Sunday, February 13, 2011

Comic shop comics: Feb. 2-9

The All New Batman: The Brave and the Bold#4 (DC Comics) After watching Wonder Woman and Batman beat up some Wondy villains, the Olympian god of love Eros expresses his disappointment in his mother’s champion for spreading more punches and beat-downs in man’s world than love, and decides to do something—make Batman and Wonder Woman fall in love.

That leads to a hastily assembled wedding, and to Talia al Ghul summoning the “hundreds of enemies” the two heroes have, “The most wanted and the long forgotten! The major threats and the minor nuisances!” to destroy the happy couple. Naturally, there are plenty of superheroes in attendance, which leads to a big everybody vs. everybody fight.

It’s a cameo cornucopia. Fisch digs deep into Wonder Woman’s rogue’s gallery, and pulls out several characters I’ve specifically wanted to see in Wonder Woman comics for about four years now, including Mouse Man, The Crimson Centipede, Fireworks Man and an unnamed Blue Snowman (who Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Amanda Conner used recently-ish in Power Girl #7). They also employ Cheetah and Giganta, Angle Man, Paper Man, Amoeba Man and Egg Fu and Dr. Psycho, the latter of whom Rick Burchett draws H.G. Peter-style.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg in this issue, which features plenty of little treats, like an unexpected Sugar and Spike appearance, Ultraa the Mutli-Alien vs. Animal-Vegetable-Mineral-Man, a voice-only cameo by original H-Deal hero Robby Reed and fairly inspired applications of all these pretty random characters, at least in terms of who fights who and how this or that person responds to the news of Batman and Wonder Woman’s upcoming nuptials.

This was by far the most straight-ahead enjoyable, nothing-but-fun comic I’ve read in a while, so much so that I didn’t even mind that Fisch seemingly cribbed part of the twist ending from a 1961 issue of Batman (don’t click that unless you wanna spoil one of ANB:TbaTB #4’s better gags!!!). Of course, Fisch then added an additional twist, with one more page of unlikely old-school Batman and old-school Wonder Woman world-overlap, so it’s quite easy to forgive hearing an old gag repeated.

Brightest Day #19 (DC) So this is the issue in which one of the 12 returnees gets rather brutally maimed, one of the events from this book that you’ve probably already hurt about, if you’ve been following the events of the book—or how people react to them—at all. (Uh, spoiler review, so just go ahead and skip on down to DC Universe Online Legends if you haven’t read this yet/care about that).

This is the issue where Aquaman loses a hand again. This time Black Manta chops it off with a sword, and this time it’s his right hand.

I’d decry how ridiculous that is if I thought it even semi-permanent. DC has had a string of creators try various ways to get Aquaman’s hand back since he lost it at the start of the best post-Crisis volume of his title, the Peter David-launched one that began in 1994. David gave him a golden harpoon with a few applications (drill, grappling hook), Erik Larsen gave him a golden liquid metal transforming hand, I believe that was eventually traded in for a golden robot hand, and in one reboot he got a magic water hand, and on occasion he’d end up wearing gloves, removing the need to think about how many hands Aquaman has and what one of them is made out of entirely. Then he mutated into an half-cephalopod crazy person and died, coming back to life with both hands in this series.

That’s about 16 years worth of fairly regular, radical status quo changes for the character, most of them attempts to get him closer and closer to something resembling his original, more valuable status (from an exploitable intellectual property standpoint, anyway).

There’s no way DC would re-maim the guy and start the process all over again; this is the company that brought Jason Todd, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen back—they want their orange and green clad, short-haired, clean-shaven, two-handed Aquaman back.

Besides, this series also just seemingly killed off Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and the White Entity Thingee told Deadman it would probably be re-killing a handful of the Resurrectees in order to purify them, so I image Aquaman will be alive and well and able to play the piano again when this is all over.

And hopefully, hopefully he won’t be wearing a mock-turtleneck.

Also worth noting about this issue? Three things pertaining to recent announcements the publisher has made about the direction of their single-issue serials.

1.) DC is really pushing the rhyming “Drawing the Line at $2.99” campaign, as this issue includes little blue and gold logo of that saying where the price would normally be.

2.) It’s only 20 pages long, and reads like it’s too short. That probably has something to do with the one two-page splash and three one-page splashes. DC’s gotta cut down on splashes now, and this issue has a particularly apparent over-use of them. There’s a full-page splash of Aquaman’s hand getting cut off, followed by a single four-panel page of him falling to his knees, and then another full-page splash, featuring Black Manta standing over a now collapsed Aquaman—the image is almost identical to that of the preceding splash. Additionally, no page has any more than five panels on it, so a reader can just whip through this issue like it was nothing.

3.) This issue includes a letters column. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a Brightest Day specific letters column, but seemed to be a general column that applied to the DCU in general, which I guess would mean that every comic they publish in a particular week might bear the same column, just like with the DC Nation columns…? (There’s also a DC Nation column, by the way, so I guess the books will be 20-pages, with a letter col making 21 and DC Nation making 22…?)

DC Comics Online Legends #1 (DC) This is the new bi-weekly comic book series based on DC’s new MMORPG video game (Did I get the acronym right, or am I missing some M’s…?), which is, of course, based on DC Comics, so this is one of those weird series the publisher puts out, comics that it’s kind of weird even exist, yet it would be far weirder if they didn’t exist.

I am never, ever going to play the game, but I like DC super-characters, so this seemed like a good way for me to check in on it, and the bi-weekly format and big cast make this something of an ideal comic book for me, in a lot of ways.

It’s basically super-comic book methadone—it’s cheap, it’s legal, you can get it regularly and frequently and while it lacks the highs of the really good stuff, it doesn’t have any of the incredible drawbacks, and it can’t possibly do the sort of damage that trying to constantly fill that hole in you with as many super-comics as you can get a hold of can do.

It’s also better than it looks, but that might have something to do with the fact that it looks like a complete piece of shit.

On the cover we see Ed Benes at his absolute worst—the image looks rushed, unfinished and even a little off. The characters here are familiar ones, but they should be wearing different, altered costumes from their appearance in the game (the scene here is set in the near-future), but they look a bit indistinct, somewhere between their “real” duds and their near-future outfits.

Check out the lady between Luthor and cross-armed Deathstroke there. Who the hell is that? And why did Benes draw her like that?

Front and center, is Wonder Woman, wearing a should-pad around her bicep, and trying to eat it.

Behind her, Green Lantern shoots at Black Adam; both of them have lost their legs from the knees down in the battle. If you open the back cover, you’ll see the image stretches across that as well. Back there you see Giganta, standing in a very deep hole, getting shot in the chin by a floating Cyborg, The Flash running by The Joker and Harley Quinn so fast that they fall down, and Batman swinging in, pointing at nothing, and about to collide with Cyborg.

It’s terrible hackwork, and DC should count themselves lucky if any fan looks at it, picks it up and manages to resist the temptation to throw it down in disgust, let alone carry it up to the register and take it home with them to read (Ha ha, but that doesn’t matter anyway, since so many fans pre-order these things from their shops, who also pre-order and can’t return them if they’re unsold anyway; the covers could have stick-figures calling the reader mean names on the covers, and it probably wouldn’t hurt sales much).

The insides are better. Howard Porter pencils those, and Livesay, Adriana Melo and Norman Lee apparently finish and/or ink them. The quality of the imagery changes from page to page, but it all looks enough like Porter’s work that he certainly did the layouts and some degree of drawing on each page.

I’ve always liked Porter’s art, although it’s changed quite a bit over the years, depending on the project, the collaborator and the style he was consciously trying to work in. I like the intense, awkwardness of it, and the way his lurching figures remind me of Jack Kirby at his most intense, but I understand it’s hardly to everyone’s taste.

Like the cover, it lacks a bit of clarity—the characters never seemed like “my” DCU characters, nor did they seem to belong to a bold, new, different DCU either.

The story, written by Marv Wolfman and Tony Bedard, stars Lex Luthor, who narrates. In the future, a Cable-ed up Luthor is wearing a big, green tank suit, and is in the process of finishing off Superman and some of his allies, when his partner-in-crime Brainiac double-crosses him and starts destroying the world.

Luthor must then gather whatever remaining heroes and villains he can rescue in order to fight off Brainiac and save humanity from extinction.

The writing is actually quite decent, and Luthor makes for a fun lead when put in positions like this—a ruthless bad guy, but the less ruthless bad guy. It’s harder to follow than it needs to be, in part because of the way the characters are introduced and rendered, and in even larger part because Luthor’s narration boxes look the exact same as Brainiac’s-talking-to-Luthor boxes, so the narrator seems to switch from Luthor to Brainiac and back, with no indication of who’s talking other than the context.

Overall, I liked it enough to keep reading, but it looks and reads like an extremely rushed, quite sloppy effort. Thankfully, the sloppy, rushed work seems to be done by extremely experienced and competent creators, so its still readable, but, so far, it seems like a fine bit of super-comic methodone for life-time addicts like me, rather than a comic book for the thousands who will play the game, and thus like a hugely wasted opportunity.

DC Comics Presents: Green Lantern—Fear Itself #1 (DC) This is another one of DC’s new-ish almost-trades, basically a slightly flimsier version of the old pretige format books, or a thin trade paperback with ads.

Rather than a collection, this one was actually an original trade paperback from 1999, written by then-Green Lantern writer Ron Marz and featuring extremely weird by painted art from Brad Parker.

The story begins during World War II, when a Nazi occultist unleashes summons a giant eyeball monster. Green Lantern Alan Scott leads the JSA against it, defeating it. At least until the Silver Age, when it reawakens, and Green Lantern Hal Jordan and the “Year One” Justice League must face it. They manage to stave it off, until the ‘90s, when Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and the awesome JLA have to finally finish it off.

Marz’s scripting is strong; repeating a basic sequence of events while differentiating the three leads pretty strongly. It reminded how much I enjoyed the Kyle Rayner-lead status quo of the franchise, and of little elements I had sort of forgotten about, like Kyle playing cards with the former GLs.

The art is…hoo boy. I imagine it looked really different when read in 1999, but now that there are whole publishers whose output features heavily-modeled, painted-looking artwork.

I kind of liked it and kind of hated it at the same time, so, um, I guess that made it interesting.

I like how the JSA all looked like weird, creepy movie serial stars, for example:The choice of models left a lot to be desired, however. For example, I never in a million years would have imagined Tom Kalamaku and Carol Ferris looking like this:Or Guy Gardner like this:I enjoyed the hell out of it, though—100 pages for $8, three GLs and three super-teams from three fictional eras, and it was a pretty nostalgic for me, as a reader of Green Lantern at the time and fan of JLA from that period.

Now here’s a picture of Hal Jordan getting hit:

Deadpool Team-Up #885 (Marvel Comics) Did I really pre-order this, and, if so, why? That’s what I thought when I found this in my little stack from the comic shop the other day. I mean, yeah, featuring Hellcow, the vampire cow from an issue of Howard The Duck from forever ago in a modern Marvel team-up book is kind of funny, but surely that wasn’t enough to make me drop three more bucks on a Deadpool comic, as I’ve had more than enough of Deadpool in full-on Ambush Bug mode to last me for a good decade or so after a few issues of dabbling here and there.

And then I turned the cover and saw the credits:Oh, so that’s why I ordered this.

It’s pretty good for a Deadpool team-up comic. A lot of the jokes and gags are funny enough, there’s at least one good gory Looney Tunes type gag (oddly, it’s not Deadpool who sets it, but a brilliant scientist), there’s interesting rapport between Deadpool and the cow and a rather clever twist near the climax where Deadpool realizes that he’s in a comic book and tries to go back through the pages of the comic book to stop himself from making a mistake.

Pretty good work from two pretty great creators.

Knight and Squire #6 (DC) Things take a turn for the very serious in this issue, as the leads deduce that Jarvis Poker, The British Joker has a terminal disease, and try to help him go out in a style that he would want. His namesake, however, finds “this nation of pretend superheros and villains…a shambolic mixed metaphor echo of something real,” and, thus, “It’s an insult.” Hell of a cliffhanger, too; there’s only one more issue to go, which is kid of too bad, but then I can’t imagine the market supporting a book like this for too long.

I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of the increasingly busy Paul Cornell after the sixth issue of this series ships; I hope we get to see a lot more of artist Jimmy Broxton, too—he’s a large part of what makes this series so excellent.

Superman 80-Page Giant 2011 #1 (DC) Anthology books like this are particularly hard to review, especially in this babble-about-the-books-I-just-read-as-soon-as-I-finish-them format, so I’ll try to be less verbose in order to cover everything.

First, in general:

—The title and numbering is pretty silly. Is there going to be a second Superman 80-Page Giant 2011? No? Then why not cut off the year and just make the numbers go up by one each year? A “#1” on the cover can’t possibly fool that many readers, especially since Superman serial readers have grown so incredibly few and incredibly sophisticated.

—Dustin Nguyen’s cover is beautiful. A bunch of these characters don’t appear at all, but it’s nice to see how neat Nguyen’s Parasite or Steel are, anyway.

—At $6, this is an incredible value. That’s the price of two issues for your now-average 20-page DC comic, but for the page count of four. Or, looked at another way, that’s the price of one-and-a-half-issues of your average Marvel comic book, but for 80 pages instead of 33.

—This is a pretty incredible effort. There wasn’t a single story I didn’t like anything about, and some incredibly strong work here.

Okay, let’s look at the stories now:

Jor-El in “First Time For Everything” by Beau Tidwell, Cafu and Bit

This is the first time I’ve heard of writer Tidwell, but his story is quite accomplished. At least in its telling. The plot is kind of odd and pointless—Superman’s Dad doing some derring-do on the current version of pre-explosion Krypton—but it’s quite well-written nonetheless. I know I’ve read plenty of comics with the name Cafu attached, but this is the first time I really stopped and thought, Wow, this dude can draw.

Perry White in “Old Men Talking in Bars” by Neil Kleid and Dean Haspiel

The old men doing the talking in this bar are Perry White and Wildcat, who, between this and his appearance in Knight and Squire #1, is becoming a character who just randomly shows up in bars in other people’s comics. I approve.

The pair do shots and talk about the old days, which leads to a flashback of young White covering a charity boxing match between Wildcat and The Guardian. Intergang, toting neat-looking Golden Age versions of big, silly science-fiction guns, show up to rob the gate, and the heroes beat ‘em silly.Haspiel’s art is, naturally, masterful, and Kleid’s story is great too—finding common ground between these two long-lived but relatively minor DCU supporting characters, and giving them some things in common to talk about. Kleid deserves extra points for working in one of Perry White’s catchphrases, and not having it be “Great Caesar’s ghost!”(Above: I like the framing of two panels within the angles of the bar above; and Haspiel draws a very cool version of Wildcat's son, Wildcat)

“Quarter-life Crisis of Infinite Jimmy Olsens” by Abhay Khosla and Andy MaDonald

This story is the one I was looking forward to, and really the whole reason I bought the issue—I love Khosla’s writing about comics (he’s one of the few semi-regular comics bloggers I can think of whose work I’d actually like to see collected in a big-person’s, grown-up book-book), and wanted to see how he’d do writing a superhero comic book for DC.

He does great. A rogue scientist has clones Jimmy 100 times before Superman rescues him, and together the two pals must try and track down all of the clones.

I didn’t like the one mention of “militant were-gerbils.” I don’t think gerbils are funny. I think they’re an animal that everyone else thinks are funny, and thus get used in jokes sometimes, but they aren’t genuinely or inherently funny in and of themselves.

I think that was a serious mistake on Khosla’s part.

That was the only mistake I saw. The story was very funny, and it wasn’t funny in the way that funny writers can write funny comics, but funny in the way only a comic book can really be funny (For example, perhaps my favorite gag, is the one that comes at the end a sequence of four panels—the last two on page 7, and the first two on page 8).

It’s very funny, very heartfelt and very true to the characters of Jimmy Olsen and Superman, which is actually pretty hard, given how many different directions those characters get pulled in these days.

MacDonald’s artwork is likewise downright brilliant; between it and Sal Cipriano’s letters (although I suspect some of the lettering was actually done by MacDonald, drawn right into the background of some pages), the story has a very “indie” look and feel about it.

Like I said, this is the story I was most looking forward to, and the reason I bought the book. That means it was the one most likely to disappoint me. It didn’t, at all (unless you count the gerbil bit). It’s great.

More Khosla, more MacDonald and more Jimmy Olsen, please, DC—in any combination, really.

Bizarro in “No Go Away Glad, Just Go Away!” by Steve Horton and Dan McDaid

This is a Bizarro World story, starring Bizarro and set on Bizarro world and, well, while I love the character Bizarro, he can be tiresome to read about—not because of the way he talks, but because of the way I read the way he talks. That is, I’m constantly checking his dialogue while I’m reading it, reversing it in my head to make sure it is properly backwards, that the writer is using “am” correctly in this context and, well, it can be exhausting—especially when all of the characters are Bizarros.

This is full of great art by McDaid; I love every single line of it. The story isn’t so much a story as a series of backwards gags, but it has it’s moments. I snickered when Bizarro Lois ends her argument with Bizarro #1, and I found the dumpster marked “Best China” a rewarding joke (it took me a while to puzzle out why the graffiti said that), and Bizarro Dr. Fate has a pretty awesome costume:

Supergirl in “The Bloodsucker’s Moxie

This is a weird short story. Supergirl, who is now apparently a college student (she was 16 when reintroduced into continuity by Jeph Loeb in Superman/Batman, I thought, so she shouldn’t be much older than 17 at this point), is on a date with a friend, who decides he can’t date this smoking-hot, constantly almost-naked girl because he doesn’t like the way she disappears during monster attacks or something. Whatever.

It’s written by Joe Caramanga; he sends her to a state fair to meet a boy on a date, she gets picked up on by some douchey-looking (high school?) boys, and in the Hall of Freaks she discovers a tentacle monster that attacks the fair, realizing, at the end, that she too is a freak.

It’s fine, if a bit much. Trevor McCarthy’s artwork is incredible though, as is Andre Szymanowicz’s coloring of it. It’s strange that Supergirl’s civilian clothes are even more skimpy and revealing than her superhero costume (I think she’s wearing a costume patterned after the Supergirl of Smallville in her civilian identity), and it’s rather disappointing that she ends up sprawled out, covered in slime and wrapped in a tentacle before the end of the story.I love cephalopods as much as the next guy—actually, I’m fairly confident I love them a lot more than the next guy—but there’s something questionable about their battles with teenage girls sometimes, whether intentionally icky or not.

Still, another decent story and another bunch of pages of great art. Like MacDonald, I hope McCarthy’s is a name that is high on a lot of comic book editors’ lists of People To Hire after they see this story.

Lois Lane in “Credit Check” by Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover and Amilcar Pinna

Now that’s just cruel, having Colleen Coover do a Lois Lane story, but only as a writer rather than as an artist as well. How can one read that credit and not get excited about the prospect of a Coover-drawn Lois?

Well, as it turns out, this Amilcar Pinna person is pretty great too, just not-Coover.

This is a short, lark of a story in which Lois and Lana, apparently just hanging out instead of fighting over Superman, stumble upon a mystery and then solve it. It’s well written and even better-drawn.

Oddly, this is one of only two stories in this whole book—which you’ll remember is entitled Superman 80-Page Giant—featuring Superman in any capacity at all. And here he’s just on the phone talking to Lois in two panels (Khosla and MacDonald’s story is the only one which prominently features Superman, or has him being an active, hero-like character).

As fine a co-writer as Coover turned out to be here, I think DC still owes us a Colleen Coover drawn comic for Superman 80-Page Giant 2012 #1.

Superboy in “Bad Moon Rising” by Aubrey Sitterson, Eddy Barrows and J.P. Mayer

Congratulations, Aubrey Sitterson! You are the one millionth person to entitle a comic story about featuring a werewolf “Bad Moon Rising”!

This one’s a little odd for a couple reasons. First, it’s the only one to feature different artists penciling and inking. All of the others have single artists (well, the Jor-El story is inked by the penciler and another inker). Second, it features work from a more established (with these characters, anyway) artist.

Also, it’s pretty bad.

Superboy and Krypto are chilling out at Ma Kent’s, wearing their costumes, when Superboy decides he needs to go blow off steam. So he goes and fights a werewolf, and then comes back home. The end. And that’s all, really.


Yan Basque said...

I'm surprised you bring up the silliness of the title "Superman 80-page Giant 2011 #1" but don't mention the one thing I thought was most misleading about it: It doesn't feature a single story about Superman. The stories are about Jor-El, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl, Bizarro and Superboy. At best, Superman is a supporting character in one or two of them.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Most of the stories are good and entertaining and well worth reading, and that's what counts. But it still seems weird that there isn't even one story about Superman. This should have been called "Superman Family" or something.

Yan Basque said...

(Posting again 'cause I forgot to subscribe to follow-up comments.)

Shriner said...

I agree completely about the "too many splash pages" approach of Brightest Day.

I don't get how they can reduce the page count to 20 pages, yet fill it will so much *nothing*.

Unless (unsurprisingly) BD is not all that well planned-out on an issue-by-issue basis.

Dru said...

"Best China"... Having trouble figuring that one out.

2badguys said...

I think the lack of Superman would make me more inclined to buy it.

Knight and Squire was excellent this month. Pure class.


caleb said...

I'm surprised you bring up the silliness of the title "Superman 80-page Giant 2011 #1" but don't mention the one thing I thought was most misleading about it: It doesn't feature a single story about Superman.

I thought I did...?

"Best China"... Having trouble figuring that one out.

Like, you know how if you were the sort of person who had china, you'd put the best china in a display cabinet, or only put it out on special occasions? You wouldn't put it in a dumpster, right?

Anyway, it took me a while too...