Monday, October 25, 2010

Comic shop comics: Oct. 20

Batman and Robin #15 (DC Comics) Everything comes to a head—again—in Grant Morrison’s years-long Batman epic in the final scene of this issue, which seems like it may just be the surprise, dramatic return of original Batman Bruce Wayne from the dead/his exile in the fourth dimension, but what should have been a blast lands with a thud, given we’ve already seen Bruce Wayne running around in a handful of goofy one-shots with double colon titles and that Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6, which should have come out before this scene, is (at least) a few weeks away yet.

That disappointment aside—and it sure feels like Morrison’s run on Batman has been full of disappointment, with so many issues of it being potentially great but for something or other—this is a typically strong issue from Morrison, with quick, sharp characterization and hysterical plotting played straight.

Frazier Irving’s artwork is powerful, powerful stuff, although I don’t always like the way his human faces turn out.

This is a pretty astounding page though, as much for the pacing of the scenes that precede and follow it as for what’s actually on the page:

Brightest Day #12 (DC) Woah hey, this just might be the best issue of the series so far. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, the strongest storyline of the book’s half-dozen or so has been the Martian Manhunter one, which features the best art by far (by pencil artist Patrick Gleason and…I’m not sure who’s inking. Gleason, sure. Maybe Tom Nguyen and or Christian Alamy?). This issue is devoted almost entirely to that storyline, so there’s plenty of great art.

J’onn J’onnz has returned to Mars, only to find it partially terraformed into something livable, and the evil alien serial killer lady waiting for him, with a romantic dinner all laid out:Wine, turkey, gravy and a tray of chocolate sandwich cookies…the way to J’onn’s heart, apparently.

Since she’s the last female Green Martian, and J’onn’s the last male Green Martian (with the exception of his evil brother Malefic, who is supposedly dead but probably not really), she thinks they really oughta start doing it in order to repopulate Mars. J’onn’s not into this lady, who’s name is D’Kay (like “decay,” get it?!) because she’s a killer and all, so they argue, she unloads her origin story in what looks like a 1,500-word splash-page, and then they fight a lot, physically and mentally, which allows Gleason to draw the whole damn Justice League fighting J’onn for a good three pages.J’onn ultimately loses, which leads to a neat scene where he things he punches Mars so hard with White Lantern power that he brings his race back to life, and he’s so happy to see his wife and child that it looks like he’s going to eat them:There’s a page of Dove and Deadman—the latter of whom really should shave and change clothes at some point—and three-pages of Firestorm and Black Lantern business, but, for the most part, this is an issue of a gorgeously drawn Martian Manhunter comic.

DC Comics Presents: Jack Cross #1 (DC) This is the very first one of the intriguing new format DC Comics Presents books I’ve actually held in my hands and read and…it’s a weird format.

It’s certainly enticing. At $7.99, this is around 100 pages and has a spine, making it something of a very cheap trade, although it’s in full-color and hasn’t been shrunk down to digest size at all, so the usual methods of turning comic books into cheap trades aren’t really in effect here. It does still have ads in it though, which is kind of weird. There aren’t very many ads overall and, in fact, there are so few that when one appears, it sort of sneaks up on you and surprises you, reminding you that you are not, in fact, reading a trade.

Retailer/Savage Critic Brian Hibbs already noted what seems to be an obvious flaw in the packaging of this particular volume, the fact that there’s nothing at all printed on the spine and that writer Warren Ellis’ name is nowhere on the cover, despite the fact that he’s a popular author who people tend to by books from.

As for the contents of the book?

It’s the complete four-issue run of what was originally intended to be an ongoing series, an Ellis-written, Gary Erskine-drawn action thriller about a sort of freelance anti-terrorist, that just never saw a fifth issue (Having read it, now I wonder why; did it sell abysmally or was DC uncomfortable with the politics or violence of it?).

It’s a very post-9/11 work, the title character being some sort of bad-ass black ops guy who has retired to help lead the anti-(Iraq) war movement who gets called in to deal with a particularly convoluted terrorist case, which involves a South African terrorist group, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, an Iraqi dissident and a rather Warren Ellis-y weapon of mass destruction.

It’s not generally the sort of thing that would interest me (beyond trying to parse the politics, which boil over into what sound like statements a few times), but it’s very well done. The plot flies along, there are enough twists and turns that I couldn’t stop turning pages until the end out of straight curiosity over what will happen next, and Erskine’s artwork is as wonderful as it always is.

He and Ellis do something weird with X-Ray-style images during certain action scenes, which are usually accompanied by a slowing down of time to a crawl from panel to panel that is…something different. The way they manipulate time in the sequences is cool, but I’m not sure the looks at the insides of guns being fired added much beyond something different to look at than the exterior of a gun.

There’s a complete plot to this story, but it still feels somewhat incomplete, like a pilot episode for a TV show that never got greenlit. There seems to be a lot more to the title character than gets explored here, although generous enough hints are given that one has an expectation that he’s not supposed to seem too mysterious for too long.

That is, no doubt, a symptom of an ongoing being turned into a four-issue miniseries. Being turned into a kinda sorta graphic novel five years later.

Justice League of America #50 (DC) Okay, I read a lot of DC superhero comic books, and I read a lot about DC superhero comic books on the Internet, but I’m not an editor of DC Comics, and thus am apparently not as up to speed with the goings-on of their cosmology as I could be (need to be?) to always understand what I’m reading.

So help me out here.

The Alexander Luthor from Infinite Crisis (and, presumably, Crisis On Infinite Earths is an entirely different character than the Alexander Luthor from JLA: Earth-2, right?

He’d have to be, wouldn’t he, if COIE/IC Luthor was off in that “heaven” dimension between the two crises, while we saw a Luthor in JLA: Earth-2? (And that one looked older and was also bald).

Well, not to get too spoiler-y here or anything, but apparently the Crime Syndicate from JLA: Earth-2 (Which is actually Earth-3 again, right?) has been in the DCU trying to bring “their” Lex Luthor back to life…and they take the body of the Crisis Luthor from the JLA to resurrect that.

I thought that was a different guy.

OR does it not really matter that their Earth has been destroyed and re-created a couple of times, and that there have been more than one Alexander Luthor from their Earth, because whatever it’s number designation, whatever it’s status (extant or not), it’s essentially the same world? Is that it? That would make story sense but, Jesus, that’s complicated.

That Byzantine complication aside, this is actually a pretty fun issue.

It’s basically Batman’s Angels—the JLA consisting of Batman Dick Grayson, Donna Troy, Jade, Supergirl and Jesse Quick; the other boys are absent—versus the Crime Syndicate, with Dr. Impossible and his Evil Fourth World counterparts finally pulling the trigger on whatever the heck they’ve been up to over the past few months (before Blackest Night sorta hijacked the plot for a bit).

It’s three teams of superheroes with conflicting goals, all fighting each other and about to fight a new threat who is presented as someone I should recognize, but I don’t (I know it’s not Charlton Heston, anyway) in an annual-or-bigger-sized special issue, all wonderfully drawn by Mark Bagley and just two inkers (But it took nine last time, for a shorter book? What?).

JLoA is still far from perfect, but it’s a lot better than it’s been in a very long time, and seemingly getting better and better. Hopefully now that Blackest Night and that JSoA crossover is out of the way and the new-new-new team line-up is in place, Robinson and Bagley can start doing their own thing for a while.

Neko Ramen Vol. 2: Curry Is Also Delicious! (Tokyopop) Okay, I'm only on page eight of this, so I can't really review it yet, but I got it at the comic shop this week, so I'm including it in here anyway. From those first eight pages though, it seems to be just as good as the first volume in the same ways that the first volume was good. So, um, you could maybe just re-read my review of that?

Spider-Man: Amazing (Marvel Comics) This is the first volume of the new Spider-Man series, which is the new title of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, so this is apparently a collection meant to be read after Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Vol. 15, which I didn’t read, because God, who can follow this shit?

Like Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Spider-Man is written by Paul Tobin and usually penciled by Matteo Lolli (three of these four comics are; Scott Koblish pencils the other), and it continues the various storylines and sub-plots from Marvel Adventures Spider-Man.

So why change the numbering and the title and, in the case of the collection, do away with numbering all together?

I have no idea. I was a bit lost, having missed a few issues, but it didn’t take long to catch back up. When writing about Tobin’s work on MA Spider-Man for the first time, I noted that he “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.” That’s still true. I also said that Lolli’s art was “a great pleasure to read.” That’s still true, too.

In this volume, a love interest for Gwen Stacy is introduced, Peter and Chat’s relationship gets cuter, the bad guys all use baseball bats and laser guns instead of gun-guns (which is kinda funny), Bullseye is mean to a cat, slaps a bunch of birds and then kills another bird in a gasp-inducing downer of a conclusion, The Blonde Phantom appears repeatedly, and a hair gel company is trying to track down Wolverine to get him to be a spokesman for their product.

I’d liken it to a more Ultimate version of the old Ultimate Spider-Man, one that makes a greater effort to do something new with the character, and certainly suggest it to anyone interested in Spider-Man but daunted by the adventures of the “real” Spider-Man.

I just wish Marvel didn’t make following the story so damn hard to do.

Superman/Batman #77 (DC) Look, I don’t know who you are exactly, writer Josh Williamson, but you have scripted a really great single-issue team-up comic.

With Superman just kind of meandering around real cities with J. Michael Straczynski and Eddy Barrows and Batman helping ink pages of Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6, a different version of the World’s Finest team was needed to fill in this month, so Williamson paired Supergirl with Damian Wayne, the current Robin.

It’s all really rather straightforward. Supergirl discovers some grisly crime, like the sort they have in Gotham City, in Metropolis. She flies on over to Gotham to find a Bat-person to help her fight a grim and gritty crime, and ends up with Damian. The culprit turns out to be a Bat-villain, the most obvious one for a Halloween-themed issue (Hint: It’s not Calendar Man!)

But as straightforward as it is, it’s quite well executed. Damian is such an interesting character—Batman, only doucheier, in a little kid’s body—that he makes a great foil for pretty much any character, and he’s still new enough a character that it’s still exciting to see him interacting with super-characters outside his own franchise (Is this the first time Supergirl and Damian have met? I know there was that World’s Finest series, but I skipped that).

Williamson writes crisp, sharp dialogue, and does a fairly good job of defining the characters quickly and efficiently, while managing to tell a complete story in just 22 pages. Perhaps the callbacks to Blackest Night were unnecessary, but if you’ve read that series, they work here (and given how much better BN sells than Superman/Batman, it’s probably safe to say that almost everyone who reads the latter also read the former).

The art is by Ale Garza,with Oliver Nome inking, and this struck me as some of his best work (that I’ve seen). He does a great job of designing certain panels so that they seem bursting with intense energy, not by over-drawing them, but simply by directing all of the lines that make up a certain figure in a certain direction so that they suggest an entire arc of motion despite being a static image.

It’s rather animated looking, I guess, and I like Graza’s open, expressive designs of the two leads, whose youthfulness is in sharp contrast to all of the other, adult characters.

Oh, and I love his Batmobile:I want to talk a little bit more about Garza’s work on this issue later in the week, as this issue gave him an opportunity to offer his own design of one of my favorite comic book characters, whose endless design variations are a subject of some interest to me.

Tiny Titans #33 (DC) I’m sure I’ve read an issue of Tiny Titans before and then immediately took to the Internet to declare that it was the very best issue of Tiny Titans ever. In fact, I’m sure I’ve done that six, seven eight times already.

Well, I feel like doing it again: This is the best issue of Tiny Titans ever.

I’m not sure how to go about backing that statement up however, other than noting that I laughed out loud more often while reading this particular issue than I have while reading any previous ones in memory.

I suppose I could try to communicate which gags I found funny, and try to explain why, but that would really only serve to ruin them for you if you haven’t read the issue already, and I think I’ve done enough of that already.

Suffice it to say that this is “The All Robin Issue,” so it’s full of Robin, the other Robins (Tim, Jason Toddler, Robin Robin, the robin who dresses like Robin), the tinier Tiny Titans all dressed like Robin, the introduction of new characters Stephanie, Carrie and Cassandra (who seems poised to unseat Bumblebee, Kid Devil and even Lil’ Barda as the most adorable Tiny Titan), Robin’s sweet Photoshop-ed in toys, Alfred’s pimp status, alternate, Return of Bruce Wayne-style Batmen (I like Baker Batman, personally), The Red Hood and, of course, the introduction of the Al Ghul family:Man, if I was only allowed to read one DC comic book a month, I’d have a hard time picking between JLoA (which has the most heroes-per-page value) and this, which, at its worse, is a lot of fun and, at it’s best, just makes me giddy.


Anonymous said...

You are is the wrong Alexandor Luthor and makes no sense!!! I am a continuity nut so I know haha but you are wrong about Grant Morrison's Crime Syndicate being from the current Earth-3. They are from the Anti-Matter Earth. Earth-3 is home to the Crime Society.

Patrick C said...

Yeah, so near as I can tell, the Crime Syndicate in JLoA #50 were the anti-matter versions (previously seen in Morrison's Earth-2).

The Alexander Luthor in that story would be the anti-matter version.

The Alexander Luthor, Jr. from Infinite Crisis and everything else was from the pre-crisis Earth-3 (which ceased to exist, just as Earth-2 Superman and Lois's Earth ceased to exist).

The thing that bothered me was that I wanted Anti-Matter Ultraman to still be a vampire like in the end of Final Crisis

Dave said...

Actually I think the Crime Syndicate still occupies the anti-matter universe and the Crime Society occupies Earth 3.