Thursday, December 24, 2009

DC: some second-tier superhero team books reviewed

          Partially for therapeutic reasons, I’m going to attempt writing about some titles here that I haven’t been following on a regular basis (except for one, but it comes out so infrequently and after very long absences so it’s like starting over each time).  Also, these are not the bedrock characters that DC built it’s reputation and legend on.  That’s what I mean by calling them “second -tier”.  I certainly don’t mean to imply that they are Grade B, second class, amateur,  or of inferior/mediocre quality.

          I recently was offered an advance copy of a team title (The Authority) I haven’t been following and haven’t read a single issue of for years. And even back then I read only a few scattered issues from the first and second runs.   I almost declined, solely because I hate to pick up a book and be confused simply because I’m not familiar with neither the continuity or the characters.  In my new role as a reviewer I also can’t do justice to a single issue of a series I’m not following.  Well then, let’s just put that to the test and examine a few of those unfamiliar books right now.

          What I’ve learned is that you can actually jump in cold and pick up parts of the storyline and character concepts to understand it well enough to both appreciate and enjoy it.  The key is whether or not the writer has the proper skills to hold both the interest of the regular reader while keeping it inviting enough for a first-timer.   

          So, you may ask  - - - what’s the big deal about that?  What it means to me is that I don’t have to hold back from picking up a copy of a title I suspect I might like just because I haven’t been following it.   Sure, I’m going to occasionally read one that makes me feel lost or I fail to understand properly - - - but it’s just  a risk I’m willing to take.   It also frees up some time  - - since I don’t have to backtrack to the beginning or a much earlier point and read a bunch of older issues.  

          Hello to Green Lantern,  X-Factor, Thunderbolts, Superman/Kandor saga, etc. . .    And what  I’m saying to you is this  - -  if something has you curious enough to want to explore it a little, just do it.  Don’t let the back-history, continuity, etc. keep you away.  If that writer is worth anything, you’ll be able to appreciate the work.   Give it a try.  And . . . off we go =

THE AUTHORITY #18 (cover date March 2010, to be released in January)

“Homecoming, Part 1”  by writers Adam Freeman & Marc Bernadin with pencils by Al Barrionuevo

Authority 18

          Apprehension set in immediately after I examined this cover closely and realized that I only recognized one single character, Grifter.   Nevertheless I turned the page and continued my exploration of the insides.   Incidentally, this cover will connect to the cover of WILDCATS #19 in January to form a widescreen panorama.  Connecting covers between these two titles will continue throughout all of 2010.  That’s appropriate since both titles will be getting a shake-up and several characters will cross over from one team to the other.

          The Earth is a mess, having been battered by two separate invaders over the past year. The Wildstorm line of super-teams  have been unable to prevent these events from happening, and continue to battle desperately on several fronts.  An unidentified energy beam revives the dead Carrier, the Authority home base, which prompts a call for all heroes and surviving populace to gather together for a major decision.

          The Carrier will be leaving Earth for destinations unknown.  Some will go with it (apparently the new Authority) and some will remain on the planet (apparently the new Wildcats).  Some, like Jack Hawksmoor of The Authority, believe that whoever or whatever restored the Carrier may also possess technology/knowledge that will help save Earth and put things back together.  They depart with the ship.   Others feel  they have an obligation to stay and defend, protect, and help restore - - or they simply like the odds better.

          There’s a dramatic center-spread with Hawksmoor explaining the required decision to the assembled heroes.  I actually recognized more characters here (Hawksmoor, the Midnighter, Grifter, Apollo, and the huge green/purple giant from Wildcats) but failed to identify a score more.   And since the storyline fails to identify them, and characters aren’t necessarily addressing each other by name,  they are still unknown.  It doesn’t matter.  That’s not what this issue’s story is about.  It’s about the event itself and the reactions and consequences.  It’s handled very well and concisely told from the dialogue between characters as we learn of their confusion, despair, optimism, hope, cynicism, worry, decision-making, leadership, courage and determination.  It’s a good jumping on point if you want to explore the Wildstorm teams.

THE GREAT TEN #1 OF 10 (January 2010 cover date)

“Book One: Pantheon” by Tony Bedard and Scott McDaniel with cover by Stanley Lau

       great ten 1

   This is based on The Great Ten team of Chinese super-heroes created by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones during the “52” events several years ago.  Since the very promising debut of The Great Ten became lost in the massive storyline of 52 and never taken any further it’s good to see them finally getting a spotlight and a chance to grow and garner some audience.

        It seems like each issue of this mini-series will continue to detail a major challenge to the Great Ten and also focus on one individual character’s background.  The major threat that blossoms here is the resurrection of the ancient “true gods” of China who are very unhappy that the “false gods” are in charge  (perhaps symbolizing the former feudal society versus today’s Communist capitalism) and find The Great Ten obstructing their path.   Led by the Jade Emperor, this looks to be another interesting group with the old gods based upon the forces and powers of war, floods, fire, lightning, thunder, wind, and the dead.

     The art style is very fluid and it’s a stylish book.  I particularly appreciate the inclusion of borders around and through each page that contain Chinese calligraphy or stencils.  And this group of heroes is no band of brain-washed patriots with undying allegiance to the government.  There is dissension and controversy within the ranks, much as modern-day China is going through a period of unrest and moral conflicts.  The Accomplished Perfect Physician is such a character and a perfect choice to open this series up with his origin.

     It’s a very promising beginning and worthy of your exploration.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA 80-PAGE GIANT #1 (January 2010 cover date)

jsa 80-page

Wow!!  - - a return to the DC 80-page giant annuals.  I haven’t seen one of these in ages.  $5.99 !!!  My memory is much closer to $1.00 (and I can remember back to the 1960’s when I picked up an 80-page Batman annual for 25 cents –wish I still had that issue!).  My memory of those great $1.00 bargains was also that they were 50% or more filler/reprints.  I’m hoping that for six bucks the level of quality/value has improved commensurately.  After reading this issue, I don’t regret it. I enjoyed this, and the overall quality is good and consistent.  (I like the BATMAN 80-PAGE GIANT even more, but that’s a subject for another article).

    There are seven stories here featuring various J.S.A. members, all tied together by the central story by Matthew Sturges and Freddie Williams II that book-ends these tales and is also in-between several stories.  “Spatial disturbances” are affecting operations at the Justice Society’s brownstone headquarters, and the group splits up into several smaller teams to investigate. This serves as a means to explore the history of several characters.  

   The current Mr. America wonders if he’s worthy of the title.  Citizen Steel learns a way to “metallically” communicate with his deceased mother and brother.  Amazing Man (no, not that one, Dan - - this man is more like Marvel’s Brother Voodoo) learns of his true power and how to use it.  The beast-like Catman/Were-Cat learns his family connection between the human Catman and the original Huntress (not as human).   Cyclone gets a growing-up lesson from Power Girl.  Grant (here’s where my not reading this regularly prevents my knowing his hero title) apparently gets gut-shot and needs an operation from Dr. Mid-Nite to save him from what’s troubling him inside. Its a wild psychedelic/psychological adventure that is my favorite story in this book because of the very things that make it different.   There are many good writers and artists featured here, some familiar and some less so.  The writing and styles differ but it seems to work and mesh together thanks to the interstitial pages. 

    This all requires the intervention of Doctor Fate to set things right, as he ominously predicts division and changes within the team.  (I guess he had a sneak peek at the internal ad in this book announcing the new JSA All-Stars!).  It’s not necessary to read this to follow the events in the main book.  You’ll just miss some fun and interesting stories if you choose to pass it by.

PLANETARY #27  (December 2009 cover date)

        planetary

           This is supposedly the last and final issue of Planetary but I’m not at all sure of that after reading this.  (I thought issue #26 from approx 2 years ago was the end. Huh?)  No matter.

          Only a talented team like Warren Ellis and John Cassaday could pull off something like this.   There is no action and/or physical conflict whatsoever within this issue. It still holds your attention with a simply fascinating story.

     Early on, a nagging question in the back of my mind gets asked for me when during a lunchroom meeting Elijah says to his two team mates “Explain to me again what the mission was.”  I no longer even remember what happens in Issue #26, except that it also didn’t feel finished when it ended.

          This issue deals with the background for the entire series - - the ability to create a fictional Earth and then make it real enough that others feel threatened by it .  This issue then focuses on the trio’s efforts to return their missing member, Ambrose, back to the same plane of reality that the others exist on. 

   It ends up in discussion and explanation of physics, quantum theory, time machines, living inside a bubble and effecting things outside the bubble.  Also please realize that “the whole of the future can be said to have happened at once.  And you can’t change it, because it’s already happened.”  I don’t have a science degree that helps me separate the real from the false here but Ellis makes it all seem convincing.  The narrative just flows on.

However, that news doesn’t stop them from building a time machine of sorts.  Most of the issue takes place in far-out discussions like this and despite the majority of panels with just talking heads and dialogue you are compelled to continue.  Ellis really is twisted but he knows how to keep the reader engaged.  He also has the clever art of John Cassaday to assist him.  In spite of all the chit-chat that goes on, Cassaday uses close-ups, facial expressions, panel placements, and shading to keep his art interesting and entertaining.  I do believe he could find a way to illustrate the phone book and hold your attention.

   If you like your tales nice and neat with everything explained, stay away from here.   For some of us PLANETARY #27 is great fun and a hoot to boot!

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