Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Weekly Haul: June 4th

The Amazing Spider-Man #561 (Marvel Comics) This concludes the three-part Dan Slott/Marcos Martin “Peter Parker: Paparazzi” story arc. As I ranted and raved two weeks ago, Martin’s just an all-around perfect artist, and one who is extremely well suited to drawing Spider-Man comics.

As for the story side of things, this Paper Doll character has a visually interesting power and a peculiar weakness Spidey has to figure out how to exploit; it’s a fairly well constructed plot, which zips along at a pleasant pace; and Slott’s always written some of the best Spidey fight chatter.

But when I reached the conclusion, it felt a little too insubstantial a work, given the fact that this is Marvel’s flagship character, with two creators of such caliber working on him. From what little I’ve seen of it, the almost-weekly format of ASM has successfully resurrected the soap opera aspect of Marvel Comics, and given us a serial comic that is more like a television drama than anything currently on the stands (The DC weeklies all seem to strive for this in varying degrees, and far too many comics today seem to be reaching for a tone like that of late-night TV dramas). It’s consistent, it’s reliable, it’s entertaining, and it’s there (almost) every week.

But so what? Is it enough to just be consistent and entertaining? Maybe, but this isn’t quite as much fun as it should be to get by on being fun-for-fun’s-sake, nor is it about anything other than being entertaining. As a story, it seems to hit its target just right, but then, it’s not aiming all that high.

I’m not sure what to make of Mary Jane’s several knowing statements alluding to the fact that she remembers a different life with one-time husband Spider-Man, in part because I’ve stopped trying to make any sense at all out of the marriage-for-a-reboot swap (as has Marvel), and in part because seeing her apparently fucking a Hollywood star here is just kind of creepy. If she remembers everything, then she knows she’s screwing some dude other than her husband; if she doesn’t than we still know she’s screwing someone other than her husband. I’d have been a lot more comfortable with the scenes between her and the actor if she had just divorced Peter and was trying to start over, rather than knowingly/unknowingly cheating on her now magically amnesiac husband or…well, see, this is why I had to quit trying to make sense of it.

Avengers/Invaders #2 (Marvel) By far the best Alex Ross and Jim Krueger-written series about Golden Age superheroes on the market today, which probably isn’t saying a whole lot. The bulk of this issue pits the time-lost Golden Age Invaders against Iron Man’s Mighty Avengers squad, and its an unfortunately choreographed affair (The Sentry, who should be able to take down all the Invaders himself by clapping his hands, trades one punch with Namor and then mysteriously vanishes, like Kruger and pencil artist Steve Sadowski just forgot he was there).

I’m a big fan of Namor being a pompous asshole, and there are some neat bits of that here, including a really nicely drawn panel of Namor with crazy eyes on the bottom of page 12. You’ll likely need a high tolerance for super-corn to take much joy in this, however, as Krueger’s script is full of lines nodding to the reader’s knowledge of these characters, like future Avenger Cap saying he has “a lot of friends to avenge,” or future cyborg-armed Bucky saying “I’d give my right arm just to see Cap fight again.”

DC Special: Raven #4 (DC Comics) At this point, I’m just reading this series for the art. Pencil artist Damion Scott and colorist Sigmund Torre continue to make visual the hard-to-visualize in interesting ways. The fighting in this book is all emotion-based—not like driven by emotion, but like the combatants themselves are actually using emotions as weapons—and I like the inventive ways they keep coming up with to demonstrate these scenes. And I really dig Scott’s idiosyncratic (to the point of bizarre) figure work. Marv Wolfman’s plot is decent but unremarkable, and probably would have made for a more enjoyable three issues than a five-issue arc but, again, I came for the art, I’m just reading the words because they happen to me in little bubbles and boxes laid atop it.

Detective Comics #845 (DC) I don’t agree with every single thing Tim O’Neil has to say about Final Crisis #1 in this extremely entertaining write-up, but you gotta give him this part: “Jeezum Crow, can we have a moratorium on stories where people sit around tables and talk? This seems to be primarily a DC innovation—the last few years have seen a proliferation of stories featuring heroes and villains sitting around conference tables hashing out boring shit.”

Yes, FC had two people-sitting-around-tables-talking scenes, one brief and full of Morrisonian foreshadowing, the other one more or less the fifteenth supervillain board meeting of the year. And in my DC comics this Wednesday, there was a scene of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman sitting around a table talking about their dreams.

But there is one thing even less interesting than the walk-and-talk sit-on-your-ass-and-talk scenes, and Countdown mastermind Paul Dini has hit upon it: Internet chatting!

Instead of roughing up snitches in sleazy bars or dangling hoodlums from their ankles over the edges of skyscrapers, Batman logs in as “johndoe297” to check with the online mystery community for leads on a new Gotham serial killer. I guess it’s an interesting change of pace—I am sick of Batman pretending to throw stoolies off roof-tops to scare them into giving up info—and I guess it’s neat one of the guys online was Detective Chimp typing with his feet, but seeing the World’s Greatest Detective asking for leads on the Internet just seems a little pathetic Stopping a shotgun shell with his chest armor and fighting bulldogs later on can’t erase the stink of loserdom that comes from that scene.

Dustin Nguyen’s cover, and the “SHE’S BACK” cover slug, ignore the plot of this done-in-one, accentuating a brief scene in which Catwoman drops by so Batman can express his sympathy that she had to guest-star in Salvation Run and she can be jealous about Batman’s “blossoming romances with Jezebel Jet and Zatanna.”

The Invincible Iron Man #2 (Marvel) Wow, Salvador Laroroca’s art is much, much, much worse this time around, perhaps because he’s called on to do more scenes of regular humans not wearing Iron Man armor. The plasticity of his human faces and the over-acting these characters engage in is almost Landian in this issue. I know variants are all the rage these days; is there any chance of an all-script variant of future issues? Because the art is just about canceling out Matt Fraction’s solid scripting and clever dialogue.

Justice League Unlimited #46 (DC) Hey, it’s the very last issue of JLU, which is being cancelled to make room for Super Friends, which I haven’t been able to bring myself to read yet (I just can’t get past the chunky designs). To mark the occasion, writer Matt Wayne and long-time JLU pencil artist Carlo Barberi give us a story that has pretty much nothing to do with the League.

Green Lantern John Stewart is on Oa, about to induct some rookie Lanterns into the Corps. These include Boodika, Tomar-Tu and G’Nort. Stewart and Kilowog lead the green Green Lanterns against Sinestro and the Weaponeers of Qward. Wayne falters a bit trying to squeeze a whole story in (I don’t understand how G’Nort bit through Sinestro’s forcefield, for example). Kilowog’s swear words are awesome though. At one point, he exclaims “Sweet Baby Vardaknoz…!” and, later, “Poozin’ A.”

Justice Society of America #16 (DC) Gog walks around Africa for a little bit, and shares a few words with the JSA. Geoff Johns and Alex Ross sure took their time getting here with the seemingly interminable build-up involving Magog, but it was nice to see things turn out completely differently than one might expect. Occasional guest-artist Fernando Pasarin steps in for Dale Eaglesham; he’s a great fit for the book.

Nightwing #145 (DC) Rags Morales is still drawing this.

Robin/Spoiler Special #1 (DC) Now that Spoiler’s back , she gets a bit of spotlight in this over-sized special, consisting of a 22-page lead story by Chuck Dixon and artist Rafael Albuquerque and a 16-page back-up by Dixon and artist Victor Ibanez. The opening story is a pretty standard Dixon Robin story, one I’m pretty sure I’ve read 25 times already, made fresher by Blue Beetle artist Albuquerque drawing the Teen Wonder. Spoiler narrates the story to her diary—in present tense, which bugs the hell out of me; who writes their diary in present tense!—in which she invites Tim to a creep party. That’s where teens break into a place they’re not supposed to be to party until the cops show up. They don’t drink, do drugs, worship Satan or screw, however they just play with squirt guns. Lame. The teen vigilantes stumble upon a kidnap plan and save the day.

In the back up, we see what Stephanie Brown was up to in Africa and why she decided to come back. After a few pages of medicinal missionary work, the need arises to bust some heads, so she improvises a costume out of a dead antelope and busts some heads. I think I could get into a solo Spoiler series set in Africa where she’s, like, the white jungle girl protector of nature, who wears zebra stripe paint and a dead antelope instead of the typical leopard skin bikini.

Secret Invasion #3 (Marvel) As I pointed out the week Secret Invasion #2 was released, the first issue of the must-read Marvel crossover series was $3.99 for 40 pages of story, while the second was $3.99 for 22 pages of story. That apparently wasn’t a fluke, as this one is also $3.99 for 22 pages of story (plus nine pages of ads, and a text recap/character guide page).

In other words, Marvel continues to ream their customers with the pricing of this series, the one book their core customers are going to feel most obligated to buy, since most of their other Marvel Universe titles will be tying into it for the foreseeable future. I’m aware of this, of course, but I’m still buying the damn thing. Why? Well, I am a superhero fight comic fan, so I suppose it goes without saying that I’m a glutton for punishment, right?

This installment of Brian Michael Bendis, Leinil Yu and Mark Morales’ eight-part series is more like the first than the second, in that a lot of things seem to happen in a lot of different places, rather than nothing seeming to happen in one place. Skrull Jarvis demands the surrender of SHIELD, Skull Spider-Woman kisses Tony Stark on the moustache, the Young Avengers and The Initiative’s new recruits get creamed by Super-Skrulls (not sure where the 50 super-teams are at), Norman Osborn introduces himself to Skrull Captain Marvel (although the fight between the latter and the Thunderbolts happens off-panel…maybe in a tie-in book?), and then Nick Fury shows up with his team in an exciting last page reveal that should be pretty obvious after that issue of Mighty Avengers where he gathered his recruits and said he was going to show up on the last page of an issue of Secret Avengers.

Some minor characters get killed, maybe. Echo might’ve died, depending on what the “CRACK” sound effect in a panel of her being thrown face first into a tree trunk indicated was cracking. The Vision 2.0 gets killed, but since he’s just an android that was already killed anyway, I’m not sure if that even counts. And then some long-haired guy I had to refer to the recap page to identify is seemingly killed too. Says here it was Proton.

So, not a whole lot of Civil War level surprises or World War Hulk scale smashing, but it’s still head and shoulders above House of M. While the cliffhanger was pretty predictable (although I wouldn’t have predicted the size of the gun Fury’s toting; that thing would give Cable a hernia), there is one genuine surprise in here, in which the Skrull queen posing as Spider-Woman talks to Stark about his own Skrullishness.

Suckers with $3.99 to burn (like me) should find this adequate enough; the mildly curious and/or the stingy really oughta wait for the trade.

Trinity #1 (DC) For their first weekly comic, DC assembled a crackerjack team of four of their best writers to plot a 52-part story about a year in the life of their universe, with all four writing each script together, a single artist doing lay-outs for each issue, a gaggle of artists penciling and inking them, and a single artist drawing all 52 covers. It was an incredible success, both in terms of sales and creative achievement. Sure, the art was perhaps necessarily a lot weaker than I would have liked, the narrative voice wasn’t always consistent, I didn’t agree with a lot of the decisions on where to take the characters and the book morphed into something other than what it was pitched as, but viewed as the experimental book it was, I think it was a homerun.

They followed that with Countdown, in which Paul Dini show-ran the book as if it were a TV show, plotting the book and turning individual issues over to four different writing teams, who traded of every fourth issue. Again a gaggle of artists handled the art chores, and rather than a single cover artist, each month saw a new one. At the beginning, there was no one doing layouts, but later on 52’s layout artist came on to do so. There was a great deal of chaos in the process, with the original editor leaving and being replaced, and the every-fourth-issue schedule of writers changing as well. The goal of the book was a little vague—the “spine” of the DC Universe—and seemed to shift; it was originally a year-long prelude to Final Crisis but the bridge issue was cancelled, and FC #1 had little to nothing to do with Countdown. Sales-wise, it was another success, but not as big a one (52 never dipped below the 90K mark for a whole year, Countdown dropped down to the 60K range; still pretty good for a book starring Jason Todd, Donna Troy, Jimmy Olsen and 52 Monitors). Creatively it was…well, I’ve never read a worse DC comic; critical opinion was unanimous in its rejection of the series, although I can think of a few folks who have said it wasn’t that bad. (Not quite the same as saying it was good, however).

So, say you’re DC Comics. You’ve had two weeklies, done in two different ways. Both were successful, but one more so than the other. One was pretty widely embraced by fans and critics, the other remarkably consistently rejected by fans and critics. What do you do? Me, I would have probably done a third one, using the approach of 52 rather than Countdown.

But for their third weekly, DC went with a third approach: A single writer and artist on each issue, with substantial sized back-up stories by the same writer and a co-writer, and rotating artists.

It’s not the obvious route to go, and it seems kinda risky, but, on paper, it sure seems like it would work. The writer is Kurt Busiek, a talented craftsman with some truly great work on his resume, a writer who has been knocking Superman stories out of the park each time he steps up to the plate. The pencil artist is Mark Bagley, seemingly the only artist working for the Big Two capable of drawing at least 12 22-page stories per year (at his last gig, Ultimate Spider-Man, he was doing more like 18 a year). The back-ups are being co-written by Fabian Nicieza, another talented craftsman, and one with plenty of experience working with Busiek, and to be illustrated by rotating artists, 52 and Countdown style.

The story is going to be more like 52 than that of Countdown in that it will be self-contained (rather than trying to line up with the continuity of a bunch of shitty stories like Amazons Attack or Flash: The Fastest Man Alive), but far less epic in scope than either. If 52 was about a year in the life of the DCU and Countdown was about the new/old DC Multiverse, this is simply a year-long World’s Finest story, with Wonder Woman in for Robin.

If there was a risk in doing a weekly after Countdown, it seems like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman would mitigate it. Of course, the beauty of the other weeklies was that they were among DC’s best-selling titles despite starring characters who couldn’t normally get arrested, like The (de-)Elongated Man or Mary Marvel; here DC’s using their big guns, which might run the risk of diluting other bits of their line (Why read that usually incomprehensible Superman/Batman book when you can see them here, and with Wonder Woman as a bonus? Why put up with Ed Benes’ horrible fucking art on JLoA when you can get the Trinity plus other DC superheroes here?)

Well, today’s the day we find out if Trinity is going to be more like 52 or Countdown in terms of quality.

I’m happy to report that, thus far, it seems closer to the former than the latter.

Already, it’s visually stronger, and will likely remain so. Bagley’s a strong artist, one who’s great with superheroes and, after so long on Brian Michael Bendis’ talky and emotive Ultimate Spider-Man a very solid actor. On a fan-ish level, it’s great fun to see him drawing the DC icons after so many years at Marvel (the same thrill that seeing Andy Kubert on Batman and Adam Kubert on Superman was, until they both got sucked into time warps or whatever happened to them), and I found myself getting quite excited about the prospect of seeing more from him.

He illustrates the 15-page lead story (with inker Art Thibert), and portions of the 15-page back-up, while Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens handle the bulk of it.

As for the story, it starts, as so many of these do, in space (in an unfortunate coincidence, the current JSoA arc, DC Universe 0 and now Trinity all feature almost identical looking cosmic entities flailing around in space), before heading down to a table, around which Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and Diana Prince sit around and talk. (Not unlike the last issue of JLoA, or the first half of Brad Meltzer’s JLoA run). Yes, we’ve all had our fill of the Trinity talking at table by this point, but Busiek writes pretty sharp dialogue, and does a great job of defining them through their chat.

We also get to see The Flash and his kids in action against Clayface, and plenty of portentous talk about dreams and symbols and destiny.

It’s obviously quite early, but I was pleased with how this issue read, and am excited for future ones.

If I have any complaint, it’s that the cover is pretty bland—the plan is apparently to make every three covers form a triptych, so each one will feature a single member of the cast posing—and it would have been nice to replicate that aspect of 52 as well.

Ultimate Origins #1 (Marvel) Presenting Brian Michael Bendis’ attempt to convince readers he’s had a plan to connect everything in the Ultimate Universe ever since the beginnings of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including the Hulk and Iron Man he introduced being recreated for Mark Millar’s later series The Ultimates, and Bendis’ own recreation (with Millar) of the Fantastic Four after Bendis had previously introduced a rather different version of them in UMTU #2.

This reverse-engineered conspiracy theory starts with artist Burch Guice redrawing a three-page sequence from UMTU in which Bruce Banner tells Spider-Man that everything’s connected. From there we flash back to World War II and see allied soldiers Wolverine, Nick Fury (or maybe his dad?) and a bald guy named Fisk (The Kingpin? The Kingpin’s dad?) get in trouble for looting while on the job. Fury becomes part of a Tuskegee-like experiment to test the super-soldier serum that would eventually make Captain America on black dudes (shades of Robert Morales’ The Truth: Red, White and Black), then flash forward a little bit more to naked Wolverine running around as part of some Weapon X bullshit.

There’s one intriguing big idea here, one that diverges sharply from the history of the Marvel Universe (original flavor) revealed in the conversation between a mad scientist and a military type at Wolverine’s origin story, but it’s a little too early to see where Bendis is going with it.

Pretty great art by Guice, although his Spider-Man seems more “616” than Ultimate, a mistake most artists seem to make when they first start drawing the character. Even Stuart Immonen’s first few Spidey’s seemed older and stockier, but he ended up getting teen Spidey down perfectly within a few issues, so I imagine Guice will as well.

The War That Time Forgot #2 (DC) Writer Bruce Jones continues to expand his cast, introducing us to the faction of time-lost soldier-types that the faction from last issue is apparently at war with. These include The Viking Prince, G.I. Robot, and some ancient Greek and Romans I feel like maybe I should recognize, but don’t. The dinosaur fighting is woefully inadequate, with only one dinosaur making an appearance, and it’s a raptor, the most boring kind of dinosaur a soldier can fight. (Let’s see some of these guys, Jones!). Al Barrionuevo and Jimmy Palmiotti’s art is pretty decent by DC’s current standards, but with so many characters, the lack of stronger, individualized character designs is getting to be problematic, as it’s hard to keep the multiple dark-haired dudes in bomber jackets or loin-clothed, sandal-rocking ancient guys distinct from one another.


JohnF said...

I only disagree with your analysis of the Namor v. Sentry fight. I think that would go on for a while, since Namor has gone toe-to-toe with the Hulk for long periods of time. We forget how strong he is because, well, half the guys writing him forget how strong he is.
I also loved seeing how resourceful young Bucky was.

Patrick C said...

So did you like Nightwing? I couldn't tell if the Morales comment was a compliment or not.

Trinity didn't really grab me, but I'll probably give it another issue or two before I make a final decision.

And in the War That Time Forgot, maybe this is just me not being sure on my history, but didn't a Greek soldier say "Just like the Roman Coliseum?" Did Greeks fight in the roman coliseum? Maybe they did, but it struck me as weird. That and it bothered me at the beginning when they had whatshisface tied up and said "look at the decorations, he must be an officer." I'm pretty sure he was just wearing a ripped up green army jacket.

But yeah, soldiers fighting dinosaurs. I'll still be buying it.

Mory said...

The trouble with Invincible Iron Man's art is Frank D'Armata's painful coloring. You may recall that the late Stephane Peru was meant to color this series (and did the few beautiful pages of the first issue), and D'Armata was pulled in as a last-minute save.

SallyP said...

Oh those wacky wacky hijinks going on in JSA! Wouldn't it be a hoot if Gog actually DOES turn out to be a good guy? Little chance of that happening I am sure, but I'll still enjoy seeing what happens.

I only started reading Nightwing when Tomassi took over, and I can say that I haven't been disappointed yet.

I can't say that I enjoyed Secret Invasion, because I did not read it. Nor ANY of the whole Skrulliness going on at the moment. I just don't care anymore. And the money I save can be used to buy Trinity, which I DID like.

Anonymous said...

What was up with the Buddhist monks in Manila in Invincible Iron Man? Buddhist monks? In Manila ? ? ?

Caleb said...

I only disagree with your analysis of the Namor v. Sentry fight. I think that would go on for a while, since Namor has gone toe-to-toe with the Hulk for long periods of time.

Prior to WWH I woulda thought The Sentry could have creamed the Hulk too, but yeah, if The Hulk can go toe-to-toe with the Sentry, Namor should be able to too.

He just kinda disappeared in the fight though. In one panel, Namor punches him, later he punches Namor, and that's the last we see of Senry fighting Namor; he just moves on to beat Ares with Wonder Man. Which was a cool panel.

So did you like Nightwing? I couldn't tell if the Morales comment was a compliment or not.

Oh yeah, kinda. I like Morales. It seems like Nightwing has been the same issue for a while now. I like it okay, but now that the surprise of a pretty good Nightwing comic has worn off, there's not much remarkable about it, other than that it's decent and that Morales draws really well.

The trouble with Invincible Iron Man's art is Frank D'Armata's painful coloring. You may recall that the late Stephane Peru was meant to color this series (and did the few beautiful pages of the first issue), and D'Armata was pulled in as a last-minute save.

That makes sense. In the first issue some pages looked great, some looked terrible and some where somewhere between. I don't like Larocca's current style, but apparently the colorist does a lot to make it work or not work. So maybe they can get that straightened out soon.