Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Weekly Haul: March 5th

DC Special: Raven #1 (DC Comics) Let me reiterate the surprise about this book’s very existence that I expressed when I first saw it in DC’s solicitations: Why oh why does this book exist at all, and why is it being released in spring of 2008? Wouldn’t a Raven miniseries have been a better idea back when the character was featured on a Cartoon Network cartoon series, as well as Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans series, rather than in semi-limbo, having not appeared in Teen Titans since Infinite Crisis, and not set to appear regularly anywhere until the upcoming, awful-looking Winick/Churchill series Titans?

Having read the first issue, I’m only further perplexed. The setting is the high school that Raven is going to under her new secret identity as teenager Rachel Roth, something you may have completely forgotten since her status quo as occupying a new teenage body and attempting to live as a normal teenager hasn’t been mentioned anywhere for a few years. A major plot point, revealed in the climactic cliffhanger but spoiled in the solicits and on the cover, is the fate of Psycho-Pirate’s Medusa Mask, and where it ended up after he was killed in Infinite Crisis. So this kinda sorta follows up on a plot point from Infinite Crisis, a series which wrapped up in spring of ‘06.

The creative team is also something of an odd one. It’s written by Marv Wolfman, who co-created Raven and wrote more Raven stories than anyone; certainly he’s a guy a lot of the characters’ fans from back in the New Teen Titans days would most want to see writing her. But the artist is Batgirl artist Damion Scott, paired with inker Robert Campanella, and Scott is working a style closer to the one he used during his short Robin run and some of the stories in his Solo issue (which I hope all those Girl Robin fans read, as there was a pretty cool Batgirl and Stephanie-as-Robin team-up in it).

Personally, I dig Scott’s style quite a bit, and think it’s perfectly appropriate for the teenage characters and the emotional chaos subject matter of the story. But I think it’s fair to say that many of Wolfman’s fans aren’t Scott’s, and may have a hard time acclimating to it. Scott’s style is far, far away from that of Perez’s, after all, and when you think Wolfman’s Raven, that’s who you see drawing it.

As for the comic itself, it’s not bad. It does seem rather 2006, and I don’t really understand why it has the DC Special tag above it (especially since it’s five issues long). As for the plot, Raven is seeing a school shooting—or assassination?—in her dreams, and is seemingly overwhelming her classmates with her emotional powers (and vice versa). Meanwhile, a mad scientist type is doing some sort of mad scientist business, and is hoping to use the Medusa Mask for medical purposes.

Wolfman does a fine job writing teenagers, avoiding anything as wince-inducing as some of Millar’s teenage-isms in the recent Kick-Ass , although it’s nothing terribly inspired. I’ll definitely check out #2.

Green Lantern #28 (DC) Writer Geoff Johns has done such a thorough job of foreshadowing and laying down the groundwork for the war of the rainbow of Lantern Corps that seeing some of those things actually occurring now seems more inevitable than exciting. Here, for example, a Green Lantern becomes a Red Lantern, and the Orange Lantern Corps’ Guardians appear, but much of it is too heavily telegraphed to be interesting to those of us who can’t tell Boodikka from Laira. Nice pencil art by Mike McKone, and a trio of inkers lend their pens, but the art flows rather smoothly from page to page nonetheless.

Justice League Unlimited #43 (DC) Keith Giffen, the man who popularized by Booster Gold and Blue Beetle as heroes and as the comedy duo “Blue and Gold” team, bangs out a done-in-one issue featuring the untold origin of the animated versions of the characters. Booster appeared in one of the better episodes of the JLU TV show (“The Greatest Story Never Told”) and has appeared surprisingly frequently in the comic; Blue Beetle never made it onto the screen, but has been among the heroes occasionally featured in the comic series.

In this story, entitled “Wannabes,” the pair are making their debuts as heroes, trying to impress Wonder Woman, Batman and Green Lantern John Stewart by taking down The Demolition Team. They want to get on the League for less than noble reasons—money, fame and girls.

Giffen focuses on the back and forth pitter-patter dialogue between the characters, and the Leaguers’ disdain for the B-listers, and, while its hardly his best Justice League work, it’s not a bad valentine to fans of JLI.

The art comes courtesy Christopher Jones and Dan Davis. Jones seems to veer farther from the Bruce Timm designs more than most JLU artists, with his characters seeming thinner and less balloon-like—his Booster, Beetle and Wonder Woman are particularly thin. That’s not a bad thing; it’s actually kind of refreshing to see a slightly different look in the book.

Justice League: The New Frontier Special #1 (DC) I haven’t gotten a chance to see the New Fronteir direct-to-DVD special just yet, and I’m pretty leery of it, as reducing such a huge story to just 75 minutes (hell, trying to tell any film in less than 90 minutes) isn’t a promising sign (Nor was the rather dreadful first of DC’s new direct-to-DVD adaptations).

But, whether the film is fantastic or awful, I’m glad they made it, if only because it afforded us another opportunity to visit creator Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier-iverse. Much like Cooke’s Solo issue, this oversized, almost ad-free book reads a little like a dream title, Darwyn Cooke Does Whatever The Hell He Wants With DC Comics Characters.

The main attraction is a 24-page story by Cooke telling an untold portion of the original series, in which Superman tries to take Batman down, and vice versa. Batman vs. Superman is always fun—even more fun that Superman Vs. Captain Marvel—and Cooke makes it seem pretty fresh, despite the fact that this is probably the 4,768th time I’ve seen the World’s Finest come to blows.

That’s followed by “Drag Strip Riot,” written by Cooke and illustrated by David Bullock and Michael Cho, who boast a style that’s Cooke-like enough to feel perfectly consistent with the story that preceded it (the fact that Dave Stewart colored it no doubt helped a lot). In it, Robin and Kid Flash both infiltrate the same hot-rodding gang, and meet President John F. Kennedy. For those keeping track, this is the second story this year in which Robin and Kid Flash met JFK. And it’s only March.

The final story features art by Cooke’s Spirit inker J. Bone, and despite Stewart and Fletcher’s contributions, this one looks more radically different in terms of design (This is, for example, a larger, more muscular Wonder Woman than pretty much anyone else has ever drawn). Stewart’s story here is, additionally, a lot sillier that the rest of his New Frontier pieces, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

The story? Wonder Woman and Black Canary (whose avian-derived logos here look awesome together) team up and, once Wonder Woman sees a Playboy of the era, move on to another mission—convincing men at the grand-opening of the Gotham Playboy club to abandon their practice of humiliating women by forcing them to serve men while dressed like rabbits and instead embrace a message of Amazonian love.

Guest-stars include Bruce Wayne and Jayne Mansfield, dialogue includes “Mercury’s Codpiece!” and “Hola, dogs!” and the climax includes the origin of the burning bra and someone other than Superman winking at the reader.

Book-ending the special are, at the end, eight-pages of production art from the DVD, and, at the beginning, a one-page introduction by pipe-smoking manly man Rip Hunter explaining what continuitiverse New Frontier exists on. It’s a funny sequence, and refreshing to see a creator like Cooke dissing the silliness of numbering fictional settings, particularly since the folks who sign his paychecks were, just a few weeks ago, selling readers comics in which characters were plucked from the New Frontier-iverse to fight to death against characters from other people’s comics.

I know Cooke has said publicly and repeatedly that his next few projects will be original graphic novels featuring original characters and concepts but, man, between this and his Solo, I would kill to see a Cooke ongoing, even a quarterly or annual, perhaps also featuring help from the likes of Bullock and Bone.

Nightwing #142 (DC) Yep, still good. I’m kinda disappointed the al Ghul family is involved again so quickly—they’re also central to this week’s fill-in-tastic ‘TEC—but the Peter Tomasi text is still well above the Nightwing series average, and the Rags Morales and Michael Bair art is well above the super-comics average.

Secret Invasion Saga (Marvel Comics) This was completely fair and came on top of my pull stack—the UPC symbol box even reads $0.00—but having struggled through some of it, I think perhaps Marvel should have paid me to look at this weird-ass ad campaign shaped roughly like a comic book.

The first page is two completely different looking pieces of art—one a dynamic image of Iron Man rocketing into space, the other a photorealistic-ish image of Maria Hill standing over a computer—and a long conversation between the two which doesn’t match up with the unchanging images. It’s talky as all hell, but the voices sounded so consistent with the way Secret Invasion mastermind Brian Michael Bendis writes them, that I checked back to see if Bendis wrote this himself. He didn’t. A John Rhett Thomas did.

What follows is Iron Man narrating a summary of just about every Skrull story ever, the customized iron Man narration boxes laid out over clips of Marvel art culled throughout their publishing history—or at least the part that follows the introduction of the Skrulls.

I sometimes enjoy these sorts of Marvel books—I thought the Atlas was a ton of fun for example, and liked the Civil War Files, which were presented as a briefing given to President Bush by Tony Stark—but this was just deadly dull stuff.

In addition to all the Skrull business from the Bendis books, also highlighted was the current She-Hulk story and the history of The Young Avengers, and what I think was the Max Wisdom series. Oddly absent was any mention of Runaways, which has a Skrull in it, or Avengers: The Initiative, in which Skrull hero Crusader just started appearing, or anything from Ms. Marvel or Captain Marvel. But maybe Tony doesn’t know about any of that Skrull business?

What I found really interesting was the fact that he referred to Spider-Woman giving him Skrullektra as having occurred “last night;” the time line in the various Bendis books really seems broken. Oh, and in recalling the events of New Avengers: The Illuminati #1, Stark jumps right from visiting the Skrull’s homeworld and their capture; he leaves out the whole part about The Illuminati straight up slaughtering a ship-full of Skrulls.

Oh well, I guess you get what you pay for, huh?

Teen Titans: Year One #3 (DC) Half-way through the miniseries, writer Amy Wolfram has kinda sorta finished the Teen Titans’ origin story—the first five have all met, they solved their first case together, and they’ve got their team name. The mysterious villain has sworn revenge, however, and Batman doesn’t seem quite ready to let Robin form a super-team just yet, so there’s still plenty to fill up the next three issues.

I don’t have anything to say about Karl Kerschl, Serge LaPointe and Steph Peru’s art that I haven’t already said about it—It’s just beautiful stuff. Kerschl’s designs are great, with the characters completely distinct from one another, and there are a dozen clever little touches. Aquaman and –Lad’s shirt-scales standing up, the design on Robin’s hankerchief, Green Arrow’s chin experimenting with a goatee, Aqualad’s reaction to the Big Bad villain and, best of all, Aqualad’s reaction to Wonder Girl’s tears.

Soon the modern DCU will have two Titans related titles, one featuring the current teenage sidekicks, and another featuring the grown-up versions of some of these characters. Oh how I wish either of them could look half as good as this, and be anywhere near as fun to read…

The Twelve #3 (Marvel) I was a bit disappointed with the first few issues of this series, and with the third issue sI think I’ve put my finger on part of the reason. J. Michael Straczynski’s story falls squarely into the 25-year-old tradition of revisiting comics’ simpler times, turning over the rocks at their foundations, and showing us all the bugs and worms. Things might have seemed cool back in the day, but they weren’t really, and now that there aren’t any kids reading these things any more, we can show you that the world of super-people is just as nasty and fucked-up as our own world. This type of story isn’t peculiar to comics, of course, and is see perhaps even more in film, where the differences between, say, the two 3:10 to Yuma movies, or Dead Man and Unforgiven and pretty much any of the Westerns our fathers and grandfathers used to watch are strong illustrations for genre deconstruction.

Comics has been full of this stuff since at least the ‘70s, and it’s driven a lot of the most popular comics, some great, some terrible: Squadron Supreme, Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns,The Killing Joke, Arkham Asylum, Astro City, Marvels, The Golden Age, Sandman Mystery Theater, Civil War, Identity Crisis, the Marvel work of Brian Michael Bendis, and on and on.

In general, I don’t care for the impulse, since deconstruction has become the status quo in super-comics, that further deconstruction often involves going to extremely dark places (rape, for example) and dragging in lighter-hearted characters (Superman, Elongated Man and the Justice League, for example).

In The Twelve, JMS is presenting his Golden Age heroes with the problems of the 21st Century, but also flashing back to their own times to show the negativity that existed in it. In this issue, for example, we learn that Mister E. was a self-hating Jew who changed his name to avoid prejudice and get into country clubs. The Laughing Mask and Rock-Man are mentally ill, the former murderously so. And Black Widow works for Satan. Previous issues showed us that Dynamic Man was a racist, and others were down on queers and/or Blue Blade, who seemed queer.

In the ‘80s, this stuff might have seemed cutting edge. Now, it’s just normal. That JMS is playing with characters from the so-called Golden Age, you would think there would be something subversive to this, and perhaps there would be, if Captain America were a self-hating Jew or dry-heaving at the site of an interracial couple. Because Captain America is an icon, a household name. But The Fiery Mask? Dynamic Man? Laughing Mask? No one knows or care who these people are, so there’s nothing terribly subversive to the tale; in that regard, JMS would have been better off working outside of Marvel Universe continuity with brand-new characters, ones anagalous to corporate-owned superheroes (As in Watchmen, Astro City or Squadron Supreme).

It may also be worth noting that it’s a lot harder to deconstruct Marvel heroes, even pre-Marvel ones, in Marvel comics, as their flaws are built into their DNA. Iron Man was an alcoholic. Spider-Man an ineffectual, arrogant jerk who got his uncle killed. The Hulk is a monster. Namor was an unmitigated prick that was as likely to attack America as resuce it. And so on. Getting mud on Superman’s cape is always going to seem more dangerous than getting it on Captain America’s shield, simply because of the worlds they live in and the comics histories they represent.

I really like Chris Weston’s art. And I’m still really disappointed by the covers, this one featuring extremely un-vintage computerized fire effects.


Anonymous said...

I have this strange feeling that the Raven book is going to somehow be pivotal to Final Crisis. If you recall, the Donna Troy mini also carried the heading "DC Special". Geoff Johns is involved, George Perez is involved (in DC Universe #0, at least), and Morrison has always gravitated to odd characters. If they're going to use Raven in a big way, Wolfman here and now makes sense.

Anonymous said...

And, almost forgot: Psycho-Pirate's involved. That's Morrison all over.

Patrick C said...

Best bit of the whole week:

Borrowed the jet and a few other things--
Have them back soon.
Your pal,
Jimmy Olsen

Tony said...

Superhero deconstruction is the most played-out thing ever. Superheroes were pretty simple concepts to begin with. There's nothing left to pick over.

I want to see someone bring me something new, rather than scraping another hole in the bottom of the barrel.

SallyP said...

Yes, Nightwing is still actually good. And the Teen Titans are just so adorable, that I can hardly stand it.

Frankly, I laughed all the way through the New Frontier special. And while Green Lantern was as good as always, I am rather looking forward to getting beyond the whole Alpha Lantern storyline, and getting back into the thick of things.

Anonymous said...

IIRC, Daimon Scott apparently took a really, really, really long time to draw the Raven mini.