Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weekly Haul: August 12th

Adventure Comics #1 (DC Comics) Geoff Johns doesn’t often let it show, but he’s really not at all a bad writer when it comes to light comedy and melodrama. It’s been so long since Stars and STRIPE and the occasional JSA one-off stories that it’s easy to forget that Johns can work in modes other than action-packed superhero slobber-knocker, skull-licking superhero decadence and complicated continuity patches.

The lead story in Adventure Comics (which is both #1 and #504, according to the semi-transparent ghost issue number hovering over the other) is Johns working in that lighter, more reader-friendly and, most important, more fun mode.

With Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds finally ended, Superboy is back among the living, and this issue follows him as he sets up shop in Smallville, living with Ma Kent and Krypto The Super-Dog. Johns introduces a few characters that look like they’ll be playing important parts in the future, and works in a nice cliffhanger ending that’s pretty far removed from his normal sort of cliffhanger ending (in which a familiar hero or villain dramatically appears).

And man, the scene where he gets shown up by Krypto in front of a damsel in distress? That reads like something out of the original Karl Kesel-written run of Superboy.

Nice job, Johns!

The back-up/co-feature is The Legion of Super-Heroes, which seems to be the original version with a few additions. I’m leery of the LOSH in general, but this one went down nice and smooth, probably because it focused mainly on Starman on present day Earth.

Part of me is rather uncomfortable with the way Johns plays Starman’s mental illness for laughs—specifically, the fact that he’s not just cartoon crazy like Daffy Duck or Ambush Bug, but that he’s always being diagnosed with schizophrenia, which isn’t really as amusing an affliction as it is in the comics Starman appears in. It’s a very Hollywood way of understanding mental illness, and probably one that does more harm than good.

On the other hand, I really like Johns’ crazy-ass Starman.

So I guess I’m mainly uncomfortable with him being both funny-crazy and being said to be schizophrenic.

The lead feature is drawn by Francis Manapul, and it’s pretty great work, with Brian Buccellato coloring it to look as if it was all rendered in watercolors. Manapul does a great Krypto (his Krypto reminded me of a Jill Thompson dog here and there), draws his teenagers like teenagers (I’m not sure about Superboy’s cowboy boots, which seem a little too Smallville for him, but in general his Superboy looks much better than most of the versions I’ve seen since he started rocking the T-shirt and jeans costume), and he’s very good at landscapes and backgrounds.

The LOSH story is drawn by Clayton Henry, a Marvel alum whose work I like quite a bit. I was kind of surprised to see it popping up here, given the looks and styles of the other artists to draw this version of the Legion so far, but was happy to see it here.

All in all, I was quite pleasantly surprised by this book, and plan to keep reading for now.

Blackest Night #2 (DC) In the ongoing struggle for the hearts and wallets of America’s ever shrinking number of super-comics readers, DC Comics has recently become the lesser of the two evils by virtue of not engaging in price-gouging for profit’s sake.

Marvel upped the price of most of their comics by 33-percent because they would like to get more money for the same amount of product and, hell, the rubes were willing to give it to them, so why not?

The turning point in Marvel’s experimentation with $4 comics, the point where they started upping the price of not only Max and Marvel Knights books, but Marvel Universe titles as well, was Secret Invasion. The first issue was $3.99, and oversized (containing more than 22-pages). The second issue was also $3.99, but for just 22 pages, as was #3 through #8.

As a consumer, I obviously don’t like paying a higher price for the same amount of value, but the Secret Invasion switcheroo was particularly galling because it was so damn sneaky, as if Marvel was hoping to trick readers into not noticing (It was also done on a comic they knew would be their best-selling one, and that they had worked hard for months to market to every Marvel Comics customer).

DC hasn’t really done that. There was an Alex Ross JLA special that cost $4 for 22-pages, plus some typical Ross back-matter, and Cry For Justice has included prose back-matter, but for the most part DC has went with adding pages in addition to adding to the price. So, for the last year or so, I’ve regarded DC as the Good Guy in the eternal struggle between Marvel and DC.

But hey, this $3.99 issue of Blackest Night sure seemed to read fast, this week didn’t it? Let’s count the pages. Let’s see here…it’s only 24 pages. That’s weird. Because Blackest Night #1 was 40 pages for $3.99. Goddamit, this is the same shit Marvel pulled with Secret Invasion!

There is a three-page prose feature in the back, so I guess it’s 27 pages if you want to count that (I don’t), but, just as Marvel did, DC radically dropped the page count of the second issue of what is sure to be their most popular series of the year.


Okay, well, I think that pretty thoroughly covers the price and page count of the book…how was the rest of it? Eh, same as the first issue, and Green Lantern in generally: Pretty cool, occasionally kind of dumb, but on average, brilliant in its stupidity. Blackest Night is the new All-Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder.

Some things I liked:

—Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert are good artists, and it’s nice to see them wander so far from the Green Lantern sand box into the rest of the DCU.

—Mera doing stuff.

—The stupid/awesome/obvious appearance of Black Lantern Pariah. I think he was killed off in Infinite Crisis specifically for use in a panel or two of this.

—The Black Lanterns’ gray speech bubbles

—Aquaman’s “VUUVUUVUUVUU” sound. I always thought it was more of a “WOOWOOWOO” but still—neat.

Some things I did not:

—Ray “The Atom” Palmer’s little speech about Jean, and the fact that he's not a little zombie on Hawkman' shoulder on the last page.

—The conversation between Barbara “Oracle” Gordon and Commissioner Gordon, in which I couldn’t tell if he knew she was Batgirl or not, and whether she knew if he knew she was Batgirl or not, and ditto for Oracle (Now I can’t remember; I know he knows she’s Oracle, not so sure about Batgirl). At any rate, she’s quoting motivational posters? Guh.

—Hal asking to borrow a police car. His fucking ring can’t make a spark?

—Reis and company wussing out on Tempest’s costume. You must draw all those little whorls! Also, his new Black Lantern costume is weak. (Oh yeah, spoiler! Garth “dies”! But I doubt he’ll still be dead in six months).

Some things that confused the hell out of me:

—Dolphin’s a Black Lantern? When the hell did she die? Was this off-panel, or in Titans or…? And who watches little Cerdian when Tempest is out disinterring graves and Dolphins all being a zombie?

—I didn’t really understand what happened with Dove I and the Black Lantern Ring, but I guess because I don’t really understand how they work just yet. Apparently hosts can reject them, and/or the rings can reject hosts…? Does it all have something to do with the Lords or Order and Chaos…?

—I couldn’t tell if ghost Boston Brand turned into a Black Lantern or if his body did, and if the latter, how the bodies manifest the personalities of the hosts without their souls/ghosts attached. (Some of this is answered in Batman: Blackest Night #1, but I read this one first).

—The Spectre business. Geoff Johns and I seem to have very, very different understandings of just what The Spectre Force is and how it works (see also Parallax being able to trick it). He becomes a Black Lantern though, and I’m not sure what exactly happened—did his current host body return to life and somehow trap the Spectre Force within it, while still having access to its powers…?

Finally, regarding my requests for Black Lanterns

—Black Lantern Aquaman brings some Black Lantern versions of his supporting cast with him, but Porm and Arthur “Aquababy” Curry Jr are not among them. He does mention bringing Arthur Jr. back though, when trying to talk Mera into letting him eat her heart.

—I think Rainbow Raider has been turned into a Black Lantern, as there’s a small panel full of what look like Black Lantern versions of Flash rogues, and the one on the far right appears to be wearing the Raider’s duds. Awesome.

Blackest Night: Batman #1 (DC) I wasn’t planning on picking this up at all, due to its creative team. Writer Peter J. Tomasi is a writer I’d put in the hit-or-miss category, not someone I would buy a book just because he’s writing it, but not someone I would not by a book just because he was writing it either. But pencil artist Ardian Syaf drew the graphic novel The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle, which was a terrible, terrible comic book.

I remembered not liking the story or writing at all, but I especially remember detesting the artwork, which was had uninspired, lazy designs and basic, amateurish mistakes that made it hard to even read (for example, the inside of a car being three or four times bigger than the car itself appeared from the outside).

But, while I was flipping through this, I noticed a panel featuring ventriloquist dummy Scarface with a Black Lantern ring flying through the sky and decided to buy it. Never underestimate the power of a single goofy image in a comic book!

Well, that and the fact that Syaf’s art looked much, much better here. Perhaps it was that he was working with four different inkers on the Dresden Files book, whereas here he’s working with only the excellent John Dell? Or perhaps former editor Tomasi’s scripting makes a big difference? Or perhaps Syaf was just phoning the Dreseden Files work in, but here he’s brought his A-Game? Or perhaps he just got much, much better in the short time between the releases?

I don’t know, but the art in this isn’t bad at all. It works, which is, of course, of base line importance. I wouldn’t have even guessed this is the same Ardian Syaf, it’s such an improvement (My only real complaint? His Tim Drake looks about 10 years too old, but so does everyone else’s Tim Drake).

The story follows the new Batman and the new Robin as they move the remains of all three Waynes (Drat! No Black Lantern Waynes!), ignore the fact that Black Lantern Martian Manhunter is kicking the shit out of Hal Jordan and Barry Allen in town and try to figure out what’s what from the cryptic clues Deadman Boston Brand has been able to provide.

Here’s where Deadman’s status is explained a bit (his body’s a Black Lantern, his ghost is still Deadman) and a bunch of minor characters are added to the Black Lantern Corps, including the former Robins’ parents and the dead Bat-villains which are, with the exception of The Ventriloquist, all lame ones, because what Batman writer in his right mind would kill off any good Batman villains? (Answer: Apparently James Robinson, who killed off The Ventriloquist in "Face The Face," for Paul Dini to replace the original version with a sexy female Ventriloquist II in Detective Comics).

I liked the last image of the Bat-signal; I can’t recall ever seeing that exact same image used in any Batman comics before.

Booster Gold #23 (DC) This is the one featuring a Ms. Blair Butler on the cover. All I knew of her before today was that she reads or has read Chris Sims’ Invincible Super-Blog and that she was on the cover of Comics Foundry magazine.

According to my local comic shop clerk, she is “the comics expert” who does segments about comics on a pop culture show on a cable channel I don’t get. So I guess she’s famous? Or famous-ish?

As a comic book cover model goes, I guess she does okay here. She points and looks somewhat bemused to be having her photo taken wearing the shirt, as if it was a candid shot a friend took at a party or something. It’s not a great photo or composition or anything, but it stands out on the racks, which is important for comic book covers (well, it used to be important, anyway).

If DC really wanted to move some copies of Booster Gold #23 though, they should have had this famous-ish person who talks about comics in a moving picture show as their cover model.

Oh well, there’s always #24

Incredible Hercules #132 (Marvel Comics) Having just broken up with sidekick Amadeus Cho last issue, Herc finds himself with a new young boy adventuring partner, his own de-aged father Zeus, whose lightning and thunder powers will come in handy in this story arc. “The Replacement Thor” has Herc donning Thor’s duds to kick dark elf ass on the Mighty one’s behalf, since I guess he’s banished from Asgard or something (I don’t read Thor).

If you are wondering if it is awesome, then I can assure you that yes, Hercules is indeed still awesome, and, with Captain Britain gone, it has even fewer rivals for its Marvel’s Most Awesome Comic crown.

The wacky start of the Asgardian crossover business (Page five, panel one), Hercules’ commentary on Thor’s origin presented on the recap page, his memories of Amadeus, that which motivates the two Olympians to adventure—there’s an awful lot to love in this comic.

The fantastic art by Reilly Brown and Nelson DeCastro doesn’t hurt one bit either (The only thing I don’t like about this book is how quickly it burns through art teams; can these guys stay around indefinitely? Please?).

Hopefully some of those many Thor readers will see this as a good jumping-on point and check Incredible Hercules out. The series has been running for a while now, but it’s one of those comics that is so good I wonder if maybe it’s too good, and that it’s only a matter of time before it gets cancelled, you know?

Lockjaw and The Pet Avengers #4 (Marvel) Thanos is lucky Zabu went for his legs instead of his throat, or this would have been a much shorter comic book.

This is the conclusion of the series, in which the Pet Avengers face off against the Mad Titan, and some very predictable beats are hit by writer Chris Eliopoulos, but they still feel fresh, on account of the clichés being acted out by the pets of various Marvel super-characters.

I was going to say something about hoping there’s another miniseries in the near future—maybe one getting Old Lace or Watchdog in the mix—but I don’t have to, as the last page says “Get ready for The Pet Avengers #1! Coming 2010!” Huzzah!

I may trade-wait that series though, as I sort of wish I would have done for this series. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it as a serial, and it was certainly written as a serial rather than a graphic novel cut into four equal pieces, but Niko Henrichon’s variant covers were all really, really nice—as were Karl Kerschl’s regular covers—and I assume the trade will have ‘em all in it.

Variant covers! Just one more way the Big Two are pushing direct market readers away from single issues and towards trades, which can be purchased in places other than comic book stores.

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #14 (Marvel) According to the cover, this issue is “featuring Hawkeye,” which it is, but it’s also featuring Blonde Phantom, recently seen in All Select Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1 (the one with Marvex The Super Robot by Michael Kupperman).

The pair of heroes are out on what appears to be an afternoon date, when some crooks try to stick up a bank with a pretty ingenious weapon—Bruce Banner. If they aren’t give the money, they’ll make him Hulk out.

That clever idea comes from Mr. Paul Tobin, who is just full of such clever ideas. He’s joined this issue by artist David Baldeon, whose work is just excellent. Keep an eye on this guy; he knows his stuff. (It looks like he’ll be drawing that new Nomad mini for Marvel with Columbus’ own Sean McKeever).

Wednesday Comics #6 (DC) Oh no, it’s half over already?

Batman: This wasn’t a favorite at first, on account of it not being drawn by Paul Pope, Kyle Baker or Mike Allred, but the longer the series continues, the more I realize that Azzarello has this serial, one-page-a-week nailed in terms of pacing. Even if it is just in service of a typical collection of typical Batman story events and scenes. Risso, meanwhile, is my new favorite drawer of broken glass.

Kamandi: Prince Tuftan’s father is named Great Caesar? Is that his ghost Perry White is always calling upon? Also, are gorillas no longer endangered in the future? Because it seems weird to just mow them down with machineguns, but maybe that’s because I’m not thinking like I live on a world of super-evolved talking animals.

Superman: Sick of Superman being such a whiny pussy for the last four weeks, some aliens wake him up from a nap (by exploding his house) and get ready to knock him around. Give him one for me, aliens!

Deadman: Both Blackest Night and Blackest Night: Batman would have been better if these dudes drew them.

Green Lantern: Dammit Dill, if you weren’t standing there, Hal Jordan would have died!

Metamorpho: This is another one of those week’s where Neil Gaiman seems to be too busy to script more than a handful of panels, but Allred almost makes up for it with a beautiful designed Metamorpho-themed Snakes and Ladders game board. The little red-headed girl in the Metamorpho Fans of America is a damn liar though—dice and counters are not included.

Teen Titans: After Sean Galloway gets done drawing the worst choreographed fight scene in the history of comics, Trident reveals that he’s the son of one of the Titans’ enemies. Which one? Here’s a hint: He’s a rapist. And here I thought I was going to get through 12 issues of Wednesday Comics without thinking about rape at all.

Strange Adventure: A very unusual twist is taken, while Pope’s art continues to be great. Fuck, is it even better this week? I think it is. Goddamit, why is Paul Pope so good?! He’s totally ruining comics! How am I supposed to look at his drawings of a city in Peru or the ruins of Machu Picchu or a cluttered apartment and then read some poor sap drawing Batman and zombies and not be horribly disappointed in how little detail and personality brought to that work compared to what Pope brings to his?

Supergirl: I think this is the strongest installment yet, as Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner present a take on Aquaman I’ve never seen before. You know how he’s always going on about how he’s got to protect over 70% of the planet, and that factoid is usually mentioned in a sort of boast to explain why he’s so grumpy or so arrogant or so much more cool than readers thought based on the fact that he sucks in Superfriends?

Well here he’s presented as a flustered, distracted, busy businessman, yapping on his cell phone constantly and interrupting himself and others to take the next important call.

Well, I thought it was funny, particularly the way Conner draws his posture and gestures during the conversations. Well that and the fact that his cell is seashell. Eh? A shellphone? Ha ha!

(Nice Krypto vs. the crab background gag too).

Metal Men: Man, they always end up fighting that guy…

Wonder Woman: This was the hardest one to read yet, I think because instead of moving left to right like horizontally across the page like the last five installments, this page is organized as four vertical columns of panels. It actually reads more easily and clearly this way, once you figure out how to read it, anyway.

Also, Etta Candy. Not as an old military lady or super-spy gal pal, but as a big girl who likes candy and is very enthusiastic about hanging out with Wonder Woman. Why is it that Ben Caldwell is able to do a Wonder Woman that is so much more like the original Wonder Woman comics than anything DC has published since? Is that the power of ignoring continuity completely? Maybe Wonder Woman needs another continuity reboot then?

Sgt. Rock: What the hell? This one isn’t a nine-panel grid?

Flash Comics: Instead of the Iris West strip, we get a Tarzan-esque Gorilla Grodd strip this week. Neat. Also, Flash’s insane, vaguely scientific-ish adventures in The Flash strip was nicely Silver Age-y.

The Demon/Catwoman: Eh, Camelot stuff. Needs more Catwoman.

Hawkman: If you were wondering when Kyle Baker would finally get around to having Hawkman jump in front of a big explosion as is legally required in all Hollywood action movies, worry not—this is the week.

And that's everything I read this week. Now I'm off to go re-read them, as a wizard...


Mariano P. A. said...

About Dolphin's death... off-panel but mentioned in Titans 15, the one that had Tempest on the cover.

John Cochrane said...

I realize this latest installment of Booster Gold is by no means the best comics made, but damnit I feel like a champ knowing I read the it, if only because of how goofy that cover is. I can imagine another title doing something like that.

Robert Repici said...

"—The Spectre business. Geoff Johns and I seem to have very, very different understandings of just what The Spectre Force is and how it works..."

Totally agree with you here. Why does the Spectre always get screwed in these big event stories? I talked to Geoff Johns back in February about the Spectre's role in Blackest Night, and he mentioned that the Spirit of Vengeance would play a prominent role at a point in the series. I have a funny feeling that Jim Corrigan will become the Spectre's host once again in the next issue of Blackest Night. His soul is "at peace" (as mentioned in the Day of Judgment miniseries years ago), and, apparently, the Black Lanterns can't touch those kind of souls (i.e. Dove). Also, the solicitation for Blackest Night #3 mentions the Spectre as well. So, yeah, I don't think the Spectre is down for the count just yet.

the2scoops said...

I mentioned this on Newsarama, but I'm still hoping for a Blackest Night: Suicide Squad. Call Ostrander and it's buy on sight.

Norman said...

Small correction: The original Ventriloquist was killed off by James Robinson in Face the Face, the OYL story arc on the Bat-books. Dini just used the opportunity to invent a new one.

Maddy said...

I forget exactly when it happened (I think it's during the Perfect Pitch arc), but Barbara told her father about being Oracle, and then when she starts to tell him about having been Batgirl, he says he already figured that out years ago.

But what was confusing here is that I got the sense that in Oracle: The Cure, that fact was being ignored or had been forgotten. I'm not sure if Jim and Babs are just dancing around her superhero life in case they're overheard, or if him knowing about is being edged out of continuity. If it's the latter, that's really sucky.

Ryan Roe said...

I'm excited to see how you'll come up with six more practical, everyday uses for Wednesday Comics.

Jog said...

Pope's art might look better to you because he has a different colorist... Lovern Kindzierski instead of José Villarrubia. I wonder if he's gonna use both of them respective to the Earth and Rann scenes, or if it's just a basic switch-up...

Caleb said...

About Dolphin's death...

Ah, no wonder I didn't remember it then; that was the first I heard of it.


Yeah, that Blair Butler cover would have been unspeakably cheesy on almost any other comic, but Booster Gold can get away with almost any kind of crass, shilling stunt, given the character. Heck, they could do a gold foil cover, or 25 variants, and it would "work" for the character.

Why does the Spectre always get screwed in these big event stories?

I think part of it is just habit/tradition from those old JLA/JSA stories, and a greater part is the writers realizing they need to remove him from the board to explain why he doesn't just fix everything. Which is why I don't understand whey there is a Spectre any more. It's not like he's needed at the moment, and usually just gets in the way.

That's an interesting thought about "at peace," and I'm interested in how that plays out/what the "rules" of the Black Lantern system ends up being. Does it mean Dove I is in heaven, like Corrigan, and all the others are all still in some kind of limbo, or...?

I mentioned this on Newsarama, but I'm still hoping for a Blackest Night: Suicide Squad.

Well, they'd definitely have a lot of candidates for rings. I assume most of those folks will be showing up elsewhere (Like, there was a Captain Boomerang in a cameo in this issue).


Thanks, you're right. I keep forgetting about Robinson's authorship of that arc, as it seems like it was written be editors and put into a script-like form by Robinson. I fixed it.

I'm excited to see how you'll come up with six more practical, everyday uses for Wednesday Comics.

I'm not sure I'd count "making a wizard hat" as a practical, every day use.

Pope's art might look better to you because he has a different colorist... Lovern Kindzierski instead of José Villarrubia.

Ah, that explains the "with Lovern Kindzierski" along the top. I think I was impressed by the sudden change in settings and Pope drawing things I don't normally see him drawing in his occasional DC work (like, that photo with the writing on it of the expedition team posing? That was great work).

I will be curious to see if they just decided to use different colorists for different settings within the story, or if there was a change made over quality concerns. (The colors on Wonder Woman seemed easier on the eye this last week too).

Anthony Strand said...

Speaking of Booster Gold, the first twelve issues are a good example of funny, fairly-light recent Geoff Johns work.

v said...

So Geoff Johns gives an interview right. And he talks of how deep Blackest Night is, you know, because its about death. Like Green Lantern who's about will. And how's he about will. Because its powered by will powered stupid. And the first reaction to the interview is, "Damn, intense". Yes, obviously its intense. Its about death, stupid. So I am reading Adventure comics, I don't know why. And Superboy says Cat. Wow, do people say that. I dunno, must have never noticed. And well Johns is deep. So he makes Superboy say cat. And then dog saves cat. Get it. What up, Dawg. Yeah that's how deep Johns is. And everybody is like, wow intense. Dog saves cat. Get it, you know because dogs hate cat. Brilliant.