Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Weekly Haul: February 13th

Booster Gold #0 (DC Comics) The seventh issue of Jeff Katz, Geoff Johns, Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund’s surprisingly good series should by rights be labeled #7, but bears #0 instead. Why? Well, it’s a kinda sorta but not really crossover into the 1994 miniseries written and drawn by Jurgens, Zero Hour (A story which, by the way, Johns has spent much of career at DC fiddling with fall-out from).

The story itself actually has very little to do with that of Zero Hour—Booster Gold and his quartet of Blue Beetles simply pass Zero Hour-era Extant and Parallax in the timestream and have to duke it out with them for a couple of pages—but Katz and Johns seize the opportunity for a fun little nod, even using the silver ink on the cover that all the ’94 zero issues bore (They could have gone further though, and included the Zero Hour symbol in the upper righthand corner, and the “The Beginning of Tomorrow!” slug).

I look forward to Booster visiting the 853rd Century at some point, and DC giving us a Booster Gold #1,000,000 told in the format of JLA #1,000,000 and some of the other DC One Million tie-ins.

Aside from that fight, the rest of the issue deals with Blue(s) and Gold crash-landing in the 25th century, the other Beetles going home, and Booster and Ted returning to the present, only to find it swarming with OMACs (Of the Infinite Crisis variety, not the Kirby variety). The implication seems to be that you can’t change history after all, which doesn’t bode well for the resurrection of our Blue Beetle (sniff!), but it’s still been a blast.

Columbus readers may be surprised to note that the team Booster was playing on the day he threw the game that cost him his football career was Ohio State. Apparently in 500 years, OSU’s football program will still be going strong, although apparently not as strong as Gotham University’s.

The New Avengers #38 (Marvel Comics) I wasn’t entirely positive this wasn’t a long-delayed issue of Alias #29 for a while, as Jessica Jones gets more panel-time then any of the Avengers, New or Mighty (both sets appear). Plus it’s drawn by Brian Michael Bendis’ old Alias partner Michael Gaydos, and the first panels are set in front of a door reading “Alias Investigation Services.”

Jessica and Baby Cage are safely ensconced in Avengers Tower, and Luke Cage isn’t happy about it, resulting in almost a whole issue’s worth of him arguing with his wife. The Mighty Avengers swoop in and don’t arrest Cage for the seventeenth time since Civil War, and the New, now Dr. Strange-less Avengers get a new base of operations.

It’s all well-written and well-drawn (although Echo better turn out to be a goddam Skrull, if she’s lip-reading a dude who has no lips), but it’s very much a chapter of a story rather than a story in and of itself, even more so than a lot of Bendis’ Avengers work, meaning it will probably read better in a trade someday.

Next Issue Project #1: Fantastic Comics #24 (Image Comics) I’ve always been fascinated by Golden Age comics characters, particularly the ones that didn’t quite make it to Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman levels of enduring popularity, like Plastic Man and Captain Marvel, and those that slipped so thoroughly through the cracks that they only existed for me in tiny black and white cover reproductions in price guides, and as intriguing names and images in books about comic books, their real stories existing only in my mind.

For someone who’s always been intrigued by the idea of the Jack Cole Daredevil, The Green Lama and the like, it’s been a hell of a couple of months. Marvel’s The Twelve brought back twelve freakish never-made-its from Marvel’s catalogue, Project: Superpowers brought back another handful of some of the characters I’ve always wanted to read adventures about, and now Image’s Next Issue Project unearths another group of Golden Age also-rans.

It may simply be a matter of the stories that others write and draw never quite living up to the ones you’ve built up in your head over the years, but I found both The Twelve and Project: Superpowers to be somewhat disappointing (The former due mostly to Straczynski’s hackneyed story-telling strategies and the jumpy structure, the latter due to the awkward juxtaposition of an extremely goofy plot with an off-putting self-seriousness).

Perhaps I should have known then to ratchet down my expectations for Image’s Next Issue Project then, in which a group of creators present the next issue of a Golden Age series, but this ends up being another example of a book from our Golden Age of Golden Age revivals not quite living up to its potential.

My heart sank the second I laid eyes on the book, as it’s dimensions are Golden Age—that is, its dimensions are far bigger than a normal comic book, more magazine-sized. Meaning I wouldn’t know where to store it, and this would actively irritate me for the rest of my life.

So what’s wrong with the book, other than how it taunts my OCD over comic book storage and organization? Well, it’s a pretty great idea that wasn’t completely thought out, or at least not to the point where all of the contributors were on the same page regarding what they were doing.

Is this supposed to be a modern comic book, bringing the old characters into the 21st century, in terms of setting and storytelling style? Or is this supposed to be a long lost next issue of Fantastic Comics, issue #23 of which shipped in 1941?

Different chapters take different approaches. Some ape the Golden Age era to varying levels of success, some are merely modern comics; some are told as if they were modern comics, but colored as if they were printed in the ‘40s. It’s really all over the place.

The list of contributors, similarly, are all great talents whose work I really dig, but few of them are very Golden Age in their art style; Michael Allred, Tom Scioli and Erik Larsen, for example, are so heavily influenced by Silver Age work that it would take an enormous amount of effort on their part to ape the work of that era. Others, like Andy Kuhn, Bill Sienkiewicz and Ashley Wood, have such a modern sensibility it seems impossible to imagine their work existing in the 1940s.

Still, not every story is a wasted opportunity. At least three of them pull of the “Next Issue” concept perfectly, and the Allred-drawn one provides an elegant coda to the endeavor.

But let’s take them one by one, shall we?

Erik Larsen, he of the hurried, Kirby-like line, contributes a story about Samson, Fantastic Comics cover feature. In it, the post-deconstructionist school of thought regarding sidekicks come into play, while Samson and David fight their way through hordes of monsters. Larsen’s story is colored so as to resemble a Golden Age book, but otherwise is a mélange of styles.

Joe Casey and Sienkiewicz contribute a story about Flip Falcon in the Fourth Dimension, whch is also colored old school, but in it’s lettering, box narration, design and concerns, it seems more like a post-Bronze Age story.

The strongest Golden Age approximation comes from writer/artist Thomas Yeates and co-writer Bryan Rutherford featuring The Golden Knight, which is clear in it’s coloring, but has the panel lay-outs and letters of comics from back in the day, with the somewhat unsure mixture of words and images of the sort you saw in the first decades of the medium, when comics were still inventing themselves.

Andy Kuhn presents a Yank Wilson story which amounts to little more than a gag and, in lay-out, style and story, it’s very much a 2008 comic rather than a 1941 one.

B. Clay Moore contributes a two-page Carlton Riggs illustrated prose story, of the sort I despise in my comics, but which you did see in the comics of the day, so I can’t hold it against Moore.

Scioli writes and draws a brilliantly bright Space Smith story, which mixes Buck Rogers-style sci-fi designs and small, detailed panels, with arrows showing your eyes where to go.

One of the strongest comes courtesy of the Street Angel team of Jim Rugg and Brian Marucca, who tackle Captain Kidd. He’s one of the few characters who really stands out as a character with a unique hook in the book. Their art style doesn’t exactly scream “Golden Age,” but you can see them striving to approximating the more detailed style of someone like, say, Lou Fine, and the story looks and reads right.

That’s followed by a two-page Professor Field story by Fred Hembeck which…well, it’s no good, really, but deserves a certain amount of affection simply in that it’s a Hembeck story.

Then there’s what will undoubtedly be the story that garners the most interest, Fletcher Hanks’ Stardust The Super Wizard, newly famous thanks to the crazy-ass I Shall Destroy all the Civilized Planets. Michael Allred draws the pictures, Laura Allred colors them, Joe Keatinge writes the story and Val Nunez chameleonically letters the story.

Allred’s refined art style isn’t exactly the sort you’d think would make for a strong continuation of Hanks (actually, I would think Allred would have been better on Samson, and Larsen better on Hanks), but it is fun to see Allred redraw some of the images I Shall Destroy… has made somewhat iconic over the past few months, including Stardust streaking like a comet (as seen on the cover of Paul Karasik’s book) or the scene with the head-turning-into ray.

Keatinge also writes an elegant little story, a sort of meditation on both the insane primal power of Stardust, and the way in which the original superheroes were eventually whittled down into gray, mechanical automatons that…well, just read it. It’s pretty good though, and Allred gets to draw Fantomah, Fighting Yank, Daredevil, Spy Smasher and other familiar suits before it’s all over.

That story would have been a good one to end on, but instead Ashley Wood brings up the rear with a Sub Saunders story that looks just like everything else Ashley Wood does and, obviously, doesn’t look like it belongs in a book like this. It’s nice enough looking, but a rather frustrating read.

And—whew!—that’s the whole book. While I only liked a little less than half of the stories, all were interesting to look at and see what the creators did with the characters, making it for a fun reading experience the first time through, even if I doubt I’ll reread very many of these stories ever. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of Image’s Next Issue Project books though.

Now to figure out where to put this thing…

Superman #673 (DC) Superman vs. Ant-headed Supermen! America’s national past-time vs. The Insect Queen! Lois’ approach to parenting vs. Superman’s! Kurt Busiek wraps this three-part story arc up admirably precise plotting, in which no single part was wasted. It’s a dense, fun, smart read, with a nice balance between character work and super-stuff. I’m gonna miss Busiek like hell on this title when he departs, but I suppose a Busiek-written weekly comic is a more than fair trade off.

Tiny Titans #1 (DC) The highly-anticipated (by me, anyway) new Johnny DC title featuring a new, more kid-friendly take on the Titans characters by Art Baltazar, mastermind of the super-cute Patrick the Wolf-Boy comics (which, while not very compellingly written, feature fantastic art).

Having just read it, I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Originally I assumed I wasn’t at all the target audience for it, but now I’m not so sure—much of the humor seems to be directed at people with familiarity with the characters, and the designs are all based on the DCU versions of the characters rather than the cartoon ones (Robin’s in the Dick Grayson costume, Beast Boy’s in his Changeling gear, Speedy’s in his original costume, etc).

Will kids now who Ravager is, or get a Trigon joke? Is Speedy not having super-speed humorous to little kids? What about Cassandra Sandsmark’s costume cut-ups…are they as amusing to readers who haven’t followed her succession of odd costumes?

I don’t really know. Without a focus group of little ones here with me, I have no way of judging whether this book is successful or not. I know I wouldn’t have liked it when I was little. It’s format is a gag-driven anthology comic, along the lines of Archie Comics, which I loathed as a child (I know cousin read ‘em, though). I think a lot of kids have an awareness of and a resistance to being pandered too, and, given the choice between a comic that is designated as a kids comic and one that’s not, I can only assume most kids would prefer the one that doesn’t have a crayon-writing logo.

This certainly is a poor replacement for Teen Titans Go!, as it’s clearly targeted at a much younger demographic; I don’t think the two books are at all interchangeable, although the plan seems to be for this to replace TTG!. And, finally, while I really like the casual, greatest-hits approach to the “line-up” here—Donna Troy and Cassie are both Wonder Girl! Short-pants Robin and Aqualad, Kid Devil and Ravager are all on the team at the same time!—it seems wildly inappropriate to me to use the same characters in this and Teen Titans.

The company is so careful about keeping Vertigo and the DCU separate, but there’s an even greater gulf between the DCU and the Johnny DC line. It seems odd to have cute little Ravager here, and have her stabbing her own eye out in Teen Titans, or all the plunging necklines and upskirt shots of the gals in the DCU book, and then the little kids here, you know?

Anyway, as for the book itself? I loved it! While I despised gag-driven books like this as a kid, preferring things with monsters, guns and punches, as an adult I’m much more appreciative of nice line work and pleasant, even meaningless story construction.

Baltazar’s art is incredible, and there isn’t a single character design in this book that isn’t fantastic. I particularly like his Bumblebee, who is almost a stick figure (with little afro-puffs that resemble Mickey Mouse ears). Even his adult characters are neat, like Principal Slade, who wears a coat and tie over his normal blue chainmail and orange accessories costume, or substitute teacher Mr. Trigon’s glasses over one of his sets of eyes.

Honestly, I enjoyed this much more than Teen Titans Go! and Teen Titans (under McKeever, Beechen or Johns), which, of course, makes me wonder if it’s going to hit with its intended audience after all or not. At any rate, I hope to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

The book ends with a “Super Friends Preview Surprise,” four pages of the Super Friends comic based on the new Super Friends toy line and, holy shit, does it suck. I don’t want to be too hard on the creators, who are obviously being asked to work within extremely strict confines, but it is a complete abomination that will turn all children who read it against comics and superheroes for life. I mean, The Flash is fat in that last panel. Come on!

Wonder Woman #17 (DC) Gail Simone finishes up her first story arc on the troubled title, and she finishes it fairly strong. I’m not real taken with her Wonder Woman-as-Ultimate-Ass-kicker take on the character, but Wonder Woman is coming out regularly and it’s no longer killing my brain cells while I read it, so that alone is reason to celebrate. She does seem to have some good idea of where to take the book, including given Wondy her sidekick back in the last few pages (Although DC doesn’t seem to be making it easy with Wondy’s mom and island stuck in the Countdown mega-plot for a while yet).

Simone’s dialogue and narration is almost hysterical in its purple hyperbole and melodrama; on another character or in a book with a more serious tone, I might go so far as to pronounce it bad, but it actually seems perfectly appropriate here.

The art is again split between the Dodsons and Ron Randall; both are good, but they don’t mesh all that well, and it’s unfortunate this book can’t have a regular artist. I look forward to the new artist and, hopefully, some covers that are better than these bland, Marvel-like, background and context-free posed shots.

Bonus points to Simone for remembering that a) Plastic Man exists and b) was on the Justice League.


B.G. Christensen said...

This afternoon I read Tiny Titans with my four-year-old daughter, who has watched the first four seasons of Teen Titans on DVD with me. She didn't get the jokes at all, but she loved pointing out the characters she recognized and after I finished reading it to her she sat on the couch and stared at it for a good fifteen minutes. I, meanwhile, loved the jokes. So I think it works like a lot of great kids' shows do--entertaining for kids and hilarious for parents.

Lois Lane said...

My five year old son and I read Tiny Titans last night, and I have never seen him enjoy a comic book so much. While the "in-joke" stuff went right by him, he got all the jokes aimed at his level and love, love, loved it. He recognized a lot of the characters from the TT cartoon, and those he didn't he picked up on right away.

And he liked the Super Friends preview as well, and immediately asked to read the whole comic again when he got up this morning. His two year old brothe was a bit interested as well.

If you've got wee ones at home, put this on your pull list, for sure.

Siskoid said...

This Wonder Woman was perhaps the weakest of Simone's WW issues, but it was still up to par. It was just all resolved a bit quickly for me.

I agree with much of what you had to say about the comic, in particular with the dialogue. Between this and All-New Atom, which feature similar voice-over, I find that she actually writes characters with their unique voices. Wonder Woman is mythical and hyperdramatic, epic, and that comes across in the voice-over. Meanwhile, the Atom was goofy and full of pop culture references, as well as those nifty quotes. It's totally different, but perfect for that character's weird world.

G. Bob said...

My personal focus group is my son. He loves comics, watches the Titans daily, and has a good sense of humor. He didn't get it. Not a bit. The Wonder Girl costume bit? Didn't make a lick of sense to him. Heck, he even had some knowledge of Wonder Girl from his heroclix collection.

I was scratching my head at this title. I don't mind the idea, but it isn't a quarter as good for young readers as Teen Titans Go is. It almost seemed to me to disrespect the young reader in favor of the current comic fan.