Friday, April 02, 2010

Comic shop comics (March 31st)

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam #14 (DC Comics) Having talked so much about new artist Mike Norton in discussing #13, his first issue on the series, I find I don’t have terribly much to say about this issue.

It’s pretty standard, run-of-the-mill superhero comics, with little invention or humor invested in the scripting, but then if Art Baltazar and Franco are aimng for a kids rather than all-ages audience, I’m hardly going to complain—how often does DC publish not-terrible comics featuring any Marvels, anyway? That may be a low bar, but if my choices are a mediocre story that clears the not-terrible bar, or one that finds ways to sink beneath it, well, let’s go with the former, huh?

This issue is the first in which Norton gets to spend any great amount of time on Black Adam, and he does a pretty amazing job of it. He manages to make Black Adam look like he did in the comics from the ‘40s and earl ‘70s and look new, fresh modern and of the Jeff Smith-inspired world of the current series simultaneously.

Also, Norton sure can draw the hell out of a tiger brushing his teeth and running around in a suit. Let’s ditch this Billy Batson character and just refocus this book as Tawky Tawny and The Magic of Shazam, why don’t we?

Blackest Night #8 (DC) What a disappointment this issue was. Writer Geoff Johns has done a fine job of building up to this issue for about five years now, which served (of course) to make the task of providing a satisfying, appropriately-scaled conclusion extremely difficult. No one would have been happier to see him stick the landing more than I, and given the way he managed to keep throwing out surprises (some of which were unexpected twists on long-expected, obvious developments), I had hope that he might be able to do it.

In the previous issue, for example, he introduced a wacky, radical new creation myth while delivering the most obvious climax of his colored Corps storyline—a Lantern gets a white ring to defeat the Black Lanterns—but went ahead and put that ring on the finger of the a bad guy. In the last issue of Green Lantern, which essentially served as an optional Blackest Night #7.5, he explored that creation myth in depth, going half-Kirby in his mixture of superhero sci-fi and myth and religion, even claiming the Book of Genesis as a Blackest Night.

So what knock-out punch of a plot point was he saving for Blackest Night #8? Er, he wasn’t saving anything at all, as it turns out, this final issue just sort of trots to the finish in perfectly generic fashion.

A quick summary: White Lantern Sinestro is unable to defeat Nekron, who separates him from the white light entity. Then all the Lantern Corps of all colors arrive and they all shoot their beams at Nekron. That doesn’t work either. Then Deadman floats up and is all like, “Hey Hal, forget Nekron, just bring Black Hand back to life, since he’s Nekron’s tether or whatever, okay?” And so Hal becomes the White Lantern as everyone’s been expecting for at least two years now, and deputizes the Black Lanterns who got rings even though they were alive because Nekron “allowed” them to come back to life previously, forming a White Lantern Corps that lasts about a splash page (But will allow DC Direct to wring a third Wonder Woman action figure out of this storyline!). They use their rings to bring Black Hand back to life, and this causes him to puke out a White Lantern ring (“OOORRFFF!”), which flies through Nekron, destroys the Black Lantern power battery. Then Black Hand pukes up even more White Lantern rings and Nekron explodes and thirteen dead characters come back to life with costume redesigns.

These thirteen basically fall into two categories, the completely expected (Hawkman, Hawkwoman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter and Firestorm) and out-of-left-field/who-gives-a-fuck (Max Lord, Jade, Reverse-Flash I, Captain Boomerang I, Hawk I), only one of which seems bizarre in an intriguing way (Deadman)*.

What’s strange about these particular characters returning to life is the way in which they’re brought back to life. They’re not randomly chosen by being, say, the Black Lanterns who got caught in a blast of the white light of creation when any of the White Lanterns were throwing around beams, but are very specifically chosen by The Entity, which is apparently not God-God, but some sort of sub-God-God, if not intended to be Jesus (Happy Easter!), the Holy Spirit or The Logos. (The Entity even says, “Let there be Light,” while Nekron explodes screaming “AAAAIIIIIEEEEE!”)**

So what’s perhaps frustrating about this element of the book is that there’s clearly an in-story agency behind the choices of the resurrections, which are clearly meant to be actual climax of the story based on the space devoted to them (despite the fact that the absence of any of the resurrected didn’t really play any part in any aspect of Blackest Night or its few years worth of build-up), but its not shared or even hinted at during this, the last issue of the series.

Obviously we’re meant to be intrigued enough to follow the next big DC comics starring these characters (or read the next trades, in the case of people experiencing the Blackest Night “graphic novel” in future collection format), but while reading it, the reader is more-or-less forced to wonder why these characters, and the only answer available is, “Because Geoff Johns likes them, or one of his editors does, and he or they have plans for them in upcoming comics.”

Such transparency in a fictive work is never very appealing, and given the prominence of that resurrection event here, it’s especially galling. Why Max Lord and J’onn J’onnz instead of The Dibnys? Well, because those first two are going to be in Justice League: The Lost Generation, and the latter aren’t. One gets the impression that the only reason Osiris is brought back to life instead of, I don’t know, Dolphin or Neon The Unknown or Orca is because he was part of a storyline someone proposed during a creative retreat, and none of those others weren’t.

Regarding the space devoted to that resurrection scene, it comes in the form of a four-page, fold-out splash. That splash simply depicts a medium shot of the characters all half-standing, half-posing, with The Entity’s White Lantern font saying “LIVE” along the bottom. The image doesn’t need the space for any reason, but because splashes and double-page splashes have been used so liberally throughout this series and it’s Green Lantern tie-ins, the only way to make this moment look more important than White Lantern Sinestro taking a swing at Nekron or Black Lantern Batman appearing was to figure out a way to use even more pages on a splash panel. (The count in this issue, by the way, is one four-page fold-out splash, three double-page splashes and two one-page splashes…so, 12 pages of a 40–page comic devoted to five panels).

Maybe three-fourths of that page count is devoted to ending the Blackest Night itself, with the rest of the book dedicated to offering a page or two to each of the resurrected characters by way of forshdowing the bi-weekly Brightest Day series and several of its tie-ins. For example, Guy Gardner confronts Max Lord and is all like, “I’ll stop you!” But Lord escapes and slinks off into the mist, saying “I’ll see you in the pages of Justice League: Lost Generation!” And Hank Hall’s all like, “What?! A Democrat is president? Of the United States? And he’s black?!” and Dove’s all like, “Calm down Hank, you’ve got to learn to be more tolerant of those to the left of you’re political views…perhaps Orcale can help you, when we join the Birds of Prey” and so on (Er, I’m taking some liberties with the scenes as they actually appear…you all realize that, right?).

As far as these things go, this entire event is probably the best of DC’s since….oh, DC One Million?…at least in my opinion, and by any metric I can come up with. This issue was pretty disappointing though and, as a story being told across eight comic books, it is, of course, pretty awful.

On the plus side, Ivan Reis deserves a gold star—not a sticker, but an actual star made out of gold—for penciling the whole damn thing his damn self, making this DC’s best-looking and most consistent event series of the last five year cycle of such things.

And this issue did crack me up twice. The first time was on the very first page, in panel four, wherein Hal Jordan not only quotes a poem in narration, but he quotes a Latin poem. Is there anything less Hal Jordan-y that poetry? The second time was on the goofy “bonus” material page, on which Johns writes his fake bible in ugly font next to illustrations of repurposed art work. This is the first time I’ve read it all the way through, because this one is written entirely in that Ewok language the Indigo Tribe talks in. So it’s just a whole damn page of “Nekron lor lek nek nek sura Guardians wa ret scopet” and so on. That right there is completely un-make-fun-of-able.

Justice League of America #43 (DC) This issue is noteworthy because although it is the current creative team’s sixth one since taking over, it is the first to come out since the completion of Justice League: Cry For Justice, the events of which took place in-story before the first of those six issues. In fact, this issue came out on the same day that the last issue of Blackest Night did too, and the last two issues of JLoA were set after that miniseries.

Er, does that even make sense? Wait, let me put it this way: This is the first issue of JLoA since Robinson and Bagley took over in which readers have access to all of the information that the characters and creators are operating under.

Of course, this issue is also part of a loose crossover of sorts (it’s branded with “Rise and Fall” dressing, which just means it mentions the events of a couple of Green Arrow comics), and is about to head into a Brightest Day branded crossover with Justice Society of America.

So I guess the change in creative teams and team rosters hasn’t really lead to any sort of change in direction for the book—it still struggles to tell its own stories while wading through constant crossovers, and frustratingly, surprisingly, the cast is in constant flux.

This is surprising because in this issue most of the “new” line-up leaves the book, despite the fact that Robinson just introduced them within the last two issues. I’m sure there’s a rationale for adding Starfire and Cyborg and Green Arrow and Black Canary to the line-up just to have them quit next issue, but, um, I’m not sure what it is.

At least the art is all by the same pencil artist now, so the stabilization of the book’s visuals—and the longer page-count—are actually changes that have occurred since the new creative team took over.

In terms of quality, this is pretty much like the last few: Readable but unremarkable. Again, a low bar successfully hurdled.

*For more Caleb-talking-about-how-he-feels-about-each-of-these-characters, please see yesterday's Blog@Newsarama post on the subject...written before I even read the issue, for maximum ignorance of my subject matter!

**Where the hell is Zauriel to explain this stuff, huh? Also, he died and came back to life at least once, why wasn’t he a Black Lantern and then a White Lantern, or was his resurrectuion special because it was divine?


Jeremy said...

It's funny that so much got crammed into Blackest Night #8 (not much if it all that interesting, really) that the Anti-Monitor being brought back to life is almost an afterthought.

Randal said...

God dammit, does that mean the White Lantern Hal Jordan is gonna be the impossible-to-get exclusive at Comic Con?

LurkerWithout said...

I miss the Morrison run of JLA. If only for how it would work with the various EVENTS of its member's titles without actually getting hamstrung by them...

Martin Gray said...

That resurrection of the Anti-Monitor was hilarious. 'I'M BACKKKK!' Oops.