Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Weekly Haul: August 20th

Air #1 (DC/Vertigo) Vertigo’s founding father* and most dependable renewable resource Neil Gaiman has a big, fat quote on the cover of his issue, the first in a new series written by self-professed Neil Gaiman fan G. Willow Wilson.

It reads, and I quote, thusly: “I read the first half dozen issues of AIR and enjoyed them no end— It starts as Rushdie and then parachutes off into Pynchon.”

So on one hand, Wilson’s new book seems to have the official endorsement of Mr. Vertigo himself, the very talented writer Neil Gaiman. However, he left out the “to” in “to no end.” Come on, Gaiman!

The impact of that quote was awfully dulled by the first two pages of the book, too. On the first, a splash page, a character says, “Aren’t you glad this isn’t a Salman Rushdie novel?” And then, on the second, they pop a parachute. So yes, it literally starts off as Rushdie, and than parachutes elsewhere. I thought Gaiman was comparing Wilson’s writing to Rushdie and Pynchon, not just summarizing the plot.

(Is that a good thing, incidentally? I’ve never read either Rushdie or Pynchon, because I only read books in which the dialogue appears in bubbles coming out of drawings of the characters’ mouths).

Okay, to get serious for a few paragraphs: This is a pretty weird book.

I liked Wilson and collaborator M.K. Perker’s original graphic novel Cairo, and was eager to see more from Wilson (she knocked a weird Outsiders one-shot out of the park, which is akin to shooting a bow and arrow using only your feet and still hitting the target), not to mention what Perker’s art would look like in a full-color (Cairo was essentially black and white).

I like how breathless this story reads, trusting readers to keep up with a super-fast, rather weird narrative that sets up the series in a single issue, rather than dribbing and drabbing things out (I think that’s especially important for a Vertigo series, as I suspect a lot of folks do as I do with such books now, and try out only the first issue or two before deciding whether to follow it in trades or not follow it at all; I suspect, but have no evidence to assert, that Vertigo’s monthly sales are in a large part a victim of their incredible success in the graphic novel field).

Of course, Wilson may have trusted me over much, as I was kind of lost at times, particularly since the story starts at its climax, then flashes back and works its way back to and past the climax, and it took me a bit to figure out what was going on (Of course, prior to reading this issue, I had read two about a talking space raccoon and his teammates fighting super space priests and Skrulls, so maybe my brain was still set on stupid escapism).

So this is the story of a stewardess who is afraid of heights and flying (ironic!) named Blythe (symbolic!) who becomes embroiled in a strange struggle between a vigilante terrorist organization who wants to fight terrorists by hijacking a plane or something (?) a dashing, handsome secret agent-y type man who is easy to racially profile as Arab or Muslim (although he may not be), lives in an imaginary country, fights the anti-anti-terrorists (not because he is a terrorist, but because the anti-terrorists are terrorist).

When Blythe kisses him, she reports, “You taste like the sky.”

I found myself alternately rolling my eyes and scratching my head as I turned the pages, but I did keep turning the pages, and would happily turn a few more next month. It’s overly cute and perhaps a little nonsensical (Wilson wrote two editorial-y type things in this very comic, but I’ve resisted reading them before writing this), but in a somewhat romantic type of way.

I really enjoyed Perker’s art, which looks even better in color (colored here by Chris Chuckry). The character design and costumes are pretty great, and the art, coupled with the actual paper paperstock made this a comic book that looked, read, felt and smelled like I want a comic book too. Visually and tactilely, this is probably the best all around reading experience I had today, despite the fact that artists whom I love as much as George Perez and John Romita Jr. both had new books out (Not that Perker is better than them, or even in their league yet, but the whole Air package was more comic-book-y, if that makes sense).

You may want to proceed with extreme caution, but I’d recommend proceeding.

The Amazing, Remarkable Monsieur Leotard (First Second) When I think “Eddie Campbell,” I inevitably think Form Hell’s Eddie Campbell. Not because I’ve never read any of his other work, or think of him as any sort of one-trick pony, but because From Hell is a work with such an enormous gravitational pull. I mention this only because when I think of Eddie Campbell, I tend to think of brutal prostitute murders in black and white 19th-century London, which likely made this work, a collaboration between Campbell and Dan Best, all the more surprisingly fun.

Yes it’s beautiful. Obviously it’s beautiful; it’s also full-color and full of little narrative curlicues and semi-experimental format mash-ups branching off from the main story in interesting ways, only to return later.

But more importantly, it’s hilarious. Really; you should track this thing down (At your local library, if not your local comic shop. I understand shit’s getting expensive these days).

It’s not the story of Amazing, Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, a famous trapeze artist who dies almost as soon as the book begins. It is, instead, the story of his nephew Useless Etienne, to whom he bequeaths a blank book, a fake handlebar moustache, and the blessing/curse that nothing ever occur.

But occur things do, as Etienne and his circus troop—including a little clown, a talking bear on roller skates and a tattooed lady, among others—travel from the late 19th century all the way up until the start of superhero comics. Along the way they meet real historical personages, briefly crossover with From Hell, sail on The Titanic, and effect an elaborate prison break. It is all completely awesome.

Now, if this seems out of place in a sequence of reviews of comics all published by Marvel or DC, I assure you it has some things in common with super-comics. First and foremost, there are leotards, as well as a neat Fantastic Four gag and Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster cameo.

Amazing Spider-Man #566 (Marvel Comics) There are some comic book artists whom I’d follow to the gates of hell. Not the real gates of the real hell, where I believe John McCain is currently throttling Osama bin Laden, but certainly to the metaphorical gates of the comic book experience equivalent of hell, like reading a nonsensically rebooted comic narrated in poor man’s Stan Lee pastiche.

John Romita Jr. is one such artist, and so I’m returning to ASM for the first time since Marcos Martin finished drawing the hell out of a couple issues involving Peter Parker as a paparazzi and a villainess named Paper Doll.

This is the oversized kick-off of a story arc called “New Ways to Die,” featuring a few of Spidey’s old ways to die, including Norman Osborn, Eddie Brock, Marc Gargan and, of course, the sentient costume Spidey, Brock and Gargan have all spent some time inside.

The 28-page lead feature is by Dan Slott, JRJR and Klaus Janson, and features a gratingly narrated origin recap and an obligatory Spidey-fights-a-supervillain scene (Here, new Goblin-y character Menace, whom Spidey dubs “Mock-Goblin.” Me, I woulda went with some variation of “Fauxblin”). These preliminaries concluded, we then plunge into the actual story.

As with the last post-reboot ASM arc I tried, the book hosts a noticeably in-progress story, as if you had turned on a soap opera for the first time or started reading a new comic strip all of a sudden, but that’s not at all a bad thing. There are quite a few different plots involving a wide supporting cast—some old, some new—and it’s all refreshingly easy to follow and human in scale (dealing with political campaigns and newspaper office intrigue instead of the nature of reality or heroes dying/returning from the dead).

I suppose I should also mention that there is absolutely nothing about this comic that couldn’t have occurred with a Peter Parker who’s married to Mary Jane; swap the one panel where Peter’s roommate mentions rent being due with a panel in which MJ mentions rent being due, and this could have easily occurred in the pre-reboot days. Increasingly it seems the reset button had less to do with de-marrying Spider-Man, and more to do with re-masking him after the Civil War unmasking stunt.

But wait, there’s more! There’s also a 10-page back-up (Fun fact: This costs the exact same amount as the last four issues of Secret Invasion, but is 16 pages longer). It’s written by Mark Waid, drawn/illustrated by Adi Granov, and focuses on the new status quo for Eddie Brock, who has just recently been miraculously cured of cancer and devoted his life to his faith, but is still haunted by Venom. It’s nothing to throw a parade over, but the scripting is quite solid, and actually gets inside the head of one of Marvel’s most hard to give a crap about characters. I’m not terribly fond of Granov’s hyper-real aesthetic, but his humans look more lifelike here than they did the last time I saw them (Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas #1), and his Venom has a scary, H. R. Giger look about it.

Batman and The Outsiders #10 (DC Comics) DC’s apparently cursed new volume of an Outsiders comic reaches it’s lame duck, what’s-the-point-of-even-reading-anymore-? phase. Gone is cover artist Doug Braithwaite, replaced by J. Calafiore at his most slap-dash (Does anyone on that cover look quite right, except for maybe Batgirl, who’s just a silhouette anyway?). Gone is the slick, polished art of Julian Lopez and Bit (despite what says), replaced by the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time pencil work of Ryan Benjamin (inked here by Saleem Crawford). Still around is Chuck Dixon, but not for long; Frank Tieri steps in as the troubled book’s second actualwriter (and fourth announced writer), meaning this story is of little to no consequence.

Which is just as well, as it’s no good anyway.

Apparently these two bad guys have found and captured a space alien Parasite from the old “New Bloods”-related summer crossover (despite the fact that those Parasites, which come from a different dimension, all died), and keep it in a basement to toss people at. Some die, others get superpowers; an evolutionary mechanism to defend against invasion by Parasites which doesn’t actually make sense here, given there is no invasion going on (Hey, I read that “New Bloods” thing as a teenager, and I thought about it a lot at the time).

So Grace, Thunder and Metamorpho have an action scene and make bad bad jokes (um, as opposed to good bad jokes, of the Spider-Man variety), Batman jumps on the Parasite’s back and flies away (remember, these things can go hand-to-hand with the likes of Superman), Looker guest-stars again but if Dixon was planning on going anywhere with her it hardly seems important now that he’s leaving, and Salah gets his mind trapped in Remac within pages of being told his new psionic interface device might not be the best idea.

And thus ends Dixon’s run. Next issue, Tieri joins Benjamin for the first part of a “Batman R.I.P.” tie-in arc, which may not actually be a “Batman R.I.P.” tie-in (I noticed this week’s issue of Robin lost the “Batman R.I.P.” logo it was previously sporting).

The Brave and The Bold #16 (DC) And here’s another DC comic limping off the last vestiges of its original creative team. George Perez jumped ship a while ago, apparently to get a head start drawing the 900 superheroes appearing in Legion of Three Worlds, while Mark Waid has soldiered on with a few extremely solid replacements. This will be Waid’s final issue, before a string of fill-in stories counting down to J. Michael Straczynski’s run.

This is apparently supposed to be the first meeting between Superman and Catwoman, which seems weird, given the fact that Catwoman is wearing her post-Balent, Darwyn Cooke-designed gear, but that discrepancy aside, it’s a great done-in-one tale that’s exactly what a book like this should do: Sharply define two distinct characters one wouldn’t normally expect to see under the same comic book cover, while defining their relationship.

Superman is filling in for Batman in Gotham on the night of a big, mysterious underworld auction, the prize piece of which is a map to a certain cave of great import in Gotham City. He reluctantly teams up with Catwoman to make sure he gets that map instead of someone who would use it for no good, and she flirts shamelessly with him.

It’s terrific fun, including a scene of Superman doing one of those things he did in the Silver Age I find so charming (whenever he needs money, he plunges underwater to find sunken treasure), thugs trying to beat him up without recognizing him, and several scenes of the Man of Steel being flustered by Cats, most amusingly when she puts him in a disguise.

Scot Kolins, who is also contributing his last work on the title for the foreseeable future, is still working that somewhat indistinct style I’m not terribly fond of (the darkest lines all seem gray instead of black), but his composition, character design and storytelling are all really solid. Page seven—the one with the “eep!”—is just fantastic looking; Kolins’ Catwoman seems to move over the page all by herself.

And that’s the end of Waid’s shor Brave and The Bold run; up next are two Marv Wolfman and Phil Winslade Raven/Supergirl team-ups, and then a David Hine and Doug Braithwaite Phantom Stranger/Hal Jordan team-up.

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #1 (DC) Geoff Johns has something of a reputation for being a sort of character doctor, capable of taking DC characters so thoroughly screwed up as to be practically broken and finding a way to lead them back to usability, even popularity again. He made the Titans franchise work (for a while) after several failed attempts by others, he was constantly recreating and reordering legacy characters that fell under the broad JSA/Golden Age umbrella, he made sense of Hawkman (for the most part; looks like DC’s in the process of breaking him again) and, most notably, he took Green Lantern Hal Jordan, a character who became an evil villain, and then died, and then became a spirit of vengeance, not only returned him to his original hero status, but made Green Lantern one of DC’s best-selling titles in the process.

After futzing around with the Legion of Superheroes in “The Lightning Saga” (fail) and a recent Action Comics story arc, Johns lays the deformed corpse of the repeatedly re-booted future franchise on the table and cracks out his instruments to operate.

It looked to be his most challenging task yet, and, honestly, I didn’t know if he could do it (Or if I wanted to see it; I’ve never been able to get into the Legion, unless you count the cartoon version and accompanying comic book, or the version in which they go by the name Superfuckers and James Kochalka is writing and drawing their adventures. I mainly just bought this thing to look at the George Perez art).

Well, so far so good.

This is going to be a huge comic book story. This first issue is 36 pages long, and, remember, these are George Perez pages, so that one magnificently detailed double-page spread aside, you’re still talking pages with 11, 17, 24 panels on them. And there are five more issues to go.

The Time Trapper picks Superboy-Prime up out of the timestream, where he was left during “Sinestro Corps War” (there’s no real mention of whatever he was up to during Countdown; it’s pointedly pointed out that he was last seen during the Sinestro Corps War), and tosses him into the year 3008, in the same timeline from Johns’ “Superman and The Legion of Super-Heroes” arc in Action.

He listens to a Jimmy Olsen hologram tour guide in the Superman museum, is unhappy with his place in Superman history, and goes on his usual murderous temper tantrum, deciding to form a Legion of Super-Villains.

Meanwhile, this Legion’s history is explained, United Planets politics is argued over, and various Legionnaires are checked in with, sometimes with laughable melodrama (I liked the depressed Sun-Boy sighing, “I was white hot for a long time. But my passion is gone…I’m burnt out”).

This being a Johns-written Superboy-Prime story, it should come as no surprise that there are mass casualties—“Over twenty thousand guards and staff have been murdered"—but not a single limb is torn from its socket.

The two biggest “Holy shit!” moments were both decidedly non-violent ones.

In the first, Brainiac suggest that if they’re going to fight a Superman from an alternate reality, they’ll fight fire with fire, and he calls up images of two alternate Legions (the post-Zero Hour one, and the Mark Waid/Barry Kitson re-booted one—and, this being Perez, he draws every single one of them. Damn!).

And in the second, Superman explains that they’ll never be able to stop Superboy unless they do something drastic. Not kill him, but, harder still, “reach out to him. We need to to find the boy inside that helped me save the universe during the first Crisis.”

It is all perfectly straightforward super-comics, but Johns has always been pretty good at straightforward super-comics writing, and he’s only getting better at it.

Now, so as not to let a whole review go by without saying something negative, I guess it’s worth pointing out that this book doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with the events of Final Crisis so far. Of course, it’s pretty unclear what Final Crisis is even about at this point—beyond evil temporarily winning as it does in, like, every superhero comic ever—so maybe it will tie-in directly later, but as of now, there’s no mention of the New Gods or Anti-Life Equation or the Fourth or Fifth World or Superman’s wife being blown up or any of that business.

And I suppose that’s a problem with both of Grant Morrison’s current big DC crossover stories; even a few issues into them, it’s unclear what Final Crisis or “Batman R.I.P.” is about, which only primes readers for disappointment when there isn’t any realy connective tissue between the tie-ins and the main event, save for a logo or title.

But beyond that, this is pretty good stuff, even for those who aren’t really into the Legion (like me). You’ve got Johns doing that superhero soap opera stuff he’s so good at, you’ve got Perez drawing one million panels and that’s more than enough for a decent read.

Guardians of the Galaxy #4 (Marvel) The Skrulls aren’t just invading the Marvel Universe, they are literally invading Marvel’s line of comics, showing up pretty much everywhere and, in places they can’t quite get a toehold, like Fantastic Four, Thor or the X-Men comics, for example, they’re creating special miniseries just to invade those franchises.

This week they finally arrive in Guardians of the Galaxy, a pretty solid B-level super-comic I’ve nevertheless been enjoying the hell out of. The inherent paranoia in the Skrulls-as-bodysnatchers plotline SI mastermind Brian Michael Bendis has been pushing is used to great effect here, with writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning having their cast locked down in their base (due to suspicions about them from the folks running Knowhere, and an act of sabotage), essentially cooping them all up together to worry about who may or may not be acting Skrully.

The Incredible Hercules #120 (Marvel) More fun than Secret Invasion, of course, is “Sacred Invasion,” the tie-in arc in Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente’s remarkably well-constructed Hercules and Amadeus Cho (apparently) ongoing. Herc’s God Squad goes up against the two Skrull deities, and there are an awful lot of casualties, considering the fact that all the participants are supposedly divine (Atum the God-Eater’s demise is particularly gory). But perhaps the fact that they’re all actually gods—and that a lot of those pronounced dead within the last few issues are alive by the end of this one—means even exploding into a shower of giant bones and entrails doesn’t actually make one dead-dead.

Pak and Van Lente continue to develop their leads through their story’s events (an opportunity afforded by Herc and Cho’s second banana status in Marvel’s superhero roster, I suppose), giving this story creative value all on its own, crossover event or no crossover event.

If you’re reading this strictly for Secret Invasion’s sake, however, this issue lays out the mythology of the Skrull religion that seems to be driving their holy war (Kly’bn comes off sounding a bit like a Skrull Jesus, with the Skrull’s holy book talking of him in terms of “sacrificing himself for his people’s sake), tying it into the Celestial/Deviant business of the Marvel cosmology, and apparently revealing who the “He” of battlecry “He loves you” actually is.

Trinity #12 (DC) Lots of tiny art mistakes this week in both parts of the book—some down to the coloring, some down to the penciling—which is probably to be expected with such a hastily assembled book.

This week the Busiek and Bagley half, goofily entitled “100101010,” is devoted to the Superman and the JLA vs. the Crime Syndicate battle on Earth-2 or –3 or -Whatever It’s Called Now, while the Busiek, Nicieza, Norton and Kesel half is devoted to a more street-level investigation, this time narrated by The Riddler and involving Nightwing, Robin, The Penguin, Mister Freeze and Madame Zodiac. The true origin of Enigma gets some heavy hinting this time around too, and, if he is who Busiek seems to be hinting at, then Busiek is really basing the hell out of this on his previous JLA work, as I believe that character didn’t even appear in “Syndicate Rules,” but a short story in a Secret Files and Origin special from around that time.

*The founding father who isn’t Alan Moore, of course.


SallyP said...

Diamond made a shipping error, and none of the books came into my beloved local comicbook store yesturday, dagnabit! Which of course, doesn't stop me from reading the reviews.

I have to admit that the cover of Batman & the Outsiders looks like a pose-off from America's Next Top Model, although I would have to send Geoforce home, since he doesn't seem to know what to do with his hands.

Brave & the Bold looks darned cute, and although I too, am not much of a Legion fan, I'll certainly be picking up the Final Crises/Legion story by Geoff Johns.

Patrick C said...

Yeah, all 3 shops in my general area here on Long Island didn't get their shipments yesterday. They all blamed UPS. I'm unemployed and need my comics on Wednesday dammit!

Finally just bought them and about to read them now, then I'll check out these reviews.

Mariano Abrach said...

Hi, JLA vs. CSA take place in the Anti-Matter Earth. In Earth-3 it's called Crime Society instead of Crime Syndicate and it has a different roster.

Unknown said...

Legion was pretty sweet. The assassination was a bit of a "whoa" moment, as was finding out who the Legion of Super Villains were inspired by, which makes sense if the Legion of Super Heroes were inspired by Superboy. Some interesting foreshadowing going on with Superboy-Prime's "Flashophobia" coming up.

And what a great art week with Perez and Romita showing the kids how it's done!

Despite the glitches, I'm enjoying Trinity - it feels more like a cohesive story that 52 and Countdown did, and I like some of the story bits that pop up, like why the Trinity have counterparts across the parallel worlds, while other heroes don't - aside from the obvious that who cares about 52 versions of Geo Force.

Siskoid said...

Late comment, but I'm trying to go through an accumulated stack of 60 comics.

I actually liked Air (read 1 and 2 back to back) though I'm surprised it's a series rather than a mini. One thing's for sure, I have no idea where it's going!

I'm actually surprised both Air and El Diablo have managed to grab my interest. Greatest Hits, not so much.