Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Weekly Haul: January 28th

Avengers: The Initiative #21 (Marvel Comics) Marvel dusts off the “Avengers Disassembled” logo for this arc of the The Initiative, in which writer Christos N. Gage carries on without former co-writer Dan Slott, and Humberto Ramos takes over on art chores. Frankly, it’s not a pretty sight. In general, I rather dig Ramos’ art, but it seems tonally inappropriate for the darker, more violent action-oriented story being told here. His women and young heroes are decent looking, but the big muscle-y sorts like Clor and Gauntlet look comically pin-headed, and comedy’s not really what Gage seems to be going for in this story, which is basically a big fight scene leading to a cliffhanger ending consisting of a new group of people showing up to join the fight.

One thing this issue really has going for it, something the title always has going for it, is that the cast is nothing but minor footnote type Marvel characters and new creations. In other words, it’s all cannon fodder, so when the cyborg clone thing that killed Goliath goes on a rampage, there’s some real suspense that literally anyone can get killed (and, if and when they do, probably won’t be back in a few months or years’ time).

Decent enough for what it is, I suppose.

I do have a question though. In Civil War, Clor spoke in Thor font, but he spoke plain, modern, Mark Millar tough guy English rather than Stan Lee Elizabethean English. Here he’s making with the thy’s and have at thee’s. What’s up with that?

Batman: The Brave and The Bold #1 (DC Comics) Thanks to Patrick and Anthony pointing out in the comments section of a recent post that Cartoon Network keeps a couple episodes online, I caught two more episodes of the cartoon this new series is based on, and, oh man! In the first one, Batman and Blue Beetle Ted Kord teamed-up in the past, while Batman and Blue Beetle Jaime Reyes teamed-up in the present, and battled against all these cool, cute beetle-shaped robots. In the second one, Batman’s astral projection teamed-up with Deadman and Golden Age Green Arrow and Speedy to first rescue Batman's dying body, and then defeat The Gentleman Ghost and his army of cute little ghosts and skeletons. Also, fucking Kamandi was in that one.

I’ve liked all of the Batman cartoons they’ve made over the last almost twenty years now (although the first season of The Batman was a little rough), but this thing is just so pure, unfiltered joy. I love the bright colors, I love the big, chunky, Kirby-esque but not too Kirby-esque designs, I love the focus on the Bat-gadgets, I love the Batman out-of-Gotham and away from his own villains and supporting cast premise, I love the focus on characters that haven’t already been done in previous DC cartoons, and I love the Haney-esque Batman who can crack a joke but still be a total bad-ass.

So, here’s the comic form, written by Matt Wayne, who writes for the show, and drawn by Andy Suriano, inked by Dan Davis and featuring a cover by producer James Tucker that fills me with joy, even if it obscures who Batman is teaming up with inside.

Wayne follows the brief team-up adventure at the beginning before the main event format of the show, with a two-page team-up with Aquaman (who seems more Marvel’s Hercules than Namor in his portrayal) before he’s summoned to London to fight a rather jowly Lex Luthor’s Composite Creature alongside Karen Starr, Power Girl.

I’m fairly used to done-in-one all-ages comics, thanks to past Johnny DC books and the Marvel Adventures line, but man, this thing just flew by. Not that it was a too-fast read or anything, just that it was super-fast paced. There’s a panel or two of talking, but the heroes and villains are in almost constant action—I can’t remember the last time an American comic book grabbed my eyeballs and dragged them through a story like this. I was excited to the point of breathless exhilaration bordering anxiety by the time I finished the book.

Seriously, this think is a Saturday morning sugary cereal rush on paper.

Like all of the prior based-on-a-cartoon books DC has put out, this one features art that takes its design cues from the cartoon, and while that kind of thing can grow quite tiresome, depending on how many issues you read of it and how good the artist (DC has published hundreds of comics from dozens of artists doing varying degrees of Bruce Timm imitations with varying degrees of success, for example).

I really liked this, though. As I’ve said, I dig the shows designs—well, I’m not 100-percent sold on the tininess of Batman’s nose just yet—and I like the way Tucker’s cover shows a bit of H.G. Peter in Wonder Woman, a bit of Kirby in OMAC, a lot of in Bat-Mite, and a dab of Aparo in The Outsiders.

The simplicity of the design isn’t always apparent while you’re watching the cartoon, since the characters move and talk and, through the magic of animation, eventually trick your mind and eye into perceiving them as real, but in the static, 2D comic—even one as dynamic and fast-paced as this—it’s harder, if not impossible, to ever fall for that sort of illusion, due in large part to how much more engaged you have to be when reading than watching.

So here the simplicity is quite apparent, and the fact that the characters are collections of a few sharp lines is impressive. This is just the comics art nerd in me, but man, I love being able to look at Batman and Power Girl in action and see the lines Suriano made them out of.

Batman: Gotham After Midnight #9 (DC) More Kelley Jones insanity, hung atop a so-so script by Steve Niles that, with the holiday-themed murders of this issue, have begun to feel like warmed over Jeph Loeb Dark Knight scripts. The story’s not the draw here though, and it never has been—I just like the crazy contraptions and settings Jones comes up with, the way Batman’s body morphs wildly from panel to panel, the way his ears push back like a dog’s when he’s feeling certain emotions, and some of his art effects, like, for example, the rays of moonlight emanating from the full moon on the cover of this issue.

Final Crisis #7 (DC) Man, this fucking book. I eagerly anticipated it, I eagerly read it and enjoyed what made sense in it, but I’m kinda dreading reviewing it here. The thought of doing so is just making me… tired.

Sigh. Deep breath. Okay, Caleb, you can do this… Ready? Ready. (Fair warning though, this is going to probably be a lot more rambling than usual).

This is the seventh and final issue of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, a rather strange event comic sunk by its extremely troubled execution, from marketing to conception, from the publication schedule to the flailing attempts to find an artist or ten capable of drawing the damn thing.

Now that it’s completely complete, it seems the actual story began and ended in the two-part Final Crisis: Superman Beyond tie-in series also by Morrison, and that the events in Final Crisis proper were just details of a sort. That is, the tie-in was the main story, and the main story was merely a tie-in. Final Crisis is just what Darkseid was up to while Superman was revealing his true essence to his readers in the most literal, straightforward way he’s ever revealed himself.

So, the world is ending as it is in most of Grant Morrison’s superhero comics. The Captain Marvel of Earth-5 scours the Multiverse to assemble a small army of alternate-earth Supermen. Superman faces Darkseid, who, with the help of two of the three Flashes, is in the process of inadvertently committing suicide. Sometime in the future, or at the same time, or in the past, or somewhere, Superman, Wonder Woman, Supergirl and the heroes and villains have some big crazy plan to rebuild the wish-granting machine we saw in the last issue, which is the story of Final Crisis. Mandrakk, the ultimate evil antagonist from Superman Beyond faces off against Superman and some rather surprising allies—the GLC, fifty Supermen, the angels of the Pax Dei, and some really surprising ones which you would have needed to read an extremely unlikely Countdown tie-in to know what the hell was up with—and they win.

The results? Eh, who knows. The denouement frames the “final crisis” of Final Crisis as the relationship between two of the Monitor characters and the role of the Monitors in the Multiverse, characters who, for the most part, have been absent from the series, given no more character than any of the superheroes that have filled up the series. Morrison’s take on DC’s superheroes has always been somewhat remote, but when it’s someone like Superman or Batman or even Green Arrow and Black Canary, it’s not exactly a bad thing, as readers know those characters from years of reading about them. But the trick doesn’t work with Nix Uotan or Goble Degook or whoever.

One of the great strengths of Morrison’s superhero work has been how much he implies, for all the amazing events depicted, there are always a half-dozen more being talked about in hurried, melodramatic dialogue, which serves to invite the reader into the creative process. It’s up to you and your imagination to fill in the blanks with undefined events that will be more personally satisfying to you because they're yours, even if you’re not sure what they are, than anything Morrison could put on paper.

Here, he’s taken that technique as far as it can go without sacrificing coherence, and kept pushing it.

Large portions of the issue are just random scenes of things happening on random fronts, all more suggested than explained. There’s nothing wrong with a challenging narrative—hell, it’s welcome—but parts of the book read like a movie trailer looks, only the part of the movie trailer where they flash the title and tell you when the movie comes out? There’s nothing like that.

A large part of this problem is that the story is apparently taking place on many different unidentified Earths, I suppose, so time and place are a bit more challenging to make sense out of than most comics...and the amount of time it took to release seven-to-ten important issues didn't help any (I can't remember who the old cave guy that old man Anthro or old man Kamandi or neither....?)

But, um, I still have some questions. What exactly happened with The Atoms’ bridge to another universe? It's clear that their plan went wrong, but did people get there, did they not, were they all lost? Is the female Question riding shotgun with Earth-5 Captain Marvel Renee Montoya in a new costume, or an alternate Earth Question? What the hell is this business about a disease weapon that strips all superheroes of their powers, that only the dead Frankenstein was immune to, since no one actually lost their powers anyway? If Darkseid was hidden in a personal singularity last issue, how did Superman, Lex, the army of supervillains and all those random crowd people get to him? How did Lois Lane know Batman died, if he died alone in the singularity? Are the Hawks dead now? Is Spectre III? Who the hell was on top of Spectre III? Why does hitting a single one of Darkseid’s billions of bodies with a god bullet kill him, when he’s occupying like 99% of all bodies on Earth? How do the two (or three?) narrative threads—the fights against Darkseid and Mandrakk and the building of the dream machine and telling the stories of those battles—match up exactly?

I suppose I’ll read the various online annotations of this issue, and probably check out Grant Morrison's interview on Newsarama, where attempts will be made to answer all these questions, but well, if I have to go online and have the writer and/or third parties tell me about the comic I just read to get it, then, well, it’s just not a very good comic.

There are still some awesome ideas in the book certainly—it is Morrison, after all—but I’m overall rather unimpressed with Final Crisis. How much of significance has changed since it began? How much is even new?

The Multiverse is apparently exactly as it was at the beginning. The New Gods, randomly subtracted from the fabric of the DC Universe, and then half re-introduced as spiritual entities, the evil versions possessing bodies like Catholic demons, and now are apparently re-booted by the end in their more or less original forms. There’s talk of the dawning of the Fifth World, of humanity as superheroes, but Morrison was talking about that very thing a decade ago in JLA, and in that story he even gave every single human being on earth superpowers, to make that possibility a (temporary) reality.

Perhaps read start to finish, the book will reveal greater depth, but, reading it as it was released, all I saw was Morrison telling one more JLA arc, with Monitors and the Mutiverse thrown into the mix this time, and offering one more exploration of the DCU and its characters as elements of semi-self-aware fiction relating to the real world, albeit less effectively than prior attempts.

As far as the art goes, J.G. Jones has disappeared completely by this last issue, as has Carlos Pacheco, which partially explains how this managed to come out just two weeks after Final Crisis #6 (and perhaps suggesting rewrites). Doug Mahnke, who helped out last issue and illustrated Final Crisis: Requiem and Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, pencils this entire issue, and his work is inked by six other inkers (and he earns an inking credit himself). Parts of it look great, other pages look…less hot, but, jeez, there are seven different guys inking the thing. It is the strongest issue of the series visually though, and it’s hard to imagine Jones having been able to pull off scenes like a sky full of fifty Supermen, almost every one’s symbol visible (Look, it’s Sunshine Superman! And Apollo is an alternate earth Superman again, not an alternate earth Ray, hooray!). Once again I found myself wishing Mahnke had just drawn the whole series from the start.

Oh well, at least it’s finally over, and Geoff Johns will go about writing the Flash plot (which didn't go anywhere for seven damn issues), and I look forward to reading Morrison’s upcoming Bat-Caveman storyline, if he ends up returning to Batman at some point.

Incredible Hercules #125 (Marvel) Still awesome.

Justice Society of America #23 (DC) So, this whole superhero decadence thing that folks from incoming JSoA writer Bill Willingham to Noah Berlatsky have been talking about on and off over the last few weeks? Here’ s a pretty good example: In this issue, we learn that old Justice League villain Felix Faust (seen recently in Super Friends) has be magically paralyzing old ‘70s TV show star Isis to have sex with her, and when Captain Marvel villain Black Adam (currently appearing in Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam) shows up and helps break the spell, Isis apparently rips Faust’s dick off.


This is, of course, the work of Geoff Johns, who is winding down his super-long run on the series, with co-writer and pencil artist Jerry Ordway replacing Johns’ previous co-writer Alex Ross. Just as Ross was involved to help tell continue a superhero storyline he’s associated with, Ordway seems to be brought on to tackle The Marvel Family, a franchise he seems to have had much more success with than any other DC creator to make an attempt in the last couple decades.

There’s an awful lot of housekeeping going on here, as the various Marvels add another couple of characters to a book that already had a gigantic roster, most of whom get at least one panel here explaining where they’re at and whether or not they’re on the team any more, but regular readers should like it well enough.

And I assume I don’t even need to point out that Ordway, here inked by Bob Wiacek, is a really great artist, do I?

As a fan of the Marvel family characters, I’m glad to see that this arc seems to be about the deJuddification of the franchise, as “Marvel,” the character formerly known as Captain Marvel, gets booted off the Rock of Eternity and returned to Billy Batson and, in the Geoff Johns-y cliffhanger, Mary Marvel shows up, back in the black costume she was wearing during Countdown.

Which kinda sorta hurts my head a little bit. I think Countdown was, overall, a terrible, terrible comic book series that did significant damage to a ton of DC Comics, perhaps none more so than Final Crisis, the seven-issue event series it spent 51 issues counting down to. The Mary Marvel story arc is a pretty great example of Countdown and Final Crisis working in direct opposition.

While I’m only vaguely aware of the goings on of Countdown from the reviews of it I read, Mary’s arc seemed to be about her corruption, by Black Adam’s “evil” powers and her own gradual growing lust for power. In Final Crisis, she’s evil, but she’s evil because she’s been possessed by Desaad; Mary’s not even really Mary, but Desaad-in-Mary’s-body.

It seems like the Countdown creators had a plot point from the yet-to-be-scripted Final Crisis—“Mary Marvel corrupted by Darkseid, becomes evil”—and reverse-engineered a plot line about her turning to the dark side, which saw publication before the specific nature of that corruption was known to them.

So, did Mary become evil, get extra-evil because Desaad possessed her, turn back to normal, and then get evil again, or…?

At any rate, Ordway drawing the JSA and the Marvels, and the promise of the whole dumb Captain Marvel-as-Marvel-who’s-basically-Shazam status quo being revoked! That’s more than enough to make me happy with this issue, even if it involves rapist Felix Faust having his penis torn off and Countdown continuity rot around the edges.

Superman #684 (DC) Of all the “Faces of Evil” stories I’ve read so far, this one seems to come closest to actually focusing on villain on the cover, with writer James Robinson spending the first half of the book on The Parasite, letting the villain narrate about his release from the Phantom Zone, his escape from jail and his encounter with Mon-El. The back half moves a couple of the plots Superman and Action are currently sharing a few steps ahead. Frequent Carlos Pacheco inker Jesus Merino provides pencil and ink art here, and it looks pretty great, even though I’m not all that smitten with the Alex Ross chewed-up-bubble-gum design for the Parasite.

Trinity #35 (DC) If the story of this series is a golf ball, it feels like for the last few issues, it’s been in a sand trap, and Kurt Busiek and company have been whacking at it with their sand wedge, but couldn’t pop it out of the trap completely. By the end of this issue, which consists of Enigma reminiscing about his origin and Alfred’s crew saving the Bird-Herder’s people from The Machinists, they seem to have succeeded, as the “gods” of Egg World arrive and say “We have heard enough.” Me too. The Trinity are the gods of Egg World; got it. I’m ready to move on and, apparently, so are they and, more importantly, so are Busiek, Bagley and their elite cadre of co-creators.

Superman seems to have got a new haircut or changed his shampoo or something on Shane Davis’ cover.

Ultimate Spider-Man #130 (Marvel) For a full 129 issues, Brian Michael Bendis has managed to stick the Ultimate line’s mission statement of providing easily accessible, self-contained comics stories free of the drawbacks that plague non-Ultimate super-comics (and, more impressively, managed to make those stories pretty good). Well, as impressive as that is, it’s all over now!

This issue has a big “Ultimatum” banner across the top, and has Bendis and Stuart Immonen’s current storyline quite literally interrupted by Jeph Loeb’s Ultimate line crossover. There’s a quite Bendis-y scene of some police detectives grilling Aunt May to admit Spider-Man and her nephew are one and the same, and then suddenly things go dark, she steps outside and sees a disaster in a very effective two-page splash, which is followed by a much less effective second two-page splash (one per issue, geniuses!), and then suddenly New York City is flooded (?) and Charles Xavier’s telepathic thought clouds appear over Spidey’s head, recapping the events of some other comic book I’m not reading and telling him he needs to go appear in another book I’m not reading and then there’s another two-page spread, of Spider-Man suddenly facing The Hulk who has all of a sudden appeared.

Immonen and company keep it all looking quite nice, but it reads like a tie-in issue of one of those old DC crossovers—Millennium, Invasion and the like—where the real story is happening in the main miniseries, and an issue of a monthly is given over to explaining what Character A was doing at the time Event X was occurring.

Wolverine: First Class #11 (Marvel) Concluding the two-part storyline in which Wolverine become a werewolf and attempts to join a pack of werewolves, while Kitty Pryde and Jack “Werewolf By Night” Russell attempt to save him. It ends happily, for everyone but Russell, who is still doomed to suffer alone, and whom Kitty promptly forgets about once the other dangerous, hairy man in her life is restored to his normal self.


tomorrowboy 2.9 said...

Dude, is Clor made of clay? What the hell is up with his arm on that cover? It looks awful.

Anthony Strand said...

I'd say Superman on that Trinity cover has roughly Brandon Routh hair.

LurkerWithout said...

There are still some awesome ideas in the book certainly—it is Morrison, after all—but I’m overall rather unimpressed with Final Crisis. How much of significance has changed since it began? How much is even new?

This. So much THIS.

Also I will forever love Van Lente for creating a story that I can describe using the word "Werewolf-erine"...

Bob Temuka said...

The new Brave and the Bold cartoon is excellent, and I can not recommend it highly enough. That Kamandi bit was a masterpiece of efficient storytelling.

And thanks for the reviews, Caleb. They're the first place I look every week and you have proven yourself to be a writer of wit and taste. Even if everything you listed as a negative in your Final Crisis review just ramped up my anticipations.

Hdefined said...

So, Final Crisis . . . really, what was the point of that?

Morrison needs to ditch the DCU. Now that Alan Moore's gone from Wildstorm, Morrison should launch his own ABC-style line.

Filipe Freitas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew said...

Maybe Darkseid's controlling intelligence was in that 'main' body? Though that makes him sound like the 'intelligent virus' from the first JLI comic I ever read.

Also, perhaps Clor's handlers installed a 'British English - Elizabethan' dictionary when they last ran Windows Update.

Jacob T. Levy said...

For "who was on top of the Spectre," though *not* "how they got that way," see the surprisingly good FC:Revelations, which may finally have rendered the new Spectre a tolerable and usable character.

It's a little odd that the Question seems to have gotten out of FC:R and into FC a while ago, suggesting that FC: R ends about the time of FC #5, but that it takes the Spectre until the middle of FC #7 to show up. If FC: R was supposed to show the Spectre being kept busy and put of action the way L3W and Superman Beyond were with Superman, it didn't work; the Spectre now seems to have a whole lot of free time unaccounted for when he could have been doing something impressive but didn't.

Siskoid said...

Oh Final Crisis...

It's a series I intellectually got, but that did nothing for me emotionally. I think you hit all the right nails on the head.

It's like... I like the ending, I like the grand sweeping never-told tales, I like that it all came down to the personal story of two Monitors, I like Superman's wish, I like the 50 Supermen (and yes, I did notice Sunshine Superman), I like the Zoo Crew... but the very fact that the series has been treading water for the last, what, 5 issues, leaves you cold.

If FC had been a 64-page prestige "novel", it would have worked. As a mini with lots of tie-ins (not all of which actually tie-in), it fails. It just couldn't keep any kind of momentum and we're left wondering why it's so long in the middle and so brief where it counts. (Example: The true Aquaman returns, and it's just done in one panel.)

What's changed? Well, the only thing Morrison seems to have been allowed to do is really make it "final", in that the Monitors pledge to leave well enough alone.

And while it's totally anticlimactic, I still fill slightly excited by the prospect of Omens & Origins, next month's refurbishing of the status quo. I'm deeply interested in what has changed, but Final Crisis itself won't tell me. Gah!

Evie said...

Goble Degook. Ha. That's about all I have to add to your review. I'm in exactly the same place with it. It's like seven-layer dip from the supermarket.

Tony said...

I wrote my review of Final Crisis before I read yours, but I think I agree with you on most points. "Movie trailer" is about the best description you could reach for.

Why did we spend two panels on the Zoo Crew and we never found out what Hawkman was smashing at the end of it?