Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Weekly Haul: August 15th

Action Comics #854 (DC Comics) The fact that writer Kurt Busiek fumbles a little bit in this last chapter of “3-2-1-Action!,” a three-part tie-in to Countdown/delaying tactic for the troubled regular Action team, proves one of two things, although I’m not sure which. Either that Busiek is not, in fact, completely perfect (and this issue would be the first evidence of that I’ve encountered since he moved to Metropolis), or that Countdown is so bad that not even a talent like Busiek can help but get pulled down by its irresistible awfulness.

See, while this arc has tied pretty loosely into Countdown and has thus far been completely self-contained and perfectly easy to follow without having to read the weekly series, this issue begins with a plot-point from this week’s Countdown (I think; flipping through Countdown, I saw this exact same scene). A cheeky editorial box on the first page has fun with the situation (“Oooops!! Hope you read Countdown #37 before opening this book! If you didn’t…well, uh, we didn’t really have much chance to warn you before page 1!”) but we open in a place far different than where we left off last issue, and the fact that Jimmy’s finally discovered Superman’s secret identity and called him on it is a big, huge deal that gets addressed here, but only in passing, making it seem more than a little out-of-left-field.

After these awkward first two pages, we jump back into the story proper, and the title immediately regains the momentum and level of quality of the first two chapters of this story. We've got Superman vs. The Kryptonite Man, we've got Krypto the Superdog vs. The Kryptonite Monkey and we've got Mr. Action vs. The Kryptonite Monkey. But more than that, we're given a delicate balance of Silver Age sentimentalism and plot points, told with modern sophistication. (And in that respect, Busiek’s Super-work seems to come closest to achieving a mainstream, counts-in-continuity version of All-Star Superman).

And as a fan of Krypto (and super-pets in general), I’ve got to say that I really liked his portrayal here, as well as his new status quo, which makes a lot more sense than his prior Fortress guard dog status or Kent/Lane household pet status. Artists Brad Walker and John Livesa make him a little too fuzzy, but we'll chalk that up to artistic license.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #55 (DC) As Tad Williams wraps up all the loose ends of not only his short run on the Aquaman book, but pretty much everyone else’s, his pacing is artificially forced into extremely high gear. And, after years of the title being too slow, it’s something of a relief to see the narrative now moving at breakneck speed. There’s a certain wildness to things now, which makes for a lot of fun and unpredictability. Last issue Williams’ super-compressed plot was getting really interesting, but this month it’s getting downright awesome. The alliance of villains’ full plan is revealed, The Human Flying Fish gets punched in the face, there’s a knock-down drag-out between Vandal Savage and Aquaman II, an underwater Joker-type character is introduced (and he makes a lot more sense than Erik Larsen’s Piranha Man or whatever his mutated Charybdis' name was, who just acted exactly like an underwater Joker for no reason) and there’s a surprise guest-star on the last page for no other reason then he’s cool, and Shawn McManus draws him extra-cool (I just love the way McManus bugs people’s eyes out with anger and determination when they’re pissed). That cover by Kevin Maguire? Not reflective of the contents one bit. But still, nice to see Kevin Maguire doing something, isn’t it?

Booster Gold #1 (DC) This is the third 52 spin-off to debut in as many weeks, and it’s by far the most promising of the lot (it’s also the only ongoing). That seems to be, in large part, due to the fact that, unlike Metal Men and Black Adam, it involves so many characters (Booster Gold, Skeets, Daniel Carter, “Supernova,” Rip Hunter) and creators (co-writer Geoff Johns, penciler Dan Jurgens) involved with 52. But it’s also more direct in picking up where 52 left-off. While the prior spin-offs were along the lines of “Hey, you liked these guys in 52? Well, here’s more of ‘em!”, this series deals with specific plot elements running through 52, as well as the DCU before and after it (particularly, the mess that was made of DC continuity, whether on purpose or accidentally). Johns, co-writer Jeff Katz and layout artist Jurgens also go a long way towards applying the 52 story-telling aesthetic and sense of fun to this issue—Forget Countdown, this is the real sequel to 52. Hell, it even uses the little “Week whatever, Day whatever” datelines from 52, and has another neat little Rip Hunter chalkboard scene packed with teases (Including among the clues of Red Lanterns, Darkseid’s death and the return of Ronnie Raymond, what looks like a Countdown stab: “Don’t worry about Countdown—Focus elsewhere.”

As light-hearted and fun as the issue is, it’s also incredibly dense. It’s only 32-pages of story, but Johns, Katz and Jurgens pack a lot into it, pretty much recapping Booster Gold’s entire history from origin to 52 #52 in some form or another, be it through narration, dialogue or off-hand jokes. While longtime Booster fans will likely get the most out of it, it seems to be perfectly designed for first-time readers and, indeed, the story itself is one that should appeal to anyone interested in DC Comics, if not Booster at all—DC history floats by as scenery during a couple of time trips, and Booster’s new mission in life seems to be playing time/Multiverse/continuity cop. It’s hard to say how much effort Katz and Johns will put into charting the new multiverse, something Coutndown seems to be gearing up to do through what Chris Eckert of Funnybook Babylon has been referring to as “The C-List Monitor Posse” in his indispensable “Downcounting” feature, or fixing Superboy-punched continuity mistakes, but if there’s anyone at DC who should be given that assignment, it’s Johns, who, while responsible for some problems of his own (mainly along the lines of retconning characters like Superboy or Dove to serve his purposes), generally does a good job of connecting dots in DCU continuity.

Since I can’t predict the future, there's little point in trying. Let’s focus instead on the present. And, at present, I can’t wait for Booster Gold #2; I seriously haven’t been this excited about a DCU ongoing since…JSoA. And before that? Probably 52.

Plot-wise, this issue shows a conflicted Booster given two choices for how to proceed with his superhero career—Joining the new Justice League of America (“And come on, if freaking Geo-Force is on the team, I definitely deserve a spot”) or joining Rip in his crusade to repair the damage to the timestream done by Mr. Mind and Superboy-Prime before it can be exploited by evil time-travelers. The former brings with it fame and glory, the latter total and eternal obscurity, so this is a tough choice for Booster, even though we’ve all known which he’ll choose since the new series was first announced.

It’s a cool status quo for a superhero, but what I thought really elevated this from pretty fun DC super-comic to really fun DC super-comic was the sharp dialogue and how in-character everyone appeared, from sarcastic Skeets to the new Leaguers giving Booster crap to the ones who actually worked with him in the past like Batman and Superman defending him (Hell, Batman even makes a joke!) to the price Booster names to join Rip (And if Ice gets resurrected, we damn well better have Booster resurrect Ted Kord in the near future).

The last page featured a preview of things to come along the lines of JSoA #1’s last page, and I found this one much more exciting. Seeing Dawnstar’s arm or an alternate Superman rising from his grave in JSoA just didn’t push my buttons in the same way as seeing the blue-suited Aquaman, oval-less Batman and a half-dozen JLI characters referred to as the Justice League, or Booster buried in a pile of C.C. Beck-looking Mr. Minds, or Booster team-ing up with Blue Beetles I and III to save Kord from Max Lord.

The Brave and the Bold #6 (DC) Any storyline that involves the Legion of Super-Heroes, Lobo, Destiny, Blue Beetle III and Batman turned into a cyborg is already well on it’s way to being totally insane, but in this concluding chapter to their six-part debut arc, Mark Waid and George Perez crank the craziness up from 11 to 21 or so. As the various players assemble for a last-ditch effort to keep the Book of Destiny out of the creepy, tree-like hands of the Lords of Luck, Waid draws all his threads together into a tight tapestry, and then sews a monkey wrench right into the middle of it, by including the four people who aren’t in the Book at all. If you’ve read many DC Comics before, their identity is no real surprise, and they were kind of teased at earlire in the arc, but they still sort of come out of nowhere. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. They storm the scene, their risk-taking, devil-may-care attitude leading to long scenes of them and their allies just breaking stuff, and seemingly infecting Waid and Perez as well, as the story gets loose and crazy during this last leg, with Perez drawing strange, Rannian war machines in the midst of the two-fisted, all-out action.

At the end, Adam Strange tells Supergirl that it’s “never a problem” to leave “the fate of the cosmos in the hands of a bunch of guys like me,” and that seems to be the closest Waid gets to a point here, simply highlighting the fact that Strange, Hal, the four not-all-that-surprising-guests-tars-I’m-being-coy-about-naming-anyway and even Batman all share something in common. Is it that they are all ordinary, powerless human beings that stand toe-to-toe with super-people? Is it that they are all brave to the point of reckless men willing to dare anything in the cause of good? Is it that they’re a bunch of guys who really enjoying punching other guys out? I don’t know, but having a point hasn’t really been the point of this series thus far. Waid has done excellent character work throughout, and approached simply as character sketches embedded in an exciting superhero punch-‘em-up set in the DC Universe and drawn by probablby the best artist putting pencil to paper today, Brave and the Bold is fantastic.

Now, I don’t own my own scanner, and I didn’t make a special trip to the library today just to scan this one image, but I think this photo I took with the little camera embedded in my laptop pretty much encapsulates how crazy this story gets:

That there is one of our unexpected guest-stars riding a giant purple laser Lugar as if it were a bucking bronco, somehow getting it to shoot down a War of the Worlds-looking tripod.

Shadowpact #16 (DC) You know, maybe buying a monthly simply because I like the penciler’s work and have an irrational love for one member of the six-person team doesn’t make all that much sense. I stopped enjoying this issue half-way down the cover. The logo, which you can’t see in the above image because there’s no text on’s previews of covers, is spelled backwards, and is in a dialogue bubble emanating from Zatanna. That’s neat; I can’t imagine it’s never been done before, but has it ever been done before? Then I got to Zatanna’s crotch and stopped enjoying the book. I don’t really understand it. Maybe I just haven't spent enough time looking at the pelvises of women wearing fishnets over high-cut whatever-you-call-those-bottoms-magicians’-assistants-and-Playboy-bunnies-wear when they’re sitting in a half lotus position but it just looks really, really off to me. Like she has a few extra joints or something? The interiors are, for the most part, just a generic super-team adventure, as if writer Bill Willingham was working from some kind of template or something. The Shadowpact and five random guest-stars evacuate Chicago and fight Dr. Manhatta—er, Dr. Gotham. Much more interesting is the Blue Devil sub-plot, in which his lawyer continues to argue for his soul in Hell, while a Catholic priest proposes thirteen labors based on those of Hercules. That’s a comic book I’d like to read. It’s really too bad that the storyline is embedded as a B-plot in this otherwise completely run-of-the-mill story. I’ll hang on for you as long as I can Zauriel, but I gotta tell you man, Willingham’s not making it easy.

Super-Villain Team-Up/MODOK’s 11 #2 (Marvel Comics) MODOK unveils his plan and the roles his various recruits shall play in it, someone betrays the team, Fred Van Lente continues to write a fun story based on Marvel’s bottom-feeding supervillains, and Francis Portela continues to pencil the hell out of every weird character he’s tasked with drawing. It’s an all-around rock-solid sophomore effort following last issues' very strong start. Now on to more pressing matters—Why does cover artist Marko Djurdjevic give Chameleon a pilgrim hat on the cover?

Ultimate Spider-Man #112 (Marvel) Perhaps it was last issue’s easing us into the artist transition by having the old guy and the new guy split art chores, or perhaps it’s writer Brian Michael Bendis sticking around and giving newcomer Stuart Immonen a script full of repeated story elements to illustrate, but Immonen taking the torch from Mark Bagley isn’t nearly as jarring as I feared it would be. Immonen seems to have even corrected the sole weakness in last issue’s effort, that his Spider-Man looked more 616 than Ultimate. Bendis brings running joke The Shocker back for another pummeling and visits Norman Osborn in his Triskelion prison (The arc is entitled “Death of a Goblin”), but it still feels fresh, mainly due to the high school subplot, which gives Bendis’ players the old split-into-couples-and-raise-a-fake-kid-for-a-grade assignment you’ve seen in a million TV shows. But you’ve never seen Spider-Man and an X-Person do it!


Jacob T. Levy said...

You think your Zauriel fixation is a bad reason for buying SP? I'm a Phantom Stranger completist, so I've got to keep buying the damn thing for *one panel per issue.* I don't understand how this can be written by the same guy who does Fables...

On the other hand, Booster Gold and B&B more than redeemed the week-- I'm with you completely on both. I want to use goofy superlatives when even *thinking* about this opening B&B arc as a whole-- "greatest in-DC-continuity arc *ever!*" I doubt that's really true, but the book's fun energy and enthusiasm are contagious.

Khairul H. said...

I don't understand how this can be written by the same guy who does Fables...

There are actually two Bill Willinghams working in the comics industry. The one who writes Shadowpact is the evil, imperfect and not very smart clone of the true BW who writes Fables and Jack.

JohnF said...

That's quite the pelvis that Zee is sporting there.
I have to assume that the Evil Bill Willingham has a smart Van Dyke.