Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Weekly Haul: July 25th
All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #6 (DC Comics)
Number of times the phrase “Goddam Batman” was used: 4
Number of times the phrase “Love Chunks” was used: 1
Number of months since the last issue saw release: 2
As the above stats should show, this book remains pretty awesome, and the scheduling difficulties seem to be (at least temporarily) under control. Based on these last two issues, for example, the schedule now seems to be bimonthly, same as All-Star Superman. Bravo, DC.
Sadly, there’s nothing here to top or even compete with the delirious scene of last issue’s Justice League intro, with its man-hating, Superman-making-out-with Wonder Woman, and the pace remains interminably slow (particularly when compared to that of the other All-Star book, which has almost always had a complete story in each single issue). But we still have a “Year One” era Bataman who seems to be completely around the bend, we have the introduction of Batgirl, we have an apparently Irish (?) Black Canary’s first night on the job, and we get to see a sweaty Jimmy Olsen trying not to sneak a peek at Vicki Vale while she changes clothes in front of him.
God I love this book.
In fact, I love it so much that I’m not even going to complain about the fact that Batgirl has Robin symbols on her charm chains on the cover, despite the fact that Robin doesn’t even exist yet.
Batman #666 (DC) The Grant Morrison/Andy Kubert Batman book is an incredibly frustrating read. Individually, each of them nail the Batman, creating a story world that seems familiar enough to feel “right,” while putting their own distinctive stamps on it. And they work well together, their work complimenting one another quite nicely. It’s not hard to imagine the team, if they put in enough time, becoming one of the great Batman creative teams. But that’s not going to happen, as their every storyline together is separated by a fill-in and/or delays, and the effect of seeing that much potentia,l and seeing it unable to be applied to a monthly comic book, is not unlike watching a catch slip through the fingers of an athlete at a particularly important part of the game.
In slow motion.
That said, this one-issue story, set in a possible future that will never actually occur, is a lot of harmless fun, even thought it exists in something of a bubble; we know it’s going to have little to no impact on future Batman stories, just as whatever momentum the Morrison/Kubert team is building up here will be lost on a three-part arc drawn by J. H. Williams.
Capitalizing on the anniversary issue of sorts, Morrison retells the story from the first issue of his own run—the real Batman faces a fake, villainous Batman claiming to be the real one—and infuses it with plenty of Satanism (This is, after all, the six-hundrend-and-sixty-sixth issue of Batman). In the future, Damian Wayne, son of Bruce Wayne and Talia, will take the mantle of the Bat and defend Gotham from crime and evil, taking on all comers, including a Batman who has done a deal with the devil and claims to be the anti-Christ (and that walking on water bit is pretty convincing).
Kubert’s designs are a lot of fun, from Damian’s Bat-costume and Batmobile to the looks of the Rogue’s Gallery, the creation of which Morrison went all out with. Some get little more than a mention, but instead of the usual method of futurizing Bat-villains (making the Joker a computer virus or cyborg, for example), Morrison sketches out names and M.O.s that sound like naturally occurring Bat-villains. We’ve got Dr. Pyg (who turns real people into murder-dolls), Candyman, Phosphorus Rex, Loveless, Max Roboto, The Weasel, The Flamingo and, my personal favorite, Jackanapes (Because the only thing scarier than a gorilla is an intelligent gorilla…and the only thing scarier than that is an evil, murderous intelligent gorilla with a machine gun and a meat cleaver…and the only thing scarier than that is an evil, murderous intelligent gorilla with a machine gun and a meat cleaver dressed like a clown!)
What we get of real relevance is only the origin of Damian, and Morrison continuing to explore the concept of different versions of Batman (perhaps not coincidentally, the same thing he’s doing in All-Star Superman with the other pillar of the DCU). Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of juicy hints of big, epic storylines that only exist in our imagination, like the Batman of the future’s own Knightfall, -quest and -end hyper-compressed into just 22 pages.
Black Summer #1 (Avatar Press) If you read every single thing I write and have an excellent memory, then you may recall that in my review of the first issue of Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp’s Black Summer , I said that it just didn’t seem political enough, and, on a purely political level, it was kinda toothless, as it sought to weave a story about a superhuman assassinating President Bush without actually offending anyone. Well, this issue is even less political, as the focus shifts to brutal plainclothes superhuman combat along the lines of something out of The Boys, and a little about the origins of the super-team here, which seems a little like Ellis’ own Authority, who were just a butched-up version of his own Stormwatch, who were a butched-up version of the Justice League model of superteams. With the presidential assassination temporarily removed from the script then, what we’re left with in this particular installment is awfully derivative. I’m going to stick around to see what happens when Ellis circles back to the engine driving this thing, but so far I’m less than enthusiastic with the series. I do like Ryp’s hyper-detailed art though, and Ellis gets off some interesting science babble as it applies to superpowers.
Doktor Sleepless #1 (Avatar) There are some brilliant comics writers who have produced some of my favorite comics whom I literally can’t see enough new books from, like Grant Morrison and um…okay, maybe just Grant Morrison. And then there are some brilliant comics writers who have produced some of my favorite comics that I could stand to see a lot less of, like Neil Gaiman, who, as infrequently as he writes comics these days, doesn’t always bring his A-game (see 1602, The Eternals), or Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis, who seem to have two new series out a month or so, and whose characters and dialogue all start to rung together in a rather unpleasant way. Ellis, for example, has three new books out this week, all from Avatar. This is one of them, which I bought pretty much solely on the strength of Ellis’ name. That’s usually enough to get me to buy a first issue, if not a second one and, honestly, I can’t imagine bothering with a second issue of Doktor Sleepless.
The subtitle says “Future Science Jesus,” and the first page or so sets the good doctor-with-a-K up as some sort of performance artist-cum-messiah adopting a character to speak truth to power in a nondescript city sometime in the near future. There’s an easier way to describe it though. Imagine Transmetropolitan, only instead of being a journalist, Spider Jerusalem is a superhero pretending to be a mad scientist, and instead of Darick Robertson drawing it, Ellis pairs with someone who’s not really very good at all. (Nothing personal, Ivan Rodriguez).
Ellis makes a very interesting point about the future and the way it unfolds in our day to day lives, and there’s a handful of very clever concepts for aspects of technology in here—things that seem both fantastic and yet realistic at the same time—but the title character and his filthy assistant seem a little too familiar, and the art doesn’t do a terribly good job of communicating the world of today, or the world of tomorrow, or the world of today plus little bits of tomorrow. It just looks like the world of a not very good comic book, and who wants to visit a world like that?
Green Arrow: Year One #2 (DC) Man, Andy Diggle and Jock are just flying through this origin. This second issue seems to sum up the entire survialist-on-the-island portion of Oliver Queen’s origin, with this issue ending with some criminals turning up in a vehicle and Ollie fighting them, which, if you know the story, is where the island time ends. Given how little drama there is to this thing already—I mean, we all know Ollie’s not going to die on the island and will eventually become Green Arrow—I was a little surprised how they sort of gloss over the time on the island. We see Ollie take up archery to survive, and even see him putting together a green hood and green feathers for his arrows, but unlike other similar hero origin stories like, say, The Lone Ranger, which used that very lack of drama to add import to the inevitability and make each filled-in blank ring with operatic significance, GA:YO is making some strange subject matter choices. There are roughly 400 million comics in which I can see Oliver Queen shoot at criminals with a bow and arrow, but only a handful in which I can seem him struggling to survive on a desert island, and this is supposed to be the definitive one for that, you know? Still great-looking and tersely written, just not the comic I was hoping it would be.
JSA: Classified #28 (DC) Much like JLA: Classified, this book seems to have taken a real nosedive in terms of essentiality from when it was first launched. I haven’t been regularly reading it since the third story arc wrapped, as it was followed by a series of stories featuring, for the most part, characters I wasn’t interested in by creators I wasn’t interested in. This one, however, I was all over. I really like Jakeem Thunder and the Thunderbolt (apparently more than the logo designer, who struggles to get all that under the book’s logo in an appealing fasion); part of that is holdover from always liking Johnny and his Thunderbolt, part of that is liking the crazy-ass JLA which introduced Jakeem (and redefined the nature of the T-Bolt) and part of it is that Geoff Johns has managed to do some fairly good stuff with Jakeem since inheriting the JSA. I probably would have picked this up for the stars alone, but I was spurred along by Steve Uy’s beautiful anime-like art (the style of the figures seems manga-esque in design, and the colors all bright, airy and full of light, like they were clipped from cel animation and set over fully painted storyboards) and the fact that Jakeem and the T-Bolt have been MIA from JSoA since the relaunch.
Fabian Nicieza writes a very nice done-in-one focusing on Jakeem, probably the JSA’s most powerful member, learning a valuable lesson about that doesn’t come off as too preachy (The whole reason this iteration of the JSA exists, after all, is to teach young heroes like Jakeem and Stargirl how to be good heroes). Alan Scott, Stargirl and Ma Hunkle also appear, and this is the first time in a long time I can remember any of the elder statesmen in the JSA actually acting as a mentor for one of the younger heroes, and certainly the first time in a long time I’ve seen any interaction between Courtney and Jakeem, two characters who play off one another very well. (My favorite issue of Johns’ JSA run, and, I think, his best-written issue is, oddly enough, the Joker’s Last Laught tie-in, which co-starred the pair).
The Mighty Avengers #4 (Marvel) You’re probably going to want to own this book, as it is one of the most awesome Marvel books I’ve read in—well, at least a week. What makes it so awesome? It’s not the Frank Cho art or the thought bubbles or the naked lady with metallic paint over her nipples or even what appears to be the SHOCKING MAJOR DEATH of that one lady who I guess is married to that one guy I don’t really know much about.
No, it’s awesome because of this panel right here:
Go ahead, click on it. Enlarge it. Contemplate it. Yes, that is indeed the Greek god of war and current Avenger Ares firing the bottom half of a set of Iron Man armor like a gun. And no, I’m not going to make a joke about the trigger he’s pulling there. I’m just going to note that this may be the gayest thing I’ve ever seen in a superhero comic, and that it’s the second time this year that Brian Michael Bendis has written a scene revolving around superhero genitals in an Avengers comic book that completely blew my mind.
And I suppose I should point out that the panel above takes place at the climax of a positively Nextwave-ian two-page scene in which Ares jumps from Iron Man armor to Iron Man armor, eventually straddling one and riding it while firing his improvised Iron Man nether region rifle.
Multiple Warheads #1 (Oni Press) My favorite story in Brandon Graham’s Alternative Comics anthology Escalator is the one about the organ smuggler with the two-tone hair named Sexica who sewed a wolf’s dick onto her boyfriend, turning him into a two-dicked werewolf, which Graham’s prose intro said was a sort of sequel to an NBM porn comic called “Multiple Warheadz.” I was never able to track the NBM story down, but I love the design of these characters, the world that Graham’s short story suggested existed around them, and the elegant, straightforward way Graham wrote about them, with lines that sound like deadpan jokes (“When Nikoli became a werewolf, he changed.”) Well, this a brand-new story featuring those same characters, and with King City Vol. 1 having seen release between Escalator and this, I’m sincerely hoping Graham’s awesomeness will have a much bigger and more receptive audience waiting for it this time around it because, damn, the dude deserves it. We’ll probably take a closer look at some of the particularly awesome bits of awesomeness within this particular book at some point in the near future, but suffice it to say that there is a great bit of design on every single page, there’s a beautiful girl with great hair and clothes, there’s a neat looking guy with hair that moves like animal ears, there’s a talking dream wolf with a sharp snout and baby on its back, a giant killer snake, an alien organ dealer, a sex scene, a genius car and a book-within-the-comic-book which sounds like something you’d really like to read. Trust me, this is $5.99 well spent.
Red Sonja #24 (Dynamite Entertainment) I know I probably seem like a pretty picky reader, always complaining about or demanding something or other from my comics, but I’m actually an extremely easy guy to sell a comic book too.
For example, I dropped Dynamite’s Red Sonja after only about three or so issues, since Dark Horse’s Conan was already filling my quota of Robert E. Howard-inspired barbarian stories and there’s just something off-putting about a book with four or five different covers per issue (Honestly, how do regular Red Sonja readers even keep track of which issues they already have, when every month there’s a good half dozen interchangeable images of Red Sonja killing a snake with a sword by different artist on the racks?)
Despite missing the last 20 issues or so, the cover image here was enough to get me to buy the book. Is that a monster whale with glowing red eyes and sharp, carnivorous teeth I see? Yes, yes it is. A flip through showed a substantial amount of monster whale fighting—
—so onto my stack it went.
Having now read it, I’m not really sure I’m happy with the purchase. Michael Avon Oeming’s scripts haven’t gotten any better since the last time I checked in on the book (there’s nothing wrong with them of course, they’re just not great), and relatively little seemed to happen, certainly nothing of consequence to a reader who doesn’t know all the players.
Still, there is a monster whale. And Sonja kills it with a spear, leading to a geyser of blood erupting in her face. That’s pretty cool.
Showcase Presents: Martian Manhunter Vol. 1 (DC) Okay, you got me, I didn’t actually read this yet, so I don’t have a proper review for it, and probably never will (I’m still way back on War That Time Forgot, and still have Brave and the Bold, two volumes of Superman and Batman and a Batgirl to read yet). I did want to point out that this was released on the same day as a trade edition of that recent eight-part godawful Martian Manhunter series that few people read and nobody seemed to like. I’m really surprised to see it even get a trade collection, actually. The first issue sold 41, 263 copies, but by the second it had dropped to 32, 624, and by the third it was in the twenty-thousands, the eight issue moving only 22, 185 copies. So, it sold poorly, was reviewed poorly, and featured a radical new design for the character that was like nothing previous in his decades long print history and years-long cartoon history. DC seems to be just publishing trades of everything now, whether they’re likely to be things people in the book store market would potentially be at all interested in or not. (Not a single issue of John Ostrander/Tom Mandrake’s Martian Manhunter monthly is available in trade, despite the fact that it’s a pretty good series, and one which features a look and direction for the character that’s consistent with his appearances in JLA and elsewhere…anyone who comes to Morrison/Porter/Dell’s JLA in trade and devours it is going to likely also enjoy the JLA/Malefic story arc of Ostrander/Mandrak’s series, whereas this new trade will likely burn their eyes and hands).
Anyway, for $19.99, you can get Martian Manhunter: The Others Among Us, a 208-page trade featuring the eight-issue miniseries by A.J. Lieberman, Al Barrionuevo and Bit (Which actually doesn’t sound right at all; eight 22-page issues is only 176 pages…even if you add in the eight-page Brave New World preview, that’s still a long way from 208. Hmm…)
Or, for $16.99 you can get the 544-page Showcase Presents volume which, yeah, is technically non-continuity, but actually is a lot more like the J’onn J”onnz you likely know and love from any of the Justice League incarnations than the one in Others Among Us. I mean, the Showcase J’onn just has pupils and eyebrows. The Others one has a papaya-shaped head, pointy-ears, a Skrull chin, a weird skintight body suit and a bad attitude.
Superman #665 (DC) Truly, these are good days to be a Jimmy Olsen fan. We’ve got affordably priced trades like Showcase Presents: Superman Family Vol. 1 and The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen, we’ve got a Jack Kirby omnibus program which will eventually reprint all of Kirby’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen comics, Olsen is front and center of DC’s current big crossover/unreadable mess, and both Action and Superman are completely focused on Jimmy at the moment. I only bought five DC comics this week, and Jimmy was in two of them. I don’t really know where I’m going with all of this, except to say, “Wow, that’s a lot of Jimmy Olsen!” And that is, as far as I’m concerned, a good thing. Because not only is Jimmy Olsen the Patron Saint of Comics Bloggers, he is awesome.
This issue of Superman stars, as Jimmy himself informs Superman and Lois on the cover, Jimmy and is, in fact, his secret origin. It’s written by Kurt Busiek, who acquits himself quite nicely, explaining exactly in a way that is both logical and emotionally satisfying who Jimmy is, who his parents are, how he came to work at a major metropolitan newspaper despite only being a teenager, and exactly how and why he and Superman came to be pals (Confession: I got a little choked up at the end there).
That said, there was absolutely no reason to tell this story, and as much as I’m always in favor of more Jimmy Olsen stories in general, this is one I don’t really see any need for. Ready for a tangent?
Now, if you watch me closely, you’ll probably notice me complaining about the silliness of the depiction of The Daily Planet. In Jimmy’s Silver Age heyday, it was depicted as an influential company that seemed to work on children’s daydream logic. There seemed to be exactly four employees, each of whom had access to the company helicopter at all times, each of whom had no specific beat, and each of whom only seemed to write stories about themselves. Seriously, 90% of Daily Planet headlines seem to be about Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen solving a crime, with the other 10% devoted to covering Superman’s exploits. In modern Superman stories, the operation of the Planet is now taken as seriously as all other aspects of superhero comics, which draws attention to the fantasy elements more, and make them stand out as mistakes.
For example, you wouldn’t question why Lois seemed to be on the Superman beat and the mad scientist beat and a movie critic and a gossip columnist and crime reporter back in the day because, Jesus, how come this teenager lives alone, is a reporter, time travels or transforms twice a week and is a world-famous celebrity for being pals with Superman?
Now in the Post-Crisis (on Infinite Earths), post-grim and gritty ‘80s when realism is king, even in superhero comics, now that Lois and Clark have beats and go to meetings and so forth, well, the fact that Perry White smokes a cigar all the time inside his big city newspaper office, or that Lois sometimes wears lingerie or club wear to the office stands out as off. So now Jimmy Olsen can’t just be a teenage reporter who lives alone, has a helicopter pilot’s license and a creepy shrine to Superman in his apartment. Who he is and how he came to be has to be explained to us.
And here’s Busiek, explaining it. Like I said, he does a fine job, but I think grounding Jimmy so thoroughly in realism, sucking all the mystery out of him, just kind of dampens that which is most exciting about him in the first place (I should note that this isn’t a modern phenomenon either; I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a single Jimmy Olsen subplot in the Superman books since their Post-Crisis reboot…certainly not as much as any of those genius Silver Age stories, or that one issue of All-Star Superman, which reinvented Jimmy using his Silver Age self as a template).
The art comes courtesy penciler Rick Leonardi and inker Ande Parks and it’s not pretty at all, a fact that sticks out especially given the nature of the art in the current Superman books and the older ones in which Jimmy and the Perry would have figured so prominently. Leonardi’s figures are chunky and expressionistic, their designs shifting greatly from panel to panel, and whatever it’s relative charms, it seems wrong for this story (or the Superman books at a time when their look is mainly being defined by Carlos Pacheco and Adam Kubert’s fill-in artists).
One final thing about this issue of Superman and I promise I’ll shut up about Jimmy Olsen for a while. I scanned the actual cover of the book because, with the logos and text added, it’s actually quite different than the image that was solicited, even though the art itself is the exact same. The original has Jimmy’s t-shirt blank, which itself is kinda clever since, unlike Clark Kent, whose pose he’s stealing, Jimmy’s just Jimmy, and not really a superhero with a superhero costume to reveal when pulling off his outer shirt.
Somewhere along the line someone decided to put the word “Countdown” on it, which is pretty lame. Not only because it kills the visual gag of the original, but because if you were going to put some kind of metatextual joke on the cover, in which Jimmy is wearing a shirt bearing the logo of another series he’s in on the cover of this book, why didn’t they just put Jimmy Olsen in the official Jimmy Olsen/Countdown shirt?