Thursday, July 04, 2013

Comic shop comics: July 3

Adventures of Superman #2 (DC Comics) This actually came out last week, but didn't make it into my pull-file, so I didn't pick it up until this Wednesday. It includes a trio of shorts, a cover slug billing them as "Timeless Tales of the Man of Steel!," which essentially means it's Classic Coke Superman rather than New Coke Superman: Spandex and red shorts rather than armor and a metal diaper or that mesh and gauntlet combo movie Superman wears while destroying Metropolis and killing dudes.

These stories are "The Bottle City of Metropolis" by J.M. DeMatteis, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Sal Buscema (a so-so short with a twist ending that gives Buscema the opportunity to draw Titano); "Slow News Day" by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joelle Jones (the sharpest, funniest, most fun and best-drawn in the book, featuring Clark Kent trying to cover a dog show with Lois but constantly being interrupted by Superman crisis after Superman crisis, climaxing with an off-panel trip to the future with Rip Hunter and Kamandi); and, finally, "Best Intent" by Michael Avon Oemin and Brian J.L. Glass (which coulda used another ten pages to de-compress a bit, but is carried through the super-packed, event-filled story by Oeming's quirky artwork, the likes of which The New 52 could use some of).

Avengers A.I. #1 (Marvel Entertainment) I mentioned the various strikes against this book in Tuesday night's preview column, and expressed my desire to check it out anyway, which I did. I don't think I'll check out #2, though.

The 19-page story apparently spins out of Age of Ultron, but not in any way so meaningful that it couldn't simply be summarized in a few lines of dialogue: In the future, a war between organic and machine life is coming, and human Avenger and Ultron creator Hank Pym is going to assemble a team to stop the conflict and save both sides of it from annihilation.

Pym, who here appears as just Doctor Pym rather than in one of his costumed identities (he's the one in the jacket on the cover), recruits android Avenger The Vision (given a simple, stripped-down redesign I don't really care for, but then, it's not any worse than his previous terrible costumes), former Runaway Victor Mancha (who isn't introduced very well; I only knew him because of Runaways), a slightly re-programmed Doombot (who thankfully retains Doom's attitude and vocabulary, and thus provides the only really intentionally funny parts of the book; I wish his design were closer to Doom's though, as he looks like a pretty generic robot wearing a Doom mask and green hood and green bathing suit) and two completely new characters to me: SHIELD Agent Monica Chang (who I got the sense I was supposed to recognize from somewhere), and a character that I think is brand-new, seen only in the last panel of the book.

Writer Sam Humphries sure hits the ground running, assembling his Avengers—whose Avengers-ocity seems even more strained than that of the new New Avengers, who are actually just The Illuminati borrowing the name for their comic—quickly and efficiently (if not all that thoroughly) and throwing them into their first big action scene before book's end. That's a lot of ground to cover for such an incredibly short comic (on the plus side, even if it's three pages shorter than the standard comic, it's also $1 cheaper than many Marvel comics).

The artwork is from relative newcomer André Lima Araújo, whose figures have a big chunkiness to them—particularly his Vision, who looks like the only real superhero in the book—and a vaguely Humberto Ramos/Mike Wieringo/Chis Bachalo style to many of the figures, faces and expressions. I also got a Jim Cheung-vibe from some of the linework on the characters. It's not really as tight as I'd like though, and the characters can look distracting similar to one another—Pym and Mancha look like they could have been in the same class at high school, for example.

And, as I said, I'm not crazy about most of the designs, particularly whatever the hell Mancha's wearing in this—one of the many virtues of Runaways was always that the characters generally wore real clothes of the sort real teenagers might wear.

Basically, there's a lot of room for improvement here, but since this is the, I don't know, tenth or twelfth Avengers title on the stands...wait; Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, Avengers Assemble, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Avengers Arena, the soon-to-launch Mighty Avengers...okay, I guess it's only the eigth Avengers title, but still! If this is the seventh or eighth Avengers title in order to importance and/or Avengers-ness, I can't imagine it will get too much time to grow to meet its potential.

And hey, by the way, where's Machine Man? I'd trade any of these guys out for Machine Man.

Catalyst Comix #1 (Dark Horse Comics) You know what this world needs? More superhero comics!

That was the thinking that lead early-nineties Dark Horse to flirt with the creation of their own DCU/Marvel Universe style super-verse brand, the awkwardly-named Comics' Greatest World, which gave us the likes of X, Barb Wire, Ghost and others. And that, apparently, is the thinking that leads us to this year's revival of sorts, Catalyst Comix, an Action Comics Weekly-style anthology (in which the back-ups and feature trade places) featuring a handful of the lesser-known characters—Frank Wells/Titan, Grace and The Agents of Change—all written by Joe Casey and drawn by a trio of talented, quirky and under-appreciated artists.

These are Dan McCaid (on "The Ballad of Frank Wells), Paul Maybury (on "Amazing Grace") and Ulises Farinas (on "Agents of Change").

Casey throws a bit of a gauntlet and talks a lot of smack about Big Two superheroes, and how his revitalization of the CGW characters will be different, in tone, art and approach, during a two-page prose afterword of sorts.

And credit where credit's due, these comics are different, and perhaps better than the bulk of the Big Two's output, but I found 'em awfully derivative, rather confusing and not that much fun—they're better than the worst and the mediocre among corporate superhero comics, but not as good as the better among them.

Casey's writing is extremely wordy and somewhat hyperactive, the copious narration—particularly in the Frank Wells piece—reading like over-exclamation pointed, Stan Lee-inspired poetry. It reminded me of '70s Marvel era Steve Gerber.

All of the art is quirky, but only Farinas' really struck me as beautiful and weird enough to really stand-out as worth hunting down.
Personally, I could have used more context, and was disappointed with the lack of credit to the original creators, which seemed awfully Big Two to me (Barbara Kesel gets credit for creating Grace and the characters mentioned in "Agents of Change," while no one gets credit for Frank Wells), and Casey doesn't really contextualize the characters' real-world origins, even given the space in that prose piece.

For now, I'm gonna put this down as an interesting failure, but one worth keeping one eye on for a while.

But hey, it is 25 story pages, completely interrupted by ads of any kind (save a single house-ad, and then a few more after the story pages have all run), for $2.99, making for a hell of a value.

Legends of the Dark Knight #10 (DC) This issue of the Batman anthology features a full-length story, by a team of fairly prominent creators I'm somewhat surprised to see here, given that this book seems to be, in-part anyway, a sort of try-out book. It's written by David Tischman, pencilled by Chris Sprouse (!) aand inked by Karl Story (!).

It's a fairly standard Batman done-in-one, with the Dark Knight hot on the trail of a brand-new serial killer (assigned the recycled name Abattoir by the press) who is a very special kind of cannibal: He somehow takes on the memories, skills and abilities of the people whose flesh he consumes.

Tischman really strips Batman down to his basics, in terms of cast and gadgetry and the scope and scale of the story. Interestingly, he gives Bruce Wayne a particularly large role in the story, as he uses himself for bait, and Tischman's Bruce Wayne is a smart, snarky, smart-ass how seems more like Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark than Christian Bale's Wayne.

Sprouse's art is particularly gorgeous, and while it was a treat seeing it here, it does make me wonder why he's drawing a digital-first, out-of-continuity book like this instead of a regular gig; his Batman story sure looks a hell of a lot better than a lot of the New 52 Batman and family stories.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man (Marvel) This was the surprise best comic of the week for me, a new miniseries* starring the latest version of the Sinister Six—Boomerang, The Shocker, Overdrive, Speed Demon and a new, female version of The Beetle—after their boss Doctor Octopus "died," his soul taking over the body of Spider-Man, as seen in the pages of Superior Spider-Man. That explains why this isn't called The Sinister Six or The Superior Six then (there is a sixth villain involved, though), although the title is somewhat ironic: These aren't Spidey's A- or even B-List villains; if they aren't the bottom of the barrel, they're close to it.

The series is written by Nick Spencer and drawn by the great Steve Lieber whose presence, along with the great Marcos Martin cover, convinced me to pick this up, despite not really knowing or caring all that much about any of these characters or the state of the Spider-Man corner of the Marvel Universe at the moment. I'm certainly glad I did.

Boomerang, whose stupid costumes are both still better than DC's Captain Boomerang's post-resurrection redesign, narrates the issue, relating his sad-sack origin story and how he fell into with his new crew and how he ended up in jail. With a favor from one of Spidey's B- or C-lister villains, he secures his release and reunites his team for a job, which they apparently need fairly badly, as Speed Demon (Hey, a speedster should be able to kick Spidey's ass, shouldn't he?) and Shocker are reduced to robbing a pet store and Beetle and Overdrive to robbing a comic shop ("I didn't even know they still made these things," Overdrive says).

The plot is more-or-less secondary here though, as the real pleasure of the book is Spencer's writing, the voice and character of Boomerang that emerges, and those of the various loser villains who are all more-or-less just trying to get by, despite the handicaps of not being very bright or very powerful or very evil. There's something incredibly Silver Age-y about all these guys, in that they are essentially just stick-up men with costumes, and this is therefore a crime comic comedy in superhero drag.
Lieber's art is perfect for the premise, as it's highly realistic, but he draws classic super-costumes in a very smooth, clean, comic book-y way, so that the villains seems like real people, real characters, when they're out of costume, and then transform into comic book characters when they put their masks on.

This looks to be one of the ever-increasing number of Marvel Comics that are extremely-well made explorations of different avenues, alleys and corners of the expansive universe of super-star superheroes they publish.

Trinity of Sin: The Phantom Stranger #10 (DC) Well, this sure wasn't an easy movie to walk into the middle of...

One of the several issues I picked up this week out of curiosity and a desire to cast about for more super-comics to read serially (the appearance of New 52 Zauriel, a favorite character of mine, sealed the deal), the tenth issue of series obviously isn't the ideal place to give a try.

The title character, who just recently had "Trinity of Sin" added to his title, isn't as strange as he was in the old continuity. From what I've read in reviews, the shroud of mystery dissolved to reveal that he is in actuality Judas Iscariot, cursed by a mysterious cabal of powerful figures (including the Wizard Shazam) to walk the earth, atoning for his sin of betraying Jesus Christ (the rest of the Trinity, as was seen in this week's Trinity of Sin: Pandora, are Pandora and The Question).

In this issue, he finds himself outside the gates of heaven, talking to a powerful little Scottie dog who is presumably God himself ("The being by my side wears the form of an ordinary dog," the Stranger narrates, "Worn, I assume, for its own amusement. To this day i"m not certain if the entity behind the cloak is God himself...or one of his servants.")

The dog/God assigns him a spirit guide in Zauriel, who has shed his costume and alien/avian look from Grant Morrison, Howard Porter and John Dell's late-nineties conception of a science-fiction heaven in JLA—here he's a big bald guy with glowing tattoos and pupil-less eyes: Sometimes he looks like a black man, at other times his skin seems gray, depending on the lighting.
(This heaven is more or less a traditional one, the only innovation being many doors—one for each soul that will ever enter it) He also assigns him a supernatural Sophie's Choice: He can bring one soul back to earth with him, even though he has three dead family members (a wife and two kids; presumably from some point after Biblical times...?)

There's also one-page check-in scene featuring The Question, who looks like the old, pre-52 version, and Dr. Thirteen, who seems pretty far removed from either the original or the Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang Architecture and Mortality version.

As with a lot of the New 52 books I've sampled and abandoned, this was a particularly strange reading experience, featuring names and characters I recognized, but reorganized in new and strange ways: A little like if a TV show you watched suddenly recast half the characters, and changed its premises and changed the character arcs of most of the characters, regardless of whether a new or the original actor were still playing them.

Fernando Blanco's art is fairly nice throughout, and a great improvement over the last comics I've read that he drew. It's sort of a shame he's not given anything more interesting to draw, though, as this heaven seems pretty pedestrian. The book is now being written solo by J.M. DeMatteis, and it reminded me quite a bit of his work on the short-lived Spectre series starring Hal Jordan, which similarly featured a rather uncomfortable mix of superheroics and bland spirituality (In fact, the last issue of that series I read also featured Zauriel in a generic angel role).

*Actually, looking at the cover, fine-print and next issue box, I don't see any indication that this is a miniseries, but it certainly doesn't seem like an ongoing either. Huh.


Akilles said...

The female beetle isn`t a new character, but actually a little-used one. Also, I`ll probably check this series out some day.

I like the text in that Phantom stranger-cover.

Michael Hoskin said...

> ("I didn't even know they still made these things," Overdrive says).

The character whose sole personality quirk is that he's a massive fanboy who collects Spider-Man merchandise knows nothing about comic books? Surely there was a better character for that dialogue.

A Hero said...

From what I read this is Monica Chang's first "616" appearance, but there was a version of her in the Ultimate universe. She was Ultimate Nick Fury's ex-wife and took over as Black Widow on the Ultimates after the original one betrayed the team.