Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Weekly Haul: August 29th

52 Aftermath: The Four Horseman #1 (DC Comics) On the spectrum established by previous 52 follow-ups, this series falls much closer to Booster Gold than Metal Men and Black Adam in that it involves creators who worked on 52 (layout artist Keith Giffen writing, occasional penciler Pat Olliffe on pencil art) and picks up plotlines left over from 52 (what happened to Oolong Island, Veronica Cale and the Science Squad, what's become of Bialya). It does seem closer to Black Adam in its attempts to un-write parts of 52 however. After all, the Four Horsemen were all killed in the last act of DC's good weekly, so a series starring them seems kind of, um, impossible, doesn't it?

Well, it turns out, they're not dead! While the bodies the Science Squad created for them were destroyed, they are ideas that can and will return, first in human form. Also somewhat contradicting 52 is the situation in Bialya. According to this issue, there were survivors after all, so that Black Adam didn't kill every single man, woman and child there...just most of 'em. Whatever Adam's ultimate toll (whether it was millions or even more millions), picking up the story thread at all, and in particular involving the "Trinity" of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, brings up uncomfortable questions probably better left unexplored. Like why they didn't do anything to stop a man from murdering millions. Superman was powerless, yeah, but couldn't he have sent in a few Superman robots? Put on some kinda robot suit? Shown up in a Superman ship with some Kryptonian gadgets? (It's not like we haven’t seen Supes fight without his powers before). Batman and Wonder Woman have even less of an excuse—they were simply on vacation. Batman may have been a bit around the bend at the time, judging from what we've seen of his year off, but Wondy was essentially indulging in some me time while another divinely powered super-person was killing kids.

All that said, this is a perfectly fine issue. It's very much a matter of manufacturing a story where there need not actually be one, but Giffen gets the members of the Trinity quite well, and writes wonderful dialogue for them...I particularly enjoyed his portrayal of Batman and Superman. Rather than going the mutual man-crush route of Brad Meltzer or the adversarial route of the post-Dark Knight writers, he writes them like real people who are really friends, despite the fact that they have somewhat different outlooks on life. (Wondy has yet to join them; she has a pretty standard superhero/supervillain conversation, which stage-sets what's to follow). Olliffe's art is fine at communicating information, but really nothing terribly interesting or special, a relative weakness that becomes apparent now that he’s not operating under the grinding deadline of a weekly. Part of me kind of wishes Giffen could have handled the art chores himself.

Action Comics #855 (DC)
The self-destruction of the Action Comics team of Richard Donner, Geoff Johns and Adam Kubert has been sort of hilarious in an incredibly depressing way, like a “Ha ha, I can’t believe one of the comics industry’s leaders doesn’t have its shit together at all” kind of way. Ditto for the fact that the much-ballyhooed “regular” pencil artist Adam Kubert is apparently so awful at deadlines that DC eventually just gave up on him and his storyline, saying they’ll finish it in an annual or something sometime maybe. And it wasn’t the only storyline featuring one of their biggest character properties they had to give up on like that this year. Jesus.

Now, the plus side of Kubert and company’s screw-ups is that it gave Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza the opportunity to pen a string of fill-in stories that have ranged from pretty good to really good. Also, it meant that Donner and Johns would need an artist who could draw on some kind of schedule for their second story arc, which kicks off here.

And boy, do they get an artist. Eric freaking’ Powell, of Goon fame, comes aboard to illustrate “Escape From Bizarro World,” and it is beautiful, beautiful stuff. I honestly couldn’t imagine this story working quite as well with Kubert’s art anyway. Powell’s character design style and his deep, self-inked shadows are perfect for a character like Bizarro, who is both kind of silly and kind of scary (particularly Johns’ take on him). The story is a pretty simple one. Bizarro abducts Pa Kent and takes him to new cube-shaped Bizarro world, something we haven’t really seen in DCU continuity since before Crisis on Infinite Earths. Superman goes there to rescue him, and finds a world full of Bizarros, which Bizarro himself seems to have created using a new vision power granted him by the rays of a blue sun (a star glimpsed in the last Action Comics annual, in a super-short sequence drawn by Joe “The Deadline Keeping One” Kubert).

Bizarro is one of my favorite comic book characters, and this is a pretty fun story because of it—I was a little worried, given the fact that the last few times Johns has written Bizarro it involved the twisted Superman killing a bunch of folks. There’s a darkness to the story, but it’s more a sense of confusion and menace then, I don’t know, a monster killing a school bus full of kids. It’s somewhat unfortunate (for these creators) that this follows so close on the heels of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s visit to Bizarro World. The stories are very, very different, yet they riff on the same source material, and the simple fact that this came afterwards makes it seem more derivative than the All-Star Superman story. There’s even a mention of a bizarro Bizarro, but it’s merely in reference to Superman himself and not Zibarro.

Avengers: The Initiative #5 (Marvel Comics) A "World War Hulk" tie-in pretty much in banner logo only, this issue introduces a new black ops team answerable only to Henry Gyrich and sends them to rescue the fallen Initiative kids from the Warbound's clutches. It's essentially a tightly constructed character sketch of Gyrich, concluding with a neat little punchline ending, but writer Dan Slott moves many of his half-dozen plot pieces a step ahead during the process, while still managing to work the Hulk business in as naturally as possible. Another predictably solid effort from the predictably solid Slott and artist Stefano Caselli.

Black Panther #30 (Marvel)
With Marvel bound and determined to wring every cent out of the suprise popularity of the "Marvel Zombies" concept—constant hardcover reprints, an Army of Darkness crossover, a prequel, a sequel and plenty of merch—it's not like they needed any help from Reginald Hudlin's non-stop tie-in Black Panther to run the emerging franchise into the ground, but Hudlin insists on doing his part anyway. This is the third issue of the story arc pitting the new Fantastic Four against the Marvel Zombies on the Skrull homeworld, and that's probably two issues too many, although it's worth noting the zombie-fighting in this issue is more fun than in the last two (I think because our FF is fighting the zombified Skrull versions of the FF, and a zombie with stretchy powers like Mr. Fantastic's still qualifies as sorta fresh compared to so much of the zombie business). Penciller Francis Portela's art continues to impress the hell out of me—I don't know how much lead time he's had on either title, but I'm amazed that BP and Super-Villain Team-Up/MODOK's 11 have both been out on schedule and have both looked absolutely great—and I find it ironic that now that the book's artistically in the best shape it's been in years, I'm starting to weary of the plot direction.

Fantastic Four #549 (Marvel)
I'm starting to feel a little bad about mentioning how bad Michael Turner's cover work is, like he's rather quickly become the new Rob Liefeld, an easy punchline that everyone's always making fun of. Like, when it's this obvious, one can't help but feel a little bad about the whole process. And yet Marvel keeps forcing Michael Turner art into my home by slapping his covers on books whose insides I want to read.

So here goes: This Michael Turner cover? Not very good at all. Nothing like this scene occurs in the issue, and it would therefore have maybe been more appropriate for #548, when the Frightful Four did actually have the Fantastic Four on the ropes. But in this issue, not only is Titania nothing as wispy as Turner's version, nor the Wizard wearing a costume like that, but The Trapster doesn't even appear. The background is, again, all the colorist, and the principle around which the image was constructed seems to be the avoidance of drawing feet. How else to explain Titania—what's she standing on, there? But what really boggles my mind is Storm. What's she lying on? An invisible love seat? Is she supposed to be knocked out, like her teammates? Or is she doing one-armed push-ups in front of her foes? That is just an awful, awful, awful cover, bad even by Turner's awful standards (the only worse one I can think of off the top of my head is the infamous Power Girl cover to JLoA #10), and I do hope he's ashamed for creating it. And that Marvel's ashamed for paying him to create it. And each and every one of you feel ashamed for buying it. Share in my shame for financially supporting these crimes against aesthetics!

Okay, so that's the cover. As for pages 1-22, it's another go round of old school superhero fighting, with the Fantastic Five becoming the so-much-less-alliterative Fantastic Six and handing the now-explained Klaw and the Frightful Four their spandex-clad asses. Plus, once she's freed, Sue acts so incredibly bad-ass it seems like she could give Wolverine and the Punisher lessons in bad-assery. Nothing special or revolutionary, but Dwayne McDuffie's action is all exciting and his jokes are all funny, and penciler Paul Pelletier's work looks even better this week than it did last issue, and that issue looked better than the issue before that—always a good sign. I just wish I knew why Marvel insisted on putting its worst foot imaginable—a twisted, deformed, gangrenous, cloven hoof of a foot—forward on this title, burying one of it's most reliable solid superhero soaps under Turner's increasingly awful covers.

The Last Fantastic Four Story #1 (Marvel)
Wow, there are a lot of FF stories out this week. There were three in my haul alone, and I'm pretty sure I saw some more on the shelves. I lost count of how many times I was told that the big hand was on the twelve and the little hand on the clobber. Maybe a half-dozen? If that strikes you as too many declarations of "It's clobberin' time!" or too many Fantastic Four stories for a single week, don't worry. This is the last one. Ever. That Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch run they made a big deal out of? Not going to happen anymore. They're probably just going to have to recycle Hitch's pencil art.

Okay, no, not really. This seems to kinda sorta be along the lines of those The End stories Marvel has been doing at random intervals, only one of which I've actually read (The Punisher: The End by Garth Ennis and Richard Corben, and it was awesome). Only since they already did a Fantastic Four: The End series, they decided to call it The Last Fantastic Four Story, and then go ahead and add a "#1" to it, just to imply that there will be others and that it therefore needs to be designated by a number.

What makes this one kind of special is that it's scripted by Stan Lee, co-creator of the FF. Lee's writing can be hard to read, particularly straight, and I can usually take about ten pages of it before my eyes start to cross—the last time I really read much of his work was in those delightful Stan Lee Meets... stories, and those were all short and played for laughs, so it worked beautifully. This story is played perfectly straight, though, and can thus be a little tiresome.

It was nevertheless fascinating.

I admit I didn't really approach it as escapist entertainment, having never really given myself over to the story. Instead, I approached as a "let's see how this living legend from an era long past can manage to write for today's audience" kind of thing. In that respect, it was an interesting read, although it's perhaps worth noting that I would have completely passed on this if it weren't for the artist, John Romita Jr., whom I'll buy pretty much anything from (Need an example of why? Flip thorough your own copy until you get to The Adjucator straddling over Manhattan. Holy crap! Is that an original design? A tweak of an old Kirby one? Because it is just gorgeous...the missing pieces of its body lending it an air of otherworldliness which separates it from the many dozens of Kirby and Kirby-esque giants we've seen over the years).

It was odd to see a Lee version of decompression, in which information he could have put in two panels if he wanted is spread across two whole pages, giving the book an oddly cinematic feel (Odd for something with Lee's name on it, anyway). Likewise, the dialogue the characters spout is perfect—if silly and a tad dated—no one writes Thing, Dr. Doom or Silver Surfer dialogue as well as Lee. Sure, other, much better writers have filled their mouths with good, more realistic dialogue, but it never sounded as right as it does here. One tic from his era of comics writing that Lee retains is having the characters explain what's happening to the readers, making the words convey the same information as the images, and thus proving redundant (I noticed this happening a lot in Showcase Presents volumes). For example, JRJR will draw a panel of terrorists with their guns exploding into flames in their hands, and one of them will shout something like, "Our guns—exploding to flames in our hands!" or whatever). I'm also pretty interested in the process, which we get a peek into at the end, in which the outline and parts of the script (or is that the whole script?) is repritned, complete with notes from the editor, suggesting changes (How daunting must that be, to edit a friggin' Stan Lee FF story and say things like, "You know, that scene doesn't really work, why don't we try this instead?”).

Lee doesn't do much to take advantage of the "Last" in the title—nobody really dies, gets maimed, changes from the way they were initially conceived or does anything any differently than they might in a story that wasn't their last. This is a pretty freeing set-up for a story—Lee could do anything with the characters, really—but it's more or less just one more FF story. And that's more of an observation than a criticism. These are Lee's babies, he can do whatever he wanted with them in this story for all I care. I just wanted to see what he'd do and how he'd do it and, even more so, see JRJR drawing the hell out of the FF, and the many, many Marvel Universe guest stars that appear.

Mice Templar #1 (Image Comics) I didn't buy this comic this week, because I'd read a pdf of it to review it for Best Shots @ . But I would have bought it otherwise. You can read me gas on about it for 900 words or so here if you like; if you don't have that kind of time but am curious what I thought, you could check out this week's Las Vegas Weekly comics col tomorrow night, which will have a couple hundred words on it. Or I guess I could just tell you right now that it's a pretty good read, it's very little like that other book it might strongly remind you of, and that it features the best Oeming art I've ever seen (And Oeming's stuff is pretty much always pretty good anyway, isn't it?).

Teen Titans #50 (DC)
Hey, it’s finally here! After a few months of meandering from crossover to crossover under the careless guidance of Adam Beechen, who’s first solo issue on the title was probably the worst DC comic book ever published (I’m exaggerating…a little), Beechen’s fellow Countdowner Sean McKeever metaphorically rides in on a white horse to return the series to readability. McKeever, you’ll recall, has built his rep writing good teenage characters for an SLG series, before graduating to writing very good teenaged super-characters for Marvel. So McKeever onTeen Titans, a book all about teenaged superheroes? Pretty much a guaranteed hit (creatively, if not financially).

This issue is extra-special in that not only is it McKeever’s first, but he’s joined by former Titans writers Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman and former Titans artists George Perez and Mike McKone, plus Impulse writer Todd Dezago and Young Justice artists Todd Nauck and Larry Stucker (and Young Justice was basically just Teen Titans in all but name, for those of you who might have missed that consistently entertaining title).

To put it mildly, I was pretty excited about this issue. But then, I was excited about McKeever on Countdown too and, well, that book didn’t turn out so hot (Not that it was all his fault; from the issues I read, his wasn’t any suckier than anyone else’s, and most of the problems seemed to revolve around the fact that the plot made absolutely no sense at all, rather than the skills of the scripters).

So, are my hopes to be met, exceeded or dashed?

Well, I’ll tell you. But I’m going to do so as lazily as possible, because I have rather a lot to say about Teen Titans #50, and due to real life intruding, I’m now rapidly running out of Wednesday hours. So I’m bulletpointing this. Ready? Okay then, here are Seven Thoughts On Teen Titans #50:

1.) The cover sucks. And it sucks really, really, really badly. It’s by Ale Garza and Scott Williams, “with Reis,” whatever that means (Seems like a lot of artists for one terrible image, doesn’t it?). It’s of what I take to be the new line-up, and they’re all posing superheroically. That in and of itself would be fine, I guess. Even despite the complete lack of any and all background. (At least with that awful Turner FF cover, and the awful Turner FF covers that preceded it, the colorist usually tries to make it look like the heroes are in space or in a cloud of smoke or a fire or something more active than a mildly gradated field of green). I’ve seen Garza art that I’ve liked quite a bit before, but I don’t see it here. These are universally bad designs of the characters, and pretty bad drawings of these bad designs (You know you’re in trouble when Supergirl is the best looking, best rendered character on a cover). He seems to go out of his way to make the new Kid Devil and Blue Beetle III designs look completely repellent, which is actually kind of hard, as that Blue Beetle costume design is fantastic. And yet here Jaime has the facial structure of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and Eddie seems to have the face of the Tim Curry in Legend. Yeesh.

Worse still, let’s look at where the composition of this thing, shall we? Garza gets the Turner Award for foot drawing avoidance (seven characters, but only one whole foot!), but, beyond that, the characters are all just kind of floating, with no real relation to one another. That’s fine for the ones who can fly, but what’s Robin doing? A jumping jack? Is he floating? How long is Ravager’s right arm, and is her sword between Robin and his cape? Where are Wonder Girl’s legs? They just fade away like ghost legs. And why is the whole focus of the picture Robin’s crotch? These are minors for God’s sake!

Anyway, the cover? It sucks. It sucks hard. The longer I look at it, the more I die inside. And making it especially sucky is the fact that the issue is jam-packed with great artists. It’s a crime against nature to put something like this over Perez interiors, isn’t it? Why can’t we have him doing the cover? I bet he could have fit every Titan in the book, if not every Titan ever, on that page. Or how about Todd Nauck, who only draws a single page inside—surely he had time in his schedule for a cover that doesn’t completely suck?

And while I’m going on too long about the cover, I’d also just like to add that I hate, have always hated, and will likely continue to hate the current Titans logo. It looks like something a middle-aged ad exec would have thought teenagers in 2001 would have thought was cool. Please note that it’s now 2007, and the series launched in 2003. And our hypothetical middle-aged ad exec would have been wrong in 2001, anyway.

2.) Note the chest of the Superboy statue on the first page. I like how penciler Randy Green obviously drew the S-shield there, and then later down the line they covered it up with a brilliantly bright flash of sunlight off of Superboy’s chest. See, DC’s currently involved in a lawsuit over the ownership of Superboy. I guess the name Superboy, not this particular iteration, who is a completely different character who simply has the same name as the disputed Superboy. While DC’s been less than subtle about erasing the character from existence in their fictional universe—no character can utter the word “Superboy” when discussing this guy or Superboy-Prime, for example—apparently DC can’t feature an unnamed Superboy character with the Superman S-shield on his chest either, despite the fact that no one thinks the S-sheild is in dispute (But the concept of a teenaged boy with it on his chest is, I guess?). So that explains the dumb-ass cover to the previously mentioned godawful issue of Teen Titans in which Superboy clone Match has his S-shield obscured by a random flash of light (at the time I just assumed it was a poor creative choice, like pretty much every other creative choice made in that issue).

You know, there are easier ways around this, ones that don’t involve calling attention to the fact that you’re trying to not call attention to Superboy’s lack of an S-shield. Like not including a giant golden Superboy statue in the scene, for example. Or using an angle that doesn’t require us to see his chest. Apparently, the embargo on the symbol has been in effect for months now. That cover which hides Match’s S-shied is at least four months old, and Karl Kershcl was apparently asked to take Superboy out of the Teen Titans back-up origin he did for 52. So someone could have probably just asked Green not to draw attention to the statue of Superboy’s chest.

3.) McKeever’s dialogue is, as always, spot on. He shows a pretty good understanding of the characters’ various histories, their relationships and the way they speak to one another. Page 2’s Robin eulogy is nicely worded, for example, and does what DC has seemed kind of reluctant to do—acknowledge that Bart Allen was ever Impulse (A move which seems especially unfortunate now that Impulse’s co-creator has died tragically early; a pity his major contribution to the DCU didn’t outlive him). In addition to the Titans on the cover, McKeever writes a few scenes featuring Flash, Cyborg, Starfire, Beast Boy and Raven, plus Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Martian Manhunter. And they all sound like themselves. Whew.

4.) The Johns/McKone contribution is another version of a part of the story they told in Teen Titans #9, in which Robin and some Titans let Bart drive a Batmobile. It was a rare fun and light moment in Johns’ Titans run, so it’s nice to see it repeated even if it still reads like something of a—well, of a repeat. Here it’s a Batplane. Bonus points for mentioning Challengers Mountain.

5.) McKeever makes only one real continuity error, and it’s not too terribly big a deal, but I’m going to point it out anyway because that’s the kind of anal retentive, nitpicking asshole I am.

On the plane ride away from the tower, Wally says “When Bart said he wanted to join the Titans, I remember thinking, No way. Impusle is not Titans material. Young Justice was one thing, but the Titans…? That was serious business. Then, sure enough, he’s a Titan for less than a day and he gets his kneecap blown off by Deathstroke.”

Yeah Wally, as you’re no doubt well aware, that was actually Bart’s second tour of duty on the Titans. His first day was actually some time ago, right after Zero Hour. Impulse was on the Arsenal-led version of the team that existed between Zero Hour and the launch of the Dan Jurgens volume of Teen Titans. (He joined in New Titans #0 and New Titans #115, and was on the team through at least “The Siege of the ZiCharam” in #124. After that I’m not so sure…the series ended with #130, and I have a lot of holes in my longbox during those last few arcs).

This time on the team, in which he befriended and developed a crush on Rose Wilson, also seems ignored by Rose, who blows off all the Bart memorial stuff, although that could just as easily be intentional, her being in denial or some such.

The bit about Bart trying to see Kory and Raven naked seemed a little off too, seeing as Bart was always pretty uninterested in naked ladies, particularly for a teen boy, but I suppose that could have been after Johns started characterizing him as a typical teen instead of a younger kid. At any rate, if Kory lets minors stare at her naked, she probably shouldn’t be working with kids.

6.) The Wolfman/Perez story is only four pages long. And it has 36 panels! It’s always really well written and really well drawn. Wolfman’s dialogue seems a bit dated but, well, it’s a flashback, so it works.

7.) The Dezago/Nauck/Stucker page is perfect, and makes me wish they got more than a page. Cassie recaps a few reasons why she didn’t take Bart all that seriously, and the creators show flashbacks to four Young Justice adventures that didn’t actually happen, but are all silly in the sort of way that Peter David’s YJ stories were. And the silent Impulse with the quizzical look on his face, even thinking a giant question mark in a thought cloud at one point, was such a refreshing sight. That’s the Bart Allen I remember, the one Waid and Ringo created, and the one DC has slowly been killing since at least Teen Titans #1. And it was nice to see him back again. Just as it was nice to see Nauck and Stucker drawing these characters again (I hope they’re at the top of fill-in/guest artist lists for this series).


Anonymous said...

Other annoying thing was the "Never driven before" when he went on a joyride the second issue of Impulse, and didn't know how to fly a plane when he had his own spaceship (Which mysteriously went missing when Bart joined the Titans.)

Very disappointed the "Bart Allen tribute issue" turned out to be a "Kid Flash as a franchise tribute issue."

You think editorial mandated how often they had to say Kid Flash was better than Impulse? It's like they think they can rewrite history.

JohnF said...

I guess somebody likes Michael Turner. I just don't know who. I almost got into a fistfight at the comic book store for slagging Turner, but it turns out the guy defending him just felt like I was being mean. For piling on a guy who had so bravely fought against cancer. While I do feel bad that Turner has so many physical problems, it doesn't mean I'm going to act like he can draw. I know that drawing feet is difficult, but you gotta figure it out eventually.

JohnF said...

And I obviously posted this on the wrong thread. Great. I meant to be commenting on the one with the Power Girl pictures.