(Special note: It’s almost 4 a.m. as I post this, so chances are there are 500% more typos than usual. Feel free to point out any errors and berate me for them in the comments section; it’s the only way I’ll learn)
Action Comics #853 (DC Comics) The fact that no comics critic or comics blogger can stand DC's Countdown seems to be well known at this point. And of late it seems that no one else can stand it either. I mean, prominent DC writers like Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka have publicly, if politely, complained about things they've seen in the book, its new editor Mike Carlin seems to be in a rather foul mood for having to edit the damn thing, and Action Comics editors Nachie Castro and Matt Idelson can't even recommend it in good conscience. In #852, a note on the title page said “This story takes place alongside Countdown #42! Don’t miss an issue!” In this issue, the note on the title page assures readers that reading Countdown won’t be necessary: “If you missed it, we’ll fill you in…!”
And they do. This issue flows quite well from #852, without readers needing to have picked up an issue The Worst Book In The World between. All we really need to know is that Jimmy Olsen has made himself a superhero costume and has been calling himself "Mr. Action" since we saw him in part one of "3-2-1 Action!" two weeks ago (All of which Busiek fills us in on during two panels).
Busiek continues to fulfill the promise of a Countdown storyline that has gone to waste, showing us Jimmy trying to fight The Kryptonite Man and The Kryptonite Monkey using a combination of pluck and the randomly occurring superpowers of his pre-Crisis (On Infinite Earths) adventures (Busiek also explains away an error in the early issues of Countdown, regarding how Jimmy knew that the Red Hood was Jason Todd, a former Robin, and that Dick Grayson was also Robin, although Busiek inadvertently underscores another error in the weekly. During the Lightray death issue, Superman heard Jimmy's signal watch from space, although it doesn't work when Supes is off-planet). Seeing Jimmy trying to play hero is a lot of fun, but, like so much of what has made Busiek's reign on the Superman books seem so inspired, the best bits are the throwaway ones, like see-through villain The Exomorphic Man doing a perp walk, or the mention of Doctor Sivana's invention of The Ünternet, the world wide web for supervillains (Man, I’d love to see what its comics blogosphere looks like).
Clockwork Girl #0 (Arcana Comics) This book cost me only 25 cents, which means it would have to suck pretty bad not to at least be worth what I spent on it (That’s less than the sales tax on two full-priced comics). Artist Grant Bond and co-writers Sean O’Reilly and Kevin Hanna show off their upcoming book about mad scientists with different fields of specialization and their young creations, a robot girl and a monstrous little boy. The character designs and Bond’s art are nice to look at, and what little story we’re given is interesting, if not very sharply written. But I was still a little dissatisfied with the read, which consists of 15-pages of comics, two pages of a minicomic represented too small to really enjoy, an introduction, and 11 pages of designs, commentary and pin-ups. With so many pages devoted to things that weren’t comics for a book that hasn’t even come out yet, it felt a little like watching the special features on a DVD before watching the film itself—or ever having seen a preview for the film. Worth a quarter? Definitely. Worth any more than that? No, not really. I’ll give #1 a shot on the strength of the art, but this preview worked as a sort of reverse-sales pitch on me, making me uninterested in a product I hadn’t previously known even existed.
Detective Comics #835 (DC) My gut told me to pass on this issue from guest-writer John Rozum, as I've been doing with most of the non-Dini issues of 'TEC (none of the ones I've read have been any good), but it features The Scarecrow, and I love The Scarecrow (and lack the willpower to resist favorite characters in all but the most extraordinary circumstances). I was happy to see that Rozum is exploring a new-ish angle with the character (Dr. Crane is trying to inspire fear here without the usage of his chemicals), ignoring Judd Winick's Were-Scarecrow development (#3 on the list of Dumbest Ideas Judd Winick Has Ever Had), and that the artist he's working with is Tom Mandrake, who is an all-around perfect Batman writer (Not sold on his Scarecrow thus far, though. Tim Sale's still the all-time champion Scarecrow drawer in my book). The first part of a two-parter, there's little—all right, nothing—that really makes this particular story stand-out among Batman stories, but to paraphrase Stephen Baldwin in Threesome, "Batman is kinda like pizza. When it's bad, it's still pretty good." And this isn't bad Batman, just mediocre Batman.
Fantastic Four #548 (Marvel) I’ve been really enjoying Dwayne McDuffie and Paul Pelletier’s run on FF, but this issue left me kind of cold. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, there’s just not much going on in it at all. The Fantastic Five (the current FF plus Reed) fight the Frightful Five (the Frightful Four from last issue, plus a surprise guest-villain revealed on the last page) to save the captive Sue. That’s it. That’s the whole plot. It’s all executed well enough, but it’s nothing that really says, “This was worth being forced to look at a Michael Turner image and bring it into your home.” And speaking of that image, check out the cover. What do you think is happening? Are they falling through space or the night sky? Has Sue created individual invisible floating force field discs for those of them who can’t fly to ride on? Isn’t it odd all of their feet have been so cleverly concealed? (There’s a hint of Storm’s toes peeking out behind Mr. Fantastic’s bicep though). What’s that blotch of light behind the logo and Panther’s cape? Did Johnny just sign the big “4” symbol in the sky? My heart sank even further when that guest-villain appeared, as it just reminds me of Reginald Hudlin’s confused semi-reboot (maybe) of Black Panther (This particular Black Panther foe was completely recreated and redesigned for “Who is the Black Panther?”, although he seems to be sporting his original look here).
The Irredeemable Ant-Man #11 (Marvel) Who’s more irredeemable, Eric “Ant-Man” O’Grady or that mustachioed master thief Black Fox, who took advantage of the chaos in Manhattan during the Hulk’s attack to steal his only friends Nintendo Wii? Why’s Mitch such a psycho; it’s not just because Eric burned half of his face off, is it? Did the Recap Ant sustain any injuries during last issue’s WWH tie-in? How many jokes can Robert Kirkman possibly make about the cancellation of this series in the course of a three-page letter column? The answers to these questions and more are within! Panels like the last one on page 16, with it’s clever use of asterisks and footnotes to call Eric on his shit, make me a little sad to read, seeing as how we’ll only get one more issue of this series. Part of me hopes this Ant-Man will stick around the Marvel Universe as Ant-Man for a while, simply because I love the costume and way it looks when Eric’s all shrinky among full-sized superheroes. I can’t really see him joining either team of Avengers or the Thunderbolts, however, on account of I’d hate to see what Bendis or Warren Ellis might do with the character. He might work in Avengers: The Initiative, but I’d prefer to see him reappear in something Robert Kirkman-written. Maybe Kirkman, Hester and Parks can start pitching Marvel on a new Defenders series? I promise to buy it, so that’s one right there, Marvel.
Justice League Unlimited #36 (DC) The Justice League Unlimited end of Cartoon Network's Justice League series offered plenty of lessons for the company on how to reposition many of their second- through bottom-tier characters. Which makes a lot of sense when you consider that part of producing those later episodes, during which the team's roster expanded from seven to what seemed like seventy heroes, included a bunch of people sitting around thinking of how to boil down characters to their most vital elements, redesign them visually and make them palpable for mass audiences far beyond the tens of thousands of people that read any given DC comic book. DC Comics seemed to learn some lessons from the series—restoring John Stewart to something resembling prominence for example, and making Skeets and Booster a duo again—but the company sure as hell didn't take any lessons involving The Question to heart.
The few episodes he was prominently featured in recast him as a street-level noir hero who was also a paranoid conspiracy theorist, heavily accenting his Rorshachishness (which is really Questionliness, I know). Instead, DC thought the best way to market the character to the most readers would be to kill him off with lung cancer caused by cigarette smoke and replace him with a hard-drinking, self-loathing, lapsed-Catholic Hispanic lesbian ex-cop. Financially, we don't really know how successful that change has been, and won't until Rucka's Crime Bible mini drops (Yeah, 52 sold like gangbusters, but it's hard to say how much of that was due to the fact that people were excited to see Vic Cage die of cancer and replaced by his protégé, a gambit which has proven successful exactly one time since the end of the Silver Age. I know personally, that was my least favorite part of 52, and I followed the book despite the out-of-place Question/Montoya bits, not because of them).
Anyway, this is all just a long way of saying that fans of the Vic Sage Question, particularly as characterized on JLU, should check out this issue, which focuses on the faceless crime-fighter has he unravels a worldwide conspiracy by shape-shifting aliens to take over the earth. Writer Simon Spurrier hits all the conspiracy theorist high notes, or at least those as have been filtered through pop culture (Chupacabras, grassy knoll, Loch Ness, the C.I.A., Lovecraftian Elder God, crown jewels, a warehouse like the one at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark), ties it into the DC mythology (Durlans!) and includes a couple of neat turns. The story is, ironically, both a little hurried and a little repetitive, and reads like it could have been an outline for the first year of a Question series, but it's a lot of fun, and a wonderful look at what could have been in the DCU proper (and maybe what should have been). Min S. Ku’s pencil art, like most of that on the Johnny DC titles, is serviceable, aping the look of the cartoon without achieving anything else noteworthy.
Best part? At a press conference, a U.S. senator finishes his speech and asks the crowd “Any questions?” Vic shouts “Just one” and shoots him with a laser gun.
Justice Society of America #8 (DC) Just like JSoA #7, this issue finds wrier Geoff Johns zeroing in on a single member of his sprawling cast, focusing the limelight into a laser and drilling into their fictional skull. Last time it was the new Citizen Steel, this time it’s the new Liberty Belle (the old Jesse Quick). Johns shows an almost Roy Thomas-ian obsession with drawing connections between past stories from all over the DCU, and he pulls it off quite nicely, taking such mostly separate threads as All-Star Squadron, Damage, a previous, failed Justice Society relaunch attempt, The Titans, and several Flash stories and sewing them into a pleasing tapestry DC fans can wrap around themselves and snuggle in, bracing against the cold, uncaring Current State Of The DCU. This is what Johns does best, and JSoA is some of his best work to date. It’s wonderfully written superhero melodrama that not only reveals how much he loves the characters, but demonstrates why we should too, putting forth very convincing arguments. Personally, I groaned to see Jesse becoming Liberty Belle II all of a sudden, as she seemed to be one more random case of the DCU’s terminal legacitis, but Johns finally tells the story of why Jesse Quick is now Liberty Belle, and it works quite nicely. The art comes courtesy of Fernando Pasarin, who was responsible for the issue of “The Lightning Saga” featuring The Legion of Super-Abs. He acquits himself just fine, with his major problem being that he’s not Dale Eaglesham (Speaking of which, why isn’t he Eaglesham? Instead of Eaglesham contributing to “Lightning Saga,” only to need Pasarin to fill in here, shouldn’t Pasarin have drawn Eaglesham’s chapter of the “Saga” and Eaglesham drawn this issue of JSoA? That would have reduced the number of different artists on the guaranteed-trade of “The Lighting Saga” from four to three, and kept the look of also-guaranteed-to-be-collected JSoA more consistent?)
Note to DC: I would totally buy a Liberty Belle Archives. Or borrow it from the library, anyway. I’d definitely buy an affordably priced trade full of Golden Age Libby stories.
Another note to DC: If JSoA is one of your best-selling titles, now’s probably the time to make with the reprint trades featuring heroes in it, right? Trades collecting things like All-Star Squadron, which featured previous incarnations of Steel and Libby. I’d buy it. Swear to God. And if it were a Showcase Presents or two or three collecting every All-Star book, from the 16-page preview in Justice League of America #193 all the way through the end of Young All-Stars, not only would I buy it, but I’d drive all the way to New York City and kiss each and every person at DC HQ on the lips. Or, if they have moustaches like Dan Didio, I’d shake their hands.
Metal Men #1 (DC) Whew! I was sooo worried about this title. 52 not only showed all the potential of the Metal Men in the modern DCU, but it made good on it, turning Doc Magnus and his creations into some of the most interesting characters in super-comics during the length of the title. Clearly, they were primed for a comeback, Grant Morrison, who apparently wrote all the Magnus/mad scientist bits, was certainly the guy who needed to write it, and Duncan Rouleau, who kicked so much ass on the two-page origin story, was clearly the guy who needed to draw it. Then came that godawful Superman/Batman story (godawful by even Superman/Batman standards) which was a hard reboot of Magnus and the Metal Men (or, at least, the first issue was…I couldn’t stand to read any more by that particular creative team), thus undoing any momentum acquired in 52. This miniseries was at least partially created by Morrison (It’s “based on ideas by,” like All-New Atom and Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, both of which I dropped after giving them a try), with Rouleau drawing (Yay!) and writing (I don’t know if you’ve read The Nightmarist or not, but if you did, you may join me in saying, “Uh-oh…”)
Anyway, the first issue over, and my review basically boils down to “Whew!” It’s nowhere near as bad as I feared, and while it’s not as awesome as I had hoped, it wasn’t a bad read either, featuring some great art, all the things I expect from the Metal Men (uniting to form a contraption of some sort, “dying” horribly at the end of their adventure) and plenty of threads continued from 52, including Magnus and Morrow’s relationship, and the idea that the metals themselves have personalities, making Magnus less the Metal Men’s maker than their midwife.
The thing I was most worried about—the reboot—was kind of equivocal, and I don’t think we get a very solid answer here. The only thing that definitely seems off regarding the timeline is the fact that Magnus had yet to invent the Metal Men and Morrow was still a respected member of the scientific community only four years ago (subtract the year covered in 52, and that means that every story involving the Metal Men and T.O. Morrow happened within the last three years, which obviously can’t be).
Rouleau does a great job introducing the Metal Men (plus the extra “woman,” Copper) and their personalities, particularly given how little space is devoted to them, and the scientific theory sections seemed perfectly Morrison-esque (I honestly wouldn’t have guessed Morrison wasn’t writing them if no one told me). The Metal Men adventure and the Magnus/Morrow flashback are book-ended by some stuff involving time travel and ancient alchemy (plus some allusions to Aquaman’s namesake and some characters from the under-appreciated “Obsidian Age” arc of JLA).
As with Nightmarist, I think Rouleau’s layouts and sense of baroque design sometimes get in the way of his storytelling—particularly in the opening scene where we don’t yet have our bearings and already there are multiple fonts and sound effects cluttering up the art and dialogue—and the narration is slightly more complicated than it needs to be (I don’t think we need to know the number of minutes and seconds one event is occurring before another, for example), but so far, so good.
New Avengers: Illuminati #4 (Marvel) If I had to reduce a review of this issue into a single syllable, I think I'd have to go with "Bwuh...?" It is seriously all over the goddam place. Like a lot of bad comic books with the name Bendis somewhere in the credits, you know it's not necessarily a case of no one involved knowing quite what they're doing, which makes this issue not so much a train wreck as a circus train wreck—you're fascinated not simply because of the (metaphorical) destruction and carnage alone, but because there are burning clowns, giraffes and elephants running around in the charred, candy-striped wreckage (Note to self: Never try to think of a colorful simile after 1 a.m., no matter what).
In this penultimate chapter of Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Reed, Jim Cheung and Mark Morales’ let’s-just-fuck-with-Marvel-continuity-because-it's-there-and-just-asking-to-be-fucked-with miniseries, the creators take on Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones' Marvel Boy for 22-pages of one set of creators doing their level best to diminish the work of another set of creators for no apparent reason (Spite? Is spite the reason?). We open with a few pages of the Illuminati discussing the women in their lives (That is apparently the reason for the cover...or, part of the reason. A large part seems to be that Cheung just isn't very good at cover work, and so he's repeating a past Illuminati cover. Only he kind of messes it up, positioning the women in different places than their male counterparts, which makes me wonder if it's an intentional self-homage after all, or just an honest accidentally repeat of a previous cover lay out. None of these women appear in the book, and only Sue and Clea get more than a mention in the dialogue). The dialogue is all fine, and it does manage to fairly naturally capture the sound of a group of guys talking about the women in their lives. Or, at least, it would be fine if it were five ordinary guys, and not the freaking Sorcerer Supreme, the Scion of Atlantis and Charles Xavier talking about how women are never satisfied. Bendis and Reed manage to make some of the most idiosyncratic characters in super-comics sound exactly like your dads' friends sitting down for a game of poker. The scene has nothing at all to do with anything that follows, or anything that preceded it in the series, and seems to be included just to be irritating.
The conflict is that Morrison’s Marvel Boy miniseries has just ended, and the Illuminati decide that if Noh-Varr makes good on his threats to conquer earth, it could be trouble. So they break into his prison and attack him mentally and physically, encouraging him to maybe become a superhero like the original Captain Marvel (well, Marvel’s original Captain Marvel, not the awesome one), instead of attacking Earth without provocation. This seems to be the same sort of groupthink that makes these usually-pretty-smart-guys act like idiots every time they get together in this series. Seeing a hornet’s nest and thinking that one day they may get stung by a hornet, they get together with some sticks and poke the nest, saying, "Don't sting me! Don't sting me!"
Marvel Boy is himself reduced to a generic teenager, with nothing to say save, "Dude, put on some pants," when he sees Namor, and act like these lunatics messing with him have given him food for thought, instead of just reinforcing his ideas. Remember that infectious sense of rebellion and hip iconoclasm covered in an ironic super-hero Christmas wrapping paper in Morrison and Jones' series? The Brians have sucked it all out of the character who, it's worth noting, isn't really properly introduced here. If this is your first exposure to the character, you may find yourself wondering why the heroes are screwing around with him. If you're familiar with the series that spawned him, you may be wondering why Marvel hasn't passed some sort of law forbidding Bendis from touching any thing created by Morrison (didn't they learn their lesson with the coda of "The Collective" in New Avengers?)
Truly a terrible, terrible comic book from at least one writer who knows better (I'm not familiar enough with Reed's solo writing to speak to whether or not this kind of work is beneath him) but, like I said, fascinating nonetheless.
She-Hulk #20 (Marvel) It’s Dan Slott’s second-to-last issue before Peter David takes over, and with Ty Templeton assisting, Slott not only starts to wrap everything up, he seems to rush through a half-dozen plotlines he’d previously planned to get around to at some point, like one in which Shulkie argues in favor of the Marvel Universe over the Ultimate Universe before the Living Tribunal, who wants to destroy it (It takes all of three panels to summarize, prompting Colonel Jameson to point out, “That was a pretty big cosmic story you rushed through.”) Rushing through is what this issue’s all about, which makes for an incredibly dense read practically spilling out of every nine-panel page. All of the regulars get some serious panel time, plus we get Man-Thing, Richard Rory and Ducktor Strange. For this issue at least, Slott has returned the book to the feel of it’s earlier stories, in which it was like an Ally McBeal set in the Marvel Universe. This issue read like an Ally McBeal set in the Marvel Universe clip show, wherein all of the clips were from episodes you’ve never seen. Like Ant-Man, this was another enjoyable read that was simultaneously depressing, as it’s coming to an end. Not the book itself, mind you, but the current creative team’s run, and they’re promising an extremely different—and thus far unrevealed—direction.
World War Hulk #3 (Marvel) Let's run down the checklist here. Wonderfully illustrated, and managing to stay-wonderfully illustrated without getting more and more rushed and less and less detailed with every passing issue. A big, important story firmly set in the Marvel Universe, with a mixture of emotional conversations and heroes hurting one another, which doesn't assign motivations to characters willy-nilly to move the pre-ordained plot forward in unnatural ways. There are political points and attempts to capture the current zeitgeist, only they're ever so subtle, and much more complicated than, "Much of the U.S. government’s reaction to 9/11 was immoral and ill-considered, but you dumb Americans let the bad guys win because you're scared and lazy!" It's Marvel's biggest most important story at the moment, in which every line spoken or drawn will likely have impact in a half dozen other books, and yet it's bang on time (Or are they ahead of schedule? I just read the last issue two weeks ago?)
What does this all add up to? World War Hulk being everything that Civil War should have been and was trying really, really hard to be.
With this issue, the Hulk crosses the very last name off his "To Smash" list, and sets in motion a plan of perpetual vengeance that seems a little, well, insane. (I guess that's what the solicitation copy for #4 meant by "Everyone GOES! TOO! FAR!"). General Ross also gets a nice moment to try his best against the Hulk, even seemingly wounding the big guy. Like the last two issues, this one is a ton of fun from start to finish.
So as to not seem like I'm going soft here, I will complain about two things. First, Dr. Strange's Cloak of Levitation isn't supposed to cast an astral form like the rest of his clothes, and yet here it's shown all astral (This is a mistake that is now becoming so common, I have a feeling it's about to become the official status quo of Strange's astral image, due to the critical mass of mess-ups on this front).
Secondly, I got the David Finch cover in my pull, and my shop was charging extra cast for the John Romita Jr. cover, the one that actually reflects the style and aesthetic of the insides of the book. I honestly don't understand the rationale of the interior artist doing the incentive variant covers; it sorta defeats the whole idea of incentive variant covers doesn't it? Like, "Hey, check out how this cover might have looked if this other artist were drawing it! And by "other artist" we mean the exact same artist!"
And, just out of curiosity for readers who might be reading Marvels I’m not (include Namor, Thor and everything set in space), are there reasons in other books that would explain why time displaced Captain Marvel, Namor, Thor and Silver Surfer aren’t getting in on this?