Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Weekly Haul: July 29th

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #7 (DC Comics) I don’t really care for DC’s Super Friends comic book, although I occasionally buy it, seduced by the excellent J. Bone cover that usually hides a story that isn’t anywhere as cute or funny and art that does not look at all like what I saw on the cover. And then, when I’m done reading the adventures of those horrible homunculi, I get on the Internet and type that I wish Bone would have drawn the interiors as well.

Well guess what? Here’s a Johnny DC title with interiors by Bone! Huzzah!

Identically initialed J. Torres joins Bone for a story in which Batman teams up with Beast Boy to save the rest of the Doom Patrol (closely resembling the incarnation from the Teen Titans cartoon) from the clutches of a surprise villain (who comes as a bigger surprise since he’s neither a Batman nor a Doom Patrol villain, but is from the TT toon).

Bone’s artwork is about as loose as I’ve ever seen it, and he has a lot of fun with smiling, square-jawed Batman and Beast Boy’s constant, often-punning animal transformations. Torres’ script isn’t going to change your life or have you in stitches or anything, but it’s pleasant enough, with a few nice spotlight moments for each member of the DP and some amusing jokes.

But most importantly, he manages to work in a Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man cameo.

Having seen the preview art for the latest attempt at a Doom Patrol ongoing series and having read this, I kinda wish Bone was drawing that upcoming series. But I’ll happily settle for more Johnny DC interior work.

Billy Batson and The Magic of Shazam #6 (DC) I’m actually pretty glad I don’t have my own scanner, as I have a feeling that in trying to explain what’s so great about Stephen DeStefano’s work here, I’d end up just scanning and posting half of the book and typing excitedly SEE! SEE HOW GREAT THIS PANEL IS? LOOK AT THAT LINE! OMG!!1!

If you’re not familiar with DeStefano, he is the bee’s knees. He drew the substantial framing story for Bizarro Comics, in which Mr. Mxyzptlk enlists Bizarro to help him save the Fifth Dimension from an alien invader and he drew the first and best of Paul Dini’s Jingle Belle comics for Oni. (He’s actually done quite a bit of comics work in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, but mostly before my time).

DeStefano also does a lot of work in animation, and his background in both fields in readily apparent in his work. The characters are perfectly designed, big, round, kinetic shapes given sharper, keener details to adorn their basic shapes.

This is one of those comics that will make you stop and star every few pages, to marvel at the lines on the paper, and how they can look so organic and effortless and yet so perfectly placed at the same time.

Seriously guys, this is some very, very good drawing! Look at his doll version of Mary Marvel! His hulking Captain Marvel! The way Shazam KRACKOWs into the room! The big, furry collection of round muscles that is King Kull! Look at Kull emerging from the woods to eat those hotdogs! Damn!

I do wonder if kids will like DeStefano’s art, as it is so completely different than that appearing in any of the other Johnny DC books (and it doesn’t bear very close resemblance to the work of Jeff Smith, Mike Kunkel or whoever drew the previous issue of this series). It has a very classic feel to it, something between classic children’s book illustration and classic animation, and may not actually be the best fit for this version of Captain Marvel, even if it is excellent work (and honestly, I wouldn’t mind if DeStefano hung around a while, if only so I could see his versions of all the other great Captain Marvel characters).

The story, by Art Baltazar and Franco, is done-in-one-esque, although it makes a ton of references to previous stories (probably more than necessary, really), and follows Dr. Sivana from his escape to a nefarious plot yet to be hatched, making for a bit more continuity than one usually sees in Johnny DC or Marvel Adventures books.

The bulk of it though is simply that King Kull appears and fights Captain Marvel, closely mirroring their original meeting.

(Confidential to Mark Chiarello: Imagine how cool a Stephen DeStefano strip would look in a second volume of Wednesday Comics, if there’s ever a second volume of Wednesday Comics.)

Detective Comics #855 (DC) So “new” villain Alice is essentially just a female version of the current incarnation of Batman villain The Mad Hatter? A crazy person who speaks almost exclusively in quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass?

Yes, yes she is, and she’s a fair indicator of the level of originality Greg Rucka invests the rest of the script in this issue with. Batwoman beats up some thugs, she takes their ringleader to high place and threatens to drop her, she gets hit with a chemical weapon and starts tripping balls, imagining aspects of her traumatic origin story, just like Batman does every couple of months when the Scarecrow gasses him.

The only thing really separating this particular issue from any of the scores of Batman comics in which the exact same things occur is that a) Batman is now a sexy woman and b) J. H. Williams III is such a goddam beautiful artist that he turns a collection of Batman Generic Story Element #8, #13 and #45 into a comic that at least looks like a masterpiece.

Even the Alice character looks new, fresh and exciting, given how well she’s designed, costumed and rendered, even though she’s just another Alice in Wonderland character in an adult genre comic.

If the lead story is Rucka at his least imaginative, the eight-page Question back-up is Rucka on autopilot. I kind of wish I would have waited for the eventual Batwoman trade.

Justice League of America #35 (DC) I wouldn’t be at all surprised if sales on this particular issue plummet through the floor—it’s the first part of a three-issue fill-in by Len Wein, which only exists to kill time while everyone waits for James Robinson to show up. And considering how weak the book was under it’s “regular” writer Dwayne McDuffie, who seemed to spend most of his allotted space cleaning up after Brad Meltzer and reacting to the events in other comics, you’d be forgive for thinking of this as a fill-in to a fill-in.

I only bought it all because I bothered to flip through it, and realize that the art was not by Eddy Barrows and Ruy Jose, as the solicitation still up on said it would be, nor is the cover by Ed Benes.

It’s actually penciled by Tom Derenick, whose work is readable (and I often like it quite a bit), and the cover is by Eddy Barrows (which, while not very good, doesn’t deeply offend my sense of aesthetics the way Benes’ current work does).

Oh, and I saw it guest-starred Plastic Man, a character I genuinely like enough (and don’t see very often) that as long as the writer and artist on the story aren’t abominable, I’ll generally give any book featuring him a shot.

As it turns out, the artwork in this book is pretty terrible, which I’m sure has more than a little something to do with the fact that Derenick shares pencil credit with a Pow Rodrix (who apparently contriburted the three down-right grotesque pages set on the Watchtower) and there are four, count ‘em four inkers on this thing.

The storyline is the Justice League (Vixen, Firestorm II, Dr. Light II, Red Tornado and Plas) vs. (sigh) The Royal Fucking Flush Gang, with the latter holding a Vegas casino hostage. But there’s more than meets the eye going on here, as two mystery villains (spoiled in the solicit for the next issue) are playing a game with the Justice League.

It’s decent enough, as long as you don’t mind putting up with poor artwork (and if you’ve made it all the way to #35 of Justice League of America, you can surely deal with this).

Superman #690 (DC) Superman’s not currently starring (appearing, cameo-ing or being referenced to) in either of the Superman books, not even the one which is simply titled with his name. This has been going on for a while now, and, when all it said and done, he’ll have been absent for a whole year.

That’s fine, I’ve gotten used to that, and am still enjoying Superman. The art has been consistently good and writer James Robinson has been treating the book as a sort of sprawling soap opera, following a dozen or so characters and a handful of criss-crossing plotlines.

This issue is really weird though, as not only is Robinson checking in on many of those plots and moving them a few pages forward, but almost every one of them ends with a little box in the lower corner saying “Continued in [fill in the blank with another comic book title].”

The end result is, after an 11-page fight scene between Atlas and Steel (pages nine and ten of which are really well executed), Robinson treats the second half of the book as a collection of trailers to other comic books, rather than scenes in the ongoing story he’s been telling.

There’s two pages of the Metropolis Science Police which will be continued in Superman: Secret Files 2009, there’s a page of The Guardian and Dr. Light II flirting that will be continued in Superman (Er, no shit, little white box) and Justice League of America, and Tellus and Ion chat bout Mon-El in a story that will be continued in Superman Annual #14.

There’s also a scene in which Zatara II encounters an old, obscure magical-type DC character, but that scene doesn’t end with a box. So maybe it will never continue anywhere…? I mean, if it were to continue in Superman, why didn’t a box tell us that, as it told us with the Dr. Light/Guardian scene…?

Wednesday Comics #4 (DC)

Batman: Bruce Wayne seduces a lady, by doing little more than saying, “I’m Bruce Wayne, and I wouldn’t mind having sex with you.” Four installments in, and I’ve really taken to the pacing of Azzarello and Risso’s Batman story. It actually reads like a mystery story, which is much rarer than you’d think in Batman comics.

Kamandi: So, so pretty...

Superman: Lee Bermejo’s art is so detailed and so interested in realism that he even draws the dog’s butthole in the first panel. That’s dedication.

Deadman: In most any other project, the art on this would impress the hell out of me and I’d have a hard time thinking of new adjectives to communicate that it’s not only good, but pretty much my ideal idea of comic art. But in Wednesday Comics, it’s not even in the top three of the best-looking strips.

Green Lantern: God I hate Hal Jordan.

Metamorpho: Hey, after two weeks of taking it easy with fucking splash pages, Gaiman and Allred get serious again with a multi-panel page, with both Elemant Girl and Sapphire joining the adventure. You know what’s weird? Because Gaiman wrote Element Girl in an issue of his Sandman, I bet more people have read a comic featuring Element Girl than have read a comic featuring Metamorpho. Allred gives Stagg a really cool outfit, by the way. That dude is dapper.

Teen Titans: Okay I know that Sean Galloway works in animation, and that Eddie Berganza is a long-time comics editor, who’s been working for DC at least as long as I’ve been reading comics, and neither are technically amateurs. But this strip? Complete amateur hour. Where are these people? Who are these characters? Why is it such a challenge to figure out who is who, who is where and where where is each week? Galloway can obviously draw, but he can’t draw a comic.

Strange Adventures: This is an all Alanna strip, and it is a thing of beauty. Just look at that first panel, showing the interior of the store room she’s being kept prisoner in. Wow.

Supergirl: I like Krypto and Streaky, the DC Universe’s greatest villains.

Metal Men: “My name is Doc Magnus, and you had no idea of knowing that you would come across
the most sophisticated set of robots ever created.” Er, shouldn’t that be “no way of knowing?” This script needs edited! Who wrote this thing? What’s that? DC’s top editor. Oh. Er, nevermind then.

Wonder Woman: I like and dislike the same things about this that I liked and disliked about the previous ones; after reading a comic featuring the regular, DCU version of Wonder Woman this week though, this seems much, much, much better than it does if read without another modern Wonder Woman comics story to compare it against.

Sgt. Rock: Part of me things that using the unique format of this project to tell a story in nine-panel grids is sort of a waste, but then I got to panel seven, a lose up of a woman’s face as she delivers a line of dialogue, and got an eyeful of Kubert’s lines in such a big space and, fuck it, this is an amazing way to read Kubert’s art. The next one could be a full-page splash and I wouldn’t mind.

Flash Comics: This is getting a little nuts; of all the stories in this project, I think this is the one that will bear rereading all 12 installments again back-to-back, once all is said and done. Not necessarily because it’s too confusing to follow as is, but because it involves time travel, and the two versions of the same Flash are now revisiting strips from earlier issues.

Catwoman/The Demon: I just ain’t got no time for a Demon that won’t rhyme.

Hawkman: Kyle Baker is a better writer than Jimmy Palmiotti. My evidence? In both the Supergirl and this Hawkman story, passenger planes plummet out of the sky, necessitating the heroes to swoop into action.

In the last panel of her story, Palmiotti has Supergirl say, “Great…just great!”

In the last panel of the Hawkman story, however, Baker has the hero say, “I have a plane to catch.”

This installment makes it clear that this Hawkman is from the Satellite Era Justice League, as Hawkgirl and Batman each cameo, and we see the satellite HQ. Oh, and Aquaman is mentioned, which means this awesome strip is only going to get more awesome in the near future.

Wonder Woman #34 (DC) The start of a new, two-part story arc guest-starring Black Canary, whom writer Gail Simone obviously got to know really well on her long and mostly enjoyable Birds of Prey run made this issue seem like a good one to check in on the title and see if it’s improved any since the last time I tried reading it.

Wonder Woman, like the JLA, seems to be a franchise that got broken near the end of Infinite Crisis. Continuity was somewhat arbitrarily re-booted, and then a writer from outside of comics came in to develop a new status quo for the franchise over the course of a single story arc, and then promptly split, leaving DC to try and figure out how best to clean up the mess. Allen Heinberg’s arc—at least before the delay—sold well, but that didn’t last, so, like Justice League of America, DC got a few months of strong sales followed by months of dropping sales and terrible stories.

Long-term planning, people!

Wonder Woman was in much worse shape when Heinberg left, as the franchise is a lot more fragile than the Justice League, in which a lot of chaos is sort of built in to the book, and one boneheaded move followed another (Having Jodi Picoult write a continuity-heavy fill-in arc instead of doing her own thing elsewhere, Amazons Attack).

I was relieved when Gail Simone was named the new writer, but I bailed after about eight issues. The Heinberg changes hamstrung the franchise in a way that made it enormously unappealing to me, but, more importantly, Simone’s run was—quite surprisingly— boring. If there’s one thing a story about Wonder Woman teaming up with Beowulf and Claw the Unconquered to fight the devil shouldn’t be, it’s boring.

So, long story short, I don’t like this comic book at all anymore, but this issue looked like it might have potential. At the very least, it looked like an interesting place to stick my head back into the world of Wonder Woman and take a look around.

Well it turns out Wonder Woman still isn’t very good.

The scenes featuring Black Canary and Wonder Woman aren’t all that bad; Canary is talks constantly and speaks in a very self-consciously witty way that is sort of irritating, but it works with Simone’s remote, reserved version of Wonder Woman, in an odd couple sort of way.

The two team-up to go undercover in the world of underground cage-fighting. Superhero cage-fighting is the sort of thing that I’ve seen too many times to find remotely interesting (Wonder Woman and Black Canary were both in that Justice League Unlimited episode with Roulette, Roulette’s schtick in the comic books is pitting superheroes against each other in gladiatorial combat, there was that whole “Dark Side Club” business in McKeever’s various Titans etc).

But at any rate, the Canary/Wondy interactions only account for about half a third of the book. The rest of it involves dealing with fall-out from whatever stories have happened since I last read (I guess Wondy’s having some trouble with Zeus again? And a dude is made king of the Amazons? And she’s still living with those fucking gorillas, which artist Aaron Lopresti draws as some kind of Yetis?).

If you’re looking for not-incompetent superhero comics, and your flavor of choice is Wonder Woman, then I suppose Wonder Woman will fill that need, but if you’re looking for anything else at all, well, check back next year, maybe…?

Oddly enough, the part I found most galling was a few sentence of dialogue from classic Justice League villain T.O. Morrow, which was a nice crystallization of everything I think is wrong with most superhero universe comics today.

After talking with Wonder Woman about a robot named Genocide, Morrow asks if she knows his name:

My real name. Tomke Ovadya Morah. My family was from Nasielsk, a little town outside Warsaw. I can’t be part o f anything called Genocide, Wonder Woman. I beg you. Destroy that aberration.

This Flash and Justice League villain from the ‘60s, a mad scientist-type whose main invention was a special TV screen that could see into the future, and a sort of time-traveling fishing rod that could pluck technology and weapons from the future and reel them back for T.O. Morrow (“Tomorrow,” get it?) to use in his quest to rob banks and/or rule the world, is Jewish…and from Poland…and thus can’t abide by a killer robot named Genocide.

Come on, you’re not going to make DC say “the holocaust” are you? Because they will!

I understand Simone didn’t give Morrow this name or backstory, but she’s using it in a story in which Wonder Woman has talking gorilla roommates, talks to polar bears when she’s sad and listens to Black Canary prattle on about how Wonder Woman’s bosom isn’t as popular as Power Girl’s on the Internet.

Can’t goofy Silver Age villains just be goofy Silver Age villains? Making them the children of Holocaust survivors or whatever doesn’t make them edgier or more relevant, it just draws unwanted attention to how ultimately meaningless your stupid superhero comics are.

If you’re writing a story that calls for a Jewish and/or Polish android-expert mad scientist whose family was killed in the Holocaust or something, hey, just make up one of your own, instead of forever trying to retroactively serious-up the Silver Age.

I was pretty irritated to see that there, although admittedly my irritation with this impulse is cumulative. Like, in isolation, this would still be a sort of crass connection that makes Morrow a less interesting character, but when read after years of things like Dr. Light being retroactively made a rapist (whose brain was magically addled to retroactively explain why he was demoted from a JLA villain to a Teen Titans villain, no less) or Geoff Johns’ turning various Flash villains into monsters, drug addicts and psychopaths and so on, it’s particularly tiresome.

It’s basically what Frank Miller, Alan Moore and others were doing with DC superhero characters, but twenty years after they did it. And that shit’s awfully tired twenty years later.

Superheroes have been thoroughly deconstructed. How about more comics putting them back together and new and interesting ways, instead of just moving around the broken pieces like innovators were doing a couple decades ago?


Anonymous said...

Any thoughts on JSA?

Dean H. said...

I disagree that turning T.O. Morrow into Tomek Ovadya Morah is essentially the same thing as what Moore and Miller were doing in the '80s.

Frank Miller had a couple key insights into Batman, that it was about grief and the story of Bruce Wayne was a tragic one. Pretty much every Batman story of the last 25 years have flowed out of that insight.

Alan Moore had one key insight into the superhero genre as a whole. Moore saw them as being about power relationships. That allowed him to bring in political and sexual interpretations of superheroes.

On a superficial level, they also brought styles from other (slightly) more respectable genres that matched their interpretations. Miller added Noir tones that worked for a doomed hero. Moore brought a horror style that matched his political feelings.

It is those styles that have so widely imitated. Geoff Jonhs seems to write horrorific superhero tales irrespective of their appropriateness to the character. It works great with the Green Lantern, who has always had a spooky side. It seems weird for the Flash, who does not.

Personally, I would love to see someone really talented dig into almost any one the key DC franchises outside of Batman. Morrison does great work, but someone else has to be willing to really think about things.

Eric Rupe said...

"How about more comics putting them back together and new and interesting ways, instead of just moving around the broken pieces like innovators were doing a couple decades ago?"

Because imitation is easier than imagination and the fanbase is currently willing but settle for imitation. Marvel and DC have been unwilling to innovate unless a)it sells well or b)they absolutely have to.

Patrick C said...

It annoys me that the Demon doesn't rhyme, but he DOES speak in iambic pentameter, which is kind of a cool variation.

I liked Detective Comics, and Alice seems suitably creepy. And wow, I really can just look at JH Williams art.

Superman left me a little cold. The Steel/Atlas fight, and then a bunch of anecdotes and advertisements? Not a big fan.

Michael Hoskin said...

>I just ain’t got no time for a Demon that won’t rhyme.

I don't buy that song; you must have read it wrong.

From the last panel: "I hear their anguished cries. Stand fast! This night a reckoning we'll have at last!"

Dean H. said...

That said, not every character has unplumbed depths. T.O. Morrow is pretty much the poster child for the "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar" attitude. Characters like that are in the surest hands when a writer has either a genuine warmth (i.e. Mark Waid, Grant Morrison), a good sense of humor (Waid, Keith Giffen), or both. That is why Waid became Mr. Silver Age.

Gail Simone is wonderful writer who made her bones operating in a different mode.

Hdefined said...

"J. H. Williams III is such a goddam beautiful artist."

But how is his art? =P

Mr. Iciper said...

Did you decide to drop Justice Society of America from your pull list, Caleb? Perhaps because of the new creative team?


LiamKav said...

Don't forget Magneto. Wasn't that revelation/retcon before most of the deconstruction of the 80s?

(Of course, the Magneto-holocaust thing actually worked really well for the character, but some other writers don't seem to understand why.)

Justin said...

Well, Magneto I think shows that there can't be rules set in stone about "Adding real-world tragedy to supervillains always/never works".

It works for Magneto, partly because supervillain-with-ties-to-the-Holocaust was an unheard-of idea at the time, but mostly because it seems as though Claremont looked at Magneto and developed a *relatively* organic motivation that would explain why he does the things he does. So it enriches the character in some way.

With T.O. Morrow, it's just kind of tacked on for no real reason other than to take a stab at pathos, and so it comes off as trivializing.

So generally, when we complain about stuff like this, it's not that a story like that should *never* be done because it violates some imaginary "rules" about how superhero comics should be, but it shouldn't feel cheap, and things like Mirror Master snorting cocaine off one of his mirrors feels *really* cheap.

James said...

Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man!! Fantastic! Maybe my favourite character besides Red Bee.

I hope those Shazam issues are collected in trade, that sounds awesome. I love Captain Mavel more than anyone should but I bailed after the first issue or two when it became apparent lateness would be an issue with that series.

And though I disagree with a lot of what you say during the Wonder Woman review, I will say that yes, the last two or three issues of Wonder Woman I read (during the previous *eight*-part arc) were Not Very Good.

Caleb said...

Any thoughts on JSA?

Nope, didn't read it. As Robert mentions below, it was the change in creative teams.

I like Merino's art a lot, but I haven't liked any of Willingham's DCU writing that I've read (Sturges' Blue Beetle back-ups are okay, but the last thing he collaborated with Willingham on that I read was Salvation Run, and I'll do whatever I can to avoid ever reading anything like that again.

That, and the state of my financial health is such that I'm generally looking to drop books whenever an opportunity presents itself.

I disagree that turning T.O. Morrow into Tomek Ovadya Morah is essentially the same thing as what Moore and Miller were doing in the '80s.

I think it's part and parcel to the same (maybe even unconscious?) impulse to make superhero comics serious, although yeah, obviously there's a difference between doing it well and doing it poorly.

I don't buy that song; you must have read it wrong.

I guess one rhyme is better than no rhyming...but still!

Don't forget Magneto.

Oh yeah. (The X-Men are a pretty big blindspot in my comics knowledge). That's probably a good example of making a goofy character more serious by attaching him to a real world atrocity that works (at least sometimes. That latest miniseries they did about Magneto's time spent in the concentration camps, which I didn't read, seemed to be pushing it).

In general, I think Marvel characters take to that kind of stuff better because they were conceived as superheroes-with-melodramatic-problems-that-could-exist-in-the-real-world, where as Silver Age Flash villains were created to keep Flash busy for 12 pages, and hopefully look cool doing it, if that distinction makes sense.

Another problem with Magento's WWII-era origin is his age though—have they explained why he's so buff for a septagenarian ever? Did being turned into a baby for a while shave a few decades off his life or something...?

LiamKav said...

I think the baby thing is used a quiet explanation, but not bought up because it would be confusing/stupid to new readers (like Nick Fury's age).

The problem with boosting Magneto's life at that point is that it means that Xavier should be a lot older than he is. Hmm. I wonder if they'll ever do a story where Magneto ends up in suspended animation at some point in the 50s? The holocaust is now pretty essential to his background, and it's not like you can easily move it along to another event.

Tony said...

>Superheroes have been thoroughly deconstructed. How about more comics putting them back together and new and interesting ways, instead of just moving around the broken pieces like innovators were doing a couple decades ago?

That's what I'm screaming.

Joel said...

Ugh, I generally like Gail's Wonder Woman (it's not anything near her Secret Six, but it always keeps building and moving), but the Morrow backstory is lame. And Morrow just doesn't need an element of tragedy, he was fine the way he was. Take 52, where he's hanging around Oolong Island with a kind of 50s cocktail lounge swagger, half-cheesy and half-ironic, bemused and jaded, acting for all the world like he's the Scientist-in-Residence at the Playboy Mansion. And all of it masking a bitterness that his genius has gone unrecognized because of the whole mad scientist thing. THAT is an interesting, fun villain, and a great foil/friend for Will Magnus. Work him into that Metal Men backup in Doom Patrol (can we switch that to the main feature?, and it would be stellar.