Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Comic shop comics: Just two from DC this week

Aquaman and The Others (DC Comics) I was fairly shocked when first solicited this new ongoing (but not likely to actually last that long) series, and not simply because it was a second Aquaman title launched after Geoff Johns and his Midas touch left Aquaman. Rather, the characters are of extremely recent vintage—they were created by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado in 2012, as a pre-Justice League team that Aquaman belonged to (Not unlike The Justice Experience that John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake invented for J'onn J'onnz in the pages of their Martian Manhunter series*), and while DC does seem to launch plenty of titles destined for swift cancellation (Larfleeze, Threshold, The Green Team, etc), many of those since the relaunch have been older properties, meaning DC gets to renew their trademark and/or reward the faith of the last 50 Forever People fans for a few months.

The other surprise about The Others was that Johns didn't really seem to create them to last. They were a team of six heroes, counting Aquaman, each of whom received their powers though a golden Atlantean artifact similar to Aquaman's trident, two of them died during their first arc, the result of Black Manta hunting them down and killing them to get their artifacts (One of these was Kahina The Seer, who was "fridged" upon first appearance; the other was Vostok, who made it until the climax of the arc. None of them seemed all-the-way thought out. The surviving members are a codename-less jungle lady with a bauble that allows her to teleport, a generic-looking espionage guy named The Operative with a key that gives him some basic key powers, and Prisoner of War, who wears a sack over his head and the dog-tags of his fallen allies, who haunt him like ghosts; his artifact are golden power manacles with chains attached; he clanks 'em together to form shockwaves.

In other words, Batman, Incorporated they aren't.

Their new series is written by Dan Jurgens, whose New 52 track-record has consisted of the quickly cancelled Justice League Ingernational and a ton of fill-in work, and drawn by Lan Medina and inker Allen Martinez who, to their credit, do a pretty good job of drawing within the same basic spectrum of Aquaman artist Paul Pelletier.

The results, however, aren't great, and do little to instill confidence that this will outlive other oddball books like The Movement or Green Team.

Here's a particularly depressing passage:
Note the third panel, where one of the generic badguys, who look so similar to The Operative that it makes his and their costume design seem even less inspired, is shouting "It won't come off!" while...not trying to take anything off. Is he trying to remove Prisoner Of War's mask? His manacle? Probably one of those, but he isn't touching either. It's just a very basic failure of comic book making, having the words and the pictures work together—or, at the very least, not contradict one another.

Jurgen's plot is basically a do-over of the first Others story from Aquaman, in which someone is hunting them for their artifacts, but it moves swiftly, and gives readers plenty of information in the first issue to know whether or not they will want to read the second (They won't).

Thousands of years ago, ancient Atlantean king Atlan murders an alchemist and takes his last magical golden bars.

In present day New York City, the Prisoner of war is standing on a rooftop in the middle of the night, looking down at the veterans in line at a soup kitchen. He's attacked by the generc bad guys, and fights them off.

In Brazil, jungle lady Ya'Wara murders four poachers; three with a knife, the fourth she has eaten by a jaguar. (Is murder too strong a word? I guess the last three are self-defense; either way, she totally kills four dudes. Under normal circumstances, i'd say that makes her and The Others not the kind of folks that Superman and Batman would want Aquaman hanging around with and, in fact, whom they might pursue themselves in order to bring them to justice, but the DCU's moral compass has gone kinda funny as a result of the New 52 reboot).

In "The Ghost Lands," a young Native American girl named Sky Alchesay is talking to an ancestor; she fights the same generic bad guys. I have no idea who she is, and if she was in the original Others arc, I completely forgot about her. I suspect that she was introduced later in Aquaman, after I dropped the series, but I'm not sure.

In the Mediterranean, The Operative breaks into a safe in a boat, killing at least one guard in the process. The bad guys attack him then, and Aquaman appears to help him out.

The one constant in all of these encounters is that the artifacts aren't working.

There's a one-page scene in which the boss of the bad guys has a conversation with an unseen voice that has wiggly dialogue bubbles and a different font, probably Atlan or the alchemist.

Aquaman then convenes a meeting of The Others aboard The Operative's airplane, which is then attacked.

Finally, in Iran, Kahina The Seer's widower husband goes to visit his sister-in-law, who apparently shares Kahina's power to look into the future: She's in a hospital, where she was forcibly admitted "with the rantings of a woman gone mad" (It seems like she may replace her dead sister as an Iranian superhero in The Others line-up). The book ends with the bad guys capturing Kahina's sister, Sayeh, and fleeing with her. She cries out to her brother-in-law, "Save me, Hamid! Before it all comes true! Before machines come-- --To DESTROY us ALL!"

That last panel shows a close-up of her eyeball, in which we see some super-scary, cyborg versions of various DC superheroes, all of whom have red eyes and Brother Eye symbols on them. "Find out more about Sayeh's horrific vision in Futures End #0!"

Futures End is, of course, one of the two weekly series DC is launching soon, and Dan Jurgens is one of the four writers involved. How tightly tied to Future's End this book will actually be remains to be seen, but if it is tied to it, then chances are Aquaman and The Others could survive a lot longer than it would otherwise.

We interrupt this blog post reviewing two DC comics released this week in order to look at this ad:
Hey, it's an ad for Futures End, the upcoming series I was just talking about!

The ad features an image that is basically a bigger and more detailed version of what was seen in Sayeh's eyeball, with a Batman Beyond included in it. Fucked-up, scary, Deathlok-esque corpse-and-cyborg Justice Leaguers, ones that look like the monstrous versions of the heroes from the "Rotworld" storyline in Animal Man and Swamp Thing, only with metal bits.

Their Brother Eye symbols are more pronounced here, and the Brother Eye sattelite hovering above the skyline really underlines that that is what's going on. That...doesn't instill me with a lot of hope, given how poorly the OMAC/Brother Eye stuff from before the reboot was handled.
Detective Comics #30 (DC) It's a bold new era of TEC, as the former Flash creative team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato come to Gotham, instantly transforming it into the best-looking Bat-book by far.

The cover is pretty nicely designed, the negative yellow space allowing plenty of room for all of the nonsense text and numbers and suchlike, without sacrificing any art. Is that a new logo? It looks new, but maybe that's just because we rarely get a good look at it.

I do see one problem with the cover though. The price says $3.99, which is an awful lot for a 22-page DC comic book. Apparently the publisher is confident enough in the sales of Batman comics that they can price them like Marvel comics; that, or they charge an extra buck for the extra two pages (The last two pages, while nice, aren't actually worth 50 cents apiece).

The expected beautiful art, and the unexpected warm, almost luminous quality of its colors, aside, the storyline itself is fairly generic, to the point of being irritating.

There's a new possible love interest for Bruce Wayne, likely to be killed off when this story arc or this run ends (if not sooner**), introduced; she's come to town with her 18-year-old Motorcross champion daughter to strike a deal with Bruce regarding re-developing one of the many shitty, crime and poverty breeding areas of town (Hasn't Bruce Wayne redeveloped the whole of Gotham City yet? I feel like this is another plot point I've read at least three or four time since the reboot).

There's a new super-drug (AAAAAA! The most played-out super-comic trope of all! I hate new super-drug plots!) called Icarus in town, or just "'Ick" in slang (Other slang, "Relax, bro...", "Let's bust open a stash and get our 'Ick on!", "Oh, hell naw...", "We about to get paid, son!" and so on).

And there are a couple of villains, including a regular-looking gangster type called The Squid who feeds an associate who has displeased him to something big with tentacles (a squid, I assume), and another not-as-colorful-as-most-Batman villains guy who seems to have a congressman on his payroll.
Nothing we haven't seen before, then, but we rarely see it look quite this good. From lay-outs to action scenes (there's actually y few neat scenes of Batman swinging on a bat-rope, including one where he chases some bikers) to the painterly coloring, it's a pretty rather pretty Batman comic.

I'd probably advise you wait for the trade though, because those layouts will look much, much better without the ads breaking them up and, of course, Holy shit $4 is a lot of money for a comic book.

*Actually, that's not quite accurate. Ostrander and Mandrake created J'onn's membership on the team, and used the characters as J'onn's pre-League League, but see the comments for an explanation of who created those characters and where. I second the recommendation for the short-lived Chase series, which might have actually been a decent candidate for New 52 revival, were the new universe not already full of acronym-ed government agencies teams with overlapping responsibilities...although the DEO, Director Bones and Cameron Chase have all appeared in Batwoman, right?

**Spoiler alert: I'm pretty sure she's dead or dying by the end of this issue.


Diabolu Frank said...

The Justice Experience was created by Dan Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III in the pages of Chase as a key element to their lead character's personal history. John Ostrander co-opted the idea after Chase was canceled, Tom Mandrake mangled the Bronze Wraith's costume, and the Martian Manhunter was shoehorned in against the intentions and wishes of the team's creators. Chase was a pretty good book available as an omnibus that I'd recommend without the many reservations I have about that 1998 Martian Manhunter volume currently being reprinted in a series of trades.

Greg said...

It's not exactly a new logo for 'Tec - the one on issue #29 had the same kind of lettering on a Bat-shadow, but the letters were slightly italicized, where as these are straight. The Bat-logo is a tiny bit different, too. So ... a bit tweaked, but not brand new?

Caleb said...

Oh yeah. I added an asterisk saying to see your comment, which will hopefully clarify it. I read CHASE out-of-order through back issue bin purchases, and didn't realize which book came first, but given Chase's relationship to Acro-Bat and Ostrander's habit of inserting J'onn into as much DCU history as possible, it seems obvious in retrospect where they showed up first.

Thanks for the correction.

Dara said...

Well, I had no intention of picking up this series, until I read your review and found out there's a new Iranian character being introduced. Not sure if Sayeh ("shade" in Farsi) will stick around, but my curiosity is piqued, so I'll give it a few more issues and see. The first issue was somewhat generic; well done, but nothing amazing or innovative.