Monday, October 07, 2013

Comic shop comics: September 25-October 2

Adventures of Superman #5 (DC Comics) I was quite struck by the contents of the recent Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics trade paperback (which I reviewed rather briefly here) and how dated the material collected within was. The most recent stories in it were from 2008, and all of them were from 2001-2008 (save for a Ra's al Ghul story from 1972). Five years ago might as well be forever, given how radically the DC Universe and most of its characters changed in fall of 2011 (Of these, I think maybe three are timeless enough to still be relevant to New 52 continuity; the two Sinestro stories and the Tim Sale and Darwyn Cooke's Catwoman story).

The Lex Luthor story that was included was from January of 2001, and was the biography of the post-Crisis/pre-New 52 version of the character, premised as a campaign bio of the sort that runs at political conventions. Hardly relevant now.

I was thinking about the trade as I was reading this latest issue of Adventures of Superman, as one half of its contents are comprised of a short Lex Luthor portrait sort of story written by Kyle Killen and drawn by Y: The Last Man's Pia Guerra, who is way too rare a presence in comics at the moment (drink in her clear, crisp, clean linework and her her versions of Superman and Luthor and I think you'll agree).
It's just ten pages long, and thus a perfectly-sized short story for anthology collection. Killen and Guerra (and Guerra does a lot of heavy lifting, really) present a particularly insidious portrait of Luthor, which is well in-keeping with his genius and arrogance—he sees even defeats as victories. In this particular instance, he meditates on the fact that Superman seems to always be everywhere at once, trying to be a hero to everyone, but Luthor realizes that isn't actually possible. So he distracts Superman with a clumsy plot and because every second Superman spends messing around with Lex Luthor is a second he's not spending saving some civilian's life, then he knows even when he loses, he achieves the twin goals of making Superman a little more sad and seeding resentment against Superman in the hearts of those whose loved ones Superman failed to save.

It's smart and it's evil. And, again, it's beautifully drawn. And just ten pages. This follows Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wes Craig and Craig Yeung's "A Day In The Life" Luthor portrait in the previous issue a fairly elegant introduction to or definition of the character, and the Killen/Guerra story is perhaps even stronger than last issue's in that it's an even more timeless version of Luthor.

I'm not sure how much work DC's actually doing to produce short comics like this for any future collections like Necessary Evil (certainly Villains Month produced lots of twenty-page stories, but Adventures of... and Legends of the Dark Knight seem to be the only place for shorter pieces at the moment), but they've at least got two pretty strong contenders for Luthor stories in the future.

The opening story in this issue, the one tease don the cover, is written by Nathan Edmondson and drawn by Yildiray Cinar, the latter of whose work looks better than I've ever seen it before (and props to colorist Matthew Wilson for shifts in "lighting" indicating time of day, in addition to helping Cinar's work look so great here). The story is super-simple: An alien ship containing a baby crash-lands, but this isn't exactly a repeat of Superman's origin. There are some other alien ships, and these shot down the first one and are trying to kill the baby for alien political reasons. Superman finds himself in the position of trying to protect the baby, first from U.S. military, then from the alien military.

Plot-wise, it's pretty basic, but I really enjoyed the scenes of Superman flying away from danger and, in once scene, flying slowly through the woods, occasionally rotating upside down, while trying to distract a crying baby.

Empowered: Nine Beers With Ninjette (Dark Horse Comics) Here's another one of those "Hey, don't forget about Empowered!" one-shots that Adam Warren occasionally puts out while fans wait for the next volume of the series to drop. As per usual, Warren writes and provides the art for the prologue (here, four pages), while another artist handles the bulk of the drawing duties. Here, that other artist is Takeshi Miyazawa, whose manga-inspired style looks more manga-like than ever, appearing in black and white and focusing on the similarly manga-influenced Warren's characters, particularly the ninja one.

As the sub-title indicates, this one is a Ninjette story, and it is premised on the character telling the reader all about herself during a drinking session, with each of the nine bottles of beer she drinks evoking different memories and emotions and fragments of her life story. As with much of Warren's Empowered, there's a great deal of out-and-out silliness and a sharp, sense of humor (here manifested mostly through Warren's constant wordplay), but there's a real subversive seriousness, even darkness, sloshing about beneath the surface. I think this particular offering is one of the darkest yet, as in addition to Ninjette's extremely fucked-up childhood, she more-or-less confesses to being an alcoholic by book's end, which retroactively makes the earliest scenes of the comic (and most of Ninjette's scenes throughout the series) feel different than they might have before reading this one.

Some of these one-shots have felt a bit dashed-off, or like the demand-filling, delaying measures they kinda sorta are, but this one seems like a more-or-less essential read for those following the series.

And hey, Takeshi Miyazawa art! Along with Guerra, that makes for two artists I wish I saw on a monthly basis but haven't seen in a while showing up on the new comics rack during this trip to the shop. Awesome.

FF #12 (Marvel Entertainment) This is the first issue of the series since writer Matt Fraction has stepped away from it and sister book Fantastic Four to focus on bigger and more likely to be better-read (and thus better-paid) gigs at Marvel; Lee Allred is stepping in to take over scripting duties, while working from Fraction's plots (For what it's worth, this issue contains a "story" credit given to Fraction, Lee Allred and Michael Allred).

To Lee Allred's credit, I didn't really even notice Fraction's absence, and, had I not glanced at the bottom of the cover, where we see the name "Matt Fraction" perched atop a veritable tower of Allreds (Michael's wife Laura handles the coloring of his art, remember), I might not have even realized this was a Fraction-less issue. Perhaps that's due to the fact that the writer put so many balls in the air that so long as whoever is scripting keeps juggling, it will steel feel like Fraction's baby, or perhaps because Lee Allred is good enough to ape Fraction's voice so thoroughly.

As to those balls,  there are a trio of mad, would-be conquering villains all with their own, competing plans (that come to a head in a neat, one-page sequence in which the also mad Old John Storm is about to pull the switch on a crazy super-science bring-the-Fantastic Four-back machine), the Impossible Man's son Adolf struggles to belong with the other kids, Ant-Man is continually haunted by interesting-looking dreams (once again, the cover is probably the least interesting image attached to this issue), Ant-Man and Darla continue to not hook up, Doom plots against his own destiny and it's revealed that Dragon Man shares at least one kink with what I imagine is probably a sizable amount of this book's readership.

I have about six equally favorite parts of this particular image, but the one I chose to spotlight above is the Future Foundation kids trying to convince Adolf that his dad is a villain based on his coloration, mainly because it provided Mike Allred the opportunity to draw so much of the Marvel Universe from its prime. Art Baltazar and Franco did an extended exploration of the "villain colors" of purple and green in their Tiny Titans a while back, although I think the Marvel Universe offers better and more direct examples, given that it was a more consistent universe from the start, rather than a patchwork one.

The second best page is definitely page 17, a nine-panel grid page in which Adolf is introduced to shojo anime of Marvel Unvierse characters (Just in case you ever wanted to see Allred's shojo Gwen Stacy, Elektra, Wasp and Giant Man and so on).

Saga #14 (Image Comics) Still great. If I hadn't laughed so hard and so often while reading FF (oh man, there's a great Boltagon joke in there too), this would have been my favorite book of the week/s. Of all half-dozen or so of these, however, it's certainly the all-around best.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #4 (Marvel) It's the Sinister Six, down to four after ejecting Boomerang from the gang last issue, versus the original Heroes For Hire!  The Fallacious Four get their asses kicked, naturally, although I'm not quite certain why Speed Demon sucks so bad; maybe I've just spent too much time with The Flash, but shouldn't someone with super-speed be able to destroy pretty much anyone? Cage just puts his palm on the guy's head and holds him at arm's length while Speed Demon swings away with super-speed punches, and then Iron Fist breaks his ankle.

By the way, is this Iron Fist's new costume...?
Because it's probably his best costume ever.

Young Avengers #10 (Marvel) Wow, ten issues already? And they're still stuck on this Mother plot...? It's still moving forward, of course, but some of that movement has been circular, like a roller coaster doing a loop-de-loop, you know?

I don't know; ten issues seems like an awful long time, and in this issue, only two of the so-called Young Avengers even actually appear: Loki and Teddy.

After Mother eats the narration box in her home dimension, she's visited by Loki and then Loki's...sister or girlfriend or whoever that lady is (I didn't read Kieron Gillen's previous Loki comics) visits her. Then Teddy goes with that lady to a sort of therapy group, where everyone there is mad at one of his teammates. Then he gets attacked by Mother, like he did, what nine issues ago...?

I don't know. I enjoy this while reading it, and the "Jamie McKelvie with Mike Norton" art team is as incredible as they come, but as soon as it's over, I struggle to find anything to say about it other than, "Well, that wasn't bad."


JohnF said...

I love Young Avengers. Yeah, it's a bit decompressed, but it's not like Wonder Woman-level of decompressed. That storyline with the stupid baby might still be ongoing, for all I know.

Akilles said...

He`s an adult, now.

Akilles said...

Fractions decision to leave bothers me to a degree, since he`s moving to something that pays better. Then again, he has a family, so I`m fine.

Anonymous said...

Agreed on Iron Fist. That mask/suit combo is the nazz! Positively pulpy in the classiest way possible.