Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Weekly Haul: Not even the looming hobopocalypse can stop me from wasting money on super-comics

Oh my God you guys, what in the world is going on?!

The Republican president of the United States is willingly nationalizing and socializing the U.S. economy, asking for $700 billion dollars from taxpayers to bail out Wall Street!

One of the guys who wants to replace him, dude who played a pivotal role in the whole savings and loans crisis that keeps getting bandied around as the last time the U.S. economy seemed so fucked, spent a day or two talking about reforming his way out of the crisis, and then today just, like, decided to forfeit the election (or something?) over the crisis!

And I still went ahead and spent $31 on 11 super-comics featuring slight variations on the same goddam stories I’ve been reading for 15 years now! What did I get for my money, which was probably better spent on dry goods and/or buckshot for my rifle to defend my pitiful store of dry goods from hordes of investment bankers-turned-starving hobos and packs hungry coyotes?!

Here’s what I’ll probably be burning for warmth this winter…

All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder #10 (DC Comics) A few week’s late due to the completely insane strategy of swearing-editing, the latest installment of DC’s now-undisputed best book (All-Star Superman having concluded) finally arrives. And, like the last nine, it is awesome.

In discussing Batman: Lovers & Madmen the other day, I mentioned writer Michael Green’s purple prose as a negative. He opened and closed his story with Batman narration focusing on the difference between silence and quiet—basically a bunch of comic book tough guy quasi-poetic bullshit. Green’s heart was in the right place though, he just didn’t take it far enough.

Not taking it far enough is something no one will ever accuse Frank Miller of when it comes to All-Star Batman. Everyone narrates—and talks—like they were getting their lines from some rejected overdone mystery novel by a frustrated writer who can’t seem to stay out of editors’ wastebaskets. Miller is either writing a hilarious parody of hard-boiled detective fiction, or he’s writing really shitty hard-boiled detective fiction that is hilariously bad.

I’m inclined to think the former, given that each of his protagonists have different, individual ways of delivering their dumb-ass lines about how the city is a screaming prostitute full of evil and Satanic rats.

The Goddam Batman’s all, “A FOG settles, made for lonely walks and stolen kisses. Gotham floats, a cloud city, her million plaintive cries muffled…”

And the Fucking Batgirl’s all, “It took about TWO WEEKS for the DEALERS to move in on all the POSERS from the BURBS…hooking them on CRANK and showing them how to PAY for it with the parts of their BODIES that still work.”

And Commissioner Gordon’s all, “The SMOKE burns my LUNGS. The last thing I need is to suck any more of its gas INTO me. So I suck it deep, just for the HURT of it.”

And Black Canary’s all…holy shit, I can’t even make sense of her crazy dialogue, as she seems to be Irish and Catholic. (Or Australian, maybe? I don’t know). I think she says she’s sending some bad guys to be “ass-up and at the devil’s own sweet mercy.”

There’s a ton of this kind of narration in this issue, all presented in that Brad Meltzer-y way with multiple narrators talking in color-coded boxes that usually drives me crazy when he does it (here though, it’s always clear who’s doing the narrating), and there’s also an awful lot of dialogue. An incredible amount of stuff seems to happen here, compared to some previous issues, and yet it’s one third splash pages. Jim Lee gives us three one-page splashes, and two two-page splash spreads, with the rest consisting mostly of manga-like two-to-four panels per page lay outs. But the amount of verbiage slows things down to the point where Miller and Lee don’t seem to be using the splashes to kill time or space (it helps, too, that Lee packs many of these with details; one two-page spread features almost a dozen ghost images trailing behind Robin, letting the readers’ eye follow his acrobatics all over the page, despite there being only one big panel.

I hope that when All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder finally wraps up (after maybe 150 issues or so), that it gets adapted into an audiobook version, and maybe a traveling stage show where various actors read it aloud, similar to live version of an old time radio show. Because the only thing cooler than reading Miller’s dialogue would be hearing other people read it out loud.

Ambush Bug: Year None #3 (DC) The DC comic with probably the narrowest intended audience reaches it’s third issue, featuring an Amanda Conner drawn cover of Ambush Bug waking up in bed next to former Inferior Five member Dumb Bunny. On the final version of the cover, there’s a dialogue bubble coming from Ambush Bug having him say “Not a dream, not a hoaxIt’s NOT an imaginary story!

Which got me thinking.

That familiar string of assertions is quite common to anyone who’s been reading DC comics for very long, and while I can think of plenty of examples of stories that turned out to be just dreams or that were marked “imaginary stories,” both of which allowed Superman writers to tell stories about a married Superman and Lois Lane in the future or whatever, were there ever any “hoax” stories?

Was that a big problem back in the day? Comics covers and story plots that were actual “hoaxes”?

At any rate, Ambush Bug does indeed wake up next to Dumb Bunny in this issue, having apparently married her the night before in Vegas. He spends the rest of the issue just kind of wandering around thinking of how to get out of his marriage (Dude: Call Mephisto), and thus in and out of parodies of recent DC shenanigans. There’s a bit near the end with one-time Supergirl love interest Jerro the Mer-Boy and this “Go Go Chex” villain who is horribly unfunny (worse still? His Japanese henchwoman “Saki Toome”), but the front half of the book has some pretty funny bits, mostly directed at Infinite Crisis. In the most inspired bit, Super-Turtle plays the part of Superboy-Prime because of, you know, the legal stuff.

I said “pretty funny” and “inspired,” but I suppose I should qualify that a bit—these gags are only funny and inspired if you’re familiar with things like the final fate of Pantha, what happened to Earth-2 Superman and company between Crisis On Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis .

Avengers: The Initiative #17 (Marvel Comics) This title should really just be called The Initiative, as it doesn’t really ever have much of anything to do with the Avengers—at most, Avengers alumni like Yellowjacket, Triathalon or Tigra will appear for a few panels each issue—but then, The Initiative probably wouldn’t sell as well without the Avengers branding. Since Secret Invasion started however, and the two monthly Avengers title stopped being about the Avengers and became the repositories for the deleted scenes of Brian Michael Bendis’ Secret Invasion miniseries, The Initiative is suddenly the most Avengers-y of all the Avengers titles. Sure, Yellowjacket and Spider-Woman turned out to not even really be Yellowjacket and Spider-Woman, but look, there’s Triathalon! He used to be an Avenger, and that’s more than you can say for the Skrulls and clones of the Fantastic Four starring in New Avengers, right?

So this issue continues The Initiative’s Secret Invasion tie-in story arc, and I think it’s safe to say that it’s a lot more interesting and exciting than Secret Invasion, since here it seems like the Skrulls are up to something more than conquering New York City (they’ve got their sites on the whole U.S. here), and the characters we see battling them are all strictly minor league, meaning any of them can buy the farm at any minute.

Writers Dan Slott and Christos N. Gage shift the focus from the new Skrull Kill Krew, who are currently traveling the country killing the Skrulls in each of the 50 Initiative teams (Show Ohio! The suspense is killing me!) to focus on what’s going on back at Camp Hammond, where the lead Skrulls are setting up shop (apparently, this takes place before Secret Invasion #6). The only heroes left to face them are the cowardly Ant-Man III, who’s in hiding, and the Shadow Initiative, the secret ops type team consisting of former villains Bengal and Constrictor, camp psychologist Trauma, and the mysterious Mutant X, who’s secret identity is still being teased. But here we get some clues! Whoever she is, she’s a) a mutant, b) she’s white, c) she’s a red head and d) she fears her dark side. Oh my God it’s Jean Grey! Okay, probably not, because it would be weird if she came back to life this time in a book that’s not even an X-book, but that’s the only redheaded mutant woman I know of, and I think it would be kind of cool if she showed up somewhere totally random like this.

Batman: Gotham After Midnight #5 (DC) The “Fearsome 5th Issue” of this year-long Steve Niles/Kelley Jones series finds the pair drifting from completely over-the-top expressionist to the point of visual cartoon opera into “Wait, what the hell is even going on?” territory.

I’m a huge fan of Jones’ art—the stylized-to-the-point-of-zaniness postures and gestures, the crazy contraptions he invents for Batman, all of it—but I could not for the life of me figure out exactly what happened at the climax of Midnight and Batman’s fight.

I do know that the bit with the red blood gradually eclipsing the bat-symbol in the Bat-signal was wrong. Midnight impales a heart in the middle of the signal’s metal bat shape, the one that blocks the yellow light of the spotlight and thus projects the shape into the sky; the blood seeping out of the heart would appear black in the sky though, as it too would block the light…the color wouldn’t be transmitted.

But page 19, I can’t make heads or tails of that…what’s going on there, guys?

On the plus side, Jones had a neat sequence of Batman working on a Man-Bat antidote, which finishes with him jumping onto the most insane motorcycle conceivable…it appears to be one giant, monster truck-type wheel, with a metal anteater head shaped front, and a huge rocket engine on the back. What the hell is that thing?

And Jones also gives us a few panels worth of The Joker. I didn’t much care for Jones’ Joker back during his run on Batman with Dough Moench and John Beatty; here his Joker seems vastly improved. The sequence is sort of lame though; Niles seems to have cribbed the basics form Killing Joke, in which the exact same thing occurred (only the type of real estate and the method of murder varied).

Fantastic Four: True Stories #3 (Marvel) Nightmare drops enough exposition to his hench-characters that the logistics of the story are no completely complete in this penultimate chapter, and the entire FF is killed on the last page. This one has less to enjoy in it than the first two chapters, but I did like the map of Nightmare’s army’s march through the world of fiction, conquering the country of postmodern novels and then moving through ones marked Serial Killer Fiction and Woody Allen Movies. Guest-starring the cast of The Wind in the Willows.

Marvel Adventures Superheroes #3 (Marvel) Moreso than the other Marvel Adventures books I read—Avengers in singles, Hulk and Spider-Man in digests—Paul Tobin and Alvin Lee’s Superheroes is funny not so much because of the character comedy or parodic elements, but because the stories themselves are just so patently absurd, with no pretension of being taken seriously at all.

For example, here Iron Man, Spider-Man and The Hulk don’t hang out as Avengers, they just hang out because they’re all friends or roommates or something. Hulk is always Hulked out, whether he’s mad or not, Iron Man and Spidey are always in costume, and they all call each other by their superhero names.

It’s like a superhero sitcom, in a world with no secret identities or continuity. The conceit alone is amusing.

And then there are the stories. For example, in this one Kang the Conquerer has created Deja Chew brand potato chips, “incredibly sophisticated nano-based time machines linked to a temporal loop” which he uses to enslave the entire world of the future.

Runaways #2 (Marvel) This is only the second issue of the third iteration of Marvel’s team of post-superhero super-teens, and so far it seems like new creative team Terry Moore, Humberto Ramos and Dave Meikis’ direction is the weakest of the previous two. Perhaps its unfair to judge them too harshly this early, but with coming econopocalypse, I’m hesitant to invest three more bucks on a third chance to wow me.

Moore has kept some of the kids rule, grown-ups drool feel of the previous volumes, but his Runaways lack the peculiar, precious Whedon-esque slang that creator and original writer Brian K. Vaughan had given them, and the current conflict—involving hostile aliens taking the destruction of their planet out on one of the team-members—seems pretty standard for a superhero comic. I find myself much more interested in how seven teenagers and their pet dinosaur are going to eke out a living on their own while hiding out from adult authorities than whether or not they can outfight or outthink generic alien super-enemies

I do dig Ramos’ extremely cartoony versions of all the characters though, and I’m enjoying seeing what he does with them in each panel, although I suppose the charms of his pencils will start to wear off if the scripts don’t become more engaging soon.

Superman #680 (DC) If I had to be in a fight, and I was given the choice between fighting some six-foot-something dude or a dog, I would choose the dude every time (unless we’re talking a lap dog of some sort). Dogs have sharp teeth, and powerful jaws and animal, go-for-the-throat, kill-or-be-killed instincts.

Fighting a big dude, I could always just kick him in the boy parts and then bolt and, if that fails, go into a fetal position, cover my head, and hope someone pulls him off me before he beats me to death. But dogs usually have their boy parts surgically removed, and, even if the dog I was fighting didn’t, I’d still have to kick past his jaws to get at it. And if went into a fetal position, the dog would just eat me alive.

Which brings me to Krypto the Super-Dog. I imagine that if you’re a lawbreaker of any kind, from bank robber to alien conqueror, mob hitman to mad scientist brain trapped in an android body, you don’t want to have to face Superman, an indestructible policeman who moves at the speed of light, is stronger than anyone this side of God and shoots lasers out of his eyes.

But imagine if Superman was a dog!

In short, Krypto is the scariest motherfucking thing in the DC universe.

In this issue of writer James Robinson’s first story arc of his Superman run, Superman’s been getting pretty badly beaten on by old Kirby creation Atlas (find out why he’s losing so bad this issue!), and Krypto comes to the rescue and oh my God run Atlas that dog is going to kill you so dead!!!.

Superman was all just punching on Atlas, but Krypto is biting his throat, and scratching his bare nipples with his dog claws! Aaaaaa!!!

Robinson tells a great deal of this story from Krypto’s point of view, and writes some really cool dog narration. The fight with Atlas seemingly wraps up, Superman chats up a character who looks like he’ll be figuring in future story arcs (Zachary Zatara, the legacy hero Geoff Johns pulled out of his ass post-Infinite Crisis/52 rejiggering), and we get some more clues as to what’s going on behind the scenes.

The art on this book is just incredible. I honestly can’t say enough good things about the Renato Guedes and Wilson Magalhaes team. This is the best-looking Superman comic that doesn’t have Frank Quitely’s name on the cover in recent memory.

I’m still having some trouble getting used to the voice Robinson gives to Superman, which includes him waxing Frank Miller-ly about the sun and his dog, and, at the climax, yelling at the people of Metropolis to cheer for Krypto. Dude, chill out! Krypto totally saved the day; I’m sure everyone was likes him. Everyone who isn’t completely terrified of the thought of a flying, indestructible dog they just saw trying to rip a dude’s throat out.

Trinity #17 (DC) As this week’s DC Nation column by Mike Carlin points out, this issue of the company’s third consecutive weekly contains the one-third point of the 52-part series. There is a major, game-changing plot point herein, in which the evil trinity’s plan finally comes to fruition, and they seemingly remake the work in their image using the cosmic egg from the Kurt Busiek-written JLA/Avengers and the magical shenanigans they’ve been up to during the previous 16 issues. This issue is also structured a little differently than the previous ones; rather than a 12-page Busiek/Mark Bagley story in the front followed by a Busiek/Fabian Nicieza/Guest Artist story in the back, this is one features a shorter than usual lead story, a “back-up” in the middle, and a Bagley-drawn epilogue. It reads like one big, long, uninterrupted story. On its own, none of this is terribly original or engaging—the universe is being reset again, as it was after Infinite Crisis and before 52, and the Scott McDaniel penciled middle passage gives us some background on the Hulk-like alien Konvikt (I did like the apocalyptic imagery of giant burning footprints walking off into space, though).

Next issue, however, should be pretty interesting, if its devoted to exploring how the world has been changed. At the very least, Power Girl has a new costume…and Lois Lane smokes!

Confidential to Jim Lee: What on earth do you think you’re doing drawing cover for this book? Lots of people are available to draw covers to Trinity; but only you can draw All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.

Ultimate Spider-Man #126 (Marvel) Ever wish you could read a comic book featuring the Ultimates without having to read a Jeph Loeb script? Well you’re in luck! Guess who guest-stars in this issue, taking on the newly re-possessed-by-the-Venom-suit Spider-Man?

Wolverine First Class #7 (Marvel) When Kitty overhears crush object Colossus talking to a Russian lady on the phone, she’s inconsolable—at least until her mentor Wolverine gives her a shoulder to cry on and agrees to help her spy on Colossus. As it turns out, his lady friend is Russian mutant superheroine Darkstar, and she and her comrades Crimson Dynamo and Vanguard need Colossus for some…Russian stuff. This is the first issue in a multi-issue story arc, so the what’s not exactly clear yet, but whatever it is, Kitty seems to die in the process, and Wolverine gets pretty mad about that. Prior to his cliffhanger berserker rage, however, he teaches readers how to become totally invisible thermal vision while trying to clandestinely penetrate a high-security perimeter patrolled by guys with infrared goggles. This comic isn’t just fun, it’s educational!


Dean said...

But imagine if Superman was a dog!

One of my favorite parts of Alan Moore's Supreme addressed this- where Supreme's talking super-dog was confronting the evil anti-Supreme. "You rely on the fact that my master will not kill you. He is too civilized...too humane. But I am a DOG!" Then he bites the guy's arm off. No wonder the Legion of Super-Pets beat up the Legion of Super-Heroes.

James said...

Honestly, Runaways was worth 3 bucks to me, just for the scene with Nico using magic to change the kitchen.

Also, I know it's kind of been a terrible title for awhile, but the last 2 issues of Superman/Batman have been aces. It's got Albuquerque on art, which is always a plus, and it's this wonderful story where child versions batman and superman come to normal DC Earth and interact with the grown-up versions. The child batman's orgin story is probably the funniest page of comics I've read this year.

Mory said...

Regarding "A:TI": I think Marvel's been making a conscious effort to change what the "Avengers" brand means over the past few years. Ever since the very beginning of New Avengers, really, where Bendis said "I don't want to tell a story about those guys, here's who I want to tell a story with!" And then right after he set up the team he decided he wanted to tell a Sentry story, introducing the Illuminati and guest-starring every last character he could squeeze in. Then, when he got to Civil War, he threw all pretense away and told solo stories starring whoever he liked. (Maria Hill in 25, Hawkeye in 26.)

So I think Avengers hasn't been a real team book since Disassembled. Those days aren't coming back. Nowadays it's a brand of Marvel universe stories, where the writer uses whatever characters he likes but in the service of the 616 mega-story. You can see this new thinking in the announcement of "Ultimate Avengers", which they're describing as a series of big events without a set line-up of characters.

Jacob T. Levy said...

"Was that a big problem back in the day? Comics covers and story plots that were actual “hoaxes”?"

There were plenty of hoax cover images, weren't there? Silver Age Superman was pulling disguise tricks and cruel-to-Lois tricks and secret-ID-protecting tricks all the time, and some of the covers came mid-hoax, as it were. If Superman and Clark Kent are standing right next to each other, and in the story that Clark is actually a disguised Bruce Wayne or JFK-- hoax.

Sea_of_Green said...

>>In short, Krypto is the scariest motherfucking thing in the DC universe.<<

You are SO RIGHT. It's about time at least ONE writer at DC finally figured that out!

SallyP said...

Never ever come between a boy and his dog. Especially a SUPER Dog! Now maybe Lois will stop bitching about him peeing on the carpet.

I have reached the stage in my life, where I can no longer read anything by Frank Miller without collapsing into hysterical internal laughter. This is probably NOT the reaction that he's looking for.

LurkerWithout said...

"The Initiative" also had Jocasta in this issue. She's an ex-Avenger...

the2scoops said...

Jean Grey coming back in a non-X book happened before. The pre-X-Factor return of Jean was when the Avengers found a cocoon at the bottom of Jamaica Bay in New York. I thnk Reed Richards cracked it open to find everyone's favourite undead red head. Whether Jean is Mutant X? I think it's too obvious and we're getting a swerve.