Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Weekly Haul: February 21st

52 #42 (DC Comics) This issue brings a conclusion to another of the series’ ongoing storyline—that of Ralph Dibny. After he and the Helmet of Fate journey to Fate’s tower and perform a ritual, they lay all their cards on the table in a wonderful, exposition-filled sequence that’s chockfull of surprises, even if some of them were so obvious that Newsarama posters have been correctly guessing them for months now (And editor Michael Siglain totally lied about one of those things just last Friday). It was an enormously satisfying conclusion though, one that takes us all the way back to the first appearance of Ralph in 52 and shows us that nothing was really as it seems. While I’m a big Elongated Man fan, even more so after wending my way through Showcase Presents: Elongated Man and now 52, after the events of Identity Crisis, he’s a little like Batman without Robin or Superman without Lois Lane—just not as much fun as he was. If he doesn’t get back up in the next ten issues—and remember, time is broken, and there’s magic and metafiction afoot—I’m okay with it. The only other storyline touched on in this issue is Montoya’s, which includes some more first-person narration, and hint # 2,765 that she might become the Question II (Please don’t maker her the Question II, please don’t make her the Question II, please don’t make her the Question II…). Stronger than usual art is provided by Darick Robertson, and Green Arrow penciller Scott McDaniels joins Waid for the origin of GA in the back-up slot.

Amazing Spider-Man #538 (Marvel Comics) Writer J. Michael Straczynski and penciller Ron Garney have given us the “Civil War” story of the week, an issue that devotes much less space to the climactic Battle of Manhattan than Civil War #7 did, but gets much more mileage out of it. On pages three and four Garney gives us the sort of money shot that was completely missing from CW #7—sure, it’s not as slickly drawn, inked and colored as anything in CW, but at least it’s dynamic and seems to be depicting an actual battle consisting of many heroes, rather than a few random characters posing. In the next few pages, we even see an acrobatic Captain America blocking one of Iron Man's repulsor rays with his shield—you know, the sort of thing you’d expect to happen in a fight between the two. JMS gives us some interesting reactions to the battle as well, including Wilson Fisk’s and J. Jonah Jameson’s, but it’s the last panel that is the biggest moment in the world of Spidey—the sniper assassin paid to kill either Peter Parker or Mary Jane and Aunt May takes his shot and tags one of them. It's a wound rather than a deathblow, but that doesn't mean the victim won't die in the next issue. Spidey's gotta be wearing black for some reason, right?

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #49 (DC) Thus concludes the two-part story reinventing The Fisherman as a scary customer, and Kurt Busiek’s too-short run on the title. Busiek was on to something with his reinvention of Aquman as a swordfish and sorcery story, but he never went anywhere with it, and seems to be bailing way to early; if the story of the transformed and amnesiac Orin and the new Arthur “Aquaman” Curry is going anywhere, it will be up to someone else to see it get there. This issue is full of dream sequences from the various hosts of the Fisherman’s sentient hood, which is revealed to be a sort of scout for the old gods of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmology. Lovecraft and Aquaman go together surprisingly well (see JLA: Seven Caskets, and the Aquaman episodes of Justice League Unlimited), as do artists Mike Manley and Ricardo Villagran.

Birds of Prey #103 (DC) Writer Gail Simone takes a step back to reveal the past between Barbara Gordon and Katarina Armstrong, the lame-ass new Spy Smasher. Not sure about the ending, though—if Oracle doesn’t want to break her dad’s heart by getting arrested, how about she just avoid getting arrested and beat Katarina at her own game? Hero up, Babs! I haven’t been into the re-relaunch much (though I really dig new artist Nicola Scott) and would probably finally drop the book with this issue, but with Ragdoll and Catman on the cover of next issue, how can I quit now?

The Brave and the Bold #1 (DC) The ultimate team-up title gets relaunched with the ultimate creative team at it’s helm, writer Mark Waid and artist George Perez. It’s classic, old-school comic book writing with modern sophistication, paired with the best art you’ll find in any superhero comic book on the shelves this week. Perez simply draws the hell out of everything; each character is as unique and distinct as a real person, no details are skimped on (even full-page splashes have crazy amounts of detail in them), and most pages have panel counts that would make most superstar artists cry just thinking about. As for the story, Waid plays it as a sort of cosmic cop show, with Hal Jordan calling Batman in to consult. It’s simply packed with awesomeness; the scene of Batman whipping exploding Batarangs in rapid succession is remarkable, but it’s eclipsed by the one in which undercover Bruce Wayne and Hal Jordan visit a casino looking for clues. In this new era of event comics, this is the series I’m suddenly the most excited about, the one that promises strong characterization, interesting stories and wonderful art on a monthly basis.

Cable/Deadpool #37 (Marvel) This is only my second issue of this series. Fabian Nicieza delivers another witty, fast-paced, Cable-free script with a fairly wacky plot—The Rhino has Deadpool shrunk to keychain-size and uses him as a keychain—but penciller Staz Johnson’s work is rather unremarkable, and I’m not exactly sure what this title offers that She-Hulk and now Punisher War Journal don’t already offer.

Civil War #7 (Marvel) To wildly inappropriately co-op a line from T.S. Eliott, this is the way Civil War ends, not with a bang but a whimper. After almost a year of build-up throughout the Marvel line, there was precious little blow-up in this climactic issue, and even less by way of resolution to, well, anything (After finishing #7, it’s clear that Marvel hasn’t scheduled all those codas and epilogues simply to cash-in, but because readers might like a little clarification on what exactly happened at the end of this story). Millar brings Sue and Reed back together just as lazily and clumsily as he broke them up, announces Tony Stark's new role in the Marvel Universe (Um, didn’t we all see him get the job offer a couple months back in New Avengers #25?), and three characters go to jail. Other than that, it’s unclear which heroes end up where and why. What’s more disappointing, however, is how poorly written and drawn the action is, which means even the visceral thrills one might expect from an 18-page fight sequence are missing. Penciller Steve McNiven is joined by a small army of inkers again, but things still seem sparse and unclear—there isn’t a single panel along the lines of the two-page spread in #6 that set up this battle (reprinted on the recap page), no single image that grabs your eye and forces you to look at the battle and consider its enormity (Even the unfinished, ugly-ass spread of the Battle of Metropolis in Infinite Crisis #7 featured an actual army of characters). Most panels just have a half-dozen heroes or so in random poses punching one another, and then trading partners at random. In one panel, for example, Captain America literally smashes Bishop’s face into the pavement, but six pages later he's up and getting kicked in the face by Spidey. A whole background-less splash page is devoted to Namor appearing (in the company of Atlanteans who seem to be literally falling out of the sky), and then he promptly disappears for the rest of the issue. When Cap orders his team to stand down, why the hell would Namor or the Atlanteans obey him? What happens to Cap’s forces, anyway? We know a couple end up on the run in New Avengers (and this issue shows four of them), but where are Falcon, or Hercules, or the Young Avengers now? Why didn’t Sentry or Captain Marvel (whose one-panel cameo among Hank Pym's artificially created heroes must have been quite the “What the fuck--?!” moment if you skipped Civil War: The Return) do anything in the course of the fight? Shouldn’t the “power of a million exploding suns” be worth a little more in a fight than, say, Spider-Man’s flying kicks? I enjoyed exactly three panels of this issue, and those were the ones featuring Hercules’ goofy god-speak political allusion.

The Immortal Iron Fist #3 (Marvel) Writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have a hell of an art team to work with. Flashbacks come courtesy of Travel Foreman and Russ Heath (!), with the bulk of the issue being drawn by David Aja, whose graceful page lay out is a beauty to behold. The way Danny Rand leaps through the nine-panel grid on page 14? Simply sublime. Unfortunately, it’s right next to a big, garish ad for Hellboy Animated, which isn’t even the most obnoxious ad in the book (Who in God’s name is the Amazing Spider-Man Express for, exactly? The same people who are going to go see a month-old horror movie that’s advertised in this issue for some reason?). I’ve really dug Aja’s character designs and action sequences, as well as the string of guest artists contributing flashbacks, but I think I’d prefer to enjoy them in an ad-free trade collection, so I’ll be bidding this book farewell for now.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #10 (Marvel) Ah, just what I needed to cleanse my soul after Civil War #7. It’s another action, story and joke-packed issue of Jeff Parker’s Avengers series, still the best Avengers series Marvel is currently publishing. Cap, Iron Man, Bruce Banner and Wolverine journey to a nearby Renaissance Fair (“Yon newbs have confused Ren Fair with a Hero Con,” a regular remarks) to investigate a strange energy signature. Could it have something to do with the presence of Morgan Le Fay and the Black Knight? That's probably a safe assumption. While it can’t compete with the all-MODOC issue (can anything?), this was still a really fun story, from the image of Wolverine seemingly threatening his steed with his claws on Cameron Stewart’s cover image to Tony Stark’s revelation that in college he “majored in making battle suits.”

The New Avengers: Illuminati #2 (Marvel) The Marvel heroes turned mass-murderers who make up the Illuminati take a break from wholesale slaughter to split into teams and quest for the Infinity Gems. This issue contained the best sound effect of the week, called upon to simulate the sound of a mentally-created sea monster snapping at Namor: “KACHOMP!” Question: Does Doctor Strange’s cape appear when he’s in his astral form? I thought the cape didn’t follow him into the astral realm, as its shown to do here. Maybe we should wait for Neilalien to weigh in on this important matter.

Punisher War Journal #4 (Marvel) Okay, so we’ve seen villains all gather to mourn the passing of one of their own before (most recently in Geoff Johns’ Flash), and we’ve seen the bar where all the loser villains hang out together before (Identity Crisis, JLI and JSA leap most immediately to mind), but it’s always fun to see the likes of The Prowler, The Gibbon, The Armadillo, The Rhino, The Eel, The Grizzly and a reprogrammed Doombot all in the same room at the same time, isn’t it? That’s the rough plot of this issue of PWJ, as the villains all gather to pay their respects at a wake for Stilt-Man, and Punny takes advantage of the situation to cross some more names off his “to kill” list. The story is very well done, but the art, by Mike Deodato, seems dark, murky and a little too serious—tonally, it doesn’t fit the characters or the story well at all.

She-Hulk #16 (Marvel) Okay, so I know Greg Horn does nice cheesecake pin-up art, but is there any chance we can get Rick Burchett to handle covers as well, so we can avoid future images like this? The insides of the book are much, much prettier, thanks to Burchett’s wonderful line work. Shulkie continues to hunt down Hulk’s rogues in “Planet Without a Hulk,” and she and SHEILD journey to the frozen north to tackle the Wendingo. Wolverine is tracking the beast too, which leads to a hell of a team-up and the least gay fastball special in a while. Plus, back in the city, Two-Gun Kid cleans up for a night on the town, and we learn the truth about whether or not Shulky and Juggy ever hooked up or not.

The Spirit #3 (DC) Darwyn Cooke retells the origin of the title character in this installment, which gets inside the various characters heads to allow each of them to narrate a scene or so from their own perspective. I’m not a big fan of this novelistic approach to comics (particularly after seeing Brad Meltzer abuse it so bad in JLoA), but if Cooke can do wrong, I’ve yet to see it.

Superman #659 (DC) Is Superman really an angel sent from God? That’s what church lady and neighborhood activist Barbara Johnson sincerely believes when Superman coincidentally answers a few of her prayers in this well-told done-in-one by regular Superman writer Kurt Busiek and his occasional collaborator Fabian Nicieza.

Wonder Woman #4 (DC) Writer Allan Heinberg and artists Terry and Rachel Dodson deliver only their fourth issue in eight months (The series debuted in June of last year). What’s taken them so long? No clue, as this issue of WW, like the three before it, is hardly very complex, but is rather pretty much as straightforward as a superhero comic can get (Terry Dodson’s costume redesigns continue to be the strongest attribute, and in this ish he gives us Circe an Evil Wonder Woman costume). The timeline makes zero sense, but perhaps editor Matt Idelson didn’t want to point that out to Heinberg, for fear that rewrites might take a few more months. Check it out, in JLoA #0, Diana is all decked out as Wonder Woman and meets with Superman and Batman for the very first time since Infinite Crisis. In JSoA #1, she, Superman and Batman meet with the elder statesmen of the old JSA and ask them to build better superheroes, which results in their creating a bigger team, including the likes of Liberty Belle, and getting a new headqurters. In this issue, set before JLoA and JSoA, Diana, who has yet to regain her Wonder Woman powers and costume, visits the new JSA headquarters and the new team, including Liberty Belle. No wonder DC’s decided to give up on this story altogether.


Anonymous said...

Do these giant, "nothing will ever be the same again" series ever work from a creative standpoint? By the end, the creators always seem both burned out and rushed and the company has to schedule a whole bunch of other issues to answer the questions said series failed to answer. The last one of these things I enjoyed was "Secret Wars." I hadn't planned to read Civil War and I wish I'd stuck with that. At least now I know better than to trust the recommendations at my comic book shop.

Anonymous said...

What in the She Hulk cover caused you describe it as cheesecake?

Just wondering.

arch 14

Caleb said...

Oh, I was referring to Greg Horn's cover work in general, not this particular cover, which is cheesecakd free (although Wendigo is totally nude).

Horn does okay with images of Shulkie scantily clad and posing (which is what I was referring to), and does pretty horribly when there's action involved, like on this cover, or the upcoming one featuring Shulkie and Iron Man punching each other..