Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Weekly Haul: April 29th

Avengers/Invaders #10 (Marvel Comics) It’s 1943, the Red Skull has the Cosmic Cube, and has conquered the world as the Head Nazi In Charge. A group of Avengers are back in time to help some Invaders stop him, and they’re dressed up as period heroes so as not to mess with the timestream. Meanwhile, Spitfire and Union Jack try to hold out against the Ratzis until help can arrive.

Now on the home stretch, this miniseries remains a decent old-school, straightforward superhero adventure story, offering a much-needed alternative to the other Marvel Universe Avengers comics, which have been so caught up in the ongoing Civil War/Secret Invasion/ “Dark Reign” business they’re hard to enjoy as individual titles, while also shining a spotlight in the dusty corners of Marvel’s character catalog. (Check out that last page! Anyone know who the dude with the ruffly tie and the star-spangled gloves and boots is? That guy looks awesome!)

Pencil artists Steve Sadowski and Patrick Berkenkotter provide two fantastic images in this particular issue. First, there’s the extremely weird design of Red Skull’s “dogs of war,” soldiers he turns into modern sculpture-looking monsters to hunt down Jack and Spitfire. And then on page 13 there’s this great two panel sequence in which Iron Man, disguised as Golden Age Electro, gets all sad when he thinks about how it’s pretty much his fault that Captain America’s dead, and he just wilts into sadness in the second panel. Man, I do like pictures of sad robots being sad…

Batman: Gotham After Midnight #12 (DC Comics) This is the incredibly weak closing chapter of Steve Niles’ not really very good limited series about Batman fighting a new foe who has been moving some of his old foes around Gotham like chess pieces. Think Jeph Loeb’s “Hush” or Long Halloween and Dark Victory, only less inspired and with a much-easier-to-figure-out mystery (Although Niles’ “Who is Midnight?” mystery makes a lot more sense than Loeb’s “Who is Hush?” or “Who is Holiday.” I’ve read “Hush” twice now and I still don’t get it—Harold, Elliott and The Riddler were all Hushes? And, as per Winick’s later stories, so was Jason Todd for, like, one fight scene?).

This issue is mostly one big explain-a-thon, as Batman pores over the evidence and narrates to us for eight pages until he comes to the obvious conclusion, followed shortly afterwards by Alfred telling Batman off for about three pages. The villain is never caught, having disappeared in an explosion on page two, and is out there and available for future use, so it concludes the way a classic Batman story might have. Like, The Joker disappears in an exploding plane or gets knocked off a skyscraper by a lightning bolt and disappears in the river below. You know, like that.

Obviously, I wasn’t reading this thing for the story though (It’s probably worth noting that it did provide a “normal” Batman story for much of this past year in which Batman has been in the process of “dying” or been “dead”).

No I was reading this because I love Kelley Jones’ work and, especially, his Batman work. And I do mean love. Like, the way some men love beautiful women. (Maybe I should even see a therapist about this…? I’m not sure it’s healthy to like comic art this much). And since this was illustrated by Kelley Jones, all Niles really had to do to keep me happy was to not write the worst comics in the world. As long as he was giving Jones opportunities to draw Batman jumping, flexing, and angsting, as long as he supplied a steady stream of villains and new and classic characters to be drawn and as long as he kept coming up with scenes in which Batman would use a Bat-vehicle or Bat-gadget, then he was doing a good enough job in my book.

This issue is more about winding down and summing up than an actual climax; the big fight between Batman and Midnight reached its end last issue, so Jones doesn’t get a chance to go out with a bang on the Bat-toy design front. But that’s just as well. I don’t think he could have topped Batman’s giant punching machine in issue #3 anyway.

For a good example of how he makes Niles’ worst scenes still pretty fun to read though, check out the four-page Batman-looks-at-computers-and-thinks sequence on pages eight through eleven.

Jones’ Bat-computer is this weird, massive contraption that looks a little different in each issue. Here it looks like the worlds biggest Simon game, with buttons the size of floor tiles in various shapes and colors, random green monitors placed in strange places, and it’s mounted atop a flight of stairs and embedded in a bunch of stalactites.

So in one panel Batman shoots an arm out, one of his claws pressing a button, in the next he recoils and wraps himself in his cape. Then his arms are spread wide, hitting different buttons, and then he whirls to read a long, old-school paper print out. Hen he leans over and daintily pushes a tiny, tiny little button. As he begins to come to a conclusion regarding the true identity of Midnight, there’s a panel of him hunched over, his arms extended to the table top, where his palms rest. In the next panel, he’s turned to the side, bent nearly in half, and clenches his fist, as if he were curling an invisible barbell. Then in the next, he grabs two fistfuls of cape, draws them close to his face, stares intently at his knuckles, and his brown grows red through his mask.

The best comic book artists are those that know how to “act” through their characters; one of the things I love about Kelley Jones is that how he overacts through his; the emotions are always right, they’re just dialed up to 11. No, 31. His Batman isn’t an actor, or a soap opera actor. He’s more like an opera singer, or possibly a kabuki actor. Maybe an actor in one of those Japanese live-action shows for kids starring a guy in a lycra suit and a helmet that obscures his face completely so he has to do super-sized gesticulations to show emotions? He’s one of those.

I’ll miss you Batman: Gotham After Midnight! Mike Marts, please give Kelley Jones something else to do soon! Maybe something with mummies or animated dinosaur skeletons in it?

Captain America: Theater of War: A Brother in Arms #1 (Marvel) Okay, this is book has a lot of warning flags.

First, there are all those titles. There’s three of them, which is one-to-two many. I put colons in the title there, but on the cover it appears as Captain America * Theater of War * A Brother In Arms, and the legal small print only uses one colon, calling it Captain America Theater of War: A Brother in Arms

Second, it’s by Paul Jenkins, who is skilled writer with some good comics to his name, but whom I’ve been pretty leery of after his work on Civil War-related books (particularly those rather gross back-ups in Frontline which equated Marvel’s superhero crossover to actual wars).

Third, it’s $3.99, which usually just means that Marvel would like an extra dollar and maybe they’ll kick in a cardstock cover. But it’s actually 35 pages, so huzzah!

Given these warning signs, I normally wouldn’t have bothered with this book, were it not drawn by John McCrea, the artist behind DC’s late, great Hitman, one of my all-time favorite comic series. I really like and admire McCrea’s artwork, and wish he were on a monthly again so I could see it more often.

Unfortunately, this isn’t his best work. It’s not bad work by any means, but he’s inked by three different inkers and colored by three different colorists, and, as is more often than not the case at Marvel these days, the colors overwhelm the line art, so that the art resembles a computer’s best approximation of a painting, making everything seem over-lit, softly-focused and not nearly as drawn-looking as I expect a comic book to look.

McCrea’s lay-outs are strong, he continues to be a great actor when it comes to conveying character emotion and, personally, I was happy to see the little gun flares, bullet-impact flashes and even the bullets-streaking-through-people-and-one-severing-a-finger images that were so familiar from Hitman.

I know I’m probably old-fashioned in this regard, and judging by the way Marvel dominates DC on sales charts, perhaps I’m in the minority, but I prefer comic books to look more like comic books than attempts to capture the aesthetics of other media. I like to be able to look at a page and see what lines were drawn by what artist, and know that it involved pencils and pens or brushes on paper at some point.

On a page by page basis, the art here reads and works like a comic, but the individual panels, taken out of context, look too much like animation stills or computer art or album covers or something. (It doesn’t say which inker inked which pages and which colorists colored which pages, so I can’t point to who did a better job; some of the pages look worse than the others though).

The story is a rather Garth Ennis-y war story, one that just so happens to star Captain America, and probably doesn’t even need to.

Some of Cap’s narration is a little over the top (“But this is not their story. And it is not my story. It is the story of soldiers all”), and there’s a goofy moment here or there (check out the scene where the noble German soldier becomes so inspired by Cap that the “A” logo on Cap’s head appears in the soldiers pupils), but it’s a decent war story pot-boiler about how there are basically good people on both sides in war.

Here’s hoping this leads to another gig for McCrea ASAP; he does a hell of a job here, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen him work on a story this serious before. Usually there’s at least a hint of comedy involved.

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #4 (DC) How late is this comic book, well, it’s a Final Crisis tie-in, and Final Crisis ended three months ago, a little behind schedule itself. If I remember the timeline correctly, Superman departed from the 31st Century setting at the beginning of FC #6, so this still incomplete five-parter should have wrapped up on or before January 18th. Additionally, the dead character Bart Allen appeared in April 1’s Flash: Rebirth #1 making an offhanded remark like “Yeah, I’m back from the future,” a few weeks before why he’s no longer, you know, dead isn’t offered until this very issue.

You know what else is kind of fucked up?

There’s this very typical of Geoff Johns scene, where an unexpected character says something from off-panel, and then you turn the page and there’s a big splash meant to illicit an “OH SHIT ______ IS BACK AND IS ALL BAD-ASS!” reaction, and it’s a surprise that the company’s editor-in-chief* just completely ruined months ago by posting the pencil version in the “DC Nation” column (I believe it was this one, although the image isn’t posted online with it).

There was a drawing of Superboy (the clone Kon-El/Conner Kent version that died in Infinite Crisis) punching out Superboy-Prime, by George Perez. Since Perez was working on Legion of 3 Worlds and it featured Superboy-Prime, the where and when of Superboy’s resurrection wasn’t exactly a mystery, although I was surprised to see the big reveal here, exactly as it appeared in the DC Nation column.

If you’re the sort of DC reader who thinks the company’s editorial direction is a little screwed up when it comes to basic things like making sure the trains run on time and arrive in the right place and occasionally get between creator and customer in a less than helpful way, well, this issue will probably confirm your opinions. And if you’re the sort who thinks DC is overly concerned with stories that are more about other DC stories than anything else, well this book will likely confirm that opinion as well: There’s Starman from Johns JSoA completing his mission, a few call-backs to the JSoA/JLoA crossover “The Lightning Saga” and some explanation of Bart’s death in Flash: Fastest Man Alive, in addition to all the Legions of Super-Heroes business.

Johns writes this sort of stuff better than anyone, and probably as well as it could be written, but yeah, this is pretty much the definition of a comic for people who read Geoff Johns-written comics about other comics, to the exclusion of all other readers.

The art is, of course, perfect, and by far the best you’re going to find in any other super-comic on the shelf this week.

Green Lantern #40 (DC) When the last issue of this series came out, I spent a couple of paragraphs wondering why it happened to be approved by the Comics Code Authority, despite being so incredibly gory (Particularly since DC doesn’t seem to have to submit to it, and I can’t discern the rhyme or reason for what has the little CCA stamp and what doesn’t).

This issue, the mystery deepens! I can’t find the CCA stamp anywhere on the cover of this particular issue, and, ironically, it’s much less graphic than that last issue. A character gets dismembered (this is a Geoff Johns comic), but the depiction of the event is much more subdued than it could have been. Four Orange Lanterns grab a Green Lantern character by each of his limbs and pull in different directions, and, in the next panel, there are four abstract splashes implying blood and a “KRRRRPPPPP” sound effect.

See, it’s not that hard. You can have dismemberments in your comics without portraying them graphically!

Justice Society of America (DC) This is Geoff Johns’ last issue of JSoA, which I suspect he’s finally leaving after so long because he’s going to eventually be writing JLoA (Did you see that panel in this week’s Green Lantern where he thought about what he hopes for, and the result was the original Big Seven version of the JLA and maybe a threesome with Cowgirl and Carol?)

It’s one of his best single issues, and it made me a bit sad. Not simply because it is his last, but it was drawn by Dale Eaglesham who was originally supposed to be this books regular artist, and it reminded me of how much potential that creative team held at the beginning of the relaunched title, and how little of it was actually met, as the book detoured into the awful “Lighting Saga” crossover with Brad Meltzer and a half-dozen artists and then spent the vast majority of its existence as part of a waaaayyyyyyy too long Kingdom Come sequel.

Here Johns does a nice, simple, done-in-one the team just hanging out story, with no villains or combat, just characters being themselves. Sure, some of those characters are entirely one-note and are in the exact same place they were 25 issues and some annuals and specials ago, but at least they have a note, that’s something.

So Courtney Whitmore returns home to a surprise birthday party being thrown by her family and the JSA and it’s all quite charming.

I think Eaglesham had reached a whole new level when he started on this title, and this issue is his best work yet. He’s a great artist for this sort of ensemble book, giving each character a distinct looks. His old people look like old people, his teenagers look like teenagers, and you can tell them all apart in our out of their costumes. He also fills the panels with rich little details—I like the fact that The Flash has a little stick-on bow from a present on his hat in one panel, the look on Starman’s face in the two-page spread, the casual affection between Courtney’s parents as her mom leans against her step-dad.

It’s really too bad Eaglesham’s leaving the book (although, he hasn’t really been around all that much anyway), as he hasn’t been used very well at Marvel so far (all I’ve seen so-far is a few terribly over-colored sequences in a multi-artist issue of Amazing Spider-Man that masks his work the way too many Marvel titles do). And it’s also too bad Johns is leaving. He’s had plenty of time to say everything he could possibly have to say about the JSA I suppose, but there have been far too few quiet, character-driven issues like this.

I pointed this out in this week’s ‘Twas… over at Blog@, but I’ll mention it again: The three linking covers that form a single issue variant scheme seems exceptionally scummy. On three consecutive issues? Okay, fine. But putting 1/3 or an image on each one for the same issue? That sucks. If you’re all about Alex Ross, you’re way better off trade-waiting, as the whole thing will likely appear on a future JSoA trade, as the similar fractured Alex Ross JLoA cover.

RASL #4 (Cartoon Books) This is a new issue of a comic book by Jeff Smith. You don’t really need me to tell you that it’s really damn good do you? I understand if you want to wait for the trade on it, as the first three issues were collecting in a really nice-looking oversized paperback collection. Me, I was too curious about Smith’s first post-Bone original series to hold out for a trade, and I really, really enjoy the comic book format. Especially Smith’s self-published version of it.

Superman #687 (DC) Well it’s pretty damn strange to read a book called Superman which is completely devoid of Superman. The last time they took Superman out of Superman (and his other three books at the time) and focused on elements of his supporting cast, the books remained very much about Superman: Who he was, why he was important, how various characters felt about him, how they world was changed by his seemingly being “dead” and replaced by new, would-be Supermen.

This particular issue of this particular title isn’t doing any of that. It’s merely a series of check-ins with various Metropolis-based characters, and advancements of various long-brewing plotlines. Here’s Mon-El, The Guardian and the Science Police fighting Shrapnel and planning to rescue that alien Legionnaire person from writer James Robinson’s Guardian special. There’s a page of “Project 7734,” two of Black Lightning and three of Jimmy Olsen and Zatara II. Here we have a panel of The Prankster.

It’s all well written by Robinson, and extremely well drawn by Renato Guedes, if, on it’s own, it reads more like a series of scenes that an actual story. It reads fine now, but I imagine it will read much better in eventual trade, where a reader need not wait to see what exactly Robinson is building.

I’m kinda bummed that The Red Torpedo only gets mentioned in passing. Like, I was excited to see his name, as that meant Robinson knew of him and acknowledged his existence, but then was sad that that was all I got about him. That’s one of those minor DC characters I’m intensely interested in and know next to nothing about.

Trinity #48 (DC) Batman hatches his plan, and the big battle between all of the arrayed forces seems to maybe reach its climax here (Krona, the biggest of big, bad guys, gets trapped in a spell, at any rate). I’m guessing he’s down for the count too, since there’s only four issues left? The back-up, draw by Scott McDaniel, is lamer than usual, re-examining the origins of some of the original characters (Tarot, Sun-Chained-In-Ink, The Void Hound) and looking at the climax of the lead story through their eyes. The narration in this story especially sounds like a bit of summing up of the series.

I’d say that I’ll miss this title when it’s gone, as I do like knowing there will be at least one decent DC superhero book at the shop each week, but given that the next weekly sounds like the single greatest DC comic book I could possibly imagine, well, I’d be lying to say I’m sorry to see Trinity end.

I’m also eager to see where Busiek and Bagley end up next. I know the former will have something in Wednesday Comics and the latter will be doing a few issues of Batman, but hopefully they’ll each find bigger, ongoing books in the DCU too.

*Actually, he’s “Senior VP-Executive Editor.” I like “editor-in-chief” better, but whatever.


snell said...

Re: The Code. DiDio is asked about it in hisinterview at Newsarama this week, and proceeds not to answer the question at all (it's question #6).

As far as I could tell, the only DC mag this week that had the Code seal was Superman. It's use seems to be fairly haphazard, or even random.

Siskoid said...

John McCrea has his name on the latest Ennis mini, The Boys: Herogasm. He might be making a comeback!

Brian Hinshaw said...

I liked that Dale Eaglesham was able to create a visual distinction between Alan Scott and Jay Garrick in JSA. Often, they are drawn as the same person in different costumes, but here Alan Scott looks like a regal statesman and Jay Garrick looks like a skillet-licking hobo with an aluminum bowl on his head.

Anthony Strand said...

I always end up reading John McCrea's name as "Joel McCrea" and thinking about Dead End.

Unless she changed it since I last checked, Stargirl's last name is "Whitmore."

Greg said...

I completely agree with you about McCrea's art in the Cap book. The "Marvelization" of his distinctive art bugs the heck out of me. The guy at my store pointed out, however, that he hasn't gotten a lot of work recently, so maybe he softened it himself to "fit in." That would depress me, as I agree with you about comics looking like comics. McCrea has such a nice, distinctive comic-booky style, and I hope he didn't think he had to change to get work.

Bella's owner said...


Thanks, and yeah, it's too bad DiDio didn't answer it and Brady didn't follow up.

Like, I still don't understand how DC decides which titles to submit and, apparently, which issues to which titles, as well as why they even bother submitting at all (I don't think they NEED an age-specific one per se, so much as they need to not put ultraviolence and ultragore in Superman books, but I am curious about that whole process).

Regarding that interview, it was pretty depressing that he didn't know what was up with Aquaman (he was right about the death, but the one in JLoA was just a pure mistake, since it was the original's character and only drawn like the new one).

Also depressing? The question regarding the media push behind Wednesday Comics. I hope to God they're sending review copies to, like, every newspaper in America. Given how big the "newspapers are dying" story is in the media, particularly in newspapers, I imagine arts editors all over would be thrilled to write a story about comics/superheroes (hot trend!) that so consciously tries to replicate the unique experience of reading a newspaper (thing they like talking about!).

I really shouldn't read these things, they just make me sad...

John McCrea has his name on the latest Ennis mini, The Boys: Herogasm.Yeah, and I'm torn up about it too. I still haven't read Boys past the first arc, meaning to catch up in trade, so I don't know if I should try the spin-off on a monthly basis or trade-wait...

and Jay Garrick looks like a skillet-licking hobo with an aluminum bowl on his head.There's one panel of him that I swear to God it looks like Eaglesham gave him the first President Bush's face, which was...weird. He does look like he just rolled out of a drawer or something in general though, but yeah, it's cool he and Alan don't look like the same guy in different clothes.

Unless she changed it since I last checked, Stargirl's last name is "Whitmore."It is. I looked it up before posting last night to be sure, but I forgot to change it. Courtney Mason is Anima, and I always mistake their secret IDs. I'll change it. Thanks!

so maybe he softened it himself to "fit in."That's a distinct possibility.He is an exceptionally versatile artist. Like, I noticed when I first read Dicks how much looser and cartoonier the art was than in Hitman. And in Hitman he would have really cartoony types like Six-Pack and Baytor sharing space with more realistically styled characters like Sean and Tommy.

Pedro said...

It looks like Eaglesham is getting ahead on his Fantastic Four run with Hickman.

Unknown said...

The thing about Lo3W that made me feel confused was that Starman was digging up Conner in a Metropolis cemetery. I thought he was buried out on the Kent farm with the Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-2. Am I wrong?

Jacob T. Levy said...

This week has two of the Geoff Johnsiest comics of all time, but I'm pretty sure that FC:L3W is a crucial bit Geoff Johnsier than JSA.