Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Weekly Haul: November 7th

Annihilation: Conquest—Starlord #4 (Marvel Comics) Peter “Starlord” Quill’s ragtag group of space-faring soldiers, culled from a space-prison, complete their mission against the funny-looking robot things or whatever they are. There’s shooting, running around, technobabble, a raccoon driving a space ship, a monster tree god in various sizes, and plenty of the best art in any book Marvel’s publishing right now (Seriously, this Timothy Green II and Victor Olazaba team? Pure gold). This series was a blast, from start to finish, and I was actively dreading the turning of the pages of this last issue…right up until I got to that last page, and saw the band hasn’t really broken up just yet after all. I’m not sure I’ll follow Starlord into the main Conquest series, as it’s by different creators and I have no real knowledge of or affection for Marvel’s space heroes, but I’d definitely be interested in seeing this cast by these creators again.

Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer: Red Rain #1 (DC Comics) Foul! The solicitation for this comic, still up at, claims that the art and cover are by Kelley Jones, with no mention of any other artists. In actuality, only five of the 22 pages are by Jones; the rest are penciled by Eric Battle and Angel Unzueta, and inked by three different inkers. So if you’re buying this issue simply because you love Jones’ work and have some affection for the trilogy of Elseworlds stories he did featuring Batman vs. vampires and then Batman as a vampire, be warned—this really isn’t worth your time.

I certainly wish I would’ve flipped through it a little more carefully. Jones’ few pages are fine, even if there’s only two actual shots of Batman, and he only has a panel or two featuring the superheroes, which was a large part of why I was interested in this—The Monitor, Green Lantern and Donna Troy aren’t exactly characters one thinks would be perfect for Jones’ style, so I was pretty curious about his take on them.

The rest of the art is certainly readable (and God knows DC is publishing worse art on a regular basis these days), and Unzueta and Battle stay true to Jones’ original designs pretty well, but it gives the whole issue the same sort of rushed, unprofessional feel that haunts the Countdown event. Why on earth did it take six different artists to put together a single 22-page one-shot? Jones’ history shows he can certainly keep a 22-pages a month schedule—was there just an extremely short window between conception and publication date here?

If I had to guess, I would assume that’s the case, as there are other little slip-ups that betray a harried pace even on the first two pages (Donna gets two differently styled narration boxes; or is the first simply a continuation of her dialogue? Because in that case, there should be quotes. Also, Jason Todd mentions how nice it is to “Huddle tight with your girl.” Has he ever even had a girlfriend?).

The story is by Peter Johnson, who co-wrote a story in last week’s Infinite Halloween Special which would have been fine, if not for its narrative difficulties (The set-up is the Mad Hatter telling a story about Vampire Batman, and, ignoring the matter of the latter being from a different dimension here, we still get first-person narration from the Batman). There’s a decent enough story for DC fans in here, about this worlds’ Dick Grayson and his relationship with its Batman, but Johnson’s script has the same problems as those in what little of Countdown I endured—it requires the characters to not only not act like themselves, but also act like complete idiots at all times.

The group that DC editorial calls “The Challengers of the Beyond” at conventions and Newsarama interviews (and that Funnybook Babylon calls “The C-List Monitor Posse”) arrive on the parallel Earth that is pretty much the one from the Doug Moench/Kelley Jones Elseworlds stories, and split up to find Ray “The Atom” Palmer.

Donna finds that world’s Barbara Gordon with an oak stake in her heart and the Monitor named “Bob” (Is that a joke? Really?) finds an Atom icon scar on her wrist. So perhaps Ray Palmer is on this world and acting as a vampire slayer? That sounds reasonable.

Green Lantern Kyle Rayner and The Evil Killer No One Seems to Have a Problem With Jason Todd go down to skid row, looking for a vampire. Kyle wears his full Green Lantern regalia, and Jason leaves his red domino mask on, so they won’t look at all suspicious prowling around the neighborhood. When the hobos there start trying to eat them, they naturally assume it’s simply because they’re hungry, and not because they are, in fact, vampires, because that would be crazy (Despite the fact that they’re there looking for vampires).

Meanwhile, Bob and Donna track down Dick and Vampire Batman, which leads to a showdown. Vampire Batman totally kills Dick, while the guy with the most powerful weapon in the universe and the woman with Wonder Woman-like powers are powerless to help, and decide to just take off to the next one-shot. I guess I should be thankful that Forerunner and Captain Atom/Monarch don’t show up.

Like everything else Countdown related I’ve read, it’s hard to know who to blame for how bad the book is, in part because it’s hard to know how much is the writer’s responsibility and how much is simply the outline he was given. Here it seems pretty clear that Johnson had an okay Batman Elseworlds story to tell, but he had to work in this business with the “Challs,” which necessarily has to work out the same way all their other appearances work out (i.e. they run around a parallel Earth for a little bit, decide Palmer’s not there, and jet). There’s only so much you can do to stop a story like that from sucking.

Johnson does rely on a Brad Meltzer-like use of multiple narrators, each with an individual, color-coded narration box, and Donna, Dick, Jason and Kyle all get turns “narrating.” In actuality, the narration is more just relating their thoughts on the scenes occurring than actual narration. I know that thought clouds are seen as passé by a lot of today’s creators, but when you have to resort to this many different types of boxes, you’re much worse off than using good old fashioned, easy-to-read thought clouds.

Finally, what the hell is DC thinking when they title these goddam things? “Countdown Presents?” “Search for Ray Palmer?” Not “The Atom,” but “Ray Palmer?” What’s wrong with The Challengers of Beyond: Red Rain? At least then you’re down to one colon (Annihilation: Conquest at least had the decency to use a dash and change it up a little), and no meaningless, prosaic phrases…

Fantastic Four #551 (Marvel) Writer Dwayne McDuffie has been returning the FF to their cosmic adventurer roots during his run on the title, and, having dealt with space in his last story arc, here he turns his attention to time. Specifically, time travel. A trio of traditional FF supporting characters from 75 years in the future journey back in time to try and convince the present day Reed Richards not to do something that’s going to cause a lot of problems down the road, the 101st idea on the list of 100 ideas to make the world a better place that he and Tony Stark came up with during the Civil War story (and considering that Clor was one of the good ideas on the list, 101 must be really bad). Big ideas that are both familiar and fresh, sharply-defined colorful characters, and a truly shocking cliffhanger—McDuffie and the art team of Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar are delivering good solid super-comics here.

Now, why Marvel continues to wrap them in the absolute worst covers they publish, I don’t know. In this month’s hasty Mike Turner sketch, Dr. Doom statically poses atop some sort of hidden step ladder, while three of the FF, all careful to hide their feet, surround him in a background-less space of some kind. The Thing, meanwhile, pays no intention to Doom, but is instead transfixed by the UPC symbol on the cover (although, in the image above, which lacks the credit, title and UPC symbol, he seems instead transfixed by Sue’s ass).

Justice League Unlimited #39 (DC) It’s three great tastes that go great together! Two of the League’s premier detectives, Batman and Elongated Man, team-up with Detective Chimp to solve a simian-related crime! Someone has stolen Gorilla City—lock, stock and banana! Can the three detectives solve the crime in just 22 pages? Writer Solly Fisch and artists Gordan Purcell and Al Nickerson tell the tale, and, while I’m far outside the target audience here, I’ve got to admit, this was an enormously satisfying read. Like every issue of JLU, this was a done-in-one, but it was also a complete story (beginning, middle and end), and, unlike some previous issues of this series I’ve read, it didn’t feel dumbed-down at all or feature a cloyingly obvious “lesson.” Instead, it was all-ages in the best sense of the term (that readers of all-ages can enjoy it) and drove it’s story by the inherent charm and personalities in the characters. This was by far the best comic—in terms of writing and art—that had the words “Justice League” in the title that I’ve read in…man, I don’t know how long. Certainly that speaks to the weakness in DC’s DCU version of the title, but, at the same time, it speaks to the strengths of Fisch, Purcell and Nickerson.

Metal Men #4 (DC) I really feel like I could just be cutting and pasting my reviews of any of the previous issues here. Ducan Rouleau’s designs and art are all top-notch, the writing is packed with neat concepts and fun dialogue, but each issue is so incredibly dense that I’m overwhelmed with confusion, and assume it will read better in trade than these monthly installments, as then the deluge of information will hit you all at once, and you can easily flip back to previous chapters to keep the Metal Men and the Death Metal Men and these Stone Men and the various time-manipulators all straight. Things do seem to becoming slightly clearer here, thanks to the revelation of the other Magnus, but I still feel pretty lost. Still, if I have to be confused by a super-comic, it’s far better to be confused to the excess of good ideas and fun scenes, rather than shoddy execution. At this point, if you haven’t given the book a try, I heartily recommend you try the eventual trade.

Lower Regions (Top Shelf Comix) Alex Robinson, the cartoonist behind the brilliant Box Office Poison and Tricked, presents a comic absolutely nothing like either of them. Well, it’s black and white. And entertaining. But other than that? This is completely different than what you might expect from Robinson. A word-less fantasy adventure about a busty warrior babe with a battle axe and her big-eared, diminutive companion fighting their way through a dungeon full of fantasy monsters. Basically, it’s an off-brand Dungeons & Dragons campaign, illustrated in a flat, stark art style that doesn’t exactly scream Dungeons & Dragons, which is just enough of a subversion of expectations to make the endeavor interesting. Robinson designs some pretty awesome looking monsters, and has his heroine dispatch of them in awfully clever ways (I particularly liked the take down of the stitched-together monstrosity). Kinda pricey at $6.95, but still a lot of fun.

My only problem with it? The format. It's only four inches high and six inches wide.

Man, I hate books like this. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true—I grow to hate them. At first, I love them. I like the way they look when I see them in the shop, and I like reading them, the way they feel in your hands and the way the non-traditional shaped pages lead to lay-outs that differ greatly from the kinds I’m most used to (Those in Western super-comics and manga digests). But when I go to put this thing away, it’s going to drive me crazy. I can’t put it in a stack like my super-comics, nor can I file it away in a longbox. I suppose it’s got a bit of a spine, which makes it better than those James Kochalka Conversation comics, so maybe it will stand up on a book shelf, wedged between some other similarly tiny books. Otherwise, it’s going to go in a dusty pile of other irregularly shaped comics that I have no idea what to do with.

New Avengers: Illuminati #5 (Marvel) Remember back in July—yes, July—when Jessica “Spider-Woman” Drew took the body of “Skrullektra” from her teammates on the Democrat Avengers and took it to Tony Stark in the pages of New Avengers #32? Well, this is the direct follow-up to that scene, which also apparently takes place after World War Hulk, which hasn’t actually ended yet. Confused? Don’t be; it actually reads relatively smoothly for all the what’s-happening-when types of questions swirling about it, as long as you don’t try to think too much about it (However, if you try to put all of Dr. Strange and Tony Stark’s encounters since the end of Civil War into some kind of logical time frame, I’m pretty sure your head will explode. And oddly enough, Brian Michael Bendis wrote pretty much all of them himself).

I am a little confused as to why this issue is coming out now, so long after the “Elektra was a Skrull?!?!?” cliffhanger from mid-summer. (It’s also been three months since NA:I #4).

At any rate, Tony Stark has the body of Skrullektra, so he convenes a meeting of The Illuminati, including a coupla guys he’s been fighting rather vigorously of late. They all talk a bit and bicker about what this means, when suddenly, one of them is revealed to be a Skrull! And not only that, there’s a new breed of Super-Skrull that seems pretty awesome! And, best of all, Namor says “Imperious Rex!” and punches it in the face!

And really, that’s pretty much it. I suppose it’s really just shuffling the pieces around the board to make way for the next big crossover, which gets an optical illusion style logo on the cover of this issue, but that’s been what this miniseries has been about all along, hasn’t it? Well, that and screwing with Marvel continuity just to, I don’t know, be annoying, I guess.

Parting nitpick: Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation doesn’t appear on his astral form! Or at least, it’s not supposed to. Neilalien has spoken. And received a hearty second. Get with the program, Cheung!

Robin #168 (DC) After last week’s sub-par prologue, the seven-part Bat-book crossover event “The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul” kicks off in earnest in the pages of this week’s Robin, by guest-writer Peter Milligan and regular artist Freddie E. Williams II. The good news is, that after “War Games,” the bar for Bat-book crossovers is set so low, that talents like Milligan and Williams would have to actively try their hardest not to give us a book exceeding such low expectations.

The story here is a tad slight, and in the rather tired misunderstanding-leads-to-fighting mold, but it’s competently told, and I was relieved to see Milligan bringing some of his old Vertigo/X-Statix zaniness to the table after his lackluster run on whatever X-Men book he was writing for a while there (Was that Uncanny? I have trouble telling ‘em all apart, to tell you the truth).

Anyway, Damian al Ghul, still rocking a thrown-together Robin costume (destined for the Bad Costumes Created By Kids Hall of Fame, to be enshrined next to Wonder Girl II’s first one), is being pursued by the crazy turban and mummy that is claiming to be Ra’s al Ghul (I won’t know it’s him for sure until I see his funny beard and bare chest). He comes to the Batcave, seeking help from his dad Batman, but the big guy’s busy hang-gliding after Ra’s. The only one minding the cave is Robin and, since this is a seven-part story, we get to see rounds two and three of Robin versus Damian.

Superman # 670 (DC) After one issue of mystery, and another issue of history, the third chapter of “The Third Kryptonian” is devoted to fighting. Lots and lots of fighting. Earth’s various Kryptonians—‘man, ‘girl, ‘dog, Power Girl and Chris Kent—take on space pirates with heavy anti-Kryptonian ordinance, plus you’ve got Batman going all Jackie Chan in the Fortress of Solitude, which turns out to be a pretty cool place to go all Jackie Chan at. Kurt Busiek provides a nice, dense Superman story this issue, with it’s own beginning, middle and end, with a lot of action and Superman trivia passing by in the background. Rick Leonardi’s art is a lot looser than Busiek’s “regular” penciler on the title, but hell, he can draw fast, and it’s not bad looking at all. Now I wonder how Krypto’s going to preserve his secret identity after this?


snell said...

Caleb, how the hell do you get your Weekly Haul reviews up so quickly?? Do you have a secret source at the printing plants who slips you your comics early? Do you have a time travel device? Man, i haven't even gotten halfway through my comics yet...I feel so inadequate...

Re: Avenger timeline. The big hold-up is Mighty Avengers. The glacial publication schedule of that mag has them several months behind New Avengers. So when you ask why this plot is happening "so long after the “Elektra was a Skrull?!?!?” cliffhanger from mid-summer", the sad answer is that Mighty Avengers hasn't even finished its first story arc yet, let alone reached the story where Jessica arrive to show Tony Skrullectra.

Patrick C said...

Just a comment about Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer: The Challengers of Beyond: Will there be any room for a drawing on the cover after this title: Red Rain. At the end Donna asks if they were right not to get involved. Didn't they already get involved??? If they didn't barge through the wall and wake up Batman, Dick would have stabbed the foul beast. Instead of an alive and human Dick Grayson and a dead Vampire Batman, we have the dynamic undead duo. Seems very irresponsible, especially since they didn't even realize they did it.

Caleb said...

Caleb, how the hell do you get your Weekly Haul reviews up so quickly??

I owe it all to under-employment. I don't work on Wednesdays, and most of my work-writing gets done at the end of the week, so I'm at the shop first thing Wednesday and home reading and then writing pretty shortly afterwards. Thus, EDILW is your source for the Internet's most hastily-written reviews of the week's comics.

If they didn't barge through the wall and wake up Batman, Dick would have stabbed the foul beast. Instead of an alive and human Dick Grayson and a dead Vampire Batman, we have the dynamic undead duo.

Heh, yeah, that whole scene was pretty weird. A vampire shouldn't cause a Green Lantern any trouble at all, and Donna's "wait, let's not interfere" at the end seemed a little trite...but I guess the only other thing she could have said was, "Well, here we are on page 21. Let's wrap this one-shot up and teleport to the next one."...

AlNickerson said...

Glad ya liked JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #39. I enjoyed the issue, as well. :)

Anthony Strand said...

I guess you didn't see it (which, good for you, because it was pretty crappy) but Offspring told Plastic Man to call him "Luke" rather than Ernie ("I hate my middle name") in this week's Countdown to Mystery. I know that was a complaint you had a while back.

I've been reading your archives the past few weeks. Good blog!