Monday, January 01, 2007

Weekly Haul: December 28th

52 #34 (DC Comics) I've got a crazy idea: Given all the industry hand-wringing over the difficulty of drawing new younger readers to monthly comics, perhaps DC could try to keep the gore factor of it's all-ages books like 52 in the PG-13 area? Or, at the very least, when a character gets torn in half in the middle of a fight scene, can it at least be tastefully depicted? Like, by not dangling intestines over the characters? (52's four writers and penciller Joe Bennet can check out this week's issue of Iron Fist for a restrained depiction of a man being torn in half during a fight scene, courtesy of David Aja).The scene stunk of exploitation in part because it seemed so unrealistic. Now, I'm no physicist, but I'm pretty sure that when a super-dense, blunt object like Osiris strikes a human body at super-speed, the body would not separate cleanly in half as if it were struck by a giant blade (And yes, I do realize the inherent silliness of expecting the laws of physics to be adhered to in a fight scene involving a talking crocodile, an atomic axe and a guy named "Captain Boomerang"). The back-up this week is the origin of Zatanna, as drawn and colored by Brian Bolland, God's gift to DC Comics. More on that shortly.

Black Panther #23 (Marvel Comics) T'Challa visits the (uncovered?) grave of Bill "Goliath" Foster (may he rest in peace), makes a fool out of the Black Widow and meets with Captain America about the possibility of helping the resistance. Like all of the Panther's meetings of late, this chat with Cap involves coming to blows, as Cap wants to make sure the Panther's really the Panther, and not one of Tony Stark's clones, like Clor was (The Black Clonether, maybe?). Reginald Hudlin's volume of Black Panther has varied in quality from arc to arc, and, generally speaking, the less continuity the particular story involves, the better it is. With this new arc, "War Crimes," he's dealing with the here and now of the Marvel Universe, so the title is definitely on. The other weakness of the book, its lack of a regular artist and consistent visual look, has yet to be alleviated, as this issue brings in another new artist (Koi Turnbull), but he's a pretty good one. The mouths look weird and the shoulders are broad to the point of Bruce Timm’s animated superheroes’, but there’s a nice expressive quality to it all. There is one horribly stupid looking scene (in which the Panther and Captain America put their costumes on in mid-sentence), although I don't think there's any way any artist could have made the scene not look totally goofy.

Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril (Penny-Farthing Press) When you spend/waste as much time reading about comics online as I do, you begin to notice reoccurring themes. The lack of decent black superheroes is one. The desire for new adventures set in comics’ Golden Age is another. Well, good news! This excellent graphic novel by Joshua Dystart (Violent Messiahs, Swamp Thing) and Sal Vellutto (Black Panther, JSA: All-Stars) gives us both, plus a hell of a lot more. I came across this book quite by accident, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t one of the very best action/adventure comics I’ve read in a while. I’d heartily recommend it to any one who counts themselves a fan of Indiana Jones, The Rocketeer, Hellboy and the superhero comics set in the Golden Age by Roy Thomas, particularly those with the words All-Star in the title. More on this graphic novel’s many virtues next week in Las Vegas Weekly.

Dinowars #1 (Antarctic Press) If Will Smith’s agent isn’t already on the phone trying to reach Rod Espinosa, it’s simply because he isn’t looking at this story of dinosaurs invading Earth from outer space from the right angle: It’s Independence Day meets Jurassic Park! It’s a bit early to tell if Espinosa can make good on the awesomeness of the premise, but I had few complaints about the first issue after I got used to his art style, which relies heavily on computers. In fact, my main concern is that the punning title gives away the game way too early, but then, I can’t really blame Espinosa for that. After all, the perfect title for this series is already taken.

Detective Comics #827 (DC) That cracking sound you heard? That was a camel's back breaking, and the straw that broke it was this issue of 'Tec, which introduced us to the all-new Ventriloquist. DC's terminal case of legacy-itis has now officially gone from very serious to completely ridiculous. Anyone who reads DC comics can’t help but have noticed that the company just can't shake the idea that every single hero that isn't Batman or Superman needs to be killed and replaced with a new, "legacy" version eventually, but now we're doing second-tier Batman villains too? When we were introduced to the new Tally Man in "Face the Face," I groaned, considering the last Tally Man only appeared in three or four storylines. When the Ventriloquist was shot dead in the same story, I gasped, as he was probably the most inspired villain since the Golden Age closed; certainly he's one of only a handful of Batman rogues to fit the classic mold of criminal madness with a corresponding visual signifier introduced in the last 50 years or so, and certainly one of the very few to catch on with writers and artists since the introduction of Ra's al Ghul in, what, the late sixties? Well, he's no more, gunned down with a couple of other C-listers like Orca and Mockingbird in "Face the Face," though the gangster puppet the meek Ventriloquist channeled his dark side into has survived, and was taken up by a new Ventriloquist. This one's a blonde bombshell with a scarred-face who not only serves the puppet Scarface as his legs and voice, she apparently also has a sexual relationship with it. Ew. Dini's story is decent enough, but all in all the whole endeavor seems like just one more mistake that needs fixed by another continuity altering crisis. (You know, like Evil Leslie Thompkins, Evil Cassandra Cain, the return of Jason Todd, Wonder Woman/Black Canary/JLA history, New Look Martian Manhunter, the new Shazam, et cetera). Sigh.

The Immortal Iron Fist #2 (Marvel) I don’t often recommend readers wait for the trades, but it’s increasingly tempting to do so on Marvel’s books of late, since they’re so goddamned packed full of ads that they can be annoying to read (the fact that comics have always featured ads, but have never really been difficult to read because of them, speaks to how dramatic the current number of ads in Marvel comics is). Iron Fist has a lot of ‘em, which is a problem because the book features several great artists, and the main one—David Aja—is so good at visual storytelling and the panel-to-panel flow that the interruptions really hurt. Also contributing are Travel Foreman and Derek Fridolfs (who introduce us to the Iron Fist of 1545 A.D.) and John Severin, who introduce us to the Iron Fist of WWI, who’s still alive, still kicking ass and causing problems for Danny Rand, the Iron Fist of Right Now. So, wait for the trade, but make sure you read the trade—because the monthly is hard to read, but the story its telling is too awesome not to read eventually.

JSA: Classified #20 (DC) Writer Scott Beatty introduces a new legacy-ish villain to the DCU, one who's actually been around for a long, long, long time, although we didn't know she was evil, nor did she have super-powers until recently. Rags Morales and Michael Bair provide some great art, and Beatty's tale is fairly clever making for an all-around enjoyable superhero potboiler. I found Dr. Midnight's narration to be incredibly irritating, but that's more the doctor's fault for being boring than Beatty's fault for writing him true to character. Argus fans (both of you) need not worry; your favorite New Blood gets his peepers back by the end of the issue. No good news for Icemaiden fans (both of you), however. I don't know if she's alive or not, but she's still skin-less.

Justice #9 (DC) Alex Ross is lucky he can paint so well because, honestly, if just about anyone else on Earth attempted to give us a two page-spread with an image as crazily silly as that at on the second- and third-to-last pages of this issue of Justice, it would come across as groaningly, embarrassingly, cringe-inducingly nerdy. But have Ross cover Doug Braithwaite’s pencils of select Leaguers in their new, Ross-designed armor in paint, the light glinting off their new, photo-realistic costumes, and it somehow manages to seem much cooler than what it actually is—Ross is not only playing in public with DC’s best action figures, but (to stick with the toy metaphor) now he’s customizing them. I won’t spoil the image beyond saying that the League realize they’ll need protection to go up against the Legion of Doom, so 16 of them suit up in weird new ways, with Batman wearing a suit of armor that resembles the Batmobile from the 1960’s TV show melted down and poured all over him. The scene accounts for just three pages of a dizzyingly action-packed, hyper-compressed issue. We also get to see Captain Marvel vs. Black Adam, Captain Marvel and Superman punching each other, an unlikely villain wielding a Sinestro power ring and a non-evil Dr. Leslie Thompkins. All in all, it’s just one more issue of DC fanboy heaven (and a good argument for yanking the Marvels away from Judd Winick and letting Ross, Krueger and Braithwaite handle them).

Justice League of America #5 (DC) Six issues in (the title started on #0, remember), and the attributes of the Brad Meltzer-helmed book, whether one views them as positives or negatives, are all apparently set in stone. On the positive side, the possibility of a romance between an Arrow and a Hawk is an interesting one, given Oliver Queen and Hawkman's history (Ollie and Kendra would make for more fireworks, of course, given that Ollie’s past dalliances with younger women really pissed off Black Canary and Black Lightning), and gets hinted at in a few panels here. And Meltzer finally gets most of the still-forming League in costume and in the same room at the same time. On the negative side, the narration—internal and omniscient—continues to pull off the difficult trick of being too much for fans (Red Tornado is human now and having a hard time adjusting. Got it. Four issues ago. Move on.) and too insidery for newcomers (Hey Meltzer novel fans, you know who Sue is? Barda? Or what a mega-rod is? No? Better work that Wikipedia then). The mystery Big Bad, concealed by another fake-out cover solicitation (this one inserting Amazo's silhouette in a spot Solomon Grundy would eventually fill), seems a little too similar to what Chuck Dixon did with Blockbuster in Nightwing and Peter David with Gray "Mr. Fix-It" Hulk in Hulk, and I couldn’t stop thinking about his suit and Michael Douglas hairstyle (the hulking swamp zombie visiting a Big and Tall tailor to buy his suits would have made for an infinitely more fascinating story than this). Finally, I may simply be slow to get over the fact that Meltzer inserted a rape scene into Justice League history, but when everyone freaked out about Amazo visiting Kathy, whom it thought was its wife, I couldn't help thinking that's what they were worried about. After all, why else would an Amazo-android-that-thinks-its-a-Red-Tornado-android visiting the Red Tornado android's wife be so alarming? Is it going to tell Kathy about its day at the office—to death? Finally, I experienced that same mortifying, cringing feeling of embarrassment that I felt last issue (during the panel where everyone strikes a pose and Superman punches his palm with his fist) this issue, only to a lesser extent (this time during the scene where the Trinity and company appear out of nowhere to pose next to the Hard-Traveling Heroes.

Secret Six #6 (DC) Yeah, I know, this came out last week, but for some reason I missed it on the shelf. Who's to blame? My shop, for their new shelf lay out? Karl Kerschl, for the not-very-distinctive cover, which doesn't feature any of the Six or any clues as to the contents of the book? Me, for just plain overlooking it? Certainly not writer Gail Simone; the only thing she's guilty of is never giving DC's most interesting super-team a reason to be a team. The pointlessness of their alliance—the Six seem to be still hanging out after the events of Villains United #6 simply because having them hang out together is awesome—is the sole weak point in this title. This issue sees the climactic battle against the forces of Vandal Savage, round two in the battle of the mad, mind-controlling midgets, and an unfortunate—but hilariously handled—last-minute betrayal that whittles the Secret Six back down to five again.

Superman/Batman #31 (DC) There, was that so hard? This title has been consistently late; in fact, every single arc of the book has contained at least one late issue, and some arcs (like previous writer Jeph Loeb's swan song “Vengeance”) contained multiple obscenely late issues. And yet not only has DC never saw fit to replace the hot artists assigned each arc with fill-ins to get the damn thing on shelves in a timely manner, but when Loeb left the title, they announced as the new "regular" artist Ethan Van Sciver, an artist with one of the worst reputations for making deadlines. But with this issue, they finally, finally, finally bit the bullet and allowed for a new artist to take over mid-arc, and the results are wonderful—penciller Matthew Clark isn't the exact same as EVS, but his style is quite similar, and he's a fine substitution (It's not like "Enemies Among Us," or any story in this title thus far, is exactly high graphic literature, or necessarily important or relevant. Basically, it's a bunch of lame narration and mostly random weird shit happening to the World's Finest). Like EVS, he has a particular talent for drawing monsters and aliens, and here we get Ultra the Multi-Alien, looking more awesome than ever (and rocking a brand new set of briefs), seemingly a more powerful threat than he’s ever seemed before. I could bitch about Clark drawing underaged Supergirl nearly naked (as if her costume isn't skimpy enough, he has her skirt flying up and almost off in one panel, and her halter top tucked up under her breasts….can’t she at least wear a bra?), but that seems to be in the company's style guides for the new Supergirl, as she always looks like her tiny costume is in the process of blowing up and/or off her body. For those keeping score on post-Infinite Crisis/ "New Earth" changes, Martian Manhunter's impish, Bat-Mite-esque sidekick Zook is apparently back in continuity, and in his pre-Crisis incarnation, not John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake's version from their Martian Manhunter monthly.

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