Friday, May 14, 2010

Comic shop comics: April 28th-May 12th

Batman and Robin #12 (DC Comics) I was pleased as punch that although this book came out a good eight days before I’d get my hands on a copy, I was able to go days and days without learning the secret identity of mysterious mystery writer Oberon Sexton, thanks to a combination of my own will power and the online critics I read managing to talk about the book without ruining the surprise.

Unfortunately, this lasted only until this last Tuesday, when DC’s Source blog published the cover of Batman and Robin #13, with the guy under Oberon’s top hat on it. Blast!

I’m not generally a spoiler-carer-abouter, as I’m more interested in how comics are executed rather than what plot points they reveal, but Morrison’s on-going Bat-saga is one of the few stories I’m genuinely wrapped up in to the point that I get excited about things like that.

Oh well, that only really spoiled one of the 22 pages in this comic (As for the reveal, it would have caught me by surprise, even thought it fits in perfectly with things Morrison has been writing throughout his time on the Bat-books, which is exactly how a good mystery should be written, Brad Meltzer!).

Those first 21 pages, the climax of the Batman and Robin vs. Talia and Deathstroke fight and more twists and turns in the mystery of Bruce Wayne’s whereabouts in time and space, with little grace notes on nearly every page (I liked the bit where Grayson mentions the decimation of Bludhaven to Deathstroke, in the context of “Hey, isn’t it weird DC Comics destroyed a whole city like that and then just plain never mentioned it again, with even the hero who used to protect that city apparently always having better things to do then bring those responsible to justice?”).

What’s most exciting about this title for me is that with every new issue its clear that Morrison is telling a gigantic Batman story, the careful plotting that began years ago with Morrison’s Bat-stuff in 2006’s 52 serving as the beginning of a story that’s still on-going, and the fact that I have literally no idea where all this is going or what the resolution might be.

Unlike a lot of superhero events, wherein you know big changes—having someone else become Batman and a new character become Robin, for example—are temporary and things will return to normal soon, I can’t even guess how Bruce Wayne gets back to the 21st century, who will be Batman when he does, who will be Robin when he does, and what happens to the characters who aren’t going to be Batman and Robin then.

It looks like there was a glitch or two getting this thing done on time, given the chaotic credits (with Dustin Nguyen doing lay outs for half the book and Scott Hanna finishing that half, in addition to inking the Andy Clarke drawn half of the book), but to the credit of everyone involved, it’s still a pretty great looking book. I think it has a lot to do with Hanna adopting Clarke’s style to a certain extent when finishing the pages Clarke didn’t draw.

Batman: The Brave and The Bold #16 (DC) Okay, look. This comic book has a drawing of Vincent Price as Egghead from the old live-action Batman TV show on the cover, complete with a pair of egg puns. You know it’s a winner before you even bother opening it up.

I found the story inside, by Landry Walker and Eric Jones, to actually be a little disappointing, perhaps because I’ve seen better from these guys on this title before (the truly sublime #12, the “Final Christmas” issue) and perhaps because I’ve been living with the knowledge of that cover and being so excited to read this issue for so long that the actual eggsperience couldn’t have possibly have lived up to my eggspectations.

Part of it was the unconvincing mish-mash of Greek mythology, an ancient ninja cult and Lovecraftian business, or that Wonder Woman is an exceptionally boring character in this (she’s drawn in a more Golden Age costume and with a skinny physique and distinctive face, but written in the modern default mode of What If Superman Was a Woman), and her relationship with Batman lacks a lot an interesting angle the way some of this team-upees in here usually do.

Props to Walker for a neat explanation for the name Egg-Fu, though; here it’s an English corruption off his Lovecraftian monster name, Y’ggphu Soggoth.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1: (DC) This is a comic book about Batman fighting cavemen in caveman days, as written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story. I can’t imagine very many of you need to know much more information than that to decide if this is a comic book for you or not, but I should not that it more than lives up to it’s expectations.

Where they will go next with the story isn’t entirely clear—Batman falls underwater at one point and wakes up in pilgrim times, and Superman, Booster Gold and a few others appear via Time Sphere, on the hunt for time-lost Batman—so I’m not sure I can safely predict how great the series is going to be or anything, but this first, over-sized issue?

Great stuff.

Morrison writes the story from the point of view of the cave people—The Deer People, they’re actually called—and their dialogue all appears in easy to read English, only their grammar and cadence is different from ours. Batman, who the Deer People call a “sky-man,” speaks in misspelled, space-less phonetics, so “The old man is dead” becomes “Thayawlmansted” and “Look out!” becomes “Lokka!”

It’s cute, but effective, showing us the character we’re most familiar with as the most remote, alien character, but with a tiny bit of extra work you can read the same story from his perspective as well.

I can’t say enough good things about Sprouse, Story and Guy Major’s artwork here. It’s absolutely perfect in every way, and it’s a damn shame that the art team will shift with each issue. I would not complain one bit if these guys got to draw more Batman for Morrison again in the very near future.

Birds of Prey #1 (DC) Well I sure didn’t expect to be reading any more Ed Benes comics, on account of the fact that he’s a pretty terrible character designer with one two characters (“male” and “female”) and that no matter what the story he’s illustrating seems to be about, he just draws a bunch of sexy ladies sticking their butts and boobs in front of the “camera.”

But, as I’ve said before, unlike some of his other comics, Birds of Prey is about a super-team of scantily clad sexy ladies who never wear pants (except, ironically, Oracle, the one character who stays home all the time and thus could easily get away without ever wearing pants and not raise an eyebrow).

Aside from Gotham City Sirens (same concept, only with supervillains), this is probably the only current DC title where Benes’ “style” and/or interests aren’t a distracting drawback.

Plus, it’s written by Gail Simone, and her good, long run on Birds of Prey (which I’ve read all of) always teetered between pretty entertaining and Chuck Dixon-ly competent, so what the hell, I gave the first issue a try.

And, like all of the other comics Gail Simone has written with the words “Birds of Prey” on the cover before, it’s not bad at all. Oracle gets her girl gang of Huntress, Lady Blackhawk and Black Canary back together again after they parted ways during…whatever happened before (I think it was mostly just editors fighting for control of Black Canary?). The mission? Get to the bottom of some blackmail scheme that threatens the secret identity of various members of the superhero community.

Because this has a “Brightest Day” logo across the top of the cover, that means some back-from-the-dead characters must be involved, so the Birds take Hawk and Dove under their wing (ha ha!). Also involved are new villain White Canary (another bird!) and Batman villain The Penguin because, you know, birds.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call Benes’ work here good, but it’s a hell of a lot better than his JLoA work, having actual backgrounds and everything. I don’t like the more Jim Lee-y direction his art has evolved towards since the last time he was drawing BOP, back when his work was cleaner, flatter and rounder. There’s a sketchy quality to it, with lots of little, unnecessary lines in certain place, and missing lines in other places (note the whites parts of Huntress’ costume in all the panels of her; colorist Nei Ruffino draws those lines in, and, in general, seems to be doing a great degree more “finishing” than one might expect from a colorist).

It would also be nice if there were more variation among the leads in terms of the way they’re drawn—the cover alone demonstrates that the cast consists of what look like identical quintuplets distinguished only by different hairstyles and outfits–and if someone would give Huntress her pants back, but I don’t think Benes’ art is a deal breaker or anything here (Although if the editors want to replace him with Cliff Chiang or Guillem March—once March’s Sirens title is inevitably canceled—I sure as hell won’t complain).

Brightest Day #1 (DC) Ah. After actually reading this, the second issue of Brightest Day (helpfully numbered “#1,” I see that Hal Jordan is not, in fact, having sex with the White Lantern power battery on the cover of this issue (as I originally assumed), but is, rather, attempting to lift it.

Lift with your legs, Jordan!

That is not a very good cover image that David Finch drew, is basically what I’m saying.

So! This issue is just like the first issue of the series, #0, except for the fact that it’s cast is a more manageable size, and there some weird, unpleasant shit in it. I mean, weirder and more unpleasant than a few panels of a baby bird dying and laying in a pool of its own blood.

For example, this scene right here:
Those are Somali pirates, identified as such later during a news report later in the issue, so here’s Aquaman and Mera battling a real-life problem (Relevance!) But, um, what’s up with the talk about slavery and child rape? Maybe I haven’t been listening to the same news reports as Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi, but I thought the deal was that the pirates would kidnap boats and crews and then ransom them back to their owners and/or employers. So what’s with the completely random addition of child rape into the story? Extra effort is actually being put into working it into the script.

That aside, this is…well, it’s sort of like Johns’ Green Lantern, only instead of a whole issue just featuring Hal Jordan, it features a scene a piece given to various former Justice Leaguers, as drawn by different artists (The Martian Manhunter scenes look the best to me).

I like a lot of these characters a whole lot—Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and Black Manta especially—and I love the weekly or just-about-weekly format and this wasn’t terrible or anything, but I just can’t for the life of me figure out why everything’s gotta come down to rape and death in these things.

Heroic Age: Prince of Power #1 (Marvel Comics) Well, that’s funny. The solicitation that Marvel released for this $3.99 comic book says that it is 40 pages.

Here’s how that breaks down:

—23 pages of story

—7-page preview of next week’s Atlas #1

—8 pages of ads

—1 page recap

—1 page memo from character Amadeus Cho to his employees

That’s pretty shitty, Marvel.

Justice League: Generation Lost #1 (DC) And here’s the launch of DC’s other almost-weekly. This is one I was actually really nervous about, because on the one hand I like the cast (the remnants of the Giffen/DeMatteis years of the Justice League) and co-plotter/breakdown artist Keith Giffen but, on the other hand, the villain of the piece is The Suddenly Evil Because Superboy Prime Punched Continuity So Hard Max Lord, and I loathe the work of co-plotter/script writer Judd Winick.

The cover didn’t put me at ease, either. Who are these terrible monsters that Tony Harris drew on it?

Well, it’s a pretty decent comic book. Winick doesn’t do anything terrible or wrong, so hooray for that. The artwork, by pencil artist Aaron Lopresti and inker Matt Ryan on Giffen’s breakdowns, is pretty great (although they won’t be back again until issue #4; Joe Bennett draws #2)

I’m not sure I quite understand the premise just yet. Max Lord uses his psychic abilities to erase all memory from the minds of everyone except a quartet of his former friends—Booster, Fire, Ice and Captain Atom—which doesn’t actually seem like it would solve his problem, since when Superman’s all like, “Max Lord? Who’s that?” then Booster could just look Max up on Wikipedia and show the entry to Superman.

I suspect the bit with Captain Atom and the radiation is going to turn out to be some sort of super-smart data deletion thing that will wipe all reference of Lord out of computers and suchlike, but that still leaves newspapers and suchlike. Surely Booster Gold kept all his press clippings, right?

I’m not sure where to go next with this. Like Birds of Prey, I thought I’d give the first issue a chance, half-expecting to totally hate it, but, also like Birds, it turned out to be pretty good if not great. I guess I’ll give ‘em a couple more issues to either screw up or wow me, then…?

Bad form putting Kevin Maguire, the artist most associated with this cast of characters, on variant cover duty though. This
looks so much nicer than Harris dumb collage of photo-referenced grotesqueries.

King City #8 (Image Comics) Holy shit, Pete’s last name is “Taifighter?” And Anna’s last name is “Greengables?” I did not know that!

This issue has an awesome-looking pink and tan chainsaw tank with cattle catcher on the cover, and contains a brief tour of the contents of the various characters’ pockets, as well as a substantial flashback to Maximum Absolute’s time in the Korean zombie wars.

There are two back-up strips, a five-page strip by Thomas Herpich about another Cat Master (it is very different from Brandon Graham’s comic, but still very, very good), and a one-page, back-cover strip about Graham and Marian Churchland’s home life.

Orc Stain #3 (Image) One of the many pleasures of James Stokoe’s one-man show about an orc with a very special talent for breaking things is simply watching Stokoe unwrap new elements of the fantasy world he’s creating. For example, a gigantic, gas-filled balloon erected as a monument, or the long, coiled serpent that some orcs unwrap, stuff arrows down the throat of, and use as some sort of super-precise long gun (a snake which complains about being turned into a tool, Flintstones-style: “Koff koff! Ugh I hate my life…”)

But there are a lot of pleasures in Stokoe’s Orc Stain, from his wild character designs, to his slick, vivid coloring (which works a whole rainbow’s worth of colors in every panel), to the lovely hand-lettered dialogue bubbles, to the fast-paced plot, as thin as it is. This particular issue is little more than a big chase scene, as half the orcs in Skrubtown chase ambush One-Eye in the bathtub, and chase him all over the shoddily-shingled rooftops, firing a variety of weird-ass weapons at him as he makes his escape. This is probably my second favorite serially published comic book that I’m reading at the moment, right behind King City, which I like for many of the exact same reasons.

Yotsuba&! Vol. 8 (Yen Press) Ahhhh. The perfect way to follow up a stack of super-comics of various levels of quality: a cleansing, purifying 215-pages of Yotsuba hilarity (I actually laughed out loud three times this volume). Yotsuba&! is the universal panacea.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you still have a mad-on for Winick, I thought his recent Batman work had slightly changed your opinion on him.

Randal said...

Yes yes yes to the variant cover for Generation Lost...mostly because I can honestly never get enough of that Justice League #1 cover (and I'm not being sarcastic...I fricken' love that cover).

Jacob T. Levy said...

"Oracle gets her girl gang of Huntress, Lady Blackhawk and Black Canary back together again after they parted ways during…whatever happened before"

I made the mistake of sticking with the previous volume of BOP after Simone's departure, so I can report that, no, Black Canary wasn't the proximate cause of the breakup. IIRC, Oracle kind of decided that stuff had gotten out of control-- Misfit was in too much danger, she herself was still kind of freaked out about re-encountering Joker, and Calculator was on the loose. So she just kind of fired everyone who was left on the already-Black-Canary-less team.

That said, man, Black Canary's had a screwy few years as a character, hasn't she? taken away from the character and book that had done more than anything in her history to develop her in order to...

give her a child/ take the child away/ make her leader of the JLA/ dismember the JLA on her watch/ marry her off to GA/ pretend-kill GA before the marriage/ marry them off again/ have the marriage collapse... ?

rjt said...

I'm sorry, but I think it's weird when people complain about things like Maxwell Lord erasing everyone's memories of him by saying things "Did he erase the internet?" It's like you're okay with one totally improbable and illogical thing, but not another.

Brian J said...

Don't forget the other great thing about Orc Stain - more (color) pages than most Marvel comics for only $2.99. I'm not sure how Stokoe does it, but I appreciate it.