Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Weekly Haul: February 20th

Batman Confidential #13 (DC Comics) I dug the little “New Story Arc Starts Here!” blurb added under the logo of this issue. It’s not the stupid tagline that DC puts on almost all of its books—that’s “The Batman’s Wrath!” this issue—so it’s some extra verbiage. What’s it there for? I don’t know, so I’m going to have to assume it’s DC’s way of saying, “Hey, that boring-ass, ill-considered, totally ridiculous ‘origin’ of The Joker by some TV guy we thought would be a better idea than the origins we already told by Alan Moore, Denny O’Neil and Brian Azzarello? Yeah, we’re sorry. It’s over. We swear. Please, give us another chance. Don’t make us cancel the Confidentials like we did the Classifieds.”

But maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, enough about the cover. The insides? Really great stuff. This is a sequel to the old Batman vs. The Wrath story, which anyone who’s ever read The Greatest Batman Stories ever told has probably seen. The Wrath is basically an anti-Batman with a silly purple costume, a little of whom seemed to go into Grant Morrison’s origin of Prometheus, last seen plummeting to his supposed death.

This story is also set in the past—Gordon smokes ciggies, Nightwing wears his Perez gear, Batman’s got an oval, Dr. Leslie Thompkins hasn’t dabbled in sidekick murder—and has a nice old school aesthetic. Writer Tony “The Bridge” Bedard does a good old-fashioned Batman story, focusing on Batman the crimefighter rather (than The Sociopath or The Superhero), with several dramatic encounters and a few neat character moments.

The reason I picked this up at all however (Seriously, when I see Bedard’s name on a book, I usually assume it’s either two issues from cancellation or the real writer will be along shortly), was artist Rags Morales’ presence.

If you’ve read just about anything by Morales—I’d recommend the hell out of his Hourman, and his Nightwing’s pretty great too—then you don’t need me to tell you just how good that guy is at drawing things.

But I still find myself occasionally surprised at how good he is. He makes some little character moments Bedard writes really sing (like Batman nonchalantly crushing Gordon’s cigarette, or the tense moment between the then-estranged Batman and Nightwing). He’s a great pencil “actor,” with a whole range of well-evoked emotions showing on Alfred’s face as he describes the original Wrath story, and there’s a panel of Batman swooping out of the sky (page 10, panel 2) that’s just as dramatic and iconic as anything Adams, Aparo or Breyfogle have ever drawn.

It’s pretty much a perfect Batman comic, and after months of suffering through Tony Daniel and fill-in artists, it’s nice to see Gotham and its inhabitants looking so good.

Birds of Prey #115 (DC) And speaking of those stupid blurbs on the covers of DC comics, this one might bet the stupidest I’ve ever seen: “Misfit + Black Alice = Birdstrike!” What the hell does that mean? What’s a “birdstrike?” That’s not even a word!

Three issues in, new “regular” writer Sean McKeever is apparently winding down his run already, with the team splitting up to tackle two different threats. Barbara Gordon, Misfit and Black Alice try to figure out the self-detonating Transformer attack in Metropolis (apparently, it was a magic Transformer), while Huntress and Lady Blackhawk go after Killer Shark on his shark-fin shaped island.

McKeever’s a fine script-writer, and the drama between the teens, while a little too TV drama, is rather effectively handled, and his narration for Huntress and much of her adventure with Lady Blackhawk is pretty cool.

I think the book was a lot ickier than it needed to be. The fun part about Killer Shark, after all, is that he’s a pirate in a silly suit with silly fish-shaped vehicles, yet the conflict here is that he also dopes up Zinda with mind-control drugs for some heavily implied sexual abuse (Please note, this is the first comic of the nine I bought today to involve rape in some way; it won’t be the last).

I’m afraid I’ve run out of nice things to say about Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood, but suffice it to say they both continue to rule (I do hope Scott gets a plum gig when this book is inevitably cancelled in…let’s give it…18 months or less, shall we?).

One nitpick, and I’m not sure whose fault it is: When Alice (um, spoiler warning I guess) steals a portion of Misfit’s power, she’s shown literally stealing the clothes right off of her. Traditionally, when she uses her magic-stealing power, it just rearranges the clothes she’s wearing into a gothy, teen girl version of whoever’s powers she’s boring (Zatanna, Alan Scott, Dr. Fate, etc). If she was supposed to be stealing their actual clothes all along—and I’m pretty positive she wasn’t—then we’ve been missing out on reaction shots of Alan Scott suddenly in his diapers, or a giant naked Spectre trying to cover himself once his panties were stolen off his ghost butt.

The Brave and the Bold #10 (DC) The best DCU comic of ‘em all was by far the best book in my batch today. Mark Waid (i.e. the guy you want writing a book that can and will involve characters throughout DC history) and George Perez (i.e. the guy you want drawing a book that can and will involve characters throughout DC history) build another multi-team-up issue, a sort of team-up of team-ups.

It was certainly a rewarding story, as each of them—Superman and The Silent Knight and Silver Age Aquaman and the pre-Titans Teen Titans—felt like complete stories unto themselves. Plus you get a somewhat slight framing sequence involving The Challengers of the Unknown and the Book of Destiny. That’s like two and a half done-in-one stories, all in just 22 pages for $2.99. If there’s a better value on the new singles racks, I can’t imagine what it is.

This was my first exposure to the Silent Knight, and he’s a pretty cool character. It was fun seeing Superman with a sword and S-Shield shield making his way through a fairy tale forest with the Knight, and losing myself in Perez’s line work for a while. Check out that splash page, in which their adventures play out in four sequential images reflected in the Knight’s helmet, while a silhouette of the heroes is seen in the lower left hand corner, outside the helmet. Beautiful. (And, additionally, one of the reasons I worry about the title once Ordaway replaces Perez; I like the former just fine, but he’s no replacement for Perez. The closest you could come up with would be Phil Jimenez, and he’s drawing Spider-Man these days).

The second story involves an Aqualad who’s just getting to know the other sidekicks, who visit Atlantis along with the Justice League for Aquaman and Mera’s wedding. This one offers a few more clues into the overarching story binding all the team-ups together, and plenty of little, well-drawn pleasures, like Green Arrow being a dick and Kid Flash being an insensitive dork (“Swim like a tuna-- --hit like a whale!”).

Excellent as always, but sad none the less, as that excellence is coming to an end…

Parting nitpick: Aquaman’s orign cites his pre-Crisis (On Infinite Earths) parentage, not his post-Crisis one.

The Incredible Hercules #114 (Marvel Comics) This issue was chockfull of funny moments, which I’d ruin if I mentioned them in any specifics, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it that the dialogue in Hercules’ flashback to the first few issues of The Champions and Ares’ dealings with Wonder Man totally rule. You believe me, don’t you? It’s another all-around fun issue of Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente and Khoi Pham’s tale of a fightin’ mad Greek god in a world full of super-people who deserve a good face-punching, plus a shocking death and Amadeus Choi’s evil plan (I like his plan for revenge against Iron Man though; why didn’t The Mandarin ever think of that?)

Oh, there’s also a contest to name Cho’s coyote puppy. I suggest Coychote, pronounced “kai-cho-tee.” But hell, he’s a super-genius, what’s he asking comic book readers for?

Jenna Jameson’s Shadow Hunter #1 (Virgin Comics) (Disclaimer: I didn’t buy this, so you can all stop laughing at me; this review is of an electronic review copy. I swear to God). Greg Horn does the main cover, which isn’t too bad (See above). Sure, the main figure is kinda plastic-y looking and the backgrounds a touch nauseating, but her naked back is a nice touch, downplaying what you’d expect from a comic featuring the brand identity of a porn star—er, media personality. You know, like Horn’s cover for the bargain-priced Shadow Hunter #0, which featured the Jameson-inspired character unzipping her top to reveal two giant, plastic-y looking breasts.

There are also two variant covers, and I found the Greg Land cover amusing. It doesn’t look a damn thing like Jameson, which is odd, considering that it does look as lightbox-ed and photo-referenced as all his other work. Did he use anonymous photo reference for one of the relatively few cases that he was actually drawing a real person for once, or…what, exactly? It really looks more like his Black Canary or Ultimate Sue Storm than it looks like Jameson.

As for the plot, apparently a collaboration between Jameson herself and writer Christina Z, it deals with a buxom, blonde, bisexual young aspiring tattoo artist with the even more porntastic name of Jezzerie Jaden.

JJ’s been haunted by visions her whole life, so when she discovers a want ad from a scientist looking to do some research on vision have-rs, she puts on her nicest black mini-dress to get experimented on. The next thing you know, she’s being attacked by evil versions of her visions—all long, Venom-y tongues, pointy teeth and red eyes—using a sword she pulls out of the palm of her hand. There’s also a handsome strange dude fighting alongside her, and a creepy king of some sort.

The plot and script are kind of dumb and uninspired, but not extraordinarily so, and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t really all that exploitive. Sure, there are a few panty shots, and her dress shreds along the hem, and gets ripped above her breasts, but it’s no worse than what you’d find in your average issue of Countdown featuring Mary Marvel or an Ed Benes issue of JLoA, and its hardly inappropriate here. Here’s a comic starring a porn star and promising “demons,” “slaying” and “sex” in its online trailer, after all, rather than a Comics Code Approved-comic for a general audience starring kids characters.

Plus the art, by Murkesh Singh, is really rather gorgeous; lushly designed, rendered and colored. I don’t think I’d read another issue of this, but it’s certainly not as laughably bad as it looks.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #11 (DC) Missed it! For those of you jonesing for some J’onn J’onnz, you could do worse than last week’s issue of LOSHit31C #11, which I passed over last week because I didn’t notice the huge crumbled statue on of Martian Manhunter on the cover (and because I passed the last 10 issues over too).

This was my first exposure to the cartoon version of the Legion, either on the actual cartoon or on this J. Torres-written book based on that, and it was quite easy to get into (not exactly a common trait among Legion comics). I dug the character redesigns in general, particularly Phantom Girl’s black Pac-Man ghost monster icon and Triplicate Girl’s whole look/power manifestation.

The story is, naturally, a solidly constructed one-issue one, about the time young Superb—er, -man. Um, Superyoungman? Took the wrong teletporter thingee and ended up on 31st Century Mars, where a native Martian terrorist group who revere J’onn J’onnz want to evict all the foreigners and reclaim their homeland. They’re called The Hyperclan (wink, wink).

J’onn gets a new look too…he wears gloves! (A fact that, I realize, may only really interest me).

The art comes courtesy of penciller Alexander Serra and inker Rick Ketcham. I know the main virtue of these based-on-the-cartoon books tends to be how closely they hew to the shows’ designs, but the pair do a really great job, packing the panels with background details, and presenting a story that is easy to read, extremely well told, and full of clean, cool-looking designs and lines.

Is this book always like this? Because I could get used to this Legion, I think.

Robin #171 (DC) A couple of notable returns in this month’s issue, the second since Chuck Dixon returned. There’s The Condiment King (who lasts all of one punch), the Maybe Spoiler (guess we’ll find out for sure in May’s issue) and The Red Bird, my least favorite thing in the world. I just hate it so much! Dave Campbell produced the definitive essay on why the Batmobile would be a huge pain in the ass last year, but I can kinda sorta suspend my disbelief involving Batman’s big-ass killer limo. I mean, I’ve seen the security systems in the movies, and maybe he’s using some reverse engineered Thanagarian tech to hide it sometimes (plus, he invented an invisible plane for that dumb-ass Wonder Woman over in Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman*, maybe he can make it invisible). But Robin? Why’s Robin need a car? Can’t he just take a Batcycle or something? And anyway, the Red Bird is just a red sports car with vanity plates saying “This Is Batman’s Teen Sidekick’s Car He Drives When Batman’s Not Around, Please Fuck With It.”

Stupid Red Bird…

Other than that, you know the drill with Dixon Bat-books by now. Pretty good—better than the one’s that don’t feature Tim Drake—but nothing that will change your life. Not like Brave and the Bold. That book cured my baldness. But only while I was reading it.

Runaways #29 (Marvel) I’m no mathematician, but I wonder if Marvel has any in their employ. If they do, I hope one of ‘em has an abacus, calculator and a few years worth of sales data on this title out, and is figuring if the increase in sales generated by having Joss “Look at me! I wrote Buffy!” Whedon** justified the zero sales generated each month the book didn’t ship, when it switched from its monthly schedule to its Whenever Whedon Has Time-ly schedule. (Of course, to put the delays in perspective, please note that today is a holiday).

So, The Runaways are in the past, there’s a whole lot of factions of 1907 super-heroes whom I’ve totally forgotten about, and there’s also some conflicts among them that I’ve also forgot about. I even forgot about the bit with the little girl being child-raped nightly by her adult husband, used to set up an uncomfortable punchline in the last issue, at least until it came up again in this issue. So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s two mentions of rape in my superhero comics this week. As a fraction, that’s 2/9ths of my purchases. As a percentage it’s…well hell, I don’t know. I did say I was no mathematician, didn’t I?

The Spirit #14 (DC) This was something of a curiosity buy, as I find something Quixiotic about a non-Eisner Spirit comic. The Spirit and his cast, after all, are only really remarkable because of what Will Eisner was able to do with them. Reading non-Eisner Spirit stories is then always something of a meta-reading experience; beyond how the story works on a story level, my head swirls with questions about how the creators are approaching Eisner’s characters and subjects, and comparing and contrasting the differences.

It can be an enjoyable sort of reading experience, but it’s often pretty superfluous—with so many Eisner stories yet to read, why bother with these? Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone are two talents I appreciate enormously, and I was pretty surprised by how well they did The Spirit; not really reinventing the wheel, but not just aping Eisner either.

Would the new team, which has a more piecemeal approach than the writing/penciling Cooke and inking Bone had, be able to succeed as well? Considering the first 12 issues or so of the book seemed miraculously good, it didn’t look like there was much chance.

Well, after #13’s anthology issue (and, personally, I think that would be the best way to handle a Spirit ongoing, going some kind of Legends of the Dark Knight or Batman: Black and White type of format with rotating creative teams), the new team is here.

It’s written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, penciled by Mike Ploog and inked by Mark Farmer (with a cover by Jordi Bernet). It’s a heck of a lot more people involved, but it was still and extremely strong effort. I think Ploog and Farmer’s art and techniques are much closer to Eisner’s, and it’s a great-looking book. Some of the designs have shifted quite a bit—particularly Ebony’s—but they are strong and still wonderfully cartoony (I love their Dolan).

I assumed I’d be dropping the book after this issue, my curiosity satiated, but, having reached the end, I was sorry to see it come so fast. So I guess on my pull-list it will stay for the foreseeable future.

Zorro #1 (Dynamite Entertainment) After a surprisingly strong Lone Ranger launch, Dynamite Entertainment turn their attention to another masked, horse-riding hero with a rather similar Q-rating. Guiding Batman’s favorite superhero back to the comics page is Matt Wagner, who serves not only as writer but also “art director” (The same title John Cassaday held on Lone Ranger) and cover artist, and artist Francesco Francavilla, whose name you may recall from the recommended (and somewhat Zorro-esque) black and white series The Black Coat.

Like The Lone Ranger, Zorro depends somewhat on the readers’ familiarity with the character and expectations from a story featuring him. Since readers will know where things are going, the road we take to get there becomes both more exciting, but also more portentous. I think Wagner actually handles it better than Brett Matthews did, as he jumps back and forth from the present, in which a frightened soldier recounts his encounter with a black-garbed swordsman, and the childhood of our hero. It’s essentially Zorro: Year One, in a more compelling package. It’s good stuff.

So, how long do we have to wait for the Lone Ranger/Zorro crossover, and can Wagner draw the interiors on it?

*I’m not saying she is a dumb-ass, just that this current volume of the series kinda implies that she’s a dumb-ass, in that Superman and Batman have to do everything for her.

**Please read the part in quotes in a high falsetto voice, preferably while prancing around.


MrCynical said...

Actually, a "Birdstrike" is when a bird hits the windshield or engine of an aircraft, causing damage to the plane that could potentially cause it to crash.

Caleb said...

Actually, a "Birdstrike" is when a bird hits the windshield or engine of an aircraft, causing damage to the plane that could potentially cause it to crash.

Oh. So it is a word then, and the fault lies not with whoever writes those stupid blurbs, but with me.

And a plane does crash in this issue, so I guess that's kind of sort of appropriate, though it has nothing to do with the adding Misfit and Black Alice. So I think still think it's kind of stupid, but about 45% less stupid now that I know there's such a word as "birdstrike."

Man, I learn something new every day on the Internet...

Tony said...

This is rare, but I gotta disagree with you twice today.

I don't think having Robin on a motorcycle is a good idea. He's just a kid, he needs some metal between him and the bad guys (and the road). Plus, a motorcycle is even easier to mess with.

I just finished up Spirit 13, and I was seriously underwhelmed. I've seen that "frat guy murder secret" plot a few times before, and most of the jokes fell flat. Also, google's good, but not that good.

Caleb said...

Plus, a motorcycle is even easier to mess with.

Good point. Hmm...perhaps he'd be best off using a Whirly-Bat. He could park it way on top of Gotham skyscrapers where no one could mess with it. Plus, I'd get to read the word "Whirly-Bat" more often, and it's one of my favorite words.