Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Weekly Haul: June 3rd

Agents of Atlas #6 (Marvel Comics) So here we’ve got one of those two great tastes that go great together types of situations. The Agents, wanting to get to the bottom of all this “Dark Reign” business, visit Namor, who is a bit of a prick to them, and there is also some fighting.

Not as big of a prick nor as much fighting as there’d be in, say, an ideal Namor comic, but then, my ideal Namor comic would be like the old Marvel Team-Up, only instead of The Thing it would star Namor, and instead of Team-Up it would be called Punch-Up.

Writer Jeff Parker does an awfully good job with the Atlantis stuff, in the sort of “I thought hard about what I’m writing and have some neat, logical ideas about the subject which I will now share with you” way that can make superhero comics so appealing when it’s done well.

The art this month is by Gabriel Hardman, which is a totally badass name, and it’s quite good. I haven’t cared for the visual side of this book a whole lot thus far, but Jana Schirmer’s colors work out okay on Hardman’s art, perhaps owing to the unearthly setting and strange light sources in it making such textured coloring seem more appropriate than that of other issues have on the surface.

Batman and Robin #1 (DC Comics) Experienced in a vacuum, this is a really rather good superhero comic book, perhaps even a remarkably good one. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, or prove a valentine to the wheel the way that the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely creative team’s previous book did, but then, this is an entirely different beast—an in-continuity Batman comic beholden to the DCU comics line in a way All-Star Superman was excepted from.

Following Morrison’s own run on Batman, it seems like a masterpiece, as not only does it have Morrison at his sharpest on one of the easiest characters and concepts he’s ever tackled, but he’s finally paired with a real comics artist. Not only can Quitely draw very well and not only is he an incredible designer, but, unlike Morrison’s previous collaborator on the character, Quitely also knows the first thing about drawing comic books, a rather important bit of knowledge you’d expect a comic artist hired to work with Grant Morrison on Batman to have.

I wonder how this reads following Battle For the Cowl and its sundry tie-ins, though. DC has spent hundreds of pages on explaining things like what Commissioner Gordon thinks about Batman disappearing and what Man-Bat is up to and how long it would take the most obvious candidate to finally replace Batman, and Morrison and Quitely just answer all your questions either directly or through implication with a half a line of dialogue here or there (Well, all of your reasonable questions; no mention of what Man-Bat thinks about all this in the issue). Batman an Robin #1 mainly renders everything that happened since Final Crisis in the Bat-books (with the possible exception of the Neil Gaiman two-parter) superfluous and meaningless; if anything, all those tie-ins probably hurt this book, as it makes the characters all seem more inconsistent (The Dick Grayson and Damian al Ghul in this book may seem like the one’s from “Batman R.I.P.,” but they don’t’ seem at all like the ones in Battle For the Cowl, for example). (That, by the way, held true for “Batman R.I.P.” as well. The various tie-ins only contradicted each other and muddied the waters).

So what have we here? A new Batman, a new Robin, a new Batmoblie, a new (old) Batcave, new villains and a new dynamic between the new dynamic duo, and it’s all written sharply and economically, and it’s all expertly designed and rendered.

It’s basically a perfect Batman comic book, which is something of a feat given the fact that neither Bruce Wayne nor any of the regular Bat-villains.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Tales of the Vampires (Dark Horse Comics) You want to know a deep, dark secret that might cost me some nerd cred in your eyes? I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the TV show* (I did watch the movie though, because it had Luke Perry in it). I’m not ignorant of the show, and am actually fairly conversant in it, on account of one of my old roommates having gone through a phase where he watched the whole damn thing on FX in a matter of months, but I could never get into it enough to, like, ever actually watch it.

In theory it seems like a show I would dig—I like high school drama, melodrama and comedy, and I liked a lot of the actors from their film roles and/or previous television shows—but there was an air of artificiality to it that repelled me (like Gilmore Girls, everyone talked in the same, unnatural voice) and the cosmology was a bit of a turn-off (like, these particular vampire “rules,” and the way they looked and so on).

I tried some of the comics a while back, long before this “Season 8” stuff started, and those were just dreadful, although I received a review copy of Wolves at the Gate, the Slayers vs. Dracula and Japanese vampires arc, and I really rather dug that.

So, long story long, I’m something of a Buffy virgin. Maybe a Buffy technical virgin? Or just not all that experienced?

So I don’t know if this is “important” or how to rate it against the usual Buffy fare, although it seems to me that it’s perfectly accessible as a standalone read, and didn’t seem to have anything at all to do with Buffy shows or comics to me, beyond two prose paragraphs on the inside front cover saying it has something to do with Harmony, a reality TV show and the fact that Slayers are the new vampires in American culture, I guess…?

As to why I even bothered with this one-shot, it’s written by Becky Cloonan, drawn by Vasilis Lolos and featured a cover by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, so, you know, that’s a creative team well worth following around.

The contents were A-OK. Nothing terribly revolutionary, or even anything I haven’t seen (repeatedly) before, but there’s nothing particularly wrong or weak about it either.

A highschooler named Jacob lives in a terrible small town where the only place open after 9 p.m. is an arcade. His only thrill, beyond playing videogames there, is letting local vampires suck blood from him (Why do vampires hang around a town with no nightlife at all? I don’t know). Then a new vampire girl moves to town, and things get more complicated for Jacob.

And that’s about it. It’s a decent enough teen vampire comic book, a perfectly okay story with nothing wrong with it. You need not know a damn thing about Buffy to appreciate it, although I suppose the downside for people who are only interested in this because it’s a Buffy comic might find that fact disappointing. That is, if you’re only eagerly following along with the Season 8 book to see what Joss Whedon had planned for his characters, I imagine you might find this book completely inessential.

Justice Society of America #27 (DC) How unimportant are the issues of a comic book that fall between the end of one writer’s run and the beginning of the next writers’ run? Apparently unimportant enough that I totally forgot to even pick this up last week, when it was originally released.

It’s written and illustrated by Jerry Ordway, and inked by Bob Wiacek, so obviously it looks great. The story is pretty well done too. There’s an awful lot of talking, plenty of call-backs to old DC stories (it opens with an Infinity Inc. splash page, and features various Ininitors talking to one another), some good old-fashioned suspense, and poor under-used Obsidian actually gets a lot of panel-time.

I kinda wish Ordway was the new creative team, as I have a lot more faith in his abilities than those of the new writing team he’s just kinda marking time for at the moment.

Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye #3 (DC/Vertigo) The same day Batman and Robin launches, signaling Grant Morrison’s return to the superhero salt mines, the last issue of his Seaguy sequel series ships. It’s a sweet and rather romantic ending, although I wonder if that undercuts the previous mediations on the desire for happiness and the way people ravage themselves, each other and their world to get it. But I honestly didn’t think too hard about it, simply enjoying Cameron Stewart’s art and lines like “Autoraptor! Death-eye engage!”

Secret Six #10 (DC) After a pair of quite light-hearted, done-in-one issues, writer Gail Simone launches a new, darker, heavier arc dealing with…slavery (Also: Drug addiction. And sooo much wanton slaughter). And that’s all well and good; Simone can write darker and heavier okay, Nicola Scott can certainly draw it, and these characters work well in such a milieu.

Of special note may be the fact that Deadshot may have been a Viking with the same mustache in a past life, and that former replacement Wonder Woman Artemis shows up, in some sort of mind-control and/or power dampening bondage rig.

Can I make a special request here? Next time we get to see a Bane dream sequence, can we get an Osito cameo? Because that would be fantastic.

(Confidential to whoever did this month’s cover: I think you forgot, like, a third of Deadshot’s arm there.)

Ultimate Spider-Man #133 (Marvel) Wow, fuck you Marvel Comics.

This is the very last issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, the ongoing series that launched in late 2000 and has run for almost nine years now, with all 133 of those issues being written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by just two pencil artists, Mark Bagley (who drew the first six years or so) and then Stuart Immonen.

Anyway you look at it, the longevity of the title, and the longevity of the creators on the title, is a remarkable achievement in modern comics.

With the series ending, one might expect a sense of closure, given that Bendis invested a decade of his life into it, and fans a decade of theirs, plus three dollars every month (or more, considering the book often shipped more than monthly, and then there were annuals and spin-offs).

One might be extremely disappointed to find nothing of the sort here. Neither Peter Parker or Spider-Man even appear in this issue. At the end of #132, the Hulk was trying to smash a glowing orb of pink energy in which Dr. Strange stored supernatural menaces, in the ruins of New York City, which was destroyed in another comic (the unreadable miniseries Ultimatum). Spider-Man (and Bendis and Immonen) have been dealing with the disaster being explained in that other series for the last few issues, and apparently decided to end the series doing so.

This issue offers 22 silent, dialogue-free pages (making it probably the quickest read of the series since that one mostly silent issue of the Black Cat arc), in which the following occurs: There’s a pink mushroom cloud of magic energy, the Hulk chases Spider-Woman around, the Hulk fights some helicopters, Kitty Pryde and Spider-Woman rescue some survivors and find a ripped up Spider-Man mask, they bring the mask to Aunt May and Mary Jane at May’s house, everyone cries, and there’s a “Fin” in bottom right-hand corner of the last page.

Wow, awesome accomplishment guys! Nine years of character development and serial story-telling leads up to a crossover with a Jeph Loeb comic, and Spider-Man dying off-panel? (I don’t really care if he’s actually dead or not; according to this he is, and this is the last issue of the series).

But to really kick fans in the teeth, Marvel decided to jack the price of this standard-sized issue up a whole $1.00, so you pay 33% more than usual for the same amount of comic (or less comic really, given the wordless issue takes much less time to read). For nine years and 132 issues, they charged $2.99, and then they jack the price up by a dollar for the very last issue.

To soften the blow, Marvel does add a seven-page interview with Bendis about his tenure on the book, if you’re a reader who wants to hear what Bendis has to say about writing Spider-Man, but lack the ability to get on the Internet, I suppose.

Now, I know there’s a two-issue Requiem series which will likely be where some sort of ending to the series might actually be, but there’s no indication of that fact here in the book itself. Likewise, I know that Bendis is going to be writing a new book called Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, so maybe this isn’t actually the final “fin,” but it would have been nice to maybe get a damn ending after all this build-up. Or, at the very least, not get tricked into paying extra for a goddam stupid “bonus feature.”

Warlord #3 (DC) This is only the third monthly issue of this series, and apparently regular pencil artist Joe Prado already needed an issue off, as Chad Hardin steps in to draw this issue. The work he turns in is just fine, but Jesus, can’t pencillers last even a whole story arc anymore?

And if DC was going to hire a guy who can’t draw 22 pages a month or thereabouts, maybe they should have stockpiled some issues before launching his series? It’s not like there was any reason that the world had to have a new Warlord series in April of 2009 or anything.

On the plus side, this issue has a splash page in which a dinosaur attacks a unicorn, making me realize that not only have I never seen a dinosaur vs. unicorn fight, but that I never even knew how much I wanted to see a dinosaur vs. unicorn fight.

*And I’ve never watched a single episode of any Star Trek series, nor have I seen any of the movies (I kinda wanna see the new one though). And I’ve never watched Smallville, the new Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who, Heroes, or Lost.


Hdefined said...

"it would have been nice to maybe get a damn ending after all this build-up. Or, at the very least, not get tricked into paying extra for a goddam stupid “bonus feature.”"

Do you bother to actually check out the books you're about to buy in the store before you buy them? You know, take a look at the price tag? Check to see if there are more pages than usual? Leaf through to see if there's bonus content?

Sure, it's Marvel's fault for producing a shitty comic, but don't blame them for "tricking you" into buying it, as if they are the masters of your willpower.

Robt Seda-Schreiber said...

Another batch o' great reviews (as always), one small caveat tho'...
Bashful blue-eyed Benjamin Grimm starred in "Marvel Two-In-One" whereas it was Spidey who "Marvel Teamed-Up" most of the time.
This lil' bit of geekery was brought to you by "very secret monster things" @
which wants to be just like your blog when it grows up.
I'd be honored if you checked out my nascent fumblings...

¡mucho gracias!

Matt said...

re: Batman and Robin.

This was a problem throughout ... well, to be honest, throughout the entirety of the post Infinite Crisis Batman comics, and Countdown, and who knows what else.

DC Editorial cannot get people on the same page as Grant Morrison, period.

Mike Marts is ESPECIALLY bad at it. How frustrating was it to read the R.I.P. tie-ins where it was obvious that the other writers had no idea what was going on past Batman being missing or in trouble?Marts has brought some good talent in (Morrison himself, Yost, Nicieza, even Tieri's been given projects that suit him over in the Bat-Verse), but man the coherence is just NOT there.

The whole Countdown to Final Crisis not Counting Down to Final Crisis fiasco was just as bad (though that was a different editor). We have lead-in comics that are hurting the comics they're leading into by not syncing up at all. In my lifetime of reading comics, this is almost unheard of. Couldn't they just have put Dini on a Conference Call with Morrison, seriously?

You're supposed to be rewarded as a reader by reading more comics in the line, not punished.

Anyway, I really loved this issue. I don't really like the look of Quitely's art. Never have. I actually like Daniel a whole lot better on an aesthetic level, but from a STORYTELLING level, it's like night and day. Just awesome stuff there.

And I loved the fact that we're not rehashing Prodigal. It's not Dick pretending to be Bruce, it's Dick being the most fun Batman we've ever seen in Batman comics. Great stuff. It should be a fun year, but I really wish DC Editorial would get their act together and just fly everyone out to Grant's house for summits or something.

LurkerWithout said...

And I’ve never watched a single episode of any Star Trek series, nor have I seen any of the movies (I kinda wanna see the new one though). And I’ve never watched Smallville, the new Battlestar Galactica, Dr. Who, Heroes, or Lost.

And thats why you're a terrible person and no one loves you. Shun him! SHUUUUUUN!

Justin said...

I *do* hate to blame DC editorial entirely for the problems surrounding Final Crisis and Batman & Robin, if only because it's kind of a knee-jerk reaction, and I can kind of see where they're coming from.

I mean, Morrison seems to *want* his Batman run to exist in a vacuum, but he does make some big, sweeping changes to the status quo (however temporary they may be) of a character who's got his own mini-line of comics surrounding him. I do just as well just to read Morrison's book like it's self-contained and skip the tie-ins, but people *do* buy into events, and I can't begrudge DC taking advantage of what the market will allow.

Also, Morrison's my favorite comic writer, but even I have to concede he's got a reuptation for being very late with scripts and changing his mind. I suppose it's *possible* that his initial proposals for Batman and Final Crisis might end up looking quite different to what he actually writes.

Still, bad on DC for not 100% nailing down what they're expecting out of Morrison before trying to tie into him. And Morrison seems quite frustrated by the headaches this causes, so it doesn't seem too likely that he's unwilling to hash these things out with other writers.

Matt said...

From Dan Phillips IGN interview with Grant:

IGN Comics: Batman and Robin is the spine of the Batman universe moving forward, with no less than seven other books building off of what you're doing. For whatever reason, there have been some difficulties in the past building off of some of the crazy concepts you've introduced. We saw some of those difficulties pop up with Countdown and Death of the New Gods. Are you guys taking any steps to make sure Batman and Robin and the rest of the Batman books share a more seamless relationship?

Morrison: I'm working pretty far in advance of everyone else – I sent in a 13-issue breakdown for the whole series last year, so everyone has that and knows what's coming up, which means they can use as much or as little of it as they choose. There won't be any actual crossovers between the books but they can reflect one another's continuity so you at least know that they're living in the same place, and that Alfred is carrying the same kind of trays. [laughs] That sort of thing.

Take that for whatever it's worth.

Caleb said...


I usually spend an hour or two poring over the week's new releases for my weekly column on them at Blog@, so I feel I'm usually pretty well-informed about what's coming out on a given week, although Marvel doesn't list the page counts of their books the way other publishers do. I knew USM was $3.99 this week, but given that it was $2.99 for the last nine years, and that this was the last issue, and that it looked and felt thicker and heavier than usual, I reasonably assumed it was oversized. I did not count the story pages in the shop, nor did I count them at all until I realized I blew through the whole book in about two minutes.

Robt Seda-Schreiber,

Aaa! You're right! I mixed the two up. I'll note that in the body of the post. Thanks for pointing that out.


That's a good point. I think the impulse is to view comics production through a editorial = evil, creators = good prism, particularly with creators we really like (and I love Morrison).

But yeah, I don't think it's any kind of coincidence that tie-ins to Morrison's books all suffer from that weird disconnect that seems to result from a failure to communicate. DC may have a hard time synching books up with his work, but he doesn't seem to be all that accommodating with them doing so either.


Good point on "Prodigal." When a new Batman was announced, it seemed like it would be rehashing one of those old crossovers, depending on who the new Batman would be, but this was refreshingly different from "Prodigal" (probably in large part because this time Dick thinks Batman is actually gone, not just on a short vacation).

Hdefined said...

Like I said, it's perfectly fine to yell at Marvel for producing a half-assed shitty comic, but you can't blame them for the fact that you bought it. It's all about voting with your wallet.

James Eyeklll said...

I trade-wait, but from what I've read here and elsewhere I'd be totally pissed at this issue of Ultimate Spider-Man too.

rjt said...

I think you're harping on only one of his complaints about USM 133, namely price. I think it's reasonable to pick up a book, especially one that has been as consistent as USM has been for over 130 issues with some preconceived notions about what the book will contain. He's not just complaining about the fact that the book was an extra dollar with no extra story pages (when I picked it up in the store and leafed through it, I thought I counted only 21 story pages, but I might have missed one--regardless, I put it back on the shelf, making it the first issue of USM I haven't bought since #1) but also that as a last issue of a long running series, it failed to deliver a satisfying ending, and was sullied by being tied into a terrible cross-over book. I think it's an unreasonable complaint to say he's blaming Marvel for "tricking him into buying something" when it seems he's in fact blaming Marvel for making a really shitty comic and then padding out the book with pointless interview pages so that it doesn't feel when you pick it up that you're being charged an extra dollar for no extra story whatsoever.