Monday, August 29, 2011

Comics shop comics: August 24

Captain America & Bucky #621 (Marvel Entertainment)As far as I can tell, the art in this comic is probably second only to that in Daredevil, in terms of what Marvel is currently producing. The writing ain't too shabby either, although I found myself a little surprised by the Bucky's brutal killing of a Nazi agent. Captain America talks to him about how hard it is to kill a man, and that he'd probably have to kill some people because they are at war, and then Bucky totally does—he hurls a knife through the throat of a bad guy.

I'm not sure of the legality of the act. For one, the U.S. and Germany weren't at war at the time the story takes place, but then, we haven't had enemy soldiers representing a foreign nation attacking Americans on American soil in such a manner in modern times, so I don't know if it's, like, "cool" to throw knives through the throats of foreign agents about to gas American soldiers by feeding poison shaped like statues of lions into the engine of a locomotive.

It mainly struck me as strange because Bucky's a kid, not a grown-up, and Captain America himself wouldn't have done it. He would have tossed his mighty shield, bonked the guy on the head with its blunt edge and saved the day without knifing anyone. It's weird that Captain America has a Batman-like code of not totally killing dudes all the time, but his boy companion just cold ices dudes.

It's not really a problem with the story or anything—it's quite clear that the writers intend to address the effect of such acts on the character—but it stands out as kind of odd, and makes Cap seem pretty weird.

Anyway, great art, fairly great story.

DC Comics Presents: The Metal Men #1 (DC Comics) Okay, I finally found a copy of this that wasn't printed poorly. It's very, very good.

It opens with a page-filling reprint of Silver Age: The Brave and The Bold #1, a Bob Haney-written, Kevin Maguire-drawn chapter in DC's bizarrely uncollected 2000 event/series The Silver Age, which fits in with the theme of Maguire-drawing-The Metal Men, but otherwise seems kind of out of place here, and the story seems rather random out of context (The Penguin is inhabiting Batman's body, while Green Arrow and Black Canary are in Felix Faust and Catwoman's bodies; the Metal Men are trying to take down the villains, who are actually the heroes in the villains' bodies). Great to see Maguire drawing Batman, Catwoman and The Penguin though!

As for the bulk of the book, it's all of the Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Maguire Metal Men back-up strips from the recently cancelled volume of The Doom Patrol, during DC's short-lived experiment with back-ups or, as they called 'em, "co-features."

The creators are in their familiar and fairly popular "Bwa-ha-ha" mode, and these characters are particularly well-suited to it, given that each has a single, easily exaggerated for comic effect personality trait that Giffen and DeMatteis have no problem infinitely riffing on. The fact that they are robots with artificial personalities makes the sitcom humor all the more effective, as robots never really seem to behave unnaturally, since there's nothing natural about their possession of personalities in the first place.

As with the collection of Nick Spencer and company's recent Jimmy Olsen strip and Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul's Superboy comics, I felt pretty bummed out as I neared the end of the book. It was a comic I was really enjoying reading, which offered a take on some particularly-hard-to-"get" characters that seemed just right, and I would love to continue reading more like it, but I knew that there wasn't any more like it—this is all there is.

DC Retroactive: Justice League of America—The '80s #1 (DC) This actually came out a few weeks ago, but the new shop I've been going to has had trouble getting me and it in front of the cash register at the same time. They finally did so this past Wednesday, although DC Retroactive: Justice League of America—The '90s #1, schedule for release that day, didn't show up. (Example #4,363 of the direct market not really working all that great!).

This one's by old-school Justice League writer Gerry Conway and artist Ron Randall, and focuses on the post-Satellite Era "Detroit League" of Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, Elongated Man and then-new heroes Steel, Vibe, Vixen and Gypsy.

There's a real, almost palpable defensiveness in the story, which I don't recall being present from the back issues of this period of Justice League comics I've read. Back then it seems the comics asserted repeatedly that these new guys were the real deal, they were here to stay and that they were the next generation of the World's Greatest Heroes; essentially, they were a whole team of Firestorms.

Obviously that didn't work out; half of those characters have been dead a very, very long time, and the other half have come and gone as members of various short-lived ensembles. Conway seems to be retroactively (Ah! Like in the title!) defining the characters and the team as they've since come to be perceived: A bunch of scrubs who don't really deserve to be the Justice League.

That perception doesn't really work within the story, as the conflict involves Felix Faust attacking the entire team with a trio of magically created monsters. If it was just the Faust versus the new kids, that would be one thing, but night omnipotent Zatanna and Superman+ powered Martian Manhunter are right there with Elongated Man, Aquaman and the rookies.

Randall does a nice job on art, although the coloring seemed excessively dark and murky.

Quick aside: The story made me think a bit about Vibe, and whether or not he will still exist or have existed in the "New 52" continuity. As a decade-specific character, created to capitalize on the popularity of break dancing and '80s hip hop culture as understood by DC Comics at the time, can Vibe make much sense in a new DCU? Like, if we're working from a five-year time line, the original Justice League line-up would have formed in 2006 (Oh hey, that explains why Superman didn't stop 9/11!). So the Detroit League would have been in 2007 or '08 maybe...?

Not that Vibe couldn't work in a 21st century context, of course; I thought the brief appearance of an evil Vibe in that direct-to-DVD Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths worked just fine. (I never wrote about that movie, but it has a lot of great animated action, some of the best people-with-superpowers-beating-the-hell-out-of-each-other-on-film action I've ever seen; I had watched it about a week before Dwayne McDuffie, who scripted it, had died, and it just felt weird writing blogging about it at the time). (I don't know how long this link will work, but, if you haven't seen it, you can see evil Vibe attacking Superman and then dancing at about the 30-second mark of this clip; later on there's also evil Black Lightning, who has embraced his '70s origins to the extreme, making him look like a deliberate, retro fashion choice on his part, rather than simply someone with a dated name and costume).

I think the book is most notable for its inclusion of a little boy character, trapped in the JLA HQ with his classmates when Faust attacks their field trip. Although the various superheroes repeatedly express doubts about their abilities, worth and likelihood of success, the kid is unflappable:Who is this wise, inspirational, cute and no doubt great at sports child?Now that's how to kiss the Chief Creative Officer's ass!

DC Retroactive: Superman—The '90s #1 (DC) See that guy on the cover? Who do you think that is? I assumed it was Dr. John Henry Irons, AKA Steel, given that he appeared to be brown-skinned, bald, and to have a goatee. Also, this comic is written by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove, the co-creators of the Steel character.

It's not. The goatee is actually just the shadow around his grimace, and he's apparently not brown-skinned, just a heavily shadowed.

After reading the first page, in which the clone body of Lex Luthor is radically deteriorating, I thought that maybe it was actually Luthor, who would give himself Superman powers at some point in the story, and the cover was meant to be symbolic.

It's not Luthor either, though.

It's actually Superman himself.

One thing many readers may think of when they think of Superman in the '90s, around the time Simonson and Bogdanove was working on the character, is undoubtedly Superman's long, hideous hair—As Superman, he wore it in a free-flowing mullet, and as Clark Kent he pulled it back into a ponytail. I didn't pay very close attention to the comics Internet at the time, so I'm not sure just how widely reviled Superman's haircut was at the time, but I do remember Grant Morrison had The Flash and Green Lantern talking smack about it in an issue of JLA, and Garth Ennis had the patrons of Noonan's bar signing a petition to Superman to have him cut his hair in an issue of Hitman.

At any rate, Superman's '90s hair is literally attacked in this story, in which Superman faces a monstrous foe that excretes an acid so powerful that it's able to badly burn the Man of Steel, singing off all of his hair (If you're wondering why you don't remember a bald Superman from the '90s, it's because the rays of the yellow sun can cure super-hair loss super-fast).

The story picks up and plays with a few story threads from the era, and thus functions a lot like a "lost" issue. The extent to which it slides comfortably into Simonon and Bogdanove's run is evidenced in the back-up reprint of Superman: Man of Steel #12, which features Superman battling a giant burrowing worm monster that the monster in the new story is a recreation of.

As with the '90s Batman special, one of the most interesting aspects of this one-shot was seeing how much the artist's style has changed in the intervening years; Bogdanove's noticeably a much stronger and better artist. His work looks smoother, a little more elegant, and he seems to be having a bit more fun exaggerating the designs of some of the background characters. Like Norm Breyfogle, Bogdanove is another artist I'd like to see more of in the new DCU.


Jacob T. Levy said...

That "Geoff" page pretty much made me throw the book across the room. "Sure he's throwing decades of continuity out, but you can trust him, because he Believes In Heroes and the Justice Leaguers said he was an inspiration."

Nicholas Ahlhelm said...

Epting already established Bucky was the wetworks part of the team during the first year of his Captain America. The new book just seems to show how he becomes the killer behind the scenes.

Bogdanove was a strange artist. He was a pretty stable draftsman back on X-Factor, than his Man of Steel run went in to total free-form mode. He seems to have pulled back to a slightly cleaner version of his original style now.

Axle Steele said...

I actually have the opposite feelings about lethal force and kid sidekicks. Batman if you have some crazy no-killing-ever fetish that's fine, but if your sending a 12 year old against a giant cannibal crocodile guy, for god's sake let the kid carry a pistol.

Aki Alaraatikka said...

Actually, Bucky killed alot in the forties. In one panel of some story, he uses a machine gun. He also uses one in the last panel of MARVELS # 1, which I don`t know if you have read. I`m pretty sure that there`s more pictures like that.

Travis said...

Man, you certainly liked that Metal Men back-up more than I did. I hated it, and found most of the jokes pretty darn unfunny.

Vibe could still work if you just took the break dancing out and slightly modified his costume. He would then just be some generic hero running around

Eyz said...

I really, really loved DeMatteirs/Giffen/Maguire's take on the Metal Men! 'Got my hands on a copy as soon as I could!
It was so much fun!

'wished they had a spot amongst the "all-new" DCnU... at least, if anything, so we could get our monthly dose of BWAHAHAHA!