Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Weekly Haul: October 21st

Batman Unseen #2 (DC Comics) The only thing better than having DC seemingly narrow-casting a particular comic book miniseries to appeal to me personally, is scheduling it to come out every two weeks instead of every four.

This is more fantastically stylized Kelley Jones art and crazy, over-heated Doug Moench dialogue (Example: “Behold--The Unbeholdable!”) devoted to a story of Batman trying to track down a mad scientist who has become a modern-day version of The Invisible Man.

Page 16 is probably a perfect example of what makes these two creators so talented, and how well they work together. It’s just six panels, in which two armed criminals try to gun down an invisible man, but it’s hard to imagine another writer/artist team so clearly depicting what happened. Could any other writer have so perfectly come up with the sound effects for a gun being knocked out of a man’s hand, spinning through space and being caught? Could any other artist have reinforced that through background patterns, or have revealed the invisible face of the killer as a leering skull shape superimposed on the cloud of gun smoke?

Keep these guys together and making Batman comics, and I’ll forgive you for just about anything, DC. Like a couple of the other books of yours I’m about to review.

The Brave and The Bold #28 (DC) Writer J. Michael Straczynski raises an interesting, actually mature issue in this done-in-one team-up between The Flash Barry Allen and the Blackhawks, but he unfortunately immediately proceeds to ignore it.

When peculiar circumstances leave The Flash stranded in Belgium around the time of the Battle of the Bulge and stuck there with the Blackhawks for a few weeks, he’s forced to reevaluate his vow against killing.

Blackhawk yells at The Flash for merely throwing an avalanche of bricks at a bunch of German soldiers instead of shooting them dead, with bullets (I would think being struck with several bricks thrown at super-speed would be just as deadly as being shot with a rifle, but I’m no physicist).

Flash says he made a vow to never take a life as The Flash and Blackhawk essentially calls him a pussy, and Barry bows to peer pressure, narrating: "The Flash doesn’t kill. The flash doesn’t carry a gun. But Barry Allen, American, can do those things in the uniform of his country, which is at war."

So, does Barry kill or not? JMS dodges, slipping into a montage during which Barry narrates, “The days blur into a cloud of gunfire, smoke and death.”

If Blackhawk were reviewing this comic, I think this would be the point during which he calls JMS a pussy.

I was just thinking about this last week, when I watched Wonder Woman kill another villain in Secret Six. The fact that the DC superheroes—particularly the Justice Leaguers like Barry Allen and pals—don’t kill is vitally important not only to maintaining their heroic virtue, but the illusion of the DC Universe in general.

Barry can make an exception for some German soldiers, but he can’t put down The Joker or Vandal Savage or whoever?

See, the heroes’ vows to never kill are necessary because they balance the whole experience of reading DC Comics. It might not be realistic that they refuse to kill under any circumstance, it might make someone like Batman seem like a complete psychopath for refusing to kill and so often saving the life of The Joker, but that’s how it’s got to be, because DC can’t afford to lose all its Jokers and other villains.

Allowing Barry Allen to kill here but not there asks readers to reassert the disbelief they suspended in order to read their superhero comics in the first place.

Besides, what is and isn’t realistic in a DC comic book is pretty relative anyway. Even unable to run on both legs, Flash is still super-fast, and is thus able to catch every bullet shot in his and the Blackhawks’ direction.

Given his god-like, miraculous powers, there’s no reason he couldn’t disarm and capture every German soldier he encounters over the course of a few weeks. Barry Allen deciding to fight with a gun strikes me as a lot less realistic tan just having him do what he usually does.

And I don’t understand why Blackhawk’s so pissed off about the enemy being captured instead of killed. When he and his team are confronted with a surrendering enemy, do they just put bullets in them, because they prefer dead Nazis to unconscious or captured ones?

Beyond the frustration of seeing JMS bring up a moral quandary for a superhero and then proceed to ignore it on the way to a pat "The Greatest Generation sure was great" statement, the comic was certainly competently scripted. And Jesus Saiz’s art is certainly solid and occasionally quite good-looking, although he doesn’t seem to have matched up with JMS quite perfectly yet.

For example, the second page is a full-page splash, but it just looks like a waste of space, with Saiz providing a simple, uncomplicated image of The Flash in a running pose racing a laser beam, with speed lines filling up the empty space that accounts for most of the page:

Justice League of America #38 (DC) The exciting new creative team of writer James Robinson and pencil artists Mark Bagley (inked by Rob Hunter), begin their run on DC’s troubled flagship title with this issue. They're off to a pretty rough start.

On the first four pages, Blue Jay (remember him? Don’t get used to him!) thinks about how worthless he is while an unseen foe throws coloring effects at him and talks at him in a shouty, all-caps font, ultimately killing him (Oh, should I have included a spoiler warning? DC put it in their preview of the issue, so I assume it’s not supposed to be a secret or anything). It’s a little like 2005’s Countdown to Infinite Crisis one-shot, in the way that that was about a self-loathing Justice Leaguer from the ‘80s getting murdered to act as a blood sacrifice to whatever dark gods James Robinson and Judd Winick and all those guys who start off their superhero comic by snuffing superheroes worship.

Then we transition to Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, where Vixen, Plastic Man, Dr. Light II and Red Tornado have all gotten together to talk about how much they all think they suck (This has been the plot of this title for about six months now, hasn’t it?) Vixen mentions that she had her leg broken in several places by Prometheus, and an asterisk helpfully informs us to “See Justice League: Cry For Justice mini to see what Vixen is talking about.”

Since I was still in the shop when I read that scene, I went to the shelf and picked up the latest issue of Cry, #4 of seven, to look for a scene of Prometheus fighting Vixen and the Justice League. It’s not there.

So I guess the little editorial box meant “See future issues of Justice League: Cry For Justice…maybe sometime between next month and February? As long as there aren’t any more delays, of course…to see what the hell Vixen’s talking about.”

Then Despero appears with Gypsy, they all fight, and Zatanna shows up to say “What the hell are you guys doing here? Blackest Night is set at a different Justice League base, let’s go crossover with it!” And so they go, the last page showing Black Lantern Dr. Light I (Yes! The only thing better than a supervillain who is also a rapist is a supervillain who is also a rapist and a zombie cannibal!) standing over a big red box reading “NEXT: Blackest Night.”

So JLoA remains a pretty terrible comic, but here’s the thing—it’s at least readable now. Mark Bagley can at least draw a page of comics that looks, works and reads right—and he can keep it up for 22 consecutive pages.

Justice League of America has thus moved from “completely unreadable” to “pretty bad.” That is progress.

(For a much more charitable review, you can see what my colleague Troy Brownfield had to say on Newsarama).

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #16 (Marvel Comics) This came out last week, but I picked it up this week because a) there wasn’t much else out and b) I found out after the fact that the plot revolved around Hercules.

It’s by Paul Tobin, and is about three superheroes whom he apparently chose at random—Giant-Girl, Spider-Woman and The Beast—trying to piece together Hercules’ day, after the Lion of Olympus falls unconscious from the moon carrying a cryptic message that are either field notes on an anti-Hydra mission or a to-do list or…something.

Denis Medri is the artist and does pretty good work, but is one more artist who is unable to make me understand The Beast’s weird shorts and how they stay up.

Tiny Titans #21 (DC) Don’t think I didn’t notice that you guys just called upon the magic of computers to re-use that image of the entire Pet Club assemblage five times at the climax, Baltazar. It’s Matilda the Minotaur’s waving that’s the giveaway.


Chad Carter said...

Barry Allen should find a way to outrun the strands of Silly String adhering to his costume before he thinks about anything else.

Dominic said...

As far as I'm concerned, JLA doesn't even actually start for another 4 issues.

Patrick C said...

I was hoping for a review of the Halloween special! It was expensive, but it did have Kelly Jones art!

I was disappointed with Justice League, but hopefully it's going somewhere now. Here's a question though. When people talk about the low point of the Justice League (referring to its roster/effectiveness), it's always the Detroit era. What will this era be called? The Vixen/Dr. Light/Firestorm/Red Tornado/Zatanna era? We need to come up with some sort of nickname!

Matthew said...

RE: Blue Jay. James Robinson mentioned on his Twitter that 'I wouldn't assume you've seen the last of Blue Jay. I consider him a little guy with a big future'. So who knows?

Anthony Strand said...

Patrick - As far as I'm concerned, the current low point started with Meltzer and hasn't let up. It's still the Meltzer era in my mind (in the same way we have the Giffen/DeMatteis era or the Morrison era), even though he only wrote the first 12.

caleb said...

I was hoping for a review of the Halloween special! It was expensive, but it did have Kelly Jones art!

I did a pretty thorough flip-through and saw the Jones bit, but I really hated the last one of these things I tried, and the fact that DC didn't feel the need to say anything at all about the contents in their official solicitations of it kind of scared me away.

Chirs Sims really did not care for it though, I see.

When people talk about the low point of the Justice League (referring to its roster/effectiveness), it's always the Detroit era. What will this era be called?

It's still the Meltzer era in my mind (in the same way we have the Giffen/DeMatteis era or the Morrison era), even though he only wrote the first 12.

Hmmm. You know, it's weird. People refer to The Satellite Era and Detroit League by the base, and the Morrison and Giffen/DeMatteis by the writers (although I guess you here "JLI" and "Bwa-ha-ha" a lot for the latter).

I have no idea...maybe no one will ever refer to it, in the same way hardly anyone ever mentions anything between the Giffen/DeMatteis and Morrison eras...?

I agree that Meltzer still seems to be coloring the contents of the book. The bulk of McDuffie's run seemed to consist of cleaning up after Meltzer. It's weird he spent a year putting together a team and then they scrapped that team, like, immediately, and spent like 20 issues getting rid of it.

James Robinson mentioned on his Twitter that 'I wouldn't assume you've seen the last of Blue Jay. I consider him a little guy with a big future'

So that's why they gave him a relatively un-gory death!

Well that's cool. I talked about this at way too great length at Blog@ yesterday, but even if it's just the impression of killing off a super-character at the beginning of a run now, it still strikes me as tiresome and depressing.

Thanks for the heads-up though.