Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Weekly Haul: June 24th

Avengers: The Initiative #25 (Marvel Comics) After five long issues, writer Christos Gage finally gets done rearranging the characters and status quo to comply with the Marvel Universe’s current “Dark Reign”-branded direction. Five 22-page issues. That’s 110 pages of who stays and who goes and what their jobs will be and why. It was all completely unnecessary, and the sort of thing that could have just occurred off-panel between issues, but then, I don’t suppose anyone reads Avengers: The Initiative for any reason other than to see Marvel’s D-through-Z-list characters appearing and occasionally sharing panel-time with A-listers. So if you read this book to see what Razorfist is up to at the moment or to find out if Tigra is going to keep her half-Skrull baby, well, here’s another 22-pages dealing with such important information.


Avengers/Invaders #12 (Marvel) Several important things happened in this issue:

—A Golden Age character is resurrected in the current Marvel Universe, and is lead away by another character I didn't know still existed in the current Marvel Universe, with no indication of where they might turn up next (although Alex Ross and company’s upcoming Human Torch series is probably a safe bet).

—It is thoroughly explained why Bucky Barnes never let go of that rocket that he and Captain America were hanging on to when they both “died.” If that was keeping you up at night.

—The Wasp reveals just how badly she sucks once again. She gets a cool, "Ah-ha, you didn't expect The Wasp to be here doing this did you, Red Skull?" moment, and then Red Skull just totally kills her in the next panel. (She lives though, since this is one of those Cosmic Cube, reality-warping stories. Well, she lives through this story, and dies later in Secret Invasion.)

—The pre-Secret Invasion team of Mighty Avengers let the pre-SI team of New Avengers, that team they’re always supposed to be hunting and trying to arrest for not complying with that law they all fought a fucking war over, off with a stern warning. Again. I’ve long since lost count; I’ve seen the Mighty Avengers let the New Avengers get away “this time” at least a half-dozen times now.


Batman: The Brave and the Bold #6 (DC) I do believe the cover tells you everything you need to know about this issue of this book, but what the hell: After a two-page team-up with a redesigned Hourman, Batman is summoned by Doom Patrol villain General Immortus (Super power? Old-ness), whose army of soldiers from the past have run amok. Batman recruits Kid Eternity (who is more like his Golden Age iteration here than anywhere else I’ve seen him in a DC comic) to supply him the appropriate hero to tackle each gang: Vigilante, Viking Prince, Shining Knight or G.I. Robot, depending on the era the bad guys have come from.

J. Torres scripts, and while not every joke of his is a side-splitter, the book is a ton of fast-paced fun, with Batman smiling and wise-cracking like the second coming of Bob Haney’s Batman. Andy Suriano and Dan Davis provide the art, and it’s absolutely perfect; a chunkier, more expressive, slightly more exaggerated version of the look of the cartoon itself.

This is only the sixth issue of the series, but Suriano is quickly proving to be “the good Batman: The Brave and the Bold artist” in the same way that Carl Barks was once “the good duck artist.” There’s just something a little different, a little better about the issues he draws versus those that he doesn’t.


Detective Comics #854 (DC) Well, I think this definitely qualifies for progress towards diversity in the DC Comics publishing line and universe, and in super-comics in general.

Writer Greg Rucka’s first issue of the comic book the company took its name from starring the newest, most Sapphic version of Batwoman is about as generic as a comic book can be. The heroine violently squeezes a criminal type for information in an alley at night. Her closest confidant and loved one tells her he’s worried she’s pushing herself too hard. She experiences relationship problems because she hasn’t told her significant other about the fact that she’s actually a superhero. She goes through a montage of beating up and threatening people in a search for information. And, at the end, a colorful villain appears, and we’re given a more or less standard cliffhanger ending.

It’s basically a cookie cutter sort of street-level, vigilante-style comic book scripting. In this particular story, Batwoman could just as easily be Batman or Daredevil, Catwoman or Nightwing. Which is actually kind of cool, given that she is a lesbian. This comic is literally about a superhero who just happens to be a lesbian, and you can’t ask for more from that in terms of diversity and quality in the DCU or DC’s line of books set there.

If Rucka’s story is nothing special really, there are no real problems with it either. It picks up on plot points from 2006’s 52—the religion of crime, specifically—but in such a casual way that if one hasn’t read that story, it’s unlikely to matter one bit. If this is one’s first exposure to Batwoman, one should get along fine in terms of making sense of the comic. (Even the bit with Batman is handled well; he’s only in about a half-dozen panels, and it hardly matters whether he’s Bruce Wayne or Dick Grayson or Dick Tracy in the suit).

What does make the comic special is J.H. Willaims III’s art. Put as simply as I can, this is the work of his career so far. His Batwoman is absolutely perfectly drawn. Her body moves and looks like a real body, her clothes and cape fall over her body like real materials would, and her costume is so well-designed you can actually see how she must put it on and take it off.

His lay-outs are also pretty incredible. They’re definitely show-y, but not in a way that buries Rucka’s slight story. Rather, they make every page look as purposefully designed as a stained glass window, and move the eye around just so. Maybe Rucka’s story isn’t about much of anything fresh or new or exciting—other than a fact that in 2009 you can have a generic superhero in a generic story be a lesbian—but Williams’ art fills in all that empty space perfectly, so it hardly matters.

This is one of DC’s $3.99, back-up-having books, and, in a packaging decision that’s sure to win Rucka one of those goofy GLAAD comic book awards, the back-up is Rucka writing DC’s other street-level lesbian crimefighter, Renee “The Question II” Montoya.

This story is even more slight, by virtue of only being eight-pages-long and by virtue of coming second; the opening scene is almost the exact same as a scene in the story that precedes it. I’ve never much cared for this version of The Question, which simply took two more interesting characters and combined them into a single, less interesting one, nor her design. Artist Cully Hamner does a decent job with Montoya-as-Question (and her certainly tells a good story through his art), but even her new-ish and improved design here pales in comparison to the original Question look. (UPDATE: Now, if you want to read a really good review of this issue of TEC, go check out Jog's right now)


Gotham City Sirens #1 (DC) Between reading this comic and sitting down to pound out a few paragraphs about it, I was asked if I could review it for Newsarama.com, so I guess I’ll hold most of my fire and/or praise for that piece. On the positive side, I really like Guillem March’s art. On the negative side, I like Paul Dini’s writing less and less the longer I’m exposed to it, and was surprised that this wasn’t more user-friendly, given it’s the first issue of a new title (it seems particularly opaque when read right after TEC, which similarly refers to stories form a while ago but does so in a way that doesn't make the reader feel like they're missing a page or something). It’s basically a DCU continuity-heavy titillation comic, along the lines of Jim Balent’s Catwoman, only with less pretense about being an action/adventure comic (Harley Quinn, for example, wears a naughty school girl costume throughout the book, for absolutely no reason, and there's a bondage scene featuring Dini’s own fetish object Zatanna).

But if you’re already interested in the goings-on of Gotham City and it’s colorful characters, this isn’t bad at all, and the only truly skeevy moment was an offhanded comment about pedophilia/child-rape which, um, Dini devoted a scene in last week’s Streets of Gotham to dwelling on.

Gotham City Sirens seems to be dedicated to being the cheesecake version of Streets of Gotham, only with a different, more exciting artist. I don’t say better because March and Dustin Nguyen are both excellent artists; if I had to choose one’s book to read though, it would probably be March's, based simply on the fact that I’ve seen so many fewer of his comics.

Huh. I was trying to be super-brief and I still managed to go on for three paragraphs. Check out Newsarama.com later tonight or tomorrow for something more in the six to eight paragraph range. (UPDATE: Okay, here's my review on Newsarama. Be sure to read the comments too, if can stand to. My favorite so far is from "HalJordan2814"—that's the name of the Silver Age Green Lantern followed by his space sector(!!!)—who wants to know how a comics critic can criticize a comic if he doesn't read the ones that comic ties into, even if he's tried them and hated them. Because the critic doesn't like spending time and money on things he doesn't like, lol?)


Green Lantern #42 (DC) A couple weeks ago in a piece at Blog@ about how pleasantly surprised that the Dick Grayson-becomes-Batman story in Batman and Robin wasn’t just “Prodigal” reprised, I said this about the artist scheduled to follow Frank Quitely on the title:

I hate to over-praise this team, since they get so much praise already but, well, it’s really hard to overpraise them, as they really are that good. Their Batman and Robin #1 wasn’t their very best collaboration so far, but it was damn sight better than any Batman comics since Morrison collaborated with J.H. Williams III for a couple issues, and, because Quitely’s work is relatively rare (and Morrison working with an artist who meshes with his style perfectly is so rare), the launch of the new Batman feels special.

This won’t be anything DC can maintain for long, as Quitely’s only due to stick around for two more issues before the guy drawing a Green Lantern arc for Geoff Johns in a poor-man’s Jim Lee style comes aboard, but for the launch at least the company gave the impression that they were bringing out the big guns.

I was kind of surprised that several commenters disagreed so thoroughly with that statement, and seemed offended that I suggested that artist Phillip Tan is no Frank Quitely, and that he’s not working in a poor-man’s Jim Lee style.

So this issue I tried to pay even more attention to Tan’s art, and, well, it’s nothing at all special.

Granted, it may have something to do with the script.

There are no characters that aren’t wearing a variation of the Green Lantern uniform. There are hardly any backgrounds, and the few that are there seem computer created (most of the book is set in a dark cave, inside a crystal or in space, though). There aren’t any objects, other than rings and power battery lanterns. There are no emotions even, aside from yelling (if we consider “yelling” an emotion).

So I don’t know, maybe Tan will produce a knockout couple of issues of Batman and Robin, but there’s certainly no evidence that he has the particular skill sets and/or sill levels of Quitely, and will succeed at drawing a Morrison script, something faaarrrr too few artists seem able to accomplish.

Of course, Tan is only one of the pencillers on this issue; the other is Eddy Barrows, and I honestly can’t tell who did what, despite there being two different inkers and two different colorists (I’m pretty sure Barrows did the whole epilogue and a couple of splashes, but I can't tell what he didn’t do, if that makes sense). It’s really just an ugly mess, made uglier for certain panels being colored differently to look as if they were painted, panels apparently chosen for the dramatic events within.

Anyway, I’m unconvinced Blog@Newsarama.com posters; this issue seems to indicate that Tan just isn’t very good at all, and certainly isn’t punching in Quitely’s weight class.

As for the story? Oh, well, Hal puts his hand right back on, decides Larfleeze looks like Gonzo (he doesn’t, but after he says that I started reading his lines in Gonzo’s voice), Hal becomes an Orange Lantern for like three panels, the GLs fight the OLs, the OLs fight the Blue Lanterns, and Green Lantern Ashel Sabian Formanta writes a letter home to his wife, which is pretty fun to read if you imagine the music from Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary playing in the background as you do.


The Incredible Hercules #130 (Marvel) Oh damn, Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente did it again. You know, that thing they occasionally do with this title, when they occasionally transcend the perfectly entertaining action comedy meshing Marvel superheroics with Greek mythology? Here it’s Zeus’ defiant speech about the utility of the continued existence of God, his closing argument in a trial conducted by Pluto to decide his brother’s fate. It…it’s really quite good. No, it’s great. It’s great comics.

The art is generally very decent on Incredible Hercules, but when I read an issue like this, I really wish Pak and Van Lente had a regular partner to visually define the incredibly strong, occasionally transcendental work they’re doing.


Justice Society of America #28 (DC) You know, maybe it’s not the fact that The Spectre III has a goatee that bothers me so much as the type of goatee he now sports. Lots of mystical, magical types have goatees after all, so I guess there’s no reason The Spectre can’t have one, but, if he’s going to, I think he really needs to grow it out, so that he has a discernable moustache and a pointy goatee that extends away from the surface of his chin. Something more Mephistophelean, basically.

This is really, really, really weird, and consists mostly of the teams Three Old Men quickly, verbosely and defensively rationalizing the dropping at atomic weapons on Japan at the close of World War II, with an epilogue in which they again conspire to protect Stargirl’s virtue from a teammate.

How old are Stargirl and Atom-Smasher supposed to be, anyway? She’s in highschool, and I imagine he would have to be at least in his late twenties, which is obviously in the too-old-for-her category, but he seems to think he’s not too old for her, so maybe he’s supposed to be, like, 20 or 21…?

By the way, Jerry Ordway, who wrote this amusingly complicated and goofy-ass story, draws nice comic books.

The new guys of Bill “Wrote Salvaton Run” Willingham, Matt “Also wrote Salvation Run” Sturges and Jesus Merino take over from Ordway, which is kinda too bad. Particularly since I don’t know what Ordway’s next assignment for DC will be. Give him something good you guys!


Runaways #11 (Marvel) This is the first issue by the all-new, all-female creative team of writer Kathryn Immonen (Patsy Walker: Hellcat) and Sara Pichelli (“Molli-fest Destiny” in Runaways #10) and I am relieved to report that it’s really, really good.

The team, whom I lost track of during the previous Terry Moore-helmed run, and thus I’m not sure where Xavin went, now live in Malibu, and Immonen takes her time introducing them each with an individual one-page sequence before the title.

Immonen defines each of the characters very well, and I was happy to hear so many of them talking like real people, something they didn’t even do when their creator Brian K. Vaughan was writing them (Rather, they spoke in a self-consciously Whedon-esque slang, which BKV wrote well, but most of the other people who attempted to write them couldn’t quite capture as effortlessly. Including, oddly enough, Joss Whedon himself).

Most of the issue is devoted to re-introducing the characters and letting readers get to know them (or get reacquainted with them, as the case may be), making it a fairly perfect jumping on point. The older kids—Karolina, Nico, Chase and Victor—are organizing their own prom, which is a rather lame prom, what with only four people in attendance, and then something unexpected and pretty bad for the kids occurs, and my favorite Runaway is seemingly killed off.

I say seemingly because I hope this member of the team survives, as I don’t think I’m the only one who counts this member as my favorite, or among my favorite. But the cover does say “One Will Die, One Will Live Again,” so… (Is it bad that I was hoping it was Klara who would die?)

I can’t say enough good things about Pichelli’s art; under Christina Strain’s colors, this might be the best-looking of Marvel’s ongoings at the moment. Each page’s art is smooth and bright, full of characters who have a cartoony accent, but never the less occupy space, have weight, and seem to move, think and act like real human beings. Even the pet dinosaur is convincingly pet dinosaur-like, and I have no idea how a pet dinosaur should look and move.

Welcome back to my pull-list, Runaways.


Superman #689 (DC) James Robinson is really writing a serial comics story here, and every issue reads like a next chapter, with a few of the half-dozen or so ongoing plots taking a few steps forward each month. That’s not a bad thing, hell, it’s how serial comics are supposed to work, really, especially the way Robinson is writing it—the individual books each have a distinct beginning and end, so it’s not like you’re reading one-sixth of a graphic novel, so much as you’re watching the next episode of your favorite soap opera.

It does make writing about it a little hard to write about though. It’s still pretty good…? Renato Guedes still draws super-good?

In this issue, while The Guardian/Tellus, Sam Lane and Codename: Assassin and Steel/Atlast threads are all advanced, in between Mon-El takes some time to see the sites of the world, which means he keeps finding other superheroes to team-up with and villains to fight in each locale.

There are plenty of cameos here, most of them of fairly obscure characters, and plenty of whom I don’t recognize, which means either that Robinson has created a couple of new characters here, or he must know like every DC character ever, because I read a small stack of these things every week, and I never heard of some of these guys.

Oh, and yes, that is Congorilla on the cover. He and Freedom Beast team-up with Mon-El to fight poachers on one splash-page.

9 comments:

Kid Kyoto said...

I think your review of the Initiative is a bit unfair. I mean ANYTHING can be done off panel, it's like saying an issue long Sipderman-Doc Ock fight is a waste that could have been done in a panel so the issue could focus on Aunt May and Peter.

The question I have is are the transition stories interesting, do they make sense, do they add to the characters?

esteban138 said...

I completely agree with your point about Dini... I mean, we all grew up watching Batman: the Animated Series, but the more of his comic work I read, the more the evident the fact that all the best DCAU stories were adaptations of comics.

That said, I don't see what you see in March, at least here. I generally have the same taste in artists as you (with some exceptions, obviously), but all his women have this elongated, stretched-out quality to them... which is a problem given the subject matter of the title. (Now, put him in a gothic horror book ala Kelley Jones and I'd call it a lock, but...)

Josue said...

Hi Caleb, here´s how u put the search bar @ the blog:

1.You go to your blog´s desktop (blogger.com/home).

2. Go to design, and there to the tab of elements of the page

3.Add a gadget

4.There you can choose, I think it would be great if you choose the tag list and the new google bar, if you fail I´ll help you again :P

BTW, yes! that was it, cosmic oddyssey thanks a lot!

P.S.

Sorry 4 going offtopic again

Hdefined said...

"His Batwoman is absolutely perfectly drawn. Her body moves and looks like a real body, her clothes and cape fall over her body like real materials would, and her costume is so well-designed you can actually see how she must put it on and take it off."

I'm not arguing the merits of Williams' art - he is very amazing. What I don't understand is why realism and realistic art is necessarily such a great thing. I could, in a heartbeat, spew out two dozen names of incredible artists whose styles are as far from realistic as can be. Is Williams great because everything looks realistic, or because everything looks DYNAMIC?

Hdefined said...

"I’ve seen so many fewer of his comics."

I think the word you were looking for was "few."

caleb said...

K.K.,

You've got a point. For the most part, anything can happen off-panel. With this storyline, however, I felt like most of what was going on could have happened off-panel, and the it would have been the same story, only shorter. It felt a lot like one of those JSA issues where half the team leaves and a new half the team comes in, only longer, if that makes sense.

I don't know, did it work for you?


Esteban,

Mayb I'll someday devote a whole post to what I like about March (I think this is the longest I've written about him so far: http://blog.newsarama.com/2009/04/30/in-defense-of-guillem-march/), but I admit some of it is grading on a curve. Like, compared to other DC artists who draw "sexy" women (Ed Benes), or some of the other folks drawing Batman the last year or so, he seems like Leonard Da Vininci.

LurkerWithout said...

Xavin on Runaways: Karolina's relatives showed up, all angry about whatever the hell Karolina/Xavin did when they were in space. Then some fighting. Then Karolina agreed to go back with them to go on trial, but Xavin secretly knocked her out and took her place...

Maddy said...

Uh, I think you mean Dustin Nguyen, not Tom Nguyen, when talking about Streets of Gotham.

Caleb said...

Maddy,

Yes, yes I did. I fixed it. Thanks.