Monday, January 10, 2011

Comic shop comics: Dec. 29-Jan. 5

The All New Batman: The Brave and The Bold #2 (DC Comics) One of the many things I like abut the television cartoon that this comic is an adaptation of is the way that different characters closely hew to the designs of the different real-life comics artists who have drawn them at various points over their existence. So, for example, Batman and his villains look like Bob Kane, one of his ghosts or Dick Sprang drew them, while Kamandi and The Demon and The Fourth World folks look Kirby-esque, while Captain Marvel’s cast looked like C.C. Beck’s and Plastic Man and Woozy looked like smoothed-over Jack Cole (It’s especially evident when you compare the characters as they appeared in the earlier, Bruce Timm-designed shows versus how they appear in Brave and The Bold).

That trait doesn’t often carry over to the comics, which don’t have the same sort of unified design or look that the episodes of the shows do, but Rick Burchett’s work on this second issue of the re-booted series sure does.

Check this out:

The story? Psycho Pirate is using the emotion-controlling powers of his Medusa Mask—stripped down in design to resemble something approaching emoticon simplicity—to drive everyone in Gotham nuts. Billy Batson and Mr. Tawny have come to town to do some Christmas shopping, and it’s up to Captain Marvel to talk Batman out of his depression and take down the Pirate.

How does Cap get through to a frowning Batman who no longer sees the point in fighting crime? (Note this is only the second saddest Batman I've ever seen)

Why, by reminding him that his parents are dead, of course: In addition to the Sprang/Beck allusions in his clean, bright artwork, Burchett includes a lot of clever little sight gags in the backgrounds, and he and writer Fisch did get me to laugh out loud at least once.

It’s not the best Batman: The Brave and The Bold Christmas issue–the one where Batman and Adam Strange accidentally create the inspiration for the modern, secular celebration of Christmas while saving the Earth from a shape-changing alien is practically impossible to beat—but damn it’s a fine comic book.

Brightest Day #17 (DC) Despite entire decades to get used to it, I never really could come to like Firestorm’s costume…beyond appreciating the color-scheme. The cover for this issue, which features Firestorm in front of his symbol, may offer a clue why—his logo/icon is asymmetrical. (Not that anyone asked me, but I woulda lost the three little red orbs and just used the sun-like symbol for this cover’s purposes).

This is the first of DC’s January books that employ this particular design on my list, so I suppose now is as good a time as any to talk about them in general: I like ‘em. They’re very striking, and stand out on the shelf. I don’t know if the contents in all of the January issues are actually as character-focused as the covers are, and thus whether or not they provide ideal jumping-on points or not—of the three books with this design I read this week, two of them are one-shot specials, and this issue is more plot-focused than character focused—but the covers at least suggest that, if nothing else, they provide a good place for your eyes to jump on.

(That said, Firestorm looks bizarre with a photorealistic effect pouring out of his head like that; he’s a character who really, really needs to be hand-drawn, top-to-bottom, to not look ridiculous-in-an-uncool way).

After a few storyline specific issues, this one checks in with several different ongoing stories. Four pages of Firestorm, seven pages of Boston Brand, and the rest devoted to the Hawks on the pink planet of the Star Sapphires.

While this is a 22-page book, if DC is transitioning from 22/$2.99 books to 20/$2.99 books, they’re really going to have to cut back on splash pages. For example, this one issue had two two-page splashes and two single-page splashes. That’s almost a fifth of the book spent on four panels, and even when the splashes are as completely insane as, say, this—that’s just not very good pacing, nor a very good value.

Green Lantern #61 (DC) Is the Green Lantern franchise—second only to Batman in popularity at DC at the moment—something of a metaphorical doughnut? You know, not all that good for you, but sweet and filling nonetheless? And shaped so that there’s all this delicious decadent stuff, except at the center, where there’s an empty hole of nothingness?

I had that thought while reading this particular issue of what is now the flagship of a whole line of GL comics. The title character, Hal Jordan, isn’t in this particular issue at all—he’s not even mentioned. Red Lantern Atrocitus gets the most panel-time (in that respect, this issue is basically writer Geoff Johns’ GL version of the “rogue spotlight” issues he used to do on Flash), and I realized I didn’t miss him one bit. And that I started thinking about the things that has helped propel the GL franchise over the last few years, and noticed next to nothing of that was Hal Jordan-specific.

Rather, the popular aspects of the book seem to be all the otherly-colored Lanterns, the centrality of their “War of Light” and the “emotional spectrum” in Johns’ modern mythology of the DC Universe. Could any of the Green Lantern stories we’ve gotten since, say, “The Sinestro Corps War” not have been told without Hal? Like, say, if Kyle Rayner or Guy Gardner or John Stewart were still the Green Lantern headlining the Green Lantern title?

At any rate, rather than revisit the cliffhanger at the end of #60, we change scenes to follow Atrocitus as he pursues The Butcher, the big, red, glowing bull that is the universal avatar for rage (and also the Red Lantern’s mascot). Also after The Butcher is The Spectre. As for The Butcher, its after a new host body, and it chooses the father of a murdered little girl watching her killer about to be executed.

The story plays out as most involving The Spectre teaming up with or otherwise meeting another name character do, although this is very definitely a Geoff Johnsian take on the familiar scenario, with Johns not doing anything to write against type here: The art is, of course, as gorgeously detailed and kinetic as always, thanks to pencil artist Doug Mahnke and his four inkers, and there’s at least one interesting idea in here.

After a big fight with multiple combatants, The Spectre is all set to execute the bereaved father, who had killed the killer of his child, since he had blood on his hands.

If that’s the case, I wonder what The Spectre would have done if The Butcher and Atrocitus hadn’t burst in on the planned execution of the killer—what if the unnamed state had executed the killer, instead of a Butcher-possessed father? Would The Spectre have still avenged his death, killing his killer? Who would he kill? The person who flipped the switch on the electric chair? Or the entire state, since its that state’s legislators and voters that ultimately bear the responsibility? Unless the prison was a federal prison, in which case The Spectre would have to take on the whole country…?

Well, the point is moot, since Atrocitus talks The Spectre out of his Specter-ing, but the moral responsibility of state-sanctioned execution isn’t really a question I expected to arise in a comic containing scenes like this—

Starman/Congorilla #1 (DC) I’ve already covered the cover upon first seeing it, so let’s skip that part of this special one-shot, but Justice League of America writer James Robinson and incoming JLoA pencil artist Brett Booth.

If you’re reading JLoA, then you’ll already know that much of the current League—Donna Troy, Jade, Supergirl, Jesse Quick and Batman Dick Grayson—are currently trapped in Washington D.C. with some toothy looking weirdo named The Omega Man, plus The Crime Syndicate and a few other super-types. An impenetrable force field has them trapped there.

In order to help break them out, Congorilla wants to find a super-scientist of his acquaintance, and so he must first rouse a badly hung-over Starman Mikaal Tomas to help track him down. The super-scientist is a gorilla from Gorilla City, and he’s being stalked by a gorilla terrorist cell from Gorilla City. Also joining the search are Animal Man and this guy—Robinson’s scripting is fine. There’s an almost Jeph Loebian tendency of moving each scene along by dropping another name or having another cameo, which is fine with me in this instance, as it's only a one-off book, and besides, those are some of my favorite names and cameos.

It’s not brilliant work or anything, but Robinson’s in kind of a weird phase of his career right now, having completed his name-making hit Starman long ago, and having sullied his rep with Cry For Justice recently. It’s hard to look at anything he’s written since and fit it into a “Well, it’s no Starman, but at least its not Cry For Justice” category.

It was okay. I thought one line was funny. I liked that he brought that one character back to life after having killed him in Cry, although it only makes the decision to kill him in the first place look dumber. (Also, why don’t the do the same to Lian Harper?) More on the resurrection in a bit.

This page is pretty weak, though:(Although I’ve certainly seen worse)

Now, if you’re going to do a rather light-hearted comic about some goofy Silver Age characters fighting gorillas, who would you say is an ideal artist for the story? If you said “Brett Booth,” then you are probably Justice League editor Eddie Berganza.

I feel a little self-conscious talking about Booth’s art here, like he’s watching me—in large part because we’ve had some (civil!) back and forth about that work in the comments section to the last installment of this feature, and I have repeatedly expressed my desire to talk about his work at some length in some detail—and never gotten around to it.

In short, I don’t like it overall, but I like something about it, or I see something in it that I would have liked when I was younger, or that I could see someone liking quite a bit, but I think it’s outweighed by the extraneous little lines and the figures’ strange relationships to their settings, and the more-or-less completely generic layouts. I will do a dedicated post on Booth’s art at some point, but he suggests I wait a while until his JLoA run gets rolling, and that seems like a fine idea to me (the art on this book is better than the art in the Larfleeze book, for example, so maybe JLoA will be better still).

Let’s just take a cursory look then…

He draws a good gorilla face:

He draw a fine Rex, at rest (above), or in battle:(And what right do I have to criticize the drawing of Rex, anyway…?)

I do like his redesign of the character (spoiler!) Tasmanian Devil, whose resurrection comes at the end of this book (and a bit out of left-field, but whatever—this is a comic book where a blue, gay space alien teams up with a giant golden gorilla and Rex The Wonder Dog to fight gorilla terrorists; out-of-left-fieldishness gets a pass):There’s something unsettlingly furry-ish about the the totally ripped but svelte physique, but this leaner looking Tasmanian Devil actually looks like he’s half-Tasmanian Devil, which is one-up on his previous incarnation, which, depending on the artist, tended to look like a werewolf pumped full of a combination of steroids and helium.

I don’t like figures, which have bodies similar to shojo characters, but are muscled and costumed and often rendered like characters from early nineties Image super-comics. For example:Holy shit look at Buddy’s mantle! It’s like eight feet off the ground…or more, considering it’s in the background! And are his slacks and golf shirt, with the collar popped like a common, club-going douche bag, actually tighter than his spandex costume?

Steel #1 (DC) This is licensed sci-fi novelist Steve Lyons’ comics writing debut, and it is a terribly written comic book.

I don’t know if we can really judge Lyons’ abilities at comics-writing based on this single project, given that he’s quite freely admitted that this wasn’t the story he originally pitched and wrote—the story that DC had solicited and had Sean Chen already drawing—but the one DC editorial asked him to write after they retroactively decided the already-scheduled Steel as the launching point for their cross-books “Reign of Doomsday” story (Strangely enough, because of the layout for DC’s January-shipping books and the placement of the “Reign” logo, this book actually looks like its entitled Reign of Doomsday rather than Steel at first glance).

The story here isn’t really much of a story at all. Doomsday attacks Metropolis, and despite the fact that Doomsday once killed Superman himself and Steel is only a normal human being in a suit of armor, he fights him one-on-one. For the entire 20 pages of the book’s length.

The idea behind January’s books, with their unified character-posing-in-front-of-their-symbol on an all-white field, is to focus on the characters themselves, and this issue does dance around introducing people to Steel and what makes him special, while kinda sorta alluding to aspects of his origin.

It does so in the most deadly boring way possible, however—Steel’s interior monologue is presented as narration, so he tells a bit about himself, the only flashback to his actual origin being a previously unseen scene in a hospital, and no mentions of the presumably pivotal moments in his decision to invent a suit of armor to try and be Superman. (Mark Waid and Jon Bogdanove did a better job on Steel’s origin in about a half-dozen panels in their two-page 52 origin story, although it ends at the point Steel was at during 52).

The focus of the issue is the battle, although it is written as a first chapter in a longer story, so it doesn’t exactly stand up on its own. Doomsday attacks Metropolis for some reason, Superman’s not there to help for some reason (I guess we shouldn’t think about where he is and what he’s doing too hard; his current status quo does mean that he’s basically just a few seconds worth of super-speed flight away from Steel, probably lecturing someone or being a douche, however).

Doomsday is also different for some reason; he can now kinda sorta talk, his bone protrusions turn into metallic armor while fighting Steel, he can fly, and he evolves much faster than Steel anticipated.

Doomsday seemingly beats Steel to death—Steel thinks he’s a goner as he passes out, anyway—then throws him over his shoulder and flies off, leaving Steel’s torn cape flapping against the handle of his hammer, in a call back to that famous Superman image from his fight to the death against Doomsday.

The artwork for this story is provided by Ed Benes, and either because of the fact that it was by necessity a rush job, or because he inked his own work or because colorist Blond went easy on the little black lines, it’s some of the cleanest, most appealing artwork I’ve seen from Benes in a long time.

There’s even an attractive female in skin-tight clothes featured in the plot, and Benes manages not to move the focus away from the Steel vs. Doomsday story to just draw pictures of her butt instead. Amazing! (She is dressed in a completely insane outfit, although I know Benes didn’t design it.)

The issue is therefore all-around competent, but there’s nothing to it so compelling as demand attention in this form. Perhaps “Reign of Doomsday” will be an okay super-comic story, but it’s too early to tell, and the fact that each chapter will be written and illustrated by different creators all but guarantees every 20 pages or so will vary pretty widely in terms of style and quality.

It’s a strange, strange project, and nothing under its cover is half as interesting as the story behind its creation, and what that says about DC Comics and super-comics in general.

Tiny Titans #35 (DC) I’m pretty sure this is the very best issue of Tiny Titans yet. I know I’ve said that plenty of times before, and I say it again now not because I have terrible short-term memory and not because I’m terribly unimaginative and have a hard time thinking up new ways to positively review a great comic I’ve reviewed 34 times before, but because Art Baltazar and Franco keep producing new work that is even better than their previous work.

In this issue Talon, the Robin-like sidekick of Owlman, the Batman of a parallel earth, tries to explain to “our” Robin the concept of alternate dimensions by opening an extra-dimensional portal and allowing the new dimension’s Titans to come on over.

And he’s frustrated by the results, since these Titans aren’t evil opposites, but have only extremely minor differences to the real Tiny Titans, like differently colored costumes and saying “Titans Aw Yeah!” instead of “Aw Yeah Titans!”It's really great and, if for some reason you've yet to read the most comical super-comic on the market, it's also a great issue to sample.


john said...

Hi Caleb,
I liked your point in relation to Brightest Day about 20 page comics and cutting down the full pages spreads. On a slight tangent, but still relevant and supporting your point I'd say, is this page from the website of former Marvel UK editor Dez Skinn:

(scroll down to the Spiderman pages)


The Irredeemable Shag said...

I'm biased, but I dig Firestorm's costume. I think Al Migrom is a fantastic costume designer and it was very refreshing for DC in the 1970s. The updates to the costume have kept up with the times.

Also, David Finch originally intended for the background to be black on this cover. It works much better in black. I thought you might enjoy Finch's blog post about the cover development:

Keep up the great work here on your blog!

The Irredeemable Shag - The Source for DC's Nuclear Man