Sunday, April 17, 2011

Comic shop comics: April 6-13

The All-New Batman: The Brave and The Bold #6 (DC Comics) Now, why wouldn’t a Martian Manhunter comic book series work in our post-Law & Order pop culture landscape? As Sholly Fisch, Rick Burchett and Dan Davis demonstrate in the scenes that book end this comic, he can quite easily be a police drama with a high-concept twist. He’s a detective who can secretly read minds! Because he’s a Martian, and must conceal his true identity and fabulous powers from all around him!

After John Jones and his partner Diane break a case, J’onn visits his pal Batman to help him hone his detective skills. The plan is for J’onn to disguise himself using his shape-changing powers at a predetermined location in Gotham City, and then the World’s Greatest Detective will show up and use his deductive abilities to find J’onn, allowing him to see how Batman’s mind works.

It’s a pretty clever set-up, and Fisch’s demonstrations of Batman’s detective abilities are pretty clever as well. Things go wrong—and need punched around—when another shape-changer coincidentally shows up at one of those locations.

I haven’t been reading Batman Inc, so I’m not 100% positive on this, but I think this might be the very best Batman comic being published at the moment.

Oh, and Calendar Fans will probably want to know that this issue features a four-panel appearance by Calendar Man. Don’t miss it, or you’ll have an unsightly hole in your Every Calendar Man Appearance Ever collection.

Brightest Day #23 (DC) This is it! The penultimate issue of the 24-issue, just-under-a-year bi-weekly series, the one that reveals who Earth’s ultimate savior is (that’s who the White Lantern/Entity has been looking for, through Deadman), what the ultimate threat is and just why the White Lantern has been seemingly making Deadman kill the resurrectees.

The results are certainly intriguing, and some of them are even kind of cool-looking—I kind of dig Earth Elemental J’onn J’onnz, for example—but the big reveal sure came out of nowhere.

I suppose argumentative fans could point to clues—a magic forest, for example, the creation of Elementals—that they could argue count as foreshadowing for this climax, but I’m unconvinced. This really came out of nowhere, and given the amount of page-space available in which to build to, tease or somehow foreshadow it—over 500 story pages and counting—it seems like exceptionally poor storytelling.

Now, I understood why co-writers Geoff Johns and Peter J. Tomasi told the story the way they did. Certainly they wrote that aspect of it poorly on purpose, in order to preserve a big, shocking surprise without so much as a possibility of anyone guessing it, but they did so at the expense of the quality of the story, and I think, in the long run, quality is more important than an un-spoiled surprise. (I suppose an economic case could be made for foreshadowing that reveal earlier as well, as if it were something fans could guess at, argue about and offer theories over for weeks and weeks, it might have raised additional interest, and the shock would be whether or not DC would go through with it, or if it was all a red herring).

I’m incredibly excited to read the next issue, however. Not only will it have to give some sort of resolution to the introduction of the newly reintroduced character (or is that characters…?), but also explain whether J’onn and the other former Leaguers’ new roles and powers are going to be permanent and hopefully explain what the point of resurrecting everyone Dawn, Deadman and everyone who isn’t on this cover was.

I’m expecting a lot of disappointment. For one thing, the announcement of a three-issue Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search For… pretty much guarantees that the issue itself won’t get too far into explaining what the New Guy (or is it New Guys…?) are going to be up to in the DCU.

Cyclops #1 (Marvel Comics) The cover of this particular comic book is drawn by Roger Cruz, and while it’s a nice enough image of X-person Cyclops posing for a hip-hop album cover while his visor breaks down, it doesn’t do a very good job of selling the comic book.

First, the art inside isn’t by Cruz, but instead by Dean Haspiel, whose last name is on the cover, but whose presence obviously isn’t as obvious as Cruz’s from the cover.

Second, the story involves young, teenage Cyclops battling against Batroc the Leaper and The Circus of Crime, two strong selling points to folks who like the goofier, funnier side of old-school Marvel comics. Folks like me. Obviously, there’s no sign of either Batroc or the Circus on the cover.

The results? I totally had no interest in this comic when I saw it in the solicitations—which I read fairly carefully every month, although I glossed over the details—or when I saw it on the shelf at that the comic shop, since it looks like just one more generic comic about one of the most generic of the X-people.

It wasn’t until I read an online review that my slow-moving brain was able to finally put together Cyclops #1, Dean Haspiel and Batroc The Leaper and The Circus of Crime.

Luckily, my comic shop hadn’t sold out of copies by the time I returned to pick it up (The lesson? Maybe the covers should kind of reflect the content once in a while, Marvel; it might sell more comics now and then).

The script is by Lee Black, whose name and work I’m not familiar with, and it tells the story of First Class Cyclops (from the long canceled X-Men: First Class series, in which the X-Men were teenagers, but in the recent past rather than the ‘60s), visiting their coffee shop hangout and preparing to confide his problems to the barista. Then Batroc and The Circus, acting as hired henchpeople for another old-school Marvel villain, crash through the joint in a clown car, and it’s up to Cyclops to stop them all on his own.The designs are all the really bright, really smooth, really poppy ones from the 1960s, drawn by Haspiel in a super-smooth, un-busy style that looks quite a bit like Mike Allred or Nick Dragotta’s Marvel work. It’s the kind of artwork that’s just fun to look at and read, regardless of what it’s in service of, although the story itself is fun and funny all on it’s own.

This is well worth hunting down if, like me, you were fooled by the franchise, the title character and the cover into thinking that this particular comic book wasn’t anything special.

DC Universe Online Legends #5 (DC) Well, this sure isn’t getting any better.

The quality of the interior art continues to hover somewhere between competent and Oh my God I can’t believe DC Comics published this!, with examples falling closer to the latter half of the spectrum being failures of the most basic comics-drawing levels. For example, is Future Lex Luthor a head taller than The Atom and Black Canary, or is he three feet taller? What on earth just happened in that action sequence? And so on.

The cover art still looks a lot like a production designer stole something out of Ed Benes sketchbook when he wasn’t looking, colored it, adeed a logo and some credits and used it as a cover to a comic book it has hardly anything to do with this (One of the character’s on this issue’s cover, for example, appears within. The other doesn’t.)

As for the writing, well, I think I’ve diagnosed one of the reasons I’ve been finding the comic so unsatisfying so far. There’s been very, very little effort to establish the setting or characters of the “present” portion of the story (if you haven’t been reading, half of the book is set in a dystopian future where Lex Luthor has killed Superman and most other super-folks, and is now forced to unite with the few left to defeat the greater threat of Brainiac; the other half occurs before that).

I wouldn’t think too much effort would have been needed to be put into that. Everyone knows who Superman and Batman are, for example, and I assume most of us reading already know who even Martian Manhunter and Hawkman are. But because this is an alternate version of the DCU present (it’s out of continuity, and thus reading other DC comics doesn’t necessarily prepare you for it), one doesn’t really even have a handle on the status quo before the writers start changing it and threatening to erase it.

In the last few issues we’ve seen the Justice League under attack by a cloud of nanites. The specific characters on the Justice League have vascillated from seven to 14 or so, depending on the issue. Here their headquarters “The Watchtower” (presumably a sattelite, like the current DCU HQ, and not the lunar tower that Grant Morrison assigned that name too) is compromised and the life-support systems are going out. Everyone needs to get to the teleporters and safely back to earth.

In one panel, Superman tells Green Lantern Hal Jordan that “Mary Marvel and Black Lightning are in maintenance. They need help.” My reaction wasn’t, “Oh no, Mary Marvel and Black Lightning are in danger!” No, it was, “Mary Marvel, what the fuck is she doing there?” As weird as it was when the artists just started drawing Zatanna and Plastic Man in panels when the JLA that previously appeared in the book was just the Big Seven one, you could kind of roll with it, as at least long-time readers know they’ve been on the League before. But Mary Marvel? What the hell? She’s never been on the Justice League. And she’s not in this book at all either, just her name gets dropped, like “Flash, run down to the bridge and make sure Martian Manhunter and Steve Buscemi are okay!”

The book ends with a cliffhanger, in which Batman, Wonder Woman and the others are all “Everyone accounted for?” and “I think so” and “Then let’s get out of here” and the they all teleport to safety, while the base explodes, and we see a close-up of Aquaman’s face, as he’s left behind.

Sure, it makes there heroes seem pretty dumb and careless (The issue begins with Superman putting Aquaman in a healing tank and telling him to stay there, and remember, dude’s got X-ray super-vision and super-hearing), and “I think so” is the sort of answer one gives when asked if there’s a new episode of a TV program on tonight, not if any of your friends are in an exploding building. But that’s not what sorta bugged me. Rather it was the simple fact that they never told us who was even in the base, so building the dramatic climax over someone being left behind on it felt pretty flat. What about Mary Marvel? I didn’t see her get off! And if she was there, who knows how many random characters could still be down in maintenance with Black Lighting!

Justice League: Generation Lost #22-23 (DC) For some reason, I thought these were the last two issues of the series, but I guess there’s still one more double-sized issue to go. In these issues, our team rallies after thinking Max Lord had killed Blue Beetle II, and prepare for a final assault against their friend turned archenemy. The story is perhaps overcomplicated by the inclusion of three additional characters—Power Girl, Batman and Wonder Woman.

A Batman had previously appeared, but it was the Dick Grayson Batman, as the Bruce Wayne Batman was dead throughout much of the time this comic was being published. This is the original Batman, back from the dead and now with his memories of Max Lord and Wonder Woman restored by the brief time he wore the White Lantern ring in an issue of Brightest Day, and he’s appearing in this comic for the very first time.

As for Wonder Woman, all memory of her has been erased from everyone’s memories except our cast, although for a completely different reason than the one that caused the whole world to forget Lord except our heroes, the very premise for this series—You know, the whatever the heck is going on in the JMS-started, someone else finished current Wonder Woman story arc.

That’s a lot of extra-narrative baggage weighing the climax down, but to writer Judd Winick’s credit he mostly glosses over it. I suppose the final trade will read poorly because of the strange plotting choices circumstances forced on him, and perhaps in several years this will read all the weirder given how much of it is dependent on, or in reaction to, storylines of the moment. But for now, it’s perfectly serviceable, and a nice use of a lot of lower-tier DC superheroes that otherwise might not be seen much, or used as effectively as they are here.

At this point, I’m most curious about what happens next with these characters and this concept–it seems like most of the last 20 issues involved introducing these characters and forging them into a cast, so ending their story at this point is likely going to feel rather abrupt.

Lorna: Relic Wrangler (Image Comics) Like the recent Tyrannosaur one-shot (reviewed here), I grabbed this on a lark, as I liked the Darwyn Cooke cover and the premise seemed to have some potential and, most importantly, it didn’t seem like the sort of thing that would pop up in a trade somewhere later, so it was now or never (Comic book publishers should publish more comic books like that, really; you know, some straight-up, These can’t possibly be written for the trade because they are only 30-pages long one-shot comics).

It’s not really that good. I enjoyed the main story to a certain excent. It’s written by Micha S. Harris and drawn by Loston Wallace. The latter’s artwork is excellent, and looks awfully Bruce Timm-inspired, which is a great thing given his subject matter—attractive, young ladies, generally costumed and positioned so as to be obgled. I didn’t much care for Wallace’s fashion design though; scantily-clad is cool with me, but scantily-clad and tacky? Not so much, really.

The story is silly, a mélange of overly-familiar stuff you’ve seen done better elsewhere, but given the light, silly tone of Harris’ script, it’s clear he’s not taking himself or his story ultra-seriously, so there’s little point in being annoyed in a goofy comic story being kind of goofy.

The lead story is 17 pages long. The rest of the book is fairly lame-o. There are a trio of pin-ups featuring the title character and her antagonist by a trio of artists. They’re nice enough, but nothing special.

Then there’s the first of two back-up stories, also written by Harris. It’s basically three pages leading up to a funny pun, and probably three pages too long. This one reveals that Lorna apparently works as a waitress at a Hooters-like bar called Popes. (I don’t get it). Art is from Olli Hihnala, and in a very different style than that of the lead.

Then there’s a pin-up by Paul Maybury, which is something special:And finally there’s another five-page short in which we see Lorna is sexually harassed by her boss at the weird Hooters-like restaurant (He smacks her ass and she thinks, “Jerk!” A real woman of action.) This one has a sort of urban legend feel to it, and features art by Michael Youngblood. It’s decent enough art, but his style is so realistic that it looks a bit ugly and weird following Cooke’s, Wallace’s and even Hihnala’s. I suppose seeing older men leering at a scantily-clad young lady doesn’t seem as incredibly creepy when she’s clearly a cartoon young lady, but grows increasingly uncomfortable when the young lady is drawn as a real, live human being.

I’d probably give a Lorna: Relic Wrangler #2 a miss, but then, there is no second issue, as this is a one-shot. See, that’s another good thing about comics like this—readers can’t drop them.

Neko Ramen Vol. 4: We’re Going Green! Kind Of… (Tokyopop) Is this the last volume of the world’s greatest comic book about a cat who runs a ramen shop? I’m afraid it might be, based on the bad news about Tokyopop all over the Internet starting Friday afternoon (with this post, I believe).

That really sucks. I know hardcore manga fans and comics creators and observers have likely had a lot to complain about regarding the publisher and its management over the years, but I think it’s an indisputable fact that they’ve done as much as any other publisher (and a hell of a lot more than most comics publishers) to interest a new generation of readers in the medium of comics. (Mainly, through their bookstore-sold, $10, 200-page trades).

I’m sure as hell gonna miss a lot of the series I’m currently reading if they go away and no one else picks up the license, especially this one, which is one of the newer ones I’ve yet to fall way behind on, as I inevitably do with most manga I like once it surpasses a certain number of volumes.

Orc Stain #6 (Image Comics) After a short hiatus, James Stokoe’s fantasy series continues, with his hero One-Eye trying to break out of a building that is, like most of the architecture (and tools and even some of the clothing) in Stokoe’s world, a living organism. The various parties all intersect and prepare to do battle.

I’m afraid I don’t have anyting fresh to say about Stokoe’s Orc Stain. If you’ve been reading it all along, then you already know, and if you haven’t, well, next time you’re in a comic shop, pick in issue up, open the cover and just look at it. That’s Orc Stain, and it’s awesome.

SpongeBob Comics #2 (United Plankton Pictures) I read most of this trip’s worth of comics at my sister’s house the other day. Niece #1 picked up this comic, went into the next room, and read it twice. Niece #2 came up and complained that her older sister wasn’t letting her look at it (even though #2 can’t read yet). After #2 and her grandmother looked at it, they gave it back to Niece #1, who did the activity on page 19, finish drawing Patrick’s cousins, each of which artist Andy Rementer drew a single part of (see below). She asked me if she could color them in with marker, and I said no; I can take some drawing in my comics, but I draw the line at markers! So she went and got a piece of paper and then carefully redrew the entire panel, Rementer’s parts and the parts she drew, and then wrote out the dialogue in the panel, and colored her copy in with markers. Later that night, their grandmother, casting around for something to read, finished the newspaper and then read this comic.Basically, SpongeBob Comics is fun for the whole family, is what I’m trying to say here. I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes.

I sure liked it. There are some more short pieces from James Kochalka and R. Sikoryak, another page of the very strange looking SpongeBob that Rementer draws, a swell Ed Roth-style cover by Brian Smith, and a few longer stories that do some neat things with comics story-telling.

I really liked this panel from a Derek Drymon and Gregg Schigiel story, in which the square character is perfectly framed by the square panel borders: And in a neat Robert Leighton and Jacob Chabot strip in which SpongeBob divides himself into two halves in order to do two different things at the same time on the same day, the comic splits into two threads which crisscross one another over and over.

Wolverine/Hercules: Myths, Monsters & Mutants #2 (Marvel) The second issue of Frank Tieri and Juan Santacruz’s miniseries is every bit as fun as the first, and benefits from not having to muck around with justifying throwing these two characters together or creating a conflict involving enemies of each.

Wolverine’s bad guy and a head he keeps in a boss—Hercules’ bad guy, maybe?—are attempting to take over the ninja clan The Hand, and to stop the heroes they’re resurrecting dead monsters from Greek mythology.

Zombie monsters of Greek myth sounds a little cooler than it actually is in practice—these are Hand zombies, which are just like the living, except with red eyes, not the rotting flesh sort of zombies that are most popular these days.

Neat cover, too.


Jeremy said...

I know their stories got addressed elsewhere, but does it seem weird to anyone else that a full third of the 12 characters resurrected by the White Lantern (Jade, Osiris, Max Lord and Reverse Flash) were almost completely absent from Brightest Day? I kind of expected them to have something to do with the story, but with one issue left it doesn't feel like they will be suddenly returning to do anything relevant.

David Charles Bitterbaum said...

That Cyclops comic was some good fun. I was going to ignore it too, but after seeing a positive review on some website (I can't recall which) I went out and bought it to much enjoyment--as I said on my blog (shameless plug alert, but not shameless enough that I'm so crass I'll put a link). I agree that covers really need to better reflect the contents. Don't get me started on covers showing two people fighting when nothing of the sort actually occurs in the comics itself...

Aki Alaraatikka said...

I have a guestion about the Batman:B&B-cover.
Did Clayfaces fist go right thru J`onn J`onzz!!!???

Nicholas Ahlhelm said...

I've long held that someone should make a high concept detective series starring Martian Manhunter. He wouldn't ever even have to turn green. Just have his eyes glow red or something when he uses his powers.

Unfortunately, no one listens to me.

Earlofthercs said...

I would pay so much cash money for a JLA comic with a line-up that included Steve Buscemi.

Caleb said...

I know their stories got addressed elsewhere, but does it seem weird to anyone else that a full third of the 12 characters resurrected by the White Lantern

It's going to seem extremely awkward if, like, Max Lord and Jade and Osiris have nothing to do with the White Lantern and the Entity and so on. Again, I can understand why they might have done it—DC just wanted Jade and Max alive for other comics—but it would be cool if they weren't so transparent about it.

I have a guestion about the Batman:B&B-cover.
Did Clayfaces fist go right thru J`onn J`onzz!!!???

Oh my God, I have no idea! There's fire there, so J'onn can't be intangible (also, he's acting like it hurt), but there's some splashing on his torso, where the fist would have entered, as if Clayface's arm didn't penetrate...but then again, it's certainly coming out of his back.

I...guess so? Damn, that's a weird cover.

Oddly, I had the opposite reaction to this one as the Cyclops cover...while that one hid too much, this one sorta had too much, as it spoiled the surprise appearance of a second, villanous shapeshifter.