Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Weekly Haul: April 1st

Amazing Spider-Man #590 (Marvel Comics) I could have sworn that I was expecting around $25 worth of new comics today, but I was only in the high teens after getting my pull-list and pacing up and down in front of the whole new book wall twice. Thinking I must have added up the cost of the new books I was interested in this week wrong, I grabbed a copy of this, which is a Dan Slott issue featuring the Fantastic Four and Slott, you’ll remember, wrote that fantastic Spider-Man/Human Torch series from a few years back (Actually, I did my pre-shopping math right, I just completely forgot to purchase Agents of Atlas #3. Damn it.)

Given that Spider-Man and the FF are the two Marvel properties that Dan Slott was pretty much born to right, it should come as no surprise as this is a pretty darn good story. It opens with a flashback to a few years ago, when the fantastic five visit the Macroverse for an adventure there, and, in the present, the FF round-up Spidey for a return trip there to answer a distress signal.

There’s very little “Brand New Day” business—maybe two pages of moving the ongoing plots forward, including one dealing with Harry Osborn falling off the wagon—other than, of course, finally addressing the thing that’s been hovering over all Spider-Man comics appearances since he did his deal with the devil.

Throughout the adventure, it nags at Johnny Storm that he should know who Spider-Man is, that he used to know that he is and that he could have sworn he had his number somewhere, but something’s made him forget. Is this something they’ve been teasing in ASM prior to this?

I kinda hope it gets resolved soon, because it’s really bugs the hell out of me, and whenever I find myself reaching for a “616” Spider-Man book, it’s one of the things that makes me think, “Aw, why bother.”

The artwork isn’t by Marcos Martin or John Romita Jr., the guys whose work had previously gotten me to read a post-devil deal ASM story, but it ain’t half bad either—Mark Farmer inking Barry Kitson.

Sadly, my local comics shop was charging $6 for the Wolverines-playing-poker-with-each-other variant cover. Maybe they’ll release a pin-up book of all the “Wolverine Art Appreciation” variants? Or at least a big poster of the poker one? That wouldn’t look so bad in a frame hanging in my hallway…

Avengers/Invaders #9 (Marvel) Oh shit, the Cosmic Cube has been thrown back in time and is in the hands of that Nazi slime The Red Skull, and he’s used it to remake the world in his own Nazi, skull-faced image! It’s up to The Invaders and a handful of time-lost Avengers to find and recover the cube to set the world right.

In order not to change the world too much more—which seems like a strange concern to have after the Statue of Liberty has been changed to a statue of Red Skull holding aloft the cube—the heroes decide to force Spider-Man to stay up all night sewing them period hero costumes, leading to a kooky fight scene where Ms. Marvel is dressed as The Black Widow, Iron Man as Electro, Wolverine as Captain Terror, Luke Cage as The Black Marvel, and so on.

It’s a surprisingly funny issue, considering the fact that writers Alex Ross and Jim Krueger aren’t generally thought of as cut-ups or anything.

This issue’s pencils credits are shared by Steve Sadowski, Patrick Berkenkotter and Alex Ross, according to the credits, but I couldn’t tell you what Ross did and what Berkenkotter did, perhaps because “inLight Studios” colors on top of pencils with no inks, giving everything a soft and fuzzy look that I’m not a fan of.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #4 (DC Comics) This is the climax of Captain and Mary Marvel’s battle against Black Adam and the Seven Deadly Evils, and the conclusion of this all-ages book’s first story arc. This being the fourth issue of an all-Mike Kunkel series, the considerable virtues of the previous three issues continue to apply to this one as well. Now bring on Dr. Sivana, Kunkel!

Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1 (Marvel) James “Guy Who Wrote Starman” Robinson is a pretty good super-comic writer, and while his name alone isn’t enough to get me to buy a comic, it sure doesn’t hurt. But Marcos Martin? The guy responsible for drawing Batgirl: Year One, Dr. Strange: The Oath and a handful of Amazing Spider-Mans? He is an amazing artist, and I’ll buy just about anything he draws. I kinda wish he had a regular, monthly book, so I’d always know when to expect him and where to find him, but, on the other hand, I kind of like that he might show up on a Spidey book one month, and then in a Captain America book a few weeks later.

A Captain America book like this one, for example.

This is the first of Marvel’s 70th Anniversary Specials, which seem to pair a brand-new story featuring a Golden Age, pre-“Marvel” Marvel character with a classic reprint of a story featuring the same character.

In this case, it’s a 22-page story by Robinson and Martin and a classic, 15-page story by Cap creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. It costs $3.99, but readers will definitely get their money’s worth (actually, if the world can agree that seven pages of full-color superhero comics are worth about $1—and a 22-page, $2.99 comic book is thus not a crime against God—a $3.99, 35-page comic book is more than worth what you pay for it. So thanks for not being dicks, Marvel!)

So what’s so goddam great about Marcos Martin? Well, it’s not just how smooth his line or how clean his artwork. It’s not just how elegant his sense of character design, or the way he draws a page and communicats the action within a panel (and I mean “action” here as in, a person sitting or walking as much as a person punching out a Nazi). The man lays out a page like no one’s business.

Check out the first page, in which Captain America stands outside the grid of panels, addressing the plane full soldiers within them. Check out the second page, in which the circuitous line of Bucky’s thought clouds wind snake-like through the grid of twelve irregularly-shaped panels, left to right to left to right again, and how intuitively the page reads, despite breaking the basic rules of comics page laying-out. Or check out the two-page spread of Steve Rogers walking through a meticulously detailed WWII-era New York, multiple images of him winding through the crowd, implying panels that aren’t actually drawn. Or hey, note the way he keeps Captain America from ever fully appearing throughout the framing story until the very last page, where we see him for the first time, having come to understand what makes him Captain America via the flashback story, in a glorious two-page spread, a two-page spread employed not to eat up some space because, you know, drawing 22-pages is hard work, but because a two-page spread is the exact best way to communicate that instant of the story.

Can Marcos Martin just go ahead and draw every single Marvel comic every month? Is that too much to ask?

The story is a sort of who-cares retcon (like, due to the fact that it’s happening here in this book, Cap purists can probably consider it apocryphal and need not rend garments if it contradicts Cap holy writ, which I actually don’t know anyway). Captain America is being all inspiring to a planeload of soldiers, and Bucky thinks to himself about the thing that makes Cap so goddam great, and then we flash back to a pre-serum Steve Rogers, demonstrating his courage, patriotism and willingness to totally kill fifth-columnists without benefit of superpowers and/or more than seventy pounds of total body weight.

It’s perhaps a little obvious and precious, but Robinson sells it well, and the art, as I may have mentioned is really great (Really great).

The back-up—or “co-feature,” if you prefer—is 1941’s “Death Loads the Bases!” In order to buy-out a baseball team, a dude called The Black Toad who wears a costume that resembles a bat (I love you, Golden Age!) kills players whenever one of them is out. To crack the case, baseball fans Captain America and Bucky suit up and join the team, and oh man, they should have called that super-soldier serum super-player serum.

The Jack Kirby of the ‘40s is not the Jack Kirby of the ‘60s or ‘70s, and his art here is much rounder and softer, the pages a little more herky-jerky in the way they move the eye. But there’s still that Kirby energy boiling under the images, the characters all tend to have the expressions of maniacs and the fisticuffs resemble bodies launching at and ricocheting off one another more than anything as staid and formal as a fistfight (And if you like what you see in this back-up, there’s a 1941 Simon/Kirby Blue Bolt story in Fantagraphics’ Supermen! also out this week. That’s probably the best use of $25 in a comic shop this week, if you ask me).

The Flash: Rebirth #1 (DC) I stood in front of the copies of this comic on the new book rack of my local comic shop, flipping through them like a deck of cards to see if they happened to have the variant cover, which showed Barry Allen putting on his boot from a different angle than in the image of him putting on his boot on the other cover. Not because I necessarily wanted to buy it—I like the normal cover better because it looks like he’s crying lightning on it—but just to see if it had an inflated price or not. I think a variant cover that is the exact same boring image by the exact same artist from a different angle is like the apotheosis of the pointlessness of variant covers.

“Are you excited about Flash: Rebirth?” one of the shop employees asked me in a faux-excited tone of voice, the one he’d use when reminding me to pick up my issue of Virgin Comics’ Shadowhunter #1 or something with a Red Hulk on the cover.

I paused, sighed, and shrugged, “Eh.”

“That sounds like my reaction!” another customer chimed in laughing, this one having just flipped through it and put it back on the shelf.

The employee, after I prompted him, said he had read it, but wasn’t exactly wowed: Barry Allen comes across as kind of a jerk, and he’s not even in it all that much. But he wasn’t terribly invested, since Wally West has been The Flash as long as he’d been reading comics. The art, however, was great.

I put it in my stack, sighing again, and explaining that I kind of wished it didn’t exist, but since it did, I felt like I had to read it.

What’s this have to do with anything? Nothing, I just thought I’d share my anecdotal evidence that the return of Barry Allen isn’t necessarily something that hardcore DC comics fans give a shit about.

I’ve been reading a few comics worth of old JLoA comics before bed each night thanks to Showcase Presents: Justice League of America Vol. 4, and Barry Allen is stale toast as a character. What separates him from Hal Jordan or Hawkman in those stories? Nothing. He’s like Wonder Woman, only more male, or like The Atom, only less prone to wisecracks, or like Green Arrow, only more cleanly shaven.

He’s just an empty suit, anything interesting about comics featuring him coming down to the way a particular writer might use his powers in his own book (powers shared by the other Flashes running around the DCU today) or the way an artist might draw him. But as a character, what distinguishes Barry Allen from any other superhero? His haircut? His job? His villains? He just doesn’t have the rich secret identity that a Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne has. Probably the only character more boring than Barry Allen was Hal Jordan, who, at the point in time covered in the Showcase, was a fucking insurance salesman. (Sexy!)

Now as far as Bary Allen comics go, I’ve only read Silver Age Flash stories and Flash appearances in Justice League comics, so I don’t know, maybe his solo title kicked ass throughout the seventies and early eighties, and that’s why so many fans (Geoff Johns, Dan DiDio, and…um…hmm…) love him so, but somehow I doubt it (The shelves aren’t exactly choked with Flash trades collecting all the classic, must-read Barry Allen stories of those 15 years, you know?).

This is all just an incredibly long, roundabout way of saying that the return of Barry Allen just kind of fills me with apathy. The strongest emotion I felt was last year, when DC Universe 0 came out and I realized that yes, they really were going to bring back to life the last remaining DC superhero to have not been brought back to life yet (Except for Vibe, of course). But as the months of Final Crisis dragged on, the surprise wore off, so that by the time we finally get to the story that actually deals with his return (There’s a line in this very comic in which even Barry Allen is dismissive of the fact that he needed to come back in Final Crisis), all I’m thinking is “Well, this should be at least as good as Johns’ totally insane Green Lantern comics, right?”

(I take that back; last week, when I realized the first issue of this would be released on April Fool's Day, I became filled with hope. Hope that this was all just elaborate joke on diehard Barry Allen fans, and that in this issue he would end up dying again. But not before bestowing his Flash powers on Kyle Rayner, who would become the DCU's one true Flash).

Well, let’s start with the art. Ethan Van Sciver’s work is sometimes over-detailed, and he can do some weird things with human anatomy here and there, but credit where credit is due, that man can draw the hell out something when he has a mind to. I spent some time just staring at his cover, looking at how well he drew The Flash’s boot. The little pointy wing-tip thing on the op of it, the treads along the bottom? That is just a really nicely drawn boot. Is there an Eisner for Best Superhero Boot? Because if so, I say Van Sciver has earned it with this cover.

The interiors are pretty nice as well of course. They’re richly detailed in a way that too few of the DC comics I read ever actually are. He draws the inside of The Flash Museum the way George Perez drew the inside of the Superman museum in Legion of Three Worlds, full of little Easter Egg-y details to spot and puzzle out. He draws the city seal on the badges of the police officers, and he draws the items on the menu at the JSA luncheon. The most impressive scenes are those of super-speed though—I really dug a panel of Wally West leaving a conversation with his Titans friends to scold his kids across the room at super-speed. The way Van Sciver draws the lines, you can feel and hear Wally whirling.

So, the story? Well, Barry Allen is alive again, and everyone is happy about it. Johns’ own enthusiasm is reflected in the populace of the entire DCU; Central City is like Washington D.C. during Obama’s inauguration.

The four major super-teams are all planning welcome home parties for Barry, even the Teen Titans, none of whom have ever even met the guy, except maybe Bart Allen who, by the way, also came back to life. What’s up with that? Well, apparently Legion of Three Worlds is behind schedule (or I missed a few issues), because the last one I read featured the surprise return of Bart Allen as the cliffhanger. Here it just mentions that he came back from the future to see Barry.

(As an aside, I found it interesting that the JSA and Titans are shown prepping for their parties, with Jay Garrick and Wally West talking about how Barry inspired the hell out of them, but at Teen Titans HQ we just see Robin, Wonder Girl and Bart “Kid Flash again” Allen talking, with a mention of “the other Titans” being in Central City, and a JLA party is mentioned but never shown—is that because Johns really has no idea who is on any of those teams at this particular point in time, I wonder?)

Someone who may or may not be Libra recreates the accident that gave Barry his Flash powers to gain Flash powers, The Black Flash turns up dead, Savitar escapes the speed force and then dies, something mysterious is up with Barry and the speed force, Bart’s pissed that Barry came back instead of Max, and there’s a whole lot going on really.

Given its cast and scope, it’s definitely a big story, seemingly bigger and more relevant than Trinity or Final Crisis, so I imagine it will be well read and well regarded by DC readers. And Johns is certainly in his element here; it’s hard to conceive of anyone else even attempting a story so grounded in DCU continuity at this point.

As good as it is though, it’s not great comics or anything. It’s certainly not something that seems worth bringing Barry Allen back to life for, or like a story worth waiting twenty-some years for. But then, if you were waiting twenty-some years for the return of Barry Allen, well, I suppose just the fact that he’s finally here is all you’ll need to get excited about this comic.

Justice Society of America #25 (DC) With the exception of the villains in 52, I don’t think anyone has done anything non-stupid with the Marvel Family as long as I’ve been blogging.

Killing off the wizard Shazam who has been dead since his first appearance and only ever appeared in spiritual form? Changing Captain Marvel’s codename, physical appearance, costume and role in life? Making Captain Marvel Jr. the new Captain Marvel who is now by the way named Shazam and gets his powers not from the magic word he’s named after but from some goofy video game-like magic system I don’t understand? And the mess of Mary Marvel, which wasn’t so much that she went bad (depicted, of course, as being slutty) as the fact that she went bad like three different times for different reasons that contradict each other? Un-writing the Black Adam/Isis arc of 52?

These are the story ideas of crazy people.

DC seems to have finally acknowledged that, and this latest JSoA story arc has basically been another Geoff Johns-cleans-up-someone-else’s-narrative-mess story, although this time Johns has brought in a Marvel Family expert to help him out, Power of Shazam creator Jerry Ordway, who pencils, co-writes and co-inks the thing.

The issue mainly resets the various Marvels, doing away with a lot of the lame changes of the last few years (without even seemingly understanding them all), with a new status quo that isn’t quite where they were before Infinite Crisis, and it sure seems like something Ordway plans on following up on somewhere else.

Shazam comes back to life/is revealed to have not been dead (and he’s pissed!), Mary gets de-eviled once and for all (and is back to being powerless), Billy is no longer the wizard Marvel but is back to being a little boy (but now he’s cut off from his powers and the wizard), Black Adam and Isis are taken down and given a sort of magical/Biblical punishment (the threatened undoing of which is a cliffhanger the story ends on). And as for Freddie Freeman/Captain Marvel Jr./“Shazam”? Well, he wasn’t even in this story, but Johns and Ordway throw in a line letting readers now that yeah, that shit is gonna get fixed to. “And your friend Freddy. He has stolen my name, though his magic is from elsewhere,” Shazam yells before disappearing, “he will be dealt with.”

As someone who loves Captain Marvel and who hates shitty comics (and the changes to the Marvel family have all occurred in pretty shitty comics; Final Crisis wasn’t as bad as it was disappointing, but Mary Marvel’s role in that was somewhat contradicted by Countdown to…), I certainly took some pleasure in this story, although if I step back a few feet and tilt my head, I can see how irritating this must be to someone who thinks differently. I mean, if you’re not at all invested in a particular interpretation of these characters or the goings on of DC’s cosmology, this is basically just some pointless fussing about with minutae, walking a particular corporate franchise back in the opposite direction it was just walked in over the course of the last few years.

Ordway and Johns do tie this in to the Justice Society as much as possible. While the Marvels haven’t had anything to do with this volume of the series, Captain Marvel and Black Adam were both members of the team during the last volume, and at the center of some of the bigger conflicts during that run.

So here we see a return to Khandaq, Atom-Smasher thinking about his relationship with Courtney (dude, she’s sixteen!), Adam and Atom-Smasher’s frenemy relationship, Jay Garrick being on virtuous man, and, thematically, the JSA as a family not unlike the Marvels as a family.

It’s a somewhat unexpected note for Johns to go out on after so long on the title—these past few issues didn’t have size and scope of some of his past big arcs, like “Princes of Darkness,” for example—but it works.

Ordway’s art is downright fantastic this time out. Shazam’s big, splash-page entrance, Power Girl messing with her weird cape in the middle of a fight scene, Isis actually having nipples (I didn’t think women in the DC Universe actually had nipples), all the wild-eyed facial expressions, the way Mr. Batson visually echoes Billy and Captain Marvel…just all around great work.

The Alex Ross panty-shot cover, by the way? At no point in this entire story arc does Mary wear that costume. I guess Ross just didn’t feel like painting the J.G. Jones-designed, Desaad-in-Mary’s-body costume.

Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye #1 (DC/Vertigo) Oh Grant Morrison, I can’t stay mad at you!

Trinity #44 (DC) Well, this came out again this week, and I bought and read it.

And that's all I bought this week. Other comics did indeed come out though. I plan to cover Supermen!, Boody. and Cars: The Rookie #1, as well as recent releases The Bun Field, Hotwire: Requiem for the Dead #2 and Secret Identity between Blog@ and EDILW later this week. Speaking of which, that's more than enough writing about comics for tonight, I better get back to reading comics...


Anonymous said...

Yeah, for Spider-Man, apparently he's set something up with someone else (Slott confirmed that this wasn't Mephisto) where not only do people no longer know his identity but there's no way they can accidently/purposefully discover it on their own. For instance, lil' Kraven breaks into Spidey's apartment and finds his costume but assumes that his roommate is Spider-Man.

It's probably not going to be resolved until later this year or next year (maybe #600, but it's doubtful), but it's a background plot thread so it's not that bothersome. It's just set up so that you could follow specific arcs but at the same time there's a continuous narrative so it doesn't feel as jarring as having a different creative team every issue should.

Btw, Slott said this interview was full of nods to the Spider-Man/Human Torch mini but I only noticed the "file photo in Friends/Family" bit, did you notice any others, Caleb? Oh and speaking of the mini, I think Amazon listed it as a hardcover coming out at some point.

snell said...

I was impressed by the way Johns managed to get two whole pages into the story before the first graphic, bloody murders. Because nothing screams Silver Age Flash like on-screen ultra-violence!

Outburst said...

You're right, Barry Allen is and was boring. He idolized Jay Garrick, and let's face it, there's few characters more Boy Scout-ish right there.
But I still read The Flash all the time in the 70s and 80s, not for Barry Allen, but for The Flash and the Rogues.
I'm defending the choice to bring back Barry, I don't like it either and I think that ultimately, it's the costume, the powers and the mythology that do it for a lot of people, not the man behind the mask.
And it's nothing new to see a publisher pull a gimmick out of a hat every so often to reinvigorate interest. This one may not be hitting the mark with a lot of hardcore readers, but it is generating a fair bit of media buzz, which is fairly impressive.

Phillyradiogeek said...

Isis actually having nipples (I didn’t think women in the DC Universe actually had nipples),...

DC should take a cue from Marvel Comics then. The women in their books have nipples to spare!

Brian said...

So cranky Barry Allen is idling around a museum by himself, and then refuses to go to any one of four parties being held for him because "he can never be late again?" Isn't never showing up at all kind of the ultimate form of lateness?

And wouldn't the four superteams that want to throw a party for Uncle Fussy try to coordinate their schedules so they don't conflict with a parade, a family dinner, and three other parties?

John Cochrane said...

Why can't we go back to Marvel Family stories where the good Captain has to eat a Fawcett City's worth of gelatin? Or helping alien vegetables fix their spaceship?

Don't fix what isn't broken, I say.

Justin said...

I am not usually a guy who thinks "Man, they should _______ and REALLY mess with the fans!" because it's kind of mean-spirited and veers off into "us vs. them" territory, and frankly, I am a fan of these things, too.

But making Kyle Rayner the new Flash? Man, that would be hilarious (and, honestly, probably a lot more potentially interesting than whatever is actually going to happen).

jason quinones said...

actual mispelled quote from your flash rebirth review:

"flipping through them like a dick of cards"


"tee- hee!"

Matt Ampersand said...

I think they are releasing a collection of all those Wolverine Art Appreciation covers as part of the Hero Initiative.

Anonymous said...

There are no bad characters, just bad writers.

And poor Barry hasn't had the chance for many good writers to flesh him out because the poor guy's been dead.

And yet, the few times modern writers *have* written Barry (Cooke on NEW FRONTIER, Waid on FLASH/GL: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD... c'mon, man, the camping trip issue alone...! How can you not love Barry's over-packing for the trip?), they've actually made him a compelling, sympathetic, unique character of rich untapped potential.

That said, FLASH: REBIRTH #1 fails out of the gate by turning a character who should be the embodiment of Silver Age boyish awe and wonder and joy... and it turns him into another angst-ridden superhero. Barry Allen is not an angst hero, damn it.

And to my mind, FLASH: REBIRTH should be a joyous Silver Age experience on par with ALL-STAR SUPERMAN (another character incorrectly labeled as boring for very similar reasons, until you get a writer who gets him, as Johns so far--very disappointingly--does not seem to so far).

caleb said...

Thanks for the Spidey update, Preston. I didn't notice anything in the story that specifically referenced his miniseries.

I was impressed by the way Johns managed to get two whole pages into the story before the first graphic, bloody murders.

I was just glad they didn't mention a semen sample or rape kit when they were talking about the evidence in that lab scene.

I don't like it either and I think that ultimately, it's the costume, the powers and the mythology that do it for a lot of people, not the man behind the mask.

I think that had a lot to do with why the Wally transition took and the Hal-to-Kyle one didn't. Wally Flash had the same costume, powers and enemies so it didn't really break the mold the way other transitions did.

And wouldn't the four superteams that want to throw a party for Uncle Fussy try to coordinate their schedules so they don't conflict with a parade, a family dinner, and three other parties?

I think one big dinner with all the heroes would have been more convenient, but maybe they were afraid that would lead to an attack by villains?

I was kinda stressed out about the situation though. When I saw Ma Hunkel's salad, I was like, "Oh, that's gonna wilt..."

actual mispelled quote from your flash rebirth review:

"flipping through them like a dick of cards"

Oops. Freudian slips are things you say out loud, not mis-type, right?

And yet, the few times modern writers *have* written Barry ...they've actually made him a compelling, sympathetic, unique character of rich untapped potential.

Yeah, you know, most of the Barry Allen stories I've read where he seemed like a distinct character were period pieces, or comics set in the past, like the ones you mentioned, or JLA: Year One.

Charlie said...

"I'm Kyle Rayner and I'm the Flash, the fastest man alive."
I would BUY THE SHIT out of that, not because I like Kyle Rayner, but in support of DC making a decision to give tens of thousands of whiny Silver-Age-erists simultaneous heart attacks in their buttholes.
Mean spirited? Indubitably. But there you go.