Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Weekly Haul: November 5th

Adventure Comics Special Featuring The Guardian #1 (DC Comics) This comic has the most needlessly long and nonsensical title of the week—it’s not like DC’s currently publishing anything called Adventure Comics, Adventure Comics Special or The Guardian that necessitates all these qualifiers—and a story that’s 100-percent exposition.

Set between two pages of writer James Robinson’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 from two weeks ago, the story consists of the Jim Harper/Guardian clone that Jimmy found in a trailer drinking ten beers and explaining his extremely complicated back story, which involves many, many clones, Manhunter Paul Kirk’s genetic material, a Legionnaire I don’t really recognize*, Codename: Assassin, and the shadowy government organization planning to kill the Man of Steel.

In the Jimmy Olsen special, everyone’s favorite cub reporter went to Clark Kent for advice about a story, and becoming a better reporter. Clark told him to follow his heart and seek the truth or something of that nature, but I have some more practical advice that I think would help Jimmy immensely: Start taking notes.

Seriously man, I bet there’s a cabinet at the Daily Planet full of pens and those thin, rectangular reporter’s notebooks that fit so nicely into your backpocket, camera bag or man purse. It sure would make remembering details easier, especially when a drunk clone talks to you for 16 pages and then gives you a top secret four-digit number to remember.

Avengers: The Initiative Special #1 (Marvel Comics) The credits in this comic didn’t read quite as I expected them to. The lead story is a resolution to a couple of plot points that began during original writer Dan Slott’s first story arc on the title, involving Hardball being blackmailed by Hydra and his romantic relationship with Komodo.

As crossover events keep edging into the monthly, and with Slott slated to turn the reigns over to his co-writer Christos Gage, I assumed this special was simply a chance for Slott to wrap up some dangling plot points while Gage dealt with Secret Invasion stuff in the main comic.

But it turns out Gage wrote the lead story solo, with art by Steve Uy, and Slott only co-wrote the back-up (also drawn by Uy), which deals with the never before revealed secret origin of Trauma.

Regardless of who did what, Gage certainly wrapped things up pretty well, as down an ending as it actually is. The individual issues of The Initiative are all so adventure-oriented and prone to random bits of character comedy that it always seems like a bit of a surprise when you take a few steps back and look at the overall arc of the new recruits’ stories.

With Cloud Nine, it was how the wonder of being a Marvel superhero was gradually beat out of her until having powers seemed more like a grim duty to be upheld. With Hardball and Komodo, well, things don’t go so hot either, despite the chances they’re given to make them work out right.

I never noticed until I saw Hardball standing right next to a Hydra agent, but his costume is pretty much a Hydra uniform, giant capital letter H on the front of it and all.

I really dig Uy’s character work, and he was my favorite of the two artists alternating duties on the monthly for a while, but I was pretty turned off by all the computer image/photo-reference used on the cars and trucks in this issue.

Some day there won’t be any comic book artists left who know how to draw cars and trucks by hand, and that will be a very sad day.

The Incredible Hercules #122 (Marvel) Things you’ll find in last week’s issue of the very best super-comic on the stands at the moment:

—A recap page written by Sappho of Lesbos

—The line, “SUB-MARINER just showed up to sub-marinate his @$$!”

—The line, “Prince of Atlantis! Check thyself!”

—More of the best sound effects not written by Doug Moench, including Namora’s double-punch, which makes the sound “SKRIM! SKRAAM!”

—Submarine jet skis shaped like sharks

—Hercules running for his life butt-naked, nothing covering his modesty but the Lion of Olympus’ copious body hair and a well-placed narration box

—Herc’s thumbs-up face

Invincible Iron Man #7 (Marvel) Oh Marvel Comics, only you could find a way to turn a wonderfully written done-in-one team-up story that features such strong character work on Iron Man, Spider-Man and Ben Urich into a distracting, frustrating read.

What’s on the pages themselves is fine, by itself, but the pleasure of reading “universe” comics like those set in the Marvel and DC Universes is a very different one than the pleasures one gets from reading other sorts of comics. Specifically, it’s peering into one of these two unique fantasy worlds built by decades of different stories by hundreds of writers, artists and editors laying them all atop one another until the whole is something so much greater than the sum of its parts, let alone most of the individual parts.

It’s also supposed to be pretty easy. One shouldn’t have to go into some sort of zen state in which the memory of all other Marvel comics that aren’t Invincible Iron-Man is temporarily repressed so as to enjoy this one.

This isn’t Fraction’s fault, of course, beyond the fact that he decided to write about Spider-Man in an Iron Man story, and thus began picking at the can of worms canned by EIC Joe Quesada, J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Millar and others.

See, Spider-Man’s relationship with Iron Man is one of the big problems that the “One More Day” continuity reboot caused for the Marvel Universe in general, as it was central to Civil War, and the events that lead to “One More Day” in the first place (Whatever damage it did to the Spider-Man books, it did more to tangle all the little strings that connect the Spider-books to all the other Marvel books he’s appeared in, which is, like, all of them).

The late, great Archie Goodwin once answered a fan letter that teenage Caleb sent in to Batman: The Long Halloween expressing confusion at how many Halloweens there seemed to be during Batman’s first year (that series included Halloweens #4 and #5). Goodwin responded with the joke about the patient who tells the doctor that his arm only hurts when he does this, and the doctor replied, Well, stop doing that then.

Makes sense. Applied here, we could just kind of ignore the fact that the story logic of the last few years of the Marvel Universe regarding Spider-Man and Iron Man’s relationship, but by putting them in the same comic like this and constantly talking about it, Fraction is making that awfully hard, you know?

Apparently, Mephisto’s world-rearranging has made it so Peter Parker worked for Tony Stark as he did pre-reboot, but Iron Man doesn’t remember that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Since it was the fact that Peter was Spidey that he worked with Stark in the first place, this seems a little odd…and one wonders why they stopped working together at all. That’s not explained, but it is pointed out that Peter should be working for Stark, doing whatever he was doing, as he would have made a lot more money doing that then he is by freelance photogging for Urich.

And then there’s the fact that the two team-up at all. Spidey swings in all nonchalant and offers to help Iron Man, as if the latter hadn’t been trying awfully hard to capture the latter since Civil War. And Iron Man expresses his desire not to work with Spidey, but he seems more embarrassed by the fact of being seen with him, than concerned about Spider-Man breaking a law that Tony was busting his friend Cap’s jaw and killing Goliath to uphold.

He didn’t even give him the “Okay, I’ll let you go this time, but next time…” speech that Iron Man and Ms. Marvel have given the New Avengers about eight times now.

Hard to believe this Iron Man is the same Iron Man who was personally throwing Spidey through walls and sending mass-murderers with nanotech leashes after. If the douchebag Iron Man of Civil War, Avengers, and Secret Invasion definitely isn’t a Skrull, does that mean Fraction’s is?

Anyway, that all speaks more to the poor storytelling choices made in other books rather than the quality of writing in these 22 pages (even if those other choices taint this story).

I still dislike Salvadorr Larroca and Frank D’Armata’s art, although the amount of page real estate devoted to Iron Man in his armor and Spidey in his mask make Larroca’s sickly-looking mannequin figures fewer and farther between this issue (I really like the shape of his Spider-Man’s head; for some reason, it’s the shape of Spidey’s head that always signals a good Spider-Man from a poor one to me).

That said, this is an epilogue to the six-part story arc that kicked off the title, and thus seems like a good place to drop the title. I think Fraction’s doing a hell of a job on the book—especially considering the challenges of writing a post-Civil War Iron Man—but with so many great comics coming out these days, I really can’t justify to my wallet buying comics I only half-like.

Justice Society of America #20 (DC) This particular issue is a pretty strong example of writer Geoff Johns’ particular talent, and, I think, why he’s so popular with fans.

This story is, in one sense, just one more chapter in the seemingly endless Kingdom Come sequel story that Johns has been telling with cover artist/costume designer Alex Ross. In another though, it’s one of the most generic types of stories you’re likely to find in a super-comic: Two superheroes or, in this case, two teams of superheroes, meet, have a misunderstanding, fight, and realize it was all just a misunderstanding.

It’s hardly inspired, but Johns hits all the notes just right, seeding the event with nostalgia (a “new” Earth-2 that is pretty much the original Earth-2, for those fans who liked that), future events (a portentous last page, a promise about a future Earth-2 II storyline involving their Superman, a bit of prophecy regarding Power Girl), effective melodrama (Come on, didn’t that Mister Terrific bit choke you up a little?), and a big revelation about the ever-changing nature of the goddam stupid DC multiverse I wish the company could quit talking about for a few years at least (Hint: It involves Starman’s clothes).

The artwork on this title is usually top-notch, and this issue’s art is particularly impressive, as pencil artists Dale Eaglesham and Jerry Ordway switch off on art duties pretty much flawlessly (Imagine a track relay race, where no momentum is lost during the baton exhanges). Eaglesham handles the DCU scenes, Ordway handles the Earth-2 II scenes, and in some panels the two meet, like a pretty great use of splash pages, on pages one through three. Pages two and three are a two-page splash spread, in which Eaglesham’s JSA is huddled together in their HQ, while Wildcat poits to a big ball of Kirby dots and red energy spitting out the “JSI” from Earth-2 II into the exact same panel.

I like this month's Alex Ross cover a lot. Look at Hourman's face: What emotion is that exactly, do you think? Is he going to bite Jade? Did he bang his shin on something while running toward the fight? Is he really hungry and imagining he's eating a delicious sandwich?

Marvel Adventures Superheroes #4 (Marvel) See, this is why I hate those stupid “iconic pose” covers Marvel is so enamored of slapping on their comics, particularly in their Ultimate and MA line. If they would have had Klaw wearing a cowboy hat and strumming a guitar with his sonic converter arm, then I would have a) noticed this book on the shelf and b) knew it was the one featuring the story “Klaw’s Good Ol’ Fashioned Country Revival,” in which Klaw goes straight and forms a country rock band, which he is actually incredibly successful at.

But no, because there was simply a picture of Iron Man using his flashlight palms to light up a sewer on the cover, I forgot to pick this up when it came out two weeks ago, forgot to pick it up last week, and almost forgot to pick it up again this week.

Secret Six #3 (DC) While I generally like Gail Simone’s writing, I think she sometimes tries too hard to be funny, so you never know what tone to expect when you pick up one of her books. Secret Six has included scenes of effective horror (that dude in the box!), standard superhero posturing and fighting, and light character comedy and cutting sarcasm, but occasionally she’ll turn what should be effective character-based comedy into a Vaudeville routine.

Take Ragdoll announcing that he took his own sister to the prom, and Deadshot responding that he need not share such details. Ha ha, Ragdoll is so weird: He took his sister to prom…was it because he was a loser in high school, or, knowing what we know about Ragdoll, was there something incestous about it? Well, I guess that’s what makes it amusingly creepy, and why Deadshot responds as we readers might have in his position, right?

Oh no, it was incestuous: “My lips are sealed,” he responds to Deadshot, “But it was a mystical revelation.” Yuck.

Or, for a more blunt example of Simone’s occasionally ham-fisted attempts at comedy, there’s Bane’s burgeoning paternal feelings for Scandal, here demonstrated by him telling her that its past her bed time and quite randomly bringing up nutrition and that she should eat better while the team is on a mission and food is a complete non sequitur.

Well, I suppose trying too hard is better than not trying at all, and Simone does seem to be succeed more often than she fails.

In this issue, the secret of the maguffin the Secret Five have been hired to recover is revealed, and we learn what makes it so precious to the scary man in the box and every supervillain in the world. It’s an inspired idea, and Simone reveals it in a way that gives it maximum impact.

Once again she is ably aided and abetted by the art team of Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood—probably the best Simone’s ever worked with—who skillfully render ultra-violence that would be icky and exploitive in other DC super-books to the point that it looks almost…classy. I mean, just check out the bad guy tearing off the woman’s head on page six: It’s depicted more through the juxtaposition of images and the illusion of time’s passage that they create than gore (there’s just a sprinkling of black blood in one panel) or a squishy sound effect (the act itself is silent).

Secret Six is hardly great comics, but it sure is good comics.

Trinity #23 (DC) In this issue: Sirrocco, Geo-Force, Maya, Seraph, Ragman, Tomorrow Woman, Stargirl, Starfire, Atom-Smasher, Wally “The Flash” West, Black Adam, Green Arrow, Catwoman, Skyrocket, Triumph, Brain-Wave, Firestorm II, Jack O’Lantern, Crimson Fox, Gangbuster, Green Lantern John Stewart, Krona, Kanjar Ro and Despero. Now some of those are just one-panel cameos and name-drops, but still, that is a deep and wide swathe of the DC character catalogue right there, and it’s just one issue of this series.

Also, I liked the part where old man Carter Hall, formerly Hawkman, rants, “Our world can’t be just a--hodge-podge mess, missing pieces, always reinventing bits! Everything we know, everything we are-- It can’t just be--erased and revised!

Ha ha! Kurt Busiek is clever and funny!

Vixen: Return of the Lion #2 (DC) It was kind of weird reading this the week after Aya of Yop City (which I need to review here pretty soon), since Vixen is one of the few comics other than Aya that I’ve read that’s actually set in Africa. I kept expecting Vixen and the other Africans in the book to end their sentences with “deh” or “keh” and call each other Tantie and Tonton. And, for a few minutes, I thought about how awesome it would be if Aya artist Clement Oubrerie were drawing this thing instead of Cafu.

But then, I realized, I would much, much, much rather Oubrerie draw more Aya, as it’s so much better than Vixen, and the last volume ended with such a cliffhanger, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Not that Cafu does a bad job or anything; I just think it would be cool to see someone with the style and range of Oubrerie on a DC superhero property.

But enough fantasizing.

As for what’s actually in the issue, it remains pretty not-bad. Writer G. Willow Wilson sends the weakened and wounded Vixen out on a sort of vision quest, which involves some hallucinating and a gross application of her animal powers to totally kill some jackals. I felt bad for the jackals. Why did Vixen kill their poor, dumb, animal asses instead of just calling her colleagues in the Justice League for help? To prove a point to herself? Why make the jackals suffer?

The brutal animal killing and the nonsensical refusal to just use her communicator to get Superman to fly her to the super-hospital (Wilson probably should have made a point of Vixen’s communicator getting destroyed in the fight, rather than having the heroine pridefully ditch it) aside, this is perfectly decent.

*Is it the psychic slug thing from L.E.G.I.O.N. that was in the Eclipso crossover and was in the bar when Lobo fought Captain Marvel…?


Dean said...

He didn’t even give him the “Okay, I’ll let you go this time, but next time…” speech that Iron Man and Ms. Marvel have given the New Avengers about eight times now.

Tony Stark has probably had cards made up with that speech printed on them, so he can hand them out to any anti-reg heroes he meets. It'd save time, you know?

Jacob T. Levy said...

They're having the African woman with the nature powers go on a vision quest? Really? How stunningly original.

That Carter Hall bit was very funny.

I like the hint (or red herring) about who Junior might be in Secret Six. And it's a very good point about the violence in Secret Six. Of course, it also helps that our expectations are different for a book starring semi-sociopathic criminals than for a Superman or Justice League story.

The Earth-2 storyline in JSA is much more interesting than the Gog storyline; I'm glad that Kingdom-Kal-El played such a minor role in this issue, which Johns has been building up to for years. Best issue of the post-OYL JSA relaunch. But the big reveal of the nature of the Earth-2 and the second Power Girl was... not surprising enough to be stretched out over 3 (4?) issues.

SallyP said...

The Incredible Hercules remains one of the best and most hilarious books out there. Naturally, I am expecting it to be cancelled, as we can't have this sort of thing going on!

I really did like Justice Society this week. Poor Peej. And while I can't stand Jade, I do understan that perhaps Alan feels differently. Good stuff.

I've been enjoying the heck out of Secret Six. I like Bane's paternal instincts getting out of hand, and poor Scandal's total bewilderment. I also thought that this was one of the best depictions of Cheetah in a long while.

Trinity continue to entertain me.

Heck, even Vixen continues to entertain me. But I am awfully glad that I've given up all that Secret Invasion/Civil War mess. Tony Stark has been ruined for me as a character, and the whole OMD mess just makes it even MORE convoluted.

psikotyk said...

Hey Caleb,

The guy from the Legion in the Guardian special is Tellus. He's an aquatic telepath that joined during the Baxter series (1984 first issue).

Jacob T. Levy said...

For those of us who aren't buying it: what the heck is Tellus doing in that book? [must.. resist... can't... resist...] Tellus, please!

Caleb said...

I like the hint (or red herring) about who Junior might be in Secret Six.

Hmm. I didn't even catch the hint.

what the heck is Tellus doing in that book?

Floating. There are a couple scenes of The Guardian breaking into secret Cadmus facilities finding things floating in the sorts of giant glass cylinders that clones are kept in.

This Tellus character is in one; he doesn't know who it is or what the flight ring on his finger symbolizes, but readers who have seen the flight ring would recognize it, and I guess if you know Tellus you'd recognize them too....?

He communicates to The Guardian and is like, "Don't worry man, I'm cool in here."

Jacob T. Levy said...

I think we're seeing visual cues that Junior is (this is wholly speculation, I have no inside knowledge, so no spoiler space except for this blather here) Ragdoll Junior, the brother of the Secret Six's Ragdoll, the one who inherited dad's abilities rather than (like SSR) creating them artificially through surgery. Ragdoll Senior sold his soul to Neron back in Starman, giving a loyal Junior great motivation for getting the card-- free dad's soul.

I believe Ragdoll Jr is a never-seen-on-page idea of Simone's-- she's had SSR mention that dad only really loved the good son who inherited the contortionism and was terribly disappointed in his normal son. It would be Simone's kind of move to turn that bit of character-developing dialogue back in Villains United into a Big Bad years later. And Ragdoll Sr was capable of being the kind of terrifying figure that Junior seems to be, back in Starman.

LULZ30 said...

1.Chop your fingers off.
2. Stop reviewing.

matthew. said...

Hmmm... anybody know who LULZ30 is?