Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Weekly Haul: January 14th

Action Comics #873 (DC Comics) And thus concludes the “New Krypton” epic, with a final chapter entitled “Birth of a Nation” (oy). It’s a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion, given there’s no real resolution, simply the arrival of a new status quo, which comes pretty quickly on the heels of the new status quo established at the beginning of the story. Now instead of a city full of Superman in the Arctic Cricle, there’s a planet full of Superman in the solar system.

This chapter was written by Geoff Johns, and while it’s fairly Geoff Johns-y, I was impressed in several places with how Grant Morrison-y it felt. There’s Luthor speaking of “the men with kryptonite hearts,” and a damn clever magical tactic for removing the powers from Supermen. (My hat, if I wore one, would be off on that latter bit, Mr. Johns).

On the negative side, the superheroes filling out the squad sent to pacify the Kryptonians seemed poorly chosen (I’m not sure how Stargirl or the Hawks survived, for example, nor why The Thunderbolt couldn’t have stripped the whole population of its powers, but whatever).

And, just to let us know that this is an important story, a minor character from the ‘90s gets killed in the epilogue. Or maybe just super-lobotomized or something—he has two holes drilled into his forehead via heat-vision, which sure looks like a deathblow to me.

Amazing Spider-Man #583 (Marvel Comics) This issue of Marvel’s flagship Spider-Man comic has been getting a ton of mainstream media attention, and has reportedly generated some crazy eBay sales prices and lines out the door in some comic shops. And no wonder—it features a story about the current status of the relationship between Peter Parker and Daily Bugle staffer Betty Brant!

This is also the Obama issue, although the president-elect is relegated to a five-page back-up by Zeb Wells and Todd Nauck. Six pages if you count the cover separating the back-up from the main story, which is the same image on the Obama variant by Phil Jiminez, a crudely drawn image of Obama giving an idiot grin and vanquished political rival John McCain’s favorite hand gesture while Spider-Man takes a picture of the back of his head. Only on the inside version, there’s a red credits box in the lower right hand corner, and, in the upper left hand corner, another box saying, “Marvel Bonus Back-Up Feature!” Ha ha, the book is actually $3.99, so we’re paying an extra buck for these “bonus” six pages.

Marvel Comics is, of course, a business, and slapping Obama’s image on a variant cover and hastily assembling a five-page back-up—overnight, based on the skill evidenced in the final product—to ship the week of the inauguration was a pretty smart business move. In public relations alone, the move was well worth whatever they paid the creators for it.

But it is certainly crass, and more than a little depressing. Or, as Tom Spurgeon noted, gross. I’d encourage you to go read Spurgeon’s paragraph about the book in its full context, but he rightly noted that it would have been nicer “if a company that has concentrated on story the last decade or so to astounding benefit made a solid comic out of the event rather than a kind of cruddy-looking, cynical one.”

Having read those five pages now, “gross” seems like a pretty good way to sum the whole thing up, and I won’t argue with “kind of cruddy-looing” or “cynical” either.

So, here’s the story: Peter Parker, freelance photographer for Front Line newspaper, visits Washington DC for the inauguration, and just as Obama arrives, a second presidential limo crashes into the first, and out steps another Obama. Holy crap, two Obamas!

Wanted criminal Spider-Man swings in to the circle of blasé, unarmed secret service agents and suggests they ask the two Obamas a question only the real Barack Obama would know. As the Obamas argue, it becomes clear that one of them has never heard of the popular American sport basketball, revealing that he thinks it involves a helmet, and is played on a basketball diamond.

The imposter revealed, he transforms back into the Chameleon, and Spidey punches him out, accepts his daps from the real Obama, and then perches atop the Washington monument to complete his photo assignment.

I really like Todd Nauck’s art, but, as I mentioned before, he’s a pretty poor choice for this particular assignment, and his art has never looked worse than under colorist Frank D’Armata, who provides a slick, sick, hyper-real shading that works against Nauck’s cartoonier style.

Wells is a little more hit or miss with me, but in general I’m a fan of his work—he’s got a solid rep as a fun, funny writer, and there’s at least one genuinely clever joke here. But that’s all there really is—a clever joke, a couple of dumb jokes and the end. (I guess I don’t know the Chameleon’s secret origin—is he an alien or something? How come he’s never heard of basketball?).

As Spurgeon noted, this seems like a disappointing cash-in from a company that could do much, much better—hell, they’ve assembled some extremely creative and talented individuals who always do better than this—and give that the Marvel Universe has revolved around the policies of their version of the United States’ federal government for much of the last decade, this story seems extremely perfunctory. Obama co-narrated Secret Invasion #8, for Chrisakes…no one could think of anything better to do with him than this?

It didn’t even rate a 22-page story? I suppose there were some timing issues to be considered—Obama only won the election about two months ago—but this sure felt last-minute rather than last-month. A story about Spidey visiting Washington D.C. and foiling The Chameleon’s plot to impersonate the new president could certainly have been started before the polls closed.

As is, this story seems oddly unimportant, a weird little gimmick attached, ad-like, to the back of a normal Spider-Man comic. It’s basically just one of those old Hostess ads that used to run in comics, only five times longer and 500 times more crass and depressing.

Back to the bulk of the book, this is a little bit better than the similarly disappointing Stephen Colbert/Spider-Man crossover, which at least featured a much better cover. That creatively bankrupt, cynical, “Hey media, look at us! Look at us!” story may have featured a much better cover than this one, but it also came attached to the conclusion of a storyline, so newcomers could be extremely unlikely to know or care what was going on.

Waid and company’s story isn’t necessarily a great jumping on point, but at least it’s a stand-alone, done-in-one competently accomplished, and unlikely to confuse the hell out of new readers the way a story about Venom, Anti-Venom and the Thunderbolts fighting a bullet-ridden Spider-Man might.

Narrator Betty Brant talks about her friend Peter Parker, and how unreliable he is, because he won’t tell her or any of his friends, family or loved ones that he’s actually Spider-Man (he comes across like a bit of asshole because of his insistence of keeping this a secret, even from his aunt, actually). She takes him speed-dating, and she’s sure he’s planning a surprise birthday part for her the following night, but he’s not.

Waid writes nice Spider-Man fight chatter, and handles the soap opera elements of the plot just fine. Spidey seems like an unlikable dick, but that’s hardly Waid’s fault—it’s just where Marvel wants the character right now. Kitson and Farmer are both quite accomplished artists, and while Kitson’s style has never been one that I was overly excited about, there’s nothing technically wrong with it. It looks worse than the last time I saw it, but that has more to do with the coloring, which gives everyone the over-textured look of mannequins squashed into a 2D environment.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go take a shower, as this whole Obama/Spider-Man thing makes me feel really, really dirty.

Booster Gold #16 (DC) Because I demanded it! Time-traveling Booster Gold meets up with Hans Von Hammer, The Hammer of Hell! Well, because I demanded it, or because writer/artist Dan Jurgens also thought it would be cool to work the Enemy Ace into the series. One.

This is part two of a storyline Jurgens is calling “Reality Lost,” and there’s some connective tissue to the previous chapter—including Booster’s little sister and little robot helper looking for him, while he looks for a maguffin—but it also serves as a decent enough done-in-one introducing Booster Gold readers to Enemy Ace, whose Showcase Presents collection I highly recommend.

Jurgens does a pretty good Enemy Ace, even if he never mentions “twin spandaus” or the “skies being the killers of us all” at any point, and together with Norm Rapmund he does a fairly Joe Kubert-ian Enemy Ace. (Check out this preview at Newsarama to see what I mean). Stories like this are what I find so exciting about the premise of the new incarnation of Booster Gold; as a time-traveler, he has access to the entire history of the DC Universe, giving the creators free reign when it comes to stories, characters and settings to play with.

Captain Britain and MI13 #8 (Marvel) This ends the much-too-long story about the demon Plotka making a Mindless Ones factory that runs on the fantasies of human victims. It’s been a quite decent read, but has taken a lot longer than the premise really warranted—in the 1970s or ‘80s, this would have been a one or two-issue storyline, tops. There was no great pay-off at the end either—although Pete Wisdom’s speech about personal responsibility while slashing his way through a series of fantasies using a magic sword was kinda neat—and I would probably be thinking of dropping the title at this point, if it weren’t for the last page.

It features Marvel’s Dracula, dabbing the blood off his stupid-looking moustache while standing on the balcony of his castle on the moon, telling an underling, “get me Doctor Doom.”

So I’m fairly certain Captain Britain and MI13 #9 is going to be fairly awesome.

Final Crisis #6 (DC) The story’s not quite over yet, but I think it’s safe to declare Grant Morrison’s big, DC superhero crossover Final Crisis a complete failure.

Too strong? Let’s check out the first page here. There’s Superman in the first panel, carrying on a conversation with one of the at least three Brainiac 5’s in the 31st century. When we last saw Superman, he was traveling through alternate realities with various versions of himself in the Grant Morrison-written Superman Beyond #1. He was simultaneously in the 31st Century in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, a story whose only connection to Final Crisis prior to this panel was the fact that it had the words “Final” and “Crisis” in its title.

Superman Beyond #2, which concludes that side story, has yet to see release; Legion of Three Worlds is only about half over. This is set after those stories.

I assume your average reader will have no problem filling in the blanks here—I don’t know if anyone following these stories actually thinks that maybe Superman will die in one of those side stories, for example (And if they do, well, that’s kind of adorable, isn’t it?)—and if this were a writer who wasn’t Grant Morrison, then this might not be that big of a deal.

But this is Grant Morrison. He’s the guy who wrote DC One Million, a company-wide crossover that twisted through hundreds of centuries in time and touched every book DC was then publishing in some form or another, the storyline itself wended through many of them, important story beats happening where they were least expected, and the entire, gargantuan thing synched up just perfectly.

He’s also the guy who wrote DC’s Seven Soldiers event, which when read as intended—i.e. as it came out, I don’t think it works as well experienced in trade collections—was a story in which the events, characters, settings and props of seven individual miniseries moved sideways through one another and linked up just so without necessarily demanding you read each one in any particular chronological order. It was a crossover, but it was a very peculiar sort of crossover, a hands-off one where the characters didn’t even really know they were in a crossover, where only the writer and the reader had the full picture, looking like gods down upon a storyscape the characters couldn’t even comprehend because they were so close to it.

In other words, Grant Morrison knows what he’s doing with these sorts of stories, and he’s not doing it right this time. The trains are not running on time, connections are being missed. Is it Morrison’s fault? DC editorial? Does it matter? Not to readers. In final trade format, maybe this will matter less—will Superman Beyond be collected with Final Crisis, though?—but as experienced as an event, it’s a failure. Hell, it doesn’t even look nice; here the single artist who became two art teams has now become three art teams, all with styles that are less than compatible and aren’t deployed in any logical fashion anyway (I like all three of those team okay, mind you, but my favorite team was that of Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy, left off the cover credits, who also happen to be the fastest of the teams).

So this is the sixth chapter of the seven-part core series, the darkest-before-the-dawn chapter, and a lot of stuff is happening. There are a lot of cool Grant Morrison ideas in here, there are some fairly bad-ass moments of heroes doing cool things, but it’s all strained through the darkness of a world won by Darkseid which, in different circumstances, might seem a stark contrast to DC Comics in general, but given the dark, dreary tone of the DC Universe over the past two or three years, it just seems stale.

This chapter is exceptionally dark and violent, but DC super-comics have been exceptionally dark and violent for years now; what exactly distinguishes this from your average issue of Teen Titans or Justice League of America?

At any rate, things happen. Braniac 5 shows Superman a god macine, capable of translating thoughts into reality. Supergirl and Mary Marvel-possessed-by-an-evil-New-God fight while arguing over which of them is a slut. J.G. Jones reveals what color panties Supergirl is wearing this issue. Tawky Tawny disembowels Kalibak. Shiloh Norman is a white guy for some reason. Most Excellent Superbat reveals his super-power, and it is awesome. Montoya has bleached her hair light brown and maybe she’s white now too. The Atoms have a cool escape plan. Sivana and Luthor start kicking ass. The Flashes prepare to outrace death itself for, like, the fifteenth time since I started reading comics. Superman goes ape-shit with the heat-vision. And, in biggest event of the book, we see the promised “final fate of Batman,” the true ending of “Batman R.I.P.” and, well, it’s a whole bunch of who cares.


So Batman makes his way into Darkseid-in-Turpin’s-body’s throne room. He shoots him with the god-killing bullet that had previously killed Orion, and then gets struck by Darkseid’s omega effect in a two-panel spread (this scene is fairly reminiscent of Morrison’s own “Rock Of Ages” arc in JLA, as elements of Darkseid’s take over of Earth have been; in that story, a future Batman obliterates Darkseid’s moonbase slave factory in front of the evil god, and gets omega beam-ed).

When next we see Batman, he looks skeletal and mummified, and Superman is cradling his body.

Oh my God, is Batman dead?! Well, no. DC will do some crazy shit, but they’re not going to kill Batman off, and there’s very little suspense here, given the circumstance of his eath.

For one, Darkseid’s eye beams have various effects, depending on his whim (and that of the writer). They can kill, they can erase someone from existence, they can resurrect the dead, they can teleport, they can transform a person. So Batman’s not necessarily dead just because he got eye-beamed.

The last time a New God got shot with that very same bullet, we were told it warped time, space and, thus, DC continuity. The last time Darkseid died the same thing happened. So if Batman was dead for a panel or two, he may not even be dead anymore.

And then the sky here is red and full of Earths, as it was before the last continuity reboot in Infinite Crisis; clearly another continuity reboot is on its way, as all those alternate Earths aren’t going to stay in the red sky of the DCU indefinitely. So, well, you get the idea.

So that’s Final Crisis by its penultimate issue: Off the rails schedule and thus plot-wise, full of great work from three different art teams that nevertheless don’t compliment one another, and distinctly lacking in any sort of suspense or much in the way of new ideas. Again, if this was anyone but Morrison, it might not seem so disappointing, but with over 180 pages finished, the most exciting new ideas he’s offered have been the idea of the New Gods as Catholic conceptions of demons possessing people, and the Japanese cosplay version of the Justice League.

Super Friends #11 (DC) I don’t much care for this title, as it’s really and truly a kids comic, rather than an all-ages comics (that is, it’s created specifically for little kids at the exclusion of those who aren’t little kids). That’s not a complaint, mind you, there are certainly more than enough comics written for thirtysomethings, but compared to other Johnny DC titles and the Marvel Adventures line, this one kind of stands out as young-ages instead of all-ages.

This is, in fact, only my second issue of the series, and I blame that entirely on J. Bone, who has produced this fantastic cover of the Super Friends all wearing Batman-ified versions of their costumes. The final cover includes the text, “Who is the myster Bat-Squad!? You won’t believe the answer!” I assume that it’s the other Super Friends, and, guess what, it is! I do believe the answer! You were totally wrong about me, cover blurb-writer!

Also of interest, this is illustrated by Chynna Clugston of Blue Monday, Scooter Girl and Queen Bee. This isn’t her first work for Johnny DC books—I recall her drawing a Mad Mod issue of Teen Titans Go! and at least one issue of the Legion book—but it is certainly the most depressing one.

Clugston is an incredible talent—both as an artist and a writer—and it just bums me the hell out that her talent is being squandered drawing in the style of the Mattel toy line this books based on (a design style that, by the way, I loathe). There are only a few panels in which Clugston’s own art style manages to poke through, mostly in the characters’ eyes and expressions. This is the only character that even looks all that much like she emerged from the end of Clugston’s pencil:
You know what might be a better use of Clugston’s talents at DC? Having her pencil anything. Oh man, could you imagine a Clugston written and drawn Teen Titans series? Even—or perhaps especially—a stand alone, “Sure Chynna, do whatever the hell you want with ‘em,” miniseries?

As for this comic, written by Sholly Fisch, The Super Friends are in the midst of running down the Royal Flush Gang when Bat-Mite shows up, and prevents them from doing so, so that Batman can do it himself.

They argue that it would be harder for Batman to do so by himself, since he lacks their powers, so Bat-Mite takes away all their powers and gives them to Batman. Then Mr. Mxyzptlk shows up, and completely breaks my comic—some pages are apparently missing, and others are printed twice.

The story’s simple enough to follow even with the printing errors though—Mxy causes problems, and at some point Bat-Mite gives the heroes more Batman-like looks, although not the costumes Bone gave ‘em on the cover. Instead, they mostly just get pointy bat-earys, capes and wrist scallops on their old costumes (Aquaman, for example, looks like he’s moussed his hair into bat-ears and tied a blue towl around his neck.

Bat-Mite defeats Mxyzptlk in the usual manner, and then a bunch of other imps show up, leading to a rather inspired conclusion.

I recognized Quisp and Wonder Woman’s leprechaun friend there, but I have no idea who that Flash imp is—the tall one with the glasses and the lightning bolt on his chest.
Anyone out there on the other side of my computer screen know?

There are also some dancing puppets, which Aquaman demonstrates. Step four is “Now Bat-Mite and Mister Mxyzptlk are ready to make mischief—or just do a dance!

Once completed, they look like this:
I have no idea how Aquaman fit them on over his big, heroic fingers. I had to widen the holes significantly, and I could still barely get them on farther than my knuckles. And I have dainty little blogger hands.

Trinity #33 (DC) This week, twenty-two pages of treading water. Back-up pencil art by Scott McDaniel.


Dean said...

I guess I don’t know the Chameleon’s secret origin—is he an alien or something? How come he’s never heard of basketball?

Chameleon is a Russian, so of course he's never heard of basketball. *facepalm*

John Cochrane said...

Well, Final Crisis 6 has a cool Batman cover.

I guess.

Bill said...

The Flash's imp is Mopee, some kind of minor angel who magically steered the famous lightning bolt into those chemicals in Barry Allen's lab. His story is told in an hilarious page in the original Ambush Bug miniseries.

Hdefined said...

You know what would be cooler than Spider-man meeting Obama?

If Spider-man had an ongoing series worth reading.

googum said...

Shoot, my store sold out of Super Friends, although that cover's the big selling point.

Anyway, if Batman's gonna make a "once in a lifetime" exception, I was hoping he'd use a normal gun. He doesn't have to use the gun that killed his parents or anything, but maybe a nice revolver?

SallyP said...

Oh heck, I liked Final Crises. Mary is Mary again, although understandably distraught, and Talky Tawny bites Kalibak. Oh, and some other stuff happens.

Sleemo said...

is that a moebius cover for Action Comics?

Matt Duarte said...

Great reviews of ASM and Final Crisis. Exactly what I thought about both issues.

Tucker Stone said...

are you serious about that action comics story? they called it Birth of a Nation?

Bella's owner said...

Chameleon is a Russian

Thanks. That makes a little more sense then. Maybe he shoulda been a Skrull, then his ignorance might have been funnier.

The Flash's imp is Mopee, some kind of minor angel who magically steered the famous lightning bolt into those chemicals in Barry Allen's lab. His story is told in an hilarious page in the original Ambush Bug miniseries.

Cool, thanks! I've read that mini, but have next to no memory of it. That's another reason to look forward to the Showcase collection of Ambush Bug then...

is that a moebius cover for Action Comics?

No, but that would be cool. It's Ladronn, who also did some All-New Atom and OMAC covers over the past few years, and probably some others I don't remember. If you click on the image, the signature is kinda sorta visible to the left of Lex's figure.

are you serious about that action comics story? they called it Birth of a Nation?


I thought Johns started out in film too, so I would assume he's familiar with the connotations of the phrase, which makes it even more tone deaf used here.

JohnF said...

I thought Johns started out in film too, so I would assume he's familiar with the connotations of the phrase, which makes it even more tone deaf used here.

Well, it is a story about hubris and racial purity, so I guess it makes sense in that context.
Not saying that I would have gone with that reference, to be sure.

Filipe Freitas said...

Uh-oh. Black kryptonians are going to get sent to an island on New Krypton too, aren't they?

Tucker Stone said...

Huh. Maybe he'll do a Green Lantern story called "Triumph of the Will" next.