Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Weekly Haul: June 18th

Batman and The Outsiders #8 (DC Comics) Now that Chuck Dixon has announced he’ll be leaving the book, the incredibly mediocre adventures of Batman’s hand-picked team of random characters has taken on something of a lame duck vibe. Which is too bad, because it was kinda lame to begin with.

But if you’ve been reading these last eight issues, which have been one long story about an evil corporation’s nefarious attempt to manufacture real-life Pokemon to populate the moon with, you might have assumed it was all going somewhere. Well, now we know it’s not.

Dixon and the extremely solid art team of Julian Lopez and Bit are on the schedule for just two more issues, and then Frank Tieri and J. Calafiore step in for the last two parts of a three-part “Batman R.I.P.” tie-in.

You might remember that particular creative team from Gotham Underground, the series that tied-in to Salvation Run, which was a tie-in to Countdown, which was a prequel to Final Crisis, although the writer of Final Crisis recently disavowed it as such. So, the new creative team isn’t one that seems particularly exciting, you know?

I’m also kind of confused as to how all of the Bat-books (Detective, Nightwing and Robin, in addition to BATO) are supposed to tie-in to “Batman R.I.P.,” since there’s no discernable logline for that particular story. It’s apparently about Batman having a really crazy night and kind of going a little nuts as his world seems to fall apart around him; what will all these satellite books tie in to, exactly? In the olden days of the ‘90s, the Bat-crossovers were at least easy to follow. “Knightquest” was about Batman retaking the mantle from Jean-Paul Valley, “Prodigal” was about Nightwing filling in as Batman, “Contagion” was about a plague striking Gotham, et cetera.

Anyway, BATO #10?

Well, there’s some more pointless running around in China, a remote-controlled OMAC piloted by a guy in the Batcave, some nice, dry British smartassery from Alfred, and I’m not really sure anything has really happened in the course of eight issues now. Lopez and Bit draw well—Batgirl’s butt, Batgirl’s utility belt, Green Arrow’s collar, the soles of Nightwing’s boots, the JLA door/teleporter tunnel thing that doesn’t look anything like it does in other books—they all look awesome under their pens.

So for very well illustrated shallow stories of superheroes running around, stories that are quite clearly never ever going to amount to anything, you could do worse than this book, I guess.

At least for two more issues.

The Brave and The Bold #14 (DC) Two of Batman’s more frequent team-up partners in the old-school Brave and the Bold, Deadman and Green Arrow, team-up with each other in this issues, while Batman stays completely off-panel. This is the first half of what appears to be a two-parter, involving an evil scheme launched in Deadman’s hometown of Nanda Parbat targeting GA’s hometown of Star City.

Mark Waid’s script is decent, managing a lot of exposition without completely ceding the story to laying out that information. I was also struck by the degree of palpable danger in the story, in which intangible ghosts that can kill with a touch target GA. Obviously, he’s not actually going to get killed or anything, but the somewhat unique level of danger made certain scenes more dramatic than usual, especially when coupled with the almost casual way in which Deadman prioritizes saving GA’s life over those of innocent bystanders, plenty of whom die in this issue.

The art is by Scot Kolins, the first artist to tackle the title who is neither George Perez nor Jerry Ordway. I like Kolins’style okay, and he’s a solid storyteller, but after 13 issues by real masters, it can’t help but seem like a bit of a step down in terms of quality.

Part two will feature Nightwing and Hawkman, a pair that are as unlikely a match up as Deadman and GA are, but, should the two team-ups team-up, the story will likely seem a lot less unique, as Deadman and Nighwing have so much common ground (former circus aerialists with an affinity for high collars and team-ups with Batman) and GA and Hawkman are practically the World’s Finest team.

And hey, call me nostalgic, but would it have killed DC to get Neal Adams to do a cover for this issue?

Chiggers (Aladdin Mix) Hope Larson's latest is a black and white original graphic novel about a girl named Abby at summer camp. Larson's art is as strong as ever, and her story this time out is much more grounded than the dreamier, more poetic Gray Horses and Salamander Dream. Check out Monday's Best Shots column at Newsarama for a full review.

Incredible Hercules #118 (Marvel Comics) Okay, so on page one we have cut-out sports cards for “Yon starting lineup for thy God Squad!”, on page nine we have Nightmare talking in Dream of the Endless font, on page 21 we have Amadeus Cho responding to one of Japanese god of evil Mikaboshi’s taunting haikus with a limerick involving Nantucket, and on the last page we have the now cyborg pup watching two members of the Squad knocking boots/sandals.

So yes, this is still a great comic book. Earlier this week someone who should know better asked “Should Comics Only Be Reviewed After The Story Is Completed?”, a question that involved her making unfair comparisons between the medium of feature films (which are produced and sold to the audience/consumers as complete, distinct wholes) and serial super-comics (which are produced and sold to the audience/consumers as complete, distinct pieces, and then later re-sold to the same and/or different audience/consumers in collected format). Then someone who should quit paying attention to that other someone (I say selfishly because when she links to her that means I ende up having to pay attention to her again, and end up reading foolish questions like this) took up the (silly) question, and offered the obvious answer—No; critics should review what’s sold to them.

Anyway, it reminded me that generally only bad comics would prompt someone to even ask that question (but even then, there’s something to review in a bad comic with very little individual story, depending on the inclination of the critic and the venue; in the cases of the two ladies linked above, there’s no reason not to review single issues, as they write for personal blogs with no space limitations, other than their own personal desire not to cover single issues that may be part of a story arc).

Good comics can tell a complete story in every one of their single issues, single-issue stories that also contribute to a larger story that the entire series is being devoted to telling (see All-Star Superman, for a great example of a series of done-in-ones which also tell a 12-part story).

Incredible Hercules is one such a comic. Every single issue has been a done-in-one story, with a beginning, middle and end (even if the ending is sometimes a cliffhanger, setting up the next issue’s beginning), yet each has been a chapter of a story arc, and each of those story arcs has been a chapter in a larger story about Hercules’ and Amadeus’ place in the world, their relationship with each other, and the relationship between classical mythology, classic Marvel mythology, and the modern Marvel mythology of the series you’re reading.

It’s not serial super-comics’ fault that Final Crisis and “Batman R.I.P.” aren’t written as single-issue stories within greater stories. It’s not even the creators’ faults (Grant Morrison’s work on All-Star Superman shows it’s not like he hasn’t figured out how to write comics like that). And it’s not even necessarily a bad thing; different comics are written differently.

Anyway, despite the sidetrack, my point is simply this: Incredible Hercules is extremely well constructed, and if you’re the sort of writer and/or blogger who has a hard time thinking about comics as single-issue story units within a larger story, well, here’s one you shouldn’t have any trouble with.

Plus, it’s the only comic on the stands in which Mark Paniccia’s last name is likely to be used as the sound effect of a stone wall being smashed through by a demigod’s bare fists.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #25 (Marvel) And this is the other enormously satisfying Marvel comic I read this week. Jeff Parker and Ig Guara, the same creators who brought us MAA #24’s clash against the all-new, all-different Hatemonger, return to tell a tale of this all-star Avengers team going up against The Wrecking Crew and Arnim “Holy shit, his face is on a TV screen in his chest!” Zola, who hits the team with some kinda Freaky Friday device.

The result? Wolverine-in-Ant-Man’s-body having a tiny little berserker rage, Hulk-in-Storm’s-body trying to pick up a tree, and a great climactic stand-off in which Storm-in-the-guy-with-the-crowbar’s-body bashes her/his own face.

I love you Marvel Adventures Avengers!

RASL #2 (Cartoon Books) Cigarette smoking! Liquor drinking! Sexing with a woman who might be a prostitute! A strip club! A woman grabbing a dude’s crotch! All written and drawn by all-ages adventure comics darling Jeff Smith! It’s taking me some getting used to, more adult material by Smith, but this is extremely beautifully drawn (and lettered). In this second issue, the science between or lead character’s parallel-dimension hopping starts to come into greater focus, but Smith is still unwinding his story.

Teen Titans: Year One #5 (DC) This one’s a little late—looks like three weeks late, to be exact—which is perfectly understandable, given its original colorist did just pass away.

Personally, I hope the next issue is super-late, because the next issue is also the last issue, and I’ll be sorry to see Amy Wolfram, Karl Kerschl and Serge LaPointe’s winning reimagining of the Titans’ formative years end. As they’ve been doing for four issues now, they take elements from the team’s early years, ones you can read all about in the excellent Showcase Presents, and modernizing and reimagining them in the context of a young adult novel-like teen dramedy.

And, as I may have pointed out four times before, it is absolutely gorgeous.

In this issue, we see what a crappy parent Green Arrow is, Speedy asks to borrow the Arrowcar, Wonder Girl goes on a date, Kid Flash and Aqualad mill around, Batman visits the cave and Ding Dong Daddy attacks.

Part of me wishes we could see this creative team tackle the regular DCU Teen Titans monthly—no sleight against the current creative team on it—but then, I imagine if Wolfram and Kerschl were stripped of the freedom doing a continuity-lite book like this gives them, the final product would likely suffer.

So I hope we get to see TT:YO #6-12 some day, or at least some more work from this creative team with the Titans. Hell, maybe they could do the next “Who the Hell is Donna Troy This Decade?” origin story. We’re do for one, after the Infinite Crisis/52 reboot.

(Presumably the young Jules Feiffer wouldn’t have had any problems imagining Carlos Pacheco’s bigger, bustier Wonder Woman was as strong as they said she was, as he did with H.G. Peter’s daintier version of the character)

Trinity #3 (DC) Tom Spurgeon called it “comfort food, ” applauding the fact that it established “a pleasant, old-school jog with its first issue and the book’s seeming recognition that “there are dramatic stories out there that don't involve re-branding, murder and 1970s super-villains taken very, very seriously.”

Face-kick aficionado Chris Sims noted that rather than a bad comic, “it’s completely adequate in every way… It’s nothing that I haven’t seen before, and I’ve got the impression that if you’ve ever read any halfway decent comic book with these characters, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before either.”

Fairly feint praise, obviously, but pretty accurate nonetheless. Sims even gets right to the heart of what I’m digging about the series. I have read plenty of halfway decent comic books with these characters, but certainly not as often as I like.

The Superman books are in pretty good shape and have been since “Up, Up & Away.” The Bat-books and Wonder Woman are both somewhere between halfway decent and all-the-way decent (depending on the particular title or issue).

But man, I hardly ever see Superman and Batman in the same book at the same time that was halfway decent (despite the fact that they share an ongoing monthly), or the World’s Finest plus Wonder Woman (despite the fact that they’re all in JLoA together), or the whole Justice League line-up, who guest-star in this particular issue.

And I think that’s the real virtue of this series, at least at this (early) point: It’s decent, something that unfortunately can’t be said for as many DCU books as it should be. I know I like to nitpick here, but I’m really not all that hard to please when it comes to DC super-comics—all I really want is a book that’s not terrible, that looks like it was produced by professionals, makes some amount of sense in the fictional DCU (an attraction to which is the main reason I bother reading DCU books at all) and doesn’t depress me.

The lead story here is the whole JLA line-up versus the purple-skinned Hulk-like alien Konvikt, meaning Mark Bagley gets to pencil a large chunk of the DC hero roster, and it’s competent but unspectacular super-fighting (Not quite sure why Flash doesn’t just run real fast and push K. off the Earth).

This week’s back-up, laid out by Mike Norton and finished by Jerry Ordway, features new-ish hero Tarot and a buff guy named Jose who staples fliers for anti-gang programs on telephone poles whom I’m pretty sure is actually super-guy Gangbuster.

My least favorite part is the caption in which Tarot mentions listening to Paramore. I liked the songs I’ve heard on the radio enough to check their album out from the library, and it’s not all that good. I have a feeling a having a character listen to them on her iPod is going to date the story in a pretty negative way; kinda like when I’m flipping through my old Superman comics and find that panel with Jimmy Olsen wearing a Spin Doctors shirt.


Baal said...

That link to the girl questioning whether she should review a finished product? I have a new policy where I stop reading someone's essay as soon as they use the word floppies. Right there I know all I need to about where they're coming from.

Dan Coyle said...

People used to run me down when I called this a "post-Ellis" comics world, but the specter of mean ol' Unca Warren still hangs over the comics punditocracy, No matter how many times he sells out.

At this point, he could do Transformers Vs. Robotech Vs. Avengers and people would still be worried about what the 2001 version of him thinks of them.

I also think we're in a "post-Johns" world right now, but that's another, longer, more tired, less mean argument.

David page said...

I am also pretty sure thats supposed to be gangbuster

Dan Coyle said...

And as for what caused that tangent, it was Ellis that popularized the notion of issues as "Floppies", his (understandable) frustration with the 32 page format. But he couched it in such counter-productive language calculated to cause self-loathing. "Floppy" or "single" or the completely idiotic and wrong "pamphlet" sounds a lot less substantive than "issue". It sounds like you're paying for half a thing. That was part of the goal: to shame readers into choosing the format he preferred. But it began to backfire when he'd announce a project and people would tell him they can't wait for the trade. But he needs money now!

Wow, I know, another round of Coyle Bashing Ellis, shock of shocks. But I still think he's never been properly called on his bullshit.

All that said, Anna Mercury and Thunderbolts are good comics.

SallyP said...

It was a pretty decent week, by all accounts. Nothing mind-boggling, but nothing terrible either.

I haven't been reading Batman and the Outsiders, so I really can't comment. I did like the appearances of Ralph and Sue however.

The Brave & the Bold was fun as usual. Gosh, but Ollie has a high opinion of himself!

I've been enjoying the heck out of the Incredible Hercules, one of the few Marvel books that I get anymore, the trading cards were a hoot.

Teen Titans: Year One was fabulous of course, this is one of the first times in my life, that I've ever felt sorry for Donna. Oh, Roy, you have GOT to stop listening to Ollie! But Ding Dong Daddy has to be the best name for a villain in a very very long time.

Trinity has been often do you get to see Superman taken out with One Punch?

I feel, regarding the question of reviewing books before their storyline or "arc" is finished, that it is the nature of the beast, comics were meant to be viewed monthly and in installments. I LIKE it that way, I get a tiny little thrill from a good cliffhanger, and have the pleasure of waiting breathlessly for a few weeks to find out what is going to happen next.

While I like to read them all together as well, you do end up missing that little sense of anticipation that you get with the individual books.

Patrick C said...

I think you have to fall somewhere in the middle of reviewing single issues versus arcs. By all means review the issue - that's what you paid for, but review it in the light that it IS a part of a larger story.

This especially comes to light with most of the reviews I read of Final Crisis. Saying it was too continuity heavy, or not enough happened, blah blah blah. It's the first issue setting up a 7-issue story.

So yeah, some in between I think is best.

Evie said...

"attempt to manufacture real-life Pokemon to populate the moon with"

I want this to actually happen.

Re: Batman, we talked in my podcast this week about how Batman is batshit nuts in "Batman," and completely on top of everything in all the other Bat books. Morrison thinks he can do everything by himself. It's making me crazy as a Morrison Batman, but not anyone else's.

Re: the Paramore thing, that's one reason "Kick Ass" is going to have a shelf life of about three years. The uber-timely references are embarrassing, even while they're still uber-timely.

Jacob T. Levy said...

On the repeated recommendations of comics bloggers I like, I finally started reading Marvel Adventures Avengers. So much fun!

Scott said...

...comics were meant to be viewed monthly and in installments.

Yeah, but comics weren't meant to tell more than an 8 page story when the format was created, either. The business model was to flood kids with spiffy cartoon stories and hope they'd buy enough whoopie cushions from the advertisers to make your money back.

For a monthly ongoing series, it doesn't make any sense to wait for a collected edition to review the issues. But for something that is billed as a limited, special, mini-series? It kinda makes sense that the story will have a different arc compared to a comic at issue #58.

I'm curious as to what impact TPB sales are having on comic advertisors. I've switched over to buying everything in trade(save AS Superman), so Marvel and DC don't get any ad dollars from Kellogs Pop-Tarts when I buy at Borders.

John Foley said...

Wonderful reviews, as always. Incredible Hercules is almost too good for words. Who knew that Snowbird could be interesting?

I will fight the urge to say anything rude about Valerie D.

Dan Coyle said...

I too am fighting the urge to say something rude about Valerie D, but I will say that last page reveal in Incredible Hercules? SPECTACULAR.

Kevin Huxford said...

Ummm...I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think you were a lil rough on Valerie's review question. I don't think it is stupid, because we have books that are writing stories that take several issues to complete and aren't writing three acts into each issue, but applying the three act concept to 6 issues treated as a whole.

How the payoff delivers on the 1-2 issues of setup you read often changes how you feel about those issues, upon reflection.

I didn't read the blog, but from how others are talking about it here and elsewhere, I don't think she was telling people NOT to review singles...just whether she feels it is worth reviewing before the story is complete in her opinion.

Anonymous said...

I'm still feeling like Herc is a comic with a lot of great ideas and not a lot of great execution, but I like the way you put it--it's not a comic to be shamed for lacking in meat stuff-happening departments.

That "review comics is unfair" question for me, boils down to the word "unfair" and seriously, unfair? Un Fucking Fair? Since when do comics get handicaps, like it's a special ed golf tournament? Unfair is a word that shouldn't be part of a grown-ups language after a certain point. I hear it come out of an adult and I wonder if they cry at peanut butter commercials. Unfair? Grow up.