Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Comic shop comics: September 26..., about as many words devoted to a couple of ads as to the couple of books I picked up.

Aquaman #0 (DC Comics) DC's "Zero Month" event has certainly gotten me to pick up a bunch of their "New 52" line—not "pick up" as in "pick up, carry to the cash register, purchase and then take home to read", but rather, "pick up, flip through rather thoroughly, and see what's changed about the DCU I used to know and love now that it's been rebooted."

This week, for example, I picked up Teen Titans #0, which is actually just the origin of Red Robin Tim Drake who, in turns out, was never Robin at all, but always went by the name Red Robin! (Too bad; I really liked the "A Lonely Place of Dying" origin and its argument for the necessity of a Robin, and the rather long, drawn-out process of Tim gradually becoming Robin) And Batman: The Dark Knight #0, in which a pistol-packing Bruce Wayne confronted Joe Chill. And Talon #0, which I was interested in simply because of Guillem March's art (I considered buying it, but as I haven't read any of the Batman mega-arc it spins out of, I didn't think I should bother at this point). And Batman Incorporated #0, in which Frazer Irving somehow modulated his artwork to look akin to that stuff Salvador Larroca was going for Invincible Iron Man that made me nauseous.

The only one I picked up and held on to, however, was this one, the zero issue of one of the three "New 52" series I'm still reading—Aquaman #0, by the regular creative team of Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado.

It is not very good. The first half is a reorganizes and recaps details we already know about Aquaman's "New 52" origin from flashbacks in the previous 12 issues, and the latter half is a weird info-dump section in which we're introduced to New 52 Vulko, who Reis has modeled after Rip Torn of all people, and Vulko then explains Atlantean history to Aquaman for a half-dozen pages before swimming him down to Atlantis.

It's not really how I expected Johns to proceed with unveiling the mysteries of Atlantis, or Aquaman's past, a large chunk of which apparently involved his ruling the lost kingdom for a while sometime before the events of Aquaman #1-#12. As with the second story arc in the book, "The Others," it seems just as dependent on continuity as so much of Johns' DCU writing, only its based on a newly invented, phantom continuity that only Johns is privy to at this point.

The pacing of the issues is extremely off, particularly given how experienced Johns is writing these kinds of comics now—he's been doing something like three similar scripts a month for years now, so you'd think he could do this sort of thing in his sleep now. But there's a long, carefully-paced show-rather-than-tell section demonstrating Aquaman's first journey into the ocean and the discovery of his telepathic powers, and then there's that scene of Rip Torn delivering what sounds like a memorized Wikipedia entry.

As with the other #0s I've read—Catwoman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman—there wasn't much information in the "Who's Who in the New 52!" feature in the back; it basically just summarizes his history as presented in the previous 12 issues and, under powers, is vague to the point of sounding wrong. For example, it tells us Aquaman can "communicate with most forms of aquatic animal life," whereas the early issues of the book were quite clear that Aquaman doesn't and can't talk to fish, he can simply override their nervous systems and command them to do things. And he was really touchy about the implication that he can talk to fish, so whoever wrote the "Who's Who" entry? They might wanna steer clear of Aquaman, as he will probably yell at them when he sees them.

Say, did you see the Before Watchmen double-page spread ad in the middle of the book? Here's a terrible scan of it, which doesn't fit it all in, because my scanner's not as big as a two-page splash:
It apparently pre-dates the decision to add an eighth book to the suite of seven miniseries, as one of the bits that didn't make it onto my scanner read "Read All 7 limited Series Written & Illustrated By Comics' Top Talents" (Which I won't argue with more than I already have, beyond noting that one needs an awfully generous definition of "top talents" to include some of these folks on that list). It is then organized so that there's an image of Jim Lee's variant cover featuring each character, the title and credits for each of those 7 limited series, and then a blurb about how awesome the books are.

With all due respect to the various institutions blurbed, the fact that DC had to turn to those particular media outlets in order to find positive quotes is pretty telling. The only mainstream, non-comics/Internet pop culture focused source is The Onion's AV Club, which tends to be rather generous when discussing mediocre superhero comics, and it refers to Jae Lee's art as being "the most visually distinct" of the art on these seven books.

The other blurbs? Two from Ain't It Cool News, two from IGN, one from Fangoria and another one from Comic Vine.

Above them all is a pretty hilarious one from MTV Geek: "Before Watchmen has been an unqualified success." Nevermind that it was written about the project in June, at which point the actual writer being blurbed (Alex Zalben, although the DC ad naturally does not name names, preferring the more recognizable "MTV" be attached) had, at that point, only read two (2) issues of the 30-some part suite of comics: Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 by Darwyn Cooke and Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1 by Cooke and Amanda Conner.

It's that word "unqualified" that cracks me up. If you read Zalben's review, you'll note he offers some qualifications, but, out of context like this, it's such an amusing word to attribute to such a controversial project—I mean, even DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio has noted that there are a lot of strong and negative feelings about the project; basically, this is the last comic book publishing initiative you could use the words "unqualified success" to describe.

Was it a creative, financial, sales and critical success? And a media/PR success...? (Remember, no qualifications!) And it also lives up to and surpasses the comics project everyone automatically and constantly compares it to, by virtue of it being an expansion/prequel to that work? Because, you know, saying "Well, it's not as good as the original or anything" is a qualification.

Okay, I'm just being a bit of an ass, I know. But at least I'm not being a total asshole, like, say, someone who would publish something like Before Watchmen!

Now, back to the non-ad content of this week's comics purchase...

Superman Family Adventures #5 (DC) Damn, why didn't Lex Luthor think of that before? I love that panel. I laughed so long and hard when I read it. It almost doesn't even matter what the next panel, or the rest of the story, contained, because that panel alone is so full of possibilities!

For the record though, Lex gets the job, even though he had the audacity to write "Greatest Criminal Mind of Our Time" on his resume. (I'm really happy with my current job, and hope to keep it for years to come, but next time I do have to apply for a new job somewheres...? I'm totally putting that on my resume; just to see what happens). Lex uses that position to try and find out what info Lois and Jimmy might have on Superman hidden in their offices (and, it turns out, they do indeed know Clark Kent's secret), but it doesn't end well for Lex.

That's the second of the two stories this issue contains. The first is the one teased on the cover, in which we meet Lex's gang—Otis and Miss Teshmacher—and the SFA version of The Parasite.

As great as these two stories are? I think my favorite part is the letters page, as it contains drawings of Krypto by little kids!
I love that Shmoo-looking Krypto creature in the above one!

Among the backmatter, I noticed this profile of the character Wonder Girl, which features the version of the character that appears in the Young Justice cartoon, which is premised on a Teen Titans-like line-up of teenage sidekicks and young heroes serving as a sort of auxiliary version of the Justice League, whom they are training with and under:
The design takes elements of various costumes the Cassie Sandsmark version of Wonder Girl wore throughout her pre-New 52 existence, in comics like Wonder Woman and Teen Titans, although it hews closest to the ones she wore in Young Justice.

It's a nice enough design. It's simple. It looks like clothes an actual human being might actually wear. It has just enough signifiers to say "supehero" and "associated with Wonder Woman" at a glance. It's not so weird or busy that it would be difficult to draw, animate or slap on a toy.

Look at the three images next to that Wonder Girl though; those are all headshots of Brett Booth's rendering of the New 52 Wonder Girl costume, which, you'll recall, looks like this:
I imagine they are close-up headshots so as to get as little of her costume as possible in there...?

Anyway, I mentioned DC's kinda fucked up transmedia strategy of the moment—you know, the fact that not only does one not exist, but their main comics line is so contrary to their other-media adaptations which, on the whole, seem to be more new consumer-friendly, all-ages and not the sort of thing that is likely to make anyone throw up.

Speaking of which! You know how last week DC relaunched Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld as the lead feature in new book Sword and Sorcery, and, I learned through one of Chris Sims' reviews that the first issue included an attempted gang rape...?

Well, there is a two-page spread in the back of this issue of Superman Family Adventures about Amethyst, Princess of Gem World, the cartoon series. Here's the first page, which, even if you can't/don't read it, should suggest the look, tone and audience of the cartoon version (as does the fact that the ad is running in SMA):
So what if you're a kid reading SMA, or watching Saturday morning cartoons, and like this version of Amethyst, or you're a grown-up who thinks your child/niece/nephew/kid you know might like it? What if you look for other comics featuring the character, or ask you retailer, "Hey, got any new comics with Amethyst in them...?"

What are you going to get? Something that not only looks very, very different, but, um, something where the heroine busts up an attempted gang rape...?

The Tower Chronicles: GeistHawk Vol. 1 (Legendary Comics) As you can see, there wasn't much on my shopping list this week, so I thought I'd supplement it with a trade purchase, but my comic shop didn't order any of those I was most interested in for the rack, allowing for me to make an impulse buy (Osama Tezuka's Barbara and Yotsuba&! Vol. 11, if you're wondering).

So I went with this instead. Despite the thoroughly generic cover by, um, Jim Lee (reeeaasllly surprised to see Lee and regular collaborators Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair handle this cover, given the highly-individual style of the artist, and the fact that the writer is himself a legendary artist; why make your comic look like a 53rd book in the New 52 when you've got those dudes on the payroll already?), the thoroughly generic premise (supernatural action/adventure about a monster killer in the modern world or whatever) andis written by Matt Wagner and penciled by Simon fucking Bisley, two guys I have a lot of time for; especially the latter's artwork, which I see all too rarely.

It's also only $8 for a 68-page trade paperback, which is a pretty swell deal. I'll give this a review elsewhere in the very near future (like, tomorrow, probably!); I'm just mentioning it here so as to adhere to the "rules" of this feature I established for myself.

Besides, I think I used up the bulk of tonight's allotted blogging time bitching about a Watchmen ad and poor corporate transmedia strategies.


matthew. said...

Absolutely astute observation on the Amethyst situation!

Robert in New Orleans said...

I don't know why you're still reading Aquaman since it doesn't seem you like it much. I don't care for Johns' writing much myself and gave up on it in spite of the pretty art.

I'm surprised that you haven't given Snyder & Capullo's Batman a chance. Writing and art are both top notch, IMO. I know you don't buy 3.99 comics, but you could check it out in trade (or get it from the library?). I don't follow all the various Bat titles, but I think the main one is worth it.