Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Weekly Haul: May 14th

Batman #676 (DC Comics) This is it! The start of “Batman R.I.P.,” the climax of Grant Morrison’s troubled run on Batman, drawing the threads of all his previous stories together! The Damian stuff, the “Club of Villains” made-up of bad guy’s alluded to in the Club of heroes arc, the romance with Jezebel Jett, the New-Look Joker…it’s all in here.

It occurred to me while reading this that it’s been written as if Grant Morrison were the only person writing any Batman comics over the past year or so (This Joker is the one Morrison wrote in that terrible all-prose issue, not the one from Detective Comics or Salvation Run; Gotham is apparently still as quiet and super-villain free as it was during Morrison’s first arc, rather than overrun with the normal rogue’s gallery regularly showing up in TEC, Gotham Underground and other books; and so on).

It makes reading this issue a lot of work, as I’m constantly editing out all the other Batman books and appearances, in addition to mentally re-drawing and trying to make sense of Tony Daniel’s art which, I may have noted a few dozen other times, just isn’t up to snuff.

It seems a little better here than in the past—and is certainly better than the work by last issue’s fill-in artist—but feet continue to be drawn around, clothes still fit funny, and double-page spreads (two this issue) continue to be completely underwhelming; more plop than splash. The page layouts still aren’t intuitive, but I didn’t find myself having to re-read scenes over and over to make sense out of them, as I have in previous issues.

That said, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the Arkham Asylum scene, but that likely has more to do with Morrison than Daniel. It doesn’t seem to have been written to make much sense.

Batman Confidential #17 (DC) Having read Avengers comics without any Avengers in them the last few weeks, I was completely prepared for a Batman comic which doesn’t actually feature Batman at all this week. This is the untold tale of Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon’s first meeting with Selina “Catwoman” Kyle, by Fabian Nicieza and Kevin Maguire. And by “untold” I simply mean “un-recently retold” (For their real first meeting, pick up Showcase Presents: Batgirl Vol. 1, which also boasts over 500 pages of hot librarian-in-Bat-drag action!).

This issue is one long rooftop chase, with occasional pauses for banter and fighting, as Catwoman (in her gray garb) steals a notebook from Gordon, who tries to recover it as Batgirl.

Nicieza keeps the script nice and light, giving us both women’s interior monologues throughout. I’ve always loved Maguire’s work, and its always nice to see him getting more of it, particularly on something that has nothing to do with “Bwa” “ha” or “ha” (Not that I don’t like seeing him draw Booster Gold and company, but I fear he’s been stereotyped as The Guy We Should Call To Draw Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis’ Funny Justice League Stuff, rather than That Guy Who Draws Really Well, Particularly Facial Expressions.

I’m curious to see how the blogosphere’s femisphere will react to this issue, as it has the words “THE CATFIGHT BEGINS HERE” on the cover, features some costume ripping, and ends with Batgirl disrobing to enter the nudist club Catwoman’s hiding on. None of it struck me as particularly exploitive, in large part because Nicieza gives the ladies both personalities and Maguire draws them like real people. I hope Batgirl’s actually a Batwoman at this point though—she’s gotta be in her twenties by the time she’s working at the library, right?—because otherwise….ew.

The Batman Strikes #45 (DC) This is the current all-ages Batman book, based on the most recent Batman cartoon, The Batman. I haven’t read a single issue of it yet, I suppose in large part because I have so little experience with the cartoon.

I watched a few episodes of it on Cartoon Network back when I had cable, and I appreciated the daring redesigns of the characters—beefy, gray haired Alfred! Monkey kung fu lock-rocking Joker! Red-skinned Bane!—and the willingness to stray so far from the Bruce Timm format, but I wasn’t enamored enough to start picking up a comic based on a cartoon based on comics I was already reading, you know?

It was pure curiosity that drove me to pick this issue up. The cover promised a foursome of famous females from the Batman franchise, sporting their The Batman redesigns, all of which look pretty nice.

Harley Quinn’s not too different from her other incarnations, and Catwoman’s costume seems like a nice compromise between her current in-the-comics costume and a sort of anime design—she looks a bit like Darwyn Cooke’s Pokemonwoman instead of Catwoman, if that makes sense. I really like the Poison Ivy, which is completely different than any version I’ve seen before (and is apparently much younger?), and that Batgirl design rules—she actually looks like a girl.

As for the designs in action, Batman Strikes seems to be like all of the Johnny DC titles—a done-in-one book operating on the “Everybody’s comic is someone’s first philosophy.” Batman and Robin (Tim Drake? Or Dick Grayson?) are going out of town, leaving Batgirl on her own for the week. Things go smoothly until she runs afoul of Catwoman and Harley, who are planning a break-in together. But their motives are pure: They want to save Ivy from an evil cigarette company making super-intelligent tobacco plant monsters or something (Last week, tobacco execs were the baddies in Invinicble Iron Man; I sense a trend here).

Jai Nitz, who wrote the recent all-Spanish Blue Beetle issue does a really nice job on the framing sequence of the story, a week-in-the-life two page spread a the beginning, and a neat punchline last page, and if the rest of the story is predictable and run-of-the-mill, its certainly pleasantly so.

The art is by Christopher Jones, and it’s really strong; he clearly puts more than the bare minimum effort into the book (his splash on pages two and three are more interesting, imaginative and exciting than anything that Tony Daniel has turned in on the “real” Batman book for example), something that’s not always guaranteed on the Big Two’s all-ages books.

I was quite pleasantly surprised at how good this was. I imagine it’s probably being cancelled to make way for a new book tied into the new Brave and the Bold cartoon then, huh?

For any regular readers of Batman Strikes in the reading audience, are the villains on pages two and three regular rogues? The first and fourth look like they could possibly be The Scarecrow and Maxie Zeus, and I can’t even guess on the second and third. Just curious.

Booster Gold #9 (DC) Geoff Johns continues his penance for his part in Countdown to Infinite Crisis, by explaining how on earth it fit with Giffen and DeMatteis’ JLI version of Maxwell Lord (it’s not perfect, but its an attempt at least), and reuniting most of Lord’s League to do something other than act as cannon fodder.

My affection for Booster Gold is so nostalgia-driven, that it can be hard to assess how good it is too objectively beyond, “Hey! It’s that Justice League I like! And they’re all written well and look good!” I’ve been having a ball reading this title so far, and this particular issue is no exception. But then, if you don’t happen to enjoy watching Scott Free escape shit, or Batman getting pissed at Booster and Beetle, or the way Dan Jurgens draws Ice’s costume, then I could see this not doing a whole lot for you.

Green Lantern Corps #24 (DC) I think one (1) is probably the exact number of stories about the evil mind-warping alien flower called The Black Mercy the world needed. This is the fourth, by my count.

I sure do like Patrick Gleason’s artwork though, and the fact that both a talking ground sloth and a talking fly are among the current Green Lanterns.

The Last Defenders #3 (Marvel Comics) Soooo, is this all going to make sense at the end? Because the miniseries is now officially half over, and I don’t have any idea at all what’s going on. Nighthawk buys himself a new Defenders team—hiring Atlas, Paladin and Junta (?) to join him on a mission after he and She-Hulk and Joaquin Pennyworth, Agent of SHIELD stop the Sons of the Serpent’s Mad Bomb, but even if I can summarize it, that doesn’t mean I can comprehend it. Yandroth talks to floating head, there’s some Atlanteans doing something, and the Son of Satan talks with Dr. Strange, who doesn’t really look at all like Dr. Strange.

The story is confusing as hell—it might help if I were more versed in Marvel minutia and/or Defenders history, I suppose—and the art’s not so hot either. When Muniz is just drawing things, they look fine, but there are some extremely awkwardly integrated, computer graphics thrown in odd places, so that a very cartoony, swollen superhero figure will be shown flying over a photo of the moon, or Yandroth and the talking head will walk over drawn fields in front of drawn trees, with a photo sky behind them.

Superman #676 (DC) This is a perfectly skip-able fill-in issue that was originally scheduled to run in Superman Confidential with an entirely different (better) cover. Writer Vito Delsante tells a fleet, compact story of Superman’s first meeting with Green Lantern Alan Scott, one that may or may not make sense continuity-wise (I’ve completely lost track of DCU history at this point). There’s a scene of Superman fighting a giant robot and fixing a bridge, a pitch-perfect Daily Planet scene with crackling dialogue and frenetic pace and Superman and GL taking turns duking it out with Solomon Grundy. The last panel connection seems like a bit of a reach—“These guys are both chalk-white! They must share a bond!”—and Superman’s narration about heroes and Memorial Day can get a bit purple at times, but otherwise Delsante’s script is quite strong.

The art is from the team of Julian Lopez and Bit, whose work has been appearing in Batman and the Outsiders a lot. I really dig their style, and they do a particularly fantastic job on the Planet sequence, investing Lois and Jimmy and Clark with plenty of personality simply through their posture.

Project: Superpowers #3 (Dynamite Entertainment) This series is perfectly awful, and seems to get worse each issue. I have no idea why I’m still reading it, beyond the fact that I really like the idea of a series about The Green Lama, Daredevil and company.

The Twelve #5 (Marvel) J. Michael Straczynski’s premise for this series still seems too forced and convenient, what with the reality show-like “Twelve Golden Age superheroes, picked to live in a house and find out what happens when the future they fought for looks different than the one they dreamed of!” set-up, but the individual vignettes featuring those characters work just fine on their own. Artist Chris Weston, meanwhile, hits a home-run almost every panel, so even if each issue of the comic isn’t that great, it’s a bad comic well worth reading.

Wonder Woman #20 (DC) Wonder Woman puts down three wolves and then cries about it. Then she gets called a whore a couple of times and fights Beowulf, either in the past or in her mind. Meanwhile, in the present or outside of her mind, there’s some grating office politics shit that reminded me a lot of Alias, and a character called Stalker shows up. Is it the same Stalker from The Justice Society Returns!? I don’t know. I do know that Beowulf wears a stupid hat.

Writer Gail Simone’s scripting is head and shoulders above that of her immediate predecessors certainly, but that’s really not saying much. I can’t seem to get into her take on the title and character, and I’m not sure that it has much of anything to do with her skills or talents—it’s well-written enough, and Wondy is given a distinct voice—or that of the various art teams she’s worked with (Here the new regular art team of Aaron Lopresti and Matt Ryan debut, and their stuff is gorgeous). I think it may just be a case of my personal tastes not gelling with those of Simone’s. As long lived as Wonder Woman is, hers isn’t a terribly well-defined character, her current writers and editors offering takes so distinct that Wonder Woman can seem like a completely different superhero from run to run.

Maybe this one’s just not for me? I feel weird saying that too, since Simone’s gone and brought back Etta Candy and everything.


Anonymous said...

Junta was a character introduced in Priest's Black Panther run who was a member of the short-lived Crew series. He's not really memorable to any extent.

Jacob T. Levy said...

"I think one (1) is probably the exact number of stories about the evil mind-warping alien flower called The Black Mercy the world needed."

And-- hey, look! The same can be said for other Alan Moore DCU creations including Mogo, Sodom Yat, the prophesying demons who scared Abin Sur, etc., etc.

Mogo in particular has gone from being one of the coolest concepts ever to a dreary silly cliche. Johns' nostalgia works so well in Booster Gold and early JSA and so badly in most of the rest of his output that it makes my head spin.

Richard Cook said...

WW isn't working for me either. I agree that there's nothing wrong with the book; its competently written and drawn. And yet I don't like the character and I've lost interest in her adventures.

I remember in your last review you noted how WW was basically written as a Mary Sue-ish character who thinks and talks like Red Sonja. For some people, that type of perfect do-gooder is exactly what they want, but maybe I've been tainted by years of reading Marvel.

Derek said...

"The last panel connection seems like a bit of a reach—'These guys are both chalk-white! They must share a bond!'"


Lex Luthor and Dr. Teng are both chalk-white?

Or do you mean Superman and Alan Scott? Or Superman and Starman? I'm really confused.

Caleb said...

No, Grundy and the guy in the tube. Who doesn't look like he will later. Luthor doesn't name him, just heavily hints that its another chalk-white villain with a peculiar speech pattern.

Derek said...

Oh, I see.

You're saying some of the cells they cloned Bizarro from were Grundy's?

I totally didn't read it like that. But after rereading it, that makes sense.

JohnF said...

Thank you Caleb, for being one of the few reviewers out there who actually questions Gail Simone's writing ability. To hear some fans talk, you'd think that Gail has never penned so much as an awkward sentence or a clumsy transition. Some of her stuff is good. Some of her stuff is great. And still other stuff is merely so-so. I have yet to be blown away by her WW stories. Yes, I know it's supposed to be a big deal that "oooh it's a real-live woman writing Wonder Woman, but I need a little more than that. I want a story that is legitimately good on its own merits, not *pretend* good just because the writer has the same plumbing as the main character.

SallyP said...

Oh Caleb, you can NEVER have too many stories about Mongul and the Black Mercy plants! Especially, because he's altered these to be EVIL Black Mercy plants!

Unknown said...

Man, did you flip through that second Titans issue? Good god, I can't believe a major comic book company put it's name on that. So many of the pages were just pin-up poses (especially the "action scenes") and I can't recall any descirnable backgrounds in a lot of the fight scenes. Reminds me too much of some of the 90s Image books like Wildguard and Bloodpack - it was that bad. Just cancel this, spread the characters amongst Teen Titans, Outsiders, JLA and JSA, and let's move on folks.

Come to think of it, I'd like too see more of these Titans in JLA or JSA - I think they've earned it and graduated by now. I think Donna Troy or Nightwing being in JSA would actually be an interesting move.