Saturday, November 11, 2006

Weekly Haul: November 8th

52 #27 (DC Comics) This week’s issue is a little disappointing, mostly because so many good ideas get poorly executed, more bad writing than usual seeps through the quality filters and some little mistakes make it frustratingly hard to lose yourself in the fantasy of the story. Plot-wise, the new dynamic duo of Ralph Dibny and the helm of Fate visit the host-less Spectre Force, and Dibny tries to cut a deal with the green panties and booties wearing personification of the wrath of God—Dibny will act as his host to wreak vengeance upon Jean Loring for murdering Sue Dibny, and, in return, S.F. will resurrect Sue. It sounds win-win, but Ralph just can’t go through with it. The Question and Richard Dragon train Montoya in Nanda Parbat, and we finally find out what they’re training her for—Question’s got lung cancer, and he’s grooming Montoya to be his successor (groan). The most intriguing bit is the time-travel sub-plot, in which Waverider (who’s energy wave hair looks poorly permed for some reason), is confronted by first the Time Commander and then Evil Skeets .

Shawn Moll pencils the whole shebang, and I know Moll’s a competent artist from his past work, but not all of the five inkers who collaborate with him seem to complement his style equally well. It’s hard to believe that with four writers as skilled as the Four Horsemen of 52, not one of them wouldn’t have stepped up and said, “You know, this thing Ralph says on page one, ‘When it comes to learning about the dark side of magic, there’s only one teacher left. And I understand his finals are a bitch.’ That’s kind of stupid, isn’t it?” Also, “You homicidal bitch,” doesn’t much sound like something either the Spectre Force or Ralph Dibny would say, does it?

But, as for the nitpicks, the toughest part to get over was the suspension of the “rules” of characters Eclipso and the Spectre. According to Eclispo: The Darkness Within and the Eclipso monthly, and even the rather recent Eclipso issues of JSA, the dark demigod possesses human bodies and essentially drives them like cars, retaining his own personality. Sunlight drives him from his host. Yet here’s the Eclipsed Jean Loring, in orbit around the sun, and she’s still Eclipsed. Exposure to sunlight should drive the big E. out, and then she’d explode in the vacuum of space, right? Similarly, the Spectre Force (apparently, we’re meant to have read his miniseries to know why he’s no longer bonded to Crispus Allen, as he was in the pages of Infinite Crisis) says it can’t exact vengeance without a host, and yet Day of Vengeance and the early chapters of IC revolved around it doing just that.

Letterer Pat Brosseau and the writers make the scene involving these characters all the more confusing with the lettering. The Spectre Force speaks in its all green bubble, but when it merges with Ralph, Ralph’s bubbles stay all white, and his voice seems to be Ralph’s, rather than that of a Spectre/Ralph fusion (“Not by a long shot, you psycho.”). Jean Loring seems half-Eclipsed (wearing her costume, but without the dark patch on her face), and when she awakes and gets the dark patch back, her voice lacks the purple-rimmed Eclipso dialogue bubble, and her voice seems to be Jean’s rather than Eclipso’s. Ralph confronting his wife’s murderer should be a powerful moment in his character arc, but it ends up being short-changed in execution.

And speaking of poor execution, the Howard Chaykin drawn Black Canary origin is an incredibly weak one, visually and narratively, and doesn’t tell us anything about what Infinite Crisis has changed about Black Canary’s continuity; since Wonder Woman replaced her as a founding member of the JLA, Canary’s continuity has been a gigantic question mark since IC wrapped, and this story does nothing to fix that.

Batman #658 (DC) Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert wrap up their first story arc on Batman, and all four parts taken together make for a hell of a ride. This issue is somewhat uneventful compared to the first three, as Talia’s chess game involving Damian, the ninja Man-Bat army and the Rock of Gibraltar reaches its conclusion with a rather pat ending. Morrison gets the characterization of Batman and Alfred perfect, and Kubert’s art perfectly blends the styles of Norm Breyfogle and Jim Lee to give us the new definitive version of the characters. Plus, how cool is the Batrocket?

Civil War: Thunderbolts: Swimming With Sharks (Marvel) Like the recent reprint of the Amazing Spider-Man issues that tied into the “Civil War” storyline, this big, fat collection of Thunderbolts gives readers a can’t-miss bargain opportunity to catch up on an aspect of the story they missed if they weren’t already reading T-Bolts (God knows I wasn’t). For just $4.99, you get nine bucks worth of comics. The three issues contained within follow Baron Helmut Zemo and his team of reformed villains looking for redemption as they’re approached by Tony Stark and asked to hunt down villains. Zemo’s team happily complies, as it allows them to covertly build their own personal supervillain army without any interference, with every lame-o villain they capture becoming part of their team. I was a little lost on where the Grandmaster plotline was going, but writer Fabian Nicieza makes Helmut Zemo an intriguing character, and dusts off all sorts of Z-List Marvel villains, making this something of a Marvel version of Villains United. It’s also a plain old-fashioned superhero funny book, the likes of which is very welcome during these days of constant deconstruction of the genre. As the Amazing Spider-Man reprint did, this book has successfully converted me into a regular reader. Now, here’s hoping Wolverine’s recent “Civil War” arc gets similar treatment in the weeks ahead.

Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways #4 (Marvel) I was totally jazzed about this miniseries as soon as it was announced, as I was hoping Marvel’s two top teen teams would meet-up and/or square off pretty much since Young Avengers launched. And for fans of either team, I think the series can be declared a success. As a “Civil War” tie-in, however, it’s next to irrelevant—if anyone picked this up simply because they wanted to follow the line-wide superhero crossover, they’ll probably be quite disappointed to learn that all it does is tell us which side the Runaways choose in the conflict (If you haven’t read it, I’ll save you $12: The decide to stay out of it). While writer Zeb Wells probably wasn’t the ideal candidate for the assignment (team creators Brian K. Vaughan and Allen Heinberg, who consulted, would have been the first and second choices), he does a fine job of giving us a good old fashioned Marvel-style fight, make-up and team-up story, even finding novel use for Grant Morrison’s Marvel Boy as a villain and still putting that particular toy right back where it was before he picked it up to play with. Stefano Caselli’s art is simply fantastic, and I look forward to seeing more of him on Marvel characters in the future. Wells only has one more barb to throw at the lame YA heroes this issue, but it’s a sharp one. Chase’s parting words to the new Vision: “Hey, don’t be so down, man. I mean if nothing else you have by far the coolest costume of anyone one your team…”

Dr. Strange: The Oath #2 (Marvel) And speaking of Vaughan, he’s firing on all cylinders with this Dr. Strange miniseries, by far the best Strange story I’ve read in…well, gee, I don’t know, forever, maybe? Don’t get me wrong, I love the good doctor’s recent adventures in titles like X-Statix Presents: Deadgirl and the various recent incarnations of The Defenders, but Vaughan and company manage to play him completely straight while still telling a humorous story, one that, remarkably, calls on both the medical and magical aspects of one of the more complicated and underappreciated characters in the Marvel stable. Marcos Martin’s pencil art is a wonder to behold, and the presence of a UPC label and title on the cover is simply a crime against aesthetics. Even the re-cap page, a modern Marvel institution I usually ignore, is exciting here, as the Eye Agamotto recaps the events of issue #1 for us. This issue contains what may be the line of the week: “By the hoary #%*-ing hosts!” Too inside a joke? Maybe, but for those of us on the inside, it works.

Eternals #5 (Marvel) Don’t ask me how the Minor Jack Kirby Creation + Neil Gaiman formula, the same formula that produced The Sandman, went wrong exactly, but it did, and it went wrong badly, even with John Romita Jr. on art. Gaiman’s not exactly an expert when it comes to straightforward superheroics, which this title has mostly been, and the result has been a plodding story about typical Kirby-esque deities-cum-superheroes who have forgotten that’s what they are, slowly awakening to their true natures. Gaiman manages some very nice dialogue, but that’s hardly enough to recommend a six-issue miniseries. I bought this issue simply because of the names of the creators; if I buy #6, I imagine it will be more because of my anal retentive completist tendencies than an honest desire to see how it ends. I’m long past caring at this point.

Green Lantern #14 (DC) One of the DCU’s most regularly delayed books makes an all too rare appearance on the shelves this week, and though Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert’s art is indeed gorgeous, I’m not sure if it was necessarily worth waiting for. Perhaps they could join writer Geoff Johns on an All-Star Green Lantern project, and DC could find someone literally quicker on the draw to take over penciling duties? The story is a dramatic and suspenseful one, with a ton of things going on, which makes the fact that I’ve forgotten so much of what came before over the months all the more frustrating. We revisit Hal Jordan and company’s time as P.O.W.s, see a prophetic nightmare involving Hal’s origin, witness the return of a minor character from the terrible “Black Reign” cross-over story and check in with the new Global Guardians, who arrive on the battlefield just as Jordan is being framed for killing a bunch of guys. The P.O.W. scenes made me feel rather uncomfortable, dealing as explicitly with torture as they do (this title has had a remarkably cavalier attitude toward torture that seems horribly out of place in a post-Abu Ghraib scandal period), and Johns illustrates why having a superhero serve in the military is a terrible idea.

At one point, Jordan picks up a gun and shoots a captor in the left side of the chest, presumably killing him. Yeah, he’s a soldier at war, but given the hard line his fellow Justice Leaguers (and his fellow Lanterns, as he later points out himself in the narration) take against killing, it doesn’t seem terribly appropriate. The greatest cognitive dissonance of the issue didn’t come from the killing though (I’ve long since accepted that Jordan is a jerk whom I have no respect for; that’s one of the reasons I enjoy the book, actually), but from hearing Jordan quoting Republican Senator John McCain. Confidential to Freedom Beast: Next time you head into snowy weather, you might want to at least pack a pair of pants.

JLA: Classified #29 (DC) Not that Green Lantern is the only DCU comic dealing with torture this week. Princess Diana, the world-famous superheroine and celebrity, is taken captive, yet her captors somehow don’t recognize her. Kyle Rayner is also taken captive, stripped and tortured. I continue to enjoy Kilian Plunkett and Tom Nguyen’s incredible art work, which makes the secret identities of the Justice Leaguers look as exciting as the characters would be if they were in their costumes using their powers, and writer Howard Chaykin’s politics and espionage fueled story, even if the continuity of the story makes it a complete impossibility, for the reasons discussed in reviews of previous issues. Oh wait, here’s a fresh continuity error: In the very first panel, President Jonathan Horne announces that, “This presidency will not make the same mistakes as pervious administrations…we will not go it alone in any international conflict without explicit U.N. backing.” Sounds like a dig against the Bush administration’s going to war in Iraq with just the Brits backing us in any meaningful way (I know, I know, I pulled a Kerry and forgot Poland), but there was no Bush administration in the DC Universe. Bush lost the 2000 election to third party candidate Lex Luthor, who was replaced by his VP Pete Ross and, in ’04, Horne was apparently elected.

The Last Christmas #5 (Image Comics) Damn, I already awarded the line of the week to Dr. Strange #2, didn’t I? I guess Santa’s “God damn you all—everyone!” as he machine guns down a pack of zombies will have to settle for runner-up. When it comes to Christmas-themed ultraviolence, however, this comic book is in a category of it’s own. If you missed out, a trade is planned in time for the gift-giving season, according to co-creator and co-writer Gerry Duggan.

Project: Romantic (AdHouse Books) On the heels of Project: Telstar and Project: Superior comes a romance anthology book. It may be simply because it’s fresher in my mind, but this seems to be the best of the three, and is seriously a must-read for comics fans. I’d have an easier time picking a least favorite than a favorite, as the good-to-bad ratio inherent in all anthologies leans so heavily toward good. I particularly enjoyed the choose-your-own-adventure story, the two stories about ghosts and robots, the one about the woman who’s fiancée turns into a bear, Joel Priddy’s stories of mad scientists in love and Josh Cotter’s hilarious animal stories. Word is this is the last of these anthologies from AdHouse, a fact which breaks my heart like no relationship gone sour ever could.

Superman #657 (DC) Normally I’m not a fan of the alternate reality/possible future stories cluttering up DCU titles (that’s what Elseworlds is for), but this one is so well drawn by Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino that I didn’t mind one bit. In eight years, planet earth in general (and Metropolis in particular) are in a world of trouble, thanks to Superman screwing up in a battle with someone by the name of Khyber. This is according to the time-traveling dickhead/sorcerer Arion, who tells Superman and his supporting cast about the ugly destiny they need to try and avoid, while dealing out insults (He calls Perry a “jowly sack of guts,” which might explain why the Daily Planet Editor-in-Chief was in such a gruff mood in Action Comics #844). The splash on pages two and three is nothing short of a masterpiece, and I thoroughly enjoyed the games of identifying the cameo-ing character that several big battle scenes provided. Some of Pacheco’s designs are so cool that I hope we haven’t seen the last of them, like that woman wearing the rhinoceros head on page 11.

Teen Titans (DC) The “Titans Around the World” story arc ends somewhat anticlimactically this issue (I guess I was expecting to meet some of those other “lost year” Titans revealed in the two-page spread of suspects a few issues back), as Bombshell accuses Rose Wilson of betraying the Titans and a bunch of fighting occurring, which leads to a new line-up for the team. No one leaves, and Raven, Miss Martian and the lamest Titan in all of Titan history join up. The best part? When Rose is planning on quitting the team, she starts packing her stuff, and we see an open duffle bag with nothing in it but knives, which she then tosses a pack of cigarettes into. Hope you weren’t planning on flying anywhere with that luggage, Rose.

1 comment:

Jacob T. Levy said...

The Spectre rules got screwed up in DoV; 52's just left trying to clean up an incoherent mess. It had long since been established that Spectre couldn't act in the material world without a host, a problem that was just ignorder for DoV.

I agree entirely about the Eclipsed-Jean-in-solar-orbit problem-- and it in turn came from Nightshade using her powers in ways that she couldn't possibly. (Even if we assume that she knew how to teleport someone to a permanent non-decaying orbit around the sun, and knew how to calculate where that was, that should be the last place she should be able to teleport anyone or anything to-- pretty much the definition of "no shadows.")