Thursday, December 25, 2008

Belated Weekly Haul: December 24

Well that didn't take as long as I thought it would. I'm back, my books are read and my reactions written up, so here's this week's Weekly Haul, later than usual, but less later than usual than originally anticipated...

Batman #683 (DC Comics) So here is the final issue of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman for the foreseeable (i.e. the solicitable) future, the second half of a double tie-in two-parter that bridges the end of “Batman R.I.P.” and Final Crisis. The timeline is finally made clear here too; Batman really does totally survive punching that helicopter with his dad/some actor/Satan in it, swims back to the Batcave, changes clothes and then is off on his way to appear in Final Crisis #1.

Okay, so he was missing in the recent issue of Denny O’Neil’s story that appeared in TEC, but he didn’t go missing after the helicopter crash that happened before that issue, but after an event that will happen in Final Crisis #6 that will come out at some point in the future. I think I got it now.

As for this issue, there aren’t really any surprises here, or even much of interest. The format was established last issue—flashes from Batman’s real history, scenes set in a fake history, with Alfred really The Lump in disguise pumping Batman’s psyche for info to build an army of Batmen for Darkseid. The ending was already spoiled in Final Crisis #5 (“What kind of man can turn even his life memories into a weapon?”).

Wait, I shouldn’t say there were no surprises. I’m continually surprised by how shitty the art is. This time it isn’t Tony Daniel’s fault, as fill-in pencil artist Lee Garbett is drawing the pages, but they’re still universally bad…worse, for some reason, than anything I’ve seen on Garbett’s website or even his work just last issue.

Here Morrison has Batman and The Lump fight it out and team-up, while we see scenes from the rest of Bat-history, from back when Denny O’Neil started writing all the way through “Batman R.I.P.” and it all just looks bland and uninspired. Some of it looks more like the breakdowns a writer might have done when figuring out how to write the script that were accidentally finished and colored. (Check out that image of Tim Drake from “A Lonely Place of Dying,” for example, or Drake and Batman from Identity Crisis or fat, spherical Bane. Hell, here’s a preview of the first five pages, covering the ‘70s).

My favorite part of this issue is Batman’s luxurious eyelashes on the cover.

Batman: Gotham After Midnight #8 (DC)

Stupid pun blurbed on the cover for no reason: “OH HOLY KNIGHT!”

Page one: The entire page is laid out around a splash of a skeletal grim reaper, with six panels of story being framed by the borders of his scythe. He speaks the information that would usually be in a narration box.

Pages two and three: A two-page splash of Batman in a graveyard, amidst a crowd of grim reapers who aren’t actually there.

Page five: If we say Batman is about six feet tall, then his cape is here at least eighteen-feet long and at least that wide as well.

Page six: In the bottom panel, Commissioner Gordon warns Batman not to get too cozy with Detective April Clarkson. In the last panel on the page, Gordon says she was dating Dunkirk and Bruce Wayne, and there’s a close-up of Batman gritting his teeth and baring his gums at Gordon for no reason in the foreground.

Page seven: In the first panel, Batman’s cape has shrunk to no longer than about nine-feet long at its longest point. The back of it barely covers his calves. In the fourth panel, Batman toddles awkwardly through a patch of gravestones like a giant baby wearing a tent, while he and Gordon talk about their love lives.

Page 13: Batman has Clarkson call Bruce Wayne to break her date with him so she can make out with him (Batman) under mistletoe.

Page 14: A full-page splash of Catwoman peeping on them. She’s so enraged that the sky is read, she crushes a live bird in her hand (KRTCH!) and she’s clutching a gargoyle so hard that the soles of her feet and her fingers have broken into it. The gargoyle includes sculptures of monstrous turtle heads either about to make out or about to share food by regurgitation, baby bird-style.

Page 17: The chapter illustration Jones does for each “chapter” of the individual comic is here a snowman, only instead of a third little ball of snow atop it as the head, there’s a gray, severed human head perched atop the middle, torso snowball, and the red blood seeping out of the neck hole looks like a festive red scarf on the snow.

Page 20: By the second panel, Batman’s cape is now about 40-to-to-45-feet-long, but no more than five-feet wide. The sound effect of Catwoman cracking her whip is WHHPP-CRACK!

Page 21: Batman is trapped against a brick wall in a net. He gets so angry that he turns red, Hulks-out, rips a whole section out of the wall he’s pinned to and shouts “RRRAAGH!”

Page 22: Batman’s cape is now about 40-feet-long again, and at least twelve-feet-wide.

I love this comic.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #3 (DC) I just counted, and this week I bought exactly as many superhero comics geared toward an all-ages audience as I did super-books set in the Big Two’s universes. I don’t know what to do with that information, exactly, other than to note it. This is the third issue of Mike Kunkel’s version of Captain Marvel, a spiritual sequel to Jeff Smith’s Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil. I kinda wish I would have trade-waited this series, since its schedule seems awfully erratic, but that’s hardly a terrible thing for DC or the industry—I don’t think the world at large much cares if and when the latest issue of BBatMoS comes out anyway.

This one got on my nerves a little, during the long stretch in which Billy goes to detention and I had to endure a bunch of detention-as-prison jokes, but if I were in grade school maybe that would have completely split my sides. The art is still a ton of fun, in the exact same ways I talked about the last two times I talked about the series, and I really enjoy Kunkel’s expressions, monstrous versions of the Deadly Sins and his panel-less sequences with implied borders between sequential images.

And there are something like eighty panels on every page of this thing, so one issue of Billy Batson reads like three issues of a normal comic, making it a pretty good value. There’s a five-page preview of the book here if you’re interested in what it looks like exactly, and what Kunkel’s version of Captain Marvel looks like sleeping on the couch while wearing his bathrobe over his costume.

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Vol. 11: Animal Instinct (Marvel) The four stories in this $9 digest ($2.25 an issue!) all share writer Marc Sumerak and the common element of Spidey going up against animal-themed adversaries, but I suppose the latter’s not really all that special—dude has a villain based on every animal on earth save the spiny ant-eater, the African rock hyrax and the Shetland pony. The art varies from passable to pretty bad to pretty great, with different pencilers on each issue (Jonboy Meyers’ is the “pretty great”).

But I imagine it’s the story that’s the thing here, and these are all perfectly adequate all-ages done-in-one stories about a teenage Peter Parker running into various Marvel characters. It’s basically like a junior-varsity Ultimate Spider-Man.

So here’s what we got this volume:

—The Man-Bull ruining Peter Parker’s driver’s ed class

—The Puma teaming up with Spidey to stop The Black Cat from stealing a Native American artifact

—Spider-Man teaming up with Shamu to stop Orka-with-a-K from terrorizing Sea World, giving Sumerak license to break out a ton of marine puns. (Actually, they call the celebrity killer whale Kantu and the park Oceana Park, but you know what they really mean)

—The Serpent Society forcing Curt Connors to turn everyone in New York City into Lizards, unless Spidey and Connors can stop them.

Certainly not the best comics I read this week, nor even the best Marvel Adventures comics I read this week, but still $9 well-spent and probably even better-spent if the reader is on the other side of his 30th birthday than I am.

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #6 (Marvel) This is an all-Ant-Man issue by Fred Van Lente, Matteo Lolli and Christian Vecchia, revealing the secret origin of Ant-Man, the man with two super powers…both of them useless!

Down on his luck inventor Hank Pym is trying to sell Van Dyne industries on his invention, a helmet that allows people to ask ants to leave their kitchens, when some ants come to him for help repelling invaders: The Psycho-Man and his invasion force from the Microverse! He hits Pym with a “de-big-i-fication” ray, and Pym finds himself a tiny little hostage, along with the rest of the anthill Psycho-Man has already captured.

His big evil plan? To activate his Emoticon Projectors hidden throughout the city. By simply typing this
—into his command box, he can make everyone feel sad. By that point in the book, around about the halfway point, Van Lente reaches a sort of critical mass of funny stuff, and the whole thing becomes downright giddy.

For all the humor packed into the book—and the climax includes a chorus of ants singing—Van Lente also seems to hit on a rather unique way of portraying Ant-Man. Rather than a man with ant powers, he’s kind of an ant with man powers, and the champion of ants.

Trinity #30 (DC) “In the longago. Aye, and in the long longago, and in the time before the long longago. In the before, when nothing was…” So starts this issue of DC’s second-worst (and second-best!) year-long weekly series, indicating that yes, this is going to be one of those issues, in which we’re given much, much more detail than we could possibly need or want about some small element of the epic tale Kurt Busiek is writing and poor Mark Bagley is drawing.

The opening story is set in that crazy world that Alfred and his small band of supporting characters have landed, a place where Richard Grayson is called “Rich-Ard of the Gray Sun.” We learn what world it is, as well as its inhabitants’ creation myth and the role that the Trinity seemed to have played in it.

The back half, illustrated by Mike Norton and Ande Parks, is much more interesting, and not just because it involves Gentleman Ghost cameos. The bad guys are trying to re-order the universe again, this time using the principles of the whole tarot deck, and are assigning various villains slots on the major arcana. Meanwhile, Carter Hall is preparing his own deck using heroes.

It’s still perfectly not-bad, even if this is one of those issues where waiting for the trade seems like it might have been a better strategy.

Ultimate Spider-Man #129 (Marvel) Here’s an issue of the series where everything is working as well as it’s ever worked. That old-school, original Marvel Universe feel of a city where all the superheroes and supervillains know each other, a city where you can’t even fly around monologue-ing about your personal problems without running into a super-fight and/or a team-up. Meanwhile, Brian Michael Bendis sets up a premise involving Johnny Storm falling for the female clone of his friend Spider-Man that you can see coming from a mile away (especially now that I spoiled it. Sorry, Spider-Fans!) but is nevertheless still amusing because, damn, that’s some zany shit right there.

Bendis also does that thing he does well, where teenagers look, act and talk like teenagers look, act and talk in real life (or at least on TV shows about teenagers I’ve seen), as the supporting cast joins Peter Parker to hang out downtown. Meanwhile, the police question Aunt May about her relationship to Spider-Man. Cliffhanger!

There’s a huge banner across of the cover reading “ULTIMATUM” that’s even bigger than the actual title of the comic book, so I suppose maybe this ties into Ultimatum, the second issue of which came out today. If so, I couldn’t see how from this end, unless this is merely maneuvering Spidey and Kitty and MJ and Gwen to be in downtown NYC whenever whatever is happening in Ultimatum happens.

Wolverine: First Class #10 (Marvel) In this issue, Wolverine gets bitten by a werewolf and is transformed into a werewolf, a werewolf with admantium claws, and is more or less press-ganged into a pack of the monsters. Meanwhile, Kitty Pryde finds Jack “Werewolf By Night” Russell lost in the woods.

So, to summarize: This is the issue where Wolverine turns into a werewolf. Van Lente and Francis Portela give us “The Pack” part one, with more Wolverine-as-werewolf action next issue.


LurkerWithout said...

Stupid being broke. Have to wait *checks watch* at LEAST twelve more hourse before I can go buy my comics for this week. And some of the ones from last week. And maybe that American Flagg collection. I like getting money as Christmas schwag yes I do...

SallyP said...

Aw gee, I LIKED Batman, and I'm not that much of a Bat-fan. Heck, I've liked the whole Bat stuff that I've read lately. Maybe BECAUSE I'm not much of a Bat-fan.

But Shazam was a hoot and completely adorable. It also has the REAL Mary Marvel in it.

googum said...

"(d)ude (Spider-Man) has a villain based on every animal on earth save the spiny ant-eater, the African rock hyrax and the Shetland pony."

(Stage whispers) Shh! Don't give Marvel any ideas!