Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Weekly Haul: September 19th

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #56 (DC Comics) The lame duck creative team of Tad Williams and Shawn McManus continue to close out this volume of the Aquaman monthly at breakneck speed. This issue wraps up the plot thread dealing with Savage/Kordax Jr./Flying Fish/Mr. Jupiter’s little brother, Mr. Jupiter plot to destroy half of the world, and moves the magically-aged Tempest plot a little further. Still a lot of ground to cover in the next, concluding issue though. Williams writes fun dialogue for Aquagirl II, and choreographs a brutal fight between Cyborg and Vandal Savage. McManus draws the hell out of everything, and I giggle every time I see his Human Flying Fish’s furiously beating tiny little humming bird-like wings. Someday someone is going to encounter all of these post-cancellation announcement Williams/McManus books in a fifty-cent box at a convention somewhere, and they are going to be tremendously excited to discover how incredibly fun this much maligned title actually was.

Compass #1 (Image Comics) This new series is being illustrated by the incredibly talented Ryusuke Hamamoto, and co-written by Akihide Yanagi and C.B. Cebulski. That first name is most likely the most familiar, as it seems like I see it attached to a book at least once a month. I often wonder how Cebulski has time for his work as an editor and do all the writing he does. Well, this issue provides a possible answer—though he does a lot of writing, not all of it is very good. Or, in this case, any good at all.

This $2.99 issue, which amounts to about 20 pages of manga, only colored and in the mostly-abandoned comic book format for manga, begins with a dateline of “Japan, Today.” That’s all the set-up we get to an exposition-filled speech by a wizard-looking guy who laments the fact that magic-users are slowly being eradicated by the modern world’s insistence on increasingly reducing them to characters in works of fiction (Like this comic book, for example). The exposition continues, as we’re introduced to four girls, each of whom represent a point on the compass, which translates into them being an American, a European, an Asian and African. The exposition continues a bit longer. There are some robots. Then more exposition. And some more expositon. And that takes us to the last page, and a “To Be Continued…”

Not so much a story as an illustrated outline for a story, Compass seems like a waste of everyone’s time and talents, form the creators on down to the readers. “But Caleb,” you say, “You brought this home amid a stack of mostly Big Two super-comics, clearly you’re not the intended market for this.” No, maybe not, but what is its audience exactly, do you think? I’m not entirely sure. It can’t be little girls or manga fans, as Image Comics isn’t exactly where manga fans look for manga, nor little girls look for many of their comics, and this format is one that is increasingly foreign to both American manga readers and little kids who read comics.

Whether something is created for me personally or not though, I should still be able to discern some redeeming quality in it, right? Sadly, that wasn’t the case with this book.

Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality (DC) Finally free of the lead anchor that was The Spectre III, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Tales of the Unexpected back-up stories are all gathered together in a trade collection, finally giving those of us patient enough to wait for it the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about. If you’re on the Internet, you’ve probably already heard rave reviews about this story (I belive the consensus opinion of critics is that it was the Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread), and likely already know the gist of it—Dr. 13 and a collection of DC’s least marketable characters team up to do battle against Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns. Actually, some (most?) of you have probably already read it, and don’t need to hear me say anything about it.

But I’ve never let something like that stop me from babbling on before, and I’m not about to start. So brace yourself for a long, wandering review! (Or just skip ahead to the next one).

So, yes, this story? It is indeed awesome. It’s also awfully complex, written on so many different levels that I find it difficult to even approach it in the patented breezy, instant reaction, typo-filled manner of the traditional Weakly Haul review.

Dr. 13, a “ghost-breaker” who originally filled pages of various anthologies in the Silver Age, was a character devoted to proving the supernatural was hooey. It’s a neat hook for a character, and one that becomes ever more humorous in today’s DCU. Since the Silver Age, the DC Universe has become increasingly cohesive, to the point where all of the books are assumed to share a story space unless otherwise noted. As someone who doesn’t believe in magic, the supernatural or cyptozoology, this puts the good doctor in a weird place. Reading Showcase Presents Superman, for example, you’ll see stories of Superman denying belief in magic and ghosts and the like. But eventually, magic became so common place in his world that it was a weakness of Superman’s, up there with kryptonite. Now he can’t fly around the block without running into a magical character of some sort.

Living in this world then, Doctor 13’s skepticism would seem like a form of madness, and Azarello plays it for laughs, as he meets a succession of increasingly impossible characters. It’s easy enough to deny a yeti, for example, but a yeti which is actually a vampire disguised as a yeti, with whom you find a frozen cave boy and board a flying ghost pirate ship en route to a hidden fortress of talking Nazi gorillas? Well, that’s going to take some super-skepticism.

Azzarello and artist partner Cliff Chiang portray their star as a square-jawed but sardonic man of the ‘50s, whose whole life must have become something of a sitcom, given the world in which he lives. He narrates the issues, commenting on the literary devices Azzarello employs and making dry jokes for his own benefit about those he encounters, which include Andrew Bennett (Of long defunct feature I, Vampire), Captain Fear, Genius Jones, a Nazi gorilla of the Primate Patrol named Julian, Anthro, the ghost of J.E.B. Stuart which haunts the Haunted Tank (which makes a brief appearance) and Infectious Lass, a Legion subsitute heroine who is weird even by the standards of the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

Their enemies are The Architects, who first appear as a giant from Azzarello’s own under-appreciated Superman run with Jim Lee, and then take on other forms, a series of creepier and creepier disguises.

Pretty much every line of the thing is a joke, and a fine, subtle one; I particularly enjoyed the ways in which they kept constructing the pronunciation of “I Vampire.” On the surface, it’s a romp of some of DC’s weirdest characters, but it’s also a weird meta-commentary on comics in general, particularly DC’s post-Infinite Crisis direction.

I’d highly recommend this series to anyone who…well, anyone who reads comics, actually. I suppose the more you know about the DCU and the comics industry, the more there is to it, but it’s a blast from start to finish, and Chiang’s art is incredible. I liked it in Human Target, but this is whole leaps and bounds above that. For lack of a better term, it’s incredibly comic book-y; perhaps the comic book-iest of art, and there’s certainly nothing better than super comic book-y art in a comic book, especially a comic book that is at least three-fourths about comic books.

That said, I would like to address the foes that the Dr. 13 is faced with, his Architects. Reading the interviews he and Chiang are doing all over the Internet today, it seems that this story is more a commentary on Azzarello’s original job offer, and being told that these characters were on the list of those who wouldn’t appear in 52, more than in response to anything else.

He extrapolates quite a story about fictional characters struggling for their survival against writers who don’t think they belong in a carefully managed fictional universe, and while he turns it into a castigation against world-building, or at least a celebration of world’s already built, I’m not so sure how deserving these targets are.

Ceratinly Grant Morrison is a more colorful character to turn into a comic villain than, say, Dan DiDio (Plus, he has an accent, and Azzarello does more crazy accents in this comic book than your typical early Chris Claremont X-Men), but it’s worth mentioning that Morrison did write Dr. 13 into a story only a year or two previously (Seven Soldiers: Zatanna), and Azzarello and Chiang’s little epic seems to be in the same mode as Morrison’s old Animal Man arc about character limbo, some of the characters of which Morrison himself would eventually help rescue.

While the four 52 writers might not have reached the Z-List of DC characters that included Genius Jones, they were certainly down to the X- and Y-List. I mean, 52 had Ambush Bug, Dumb Bunny, Beefeater, Tim Trench, Terra-Man, Super Chief, Sivana’s kids, That One Scientist Who Created the Super-Hood Robot That Only Appeared in One Issue of Dial H For Hero and Egg fucking Fu. They’re hardly against the obscure characters, you know?

I’m not sure how much of Dr. 13 was meant as a rebuke and how much of it was just riffing on guys who seemed like they were rebuilding the DCU, but, read now, those four seem like odd targets. Sure, they built the word of 52, but how much of that even stuck? There are a half-dozen or so 52 spin-offs, but those series seem mostly preoccupied with un-telling aspects of 52.

“One Year Later,” Morrison was only writing Batman, and had given some notes to some other writers for a few miniseries (Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, Metal Men) and one ongoing (The All-New Atom). Mark Waid was writing Brave and the Bold. Greg Rucka was writing Checkmate. Geoff Johns was writing half of a Superman arc, Green Lantern and Teen Titans.

From late 2007, these “Architects” seemed to have built a temporary world in 52, one that was immediately dwarfed by the world of “One Year Later” changes and the Countdown business, which quickly took over the entire DCU. Johns continues to play a big role in the DCU, but only in pocket places now, the GL franchise, JSoA, the occasional free-floating Superman story, and the just-launched Booster Gold, which will necessarily stay far removed from the rest of the DCU. Brad Meltzer, Allen Heinberg, (especially) Paul Dini, Gail Simone, Tony Bedard, “Graymiotti” all seem to be bigger players, or about to become bigger players, in the architecture of the DCU of 2007 and beyond

Anyway, I’m drifting pretty far off topic here, circling around only one aspect of a rich and rewarding work, but it’s obviously a very interesting aspect of that work. Last week I snickered at what seemed like Johns’ rebuttal, in which Doctor 13’s gang appears in the timestream in Booster Gold #2.

“It’s those guys like Booster Gold that are bringin’ us down! And Renee Montoya! And Animal Man!” Genius Jones states. Others chime in about the the Architects ignoring people like them to work with “really popular fellows” like Klarion, John Fox, Sasha Bordeaux and Mr. Terrific.

Dr. 13’s mention of Mr. T. seemed a little on the shrill side: “ He was always a guaranteed hit! Look at that jacket!”, although he immediately defused it with a joke, in which the shirtless Anthro says “I wish I had a jacket like that.” (I now realize the joke’s less funny then it should be; Anthro should have said that in French).

I don’t know that Johns and/or Katz were being fair here at all, either. While the characters listed in Booster Gold aren’t exactly Superman and Batman, they're not exactly examples of the 52 writers using obscure characters. Booster Gold has been on an animated cartoon, has a toy and was featured in what television commercials are declaring “the best-selling graphic novel of all time.” Renee Montoya is a longtime Batman supporting character who was also featured on a cartoon series. Sasha Bordeaux was created by Greg Rucka, and he’s the only one to ever use her…not quite the same as refusing to use a character because its outdated or unpopular, and thus she's a terrible counter-example.

I’m not sure how Mr. Terrific works into the argument, since the one Johns uses is the popular version of the old, still-unpopular character (Although Johns and Waid have written short stories about that one, as have others). And as relatively unpopular as the Flash of the 27th century or Klarion the Witch Boy (again, a new version of an old character, not the old character) might be, there’s still a pretty big difference between them and Genius Jones and the Primate Patrole, you know?

Okay, now I’ve completely lost my train of thought.

Anyway, Doctor 13: Architecture & Mortality? Buy it and read it if you haven’t already. I can’t recommend it strongly enough. Part of me would really love the sequel that’s half-jokingly promised when the gang are running and find their path blocked by a next issue blurb (especially since it involves Black Manta, some little manta-man helpers, and Captain Fear frozen in carbonite), and part of me dreads it, as I have a feeling this is a lightning in a bottle kind of thing. Still, Azzarello and Chiang breathed new life into Dr. 13 himself, and he and Traci seem like they could easily anchor new projects in the future.

Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Special #1 (DC) This is an event comic book in the truest sense of that term. While the actual wedding of longtime on-again, off-again live-in lovers Dinah “Black Canary” Lance and Oliver “Green Arrow” Queen is supposed to occur in this particular issue, it’s a story that’s been spread around a couple of ongoings, a special miniseries and three seperate specials, with writers Judd Winick, Tony Bedard, J. Torres, Dwayne McDuffie and Whoever Was Assigned This Week’s Countdown all writing portions of the story. It’s not the characters or the creators that are selling this particular issue (For me personally, it’s quite the opposite—my excitement at the prospect of seeing Amanda Conner draw the entire DC Universe is completely cancelled out by my reluctance to see Winick write the entire DCU), but what we're told is going to happen within. And the whole thing stinks of a decision made in an editorial meeting and handed down to the creators to make work.

The coupling is certainly less forced than the Marvel Universe’s recent hero/hero nuptials between Black Panther and Storm, since Ollie and Dinah have actually dated for decades (our time). And yet rather than the marriage occurring naturally, as something their fictional relationship evolved towards, their trajectory towards the altar zigs and zags harshly, and seemingly at random. Shortly after Dinah's soulmate returns from the dead, for example, a wedge is forced between them, when Ollie cheated on the love of his life with a woman he just met, and the pair that death itself couldn't part become estranged. Then, out of the blue, they reunite, get engaged and, a few weeks later, are getting married.

Counterproductively, from a storytelling standpoint, DC released a trade paperback collection that includes stories from throughout the pair’s relationship, seemingly including (I gave it a flip-through, but left it on the shelf) that one time Dinah told Ollie she didn’t ever want to get married and have kids, and that other time Ollie was going to propose to her, but backed down when she casually mentioned what a bad idea that was (In the concluding chapter of Brad Meltzer, Phil Hester and Ande Parks’ "The Archer’s Quest," or, as I like to call it, “The Good Meltzer Story”).

If they were to marry, how much better would it have been to have that occasion be the one on which Ollie proposed and Dinah accepted, with the past few years (their time and our time) having served as the length of their engagement, and then the marriage occurring now?

Instead, the marriage seems hastily decided upon, simply because DC felt like it needed another event. (And I suppose here I should note how nice it is that they decided on a positive event instead of the killing of another character or the re-re-rejiggering of the universal continuity, something Superman himself observes in the issue itself—which I’m getting to, I swear—although he and I both turn out to be wrong, as this story actually ends in a shocking “death” anyway). Just as Winick’s break-up of the couple in “Straight Shooter” seemed forced on him and the characters from editorial to free up the characters so writers could do whatever the hell they wanted with them in the mean time. (In that time, Joe Kelly would have Ollie have an affair with his Justice League teammate Manitou Raven’s wife; Gail Simone would have Canary throw herself into her commitment to Barbara Gordon’s “Birds of Prey" team, then quit it to go through Shiva training, then rejoin it, then quit it to raise an adopted daughter; Brad Meltzer would make Canary the leader of the Justice League...for a week or two; and Winick would do…whatever the hell he’s been doing with Ollie in the Green Arrow monthly…I just can’t read that stuff anymore).

So just as their natural evolution towards marriage was suddenly derailed for a period of a few years, it was then suddenly, clumsily re-railed, and set on an express track.

To make a short story very long then, going in, everything about this marriage feels extremely false.

Winick recaps their relationship in the course of a three page spread, in which Conner manages to cram 21 panels of the highlights, and he includes some of the craziest prose narration imaginable, most of which sounds like bad poetry from a college creative writing class (I’d love to see Winick diagram a sentence like “Those days gave way to more days for these heroes…hard traveled”). That gives way to a spectacularly violent argument between the two over their stepping on eachother in the field—as if they hadn’t been doing this together their whole adult lives—in which Canary calls her husband-to-be a “piece of %@!$&” and then slaps him across the face*, he makes fun of her for having slept with Hawkman, Ra’s al Ghul and the U.S. Navy**, and then they do it it. Well, they make out and pull each other’s clothes off, before Canary decides they should wait until their wedding night.

Jump to Dr. Sivana and Deathstroke hatching a plan to attack the wedding, not because they think a plan to kill all the guests will actually work, but because it might work “a little,” and they’ll feel bad if they don’t try. Man, Green Arrow and Black Canary reeaallly need to get some villains of their own; I understand the burgeoning enmity between the two goatee-having warriors, but they seem to butt heads on a monthly basis now, and Sivana just seems totally random here. Doesn’t he have Marvels to kill? (No Marvels even attend the wedding). And couldn’t he come up with a better plan then to hire a bunch of guys to beat-up the heroes to death? He’s the world’s maddest scientist! Or, at least, he is when Winick’s not writing him as just another of his stock supervillains.

Now, I know I’ve complained so much about Winick’s writing on this site that I probably have zero credibility when it comes to discussing it, but I think this is a pretty solid example of why he’s such a poor fit for DC’s superheroes. It’s not just the unfamiliarity with the characters’ personalities and histories which, having written Green Arrow for so long now, has become something of a non-issue (even if things occasionally feel off when taking into account their entire histories, Winick’s generated enough of his own history that he can simply reference that and it feels natural). But Winick, like too many super-comics writers these days, has a palpable sense of embarrassment about writing superheroes that emnates from his writing, and he seems to have this compulsion to constantly butch the material up, giving it an edge. So we have our principals swearing at each other like characters in an HBO series, and constantly talking about fucking (The basis of their relationship, we’re even told, isn’t “admiration or respect” but “raging carnal desire.”. Oh Judd, you romantic!) And then there’s that ending, but let’s save that for a bit.

Admittedly, some of Winick’s sex talk is funny. I confess to a giggle at the line about the kitchen. But reading Winick’s work, one so often gets the sense that he approaches DCU superheroes as ten o’clock cop dramas in costumes, not Saturday morning cartoons. That’s fine for certain heroes—it certainly worked for the even harder-edged, more sophisticated Green Arrow and Black Canary stories Mike Grell was telling 20 years ago—but because Winick so often includes the rest of the DCU into things, it occasionally feels forced and out of place. Should Superman being in a comic book like this? Or Dr. Sivana? I’m not so sure.

On the positive side, he gets some great moments in here, and I particularly liked the page of reactions to the wedding, a sixteen-pane grid of headshots of heroes reading their invitations, with a line or so of reaction from each. It’s fun stuff. And he gives Batman a hell of a great line during his brief appearance.

Winick is almost beside the point here though. If you’ve hated all of his DC work to date (and I can only think of one, maybe two scripts of his I wouldn’t categorize as irredeemably awful), this is probably still worth a look for Conner’s art work. It is absolutely perfect. The stars’ clich├ęd argument over sex, and their subsequent argument about a costumed marriage, reads rather blandly, but Conner’s facial expressions completely make both scenes.

Her character work is incredible. While She has the tendency of so many artists to give everyone essentially the same face (everyone in those sixteen panels on the invitation reaction page, for example, have Amanda Conner noses and mouths and eyes), she’s a great actor, conveying emotion and personality with the expressions alone (In many panels, she recalls a more fluid, cartoonier Kevin Maguire, a comparison more easily suggested by the subject matter).

In scene after scene, she elevates the so-so dialogue to hilarity through her characterizations (Conner’s reaction to Hal about a Green Arrow II-planned bachelor party, for example, or Superman and Wonder Woman’s expressions during their talk).

And her crowd scenes are absolutely perfect. Packed with detail, she manages to do quite a bit of storytelling in the background of panels, and fills the fights with mini-narratives in the background. Her art really rewards pausing on and studying, as there are fun little details in almost every panel (I like Conner’s face when Superman, Wonder Woman and the Lanterns fly out mid-ceremony, and Lois busting out mace and brass knuckles for the superhero brawl, and Plas annoying Huntress like in their good old JLA days, or Alan Scott reacting to Beast Boy reacting to Power Girl).

Perhaps best of all, Conner has actual, honest-to-God fashion taste, something awfully rare in super-comics. Compare what Babs is wearing in Conner’s version of the bachelorette party versus the Countdown version, for example. And in the two-page spread of the wedding guests, not that Oberon, Lois Lane, Snapper Carr and Ellen Baker are all wearing, like, real people clothes, like you might actually see on real people in the real world. What a concept.

It’s really a damn shame that Conner isn’t drawing a book like this every month; I don’t know if she has the interest, but if DC’s not doing everything they can to interest her, they’re missing out on a great opportunity. A Conner drawn JLoA would be roughly one million times better than a Benes drawn one or, by the looks of it, a Joe Benitez-drawn one.

Lest it seem like I’m being too kind on Conner here and too hard on Winick, I suppose I can nitpick. She certainly has far fewer weird background choicse than Mike McKone did in the JLoA Wedding Special, but still: Tempest has been magically aged and now has white hair, not black; Lois’ hair is off-model; who’s the guy in the top hat who’s not Zatara?; what the hell is up with that weird skunk/badger-looking thing fighting on the heroes’ side and…okay, that’s all I got. Otherwise? Perfect art.

Now, about that ending…

It’s some heavy stuff, and I suppose it’s well-executed to a degree. It certainly comes out of nowhere, and, again, Conner impresses with her ability to act through the characters, the emotions on Ollie’s face as he goes from his trigger word recognition face (I’m guessing), to murder face to back to normal but now stabbed face can be read like words.

Now, ending the one-shot wedding special with a cliffhanger? Kind of dirty pool there, guys. And man, what a shift in tone. Short of Winick’s lame-ass intro and an emotional word from Babs, the book is pretty much cover to cover comedy, with even the super-battle mostly played for laughs. So the ending seems to belong in a different book altogether, and tonally clashes with everything that came before.

And also, I don’t buy it. Not that he’s really dead, because of course they're not going to re-kill a character that was so difficult to bring back to life (Kevin Smith penned one incredibly convoluted resurrection story in Quiver) but that, when her husband suddenly gets a glazed look in his eye and attempts to stab her, Canary’s first impulse is to reach for a nearby arrow and drive it into her neck. It’s not like she’s never faced a dude with a knife before. She’s an expert in unarmed hand-to-hand combat, one who went from being a judo expert to a serious martial arts bad-ass after months of intensive training by Shiva and Shiva’s own trainers. She also shoots concussive blasts out of her mouth. And if her hand was free to stab Ollie, it was also free to karate chop him or Spock him on the neck too.

In the heat of the moment, crazy stuff happens, I’m sure. But when your whole life is one heated moment of non-lethally incapacitating dudes who are trying to kill you after another, it rings really false to have Canary just haul off and stab her husband in the throat with an arrow.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #12 (Marvel Comics) To the shock and surprise of no one, Marvel’s new comic about Ant-Man III, which is entirely premised on how unlikable its star is, has been cancelled after only twelve issues. A shame? Sure, in that this has been a consistently entertaining series, with incredible art work; one of the handful of Marvel comics that is more of a comedy than a punch ‘em up or soap opera. Like She-Hulk, X-Men First Class, Marvel Adventures Avengers and a few others, this was an honest to God comic book. In this issue, Eric O’Grady’s creator Robert Kirkman resolves a few of the character’s relastionships and essentially writes him into Avengers: The Initiative. I’ll sure miss seeing Phil Hester and Ande Parks’ work on a regular basis, but I guess I won’t have a chance to miss the new Ant-Man much. Recap Ant, on the other hand? Well, it looks like this was his last appearance. Rest in peace, Recap Ant. This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

JLA/Hitman #1 (DC) Here’s what I do as soon as I get home form the comic shop every Wednesday afternoon. I immediately sort my entire haul into Most Excited To Read to Least Excited To Read Order. Usually, it’s a pretty simple process, but this week was tough, as there was Amanda Conner drawing what looked like the whole DCU in the Wedding Special, the penultimate installment of World War Hulk, and this baby, which was a combination of two of my favorite comic book series of all time—Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman and the Morrison/Porter/Dell JLA, by Ennis and McCrea themselves. Guess which won out?

I was pretty shocked out how much I dug this, and how much like a lost issue of Hitman it really was; more like I found one from 1999 that I’d somehow missed than a new work by the old creators.

I could go on and on about why exactly Hitman was so great, but I don’t want to turn this into a review of that series instead of this issue. Suffice it to say that Ennis seems to do some of his smartest, sharpest work when he’s given some artificial boundaries, and when he’s working in a fictional shared universe on iconic characters, he can’t risk going too far, as he's wont to do. And for all the “I hate superheroes” bluster, that’s clearly not the case—unless Ennis’ hatred of the characters allows him to write them so much better than those who profess to love them, writers who thus have their abilities clouded by affection? (It’s a possibility, I guess).

We open with a writer approaching Clark Kent about whether or not Superman ever met Tommy “Hitman” Monaghan, and if he knew he was a killer with 500 kills under his belt (He did, in Eisner Awar- winning Hitman #34). So Kent tells a story, one that flashes back to a time the JLA needed a survivor of a Parasite attack, and turned to the one Batman knew how to find and whom he needed to get around to arresting at some point anyway.

The League is only five strong here. There's The Flash, Wonder Woman, and the three Tommy’s already met—Supes, Batman (In Batman Chronicles #4 and Hitman #1-#3) and Green Lantern Kyle Rayner (Hitman #9-#12, “Local Hero”). Ennis refers coyly back to all these stories (I particularly like the manner in which Batman approached him this time, having learned his lesson), but not JLA #5, in which he unsuccessfully tried out for the Justice League.

(Above: The greatest Kyle Rayner image ever produced)

Before Tommy joins them on the Watchtower however, we get to hang out with him and the boys, all still alive and kicking (Hitman was unusual in that it quite dramatically killed off its entire cast before it reached its conclusion), at Noonan's. Man, it was great to see and hear all those characters again, and to realize that McCrea hadn’t forgotten how to draw them (they each looked better than ever, actually) and Ennis hadn’t forgotten how to write them (I actually laughed out loud when Nat and Hacken have a discussion about Nat’s girlfriend).

Ennis is surpisingly adept at all of the Leaguers too, characterizing them just as they were being characterized in the late '90s. His Flash rides Green Lantern hard for being a newbie, smarting from his own treatment when he took over the mantle of the Flash (and subconsciously bothered by the fact that everyone seems far more accepting of Kyle as GL than they did as Kid Flash as Flash). Kyle is quick to argue with Wally an easily embarrassed and deferential to the big guns (I was thinking that Ennis treats him a little more kindly here than he did in the past, at least up until he related his encounter with Bueno Excellente). Batman is a know-it-all and a jerk, quick to argue with Superman, who argues right back. Wonder Woman is remote, professional and detached. The Trinity actually seemed like themselves for the first time in a long time, rather than someone’s personal vision of them, if that makes sense.

We can add McCrea to the list of pencilers who would be far better suited to JLA than Benes or Benitez. I mean, Jesus, just look at his stuff! Wonder Woman is beautiful, and in an exotic way. Superman and Batman have faces that ripple with expressions as their emotions change, good old crab-mask Green Lantern is all clean, smooth lines.

For Hitman fans, or for fans of both Hitman and JLA, this book is just great stuff. For those with no prior experience, it’s a pretty perfect introductionn to Caleb's All-Time Favortie-est DC Ongoing, as the monthly was just like this, only occasionally more emotionally affecting, and with superheroes coming in ones or twos, not five at once.

Now, why do you suppose this is a standalone two-issue miniseries, instead of two issues of JLA: Classified? After all, it’s a limited story by high profile creators set in the past of Justice League history, and it’s not like there’s anything a tenth as good in JLA:C at the moment. In fact, this story is more of a JLA:C story than just about all of the previous JLA:C stories, Ennis being a writer of Warren Ellis and Morrison’s stature, and this being one of the few stories that is actually set in a distinct past time period, instead of just the vague one between “Obsidian Age” and “Crisis of Conscience” that the bulk of that series has been set in.

Madman Atomic Comics #4 (Image) Mike Allred draws lots and lots of beautiful panels, while some seemingly random, not terribly interesting and rather boring cosmic stuff happens. “Am I getting $2.99’s worth of entertainment out of this?” I asked myself , as I neared the end of the book. “Shouldn’t I use this money to buy food and medicine? Or at least other comics?” And then I saw the Atomics would be appearing next issue. Dammit Allred, you know just what buttons to push, don’t you? Me and my three-bucks will be seeing you again next month then, I guess.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #16 (Marvel) Captain America and the other suspect newcomer Hawkeye is trying to join the Avengers because he secretly works for the new Masters of Evil (“We’re newer! And more evil!”). The Avengers do battle with Man-Bull, Melter, Whirlwind and the Mandroids. Unable to believe that anyone would actually call robot battlesuits “Mandroids,” Spider-Man takes a moment in the middle of the battle to call their inventor Iron Man and ask if he was really going to call them Mandroids or not. Clearly, it’s another near-perfect issue of Jeff Parker’s Avengers series, which, as I apparently never tire of saying, is by far the best Avengers book on the shelves. Believe it! Buy it! And for God's sake Marvel, let Jeff Parker write everything you publish. Everything!

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #1 (Dark Horse Comics) This is featured in this week’s Las Vegas Weekly column, so I won’t say much about it here. Other than that it’s not only awesome, but awesome to a surprising degree. Rock star and now comic book writer, Gerard Way must now only master racecar driving, cowboying and robot-fighting, and he will have been sucessful at all of the coolest jobs in the world. Check back tomorrow night for more.

World War Hulk #4 (Marvel) You may recall from the delightfully overheated solicit that this is the issue of the miniseries in which “Everyone GOES! TOO! FAR!” I’m not sure that it’s entirely true—Rick Jones doesn’t go too far, for example—but yeah, some heroes go pretty far. After Hulk goes a few rounds with the crazy demon potion-fueled Dr. Strange, he finally completes his collection of the Marvel Illuminati, and makes them fight a monster and then each other for his amusement. Thanks to JRJR’s dependably powerful artwork, it looks great, and thanks to Greg Pak’s old-school onomotepiea and Chris Eliopouloulos’ lettering, it sounds great too. The Strange vs. Hulk fight? It goes SKRAKOOOM! “NYAAAAA!” KRAKKAROOM! WHAKOOM! Man, my ears were ringing after reading this issue. With only one more issue to go, I can see how the fighting is likely going to end, but I can’t imagine how Pak’s going to resolve the conflict.

Guest-stars include The Sentry, whose legs never get tired no matter how long he stands in one place, and President George W. Bush, whom kinda getting sick of reading about at this point (Not entirely Pak’s fault; I’m about halfway through Robert Draper’s Dead Certain, which contains plenty of anecdotes about Bush I’d never heard before. Like the first paragraph on page 88, in which Bush encounters ghosts in the White House. Someone oughta make a comic book about that).

*I find myself as fascinated as always with the caps-locked number-keys-in-place-of-swearing phenomenon. Presumably, Canary called Ollie a “piece of shit” there, because how many swear words are there that we precede with the phrase “piece of?” But still, plugging in other swear words proves pretty amusing. Go on, put in all the swear words you can think of; they all sound totally random, don't they? Still, there are five symbols there, and if one symbol equals one letter, then I can’t fathom what she called him, as every “dirty” word DC wouldn’t print in a DCU book I can think of has four words. It can’t be “bitch”—and calling him a “piece of bitch” is one of those amusing plug-ins, by the way—since later on she calls someone a “son of a bitch,” and that doesn’t get the caps-lock treatment.

**I’m aware of the Ra’s al Ghul wooing, although I don’t know if they actually did it or not. And I imagine the Navy crack was just Ollie calling her a slut without using the word slut (This isn’t a Vertigo comic, after all! Son of a bitch is one thing, but slut? No way). But what’s up with the Hawkman crack? Did I miss something, or did Canary do it with (a) Hawkman at some point?


JohnF said...

World War Hulk has finally reached "ehhhh" status for me. It's still kinda interesting, and worth sticking with just to see how it shakes out. And the Romita artwork is excellent.
But they've just made the Hulk unbeatable. I thought the Zom entity was so powerful that only the Living Tribunal could defeat him/it, yet Hulk defeats the Zom-empowered Strange by...punching him repeatedly? That's it? Just punching? I really thought it was going to be something clever, but no. Just another character that the Hulk is able to beat into submission, even though that should be impossible. It's getting a little old.

Mory said...

In pointing out the great sound effects in WWH, how could you not mention SCHLOOOORF!, SHWALUUUUM!, and especially CHTKRAMM!?

Jacob T. Levy said...

I was glad Canary and Arrow didn't get married two years ago, since Simone still had such good character-defining stuff to do with her. And, for that matter, because I didn't want them to get married-- by the end of the Grell series, they felt truly done, and for 10 years that had been the status quo to build on.

I do think-- credit where it's due-- DC has gone out of its way not to make this seem too rushed. After all, it's now been, what, 2 specials, a 4-issue miniseries, an issue of BOP, and a couple of issues of GA since the proposal? That's a lot of comics. Character arcs hardly ever get that much space in which to develop. (The leadup to Lois & Clark's wedding certainly didn't.) Now the proposal itself was filled with creeeepy Winick sex talk, and the mini was thoroughly paint-by-numbers "do this in order to get that player offstage and prompt this heartfelt change of heart," but it was the right kind of thing-- I didn't believe the story, but conditional on the story I did finally believe that Canary would agree to marry him.

I really don't recall Canary and Hawkman ever being an item. She was dating Midnite and he was stalking Hawkgirl most of the time they were in the JSA together...

SallyP said...

Thank you for the review of Hitman/Jla. Gosh I miss Hitman. I sat down and read this, and laughed till I cried...especially at Kyle muttering "Bueno, bueno, bueno".

I can hardly wait until the second half!

Anonymous said...

Does this Hitman crossover have a Caleb love letter in the back like nearly every issue of the regular series?

Jacob T. Levy said...

Now that I've read my weekly haul, I have to just endorse everything you said about Hitman/JLA-- including the trinity seeming like themselves. In particular, it turns out that I really liked the pre-OYL Wonder Woman-- she had a thoroughly distinct personality and distinctive outlook, and Ennis gets her difference from Superman just right. (The Wedding Special portrayed... someone else, someone who was a much more generic superhero.)

Plus-- *loved* Tommy getting a light from a Green Lantern ring...

Anonymous said...

The problem I had with Azarello's mini was "Oh yes, and somehow EQUUS was better than those other characters? My god, he SUCKED!"

I really didn't like his "For Tomorrow". Really, a villain named Equus. Please. There's a reason its been mostly retconned.

Caleb said...

Well, it looks like Azz's "For Tomorrow" is being brought back to the fore, as it looks like Orr and Equus have been in a few issues of Countdown, and that magic lady was in an Outsiders one-shot (kind of a mistake, I think; as you said it's kind of been retconned by being ignored, and I think should either ignore or embrace the story as a whole...its Zod makes the unfinished Action series a little weird, so taking parts of it for Countdown and ignoring other parts seems problematic).