Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Weekly Haul: June 20th
Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #53 (DC Comics) Poor Black Manta. He went from being a scuba diver with an awesome helmet to a pretty cool looking man/manta monster during the Underworld Unleashed crossover, to a half-monsterized guy in his old scuba suit (in first Green Arrow, and then Wonder Woman and Aquaman), back to a normal dude (and good guy) in a scuba suit during the beginning of the latest volume of Aquaman, to a guy who could breathe underwater unaided and now it looks like he’s about to get yet another look, after the conclusion of this story.
I really like what Tad Williams and Shawn McManus did with Manta in this issue; it’s probably the coolest Manta has been in the DCU that I can remember (Alex Ross and company’s Justice version? The best he’s ever been anywhere). His fight chatter comparing Manta, Inc.’s survivor benefits to the life insurance plan of the Aquamen is great, as is his dis of young Arthur “Aquaman II” Curry: “I imagine being an apprentice Aquaman is your summer job while you struggle with junior college, right?” Ha ha, you tell him, Manta!
McManus tricks out Black Manta and his underlings to look pretty cool, with his henchpeople looking like black-colored underwater Iron Men, and he lends a welcome cartooniness to many of the characters, particularly his gigantic King Shark, crazy angry de-helmed Manta and the highly expressive Topo (it’s all in the eyes). The new team’s run has been something of a roller coaster in terms of quality, rising and falling unpredictably each issue, but this issue is definitely a hill rather than a valley. The sense that this is all just a tangent before a return to normalcy (i.e. the real Aquaman returning to reclaim his comic book from the pretender) haunts the proceedings, but Williams at least integrates the supporting casts from the last few directions of the book smoothly, and gives everybody something to do. It even seems like a new iteration of one of Peter David’s greatest Aqua-villains is joining the cast, and Orin gets one step closer to resurrection.
The Brave and the Bold #4 (DC) Another predictably pretty much perfect issue. Reading this on the very same day as the rushed and sparsely populated Countdown and the everybody-looks-the-same-but-with-different-costumes JLoA, penciller George Perez’s deft character design, full backgrounds and precise details seem even greater, and with all those pages that have more than four panels all them, reading this comic is kinda like Christmas. Writer Mark Waid does a nice job with the characters as well; I’m not terribly fond of Blue Beetle III, this Supergirl, Lobo or the Fatal Five, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t make them all seem like distinct and likable individuals (well, except the Fatal Five, but then, they’re the villains). This is an all-around fantastic comic book, maybe DC’s very best at the moment (at least among the DCU books). Now the bad news: The Waid/Perez run is only twelve-issues long, meaning we’re already a third of the way there.
Countdown #45 (DC) Okay, remember last week when I said that as much as I’ve come to loathe Countdown I’d probably continue to buy and read it because with a weekly series, it’s almost easier to keep doing so then going to the trouble of actually dropping it? (I said much the same thing in this week’s “Best Shots” col, to the disapproval of many of the posters, some of whom seem to genuinely enjoy the series).
Well, I take it back.
Apparently I just needed to suffer through one more bad issue to push me off the fence and, make no mistake, this is yet another bad issue, with hints that the thing I am kind of interested in seeing play out—the story itself—is about to get much, much worse (How can a story teaming Jason Todd up with Donna Troy get worse? How about we throw in a Monitor and Monarch…or Captain Atom in Monarch’s armor…or whatever the hell is up with Monarch post-Battle of Bludhaven).
So this week’s exciting Ed Benes cover, which features Karate Kid front and center among the assembled Justice League of America? Well, don’t get too excited about it. The only one of those characters who actually appears within this issue is K.K., as he just kinda mills around the League satellite, apparently waiting for the last chapter of “The Lightning Saga” to ship, so the Countdown creative consortium can get on with his story.
The rest of the book is devoted to two scenes. One is Jimmy Olsen talking into his tape recorder summarizing things, a speech that seems a little off, with Jimmy forgetting his own post-Crisis(on Infinite Earths) time as an “elastic lad,” and referring to Lois as “Miss Lane.” (Even if you’re suddenly on a last name basis with Lois again Jim, it’s the 21st century and you work for a newspaper; how about you call her Ms., huh?) The other is Donna Troy vs. Forerunner. As Jason (2scoops, not Todd) mentioned in last week’s comments section, the problem with Countdown is that it’s a matter of “a death by a thousand cuts,” and #45 features a few more, from tiny little things like the lack of Amazons attacking or Donna’s super-speed creating a streak effect of completely static stars to bigger problems, like the completely confusing and seemingly random Monitor storyline to the wasted space of the dull retelling of every Multiverse crossover ever in the back-up feature.
So, Countdown? I wash my hands of you. I’ll endure next week’s issue of you (which will be waiting for me to pick up next time I’m in the shop), and that’s it. If you do turn out to be worthwhile later in your run, well, I’ll see you in trades borrowed form the library in a year or so.
Justice League of America #10 (DC)
Oh, wow. I was not expecting this at all. I thought I’d successfully lowered my expectations for this title enough that I couldn’t possibly be surprised by how bad a particular issue might prove to be, but apparently Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes have managed to find a way to limbo below my lowered expectations—this was just plain god awful, among the very worst DC comics I can remember reading. Almost Teen Titans #46 bad, but not quite (This issue counts as improvement over TT in that the art doesn’t look quite as rushed, and it does compare Brainiac-5 to Hitler, in a roundabout, implied way, and that’s gotta be worth something, right?).
We start off on the wrong foot with that infamous Michael Turner/Power Girl cover, which is exactly as bad as the preview version to the right, despite the fact that some of it gets covered up by the UPC symbol and the “The Lightning Saga Concludes!” blurb. The interior is no better, although it’s worth noting that Benes is a better illustrator than Turner; yeah, sure he only draws two different figures, the anatomy is ridiculously exaggerated, and Canary and Wonder Woman might as well be bare-assed, it’s still not Turner-bad.
The main problem is that the story makes absolutely no sense. Seriously, I just could not follow what was happening in this issue at all, to the point where I spent an awful lot of time flipping back to reread pages, in case it was a matter of my just being so distracted by the little things, like why Powergirl calls Superman “Clark” on one page and “Kal” on another (Pick a first name and stick with it, huh “Karen?”) or how Black Canary knows the Legion were “Clark’”s best childhood friends, or how he’d react when his best childhood friends betrayed him since, presumably, she’s never seen him betrayed by his best childhood friends, since this is the first time he’d been betrayed by his best childhood friends, to follow the color-coding on the narration boxes and keep the universes and timelines straight in my head.
The thrust of the story is that the Bronze Age Legion Which Shouldn’t Even Exist As Far As We Know manage to complete their little resurrection ritual, despite the best efforts of the Justice teams, but it wasn’t a Legionnaire they were really there to resurrect at all, it was a Flash, and not the one you’d expect a pre-Crisis(on Infinite Earths) Legion to want to resurrect. No, the other one, and his family…although they weren’t really dead anyway. (Were they? I haven’t been reading Flash: The Fastest Man Alive, but I thought the West clan had just disappeared into the Speed Force or time stream or something like that?). Or wait, did they capture another Flash during the ritual somehow? Is that a face in Brainy’s lightning rod there in the last panel, the one in which he says “But for this universe, all I really care about-- --is that we got who we wanted.” I don’t know, I didn’t really get it. But then, I haven’t read the late-70’s stories being referenced here. Personally, I’m not really a fan of any story that requires me to spend a half hour on Wikipedia, read a post-game interview with the creators and editors, and post a bunch of questions on message boards to older fans more versed in Legion lore than I just to come up with a few alternate theories about what might have happened in the story I just read. (My own, perhaps peculiar, definition of a good comic book story is one that you can enjoy all on its own without extensive research).
The confusing badness wasn’t all that I found shocking about the “concluding” chapter of “The Lightning Saga.” I was also surprised how little was actually explained or resolved at the end; it ended with just as many questions as it began. There was no real explanation for what was up with the Legion here. Brainiac’s dialogue at the end seems to indicate they’re from a different universe than the one the Legion just visited, but, if that’s the case, then how are they still that universe’s Superman’s friends (and how is Wildfire made out of Red Tornado’s body, how is that universe’s history in their records, etc). And why are the West twins hitting puberty, rather than babies, like the last time we saw them? And what was up with those panels involving the Ultra-Humanite, Per Degaton and the 90-pound weakling version of Despero? Weren’t they supposed to be involved in this somehow?
Fun fact: Brad Meltzer has exactly two issues left in this run on the title, which means he has about 44 pages to address those questions, plus the mystery with Geo-Force’s powers, and that business about the immortals in “Tornado’s Path”, and the identity of Dr. Impossible. Why do I get the feeling that’s going to another Meltzer-made mess for some other writer to clean up somewhere else?
It wasn’t all bad though. I did like a few things. In addition to the implication that Brainiac was worse than Hitler (Oh Dreamgirl, you just lost the debate!), I liked Brainiac’s extreme dickishness (“That’s a truly inspiring and useless speech, Drake Burroughs.”), and Superman’s threatening Sensor Girl with, “You’ve got a femto-second to put that-") and the smooth, computer-aided juxtaposition of scenes from COIE and old Legion and Flash Silver Age stories into the artwork as memories or (in one case) things in Brainiac’s monitors.
Still, a few cool moments nestled among many more horrible ones, as part of a story that makes absolutely no sense at all isn’t the sort of thing that inspires confidence about the rest of Meltzer’s run. It’s way too short to actually finish any of the stories he’s started in the previous eleven issues, but at the same time, it’s still two issues too many. Dropped until #13, when Dwayne McDuffie swoops in to hopefully save what used to be my favorite DC title.
Shadowpact #14 (DC) I bought my first issue of this series last month with #13 (behold the power of the Zauriel cover appearance!), and the amount of Zauriel within this issue prompted me to pick this one up too. Z. is under heavenly orders to kill Blue Devil, whose continued existence as a superhero is apparently glamorizing selling one’s soul to the devil, but the two former Justice Leaguers decide on another course of action. B.D. hires a lawyer to take on hell for him (nice), and Zauriel is forced to replace him in the Shadowpact line-up, despite the fact that the ‘pact all seem to hate him. I don’t much care for writer Bill Willingham’s portrayal of Zauriel as a henchman for Heaven (which continues the portrayal Steve Gerber initiated in Helmet of Fate: Zauriel); I preferred the character as the rebel, fallen angel who became a superhero to do the right thing, no matter what Heaven’s opinion of creation and/or humanity was (They decided to scrap it and start over when Mageddon had Earth on the ropes). But I suppose beggars can’t be choosers. The rest of the team barely appears here, but the Blue Devil storyline is a pretty interesting one, as is this weird sun god waiting in the wings. New penciller Tom Derenick is something of a personal favorite, and it’s nice to see there’s a place to get a monthly does of him in the DCU now (Although his Detective Chimp can use some work, and his Oblivion patrons don’t seem as cameo-tastic as usual).
Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four #3 (Marvel Comics)
Oh Jeff Parker, Mike Wieringo and Wade von Grawbadger, how did you know exactly what I’d need to read the Wednesday after seeing Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer? Your Doctor Doom appearance, in his classic green house dress and cape combo over full body armor, spouting lines like “Fah!” and “The Four! Wretched curs!”, is exactly what I needed to cleanse my mind of Tim Story and Julian Sands’ portayal of Victor Von Doom as just another jackass who isn’t much fun to work with.
In the penultimate chapter, Spidey and three of the FF head to first the High Evolutionary’s Beast Men and then good old Doc Doom for help with a whattayacallit that might halt the silver aliens’ invasion of earth. It’s good old-fashioned, old-school Marvel Comics fun, and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all; Parker hits all the character notes that made these Marvels so well-loved back in the day, but he uses the characters in a story that is just as sophisticated as anything else being published today. As for Wieringo’s pencils, I admit it took a big to get used to his more loose-limbed, gorilla-like version of the Thing, but I’m used to it now, and I like it. The rest of the characters are all well designed and rendered, and I especially like his thin, regular guy like version of Spidey, which recalls John Romita Jr.’s in terms of build.
The Spirit #7 (DC) Now this is a fill-in! Few could actually successfully fill in for writer/artist Darwyn Cooke, a fact DC seems aware of, which might explain why in this first Cooke-less issue of the series, they brought in a half-dozen creators to make us miss Cooke less. Three shorts make up this “Summer Special,” each by a different creative team. Walter Simonson, Chris Sprouse and Karl Story present “Harder Than Diamonds,” in which an Eisner-esque femme fatale leads the CCPD and the Spirit on a series of fals trails after a diamond heist. Jimmy Palmiotti and Jordi Bernet offer up an even more Eisner-esque story featuring an entire tenement apartment building worth of characters with their own plotlines, all of which are elegantly solved when the Spirit chases a crook up the stairs and onto the roof. The least Eisner-esque is probably Kyle Baker’s, a rather complicated murder mystery packed with gags, the punchlines of which are most often expressed via Ellen’s oversized, rolling eyes. My favorite Baker joke comes early, when Spirit answers the phone, “Murder? In a filthy alley? I’ll be right there,” although the Sin City panel and Dolan and Spirit’s meat dinner come close. I’m really glad to see Baker doing a Spirit story, because that means now he’s done both Plastic Man and The Spirit, which makes him a good candidate for creating a story along these lines:
Ultimate Spider-Man #110 (Marvel) Is this still the most consistently best written, best illustrated and most entertaining Spider-Man monthly on the shelves? Yes, yes it is. Is this still one of the best superhero monthlies from any company on the shelves? Yes, yes it is. This issue features the conclusion of the guest star-packed “Ultimate Knights” story arc, and, if you watch the backgrounds, the first appearance of Ultimate Cloak and Dagger.