Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Weekly Haul: December 30th

Or should that be “Weekly Handful”…? (Or does that sound too dirty?) As you no doubt already know, there was only one new book available in direct market comic shops this week, plus a freebie Marvel gave away. I picked up both, as well as a couple of older trades, and I’ll review ‘em all below.

I don’t usually do “spoiler warnings,” because these are reviews and not previews (and also, I don’t personally care about “spoilers,” being more interested in how a comic is executed than what occurs within it), but I’ll go ahead and say it this time, since Blackest Night has a completely predictable-but-still-somehow-surprising twist, which accounts for the only really fun to be had in the reading experience.

So, for any crybabies in the reading audience, SPOILER WARNING, okay? Read on only after you’ve already read Blackest Night #6 and/or if you don’t give a shit that Hal Jordan and Barry Allen end up making love atop a pile of Teen Titans corpses on page 22…

Blackest Night #6 (DC Comics) First off, I’d like to congratulate and thank DC for working with Diamond to get this issue in comics shops in time to be available for sale today, despite the usual holiday delays and the unusual week off that the direct market’s (almost-)only distributor decided to take this year.

I’ve heard retailers say that they would appreciate getting comics early like this more often to make their jobs easier, and the argument against shops getting their books early is the concern of spoilers leaking and, more seriously for retailers, some unscrupulous types ignoring street dates and embargoes and selling the books as soon as they get them, in order to get a jump up on the scrupulous ones.

As a person who hates it every time a holiday bumps a New Comic Book Day from a Wednesday to a Thursday, I would love it if Diamond, retailers and publishers could figure out a way to do something like this more often, if not every single week. However, I’ve heard that some retailers did break the embargo on this issue, so perhaps that won’t ever become a reality after all.

Ah well.

So, that’s the good thing about DC’s Blackest Night #6. Here’s the horrible thing: DC’s been less than forthcoming about the contents of these issues, and somewhat sneaky—I’d go so far as to say Marvel-esque—in their pricing of the issues of this series. It started with a 40-page #1 priced at $3.99, and the next five issues kept that $3.99 price, while the page counts were drastically reduced for the next four issues—26 story pages at the most, 24 at the least.

This issue features the least amount of story pages thus far—just 23 (four of those are spent on two two-page splashes). That’s pretty much the definition of “not cool.” Visit and you’ll see that it says Blackest Night #6 is 40 pages long. And it is, but only if you count the ads.

Your average DC comic book is 22-pages for $2.99, but lists those at 32-page comics, as they count the ads. So a reader would always reasonably factor in 10 pages of ads and, seeing this solicitation, might have assumed it was a 30-page book with ten pages of ads because, Jesus, why else would DC charge an $1? It’s not like they’re highwaymen like Marvel, right?

But a reader would be wrong, because this comic features far fewer story pages, and far more ads. That extra $1 is to pay for the price of the ads which, in this particular issue, includes eight full-page house ads for future Blackest Night tie-ins (although I guess DC could chuckle nervously and say, “What? It’s a cover gallery!”), a full-page house ad/check list of the next few months’ worth of Blackest Night tie-ins.

In other words, DC would like you to pay $1 for the privilege of being exposed to some ads for things they would like to sell you.

So while yes, great, I’m glad I could read a new super-comic this Wednesday, holy shit this one was pretty evil.

Basically one thing happens in this issue, and it’s another one of those great awesome/stupid moments that Geoff Johns pulls off so well. I found this one particularly satisfying, because it was something that seemed so obvious for months now, something that I’ve heard blogosphere pundits wondering after before and something that we’ve already seen happen in a tie-in, and it’s something that Johns has been foreshadowing so heavily that any word with “shadow” on the base seems too insubstantial a word for it, and yet it still came as a surprise, on account of the fact that it hadn’t already happened yet, and the somewhat random way in which it occurs here.

And so here’s the spoiler, ready? Ganthet makes himself a Green Lantern ring and joins the Green Lantern Corps, while explaining that all of the folks on the cover of this issue have the ability to duplicate their rings and temporarily deputize someone nearby to their ranks.

Which means various DC super-characters get various colored rings, making for Red Lantern Mera and Sinestro Corps Scarecrow and Orange Lantern Luthor and so on.

I thought that was a pretty cool development, for the very same reason that seeing Batman’s Green Lantern costume back in 2006’s Green Lantern #9 or the appearances of any of the various otherly-colored Lanterns right on up until the Black Lanterns started appearing was pretty cool. So many of these characters and their designs—and let’s face it, characters like Hal Jordan and Barry Allen were never characters as much as they were designs until recently anyway—are so familiar, that seeing them not only tweaked a bit, but radically tweaked is sort of exciting. Sure, the change is only cosmetic, but the cosmetic change is still a radical one.

Unfortunately, most of these designs are terrible. Orange Lantern Luthor is simply wearing a glow-y orange version of his stupid green and purple Super Powers armor. Indigo Tribesman Ray Palmer looks like a shirtless Sword of The Atom Atom with body paint. The Scarecrow just changed coats. And Star Sapphire Wonder Woman, well, Yeesh. Still, it’s something different, and in the world of super-comics, different is good.

Red Lantern Mera and Blue Lantern Flash offer the most promise of exciting looks, but I guess I’ll need to see more of them before I make up my mind. These New New Guardians or whatever they are only appear in a single splash and on a check-list in the back, and The Flash’s costume is sort of obscured by his pose. Given that the character is so associated with red though, I kinda like the idea of a Blue Flash.

And that’s this issue’s big Holy shit! moment and, in fact, pretty much its only development. Hal and Barry escape their Black Lanternized friends (Not sure why Black Lantern Superman didn’t just murder the fuck out of them both in like one second flat—he is still almost Flash-fast while wearing evil jewelry, right?) and evade the rings that were seeking out their fingers, then Ganthet throws some rings in the direction of various DC characters, the end.

Just two more issues to go! Or, if you read all the tie-ins too, then just 26 more issues left to go, I guess.

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Vol. 14 (Marvel Comics) As plenty of folks noticed, Marvel’s solicitations for March included the final issues of their last two remaining Marvel Adventures books, MA Spider-Man and MA Super-Heroes, which has become the de facto MA Avengers book.

The timing was extremely odd, given that both of the books had just recently been given new, rather different directions, including continuing storylines (over the previous always done-in-one stories), regular artists and new, regular cover artists giving each a distinctive and consistent look. Each book also got a bump in the sales charts seemingly resulting from these changes.

It seems highly unlikely that Marvel would have gone to the trouble of relaunching the books like that only to pull the plug a few months later, so chances are Marvel Adventures will return sooner rather than later, and in a different form or format (I’ve seen it mentioned in a comments thread somewhere that this may have something to do with the Disney deal too, since these books were among Marvel’s few all-ages efforts).

The unfortunate part of all this is that Marvel Adventures Spider-Man is better than it’s ever been, and, as this volume suggests, was apparently being refocused to be a bit more like Ultimate Spider-Man.

This volume has a great title (along with Nightcrawler: Bamf!, Spider-Man: Thwip! was a title I’ve been anticipating since Wolverine: Snikt! was announced), and collects MA Spider-Man #53-#56.

Writer Paul Tobin does an excellent job of coming up with something that reads and feels new and original and fresh, while still maintaining enough of old school Spider-Man to feel right.

Peter Parker is still a high school student living with his Aunt May and all that but, in the first issue, two mutants visit his school—psychic Emma Frost and new character Chat, who can talk to animals. They discover his secret identity (and learn his origin for, you know, a good jumping on point) and the latter has enough of a crush on him to enroll in school. Also new to the school is Gwen Stacy, the daughter of a police captain who also discovers Spidey’s secret identity.

A bit of a love triangle—or like triangle, I guess, given hos chaste these kids all are—forms between Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Chat and Gwen, adding teen melodrama to the mix of normal Spider-Man problems like bad PR, keeping his identity secret and fighting villains and other heroes after misunderstandings.

Matteo Lolli provided most of the art, save for one issue, which was drawn by Jacopo Camagni. Lolli’s work is pretty amazing, and a great pleasure to read. Camagni’s? Even better. With Skottie Young’s inventive, slightly sketchy covers, this comic was all around great looking and, as soon as I finished it, I couldn’t wait to read the next one—although I guess there’s only going to be one more collection.

By the time the final issue ships in March, there will only be five more issues after the last one collected here. I suppose that’s enough time for Tobin to wrap this up, but it’s still kinda disappointing. It seems like Marvel finally really got this book just right, and now it’s being changed (if not completely canceled). I sure hope its next iteration is at least this good.

Origins of Siege #1 (Marvel) This is the much-appreciated ad for for Brian Michael Bendis and Oliveir Coipel’s upcoming event miniseries Siege, an ad that is the size, shape and basic form of a comic book, which Marvel thoughtfully made available for this stupid New Comic Book Day With Like One New Comic Book skip week concept of Diamond’s. It’s straight advertainment, and as such, isn’t worth spending any money on, so the fact that Marvel gave it away for free is pretty fitting.

It opens with an eight-page story written by Brian Michael Bendis, and drawn (Illustrated? Ginned up?) by artist Lucio Parrillo in what looks like skillfully applied airbrushing. It opens with Norman Osborn sipping wine in front of a gigantic Avengers poster by Mike Deodato (I think), ignoring the view outside his window, which is an aerial photograph of a city run through some sort of filter. Suddenly, Loki appears, startling Osborn (“NUUHH--LOKI!”).

Osborn tells Loki he doesn’t understand what Asgard is, and Loki tells him over the course of two two-page spreads, the first of which looks ripped from Ivan Reis drawn spread in DC's DC Universe 0. Then the two characters agree that they are going to appear in a big event miniseries entitled Siege.

That’s followed by the six-page preview of Siege #1 that everyone who reads Marvel comics has already read, and then that is followed by the most interesting bit of the book, a series of 12 one-page origin stories written by Fred Van Lente and drawn by artists associated with the characters.

These are all very basic, and are designed more for people who have no idea who Captain America or Norman Osborn are instead of explaining what those characters have been up to recently—they’re origin stories, not summaries of recent events.

These are kind of interesting in that they are essentially the same sorts of things DC was doing in the back of 52 and Countdown, but only half the size, and thus even though Van Lente does a decent enough job of explaining the basics of who these people are and how they came to be, the origins are never complete stories like the better DC origin stories were.

If you’re wondering who will be “major players” in Siege, I suppose these pages will answer that: Both Captains America, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Norman Osborn, Loki, The Sentry, Wolverine, Doctor Doom, Ares and The Hood. I plan on sitting this one out, on account of having never read a Bendis-written superhero story I enjoyed that didn’t have the words “Ultimate Spider-Man” somewhere in the title, and this didn’t do anything to change those plans.

Still, it was nice of Marvel to give me something to read on this otherwise pretty barren New Comic Book Day…I do appreciate that.

Spider Man J: Japanese Knights (Marvel) I was torn between Thwip! and this other all-ages Marvel digest featuring a Spider-Man, so I ended up just getting them both—I guess that’s one advantage to a week in which only one new book ships.

It collects the manga stories by Yamanaka Akira that were previously published in Spider-Man Family and, before that, presumably in Japan somewhere. I would have liked a little introduction or something to explain these comics’ existence a little better—all I’ve got to go on are the “Originally published only overseas” on the back cover, and this odd sentence that ran across the top of each new chapter: “Each corner of the globe has its own unique take on the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN! Direct from Japan, Marvel is proud to present…”

That’s about all I know about these comics, although they were apparently flipped (they read right to left, and the “J” on Spider-Man J’s spider-symbol is always backward).

They’re awfully fun though, in large part because of how different they are. Spider-Man J is still Peter, and he still lives with his Aunt May (a much younger looking aunt). His best friends are Harold and Jane-Marie, and the only one who knows his secret identity is police detective Flynn. He battles a variety of animal-themed villains, although they’re not manga versions of the animal-themed US versions.

Instead, there’s General Wasperus, Dragonfly, The Spotted Cat (a species of Beetle, apparently) and “B-Warrior Tough Goraias.” Oh, and a female ninja named Elektra shows up in one story, but she’s more heroine than villain.

There’s a loose, rough zaniness to the proceedings, with most of the villains being fairly over-the-top, and Akira finds plenty of imaginative, unusual uses for Spidey’s webbing and for the defeat of his various foes. They often seem to die at the end of the encounters, but the light-hearted, cartoony nature of the book makes it hard to tell if they die like Wile E. Coyote or, say, Gwen Stacy. For example, Dragonfly meets his end by flying “SPLATTT!” into the spinning blades of a helicopter propeller (his cartoon eyes flying out among the debris, ghost monster style) and is never seen again, while Goraias has the spire of a skyscraper fall point first onto him…but later appears with two bandages over his ass.

I can’t imagine Spider-Man J being to too many Spidey fans’ tastes, but I enjoyed it a heck of a lot, and certainly much more than the various manga-style Spidey stories Marvel had produced in-house in the past.


Vanja said...

Well, this was a very thorough entry.

It's interesting how little Marvel has to do to sell Spider-Man comics to you, though, simply by providing a less continuity heavy interpretation of the character. I bet there's lots of fans who are of like mind, which would explain the popularity of Ultimate Spider-Man.

Interestingly, the manga Spider-Man having a police detective knowing his secret reminded me of a supporting player during JMS' time as the writer of the "Amazing". I can't recall the name of the police inspector that Spider-Man formed a relationship akin to that of Batman and comissioner Gordon, but I believe the last time I saw him was in the middle of Mark Millar's Marvel Knights Spider-Man initial story-arc.

Whatever became of the character and did he ever appear again? It's interesting of JMS to have dropped such a cliched player in the proceedings, and seemingly leave him off alone before doing anything to subvert the expectations and justify his use (or alternatively, anything at all).

Kid Kyoto said...

Thanks for calling out DC on their ads and pricing.

I only read and buy trades now, and one big reason is the amount of ads have made monthlies really unappealing to read.

Mory said...


You're thinking of Detective Lamont. He last appeared in the 2007 Sensational Spider-Man Annual, written by Matt Fraction.