Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weekly Haul: December 17th

The Age of The Sentry #4 (Marvel Comics) If The Sentry is Silver Age Superman, in Jeff Parker, Nick Dragotta and Gary martin’s opening story, he meets his version of Earth-2 Superman, a sort-of catch-all parody of how Golden Age characters vary from later versions. The back-up, written by Paul Tobin and illustrated by Ramon Rosanas, The Sentry teams up with the Blonde Phantom to rescue the popular band The Crick-Hits from the clutches of Tyrannus and his Moleoids (Or are they Mole Man’s Moleoids?). If you’ve read the first three issues, then you don’t need me to tell you that this one is a really fun read. If you missed the last three and don’t want to start halfway through, wait for the trade…but don’t miss it!

Avengers: The Initiative #19 (Marvel Comics) I really liked Marvel’s previous line-wide event comic, World War Hulk, although I thought the name and the promotion of the series was pretty misleading, since the Hulk didn’t actually wage war on Earth, or even America, or even all superheroes: He was basically just pissed at four or five guys, and fought anyone who got in his way. In New York City.

If you just read Secret Invasion #1-8, it similarly seemed like a pretty small-scale affair: The Skrulls talked about taking over earth, but really the scope of the series was simply some Skrulls versus Nick Fury, Maria Hill and The Avengers in two different locales.

It was the tie-ins wherein all the real battles were fought—Skrulls in Wakanda in Black Panther, Skrulls in England in Captain Britain, Skrulls on the West Coast in SI: X-Men and SI: Who Do You Trust? and, in Avengers: The Initiative, Skrulls in every state in the U.S., trying to take down the various Initiative teams from within.

I’m not sure how this story arc would have read completely divorced from Secret Invasion #1-8, as I read it alongside the main series, but it certainly compliments it well—the scale, the scope and the stakes that seemed missing from the Brian Michael Bendis-written main series are all in here, and co-writers Dan Slott and Christos N. Gage do right some of the same things Bendis did wrong.

For example, remember in SI #8, how the Skrulls had some kinda biological weapon that didn’t make any sense? Well here they have another weapon of last resort, and Gage and Slott at least take the time to explain what it is, how it will work and what the consequences of its activation will be if our heroes can’t stop it. It doesn’t bog the story down one bit—it only takes a line or two to explain it; this is comic book science, not rocket science. Remember how that big, important character “died” in SI, and it was all like, Who cares? She was hardly even in the series until just then, and that’s not a terribly convincing death anyway?

Well here several characters died, and yeah, they’re not exactly founding members of the Avengers or anything, but, on the other hand, their deaths are more likely to be permanent, and there’s at least a perfunctory amount of emotion involved, as Slott and Gage spent the rest of the story arc letting us know who the hell they are and giving us enough information about them to conceivably like them.

Particularly in the case of the death at the climax, who was an extremely minor character prior to his introduction into this series, and yet was one of the stars of this particular arc. He has a pretty good “out” to return some day—they even add an ellipsis and question mark after “The End” at the end—but his death comes as a tragedy.

Harvey Tolibao and Bong Dazo’s art is slick, detailed and chaotically kinetic, so everything looks fairly cool, if occasionally overblown, but individual panel layouts are sometimes so over-stuffed with characters that they don’t look as good as they should. For example, I didn’t need to see the acrobatic Tigra’s taint front and center in the panel featuring her Initiative team, and I think the Florida team (recently seen getting decimated in Marvel Zombies 3 #1) was fighting a super-Skrull with Devil Dinosaur’s powers, but the rest of his make-up was obscured by the angle and crowded scene.

Even still, this has certainly been the most action-paced of the SI tie-ins, and the one that picked up more of Bendis’ slack than any of the others. Kinda makes me wonder what Secret Invasion woulda been like if Marvel had these guys write it. Slam-bang superhero action on an epic scale just isn’t Bendis’ strong point, whereas Slott and Gage seem quite at home juggling 50 superheroes fighting on a half-dozen fronts and managing to tell several storylines within the must-hit-points-A-B-and-C mandates of a crossover.

The Complete Ro-Busters (Rebelllion) Oops, I didn’t expect to see this out this week. As far as I knew, it was already released in November (so says Amazon, anyway), so I was taking my time with the review copy Rebellion sent my way, and thus I’m only half-way through this massive, 340-ish-page collection of Pat Mills’ weird robot comedy/action strip from the pages of Starlord and 2000 A.D.. I’ll have a proper review up on Blog@ this weekend, provided I can get through 170-pages or so in the next few days. It’s extremely readable, so I don’t imagine that will be much problem. Breifly, it’s a sort of comic strip sitcom starring two repurposed robots—war droid Hammer-Stein and sewer droid Ro-Jaws—who work for a Thunderbirds-esque rescue team run by Mr. Ten Per Cent, a cyborg who looks like a robot, but is still ten percent human, and thus technically, legally human. They get into all kinds of wacky scrapes. Dave Gibbons, Kevin O’Neill, Bryan Talbot, Steve Dillon and others draw, Mills and others write. Oh, and one of those others is Alan Moore, so that oughta sell a few copies.

Hellblazer #250 (Veritgo/DC) Huh. What is there to say after “wow,” really? Hellblazer, which began as a sort of Swamp Thing spin-off starring a supporting cast member Alan Moore created to satisfy a collaborator’s desire to draw a guy who looks like Sting, has been passed from one British comics writer to the next—even occasionally falling into the hands of Americans—and is now the last of the original Vertigo series still standing. Sandman? Kaput (Although spin-offs of some kind of another keep cropping up). Animal Man? Doom Patrol? Reclaimed by the DCU. Shade, The Changing Man? The DCU doesn’t even want it back. Swamp Thing? Please. Hellblazer might not have been the fittest, but it is the most successful at surviving, which I think more likely than not comes down to the same thing that helps certain species survive where others die off—flexibility.

Hellblazer wasn’t tied to the work of particular creator the way so many of the other Vertigo series were, and the concept was the sort that was a little easier to replicate than some of the others. For example, whereas Shade was about a Peter Milligan-y creation Peter Milliganning about with his Minnigan-y cohorts having Milligan-esque adventures I to this day can’t even begin to summarize because Jesus Christ that comic was weird (where were all the annotators discussing Morrison’s DC comics now back then, when I really needed them?), the adventures of chain-smoking, alcohol-drinking British rake/asshole investigating demonic shit is the kind of thing that’s easy enough to be replicated by others. Constantine is like the James Bond of Vertigo Comics; the original may be the best, but each adds something unique and worthwhile to the mix, and none of them suck so bad as to ever break the concept.

So congratulations, Vertigo. This is indeed an achievement.

So what do they do to celebrate? Invite a whole mess of creators to tell holiday-themed tales and they ivited some good ones.

I’m not a regular Hellblazer reader, though I check in now and then (the only run I really followed start to finish was the Garth Ennis-scripted one), and what really attracted me to pick this up was the inclusion of art by Rafael Grampa of the recently-released Mesmo Delivery (Which I see Tom Spurgeon just had some kinds words about, if you don’t want to just take my word on whether or not it's a comic to read).

Grampa’s work is quite nice here, even in the smaller panels and duller colors of this book compared to his AdHouse debut, and his style is a nice, screaming contrast to the rest of the art in the book—Simply put, Grampa’s art doesn’t look much like what one thinks of when one thinks of Vertigo art. He illustrates a story by Brian Azzarello involving a curse, a goat, a scapegoat and a scary goat man monster which is pretty funny, but told rather poorly in all-verse narration. Poetry and comics can work, and work quite nicely, but usually only when there’s a one line-to-one image ration, and the panels are laid out into a more rigid pattern. Here the words just kinda get in the way, and I imagine prose would have served Azz’s gag better.

As for the rest of the book, Dave Gibbons writes and Sean Phillips draws a story about Constantine foiling a ritual involving the sacrifice of a live baby on New Year’s Eve, Jaime Delano and David Lloyd weave a quite beautiful looking story in which Constantine just kind of watches a poker game with his friends, Peter Milligan and Eddie Campbell tell probably the most British story of the lot (Based on the black, white and blue version of two of Campbell’s panels on the credits page, I kinda wish his whole story was colored so minimally) and finally writer China Mieville and artists Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini collaborate on a neat little mini-mystery with a sharply wicked sense of humor.

Jamie Delano comes closest to delivering a true meaning of Chrstimas type message: “seasonal lesson for all cynics, I guess. Don’t drop your guard for a moment, or the spirit of fucking Christmas will rip the best from the very worst of you.”

All in all, well worth the $3.99 price of admission.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #31 (Marvel) Iron Man takes Spider-Man and The Hulk (who’s just kinda hanging out as the Hulk, rather than particularly angry about anything) and newer recruits Luke Cage and Tigra to LA just to get out of the tower. They visit the beach, and before long, Namor and a giant, green tentacle-having whale monster thing show up and start kicking Avenger ass.

Namor vs. Spider-Man and Tigra! Namor vs. Iron Man! Namor vs. Power-Man! Namor vs. The Hulk! Since seeing Namor fight people and hearing him talk shit are among my two favorite things that can possibly be found in Marvel Comics, this is pretty much my ideal book.

Paul Tobin continues to prove that he can write this book Jeff Parker style just as well as Jeff Parker can, and manages about a gag a page, much of the humor inherent to the characters in their familiar 616 iterations (Spider-Man as sad sack who can’t get any respect, Namor as arrogant prick) as well as some sillier stuff, like Tigra’s fear of water (She’s “like fifty-six percent cat,” she explains) and dumb, gluttonous Hulk.

Ig Guara is the pencil artist, and while I’m not entirely sure why—New inker? Different colorist?—this seems like his best work I’ve seen so far, at least in part because it seems somewhat looser. I like the fact that his Cage looks a little thick and his Namor a little skinny (it’s not like their super-strength come from super-abs and super-lats, after all) and his Hulk is just so…hulking.

I generally like this title, but this one struck me as one of the better issues in recent memory, so if you’ve been on the fence about whether or not to try MA Avengers, this seems like a good one for sampling purposes.

Showcase Presents: The Brave and The Bold: The Batman Team-Ups Vol. 3 (DC) Man, they’ve gotta do something about the title of these things. Okay, obviously I haven’t read 500-pages of this between going to the shop at 1 p.m. and typing this post up around dinner time, but I did haul it home. I don’t think you need me to tell you that a super-cheap collection of the old The Brave and The Bold series is well worth a super-comics reader’s time, although, for what it’s worth, this volume seems to be all Bob Haney and all Jim Aparo, and it features some fresh new guest-stars, like The Joker, Man-Bat, The Demon, Mister Miracle, Kamandi, Richard Dragon and the apple of Mike Sterling’s eye. Now, I may not have read a single page of this issue beyond the table of contents yet, but I feel confident in reviewing it thusly: “Hey, DC! More, please! And let’s get some Showcase Presents: DC Comics Presents: The Superman Team-Ups going too, while we’re at it!”

Tales of the TMNT #53 (Mirage) Remember that Turtles comic from a million years ago where Michaelangelo went for a walk and ran afoul of some criminals trying to make off with a truckload of Christmas 1985’s hottest toy, Li’l Orphan Aliens? Well Jim Lawson does too.

Lawson provides the cover story for this ish, a 26-pager in which a plumber and his assistant visit the Turtles and company’s farmhouse, and the assistant happens to notice a very rare Li’l Orphan Alien in Shadow’s room…still in it’s original packaging! He returns to steal it and finds more than he bargains for. Rounding out the book is an 18-page story by quartet of students from James Sturm’s Center For Cartoon Studies (writers Colleen Frakes and Jon-Mikel Gates, penciller Adam Staffaroni and inker Andrew Arnold), an 8-page story by Dan Berger and Chad Hurd that references another classic TMNT Christmas story (The Leonard vs. The Foot Clan one), a pin-up of the Turtles building a snowman by Michael Dooney and another pin-up of Leonardo and Usagi Yojimbo fighting a dinosaur by Stan Sakai.

The Berger/Hurd story, “Ghosts of Christmas Past,” is pretty sleight, even given its short page-count, and basically amounts to Hurd redrawing parts of the Leonardo story, with a panel or two or original story to add to it in a satisfying (if unnecessary) way.

I used to really dislike Lawson’s work when I was a teen, but I’ve really grown to like it over the years (like Jim Aparo, he’s someone who’s art I had to grow into, I guess), and this funny little story was some of the strongest work I’ve seen from him.

I was most impressed with the students’ story though; not because it was he best, but because it was awfully great, particularly since it was the one I had the least expectations for. There’s some continuity involved that I didn’t follow—Splinter is dead, Donatello was somehow shrunk, Raphael is a big, huge, mutated snapping turtle?—but there are some really neat visuals involving Donatello’s size that are quite casually communicated, and the meditation about the ninja turtles’ lifespans in regard to those of tortoises is interesting and well written.

Tiny Titans #11 (DC) Art Baltazar and Franco’s latest issue has more, shorter stories than some of the previous ones, including the introduction of Russian foreign exchange student Starfire I (or is it Red Star?), Beast Boy’s multiple attempts to impress Terra (dude, she’s into older men…with less eyes) and a fantastic one-page strip starring Lil’ Barda. Goddamnit I love Lil’ Barda!

Trinity #29 (DC) Poor Lois; she forgot to put her shirt on before she put her blazer on, and now she’s marching with a bunch of blue people in a different dimension. I bet she feels foolish. At least on the cover. The insides are pretty fast-paced this week, with the JSI, JLA and a panel of crack sciences trying to stave off madness on the altered-earth, Alfred and the gang questing on another earth and Tarot and Charity talking shop. Oh, and Space Ranger gets lines. Space Ranger gets lines! I’m sure I’ve mentioned this 28 times before, but I really like how pretty much anyone can show up at any time during this series. For example, this issue Busiek and Bagley cross Prometheus, Brainiac, Crimson Avenger II and someone called Sky-Knight off their “To Include” list. I’ve never even heard of “Sky-Knight” before…is he new?


LurkerWithout said...

I’m not sure how this story arc would have read completely divorced from Secret Invasion #1-8, as I read it alongside the main series, but it certainly compliments it well

Outside of the odd scans_daily post or flipping thru an issue after the internet blows up over it, I don't touch any of Bendis' Avengers books. And I had no problems at all with the SI story-arc in Avengers: The Initiative...

troyfreund said...

Man, didn't you pick-up Ex Machina 40? It's a real issue, as Mayor Hundred does an interview with BKV and Tony Harris entertains the staff. Another great issue!

David page said...

Wow you mentioned a 2000ad story....did hell freeze over?!?

You'll never walk alone!

sniff poor charlie still brings a tear to my eye

yeah moore contributes three old annual stories in the book. A poor thunderbirds parody a tie in with abc warriors which will leave some people who have never read that 2000ad series scratching their heads and bax the burner which focuses on ro busters very hot secetary miss marilyne which is a genuine classic

Ig Barros said...

Hi there, Ig Guara here =]

before all, Thank you, and yeas, new inker AND new colorist.. i am not so happy abouth it =]
i will post some pencil pages n my da and my blog, and man, Paul Tobin is wonderfull ^^

Thanx =]

Wild Goose said...

Try as I might, I just can't seem to appreciate Jim Lawson's work on TMNT. I accept that it may be something of an acquired taste... What do you see in his art that I (and others) do not?

Caleb said...

Man, didn't you pick-up Ex Machina 40?

Nope, I'm reading it in trade, and I'm super far behind.

Wow you mentioned a 2000ad story....did hell freeze over?!?

Heh. I just got a mess of review copies from Rebellion, and am racing to read them fast enough that I can review them in a timely-ish fashion. I reviewed a recent Tharg's future shock trade at Blog@ here:

What do you see in his art that I (and others) do not?

Oh man, I'd have to give it some thought to communicate it very effectively, but, off the top of my head, I'd say it's partly just getting used to it...he's been doing TMNT comics so long, that it's gotten to the point that its what I think of when I think of turtles comics sometimes. And partly nostalgic affection. And there's a...weirdness to his designs, particularly the looks in the characters' eyes... that I like, and his work has a peculiar texture I like.

I learned how to draw noses from Jim Lawson, by the way...he doesn't/didn't usually draw 'em, just the shadow under them, which is how I draw 'em now....

Tracer Bullet said...

Speak for yourself. I've carefully ignored everything associated with SI, but Tigra's taint just made this a must buy.