Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Weekly Haul: July 18th

Action Comics #851 (DC Comics) One of the things that initially attracted me to Countdown was the promise of a storyline starring Daily Planet cub reporter Jimmy Olsen, a perfect Everyman character in the DCU, and a character whose potential hasn’t really been met much since the original Crisis (I do like Morrison and Quitely’s version of him in All-Star Superman quite a bit, though). Well, we know how well that’s turned out. That’s why this particular book, what with its above-the-logo “A Countdown Tie-In!” slug, came as such a relief. Kurt Busiek, the regular Superman writer and Action Comics fill-in-writer who’s actually written many more issues than the “regular” writing team, is handling the script, and he’s summarizing much of the Jimmy-gets-powers plotline and even redoing scenes from recent Countdowns, only here they’re much better drawn than in the original book.

The plot? Jimmy realizes he’s activating bizarre superpowers in times of stress, and contemplates putting them to use as an honest-to-God superhero, like his pal, Superman. Meanwhile, he’s assigned to tag along with Clark Kent, who’s covering a trial of the new Kryptonite Man (from “Up, Up and Away”). Also, there’s a green simian doing…something that seems to be gradually turning him into a green Titano-type threat. And we get a flashback to how Jimmy first got his Superman signal watch, and it involves a stroke of pure genius—giant, perpetually drunk Scottish robots. In kilts. It’s great, fun stuff; superhero comics at their best, really, in which continuity is a strength, not a weakness. Haven’t read a single issue of Coutndown? Never read “Up, Up and Away?” Don’t worry; you don’t really need to. (The mention of “Chris” is probably the only real stumbling block to this being perfectly self-contained, and it’s just a one-sentence aside).

The art comes courtesy of penciler Brad Walker and inker John Livesay. Walker’s unfortunately been in the position of doing a lot of drawing on books that make it hard not to compare him to other artists (He did the sequel to Villains United and some Superman fill-ins, for example), and while I’m still not quite used to his impossibly huge-chested Superman, he does quite well with all of the other characters, and his storytelling flows smoothly. And his apes? Awesome.

The only gripe I have about this book? It prominently features Superman and Jimmy on the cover. I think some giant drunken robots in kilts and a green gorilla would have moved more copies. Assuming everyone who enters a comic shop makes their purchases along the same criteria I do, anyway.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #54 (DC) Remember last week when I was talking about Green Arrow: Year One, and I mentioned DC’s bad habit of putting lame-ass pun on the covers of their comics? This week’s Aquaman contains a good example. For absolutely no reason at all, above the logo are the words “Master of His Domain!” The story within has nothing to do with Aquaman’s domain, really; in fact this Aquaman isn’t a king and doesn’t really have a domain to master, and even if he did, most of the story takes place on the surface anyway. Now I’m not sure who comes up with these things, or why they thought an allusion to an old episode of Seinfeld (1990-1998, just to let you know how old the joke is) would be an amusing thing to put on the cover. But to do it on a cover in which Aquaman grasps the hilt of his sword, the blade between his legs, while a handful of mermaids look up at him, smirking, smiling and, in one case, pointing and laughing? They’re either lameo-s who don’t really pay much attention to the art on their covers, or they’re geniuses. Only they know for sure. Anyway, it’s a really nice cover by the Dodsons.

Inside the book, Tad Williams ratchets up the speed with which he’s winding the title down, so much so that I’m actually more excited about the title right now than I’ve been so far. There are a ton of supporting characters and villains from the last few years of Aquaman comics, including a surprise DCU Big Bad and the Human Flying Fish, whose little flapping wings are absolutely hilarious as rendered by Shawn McManus.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, at this point it’s probably best for DC to let the Aquaman franchise lay fallow for a few years until they can figure out what exactly they want to do with it (hint: involving Aquaman himself might be a good idea, since replacing an original character with a new version hasn’t worked since Wally West became the Flash), but Williams and McManus have been doing great work here, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more Aquaman stories from them somewhere down the road. When you consider the incredible mess Williams is cleaning up here, and the restrictions he’s working under (i.e. he can’t use Aquaman himself), it’s even more impressive that this book is readable, let alone sometimes pretty enjoyable.

Avengers: The Initiative #4 (Marvel Comics) Thus far, I’ve read exactly two “World War Hulk” books—World War Hulk #1 and the last issue of Irredeemable Ant-Man. So I may not be the best judge of how well this book ties into the tapestry of the multi-book event, but as far as I can tell, it’s a really good tie-in, as it shows us events from the first issue of WWH (Iron Man vs. the Hulk, the collapse of Avengers Tower), from different perspectives, giving us a few new background scenes along the way (like War Machine having a pre-loin-girding chat with Iron Man), without contradicting the events I’ve seen in other books (the way a lot of “Civil War” tie-in books did). Dan Slott is really great at this kind of thing; you can tell he knows and loves the Marvel Universe, its characters and history, and respects and builds on them when telling his stories. I mean, he even has Rage telling off Triathalon about who has Avengers seniority on the team. Anyway, the story finds the Initiative reacting to Hulk’s initial threat, with the Rage, Slapstick and the new kids assigned tasks like crowd control, although they eventually break rank to confront the Hulk. His over-arching storyline isn’t hijacked so much by the crossover as it dovetails into it, as pieces are moved forward in several ongoing plotlines. There are times when I wish Slott were writing the whole Marvel Universe (at least until I remember Jeff Parker. And Fred Van Lente. And Bendis when he’s on. And…)

Birds of Prey #108 (DC) Okay, so on the cover we have a woman with a grievous leg wound straddling a woman who has lost the use of her legs. They both wear glasses, and are heavily exerting themselves. I’m not sure what the name of this particular sort of thing might be, but I’m positive it has to be fetish for someone. Kind of odd choice for a cover image too, considering the awesomeness inside, but maybe they wanted to keep that four-page spread of every character who’s ever worked for Oracle ever (outside the Suicide Squad and Bat clan, of course) a surprise. A surprise that I’ve just ruined.

The story, like that in Aquaman is in pretty clear winding down mode. This issue is the official epilogue of the “Whitewater” story, and ends the Katarina take-over storyline that’s been running since the OYL jump. Plus, there’s a two-page send off to the Secret Six, and the true origin of Misfit. It’s a pretty good read, provided you don’t think about it very hard. Or, you know, think about it at all.

The recently resurrected, big-time superhero Ice gets a one-line send off, and appears in all of two-panels, completing her resurrection story on the same not on which it began, making her merely the maguffin (I’m hard pressed to think of a superhero-returns-from-the-grave story in which the superhero returning from the grave is so incidental to the rest of the story).

Oracle and her girls seem a little wantonly cruel in their dispatch of Katarina—was that a fair fight? Did they tie, or did Babs win? Was it just an excuse to beat the hell out of Katarina, who really did seem to have her heart in the right place and had even just presented Oracle with a gift prior to Manhunter wounding her?

Was that awesome group shot of all of the Birds ever really that intimidating to Katarina? Because, she had to know Oracle had all those people on speed dial anyway, right? Wasn’t that the whole point of attempting to take over the operation?

And while it’s not entirely Simone’s fault, Oracle’s whole speech about how her mission is to help people who need it rang a little false when one considers how little—i.e. absolutely nothing—she’s done to help her former agent and successor Cassandra Cain.

That probably does seem like a lot of griping, but I actually did rather enjoy this issue, and it’s only know that I’m thinking more seriously about it and rereading some of the scenes that some of this stuff occurs to me.

Okay now, question time: Who are those three super-types between Nightwing and Misfit? Anyone? Anyone? Because I have no idea.

The Brave and the Bold #5 (DC) See, this is why we love George Perez. In JLoA #8 by Brad Meltzer and Shane Davis, Batman fights Legion martial artist Karate Kid. The fight itself gets six panels, spread across six pages, with most of the blows that are exchanged occurring off-panel. In Countdown #50, by a trio of writers and penciler J. Calafiore, we see outtakes from that same fight (um, never mind the fact that Karate Kid’s ethnicity seems to have changed; it’s still the same character). There the fight gets thirteen panels over the course of three pages, most of them close-ups on Batman’s fists and K.K.’s open hands, with the pair apparently ultimately blocking one another’s blows. The effect is not unlike a fight in an action movie in the Michael Bay style, in which the camera zooms in on details, so that it is the point-of-view that we see moving, not the combatants.

In this issue of Brave and the Bold, writer Mark Waid and George Perez give us another Batman vs. Karate Kid fight. This one gets 12 panels on one single page, and, to stick with the film metaphor, consists mostly of medium shots, so that we can see the combatants bodies, and the way they move, like in an old school kung fu movie, where the camera is set down in one place and the characters fight, because watching people who know kung fu fight one another is a hell of a lot more interesting than watching a zoom lens in use. Perez’s fight choreography is simply amazing here, as one blow leads deftly to another. Oh, and because watching Batman and Karate Kid kung fu fight is merely awesome, Waid and Perez have outfitted them both with Legion flight rings, so that they’re flying while fighting, making the fight super-awesome (Seriously, panels seven thorugh nine? The greatest thing you’ll see in a comic book this week. Maybe your whole life).

And keep in mind, this is only one page of Brave and the Bold #5.

As with the previous four issues, this one seems to be at least twice as long as a normal comic book, in part because of just how damn much Perez can pack into a page, and in part because there’s just plain a lot of things going on, with the book structured as a sort of team-up between team-ups. In the future, you have Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes (Waid/Kitson variety), and in the “present” you have Supergirl and Green Lantern and Adam Strange.

Both threads, which seem to be tying together now for next issue’s conclusion to the arc, are well-done, and both are imaginatively conceived. Waid isn’t going the easy route here, picking characters that play off of one another intuitively. He’s being plenty creative—I mean, Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes? That’s about as out-of-left field a team-up as you can get in the DCU, and it works beautifully. Brainy and Bats are simply perfect foils for one another. As far as in-continuity, DCU books go, this is probably DC’s very best (along with Busiek’s better Super-books).

Giant-Size Marvel Adventures Avengers #1 (Marvel) I loved Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk’s Agents of Atlas. And I love Parker and Kirk’s Marvel Adventures Avengers. So it should go without saying that a Marvel Adventures Avengers/Agents of Atlas crossover, by Parker and Kirk, is the kind of comic book I’m going to love. But I’m going to say it anyway: I loved this comic book.

Kang travels back in time to urge the “Avengers” of the ‘50s, Jimmy Woo’s Agents of Atlas, to find Captain America frozen in a block of ice. They thaw him out instead of Iron Man and company, leading to an altered present in which Kang is about to be made ruler of the world. Unless the Avengers can go back in time and stop him. And since these stories are all done-in-ones, it probably won’t surprise you to find out they do. It’s not the end point that’s interesting here though, it’s the way we get there, and how Gorilla Man and Wolverine get along.

Sweetening the deal are two classic (that is, “old”) Golden Age stories of the first appearance of Namora and Venus. Neither are very good reads (or are credited to any writers or artists in particular), but they are kind of interesting. I dig Namor’s old costume, and the crazy perspectives and strange lettering of Namora’s story, and Venus’ story seems like a Golden Age precursor to a magical girl shojo. And while I’ve never worked within the magazine industry proper in any capacity beyond doing a few interviews and writing a few articles in my underwear in my apartment and emailing them to editors, I’m pretty sure it can’t possibly be as insane as those last two pages of this story imply that it is. Imagine the office politics parts of 13 Going on 30 or The Devil Wears Prada fused with Golden Age Wonder Woman stories (with all the superhero/action-adventure bits sucked out) and you’ll have a pretty good idea how crazy this story is. (Any Marvel writers in the reading audience can feel free to pitch your contacts at the House of Ideas a new Venus miniseries that’s The Devil Wears Prada-meets-Wonder Woman. I don’t mind).

Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil #4 (DC) As excited as I was to read this story, it was also incredibly depressing. With this issue done, we’re back to the only Captain Marvel stories on the stands being those produced by Judd Winick in Trials of…, which is a farther departure from the Marvel mythos than most Elseworlds featuring the characters, and Countdown, in which we can see a buxom, tarted-up Mary Marvel in black leather being all, I believe the term is, “ebil.” Jeff Smith brings his miniseries to a conclusion, one which promises the potential for future adventures, but if there’s more Smith Shazam to come, it’s not been announced, or even rumored. I was kind of surprised, and even a little disappointed, at Smith’s version of Mr. Mind. He looks pretty cool, and retains his size and radio (sorta), but the current DCU version (pre-cocoon) designed by Jerry Ordaway is actually superior; he kept the eyeglasses-like look by giving his Mr. Mind bulging wide eyes, for a character that was evil, but silly evil. Smith’s Mind just looks evil, and the revelation that he’s just a worm doesn’t really seem a surprise to anyone, as it was at the end of the original “Monster Society” epic. Speaking of which, I still want a new trade collection, DC.

The Spirit #8 (DC) Darwyn Cooke cooks up a brilliant set-up for this issue’s adventure, one which leads to some tense suspense and some great comedy. I just hope I’ll be able to look at the Spirit again someday without thinking of him as “Mr. Sexypants.”

Super-Villain Team-Up/M.O.D.O.K.’s 11 #1 (Marvel) Marvel makes it’s first real attempt to capitalize on M.O.D.O.K.’s newfound, unexpected and yet irresistible popularity among fans, a popularity owed entirely to the Internet and comics blogs (You’re welcome, Marvel). Will it prove a success? Honestly, I don’t see how it couldn’t. You’ve got Fred Van Lente, who, in addition to a lot of Marvel work I haven’t read, has given the world Action Phiolosophers! (Thanks, Fred!). You’ve got Eric Powell on the cover. You’ve got an Ocean’s Eleven/heist flick homage/parody thing going. And, just in case a giant-headed, acronym-named, kind of a dick, crazy-ass Marvel villain isn’t enough of a draw, you’ve got what I presume must be ten or eleven more crazy-ass Marvel characters, including in this issue The Armadillo, Mentallo, Puma, Spot, Living Laser and Rocket freaking Racer.

The actual plot, whatever it is, has yet to begin. Van Lente hasn’t gotten to the mastermind-lays-out-the-heist-plan portion yet, with this issue focusing on introducing several of the players and gathering them together. The art come courtesy of Francis Portela and Terry Pallot. I wouldn’t have minded a more cartoony take, given the inherent silliness of the characters involved, but Portela’s more representational style works well too, contrasting that silliness with the real world that makes it silly.

Ultimate Spider-Man #111 (Marvel) Wow, it’s quite a week for Spot fans. Not only does he appear in Super-Villain Team-Up, but the Ultimate version of the character makes his first appearance in USM. While it was nice to see him there, and an interesting use of him (appearing, but in a story that doesn’t actually have anything to do with him), Brian Michael Bendis’ attempts to make him seem a little less lame, explaining the character’s powers as scientifically as possible, describing his look as a sort of human lava lamp, with the spots moving all over him, seems to dampen the stupid, stupid appeal of the character—he’s essentially a cartoon character, covered in “portable holes.”

Of course, Ultimate Spot isn’t the focus of this issue, a long, emotional, well-written conversation between Aunt May and Peter Parker about his double-life as Spider-Man. I think Bendis absolutely nailed it, and I find it fascinating that he had her discover the secret so early in this Spider-Man’s fictional carrer (Relatively speaking, of course; we are past the 100 issue mark now, but the “616” Spider-Man kept his Aunt May in the dark, for, what, almost 40 years?). I think this book has long been Bendis at his very best, and this issue struck me as one of his better ones in recent memory, returning to the relationships between two of the core characters after several arcs focusing on guest-stars. I actually started to tear up a little when May gave Peter her answer as to whether he should leave her house or not, and Bendis perfectly nailed both the appeal and the tragedy of working at a newspaper in a few sentences, the latter in Peter’s mention of “[I]t’s this hub of information for me. Anything going on in the city…anything. And the paper knows about it in two seconds,” and the latter in “[A]nd smart people arguing about morals and ethics and integrity that most of them feel they have to not live by, or the paper will fold.” That’s pretty much the plight of the American newspaper at the dawn of the 21st century, right there. It’s really issues like this that make me wish Bendis would dump half of his titles to focus on two or three. I for one wouldn’t mind someone else writing his Avengers books and Marvel’s Halo tie-in if it meant USM could always be this good, and Bendis could pump out another monthly book just as could.

Actually, the May/Peter conversation isn’t the most important thing about this particular ssue either. No, after 110 issues, this is Mark Bagley’s last as penciler. I’m really sorry to see him go, and would prefer he just stay on this title for, you know, ever, but at the same time I could understand his desire to never have to draw Peter Parker’s hair again his whole life. His replacement is Stuart Immonen, whose chameleonic style has made it hard for me to decide how good a fit he’ll be. I didn’t like his Ultimate X-Men one bit, for example, but loved his Nextwave. Marvel eases him in, here, as Bagley draws the May/Peter scenes, while a flashback to a Spider-Man/Spot fight is drawn by Immonen. He certainly seems to nail Peter, but I don’t think he’s quite gotten Spidey yet. His Spider-Man looks like full-grown adult Spidey, whereas Bagley’s always had a kind of extra boulbous head and skinny little build thing going on.

World War Hulk #2 (Marvel) I found myself thinking a lot about two particular things I’ve read on the Internet this week in between the panels of World War Hulk. The first was Brian Cronin’s Comics Should Be Good post abouthow Chuck Austen’s writing style presaged the way both Marvel and DC have started seeing most of their big stories written*. And the other was this must-read post from Tom Brevoort about Mark Millar’s initial pitch for Civil War, complete with notes from Brevoort and Joe Quesada**.

Reading them both back to back, it seems pretty clear that Millar’s Civil War was at least formulated using Cronin’s formula attributed to Austen, that of “I want C (plot) to happen, and I want B (inciting incident) to be the cause, and I will change A (character) however I have to make that happen.” Millar’s pitch is full of things like, “a friend of Speedball’s” or “some hero, maybe Speedball” and “Happy Hogan’s son, if he has one.” And that what Millar had initially envisioned was meant to be totally awesome, not “Cap surfing on a jet” awesome, but awesome-awesome: “We also have some great set-pieces like Iron Man, Giant Man and so on capturing and taking down guys like the Ghost Rider,” Millar writes. “This should be shameless; every trick in the book. It should be a fan-boy orgasm and we should love every minute of it…”

Looking back, I don’t remember any great set-pieces in Civil War, and of the only real “Holy Shit!!!” moments I can think of in the series proper, it seems one was a fake out (Thor’s back…and he’s pissed!) and the other was, according to this, Brevoort’s suggestion (Spidey publicly unmasking).

What’s this have to do with World War Hulk? Well, thus far, this is a series that is actually delivering all those shameless, “fan-boy orgasm” moments. In just this issue, there are several times where writer Greg Pak and penciler John Romita Jr. give up splash pages and/or panels to big moments of Marvel characters doing big, impressive things, iconic-looking panels you can just drink in while the eight-year-old in the back of your head gasps with delight. Dr. Strange getting a full page to cast a spell, Hulk pounding the pavement on the very next page, The Thing and Hulk trading punches, the Human Torch going nova on the Hulk, and two whole pages of General Ross posing in front of a New York sky full of helicopters.

And yet, Pak isn’t just changing characters to make the plot happen as he wants. If the Hulk we know and love, be it from reading comics featuring him for decades or if this is our second Hulk comic, really came to New York threatening to pulp a cadre of big Marvel heroes, and anyone who stood in his way, wouldn’t Rick Jones show up to try to talk sense to the Hulk? Wouldn’t She-Hulk try to make peace? Yes, yes they would. Pak knows that, and he puts it all in there.

Even his Hulk, who seems to have sufficient motivation to want to do all this smashing, here seems to be given further motivation. Listening to the way several of his Warbound cut him off and seem to speak for him, one wonders how much he’s being peer-pressured into some of this stuff.

Anyway, this is all just a roundabout way of saying that World War Hulk seems to be Civil War done right. Giving us the Marvels at their most Marvelous, beating the crap out of each other, and doing so in a way that respects them as characters and doesn’t pretend to need a fig-leaf of real world relevance in an attempt to make us feel less-guilty for enjoying a supposedly “guilty” pleasure (You’ll notice a lack of mentions to post-9/11 politics and the liberty vs. security debate in Millar’s pitch).

*And I should note that I’ve actually read very few Austen comics. I quit his “Pain of the Gods” JLA arc halfway through, one of only three times I’ve dropped a Justice League ongoing, and I read a few issues of his Action Comics run, which I didn’t like much, and some of his X-Men in trade, which didn’t seem any worse to me than a lot of the X-Men comics I’ve read in trades. So I can’t personally vouch for how accurate the theory presented at CSBG is regarding Austen acting as forerunner to stuff like Amazons Attack and Civil War, but the event/story-creation-as-math-equation part seems dead-on, whatever the origin.

**About which I’d just like to say that Millar’s impulses all seem to be good ones (even the Hulk Babies which, would be a neat visual and tough challenge for our heroes, although the thought of Hulk sleeping his way through an alien harem seems fine for Ultimate Hulk, for whom his unleashed Id is sometimes manifested in a sexual way, but very, very wrong for our Hulk), and the story sounds a lot better at the pitch stage than it turned out. There are plenty of scenes described within that never materialized in the miniseries itself, and Millar’s pitch seemed to be a much longer, more action-packed tale than the one we got. I can’t help but wonder how much an artist who was both fast and good, like, say, John Romita Jr. or Mark Bagley, and/or an accelerated publishing schedule (12 issues bi-weekly, for example) would have helped the book.


Anonymous said...

Just finished Ultimate Spidey 111 and I really misted up at the end. Then I had a "Wonder what Caleb thought" and checked the blog to find that you were on the verge of tears, too (sissy!). Are comics really allowed to be this powerful?

Anonymous said...

Just finished Ultimate Spidey 111 and I really misted up at the end. Then I had a "Wonder what Caleb thought" and checked the blog to find that you were on the verge of tears, too (sissy!). Are comics really allowed to be this powerful?

Anonymous said...

Just finished Ultimate Spidey 111 and I really misted up at the end. Then I had a "Wonder what Caleb thought" and checked the blog to find that you were on the verge of tears, too (sissy!). Are comics really allowed to be this powerful?

Anonymous said...

Just finished Ultimate Spidey 111 and I really misted up at the end. Then I had a "Wonder what Caleb thought" and checked the blog to find that you were on the verge of tears, too (sissy!). Are comics really allowed to be this powerful?