Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Weekly Haul: December 10th

Action Comics #872 (DC Comics) The Creature Commandos. Ultra the Multi-Alien. Gold Kryptonite. That’s…that’s a lot of cool stuff for a 2008 issue of Action Comics, let alone one written by Geoff Johns and one that’s part seven in a big multi-book crossover storyline.

In this chapter of the “New Krypton” story (illustrated by Pete Woods), Superman, Supergirl and Uncle Zor argue with Aunt Alura about whether or not its cool to kill policemen, while Lex Luthor launches a spectacular attack on New Krypton through Brainiac’s inert ship and the motherfucking Creature Commandos team-up with Ultra the Multi-Alien and Superman to fight robots. Meanwhile, The Guardian rallies a bunch of superheroes to go kick Kandor’s ass, and Johns teases the new Nightwing’s identity so damn hard that if it’s not Superboy/Connor Kent/Kon-El/“The Kid” somehow back from the dead, then Johns just isn’t playing fair.

As far as the plotting goes, this is a pretty exciting 22 pages, and it’s nice to see Johns using some obscure(-ish) DC characters for something other than heat-vision fodder.


Booster Gold #15 (DC) I took the Rick Remender-written issues off and decided to just wait around until Dan Jurgens took over as both writer and artists to decide whether or not to stick with the title now that original writers Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz have moved on.

Initially I wasn’t crazy about the choice of Jurgens, even if he did create the character, but this was actually a pretty decent read, with only one or two attempts at humor that made me wince (and only one page wasted on reminding us of Identity Crisis for no reason other than to add a little melodrama).

Booster and his little sister go back in time to renaissance Italy for fun, cause some problems, and find themselves in an altered timeline. Trying to figure out exactly went wrong, Booster finds himself teaming-up with The Elongated Man, from way back in the day (Like, Showcase Presents era).

If Jurgens can manage at least this level of quality month in and month out, I’ll probably stick around. I’ll definitely be here next month, as Booster Gold meets Hans Von Hammer, the Hammer of Hell next issue.


Captain Britain and MI13 #8 (Marvel Comics) Paul Cornell gets 500 points for Blade’s Wordsword (“Papier mache. Made of pages from magical books. Good against demons. Not so good in the rain.”), and 100 points for the comic book science of the titular agency’s “pentagram tesseract” generator.



(Above: That's my favorite of the eight covers for this comic, by John Romita Sr. It was a 1-in-15 variant though, so I ended up getting the Cassaday one)

The Death-Defying ‘Devil #1 (Dynamite) I find myself incredibly frustrated by the fact that I can’t put my finger exactly on why it is that these cool Golden Age character resurrections Dynamite has committed to with the help of Alex Ross have been so incredibly dull. If I were better at this comics-criticizing game, I think I’d be able to properly diagnose the problem with Project: Superpowers and its spin-off minis, of which this is one, but I just can’t manage it with any degree of certainty.

I know I was always fascinated by these characters, when I had yet to read a single comic featuring any of them, and only knew them from their names, the artists who made them, and the occasional covers I’d see (Here, doesn’t this look pretty awesome?). And yet I couldn’t even make it through the whole Project: Superpowers series, and was dismayed to see that not only did DDD #1 pick up on the status quo of that series, it also picked up on the tone and spirit of it: That is, boring as hell, terribly diluted and somehow palpably generic.

Is the problem perhaps the way in which Ross and his collaborators chose to Marvel-ize these various Golden Agers into a cohesive universe, and then treat their decades of obscurity as a plot point in a meta-story that made no further attempts to comment on that obscurity, except to explain why they weren’t in comics for so long, thus making the resulting comics seem like just your average DC or Marvel book, only without the years-to-decades of readers’ personal investment in the characters? Maybe that’s it.

I honestly don’t know, nor do I know how Ross and/or Dynamite should have perhaps proceeded. All I know is that it’s notoriously difficult to create a comic book universe shared-setting all at once like this, and even the companies that managed to do a decent job of it for a while (Valiant, Milestone) didn’t last all that long.

So: This comic is written by Joe Casey and drawn by Edgar Salazar. It features the superhero formerly known as Daredevil, the mute one with the cool costume and boomerang, as he listens to Green Lama prattle on about New Shangri La, sees some claw-shaped graffiti, and then goes to fight some Claw terrorists with the French lady he met in Project: Superpowers, and then he fights a guy dressed like him, only in purple and green.

The art is pretty great, and I liked the look of the book much more than its parent series, but there is absolutely nothing special or even mildly interesting about the script. It’s just a guy, probably a good guy, fighting some other guys, who are terrorists. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this somewhere before.

I won’t be interested in a second issue of this, but Dynamite, seriously: I would buy the hell out of a collection of the original Golden Age Daredevil comics.



Detective Comics #851 (DC) DC has chosen to capitalize on the increased eyeballs and buzz the Batman franchise earned through Grant Morrison’s “Batman R.I.P.” story arc in about the weirdest way imaginable: Entering a confused, months-long period in which the next part of the Batman story is so vague it’s impossible to even spot, let alone follow.

The true ending of the story, according to interviews, which is where far too much super-comic storytelling goes on these days, occurs in Final Crisis #6, which won’t be out until the end of January, if it doesn’t fall further behind schedule than it already has. Meanwhile, we know all of the Batman satellite titles are being canceled in the near future, presumably to reflect big changes, and the two Batman ongoings—Batman and Detective Comics—will play host to about four different epilogues/codas, by four different writers.

The good news is that those writers are all pretty respectable names. This is the first part of one of those codas, by Denny O’Neil. I don’t know how much of a draw his name actually is in the market, but I know it’s hardly hyperbolic to refer to O’Neil as a legendary writer, and I imagine his presence will prove enormously attractive to longtime Batman readers like myself.

While O’Neil’s choices for the Batman, his portrayal and the way the character interacted with the rest of the DCU might not have been popular with every single DC reader, you have to admit that, when O’Neil was editing the Batman line for DC, the character was remarkably consistent from book to book, the franchise was remarkably streamlined and it was remarkably free of Jason Todd being Superboy-punched back to life as a psycho-killer, Were-Scarerows and murders committed by Leslie Thompkins.

So while five years ago the name “Denny O’Neil” on the cover of a Batman comic wouldn’t have done anything to fire my passions, now it’s oddly comforting.

So what’s O’Neil’s particular coda about, exactly? Well, while Morrison’s, which began in Batman last week, was an extended dream sequence of maybe-memories, O’Neil’s “Last Days of Gotham” is set in Gotham after the events of “Batman R.I.P.” and that fateful (fatal?) helicopter punch.

Actually, it starts “several years ago” during the Gotham earthquake (See Batman: Cataclysm, but only if you must), at which time Gotham stage actress Millicent Mayne is being threatened by some thugs when she’s saved by the natural disaster. She narrates in O’Neillian prose about the experience, and the weird sensation of filling up with the presence of Gotham’s dead.

Flash forward to “One week ago,” when we see those same three thugs who, remarkably, haven’t changed clothes for several years. Or they coincidentally are all wearing the same outfits they did back then. Or they all three have closets full of the same clothes, so they actually have changed them many times since, but they always look the same.

Anyway, they attack M.M. in the name of Two-Face, Batman is apparently missing, and so Nightwing has to come in and fill-in (though, despite the cover, not as Batman, sparing us Prodigal: Redux…at least for now).

As a story, it’s pretty much just something to fill up the pages and kill the time, but O’Neil’s old-school narration and down-to-earth, plain, old, every day criminals intent on paydays give it some charm.

The real reason to pick up the issue at all, however, is the artwork by Guillem March. I haven’t really been feeling the art on any of the Bat-books of late (‘TEC has been strong since Nguyen became the regular artist, but that was also about the time Dini started devoting the book to Gotham’s deadliest plastic surgeon and I gave up on it), particularly the work of Tony Daniel whom, I may have mentioned before, sucks.

But this March character? Holy shit, is this guy good. There was something very European about his work (and, poking around his site, I think that might be because he’s from Europe). I see a little Tim Sale here, a little Joe Kubert there, a touch of Marcos Martin, but it doesn’t really seem derivative of any of those particular artists, so much as the way he draws certain faces, shadows, outlines or expressions reminds me of those artists.

The story-telling is crystal clear (which you would think would be an absolute minimum requirement in any professional comics artist, but, sadly, it isn’t), almost all of the panels have actual backgrounds to them, the character designs are all distinct and the faces highly expressive, attention is paid to page lay out and panel shape, and when March breaks a panel border, it’s almost always for a good reason—to highlight the action or emotion of that scene. Just look at page 17. How many times have we seen Nightwing jump through a skylight? Three hundred times? Five hundred? And yet here it’s like seeing him do it for the first time.

I’m really excited to read the next chapter of this story, not because I’m at all concerned whether Nightwing will die in the burning building he was left unconscious in during the cliffhanger ending, or what’s up with Ms. Mayne—I really just want to see how March draws what happens next.

Here’s a preview of the first few pages of the issue, if you’d like to get a better sense of his work than I’m probably conveying.



Final Crisis #5 (DC) Oh wow, this series is still going on? That was my first thought as I flipped open the cover, on which J.G. Jones demonstrates that Wonder Woman’s costume must be incredibly uncomfortable to wear. Yes, while the outcome seems remarkably clear—Darkseid just about wins, then loses, and the birth of the Fifth World gives us a the DC Multiverse 5.0—we’ve still got a few more tedious months of waiting for Jones, and the co-artists brought in to help him get this thing done in as few extra months as possible, to draw the damn pictures.

On the most basic level of super-comics criticism—Can I figure out what the hell is going on in the pictures? Does Frankenstein pop a wheelie on a motorcycle? Is Dr. Sivana involved?—this issue passes muster. But frankly, it doesn’t seem as special as it should. It’s essentially just an arc of Grant Morrison’s JLA monthly, but with less kinetic art, fewer surprises, higher expectations and an insupportable amount of hype.

Still, Frankenstein does pop a wheelie on a motorcycle. So there’s that.



Secret Six #4 (DC) Like most comics readers who can also string a few sentences together, I have long dreamed of writing comics, and there’s no company I’d rather write comics for than DC Comics, on account of the fact that they own all the very best comics characters that aren’t Namor or ninja turtles. That fact won’t come as a surprise. But this might: You know what I’d want to write for DC more than anything?

Those stupid punning blurbs that appear on some of their comics.

Not all DC Comics have them, but an awful lot do. Often times they’re just descriptive—like this week, Action Comics has a blurb reading “The Startling Return of The Creature Commandos!” and Booster Gold’s reads “In The Grip of The Elongated Man!”—and sometimes there’s just no room when there’s something like “A Final Crisis Tie-In!”, but sometimes there are just these…random sounding phrases on the cover.

They’re kind of like headlines, I guess, usually playing off the cover image and/or the character and/or the nature of the story, but not always. I don’t really understand these things, or why they are there. I can’t imagine they’ve ever sold even one comic book to one customer; the descriptive ones, sure, but the joke ones? I can’t imagine someone seeing an issue of Birds of Prey that says “Birdstrike!” on it and thinking, “Ooh, I should get this comic, because it says ‘Birdstrike!’ on the cover.”

Anyway, I think that would be the very best job at DC Comics. I imagine there’s someone who has their own office—not a big or particularly nice one, but still, an office—at DC HQ and their only job is to write these stupid little pun/blurb/headlines that appear on covers. Each month, they’d get, like, 50 mock-ups of all the DC covers for the month, and then they pin them up on the wall, and pace around all day, stroking their chins and thinking of what blurbs to match to the images.

That would be a fine job.*

Take this issue of Secret Six. On the cover, we see the five members of the Secret Six in an ice cream truck, striking various action poses appropriate to their nature. This exact scene never occurs in the book, but they do all ride in an ice cream truck in the comic. Someone must have looked at this image long and hard and found that something was missing. Some sort of combination of words was needed on the cover to really complete it. A phrase taking into account the elements of the cover. Let’s see…there’s an ice cream truck. And some super-villains. Hmm….

And they arrived at “Ice Creeps.” Because super-villains are creeps, right? And “creeps” sounds a little like “cream.” Get it?

Yes, that job would rule.

Oh, this issue was pretty good…maybe the best of the series so far. I’m pretty sure Gail Simone owes Geoff Johns some small percentage of any royalties she makes off this book, since she wrote a panel in which a villain tears someone’s arm off. Johns trade-marked arms-being-ripped-off, didn’t he…?



Trinity #28 (DC) What the hell guys? Why aren’t you reading Trinity? According to Marc Oliver-Frisch’s sales analysis, not only does Trinity sell fewer copies than 52 or (Shudder!) Countdown, it’s shedding more readers faster than either of those series.

Now, I expect Trinity to get its ass kicked by 52, for all sorts of reasons. But Countdown? More people were more into Countdown than Trinity? How is that even possible?

I’m afraid that somewhere down the line, maybe when planning the fifth or sixth weekly, DC’s going to look at Trinity vs. Countdown and decide readers must prefer a weekly that’s sold as a big, important “spine” of the rest of the universe no matter how shoddily it’s created or whether or not it actually matches up to anything else in the “body” of the DCU to a competent (on a weak week) to rather good (on a rather good week) series that is somewhat self-contained.

And Trinity’s version of self-contained is still pretty expansive. I mean, Kurt Busiek and Mark Bagley do seem bound and determined to at least namedrop or cameo every single DCU character ever during the course of this thing (This issue they cross Brimestone and The Folded Man off their list).

The last two issues were pretty dull and slow-moving, devoted to Busiek’s pounding home the architecture of the universe point, but with this issue, we’re back in super-action, with the altered Alfred Pennyworth and company journeying into another universe looking for Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, and, in the back-up, the JSI taking on super-villains.

In conclusion: Buy this book. Only you can prevent a Countdown II.



*I realize this job probably doesn’t exist, and that it’s probably just the assistant editor on the respective books and/or someone in production who comes up with these things. But in the DC HQ that exists in my imagination, there’s one person whose job it is. The DC offices in my imagination probably don’t match up to the real ones at all. For example, I think trade collections are determined by a rabid wolf trapped in the office of the person who was actually hired to determine what to collect in trade when, and that Dan DiDio looks, talks and acts exactly like Perry White and that when Grant Morrison visits the office to talk about story ideas he appears in Metron’s chair.

9 comments:

snell said...

...according to interviews, which is where far too much super-comic storytelling goes on these days...

Thank you, Caleb.

Have a beer on me.

LurkerWithout said...

I just have to agree with both you and Snell on that point. Also that most comics readers probably DO want something more like Countdown than Trinity. And thats probably because the majority of the ever-shrinking supers comics' buying marker are FUCKING morons with the taste of a drunken chimp. I shouldn't be having to listen or read people defending Secret Invasion as more worth their money then Blue Beetle or the Marvel Adventures line...

Matt said...

Caleb,

Hate to break this to you, but readers prefer a story that's sold as a big important spine, no matter how shoddily it's created.

Also, Jeph Loeb's Hulk is the #1 selling ongoing comic in the world consistantly.

On the other hand, Incredible Hercules is actually selling well enough that it's not on cancellation watch every month. So there is that.

Welcome to 2008. We live in strange, confusing times.

SallyP said...

But...but I AM buying Trinity. I buy it every week! And enjoying it too, I might add.

Of course I ALSO buy Blue Beetle, Manhunter, Birds of Prey and Nightwing, but that doesnt' seem to be doing me much good.

*sob*

On the other hand, it was a very very good week for comics.

John Foley said...

I checked out Guillem March's website, and you're right. He's a terrific illustrator.
However; he draws naked women, and is therefore a hateful mysoginist.
It's all going in my report.

John Foley said...

A-hem.
mysogYnist

Patrick C said...

I'm afraid I'm one of those people. I bought every issue of Countdown, and only 6 issues of Trinity. I was just too burnt out from Countdown to jump on another weekly.

Kid Kyoto said...

"Also, Jeph Loeb's Hulk is the #1 selling ongoing comic in the world consistantly."

Um not so long as Jump is selling a million copies a week in Japan.

The world is larger than the parts that speak English.

Liz said...

Yeah, Trinity doesn't sell as well looking at the raw numbers. But when you adjust for the recession?