Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Weekly Haul: August 13th

I don’t normally talk about new books in general because, frankly, so many people already do such a good job of previewing the week’s new releases, but there were a couple of graphic novels hitting the shelves this week I wanted to mention, despite the fact that I didn’t actually buy them today.

First, recent Doug Wright Award winner for Best Book, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, made it into comic shops this week, which makes for nice timing to capitalize on the award and attendant press. I’d highly recommend it; here’s what I wrote about it back in January, if you’re interested.

This week DC also finally released a trade collection of Millennium, their 20-year-old kinda sorta version of Secret Invasion (a story of a hostile alien force infiltrating and impersonating the lives of the world’s superheroes). I imagine they released it now to take the piss out of Marvel (the cover even features a riff on SI “Who Do You Trust?” tagline). Common consensus seems to be that Millennium wasn’t very good, and, having been re-reading it (and posting about it) for the last few months, I can’t really argue with that common consensus. However, I think these sorts of stories are always of some value to fans of their respective universes/companies, as they offer a sort of state of the universe address (that is, this is what the DCU was like in 1988). Plus, it’s got Ian Gibson drawing the whole damn DCU, and his art has apparently been re-colored to conform with today’s higher standards.

Anyway, let’s get on with this week’s Big Two super-comics…

Action Comics #868 (DC Comics) Here’s that Superman tentacle mouth-rape scene some of you have apparently been demanding, sickos.

Batman #679 (DC) Between Animal Man, The Invisibles, even 52 and Final Crisis, Grant Morrison developed a reputation for metafictive comics; comics about comics, their readers and writers and characters and the way they interact with various levels of reality.

So is it possible that maybe, just maybe, Tony Daniel’s pencil art is this bad on purpose? “Batman R.I.P.,” of which this issue is the fourth chapter of, is about Batman having been “turned off” through a sort of post-hypnotic suggestion, and then turning himself back on through his own post-hypnotic suggestion he had in place just in case anyone ever turned off his Batman switch. (Also, there’s some drugs involved). Now he’s wearing a homemade red, yellow and purple Bat costume, talking to gargoyles, and getting advice from some version of Bat-Mite only he can see (which he calls “Might” and “old chum,” alternately). So clearly there’s some craziness involved.

Could the fact that the spatial relations of the characters on pages two and three warp dramatically from panel to panel be due not to Daniel simply being not very good, but to the fact that Morrison and Daniel want we as readers to feel confused and on edge, like the protagonist?

I mean, in the second panel the two thugs are about a foot apart, in the second one they’re twenty feet apart. In the third panel, Batman shatters a blood stained baseball bat over a thug’s face, and yet neither of their faces seem to be gushing significant amounts of blood.

In panel two, said thug has a sharp, pointed nose pointing down, and four rings plus a barbell in his lip and eyebrow; in panel four, his nose is an entirely different shape (did Batman hit him so hard he gave him an instant nose job?), and knocks nine piercings out of his face.

Are we readers supposed to doubt the fact that the world makes sense like we thought it did—DC wouldn’t really hire this guy who hasn’t even mastered mis en scene 101 for a Grant Morrison Batman story would they?!—in the same way that Batman doesn’t know what’s going on in his world?

Eh, probably not.

Anyway, like the last four issues, this remains an intriguing comic script drawn in a style that ranges from lazy and boring to downright hard to make out. The Black Hand closes around Batman and his allies, and seem to be setting him up for a final battle against his archenemy, while Batman and Bat-Might start to explain to the reader just what the hell’s going on (No word yet on what the hell’s growing out of Bat-Mite’s back yet, however).

It promises to get pretty damn awesome, with Robin sending out an S.O.S. to the Club of Heroes. Unfortunately, if they do show up they’ll be drawn by Daniel instead of J.H. Williams III again.

I was interested to see both Robin and Nightwing involved in this issue, as it underscores how the “tie-ins” in their books have so little do with “Batman R.I.P.,” which seems odd, since both characters are going through some pretty dramatic stuff that all happens off-panel anyway.

Robin has spent the last few issues evading two of the Club of Villains—the killer mime Pierrot and the Australian guy with the bucket on his head—while reading Batman’s Black Notebook, his record of his crazy ass cases involving aliens and creatures from different dimensions (i.e. The Silver Age). In Robin, however, Robin’s been trying to track Batman down with the help of Spoiler and the Penguin. Wouldn’t a few issues of Robin flashing back to reimagined versions of awesome stories like this while evading the foreign versions of the Joker and trying to contact the foreign versions of Batman have made for exciting comics? Plus, you know, actually tied-in to “Batman R.I.P.”?

And over in Nightwing, Two-Face asks Nightwing to protect an old lover of his while Batman’s busy going crazy, leading to some action scenes of Dick Grayson skydiving and hang-gliding. But in Batman he fell before the Club of Villains (off-panel), got shipped off to Arkham Asylum (full of, you know, every Batman villain ever that he used to fight as Robin) and is about to get a lobotomy. That sounds like an okay outline for a Nightwing arc, doesn’t it?

Batman Confidential #20 (DC) Writer Fabian Nicieza includes two more famous Gothamites in this multi-issue Catwoman/Batgirl team-up/catfight, giving Kevin Maguire the chance to draw more familiar comic book characters. One of them is the man you see on the cover; while Catwoman and Batgirl reach to grab the notebook they’ve been competing for, Batman thrusts his pelvis in an attempt to…well, I don’t really know what his intentions are for that notebook, but they don’t look entirely wholesome. The other character is a major Bat-villain, and it’s one who is so perfectly suited for Maguire’s skills that it makes me wonder what took someone so long to have Maguire draw this guy. Kind of makes me wish Maguire had been on Detctive Comics these last few years…

Booster Gold #11 (DC) This is the first issue after the Jeff Katz/Geoff Johns 12-issue run (which included issues numbered 0 and 1,000,000, hence this being #11 instead of #13), and it should be entirely skippable. It’s the first issue of a two-part fill-in by Chuck Dixon, which will be followed by another multi-part fill-in, before the real new writer comes on board (was that announced at San Diego and I already forgot who it was?). So obviously there isn’t going to be any actual forward progression. Indeed, the big surprise at the end of the last issue is acknowledged here, but doesn’t really go anywhere; the characters even make a point of saying they’ll deal with it later, after this story arc.

And yet this still turns out to be pretty fun; a lot more fun than I would have thought a Dixon comic capable of being, as he’s not exactly known for lighthearted wackiness in his comics.

A timetraveller gets in the middle of a Batman, Robin I and Batgirl I fight against Killer Moth and his crew, changing the present and future of Gotham City, and prompting Booster’s intervention. Unfortunately, that just makes things worse, so he tries again, and things again go wrong.

I enjoyed seeing the original conception of Killer Moth here—as a moth-themed opposite of Batman, who saves crooks from cops and all—and the regular art team of Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund give this story a visual continuity with the 12 issues that came before.

In other words, this looks like your average issue of the current volume of Booster Gold, and Dixon even manages to make it read more than a little like your average issue of the current volume of Booster Gold.

Captain Britain and MI13 #4 (Marvel Comics) Wow, congratulations Paul Cornell! You launched a brand-new series as a tie-in arc to the big line-wide Marvel crossover story, and yet you were able to use the storyline playing out in other books to successfully set up your new superhero team and give them a raison d’etre and make it all seem perfectly natural.

No small feat. With Britain’s collective back against the wall, Pete Wisdom makes a deal with a devil that saves the country from the Skrull menace (while wryly echoing the climax of Secret Invasion architect Brian Michael Bendis’ last big line-wide crossover), but replaces it with a different one that he and his mates will now need to fight.

The Last Defenders #6 (Marvel) And so ends writer Joe Casey and penciler Jim Muniz’s extremely strange six-part miniseries, which took six issues to introduce a new Defenders line-up, just in time for the end of the miniseries. I assume this is eventually going to be followed up on somewhere, although nothing’s been announced as of yet, but the line-up that appeared in issue one isn’t the same as the line-up that appeared in issue 3, and it’s pretty much a whole new team that arrives in the last half of #6. This could probably have all been condensed into the first three issues of a Defenders ongoing, but hell, I’m just a reader, not an editor; I’ll be curious to see the results of this odd strategy for launching a Defenders title, a franchise that is always a somewhat risky proposition (particularly given the lack of characters at even a Silver Surfer or Namor or Dr. Strange level of popularity).

Secret Invasion #5 (Marvel) Hey remember the cliffhanger ending of last issue, where it looked like the real Thor and the new Captain America were converging on New York to kick a little Skrull ass? Did that excite you? Well then, get ready for disappointment, because they’re not even in this issue.

Instead writer Brian Michael Bendis seems to have finally finished the set-up portion of this miniseries (and it only took more than half of the allotted issues!), converging several of the threads. That five-issue conversation between Norman Osborn and Captain Skrullvel finally ends, Agent Brand finally returns to earth, and the Avengers in the Savage Land finally realize that all the ‘70s characters that poured out of the space ship in the first issue are actually all Skrulls (Yep. All of ‘em. Even Mockingbird. So the twist of that scene ended up being, what, that there was no twist? Huh).

This issue brought up a some weird moral questions, which I hope get addressed somewhere at some point. It ends with Ronin/Hawkeye swearing vengeance on the Skrulls and expressing his desire to kill them until “Every @#$%ing last one of them!” is dead.

This oath follows a scene in which the heroes kill about a half-dozen Skrulls. And not just the hardcore heroes, like Ares, Black Widow and Wolverine. Iron Man, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Reed Richards and Ronin/Hawkeye are all standing right there; hell Hawkeye kills one himself, and Reed seems to strangle a Skrull that is posing as Sue (it’s unclear if she’s dead or if it was just, like, a sleeper hold).

Are they all cool with killing now? I thought that was kind of a line most of the Marvel heroes wouldn’t cross? I know Tony and Reed have already committed mass slaughter against the Skrulls in The Illuminati and were pretty upbeat about killing Goliath in Civil War, but isn’t anyone like, “Hey, taking another sentient beings life is wrong” anymore?

This is particularly weird in this particular situation, because apparently the Skrull sleeper agents don’t even know they’re Skrulls, and some of them are genuinely shocked to find out they actually are. Skrullkingbird is begging for her life when Hawkeye guns her down, for example, and Jessica Jones is on her knees staring at her newly green hands in shock when Ka-Zar’s cat eats her in front of Spidey and Cage.

Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers #2 (Marvel) Molly punching guys so hard they go flying a great distance apparently never gets old; I snickered when I saw it this time, too. Chis Yost’s script is nothing terribly special here—this is mainly an excuse to remind readers that the two teams of young heroes exist between Joss Whedon delays and Allan Heinberg’s having better things to write that comic book he created despite not really having an ongoing interest in writing it—but it has a plot of its own (heavily involving Xavin an Teddy) and Yost gets all of the voices down just ine. Plus, Takeshi Miyazawa art; you can’t really beat that, can you? Guest-starring Impulse. Oh wait, he’s in green, I guess that makes him Inertia.

Tiny Titans #7 (DC) The cutest comic book in the entire DC line, if not the whole world, keeps getting cuter, with this issue introducing a bunch of villains to the, um, Tinty Titan-verse (?). Starfire takes some friends to Tamaran, where we meet Blackfire, Psimon plays checkers against The Brain and Monsieur Mallah (whom Art Baltazar draws a lot like Scott Morse draws animal people, oddly enough), and alternate universe Robin Talon attends the first official meeting of the Bird Scouts (Robin, Hawk, Dove and Raven…all wearing little blue berets and kerchiefs).

Of special interest—at least to me—was the full-page house ad for the upcoming Johnny DC Supergirl series, including the phrase “She’s Sooo Super.” It reminded me of Brian Andersen’s So Super Duper; his protagonist Psyche’s first words in the series are actually, “I’m so totally super duper I just can’t stand it,” and, come to think of it, he generally talks like an extremely enthusiastic junior high girl.

Trinity #11 (DC) In the front, Busiek and Bagley pit the Justice League against the Crime Syndicate, and in the back Busiek, Fabain Nicieza, Tom Derenick and Wayne Faucher pit Hawkman and Gangbuster against those goofy new villains like the super-flirty gorilla gal and Swashbuckler, with appearances by Oracle and the Outsiders. It seems kind of weird even trying to review each issue of this, as it’s so consistent (and frequent); I’m sure that if you this is your thing, you’re already reading it, and if you’re not reading it yet, you have no intention of doing so. I dig it. It’s currently like half a good issue of a Justice League comic followed by half a good issue of The Brave and The Bold.


SallyP said...

There was some awfully good comics this week, which was nice. There were some simply awful comics as well, but I was fortunate enough to NOT be buying anything with Skrulls in it.

I DID pick up the collection of Millenium however, and it was MAGNIFICENTLY bad!

David page said...

Dan jurgans and his clone dan jurgans will be taking over from issue 15

Tracer Bullet said...

So, wait. Does that mean the Jessica Jones we've known and loved for the past few years is really a Skrull, or is the real Jessica Jones still around? Because I'm going to hate Bendis in a way that's not at all rational if he created such a great character just to have her eaten by a goddamn tiger.

Caleb said...

I DID pick up the collection of Millenium however, and it was MAGNIFICENTLY bad

Plus, plenty of GL butts. If you like that sort of thing.

Dan jurgans and his clone dan jurgans will be taking over from issue 15

For real? I wonder if I had heard that before but blocked it out if my memory. I guess Jurgens knows the character fine, but I was hoping Blue Beetle's John Rogers would be coming on, because he writes good funny superhero stuff.

So, wait. Does that mean the Jessica Jones we've known and loved for the past few years is really a Skrull, or is the real Jessica Jones still around?

No, the one that came off the Skrull ship--in her superhero identity of, what was it, Jewel?-- was a skrull and got eaten. Of course, Luke Cage definitely isn't a Skrull, so maybe the other Jessica Jones is too? Because one of them has to be to have a Skrull baby right? Or did the Skrulls take their real baby and replace it with a Skrull?

I have no idea.

Tracer Bullet said...

It only makes sense (ha!) if the Skrulls replaced the kid. If their half human/half Skrull infant had any powers, they'd likely appear at birth and the kid wouldn't have any control over them and the whole plan would be shot. Plus, an actual infant is useless as an agent.

Tracer Bullet said...

Of course, one would assume that a Skrull Jessica Jones would have enough sense not to get knocked up. (Would the Pill work with Skrull physiology? Could she take Yaz?) On the other hand, who knows what Cage's mutated DNA might do when combined with Skrull DNA?

My brain is starting to ache.