Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Weekly Haul: January 21st

Black Lightning #2 (DC Comics) Two weeks ago, I wrote at (probably far too great) length about some of the problems inherent in the character of 1977 creation Black Lightning in 2009, and the ways in which writer Jen Van Meter was approaching addressing these and smoothing over some of the problematic retcons Geoff Johns and Judd Winick introduced. After the first issue, a few points weren’t quite clear—Did Van Meter give Black Lightning inherent, biological electrical powers instead of man-made one? Will he still wear an afro wig?—but they’re made clear here.

B.L. still gets a belt from his dad’s tailor friend which regulates his lightning powers, allowing him to use it as a weapon (prior to his series, his lighting powers were latent, and that’s still pretty much the case), and his new costume reflects his late-‘70s version, only is less dated looking (His shirt is still open to the navel, but there’s another shirt underneath it, showing less skin; he still wears a wig, but now its one of short dreads instead of a blow out afro).

Van Meter switches narration tactics with this issue, which is cool with serial comics, but might be less than ideal in the eventual trade (nice to see a comics writer writing for the comics, rather than the trade, of course).

Clark Kent comes to principal Jefferson Pierce’s school to interview him (and feel him out to see if he’s the unnamed vigilante), and, by issue’s end, Pierce gets his codename and costume and The 100 get more and more frustrated with him (in both his identities).

Even with another DC character coming into the story this issue, I remain really impressed with how accessible Van Meter’s script is; you could pick up the first two issues of Black Lightning and read a very solid superhero adventure/melodrama comic without having to jump over any of the too-standard shared universe hurdles.

For any I-wish-there-were-more-women-in-superhero-comics fangirls in the audience, I should point out that the Black Lightning credits are kinda like Hole—it would be an all-girl band, were it not for that one guy in a rather central role. Subtract creators Anthony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden, and you’ve got male artist Cully Hamner, but otherwise, we’ve got female writer Van Meter, colorist Laura Martin, and editors Rachel Gluckstern and Joan Hilty. Ah dammit, I forgot letterer Sal Cipriano—that blows my Hole analogy. At any rate, as women in (DC and Marvel) comics is an ongoing discussion, and there was recently a deeply stupid discussion kicked off by You Know Who writing something typically silly, it’s still worth pointing out that hey, there sure are a lot of people who aren’t men working on this particular DC Comic.

Cowa! (Viz Media) Lollygagging list-maker Matthew J. Brady posted his “Best Of 2008” list yesterday, and on it was this Akira Toriyama manga about a half-vampire half-werekoala and his best friend, a ghost named Jose, struggling to save the adults of their town from Monster Flu. Since it was a light week for new superhero comics that don’t look too bad, I picked this up too. I haven’t read it yet, as I wanted to crank out these reviews as soon as possible to maintain EDILW’s rep as the place for the most hastily-written, overly-verbose reviews of new super-comics each week, but I’m assuming it’s good because a) It’s Akira Toriyama and b) Matt Brady said it was. And if it’s not, I’m sure he will be happy to refund my $7.99. You should all totally go buy it too. It’s over 200 pages of humor manga from the creator of Dragon Ball, Sand Land and Dr. Slump, and it’s only $7.99. And if you don’t like it, you can always demand Brady give you $7.99 too.

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2 (DC) I remember where I was when I first learned the meaning of the word “controversial.” I was out to eat at a restaurant with my family, and the menu included an item called “Controversial Spaghetti,” noting that some people love their sauce and some people hated it. (Come to think of it, that menu didn’t really do a great job of selling their spaghetti). I was pretty young at the time—old enough to be able to read a menu, but apparently too young to have learned “controversial” as a spelling word yet—and as I grew up and encountered more four-syllable words more often, I realized the word didn’t exactly mean something someone either/loves or hates, but that menu’s definition of the word seems to describe DC’s Final Crisis pretty well, doesn’t it?

While I don’t exactly hate the series, I think I’m far closer to hate end of the spectrum than the love end, in large part because of the disappointment factor involved. Grant Morrison used to push the world to edge of apocalypse on a near monthly basis over a decade ago when he was writing JLA (often with some New Gods involved), as I noted last week he wrote one of the most complicated inter-book crossover stories ever in Seven Soldiers a few years back and, hell, he just completed All-Star Superman, probably one of the best superhero comics of all time.

Final Crisis just seems terribly…small in comparison. (I think Tucker Stone’s review of the last issue made the case pretty persuasively that this isn’t all it could be, particularly when he mentioned “it shouldn't have featured a couple hundred of characters, it should have had every possible thing DC had the license for.” Think about the “World War III” story arc from JLA, where the shit was so serious that you had Elongated Man teaming up with Arsenal over here, you had the armies of Atlantis and Heaven on the march, and, ultimately, you had every single person on earth get superheroes to fly into space and kick the Anti-Sun’s ass; in Final Crisis, you have some Justice Leaguers and Justice Society members fighting Stormtroopers while Barry Allen, Renee Montoya and Mr. Tawny get all the panel time. There hasn’t been a single splash page where you saw a shit-ton of superheroes standing around and though, “Damn, this is serious!” In that respect, it reads more like, Genesis, Legends or DC One Million than a continuation of a real Crisis-with-a-capital-“C” like the one that was On Infinite Earths or even the one that was just plain Infinite).

The argument can, has and will continue to be made that Grant Morrison is writing it this way on purpose, but I’m not entirely sure I’m convinced he is. Or, if he is doing so, that maybe he shouldn’t be, because it seems pretty ineffective. As far as the first six issues go, it seems like it’s merely been an illustrated pitch for a miniseries more than an actual miniseries.

Something that really underscores that smallness and lack of scale or import is this particular comic, paragraphs later, I’m finally getting to—Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2. Here’s the Grant Morrison of JLA and All-Star Superman, of 52 and Animal Man. Here are the huge stakes—talk of universes, dimensions, realities, ideas, concepts, stories, gods and God—and increasingly impossible odds being met with even more impossible feats. Here are bright, clean, detailed comic book drawings that look like drawings for a(n excellent) comic book. Here are characters big (Superman, Captain Marvel) and small (everyone else in the book) uniting against annihilating forces so big that the reader will have to give pause to attempt to conceive of. Here is Morrison taking the many randomly generated story threads from dozens of creators spanning decades and synthesizing them into something that seems plausibly unified, even realistic.

In short, here’s a comic that feels like Grant Morrison’s version of a DC Crisis story, not all those other less than impressive Final Crisis stories, many of which Morrison himself wrote.

So, Ultraman, the evil Superman, discovers a new god, the evil monitor Mandrakk, while forces from The Void attack Limbo, a place of lost memory populated only buy un-used and half-forgotten fictional characters, their beachhead in an assault on reality itself. Billy Batson and Ubermensch discuss DC Multiversal cosmology. Captain Adam demonstrates “quantum super-positon as used defensively” to defend reality, reaches a new understanding of reality, and finds that dualities don’t exist, but symmetries do. He then fuses Ultraman and Superman into one to “broadcast his pure essence to a reciever in a higher dimension." That receiver is “a thought-robot,” a gigantic, metallic, god-like Superman in the world of the Monitors, some sort of archetypal, Platonic ideal-scale rendered in 3D, where the primal force represented by Mandrakk, a parasite that feeds on reality, rises to face Superman, who realizes he’s inside a “self-assembling hyper story” that’s trying to destroy him!

All on its own, it’s among some of Morrison’s best Superman work (and oh how I wish that the art team of Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy and Tom Nguyen were drawing the rest of Final Crisis, not just drawing what the team called in to draw what the original artist couldn’t draw fast enough couldn’t draw enough), and a hell of a final crisis—as in ultimate crisis—story. (The only weakness was remembering who the hell all these monitor characters are, and what, exactly, they have to do with Final Crisis, where they haven’t really appeared since the first issue.)

But taken as part of the series it allegedly spins out-of? This seems like the good part of something not very good; great wine in too big a quantity being poured into a too small wineskin that will make the wine taste foul anyway. (I know I suck at metaphors shut up I’m not pausing long enough to think of the best way to write this because no one’s paying me to do so so just deal with the occasionally poorly expressed metaphor okay an also run-on sentences like this too sometimes)

One of the (many) things I complained about after reading last week’s Final Crisis #6 was that the whole crossover’s timeline was broken and thus the story-trains were missing their connection. This issue takes place, chronologically, before all five issues of Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds and before last week’s Final Crisis #6; it should probably have come out a long time ago or, at least the same day as FC #6.

I know some folks say this stuff doesn’t really matter, that readers can reorder the stories in their heads and that it’s unfair to blame creators like Grant Morrison for something like artists blowing deadlines or editorial failing to make the right books come out at the right time, and while I can certainly see and sympathize with that point of view, I also think the failure to keep a serial comics story from being released in the right order is something that could—and should be criticized.

For example, if this were a film and the film editor mixes up scenes, it might not be the director or star’s fault, but the film would still be unprofessionally sucky, because keeping the scenes in order is a pretty basic part of making a film. Of course, film isn’t serial, so maybe that’s not the strongest comparison, nor would a novel misprinted with the chapters out of order be any better. I suppose you could compare it to a TV show, where the eleventh and twelfth episodes aren’t quite right, so thy show the season finale first…? And maybe one of the stars is tired, so the understudy plays the role?

Shit, that metaphor’s weak too. Whatever. The point is this—Superman beyond was an incredible story, a deft exploration of the themes that Morrison has devoted so much of his career to and simultaneously an ideal superhero comic where the hero triumphs by doing the impossible, and it makes Final Crisis proper seem small, sad and incredibly disappointing in comparison.

And Doug Mahnke rules. Can’t he draw Batman or Justice League again? Please…?

And even having read this, Superman’s appearances in Final Crisis #6 still don’t really make any sense, and just seem like random scenes. What was Lois doing out of the hospital so quick? When did Superman get sent to the future? What was he flying around for like that at the end? Where’d he get Batman’s corpse?

Green Lantern #37 (DC) Aw yeah, it’s a double-branded issue! There’s a “Rage of the Red Lanterns” banner across the top, and a “Faces of Evil” logo along the bottom, and its got the basic “FOE” design of a single villain on a black field, with their name stamped over the dimmed logo.

In this case it’s “Laira” which is stamped over the Green Lantern logo, which seems like an odd choice to me. I’ve been reading GL it realaunched, and I had no idea that purple lady’s name was Laira. I’m sure the more ardent GL fans know who she is and all, but I can’t imagine more casual readers looking at the “FOE” initiative as a good jumping-on point for DC comics will be, like, “Awesome! It’s Whosit, the purple lady with the projectile blood vomit!”

So I’m not really sure why they didn’t just put Sinestro, who’s prominently featured in this issue on the cover, or at least just called Laira “Red Lantern” on the cover.

At any rate, I kind of love this comics cover, because it’s such a great encapsulation of “superhero decadence.” Gore? Check. Boobs? Check. And, get this, the gore is being vomited! It’s like a triple word score, if hilarious decadently superhero covers are like Scrabble.

That might sound pretty negative, but, as I explained at length when I reviewed the previous issue, I really kind of love Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern at the moment. It’s like, so stupid that it cycles halfway around the quality wheel into awesome territory, keeps going back into stupid territory, and then edges back into the borders of awesome. It’s so aswesomely stupid that it’s stupidly awesome.

Does that make sense? In summary, Geoff Johns is magical, because if I read this comic with, like, my left eye closed, it’s just plain retarded, but if I read it with my right eye closed, it’s a fantastic superhero adventure. (Man, I can’t even come up with a decent metaphor for this book it’s so… so… whatever it is!)

So, synopsis time:

Green Lantern Hal Jordan is flying around with the two Blue Lanterns, one of whom is freaking Ganesh, and they make clear that they are totally religious figures, explaining that GLs are the cops of the universe, but BLs are the saints of the universe.

On Planet Gore, Hal finds his former friend and mentor Sinestro crucified on the Red Lantern symbol, and is then ambushed by the blood-puking Red Lantern Corps, who were lying in wait in a pool of blood! And then they are ambushed by the yellow Sinestro Corps! And then the space saints show up, and they part a red sea which is literally a red sea because all the water on this planet is actually blood! And then Hal puts Sinestro in an electric chair made out of his own will power and is about to throw the switch when the big Geoff Johns Oh no he di’n’t!! cliffhanger occurs!

Oh my God, I’m hyperventilating just typing this paragraph! This story arc concludes next issue, and I have no idea what’s going to happen. Besides the fact that it will probably be both awesome and stupid.

Marvel Adventures Avengers #32 (Marvel Comics) The Avengers get paid, but do they pay income taxes on their wages? Some do, but some don’t, as to do so would compromise their secret identities. So when the IRS comes calling, they work out a compromise—If Iron Man, Spidey, The Hulk, Giant Girl and Luke Cage will help them round-up a variety of supervillainous deadbeats and tax refusers, they’ll let it slide. The plot comes from the fevered and funny imagination of Mr. Paul Tobin, who constructs a story that reads remarkably like one of the earlier issues of Dan Slott’s She-Hulk, when the title was basically Anny McBeal for Marvel superheroes, wringing humor out of juxtaposing real-world legal issues with the fantasy world of Marvel Universe. Whirlwind, Man-Bull, Bullseye, Absorbing Man and even Oog are all holding out on Uncle Sam, and its up to our heroes to either talk them into compliance or beat them into submission. There are a lot of great gags in here, but some of the most affecting are the little visual ones made by artists Matteo Lolli, like the site of The Hulk using some kind of Blackberry/iPhone type device.

Mysterius The Unfathomable #1 (WildStorm/DC) The WildStorm brand remains something of a mess these days, as this issue well attests. This is the first issue of a miniseries about a professional magician written by Jeff Parker (Interman, most of the best Marvel comics of the past three years) and illustrated by Tom Fowler (most recently, Green Arrow and Caper). Why’s it at WildStorm, instead of DC Comics or Vertigo? I dunno. I don’t even know what “WildStorm” means, exactly, aside from books-that-aren’t-DC-or-Vertigo. For example, of the 15 books on the back page under “In Stores January,” five are WildStorm Universe titles, five are based on video games, two are based on TV shows (one current, one long since canceled), one is a prequel to an upcoming movie, one is “created by” a movie producer but written and drawn by other people, and one is an alternate history story about World War II.

Not that that has much of anything to do with the work under the cover; just an observation about what will likely be an uphill battle for the book, and everything on the identity-less imprint.

As for the story, it is (perhaps unsurprisingly, given Parker’s recent output), pretty great. It’s narrated by Delfi, a woman currently working as Mysterius’ assistant and screening those who seek to enlist his magical aid. In a flashback that dominates the issue, we learn how she first met Mysterius. As a reporter, she covered a séance he conducted by a rich playboy type seeking to contact his dead mother. Thanks to a professional skeptic, something goes terribly wrong, but Mysterius discovers the young reporter saw what only he himself saw there.

He’s a very colorful character, something between a Zatara and John Constantine type, but neither as heroic as the former or as cool and contrarian as the latter. Sporting a pot belly and big, bulbous read W.C. Fields-ian nose, and sometimes needing to try a couple of times before successfully doing something awe-inspiringly magical, he’s the read deal, but maybe a little more realistic than he himself would like.

Fowler’s art is looser than his recent superhero work, and it will come as no surprise that he drew for Mad magazine, given the occasionally exploded features of his character work.

As a first issue goes, this one’s pretty much perfect. It’s a complete story introducing the characters and premise, plus enough extra leftover plot to lure one into a second issue if they liked this. I did, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

If you weren’t already planning on doing so and your stack of singles seems a little light this week, check this out.

Tiny Titans #12 (DC) If you buy but one superhero comic this week, you will likely have a lot more cash in your wallet than I do in mine. But what one superhero comics is the one you should buy? I don’t know guys, there was honestly a lot of good stuff this week, but this might have been the best (And it’s between 49-cents and $2 cheaper than the other good comics I read this week!)

This is the “Faces of Mischief!” issue of Tiny Titans, spotlighting Sidekick Elementary principal Slade Wilson and substitute teacher Trigon. They play hooky for the day, taking their kids Raven, Ravager and Jericho out to a ball game and other fun activities. Slade leaves lunch lady Darkseid in charge as acting principal:

(Please note that while hairnets are almost always funny, they’re even more so when worn by a completely hairless, humanoid rock creature)

Cute little Parademons appear around him, the skies turn red and he makes his students take finals (“This is such a crisis!” “That’s right! A Finals crisis!”). Baltazar sure has a way with supervillains. In addition to debuting his Darkseid in this issue, we also see Robin caught in a battle over whether he needs a hall pass or not, waged by The Monitor and the Anti-Monitor, and, in the opening gag splash, we get to see Baltazar’s version of The Penguin, which is essentially a canelli bean with a monocle and top hat:

If Baltazar and Franco have the time and inclination, they should really do a villain gag book at some point.

Trinity #34 (DC) After a couple of particularly slow issues, this one seems about evenly split between the excrutiating Cantebury Tales-on-Egg World plot involving Alfred, Lois and their gang, and the superhero war between The Justice Arcana and the Dark Arcana. I like superhero wars. This week’s back half is by Tom Derenick and Wayne Faucher. Only one of the eight characters on the cover by Shane Davis appears in this issue (Hint: It’s the stretchiest one).


Dean said...

Re Tiny Titans: dogg, you had me at "lunch lady Darkseid".

Baal said...

When you write a sentence like 'blows my Hole analogy' maybe you should have made sure the last word wasn't on another line. It caught my eye as 'blows my Hole' and if I'd been drinking anything there would have been a spit take for sure!

Unknown said...

"five are based on videogames... and one is an alternate history story about World War II."

You know what's funny? One of the books based on a videogame is ALSO an alternate history in/just post World War II era. (Resistance)

SallyP said...

Geez, I have to start picking up Tiny Titans.

I have no expectations regarding Black Lightning, since I don't know much about him or his history, so I'm enjoying this new mini enormously. Well-written AND well-drawn.

Final Crises, with Superman both enthralled and enraged me, as I had to go and dig up the earlier issue, since I had forgotten who half of the characters were in the meantime. But gosh, the art was gorgeous.

Someday, I WILL convert you to Green Lantern worship!! Ivan Reis just draws so very very purty, and even knowing about the war of Light, Geoff Johns STILL manages to surprise me!

Trinity does seem to be in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment, but I'm still liking it.

nick bradshaw said...

Tiny titans rule! that book knocks me on my ass with every issue so far.
i'm with Sally, Geoff knocks it out of the park every issue he even sneezes on. ( course he is lucky to have worked with people like Reis and Van Sciever)

Unknown said...

Oh, you son of a gun, I better not get beseiged with requests for refunds. I don't think I will though; Cowa! is awesome.

Caleb said...

since I had forgotten who half of the characters were in the meantime. But gosh, the art was gorgeous.

Yeah, I had no memory of who any of the Monitors were, and what their relationship to one another was.

and even knowing about the war of Light, Geoff Johns STILL manages to surprise me!

Yeah, as hyped and talked-about as this storyline is, as much as Johns was foreshadowing it, I was still totally shocked by that last page! I did not see that coming at all.

I better not get beseiged with requests for refunds. I don't think I will though; Cowa! is awesome.

Yeah, it was great. I wasn't sure if I should update this post, review it at some point in the future, or what, but it was a ton of fun, and I liked Toriyama's art there better than in Sand Land and Dragon Ball, I don't know if it was because it was meant for younger readers, or he just used more simplified designs but...yes. It is very good.

E. Peterman said...

"There hasn’t been a single splash page where you saw a shit-ton of superheroes standing around and though, “Damn, this is serious!” "

I think you have summed up the main problem with this series. It just doesn't FEEL like the world is ending or that everything is really at stake.