Thursday, July 10, 2008

Weekly Haul: July 10th

Action Comics #857 (DC Comics) The second chapter of Geoff Johns, Gary Frank and John Sibal’s reinterpretation of Brainiac (and the Daily Planet editorial staff) is just as slick and accomplished as the first. I’ve always been impressed by Geoff John’s ability to transcend the transparency of his craft—this is basically just another “everything you thought you knew is wrong!” superhero story, one employing the exact same concept as the Toyman story that immediately preceded this one—somehow almost always offering a solidly constructed, entertaining comic.

Booster Gold #1,000,000 (DC) Man, I kinda wish the Geoff Johns/Jeff Katz writing team did stay on this book for a million issues…or at least significantly more than 12. This is their twelfth and final issue, taking its cover dress and number from the tie-in issues to Grant Morrison’s 1998 series DC One Million (Which I’m beginning to fear is going to go down in history as “the good Grant Morrison DCU crossover story,” now that he’s working on his second one with Final Crisis).

It’s really just a nostalgic nod akin to the zero issue of this series, however. The book isn’t structured like a 853rd Century comic book, the way JLA #1,000,000 was, nor does it purport to be a comic starring a version of the character that could conceivably still be starring in a one-millionth issue of a comic bearing his or her character’s name, like, say, Batman #1,000,000. Instead, its more akin to Hitman #1,000,000 (which was totally awesome, by the way), in that the present day star of the monthly comic is shot through time into the far future.

And even that is just a bit of nostalgia, as Booster doesn’t really meet another Booster Gold or any of the JL-A characters; instead, he sees a possible legacy, and then it’s back to the present to tie up loose ends, including the final fate of Blue Beetle (or is that Black Beetle?) and the relationship of Rip and Booster finally revealed (to the readers, not Booster).

I’m sad to see this creative team go, despite the hints of what’s to come—yet another look at Rip’s chalkboard, and another of those trailer pages that’s been in some Geoff John’s comics—as the new creative team hasn’t been announced yet, but the changes of this issue seem to indicate that Dan Jurgens is a rather likely possibility.

I could probably live with that—I enjoyed his Teen Titans and Justice League America, if only out of the quarter and dollar bins, not for full-price as they were being published—but it’s safe to say that the Johns/Katz Booster Gold run was a lot better than Jurgens.

But Mr. Jurgens, if it is you, dude, sir, please, see what you can do about working your way down this list, will you?

Detective #846 (DC) I’ve been curious about how “Batman R.I.P.” tie-ins were actually going to work ever since DC announced that Detective, Robin, Nightwing and Batman and The Outsiders would all be tying into the story arc in Grant Morrison’s Batman. See, unlike the fairly simple, one-sentence plots of big Bat-crossovers past—a plague breaks out in Gotham in “Contagion,” Bruce Wayne is framed for murder in “Batman: Fugitive,” etc.—no one’s really sure what “Batman R.I.P.” is actually about plot-wise (as opposed to thematically and metafictionally) beyond the vague understanding that the unknown enemy The Black Glove, the so-called King of Crime and a cabal of villains is destroying Batman from the inside out.

When we last left Batman last week in “Batman R.I.P.,” he had dressed up in a very colorful self-sewn costume and apparently thinking himself the Superman of Planet X after wandering the streets of Gotham stricken with amnesia and a newfound addiction to “weapons grade crystal meth.”

So, how exactly do, say, Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen tie a story involving Batman, Catwoman and Hush into that? I honestly could not wait to find out with this issue.

Well, as it turns out, they don’t even bother. DC slaps a “R.I.P.” and bloody Bat-symbol on the cover, have our narrator Hush refer once to “hearing whispers of 'The Black Glove,' a mysterious entity that seeks Batman’s extinction,” and that’s it—it’s a “Batman R.I.P.” tie-in because it’s labeled as such.

It’s even unclear when this takes place in relation to the story it’s apparently tying into—Jezebel Jett is “in Paris, spearheading a charity drive for her country,” and Batman seems as sane as usual as he and Catwoman take on Dr. Aesop. The issue has far more to do with Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s original “Hush” storyline in Batman, as the mummy-faced villain recounts the events of his past originally detailed there and opens an evil hospital (?) apparently staffed by mind-controlled hobos (?!) and decides to kill Batman before The Black Glove can.

For industry watchers, I suppose this provides another example of the theory that DC’s various editorial offices don’t much communicate, and even try to keep story points secret from each other.

When Final Crisis got rolling, it became clear that the Dini-masterminded Countdown to Final Crisis had fuckall to do with the Morrison-masterminded Final Crisis, and the two works would openly conflict with one another, to the befuddlement of fans and readers.

Now here again is a Dini-written story meant to tie in to a Morrison one, and, again, it has nothing to do with it, as if Dini and/or his editor weren’t informed just what the hell “Batman R.I.P.” was actually about, beyond it involved a villain or entity called “The Black Glove” trying to destroy Batman.

This story, the first chapter of “The Heart of Hush,” features a few flashbacks involving kindly doctor Thomas Wayne, who was friends with Hush’s parents. Over in Morrison’s Batman, we see that part of The Black Glove’s plot to destroy Batman was to destroy the Waynes’ reputation, portraying Thomas Wayne as a monster who may have even faked his own death.

Given the fact that Thomas Wayne appears herein, Dini had an opportunity to play with that idea—presuming he knew about it. Either he passed on it, or he was never told.

Anyway, it was nothing to do with the quality of the story itself—which is kind of stupid, but competently executed—and is just a possible clue into the possible dysfunction within the walls of DC HQ, a topic that has seized the imagination of many in the comics blogosphere of late.

This seems like a good point at which to drop TEC for a while, despite the fact that of the two main Batman ongoings, it’s the one that is drawn by a competent professional.

Final Crisis: Requiem #1 (DC) Part of me can’t help but consider how this connects to its parent title—the Morrison and J.G. Jones Final Crisis event miniseries—and whether or not it actually works against the story being told there.

The death of the Martian Manhunter was handled in purposefully dismissive fashion—name heroes often die in these things, so lets kill one off as if we were checking off an item on a to-do list—and the one-page, three-panel funeral for the DCU stalwart was similarly self-aware.

During Morrison’s JLA run, the last time he spent so much time and energy on these characters, he had Superman attending the funeral for the “inert” Justice Leaguer Metamorpho, and expressing his surprise that there were only a handful of mourners. The presiding holy man explains that superheroes die and come back so often now, the public doesn’t take their funerals seriously any more. In Final Crisis—after Metamorpho’s resurrection, plus the return of Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen, Ice, Jason Todd and the deaths and resurrections of many others—Superman seemed to have internalized that message. He ends his eulogy, only a half-dozen sentences long, with the words, “We’ll all miss him. And pray for a resurrection.”

If Morrison and Jones were consciously deconstructing the hero deaths of Crisis On Infinite Earths (and the patterns-turned-cliches it established) in their handling of Martian Manhunter’s death and funeral in the first two issues of Final Crisis, than Requiem seems to be somewhat counterproductive, as writer Peter J. Tomasi de-deconstructs them.

If Final Crisis had a simple execution style murder, Requiem expands upon what happened after Morrison and Jones shifted scenes, given the Manhunter a heroic struggle in which he takes on the entire Society using only his brain. If Final Crisis hurried over all the details like the finding of the body, the farewell rituals and the oaths of vengeance, figuring we’ve seen them all a dozen times before, Requiem restores them.

That the two approaches seem at odds is merely an observation, not a value judgment. After all, this was an immensely pleasurable read (although certain passages would likely turn off those who aren’t already fans of the character and the JLA), and by far the best illustrated Justice League story I’ve read in…hell, I can’t even remember the last time Justice League comics actually looked good. Even recent Justice League of America fill-ins by Ethan Van Sciver and Carlos Pacheco suffered by the water-treading nature of their stories,

Here penciller Dough Mahnke, inked by Christian Alamy and Rodney Ramos and colored by Nei Ruffino, does the work of his career. Mahnke was probably the last artist to have a real run on a JLA comic. After his run ended in 2003 (five years!), JLA transitioned into a sort of anthology title, with different creators on each arc until it was cancelled. And when it was relaunched as JLoA in 2006, “regular” pencil artist Ed Benes took so many breaks that there’s been as many issues by fill-in artists as by him.

So Mahnke has long had a strong handle on some of these characters—Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Plastic Man, Oliver Queen (whom he drew during Justice League Elite)—but he’s certainly gotten better in the last five years, and he’s an artist who is quite adapt at both the over-muscled superhero physiques and the delicate work of facial expressions.

It’s a talent that comes in quite handy here, given the emotional subject matter. Hell, he even makes New Look J’onn J’onnz look cool, albeit by making him look more consistent with his original Martian design than the Skrull-y redesign he got post-Infinite Crisis.

Tomasi, who edited the quite-excellent Jon Ostrander/Tom Mandrake Martian Manhunter monthly, opens at J’onn’s funearal on Marx, and then jumps back and forth from that to the events that lead to it. We see how many “Sivana-designed Pyro-Tranq Darts” it takes to neutralize most of his powers, we see him put up a fight with his brain (check out the scary expressions on the faces of those “superheroes” as they tear into the terrified villains, and the looks shock on the villains’ faces when they learn that it was all in their minds), and how many stabs and blasts it actually took to kill him.

We see who discovers his body and where, we see Hal and Ollie talk about how they’re totally going to get James Robinson to write their own Justice League book where they can get revenges, and we see the rather elaborate funeral services, full of call-backs to old Martian Manhuter and Justice League stories.

As the last Martian, J’onn’s dying act is to telepathically transmit his race memories and personal biography into the brains of his closest friends—Batman, Superman, Hal Jordan, Black Canary and Gypsy—and, at Tomasi posits J’onn as a link between the race of Martians and the race of super-people. He’s referred to as both the last Martian and the first superhero, a fitting extrapolation of the meta-story of the traditional B-Characters fictional life story (he lost his own world and family, and adopted earth and the Justice League to replace them).

I was actually moved by Tomasi, Mahnke and company’s last page. That’s just some all around fine comics storytelling right there. Despite the drawbacks of the story—the rundown of J’onn’s entire post-COIE biography in straightforward info-dump style is perhaps a little gracelessly jammed in—it was told incredibly well.

Morrison’s Final Crisis may be consciously attempting to subvert the clichés of super-crisis type stories, but these creators showed exactly why they’re clichés in the first place.

I Kill Giants #1 (Image Comics) It’s the comic book Marvel didn’t have the balls to publish: What If…Thor Was Actually a Fifth-grade Girl?.

Or perhaps What If…A Fifth-grade Girl Pretended to be a Giant-Slayer or Maybe is Just Crazy or Something?

Regardless, writer Joe Kelly and artist JM Ken Niimura introduce us to Barbara Thorson, a rabbit-eared little girl who has some trouble at school and home, a girl who tells a motivational speaker visiting her class on career day that, “I find giants. I hunt giants. I kill giants.”

Does she now? Well, not so far. And those rabbit ears tend to disappear when she’s around others, and she’s definitely a girl with an overactive imagination (she plays D&D, even reads the guidebooks on the bus).

Kelly’s script is pretty funny in places, and Niimura’s black and white art is gorgeous—somewhat abstracted and cartoony in character designs, but still packed with evocative details and full of brush-like line work. Though it’s black and white, it’s full of delicate shades, making it look more like the black and white of, say, an old movie than a coloring book.

The Invincible Iron Man #3 (Marvel Comics) Writer Matt Fraction and artist Salvador Larroca continue “The Five Nightmares,” which is essentially a sequel to the Iron Man movie as much as a continuation of any of the comics (Having read very few Iron Man comics, I have no idea how closely this is tied into them, but it is closely tied into the events, characterization and general aesthetic and tone of the film).

Larocca’s art, colored by Frank D’Armata, isn’t as awful as it’s been, but it’s still too photo-referenced and faux photo-esque in its colors for my tastes; the best-looking bit of the book is a flashback by an uncredited (?) artist, which looks like it was drawn by an artist, instead of built inside a computer.

I’m still reading, but in spite of the artwork, not because of it.

Justice Society of America #17 (DC) If you can tear your eyes away from Alan Scott’s huge cock on the cover there, check out Alex Ross’ Hawkman. I love Ross’ Hawkman, and the way he gives them those big, disturbing googly eyes. Say what you will about Ross—and people say a lot about Ross—but he really gets what makes a lot of these super-characters so appealing. With Hawkman, it’s his weird-ass googly hawk eyes.

Inside the book, giant lower-case-g god of “The Third World” Gog continues to stomp around Africa, granting superhero wishes (Damage gets his face back! Starman loses his personality! Power Girl goes off to star in a special set on the new/old Earth-2!), while the JSA and JLA keep waiting for him to go evil.

This is a Fernando Pasarin art issue, and it’s decent enough, although he has a tendency to draw male figures with swollen, bloated mid-sections that are nevertheless host to six-pack abs; they’ve got that old Mike Sekowsky beefy tree trunk-ness, plus the modern bodybuilder obsession, and it’s a weird fit. And he draws a terrible, terrible monkey face. Otherwise, a pretty solid effort.

The Last Defenders #5 (Marvel) I still can’t believe I’m still buying this.

Secret Invasion #4 (Marvel) Hold on, let me do my monthly page-count to see if Marvel’s still screwing us on the price point with this thing. Yup, another 22-page book that costs a whole $1 more than the rest of the Marvel Universe 22-page comics.

This is a much busier issue than the last. Skrullder-Woman continues to tell Tony Stark he’s really a Skrull; The Sentry cries in space; Ms. Marvel gets her costume torn up and presents herself for mounting; Nick Fury, his comically large gun (bigger this issue than the last), and his new recruits fight off the Super-Skrulls in Manhattan; Black Widow shoots some of the Seventies-style Skrulls of The Savage Land (sorry Phoenix and Ape-Beast fans—Skrulls); Agent Brand looks at some monitors and cries; The-Skrull-that-looks-like-Jarvis demands SHIELDS surrender and the joke of an evil Jarvis is still funny; The Red Hood rallies his villains to fight the Skrulls: and Thor and Captain Buckmerica prepare to enter the fray—if they’re not Skrulls.

So, like I said, a busy issue. But just $2.99 busy.

Trinity #6 (DC) Okay, the good news is that at this point, it seems safe to declare that this is much, much better than Countdown (I think I only lasted five issues of that). The bad news is t hat it’s much, much worse than 52.

In other words, it’s still just-okay; decent but un-exceptional; a book with drawbacks as well as attributes.

Or, in still other words, it’s good enough for me.

This issue is probably the weakest of them all so far, as the Buiek and Bagley opener has Tarot still reading the Trinitized tarot, while Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman brainstorm about their own symbolism. It makes for a pretty long stretch of people talking about what the heroes represent in a pretty overt, almost tedious fashion.

While this goes on, Batman cleans Wonder Woman’s wound, which for some reason involves taking her top off, despite the fact that the wound is on her bare shoulder, which her top doesn’t cover anyway.
This (panel five of page four—which is above— specifically) threw me into the sort of bewilderment that only an image that challenges my fundamental understanding of a superheroine’s costume can. See Wonder Woman’s top sitting on the table next to her? And yet, there’s still some red above her belt in the image. I’ve always assumed this version of her costume was a one-piece thing, but is it actually three pieces? The mind reels. (Well, my mind reels anyway).

In the back up, this time drawn by Scott McDaniels and Andy Owens, Hawkman (lacking cool googly eyes) dry humps old Batman love interest Nocturna (I think; she’s called “Noctuna” on second reference) and meets up with Gangbuster.

Ultimate Origins #2 (Marvel) I got the Cap’s crotch variant cover by Simone Bianchi, not the Cap’s ass version by Gabriele Dell’otto.

War That Time Forgot #3 (DC) This actually came out last week, and I didn’t even notice it on the shelves. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed that I missed it if Patrick didn’t point it out in last week’s comments (Thanks, Patrick!)

Now, forgetting to buy an issue of a book and then not even noticing that you’re not reading it is usually a good indication that it’s one you could probably safely go ahead and drop.

Having read this issue a week late, I see I didn’t really miss much of anything. For a comic about soldiers fighting dinosaurs, there’s far too little dinosaur-fighting here, despite the emerging plot revealing the nature of Dinosaur Island. I suppose it’s a mildly interesting idea, but I always thought soldiers fighting dinosaurs on a mysterious island was the plot.

Confidential to colorist Mike Atiyeh: Enemy Ace isn’t blonde.

Wonder Woman #22 (DC) I’m going to read the next issue to finish the arc, because I am anal retentive that way, but I’m jumping off this title again.

Aaron Lopresti’s pencil art is gorgeous and quite inventive—dig battle-axe-hand Aquaman on page three!—but I just can’t get into Simone’s take on the character, and the prose with which she conveys it (This issue, I read “No being in he universe has ever been so without touchstone as he” three times before I got it).

This issue seesaws between the goofy fantasy storyline—in which Stalker, Beowulf, Claw the Unconquered, Wonder Woman and her ever-changing costume go to fight some devil crature—and the more standard superhero type stuff in which Nemesis fights Wonder Woman’s super-gorilla roommates. They don’t quite seem to fit together smoothly, and even taken on their own they’re nothing particularly special.

With Trinity there to provide a decent Wonder Woman story every week, the monthly itself seems a bit superfluous. After all, how many Wonder Woman comics does anyone really need? Surely four a month is plenty, right?


Mory said...

I figured the flashback in Iron Man was the same art team as the rest, just having fun with it.

Mr. Bretterson said...

I simply refuse to believe Batman woudldn't recognize the planetary symbol for Saturn... they talk like it's some obscure, esoteric thing...

Anonymous said...

I haven't read Wonder Woman, but I did also read the quoted line of dialogue three times before realizing that it had potential meaning.

So either it's a really clumsy sentence, or we're both really dense.

SallyP said...

Action Comics and Booster Gold were both excellent. There is a reason that Geoff Johns is my favorite writer! And Final Crises: Requiem made me go all misty-eyed, (although I thought that Fire should have been there)

Justice Society was fair, although I'm getting a bit bored with Gog AND old Superman. It needs more Sandy and Obsidian!

Trinity was...ok. I thought Wonder Woman was good, mainly because I just like those white apes for some reason.

Leigh Walton said...

Your last line is a puzzler -- i reread it a couple times to figure out whether you were being sarcastic. If four a month is good enough for Wonder Woman, isn't it also good enough for Superman and Batman?

Or are you making the argument that WW is just a less interesting character? It's a reasonable position, but far enough outside the conventional view of the Trinity concept (and the "good character who hasn't been given the strong writing she deserves" meme) that I wouldn't think it could stand without justification.

Caleb said...


Yeah, that isn't very clear.

I meant that four decent, good-enough comics featuring Wonder Woman was plenty for me, and five is too many.

If Wonder Woman was excellent, or just really good (like the Superman books at the moment) or even not-so-hot but interesting (like Morrison's Batman), then I wouldn't mind reading it on top of Trinity, but since its quality seems to be at about the same level as that of Trinity (not bad, but not that good either), it seems like just a fifth so-so DC super-comic prominently featuring Wonder Woman to me.

Anonymous said...

See, Wonder Woman's faux-modesty here is one of the things that make it hard to like her. She's an Amazon, but she's also bashful? But she had to take her top off, so she could cover her breasts(which Clark and Bruce can both look at if they really want to anyway)?

E. Peterman said...

Great post. I agree that "Requiem" was surprisingly well-illustrated and moving. It had the potential to be maudlin, but overall, very good. As for "Wonder Woman," I WANT to love the storylines, but so far ... it's just OK. Lovely art, though.

Anonymous said...

It may not be a surprise that Morrison's most popular and satisfying recent work for DC is All Star Superman, where he doesn't have to worry about current continuity. I wish he could have done his Batman run in a similar fashion; perhaps then he would gotten JH Williams III to do every issue. It reads like it's out of continuity anyway - Final Crisis does, too.

Unknown said...

Re: Nothing matching up with Batman R.I.P.

Grant Morrison has said that none of the labeled books have anything to do with his story. At best, they might deal with how some of the side characters are reacting to developments, but that appears to be difficult given that some of them are involved in the main story. There's, also, the bit that this Detective story had to happen before Batman R.I.P., given how he's in tip-top shape and talking about Jezebel Jet being out of the country.

Tony said...

I feel like I should be liking the Bat-books more than I do. I'm reading Batman mostly out of faith in Grant Morrison. The denouement better be something amazing to justify this level of mystification.

Dini's been solid, but just OK. I can't really bring myself to care about Hush.

Wonder Woman's been a fun read, but I dunno, I'm a Gail Simone fan.