Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Weekly Haul: February 4th

Agents of Atlas #1 (Marvel Comics) After a couple of years of writing many of Marvel’s very best comics, mostly for the Marvel Adventures imprint, Jeff Parker gets a nice shot at the center of the main Marvel Universe. He’s writing the quirky characters he re-introduced in the Agents of Atlas miniseries a few years back, and the status quo he left them with—posing as villains running the sinister Atlas Foundation that they were battling—works out quite well with Marvel’s new “Dark Reign” status quo.

When the AoA mini came to an end, the characters that starred in it were heroes posing as villains doing hero work from within a villainous organization, and after Secret Invasion wrapped up and Norman Osborn began running the Marvel Universe, suddenly there was a villain posing as a hero while doing villain work from within the U.S. government. A pretty organic starting point for an AoA ongoing, no?

After a skirmish or two, the Agents and Osborn achieve a sort of détente, allowing for a rather graceful catch-up on who the Agents are and what their story is (I’m fairly certain you can pick this up with no previous exposure to the team, and follow it easily enough), while setting up a new conflict, one which also ties Parker’s latest endeavor in to the heart of the Marvel Universe, as Agent/Atlas leader Jimmy Woo finds himself saddled with a new, antagonistic understudy—someone who should be familiar to Iron Man readers and fans.

The art, penciled by Carlo Pagulayan and inked by Jason Paz, is very nice, but Jana Schirmer’s coloring makes it kind of hard to tell that it is. I was actually surprised to see there was an inker, as the blacks are so soft and fuzzy, and the whole book has that over-colored, photohyperrealistic look that is so widespread at Marvel these days and which I personally find repellant. It’s not so bad that I’m no sure how long I can keep looking at it (a la Invincible Iron Man), but I’d prefer a more drawn-looking book.

As Marvel has been experimenting how much to give readers for $3.99—Nada? Nada plus a cardstock cover? Extra story pages? “Director’s Cut” “bonus” material bullshit?—it’s worth pointing out that though this is $3.99, it has 35 story pages, a 23-page lead story and a 12-page back-up. That back-up is set in the 1950s, and features young Jimmy Woo, Gorilla Man and M-11 going to Cuba, where secret agent Logan is on the same case as them. It features art by Benton Jew, which is great—I kinda wish he handled the whole book. He certainly captures the extreme weirdness of the characters, like the first appearance of Gorilla Man in the story, naked and holding a pistol in his right hand.

Age of The Sentry (Marvel) Hey look, more Jeff Parker! This issue opens with a Paul Tobin, Bill Galvan and Terry Pallot story which functions as a Legion of Super-Heroes parody. The conflict? Idda, cousin of Ego, The Living Planet, is about to give birth, and Sentry and his pals need to find a book of Planetary Midwifery to lend a hand. In the back-up, by Parker, Nick Dragotta and Gary Martin, some overly entitled fans try to bend The Sentry to their will, with the use of a robot double. There are a couple of pretty funny Dr. Strange panels included, and a great Fantastic Four panel. Only one more issue to go, I’m afraid.

Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds #3 (DC Comics) Final Crisis, huh? That sounds familiar…Hey, wait a minute! That’s the name of that big, controversial, much-talked-about event series DC was publishing! Didn’t that wrap up last week? Why are there still three issues of a tie-in miniseries that takes place before the end of Final Crisis (chronologically, if not sequentially on a linear timeline) still to go?

I suspect because DC simply decided to brand this miniseries a Final Crisis tie-in, even though it’s not much of one. And I suspect here’s a good example of bad marketing building up confusion and ill-will against Final Crisis. Branding this part of Final Crisis only adds some question marks—where Superman is at any given time, for example—and doesn’t much contribute to Final Crisis proper (other than the fact that Superman and a Brainiac needed to be in the same room at the same time for a single scene in FC).

In retrospect, I’m not exactly sure why this is an FC tie-in (ditto Rage of the Red Lanterns), other than the fact that someone probably thought adding those two words and a colon to the title would maybe help sales. But it’s hard to believe that a Geoff Johns-written book needs much in the way of sales help, particularly when it’s illustrated by George Perez and promises to be the ultimate Legion story.

On the other hand, the skies are red, there are some shadow demons, and it boasts Perez art, so it sure looks, feels and reads like something in the traditional Crisis model (In fact, while reading this, I kept thinking about whether or not FC would have been a better read if Perez had drawn it; I think it would certainly have had a more epic feel, and might have proven even more subversive, since it would have looked exactly like the other Crises, without reading anything like them).

Anyway, enough time has passed since the first two issues that I hardly remembered what was going on, and the fact that I’ve never really read any comics featuring any of the three versions of The Legion and their villains here sure didn’t help me keep anything straight.

It doesn’t really matter. This issue is nine-tenths fight scene, and one-tenth Johns-style continuity patch leading up to a return that seemed pretty obvious, but was still kind of exciting when it finally happened (I still don’t like that codename and costume as much as his first ones, but they’re better than his third ones).

Perez is a master of superhero comics, and that mastery is on full display throughout this issue. Most pages have what looks like a few dozen extremely detailed panels, and he sure knows how to use a splash page—the bigger the panel, the bigger the impact it’s supposed to have, be it a scene-setting splash revealing the combatants in a fight scene, the entry of a couple extra Legions into the battle or that last page appearance by the surprise character who’s not much of a surprise.

Johns and Perez aren’t doing anything terribly ambitious here—this is basically an everyone fights everyone story—but I can’t think of a single artist who does that sort of story better, nor can I think of a writer better at that kind of thing working in comics at the moment.

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe (Oni Press) Shiny…so shiny.

Um, I should have a formal review of this in tomorrow’s issue of Las Vegas Weekly, so I don’t want to pre-repeat myself with a review here. I’ll just point out that there’s a really cool foil-y cover on this thing, which I read about online and just kind of expected it was a NYCC exclusive for some reason, but it’s not. I walked into my local comic shop, and there was this little digest sitting on the shelves, glowing in a rainbowy aura of light as I walked past.

Secret Six #6 (DC) Superhero decadence alert! James Robinson had reimagined Golden Age contortionist villain The Ragdoll as a sort of Manson-like cult leader/serial killer in the pages of Starman, but dammit, that just wasn’t dark and gritty enough! So now Ragdoll Senior is also a child abuser, who raped his own daughter. Another thing I didn’t need to read is The Mad Hatter referring to his “littlest hood.”

As I said before, if you’re going to have superhero decadence in your superhero universe, I suppose a book about evil villains and the even more evil villains they fight is probably a better place for it than anywhere else, but it still seems kinda lazy. Can’t the scariest villain in the DCU just be a woman? Does she also have to have been raped by her villain father to give her sufficient motivation? Writer Gail Simone has already shown us the Mad Hatter having sex with a top hat in an early Secret Six miniseries so we know he’s kind of loony, did anyone need to draw an Alice sex doll in his room?

Pet peeves, really, but ones I figured I might as well mention. This issue we learn part of the origin of the lady in the powdered wig and see one of the five official members of the Six betray the other four, and maybe even kill one of ‘em, and see the return of a former member. Its as well written (despite my reservations about the decadence-for-decadence’s sake content) and well drawn as usual. Aside form JSoA, which I’ll probably drop once Johns leaves, this is the only ongoing DC team book I’m reading, so, in my opinion at least, it’s the best written and best illustrated of their current crop of team books.

This is also the first of the “Origins and Omens”-branded books I’ve read, and apparently these will all be framed by an appearance of Scar, the scarred Guardian of the Galaxy seen crying tears of black blood onto a blank book in the Ed Benes-drawn O&O house ad.

This one’s a six-page story written by Simone herself, drawn by Pete Woods and narrated by The Mad Hatter. It’s basically just a catch-up of Secret Six history—from Villains United to Secret Six the miniseries to Birds of Prey to Secret Six the monthly—and something of a character portrait of the Hatter.

If this one proves to be representative of all the O&O back-ups, I can see them being a fairly useful jumping-on point sort of thing, even if the rest of the comic is a chapter of an in-progress arc. It did make me wonder how DC will deal with these stories in collected editions—having a Guardian from Green Lantern randomly float through a Secret Six story would seem pretty damn weird to someone just reading a SS trade. Maybe DC will choose not to collect them in trades at all? I think that would be a good idea. DC—and Marvel—really need to do more to incentivize the reading of single issues if they want to stay in the business of publishing single issues, and the weekly comics are really the only moves they’ve made to do so.

And speaking of Marvel and the future of serial, single issue comics, it sure seems like they’re thinking about getting out of that business all together with the $3.99 price point. So it’s probably worth pointing out that this issue is slightly longer than usual at 24 story pages (18-page main story, six-page back-up), and it’s still $2.99. Take that, Marvel!

Trinity #36 (DC) Finally facing their supporting cast members, the three gods of Egg World engage in a long flashback that takes up the front half of the book. There’s a panel of Superman and his wife, one of the native Egg Worlders, which reminds me how grow it is that he hooked up with one of these humanoids. Maybe it’s speciesest and shallow of me, but it somehow seems wrong to me that he’s shacked up with a native Egg Worlder, who are these short, lumpy little things that look a bit like what I imagined orcs looked like when I used to read fantasy novels that had words like “orcs” in them. But then I got to thinking, Hey, Superman and Lois Lane are different species, so why doesn’t it gross me out when I think about them consummating their marriage? Is it just because Superman looks human, whereas his Egg Worldian wife Luai is short, blue and funny looking? Maybe.

In the back half, Ray “The Atom” Palmer makes some unlikely allies on the altered DCU earth. It’s drawn by Scott McDaniel, who does that thing he used to do all the time on Nightwing, where you see six or seven images of the hero jumping all over the panel showing how fast and acrobatic he is. I like those panels.


Lucas said...

Just so you know, Caleb, Adventure Comics #0 was mostly reprint, but did include an Origins and Omens story that turned out to be a HUGE tease. It was a buck, so you might still want to check it out.

It is funny, like you said, that Ragdoll's sister winds up having such a Women in Refrigerators style motivation for her looney tunes. :D

Matt Ampersand said...

I believe the Wolverine/Agent of Atlas story also appeared on the Web, as part of Marvel Comics exclusive digital service.

SallyP said...

Normally, I can't stand those whiney teenagers from the future, but I did like the Legion book. And even though I was pretty sure who it was that was in that lightning rod, I was still happy at the end.

Secret Six continues to be fabulous, although I'm slightly outraged that my favorite bad guy went and did such bad things to the rest of them. But I'm sure there's a reason, or a twist.

Trinity seems to be picking up a bit of speed, which is good.

caleb said...

Just so you know, Caleb, Adventure Comics #0 was mostly reprint, but did include an Origins and Omens story that turned out to be a HUGE tease.

I did flip through it in the shop, and looked at the pictures, so I saw the two villains that were involved and the one hero person, but I didn't read any of the words.

believe the Wolverine/Agent of Atlas story also appeared on the Web, as part of Marvel Comics exclusive digital service.

I believe you're right; that does sound really familiar now. I guess whether or not those extra pages are seen as worth the extra cost may dictate whether or not you've already read the story online. Hmmm...

Matt said...

I was actually a little let down by Agents of ATLAS. On the one hand, I think Parker got 2009 Norman Osborn better than anyone except for Bendis so far. The dude's a uniter not a divider! Alright, maybe I wouldn't go that far, but most of the Marvel writers are using him as a scene-chewing, mustache-twirling villain right now, except for Bendis who gets to use him as a protagonist in Dark Avengers. He's a heck of a lot more interesting as a completely unhinged bastard who's trying to hold all this together and get what he thinks he deserevs, while being in over his head, than as an EVIL VILLAIN.

Sorry, got off track.

ANYWAY, I liked the middle third of Agents of ATLAS, and I liked the "ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN" moment with Marko. But the rest of the issue just fell really flat for me, especially the dialogue. It felt really stilted.

I wanted to like it. I really did, but it just came off as lackluster.

Parker's pretty good and he's certainly fun but I don't think he's nearly as good at the total package than some of the other graduates of Marvel's ALL AGES comics like Sumerak and FVL.