Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Weekly Haul: October 8th

Oh hey, according to the Internet, I forgot to pick up a book I usually read—Action Comics #870. Did anything big and exciting happen in it? I assume not. Certainly no big, (semi-)permanent changes to the supporting cast, or anything big enough to warrant an article in a mainstream, not-comics-specific media source, right?

Ha ha, just kidding! While I did forget to pick the issue up, and thus haven’t read it, I heard what happened, and, honestly, it sounds pretty stupid to me. I guess I’ll give it an actual review next Wednesday night, provided it isn’t totally sold out by the speculator’s rush to buy this sure to be a total collector’s item issue.

I just hope that the character whose death they’ve been foreshadowing since JLoA #0 died as gory a death as possible, one with lots of blood and viscera strewn everywhere, like when a minor superhero gets killed off, and that it leads to many, many scenes of Superman and the rest of his cast crying. Because when I read a Superman comic, I want my money’s worth of mourning.

Avengers/Invaders #5 (Marvel Comics) Wow, look at all these Avengers! There’s more Avengers in this single issue than in the last six months worth of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers combined! And they’re all really well drawn by Steve Sadowski and Patrick Berkenkotter (although I woulda preferred to see some ink in the mix, rather than just colors on top of pencils, because I’m old-fashioned that way), and pretty well written by Jim Krueger (I particularly dug his nattering Spider-Man).

Things take a somewhat…odd turn when the original Human Torch equates SHIELD’s mistreatment of androids with Nazi Germany’s mistreatment of the Jews at the end, but that’s the kind of big, clumsy stupid that is appropriate for this sort of old-school these guys vs. these guys vs. these guys Marvel punch-‘em-up.

Now will someone please give Toro a shirt…?

Green Lantern #35 (DC Comics) Huzzah, Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert finally conclude their seven-part retelling of Hal Jordan’s origin! The story actually climaxed last issue, and this is more or less an epilogue, featuring Jordan asking the Guardians questions like an inquisitive child—following up on each of their pronouncements with a “Why?”—and Johns putting The Black Hand and the future Red Lanterns in place for Johns’ next big Green Lantern event story.

Green Lantern Corps #29 (DC) Geoff Johns introduced the yellow lanterns in the main GL book, and has since teased a whole rainbow of Lanterns, recently dealing with the Black Lanterns and Red Lanterns. Here Peter J. Tomasi starts a story arc dealing with one of the lamer lantern corps—the Puce Lanterns, the Lanterns of Love.

These are actually tied into ancient GL history, as they’re presided over by the Zamorans, the women who split off from the Oans to evolve into very tall, Barbie doll-figured women (while the men of their race became tiny blue old men with an affinity for dresses) and retcon-actively have something to do with Star Sapphire. Johns wrote a story arc about this last year, in which the sentient purplish alien power crystal Star Sapphire used to wear in her tiara was revealed to be a metaphor for Johns’ own affection for Jordan and his desire to breed with him. Or something like that.

Anyway, Tomasi only has one measly murder in this issue, in a Men-in-Refrigerators moment (and after just breaking the DCU land speed record for most gore in a single scene on his last issue of Nighwing too…), the Guardians prepare for a diplomatic visit to the Zamorans, Kyle Rayner flies around thinking about how nice it would be to hold a woman’s hand even though every girl whose hand he’s ever held ends up getting killed, and, in the highlight, recently returned from the grave Ice discusses her relationship with Guy Gardner. Twenty-two pages of Guy and Ice having dinner together would have probably been more up my alley, but obviously they don’t publish these things just for me.

I really like how that Patrick Gleason character draws, but otherwise this is pretty straightforward neither particularly good nor particularly bad super-comics.

Quick question for the Guy Gardner experts in the audience (Sally?): Didn’t Guy and Fire date for a while, around ’96 or so? Here Gardner complains about how Fire never liked him, but I seem to recall them making out on at least one occasion…

Invincible Iron Man #6 (Marvel) Matt Fraction (Yeah!) and Salvador Larroca (Boo!) conclude their first story arc on the newest Iron Man title, consciously moving the comic book version of the character closer to the film version of the character. That is, making him a charming, cool superhero with a hot personal assistant who fights a guy named Stane.

The very last panel made me laugh out loud. After a few pages of Tony Stark somberly thinking about the lives he couldn’t save during his six-issue battle against Ezekiel Stane, he dismisses the two work-wives so he can be alone, and he stares sadly out his office window. In the foreground, we see an Iron Man helmet, making a very sad, frowny face at the reader.

Tony is so sad that his helmet has turned itself into the mask of tragedy. Or at least a :( emoticon.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #19 (DC) Hey look, it’s teenager Michael “Booster Gold” Carter in the 31s Century! J. Torres writes and Alex Serra and John Stanisci draw what is a perfectly serviceable done-in-one story featuring my favorite version of the Legion meeting the old-80’s hero whose been surfing an incredibly unlikely upsurge in popularity since 52. Torres points out that Booster Gold is a lot like Superman, a point I personally haven’t seen made before: Whereas Superman journeyed from the past to be a hero in the future, Booster journey from the future to be a hero in the past.

Marvel Zombies 3 #1 (Marvel) Marvel, why do you make me hate myself? Here I had promised myself I wouldn’t buy anything else you published featuring the terrible, terrible art of Greg Land, even if it was just one of his terrible, terrible covers, and yet I forked over my $2.99 for this book, which contains a typically lifeless cover by—Woah, woah, woah, hey! I didn’t notice until just now, but you audacious sons of bitches charged $3.99 for a 21-page comic book?!

That’s a whole dollar more—an increase of one-third the price of your average Big Two super-comic—for a book that’s even shorter than your average Big Two super-comic! Normally, when you guys pull this shit—as in Secret Invasion and all those Marvel Knights and Max miniseries I would have bought if they weren’t so goddamned expensive—you slap a cardstock cover on it to justify the increase. But this book doesn’t even have a different cover stock.

You oughta be ashamed.

Okay, well ignoring the fact that this is criminally overpriced—criminally, I say!—I’ve got to admit it isn’t half bad. Hell, it isn’t even 1/4 bad. Wait, what’s another word for bad? Ah! Good, that’s what it is. This comic book is good.

It’s written by Fred Van Lente, who currently co-writes Marvel’s best comic, and it’s drawn by Kev Walker. Van Lente again demonstrates his ability to pluck some of the weirder, more fun and more expendable characters from Marvel’s vast character catalogue and use them to great effect (a talent he shares with fellow fun Marvel writers Dan Slott and Jeff Parker).

Unlike the previous Marvel Zombies books, which were set in an alternate universe originally encountered in Mark Millar and Land’s Ultimate Fantastic Four, this one is set in the Marvel Universe proper.

The Florida Initiative team—which includes Wundarr The Aquarian and Jennifer Kale—penetrate deep into Man-Thing’s stomping grounds (Personal goal: To use the word “penetrate” in the same sentence as “Man-Thing” as often as possible) only to find Marvel Zombie Deadpool waiting to ambush them.

Luckily, there’s a top-secret, acronym-having organization along the lines of SHIELD and SWORD set-up to deal with invasions from alternate realities, and they recruit Aaron “Machine Man” Stack (still sporting his Nextwave look and outlook) and his robot ex-girlfriend Jocasta to go into the Zombiverse on a dangerous mission. But, it turns out, Deadpool wasn’t alone! The Marvel Zombies have already launched an invasion of the Marvel Universe—Secretly!

Van Lente has assembled a fun mix of characters—including Man-Thing and Morbius The Living Vampire—and engages in some always welcome world-building. Readers who know Van Lente’s work primarily from his Marvel Adventures and more lighthearted Marvel Universe stuff might be a bit surprised to see how well he acquits himself to the splatterstick horror flick tone of the first Marvel Zombies series. This book is actually funny in its use of gore, and includes some totally-ridiculous plot points—like a zombie vampire, for example—making it the first of the many MZ spin-offs to approach the sense of humor of the original series (Actually, the Marvel Zombies Vs. Army of Darkness managed to reflect that sense of humor too, but its awful art counteracted any of the script’s silliness).

I’m not familiar with Kev Walker’s artwork (looks like he’s done some work on Annihilation, The Legion and Exiles), although it’s worth noting that he actually draws the book so that it looks like it was actually drawn, which automatically makes this much better looking than the MZvsAoD comic, and closer to Sean Phillips’ work on the original mini. The coloring is very dark and somewhat murky in places, but given the horror movie riffs in the storyline, that hardly seems inappropriate.

Hell, even Land’s photo-reference-as-art cover actually works here, as the cover is a deliberate homage to something rather than a “Gee, I hope no one notices that this is a swipe!” image.

While I dug this comic a lot, I think I’d still recommend those interested wait for the trade rather than shell out $16 for $12 worth of story; even if the eventual trade collection is as over-priced as the individual issues, you’ll at least get all the alternate and variant covers that inevitably accompany Marvel Zombies projects.

Presidential Material Flipbook (IDW Publishing) I’ll probably devote a whole post to this later in the week, as the subject matter is a little more important than which-colored Lantern is causing problems for Hal Jordan and friends this month, but I thought I’d at least babble about my immediate, just-got-done-reading-it reactions.

First off, I went with the $7.99 flip-book, rather than the two $3.99 one-shots. I guess it would have been a penny cheaper to get them as individual issues, but I always liked the flip-book format, and this has a spine so I can stick it on a bookshelf with my trades, rather than putting it in a long box that I’ll never want to fish it out of, due to the pain in the ass that retrieving single issues from longboxes is.

The idea of these comics is a brilliant one, and IDW deserves major props for having it and getting this thing out just as the election is climaxing (and, as it turns out, the day after the second debate). I assume IDW is going to make a ton on these things, and they’ve certainly got better press than most publishers could hope for anything this side of Captain America getting killed or Batman and Robin getting gay-married in Gotham City, which, it turns out, was located in Massachusetts the whole time.

Are they good comics? Eh, not really, but they’re not all that bad either.

I like the covers by J. Scott Campbell, giving the two candidates a comic book superhero make-over (These are probably the first two Campbell covers I’ve seen that don’t feature a woman’s ass prominently on the cover—thank God IDW didn’t think to do a couple of First Lady Material comics too).

They’re somewhat imbalanced, although there’s no real way around that. The McCain story (written by longtime comics editor and writer and recent Ronald Regan biographer Andy Helfer) is chockablock with text boxes, choking every single page of his story, while the Barack Obama comic (written by Jeff Mariotte) reads more like a comic book, with the art allowed to do more of the talking. Of course, Helfer had to squeeze 72 years, the last 40 or so of which were lived in the public eye, into the 30-ish pages devoted to McCain’s bio, while Mariott only had to deal with 47 years of Barack’s life, less than 20 of which were particularly public.

Both read much like particularly detailed news articles, adopting a journalistic tone and gleaning facts from the candidates own autobiographies and press reports, and I was pleasantly surprised at how inclusive they were—these aren’t the puff pieces I was half-expecting.

Obama’s youthful drug and alcohol use, his relationship with Reverend Wright and other things the campaign would rather not focus on—that he went to a primarily Muslim school at one point, that he knows Bill Ayers, his wife’s comment about being proud of America for the first time—are all mentioned, along with his compelling life’s story and some healthy excerpts of some of his best and well-known speeches (Damn, that 2004 DNC speech still sounds great!).

McCain’s youthful womanizing, shitty educational and military record, his cheating on and divorce of his first wife, the Reagans’ distaste for him, his wife’s drug addiction, and his volcanic temper all get some play, along with his compelling life story, and his accomplishments.

The art is very different on both books. Tom Morgan handles the Obama book, and he strikes a nice balance between traditional comic book art and photo-reference; his Barack looks like Obama in a comic book, and the scenes are flat with few unnecessary lines. The art on the McCain book comes from Stephen Thompson, and is more heavily photo-referenced looking; approaching that soft-focus, air-brushed looking quality of many Marvel Comics.

With their lives so compressed, McCain probably comes across looking worse, as we see him denouncing then-Governor George W. Bush’s negative campaigning during the 2000 election, and lashing out against the religious right and battling President Bush’s tax cuts, and then, in the space of a few pages (or a few minutes’ reading time), we see him pulling a 180 on many of those issues. Of course, this is again this is inevitable in a contest between two men with such a gulf in experience.

The positive side of McCain’s many years is that he’s got a lot of experience he can brag about when comparing it to Obama’s short time in government; the negative is, of course, that he’s had plenty of time to rack up mistakes and, as the comic shows, to change his position, allowing for the impression of a life-long, carefully triangulating politician (His refusal to go negative during the South Carolina primaries of the 2000 race, saying “I’m not going to take the low road to the highest office in the land. I want the presidency in the best way, not the worst way,” is a sad reminder of how much McCain has changed in the past eight years).

Anyway, the Presidential Material books are much better than expected, but perhaps circumstantially biased against McCain. To tell his story well, even as well as Obama’s story is told, in comics form, you’d need a much, much bigger page-count, but to give McCain a graphic novel an Obama merely a 30-page comic book, it would have looked biased in McCain’s favor. In that regard, IDW was in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation, I suppose.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled talk of superhero comics…

Secret Six #2 (DC) Nicola Scott and Doug Hazelwood remain one of the better art teams drawing regular checks from DC at the moment, and writer Gail Simone continues to write fun, engaging dialogue for her principal cast, while cranking up the mystery behind the very weird new villain and the particular maguffin he/she/it wants.

However Simone seems to be trying a little too hard to be funny in a fight between Catman and Batman—with the latter declaring “I had a burrito” mid-fight—and their fight seems oddly random.

Catman apparently confronts Batman to keep him busy while the rest of the Secret Five try to fulfill their contract, and CM manages to hold his own with Batman for, like, a whole issue. I know Catman has home-book advantage this time out, but jeez—Batman must have washed that burrito down with half a bottle of NyQuil if he couldn’t wipe the rooftops with Catman in the space of a page or two.

The end of their fight is especially weird, as Batman tells Catman he “isn’t wanted for any known felonies,” so he’s not planning on arresting him (At the very least, Catman littered on page two; is Batman really gonna let littering slide in his city?), and Catman quotes from Killing Joke and tells Batman he thinks one of them is going to end up killing the other some day. Ha ha, don’t you have to at least be in Batman’s Top Forty of villains before you can say shit like that?

Also of possible interest: Catman apparently has no genitals. Please see page 20, panel four. That’s a flashback to a nude Thomas Blake killing lion poachers, right? Where’s his stuff at? Taped to his stomach?

As much as I love Scott and Hazelwood’s artwork, I’m gong to give them both demerits for making me write an entire paragraph about Catman’s boy parts.

Trinity #19 (DC) As I mentioned last week, it looks like Kurt Buseik, Mark Bagley and company have entered into a long-form exploration of the It’s A Wonderful Life effect of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman having never been born in the DCU. Sorta. Only instead of seeing them running around seeing what a mess Mr. Potter made of things, they’re still out of the picture, and we see other characters struggling with vague, half memories of a different, better world.

This issue is awesome primarily because we meet “Alfred Thaddeus Crane Pennyworth, late of Her Majesty’s secret service, and these days, an amateur archaeologist,” although he tells young Tarot (one of the stars of this series, not Witch of the Black Rose) she can call him Freddie.

So, were it not for Batman being a crazy man-child in need of someone to hand him sandwiches and stitch him up all the time, Alfred would have ended up being James Bond-turned-Indiana Jones? Actually, it sounds like maybe he’s better off without Bruce Wayne, doesn’t it?

No, because see, Alfred wants a son. His life is only complete if he is handing some rude lunatic sandwiches and stitching them up while being yelled at.

In the back-up, we meet a young, pregnant woman with a job she hates and an asshole alcoholic verbally abusive boyfriend, and she has vague memories of Wonder Woman, who she knows doesn’t really exist…or does she?

I think this new twist in the story is going to make it pretty fun for a pretty long time now. And, should a bell start ringing at some point, I believe Hawkman will get his wings.

The Twelve #8 (Marvel) That Chris Weston sure can draw, can’t he? He and writer J. Michael Straczynski finish up the second-third of what will likely be a pretty solid graphic novel one day, once the stories finished and collected, but for now just reads like a very serious soap opera that’s only on once a month.

It just occurred to me this issue that the secret identity of the Fiery Mask is Jack Castle. Could he possibly be related to Frank “The Punisher” Castle? Like, his long lost uncle who was presumed killed during WWII or something? That might be an interesting story, huh?


Aaron said...

Kev Walker is a pretty popular artist in Britain, he primarily works on 2000AD/Judge Dredd. I love his Mignola-ish style.

Matt said...

FVL is one of my absolute favorite writers and some of the ideas in Marvel Zombies was good.

I just wish the dialogue was about 20% snappier.

LurkerWithout said...

From what I can dredge up about Guy/Fire the two tried dating as a way to get past Ice's death but it didn't work since all they had in common was both being in love with Ice...

And I've hated EVERY single MZ project. Even the one with Ash. And yet I bought MZ3 and enjoyed it. A lot. Stupid Van Lente! Stop putting out over-priced (yeah I noticed that too, but didn't catch the lower page count) Marvel books when you should be putting out another issue of Comic Book Comic!

Tony said...

>Ha ha, don’t you have to at least be in Batman’s Top Forty of villains before you can say shit like that?

I had that same thought. Simone's done a lot to rehabilitate Catman, but he's got a long way to go before he gets to that level.

Maybe it's Simone's way of illustrating Blake's ego?

Evie said...

We had a discussion on the podcast this week about how Marvel and DC should agree to send Greg Land and Ed Benes out to a desert island for three years to a)think about what they've done, b)draw nothing but boobies over and over and over until they come back and say "ok, we don't ever want to draw another boobie or anything like it ever again".

SallyP said...

I do believe that SOME things happened in Action Comics. Frankly, I loved the part where Brainiac freaked after getting bugs on him from falling in to the swamp. Nicely portrayed.

As for Green Lantern, oh Hal, saying "why" to the Guardians every thirty seconds was just hilarious. It's a good thing he's got them all mesmerized by his fabulous behind.

I too could have just read 22 pages of Guy and Tora having dinner.


Yes, Fire and Guy did have something of a relationship going there for a while, back when he was Warrior, and she was still in the Justice League. It all started as a one-night stand on Christmas Eve, but did develop into their actually dating. I've always firmly believed that Fire was the one to call it off, which is why Guy is still a little bitter.

Thinking of Trinity as "It's a Wonderful Life" works for me. Thank you SO much for the line about a bell ringing and Hawkman getting his wings, because I laughed and laughed.