Friday, February 29, 2008

Eleven Things You Can Learn From Tales of The New Gods

The recently released Tales of The New Gods trade paperback is a pretty well-timed collection of short stories dealing with the characters created during Jack Kirby's late-seventies experiments with pop mythology for DC Comics.

With Death of the New Gods putting the characters front and center in the current DCU line, and that big, gorgeous, multi-volume Kirby omnibus project making sure the original stories are readily available, the New Gods iron is probably as hot as it's ever going to get.

Tales of the New Gods consists almost exclusively of short stories highlighing different characters and different eras of their fictional histories by different creators. Most of the stories are either written and drawn by John Byrne or written and drawn by Walt Simonson, as the bulk of the material comes from bits and pieces of Byrne's Jack Kirby's Fourth World and Simonson's Orion, but there's a real who's who of talent involved.

The list of those providing art is as varied as Erik Larsen, Arthur Adams, Howard Chaykin, Dave Gibbons and John Paul Leon. There are some real "gets" in terms of creators, like a short Frank Miller-illustrated piece, and a never before published story featuring Darkseid and his court written by Mark Millar (presumably from back in the day when he was doing whatever DC work he could get) and drawn by Steve freaking Ditko.

I was actually a little surprised there wasn't more in it, as it doesn't really strive to be a complete collection of short-pieces featuring the Fourth World characters. For example, I remember there being a tale of the young (and suprisingly hot) Granny Goodenss meeting Darkseid for the first time in a Secret Origins 80-Page Giant*, and if I were putting the thing together, I would have been sure to include the few pages of "Lost Pages" from Grant Morrison's JLA that appeared in 1998's New Gods Secret Files and Origins #1. Not because it was any good at all—it's just a couple of pages, and read like a scene cut from a movie to steamline it—but simply to add one more big creator name to the credits.

How worthwhile the reader will find the book will ultimately depend on how interested he or she is in Byrne, Simonson and/or Kirby's Fourth World characters. Personally, I didn't really need to see Darkseid and Desaad as young men, for example, or Mister Miracle and Metron hanging out in the Old West disguised as cowboys. I think the book's major value is in its ability to satiate a reader's curiosity over how well various creators tackle the Kirby characters.

And its educational value, of course. You can learn a lot of things from Tales of The New Gods.

At least eleven different things.

For example...

1.) That if anyone could make a Mister Miracle comic really work, it’s Steve Rude and Mark Evanier. Seriously, Tales of The New Gods is worthwhile for the nice reprint of their 1987 Mister Miracle Special alone.

Check out some of Rude's art from the story:

(Above: Big Barda in her action bikiki, plus Oberon and Scott performing at the circus. Quick rule of thumb: Rude + the circus = awesome)

(A full-page spread of Scott thinking on his past while locked in a safe that's about to be run over by a steamroller driven by a clown)

(Mister Miracle vs. a robot in a trap-filled funhouse erected by Granny Goodness and Darkseid)

2.) Mister Miracle had a previous wife, who had the unlikely name of Fancy Goodbody. And, despite her funny name, she was from England, not Planet Kirby

3.) That John Workman really is the greatest letterer

4.) How much sillier Darkseid’s outfit looks when, instead of a big, gray, craggy-faced, rock-looking guy, there’s a normal, human-looking dude in it:

(Byrne's drawing of the big D's brother, rocking Darkseid's look)

5.) Why Kanto dresses like someone from a medieval court

6.) The secret origin of Kanto’s moustache. Come on, you know you've always wondered.

7.) How long the Forever People have been wearing those particular outfits

8.) Just how bad a combination of John Byrne art and computer-generated graphics can look:

9.) That the whole evolution of Frank Miller’s art style seems to have been in service to drawing the most perfect Darkseid visage of them all:

10.) Baby Orion’s first utterance was “RAAAA!”

11.) If the Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld team can do Kirby’s creations any justice. Here's a hint:

*Update: I have it on reliable authority that the Granny Goodness story from that comic, "Goodness and Mercy" by Simonson, Jon Bogdanove and Bill Reinhold, was reprinted in the trade collection of Simonson's Orion, which may explain why it wasn't re-reprinted here, despite it fitting in so well with the contents of this collection.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

On Thursday we linkblog

—Columbus’ Vaneta Rogers interviews Columbus’ Jeff Smith. And then interviews him some more. Columbusites take note: Spring brings a cool Smith show to the OSU Cartoon Research Library.

—So the problem with Garfield is simply that Garfield is in it, then? Judging by the results of simply removing him from the strips, I’ll buy that.

Related: This is funny. A few years old, but new to me.

—Blogger Dick Hyacinth does one of those things I’m really glad someone did because it seems like a pretty useful resource but also seems like a lot of work, more than I’d ever dare personally attempt. He’s been compiling all of the “Best Of 2007” lists, and, having finally got the last big chunk of lists he was waiting on, has compiled an aggregate list that adds up to the top 100 best-reviewed books of 2007. Check it out here.

The list makes for a good reading—as does Hyacinth’s commentary throughout—and it’s a great place to see if you missed anything significant last year, or, if you work in a library or shop and are in charge of stocking the shelves, this seems like a good thing to have on hand.

Zack Smith talked to Grant Morrison about his Batman work, and Morrison once again lays out a neat way of looking at Batman comics, and his theory that essentially every single Batman story from the Golden Age on really did happen in some way.

The most interesting part was when Morrison addressed the New Gods-reborn-as-DC-heroes rumors:

That was some wee wisp of nothing that got out. When we first spoke about Final Crisis, coming out of the Seven Soldiers series, I had the New Gods cast down onto Earth, and because they’d lost their former shapes, they were cast as spirits or avatars possessing human bodies, like Voodoo gods. [as shown in Seven Soldiers: Mr. Miracle.

For a brief moment back in 2006, I discussed the idea that the gods could then take over the bodies of familiar DC characters - so that an appropriate hero or villain could become the new Orion or Darkseid, say, and someone equally appropriate would become the new Lightray, kind of thing.

That didn’t happen because no one wanted to mess with either Jack Kirby’s or Gerry Conway’s intellectual property by saying Lightray was now inhabiting Firestorm or something like that. Quite rightly, no-one was willing to change existing DC characters into Kirby characters, because that would immediately confuse the ownership of the character and somebody would get cheated out of equity if that character was used in a movie or TV show or whatever. It’s very much a copyright issue.

Obviously, someone heard some faint years-old echo of this discarded idea and pawned it into the notion that Bruce Wayne was going to become a New God. That was never going to happen. That’s just insane. (laughs)

Yeah, it’s crazy, but it’s really a good kind of crazy. Obviously that wouldn’t work for very long, but as a temporary, one-story kind of thing? It would be extremely cool, whether it’s something of a temporary status quo (bridging Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle and the Countdown status quo of the Fourth World, for example) or something in an Elseworlds type of story.

Beyond it’s potential for a fun story though, it would have been a great chance for some artist or artists to come up with Kirby-inspired versions of the DC heroes’ costumes. Like, what would a Mister Miracle-as-Batman costume look like, or Orion-as-Wonder Woman or whatever? Considering the mileage DC Direct has gotten out of Alex Ross’ Justice costume redesigns, or the fact that DC Direct made a freaking toy out of Batman-as-Green Lantern, a costume that lasted all of two-panels, I think a DCU-as-Fifth World could have lead to some neat visuals and some very happy DC Direct number crunchers.

—Best Shots kingpin Troy Brownfield recently interviewed Kurt Busiek about Trinity. It’s well worth a read for Busiek’s discussion of the project’s origins, and the hints he drops about its future. I’m really looking forward to it, although, I’ve got to say, I really dug Busiek’s original pitch for a shorter, cheaper weekly book too; particularly if he could make it work so that rotating back-ups could be used to push other books.

I ended up being quite enamored of John Rogers’ Blue Beetle once I finally gave it a try, for example, but it took months and months of reading positive reviews of it to get me to tryi it. Once I did, I was instantly hooked. I imagine if I ran across eight-page story by the regular creative team in the back of 52, I would have been on the bandwagon much, much earlier.

—Adam Beechen, the man responsible for one of the worst single issues DC has ever published, as well as one of the worst Batgirl stories and some of the worst Robin stories, will be writing a new Batgirl miniseries, according to a Wonder Con panel announcement.

It was Beechen who, after apparent heavy editorial prodding, took Cassandra Cain from the happy off-into-the-sunset ending that the creators of her monthly ongoing gave her and then turned her into a villain, without, apparently, having ever read a story featuring her before.

Subsequent attempts to make sense of the 180-degree turn in the character—she was jealous of Harvey Dent in World War III, she was hopped up on Terminator drugs in Teen Titans—haven’t even come close to succeeding. Will this be the series to do it?

Well, putting Beechen on the project pretty much assures us that it won’t, doesn’t it? I mean, it doesn’t seem like a great idea to say, “Hmm, the fans of this character and this book we cancelled for no reason really didn’t care for that story we made Beechen write; let’s try to fix the mess, and have Beechen do it!”

On the other hand, I kind of like the idea of Beechen doing penance. Like, he put his name on that dumb-ass story, then he should have to atone for writing it, you know?

I do hope he’s read some Batgirl stories since that “Boy Wanted” arc in preparation for this miniseries. And, if he’s looking for ideas, he can have this one: The Cassandra Cain we’ve seen since the end of Batgirl is actually the Earth-3 Cassandra Cain, marooned on “New Earth” during all the Multiverse-making shenanigans of Alexander Luthor. The real one has simply been off-panel, or trapped on Earth-3.

—Does it make me a bad person that I really enjoy watching Heidi “The Beat” MacDonald and Dirk “Journalista!” Deppey fight?

Lately they’ve had differences of opinion regarding the BookScan numbers or, to be more precise, Brian Hibbs’ analysis of them, and what, exactly, they mean.

Personally, I don’t know enough about book publishing to care one way or the other, but I’ve been reading all the analysis anyway. Everyone seems to have some level of vested interest in publishing among the folks participating in the dialogue—Hibbs runs a Direct Market shop, MacDonald’s paycheck comes from an institution which covers publishing houses with an emphasis on book-books, Deppey’s comes from a graphic novel publishing house—and all of them know a hell of a lot more about all this than I do. (The extent of my relationship with book publishing? I sometimes read but hardly ever buy books; I often read a lot of graphic novels, and buy too many of ‘em).

Anyway, has the BookScan debate—most of which seems centered in the comments section here— renewed their timeless arch-rivalry?


Tuesday Deppey made an amusing observation about Marvel's decision to rename all of their Marvel Universe Spider-titles Amazing Spider-Man just a few months before a cartoon series entitled The Spectacular Spider-Man made its Saturday morning debut (Although it’s not like they just cancelled the one called Spectacular Spider-Man, which would have been even funnier; that one’s been gone for a few years now, and the two they renamed were actually Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and Sensational Spider-Man. But Deppey’s point that wouldn’t it be smart for Marvel to tie-in a bit through branding still stands, and his “Face it Tiger, you just dodged the jackpot!” gag is still funny).

On The Beat, MacDonald sets Deppey up with “Oh this is so easy. Dirk:” and then quotes his paragraph about Marvel branding their Marvel Universe comics differently then their new cartoon.

Then she follows with the word “Fact.” which links back to a solicitation for an issue of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man which…also has a different name than Spectacular Spider-Man….?

After MacDonald’s post, Deppey’s point still stands, and his joke is still funny, and while her point is somewhat muddy, I assume she means that Marvel does have a kid-friendly book on the stands for fans of the new Spider-Man cartoon to pick up. (Will they? I don’t know; Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends was my first real intro to Marvel characters, and back then all of Marvel’s comics were appropriate for a reader my age).

Stylistically, MA Spider-Man seems pretty different than what little I’ve seen of the cartoon, with the character designs at least being rather different, and I imagine the status quo will be pretty different between the two as well.

But both will be about a kid who dresses in a Spider-Man costume and shoots webs at people, so I'm sure it's close enough for horseshoes.

Maybe Marvel should retitle MA Spider-Man Spectacular Spider-Man though, if they’re not using the name anyway. Of their various Spider-Men—Marvel Adventures, Ultimate, "616", the retired dad in theSpider-Girliverse—that's the one that will most likely most strongly resemble the cartoon.

The words “Marvel Adventures” is essentially meaningless anyway, translating roughly into, “Hey assholes, these are for kids—you want the bleaker stuff with the devil and the photo-reference art and the continuity the next shelf over.”

I’ve also heard it suggested that the MA titles just drop the MA, since most of the 616 titles use adjectives, while the movies of the same characters don’t (For example, the Spider-Man movies are just Spider-Man, not Amazing Spider-Man, like the comics; The Avengers books are either New or Mighty, but there’s no just plain The Avengers, and so on).

—Speaking of the Marvel Adventures line, this sounds awesome.

—So, how does Hercsrkrulles shave around those chin grooves?

—I wonder what Ed Benes’ page rate is for his work on JLoA. I’m sure he must be doing pretty well financially if royalties are included, it just strikes me as insane that someone like, say, George Perez, will draw this on just part of a page,

And that Benes can spend an entire page of a comic book just drawing Wonder Woman’s butt.

That’s 1/22nd of the entire book there. And that’s part of a two-page splash spread, making it 1/11th of the overall book. Since it’s only $2.99, consumers are paying about 13-and-a-half cents for that particular page. That might not sound like too much, but if you read an issue of JLoA and an issue of Brave and the Bold in the same month, the Justice League book sure seems like a rip-off.

Kind of unfortunate placement of the work “Sanctuary” so close to Wonder Woman’s woman parts too…

See, this is why I can’t read JLoA; just looking at the previews posted on Newsarama makes me feel skeevy!

—Spurred on by the particularly Alias-like last issue of New Avengers, Don MacPherson thinks back on Brian Michael Bendis’ prolific career, and wonders what exactly happened to that guy who did Torso, Jinx and Fortune and Glory that he became the guy who does Mighty Avengers. Give it a read.

MacPherson mentions that Bendis seems to perhaps simply be spread thin, and dude does have a huge-ass work load. He’s currently scripting Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers, and Mighty Avengers monthly, with Powers and Halo whenever-ly, and spear-heading Secret Invasion, right? Am I missing anything?

I’ve noticed that much of Bendis’ Avengers work has seemed to be inspired by the writer’s own struggle against boredom. The use of thought clouds, the odd narrative structures of stories being told as flashback or conversations between characters recounting the events, the interlocking storylines, Iron Man’s armor narrating—Bendis seems to try new things constantly not because they necessarily serve his story, but simply to try something new.

As to why so much of his Marvel Universe output seems to fall somewhere on a range between pretty decent and pretty terrible, and never really reach the heights of his earlier work, I think a lot of it might have to do with Bendis being a victim of his own success, with nothing left to prove.

And it might have something to do with Bendis transitioning into just a writer instead of a writer/artist. A lot of his best work is the work he did as both a writer and an artist. My own personal experience with comics writing and comics writing and drawing is obviously extremely limited, but I’ve noticed when you sit down in front of a blank piece of paper and start putting that script into panels, you immediately begin editing in your mind, and stay in that editing mode throughout. If you’re leaving it to an artist you trust implicitly, like Mark Bagley or Frank Cho or whoever, not only are you less likely to worry about how challenging something is, but you’re constantly thinking about every panel of the story, because you’re concentrating on it as you draw it.

In short, scripting an issue of Mighty Avengers may just be the work of a few hours in front of the computer and an hour’s conversation with Bagley on the phone, whereas if Bendis were drawing it too, it would be a month (or months) spent at the drawing board, scrutinizing every line of dialogue, narration and art.

Anyway, that’s just a theory.

Personally, I’d like to see Bendis give up the Avengers book and spend that creative energy on a second book of Ultimate Spider-Man’s quality. For about eight years now, it’s been one of the very best super-books; I’d like to see one masterpiece, or two great super-books, more than one great book and a half dozen decent ones.

But it’s all moot, really. Even Bendis’ worst work (that last issue of MA is one of ‘em) is no worse than average, and I’m sure he’s making money hand over fist…a lot more than he could possibly make writing and drawing crime dramas or humor work.

—Don’t forget, this week is SPACE, which, in addition to the usual availability of a lot of great small press and mini-comics and the presence of Dave Sim, will also see the debut of his top-secret project Secret Project #1.

The secret of the project started getting widely disseminated on Tuesday, and chances are you’ve already heard all about, but I’m still gonna keep it secret here anyway. You can find out more here at the project’s home site.

Because it’s a weekend in which something super-exciting is going down here in Columbus, I naturally will have to spend much of it at work. But if you see me during the hour or two I might get to visit SPACE, please feel free to give me your comic books and I’ll review them here or in Las Vegas Weekly or on Best Shots @, depending on which readership it seems most likely to appeal to. (Or, if you’re planning on coming to SPACE to sell your books, please feel free to mail ‘em to me at the address in the upper right-hand corner and say, “Here, you cheap bastard; here’s the comic I was selling at SPACE” or something along those lines).

Also this weekend are the two SPACE launch parties. The info on those again follows:

Friday, February 29th
8 to 11 p.m.
Monkey's Retreat
1202 North High Street
(near the corner of High and 5th Ave in the Short North)

Saturday, March 1st
8 p.m. until ???
2885 Olentangy River Road

And here’s another Tom Williams flier for the events:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Weekly Haul: February 27th

Action Comics #862 (DC Comics) Wow, Geoff Johns’ “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” story arc is in the fifth of its six issues, and Johns is still introducing new characters into the mix. The good news, particularly for those of us who may have been getting a little bored with the title being hijacked by the LOSH, is that, this time, these new characters are the goofy-ass Legion rejects/subs, including Chlorophyll Kid, Fire Lad, Stone Boy and Rainbow Girl. It’s just a big fun, fight issue, with Johns’ sometimes too-serious script getting some much needed comic relief from lines like, “The ferns cry out for retribution and they’ll have it!”

Plus, Johns answers a question no one asked—how did Infectious Lass end up in the present to participate in Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s Dr. 13 story?

All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #9 (DC) Frank Miller continues his career-long deconstruction of superheroes, now focusing his attention on the incredibly easy target of the Silver Age Green Lantern and the Batman comics of the same era. Of course, with Jim Lee on art, that deconstruction isn’t reflected in the visuals, leading to that highly subversive conceptual whiplash that gives the book it’s love it or hate it aesthetic.

Me, I love it, and while I’ve probably said this regarding several previous issues, I think this may be the best one yet. At least the first half, which has Batman and Robin, painted yellow, casually hanging out in an all-yellow room, enjoying yellow snacks and refreshments, while dressing down and beating up the slow-witted Hal. For Hal-bashing and just plain silly scenes, it’s really hard to beat Batman leaning back in his stool sipping a yellow beverage, while Hal screams “Damn you and your lemonade!”

Lee’s doing the work of his career, too; just watch Robin move around the background of the scenes. Great stuff.

Batman #674 (DC) Much of the story finally begins to make some sense, although I’m missing out on some of the clues, and I’m not quite sure to make of the weird bug demon Bat-Mite wears like a backpack. It would help if the art were more competent. For example, it took me a long time to come up with a theory on what exactly happened in panel four of page 14, which was the pivotal moment of the issue. (I think Batman had removed his armor and struck the Other Batman in the face with it?) This very much feels like the end of the first act of a two- or three-act story, and I closed the book feeling the same sense of disappointment I have after each issue of the Grant Morrison/Tony Daniel collaboration. It reads like a would-be classic, it looks amateurish.

Batman and the Outsiders #4 (DC) Missed it! How does this storyline involving Brother I and the OMACs square with what’s going on in Countdown? How does a fight between Batgirl and Green Arrow Sr. last longer than a panel? Where does GA get off being pissed at Batgirl for killing people, and arguing it with Katana of all people? Is Jardine manufacturing Pokemon? Who the hell are those people who change their appearances from issue to issue who approach Batman? (It’s not…them is it?) I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I really like Juan Lopez, Bit and Marta Martinez art though.

And hey, did you see that four-page preview of terrible-looking Judd Winick and Ian Churchill Titans monthly? Churchill does fairly bad versions of the whole cast, and it looks like he’s given Beast Boy, Donna Troy and Starfire all new bad costumes. (Or is Starfire’s just so much smaller than usual it looks new?) Actually, Donna’s might be an improvement. I’m not crazy about how many stars she has, but I don’t really like the night sky look she’s had going on for a while now.

Blue Beetle #24 (DC) Okay, now it really, really, really feels like writer John Rogers is winding things down for the title. The battle between Jaime and The Reach reaches its penultimate climax, and characters from throughout the run show up to throw down. Is this the end of the title we’re looking at? It’s solicited through May, but it sure looks like if the book isn’t cancelled outright, it may at least be seeing a new writer coming on, which is tantamount to cancellation anyway (I don’t expect All-New Atom or Checkmate to last much longer without Gail Simone and Greg Rucka writing them, for example).

Justice Society of America #13 (DC) The plot involving Kingdom Come Superman and “The Heartbreak Slayer” finally kicks into gear, but I enjoyed the beginning segments much more than all that tedious domino setting-up, what with Jakeem expressing his frustration over the size of the line-up (“Enough is enough! This team is too damn big!”) and meeting Black Lightning’s second retcon-tastic daughter.

Some of my favorite sub-plots from JSA involved Jakeem and Stargirl’s relationship (including the creepy romantic triangle involving Captain Marvel), so it’s neat to see him crushing on the new girl, particularly with Black Lightning warning him to keep his hands off, “Romeo.”

Guest-artists Fernando Pasarin and Richard Friend do a fine job, keeping the book’s look and aesthetic consistent with that of the MIA penciller Dale Eaglesham. Pretty cool cover from Alex Ross, too.

Kick-Ass #1(Marvel Comics/Icon) Based on how it reads, I have to assume that this is writer Mark Millar’s rejected screenplay for a R-rated superhero action movie with a real world twist, broken down and blocked out as a comic book. John Romita Jr.’s art work, the closest thing to a Marvel House style I can think of, gives it all a subversive twist, in that it looks like Amazing Spider-Man or Hulk or Daredevil comics, but—get this!— it has the F-word in it!

My favorite part? Teenage protagonist Dave Lizewski telling us a little about himself and how he’s just your average teenager thusly: “I liked Scrubs, Stereophonics, the Goo Goo Dolls and Entourage. Snow Patrol, Heroes and the movies of Ryan Reynolds.”

Uh, yeah Millar. That sure sounds like a real teenager. Or, you know, a middle-aged man’s semi-educated guess about a teenager in 2003 or so. This is a terrible problem with Millar’s writing in general—when reaching for real-world relevance, he tends to anchor his stories to ephemera that will instantly date them (The Goo Goo Doll’s lat album, I notice with a four second Google search, came out five years ago). This single narration box already feels hilariously old; how’s that Kick-Ass trade going to read in five years?

It continues throughout the book though; a conversation about one of last summer’s big superhero movie and mention of Paris Hilton as an admired celebrity some twenty minutes after her fifteen have expired.

Structurally, Millar doesn’t do his story the best service, either. The narration of the first four pages ensure us that the cliffhanger at the end of the book—a big one, particularly considering that this is a completely original character—isn’t going anywhere.

Nice art, though.

The Mighty Avengers #9 (Marvel) Missed it! I guess I was so used to this book coming out every couple of months that I wasn’t expecting to see #9 so close on the heels of #8. I certainly didn’t miss anything important. This is a rather uninteresting and insubstantial issue, opening with a post-coital Dr. Doom (ew!) chatting up his naked lover Morgan le Fey (illustrated by Marko Djurdjevic) in the past, and then returning to the present in time for a fight between the Mighty Avengers and hordes of Doombots. Bagley depicts the battle in three consecutive two-page splashes—that’s six pages spent on three panels—and while the drawings themselves are nice, it seems like a gigantic waste of space, given what Bendis could have accomplished in terms of characterizing some of the blank slates on the team if he put a little work into it.

I find Ares endlessly amusing, though.

Oh, and not to get too nerdy or anything here, but how the hell is this even a fight? Can’t The Sentry take out a few dozen robots and Dr. Doom himself in, like, a second or two? Or am I overestimating the actual potency of a million exploding suns?

Project Superpowers #1 (Dynamite Entertainment) I found the set-up for this story back in PS #0, involving The Fighting Yank capturing his fellow forgotten Golden Age heroes in Pandora’s Box and then needing to release them all, to be awfully dumb, and this issue doesn’t do anything to redeem that wobbly foundation. But it’s hardly a terribly written comic and, besides, how often do you get to read new comics featuring The Green Lama and The Black Terror?


The former Fighting Yank teams up with the Lama, and then confronts Dynamic Man, with the Terror getting a few pages near the end. Carlos Paul’s art is fine, but painterly colors by Debora Carita give the book a sort of sickly look I’m not terribly fond of. I guess it’s to establish and aesthetic closer to that of Ross’ painted cover, but it’s not my cup of tea.

RASL #1 (Cartoon Books) Although Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil was technically Jeff Smith’s first post-Bone work, it was also an adaptation of a Golden Age story and a full-color reimagination of a corporate-owned superhero franchise, so this book really feels more like Smith’s first post-Bone book, if that makes sense.

The plot involves a small-faced thief of some sort using some kind of science-fiction-y devices to travel through time and/or dimensions, and ends up in a universe where Bob Dylan didn’t go by Bob Dylan on his album covers.

There’s a lot that remains unclear—including what exactly the title means—but I’m interested in finding out. It’s also an all-around great package. It’s nice to open up a comic book and seeing the whole thing involved exactly four people to create—Smith handles writeing, art and lettering; his frequent collaborater Steve Hamaker colors the cover, and there’s a publisher and production manager credit. And the book feels and even smells like a comic book should. It’s a little hard to communicate to someone in writing without them actually handling it, but, if you get in the same room with it at some point, feel the slightly rough, papery-paper, and inhale that inky comic book smell.

Ahhh! That’s comics!

Ultimate Spider-Man #119 (Marvel) Confidential to Joe Quesada: Please feel free to cancel The Ultimates 2, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four and replace them with an Ultimate Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends ongoing. Based on this issue, I’m fairly confident it would rule.

World War Hulk Aftersmash: Damage Control #2 (Marvel) A great recap page! Venom drool! Penance dissing! The only time you’ll hear the term “black buck” used in a Marvel comic! An admantium razor, for the closest shave imaginable! And the line, “You know the Chrysler building? Well, it’s pissed…”

Why didn’t this Dwayne McDuffie didn’t get to write Justice League of America for Marvel’s distinguished competition?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A really good Mister Miracle story, in its entirety

I got a lot of interesting feedback from Friday's post about Mister Miracle's seeming inability to carry an ongoing monthly for very long, despite the fact that he's both a superhero and an escape artist, the former vocation being shared with the stars of a lot of successful book, the latter being shared with the stars of a lot of awesome comic books.

A lot of attention seemed to foucs on the nature of Mister Miracle's escapes, which often depended on his high-tech doodad-ery rather than the sorts of physical prowess and skill shown in, say, Houdini: The Handcuff King.

Given the tricky nature of so many of the traps he escapes from, I think downplaying Mother Box's role is probably the best way to depict them. For a good example of how to handle the escapes, I'm hard-pressed to find a better one than Mike Allred's story from Solo #7.

I certainly can't think of a more succint example. Here's an entire Mister Miracle story revolving around his miraculous escape artistry, told in just two pages. (As always, click to enlarge).

Man, it must be hard being friends with Orion. He seems just a little too quick to bash Scott over the head with a large rock, and a little too slow to have second thoughts about throwing him into a volcano.

I especially like that Allred drew him scratching his hemlet in the last panel...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Did you know that Hal Jordan...

...considers his penis a super-power?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Saturday, February 23, 2008

You know who should draw JLoA? Norm Breyfogle.

I don't know if you've been reading Justice League of America lately, but man, it is one ugly-looking book. I had to drop it, despite my affection for the team, every character on its current line-up, and the skills of its writer, Dwayne McDuffie. The art was just that bad. I just can't look at regular penciller Ed Benes' work on this team—half the time I feel like I walked in on someone masturbating, and the other half the time it just hurts my eyes. In fact, the only thing worse than Benes' art on JLoA is fill-in artist Joe Benitez's work, which (perhaps due to deadline crunch) was not only weirdly Liefeldian in design, but so devoid of detail and setting that it made Benes' layouts look like those of George Perez.

The good news is that if the rumor of the new 22-pages-per-moth rule for DC artists that Rich Johnston was reporting is true, Benes can't possibly stay on the title for long. Not only is he not very good, but he's just not very fast. Even cutting as many corners as he does, there's been an increidble number of fill-in artists in the book's short history.

So perhaps DC will be looking for a new artist to take over the book soon.

May I make a suggestion? How about Norm Breyfogle?

Is he the very best person for the job? Hmm, maybe not. Is he better than Benes? Oh, hell yes. Is he fifty times better than Benes? He certainly is. Is he fast? Yes, yes he is.

Now, everyone knows how great Breyfogle is when it comes to drawing Batman, but he can handle Batman's whole running crew equally well.

For example, check out these pages, in which Breyfogle draws five of the Big Seven:

The Leaguers are all looking good, as is the giant-sized Gorilla Grodd. Sure, there's not a lot of background detail on those pages (which is one of the things I always complain about in Benes' art), but take some time to gander at the page lay-outs, the angle at which the Trinity comes down on the first page, the dramatic and kinetic "camera" angles of the first two pages, the subtle way the panels move your eyes across the page in the first half of the third one (and note the "background action" of Grodd being moved up to the foreground), or the panel borders exploding during Jordan's breif battle with Grodd.

Damn, those are some nice pages.

And I love all the little details Breyfogle works into the story, like Jordan puffing up his chest in the second panel, or the look of maniacal glee on his face when it comes time to inflict violence upon his enemy

Or Batman's bat-ears blowing in the wind created by The Flash's super-speed entrance

You know, I don't think I've ever seen Batman's bat-ears blowing in the wind before. Huh.

They're from "A Penny for your Thoughts, a Dollar for your Destiny!", a short story written by Brian Azzarello and inked by Sal Buscema for 2004's DC Comics Presents Green Lantern. If you'd like to read the rest of it (those aren't even the good parts), I'm afraid you'll have to seek it out in the back issue bins, because DC never saw fit to reprint the special series of eight one-shots. This despite the fact that the entire Tangent series is available in trade.

The whole series was a tribute to the late, legendary editor Julius Schwartz, who used to come up with incredibly imaginative cover images to give to his writers to offer them story ideas. Starting with his image—The Atome tied to a handgrenade, Hawkman battlin a winged gorilla—they'd make up a story to go along with it. The results tended to be pretty delightful, and for this series, DC had artists like Brian Bolland, Adam Hughes and Alex Ross cover old Shwartz concept covers, and then two all-star creative teams per special would create stories in this manner.

I can kind of understand why DC hasn't trade-collected it, as it's very much a project that appeals to fans of Schwartz's, whether they knew they were his fans or not, and thus was more likely to appeal to comic shop-haunters than the still blossoming bookstore market.

But I think that's probably changed since 2004, just seeing how many obscure comic strips and books are collected and sold in bookstores these days. And with the Showcase Presents trades making new DC Silver Age fans, I bet a trade of these one-shots would move.

Particularly when you consider its stars and creators. I mean, here you have stories featuring Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, The Flash, The Justice League, Robin, Hawkman, The Atom, Green Arrow and Adam Strange, written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb, Kurt Busiek, Stan Lee, Peter David and Keith Giffen (plus plenty of name old school writers), and drawn by Darwyn Cooke, Ed McGuinness, Walt Simonson, John Byrne, J.H. Williams and other artists of equal or greater caliber, but with smaller fan bases, both modern (Scot McDaniel, Andy Kuhn, etc.) and older (Joe Giella, Jerry Ordaway, etc). Plus a one-page prose obituary by Alan Moore.

I'm pretty sure that any graphic novel with the words Moore, Morrison, Johns, Loeb, Waid and Busiek somewhere on the cover (let alone a top a stack of fan-favorite names) would sell pretty damn well. And readers who weren't Schwartz fans before reading the book probably would be by the time its over.

Anyway, what the hell was I talking about? Oh yeah, Norm Breyfogle drew one of the stories in the Green Lantern issue. And it was awesome.

RELATED: Ever wonder what the rest of the Justice League thinks of Hal Jordan? This page from the same story offers the not-too-surprising answer...

Ha ha! Oh Hal, you big dumb violent lovable stupid dumb jerk who's not very bright—what are we going to do with you?

And that's not the best part of the story either. The Aquaman and Batman disses are even better.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Why is it so hard to keep a Mister Miracle series going?

In 1971, Jack Kirby launched Mister Miracle, a comic starring the titlular character of his own creation, as part of the legendary creator's ambitious Fourth World mini-line at DC. It lasted just 25 issues, the last handful of issues coming courtesy of other creators (Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers, Stever Gerber, Michael Golden and others).

In 1989, DC tried again with a second Mister Miracle monthly, this one more in keeping with the humorous heroics spirit of the character's adventures with the Justice League of the time. Justice League writer J.M. DeMatteis was joined by artist Ian Gibson for this take on the character, and their effort lasted slightly longer. It made it to 28 issues, with Dough Moench and Joe Phillps dragging it to the finish line, before cancellation.

In 1996, DC tried it a third time. Writer Kevin Dooley and penciller Steve Crespo kept this one going for just seven issues, so I guess it must have been cancelled around the time the second or third issue hit the stands.

Mister Miracle has been involved in most of the New Gods and Fourth World-related stories since, and a lot of the Justice League stories and various crises, but 28 issues remains the record for a solo ongoing.

I've never understood why it's been so hard to keep a book starring the character going, beyond the obvious reason that people who aren't Jack Kirby often have difficulty making a Kirby character work for long.

I mean, Mister Miracle is a super escape artist (Look, it says so right there on the cover of the first issue of his first series). That means he has the same vocation as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine. Except that in his day job, instead of being a newspaper reporter, or idle millionaire playboy, or part-time photographer or surly Canadian drifter, he's an escape artist. And not just any escape artist, but the kind who wriggles out of handcuffs while chained to missles. He's one-part Evil Knievel, one-part Houdini.

Obviously, comics about superheroes, particularly DC or Marvel superheroes, do okay in the comics market. And I've noticed that comics about escape artists

tend to be totally awesome.

So why isn't there a totally awesome Mister Miracle ongoing monthly at the moment?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thursday night links

I said links, not lynx, dammit!

(Note: Every Day Is Like Wednesday is getting on the green bandwagon, starting with recycling. Specifically, recycling old jokes).

1.) I could Harley resist: I felt honest-to-God temptation to pick up this week’s issue of Countdown yesterday. Not because it looked very good—Did I see what I think I saw? Batman’s satellite took over Apokolips?—but because the back-up origin did. It was that of Harley Quinn, drawn by Bruce Timm.

That was the second time I had to talk myself out of dropping $2.99 for two pages during the series’ run; the last was Kyle Baker’s Mr. Myxyzptlk origin.

I believe that might have run in the issue in which this happened:

Oh hey, when I just clicked over to to see if they had the Harley origin up yet, I noticed they had The Scarecrow by Kelley Jones already too, and I totally missed it. One of my favorite characters by one of my favorite artists would have been particularly hard to resist, so I suppose it’s just as well it ran in an issue I neglected to even flip through.

Well, I’m sure they’ll collect all of the origin back-ups form both 52 and Countdown into a big Secret Origins trade at some point…

Related: I finally found someone other than an anonymous Newsarama poster or four who likes Countdown. Or at least likes it enough to tell people not to complain about it on his blog: Mr. Dorian Wright.

Wright’s wrong about one thing though—there’s no way in hell Salvation Run is going to have much of anything at all to do with Final Crisis.

If it were, then Morrison would have had a co-plotting or “based on concepts and ideas by” credit in it (and likely Countdown too).

And while I know a lot of us have a tendency to deify Morrison, I’m sure that even if he isn’t the genius I sometimes make it sound like he is, I’m quite confident he’s not so stupid as to come up with a plot like that of Salvation Run’s, which I complained about last Thursday, and probably shouldn’t get into again.

But I suppose we’ll all see if reading SR was a complete waste of time for those just interested in Final Crisis in a few months.

2.) Ask, and I shall receive?: After reading Jeffrey Brown’s incredible graphic novel The Incredible Change-Bots, I wished aloud that publisher Top Shelf had a Top Shelf Direct arm to produce toys based on their comics.

Well, according to Blog@Newsarama, Devil’s Due is granting my wish—and the wishes of Incredible Change-Bots fans everywhere. Click here for Brown’s designs, which call for an eight-page mini-comic to be included (!!!).

3.) Please buy this trade so they’ll keep putting more out: I was pretty excited to see the solicitation for a second collection of the seminal Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League run in DC’s solicits on Monday. They’ve released the first few issues as a trade on several occasions, and trade-collected both of the reunion special type series (Formerly Known as the Justice League and the second-best arc of JLA: Classifed, “I Can’t Believe it’s Not the Justice League!”), but the middle of their run has remained some of the best DC comics never collected for a ponderously long time.

If you didn’t read these books the first time around—or find ‘em in quarter or dollar boxes since—I can’t recommend this highly enough. This is from pretty early in their super-long run, back when Maguire was still drawing most of it and the team had yet to transition into a predictable sort of sitcom set-up. It always had a mixture of serious drama, goofy humor and superhero action, but at this point in the run, the superhero action was higher than it would be later in the run.

This collection will include Justice League Annual #1, Justice League International #8-#13 and Suicide Squad #13.

That’s the moving day issue that establishes the Justice League embassies (and has that sweet cover), two issues of Millennium crossovers (Eat it, Secret Invasion!), two issues dealing with The Construct and the fact that Max Lord is a cyborg (later to be Superboy-punched away just so Rucka and company could use Lord as their villain for some dumb reason)*, the crossover with Ostrander’s Suicide Squad (featuring the Batman vs. Flag battle that totally ruined one of Batman’s cowls), and this story

from back when Bill Willingham used to be a penciller. So you’re definitely going to want in on this.

4.) I would have preferred a Welcome Back, Frank adaptation: I was kinda surprised to hear that The Boys was being optioned for a film adaptation, although I guess I shouldn’t be—Hollywood will have to release some incredible flops based on comic books before the current trend subsides for a while. I haven’t kept up with The Boys since the first arc, figuring I’ll read it in trade eventually if I ever find myself without a Garth Ennis book to read (not likely, considering the man’s output).

I didn’t think it was terribly good, personally, but that’s not what surprised me about it being potentially adapted to film. Rather it’s that the book is so heavily dependent on analogues to other superheroes with their own movie franchises. For example, the one arc I did read dealt with a Justice League-type super-team and (a less closely modeled) Teen Titans-type super team.

Movies heavily relying on brand-name analogues have been successfully made before, of course—The Incredibles and Sky High spring most immediately to mind—but I can’t help thinking of Wanted here, which seems to be a situation in which they removed all the superhero analogues from the comic and ended up with a movie that bears very little resemblance to the original.

If The Boys is about the Justice League and Teen Titans being sexually deviant assholes, or Batman and Robin being totally gay, or Iron Man fucking anything he sees (I’m guessing on those last two, as I haven’t read the arcs, just reviews of ‘em), and they take out all the superhero stuff, will The Boys lose that which makes it exciting in the first place?

I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud here. It should be noted that since DC once published the book until they grew uncomfortable with the jokes at their characters’ expense, then there’s not much chance of a movie getting made without their lawyers taking note of any similarities between their heroes and the analogues potentially being lampooned.

5.) Good start, but needs work: This week’s Lying In The Gutters column had an interesting (albeit only “amber,” meaning it’s of the second of three stages of incredulity) dealing with DC’s new approach to dealing with their late book problems:

Sources close to freelancers inform me that DC Comics has a new in house policy for pencillers. Aside from very specific contracted creators…any penciller contracted to work on a monthly book must deliver complete turnaround of 22 pages of work in four weeks. Not a month, four weeks. If that schedule isn't maintained, they'll pull pages and assign them to other creators. And you may run short of future work. A reduction in quality is more acceptable than a reduction in quantity.

Rich Johnston went on to site the recent issues of Wonder Woman in which Ron Randall helped the Dodsons out, with Randall drawing some pages and the Dodsons others.

In theory it sounds like a great idea—if nothing else, putting out there that deadlines should be treated as just that is a step in the right direction—but in practice, the results of those particular issues weren’t all that great. It would have been far better to have simply had Randall draw all 22 pages of those books, and save the Dodsons for a Wonder Woman annual or miniseries or special or something.

I said my piece about how DC should address late books in an illustrated piece last summer, and don’t think anything I can say here now will necessarily improve upon what I said there.

Johnston’s summation that “a reduction in quality is more acceptable than a reduction in quantity” is kinda scary; like I said in response to Matt Idelson’s DC Nation column soul-searching about DC’s late books, the choice between good work and on time work is a false choice.

There are plenty of artists capable of delivering 22 pages a month, and it’s those artist who should be getting the plum assignments.

I’m sure there are some people reading Batman and Wonder Woman because they like Tony Daniel and the Dodsons, but far, far more of ‘em are reading it because of Grant Morrison and Gail Simone and Batman and Wonder Woman. (One of the lessons of 52 and Countdown, I think, is that DCU readers and fans place a greater emphasis on the writers, events and punctuality more so than the quality of the art).

As for the “name” artists with some amount of perceived market heat, save them for stuff other than the regular DCU books that need to keep their schedules.

*According to commenters in the comments for this post, these two issues dealing with Max and the construct aren't actually about him becoming a cyborg or whatever. I think it's the start of the story seed that will eventually lead to/inspire the whole cyborgification story much later on, but this isn't that story at all. Sorry for the mistake; I could have just doublechecked what those issues were actually about if they weren't filed away in plastic bags in a long box in a closet. One more reason why DC should totally trade-collect the hell out of this series!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Weekly Haul: February 20th

Batman Confidential #13 (DC Comics) I dug the little “New Story Arc Starts Here!” blurb added under the logo of this issue. It’s not the stupid tagline that DC puts on almost all of its books—that’s “The Batman’s Wrath!” this issue—so it’s some extra verbiage. What’s it there for? I don’t know, so I’m going to have to assume it’s DC’s way of saying, “Hey, that boring-ass, ill-considered, totally ridiculous ‘origin’ of The Joker by some TV guy we thought would be a better idea than the origins we already told by Alan Moore, Denny O’Neil and Brian Azzarello? Yeah, we’re sorry. It’s over. We swear. Please, give us another chance. Don’t make us cancel the Confidentials like we did the Classifieds.”

But maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, enough about the cover. The insides? Really great stuff. This is a sequel to the old Batman vs. The Wrath story, which anyone who’s ever read The Greatest Batman Stories ever told has probably seen. The Wrath is basically an anti-Batman with a silly purple costume, a little of whom seemed to go into Grant Morrison’s origin of Prometheus, last seen plummeting to his supposed death.

This story is also set in the past—Gordon smokes ciggies, Nightwing wears his Perez gear, Batman’s got an oval, Dr. Leslie Thompkins hasn’t dabbled in sidekick murder—and has a nice old school aesthetic. Writer Tony “The Bridge” Bedard does a good old-fashioned Batman story, focusing on Batman the crimefighter rather (than The Sociopath or The Superhero), with several dramatic encounters and a few neat character moments.

The reason I picked this up at all however (Seriously, when I see Bedard’s name on a book, I usually assume it’s either two issues from cancellation or the real writer will be along shortly), was artist Rags Morales’ presence.

If you’ve read just about anything by Morales—I’d recommend the hell out of his Hourman, and his Nightwing’s pretty great too—then you don’t need me to tell you just how good that guy is at drawing things.

But I still find myself occasionally surprised at how good he is. He makes some little character moments Bedard writes really sing (like Batman nonchalantly crushing Gordon’s cigarette, or the tense moment between the then-estranged Batman and Nightwing). He’s a great pencil “actor,” with a whole range of well-evoked emotions showing on Alfred’s face as he describes the original Wrath story, and there’s a panel of Batman swooping out of the sky (page 10, panel 2) that’s just as dramatic and iconic as anything Adams, Aparo or Breyfogle have ever drawn.

It’s pretty much a perfect Batman comic, and after months of suffering through Tony Daniel and fill-in artists, it’s nice to see Gotham and its inhabitants looking so good.

Birds of Prey #115 (DC) And speaking of those stupid blurbs on the covers of DC comics, this one might bet the stupidest I’ve ever seen: “Misfit + Black Alice = Birdstrike!” What the hell does that mean? What’s a “birdstrike?” That’s not even a word!

Three issues in, new “regular” writer Sean McKeever is apparently winding down his run already, with the team splitting up to tackle two different threats. Barbara Gordon, Misfit and Black Alice try to figure out the self-detonating Transformer attack in Metropolis (apparently, it was a magic Transformer), while Huntress and Lady Blackhawk go after Killer Shark on his shark-fin shaped island.

McKeever’s a fine script-writer, and the drama between the teens, while a little too TV drama, is rather effectively handled, and his narration for Huntress and much of her adventure with Lady Blackhawk is pretty cool.

I think the book was a lot ickier than it needed to be. The fun part about Killer Shark, after all, is that he’s a pirate in a silly suit with silly fish-shaped vehicles, yet the conflict here is that he also dopes up Zinda with mind-control drugs for some heavily implied sexual abuse (Please note, this is the first comic of the nine I bought today to involve rape in some way; it won’t be the last).

I’m afraid I’ve run out of nice things to say about Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood, but suffice it to say they both continue to rule (I do hope Scott gets a plum gig when this book is inevitably cancelled in…let’s give it…18 months or less, shall we?).

One nitpick, and I’m not sure whose fault it is: When Alice (um, spoiler warning I guess) steals a portion of Misfit’s power, she’s shown literally stealing the clothes right off of her. Traditionally, when she uses her magic-stealing power, it just rearranges the clothes she’s wearing into a gothy, teen girl version of whoever’s powers she’s boring (Zatanna, Alan Scott, Dr. Fate, etc). If she was supposed to be stealing their actual clothes all along—and I’m pretty positive she wasn’t—then we’ve been missing out on reaction shots of Alan Scott suddenly in his diapers, or a giant naked Spectre trying to cover himself once his panties were stolen off his ghost butt.

The Brave and the Bold #10 (DC) The best DCU comic of ‘em all was by far the best book in my batch today. Mark Waid (i.e. the guy you want writing a book that can and will involve characters throughout DC history) and George Perez (i.e. the guy you want drawing a book that can and will involve characters throughout DC history) build another multi-team-up issue, a sort of team-up of team-ups.

It was certainly a rewarding story, as each of them—Superman and The Silent Knight and Silver Age Aquaman and the pre-Titans Teen Titans—felt like complete stories unto themselves. Plus you get a somewhat slight framing sequence involving The Challengers of the Unknown and the Book of Destiny. That’s like two and a half done-in-one stories, all in just 22 pages for $2.99. If there’s a better value on the new singles racks, I can’t imagine what it is.

This was my first exposure to the Silent Knight, and he’s a pretty cool character. It was fun seeing Superman with a sword and S-Shield shield making his way through a fairy tale forest with the Knight, and losing myself in Perez’s line work for a while. Check out that splash page, in which their adventures play out in four sequential images reflected in the Knight’s helmet, while a silhouette of the heroes is seen in the lower left hand corner, outside the helmet. Beautiful. (And, additionally, one of the reasons I worry about the title once Ordaway replaces Perez; I like the former just fine, but he’s no replacement for Perez. The closest you could come up with would be Phil Jimenez, and he’s drawing Spider-Man these days).

The second story involves an Aqualad who’s just getting to know the other sidekicks, who visit Atlantis along with the Justice League for Aquaman and Mera’s wedding. This one offers a few more clues into the overarching story binding all the team-ups together, and plenty of little, well-drawn pleasures, like Green Arrow being a dick and Kid Flash being an insensitive dork (“Swim like a tuna-- --hit like a whale!”).

Excellent as always, but sad none the less, as that excellence is coming to an end…

Parting nitpick: Aquaman’s orign cites his pre-Crisis (On Infinite Earths) parentage, not his post-Crisis one.

The Incredible Hercules #114 (Marvel Comics) This issue was chockfull of funny moments, which I’d ruin if I mentioned them in any specifics, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it that the dialogue in Hercules’ flashback to the first few issues of The Champions and Ares’ dealings with Wonder Man totally rule. You believe me, don’t you? It’s another all-around fun issue of Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente and Khoi Pham’s tale of a fightin’ mad Greek god in a world full of super-people who deserve a good face-punching, plus a shocking death and Amadeus Choi’s evil plan (I like his plan for revenge against Iron Man though; why didn’t The Mandarin ever think of that?)

Oh, there’s also a contest to name Cho’s coyote puppy. I suggest Coychote, pronounced “kai-cho-tee.” But hell, he’s a super-genius, what’s he asking comic book readers for?

Jenna Jameson’s Shadow Hunter #1 (Virgin Comics) (Disclaimer: I didn’t buy this, so you can all stop laughing at me; this review is of an electronic review copy. I swear to God). Greg Horn does the main cover, which isn’t too bad (See above). Sure, the main figure is kinda plastic-y looking and the backgrounds a touch nauseating, but her naked back is a nice touch, downplaying what you’d expect from a comic featuring the brand identity of a porn star—er, media personality. You know, like Horn’s cover for the bargain-priced Shadow Hunter #0, which featured the Jameson-inspired character unzipping her top to reveal two giant, plastic-y looking breasts.

There are also two variant covers, and I found the Greg Land cover amusing. It doesn’t look a damn thing like Jameson, which is odd, considering that it does look as lightbox-ed and photo-referenced as all his other work. Did he use anonymous photo reference for one of the relatively few cases that he was actually drawing a real person for once, or…what, exactly? It really looks more like his Black Canary or Ultimate Sue Storm than it looks like Jameson.

As for the plot, apparently a collaboration between Jameson herself and writer Christina Z, it deals with a buxom, blonde, bisexual young aspiring tattoo artist with the even more porntastic name of Jezzerie Jaden.

JJ’s been haunted by visions her whole life, so when she discovers a want ad from a scientist looking to do some research on vision have-rs, she puts on her nicest black mini-dress to get experimented on. The next thing you know, she’s being attacked by evil versions of her visions—all long, Venom-y tongues, pointy teeth and red eyes—using a sword she pulls out of the palm of her hand. There’s also a handsome strange dude fighting alongside her, and a creepy king of some sort.

The plot and script are kind of dumb and uninspired, but not extraordinarily so, and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t really all that exploitive. Sure, there are a few panty shots, and her dress shreds along the hem, and gets ripped above her breasts, but it’s no worse than what you’d find in your average issue of Countdown featuring Mary Marvel or an Ed Benes issue of JLoA, and its hardly inappropriate here. Here’s a comic starring a porn star and promising “demons,” “slaying” and “sex” in its online trailer, after all, rather than a Comics Code Approved-comic for a general audience starring kids characters.

Plus the art, by Murkesh Singh, is really rather gorgeous; lushly designed, rendered and colored. I don’t think I’d read another issue of this, but it’s certainly not as laughably bad as it looks.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #11 (DC) Missed it! For those of you jonesing for some J’onn J’onnz, you could do worse than last week’s issue of LOSHit31C #11, which I passed over last week because I didn’t notice the huge crumbled statue on of Martian Manhunter on the cover (and because I passed the last 10 issues over too).

This was my first exposure to the cartoon version of the Legion, either on the actual cartoon or on this J. Torres-written book based on that, and it was quite easy to get into (not exactly a common trait among Legion comics). I dug the character redesigns in general, particularly Phantom Girl’s black Pac-Man ghost monster icon and Triplicate Girl’s whole look/power manifestation.

The story is, naturally, a solidly constructed one-issue one, about the time young Superb—er, -man. Um, Superyoungman? Took the wrong teletporter thingee and ended up on 31st Century Mars, where a native Martian terrorist group who revere J’onn J’onnz want to evict all the foreigners and reclaim their homeland. They’re called The Hyperclan (wink, wink).

J’onn gets a new look too…he wears gloves! (A fact that, I realize, may only really interest me).

The art comes courtesy of penciller Alexander Serra and inker Rick Ketcham. I know the main virtue of these based-on-the-cartoon books tends to be how closely they hew to the shows’ designs, but the pair do a really great job, packing the panels with background details, and presenting a story that is easy to read, extremely well told, and full of clean, cool-looking designs and lines.

Is this book always like this? Because I could get used to this Legion, I think.

Robin #171 (DC) A couple of notable returns in this month’s issue, the second since Chuck Dixon returned. There’s The Condiment King (who lasts all of one punch), the Maybe Spoiler (guess we’ll find out for sure in May’s issue) and The Red Bird, my least favorite thing in the world. I just hate it so much! Dave Campbell produced the definitive essay on why the Batmobile would be a huge pain in the ass last year, but I can kinda sorta suspend my disbelief involving Batman’s big-ass killer limo. I mean, I’ve seen the security systems in the movies, and maybe he’s using some reverse engineered Thanagarian tech to hide it sometimes (plus, he invented an invisible plane for that dumb-ass Wonder Woman over in Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman*, maybe he can make it invisible). But Robin? Why’s Robin need a car? Can’t he just take a Batcycle or something? And anyway, the Red Bird is just a red sports car with vanity plates saying “This Is Batman’s Teen Sidekick’s Car He Drives When Batman’s Not Around, Please Fuck With It.”

Stupid Red Bird…

Other than that, you know the drill with Dixon Bat-books by now. Pretty good—better than the one’s that don’t feature Tim Drake—but nothing that will change your life. Not like Brave and the Bold. That book cured my baldness. But only while I was reading it.

Runaways #29 (Marvel) I’m no mathematician, but I wonder if Marvel has any in their employ. If they do, I hope one of ‘em has an abacus, calculator and a few years worth of sales data on this title out, and is figuring if the increase in sales generated by having Joss “Look at me! I wrote Buffy!” Whedon** justified the zero sales generated each month the book didn’t ship, when it switched from its monthly schedule to its Whenever Whedon Has Time-ly schedule. (Of course, to put the delays in perspective, please note that today is a holiday).

So, The Runaways are in the past, there’s a whole lot of factions of 1907 super-heroes whom I’ve totally forgotten about, and there’s also some conflicts among them that I’ve also forgot about. I even forgot about the bit with the little girl being child-raped nightly by her adult husband, used to set up an uncomfortable punchline in the last issue, at least until it came up again in this issue. So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s two mentions of rape in my superhero comics this week. As a fraction, that’s 2/9ths of my purchases. As a percentage it’s…well hell, I don’t know. I did say I was no mathematician, didn’t I?

The Spirit #14 (DC) This was something of a curiosity buy, as I find something Quixiotic about a non-Eisner Spirit comic. The Spirit and his cast, after all, are only really remarkable because of what Will Eisner was able to do with them. Reading non-Eisner Spirit stories is then always something of a meta-reading experience; beyond how the story works on a story level, my head swirls with questions about how the creators are approaching Eisner’s characters and subjects, and comparing and contrasting the differences.

It can be an enjoyable sort of reading experience, but it’s often pretty superfluous—with so many Eisner stories yet to read, why bother with these? Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone are two talents I appreciate enormously, and I was pretty surprised by how well they did The Spirit; not really reinventing the wheel, but not just aping Eisner either.

Would the new team, which has a more piecemeal approach than the writing/penciling Cooke and inking Bone had, be able to succeed as well? Considering the first 12 issues or so of the book seemed miraculously good, it didn’t look like there was much chance.

Well, after #13’s anthology issue (and, personally, I think that would be the best way to handle a Spirit ongoing, going some kind of Legends of the Dark Knight or Batman: Black and White type of format with rotating creative teams), the new team is here.

It’s written by Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier, penciled by Mike Ploog and inked by Mark Farmer (with a cover by Jordi Bernet). It’s a heck of a lot more people involved, but it was still and extremely strong effort. I think Ploog and Farmer’s art and techniques are much closer to Eisner’s, and it’s a great-looking book. Some of the designs have shifted quite a bit—particularly Ebony’s—but they are strong and still wonderfully cartoony (I love their Dolan).

I assumed I’d be dropping the book after this issue, my curiosity satiated, but, having reached the end, I was sorry to see it come so fast. So I guess on my pull-list it will stay for the foreseeable future.

Zorro #1 (Dynamite Entertainment) After a surprisingly strong Lone Ranger launch, Dynamite Entertainment turn their attention to another masked, horse-riding hero with a rather similar Q-rating. Guiding Batman’s favorite superhero back to the comics page is Matt Wagner, who serves not only as writer but also “art director” (The same title John Cassaday held on Lone Ranger) and cover artist, and artist Francesco Francavilla, whose name you may recall from the recommended (and somewhat Zorro-esque) black and white series The Black Coat.

Like The Lone Ranger, Zorro depends somewhat on the readers’ familiarity with the character and expectations from a story featuring him. Since readers will know where things are going, the road we take to get there becomes both more exciting, but also more portentous. I think Wagner actually handles it better than Brett Matthews did, as he jumps back and forth from the present, in which a frightened soldier recounts his encounter with a black-garbed swordsman, and the childhood of our hero. It’s essentially Zorro: Year One, in a more compelling package. It’s good stuff.

So, how long do we have to wait for the Lone Ranger/Zorro crossover, and can Wagner draw the interiors on it?

*I’m not saying she is a dumb-ass, just that this current volume of the series kinda implies that she’s a dumb-ass, in that Superman and Batman have to do everything for her.

**Please read the part in quotes in a high falsetto voice, preferably while prancing around.