Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Weekly Haul: July 2nd

Avengers/Invaders #3 (Marvel Comics/Dynamite Entertainment) I have long thought that Marvel Comics had nothing better to offer than scenes of Namor shouting “Imperius Rex!” and waling on The Hulk. But it seems I was wrong as, thanks to the peculiarities of time travel, there’s always scenes of Namor shouting “Imperius Rex!” and waling on himself.

The Namor content of this issue was quite high, as the bulk of it dealt with this Namor looking for his people and then meeting (and beating) his future self, plus an origin recap (showing a panel of one pissed-off looking half-Atlantean infant) and some neat, Steve Sadowski-drawn scenes of the blue-skinned Atlanteans posing underwater like modern dancers as their king argues with his past self.

I imagine the thrills of the issue—like those of the series—will depend greatly on your affection for the characters involved. As a regular Avengers reader, I found it rather refreshing to hear the New team talking like themselves rather than like Stock Bendis Characters #1-#6 for once, and the wacky idea of SHIELD life model decoys revering the android Human Torch as some kind of artificial life messiah, in addition to the Namor stuff, which I’m probably prone to like more than your average, not-quite-as-into-Namor reader.

I was rather pleased to see how incredibly well Avengers/Invaders is doing so far in Paul O’Brien’s monthly update on Marvel’s direct market sales (It’s first issue was the third highest selling Marvel book, behind only Secret Invasion #2 and the latest issue of New Avengers). Perhaps this will encourage Marvel and Dynamite to give us a Project: Superpowers/Invaders crossover from this same creative team, and/or a Project: Superpowers/The Twelve crossover, and/or a The Twelve/Invaders crossover. See, now it’s not only a matter of producing comics that I would personally like, but it’s smart business sense, too!

Batman #678 (DC Comics) Grant Morrison continues to cherry pick story references from the sorts of Batman comics collections you would have found in your local library in the days before graphic novels (like this, or this), bringing more and more of Batman’s Silver Age adventures into modern continuity. Meanwhile, artist Tony Daniel continues to not be very good at drawing anything.

For example, there’s a panel referring to this story, featuring all these crazy-ass monsters designed by Sheldon Moldoff, like these guys

Imagine if an artist with a more chameleonic style was able to integrate Moldoff’s designs and style into a modern Batman narrative, in the way that J.H. Williams III handled the pre-Daniel “Club of Heroes” storyline. Or imagine an artist with a more realistic style, taking these crazy refugees from the Silver Age and rendering them in a grittier, weighty real-world style. Either approach would be an interesting way of fusing these various bits of Batman history.

Daniel can do neither, and simply renders everything in a flat, amateur-ish, anatomically incorrect hide-the-feet pin-up style, making a story about a drug-addled, amnesiac Bruce Wayne teaming up with a bum to cross the city to buy liquor while the Club of Villains attack his sidekicks a lot less fun, visually interesting and legible than it should be. (If you haven’t read it yet, the guy on the first page is Tim Drake; I wasn’t sure which black-haired young man he was supposed to be until he identified himself on page 10, because Daniel draws Tim, Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne identically. If Jason Todd were to show up, I imagined he’d look just like them too).

Even the Alex Ross cover is a bit of a letdown. Given what goes on inside here, from the flashbacks to the Silver Age adventures to Dr. Hurt adopting Thomas Wayne’s Batman costume to the killer mime to that insane last page (guest-starring Bat-Mite), surely Ross could have found something more interesting to paint than Batman at a laser light show? Even a standard Ross one-figure-posing cover would have been cool, given some of these characters.

UPDATE: Douglas Wolk's review at features a link to the original Zur-En-Arrh story that will probably be helpful in making sense of this issue. It looks like Ross actually drew Batman launching a Bat rocket out of his forehead on the cover, for example. The longer Morrison's Batman run goes on, the more I think DC's going to need to publish a Batman: The Bunch of Old Stories Morrison Referenced trade at some point.

Billly Batson and The Magic of Shazam! #1 (DC) Wow, Jann Jones really ought to edit more comics. When the new Johnny DC books she was pushing were first announced, I had a lot of questions about them, but the fact of the matter is that of the three—Tiny Titans, Superfriends and now Billy Batson—two of them are among the best “all-ages” title’s DC’s published in a very important way—they’re completely original works, derived from the individual talents and strengths of their creators and the inspiration of the DC character catalogue, rather than attempts to adapt animated TV show adaptations of comics back into comics.

The results of books like JLU, Teen Titans Go and the half-dozen or so Batman books have been hit-or-miss, largely depending on the creators of the particular issue in question, and all were informed by an aesthetic created for television animation, and attempts to reverse engineer it to a static page.

Superfriends is seemingly informed by outside design forces—the characters’ looks adhering to those of the toy line it shares a name with—but Tiny Titans looks like Art Baltazaar going all Muppet Babies on the Titans franchise, whilee Mike Kunkel’s new Captain Marvel book looks like Kunkel’s version of Captain Marvel.

In the context of the line, that in and of itself is a pretty remarkable achievement, but man, this book is good. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Kunkel’s work here is probably the most sophisticated of any Johnny DC book, and opening to just about any page will provide a good argument why. His work is cartoony is the very best sense of the word, every character’s every expression easy to read and full of organic life.

His artwork is incredibly dynamic as well. It’s easy to see Kunkel’s lines, and he doesn’t hide them at all; the guiding lines sometimes appear alongside the important ones, and if you squint, you can sort of reduce his figures to their component lines; in most panels, Captain Marvel is himself both a piece of colored in Asian calligraphy as well as a cartoon of a superhero.

And man, there are pages where the perfectly aligned multiple images of Cap flying makes it look as if he’s actually moving around the page.

Kunkel’s story picks up right where Jeff Smith’s Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil story left off, with a little girl version of Mary who has speed but no super-strength, and Cap’s battle against the giant monster’s of Mr. Mind shown in flashback.

In this first issue, Kunkel recounts Cap’s origins, has he and Mary rescue a runway circus train, shows a bit of their home and school life, has Cap visit Shazam on the Rock of Eternity (dig those Deadly Enemies of Mankind statues!), stop in at work and see Sterling Morris and introduce Theo Adam. That’s a lot for one issue, and at $2.25 this is quite a value—the page I just happen to have open as I type this has 12 panels on it. Twelve!

If I have any reservations about this book, it’s the same one I have about Tiny Titans—there’s such a weird disconnect between seeing characters conceived of as children’s characters treated like children’s characters, and knowing that DC’s trades include images of Mary Marvel’s breasts getting hit by lightning as she flashes her panties or Black Adam ripping guys faces off and punching out hearts.

It would be nice if DC’s all-ages comics were set-up to serve as gateway comics that could ease a new generation into the DCU in a few years, rather than dead-ends. At any rate, this issue provides another great example of how there’s nothing inherently flawed in the Captain Marvel franchise that it needs to be rejiggered into whatever the hell Judd Winick was trying to do with it in Trials of Shazam. It just needed what all comics need—talented creators.

DC Special: Raven #5 (DC) Wow, I made it all the way to the fifth and final issue of this oddly-named miniseries! I’m actually pretty surprised, given that I only picked up the first issue because of how enamored I am with pencil artist Damion Scott’s idiosyncratic style, and found Marv Wolfman’s plot and script decent but unremarkable.

I guess simply not sucking too badly, coming out on schedule, and always seeing release on a Wednesday with relatively few other books I’m interested in coming out is all it takes to get me to keep reading a series. At least for five issues.

Anyway, I’ve heard some people say that some comics they read they read only for the art; that is, they get the comic and they look at the pictures but they don’t read-read it, and I’ve never really known what they meant by that. And then I hit page 10 and page 11 of this issue. Wow. Those are just some flat-out stunning pages, and it didn’t really matter what was happening in them, or what comic or comic series they were a part of—they stand by themselves as amazing pieces of visually art.

So anyway, that’s DC Special: Raven—easier to continue reading than Titans or Teen Titans, but no a book that is genuinely enjoyable, like Teen Titans: Year One or Tiny Titans.

Jesus, DC sure publishes a lot of Titans books…

Jonah Hex #33 (DC) So the story goes that Jonah Hex writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray asked (Canadian) artist Darwyn Cooke what they could do to get him to drawn an issue of their low-selling (but thoroughly decent) cowboy series. He responded that he’d draw a story where they sent Hex into Canada to fight crooked Mounties.

Now, I read the first trade of Plamiotti and Gray’s Jonah Hex run, and they’ve gotten some damn good artists to draw the series since, but it’s not a book I read on the regular. In part because it is so good—it’s the kind of book I know I’ll enjoy in trade, and thus I figure its one I’ll catch up on sometime when I feel like reading a few hundred pages of a deformed cowboy killing folks.

Wel, if Pamiotti and Gray were to ask me what it would take for me to pick up a single issue of their series again, I’d say, “Have Darwyn Cooke drawn an issue.”

So this all works out rather nicely.

The writing partners provide a tailor-made done-in-one, narrated by a mute Canadian boy who is rescued from a pack of ravenous wolves by an out-of-his-element Hex. Said narration is awfully wordy, almost tiresomely so, but, by tale’s end, I accepted the wordiness as a necessary part of the story’s conceit.

The story is very classic feeling, the kind of story you might find in a Showcase Presents war or western genre collection, and mainly provides a wonderful showcase for the harsh anti-hero nature of the seemingly invincible character and the masterful storytelling abilities of Cooke.

After putting this issue down, I’m pretty convinced that Palmiotti and Gray should start asking other artists of Cooke’s caliber what they’d have to do to get them to draw an issue of Jonah Hex.

Nightwing #146 (DC) So for what I swear is the third time now since Peter Tomasi began his run on this title, Dick Grayson has his climatic battle with Creighton, the bald madman in the Professor X wheelchair who’s been trying to breed an army of winged warriors. It goes down just like it did the last two times, and I’m pretty sure this is the final ending, as instead of escaping to restart the cycle next issue, he falls to his death, meaning the cycle probably won’t restart for at least a couple of issues.

This is a Don Kramer penciled issue, and he seems to have misread something in the script (and/or the editors didn’t read the final art), because Creighton goes from a decrepit old bald man with a deformed arm on one page to a middle-aged man in a sci-fi jump suit with two normal limbs on the next page to a young man with a full head of hair and no jumpsuit and two good arms in the next panel.

Did they fuck something up here, or has Daniel’s Batman art so damaged my ability to read that I can’t even comprehend comic books anymore?

Despite that hiccup, and the repetitive nature of this 15-part storyline, there’s nothing horrible offensive about the book and, like that Raven series, it seems much better than it is when simply compared to other books the character stars in.

The epilogue featuring Superman was kind of a downer too, and not just because Dick calls Superman “Clark” (That’s Batman’s pet name for him!). Because the early part of this story dealt with superhero grave-robbing, Superman and Nightwing talk about how instead of that neat graveyard with all the statues that the dead DCU heroes have been getting buried in since the late ‘90s, they’ll start interring the dead in “a unique impenetrable vault chamber under the headquarters” of the JLA. Maybe that’s more practically, but it’s also a lot less romantic; something that seems more like something we’d have in dreary reality rather than a land of fantastic imagination like the DCU, you know?

Patsy Walker: Hellcat #1 (Marvel) I had every intention of skipping this, having no particularly strong feelings about the character and no real familiarity with the creative team of Kathryn Immonen and David Lafuente (beyond the fact that the writer’s last name sounds really familiar). But David Melrose just had to post an image by Lafuente over at Blog@Newsarama he other day, and it was some great looking art.

That got me to flip through the book in the shop today, and it looks even better as colored by John Rauch, and I saw Patsy in lots of well-designed clothes and a few panels of polar bears with antlers and goddamit how can I not buy this book now?

The pitch is that Patsy, showing way more personality than she has in, like, ever, is sent by Iron Man (codename “Irene”) to be the one-person member of the Alaskan Fifty-State Initiative team (there’s so little super-crime there, one person is all they really need).

There she finds cold weather, unfriendly locals, the aforementioned be-antlered bears, some kinda crazy killer whale/crocodilian/tentacle monster, and some hoodoo doing natives.

Lafuente and Rauch really sell this thing, filling each panel with plenty of detail, of the sort that rewards the eye, from Patsy’s outfits to the shape of the mugs and the mechanical walrus in the Alaskan bar. Immonen’s script is surprisingly strong though, a nice and easy, no-threshold jumping on point for a long-lived character. The operative word for this book is fun, which is apparently something of a dirty word in the direct market but you know what? To hell with the direct market. Try this book, huh?

Lafuente’s site has a decent-sized preview of the book up if you’re on the fence.

Storming Paradise #1 (DC/WildStorm) I have a strong temptation to just ignore the WildStorm imprint until it goes away, but I found myself strangely drawn toward this project, an alternate history story by Chuck Dixon and Butch Guice. Part of it may simply have been sympathy for Dixon given his recent removal from his Bat-books due to the bizarre editorial policies at DC (which apparently mandate that anyone who’s not Geoff Johns, Gail Simone or Grant Morrison isn’t allowed to stay on any single title for longer than six issues) and part of it comes down to my rule about buying any comic with the words “Hey Tojo…” on the cover (Or any derivation of such; “Yo Tojo” and “Look out Tojo,” for example).

So, what if Oppenheimer and his gang misplaced a decimal point and blue themselves up in an A-bomb test, necessitating the full-scale invasion of Japan at the end of World War II? Well, Dixon and Guice are going to show us what that might have been like.

This is a somewhat odd project from WildStorm, one in keeping with their identity of not having any identity at all, as well as from Dixon, although in the past I’ve really liked some of his non-super genre work (like his CrossGen Way of the Rat for example).

Unfortunately, it has something of a “This happened here, and then in Japan that happened, and then on a boat in the Pacific this happened” nature that made it hard for me to get too wrapped up in. This is a story of events rather than characters, at least at this early point, and I found little to really grab onto beyond admiration for Guice’s skills, which, in a more realistic setting than a lot of the superhero work he finds himself doing, really shines as photorealism at its best.

Trinity #5 (DC) Gangbuster’s new costume features brass-knuckles that spell out “GANG” on his right fist and “BUST” on his left fist. That’s pretty awesome. In the lead story, Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley finally finish up the Trinity versus Konvikt tussle, and Bagley tries his hand at an Ed Benes-style Wonder Woman ass shot panel.


John Foley said...

Was it just me, or were there about 4-6 missing pages from that Namor vs. Namor battle? I wanted more punching, yet the battle was just over all the sudden. Another thing- aren't we overrating the fighting prowess of Bucky just a wee bit? Or are SHIELD agents really that easy to drop a kick-ass on? Six secret agents with guns get their heads handed to them by an unarmed 16-year old kid in about 25 seconds? That's a little much.

I'm glad you cleared up some of the things that happened in that Batman issue, because I literally had no idea what was going on for most of it. I can't tell if this is yet another brilliant Grant Morrison story or not, because I simply don't know what's on the page 90% of the time.

Patrick C said...

Yeah, forget Final Crisis, Batman is the confusing title. And Tim sure doesn't eat healthy, huh? "Chitos" and then some fast food not long after.

I was confused about Creighton also.

And no War That Time Forgot mention? Hans von Hammer had a line and everything!

SallyP said...

Mike Kunkel and Shazam was simply charming. I enjoy being charmed once in a while.

I liked Nightwing, but I understand that it was a tad on the confusing side. Even Nightwing comments on it. I do believe that somehow, Creighton was using DNA from the babies to enhance his own body, going from an old man to a young man with wings.

Or something.

Michael said...

I'll be picking up "Billy Batson" because of the strength of the preview art, my love for last year's Jeff Smith mini and my willingness to support anything that has to do with the Marvel Family that doesn't involve "Trials of Shazam".

Oh, and I can't believe this, but I think I'm about to drop "Iron Fist" from my pull list for "Hellcat". The preview pages on LaFuente's site sold me. Plus, those covers are awesome. #3, with the red eyed polar bears and snow bunnies, lets me know exactly what I'm in for and I can't wait.

Laura said...

The Nightwing thing confused me too. But I thought I just wasn't paying attention, as half my brain was still engaged in trying to identify who was who in Batman.

I spent about ten pages thinking Tim was Jason. I *wish* JH Williams III was drawing this storyline.

The Raven book was ok. I've always liked the character, so I kept picking it up. The art was very interesting, very different to the standard comicbook style. Always nice to see someone experimenting with the format.

Phillyradiogeek said...

Someone at CBR has totally torched the first issue of Shazam. I think he's ridiculous:

eviebee said...

True, I´ve seen better art than Tony Daniel´s to be sure, but also a lot worse. At least he gets his facial expressions right most of the time. If R.I.P. doesn´t quite meet expectations it could just as well be due to the annoyingly cliché characters (a supermodel - ugh! they at least had the decency to write women with a working brain in the past! or, as you pointed out yourself, the "magical negro" Honor Jackson) Or maybe it´s the nonexistent graphic storytelling - Morrison´s "avantgarde" style looks more like someone throwing a bunch of notes at the reader saying "figure out for yourself". Honestly, I don´t buy comic books to imagine the action going on between the panels, it is supposed to be a visual medium, last I saw and heard.