Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Weekly Haul: May 13th

Captain Britain and MI13 #13 (Marvel Comics) Well, that was a rather unexpected turn of events: Dracula and his vampire army seem to kill everyone on the team except the magically exiled Captain Britain and Blade, and then completely conquer the United Kingdom, which has been shut off from aid from the rest of the world. Paul Cornell’s plotting throughout this arc has been pretty impressive, as he economically tells a big, giant super-war story and balances the big picture stuff with more personal character moments.

I hope some of the characters that seem to have died in this issue do actually pull through, as my two favorites are among those presumed KIA. That’s one of the advantages a book like Captain Britain has over more marketable team books like the many Avengers and X-Men books; there’s no real drama or suspense in threatening to kill Spider-Man or Iron Man or Cyclops or whoever, because every reader knows Marvel’s not actually going kill any one who might possibly be in a movie some day, and even if Captain America or The Wasp do die, everyone knows they’ll be back.

But it’s not like Pete Wisdom, Black Knight, Faiza, Spitfire or anyone in this book has much of a chance of being in a movie or spinning off into their own ongoing title or anything, so if any of them die, dead might actually mean dead.

I think that’s one reason I so enjoy books like this or Agents of Atlas or Avengers: The Initiative. They’re so much less cynically produced that the reading experience offers more genuine escapism, and it’s easier to get sucked into the stories without thinking about Joe Quesada interviews or Marvel marketing in the back of my mind.

Lockjaw and The Pet Avengers #1 (Marvel) I was—no joke—totally looking forward to this miniseries, which features The Inhumans’ giant, slobbery bulldog with a tuning fork in his head for some reason teaming up with various animal superheroes and sidekicks. I wasn’t at all disappointed, which in and of itself is something of an accomplishment on the creators’ parts (I mean, I was reeaaalllly looking forward to this).

So, you know the Infinity Gems? Yeah, I didn’t really either, but there’s a handy explanation of what they are and what they each do where Marvel usually puts its recap pages, and then we’re on the moon, with Reed Richards explaining to Medusa and Blackbolt why he needs to find and collect them.

Lockjaw beats him to it though, finding the “mind gem” (which will make cross-species communication easier), and then using his teleportation powers to start rounding up animal heroes. He starts in Central Park, where he finds an all-new Frog Thor (“Throg”), whom works as Lockjaws pitchman, recruiting the others: Lockjaw, X-Man Kitty Pryde’s dragon, morose over her apparent death; Redwing, the haughty falcon sidekick of Captain America’s one-time sidekick The Falcon; Hairball, Speedball’s pet cat who shares his powers*; and Ms. Lion, the fuzzy little super power-less dog whom I’m not at all familiar with in the comics, but I remember from the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends cartoon of my youth.

This first issue involves little more than introducing the characters and their quest, with the new character Throg getting the most attention, by way of a five-page flashback origin sequence drawn by Colleen Coover. It’s all quite competently done though, and each of the characters is given their own distinct (if one-note) personality and voice, with the exception of Lockjaw, who as the only character who doesn’t speak out loud, remains inscrutable.

I may have lowered my standards to the point where clearly defined characters being introduced in an easy-to-understand manner and given an easy to comprehend task strikes me as impressive, but then, that’s natural given that this is one of those comics that seems to be a Marvel Adventures comic in all but name.

Ig Guara, whose work I’ve come to know and like during his MA Avengers run, draws the story, and handles human and animal characters equally well. Chris Eliopoulos, who writes those Franklin Richards comics (none of which I’ve ever read), is the person responsible for the winning script.

Part of me wishes I could have just waited for a trade, as Niko Henrichon’s variant covers, showing the individual animal heroes teamed with their human hero equivalents or masters, are so gorgeous looking, but I don’t think I would have been able to resist the singles, especially since Marvel is pricing them like MA books ($2.99) instead of like a Marvel Universe mini ($3.99).

(Confidential to whoever designed the logo: I love the “Lockjaw” portion; bravo.)

Savage Dragon #148 (Image Comics) Some notes on this issue:

—Were Alex Ross and Dynamite having a contest with Erik Larsen and Image in order to see who could do a more readable version of the Golden Age version of Daredevil? Because if so, Larsen and Image win. Based on the backpage text-piece that appears here, Dynamite seems to have used the original, mute origin of the character, whereas Larsen patterened his take after a later, cooler version. That’s good news. I was bored into submission by the first four issues of Project: Superpowers and Death Defying ‘Devil #1, but I could definitely stand to read more issues of this Daredevil.

—Both Dynamite’s version and Larsen’s version still fall far short of the original, however. There’s a story in Fantagraphics’ Supermen! that puts both of these stories to shame.

—I’ve always like the idea of Savage Dragon and admired Larsen’s commitment to the book and its longevity, but, despite my love/hate relationship with his art (which I think is great and terrible at the same time, but like more and more the more I experience it), I’ve never been able to get on board with the series. I try issues here and there, when they have Madman or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or George Bush getting punched out on the cover, but each time I’m repelled by how inaccessible the stories are. This time however, I found the issue rather easy to follow, perhaps due in large part to the somewhat smart-ass, ten-word “Previously in Savage Dragon…” recap, the origin comparison between Daredevil and S.D., and the four-page summary of the entire series so far that followed the story (apparently from the FCBD offering). So of the four or five issues of the book I’ve tried before, I declare this one the very best.

—I’ve always seen a lot of Jack Kirby in Larsen’s work, and The King is obviously an inspiration Larsen doesn’t try to hide at all, and this issue seemed particularly Kirby-esque, given the amount of rooftop and alley brawling, in which Daredevil is splayed out in the sort of savage, kinetic poses Kirby used in his combat scenes. Also, there’s a Newsboy Legion style kid gang, which certainly kept Kirby in mind while I was reading this.

—Does Savage Dragon ever get trade-collected? I’m curious about the prior appearances of Daredevil in the series, but I’m not sure if I should wait for a trade, or seek out back issues.

—Are you still allowed to smoke in Chicago bars?

—I thought it was extremely weird that Savage Dragon, who is a police officer with a uniform and everything, travels the city by running around on the rooftops, like a vigilante character. Doesn’t he get a patrol car?

—This is $3.50, which is fifty-one cents more than I’d normally want to pay for a super-comic, but it’s a pretty good package. A 20-page lead story, a two-page letter column, a four-page panel-and-narration-box recap of the series, a four-page, a six-page chapter of a back-up feature, and a one-page text piece on the history of the Daredevil character, with no ads. That’s a damn good value, actually.

—If Image is selling books for $3.50, why did Marvel jump past the $3.50 price point and right into $3.99 for so many of their books?

Secret Six #9 (DC) This is the first issue of a comic with the “Battle For The Cowl” logo across the top I’ve read since the really, really rather bad Battle for the Cowl #1, and it seems to have as little to do with that story as most of the other BFTC-branded books, the only thing tying them to the “OMG Batman is missing and Gotham’s in chaos again!” storyline of the main miniseries being that a) it is set in Gotham and b) Batman is not in it.

Which is fine by me, since I read Secret Six monthly because I like reading Secret Six, not because I was trying to read everything with a BFTC logo across the top. (If I picked this up just because of the latter reason though, I’d probably be irritated, although, at this point, I guess completists will have already picked up on the fact that most of the tie-ins are on the unnecessary side).

I rather liked this issue, as Gail Simone does another done-in-one, character-focused issue following up on last issue’s double-date story, this one involving the three team members who weren’t featured in that issue.

So the Six were hired to get involved with a child-kidnapping scene in Gotham, but Bane decides it would be a better idea to kill the kidnappers and save the kids (Perhaps because of his own origin, as a child unjustly punished by adults…?). He, Catman and Ragdoll (half-disquised in a Robin costume over his own costume, and referring to himself as “the He/She Wonder”) spend 22 pages killing badguys in Gotham, while Bane and Catman each defensively explain to one another how they don’t want to be the new Batman, and how the other is even more unqualified than they are.

And then the guy who probably is going to be the new Batman (they even use his costume colors in the BFTC logo!) makes a brief appearance.

Before heading to the shop this afternoon, I happened to read Marc-Oliver Frisch’s monthly analysis of DC’s sales , so the fact that this is selling rather poorly was fresh in my mind as I read it (According to the numbers Frisch uses, Secret Six currently sells a little over 24K a month, which is a full 10K below what Oracle: The Cure #1 sold, and is even being outsold by the re-booted-every-third-issue-Outsiders).

And I think that’s rather disappointing, as this would seem to be exactly what DC’s audience is looking for these days. In addition to being one of the better-illustrated and most sharply-written of their super-books, it features a great deal of black humor and the sort of casual violence and gore that runs rampant in the DCU, only here it’s perfectly appropriate. If it seems…off in Teen Titans, Green Lantern or books with Superman in them, it seems quite natural in a book featuring a team of assassins, murderers and psychopaths who are (at least in this issue) engaged in battling a small army of machine-gun toting would-be child murderers.

This is moral relativism, brutal violence and occasional decapitation done right, with sex jokes! Why isn’t this at least doing Robin/Nightwing level sales?

Oh well. I’m comforted to see that Jonah Hex, Booster Gold, R.E.B.E.L.S. and Vigilante are all selling even worse, so if DC decides to cull any books in the near future, they won’t start with Secret Six.

Trinity #50 (DC) This issue is a pretty good example of the way in which Trinity has been a story specifically written for the weekly format. That is, this particular issue is pretty dull—dealing with it does with the godlike Krona arguing with the personification of the Earth’s “worldsoul” and then, later, the godlike title characters. If I had waited a month for this issue, and knew I’d have to wait another month for the next one, I could see having my interest in the title wane to the point I’d be looking to see if my $2.99 weren’t better spent elsewhere. But since I only waited seven days for it, and know it will be only seven more before the next issue, these sorts of slower, duller issues don’t really seem that discouraging.

And when I say it’s dull, it’s not because I demand a certain amount of punching and kicking every 22 pages, or because Kurt Busiek is writing a bad script necessarily, I just don’t really have much interest in the character of Krona.

So anyway, last issue Krona ripped the Earth to pieces and killed everyone on it in his quest for knowledge, and know he talks with the Earth’s soul and gets all his answers, but isn’t happy with the result. Mark Bagley draws eleven pages that bookend the Krona/Worldsoul conversation, which is drawn by Scott McDaniel, whose messy, abstracted style actually works perfectly for a conversation between to anthropomorphic energy cloud shapes.

Only two more issues to go, at which point I’d like to talk at greater length about the series, its strengths and weaknesses, and why it seems to have done much more poorly with the audience for DC’s weeklies than the first two (beyond the obvious reason, the law of diminishing returns/dissatisfaction with the bait-and-switch Countdown).

Ultimate Spider-Man #132 (Marvel) Well Jeph Loeb hasn’t quite destroyed the Ultimate Universe yet, but he seems to have done a number on USM’s shipping schedule. Has this book ever been late before? Not only has USM been the most punctual and consistent ongoing monthly super-book for the last 130 issues or so, it was for a while shipping on a faster-than-monthly schedule.

Until this issue, anyway. USM #131 came out in February, making this about two months late. According to artist Stuart Immonen, it’s been ready for a while now, so I guess it must have something to do with Ultimatum falling so far behind schedule, and Marvel not wanting to ship this before a certain chapter of the story it tied into? (A five-issue series that launched in January, Ultimatum should be wrapping up this month, but the fourth issue isn’t scheduled for release until June, while #3 shipped back in March).

If that is the case, I’m not sure I understand the rationale. The tie-in has been on the confusing side, since whatever it is exactly that’s driving the string of disaster’s Spidey and New York are faced with in these last few issues occurred in a different book I’m not reading, but otherwise nothing in this particular issue seemed contingent on anything new happening in another book (Or did Spidey meet that pink energy being that possesses Dr. Strange in Ultimatum #3? Because I just assumed it was a character he met in one of the Doc Strange appearances in USM?)

*Hey, I haven’t seen “Dark Speedball” character Penance anywhere lately. Did he get killed off or something? Because a little cat-version of his leather and spike, BDSM Penance costume might look cool on a cat.


LurkerWithout said...

There are..14 or 15 Savage Dragon trades I believe. Not counting collections of various minis and team-ups...

Penance got bushwacked by Moonstone at the end of Gage's run on Thunderbolts. I think she dumped his drugged body into the Negative Zone prison. Which would imply that King Blastaar (since he took over the prison in "guardians of the Galaxy") has him now...

Dean said...

As I recall, "P-Cat, the Penitent Puss" was introduced in the Deadpool/Great Lakes Avengers Civil War special. Also, I'm fairly sure that there's been at least one phonebook-size Savage Dragon collection, as well as the trades.

Medraut said...

Re: Can you still smoke in Chicago bars?

No you can't. In fact, you can no longer smoke in bars anywhere in Illinois.

Anonymous said...

No Green Lantern Corps?? :-(

Also, did I just see your Thursday post before it's Thursday?

googum said...

I thought the cat's name was Niles? I loved his brief appearance in an old New Warriors issue with the Mad Thinker: captured, Speedball is more concerned with how the hell the Thinker managed to catch that damn cat.

Unknown said...

Actually, Speedball's cat is named Niels, not Niles.

And that's the post-CW version :D

nicholas said...

i think erik larsen is working on reissuing the sd trades in a newer format, and i think he's pushing to get the trades as close to caught up with the single issues as he can.
as far as daredevil goes, this is his first appearnce in sd.

Bella's owner said...


Thanks and thanks.


Oh yeah, I even read that book. As soon as you mentioned "Penitent Puss" it came rushing back to me.


Then Erik Larsen totally screwed up that bar scene! Or else Savage Dragon has a real laid back approach to enforcing the smoking rules.


No, I tried GLC for a while, but despite liking the art and some of the characters I couldn't afford it. I assume I'll catch up in trade eventually. And you probably did see my Thursday night post; I tried setting it to automatically publish without me, and apparently did it wrong.

Josh and Googum,

Yeah, it's Niels. As he explains in a Speedball-like yellow-bordered dialogue balloon, "I used to be Niels, but if my master can call himself Speedball after our accident, I can be hairball." I would have went with something less gross, like Speedcat, but maybe cats think hairballs are cool.