Thursday, September 06, 2007
Weekly Haul: September 6th
Action Philosophers!: The Lightning Round (Evil Twin Comics) I’ve long ago used up every nice thing I can think to say about this series by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, as I’ve exploited every opportunity to write about it and encourage folks to read it. Pretty much any publication/website I’ve written about comics for in the past few years has carried a glowing review of at least one issue of this series. So, with the final issue, I’ve got pretty much nothing left. If you haven’t read this brilliant, hilarious series yet, that you’re just a bad person, and that’s all there is to it.
While previous issues were all broken down along themes and featured three different Action Philosophers, this final one includes eleven different philosophers, as the pair apparently rush through the rest of the philosophers they wanted to cover before calling it quits (Sure, it seems too soon to me to do so, but when I hear about their next books—Comic Book Comics and Action Presidents, giving the AP! treatment to the luminaries of the comics field and our past commander-in-chief—I realize I’ll cope just fine).
While Dunlavey and Van Lente have always done an amazing job of boiling the biographies and life’s works of some of history’s greatest thinkers down into short stories jam-packed with sight gags, part of the fun of previous issues was seeing just what form the stories would take. Here that fun is cranked up to 11, as there are so many philosophers covered, the creators have to employ all sorts of different forms. And so we get Micel Foucault as a Family Circus parody, Confucius as King Kong, a game of “Six Degrees of Francis Bacon” and Rousseau as a bad television sitcom, among others.
Amazing Spider-Man #544 (Marvel Comics) Today’s the day! The day the “One More Day” storyline, which was years in the making and even more years in the hyping, finally hits shelves! As I mentioned last week, Marvel’s pretty much guaranteed that this story is going to piss off every single fan who reads it, as Editor-in-Chief (and this story’s penciler) Joe Quesada has so primed the audience that this is totally going to be the end of the Spider-marriage that if it’s anything other than a flawlessly executed accomplishment of that, the Internet will break into sixteenths, and Quesada’s blood will be loudly bayed for.
After having read the first issue, and thus 1/4th of the story, it’s pretty clear that whether this story ultimately resolves the Spider-marriage or not (thus far, it seems to be about May’s death…at least, that’s what the title is referring to), it’s not going to be flawlessly executed.
On just about every level, this is a pretty terrible comic book, a surprisingly terrible comic book actually, considering the past accomplishments of the creators.
Let’s start with that cover, shall we? I like the retro motif of it, personally, but Quesada is one of the worst artists Marvel could have pencil such a cover, as his expressive, 90’s Image-looking style is pretty much the antithesis of comics with a little picture of the hero in a bar in the upper left-hand corner. And the “Still only 399 cents” joke? That only works if the book is always $3.99. But Amazing Spider-Man is a $2.99 comic, or “299 cents.” So there you’ve got a poorly told joke right on the cover; never a good sign.
Now, let’s flip this bad boy open and… Oh God, it doesn’t get any better, does it? It only gets much, much worse. I’ll stick with Quesada for a moment. I haven’t seen much in the way of pencil art from him in a good long time. I missed his Daredevil: Father (although I understand there was a delay or two associated with it’s shipping schedule?), and haven’t really read any interior work of his since…Batman: Sword of Azrael, maybe? I remember liking that, and the few other Batman covers he did for DC around that time, but either he’s gotten much, much worse in the last 15 years or so, or my tastes have changed a lot more than I realized (Or maybe Danny Miki’s inks aren’t doing Quesada’s pencils any favors?)
Now, I’m not one of those Internet voices that despises Quesada. While he does seem to try a little too hard and occasionally comes across looking like a douche, I appreciate his willingness to try and play Stan Lee 2.0, and to be as chummy as humanly possible with comics readers (I mean, he ventures onto Newsarma.com to face the wrath of its posters almost weekly). And I think he’s done a lot more good for Marvel’s comics line than he’s done bad; it wasn’t until he became EIC that I even began reading Marvel comics regularly, because all of a sudden some of my favorite creators were working on new reader friendly projects. Rather than constantly feeling repulsed by the whole Marvel Universe, I felt myself being welcomed into it.
But at the risk of reducing the likelihood of Quesada ever looking at my pitch for The Ultimates spin-off Ultimate Freddie Prinze Jr. from 4% to 0%, this is one incredibly ugly-looking book. Quesada does draw a damn fine Spider-Man, I’ll give him that, but not until the very last panel of the book. The rest of it is filled with images of Peter, MJ, May, Tony, Jarvis and hospital personnel, and Quesada’s style hasn’t gotten any more appropriate for rendering anatomically correct, realistically emotive human beings over the years, in fact, I’d guess it’s gotten worse. Considering that most of this issue deals with the melodrama of more or less regular people in a real-life situation—an elderly loved one on their deathbed in a hospital—that’s a pretty major weakness, and if this story is really half as important as Marvel’s been making out, than why not get a great, classic Marvel artist who excels at this sort of thing to draw it?
I would think John Romita Jr., for example, would be absolutely perfect (he would also be reuniting with writer J. Michael Stacyznaki, who kicked off his run on AMS with Romita six years ago), and even the previous few story arc’s artist, Ron Garney, would have been preferable. But with Quesada at the drawing board, the characters don’t really look like themselves, and they’re awfully hard to read in some scenes, and just look silly in others (Like on the cover…who is that beneath Spider-Man’s spread legs? Is that supposed to be Petere? What is he doing, exactly? Greiving? Expressing frustration? Getting hit with nunchucks in the crotch? Suffering a devastating psychic attack from Professor X? What?)
Of course, the one undeniable benefit of having Quesada pencil the thing is that it clearly telegraphs how important this book is supposed to be. I can’t think of anything else Marvel could do to imply that a story was going to be terribly important as strongly as having their EIC hunker down and draw the damn thing himself.
That this isn’t a very good read is hardly all Quesada’s fault though. JMS certainly didn’t bring his A-game here. Now, I know the writer’s run has been pretty controversial among a lot of fans. Personally, I’ve liked it and what he’s done with Peter professionally and romantically, and I particularly welcomed his introduction of May into Spider-Man’s world by having Peter finally let her in on his secret identity. However, I haven’t read every issue of JMS’, having only read the JRJR portion at the beginning, and then from about the induction into the New Avengers on. I missed the whole “Sins Past” story, which sounds too stupid for words, but having not personally experienced it, I’ve thus far been able not to hold it against JMS.
Lately JMS has been turning in some surprisingly bad scripts though, and I dropped ASM again midway through the godawful Spider-Batman arc immediately preceding this one. I like that story even less now that I’ve read the first chapter of this story, as it seems out of place, like Peter’s spent months (although I guess it was just days his time) pursuing vengeance for May’s shooting and now all of a sudden is super-concerned about her getting medical treatment. The priorities seem a little out-of-whack, and considering how bad the “Back In Black” vengeance quest story was, there seems to be even less reason to have delayed this story for it.
As the Best Shots team’s leader Troy Brownfield pointed out in his review for Newsarama.com, JMS has provided a very Spider-Man sort of conflict for Spidey. On the lam and using assumed names, the Parkers can’t use health insurance or cash to help May, giving Peter financial problems and plenty of guilt/responsibility angst.
But good God do things get off to a bad start. JMS has been getting increasingly overblown in his prose and dialogue of late, and this issue kicks off with a passage so purple, so pretentious that I felt embarrassed just reading it; I can’t imagine how he must feel for having written it.
Check it out:
Tune your ear to the frequency of despair, and cross reference by the longitude and latitude of a heart in agony.
That’s just bad writing, any way you look at it. But ultimately, none of that matters. Because this book is going to sell like gangbusters, no matter how bad the first issue is, or how badly received its quality might be by fandom. Because this issue has been hyped as so important, and because it’s so clear that Marvel views this as a jumping on point for their future Spider-Man franchise (there’s a full eleven pages of supplementary material about Spidey in the back, including his official Handbook-style write-up), that like Civil War and Identity Crisis, this is going to be one of those bad stories that everyone who follows the company’s fictional universe is going to feel compelled to read, no matter how much they dislike it (And while Civil War and Identity Crisis started off great and took a few issues to start falling apart, this story starts off bad).
Black Canary Wedding Planner #1 (DC Comics) I suppose I should kick this review off with a disclaimer: I’ve previously interviewed writer J. Torres and editor Jann Jones about this very issue for Newsarama. I don’t think that fact does anything to cloud my judgment of the issue itself after having finally actually read it months later—it’s not like I’m going to go extra-easy on it because Torres made for pretty good copy or extra-hard on it because Jones didn’t agree with me that Wonder Woman and Aquaman would make the greatest couple ever—but I just thought I’d point it out going in.
This book’s very existence points to an unfortunate tendency among superhero “universe” comics, and that’s the telling of the same story over and over again. I mean, it’s not often that two superheroes get married to one another*, so the fact that Green Arrow and Black Canary are finally going to tie the knot after a 30+ year relationship (our time) is pretty exciting stuff, and opens up the possibility for pretty exciting stories, the sorts of stories we haven’t seen the DCU before. This one issue is devoted to telling those kinds of stories, and it’s disappointing it’s only the one issue exploring things like what happens when two superheroes get married, while DC devoted four issues to getting Black Canary from her Birds of Prey status quo to her new ready to get married status quo, six issues to telling Green Arrow’s origin for the seventh or eight time and a whole 52-part series to futzing with their messy new multiverse.
Initially, I was all set to be disappointed with the art. Stephane Roux’s cover is decent but not spectacular, and it was frustrating to know that the stellar Christine Norrie would be contributing to the book, but not drawing the whole thing—pencil art would be provided instead by Lee Ferguson.
But I’ve got no real complaints. I would still rather have seen Norrie on pencil chores, simply because I would love to see Black Canary and Green Arrow drawn by the creator of Cheat, but Ferguson, whom I’m not familiar with, really is quite great (I’m sure the excellent Karl Story inking doesn’t hurt any). His lines are all smooth and clean, his characters emote the way real people would, and the art is crisp and easy to read.
The story is essentially about Dinah “Black Canary” Lance, whom we’re used to seeing as an invincible ass-kicker, running headlong into a problem she can’t beat with a kick, scream or judo toss—wedding planning. It’s supposed to be funny, and I found it to be, but in the back of my head while reading I was already wondering if those fangirls prone to attack would make with the attacks, claiming it makes Canary look like an idiot who can’t do anything as well as Ollie, not even plan her own wedding (Torres certainly opens the story up for that reading, and, taken in isolation, I can see where one could get that from the story, but previous familiarity with Canary makes this a less likely reading than). This is extra ironic when you consider Canary’s day job is a florist; I’m pretty sure that makes her the only superhero in the whole world who has practical experience in any field associated with the throwing of weddings.
Norrie’s contributions are more or less just filler, as she designs and draws full-page splashes of bridal magazine covers, lingerie catalogs and the like. Some of these are kind of fun, particularly a Post-It note from Roy, but others seem out of place, and a waste of space, like the full-page devoted to the two lovers in super-deformed joke mode (That kinda works in Teen Titangs Go!, but here just seems totally random).
Torres’ script is a lot of fun overall though. His characters all have the lived-in feel of real people, particularly in the way they talk to one another, and I certainly enjoyed the glimpses we got into the two heroes’ lives beyond fighting Brick or Dr. Light or whoever.
Now give Norrie a shot to draw some sequential art for DC, Jones! At not just the Johnny DC stuff!
Nitpick-o-Rama: So, Ollie’s a redhead now, is he? What’s Ollie have against Snapper Carr all of a sudden? Didn’t anyone mention to them that their friend Aquaman died and won’t be coming to the wedding? Barbara doesn’t speak to Bruce anymore, does she? Anton Allegro is a supervillain again? That’s odd, because the last time I saw him, he was heroically saving the lives of the Justice League of America…and, um, dying in the process.
Detective Comics #836 (DC) John Rozum and Tom Mandrake wrap-up their two-part fill-in story. In a lot of ways, it was just your average Batman vs. one of his rogues stories, with a rogue breaking out of Arkham Asylum, terrorizing Gotham, and then getting captured again. It was perhaps a little better written, but being slightly above average really isn’t much better than being average, and this story ended the exact same way that every single Scarecrow story to precede it: In the end, Batman proves he’s the real mast of fear in Gotham, scaring Scarecrow into defeat. I likely would have passed all together if I didn’t like this particular rogue and this particular artist so much. Another great cover by Simone Bianchi.
Infinity Inc (DC) If you were to ask me to compile a list of all of the DC characters and concepts not currently being featured in a monthly of their own, beginning with most likely to succeed in today's direct market and ending with the least likely, I would say, "Why on Earth would you want me to do that?"
And then, if you convinced me to go ahead and make such a list anyway, I think Infinity, Inc. would be somewhere very near the bottom, perhaps wedged between Chain Gang and Sonic Disruptors.
Infinity, Inc. was a title of the mid-1980s, featuring the children of the original Justice Society members of Earth-2, though halfway through their series they were folded into the DCU proper after the first Crisis. I was way too young to read the series the first time around, although when I met them years later, I liked a lot of the characters individually—their names, their powers, their costumes. But it's hard to deny that there were some extremely stupid characters involved, with Nuklon being by far the worst, and that it's a rather stupid name for a comic book and/or superhero team.
I've since seen the "Infinitors," as they're called, pop up in JLoA and All-Star Squadron and read an issue of two of their series from back issue bins, and I sure didn't like what I saw. Few others must have liked the team either, since their book sure didn't last all that long, although the characters themselves were diffused widely throughout the DCU, popping up in some of the oddest places over the years—Fury in Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Jade dating Kyle Rayner in Green Lantern, Obsidian and Nuklon joining the Justice League that preceded the Morrison/Porter/Dell relaunch, and so on. (Of course, the cessation of the series may have had as much to do with the team's irrelevancy in the DCU proper as any form of unpopularity; they were no longer the heirs to the JSA, a role filled on the new shared Earth by the JLA, and were instead just one of a half-dozen superteams kicking around the DCU).
While some sort of series reuniting the Infinitors might have a fighting chance in the direct market (I mean, hell, DC tried an Omega Men mini recently…they’ll give anyone a chance), it would be really, really hard to do, and probably not worth while. Hourman II, Obsidian and Atom-Smasher are all kinda sorta on the JSA now, Jade's dead (for now), Northwind's been mutated into Kingdom Come Hawkman for some stupid reason, and on and on.
The name can always be repurposed of course, which is what DC did in 52, when they had Lex Luthor buy the rights to the name and assign it to his own team (as in Peter Milligan's X-Force and John Arcudi's Doom Patrol). It made sense in the context of 52, a series that was all about the little shout-outs and nudges to long-time fans who would recognize and delight in such references, but does it make sense in the comics market? I mean, you'd buy a book in which a team called Infinity Inc. appears, but would you buy a book called Infinity Inc? DC's betting on it, with a new monthly; I'm thinking it sounds like they're simply repeating the mistake of Blue Beetle, Firestorm, Manhunter and All-New Atom, re-using a name/title that wasn't terribly popular in the first place, while straining out the element that would attract what few fans of the name/title there actually are. In this case, if you loved Infinity, Inc., it was probably because of the characters in it, not just because you kind of like the name of the book. This relaunched version doesn't include any of the original Infinitors, although some of their names are reused (And if the existence of Nuklon II isn't the worst symptom of DC's terminal legacy-itis, I don't know what is. Nuklon II? Nuklon I didn't even like the name Nuklon, that's why he changed it...along with his costume, which Nuklon II is now wearing).
This new series thus doesn't hold a lot of promise, and I find myself wondering why it was even green-lit. It's telling that the Steel vs. Luthor/Everyman Project/Infinity Inc storyline was the one that the writers of 52 most often ignored for the longest. Sometimes a whole month of issues would stretch by without a check-in on the plot line. As a spin-off attempting to capitalize on 52's popularity, it seems like an odd choice...why not a Steel monthly instead? Sure, Steel couldn't keep his own title going, but at least it was cancelled within the last 20 years.
The pitch is that Steel is going to take responsibility for the Everyman Project's survivors, apparently putting together a new version of Infinity Inc from the ashes of Luthor pay-to-play-superhero program. The sole connection Steel has to the concept is what transpired in 52, and taking a Superman/Justice League supporting character and making him the anchor of a new Infinity Inc seems a little awkward. But then, reuniting some old Infinitors to train new ones would have made for an extremely tedious pitch (that's exactly what the last few versions of the JSA and Titans have used as their mission statements), so I suppose it could be worse.
The big x-factor? The writer handling the series had nothing to do with 52, and his Big Two universe writing has lately tended to be pretty terrible. (Seriously, what happened to Peter Milligan? I don’t even mean Vertigo Peter Milligan, but the guy who had that awesome, overlooked run on Detective Comics, and who turned out X-Force/X-Statix and a great Spider-Man: Tangled Web arc? I’d like to read more super-comics from that guy).
His first issue is of the written-for-the-trade variety, which seems awfully risky for a first issue in a series that has as big an uphill battle as this one does. Months have passed since Luthor’s Infinity Inc. have lost their powers and resumed their civilian lives…or at least have tried. As Dr. Irons, better known as Steel (although don’t expect to see him suiting up or Steel-ing around in this story) knows from his own neice (the former Steel III turned Starlight turned Steel III again), some of the kids are having a hard time of it. He checks in on some of them, allowing us to check in on Fury II, Nuklon II and a goth-dressed kid named Dale Smith, whom I don’t recall from 52.
Relatively little happens, and Milligan indulges in a great deal of psychobabble, as all of the characters seem to be in some sort of therapy. There’s a clumsiness to all the talk of psychology, but a charming clumsiness—it reminded me of the old Alan Grant Batman stories, where it seemed clear Grant spent a weekend in a library researching a particular topic, and then just unloaded everything he learned about that subject into a story.
But because so little happens here, it’s hard to say how good or bad any of it is. As a first issue, it strikes me as an incredibly weak one, as I have no real desire to check out #2. The art is by Max Fiumara, and it’s fine. It has an early Vertigo-ish look, from back in the days when Milligan was doing things like The Minx there, but it’s nothing extraordinary, and certainly doesn’t sell the book all on it’s own.
I’d imagine this book won’t last to see fifteen issues, but I would have said the same thing about Shadowpact, and it’s still going, so what do I know.
Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #1 (Dark Horse Comics) I have a confession to make: I’m not really all that into Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. Now, don’t get me wrong, the concept is solid, Mignola’s art is great and always a treat to read, and I’ve enjoyed most of the Hellboy stories that I’ve read, but as fun and good-looking as they are, there’s not a whole lot to ‘em, and the more I read the more I get the sense that if you’ve read four of ‘em you’ve read ‘em all. Agency with a weird staff fights Nazis who use the occult. Got it. Now, the fact that so many of the elements that are omnipresent in Hellboy stories—Lovecraftian horrors, evil Nazis, evil magic Nazis—are so tired isn’t entirely Mignola and company’s fault. Sure, they tend to tell the same stories over and over, but then, the comics industry in general keeps going to the magic Nazi and H.P. Lovecraft wells over and over, so often that my eyes tend to glaze over just looking at the covers of a lot of the Hellboy-related books, and I tend to pass on a great deal of them, despite the fact that I always enjoy Mignola’s scripts and love Guy Davis’ artwork.
That said, of all the characters Mignola’s introduced in Hellboy (which I’ve follwed on and off in trade) and its spin-offs (which I haven’t at all), the one I’ve always found most fascinating is Lobster Johnson. I mean, Jesus, his name is Lobster Johnson. And he’s not, like, a lobster, or a guy who dresses like a lobster, he just uses the lobster claw as a symbol. That’s…that’s a weird-ass character right there. Even if he’s your average mystery man from the late-pulp/early-superhero era, his name and chosen animal symbol are enough to make him stand out.
So while I usually pass on these things, I couldn’t resist picking this one up. There’s absolutely nothing out of the ordinary or unexpected in here at all. Set in the late ‘30s, it’s about a mystery man with an underground base and shadowy network of fellow operatives trying to protect a Vril-powered suit from the Nazis and magical bad guys who want to use. In other words, it’s the same thing you’ve seen a thousand times.
But still, it’s got Lobster Johnson in it. Not The Lobster, or Dr. Lobster, or The Black Lobster, or Lobster Man, but Lobster Johnson. And that’s brilliant.
Mignola writes, and art comes courtesy Jason Armstrong. Brimming with period details, bold design and a constantly surging energy, it’s great stuff. More than once I thought of Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone’s Spirit while drinking in Armstrong’s lines.
Metal Men #2 (DC) The first issue of Duncan Rouleau’s limited series left me a little confused as to when exactly the various story threads were happening in relation to one another, and the month between those first three chapters and “Chapter 4,” which begins on the first page of this issue, sure didn’t help any. I am now completely and totally lost here. Part of that is on Rouleau, who’s always put design over readability in his artwork, and the weird insistence on giving just about every character their own special font and color-coded dialogue balloon, and part of it may just be how hard it is to keep track of so much information between months (I expect this to read better in trade in that respect). It’s still a very fun kind of lost though, with a complete adventure amid two ongoing storylines. There’s a more-or-less classic Metal Men adventure in which they take on “The Baloonatic,” a flashback to the secret origin of Magnus (I think), and then Magnus’ teaming up with U.N.I.O.N. and the Robot Renegades (including some familiar faces—Hi there, neatly re-designed L-Ron!) to rescue his Metal Men. Given the story’s focus on the man with the pipe, I think a better title would have been Doc Magnus and the Metal Men. Two issues in, I’m kinda wishing I would have just waited for the trade on account of how hard a time I’m having keeping everything straight, but this remains a great-looking, very Morrison-esque adventure starring some of DC’s most awesome characters. And given the last panel appearance of “The Death-Meal Men,” I can only assume it’s only going to get better from here.
She-Hulk #21 (Marvel) Woah, the solicitation said “this is the issue that fixes 90% of Marvel's continuity problems—from NOW ON!” and they weren’t lying. Dan Slott, assisted once more by Ty Templeton, brings his She-Hulk to a close with this issue, which really does solve all of Marvel’s continuity problems, in a way that allows Slott to take some stinging jabs at the rest of Marvel’s writers (and editiors) through the mouths of Shulkie’s firm’s resident comic book nerds, essentially calling them all assholes. And he finally answers the burning question of did She-Hulk sleep with Juggernaut or not, and, if not, why does everyone think she did? It’s a fun solution that plays to Slott’s strengths, and the strengths of this particular book, as it ties into (ancient) Marvel history and is as simple and straightforward as possible (and a much better solution than saying everyone who was out of character was really a Skrull all along). I hate to say any more, for fear of spoiling any of the delightful surprises herein. I will say that I laughed out loud at one panel (One nerd says “Wow! Two Star Trek references in one day? It’s like we’re in a Peter David Comic!,” while the other responds, “I wish!”), and I started to tear up in that second-to-last panel. Which means one of two things. I’ve either forgotten to take my medication for a few days now and the weird mood swings are setting in, or this was an absolutely fantastic last issue to an absolutely fantastic series**.
Now, what will become of Rick Burchett? Because I loved his work on this title, and will really miss getting a monthly-ish dose of his art.
Super-Villain Team-Up/MODOK’S 11 #3 (Marvel) Pretty much worth three bucks just for page 20.
*Are Mr. Miracle and Big Barda currently the only hero/heroine married couple in the DCU? Oh, and there’s Hourman II and Liberty Belle II. And…is that it? Tempest and Dolphin seem to be split-up due to the latter having been killed by The Spectre, or at least gone missing during his attack and never heard from again, and I can’t think of any others…
**Yeah, yeah, I know the title’s not cancelled or anything, but with a whole new direction and a whole new creative team, it might as well be. This would be one of those times where a new #1 is actually appropriate.