Thursday, April 19, 2007

Weekly Haul: April 18th

I’m getting this up a little later than usual, on account of yesterday’s haul being a pretty sizable one and the fact that, I actually had to leave my house on a Wednesday after I finished reading. So this week, EDILW has fallen down on the job of providing you reviews of everything Caleb read this week in a timely fashion, and the Internet’s already full of reviews of yesterday’s biggest event books.

Troy Brownfield will save you $10 on World War III with a thorough what happened-to-who write up at Ami Angelwings will give you the complete blow by blow, and do it much cuter than I could. And Kevin Church uses his technological superiority to point out some of the most ridiculous things that happened in WWIII and DC’s best book of the week. Here, however, you’ll get a panel of Martian Manhunter head-butting Black Adam in the breadbasket (at least, I hope that’s the breadbasket) as seen in World War III #4.

And, of course, you’ll get all these…

52 #50 (DC Comics) Wow, now that’s a pay-off! I might be the only DC reader in the world who feels this way, but I found the conclusion of Black Adam’s fifty-part, year-long story much more exciting than anything that happened during Infinite Crisis. Rather than multiple versions of the same characters scrabbling over obscure bits of continuity, this issue had a huge superhero fight with high stakes and the sorts of fantastic feats I haven’t seen enough of in DC comics since Grant Morrison left JLA.

Behind another beautiful J.G. Jones cover, one-named penciler Justiniano and inker Walden Wong deliver the best and most polished art of any issue of the series yet, and they squeeze a lot of detail into these panels (I almost didn’t even notice the Global Guardians in the rubble on that two-page splash panel).

Adam decimates the Great Ten (whose names seem culled from Wu-Tang members when shouted out in rapid succession like this), while the heroes of the DCU nervously line up along the Great Wall, waiting for permission to cross the border and take on Adam. And when they finally do, Captain Marvel catches an armful of lightning and throws it at Black Adam. That’s DC superhero comics as they should be, right there. And after twenty-pages of superhero-brawling, that whole “52” plot that hasn’t been given much attention lately comes back in a big way, when Professor Morrow sees what Red Tornado and the space heroes saw.

All that, and the line of the week: “Go, Shaolin Robot!”

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #51 (DC)
Last issue made me awfully happy, since it seemed like Tad Williams was finally going somewhere with the all the untold plotlines floating around in the title since “One Year Later” gave it a new status quo one year ago. But now I’m not so sure I like it. Arthur Curry joins powerless, cranky Tempest, Aquagirl and the new Topo in a journey back to Sub Diego, and on the way they fight some neat-looking fish men (I really like Shawn McManus’ art here), but the whole endeavor just seems really disconnected from the rest of the DCU. For one thing, the old Aquaman just raised Sub Diego back to the surface and cured all of it’s inhabitants in World War III #2, which just came out this very week.

It was nice to see the Justice League in Atlantis to say goodbye to Orin/Aquaman/Dweller, but what was the Flash doing there? That’s Bart Allen under the hood, a character who’s never really met Aquaman except in the occasional adversarial circumstances where his sueprteam is fighting Aquaman’s superteam for some reason or another. And who’s also not a member of the Justice League, like the rest of the visitors. How do Williams, McManus and the book’s editors not know this? I don’t even read Flash (let alone work for the comic’s publisher) and I know who the Flash is.

Confidential to Hal Jordan: Why the hell are you wearing an oxygen mask? Your power ring creates forcefields and an oxygen supply.

Army @ Love #3 (DC/Vertigo) Okay, seriously Rick Veitch—Why on Earth isn’t this called Our Army at Love? It seems like you guys opted out of going all way with the allusion to Our Army at War. This issue features a lot of backstory in what I think is a pretty brilliant satire thus far, but, with the hook all laid out over the course of these first two issues now, Veitch gets to the make-or-break point. Is there more to the story he’s telling then the sharp observation about how to really sell warfare to today’s youth? I guess we’ll find out in #3. I’m really digging his art with Gary Erskine’s inks on top of it.

The Brave and the Bold #3 (DC) The spotlight swings back to earth, for a Batman/Blue Beetle team-up, with just a few pages spared to show what Supergirl is up to back on Ventura. As the cover attests, Batman and BB III are faced with the Fatal Five, villains that don’t do much for me personally, as I’ve never been able to get into any Legions (I don’t think that would be a problem I’d have with Christopher Bird’s Legion though). But it’s Mark Waid and George Perez playing in DC’s sandbox; that’s really the only selling point one needs here. This series should go on forever, or at least until these creators have managed to feature every single DC character in the book. After all, this is exactly the sort of introduction new readers need when it comes to a character like Blue Beetle, whom a lot of us were understandably quite resistant to. BB’s imaginary excuse slip from Batman to his teacher? Genius. I’m afraid I can’t address the Big League Chew-sponsored The Batman/Cal Ripken, Jr. comic that’s inserted into the middle of this one though, as I’ve yet to read it.

Birds of Prey #105 (DC) I really love the Secret Six, and I really love the way Gail Siomone writes them, and I really, really, really love the new recruit, which finally bumps them back up to a membership of six again. I’d love a S6 ongoing, but I guess that doesn’t seem too likely at this point (Maybe if All-New Atom and Gen 13 get cancelled?).

The new Birds line-up, including Barda, Misfit, Manhunter and a new female Spy Smasher, still hasn’t grown on me though, as it just seems so randomly assembled. And as for the resurrection of a character who’s never once even appeared in this title (talk about random), it leaves me cold (Ha ha! Get it? Cold?). I liked the character, and it was too bad when she died, but I don’t seen any reason to bring her back to life at this point. Why on earth should I care if Black Adam puts his fist through a heroine’s chest in World War III, if the very same week I see a character who’s been unequivocally dead-as-hell for over ten years comes back to life pretty much at random? Jesus, who’s left in DC’s graveyard at this point? Just Vibe?

Simone gets off the worst line of the week, when Hawkgirl tells Scandal Savage, “I don’t know who you are, lady-- --but you’ve just awoken the hawk!” Um, what?

Justice League of America #8 (DC) Wow, way to go Brad Meltzer! Regular readers of either EDILW or Newsarama’s “Best Shots” column will have noticed I’m not exactly a fan of Brad Meltzer’s Justice League stewardship. But this issue, the first part of “The Lightning Saga,” crossing over with Geoff Johns’ superior JSoA, is by far Meltzer’s best, maybe better than the last eight issues combined. I think it’s still over-written, with the parallel narration in the opening scenes a little too artificial (the only thing worse than first-person narration in a comic book is cross-narration), and Batman and Superman seem to have had a press conference off-panel announcing their secret identities to the whole world a la Peter Parker that I hadn’t heard abut.

But never mind all that for a minute.

The conflict, involving one of those Legion line-ups I don’t know jack shit about, is set-up quite quickly in an old-school JLA/JSA team-up/quest fashion, right down to the number of the time-lost soldiers in need of rescue, and Meltzer still has time to advance the Something’s Wrong With Red Tornado plot, the Roy Harper And Hawkgirl Totally Want Each Other Plot and get the whole JSoA in the same panel as the whole JLoA. In one issue! Bravo! And sneaking that Interlac key onto page three? Brilliant.

The art comes courtesy of penciller Shane Dais and inker Matt Banning. I didn’t care much for it, and there were too many panels with way too little background, but they did a nice job approximating the style of Ed Benes and Sandra Hope, giving this arc a strong stylistic continuity with previous issues.

Confidential to Batman: You might want to call Clark “Superman” when you radio him in front of a villain who just beat the crap out of you. And when you’re in front of that villain and some guy named Starman that you’ve just met, you’ll definitely want to go ahead and say “Superman.” It’s only two more syllables, man.

Confidential to Hawkgirl: You’ve known Red Tornado for about seven minutes now, are you really familiar enough with him to call him “Reddy?”

Confidential to Vixen: It’s just a hologram, right? Just turn the “tree” off.

Confidential to Power Girl: You don’t know Batman’s secret identity. So don’t fucking call him “Bruce.” Particularly when in the same room as Stargirl, Liberty Belle II, Damage, Hawkgirl, Dr. Mid-Nite, Mr. Terrific, Wildcat III, Hourman II and Vixen, none of whom know either.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #12 (Marvel Comcis) Wow, Jeff Parker got away with an awful lot this issue, particularly considering this is a kids book. The plot? Ego the Living Planet wants to hook up with Earth (machines translate Ego’s come-ons into their closest English equivalents, and they amount to, “Hold up, Miss Thang! What’s the big hurry?” When Ego realizes that Earth is crawling with humans, he changes his mind, telling her “I’ll be back around—you clean that act up and we can discuss.” So, basically, Ego totally wants to bang Earth, until he notices the planetary equivalent of STDs (Well, Parker has Giant-Girl refer to them as “cooties,” but we know what he’s talking about).

Oh, and there’s this:

The Mighty Avengers #2 (Marvel) Brian Michael Bendis continues to do a great job introducing the new status quo of his line-up (in this issue, we see Ms. Marvel and Iron Man make their pitches to each recruit that isn’t Ares), and I love the thought-cloud asides, but the conflict is so goddam base and lazy I don’t know if I’ll be picking up #3. Basically, it’s the Avengers vs. Ultron, Round 4,567, but the twist this time is that Ultron has somehow changed Iron Man into a naked Janet Van Dyne, with liquid metal covering her erogenous zones (and clouds of smoke presumably covering the nipples Frank Cho must have drawn in some panels). Cho’s a good storyteller and he draws all of the characters well. It’s cool that his women’s bodies look like real women’s bodies, with body fat and everything, but he essentially draws the exact same woman with slightly different hair over and over.

Nightwing Annual #2 (DC) Attention, Dan Didio! You know this Marc Andreyko guy who’s been writing Manhunter for you guys? Did you check out this week’s Nightwing Annual yet? Because it turns out to be one of the most enjoyable Dick Grayson stories I’ve read in…God, I can’t remember the last time I’ve read a really, truly, all-around enjoyable Dick Grayson story (Maybe one of Devin Grayson’s Dick-centric Gotham Knights issues? Wait, that didn’t sound right…). And, as an added bonus, it was also one of the better Barbara Gordon stories I’ve read in a good long time (I’ve generally enjoyed the bulk of Simone’s run on BoP, but the focus has usually been on Black Canary and Huntress rather than Oracle). After a seven-panel recap of Dick’s proposal and a six-page sequence recapping the end of Infinite Crisis and a related nightmare sequence, Andreyko plunges into Grayson’s recovery from his injuries, coached along by Babs, who avoids talking about the proposal as long as possible. During extended flashbacks we see their first date and their first time having sex, and Andreyko seems to fit their incredibly complicated histories together rather neatly. He also refreshingly demonstrates that you can have grown-up “mature” DCU stories that don’t depend on gore and violence for their maturity—there’s also sex. Learn who Dick lost his virginity too, see he and Barbara totally bang and, in a fantastic two-panel sequence, delight as he tries to shield an erection from Batman and Batgirl with his little Robin cape (“Robin? You OK, chum?” “Um, it’s nothing.”) Yes! Andreyko for Nightwing, STAT!

The Spirit #5 (DC) And speaking of sex and DC Comics, damn, the bottom tier of panels on page ten is weird. After five issues now, you know the drill—perfect script, perfect art, perfect design and production, an all-around perfect comic book.

Superman/Batman #34 (DC) Okay, did anyone get what the fuck was going on in this comic book? Because I sure didn’t. Is this an imaginary story? A flashback? A Year One? A reboot? I honestly have no idea. Mark Verheiden tells a tale of Doc Magnus and the Metal Men—including new, female robot Copper—in which Mercury and a human, female friend of Magnus’ talks about the Metal Men going public, and when Batman first sees Magnus, he greets him with a “Who the hell are you?” Two panels later, Magnus tells Batman, “I’m sort of new at this…” The art, penciled by Pat Lee, is decent on the Metal Men, but awfully messy and ugly on everything else. And for some reason, he keeps drawing Lucius Fox in a tuxedo from a 1970s prom. After last week’s 52, this is a gigantic disappointment for a Metal Men story; it doesn’t even make sense, something which happens fairly frequently in Superman/Batman I know, but I was really hoping for more out of this story.

World War III #1 (DC) I didn’t have very high hopes for this series when it was announced. The plotlines sounded for the most part like they were culled by DC editors trawling boards for suggestions, and the creators are some talented folks who seem to be simply given busy work, writing and drawing dotted lines that connect the characters at the end of Infinite Crisis to where they were “One Year Later” (which, at this point, started one year ago, our time). Didio’s “DC Nation” column says exactly that.

It seems tremendously unfair to readers and creators; the OYL hook was pretty inspired, and a nice way to re-start all of the series on a new-reader-friendly foot which didn’t have anything to do with Infinite Crisis fall-out, but the universe has simply moved right back to IC mode since then (With the five Monitors sub-plot, and the countdown to the next Crisis). Telling stories out of sequence is fine, as long as you tell all of the parts at some point, but in almost every case, the OYL writers didn’t tease, hint at or give any indication that they’d go back and explain how the characters got from Point A to Point G, and it’s left to these four one-shots to do all of that.

That said, I was also tremendously excited. I mean, eighty-eight pages of B- to D-List DC characters, plus 52 on the same day? That’s the sort of single-story binge I haven’t had since DC discontinued their 80-Page Giants. If you haven’t read these books but are curious, I’d caution that they are not at all necessary. This week’s 52 tells the entire story of “World War III” perfectly well, and these issues focus on a few weeks through the eyes of the Martian Manhunter, and world reaction to Black Adam’s rampage. Each issue focuses on a few of the characters and explains their OYL status, but if you’re not a fan of those characters, it’s pretty much pointless reading. Additionally, you can read any one of these all by itself and get a more or less whole story, provided you’re interested in anything other than Martian Manhunter’s story, which is the only one that continues from book to book. As a fan of J’onn’s who was completely confused and annoyed by the 180-degree turn in his character witnessed OYL and in his own eight-issue series, this was right up my alley; your alley may vary.

This first issue is titled “A Call To Arms,” and is written by Keith Champagne (the inker-turned-writer who filled in for Geoff Johns on JSA, closing out the series…and yes, I realize that Paul Levitz wrote two stories after Champagne’s arc, but I’m trying to forget, so please just accommodate me on this, okay?) and penciled by Pat Olliffe, whose work should be perfectly familiar to regular readers of 52. It opens with Martian Manhunter, too-little seen in the weekly series (given his powers, connections and always-a-bridesmaid status, I think he’s actually an ideal character for a “year in the life of the universe” type of story) confronting Black Adam before a mountain of corpses in Bialya. During the battle, they link minds, and J’onn flees from Earth, the blackness of Adam’s mind completely infecting his own (Which goes an awful long way toward explaining why he’s such a dickhead a few weeks later). There are one-panel check-ins with characters all over the DCU, but the rest of the issue is devoted to expositional scenes involving Jason Todd-as-Nightwing (which offers no real insight), and Jason and Firehawk fusing into Firestorm for what I presume is the first time. If you don’t care for J’onn, Resurrected By A Super-Punch on The Walls of Continuity Jason Todd or Firestorm II, there isn’t really any reason to buy this.

World War III #2 (DC) Don’t get too excited by Batgirl, Donna Troy and Supergirl on the Ethan Van Sciver-drawn cover; they don’t exactly get a lot of valuable panel time inside. In “The Valiant,” we find J’onn J’onnz floating in space in the fetal position, using his telepathy to check in with various players in the DCU. Champagne’s still scripting, and Andy Smith is now penciling. Four pages are devoted to Supergirl, who during the Zeta Beam accident was apparently plunged into time, and I have no idea what the fuck happens here. It seems like she’s split in two, and one half flies through J’onn, and she crashes into Metropolis…I don’t know, I’d given up on both Supergirl and The Legion of Superheroes before OYL. The other major points of focus are the Batman-less Gotham City, where we see Harvey Dent and Cassandra Cain, and the fate of Aquaman.

The Gotham thread shows Harvey Dent fighting with Killer Croc, and, like the Jason-as-Nightwing scene, it doesn’t add much of anything, we just see him. The Batgirl scene unfortunately doesn’t do anything to make her OYL 180 make any more sense, and probably actually hurts her awkward redemption story currently unfolding in Teen Titans. Deathstroke is all, “Look, Batman doesn’t like you, he had Harvey Dent take over for you before going on vacation with every sidekick who’s not you.” (And he has a point…still no word on why Oracle and Batman seemed to completely forget Cassandra Cain’s existence during Infinite Crisis, and this week’s even would seem to have been the time to address that). He gives her the whole join with me/power of the dark side speech, and she seems to be considering; he doesn’t just jump her and inject her with science juice. Also unexplained is why she’s dressed like Batgirl and in Gotham, after deciding to give up being Batgirl at the end of her own title.

As for the Aquaman thread, basically the people of Sub Diego are losing their ability to breathe underwater, and Orin cuts a deal with two water giants (I assume Neptune and Poseidon, but it’s unexplained) for the power to save them, whatever the cost. The result is that Sub Diego is raised to the surface and all of its inhabitants cured, but Aquaman goes all squiddy and loses his mind. Note that in 52 he’s been going nutty, growing his hair out and dressing in a robe for weeks now, and that in this week’s issue of Aquaman there’s still a Sub Diego populated by water-breathers.

We also see a few panels of Donna Troy as Wonder Woman, a role she apparently played for just two weeks, and there’s a page of Black Adam beating down the Doom Patrol. Aquaman fans will definitely want to check this one out, if only for some clue as to what’s been going on in Sword of Atlantis, but even Supergirl and Batgirl fans probably won’t find anything in here they didn’t already know.

World War III #3 (DC) Champagne passes the writing baton to John Ostrander, and just in time too, seeing as how J’onn J’onnz and some old Suicide Squad characters are about to be featured. This one’s called “Hell is For Heroes,” and J’onn’s got his shit together well enough to return to Earth. Using his invisibility and shape-changing abilities, he begins to track Black Adam down, following his path of destruction while considering how crappy human beings are. Tom Derenick is on pencil duty now, and I think this is probably the best looking of the four issues, but that may just be because I dig Derenick’s style.

The Teen Titans have a couple of tussles with Black Adam, and two of ‘em don’t make it out alive. Meanwhile, some Checkmate types bicker, Amanda Waller makes some plans and attempts to recruit Bronze Tiger and Kate “Manhunter” Spencer’s new status quo is revealed. J’onn comes to the realization that he’s engaged in quite a few lies himself over the years, and thus burns down his old John Jones secret identity. By this point, he’s got it together, and is on his way to China, because “The time has come for an ending.”

In other words, it is on.

World War III #4 (DC) Ostrander’s joined by Penciller Jack Jadson to bring it all home in “United We Stand,” which details the final battle against Black Adam in Beijing, told from J’onn’s perspective. The opening page is a twelve-panel grid, showing extreme close-ups of many of the heroes—Alan Scott’s Green Lantern logo on his chest, Hakman’s hand gripping his mace, Wildcat cracking his knuckles— which is pretty tense and dramatic, building up to an awesome two-page spread featuring just about every DC hero who wasn’t missing during the missing year, marred only by the close-up of Power Girl. Guess what the focus of the extreme close-up on P.G. is. If you guessed her boobs, you’re right! But to show just how serious this battle is, her boobs are spattered with blood.

Ostrander writes a pretty elegant few paragraphs of narration, as J’onn picks up the stray thoughts that go throgh the heroes’ heads on the cusp of battle during this spread, and then we plunge into the Great Ten vs. Black Adam battle.

And before you know, it’s time for a Black Adam vs. J’onn rematch, with J’onn giving Adam the super-head butt pictured above (eliciting an “Aarrh!”) and a face-full of Martian vision (“Yarrgh!”). Their tussle is a nice climax to this series, particularly the part where J’onn gives Adam all his memories of all those he killed back, plus all of J’onn’s memories of the Martians who died during the fire plague as well. Ostrander has Adam draw a parallel between the two as men who have lost their families, and Adam swearing a rematch will come, which would make for a neat next Martian Manhunter series (“You have earned a mortal enemy this day, Manhunter! I will see you broken once more!”)

Adam goes down the exact same way he did in the pages of 52, but Jadson draws the scene in an even more mythological arrangement, with Captain Marvel holding a lightning bolt like Zeus, rather than awkwardly holding an armful of lighting (I liked the armful better, personally). Anyway, that’s why J’onn J’onnz looks like a creepy BDSM Skrull and acts like such a dickhead OYL. And that’s why John Ostrander shoulda wrote that eight-part Martian Manhunter mini previewed in Brave New World.

Finally, cut to those damn Monitors again, talking about the heroes’ darkest hour which is yet to come (but which will presumably include a lot of tie-ins). This is the one issue of the four that is probably the most general, and if you only want to read one of them to add to your 52 reading pleasure, this is probably the one for you.

Ultimate Spider-Man #108 (Marvel) I really appreciate that Bendis is always trying new things with the storytelling on this book, even after 107 issues, although I don’t think either Mary Jane’s news report video or the whole battle in Moon Knight’s fucked-up mindspace worked all that well. It sure was fun seeing Bendis’ 616 creations Jessica Jones and Ronin interacting with his Ultimate Universe versions of MJ and Spidey though. Another very solidly written and drawn issues of one of the most reliable comic books on the shelves.

X-Factor #18 (Marvel) With a couple of old X-Men characters—Blob, Marrow, Callisto and Some Lady I’ve Never Heard Of—appearing this issue, and the M-Day/House of M/Son of M fall-out intensifying, I find my interest in the series plunging. Peter David still knows how to construct a plot well though, and I did enjoy watching Layla Miller’s machinations all fall so perfectly into place here.


Jacob T. Levy said...

Andreyko for Nightwing, STAT!

Hell, at this point I'll go with "Andreyko for everythign Simone isn't doing." (Well, except the Brave & the Bold.) Both of them really get how to do shared-universe superheroics. I happened to read the NW annual and Manhunter back-to-back-- they were next to each other in my pile-- and, man, the guy can write.

Unknown said...

JLA #8

I'm on board for this crossover. It's setting up as an homage to all the crazy JLA-JSA team-ups from the old Justice League days, with shout-outs to Seven Soldiers lost in time, and the Legion becoming involved. Just so much good craziness.

The whole "Heroes on a first name basis" thing is getting ridiculous. Is it something the Meltzer tends to do, or are other writers doing it too?

I'll give Meltzer the casual "Clark" in front of Karate Kid: Batman seems to know that Superman and the Legion have a history, and part of the old continuity was that the Legion knew Sups identity. I'm curious on that aspect of the new (non) continuity. It seems like they've re-incoporated Superman's "Superboy/Smallville" time again, but the timing couldn't be worse with that lawsuit that prevents DC using the Superboy name. Still, I'm digging the inclusion of the various Legionnaires back into the modern DC Universe.

BTW “I don’t know who you are, lady-- --but you’ve just awoken the hawk!”
I read that and felt compelled to "throw the horns" and air guitar. Rock on.

JohnF said...

Confidential to Power Girl: You don’t know Batman’s secret identity. So don’t fucking call him “Bruce.”

Hey, no one is more annoyed by the first-name-basis thing that Meltzer does than I am...but I figure PG probably knows Batman's real name. She has those Kryptonian senses, right? That's the same way that Superman figured it out. And she also got her Earth-2 memories back (uh, I think), and Batman's I.D. was not so secret there after he died.

In general though, I hate it. It's just so gimmicky.