Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Weekly Haul: January 9th

Green Lantern Corps #20 (DC Comics) The script of this issue is divided pretty neatly down the middle, with half devoted to Mongul getting his evil on while talking to his new Sinestro Corps ring, and Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner deciding on an interesting new status quo (with a few pages spent on the Guardians floating around and talking mysteriously about Guaridan stuff).

How worthwhile you’ll find all of this will likely depend on your affection for the characters Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner; personally, I like ‘em a lot, and so this issue was fine by me, but I can’t see it offering a hell of a lot to anyone who hasn’t already spent years with them.

The book’s usual strong point is the pencil art of Patrick Gleason, and while his pages are strong, they’re also too few—it looks like he manages 13, with Carlos Magno making up the difference on a rather short deadline, based on the quality of the work.

I wonder why the Sinestro ring didn’t redesign Mongul’s costume into something black and yellow like the rest of the Sin. Corps—he’s still rocking that goofy looking purple costume.

The Mighty Avengers #7 (Marvel Comics) Well I hope Marvel and writer Brian Michael Bendis have learned their lesson—if you’re going to closely tie three books together, with characters and plots jumping from one to the other, you better make sure all of your artists can keep a monthly schedule. This is the start of the second story arc for the “monthly” Mighty Avengers, in which Jessica “Spider-Woman” Drew brings the body of the Skrull posing as Electra to Tony Stark and joins the Republican Avengers, and in which everyone in New York gets turned into either Venom or Carnage.

We knew these events were happening, and, in fact, already know how they’re resolved, as the Venom Bomb thing went off in New Avengers three months ago, and we found out who was responsible and that Drew was now with the Republicavengers in the same title two months ago. Meanwhile, we saw Stark present the Illuminati with the Skrull corpse back in October in the pages of New Avengers: The Illuminati #5. (During all that time, I apparently missed an issue or two of Mighty Avengers, as the last thing I remember happening was Ares firing Iron Man’s lower half by using his iron penis as a trigger to fight Naked Lady Ultron who had just killed The Sentry’s wife, but that seems to have all been resolved. Or Lindy’s the Skrull).

I’m assuming Marvel and/or Bendis did indeed learn that lesson, as they’ve replaced tortoise artist Frank Cho with hare artist Mark Bagley. Given how fast Bagley is and how far behind this particular thread of Bendis’ over-arching Skrullvasion plot is, I expect to see this on a more-than-monthly schedule from here on out.

And I expect to like what I see.

Admittedly, it’s a little weird seeing Bagley’s drawing back in the regular old Marvel Universe after the years he’s spent in the Ultimate Universe, but he’s a fine artist, one whose speed and style is well attuned to the super punch ‘em up stories Bendis seems to want to tell in this particular book. And, obviously, after well over 100 issues of drawing Bendis-written scripts, Bagley is as experienced as anyone when it comes to ten-panel pages of characters babbling in Bendis-speak.

As for the story side of things, it’s really just filling in the blanks from other stories, blanks you may not even mind leaving unfilled at this point. In fact, I probably would have left this on the shelf were this not such a light week.

Nightwing #140 (DC) Here’s how it usually goes. A new creative team comes on board and launches Nightwing in a new direction, I read an issue or two or three of it, realize it’s not very good, and then drop it until the next creative team comes along to take the title in a new, but equally terrible, direction.

Nightwing is one of those comics I kind of have a hard time understanding the continued terribleness of, since it seems like a hard comic to fuck up—Dick Grayson is one of the world’s most well-known, longest-lived, likeable and clearly defined superheroes. He hasn’t dressed like a complete goon for over a decade or so now—what’s the problem, guys?

I had high hopes for this particular creative team—writer Peter Tomasi, penciller Rags Morales and inker Michael Bair—and so far my hopes have yet to be dashed. That’s an encouraging sign. In fact, I’m actually looking forward to the next issue of Nightwing.

God, I don’t think that’s ever happened.

Let’s get the art out of the way first. I suppose I was predisposed to like this, given that Morales has been one of my favorite artists since Forgotten Realms (Note: Okay, yes, I did waste a significant portion of my youth playing role-playing games, but this is still a pretty good comic; Advanced Dungeons & Dragons? Even better. Hey, we didn’t have Tim Truman, Kurt Busiek, Cary Nord and the like on Conan back in my day, you young whippersnappers!), and he also drew Hourman, one of the DCU’s all-time best comic books (Believe it!).

Anyway, the Morales/Bair team? They give us some pretty great stuff here. The characters look like real people, they look distinct from one another, they emote well—this is what I expect all DC super-comics to look like to a certain degree (And I’m as surprised as anyone to find that this is apparently a completely unreasonable expectation).

Tomasi has Dick narrate most of the issue, and I think he’s found the character’s voice pretty well pretty quickly, working his origin and recent history into this, while also setting up a new base and lease on life for the character, dealing with some “Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” fall out and moving forward with a new plot in a way that seems pretty effortless.

That plot involves someone stealing the bodies of dead supervillians and heroes (So far Captain Boomerang, who Morales drew in Identity Crisis, and Black Condor II, who Morales drew in the short-lived Black Condor series; presumably more will follow, as the perp is still on the loose).

This is easily the best issue of Nightwing I’ve read since…hmmm…since Chuck Dixon was writing it and Scott McDaniel was penciling it? Damn, that seems like a long time. Anyway, a good comic book and a good jumping on point.

The Spirit #12 (DC) did not ship to my local comic shop today. Apparently, Diamond shorted my shop’s order, neglecting to send them the last issue of the impressive series by Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone. These things happen, I’m sure, but I think this is was part of Diamond’s ongoing campaign to ruin my Wednesday’s. I mean, first they just hoard all the books for two days and don’t let them come out until Friday two weeks in a row, and now they refuse to ship what looked like one of the week’s more exciting releases. Why do you hate me so, Diamond?

Superman #672 (DC) Superman vs. The Insect Queen and her insectoid hordes on the moon. By Kurt Busiek and Peter Vale, who is a pretty damn good penciller.

And we know what awesome direction it’s all heading in:

That’s right, ant-headed Superman. What else is there to say, really? This is awesome and getting more awesome.

Well, that’s not a very long, review is it? I guess I can try and think of something else to say. Hmm…Oh!

Is the Insect Queen from the hive of the Queen Bee that appeared in Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell’s last JLA arc? I got that impression while reading her origin.

Isn’t it cool that the human scurry around the basement of the bug base living off scraps of food? I think so.

It’s kind of stupid that the Insect Queen’s “exo-chitin” takes the form of a teddy and chunky-soled thigh-high high heeled boots, isn’t?

Lois asks Bridey Nelson to babysit? That’s kind of funny, isn't it?

Teen Titans Lost Annual #1 (DC) As Tom Spurgeon noted, this is “a curious definition of ‘lost.’” Surely DC knew right where this was all along—in a drawer, not being published.

The company should be made fun of for not publishing this a couple of years ago, back when it was going to be released as The Teen Titans Swinging Elseworlds Special. Not the whole company, of course. Someone must have thought it was a good idea at some point—I’m guessing Dan Raspler and Steve Wacker, who are credited here as “original editors.”

But some bonehead or boneheads thought this wouldn’t be a great comic. Despite the fact that it was written by Bob Haney, the original Teen Titans writer. And that it featured a cover by Nick Cardy, the original Teen Titans artist. And that It had pencil art by Jay Stephens (Jetcat, The Land of Nod), inked by Mike Allred (X-Statix, Solo, The Superman/Madman: Hullabaloo!) and colored by Laura Allred.

I’ve heard third-hand—people linking to comments by Stephens—that DC thought that the book was just “too weird” (always a good sign) and that it was too different from the dour melodramatic Teen Titans comics they were publishing at the time (also a pretty good sign).

Well, while we can continue to condemn DC for sitting on this for so long, we can also commend them for deciding to release it now. It’s too bad Haney is no longer alive to see it in print, but, at the same time, the market is definitely primed for its appearance at this point in a way it probably wasn’t a few years back.

Haney’s original Teen Titans tales are in print finding a new audience with the Showcase Presents volumes (as well as plenty of his other works of the era), the comics blogosphere has been singing his praises for the last few years, and Amy Wolfram and Karl Kerschl’s very fun Teen Titans: Year One just hit shelves last week.

So, how is it?

Come on, like you don’t already know the answer to that. Haney. Stephens. Allred. The Teen Titans. How could it be anything other than the most?

Whither goest thou?? The lithe and livid lothario of the ultra-taut bowstring, the epitome of accuracy with any kind of arrow…!!

That’s the caption Haney wrote for a panel of teenage Roy Harper air-surfing a giant green arrow past an American flag on his way to meet his teammates at the Titans lair, where Robin is about to hip them all to the fact that President Kennedy has been kidnapped blue-skinned space mods and brought back to their home planet to help them win a war against a race of hairy, sword-wielding hippies known as The Violators.

The characters’ voices and interactions seem to have come right out of a Showcase Presents volume, although Haney is clearly aware of how zany a story he’s telling. I don’t want to say too much about it, because it honestly takes a pretty unexpected turn at the end, and just how crazy it gets is part of the fun.

I can’t say enough good things about the art, either. It’s just perfect; this is seriously, like, my Platonic ideal of comic book art. It’s what I suspect most of the comic books in heaven look like.

I mean, check out page 45, wherein we get a splash image of Wonder Girl, interacting with the Robin and JFK in the first panel, as if she’s part of that particular image, but the lines of her back, arm and legs form the borders of the three panels occupying three-fourths of the page:
(Sorry, no scanner at my house. You’ll just have to deal with this badly-lit, mirror-reversed photo. Guest-starring the top of my spice rack, in the lower right-hand corner.)

Or check out the two-page spread which follows on pages 46 and 47, in which the figures of the stunned Titans look right at the viewer, but art, in actuality, looking on to the monitors, seeing what we’re seeing in the panels…
…as if they’re reading the backs of the panels we’re reading the fronts of.

My God, is this a great-looking comic. Laura Allred, whose bright coloration so often lends her husband’s work a great deal of the essential comic book-iness that I so love about it, really knocks it out of the park this time around, replicating the dots of old-school comic books to show things through the brain-washed JFK’s point-of-view in certain panels, giving us pages like this which the panels look like Roy Lichtenstein pieces. A comic book that looks like the work of a painter who did paintings that look like comic books. There, your mind's blown, isn't it? At least a little bit? Yeah, it's blown. And isn't it cool that Haney was still able to write a comic book which could ultimately blow the mind of readers so late in his life.

Thanks for releasing this jewel, DC. Now, how about that Evan Dorkin/Mike Allred Metal Men series I've heard about?

The Twelve #1 (Marvel) Poor, poor J. Michael Straczynski. Less than two weeks ago you and boss and collaborator Joe Quesada were publicly squabbling over that one Spider-Man story, and whether fans should blame him for how extremely stupid it was, since he declined to use your less stupid, but still pretty stupid, ending. Regardless, in the eyes of Marvel Comics fans, you’re even more unpopular now then you were when you had Norman Osborn impregnate Gwen Stacy.

Bad timing for the first issue of a 12-part series starring a bunch of pre-Marvel Golden Age super-characters that most Marvel fans have probably never even heard of, then. I don’t know much about marketing comics, but I’ve got to assume your name on the cover that is expected to move this series off the shelf and, well, it just doesn’t seem as valuable as it did a few months ago.

Well, I’m not going to let one terrible, terrible story sour me on all your future work. Certainly not any of it involving a dozen crazy-ass characters like The Phantom Reporter, Underground Secret Agent Rockman and the Fiery Mask, all drawn in a disconcertingly detailed and realistic style by Chris Weston.

Truth be told, we’re off to a bit of a rough start. The premise is kind of interesting—The Avengers discovering Captain America in his block of ice, times twelve! Only instead of Cap, it’s a bunch of weirdo freaks forgotten because they were kinda lame compared to Namor and the Human Torch!

The execution? Much less so. The titular number of super-people explore a Berlin stronghold at a slow enough pace that narrator The Phantom Reporter can introduce them all to us one by one, before they fall into a Nazi trap and are frozen alive, only to be discovered in our own time! There’s a “Holy crap, it’s not the 1940s anymore!” scene that feel unfortunately too much like Mark Millar’s scene of Ultimate Captain America freaking out in the pages of The Ultimates (only less kinetic and condensed), and a few more exposition-y scene, leading right up to a last page murder which will apparently set the tone for the rest of the series?

As a first issue, it’s kind of a mess, groaningly clich├ęd storytelling tactics colliding with too-familiar scenes and random occurrences like the murder and some post-Civil War stuff. But it’s still Weston drawing Captain Wonder and Dynamic Man, so I’m not ready to give up just yet.


Anonymous said...

You have a spice rack?

A *spice rack*?!

My God.

Tony said...

Maybe Superman is tangling with the new Red Bee.

j dot domingo said...

i miss dixon and mcdaniel on nightwing. those bludhaven stories were all fun superhero comics. i haven't enjoyed anything either of them as done since then, i mean grifter/midnighter? countdown arena? sigh. but i liked this new nightwing launch. i'm glad they didn't kill him off like allegedly planned.

Owen said...

The Spirit this week was spectacular. One of the best yet, if not THE best. I felt bad for Mighty Avengers having to follow it in my pile.

You're in for a treat when you get it.

Caleb said...

Maybe Superman is tangling with the new Red Bee.

Hey, wait a minute! There's a sexy, new bug woman version of the Red Bee, a sexy, new bug woman version of Forager and now a sexy, new bug woman version of the Insect Queen...Coincidence, or does someone at DC have a very, very specific fetish they're enforcing on their creators?

Tony said...

Sexy bug women are the new super-gorillas.

David page said...

I love the twelve and man westons art just gets better and better...I hope they work a grotesque monster of some kind at some point weston is good at that...

Adam F. said...

I had a similar reaction to this week's Might Avengers. In one panel, I thought it looked like Jarvis might be a Skrull. Boring. And the whole thing with changing Simon's look, rather than make him a 3dimensional character, well, who am I to complain?!