Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Weekly Haul: August 8th
Batman #667 (DC Comics) Wow, and I thought DC was being daring when they brought back Ace the Bat-Hound and a new Batgirl! Writer Grant Morrison plunges into one of the goofiest aspects of Silver Age Batman this side of the giant Bat-a-rang ride, reintroducing the Batmen of Many Nations, the Club of Heroes. These international versions of Batman (and, in a few cases, Robin) reunite on a mysterious island for what is supposed to be a simple get-together, but ends up being a murder mystery, with each of them potential victims. Morrison sells the silliness of the original concept well enough that it seems to fit in the post-Crisis (on Infinite Earths) DCU just fine, and makes me like a couple of the character enough to hope they pull through (particularly The Knight and Squire, last seen being banished to an alternate universe in JLA: Classified #3) just so we can see more of them someday. The particulars of the initial murder are about as grisly as anything I've seen in a DC comic of late, but doesn't seem all that out of place in a Batman comic as in, say something in an issue of JLoA or a big crossover like Infinite Crisis or World War III. J.H. Williams III’s art? Great. It’s really too bad he wasn't the only artist working with Morrison on Batman. As much as I like both Kubert's work and Williams’, at this point the book seems more like an anthology one, which is too bad. Morrison's definitely got his own vision of Batman, his cast and his world, and it's unfortunate DC couldn't find a collaborator to similarly build consistent visuals.
Black Adam: The Dark Age #1 (DC) This seemed like a bad idea a few months ago. 52 contained about as long and as high-profile a storyline featuring Captain Marvel's third-worst enemy as could ever have been hoped for, and the operatic wringer the writers of that series put him through pretty much assured us that he would never be likable or redeemable as a protagonist again. Dude killed every singe person in Biayala—every man, every woman and every child. Death toll: Millions. That's more than the Joker. That's more than Hitler. That's more than the Joker plus Hitler. He's gone so far beyond anti-hero at this point that he would seem to be untouchable as a comic book star. But beyond that, the ending they wrote for the character—stripped of his powers and doomed to walk the earth forever, saying aloud each and every word until he finds the one that's magic—was so perfect, a touch of the mythic, and a touch of the sort of poetic justice that the pop mythology of comics do so well. It was the kind of ending you don't really want to mess with, and the taint the character took on getting to that ending seemed to indicate that there was no point in messing with it anyway.
I had these reservations before DC spoiled this miniseries in the pages of Countdown, and I mean spoiled not only in the sense that they prematurely revealed information best left secret, but also in the traditional sense of ruining something. As we saw in Countdown, Teth Adam was once again super-powered Black Adam, having learned his word, which I guess was "sorry," although when he invoked his powers, he actually said "Shazam,” the one word we knew couldn't possibly be his magic word.
All of which is a long way of saying this miniseries probably shouldn't exist, and I should have known better than to have bought it. But I do like Doug Mahnke's art quite a bit (despite his tendency to over-muscle his superheroes, his JLA run was great, and he actually did a fantastic job of "acting" through the characters), and wanted to give writer Peter J. Tomasi's first script as a full-tme freelance writer a chance, as I did like The Light Brigade a lot, and Tomasi did edit quite a few of my favorite DC series.
Having read it, the book still doesn't seem like a good idea. The JSoA are actively hunting Adam in the Middle East, which seems like an odd thing for them to be doing now—shouldn't they have been doing that at the end of the "missing year" (Adam went missing in it's fiftieth week, remember) instead of weeks or months later? And Adam isn't wandering the world seeking his word of power; instead, he's leading his few loyal followers in an attempt to restore Isis to life.
To his credit, Tomasi does a good job with keeping Black Adam a hiss-able bad guy, selfishly sending his followers to die for him so he can fulfill his mission, and he writes the voices of the various JSA members with flair. It was disconcerting to hear Ted Grant using ethnic epithets when referring to the Japanese and Germans for a moment, but it was also nice to hear someone writing the character as if he was actually born in the 1920's. Mahnke similarly acquits himself quite nicely, and while neither of their efforts are so transcendentally good they convince me that this miniseries actually needs to exist, it's comforting to know that if it must exist, then at least it will look and sound pretty good. Now let me get my continuity cop hat on and ask a few question: I know the Lazarus Pits' restorative powers have been amped up quite a bit in recent years, now having the ability not only to keep old people young, but to actually resurrect long-dead people, but, damn, can it really be so strong as restore a pile of blackened bones like Isis to life? Also, should there even be a Lazarus Pit left at the moment? Didn't Bane and Batman each take turns rigorously blowing up/sealing up all the Lazarus Pits they could find? Isn't that why Ra's was dying in the first place? Or am I just misremembering recent al Ghul history?
Black Metal (Oni Press) It's rare indeed that one such as I am without words with which to describe a graphic novel I've just read, but then Rick Spears and Chuck BB's Black Metal is a rare book indeed. In fact, it's the first comic I'm going to review here without using any words at all, confining my review to a single gesture:
Green Arrow: Year One #3 (DC) With this issue, the fresh look at Oliver Queen’s origin makes it’s biggest deviation from what’s come before, as the bad guys he busts on the deserted island he washed up on seem to have a much, much bigger operation than they had in past versions of the story, including a connection to Queen and what looks to be a genuine (if uninspired) supervillainess (at least judging from her clothes, hair and codename). Taken on it’s own as a comic book that reads like an action movie, it’s entertaining and obviously well made. Taken in the greater context of the DC Universe as a shared setting, the tinkering seems unnecessary (as does revisiting the origin at all) but it hasn’t resulted in anything getting broken, so there doesn’t seem to be any real harm done. The nature of the bad guys’ operation, when considered along Ollie’s drunken joke in the first issue and what will befall his eventual sidekick Roy Harper, takes on greater significance.
Green Lantern #22 (DC) This issue is seemingly scripted by Geoff Johns' autopilot. Parallaxed Kyle Rayner and Hal Jordan fight, with the rest of the Sinestro Corps joining the fray. Then once a character provides a good enough cue, the cavalry appears in a splash page from off-panel. Someone dies. And then, on the last page, there's a surprise villain appearance. It's all perfectly well done, but a pretty mediocre effort, particularly after the roaring start this storyline got off to with the last few pages of Sinestro Corps Special #1. The most interesting bits here are probably the two check-ins with the Cyborg Superman and Superboy-Prime (Ha ha! I can say it but DC can't!), whose petulant, dumb kid routine I find more amusing with each appearance.
JLA: Classified #41 (DC) Ah-ha! So that's why the Peter Milligan-written Kid Amazo story originally announced as an original graphic novel a couple years ago, then announced as a JLA:C arc last summer, then finally released as a JLA:C arc this summer kept getting bumped around—It just wasn't very good. A fine 22- to 44-page story got stretched out over 100 repetitive pages. There's an extra-Oedipal, out-of-left-field twist, but the bulk of the issue belongs to a big fight between the new Amazo and the Justice League. The good guys manage to triumph by showing that they don't actually work well together after all, which is news to me, and then they rather callously pose over the rubble containing Frank/Amazo's body, and then just walk away, without so much as confirming he's actually dead or even grabbing his head for the trophy case. Also of note: More confirmation that John Stewart does indeed know Batman and Superman's secret identities.
New Avengers #33 (Marvel Comics) The New Avengers hole up in a Chicago hotel room accusing one another of being Skrulls until they head back to the Casa de Strange, where the Cages accuse one another of being Skrulls. Meanwhile, The Hood consolidates his grip on the New York super-underworld. I really like the combination of these characters with Brian Michael Bendis' words and Leinel Yu's images, even when I'm not sure what the hell I'm reading (like the last nine pages of last issue, or this issues Hood-appears-with-guns scenes...maybe having Crimson Cowl and the Hood in the same scene wasn't such a hot idea?). There are two panels I laughed out loud at, including one in which the team is all up in each other's faces with Wolverine standing on the bed when there's a knock on the door, and Yu poses everyone like high school students on a field trip when the chaperone knocks on the hotel door to bust them for horseplay, and another in which Echo meets Baby Cage and is like, “This baby is stunning,” and Yu draws it as a repulsive little goblin. Not sure if that's meant to be a joke, but I laughed. Also notable: Bendis is personally writing both Avengers books, and he's totally screwed up his own continuity at this point, with the New Avengers watching the Mighty Avengers take on Ultron on TV, days after they met the Mighty Avengers, despite the fact that the Mighty Avengers fought Ultron before they met the New Avengers...right? Continuity wires getting crossed is, unfortunately, increasingly common in Big Two comics, but it's usually because two different writers are writing the same characters, whereas here Bendis somehow managed not synch his story up with another one written by himself.
The New Avengers/The Transformers #2 (Marvel/IDW) Remember last month when I mentioned that a fight between the New Avengers (which here includes Ms. Marvel) and the handful of Autobots that was set up on #1’s last page should only last a panel or two? Well it actually lasts about 18 panels, and the Avengers look like clowns. This is probably the nadir of their superhero careers. Luke Cage? Taken out with one blast from Bumblebee. (Bumblebee!). Wolverine? Snuck up on by a speeding car and run over. Well what about Ms. Marvel, who’s so strong she should be able to take out all these ‘bots by herself and who actually says in the middle of the fight “Finally, I can cut loose like the Kree Warrior I am!” ? Well, she punches Ractchet’s windshield, cracking it, then leans in his passenger side window to grab his steering wheel, only to be temporarily taken out of the fight by—and I swear I’m not making this up—his driver’s side airbag. From what is easily the lamest fight in either Avengers or Autobot history, writer Stuart Moore and pencil artist Tyler Kirkham take us inside the Decepticons’ plan a bit (it’s the same one they always operate under) and then the Decepticons attack, newly strengthened by power derived by Spider-Man’s irradiated blood, um, somehow? You see that picture of Wolverine up there? You see the quality level on display in it? That is exactly the quality level on display throughout this book as a whole. I went from being disappointed in #1 to doubting I could force myself to pick up #3 in the space of one issue.
X-Factor #22 (Marvel) I'm actually quite surprised no one ever thought to use Peter David's story idea presented here before: Trying to get Homo Superior recognized as an endangered species, and thus protected by the federal government. It's clever, and should make for interesting comics. I'm not sure this is the best place to exploit such a clever idea, of course, as David's X-Factor has been thus far dominated by the needs of giving it's huge cast soap opera story beats each issue, but it was certainly a bright spot in an otherwise standard issue of David and company's more sophisticated than some super-soap. As for the back-up, chapter seven of “Endangered Species,” I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. I think Beast drinks the liquid memories of an alternate future version of himself, maybe?