Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Weekly Haul: March 26th

Circumstances beyond my control have kept me from spending Wednesday afternoon as I usually do—sitting in my comics-reading chair reading comics, and then sitting down to pound out some barely-coherent, typo-ridden "reviews" of them. But, while later than usual, I've still got super-comics reviews for you, now with added exhaustion-induced typos!

All-Star Superman #10 (DC Comics) This particular issue of the best serial super-comic currently being published offers up a nice example of Grant Morrison’s brilliance in the genre. This issue is a Superman-gets-his-life-in-order-before-dying story, and yet the Bottle City of Kandor plays a role. Now, how many Kandor stories have been written over the decades? Fifty? One hundred? And yet here Morrison not only uses it as a single element in a single-issue story that is itself just a single element in the ten-issues (and counting) storyline of the book, but he comes up with two radical new directions for Kandor and its citizens that I've never encountered in all those other Kandor stories of the past.

This will probably sound hyperbolic but, I’m gonna say it anyway: Comics are going to be poorer once new issues of his book stop appearing on the shelves.

Batman and The Outsiders (DC) Missed it! You know, when Ralph and Sue Dibny showed up as ghosts at the end of 52, it seemed like a nice little happy ending for their tragic story (And, really, the only thing DC could do with the characters after the events of Identity Crisis). I for one would have been pleased as punch to never see either of them again (at least in a present tense story); just knowing that they're out their somewhere, traveling the world and solving unusual mysteries together, a la all those fun stories collected in Showcase Presents: The Elongated Man would have been bit of closure on their story. But then, never letting characters have any kind of real ending is part of the nature of serial storytelling with corporate owned characters. Hell, if you don't use 'em every so often, someone might get the rights to the name "Elongated Man."

And so in this issue The Dibnys return, not as ghost detectives, but as ghost superheroes, both boasting Deadman's people-possessing powers. If I had to see them in the present DCU again, I would have preferred it to be a Mark Waid story focusing on them, rather than Chuck Dixon picking them up and throwing them into the middle of this silly-ass jumble of a story about Batman and a cast of super-heroes that changes at random running around secure facilities fighting guards, OMACs and rather lame Dixon-created supervillians-for-hire. (Oddly enough, in my youth I was disappointed to see Killer Croc return to Gotham City in a lame Dixon short story after Doug Moench, Kelley Jones and John Beatty gave the Bat-villain a nice happy ending type story in Batman #521-#522, guest-starring Swamp Thing).

(Note: Kelley Jones draws an incredible Swamp Thing)

There's nothing horribly wrong with Dixon's script for this issue of course; it's the baseline of competent super-comics. The characters are merely empty action figures, however, and it’s strange that we’re already on the fifth issue and hardly anything’s been done to clue readers into why this team exists or any of these people are on it.

I was more impressed with the art, by penciller Julian Lopez and inker Bit. It's all well-rendered, and they do about as well as you can with Bad '90s characters like Gunhawk (is that right?) and the KGBeast-like Militia. His main villain, the European rich guy villain, is a more unusual design than one of the stock types usually chosen (he reminded me a bit of a Tezuka bad guy for some reason) and Lopez has enough understanding of anatomy and physics that his cheesecake (Katana's camo tunic getting modified into an off the shoulder number mid-battle) comes off as more fun and tongue-in-than exploitive and stupid (but then, that's the difference between good and bad art; good art can get away with just about anything, can’t it?).

Batman Confidential #15 (DC) Wow, look at Commissioner Gordon’s bangs. That is a straight-up bowlcut. He looks really sad, too; is it because there’s a target over his face and Wrath II has that big-ass military-looking machinegun on a tripod, or because he’s bummed out about his monk-style haircut?

This is the third part of a four-parter, and yeah, it’s still rather good. My mind is thoroughly boggled by the fact that Rags Morales is drawing scenes like Batman and Wrath fighting on top of that fence on pages four and five, or the look Nightwing gives his mentor on page 19 for this book, while the two flagship titles have had such poor art for such a long time now. No lie, this is by far the best looking Bat-book at the moment and there are, like, 460 Bat-books at the moment.

Blue Beetle #25 (DC) This is it! The ultimate chapter of John Rogers and Rafael Albuquerque’s chronicling of the conflict between Jaime Reyes and The Reach, a conflict that’s been going strong for 25 issues now. This was an enormously satisfying read, giving me everything I could possibly want from a Blue Beetle book—appearances of some kind of all three Beetles, Jaime’s huge supporting cast rallying for the fight, creative connections drawn between bits of DC ephemera, and guest-stars from the JLI rallying to help out their old pal’s successor—and an ending that sure sounded like the one that would come in the last issue of the series. While this is Rogers’ last issue, it’s not the last issue of the title—Will Pfeifer is apparently coming on for a while, but I wonder if he’ll retain enough of the book’s already tiny readership to keep it off the chopping block until Rogers can return. I know I just came for the Rogers, and don’t plan to stick around now that he’s gone.

Green Lantern #29 (DC) Test pilot Hal Jordan is sitting in a flight simulator one day, when he’s teleported out to the desert, where a dying pink bald alien hands him a ring and a lantern and he becomes the space cop of 2814. The end. That’s the secret origin of Hal Jordan, and everyone knows it…do we really need a multi-issue story arc to over it again?

Geoff Johns says yes, and Geoff Johns gets what he wants because, frankly, if Johns was killed in a freak accident involving clumsy piano movers, DC’s superhero comics would wither up and die.

Some elements of this story are ones Johns himself has even told before—the meet-cute with munchkin Carol, the loss of his father, the falling out with his mom, the punching out of his superior officer—but Johns has earned plenty of leeway from his bosses, and his readers.

I rolled my eyes a few times here. The fact that he and future flame Carol knew each other as grade-schoolers had a weird Muppet Babies vibe to it, for example, and it seemed pretty retconny that he and John Stewart used to trade punches in Air Force vs. Marines bar brawls. But this was by far one of the more human and real-world stories I’ve ever seen Johns attempt to tell, and it was well worth a read just to see him go 21 pages without a superhero or alien (Page 22? All aliens). After the last few issues of drama on Oa with Alpha Lanterns and the like, it was actually kind of refreshing to get so many scenes back on Earth.

The Mighty Avengers #11 (Marvel Comics) Brian Michael Bendis has written a lot of comics. In fact, he's written so many, that it's nigh impossible to single out any one issue and say, "This is the best one he's ever written!" Or, "The is the worst!" Or, "This is the talkiest!" So I don't feel comfortable declaring Mighty Avengers #11 the most annoying comic he's ever written, but, good God, was this comic annoying.

The scene in which Dr. Doom hurls insults at the captured Avengers while having his big villain speech as an interior monologue in thought bubbles between dialogue bubbles? Jesus, that was annoying. Otherwise, this is pretty much your standard issue of Mighty Avengers—The Avengers run around speaking and thinking Bendisian dialogue, swearing four-letter words created by hitting "Caps Lock" and any four of the numbers on the keyboard, punching the members of a faceless horde, and there's some talk of super-people doing it. Mark Bagley's art is pretty good, though. I can't wait for Secret Invasion, in part to see if this book might actually start being better than mediocre once Bendis can quit trying to coordinate everything and just get on with telling a story of some sort.

New Avengers #39 (Marvel) Just before The Person Who Turns Out To Be A Skrull in this issue reveals his/her/its true, Skrull-ish nature, I was thinking, "Wow, this person doesn't sound quite right; this person seems to be talking like one of Brian Michael Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man teenage characters rather than himself (Or herself! Or itself! No spoilers in this review, folks!). I've always assumed that all the Bendisian dialogue in Bendis' Avengers comics was simply the result of a writing tic of his. The artificial pitterpat of conversations, with short declarative one-word sentences and occasional questions asked as asides to the speaker? I just thought that was the way Bendis wrote. But here it seems like a tell; The Person didn't sound right and, lo and behold, one page later, it turns out they're an alien shape-shifter!

So perhaps the style readers currently regard as Bendis' is no such thing, but the result of Skrulls speaking English as their second language? That would mean every character Bendis has ever written has been a Skrull all along! Oh my God, this thing is huge!

Anyway, back to the issue at hand, this month’s issue of New Avengers, Maya "Echo" Lopez, the New Avenger who so far seems to have only been added to the line-up to give the team an excuse to go to Japan and meet Skrullektra, gets the spotlight, flirting with Wolverine, fighting a Skrull, and then having wounded, post-Skrull fight sex with Clint Barton. David Mack draws it, but only the cover looks particularly David Mack-y.

(Because I'm running so much later than usual, I've managed to read some other reviews of this book before I've posted my own. Douglas Wolk tags a review of New Avengers onto the end of one on Matt Kindt's Super Spy, one of those '07 books I still need to get around to. Wolk was a lot more generous with his reading of NA than I was, but his is an interesting take; check it out if you don't mind the spoilers. If you play the "Is Character A a Skrull, or does Character A think Character B is a Skrull and is pretending to be a Skrull to get Character B to show his Skrull hand?" game, suddenly all these Avengers books get a lot more fun. I mean, you could read this issues five times a row—at least—and each time doing so imagine one or all or none or some combination of the three characters featured is a Skrull, and it's different each time. Of course, you could also spend that time doing sit-ups. Or cleaning your basement. Or talking to a loved on on the phone. I don't know, your call, really. Meanwhile, Troy Brownfield tries to review the book without spoilers [scroll down], and finds out it ain't easy to do. And, I imagine, that will hold true for much of Secret Invasion, if there's at least one big Skrull reveal per issue. Has Bendis hit on a way to write a big superhero crossover review that is even more impervious to reviews than all others?)

The Spirit #15 (DC) Artist Paul Smith joins Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier for the second issue of their post-Darwyn Cooke run and the dames are all lantern-jawed, and the jokes all go like this, “Nice try, P’Gell…But you playing innocent is like Paris Hilton crying poverty.” Get it? Because Paris Hilton is rich? And you know who she is, and that she’s rich, because she’s so famous for being in that reality show some years back? And also for having her picture taken a lot or something? It’s not terrible, but neither is it fresh or vital and, considering how many archive volumes of Eisner’s Spirit stories I’ve yet to read, it seems like a waste of time and money to keep reading this series. And I feel kind of bad saying that because I really like all of the creators involved and, well, I am sill reading Batman and The Outsiders after all…

Wolverine First Class #1 (Marvel) At long last, an ongoing comic book about everyone’s favorite Canadian mutant’s going for rides on commercial airlines! (Has someone already used that joke? I can’t possibly have been the first…) Okay, this comic has a really wonky title, and not just because it sounds like its referring to Wolvie’s travel accommodations. I guess it’s called First Class because it’s an all-ages friendly, not-tied-to-Marvel Universe-continuity X-Men book akin to X-Men: First Class, but isn’t X-Men: First Class called X-Men: First Class because it’s about the first class of X-Men? This is about the second class of X-Men. Obviously Wolverine: Second Class is a dumb name (Although Wolverine: No Class? That’s an awesome name), and it wouldn’t make sense to call the book that, even if it is technically correct.

But why not go with, I don’t know, Marvel Adventures Wolverine? Or Wolverine and Kitty Pryde? Or Wolverine and The X-Men? Or X-Wolverine, nobody’s used that one yet, have they?

Well, a comic book about Wolverine and Kitty Pryde by any other name would probably be just as sweet.

It’s written by Fred “What the hell’s he doing writing for Marvel?” Van Lente, one half of the team that brought you Action Philosophers! and Comic Book Comics, and drawn by Andrea Di Vito, and they’re doing a sensational job of taking inspiration from the old Chris Claremont relaunch years and telling a newer, fresher story that keeps that era’s virtues.

This issue is perfectly new reader friendly, and yet fans of the old Claremont X-Men, and John Byrne’s art on such, will find a lot of winks, nods and elbows to the ribs in this issue. Basically, Kitty Pryde is the new girl among the new class at Xavier’s, which consists of the mutants from Giant-Size X-Men. Well, the popular ones. Banshee and the Native American whom I always mix-up with the other Native American X-Men are nowhere to be found. I really liked Kitty’s “To coin a cliché,” comment. That’s…well, it’s brilliant is what it is.

It’s only the first issue, of course, but, so far at least, this book seems to be a perfect companion to Jeff Parker’s X-Men: First Class. Which brings the total number of easy-to-read, well-written, well-illustrated, thoroughly enjoyable X-Men comics up to…two. Exactly two now. Not bad, really.

World War Hulk Aftersmash: Damage Control #3 (Marvel) The Chrysler Building has come to life, and is threatening to get up and walk around to take advantage of its newfound sentience. Since that could destroy much of New York and cost countless human lives, the members of Damage Control take turns manning a megaphone to try and talk it out of it. It’s essentially a hostage drama, with the whole city hostage to Chrysler’s desire to stretch its legs (which it doesn’t have). It’s much funnier than I’m making it sound. If Marvel lets Dwayne McDuffie write a few issues like this after each big crossover story, than I don’t think I’d mind seeing more big crossover stories in the future.

Ultimate Spider-Man #120 (Marvel) I’ve seen a lot of drawings of women with fire-powers flying through the sky. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone draw a woman with fire-powers flying through the sky quite so well as Suart Immonen does. Just check out panel 2 on page four, with Firestar (can we start calling her that yet, or do we have to stick with Liz for now?) streaking through the sky, her hair and her legs creating parallel streaks of flame. That’s a damn fine drawing of a woman with fire-powers flying through the sky.

I don’t know if Immonen’s finally really gotten the hang of all the characters in the book, or if I’ve just gotten used to someone who’s not Mark Bagley drawing it, or some combination of the two, but I didn’t miss Bagley a bit this issue, and Immonen really seems to have nailed the teenage versions of these characters.

I hope we’ll get to see more of this trio of heroes working together in the future. It’s really too bad that Sean McKeever signed an exclusive contract to write bad comics for DC; he would have killed on an Ultimate Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends spin-off series…


Medraut said...

I completely agree with you about The Spirit. It's not that its a bad comic. Lord knows its probably a lot better than half the comics I read. But without Darwyn Cooke it just seems to be missing that je nais se qoui that made his run so great.

It's hard to remember now, but when DC announced they were bringing back The Spirit no one thought it would work. Somehow Darwyn Cooke managed to update date the book while staying true to the feel of the original. He pulled the same trick with New Frontier and I still don't know how he does it.

Jacob T. Levy said...

"And so in this issue The Dibnys return, not as ghost detectives, but as ghost superheroes, both boasting Deadman's people-possessing powers."

I fear you're not kidding, but I read the sentence three times and it just seems impossible that you're not kidding.

Sounds like I'll be giving Green Lantern a pass, too. I'd call Geoff Johns maddeningly inconsistent, but that's not right. He's deeply consistent-- he's got a handful of story elements he really likes, and I think about half of them and find the other half of them (showing that everyone is related to everyone else or has known everyone else for decades, anything involving the word 'legacy,' dismemberments) annoying and offputting.

mordicai said...

I like that we're so blase about All-Star Supes that lines along the lines of "oh, this is a nicely competent example of how Grant Morrison will melt your face off. Adequate use of brilliance."

LurkerWithout said...

Will Pfiefer is taking over Blue Beetle last I saw from Previews and the DC solicits...

Unknown said...

"And so in this issue The Dibnys return, not as ghost detectives, but as ghost superheroes, both boasting Deadman's people-possessing powers."

After 52, i was hoping The Dibnys story wasn't done, but to come back like this is a bit of a cheap cheat. It dimishes The Dibnys and dilutes the Deadman concept at the same time.

And the character reactions to their friends coming back is a little "hey, your back. OK then." casual for me.

Caleb said...

Will Pfiefer is taking over Blue Beetle last I saw from Previews and the DC solicits...

Ah, you found one of those mistakes I assumed late-night posting would lead to. Thanks; I've fixed it above. And yeah, next ish is an all-Spanish issue by a third party, then Pfiefer comes on for the solicited future.

I don't know why, but I'm always mixing Pfeifer and Willingham up...I don't know if the former's first name being the first syllable of the latter's last name, or that they're first names rhyme and they both write books for DC or...what. But anyway, thanks again.

seth hurley said...

I keep hoping for a Brave & The Bold team up between Detective Chimp and the Dibnys as Nick and Nora Charles-style ghost detectives.

Anonymous said...

After 52, i was hoping The Dibnys story wasn't done, but to come back like this is a bit of a cheap cheat. It dimishes The Dibnys and dilutes the Deadman concept at the same time.

For what it's worth, Ralph started off stealing Plastic Man's schtick, adding a detective's tack to it, so adding a mystery/sleuth angle to Deadman's schtick and calling that Ralph's new status quo seems fine to me.

Not that my acceptance of their new status makes their appearance in said comic any more readable.

SallyP said...

I thought this was an amazing week. All-Star Superman was superb, Blue Beetle was equally so, Geoff Johns always does a good job with Hal, and I'm just happy to have the Dibny's back.

My comics made me...happy.

Rob said...

Thunderbird died before Kitty Pryde joined the X-Men, you know. See Thunderbird in the X-Men for more about him.