Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Comics shop comics: May 29-June 5

Adventures of Superman #1 (DC Comics) This much-discussed new anthology series seems to be a late-to-the-party companion book to Legends of the Dark Knight (which is already up to issue #9. Like LDK, it's a $4, 30-page print collection of digital-first short stories featuring the publisher's biggest heroes in continuity-lite standalone stories (As to the reason it was so discussed, that was, of course, due to the announced inclusion of an Orson Scott Card-written story in the first issue; a lot of readers and retailers reacted quite negatively to the idea of supporting a book written by such an outspoken critic of gay people and gay rights, perhaps especially when it came to his writing a character known for standing up for Truth, Justice and the American Way).

This first issue is front-loaded with star power, in much the same way the earlier issues of LDK were.

The first story is written by Jeff Parker, best known for his fun, funny and occasionally heartfelt Marvel scripts (Most recently on Thunderbolts, Dark Avengers, Hulk and Red She-Hulk), and is drawn by Chris Samnee, also best known for his excellent work for Marvel (Daredevil, Thor: The Mighty Avenger). There's not a whole heck of a lot to this story, really: Superman encounters a potentially deadly problem, a character with such devastating power that even he is threatened, and yet our hero tries to help the guy causing all the problem, realizing he's as much of a victim as anyone. Both creators "get" Superman and do a nice job with him; I'd certainly like to see more of their work on the character, as a team or separately, although I can't imagine why either creator would want to work at DC at this particular point in time as the environment there seems...less than ideal.

The second is both written and drawn by Jeff Lemire, and is kind of a generic one, in that I'm fairly certain I've read a half-dozen variations on the same story before, although it's given a bit of a twist at the end, and it's a kick to see Lemire's highly quirky style applied to a straight take on a DC superhero (I don't think I've seen Superman look that quirky since Teddy Kristiansen drew him for Steven T. Seagle's It's a Bird), and the writer Lemire devises a nice excuse for the artist Lemire to get to draw a pretty large swathe of Superman's rouge's gallery.

The final story is written by Justin ordan and drawn by Riley Rossmo, with Rossmo working a style that seems to blend those of Samnee and Lemire—that is, it's a straight superhero style as filtered through something a bit more idiosyncratic and illustrative. It too feels awfully familiar, being one more story in which Superman learns to solve a conflict with Bizarro by aping Bizarro's backwards talk.

All three are written and drawn so that it doesn't much matter where or when they fit into any particular continuity. Based on the costuming, this is not The New 52 Superman (even on the blurry-looking Brian Hitch cover, he's wearing his spandex and shorts), but that's pretty much all there is to narrow it down.

I suppose whether or not this will remain the case for long will depend on how Superman Unchained turns out, but, as of right this very second, this seems to be the Superman comic on the stands best-suited to handing to a Superman-curious reader.

Classic Popeye #10 (IDW) Another reprint of super old-school Bud Sagendorf Popeye comics, this batch from 1950. Popeye and his gang solve a sleeping plague in king Blozo's nation of Spinachova, Popeye tries to win a prize fight without throwing a punch, a would-be pirate tries to best Popeye in a duel and Wimpy pursues Swee'pea in order to mooch a bite of his apple. Good clean fun for the whole family, full of punching and mispronunciation.

Empowered: Animal Style (Dark Horse Comics) This is one of those occasional comic book-comics that Adam Warren puts out with collaborators to keep his Empowered, one of the best superhero comics of the decade, present in the minds of readers (and, I imagine, retailers) between volumes, as he's been producing the main series as a series of original graphic novels.

In this one, he's working with artist John Staton, who draws the majority of the artwork for the issue in a style that rather closely apes the designs of Warren (which is here colored by Guru EFX), and drawing flashback pages in the same black-and-white style that the regular series appears in.

Like all of Warren's work, but perhaps especially these shorter comics, it's smart, funny and very, very dense, reading as if it were many pages longer than it actually is. Emp has taken what's supposed to be the cake job of nightwatchman-ing an "Alternate Timeline Superhero Auto Show", which no one ever attempts to rob, because it is physically—as in "pertaining to the laws of physics"—impossible to take anything from the show.

That doesn't stop the Animal Style gang though, a group of villains in animal-shaped and animal-powered mecha suits, from trying, and it's up to Emp to stop them, falling back on the advice of her own college-aged self (seen speechifying in the Warren-drawn black-and-white sections) on a better way for super-people to fight each other with cars rather than the traditional use of them as projectiles.

As is the case on almost any Wednesday that Warren has a new comic out, this was the smartest, funniest and best-looking book I read today.

Green Lantern #21 (DC) I bought this one on accident. I fully intended to drop Green Lantern after Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke left the title (with the previous issue), but I don't go to the shop every week anymore, and by the time I did make it in, there was already an issue by the new creative team in my pull-file, and I didn't wanna stick my shop with it, so, long story long, I ended up trying the first issue of poor Robert Venditti's run on GL (I think pencil artist Billy Tan and inker Richard Friend have an uphill climb ahead of them as well, following a long, productive run by the Mahnke-lead art team, but at least Mahnke was one of many artists to define the look of the franchise; Venditti's following a guy who not only turned the title into a popular one, but turned it into a franchise, and DC's second-most-popular at that).

Having read this, I wonder if it wouldn't have been better if they retired Hal Jordan from the lead of this particular title for awhile, letting Johns write him in Justice League and giving GL to Simon Baz or John Stewart for a while, just so Venditti (or whoever followed Johns) wasn't thrust into the position of continuing to do what Geoff Johns did.

There were a few signs that Venditti would at least be taking a new old direction with the book, when Hal arrives on Earth and meets briefly with Carol Ferris, and she complains about him being in space all the time, never working at his actual job or even having his own apartment yet. But the discussion is interrupted by a call back to space.

Venditti is apparently doubling-down on the whole cosmic army premise, as the new Guardians decide to spend some time traveling the universe and learning about it, and they appoint Hal Jordan boss of the Corps in their absence. Then Oa is immediately attacked by Larfleeze and his "Orange Lanter" Corps. So! Still set primarily in space, still all cosmic-y, still one-colored Corps fighting another (Kyle Rayner, who is still a White Lantern for whatever reason, and John Stewart, briefly appear).

The script is structured rather strangely, with the big moment coming on a two-page splash that serves as the title page, and the cliffhanger splash page ending simply repeating a point made on the first page of the comic. That is, the big suspenseful surprise comes at the beginning rather than the end, and after that beginning the story backtracks to work its way up to a previously-revealed story point.

The artwork by Tan and Friend is serviceable. I'm not a fan of Tan's work at all, and nothing in this issue made me any more of a fan, but it's not necessarily bad or weak art. It certainly doesn't pop like Mahnke's though, and I have a feeling this book is going to need all the help it can to slow what's sure to be a drastic drop down the sales charts.

Legends of the Dark Knight #9 (DC) This issue has two stories, each of which features Batman vs. one of his major rogues, and each of which are pretty perfectly-scripted stories for this sort of continuity-lite, standalone story anthology.

The first is by Christos Gage and Jheremy Raapack, and features Batman battling one of my favorite characters, The Scarecrow. Gage comes up with a neat little story within a story within a story conflict, as Bruce Wayne wakes up to find himself badly damaged in body and mind, the result of the incredible strain his war on crime has had on his mind and body ("You've taken more punches than Muhammad Ali," Commissioner Gordon tells him, "Been doesed with more drugs than Timothy Leary. What's more likely? That you took all that punishment and can still perform at the level of an Olympic athlete...or that your mind owould rather escape into fantasy than face what you've done to yourself?")

Well, we know the answer of what's really going on—even as we know which is actually more likely in the real world—but it takes Batman much of the story to figure it out. Intereting to see the lengths that Gage and Raapack go to keep their story out of a particular continuity; Batman's wearing a pre-New 52 costume and Gordon has white hair instead of red, and while there's talk of a deceased Robin, it's never revealed which Robin—when his grave is shown, a heavy fog obscures the name on the monument.

I like what Raapack's done with the Scarecrow, giving us a version that incorporates elements from several different versions, and even throws in some new, original elements (dig the little Batman voodoo doll hanging from his scythe):
As an aficionado of Scarecrow designs, I do like Raapack's quite a bit.
The story ends with the quote about the dude who didn't know if he was a man who dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly that dreamt he was a man, which I really think Gage should have altered, replacing the word "butterfly" with "bat."

The other story is by Ray Fawkes and Stephane Roux and is a rather typical but eloquent exploration of the Batman and Catwoman frenemies relationship, with maybe a little more emphasis on "enemies" than more recent explorations. Catwoman is breaking into a mansion highly defended by various lethal, high-tech traps, and Batman is on her trail; they evade the various traps using a bunch of different high-tech gadgets and come into conflict with one another, even though their interests intersect in wanting to see an evil person suffer.

X-Men #1 (Marvel Entertainment) I'm actually going to review this at a bit more length elsewhere in the near future, but for now suffice it to say that it was a bit disappointing to find that the new X-Men book that has been defined, marketed and discussed primarily by and for its all-female character line-up (the creators, of course, are men) kicks off with a story arc in which our heroes...take care of a baby...?

I'm not sure how new X-Men books usually start off (I generally try to avoid them, myself), but there didn't seem to be anything along the lines of a team or sub-team forming; the characters on the cover just so happened to be the characters who were on-panel the most in the book (Logan and Beast are mentioned, for example, and the book is set in and around Wolverine's school). Are new X-Men teams just imaginary constructions in the minds of the writers and readers, a sort of selective cropping and editing of the massive 200-mutant X-army of characters into storylines...?

The art was great (really—top notch), but the writing left a lot to be desired. I only know who some of the characters are from press and reviews (Rachel Summers, Psylocke), one of the primary antagonists is a minor character from Grant Morrison's millennial run on the franchise and the other is named on the second-to-last page as if I should recognize her name, but I don't. So it really reads like a very well-drawn X-Men comic for X-Men fans, rather than a comic for potentials not already hip deep in the franchise's ins and outs.

It's fairly well-made, especially on the visual side of things, but it doesn't seem to be ready for the beyond-comics attention it's getting, and could thus become a real missed-opportunity for Marvel.


Akilles said...

"When I work, you`re the audience I`m trying to please."

I give Christos Cage props for that.

I`m rather surprised that you decided to read X-(wo)men 1, since you haven`t mentioned it before.

Greg said...

John Sublime might not be the greatest villain, but he's not a minor bad guy in Morrison's run - in fact, he's THE big villain in Morrison's run. He's there at the beginning and he makes the end what it is. I don't really like him all that much, but he's definitely not minor.