Thursday, July 22, 2010

Comic shop comics: July 14-July 20

Atlas #3 (Marvel Comics) Poor, old Atlas. Doesn’t anyone even care that Gabriel Hardman is just getting better and better with every issue of an Atlas comic he draws?
Because he is.

Batman #701 (DC Comics) This is a pretty strange comic, one that essentially only exists because of the fact that Grant Morrison wrote two “deaths” of Bruce Wayne—the real one in the pages of Final Crisis and a fake, temporary one at the end of “Batman R.I.P.” in Batman, simply because the eventual trade collection needed a proper climax, whether the story Morrison was writing actually ended there or not.

So here’s part one of “R.I.P.: The Missing Chapter,” by the “R.I.P.” creative team of Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel, explaining what Bruce Wayne got up to between not dying in a helicopter crash and then not dying in a shoot-out with Darkseid.

It’s existence is especially odd, given that this would have been so much more necessary back around the time Final Crisis was still going on, and it seems to exist now simply to remind readers about Dr. Hurt/Mangrove Pierce/Thomas Wayne/The Devil and what he did the last time he fought a Batman, since he just came back to Gotham City in the pages of Morrison’s Batman and Robin.

But I’ll take it; I’m not about to say no to any new Morrison-written Batman comic, even if it’s drawn by an artist I don’t care for.

Daniel is inking himself again here, and it’s probably his strongest Morrison collaboration to date—much better than his section in Batman #700. He seems to be going for a more Quitely-like design to Bruce Wayne, and both Batman and Superman (in his brief appearance) look rather Quitely inspired.

It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad either.

Birds of Prey #3 (DC) It’s all downhill after Cliff Chiang’s rather charming Birds of Prey-doing-Penguin-themed-burlesque cover.

Like, immediately after.

The first three pages consist of a Penguin dream sequence in which he fantasizes about the heroines stripping and getting ready to pleasure him.

I think writer Gail Simone’s intent here was probably two-fold. First, to give pencil artist Ed Benes (once again splitting duties with Adrian Melo) a logical opportunity to do what he does best—draw buxom, muscular ladies jutting their butts and boobs out. And second, to do so with a sense of humor.

It doesn’t really work out all that well since there’s not a whole lot of difference between the way the women appear in the fantasy sequence and the way they’re normally dressed and posed. Here, can you spot which panel is the one from The Penguin’s fantasy, and which is just a random panel from the book?
Not all that far apart, are they?

Additionally, since most of the ladies are about as scantily clad as DC will let any character this side of the Vertigo demilitarized zone appear, the differences between a stripping Black Canary or Lady Blackhawk and a not stripping Black Canary or Lady Blackhawk are basically something for the colorist to worry about—Nei Ruffino just colors parts of their breasts flesh-colored instead of black.

And as for the second possible motive, well, the punchline isn’t really all that funny. Three pages of set-up leads to an image of The Penguin making out with thin air, saying “My dear child, my lithe and lovely lutefish! Penguin party in my pants” aloud.

Maybe it’s just me, but I thought the suggestion of the cover—that The Penguin fetishizes monocles, top hats, umbrellas and cigarette holders—a lot funnier than the long, drawn-out detailing of the fact that he wants to fuck all the women in the book.

The next 19 pages aren’t any better, ranging from poor writing to incompetent art.

For example, here’s a scene of Hawk looking out the window of the Iceberg Lounge. What floor would you say he’s on, given the buildings in the background?

Probably not the ground floor, right? But then a SWAT team tank drives through that very window, and Hawk runs out the whole it creates, on the ground.

As for the writing, well, remember how in the last issue Gail Simone had two minor supporting characters from her previous run on the book killed off, and readers all over the Internet reacted with eye-rolls, sighs and sadly shaken heads that Simone was the 485th DC writer to pull a kill-off-characters-in-sad-attempt-to-gain-attention stunt, in such numbers that Gail Simone herself felt compelled to let readers know the characters probably aren’t really dead?

Well—surprise!—they’re not really dead.

I realize I’m not a professional comics writer or anything and thus my opinion may not pull much weight with those who are, but I’m pretty sure if you have to talk readers through your attempts at building suspense and surprises to let them know your scripting isn’t as clichéd as it appears, well, you’re probably not writing a very good script in the first place.

Brightest Day #6 (DC) Martian Manhunter gets the most pages this week, which means this issue is probably one of the better-looking ones, as the Martian Manhunter storyline has been the best illustrated by far (so far).

J’onn continues to track down that weird alien monster thing that violently, graphically kills folks and which sorta resembles a Green Martian, but calls J’onn “the last” at one point so, um, I’m not sure what’s up with it yet.

There are some more Firestorm scenes over those hideously unnatural photo/model backgrounds, a little bit of Aquaman and Mera, and Hawk, Dove and Deadman messing around with the white power ring.

There’s a scene late in the book where J’onn visits Barbara Gordon for help, and it was a nice reminder of what is (potentially) cool about books like this set in shared universes—it’s just kind of exciting to see two such diverse characters borne from two such vastly different sources of inspiration sharing a story, a panel or a conversation. It reminded me of the Morrison JLA (which included the pair on the roster, although I think Mark Waid made more use of them together than Morrison ever did during a fill-in story he wrote), only partly because it referenced a few plot points from that run.

Also Patrick Gleason draws a fantastic Barbara Gordon; his really puts that of Benes and Melo to shame.

Check out Barbara Gordon from Brightest Day, in the first two panels, then Barbara Gordon from Birds of Prey:

So still digging this series a lot more than I’m not digging it. It’s rather 52-like, although less concerned with reinvention and creation than in revitalization. It’s a little like Geoff Johns smushed his Aquaman: Rebirth, Martian Manhunter: Rebirth and Firestorm: Rebirth into a Hawk and Dove pitch and tied it into the Green Lantern franchise.

I can certainly see how the appeal of such a book would be rather limited, but I’m well within the target audience, and my only complaints about it are that one of the half-dozen story segments is terribly illustrated (the Firestorm one) and that it can be crazy violent (The alien killings in this issue are a lot more artfully staged than earlier ones, although it does end with a short-skirted Teen Titan being discovered brutalized. Those poor, doomed kids can’t catch a break…even outside of their book, I guess).

Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 23 (Viz) I tried rather unsuccessfully to watch this anime series a few times over the years, both on Cartoon Network back when I had cable and later through library-borrowed DVDs, but I never got all that far.

Earlier this year I noticed my new local library had a whole shelf of the manga, and figured if I had such a difficult time watching it, maybe I’d have better luck reading it.

It didn’t take me long to get completely hooked, and I had made it through all 22 volumes in a month or so, only to realize with shock and dismay that the series hadn’t actually ended yet, meaning I’d have to wait around for the next volume to be released.

Well, the next volume came out yesterday.

The epic series, an often quite funny action/adventure series about two young alchemists on a quest in a world that resembles our own around the time of World War I, only in that world alchemy is a real science, is clearly reaching its climax, as this volume was little more than fighting. I’m okay with that.

Alphonse vs. Kimblee and Selim/Pride! The Armstrongs vs. Sloth! Mustang vs. Envy…to the death! Briggs vs. Central! Everyone vs. those weird one-eyed doll soldier things!

I realize the twenty-third volume of a manga series probably isn’t the best place to start reviewing it, but I brought it home from the comic shop this week, so, by the rules of this column, I have to include it here.

If you’re interested but haven’t attempted it yet, see if your library has the first two or three volumes. If you’re not hooked by the second volume, then you’ll know whether or not this is something you’re going to end up loving madly.

I love it. Madly.

Gorilla Man #1 (Marvel) This is a comic book that contains this panel:I wouldn’t imagine additional information is needed. You either want to read a comic book in which a gorilla pops a flying wheelie on a motorcycle while firing machine guns with his feet, or you do not. Details, like the fact that the head in the jar is that of Lucrezia Borgia and the soldiers being fired upon work for “Borgia Omega,” a sort of Borgia family cyborg.

I’m not sure the six-page reprint of “It Walks Erect!” from 1974’s Weird Wonder Tales #7 justifies this comic being $4 instead of $3, but I appreciate Marvel at least attempting to justify the outrageous cover price.

Justice League: Generation Lost #5 (DC) Five issues! I’ve read five consecutive issues of a Judd Winick-written comic book! And I haven’t dropped it yet!

Thinking it over, I’m not sure how much this comic book actually has to offer anyone who isn’t already a fan of either this particular group of characters or a fan of some of them as individual characters. I fall into both categories, so as long as a comic featuring them is competently created, I’m going to sufficiently engaged enough to keep my eye on it.

And this is competently created. The artwork on the series has its ups and downs depending on who’s drawing it that week, but this is definitely an up issue (Aaron Lopresti pencils over Giffen’s breakdowns, while Matt Ryan inks). Winick hasn’t written anything too terrible yet.

Er, I guess I endorse this product. I would probably like it less if it were monthly instead of bi-weekly, sure, and, if I didn’t have such affection for the characters, it would probably bore me to tears. So, if you more-often-than-monthly comics and the JLI aren’t things that make you particularly happy, well, take that into account, when considering my endorsement, I guess.

Neko Ramen Vol. 1 (Tokyopop) This came out a while back, but I had to special order it from the shop I’ve been getting my comics from, and it just arrived this week.

As the title indicates, this is a manga about a cat that runs his own ramen shop. That probably sounds like a one-joke premise, but Kenji Sonishi finds endless variations on the cat-that-runs-a-ramen-shop gag, while finding plenty of other direction to go in with Taisho, the cat who puts the neko in Neko Ramen. (I particularly enjoyed those about his strained relationship with his father, who’s disappointed Taisho didn’t follow him into the family business of being a cute kitty model).

Despite several other cat characters, Taisho lives in, works in and interacts with the human world, with his best (and just about only) customer, salary man Tanaka, playing straight man.

Sonishi’s manga is a series of four-panel gag strips, the panels tacked atop one another, although it occasionally shifts into longer form, more standard manga format to tell stories of Taisho’s past (Azumanga Daioh is the only other manga of this exact format I can remember reading off the top of my head).

Sonishi’s designs are particularly broad and cartoony, and he has a rough, somewhat shaky line that gives the strips a certain dashed-off charm.

Orc Stain #4 (Image Comics) Good God can James Stokoe draw. Here’s a terrible scan of a not-quite two-page splash of an orc city, built on a mountain that houses a drugged and slumbering giant spider-like monster:Now that is a splash that deserves the space it takes up, and uses all of it. Wow.

This is a fairly uneventful issue compared to the earlier ones,as orc architecture and telecommunications get an awful lot of focus, but there’s still a pretty insane fight scene, involving One-Eye’s rescuer, a human “poison thrower” named Bowie, and a couple of those weird super-orc guys who were chasing our protagonist previously. Several bizarre organic weapons are, of course, employed.

Orc Stain is an increasingly complex and crazy fantasy, of the sort it’s easy to imagine one-day cultivating a somewhat Star Wars-esque devotion, in which fans seek to catalog all the strange creatures and cultural elements of Stokoe’s world as a way of interacting with it.

And have I mentioned Stokoe’s drawing ability yet? I have? Okay, the above is what he did with slightly less than two-pages.

Here’s what he does with two full-pages. Well, I can't show the whole thing, due to the inadequate size of my scanner, so here's about half of it: Jesus. I wonder how many Big Two comics artists look at splash pages like those in this book and then feel ashamed of themselves for the way they waste ‘em on things like two super-guys punching each other in front of a blank field that the colorist fills in with a pattern for them…

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Oni Press) As one of the biggest comics publishing events of the year and as the conclusion of a massive (and massively influential), multi-book graphic novel story some six years and 1,200 pages in the telling, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s now complete Scott Pilgrim deserves a lot more space and consideration that it’s going to be able to give it in this particular column and, since I want to avoid spoilers for the time being, I’ll try to keep this short and personal anecdotal, returning to discuss the story in greater detail at some point in the near future.

Tuesday night I re-read the first five volumes back-to-back (to-back-to-back-to-back) in preparation for the arrival of the sixth, and I think the fact that I could and did stay up until 3 a.m. reading almost 1,000 pages of a single comic book artist’s singular work says something about the quality of that work.

I’m not normally someone who cares about spoilers, and am therefore pretty cavalier with discussing plot points here on my blog, and not terribly careful about avoiding them. When I buy new comics, I always flip through them; I didn’t care if I found out who died in Countdown to Infinite Crisis or Civil War before reading the comics; I’m the same with movies and TV. For most escapism or entertainment, I’m more concerned with the execution of the creative endeavor than the specific plot.

There are exceptions of course (I didn’t want to find out why all the dudes died in Y: The Last Man until I read it myself, for example), and this was one such exception. I was afraid to flip through it and accidentally see something before reading my way to it.

So how was it?

I’m quite tempted to say perfect, even though I still had some unanswered questions, and at least one of the mysterious things I was extremely curious about remained unanswered (a second thing remained under-answered).

O’Malley managed to wrap up this gigantic plot in a way that was enormously satisfying without being predictable; that is, it felt right, it felt like what I wanted, even though it’s not how I would have thought it would have ended (nor is it how I would have ended it if it were up to me). That is some serious storytelling chops, to know (or guess, I guess) what your audience wants, even better than they themselves do.

Early in the fifth volume, O’Malley seemed to be taking his story in a much less obvious direction, but if he seemed to be leaning in an unpredictable, more subversive direction, he ends up going even further. This isn’t the conclusion the first few volumes suggested, nor is it any of the conclusions the later volumes suggested as alternates to that conclusion.

Er, I’m being awfully vague now I know; I just wanted to say that it was both satisfying and surprising.

It was, of course, fun and funny, but ultimately, it was, like about stuff. Important stuff. I wish I had Scott Pilgrim to read when I was as young as Young Neil; I could have used it.

O’Malley’s artwork here is downright amazing. In many ways, the first and sixth volumes look like the work of two completely different artists. I’ve read a good half-dozen sizable interviews with O’Malley in the past few days, and even the most creatively focused has zeroed in only on O’Malley’s writing and the creation of the plot-side of the story. I haven’t yet read the interview I most want to read, and I’m not sure if anyone’s conducted it yet, the one focusing on O’Malley’s art, and how he’s refined it over the course of drawing this story.

Anyway, I’ve been looking forward to this comic since reading the last page of Vol. 5, and I wasn’t disappointed—if anything, my expectations were exceeded.

Good job, Bryan Lee O’Malley!

If anyone deserves a big Hollywood movie, a video game adaptation, crazy-popular release parties and phenomenal sales, it’s O’Malley.

Super Friends #29 (DC) Well, if they had to cancel the book, I guess this is the sort of issue you’d want to go out on. It’s one of Sholly Fisch’s better scripts, and pencil artist Stewart McKenny’s best work on the series. It’s also a perfect example of the book’s potential to appeal to both kids and adults (the latter through in-jokes, with which this issue is bursting).

It’s “Super-Con,” the Super Friends-iverse equivalent of Comic-Con International (Hey, nice timing, DC!), and the biggest superhero fans in all existence have decided to attend—Bat-Mite and the Super Friends’ various magical imps.

Is it unfair that everyone has an imp except Green Lantern? Don’t worry; they draft someone to even up the Super Friend/Imp roll call:The premise here is that Bat-Mite makes Mr. Mxyzptlk promise not to use his magic, a promise he sticks to, but as the only imp he isn’t also a superhero fan, he decides to make trouble, tricking the others to use their magic to mischievous ends.

This eventually leads to the Super Friends having to step in to save the day once Bat-Mite gives every con attendee powers, but, leading up to that, the book basically consists of the imps being comics fans. You know, Mopee and a Flash fan arguing over whether Mopee giving the Flash his powers originally is a dumb idea or not and Quisp arguing whether Aquaman is lame or awesome and so on.

McKenny’s imps are all fantastic looking, and he has a ton of fun filling out crowd scenes with unusual cameos: Baba Yaga, Stanley and his Monster, The Queen of Fables, a zombie, Bouncing Boy, Blue Devil, George Washington, Sam Simeon, you name ‘em, they’re probably in here.

Also, I never realized how rugged and handsome Stewart McKenny is, but I guess he’s basically the Doc Savage of people who work on Super Friends comics: At least according to Stewart McKenny.

Oh, this issue naturally had a craft project, which I tested out. It’s a make-your-own-imp-name-name-tag thing. Here’s mine:My 5th-dimensional imp name is "Mr. Jclbmzzcc," and I imagine if I could figure out how to properly pronounce that backwards, I should be able to visit the fifth dimension.

Oh, and they have a new paper stock with this, the final issue but I’ll complain about that in the next review.

Tiny Titans #30 (DC) Aaaa! This “Johnny DC” title has a new, slick paper stock as well! I hate it! Hate it! Haaaaate it!

Well, “hate” is a strong word, but at least some of the pleasure I derived from DC’s Johnny DC books was from the paper stock. I liked the way those comics looked and felt and smelled, and, while this month’s Tiny Titans has the same great Art Baltazar art, it doesn’t feel or smell the same at all, and the look is different enough that it may take me a few issues to get comfortable reading it again. (Also, I think it’s slightly less writing-utensil friendly than the old stock; pen seems to work okay, but pencils and crayons not so much, so activities could be a concern).

As the cover details, the theme of this issue is curly hair, so most of the gags revolve around curly hair in some way. Kid Flash and new character Peek-A-Boo (Note: I have no idea who she is or where she comes from. Is she a Titan character?) use their super-speed to give various characters new hairstyles, mostly inadvertently.There’s another running gag involving Cyborg and Ambush Bug (What’s he doing here? And Tiny instead of grown-up sized?) talking about continuity, a gag I did not get at all. I seriously pondered the opening panel for minutes, and I just couldn’t get what Cyborg’s first sentence refers to exactly. Am I too close to the material? Or (gulp!) is Tiny Titans over my head? Oh God, I’m not that stupid am I?!


crazypants said...

Peak-a-Boo was a villain in Geoff Johns Flash run.... kind of. She was trying to get money to help her sick grandpa or something along those lines. I think she may have been in that Iron Heights story, too, but I don't think she was ever a Rogue.

Randal said...

Hello, pleased to meet you. I'm that one guy who thought Scott Pilgrim was drek. It's cold and lonely in my world (but, in my opinion, has better taste).

Laplace Zombie said...

Johnny DC loses two ongoings, but it is still the most enyojable imprint out there.

Hdefined said...

"You either want to read a comic book in which a gorilla pops a flying wheelie on a motorcycle while firing machine guns with his feet, or you do not."

It's just silly and pointless, absurdity for absurdity's sake.

Paul said...

Hdefined: Have you read the comic?

Paul said...

Also, I thought Batman #701 was surprisingly boring, and full of the sort of stuff Morrison is usually wise enough to leave out, like the seven pages of Bruce swimming to shore.

Hdefined said...

I was commenting on the description of that one panel, not the comic itself, which, as you could tell from my response, I wasn't interested in reading.

People need to stop embracing Chris Sims' "it's crazy and awesome and therefore we should support it" mentality. The fact that something is silly, absurd, and exaggeratedly so does not make it inherently good or worth reading.

Randal said...

Hdefined, I don't often...or ever, I think...agree with you, but I stand shoulder to shoulder with your take on just how tiresome one-trick-Sims has become.

Hdefined said...

Randal, I like it when Sims does it. I think Sims should keep doing it. It's his thing and he's consistent with it. Let him ride it out.

I'm just sick of other people jumping in and saying, "Hey, robot monkey zombies, awesome! Everyone should buy this comic!"

And I'm also sick of the people who think Nextwave, Atlas, or Pet Avengers should have sold better by virtue of being filled with crazy concepts.

See, All Star Superman was filled with crazy concepts too, but all that was balanced by pathos and insight, and it was actually about something too.

Patrick C said...

Hey Caleb, I see you didn't pick up DCU: Legacies. Not that it was good, but I thought you'd be interested in the fact that apparently Black Canary was NOT one of the Justice League founders anymore. We just covered the formation of the JLA, and we're back to the original seven. I remember you were curious about that after Infinite Crisis a few years ago.