Thursday, September 04, 2008

Weekly Haul: September 4th

Amazing Spider-Man # 570 (Marvel Comics) We all know that Big Two press releases announcing a particular issue has “sold out” like this one are just meaningless bullshit, right? Because, if I understand the way the way the direct market works, local comic shopkeeps tell Marvel exactly how many copies of a particular comic they’d like, Marvel prints out about that many (usually more, but they never tell anyone how many are actually printed) and they are thus distributed to the local comic shops. Therefore, “sold out” just means “the distributor has distributed all the copies” and there could still be thousands of (non-returnable) copies on the shelves of stores all across North America, waiting to be sold.

I’ve heard plenty of folks explain why Marvel and DC bother with press releases announcing when books are sold out, since it tends to discourage those who might be interested from assuming they can even buy copies, and really only amounts to the company announcing that they failed to properly meet the demand for a book they were publishing. The consensus explanation seems to be that the companies think this illusion of rarity generates “buzz” and “heat,” which is valuable in that it gets potential consumers interested in future issues, trades or second printings of the “sold out” issue.

Why do I bring this up? Well, the first two parts of the latest Amazing Spider-Man arc, “New Ways To Die,” were proclaimed as “sold out” via Marvel press releases. And, guess what? The actually are!

Or, at least, ASM #569 is really and truly sold out at my local comic shop here in Columbus, Ohio.

This is good news for Marvel (maybe?) and my shop (I guess?) but bad news for me, as I kinda wanted to read last week’s issue, but missed it in the avalanche of ten thousand new releases Marvel and DC both sent to the shelves last week.

So I have no way of knowing what transpired in part two—er, book two of this story arc, unless I read the recap page in “book” three, but, well, it’s in prose, and if I wanted to read prose, I probably wouldn’t have an issue of ASM on my lap, now would I?

I can guess what happened though! The Thunderbolts failed to capture or kill Peter Parker and/or Spider-Man, Norman Osborn got his haircut to make it look slightly worse than usual, and the most obvious suspect for turning into Anti-Venom has actually turned into Anti-Venom.

He’s a kinda sorta good Venom, who has an additional power that allows him to eat Venom, thus curing Mac Gargan of his parasitic host. In this issue, the two Venoms and Spider-Man fight each other for a while and, near the end, the new Fauxblin “Menace” confronts Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin. And, because it’s drawn by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson, it looks pretty great (and perfectly Spider-Manly), and, because it’s written by Dan Slott, Spidey’s quips aren’t as completely annoying as they sometimes are in his Marvel Universe appearances.

The Batman Strikes! #49 (DC Comics) This was a total impulse grab today, based solely on the fact that I just watched season four and then season three of The Batman on DVD, and loved it. I watched a few episodes of season one, and I think I was too freaked out by how different it was from any Batman I knew to get into it (dreadlocked, capoeira Joker alone would take some serious getting used to).

I don’t know if the show just got much, much better as time went on, if the introduction of his sidekicks changed the dynamic, or if this time I was just properly braced for how radically different the show’s takes on the characters would be (I really dig its version of the Penguin, as more of a silly thug instead of a mafia kingpin type, for example), but I loved those two seasons—the character design, the voice work (including stunt casting like Adam West and Frank Gorshin from the original live-action TV show, and Kevin Conroy from Batman: The Animated Series playing Robin’s father), the fact that The Joker has a thug named Judy, the animation of the fight scenes—this time I took to it immediately.

(I’m now working my way backwards through the series, to see if it’s the show or me who changed since my first exposure; what you guys think of this show?).

Anyway, one of the things I really dug about the show was Batman’s sidekicks, and how integrated into his life they are (Plus, I think this is my favorite Batgirl costume). In the previous cartoon, as in the comics (since at least as long as I’ve been reading them), Robin, Batgirl and/or anyone else hanging around Gotham kind of seemed to work with Batman in a parallel type of way; in the cartoon, only occasionally teaming up and, in the comics, more often than not just checking in every once in a while (probably, in large part, because they all have their own books).

I liked that Batgirl was an actual teenage girl, and that Robin was an actual kid—he’s freaking tiny, but since we first meet him at the circus, it’s pretty clear that he’s well suited to sidekicking with Batman, despite his tender age (Additionally, the villains seem to be more interested in robbery than serial killing and terrorism in this series, so the stakes seem lower, and making kids fight for you less like child abuse).

So today when my eyes were scanning the new book shelves and fell upon The Batman Strikes!, and I saw Robin battling Killer Moth beneath a tag reading “How I spent my summer vacation…”, instead of passing it over as I had before rediscovering the cartoon upon which the book was based, I added it to my haul.

Which (finally) brings me to the review: This book was pretty good.

Like all of the Johnny DC based-on-cartoons-that-are-based-on-our-comics comics, this is designed as a no experience necessary, done-in-one all-ages adventure. It was also probably the most enjoyable Robin story I’ve read since, God…1996?

In the DCU comics, Robin is all-too-often simply written as Batman in a different costume, but writer Matthew K. Manning actually writes him as a kid, with kid conflicts to deal with on top of his sidekick duties; this story is closer to a lighthearted issue of Ultimate Spider-Man than an issue of Nightwing.

Batman, Robin, Batgirl and Commissioner Gordon are trying to takedown Poison Ivy, but, in a pause in the action, Robin gets sent home early, as it’s a school night. The next day, he’s can’t stay awake in class because he was up so late and, then, when he discovers a supervillain about to commit a crime outside his school, he desperately has to find a way to get out of Geometry and change to Robin without arousing suspicion. It’s fun stuff, as is artists Christopher Jones and Terry Beatty’s depiction of lovable loser Killer Moth (here in his Charaxes-like monster moth form), trying to stuff stolen dollar bills back into a sack while his flitting wings keep blowing them away.

Man, I wish every issue of Robin was as good as The Batman Strikes! #49

El Diablo #1 (DC) Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s take an obscure character from our extensive catalogue that nobody seems to be using, and assign his name and powers to a new legacy character, preferably a minority of some sort, and watch the money roll in! It didn’t work out so great with Firestorm, The Spectre, The Question, The Atom, Blue Beetle or Batwoman (not that we’ve tried too hard with Batwoman, granted) but this time, I just know it will work! Or, at the very least, we’ll renew our trademark.

Surely that’s the secret origin of the new El Diablo, El Diablo III. (Or is it IV? I forget if the one from Gerard Jones’ Justice League America run was a new E.D., or the second version merged with a new demon. Confusing! That’s always a great quality in these endeavors!)

This effort to revive DC’s diabolical desperado character has a few things going for it that some of the other flailing attempts at new legacy characters (a list to which we can add the Bart Allen-as-Flash and Some-Kid-as-Aquaman attempts) didn’t. For one, this is a six-issue miniseries, so DC’s never going to have to cancel it. And for, uh, two, it’s got the superior art team of Phil Hester and Ande Parks on it, and generally anything those guys do is well worth at least a first issue looksee.

Here, the originally, scary version of El Diablo, Robert Kanigher and Gray Morrow’s Lazarus Lane, is still alive in the present, slumbering in a coma underneath a Rip Van Winkle-sized beard. He passes on his Ghost Rider-like powers, including a flaming whip and big scary horse to another, new El Diablo—a criminal kingpin with a heart of gold (or at least silver; maybe bronze) who the police are pressuring to testify against the rest of his gang.

Much of this first issue is a pretty hard-edged crime drama, with the boss of our crime boss protagonist ordering him killed, and telling his assassins to “bring me his balls,” although it’s elevated above a lot of the ten o’clock cop drama wannabe type of writing that occasionally plagues super-comics by Hester and Parks’ art; this isn’t a comic book that wants to be a TV show, it’s a comic book that wants to be a comic book (albeit a rather hardcore one for the DCU…or at least the DCU of the ‘90s).

The new El Diablo gets a new costume design and I may need a few issues to see if it grows on me. It’s certainly a step up from El Diablo II’s Wonder Man-of-the-Wild-West look, but it’s not anywhere near as bad-ass as L.L.’s. Hell, even as an old man, with his wizard-beard hanging out of the shadow of his cowboy hat, the original looks pretty sweet.

I think E.D.III’s mask is supposed to be Mexican wrestler-like, but the skull motif doesn’t look too terribly Mexican, especially considering how elaborate and unique Mexican skulls can be or hell, even luchadore masks (like the guy in the mask that J.H. Willaims III drew in his Batman arc? That was a cool mask). This mask calls to mind Silver Banshee and That Guy From That One Super-team Who Fought Spawn (Chapel?).

All that said, writer Jai Nitz (responsible for the darling all-Spanish issue of Blue Beetle) does a perfectly adequate crime story in this first issue, and if the direction isn’t terribly original (The Spectre, Ragman and Crimson Avenger II all fulfill a similar function in the DCU alone), nor does it look to be going anywhere any more original next issue (the cliffhanger involves an unseen, evil force making an evil opposite to fight El Diablo), Nitz doesn’t do anything wrong here either.

So if you were looking for another super-comic to read because you were feeling starved for choices, what do you know, here’s another one.

Green Lantern # 34 (DC) Part six of Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis’ 3,000-part origin of Hal Jordan! In this chapter, Hal learns some things about emotional maturity, and also fights a big red alien alongside his pink-skinned, mustachioed mentor Sinestro. Also, in a burst of determination, he retcon-tastically overcomes his weakness against the color yellow. Thank God this was only a one-time event, as Hal Jordan’s weakness being the color yellow is the only thing that made most Green Lantern appearances before 1980 or so completely hilarious (Well, that and when middle-aged black dudes would tell him off about helping out purlple-skinned aliens more than his fellow earthmen who just so happened to not be born as white as Jordan).

Is next issue the last in the origin story? Because by that point we’ll be pushing the 154-page mark, and that’s a lot of pages devoted to the origin of Hal Jordan. I mean, the Batman: Year One trade is only 144-pages...

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Vol. 10: Identity Crisis (Marvel) Another $12 worth of a book that might as well be called Marvel Team-Up Featuring Spider-Man for only $7.99! In each of these four issues, high-schooler Spider-Man teams up with and/or faces off against a Marvel character in well-constructed, done-in-one adventures. First up, to prepare for a fight against Flash Thompson, Peter takes a self-defense class that’s secretly being taught by The Taskmaster. Then it’s Spider-Man vs. the greatest villain in the Marvel pantheon, Swarm (That’s the swarm of bees that share a hive-mind of a Nazi and wears a purple cape). Then Peter Parker must deal with a Latverian foreign exchange student and the Fantastic Four. Then the Enchantress uses him as a pawn to help her conquer Asgard, outfitting him sorta like you see him on the cover, until Thor finally says nay.

Marc Sumerak writes all of the scripts save the Swarm story (which is by Chris Kipiniak), and art chores are handled by pencilers Ale Garza, David Nakayama and Ryan Stegman.

Marvel Apes #1 (Marvel) So, here’s probably all you need to know about Marvel Apes to determine if its your cup of tea or not: The very first panel features The Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, and the third-to-last panel features a gorilla dressed like Captain America punching out a gorilla dressed like Hitler, including the Hitler combover and moustache.

Me, I like the taste of that sweet, sweet stupid simian joke tea.

Karl Kesel’s story starts out in the Marvel Universe, making this story canon (so you can’t ignore it, kids!). One of Spider-Man’s many millions of lame animal-themed villains, The Gibbon, happens upon a bank robbery being committed by The Red Ghost and his Super-Apes (man, I love typing that phrase), which some Mighty Avengers show up to break up, and he waxes about how he’d really like to be a superhero and how miserable his life is and so on.

He volunteers for a research project at a university, and both he and a comely scientist lady find themselves transported to an alternate universe, which is just like the Marvel Universe, except everybody is—surprise!—some form of monkey or ape, and many have dumb-ass monky pun names (Spider-Man is Spider-Monkey, Iron Man is Iron Mandrill, Dock Ock is Doc Ook). Oddly, some don’t, however. For example, Captain America is still Captain America, and Speedball is still Speedball.

So the doctor lady visits the Fantastic Four to see if Reed Richards can find a way to send them back to their world, while The Gibbon meets the Apevengers and is tempted with the opportunity to become the hero on this world he couldn’t on ours.

There’s really only one joke here, and while it’s hardly inspired or even funny, it’s funny how Kesel keeps telling it over and over again. In other words, it’s like one of those bad jokes that are funny not because it’s actually funny, but because its teller thinks it is—or pretends to think it is.

Ramon Bachs’ art is pretty decent—the story telling is easy-to-read—but it’s rather unremarkable, and some of the characters didn’t quite look right to me. (Red Ghost’s skullet seems like it should be longer and more flowing, The Gibbon didn’t look terribly Gibbonly, etc.)

There’s also a back-up by Tom Peyer and Barry Kitson, the first part of “The Official History of the Marvel Apes Universe,” narrated by The Watcher. He tells a pretty straightforward version of the Marvel creation myth (Celestials, Eternals, Deviants), then a tale of the Old West in which The Rawhide Chimp flirts with the Two-Gun Chimp.

I just wish I was patient enough to wait for the trade, which is likely to include all those great-looking monkey variant covers (I particularly like the Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane one, which my shop was selling for $6.95 for some reason).

Nightwing #148 (DC) Writer Peter J. Tomasi seems to dwell on his plots on this title for an awfully long time, and while that can lead to the book seeming sort of repetitive, it an also lead to nice character pieces that are a lot more interesting than Nightwing fighting whatever bad guy he’s up against.

Here Nightwing, badly wounded from sniper fire he received last issue, takes the woman he’s protecting to a safehouse, and returns to the Batcave to have Alfred stitch him back together. There’s probably not much danger of Nightwing actually dying—particularly like this—but the nine-page sequence that begins with Alfred noticing the wounded hero’s arrival and his sudden retreat is infused with drama anyway, particularly in Alfred’s silent mourning.

Pencil artist Rags Morales’ gift for facial expressions, gestures and postures really pay off here (although, he has two inkers on the book, and some of the earlier scenes look a little rougher than usual). Tomasi also provides Morales the opportunity to draw most of Batman’s big-name rogues in a last-page splash, and it’s always a treat to see an artist like Morales get his pencils on so many constantly redesigned characters. His Penguin looks pretty awful, but the others are all very sharp. Hopefully Morales will be around next issue, too; Nightwing’s biggest drawback is how often its two main art teams seems to trade off, often in mid-story arc.

Secret Six #1 (DC) The former Birds of Prey creative team of Gail Simone, Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood return to the new-ish version of The Secret Six which Simone popularized in the lead-up to Infinite Crisis, and this time, it’s an ongoing.

The pleasures of Simone writing these recurring characters—Catman, Deadshot, Ragdoll and Scandal are all back, plus “new guy” Bane and a yet to be revealed sixth member—are all in full-evidence again, from the hardly subtle sexual tension between Deadshot and Catman (which Simone seems to be deliberately baiting readers to respond to), to the polite weirdness of Ragdoll. In fact, this seems to be a much, much stronger outing than her previous ones, no doubt due to the fact that she’s not having to work too hard to connect the tale to other goings on in the DCU.

She and her collaborators introduce an extremely creepy new (?) villain in the opening scene, a villain who wants the same maguffin that the Secret (Five-to-)Six are set to escort across country, after breaking villain Tarantula II out of Alcatraz. Apparently this creepy villain is a very scary customer, scary enough that The Huntress and Batman are worried about Catman and company making it out alive.

Trinity #14 (DC) Twelve-pages of the JLA in the anti-matter universe, followed by ten pages of a pretty random assemblage of DC heroes fighting the sun-powered tattooed guy with the hyphenated name, as penciled by Tom Derenick. The back-up, narrated by a supremely arrogant Hawkman (“In seconds, half our numbers are incapacitated. A loss offset by the fact that…I’m back in the battle.”), has a few moments of silly fun, like Hawkman hurling the coffin of Max Lord into the bad guy's back, or Oracle casually informing Nightwing that, “We both know it takes almost eighteen hundred degrees Fahrenheit to cremate human remains.” Comics are educational.


LurkerWithout said...

I've only got one MA Spider-Man pocket trade right now. Its got Doc Ock renting a room from Aunt May. I decided to get the MA Avengers books first, but Spidey is up after I get caught up. Then I dunno. Hulk or FF? Hulk's got a monkey and thats a strong selling point...

SallyP said...

I just have trouble thinking of Marvel with Apes. Apes are such a DC sort of thing, that my brain has trouble making a Marvel connection.

I loved all my comics this week, including Ambush Bug and Blue Beetle, which I was supposed to get last week. However, my store didn't have Manhunter which depresses me unspeakably.

And gosh, Hal is just so young and pretty in Green Lantern!

Tony said...

"It's probably the closest you can get to doin' it with Batman."

I laughed out loud.