

The last time it happened, Hood pistol-whipped her while a colleague filmed the beating to later be shown to their hooting and hollering male colleagues. Was Bendis a misogynist for writing a scene where the Hood hit Tigra so hard that her breasts popped out of her blouse?

He laughed the suggestion off in a Newsarama interview, but was apparently defensive enough that he felt the need to discuss it, and share his script (Long story short? It seems like it was Yu’s fault if it looked too sexy).

Now here we have the Hood and his team menacing Tigra in her own home again. This time, she’s naked in bed. Hood strokes her hair while threatening to kill her and her mom, and Jigsaw slaps her out of bed before they leave.

Later in the issue, she catches up to them and joins the fight against them, after first putting on her action bikini, which is maybe meant to be her redemption as a hero instead of simply a scantily clad victim but, man, what’s the deal here? Did Bendis just coincidentally get another artist who wants to make bad guys-threatening-a-heroine scenes look as sexy as possible, or…what, exactly?

Because I can’t imagine this scene happening with, say, Hank Pym. Hell, do male superheroes even sleep in the nude? (The only one I can think of is James Dalton, and before you say he’s not a superhero, may I remind you that he tore a man’s throat out with his bare hands. If that’s not a superpower, I don’t know what is).

Project Superpowers #0 (Dynamite Entertainment) You’d have to read the legal indica to even find the title, as the logo is simply a stylized “S,” but the Alex Ross spearheaded Golden Age superhero reclamation project originally announced with the prosaic name of Superpowers is not the reality show sounding Project Superpowers. No wonder Dynamite tried its best to play down the title, burying it in the fine print.

As you may recall, this is Ross and Jim Kueger project which takes all those awesome superheroes from the Golden Age most of us have never even read an actual comic book featuring—The Green Lama! The original Daredevil! The Arrow! The Owl! Fucking Cat-Man!—and weaves a new adventure featuring redesigns by Ross. This zero issue features interor art by Doug Klabua and Stephen Sadowski.

I am tremendously excited about this book, having spent much of my life being curious about characters like the Jack Cole Daredevil and Yellow Claw (the former of whom just goes by ‘Devil and the latter of whom gets a cameo), but I have to admit, this was something of a disappointment.

The characters all look cool, but Ross and Krueger’s story is a little too much on the stupid side. In modern day’s the former Fighting Yank is an old man, being haunted by both his ancestor and The American Spirit, and invisible ghost who wears the flag like a shroud (a pretty awesome visual) and talks in an annoying red, white and blue font/bubble combo all its own.

Between the Spirit and the Yank, we hear of his adventures in World War II, which involve a fight against Nazis and the occult (Again?! Hasn’t Mignola copyrighting magic Nazis in comics yet?) and Pandora’s Box. See, Nazis are the evil that escaped from the box, and superheroes are the hope, so to win WWII, the Yank needs to put all the heroes in the box to lure in all the evil.

Krueger and Ross play it admirably straight but, well, there’s no way around how eye-rollingly goofy it is. Kauba and Sadowski’s art is fine, but I don’t care for Captain Moreno’s coloring of it—it’s often too dar, and with that sickly, computer-like photorealism pretension sheen I find off-putting. If any comic should look like it was drawn on paper by human hands and colored with a bright, primary palette, it’s this one.

And because this is a Dynamite book, it of course has a ludicrous amount of variant covers. It looks like five all together, counting the alternate versions and incentive “negative” versions, including two versions by Michael Turner. (The image above is actually two of the Ross covers combined).

So not off to a very good start, but hell, it’s only $1, so it’s a low-risk intro to the series, I suppose.

The Spirit #13 (DC) Wow, this book is late. Not only does the cover say “The Spirit Holiday Special” and feature a gift-wrapped Spirit wearing a “Merry Christmas” gift tag, but the DC Nation on the back page is from December 19th.

Like the previous summer special, this is an anthology, with three different creative teams tackling The Spirit.

The first is a Halloween story (?) by writer Glen David Gold and Eduardo Risso involving a diamond heist turned tiger heist that is a nice low-stakes crime story. That’s followed by a holiday-less story by Denny O’Neil and Ty Templeton (an artist I can never get enough of) with a few twist, one predictable and one unpredictable. Finally, Gail Simone goes the Owly route for another holiday-less story set in the winter, in which the Spirit briefly gets amnesia, and everyone talks in pictograms and punctuation. This one is by Phil Hester and Ande Parks.

Visually, all three are beautiful looking stories. Verbally, they’re all pretty strong, although I think the last special was overall a little more ambitious and had more complex results. Still, anyway you look at it, this is a pretty excellent comic book.

Ultimate Spider-Man #118 (Marvel) Bendis finally makes good on a sub-sub-subplot he’s been teasing since at least 2001—how’s that for long-term planning? It’s something I’ve expected for a while, but man, I didn’t expect it to give us an Ultimate Universe version of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends.

This is an incredibly strong issue, and a ton of fun to boot. Bendis is perhaps a little too cute in the various narrators’ all starting off their monologues the same way—“AAARRGGHH!!!”—but here we have an issue in which Spider-Man never even appears in costume or using his powers, and it’s still exciting as all hell.

Peter and his classmates get a couple of high-profile super-powered visitors after school, in the form of Bobby “Iceman” Drake (Spider-Man’s ex-girlfriend Kitty Pryde’s ex-boyfriend) and Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm, who used to go to school with them all. There’s a pretty priceless scene in which the super-heroes all start piling up around Peter and ignoring his neurotic response, and it ends in a bonfire at the beach.

Yes! Teenagers just hanging out and doing…teenager stuff. And it’s fun. And funny. And sharply written. And extremely well drawn. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed an issue of USM this much but, damn, this is a good comic book. And this is #118! It’s been good, ranging from fairly decent to fantastic, for, like, eight years now. Wow.

*I collected Kubricks, especially Bearbricks, for a while, back when I was wealthier. Please don’t judge me by the contents of the shoeboxes in my closet, but by the content of my blog.


Mory said...

The co-writer of Avengers: The Initiative is named Cristos Gage, not Christopher.

Caleb said...

Fixed. Thanks!

Mike Lorah said...

My biggest complaint about Geoff Johns - he often seems to write stories about his favorite DC stories rather than about his characters. I love those old Paul Levitz Legion stories too, but seriously, it's been 20 years and I've moved on.

After the recent Mark Millar writing Wolverine announcement, I wonder if Marvel's other writers, led by McDuffie and Jason Aaron, are planning a kneecap Millar. It must be frustrating to get a nice, high-profile gig, only to lose it when Millar decides he'd like to jump onto that book for the next 6-12 months.
But what do I know about the behind-the-curtain goings-on at Marvel...

Anonymous said...

I'm still laughing that Caleb worked in Dalton. Super-hero, indeed.

Maxo said...

Amen on Madman. I love Allred's art, and I was a big fan of his earlier Madman stuff, but nowadays I just want to shout at my comic, "Shut up! Shutupshutupshutup!"

All that great art and NOTHING is happening! At least, nothing interesting.

Patrick C said...

I've never been a huge Legion fan, and it may have more to do with Gary Frank's art than anything else, but Action Comics has worked its way to the top of my read pile whenever it comes out.

I agree about Batman, it's going to be a little confusing no matter what, but another artist would have definitely helped.

snell said...

(Compare Brubaker’s work to say, All-Star Superman, where every issue stands perfectly well all by itself, but is also part of a larger serial narrative).

Each issue had better stand perfectly well all by itself, since it's 4 months between issues...