Saturday, July 16, 2011

Comic shop comics: June 29-July 6

Empowered Special #2 (Dark Horse Comics) This comic book special, featuring a story entitled “Ten Questions for the Maidman,” spins out of Adam Warren’s series of original graphic novels, presumably simply to remind the market that Empowered still exists and is one of the best superhero comics existant, while we await the release of the seventh volume (And it’s gonna be a bit of a wait yet; according to an ad in the back of this special, it’s not due to drop until spring of next year.)

Adam Warren writes the whole shebang, but only draws one of the two narrative threads. He handles the bits featuring Emp, in her ongoing efforts to exploit the feared name of Maidman (Who is essentially just Batman, if Batman dressed as a sexy French maid instead of as a giant bat), while the coincidentally surnamed artist Emily Warren draws the bits during which Maidman grants a television interview to Blitzcraig of the Superstrong Words show (These are in color).

Adam Warren’s plotting is as clever and fun as always, and this is a rather effective way to tell an Empowered story that relates to the main character without seeming completely integral to her ongoing developments or conflicts. That is, it’ s more of a Maidman story than an Empowered one, although of course his story instersects with hers.

While the story serves as both an incredibly well-made expression of superhero comedy, action and genre and a parody of the conventions of the genre, I suspect it will resonate most strongly with a certain type of fan…the fan who tends to think about superheroes and superhero comics a lot, and reads and writes about them on the Internet.

Warren’s dialogue echoes all sorts of Internet discussions, from the rather obscure (Whether the word “Janissary” has positive or negative connoatations, which came up regarding this “Planet DC” character) to more fundamental questions, about the non-traditional sexual questions heroes like Batman suggest or why characters like Power Girl and Supergirl are always showing so much skin when they’re supposed to be fighting crime (It’s actually pretty amazing how Warren can take something Power Girl might say in her book and then stick it in Maidman’s dialogue bubble, and completely change the meaning of it, simply by him being a man who’s always flashing his panties from beneath his super-short skirt.

Here's a pretty typical exchange: Batman: One step removed from being a furry.

Oh, it may also be worth noting that this comic is a little shorter than most—it's only nine-inches high instead of ten-inches high. It doesn’t effect the story in any negative way, as Warren’s Empowered ogns share those dimensions, but it looks a lot smaller in a stack with a bunch of DCs and Marvels. Reading through it, I wondered how the market would react if the Big Two switched to this format as a possible money-saving move (if a few inches less paper equals more savings in printing costs).

Certainly some comics need bigger vistas, but, say, any of those boring people talking for 14-20 pages books that Marvel likes to publish, usually with Bendis’ name attached. Those would read about the same in this format, and I don’t think anyone would miss that extra inch of background-less black space behind the talking heads, you know?

15-Love #2 (Marvel Entertainment) I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that I was one of only 15 people in North America who purachsed this issue from a comic shop. It’s…fine, but the major incentive for reading it—curiousity—was sated by the first issue. Still the best teen tennis melodrama in mighty Marvel manner on the stands but, um, you know how many teen tennis melodram’s Marvel publishes in their mighty manner….

Flashpoint #3 (DC Comics*) This is quite well-drawn and has an action-packed plot with lots of color, familiar characters—it’s pretty much what you want from your average superhero comic, and the fact that it stands out as particularly good probably says more about the story state of modern superhero comics than it does about it’s quality.

A few random points, if you’ll indulge me.

1.) First, this issue, like the first two, is $3.99. It has 26 story pages in it. The previous issue had only 22 story pages, and the first issue was pages. That’s kind of strange, isn’t it? Not that I’m complaining that this issue is longer than the last one, of course.

2.) This issue opens with a scene that didn’t really make sense to me. The President of the United States of America, who Kubert draws to resemble Barck Obama instead of whatever generic made-up guy is currently president of the DCU’s USA, “relieving Cyborg of duty” because he failed to get Batman and the other superheroes on board to beat up Evil Aquaman and Evil Wonder Woman.

When Cyborg points out that the regular U.S. military guys won’t stand a chance against the evil superheroes, Obama’s like, “Yeah, well, we gotta try. Thanks anyway Cyborg.”

Can’t Cyborg fight with the regular old U.S. troops…?

Beyond the headstratching logic, what really stood out in this scene for me was what the accidental politics of it might be. Did you guys see Colin “Too Busy Thinking About My Comics” Smith’s post about gender and race in Flashpoint and Fear Itself last week? (Both Blog@Newsarama and Robot 6 linked to it, so I’m assuming there’s a pretty good chance you did).

Smith points out that while Cyborg seemingly has a plum role in the world of Flashpoint, as its Superman, the story is constructe to constantlyr emind us that the world is a fallen one, where things are wrong, and the thrust of the series is that the heroes must put the world back together so that it’s the way it should be, again, the right way.

That is, so that Cyborg’s back to being a B- or C-Lister who’s best days are behind him, and who is usually relegated to babysitting the new generation of Teen Titans, if doing anything at all. (I know that Geoff Johns himself doesn’t think that, based on the many times he’s written the character, and the many different ways he’s tried to cram him in whenever possible, due to what seems like genuine affection, but that’s what the story he’s currently writing suggests).

Anyway, given the reading of Flashpoint as a fallen world, what does that say about the fact that Obama is president in the Flashpoint DCU, but not the “real” DCU…?

3.) Can you you think of a single test pilot in the real world? No, me neither. How about a pilot of any kind? The guy who landed the plane in the Hudson maybe? What was it? Sullivan? Sully?

Anyway, weird to see Hal Jordan getting that kind of ink in a newspaper, and the editors of that paper to trust their readers to know who “controversial test pilot is” by his designation as such, and maybe his photo.

Also, look at the size of that headline! It sure looks and sounds like a puff piece business feature, but it’s above the fold, on the front page, part of a two-article, two-photo package!

Also weird that he's so well known that this Batman, who isn't friends with Hal Jordan the way that the "real" Batman was friends with Hal Jordan in the normal DCU, knows him so well he knows his nickname.

4.) I like the fact that Flashpoint Batman purrs.

5.) There are four pages of sketches in the back of this issue, which reveal the names of a few characters who appear in a single panel of the comic, but aren’t otherwise introduced. That’s kind of weird.

One of them is apparently “Mrs. Hyde,” and she dresses an awful lot like Marvel’s Mr. Hyde.

6.) Look, in the world of Flashpoint, The Planet building has a little moon around its planet!

Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance #2 (DC) The good Flashpoint miniseries continues to be good. In this issue we get to see the Oracle, the Selina Kyle, the Harvey Bullock and the Renee Montoya of the world of Flashpoint, and both Gordon and Batman close in on The Joker.

Props to Azzarello or Geoff Johns or whoever came up with the identity of The Joker—it was indeed a shocking surprise, and not the shocking surprise I expected (which, in retrospect, was probably too obvious). And props to both Azzarello and Eduardo Risso for not exactly hiding the character’s identity; there’s at least one good hint in the first issue, and a few solid ones in this issue before that crazy last page.

Joker’s trick on Gordon was exceedingly cruel and soul-crushing, but it was so close to one the movie Joker pulled in Dark Knight, that it made me feel uncomfortable. That is, in-story it seems fiendishly clever, but, from outside the comic, it seems like this Joker got the idea from watching Dark Knight, you know?

Flashpoint: The Canterbury Cricket #1 (DC) This was one of the Flashpoint tie-ins I was most looking forward to, in large part because of the presence of one of my personal favorite artists, Rags Morales, but also because of the sheer odness of the endeavor—the character is really, really weird looking, and the place-theme and insect-theme marriage is appealingly off-beat.

Writer Mike Carlin, Morales and inker Rick Bryant have the title character intervene to rescue Godiva, Etrigan and new characters Mrs. Hyde and Wicked Jenny Greenteeth from a band of Amazons (Woah, woah, woah, wait—is the Flashpoint Etrigan a big sissy or something? Because the DCU Etrigan should be able to handle most of the population of Paradise Island all by himself; it was really weird seeing him running away from a dozen ladies with machine guns and armor.)

They happen to be on the road to Cantebury, so the Cricket proposes they tell one another stories to pass the time (Like in Cantebury Tales, get it?). He relates his origin story, and then the book ends, because it’s only a one-shot.

So this is basically an origin story told in flashback between two fight scenes.

Carlin (or whoever actually created the character) sort of piles on the Canebury-ness and the cricket-ness—he can jump like a cricket, make sonic attacks, play music with his legs, is lucky and his origin involves Saint Swithin and the Cantebury Catherdal—but if it’s at all sloppy, it’s sloppy in a charming, excessive sort of way that recalls superhero comics at their random, rushed, inspired best.

His bizarre appearance is particularly so, given the Man-Thing-sized trunk he has. There’s an actual cricket present during his origin, and it looks like the regular, trunk-less cricket faces your probably familiar with from every cricket or picture of one you’ve seen. I even spent some time googling crickets, and I can’t find any images of close-ups with faces like that.

Not that it matters much, of course, I’m just curious about where that face came from.

As far as Morales’ art is concerned, this is hardly his best work, and either because of Ryant’s winks or Nei Ruffino’s colors or the night-time, mostly fire-lit scenes, a lot of it seemed dark and difficult to read. It’s still good art, but not his best.

I’m not sure what happens at the end of Flashpoint, but given what we know about what happens after the conclusion, I have to assume that when Barry Allen and his companions restore the state of the DCU, they end up putting together a DCU that is close enough, but has many, many changes.

I’m assuming, of course, that Flashpoint provides an in-story reason for the latest continuitiversal reboot, as all the previous reboots have had, which will at least give a fig-leaf of continuity between the old DCU and the new DCU, since the changing of it is itself part of continuity.

That’s just a guess, of course, but there definitely seem to be hints of what will follow in some of these Flashpoint stories, including Frankensteins teaming up with the Creature Commandos, or Cyborg being an A-List hero, or Shade The Changing Man leading a team of super-magicians and so on.

Hopefully one of those changes will be that The Canterbury Cricket survives in the new DCU that’s coming.

Flashpoint: Lois Lane and The Resistance #1 (DC) Well this sure turned out a lot worse than I could have guessed.

In theory, Lois Lane is one of the most potentially interesting characters in DC’s massive library, and that cover looks pretty bad-ass. The writing team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have been MIA from the DCU for a while, but they’re consummate professionals and know their stuff. Pencil artist Eddie Nunez is a new name, but as I mentioned previously, the still images on his DeviantArt page all seemed pretty good.

I think Tucker Stone, who I’m linking to for the first of two times in this single column, effectively illustrates much of what’s wrong with the book by simply scanning and sharing a terrible two-page sequence from it, but I’m going to go through the motions here anyway.

In the world of Flashpoint, Lois Lane is kind of where she was in the Silver Age, wanting to be a serious reporter covering serious reporter shit, but stuck doing “girl’ stuff like covering fashion week.

On the very first page, we see a woman with ridiouslously large breasts and a linebacker back talking about Fashion Week, and because she’s a brunette, she could easily be Lois Lane, and when I saw that panel I honest-to-God said, “Oh please don’t be Lois Lane…!”

Well, it’s not, but Losis’ breasts are just as gigantic and her dress just as hideous!This is what they’re wearing at Fashion Week in the Flashpoint-ed DCU? Jeez, Reverse-Flash sure did a number on the DCU, then.

Lois gets caught in the middle of the Aquaman/Wonder Woman war that destroys much of Europe, and, because she’s a woman, she gets abducted and forced into Amazonhood. While there, she’s secretly spying for Cyborg.

Abnett and Lanning decided to tell most of the story of this first issue during a montage narrated by clips from her reports to Cyborg, which is a pretty strange way to go about telling the first issue of a three-part miniseries. The entire middle section reads like a summary of a few issues that Abnett and Lanning would have written if this were an eight-issue series.

I kind of like Nunez’s character design and figure drawing, although the clothing and fashion throughout is sadly wanting, something that’s only underscored by the fact that it’s set in part during Fashion Week, and the strange giant breast, hips and thighs anatomy of his female characters that looks fine in pin-ups looks bizarre here, where every woman looks the same, and the story is at least in part about militant warrior women and their all-female, man-hating society.

Oh, and none of the characters from the cover, save Lois Lane herself, are actually in the book, so the mystery of who that bug-guy on the cover is—Canterbury Cricket? Hellgramite?—remains.

Flashpoint: Project Superman #1 (DC) I really rather regret this purchase, which I made on the strength of the creative team—co-plot by American Vampire’s Scott Snyder, scripting from a guy who wrote one of those cool Mouse Guard short stories, art by Gene Ha.

This week’s Project Superman book gave us a pretty good look at the Project, but this entire issue seems set mostly before anything that occurred there, and the lead character isn’t the Flashpoint Superman, but someone named Sinclair, who I kept wondering if I was supposed to recognize or not.

He narrates his 30-year path from an army ranger volunteering for a super-soldier program to getting a bunch of super-powers to becoming divorced from humanity and becoming a sort of wicked, omnipotent Superman of the sort you’ve probably read about in a dozen or so other comics (Most recently for me was the far superior A God Somewhere).

It ends with Superman’s rocket and an attendant meteor shower crashing into Metropolis.

Flashpoint: Secret Seven #2 (DC) Well, that’s kind of wrong.

This issue was solicited as the work of writer Peter Milligan and artist George Perez, a fact that was still saying as late as 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 16th:
FLASH QUESTION: Who killed the first Seven? And can Amethyst stop them from killing the new Secret Seven?
Perez’s art isn’t the whole reason I pre-ordered the issue through my local comic shop, but it sure was a big part of the reason, and it was certainly the thing I enjoyed most about the first issue.

Well, this issue is Perez-less, after the cover—Fernando Blanco provides lay-outs, and Scott Koblish provides finishes, and it looks pretty bad, like one artist attempt to imitate the work of another. It looks even wors if you were expecting Perez.

The story is about Shade The Changing Man using his powers to summon Amethyst, who is here a blond lady with huge breasts, to join him and his new lover, June Moon, a blonde lady with huge breasts. The Flahspoint versions of Raven and Zatanna cameo, and we get a few scenes featuring Flashpoint’s Abra Kadabra, who that is on the cover.

I repeat that is not Extrano, but simply Flash villain Abra Kadabra, on the cover.

Dissapointment #2, for this issue. is saying that the third and final issue of the series will be drawn by Blanco and Koblish, so, I don’t know, maybe there won’t be any art at all next issue…?

Reed Gunther #1 (Image Comics) Shane and Chris Houghton’s title character is a cowboy, with one important difference from other cowboys—instead of riding a horse, he rides a grizzly bear.

That’s pretty cool, right?

So’s this comic. A done-in-one, all-ages adventure, it finds Reed and his mount/partner Sterling stumbling across a pretty rancher with a problem—her cattle refuse to move under any circumstances, and they are constantly being gobbled up by a giant rattle snake.

So, to recape: This is a comic book about a cowboy, a grizzly bear and a rancher fighting a giant rattlesnake.

Artist Chris Houghton’s work is charming, boasting a nice balance between representational and cartoonish, and he gets a lot of emotion out of the faces of the various animal characters. There’s also a great pin-up from Guy Davis, that manages to kinda sorta retell the whole story in a single image.

I’d definitely recommend this to anyone look for a fun, funny comical book.

Superman #712 (DC) This is the semi-famous “lost issue” from Kurt Busiek’s run on the Super- titles, a very good run on the books which seems even better in retrospect, given what has followed (flirtation with a return to triangle numbeirng and Superman-less Superman books, with James Robinson doing the heavy lifting, and J. Michael Straczynki’s controversial Superman walking direction, which the writer himself abandoned).

Because DC scuttled the issue—a solicited but never released story abour Krypto the Super-Dog dealing with the loss of Superboy during 2006’s Infinite Crisis—it was popularly assumed to be too controversial to print, with the most common reading from observers being that it had something to do with the lawsuit regarding ownership of various aspects of the Superman franchise.

Because of all that, and because DC sat on it for several years, I think it built up a set of expectations that would inevitably not be met—particularly if it wasn’t in the least bit controversial.

And it isn’t. Having now read it, if I had to guess why DC decided not to release it when it was originally solicited, I would guess that it was a fairly mundane reason, along the lines of someone in the hierarchy thought no one would be interested in reading a book starring Krypto or that the story is apparently set during the “One Year Later” gap, and would have been a story set in the recent past flashing back further into the past, and they felt it lacked immediacy and import. Or maybe they thought it would be better to make sure Superman is in every issue of a book entitled Superman. (Now, how any of these guesses square with the fact that they solicited the book, and, years later decided to go ahead and release it, or their decisions later to publish a whole line of Superman-less Superman books, I don’t know; DC makes a lot of weird decisions that don’t always seem consistent with the the decisions that precede or follow them).

As to why DC decided to dust this off and print it now, years later, when any of their reservations about printint it originally are only greatly compounded, well, naturally they didn’t say. Comics Alliance’s Chris Sims discussed that question at great length, and while the answers he comes up with are pretty depressing, they make the most sense of anything offered by anyone anywhere else. (Update: Here's more from Sims on that)

Personally, I hope that Tucker Stone’s theory is what actually happened, although it kind of makes you wonder where that grown-up was for the last, I don’t know, ten years…?

At any rate, I’m glad I finally got to see this issue, as I was one of the (perhaps few) people really looking forward to an issue of Superman starring Krypto the Super-Dog.

Unfortunately, it’s not very good, which I actually feel sort of bad saying, as I really like the work of the writer, I really like the work of the artists and I really like Krypto the Super-Dog. (Hell, I smile every time I type out “Krypto the Super-Dog”).

The major problem is simply the timing. This is a comic set around events in other comics from five years ago, and while I read those comics, a lot of them weren’t really all that good the first time around, some of them were confusing and not terribly memorable. (That, or I have a bad memory, I suppose). Also, this is told from Krypto’s perspective, so there are no words involved with the scenes flashed back to; the past events are presented as purely visual to the reader.

It doesn’t help either that the emotional, dramatic thrust of the story—that Krypto misses his master and playmate Superboy, who has died—is sort of undercut by the fact that the reader is well aware of the fact that Superboy has been returned to life, and reunited with Krypto, years ago.

The story open with Superboy and Krypto playing Frisbee, and text box containing the following “Editor’s Note”:

Sorry for the “Grounded” delay, but in the meantime, please enjoy this lost classic, set shortly after Superboy died in Infinite Crisis and Superman went missing.”

Soon we see Krypto laying on the porch of the Kent farmhouse for days, refusing to move or even eat. At this point, I was anticipating a superhero version of the Hachiko story, but in short order Krypto sniffs the air, and flies off on Superboy’s trail.

He pauses at various points of Superboy’s then-recent life to sniff, and, when he does, the reader is shown a black and white image of the scene Krypto’s smelling—Superboy and Wonder Girl doing it in the hay loft, Superboy and Nightwing journeying to the climax of Infinite Crisis, et cetera. When he finally smells the dired blood at the spot Conner died, he lets loose a five-page howl and goes looking for Superman. Unable to find him—I guess Superman’s smell changed when he lost his powers at the end of IC—Krypto leaves Earth.

Published sometime closer to 52 or the “One Year Later” jump, it would no doubt have been a more enjoyable story. Now it just seems sort of weird and perplexing.

Leonardi’s artwork, penciled by Janthan Sibal, is effective, although his take on Krypto is a longer, thinner, bigger one than we usually see. It was nevertheless neat to see scene originally drawn by Phil Jimenez and other artists reinterpreted in Leonardi’s style—at least fun in a different-people-drawing-the-same-thing way, which is something I always enjoy seeing.

*For those hanging on my every word, you may recall my asking if I should refer to DC as “DC Comics” or “DC Entertainment” in certain contexts when discussing that retailer FAQ “The New 52 and You.” The language in that FAQ was pretty forceful in its assertion that DC Comics was the old company, and DC Entertainment is the new DC Comics. But the fine print in these things still reads “DC Comics” repeatedly, so I’m gonna stick with that until they change their masthead and fine print.


George S. said...

At least you got 15 over there. I'm probably the only Filipino who bought 15 Love! :D It truly is a puzzling decision to make this a floppy. I would have bought the entire story as a trade or manga-style book easily.

Kid Kyoto said...

Wow those are some really damning reviews of Flashpoint, glad I'm skipping it.

Aki Alaraatikka said...

Barack Obama actually is the president of USA in the regular DC-continuity.
Geesh, I`d really want to read that story they decided not to publish in Superman. In fact, I`d really like to read the (I know it will happend) future run of Chris Robertson. He seems to have the same kind of love for Superman-comics, as Dan Slott has for Spidey-comics.
Sorry about the thing with Secret seven.