Action Comics #870 (DC Comics) As I mentioned in last week’s Weekly Haul, I neglected to purchase this issue, in which Jonathan “Pa” Kent dies for like the eighth time, and thus hadn’t yet read the issue of Action Comics in which everything changesdforever (not that I let a little thing like not even having actually read the issue stop me from complaining about it, mind you).
Well, now I’ve read it.
I’ve been digging Johns’ run on Action okay (at least since he ditched co-writer Richard Donner and penciller Turgid Slowbert), but this really seemed like his weakest work so far. This is the conclusion of the “Brainiac” story and it’s…well, it’s pretty lame, actually.
Brainiac boasts about having defeated Superman. Superman punches Brainiac really hard in the face and then throws him into a swamp, where Earth germs kick his alien ass (Like War of the Worlds!). Scantily clad Supergirl gets stretched out on a table (check out her sexy, sexy ribs!) for a bondage sequence, but is saved by her cousin, who then has her go on a potential suicide mission while he gets the relatively easy task of setting some bottles down. Brainiac attacks the Kent farm, causing Pa has his thirteenth heart attack. The end.
Honestly, you wouldn’t even know Pa had died in this issue, if there wasn’t news coverage telling you he had.
Now I realize writing a character with as many powers as Superman has got to be quite a challenge—the same with writing the Wally West Flash and Martian Manhunter—because the writer has to work really, really hard to convince the reader that there’s any drama at all involving a protagonist who can do just about anything.
I think Grant Morrison does Superman really well, as does Kurt Busiek, but Johns doesn’t really meet the challenge here. Pa’s death just seems like something Superman could quite easily have prevented, and the fact that he didn’t just makes him come across as kind of a callous jerk here.
See, Pa’s heart attack is apparently brought on by the stress of saving his wife from some kind of robot weapon Brainiac sends to the Kent farm. Superman, who can hear and see his parents any time he feels like paying attention to them, apparently missed Brainiac announcing his plan to “take” Superman’s true home from him, just as he misses the sounds and sights of the robot thing attacking, his dad screaming “No!”, the house exploding, his mother screaming for him over and over.
What’s Superman doing while his dad dies of a heart attack? Apparently admiring Kryptonian architecture (I suppose the excuse is that the sounds of Kandor enlarging drowned out the sounds of his parents getting attacked; I still say Superman seems pretty careless here).
Also, it’s too bad that Pa seems to die of a heart attack, instead of, say, a brain aneurism or a stroke or something. Since this is a story arc about Brainiac and all.
Oh well. I guess he’ll be resurrected as a Black Lantern in a few months time anyway…
Amazing Spider-Man #573 (Marvel Comics) This is the concluding chapter of the everyone-fights-everyone story arc by Dan Slott, John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson, “New Ways To Die.” In it, everyone fights everyone, no one dies or gets hurt or gets arrested, and things go pretty much back to where they were at the beginning of the first chapter.
Norman Osborn makes a cryptic comment about Harry Osborn having died once before, for those of you who are still trying to puzzle out what the hell happened in the Spider-Man continuity re-boot, Harry’s girlfriend sticks her tongue in Peter Parker’s mouth, Harry’s up to some form of no good, and Eddie Brock decides to keep the name Anti-Venom, but that’s about it in terms of story development.
The more exciting element of this comic is the back-up, which is actually the cover story (Or at least it’s on the cover of the issue I bought; there’s actually four freaking covers to this issue). It deals with television comedian and fake news pundit Stephen Colbert’s presidential campaign within the Marvel Universe, where he’s still running.
It’s pretty disappointing, despite the fact that the extremely talented Mark Waid wrote it (Patrick Olliffe and Serge Lapointe provide serviceable but unremarkable art). The problem Stephen Colbert in a Marvel Comic is the same problem with the Tek Jansen comics Oni put out—Stephen Colbert himself is much, much funnier than Stephen Colbert as a concept.
So here we don’t get any of Colbert’s particular delivery, which can make just about any thing sound funny, nor do we get the sort of dialogue that Colbert himself or one of his writing staff might write for the Colbert of The Colbert Report. Instead, we get eight pages of pretty rote Spider-Man business, with some references to Colbert’s TV routines: He uses the word “truthiness” once, he’s not fond of bears or Democrats, he carries a little “on notice” board in his pocket at all times.
It really seems like a horribly wasted opportunity; Very Popular Television Personality Stephen Colbert is interested enough in Marvel Comics to let them use him as a character, and all that Marvel can do with that is an unfunny eight-page story in which Colbert meets J. Jonah Jameson, and helps Spidey fight The Grizzly? (I did crack a smile when Colbert announced the natural enemy of the grizzly bear while K.O.-ing Spidey’s cuddliest villain).
And yet thousands of pages are going to be devoted to the Skrulls invading the Marvel Universe this year. Go figure.
Captain Britain and MI13 #6 (Marvel) I was kind of excited to see what happened next in this issue, given that #5 ended with Blade shoving a stake through the heart of one of the lead characters (who happened to be a vampire). So I was a little let down to discover that if you simply remove the stake from the vampire’s heart, they’re totally fine. Is there maybe some sort of ten-second rule that applies to Marvel Universe vampires?
Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #2 (DC) It’s George Perez at his George Perez-iest, and Geoff Johns continues to give perhaps super-comics’ greatest working pencil artist challenging scene after challenging scene, scenes with fifty heroes in the same panel that would break other, lesser artists, and Perez just keeps awesome-ing them all out. Hell, there are times I think he’s showing off. It’s not like he needed to draw the walls of Mordru’s dungeon full of skeletons and lit by burning skeletons, or draw angry little faces in Mordru’s bolts of magic, or, you know, every hair on Mordru’s head.
But I’m glad he did.
As for the story side of things, Johns backs up a tiny bit from where he left off last time—Brainiac wants to gather two other Legions, while Superman wants to reform Superboy-Prime—and show us some more Legionnaires and the new Legion of Super-Villains recruiting Mordru.
I’m pretty convinced I’m not getting as much out of this as I would if I knew or cared more about the Legion, but it sure is a hell of a lot of fun anyway—I liked the panel of the three Brainiacs arguing, and the surprise ending featuring a 21st Century hero with a terrible, terrible haircut—and Perez is one of that handful of artists whose work I’d read no matter what they were illustrating.
Guardians of the Galaxy #6 (Marvel) Last issue ended with a pretty great cliffhanger. See, the team’s headquarters has been infiltrated by shape-shifting Skrulls, who will revert to their original shape only when killed. So Drax The Destroyer decides to kill every living thing on the space station. This issue, he actually does it! But just temporarily.
That’s the kind of big, crazy Grant-Morrison-on-JLA type of hyperbolic plot point that I love to see in super-comics. The rest of the issue is simply straightforward, sci-fi flavored Marvel comics, made more interesting than most by the presence of a talking raccoon, a telepathic dog that thinks in a Russian accent and assorted funny-looking aliens all drawn quite well by Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar.
Justice Society of America #19 (DC) I’d have to dig out my issues of Kingdom Come and count to be positive, but I’m pretty sure Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham and company’s sequel to that story is now about 300 pages longer than the original.
Marvel Adventures Avengers #29 (Marvel) Odin visits Spider-Man in the Avengers’ kitchen, looking for his son Thor, who was supposed to be going on a date with a hairy-legged frost giant to help bring peace between the Asgardians and the frost giants. But Thor, it turns out, is actually dating Storm. It’s up to Spidey and his fellow Avengers to keep Odin distracted while the Odinson enjoys a night on the town with Storm. Meanwhile, Thor villains Cobra and Mr. Hyde are out for revenge.
This being the work of writers Jeff Parker and Paul Tobin, hilarity quite naturally ensues. I actually laughed out loud in the first panel where Odin meets Wolverine. Great stuff, as always. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Take Noah Berlatsky’s; he sings the praises of Parker’s MA Avengers right here.
Monster-Size Hulk #1 (Marvel) This week’s a veritable Jeff Parkerpalooza! In addition to Marvel Adventure Avengers, Parker also co-wrote this week’s Age of Sentry #2 (which I forgot to pick up, because I am dumb), and the lead story of this oversized special in which The Hulk meets the Marvel Universe-versions of the monsters Universal Studios made famous.
Parker’s story is “It’s Alive! Alive!!!” (with three exclamation points!), in which Bruce Banner is enlisted by a descendent of the original Frankenstein to help resurrect the Marvel Monster of Frankenstein, and the two big monsters fight and team-up. The art is provided by Gabriel Hardman, and it’s a great deal more dark, polished and serious-looking then that which usually accompanies a Parker script for Marvel. This is actually a pretty serious story for Parker. I mean, it is about Bruce Banner patching up Frankensteinn’s monster, but it’s not as relentlessly silly (nor as funny) as a lot of his other work.
In “Hulk By Night,” popular horror comics writer Steve Niles teams up with artist Lucio Parrillo for a story in which Jack “Werewolf By Night” Russell hires Bruce Banner to keep him in a cage while he wolf’s out, and things go awry, resulting in Hulk fighting “Dogman” until dawn. Niles script is nothing special, but it gets the job done nicely. Parrillo’s art is a tad more photorealistic than I personally like, but it’s quite lushly rendered, and the Old Hollywood black and white coloring is a nice touch.
That’s followed by two-page gag strip featuring Goom and Googam by Paul Tobin and artist Davie Williams, which features an old Kirby monster cameo-per-panel, and then a ten-page prose story entitled “Blood Count” by Peter David, with a few illustrations by Gabriel Hardman. David is still widely regarded as the best Hulk writer, and he has plenty of experience writing prose (having penned a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels I’ve never read), but this is a pretty pointless endeavor—it’s main value being nostalgia for an era when comics used to include a prose story so they could be shipped at a magazine postal rate, I guess.
It’s not that the story, in which The Hulk finds himself in Dracula’s castle and David gets to do a few parodic riffs on Bram Stoker’s version and the Bela Lugosi film version, is horribly written or anything, but David’s prose alone doesn’t justify the tales existence in that medium instead of the one readers expect to see The Hulk or Marvel’s Dracula in. There’s no reason it had to be told in prose instead of as a comic story, other, perhaps, to squeeze it into less space.
Rasl #3 (Cartoon Books) So as I was looking at this week’s shipping list, and adding up all the money I’d be spending on comic books today that could be better spent on canned goods, new shoes without holes in them or a new box of colored-pencils to get me through the rest of my super-endorsements series, and this seemed like a good title to drop. Not because I’m not enjoying the series, but because I’ll almost certainly by the eventual trade collection/s of it at some point in the future, so why pay for the same story twice?
But then I get to the shop and see Smith’s gorgeous cover and how am I supposed to resist that? I’m not made of stone!
Super Friends #8 (DC) Despite the hearty endorsement of at least one smart blogger whose taste I respect and my affection for the rest of the superhero section of the Johnny DC line, I’ve been reluctant to give this iteration of Super Friends a shot.
It basically boils down to character design: I can’t stand the way these Super Friends look. It’s not the fact that Batman is so damn smiley or back in blue, that’s actually kinda cute, it’s the weird proportions of the heroes’ anatomy. Why are there feet and hands so big, but their heads so small? What is up with the men’s crazy torsos? Why does Wonder Woman look more or less normal compared to the others?
Well, I know why; it’s because that’s the way the toy line that this comic is inspired by is designed. But I don’t care for that design aesthetic at all.
This month’s issue features Batman villain the Scarecrow though, and as I discussed at length last October during Scarecrow Week, he’s one of my favorite comic book villains, so if I was ever going to try this book out, this seemed like the time to do it.
This issue is written by Sholly Fisch and drawn by Stewart McKenny and Dan Davis and, honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I expected.
The Super Friends themselves are still really damn weird looking, and hey don’t quite seem to fit in with the rest of the characters. Jonathan Crane and all the civilians and extras, for example, are all proportioned with hands and feet smaller than their heads. In short, they look “normal,” while the heroes are all big extremity-ed freaks. What is it that makes them heroes? The size of their hearts—or the size of their hands?
The story is obviously meant for little kids, with an extremely irritating moral-teaching ending (wrapped up in a Beatles joke, because kids love The Beatles I guess), and at one point the story logic actively irritated me (When Scarecrow gives the Friends each a different phobia, he makes Batman afraid of the dark, rendering Batman useless—even though it’s broad daylight in the scene), but it was still readable, which puts it head and shoulders above an awful lot of DC and Marvel superhero output.
I really liked this particular character design for the Scarecrow, which is quite different than the one on the cover above. He has a face like a sock puppet, and a big brown cloak/coat cut like a priestly cassock and a wide brimmed hat. He even has the noose around his neck that the third version of the Batman: The Animated Series Scarecrow wore (which, frankly, surprised me, given the target audience); in fact, he looks a little like a skinnier, Muppet version of that design.
Anyway, the plot is one of those obvious ones that I’m surprised hasn’t already been done over and over in the DCU. Hearing Green Lantern John Stewart being referred to as being “born without fear,” The Scarecrow takes the challenge. He gases him, making GL hallucinate adorable little monsters. The Super Friends help him out, though, and then they team up against The Scarecrow, who beats them all for a little bit, but then their teamwork overcomes his gas.
I liked the last panel on one of activity pages, during which the Super Friends give kids tips on how to trick or treat safely. Aquaman’s all, “Wear face paint instead of a mask, so that you can see everything around you.” And Batman’s standing right there next to him!
Activities included a “Halloween Hide and Seek,” some dumb number thing with Felix Faust, a message in secret code, and a couple of cut-out costumes.
How dedicated am I to thoroughly reviewing every aspect of the comics I read for you, loyal readers?
Oh, about this dedicated:
Hmm, the tiara’s kinda growing on me. Does it hide my bald spot (and by “spot” I mean “three-fourths of my head”)?
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen Special #1 (DC) Superman writer James Robinson picks up where his first story arc—involving Jack Kirby’s Atlas beating up Superman and friends while a shadowy organization pulled strings behind the scenes—with a story of Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter, trying to figure out just who the members of that shadowy organization are.
At the urging of Clark Kent, he takes a leave of absence from The Daily Planet, the major metropolitan newspaper with the most lax dress code and smoking policy in the United States, to follow the story on his own.
It’s a story that will involve Codename: Assassin from a 1976 issue of DC’s 1st Issue Special series (the series which introduced both Kirby’s Atlas and the blue-skinned alien version of Starman that Robinson used during his Starman run…don’t be surprised if The Green Team, Boy Millionaires, Lady Cop and The Dingbats of Danger Street show up before Robinson’s run is over), the original Guardian and at least one of his clones, The Newsboy Legion and their clones, Project Cadmus, Dubbillex, and the original Vigilante Greg Saunders.
It’s a very dense read, and more than a little confusing—I lost track of the clones almost immediately, and don’t follow how Saunders is alive and working as a sheriff here after dying and returning as some sort of ghost/spirit guide in the Morrison-written Seven Soldiers—and a rather self-serious story for one starring Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. But despite a few people exploding from gunshot wounds, and the death of a long-time supporting character (apparently, at least one DC character has to die every Wednesday), Robinson’s story is well constructed enough that these seem like parts of a whole rather than random, exploitive elements to make an otherwise silly story seem to be mature in a juvenile understanding of the word.
This wasn’t exactly what I want from a comic with a title like this (I’d prefer a Jimmy Olsen like the one in Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman, having slightly more realistic adventures than the ones collected in Showcase Presents: Superman Family), it wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination (once you get by the continuity, and at least one illogical scene; confidential to Jimmy: If you’re not going to use the signal watch when riding a motorcycle off a cliff to avoid a super-powered assassin, why even wear the damn thing?).
The art is another matter, being the product of three pencillers and three inkers, it can’t help but be inconsistent, but the story-telling is solid, and the art never really calls attention to its weaknesses, which makes this a much better looking book than, say, Batman, JLoA or Teen Titans, so it could have been much, much worse.
Trinity #20 (DC) It’s issues like this that make me wish Trinity was printed on Johnny DC paper stock and selling for $2.25, as the read seems pretty inessential, with the back half of the book being extremely boring to anyone who isn’t a huge fan of Krona’s back story, which I assume, is, like, everyone in the world.
The front half—the Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley half—has Firestorm II flitting around the newly transformed DCU, getting to the bottom of why it’s ended up the way it’s ended up. We get a look at a suddenly alternate history, in which the JSA did unmask during Senator McCarthy’s red scare (it’s a pretty amusing scene, in which everyone in the room who is built like a linebacker comes forward and come out as a superhero).
As always, it’s neat to see Bagley get to draw so many DC heroes—here, most of the All-Star Squadron—and Busiek does engage in some pretty clever meta-commentary, in a scene in which Firestorm ponders how when you take away Superman, the very idea of a superhero seems to get fuzzy: “Stand Aquaman next to Superman, he’s another superhero, right? But if you don’t have Superman to make you think that way…”
Not bad, Busiek.
The back half, in which Fabian Nicieza joins Busiek and Tom Derenick and Wayne Faucher handles the art, is ten pages of Krona visiting the Controllers of Maltus, a bunch of space douchebags who live on a goofy-looking cyborg of a planet and have a boring history with Krona. It’s basically just a long walk to get to the point that a) Krona still wants to commune with the universe or whatever and b) he just realized that as the universe has an intelligence, so too do its heavenly bodies.
What I don’t get is this: If Krona is now composed of pure universal energy, why does he still have a moustache, and why does he need a belt?
Ultimate Origins #5 (Marvel) While it’s often quite easy to criticize the individual works of Brian Michael Bendis, it’s impossible to dismiss the guy as a comics creator.
Through hard work, talent and hustle he went from newspaper cartoonist and self-published writer/artist to ascend to the point where he’s practically showrunning the whole Marvel Universe, and personally scripting some of the direct market’s best-selling comics.
He can draw quite well (although he seems to have given up on publishing his artwork), he a prolific writer willing to take gigantic risks with his work, and, as Ultimate Spider-Man has proved, he has the ability to master the sort of long-form serial storytelling that monthly comics are.
But man, he sure does write awful superhero comics. I do love his Ultimate Spider-Man, which is only about half a superhero comic (and half a goofy teen melodrama), and his crime/superhero hybrid books like Alias and Daredevil were certainly well done.
But when it comes to comics with a whole handful of superheroes, or big, epic, status quo-shaking stories? Bendis is all build-up and no blow-up. The characters never individualize, their dialogue is interchangeable, and the plots just trail off, ending with an ellipsis rather than an exclamation point or even a period.
Which brings us to Ultimate Origins. It technically ends with this fight and final issue, even if that ending is actually just a cliffhanger to be picked up somewhere else (Given the “March on Ultimatum” banner across the cover, which refers to some dumb-ass Jeph Loeb Crisis In The Ultimate Universe stunt story, Ultimatum is probably a safe bet).
At the outset, this seemed like a book that would play simultaneously to Bendis’ strengths–despite some early contradictions from Mark Millar’s Ultimates, Bendis essentially created the Ultimate Marvel Universe in the pages of USM and Ultimate Marvel Team-Up—and weaknesses—a big, game-changing superhero crossover along the lines of House of M, the “Illuminati” business and Secret Invasion.
It was presumably the story of how everything in the Ultimate Universe was connected, turning on a big revelation about the nature of this little continuitiverse. In reality, it was merely a story of the Ultimate Fantastic Four trying to communicate with an alien parking meter stored in the warehouse at the end of Raiders of The Lost Ark, punctuated by flashbacks making groaningly unlikely connections between various Marvel characters, like the fact that The Kingpin (or his dad?) fought in World War II with Nick Fury, who was also almost Captain America, who was friends with the army general who hates the Hulk, who hired Spider-Man’s dad to recreate Captain America’s super-soldier formula, but he ends up in the room where the Hulk gets created, and then the Hulk kills Spider-Man’s birthparents (I guess; I thought that point was vague last time around, and it’s not picked up on here).
In this final issue, Bendis has a character state unequivocally what the big revelation is—Human beings created mutants, not God or nature, and if anyone finds out, then some super-serious shit is gonna get started— but that’s just a single plot point, a panel’s worth of new information. It’s not enough plot to drive 110-pages Butch Guice and Justin Ponsor illustrations, it’s not worth $15 to learn and, most importantly, it’s not a story, it’s just a random seed for a possible story, which Loeb will presumably touch and turn to shit.
In this issue, Uatu the parking meter possesses Sue Storm and tells the Fantastic Four that some great evil that will destroy the Ultimate Universe is coming, and, while we don’t know what it is, we do know that it’s probably not Galactus, I mean, Gah-Lak-Tus, because they already did that story.
Meanwhile, in the past, Ultimate Nick Fury and company discover Weapon X and kill a bunch of Canadian people and their crazy mad-science experiments, except for Ultimate Black Panther, because he reminds Ultimate Nick Fury of himself when he was almost turned into Ultimate Captain America. Also in the past, Ultimate Magneto and Ultimate Professor X break up, and the former shoves a metal spear through the latter, paralyzing him, as we’ve already seen in Ultimate X-Men, back before it was unreadable (The sound of a metal spear being thrown through Charles “Chuck” Xavier is, of course, “CHUCK”).
This leads to the very best part of the book, if not the series: A full page spread of Magneto on his knees, his head and arms thrown back in anguish, as he declares, “God created me. And his will be done. No matter what the cost.”
This was probably the funniest panel I read this week, save for a few in Marvel Adventures Avengers.
Back in the present, the parking meters choose a herald, and who is it? Well, young teenager Rick Jones is suddenly naked on all fours in his backyard, glowing with a golden light. Right above the words “The End.”
Not “The End…?” Or “The End…For Now.” Just “The End.”
I imagine all those interviews that appeared in Newsarama and Comic Book Resource’s comics coverage with the likes of Loeb and Millar will explain the future of the Ultimate Universe, and why this isn’t really the end, or where it will continue, or what the point of this series was exactly, but I don’t know, I didn’t read ‘em. Sure would be nice if the comic itself handled some of that though, wouldn’t it?
Nice Butch Guice art though.
And that’s this week’s new super-comics. Thanks, as always, for reading. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to begin my nocturnal vigil over my apartment…