Sunday, November 15, 2009

Weekly Haul: November 18th

So, do I have any readers left? If so, sorry for the dearth of posting over the last few days.

As you've no doubt guessed as soon as you saw that there is a new post, my computer is back from the computer hospital, and is now healed, rested and in better shape than ever.

Just in time to help me complain about this week’s new super-comics! So let's get to it right away...I've got days worth of Internet reading to catch up on.

Batman: Unseen #4 (DC Comics) Here’s a panel of Batman entering a room after blowing the locked door open with a little Bat-bomb:

Every panel in this issue looks like this.

The Brave and the Bold #29 (DC) You can say a lot about writer J. Michael Straczynski, but you can’t accuse the guy of a lack of ambition. This is his third issue on DC’s troubled team-up title, and it’s by far his most complex one.

It unearths perhaps DC’s single weirdest and most obscure character, Brother Power, The Geek, star of two 1968 issues of his own title and a 1993 Vertigo one-shot by Rachel Pollack and Michael Allred. In addition to having an awesome-sounding name and origin (he’s a living tailor’s dummy, basically), he was originally presented as some sort of hero to the hippies (or DC Comics versions of hippies, anyway) and later as a “puppet elemental.”

JMS earns tremendous good will from me for simply thinking of the character and deciding to use him in the book, and pairing him with DC’s most recognizable and bankable star Batman is certainly a pretty good idea.

As cool as that is, and as ambitious a story as JMS attempts here, there’s no escaping the fact that it is not a very good comic book. Like last issue’s Barry Allen-fights-and-kills-in-World War II story, there’s a whole lot going on in this story, good and bad, and it would certainly be best served by a critic taking a few days to think about it and spending a few hours writing about it.

I’m not going to do that though. Instead, here are some bullet point observations:

—With this issue, the logo gets a little tinkering. Just above “The Brave and the Bold” is a little strip of text reading “Lost Stories of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” (I couldn’t find a scan of it yet online, but if you wanna see the cover for some reason, you can download the preview of it here). Both the title and that sub-title appear inside the book as well, where the name of the story usually does. Apparently DC wanted to be super-extra clear that these stories weren’t happening “today” in the DC Universe, but at some other time, just in case anyone read this issue and had a nervous break down when they noticed Dick Grayson is Batman in most of the Batman books, but here Bruce Wayne is still Batman.

—JMS lost me with the Universal movies version of Frankenstein’s monster/Brother Power, The Geek comparisons here. Obviously they are both man-like things that are not quite men and have an aura of tragedy about them, but they’re so far removed from one another that it seems a curious basis for a comic book story.

—At one point, Batman narrates that the movie Frankenstein always returned from the dead in sequels “Because he was a creature of his time. And that’s what such creatures DO. They come back. They ALWAYS come back.” What the fuck does that have to do with Brother Power, who returns to life as well? Do creatures of their times always come back? Is the Victorian Age—or Golden Age Hollywood—somehow parallel to the 1960s…or is it merely that they are time periods, and characters meant to embody those time periods always come back? Aren’t superheroes a better point of reference for Batman when it comes to characters coming back to life?

—Artist Jesus Saiz really disappointed me here. His art is solid but unremarkable, and I thought it was quite a let down last issue, when he completly wasted a splash page. The wasted opportunity here is that JMS continuously cites the first two Universal Frankenstein films, and Saiz provides art to depict scenes from them, and they just look like black and white versions of Saiz’s own designs and works, as if he was simply working from JMS’ descriptions instead of actually referencing the images, some of which are among the more iconic in American film history. There may be a legal reason for this or something, but it struck me as lazy and weird. If there is a reason not to draw Boris Karloff’s monster or to visually quote scenes from the film, then maybe the script should be written to avoid doing so, rather than forcing the issue?

—Batman’s mom is blond here. I hate when that happens.

—This is another one of those stories driven by Batman’s memories of his short childhood with his parents. Dude sure had a hell of a lot of very meaningful memories of his parents that would happen to parallel the strangest cases considering he only co-existed with them for about six to eight years.

—In addition to being about how Brother Power, The Geek is a lot like Frankenstein, this comic is also about how the 1960’s were so much better than right now, driven home with some embarrassingly blunt panels. In the sixties, everyone hung out in coffee shops, now they hang out in bars; you used to be able to pick up hitchhikers, now everyone drives right past people in need; college kids used to read books and enjoy one another’s company, now they all listen to those goldanged iPods and look at their laptops in solitude.

—I’ve read a lot of Batman comics in my lifetime, but I can’t say I’ve ever read a Batman who talks quite like JMS’s Batman. He doesn’t sound a thing like the post-Crisis Batman of the last twenty-some years, and he doesn’t quite sound like the Bob Haney Batman, or the wise-cracking Golden Age Batman either. For example…

The kids of that age called him—get this—Brother Power. The Geek.


What can I say?…It was the sixties.


Sometimes I get so caught up in the world of mega-crime and super-powered nutbars…

“Nutbars”…?! Batman called his villains nutbars? Man.

The Flash: Rebirth #5 (DC) Two thing about the cover of this issue jumped out at me. First, it wasn’t the one solicited; on that one, the figure running from the other side of the wall to deck Barry Allen was The Black Flash, here it’s the real villain of the piece, who was revealed last issue (You can download the real cover as part of the preview here if you’re dying to know but didn’t read #4).

Secondly, in the upper-right corner is this little round blurb:
Congratulations to Johns for the win, and I’m sure it’s almost always better to win a prize than not win a prize, but is it really something to trumpet on the cover of the fifth issue of your six-part series? Is it cool to be so proud of a prize…particularly one of dubious stature? I mean, winning a Spike TV Scream Award isn’t like winning one of these, you know?
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this issue of the series that doesn’t apply to the four that preceded it. The story is fairly well done and probably as good a Barry-Allen-comes-back-to-life-for-no-reason story as anyone could have written at this point, the event seems strangely small and disconnected from the rest of the DC Universe, it’s irritating to see this level of darkness and faux-seriousness retconned onto the origin of a comic book character that embodies the Silver Age of comics, artist Ethan Van Sciver does extremely solid work and occasionally pulls off an extremely admirable “special effect” depiction of speed powers, et cetera.

A couple of noteworthy-ish things happen this issue, including a new character taking on a retired code name from the Flash family and a couple of Flashes getting different costumes (I sure hope Jesse’s is temporary though…), but maybe that’s the sort of stuff better discussed elsewhere (Like say, Blog@…tomorrow).

In the mean time, I’d just like to point out this line of dialogue that Geoff Johns wrote, and remind you that the year this line of dialogue was published is 2009:
Van Sciver sure drew a nice splash page of Liberty Belle kicking the Reverse-Flash in the grill though…

Superman/Batman #66 (DC) This is part one of a story called “Night of the Cure,” a two-part arc in the Superman/Batman team-up title by Scot Kolins. In actuality, it’s part nine of Scott Kolins’ Solomon Grundy comic, which launched with a special before turning into a seven-part miniseries.

This issue doesn’t exactly demand you know what the hell went on in that series, and does a decent enough job of letting you know things like Bizarro was friends with Grundy, and that Frankenstein killed Grundy with a magic sword or whatever, and even the origins of Man-Bat and Grundy, but it still feels like a story in progress.

I like the idea of Bizarro and Man-Bat as a villain version of the Superman and Batman team, but exploring that idea isn’t the focus of this story. Instead, it’s a Blackest Night tie-in, which means a dead character gets a Black Lantern ring, a Black Lantern costume, and then acts like an asshole to a superhero before attempting to eat his or her heart.

Here, the dead-again Solomon Grundy gets a ring, and attacks Bizarro, who just failed in an attempt to befriend Man-Bat, who was just hunted down by Frankenstein, The Bride, and his scientist wife Francine Langstrom.

It’s a quick, light read without a whole lot to recommend, but Kolins’ art is pretty nice here and there, and I really liked some of his images of an upside-down, silhouetted Man-Bat and Frankenstein making eyes at The Bride.

Thunderbolts #138 (Marvel Comics) This is one of two comics I picked up in the shops and thought about setting right back down after seeing the art. The other was Batman Confidential, which I did put right back down. I brought this one back home with me, however, as it was written by Jeff Parker, whom you may have noticed I’m rather fond of.

The art is just awful.

It’s Marvel “house” style, which means the panels look photo-refrenced and lazy, it’s hard to see the work of human hands in its creation, and the coloring makes everything look soft, murky and unreal.

The character designs are uniformly boring as well, with the team leader Scourge resembling Jason Voorhees in a big coat and the one character with a genuinely neat look—The Ant-Man of the canceled Irredeemable Ant-Man—given a new, worse look. I can’t blame that on the artist here though, as I assume these characters existed prior to this issue, and maybe someone else is to blame for their overall generic-ness.

As for the story, it’s fairly accessible. This is the first time in memory that I’ve used Marvel’s re-cap page, and it worked fine for me (I coulda used one of these in Superman/Batman, actually). It’s a 22-page introduction to the team, which consists of a half-dozen superpowered assholes, some of whom may be insane, doing a great deal of killing. It reminded me a bit of Gail Simone’s Secret Six, albeit with less colorful characters and less humor (Thank God for Ant-Man!).

As I neard the end of the issue, I was thinking it would probably be my last (check out the third-to-last panel if you’ve got a copy handy…that’s such an ugly, lazy panel the book woulda been better served with an all-black one), until I got to the very last panel and saw that the Thunderbolts are going to be taking on Parker’s Agents of Atlas next issue.

Damn it. Okay, so I guess I’ll try one more issue of Thunderbolts, Parker. I can’t resist the charms of your talking gorilla and mute killer robot…

Tiny Titans #22 (DC) How can you not love a comic book that includes panels like this one?
Also, this issue introduces a few more new characters into the fold. There’s the “Elastic Four” above, including new Sidekick Elementary student Offspring, and then there’s the newest member of the Bird Scouts, Golden Eagle:
Tiny Titans is so adorable sometimes I can barely stand it.


snell said...

You missed the "best" bit of odd Batman dialogue: "--Okay, fine, screw it--"

You remember your parents with that filthy brain, Bruce?

Mory said...

You're right about those bits of Batman dialogue. They sound more like Spider-Man.

Jacob T. Levy said...

A Grundy, Bizarro, and Man-Bat story should sound so awesome. And yet...

Phillip said...

"They sound more like Spider-Man"

Gee, I can't imagine how that happened. I agree, it doesn't really sound like Bats at all.

caleb said...

You missed the "best" bit of odd Batman dialogue: "--Okay, fine, screw it--"

I sure did miss it. In fact, "Fine, screw it" is probably the least Batman-like thing there is to say, as it's got that whole "giving up" connotation going on too...

Matt said...

Caleb, you should at least page through the Realm of Kings one-shot next time you're in the store. It has something way cooler than Zombie Avengers.

Jeremy H said...

I think Neil Gaiman is responsible more than anyone else for the Brother Power's continued avoidance of the trash heap of obscurity. He dragged him out for a Swamp Thing annual back in the 90s, which was the first time he'd been seen since his own series.