Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Weekly Haul: December 23rd

Amazing Spider-Man #616 (Marvel Comics) This is the second half of Fred Van Lente and Javier Pulido’s Sandman story that I was raving about last week. The script is still smart, exciting, funny and even a bit unpredicatable, and Pulido’s art is still incredible. The story itself is big of a bummer—not only is there an element of tragedy about the villain, but Spidey’s essentially an ineffectual jerk whose only real skill is hurting supervillains, and his intervention merely makes things worse for the innocent victim. So it’s a bit of a downer, but it’s a well written, gorgeously illustratd bummer, and really, isn’t that the very best kind of bummer?

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #12 (DC Comics) Think you know the true meaning of Christmas? At least, the secular Christmas with the Santa Claus and the sled and the chimney and the Christmas tree and lights and ornaments and all that business? Would you believe we owe it all to Batman?

This is probably Landry and Walker’s best issue of the series so far, offering a perfect balance of all-ages action and knowing but effective humor for grown-ups.

It’s called “Final Christmas,” and it’s about the time Adam and Alanna Strange zeta beam Batman to Rann just seconds before the Earth is destroyed in an attempt to save the entire universe from annihilation. The villain of the piece is actually a generic DC alien type (A nameless Psion, I believe) rather than the guy on the cover, who is my second favorite Bat-villain to draw (coming in right behnd The Scarecrow). Calendar Man still gets about four wonderful pages though (“Your rampage of irritating misdemeanors ends now, Calendar Man!”).

Green Lantern #49 (DC) Oh hey wow, I’ve read forty-eight consecutive issues of this title, making it the single serial comic book I’m still reading that I’ve read the longest. I came very, very, very, very close to not reading this one, though, when I saw the name “Ed Benes” was attached to it.

Flipping thorugh it in the shop, though, I saw he was actually only one of three pencil artist to draw the issue, so I ended up bringing it home.

This is one of the many things I think is bad about Benes (althought it’s actually good for me personally, since I dislike his art so). Why does DC keep giving the guy work when he can’t keep up with it? This is only a 22-page comic book, and yet all he contributes is 11 or 12 pages of a 16-page lead story (the final page is a longshot splash of the planet Xanshi orbiting the planet Earth, with a bright green light between the two talking, and it seems like the colorist and letter might have drawn the whole page).

The division of labor is parceled out pretty organically though. Marcos Marz and Luciana del Negro apparently handle the pages of the lead story that Benes doesn’t, but they’re flashbacks, so the dramatic shift from one style to another’s not quite so drastic. The book ends with an entirely sepearate six-page story in which Black Lantern Jean Loring explains the nature of the universe to her captives Mera and Ray “The Atom” Palmer, and it’s drawn by Jerry Ordway (and is, thus, gorgeous).

Benes fares much better here than I would have expected, given some of the truly awful work of his I’ve seen recently in catching up with JLoA trades. Perhaps it helps that he’s inking himself? It certainly helps that he only has one or two non-skeletal humanoid characters to draw (so it hardly matters that he does such a poor job of differentiating characters), and there’s only one woman to draw, so the content of the panels are never re-written by the artist to actually be about butts and/or boobs. If DC’s going to continue to give Benes high-profile work, maybe they’re better off giving him easier, one-character work like this then books with sprawling casts.

Johns’ story is kind of dumb, and not the kinda awesome kind of dumb he’s often written on the title, but a more prosaic sort of dumb—it’s not aggressively, overly insulting kind of dumb though, so it’s certainly readable.

The focus is on Green Lantern John Stewart and how his retconned military background is reflected in his current role in the so-called “War of Lights.” So concerned with his time in the marines that this story is entitled “Semper Fi,” has John ring-genearted a marine uniform and guns for himself to use (instead of, you know, just wearing a force-field and shooting beams) and, at one point, he generates a whole platoon of G.I. Joes to help him fight the Black Lanterns of Xanshi.

Hellboy: The Bride of Hell (Dark Horse Comics) I was rather amused by the letter colum in the back of this issue. Editor Scott Allie was responding to a letter calling him out for some statements he made about how difficult it was to just plain enjoy modern superhero comics these days, given the degree to which they are based on past continuity or sprawl their various stories out among dozens of titles over the course of several years.

“I recently got excited about a couple of their books again, but realized I couldn’t follow the stories without figuring Civil War out—which I wasn’t interested in doing,” he wrote.

Thre reason I found it amusing was that I’ve always had difficult with the Hellboy franchise for that precise reason—I wasn’t there for the beginning, and there seems to be so much back story in so many different miniseries that I feel a little frustrated with and put-off by the whole franchise.

Which isn’t to say I’ve never read any Hellboy of course…over the last ten years I’ve probably read most of the books with the world Hellboy right there in the title, but I read the same ones over and over when the trade dress changes, and I read them out of order, and there are all these side projects I find daunting.

My point is just that any serial comic you’ve missed a whole lot of can seem extremely new reader unfriendly. Thr problem with the Hellboy-iverse, I think, comes down to the way that it’s been published—as a series of miniseries, so that I couldn’t just find a back issue box somewhere and start working on Hellboy the monthly with issue #1.

On the other hand, Hellboy is a hell of a lot easier to understand than something like, say, Secret Invasion or Infinite Crisis. There’s this big monster guy, he works for the demon and monster-fighting version of the FBI, and he fights demons and monsters. The basic premise isn’t exactly hard to wrap ones head around, even if I tend to forget the names of characters or details of Hellboy’s past and origins in the years between a trade or one-shot.

I don’t bring this up to argue Allie’s point. In fact, I’m glad he finds super-comics so hard to get into today, because that is apparently what inspired Dark Horse’s “One-Shot Wonders” program of special, easy-to-read, perfect jumping-on-point one-shot comics, of which this is one (How serious are they about keeping these things self-contained? They’re not even labeled or logo-ed as part of the “One-Shot Wonders” initiative, save for on an ad on the back cover).

This is only the second of ‘em I’ve personally bought and read, but it’s a good one, and another good example of how easy to “get” Hellboy is.

Your $3.50 gets you an ad-free 24-page story written by Mike Mignola and drawn by Richard Corben. In it, some Satanic cultist types have seemingly abducted a girl which they plan on offering up to a monster that turns out to be a big-time demon. Hellboy goes to rescue her, and along the way he and we learn a lot of interesting Biblical and medieval back story (This issue in particular made me sort of wish there was a section of notes or at least bibliography in the back of Hellboy comics; there are enough real names and real history in here that it all felt pretty genuine, whether it was or not. It was the sort of comic that made me want to read some books about the subject matter after finishing it).

Corben’s art was a bit of a revelation to me, particularly in how well it worked with Mignola’s scripting and characters. The people looked extremely Corben-esque, but rather than filter the title character through his own style, his Hellboy looked an awful lot like Mignola’s—in certain panels, he actually looks like a slightly more textured version of a Mignola drawing.

And damn, the demon he draws? When it appears at night, it’s just a black shape with eyes and teeth—it its flashback, it regains a shape, and, when we see it in the light, it’s broken and aged. That’s some accomplished, evocative art work that can so thoroughly transform the same character while keeping the interpretations firmly rooted in a base version. It’s cartoonish art that treats the subject like it was “real,” and that’s pretty exciting.

There’s also a two-page letter column and a six-page preview of Guy Davis’ gorgeous looking Marquis: Inferno graphic novel, so, all told, this has gotta be one of the better values on the racks this week.

Incredible Hercules #139 (Marvel) In the never-ending war of Marvel vs. DC, there are a million little battles, and each one has a different victor. In the Battle of the Back-Up Features, though, DC does an infinitely better job of advertising the presence of a back-up and how and where to find it. Look at the above coer design—not only is it a mess, but it hardly encourages an Agents of Atlas fan to pick it up, does it? Additional, the Agents seem to be sort of wandering around from book to book, so it’s difficult to know when they’re going to be where in any given month unless you pay very close attention (In March, for example, instead of a new ish of Inc Herc, there will be the first-part of a two-issue miniseries entitled Hercules: Fall of an Avengers, and the AoA back-up will be there. Seems to me like it would be far easier to ingor the Agents’ appearance in comics, and just wait for the trades).

Anyway, in this issue Herc and his handful of allies (Spider-Man and –Woman, USAgent, Quicksilver, Hank Pym and Wolverine) fight Hera and her allies, and the full extent of her plot is revealed. Then in the beautifully illustrated back-up, the Agents fight some mythological types while wearing neat-o disguises. It’s all pretty decent, but perhaps not remarkably so.

Power Girl #7 (DC) This actually came out last week, but I left it sitting on the shelf, despite significant temptations—it’s always hard not to buy Amanda Conner art, and shirt-less, pant-less, mustachioed manly man Vartox of Valeron on the cover was practically demanding I purchase it.

Of course, that was before Michael Hoskin pointed out in the comments section of last week’s column that it featured Golden Age Wonder Woman villain The Blue Snowman (Whose appearance in the modern DCU I’ve specifically asked for before).

I was quite pleasantly surprised by the entire issue, actually. I gave Power Girl a couple issues, but I decided to drop it around #2 or #3, as it seemed just as concerened with ickiness and retroactive continuity as all of the other DCU comics I don’t enjoy reading (albeit with much more fun, distinctive art).

But this issue was much more full-on comedy in a cape, and thus made better use of Conner’s particular gifts when it comes to design, detail and facial expressions. It’s pretty silly, containing words like “contraception bomb” and “seduction musk rifle” (which is so penis-shaped I’m kinda surprised DC even allowed it to appear) and using a gender-flipped version of the Maxima/Superman plot as a springboard for character comedy and monster-fighting.

Poor Blue Snowman doesn’t seem to survive the issue, but she’s swallowed whole by the monster, and is wearing a metal suit, so she shouldn’t be too hard to resurrect when Gail Simone or whoever decides it’s time to knock off all the mythology business and revisit Wonder Woman’s golden age for inspiration.

The metallic battle-suit and snow-shooting pipe and top hat on Ms. Byrna Brilyant aren’t really what I was expecting design-wise, but I think it turned out pretty cool. (Ha ha! Cool! The Blue Snowman design was cool!).

The rest of the issue was pretty cool too, and I’ll be back to check out #8 next month. That means, DC Comics, you owe Hoskin for the sales of two comic books.

Tiny Titans #23 (DC) I’m so happy that there exists a comic book in which the line, “There! All the bunnies are dressed like Batman!” is a perfectly natural one. This issue, which I believed shipped most places last week but just hit my shop today, is an all Bat-related one, featuring Robin, Batgirl, Bat-Mite, Alfred, the various animals that have taken up residence in Wayne Manor over the course of the past 22 issues and even the big guy himself. Oh, and younger kids Tim and Jason are introduced as well, so there are several panels of Art Baltazar and Fraco’s story that evoke the premise of the fun Batman and Sons webcomic.


And that's this week's haul discussed. Tonight's Christmas Eve Eve, and I'm not entirely sure of what my posting schedule will look like here or at Blog@ over the course of the next few days.

I have some half-written posts and a stack of books I've read but haven't reviewed yet, and I think there was even an announcement or two this week that I may have opinions about, but holiday-celebrating—paired with the fact that no one's going to be looking at the Internet for a few days anyway—may make posting light and/or lamer than usual between tomorrow and Sunday. I'll probably still try to get something up every day, but, whatever ends up happening, rest assured both EDILW and my contributions to Blog@ will be back to normal by Monday.

If you celebrate Christmas, then I hope you have a happy and safe one, and, if you don't, then I hope you have a happy and safe Friday.


LurkerWithout said...

Corben did the art on at least one Hellboy mini, the Crooked Man arc I think. It had hillbillies and pacts with the devil and demonic undead. Good stuff...

Michael Hoskin said...

Caleb, you're much more invested in DC's output than I am, so I do find it kinda funny that I had to lead you to a DC comic you'd enjoy. Me, the guy who buys about 2 DCU books a month, tops.

It seems to me that anyone who's enjoying Incredible Hercules would find Power Girl to be cut of similar cloth.

I share some of your concerns about Hellboy, Caleb. I have all manner of Hellboy books but I've been trying to follow the trades. My fear is that as I see more and more one-shots and limited series come out, there will come a point where the trades will abandon sequential numbering and I won't know what order I should be reading them in. BPRD especially seems to have been telling the same story for the past three years and it would take some work for me to figure out where it began.

KentL said...

"How serious are they about keeping these things self-contained? They’re not even labeled or logo-ed as part of the “One-Shot Wonders” initiative, save for on an ad on the back cover"

Well, they certainly aren't advertising it well, since this is the first I've heard of the initiative. Anyone know which other series are getting the treatment. I tend to pick up the Hellboy trades these days (keeping up with the minis got to be too much hassle), but there are other DH properties that I've avoided due to the daunting task of finding a good jumping on point.

Bella's owner said...

Anyone know which other series are getting the treatment?

Searching "one-shot wonders" at DH's site, this is what came up, although I suspect there's more, since Empowered: The Wench of a Million Sighs didn't come up:

And editor Scott Allie talks about 'em a bit here:

Steven R. Stahl said...

I had a much different reaction to POWER GIRL #7, the first issue I've read.

The plot doesn't work. In the '60s or '70s, the sterilization bomb would have been neat. Now, it just makes me think that Palmiotti and Gray don't keep up with scientific advances. Whatever genetic damage the bomb caused could be reversed.

P.G. could have thrown the Negaspike into the Sun, but flash-freezing it and breaking it into pieces should have killed it. Reproduction isn't relevant; Hydra and starfish analogies don't work.

Mating with an alien doesn't actually propagate the species.

Palmiotti and Gray were trying to treat an R-rated topic in a PG-rated fashion; as a result, most of the situations seemed forced. The story is much too long for the humor, and the shift from parody to having to deal with a real threat is jarring.

Star Trek's "The Trouble With Tribbles" is an example of a story in which dramatic characters are in a humorous situation. All the humor develops naturally.


Darius Jones said...

"In the Battle of the Back-Up Features, though, DC does an infinitely better job of advertising the presence of a back-up and how and where to find it."

Also, Marvel only gives 6 pages of story whereas DC gives 8. And if you divide 22 pages by 2.99, you get around 7.36 pages, so Marvel is obviously still cutting costs wherever they can.