Friday, April 23, 2010

Comic shop comics (April 21st)

Archie #608 (Archie Comics) Wow, Archie Comics aren’t very well written, are they? The artwork in this issue, which had an intriguing enough cover that even I noticed it and decided to pick it up, was fairly decent, with pencil artist Bill Galvan and inker Rich Koslowski affecting a Dan DeCarlo-designed style well enough, although the Pussycats all seem a lot thinner and less curvy than I remember seeing them.

So liked looking at the characters in the panels okay, but jeez, do they have to make these things so damn painful to read?

Avengers Vs. Atlas #4 (Marvel Comics) The fourth and final issue of Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman’s miniseries pairing the Agents of Atlas team with the original Avengers line-up concludes with the latter taking center stage, doing battle with an elaborate metaphor for a Marvel Comics fan’s desire for an ideal, personal, static continuity. Like the three issues that preceded it, it’s a nicely done, fun, straightforward, old school superhero comic, featuring quite lovely art. Hardman, colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser, comes up with some pretty interesting ways to communicate semi-abstract concepts like a sentient chronovirus, and a character at different points in his own timeline communicating with himself, while everyone else looks on psychically.

The Agents solo back-up story is “My Dinner With Gorilla Man,” a tense, one-scene story by Jason Aaron and Giancarlo Caracuzzo in which Gorilla Man meets someone who wants to take his curse from him by force.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #15 (DC) Still the #1 comic book source for images of nattily dressed tigers:

Brave and the Bold #33 (DC) J. Michael Straczynski and Jesus Saiz’s run on this title has mostly consisted of JMS finding two unlikely characters to stick together in a zany-sounding team-up, and then proceed to tell the most downbeat, dour faux-serious story he could think up.

This issue also has an unlikely team-up: Wonder Woman, Zatanna and Batgirl Barbara Gordon, but instead of Saiz the artist is Cliff Chiang, one of the comics industry’s number one artists when it comes to the drawing of beautiful women.

JMS would have to work awfully hard if he was going to turn 22-pages of Chiang drawing pretty girls into a downer.

But by page seven, when Zatanna and Wonder Woman convince Batgirl that they all need to take a night off once in a while to party if only to de-stress and stay sharp, I was pretty sure JMS had changed his ways. The whole middle section of the book consists of these super-girls putting on dresses and having fun: Clubbing, dancing with old men, doing karaoke, eating late-night breakfast in a diner, etc.

But he got me again! I don’t want to spoil the exact nature of the ending, but suffice it to say that while the bulk of the story may be set years back, when Barbara Gordon was still Batgirl, it ends with a coda set in modern times, and there’s a very particular reason these three particular heroines are all out dancing together.

The last panel is about as ham-handed as a panel can possibly be, with Barbara Gordon stating something that was completely obvious without her needing to say a word not one time, not two times, not three times, but four times in a single panel.

The result is a conclusion that seems overly fussy, and makes the entire story, as fun as it is, seem like a rather unnecessary continuity patch along the lines of explaining why Barry Allen wears a bow tie or why Power Girl decided to quit wearing that yellow costume she sported for a while. And it’s too bad that JMS’ effort is so apparent, because Chiang’s art is effortless.

Click to get a better look of this montage splash page:
I hate to praise his work too specifically, because a lot of what’s good about his work should be industry-standard, rather than exceptional—his characters look like real people, he draws different characters with different body types and facial structures, he draws settings and costumes like he’s left his apartment and seen clothes in real life, and so on.

It’s lovely, lovely work, and well worth picking the book up just to look at.

Oh, and JMS and Chiang manage two completely unexpected shining moments in here. One is a neat fake-out on page 13, and the other is the peculiar lay-out that splits the comic in half during the only two-page spread in the book, in which a panel from another comic book seemingly intersects with this narrative perpendicularly, breaking one of Brave and the Bold #33’s panels clean in half.

Green Lantern #53 (DC) It may be the “Brightest Day,” but it’s hardly a new day. In Geoff Johns’ first post-Blackest Night issue of Green Latnern, the book the event spun out of, I was overwhelmed with a sense of déjà vu repeatedly.

There’s a classic GL supervillain in touch with some sort of mysterious, ancient cosmic threat, there’s what looks to be some sort of evil Guardian talking about ancient prophecy whatnot (a Guardian-type who also looks like its maybe a mummy? Awesome!), you’ve got a room full of obelisks devoted to the different colors/emotions from the War of Light, and so on.

Additionally, all of the various colored Lantern characters are apparently sticking around, as six of the seven shown on the cover appear within.

It’s a weird sort of set-up issue (ending with three different mini-ads for three different characters who will be appearing in three different books), in which a lot happens and yet nothing seems to happen.

There was enough comical Hal Jordan hero worship (villain Hector Hammond’s whole deal has, under Geoff Johns, become that he just thinks Hal Jordan is so damn handsome and cool that he wants to become him), and more than enough Johnsian zaniness to keep me fully engaged.

For example, Sinestro throwing up a peace sign shield to block an attack, Larfleeze’s use of his own personal Guardian, the fact that the little mummy bad guy seems to be planning to collect all those crazy Pokemon angel monsters like Parallax and a rather jowly-looking Lex Luthor coming up with another wild land scheme.
I’m really glad that Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy are sticking around as the creative team on GL now that Blackest Night is over (and Ivan Reis is presumably available again…or will be, once he recovers). They are both incredible artists, and Mahnke’s ability to do superheroes, comedy, and rather detailed scary-ass shit makes him a perfect choice for a superhero title full of weird aliens and goofy concepts.

I can’t stop looking at his Lex Luthor, who looks like the old Silver Age Luthor from the neck up, as if he’s gotten that sort of puffy, fat-face look that some Holywood actors get when they reach a certain age, and all the Ethan Van Sciver-level of detail he and Alamy pack into the faces of the more monstrous characters.

Oh, by the way, is there a reason Carol Ferris doesn't have nipples?
Was that explained in some Green Lantern story from the '80s I missed?

Hercules: Fall of an Avenger #2 (Marvel) Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente’s script is as fun and funny as always, but holy moley, what is up with Ariel Olivetti’s art? Painted-looking figures pose and float before blank spaces filled with either computer-generated color fields, special effects and dropped-in photos. It’s ugly, ugly stuff, and there’s no reason a story revolving around a bunch of Greek gods, Marvel superheroes, and Greek gods filtered through Jack Kirby designs should look so lifeless.

Also, I’m going to have to subtract some points for this scene, in which Phobos shows Pluto his worst fears,as I’ve already seen that scene, in Alan Grant and Simon Bisley’s Batman/Judge Dredd: Judgment on Gotham(Which isn’t to say they swiped it intentionally or maliciously or anything; only that it’s not all that original gag, and it was better executed by Grant and Bisley, as they gave it more space and a lot more effort).

The Agents of Atlas back-up, in which Agents Namora and Venus travel the world informing Herc’s old business associates that the immortal hero had apparently died, has a lot more life in it, thanks to pencil artist Reilly Brown’s expressive, action-packed, honest-to-God, panel-border-to-panel-border drawn artwork.

The back-up loses points too, however, for a scene in which the script mentions a minotaur, but the art shows a centaur.

Oh, the shame…

Justice League of America #44 (DC) Hi James Robinson, how’s it going? I know you probably don’t want or need any comics-writing advice from me, given that you’re a successful professional comic book writer and I’m just some guy who complains about comic books on the Internet, but after reading the latest issue of JLoA, I think I’ve noticed one major problem you seem to be stuck on.

You know how about, oh, ten years ago, when thought bubbles stopped appearing in Marvel Comics, and the trend of eschewing thought bubbles for narration boxes came into vogue? That is an absolutely fine and legitimate stylistic choice, putting character narration into narration boxes instead of thought bubbles floating above their heads, as all you’re really doing is switching the point-of-view of the comic from a sort of third-person, omniscient narrator constantly checking in on the thoughts of the lead to a first-person story narrated by the protagonist.

But if you’re going to have a bunch of characters thinking thoughts, say, four, then it doesn’t work quite as well, since what you’re doing is no longer sharing the characters’ thoughts so much as introducing four first-person narrators into a narrative that already has a third-person omniscient narrator, and what you get is a mess. Like Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman, or Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis and JLoA, only worse.

Basically, your book ends up reading just like an old Chris Claremont-written X-Men comic from back in the day, only a little more pretentious and a lot more colorful. Well, good luck with the rest of your run! I hope you got all of your shittiest writing out of your system with Cry for Justice!

Showcase Presents: Dial H For Hero Vol. 1 (DC) I didn't read this one yet. It's long.

Tiny Titans #27 (DC) Raven is babysitting Kid Devil for the weekend, and her father, the four-eyed, be-antlered interdimensional demon god Trigon, is quite taken with the infernal toddler. Featuring a one-panel cameo by Blue Devil…from the neck down.


Jacob T. Levy said...

The hamhandedness of the conclusion to B&B (among other problems-- e.g. Wonder Woman's utterly out of character risque "joke") has finally convinced me that I just need to give up on the book until/ unless another writer comes on board.

Jeremy said...

How big is Congorilla actually supposed to be? In one scene of the new JLA issue he's the same height as Giganta (I think that was her, anyway) and backhanding Sinestro, whose entire body is covered up by Congorilla's hand (making his palm alone about 6 feet wide), but then later he looks about twice as tall as Batman, which would make him only 12 feet tall or so. Did he gain size changing powers at some point, or is the art really just that inconsistent?

Peter said...

I too was fooled by Brave & Bold. I was completely down with the entire issue (Barbara Gordon singing Single Ladies with backup Beyonce-dancing Zatanna and Wonder Woman. Hell yeah!) until the other shoe dropped. Then I was like "dammit Straczynski!". He got me good. I almost not even mad at him. Almost.

This issue actually inspired me to start using "Straczynski" as verb. It's when someone takes what should be a cool/wacky/awesome superhero concept and turns it into something that is waaay too serious and self-important.

For instance: Jimmy Olsen Meets Black Lightning! Jimmy Olsen is on assignment for the Daily Planet to follow Metropolis' other greatest super-hero around for a day and photograph him being badass. Except halfway through Jimmy accidentally drops an N-bomb and the rest of the issue is about why that word shouldn't be used and how we're all a little bit racist inside and racism is bad. BAM! You just got Straczynski-ed.

Peter said...

@ Jeremy H

Believe it or not, it's kind of both.

Robinson said somewhere that the artist in Cry For Justice kept screwing up with Congorilla's proportions, so sometimes he was really huge and other times he was the size of a regular gorilla. But Robinson kind of liked it, so he made it so that now Congorilla can grow in size whenever he gets emotional.

Emotional about Justice! that is.