Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Weekly Haul: February 7th

52 #40 (DC Comics) Former Steel monthly penciller Chris Batista is on art chores this week, with a Steel-centric story, essentially the climax of the Steel/Natasha/Luthor/Infinity Inc. plotline. As much as I’ve hated some of the company’s more cynical “death of ____” plotlines over the last few years, I have to admit, they’ve at least achieved their purpose—just about every character who was on the ropes at one point or another in this series had me worrying about their well-being, and this issue was no exception. Would Steel come out of this thing all right? Would Nat? Both seemed fairly likely to buy it at some point in the series—could this be it?!?!? Well, I don’t want to spoil the issue if you haven’t read it yet, so let me just say this: Woohoo!Confidential to DC: This series only has 12 issues left, and you know what that means—in just three more months you can put John Henry Irons back on the Justice League where he belongs, dammit.

Action Comics Annual #10 (DC) In a perfect world , annuals serve as welcome bonuses supplementing your favorite series. But now that both of the core Superman titles are off schedule, this one functions instead as a much needed fix. A 48-page anthology, it includes five short stories illustrated by different artists, plus two “special features,” all “written by Geoff Johns with Richard Donner,” whatever that means exactly. First up, Luthor and Arthur Adams contemplate the different ways to kill Superman (Giving Adams a chance to draw plenty of characters, including Titano!). Then Eric Wight introduces young Clark Kent to strange visitor Mon-El. That’s followed by a way too short tease of a “story” entitled “Mystery of the Blue Sun” by Joe Kubert (who also provided that delicious cover), and then a rather boring story of The Phantom Zone Criminals illustrated by personal favorite Rags Morales. Gary Frank gives us a short intro to “The Deadliest Forms of Kryptonite” (black, gold, red and blue), Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning give us a tour of the Fortress of Solitude (Cool, Superman has a T-Rex trophy too…is that the World’s Finest’s version of a matching friendship bracelets?), and Tony Daniel offers up ten stiff, uninspiring headshots of Superman’s top ten rogues. Continuity queston: What the hell’s up with Bizarro these days? I thought the only one left in the DCU was the backwards Superman created from “Emperor Joker’s” imagination, not the scary “imperfect clone” one, which is how the profile describes Bizarro.

The All-New Atom #8 (DC) Gail Simone has thankfully cut down on her irritating misuse of the asterisk (in this issue there’s just a single one, in the last panel, pointing to a quote that actually related to the rest of the panel, but still didn’t need to be attached to a word with an asterisk). But she does waste two pages free associating catchphrases with the word “time” in them. This title has been hovering above the line dividing “keep reading” and “drop” for several months now, and it’s starting to list toward the latter. It’s the only monthly book I read where I feel like the writer is constantly trying to think up new ways to actively annoy her readers.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #5 (Marvel Comics) Thankfully, the all-new Atom isn’t the only shrinking superhero out there. Writer Robert Kirkman throws a curveball which gives our hero—I mean, protagonist Eric O’Grady an opportunity in future issues to either redeem himself in the readers’ eyes or act like a bigger dirtbag than he ever has before. Which will it be? Well, it’s right there in the title, isn’t it?

Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #1 (Marvel) Don’t believe the hype. I’ll have a full review of the issue (and its irritating marketing) in tomorrow’s Las Vegas Weekly, but for now suffice it to say that it is a well-made, rather enjoyable comic book, even for those of us who have never read a Dark Tower book before. It’s not that enjoyable a book though, and I’m really surprised that Marvel’s been treating it like it’s the greatest thing to happen to the company since Amazing Fantasy #15. I know some fairly rabid Dark Tower fans who had no idea this comic book series even existed until I asked them about it, so I don’t know who exactly Marvel’s been marketing it to outside those of us already showing up in the shops on a weekly basis anyway. Bully and Tim O’Neil have some interesting thoughts on Dark Tower. Personally, I’ll be extremely surprised if it cracks the top five for the month; I can’t imagine it outselling Civil War, 52 and New Avengers…the rest of it’s competition (JLoA, the All-Stars, The Ultimates 2, etc.) may or may not get around to showing up this month.

Detective Comics #828 (DC)How badass is Batman? Check it out—even his office furniture is totally badass!

The Helmet of Fate: Sargon the Sorcerer #1 (DC) Ready for DC legacy hero #4,001? This series of #1’s introduces us to our second second-generation hero to assume to mystical mantle of a Golden Age mage who fought crime while wearing a turban and tuxedo (after Ibis the Invincible). And like that one-shot, the titular headwear has very little to do with the proceedings, in fact, it barely cameos here. The story is be the Batman: Gotham County Line creative team of Steve Niles and Scott Hampton, and it’s a fine one; probably the weakest of the one-shots thus far, but still more than serviceable. I’ve got to wonder just what the point of this issue was, though. Again, like Ibis the Invincible, this story read like a pilot for a new ongoing series, but as far as we know, there are no such plans for such a series. At least Detective Chimp has an ongoing monthly he co-stars in, and Zauriel and Black Alice are supporting characters with pasts behind them and (presumably) futures before them. But Ibis II? Sargon II? Did the DCU really need two more sorcerer types running around in it?

Justice League Unlimited #30 (DC) I liked a whole lot about Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans cartoon, which managed to make some of the characters from the comics who haven’t been interesting in over 20 years seem cool, fresh and relevant all of a sudden (Um, the whole team except Robin, actually). One of the show’s greatest accomplishments however, was in the character design department. And nowhere is that more evident than in the costume of Speedy, Green Arrow’s archer sidekick. The comic book Speedy/Roy Harper/Arsenal has never had a good costume, with his least heinous being the one he sported back when he first appeared and the first time he donned a “Red Arrow” look during Dan Jurgens’ volume of Teen Titans (the current Red Arrow look seen in Green Lantern and on JLoA covers is sort of spoiled by it’s complete randomness and the fact that he’s wearing a silly cartoon Ninja Turtle-style initial belt). DC should really just steal the toons’ Speedy costume design. Just lose the “S” on the chest and add a few pockets for knives and throwing stars on his utility belt and he’s all set. As for this issue, it’s not terribly good—Speedy, Skeets and Booster are alone on the Watchtower and have to defend it from Doctor Polaris, who is basically a Magneto who talks to himself. I bought it just because I saw Speedy and Booster on the cover. Bonus points for the yo-yo violence though.

The Lone Ranger #4 (Dynamite Entertainment) I don’t much care for the pace of the storyline—it seems like forever between issues, and they take only a few minutes to read—but four issues in, this is still pretty much a perfect Western comic book. Probably should have waited for the trade though.

Midnighter #4 (DC/Wildstorm) Huh, that’s weird. Penciller Chris Sprouse only went three issues before needing a fill-in artist, and WildStorm/DC actually used a fill-in artist? (Oh wait, he only penciled part of #3, I see; Joe Phillips stepped in to hel pout on that issue. So I guess Sprouse only managed two and a half issues?) I’m not complaining, mind you, since I actually prefer Peter Snejbjerg’s work to Sprouse’s, but it seems odd considering how badly delayed so many of the other WildStorm Universe books are (including the one this title is a spin-off of). In this issue, Midnighter stalks Berlin as the Russians are closing in on Hitler’s bunker, and he finds himself playing reluctant nursemaid to some Hitler youth and then watching the end of Nazi Germany play out before his very eyes. Some of Garth Ennis’ best work has been World War II era stories, so his footing is certainly sure here.

The New Avengers #27 (Marvel) With Civil War over, at least as far as this title is concerned, we now return you to your regularly scheduled comic book. After 13 months and 14 issues, writer Brian Michael Bendis finally picks up where he left off with the Ronin-is-Echo-in-a-man-suit sub-plot. “A month ago you sent Captain America to me,” she e-mails Matt Murdock, which means only a month has passed since around issue #11, Marvel-time (not to say that this title is ploddingly paced or anything). It’s quite frustrating when you consider that Bendis is quite a good comic book writer, even at mainstream Marvel super-team books, when he really focuses on the task at hand. It takes him only a few narration boxes to make perfect sense out of the man-suit (so why leave readers hanging on the issue for a year?), and he gets the team off to a nice running start this time around (When he originally launched New Avengers, it took him 13 issues to introduce the team that appeared on the cover of #1; this time, the whole line up appears before the book is over). So, what’s Bendis’ problem? Well, one of them is he apparently thinks we’re all idiots. For real. Check it out. Echo narrates, “And when the idiots talk of Ronin, they wonder if it’s someone new or maybe it’s one of the American heroes who has run away from the Civil War. They wonder: maybe he’s Daredevil, maybe he’s Iron fist, maybe he’s Nick Fury.” Of course, the people who do that, the “idiots,” if you will, are us. As for the other positives, Bendis writes two pages chock-full of witty fight banter and draws out the mystery of the new Ronin’s identity rather tantalizingly (I was one of the idiots who thought it was Cap, but the dialogue here makes that seem pretty unlikely…and that goes double for it being Wong or Matt Murdock). And as for the negatives, I look forward to seeing the blogosphere’s reaction to the scene in which Luke Cage kicks Elektra really hard in the vagina after saying, “I got a message from Matt Murdock…he told me, if I see you, to give you this…” Ghah! The art, by Leinil Yu, is the best to ever grace the pages of the title, and I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about it. Wait, yes I can! The Civil War-fight scene happening on the TV Echo’s watching? Totally couldn’t happen; Thing was in France and Goliath dead by the time Spidey put that costume on. But that’s actually pretty small potatoes for a Civil War continuity glitch.

Sam Noir: Ronin Holiday #1 (Image Comics) The greatest weakness of the original series, which was released in trade today, was the lame-ass title, Sam Noir: Samurai Detective which, while accurate, didn’t do justice to the depth of hilarity writers Eric A. Anderson and Manny Trembley would plumb. This sequel fixes that, with a nice samurai pun of a title. Sam goes on vacation, gets attacked and meets up with an “island detective” (read: pirate detective), who offers our hero unwanted assistance in his investigation. An investigation that leads to the awesome-est last page of the week.

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #1 (DC) Columbus, represent! Not only is Jeff Smith at the helm of this project, providing the story and art, but his Bone colorist and fellow Columbusite Steve Hamaker is responsible for the color (Hamaker’s also responsible for a Flight story and Fish ‘N Chips, the latter of which boasts one of my favorite character designs I’m still hoping for a toy of…with detachable fishbowl head, natch). And speaking of waiting, I’ve been waiting for this story ever since it was announced, and my eagerness was multiplied with each shudder-inducing innovation to the Marvel mythos its official caretaker/destroyer Judd Winick has come up with since Outsiders #1. Despite my anticipation, I wasn’t the least bit disappointed, which is definitely a good sign. Smith spends most of the first issue detailing Billy Batson’s origin (which retells the original, Golden Age version while expanding on rather than contradicting it), and also deals with the nature of Captain Marvel’s relationship to Billy (here, the former is an entirely different person, rather than a grown-up version of the latter). The greatest deviation from the original seems to be how old Billy is; here he seems really, really young (I would have guessed the original Billy was more of a pre-teen than a grade-schooler, and post-Crisis he’s been aged into a teenager). It works perfectly fine in the story, but I think it’s a tad unfortunate, as I was kinda hoping this story would eventually be absorbed into the DCU, informing the way the character is portrayed there, even if it’s essentially out of continuity* (in the same way that, say, The Dark Knight Returns defined the way Batman was portrayed in the DCU for the next few decades, or how Kingdom Come effected so many changes in the DCU). Among the awesomeness here is the return of the ‘70s logo, the use of a skull to dot the “i” in the word “Evil” (nothing says evil like a skull-topped vowel!), the story’s title being in Monster Society code (if you can’t break it, go here), and the scene with the alligator men, one of which gnaws on Cap’s head. Confidential to DC: How about giving us a trade collection of the original “Monster Society of Evil” epic once Smith’s version wraps?

Ultimate Spider-Man #105 (Marvel) Bendis wraps up his “Clone Saga” with several big moments that should have lasting impact on the title—Aunt May learning Peter’s secret identity, Mary Jane coming back into his life—and some nice drama between Fury and Peter and Jessica Drew and Peter. I loved Peter’s conversation with his “last clone standing,” and look forward to seeing more of her in the future. Also fun were Bendis’ subtle digs at DC and Brad Meltzer in the “Why don’t we just mind-wipe her?” scene involving the X-Men’s psychics. I do hope this isn’t the end of the Spidey/Kitty Pryde relationship though, as I’m not so sure Bendis has exhausted the story possibilities there just yet.

*Of course, according to Wizard, this actually is continuity:
“Smith has ensured the book won’t be labeled an alternate history or imaginary tale. ‘When I was asked to do it, I was asked to relaunch Captain Marvel, and I have a clause in my contract saying that this is continuity,’ Smith states. ‘This is continuity. This is not an All-Star version.’” Sigh. Maybe someone at DC shoulda re-read that contract before greenlighting
Day of Vengeance and Trials of Shazam, huh?


Unknown said...

Re: Action Annual
You want some wierd continuity aside from the Bizarros? Check out that Fortress of Solitude scene: all types of goodies that point to an "anything goes" mandate, including the Legion of Super Heroes. So does this mean that Superman's time as Superboy is back in continuity?

Caleb said...

Oh my God, he did have statues of them in there, didn't he? And there was something about his keeping statues of allies and friends past, present and future around, huh?


Semi-official scuttlebutt is that the Pre-ZERO HOUR Legion is on it's way back into continuity (I guess JSoA kinda confirms as much), so I guess Legion continuity is up for reboot number #413 shortly anyway.

Anonymous said...

I guess the man-suit makes sense now, but why the hell was she wearing the thing a year ago? Maybe Echo was afraid Cage would kick her in the box?

Anonymous said...

re: idiots -

Actually, the "idiots" comment would be directed at the people who speculated about Ronin's previous identity (assuming one agrees it's metatextual). Your link goes to people speculating about the "new" Ronin.

re: Ronin and Echo -

Here's what I've never understood - why was it such a big deal that Echo dressed up in a mansuit? Seriously, the level of ire this raised among fans was unreal.

I was really impressed with Avenger's #27. I thought the Collective arc kind of ended with a whimper, but this story is moving right from the beginning.

arch 14

Anonymous said...

re: Dark Tower -

I must admit, I saw a ton of these at my LCS. So, while I can't say they will move them, I imagine the first issue at least will do very well in sales.

You're right about marketing, I've wondered how this has been advertised to Stephen King fans...but since I'm not in that circle, maybe it's just that I don't come across the ads.

arch 14

Unknown said...

Re: Return of Legion to mainstream DC

I saw the hints in JSA about that, and it does look like the 80s era team is being intergrated into current DC stories, rather than the current Waid-Kitson team (which is a pretty damned good book). One of the upcoming Brave & The Bold issues is Batman and Blue Beetle teaming up against a timelost Fatal Five.

I suppose if there are multiple earths again, there can be multiple Legions.