Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Weekly Haul: September 26th

52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen #2 (DC Comics) More of the same from last issue. Writer Keith Giffen does a great job on the dialogue between the super characters, getting all three points of the Trinity in the same place at the same time this issue, and pulling off a neat scene between the world’s second and third smartest men. The stuff with the Horsemen is less engaging, but then, we do need a conflict to pull the Trinity into action together, don’t we? Patrick Olliffe’s art is serviceable without ever being striking, but, as I learned from this week’s JLoA #13, being merely serviceable is a lot better than not even being serviceable.

All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #7 (DC Comics)

Instances of the term “goddam” this issue: 8

Instances in which the term “goddam” is used as a modifier to the word “Batman”: 4

Things Batman calls thugs while he sets them on fire and brutally beats them: “Suckers,” “losers,” “wads,” “sweetheart” and “boy of mine.”

Instances of super-people totally making out after violent foreplay: 1

God, I love this comic book. I know it’s a love it or hate it kind of thing, but the more of it I read, the more convinced I become that it may just end up being Frank Miller’s best Bat-work ever. Seriously.

Annihilation: Conquest—Starlord #3 (Marvel Comics) It doesn’t take a whole lot to get me to at least try a new book. Nice art and an appealing hook, like, say, a talking raccoon, is usually enough to do the job. Starlord delivered both, and a fun story with lots of neat characters to boot, so here I am, buying the third issue and eagerly awaiting the fourth. Prior to Starlord #1, I hadn’t read a single Annihilation story, and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything featuring any of these characters before, save maybe a Mantis appearance in old Avengers or Defenders trades, so it wasn’t nostalgia or affection that drove me to this, simply Giffen’s round-up of such an interestingly random assemblage of characters, and the great dialogue and interplay Giffen manages between them. And the fact that one of them was a talking raccoon. Seriously, a talking space raccoon with OCD that compels him to keep cleaning and hand-washing everything? That’s a great character right there. Timothy Green II’s art is incredible. It’s representational and realistic enough to make the space fantasy read nice and grounded (something about it evokes European sci-fi comics to me), he fills the panels with rich details, and his design work is top —I love the uniforms he’s given all the characters, and the way he’s slightly individualized them all, so that Mantis and Captain Universe, for example, look like they’re in versions of their usual duds, while still matching their teammates. And good God, does he draw a great raccoon and tree god thing.

Avengers: The Initiative #6 (Marvel) Regular writer Dan Slott is joined by fill-in artist Steve Uy, who recently wowed me with his one-issue Jakeem Thunder story in JSA: Classified. His abstracted style is aesthetically in keeping with the book’s usual look, although it’s smoother, flatter and lighter on detail. This is a pretty tightly constructed mystery story, in which someone beats drill sergeant Gauntlet within an inch of his life, and the former New Warriors are all top suspects, considering Gauntlet spent most of his workday making fun of the New Warriors legacy. Considering some of them are dead, and some of their friends are standing right there listening to Gauntlet besmirch their names, well, it’s kind of understandable they’d get a little sick of taking it. By the end, we learn the identity of the culprit, but no one in the book does, making for a nice little done-in-one that continues to advance Slott’s plots while taking the time to explore a few of the characters involved.

Batman #669 (DC) This is the very best kind of good super-comic: The predictably good super-comic. Part three of a three-parter, you know even before cracking the (beautiful, beautiful) cover that this is going to be a smart, evocative script upon which J.H. Williams III is going to layer some flat-out incredible art. The murder mystery aspect of Grant Morrison’s story may not have played entirely fair with readers—I don’t think we were given all the clues to solve it ourselves—but at the same time, there were only so many people it could have been anyway. I don’t understand the end though (Was dude the Black Glove, or not? If so, who blew him up?) But it hardly matters. Morrison and Williams have excavated a goofy bit of Bat-history, dusted it off, and threw it into the current DCU. I would love to see more of these characters in the future. The “predictably good” era of Batman is now coming to a temporary close, however. Next issue, we lose Williams for pin-up artist Tony Daniels, and Morrison turns in a script that will be part of a Bat-book crossover devoted to resurrecting Ra’s al Ghul, whom you’ll recall totally died forever (no really, for serious this time!) a few years back.

Blue Beetle #19 (DC) I’m still in catch-up mode with this series, and am thus on rather unsure footing with some of the characters and their relationships. For example, there’s a Peacemaker in this, one with very lame tattoos, training Jaime to fight in the first scene, which will have ramifications later on, and I didn’t realize what a big support staff our boy Blue Beetle has. This issue is essentially another rather accessible done-in-one, despite what I take it is a pretty big moment for sidekick Brenda, with Beetle, Paco and Peacemaker trying to save the local crime boss from Giganta, who is suddenly one hell of a popular guest-star. It’s a very well constructed story, with a few funny moments of dialogue. And even better story seemed to be happening off-panel, however, as Traci Thirteen, Detective Chimp and The Accidental Detective were trying to solve a case involving the Romanov dynasty. Was this the Croaton Society in action? And can we cancel Shadowpact and give John Rogers Bobo and Traci as the core for a Croaton Society ongoing? Because that would be awesome.

Justice League of America #13 (DC) Oh come on! We finally get a talented, experienced, professional comic book writer writing this series, instead of a slumming novelist learning still learning the craft of script-writing on DC’s dime, and what does the company do? Saddle him (and us) with the worst fucking artist they could find. Now, I’m no great fan of Ed Benes, as I’m sure past Weekly Hauls evidence. He seemed to start his run off strong, and get worse and worse as time went on (perhaps due to the deadline crush?), and his stiff characters, narrow command of design and relatively poor “acting” ability seemed an exceedingly poor fit for Brad Meltzer, who was more about conversation and emotion than sexy people posing sexily. But as bad as Benes was, he was head and shoulders above Joe Benitiez, who debuts alongside incoming writer Dwayne McDuffie here.

Benitez has a looser, more stylish line than Benes, but his art also combines the worst attributes of some of the worst artists in the industry. Now, I know art is subjective, and different people like different things. Just look at the mixed reactions Newsarama posters had for the preview of Benitez’s work; they range from “Benitez is teh awsum!!!” to “My eyes….they bleed!” (If you’ve got the time to kill though, and you can hold a pencil, it looks like there’s an editor offering you a job in the comics industry in the thread though, as an editor says he’d like to talk to anyone who can draw at least ten percent as well as Benitez). So perhaps I should qualify what I think is a baseline of artistic competency: Passing familiarity with human anatomy (or a style that compensates for it due to minimalism), the ability to draw an entire page background and all, and rudimentary “acting” ability, so that your drawings roughly align with the script.

Benitez does none of this. He was obviously a Rob Liefeld fan, having adopted both Liefeld’s love of tiny little facial lines and nonsenseical border-breaking lay outs and his distaste for backgrounds and consistent human anatomy. He has a strong impulse to draw as little as he has too on each page, which is fine (and understandable) for him, but bad for readers, who are paying for this shit. And he has a Greg Landian like tendency to explode the emotions in people’s faces far beyond what’s in the actual script, so they come across like silent movie actors overacting in a talkie (Check out page six, panel five, where Black Canary seems to be saying something rather calmly, but her face registers wide, glassy-eyed, open-mouthed shock; in the enxt panel she holds her wrist up as if checking her watch without even looking down).

There are 113 panels in this 22-page story; only 22 of those panels have any sort of background, and please note I am being rather generous with the word “background” to include a couple of crates stacked up to evoke a warehouse, receding diagonal lines to evoke a hallway, or a blue rectangle to evoke an open skylight. There’s also one establishing shot, of the Hall of Justice. So, that’s 23 out of 113 panels that have anything other than an action figure in them. That’s not very good.

It would a little easier to take if the figure drawings were that good, but it just scans like wasted space. Check out how Benitez and McDuffie spend a splash page:

Batman stands over a line. Now there’s some widescreen action demanding a full page!

It would also be easier to take if Benitez’s storytelling made a lick of sense. But check this out:

Here we see Batman finding a captured Wonder Woman, and he says he’s going to free her by tossing a projectile at a control panel. In the bottom panel, someone catches the (suddenly much smaller, but never mind that) batarang.

We turn the page to see a two-page spread, of which this is the left half:

(Here’s the other half.)

It’s five posing supervillains, who have all simultaneously appeared out of nowhere. Did they sneak in? Because one of them is wearing a giant metal suit with boots at least a foot-long at the sole, and another of them is a Mighty Joe Young-sized giant gorilla. (Perhaps they teleported, or Dr. Light was bending the light beams around them; the script and art offer no clues). But where the hell is Wonder Woman? Where is the room we just saw her in? Because if Luthor caught that batagrang, he should be between Batman and Wonder Woman in that room, right?

Drawing attention to the terrible, lazy pencil art is the color work of Pete Pantazis, who uses all kinds of effects to make Dr. Light and the various ring-energy beams to glow, and even covering Killer Frost with a sheathe of marble-effect looking skin. Obviously a lot of time, energy and technology went into making the art look as representational as possible, and yet it’s so much tinsel on a needle-less Christmas tree.

As for McDuffie’s script, it’s a little hard to even pay attention to with such distractingly bad art between it and the reader. The plot’s nothing special at all—a team of villains attack a team of heroes—something we’ve all seen a thousand times, including two weeks ago in McDuffie’s own JLA Wedding Special (If the bulk of that issue could be summed up as the villains attack the heroes, this one could be summed up as the villains continue to attack the heroes).

He does manage some fun banter, and I especially appreciated John Stewart ribbing Black Lighting for suddenly going bald, and as even if his first story arc is boilerplate superheroics, it still seems refreshing after months of Meltzer’s Byzantine narration cloud smothering his stories. McDuffie also deals with some of the left over plot points from Meltzer’s run with which he was saddled, particularly that of Vixen’s predicament.

I managed to make it eleven issues through Meltzer’s 13-issue run before completely giving up and dropping the book, when the writing ranged from mediocre to terrible and the art from not that bad to kinda bad; I wonder how long I’ll be able to stand this run, now that the writing is slightly improved, and the art much, much, much, much worse (Seriously. This is bad stuff. You’d have to go back to Extreme Justice to find worse art on a DC book with the word “Justice” in the title).

I thought launching McDuffie’s first story arc of Justice League of America in a title other than Justice League of America was a pretty bad idea sure to hobble his run right out the gate. Tying the rest of it to art this might be even worse.

Confidential to Black Lightning: Wrong continuity; you guys don’t have Javelins…and even if you got some between issues, why didn’t you just take that “door slideways” thing Batman stole from those guys on Earth-50?

Confidential to Black Canary: Remember what Dr. Light did to Sue Dibny was, like, years ago, and you’re one of the ones who didn’t forget it for years only to later remember it just recently. Is this really the first time you’ve seen him since? Really? Because I'm pretty sure it's not.

The Spirit #10 (DC) Hands down the best book this week, this issue of Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone’s Spirit series is another perfect example of how they manage to keep the classical, old school flavor and feel of the original Will Eisner stories in tact while updating the whole franchise into 2007 relevancy. This issue has a particular now-ness to it, as Cooke introduces each character, suspect and victim of “The Cable Killer” in panels framed in little borders (Here referred to as “boobtube,” naturally). The mystery? Someone is slotting cable news personalities, each a barely disguised version of a real-world one, given a brilliant Eisner-esque appellation that sounds like it belongs in the Spirit world and yet which evokes the real-world analogue through the sounds of the syllables. And man, is it fun seeing Cooke draw the likes of Rush Limbaugh (“Trust Wimbag”), Bill O’Reilly (“Wally O’Bellows”), Geraldo (“Mustachio Hernandez”) and even Stephen Colbert (“Stewart Flobber”). Although he does what I would have thought impossible when he makes his Ann Coulter, here going by “Mare Noltly,” look super sexy. I guess Cooke just can’t draw an un-sexy woman (That, or he couldn’t bring himself to look at Coulter reference long enough to get her down as well as he did O’Reilly and Colbert). A typically perfectly drawn, easily-accessible, fast and funny issue of The Spirit, one which includes one of the craziest-ass scenes Cooke’s managed during his run on the book, one that’s right up there with the man-on-bird scene. And there’s even a nice little message thrown in about our irresponsible age of news media creation and consumption; it’s an obvious point, but it’s made subtly and on the fly.

Now, what’s really weird about this issue? It begins with a one-page meta-fictive framing sequence in which Ellen and Ebony are told by a doctor that injuries Spirit sustained last issue were too severe for him to star in this issue, an executive type assures them that the comic must go on no matter how injured the star is (“Our young readers simply aren’t the kind of people who will tolerate late books”), so they find an inventory story. In short, due to injuries, the Spirit’s regularly scheduled story can’t appear, so they’ll need a fill-in. But since this fill-in is by the exact same creative team as the normal one well, it’s a weird set-up, seemingly made solely to make fun of the industry conflict between publishing books on a monthly basis, even when their creators can’t keep a monthly deadline.

Ultimate Spider-Man #114 (Marvel) Just like the last 113 issues. And considering that those are 113 pretty good issues, that's not a bad thing at all.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck in the Case of the Missing Mummy (Gemstone) A relatively light week for new releases and the presence of a mummy was enough to get me to check this book out; I’d probably be more inclined to buy more of these if the format wasn’t so weird. They’re shaped like comic books, skinnier than normal-sized trades, and priced higher than some of the slimmer digest-sized collections, only with less pages. This issue has two duck stories. The back-up feature is a classic 1943 story from good duck artist Carl Barks which sends Donald and his nephews a-globe-trotting in a typically whirlwind story. The new story, for which this book is named, is by Pat and Shelly Block, and also involves a mummy. It’s constructed as a Choose Your Own Adventure–style mystery story. It’s not bad, but the art betrays someone struggling to stay on someone else’s model, and the locked museum setting lacks the spirit of adventure that rushes through the classic back-up. All in all, it’s one more example of why Barks is still the good duck artist, and while I enjoyed it okay, I kinda wish I would have put that $8 towards a trade instead.


Patrick C said...

I need to look at Justice League again, I think I was so excited about non-Meltzer dialogue that the art didn't bother me. And I liked John Stewart mentioning shaving his head and growing a goatee, like his JLU counterpart. Maybe he'll get with Kendra too, then with Vixen. And he can just laugh at Red Arrow the whole time.

Also, I'm hoping Geo-Force getting taken out off-panel in the Wedding Special is the last we ever see of him.

Siskoid said...

From the sample pages you posted, it looks like Benitez is tracing the same head on Batman over and again.

Unknown said...

I don't believe I know this, but Black Canary was present in Identity Crisis when Dr. Light sicced Deathstroke on the JLA (or some semblance thereof).

Anonymous said...

Making out? I was thinking Black Canary and Goddamn Batman totally made sweet, sweet Bat-love down by the fire. I know what it looks like in the art, but come on... it's Frank Miller...

Caleb said...

I was thinking Black Canary and Goddamn Batman totally made sweet, sweet Bat-love down by the fire.

Hey, I think you're right. That's why the goddam Batman wears that goddam helps preserve his goddam modesty when he does it with some vigilante he just met. It's like a goddam portable motel room he wears on his goddam back.

God I love that comic!