Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Weekly Haul: May 7th

Avengers/Invaders #1 (Marvel Comics/Dynamite Entertainment) The Justice/Earth X/Project: Superpowers team of Alex Ross and Jim Krueger unite for a book jointly published with Dynamite Entertainment teaming up two teams both owned by Marvel, not Dynamite.

What the hell’s going on exactly? Are Ross and Marvel not on speaking terms, and they conduct their communication through Dynamite?

Like Ross is all, “Dynamite Entertainment, would you please tell Marvel I’d love to work on a book featuring The Invaders fighting the Avengers?”

And the Dynamite rep, sitting at a table between Ross and a Marvel editor, is all like, “Alex Ross wanted me to tell you that---"

And the Marvel guy’s like, “We heard him. You can tell Alex Ross that we’d love to have him work on an Invaders project for us.”

Wait, what was I talking about?

Okay, so if you’ve read Marvel Comics long enough, you’ve probably read this sort of thing before, but what makes this one different? The Ross factor. In addition to the painted cover, Ross seems to be contributing the designs pencil artist Steve Sadowski is working from (The Spider-Man looks like a Ross-designed Spidey, Namor actually has genitals under his shorts like an actual person would*, etc.). Also, Ross and co-plotter/scripter Krueger have a particular view of Golden Age heroes, which means this story will likely be a little more hagiographic than the similar ones Roy Thomas has cooked up in the past.

During WWII, The Invaders are trying to stop “Operation Zeitgeist,” which Bucky Barnes tells us means “Operation Time Ghost,” althought I’m pretty sure it would be “Operation Spirit of the Age,” which is pretty different than “Time Ghost.” (But then, I learned all of my German from Robert Kanigher comics, so I’m hardly an expert).

Closer to WWH, un-registered Spidey is making with wisecracks and fighting off the Thunderbolts, when the Invaders make the scene.

So far, it’s a very old-school sort of crossover book, and head and shoulders above the work Ross and company are currently doing on Golden Age heroes for Dynamite.

Sadowski’s pencils look nice, but the coloring by “inLight Studios” (the capital letter comes at the beginning of the proper noun, gang) makes them a little blurry and hard to read. It took me a while to get used to it, but then, I’d suffer through just about anything for a book that promises Golden Age Namor punching out modern Namor in coming issues. (I may have mentioned this a half dozen times before, but my favorite thing about Marvel Comics is Namor punching people out, and getting punched out. So Namor vs. Namor is, for me personally, Marvel Comics nirvana).

By the way, I wouldn’t mind this leading to an Invaders/Project: Superpowers crossover next year at all. Daredevil vs. Daredevil! Green Lama vs. Iron Fist! Black Terror vs. The Punisher! Man, that would be sweet!

Or an Invaders/The Twelve book either. That would also be sweet.

I have now exceeded the maximum number of instances of the word “sweet” by someone older than 30 in a single Internet post not dealing with the way a food item tastes.

Detective Comics #844 (DC Comics) I found it incredibly disappointing when James Robinson killed off The Ventriloquist, either of his own volition or because those were his instructions, in Batman “One Year Later” arc “Face the Face.” The Ventriloquist was one of the few post-1940’s Batman villains who really seemed cut from the same cloth as all the classic rogues—your Joker and Two-Face and Penguin and Riddler and Catwoman. I think he fits that classic mode a lot better than some of the more popular Bat-villains to come in later decades, like Man-Bat, Killer Croc and Ra’s al Ghul.

I didn’t much care for Paul Dini’s decision to replace The Ventriloquist with a sexy dame Ventriloquist II, as it gave too much credence to the Scarface-puppet-as-supernatural-entity interpretation (The Alan Grant stories always played it perfectly coy; was the doll really real? Or was his ventriloquist a nut?)

Dini brings a close to the Ventriloquist II’s storyline here, giving us her full origin and killing her off in an easily-returnable way. It’s pretty solid work, although the Zatanna appearance seems pretty superfluous to the rest of the story. Dustin Nguyen’s art is as great as it has been since he came on board, I imagine Grant Morrison opening up a box of comps sometime this fall when he’s done with Final Crisis and has more time to himself, seeing Nguyen’s ‘TEC work and saying to himself, “Och! Dini gets this guy, and I’m stuck with Tony Daneil? It’s nae fair!” Yes, in my imagination, Morrison talks a bit like Scrooge McDuck.

Invincible Iron Man #1 (Marvel Comics) Here’s some irony, man. In last week’s hit movie, weapons-manufacturer Tony Stark has his eyes opened to the evils of the military industrial complex that has made him rich and successful, crossing the American government to become an idealistic good guy. In the comics, Tony Stark has gone from an idealistic good guy to the military industrial complex personified, crossing his best friends to uphold the status quo, becoming a hero-killing, villain-hiring, concentration camp-running fascist douchebag in the process.

So, if you liked Iron Man the movie, where do you go for a comic book similar? The closest thing Marvel was currently publishing as of last Friday was probably Marvel Adventures Iron Man, but today they’ve launched a new Iron Man ongoing, one that seems to be going for the heroic, billionaire playboy adventurer vibe of the movie Iron Man.

It might have been a good idea to launch The Invinicible Iron Man last week, so comics shop folks would have a book to try selling to civilians visiting them on Free Comic Book Day having either just seen Iron Man or at least having been bombarded with advertising for it.

This book is, after all, certainly more likely to appeal to fans of the film than the other Iron Man book. Tony checks in with “best friend” Jim Rhodes, he engages in snappy patter—and some fun flirting—with gal Friday Pepper Pots, and he finds himself looking at a conflict involving a slightly fantastical version of a real world problem in a third world country.

This is the work of writer Matt Fraction, one of Marvel’s rising stars who has been responsible for some pretty great comics of late, and it’s nice to see him getting a crack at the character who is clearly Marvel’s top one—for this week, at least. He has Stark narrate much of the issue, and it’s revealing without being overdone or omnipresent in a, say, Chris Claremont or Jeph Loeb kind of way. The conversation’s all crackle with life, whatever the subject, there’s an intriguing new villain introduced and, this is pretty important considering how horrible a human being Tony Stark has been the last few years—the star seems to be more of a hero than a villain.

The art comes courtesy of Salvador Larroca, a pretty talented pencil artist whose work I nonetheless loathe. Larroca is rather in love with photoreference, and while he’s not Landian in his usage of it, it can lead to some rather lifeless panels, with exceptionally poor “acting” by the characters he draws.

It’s not so bad as to completely repel me—he seems to have abstained from basing his characters on Hollywood actors this time around (which is kind of odd, considering this is a book clearly meant to capitalize on a Hollywood film, to the point where actual poses from the movie are used in several action shots)—but it’s not an aesthetic I personally enjoy, nor one that does a very good job of storytelling.

Aesthetic preferences aside, any way you look at it, this is a very good Iron Man comic, and one that should give those of us with civilian friends asking them for post-movie comics recommendations something to suggest.

Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas #1 (Marvel) And here’s another book that really oughta been released last week. In fact, it probably should have been released as a trade paperback last week. That way, when people came into shops across the country on Free Comic Book Day, asking for an Iron Man comic, clerks could point to a $14 trade paperback of this—a little more than the price of seeing the movie once in the theater, a little less than buying the DVD to watch over and over again—and say, “Well, this is written by Jon Favreau, the director of the film, and the art is by Adi Granov, who designed the armor for the film.”

Instead, we get an over-priced first issue—$3.99 for a 22-page book; we’re either paying an extra buck for the heavier cover stock, or else Favreau’s fee was so big they had to jack up the price to meet it—of a four-part miniseries that won’t be completed until August, provided the notoriously late Granov and unknown Hollywood quantity Favreau meet their deadlines.

Something tells me that there won’t be many never-bought-a-comic-before types visiting the shop four times and shelling out $16 for this.

It won’t help that it’s not really that good. I forget exactly what the “Marvel Knights” line is exactly these days—I think its for out-of-continuity stories, given that this is a drinking Iron Man. Favreau portrays Stark much like he is in the movie, a drinking, womanizing playboy who really likes to play (He also still has a secret identity as his own bodyguard, and Elsa Bloodstone, who cameos, isn’t where we left her).

After thwarting a terrorist attack and saving an ungrateful planeload of passengers, he decides he needs a vacation in Vegas. Coincidentally, a new casino is opening, with a reconstructed golden space dragon statue in front of it. (I think this is supposed to be a Granov redesigined Fin Fang Foom).

The script is fine, and I was pleasantly surprised at how briskly it moves—this is no decompressed tale. But if Favreau’s Iron Man talks and behaves a lot like Robert Downey Jr’s, he sure as hell doesn’t look or act like him.

As a seqential artist, Granov is a really nice Iron Man armor designer. The individual panels all look horribly static and computer-generated, photoreaslitic the point where the book reads more like a fumetti project than an actual comic book.

There’s a two-panel sequence where Tony Stark approaches two heavily-tattooed sunbathers and tells them “there’s a tattoo-counting contest about to begin…up in my suite.” And the latter half ot that sentence is accompanied by an image of Stark grinning/leering/grunting, exposing his white teeth and furrowing his textured brow, and he looks like a horrible 40-something frat boy.

If Downey had delivered the line, it would have been delivered quickly, so quickly they’d be on to the next line before you’d quite digested it, and he would have done it with a disarming charm and wit that a talented actor has, but a poorly computer-rendered, generic superhero secret identity design just can’t muster, particularly when time is slowed down by stretching that cheesy line across two panels.

Now, that’s just two panels out of 22 pages, of course, but it distills a problem with Granov’s work on the rest of those panels, too. Favreau is a surprisingly skilled comics writer—he doesn’t seem to be grappling with the medium the way a lot of first-timers from other media do—but he’s not skilled enough to carry Granov’s sub-par work.

Justice League Unlimited #45 (DC) The classic modestly-attired, super heroic version of Mary Marvel appears in this issue, for those of you that can’t quite cotton to the mini-skirted, evil-for-no-real-reason “Black Mary” of Countdown fame.

I don’t really get the appeal of the tiny black ultra-tight costume, seen here:

It’s not like a white dress made out of fabric that falls a few inches above the knee can’t be sexy:


Sorry, I was just imagining what that video would be like if Feist was wearing a lightning bolt and cape.... Superhero comics could use more dancing.

This comic, by Alexander Gradet and Scott Cohn? Not that great. Gorilla Grodd cooks up a pretty inspired plan to loot all of Star City and take down the League, and Flash, Green Lantern, Superman, Mary Marvel, Booster Gold and Martian Manhunter stop him. It’s a pretty decent story, but Cohn’s art is on the weak side, with the characters occasionally look off-model.

Mighty Avengers #13 (Marvel) Here’s another mostly Avenger-free issue of Mighty Avengers focusing on where Nick Fury’s been and what he’s been up to (Ares appears on one page), and I’m not sure why this story is even appearing in this title. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have Bendis and collaborator Alex Maleev create a Secret Invasion: Nick Fury or Nick Fury, Agent of Nick Fury miniseries, giving Marvel an extra hit series, instead of replacing the cast of the series? Of course, this is the company that took the Hulk out The Incredible Hulk and made Hercules the star, so I suppose there’s no reason to be surprised.

In this issue, Daisy the girl with earthquake powers from Bendis’ miniseries Secret War helps Fury recruit the descendents of super-types to form a new Skrull-busting squad that the Skrulls can’t possibly infiltrate, since Fury is the only one who even knows they have superpowers. These characters range from kinda cool (Phantom Rider’s grandson!) to kinda stupid (A speedster who always returns to the same starting point whose actual birthname is “Yo Yo”).

Maleev’s art is usually very well suited to the illustration of Bendis-talk heavy scripts, and this issue has very few exceptions. Maleev’s depiction of Yo Yo’s powers is kind of muddled, and the last panel features a weird mélange of poorly referenced emotional reactions, but otherwise, he does very solid work.

For some reason, young teenage know-it-all Layla Miller is given a one-page scene in her underwear. Creepy, guys. Real creepy.

Nightwing #144 (DC) Man, I guess monthly comics are hard to make! Two pencillers and three inkers are needed to get this thing done, even though there’s a splash page and the rest of the pages only consist of three-to-six panels.

Writer Peter J. Tomasi continues to make Nightwing a character that is actually fun to read about, and I really enjoyed the few scenes of him doing completely generic things like beating up drug dealers and bank robbers. The Talia and army of super-soldier plots keep simmer, meanwhile, but it’s the texture of the thing that I find so appealing.

Raven #3 (DC) Did you read Titans #1. Oh man, I’m sorry to hear that. Have you at least recovered okay? Okay, cool. You know that couple page sequence set in two perverted middle-aged men’s idea of a high school, during which Raven is a fast-talking, sharp-tongued bitch with breasts that seem heavily surgically augmented (In large part because they are the exact same size and shape of the breasts the two mean-spirited bitches she’s telling off have)? Well, this comic book is roughly five billion times better than that.

Okay, okay, you got me, I’m exaggerating. It’s really only five million times better than that.

Secret Invasion #2 (Marvel) Fun fact: The first issue of Secret Invasion featured 40 pages of story, almost twice the amount of your average comic’s worth of story, and cost just $3.99, only a dollar more than your average comic book. This issue features only 22 pages of story, but it still costs $3.99, a dollar more than the average Marvel comic! It has thicker cover stock, so I guess maybe that costs a buck more? Or Marvel decreased the page-count but left the price the same, hoping no one would notice, and they’d be able to eat the loss on the first issue?

Not that it much matters though; this is Marvel’s current tentpole event for the summer and fall, and you won’t be able to understand what’s going on in all your other Marvel purchases without reading it, right?

So you’ve just gotta read it, no matter how much Marvel overcharges for it.

Reminds me a bit of the Chico/Groucho Tutsie Frutsie scene from Marx Brothers classic A Day at the Races:

As for the contents, this issue is mostly occupied with a big fight between the ‘70s-era Marvels seen exiting the Skrull ship last issue and the combined Mighty and New Avengers teams from the modern Marvel Universe. Plus a tyrannosaurus rex, which, according to Bendis, makes this sound: “HUUAAARRRGGAARR!”.

There are certainly some fun bits—I liked Spider-Man’s argument with his Skrull self, for example—and Leinil Francis Yu’s art is as good as always (of all the Iron Men in this week’s comics, his is certainly the best). But call me old-fashioned, when the price of a book gets upped by 1/3, I’d expect an extra 1/3 worth of pages as well.

If you’d like me to save you four bucks, I’m happy to spoil all of the new information contained in this issue: Some of those ‘70s characters were Skrulls, but some might not have been, like Hawkeye's old girlfriend. Unless he's a Skrull too. And then Super-Skrulls attack New York City. The end. Now go buy yourself a gallon of gas, and donate 39-cents to the poor.

(Note: As Sally pointed out, Enemy Ace is looking awfully freaked out on the cover there for such a cool, emotion-less killing machine. I'm assuming it's because he's lookng at the last panel reveal, and not something as prosaic as rampaging dinosaurs)

War That Time Forgot #1 (DC) Well, that didn’t completely suck, so it’s already off to a much better start than I was expecting, given writer Bruce Jones’ recent work. It kicks off like almost every single story in the WTTF Showcase collection, with a WWII fighter finding his way into a cloud and ending up in a land with an extremely improbably ecology, including dinosaurs ridiculously large.

Our hero is Lt. Carson, whose name I don’t recognize (and I refuse to look him up on the Internet!), an air force pilot who crash lands on Dinosaur Island, where he meets Firehair, the white Indian (Well, Native American to you and I) and coonskin cap-rocking Tomahawk, who used to star in the DC comic with the best covers (Where the hell’s my Tomahawk Showcase, dammit?).

There’s a whole mini-society of time-lost soldiers on the island, including “name” comic book protagonists and newcomers (or else ones so obscure I don’t recognize ‘em). Among them are Baron Hans Von Hammer. With 11 issues to go yet, I’m fairly certain we will therefore get to see several instances of Von Hammer killing dinosaurs and, since the book is in no way wretched, I might actually stick around to see it.

The art, by Al Barrionuevo and Jimmy Palmiotti, is pretty decent. It’s sparse and light on detail, but, on the other hand, it looks like it was drawn by human beings, and after all those Iron Man comics this week, that alone set it apart and something remarkable in my eyes. Based on Neal Adams’ cover work though, I would have liked to see Adams interiors, I think.

Since this is the second book I read featuring a rampaging tyrannosaurus today, I should note that, according to Jones, they sound like this: “RAUGHH!” I think Bendis’ tyrannosaur roar is much scarier.

*Speaking of superhero genitals—sadly, neither the first nor the last time I will type that phrase—how come Cap looks so small down there on the cover, but so super in the interiors? Are penises unacceptable on Marvel covers, but cool in the interiors? Because I’m pretty sure I’ve seen labia on the cover of Marvel comics…not to mention, you know, tentacle rape.


Unknown said...

Where the hell do YOU live that you can take four dollars to get gas and come away with 39 cents change?!

SallyP said...

A bit of a slow week for me, but there were some nuggets of gold amongst the dross.

I would have LOVED to have seen Neal Adams artwork on the War that Time Forgot, but the cover is still awfully pretty. And it had dinosaurs, which is always nice. I wish the horse didn't fall down all of the time.

Nightwing has been surprisingly decent lately. Although the thought of Dick as a museum curator does make me snicker. And apparently Talia and Roy as well.

I'm staying as far away as possible from all the Skrullery at Marvel. You explain it all for me anyway.

Tony said...

Was it you who said Dini was trying to get Zatanna to replace Robin as Batman's sidekick? Whoever said it, it's pretty accurate.

Anonymous said...

Nguyen’s work in 'Tec is very lovely, but very suited to Dinis' style of storytelling. I don't think shifting him to Morrisons' Batman would work.

Of course, I'm of the opinion that the only people who should draw Morrisons' superhero work are Frank Quitely and JH Williams III, so I'm possibly being a bit picky.

(And yes, the Raven miniseries continues to be at least five million times better than the Winick-thing. At least in this she appears to have empathy for people, which is a *fairly* essential component of her character)

Caleb said...

Where the hell do YOU live that you can take four dollars to get gas and come away with 39 cents change?!

Columbus, Ohio. Last time I got gas, it was like $3.60 a gallon. Of course, there's no reason to actually just buy one gallon of gas and keep the change. So my sentence didn't really make any sense, did it?

I wish the horse didn't fall down all of the time.

That horse was pretty sturdy though, wasn't it? I thought for sure it got killed when that big Whatevertherium rammed it early in the comic, but it survived to fight a dinosaur later on.

Was it you who said Dini was trying to get Zatanna to replace Robin as Batman's sidekick? Whoever said it, it's pretty accurate.

I have said that before, but I imagine others have too because, while I haven't counted or anything, I'm pretty sure she's logged more TEC appearances than Robin during Dini's run. Batman really oughta start making her wear the green shorts and pixie shoes at this point.

Unknown said...

You didn't read Tor?


Caleb said...

You didn't read Tor?


Not yet. I'm going to wait for the trade, which is what I wished I would have done with Kubert's Sgt. Rock mini a few years back.

Good stuff, I take it?