Thursday, July 05, 2007

Weekly Haul: July 5th

Action Comics #851 (DC Comics) Part something-or-other in that occasionally published story about the Phantom Zone invasion and Superman adopting a kid, by the delaytastic team of Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Adam Kubert. The art is fine, though it’s hard to see what took so long, particularly near the end of the book, where the backgrounds completely disappear (and where Kubert’s Bizarro looks just awful; probably didn’t help that I just finished reading a book full of Frank Quitely drawn Bizarros before reading this one). There’s a surprising amount of seen-it-all-before-ism emanating from the pages of the book; it’s not just that this is Post-Crisis (On Infinite Earths) General Zod version 5.0 or so, but the whole invasion from Krypton seems overly familiar to Birthright (and stories from the Superman cartoon…and the comic book based on the cartoon), and the teaming-up-with-Luthor-to-fight-a-common-enemy bit recalls Final Night, Our Worlds at War and a previous battle with a previous version of Zod (the one where the sun turned red? Shortly before the Super-books gave way to Infinite Crisis groundwork?). Finally, the last panel on page six brings up one of the several things I’d prefer not to read about in my mainstream, monthly, DCU-line superhero books, particularly ones with Superman on the cover.

I don’t mean to sound old-fashioned here, and I certainly don’t think the subject should be off-limits in comics or anything, but considering DC’s other imprints to offer them, if Donner and Johns really have a serious story to tell about child abuse, they probably ought to do it via an imprint that will reach their desired audience and avoid those looking instead for light escapism (i.e. everyone who reads Action Comics). Of course, if they had a serious story to tell about child abuse, I don’t think placing it amidst a narrative involving Bizarro, the Phantom Zone, colored kryptonites and Daxamite lead-poisoning is necessarily the best place for it.

All-Star Superman #8 (DC) Let’s see, we’ve got Superman stranded on Bizarro World with Bizarro-Superman, Zibarro the Bizarro-Bizarro, the Bizarro Justice League, Bizarrotropolis, and the Bizarro national anthem. Yes, this is pretty much a perfect comic book. While I love the backwards, funny version of Bizarro (not the mean, caveman version of Justice and the on-again, off-again Action Comics story arc by Donner and Johns), it’s the inclusion of Zibarro trying to talk Superman out of lowering himself to the Bizarros’ level by speaking opposite that really makes this story.

Detective Comics #834 (DC) Despite the strong start last issue, writer Paul Dini’s first multi-issue storyline in ‘TEC falls a little flat in the resolution. Batman and Zatanna escape their respective death traps, track down the Joker and capture him. There’s nothing terribly original in the execution (though Dini does have a way with Joker dialogue), and the most interesting story seems to be the one we have summarized in flashback by the Joker, not the one Dini’s telling. Joker taking on an apprentice out of complete desperation? A magician gradually working a grand guignol flavor into his act, and then taking it to the next level and actually killing people in his act? That seems more inspired then Batman vs. Joker fight #621.

The resolution of the animosity between Zatanna and Batman over Identity Crisis rang incredibly false, too, the work of a writer who apparently read IC, but didn’t suffer through the rest of the Identity Crisis to Infinite Crisis period of DC Comics. (Uh oh, more Identity Crisis bile rumbling to the surface—skip ahead to the next review if you don’t want to listen to my biweekly rant about IC.)

It wasn’t simply “an error in judgment,” as you call it here, Batman.

Zatanna didn’t just wipe your memory and try behavior modification magic on Dr. Light, man. She also tried behavior modification on The Top, protected all of the Power Pact’s memories of these events from Martian Manhunter, and turned Selina Kyle, your former girlfriend, into a good guy. And she kept it all secret from you for a period of…well, years. These events altered your personality on a subconscious level so that you were extremely paranoid of your fellow Leaguers, so paranoid that you eventually created a super-satellite that was hijacked by others and used as a tool to kill allies of yours like Rocket Red.

The fact of the matter is that Batman should be pissed at the Power Pact forever, and this story seemed to gloss over the (admittedly stupid) plot points raised by Identity Crisis and other writers’ extrapolations of them. It’s not Dini’s fault that Brad Meltzer opened a can of maggots and sprinkled them on the DCU to feast on its corpse, and that so many other writers have devoted time to chronicling that corruption, but Dini at least has to honor it, as do all the writers going forward. That’s why when you run a fictional universe like the DCU or Marvel Universe, you need to be awfully careful about retroactively altering history in such dramatic ways.

Batman: Ego and Other Tales (DC) I already own every story in this collection save Batman: Ego, which I’ve been looking for in back issue bins for quite a while now, but I broke down and bought this book collecting just about every Bat- or Cat- story Darwyn Cooke was written, drawn or written and drawn for $24.99 anyway (and Selina’s Big Score was previously released in an expensive hardcover of it’s own). Why? Because I’m a sap, that’s why. If you don’t have or haven’t read the two graphic novels and sundry Solos and Bat-thologies the short stories are culled from, then you’re required to buy and read this. If you have read them all, and already own all or (in my case, most) of them, and you buy this for $25 bucks, you’re a sap. But don’t worry, you’re in good company, and there are certainly worst comics to have multiple editions of.

Creature From The Depths (Image Comics) I like comic books, I like Creature From the Black Lagoon, I like H. P. Lovecraft’s stories (particularly “Shadow Over Innsmouth”), and yet for some reason I didn’t really care for this one-shot comic book which appropriates the movie Creature’s design and imperiled bathing beauty scenario and plops it down in the waters around Innsmouth, with plenty of gore and over-obvious allusions to Lovecraft. Perhaps there's just too much allusion and not enough originality in idea or execution, or perhaps it's the straight-faced humorlessness of it—such appropriation is always easier to forgive when there's a wink involved.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #10 (Marvel Comics) Word on the street (and by “street” I mean “Internet”) is that the book is already cancelled, but it remains to be seen if it’s Thing cancelled or Spider-Girl cancelled. This issue ought to help goose sales at least a bit, given that there’s a big, green “World War Hulk” banner across the top, and the cover consists of a Hulk headshot, with our hero climbing out of the Jade Giant’s nose. The World War Hulk-ishness of the book is along the lines of the crossover with Wolverine’s “Enemy of the State” arc, or the Mighty Avengers crossover—which is to say, that it’s not much of one. As Manhattan evacuates, our hero—er, protagonist Eric puts up a front of trying to stop the Hulk by taking a fantastic voyage into his stomach.

There are several funny moments, as there usually are, among them the sensational character find of 2007, the big, green Incredible Hulk Recap Ant who teams up with our regular re-cap ant to get us caught up on what came before in both this book and in the Hulk story arc. What’s most notable about the issue, however, is that bizarre product placement for Old Spice. It’s not just obvious, but ubiquitous—they might as well have wrote it into the story like the old Hostess fruit pie ads. I counted at least four Old Spice billboards in New York City (it’s been a while since I’ve been there, but surely it’s not the only thing advertised in NYC, is it?), plus Mitch has some prominently placed Old Spice-looking products (sans logos) in his bathroom when he does the dramatic punch-his-own-reflection thing, the Hulk’s stomach is full of Old Spice products for some reason, and hell, there’s even a panel where the reflection in Ant-Man’s eyes forms the Old Spice boat (last panel on page 13). Page nine, the scene where Hulk explodes through a building? Look what’s in the lower left hand corner of the panel, amid a cloud of orange dust and some building rubble. That’s right. Old Spice.

Last fall I got used to an insane amount of advertising in my Marvels, and ever since I’ve been reading Marvel I’ve been bombarded by weird-ass ads for things I can’t imagine anyone buying ever (Spider-Man brand fishing rods, for example), but now they’re actually drawn into every single page? Wow. There’s more I’d like to say about this, but I think it will have to wait till later. I’m not sure why, but I’m suddenly not so confident in my freshness, and feel like I need a shower—preferably one with a body wash that will keep my skin smooth and that boasts eight-hour scent technology to keep me smelling great.

The New Avengers/The Transformers #1 (Marvel/IDW) It’s a comic book crossover so insane that I simply could not not buy it. Kudos to Marvel and IDW for coming up with a good idea to no doubt sell a lot of comics and make a lot of money, but I have to wonder what genius thought Jim Cheung should draw Captain America leaping around on the cover. I mean, if you have one set of movie stars meeting a group of characters that contains one who also has his own movie out this summer, shouldn’t you maybe ought to put that one on the cover? I mean, with Spider-Man and Optimus Prime on the cover, you’ve got two of the most heavily advertised and recognizable characters in American public consciousness this summer together. Isn’t that a little more appealing than Captain America?

As for the comic book itself, it’s incredibly disappointing, as these sorts of things almost always are (Of all the Transformers crossover comics I’ve read in my long life of reading every Transformers crossover comic available, the only ones I didn’t hate were the first Devil’s Due one in which Megatron served as Cobra Commander’s sidearm and talked to him and the World War II era G.I. Joe crossover).

Working pretty much by the numbers, writer Stuart Moore has the old New Avengers (Captain America’s still alive, Iron Man and Ms. Marvel aren’t trying to arrest everyone else on the team) journey to Latveria, where a mysterious metal fortress thing is sending out aggression waves pushing the fictional country to the brink of war with the fictional country bordering it.

That fictional country is a nuclear power, by the way, and I found it odd that Captain America’s revelation of this fact seemed to imply that Latveria isn’t. Considering the things Dr. Doom has built over the years, it seems like some nuclear bombs would be something he could whip up in an afternoon. Maybe he just never bothered with them because they seemed beneath him.

Anyway, the Decepticons seem to be behind the plan, and the Autobots are there to stop them. And by “The Autobots” I mean the G1 versions of Prime, Jazz, Bumblebee, Ratchet and Prowl, all of whom I find incredibly boring (Am I alone in my hatred of the G1 Autobots? Ever since I was seven years old, I’ve disliked every single one of them, with the possible exceptions of the Dinobots because, come on, they’re giant robots who are also dinosaurs. The Decepticons, on the other hand, are cool to a ‘bot. There are very few of the Decepticons whom I don’t find at least mildly awesome). The Avengers, affected by the aggression rays, see the Autobots and initiate a fight, which we’ll presumably see in #2 (And which, presumably, will take a panel or two. Ms. Marvel could mop these guys up by herself, can’t she? And I can’t imagine it taking too long for Wolverine to climb up their backs and cut off their heads. Fighting giant robots is pretty much all the X-Men ever do, right? When they’re not fighting real Sentinels, they’re in the Danger Room training to fight Sentinels).

Tyler Kirkham handles pencils. His Avengers are all fine, but he really falls down on the Transformers themselves, who look exactly like they do in the old cartoons or old Marvel Comics. Which is to say incredibly incongruous in a 21st century Marvel comic book.

But it’s the story that really let me down. It’s the old, original Marvel misunderstanding/fight/team-up formula trotted out, giving us a story in which the New Avengers seem like the New Avengers always do (well, did; remember, old New Avengers) and the Autobots seem like they always do. There are no steps taken to make it seem special, like this is the once in a lifetime mixing of two separate and distinct continuitiverses you never expected to intersect.

See, the thing that makes the Transformers cool isn’t just that they’re giant robots that turn into vehicles, it’s that they’re giant alien robots that turn into familiar aspects of our everyday, familiar world. And here they are in the Marvel Universe, which, unlike our own, is already a pretty fantastic place. If the Transformers are there for what we’ve got to assume is the only time ever, why not give us some Marvel versions of the Transformers? (This story can be Marvel continuity, but it can’t be Transformers continuity, because while alien robots in the Marvel Universe is no big deal really, a few thousand superheroes and villains in any of the Transformers universes pretty much nullifies the drama. The Hulk or Sentry could defeat all of the Decepticons solo).

So I wanted to see Autobots scanning and taking the forms of the Spider-Buggy and Fantasticar. I wanted to see Starscream disguised as the X-Men’s Blackbird, Thundercracker as an Avengers Quinjet, and maybe Megatron or Devastator as a SHIELD Helicarrier. I wanted to see Dinobots and Predacons in the Savage Land; Grimlock resembling Devil Dinosaur. I wouldn’t mind Unicron fighting Galactus one bit. Or Red Ronin being taken out of mothballs to fight against the invading giant robots.

But, perhaps more than anything, what I really wanted to see was Optimus Prime taking the one and only form in the Marvel Universe that really makes sense for him—U.S. 1!

Now, I don’t mean to come down on poor Moore like a ton of bricks here. For all I know, he was as excited about the possibility of injecting two clans of warring alien robots who disguise themselves as a world’s vehicles and major appliances being temporarily integrated into the Marvel Universe as I was, and he even had Optimus Prime teaming up with Ulysses Samson Archer in his original series proposal. If anyone’s to blame for this comic book series starting off listlessly headed in a dull direction, it’s the beast of carefully managed intercompany crossovers, and their tendency to play it as safe as possible, granting both franchises equal status and avoiding tweaking them in any way at all, no matter how awesome it would be if there was an Autobot whose car form was the Spider-Buggy.

Runaways #27 (Marvel) The team finds themselves stranded in the year 1907. Their only hope for returning to the present is to find a maguffin time-machine doodad. Meanwhile, the super-types of the turn-of-the-century U.S., called “Wonders” rather than Marvels, seem to be lining up for some sort of war, and both sides would like the powerful newcomers on their team. Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan continue to do a fine job filling Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s shoes on the title, though there’s nothing terribly remarkable about this particular installment, either good or bad. Well, nothing save the fact that there seems to be a 1907 version of The Punisher who goes by the name The Adjudicator, but we only get a single page of him, so maybe he’s not exactly what he seems.

Superman: The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen (DC) Well, here’s one good thing to come out of Countdown. That makes….let’s see…one. Now if DC could only find a way to have everybody pictured on the cover form their own super-team and get their own ongoing title, they’d really have something. I kinda like the ring of Superman and the Legion of Super-Jimmys.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eh, at least a couple of 'bots are class 100 or better.

It seems possible for them to hold off a couple Avengers for a bit.

Richards, Stark, Doom
even Pym
could probably take 'em all out with 1 deathray they built that weekend.

Don't mess with science.