Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Weekly Haul: December 12th

Booster Gold #5 (DC Comics) Geoff Johns, John Katz and Dan Jurgens revisit one of the darkest stories in DCU history in this issue of the formerly pretty light-hearted series, when Rip Hunter sends Booster Gold and Skeets back in time (or, really, into Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Batman: The Killing Joke) to stop the crippling of then-retired Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon. It goes exactly how I thought it would go when I first saw the solicitation for the issue, and while it’s interesting the way this book accesses previous books for story and setting, it was definitely the least fun issue of the series so far.

For one, we had Rip Hunter torturing a bad guy for info, something I see wayyyy to often in my DC super-comics (often those with Johns’ name on the cover), particularly at a time when the country is debating the effectiveness and morality of torture. Now, I don’t think anyone’s picking up Booster Gold for opinions on whether waterboarding is torture or not, but doesn’t Geoff Johns live in the same country as me and read the same articles I do? Doesn’t he ever pause, his fingers hovering over the keyboard, and think, hey, maybe having our heroic time master torturing our villainous time master doesn’t really qualify as light escapism these days? The scene would have read just as effectively if Rip just used the threat—allowing him to show off his implements—or even just warned Rex that he could protect him from the fate that was inevitably going to happen, and does in short order.

Also of note, we get another look at a Rip Hunter blackboard, with a blogosphere-cognizant Spoiler warning on it (“No Trophy = Stephanie?”), the three villains who appeared for absolutely no reason one one page of “The Lightning Saga” reappear here and actually makes some sense this time, and Jurgens and inker Norm Rapmund draw the worst Jaime Reyes ever.

Fantastic Four #552 (Marvel Comics) This issue crystallizes exactly why I’m so disappointed in writer Dwayne McDuffie’s first JLoA story arc. The plot for this issue is essential just Dr. Doom fights the Fantastic Four, with all the same doohickeys, powers and catchphrases you’d expect in such a battle. But even though this is round 493 of a Doom/FF rivalry older than I am, McDuffie makes it feel fresh by giving the participants all a new motivation. That, and writing great, often very funny dialogue.

I’m going to be really sorry to see this creative team go (I believe this is their second-to-last issue). I know they’re being replaced by the all-star team of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, but, personally, I’d prefer a great FF comic that comes out once a month to a quarterly one with photorealistic art.

Here’s hoping someone at DC is already offering the Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar art team an exclusive gig to come work with McDuffie on JLoA

Green Lantern #25 (DC) Here it is folks, the conclusion of the “Sinestro Corps War” storyline, a capital-E Event book from DC that was not only huge in scope, but damn near flawless in execution. I’m not sure exactly what they did with “Sinestro Corps” that they didn’t do in, say, Infinite Crisis, Amazons Attack or Countdown, or perhaps what they didn’t do here that they did do in their other recent “Event” comics, but this one seemed to work perfectly.

It began with an over-sized special chockfull of “Holy @#$%!” moments, and then branched off onto two parallel roads, one running through Green Lantern, the other through Green Lantern Corps. Read either one or both; each is a complete story unto itself. Along the way, there were maybe a half-dozen tie-in one-shots offering more background on key players, but they were all completely skip-able if the life story of Hank Henshaw or secret origin of Superboy-Prime wasn’t exactly your cup of tea (I only read one issue of GLC and one of these one-shot specials, and I don’t feel like anything was missing from the final story).

And here we are at the conclusion, in which the “War” in the title actually seems appropriate, as much of the issue concerns two gigantic armies and some of the more powerful members of DC’s cosmology fighting, with a battlefield encompassing whole cities and stakes that include the Multiverse.

I’ll be honest, there are some sections of this over-sized issue that are almost howlingly cheesy, and if I were slightly more cynical a reader, or slightly less invested in the story, I might actually howl at some of the more melodramatic or goofy things, like, oh, Coast City’s show of support for Hal Jordan, or the prophesied rainbow of Corps (Seriously, Indigo Lanterns?), or the movie trailer-like preview section by Ethan Van Sciver regarding a story “Coming in 2009.”

But writer Geoff Johns, penciller Ivan Reis and the two inkers who covered his work here won me over by panel four. The first page opens Star Wars like, on an empty field of outer space, and then pans toward the flying green and yellow power rings, each representing one of the soldiers dying. It’s a great visual image, one unique to the story, summing up its urgency in a beautiful looking image.

Turn the page, and there’s an insanely detailed two-page spread of a Corps vs. Corps battle that puts the redded-out splash of “The Battle of Metropolis” in Infinite Crisis #7 to shame. Turn the page again, and there’s another insanely detailed two-page spread that puts the redded-out splash of “The Battle of Metropolis” in Infinite Crisis #7 to shame. Both are by Reis, although Van Sciver contributes one of his own a few pages later, focused on the war of the rainbow Corps.

In this ultimate issue of the storyline, Hal and Kyle Rayner take off for Coast City, to defend it from Sinestro and a squad of his soldiers, a battle that ends with a great deal of ring-less face-punches. Meanwhile, John Stewart and Guy Gardner head to NYC to face the Anti-Monitor and his gang, a battle which involves all of Earth’s heroes, Superboy-Prime taking on heroes and villains alike and even the Guardians of the Universe rolling up their robe sleeves.

It’s an incredibly well structured slam-bang action story, with Johns at least trying to tell a deeper story about the power of emotion and its ability to influence the world around us. And Jordan’s daddy issues. I’m not sure how well it succeeds on deeper, more dramatic levels, but, at the very least, it features Johns at the height of his powers, pushing Green Lantern and DCU mythology forward, something too few creators tend to do on the corporate owned character properties they work on these days.

Reis’ art, meanwhile, is incredible. Once again he and Van Sciver both reward patient scanning of their panels, looking for neat alien designs and, I should point out, I didn’t see a single art error to nitpick like, I don’t know, Bulleteer or Black Lightning flying, or the wrong Marvel involved or the sort of things that usually slip into stories involving the whole DCU like this (In fact, there are actually positive surprises in the cameos, like Yellow Lantern from the recent “Escape from Bizarro World” arc in Action Comic, or a Predator alien with a ring in the corner of the first big spread)

Green Lantern fans should be ecstatic, DCU fans should be excited, and super-comics fans in general should be content.

Green Lantern Corps #19 (DC) I’m back. New writer Peter J. Tomasi takes over for Dave Gibbons, as the title gets a slightly different status quo, one more in keeping with the Green Lantern Corps: Recharge miniseries that spun out of Green Lantern: Rebirth, with Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner resuming their partnership as the Earth men among the various aliens that make up the Corps cast. I say this as someone who hasn’t read much of the last year and half worth of issues of this series, but it does seem like they were, in part, an interruption between the story of Recharge and the one being picked up here.

Tomasi plays up the post-war aspect of the book, which is being billed as an epilogue to the “Sinestro Corps War,” a strategy that proves remarkably effective in introducing not only stars Kyle and Guy, but also the various alien Corps members (most of whom I recognized from the few issues I have read, a few I didn’t), plus recently resurrected Ice, Kilowog’s funny-looking family, and a new old villain, whose power ring matches the color of his skin. Every character gets at least a page, and most of the Corps members are shown reacting to having survived a war that hundred of others didn’t in individual ways.

Pencil art comes courtesy of Patrick Gleason, a great talent whose work I love looking at (dig the details in Guy’s home away from home, for example), who is assisted here by no less than six inkers (that’s about twice as many that were needed for GL #25, which was over 50 pages long).

Marvel Adventures Hulk #6 (Marvel) Despite enjoying Jeff Parker’s Marvel Adventures Avengers book, and the MA Spider-Man issues I’ve read, I haven’t gotten around to sampling the relatively new Hulk book yet. This one seemed like a good one to try out though, as the cover features Namor and the Hulk fighting, and, perhaps my favorite thing about Marvel Comics is that sometimes Namor and the Hulk fight.

Writer Paul Benjamin’s script was similar to all the other MA books I’ve read in several respects—it was a done-in-one story with a low threshold of previous continuity awareness to enjoy, it was lighthearted and fun, and it gave the familiar characters a presentation that seemed both classic and fresh (That is, this was definitely Hulk and Namor—and Bruce Banner and Rick Jones—as we’ve come to recognize them, but at the same time they seemed more vital than they sometimes do in Marvel’s main, grown-up line).

Likewise, Mario Gully and Scott Koblish’s art was similar to much of the art in other MA books. Perfectly readable and competent in its storytelling (which is rarer than you might think in mainstream super-comics these days, I’m sorry to say; they’re certainly better than, say, Ed Benes, or Joe Benitez, or Greg Land or this Joe Maduriera man who’s been hurting the eyes of readers this past week), with a style that’s unremarkable, but not much of a departure from what you’d find in the Marvel Universe books.

They draw a terrible, terrible monkey though, if Rick’s pet monkey named Monkey is supposed to be a normal monkey and not, like, a mutant one or something. He looks a little like Devil Dinosaur’s Moonboy.

As for the plot, well, gamma radiation has caused sea-life (ranging from sharks to sea turtles and starfish) to “hulk out,” turning giant, mean and green and attacking Atlantis. So the Avenging Son (not actually referred to as “The Avenging Son” in this particular story, I’m sorry to say) fights the Hulk. The story, entitled “Law & Order: Atlantis,” unfolds as a courtroom drama, in which Rick defends Banner before judge Namor in Atlantean court.

I don’t think this issue has completely sold me on the title, not quite reaching the heights of Jeff Parker’s MA Avengers run, but it was pretty fun, and it only took me two sentences to realize this Benjamin character may be someone to pay attention to. In that second sentence, you see, he has Rick refer to Namor as “Imperious Pecs.”

New Avengers #37 (Marvel) Ah-ha! I thought it was weird that Howard the Duck and The Punisher had Luke Cage’s back in the cliffhanger at the end of the last issue! This issue is essentially one big fight scene, in which Luke Cage and the Democrat Avengers (or The Friendly Neighborhood Avengers, as Spidey refers to them) wade into battle against the host of anonymous villains The Hood has assembled (Seriously, can I get a character key or something? I recognize, like, four of these guys).

It’s kind of a mess really.

Action, particularly at the climax of a story, has never been Brian Michael Bendis’ strong point, and while I do dig artist Leinil Yu’s style and lay-outs, he loses me quite often in this particular story. It’s all pretty disjointed, mostly involving the Avengers jumping around in panels crammed with villains and illusions of other heroes, all quipping like Spider-Man (Wolverine even laughs at a not particularly funny Spidey quip). The fact that not only is every crammed with so many people, but they all talk alike (in addition to the quippy Avengers, all of the villains seem to say “Dude!” at one point or another), sure doesn’t help it read terribly clearly.

I did like Cage beating Iron Fist to making the exact same quip, though.

Wonder Woman #15 (DC) Gail Simone’s second issue continues the troubled title’s march back towards readability. But it’s still got its problems.

It’s a little darker and ickier than a Wonder Woman comic needs to be. For example, Captain Nazi threatens to ravish our heroine (He just says “kiss,” but he says it in the sentence, “Shall I kiss you before dying? Or after?…I wish I could promise that I would be gentle.”) And when she uses her magic lasso to get to the bottom of his badness, we learn that his mother was a prostitute, his father her pimp (is that a German word?), and that Captain Nazi was beaten everyday of his childhood. Ah, light escapism!

I’m also still pretty confused by how the whole secret identity thing works now. And I mean how it works physically within the context of the story, not how it works as an element of the story, because I don’t think it does at all (It’s not like Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne often fight supervillains, then tag out to Superman and Batman, the way Agent Prince does here). Narration tells us that she has no powers while in her Diana Prince identity, and yet not only does Captain Nazi, who’s about as strong as Captain Marvel, who’s about as strong as Superman, who’s stronger than Wonder Woman, not totally kill her death, but Diana is able to break a wall with the back of her head and judo throw him into the next room. (Yeah, yeah, leverage, Amazonian martial arts training, whatever…).

More successful is the opening scene, continuing the more myth-like story set in Themyscira’s past, and the scenes on the modern day island, wherein Hippolyta goes all ninja on the Nazi invaders while Diana pleads with different pantheons for help…doing…I don’t know what actually. Is Themyscira still in a different dimension or something? Why’s this shit so hard to follow? Can DC just leave the status quo of the Amazons alone for, like, at least a year at a time every time they change it?

Two issues under her belt now, Simone has made Wonder Woman better than it’s been since Greg Rucka’s run, but still not as good as it could and should be (or even as good as Rucka’s was).

Oh, and bonus nitpick: On page 20, panel 2, Wonder Woman goes to the Wizard Shazam to ask for his help. The Wizard Shazam, you’ll recall, died somehow in the final issue of Day of Vengeance, which was two years ago our time, over a year ago Wonder Woman’s time.


JohnF said...

Captain Nazi threatening Diana with a postmortem smooching? Gail Simone better watch out, or she'll be named for a misogynist pretty soon.
WW's secret ID is never going to be a good idea.
I'd be all for Pelletier taking over the art chores for the Justice League. Sure he's Alan Davis-lite, but 65-percent of Alan Davis is still better than 100-percent of Ed Benes.

Anonymous said...

I was more than pleasantly surprised by Green Lantern - I came in worrying about a major letdown, but it was fantastic (if cheesy at times). Reis probably did the work of his career.

Jacob T. Levy said...

"the three villains who appeared for absolutely no reason one one page of 'The Lightning Saga' reappear here"

and while they didn't really do anything here either, now it felt like buildup, not like random crap being thrown in for the sake of random crap.

I have to say that that panel, plus all the buildup to future stories in Green Lantern (including the movie trailer one you didn't like), got me invested and excited about the medium term future of the DCU in a way that I haven't been for many months. Just knowing that there's a plan that goes beyond Countdown/ Death of the New Gods/ Final Crisis is pretty appealing.

But more broadly: Superman and Wonder Woman are just barely done setting up their OYL status quos, and Batman still kind of isn't done with that since we're in the middle of another Damien story. JLA and Titans haven't had any direction at all. JSA has a direction but I fear it's multiversal and therefore oriented toward Countdown; I can't say that there's anything I'm excited to find out in JSA. Up until now really only Brave & the Bold has had me looking forward. Now Booster & Green Lantern do, too.

Ami Angelwings said...

The "male villain threatening sexual violence to a female hero" is such an automatic trope I've used it a billion times when I write without even thinking. :( We just all grew up with it, and we're still surrounded by it. >.>;;

I totally agree with you about your GL review tho :) It WAS cheesey in parts, but it worked so well that I didn't care :D

I liked your reviews :)

ashez2ashes said...

I'm not sure Rip Hunter is supposed to be a Hero exactly. We've only got his word for it that these events are "supposed" to happen. Maybe there is no "right" way for things to happen, but a way Rip Hunter only thinks is best.

SallyP said...

Poor Booster. I guess Rip felt that he had to learn the lesson that some things can't be tampered with, but still...!

Green Lantern was simply sensational. Best story of the year, in my opinion.

Wonder Woman may not be perfect yet, but she's getting there...she's certainly getting there.

Unknown said...

Nitpick! Brian Bolland was the artist on The Killing Joke, not Dave Gibbons. That is all.

Caleb said...

Mr. Brady,

Aaa! I do/did actually know that! I swear! Thanks for pointing out that embarassing error, which I can now correct, even though this comment and yours will serve as a permanent reminder that I am, indeed, an idiot.

Michael May said...

"...personally, I’d prefer a great FF comic that comes out once a month to a quarterly one with photorealistic art."


Regarding Marvel Adventures Hulk: I'd encourage you to pick up some of the earlier issues. I liked this one, but it wasn't the best of them. They're all pretty great for the reasons you mentioned, especially the fun, lighthearted aspects. Lots of humor and lots of punching.

And yeah, Monkey did look weird this issue.