Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Weekly Haul: March 12th

Did anyone read Avengers Fairy Tales this week? I was sorely, sorely tempted to buy it, despite thinking it was an incredibly stupid idea and not being a big fan of C.B. Cebulski’s writing, but Joao M.P. Lemos’ art sure looked fantastic. Even something as stupid as a little Iron Man kid in a fluffy bear-eared hood turned out cute.

Anyway, the reason I ask is I noticed an elongated Clockadile, and was trying to figure out what the Avengers analogue would be—was it Fin Fang Foomadile?

Also, I think I’m done with Mike Allred’s current iteration of Madman. I was able to read the whole wordless issue while flipping through it in the shop, so buying it seemed kind of superfluous at that point. It sure is nice-looking though.

Well, enough about comics I didn’t buy and read this Wednesday. Here’s what I did haul home from the shop, as well as my hastily-written thoughts on ‘em…

Avengers: The Initiative #10 (Marvel Comics) So I see Marvel is still publishing that New Warriors comic featuring Night Thrasher and a bunch of mutants by Kevin Greivoux, sales of which seem to be on the decline, but I hope fans of the original series are checking out The Initiative instead. Not only is it chockfull of old New Warriors, but with this issue they’re all getting on the same page, leading to a last page revival (complete with Justice saying their old team name in a big, red logo font).

Despite the new development, this is the third chapter of writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage’s “Killed In Action” story arc, pitting a rogue Camp Hammond science experiment against a slew of campers, consisting of old Marvel characters and newer creations. Despite some killings (at least one character on the cover gets decapitated, another loses some limbs, if not his life), there’s more humor in this issue than in a lot of those past.

Batman Confidential #14 (DC Comics) With part two of Tony Bedard, Rags Morales and Mark Farmer’s “Wrath Child,” how exactly this ties into the original 1980’s Wrath story, and who’s under the gaudy purple W costume, begins to become clear. A solidly constructed, old-school Batman story with pretty decent characterization and wonderful art.

Of particular interest is the fact that this story absolutely dates Batman’s age. This story is set exactly 25 years after the murder of his parents, when he was eight. That would make him at least 34 (8 +25 +1 for the “One Year Later” jump), but probably a few years older, given that this is back when Batman had an oval on his chest, Dick Grayson just became Nightwing, and Tim Drake hadn't made the scene yet.

Booster Gold #7 (DC) Another great dose of nostalgia, for an era long past and only recently passed. We have the JLI team of Blue and Gold, JLE liaison Catherine Cobert, Power Girl’s mangy yellow cat, Beefeater’s power staff, but we also have the Evil Max Lord and his OMACs vs. the DCU plot form the “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” period of comics. I’m not entirely sure how much fun this will be for folks who don’t remember periods of the last twenty-some years worth of DC comics, but I think it’s a blast, despite the fact that so much of it seems so familiar. (The next issue box, for example, promises a plot point shared with one of Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman story arcs).

The Last Defenders #1 (Marvel) Writer Joe Casey and co-plotter/breakdown artist Keith Giffen give us what,at first glance, looks like a Defenders comic in name only, because, really, Former Defender Nighthawk, plus She-Hulk, Colossus and Blazing Skull would fill up the whole cover. After reading though, particularly by the last page, the fact that this ties in rather deeply to the history of Marvel’s most famed non-team becomes more readily apparent.

Nighthawk tries to pitch a Defenders-branded Initiative team to Tony Stark, who thinks it’s a great idea—in fact, he already thought of it. He handpicks the weird-ass team line-up and simply stick the bird-nosed battler at the head of the all-new New Jersey Defenders. Meanwhile, we see the makings of what could be evil versions of two of the “Big Four” Defenders.

The story is richly textured with Marvel history and trivia, and the plot is somewhat intriguing, whether you’re a Defenders fan or just a super-comics fan. The art work, penciled by Jim Muniz and inked by Cam Smith, is dominated by some extremely thick figures, and it’s not a style I’m particularly fond of, but the storytelling is solid enough that it’s more a matter of my taste than Muniz’s talent.

The best part? Skull comes up with the Defenders version of the “Avengers Assemble!” battle cry. And it’s awesome.

The Mighty Avengers #10 (Marvel) The Sentry, Doctor Doom and Iron Man have been shot back in time, and in his ongoing attempts to not get bored telling meaningless Avengers story, writer Brian Michael Bendis tells this tale in the style of an old Marvel comic, using not only thought bubbles, but box narration cajoling the reader, and the artists and production team work to make the illusion more complete, with period lettering on the title, old-school sound effects and, most noticeably faux “dot” coloring and adverts for old Marvel comics at the bottom of the pages.

The illusion is hardly complete though, making it seem more odd than affecting. The layouts are no different than the last few issues of Bendis’ two Avengers books, for example, and characters from the ‘70s or ‘80s or whenever this is set still talk like millennial Bendis extras:


“Yeah, really.”

“Latveria? What is that? In Jersey?”

“It’s another country.”

“I think it’s in Jersey.”

“Well, it’s not.”

It’s basically a pointless digression from Bendis’ overarching “Secret Invasion” story, a time-killling story with a few diverting bits which offers nothing new or horribly interesting, culminating in a false, two-page splash cliffhanger. Oh no! Iron Man is caught in an explosion! Has the hero been killed?! And so close to his movie…what a tragedy!

Spider-Man Family: Untold Team-Ups (Marvel) In theory, Marvel’s Spider-Man Family is an insanely good value. You get at least one original Spider-Man story with about 1,000 different back-ups from various eras and takes on the character for something like $6 or $7 bucks. It’s a downright Spider-Man feast each issue.

That advantage can also be the problem with the title, though—sometimes you just want a Spider-Man snack rather than a seven course Spider-Meal, you know?

Which is why I was so excited to see this particular digest collection, as it gathers a few of the Spider-Man Family tales from past issues in one place, without all the filler (much of which, bear in mind, is actually quite killer). Behind a nice Mike Wieringo cover we get a short Puppet Master/Spider-Man team-up (of sorts) by Chris Eliopoulos, and then some more substantial tales.

There’s an Agents of Atlas team-up by the AoA creative team of Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk and Kris Justice that functions as a sort of coda to the miniseries (and man, Parker is just born to write Spidey, and not simply because they share the same last name). Enjoy this tale of Peter Parker and Mary Jane taking in a Lion King-like Brodway show in which the puppets become monsters…because now it never happened!

(Note: This will absolutely never get old)

That’s followed by a Kevin Grevioux/Clayton Henry story that teams Spidey up with Dr. Strange. It’s probably the most straight story in the book, with more focus on standard super-business than humor, but Grevioux writes nice Spidey dialogue, and it all passes pretty quickly (I do wonder how Neilalien would weigh in on some of the hocus-pocus in the story, though).

That’s followed by a story featuring both Kraven and the Man-Wolf, well a Man-Wolf, written by Dana Moreshead and penciled by Eduardo Garcia. I’ve never heard of either of them, but they spin a pretty fun story.

But wait, there’s still two more to go!

Next up is Eliopoulos’ Frog Thor story (According to the introduction, “Hundreds and hundreds of day ago, in the land of 1986, there was a man named Walt. Walt decided he wanted to take a god named Thor… and turn him into a frog. It was one of the best Thor stories ever”). Here, Loki turns Thor into a frog slated for dissection by Peter Parker but, once he gets frog and Mjolnir together, the frog is wearing an adorable little Thor get-up and beating the holy hell out of Loki with a frog-sized hammer. It’s great stuff, and it’s great to see Eliopoulos drawing Spidey and Thor.

Finally, Tom Belland and David Hahn tell the story of that one time Ka-Zar came to New York and had Spidey cat-sit his sabre tooth tiger Zabu while he gave a speech at the UN. Heart-warming hilarity predictably ensued.

And all that for just $9.99!

Superman #674 (DC) Hey, have you ever read 1984’s Justice League of America #224? No? Well, it’s not easy to do so, as the Showcase Presents series is still a way’s off from getting that far, and most of that era of JLoA hasn’t been collected. It was a one-issue fill-in story scripted by a young Kurt Busiek, pitting new, puffy-sleeved character Paragon against the whole Justice League. It was pretty good. In fact, I kinda wanted to do a “Satellite Spotlight” feature on it, but I couldn’t find enough things to make fun of in it to justify doing so (At least, not beyond Paragon’s costume and the first scene, in which Clark Kent, Oliver Queen and Hal Jordan meet up for drinks and get ogled by a waitress).

Well, Paragon’s back! With a new beard and a new costume, and with less puffy sleeves on his original costume in the flashback!

The story’s not actually about him though, at least not entirely. He seems to be only an element of it, with Superman’s apparently decades-long attempt to heal Mon-El of his lead poisoning and some Daxamite religious conservatives coming to Earth.

This is the first issue drawn by new penciller Renato Guedes, and it’s great looking. Not sure who the hero on page one is supposed to be though…

Tiny Titans #2 (DC) You know, when editor Jann Jones first announced this title, she specifically cited the fact that JLU and Teen Titans Go! were a little too violent and tense for little kids, and she didn’t feel comfortable giving them to her nephews to read. So I was surprised to see how many kids get hit in the forehead with rocks in this issue, given the fact that throwing rocks at your friends’ heads is an act much more easily imitated than, say, shooting the sonic weapon embedded in your cyborg arm at a giant demon, you know? Anyway, another batch of short, mildly amusing comics made worthwhile (for us grown ups, anyway) by Art Baltazar’s darling character designs and art. I love his Kid Devil.

Wonder Woman #18 (DC) Artist #500 or so joins writer Gail Simone for the start of her second story arc on DC’s most troubled title, this one dealing with Wonder Woman apparently suddenly developing feelings for Nemesis (?), and Wondy and her now-partner (Yeah!) Etta Candy journey to the Khund homeworld.

Thanks to Simone’s scripting, in the broadstrokes, this title is in the best shape it’s been in since its unneeded relaunch, and artist Bernard Chang’s work is fine, if not great (I don’t much care for his bosomy version of Wondy, although I must admit he gives her a great face with very expressive eyes).

I just have two complaints, and they’re pretty nitpicky, so you might just want to quit reading here if that sort of thing bothers you.

The courting is troublesome for two reasons. First, because Diana’s doing it as Wonder Woman, aware of the fact that Nemesis is hot for her in her superhero identity, but doesn’t like her in her secret identity as Diana Prince, who works with him. That sort of this was quite charming in the olden days, but when every other element of the comic is treated realistically, it becomes kinda creepy—particularly when it’s ex-Goddess of Truth Wonder Woman, who’s only had a secret identity for about 20 minutes, and only has it for selfish reasons (to relate to humans personally, not to protect loved ones or whatever).

And part of that courting is the fact that Wonder Woman performs a little ritual, telling him that it’s “in the manner of her people.” Now, I don’t think it’s any secret that Paradise Island is a place where Sappho would hardly be suffering, but can we at least be a little subtle about the rampant lesbianism? Must everything in the DCU be so head-hammeringly blunt these days? There’s a certain magic to implication and mystery, a magic that’s lost when the characters have a converstaion that includes lines like this: “But your ‘people’ are all of the female persuasion…!…does all this stuff still count with a guy involved?”

Secondly, Simone has Candy face the cliffhanger opponent’s appearance with the words Woo-@&#%ing-woo..

So, beyond the obvious question of what the hell that means—Is she expressing excitement, as her traditional use of the expression? Is it sarcastic, and she’s expressing how unimpressed she is? Is it a knowing parody of herself, not meant to be expressed by the character, but as a wink from the writer to the reader?—there’s the addition of the “@&#%-ing” to the Golden Age catchphrase.

Now, if we think about the four-letter swear words that would fit in that contest, it’s obviously supposed to be “fuck.” So, we have Etta Candy saying “Woo-fucking-woo” in the face of an opponent bragging about how she and Wonder Woman are about to face his wrath. But since this is a DCU comic, it can’t actually feature that word, so Simone resorts to “@&#%” to stand in, so all of her adult readers will translate it to “fuck” in their mind while reading it in her head (And of the tens of thousands of readers on the book, I imagine some ninety-some present of those readers are adults).

This type of swearing, particularly in these sorts of mainstream universe superhero books, always irritates me, as it’s such a visible revelation of the tension the writer feels toward the characters and the tropes they’re using, a sort of simultaneous desire to express the classic catchphrases and the embarrassment at them, going out of their way to let us know that they’re going to be ironic about it.

It’s like when Bendis has Luke Cage shout “Sweet @&#%-ing Christmas!” in a fight, you know? Additionally, the fake swearing underlines the tension inherent in the comics these days, where adults are writing for adults, and lean towards writing that way, but must still bow to the perception that it’s a medium for children, with that fake swearing. Now, I’m no saying that Etta Candy should be able to drop F-Bombs in the pages of Wonder Woman; I’m saying that because she cant’ and shouldn’t, Simone should just avoid swearing like that. (And I don’t mean to single her out, because I thought the same thing while reading Bendis’ Mighty Avengers this week, in which Iron Man tells Doom to “Cut the @#$%” repeatedly. Does anyone even say “cut the shit?” Why not just say “cut the crap,” huh? Bendis does this swearing thing more than any other popular writer I can think of).


Anonymous said...

In the scan of Ollie, Clark, and Hal having a drink from way back when, Clark's wearing a watch.

I understand that he keeps his glasses in secret pocket in his cape, and Elliot S! Maggin mentioned a time or two that he compressed his specially-treated Clark Kent clothes down into tiny wafers to store them in the same pocket, but what the hell does Superman do with Clark Kent's watch?

I mean, if it were the Flash I'd just assume he runs home and sets his watch on his dresser, because that's the kind of thing you'd do if you ran at the speed of light, but Superman's powers aren't speed-centric the way Barry's were.

Unknown said...

Defenders Defenestrate!

Matthew said...

I didn't start reading DC until a little over a year ago, but I'm still enjoying Booster Gold greatly; I suppose it helps that I frequent various blogs etc and can read up on all of the old events online.

Unknown said...

Hey, Caleb, did you notice that you got quoted (blurbed?) on the back cover of the new volume of Empowered? That's pretty sweet.

Caleb said...

Elliot S! Maggin mentioned a time or two that he compressed his specially-treated Clark Kent clothes down into tiny wafers to store them in the same pocke

Hopefully they're speciall-treated so as to be wrinkle-free, as I imagine being smooshed wafter thin would lead to some major wrinklage.

Hey, Caleb, did you notice that you got quoted (blurbed?) on the back cover of the new volume of Empowered? That's pretty sweet.

I did, and it made me feel bad I didn't buy vol. 3 yesterday, but I still haven't read 2 yet. It is pretty sweet though; usually when I'm blurbed, it's just the paper, not my name and the paper.

Unknown said...

Listen to you! "Usually" when you get blurbed; I'm still waiting (and wishing) to get a quote on some book I like! Come on Viz, put a quote of mine one one of the Nana volumes! Or, I don't know, I pimped Warren's Iron Man: Hypervelocity as much as I could; blurb me on that trade, Marvel! Yeah, I'll keep dreaming.

Caleb said...

Heh. Perhaps I should've said, "The other three or four times..." to sound less like an ass...?

I wouldn't expect the pool of Nana blurbs is that deep to choose from (EW's not raving about it or anything, right?). Marvel, like DC, doesn't seem to use blurbs much anymore. Well, the DCU books, anyway. The Vertigo imprint, on the other hand, LOVES to blurb.

Unknown said...

I have to say that I usually like your writing and respect you as a blogger but...I disagree with you here on two points: First of all, Teen Titans Year One is God-awful. It's cartoony art and the characters are written completely out of Character. Not to mention Aqualad's weird appearence in this for no apparent reason which is why the series is constantly made fun of at my local comic shop. I am actually really liking the regular Titans book right now.

Second, I am not sure why you don't like the mentioning of the amazons being Lesbians. Would you feel the same way if there was a mention of them being heterosexuals? I think that's just homophobia. Unless you can explain otherwise.

Caleb said...

Second, I am not sure why you don't like the mentioning of the amazons being Lesbians. Would you feel the same way if there was a mention of them being heterosexuals? I think that's just homophobia. Unless you can explain otherwise.

I had to reread that portion to see if I did say somethimg that sounds anti-lesbian there, and I noticed one of the sentences is missing a few words and reads pretty garbled. I'll fix it, but I don't think that was the part you're responding to anyway.

Basically, it wasn't the implication that the Amazons are all about girl-on-girl sex that bothered me, I just thought it was handled pretty gracelessly.

I think anyone who's ever read any Wonder Woman comic ever once they were around puberty (or at least aware of the differences between males and females) have thought, "Oh hey, all women on that island, huh? That's weird...I guess they Amazons are all lesbians then...?"

It's usually just subtext though, or playfully danced around--like Rucka did with that one Amazon's crush on Wondy (the one with the apron and hammer?) or in that one issue of JLTask Force when Fire and company were asking Wonder Woman about it and she laughed it off. (And for some reaons I think Phillipus was in love with Wondy's mom; did I imagine that, or did Perez or Jiminez imply that at some point?)

Simone handled it gracelessly, I thought. Like, "Hey, you guys are lesbians right? And I'm a dude, right?" "Yes, they're all lesbians. And you are a dude."

That's all. It's not the content, but the delivery, if that makes sense. Simone basically just took sixty-year-old subtext and made it text-text, and I didn't enjoy reading it any more than I'd enjoy reading Lois Lane and Superman explain exactly how they have intercourse despite his powers.

Because I hate when Superman comics are too explicit about him and Lois doing it, too. Or when Batman banging chicks is mentioned (I always assumed he was a virgin), or when Hal Jordan does it with Cowgirl in a giant green bubble, and man, don't get me started on Plastic Man having an bastard child with a stripper he used to have booty calls with. Ghah!

Some things are just better left to the imagination, especially when it involves children's literature characters like the Trinity and some of the other Golden Age characters, who were originally created as such and still function as such to a large extent. I'm not homophoboic as much as superhomo/superheterophobic.

(Characters more closely associated with adult comics though, like Green Arrow or Dardevil or the Punisher and X-Men oreven the Titans, it doesn't bug me as much).

Maybe I should do an actual post on this some day to try to explain it better...