I’m running a little later than usual this week on account of having gotten a much later start reading than usual, which means this week’s edition of the Internet's most hastily written comics reviews will likely be even more hastily written than usual (I predict a 250% increase in typos—see if you can spot ‘em all!).
On the plus side, you get two posts today…and tomorrow…and at least a couple times a week for the next few weeks, as we present a daily holiday-themed index card and colored pencil extravaganza through the 23rd or so, counting down to Christmas.
But enough preliminary blabbing…these things are late enough already…
Avengers: The Initiative Annual #1 (Marvel Comics) This seems more designed for newcomers than regular readers, as it fills in some gaps regarding certain characters’ origins that didn’t really need filling in, but it succeeds in that respect, as it showcases the title’s greatest attribute—it’s really the Marvel Comic which ties all the other Marvel comics together, so if you’re interested in the whole universe’s story, and want to read as few Marvel comics as possible, this is the one to be reading (Well this or New Avengers; The Initiative is better-grounded in the Marvel Universe as a place and has a deeper cast of characters, but New Avengers seems to set the agenda for all the other titles much of the time, doesn’t it?).
Regular writer Dan Slott and incoming co-writer Christos Gage present five stories, each focusing on a member of the book’s regular cast—There’s the origin of Gauntlet by Salvador Larroca, the origin of Armory by Clayton Henry (weird; I didn’t think we’d see her again), the origin of Hardball by Steve Uy, the origin of MVP and the Scarlet Spiders by Tom Feister 7 Carmine Di Giandomenico, and a look at Pennsylvania’s super-team, The Liberteens. I like some of the characters introduced in the team—although one of ‘em isn’t who he appears to be (see the above the title banner on the actual cover)—which brings us to another attribute of this title. It’s one that is constantly, actively adding new characters to the Marvel Universe.
Also, Flagsmasher is totally in this issue. And I love Flagsmasher.
On the downside, this issue is printer’s mistake-tastic, with several pages smaller than they should be, the bottoms of the bottom tiers of the panels cut off. Nothing vital was missing, but still.
Black Summer #4 (Avatar) I cringed when I first saw the American Prospect cover with the post-assassination John Horus on the cover, and later had friends ask me about the book. See, it’s pretty cool that such an unlikely source for comics coverage would do a comics cover story like that, but at the same time, Black Summer sure seems like one of the least political superhero comics I’ve read—there seems to be more commentary, intentional or not, on the state of war-time America in The Avengers: The Initiative or World War Hulk then Black Summer. David Rees manages more outrage and relevance in a single panel of Get Your War On than writer Warren Ellis and artist Juan Jose Ryp have managed in the last three issues of Black Summer. In fact, the political angle seems to have dropped out of site completely, for bang-up action, explosions and super-fights, with the occasional detour into science jargon sprinkled speculative fiction territory. Are we ever going to see anyone react to the thrilling situation set-up in the first issue? Anyone who isn’t a super-person, anyway?
Really nice hyper-detailed art by Ryp, though. I don’t much chare for his character designs, but he does an incredible job drawing explosions and rubble. When he spends a two-page spread, the reader really seems to get their two-pages worth out of it.
Blue Beetle #21 (DC Comics) Missied it! I completely forgot how much I hated the fact that the new Spectre has a goatee until I read this fill-in issue which came out last week but went un-purchased by me. I’m not really sure what the point of even having a new guy’s soul bound to The Spectre Force is if it doesn’t give the Spectre any sort of personality beyond “I gruesomely kill murderers with grand guignol prop powers for God.” In this story, all Crispus is adding is a goatee. Which looks lame. Spectral lameness aside, this is a strong fill-in, done-in-one in a book known for strong done-in-one’s by the regular creative team.
Justice League of America #15 (DC) For the third issue in a row, writer Dwayne McDuffie tells a chapter of a pretty dumb fight story, a pretty dumb fight story that’s not about anything other than a big, dumb fight. There are hints that the characters know this sort of pointless story is beneath them, as Superman suspects and Luthor confirms near the end, but it would have been nice of McDuffie to let the readers in on it. As is, this is the chapter where all the good guys beat up all the bad guys, and then the Suicide Squad come in to announce everyone’s due to appear in Salvation Run now.
The thing McDuffie does well is write the characters though, and he seems to actually do in-story the sorts of things that his predecessor Brad Meltzer only talked about in interviews. He shows Canary being a leader and actually, like, leading, for example, and has Geo-Force actually use his awesome superpowers for the first time in 15 issues. He even uses both Green Lanterns at once, in a way that seems perfectly natural.
Unfortunately, he’s still working with pencil artist Ed Benes, for whom the best that can be said of is that he’s better than Joe Benitez (who returns next issue). In addition to being lazy (the whole story is backgroundless, as if the characters are actors working in front of a green screen, and the CGI artists never got around to filling it with special effects in post-production), he again manages to work a completely inappropriate shot of a woman’s ass into almost every page. Check out the double-page spread on pages four and five for example—does Black Canary really look like she’s about to fight an army of supervillains there?
Benes likes drawing cheesecake. I get it. But isn’t there a comic book better suited to super-cheesecake than the Justice League one? Is Wonder Woman really a character DC wants depicted as bare-assed in half the panels she appears in?
Justice League Unlimited #40 (DC) The nature of this book—done-in-one stories set outside the DCU line, rotating creators who can only bring so much personality to the property—make it a perfect book to pick up now and the. Miss an issue—hell, miss 20 issues—and you’re not really missing a thing; that 21st issue will still make perfect sense.
I tend to only pick these up when I really like the characters involved. This month, the spotlight falls on Zatanna, with the other half-dozen heroes who appear being more or less interchangeable with any other six heroes in the JLU, although it was the cover image that sold the book to me.
I just love the semi-Scooby-Doo set-up of the image, with the heroes tiptoeing in tight formation, the monster sneaking up behind them (I think it’s the totally scared Martian Manhunter half-hiding behind Wonder Woman that totally makes the cover).
Luckily, the next 22-pages are pretty fun too. Writer Ben McCool crams the old "Zatanna’s Search” plot line into a single issue, one which opens with little girl Zatanna Zatara, wearing fishnets, and telling spooky stories in her treehouse and getting busted by her father Zatara, and then, from there, gets into the Wizard of Ys and Shadow Thief versus the Justice League fight. It’s a lot of story, but it’s so tightly constructed, it doesn’t seem rushed at all, in fact, McCool seems to be killing time with a page and a half epilogue in which the JLU come across as jerks (Which is fair; in the era of comics this one homages, the League were hardcore jerks).
My only complaint? I love the fact that Zatara apparently wears an ascot and top hat around the house, but what’s up with that checkered vest and khaki ensemble? It’s a tuxedo or nothing on the original Z, artist Dario Brizuela! Um, not that I mean it would have been better if Zatara were wearing nothing in this issue, because a nude Zatara would have made a couple scenes in this issue kinda creepy.
Justice Society of America #11 (DC) Thank God JSoA came out the same week as JLoA this month—penciller Dale Eaglesham really is the anti-Benes. Every panel is filled with deep, rich backgrounds, so you can tell the difference between the settings, giving the stories a sense of place. Since the JLA guest-star in parts of this sisue, you see the exact same characters as in JLoA, yet here Wonder Woman has a bit more coverage, and Eaglesham manages to make characters like Black Canary sexy in her posing, body language, expression and neat, Veronica Lake hairstyle—not simply by drawing her costume as skimpy as possible and sticking her butt and boobs into the focus of every shot. Eaglesham also varies his character designs, so that each character has a different build and expression, even when they’re the same characters from different dimensions.
It’s really too bad that DC can’t find an artist of equal caliber for their best-selling book as they’ve already got on their second best-selling book.
As for the plot, this really feels like the end of the set-up for the actual Kingdom Come-Superman-comes-to-the-DCU storyline, as he more or less joins the JSA, Mr. America III (Is that right? III?) joins the who’s-killing-all-these-minor-supervillains-you-need-to-look-up-on-Wikipedia case, and the Society meets Judomaster II.
Geoff Johns really just writes good-old-fashioned superhero comics, with a mixture of action, fisticuffs and a dozen soap opera plots going at once, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t seem like the very best writer DC’s got on their payroll some weeks. Perhaps his past success has earned him a greater degree of freedom from editorial interference than the rest of his peers, but JSoA seems to be one of the few DC Comics where the creators are telling stories they want to tell, rather than serving bigger storylines.
Confidential to Cyclone: Quit hanging on Superman like you are on the cover, girl. He’s old enough to be your grandfather.
Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #34 (Marvel) Look at that cover. Look at it. How could you not buy it? I don’t have much to say about this issue and how cool it is that isn’t better said by that image.
I should take this opportunity to point out that, however, that for the second week in a row I’ve enjoyed a well-written, well illustrated story about a teenage, unmarried Peter Parker who still lives with his aunt and hasn’t outted himself to the world, and nobody had to make a deal with the devil or go through any goofy-ass continuity contortions to get it to me.
The Twelve #0 (Marvel) This is really just a glorified preview book for J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston’s upcoming maxiseries—I’m sorry, their “thrilling novel of tomorrow,” according to the cover copy—most of which you’ve already seen for free on Newsarama.com. There’s the character designs by Weston, a few pages of black and white art and two random color pages from The Twelve #1. Hardly worth $2.99, and I certainly would have left it on the shelf, if it didn’t also contain three tales of three of the Golden Age heroes.
I don’t know if it’s simply because Marvel hasn’t fetishistically incorporated quite as much of their Golden Age character properties into their fictional universe as DC has, or if DC’s buying up other company’s heroes (like Fawcett and Qaulity’s, for example) makes it seem like they have a richer Golden Age catalog, or if these heroes are so much less popular than the ones you see in old price guides and such (like Green Lama, Cat-Man, War Nurse and the like) or what, but these guys seem really, really, really out there, even for characters from such an out-there era.
Short stories include one starring Rockman, Underground Secret Agent (conveniently acronym-ed into USA), drawn by Basil Wolverton (?), who seems like Namor and The Mole Man combined into one bad-ass figure; The Phantom Reporter, who has a double secret identity and appears to be neither a phantom nor a man who does much actual reporting (although it does seem most comic book reporters spend more time fighting crime than conducting interviews and writing stories, doesn’t it?); and The Laughing Mask, who appears to just be a guy who shoots people.
I’m pretty interested in JMS’ upcoming Twelve series, and wonder if, after “One More Day,” if I’m the only one who is. His current Spider-Man arc really does seem like a career-killing one, as based on the reaction to the last issue, it has replace Countdown as the most reviled comics story, no easy feat.
Wonton Soup Volume 1 (Oni Press) Remember what I said about getting a late start? Well, all I’ve read of this so far is the back cover, but the plot synopsis sounds interesting, as does the character name “Citrus Watts” and the question, “And what good is a spatula against space ninjas?” Man, I can’t wait to find out. The art looks pretty cool from the flip-throughs I’ve given it. Expect a real review um…sometime in the future. Maybe next week?