Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Weekly Haul: September 12th
Black Adam: The Dark Age #2 (DC Comics) You know, under most circumstances, I’d say any comic in which a guy disembowels a yeti and then uses its intestines to bungee jump to safety is a pretty awesome. But when the character who does it is one that usually wears a Shazam lighting bolt on his chest, it just seems like the writer’s trying to hard to inject some bad-assery and late-eighties grim ‘n gritty into his super-comic. Perhaps it’s the fact that the scene in question is coupled with a scene of a naked lady decomposing into a gory skeleton and a scene of Superman playing bad cop to Batman’s even worse cop (Woah dude! Superman’s totally denying that would-be assassin of a genocidal maniac his civil rights! That’s some post-9/11 moral relevance! Maybe he’s not such a boy scout after all!). Peter Tomasi’s career as a DC writer instead of a DC editor isn’t off to a very auspicious start, and my affection for Tom Mahnke’s pencils and the work of Chris Alamy in general (check out that neat cover of Teth Adam’s body bubbling into Black Adam’s, or the crazed look in Faust’s eyes) isn’t really enough to make up for wading through all this nastiness for nastiness’ sake. I think I’ve slogged through about as much of this miniseries as I’m going to be able to take.
Booster Gold #2 (DC) Taking their inspiration from Justice League Unlimited’s “The Greatest Story Never Told,” writers Geoff Johns and John Katz continue to riff off last issue’s set-up of Booster as “the Greatest Hero You’ve Never Heard Of!” As a reader, I enjoyed this issue from cover to cover. As a guy who writes about the comics I read (I almost said “critic” there, and while I am a comics critic, I feel a little weird saying it here in the middle of a “Weekly Haul” column, given how these tend to be gut reactions to what I’ve just put down a few hours ago), I find it utterly fascinating that the writers are able to spin such an accessible and entertaining tale out of continuity futzing. The subject matter, after all, is the same dreary business that Infinite Crisis and Coundown and the like deal with, but here it’s fun rather than frustrating. It’s also impressive super-comic storytelling, of the kind that’s increasingly rare. Johns and Katz tell a complete “done-in-one”-style story involving Booster being Rip’s “time monkey” and making sure Guy Gardener doesn’t become Green Lantern before Hal Jordan, while in a few short segments moving the larger plot forward. We see an evil Supernova bump heads with Rip, and we see the too-rarely glimpsed Golden Age Blue Beetle get his powers. The creators also continue to have a lot of fun with this particular depiction of the time stream, with DC history serving as background. Squint and you’ll see the Golden Age Amazing Man as a little boy or Batman punching out Guy Gardener in the early days of the JLI, and take time to savor Dr. 13’s crew complaining about how “The Architects” (like Johns) only write about popular characters, like Mr. Terrific, “He was always a guaranteed hit! Look at that jacket!” Taken as a whole, or merely as a series of individual moments—Skeets vs. Sinestro! Sinestro literally twirling his oh-so-twirlable moustache! Michael Carter trying to talk up Guy in a bar…but not in a gay way!—Booster Gold is solid fun.
Green Lantern #23 (DC) Oh Hal Jordan, you’re just the manliest man who’s ever been manly! Geoff Johns opens his next chapter of the “The Sinestro Corps War” (according tot he cover, this is part 6, but I haven’t read any of the Green Lantern Corps issues and don’t seem to be missing anything important), with this charming narration: “I Hate horror films. Saw ‘Friday the 13th Part Something.’ The kid in the hockey mask was stupid. ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’? That sweater made me laugh. Now ‘Love Actually’ or ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’? Diamond Rings? Sacred vows?…Those are the things nightmares are made of.”
From there, Johns plunges into more ringslinger on ringslinger violence, bringing John and Guy back into the fight, and widening things beyond a giant space war story by focusing on how fear is impacting some normal folk back on earth, and how the use of emotions is dividing the Guardians. If you like the Lanterns, or the DCU in particular, this is a blast. If not, this is so insidery it probably reads like it’s written in Esperanto. It’s a huge story that seems to bet huger all the time. Forget the Amazons attacking, the “death” of the New Gods and counting down to some sort of “Final” crisis—it’s impossible to even imagine a DC story bigger than one in which Superboy-Prime, the villain who it took every hero in the DCU to stop, teams up with a possessed-by-Parallax Green Lantern, a combo that took every hero in the history of the DCU to stop in the past, and the freaking Anti-Monitor, a villain it took every hero in the entire Multiverse to stop.
JLA: Classified #42 (DC) Having apparently exhausted all of the left-over inventory stories gathering dust in drawers somewhere, JLA:C has switched its focus to publishing new stories that should be gathering dust in a drawer somewhere. This issue kicks off a new story arc, focusing on Martian Manhunter. While I don’t have particularly strong feelings for writer Justin Gray and penciler Rick Leonardi, I was kind of looking forward to this story, as a) it seemed to feature Classic Look J’onn J’onnz instead of the papaya-headed, black leather bodysuit rocking J’onn, b) it had a Walt Simonson cover and c) it meant Peter Milligan’s seemingly endless Kid Amazo storyline was finally wrapping up.
Well, that’ll teach me to look forward to anything in this book, which has been getting worse and worse since the second story arc wrapped up a few years back.
Gray gives us a story set “Back In The Day,” as the cover slug tells us, when Martian Manhunter first met Superman. This begins with a few pages of Superman/Martian Manhunter they’re the same but different comparisons, which we’ve all seen dozens of times (Done with the most wit and originally in just a few panels here), before Superman notices a human detective watching him from a rooftop and flies up to introduce himself.
This happens much differently than the story of the first meeting between the pair that occurred here
(Hey look, another Simonson cover!) It’s worth noting that those two stories didn’t exactly match up either, but the former told a long, complex, character driven story (all done in 22 pages), about J’onn J’onnz anxiously watching Superman grow up from afar before finally meeting him as an ally. The latter featured a few pages of the two men shaking hands, embedded in an annual-length story chronicling Superman’s first encounters with the various members of the original Justice League line-up.
I know, I know, the whole of DC history and continuity was changed forever as part of the events of IC and 52, but did we really need to revisit the circumstances of J’onn and Superman’s first handshake? Particularly considering how drastically this story differs from John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s Martian Manhunter monthly, still the longest and by far best Martian Manhunter story ever told (In their version, J’onn was teleported to Earth shortly after the Golden Age came to a close, living among us in secret, and not coming out as J’onn J’onnz until about the time the League forms. In this story, he doesn’t even teleport to Earth until after Superman’s debut).
What makes it all even more frustrating is that Gray obviously read at least a few issues of Ostrander and Mandrake’s series, as he writes J’onn’s evil twin brother Malefic into the story to give J’onn someone to talk to.
(For more continuity woes, Superman introduces J’onn to the about-to-become Leaguers, including Wonder Woman but excluding Black Canary. Apparently DC still hasn’t resolved it’s League history since they changed it during Infinite Crisis almost two years ago).
So what we have here is Example #523 of a DC super-comic whose sole storytelling purpose is to take apart a previous story, and build something less interesting and less well-told in its place. Increasingly, the DC Universe is like particularly crass downtown real estate development, in which older buildings are torn down to make way for shoddily constructed, ugly looking new buildings to house fast-food joints and chain businesses that no one wants to go to anyway.
If this was better than, or at least as good as, all the stories it takes part in un-telling—JLA: Year One, Martian Manhunter, that one Superman annual—it might not be as irritating. As is though, it's merely a creatively bankrupt excercise in filling up page-space. If this is really the best DC can come up with for an anthology title dedicated to untold stories of the Justice League from any point in their history, they really ought to just go ahead and cancel this series.
Not a bad cover, though.
Justice League of America Wedding Special #1 (DC) I wonder if I went back and rigorously searched all my old posts, how many times I’d find the use of the metaphor “shooting themselves in the foot” in relation to DC Comics? A few dozen, maybe? This JLA Wedding Special is a good example of just such behavior. Here we have what is for all intents and purposes the launch of new JLoA writer Dwayne McDuffie’s run. Heck, the solicitation copy crows as much: “Dwayne McDuffie (Justice League Unlimited animated series) begins his run on the Justice League of America here!”
Now, why on Earth would DC start McDuffie’s JLoA run somewhere other than JLoA? As DC editorial is hopefully quite aware, JLoA is currently their top-selling book, by a large, large margin. The characters associated with the wedding, Green Arrow and Black Canary, have been starring in two relatively low selling minis (Between one-fifth and one-sixth of the sales of JLoA). They will star in two other wedding related one-shots—Last week’s Black Canary Wedding Planner and an upcoming Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special, and the wedding was advertised in a house ad as part of Countdown, which moves a little better than half as many copies a month as JLoA. The other Justice League tile, JLA:Classified, only moves about one-fourth as many copies as JLoA.
So why would DC go out of its way to launch a special that is guaranteed to sell less well than JLoA, if it’s going to be written by the new JLoA writer and begin the next JLoA story arc anyway? There is no logical reason, except to sell fewer copies.
And that, friends, is DC shooting themselves in the foot. Again. Considering JLoA is their best-selling title, but losing the man who’s made it such —Brad Meltzer—to be replaced by a much more talented, beloved by fans but clearly not as popular writer, is already likely to have the title hemoraghing readers. So DC does the sensible thing, and does all it can to guarantee the new run gets off to a rocky start.
Once you actually read the book, it becomes even more puzzling a move, as there is hardly anything in here that necessitates a “wedding special.” DC’s heroes gather for Oliver Queens bachelor party and Black Canary’s bachelorette party, but the two play only tiny roles in the story, there’ s no wedding, and the bulk of the issue deals with the gathering of a new and powerful Evil Opposites team, this one going by the name of the Injustice League.
The story itself, “Unlimited Chapter 1: Injustice League” (See? Chapter 1. This is totally just going to continue in the regular series anyway. Ghah!), was tremendously exciting for me, but that may be in part because I’ve been dying for a good Justice League story lately (if you’ve read any more than three consecutive posts here, you’re probably aware that I consider Brad Meltzer’s Justice League run among The Worst Things Ever, with JLoA #10 standing shoulder to shoulder with Adam Beechen’s first solo issue on Teen Titans as a book I honestly can’t believe DC even published).
So it certainly helps that the story kicks off with a three-page parody of Meltzer’s four issues of the Trinity sitting around the cave looking at glamour shots together storyline, with the Evil Opposite Trinity of Lex Luthor, The Joker and The Cheetah looking at mugshots to assemble their own team.
Meanwhile, there’s the aforementioned bachelor and bachelorette parties, a changing of the Green Lantern guard (handled about as realistically and as gracefully as when Joe Kelly had to swap Kyle out for John Stewart after “The Obsidian Age” because DC wanted the cartoon Lantern in the comic book, and certainly much better than Meltzer’s off-page dumping of John for Hal, which was never even addressed), and a savage beat down of the new Firestorm, which puts him on his deathbed.
McDuffie has found his way to a lot of these characters’ voices almost immediately, as right out the gate their dialogue and interactions are interesting and fun to read, and he packs the story with characters, including quite a few guest-stars and villains (his Joker is particularly fun to read).
The art comes courtesy of Mike McKone and Andy Lanning, and compared to the last regular-ish art team on JLoA, it’s a refreshing change. I imagine that Ed Benes, who has mastered exactly two character designs (buff male superhero and buxom female superhero) and seems to have a problem conveying any more than the bare minimum detail, despite what the script may call for, would have seen his right hand spontaneously explode if he simply read the script for this issue, and saw all the characters he’d have to draw.
I’ve never been a big fan of McKone’s work, which always struck me as overly stiff, but it’s certainly more naturalistic than Benes’, and he has a greater command of facial expressions and the “acting” of the characters he draws. There’s at least one godawful design in here—Luthor’s “battle suit” still looks like he’s wearing a hollowed out Destructicon, which may be appropriate for fighting Superman in, but not so much when just chilling around the meeting table or whatever—and some mistakes in the cameos in the background, but that’s as much an editor’s mistake as anything else. (There are a few indications that this book was put together in a bit of rush, like dialogue bubbles with their tails pointing to the wrong character and at not quite matching the dialogue, in addition to the smaller stuff, like including a Black Condor who’s two versions out of date at this point).
On the other hand, stuff happened in this issue. There was actual action, displays of super powers, and actual characterization instead of the appearance of characterization.
Plus, Geo-Force gets taken down. Hard. So there’s that.
Now, I’ve saved the worst for last: Ed Benes’ very, very, very bad cover. Go ahead and scroll back up and take a good long, hard look at it. I’ll wait. Okay, are you back? Great. At first glance, this seems to be a comic book story about Wonder Woman’s ass. At closer inspection, it’s a comic book story about women’s erogenous zones. Seriously, imagine a line extending across the page from Wonder Woman’s ass. What do you see? Huntress’ crotch, Wonder Woman’s ass, Oracle’s breasts, Black Canary’s crotch and the side of her ass. If we study the picture a little harder, and consider the title, and already know what’s going on in the love lives of some of the Leaguers, it seems clear that this must be Black Canary’s bachelorette party. And Superman, hovering over an oversized cake in the middle of the picture, his feet obscured by Wonder Woman’s breasts, has apparently jumped out the cake, stripper-style. That would explain why he’s the only man there, and why those white shapes are falling from his knees onto the top of the cake. It doesn’t explain why there’s no cake detritus anywhere on him, or why Superman, in the stripper role, is wearing more clothes than just about anyone there, save Barda.
Oh Ed Benes, I hate your work more and more each month…
That’s the version above, anyway. In a rare occurrence, DC actually seemed to agree with me, as the final cover is a bit different. Let's take a closer look.
Once again, here's the version of the cover that was solicited, and which can still be found at dccomics.com:
And here's what the final version of the cover, the one that was actually on the comic book that appeared in shops this week looked like:
You can see they’ve covered Huntress’ crotch with a UPC symbol, and Oracle’s breasts and Canary’s crotch with the “Party Crashers!” blurb (Please note no party is actually crashed in this issue.) Also, a great deal of frosting has been added onto and around Superman, apparently just through computer coloring. So now at least one gets the sense that he’s actually sprung out of the cake. Also, the coloring is also gradiated, so that Superman and Hawkgirl in the background, and Wonder Woman and Black Canary in the foreground, and the characters to either side of them really pop out, with the other characters faded out a bit. So, thanks to the colorist, the focal point no longer seems to be Wonder Woman’s ass, but Wondy and Canary watching Superman pop out of the cake, in a shower of CGI frosting.
Which makes me wonder, if DC’s relying on the colorist to salvage the image the cover penciler turns in, why botherhaving Benes draw the damn thing in the first place? Couldn’t they give the assignment to an artist who can compose an effective cover image? Couldn’t they send Benes’ original sketch back and say, “Hey, this looks great and all, but do you think you could maybe give us an image that deemphasizes Wonder Woman’s ass, and draws attention to the elements of the cover that aren’t Wonder Woman’s ass?” At times it really seems like DC works for it’s creators, and not the other way around, which is an odd way to run a big comic book company.
Justice Society of America #9 (DC) It says something about Geoff Johns’ abilities as a writer and Dale Eaglesham’s abilities as a pencil artist that I became incredibly disappointed with this story almost as soon as the heroes stopped just sort of hanging around being themselves and went into action to discover a body with a hole blown in it and the patented (although long-telegraphed) Geoff Johns Last-Panel Cliffhanger Moment. It says something, but I’m not sure what. That they’re so good at sketching out these characters—metaphorically in Johns’ case and literally in Eaglesham’s—that normal superhero tropes are almost beside the point, maybe? After a brief two-page sequence featuring Power Girl having a bad dream in her underwear (still, she’s wearing underwear, which makes this one of the more tasteful Power Girl in her bed at JSA HQ scenes), the middle section of the book is an extended sequence of the JSA at a Brooklyn fire hall pancake breakfast/charity boxing match. Eaglesham so perfectly fills every panel with wonderful little details, and Johns gives the heroes and civilians such neat little bits of character revealing dialogue that I was a little disappointed when the heroes and the firemen rush to the scene of a fire (although the two-page spread on pages 12 and 13? It ranks rather high on the unofficial list of The Greatest Things Ever), and then I got really disappointed when I found out what was causing it. Remember Goth, the red-skinned Marilyn Manson-looking horror movie actor/demon who Devin Grayson created to menace Caleb’s Favorite Titans Line-Up Ever? Well, he’s dead. I didn’t think he was a New God, so I don’t really know why he has a hole in his chest, but it’s leaking magic demon fire, so Starman attempts to save the day, which leads us to very boring guest-star Kingdom Come Superman. Oh snap! That one vaguely fascist guy from that one eleven year-old miniseries that served as an allegory for Image Comics’ incursion on the comics market previously ruled by DC and Marvel’s iconic heroes! He’s back! And he’s going to join the JSA! And Alex Ross is going to co-write the series for a story arc and zzzzz…
Huh? What? Where am I? Oh, sorry. I don’t know, maybe I’m in the minority here, but I’d really rather watch Wildcat II wear funny oversized boxing gear and watch Starman act like a nut than hear KC Superman express his displeasure with the heroes of the modern DCU. I mean, that’s my job. Er, hobby. Whatever.
New Avengers #34 (Marvel Comics) Remember in February’s New Avengers #27, when Brian Michael Bendis had Leinil Yu draw Luke Cage kicking Skrullektra in the crotch? Well, here it is seven months and seven issues later, and Bendis and Leinil are back for more violence against super-genitals. This time it’s The Hood shooting Wolverine in his junk repeatedly. I mean, there are just panels of Wolvie getting shot between the legs, and talking about his dick growing back. A lot of other stuff happens in this issue, too. Dr. Strange and Night Nurse do it (Woo hoo! I’m all for acknowledging the best Dr. Strange story I’ve ever read), the various Avengers all bond, and Baby Cage finally gets a first name, and it is darling (Seriously, I think I even said “Awwww…!” out loud when I read it). This ish basically amounted to a calm between the storms kind of thing, but Bendis has a nice ear for most of these guys’ dialogue, and I love Yu’s artwork (though I prefer Marcos Martin’s Night Nurse).
Okay, continuity question time: How does the Spider-Batman-is-totally-on-edge-and-gonna-kill-Kingpin-for-real-this-time story, “One More Day,” and the New Avengers stories fit together?
Suicide Squad #1 (DC) Rick Flag…in a black shirt! Nightshade in her ‘80s duds, rather than the Renaissance Faire get-up she wears while hanging out with Detective Chimp! Deadshot, back to being a total bad-ass instead of flirting with Catman! Bronze Tiger, not being forced to wear that stupid were-tiger thing he’s been wearing in Countdown! Captain Boomerang, being an asshole who throws boomerangs, instead of the fat, bald, over-the-hill loser who gets gunned down by Tim Drake’ s freaking dad! Amanda “The Wall” Waller blowing brains out! Communist super-villains! Dinosaurs! Yeah, there’s some nostalgia going on here. Set sometime before 1998’s JLA #24 (which is only a year and a half ago, oddly enough), this story features some of the more popular Squaddies reuniting under Waller’s command to investigate a report that Flag is still alive (and somewhere with dinosaurs, which means one of two totally awesome locales in the DCU). The ‘80sishness of Ostrander’s original Suicide Squad doesn’t translate so well on DC’s sliding timeline (the “People’s Heroes” seem horribly dated here, for example), but that’s honestly the worst thing I can think to say about this issue. It will be interesting to see what happens after the miniseries, though, if the Ostrander take on the Suicide Squad will fit in the 21st century (and in the current DCU), should sales warrant an ongoing.
Also of note, on the title page there’s a footnote, which DC editor Mike Carlin passionately hates. This one says “The events in this story take place before Salvation Run,” which seems kinda weird, since Salvation Run hasn’t hit the stands yet, and won’t for months.
Superman #667 (DC) The too-slow-for-a-monthly art team of Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino return, and we rejoin the Superman vs. Arion story already in progress. I’ve half forgotten where we left off, although this issue was pretty well written and very well drawn. I don’t doubt this will make a fine graphic novel some day, but as a serially published comic book, the inability to come out on a schedule kills whatever story momentum is there.
Ultimate Spider-Man #113 (Marvel) The Green Goblin and sundry other supervillains break out of the Triskelion again, and Brian Michael Bendis tries something cute with the page lay-out to pack more information than would otherwise be possible into the issue (sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t; here I got lost for a minute trying to figure out how far to follow the panel progression to the right before moving down). What separates this break out from the last one (or was it two, now?) is that it’s told completely from Norman Osborn’s point-of-view, with Spidey not even appearing until the last page. I should really switch to trades on this book. Maybe after this arc.
Wonder Girl #1 (DC) Disclaimer: I interviewed J. Torres about this series for Newsarama.com a while back. Not that it will affect anything I’m about to say, just thought I should disclose it, in case you’re the sort who likes to know if the guy alternately raving and complaining about the comics he read this week has ever, like, interviewed any of the creators or whatever.
So, the first issue of the first series featuring the second or third Wonder Girl boasts on the cover that this is a story “From the pages of Wonder Woman and Teen Titans,” which isn’t really anything you’d think DC would advertise. I mean, is it really to their advantage to remind people that this six-parter spins directly out of events you might have been so unfortunate to endure as two of DC’s worst monthlies? (They might as well thrown a Countdown and Amazons Attack on there two, as it kinda deals with some of that, too).
Luckily, that’s less than an inch of cover retail, the bulk of which belongs to Wonder girl hauling back to paste a hydra across a couple of its faces, as drawn by Sanford Greene, a new contributor to the DCU whom I’m tremendously excited about. His art work recalls Damion Scott’s work on Batgirl, and he brings a nice, flat, smooth sensibility to the project, one that evokes animation, manga and videogame style, with a touch of hip hop art. I could read just about any story with art this good illustrating it, I think.
On the story side of things, this really wasn’t poised to do very well at all. Even before Amazons Attack fucked up all things Wonder in the DCU, Wonder Girl was in a bit of a bad place. She’d just sat out part of a worldwide crisis to engage in some sweet, sweet underage sex with her boyfriend when he was killed and erased from the face of the DCU by ongoing litigation, plunging her into the world of resurrection cults in 52, soap opera-ish sniping with bad girl Rose Wilson in Teen Titans, and some of the more nonsensical elements of Amazons Attack (Hey, so how do you figure the American government managed to build Amazon concentration camps and round up all of the women who had contact with the Amazons and put them in there in less time then it took them to repel a thousand women with spears from the U.S. capital? Prioritize fictional U.S. government, prioritize!)
Torres rushes through the complete history of Cassandra Sandsmark in three pages, before giving us her new status quo. She’s living under an assumed name, trying to stay below the anti-Amazon radar, and going about trying to clean up all of the mythological monsters left over from the Amazon invasion.
Torres writes the character as a lot less shrill than most of the other writers to tackle her in the last few years, but she’s still a long way from likeable, coming off as more than a little irritating to be around. The quest-like, even video-game esque set-up is a neat one, but it’s unfortunate it’s so tied into so many other bad stories, as it kind of suffers from the taint of what’s come before. When Hercules shows up in the last page, for example, it’s hard not to think of the last place we saw him—Allen Heinberg’s still unfinished “Who Is Wonder Woman?” story, which DC ultimately left unfinished since Heinberg was incapable of delivering 22-pages of script once a month. (Or every other month. Or every couple months).
But remember a few paragraphs ago when I said I could read just about anything if I liked the art as much as I like Greene’s? Well, good think Greene’s drawing this thing. I’ll be back for #2, which I hope will be able to further distance itself from Amazons Attack and Teen Titans. Cassandra Sandsmark really is a neat character with a lot of potential, and I know Torres can right great comics about teenagers and/or super-teenagers, so at this point the book just needs to try and disentangle itself from the editorial created mess it was born in.