Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I’ve Been Going A Little BATS lately . . . . . part 5

I’ve been following the various Batman-related titles more than I can remember at any previous 12429_180x270time in their long history.  The reason is because the current crop is written and illustrated very well;  and the storylines are so compelling and involving.   In my book, the Batman: Reborn titles are winners.  I’m about to face some hard decisions as I start to fine-tune my monthly comics budget.  I’m spending and reading much more than I should be (considering current economic status) and I’ve got to reduce the number of books I’m purchasing.  What BAT titles will I chose to quit following?  This is going to be a tough decision.

         12846_180x270 BATGIRL #1:  writer Bryan Q. Miller, artist Lee Garbett

What I like most about BATGIRL is the light-hearted, easy going and amusing style that Miller uses to move the story along.  I’m reminded of the early years of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and suspect that this had a positive influence on Miller.  While the current ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN COMICS doesn’t quite have the old magic  - - -  BATGIRL (which is written in a similar style) seems fresh and exciting to me.

          Since I haven’t been a regular or even an occasional reader of the former BATGIRL titles I have a lot of catching up to do.  However, BATGIRL #1 gives me just enough history to keep from being confused and/or “in the dark”  by the recent happenings.  The newest person to wear the Batgirl outfit is Stephanie Brown, who previously tried out the vigilante role as Spoiler and made a promise to her mother to give it up.  And now she’s hiding that fact from her mother, who believes that a job transfer for mom and a new beginning for her college freshman daughter will help Stephanie begin to act like a “normal girl.”  But the former occupant of the Batgirl costume, Cassandra, no longer feels motivated to fight for Batman (after his alleged death) and abandons the costume for “Steph” to pick up.

     Enter the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, who in her role as Oracle keeps tabs on all Bat-related activities and serves as guidance/monitor whenever needed.  In a great one page establishing scene, writer Miller shows just how strong this wheelchair-bound woman is as well as how much anger is bottled up as she quickly dispatches some subway muggers.   Oracle gets a phone call from Batman/Dick Grayson to tip her off to recent events and the issue ends as Steph wakes up one morning to a kitchen discussion with a determined Barbara Gordon.

BATGIRL #2:  Part 2 of Batgirl Rising, Point of New Origin

I’m really admiring the fluid art style of Lee Garbett, assisted by Trevor Scott and Sandra Hope in this issue. The action sequences and close-ups of character faces are especially good. Check out the opening sequence.

In this issue Barbara Gordon/Oracle attempts to discourage Steph from continuing as Batgirl but doesn’t convince her, even after  a scare tactic made as a desperate last attempt. By the end of the book Oracle has reconciled herself to Steph’s decision and plays a major role as counselor/mentor/assistant and someone who’s protecting Batgirl’s back.  I expect to see Oracle as a regular participant in future events and that’s a welcome addition to this book.  As events from Issue #1 continue, Batgirl with Oracle’s assistance uncovers a plot to introduce a new and deadly designer drug,  “Thrill”, onto the Gotham U. campus. This type of story has been done before but it’s the way it’s handled here that makes it worth following. Miller injects sufficient doses of humor into the mix periodically.  And you can guess (as I did) who might be behind the drug ring as revealed on the last page.

BATWOMAN in DETECTIVE COMICS #856 by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III

Everything in12431_400x600 this title has been just about perfect, including the absolutely gorgeous and attention-getting covers by J. H. Williams.  If indeed it comes down to just one Bat book per month for me, then this is the number one contender.

The secret race of hybrid were-beasts and octopi-men who worship Batwoman (“true believers”) come to the rescue in this issue.  That almost was enough to make me turn against this book, as I dislike any blend of the supernatural with super-hero titles.  It never feels right to me and it gets me annoyed quickly.  However the strong scripting by Rucka and the engaging new villainess Alice continue to hold my interest so I’m putting up with it for now.

        There are six separate instances where the art splashes across two pages and is a sight to be marveled at. Williams is doing some very creative work with panel placement and the actual outline of panels (jagged, sometimes triangular, very much like Gene Colan’s best experiments).  The scenes with Batwoman in them are also very colorful   (almost psychedelic in choices) while12845_400x600 the scenes with Kate Kane (name tribute to Bob, Batman’s creator) are colored in more muted or neutral tones.  Williams even changes his art style for these scenes (reminding me of the way a lot of Marvel Epic books were drawn back in the late 70’s).  For a lot of these scenes Williams uses a full page panel as background (building scene or cityscape) and then places multi-panels directly overtop of it for a really neat effect.  How do you make a formal dinner dance in a ballroom that goes on for several pages interesting?  Use the same full panel (in these case a panel that crosses over two pages) background and put sheet music around the borders.   In these scenes, Kate dressed like a funeral director in tux and put on a little white-face (the resemblance to Alice is disturbing).

     And Rucka handles the introductions between Kate and new police captain Maggie Sawyer so well.  It’s a sensitive and controversial subject that is  covered very tactfully, and  that demonstrates that Rucka may understand why women are attracted to each other without sensationalizing it or over-stating the issue for shock effect.

The second feature in this book - - The Question - - is also written by Rucka.  And while its also well-done this crime story/investigation seems too familiar.  I guess its tough having to follow the Batwoman feature - - - it just doesn’t compare very well.  The art by Cully Hammer is a much different style compared to Williams. It’s more basic and textbook.  However it does shine in spots, especially the two center-page scene with a bound Question escaping from the trunk of a car that has been driven into a lake.

DETECTIVE COMICS #857:   Elegy Part 4 – Rubato!

Before you even open this book your attention is grabbed by the cover, a split scene that shows Batwoman and Alice’s bodies morphing into a single person (a clue?).  And the opening page shows three diagonal panels of Kate, Alice, and ? (flashback, maybe) speaking on the phone that also morphs into one person (another clue).  Move onto the next two pages (center-spread again) with Alice on the left half, Kate on the right half at the ballroom - - vivid colors to the left, drabber colors to the right - - two different art styles between left and right pages - - and split down the center with symbolic representations of Batwoman (bright red shadow/outline) and dark/gray trellis/ivy above for Alice.   Hey, give the award to Williams right now - - best artist of 2009!

After symbolically punching me in the face with the dynamic work on the first three pages, Williams goes for the knock-out punch on page 4-5 with a multi-dimensional effect in his placement of panels.  The two page background panel shows Batwoman reaching for some ammo on a flat table loaded with weapons and accessories.  Six smaller panels are placed on top of this, three at the top and three at the bottom.  At the top Kate is walking up a pair of steps that make it look as if she’s stepping onto the center panel. At the bottom Kate and Abbott take off on the Bat-bike making it appear as if they will motor right off the page.  Magnificent! 

As if that wasn’t enough to wow me, there are six more instances of the action flowing across two facing pages.  There’s a fight mid-air that rivals a similar but different scene in Ultimate Avengers Comics #1 (that I also loved).  The one pager that begins the fight between Batwoman and Alice’s Amazon bodyguard uses a full panel background to show the two fighters preparing for their confrontation and multiple, jagged panels that look like blood red panes of broken glass overlay this and depict the actual fight, which ends with a bloodied and defeated bodyguard flying backwards across the top of the next two pages.  Wow. Wow. Wow.  (also Woof, Woof, Woof).

Rucko moves the story along and gets the right amount of dialogue inserted to get the job done, but this issue is Williams show all the way.  What a show!  I’m thinking I’d like to have this in a trade paperback, or hardcover, or dare I suggest it - - an Absolute Edition!  Rucka and Williams  -- you guys are killing my wallet!

   Rucka plants more clues with an assist from Williams.  Kate’s dad, Colonel Roger Kane, seems to recognize Alice and calls her “Beth?”  (clue) which she responds “There’s no such thing.”  He later reminds Batwoman “Batman rule in effect, Kate. Don’t kill her.” (clue)  Their fight begins with another two-page spread with their connected bodies at center and the fight revolving around them in seemingly rotating panels.  Ok guys, I think I get it now.  If there was any doubt check out what Alice says to Kate right before she gets knocked out of the plane.

Pity the poor Question second feature again following behind something as wondrous as I just finished reading.  If I came across this story in a different book I might be writing about how well Cully Hamner depicts the action in small multiple panels (more evidence of that this issue).  Maybe they should make The Question the first feature in this title once in a while to give it a chance before the readers get to the killer final act.

RED ROBIN #4 :  The Grail, conclusion

The first story arc ends here; but the saga of Red Robin is just beginning. 

“Ras Al Ghul is my new Alfred.  Butler of the Damned.”  Tim’s quest to locate Bruce Wayne takes him to Baghdad, where he is almost arrested for stealing a German artifact un12852_180x270til the League of Assassins trio that has been following him around bail him out.  They accompany him to the desert to search the caves for signs of the Bat. 

There’s a neat flashback scene that gives insight into Tim’s last encounter with Dick - - Red Robin vs... Batman - -  as Dick tries to persuade him to give up his quest, only to end in Tim earning the right to go his own way.

The issue ends with the introduction of The Widower from The Council of Spiders who surprises the group and complicates matters further, leading up to the next story arc.    

    It’s a good book.  I admire the courage and resolve that Tim has shown, striking out on his own with scant leads to pursue, and hope that he turns out to be right eventually.

STREETS OF GOTHAM # 3  AND #4

“Hush Money”  and “Business” by Paul Dini, writer and Dustin Nguyen,  artist . . . . .

The Bruce Wayne impersonator (Dr. Tom Elliott aka Hush) continues his charade as the savior of Gotham, throwing money around to various charities and starting up non-profit companies to help reduce unemployment (nistreets 3ce touch that, a playing card company erected on the site that gave birth to the Joker). His plan is to drain the resources of the Wayne foundation in a crafty  non-violent way to achieve his vengeance, knowing that Batman and Robin are helpless to stop him without generating adverse publicity and looking like the villains/spoilsports.   So Dick and Damien enlist a group of allies and come up with their own novel, non-violent way to keep the faux Bruce Wayne in check. 

      Meanwhile in Gotham, the Penguin has been reduced to the role of manservant to Black Mask, the current reigning boss of crime.  I anticipate seeing Mr. Cobblepot exact some revenge in future issues.   A grateful Black Mask is generous to his life saver, the brutal and sadistic Victor, and rewards him with enough money to set up his own enterprise.  Victor gets new duds and goes back to referring to himself as Mister Zsasz, who in my opinion bears a remarkable resemblance to Dean Motter’s Mister X of indie comics fame.

  Enter Simon Fine aka The Broker, who never gets his hands dirty but makes his living by buying up abandoned Gotham factories and warehouses and selling them at dirty prices to various villains for secret lairs.   His last sale is to Mr. Zsasz, who apparently is setting up an arena for bloodsport with young children.  Batman and Robin pay The Broker a visit and coax the locations of some of these new tenants from him.  Mr. Fine’s ending thoughts are a good summation of the events of this book thus far:  “ . . . And that’s the formula for doing business in Gotham.  You give, you take . . . you bend, and you bleed.”   There are interesting developments in these two issues as Dini starts adding more layers to his storyline.

“Under My Skin” and  “Two Steps Forward”  by Marc Andreyko, writer with Georges Jeanty,  art  (#3) and Jeremy Haun, art (#4) . . . . . . . . . .

In the Manhunter second features in DETECTIVE COMICS  Kate Spencer manages to get away from convict skinless Jane Doe (who wants to wear the Kate skin next) and apprehends her with a little help at the end.  There’s a neat chase through the woods where Kastreets 4te is using whatever she can find to defend herself, including dead tree branches.  There are some funny moment amidst the tension as she refers to movie “Turner And Hooch” and we see her though process as she runs for her life;  “Yeah, that’s it, Kate.  antagonize her.  She has a knife.  you have a designer skirt.”

     I’m very surprised by the cover to STREETS OF GOTHAM #4,  which depicts a grisly act of self-mutilation.  That would never get over back in the Comics Code days.  Things have changed, haven’t they?

Jane Doe is now back behind bars and Kate is hoping that an interrogation will net her the info on Two-Face that she’s been seeking out since issue #1.  We haven’t seen Manhunter until mid-way through issue #4, when she takes a phone call from her son right in the middle of a fight with shooters in front of a florist shop ( ? ).  She stops a bad guy with her zzzap stick and her son says into the phone “what was that?”  Great response:  “Somebody got a charley horse. I’m in my aerobics class!”

  The art this issue by Haun is adequate but nothing special.  Here’s hoping that Jeanty returns next issue and was just taking a short break.  The only other issue I have here is that I don’t recall Two-Face even being mentioned in the last three issues, and now he’s the prime suspect.  Of course we see his reaction at the end of the issue, setting things up for a confrontation between the former and current District Attorney of Gotham.

I haven’t caught up with GOTHAM CITY SIRENS yet, but so far I’m feeling that DETECTIVE COMICS is the one to keep hanging on with and I can drop these other titles (although somewhat reluctantly since they’ve all been good).  What are your thoughts?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Comics I Read: September, Part 2

Got sidetracked by not feeling well for a few days, but let’s try again…

Wolverine: Old Man Logan Giant-Size: I’m not sure if I just lost interest because of the delay or what, but I actually kind of hated this. It doesn’t have any of the clever future-Marvel stuff from the previous chapters – it’s just a straight revenge story. It’s disgusting (Bruce & his cousin), violent (page after page of Logan covered in blood: “I’m just here to kill you people”) and repetitive (Millar’s already done the “Hulk eats people” bit in “Ultimates”). I actually went over to Amazon and cancelled my pre-order for the collection.

Spider-Woman 1: Now that this is out in print, we can compare and contrast with the motion comic. This issue covers approximately the same ground as the first motion episode, which means the motion comic story is way ahead of the print version. (I wonder how they’ll deal with that at crossover time.) The motion comic has its merits, mainly the excellent voice acting, but for now I prefer the print version. The content is pretty much the same, except for two-page origin recap, but the pacing works better for me: There’s a chilling sequence of Jessica contemplating suicide at the beginning that went right past me in the animation, and the exposition from Agent Brand of SWORD went on pretty long when it all had to be spoken but it reads pretty fast. Plus you can stare at Alex Maleev’s beautiful art for as long as you want. Bendis delivers a great story as usual, but that’s a bonus as this is one of the rare books worth buying just for the art.

Exiles 6: Jeff Parker not only wraps up this short-lived version of the team, but also explains all the “secrets” of the previous versions. It’s a nice gift for anyone who has followed all 125 or so issues of this, with the premise laid out in impressive (bordering on obsessive) detail. It was a little much for me, even though I usually like this sort of thing, but I imagine long-time fans will be thrilled. (Except for the part about being cancelled, of course.) The idea about the concept itself being self-modifying was brilliant, and I also liked the twist at the end about the identity of one of the team members that could someday lead to another interesting story.

JSA vs. Kobra: Engines of Faith 4: I liked a lot about this issue, especially that Mr. Terrific is starting to catch on to Kobra’s tactics (although it was obvious to the reader in #2) and that he sets out to educate himself about magic. On the other hand, I don’t think they shouldn’t have gone into the Shazam mythos so soon after it was all wrapped up in JSA. This doesn’t directly contradict anything from that story, but it feels like someone didn’t get the memo about leaving those concepts alone until whatever the plans for them are play out.

Superman: Secret Origin 1: Clearly, I’m precisely the target audience for this book so it won’t surprise you that I loved it. Since we’re learning a lot about Krypton in the contemporary books, Geoff Johns decides instead to focus on Clark’s highschool period which has pretty much been unmined since the original Crisis. (Even Mark Waid’s “Birthright” takes place mostly after Clark graduates, if I remember correctly.) Specifically, this issue covers the period just before and after Clark discovers he’s an alien. Gary Frank’s gift for character “acting” carries the most emotional moments without needing words, and the ending shows something we haven’t seen in a very long time. (I won’t give it away except to say that it’s been hinted at as far back as Brad Meltzer’s JLA #0.)

Daring Mystery Comics 70th Anniversary Special: Mystery writer David Liss takes on the origin story and first adventure of the Phantom Reporter, a Golden Age hero that everyone had forgotten about until JMS revived him for “The Twelve” (and then promptly forgot about him again, but that’s a rant for another day.) It’s not bad, but it doesn’t leave me wanting to seek out Liss’ novels yet. The coloring is pretty strange – it’s looks as if it was colored by someone who thought that purple and orange were primary colors. There are some layouts and pencils from artist Jason Armstrong included, and I prefer them to the printed work. (There’s no inker credited and Val Staples is credited for “Color Art”, whatever that means.) The Golden Age reprint is amusing because except for his mask the Reporter is dressed exactly the same, including a bright red cape, in his civilian and secret identities.

Mystic Comics 70th Anniversary Special: Sometimes David Lapham, who wrote and drew this, is brilliant but this isn’t one of those times. The lead story is a pretty generic Marvel horror story starring the original Vision (who has an oddly similar origin to the Martian Manhunter). The art is nice, but the plot is completely predictable. The GA reprints are painful as usual, but at least they have early Jack Kirby art which is always fun to look at.

Doom Patrol 2: Somehow it completely went over my head in the first issue that the priest/counselor is “Rocky” Davis of “Challengers of the Unknown” and Brad Meltzer’s “Last Will and Testament” fame. This makes me happy. (The character, not my oversight.) Anyway, I liked this issue a lot better and this interview with Keith Giffen made me feel a lot better about his plans for the book so I’m on board at least through the “Blackest Night” crossover. (I still don’t think the “Metal Men” backup is funny, though.)

Vengeance of the Moon Knight 1: He’s back, and apparently trying to clean up his act. I think that’s a good idea for the character – otherwise he’s basically the Punisher – but it’s too early to tell whether it’ll work beyond this flashy debut. The art by Jerome OpeƱa favorably reminds me of the Bill Sienkiewicz days (which you can see here in the reprint of #1 they included to justify the cover price), but I was disappointed that writer Gregg Hurwitz resorted to the (admittedly recent) cliche of having the Sentry show up at the end.

Superman/Batman 64: I was planning to avoid this book after last issue, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with Joe Kelly and Scott Kolins. The story, featuring an ancient Kryptonian derelict ship, is interesting and I prefer Kolins’ tighter style here to the style he’s using in “Solomon Grundy”. (His Superman here reminds me a lot of how Keith Giffen used to draw him back in the 80’s, which I always liked.) However, for a book that’s been obsessively showing us how relevant to continuity it is lately – to the point of “explaining” how some of the previous stories weren’t “real” – it’s odd that this story leans heavily on how Superman feels being the last Kryptonian when all the current Superman books are about how he isn’t. (There is one caption placing the story “some time ago”, but make up your mind DC.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Comics I Read: September, Part 1

I’m just now getting caught up from being out of town for Labor Day, so I’m just going to lump all the September books (including this weeks) together and not worry about when they came out. It’s going to take a few days, so let’s get started.

The Torch 1: Toro was never the sharpest kid on the block either in the Golden Age or in “Invaders”, but here he’s been resurrected in modern times (see “Avengers/Invaders”) in a way that somehow doesn’t mess up the timeline and the first thing he does is deliver himself to his only enemy on the planet. I like the idea that the Torch is responsible for Toro’s powers, which is backed up by his 1940’s origin story, but if you want to read about their history go read “The Marvels Project” instead.

The Marvels Project 2: Speaking of which, Brubaker spends a lot of this issue on the origins of the Golden Age Angel (who I wasn’t that familiar with) and filling in the gaps between when the Human Torch escaped from his concrete prison and when he became an accepted hero. I had to look up the “Major Kerfoot” Nazi that is posing as an American professor, and apparently he’s the reason the 1950’s Cap was able to get a version of the Super Soldier serum. Nice touch.

Models Inc. 1: Wow, and I thought “Marvel Divas” was dumb. Compared to the pandering in the lead story here, “Divas” is practically a feminist tract. Even Patsy Walker can’t save this junk. The backup story featuring Tim Gunn is kind of fun, and gets his “voice” down perfectly, but it requires you to believe that the “Janet Van Dyne Memorial Wing” of the NY Fashion Museum – clever touch – would put a working Iron Man suit (weapons and all!) on display where anyone could use it.

Nomad: Girl Without a World 1: Considering the source material, I was pleasantly surprised by this. Sean McKeever does the absolute minimum exposition needed – it’s basically in the title – and fashions a nice little high school drama about an orphan girl trying to find her place in the big city. There’s the requisite Captain America and Black Widow appearances, but the story doesn’t require you know much about them. Marvel doesn’t have a lot of books that are suitable for young girls, but I think this is one of them.

Luke Cage Noir 1, 2: I haven’t liked any of the “Marvel Noir” stories I’ve read and this one is no exception – with dialogue like “That’s when it hit me like a bag of nickels: I was being set up.” – but Shawn Martinbrough’s art is stunning.

Reborn 3:  I loved all the Namor scenes (past and present) and the trip through 70’s Avengers history, but did Brubaker just change the rules on us or did I miss something? I thought the whole point of last issue was that Steve is powerless to affect events in the past, but somehow here he’s able to initiate a conversation with the Vision in the hopes he’ll remember it in the future. I’m sure Brubaker didn’t make a mistake, so somehow Steve’s lack of powerlessness is either a plot point or I just misunderstood from the beginning.

Adventure Comics 2: I love the sweet, leisurely story Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul are telling here – the near-silent Ma Kent page is heartbreaking – so it makes me sad that they’re leaving for the new “Flash” title after #6. On the other hand, I’m excited that Paul Levitz will be writing the Legion again: his issues of JSA a while back proved that he’s still got it. I hope he’ll follow up on the Lightning Lad plot that Johns started in this issue, because it’s one of those “why didn’t anyone ever think of that” ideas.

Cable 18: I try to avoid reading other reviews before I write my comments here, because sometimes those writers match my thoughts well enough that I have trouble getting their words out of my head so I can write mine. Being so far behind this time, it was kind of inevitable, so here’s a quote from Paul O'Brien's X-Axis that matches my thoughts perfectly:

“…Bishop is in possession of a nuclear device, and he's aboard the only ship in the universe where Hope might conceivably be, and the captain has even told him that Hope's on board, he's not prepared to detonate it until he has "visual confirmation." What? It's a fucking nuke! Just blow up the ship, you moron! And that's the problem with this series. The characters are quite well written; Hope's starting to emerge as a decent character; in broad strokes, the story isn't bad; but the plot just falls apart on inspection. It's an infuriating book, because I can't help feeling it's only a couple of drafts away from being good…”

This is especially true for me now that I’ve read a couple of Duane Swierczynski’s novels and I know the level of writing that he’s capable of. Fortunately, the storyline after this one is called “Homecoming” so with the end of the “fugitives” story in sight I’ll stick around and see what happens.

Brave and the Bold 27: A good start from JMS, but not great. It touches on a lot of the same themes that Will Pfeifer’s “H.E.R.O.” series did a few years back, so it didn’t feel new to me, and the lesson that Robby Reed learns at the end comes off as preachy. JMS is usually more subtle. Again, not terrible – I actually liked the Joker scenes a lot – but a little disappointing by JMS standards.

Blackest Night 3: Some random observations: Finally, we get to see what the Indigo Lanterns can do and they hint at a plot development (Hal as “White Lantern”) that many people have predicted. My theory about the Black Lanterns is basically confirmed. (Atom: “Maybe the dead aren’t wearing the rings. Maybe the rings are wearing the dead.”) I’m a little bothered by the development with the new Firestorm because I prefer him to the original, and I’d hate to see him replaced when this is over. Finally, if there was any doubt that this takes place after “Flash Rebirth” (and therefore that Barry survives) there isn’t now because Barry refers to events from the most recent “Rebirth” issue. (I’m not quoting the line here because it’s a spoiler for “Rebirth”, in case you’re waiting for the trade on that series.)

Strange Adventures 7: As one of the characters aptly says in this issue: “We have reached a whole new, until now, unimaginable level of being screwed!” I can’t wait for this to be over and for Adam Strange to be in the “R.E.B.E.L.S.” book instead, where he can interact with some more interesting characters. (I actually like the Prince Gavyn Starman and Captain Comet, but boy they’re a pair of tools here.)

Blackest Night: Batman 2: There are a lot of good Commissioner Gordon/Barbara Gordon scenes in this issue. It seems to me everybody’s secret IDs are pretty much blown by their dead parents bashing in the windshield of the Batplane with Commissioner Gordon inside, but my guess is that they’ll say he was in the back and didn’t hear. Anyway, the confrontation between Dick and his “parents” (see above) next issue should be interesting since his feelings about them are a pretty unexplored area.

More tomorrow.

Books I Read: August/September, Part 1

jun090651dMarvel Super Hero Team-Up TPB: Marvel made a mistake with this book, in my opinion. It was originally titled “Marvel Bromance”, as a play on the recent “Marvel Romance” trade and the general pop culture trend. They changed the title because they were afraid it would seem dated. They may have been right, but the problem is that the book still has the same content under a generic title. There are much better “team-up” stories available then the ones chosen here – much better Spidey/Torch issues of “Marvel Team-Up” and much better Captain America & The Falcon stories, for instance. If you came into this without knowing the history, I think you’d be pretty disappointed. That said, the stories fit the “male friendship” theme pretty well and show some nice moments in the Spidey/Torch, Cap/Falcon, Stark/Rhodes and Wolverine/Colossus relationships. I also have a soft spot for any book that reprints Priest’s “Black Panther”: the issue chosen (#25) – not technically a “Super Hero Team Up” because Panther is the only super hero in the story -- is a key moment in the T’Challa/Agent Ross relationship, although it’s also the culmination of storylines going back to issue #1 as well as a tie-in to the “Maximum Security” event so it’s pretty dense. Extras: None. (Not even covers.)

may090188d Justice Society of America: Black Adam and Isis HC: This slim volume ties up stories from a lot of different places, so it should have a wide appeal. As the title suggests, the Black Adam and Isis stories from “52” and the “Black Adam: The Dark Age” miniseries come to a satisfying conclusion along with the Mary Marvel story from “Countdown”. There’s a new status quo set up for the Marvel Family characters, including beats that go all the way back to Jerry Ordway’s original “Power of Shazam” graphic novel. I’ll come back to the middle story in the book in a minute, but the last story is a Jerry Ordway written and drawn tale with ties back to WWII and “All-Star Squadron”, and the ending starts to set up the new creative teams’ storyline. (Which, interestingly, contradicts the message of team unity at the end of the Black Adam story.) The real gem here, though, is Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham’s final JSA issue – a wonderful, whimsical, beautifully drawn tale of Stargirl's 16th birthday with ties back to Johns’ “Stars & STRIPE” series. Extras: covers, alternate covers, “Origins and Omens” backup.

may090189d Superman: New Krypton Volume 2 HC: The second volume of the most exciting Superman storyline in years starts with Sterling Gates settling once and for all the conflicting versions of Supergirl’s origin dating back to when she was reintroduced by Jeph Loeb and Michael Turner. I don’t know if there will be a separate Supergirl trade with this story in it, so Supergirl fans take note. I won’t go too much into the story for those of you not following it monthly, but it includes the new Luthor/Brainiac “team-up”, the resolution of the Kryptonians on Earth and a tragedy for Supergirl not dissimilar to the one that befell her cousin in Volume 1. Extras: covers, alternate covers, unsed page from “New Krypton Special #1”.

 

 

11909_400x600 DC Comics Classics Library: Justice League of America by George Perez Volume One HC: This is the first of two volumes reprinting George Perez’ brief 1980s run on JLA. Even though his art improved over the years, which Perez admits in his introduction, there’s a lot to like here: notably his knack for making characters distinct – I love how his Earth-2 Wonder Woman looks different than the modern version – and his attention to detail, as in the Apokolips scenes that were the model (along with Kirby of course) for many who drew it later and little stuff like Flash solving a Rubik’s Cube in a couple of panels. Gerry Conway’s stories – the poor guy gets only a tiny credit on the cover – are largely plot driven, as was the standard for JLA at the time, but he does inject a lot of nice character moments like Superman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda playing with children on Apokolips, Green Arrow and Black Canary’s relationship after GA quit the League, and an origin for Red Tornado that established that he's alive and not just a machine. Extras: Introduction by George Perez, Afterword by Len Wein, JLA postcard art by Perez. (I think I still have those actual postcards around here somewhere, believe it or not.)

61vJo6kVggL._SL500_AA240_ Spider-Man and the Human Torch HC: Reprints in oversized format Dan Slott and Ty Templeton’s Spidey/Human Torch miniseries from a couple of years back. Slott, well known Marvel historian, tells 5 tales of the duo from various points in their history including the then-current JMS era. The stories are mostly lighthearted and fun, but they each have genuine emotional moments that would have fit well in the “Marvel Bromance” book – see how I just tied the whole column together? – including the story of how the Torch learned that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, which is followed up on in Slott’s FF guest-starring story in the recent “Spider-Man: 24/7” collection. I’ve always been a fan of these team-ups, and anyone who is should own this. (There was also a cheaper digest-sized trade, but I think it’s out of print.) Extras: oversized, plot excerpts, layouts, cover sketches.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My servant wrote this review for me . . . . . . .

THE SURROGATES  TPB  by Robert Venditti, illustrated and colored by Brett Weldele  (reprint 2009, Top Shelf Productions)

           Another science-fiction comic gets adapted to movies with the September 25th premiere of THE SURROGATES in theaters.   The movie trailers look interesting and appear to at least  Exclusive_Surrogates_Poster               remain faithful to the major theme of the limited series comic.  Although there are  several scenes depicted that I don’t remember as occurring  in the  original  storyline.  I hope the film gets it at least half-right.                                                                                               

BLADE RUNNER was an interesting movie that helped jump-start Hollywood’s interest in science fiction works as good subjects for film adaptation.  However, the movie was just a shell without the guts, namely all the secondary themes and good stuff  that made the original novel (DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?) so memorable.

I, ROBOT was an entertaining piece of cinematic escapism complete with Will Smith. It bore even less resemblance to the legendary work by Isaac Asimov.

But I’m not here to review movies.  I just hope THE SURROGATES movie is good enough to generate some interest in the original work and drive new readers into comics shops in search of it. It’s an incredible work deserving of more attention. I don’t know how I missed the original five-issue mini-series in 2006;  but I’m glad I happened upon the trade paperback before seeing the movie.  The movie can’t ruin my enjoyment of the comic series.

          THE SURROGATES  (the story) as created by Venditti and Weldele  will easily make it into the Top 10 list of the best original science-fiction graphic novels that I have read. ( This gives me a great idea for an upcoming article.)  This is so much more than just a one-trick pony.  Venditti imagines a new spin on the familiar “android” theme and then fully explores and exploits it to the maximum.  What begins as a simple idea/notion/usage for “surrogates”  (android replacements or stand-ins for real humans) becomes a complex exploration of all the consequences, including the effects on politics, socialism, marketing, and law enforcement (to name just a few).

          On just the surface level THE SURROGATES is a very entertaining and involving police procedural, which I suspect is what the movie will concentrate on with some extra action sequences added just to make sure today’s modern audience doesn’t get restless in their theater chairs. Dig just a little deeper and be enthralled with Vendetti’s complex speculations on what such a future might bring.  It’s not too far away and less than 50 years into the future (2054).

          In Vendetti’s future every citizen has access (so long as they can afford it) to a personal substitute.  That substitute can go to work for them and interact with the rest of society while the owner sits back and never leaves home.  The substitute, aka Surrogate, doesn’t even have to be a duplicate copy of the owner.  Most people have physically superior versions of themselves running around while they get fat and lazy (and older) and some even chose to create a different persona in their surrogate form.   For example, a male owner sends his attractive female surrogate out for some steamy action while he stays at home plugged in via virtual reality, saving all the action to video for repeated viewings.   Or a politician in a historically black election district sends his black surrogate out to campaign so that voters can relate better to him.   And the potential for all-surrogate police forces has led to both an increase in law enforcement as a career choice as well as a dramatic reduction in the actual incidence of criminal activity.

          In the first chapter we are introduced to Central Georgia Metropolis detectives Harry Greer and Pete Ford as they investigate the double-death of a surrogate couple apparently interrupted during some back-alley romancing and burned out (their circuits were baked and fried) during a freak electrical storm. As the investigation continues they learn that it was actually a murder, and a terrorist may be involved as future victims (all surrogates as well) expire in similar fashion.

     Credit in part the gloomy atmospherics and dreary look and feel of this book to Brett Weldele, whose minimalist art style takes advantage of coloring and combines it to full effect with shading, shadows, lines and photo washes. I like the way that he meshes city photographs into his backgrounds with a surrealistic appearance.

                Chapter One: “Field Test” really expands on the surrogate palate and all                                    its possibilities as we move deeper into the story with every page.  Even                                                  poverty-level lower class have access to surrogates  although they may                                                    assume more risk to do so, as we learn when the detectives interview                                                   one of the murdered surrogate owners.  The saddened owner bemoans that the female surrogates comic

                                                   surrogate that his personal stand-in was having sex with was actually owned by another male.  He comments ironically “why can’t people just be who they say they are?” as we learn that his job in construction is in jeopardy since he can’t send his surrogate to work tomorrow, and his personal body is in no shape for that kind of physical activity.    Venditti wisely shows us the complexity of this future through the use of end pieces, articles and features following the conclusion of the story in each issue.  This helps us see how much research and speculation he has done without interrupting the main story with detailed explanations or lengthy exposition. It’s a great technique and I admire it.   Chapter One ends with an analytical article (complete with footnotes and references) describing the impact of surrogates on society that is very detailed and in-depth. It accomplishes in just four pages of text what would have required a full issue of multi-paneled pages to convey and visualize.

          Chapter Two: “Life Unfiltered” reveals further insights as detective Greer makes a decision to report to work rather than send his surrogate and almost ends his life as a result.  Rather than discourage him it sets his resolve to continue life sans surrogate and this leads to further complications in his married life, etc.   Another fascinating character is introduced, the cult leader and evangelist Zaire Powell III who has an as-yet unrevealed connection to the terrorist murders.   The end piece this issue gives us more background on this prominent character by printing the transcripts of a police interview conducted at an earlier turning point in his life.  This is very powerful stuff and it really pulls you into this story.  I nearly went without sleep and had to discipline myself to save the next chapter for another day. ( I couldn’t afford to send a surrogate to work in place of me.)

          I won’t go any further into detail.  I hope I’ve provided enough information here to at least encourage you to check out this work.  And the ending will have you shaking your head either in disbelief or sympathetic understanding.   You need to see and read some of these chapter end pieces to really appreciate all the effort put into this work.  The reasons behind the invention and creation of surrogates is a story unto itself, especially when learning how greedy opportunists capitalized on the concept and what new and contemptible spin the marketing department has in mind now. What’s even more impressive is that this is Venditti’s very first work in comics, and one that he spent four years in conception and development.  Remarkable.  And the background information that reveals how he broke into the field by becoming a mailroom employee for an independent publisher is a source of inspiration to all aspiring comics writers and artists.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sweet Tooth = simple yet sublime

SWEET TOOTH #1  (DC Vertigo)   story and art by Jeff Lemire

I nearly passed over this based on the dumb-appearing cover depiction of a backwoods AppalachianSWTO_1_05_600 boy with deer ears and antlers and chocolate mess on his perplexed face.  (It’s not so dumb after you read the story).  Yet, at the introductory price of $1.00 it was worth a closer look and less of a monetary risk.  I also was curious to read something for the first time by Jeff Lemire, whose indie reputation is growing.  I was actually moved and saddened by this tender, apocalyptic tale (yes, yet another post-cataclysm story). 

     In spite of that put-off, I was moved by the simple nature of this book.  Very  quickly and easily Lemire immerses the reader into the story as we begin to realize the loneliness that the dying father and innocent son are experiencing .   Gus, the son born post-apocalypse of a dying mother and mutated by the after-effects (of whatever it was),  realizes near his tenth year that his father doesn’t have much time on the planet and he will soon be totally alone.  It's the combination of Lemire handling both story and art that make them mesh so well together and convey so much in addition to what is seen and read on the page.  The scenes of the father trying to prepare his son to carry on after his death are very touching.   Simple folk.  Big emotions.

     The editorial in this issue by Jeff Lemire indicates the direction the book will be heading towards. I’m reminded very much of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD and expect to see some similarities as well as major differences.  Gus will partner up with a new father-figure and make a journey through a devastated land.  But it’s not his real father, and I expect his motivations to be completely different than those of the loving father in THE ROAD.   Described as a bounty hunter in some reviews, Lemire in the editorial hints that this new mentor (Jepperd) may have his own reasons for taking Gus to The Preserve (what irony in that name!), a safe haven for the new breed of children.   Jepperd makes his introduction in very dramatic fashion at the end of this issue.  

   There are many mentions of God in the opening pages of this book, and we can see how God is threaded into Gus’ persona and influences his everyday life, giving him hope and higher expectations.  After his father is taken away from him by God,  the first people he meets put him in fear for his life. When he defends himself one of the first words  he hears another person utter are “Goddammit”.  And just before his rescue one of his assailants desperately moans “oh God” only to get a response from Jepperd of “God . . ?   . . . Ain’t no God here.”  I’m sure this is going to be just one of many human conflicts to challenge Gus in the issues to come. 

SWEET TOOTH will not waste your time, or your hard-earned dollar.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Photo of the Week

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“I’ll have an iced Venti latte and a slave girl, please.” (Read about Jabba’s adventures – an actual Lucasfilm employee testing a new costume – here.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Super Hero Squad Show

Super Hero Squad Teaser Trailer  The Official Super Hero Squad Site  Videos - Google Chrome
I watched the two episode sneak preview of Marvel Animation's “The Super Hero Squad Show” on Cartoon Network tonight and, though I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised, it was pretty much what I expected. I’m not the target audience, so I won’t bash it too much – in fact, I think 8-year-old boys and under might like it a lot. The voice acting is fun and over the top and the animation is pretty good considering the kiddie character designs (especially the title sequence), but this isn’t one of those things that can be enjoyed on different levels by kids and adults – it’s mainly fart jokes and bathroom humor. It’s fun to see some of the obscure Marvel characters like Modok, the Wrecking Crew and Ms. Marvel (who I don’t think has ever been animated before) but for comics readers and older kids I have to recommend “Spectacular Spider-Man” on Disney XD or “Wolverine and the X-Men” on Nicktoons instead. (If you do have young kids you think might like this, the schedule is available by clicking the picture above.)

Update (July 2010): I've seen the rest of the first season now, most of which relied a lot less on bathroom humor, and I now pretty much agree with this recent Newsarama review.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Wolves in street clothing, part 2 . . . . .

Before I comment on these latest books, I want to make a correction to my last posting 0f September 4th (DARK WOLVERINE: AN APPRECIATION). I referred to several events as happening in DARK WOLVERINE #77, when they actually took place in #76. I didn’t have my chronology in order. I even referred to some Issue #75 events as taking place in #76. I’m sorry if it created any confusion, especially if you’re seeking out these books. In the comments section I jokingly referred to this as being a purposeful error, but that’s untrue. I just screwed up.

DARK WOLVERINE #77:

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The unanswered question from issue #75 gets clarified here, right in the summary on the opening credits page : “Daken proves to be just as devious as Osborn and has carefully orchestrated a conflict between the Fantastic Four and Osborn by shooting the Human Torch in the leg with one of Bullseye’s arrows. Daken, feigning innocence, visits the FF at the Baxter Building and creates a shaky alliance with a skeptical Reed Richards, but all Daken needs is an inch to dig his claws in.” Many of us were suspecting he did it, and now we know. Now, if we can only get the other question answered: “How did Daken get past Baxter Building security?”

So, who gets “PLAYED” by the master manipulator this issue? It starts right off with Ares, as Daken shares with him what he doesn’t like: “I don’t like how you’ve subjugated yourself. . . . . . . Enslaved. To a lesser man”, and then goads him into assaulting the FF, in the building for a meeting to hear Osborn’s ultimatum (blackmail). He pulls a similar stunt (off stage, off camera to us) with Venom. Daken’s not the only manipulator in this book, and it’s fun to watch both Osborn and the FF work their games on each other, only to end in a stand-off thanks to the untimely interference of the baited Ares and Venom (as engineered by our innocent bystander Daken). And can you actually believe how much concern Reed shows for the brutalized Daken in the closing scenes, and the personal text message he sends to his hospital bed? The hooks are in very deep.

We also are treated to a little bit of the two opponents’ (Osborn and Daken) philosophy on winning and conquest. Norm Osborn: “Expect the best. Plan for the worst . . . prepare to be surprised.” Daken: “Here’s the thing that Osborn doesn’t understand. You can reach the top in an instant. You can burn and kill and lie your way there overnight. But to stay . . . to become something more than a puppet king . . . you have to build a foundation. Deep roots. Allies. Promises. Debts. Not every revolution begins with a bang. Sometimes just a whisper. The first thread of a well-laid plan. Blood doesn’t make you a prince. And it won’t build you an empire. But knowing the right people sure as hell will.” My money is on Daken. It’s hard not to like such a street-smart guy, despite his schemes to use everybody in sight. The only thing that could make me not like him is to see him attain 100% success. That would be wrong.

Of course I expect DARK REIGN and DARK WOLVERINE to play themselves out sometime. I don’t believe either of these is an infinite series. Norm Osborn should get exposed, discredited and imprisoned (surely not dead, since his character has so much story potential). Then everybody he burns gets re-instated or at least vindicated. Nick Fury won’t continue to be a fugitive working for the law but outside of the law. Tony Stark gets his status restored, and probably his position as director of S.H.I.E.L.D. And DARK WOLVERINE is a finite series, as Daken’s dark plan fails to come to fruition in the final moments of execution. DARK WOLVERINE the book gives way to just plain WOLVERINE and the return of daddy Logan. In the meantime, I’m having fun watching this.

I’m also becoming a fan of the rugged style of artist Giuseppe Camuncoli. He has a way of drawing characters, especially their faces, that almost reduces everyone to a brutal Neanderthal level. Just look at all the heavy eyebrow ridges and prominent jaw lines, toothy grimaces, and darkly lined features. It’s a different way of looking at some familiar characters and perfectly suits the devious nature of this book.

WOLVERINE: WEAPON X #4: “The Adamantium Men, Part 4 of 5”

This book doesn’t cause one to wonder quite as much as DARK WOLVERINE does. The storyline is pretty straight forward and we expect Logan and Maverick to foil the plans of the Blackguard organization. 27224new_storyimage0274907_thumbBut when the story is well-told you never mind that the outcome might be anticipated. Just enjoy it. Jason Aaron continues to deliver a gutsy, adrenaline-fueled narrative with plenty of action. Ron Garvey does a fine job of depicting all the events. His fight scene between Logan and one of the better-trained and surviving Adamantium men is not to be missed. Everything here leads to a final showdown next issue.

There are neat little touches throughout to admire and appreciate and to remind us how Aaron and Garvey make the most of these moments: the Blackguard “severance package” for employees; the phone banter between Maverick and Agent Jacks; Logan on champagne versus beer; the mercenary reading Faulkner; and the battle between Wolverine and the literate hired goon ending in a book discussion. The only thing missing this issue was an update on the paper investigation of Blackguard by reporter Alita Gardner, a new ally of Logan and Maverick.

I’m also enjoying this book - - and for my money WEAPON X and DARK are the two WOLVERINE titles that matter and the ones to read. It will be interesting to see where Aaron goes with the second story arc after this ends.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Shane's Number Ones - August 2009

Now to rush onto my new books for August to be finally caught up...on the issue reviews I do, at least.  I still have other stuff to write about, but those aren't quite as time sensitive--I'd rather get these out while they're still somewhat relevant.

Adventure Comics #1 (or 504) - DC Comics

Not too long ago, I complained about Legion of Three Worlds.  While it's still certainly not my favorite recent book, I've gotten past many of those complaints just in time for this new ongoing series that, hopefully, will be around for a good, long time.  To start with--the art on this book?  Gorgeous.  Francis Manapul takes the talent he shaped on earlier books up until The Legion of Super-Heroes and adds in the color wash he perfected during Superman/Batman to create the beautiful look he gives Superboy and Smallville.  The early spread with him, Ma Kent and Krypto looking at the farm was my wallpaper for a good, long time.  An upcoming solicitation shows that Jerry Ordway will be on art duties for at least issue four, which isn't surprising--Manapul needed more than a few fill-ins during his Legion run--but as long as he returns, and they maintain a high level of talent for the fill-ins (and really, Jerry Ordway is a top-level artist, fill-in or not), I'm happy.  The co-feature on the Legion, drawn by Clayton Henry, isn't as breathtaking as the main story--but it's of a very respectable quality, and Henry performs his storytelling duties at the top of his game.  

And then we come to the writing side.  I'll make it very clear from the beginning--this still isn't the Superboy I grew to love, the Superboy that I read for ten years.  But I also realize that we aren't going back to that Superboy, to that series--and this Superboy is a much better one than the one we read about in Teen Titans.  I can accept this, and can look forward to this series even if it isn't exactly what I wanted.  Focusing on the story itself, Johns introduces us to Superboy, to his new home life, and gives us hints about his new supporting cast--it looks like we'll see a world similar to, but not quite the same as, what Clark Kent had growing up (in fact, that's even one of the main themes in this series, as Superboy tries to figure out whether he's more like Superman or Lex Luthor).  This wasn't a perfect story, but when I read Geoff Johns, he tends to deliver very good stories or stories that are filled with his cliches--this issue is definitely from the former category.

Finally, the Legion backup.  We don't take a look at the Legion proper, but instead get to see Starman, pulling double duty with ties to both the Justice Society and the Legion, as a "bridge" to the team that will ultimately star in this feature.  I can't say that I'm completely in love with this yet, and the solicitations suggest a co-writer joins in upcoming issues, which could be good or bad--but I'm not turned off by it, either, and I hope to see the Legion writing that Johns showed in his Action Comics issues.

Doom Patrol #1 - DC Comics

fdjakslfdaslk;fjdlk;fjdsakfdsa aghhhhh Blogger stop losing my saved posts.  Okay.  I wrote out this really nice review for this title but no, screw it, I'm not writing it out again.  Doom Patrol was great, Metal Men was great, I'm sticking around, screw you Blogger.

King City #1 (of 12) - Image Comics (presented by Tokyopop)

This is a good book.  Really good.  It's not quite "I Kill Giants or Phonogram good" yet, but man, it has that potential.  I bought this book out of curiosity after reading interviews about it--how Brandon Graham had put so much effort into crafting this series, but Tokyopop folded the imprint publishing it after only the first half had been done, and now it was finally being brought to Image to tell the whole story.  I'd also heard plenty of great things about it--which, hey, meant I was going to check it out.  And wow.  It's really interesting--completely "out there", but in the best way possible.  The art may seem too stylized for some, but it works, completely, and the level of detail in some panels is very impressive.  My only two concerns are that the issue has rather large dimensions--which can be annoying for storage, but it hasn't affected the price at all, fortunately--and that it doesn't really end on a cliffhanger.  Given that the story was conceived as two graphic novels, and has been split into twelve issues, this was inevitable, but I worry that it will prevent some people from returning for the next issue.  Not me, though--I will be bringing this, and the next issue, to the next party for lendings.

Archie #600 - Archie Comics

Okay, don't even try to tell me that I'm the only one paying attention here.  This is Archie.  Getting married.  To Veronica.

Poor Betty.

In all seriousness, though, I had to get this title.  Archie is one of the biggest titles in the comics industry, and he's an icon known almost at the level of SupermanBatman, and Spider-Man.  To have him finally end the famous love triangle is a huge deal.  Sure, this is a future story, and sure, it's made clear that this isn't a definitive decision--but just the idea that Archie would actually do it?

Anyway, the issue itself?  Surprisingly...good.  This comic was written by Michael Uslan, who has been a producer and developer of many movies, including, perhaps most notably, the Batman film franchises.  He draws on his lifelong love of the characters to write this story, and it shows.  This is a celebration to everything about Archie and its completely identifiable characters, and it shows in every page.

I do not have an extensive history with Archie comics--but after reading this issue, I felt like I did.  I felt invested in these characters.  That is a great thing, because it can be incredibly difficult to trap new readers like that--but Uslan succeeds.

For people who need comics to be Super Serious, this obviously isn't the book for you.  But if you like a little fun, if you don't mind going back to a simpler comic, I'd really recommend this little event.

Shane's Numbers Ones! - July 2009

 
Been some time since I've made a blog post--it's just me being lazy.  So, I'll start with some more reviews of the new titles in July.

I started this in the middle of August.  And then the computer crashed and, because the auto-save feature hadn't activated in a bit, I lost all of the reviews I'd written.  I'm finally going back to it, now.

Okay!  Well.

Blackest Night #1 (of 8) - DC Comics

For those who like the insane crossover events--this is the book for you.  When we take a look at what both major companies have done, this is far more like Secret Invasion than it is Final Crisis--in fact, DC hasn't really done anything like this since Infinite Crisis, with other events (Amazons Attack, Sinestro Corps. War, New Krypton, etc.) being focused on individual franchises.  Here, though, we have the DCU in all of its glory, by one of its top superstar writers and a growing superstar artist, with a large number of tie-ins on the way.  I haven't paid too much attention to Green Lantern lately--it was one of my earlier casualties in switching to the collected editions, and although I'm somewhat caught up on those (I recently read...Secret Origin and Sins of the Star Sapphire), I'm certainly not caught up on everything that's gone on.  But, the zero-issue for FCBD helped more than just a bit, and really pulled me into this event.  I made the decision to buy it based on that, and based on the notion that the other DC titles I was buying (Adventure Comics, Doom Patrol, R.E.B.E.L.S.) would tie into this event.

Onto the series itself?  The first issue, I liked that quite a bit.  I sing the praises of books like Final Crisis quite a bit, and ultimately, those are the books I want to read--but, the insane superhero crossover has a prominent appeal, as well.  "Death" is the obvious theme here,  and Geoff Johns focuses on it very well, demonstrating the sense of loss and hopelessness the DCU has felt coming out of Final Crisis.  Many of their icons--Batman, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter--have fallen, and with many of the remaining icons otherwise occupied, the Justice League is struggling to even survive, let alone remain effectual.  Add in the return of Barry Allen--the longtime posterchild for death at DC--and you have some interesting ideas that Geoff Johns really runs with, giving us many powerful scenes that really show us the despair that everyone feels--and with "emotion" as the driving concept for the various Lanterns, this works really well.  There is a slow build during the first issue, continuing from scenes introduced in the zero issue, ultimately resulting in the revelation of the Black Lanterns to the heroes.  We see the very beginning of the massive death count that this series will likely result in, but it's the aftermath of that scene that's most shocking.  I did not enjoy the second issue nearly as much, but as I suggested earlier, I'm not necessarily the target audience for this book.  This will be a huge success for DC, and a way for them to really unite their line after several years rebuilding their icons.  I may not look forward to the remaining issues of this series, but I look forward to the future.

Poe #1 (of 4) - BOOM! Studios

As you may recall, Poe was one of the first titles that I enthusiastically blogged about after seeing it in Previews, and I wish I could say that the enthusiasm carried over to the series proper.  Don't get me wrong--in no way is this a bad book.  As a supernatural detective story, it's interesting, well-written, well-drawn.  However.  As far as I can tell, at least based on the first issue, there is no reason for this comic to be about Edgar Allen Poe.  There's a casual reference on two to his stories, and then a few of his real-life situations, but none of them are in any way essential, or even particularly relevant, to the story itself.  A new character could've been invented to easily take his place, perhaps opening up new story possibilities.  I understand the notion that Poe's name brings in readers--it brought me in, after all--but if you're going to craft a story about someone, it should be a story that needs them involved--not a story that you casually plug a character into.  I've already ordered the remaining issues of this series, although none have yet arrived--I don't know if the problem is with my store or with the comic itself--but I don't know if this is a book I can really recommend to someone, at least not on the connection to Poe alone.  As I said, this isn't a bad comic--but I was hoping for more.

Bad Kids Go To Hell #1 (of 4) - Antarctic Press

As you might recall, this is one of the titles that I brought with me to Aaron's party, attempting to pass onto another.  This is because of the quality of the book--it far surpassed my expectations.  I bought it because, well, I was desperate for any title on my pull list by that point, but I have thoroughly enjoyed this series in every way, and anxiously await the final issue.

To begin with, picture The Breakfast Club--perhaps the quintessential 80's movie by the late John Hughes.  This series is built around that--not exactly, of course, as new characters and situations are designed, but the premise?  Nearly identical.  A group of high schoolers with tenuous connections to each other are thrust into detention, isolated from everyone except their cruel teacher and a more sympathetic member of the staff.  So take that, and then turn it into a horror story, and you've got this comic.

Based on that description, I know, I wouldn't be too interested--there's some potential there, maybe, but the odds of it being pulled off into anything resembling a good story...slim, right?  And yet somehow, the creators manage it.  The first issue is the worst of the series, and that's not really a criticism, because on its own, it's a perfectly serviceable comic--but the comic begins to really shine in the remaining issues.  I'm captivated. 

North 40 #1 (of 6) - Wildstorm

Unlike many, I haven't paid any attention to the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  I know a few of the basics, and I know that he's considered a master of, as it was then know, "weird fiction", but that's really it.  I've had a bit of an interest, I guess, but never the opportunity to explore that further--until now.  Aaron Williams and Fiona Staples begin to explore the mythos through the eyes of a small town, just off of, as you can see from the cover and title, Interstate 40 - North.  Casual experimentation in the supernatural leads to the brief slumber of an entire town, and when they wake up, they find themselves in the middle of a completely different life.  The fear and anxiety the characters feel is distinct, palpable, pulling the reader in instantly.  Fiona Staples, the artist, proves her worth as a storyteller, and includes many minor touches to the art that may not be apparent on the first read.  I had to cut this series from my pull list after the first issue due to "budget cuts", but I can't wait for the trade collection, out in, perhaps, a few months.  If there's a sequel to this series by the same creative team, I know that I'll be on board.

Creepy #1 - Dark Horse Comics

This relaunch was already reviewed, so I'll keep this relatively brief, not going into an examination of the issue but rather an assessment of its worth.  If this was attempted to be a comic that would evoke real feelings of fright...it fails.  None of the stories in this comic are particularly scary.  However, as a comic that tells stories firmly set in the horror genre, unusual and, well, creepy?  It succeeds.  And, fortunately, that's what I'm looking for!  It contains the basic problem that many anthologies do--namely, the varying quality between creative teams--but as a whole, I came out of this book feeling entertained.  The second issue comes out in October--perfect timing, for obvious reasons.  Part of me thinks that they should've held back the launch to coincide with Halloween, but with the other horror comics saturating that month, it was probably best to begin the book when they did.  Hopefully, this sticks around.

The Last Resort #1 - IDW

I always think that there's a lot of storytelling potential for a situation where the characters are isolated.  It limits their options and increases the sense of risk.  This series fits that mold perfectly, beginning on an airplane and ultimately winding up on an island resort.  This series is written by Palmiotti and Gray, and is their most recent foray into the world of independent comics.  They have fairly consistent success with DC and Marvel, making it always a treat to see them elsewhere.  It should be noted that Amanda Conner does not provide art on this series, and neither does the other cover artist, Darwyn Cooke.  Instead, a relative newcomer, Caracuzzo, showcases a color-wash style that is somewhat similar to what Francis Manapul is doing on Adventure Comics.  It looks good and reads good--the series hasn't really kicked into high gear yet, but the opening scene gives us a taste of what the book will really be like when it gets going.  There are numerous subplots already going on when the book begins, and we learn more about them as the book continues--presumably, they'll all be dealt with by the conclusion.  The lack of focus on any single character means that everyone is expendable--perfect for books like this.  This is, despite the dreary subject matter, a fun book that I'd gladly recommend.

Spider-Woman Motion Comic

Marvel Motion Comics  Spider-Woman & Astonishing X-Men - Windows Internet Explorer

I’ve seen the first two episodes of Marvel’s new Spider-Woman Motion Comic on iTunes – they’re $1.99 each, but the first episode is free here for a limited time – and I’m not sure how to evaluate it. Let me list my impressions, and we’ll see what they add up to.

  • The voice acting is terrific. The woman who plays Jessica, who has most of the dialogue, is really good. Also, the actress that plays Viper in episode 2 had a really great performance – she plays her as manic which was unexpected and fun. It turns out that these voices are both the same actress, which I never would have guessed before the credits rolled!
  • Alex Maleev’s art, as you can see above, is amazing. He’s outdone himself again.
  • The writing is typical Bendis, which is to say really good. I think he’s still figuring out how to adapt to spoken dialogue – there’s a lot of exposition in episode 1 – but he improved a lot in the second episode.
  • Bendis has said repeatedly in interviews that, as the first motion comic not adapted from an existing print comic, this would be more than “pictures that wiggle”. They’re not quite there yet. The first episode is mostly wiggling pictures frankly, though you can tell Maleev drew the backgrounds separately so they can have different focus. However, it improves a lot in episode 2 -- there are a couple of chase sequences in that episode that give me hope for the medium.

That’s mostly positive, so why aren’t I more excited about this? I think partially it’s because the print version hasn’t come out yet, and so I don’t know how many episodes it takes to make up a single issue or how scenes will play differently. It’s a good start, though, the story is good and there are definitely aspects (like how to “act” Viper) that can’t be duplicated in print. I’m not convinced this is the future of comics yet, but it’s a successful experiment worth checking out – especially after they get a few more episodes done if they continue to improve at this rate.

DARK WOLVERINE: AN APPRECIATION

DARK WOLVERINE #77:
Written by Daniel Way & Marjorie Liu; pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli.


The early assumptions were that DARK WOLVERINE would feature a younger carbon copy of the original. It would likely be a book about the son consumed with hatred for the father he blames for his mother's death - - - a son who agrees to join the Dark Avengers and pose as the father in order to discredit the Wolverine name and finally achieve vengeance. Daken would willingly cede control to the appointed leader, and work with the framework of Norman Osborn's plan in order to achieve his own ends. This would be a younger (well, 60+ years isn't young, but compared to dad it's downright youthful), less composed, more hateful and aggressive Avenger-with-the-claws, less in control of emotions and more of an impulsive risk-taker, often fueled by the famous berserker rage within his genes.
Au contraire. Two issues in, and we've seen nothing of the sort. Instead, writers Way and liu are taking these tales of Daken/Dark Wolverine in a new and creative direction. This guy Daken is a player, a MAJOR PLAYER. He works his plan, his very private and personal agenda (not revealed to us or anyone else so far), and he plays EVERYBODY he comes in contact with. EVERYBODY !!! No one is spared. He's playing ME!, and I'm letting him do it! Even while his fingers are grasping my brain matter and massaging my frontal lobes to make me write this favorable review, I'M THINKING the entire time that I'm in charge and IT'S MY IDEA!!
I'm having a blast watching him work his game. He's playing Norman Osborn and the members of the Dark Avengers, even taking advantage of Dark Hawkeye/Bullseye's brutal nature and hatred to goad him into violent action that end up making all the team members wary of Bullseye and thereby prevent him from assuming any positions of influence with the others. He recognizes the threat to his leadership intentions and works to minimize it. It's right there in the quote from Machiavelli on page two: "The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him." It's very appropriate that this first story arc is called "The Prince."
Daken is a classic manipulator and I get the feeling that he's much smarter and way ahead of Norm Osborn. Osborn's intentions are worn on his sleeve - - the Dark Avengers as well as the FF and New Avengers know what he's after - - - but nobody suspects that Daken is working his own plan. Nobody - - except us of course since the writers are sharing some of his thoughts with us. But we aren't being given too close a peek - - nobody knows what endgame is in mind. i don't care. I just like watching this unfold.
Issue #76 begins with an unanswered question from the previous issue = who fired the arrow into Johnny Storm that prompted the FF's visit to Dark Avengers HQ? Was it Dark Hawkeye or Dark Wolverine? Place your bets - - make mine Daken. What did become clear is that leader Norm Osborn wants desperately to somehow discredit and minimize any threats from the Fantastic Four.
The story in #77 begins with Norm calming down the less-rational members (Ares and Venom, both being worked by Daken to raise their ire) and explaining how he/they "used" the FF to make the Dark Avengers appear to be the more professional and proper team. Also here are the faded purple captions that read like a narration from Machiavelli's book with little tips on how to get control. Is this a voice over from Daken's thoughts, or just the writers' way of leading us along?
One of Daken's moves is to take everybody off guard. His key phrases usually involve the words "set up" or "use" someone. Right after the meeting Daken starts playing Ms. Dark Marvel by planting seeds of distrust for Norman and sympathy for Daken (re: Norm = "and he's trying to set ME up."), finishing it off with a compliment to her poise. Prediction = within the next three issues she'll be in bed with him.
In a private meeting with Norm regarding Bullseye, Daken says, "He's not out to get me, Norman . . . He's out to get YOU." And he pulls it off. Later, when Norm as Iron Patriot confronts Bullseye outside the FF HQ spying on Daken, Bullseye tries a similar tactic and tells Norm= "Because it's not me he's after. He's out to get YOU." But Bullseye doesn't pull it off. Norm's facial response indicates as much. He doesn't trust Bullseye; and he's starting to believe Daken.
Next stop = go play the Fantastic Four. During a long conversation he makes his points to them = "I don't want to be one of Osborn's things. I want out." (I.E. - - he's using ME) and "a confrontation between you and the Avengers is inevitable. Osborn is setting it up." (I.E. - - he's out to get YOU). And then in a classic moment for Daken, he uses everybody again by getting The Thing to physically throw him out of the building. The FF gets used by thinking that he's on their side and using this beat-down by The Thing to make sure the observing Norm doesn't think they're in cahoots. Norm gets used and duped into thinking that Daken is giving him some physical evidence to use against the FF. And Bullseye gets used again because it now looks to Norm like Bullseye is out to get Daken and everything Daken has been telling Norm must therefore be true.
We also get a new unanswered question this issue: how did Daken get past the Baxter Building security? Another "play", perhaps? I'd like to know how it was done. This book is a primer in dirty tricks and manipulation - - - not very admirable skills that I would want to emulate but it sure is fun to observe as long as it isn't happening to me. (Note to self: "Are you sure?")

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jeff’s Comics Review, 8/26/2009, Conclusion

Avengers: The Initiative 27: Two great stories from Christos Gage this month, both related to the attempt to take back the Negative Zone prison from Blastaar and his forces. First, he digs up an actual (I checked) pair of third-rate villains from an old issue of Dazzler and through them shows the “working class” point of view of the members of Norman Osborn’s new Initiative. This is the kind of thing this book does best, and it’s a gem of a story that made me want to find their original Dazzler appearance. (But then I laid down for a minute and the feeling passed.) The second story features the regular cast and shows the actual assault.

Ms. Marvel 44: This book is also on the twice-a-month plan through October. I’m not sure why there’s such a rush to finish this storyline, but I really liked the interaction between Osborn and his Ms. Marvel (Norman: “Not the time, Karla!” Karla: “You’ve been wrong every other time I’ve been right today. Do you really want to go for another?”) and the hints about the relationship between the separate Ms. Marvel and Carol Danvers reinforce my theory that it stems from Brian Reed’s early issues. (This series is really a remarkable run for a new writer, if you think about it.)

Dark Avengers 8: It’s great to see all the pieces of Cyclops’ plan come together (“We reject Norman Osborn’s pogroms agains mutants.”), along with the first major split in Osborn’s Cabal. (The Hood in “New Avengers” didn’t quit on purpose.) I also have to give it to Matt Fraction for basically lying in every interview he’s done about the “Utopia” story to preserve the surprise. I look forward to the ending in the “Exodus” special, and also to having Bendis back on this book next issue. (I think the Annual might be first, though.)

Batman: The Widening Gyre 1: I didn’t like Kevin Smith’s last Batman miniseries, but he’s got a good track record so I decided to give this one a try anyway. I like it a lot better than the last one, but I have mixed feelings about it. There’s a lot of borderline inappropriate stuff in it -- Robin cracking jokes while Baron Blitzkrieg attacks a synagogue (“Today, I am a man!”), Joker and Poison Ivy making some fairly overt sexual comments, the surprise villain eating a human leg, etc. -- but it is funny and entertaining, and Smith does a good job with the Batman/Robin (in flashbacks) and Batman/Nightwing relationships.

The Red Circle: The Shield 1: I liked this almost as much as The Web, and much better than the other two books. JMS does a nice twist on the Captain America paradigm by making The Shield a soldier in the Pentagon’s chain of command as opposed to the independent embodiment of a dream. The dialogue is crisp, and Scott McDaniel is the perfect artist for this but he’s not doing the regular series. True to its name, the series also comes around full circle to the other characters at the end. Overall, a successful experiment and hopefully both ongoing series will be as good.

Detective 856: Best issue yet of DC’s best series. ‘Nuff said. (If I may steal a phrase before the happiest place on Earth owns it.)

Teen Titans 74: Hey, it’s another death! In big letters on the cover! Kidding aside, I at least liked that it led to a recommitment of the team and a little bit of optimism instead of a lot of moping around. Dwayne McDuffie speaks highly of next issue’s new permanent (one can only hope) writer, so I’m looking forward to that.

New Mutants 4: I think this first storyline was an issue too long, but it ended well. I liked all the Sam/Dani struggles, and the last page scene between Sam and Cyclops was priceless. There’s a big change in Dani’s status in “Utopia”, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects this book moving forward.

Wolverine First Class 18: I don’t usually pay that much attention to Marvel’s “All Ages” line, but I’ve been meaning to check this out lately because Peter David has started writing it. Having Madrox on the cover caught my eye, and it turns out that this is sort of a prequel to what David’s done with the character in the “Madrox” mini-series and “X-Factor”, while still being light and fun. Worth checking out, especially for “X-Factor” readers.

Superman 691: The pieces of General Lane’s master plan all click into place this issue, sidelining most of our heroes one way or another. Mon-El is physically out of commission, leading to him not being available in…

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen Special 2: Get this even if you’re reading New Krypton in trades, because by the time it comes out that way you probably will have heard about the ending already and you really should get the full impact of the surprise. Art-wise there are some really beautiful fire and rain sequences that Bernard Chang deserves credit for, but also I think the colorist probably helped a lot. (Edited to add: Let me make it more clear -- this is the shock ending of the summer, if not the year.)

Runaways 13: Apparently, this book is in serious trouble, which is a shame because the current creative team has barely had time to get started and any sales problems are certainly not their fault. Still, let’s support great work while we can – maybe good trade sales (or Disney) of this arc will rescue the book. Meanwhile Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli have an X-Men miniseries coming out at the end of the year, so at least they’ll land on their feet.

Guardians of the Galaxy 17: Star-Lord’s warning from the future (and last issue) arrives, and the Guardians and the Inhumans have to work together to stop the rift from the end of “War of Kings” from engulfing the whole universe. The scenes between Groot and Maximus are worth the price of admission. If you’re a Warlock fan and you’re not reading this book already, you might want to check out this issue for a major development regarding him (no pun intended). (Because he was originally called “Him” and, oh never mind.)

Fantastic Four 570: Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham take over, and it’s as good as I expected. The story does follow immediately from Hickman’s “Dark Reign: FF” mini, but they tell you enough on the recap page if you haven’t read it. (Though I recommend that you do.) Hickman writes Reed very well, which based on the past is really hard to do. Eaglesham’s art, reproduced directly from his pencils, has a Kirby-esque feel without feeling dated, and the last page is both thrilling and scary. The only things I don’t like about this are the short-sleeve FF uniforms.

New Avengers 56: Aside from some terrific fight scenes, there’s some really interesting political (for lack of a better word) going on here as Jonas Harrow’s invention threatens to change the balance of power. Also, I think Loki’s plans for the Cabal are starting to take shape. It doesn’t explicitly say so, but I get the feeling the next phase of “Dark Reign” is starting here so if for some reason you’ve been off this book it’s probably time to come back if you’re interested in that story.

Incredible Hercules 133: This half of the month we get the first part of Amadeus Cho’s solo story, taking him back to the town of his origin from the second Amazing Fantasy #15 (don’t ask.) It’s good, and there’s a pretty good recap of the series to date if you’re looking for a jumping on point.

Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter 3: Having now read the Phonogram trade that Shane lent me, which we’ll speak about another time, I can see why Marvel hired Kieron Gillen to write mythological books like this and Thor and Ares. This issue has some of the best Galactus scenes in years, and I liked the ending a lot. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Bill from this team.