Thursday, December 04, 2008

Weekly Haul: December 4th (Now featuring 100% more Secret Invasion spoilers)

Batman #682 (DC Comics) I’m beginning to think that maybe Grant Morrison really believes the world is going to end in 2012, as he seems to have kinda just quit giving a fuck about the comics he makes.

This is the first issue after last week’s much-discussed, semi-controversial “Batman R.I.P.” conclusion, in which Batman went M.I.A. after punching a helicopter. It’s also one of the last two solicited Batman stories by Morrison, so it is maybe sorta some kind of coda to “R.I.P.,” if not his whole run.

According to its labeling, it’s a “R.I.P.” follow-up—along the top, it says “Last Rites” next to the Knightfall-esque bleeding bat-symbol—and a Final Crisis tie-in, which is probably a good time to stop and think about things for a second.

So how exactly do “R.I.P.” and Final Crisis possibly co-exist? Incompatible continuity is more-or-less a given in the DCU these days, but it seems extremely glaring here because a) this is probably DC’s best writer, b) he’s writing the two stories that don’t match up himself, and c) he’s writing a single story that explicitly ties-in to both stories that do not seem to otherwise match up with one another. Unless Batman just swam out of that helicopter explosion, put on a new cape and cowl, and then went straight to the JLA meetings in the first few issues of Final Crisis without letting his sidekicks know he was okay…?

Okay, well all that aside, this isn’t a bad script for a Batman comic, although the fact that it occurs in Bruce Wayne’s mind, references dozens of stories in and out of continuity (whatever Batman continuity is exactly these days) makes it hard to care too much about. Essentially, it’s a twenty-page dream sequence, with a two-page Final Crisis tie-in at the end.

Morrison takes us on a tour of Batman history, weaving in and out of continuity in a selective fashion, and doing a passable job of making it seem as if all 69 years of Batman comics happened to the same guy.

As always, the art is the big drawback here. This time it’s not by Tony Daniel (huzzah!), but by Lee Garbett. It’s a bit of an improvement—basic visual storytelling ability is always present, obvious extraordinary lengths are not taken to avoid the drawing of feet—but it’s that same, lazy, generic WildStorm house style that just seems depressing on a Morrison Batman story.

The characters are all drawn fairly detailed with a lot of little lines, but backgrounds usually don’t exist, with fields of fancy coloring brought in to try and hide the fact. With different character design—or even a sort of well-designed, thoughtful use of empty spaces, a la Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman—it might look like minimalism is a style choice, but as is, it just looks lazy.

It’s passable work, but it really should sing, given what the script has given Garbett to work with. The story references ones drawn by Bob Kane, Dick Sprang, Frank Miller and Sheldon Moldoff—every decade of Batman is verbally referenced, but Garbett doesn’t do anything to visually reference them, besides posting Batman a certain way here or there. It’s such a wasted opportunity (as is the fact that he doesn’t even tie his visuals of Julie Madison or the Monster Men into Matt Wagner’s recent designs of them). It seems like it would be a once-in-a-lifetime dream script for an artist to draw, but Garbett seems to merely rush through with completely generic, get-the-job-done-and-collect-the-paycheck art.

Where’s the joy, man? How often do artists get paid to re-draw panels from this story?

Jingle Belle: Santa Claus Vs. Frankenstein #1 (Top Cow/Image) Have you ever looked at Top Cow’s logo? I mean really looked at it? It’s a black and white globe, with udders, and a lightning bolt behind it. I stared at it for a while today, and I think it might just be the most repulsive comic book logo I’ve ever seen.

It’s atop the latest of Paul Dini’s Christmas comics, starring Santa’s rebellious teenage daughter Jingle Belle, as Dini has taken the character (and her girlfriends) to Top Cow, as part of his own sub-imprint, Dini Cartoons. (He has a few paragraphs about the move and his plans in the back of the book.)

The logo’s no the only rather disturbing thing about the cover. I got “Cover B,” by Greg Horn, and it’s pretty icky. It’s kind of neat seeing Jing portrayed “realistically,” given that she usually appears under the pencils and pens of artists with highly animated cartoon styles, and yet this is Horn’s weird, mannequin form of realism. She looks kinda real, but for some reason she’s wearing paint instead of clothing, andboth she and the stool she’s sitting on emit a soft, white aura of light. In the background, a department store Santa is coming down the chimney, his long hair somehow unaffected by gravity (The magic of Chrsitmas!)

The insides are much better drawn, by Stephanie Gladden, whose big-eyed, exaggerated style is a lot of fun. The character design seems pure old-school, 1940’s animation—with perhaps a touch of Mad here and there—and the lines and expressions all explode with movement, to the point that the action within the panels seems to be almost moving at times.

As for the story, Dini has two of the North Pole’s most famous residents meet one another, for what seems to be the first time (as far as I know, anyway). While snowboarding, Jing accidentally uncovers Frankenstein’s monster, frozen in a block of ice. She chips him out and brings her home to her dad, asking if he can stay with them. Frank quickly settles in and finds his own niche in the workshop, stitching together creepy monster toys.

The conflict driving the plot is a bit weaker than the otherwise strong jokes that dominate the scenes, as an ambitious city councilwoman campaigns to ban Santa, ultimately leading to Frankenstein’s monster dressing up as Santa to stop her, and then Santa having to come to the rescue and pretend to fight F.M. (leading to the “vs.” in the title), but all in all it’s another fun Jingle Belle outing.

Justice Society of America #21 (DC) The precise nature of the threat Gog represents is finally revealed—basically, he’s like a faith-based Galactus—and then both factions of the JSA unite to try and beat him up.

Top-billed penciller Dale Eaglesham provides eight pages of the art, while workhorse Jerry Ordway handles the bulk of the pencil art. I love Eaglesham’s work, but I wonder if at this point it wouldn’t be better to have Ordway take over art chores?

Secret Invasion #8 (Marvel Comics) God, where do I even start?

This is the 26-page, $3.99 conclusion of Marvel’s eight-part, over-priced miniseries about Muslim Skrull terrorists waging holy war on the Marvel Universe (And they just come out and say it, this time around), and the spine of a line-wide event that has tied in to just about every single Marvel publication at one point or another (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a Skrull has been masquerading as Cardinal Richelieu in the pages of Marvel Illustrated: The Three Musketeers).

This won’t do anything to endanger Brian Michael Bendis’ reputation as the most frustrating mainstream writer. Unlike a lot of his peers, Bendis is actually a demonstrably good writer, yet one with a ton of terrible comics to his name. When you see Jeph Loeb’s Ultimatum or Judd Winick’s The Titans sitting there on the rack, you need not wonder if they will be good or not, you only have to note the words “Loeb” or “Winick” on the title. But with a Bendis comic, one never really knows until one reads it: “Will this be Powers or New Avengers, Ultimate Spider-Man or House of M?

There’s been a particular amount of tension about this series, given that Bendis has been building up to it for a good two years if not longer (when did he take over the Avengers franchise, exactly? Cause that’s when this story actually started). So on the one hand, it seemed as if it would be practically impossible for Bendis to deliver a climax big enough to justify all the time and work that went into foreshadowing this damn thing, but, on the other hand, he’s been working on this story for years, so it’s conclusion really oughta be one of his best stories ever, right?

Well, it hasn’t been all that. And now that it’s ended and can be more easily judged, well, Bendis hasn’t gotten much better at line-wide Marvel Universe crossovers than when he did House of M.

Part of the problem is systemic to these things, I suppose, as instead of presenting more-or-less complete stories, Marvel has treated their crossovers as prologues to the next few months of stories throughout the Marvel Universe. House of M gave way to a half-dozen X-titles, Civil War established a new status quo for the whole Marvel Universe, World War Hulk fizzled in the end to lead into Jeph Loeb’s relaunched Hulk and now this has to lead into something called Dark Reign, with one of the main characters of this particular issues quite literally walking away from this storyline and entering a room to sit down with the co-stars of the next storyline and bam! two pages o’ hype from Joe Quesada about “Dark Reign” tie-ins, and a full-page house ad for Secret Invasion: Dark Reign.

The bigger problem is all Bendis’ though; this thing was structured horribly. The climax occurred in Secret Invasion #1, wherein all of the major Skrull reveals and major attacks occurred, and the next seven issues have been more or less about filling up pages with a low-stakes stand-off between The Skrulls and superheroes, meeting in a field in the Savage Land, and then meeting in a field outside New York to determine who will rule the world the way the Sharks and Jets might have fought over a block of turf.

You may recall last issue ended with Janet “The Wasp” van Dyne growing gigantic and screaming, emitting Kirby dots that made everyone else scream. She was some sort of bio-weapon that Skrull Hank Pym made as a last resort should the Skrulls start to get their asses kicked too badly.

This final issue begins with her still giant and screaming and emitting Kirby dots, and the various heroes, villains and Skrulls all also covered in dots and screaming. Bendis inserts sixteen narration boxes into the first panel, a two-page spread of this, but never explains the nature of her…bio-weaponicity. What’s happening, exactly? How is she affecting all the other characters? Who knows.

This is probably something worth devoting a sentence or two to though, since on the very next page the heroes get out of their sticky situation with a literal bit of deus ex machina. Thor (the deus in question) kills The Wasp with a disintegrating tornado.

Yes, Thor. Kills. The Wasp.

I understand you have to, like, kill a hero or two in these sorts of things, just to prove that the events are actually important—it’s tradition!—but this is a pretty abrupt killing of a hero, particularly since The Wasp doesn’t, like, sacrifice her life or anything, she just has an ally put her down. It’s not terribly heroic. Every hero in the entire Marvel Universe is standing right there, and the only idea anyone can come up with to counter a Kirby dot-generator is to kill their friend? Reed Richards pulled a Skrull-detector out of his ass in an earlier issue of this very series, but he’s plumb out of ideas here.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised. The Marvel heroes have been quick to kill throughout this entire series. In fact, the event that initially angered the Skrulls (as detailed in one of Bendis’ flashback stories) was Reed, Iron Man and the Illuminati preemptively killing a whole ship full of Skrulls, but still, here, everyone’s just killing Skrulls left and right.

“Thunderbolts, m-make sure none of them weasel away,” Norman Osborn tells his team of reformed villains, “No loose ends.” When The Avengers start mopping up the remaining Skrulls, Tony Stark clucks, “Come on, guys…keep the casualties light. I want prisoners.”

The fight is over by page nine, and the rest of the book is reserved for answering questions, and setting up “Dark Reign.”

Where were the people who got replaced with Skrulls? Oh, they’re right here on this ship here, and look, Mockingbird is still alive.

What happened to Baby Cage, I thought she was a Skrull? Eh, who knows, Skrull-Jarvis has her wherever; I’m sure Bendis will write about it somewhere.

Will the rest of the FF ever get out of the Negative Zone? Yes, look, here they are now.

Will Thor and Captain Buck-erica e cool with Iron Man now that they’ve all bonded over the killing of Skrulls/The Wasp? No, they still totally hate his ass.

And that seems to be the big, game-changing event here. Everyone in the Marvel Universe realizes what we’ve all been thinking since just before Civil War: Iron Man is a useless asshole. President Elect Barack Obama, who apparently co-narrates the issue, comes to the same conclusion which is why, (okay, here’s the big spoiler!) he does away with SHIELD and puts “all that fell under the SHIELD banner, including The Avengers and the Fifty-State Initiative” under Osborn and his Thunderbolts initiative.

In the three page-epilogue, we see Osborn standing around under his stupid haircut in Avengers Tower, and then taking an elevator down to a dark room where a cabal of bad (and bad-ish) guys are sitting around the smallest table in the world like some sort of slightly-more-evil version of Bendis’ Illuminati.

And that’s the new status quo: Rather than being ruled by asshole industrialist/super-person Tony “Iron Man “ Stark and his cabal of heartless pricks \of whom fucking Namor was the voice of reason, the Marvel Universe is now being ruled by asshole industrialist/super-person Norman “The Green Goblin” Osborn and his cabal of heartless pricks of whom fucking Namor (and/or maybe Emma Frost…?) is/are the voice of reason.

Now that’s change you can believe in!

Given the fact that Osborn is supposed to have emerged as the new Iron Man from this series, it’s a little puzzling that Bendis didn’t spend more time on him throughout the series.

Skimming Quesada’s piece at the end, I see he says, “at the end of the day, it was Norman Osborn who saved the day,” but that’s not really true. If anyone saved the day, it was Thor, by killing The Wasp. Or Reed, for belatedly whipping up a Skrull detector that allowed the Avengers to know who to kill and who not to kill. Or Nick Fury, for saving Manhattan a few issues ago? Or the Skrull queen, for being a dumb fucking idiot and deciding the best way to defeat the superheroes was to line-up British-in-the-Revolutionary War-style and duke it out with them. All Osborn has done throughout the course of the series is talk to Captain Marvel for like three issues, show up in the same crowd scene as everyone else and, in this issue, shoot the Skrull queen in the head.

And Bendis and artist Leinil Francis Yu make it pretty clear that Osborn didn’t do anything remarkable in the killing of the queen; he just managed to kill her before everyone else who was about to kill her managed to kill her, and he did so because he shot a gun at her. A split-second later, and Wolverine’s claws woulda got her; would that have made Wolverine the Boss of All Superheroes?

Well, at least its over, and I’ll never have to buy another $3.99, 22-page Marvel comic again (Right, Marvel? Right?!). Now I’m going to pound out two more quick reviews and head on over to and keep hitting refresh until Abhay’s latest and last SI review appears…

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade #1 (DC) Of the non-tie line, non-cartoon tie-in superhero comics in DC’s Johnny DC imprint, this is the one I had the lowest expectations for. I was familiar with the work of Art Baltazar of Tiny Titans and Mike Kunkel of The Magic of Shazam already, and it seemed likely they would be pretty likely to deliver some pretty cool all-ages comics with those characters.

But I’m not terribly familiar with writer Landry Q. Walker and artist Eric Jones, and don’t have much in the way of affection for Supergirl, beyond the loathing I have for the current jailbait iteration of the character and DC’s comical habit of giving her DCU book a new creative team and new direction every two-to-six issues.

Well, Walker and Jones knock this one out of the park.

It’s an elegantly simple story, boiling Supergirl down to her essence—Superman’s younger cousin from Krypton, joining him on earth as a teen instead of arriving as a baby—and making it work perfectly well in a modern context. In the space of just 22 pages. (Jeph Loeb and company, meanwhile, spent six issues of Superman/Batman on introducing Supergirl, and I still didn’t know what her origin was by the end of it).

So: Superman is fighting Lex Luthor, when a rocket conveniently crash lands, and Kara stumbles out. In the middle of an argument with her parents, she hid in a message rocket being sent from their dimension to Superman, and ends up stranded on earth. Superman takes her under his cape, but suggests she adopt an Earth identity to learn more about people. Cue the fish-out-of-water comedy.

And…the end. What I found most striking about the book, beyond the fact that Walker and Jones have managed to give us a Supergirl who looks and acts unlike the half-dozen or so other Supergirls we’re already familiar with, was just how close they stuck to the Supergirl origin you can read in your Showcase Presents and how well it works.

Trinity #27 (DC) Um, fine…? I guess…? Nothing remarkable about this issue; it’s not godawful, it’s not that great, just a few more scenes moving the plot a step or two further along from where it was last week. It’s comics like these that make trades attractive, but I’m 27 issues into a 52-issue series at this point, so…


JohnF said...

It seems like it would be a once-in-a-lifetime dream script for an artist to draw, but Garbett seems to merely rush through with completely generic, get-the-job-done-and-collect-the-paycheck art.

In other words, they should have just backed the truck up to J.H. Williams' house and told him that the job was his and money was no object.

Hdefined said...

In a year or two, I suppose we can look forward to "What If . . . Norman Obsorn hesitated and Wolverine became the head of the Thunderbolts Initiative and United States darling?"

snell said...

Covenient save prediction: Thor's "disintegrating tornado" actually sent the Wasp to another dimension. (see him do that with "Plan D" waaay back in Avengers #16). Remember, you read it here first.

And can somebody (anybody?) please decide if S.H.I.E.L.D. is an American organization or an international one? Because Marvel keeps trying to have it both ways, and somehow I don't think the U.S. president could just dissolve S.H.I.E.L.D...

Leigh Walton said...

I think a "Top Shelf" snuck in where a "Top Cow" should have been, yeah?

Caleb said...

I think a "Top Shelf" snuck in where a "Top Cow" should have been, yeah?

Oops; sorry about that. I think it's because Top Shelf and Top Cow comics are so similar that I sometimes mix the two companies up. I fixed it. I think it was just the once in there...

Hdefined said...

"I think it's because Top Shelf and Top Cow comics are so similar that I sometimes mix the two companies up."

Top Shelf is TOTALLY ripping off Top Cow. I mean, Owly? That's just Witchblade with an owl.

LurkerWithout said...

There is not ONE thing about Osborne's face (but secretly still evil) turn. From the public buying him (a DAMNED COP KILLER) as a hero, to the President naming him of all possible choices to be in charge of what's essentially an arsenal of walking nukes, to his villain Illuminati. I mean why the hell would ANY of the bad guys (and I'm including Emma Frost who apparantly Bendis and the others forgot was a good guy now) give a flying damn about what Norman Osborne had to say?

LurkerWithout said...

Also you're right about the new JDC Supergirl book. I actually wish it came in a pocket digest version instead of a floppy. It'd make a great gift for several of my nieces and cousins...

JohnF said...

I hope the Emma Frost's (and Namor's, for that matter) inclusion in that "villain Illuminati" was just a case of Yu not following script. Just drawing what looks good. Like the Skrull Galactus, just there to make the panel look good and not part of the actual story.
Or maybe it's a miscolored Selene?
I just can't believe I bought that whole stupid series.

snell said...

If you read Quesada's text piece, and the now-released solicits for Dark Reign, it IS Emma Frost. As to why...?

David page said...

$3.99, 22-page Marvel comic again (Right, Marvel? Right?!)

written before you read my e-mail right?.

mordicai said...

I don't get the Bendis hate-- the things you compare? New Avengers? Even House of M? I like. M has problems, but it is still a nice time. & I've liked Secret Invasion & I don't need the Wasp thing explained (Or rather, I think "Kirby-dots" counts as a good enough explanation-- see also "what does Cyclops shoot out of his eyes? Kinetic energy? What?").

mordicai said...

So of course they swapped Osborn for Stark. Stark is going to have a film franchise, heavens forbid he be morally complex.

E. Peterman said...

It's interesting that some of the best DC comics right now are those aimed at kids. I bought "Supergirl" for my daughter, but I enjoyed it FAR more than "Batman." I couldn't agree more about Morrison being in "fuck it" mode.

Caleb said...

Covenient save prediction: Thor's "disintegrating tornado" actually sent the Wasp to another dimension. (see him do that with "Plan D" waaay back in Avengers #16). Remember, you read it here first.

Yes, this hardly seems like a very final death.

and somehow I don't think the U.S. president could just dissolve S.H.I.E.L.D...

I don't think the president could disllove anything, even parts of the U.S. government like, I don't know, the Department of Education or Agriculture without a massive freak out. Like, imagine all the lay-offs at SHIELD! But I guess if I suspend my belief enough to accept Osborn's haircut, I can accept anything.

I actually wish it came in a pocket digest version instead of a floppy. It'd make a great gift for several of my nieces and cousins...

When I was putting it away last night I noticed it's actually a mini (it says "1 of 6" anyway), so I assume it will be a digets-sized trade in six months.

I hope the Emma Frost's (and Namor's, for that matter) inclusion in that "villain Illuminati" was just a case of Yu not following script.

Well, they could be plants for the good guys. Or even Skrulls! I'd like to read a scene of Osborn calling up Namor and asking him to come to a meeting though. Didn't Osborn sic the Thunderbolts on him, like, two miniseries ago? I remember a cover of Venom licking Namor, at any rate...

I don't need the Wasp thing explained (Or rather, I think "Kirby-dots" counts as a good enough explanation-- see also "what does Cyclops shoot out of his eyes? Kinetic energy? What?").

Oh I woulda been fine with a bullshit comic book explanation, like that here, like, "They had turned her into some kind of a bio-weapon that was bombarding our nerve ending with Maguffian particles" or kinetic energey or whatever. It needn't have been detailed, just something to make a reader think, "Oh, that sucks for poor Thor that he had no choice but to kill Wasp" instead of, "Wow, Thor seemed really eager to kill Wasp."

I mean, Bendis was already writing a few hundred words on that page anyway, why not set the scene with some of that pitter-patter?

mordicai said...

Bendis was already writing a few hundred words on that page anyway

Oh, snap!

SallyP said...

Well, I hadn't been reading the Batman R.I.P story, but everyone else had, so I went out and bought the last two issues, and enjoyed them thoroughly.

I have to say that I've been staying as far away from Secret Invasion as is possible, although it is impossible not to know OF it, and I'm SO glad. I think that I'll continue, and stay away from Dark Reign too.