Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Weekly Haul: April 30th

Action Comics #864 (DC Comics) My favorite issues of Geoff Johns’ JSA run were always the ones between the big story arcs, the ones where he has the characters just sort of hanging out and decompressing for 22 pages or so before he plunges them into the next four- to eight-part epic. And this issue of Action is the Superman equivalent of one of those.

Batman flies to the Fortress of Solitude to find Superman hanging out with Lightning Lad, drinking sodas and reminiscing over the good old days. And boy is Batman jealous! Seeing Batman and Lightning Lad verbally spar over Superman’s attention and affection is a real treat. The issue also sets up that Legion of Three Worlds miniseries Johns is working on with George Perez, and includes Batman showing Superman the bodies of Karate Kid and What’sherfacefromCountdown. Plus, a crazy-ass Starman cameo!

Guest-penciller Joe Prado joins regular inker Jon Sibal, and it’s decent enough work, if you forgive a mangled arm or ankle here or there (Also, he draws Batman’s cowl so you can see the armor plating in it, which I found a little distracting). Too bad cover artist Kevin Maguire didn’t handle the interiors too; this conversation-heavy script would have really played to his strengths.

Avengers: The Initiative #12 (Marvel Comics) If the last story arc was the climax to the first act of Dan Slott and company’s book about the new, post-Civil War Marvel Universe, then this is the denouement. The original class of trainees graduates, gets new (ugly as hell) costumes and (in some cases) codenames, and get assigned to new teams. There’s a hearing about the whole killing and cloning MVP scandal (featuring pretty funny testimony from Henry Gyrich). There’s a funeral. There’s a new status quo for the old New Warriors. There’s…there’s just a lot going on here. This comic felt like it was three times longer than the average Marvel comic, and that’s definitely a good thing. The real-world parallels between Marvel’s whole Civil War story in this issue get a little uncomfortable—like when Nighthawk is passing out Purple Hearts while visiting the wounded—but Slott and co-writer Christos Gage keep the tone light enough to forgive some of the heavier baggage they inherited from Civil War.

Couple of questions for the reading audience: Who the hell is the new 3-D Man? That’s not supposed to be Triathalon, is it? And is Think Tank a new character? Because he is awesome. Particularly his headband.

Blue Beetle #26 (DC) I had fully intended to drop this series after last issue, writer John Rogers’ final issue on the title, but I couldn’t resist this one, an (almost) all-Spanish one-off in which Jaime “El Escarabajo Azul” Reyes brings his new girlfriend and EDILW favorite Traci 13 to a family reunion…the half of the family that only speaks Spanish.

It’s the work of guest-creators Jai Nitz and Mike Norton, and it was the sort of rare book I read a few times in a row. The first time through, I read it in Spanish, which is essentially the way Traci, who doesn’t speak Spanish*, would have experienced the story. It proved a good test of Mike Norton’s abilities, as he was called on to draw a story that could be told solely by his work, if the reader didn’t speak Spanish either. He passed the test with flying colors, as I made it through on my few years of high school Spanish just fine, with the exception of the part where the scarab somehow defeats Superman villain The Parasite. (Norton also provides two beautiful images of Blue Beetle in flight with a friend; a two-page splash at the beginning, and a one-page splash at the end).

Nitz’ story emphasizes one of the elements of Rogers’ run on the book that made it so unlike all other super-comics, and therefore so refreshing to read—the positive role the lead’s family plays in both his life and his superhero career.

This issue is 51-cents more expensive than the last 25 issues, even though there are only 22 pages of story. It does, however, include an eight-page English script at the end, illustrated with sketches of the characters.

And by the time I got to the next issue box and saw said next issue’s cover (featuring Traci), I found myself wanting to see what happened next for Jaime and his family. I definitely want to see him meet Traci’s dead at some point in the future, but I think I’d rather see Brian Azzarello write that story

Confidential to “The Posse”: Not only is the name of your team/gang lame, but your individual names are really lame too.

Caliber #1 (Radical Publishing) The thing about high concept comics is that sometimes they’re really high, and they’re walking a tight rope between really cool and kinda silly, and, should they fall, they can fall farther and faster than the quality of these reviews when I attempt a metaphor.

If there’s any risk involved with this high-concept five-issue series, however, it’s for the publisher, rather than the consumer, as this first issue is bargain-priced at just $1.

So here’s the high concept of Caliber, which will make its title immediately clear: King Arthur in the American Old West.

The Merlin figure is a medicine man who finds a magic gun that only one man, the man he calls “the Lawbringer,” the man who will unite the various warring people’s of the West; the Native American tribes, the French, the white and the Spanish (Hey, aren’t French people white too?), can ever fire.

He suspects the Lawbringer is Captain Pendergon, but no dice. My bet is that it will turn out to be Pendergon’s son Arthur, who that foxy Gwen was flirting with.

That should be all the information you need to decide if this particular high-concept I cool or goofy (although either way; it’s only a dollar, after all).

I’m a little torn, myself. Writer Sam Sarkar does a decent enough job Westernizing the basic Arthur story, but due to the mechanical nature of the job, the story itself seems kind of lifeless so far. That could be partially due to it just starting too, however; I am kind of curious to see what the Knights of the Roundtable end up being like.

The art, by Garrie Gastonny “of Imaginary Friends Studios” is pretty great; a little slicker and more painterly than I like, but there can’t be too many people who think, “Aw man, why are the production values so high on this comic?” So that may just be me.

DC Universe 0 (DC) This is a somewhat difficult comic to discuss at this point, the day of release, since the most noteworthy aspect of it (other than it’s fifty-cent price) is it’s big surprise ending, a last page that should fire up anyone who’s ever read DC Comics**. I’m not exactly sure what “it” portends, and it’s possible it portends something quite negative in terms for DC’s future creative output, but whatever is going on, it’s clearly big and clearly exciting in a way that neither Countdown, 52, Infinite Crisis or Identity Crisis ultimately were.

Co-writers Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns (i.e. the two guys at DC that really seem to know what the hell they’re doing, and also seem to have the commercial clout to overrule editorial fiat as often as not) frame the short, 24-page story with a clever bit of narration about the nature of the DC Universe and itscCrises (akin to the super-simplified, three-panel Superman origin in Morrison’s All-Star Superman) at the beginning and the bombshell last page.

As for the middle, it’s something of a clip-show of teases for future miniseries and storylines, all of which have already been announced and interviews granted on—Final Crisis, Fianl Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, “Batman: R.I.P.,” Final Crisis: Revelations and a Wonder Woman arc (which looks like just about every other Wonder Woman arc).

The art is, of course, incredibly inconsistent, but then, there are nine different pencillers working on the thing, ranging from awesome to awful. Ed Benes contributes a page featuring the Justice League, which is as terrible as all of Ed Benes Justice League images; Perez draws the Legion seen in the recent Superman arc, and it looks like Perez’s art always does, etc. The only portion of the art that really surprised was Tony Daniel’s Batman pages; I’m not sure if it’s the inking, the coloring, or the many tightly-focused panels per page, but it’s clearly the work of the same pencil artist, only all dressed up to hide the weaknesses of his work.

A couple of other things worth noting.

First, I was really struck by how things Morrison and company have been talking about forever happen—the DC Universe seemingly claiming sentience, old JLA villain Libra showing up as a big, huge deal ready to grant villains their desires, the formation of a rainbow of Lantern corps, etc.—and it still seems surprising in its execution.

And secondly, this was originally going to be Countdown to Final Crisis #0, and yet it has absolutely nothing to do with the 51 issues of Countdown. I dropped Countdown early on, but still flipped through it to look at the origin story back-ups, and read the weekly Newsarama interviews to watch editor Mike Carlin bicker with Matt Brady, so I have a pretty good idea what happened during it, and who all the players are. None of those players are in this book (Captain Cold mentions what a shit year he and his fellow villains have had, but every year is a shit year for the Rogues, and if they were referring to Countdown tie-in Salvation Run, the Joker sequence specifically ignores his presence in the same series…as well as his two Dini-written Detective Comics appearances) and the events of it seem completely unimportant.

If Countdown To Final Crisis was counting down to Final Crisis, thus far it seems to have been doing so only technically; as in it was a series that was running until Final Crisis began (The last Action Comics story arc, “The Sinestro Corps War” and Morrison’s Batman run seemed to feed into this special in a tangible way; that is, those are stories that were actually counting down to Final Crisis).

In fact, the story seems to pick up right where 52 left off, in terms of Morrison’s work on Batman tearing himself down and rebuilding and the bits of the series that dealt with a religion of evil, worshipping a dark god, at least. While this isn’t exactly the first issue of Final Crisis, it’s at least the teaser trailer for it (and a handful of other big DC stories), and if you hold it to your ear and listen very closely, you can almost hear it humming, “Fuck you Paul Dini; we’ll count down to our own damn Final Crisis.”

Glamourpuss #1 (Aardvark-Vanaheim) I know we just got done talking about DC’s DC Universe 0, a book garnering mainstream media attention in which a long-dead character comes back to life/a very significant character dies/something happens to the Multiverse (as that describes one in three big DC stories, I don’t think that technically constitutes a spoiler), but make no mistake, Glamourpuss is really the most significant release of the week.

This is the answer to the long-time question of “What will Dave Sim be doing after Cerebus?”, the 300-issue self-published series he describes in these pages as his “6,000-page, 26-year graphic novel.”

And it’s not what anyone would have expected.

Of course, the nature of the project was revealed a few months back, when Sim sent out preview copies to shop-owners to give folks an idea of what it is they might be ordering. It’s not even a comic, although it’s about the size and shape of one. Rather, it’s page after page of Sim drawing fashion models from reference and reproducing panels form Alex Raymond strips, while discussing Raymond and some of his contemporaries’ art styles, techniques and equipment through narration boxes and the occasional dialogue bubble. (Sim himself points out that this isn’t a comic strip, though it looks like one in a flip-through—he then attempts to tell a comic story using these sorts of images just to show how impossible it would be. Apparently, he hasn’t read much of Greg Land’s work).

I have literally just finished reading this as I type this, and I’m not entirely sure what to make of it just yet. I haven’t talked a whole bunch about Dave Sim since I started EDILW, in part because he’s one of those comics industry figures who evokes such strong reactions from other comics folks that talking about him tends to be pretty tiresome. That, and I don’t really get him. I’ve read so many crazy-ass things attributed to him, but I can’t tell how many of those things are honest-to-God beliefs of his, and how much is him kidding, or simply hyperbolic attributions (I had exactly one interaction with him in my whole life; a phone interview in 2000 or so, and he seemed like a pretty nice, reasonable and bright guy during it).

In addition to not knowing, I guess I should say I don’t really care either. A comics creator’s personal beliefs might make them personally unlikable to me, but it doesn’t affect how good they are at their work (The reverse is true too). I only bring this up because a great deal of this book deals with fashion, and the making fun of it. And jokes about the fashion industry and models are so easy, they hardly ever seem worth making. But given what I’ve read about Sim’s beliefs about the Y-chromosome free half of the human species, some of the moments within might be greatly colored by how much you know and/or care about Sim’s opinions about women.

I’ll probably write more coherently about Glamourpuss in a few more days, after I’ve had a chance to re-read it and digest it properly, but off-the-cuff, I will say that Sim is a great artist, the book is designed and laid-out beautifully, and he is one of my favorite letterers ever; I could read just about anything as long as he hand-lettered it. The subject matter is so specific and so idiosyncratic, that I’m not sure how wide its appeal is—I love comics and drawing, and I got far more detail than I could understand regarding the type of pen or pencil or whatever Sim was drawing some panels in—but formatting an essay or mediation on a comics artist to look a bit like a comic makes for a great way to read about comics. Particularly on a Wednesday afternoon, after polishing off a stack of comics. If this were an illustrated prose piece, I wouldn’t have brought it home from the shop with me. But because it’s an illustrated prose piece that looks and reads like a comic book, well, here I am talking about it. Even if I’m talking about it incoherently. More on Monday in “Best Shots.”

Green Lantern #30 (DC) In this second chapter of Hal Jordan’s origin story, Geoff Johns deviates more sharply from previous versions, which is rather welcome, given how kind of pointless that first chapter seemed. I really liked the last panel, as I had never read a story featuring that guy looking like that, and don’t really know what his whole deal is.

Helen Killer #1 (Arcana Comics) Okay, now this, this is high concept. This comic’s plot in a nut shell—Helen Keller gets sight, hearing, speech and super-fighting skills from an invention of pal Alexander Graham Bell’s and joins the secret service to save President William McKinley from anarchist assassins—and the somewhat tasteless pun of a title pretty much demand a looksee.

And I was rather surprised to find that I really liked what I did see. This is, plain and simple, Helen Keller as Frank Miller’s Daredevil, as the Miller inspired cover by Matthew JLD Rice and Chris Moreno makes pretty clear.

The story is, of course, completely ridiculous, but writer Adrew Kreisberg plays it dead pan straight. After opening with the breakthrough moment at the well, he flashes forward to Bell demonstrating his “Omnicle,” a pair of dark glasses which, when switched on, not only cure Keller’s blindness and deafness, but, in the process, give her “Herculean strength and agility,” and allows her to see evil in a man’s heart.

Rice’s stark black and white art is pretty incredible. Together, he and Kreisberg have devised some interesting ways to communicate the way Keller and her teacher communicate, and there’s a simply bravura eight-page action sequence in which Keller beats down three armed men with her powers that’s just as well choreographed and communicated as anything I’ve seen in, say, Iron Fist.

I was pretty surprised to find the “to be continued” in the last panel and find that this is actually a four issue miniseries, given the fact that it’s not really a premise that seems capable of sustaining itself for more than a single reading, but I guess we’ll see. As (intentionally) over-the-top stupid as the story is, it’s also extremely well told.

Hercules #1 (Radical) Well, it’s apparently a good time to be both a comics reader and a fan of classical mythologies most famous demigod, because not only is Herc currently starring in Marvel’s most fun and entertaining monthly series (The Incredible Hercules), he’s also starring in this five part miniseries from Radical, which hews closer to the mythic version.

Well, that’s not exactly true, as Marvel’s hews close to the mythic version too. Perhaps I should just say that Radical’s isn’t set in the present day, and is about 100% less likely to have Iron Man show up at any point.

In searching for the products of another comics company to compare this first issue too, Marvel only comes to mind because they’ve also got a decent Hercules book going at the moment. Radical’s book reminds me a bit of the Virgin Comics line, in it’s slick production value and it’s hard to make sense of credits, and Dark Horse’s Conan books, as this is very much a Hercules as Dark Horse’s Conan type of story (manly man action, lush, painterly art, lots of red-splattered violence, etc).

The logo, title hero character design and one of the two covers (the one pictured above) come courtesy of comics legend Jim Steranko. The interior art is by Admira Wijaya “of Imaginary Friends Studios.” The colorists are “Imaginary Friends Studios featuring Sunny Gho & Skan Srisuwan” so, keep in mind, this book owes its looks to Imaginary Friends Studios. Got it? It’s apparently very important.

Steve Moore’s script opens with that pseudo-pulpy pretentiousness that informs so many Conan comics, with narrator telling us, “We men live in a world where everything’s a story, played out at the whim of the deities. And either the gods like tragedies…or they don’t like us.

And it gets worse from there, but the narration doesn’t last long, and things turn around once we start meeting the cast-members (Additionally, Todd Klein letters the book, so even if the narration is unintentionally funny, it looks great).

Iolaus and Meneus arrive by chariot in Thrace, to prepare the way for Herc and his RPG campaign’s worth of fellow mercenaries, most of whom you’ll recognize from Bullfinch’s Mythology. They’re quite poorly received, and insulted until they’re goaded into doing battle with the king who had hired them, but it turns out that things aren’t quite what they seem, leading to an effective cliffhanger.

When I was comparing the book to Dark Horse’s current Conan, I didn’t mean to imply that it was derivative (it seems more inspired by than trying to be like, if that makes sense), but as a way to gauge the quality (If you like Conan, you’ll probably like Hercules). Wijaya of Imaginary Friends Studios and the colorists of Imaginary Friends Studios provide slick, glossy, cinematic art.

I personally prefer comic art that looks more drawn than the painterly, photo-esque art seen here, but that’s just a matter of taste—this stuff is clearly well done, looks great and is easy to read.

Definitely the best comic book about a bare-chested dude wearing a dead lion on his head beating men to death with a club I’ve read in a long time.

And, like Caliber, it’s only $1.00. At that price, you’d have to be a fool not to buy it. For just $2.50, you could walk out of your shop with three comics this Wednesday then—Caliber, Hercules and DC Universe.

New Avengers #40 (Marvel) Much like last week’s issue of Mighty Avengers, this comic is only the one it’s titled and numbered as in cover logo only. No Avengers—new, old, mighty, west coast or otherwise—appear in the book, which instead focuses on the space opera political scene of the Skrull Empire. In that respect, Brian Michael Bendis and Jim Cheung’s story can be said to be providing background about the Skrull invasion plot driving Secret Invasion, but it’s all information that anyone who’s been reading any of Bendis’ comics over the last few month’s already knows.

For example, the Skrulls were pissed when the Illuminati slaughtered them in New Avengers: The Illuminati #1, and captured and studied the “heroes” (in early 2007). They replaced Elektra with a Skrull, as seen in New Avengers (spring 2007). They figured out a way to make themselves completely undetectable, as seen in New Avengers, Mighty Avengers and Secret Invasion (throughout later ‘07, and early ’08). They figured out a way to make multiple Super-Skrulls with different Earth heroes’ powers, as seen in New Avengers: The Illuminati #5 (January of this year).

Bendis’ script is fine. It’s well crafted, even if it gets a little goofy with the talk of Skrull dialects, and the parallels between Skrull religion and Islam make me a squirmy. It just seems completely unnecessary, as if Bendis has plotted this big huge event with the idea in mind that his readers are all really, really dumb, and need to be spoken to very slowly and carefully, or they’ll miss something.

Teen Titans Go! #54 (DC) Attention Young Justice fans! Not only does this particular issue feature a cover by old YJ pencil artist Todd Nauck, it also features Cassandra “Wonder Girl” Sandsmark, with her blonde pig-tail and WW black T-shirt design from back in the YJ day.

Writer J. Torres, who was responsible for the recent Wonder Girl mini, tells a guest-star packed story in which the other Wonder Girl invites some female Titans—the cartoon versions of Raven, Starfire, Pantha and Bumblebee—to Paradise Island to compete in the contest to be the new Wonder Girl.

It’s a sharply written and well-designed done-in-one that is head and shoulders above the bulk of DC’s DCU Titans output. I’ve long been amazed at how superior all of the cartoon Titans’ character designs are to the “real” Titans, and the fact that they have more distinct personalities and, in many cases, better artists working on them. For example, compare artist Ethen Beavers’ version of Starfire and Raven here to Ian Churchill’s in Titans #1.

This month’s issue might be an atypically strong one, however. Beavers’ art is a step up from what I normally see when I crack open the occasional issue of this book, particularly during the opening sequence.

Teen Titans: Year One #4 (DC) Of course, if you only read one Titans-related comic this week, it should probably be this one because, good God, penciller Karl Kerschl’s art is just plain crazy good. Writer Amy Wolfram provides a more-or-less done-in-one story that strikes a pitch-perfect tone for a Titans comic—not exactly aimed specifically at kids, but not written to repel them either—that includes both The Flips (from 1965’s Showcase #59) and The Ant (from 1966’s Teen Titans #5), characters you can read more about in Showcase Presents: Teen Titans #1.

Thor: Ages of Thunder #1 (Marvel) Marvel stories that put their Thor in a setting and/or story that closely resembles that/those of his original Norse mythology have always struck me as kind of wrong-headed, simply because that Thor is everyone’s Thor, while Marvel’s Thor is unique in that he’s Thor in a Jack Kirby-ized version of North myth, a mythological hero low living in the modern world, one in which gods and heroes have both been supplanted by superheroes.

Of course, this book is written by Matt Fraction, which gives it a worth-a-look-at-least status.

And, while it would appear to be a Thor story that DC or Dark Horse or Virgin or Boom! or Dynamite could have told just as well as Marvel, it is a pretty good one. Back in pre-Fantastic Four days, the Asgardians fend off an assault by frost giants, and then a few other attempts by the giants to get their hands on Freyja and the golden apples that grant the gods their immortality.

Fraction tells much of the story through narration, which is written in somewhat self-important, myth-sounding style, and there’s rather little dialogue. (Most of Thor’s consists of “Aye.”) There are two stories in this over-sized book (one drawn by Patrick Zircher, the other by Khari Evans and Victor Olazaba), and both are fairly similar. Loki gets the gods in trouble, Thor shows up and saves their asses by throwing his hammer (and sometimes himself) through the heads of a frost giant.

They have the feel of actual myths, but it’s been so long since I’ve read much about Norse mythology, that I’m not sure if Fraction’s retelling actual ones, or has done such a good job in approximating them that they feel genuine.

All in all, pretty great stuff.

*Is there really no magic spell that allows someone to speak Spanish? Traci can talk to cities, but she can’t speak to Spanish-speakers?

**Although I’m not sure why I feel the need to keep the surprise a surprise when DC themselves went and had the big news published in a mainstream media outlet the morning before the comic book came out.


Christian A. Dumais said...

I don't think Bendis thinks his readers are really, really dumb; rather, he knows his readers are meticulous when it comes to the details. It just looks like he's playing it very carefully for this event.

Anonymous said...

Secret Invasion personally struck me as a story about radical Jews deciding to turn Palestine into Israel because it was a "promised land" they hadn't actually lived in for a thousand years...

snell said...

Caleb: yeah, that was Triathalon...

Mory said...

If you didn't refer to DC Universe 0 with such respect, I'd swear the entire issue was total gibberish. Seriously, what the hell was that? Is this even a story? Is any of it supposed to be coherent at all? Or is Final Crisis going to be entirely impossible to decipher for anyone who hasn't been following every little detail of DC Comics since forever?

JohnF said...

People keep telling me that Secret Invasion is some thinly-veiled slam at Islam, but I'm really not seeing it. It's not like the Skrulls are some new invention. They have been around for like 45 years, right? It's not like this is a creation of Homeland Security to make us feel better about the Iraq War.
Even if it were a satire or parody (whatever) of Islam, so what? Everything is ripe for satire, or should be anyway. If you keep the kid gloves on for everything, all of the bad guys in every story would just be Nazis.
I also don't see why Islam should be exempted when Christianity is so frequently used as the justification for bad guys. Nobody complains too much about the overt slams against Christianity in X-Men, do they? Reverend Stryker, Reverend Craig, etc. are xenophobic Christian lunatics, and not even Bill Donohue seems to bat an eyelash.
I think everyone and everything should be acceptable fodder for satire.

P.S. I'm an atheist, so it's not like I have any particular attachment to Christianity.

Unknown said...

So apparently that last page of DCU0 was supposed to be a big event? I must not read enough DC books, because I totally didn't get it. I guess it means Barry Allen is back? I would not have known that if I hadn't read it on CBR or somewhere. After I heard that, I went back to look again, and I still don't get it. You've got a lightning bolt, and a red-colored caption with the Flash logo, but that's it. I guess I'm missing something.

Overall, I thought the issue was okay; 50 cents seems like a decent price, but since it's pretty much just an ad/trailer, it really should have been free. Some of the stuff seemed interesting, but I also was pretty confused; I sure hope it's not going to be impossible for me to understand Final Crisis.