Saturday, July 30, 2011

Comic shop comics: July 13-27

All-New Batman: The Brave and The Bold #9 (DC Comics) This issue struck me as particularly weak for the creative team, which has thus far set a pretty high standard for the book. There’s nothing necessarily bad about “3:10 To Thanagar,” a space-set team-up with Hawkman, and I’m hard-pressed to think of an aspect of the book that seemed wanting to me, it just didn’t excel in the same ways many of the past issues have.

The only part I really enjoyed was the way pencil artist Rick Burchett drew a slumped, unconscious Gentleman Ghost in the amusing last-page splash.Well that and the idea of Batman and Hawkman shooting the shit while traveling through space for hours.

Birds of Prey #14 (DC) Hmm, didn’t the higher-ups at DC tell BOP’s editors and creators that they were canceling this volume of the series with the fifteenth issue?

Because this is an awfully weak note to go out on, ending with a whimper instead of a bang. The book ends with a two-part fill-in, of which this is the first half. Guest-writer Marc Andreyko has provided a script that may have been sitting in a drawer for months, even years, given it’s timeless lack of immedicacy or consequence.

The Golden Age Phantom Lady joins Lady Blackhawk and Black Canary to hang out and flirt with World War II veterans as a sort of charity work, while flashing-back to a time in the 1950s when the CIA recruited the two Ladies and Black Canary’s mom to go to South America and fight some Nazis.

Then those same Nazis—or their descendants, or experiments, or whatever—return in the present day, for revenge! Is this the end of the Birds of Prey? Yes, yes it is. The book is canceled next month, and some pretty serious rebooting is expected (Barbara Gordon is being de-aged and un-Oracled, and who knows what’s up with Black Canary in a world where Superman is the first superhero…maybe she’s her own daughter with her mom’s memory from Earth-2 again or whatever her Bronze Age deal was).

The art is just this side of wretched, with solicited guest-artist Billy Tucci getting just nine pages, and the other 11 being drawn by the unsolicited Adriana Melo and JP Mayer; their work looking as rushed and poorly executed as it does in the bi-weekly DC Universe Online Legends.

Captain America & Bucky #620 (Marvel Entertainment) Here’s a real-life anecdote for you: I recently got a new day job in a slightly bigger city with a comic shop of its own, and, since I’ll be commuting there five days a week now, I set up a pull-list/file thingee with them. When putting together my list, I asked them about the “new” Captain America comic, and they showed me Captain America #1.

That wasn’t the one I wanted. I couldn’t remember the title, but I knew Chris Samnee was drawing it, it was set during World War II, I thought Ed Brubaker was writing it and I knew it was starting with a number other than #1.

It took about five minutes of me and the two comics retailers looking at the Captain America comics section (one of them picking up one of the 5,000 or so miniseries Marvel launched over the last few months featuring Cap and saying, “Is it this one?” over and over) until one of them looked it up online and asked if I meant Captain America & Bucky, which is launching with #620 instead of the more traditional #1.

So two professional sellers of comic books and one semi-professional comic book blogger and critic had a hell of a time trying to figure out the title, issue number of a particular comic book, and only succeeded because of the Internet. Imagine a civilian who knew only one or two pieces of information about the book coming in and trying to subscribe to it!

This is yet another Ed Brubaker-scripted WWII era comic, only this time he’s working with co-writer Marc Andreyko (whose work I usually like, despite hating the last comic of his I read, which you just got done reading about) and working with the immensely talented Chris Samnee, whose work on The Mighty Thor was some of the best I’ve seen from Marvel.

Samnee’s presence is what sealed the deal for me on this book.

It opens in 1935, and is narrated by James “Bucky” Barnes, essentially telling his origin story—from his childhood to the first time he put on his sidekick uniform.

Samnee’s art doesn’t disappoint; the book is full of highly-detailed art work, the action occurring on well-appointed “sets” full of period “props” and the “actors” are all great at their jobs.

It’s the sort of exceptional comics art that, if you removed all of the dialogue and narration boxes, or if they were written in a different language, you’d still be able to follow the story pretty accurately.

Not that there’s anything wrong with the words, of course. The dialogue and narration are all pretty straightforward, and used to make a rather fantastical premise seem realistic enough that you can almost kinda sorta imagine it happening in our world.

I’m glad we finally figured out what the hell book this was.

Ed McGunnes’ cover is pretty lame though, and I’m a big fan of hi style in general. It just seems pretty unimaginative, and Bucky’s shoulders are kind of freaking me out.

Daredevil #1 (Marvel) Written by Mark Waid, drawn by Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera (two of the best, most imaginative and highly stylized comics artists working on superheroes at the moment, whose styles nevertheless mesh quite well), costing only $3* and promising a radical new direction for a character whose been in grim and gritty rut since Frank Miller was writing him and I was still learning to read, this seemed like a pretty safe gamble on trying a new book.

I’m glad I did—this is just about as perfect as mainstream, corporate-owned superhero gets. Instead of scanning pages and pages and saying, “Look at how amazing this page is!” I guess I could just point out the cover, note the ways in which the two artists—each get a short story of their own in this issue—visually depicts Daredevil’s radar-like replacement sense are clever, communicative and beautiful, but different then the way its communicated on that clever, communicative and beautiful cover.

If you had to chop your superhero pull-list down to one book…

Well, maybe the second issue will be terrible, I don’t know. But this? This is golden.

DC Retroactive: Batman—The ‘70s #1 (DC) I was sort of surprised to learn that Tom Mandrake was chosen to draw this issue, as I thought the idea was to reassemble creative teams from the chosen era, and I don’t remember reading any Mandrake-drawn Batman comics from early than the 1990s.

Mandrake, inking his own pencils, pulls off a pretty neat trick here though, as his artwork throughout the lead-story in this oversized, half-reprint, $5 one-shot looks at once like the work of modern Tom Mandrake, but also within the spectrum of DC superhero art from the era.

Part of that may be a matter of fashion and design, but it also has a lot to do with the way Batman and other characters are drawn, the poses and and so on. If Mandrake’s style weren’t so personalized, if the coloring wasn’t so good, it would be easy to mistake this for a comic from the 1970s, so bravo for that (The paper is thick, pulpy and papery too—maybe not the same stock from the seenties, which I wouldn’t really recognize, not having been born until the end of the decade—but at least early ‘90s, spinner-rack stock, rather than the glossy magazine stuff that would come later).

Genuine ‘70s creator Len Wein scripts “Terror Times Three!”, and it certainly reads like a product of the era, beginning with a four-narration box, purple introduction about the smell on the night breeze of Gotham City.

It’s Batman vs. a new (or old?) version of The Terrible Trio, with goofy, era-appropriate costumes and equipment, and a cliffhanger ending that doesn’t have anywhere to go except retroactively. The story was straightforward but enjoyable (it can be hard to remember given all the shitty Batman comics in existence, but it’s actually really rather hard to screw up a “Batman fights some colorful criminals” story).

It’s paired with another Len Wein-scripted Batman story, this one “Dark Messenger of Mercy!” from 1979’s Batman #307. It’s drawn by John Calnan and Dick Giordano, and features Batman using his detective skills to try and track down a killer targeting Gotham’s hobo population. He’s assisted by some comically colorful hobos.

I don’t know how sizable the market is, but, based on this one, I know I’d be interested in DC Retroactive: Batman—The ‘70s #2.

DC Retroactive: JLA—The ‘70s #1 (DC) Writer Cary Bates is joined by pencil artist Gordon Purcell, inker Jose Marzan Jr. and penciler/inker Andy Smith (drawing 26 pages is hard!) for the first of the Justice League Retroactive specials, and he presents a clever, cute (too cute, for some readers, maybe…?) guest-starring Julisu Schwartz.

When Kanjar Ro attempts to hijack Adam Strange’s zeta beam, the former gets sent to earth, while the latter gets shunt off to “Earth-Prime,” the “real world,” where the heroes only exist as DC Comics characters, and which The Flash has visited before.

While Hal Jordan and Hawkman take off after Kanjar Ro, The Flash leads Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and Zatanna to Earth-Prime, where doctors have locked up an amnesiac Adam Strange, thinking him a crazy person (The word “cosplay” not being common in English for a few decades yet).

To help remind Strange of his real identity, the League recruits his co-creator, Julius Schwartz. Zatanna gives Wonder Woman the dress form the cover of Wonder Woman #178 as a disguise for visiting the DC offices, which doesn’t seem so smart—what if sees her?

The back-up reprint of 1975’s JLoA #123 similarly features Julius Schwartz and is similarly set in-part on Earth-Prime.

Stuck for story ideas, young JLoA writers Cary Bates and Elliot S. Maggin borrow the Cosmic Treadmill Schwartz keeps in his office; the former ends up on Earth-2, where a zap from The Wizard makes him evil, and the latter journeys to Earth-1 in an attempt to convince the Justice League to help him find his co-writer. The villainous Cary Bates then tricks the Justice League into murdering the Justice Society, and Maggin is powerless to stop him.


Looking at the covers on, it looks like the storyline continues to the next issue, where supposedly the writers will figure out a way to resurrect the dead JSA members, but since that's not collected here, and there's no to be continued, it seems pretty final.

I think I actually preferred the reprint to the original, in this particular special.

DC Retroactive: Wonder Woman—The ‘70s #1 (DC) For this issue, DC also paired a writer active from the era with a current artist, and I think they made a rather bold but welcome choice on the latter.

The opening story, “Savage Ritual,” is by Dennis O’Neil, best known as a Batman writer and editor and for his work on DC’s two big Green-colored characters, but who also did a lot of work on more fantastical characters like Wonder Woman and the Justice League. He was a writer who seemed ahead of his time in a lot of ways—I know from reading Showcase volumes that a lot of his scripts from decades ago seem more like the work of the mid-eighties than that of the sixties or seventies—so this story seems at once modern and retro.

The artist is J. Bone, a favorite of mine whose work is primarily seen at DC on the covers of Super Friends and the occasional insides of some of the best issues of that unfortunately canceled series. Here Bone is striving for a more accurate period style, and the results are…interesting. It doesn’t really look like the product of the seventies, save for a panel here or there in isolation, but it doesn’t seem quite like any Bone art I’ve seen before, or like a Wonder Woman comic circa 2011, either.

It’s great stuff, and oh how I wish art with this much style and personality weren’t a rarity among DC super-comics these days.

I’m a tad confused as to the Wonder Woman's status quo in this issue, as the seventies were a confused period for the character, and in this issue she wears both her familiar superhero-costume and an all-white get-up. The gist of the issue is that an alien force has captured and imperiled Paradise Island, and she must face some semi-illusory challenges in order to rescue her homeland, in the process proving to the force that she hasn’t sinned against her true self by pretending to be something she’s not.

Given that O’Neil was the writer who originally de-powered, re-costumed and tried to make Wonder Woman a more realistic, Emma Peel-style hero instead of a story book princess/superhero, it’s a particularly interesting story for O’Neil to write. The conflict sort of peters out at the climax—the nature of the threat is never thoroughly reviewed and dealt with—but there’s a nice little emotional punch in the final panel.

The back-up reprint is from 1972’s Wonder Woman #201, which features a rathe rprominent guest-star. Because the cover of the issue isn’t also reprinted, I had no idea that guest-star was in the comic, so was pleasantly surprised when she showed up (and I like that too rarely seen costume).

This is also by O’Neil, and features sumptuous art by Dick Giordano. Wonder Woman is in her kung-fu phase, and is hanging out with blind master I-Ching, who speaks solely in sayings apparently learned from fortune cookies (Seriously, everything he says is an annoying inspirational bumper sticker. Diana says someone looks familiar but she can’t place her exactly, and I-Ching replies, “Wisdom dictates that those difficulties which can not be solved be cast from the mind!” What an asshole that guy is).

There are some unfortunate racial stereotypes, and the sexualization of Wonder Woman so long ago was kind of neat to see (including a panty-shot and one weird panel where her lips are shown in profile in extreme close-up, while she talks to Ching shown in the background of the panel), but Giordano’s art was a welcome treat, and this story even seemed colored pretty well for a product of the era.

Green Lantern #67 (DC) The end of the “War of the Green Lanterns” story arc, and the current volume of Green Lantern, seems awfully rushed, perhaps because so much space is wasted on splash pages, a bad habit Geoff Johns and Dough Mahnke don’t seem to doing anything to drop (A worse habit, perhaps, is my continuing to complain about it month in and month out while still buying the book; what can I say, I’m starved for DC superhero comics, and this is one of the few I can still stand month in and month out).

It’s not just the waste of space though, and the fact that it makes the book past fast, giving big moments a rushed, cursory feel. In this particular issue, it’s not even very good storytelling.

The book opens with a completely silent, wordless (save for a little green narration box saying “Oa.”) splash page of Hal and the GLC flying at the reader. Turn the page, and you find a two-page silent, wordless splash featuring the Earth GL’s flying at the entity-possessed Guardians of the Universe.

It’s not until the fourth page that the story starts, and there are two more full-page splashes and one more two page splashes within the 20 pages. That’s seven pages that are splashes, or more than one-third of the book. That’s seven pages devoted to five panels.

The story is fairly exciting and interesting, leading to a new status quo that DC already spoiled—Hal Jordan’s kicked out of the Corps for being so awesome he’s able to transcend the ring’s programming, Sinestro is his replacement—although it makes for a weird read, given the knowledge of the upcoming reboot.

Solicitations seem to indicate that the Green Lantern franchise will be hardly effected, but it’s hard to imagine how it all fits into a streamlined five-year timeline, even the basics—Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern for years, then he goes crazy and dies, then he’s replaced by Kyle Rayner, then Kyle has John Stewart replace him on Earth while he goes out into space, then Hal Jordan comes back to life, and the last five years worth of Green Lantern happens.

Mahnke’s art remains some of the best DC is publishing, even with his own 3600-member Corps of inkers, and colorists Gabe Eltaeb and Randy Mayor make their presence felt in some of the battles involving the bright, neon rainbow of colors involved in some of the battles (I particularly liked the panels where Krona sics light constructs of variously colored snakes on Hal.

If it weren’t for the reboot, I’d be pretty excited to see what happens next. As it is, I’m as much curious, confused and worried as I am excited, but I am planning on reading Green Lantern #1 in September.

Red Robin #25 (DC) Despite my long time affection for Tim Drake, who was my Robin, the teenager who joined Batman’s crusade around the same time I started reading Batman comics, I haven’t read a single issues of this series to date, mostly because of how confused, ill-planned and unattractive much of the Bat-family of books has seemed to me of late (For example, I can’t stand that Red Robin costume, and what I saw or heard of what was going on in the book—including a legacy version of Anarky, another old favorite of mine, and more fights with Ra’s al Ghul and his crew—didn’t exactly excite me).

So why start with this issue? Well, the cover had another character I have a lot of affection for, Cassandra Cain, my Batgirl (It was sort of weird reading this too, as, and I know this will sound fannish and weird, but I sort of realized how much I missed the characters while reading through this).

The book is by Fabian Nicieza, Marcus To and Ray McCarthy, who I believe has been the creative team for quite a while now. Nicieza’s a talented writer, although it’s difficult to judge his skills too critically, as so much of what he’s been doing for DC over the last few years seems dictated as much by circumstances by his own initiative (At least, that’s the way it looks to me, and is one of the reasons that I don’t seek out the writing of writers like he or Tony Bedard or Peter Tomasi, but am more likely to pick up something by Geoff Johns or Grant Morrison, who seem to get to iniate changes in their characters and franchises).

I was a little surprised—and pleasantly so—by how good To’s work was.

The issue was fairly accessible, although the opening reminded me why I’ve been uninterested up until now—something about the League of Assasin’s and Ra’s al Ghul types, Tim Drake about to be raped by a naked girl villain of some sort—and a lot of plot seemed hurried through, perhaps having been rewritten to end the book (and Tim Drake’s story…?) before the September relaunch (which looks like it will be rebooting Drake completely).

I really like Cassandra Cain’s new identity—“The Black Bat”—and her costume is for the most part pretty strong, although I’s not crazy about the Ragman/Etrigan-shaped cape, the Wildcat-like tape on her forearms (which is weird; I like drawing tape like that, and looking at other folks’ drawings of tape in black and white art), and, especially, the claws on her fingers, which seems pretty redundant on a character who can beat up anyone in the world.

Red Robin spends much of the issue cowl-less, so that’s cool too.

Like I said, I realized how much I missed the pair, perhaps in large part because of how well Nicieza writes them—after reading so many comics where they’ve seemed “off” or wrong in the last five years, they seemed like their old selves again.

The whole experience was overshadowed by the knowledge that everything about the run was now in lame duck status though. Robin mentions discovering a larger plot that “I’m sure will annoy me for months to come,” for example, breaks up with his girlfriend, gets a new base of operations and so on, and, as a reader it's hard not to keep thinking, "No it won't, you start over from scratch in two months man."

Tiny Titans #42 (DC) Art Baltazar and Franco introduce Bizarro Girl, a bizarre Tiny Supergirl, and another Bizarro character I imagine we’ll be seeing again, in this issue. Match, who Geoff Johns turned into a sort of scary Bizarro version of Superboy in the pages of Teen Titans, and who is here also a Bizarro Superboy, is smitten, and takes romantic advice from Beast Boy, who has a Krazy and Ignatz relationship with Terra (only with rocks being thrown instead of bricks).

*After the first issue, anyway, which is $3.99/31


snell said...

In the second half of that 1975 JLA story, the JSA are indeed dead...but the Spectre asks God--yes, captial G God--to intervene. And God resurrects them, and erases everyone's memories so know one remembers they were dead.


FLD said...

The Mandrake thing bugged me, too. I kind of wish they'd used Mike Grell on that, since his current style looks more like the Batman of the 1970s than it does his own Green Lantern work. I suppose they're trying to recall Dick Giordano, Don Newton, and Gene Colan, all of whom are too dead to draw a DC Retroactive book. Dan Jurgens inked by Mandrake would have been tons more authentic, though, even if neither would have been legit '70s pros. I feel the need to namedrop Marshall Rogers and Jim Aparo, who looked nothing like Mandrake, but are also dead. Does Frank McLaughlin still draw?

Tony said...

Those stories where the JLA meets their writers are the worst. Every time my friend Craig says today's comics are just fan-wankery, I bring up those.

I can't wait for 90s Batman with Grant & Breyfogle. That's *my* Batman.

Jeff said...

I'm with Tony on his last comment!

As for your post, I couldn't agree more with your Daredevil commentary. For this moment, this is the perfect comic book. Brilliantly, originally done.